The Irishman (2019) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 209 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Irishman has a lineup that you can’t argue with. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (and Ray Romano) and is directed by Martin Scorsese. Did I mention that it’s three-and-a-half hours long? In this gangster film, which desperately tries to the mob-movie-to-end-all-mob-movies, World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) works his way into the local mob, controlled by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), becoming a hitman and befriending corrupt union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Is it worth investing those three-and-a-half hours into?

One of the most noteworthy of the behind-the-scenes tricks featured in The Irishman was the computer-generated de-aging done to make the actors look different ages at different points in their lives. I think this was successfully pulled off, and was probably necessary given the huge timeline this feature has to cover. Yes, this is one of the most epic-scale gangster pictures ever released, with the characters experiencing several major historical events that I won’t give away here. Despite this, some of the most entertaining moments in this flick are the comparatively smaller scenes that give the audience a slice of criminal life.

The Irishman is stuffed to the brim with content…perhaps too much. While most of the movie focuses on the three big leads, countless supporting characters come and go. Many (but not all) of the killings lack a certain gravity for this reason. It’s just another job to do. Maybe the story would’ve been served better in a mini-series format? Maybe not, I’m just throwing ideas out there.

It may have highly casual pacing, but I think The Irishman is worth checking out. It’s definitely a drama, but there are some funny scenes sprinkled in. The performances can’t be criticized, and the massive scope of the motion picture is impressive. It does border on the episodic, but many biopics do, so I suppose I can’t complain too much. The bottom line is that fans of the stars and the director will almost certainly end up satisfied. I can’t say I was as enthused with it as the critics were, but it still a gets a thumbs-up from me.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Knives Out (2019) Review

Director: Rian Johnson

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 130 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Now this is the kind of film that director Rian Johnson should be making, instead of “subverting [the] expectations” of Star Wars fans with Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) (which is still a movie I enjoy on some level). After famous murder mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his mansion, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) brings in the writer’s family to see if foul play was involved. This is an excellent whodunit murder mystery picture that made me want to see more adventures of Daniel Craig’s character.

The plot of Knives Out is intricate, but, by mystery movie standards, it doesn’t feel convoluted. I’m no good at following flicks that are like the latter, so if I could understand what was going on, you, almost certainly, will be able to as well. Fortunately for the audience, the various characters in this feature are mostly well-defined and played by an all-star cast. Despite all of the twists and turns, the film doesn’t really try to confuse the viewer or make following the details difficult.

Knives Out, in addition to being a mystery/thriller movie, is a comedy. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s definitely the murder-related elements that keep it afloat. It’s certainly self-aware, but that doesn’t become a hindrance to enjoyment (Knives Out isn’t as cheeky as critics of The Last Jedi may have feared). It’s interesting to note that Christopher Plummer’s character’s home is filled with knick-knacks that seem to stare back at the audience and the people within the film. This may be a reference to Sleuth (1972), which did something similar.

This work left me wanting more…in a good sort of way. It doesn’t really matter if it would be other murder mysteries or another picture or two featuring Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. I suppose that’s a sign that something went right. Knives Out is an admirable flick, largely thanks to a well-told plot and a cast of characters that the viewer can keep track of. Oh, yeah, it’s pretty funny as well.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

White Heat (1949) Review

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 114 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

When I think of the greatest acting performances I’ve seen in my life, James Cagney’s role as Cody Jarrett in White Heat is one of the first to spring to mind. In this truly great gangster classic, Jarrett confronts threats against his life from both inside and outside his crew of criminals. You see, he just robbed a train and the federal government wants him dead or behind bars, so they send an agent by the name of Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien) to infiltrate Jarrett’s ranks. James Cagney’s made some good movies, but this is the best of the lot (well, at least of the ones I’ve seen).

Of course, it is Cagney’s beyond-superb performance as a psychotically-violent mobster who’s losing his grip on reality that stands out most when thinking about White Heat. It’s a shame that it wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. You just can’t take your eyes off of it. However, this picture’s secret weapon is its taut script. The storytelling here is remarkably tight…remove one scene from the finished product and the whole thing would make no sense. It should probably be shown in filmmaking schools for this reason.

Between the tough-talking dialogue and the moments of action (which come rather frequently for a non-action film), you’ve got tons of iconic moments. Rewatching White Heat will have any viewer saying “oh, I love this scene” many times over. The various supporting characters are reasonably easy to keep track of and the Max Steiner musical score shines on a few occasions.

White Heat is frequently considered a film-noir, but I think of it more as a straight gangster flick, similar to those Cagney was making in the 1930s. Anyway, this thriller is a must-watch for fans of organized crime media. It has it all: an astounding central performance, a screenplay that never goes off on tangents, cold-blooded killings, an explosive finale, and more. Its appeal is not limited to Cagney aficionados.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) Review

Director: Gordon Douglas

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

It isn’t often that you hear about states within the United States banning movies. However, this picture, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, was initially outlawed in Ohio thanks to its violence (extremely tame by today’s standards) and its fairly detailed depictions of potentially imitable crimes. The plot follows gangster Ralph Cotter’s (James Cagney) escape from the chain gang and his life of crime afterwards, which includes bringing in two crooked cops, Charles Weber (Ward Bond) and John Reece (Barton MacLane), onto his payroll. It’s not one of James Cagney’s very best, but it’s a nice change of pace.

Ol’ Cagney here plays one of his career’s most psychopathic characters. He doesn’t even have a mother character to show affection towards, like he does in The Public Enemy (1931) and White Heat (1949). He’s a mean cuss who’ll pistol-whip you into submission if he suspects resistance. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye also probably has enough noirish touches for it to be considered a proper film-noir. The cinematography isn’t quite moody enough to look like a stereotypical noir, but it still might fit the bill for 1940s-1950s crime-thriller aficionados.

