Martin Scorsese has ‘done’ the Mafia before – several times. Now he revisits the Mob with this biopic of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a hitman for New York mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and a close friend of the Teamsters union president Frank Hoffa (Al Pacino), whose disappearance in 1975 has never been fully explained. Scorsese offers a solution now, though according to Wikipedia Frank Sheeran’s account has been challenged by others who claim to Know the Truth.
Played against an evocative score of pop hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s, we watch Sheeran’s transition from (almost) ordinary union activist to stone-cold serial assassin over two and a half decades. At three and a half hours the movie sometimes seems as long as its timeframe. In the background we are shown the rise (and death) of JFK, the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, Vietnam, Watergate – in nearly all of which the Mafia are shown to be deeply involved.
Two obvious comparisons come rapidly to mind: Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, which featured both De Niro and Pacino in key roles and highlighted the Mafia involvement in trade unions, and Oliver Stone’s JFK, which detailed the Mob’s role in Kennedy’s election and his execution.
|Robert De Niro as Don Vito Corleone in GODFATHER 2 (1974)|
So, ground already covered and in similar detail. The ‘novelty’ here is the use of CGI to de-age the principal actors rather than have two players for each role. The de-aging of De Niro is fairly flawless, but Pacino’s looks a bit weird and Pesci’s (he seems to have been aged rather than de-aged) looks more like plasticine prosthetics. De Niro plays Sheeran much as he played Vito Corleone, a family man exterior masking a ruthless killer. Pesci gives us his familiar slightly shrill gangster “shtick”. Pacino (who was so subtle in The Godfather, shading from war hero to monster) is in shouty over-drive, reminding you of how loud (and how good!) he was in Brian De Palma’s Scarface. His Hoffa behaves like the president of a country rather than a union, but that’s probably how Jimmy Hoffa was, another kind of gangster.
The Irishman is loud and crude, way too long. It takes us into territory we’ve seen before, but it’s also very watchable, very absorbing. I hope they aren’t, but these may be “swansong” performances from some of the finest actors of the last half-century.
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This is a ‘Marmite’ movie: love it or loathe it. I like Marmite, but I didn’t think much to this.
Ancient millionaire Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dies in his Southern mansion, apparently from suicide, after rows with his greedy would-be heirs. An investigator is hired, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, with an accent like that over-ripe sheriff in the Roger Moore Bond films). There’s a Will to be read, short and surprising.
The key character is Harlan’s Latina nurse Magda (Ana de Armas), who administered intravenous medication on the night of his death. Ms de Armas majorly under-acts whilst everybody else majorly overacts, particularly Don Johnson, Toni Colette and Jamie Lee Curtis. Chris Evans, the bad-boy grandson, seems to be channelling Rupert Everett. Bette Davis had a similarly unappealing family gathering in The Anniversary (1968), one of the direst movies of her decline.
|1973 an earlier Agatha Christie spoof|
Writer/director Rian Johnson is clearly torn between homage to Agatha Christie and a send-up. If you’re going to spoof Christie, you need to spoof one of her grander whodunits like Murder on the Orient Express. Knives Out, with its gothic-ish country house setting, is more reminiscent of The Moustrap, Dame Agatha at her creakiest. The Sondheim-scripted The Last of Sheila (1973) was not good, but it wasn’t as clunky as this.
The element I enjoyed most was the presumably unintended one of seeing how unkind the years have been to yesterday’s stars. Don Johnson is – how to word this? – a little less glamorous than in his Miami Vice days. Jamie Lee Curtis has an increased resemblance to her dad at this age; her mother aged more appealingly. Toni Collette appears to have shared a tanning booth with Donald Trump. After his Southern-fried piss-take on Poirot, it’s gonna be hard to watch Daniel Craig back in his 007 tuxedo next year.
This is tosh – and really not ‘quality’ tosh. Mildly – very mildly – entertaining.
THE GOOD LIAR
Two British pensioners meet on a dating app, but one of them is a confidence trickster. We are shown quite early that Roy (Ian McKellen) is a conman, but Betty (Helen Mirren) has a gay grandson (Russell Tovey) who is rightly suspicious, so how will Roy and his crony Vincent (Jim Carter, Downton’s butler sliding off the path of virtue) get to fleece Betty of her million-plus pension pot?
There is an obvious twist to this story which even the dimmest viewer will be expecting, but the twist comes with a twist of its own. Which would be fine if only it wasn’t just too hard to swallow. The movie starts like a comedy, until we are shown that Roy has a very foul mouth and a homicidal streak, so the comedy has to turn dark.
|HEARTBREAKERS (2001): a much fruitier movie|
The two (three) senior stars give fruity per-formances and seem to be enjoying them-selves, but the film falls clunkily between comedy and drama and doesn’t really succeed in either category. There are some shivery flash-backs to the ruins of postwar Berlin, but the scenes in Mirren’s naff suburban bungalow are too slow and very repetitious.
I kept remembering Gene Hackman and Sigourney Weaver in an altogether more glorious geriatric con-artist movie, Heartbreakers (2001), in which the two leads took ‘fruitiness’ to another dimension. The Good Liar will presumably add a small chunk to its stars’ pension fund, but it is not something for which they will be remembered.
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The last movie take on Pearl Harbour (2001) was largely spoiled by a soapy love story. There’s only one wife featured in Midway and she’s just there as a token Woman Who Waits For Her Husband’s Return. What Roland Emmerich gives us this time is a solid chunk of naval history, superbly illustrated by the GGI effects he used so thrillingly in Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow.
With lengthy scenes of both the Japanese and American battle planning, the movie shows how the Japanese superiority after the ‘infamous’ damage they inflicted on the US navy at Pearl Harbour was overcome, mostly thanks to radio intercepts and code-breaking by the guys at Naval Intelligence (sorry, ladies).
Back stories are minimal, in keeping with the documentary style of the film. Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid give un-showy performances as key admirals and all the fighter pilots play as a team, much as they would have in wartime, with nobody pushing for extra screen time. Good to see Luke Evans on solid form; he reminds me increasingly of the young Richard Harris, and I hope he has an equally substantial career ahead of him.
The CGI bombing at Pearl Harbour and out in the Pacific is nothing less than awesome. Here and there the aerial combat scenes (and camera-shots behind ordnance) give off a PlayStation flavour, but overall Midway does eloquent justice to a turning-point moment in 20th-century history.
(Scenes in Midway are date-stamped or time-stamped. I couldn’t help noticing that the Battle of the Coral Sea, six months after Pearl Harbour and one month before Midway, took place on the day when, here on the Sussex South Downs, I was being born.)
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It was 1980 when Stanley Kubrick took us to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Stephen King was said to be unhappy with the movie. I was too: key elements of the novel were excluded, and Jack Nicholson seemed completely manic from the outset, which diluted his transition to psychopathic under the influence of the hotel’s ghostly residents. Hopefully Mr King is happier with the movie of his belated sequel, Doctor Sleep, directed by Mike Flanagan, who brought us the TV Haunting of Hill House and co-wrote the screenplay for Doctor Sleep with the author.
It’s a different kind of horror, although an adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor, always a strong presence onscreen) and a feisty black girl, Abra (Kyleigh Curran), both have the gift (or curse) of ‘the shining’. Danny, a recovering alcoholic, still gets visions and nightmares of The Overlook, but what brings him into contact with Abra is the serial killer Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her followers, who inhale the ‘vapour’ of the Shining from their dying victims.
|The original poster for THE SHINING (1980)|
Danny and Abra use their telepathic skills to track down Rose and her gang. Their con-frontations give the movie a series of escalating climaxes and moments that may cause some viewers to close their eyes. Or even scream.
The cannibalization of teenagers makes for a much nastier tale than a haunted hotel. This is a long picture (two and a half hours) but it rarely flags. The flash-backs to Danny’s boyhood recreate very exactly highlights from the Kubrick movie. It’s hard to say which is scarier, revisiting The Overlook or Rose and her gang of life-stealers, but I can say that this is a thriller-chiller that may haunt your dreams for longer than The Shining did.