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Tue04072020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

After a lot of publicity surrounding the digital de-aging of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman has arrived on Netflix (it remains on some local movie screens, too), and it’s a very good offering from the auteur. It has a few problems, but the opportunity to see De Niro, Pacino and Joe Pesci in a movie together under the Great One’s tutelage more than overrides the shortfalls.

The film is based on a book about Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro) called I Heard You Paint Houses, which is actually the name of the film in the opening credits. Sheeran was a labor-union official and occasional hitman who had ties to Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). The film, like the book, claims that he was the actual triggerman in the assassination of Hoffa.

The film covers a lengthy time span: We see Sheeran from his 30s up until shortly before his death in his 80s. He’s played by De Niro throughout—and the much-ballyhooed digital de-aging is mostly a bust. There are moments when De Niro looks perhaps a tad younger than 76, his actual age (he might pass for 58), but it always looks like bad makeup, dye jobs and funky lighting rather than high-tech effects at work. Plus, these digitally enhanced, oddly smooth faces have old voices, and are on bodies with stiff postures.

Distracting effects aside, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci are amazing, no matter what age they are depicting. Scorsese has made a nice companion piece to his gangster epic Goodfellas (I consider Casino one of his few missteps); this is an ugly depiction of the loneliness and alienation that results from things like shooting your friends in the head.

Goodfellas had a rather likable, and unintentionally funny, antihero in Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, but none of the main guys in this movie are likable. Sheeran, in particular, is terrible; De Niro depicts the guy as a meathead, a lackey who takes orders from the likes of Pesci’s Russell Bufalino and Pacino’s Hoffa. Sheeran is quietly despicable and evil at his core.

Pacino gives the film a little fun as a blustering, ice-cream-obsessed Hoffa. He’s also the angriest guy in the movie, with Pacino sinking his teeth into many opportunities to go from zero to 100 in mere seconds. Pacino shares a couple of scenes with Stephen Graham as Anthony Provenzano, one of the men suspected of participating in Hoffa’s eventual disappearance in 1975. Pacino and Graham square off in a way that goes right into the “Best Pacino Moments” time capsule.

The film has an epic scope; it’s 3 1/2 hours long, so I suspect there will be a lot of pausing for bathroom and snack breaks due to its presence on Netflix, and that’s too bad. I think Scorsese should’ve put an intermission in the middle, perhaps choosing a preferred moment for the viewer to gather themselves up for the film’s great finale.

Seeing De Niro and Pesci sharing scenes again—speaking Italian and dipping bread in wine—is a holiday season cinematic gift like no other. This is De Niro’s best work in years, and Pesci gets a chance to play a subdued role in a Scorsese flick, which pays major dividends. He depicts Bufalino as a quiet, polite and extremely dangerous man, and it’s mesmerizing.

With the decade coming to a close, The Wolf of Wall Street remains Scorsese’s best effort of the 2010s—but that’s more high praise for Wolf than a put-down of The Irishman, which is a fine film, even if it comes up short of being a masterpiece. If this is Scorsese and De Niro’s final film together, they are going out on a high note.

The Irishman is now streaming on Netflix. It’s also playing at Mary Pickford Is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Al Pacino does haunting work in HBO’s Paterno as Joe Paterno, the former Penn State football coach who was a cowardly liar when it came to the case of Jerry Sandusky, one of Paterno’s assistants—and now a convicted pedophile.

The film, directed by Barry Levinson, starts with Paterno on top of the world, about to win a record-setting football game. But behind the scenes, a story is brewing—one that will derail Paterno and others who led at a university that chose to cover up Sandusky’s acts in order to protect a legendary football program.

That, of course, was disgusting, and Levinson’s film drives that point home in what amounts to a horror show. Jim Johnson, who plays Sandusky in a few chilling scenes, looks a lot like the real guy—so much so that your stomach turns when he’s onscreen. Sorry, Mr. Johnson.

Pacino portrays Paterno as he appeared during his final days: completely lost and at death’s door. Pacino’s Paterno comes off as being in a bit of a haze, but the actor shows us something behind Paterno’s confused eyes. It’s that slight glint of knowing everything, and remembering everything—the look of lying.

Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter) is excellent as Sara Ganim, one of the first reporters to break the story. Benjamin Cook is heartbreakingly good as one of Sandusky’s victims.

It’s a hard movie to watch, and it should be.

Paterno is now on HBO and streaming on HBO Go.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It’s been 12 years since the great Al Pacino has been involved in a project worthy of his talents. (His Roy Cohn in 2003’s Angels in America was his last great role.) He’s become a bit of a caricature in the last decade, appearing in some of its worst movies (Ocean’s Thirteen, Gigli, 88 Minutes, Jack and Jill and Righteous Kill to name a few) and hamming it up to the point where he’s nearly unwatchable.

Danny Collins isn’t a return to absolute greatness for Pacino, but it does serve as a relevant and crowd-pleasing vehicle for the former Michael Corleone. Pacino steps up as the title character, a Neil Diamond-like rock singer who has spent the past 40 years touring and performing “the hits.” No longer a productive songwriter, he’s come to rely on the comfort of crowds reacting happily to his most popular hit, “Baby Doll.” He’s also heavy into drugs and alcohol, and is engaged to a girl half his age.

On the eve of his birthday, his manager (a delightfully acerbic Christopher Plummer) gives him a special present: a framed letter to Collins that John Lennon wrote many years ago that was never delivered. Lennon had once read an article about Collins, was moved, and sent correspondence from him and Yoko, with his phone number. He was offering some fatherly advice to the confused young Danny—but a scummy collector got his hands on the letter, and Danny never got it.

The gift throws Danny into a tailspin, as he wonders what life would’ve been like if he could’ve called Lennon and been pals. Trivia note: This element of the story is based on the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston, who received a similar letter from John Lennon 34 years after it was written, phone number and all.

Danny packs his bag and heads to Jersey, where he takes up residence in a Hilton and commits to finding his estranged son (Bobby Cannavale). He puts a piano in his room and tries to rediscover the artistic hunger that drove him 40 years prior.

Perhaps Pacino saw the “redemptive” angle in the script as a nice parallel to his own career. His last great cinematic venture, besides the HBO effort, was 2002’s Insomnia, which capped a long stretch of good-to-great vehicles for the American icon. Pacino dives into the role of Danny with much aplomb, and employs the sort of nuance that has been missing from his work for too many years. He’s fully engaged in the movie, which helps him to rise above the schmaltz and make it something entertaining, moving and funny. He gets help from a stellar supporting cast, including Cannavale, Plummer, Annette Bening as the hotel manager on whom Danny has a crush, and Jennifer Garner as the daughter-in-law he’s just meeting.

Cannavale deserves special notice. His character is given a disease-of-the-week plotline along with the abandoned-son routine—in other words, enough clichés to torpedo any performer. Somehow, Cannavale turns the whole thing into his best screen work yet. It’s a pleasure to see him exchanging lines with Pacino.

The biggest stretch in this film is buying Pacino as a singer. Pacino is a shitty, shitty singer, and he seems to know it, so the couple of scenes during which he’s onstage are a bit comical. Yet they have a lot of appeal.

Danny Collins might not mark the return of the great Pacino, but it does stand as proof that he has plenty of gas left in the tank. I think he should do a little tour as Danny Collins. It would be fantastically awful to the point of being awesome.

Danny Collins is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

In Stand Up Guys, a bunch of great actors get together and do their best with middling material.

Al Pacino plays a criminal released from a long prison haul, and Christopher Walken plays the guy who is supposed to pick him up—and take his life soon thereafter. I have a hard time with this premise: If you are a crime boss with any brains, and you want somebody smoked, you don’t hire the dude’s best friend to do the gig. Don’t you think there’s a chance the dude won’t follow through?

Anyway, Pacino and Walken hang out for a night that includes stealing cars, snorting prescription drugs and hanging out with another old guy (Alan Arkin). The trio makes most of this watchable, but with this cast, you want something more than just watchable. Pacino works hard to get credibility back after a string of loser movies, and he redeems himself just fine. Walken is good here, playing a character with more depth than his usual parts. Arkin is just doing his shtick.

Nothing all that surprising happens, and that's a shame.

Stand Up Guys is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews