Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Irishman (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Released by Netflix in 2019 and clocking in at close to 4 hours, the Martin Scorsese-directed Best Picture nominee, The Irishman, is a film about many different things.

At its simplest, it’s a film about a very old man named Frank Shearan (played by Robert De Niro).  Frank is an Irish-American from Philadelphia.  Frank is a veteran of World War II and a former truck driver who was briefly a fairly important figure in the Teamsters union.  He did a few years in prison.  At the start of the film, though, he’s just another elderly man living in a retirement community.  All of his friends are dead.  His wife passed away years ago.  His children never comes to visit.  In fact, the only people interested in talking to Frank are the FBI but Frank doesn’t have much to say to them.  That’s not to say that Frank isn’t talkative.  For the first time in his life, he wants to talk to people but there’s no one left to talk to.  The only people who listen are those who are required to do so.  A nurse politely nods along as as he tells her about his old friend Jimmy Hoffa.  (She’s never heard of him.)  A priest listens to the story of Frank’s life and offers him absolution.  At times, Frank looks straight at Scorsese’s camera and appears to be talking straight to the audience.  Frank has a lot of interesting stories but who knows how truthful he’s being or if his memory can be trusted.

The Irishman, though, is not just the story of Frank.  It is also a secret history of America during the latter half of the 20th Century.  Frank may look old and harmless in that nursing home but, to hear him tell it, he was once acquainted with some of the most powerful men in America.  He went from executing Italian POWs during World War II to executing hits for the Mafia in post-war America.  Along the way, he became close to crime bosses like Skinny Razor (Bobby Cannavale), Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), men who may not have been household names but who still wielded a lot of power.  These are men who, Frank flatly states, fixed the presidential election of 1960 and who later quite possibly killed the man they had elected president.  Frank also became a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the labor leader who was reputed to have mob connections and who disappeared in 1975.

The Irishman is also a tribute to the modern gangster film, featuring role for nearly every living actor associated with the genre.  De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Domenick Lombardozzi, Gary Basaraba, they’ve all played their share of gangsters in films and television show that were both good and bad.  Having them all appear in one film together serves to remind the viewer of just how much of America’s popular entertainment has revolved around stories of organized crime.  Even as the old school Mafia has declined as a real-world power, it’s become a permanent part of pop culture.  Everyone loves a gangster, except for the people who actually have to deal with them on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, considering the stars and the director, it’s a film full of smart, detailed performances.  When the film was originally released, Pacino and Pesci got the lion’s share of the praise and they certainly deserved it.  Pacino gets the best lines and brings some unexpected wit to his performance as Jimmy Hoffa.  Pesci, meanwhile, finally gets to play a gangster who is not psychotic and shows that he can be just as compelling when he’s not raising his voice as when he is.  Still, some of my favorite performances came from actors who one wouldn’t necessarily associate with a Scorsese gangster film.  I liked the nervous humor that Ray Romano brought to the role of a corrupt union lawyer.  I liked the seething resentment that Stephen Graham brought to the role of Jimmy Hoffa’s main rival in the union.  (The scene where Graham and Pacino argue over who is more owed an apology for all of their past disagreements is both funny and, due to the people involved, somewhat frightening.)  Jesse Plemons is poignantly dumb in his brief role as Hoffa’s stepson.  Louis Cancelmi doesn’t get a lot of screen time but he steals every scene in which he appears as a paranoid hitman.  (Cancelmi plays a character named Sally Bugs, proving that not everyone in the Mafia gets a cool nickname.)

And then there’s Anna Paquin, who provides the film with its moral center.  When the film was first released, many Twitter critics complained that Paquin, who played Frank’s daughter Peggy, only a had a handful of lines.  It was one of the stupidest controversies of 2019, which is saying something when you consider how much time Film Twitter devotes to generating stupid controversies.  Peggy doesn’t say much because she’s decided that she doesn’t want to be a part of her father’s life.  From the moment that she first sees Frank beating up a store owner, Peggy knows that her father and his associates are violent men.  She not only fears them but she resents the damage that Frank does to not only her family but to the families as other as well.  The only one of her father’s associates who she likes is Jimmy Hoffa, because Hoffa cares about helping others.  When Hoffa disappears, Peggy makes a decision to disappear from Frank’s life and Paquin’s withering stare says more than any lengthy monologue could.  Peggy doesn’t say much because she knows that her words would be wasted on a man who she knows is a liar.  The scene where she silently walks away from her now elderly father tells us everything we need to know about the emotional consequences of the life that Frank has chosen to live.  Regardless of how many lines she did or didn’t have, Paquin gave one of the best performances of 2019.

Famously (or, depending on which critics you read, infamously), de-aging technology was used so that De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel could play both the younger and the older version of their characters.  At first, it can be a bit jarring.  The de-aging works fine with Pesci and Keitel, both of whom are already supposed to be middle-aged when they first meet Frank.  (Admittedly, Keitel only has a few minutes of screen time.)  With De Niro and Pacino, it’s a bit less successful.  Even when they’re playing younger versions of themselves, De Niro and Pacino still move and stand like old men.  Fortunately, in the case of Pacino, his natural movie star charisma wins out over his obvious age.  In the end, we believe that he’s Hoffa because we want to believe that all of our important historical figures were as interesting and entertaining as Al Pacino is in The Irishman.

And yet, ultimately, even the awkward de-aging works to the film’s advantage because it reminds us that we’re not necessarily seeing what happened.  Instead, we’re seeing what Frank says happened.  We’re seeing his memories, or at least what he claims to remember.  It makes sense that, when Frank thinks about himself as a young truck driver in 1956, he would picture himself not as he was but instead as just a slightly less weathered version of who he would eventually become.  Throughout the film, there are hints that Frank’s memory should not be trusted.  Some of his stories are incredibly detailed while others — like when he transports weapons for the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs — are a bit more vaguely presented.  Is Frank lying or is he misremembering or are we just expecting too much detail from a man who is now essentially waiting to die?  The film leaves that up for us to determine.

The Irishman is Scorsese at his most reflective.  Compared to Goodfellas and Casino, The Irishman is certainly one of Scorsese’s less “flashy” films.  But, on repeat viewings, it becomes cleat that The Irishman is the perfect conclusion to the gangster trilogy that began with Goodfellas and continued with Casino.  All three of these films deal with someone who rises up the ranks in the mob while remaining, as a result of their ethnicity, an outsider.  (Henry Hill and Frank Shearan are both Irish.  Ace Rothstein was Jewish.)  All three of them are briefly on top of the world and all three of them are left wondering how they’re going to continue their lives after their days at the top are over.  In Goodfellas, Henry Hill makes no secret of his disgust at having to live in the bland anonymity of the suburbs.  In Casino, Ace Rothstein ends the film with a mournful acceptance the fact that he will never return to his beloved Vegas.  (“And that’s that.”)  In The Irishman, Frank finally realizes that he has comes to the end of it all, alone and with nothing but death in his future.  All three of them made their decisions and, in the end, all three of them are left to deal with the consequences.  The trilogy goes from Henry’s anger to Ace’s depression to Frank’s acceptance.

It may seem strange to describe a film like The Irishman as being underrated, seeing as how it was nominated for 10 Oscars and got a Criterion release in record time.  And yet, when the film first came out, there was a vague sense of disappointment to found in even some of the positive reviews.  It was a Scorsese film that was so eagerly awaited and arrived with so much hype that there was no way it could live up to some of the expectations that had been set for it.  (And, of course, there’s also a whole set of people who were predestined to dislike the film precisely because it was a Scorsese film and it was so anticipated.)  It’s a long film and, while Netflix should be praised for allowing Scorsese the freedom to make his epic, it’s also not a film that should be viewed in bits and pieces on a tiny screen.  The Irishman is a film that should be watched in one sitting and it’s definitely a film that most viewers should watch more than once.  It takes more than one viewing to truly grasp the the world that Scorsese has recreated.

The Irishman was nominated for Best Picture.  It lost to a worthy competitor, Parasite.  Still, regardless of who took him the Oscars, The Irishman is a film that will live forever.

Film Review: Lansky (dir by Eytan Rockaway)


Over the course of his long and distinguished career, Harvey Keitel has only been nominated once for an Academy Award.

And, amazingly enough, he wasn’t nominated for any of the films for which he is best remembered. He wasn’t nominated for Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or any of his other collaborations with Martin Scorsese. He wasn’t nominated for playing the Wolf in Pulp Fiction or Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs. He was not nominated for The Piano. He certainly wasn’t nominated for baring his soul in Bad Lieutenant. Instead, Harvey Keitel’s only nomination was for playing real-life gangster Mickey Cohen in the 1991 Best Picture nominee Bugsy.

Bugsy was one of the many films to be made about the life of Bugy Siegel, the reputedly psychotic gangster who left New York for Hollywood and who later helped to create the wonderland of Las Vegas. In both the movie and real-life, Siegel was gunned down by his former associates, who felt that he was recklessly wasting their money out in the middle of the desert. It’s generally agreed that the order to murder Siegel was given by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, two of Siegel’s long-time friends and business partners. In Bugsy, Lansky was played by Ben Kingsley. Kingsley was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Unfortunately, whenever two actors from the same film are nominated for an Oscar, they usually end up canceling each other out. That’s what happened in the case of Bugsy, with both Kingsley and Keitel losing the Oscar to City Slickers‘s Jack Palance.

30 years after Busgy, Harvey Keitel once again acted out of the story of the death of Bugsy Siegel. Except, things time, Keitel played Meyer Lansky, Mickey Cohen was nowhere to be seen, and the film was called Lansky.

Of course, there’s more to Lansky than just the falling out with Bugsy Siegel. As you can tell from the film’s title, it attempts to deal with Lansky’s entire life. The film starts in 1979, with a friendly but terminally ill Meyer Lansky meeting with a writer named David Stone (Sam Worthington). David desperately needs the money that would come from writing the only authorized biography of Meyer Lansky. Lansky, knowing that he’s dying, wants to tell his story. Of course, Lansky has a few conditions. David can only publish the book after Lansky has died and David is not to talk to anyone about anything that Lansky tells him. David agrees.

From there, the film jumps back and forth in time. We watch the young Lansky (played by John Magaro) as he teams up with Lucky Luciano (Shane McRae) and Bugsy Siegel (David Cade) to change the face of organized crime. Along the way, he gets involved in the casino business, the CIA, and the Cuban revolution, and he fights Nazis at home and abroad. Lansky turns organized crime into a business and, as a result, becomes known as “the Mob’s accountant.” The FBI hounds him for almost his entire life, determined to discover where he’s hidden the millions of dollars that he’s rumored to have earned through his crimes.

While Lansky tells his story to David, the two of them form a slightly uneasy friendship Lansky is friendly and curteous but, as becomes clear as the film progresses, he’s still as capable of ordering a murder as ever. David, meanwhile, is being pressured by the FBI. They want him to become an informant and to press Lansky for information on where he’s hiding his money.

Lansky is a film that requires some patience. The first hour or so is a bit messy, with the film awkwardly trying to strike a balance between the flashbacks and the scenes of David talking to Lansky. At times, the film becomes a bit of an odd buddy picture, with Lansky offering David some unexpected life advice. However, once the FBI starts pressuring David, things pick up. The arrival of the FBI adds some much needed tension to the film’s storyline. As you watch the main agent (played by David James Elliott) pressure David into becoming an informant and essentially put his life at risk, it’s hard not to contrast Lansky with the men who are determined to put him away. Lansky may be a criminal but he has a code of ethics and, most importantly, he doesn’t harass innocents. The FBI, though, has no problem with bullying and manipulating informants and witnesses, all in the name of trying to figure out where a dying man is hiding his money. When the attention shifts from Lansky telling his story to Lansky outwitting the FBI, the film takes on an entirely new feel. When a smug FBI agent flies all the way to Israel in search of Lansky’s money, it’s impossible not to cheer a little when he gets outsmarted.

Due to the film’s flashback structure, Harvey Keitel is not in as much of Lasnky as you might expect. And yet he dominates the entire film. He perfectly captures both Lansky’s determination and his grim humor. Even facing death, Lansky is determined to keep control over every situation. In the film’s most powerful moments, he discusses what it’s like to be an outsider in America. Lansky knows that, as a Jew, he’ll never be fully accepted by the establishment. So, instead of begging for hand-outs, Lansky created his own establishment, one that operated in the shadows but which ultimately proved to be as successful as any corporation. When Lansky discovers that the American government is pressuring Israel to refuse to grant Lansky citizenship, Keitel perfectly captures both Lansy’s pain and his defiance. It all leads to a haunting final scene of Lansky on the beach. Appropriately enough, Meyer Lansky is alone.

Lansky is a both a portrait of a fascinating life and a tribute to the talent of Harvey Keitel. It may require some patience but that patience will be rewarded.

