DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed and Edited by: Mike Flanagan

Produced by: Trevor Macy, Jon Berg

Screenplay by: Mike Flanagan – Based on Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Cliff Curtis, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Carl Lumbly, Jacob Tremblay etc.

Music: The Newton Brothers

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I read Stephen King’s classic novel The Shining when I was eleven. I didn’t quite understand the complexities of the supernatural elements, but I understood the emotion of a mother and child trapped within a traumatic family scenario. When I watched the film a year later in 1982, on VHS video, I recall not quite grasping the complex and creeping genius of Kubrick’s adaptation. I wanted them to get to the bit where the guy goes nuts with the axe!!

Flash forward many decades, and having seen The Shining (1980) more times than I can remember, I now feel that it’s one of the best horror films of all time. It is meticulously directed, edited and designed and feel like I understand it. Having said that, I still see something new in it every time I watch it. I guess what I’m trying to say is I grew up and grew older with King’s characters and Kubrick’s film, so a sequel has a lot to live up to.



While I haven’t read Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep, I was confident screenwriter and director, Mike Flanagan, was a good choice for the continuation of the story of Danny Torrance and his ‘Shining’ gift. Flanagan is a solid and unflashy genre filmmaker. He presents characters and narratives in a considered style, allowing the concepts to flourish and actors to shine. I would recommend you check out his previous work on The Haunting of Hill House (2018), Gerald’s Game (2017), Hush (2016) and the very under-rated, Before I Wake (2016).

Doctor Sleep (2019) is a film, typically for King, about good versus evil. It’s also about recovery, addiction, finding yourself, death, defeating one’s demons and appreciating your inner gifts. It opens by re-establishing the trauma young Danny Torrance suffered at the Overlook Hotel. Flanagan takes great joy re-enacting scenes, locations and characters from the Kubrick adaptation. These are striking and impressive at first. I must say though, the shadow of the original The Shining (1980), arguably impinges too much in the final act. Nonetheless, as a fanatic of the original film, Flanagan is clearly having a lot of fun re-introducing ghosts of the past.



Thematically the film opens very strongly. As Danny Torrance attempts recovery from alcoholism, Ewan McGregor delivers a compelling performance. His scenes as an orderly in a hospice present some really moving moments, as he finally finds a place to utilize his telepathic gifts positively. The action really kicks in when he is contacted via ‘Shining’ by a teenage girl, Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran). She is an incredible young talent and soon her gifts are putting her in danger. A nefarious troupe of energy vampires led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), feed off the ‘shine’ of these children to sustain their existence.

Rebecca Ferguson and Zahn McClarnon as Rose the Hat and Crow Daddy represent formidable nemeses in the narrative. Their group, ‘The True Knot’, reminded me off the vampires from Near Dark (1987) and also the carnival monsters from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ferguson is especially alluring. She’s both sensual and attractive, but with a dark, wicked heart internally. I would have liked a bit more history of their vampiric troupe, but they were memorable villains and symbolic of the veracious nature of addiction.



Doctor Sleep (2019) is, above all else, another solid genre adaptation of King’s work. Indeed, Mike Flanagan has delivered a visually impressive and psychologically interesting film. Arguably, I felt, it was much stronger when concentrating on Danny’s movement toward recovery in the first half. Having said that this theme is played out in the inevitable face off with Rose the Hat at the end. The denouement, while generically necessary is still creepy and highly satisfying though.

As I said, the over-reliance on the images and scenes from the original The Shining (2019), while necessary, impact the sequel’s identity a tad. However, as a psychologically moving film it works very well. I suppose it could have been scarier in places, but Stephen King’s concepts retain power and really get under the skin in Flanagan’s capable hands. There is a powerful air of familiarity to the tale, but I love stories that delve into addiction and telepathic characters; especially in the horror genre. Ultimately, this is where Doctor Sleep (2019) shines. In fact, while it is a long film, it never drags and could have benefited from an episodic TV adaptation to explore the characters and fantastic concepts further.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #4 – HALLOWEEN (2018)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #4 – HALLOWEEN (2018)

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Produced by: Malek Akkad, Jason Blum, Bill Block

Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green

Based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner etc.

Music by: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is a seminal horror film experience. It spawned an army of sequels and sidequels and reboots which darkened the cinemas, mostly failing to get anywhere near Carpenter’s low-budget masterpiece in terms of quality and scares. It also gave birth, along with Black Christmas (1974), to the slasher film genre. Of course Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), could make claim to that too, but following the success of Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the bloodgates opened. What followed was a deluge of stabbing and slashing copycat killer movies from the late 1970s onwards.

