The Irishman vs. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

DID YOU NOTICE THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THESE HYPED, EPIC STORIES?

*They are both too long. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood runs at 2 hours and 40 minutes whereas The Irishman runs even longer at three and a half hours. Both stories could have shaved at least a half an hour and retained the essence of the story.

*They both feature iconic directors at the ends of their career doing their respective genres with all their signature marks. Cashing in on what made them famous? Give the audience what they want? Both directors are passionate about making violent films with antiheroes who gain our sympathy. Both directors have fans who worship them. Scorsese and Tarantino are boys who never stopped playing Cowboys and Indians and G.I. Joe. Their films are about who has the power, and how does he hold on to it? Nothing new in that storyline. There’s a testosterone need to see power executed on the screen with blood splatters and firebombs and Kung Fu fighting. A raucous way to combat the boredom of ordinary life. Scorsese and Tarantino fill an escapist need. How did you feel they handled their stories behind the camera? I liked Scorsese’s break to the long shot to show the environment of his characters. I liked Tarantino’s shot behind the driver’s head so you felt like you were along for the ride in the back seat of the car.

Both films rely heavily upon conversation scenes that show how normal the players are when the characters are anything but typical guys; mobsters and movie stars are real people, too. Whatever it is they are bitching about, when their gripe resonates with us, we become empathetic. Which conversation scene worked for you? Mine was Al Pacino as Hoffa when he went to Florida to meet Joe Gallo who shows up fifteen minutes late in shorts.

Both films rely heavily upon cameos of people in the industry that come and go without much importance. The reasoning behind this is they are the pepper flakes in the pot of soup that defines the culture. I wish that Harvey Keitel had had more lines, too.

These are Dick Flicks. Both films are about male interactions. Women are virtually non-existent, and when they do appear, they pose. They are there to amplify the historical climate with their costumes and hairstyles; they are subservient dolls and sexual objects. The wives and daughters in The Irishman and Precious Pussy and Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood come to mind. In The Irishman, there’s a scene when a remorseful Frank tries to understand what when wrong with the relationship between his four daughters. Peggy, his favorite, has disowned him. The other daughter says, “You don’t understand how hard it was for us, do you?” Nope. We have no idea how hard it was because they never had screen time, only glaring looks from Peggy as a girl when Frank breaks the hand of a grocer who nudged her in the store. Anna Paquin‘s role was a waste.

As a woman, I’m not offended. It’s a story about men and their observations from a historical era of the past. It’s perfect, really. It does show how women were viewed. That’s precisely why the “Me, too” movement” came about. To ask Tarantino and Scorsese to give a chick a meaty role defeats their intention. Which is —

Both directors wanted to show a male culture, the relationships between males in their historical era. This is a story about Frank and Cliff who are cleaner fish, who depend and defend their masters. Women weren’t essential to their beings. Their jobs as a stuntman and hitman necessitated a symbiotic relationship with other men to validate their appeal and power. I accept that. It is similar to the movie The Help. That story was about the relationship between females in the 1950-60s. The class struggle between white women and their black hired help who raise the babies but their livelihood depends upon the tight-rope walk between the chemistry of women. The men in the film were weak and virtually non-existent. I accept that. Women and men had definite boundaries in history. Gender spheres have always been the norm until recently. Now it’s a blended, androgynous society. I’m not convinced it’s better.

Both stories don’t have a plot. Characters are placed in situations and asked to problem solve. The solution is murder.

Both directors infuse music to establish the time and mood; music becomes a bit character in the movie. There’s rarely a scene in both films where the music doesn’t play, such as an accompaniment to a murder, a live performance at Frank’s retirement party,  or Cliff Booth’s car radio. The auditory image triggers the past of those who lived during the time. Popular music helps younger audiences associate the era with the characters. Music binds the multi-generations in a way that a set design can’t penetrate. Both directors are keenly aware of this and use it to the point of distraction.

Both films contain the dream cast of icons with the star power of three generations. I had a sugar rush from so much eye candy. The emotional love between the audience and the star fills the audience with the notion that “this is the movie of the year.” Haven’t you predicted these two films and their stars will be nominated for top awards? Wasn’t Al Pacino great as Hoffa? Who would have expected Joe Pesci to be outstanding, ascending past the acting of Robert DeNiro? You love to hate Leonardo DiCaprio, but his portrayal of the insecure Rick Dalton was brilliant.

