Film Review: THE IRISHMAN (USA 2019) ****

The Irishman Poster

A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.


Martin Scorsese


Charles Brandt (book), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

Arguably the most powerhouse of all films made this year, THE IRISHMAN features the film industry’s biggest names that include multiple Academy Award Winners in its cast and crew.  Director Martin Scorsese directs high profile stars seldom or never seen together in the same frame in a movie.  Robert De Niro stars alongside Al Pacino (both of whom shot to fame after Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER II films) with Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel.  

But the full title of the film, as seen in the opening and closing credits is THE IRISHMAN, I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, based on the book of that name by Charles Brandt.  The main protagonist of the film is the Irishman of the film title, Frank Sheeran played by De Niro who is obviously Irish by blood.  When the film opens he and pal, Russell Bufalino (Pesci) are having a road trip with their wives on way to attend a wedding.  As they stop their car for their wives to have s smoke, Frank realizes that it is the same spot he and Russ had first met. Through flashbacks it is revealed that the wedding is a disguise for them performing  a peace mission that ends up as a vicious killing.  How and why the situation had come to reach this stage is the film’s story.  And it is not a pretty story.

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in postwar America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious underworld figures of the 20th century.  Spanning decades, the film chronicles the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) — which remains unsolved to this day — and journeys through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics.

THE IRISHMAN clocks in 3 and a half hours.  Director Scorcese remarked that when he Scorcese has been quoted to say that the people at Netflix are excellent.  The rest is a film that Scorcese can indulge in.  Though the film is a long haul, Scorcese gets to tell the story his way, his style.  When one analyzes many of his set-ups, one can see his attention to detail and the brilliance of Scorcese’s craft.  He tells a story while impacting emotions in the larger realm of things, and told with dead pan humour with the added bonus of a great soundtrack, put together by Robbie Robertson.  Never mind that the film turns a bit difficult to follow at times – Scorcese doesn’t care, but continues his passion of telling his story.  The result is a crime story told from one person’s point of view – Frank Sheeran’s and one very effective one at that.  The effect of the man on his family particularly on his daughters notably Peggy (Paquin) who refuses to talk or see him is devastating and the only thing that makes him regret his life.  The final scenes showing him speaking candidly to a priest (shades of Scorcese’s SILENCE) trying to extol himself from the sins committed in his life.

Th film uses CGI to ‘youthify’ De Niro, Pesci and Pacino for their character in their younger days.  This de-ageing process looks effective enough to enable the 75 year-old actors to play their younger years.

De Niro and Pacino are superb playing off each other.  Pacino’s Hoffa is volatile, loud, insulting and gregarious compared as compared to De Niro’s Frank who is smart, cunning, silent but deadly.  It is pure pleasure to see both De Niro and Pacino together in a single scene and there are quite a few of these in the film.

THE IRISHMAN is a must-see crime drama, not because it is true or could be true, but for Scorcese’s craft with the Master is still at his peak.

THE IRISHMAN opens for a limited engagement at the TIFFBel Lightbox before streaming on Netflix.



1977 Movie Review: NEW YORK NEW YORK, 1977

Movie Reviews

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Georgie Auld
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya


Jimmy Doyle and Francine Evans meet in New York as young, struggling musicians. They fall in love, get married and struggle with fame, career and marriage, all against the backdrop of the 40’s big band era.


“You do not leave me! I leave you!”

Part musical, part film-noir, Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York is an epic love story following the rise and fall of two struggling artists.

It’s V-J Day, 1945. The war has just ended and young Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) is itching to have some fun. Enter Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli), classy, polished and utterly uninterested in Jimmy. A long fast-talking, insult-throwing scene sets their love story on course. The film follows their crazy, mismatched pairing as they struggle to make it in the music business in the city that never sleeps.

The look of the film shifts between gritty and stylized. The film showcases the busy, dirty bars in New York against the film noir rain-slicked streets. Some scenes are filmed in bright daylight or stark darkness with other scenes shot with gauzy filters re-creating the look of the 1940’s musical, with soft lighting and extreme close-ups. Utilizing these techniques, Scorsese creates a mood that is equally dark and exuberant; much like the relationship between the two lovers.

With many scenes largely improvised, the plot sometimes falters then gains momentum. The editing however, keeps most of the film consistently moving forward. Both actors bring amazing performances with De Niro more New York street-punk and Minnelli channeling the 40’s musical, film-noir dame. This slight mismatch works for the film as it slides between convention and satire; the characters are sometimes talented artists then raging egomaniacs.

As any epic love story, the couple endures difficulties and in this case it is Jimmy’s insecurity as Francine’s career catapults her into the limelight. The more Jimmy struggles to be a well-recognized saxophone player, the easier it seems for Francine to launch her singing career. The fights that ensue are painful, dark and violent. Apparently, Scorsese encouraged both actors toward more physical acting which escalated and ended up putting them all in the hospital! But the resulting scene is intimate and disturbing, giving brevity to the complexity of their marriage.