Flash forward to 2018 and with Halloween (2018), we now have the ELEVENTH film in the franchise. Having read some decent reviews I sat down to watch it last night on, aptly enough, Halloween night. My expectations were pretty low, but I was encouraged by the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, plus David Gordon Green has proved himself a very solid filmmaker in the past. Movies like decent stoner comedy, Pineapple Express (2008), and dramas Joe (2013), and Stronger (2017), were very watchable. Least said about Your Highness (2011), the better.



The film opens with an excellent set-piece establishing Michael Myers, some forty years older, in a maximum security mental health institution. Two reporters have come for an interview for their latest true crime podcast. Safe to say Myers isn’t interested in communicating. The editing and imagery and music combine to create a very unsettling experience, so the film starts strongly. We then re-establish Myers’ narrative counterpart, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

Now, you have to swallow the fact that this is a direct sequel to the original Carpenter classic. None of the other films happened; which essentially works, despite some wonky dialogue and exposition. Thankfully, with Lee Curtis on excellent form as the post-traumatised Strode, we have a flawed but compelling heroine to root for. Strode has been waiting for Myers and preparing with firepower, high security and wits in order to defeat him. Sub-plots involving Strode’s daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) are developed, but kind of lose their way as the murderous Myers mayhem begins. Still, at least they tried to write some depth into the screenplay.



After a very strong start the film begins to unravel in the middle. The machinations of the plot to get Myers on the Halloween rampage felt random and illogical in places. An important event occurs off-screen and this impacted my commitment to the story. This isn’t really a criticism as such, because genre conventions and a high death rate need to be met. However, despite some well directed set-pieces, whenever Laurie Strode was off-screen the film lost some emotional power. Having said that, if it is deaths with knives, hammers, cars and crow-bars you want, this film contains that and more.

Overall, I really wanted to enjoy this film more than I did. I think the work of Gordon Green and Curtis is especially good. The script however, suffered during a messy second act, although the final showdown was really well executed (sorry.) With $250 million made at the box office, it goes to show though that the Halloween franchise is alive and kicking and two further sequels are planned. It has some scary moments, some brilliant gore and the iconic music still haunts me to this day. Nonetheless, this reboot doesn’t hold a pumpkin flame to the original. Then again, not many horror films do.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11


AUTUMN 2019 TV DRAMA UPDATE – REVIEWS INCLUDE: DARK (2019) – S2, EUPHORIA (2019), THE LOUDEST VOICE (2019) & THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2019) – S3 ETC.

AUTUMN 2019 TV DRAMA REVIEWS

Having finished watching all six seasons of the absolutely amazing series The Americans (2013 – 2018) at the end of the summer, I thought it prudent to try and catch up with some of the other television shows I’d missed or had on my planner.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that television, especially many of the shows from Showtime, HBO and Netflix, are reaching and surpassing cinematic quality. The budgets, writing, production values and casts are incredible. It’s been like this for a while, and long may it continue I say.

So, here are a collection of the excellent TV shows I have completed watching in the last month or so, with the usual marks out of 11.

**SPOILER FREE**



CITY ON A HILL (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

This crime drama set in 1990’s Boston is essentially a combination of The Wire meets Ben Affleck’s cracking film, The Town (2010). Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge lead the cast in this always watchable story of cops and robbers. Bacon is especially excellent as the anti-heroic FBI agent, Jackie Rohr. Good performances, violent action and earthy Bostonian dialogue inflect this genre piece, which blurs the lines between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Mark: 8 out of 11



A CONFESSION (2019) – ITV

Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and Siobhan Finneran are all uniformly excellent in this true crime drama. Set in Wiltshire, it follows Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher (Freeman), as his investigative team search for a missing young woman. What follows is a series of compelling events which grip you throughout. Seasoned scriptwriter Jeff Pope delivers a meticulously researched screenplay that explores the emotional impact of criminal behaviour, and how police procedure effects justice for victims and their families.

Mark: 8 out of 11



DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

What can I say about Dark (2019) – Season 2? Well, for starters it is easily one of the best television dramas I have seen in a long time. It’s edgy, nightmarish, confusing, twisted and to be honest, virtually unreviewable. I say that because I don’t want to give away any spoilers but, trust me, if you like emotionally, structurally and artistically complex plots involving multiple characters, locations and timelines then this German thriller is for you. It had me confused in a good way and totally immersed in the tenebrae. You will be lost, searching for the light, yet you will be astounded too by the audacity of the writing and looping madness on show.

Mark: 10 out of 11



EUPHORIA (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

Having recently watched Sam Levinson uneven but stylish low-budget crime drama, Assassination Nation (2018), I thought I’d give this big budget HBO U.S. drama a watch. The ensemble cast of mainly young actors are led brilliantly by the ultra-talented Zendaya. She portrays just-out-of-rehab, Rue, who battles drug addiction on a daily basis. Her new best friend Jules (Hunter Schafer) also has issues to deal relating to identity, sex and love. In fact, pretty much all the characters are fucked up somehow in this giddy, glossy, sexy, dirty and often shockingly dark profile of high school existence.

Mark: 9 out of 11



THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HULU / CHANNEL 4

Season 3 of the iconic Margaret Atwood literary adaptation, continues to play strongly with the emotions, the nerves and the heartstrings. Centred around the dictatorial and fascistic Republic of Gilead, the plight of oppressed woman such as June Osborne (Elizabeth Moss) and other ‘Handmaid’s’ is a grim mix of tense drama and suffocating horror. Having said that, misery has never looked so beautifully shot as Moss’ performance and the cinematography are both exquisitely framed. The narrative is slightly slow in delivery, yet as June finds strength in rebellion and civil disobedience, you’re never too far from startling turns of violence and empowerment within the narrative.

Mark: 9 out of 11



THE LOUDEST VOICE (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

I don’t tend to watch the news as it’s all quite depressing. However, I was drawn to this drama about Fox News and its’ leader, Roger Ailes, because it features a great cast. They include, an unrecognizable Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Sienna Miller and Seth MacFarlane. The narrative covers Ailes starting Fox News for Rupert Murdoch in 1996, and subsequent global news events from then to the present. Crowe revels in his role as the monstrous Ailes, who advocates making Fox the number one news outlet on TV, by pushing his own agendas amidst sensational news storytelling. I have seen a few negative reviews for this show, but I really enjoyed it. As a profile of a big, corporate predator who preyed on those around him, it was both sickening and enthralling at the same time.

Mark: 9 out of 11




MONOS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

MONOS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Alejandro Landes

Produced by: Alejandro Landes, Fernando Epstein, Santiago Zapata, Cristina Landes

Written by: Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos

Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillon, Deiby Rueda, Wilson Salazar, Esneider Castro, Paul Cubedes etc.

Music: Mira Levi

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **



Those American teenagers, as represented in recent film and television offerings such as Stranger Things and IT, have some serious problems to deal with, such as inter-dimensional aliens and extra-terrestrial demons masquerading as killer clowns. Such foes, however scary, are of course fantasy. The horrors that the kids in feature film MONOS (2019) have to deal with, feel very real, raw and altogether horrifically more deadly.

The film opens on South American mountaintop in Columbia. We are thrown straight into the everyday lives of young rebel soldiers known only by their war names including: Rambo, Smurf, Lady, Dog, and Wolf among others. The fact we never learn their real names establishes the dehumanized and exploited nature of these characters. They are denied a childhood and used as young soldiers within a guerrilla cell. The adults controlling them are represented by a man known only as The Messenger, who visits, drills and orders them about. While they act out, have sex, drink and “play” with the illusion of freedom, if they do not follow orders then there is hell to pay.



“Hell-to-pay” is an apt phrase for both the characters and the audience watching. For me this is not an enjoyable film in terms of entertainment. It is not intended to be. It is a very angry film and a shocking war of attrition to sit through. There is a documentary feel and in-your-face realism throughout, with little or no sympathetic characters to root for. Don’t get me wrong, I empathised with the plight of the children and what had happened to them. Yet, it’s difficult to sympathise with them, because when we join them they all seem so irreparably damaged by war and their existence. It’s a dog eat dog world and these dogs have guns, knives and semi-automatics.

