Just four years ago, director Ridley Scott deconstructed the Getty family’s wealth of dysfunction in the masterful All the Money in the World.House of Gucci shows he’s still got money on his mind, and his mind on the rot that can take root in such mind-altering luxury.
Based on the true events detailed in Sara Gay Forden’s bestseller, the film dissects the complete unraveling of the Gucci family dynasty, a fuse seemingly lit by the unlikely relationship between Muarizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and commoner Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga).
Though the Gucci name gets Patrizia’s attention at their first introduction, Muarizio didn’t seen to have much interest in the empire shared equally by his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and uncle Aldo (Al Pacino). But once he puts a ring on it, the mix of Patrizia’s ambition and Aldo’s invitations finally bring Maurizio into the family business.
Aldo’s own son Paulo (Jared Leto in some nifty makeup) is the Fredo in this clan, and it isn’t long before Paulo is trying to form his own back door alliance with Rodolfo, and Patrizia is Lady Macbeth-ing it everywhere from Italy to New York (complete with bewitching help from Salma Hayek as psychic Pina Auriemma).
You may have noticed that this is a pretty impressive cast. True, and even with their wheel-of-accents there’s little doubt that watching them all try to out-Italian each other in this trashy mash of The Godfather, I, Tonya, Shakespeare and The Real Housewives of Milan is the film’s biggest pleasure. But Scott and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna can never establish a consistently compelling tone (overly random soundtrack choices don’t help, either), and the two and a half hour run time takes on curious contrasts. Even as the overall narrative has moments that drag, Maurizio’s transformation to the dark side still feels too rushed and convenient.
But Gaga proves worthy of another Oscar nom, and though the film never reaches the level of crackling relevance Scott mined in his look at the Gettys, she proves a fascinating window for the legendary director’s latest foray into an iconic family’s arc of greed, suspicion, betrayal and worse.
And if your Thanksgiving ends up going completely off the rails, House of Gucci is a star-powered and entertaining way to feel a whole lot better about your own family.
A film about Mildred Gillars—better known as Axis Sally, American
broadcaster based in Berlin during WWII—could be interesting. Gillars was an
Ohioan and thwarted entertainer who found herself in Berlin just before the war.
She threw her talents to Goebbels’s propaganda efforts and became one of the
most popular radio announcers in the world, even in the U.S.
She was eventually tried for treason. But was it treason if
she was no longer an American citizen? Was it treason if she was simply a voice
talent, not the writer of the content? And even if she stood behind what she
had to say, wasn’t that just free speech?
So much to dig into! And the director is Michael Polish,
whose career is littered with underseen treasures like Twin Falls, Idaho,
Northfork, and For Lovers Only.
Those gems were penned by Polish’s brother Mark. American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally was not. Michael co-wrote this script with first-time screenwriter Darryl Hicks, as well as Vance Owen, co-author of the book on which the film is based.
They do not possess Mark Polish’s poetic gifts.
They do have Al Pacino, though. As defense attorney James
Laughlin, Pacino is Pacino—disheveled, fun, scrappy. He gets to deliver one of
those passionate closing arguments you find only in movies. And he mines this dog
meat of a script for a character.
Every moment he is off-screen is unendurable.
Meadow Williams takes the approach opposite Pacino’s, delivering an entirely superficial turn as Gillars. Part of this performance could pass for stoicism, but in flashback sequences of levity, she is painful. During her emotional breakthroughs, you may need to look away.
So, she fits right in. Aside from Pacino, the cast is
uniformly awful. Some are worse than others. Thomas Kretschmann and Carsten
Norgaard do not embarrass themselves as Goebbels and Gillars’s beau Max,
respectively. As Laughlin’s in-court right-hand man Billy Owen, Swen Temmel
Pacino’s in his eighties and still makes about three films a year. Before this, it was The Irishman and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Two out of three ain’t bad.
It’s the hap-happiest time of the year! Oh, our favorite thing about Oscar nominations is the excuse it gives us to dredge up those old horror flicks lingering in every good and bad actor’s past. This year’s crop was especially ripe, too. Here are the handful that made the final cut.