Scenes That I Love: Winston Wolfe Says Goodbye In Pulp Fiction


Today is Harvey Keitel’s 81st birthday.

Harvey Keitel is one of those actors who has given so many great performances that it’s difficult to pick which one is his best.  He’s almost always great, even when the film sometimes isn’t.  That said, I’ll always have a lot of affection for the character of Winston Wolfe, the cleaner that Keitel played in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Keitel doesn’t show up until the final third of Pulp Fiction but once he does, he pretty much takes over the entire film.  For me, though, my favorite Winston Wolfe moment comes at the end of his story, when he says goodbye to John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson and essentially reveals himself to be kind of an old-fashioned, almost dorky (if impeccably dressed) guy.

Happy birthday, Harvey Keitel!

Film Review: Fingers (dir by James Toback)


Welcome to method actor Hell!

The 1978 film, Fingers, tell the story of Jimmy “Fingers” Angelilli (Harvey Keitel).  Jimmy is a creep who works as a debt collector for his father, a small-time loan shark named Ben (Michael V. Gazzo).  Jimmy is violent and brutal and often wanders around with a disturbingly blank-look on his face but we’re supposed to like him because he’s a talented pianist and he’s got a recital interview coming up at Carnegie Hall.  Jimmy carries a radio with him wherever he goes and he’s obsessed with the song Summertime.  He’s the type who will sit in a crowded restaurant and play the song and then get upset when someone tells him to turn off his radio.  By the end of the movie, I was really hoping that someone would take Jimmy’s radio and smash into a hundred pieces.

Jimmy is in love with Carol (Tisa Farrow, who was a far better actress than her sister Mia and who would later appear in Lucio Fulci’s classic, Zombi 2), who doesn’t really seem to all that into him.  Despite being in love with Carol, Jimmy still hits on every woman that he meets and, because this is a 70s films, he’s constantly getting laid despite being kind of a charmless putz.

Jimmy meets a former boxer named Dreems (Jim Brown).  Carol is apparently one of Dreems’s mistresses.  Jimmy silently watched while Dreems knocks two women’s heads together.  Jimmy stands there with his little radio and a blank expression on his face.  Is anything going on inside of Jimmy’s head?  It’s hard to say.

Eventually, Jimmy finds out that a gangster (Tony Sirico) owes his father money but is refusing to pay.  It all leads to violence.

As a film, Fingers is pretty much full of shit but that shouldn’t come as a surprise because it was the directorial debut of James Toback and there’s no American filmmaker who has been as consistently full of shit as James Toback.  Fingers has all of Toback’s trademarks — gambling, crime, guilt, classical music, and a juvenile view of sexuality that suggests that James Toback’s personal development came to a halt when he was 16 years old.  It’s a pretentious film that really doesn’t add up too much.  Again, you know what you’re getting into when James Toback directs a film.  Don’t forget, this is the same director who made a documentary where he was apparently shocked to discover that no one wanted to finance a politically-charged remake of Last Tango in Paris starring Alec Baldwin and Neve Campbell.

Fingers is a bit of an annoying film and yet it’s not a total loss.  For one thing, if you’re a history nerd like I am, there’s no way that you can’t appreciate the fact that the film was shot on location in some of New York’s grimiest neighborhoods in the 70s.  While I imagine it was more of a happy accident than anything intentional on Toback’s part (because, trust me, I’ve seen Harvard Man), Fingers does do a good job of creating an off-center, dream-like atmosphere where the world constantly seems to be closing in on its lead character.  Jimmy is trying to balance his life as violent mobster with being a sensitive artist and the world around him is saying, “No, don’t count on it, you schmuck.”

As well, Harvey Keitel gives a …. well, I don’t know if I would necessarily say that it’s a good performance.  In fact, it’s a fairly annoying performance and that’s a problem when a film is trying to make you feel sympathy for a character who is pretty unsympathetic.  That said, there’s never a moment in the film where Keitel is boring.  In Fingers, Keitel takes the method to its logical end point and, as a result, you actually get anxious just watching him simply look out of a window or sit in a corner.  Even though Jimmy eyes rarely shows a hint of emotion, his fingers are always moving and, just watching the way that he’s constantly twitching and fidgeting, you get the feeling that Jimmy’s always on the verge of giving out a howl of pain and fury.  It doesn’t really make Jimmy someone who you would want to hang out with.  In fact, I spent the entire movie hoping someone would just totally kick his ass and put him in the hospital for a few weeks.  But it’s still a performance that you simply cannot look away from.  Watching Keitel’s performance, you come to realize that Fingers is essentially a personal invitation to visit a Hell that is exclusively populated by method actors who have gone too far.

