My thoughts on The Irishman

The first hour of The Irishman is the worst part of the movie. The writing is crammed in the beginning, and it does not give a ton of room for the characters to breathe. Also, the limits of the de-aging technology are on full display during the first hour. There is one scene where Robert De Niro beats up a guy in a shop, and it looks very silly. Even though his face is younger his body is not the age that he is supposed to be in the film, and so it looks strange. It is also unclear what age the characters are supposed to be at what points. De-aging technology needs work but after the first hour, it disappears into the film.

The film really becomes great in the last hour. Then after two in a half hours, the film’s themes of age and loss come together in a searing finish. It is a devastating end, and the length in some ways helps the impact as you feel you have been with these characters for so long before it all comes together. I won’t spoil anything, but it is definitely worth it if you are willing to watch the movie.

Robert De Niro is a standout as is Joe Pesci, but Al Pacino is the showstopper as Jimmy Hoffa. He energizes the movie and brings out the emotional core of the movie at many points.

If you are willing to sit through three and a half hours this movie is worth it. However, make sure you know what you are in for. It is long and takes time. It is flawed and needs work in certain areas. If you love Scorsese however, this is a must-see. I think the flaws mostly in the beginning hold the ending back for me, but it is so brilliant and searing, the movie just gets into the A category. A-

Knives Out, The Social Network, The Art of Self-Defense, & Ad Astra

Knives Out – Watching some of the criticism toward Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi has been disappointing, as I find him to be an exceptional writer and director. Knives Out is another terrific film from Johnson. A whodunnit may seem unnecessary or even unoriginal, but Johnson’s ability to play with genre, narrative, and scope make it a terrific outing. He also updates the whodunnit for 2019 in an incredibly clever way. The biggest complaint I can see potentially coming for the film is that it is not particularly artistic or beautiful, that it focuses more on just having a good time. It is really hard to make that complaint when a whodunnit is made this well and the experience is this much fun. Whether or not it is a film that lacks artistic quality, it is one of the best moviegoing experiences that you can have this year. I cannot recommend it enough. A

The Social Network – Skimming through many best of the decade lists, The Social Network kept coming up as one of the top movies of the past ten years. I decided to see it, with admittedly low expectations. It completely blew me away. The movie came out in 2010, before its massive growth in the 2010s and Russian Interference. The film managed to forecast what social media can do to us, and what it can do to the connections around us through the lens of Mark Zuckerberg. It is an absolute classic, and while it may not win my best of the decade, it is a worthy pick. A

The Art of Self Defense – The off-kilter film starring Jesse Eisenberg is interesting enough. Not everything lands, but the film has plenty of interesting things to say about toxic masculinity through the lens of karate. It works well for its limited scope and does an excellent job of using Jesse Eisenberg to deliver the off-kilter humor. The “twist” (although I would not really call it a twist) is pretty obvious and the plot becomes fairly predictable. I did not mind as much, as some of the humor is enjoyable, but this movie is not for everyone. I enjoyed it but recognize it had plenty of room to be better. B-

Ad Astra – Ad Astra is a movie about daddy issues. While it manages to juggle plenty of other themes, from creation, god, and the meaning of life, the daddy issues lie at the core of the film. Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, an astronaut, and son of another famous astronaut H. Clifford McBride. Roy must go to Neptune to find his dad and stop power surges that have been causing brutal destruction to the earth and other planets back home. The themes and the cinematography are excellent, and it features some of the best space shots in any movie. It manages to capture the loneliness of space that I loved as well. My biggest complaint is the narration and its stillness. The narration seems pretty detached and not needed, it does not add much. All it seems to do is just emphasize what we are seeing on screen. Regardless, this is a very good film and will be touted by some as the best film of the year, and it deserves some of that praise. B+

I am seeing Star Wars tomorrow so I hope to have a review up on the Michigan Review shortly!

Marriage Story & Some thoughts on Season 4 of Game of Thrones

Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach’s Netflix film is one of my favorite films to come out this year. The movie is about divorce. Divorce is a tough topic, but Baumbach treats his characters with such love and warmth it allows you to get absorbed in the story, and not worry about taking sides in a divorce. This film does a great job of showing how people around divorce can exacerbate the situation, and turn what should be a tough but personal process into a public bloodbath. I think it is pretty clear that Nicole and Charlie should not be together. However, the lawyers and legalese surrounding them make things worse.

