Last I Heard


Michael Rappaport finally figures out that Mira Sorvino is Paul's daughter.

Michael Rappaport finally figures out that Mira Sorvino is Paul’s daughter.

(2013) Dramedy (Cine Relevante) Paul Sorvino, Michael Rappaport, Renee Props, Andrea Kelly, Lev Gorn, Steven Bauer, Chazz Palminteri, Paul Ben-Victor, Hassan Johnson, Johnny Williams, Andrea Navedo, Roberta Wallach, D. Kevin Kelly, William de Paolo, Michael Sorvino, Logan Crifasi-Zenie, John Damroth, Andrea Verdura, Mario Ruffo, Olivia Panepinto. Directed by David Rodriguez

Florida Film Festival 2014

There’s no doubt that the Mafia isn’t what it used to be. Once the most powerful criminal organization on earth, it has become a shadow of itself, most of its most feared figures in jail, dead or worse, grown old.

Joseph “Mr. Joe” Scoleri (Sorvino) is in that lamented latter category. Released after a 20 year stint in the pen, he has a bum ticker, no money and is forbidden contact with anyone involved with crime – in short, just about everyone he knows. He lives with his daughter Rita (Props) who scarcely knows her dad, given that he essentially spent nearly her entire life in prison.

The world has changed a great deal since Joe went away and not just in the size of cell phones. The neighborhood has changed as well. There was respect there once but now Joe is just another old man tottering along the sidewalk to wherever it is that old men go.

But for his next door neighbor Bobby DiBianco (Rappaport), Joe is still an object of hero worship. Guys like him kept the neighborhood safe enough so a woman could walk untroubled to the corner store for a carton of milk in the middle of the night. Guys like him kept drugs and gangs out. Guys like him took care of guys like Bobby.

Now, Bobby is going to take care of Joe as best he can – run errands for him, take him to the doctor, that kind of thing. That kind of closeness attracts attention – from Dominic Salerno Jr. (Gorn), the last guy standing with any connection to the Mob and who sees Joe as someone who can legitimize him, and from the FBI who wonder if Joe is using Bobby as some kind of front. Bobby explains to them that in THIS neighborhood in Staten Island, people take care of each other. That’s the way it’s always been and as long as he’s around, that’s the way it will always be.

The truth is that Bobby is just a deli owner who’s never gotten into trouble and when Joe asks him to get in touch with one of Joe’s old mob friends, he balks. Joe sees this as disloyalty and a rift is driven between the two of them. Joe’s old school ways also create an issue with his daughter who is as 21st century as they get. Considering how bad Joe’s heart is, his time is running out – can he square things with those he cares about most before his ticker stops ticking?

Most mob pictures fall into two categories – the heavy dramas a la Scorsese and Coppola, and the lighter comedies like Analyze That and Mickey Blue Eyes.  This one falls somewhere in between. Director Rodriguez has described it as a “post-Mafia picture” – which can be interpreted as what happens when one retires from the Mafia or what happens after the Mafia becomes less relevant. Both apply here.

There are some issues here. The dialogue is really repetitive and points are hammered home over and over again until you want to go medieval on the screenwriters and scream as you beat them into a bloody mess “We get it, we get it!!!!” Just a cursory editing of the script might have lopped a good 20-30 minutes off the running time. That’s time that could have been used in further developing the Rita character who could have used a little more screen time.

Sorvino though gives a powerful enough performance that at least in my case I was willing to overlook the script flaws. Rodriguez wisely allows Sorvino’s craggy features to tell much of the unsaid story and the character’s confusion and frustration come through loud and clear without him having to yell – although he occasionally does that too.

Rappaport excels at playing the nice guy next door so this is right in his wheelhouse. Rappaport’s genuine likability plays off nicely of Sorvino’s curmudgeon. Many of the best scenes in the movie involve the interaction between the two.

The way the movie ends is not entirely unexpected given what comes before, but what comes before is largely fresh and new. This is a viewpoint we haven’ t seen previously; the closest that we’ve come is The Sopranos. While this isn’t the slam dunk it might have been had the writing been a little more precise, it still is worth checking out just for the premise and Sorvino alone.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances and chemistry from Sorvino and Rappaport. Different take on the Mafiosi than we normally see in the movies.

REASONS TO STAY: Often repetitive. Dialogue is stilted. The ending is kind of predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language and some disturbing violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although both are veterans of many Mafia-themed films, this marks the first on-screen appearance together for Sorvino and Palminteri.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Analyze This

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Jolene


Jolene

Jessica Chastain looks pretty in too much make-up said no-one ever.

(2008) Drama (EntertainmentOne) Jessica Chastain, Frances Farmer, Dermot Mulroney, Zeb Newman, Chazz Palminteri, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell, Michael Vartan, Shannon Whirry, Drea Pruseau, Rupert Friend, Sherry Leigh, Amy Landers. Directed by Dan Ireland

 

Most people are fully aware of the Biblical story of Job. You remember, the guy who had all sorts of things thrown at him on a bet between God and the Devil. They wanted to see how long he’d remain faithful to the Lord and Good Old Job stayed faithful despite losing everything. Good Job, Job.

The truth is that when real people are beset by numerous catastrophes of Biblical proportions, they tend to grow cynical and bitter. They lose faith in everything and everyone. They become hardened and often their outlook makes them difficult to be around. Of course there are exceptions.

Jolene (Chastain) is an orphan who gets married far too young to Mickey (Newman) who means well but is weak. The young couple move in with Mickey’s Uncle Phil (Mulroney) who takes a liking to Jolene and she to him. The two take to fornicatin’ and are sadly discovered by Aunt Kay (Russell) who as a conservative Christian woman doesn’t cotton much to infidelity and throws the young girl out on her ear, which eventually leads to tragedy. The vengeful Kay sees to it that Jolene ends up in juvenile detention where a counselor named Cindy (Farmer) who happens to be a lesbian, also succumbs to Jolene’s charms and helps her escape.

Jolene makes her way to Arizona where she takes up with a tattoo artist with the unlikely name of Coco Leger (Friend) who is also a drug dealer. To nobody’s surprise that ends up badly so Jolene makes her way to Las Vegas and finds work as an exotic dancer. She catches the eye of Sal (Palminteri), a Vegas businessman who falls head over heels for Jolene and looks to be the one to treat her nicely and with respect. Sadly, Sal’s got problems with the mob. So long, Sal.

Next stop, Tulsa where Jolene hooks up with Brad (Vartan) who is a millionaire. He’s also a religious nutcase and an abuser of women. Can Jolene break out of this pattern of bad choices or is it just a matter of bad luck?

This tale of woe is based on a short story by noted author E.L. Doctorow (who also penned Ragtime and The Book of Daniel among other) which was in turn inspired by Dolly Parton’s song “Jolene.” In all fairness the story is basically a means of explaining how the red-haired seductress of Parton’s song got to be that way but the movie really isn’t into making excuses for Jolene. She is where she is because she makes some hideously bad choices and doesn’t learn from them. Which, also to be honest, is true of most of us.

The movie is notable as being Jessica Chastain’s debut and she is quite frankly the reason to see it at all. Her performance here is electric and mesmerizing; yes you can see that Jolene is a train wreck but Chastain makes her a sympathetic train wreck. She makes Jolene a memorable woman, feisty and artistically talented but simply lacking in sense.

While there are some pretty strong performers here for the most part the performances are surprisingly vapid outside of Chastain. Mulroney and Farmer are usually pretty reliable as is the handsome Michael Vartan; they don’t disgrace themselves but they don’t really distinguish themselves either.

Part of the problem is that the script reads as melodrama. You half expect Snidely Whiplash to come leaping out with a “Nyah ah ah,” fingering his moustache as he prepares to tie poor Jolene to the train tracks. I get that Jolene had a really hard life. I get that as a woman, she suffered terrible exploitation. I also get that she made choices that screwed her over. But does it have to be hammered into the viewer repeatedly? It isn’t a plot point so much as an assault.

This is a movie that sat two years on the shelf before making the festival circuit and another two years before hitting its theatrical release. That usually bodes ill for a movie, even at the independent level. Other than Chastain who is almost in another, better movie (and very clearly carries this one) there isn’t a lot to recommend this film for but certainly if you’re into mesmerizing performances from young actresses, this one fits that bill.

WHY RENT THIS: Chastain’s first movie and she’s amazing in it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overly melodramatic. Perhaps a little too much is thrown Jolene’s way.

