‘The Irishman’ Is What an Irishman Does

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CREDIT: Netflix

I would venture to say that the most essential moment of The Irishman is when Frank Sheeran is trying to tell Jimmy Hoffa that it has been decided it’s high time for his ambitions to come to an end, and their conversation consists almost entirely of tautologies like “It is what it is.” If you don’t know the context, this discussion is essentially meaningless. If you do know the context, the implications are clear, but it is still striking how much these guys are slaves to a thick, suffocating tangle of codes. That point is made abundantly clear in those few minutes. In just a few seconds, even. So does The Irishman, then, really need to be three and a half hours long? Well, other points are made throughout, but that length also underscores this major point. The guys who paint houses and their associates are imprisoned in a ceaselessly brutish life that can feel mightily oppressive, and we start to feel that, too. So I enjoyed The Irishman in much the same contemplative way I enjoyed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I’m not so excited that I’m screaming about it, but I can imagine that it’ll stick with me in the ceaseless time to come.

I give The Irishman My Radical Empathy.

Scorsese Influences + Clown Makeup = Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Wigham, Marc Maron

Director: Todd Phillips

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Rating: R for Inappropriate Laughter and Shocking (in Many Senses) Violence

Release Date: October 4, 2019

Can’t a man just get attention for wearing a wonderfully colorful suit without having to also go through the trouble of becoming an unpredictable, violent criminal? With his forest green shirt and tie, goldenrod vest, and maroon jacket and pants, Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime has never looked better than he does in Todd Phillips’ Joker. That outfit is a welcome bit of unique playfulness in a film that easily could have been a thoroughly dark slog. I’m very ready to embrace Joker’s continued relevance as a style icon, but as for what this particular origin story has to say about him, I’m a little conflicted, though generally impressed by everything that made it to the screen.

All new Joker portrayals now live in the shadow of Heath Ledger’s rendition in The Dark Knight, which I, and many others, consider to be the epitome of the character. That chapter may be the best way to tell a Joker story, but it’s not the only way to tell a story about a villain, and by corollary, it’s not the only way to tell a Joker story. But the prospect of a Joker origin is nonetheless concerning, as his most striking power lies in the nihilism matched with his thoroughly ambiguous beginnings. Ledger played him like an elemental force who was somehow also a human being even though it felt like he sprung from nothingness. Any origin would seem to be the antithesis of that, no matter how much mystery Joaquin Phoenix might bring to his performance.

Ultimately, though, Joker somehow mostly works despite all this baggage. That’s mostly because by the end it rejects its own origin story, or at least the one-to-one explanation of “difficult upbringing = supervillainy.” True, Arthur Fleck, the man behind the persona in this iteration, has been beaten around by a thoughtless society that doesn’t understand him, but his propensity for violence isn’t about revenge or the fame that comes with notoriety, or at least not only and not primarily those things. No, he just has an insatiable appetite for crime, the more shocking and well-timed the better. He gets his first lick almost by accident, when he protects himself against some fratty Wayne Enterprises employees with a pistol that a co-worker lent him. From this moment on, you can see the euphoria rising within him as he begins to shed any desire for normal human connection.

I am thoroughly impressed by Joker‘s craft, though I’m a little hesitant to embrace it fully. That’s not out of any discomfort with the message of Arthur’s transformation. It’s clear that he’s not meant to be emulated, despite how intoxicating his act can be once fully embraces his true self. What’s really nagging me is that this is a film that is a little too indebted to its influences. The premise is very much “What if Joker, but Taxi Driver?” Although, unlike Travis Bickle, Arthur isn’t interested in cleaning up the streets so much as making them his own. That’s different enough that Joker can fairly say that its overall tapestry is a new creation, but it never breaks fully free of its constituent parts. It’s like one of those magic eye posters, but in this case you can see the individual pieces whether you’re looking close or from a distance.

Joker is Recommended If You Like: It If Every Movie is a Direct Response to Taxi Driver

Grade(s): 4 out of 5 for the Craft/3.5 out 5 for the Message

SNL Review April 14, 2018: John Mulaney/Jack White

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2018.

News Cult Entertainment Editor Jeffrey Malone watches every new episode of Saturday Night Live and then organizes the sketches into the following categories: “Love It” (potentially Best of the Season-worthy), “Keep It” (perfectly adequate), or “Leave It” (in need of a rewrite, to say the least). Then he concludes with assessments of the host and musical guest.

Love It

Hollywood Update – Mulaney finds brilliant inspiration from his very own “Family Flix” (aka “Rocket Dog”), one of the greatest sketches he ever wrote during his SNL tenure. This time around, the objectionable material for supposedly family-friendly entertainment is squarely present both in front of and behind the camera. Simply mentioning the uncomfortable sexual ramifications of a parent-child body switch premise would have been enough to make this sketch a winner, but the disturbing details just keep on coming.

Horn Removal – The second sketch of the night to take obvious and winning inspiration from a previous SNL bit hearkens back to a pre-Mulaney time, namely the Will Ferrell-starring Bad Doctor. This time around, it is the patients who are more the crazy people, although the biggest laughs come from Mulaney’s plastic surgeon calmly explaining to the horned fellow and his fetishistic girlfriend just how idiotic they are.

It always bodes well for the Monologue when you have a stand-up comedian hosting, and I furthermore appreciate that Mulaney delivered jokes I had never heard from him before. Maybe this was material that he had used on stage previously, but it was new to me…I have to give it up to Big Nick’s Greek Diner, or any comedy sketch past or present, that turns into a full-blown Les Miserables homage.

Keep It

Robert Mueller/Michael Cohen Lie DetectorMeet the Parents came out 18 years ago, which was around the time that my SNL fandom was really starting to bloom. So this Mueller investigation homage to the Fockers is like if Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore had cameoed in 2000 for an ET-centric parody about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Anyway, we certainly don’t need Ben Stiller and Robert de Niro to rehash their “you can milk anything with nipples” routine in 2018, but it is a unique enough entryway into the current scandal du jour.

The Drag Brunch is what we can refer to as precision comedy, and the target is hit…Mulaney’s student leader attempts to hide a boner on National School Walkout Day, and we should all know from Big Mouth how masterful he is at humorizing awkward bodily functions…Ah, a parody of Wild Wild Country, that new Netflix documentary series about a cult that a lot of people are obsessing over but that I have not watched (yet?); this isn’t the first time a sketch has revolved around Kenan’s insatiable appetite for booty, nor is it the best, but it is still fairly amusing (and props to the audience for cheering Nasim Pedrad’s cameo without prompting)…Michael and Colin’s most memorable bits this time around involve bringing the Cleveland Browns’ futility into all this and a zinging follow-up about cream soda…I have never subjected myself to Laura Ingraham, so I have no idea how accurate Kate McKinnon’s impression is, but the list of all her disreputable new sponsors is on-point…Kenan’s Lavar Ball routine is a steady, unwavering formula, but damn if I don’t lose it when he claims that his son Lonzo is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes or that he has a long-lost Mexican son named “La Biblioteca.” And “You say ‘tomato,’ I say ‘this tomato costs $500’” might just be the quote of the season…The Real Intros of Reality Hills zeros in on what that genre is all about, doesn’t it?

Leave It

No terrible sketches on John Mulaney’s watch!

John Mulaney

How many former SNL writers who were not also cast members have returned to host? The only other one besides John Mulaney that I can think of is Larry David. Mulaney is certainly well-known enough among comedy nerds to justify booking him as host, but is he famous enough among the general public? The correct answer is: who cares? The episode he is in charge of runs smoothly, and it appears that he had a powerful effect on the writers’ room, what with the plethora of concept-driven sketches. Also, Darrell Hammond twice refers to him (on purpose?) as John “Mulvaney.”

Jack White

On a scale of “absolutely essential” to “playing the hits,” this is hardly a landmark performance from Jack White, but of course his chops are as strong as ever. Are “Over and Over and Over” and “Connected by Love” future classics in his oeuvre? I’m not banking on that legacy, as they do not sound terribly different from his typical garage rock numbers, but maybe after a few more listens, I’ll notice some peculiarities.

Letter Grades

Mueller/Cohen Lie Detector – B-

John Mulaney’s Monologue – B+

Drag Brunch – B

National School Walkout Day – B-

Wild Wild Country – B

Big Nick’s Greek Diner – B+

Jack White performs “Over and Over and Over” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B-
Laura Ingraham – B-
LaVar Ball – B

Hollywood Update (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A-

Horn Removal – B+

Jack White performs “Connected by Love” – B+

The Real Intros of Reality Hills – B

This is a Movie Review: The Intern

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Robert De Niro is Ben Whittaker and Anne Hathaway is Jules Ostin in "The Intern." rkimball@abqjournal.com Wed Sep 16 13:54:11 -0600 2015 1442433245 FILENAME: 199156.jpg

If The Intern were to focus solely on Anne Hathaway, it would be pretty dispiriting. As Jules, the founder/CEO of an e-commerce clothing company, her struggle does not go much beyond “Can successful women have it all?” While this conundrum is fairly cliché, it can potentially produce an interesting story. But it is tough for The Intern to do that when Jules’ husband (Anders Holm) is supremely underdeveloped.

Luckily, The Intern instead focuses on the relationship between Jules and Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro), the titular intern. Nancy Meyers’ films are (understandably) criticized for being fluffy wish-fulfillment, but a restless retiree getting hired at a fast-paced new media company is a decent concept. It could easily be screwed up, though, with too much of a focus on “old people don’t understand technology” gags or “why isn’t the current generation like the older generation?!” diatribes. Thankfully, the former disappear after about the first 10 minutes, and the latter are few and far between. Ben proves to be adept at picking up 21st century skills, and he is an excellent employee not because he is old-fashioned, but because he is observant, diligent, and empathetic. He is a paragon of virtue, and De Niro gives an appropriately virtuous performance – his best in a non-David O. Russell film since Meet the Parents.