Brad and Bobbie similarity:  The story follows the characters of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro). These are the two principal characters who support and are defined by the Alpha Dog they protect. Yet, Pitt and DeNiro’s acting was surpassed by others.

Both films are obsessed with paying attention to the details that recreate a time in history with mastery and great love. For both directors, their highest achievement was their attention to the details that created the historical climate. For Tarantino, the nostalgic drive around L.A. was authentic, and we time-traveled back to the streets of 1969. For Scorsese, his epic spanned decades; his sets and film locations were real places, too, and his recreation of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were perfect. Congratulations to both. It made me hang in there as the hours went by.

Which epic was better? Which one would you watch more than once? 

L13FC: WWII from 2000 to the Present

It’s Friday the 13th and my lucky day. We get to share thoughts about a topic in the movie industry. Never has there been an event in the twentieth century that has instigated a global outpouring of stories documenting the best and worst in humanity than World War II. The movie industry has had a love affair with making World War II films. According to Wikipedia, over 400 films have been devoted to the event. In timing with anniversary dates, one has come to expect new narrations muscling for a chance to share their perspective. Outside of battles and key events, the Holocaust is a genre of its own. We have a macabre sense of duty to understand the atrocities and mindset of a time where everyday common people were thrust in the way of world domination. Today, let us discuss the cinematic touches that made recent World War II films compelling and effective. 

A smattering of films since 2000. What should be added to the list? Before you criticize me, I think a lot of Hollywood films about WWII are too romantic and silly. For instance, I don’t think Pearl Harbor is a good film overall, but I do think the filming of the attack on Pearl Harbor to be outstanding. So, what SCENE or PERFORMANCE has stuck with you over the last two decades? For me, World War II movies that moved me the most in the last twenty years were the ones involving children.

L13FC: Director Robert Altman

Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. This month, John Charet is my featured co-host. We discovered we shared a mutual like and respect for Robert Altman’s techniques. Please share your stories and comments. Don’t forget to check out John’s site CINEMATICCOFFEE for his passion and knowledge of the cinema. 

My Favorite Robert Altman Films

JOHN SAYS:

As with a handful of other great filmmakers who defined the New Hollywood era (1965-1983), director Robert Altman (read here) is often celebrated for his unique approach to cinematic storytelling. Though much older (he was born in 1925) than some of his contemporaries (Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg), one could swear that his 1970 breakthrough anti-war comedy MASH was the work of a 24-year old than that of a then 44-year old. Altman’s trademarks rested on more than just his irreverent sense of humor though (read here), but also stemmed from his use of improvisation and overlapping dialogue (read here and here). As with MASH, Altman combines these two traits together when it comes to deconstructing a beloved genre like the western with McCabe & Mrs. Miller or the Neo-noir with The Long Goodbye. Other times, we find these same qualities in ensemble pieces as varied as NashvilleA WeddingShortCuts and Gosford Park to name just four examples. Now without further ado, I present to Cindy’s readers my top 3 favorite Robert Alman films starting with number 3.

3.) Short Cuts (1993)
On paper, adapting nine Raymond Carver short stories into a 188-minute episodic film, not to mention relocating it’s setting of the Pacific Northwest to that of the Central Valley, looks like a hit-and-miss undertaking with more examples of the latter than the former. Amazingly enough, Altman executed it all on the screen without a scratch present. Not unlike 1975’s NashvilleShort Cuts is an epic ensemble piece set against the backdrop of another iconic American city (Los Angeles, California) while exploring the lives of its many different characters – 22 as opposed to the 24 of that earlier film. Here, Altman (along with Frank Barhydt, who co-wrote the screenplay with him) delivers a sprawling human comedy-drama that also works as an insightful panoramic view of everyday people and the situations they face. The results are both humorous and poignant.

2.) McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Produced during an era when the Revisionist Western was at the peak of its popularity, McCabe & Mrs. Miller continues to stand out for me as quite possibly my personal favorite of the aforementioned sub-genre, which I count myself as a huge fan of. MASH might have introduced us viewers to director Robert Altman’s unconventional filmmaking style, but it is in McCabe & Mrs. Miller that Altman finds himself perfecting it. In its entirety, Altman sprinkles his trademark use of overlapping dialogue so effortlessly that it feels more like his tenth feature film after MASH rather than his second (Brewster McCloud was sandwiched in between). As others have implied, the plot may sound straightforward, but in execution, it is anything but. For example, Warren Beatty’s entrepreneur/gunslinger John McCabe debatably ranks stronger at the former than he does at the latter regardless of its climactic shootout. As a business partner, Julie Christie’s brothel madam Constance Miller completes him. Speaking of which, the chemistry between Beatty and Christie (the best of their three on-screen collaborations) is as playful as it is ultimately poignant. Vilmos Zsigmond’s distinctive cinematography and Leonard Cohen’s poetic music (three of his songs are played here) shapes the form and content of this authentic American masterpiece.

