Ahead of watching the new Martin Scorsese film The Irishman on Netflix I thought I would see what a young Robert De Niro really looks like in a couple of films I had languishing on my Amazon watchlist. Siggy wants to see The Irishman and so we’re going to watch it as a four part mini-series as suggested by various people on social media. I can stay awake through long films but generally, with the exception of Avengers: Endgame recently, Siggy has a poor track record.

Spoiler alert: I will be mentioning major story points for all the films and this will especially ruin the Tarantino film. So please don’t read this unless you’re actually after spoilers!

The first film I watched was De Niro’s 1993 directorial debut A Bronx Tale. Based mostly in the 1960s, it tells the story of a young Italian American boy who witnesses a fatal gangland shooting, refuses to grass up the mob boss (Chazz Palminteri) involved and is subsequently befriended by him, much to his bus driver father’s chagrin. De Niro plays the worried father and a very well cast (albeit Colombian) Lillo Brancato plays the seventeen year old Calegero aka ‘C’.

The nice thing about the story is that Palminteri’s fatherly character Sonny, is seen to really care about the boy C as he grows up. He warns him away from carrying a gun and from his young friends who he expects will end up getting themselves killed one of these days. He’s right. They do. They burn up in a car after firebombing a record store in a neighbouring black community.

The tension between the Italians and the blacks is a theme throughout the film, and comes to a head in C’s mind when he falls for a black girl at his high school. Palminteri not only stars in the film but also wrote the play his screenplay is based on. I don’t know if the play spends more time on the Romeo and Juliet style relationship but it’s certainly an interesting part of the film. So too is C’s father’s misconception around where Sonny is leading C and his perceived need to try and protect his son from the mob.

Music plays a big part in the film and especially in the opening sequence where a scene-setting montage of neighbourhood life has actions set to the beat of the music. It’s a trick that’s been used on countless movie trailers in recent years (the first one I remember being the trailer for Suicide Squad) but it’s great to see it actually used within the film in much the same way as in Baby Driver.

As a directorial debut it is a really great film and it’s nice to see De Niro playing more of a supporting acting role to Brancato and Palminteri. Joe Pesci, back from retirement for The Irishman, makes an unexpected cameo appearance as the successor to Sonny toward the end of the film, and so I got to see a Nineties Pesci too.

Once Upon a Time in America is legendary director Sergio Leone’s 1984 3 hour 49 minute mob epic which would have been two longer films if he had his way. As it was the studio insisted on a tighter edit for theatrical release. The film bombed and they went back to the longer cut for home release and it was met with better reviews. Despite Leone’s insistence that it is still missing about 45 minutes of essential footage, I think it is a great film and I can see where perhaps Palminteri/De Niro got ideas for scenes in A Bronx Tale.

The film mainly follows the life of Noodles a Jewish gangster (De Niro) who as a young teenager sets up his own crew with friend Max (James Woods). Noodles returns to the Lower East Side of Manhattan over thirty years after his Prohibition activities and grassing up his own crew to the cops, to stop Max embarking on a madcap plan to rob the Federal Reserve Bank. 

Again the opening of the film features a trick with sound. In this case it is the insistent ringing of a telephone which Noodles hears in his head while smoking opium in an illegal Chinese den. Various short scenes play out while the phone rings and then when Noodles finally put his hand on a telephone it isn’t to answer the call but to make it. We then see the phone answered by someone else – as it turns out it is the cops. It’s this traitorous act on which the story pivots since Noodles and Max have been like brothers up to this point.

Joe Pesci again has a small part in the film and I have the impression that a lot of his scenes were unfortunately left on Nino Baragli’s cutting room floor. It’s also Jennifer Connelly’s film debut as Noodle’s teenage crush Deborah. She was 12 when the movie was filmed and I was thankful to see a body double credited in the film since there is a voyeuristic nude scene which had Polanski undertones.

The film is number 72 in IMDB’s 100 Top Rated films and I’m surprised it’s not higher. It has all the hallmarks of Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns including big facial closeups, some humour among the bloody violence, and an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. The woman in the story don’t fair well but I guess that is a reflection of the times portrayed rather than the Eighties. I was also impressed by most of the makeups effects to make the main actors look older, although Elizabeth McGovern’s (Downton Abbey) makeup as an old Deborah is not so great.

Looking for the film above I came across the new Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood and added it to my collection. I’ve been eager to see it, having monumentally failed to see it at the cinema and having recently read a lot about Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate murders. Siggy wants to watch it too, but I watched it last night on my own because I just couldn’t wait. I’m happy to watch it again at the weekend with her. It’s great. One of Tarantino’s best.

The film primarily follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) an alcoholic TV actor at the end of his prime and his stunt double (Brad Pitt). Rick strives for movie success in 1969 Los Angeles and finds some limited success in Spaghetti Westerns thanks to an agent (Al Pacino). Rick lives next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and throughout the film we see short episodes of her life with new husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha, ex-boyfriend played by Emile Hirsch (Speedracer), and various Hollywood faces played by a great cast.

Peppered throughout the film are glimpses of the ‘hippies’ forming Charlie Manson’s ‘family’. It’s not until Pitt’s character Cliff Booth visits their headquarters – an abandoned film set out in the desert – that anything untoward is highlighted. He drops off a hitchhiking girl who offered to give him a blowjob on the way home and insists on checking on the caretaker of the ranch (played by Bruce Dern) to make sure all the squatters have his permission to stay. Among the family are Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn, a sinister Dakota Fanning, and Maya Hawke (Stranger Things). Cliff is lucky to get out alive, although he perhaps doesn’t realise how close he came to getting shot by Tex.

The film follows a linear chronology leading up to August 9th 1969 – the night of the Sharon Tate murders. With around twenty minutes to go of the 2 hour 41 minute runtime I was beginning to worry how Tarantino, notorious for his scenes of bloody violence, was going to handle the murder scenes. Was he going to just end the film with the family members sneaking into the house next door to Rick’s pad? Was he just going to go for it and show Tate and her friends carved up like piggies? Well no, neither.

What he does is just brilliant and I am so glad I had avoided any spoilers for this film. And it’s why I warned you earlier on that this post would ruin the film for you. He uses the same kind of trick as he used ten years ago in Inglourious Basterds. The clue is really in the title – Once upon a time…

Tarantino presents us with an alternate reality in which the Manson crew choose Rick’s house instead of Sharon Tate’s house. I thought something wasn’t right compared with the established story when one of the four goes back to their car and speeds off in it leaving just three family members.

Rick, Cliff and Cliff’s dog are home, along with Rick’s new Italian wife (Lorenza Izzo) in bed trying to recover from jet-lag. Cliff is not to be fucked with (he takes down Bruce Lee earlier in the film and it’s rumoured he killed his wife) and even though he’s smoked an LSD-laced cigarette, with some help from his dog, he takes down Tex and one of the attackers. The second girl fights with Rick’s wife and then runs outside and into the pool where Rick dispatches her with a flamethrower he keeps in his shed. It’s a memento from a war film he was in (which incidentally is very reminiscent of Inglourious Basterds).

It’s pure Hollywood/Tarantino magic and somehow even more satisfying than the finale of Inglourious Basterds despite it using the same trick. Cliff is taken to hospital after the incident while Rick is invited by Sharon Tate through her gate intercom to meet her friends. As well as this fun ending, the great soundtrack and the brilliant attention to the period detail, I thought Pitt and especially DiCaprio’s performances were excellent.

I thought all three films were really great and The Irishman has a hard act to follow…

Image by David Mark from Pixabay