FAMILY VALUES: The sexuality here is very rampant with lots of frank discussion, graphic nudity and of course sex scenes. There’s also some bad language and a bit of drug use, not to mention a little violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jolene debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival which director Dan Ireland is co-founder of.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A gag reel is included.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monster

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Lincoln

New Releases for the Week of May 25, 2012


May 25, 2012

MEN IN BLACK III

(Columbia) Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Alice Eve, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nicole Scherzinger, Bill Hader, David Rasche. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

Agent J of the MIB is beginning to get burned out on the constant stream of weirdness and aliens that pass through his jurisdiction. However, just when he thought that there was nothing that could phase him, he comes to work one morning and discovers that his partner Agent K whom he’d worked with just the night before had been dead for 40 years and that this change in history was somehow connected with an alien invasion of Earth. In order to save the planet and his partner, Agent J will have to go back through time and save K from his untimely death – only to discover that things aren’t so different back in the ’60s as he thought.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language)

Chernobyl Diaries

(Warner Brothers) Devin Kelly, Jesse McCartney, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Olivia Taylor Dudley. A group of young American tourists decide to take the ultimate day trip – to Chernobyl and the adjacent city of Pripyat, the town where the nuclear reactor workers lived and abandoned since the day reactor number four went ker-blooey. It all seems like a gas at first but soon it becomes clear that the town isn’t quite deserted – and when they become stranded there overnight, they are in for the vacation from hell. (Opens Thursday)

See the trailer, a promo and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violence, some bloody images and pervasive language)  

First Position

(IFC) Aran Bell, Michaela Deprince, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Rebecca Houseknecht. The young dancers at the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition dream of winning the competition and achieving the valuable scholarships that come with winning. Dreams often come at a high price and this documentary follows a group of kids who hope to catch lightning in a bottle and get one step closer to their ultimate dream.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR  

Mighty Fine

(Adopt) Chazz Palminteri, Andie MacDowell, Jodelle Ferland, Rainey Qualley. After being relocated to New Orleans from Brooklyn, an apparel store owner begins spending wildly on a lifestyle he can’t possibly afford. As his business teeters closer and closer to the edge of disaster, he refuses to accept the reality of the situation and jeopardizes his family’s future.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language) 

The Dukes


The Dukes

The Dukes engage in a competition to see which one can hold his arms at his sides the longest.

(2007) Dramedy (CAVU) Robert Davi, Chazz Palminteri, Peter Bogdanovich, Frank D’Amico, Elya Baskin, Miriam Margolyes, Eloise DeJoria, Melora Hardin, Bruce Weitz, Joseph Campanella, Dominic Scott Kay, Elaine Hendrix, Alphonse Mouzon. Directed by Robert Davi

There are those in this life who seem forever doomed to be runners-up, also-rans and second-raters. It just seems as if no matter how hard they try, they never win the blue ribbon. They’re the sorts who get attendance awards in school, who are snubbed by all the girls except for the ones who can’t get dates, and who seem to have the knack for parlaying what talents they do have into mediocrity and obscurity.

The Dukes define this trait. A doo-wop band from the 60s, they got big just as the trend was on its way out and managed one minor hit to call their own before music passed them by. Still, they labor gamely on, led by their cockroach of a manger Lou (Bogdanovich), playing seedy dives and getting work in awful commercials in which they must dress as fruits and vegetables.

Still, Danny (Davi) is reasonably optimistic, despite a lifetime of letdowns. Then, when his ex-wife Diane (Hardin) gets his son’s teeth fixed by the orthodontist she’s dating, it seems like the last straw. He can’t even provide for his family like a man and little wonder since he and brother George (Palminteri) have resorted to working in their Aunt Vee’s (Margolyes) kitchen, slinging plates of pasta while dreaming of opening their own place.

When they get wind of a fortune in gold being kept in a dentist’s vault, they and fellow Dukes Murph (Baskin) and Armond (D’Amico) decide to pull off a heist, something that will solve all of their money problems. They enlist the aid of a professional (Weitz) to teach them what they need to know to pull off the job. Of course, given the track record of the Dukes they’re going to need a lot more than that.

Davi has made a living playing the heavy in films like Licence to Kill and The Goonies; this might come as a bit of a surprise for those who know him through those roles. Here he plays a somewhat lovable kind-hearted schlub who dreams of better days, but never quite gets there. As a director he doesn’t do anything that gets too far out of his comfort zone. He doesn’t take a lot of chances, but he does his job competently and to be honest that’s all you can ask for out of a first time director.

The always-reliable Palminteri excels as the chubby-chasing George. This isn’t anything too far out of Palminteri’s wheelhouse – he has always done well with quirky – and he reacts with a solid performance. He and Davi have some chemistry together too with that love-hate relationship that characterizes most brothers well-defined.

This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to get you any particular insight nor is it going to stick around your memory far beyond the closing credits. Nonetheless, its nifty entertainment that won’t leave you terribly disappointed either. Sometimes that’s all you really need.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie has a sweet nature at its center.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While sweet, the calories are ultimately empty ones.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief sexuality and a couple of drug references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Davi starred in, directed and wrote the script, which was inspired by a stint working in a 1977 TV movie Contract on Cherry Street with real-life 60s rock star Jay Black of Jay and the Americans.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26,875 on an unreported production budget; the movie was a flop in its theatrical release.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Fast Five

Yonkers Joe


Yonkers Joe

A new kind of Rat Pack.

