Is The Irishman why we go to the movies?

After spending three and a half hours seeing Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, financed by Netflix, at a screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, there are lots of thoughts and feelings to be sorted out.

None of these have to do with the future of film exhibition or whether Netflix is justified in its release pattern for the new Scorsese film.  For those who don’t know, that would be only eight theatres in NY and LA this week, followed by additional movie screens in more cities seven days later and, finally, its streaming debut just ten days after that (Nov. 27) for anyone with a Netflix subscription or the ability to hop on to someone else’s account.

Netflix is so needy #validation

Scorsese, who turns 77 years old on Nov. 17, is one of THE best American filmmakers of the 20th and 21st centuries, or any century.  Yeah, he’s publicly expressed his disinterest in superhero films and sounded the alarm bells about a money guzzling, tent-pole-driven, market-researched-to-death movie industry obsessed with the Marvel/DC Universe at the expense of cinema dealing with humans and the complexity and nuance of their emotions.

But, for the record, he’s right about that.  Most of us would tire of potato chips and chocolate bars if we ate them 75% of the time.  Even if we didn’t, think of the affect it would have not only on our bodies but our souls, assuming it already hasn’t.

Avengers: Age of Gluttony

Point being, Scorsese not only has a good argument about what passes for present-day cinema but has earned the right to grouse.  For Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, New York, New York, The Aviator, Casino and The Departed alone, he can opine from now until the end of time about what displeases him and/or makes him happy about any one group of films or the movie industry in general.

also thank you for this gif

Which makes one wonder if the same goes for his audience.  If you’ve been a Scorsese admirer and mostly loyal fan all these years, do you have the right to be disappointed in the latest entry into the master’s oeuvre that everyone else seems to be calling brilliant?

Well, of course you have the right.  This is still a free(ish) country.  But is it called for, or even worth it to bring up?

Yeah, it is.

Oh there’s more…

Movies by their very nature are a communal experience.  Sure, many of us now too often watch in the confines of our own homes, and too often do it alone.  But the cinema Scorsese makes and presents is shared with others in a dark room where it’s then debated and dissected afterwards.  It’s part of the gift he’s given us for over half a century and to ignore real life discussion of a new Scorsese film would be like negating the very existence of the artist himself.

So here’s the thing…

Is that Ray Romano?

The Irishman is extremely well made, brilliantly acted and doubtless couldn’t be directed better by anyone else on the planet.  But it’s as cold as a tray of ice cubes on a bleak winter’s day and about as revelatory and/or insightful.

Ouch, Chairy!

After 209 minutes it’s difficult to not wonder aloud, Why did I just spend all of this time watching this?  What did this film tell me that I didn’t already know?  In what way was I touched, repelled or even slightly moved by the lives of these “wise guys” and the people around them?  (Note: Not to mention, I already knew the Mob murdered Jimmy Hoffa!!!).

This is especially true if you’ve ever seen a mob film by Scorsese.  Or watched one in that genre by his friend and contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola.  Or even binge watched the HBO series The Sopranos.

Don’t drag me into this! #cuttoblack

It’s unfair to say that with The Irishman Scorsese has made his version of a sequel to a sequel of his latest superhero film.  The Irishman has many flaws (Note: Despite what the critics are saying), but once it reaches the three-hour mark it forges some new ground.  In its last half hour, one begins to realize why the director spent all of these years trying to make this story and why it is likely the final chapter of every mob story he has ever told.

You can trust the Chair

But suffice it to say that dark and foreboding as it might be, that third act ending doesn’t so much surprise as simply…play out.  It takes you down a road you didn’t expect to see onscreen but pretty much could have imagined would have happened exactly that way off screen.

Would you have imagined it, if left to your own devices?  The answer is probably not if you weren’t a contemporary of Scorsese.  So in that sense, it does play in to the director’s own definition of cinema and, in its way, far surpasses anything you will see in the latest Marvel/DC superhero film.   Which is not to say it is Scorsese, or even cinema, at its best.

God, he’s so rich

There are many different reasons why we go to the movies.  Though let’s qualify that to reflect a 2019 reality.  There are many different reasons why we watch movies.

