Tag Archives: Joe Pesci

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese has finally married the two sides of his personality: the one who delights in showing us the excess of sin (think: Wolf of Wall Street) and the one who is concerned about the state of our souls (think: Silence). It has taken him some 25 films and 77 years to get here, which is possibly why this film lacks the verve of his other gangster movies. The Irishman is mournful – perhaps even an elegy.

The films revolves around Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in his position as hitman for the Bufalino crime family. There are three distinct timelines in the film: 1. old man Sheeran recounting his crimes at the end of his life; 2. middle aged Sheeran on a road trip with mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and their wives; 3. “young”ish Sheeran as he meets Russell, befriends Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), starts a family and makes a living putting bullets through people’s heads. Scorsese navigates between these timelines with relative ease (shout-out to editor extraordinaire Thelma Schoonmaker!), though it does take some time and attention to get used to. He keeps the camerawork clean and businesslike, almost as if the camera were just a fly on the wall, observing unobtrusively.

De Niro et al are given the “de-aging” CGI treatment so they can play the parts in all 3 timelines, which is not my preference. I’ve seen de-aging used well (meaning sparingly, like Carrie Fisher in Star Wars) but De Niro always looks a little off, and the trouble doubles when he’s got his shirt off. Plus it’s startling when De Niro is meant to be doing something more physical. When Frank is meant to be stomping on someone lying in the street, De Niro may have a young face but his kicks are that of an old man (the actor is 76). But his performance is quite good, and complex, and possibly the least showy of his career. Which is polar opposite to what Al Pacino does in the film, and I’m still not certain what to think of that. On the one hand, I do believe Hoffa was a bit of a ham himself. On the other hand, Pacino’s acting seems to have devolved into an over-the-top impression of himself. I’m not even sure it’s conscious. I’m not even sure he could stop. Although I confess I could watch him scrape the bottom of an ice cream sundae while screaming “cocksucker!” all day long, and at 3.5 hours, I pretty much feel like I did. His volume’s turned up to 11, and when it crashes into De Niro’s coiled repression, gosh, what a sight. What a symphony.

Scorsese seasons the story with all kinds of various wiseguys and goombas (Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemmons, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano, and not least of all, Harvey Keitel) and it makes a fair point about how Frank views the world: there are friends, and there are acquaintances. He can make peace with having to whack a mere acquaintance. But tighter ties would be a problem. He keeps people at a distance, or at least that’s the justification. The truth is, Frank is a sociopath and throughout the film we watched as his humanity is leeched from him. The money might be good, folks, but the job does take its toll. But Sheeran is such a stoic, melt into the background guy that we never see it. He is scary because we don’t ever know what makes him tick, what motivates him. If he has any inner life at all, we can only guess.

Meanwhile, mortality emerges as Scorsese’s other major theme, and it’s one we imagine hits quite close to home for him. Frank is looking back on his life, confessing his sins – but does he feel remorse? Can he feel anything at all? Frank has four daughters but at the end of his life, he’s fixated on Peggy (Anna Paquin), the one who won’t speak to him. Peggy is one of the few female characters in the film (sure there are “wives” but they’re about as important and present as background actors) and she says almost nothing. Her silence is judgment, revulsion. She has seen her father for who he is and she wants nothing to do with him. Even as a small child she has always felt the same about Russell Bufalino no matter how hard he bribe her with gifts; Peggy is in many ways the moral centre of the film, alarming since she’s on screen for about a total of 4 minutes out of the film’s 209. Speaking of Bufalino, Pesci does a startlingly good job of portraying a man who has completely blurred the boundaries between work and evil that he is absolutely, coldly, rotten to the core and doesn’t even seem to know it. This may be the stand-out performance of the film for me.

This all sounds like some pretty epic, pretty heavy stuff, and it is, but at times it’s also funny, surprisingly so. Most of the characters are introduced to us with one important statistic: the date and manner of their death. On their own it’s often quite comedic, but time after time, bullet after bullet, death clearly stalks them all. And when the bullets run out, time starts cutting them down, and old age is often more brutal than violence. It’s slower, and crueler. In the end it’s coming for Frank too, and he’s left to face it alone, everyone else either dead or just done with him. Does he regret his choices? Does he even believe they were choices? The story is based on a memoir that’s fairly contested in terms of facts, but Scorsese isn’t interested in the history, he’s interested in the allegory, and, at this stage of his career it must be said, the legacy. Whereas his earlier gangster movies left a more glamourous impression, The Irishman leaves no room for doubt: mob life is no life at all.

