The GG nominations are still for some reason considered a bellwether for the Oscars, but all these nominations ever do is confirm what everyone was already thinking, and in the rare cases where the Hollywood Foreign Press Association throws in a curveball, that ball goes way foul of Oscar boundaries (Pia Zadora, anyone? Anyone?)

The Irishman and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood were big nominees this year, with five each. The HFPA loves a master director and big name Hollywood actors in top form as much as Oscar does, so this head nod to the expected isn’t surprising. 

It’s Marriage Story that gets the real traction from these nominations. With six total, it’s the most recognized film in the pack, and the names involved are much newer to big awards than Scorsese, Pacino, Hopkins, etc. So while we figure the nominations for Marriage Story– Best Picture, Baumbach’s screenplay, Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern – will be repeated by Oscar, the fact that the film topped the other prestige names for GG’s love bumps it up the Oscar Best Picture list ahead of other films that didn’t see their buzz reflected by the Globes.

The Globes do often pass over films that Oscar ends up loving, so expect Little Women to be much more prominent with Oscar, especially in the craft categories that the Globes don’t have. Though it has to be noted that of the three prestige films yet to be wide released that are expected to feature significantly at the Oscars, only Sam Mendes’ 1917 got any attention from the Globes. Both Greta Gerwig’s Little Women and Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell were ignored other than one acting nod each and a score mention for LW. Methinks the Globes got this one right…

What else did they get right? In this year of violent jokers and somber Irishmen and painful marriage stories, the Globes showed plenty love for the film that probably put more smiles on faces than any other in 2019 – Knives Out. The HFPA is an organization of journalists from 2nd tier EU countries like Croatia and Malta, places you’d never know of if they weren’t exotic locations in Bond movies, so they love Daniel Craig and his coterie, hence nominations for Craig and Ana de Armas, who really wasn’t anything much in Knives Out, but happens to be a Bond girl opposite Craig in the upcoming 007.

They also appear to have their finger a bit more on the pulse of Hollywood tastes this go-round, as most of the other nominees reflect the best aspects of their respective films. The audaciousness of Joker deserves a Best Picture, Director and Actor nod, but its pointless screenplay was rightfully ignored (and hopefully will be by Oscar as well). Jennifer Lopez, Rene Zellwegger, Tom Hanks and Awkwafina all anchored films that would have been too flat or meandering without them. And though the more conservative The Two Popes kept Parasite from the Globes’ Best Picture list, Bong Joon Ho’s fantastically original writing and direction could not be ignored. Parasite will get a Best Picture nom from Oscar, or I’ll bash my head in with a money stone.

One last tip of the hat to the HFPA for recognizing Dolomite Is My Name and Eddie Murphy. The Globes’ Best Actor (Drama) list was an odd one, with a couple names that few expect to see on Oscar’s final five (Christian Bale, whose role was more supporting in Ford v Ferrari, and Antonio Banderas, who, though good in Pain&Glory, is getting love more because he’s playing GG-favorite Pedro Almodovar.) Eddie Murphy deserves to be on Oscar’s list more than either of those two.

Bringing up the rear are always a couple talented veterans who show up on Globe lists even though the films they were in were crap. This year it’s Emma Thompson for Late Night and Cate Blanchett for Where’d You Go, Bernadette? 

The idea that the Globes steal thunder from the Oscars is still valid, which you can tell by the cat-and-mouse game the two award shows play. The Oscars are ‘experimenting’ with moving their show a month earlier in 2020 (February 9), so the Globes decided to happen ASAP after the holidays – January 5 – before most have even had a chance to see the end-of-year big releases like Little Women and 1917, which is kind of silly. The Globe winners will still be hung over when only a week after that show the Oscars announce their nominations. It’s enough to twist Joaquin Phoenix into contortions!

Good luck to all, and it’s an honor just to be nominated, right?

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Cadmium Orange Is the New Black

You fall in love with an artist, you’re gonna get burned. Photo courtesy of Pyramide Films

Every year Hollywood imports a new French lesbian movie. I usually run in the opposite direction because of all the whispering-in-bed scenes and pained longing you can’t feel because you’re too busy reading novel-length subtitles. And I mean, if no one’s going to eat jizz off a peach, why did I sit through all that?

