All posts by Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

Cathy Yan’s BIRDS OF PREY

Margot Robbie is a star. A bona fide star. She’s worked with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and is now an Academy Award-nominated actress. Coming off her best year yet; her first entrance into the new decade is reprising her role of Harley Quinn in BIRDS OF PREY with the wickedly fun subtitle: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN. It is a sort of her standalone follow-up to SUICIDE SQUAD and in actuality, the movie the precursor wanted to be.

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Robbie, who is obviously a lot of fun and owns and commands the film, is supported by a rich cast of Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, and a remarkable turn from Ewan McGregor as perhaps one of the most perverse villains ever. With a runtime of 109 minutes, the film is incredibly paced that is very, very self-aware of what it is, and the genre that it is working within. The film doesn’t even come close to wearing out its welcome; with a narrative that is just bonkers.

Harley Quinn breaks up with the Joker (with a subtle and respective nod to Jared Leto), and then half of Gotham is after her. Along with her struggle to stay alive and work through heartbreak, she inadvertently assembles a team of hard women to take down a mean man, the gloriously flamboyantly gay, Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis the Black Mask.

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McGregor is marvelous in this film. He’s very hammy, with costumes that are gleefully gaudy; yet have an air of class and old money to them, yet completely psychotic with fierce paranoia that spins him into this perverse and sadistic delight. This picture is a perfect showcase of casting, and casting directors, enhancing the film to the heights of being so unique, that it would be hard to imagine other actors in the principal roles. McGregor as the big bad in a DC film, at the pinnacle of Robbie’s star power seems like a cinephile’s dream.

Chris Messina finally gets his moment in the sun as Victor Zsasz who gets turned into McGregor’s foppish boy toy and makes every scene he is in creepier and better. Messina has always put in solid dramatic and comedic work, but in this film, he really gets to cut loose, and have a lot of fun in the role. Rosie Perez is great, doing what she does best in an intentionally stereotypical role, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one mean motor scooter; she’s terrific. And of course, Robbie is the star that perfectly slides back into the Harley Quinn role, and adds more depth and debauchery to her seminal character.

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The film cascades into a girl power film, it’s empowering while bending pretty transgressive with its hard R rating, keeping the film from becoming overly preachy or woke. It pulls off what it is trying to say rather well, with an end result of a film that is very self-aware, dirty, violent, and a lot of fun. Warner Brothers most certainly have turned the beat around regarding their most coveted franchise property with DC films.

JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Bringing the decade to a close were three important films. Two being those made by cinema’s most influential and important auteurs, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, who with their respective films said farewell to their audience, their brand, and to cinema. The third film is by JJ Abrams who effortlessly accomplished the impossible; putting a capstone on a nine picture, decade spanning series that has brought unifying joy to billions around the globe as well as much unnecessary rancor and hostility that nearly imploded the franchise. Star Wars, without a doubt, is the most important film series cinema ever has or will offer.

With the final film in the Skywalker saga, Abrams delivered both nuance and fan service. Catering to the loyal and supportive fanbase for their years of dedication. With THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, he came in hot and heavy with the new components of the franchise that built upon the fertile foundation that the maker George Lucas had birthed. The story of Rey and Ben Solo are just a small cog in the juggernaut machine that is Star Wars.

Abrams took on an impossible task. How could he finish a trilogy that he started? Carrie Fisher had passed, and for the first time, a Star Wars film was made that took gigantic risks that caused much ado about nothing, especially with all the smug snarkiness that transpired after THE LAST JEDI, a film that was a catalyst with those pretending it was either the best or worst Star Wars film. A tribalist mentality formed around it, either you’re for it or against it.

So Abrams brought back Palpatine who is diabolical as ever and that old smoothy Lando, added Richard E. Grant as the Grand Moff Tarkin stand-in we deserve (all three are marvelously perfect) and regrounded the picture and series as a film for the fans made by the fans. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a thrilling spectacle that builds upon the absolute best parts of Rian Johnson’s previous installment, and walks back some of the weaker parts, creating an exhilarating experience that will be wholly embraced by those who love everything Star Wars, and irritate those who prefer the franchise in an ala carte manner.

Fact of the matter is, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is the best of the sequels, merging together both Abrams and Johnson’s vision into a film that brings equal parts laughter and tears, as well as surprises that are so nostalgic, the surrealism will not wear off quickly.