(Magnolia) Chazz Palminteri, Christine Lahti, Tom Guiry, Michael Lerner, Linus Roache, Michael Rispoli, Roma Maffia, Frank John Hughes. Directed by Robert Celestino

Cheating at games of chance is almost as old as games of chance are themselves. If there’s a way to beat the system, someone will look for it and quite likely find it.

In a digital age of computer software and round-the-clock camera surveillance in casinos, Yonkers Joe (Palminteri) is a bit of a dinosaur. He hustles small-time card games and dice games, hiding cards in his clothes and switching out regular dice for loaded ones. His fast hands have made him a living over the years, but the truth is that he’s a small-time hustler who dreams of the big score but that score is so out of his reach that it might as well be at the top of Mt. Everest.

He and his pals Stanley (Lerner) and Teddy (Roache) hang out together, talking about what small level cons they can pull and reminiscing about the good old days. Joe’s girl Janice (Lahti) is also around, part of the life but moving away from it. She has come to realize that she’ll never be more than a small time cheat, and wants more out of her life, pressed-on nails and gaudy costume jewelry aside.

Into the mix comes Joe’s son Joe Jr. (Guiry), who has Down’s Syndrome and has been institutionalized most of his life. Now word comes that his unruly behavior and the fact he is approaching his 21st birthday means that he will have to leave the facility he’s in before he can be transferred to the adult facility that he’s scheduled to move into. His options are extremely limited, and the one that is least palatable to either him or his father but the only one that is realistically open to them is that Joe Jr. must move in with his dad, who views his progeny as some kind of divine retribution for all the petty acts of criminal behavior he’s engaged in over his lifetime.

When Joe figures out a way to fool the “eye in the sky” surveillance cameras at a Vegas casino to slip loaded dice into a game, he knows he has to try, but with his son’s difficult behavior causing friction between him and Janice, can he pull off the score he was meant to make?

I really wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did, but did not mainly because it’s a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand you have the con movie, which is a somewhat more realistic version of con movies like The Sting and works very nicely. Palminteri is brilliant in a role that is right in his comfort zone; a tough guy whose facade has some hard-to-ignore cracks in it. These are the kind of roles that make you appreciate how good an actor he is.

Unfortunately, you also have the whole subplot of the relationship between him and his son. I’m not trying to knock Guiry, who does as well as can be expected with a role that is basically underwritten, but the scenes involving his character bring the movie to a screeching halt. The two stories seem at odds with each other. While director Celestino has said (at the Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival where this premiered) that the movie is about the character taking responsibility and letting people into his life, the strange thing is that those are the elements that were the least successful.

The scenes where Joe and his gang are working their magic are the best in the movie, and the most fascinating. These “mechanics” as Joe refers to himself as, are a dying breed and being given a glimpse into their world is like seeing something that may soon be gone forever, and you feel a sense of gratitude that at least we got a chance to witness a dying art form.

Kudos have to go to Lahti, an actress who mostly works in television but is amazing no matter what medium she’s in. She plays Janice as worldweary, a woman who has been betrayed by her own dreams but still hopes for better things. A different actress might have highlighted the brassier elements of the character, but Lahti, while embracing that side of Janice, doesn’t dwell on it, making the character seem far more accessible.

Celestino did extensive research into mechanics and casino security, making the movie feel much more authentic. Unfortunately, the Joe Jr. sequences seem forced and manipulative, adding a kind of second rate Rain Man into the mix. I think it would have been a much better movie if they had jettisoned that aspect of the movie and instead focused in on the adult characters; that’s a movie I would have been shouting from the rooftops for all to go see. As it is, this is a flawed but ultimately watchable movie that those who like movies about cons and cheats are going to want to check out.

WHY RENT THIS: Palminteri and Lahti are two of America’s most underrated actors, and they fill their roles with style. The con job material is fascinating.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The relationship between Joe and his son just reeks of forced melodrama; the movie would have been much better without it.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is, as you might expect, pretty colorful. There are also some sexual references as well as an attempted rape which might be unsettling to some.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Palminteri actually learned the moves performed in the film and became adept at it; all of the dice and card moves shown in the film were performed by Palminteri and not a stunt double.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a feature on the technical advisor John “Fast Jack” Farrell, who dubs himself the “Last of the Mohicans,” and another where Celestino demonstrates the dice and card moves used in the film.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Salt