However…wow. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is close to perfection.

You do have to get past the too-obvious title (the French version is more nuanced about the Henry James reference), and there will be times when someone in the throes of passion will say (whisper) lines like “Do all lovers feel like they’re inventing something?” It’s a French movie, they can’t help themselves.

But you’ll be rewarded with an exquisitely composed, beautifully shot, subtly acted film where nothing is wasted and emotions are allowed to resonate in stillness, unlike Hollywood films that push us into every feel with music cues and histrionics. 

The plot is simple, and focusing on it is hard at first because you’re drooling over all the props. The piano with the colors reversed on the keys – the big ones are ebony and the little ones are ivory – is to die for, even though it might confuse pianists other than Stevie Wonder. And though each of the four women who occupy the perfectly aged stone villa only have one dress, you never get tired of looking at those four dresses. 

Things kick off with a painter who looks exactly like Emma Watson arriving at the remote sea-swept villa to paint a betrothal portrait of a young woman we learn is an impossible subject. The previous painter was driven to wipe the woman’s entire head off his attempt and run screaming, so we’re primed for her reveal, and it is teased out in a series of wonderfully clever bits of staging.

The movie is full of brilliant narrative details like this, and they aren’t all pretty either. Did you know that 18thCentury abortions entailed playing Red Rover Red Rover on a beach, then drinking weed tea while hanging from the ceiling, and finally having a homemade exfoliate mask spread inside your hoohah while you hold a baby’s hand? Don’t get any ideas, Alabama.

Men appear only in the first five and last five minutes of the film, so we don’t know how the pregnancy could have happened, but it’s not one of the lesbians, so don’t worry, their relationship doesn’t get messy in that way. Haha.

There’s a lot of brush-stroking on canvas close-ups, which we all get mesmerized by, admit it, and lots of scenes set in the rustic kitchen so that the persimmons and blocks of chevre can have their moment in the chiaroscuro.

There are plenty movies that sound really good when described and turn out to be awful when they get up on screen. And there are movies that can sound like an eye-roller when described but prove to be amazing. That kind of save is all about smart choices and superb effort by everyone involved, none more so than the director.

So my hat is off to director – and also screenwriter, damn girl! – Celine Sciamma. She’s the real lady on fire here.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire opens in limited release on December 6.

#movies #moviereview #ratedfritz #portraitofaladyonfire #noff2019 

The Aeronauts: Two scientists risk their lives to predict rain in London.

Don’t jump, Felicity! We promise – no more movies with Eddie Redmayne! Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

The Aeronauts purports to tell the story of the first weatherman, whom we’ve never heard of because he was too embarrassed to ever claim that title. His name was James Glaisher, pronounced like the melting harbingers of global environmental doom, so who better to play him than Eddie Redmayne. According to this movie James is obsessed with ascending to great heights in an air balloon so he can predict when it will rain. In London. After he conquers this brain-twister he’ll move on to predicting sandstorms in the Sahara by standing on a dune for 5 days straight without sunblock.

Anyway, the movie wants to use this flimsy premise, so, up, up and away! Thank god for green screens and wind machines.

In reality, James went up with a fellow male scientist, but who wants to see that bore-fest when we just sat through a bunch of waistcoated blowhards arguing over electricity? So thank the heavens the movie replaces some crumb-bearded academic with derring-do Felicity Jones. She’s a famed balloonist named Amelia (get it?) Wren (GET IT?), a small yet feisty Victorian woman with her own hot air balloon factory, which James needs because no one will finance a trip that’s purpose is to tell Londoners when they’ll need an umbrella (ALWAYS, James. The equation scribbled on your chalkboard ends in the answer ALWAYS to the power of ALWAYS.) Even though the excursion would only take an hour, that’s an hour with Eddie Redmayne, whom Felicity thought she was rid of after the Stephen Hawking movie, so she declines. Also, the last time Amelia went up was with her husband, a Frenchman named Pierre Rennes (which is pronounced ‘wren’…sigh…), and she returned sans epoux, the French term for someone mysteriously ‘losing’ their husband 23,000 feet above the earth. Was he abducted by aliens? Carried off by a pterodactyl? 

