November Writing Challenge Day 27: The Irishman

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Shutterstock (10428408cl) Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Harvey Keitel ‘The Irishman’ film premiere, Arrivals, 57th New York Film Festival, USA – 27 Sep 2019

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

If you haven’t see The Irishman yet, this is your one and only warning that there are spoilers below.

Like most of my friends and family, I’m a big fan of Martin Scorsese’s gangster films. From Goodfellas to The Departed, they’ve entertained us for years. Many moons ago when I lived with two of my good friends it seemed like there was always one of Scorsese’s movies playing on TV.

I was excited for The Irishman, especially when I heard it was being released straight to Netflix after a limited theatrical run. The cast shown in the previews was like Murderer’s Row of my favorite gangster actors: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel. This had all of the makings of another classic Scorsese movie.

I watched it tonight and it’s good, really good. But not great.

As seen in the trailers, Frank Sheeran is a mob hitman who eventually finds himself becoming friends with union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Framed as a look back at a life of crime, there are elements of Scorsese filmmaking throughout the nearly three-and-a-half hour runtime. There are tracking shots, sudden bursts of violence, and men being MEN. There are scenes that make you laugh. And there are loads of fantastic performances, highlighted by DeNiro, Pesci, and Pacino.

But after my first viewing, I didn’t get the immediate “Wow, what a movie!” feeling I got from other Scorsese films. The last half hour or so is different than his other gangster movies and, for me, it was the most interesting part of The Irishman. DeNiro’s character is coming to grips with his mortality, his non-relationship with his estranged daughter, and the crimes he’s committed. It’s a more meditative tone and fits in quite well with the rest of the film.

So although I had a lukewarm response to it, I’ll watch it again, just like I do with most of Scorsese’s movies. Perhaps my opinion will change after another viewing or two. I remember thinking Casino was basically just Goodfellas in Vegas until I’d watched it a few more times.

The Irishman doesn’t have the “big” scenes of Scorsese’s other gangster films; there’s no coked-out Henry Hill frenzy or Nicky Santoro brutality. Instead, we get a more drawn-out and contemplative look at a life of crime. It’s one well worth watching, even if it’s not one of my favorite Scorsese films. Yet.

November Writing Challenge Day 21: The Phantom Menace

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

Last night I started my latest challenge: watch all of the Star Wars movies and two of the animated series before The Rise of Skywalker debuts next month. I’m watching them in chronological order, which means I started with Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

I never saw Episode I in the theaters. When it came out I was more interested in going out to the bars with my friends. I thought I’d get around to watching it, but before I knew it the movie was no longer showing. When I did finally get to see it on videotape, I was underwhelmed. I watched it a second time on DVD years ago and was bored by it.

So I wasn’t really looking forward to it when I logged into Disney+ last night. The opening scroll talks about a trade blockade and this is where I knew I was in trouble. Trade talks and politics? Not exactly the best way to kick off The Saga, right?

Within 15 minutes, or about the time Jar-Jar Binks made his first appearance, I was ready to turn it off. Jar-Jar was just as annoying as I remembered him. So was young Anakin Skywalker.

The podrace was cooler than I remembered, but it would’ve been better without the two-headed sports announcers. Did we really need this nod to modern sports?

Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor were the best parts of Episode I. Darth Maul was a menacing presence, but like most of this movie the best parts were too short and the worst parts were too long. I remember reading an interview with Liam Neeson years ago where he complained about having to act in front of a bunch of blue screens.

Neeson’s interview was on my mind when I saw part of the Star Wars documentary that’s on Disney+. In it, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford joke about George Lucas’ directing style: “Faster and more intense.”

I thought about that quote as I watched Episode I. For its time, the CGI was the latest and greatest in special effects, and it was obvious that Lucas was more enthralled with these than the actual actors or dialogue. You have all of these great actors in the greatest space opera of all time and all you get is a dull film? What a waste.

It’s no wonder I’ve been watching these films in Machete Order for years. After my challenge, I’m going back to it.

November Writing Challenge Day 20: Star Wars. All of It.

