FlixChatter Review – The Irishman (2019)

Adapted from the memoir I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman follows the real life story of Frank Sheeran. Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro, was a World War II veteran. While working as a truck driver through the 1950s, finds himself drawn into Russell Bufalino’s inner circle. At this time Bufalino had recently been promoted to Boss of the Pennsylvania-based Bufalino crime family.

The Irishman is an old school film, epic in its scale. It is at once as nostalgic and familiar as it is relevant and timely. Visually reminiscent of Coppola and Leone. Sharp dialogue, long takes, a perfectly curated soundtrack and attention to color immerse the viewer. The shifting from grey/sepia tones in 40s/fifties to a cooler more natural reading pallet as we move to the 80s and 90s was a really nice detail that helped show passage of time. Too often in film attention is paid to styles of clothes and cars appropriate to the time but not color especially the tone.

The use of visual effects in the movie – was impressive as the film flips between the past and present day/older De Niro, (what he looks like now). Although the use of CGI is apparent, it doesn’t pull the viewer out of the film or detract from the amazing performances. This is as much a credit to Scorsese’s careful implementation as the evolution of the technology itself.

I am not a big fan of Scorsese or De Niro. I was not anticipating this film as I felt like the crime genre had been worn out. Having watched Motherless Brooklyn shortly before, I wasn’t excited to watch another crime film. However, I greatly enjoyed this film and believe this is by far the best film both have made.

De Niro plays a reserved, soft spoken deliberate man. His drawn back approach is perfect for the character. On the other end of the spectrum, Al Pacino‘s character, Jimmy Hoffa is the exact opposite. A loud, brash personality who reeks of desperation. Pacino puts every ounce of energy he has become known for into this performance, giving it a level of natural charm and charisma. Lastly, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a near silent, no nonsense character who “takes care of business”.

Although it possesses a daunting run time of 3 hours and 29 minutes, each scene felt well thought out and purposeful. Although it felt long winded it never felt bored or aimless. The editor Thelma Schoonmaker, known for cutting all Scorsese films utilizes cutscenes and splices to create tension through the movie.

Martin Scorsese, known for re-invigorating the gangster genre may also be the one to put it back to rest. His use of violence is not dissimilar from that in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. I think this is partially due to the fact that both films seek to express a period of time where the older traditions gave way to a modern generation. The friction and tension felt between the generational gap is expressed through an unfiltered physical violence. Although this film follows an individual from his youth through his elderly years, it also highlights the rise and fall of the mobster/teamsters union relationship. This juxtaposition of the growth of an individual and societal shifts at large was highly effective and extremely thought provoking.

The film was stunning on the big screen but could also benefit from the ability to watch at home once it is released on Netflix. Because it is packed with small details, there were many times I wanted to pause and replay scenes. The actors gave highly nuanced performances that were quite intense and it would have been nice to take a breather.

Rumored to be Scorcese’s final film, The Irishman is a fitting end to his filmography. Not only does it encapsulate his prior body of work but also serves as a beautiful showcase of several of the greatest actors of our time.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen The Irishman? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

Quentin Tarantino’s last two films were westerns, both were a tribute to his favorite genre, the spaghetti western. He’s now back with another tribute, this time to his favorite film decade and town, the 60s in Hollywood. Specifically 1969, the year that many people have said changed the Hollywood movie industry.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was once a popular leading man starring in a hit western show in the 50s. But when his show got cancelled, his star power went with it. He’s only able to land villainous role but still had hopes that some director will hire him as the leading man in their film or TV show. On a night out with his best friend/body double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), they ran into a film producer named Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino).

Schwarzs made a proposition to Dalton, go to Italy and be a leading man in their Western films. Dalton was of course offended; he thinks he’s above that kind of films and doesn’t want to work outside of Hollywood. Obviously, QT is using Clint Eastwood’s real-life career as a model for Dalton’s in this film. Dalton decided to accept another villainous role in a western show starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant). He also tried to get his buddy Cliff some stunt work on the new show.

But Cliff’s reputation around town isn’t good, so when Dalton’s at work, he drives around Hollywood and one day meets a hippie named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley). Pussycat belongs to Charles Manson’s cult. Any fans of QT knows that his films don’t really have a plot, it just random things happening to the characters on the screen. And this film is no different. He introduced a bunch of famous people at that period of time including Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) who happens to be a neighbor of Dalton’s. The entire film is kind of a build-up to the murder of Tate’s and her friends by the Manson cult members.

Performances by DiCaprio and Pitt were great. DiCaprio really embraced the has-been actor role and he’s hilarious in every scene he’s in. Pretty sure he’ll get another Oscar nomination. Pitt’s character on the hand is more reserved. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any funny lines, some of the scenes with Cliff were quite funny. Including a scene where he has a tussle with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Robbie’s Tate on the hand, was more like a fantasy role. It’s hard to explain but maybe because Tate’s career was cut short because she was murdered and we don’t know much about her, and it’s the reason why QT wrote the character this way.

Visually, this is another stunning film shot by Tarantino’s regular cinematographer Robert Richardson. QT is one of the few filmmakers left in Hollywood that still prefer shooting in film, so this picture has that old school film look to it. With a reported budget of close to $100mil, QT’s largest production budget, he’s able to create the look and feel of the late 60s that I assume anyone who’s alive around that time would appreciate.