Overall, I found the characterisations and elliptical narrative jarring throughout. For me, it created alienation in terms of emotional impact. However, the cinematic storytelling is of the highest quality. The visuals, sound, score and acting are all exceptional. Indeed, Alejandro Landes is a fearlessly talented filmmaker and definitely one to watch for the future. The mountain vistas and jungle scenery were majestic and beautiful to behold, despite the hellish events unfolding. Lastly, the film carries a deeply important message about these lost children of South America. Their lives are no fantasy. They are violent, animalistic, dirty, carnal and, based on what I saw in Monos (2019), completely devoid of hope.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11




SIX OF THE BEST #20 – FILM DOPPELGANGERS

SIX OF THE BEST #20 – FILM DOPPELGANGERS

While I haven’t seen it yet, I was slightly intrigued by the release of Will Smith’s action film, Gemini Man (2019). Any film which examines the nature of the double or doppelganger always interests me. As you may be aware the word doppelganger is of German origin. It means “double walker” or “double goer” and I just love it. I love the way it sounds and the mysterious connotations it conjures up. It kind of sounds evil as well; like nothing good can come of it.

There have been many films, books and television programmes featuring doubles. They can occur for various reasons such as: twins, clones, shape-shifters, split personalities, mental breakdown and ghostly or other fantastical elements. We must not forget time-travel or inter-connected timeline plots either. Different versions of the same character existing simultaneously in alternate or exact timelines are very prevalent in fiction also.

In this occasional ‘Six of the Best’ series, I would like to consider six “double” or doppelganger films which are definitely worth watching. To make it interesting I would like to consider the more symbolic, fantastical and unexplained kind of films out there. I cannot avoid the twin or clone plots in certain examples, but the temporal double stories have, sort of, been explored here in an article about time travel films.

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***



THE ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)

Having done some online research of films featuring doubles, Sam Raimi’s riotous Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992), is cruelly missed from many of those lists. In this gory and over-the-top medieval horror romp, Ash (Bruce Campbell), finds himself in battle against hordes of Deadites. This is all because he gets a spell wrong and splits in two. He then comes face-to-face with his vicious double, Evil Ash. I hate it when that happens – don’t you! While not the deepest of the films listed here, it’s worth watching because you get TWO Bruce Campbell’s for the price of one!



THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991)

The antithesis of the genre joy that is Army of Darkness, can be found in this profound study of identity, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It concerns two identical women, Weronika and Veronique (both Irene Jacob), who live in Warsaw and Paris, respectively. Aside from one fleeting moment they never meet, but somehow, telepathically, artistically and emotionally, they are connected to each other. A beautiful, yet obtuse narrative, allied with Kieslowski’s poetic style make this a difficult film to understand. However, it contains fine symbolic power and is open to a myriad of interpretations.



ENEMY (2013)

Denis Villeneuve’s directs this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s book called The Double or The Duplicated Man. In it Jake Gyllenhaal plays both a college professor, Adam Bell and his exact lookalike, actor, Anthony Claire. Their two lives become entwined and that’s not the weirdest thing about the film. Part Kafkaesque nightmare and part Freudian examination of the subconscious, this film quietly unhinges the viewer with a slow pace and collection of striking visual motifs. Gyllenhaal is as mesmerizing as ever in this existentially challenging urban horror tale.



THE PRESTIGE (2006)

The doppelganger trope is integral to the story here and uses both twins and clones in its compelling thematic and visual system. Yet, these are not revealed until the very end, as the screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls within the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets. At the heart of the story we witness the tricks of warring magicians, portrayed by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, and the lengths they will go to amaze an audience. By the end, the film becomes a chilling and fantastic warning about the dangers of obsession and rivalry.



US (2019)

The incredibly talented Jordan Peele delivered one of my favourite films of the year. It did not contain just one (or is it two) doppelganger(s), but a whole family of them. Working in the horror genre is an ideal setting for the “double” thematic, as the fantasy elements coalesce perfectly with the psychological ones. Symbolically the film is very strong. It can be interpreted on many levels, including as a critique of the United States (U.S. = US – get it?); and a powerful exploration of split identities. Indeed, in Us (2019), the lead protagonists battle external and inner demons, both political and personal, which can plague all of us during our lives.



VERTIGO (1958)

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic psychological thriller is very complex and actually reflects the directors’ obsession with the moulding of an individual to look a certain way. On the surface, the story of a burnt out cop, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) attempting to overcome his fear of heights, while tracking a friend’s wife, is initially quite simple. But in Hitchcock’s and his writer’s hands it become a tour-de-force of mistaken, double and theft of identity. A tragic figure, Scottie Ferguson is exploited and left bereft of love and comfort as he attempts, like Hitchcock himself, to find that perfect, yet elusive, blonde.



