The Irishman Movie Review

There are the types of characters we have met before in Martin Scorsese’s gangster genre works, but never quite like this. There are characters we never really meet here, but we’re introduced to the way they die. There are characters that never speak, but we’re aware of their thought process. And it’s that time consuming process that the filmmaker goes through here that makes The Irishman feel both invigorating and melancholy.

The thought of reuniting this director, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and anything involving the Mob is enough to get many running to the theater or, in this case for most, Netflix. Add Al Pacino to the mix (working with Scorsese somehow for the first time) and there’s more incentive. Yet this is far from a rehash of previous material. It’s an often stunning work that stands on its own merits. There is no coasting happening with De Niro or Pacino and that’s something they can rightfully be accused of in the past quarter century or so. The pair (who shared just a couple of scenes in Michael Mann’s masterful Heat and greater screen time in the unfortunate Righteous Kill) contribute some of their finest work in years. For Pesci, he hasn’t worked in years and his return finds him playing a Mafia boss but in a way you won’t expect.

The unexpected is key here and welcome. Just as GoodFellas gave audiences a final act kinetically viewed from Ray Liotta’s coked out perspective, the last segment of The Irishman is made from a considerably lower dosage. As De Niro’s character enters his final act, we witness him finally pause to consider his existence. And it’s not of a glorified nature.

In this tale based on certain truths and possible myths, De Niro is Frank Sheeran. He’s a World War II vet and truck driver residing in Philadelphia. Frank saw plenty of combat overseas and he’s willing to have a career of killing back stateside. His employer becomes Russell Bufalino (Pesci), the area crime boss and confidante of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Frank soon becomes Hoffa’s body man, enforcer, and trusted friend. Whether on assignment from Bufalino or Jimmy, Frank’s speciality is to “paint houses” (code for taking out whomever he’s ordered to). He’s skilled at it and the screenplay from Steven Zaillian gets into the occasional minutia and necessary strategy of carrying out such tasks.

Hoffa’s bigger than life personality (something Pacino is perfect to portray) often conflicts with the more buttoned down approach of Bufalino (something Pesci is more surprisingly adept at). This frequently leaves Frank in the position of mediator of murder or no murder. There’s plenty of it here, but The Irishman is noticeably less bloody than GoodFellas or Casino. 

De Niro has by far the most screen time and his work is perhaps the most impressive in a picture loaded with two other heavyweights in excellent form. It’s ultimately his film to carry and he does so with an ability he hasn’t shown in a long while. There’s plenty of other familiar faces from Harvey Keitel as another boss to Ray Romano as the group’s very busy attorney. Frank’s family is given the short shrift, but that’s no accident as he doesn’t have much time for them. His relationship with one daughter played by Anna Paquin is a constant thread and it’s a quiet and powerful one.

The Irishman transpires over several decades and Scorsese made the choice not to use younger actors to play the main roles in their 30s and beyond. This is done through de-aging visual effects that, while certainly not perfect, are the best I’ve seen yet. Most importantly, I didn’t find it as a distraction after a couple of minutes.

Just as Hoffa is obsessed with punctuality, The Irishman is about time. In this world of criminals and betrayal and violence, time moves fast. The film itself doesn’t at three and a half hours. That didn’t feel overly padded to me. This is good company. However, as this draws to a close, time slows down for some characters as well. And as Scorsese and three legendary actors expertly show for 209 minutes, some doors for reflection are slammed shut with a bang. Others are left slightly open for it.

**** (out of four)

Motherless Brooklyn Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (10/24): It’s been revealed today that the film is only slated for approximately 1,250 screens next weekend. Therefore, my estimate is dropping from $5.3 million to $3.2 million.

Nearly 20 years following his directorial debut Keeping the Faith, Edward Norton is back behind the camera with Motherless Brooklyn. The 1950s set pic casts Norton as a detective with Tourette’s syndrome in the crime drama. Costars include Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Alec Baldwin, and Willem Dafoe.

Once looked at as a potential awards contender, Brooklyn was met with a mixed reaction following its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. The Rotten Tomatoes score currently is at 61%. Running nearly two and a half hours, the film hopes to bring in adult moviegoers looking for mature material.

That is unlikely to occur due to its lack of Oscar buzz among other titles that have it. I believe the Warner Bros release will struggle in the mid single digits for a forgettable start.

Motherless Brooklyn opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

For my Terminator: Dark Fate prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/22/terminator-dark-fate-box-office-prediction/

For my Arctic Dogs prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/23/arctic-dogs-box-office-prediction/

For my Harriet prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/26/harriet-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: The Irishman

The biggest Oscar domino not yet fall screened has been Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the three and a half hour gangster drama headlined by genre legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. That changed today. The epic opened the New York Film Festival exactly two months ahead of its Netflix debut. And – no real surprise here – it appears to be a serious contender.