I don’t consider this to be one of QT’s best film, I think it’s middle of the road. At close to 3 hours longs, the film needed some further editing. There were several scenes that should’ve been cut or shorten. I think this is where QT’s longtime late editor Sally Menke would’ve helped and probably would’ve made the film a bit tighter. Also, the music selection and themes were quite forgettable. Many of his previous films contained great music but not this one.

It may not be one of his best work but it’s still better than many of the films currently playing in theaters right now. If you’re a fan of the actors or QT, then I would recommend you see this one at your local theater.

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So have you seen ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD? Well, what did you think?

The Flix List: 10+ year-old films that deserve a second look

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Have you ever seen a film and question why it’s not as well known or gets the respect it deserves? I consider myself a film geek and have seen several films throughout the years, while some I saw deserves all the accolades it received and many deserves to be forgotten. But I thought these films on the list deserves to be seen by more people and shouldn’t have been forgotten.

In no particular order, below are some films that I believe should be given second look:

Year of the Dragon (1985)

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After the disastrous Heaven’s Gate, it’s a miracle that Michael Cimino was able to make this film. A story about a NYC cop taking on the Triad Chinese mob has everything you need in this kind of genre, great cinematography, strong performances and enough action to satisfy the 80s action hungry audiences. It starred the young upcoming and coming actor named Mickey Rourke as the cop who’s trying to take down the mob in NYC’s Chinatown. John Lone was excellent as the ambitious mobster who’s trying to become the Godfather of Chinatown.

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The film’s not perfect but I think it’s one of the best in that decade. Even though he’s very good in the role, Rourke’s character was written as someone in his late 40s or early 50s and Rourke was only 33 at the time. So in order to make him appear older, they applied really bad makeup and dyed his hair gray; I have to admit I found it to be distracting at times while watching the film. Apparently, the leading role was offered to both Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman, but they turned it down because they didn’t want to be anywhere near Cimino.

When the film came out, the Chinese community started calling the film racist because they didn’t think it depicts Chinatown in a good light. According to Cimino, the studio folks loved the film and planned to release it in the Holiday season but with the controversy, they decided to dump it in late summer. The film is available on Amazon video and DVD, it has yet to be released on Bluray here in the States. I’m hoping Criterion will release it some day.

Dead Presidents (1995)

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The Hughes Brothers second film is maybe the most under-appreciated film of the 90s. It’s a combination of different genres, heist, action and war drama. Larenz Tate stars as a young man who served in the Vietnam War and tried to adjust to normal life after he’s back in the States. It’s one of the few films in Hollywood that addresses the issues of African Americans who has to deal with harsh reality of living in the society after the war. It’s well written, directed and the performances were great by the actors. It’s not available on Bluray yet but you can find it on DVD, please seek it out.

Scarecrow (1973)

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I can guarantee that a lot of people have never heard of this film starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. A story about two men who’s trying to correct their lives, Hackman played an ex-con who’s trying to start a new life after being released from prison and Pacino played a sailor who’s trying to get home to see his child. It’s kind of a road movie but I thought it’s a great character study of these two men. The film was an indie produced and when it failed critically and financially, Hackman refuses to work on future indie projects; he’d only worked on studios financed films after this one. It’s one of the rare gems from the 70s and you should see it for the great performances by the two legendary actors. I think maybe the film failed is because the title suggests it’s some sort of a super natural thriller or horror. But despite its failure, both actors have said it’s one of their favorite films that they starred in.

Carlito’s Way (1993)

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Another film starring Al Pacino that I thought should’ve been well received when it came out. Pacino stars as a Puerto Rican gangster named Carlito who’s trying to go straight after being released from prison. It also stars Sean Penn as his lawyer and best friend; I think it’s Penn’s best performance. Unlike most films on the list, this one received full support from the studio and released in the prime Holidays season. But for whatever reason, it failed to click with audiences and were dismissed by most critics. Of course the film’s not perfect, I think the love story didn’t work and the lead actress Penelope Ann Miller was a miscast. According to director Brian De Palma, he auditioned several young actresses at that time and wanted to cast a then unknown actress named Sandra Bullock. But the role requires that she must be willing to do a topless scene because the character is a ballet dancer and stripper. Bullock refused to take her tops off and De Palma went with Miller since she has no problem taking her clothes off.

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It’s available on DVD and Bluray for a very cheap price, I highly recommend people to see this one ASAP. Personally, I thought it’s one of the best films of the 90s. Several years after the film came out, De Palma did an interview and said he knew the film was going to fail. He’d just made Bonfire of Vanity; one of the biggest box office bombs of the 90s and people were still hated him for it. Also, Pacino had just won an Oscar for his performance in Scent of A Woman in the previous year and many people thought he didn’t deserve it. So a lot of people were against Pacino at that time too.

Extreme Prejudice (1987)  

A modern day western that’s full of action and great performances yet somehow it failed miserably. It’s quite surprising since the film came out in the 80s and this was the kind of film that would bring in huge box office numbers in that era. My fellow FlixChatter contributor Jack gave an in depth review here so I won’t go into why you need to see this hidden gem.

Sorcerer (1977)

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After back-to-back success with The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin was on top of the food chain in Hollywood. In what he thought was going to be another box office hit, he decided to make an adventure film set in the jungle. It’s remake of a French film called Wages of Fear and I think this one is even better than the original version. Released in the summer of 1977, the studio thought it’s going to be another hit for Friedkin but it failed and has been forgotten for years. Just a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino mentioned that it’s one of his favorite films ever and that gave the film some well deserve recognition. The film was finally available on Bluray last spring and it’s one of the best discs of a classic film. It’s available for a very cheap price, so you should buy it and see this excellent action/adventure film.