5. Al Pacino & Charlize Theron: The Devil’s Advocate
A guilty pleasure, this one. Theron’s screen debut just two
years earlier came from an uncredited role in the clearly inferior Children
of the Corn 3, but she has no lines in that and how do we pass up a two for
one like this movie?
Al Pacino plays to type as Satan, disguised as NY lawyer
John Milton who invites unbeaten Florida lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) to
join the firm (after Lomax knowingly gets a child molester acquitted). Lomax
and his saucy wife Mary Ann (Theron) head north, but Milton keeps Kevin working
late and Mary Ann becomes isolated and then paranoid and then possessed.
Theron’s performance is solid throughout and Pacino’s a lot
of fun chewing scenes and spitting them out. Reeves is Reeves. But this is such
a ludicrous, over-the-top morality play—one that Theron plays for drama and Pacino
plays for camp—that Reeves’s goofball in the middle feels somehow right.
4. Tom Hanks: He Knows You’re Alone (1980)
Tommy’s first show biz performance came by way of Armand
Mastroianni’s bride stalker, He Knows You’re Alone.
The first problem with the film is the plot. It is
absolutely impossible to believe that any knife wielding maniac is scarier than
a bride just 24 hours before her wedding. She’d kick his ass then slit his
throat, all the while screaming about seating arrangements.
The bride thing is a weak gimmick to introduce a slasher, so
we watch a shiny knife catch the light just before slicing through some friend
or acquaintance of bride-to-be Amy (Caitlin O’Heaney).
In the film that’s little more than a smattering of ideas
stolen from Wes Craven and John Carpenter, surrounded by basic stock images and
sounds from early 80s slashers, the only thing that stands out is Hanks. In an
essentially useless role, Hanks introduces the idea of comic timing and natural
character behavior. Too bad we have to wait a full hour for his first scene,
and that he only gets one more before his girlfriend’s head finds its way into
the fish tank and he vanishes from the film.
3. Renee Zellweger: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next
Written and directed by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper’s
co-scriptor for the original, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
amounts to one bizarre cabaret of backwoods S&M horror. You’ll think for a
while it’s a regular ol’ slasher, what with the unlikable teens, broken down
car, and bad decision-making. But if you stick it out, you’ll find it tries to
be something different – something almost surreal, kind of madcap. It doesn’t
work, but it counts that they tried, doesn’t it?
A profoundly unconvincing set-up involves Renee Zellweger as
well as several colleagues no longer in the acting profession. They deliver
teen clichés while wandering into a truly weird situation. The four prom-goers
are terrorized by Matthew McConaughey, now leader of Team Leatherface, and his
bizarre band. It’s not necessarily weird in a good way, but weird is rarely
ever entirely bad.
There’s a visit from a limo-driven S& M maestro of some
kind, paranoid delusions of Big Brother control, a more clearly cross-dressing
Leatherface, but absolutely no tension or terror, and shocking little in the way
of horror, either, regardless of Freaky Limo Guy’s line: I want these people to
know the meaning of horror.
(Hint: they should watch the original.)
2. Brad Pitt: Cutting Class (1989)
Someone’s killing off folks at the nameless high school
where Pitt, as Dwight Ingalls, portrays the horny, popular basketball star
repressing rage concerning his overbearing father. Perhaps he’s bottling up
Sexual frustration, no doubt, as he spends every second on
screen trying to get somewhere with girlfriend Paula (Jill Schoelen, frequent
flier on bad 80s Horror Express).
Usually, when you look back on a superstar’s early career
and find low-budget horror, one of two trends emerges. Either the superstar
stands out as clearly the greatest talent in the film, or else they just cut
their teeth on a very small role. Sometimes both. In Pitt’s case, well, at
least he looks like Brad Pitt.
Still, it’s fun to see him try on some tics and
idiosyncrasies he’ll come to rely on in later, better roles. (Like Pitt’s
Oceans character Rusty Ryan, Dwight eats in every scene.)