Escape comes to mind.  File this under the category of general entertainment.  We want to laugh and forget or, if we are addicted to catharsis, we want (and need) to cry and commiserate.

I already know I’ll be a disaster during this movie

Perhaps we want to feel superior to a person or class of people being portrayed onscreen.  Taken one step further, we might even joyfully hate watch something we know will be hopelessly dumb, awful or not to our taste just because we can, especially if we’re the type that has no empathy for its own highly overpaid craftspeople boring us.  (Note: Rest assured the latter also includes ALL of its above-the-line talent [nee actors, producers, writers AND directors] despite what they might say or admit to in interviews.  Though this should never, ever include Scorsese or anyone of his caliber).

But mostly, many of us go to and/or watch movies simply because we are true blue fans, Scorsese or otherwise.

… and for the popcorn #arteriesclogging #delicious

We hope for the best, realize we may be disappointed and yet still are pleased that we saw it.  Some but not all of us in that category can usually find something to like in almost anything, even if it’s the good intentions of those who might have let us down.   (Note: See a few paragraphs above). More importantly, there is always a chance we will see something we like, perhaps even love, and be transported.

And for that experience, we will be grateful, perhaps forever grateful.

With so many other ways to spend our time these days there is still nothing quite like sitting in the dark (or semi-dark, or even light) and watching someone else’s idea of life unfold.  For a short time we get to feel something we might have never felt before, or in that particular way

I have a lot of feelings, OK?!?!

There are Scorsese films where we have that for a few fleeting moments, for numerous moments or, sometimes, all the way through.

You (okay, I) want The Irishman to be the latter even though the best you can say about it is that it’s in the former.  But like all great cinema, the movie and its director contain some moments where you feel as if you are in the presence of screen super heroes.

And that says something.  Actually, it says a lot.

Muddy Waters – “Mannish Boy” (from soundtrack for The Irishman)

 

Oscars So… Popular?

The now Oscar-winning Avengers: Infinity War was being touted as the new gold standard of how art meets commerce among many industry executives backstage..

Hangover 4 rebooted the entire franchise with its recent Oscar win and Warner Bros. is now talking multi-episode story arcs along the lines of Star Wars as Bradley Cooper circles a revamped multi-pic deal with the studio through his freshly-minted Wall Street-backed production company as director-producer-star…

Of course, THE viral moment of ANY Academy Awards ceremony occurred back in in 2019 when seven-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close, finally a winner for that year’s The Wife, was forced to pick up her trophy during a commercial break in a filmed off-camera segment and tersely growled I’m not going to be ignored! – an oft-quoted line from her box-office hit Fatal Attraction – before justifiably storming offstage and out the doors of the Dolby Theatre…

Oh yes, it can happen. And more.

Don’t toy with me, Chairy

This week the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announced without warning to its 6000 plus membership – and us – that its Board of Governors voted for some noteworthy changes to future Oscar ceremonies that include:

1- The addition of a new Oscar for Best Popular Film.

2 – The presentation of some Oscars off-camera (who knows, it may even be backstage)…during commercial breaks…in categories to be determined

3- An earlier airdate from late February to early February.

This is certainly not an emergency situation given what is going on in the world at the moment. Still, if you’re an inveterate Oscar watcher – whether as cheerleader or snide, smack-talking comment-maker – it is one more assault on one more of the dependable and seemingly scarce growing pleasures left on the planet Earth.

but for real… when does it end?

It seems that millions and billions of dollars in profit should be enough, doesn’t it?   No. Michelin will soon be awarding 4 or 5 stars to the top McDonald’s franchise, People Magazine will no doubt be forced into doing a Sexiest Armadillo Alive issue for disenfranchised pet lovers and the Nobel Peace Prize for Best Villain Whose War Was Prevented by a Treaty of Nations could most conceivably and likely be awarded to our current sitting American president at some future date he deems to his own liking by way of Oval Office pressure privately applied.

The latter analogy is apt because changes by organizations like the Motion Picture Academy don’t just happen, even when they seem to be doing so. That’s like believing the mere election of a Person of Color as a U.S. president created the corrupt crop of American racism aka Nationalism that is sweeping the country. It pays attention only to the mere tipping point without acknowledging the tides of this nature that have been sweeping and swirling about for decades, if not centuries.