The Vanishing (original 1988 version)

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If this Danish film came out in our current time of online social media sharing, I believe it would’ve been much more well known and many people would consider it one of the best thrillers ever made. But it came out in the late 80s, several years before the internet and it’s sort of been forgotten since then. This is one of the few films that I would consider a masterpiece. The story about a couple who decided to take a road trip, while stopping to get food at a local gas station somewhere in the French country side, the girlfriend was abducted. For three years, the boyfriend is obsessed with finding out what happened to her. Unlike most suspense thriller, this film didn’t rely on violence or cheap scares to keep the audience engage, with the exception of a small fight scene, there were no violence depicted in the film.

The film’s brilliantly written and directed by the late George Sluizer and beautifully shot. You need to know as little as possible if you’ve never seen it. But be prepare for a gut punch of an ending that will likely haunts you for a long time. Unfortunately, Sluizer got talked into directing a remake for American audiences a few years later and it’s inferior to his original version in so many ways. Avoid the remake at all cost.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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For a long time this film was considered the black sheep of the Bond franchise. Many of the Bond film fans called it the worst in the series but then a few years ago, Christopher Nolan said it’s his favorite Bond film and since then, it has gotten more attention and now some say it’s one of the best Bond films ever made. It’s not widely known but Sean Connery said that he regret not coming back to reprise his role as 007, because he thought the script for this film was great.

I’ve gotten into some heated discussion with some people about how this is great Bond picture and that it’s the only film in the series that’s faithful to the original Fleming’s source novel. This was before Nolan said it’s his favorite Bond film, of course those people have switched gear and said it’s a great Bond film. Now I understand why the film didn’t click with audiences when it first came out, a new actor is playing 007 and it’s quite dark in tone comparing to the previous Bond films at the time. Of course the shocking ending probably turned off a lot of Bond fanatics and paved way for the Roger Moore’s silly Bond pictures throughout the 70s and most of the 80s.

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But I thought what made the film great was that the filmmakers decided to make Bond more of a human rather than some sort of superhero. For example, a scene in which Blofeld’s henchmen were chasing Bond and he realized he might not get away and they showed fear in his face. That’s never been done in any of the Bond films and we didn’t see fear in Bond’s face again until Casino Royale where he’s being tortured. Then there’s Diana Rigg as the cool Bond girl, I would’ve liked to see more of her in the film but she’s definitely one of the best Bond girls in the franchise. Of course she’s one of the few women whom Bond did fall in love with and he finally married her.

The film was such a big box office failure that the producers considered hiring an American actor to play 007 in the next one. They thought this one failed because it’s too European and that American audiences didn’t “get” it.

Judgment Night (1993)

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The early 90s were full of cheesy action pictures and when I saw a trailer for this film, I thought it’s just another silly action thriller that would be forgotten once it hits local movie theaters. Sure enough that’s what happened, it barely made a dent at the box office but when I saw it on home video, I thought it’s great. The premise of the film is pretty simple; a group of friends are attending a box match somewhere in downtown Chicago. On the way there, they got stuck in traffic and decided to take an alternate route through a rough neighborhood. Unfortunately for them once they’re in the hood, they got lost and witnessed a murder by a ruthless drug dealer and his men. With no weapons to defend themselves, they have to use their wits to survive the night.

What I really like about this film is that they cast actors who actually look like regular people. Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven aren’t the kind of actors you think of in an action picture. But here they fit what the story requires, regular guys with no special skills trying to stay alive. Denis Learly, who at the time is better known for his comedic role, plays the main villain here. He totally surprised me and I thought he’s excellent as the relentless killer who won’t stop until his pray are all dead.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

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Almost ten years since the release of this film and it’s pretty much forgotten by many people. But to me it’s one of the best westerns ever made and should be in discussion as one of the best in that decade. Since the film wasn’t an action picture, the studio didn’t know how to promote it and pretty much just released it with little marketing. Now 2007 was a very good year for films, it came out around the same time as the other two more memorable films, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Even though Brad Pitt played the title role, he’s pretty much a supporting actor. The film belongs to Casey Affleck who I thought was excellent and should’ve won the Oscar for his performance. It’s beautifully shot by the great Roger Deakins and the soundtrack is one of my favorites ever. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this film’s soundtrack. If you’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend you see it.

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So those are some older films I thought deserves to be seen my more people. Did you see any of them and do you agree with me?

Genre Grandeur – Heist Movies: Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Thirteen

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This post is part of MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur (or Guesstimation) series. Thanks to my pal Ted S. for his review of one of his favorite films of the genre.


I lost count on how many times I’ve watched these two Ocean’s films; I’m going to pretend that Ocean’s 12 never existed; the self-indulgent film was an embarrassing to everyone who’s involved in making it. Don’t get me started on the whole Julia Roberts pretended to be Julia Roberts sequence. I wanted to punch the writers and director Steven Soderbergh for thinking that we the audience would be that stupid and thought it would be a fun scene to watch.

Well speaking of Soderbergh, in the early 2000s, he’s the director every actor wanted to work with. If I remember correctly, two of his films in 2000, Traffic and Erin Brockovich were box office hits and got nominated for best picture at the Oscars. He received the golden statue for directing Traffic. So of course there were big expectations for his next picture. Opened during the holiday season of 2001, Ocean’s Eleven was one of that year’s biggest hits and spawned two sequels. Of course the cast was probably the big draw, packed with three A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts; veterans Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould and young up and coming actors such as Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan.
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Recently paroled Danny Ocean (Clooney) decides to get in touch with some of his old buddies including black jack dealer named Frank Catton (the late great Bernie Mac) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt). They hatched a plan to steal money from two Las Vegas casinos during a big boxing match that could be worth more than $130mil. The casinos are owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who happens to be dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). In order to get their plan rolling, they need some funding from Benedict’s rival Reuben (Elliot Gould). With backing from Reuben, Danny and Rusty went and recruit the rest of the team.