The Irishman is said to be both a humorous and contemplative piece with De Niro and Pacino providing their best performances in years. Same goes for Pesci as he’s been away from the silver screen for nearly a decade.

While nearly all reviews are positive, they’re not all raves. My early hunch is that this will earn Picture and Director nods. Winning is another story and that is one still left to play out. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 100%. This will likely mark Scorsese’s ninth nomination (he’s won once for 2006’s The Departed). That’s also his only effort to be named Best Picture. The Adapted Screenplay from Steve Zaillian should also make the final cut.

Down the line recognition presents many chances including Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, and Visual Effects. For the latter, the de-aging technology that allows its stars to look younger could attract the notice of that branch. The pic would actually be the second Scorsese title to get a Visual Effects nod after 2011’s Hugo (which won).

Now to the thespians. The thinking is that De Niro will be in lead actor with Pacino and Pesci in supporting. It sounds as if they will be the trio in contention. De Niro would gunning for his eighth appearance as a nominee. He won Supporting for 1974’s The Godfather Part II and lead in Scorsese’s 1980 masterwork Raging Bull. I’ve had him listed in spot #6 for some time in my weekly rankings. I could still see him missing the cut as his role is said to be less flashy than his costars, but I think his chances are better today. Numerous critics have stated that Pacino steals the show and he’s going for nomination #9 (his sole win is 1992’s Scent of a Woman). Like De Niro, I’ve had him slotted sixth and I expect him to enter the top five in a supporting actor race that is already jam packed. As for Pesci (who won for 1990’s Scorsese classic GoodFellas), other reviewers are singling him out. That opens the door for two men to be nominated in the supporting race for the second time since 1991 when Harvey Keitel (who’s also in this) and Ben Kingsley were recognized for Bugsy. This occurred again two years ago with Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Pesci is not the near sure thing Pacino is, but it could happen.

Bottom line: The Irishman did what it needed to do in the Big Apple to establish itself as a player in awards chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton is a thrice Oscar nominated actor (two supporting for Primal Fear and Birdman and lead in American History X) and he’s brought his latest feature to the Telluride Film Festival. In the 1950s set crime thriller Motherless Brooklyn, Norton not only stars but directs. It’s his second feature behind the camera (at least that he’s credited for). His first was the largely forgotten rom com Keeping the Faith with Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman. The supporting cast for Brooklyn is an impressive one with Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Leslie Mann, Willem Dafoe, and Alec Baldwin.

However, reviews out of Colorado hint that this will largely be forgotten as well. Despite praise for its ambition, the general consensus seems to be that Motherless is a bit of a misfire. While several other pictures from Telluride and Venice have solidified their standings, this would appear to an example of one that will not be a factor with awards voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Ant-Man and the Wasp Movie Review

Size matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the decade old multi-billion franchise reached its most epic heights in Avengers: Infinity War. The only superhero who’s had their own stand-alone pic not to appear in that gargantuan production was Ant-Man, the character brought to life by Paul Rudd in the summer of 2015. Sequel AntMan and the Wasp follows a traditional Avengers tale like the original did. To say it feels smaller in scope is an understatement. Part one often failed to strike a satisfying mix and surprisingly struggled to make Rudd’s title character a memorable one. Whereas Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord were instantly iconic heroes, it didn’t work that way in AntMan. That’s despite its star’s well-known ability to mix comedy and drama and some nifty visuals that made the third act a treat.

Rarely do we find an MCU effort without parental issues involved and they’re here. Scott Lang/Ant-Man is nearing the end of a two-year house arrest bid based on the events from Captain America: Civil War. His former love interest Hope/heroine Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and science wiz dad Hank (Michael Douglas) are hiding out as well while conducting experiments to find their mom and wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s been stuck for three decades in the quantum realm that Ant-Man briefly visited in the original. His experience there leads Hope and Hank to believe she’s alive and the search is on. The technology that leads to that mystical place is sought by a low life criminal (Walton Goggins) and his crew. The FBI is curious about it, including the main agent (Randall Park in amusing turn) tasked with monitoring Scott. And then there’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecular challenged young lady who has her own reasons to gain powers. She teams up with a former colleague of Hank’s played by Laurence Fishburne.

If you’re thinking that’s a lot of characters to follow, I haven’t even mentioned Scott’s returning daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), ex-wife (Judy Greer), and current husband (Bobby Cannavale). There’s also his business partners and occasional fellow crime fighters including Michael Pena and T.I. So while there’s plenty of action to follow, the MCU knows how to make it easy to follow. Compared to Infinity War, the amount of subplots seems practically minuscule.

Wasp finds Rudd settling more comfortably in the role and more humorously. That’s an aspect that was oddly not around much in 2015. Finding Scott with Pfeiffer’s character in his head in one scene provides some genuine laughs. Like in the original, Mr. Douglas appears to be having a ball. He gets his own chance to save the day at one point while his counterparts are engaged in a visually impressive car chase in the streets of San Francisco. Lilly doesn’t just share title credit here. She does have more to do.