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

I want to get my money’s worth out of Disney+ so here’s my next challenge: watch everything Star Wars before going to see the final movie, The Rise of Skywalker, next month.

For the last two sequels I watched the Star Wars Saga in Machete Order: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and Return of the Jedi. What is Machete Order? I’ll quote from the original article:

The problem with [watching the films in] Episode Order is that it ruins one of the biggest twists in movie history. If you think that this reveal doesn’t matter since it’s common knowledge, I suggest you watch the looks on these kids’ faces. If a newcomer to the series has managed to avoid having it spoiled for them, watching the films in Episode Order would be like watching the ending of The Sixth Sense first.”

In honor of the final film in The Saga, I’ve decided to watch all of the movies and two of the animated series, Clone Wars and Rebels, both of which I’ve only seen a handful of episodes.

I’m going with Episode Order this time and following the chronology seen above, which is from Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, a book that takes place between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do recaps of each movie and series episode or if I’m going to just do a summary of this challenge.

Actually, I think I’ll dig up my log-in and password for my old Star Wars WordPress blog, Lando’s ‘Stache.

Day 341: General Cinema


Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s usually meant going to the mall to see movies.

This meant seeing films in the General Cinema multiplex, which always ran this before the feature presentation:

I may not remember all of the films I saw during my youth, but I recall laughing hysterically whenever this clip was on screen. My brothers, cousins, friends, and I howled with delight every time this was shown.

I’m still not sure why this tickled our funny bones back then. I’m assuming that after the first or second time, it became a Pavlovian response; it might not have been funny, but hearing that initial high hat guaranteed guffaws from all of us.


Day 302: Rewatchable

Most Rewatchable Movie of All Time? Star Wars.

Most Rewatchable Movie of All Time? Star Wars.

After I posted my progress on my 2015 Goals list yesterday, I thought about why I haven’t been motivated to complete my goal of watching all 100 of AFI’s Greatest Films. I love watching movies and a lot of those on that list are classics. I should’ve been able to finish that list with no problem, right?

Well, I’ve tried to watch a few of them and either fall asleep or start doing something else. By the time I wake up or focus my attention back on the film, I’ve missed enough that I’d have to start over, so I just end up shutting it off.

Perhaps I should revise my goal to watch all of FiveThirtyEight’s 25 Most Rewatchable Movies of All Time. I’ve seen 24 of the 25 (Pride & Prejudice being the one I haven’t seen), so it’d be no sweat.

Of course, I’d probably get stuck on No. 1. Maybe I should just watch that 25 times? I’d reach that goal in no time.

Day 250: Movies and Games

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Since two of my favorite things are watching movies and playing games, here’s a short list of movies that pair well with games.

  1. Trading Places (the classic Eddie Murphy rags-to-Wall-Street comedy) and Pit (the classic card game that recreates the chaos of Wall Street trading).
  2. The Station Agent (a wonderful and underrated film starring a pre-Tyrion Lannister Peter Dinklage as a quiet fan of railroads and trains) and Ticket to Ride (my choice for the perfect gateway game; easy to learn and fun to play).
  3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (a documentary about a sushi master) and Sushi Go! (a sushi-themed card game with cute art and fast play).
  4. Clash of the Titans (the original movie featuring the guy from L.A. Law as Perseus) and 7 Wonders (a civilization game using a card-drafting mechanic that you can play in under an hour).
  5. Shaun of the Dead (hilarious zombie movie featuring Simon Pegg in his breakout role) and Zombie Dice (a light press-your-luck dice game that you can play while watching Shaun of the Dead).

Day 242: Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton

My wife and I finally got around to seeing Straight Outta Compton today. We’d tried to see it on opening weekend, but ran into a sold-out theater.

I’m still somewhat amazed that a movie about Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, et. al., could be so popular. N.W.A. and the West Coast gangsta rap artists were a huge part of my late teens/early 20s; the music was always present at parties and in our cars during road trips. I expected the movie to be a modest hit.

But to think their story would be a box office smash? No way.