What I love about this film was the chemistry with each of the actors; they were all believable to me as a team on a mission. I especially love the bickering between the Mormon twins (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan). The script was well written and the actual heist was very clever and fun to watch. Unlike some other heist genre film, there were no twists or backstabbing from someone in the team. They finished their mission and everyone got paid.

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After the disastrous Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh decided to fix his mistake from the second sequel and brought the team back for another heist in Vegas. In Ocean’s Thirteen, the team’s mission this time is revenge. After Reuben was left for dead by his former partner Willy Bank (Al Pacino), Danny and Rusty wanted to break Bank’s brand new casino. Unlike the second sequel where I felt the actors and filmmakers were having fun but we the audience were left out. In this film, Soderbergh brought back the fun and I had a great time with it; heck I think I liked it better than the first film. The heist itself was quite clever, instead of stealing the money from the casino for themselves, Ocean’s team decided to let everyone win big. Speaking as someone who goes to Vegas regularly and gambles there, I would have loved to be involved in this heist.

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Pacino w/ Ellen Barkin who’s quite the scene stealer in the movie

These two Ocean films aren’t the best in the heist genre but they sure are fun to watch. Maybe because it’s set in one of my favorite cities to visit Las Vegas, it’s the reason why I can’t get enough of these films.

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Well, what do YOU think of these two Ocean’s films? Which of the trilogy is your favorite? 

Thursday Movie Picks #62: Journalist/Reporters for Print/TV

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Movies featuring journalists/reporters for print/TV

I LOVE this month’s theme as I actually wanted to be a journalist growing up. I was thisclose to enrolling in Journalism major in college before I switched to Advertising. I like a lot of film that involve journalism, especially investigative journalism that continues to be an intriguing subject today. In fact one of the films I’m anticipating later this year that screened at TIFF is SPOTLIGHT, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child molestation scandal within the local Catholic Archdiocese. These three films also involve scandalous events that’s notable in their time.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

All The President’s Men (1976)

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Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

This was one of my Blindspot picks of last year and I’m glad I finally saw it. It’s as much a detective tale as it is about journalism. I like how the story stays focused on the investigative aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Robert Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life. The two leads Redford and Dustin Hoffman are in top form here, but it also feature fantastic supporting performances from Hal Holbrook who played Woodward’s extremely secretive source, “Deep Throat.”

The Insider (1999)

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A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco

This film (as well as HEAT) is why I will always admire Michael Mann. I was disappointed by Blackhat but I think he’s still a phenomenal filmmaker that can infuse such a compelling drama to an otherwise ho-hum story. Russell Crowe gave one of his best performances in his illustrious career, which I think deserved a Best Actor Oscar more than his role in Gladiator. I dedicated this post to highlight some of the scenes I love from this film. The relationship between Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), the whistle blower of the mammoth tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s and Lowell Bergman, a senior producer on 60 Minutes (Al Pacino) is compelling to watch. It’s amazing how even just two people talking on the phone can be so riveting, but that’s the genius of Mann’s style. Lots of great supporting cast here too, most notably Christopher Plummer as the legendary CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, Bruce McGill as trial lawyer Ron Motley, and Michael Gambon as the top tobacco company exec.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

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Based on a true story, this is about the Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, a reporter for The Sunday Independent, who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons and drug lords in 1996.

One of my all time favorite Cate Blanchett performances, where she totally disappeared into   her role. Cate not only portrays the feisty reporter, she embodies the journalist’s incredible valor in investigating Dublin’s drug trafficking. You immediately believe her as the character and the Aussie thespian even nailed Guerin’s Irish accent convincingly. I know some of you might be put off by Joel Shumacher as director, but it’s a good film, so give it a shot if you haven’t already. It’s one of the great examples of the danger of investigative journalism and how some of them are truly unsung heroes for their bravery to expose things that are harmful to society.

 

BONUS PICK

Philomena (2013)

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A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

I already had the three above locked down but I still want to include this film as I haven’t reviewed it yet. I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and she’s simply phenomenal as Philomena (hey that rhymes :D) Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the script) played the disgraced former journalist Martin Sixsmith who ended up coming alongside Philomena Lee in her journey to find her long lost son. A lot of his acting consist of bewildered reaction to Philomena, especially the part where she basically divulges the entire plot of a trashy book she’s reading that he couldn’t possibly be more disinterested in. It’s a bittersweet story that made me laugh and cry. Dame Judi is mesmerizing here and she’s as effortlessly adept in comedy as she is in dramatic roles. I find the story to be poignant, thought-provoking, and profoundly moving.

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What do you think of my picks? Which movies involving journalism/reporting are your favorites?

Classic Actor Spotlight: Jack Lemmon Part III… Defining Himself

Greetings once again, all and sundry. It has been my distinct pleasure to proffer two heaping helpings of the life, times and career of one of the true greats of the actors’ craft. Trying my best to keep each segment in chronological order to highlight changes and improvements in delivery and venue. Due to unexpected, though much appreciated feedback. I am going to have to warm up the Halden Collider~Way Back Machine in my basement and cheat a bit, though not much. I’m pretty sure you will be pleased with the end result. That said, allow me to introduce …

Jack Lemmon: Defining Himself


Well on his way to being a recognized name in both Comedy and Drama. It seemed that Mr. Lemmon needed a bit of well earned vacation and down time. And what better way to fill that time, than to sign onto another Blake Edwards project that latched onto the wave of boffo box office generated by Ken Annakin’s laugh out loud romp, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines… With a few obvious and better changes, of course.

The Great Race (1965)

It’s the turn of the 20th century and those odd looking, smoking, choking ‘Horseless Carriages’ are starting to be seen more and more and appear to be catching on in popularity. Enter, The Great Leslie. Entrepreneur and often times daredevil in the vein of Harry Houdini, barnstormer Charles Lindbergh and wing walker Ormer Locklear. Played heroically to a fault and always in spotless white attire and sparkling eyes  by Tony Curtis. Who proposes an automobile race from New York westward, to Paris. Basically, to promote his own prototype, The Leslie Special. Lovingly tended to by engineer and sidekick, Hezekiah Sturdy. Deftly brought to life by always reliable, Keenan Wynn.

Now, anyone so handsome, gallant, clever and heroic NEEDS a villain of equal or greater reputation and stature. And Mr. Lemmon fills that bill with room to spare as Professor Fate. Sneeringly eloquent and often elegant in black greatcoat, suit and nearly always present stove pipe hat. The Professor has his own skin in the game with the ‘Hannibal Twin-8’. Complete with smoke generators, a huge boring drill bit and 3 pound cannon.
Contestants come from far and wide and are whittled down to six. One of note is Maggie DuBois. The beautiful reporter for the New York Sentinel assigned to cover the astonishing event. Delightfully played by Natalie Wood as an emancipated woman long before the sexual revolution. Drawing the attention of both Leslie and Fate during a soiree the evening before the flag drops. Though the principals may be otherwise involved. Night time is the right time for Skullduggery and sabotage. When Fate’s stalwart sidekick and henchman, Maximilian Meen; wondrously mastered by Peter Falk. Applies his trade craft to the three of the cars, one being Fate’s.

The drivers, associates and their machines line up the next morning and the flag is waved. Leslie takes the lead with Fate not far behind as two machines crash through store fronts and assorted street and roadside obstacles. Leaving Leslie, Fate and Miss DuBois in the running. Until her car breaks down and she rides with Leslie and Heekiah. Through the Wild West, encounters with a gunslinger (Larry Storch) and an overblown barroom brawl, courtesy of singer, Lily Olay (Dorothy Provine).

Things only get funnier as the Bering Strait as true love wings its way during a snowstorm and fate kidnaps Miss DuBois. Only to have things kick into high gear when Fate and company arrive in Potsdorf. A small Duchy in the midst of a quiet coup, whose Crown Prince Frederick is under arrest and who also bears an uncanny resemblance to Professor Fate. I’ll let you connect the dots from there as the Duchy is left in a shambles and the racers head towards Paris and the Eiffel Tower…

Overall Consensus:

Though not mentioned as prominently as in earlier critiques. Mr Lemmon and his wily Professor Fate brings all four corners of this tale together quite nicely and delivers it wrapped in a bow. Reacting in ways clever, deft, though not completely thought out or tested. Creating a character who is one third Robert Walker’s Bruno Anthony from Strangers on a Train. One third Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius and one third Snidley Whiplash from the old Bill Scott Dudley Do-Right cartoons of the 1960s. Gleefully popping a child’s balloon one moment. Only to have his rubbery face scrunch up in evil schemes the next. His impersonation of the foppish and just a tad effeminate Crown Prince Frederick at the receiving line of an overly elegant ball is not to be missed! As the fawning crowd responds to upwardly raised hands to laugh. Then stop as they are chopped downward. Very shades of Ernie Kovacs and his dandy creation, Percy Dovetonsils.

In one splendid segment of what was to be one of the last great Hollywood slapstick comedy blockbusters. With many stops pulled out. Including an over the top pie fight between Fate, his handlers. Cooks, chefs, bakers, Miss DuBois, Hezekiah, Maximilian Meen and Leslie, who stays immaculately clean until the last moment.

Nicely rounded out with Oscar-nominated music by Henry Mancini. Between quick sight gags, prat falls and delightfully drawn out attempts at revenge that often blow up in Fate and Max’s faces. Very high kudos to cinematographer, Russell Harlan and editor, Ralph Winters. Who understood what TechniColor was all about and uses its advantages wisely. Also production design and art direction by Fernando Carrere. Set decoration by George James Hopkins and costume deign by Don Feld. For taking the audience on a stylized trip across the world. Without leaving the Warner Brothers Studios.

Which brings us to…

The Out of Towners (1970)

As mentioned briefly in an earlier comment, no one does exasperation as believably as Mr. Lemmon. And in this film the topic is given every opportunity to be toyed with, teased, stretched and pulled in all directions like Silly Putty. On what should have been an overnight vacation and second honeymoon in The Big Apple. With Reservations at the Waldorf Astoria. Dinner, dancing and a 9 a.m. interview for Mr. Lemmon’s  George Kellerman. Up and coming VP of a precision plastic machines in Ohio. Whose sister company is looking for someone like Kellerman to fill a lateral slot.

A journey that begins under sunny cloudless skies as George and his wide Gwen, magnificently underplayed by Sandy Dennis pack up the station wagon and make their flight with time to spare. Once airborne, George’s doubts seem to rise to the fore. Fixated on time and their evening reservations at The Four Seasons as the Boeing 737 buffets ahead of bad weather. A delay is announced from the flight deck and George and Gwen start to regret passing on their in flight meal. The weather doesn’t improve and the flight is diverted to Boston’s Logan Airport instead of JFK.

George is frazzled, though Gwen is upbeat. Until she discovers that their luggage is missing. Which sends them off to report the loss to Billy Dee Williams in the Lost & Found. Then off to find a cab to take them to the train station and then to Grand Central in NY. The ride leaves five minutes to spare. Three of which are wasted over 20 dollars (The only bill he has since his and Gwen’s NY money is in the lost luggage) for a 5 dollar can ride.

The train ride is one from Hell. Cramped, crowded, with no place to sit. And arrives in mid rainstorm over Manhattan. Leaving Gwen and George stuck in the rain amidst a sanitation strike. Near broke and following faulty directions the wrong way as one of Gwen’s heels breaks. Leaving them ripe to be robbed by a friendly man with an umbrella. At wits end, they walk to the local precinct and report their robbery to a desk sergeant (Dolph Sweet) who arranges for a unit to take the Kellermans to the local Armory to sleep for the night. En route, the unit responds to another robbery. George and Gwen are told to sit tight while the cops pursue, are eluded and the thieves hijack the police unit. Dropped in unfamiliar territory, they make their way to Central Park as the rain abates and George cracks a crown. Tired, hungry and fed up to here with the ill hospitality of The Big Apple. They fall asleep under a tree. Only to have Gwen surrender George’s watch to a caped mugger.

The morning comes bright and sunny. As shoeless George searches for Gwen who has found a half empty box of Cracker Jacks for breakfast. Only to lose it to an large, errant Dalmatian. Leaving them time for George to get caught up on current events in about as loud and long argument the two could have while sharing the remains. Before trying to get to the Astoria. En route, they are kicked out of a church. Gwen breaks her other heel. George tries to retrieve it in mid intersection and finally loses it. Screaming at the top of his lungs as pressured neuroses slowly brought to a seething boil throughout leaving Boston and Grand Central Station finally kicks loose internal relief valves. Professing loudly  that the city will never wear them down! Pausing briefly as he smells something strange and steps away from a manhole cover seconds before it blows. Shooting skyward and landing inches away….

Overall Consensus:

As with any Neil Simon play, the magic is in the dialogue. Sometimes overalpping. Often repeated with a slight change of inflection. Yet always clever and fresh. And this film is positively awash in dialogue and telling facial expressions from Mr. Lemmon and Ms. Dennis. As they put up with fate’s or God’s progressively worse ‘sickening factors’ of rain, darkness, piled garbage, stolen wallets and broken heels. And people on the opposite sides of desks or counters who have better things to do. In other words. Just another day or night in Manhattan. Whose names and badge numbers wind up scrawled on a crumpled scrap of paper. George’s growing ‘Who to Sue’ list.

Kudos to Mr. Lemmon for having the bravery to completely and concisely illustrate the ‘Slow Burn’ of running up against a deck of cards stacked so solidly against his meticulously detailed schedule of getting things done. Obstructed so nonchalantly by a city that has other ideas. Wondrously, yet creepily highlighted by locations so dark and foreign looking without landmarks, that you feel the plight of the principals. Equally high marks go to Ms. Dennis’ Gwen. Who lovingly holds her own. While somehow always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo is exceptional. Especially at night. As is an early Quincy Jones’ soundtrack and the ever so brief appearances of secondary characters. Who add to the film’s wickedly dark comedy under Arthur Hiller’s less than subtle touch.

Save The Tiger (1973)

This is the film where Mr. Lemmon comes into his own as a legitimate and recognizable dramatic actor. Giving less than perfect life to Harry Stoner. An executive of an L.A. apparel company that’s come upon rocky, less than prosperous times. Whose recent trip to France to flog spring fashion brings back waves of guilt. For surviving a war begun on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Only to see its snow white sandy beach be the playground for the young, lithe bikinied bottoms and bare chests of those who could care less. Harry’s speech to introduce his company’s lines goes over less than well. Stopping in mid rambling sentence. As a belated mid life crisis stares Harry in the face. And Harry blinks.

Shuttling back to L.A., Harry picks up Myra. A hitch hiking twenty year old free spirit. Played with equal parts curiosity, naivete and ebullience by Laurie Heineman. Who becomes a companion and willing sounding board for Harry as he waxes nostalgic for the long forgotten days and treasured memories of his youth. The post coital scene where Harry and Myra compare cultural, musical, political and sports icons of their times is both melancholy and sweet. Well worth the price of admission or effort to seek out.

Refreshed, if not invigorated, Harry returns to the office and discovers that the company’s financial picture is far less healthy than he had first imagined. Money is owed. Loans are overdue. Designers are squabbling. Sewers and seamstresses aren’t happy with the quality of material. A simple solution would be to torch a company warehouse and collect on its insurance. Though after the idea is broached to a local arsonist. Due diligence is performed and the warehouse is found to be so far below code and standards that several thousand would have to be spent to disguise arson in the first place.

Discussions with Harry’s business partner, Phil Green. Wondrously underplayed by Jack Gilford only buy some time as Harry sees everything he’s been, done and worked for and held dear slip through his fingers. Wanting nothing more than another season….