TO BOLDLY REVIEW #7 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 2 (1988 – 1989)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #7 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 2

Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Season 2 writers (selected): Richard Manning, David Assael, Melinda Snodgrass, Scott Rubenstein, Leonard Mlodinow, Maurice Hurley, Burton Armus, Robert Iscove, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Terry Devereaux etc.

Season 2 directors (selected): Winrich Kolbe, Rob Bowman, Robert Becker, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Joseph L. Scanlan, Cliff Bole etc.

Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Diane Muldaur, John De Lancie, Lycia Naff etc.

Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway

Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**



Thus, my ongoing viewing project of watching ALL the Star Trek series and films in order of release date continues. I have already covered the pro-genesis of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION here. So, I won’t cover the same ground again.

While the first season did a good job establishing the characters, action, plots, gadgets, themes and general formula, it was still finding its space feet, as it were. While we lost a couple of major characters, the second season transitioned into a very satisfying series of episodes.

Dr Pulaski (Diane Muldaur) replaced Beverley Crusher (Gates McFadden) for a season and she provided some stern opposition to Picard in certain narratives. But, the casting of Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan was a masterstroke. Goldberg is such an intuitive and classy actor, she added cinematic quality to some fine episodes.

I have to admit I am not so sure HOW they managed to produce so many good episodes. My understanding is shooting a twenty-plus episode season of television is an incredible feat of creativity. The rewards were certainly earned. The show would garner great viewing figures and also many Emmy nominations come TV awards season. Here are six of my favourite episodes from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 2.



ELEMENTARY MY DEAR DATA – EPISODE 3

Data and Chief Engineer La Forge take on the roles of Holmes and Watson in another “holodeck-adventure-gone-wrong” narrative. I love Sherlock Holmes so this episode is fantastic to me. I also felt that the sentient Moriarty (Daniel Davis) brought much humanity to the classic nemesis. The La Forge and Data character dynamic is really fun too as La Forge attempts to outwit and challenge his android friend with dangerous results.


THE SCHIZOID MAN – EPISODE 6

Reminiscent of a classic Star Trek episode from the original series, and also a tribute to The Prisoner, this story contains the often used revered scientist gone rogue. More interestingly though, it explores themes of immortality and transference of human intelligence into a computer. Of course, it’s Data who finds his character split and battling an interloper seeking everlasting existence.



MEASURE OF A MAN – EPISODE 9

Sorry, another Data led episode. Data finds himself at a tug-of-war dispute over whether he can be determined as human or a mere piece of technology to be dismantled for science. A court case follows with Picard defending Data and Riker “prosecuting”. Spiner is superb as Data and Jonathan Frakes is especially good, having to carry out a duty he comes to hate. This episode has genuinely high class writing, acting, direction themes and narrative. Not to say most of the other episodes aren’t good, but this one is particularly great.


TIME SQUARED – EPISODE 13

I love doppelganger and time travel plots. This episode has both, as Picard must face a future version of himself and some incredibly difficult decisions to save the destruction of the Enterprise. Often time travel narratives will involve years or even decades difference, but this time it’s around six hours. This creates much drama and brings to life that always fascinating theme of the self having to face the self in a time of crisis.



Q-WHO – EPISODE 16

The irritating super-being Q (John De Lancie), rears his annoying head again. Although, he actually isn’t the most threatening enemy in this brilliant episode. That “honour” is bestowed upon the formidable Borg. Picard and the Enterprise crew find themselves challenged by these relentless machines and almost perish. The Borg remind me of Doctor Who‘s vicious rivals, the Cybermen, and make for impressive adversaries. The episode is also notable for the further development of Guinan’s character. Indeed, more of Whoopi Goldberg is always welcome.


THE EMISSARY – EPISODE 20

Promoting Worf (Michael Dorn) to Chief Security Office was a masterstroke of character development for the second season. The Klingon race is famed for its’ head-on approach to the fight and Worf would often find his inner Klingon battling Starfleet regulations. Here Worf is further conflicted with romantic feelings for a half-human-half-Klingon emissary, K’Ehleyr (Susie Plakson). She is sent to resolve a fascinating “Hell in the Pacific” side-plot; where a Klingon crew do not yet know the war is over. Dorn and Plakson share fantastic chemistry and it was compelling to find love and war themes combine so effectively.


LFF REVIEW – THE IRISHMAN (2019)

LFF REVIEW – THE IRISHMAN (2019)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Stephen Zaillian – based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Gaston Pavlovich, Randall Emmett, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gerald Chamales, Irwin Winkler

Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannevale, Stephen Graham, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Ray Romano, Stephanie Kurtzuba and many more.

Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto

Distribution: Netflix

******MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ******



“I heard you paint houses…”

As well as watching new films that have yet to be released, one of the pleasures of film festivals can be when the filmmakers, writers, crew and actors themselves attend and introduce their work. Having said that, I’m not usually one for big and lengthy introductions and back-slapping celebration. I’m also not one for star-gazing and celebrity-spotting hysteria. They are just human beings; let them get about their business in peace.

But, when the cinematic geniuses that are: Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel took to the stage for the premiere of THE IRISHMAN (2019), even I was star struck! Add the brilliant actors Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin and Jack Huston to the mix and I can confirm I was in the presence of all-round film greatness.



Scorsese is the best genre filmmaker still living today. But what of THE IRISHMAN (2019)? Is it yet another cinematic masterpiece to add to an incredible list of classics that Scorsese has directed? On first watch I would say both yes and no. I sit on a fence because the film is SO long, detailed and intense, I need another sitting to really nail an absolute opinion. It’s very, very good – BUT is it a great? I remember first watching Goodfellas (1990) and feeling dazed by the end of it. It is now one of my favourite films of all time.

First impressions are that, once again, Scorsese has delivered yet another impeccable film in the gangster movie genre. Film is a collaborative endeavour though and he has surrounded himself with an army of major talents in the production and acting departments. Robert De Niro, who himself, optioned the book on which the film is based, takes the lead as Frank Sheeran. In support are the aforementioned Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin, Jack Huston and the out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. All work from a superlative screenplay adaptation from uber-writer Steven Zaillian



The story is structured, in many ways, like another gangster classic, Once Upon a Time in America (1984). An elderly character looks back on key aspects on their life; the highs, the lows, the deals, the crimes, the relationships and the bloody carnage. Frank Sheeran, as delivered by De Niro and Scorsese, is another complex presentation of masculinity. He was a trained soldier who did his duty in World War II against the Nazis. Then, on return to America, he found himself driving trucks. With a family to support he finds he cannot turn down the chance to “paint houses” and carry out important work for the mob family run by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). I must say that Pesci is a revelation as the quiet shot caller, in the shadows, giving orders out of the spotlight. His mob boss is the total opposite from the psychopaths he’s played before.

Talking of great performances, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa steals the whole film. It is incredible to think this is the first Scorsese film he has been in. It was definitely worth the wait. De Niro himself is also impressive. His role as narrator and story conduit guides us through many exhilarating scenes involving gangland deals, explosive action and violent hits. Moreover, we are also compellingly embroiled in Hoffa’s Teamster Union business conflicts, as well as, some of the most iconic historical moments from U.S. politics and history.



Scorsese’s approach to style is less frenetic when compared to his other gangster films or the rapid velocity of say, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). There are fireworks and gunfights of course, plus explosive arguments between the angry and powerful men which inhabited this era. The heated debates between Hoffa (Pacino) and Tony Provenzano (Stephen Graham) are especially memorable. Plus, I liked that Hoffa’s character had very specific demands in regard to time-keeping and punctuality. It’s beautifully filmed but the pace is not as say, rock and roll, as his other films. In one long tense sequence toward the end of the film, Scorsese uses silence rather than trademark rock music to enhance the visuals.

Overall, themes of death, murder, loyalty, friendship, politics and regret dominate the story narrative. From the nursing home where Frank Sheeran begins his epic tale, to the multitude of hits and shootouts we experience, the Grim Reaper follows these characters like a constant shadow. I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel about Frank Sheeran by the end. He is a complex character who, as a trained killer, is difficult to empathise with. But his, the bosses and Hoffa’s stories are compelling nonetheless. However, the last part of the film raises a lot of emotionally painful questions with equally difficult answers.

Lastly, certain things about the film, such as the “de-aging” CGI and lengthy running time, detracted from my initial enjoyment. However, Netflix have an absolute monster of a gangster film here, with Scorsese once again delivering a very special cinematic offering. The irony is that it will only have a limited theatre release. THE IRISHMAN (2019), therefore, deserves to be painted and seen on the biggest screen you can find.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!