Anyway, my feelings about Fingers were mixed.  Can you tell?  It’s an interesting movie.  I’ll probably never watch it again.

That’s The Way Of The World (1975, directed by Sig Shore)


Welcome to the down and dirty world of the music industry in the 1970s.

Coleman Buckmaster (Harvey Keitel) is a record producer who is known as the “Golden Ear,” because of his success at discovering new talent.  Coleman is the son of a jazz pianist (to whom he brings a birthday present of cocaine) and he is convinced that consumers are not as dumb as music execs assume that they are.  He believes that his latest group, known simply as The Group (but played by Earth, Wind, & Fire), have what it takes to become a big success despite not having a conventionally commercial image.

Coleman’s boss, Carlton James (Ed Nelson), disagrees.  Carlton orders Coleman to spend less time working with The Group and to instead devote his energy to producing a single for a new band called The Pages.  Led by Franklyn Page (Bert Parks), the Pages present themselves as being a clean-cut and wholesome family band.  Carlton is sure that their innocuous style and feel-good harmonies are going to be “the sound of the 70s.”  Coleman disagrees but he tries to balance working with both groups.  While he tries to make The Group into a success, he also tries to find something worthwhile in The Pages’ new single, “Joy Joy Joy.”  Complicating matters is that, against his better instincts, Coleman has fallen into a relationship with Velour Page (Cynthia Bostick), who is not as innocent as the band’s image makers makes her out to be.

Written by journalist Robert Lipsyte and directed by producer Sig Shore (he did Superfly), That’s The Way Of The World is an interesting look at what was going on behind the scenes of the music industry in the 70s.  It’s not the first film to suggest that the recording industry was run by unethical and corrupt record labels (nor would it be the last) but it feels authentic in a way that a lot of other music industry films don’t.  That’s The Way Of The World emphasizes just how manufactured most popular music is.  Insisting on trying to do something different, as the Group does, will only lead to you being snubbed by the industry.  Play ball and record music that means nothing — like the Pages — and you’ll become a star overnight.  Having a hit has less to do with the work you put into it and more with how many people your label is willing to pay off.  As one exec puts it, getting your record played on the radio (in those days before YouTube and Soundcloud) means resorting “payola, layola, and drugola.”  Harvey Keitel performs his role with his trademark intensity and Bert Parks is brilliantly cast as the thoroughly fake Franklyn Page.

Today, The Way Of The World is best-known for its soundtrack, which was also one of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s best-selling albums.  Though the film was a bomb at the box office, the album was not.  The Group may have struggled to get anyone to listen but Earth, Wind, and Fire became the first black group to top both the Billboard album and singles charts.

Beware The Pages

Robot In Lust: Saturn 3 (1980, directed by Stanley Donen)


The time is the future and Earth is so polluted and overcrowded that the survival of humanity is dependent on space stations that are located across the galaxy.  On one of the moons of Saturn, Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are researching and developing new ways to grow food.  Alex is young and has never experienced life on Earth.  Adam is in his 60s and says that Earth is the worst place in the universe.  Alex and Adam are not just colleagues but lovers as well.  Inside the tranquil facility, Adam, Alex, and Sally the Dog live a lifestyle that feels more like late 70s California than 21st century Saturn.

Adam is disturbed when a cargo ship arrives.  The ship is piloted by Captain James (Harvey Keitel, giving the film’s only interesting performance despite having had all of his dialogue dubbed by Roy Dotrice), who immediately takes an unwelcome interest in Alex.  (“You have a great body,” he says, “May I use it?”)  Captain James starts telling Alex stories about life back on Earth and encouraging her to abandon Adam.  Captain James also reveals that he’s accompanied by an 8-foot robot named Hector.  Hector is designed to replace one of the scientists.

If that’s not bad enough, it also turns out that Captain James is not really Captain James but instead, he’s Captain Benson.  Benson was originally assigned to fly the cargo ship but, after a psychological profile deemed him to be psychotic, Benson was replaced by James.  So, Benson killed James by pushing him out of an airlock.  Now, Benson is on Saturn 3 and he’s uploaded both his homicidal impulses and his lust for Alex into Hector’s programming.  Soon, Hector is rampaging through the facility, determined to have Alex for himself.