The movie opens as Amelia and James launch into the sky in their beautiful balloon (we learn later he convinced her by saying she’d get to see snowflakes). There are crowds and much fanfare, and the scene feels very Wizard of Oz. Amelia even has a cute little dog, which she tosses out of the basket as soon as they’re high enough for the fall to kill it. Oh, but look, it has a little parachute! She’s not a psychopath after all!

Once they’re up, the movie can get to making us forget the silly earthbound bits with magnificent shots of the little red-and-white balloon ascending through massive cloud formations, and thrilling sequences as our pair are tossed around in the basket during storms and losing their fingers to frostbite and minds to oxygen deprivation. It’s not all thrills and chills, though. Contrived moments of tenderness and clumsy humor are also part of this ride. At one point James tosses out a messenger pigeon and it drops like a stone because it instantly freezes to death. “Well, that didn’t work!” he says, like he’s suddenly a Marx brother. Are we supposed to laugh at this movie’s delight in animal abuse? If they want us to laugh, toss Eddie Redmayne out of that balloon.

At the climax, we think (hope) James has died, and maybe the twist here is that Amelia is a serial killer, who takes her victims up in hot air balloons where they die of hypothermia or jump out of the basket in fits of dementia. Plausible deniability, right?

Well, it’s not that twisted, but because of Jones, the movie ends up being much more enjoyable than you’d think from the premise. She shines in these ballsy gal roles, and it’s great to watch her get all the well-staged action sequences while Redmayne fiddles with his instruments and his acting tics, which always seem to suggest a smidgeon of autism or epilepsy, even when his characters aren’t supposed to have such afflictions. 

The lighting is lovely, the costumes beautifully detailed, the balloon satisfyingly steam-punk. The Aeronauts has all the delight of a kid’s bedroom in the home of an anal interior designer, a perfectly tolerable place to spend an hour and a half. But then mommy needs her wine.

The Aeronauts opens nationwide December 6 and streams on Amazon Prime December 20.

#movies #moviereviews #ratedfritz #theaeronauts 

Knives Out: Hollywood whodunits finally get a clue.

If you want an autograph from 007, you’ll have to ask the new girl.

When they made a movie out of the board game Clue, I was annoyed that the characters weren’t color-coded: Ms Scarlett wore a green dress, Mr Green a brown suit, Mrs White was in black. I mean, who involved in that over-the-top, silly production thought it would be a step too far to dress the characters as their matching playing pieces?

Well, rest assured that Knives Out goes balls-out with its self-referential silliness, and we have a lot more fun because of it.

It’s not just the plot that delights in fakery, it’s the entire production. The action takes place in a Hollywood prop warehouse, where they just piled up the marble busts and taxidermy and coats of arms enough to lay camera tracks. Then, in what feels like a movie opening with its own trailer (know your branding), our star-studded game pieces are ushered in one-by-one.

Instead of color-coded characters, this updated Clue codes its ensemble using movie-culture zeitgeist: Mrs Hollywood Royalty (Jamie Lee Curtis); Mr 90s Comeback (Don Johnson); a hot Chris (Evans); Mr Go-to Menace (Michael Shannon); Ms Every Gay’s Favorite Character Actress (Toni Collette). They play siblings (in-laws in Johnson and Collette’s cases) who’ve gathered in the prop warehouse/old mansion to throw a birthday party for Mr Only Actor Still Alive from Hollywood’s Golden Age (Christopher Plummer), who’s their wealthy murder-mystery novelist (wink wink) father. When it seems he has slit his own throat the night after the party, we meet the A-lister having the most fun of all, reluctant Bond Daniel Craig as Southern-accented detective dandy Benoit Blanc, a name that covers nods to both Clue and Agatha Christie. 

