Movie Review of The Irishman

The Irishman, streaming on Netflix Wednesday and showing in limited theaters the past few weeks, is a crime film made on an epic scale by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese. During its mammoth runtime at 200-plus minutes, The Irishman tells the story of Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman for mobster Russell Bufalino (played by Joe Pesci) and his crime family. Soon, Sheeran becomes the main bodyguard for Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino), the president of one of the largest labor unions in the country.

Watch It: If you want a well-written film with humor at times, outstanding acting, beautiful cinematography, and stories with a slow burn.

Skip It: If you prefer standard-length films, loads of action, bloodless scenes, and films where the musical score plays front and center.

Paying attention to the buzz this film has received as the frontrunner for Best Picture this late in the year, I knew I should try catching The Irishman on the big screen, the way Scorsese intends all of his films to be seen. After 200 minutes of viewing, I didn’t leave thinking I really liked it in the way I like the excitement I just had after going to Disneyland. Rather, I knew I had seen a near-masterpiece, as every passing hour afterwards warmed me up more to what I had just seen.

De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci arguably put in some of the best performances of their careers. Is that saying a lot? Yes. And though all three put in such remarkable performances, it’s Pacino in the lead supporting role that was most outstanding, playing Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino steals whatever scene he’s in with vigor, grit, and his character’s naivety.

Also, because of the film’s mammoth runtime, I was worried that the screenplay would play either too cluttered or too directionless. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and Moneyball) has delivered not only a well-structured script at over 200 minutes, but well-written dialogue filled with realism, research, and humor. Meanwhile, there’s a slow burn imbedded within that some of us viewers won’t notice until the film is nearly over.

man sits on wheelchair

My one critique in terms of the writing is that the film does feel its length. A viewer next to me sadly fell asleep 45 minutes in and another I noticed was checking her watch. This is unconventional and late-era Scorsese. This is not Goodfellas or The Departed. This works as a meta story that almost serves as a personal reflection the director has taken on the films he’s made in the past, where violence was so glamorized. Here, violence is not glamorized. Crime is presented in its raw, consequential manner. When someone is shot, it’s authentic, not theatrical.

Visually, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Brokeback Mountain, and Silence) teams up with Scorsese again to deliver beautiful images and angles, framed with such skill that shots are enjoyable to perceive all on their own. In terms of the de-aging process, I was astounded at how well the visual effects team pulled off younger versions of these three characters.

The Irishman is arguably the best film of the year. Is it my favorite of the year? Probably not. Did I like this film more than any other this year? Not necessarily. But the sheer skill and talent that every department has brought to this epic film leaves me to say little other than it being one of the best five, and perhaps the best film of the year. Though it will feel its length for many viewers, especially on the couch, displayed on television, and while we are on our phones, along with some perhaps desiring a bit more from the score, The Irishman is a must see meditation piece that touches on consequences, crime, family, and faith.

Zimm Score: 9.2/10

Movie Review of Knives Out

From skilled and controversial director Rian Johnson, Knives Out is a black comedy mystery film that follows an affluent and dysfunctional family, and specifically the former caretaker for the family patriarch, after the patriarch’s death at a family gathering leads a master detective to investigate. As a modern whodunit, we’re given clues throughout and minor reveals. Yet the brilliance of Knives Out, as in all well-made whodunits, is that in giving such clues or reveals, we’re still left in anticipation, still far from knowing who actually committed the murder and in what way.

Watch It: If you want to see a hilarious mystery film with fast-paced dialogue, superb acting, acute direction, and a thrilling finish.

Skip It: If you don’t have a taste for the mystery/whodunit genre, and/or struggle with films that move along at a brisk pace.

Knives Out still has me ruminating on what all transpired, from beginning to end. As both director and writer, Johnson has crafted a complex web of words, characters, relevant themes, humor, sayings, things not said, images on screen and images left off screen to leave you, pardon the cliche, puzzled. Knives Out, in short, works for me as easily one of the best films of the year.