For an ultimately forgettable film that plays like an Alien rip-off (even though the two films were actually shot at the same time), Saturn 3 has long been infamous for its troubled production.  Martin Amis, who wrote an early draft of the script, even wrote a novel, Money, based on the filming of Saturn 3.  (In the novel, Kirk Douglas is renamed Lorne Guyland and insists on getting naked as much as possible in order to prove that he’s still virile.)  The film was originally meant to be the directorial debut of John Barry, the famed British production designer.  However, Barry departed the film after two weeks, with reports differing on whether he left voluntarily or if he was fired.  The film’s producer, Stanley Donen, took over as director.  Stanley Donen, who also directed legitimate classics like Singin’ In The Rain, Charade, and Two For The Road, confessed to having no affinity for science fiction and it’s obvious from watching his one foray into the genre that he was not exaggerating.

The idea behind Saturn 3, with Hector taking on the personality of it creator, is an intriguing one but the film doesn’t do much with it and the film’s choppy pace indicates that there was extensive executive tinkering both during and after filming.  Harvey Keitel is convincingly strange in his role but Farrah Fawcett is miscast as a scientist and Kirk Douglas does his usual grin and grimace routine, usually while naked.  (It doesn’t seem that Martin Amis had to stretch the truth too far.)  The 8-foot Hector looks impressive until he actually has to chase Fawcett through the facility.  That’s when it becomes obvious that anyone with two functioning legs could easily outrun the lumbering robot.

In space, no one can hear you scream.  But they might hear you laughing at Saturn 3.

Here’s The New Trailer For The Irishman!


The second trailer for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming gangster epic, The Irishman, dropped today and …. wow.

Now, admittedly, the reaction online has been kind of mixed.  Some people are a little bit concerned that the de-aging technology is just going to be too distracting, especially considering that this is a four-hour movie.  I will admit that both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci looked a bit …. well, off.  I mean, all the CGI in the world can’t change the fact that this is a film that will feature elderly actors playing youngish gangsters.

Still, the story that The Irishman is telling is a fascinating one and, since Robert De Niro’s character claimed to be both a hitman and a participant in the JFK assassination, the film seems like it will appeal to both mafia afficianadoes and conspiracy theorists.

Add to that, is a Scorsese film and how can you not be excited about that?

That said, the main reaction to this latest trailer seems to be shock that Ray Romano is apparently holding his own opposite actors like De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Harvey Keitel.  But, believe it or not, Romano actually has developed into a pretty dependable character actor.  Anyone who has seen The Big Sick can attest to that.

Anyway, The Irishman is expected to be a major Oscar contender.  Of course, they said the same thing about Silence.  We’ll see what happens!

The Irishman will be released on November 1st in select theaters and will then drop on Netflix on November 27th.

Here’s the trailer!

Oh Hell Yeah! It’s The Trailer for The Irishman!


Oh hell yeah!

The trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman has been released!

In The Irishman, Robert De Niro plays Frank Shearan, a hitman who was active in the mob for decades.  Before his death, he claimed that he was not only responsible for the death of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, Sr. but also that he played a role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy!

Robert De Niro plays the Irishman.  Al Pacino plays Hoffa.  Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ann Paquin, and Ray Romano all have supporting roles!  (Don’t roll your eyes at that last one.  Romano has actually developed into a fairly interesting character actor.)  Apparently, a huge amount of money was spent on de-aging CGI so that the elderly De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel could all play men in their 30s and 40s.  It’s either going to be brilliant or it’s going to be like Captain Marvel, where you were happy to see Samuel L. Jackson looking so young but you couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t seem to be quite as expressive as usual.

Listen, I love conspiracy movies.  I love gangster movies.  I love historical movies.  And I love Scorsese movies!

Bring it on, Netflix!

Made Man: Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS (Warner Brothers 1973)


cracked rear viewer

Let’s talk about Martin Scorsese a bit, shall we? The much-lauded, Oscar-winning director/producer/film historian has rightly been recognized as one of out greatest living filmmakers, with classics like TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and THE DEPARTED on his resume. Yet Scorsese started small, directing shorts and the low-budget WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? as a film student. He got work as an editor (UNHOLY ROLLERS) and assistant director (WOODSTOCK) before directing a feature for Roger Corman called BOXCAR BERTHA, starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine. When Scorsese and Mardik Martin cowrote a screenplay based on Martin’s experiences growing up in New York’s Little Italy, Corman wanted to produce, but only if the film could be turned into a Blaxploitation movie! Fortunately, Warner Brothers picked it up, and the result was MEAN STREETS, which put Scorsese on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with.