The freakishly uneven tone, the film’s episodic nature, each
scene’s seeming amnesia concerning other scenes’ actions, and the whiplash of
comedy to psychological thriller to comedy all add up to an exercise in incoherence.
1. Laura Dern: Grizzly II: The Concert (1987)
Here’s the crowning jewel for nearly any Skeletons in the Closet feature. It
features not just a current nominee, but one past winner and ever-the-winner
Charlie Sheen. It’s hard to come by and even harder to watch. The sequel to William
Girdler’s 1796 forest-astrophe Grizzly was filmed in 1983 and never
completed, but sort of, kind of released anyway in 1987. Every death scene ends
just before the death itself, because the bear side of the struggle was never
shot. So, we get a lot of bear’s eye view of the victim, but never a look at
the bear side of the sequence. It’s surreal, almost.
Sandwiched somewhere between the non-death sequences is a never ending
faux-eighties synth pop concert. The concert footage is interminably long, nonsensical
enough to cause an aneurism, and awful enough to make you grateful for the
aneurism. You will lose your will to live. So, why bother? Because this
invisible grizzly puppet kills Charlie Sheen, Oscar nominee Laura Dern, and
George Clooney. (Dern and Clooney are making out at the time, which actually
In 1973, Martin Scorsese gave us Mean Streets, the tale of a fledgeling gangster contemplating the rungs that could lead him to the top of the NYC mafia. The film takes the point of view of the young man looking forward, and it boasts a supernaturally brilliant performance by Robert De Niro, then 30-years-old.
Scorsese’s latest, The Irishman, looks at a gangster’s rise through those same ranks, this time with the eyes of an old man looking back on his life. In another performance that will remind you of his prowess, a 76-year-old De Niro stars.
The 3 ½ hour running time opens patiently enough as Rodrigo
Prieto’s camera winds its way through the halls of a nursing home, establishing
a pattern. We will be meandering likewise through the life and memories of
Frank Sheeran (De Niro), house painter.
“When I was young,” says Sheeran, “I thought house painters
Sheeran’s telling us his tale in much the way the actual Frank
Sheeran told writer Charles Brandt (author of Scorsese’s source material) what
may or may not have been the truth about his history as a mob hitman (it’s not
paint he’s splashing across walls) and his relationship with Jimmy Hoffa (Al
Teamed with acclaimed screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Moneyball, Gangs of New York), Scorsese’s sly delivery suggests that he’s interested in what might have happened to Hoffa, sure, but he’s more intrigued by memory, regret and revisionism in the cold glare of time. The result is sometimes surprisingly funny, with a wistful, lived-in humor that more than suits the film’s greying perspective.
De Niro’s longtime partnership with Scorsese makes it even easier to view Sheeran as an extension of the director himself, taking stock of his legacy in film.
The decades-spanning narrative could have easily made for a riveting Netflix series instead of one three and a half hour feature, but as the first act blends into the second, the film has you. The grip is subtle but it is more than firm, the epic storytelling and nuanced performances combining for an absorbing experience that takes your mind off the clock.
And what a joy to watch three powerhouses in the ring together.
Joe Pesci, playing against type as Russell Bufalino, the quiet mafia boss who mentors Sheeran, is as good as he’s ever been. Pacino fills Hoffa with an electric mix of dangerous bravado, unapologetic corruption and dogged sincerity. And De Niro, like that aging fighter reclaiming his title, gives The Irishman its deep, introspective soul.
And while the trio of legends is commanding the screen, Scorsese uses a small supporting role to remind us he can still speak softly and hit hard.
As Peggy Sheeran, the elder daughter who has watched her father evolve into the man he is, Anna Paquin is piercing, and almost entirely silent. When Peggy finally speaks, she asks her father a direct question that carries the weight of a lifetime behind it, and serves as the perfect conduit to drive the film to its aching conclusion.
Away from the chatter of Scorsese’s views on superhero movies or the proper role of Netflix, The Irishman stands as a testament to cinematic storytelling, and to how much power four old warhorses can still harness.