The Irishman


Viewed – 28 November 2019. Netflix

There’s a moment early on in Martin Scorsese‘s 3hr + epic when Robert DeNiro meets with Joe Pesci‘s mobster. Could I hear The Godfather theme playing gently in the background? If so, nice nod to a genre you helped immortalise Scorsese.

I was hyped for this. A crime drama with some of the biggest names in crime dramas reuniting for the first time in years? Where do I sign? Based on true events, DeNiro plays Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who gradually rises up the ladder, going from blue collar worker to petty thief to mob enforcer to right hand man of infamous politician Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). At the same time his story is told by an elderly Frank in a nursing home. One of the much talked about things with this movie was the ageing and especially de-ageing technology used to showcase various characters during different timelines. It’s clever stuff if not entirely successful and did take a bit of getting used to – especially when a (I’m guessing) 40-something Frank still carries himself like an awkward older guy at times, lacking the stature of the same actor in say Heat or Goodfellas. It’s a technology that I’m afraid struggles to hide the fact this movie should probably have been made years ago.

DeNiro is still great though and goes through a plethora of emotions to portray Frank, someone who’s not your everyday mob villain but a family man and a human being. In the closing scenes especially, portraying an elderly man with lots of memories and regrets, I’ll admit I came close to shedding a tear. It’s the ending that elevates this into the realms of potential ‘classic’ even if some sections in the middle revolving around Hoffa’s political dealings dragged and well, got a bit boring. Al Pacino is far from disappointing though, but I can’t say I was all that taken by the man he was portraying. On the other hand, Joe Pesci’s mobster is great and made me wish this guy still made movies and proved much more layered than the usual psycho routine he’s famous for.

It’s also a bit too long. The Jimmy Hoffa stuff, admittedly important to the story could have been trimmed down, and some scenes are drawn out. However this isn’t a zippy, snappy gangster movie but a thoughtful story of one man’s life, and for that it mostly succeeds. Martin Scorsese gives the movie a classy feel, with eye catching camera work, his trusted great choices in music and a great attention to detail. Overall, a must for fans of crime movies and for anyone wanting to see these screen legends deliver the goods one more time.

Verdict: 4 /5

Goodfellas


Viewed – 30 May 2015  Blu-ray

25th Anniversary Edition

I remember when I first saw this widely acclaimed mob drama, that somehow despite my love of the genre, I had taken several years to get around to watching it (I did a similar thing with The Shining…).  Suffice to say I was blown away.  Director Martin Scorsese who I best knew from Taxi Driver and After Hours (remember that?) had delivered his masterpiece in a genre he seemed to know like the back of his hand.  Yes before this hit we had movies like The Godfather and Scarface to name but two, but something about this small-time mob enforcers tale, especially the rags-to-riches-journey Henry Hill goes on from a wet-behind-his-ears kid to a connected wise guy, was a revelation.  In may ways the movie has similarities to John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood which borrows a similar structure, but told on a more epic scale, ‘Fellas delivers the ultimate gangster drama that also happens to be based on a true story.

Goodfellas

Ray Liotta play’s Henry, a street kid from a Jewish background who winds up working for the local mobsters at the cab stand, and gradually learns all the underworld dealings of being a gangster.  Before long he’s rubbing shoulders with Joe Pesci’s volatile Tommy and Robert DeNiro’s charismatic Jimmy.  Aided by Liotta’s excellent narration (the deep tone of his voice adding to much of the movie’s iconic status) along with Scorsese pulling out every directing trick in the book – a stellar soundtrack, superlative editing, slow motion, zooms, speed ups and clever-ass tracking shots – this had it all.  Each performance electrifies and compliments one another; Lorraine (The Sopranos) Bracco’s Karen is the perfect female morality figure, Pesci brings humour and crazy psychosis to a character that earned him an Oscar …. and DeNiro’s class makes Jimmy likeable but also complex and scary.  Add to this great turns from Paul Sorvino (“now I gotta turn my back on you”) and especially Roy Liotta who brings a nervous out-of-his-depth quality to a character who throughout knows exactly what he’s a part of, but still looks and acts uncomfortable when things get nasty.  Oh and do things get nasty … from the beating and murder of Billy Batts to the various stabbings, skewers in the back of the head, a gun being repeatedly bashed against someone’s face etc. etc.  But for some reason it all just fits and never feels quite as gratuitous as Casino.  This is why compared to that other Scorsese mob drama, this zips along, has a more gripping ‘journey’ and just has stand out scene after stand out scene (“funny how, how am I funny, like I’m a clown?”).