Unfortunately, this feature almost hits a brick wall at times, due to a romantic subplot between Cagney’s character and Margaret Dobson (Helena Carter). It sometimes feels like something out of a completely different film. I’m not sure this subplot could’ve been completely removed from the final cut without leaving plot holes in the story, but it definitely should’ve been written out of the screenplay. There’s also bookend scenes in a courtroom that may spoil who lives and who dies throughout the course of the flick.

Yeah, it’s somewhat talky at times, but Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is worth recommending because of the Cagney factor. He’s one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood history, even when playing a cold-blooded killer. If you can find a copy, I’d say “watch it.” Also, what’s up with the hat that Vic Mason (Rhys Williams) wears? I thought only cartoon characters wore whoopee caps.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Only God Forgives (2013) Review

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Genre(s): Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Gangster thriller Only God Forgives desperately wants to be cherished as a work of art. Its ponderous nature borders on self-parody. Set in Bangkok, Thailand, criminal Julian (Ryan Gosling) finds that he’s expected to seek vengeance for the recent killing of his brother, Billy (Tom Burke). However, is his brother’s death worth being avenged? I suppose it’s an interesting question, but this movie’s mind is mostly elsewhere.

Only God Forgives is one of those arthouse films where people stare off into the distance in silence for long periods of time. Man, they still make movies like that? I thought that style of filmmaking had been ridiculed to death? Most things in the picture happen slowly, I suppose because it makes the flick appear more important and artsier. Being only ninety minutes long, it’s not exactly boring, but it is self-indulgent. However, don’t get me started on that trollish ending.

There’s some good stuff about this feature, though. The musical score by Cliff Martinez has its moments, and the use of color and lighting stands out. There are a couple of notable performances, including Vithaya Pansringarm’s as Chang, a creepy, sadistic police officer. Kristin Scott Thomas also gives a memorable performance as Crystal, Ryan Gosling’s character’s vile mother. As mentioned above, it’s not a mind-numbing movie, managing to maintain my interest for most scenes.

Some have stated that this ultra-violent crime-thriller is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but I largely come down in the middle on it. It’s more concerned with appearing dreamlike than just about anything else, even if real-world dreams are typically much faster-paced than this. Only God Forgives has its commendable aspects, but, in the end, it’s just too concerned with being viewed as high art to remember that there’s an audience watching.

My rating is 5 outta 10.

Underworld (1927) Review

Directors: Josef von Sternberg and Arthur Rosson

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 80 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Underworld was one of the first feature-length gangster films, and possibly the first of its kind to be told from the criminals’ point-of-view. This silent movie is about mob boss “Bull” Weed’s (George Bancroft) troubles when his alcoholic lawyer, “Rolls Royce” Wensel (Clive Brook) starts to fall for his moll, “Feathers” McCoy (Evelyn Brent). Yeah, I know that the plot description makes this one sound like an uninteresting romance picture, but, trust me, this crime-drama is worth watching.

Aided by a swift 80-minute runtime, Underworld features pulpy dialogue that helped it win an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Story) at the first ever Academy Awards. Also of note is its proto-noirish cinematography that emphasizes shadows. The number of characters in the flick is kept relatively small, so it’s not exactly hard to keep track of everybody.

Physical action in this feature, while dynamic, is fairly limited until the finale. The climatic shootout is a real surprise, being more exciting than the final gunfights of many sound-era mobster movies of the following decade – the 1930s. I’m not exaggerating. It brings both the drama and action elements of the film together on a strong note.

While Underworld doesn’t quite rank up there with my all-time favorite gangster pictures, thanks to romance occasionally running away with the plot, it’s still a startlingly good entry into the organized crime subgenre, especially when its age is taken into account. It begins and ends with a bang, and has some of the best directing that I’ve seen from the silent era. Fans of early mob cinema need to watch it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Review

Director: Jonathan Demme

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Intense from the get-go, The Silence of the Lambs is an instant classic that won an Oscar for Best Picture, the only horror movie to win that award so far. The plot follows aspiring FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who must use the help of imprisoned cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to catch a woman-murdering serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). Does it deserve its reputation as one of the finest psychological thrillers of all time? I’d say so.

It just might be the perfect performances that keep The Silence of the Lambs on track. Anthony Hopkins gives a masterclass acting job as cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, effortlessly getting under the skin of the viewers. The mind games he plays are enough to warrant giving the feature a thumbs-up. His role won him an Oscar and Dr. Lecter was named the number-one villain in American cinema history as part of the American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains retrospective in 2003. It would be a mistake to forget about Jodie Foster, who also won an Oscar for her part. Her character was named the sixth greatest American screen hero in the celebration mentioned above.

Dark, serious, and macabre, The Silence of the Lambs earns its R rating, but doesn’t go overboard with the gore, probably making it watchable for most adult audiences. It’s very fast-paced and efficient, making the minutes fly by when experiencing it. If I had to find a fault with it, it would be that the ending feels less conclusive and a bit more sequel-baity than desirable, but that’s a minor flaw.

This bone-chilling horror-thriller flick is nothing short of gripping. Even the critics generally loved it, even if they seem to avoid calling it a “horror movie,” favoring the term “thriller.” Perhaps they were too embarrassed to admit that they liked an entry into the horror genre? Also, just how big is “Buffal0 Bill’s” basement supposed to be anyway?

My rating is 8 outta 10.