Johnson also had the pleasure of orchestrating an ensemble cast that works humorously beautiful. Not once did I sense among so many actors that “this one actor always left me distracted.” Both young and old, everyone on screen moves ironically with both rhythm and chaos from start to finish. At the center of the film are Daniel Craig, playing Detective Benoit Blanc, called on to investigate the murder, and Ana de Armas, playing Marta Cabrera as the late patriarch’s former caretaker.

crime scene do not cross signage

Though Craig may deliver what some see as a cartoonish portrayal of his detective, this in no way is distracting or off-putting. Some have also vouched for an Oscar nomination for his portrayal. I don’t see such praise warranted, especially when considering other more noteworthy performances that deserve that praise this year. But both Craig (giving his character’s Southern drawl) and de Armas as a stressed and sympathetic piece of the puzzle arguably carry the weight of this spectacular mystery.

The estate where the murder occurs also competes for its place as a character as well. Every comical shot that Johnson makes of a wooden carving, a painting, and a throne of knives that looks like the Iron Throne itself from Game of Thrones, all yield a sense of disturbance, secrecy, grandeur, and chaos. It attests to those working on the set design that they have crafted a setting that is to be enjoyed as one of the best of the year.

Knives Out gets a big recommendation from me, as it has been from many. Though it seems “split on its chances” of getting a Best Picture nod among awards pundits, perhaps due to its somewhat lightweight delivery, Rian Johnson has proven himself as one of the premier directors of the decade, regardless of the messages one may enjoy or detest in his films, Looper, The Last Jedi, and now Knives Out, the best mystery of the year.

Zimm Score: 9/10

Movie Review of It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a historical drama that tells the story of a journalist working for Esquire who is assigned to profile the iconic children’s television personality, Fred Rogers. This sounds simple enough, yet the central conflict exists between the journalist and his father, which the beloved Mr. Rogers in the beginning only provokes. Unknown to this journalist, Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys, he has quite the journey ahead of himself in getting to know the best friend in the neighborhood. 

Watch It: If you want to see Tom Hanks in a role perfectly cast for him, an eccentric filmmaking style, and a drama that follows someone who encounters the love and affirmation of Fred Rogers. 

Skip It: If you want to see a biographical film that centers on Fred Rogers. This is a historical drama, oscillating back and forth between a journalist’s family and Mr. Rogers on the set of his iconic television show (for the most part). 

It’s a Beautiful Day is perhaps the most relevant film to me personally this year. From the opening shot of the children’s show I watched as a small child (an 80’s baby), to emotional difficulties I’ve had that the journalist struggles with, to being a writer, this film in many ways felt as though Tom Hanks/Mr. Rogers was speaking to me in breaking the fourth wall all too eerily! 

close up photo of gray typewriter

This doesn’t mean I thought it was an all-out amazing film. To be honest, It’s a Beautiful Day works as a good film, but a few factors keep it from being one of the best of the year. Fortunately, one of those things has nothing to do with Tom Hanks. Hanks embodies the spirit of Rogers in a way I don’t think anyone else could. This year, there are so many awards contenders for acting categories, that I’ve given up guessing who should or will get nominated! 

But Hanks, in contrast to giving a perfected impersonation of Rogers, goes deeper and somehow embodies the spirit of Rogers with every handshake and puppet performance he makes on screen. This to me is more difficult than mere impersonation. In fact, I never could get away personally from it being Tom Hanks on screen. Yet this didn’t matter. This was a rare film where the actor’s portrayal of the person’s spirit came through more than anything. 

In terms of the film, director Marielle Heller has crafted a unique and eccentric film, arguably around a unique and eccentric icon. This won’t work for everyone, and it didn’t quite work for me. Scene transitions, odd musical decisions for potent scenes, and the dynamic between the scenes with Rogers and those of Vogel at times are a bit clunky and struggle. In short, this isn’t necessarily a smooth film. 

As a recommendation, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a good film that leaves you with moving, powerful messages of acceptance and individuality. It is well-written and will relate to many around the country, much more than to those a part of Generation Z or those on the much younger end of the Millennial spectrum. Though it is a historical drama, I still think the film would’ve benefitted from a bit more backstory towards the life of Rogers and his “burdens,” burdens that essentially made him so beautifully human.

Zimm Score: 7.3/10 

Movie Review of Ford v Ferrari

Directed by James Mangold, who has an up and down resume that includes both Logan and The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma and Knight and Day, Ford v Ferrari is a new sports drama that follows the exploits of Ken Miles, a devil-may-care race car driver and Carroll Shelby, former driver and automotive visionary. Led by two excellent performances by stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale, Ford takes the win this weekend as one of my top 20 or 25 of the year. 

