The Irishman

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 11/24/20;
Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive language and strong violence.
Stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel.

Lest anyone accuse Martin Scorsese of glamorizing gangsters, he presents The Irishman, a screed against the criminal lifestyle.

The film is based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses, a recounting of the life of mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, the man who claims to have killed Jimmy Hoffa, the union boss whose disappearance in 1975 became one of the 20th century’s great mysteries.

The subject matter is fodder for Scorsese, who assembles a cast of mob-movie all-stars to deliver another highly entertaining trip into the inner workings of the criminal underworld. This includes usual Scorsese collaborators such as Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (who was coaxed out of retirement to appear). It is somehow also the first teaming of Al Pacino with Scorsese despite both being famously associated with the mafia movie genres.

The film, which earned a slew of Oscar nominations after debuting on Netflix in 2019, is lengthy at three-and-a-half hours, but is briskly paced enough to hold one’s attention. Of course, the nature of home video also allows viewers to pause the movie whenever they want, giving Scorsese plenty of leeway to indulge himself.

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De Niro stars as Sheeran, the ‘Irishman’ of the title, a truck driver who gets drawn into the mafia as an enforcer. He eventually becomes a trusted ally of Teamster president Hoffa (Al Pacino), a friendship that comes to a head when Hoffa’s actions run afoul of the mafia’s leadership.

The extended running time not only allows the audience time to get to know the characters, but it also allows Scorsese to hone in on an aspect of criminal life that wasn’t central to his earlier works in the genre: What happens to the violent gangsters who manage not to get killed and end up growing old? Was their life of crime still worth it once they realize what they had to leave behind to achieve it?

As if to carry the point home, Scorsese makes a point to pause the introductions of several minor characters to display an on-screen graphic describing their fates, which usually involves a horrific, violent death.

On the subject of aging, the film famously made extensive use of de-aging visual effects software in order to allow the elderly stars to play the younger versions of their characters since the film spans several decades. Scorsese in the Blu-ray’s bonus materials says the technology was vital to his deciding to direct the film, as he didn’t want to have to cast younger actors for the earlier scenes and only work with De Niro for half the movie. The results are subtle if not always perfect, but they don’t hamper the effectiveness of the film at all.

Because of the film’s length, Criterion has made the Blu-ray of The Irishman a two-disc set, with the entirety of the movie presented as the only content on the first disc. All the bonus materials are on the second disc and they do a good job of taking viewers behind the scenes of the film. Both discs come in a handsome fold-out slipcover with some beautiful painted artwork of De Niro and Pacino, plus a booklet with an essay about the film.

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In addition to the film’s trailers, the extras include a 36-minute “Making The Irishman” featurette that covers all the aspects of the production.

Film history fans will get a kick out of the 19-minute “Table for Four” featurette, a roundtable conversation between Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci as they discuss their careers and how they came together for this movie.

Also interesting is the 21-and-a-half-minute “Gangsters’ Requiem,” a video essay about the evolution of Scorsese’s career and how his previous works are reflected in The Irishman.

A five-minute “Anatomy of a Scene” video features Scorsese providing commentary on the Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night scene.

The film’s visual effects techniques are expanded upon in the 13-minute “The Evolution of Digital De-Aging as Seen in The Irishman” featurette, which was originally a Netflix promotional piece.

Finally, there are a couple of archival videos that the filmmakers used in re-creating historic events: a six-minute interview with an elderly Sheeran, and a 17-and-a-half minute news profile of Hoffa by David Brinkley in 1963.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Drama;
$40.99 Blu-ray/DVD Steelbook;
Not rated.
Stars Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Scott MacArthur, Scott Shepherd, Robert Forster.

The Blu-ray edition of this follow-up movie to “Breaking Bad” is the kind of fan-pleasing disc studios tend not to bother with much anymore. Loaded with extras in support of a fantastic main feature, the El Camino Blu-ray offers practically everything a “Breaking Bad” fan could want from it.

The movie serves as something of an epilogue to “Breaking Bad.” Written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan, the story deals with what happens to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) immediately after escaping from the criminals who were holding him hostage in the “Breaking Bad” finale.

Whether by coincidence or design, the movie is paced so it feels like watching three episodes of the show. The movie’s story can be roughly broken down into three sections, with a moment at the beginning of each section where one could imagine fitting in the iconic “Breaking Bad” title graphics. If one were inclined to think in such terms.

Even with all the baggage of serving as a sequel to one of the greatest TV series of all time, El Camino works just fine as a movie on its own — a neo-Western about a man’s quest to free himself from the consequences of his criminal past.

To set himself up in a new life, Jesse needs cash. And to get it, he recalls an incident with Todd (Jesse Plemons), one of the criminals who was forcing him to cook meth for them in the final episodes of the show. Several well-constructed flashbacks set during the time of the series inform on Jesse’s current actions, as well as giving the show’s fans plenty of material to fawn over. The movie is crammed with background details and Easter eggs.

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Even the title is emblematic of Gilligan’s knack for layering multiple meanings into his projects. While an El Camino is the type of car Jesse uses to make his escape, the words el camino are Spanish for “the road,” representing the way forward for Jesse as he tries to escape his past.

And there are a few welcome but not altogether unsurprising cameos from some old favorites.

