The Last Rites of Joe May


Dennis Farina, the prototypical tough guy.

Dennis Farina, the prototypical tough guy.

(2011) Drama (Tribeca) Dennis Farina, Jamie Anne Altman, Gary Cole, Meredith Droeger, Ian Barford, Matt DeCaro, Mike Barcella, Chelcie Ross, Rich Komenich, Brian Boland, Kyle Gibson, Peter Defaria, Billy Dec, Jack Bronis, Nydia Rodriguez, Phil Ridarelli, Dennis Sepanik, Ernest Perry Jr., Craig Bailey, Hans Fleischmann, Maureen Steindler, Andrzej Krukowski, Marla Seidell. Directed by Joe Maggio

There are people who hang out on the fringes of society, people who never get a break in life but live as if they make their own breaks. They are the kings of their own domain, so wrapped up in their own fantasies of greatness that they never truly realize how pitiful they are. Joe May is a lot like that.

Joe May (Farina) has just checked out of a Chicago hospital after a bout of pneumonia. He takes a city bus to a local bar where the bartender exclaims “I thought you was dead!” in a tone that suggests he doesn’t really care if he was or wasn’t as long as his tab gets paid. After having a few drinks, Joe heads back to his apartment.

Only it’s not his apartment anymore. The landlord, falsely believing Joe had passed away, had rented it out to a single mom named Jenny (Altman) and her daughter Angelina (Droeger). Joe’s not particularly fond of kids but after sleeping out in the cold streets of Chicago on one winter night is enough to convince him he needs a place to crash in a hurry. Jenny, needing help making ends meet, gives him the spare room in exchange for help with the rent. Bad idea.

There’s nothing sexual about their relationship but Joe slowly becomes involved with the lives of Jenny and Angelina, striking an unexpected bond with the little girl who is street tough beyond her years. Joe is getting dregs jobs from his old boss (Cole), schlepping a side of lamb around to restaurants trying to get them to buy the meat at a cut rate price. Yeah, I wouldn’t bite either if I owned a restaurant.

To make matters worse, Jenny’s boyfriend (Barford) is a cop who once in a while likes to give his girlfriend a beating. For an old school man like Joe, this simply cannot stand. With all the burdens finding their way to his shoulders, Joe decides to take one last shot at redemption.

The late Dennis Farina was one of the great tough guys in cinema for the last 30 years. This was one of his finest roles – many have thought it was THE finest performance of his career. I’m one of those; Farina was never really a leading man during his distinguished career, but he showed here that he could carry a movie on his own. Joe May is a bit self-deluded and more than a bit cynical, but he wasn’t a bad guy really. He just has the kind of fashion sensibilities that Popeye Doyle would have admired, and maybe he was stuck in the 70s a little bit. But beneath the swagger, there was a man who was world-weary and maybe the nagging doubts that he was in fact a loser were beginning to ring that doorbell to his psyche a lot more insistently.

Filmed mostly on the West Side of Chicago, this is the less glamorous side of the Windy City. There are no skyscrapers, no great museum and little of the awe-inspiring architecture of the Loop and the downtown area, nor does it have the unique charm of the South Side. This is a working class neighborhood with squat buildings low against the freezing cold. This is a place you survive, not live in.

The script is pretty well-written with believable dialogue and the supporting cast, while not well-known for the most part, does a surprisingly strong job. If the action is a little bit predictable (hey, the title gives the denouement away) it is still intriguing and having Farina at his best certainly elevates what might have been a pedestrian tale of an old villain looking to redeem himself before he dies. His performance is certainly worth its weight in gold here and even if the movie isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, you’ll rarely see it better.

WHY RENT THIS: Farina delivers one of the finest performances of his career. Shot with an uncompromising eye.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult situations, foul language and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Farina was a Chicago cop for 18 years.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: An interview with director Maggio and an outtakes reel.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Information not available.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sling Blade
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Jack of the Red Hearts

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What Happens in Vegas


Ashton Kutcher doesn't quite believe Cameron Diaz got a bigger paycheck than he did.

