Tag Archives: stephen graham

Martin Scorsese’s I Heard You Paint Houses aka The Irishman

Remember when VHS was a thing and epic films like Titanic, Lord Of The Rings and Doctor Zhivago took up two tapes, twice the shelf space and therefore further branded their larger than life perch in cinema by doing so? Well, Martin Scorsese’s I heard You Paint Houses aka The Irishman would have likely taken up three tapes and thrice the shelf space, and will surely go on to leave a similar mark as aforementioned films. We will of course never see a VHS let alone a DVD as it’s a Netflix original film but none of that diminishes the monolithic power of this brilliant, vast and mesmerizing piece of work. It’s not just a mob epic, historical treatise, characters study or interpersonal drama, although it is all those things in top form. Scorsese is 77 years old, his actors in similar range. They are all on the far side of the hill in terms of their careers and with that comes a certain rumination on everything, a parting of the clouds, quietening of thought and deep introspection on one’s own life, and what it all means at the end. It’s a powerful yet fiercely inward look at a man throughout most of his life and then, seemingly snuck up on him as I imagine it does to us all, nearing its end.

Robert DeNiro is stoic, guarded Frank Sheeran, a man who learned loyalty and brutality in the military and has brought it home with him to implement in a fearsome career as a mafia hitman, union boss and confidante to Al Pacino’s gregarious Jimmy Hoffa, a man synonymous with American history. Joe Pesci is Russell Bufalino, the entrepreneurial crime boss who takes Frank under his wing and eventually forges a lifelong yet often stormy friendship with him that is eventually upended by Hoffa. The tapestry of American lore and incident flows fluidly with Scorsese’s talent for music, montage, beautiful sound design and always reliable editing from the great Thelma Schoonmaker. De Niro plays Frank as a guy whose loyalty goes seemingly beyond his own understanding sometimes and when he reaches that final bend in the road and observes the choices behind him and what little light he has before him, is somehow bewildered how it all went down, like he was on autopilot or didn’t see the big hits coming. Pacino is a fucking tornado of scene stealing gusto as Hoffa, the only actor here to really let it rip and shoot for the moon. Pesci disarms is by being quiet, calm, observant and showing none of the piss n’ vinegar, coked up squirrel mannerisms he is infamous for, it’s a brilliantly counterintuitive piece of work and it was so worth the wait for him to come out of retirement. Harvey Keitel is superb in a cameo as crime boss Angelo Bruno and the supporting cast is densely seasoned with excellent performances from Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Katherine Narducci, Dominick Lombardozzi, Paul Herman, Paul Ben Victor and more. Anna Paquin gives a brief but devastating turn as Frank’s daughter Peggy, his anchor point and one of the key ways we see his actions affect his environment over time.

I won’t pretend to be a Scorsese completist as I’ve still not seen some of his best regarded films and tend to gravitate towards the ones that hardcore fans place lower in his canon, but this has to be one of the finest by anyone’s count. It feels like a goodbye, even if all involved go on to make some work here and there before the end, this is the last ‘getting the gang back together’ picture for them, and they make the most out of it. DeNiro’s Frank candidly and occasionally wistfully recalls the story from a humdrum retirement home common room, speaking pretty much directly to the audience. Scorsese too, although always unseen behind the camera, speaks out to his audience and gifts us this beautifully crafted package with all the tricks, talent, passion and devotion to filmmaking he has in store. This can almost be seen as a companion piece of sorts to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood; both are late career magnum opuses heavily stocked with a rogues gallery of their friends and cinematic family, both are sprawling epics that take place in our world but speculate heavily and rearrange history to bring a vivid, enthralling and important story to life. Whether or not you believe that what went down here with Hoffa, Sheeran et al is true or not is irrelevant to this film. It’s a story set in an America of yore and one that isn’t necessarily always about the apparent events on display, but what they will lead to and how they will be looked back upon by these characters decades later. A masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Amy Canaan Mann’s Texas Killing Fields

Whenever people say there isn’t enough gritty, messed up modern neo-noir (which there’s some truth to, but that’s another article) I like to dig up ones like Texas Killing Fields, an unforgivably overlooked crime drama from some years back that went by mostly unnoticed. Directed by Amy Canaan Mann, who is none other than Michael Mann’s daughter, and starring a talent trio of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sam Worthington and Chloe Grace Moretz, it’s a dark-boned, nihilistic murder mystery set in the deepest south and populated by the kind of folks you’d actively avoid entire sections of the barroom to get away from. There’s a killer loose in the low income doldrums of Texas, as if they didn’t have it bad enough in life, and two scarily mismatched cops are on the case. Intrepid idealist Morgan sees the light in darkest corners, while faithless misanthrope Worthington adopts a hopeless, devil may cry attitude. Caught between them is a wayward teen girl (Moretz), a homeless sitting duck who wanders the byways, a prime target and unfortunate default bait for this monster to come skulking out of the shadows. This is a downbeat, chilling flick with scant rays of humanity here and there, but bleakness takes over the screen like the portentous clouds in the storm-swept skies of the rural Americas, bringing danger and decay in their wake. The suspect list is a mile long because of how many wicked character actors there are in the supporting cast, but the culprit is oddly obvious from the get go. This isn’t to say the narrative is weak or they failed at a whodunit, as one can scarcely say that was there intention at all. It’s less of a whodunit and more of a ‘dunit’, as every character has some evil to hide or stain on their soul, and when the killer is revealed, they’re just another in a long line of wayward beings out there. Sheryl ‘Laura Palmer’ Lee is great as Moretz’s destitute, promiscuous mother, Jason Clarke roars in for a terrifying cameo as a violent pimp with an otherworldly blond dye job, Stephen Graham is dangerously quiet as a psychopathic local yokel, Annabeth Gosh has a brief role and Jessica Chastain gives an early star-making turn as an out of state cop who reluctantly aids Jeffrey and Sam. Dread is the word that seems to be on both Mann and her cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh’s mind, as every shot is composed primarily of darkness, shadows and claustrophobic grain, giving the fields and flatlands of Texas a hellish, oppressive lacquer. Darkness is explored both literally and thematically, and more fervently than most mainstream films care to get, which may be one reason the film wasn’t well received at all, or at least by most. It knowingly plunges headlong into the eye of the hurricane surrounding the hopeless heart of humanity, without much light on the other side or any to guide it, but there’s a bravery in that that I respect. One of the best crime dramas in recent history, a film that should be brought up more in discussion and a treatise on how to make a lasting impression in a genre that sees entries fall through the cracks on the daily. Brilliant, searing stuff.

-Nate Hill

London Boulevard 


Pains me to say this, but London Boulevard is a whole lot of nothing. Like, a disgraceful amount of nothing when you step back and look at the talent involved. I read a review on IMDb saying that “every element of this film is so right, but how did it end up so wrong?”.. Sad to say, I couldn’t agree more. This is one unfocused, meandering, royal catastrophe. Where does the blame lay? Who can say, really.. I don’t want to lay it on the director, even though his only other feature, Mojave, was pretty dismal, but he’ll find his groove. The cast is capable and willing, none of them totally phoning it in. No, I feel like it’s the script, a botch job of a story consisting of scenes mired in a never-ending doldrum where nothing ever really goes anywhere and the characters get caught up in the purgatorial nonsense of it all. Colin Farrell is a tough guy who is hired to act as pseudo-bodyguard to a reclusive, neurotic film star (Keira Knightley), after which all sorts of freak occurrences and oddball Brit-bag characters get in the way. He’s got a wayward sister to protect (Anna Adriel), a volatile partner in petty crime (Ben Chaplin) a nosy DI on his trail (Eddie Marsan) and all these chess pieces converge upon the arrival of London’s most fearsome crime boss (Ray Winstone), who has a bag of bones to pick with Farrell for a number of different and equally muddled reasons. Winstone tries to pull him back into the game with vague homoerotic intimidation, Knightley wistfully wallows in depression with her druggie friend (David Thewlis, looking like he forgot to read the script) and hides from paparazzos, the story clumps along missing every beat and wasting a decent score as well as some stylish flourishes on events that no one seems to care about, least of all the audience. Perhaps that’s why Farrell scowls his way through the whole thing, and not in a smouldering, potent way either, more like a confused, begrudging participant in a pointless exercise. They really should have gotten their shit together a little more with a cast and budget like this, found a better script and given us something worth seeing. Instead we’re given the cinematic equivalent of a pocket of lint, promising on the outside before we look in, ripe with potential but filled with nothing remotely worthwhile once we look inside. Shame. 

-Nate Hill