The cleverest part of Knives Out is that the whodunit is revealed in the first act, so the movie can spend its time showing this family of entitled, bigoted and wealthy pricks – a class of people who are fast becoming the world’s collective nemesis – twisting in discomfort at the idea of being caught in their own web.

Jamie Lee Curtis, styled like all those older West LA lesbians whom you can’t figure out where they get the kind of money to stock wine cellars and shop at LA Eyeworks, is the Don Trump Jr of this nasty brigade, pretending to be a brilliant self-made businessperson when she got a million-dollar start from daddy. Toni Collette is a lifestyle guru too lazy and hollow to keep up her brand so falls back on the father figure to stay relevant. So, Ivanka, right? Evans, with skin so porelessly pristine he could be a blow-up doll I’d mortgage my house for, represents a broader group – the properly-gened white male scions taking up space at Ivy-league colleges, prestigious law firm intern pools and campaign offices for candidates other than Bernie Sanders. The fact that they all fall victim to the callous whims of a patriarch who channels his meager affections to a beautiful young immigrant puts the final knife in the analogy.

While the movie mainly wants us to have fun laughing along with Blanc at these ugly people, it’s structured to comment, subversively, on our currently fraught issue of ‘facts’ vs ‘truth’. The facts of the murder’s perpetrator and weapon are revealed right away, while the truth of various characters’ motivations and culpability are harder to pin down. Knives Out is certainly not presenting itself as anything political, but it’s there.

Whodunits are the most interactive movie genre, turning us all into fellow detectives. I can’t recall a time when someone in my audience at one of these films didn’t spontaneously yell out “I knew it!” at a pivotal reveal. We leave with a smile at having enjoyed playing the game, but Knives Out sends us away with a little extra kick – the satisfaction of watching the wealthy get their comeuppance from the very person they most marginalized.

As Brandi Carlile pointed out about those bent on putting people low, let ‘em laugh while they can, because ultimately, the joke’s on them.

#movies #moviereviews #ratedfritz #knivesout #oscarbait  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Tom Hanks ruins my childhood.

“Show me on the puppet where he touched you.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

When I was growing up in 60s suburbia, the kids next door were not allowed to watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Their mother thought Rogers was hypnotizing children, making them pliable to some nefarious message he would impart when she stepped away from the TV. 

Yes, Mrs Pfister, Roger’s show did have a hypnotic effect, but watching it was more like staring at a fish tank than being enthralled by some heathen. Rogers was a big, flat angelfish, calmly, methodically, circling a castle which smaller puppet and trolley fish would dart in and out of. I wasn’t absorbing messages about death and anger, I was just waiting for Rogers to stop babbling so I could giggle at King Friday’s lisp and try to figure out the trolley’s bell-speak.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood gives Fred Rogers the kind of influence Mrs Pfister feared, a power the real man would have been embarrassed to have attributed to him. But Tom Hanks has no compunctions about wielding power on screen in the guise of largess, so he pumps himself full of another American hero and breaths out life-changing wisdom.

Despite the marquee name(s) involved, the actual lead in this movie is supposed to be an Esquire magazine writer named Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys), a dour grouch who spends a not-so-beautiful week in the neighborhood as Mr Rogers relentlessly therapies the daddy issues out of him. Hanks’ Rogers, you see, is not just kind, he’s clairvoyant, and instantly recognizes damaged souls. Lloyd’s was damaged when he was a boy and watched his father desert the family when their mother was terminally ill.

The therapy comes as Lloyd tries to interview Rogers for an article on American heroes. Instead of answering Lloyd’s questions, Rogers constantly turns the inquiry the other way, insisting Lloyd talk about his feelings of anger toward his father. Yet when Lloyd asks Rogers a perfectly legitimate question about the burden of responsibility Rogers carries for children, Rogers just jams his hand up King Friday, silently claiming executive privilege. People who answer questions with questions are universally annoying, so why does the movie give this quality to a man they otherwise present as a saint? If you’re going to say Rogers was more complex than he appeared, give us more than a silent stare from Hanks. He’s a great actor, but not telepathic.