ABC-Disney broadcasts the Oscars and the show’s ratings have been steadily declining in recent years. In fact, last year they dropped a whopping 19% to an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers, marking the first time in 10 years they registered at less than 30 million.

Big Bang Theory has the highest weekly ratings on TV with approx. 18 million viewers per week. #PERSPECTIVE #embarrassmentofriches

This means that even though The Shape of Water was a genre film and more popular than the previous year’s indie best picture winner, Moonlight, it didn’t seem to matter. In fact, research over the last few decades showed the only times the ratings could be counted on to seriously tick up was when blockbuster grossing films like Avatar or Lord of the Rings were in serious contention.

Nevermind the general decrease in television ratings among younger demographics and the competition of online and streaming entertainment. Something had to be done.

The urgency of this can be certainly be attributed to commerce. Networks justifiably do not like to lose money, especially when we keep being reminded of how well the economy is doing.

But…well…there is something about these changes that smell a little to those with a sensitive sniffer – or who are just sensitive (Note: Which used to be the euphemism used for all artists, not to mention the gays and lesbians among and outside them).

See, Disney – that is half of ABC-Disney, in case this is becoming too complicated – is also the distributor and defacto partial financier of all Marvel Films. That’s pretty much the majority of all the Oscar overlooked superhero hopefuls.

So yeah.. basically this.

It’s also the distributor and defacto partial financier of all Pixar Films. That’s pretty much the majority of all of the Oscar overlooked animated films before the installation of the best animated Oscar category in 2002.

Not to mention, it also distributes and serves as the defacto partial financier of all the Star Wars/Lucasfilm movies.

These are all very POPULAR FILMS. In fact, consistently among the MOST POPULAR. Though certainly they are not among the biggest Oscar winners. And often they are…gasp…not even in contention.

Well… except for Best Visual Effects

As a person with year-round season allergies, even I CAN SMELL something rotten here in Hollywood beyond the phony Donald J. Trump Walk of Fame stars some right wing conservative group pasted directly onto the streets last week.

BARF

We seem to be living in a world where money is not enough and massive amounts of fame proves to be inadequate for the insatiable. The next bastion seems to be legitimacy in the form of some type of higher class of award or recognition usually reserved for the artistic and/or intellectual.

Next, we resurrect Edward G. Robinson to give away the award for best false idol

Of course it’s impossible to argue at this point that all Oscars are consistently high class, intellectual or even the most artistic. Yet if over the years you compare the winners to the Golden Globes, People’s Choice and MTV…well, our standards are our standards.

Yet somewhere it has now been decided that the producer/director of a short film or documentary who did something brilliant and/or original (and is likely maxed out on their credit cards) doesn’t deserve that kind of international attention for artistic achievement, especially if it can be given to someone the world is already familiar with.

Sort of like an American president pushing the president of a tiny country – say, Montenegro – out of the way in order to get one more photo op to add to the many millions accrued previously or to be added in the future.

There is no known cure

Never mind the fact that all outstanding leaders in their fields deserve some attention, even those of more modest means, in those rare moments when the spotlight happens to turn on them.

The more categories included, i.e. the more awards given, the more diluted and less prestigious any honor will become. This is one reason why the Oscars has managed to maintain whatever star quality and specialness it has left – it limited itself to 24 categories, eliminating some others while adding a few more over time.

Then, some years ago, when ego and commerce and the omission of a best picture nominee like Dark Knight dictated – rules were changed to include up to TEN best picture nominees – with hope for some more superhero or at least commercial inclusion, if not winners.

because all movies are the same…. right?

When that didn’t work…well…now there’s the popular film – dragging along all the other Oscars along with it so they can be awarded TWO OR THREE WEEKS earlier in hopes they can at least capitalize on some additional amorphous awards buzz along with everyone else. Forgetting entirely that sometimes you want to stand out from a group instead of delivering a cheap imitation of what everyone else has already grown so used to.

This kind of strategy slowly makes irrelevant not only a date of broadcast but the very awards themselves.   Much like a bad leader can do to any organization, corporate leader or country.

Wicked Cast – “Popular”