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 24: It’s Bruno!

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 stumbled upon a random Netflix series called It’s Bruno! last night. I’d never heard of it, but after reading the description I was excited to share my discovery with my wife.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, It’s Bruno! is about a guy named Malcolm and his puggle (pug-beagle mix), Bruno. We have a pug named Bruno and couldn’t believe what we found on Netflix!

Of course, the Netflix Bruno’s life is nothing like our Bruno’s life, but it’s a quirky and offbeat comedy. Each episode is about 15 minutes long, with plenty of cute doggos, and features some sort of confrontation with residents of Malcolm’s neighborhood. There’s Harvey and his dog Angie, who serves as Malcolm and Bruno’s nemesis. There’s Crackhead Carl with his shopping cart full of stolen goods on sale for five dollars each, Malcolm’s stoner buddies, the local pet store employees, and a whole assortment of interesting people.

Halfway through the series I started googling the show’s creator and star, Solvan Naim, a young, talented 22-year-old rapper, writer, actor, and director. There’s a quote in a Variety interview that reminded me of our Bruno: “He’s just a loving dog and he always wants to show you attention. He’s never angry or mad. We can all learn a little something from him.”

Pictured above is our Bruno. He may not have his own Netflix series, but if you ever meet him, you’ll see that he has the same loving personality of the more famous Bruno.

Day 310: Daredevil

Daredevil on Netflix.

Daredevil on Netflix.

I recently posted about how much my wife and I are enjoying Gotham. After a few episodes, I decided to start watching Daredevil on Netflix.

Needless to say, the rest of Gotham has been put on hold.

I’m three-quarters of the way into the first season and so far Daredevil has been superb. He’s one of my favorite superheroes, but I put off starting the series because I was scarred from the Ben Affleck version. It was okay, but nowhere near as gritty as I thought it should be. And Affleck didn’t do it for me as a superhero (which is why I’m sure I’ll put off watching Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice).

I grew up on Frank Miller’s version of The Man Without Fear, which was gritty before gritty was cool. The Born Again storyline, along with The Big Three (Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns) changed the way I looked at comic books.

The Netflix series has been everything I wanted from Daredevil. It’s not about a superhero saving the world, but rather the story of a city, Hell’s Kitchen in New York, and the people trying to control it/save it. It’s more like The Wire, which is only the greatest TV show ever. There are no corny one-liners or sly nods to the audience. The fight scenes aren’t over-the-top, and the fight in episode two where Daredevil goes into the heart of bad guys’ sanctuary was an all-time great.

Yes, a show produced for the small (and mobile) screen has an all-time superhero scene. Television, or what we call TV these days, has come a long way and mostly for the better.

Day 175: Music on Netflix


Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Just as my taste in music has changed over the years, so has my method of discovering new music evolved. As a teenager, I discovered new music through word of mouth; most of my friends were musicians so one of us was always finding a new band and sharing it with the others. Some of us traded tapes via fanzines while some of us stayed up late to tape radio shows that played new and obscure songs.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to hear about a new song or band via social media than the radio. I tend to read books or watch movies during my spare time.

Thankfully, my love of movie-watching actually helps me find new music. Netflix has a great selection of music documentaries. I’ve enjoyed the films about well-known bands (Rush, Pearl Jam, etc.), but it’s the ones about lesser-known musicians and groups that fascinate me.

Two years ago, my wife and I watched Soul of America, a documentary about Charles Bradley, a soul singer eeking out a living as a James Brown impersonator before being discovered as he neared retirement age. It’s an inspiring film and after we saw it, we were fortunate that Bradley was in L.A. that weekend playing a free show at Amoeba Records (he played the FYF Fest the night before).

This past weekend, a fortuitous pair of tickets (thanks to my Yelp Elite badge) led us to the Greek Theatre to see another obscure musician play a big show. We rented Searching for Sugar Man, a film that details the unique career of singer/songwriter Rodriguez (née Sixto Rodriguez). In the early 70s Rodriguez released two albums that barely sold, despite being worked on by top producers who worked with top artists of the day. He was compared to Bob Dylan on more than one occasion, but he wasn’t able to build a fanbase.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Rodriguez put down his guitar and entered a life doing construction work in his hometown and occasionally dabbled in local politics. Unbeknownst to him, his music had become the anthem of South African youth. He’s regarded on the same level as the Rolling Stones and his albums (bootleg and legitimate) sold more than they did in America. It’s only when two fans of his decide to track him down does he learn the truth. Rumors of his demise had been exaggerated: at one point, people thought he’d killed himself on stage.

It’s a fascinating film, since there are so many unanswered questions, especially by the record label that failed to pay him all of the royalties over the years (there is one revealing interview with an executive). To his credit, there’s no hint of bitterness or self-pity in Rodriguez. He’s led a good, if hard, life and he’s a Motor City son through-and-through.

Like Bradley, Rodriguez experienced his biggest musical moments when most musicians have long retired. I might not have heard either of them on the radio, but I was more than happy to have discovered them via streaming video.

Day 34: Annie Hall

Annie Hall

Annie Hall

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

35. Annie Hall

I had mixed feelings about watching Annie Hall. I’m not a Woody Allen fan; the whole neurotic New Yorker schtick does nothing for me. Of course, his relationship with Soon-Yi doesn’t exactly endear me to him, either.