Film Twitter and Rotten Tomatoes be damned; THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a prime example of the stark contrast between film goers and pompous critics who are more concerned with how witty they come off than actually enjoying a movie. What JJ Abrams has accomplished is not just his finest output to date, but his most important.

Long live the Force.

Actor’s Spotlight with Stephanie Kurtzuba

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We are completely honored to bring you our chat with actress Stephanie Kurtzuba. Stef recently stars alongside Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN which is currently streaming on Netflix. Her other credits include THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, ANNIE, and the upcomig film BAD EDUCATION with Hugh Jackman. Her television credits include CHICAGO PD, BLUE BLOODS, THE LEFTOVERS, and THE GOOD WIFE. Stef speaks about her early beginnings in Nebraska to attending NYU, working on stage, and meeting Martin Scorsese and working on one of the best films of the new century, THE IRISHMAN.

I HEARD YOU HAVE A SHIT OPINION…AND DO YOUR OWN ECHO CHAMBER WORK TOO

Now that the masses have been privileged with seeing Martin Scorsese’s cinematic farewell, I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES (THE IRISHMAN), of course, there is going to be an onslaught of hyperbolic praise and unnecessary smiting of the digital de-aging process, old men bodies with younger heads, and how SLOW the picture moves. How this is an amalgam of GOODFELLAS and CASINO and how this is the last stand at Saber River of the gangster genre.

All of that is bullshit.

The film is a farewell from Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Sure, they’ll go on to do more work until they pass, but I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES is it. It is LET IT BE, it is ALL THAT JAZZ, it is all over after this. And while the picture is an excellent companion piece to ONCE UPON A TIME IN…HOLLYWOOD – there is nothing cathartic, endearing, or born-again about the ending of this film. I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES ends on an underplayed note of sorrow, regret, and the denial of all roads leading to not just becoming obsolete but dying alone.

Martin Scorsese, and with all the credit due to Netflix, releases a three and a half-hour film that is underplayed beat by beat. Rolling Stones do not show up, there are not any slow motion kill shots, De Niro is not chain-smoking cigarettes, and Joe Pesci is not popping people’s eyeballs out by putting their head in a vice; the only showy part of the film is Pacino’s hammy turn as James Hoffa, which was well worth the wait of Scorsese and Pacino finally working together.

Mind you, this film comes out at a time where our culture has de-evolved. What was once a terrible addiction of constantly swiping through dating apps or scrolling through newsfeeds has become a habit, and where we not only two-screen life (phone and television) but also three-screen it (phone, laptop/tablet, television); there is no doubt that the meaty runtime is lost upon a large amount of people who get separation anxiety from their electronic devices while watching a very slow and underplayed film where people aren’t jumping from exploding buildings, flying spaceships, or fighting with laser swords while the filmmaker or studio behind the movie is trying to make some half-assed topical statement to stay one step ahead of other films in our woke culture. This very much underscores Scorsese’s very nice comments regarding the state of cinema and the MCU.

Bagging on the digital de-aging is a lazy argument to a shit opinion. If Scorsese did not digitally de-age the actors, he then had two options. One would be to cast younger actors to play a younger De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino or just not make the film. Neither of those options were realistic, so he did what he always does, challenge cinema and viewers simultaneously. While it is a bit jarring at first to see the actors with younger faces, it does become seamless and works perfectly. And while De Niro’s frame is much different now than it was in Goodfellas or Casino, he is also playing a much different character. There is nothing flashy or showy or glamourized by his character. He’s a regular, blue-collar guy. Not some iconic fictional character – he’s real.

If a viewer cannot sit through a three and a half-hour film; they have no business watching it in the first place. It is almost as if this film is a test pilot for what is to come of the future of cinema. Can an audience endure not just the runtime, but something so ominous; watching five cinematic titans saying goodbye with the viewer knowing in ten years we would be remarkably lucky to have at least one of them still living? Is the future of cinema pure escapism that is catered to an audience that needs constant visual stimulation to keep their attention span from wondering if they’ve received a match on their dating app, or what their ex posted on Facebook, or if they missed a deal on Amazon? Or a populous that has been reconditioned with marking off how many white actors are in the film, or how many lines of dialogue the women have within the film, or why there is not a representation of gender-fluid characters in the picture, because that’s how life is, according to clickbait on social media?

What we are witnessing is a deconstruction of our culture that is perpetuated by constant need of affirmation that is perpetuated with self-righteousness from those who either hold the same opinions or the opinions that we think we should have all the while, woke outlets are still making a shit pot full of money because we live in a capitalist society and always will. It is the snake eating its tail.