This is also one of the final roles for beloved character actor Robert Forster, who reprises his role from an episode of “Breaking Bad” as a man who specializes in creating new identities for those who need them (and can pony up big bucks to buy them). He died the same day the movie premiered on Netflix. Forster ended up reprising the role again (posthumously) in an episode of the “Breaking Bad” prequel series “Better Call Saul.”

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The Blu-ray, which comes in an attractive Steelbook case alongside a DVD version, includes two great commentary tracks, one featuring Gilligan and Paul, and the other with 46 members of the cast and crew providing scene-specific insights.

Also included is the half-hour “Making of El Camino” featurette, as well as three scene breakdowns totaling nearly 23 minutes that offer picture-in-picture comparisons with a scene from the film to its storyboards, which Gilligan refers to as “homework.” There are also two-minutes of visual effects progression reels, showcasing a lot of subtle work in creating various backgrounds to match the look of the show.

Gilligan’s original cut of the film was reportedly three hours long, which eventually was trimmed to just over two hours. The Blu-ray includes seven deleted scenes that run about 17 minutes and include a few surprises. There’s also an amusing six-minute gag reel.

Rounding out the package is a trove of promotional material, starting with the two-and-a-half-minute short film Snow Globe, which centers on Todd. There are also two faux commercials for some of the fake companies used on the show, and a three-minute “Enchanted” music video featuring clips from the series.

Last up is the film’s trailer, plus a couple of teasers. The “Skinny Pete in the Box” teaser also pulls double duty as a sort of deleted scene.

The only thing missing is a digital copy so fans can add it to their digital libraries alongside “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.”

Game Night

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Warner;
Comedy;
Box Office $68.85 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, sexual references and some violence.
Stars Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Chelsea Peretti, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler.

The premise behind Game Night is simple yet solid: A group of friends gets together to play some board games, only to have the party interrupted by criminals, involving them in a caper they believe to be a more-elaborate game.

And sometimes, having an entertaining time with a movie doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. Think of it as David Fincher’s The Game mixed with the comedic sensibilities of The Hangover.

The premise allows room to build jokes around the quirks of the characters, which only feeds the comedic potential of the premise further. It helps that there are multiple levels of where the game might end and real danger might begin, which makes for some hilarious moments for the characters when they don’t realize where that line is but the audience does.

Game Night was co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the team behind the 2015 Vacation remake, for which this is a bit of a step up, and co-writers of amiable fare such as the “Horrible Bosses” movies and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The cast is charming and the script knows just how long to push a story point before it wears out its welcome, making this a great movie for a cozy evening in or a diverting re-watch with friends in a casual setting.

The Blu-ray includes an effective but short four-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a funny seven-minute gag reel.

The Post

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Fox;
Drama;
Box Office $81.88 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for language and brief war violence.
Stars Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood, Jesse Plemons, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, David Cross, Zach Woods.

Even before seeing the movie, the obvious question surrounding The Post is why the filmmakers would decide to focus a story about the publication of the Pentagon Papers on the efforts of The Washington Post newspaper when the bulk of the material was broken by The New York Times.

After watching it, though, it’s a lot easier to understand some of the reasons director Steven Spielberg guided the film along the approach it took.

For one, there just seems to be much more storytelling to mine from the Washington Post perspective, whereas a Times POV would likely have been a more straightforward legal drama about the relationship between the press and government.

At the time, the Post was still seen as primarily a local D.C. publication without the broad national following it has now. Financially strapped, the paper issued an IPO that could have been threatened by any legal troubles encountered as a result of publishing the leaked documents copied from a classified report that exposed government deception in the conduct of the Vietnam War.

And that’s on top of the expected discussions of the role of journalism in a democracy and defending the First Amendment against government pushback, with the Times included in all those story points anyway.

There’s also an argument to be made that the primary interest of the film isn’t even about the Pentagon Papers to begin with.

Certainly, looking at the film from the prism of the Pentagon Papers as the subject matter makes it seem like it’s the story of a minor newspaper jumping on the bandwagon of a bigger newspaper to gain stature.

But keeping a bigger picture in mind, the film is much more about how the Post rose in prominence under the leadership of publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), and that the Pentagon Papers just happened to be the catalyst.

From Spielberg’s perspective, it probably didn’t hurt that this approach also allowed him to devote significant screen time to Graham in depicting the ascension of a female publisher in a man’s world.

Spielberg also seems interested in positioning the film as a prequel of sorts to All the President’s Men, showing how the Post became the paper that drove coverage of the Watergate break-in.

As such, The Post is more fascinating for its procedural aspects and character dynamics for any actual history it’s trying to explore. The film also sees itself as an allegorical commentary on criticism of President Trump’s relationship to the media, and his tendency to label detractors as “fake news,” but these aspects of the film are really only going to appeal to choirs expecting to be preached to. One could be completely oblivious to such perceived messaging and still find the film immensely entertaining. The performances are terrific and the nitty-gritty details of classic print journalism are just fun to see, particularly contrasted with the digital simplicity of today.

The Blu-ray includes a number of good behind-the-scenes featurettes that detail the making of the film and explore the real-life circumstances being explored. This being a Spielberg movie, there’s also a featurette about the music composed by longtime collaborator John Williams, this being their 28th film together.