Every performance in this movie is terrific. Two standouts are Laura Dern and Adam Driver. While Dern steals every scene she is in, this becomes Driver’s film and he nails it. Driver is so talented and this is one of his best performances. It is also full of small humorous moments to jokes about Los Angeles and New York to chummy lawyers outside of trial. It is a must-watch, full of emotion and brutal truths. A

I am your son, and you sentenced me to die. You knew I didn’t poison Joffrey, but you sentenced me all the same. – Tyrion

I am slowly binging Game of Thrones, and I just finished Season 4. Reading and watching this series unlocks and showcases different pieces of the story and helps you notice things you would not otherwise. Season 4 is probably the best in the series I have watched thus far, and I loved how it brought alive the theme of becoming what people want you to be or say you are.

Throughout the season, Tyrion is repeatedly told he is a killer. While he is not guilty of what he is accused of, he is treated as a villain, a jealous and angry half-man who only knows revenge. While he is not what he is accused of being, he eventually fulfills his destiny. He kills Shae and his father and escapes. Had there been a fair trial, had their been more sympathy for Tyrion, perhaps he would not have lashed out. However, that is now a world of what-ifs.

Tywin and others refer to Shae as a whore. Shae loves Tyrion, but she is a bad look for the Lannister family. So when Tyrion has to tell Shae to leave, he calls her a whore because he is convinced that is what she needs to hear. While she was not a whore at the time, she becomes a whore and sleeps with the person who despises her the most, Tywin.

Shae will be remembered in history not as a Tyrion’s lover, but as a whore who died doing her job. Tyrion will be remembered as a kinslayer. Neither of them deserved the title initially but fulfilled it because of the people surrounding them. Neither of them wanted to be remembered for this, but they will be because of the people around him.

Tywin is a fascinating character as well and gets his fitting send-off. He never truly cared about any of his children and views them as products. Tyrion is a slap in the face to his ideal vision or product, an Imp who has no physical talents. Despite Tyrion and Tywin’s shared understanding of politics, his appearance alone causes Tyrion to view him as a disappointment. He looks at Cersei as his beautiful bride to marry off to a famous house and looks at Jamie as the legacy and fighter that he wants. He views them as ideal products, so much so that he is incapable of believing his children would be capable of incest. Yet they are, and had he paid attention, as Cersei noted, he would have figured it out quickly. But he refused to believe and will die refusing to believe it.

Tywin is a manipulative and terrible person and father. While he has political talent, he got a fitting end. I love his ending more now after watching HBO’s rendition.

 

Drive is one of the best LA movies ever

Last night I watched Drive (it was just released on Netflix). After some time to digest it, I can say it is one of my favorite films about Los Angeles ever made.

The film is about an unnamed driver who is out of touch from the surrounding world. By day, he works at a repair shop and is a stunt double. By night, he is a getaway driver for heists.

The driver’s lack of connection begins to change when he meets a lovely neighbor Irene and her daughter Benicio. He quickly begins to attach himself to the family, but then Irene’s violent husband comes home and is threatened if he does not complete a job for them. The Driver volunteers and things get out of hand.

What makes Drive such a great representation of Los Angeles is not only its stunning shots of the city but also its capturing of the dark underworld that lies beneath. Los Angeles is a city that appears nice and shiny but is sinister beneath. Too often films like La La Land are too focused on their idealized version of the city to portray it accurately. While that movie is still a good movie, I do not think it gets LA right. This movie does.

Drive is also great for how its dialogue and characters mirror and reflect off of the driver himself. How they change his world and he responds to those changes are terrific. At no point does it feel overwritten or forced.

This movie also has an excellent cast. Ryan Gosling, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and many others. If you have not watched this movie, you are missing a gem. A

Parasite, An excellent Joe Biden Article, & Watchmen’s Brilliance

Parasite – Bong Joon Ho’s latest film Parasite does almost everything right. It is an incredibly creative take on how people from lower classes constantly prop up those above, even if they do not know it.

The film focuses on the Kim family, that lives at the edge of poverty. When the son’s (Kim Ki-woo) friend Min offers him a job tutoring English for a girl from a rich family, he accepts. Changing his name to Kevin, he recommends his sister as an art teacher for the rich family’s son, who poses as Jessica. Before they know it, the whole Kim family is posing as different workers at the rich Park estate. Then suddenly the film gets darker.

The director’s take on income inequality and social commentary is approached with humor, but is it at its best when it gets dark. My biggest problem is with the ending of the film, which I do not think works quite as well as the director seems to. While it is creative up to that point, the how and why of getting their does not always fit. Regardless, this is still a film I recommend highly. It swings for the fences, but it comes up just short in my book. B+

It’s a singular episode of television that asks us to consider the nature of inheritance and the ways trauma is etched upon a family, passed down through generations.

*This contains spoilers for HBO’s Watchmen, if you have not seen it yet stop what you are doing and watch it.*

Watchmen’s latest episode is nothing short of brilliant. Damon Lindelof and his team have pulled off the impossible, making a new story in the Watchmen universe while also enhancing the original.

The big reveal in episode 6, was that (SPOILER ALERT) Hooded Justice, the original masked vigilante, was black. It fits in perfectly with the canon, and allows race to become a central feature of the story itself.

I think I have said this before, but Watchmen is one of the best comic books and pieces of literature that has ever be written. Creating this show was an impossible task, but Lindelof and his team are passing with flying colors. If you have not read the novel or seen this show, those are two things you need to change.

 I don’t want to hear Biden say “I still stutter” to prove some grand point; I want to hear him say it because doing so as a presidential candidate would mean that stuttering truly doesn’t matter—for him, for me, or for our 10-year-old selves.

Finally, this is an excellent piece on Joe Biden, and how his stutter might still be affecting him. It is a great example of narrative journalism that I all encourage you all to read. Have a happy thanksgiving everyone!

Raging Bull & Mauricio Pochettino

Raging Bull – Martin Scorsese is a hallmark name in film, and it is easy to understand why. His films rage with a creative energy and harsh brilliance that is always captivating. In Raging Bull, Scorsese does a very good job portraying a boxer who is not a good person but you root for nonetheless. The movie is also less about creating a stereotypical boxing story, but about Jake managed to separate and destroy himself. The film is a bit slow and sometimes does not quite have the excitement of some of his other films. It is still a very good one nevertheless. A-

Yesterday, it was announced that Mauricio Pochettino would no longer be the coach of Tottenham Hotspur and that Jose Mourinho would replace him. When I first got into soccer, I fell in love with Tottenham. Players like Harry Kane and Son Hueng-Min certainly helped that process, but no one aided that process more than Poch. He was electric, passionate, and invigorated fire into a club that had not seen it for so long. When Mauricio was on the touch line, any game could be won, any night could be ours, and any trophy could be ours.

To me, the moment that best explains what Pochettino meant to the club was after the comeback against Ajax to send Tottenham into the Champions League Final. As soon as Lucas Moura completed a miracle comeback, he was on the field in tears. After the game he was swarmed and could not keep it together.

After the game, he could not contain himself. “Thank you football. Thank you my players, they are heroes.” The manager who had fought through so much had achieved the impossible, and it was absolutely breathtaking.

Yes in recent months Tottenham has struggled to perform. Fourteenth in the Premier League is inexcusable. This team is much more talented than that. No we have not won any trophies. However, that is the manager I will always remember. The one who never said die. The one who inspired his players to achieve something none of them would have ever thought possible. The one that dared to do and did so much.

I was so incredibly lucky to root for a team with Pochettino as the manager. He brought excitement, enthusiasm, and passion to every game he coached. Tottenham fans had a chant for him, “Mauricio Pochettinno, he’s magic you know.” It is hard to describe him any other way than magical. No matter the score, no matter the situation, you always believed you could win because Pochettino was on your side. I cannot explain how much I will miss that feeling. I cannot explain how much I will miss that magic. Thank you Mauricio Pochettino, you will be missed.

 

Game of Thrones Seasons 1-2 & Speaker for the Dead

After plenty of time spent being stubborn, I finally decided to start watching Game of Thrones. The first two seasons are excellent and I would encourage anyone who has not watched the show to do so. The books I find to be more enjoyable in plenty of aspects, but the show is remarkably well done. Some of Martin’s best writing comes when he is character building. Some of those really well written smaller scenes are taken out. It is very understandable, even in a show format it is hard to fit all that Martin has to offer. It is still disappointing nonetheless.

One of the characters I was disappointed with was Sansa. In the first season she is a bit too reserved. In the book she written in such a stuck up way it was hard to even read without getting frustrated. That makes her transition as a character more rewarding. I think Sophie Turner does an excellent job as the show progresses, but I was definitely hoping for more from her in the first season.

The character I think is best realized is Tyrion Lannister. Peter Dinklage is brilliant as Tyrion. It is an incredibly tough role to play, and he is excellent at finding the right balance between clever pettiness and real pain at his circumstances. He is the smallest person on screen, but easily steals every scene he is in.

I really enjoyed the first two seasons and am looking forward to the rest of the show.

No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one’s life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.

I finished Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead a month ago. It is an incredible peace of work, and while it at times is a bit preachy, it is beautifully written and told.

The book is a sequel to Ender’s Game, but it is not necessary to read Ender’s Game to enjoy this book. Ender is the main agent in this book, and his role as Speaker is terrific. While I will not spoil too much, how we handle guilt and how we grieve for those we have lost is the driving point of this book. It is absolutely heartbreaking, but in the end puts forward not only a moving story but a compelling argument for being honest about those who pass. It is a tough read, but incredibly worthwhile.

Jurassic Park & Winter’s Bone

Jurassic Park – The classic movie is pretty thin outside of nostalgia. I enjoyed the dinosaurs and it is certainly fun to watch them rip and scare. However, it begins to feel like a basic monster movie pretty quickly. The characters themselves are pretty flat, all of whom are only there to act scared. While the cast is talented, they are given little to work with in terms of their own development. Jeff Goldblum is particularly useless as Dr. Ian Malcolm, the movie would have gone almost the exact same with or without him. Another character sat on a toilet and was eaten. That is all I remember of him.

It delivers on dinosaurs and action. If that is all you are looking for than you will be pleased. If you are looking for bold storytelling or facsinating themes of playing God, this will not be the movie for you. It has some intersting moments to be sure, but it trades them for cheap scares. It is fun, but not that good. C+

Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik’s 2018 film Leave No Trace was one of my favorite to come out last year, and was incredibly undervalued throughout last years awards. Winter’s Bone, one of Granik’s earlier films, shows her also able to extract empathy from unknown characters, and approach the subject matter with curiosity and sensitivity. It also creates a captivating story where someone normal does an extraordinary thing in extraordinary circumstances. She does not make excuses. She does not boast or speak for too long. She just does what she must. This along with a stellar performance from Jennifer Lawrence make this a terrific film.  A-

Layer Cake, A Serious Man, & Chernobyl

*From now on I will be grading using a letter grade system. The grading system will range from an A to F. This should be easier to understand and give me less room to overrate. I apologize for switching suddenly but I have come to the conclusion it will be easier to use.*

Layer Cake – Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake seems at first like something you have watched before. A crime movie about someone who has set up a successful front, and who swears he can get out. He is soon pull back in, and the world begins to unravel. It is complicated, and at times too much so for its own good. It can become tricky to follow, and I had to make sure to follow each point. Certain pieces get lost in the fray, and  I think making the movie 15 minutes longer to explain things would have helped.

However, the movie’s emphasis on a tight structure and a chiseled atmosphere serve it well in the end. The movie never loses its steam and finds ways to surprise and excite. The ending is also brilliant. In the layer cake of crime films, this one is a winner.  A-

A Serious Man – The Coen Brothers deliver some of their best heartbreak and irreverence with A Serious Man. Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a terrific performance as Larry Gopnik, a man struggling to figure out why everything around is going terribly. It also asks fascinating questions about religion and death, paralleling the book of Job all the while. This film has certain oddities as does all of the Coen Brother’s work. There are scenes that almost wash over you but are hard to justify in the overall context of the movie. It also ends in a slightly wistful and interpretative area. A Serious Man is far from perfect, but finds areas of brilliance throughout the movie. B+

I recently finished watching the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, and it is one of the most necessary pieces of art to come out this year. Some of its historical fictionalizing is tough to square, but it is brilliant and compelling throughout. The culture of the Soviet Union and the pride of their country also come through, making for a fascinating piece of work. If you have HBO, please go and watch Chernobyl.
A

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of Quentin Tarantino’s best

It’s official old buddy, I’m a has-been.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – I love Quentin Tarantino, he could write a phone book and I would probably praise it as genius. So it means something when I say not only is this film brilliant, but it’s one of Tarantino’s best. From the man who taught me to love film, has outdone himself once again.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a story of place, nostalgia, and fear for the future. It shows a man struggling to figure out what’s next, spinning in the beautiful Los Angeles sunlight and the rhythm of a Hollywood golden age. It is a film anchored by terrific performances, that captures Tarantino at its best while also allowing him to differ from his previous work. Here the film is about the importance of an era and the characters that could have populated it, and relies less on violence to get that point across.

Hollywood in 1969 is realized in beautiful detail, from the spinning lights, smooth cars, and easygoing songs. From appearances by Bruce Lee, to fun moments at the Playboy Mansion, it gives us the best of that era.

This movie could have easily become a toy, something to look at but not examine too deeply. Thankfully it is a thoughtful film as well, and has plenty of terrific and serious moments to anchor it.  Leo is terrific as Rick Dalton, managing to bring melancholy and muse to the character. Dalton is looking back wondering where to go now. From the long stares, to crying over a novel that’s particularly timely, Dicaprio seems to embody Tarantino. The torture and the pain is a terrific touch, with lines and great scenes to go along with it.

However, he is bested by his partner Brad Pitt, delivering a terrific performance as Dalton’s stunt double Cliff Booth. Cool, funny, but pained all the same, Booth is the soul that in Dalton needs. He is funny, but also gives a jolt when needed. Both men deliver endearing performances, at points in their careers when it was easy to wonder if they had anything left.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is how Tarantino plays with the expectations. While I will not spoil anything, just know that even with all that has been written about the Manson murders, expect the unexpected. It is a brilliant and charming twist on a tale told over and over again.

9/10