As someone who somehow accidentally carved out my own place in film journalism and has been paid for my words, and can be lazy when it comes to grammar, focus, and discipline; I am fortunate to have met those I have met, interviewed personal heroes and people who are vapid and shallow; I cannot stress enough the importance of not expressing this enough; opinions can be wrong and oftentimes misguided. And we placate to whatever cult we are apart of that worships some false idol that often ends with a quid pro quo of social media reacts. When you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the source you are critiquing, you are responsible for an echo chamber of bullshit that turns into the song that never ends from the Lambchop PBS show. Be better than that and please stop liking and disliking things the wrong way.

Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese closes a decade, much like he opened the 70s; crafting and birthing a deeply personal film that instantly stands to be marveled at, and is cause for celebration. The names Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel are all what legends are made of and once they are gone, they are instantly irreplaceable and each of them will become an idol of a time in human history where movies became cinema, and each one of them will become an iconic footnote of the lasting impression of art.

There is so much to take away from this picture. Yes, it is a cumulative capstone of a generation of artists who have become the living embodiment of cinema, while also revolutionizing computer generated de-aging to a point where it is not a gimmick, it becomes reality. It pushes past the boundaries of tentpole fatigue and allows these four actors to move fluidly throughout four decades, all the while teaching the viewer about the passage of time where the final destination is death.

The entire film is underplayed and painstakingly low key. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing glides at a steady pace, the performances are all somber as they are sublime, with the exception of Al Pacino who gives a magnetically hammy turn as James R. Hoffa. Robert De Niro’s transformative performance marks a new high as what it is to be stoic, and Joe Pesci gives such an anti-Pesci performance, he will linger with the audience long after the credits roll.

And then there is Harvey Keitel. It has been thirty-one years since Scorsese worked directly with Keitel and fifty-two years since the two first worked together on WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR. Scorsese bestows the David Bowie in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST or Paul Sorvino in GOODFELLAS role to Keitel; the extended cameo that is so powerfully singularly due to casting, his presence hangs throughout the duration of the picture. It is an overly emotional re-teaming of the two strange bedfellows – the former Marine and devout Jew coupled with the anxious and hyper-obsessive artist whose Catholic guilt is worked out over the course of over fifty fruitful years of being the father of modern-day cinema. It is an absolute joy to bear witness as these two cinematic icons work together again in what will forever be Scorsese’s most seminal and grandiose work.

Inside the film, Scorsese sticks with the original title of I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES. And within it, he made his most self-aware picture that subtly references his career through music, atmosphere, location, and casting. He pulls in a cast representative of the many eras of his canon. His HBO era cast of Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, and Dominick Lombardozzi to his gangster-era casting of Paul Herman and Welker White to the new guard of Stephanie Kurtzuba, Bo Dietl and J.C. MacKenzie all play a prominent role of merging Scorsese’s entire career into one three and a half-hour film.

There is a moment in the film where De Niro is gifted a ring by Pesci, where the ring in question is only worn by three people: Keitel, Pesci, and now De Niro; signifying Scorsese’s three boys, and the ones who are most representative of cinema’s most important auteur and solidifying their status as cinematic titans.

Netflix has truly outdone themselves with putting all their support and money behind Scorsese and letting him do whatever he wants. There isn’t another entity in existence that would have let Scorsese do what he did with this picture, and their protection of not allowing a massive theatrical run is absolutely just.

I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, is Scorsese’s most import and cathartic work; and shows the audience about the embracement of death in a way that has never quite been conveyed on film. This is not a gangster film populated with slow-motion kill shots cued up to the Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton; it is a deeply personal picture that is a goodbye from Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel.

Todd Phillips’ JOKER

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Join Frank, Tim, and Nate discuss Todd Phillip’s box office hit, JOKER, which is currently the highest-grossing rated R film of all time. Discussed in length is the film, and its commentary on American culture, Joaquin Phoenix’s transformative performance, Robert De Niro’s sublime turn, and the film’s Oscar chances. We hope you enjoy!

Irvin Kershner’s NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

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Artwork by Jeffrey Marshall

Frank and Tom are joined with special guest Dave Chantry, to discuss the renegade James Bond film, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN featuring Sean Connery’s return as James Bond, 007. This is a very lively discussion about the often forgotten and criticized Bond film, that features a stellar cast, amazing production, and behind the scenes talent that is some of the finest of the series.

For your reference: The Battle of the Bonds