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)

 

American Tussle

simpsons-gifs-bumper-car

I’m a terrible liar – both in person and on the page.  On the surface, this would seem unlikely.  It feels like the very essence of being a writer is possessing the ability to concoct fictional characters who play out stories you make up that don’t ever quite happen exactly the way you write them.  Of course, that is the irony of the writing life.  Unless you are telling the truth about the people and the situations you are making up out of whole cloth you are nowhere. Though the exceptions might be the screenwriter of a tent pole, blockbuster Hollywood movie or an unchecked politician.  Then all bets are off and you become very, very rich or very, very powerful, though seldom both. Still, if you so choose you can arrange a semi-fictionalized alternate version of events that, when told in the order of your own choosing, can sometimes create the greatest fake out of the truth that the real world has ever seen – events that can then be passed off as your truth.

This week we were treated to a movie length press conference – a sort of tent pole of press conferences – of pained New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie copping to some sort of massive, corruption scandal within his administration where his top aides – on their own, he emphasized – exacted some revenge against the usually non Christie-like, Democratic leaning town of Fort Lee, NJ by shutting down some of its major access roads for four days and causing the largest state-wide traffic jam in 12 years.

when it rains, it pours.

when it rains, it pours.

The Governor claims that he only found out the truth about this four month-old event several days ago via email after a workout, which presumes he was dripping sweat and dirty at the time since he also announced that just as knowledge of the situation came across his smart device he was about to jump, naked and spent one would assume, into his morning shower.  Never mind that there are a myriad of images here that I will never be able to get out of my mind because of the governor’s ability to be quite vivid and very specific about some of the events that happened four months after the scandal but to literally draw a blank on all of the other the events that happened during the actual scandal.  Well, maybe that’s too much to expect.  After all, he’s not the screenwriter of a tent pole movie – a person who inherently knows which dramatic points in a narrative to emphasize that will work best for the public – but merely a politician who is “disappointed” and “heartbroken,” to use his very own words.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-8059-1371690094-2

What Christie really wanted to say…

Despite being widely known as someone who runs a very tight ship with an iron hand, Gov. Christie proclaimed endlessly at his marathon gabfest that he knew not a single thing about a bogus traffic study and other occurrences that led to the gigantic marathon gridlock that top members of his administration presumably orchestrated as some sort of payback to the Democratic representatives of the town of Fort Lee and, in turn, its residents. This plan involved the closing of two of three local access lanes in the town – a hub for commuters throughout the state – into the George Washington Bridge- also known as the busiest bridge in world and the state’s prime roadway into New York City.  This traffic jam lasted for nearly 100 hours from September 9- 12 and affected tens of thousands of people, including a 91 year-old woman who paramedics were attempting to rush to the hospital through traffic and who eventually died.  It also continued through the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in N.Y. and is, in fact, the worst traffic snarl up in the tri-state area since Sept. 11, 2001.

For those who are not east coast residents or have never traveled on the GW Bridge it should be noted that gigantic is probably an inadequate word for the kind of multi-hour gridlock drivers from all over the town, the state and elsewhere experienced during that time.  As would be employing the words infuriating, upsetting or frustrating to describe one’s reaction at getting caught in a car or any other non-moving vehicle on any one of those days.  To get an idea of just what a random person’s reaction might truthfully be, at least from this writer’s perspective, imagine a fictional character – say New Jersey’s own Tony Soprano – without his henchmen and at his angriest, sans weapon and unable to use his hands for strangulation or his feet for kicking a car into the Hudson River.  Then double it.  Actually, maybe quadruple – no sextuple it.  And I’m being conservative, though certainly never politically.

yeah that sounds right

still not enough, Chairy

There are lots of simple links to understand the nuances of this scandal.  For your viewing pleasure, they include:

1. The Washington Post’s infographic

2. 10 things you need to know about Bridge-gate

3. Will Bridgegate end it all?

4. EMS delays 

Suffice it to say that the Governor’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly was fired as was his chief spokesperson Michael Drewniak.  David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority, turned over some of his emails to lawmakers as part of a legislative inquiry but pleaded the 5th amendment several days ago to all questions about the incident.  However, his attorney later suggested that if a deal for Mr. Wildstein’s immunity could be brokered, there might be quite a bit of new and very specific information his client could impart that would shed new light on the issues.  Can’t imagine what those would be but given what we have seen in political corruption scandal films involving politicians in New York and New Jersey it could be worthy of at least a David O. Russell production.  Unless the director feels he already covered that territory this year in American Hustle.