One of the best movies ever made, and certainly the finest gangster movie ever made.

goodfellas 25This re-release for the movie’s 25th anniversary comes with a glossy and detailed full colour booklet as well as a letter from the director himself.  Add to this a whole extra disk of special features that houses a brand new documentary featuring cast and crew (sadly no Pesci!) and several archive docs covering the production and the movie’s legacy.  On the movie itself, we get a cast & crew commentary and a second crook and cop commentary (featuring Henry Hill and the FBI agent that caught him!) which were found on the 20th anniversary edition.  What’s most important though is the picture and sound.  Presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio the music, dialogue and everything else is crisp even if the surrounds aren’t especially showcased.  The image-quality (from a 4k master apparently) whilst a little grainy and rather soft in places (especially street scenes) retains good detail, especially in close-ups and faces.  Overall not too bad a job for a genuine classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Casino


Viewed – 08 May 2015  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Special Edition

I first saw this acclaimed mob drama a number of year’s ago, and even though I knew it was based on a true story, only recently have I learned about the real-life events the story follows.  Robert DeNiro plays professional gambler Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein who gets the opportunity to run the Tangier’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in the late seventies.  He makes a big pil o’ cash for the mob ‘back home’ and attracts former childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) who also has ideas of making a killing on the strip…literally and figuratively.  Meanwhile Ace falls for glamorous hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone) who soon complicates everyone’s lives.

casino

A spiritual successor to director Martin Scorsese’s other famed mob classic Goodfellas, reuniting DeNiro with Pesci … who pretty much plays the same type of unhinged psycho that nabbed him an Oscar in ‘Fellas.    DeNiro however, despite his character’s connections to the mob, is more the straight guy trying to avoid any sort of ‘heat’ – and his presence here commands the movie from beginning to end.  Stone is a welcome inclusion to the Scorsese mob-movie fold and adds her usual sexy sass and grit in a role that pretty much enables this movie to have it’s own voice.  At a butt-numbing three hours it can sometimes drag, yet the situations, strong performances and the whole glitz of the setting (not to mention a stellar soundtrack) make for great entertainment.  It’s incredibly violent at times, to the point of being gratuitous (especially towards the end) and the story isn’t as engrossing as it thinks it is.  Also some of the ‘artistic licence’ with the facts remain puzzling (Tangiers is fictional, based on the famed Stardust hotel) and DeNiro and Pesci’s character names are made up, but based on Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro respectively.  Yet to quibble at this is to do the movie a disservice, as it remains another decent, if familiar mob drama from the true master of the subject.

The Blu-ray, re-issued for the movie’s 20th anniversary has a very nice image quality, retaining grain and detail even if some shots (especially in door and night time scenes) get a little fuzzy.  The sound in DTS HD Master Audio, which is very dialogue-driven is mostly excellent and the fantastic soundtrack really brings this one to life.  Vegas looks incredible also.  The extras consist of a ‘moments with the cast & crew’ option which has pop up interviews as the movie plays.  We also get a couple of detailed documentaries, as well as a few deleted scenes.  However, there doesn’t seem anything here that wasn’t on previous releases … making for a bit of a cash-in.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Raging Bull


Viewed – April 06 2007  DVD

Definitive Edition

This has been one of those films I have always wanted to see, but never got around to.  OK, I have checked it out numerous times on TV and seen about an hour of it, whilst flicking back ‘n’ forth between channels.  Now though with this release presented in an attractive metalic case, I have finally got around to it.  Robert DeNiro plays real-life boxer Jake LeMotta, a tough middle weight who’s personal life is almost as dramatic as his life in the ring.  If he’s not sparring with his younger brother (a brilliant Joe Pesci in his first double-team with DeNiro, that he would later continue to great effect in GoodFellas and Casino), Jake is sparring with his wife (Kathy Moriatty) a beautiful blonde who always seemed out of his league and his jealousy and paranoia take their relationship to the very brink and back.  Yet this is also a boxing film, and famed director Martin Scorsese delivers in ultra real and bloody bouts that will linger long in the memory.  Scorsese stages every fight like the set peice in a John Woo movie and its stylish, violent and unforgettable – making Rocky look like a children’s film. The acting on show here is first class, especially DeNiro who has never looked meaner, and goes from peak fitness champ to tubby has-been throughout, and its a marvel to see, considering he put the weight on and lost it himself – no fancy effects here, my friends!  So yes this is a classic, and filmed in iconic black ‘n’ white its every bit as eye-catching as it was back in 1980 when it was pretty much ignored by the Oscar academy, despite several nominations – a travesty!

This edition houses a wealth of material, documentaries and interviews, comparisons between DeNiro and the real Jake LaMotta, as well as an always worth while commentary track from Scorsese.  Yet if you have previous releases like the Special Edition and then the Ultimate Edition, only the fancy packaging may lure you.

Verdict: 4 /5