Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Irishman

For decades, Martin Scorsese has been practically synonymous with the gangster movie. Whether it's his big break Mean Streets or his Best Picture winner The Departed, audiences will regularly get their money's worth from them. So how does his latest The Irishman fare?

Indeed, the film does feature other Scorsese gangster movie figures like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci (in a complete 180 of his other Scorsese roles), and Harvey Keitel as well as being the director's first time working with Al Pacino. But to reduce both the film and the five aforementioned men's careers to this niche genre wouldn't do either of them justice. If anything, both focus on life and its flaws.

Don't expect The Irishman to be filled with guns a-blazin' and geysers of blood as you would with Goodfellas and Casino. (Granted, it does have those but not on the same scale as the earlier films.) This entry in Scorsese's oeuvre is more driven by conversation, much like his contemporary Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. But like with his gangster pictures from the 1990s, the passage of time is crucial to the story as well.

For some shrewd reason, there's been a lot of pieces on both the lack of lines for Anna Paquin (three lines consisting of seven words) and the overall small offering of female characters in Scorsese's films. The former makes sense if you pay attention to Peggy's character arc; she's witnessed firsthand what her's father capable of so her persistent silence speaks more volumes than any dialogue could. As for the latter, such thoughts were clearly written by those who haven't seen what Sandra Bernhard, Teri Garr, and Joanna Lumley had to offer in The King of Comedy, After Hours, and The Wolf of Wall Street respectively.

The sense of finality in The Irishman implies that this may be the last time we see Scorsese make something of this scale. That same sense during the third act seems more poignant with its aging leads. If this were to be Scorsese's last -- be it with gangster movies or his entire career -- it'd be a fitting swan song.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

There's a sense of serendipity in that the same year Wonder Woman finally got the big-screen treatment with her own movie, the story behind her creation also got within Hollywood's grasp. But don't expect the standard clean-cut biopic execution. No, her backstory is much more...sexually driven.

Angela Robinson's Professor Marston and the Wonder Women chronicles the path of studious William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his brash wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and their research assistant Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) as their relationship goes from professional to romantic. But how many risks are they taking with this ménage à trois?

What Robinson depicts in her film is a keen awareness of the change in social mores. Obviously, the relationship between the Marstons and Byrne brought scandal upon its discovery (at least as far as the film shows), and the sexual overtones and bondage themes in the early Wonder Woman comics William wrote met much of the same. Nowadays, attitudes towards such matters have softened considerably. (In short, our protagonists were ahead of their time.)

Anyway, the lead trio of actors very much hold their own, be it by themselves or when sharing the screen with each other. (Perhaps coincidentally, Hollywood never really seemed to know what to do with Evans and -- save for Christine the year before -- Hall prior to this.) Hopefully, we'll be seeing more of the like from them in the near future.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women focuses on mostly forgotten but seminal figures of the comic book world, yes, but Robinson shows that they were so much more than that. They were people with their own strengths and flaws, not ones who were infallible as you'd normally see with lesser works in the same genre. Quite simply, they were as human as anyone else who'd lived.

My Rating: ****1/2