At least he already has the fat suit

At least he already has the fat suit

Though in truth, you could even use some of the real life Christie administration dialogue here.  For instance, on the morning right before the lanes were closed and the snarl up started, here’s the real life e-mail exchange between Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein.

Ms. Kelly (Laura Linney?) at 7:35 am:  Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.

Mr. Wildstein (Mark Ruffalo?) at 7:36 am:  Got it.    

CUT TO:

EXT. GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE – FORT LEE ENTRANCE – DAY

A battlefield of automobiles lined up at various angles all honking, screaming and cursing at each other amid closed lanes, Port Authority cones and traffic officials blocking off escape routes via exaggerated hand signals.  It’s 100% massive gridlock at its worst…or best.

Like most good scenes the dialogue is terse and dramatically leads us into a series of memorable images in order to make its main point.

As for Gov. Christie, despite what is being called an initially masterful performance in front of the cameras that degenerated into a too obvious plea to show his “pain” and prove he is a regular guy of the people who is “not a bully” and can still get “hurt” and “humiliated” (again, his words), the verdict is still out.  Clearly if this were a traditionally structured tent pole film made in Hollywood we are now at the end of the second act – the classic low point for a lead movie character.  That is the worst possible moment (unless we’re not quite there and there’s more to come) on his journey that would lead us into Act Three.

Did someone say impeachment?

Did someone say impeachment?

The latter would then entail the moment from which our hero must rise up against all odds, learn a lesson based on everything he has endured up to that point, and go on to defeat the enemy (perhaps even more them one, or perhaps merely no one but himself). Any and all of those points open many possible dramatic doors in Act Three of a story to which there are lots of possible, if not probable, endings.

Act 3?

Act 3?

  1. Christie could be found out to be lying and forced to resign; step away voluntarily for the good of the state in a brokered deal before word gets out; or stubbornly stay put and be impeached.  This is better known “pulling a Nixon” and thus will probably be avoided at any cost
  2. Christie could whether the storm of the scandal somewhat unscathed and serve out the rest of his term “under the radar.” This could then include doing some good work for which he will never really be credited even though he deserves to be, thus making him into an ironic, sort of flawed hero and would be considered an indie-type ending that maybe filmmakers only as iconoclastic as the Coen Brothers could sell to a studio.  That is assuming those guys would even be attracted to this story in first place – which is a distinct possibility since one of the actors they’ve worked with most frequently, John Goodman, would be perfect casting for the embattled governor.
  3. Christie emerges victorious from the scandals though we never know his true guilt or innocence until a book is written decades later.  In the meantime, he solves some significant unemployment or money problems in New Jersey and once again becomes the people’s hero.  He then runs for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, defeats Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election and…well, you get it and I can’t write anymore.  This is obviously the ending both the governor and the film studios and/or television networks would prefer.  A very human, though clearly less than saintly everyman who emerges victorious against all odds and leads his hometown and his country to national glory because, deep down in his heart, he is a really, really good guy who cares.
Jon  Hamm says: Only time will tell

Jon Hamm says: Only time will tell

Which ending do you believe?  And which one do you think we’ll get?  And which one do you think is true?  Write in and let us know.

In the meantime, one last fact:  The Democratic leaning town of Fort Lee actually voted in clear majority for Republican Gov. Christie in the November election, which occurred two months after the GW Bridge incident and a month before the scandal broke.  This means there was never any need for retribution against the town to begin with because the majority of its people WERE on the side of the Christie administration and the governor himself after all.  But the key word there is WERE. 

Stay tuned.