The film does not use the musical convention where actors suddenly burst into song. Instead, the singing and sax playing is all organic; as they’re rehearsing, auditioning or performing. De Niro learned to play the sax even though the sound was dubbed and in the film, he hardly sings. Minnelli however sings her heart out! She has the ability to convey a range of emotions through controlled, precise vocal performances. The “Happy Endings” sequence near the end of the film showcases her singing, dancing and comedic talent. It is at this moment that the film takes a break to highlight a musical convention: the performance within the performance. Utilizing large-scale sets, choreographed dancers and many costume changes, it is light, funny and entertaining. And of course, her performance of the title song written by John Kander and Fred Ebb went on to become one of the most famous songs sung in history.

New York, New York, is a love story between two people who are bonded through music. The last scene breaks the convention of the happy ending, allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions about the fate of the troubled lovers. Sometimes adhering to the conventions of the musical and sometimes satirizing those very conventions, the film is an interesting, visually stunning piece of work.

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1967 Movie Review: WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR, 1967

Movie Reviews

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Cast: Harvey Keitel, Zina Bethune, Anne Collette, Harry Northup, Lennard Kuras, Michael Scala, Robert Uricola
Review by Vinny Borocci


Three young men living on the New York City streets engage in trivial violence and unproductive activities. They enjoy hanging out at bars, watching movies, having parties, etc. Suddenly, one of the men, J.R., meets a girl and begins to have a relationship with her. The other men are skeptical not only because of J.R.’s unusual changes in his behavior, but the amount of time spent with her as opposed to hanging out with them. J.R. feels the pressure from both his friends and the girl. In the process, the strains become too much for J.R. to handle, where hostility and a sense of aggression result, along with making some very poor judgments. As a raised devout catholic, J.R. feels the only one to turn to is God.


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During the 1960’s, Americans spent much time engaging in street protests, focusing on topics such as feminism and gay rights, events such as various political assassinations and anti-war messages, along with numerous public outbursts against racial and sexual intolerance. In other words, the Vietnam War came knocking on everyone’s doorstep. Fittingly, during this time, director Martin Scorsese provided the audience with his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, which remarkably took almost 6 years to complete. During this public outcry and chaos, we see in this film Scorsese provide many delicate and subtle references which not only reveal his own views on the war, but specifically reflects the attitudes of the “student movement” taking place.

Even though the film has a look of a student film – the opening sequence is of a simple match-action sequence of a mother baking bread for children – we can clearly see his first utilizations with the camera to capture various shots in a very original and unique method. We can see his influence from the French New Wave as he includes various jump-cut shots and freeze frames, while also displaying his childhood love for Italian Neorealism films through the morality of his images, capturing closeup shots of assorted Christ-like images and statues, emphasizing the blood, scrapes, and cuts on the figures to reinforce the violence and suffering of the human condition. Despite his “European” visual style, Scorsese incorporates American rock music throughout the film, serving as a function to link the youth movement of the 1960’s.

‘Who’s That Knocking’ follows a trio of young men: J.R., Joey, and Sally “Ga-Ga.” The three spend time hanging out on the rugged streets of New York, getting into fights, lounging in bars, picking up girls, fooling around at each other’s apartments. While we see these men engage in their everyday pleasures, we also see J.R. begin to have a relationship with a woman. Scorsese was not shy about exposing his own unique direction and style, moving away from the traditional Hollywood Studio system. For instance, in the beginning of the film, we see J.R. hanging out at a bar with the other men juxtaposed with his first encounter with the woman. This contrast in scenes, showing men sitting around doing nothing productive, with images of beautiful women can serve as a representation of the attitude of young men who were on the verge of leaving for Vietnam.

As we see J.R. slip into deep thought, we see Scorsese blend a parallel of scenes involving the interactions between J.R. and the girl and J.R. sitting at a bar with his friends, cleverly suggesting that while J.R. is hanging out with his friends, he still cannot get this woman out of his mind. When Joey tries to get J.R.’s attention, we see a point of view shot from J.R. looking not at Joey’s face, but of his lower body, indicating that J.R. still has something else on his mind. Continuing his European style, Scorsese utilizes a similar element of the French New Wave as he expresses his youthful love for Hollywood, making specific references and even including images (through freeze frames and snap shots) of John Wayne films.

Clearly, these three men do not have jobs, and have no intentions in pursuing anything work-related. We see J.R. get upset with the woman when she continues to ask what he does. After he replies, “I’m in between jobs right now,” she does not seem to get the message and obliviously continues to ask, “Well, what do you do now?” Scorsese presents these men as highly uneducated with a lack of understanding for human and personal relationships and interactions. As J.R. and the woman continue to see each other, the only conversations taking place is about John Wayne movies (or actually going to see a John Wayne movie). Additionally, we can see J.R. and the woman hold different religious values. In the scene at the apartment of J.R.’s mother, as we see closeup images of the Catholic images of Christ and Holy Candles spread out on dressers, the two lie in bed making love. While the woman, who does not appear to hold any religious concerns, wanting to go further, does not understand when J.R. suddenly stops. Asking, “What’s wrong?” the woman thinks there is something wrong in how J.R. thinks of her, instead of understanding how J.R. was raised as a devout Catholic.