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Stallone Acts: Cop Land (1997, directed by James Mangold)


Garrison, New Jersey is a middle class suburb that is known as Cop Land.  Under the direction of Lt. Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), several NYPD cops have made their home in Garrison, financing their homes with bribes that they received from mob boss Tony Torillo (Tony Sirico).  The corrupt cops of Garrison, New Jersey live, work, and play together, secure in the knowledge that they can do whatever they want because Donlan has handpicked the sheriff.

Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) always dreamed of being a New York cop but, as the result of diving into icy waters to save a drowning girl, Freddy is now deaf in one ear.  Even though he knows that they are all corrupt, Freddy still idolizes cops like Donlan, especially when Donlan dangles the possibility of pulling a few strings and getting Freddy an NYPD job in front of him.  The overweight and quiet Freddy spends most of his time at the local bar, where he’s the subject of constant ribbing from the “real” cops.  Among the cops, Freddy’s only real friend appears to be disgraced narcotics detective, Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta).

After Donlan’s nephew, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), kills two African-American teenagers and then fakes his own death to escape prosecution, Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) approaches Freddy and asks for his help in investigating the corrupt cops of Garrison.  At first, Freddy refuses but he is soon forced to reconsider.

After he became a star, the idea that Sylvester Stallone was a bad actor because so universally accepted that people forgot that, before he played Rocky and Rambo, Stallone was a busy and respectable character actor.  Though his range may have been limited and Stallone went through a period where he seemed to always pick the worst scripts available, Stallone was never as terrible as the critics often claimed.  In the 90s, when it became clear that both the Rocky and the Rambo films had temporarily run their course, Stallone attempted to reinvent his image.  Demolition Man showed that Stallone could laugh at himself and Cop Land was meant to show that Stallone could act.

For the most part, Stallone succeeded.  Though there are a few scenes where the movie does seem to be trying too hard to remind us that Freddy is not a typical action hero, this is still one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances.  Stallone plays Freddy as a tired and beaten-down man who knows that he’s getting one final chance to prove himself.  It helps that Stallone’s surrounded by some of the best tough guy actors of the 90s.  Freddy’s awkwardness around the “real” cops is mirrored by how strange it initially is to see Stallone acting opposite actors like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta.  Cop Land becomes not only about Freddy proving himself as a cop but Stallone proving himself as an actor.

The film itself is sometimes overstuffed.  Along with the corruption investigation and the search for Murray Babitch, there’s also a subplot about Freddy’s unrequited love for Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) and her husband’s (Peter Berg) affair with Donlan’s wife (Cathy Moriarty).  There’s enough plot here for a Scorsese epic and it’s more than Cop Land‘s 108-minute run time can handle.  Cop Land is at its best when it concentrates on Freddy and his attempt to prove to himself that he’s something more than everyone else believes.  The most effective scenes are the ones where Freddy quietly drinks at the local tavern, listening to Gary shoot his mouth off and stoically dealing with the taunts of the people that he’s supposed to police.  By the time that Freddy finally stands up for himself, both you and he have had enough of everyone talking down to him.  The film’s climax, in which a deafened Freddy battles the corrupt cops of Garrison, is an action classic.

Though the story centers on Stallone, Cop Land has got a huge ensemble cast.  While it’s hard to buy Janeane Garofalo as a rookie deputy, Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick almost steal the film as two very different cops.  Interestingly, many members of the cast would go on to appear on The Sopranos.  Along with Sirico, Sciorra, Patrick, and Garofalo, keep an eye out for Frank Vincent, Arthur Nascarella, Frank Pelligrino, John Ventimiglia, Garry Pastore,  and Edie Falco in small roles.

Cop Land was considered to be a box office disappointment when it was released and Stallone has said that the film’s failure convinced people that he was just an over-the-hill action star and that, for eight years after it was released, he couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls.  At the time, Cop Land‘s mixed critical and box office reception was due to the high expectations for both the film and Stallone’s performance.  In hindsight, it’s clear that Cop Land was a flawed but worthy film and that Stallone’s performance remains one of his best.