The Irishman 2019 ***

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There was once a discipline and economy to making a feature film; directors complained, but cinema-owners could only show a film so many times a day, and even video-tape cost money. The digital age allows Netflix to give directors carte blanche to make films of any length, and last year’s bloated awards magnet Roma is followed by 219 long minutes of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. Perhaps there’s a good film in there trying to get out, but handicapped by a rubber-faced CGI cast and over-familiar material, The Irishman is a limp, late return to happy hunting grounds for Scorsese.

Scorsese has a reputation as a master of cinema; Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas are all electrifying movies. What they have in common in style is the glamorisation of real-life criminal behaviour, and striking busts of violence. As a result, Scorsese has a large following with imitations as brazen as Todd Phillips’ Joker. But when the director tackles other subjects, in comedies like After Hours, or reverent biographies like Kundun, or literary adaptation like The Age of Innocence, or religious drama like Silence, and one thing’s for sure; the audience won’t show up. Bullets through brains is what Scorsese’s audience want, and the Irishman has plenty of that.

Don’t expect the old-school killings of The Godfather here; in The Irishman, executions happen at Grand Theft Auto speed, a flash of a weapon and a fountain of blood. Indeed, Robert DeNiro even looks like a video-game character, his gait awkward at every age he portrays as hit-man Frank Sheeran. We start in the 1950’s, and finish up four decades later, with the changes marked by the roll of history on Frank’s tv screen. Sheeran works his way up to a position serving, and then betraying, his boss, Teamster Jimmy Hoffa, played energetically under melting candle make-up by Al Pacino. Business associates come and go, with Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston and others milling around the edges, and even old pals Joe Pesci and Hervey Keitel get in on the act.

As always with Scorsese, the editing is crisp, the cars and clothes are ideal, and there’s some absorbing scenes; a discussion about fish takes on great meaning. Robbie Robertson contributes an ideal score to compel the viewer through any lapses of conversation, while the needle-drops are always on point. But the length is hellish and self-defeating; this is a tv show, not a movie, and Frank’s story is lazily told without discipline. As with Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese seems happy to find a unreliable story-teller and credulously set everything the say down as gospel truth, offering a narrow view, and a woman or morality-free text. Every time Frank mentions an explosion, the film stops to show it, an effect that comes close to self-parody, although the sight of rows of yellow cabs being dumped in the river is an arresting one. Steven Zallian’s dialogue similarly suffers from clichés; to paraphrase, it’s all ‘Jimmy the Snake taught me one thing; you never wanna cross Blind Willie McF*ck…’ Reflections on family and justice are marginalised by forensic attention to fashion and music.

Those who ignore all Scorsese’s other work will lap up the sudden shootings and the macho badinage of The Irishman, which is based on a book by Charles Brant. But the rubbery faces will put off casual viewers; The Irishman often looks like cut-scenes for a video-game, with mottled skin-tones and slick hairstyles that distract from what the characters say. There would be no place for an expensive dud like The Irishman at the cinemas; even on streaming, it’s likely to vanish quickly as a bizarre footnote to Scorsese’s career.

Logan’s Run 1976 ***

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George Pal left the Logan’s Run project because he thought it was too late to cash in on the wave of sci-fi in the late 1960’s and early 70’s; the arrival of Star Wars a year later proved him wrong. But for 1976, Logan’s Run has quite a bit going for it for genre aficionados; there are a few scenes where the look of the film is very much Death Star chic. Michael York plays Logan, and unfortunately the nature of his run is rather less exciting than the poster suggest; Logan rarely runs, rarely even walks quickly; Logan’s Long Stand Around Listing To Exposition captures the mood better, notably a dull climax which involves getting to Washington DC listening to Peter Ustinov’s tedious Old Man character waffle on about cats and T.S. Elliot. To get to this point, Logan 5 is introduced as a Sandman, charged with hunting down those who seek to escape the law of the year 2274, where they have a ban on age; at 30, everyone has to go to the Carousel for rebirth, or face being hunted down. Logan meets agitator Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) and goes on the run, but although some of the sets and miniatures are pretty cool, there’s a lack of visual cohesion that leads to a lack of energy. The emphases on sex is rather misplaced, with several orgies, and the characters frequently stripping down in a way that belies the family friendly nature of the sci-fi adventure concept. Farrah Fawcett has a couple of scenes, and Roscoe Lee Browne has a short by memorable scene as a killer robot called Box. There’s not enough of this kind of danger in Logan’s Run, but despite some awful dialogue, Michael Anderson’s still a curiosity piece for fans of retro 70’s style.

Blackhat 2015 ***

o-blackhat-facebookMichael Mann’s misfires are more interesting than most director’s home-runs; his 2015 techno-thriller starts with a dive through the circuitry of a computer, and sets a tone of visual abstraction that never quite meshes with some of the conventional plotting. Chris Hemsworth looks improbably buff for a master-hacker, forced to join forces with an international counter-cyber terrorism movement. The technology is superbly handled, together with operatic visual flourishes that disguise the fact Blackhat feels like a Steven Segal movie in disguise.  If Blackhat adds up to little that’s new, the glossy surface has a hypnotic power in its depiction of a world hard-wired with justified paranoia.

Her 2013 ***

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Spike Jonze fashioned a surprisingly empathetic tone-poem to technology with his 2013 romance, with Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a writer who finds himself falling in love with the operating system of his mobile phone. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha reads his email, promotes his work and seems more in tune with Theodore than his dates (Olivia Wilde), his ex (Rooney Mara) or the girl next door (Amy Adams). But digital love is hard to consummate, and Theodore and Samantha face many of the same problems as any long distance relationship; lacking physicality in each other’s world, they struggle to maintain their connection. Jonze uses real locations to suggest the near future, and the technology looks highly viable; while much of the film is just Theodore talking to himself, Phoenix pulls off a gently comic performance. And Johansson’s voice is perfect; it’s hard to imaging how this would have played if they’d retained Samantha Morton in the role. Her is a delicate, melancholy film, but one that relates to a time when communication is everywhere, but the users of the technology feel more alone than ever.