Overall Consensus:

In what should have been a just over an hour and a half very low budgeted personal project for Mr. Lemmon. A near unknown classic evolved. Through initial viewing and then through word of mouth. Working from a first effort, solid story and screenplay by Steve Shagan. With John G. Avildsen’s deft direction and a prototype film system developed by Fouad Said (‘I Spy’). Cinematography by James Crabe is sharp and uncompromising. Creating a film that is a model of straightforward simplicity and economy of story telling. Aided by a soundtrack composed by a just being recognized Marvin Hamlisch.

Is there action in this film? No. Though there is great power in the spoken words, expressions and body language of a man pushed to his limits. While dealing with changing times, morals, attitude and culture. Well worthy of the Best Actor Oscar win for Mr. Lemmon and a Supporting Actor Nomination for Jack Gilford.

Missing (1982)

Though not a huge fan of Costa~Gavras. Sometimes he gets it right, as with ‘Z’, which was very of its time, external and seething with suspense. And with ‘Missing’. Which is the inverted. Post action packed coup. Pick up the pieces story of a father, Ed Horman. A conservative businessman. Marvelously played to tamped down perfection by Mr. Lemmon. Who fights a near vertical uphill battle with the U.S. State Department and Augusto Pinochet’s newly installed, corrupt fascist government in 1973. Aided by daughter in law, Beth, stoically delivered by Sissy Spacek. The two ask questions very few want to answer between sporadic gunfire and the all too familiar sound of Bell Huey and Jet Ranger helicopters.

Told with occasional flashbacks. We discover that missing son and husband Charlie Horman is a wide eyed naif whose political leanings are just slightly to the right of a 70s stoner hippie, minus the drugs. With dreams of writing either children’s books or the great American novel. Who asks too many questions of people he should have no business knowing. Taking too many notes while being seen by too many people. Making entirely too much noise in a country that is suddenly crawling with too many young Chilean soldiers given the power of life and death. Equipped with U.S. rifles, jeeps and other sinews of war. Charlie is played to ridiculous, near embarrassing perfection by John Shea.

Even with his dumb as a sack of hammers naivete. And stout belief that being an American citizen will get him out of any sticky or surreal situation. There is something noble about Charlie’s quest. Not really following leads, but doing the grunt and groundwork by accident that no US journalist would be able to touch. Even as he is slowly, unwittingly signing his own Death Warrant.

Worthy enough to send his father to his N.Y Senator who knows less than nothing and is quite lame at obfuscating and spouting non-answer answers. Dissatisfied, Ed flies down to Chile. Meets his daughter-in-law, Beth at the airport. And together are given the full press run around from many of the same people Charlie had met and asked questions of only weeks earlier.

Mr. Lemmon’s Ed Horman delivers in many subtle ways. Using all of the tools acquired years earlier. His posture, initially ram rod straight. His words, succinct and sometimes hurtful towards Beth. Who fires back with equal fervor as tiny streams of light, often as slow as molasses begin revealing a trail to dark places neither one really wants to go. Keeping fears under wraps. Never raising his voice as he sits opposite the Chilean liaison and tells him that he will initial, sign or authorize any and all paperwork if he can just see his son.

The absolute high point of the film and pinnacle of Mr. Lemmon’s vast talents. As his body and face seem to deflate while shoulders droop and body sags and shrinks inside its suit seconds before tears threaten to flow, but are stanched. To no real avail…

Overall Concensus:

Mr. Lemmon at the then top of his game delivering much more than required. In a role that would lure other actors into chewing all kinds of angry scenery. The principal projects inwardly in a tightly woven world of surreal external grotesques. Reacting jumpily at first to sporadic gunfire as a  reminder of how dangerous the land is. To almost ignoring or shrugging it off as his journey continues. Never losing hope. Even while trying to find his son’s body amongst hundreds awaiting autopsy. Until a final sit down with another journalist who obliquely lays events bare.

It is then that the old Ed returns. Rigid, robust, knowing just enough and speaking just a bit too loudly as he applies leverage to those who prefer staying in the shadows. Aided along his journey by a notable swath of then unknown, but soon to be known talent. Most notably, Joe Regalbuto and Keith Szarabajka as fellow writers Frank Teruggi and David Holloway.

High marks to Ricardo Aronovich’s cinematography. Also Peter Jamison’s production design in getting parts of Acapulco and its Federal Districts to fill in so believably for parts of Chile in upheaval. Notable for Oscar nominations for its Best Actor, Actress and Film. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worthy of seeking out.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

This is the film most people remember and associate Mr. Lemmon with. And rightly so. Not as the lead player, but being a major part of a superb, A List cast. In a brilliant, yet gritty adaptation of David Mamet’s long running, cross country stage play about less than reputable real estate salesmen faced with a tightening economy. Less than stellar clients and poor prospects that must be sold before the much more lucrative, desirable and coveted Glengarry properties can be touched.

Delivered by sarcastic and evilly grinning Blake. Sent by the unseen, all powerful ‘Mitch & Murray’. Malevolently brought to Satanic llife by perfectly coiffed and adorned Alec Baldwin. Brought in a dark and stormy night’s pep talk. Focusing on the branch’s poor numbers with visual aids both standard and exotic. Offset by scathing dialogue that angers more than helps, before revealing the bundled, treasured Glengarry index cards of potential clients. That are to be locked up in Manager, John Williamson’s office vault until the present dross can be closed upon. In two days. Or people will be fired!

