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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 8, 2019)

One film that demands to be seen opens this week - the 3 1/2 hour long Martin Scorcese’s THE IRISHMAN with De Niro and Pacino starring.

FILM REVIEWS:

DOCTOR SLEEP (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Mike Flanagan

DOCTOR SLEEP is based on the Stephen King’s 2013 novel, that follows what happens after THE SHINING, which was made into the Stanley Kubrick horror classic of the same name with Jack Nicholson, who declined to appear in this sequel.  Flanagan is an American filmmaker. He is best known for his horror films, all of which he directed, wrote, and edited including Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013), Hush, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil (all 2016), Gerald’s Game (2017), and Doctor Sleep (2019).

It is 2011, sometime after escaping the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance, (now all grown up into Ewan McGregor and now known as just Dan) and his mother Wendy live in Florida.   He escapes his alcoholism though still scarred by his experiences at the hotel.  Danny is taught by the ghost of Dick Hallorann to lock such ghosts in imaginary "boxes" in his mind.  Meanwhile, a cult of quasi-immortals known as the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat, feed on "steam" produced by the dying moments of people with the Shining ability to slow their aging.  She recruits a teenage girl called Snakebite Andi into the cult after observing her ability to telepathically control people.

In a small town, Dan befriends Billy Freeman, who gets him a job and becomes his AA sponsor.  Dan uses his Shine abilities to comfort dying patients, who give him the nickname "Doctor Sleep” where the film title is derived from. The film’s main story which now moves to 2019 involves his dealing with  Abra Stone, a young girl whose Shining is even more powerful than his and the destruction of The True Knot group.

For those who love THE SHINING, DOCTOR SLEEP pays enough homage to the original film while still keeping it fresh with new scary ideas. There are the familiar scenes of young Danny riding his tricycle in the hotel hallways, the huge gushing of blood from the double closed doors in the hotel and characters that look like the mad Nicholson and frantic Shelley Duvall.  Yet, director Flanagan has enough ideas to keep his film original and fresh.  The beginning sequence where Rose the Hat entices a little girl with flowers is the film’s scariest and creepiest scene.  No other scene in the film tops this one.  The film has a solid climatic showdown.

DOCTOR SLEEP lacks jump scares, which are basically cheap scares that often make no sense to the plot or story but annoyingly scares audiences out of their seats.  I hate these.  Lacking these, DOCTOR SLEEP rises itself over cheap horror flicks like THE CONJURING series.  DOCTOR SLEEP works like an action horror film, that includes a big shootout showdown, western-style.  The 45 million budget allows high production values that make the film look great.  It runs a full 152 minutes or so, but director Flanagan knows how to build up suspense.  It is better to watch suspenseful segments that watching segments with lots of jump scares. (Example IT2).

DOCTOR SLEEP should keep both SHINING fans and horror fans satisfied.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2msJTFvhkU4

FRANKIE (France/Portugal 2019) **
Directed by Ira Sachs

Clearly playing a role written specially fro her, Academy Award nominee French actress Isabelle Huppert play a famous French actress like herself, who gathers her extended family for one last summer vacation.  

The film is set in Portugal’s Sintra, made even more beautiful by cinematographer Ruiz Pocas, with repeated scenes of idyllic mountainside town with lush forests.  The characters move around on cobble-stoned pavements in an ancient looking town.

There is not much story or purpose in the film except to glorify Huppert who probably does not need any more glorification.  The simple story unfolds over a day, when the audience learns around the film’s half way mark that Frankie (Huppert) has only a few months to live.  This is likely an excuse for Frankie to put her family affairs in order, which includes sorting out her son and other family members. 

Frankie’s husband (Brendan Gleeson) loves her dearly.   Director Sachs (LOVE IS STRANGE and LITTLE MEN) includes an uncomfortable love scene where Gleeson and Huppert embrace with their clothes off in bed.  (She is too slim and tanned while he too pale and large.)  To add to Frankie’s afflictions, she has other family problems.   Her ex-husband (Pascal Greggory) has moved on, her stepdaughter (Vinette Robinson) is contemplating a divorce and Frankie’s son (Jérémie Renier one of the best looking young French actors here sporting the ugliest moustache) is at loose ends.  Frankie thinks her son would be a good match for her hairdresser (Marisa Tomei), except the latter shows up with her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear).  There is nothing really urgent about these family matters, and the script by Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias does not attempt to edge the audience either.

Sachs past films have all been made or centred in New York.  This is his first film in Europe.  In one scene, the characters talk about New York when it is mentioned that the city is not what it used to be as most of the favourite restaurants have closed except for one.  Maybe you can just keep going to that one is the reply.  Maybe that is one of the reasons Sachs have ventured to Europe for this latest offering.

The film could do with more and much needed drama as well as humour.  Humour is light.  When Frankis is admonished for swimming topless in the pool, she says not to worry as she is photogenic.  Nothing really funny nor amusing about this line of dialogue.  There are lots of these going on in the movie.

Performances are best described as relaxed.  Audiences have seen Huppert and Gleeson in better films that showcase their talents.

There is no death scene or any hint of Frankie’s cancer suffering, which makes this her illness hard to believe.

The lack of material can be best observed in the closing segment where character slowly walk down a hill - the segment lasting a full 5 minutes or so.

FRANKIE debuted in competition at Cannes this year but failed to garnish much fanfare.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0DiHtZ3wtA

THE IRISHMAN (USA 2019) ****

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Arguably the most powerhouse of all films made this year, THE IRISHMAN features the film industry’s biggest names that include multiple Academy Award Winners in its cast and crew.  Director Martin Scorsese directs high profile stars seldom or never seen together in the same frame in a movie.  Robert De Niro stars alongside Al Pacino (both of whom shot to fame after Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER II films) with Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel. 

But the full title of the film, as seen in the opening and closing credits is THE IRISHMAN, I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, based on the book of that name by Charles Brandt.  The main protagonist of the film is the Irishman of the film title, Frank Sheeran played by De Niro who is obviously Irish by blood.  When the film opens he and pal, Russell Bufalino (Pesci) are having a road trip with their wives on way to attend a wedding.  As they stop their car for their wives to have s smoke, Frank realizes that it is the same spot he and Russ had first met. Through flashbacks it is revealed that the wedding is a disguise for them performing  a peace mission that ends up as a vicious killing.  How and why the situation had come to reach this stage is the film’s story.  And it is not a pretty story.

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in postwar America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious underworld figures of the 20th century.  Spanning decades, the film chronicles the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) — which remains unsolved to this day — and journeys through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics.

THE IRISHMAN clocks in 3 and a half hours.  Director Scorcese remarked that when he Scorcese has been quoted to say that the people at Netflix are excellent.  The rest is a film that Scorcese can indulge in.  Though the film is a long haul, Scorcese gets to tell the story his way, his style.  When one analyzes many of his set-ups, one can see his attention to detail and the brilliance of Scorcese’s craft.  He tells a story while impacting emotions in the larger realm of things, and told with dead pan humour with the added bonus of a great soundtrack, put together by Robbie Robertson.  Never mind that the film turns a bit difficult to follow at times - Scorcese doesn’t care, but continues his passion of telling his story.  The result is a crime story told from one person’s point of view - Frank Sheeran’s and one very effective one at that.  The effect of the man on his family particularly on his daughters notably Peggy (Paquin) who refuses to talk or see him is devastating and the only thing that makes him regret his life.  The final scenes showing him speaking candidly to a priest (shades of Scorcese’s SILENCE) trying to extol himself from the sins committed in his life.

Th film uses CGI to ‘youthify’ De Niro, Pesci and Pacino for their character in their younger days.  This de-ageing process looks effective enough to enable the 75 year-old actors to play their younger years.

De Niro and Pacino are superb playing off each other.  Pacino’s Hoffa is volatile, loud, insulting and gregarious compared as compared to De Niro’s Frank who is smart, cunning, silent but deadly.  It is pure pleasure to see both De Niro and Pacino together in a single scene and there are quite a few of these in the film.

THE IRISHMAN is a must-see crime drama, not because it is true or could be true, but for Scorcese’s craft with the Master is still at his peak.

THE IRISHMAN opens for a limited engagement at the TIFFBel Lightbox before streaming on Netflix.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHXxVmeGQUc

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