AntMan and the Wasp is an improvement over the first. That’s a trait shared by other MCU sequels, especially in the Captain America and Thor series. Peyton Reed returns as director and the whole production feels more confident. It also doesn’t have the burden of being an origin story… something we go through a lot with this constantly growing genre. Like many of its subjects, the importance of what happens in these two hours feels small compared to the grand scale of other stories in this universe. More so than in 2015, however, Ant-Man’s existence in it feels welcome.

*** (out of four)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Box Office Prediction

The 20th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe crawls into theaters next weekend with AntMan and the Wasp. The sequel to the 2015 original, Paul Rudd is back in the title role along with Evangeline Lilly  as his partner in heroics (aka Wasp). Peyton Reed returns is back directing along with returning cast members Michael Pena, T.I., Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, and Michael Douglas. New faces joining the MCU include Walton Goggins, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne.

This has been a banner year for Disney’s multi-billion franchise as Black Panther just hit $700 million domestically and Avengers: Infinity War not far behind. While AntMan was certainly a hit, its numbers three years ago weren’t quite on pace with numerous other MCU titles. It opened to $57 million (18th of the 19 series pics) with an eventual stateside gross of $180 million (17 out of 19).

That said, the MCU is on a roll and early word-of-mouth for this follow-up is encouraging. In the past decade, we’ve seen three examples of a direct MCU sequel making $20-$30 million more than the first during opening weekend. They are:

Iron Man 2 ($128 million), Iron Man ($98 million)

Thor: The Dark World ($85 million), Thor ($65 million)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million), Captain America: The First Avenger ($65 million)

I feel there is a very strong chance AntMan and the Wasp will do the same and possibly hit that mark of close to $30 million higher than part 1. That would put it at #14 out of the 20 MCU movies between Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World.

AntMan and the Wasp opening weekend prediction: $86.4 million

For my The First Purge prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/06/27/the-first-purge-box-office-prediction/

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Movie Review

The word classic in cinema world can be thrown around too loosely at times. For instance, 1995’s Jumanji with Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, and lots of CG animals is not one. It is a mostly entertaining experience about that board game that comes to life and it made a lot of money. So 22 years later, Sony has rebooted the franchise into the video game era. Welcome to the Jungle is no classic either, but it’s often lots of fun with great casting… and of course a horde of CG animals. Truthfully, it’s a lot better than it should be.

A prologue picks up shortly after its predecessor’s events with teenager Alex finding that cursed Jumanji board game. Sort of. It’s in the original casing of the game, but has been downsized to a video game cartridge. Alex tries to play but gets sucked in and disappears for two decades.

Flash forward to 2016 with four teens serving detention together. They are the archetypes you’re accustomed to: nerd Spencer (Alex Woolf), jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), shy girl Martha (Morgan Turner), and bombshell Bethany (Madison Iseman). While doing their punishment in the high school basement, they happen upon the game and decide to select which characters to play. Soon enough, they find themselves transported to the far away title world. And they’re the people they chose to be with more famous faces and odd superpowers and weaknesses. Scaredy cat Spencer is now the heroic Dr. Smolder Bravestone, represented by the giant biceps of Dwayne Johnson. Athletic Fridge is now the diminutive zoologist Mouse, sidekick to Dr. Bravestone whose weaknesses include cake. Martha is Ruby Roundhouse, a foxy martial arts expert with an inexplicable wardrobe considering her jungle surroundings. Most humorously, Bethany has traded in her bod for Jack Black’s cartographer Dr. Shelly. All the adult actors have a ball playing their counterparts, but Black shines brightest channeling his social media obsessed teen girl.

The majority of inhabitants in Jumanji world are only programmed to speak in video game dialogue, meaning their vocabulary is quite limited. This is a funny touch in a screenplay filled with them. There’s some potential jungle love between Bravestone and Ruby (and therefore Spencer and Martha), as well as Bethany’s crush with Alex once he’s found and portrayed by Nick Jonas. Seeing Jack Black’s heart a flutter with a Jonas brother is a highlight. There’s also a first kiss between two characters that produced a knowing belly laugh. Johnson and Hart (who first teamed up in Central Intelligence) smartly play to their onscreen strengths with Gillan bringing the term dance fighting to our consciousness.

Welcome to the Jungle is in many ways an improvement on the 1995 pic. Yes, the special effects have elevated tremendously in two decades plus, but it’s more than that. The joyous and adventurous and often sweet tone here just feels right with a game cast along for the ride.

Not everything works. An interesting villain would have been nice. Bobby Cannavale’s conniving explorer isn’t it. He’s forgettable even when he’s speaking. That quibble aside, part 2 of the Jumanji saga should be remembered fondly two decades from now and probably deserves it even more.

*** (out of four)