Friday, November 22, 2019

'Irishman,' 'Neighborhood,' another 'Frozen' signal start of holiday season

Pacino portrays Jimmy Hoffa, and De Niro is his sidekick, the titular "Irishman." 
"The Irishman" actually expands from one to five theaters locally this week, so it finally must be time to capsulize the Martin Scorsese corruption epic (along with two other big holiday-centric newbies) before its Wednesday debut on Netflix.

First, it's long. Very long. As a result, it will become the perfect smash fit to stream with snacks and bathroom breaks from the comfort of a living room, even if it deserves to be seen on a big screen.

This story of a war hero-turned union goon has nine-time Scorsese collaborator Robert De Niro in the lead role of Frank Sheeran, with some noticeably special -- and occasionally intrusive -- effects making him look younger or older as the plot dictates. And, speaking of age, Scorsese's likely desire to show such a full life -- regrets and all -- certainly contributes to the movie's heft.

The ever-great Al Pacino, as Jimmy Hoffa, and an effectively subdued Joe Pesci, as the Pennsylvania mob boss who brings the quietly loyal Sheeran and fiery Hoffa together for good, also receive the youthful treatment that takes them and us through an assortment of blood-soaked flashbacks and memorable moments of history.

As always, secondary characters abound, with the likes of Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons and Sebastian Maniscalco co-starring as the most relevant among them. The director's penchant for era-matching music also delivers once again in a movie that remains a must-see, despite its violence and outrageous length.

If you're looking for comparisons to other similarly rugged Scorsese films, let's put it behind "Raging Bull" and the classic "Goodfellas," but ahead of "Casino" and "Mean Streets." That still keeps it in very special company.

Rated "R": pervasive language and strong violence; 3:29: $ $ $ $ (out of $5)

Hanks presents a calming influence as Fred Rogers.
In a significantly more lightweight vein comes "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" from director Merielle Heller. It's the Mister Rogers film that should not be confused with Morgan Neville's 2018, five-star documentary, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Honestly, this new feature pales in comparison.

Regardless, it's still worth a look, with Tom Hanks adequately pulling off the guise and sentiments of the PBS morning show legend who taught millions of youngsters how to cope with life itself.

Here, Rogers puts his kindness skills on warm if initially clunky display when a grouchy magazine writer (Matthew Rhys from FX's award-winning "The Americans") is assigned to do a piece on him.

Unfortunately, Rhys' character has more screen time than Hanks, since the former's Esquire article about Rogers is at the center of the piece. In fact, the surly guy might remind many of last year's superior "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" and the obnoxious author played with some force by Melissa McCarthy.

That one also came from Heller, whose knack for making New York City a central character in her work, shines through more than anything the dull cynic that Rhys portrays has to say. This includes his uncomfortable relationship with an estranged father (Chris Cooper), who probably deserves better, with or without the expert help of good ol' Fred Rogers.

Rated "PG": strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language; 1:48; $ $ $ out of $5 

The entire stable of Arendelle singers returns in the animated "Frozen II.
Finally, a legitimate fact: Nothing proves more satisfying for an alleged movie reviewer than attempting to watch the big screen through the eyes of a child. It happened for years with now-adult kids and carries on with the grandchildren, including two little girls, 8 and 5.

These are smashing, smart, and sassy sisters, mind you, who individually and collectively have viewed the Oscar-winning, sibling-strong "Frozen" as many times as there are high double figures. Naturally, they continue to sing its praises -- literally and figuratively -- to a granddad that calls it the most overrated cartoon of all time.

Enter "Frozen II," just in time for Thanksgiving and another attempt to reason with them about looking beyond the CGI beauty of way-too-skinny sisters Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and, instead, seeking out some plot relevance and meaningful characters who don't burst into song for no apparent reason.

Uh, guess again, Gramps. Walking out of the sequel's screening last week, the 8-year-old told the man in charge of setting it all up that she just had seen "the greatest movie ever." Meanwhile, the somewhat more discerning 5-year-old waited until she got home to agree with big sis. As a result, the rating below is based more on the girls' opinions than those of a grandfather who has decided to just let it go. (At least until the constant singing begins anew!)

Rated "PG": action/peril and some thematic elements: 1:44; $ $ $ out of $5

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