The director, Marielle Heller, who avoided the saccharine so adroitly in her last film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, does a lot to bring quirky style and humor to the proceedings. She frames the movie with a clever device, Rogers presenting us Lloyd’s tedious story as an episode of his TV show. She uses miniature sets as transitions between locales, but keeps them in the aesthetic of low-budget Public Television, so it’s fun to imagine Wes Anderson cringing. In the best bit, she shrinks Lloyd down and puts him in the puppet set with Daniel the Tiger and King Friday, who badger him about his issues, and we get a glimpse of a weirder, funnier and more interesting movie. But someone got to Heller, and Beautiful Day ends up as emotionally manipulative as movies get. Rogers heals Lloyd, of course, and the father-son reconciliation is facilitated by a convenient illness. Melancholy Cat Stevens-y ballads come in exactly when they do in other sentimental films, and the ending is as mushy as pancakes left too long in syrup. 

I don’t have a problem with emotional manipulation in movies. That’s what you go for. I cry like a baby at every damn movie that wants me to, exactly when it wants me to, and feel fine after. But authentic emotion in this film only sticks when it touches what we already know about Fred Rogers and his work, such as the reenactment of his exchange with a sick boy, the real version of which we saw last year in the wonderful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This narrative is based on a real writer, a jaded journalist with a chip on his shoulder and an ax to grind who happened to cross paths with an exemplary person who showed him some sustained kindness. He was left so impressed he glorified Rogers in a magazine article, something Rogers certainly deserved. Adapting the story into a movie – and casting an actor like Hanks – has taken Rogers up to an even loftier position, past who the real man was and would have been comfortable with. Hanks, with his pinched features closer to King Friday than Fred Rogers, pries Lloyd open via sly, almost insidious means, by withholding and teasing. The real Rogers chased away darkness with nothing more calculated than his innate brightness.

I know America will eat this film up like a big bowl of chicken soup for the soul with Maury on Tuesdays. The self-help section on Amazon grows in proportion with the ugliness surrounding us, more and more of us reaching for inspiring stories and empowering advice. 

It’s admirable that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood wants to satisfy this need. But it’s Fred Rogers, and our collective memory of and nostalgia for Mister Rogers Neighborhood, doing the work, not this narrative and not the actor doing the impersonation. If it’s Mister Rogers you miss and need, stream Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, or spend some time on YouTube watching his interviews. It’s as close as you’ll get to his light.

#movies #moviereviews #ratedfritz #abeautifuldayintheneighborhood #oscarnoms

Ford v Ferrari: Suits v Creatives in this unexpectedly smart car-crash movie.

His milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

When I was a senior in high school, one of the guys in my class had a Shelby Cobra. Everyone drooled over it, and even though I was more interested in the eye-liner I got to wear as a chorus boy in the school production of Pippin than bro-y things like fast cars, I recognized there was something special about it, that Shelby did for this car what Calvin Klein did for my ass.

Now, after all these years, I finally get to meet Carroll Shelby, via Matt Damon in Persols and a cowboy hat I would actually wear. 

We learn that Shelby was a champion race car driver, but got heart palpitations whenever he drove so eventually had to give it up. This same thing happened to me with Google-searching Tom Hardy images, so I get it. To stay as close to his passion as he could, Shelby turned to designing custom sports cars.

Meanwhile, it’s the early 60s, and the yes men at Ford Motor Company are getting reemed by Henry Ford II over lagging sales. “Ok, boomer”, they respond, which in this case means “Ok, let’s go after the young boomers who want sports cars now and will ruin the world in 50 years”. So Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, paying tribute to the recently deceased Iacocca by being smoking hot) suggests Ford buy Ferrari for their cache. The Ford suits go to Italy, where they are sneered at by the Ferrari suits, who need to be set up as villains for our final showdown. Old man Ferrari looks and acts like a mob boss from a Scorsese film, and he toys with the Ford people only to get more money out of his preferred suitor, fellow chic Italian brand Fiat. He sends Iacocca away, calling Ford cars ugly, which to this day doesn’t seem to have sunk in at Ford.

But back then it did start a $25 million dollar pissing match. Ford is determined to show up Ferrari by beating them at the most famous racing event in the world – something Ferrari always wins – called the 24 Hours of LeMans. It’s not like that race where they drive all over the French Riviera and try not to Grace Kelly off picturesque cliffs. In this one, racers speed around and around and around a short, rainy course for 24 hours straight. That’s the equivalent of logging 3000 miles endlessly circling the same block. I cannot imagine how torturous that would be, but then I’m not a mom who has to pick up her kid from private school.

Here’s where Shelby and his ace driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) come in, and here’s where the movie really kicks into gear. What could have been The Fast and the Furious with Wikipedia footnotes is instead a narrative that laps efficiently around the theme of Creativity v Capitalism, how those postwar formative years of American corporate think set the stage for a culture that slaps a “Premium” label on mediocrity and opens another Walmart. 

The film points out, without belaboring anything, that while corporate America loves to talk about originality and passion, it cannot abide the freedom original and passionate creative people need. As the character who embodies this concept, Miles is like a flesh and blood version of a rarified race car. He’s built for his purpose, taut and precise, but difficult to handle. Any variation in course, any bump in the road, can throw him into a tailspin. And when you need an actor who can play a car (in a non-animated context), you call Christian Bale. While he doesn’t go through one of his infamous transformations by ingesting gasoline, he does find the perfect speeds for both his on- and off-track life, turning a character that could have easily been a testy prick into a principled pro and conscientious family man. Bale is, as well, one of the least ‘corporate’ movie star out there, which fits the film’s allegiances. Even in a mega-franchise like Batman he insisted on freedom with his technique, and through his career has been loathe to brand himself with a familiar way of delivering a line or stylistic choices that can be recognized from role to role. That way he can be a Shelby Cobra or a Pierce Arrow, a Ferrari or a Mini Cooper. What he’ll never be, though, is a Ford.

That, unfortunately, is Matt Damon’s spot in the studio parking lot, the actor version of an F150, but with a cheeky bumper sticker like ‘My other car is Harvey Weinstein’s limo’. He’s stuck with the less flashy role here, caught as Shelby is between his affinity for corporate branding and his need to defend Miles’ individualism, so Matt settles into his usual track, but this is the brand of American hero he does so well, especially opposite a Brit who can match his cheeky banter.

With this level of quality in the directing, writing and acting, we expect everything else to match, and it does. We’ve seen automotive theatrics ad infinitum (what’s Fast & Furious on, number 7?), but Ford v Ferrari delivers race footage that feels more analog and tactile, and thus scarier every time Miles seals himself into a potential 200mph death trap. 

There is only one female in the macho world of Ford v Ferrari – Miles’ wife – and though she gets an over-the-top and out-of-nowhere scene trying to compensate for her minimal role, she just can’t compete with the real love interest here – the cars. It’s the mid 60s, so most of that pointy, finny business from the 50s has smoothed out into sensual curves, at least on the more sophisticated offerings. Shelby clearly had taste as well as skill, and you don’t wonder for a minute why all these guys are willing to risk their lives to get inside these curvy beauties (sorry, but the screenwriter’s name is Jez Butterworth, so they started it). 

I did go into Ford v Ferrari thinking it would be just a lark with some boys and their toys. But it’s much more, a wise and observant film about the pursuit of perfection in a homogenous culture, that also happens to get your adrenaline going. 

Ford v Ferrari is currently playing nationwide.

#movies #moviereviews #ratedfritz #fordvferrari #christianbale #oscarnoms

The Irishman: It’s Mobsters: Endgame from the Martin Scorsese Universe

De-aging gracefully. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Martin Scorsese has always been such a great contributor to – and champion of, through his preservation efforts – the art of film that it sounds sacrilegious to suggest he’s been a bit hypocritical in attacking big-budget franchise films when he keeps making them himself. The fact is we know what we’re going to get in a Scorsese mob movie (DeNiro, Pesci, R-rated bludgeoning) just as sure as we know what we’ll get in a Marvel film (Downey, Evans, PG-rated bludgeoning). 