Watch It: If you want great acting, state-of-the-art racing sequences that thrill, a colorful tone, and a glimpse under the hood of the largest family-controlled company in the world. 

Skip It: If you want a more indie film style towards content and camera work and a thrill-free movie about the auto industry. 

For much of the story, Ford plays just as run-of-the-mill as the cars that Ford pumped out on any ordinary day over the last century. At the same time, and at two and a half hours, it never slogs, bores, or comes to a halt. The screenwriting team has crafted a substantial story that is kept buoyant by both Damon, and especially Bale. 

action audience auto racing automobile

In a role that is perfectly cast for his temperament, Bale plays a British driver who’s always on a short fuse. This isn’t to say he’s a grump throughout; his character Ken Miles is also quite joyful and close to his family. It’s Bale that arguably is the best thing about Ford v Ferrari. Damon, in addition, is really just as great. Yet his character, by default, lends to a more supervisory and observing role. 

As mentioned, Ford plays fairly formulaic for not all, but much of the story. Everything necessary is there for a well-executed story, but nothing pops or blows one away. This would be entirely true if it wasn’t for Mangold’s incredible direction towards each thrilling racing sequence. If it feels unremarkable off the race track, his direction really zips like a well-oiled machine on the track. Every angle, sound, and minimalist pulsing of music, then bolstered by Bale’s excellence all make for a great film that both enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts of the racing world will greatly enjoy. With both laughs and tears that many will have, Ford v Ferrari makes for a great addition to the Mangold resume. 

Zimm Score: 7.8/10 

Movie Review of Parasite

One of the biggest problems in America today is the socioeconomic divide that seems to be getting wider with each passing decade. Yet this isn’t only a problem in the states, but one that exists in many other nations, including South Korea. One film that examines this problem in brilliant and thrilling ways is Parasite, directed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho. Seen by some as not only the best of the year, but the best of this decade, I won’t quite make that jump! But it’s easily one of the best, if not the best of the year in my humble opinion. 

Watch It: If you want to see an international film with beautiful cinematography, beautiful and haunting music, satire that observes economic divides around the world, excellent acting, some of the best twists to experience I think in cinema history, and a taste for black comedy. 

Skip It: If you want to avoid black comedy, brief shots of gore, and English subtitles. 

Parasite won the highest prized award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason. Unlike some directors that have a breakthrough film at the beginning of their career and then taper off, Bong Joon-ho seems to only be increasing his skillful talent from an already impressive level during the early 2000’s. From his ability to execute “ensemble staging” in creating a portrait with nearly every shot, to a story that leaves you entertained from start to finish with some of the best twists I’ve personally ever seen, Parasite is a two-hour serving of smooth excellence. 

empty lighted city street at night

It follows the laughs, heartbreak, and actions that an impoverished family takes for a better life. Being recommended by a friend to tutor the daughter of an affluent family, Kim Ki-woo, son of Kim Ki-taek (played by Song Kang-ho), takes the job. What follows is better left unsaid and for you to find out! 

Parasite gets a big recommendation from me if you’re interested in seeing one of the best films of the year that has some amazing thrills and twists along the way. Though it may not have the emotional resonance that some may want and the story has just one element to it that I thought was a bit cliched, I loved Parasite and am anticipating a rewatch in the near future. 

Zimm Score: 8.8/10 

Movie Reviews of Jojo Rabbit and Pain and Glory

Jojo Rabbit

Based on Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a Hitler youth who finds out his mother (played by Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. If this sounds like a drama with a serious tone, it’s not. Along the way, young Jojo also interacts and deals with his imaginary friend, an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (played by director Taika Waititi). Riding the fine line between respect and humor is something most would not dare to attempt. Yet Waititi not only attempts, but succeeds in making a satirical black comedy that offers heavy laughter on the one hand, while shifting towards pathos at times on the other. 

Watch It: If you want to see a visually pleasing laugh-fest that addresses a tragic era in human history with some great performances while riding an emotional Ferris wheel. 

Skip It: If you want to see a drama that holds Hitler in his realistic place in human history. (The film has divided critics over how the material is handled.) 

close up of rabbit on field

According to patterns in awards voting for over the last ten years, it’s likely that Jojo Rabbit will earn best picture nominations come awards season. Is it the best of year? My vote is no. Yet it will be no surprise to me if it earns such recognition, when considering the careful direction of Waititi towards such a story, one of the best performances by Johansson I’ve ever seen (and pleasurable to see her apart from the Marvel universe here), and top-notch cinematography (for a comedy film!) and music that’s meant for the big screen. Young Jojo Rabbit gets my recommendation as a must see. 

Zimm Score: 8.4/10 

Pain and Glory

In my second brief review, I’ll be touching on a Spanish film by director Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria). Starring famous actor Antonio Banderas, Banderas received the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor, while the film, according to many, has perhaps a 50-50 chance of being nominated for best picture in the  upcoming awards ceremonies. 

This isn’t necessarily a great “chance,” considering how many outstanding films have and are being released this year. Plus, being an international film hasn’t bode well in the past for other such films. Yet Pain and Glory weaves together different vignettes of a film director’s life (Banderas) to present an outstanding turnout for Banderas and one of the best films of the year. 

Watch It: If you want to empathize with a character dealing with a creative crisis and internal conflict, a joyful and unforeseen ending, beautiful music, and a story that makes strong usage of flashbacks. 

Skip It: If you want a nude-free film (there’s one scene with male nudity of one man), exclusively heterosexual relations, a story that emphasizes plot over character, a flashback-free movie, and a subtitle-free film. (Flashbacks occur throughout and it’s a Spanish film.) 

Pain and Glory gets a recommendation from me, though understandably won’t be for everyone. Admittedly, the story is somewhat weak, and conflict exists mostly within the character, as he’s his own worst enemy and hindrance. Yet the performance by Banderas is welcoming, especially if you, like me, still are tempted to associate him with only The Mask of Zorro. Additionally, Penelope Cruz stars and makes a great portrayal of the main character’s mother during flashbacks. If nothing else, the film stays true to its name in brilliant fashion. 

Zimm Score: 7.8/10 

 

 

 

Movie Reviews of The Lighthouse and Harriet

The Lighthouse

During the second half of the 19th century, two of my ancestors in Santa Barbara served as lighthouse keepers of the town’s lighthouse. After her husband declined being reinstated, Julia Williams, my third great-grandmother took up the post… for the next forty years! Born and raised in New Brunswick, north of New England, there’s similarities between this unique part of my ancestry and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, a new film that observes the lives of two keepers for a month in New England. 

Watch It: If you want to see superb craft of production design and cinematography, knockout acting performances, a haunting story, and have an affinity for psychological horrors. 

Skip It: If you want to see a film in color and a run-of-the mill drama with a positive or heartwarming storyline, or a horror with much action or jump scares. 

gray scale photography of lighthouse

The Lighthouse left me with a sense of how great of a film this was that I had just watched, while somehow disturbing me enough to where I couldn’t say I “liked” it. By default, the storyline is enough to warrant many viewers from “liking” a film like this. Yet superb acting (easily some of the best of the year) by Rob Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, chilling sound effects and musical score, some of the year’s best technical skill, and a story (albeit ambivalent and sloppy at times) that increases the tension more and more are plenty for this guy to recommend The Lighthouse to those interested in psychological horrors or the movies that have come out of A24 Studios so far. 

Zimm Score: 8/10 

Harriet 

My second brief review is a look at Harriet, a biopic that covers the life of Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, activist, and one of the greatest icons in American history. Because of her stature and legacy, it’s unfortunate that a film covering Tubman was so mishandled in comparison to other films that have covered great, historical figures. 

Watch It: If you want to see a great performance of the title character (played by Cynthia Erivo) and a basic run-through of what Tubman did, now on the big screen. 

Skip It: If you want a moving musical score that compliments its story, fine acting from the supporting cast, polished dialogue, and an in-depth look at Tubman’s backstory and her involvement with the Underground Railroad. 

As implied, Harriet fails to come close in the magnitude that Tubman had in real-life during the 19th century. I couldn’t help but be distracted by performances that were continually amateur and disappointing, music that played as if it didn’t know what kind of film or genre it was serving, and a script that was all too formulaic and cliched. I’m sorry, but there should never be hints of a Hallmark movie when making anything about someone on the level of a Harriet Tubman. 

Zimm Score: 4.5/10