This week, I saw consumed some new things, but mostly revisited older ones. I also found and rediscovered things I thought were gone. I bought a Kindle back when my eight-year-old daughter was just a baby. I bought the cheap one, without any fancy software that lets you do things besides reading (because I knew I'd do everything but read on it if it was available). I wanted to be able to read with one hand so I could hold her in my lap while doing it. I loved it. Still do, actually. I'm still a huge fan of real books, but the Kindle is super convenient. I have this tendency of using my Kindle for long stretches of time then forgetting all about it. I last used it this summer while we were visiting my wife's family, but then we came home it got stuck on a shelf and I went back to my regular books. Eventually, the battery died and for a long while I couldn't find the charging cord. I thought I found it a few weeks back but when I plugged it in it wasn't taking a charge. A couple of days ago while digging through our big box of random cords for a camera charger I found a different cord that looked like it might work on my Kindle. It did, and now I've been reading with the Kindle again. All of this is to say that I finished a book this week, and that's always exciting.
Anyways, I watched some movies this week, and rediscovered an old game. So let's get to it.
Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have now made nine feature films together. While they worked together regularly through the ’70s and ‘80s and made three films together in the early ‘90s, they had not collaborated on a film together since Casino in 1995 (they did work together on a short film in 2015 called The Audition but that was more of a commercial for a Macau casino than a film). Now, they’ve made The Irishman, a much-ballyhooed film that is currently seeing limited theatrical release before dropping on Netflix on November 27. I caught it this week at the Circle Cinema in Tulsa and can confirm it is fantastic.
In many ways, it feels like a coda to Scorsese and De Niro’s careers together. There are numerous subtle references to their other films embedded in The Irishman. From the opening tracking shot that wanders through a nursing home that makes a wonderful counterpoint to a similar scene through the Copacabana in Goodfellas to a camera following a car from a low angle a la Taxi Driver, and many more. Scorsese seems to be paying homage to his own films and reminiscing on the two stars' careers.
Not that it skates by on nostalgia or off the backs of his previous movies. The Irishman is an original, meditative, and possibly a masterpiece. I really need to spend some more time with it before I make any final judgments but I walked out of the theater loving it.
The Third Man
God, I love this movie. Last week, I talked about how Detour was maybe the perfect example of a noir in that it has all the characteristics of that genre. Well, the Third Man might not have all the things that make a noir a noir, but it does what it has in the absolute best way. It is a film that makes me break into the biggest grin from the opening credits (featuring a close up of a zither which the instantly recognizable title music is played). Every moment that follows is masterful and nearly perfect.
It is set in post-war Vienna and director Carol Reed makes that old city into something beautiful and terrifying. Cinematographer Robert Krasker fills the screen with light and shadows and the oddest camera angles. I’m not for sure this is completely true but it seemed like those angles went haywire whenever someone we can’t trust was on screen and become more normal whenever someone more trustworthy filled the screen. Whatever the case, it certainly gives the viewer a sense of never quite being on balance.
It is a lovely, nearly perfect film for the first hour and then Orson Welles shows up and suddenly it is even better. He has one of the most famous, most brilliant entrances to any character in any film ever. The movie stars Joseph Cotton as an American come to Vienna because his friend Harry Lime (Welles) has offered him a job. When he arrives, he learns that Lime just died in a car accident. But something's fishy about the whole thing. Despite the wishes of pretty much everybody, he investigates the matter and for the first hour, it is this really wonderful detective story. It is all about what happened to Harry Lime. Every conversation is about him. Then Lime shows up, standing in the shadows until a light comes on. We just see his face with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. It is brilliant in every way.
Everything after that is icing. Including the famous Cuckoo Clock monologue given by Lime to Cotton in the Weiner Risenrad Ferris wheel. When my wife and I visited Vienna many years ago, at the top of my list was that Ferris wheel, so much is my love for this film.
I play a lot of games on my computer. I’m not really a gamer as the things I play are pretty casual. I like silly games like Gardenscapes and old NES emulators. The other day, for some reason, I started thinking about StarCraft, the real-time strategy game that came out in the late 1990s. I played it all the time before I got married. I still have the game on CD but it no longer works on my computer. I decided to look it up and see if there was any way I could play it and it turns out Blizzard is now allowing users to play it for free on their online gaming service. I’ve been playing it for far too many hours all week.
It is tons of fun, and kind of hard, but not so hard that it immediately makes me want to throw my mouse across the room. I used to play it for hours at a time. I’m now trying to pace myself a little better as I’m a grown up with responsibilities, but any little free time I have I find myself squeezing it in.
Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard
It is easy to think that Elmore Leonard books don’t have a lot of depth. They are easy reads. They read fast. They read well at the beach. They read like movie scripts - full of witty dialogue and simple stage directions. It is no wonder so many of his works have been made into movies and TV shows.
But there is depth to his stories. They might not all the way down to the bottom of the well, but there is more than just plot and dialogue to them. With Road Dogs, one of the last novels he wrote, follows his usual subjects of violent men and women who con each other with an easy cool. But it is also about the idea of trust, or rather who we can trust if we can trust anyone at all. It is about the lies we tell each other in every relationship just to get by.
It is also about characters we’ve seen before. This one stars Jack Foley, the cool, bank robber who likes to talk about movies (last seen in Out of Sight - played effortlessly by George Clooney in the excellent movie of the same name, and just try not to picture the actor while reading this). As it begins we find Jack in prison passing his days alongside Cundo, the Cuban refugee (who starred in LaBrava) who remains rich despite being behind bars. When Cundo gets out, he pays a fancy lawyer to help get Jack out early to which Jack must ponder what he’ll have to do in return. Cundo puts Jack up in one of his many houses where he hangs out with Dawn, a psychic also seen in Riding the Rap.
The plot twists and glides from there always staying a few steps ahead of us. I loved both the Out of Sight movie and book and Jack Foley is such a cool character it was great seeing him again. The story didn’t quite keep my attention like Out of Sight did, but it is still lots of fun. Every time I finish an Elmore Leonard book, I’m both completely satisfied and just a little bit sad that I’m not one step closer to having read everything the man wrote. Luckily he wrote a lot.
Shia LaBeouf wrote and stars in this semi-autobiographical movie about a young actor trying to perfect his art and handle his ex-con father. I'm not at all a fan of LaBeouf, but this actually looks interesting.
Gordon S. Miller selects Justin Long from Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary
Premiering in movie theaters nationwide on Tuesday, November 26, in a special one-day-only cinematic event from Fathom Events, Fandom, and Screen Junkies, Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary tells the story of the cult classic film. The above clip features Justin Long who relates how some of his own movie idols helped him create his character of Brandon.