The Vegas Chronicles: Casino

The Assholes are in sunny Las Vegas this week, probably bleeding money across several casino floors right this very moment, unless you’re reading in the dead of night, in which case we’re slapping strippers’ asses. We’re also taking the opportunity to talk about some of our favourite movies set in Las Vegas, so of course we’d end up talking about Casino.

The Bellagio welcomed the cast and crew of Ocean’s 11 with open arms. Caesars Palace was just as accommodating with The Hangover. The Riviera, however, gave no such love to casino1Marty Scorsese. Those ungrateful buggers forced the crew to film only between the witching hours of 1 and 4 am, so as not to disturb the gamblers. They allowed not disruption to the business side of things but weren’t self-conscious about advertising with a large banner declaring “Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone & Joe Pesci Filming the New Movie ‘Casino’ Inside!” I would call it shameless, except this is Vegas we’re talking about. I’m pretty sure you leave your shame at home.

The movie is said to be based on a true story, but it’s set inside a fictional casino called Tangiers. The nut’s not hard to crack, though. This is the history of the Stardust casino. It’s a story fairly well-documented, but Scorsese also drops some hints in the soundtrack. The exterior of the casino was filmed in front of the Landmark hotel, which was scheduled for implosion shortly thereafter, which further added to the mystique. Scorsese went out of his way to film exclusively in the Las Vegas valley, and even managed to shoot driving down historic Freemont Street, which is no longer open to automobile traffic.

The film was informed by tonnes of insiders, but also featured real Vegas characters in the cast. Vegas comedian Don Rickles played the Tangiers casino manager in a largely non-comedic role. The guy who played a jewelry store owner who just got robbed is a real Vegas jeweler. Oscar Goodman, the attorney, is a real-life lawyer who defended many Vegas mobsters. Goodman of course went on to be elected mayor of Las Vegas in 1999. And careful viewers will note that the blackjack dealer is the very same blackjack dealer from article-2611806-1D4E026400000578-395_634x794Rain Man, and can also be seen dealing cards to Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation.

Matt’s a decent blackjack player, and Sean’s pretty good at keeping Matt’s head out of a vise, but when I’ve got money to blow, I’m not at a craps table, I’m at Hermes. Check in with us on Twitter (@assholemovies) so you can see what we’re up to, and if I’ve yet to find a 45-pound gold and white beaded gown a la Sharon Stone.

And that’s that.

 

 

Movies for Kids That Adults Would Enjoy (Non-Animated)

TMP

Wandering Through the Shelves’ caveat at the end made this a tricky one. There are so many G-rated animated films taht I adore. I really had to dig deep for liv action family movies for me to endorse, especially since I already used up Babe in Live Action Fairy Tale Adaptations.

Home Alone

Home Alone (1990)- It makes it easier when the movie for kids came out when I was a kid. All I needed to do when rewatching it for the first time in twenty years was remember what it was like to be a ten year-old ewatching this for the first time. When I was a kid, I watched it for the sadistic finale. As an adult, I love Catherine O’Hara’s quest to get home to her son and got a kick out of how resourceful Kevin becomes. The casting is perfect from Pesci and Stern to Hope Davis as a French ticket agent.

unfortunate events

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)– If my calculations are correct, this may be the last time that the once great Jim Carrey was actually fun to watch. His homicidal master of disguise dominated the previews but the three kids- an inventor, a reader, and a biter- are the real stars. When all the adults are either despicable or clueless, these three take care of each other without ever having to set traps. Although not nearly as dark and unfortunate as Jude Law’s narrator keeps warning us (the parents die in every movie, bud. This isn’t that unusual), SOUE has a wicked sense of humour and genuinely touching moments.

hugo

Hugo (2011)- Does this really count as a kids movie? One of Scorsese’s better post-Goodfellas films, Hugo is pure magic for any age. The scenes in the train station- where people get on and off trains and work in various shops-were especially spectacular in IMAX 3D and scorsese’s love of movies has never been more apparent. Not sure I can picture Hugo as the next Spiderman though.

Just off the Top of O-Ren Ishii’s Head: 10 Death Scenes I Will Never Forget

I’m not really a Final Destination kind of guy but with stock dwindling at my favourite video store just two weeks before it closes, I settled on a movie that my friend had been trying to get me to watch for months. Final Destination 2- so far left on the shelves by eager shoppers looking to take advantage of the store’s Everything Must Go policy- has a death scene that apparently I just had to watch.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t be sure which scene she meant. There were a lot. Could it be the lottery winner who slipped on some spaghetti and got his head smashed in by a falling fire escape? Or the grieving mother who was decaptiated when she got her head caught in an elevator door? Turns out I should have been watching for the teenager who was crushed to death by something- what exactly I can’t be sure, things happen fast in this movie- while chasing away some pigeons. Apparently, if you watch closely, he explodes long before anything falls on him. How does she know? She’s watched it in slow motion. Several times.

final destination

While I may not have even been temptedc to check the tape on that one, it got me thinking of my favourite on-screen passings. After all, we just saw some real beauts in Mad Max: Fury Road on Friday. Here’s my attempt at a Top Ten. I left out a lot out, I know. How about you? What are some of your favourite scenes that I might have missed?

10. Count Laszlo de Almásy  The English Patient (1996)

English Patient

One of the movies that I am most likely to meditate on the finality of death after watching. Once we’re gone, everything we’ve felt, everything we’ve feared, everything we’ve loved die with us. It’s painful to watch Ralph Fiennes suffer from his burns throughout the movie and when Juliette Binoche’s Hana agrees to help him end his agony once and for all, I could almost feel his last breath. Even though, technically, the scene ends before Laszlo does. Before this act of mercy, Hana reads him this.

“We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers, fears we’ve hidden in like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. We’re the real counttries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps, the names of powerful men”.

9. Phil Groundhog Day (1993)

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Condemned to live a bad day over and over until he gets it right, Phil (Bill Murray) uses this opportunity to try new things without having to wake up with any consequences. He makes a move on the girl he likes and punches the guy he doesn’t. He runs around town playing hero. He even gives dying a try. His suicidal phase is one of the funniest and darkest parts of the movie. (I haven’t seen the movie in awhile so I can’t remember if it’s made clear to us whether Phil is counting on waking up the next morning or hoping not to).

Before my favourite of said suicide “attempts”, Phil calmly walks into the lobby ignoring the pleasantries of the hotel staff and steals their toaster. Phil calmly prepares himself a nice hot bath and takes the toaster in with him. This scene would also make my list of Top Ten Reasons I Love Bill Murray.

8. Captain Frye The Rock (1996)

the rock

Ed Harris’ General Hummell is a madman but he really does think he’s doing the right thing. It’s the mercenaries he brings with him to sieze Alcatraz Island that make me nervous, especially Captain Frye. Played with his usual sneer by character actor Gregory Sporleder, there’s just something not quite right about this guy. He always seems to be wishing he was pushing an old lady down a flight of stairs.

A lot of these guys die for their cause in spectacular fashion but director Michael Bay saves the best for last when chemistry geek/action hero Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) shoves a vial of sarin gas in his mouth and smashes it with his fist. Neither Bay or Cage have gotten much right since but they did good here. This guy had it coming.

7. Sydney Barringer Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia

P. T. Anderson gets our attention right from the start and manages to hold it for Magnolia’s entire three-hour running time. Seventeen year-old Sydney Barringer jumps from the roof of his nine-story apartment building only to have his suicide attempt interrupted both by a safety net installed by some window washers and by a shotgun blast from a sixth floor window that killed him instantly. His unsuccessful suicide became a successful homicide when his own mother accidentally fired a shot while threatening his father during a heated argument.

Anderson didn’t come up with this story on his own. It’s an adaptation of a sort of urban legend that had been circulating for years but it sets up the strange events that follow perfectly.

6. Guy in elevator Drive (2011)

Drive

Ryan Gosling is a charmer. He swept Rachel McAdams off her feet both on and off screen and even taught Steve Carrell how to be a smooth talker. Just don’t get on his bad side. This guy’s not fucking around. He understands the golden rule of action movies. When someone’s giving you trouble, sometimes you’ve just got to stomp on their face until they’re dead. He doesn’t carry a gun much in Drive but why would he? He’s got his boot.