Ashton Kutcher doesn’t quite believe Cameron Diaz got a bigger paycheck than he did.

(2008) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Treat Williams, Dennis Farina, Jason Sudeikis, Lake Bell, Queen Latifah, Deirdre O’Connell, Michelle Krusiec, Zach Galifianakis, Krysten Ritter, Ricky Garcia, Andrew Daly, Benita Robledo, Dennis Miller, Amanda Setton, Toni Busker, Jessica McKee, Anna Kendrick. Directed by Tom Vaughan

Some slogans are associated with cities pretty much forever. Chicago will always be my kind of town. You will always love New York. And what happens in Vegas…well, you know the rest.

Jack Fuller (Kutcher) has been fired from his job. What hurts the most is that it’s his dad who fired him. Jack is one of those young 20-somethings who is still trying to find himself but doesn’t mind taking his time about it. He’s not boyfriend material by any means. To help him get through his blues, his best friend Hater (Corddry), the most aptly named lawyer in history, decides to take him to Vegas.

Joy McNally (Diaz) is an ambitious floor trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange. She is engaged to Mason (Sudeikis) and has her perfect life already lined up ahead of them. Unfortunately, Mason isn’t quite on board – he dumps her in front of the door to their apartment, not realizing that Joy has invited all of their friends over for a surprise birthday party for him. Awk-ward! Her acerbic best friend Tipper (Bell), who longs to loosen the stick that has been up her tush for some time, decides to help her get over her depression by taking her to Sin City.

As always happens in Vegas – all right it never does but we’ll humor the writers – the two are booked into the same room. Instead of getting another room they decide to share and drown their sorrows in alcohol and baby, there’s plenty of alcohol in Vegas. Jack and Joy get themselves good and sloshed and wake up with rings on their fingers – the wedding kind.

As sobriety sets in the morning after, they make plans to get an annulment and head down to the brunch buffet to show there are no hard feelings. Joy even lends Jack a quarter to put in a slot machine. But when the machine pays out three million dollars, all bets are off.

And so is the annulment. Jack and Joy want it all – the money and the freedom. A fed-up Judge (Miller) tells them that he is freezing the winnings for six months while the couple makes a real effort with a marriage counselor (Latifah) guiding them. Joy moves into Jack’s apartment and of course both of them do the best they can to make the other want to give up the cash and get out. Hilarity technically ensues.

If this sounds like a plot you’ve heard before, you pretty much have. Typical of romantic comedies, it’s “I hate you I hate you no I love you” and there is nothing here that is going to catch any regular moviegoer off-guard. Well, maybe the chemistry between Kutcher and Diaz – two actors who have never really floated my boat much. Diaz can be a gifted comic actress (see There’s Something About Mary and The Mask) and Kutcher is more of a gut actor, but they make sparks pretty nicely together. They are actually better together than they are separately, although lots of critics disagree with me on that one.

It’s actually the second bananas who are the most fun to watch. Corddry has always been an underrated actor who when he gets a great role as in Hot Tub Time Machine can be absolutely scene-stealing. Lake Bell, who I think finally showed how great she can be in this year’s In a World showed glimmers of that talent here in a very different role.

The comedy here is mostly of the physical kind and the jokes are a bit tired and there are more groaners than not. Those who love lowbrow humor will be in hog heaven – there’s plenty of it here. It’s raunchy in places but not overly so, at least not like the Apatow comedies have set the standard for. As romantic comedies go this is pretty middle of the road and makes for decent entertainment for those moments when you want a few laughs but don’t want to put too much effort into the plot.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice chemistry with Kutcher and Diaz. Corddry and Bell nearly steal the show.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there done that premise. Too much lowbrow comedy.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s plenty of sexual innuendo and crude remarks, some foul language and a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The party trick performed by Joy was the same one that Cameron Diaz also performed in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a faux commercial for Corddry’s law firm. The Extended Jackpot edition includes an unrated version of the film that is (get this) two minutes longer than the original. Not. Worth. It.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $219.4M on a $35M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Green Card

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: So I Married an Ax Murderer