This is it folks, the week we’ve all been waiting for. Five movies, and one of them is the Irishman.
Nov 17: Hereditary (Netflix)
I’ve already reviewed Hereditary, so I’ll keep this brief. It’s still one of the best horror movies ever made and I have zero complaints, but this is my first time seeing Hereditary in a post Midsommer Director’s Cut world, and it got me thinking: is Midsommar actually better? I’m starting to lean towards yes, as shocking as that is to even myself.
What it comes down to is the fact that Midsommar is richer in terms of thematic detail, and sticks more closely to its core ideas. The film is a reverse-horror breakup movie, as I’ve discussed before, and every single frame of the film is either contributing to the worldbuilding of the cult or subtly alluding to Dani and Christian’s twisted relationship. Hereditary is an exploration of trauma and grief through extremely stressful sequences that remain horrifying, but the ending, while spectacular and fascinating, does not connect to the film’s themes in any tangible way. Yes, Noah, I finally agree with you about the ending, are you happy?
Nov 18: Hard Eight (Prime Video)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature, Hard Eight, is a fantastic puzzle, but there are some pieces missing. Prior to reading up about the film, I was ready to laud it for the fact that the plot doesn’t have a definitive end, nor a traditional act structure. It’s more about what family means to each of our characters, particularly in terms of the complicated relationship between Phillip Baker Hall’s Sydney and John C. Reilly’s John. Hard Eight introduces our characters for nearly half of the film, allowing us to fully understand them before shit hits the fan and the actual “plot” begins. I kept expecting the story to move on from this narrative tangent, but it never does, and the movie ends with a confrontation between Phillip Baker Hall and a character that hasn’t mattered all that much up until then. It feels almost Baumbach-like, in that PTA is letting his characters progress naturally rather than forcing them into the constraints of a plot. But all of this was put in a more negative light once I read that studio meddling forced about 50 minutes to be cut. That means the strange, plot/non-plot dichotomy of the film isn’t intentional on PTA’s part, it’s actually just the result of intervention from people who don’t yet know that PTA is going to become one of the best directors alive. The scenes that are here are still great, the acting is stellar, and even the narrative itself is somewhat interesting, but it lacks cohesiveness. There are pieces missing from Hard Eight that we will never see, and even though I can see what the puzzle is supposed to look like, I feel unfulfilled.
Nov 19: The Master (Prime Video)
What is The Master about? I laid on my couch silently, eyes closed, much like Lancaster Dodd’s followers do in order to recall (or imagine) their past lives, and I pondered this simple question. Paul Thomas Anderson has never shied away from cryptic meaning in his films, perhaps most famously with an event involving frogs in Magnolia, and like Magnolia, I feel as though a second viewing could help me to understand what The Master is trying to do; what it’s trying to say. At the moment, I see The Master as the story of a man and a beast attempting to know each other when such a thing is impossible. Master, or Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), is the leader of a cult that Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has happened upon and taken a sudden liking to. Freddie has gone his whole life drifting from one job to another, always getting himself fired or violently exiled at some point. In Dodd, he’s finally found someone who tries to understand him as a human being, and he subsequently attempts to understand Dodd as well. [Spoilers] The process is extremely frustrating to both of them, and eventually Quell moves on as he always does. When he’s summoned back with a convincing phone call from Dodd, neither of them understand why he decided to come back. Dodd never tamed the beast known as Freddie Quell, and Quell never grasped what made Dodd such a compelling influence on his followers. In the final scene, we see Quell having sex with a random woman and repeating some of Dodd’s teachings in a nonsensical context, suggesting he never learned anything and is simply parroting information without knowledge of what it actually means. I’ll have to see the movie again to truly understand some other aspects like the subtle and not so subtle homoeroticism, as well as the relationship Quell has with a young woman from back home. I think it’s brilliant, but in what way, I’m not entirely sure.
Nov 20: Die Hard (Vic’s DVD)
Die Hard continues to be Die Hard. It hasn’t changed in 31 years. John McLane is still badass. The cops are still morons. Hans Gruber is still evil. This has been my decade-ly checkup on Die Hard, tune in next decade to find out if Die Hard has changed. My money is on no.
Nov 21: The Irishman (Theatre)
My neck and ass didn’t love this movie, but my brain sure did. Three and a half hours sitting in a theatre is gruelling, but worth it to finally see the movie I’ve complained endlessly about not being able to see. It’s the gangster movie every Scorsese fan has been eagerly awaiting for years: De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, together at last. It’s everything I expected in the best possible way.
What I didn’t expect, however, is a history lesson in union politics. This has been the year of learning about unions for me: First, there’s the class I’m taking mysteriously called “Organizations”, a class that has ended up focusing in part on union law and certain union case studies. Then there’s Disco Elysium, a video game with a drawn-out union strike at its core that has surprisingly provided some fascinating context to accompany my class. Finally, we have The Irishman, a film about Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), president of the Teamsters Union, through the eyes of his best friend and right hand man, Frank Sheeran (De Niro). Frank got a late start on immersing himself in the gangster lifestyle, and only meets Russell Bufalino (Pesci) some time in his 50s; no “as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a gangster” for Frank. He happens to meet some gangsters, and as he proves time and time again, he rolls with whatever happens to him. Russell says threaten this guy, Frank does it. Russell says answer the phone, it’s Jimmy Hoffa, Frank answers it. Russell tells Frank that his young daughter’s afraid of him, and he’s right. Frank has the utmost respect for everyone he works with, and he’s happy to provide whatever they need.
The Irishman is a perfect contrast to Scorsese’s other movies like Goodfellas and Casino in that it isn’t about a rise and fall, it’s about the man who makes sure the people rising and falling are the right people. Another major departure for Scorsese is the scarcity of violence. While those aforementioned movies take pride in the sensational blood and shootouts, The Irishman contains these moments to quick, brutal scenes that are more of a necessity than a recreational activity. Murder is a last resort. Pesci plays a character that seems to be something of a commentary on Tommy DeVito, his character in Goodfellas; he never has any violent outbursts, and it’s obvious that murder is the last thing he wants, and even then, he never does it himself.
When Frank isn’t running illegal errands for Russell, he’s hanging out with Hoffa. Their friendship is the emotional locus of the film; romance and parenthood take a backseat, with various repercussions. Watching seamless digitally de-aged versions of De Niro and Pacino chilling in a hotel room discussing union squabbles is not exactly what I thought they’d be doing, and yet I found myself entirely engrossed with all of the complicated political discourse.
The Irishman is another Scorsese masterpiece. It’s the longest movie I’ve ever seen and I was never bored for a single second; that alone is an incredible feat. Sure, you can call it just another Scorsese gangster epic, but that ignores the dense history and surprisingly subdued characters not often explored in the genre. Please see it in theatres if you can. Do it for me. The Irishman doesn’t deserve to be seen on your filthy computer screen, it deserves to take up your entire cone of vision. See it in a damn theatre, will ya?
Shoutout to Cinéma Moderne for actually showing The Irishman and Marriage Story, which I’m seeing tonight. Unlike Cineplex, they’re not trying to tank their entire business by boycotting Netflix movies. As much as I dislike the idea of big movies being Netflix exclusives, Cineplex’s refusal to screen them is only going to hurt the industry at large.