5. Edward Bloom Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish

The deathbed scene in The English Patient inspires me to meditate on death. Big Fish inspires me to reflect on life. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) finally understands the value of myth and the key to good storytelling while seeing his father (Albert Finney) through his final moments. For most of his adult life, Will stubbornly told stories with “all of the facts, none of the flavour” but, when his father asks him to tell him “how he goes”, Will ad-libs a fantastical story fit for Ed’s remarkable life- one that undoubtedly touched so many others, even if the details are a little embellished. I still get chills when I watch it.

4. Cecilia Shepard Zodiac (2007)

zodiac

I feel crass talking about an on-screen depiction of something that actually happened in the same post as the twisted thrills of Drive but there aren’t many scenes in 21st century American film that are more effective. All the recreations of the Zodiac killings in this movie are almost impossible to watch without some temptation to look away but this one at the beach is the most chilling. I felt a wave of anxiety every time I found myself anywhere secluded for weeks after watching this movie. The Zodiac killer was never caught or named but this faceless killer- now probably long gone- still haunts me.

3. Elle Driver Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

kill bill

I only allowed myself one Quentin Tarantino entry on this post and I could have easily done one just on the Top Ten Tarantino Death Scenes. He’s the guy that knows how to do it, whose mind seems to take him to to places most of us wouldn’t dare. Daryl Hannah’s Elle puts up quite a fight against the Bride but the fight’s pretty much over when Uma Thurman’s antihero plucks out her only good eye. Adding insult to injury beyond anything I can imagine, poor Elle hears a sound that can only be Uma crushing it beneath her feet. Good and pissed but with nothing much she can do about it, Elle thrashes about unitl a poisonous Black Mamba finishes her off.

Elle Driver was an assassin and a bit of a sadist but I can’t help but feel just a little bad. What a way to go.

2. Spider Goodfellas (1990)

spider

Everyone has a favourite scene here and I could have probably done a Top Ten just on this one movie but Spider (Michael Imperioli) really gets a raw deal. After finally being able to get back to work after being shot in the foot by Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), the poor waiter finally stands up for himself and tells Tommy to fuck off. Tommy’s gangster buddy love it and tease Tommy until he loses it and empties his clip into the poor guy, shocking his buddies. “What the fuck, Tommy?goodfellas We were just kidding around”.

Tommy’s a funny guy (yes, sort of like a clown) and I sure did miss him after he gets whacked. But he really was a mad dog. It’s probably for the best that he never got made.

1. Lester Burnham American Beauty (1999)

american beauty

This also made my list of Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away. Lester makes it very clear from the start that he won’t survive the movie and the final moments are filled with tension as we wait for something to happen. Writer Alan Ball presents us with three suspects and we’re not sure until after the killing shot is fired who murdered Lester Burnham.

The murder is beside the point anyway. The tragedy is that Lester dies in pretty much the instant that he finds inner peace. His life flashes before his eyes as he reflects on all the beauty  in the world. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry. You will someday”.

Home Alone

I thought I was too old to see this movie in the theatre. Now I have probably watched it ten times in my 30s (all by choice). It is somehow a sweet movie despite little Kevin nearly killing poor Harry and Marv (according to some doctor on the internet, they would have died several times over in real life from the injuries Kevin gives them). It is somehow a tale of a mother’s love for her son even though Kevin’s parents are totally neglectful.  After all, if they had just sat in coach instead of abandoning their kids there, Kevin’s parents would have clued into the fact that they were missing their son (and as an added bonus they could have prevented their other kids from terrorizing the rest of the passengers on the plane). It is a story of an old man saving the day on Christmas Eve, but also apparently taking great pleasure in scaring the neighbourhood kids the rest of the year. And be sure not to think too hard about how Harry and Marv ever got away with any of their alleged string of burglaries, when every step of the way they get thoroughly out-schemed (as well as savagely beaten) by a ten year old.

So how have I watched this so often and enjoyed it every time? Because this movie just works. It hits all the right crazy notes. It captures the magic of being a kid at Christmas. It doesn’t worry about justifying its ridiculous premise or anything else along the way. It takes pleasure in ramping up the craziness at every opportunity. It is truly joyful, a live action cartoon, a John Hughes caper to end all John Hughes capers. For accuracy’s sake, I checked the back of the DVD case to be sure that the late great Mr. Hughes had, in fact, written this movie but I was sure he had. It has his fingerprints all over it and that’s a wonderful thing.

Hands down, this is my favourite Christmas movie, for what it is and for what it captures. By the way, don’t bother with any of the terrible sequels, just watch this one three or four times and you’ll be far better off.

Ten wet bandits out of ten.