1.) Nashville (1975)
How does one sum up an essential American classic like Nashville? Well If you adore the film like I do, then the answer to that question is simple. For me, Nashville is like watching 3 films for the price of one. Each is as similar as they are different. On the one hand, it is a comedy that (explicitly and implicitly) satirizes the title city’s political culture, not to mention it’s country music scene. Simultaneously, it is a thought-provoking drama that critiques celebrity worship. On the side, it also comes off as an exuberant musical filled with expressive songs. Director Robert Altman’s trademark use of overlapping dialogue (here courtesy of Joan Tewkesbury) is at it’s most memorable here – one of the sequences takes place during the aftermath of multiple-vehicle collision and another at a pre-show house party. All in all, Nashville stands out as Altman’s crowning achievement. In case any, if you readers are interested in reading my full-length review of the film, click here

Cindy Says:

I appreciate Robert Altman now more than I ever have because he is a director whose filming style became a personal stamp of distinction. His love for the actor, that is, giving them free-reign of ownership of the scene, was atypical. Elliott Gould‘s talent for improvisation made him a favorite of Altman. In MASH, Gould recalls in an interview (read the full Jon Zelazny article HERE) “I read the script, which was by Ring Lardner, Jr., but I didn’t think much of it. As far as I’m concerned, MASH is Robert Altman’s vision. I remember when we showed the picture to Lardner at the studio, he came up to me afterward and said, “How could you do this to me? There’s not a single word in there that I wrote!” And he went on to win the Academy Award for Best Screenplay!” In The Last Goodbye (1973), Elliot Gould maximizes his ability to insert character snippets of dialogue to create memorable lines that forge a character, like his repetitious, “It’s okay with me”. Robert Altman wanted his actors to show him something new. He believed the artistic power of a scene rested in the lap of the actor, not the director.

His incorporation of music and his obsession with sound using multi-tracks created an experience similar to watching a beehive. MASH (1970) is a perfect example of this. The expansive ensemble casts and his love of wide-angle shots included everyone and everything showcasing their lives and mini-dramas. The character Radar (Gary Burghoff) births a whole career out his ability to create a character who talks over his commanding officer. A simple trick for making the grunt superior to his superior. A technique for flip-flopping what’s expected and revealing the satiric theme of the film. The result is a chaotic perspective, occasionally voyeuristic, like when Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) spies on June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) outside her window while having a flirty conversation in The Player (1992).  In a Richard Altman film, the audience is positioned far and high enough away to catch the buzz of sounds and movements. It’s an unusual perspective.

My favorite Altman technique is the long take, his famous example is the seven-plus minute opening shot in The Player which pays homage to Orson Welles long take, opening shot from Touch of Evil (1958). Many of Altman’s films combine the long take with overlapping dialogue. You see it beautifully executed in The Player and my personal favorite Altman film, Gosford Park (2001). I am a sucker for plots that focus on the “upstairs, downstairs” dynamic. Altman pays homage to classic Hollywood with a British location and a large, star-studded ensemble cast that is a joy to watch. We follow the camera around the halls overhearing, snooping, participating in the whodunit mystery. The music is perfect with a Cary-Grant-type star Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) at the piano serenading the scheming elite while the servants silently migrate the periphery of the room. The acting, the aesthetics, the constant movement of dialogue and tracking shots are Altman at his best. I believe Robert Altman blended art and marketability better than most. What was his recipe for success?

Griffin Mill: It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully.

June Gudmundsdottir: What elements?

Griffin Mill: Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex. Happy endings. Mainly happy endings.

Well, maybe the happy endings didn’t happen, but I noticed I’m always happy after watching a Robert Altman film.

THANKS AGAIN, JOHN CHARET for co-hosting today! Please, everyone, tell us what you think about the technique of the late-great Robert Altman. 

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