It’s interesting that Scorsese chose to level this criticism just as he’s releasing a film that marks a significant tonal departure from his usual gangster theme parks. Compared to Goodfellas and CasinoThe Irishman is languid and melancholy, the violence mostly muffled, the menace quieter. A more low-key Scorsese feels fitting with our moment of cultural ennui, and his usual cast of wiseguys are clearly relishing what feels like a graceful, reverent send-off of their characters from (Scorsese and real-life) mob history. 

The first sign that things are different this go-round is that the movie has two titles. Ticketing apps and theater lobbies announce The Irishman, which sounds like Scorsese’s ‘grander’ movie titles (The Departed,The Aviator), but once in our seats the film we see is titled I Heard You Paint Houses, which has a winking, conversational feel more reminiscent of his looser earlier films like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Whether this is due to Scorsese’s inability to pick a flavor, or Netflix stepping in, we don’t know.

The story is set in three main time frames, which required the much-discussed de-aging of the leads DeNiro and Pesci. And while neither ever looks younger than 60, the movie is set in a time period where 30-year-old guys looked 60 anyway, so it all kind of mushes together and works. 

If it’s a Scorsese gangster film, we get a narrator, so here it’s the title character, Frank Sheeran (DeNiro), in his oldest phase. From a wheelchair at the nursing home where he lives, Frank relates the story of how he met and began ‘painting houses’ (with blood if you didn’t get it) for mob boss Russell Buffalino (Pesci) and how Russell eventually recommends Frank as a bodyguard for infamous Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The relationship between Frank and Hoffa becomes the heart of the narrative, literally and figuratively. Through Frank, we witness the Jimmy Hoffa era of the late 50s until his disappearance in 1975, one of the most tumultuous socio-economic and political periods in American history. This period was also sort of a last hurrah for organized crime, and it feels as if the movie’s sadness stems from this, as if Scorsese misses the world he’s immersed himself in for so long. 

DeNiro, for his part, channels that longing into his character, and Frank ends up a fuller and more nuanced creation than DeNiro has shown in a while. Frank has genuine affection for Hoffa, and once things get bad between Hoffa and the mob, Frank’s divided loyalties hollow him out. DeNiro and Pacino exchange dialogue like it’s a dance that neither is leading, speaking in coded language of the inevitabilities of the world they’ve each chosen to live – and likely die – in. It’s two of the best actors in film history locked not in battle but in a back-and-forth deference to each other, and it’s both pretty amazing and profoundly sad to watch.

Pesci is worth the trip as well. He finds a different, softer presentation from his typically volatile mobsters, and it helps that here he doesn’t do any of the dirty work himself. That dichotomy between repulsive and magnetic was always Pesci’s calling card, and watching him play it from a fresh angle makes you realize that no actor has embodied Scorsese’s complicated allegiance to these types of men more than Pesci has, and just how valuable he is to Scorsese’s work, not to mention the entire ‘likeable mobster’ trope that gave us our Tony Sopranos.

It’s hard to imagine a 3 1/2-hour movie that isn’t puffed up with directorial indulgences, but in The Irishman, nothing feels superfluous. Every casual conversation or seemingly insignificant moment has consequences, and the pace is so expert that you don’t notice you’ve been in a theater seat (or your sofa, thanks Netflix!) for half the day.

Frank is a man grown so comfortable with his demons he has no need to face them down as he approaches the end. He simply takes a day to pick out his coffin and reserve his berth high up on a mortuary wall, all the while explaining why he wants to be put in a metal casket and stored in a piece of architecture, rather than a wood casket buried in the earth. “I know I’ll still be dead and all,” he says, “but that way it doesn’t feel as final.”

The line is a lovely coda for The Irishman, but really hits home when you think of it referencing the way film, when treasured properly, grants immortality to its director and performers. It’s the way someone old school like Scorcese would say goodbye, though we certainly hope this isn’t the last we see from a legend who clearly still has places to explore.

The Irishman is currently in limited release in theaters, and will begin streaming on Netflix this Tuesday, Nov.20.

#movies #moviereview #ratedfritz #theirishman #robertdeniro #joepesci #martinscorsese #oscarnoms