Still, I tried to keep an open mind about Annie Hall. Early on, it was all Woody and his neuroses; my eyes rolling in my head, looking at my watch. I was surprised at how often he broke the fourth wall; Frank Underwood would be proud. Allen’s character is a comedian and the film follows his exploits in love and his various relationships. There are a lot of clever lines and insights throughout the movie, but at times I felt like I was watching a stand-up act in the guise of a dramedy: people don’t actually talk like this, do they?

Fortunately, before I found myself questioning my cinematic quest, Diane Keaton shows up. She’s the perfect foil for Allen’s character; young, cute, and charming. Scenes appear to brighten up when she’s in them, offsetting the morose and miserable Allen. After watching and re-watching her in the Godfather series, I’d forgotten that she was more than the wife of Michael Corleone. Thanks to her role as Annie Hall (supposedly based on her true self), the film is bearable, even to a non-Woody-Allen-fan as myself.

Overall, I enjoyed Annie Hall. I loved the scenes of late ’70s New York and Los Angeles (Fatburger and Tail o’ the Pup!) and the cameos (Paul Simon, Jeff Goldblum, Carol Kane, Shelley Duvall, and Christopher Walken). For the most part it’s entertaining, if a bit grating at times, due to Allen’s presence. Not sure I’d include it in my Top 100 list, but I can see why it’s well-regarded. Just not by me.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Day 12: Cutting Cable


Image source:

My wife and I have saved thousands of dollars since we cut cable a few years ago. We love not paying for channels we never watch and since we’ve never made it a point to set a specific TV night, we can easily get by with a Netflix subscription and Youtube videos for our video entertainment. Actually, that’s not entirely true; we love watching Jeopardy during the week, so thankfully a cheap pair of rabbit ears brings in quality digital reception of Mr. Trebek. The antenna works for the major networks and lots of minor ones, too, so there’s always something available if the need arises.

The only thing I’ve missed are sports. ESPN, Fox, Time Warner, and other cable companies have most of the games now, with the major networks only showing weekly NFL and NBA games (and the playoffs). I could subscribe to league passes, but I don’t have enough time to watch anyways.

I thought losing out on sports after we cut cable would be tough, but my favorite teams (Lakers and Raiders) are mired in mediocrity (and worse) these days. And thankfully I like listening to the Dodgers on the radio; I’m one generation removed from when listening to baseball was the rule, not the exception. As thrilling as it is to see the web gems on ESPN, I’m perfectly content listening to Vin Scully make the call.

This link is to an easy-to-use calculator to find out exactly how much money you’ll save by cancelling your cable TV service and replacing it with Netflix or other services. With so many streaming options available, there’s been no better time to do so.

Day 7: Zombie-fied


The Walking Dead on AMC.

The Walking Dead on AMC.

As far as horror sub-genres go, zombies are probably last on my list, next to lovestruck teenage vampires. I always found zombies to be boring. Gross, yes. Fascinating? Exciting? Cool? No, no, and no. I liked the original Night of the Living Dead, but all of the other classic Romero films did nothing for me.

In fact, my most memorable zombie movie moment had nothing to do with the actual film itself (the remake of Dawn of the Dead). I was living in Santa Barbara at the time and my roommates and I went to see the Sunday matinee showing. About 20 minutes into the movie, a drunk guy walked in and started harassing the people in front of him. Words were exchanged, then fists were flying. The film was stopped, the drunk guy was tossed out, and order was restored. I remember laughing with my roommates and recalling how people freaked out years earlier when Boyz N the Hood opened, thinking gang violence would mar the film’s opening weekend, especially in urban areas. Obviously, those worries turned out to be for naught, since the real troublemakers came out on lazy Sunday afternoons in tourist towns.

It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I became a zombie fan. My wife and I don’t watch much TV, except for the local news and Jeopardy. However, we are notorious Netflix binge-watchers and after Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black (she finished it, while I ended up re-watching The Wire), we finally gave The Walking Dead a shot. We’d heard a lot of good things about the series, but I wondered how each of us would react, given my indifference to the genre and her preference for rom-com and feel-good movies.

The Walking Dead has been excellent. We’re finishing season three soon and we’re both surprised how much we’ve enjoyed it so far. It’s another reminder that we’re living in a golden age of television since another generic zombie film wouldn’t have made me care, but the long format of a television series suits the source material well. Watching these characters evolve from one season to the next, as the story has moved from surviving the apocalypse to rebuilding communities, has been utterly fascinating and engrossing.

Now that I think about it, I’ve probably overstated my indifference to the zombie genre. The Edgar Wright film Shaun of the Dead is something I can always sit through if I find it while flipping through channels. Dead Trigger was a game that I played constantly on my wife’s Nexus 7; the second she finished pinning things on her Pinterest account, I grabbed the tablet and started blast thousands of zombies.

So, upon further review, I’m bumping up the zombie genre in my rankings of horror sub-genres. And I’ll be watching every episode of The Walking Dead from the comfort of my bedroom: it’s much safer than a Sunday matinee in Santa Barbara.