Not the most stirring motivational speech for four salesmen who have been around the block more than a few times. Led by the too smooth for his own good, top salesman Ricky Roma. Seamlessly fleshed out by rarely better Al Pacino. Who learned most of what he knows from the branch’s wise old man, Shelley Levene. Salesman, par excellence, who is starting to drop a stitch here and there and hasn’t closed a deal lately. Played with a hint of growing desperation and an ancient bag of tricks by Mr. Lemmon as hospital bills for his daughter continue to pile up.

With Ed Harris as slow and reliably steady, though loud mouthed Dave Moss. Who lives for the sale, but has a hard time closing. And Alan Arkin as quiet follower George Aaronow, who sometimes thinks he should be in another business. All overseen by the bespectacled and somewhat fastidious, milquetoast John Williamson. Marvelously underplayed by Kevin Spacey. Who understands that his neck could be out there as well.

Once the gauntlet has been thrown down. Shelley tries his best to cajole, con, threaten and bribe John out of some of the Glengarry leads. While Dave floats the idea of stealing them to George.To either use or sell to a competitor. As Ricky grudgingly dives in to re-work over plowed soil and possibly sift out a few new clients. Each finds a task and make far too many phone calls, cold calls and introductory offers. Watching Mr. Lemmon work the phones from a cold start. Then lying through his teeth to play on the potential client’s insecurity and greed would put many confidence men to shame. And is worth the price or effort of seeking out as same day appointments are made and the chance to close draws nearer.

Shelley focuses on a couple, the Nyborgs. Closes a questionable deal and arrives at the office full of bluster. Only to find that John’s office has been vandalized and is crowded with cops. Ricky is upset that his client, James Linkg (Jonathan Pryce) has gotten cold feet and wants his uncashed retainer check back. And dave and George are awaiting being questioned. Undaunted, Shelly regales Ricky with the thrill of the sale and closing. Only to have things turn ugly when John steps from his office and is caught in a crossfire of verbal abuse. First by Ricky. Then by Shelley. Who lets slip one tiny, revealing mistake about Lingk’s check that John latches onto. After telling Shelley that the Nyborgs are bankrupt and delusional and the deal has fallen through. Crushed, Shelley asks “Why?” Only to have Williamson reply coldly. “Because I don’t like you.” As the cops and detectives wait to talk to Shelley…

Overall Concensus:

A proven and superb cast in a near flawless film. Written by one of the masters of moody, often profane and sometimes melancholy dialogue. Where words define much more quickly and fully than a tailored suit, cheap watch or aged, washed out, rumpled trench coat. Spoken by men who are in involved in the cut throat world of sales and commissions. Knowing that their potential client is going to be stand offish at first. Until a flaw is revealed that can be exploited and worked on. And ‘Opportunity’ is sold in ways that may be immoral, but not illegal.

In this arena, Mr. Lemmon’s Shelley Levene reigns supreme. Coaxing and cajoling one moment. Then gently applying pressure to innate greed and later, pride in that soothing voice of his. To get names on papers to pieces of land unseen by either the seller or the buyer. Is there remorse afterwards? Possibly, but it is never revealed in the office.


Check out the first two parts of the Jack Lemmon series:
PART I and PART II



Well, what do you think on the third and final post on the Jack Lemmon series? Do share your thoughts about the actor and/or these films in the comments.

Scenes Spotlight: Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’

CBS’ newsman Mike Wallace passed away last Saturday at the age of 93. He’s the star of the network’s TV news magazine 60 Minutes from the time it’s launched in 1968. As someone who almost majored in journalism in college, I certainly admired someone with such panache and brilliance. Surely Mr. Wallace was a pioneer and icon of American journalism.

Hearing about his death brings back memories of one of my favorite films that happen to depict the renowned journalist, albeit in an unflattering light. Now, Mr. Wallace likely would not want to have his name be associated with this movie, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer. The film was based on the Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Marie Brenner, which focused on Jeffrey Wigand, a whistle-blower trying to expose tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s dangerous business practice. Not surprisingly, Mr. Wallace disliked his on-screen portrayal which depicts him as yielding to corporate pressure to kill Wigand’s story (per Wikipedia).

Here’s a clip of Plummer as the no-nonsense newsman reacting to having his interview edited out. Wow, that’s powerful stuff, Plummer is such an underrated actor. Glad he finally got his way-overdue Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year.


Now, how far creative license was taken by director Michael Mann is debatable, but as a dramatic thriller, this is definitely one of Michael Mann’s best work. The performances are top notch all around, Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer are superb in their roles. Crowe was barely recognizable as Wigand, with 35 extra pounds and hair bleached white, a far cry from his role in Gladiator the year after. I tell you, Crowe should’ve won an Oscar that year instead of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The supporting cast is great as well, including Michael Gambon, Bruce McGill and Philip Baker Hall.

Now, this is not a fast-paced film by any means, but boy is it ever gripping. It’s quiet but intense. Even at the slowest moment, the tension is always on as there is so much at stake and nobody has an easy decision to make. If you haven’t seen this movie, I suggest you skip the clip at the end but take a look at this trailer below and tell me this doesn’t at least intrigue you. It’s arguably one of the best journalism movies ever made, it’s a thriller with a documentary vibe of a David vs. Goliath story.


Now, those who’ve seen this will perhaps recall this awesome finale between Wallace and 60 Minutes‘ then producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino). It’s poignant, dramatic and über stylish… that is, quintessentially Mann’s. Perhaps Pacino should reunite with Mann again as he also hit a high note in their first collaboration, Heat.


The camera angles and slow-motion photography adds so much to the stern atmosphere. The music at the end is just outstanding… brilliantly captures the somber but defiant mood of that scene.


Have you seen this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie or Michael Mann.