I liked that they didn’t clean up any of the lyrics for the movie because they’re still hard-hitting to this day, especially in light of Ferguson and other violence. Like N.W.A. and the world it it portrayed, the movie isn’t perfect. Straight Outta Compton covers a lot of ground, but doesn’t always cover everything well. Thankfully, the stumbles are few and far between.

The actors were well-cast, particularly O’Shea Jackson, Jr., playing his father, Ice Cube. It was surreal watching him on the big screen: he looks and sounds just like his dad. It was easy to get caught up in the movie, reciting lyrics I haven’t heard in years.

It seems like a lifetime has passed since those times, but the music and the story endures.


Day 238: Metro Manila

Metro Manila

Metro Manila

Currently streaming on Netflix is Metro Manila, an excellent film about a family trying to escape poverty in the Philippines.

Driven by economic despair, a rice farmer moves his wife and two children to metro Manila, where he hopes to take advantage of the opportunities the city will provide. He and his wife quickly discover that predators of all types lurk in every corner of the slums they live in.

Lead actor Jake Macapagal is outstanding as Oscar Ramirez. He’s the moral center of the film and has a quiet dignity about him that stands above the chaos of the big city. John Arcilla is solid as Oscar’s co-worker/mentor Ong, a grizzled veteran with a secret that will change Oscar’s life. The character Ong reminded me of someone who could easily be found in a John Woo heroic bloodshed movie.

I’ve written about a few of the movies on the AFI 100 list this year and Metro Manila reminded me of The French Connection in a few ways: it captured the grittiness of Manila, just as The French Connection did with New York. Both movies were smack dab in the middle of a world full of moral ambiguity.

Day 216: Rocky

Adrian and Rocky

Adrian and Rocky

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

57. Rocky

Rocky is back on Netflix, so I watched it before bed last night. The movie holds up well after nearly 40(!) years, mainly because Sylvester Stallone was born to play Rocky. The slurred speech peppered with “yo’s,” the physicality of the training montages, the surprising amount of emotion in his scenes with Adrian: even with a few of the hammier bits, it’s still a terrific performance and Stallone carries the film.

I’ll save the movie’s inherent racism discussion for others. There’s a reason why the film still resonates with movie fans: everybody loves the underdog. Rocky is the classic underdog making his way through the streets of Philadelphia (admit it, you’re hearing the theme song now).

Whether he’s collecting money at the shipyard or running through the open-air market, the film captures the grittiness of the city, much like The French Connection did with New York. I loved the little scene where Rocky and Gazzo meet at Pat’s King of Steaks; I’ve been there and, yes, there is a plaque at the exact spot where the scene was filmed.

One thing that always bugs me, though, is the final showdown with Apollo (kudos to Carl Weathers; he absolutely steals every scene that he’s in). It’s hilarious that both boxers show up in the ring without their gloves on, only to have them magically appear right before they fight. A bonehead mistake, no doubt.

Still, I loved the ending because by then it’s not about who wins or loses, it’s about Rocky’s love for Adrian. Corny? Yes. And the movie also seems slower than I recalled, but Rocky is such a likable galoot that it’s easy to look past the film’s foibles.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Day 200: Ant-Man

  • Ant-Man


It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the movies, so I was excited to see Ant-Man. He wasn’t a major character in the Marvel Universe comics, but he proved to be a worthy addition to the Marvel Universe films.

I didn’t think Paul Rudd could be a superhero. I loved him in Anchorman, I Love You Man, and Knocked Up (one of my favorite lines ever: “I got Matsui”). He didn’t strike me as an actor that could carry a comic-book-turned-movie.

Thankfully, Rudd plays it just right. He doesn’t take things too seriously nor does he overdo the snarkiness and strikes the right balance between both. There are a few winks to the audience about the silliness of the whole thing, but it never feels patronizing or demeaning.

I didn’t find out until the credits rolled that Edgar Wright had a hand in the screenplay and realized that’s why I liked Ant-Man so much. Wright’s a master at this type of pop-culture fare.

It’s the perfect summer blockbuster. Yes, it’s silly and predictable, but it’s also a lot of fun and likable.

And it’s got me fired up to get back into my AFI Top 100 challenge.