Martin Scorsese takes aim at Marvel again at The Irishman press conference

Even with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on board, the legendary director struggled to raise money for his latest film -- until he made a trade-off with Netflix.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Martin Scorsese has taken aim at Marvel movies again. Discussing the trade-offs he had to make in order to raise the money for his latest film The Irishman, the legendary director doubled down on his recent remarks about Marvel blockbusters. "Theaters have become amusement parks," he said. "It's not cinema, it's something else."

Scorsese also called on movie theater owners to "step up" and show films like The Irishman rather than filling screens with Marvel-style blockbusters.

The director joined The Irishman's stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino for a press conference at the London Film Festival on Sunday. The movie is currently doing the rounds of film festivals, but you'll get a chance to see it in selected theaters starting Nov. 1. It will then stream on Netflix with a release date of 27 November.


Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Al Pacino get together to celebrate The Irishman.

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In the new film, De Niro plays the Irishman of the title, real-life gangster Frank Sheeran. Sheeran claimed to have been involved in the mysterious disappearance of labor kingpin Jimmy Hoffa, played in the film by Pacino. The project began over 10 years ago when De Niro read the book I Heard You Paint Houses as research for a different movie about a hitman, and was so impressed he suggested it to Scorsese as a potential project. It took a long time to line up the schedules of the heavyweight cast, but even with such huge names involved Scorsese says there was "no real enthusiasm" from potential financial backers.

The biggest issue was the cost of the film's extensive visual effects. De Niro, aged 76, and Pacino, 79, play the characters at different times in their lives thanks to the magic of digital de-aging: computer-generated imagery smooths away wrinkles to show the characters at key moments from World War II to the 1990s. Pacino played down the significance of the effects, however: He saw the film before the visual effects had been added, and was swept along by the acting, costumes and the story. Scorsese, meanwhile, says CGI is simply an extension of makeup.

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Martin Scorsese directs Robert De Niro in The Irishman.

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Fortunately Netflix stumped up the cash, while giving Scorsese and his team a free hand to take creative chances -- including those innovative effects and a bum-numbing three and a half hour runtime.

Scorsese describes streaming as an even bigger revolution than the coming of sound, and says it's "extraordinarily good for narrative films" -- even if it opens up the question of what cinema actually is. "One thing that should always be protected is a communal experience," he noted, "and I believe that's best in a theater."

"But we have a problem," Scorsese continued. "You have to make the picture." He acknowledges that the limited theatrical run for The Irishman is the trade-off he had to make in order to raise the money for the film.

Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel round out the lineup of elder statesman from previous Scorsese movies, making this something of a valedictory lap for the 76-year-old director and his stable of stars. Fittingly, the slow-moving and reflective film is much less flashy than Scorsese's previous mob movies. "To replicate what we'd done in the beginning of our careers wouldn't be enriching," explained Scorsese.

Also appearing in the star-studded flick are Anna PaquinBobby CannavaleJack Huston, Jesse PlemonsRay Romano and Stephen Graham.

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