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Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Irishman 2019 * * * Stars

The IrishmanDirector: Martin Scorsese
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

"Something's gotta be done". That "something" is to check out The Irishman which is a true storied flick on Netflix. I mean you could see it at a theater but it's better watched with a plate of linguine and clams, a bottle of wine, and a few bathroom breaks. When you're here (or at home) you're family. Ha-ha.

Anyway, The Irishman is a retrained, Martin Scorsese pic that is his cinematic, greatest hits collection (no pun intended on "hits"). There's a subtle, master-class piece of acting involving Robert De Niro and a ferocious turn from Al Pacino as labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

Image result for the irishman movie scenesAs far as late releases go circa 2019, "Irishman" reminded me of Scorsese's Goodfellas, his 1995 opus Casino, and The Good Shepherd. Yeah the film runs about three and a half hours but hey, those rise and fall minutes seem to glide right by.

Now would I put The Irishman in Scorsese's top five via his 50-year span as a filmmaker? Probably not. Would I recommend it? Of course I would. "Irishman" is a sprawling and calculated epic. It's talky rather than flashy. It's phlegmatic as opposed to being overly violent. Its sense of time and place is sumptuous as opposed to being visibly forced. Its use of flashbacks is pertinent as opposed to being an obligatory gimmick.

The Irishman spans decades while chronicling humble hit-man and labor union lackey, Frank Sheeran (De Niro). Sheeran was once a truck driver in the 1950's until he saw an opening to be part of a high rank crime family. Yup, that's an interesting and dangerous promotion.

All in all, I reveled in Scorsese's remarkable camerawork and his ability to insert one unforgettable tune in the proceedings ("In the Still of the Night" by the Five Satins). Yeah "Irishman's" script by Steven Zaillian is rife with vapid, tough-talking entities. Oh well. Thelma Schoonmaker's editing here is still tight as a drum.

Image result for the irishman movie scenesOne critic referred to The Irishman as the Forrest Gump of mob movies. This critic thinks of "Irishman" as more The Green Mile version. Now that it's Oscar season, it's time to walk "Irishman's" long but rewarding "mile". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Queen & Slim 2019 * * * Stars

Queen & SlimDirector: Melina Matsoukas
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Flea

"So what happens tonight?" These are the words of Ernest "Slim" Hines in Queen & Slim (my latest review). Yeah, a lot "happens" in Queen & Slim. From the opening diner sequence, it's flat-out dangerous and relentless.

Anyway, Queen & Slim is a fictional vehicle in which every frame projects a decaying cityscape, a foreboding niche, or a totally rundown neighborhood. With almost every scene focusing on the protagonist criminals while letting the antagonist law enforcement appear in the background like paperweight black hats, Queen & Slim features actors Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith in ride or die, Bonnie and Clyde mode.

Image result for queen and slim movie scenesAs far as 2019 releases go, Queen & Slim has remnants of  Bonnie and Clyde, True Romance, and 1986's Wisdom. Sadly, it also has a bullet-ridden conclusion that doesn't justify the exhausting journey the main characters take.

That doesn't mean I'm not gonna recommend it. Queen & Slim's director (rookie Melina Matsoukas) presents a bleak vision of racial injustice and badge number hellfire that although fictitious and one-sided, feels all-too real. With Melina's streamlined and atmospheric direction and Tat Radcliffe's massively surrounding camerawork, I felt like I was in Queen & Slim. Heck, I felt like I was living it.

Queen & Slim chronicles Ernest "Slim" Hines and Angela "Queen" Johnson. They go on a first date only to get pulled over by an overzealous cop. When said cop threatens to shoot them over nothing but a failed turn signal, "Slim" accidentally kills the police officer and the two go cross-country in search of their "crossing the border" freedom.

All in all, I dug Queen & Slim's soundtrack full of jazzy riffs, hip-hop sonnets, and numbing instrumentals. I also dug the raw performances from pretty much everyone involved (look for Bokeem Woodbine playing a tripped out "Uncle Earl").

Image result for queen and slim movie scenesWhat starts out as an edgy expedition you can't look away from to a love story where two once strangers connect, Queen & Slim gives you a curious enough reason to hit the cineplex this Thanksgiving. It's a movie we need today even if it hurts inside to watch. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson