Stevie D


Torrey DeVitto lights up the screen.

Torrey DeVitto lights up the screen.

(2016) Comedy (Candy Factory) Chris Cordone, Torrey DeVitto, Kevin Chapman, John Aprea, Spencer Garrett, Al Sapienza, Hal Linden, Robert Costanzo, Phil Idrissi, Darren Capozzi, Guy Camilleri, Jason E. Kelley, Alma Martinez, Alex Fernandez, Seth Cassell, Shawn Carter Peterson, Eric Edelstein, Bree Condon, Emma Jacobson-Sive, Sarah Schreiber. Directed by Chris Cordone

 

When you’re a parent there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do to protect your kid, no matter how old they are or what they’ve done. It’s just part of the deal. Sometimes you’ll go to great lengths to keep them out of trouble, even pushing the boundaries of ludicrous.

Stevie DiMarco (Cordone) a.k.a. Stevie D. is the scion of construction magnate/mob guy Angelo DiMarco (Aprea). Angelo is well-aware that he was too “soft” on his son who has turned out to be a spoiled self-centered jerk balloon. He has recently latched onto Daria de Laurentis (DeVitto), the comely daughter of his father’s lawyer (Garrett) who is new to L.A. and working at her daddy’s law firm as a lawyer until she gets herself settled. Stevie D. has pestered her to the point that she would prefer the company of cockroaches to his.

Stevie gets into an altercation at a strip club with the son of mob boss Nick Grimaldi (Sapienza) which ends up with a hit being put out on Stevie. Despite Angelo’s attempts to guy Stevie out of his mess, Nick is too furious to listen to reason. Angelo’s right hand man Lenny (Chapman) comes up with the idea of hiring look-alike actor Michael Rose (Cordone again) to be Stevie’s body double. Then, when the actor gets whacked, Stevie could safely return home after a little plastic surgery.

Michael is in a bit of a pickle; his long-time agent (Linden) is retiring and Michael’s career has been stalled for years. A good-paying job is just what he needs. However, Michael’s basic charm and genuine humanity differentiate him from Stevie like chocolate from vanilla and soon the “new” Stevie D is assisting with Angelo’s bid to get an NFL team in Los Angeles and Lenny with a career in acting but also in romancing Daria, whom Michael has fallen in love with. Hit men Big Lou (Idrissi) and Little Dom (Capozzi) keep missing opportunities to fulfill their contract, although to be honest they’re enjoying L.A. so much they aren’t trying too terribly hard.

The concept is as old as The Prince and the Pauper (and probably older still) but I don’t think it’s ever been tried in a mob comedy. Los Angeles isn’t a city exactly known for Mafiosi (although it’s had its share of organized crime over the years) and maybe goombahs in the City of Angels wasn’t exactly the wisest choice but I’d be willing to overlook that although quite frankly this would have been better suited for a New York or Boston setting. That’s just me, though.

The cast is riddled with veteran supporting actors who acquit themselves nicely, particularly Chapman (from TV’s Person of Interest) who has a career ahead of him as a tough guy with a good heart since he does those sorts of roles so well – as he does here. DeVitto who is best known for Chicago Med and Pretty Little Liars is luminous here and has a bright future as a cinematic leading lady.

Cordone is a good-looking guy who may have bitten off a bit more than he can chew; not only is he playing dual roles in the film but he’s also the writer, director and producer of the project. That’s a lot of pressure for one guy and it might account for the sometimes stiff performance that he delivers here, particularly as Stevie. Cordone also would have benefitted from a little editing; at two hours, the movie is at least half an hour too long. It’s a case of too many subplots spoil the soup; there’s just a little too much business proving what a jerk Stevie is and what a nice guy Michael is that could have been trimmed.

There are some pretty funny moments, particularly closer to the end of the film – the banter between the hit men is priceless – but the length of the movie really makes it hard to recommend. This would have fared better as something a little more frothy, a little lighter and a little less cliché when it comes to the romance between Michael and Daria which follows the Rom-Com 101 textbook a little too closely. I’d like to see Cordone as an actor where he has a different director and I’d also like to see him as a director with a different lead actor. I think that both roles would have benefitted from a more objective eye.

REASONS TO GO: The veteran supporting cast does a fine job.
REASONS TO STAY: This is way, way, way, way too long.  Cordone is a bit too stiff in the lead roles.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at the Sedona Film Festival, where it won the Director’s Choice Award.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/11/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dave
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: The Late Bloomer

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The Double (2013)


Jesse Eisenberg can't stand to look.

Jesse Eisenberg can’t stand to look.

(2013) Thriller (Magnolia) Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Cathy Moriarty, Chris O’Dowd, Gemma Chan, Paddy Considine, James Fox, Rade Serbedzija, Yasmin Paige, Craig Roberts, Nathalie Cox, Christopher Morris, Tony Rohr, Susan Blommaert, Phyllis Somerville, J Mascis, Natalia Warner, Joanna Finata. Directed by Richard Ayoade

Florida Film Festival 2014

When we look into the mirror, we generally have a good idea at what we’re looking at. What if the face staring back at us, however, wasn’t necessarily our own?

Simon James (Eisenberg) is a cubicle drone for one of those big conglomerates whose purpose really isn’t necessarily apparent. It is run by a mythic figure known only as the Colonel (Fox) who rarely makes appearances but is deeply appreciated and loved by his workers. Simon’s immediate boss, Mr. Papadopoulos (Shawn) can barely remember Simon’s name. In fact, he can’t.

In fact, nobody can. When Simon comes into work one day on the train, his briefcase carrying his ID and pretty much his entire life gets stuck in the doors of the train and is whisked away. The security guard at the front gate doesn’t recognize Simon and isn’t disposed to letting him in at first. Only Harris (Taylor) seems to have any idea that Simon actually works for.

Worse still, Simon pines away for Hannah (Wasikowska) who works the gigantic room-sized copier machine for the company. Too shy to actually ask her out, she is kind enough to him but again doesn’t seem to know that he is anything other than an occasional nuisance, asking for a single copy of a document when, as Hannah’s co-worker points out, the copy department is meant to make thousands of copies of large documents.

However, even this somewhat desperate life is threatened when a new employee arrives: James Simon is his name and he looks like an exact doppelganger of Simon. James is everything Simon is not – cool, confident, instantly memorable, manipulative and without conscience. A mirror image, if you will; reflecting the same person but in reverse. Simon is the only one who notices that James looks exactly like him.

James begins romancing Melanie (Paige), the boss’s daughter whom Simon had been attempting to train (although she is remarkably uninterested in learning anything). While James attempts to help Simon capture the woman of his dreams, it is James that Hannah falls for. It is also James who gets recognized for Simon’s accomplishment. Simon isn’t just fading into obscurity; his life is being usurped.

This played the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and was my favorite film to come out of it. It is based on a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the conceit of which wasn’t especially new even in Dostoevsky’s day. Still, it works as a modern parable of how our personality is more or less a reflection of how others see it – and when others don’t, we begin to fade into oblivion.

Ayoade, a British comedian who has appeared in such films as The Watch also directed Submarine, much of whose cast appears here in various roles and cameos. Like this film, his directing debut also had the subtext of the disconnect between who we are and who we think we are. Here he adopts a kind of retro-futuristic look that resembles the world of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil set in a kind of postwar Soviet environment with recognizable modern technology in large, boxy and hideously inconvenient to use incarnations; personal computers have tiny screens on large grey shells that take up the entire wall of a cubicle, for example. Everything is grimy and dingy, like nobody has bothered to dust for decades. Even the diner that Simon patronizes looks distinctly unappealing, and you just know that any food served by the frowzy waitress Kiki (Moriarty) is going to be tasteless, bland and will probably give you the runs.

Eisenberg is one of those actors who can be dreadfully annoying with his nervous tics and stammering, the love child between Woody Allen and Hugh Grant, but when given the right kind of role, can hammer it out of the park. He seems to excel when given characters who aren’t entirely likable; the less likable, the better – Michael Cera has much the same issue in his career. This is one of Eisenberg’s best performances to date, one in which he plays both the nebbish and the morally bankrupt hipster. Both are personas that he has done before.

The movie is darkly funny with a weird sense of humor that once in awhile comes at you from oblique angles and causes you to laugh not just because the situation is funny but because you didn’t expect it even for a moment. In fact, you are never quite sure where the movie is going, but are content and even eager to let it get you there. That’s the kind of movie that most stimulates me not only as a critic but as a moviegoer.

This isn’t likely to get a good deal of exposure. It’s certainly not a movie that’s for everyone. It is very bleak in places which you would expect from a film based on something written by a Russian writer. However, that bleakness is offset by the cheerfully warped humor and Eisenberg’s dual performance. Mainstream audiences will probably want to give this a pass but if you love movies as much as I do, it is one that you should put on your must-see list.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderful set design and atmosphere. Eisenberg at his neurotic best.  Weird sense of humor.

REASONS TO STAY: A little twitchy in places. Not for everybody.

FAMILY VALUES:  Enough foul language to garner an “R” rating.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although there are several other films with the same title, this is the first to be based on the Dostoevsky short story that bears its name (the Stanley Kubrick film The Partner is also loosely based on the novella).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/25/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brazil

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Winter in the Blood

Doppelganger


          I still don’t know whether to say I or we. I’m not, strictly speaking, myself. I’m a doppelganger, a copy; I’ve been duplicated on a cellular level by an alien species, something little more than a virus that hides in other life forms, changes them.

            It landed a hundred thousand years ago in the Antarctic ice. It lay there dormant for that entire time until a Norwegian research team found it and allowed it to thaw. They didn’t realize that the thing they’d found was still alive. It began to absorb and evolve, from the station’s dogs to the people. When the station was wiped out by the last remaining human survivor, one of the creatures that had mimicked a dog made its way to an American research station. The alien virus did it’s work there too, absorbing the humans until again only one was left. The station was blown up and the surviving human froze to death.

            The creature remained dormant inside a human named Childs, and when his body was brought home for burial, it burst out and began doing it’s thing. Before long, McMurdo station was completely contaminated and infected persons went to the United Kingdom, Norway, Argentina, the Soviet Union and the United States, among other places.

            The spread was slow but remorseless. I was one of the first Americans to get duplicated. I had been a medical doctor doing a routine exam of one of the McMurdo station evacuees. I put my stethoscope up to his chest and a great gaping maw opened up and tube-like tentacles fastened themselves to me and pulled me inside. I scarcely had a chance to scream before I died.

            You see what nobody tells you about the whole duplication process is that our human memories and personality is retained in the brain. I remember everything about my life; I’m still essentially “me,” only I’m not in control of my body or my mind. I long to scream a warning out to everyone I see but I can’t move my lips to form the words.

            I’ve been responsible for the duplication of dozens of people. My wife was the first. That was the hardest for me. My wife was a beautiful blonde woman, sweet and loving. She greeted me at the door and ran into my arms for a kiss. As our lips met, my face changed. Tentacles flew out of my mouth and imbedded into hers. My eyeballs changed into pincers and flew into her eyes. Her screams and cries were muffled by my kiss. Her blood flowed and I could feel her dying in my arms. I raged and screamed but the alien that I was felt nothing. It continued doing it’s thing until my wife’s tissue was completely absorbed and a duplicate of her created. Together we cleaned up the blood from the tile, saying nothing to each other and threw away her dress and underclothes which had been shredded in the process. Then we waited for the kids to come home.

            I can sometimes get images and impressions from the alien side of my body. I get the sense that this species is very, very old, perhaps dating back to the birth of the universe. It has sent emissary ships to nearly every planet there is, waiting in hibernation for life on each world to evolve sufficiently to find it and revive it.

            After that, it takes over. I’m not exactly sure what it’s/their agenda is. They seem to be something of a hive mind – they are able to function in pieces or as a whole. They aren’t really interested in the natural resources of the planets; there just seems to be some sort of biological imperative to take over every species that they can. They’ve been successful with countless races to date.

            Our human race is going to be one of them. Extinct. A distant memory in an alien hive mind. They have little regard for us. They neither hate nor pity us. Humans are merely fodder for their biological machine, the same as dogs, cats, horses and sheep. Every organic thing on this planet will eventually become part of this thing’s collective.

            There are enclaves of human holdouts still. They think that by keeping all other living things out of their remote camps that they’ll somehow escape notice or detection. They don’t realize that this species has interstellar travel – or one of the races they ingested, I’m not sure exactly. I do know that they absorb the knowledge and technology of every race, no matter how trivial or archaic, into their collective mind. They use then the most brilliant of every race to extrapolate that technology, to develop it to its logical conclusion. In this manner they get our innovation as well as our bodies. The bastards might even think that they were creating a more efficient and productive race. Doing us a favor.

            Of course, they don’t even consider us in the equation. This is just another day at the office for them and we don’t even figure into their plans. We’re a necessary nuisance, like filling out tax forms. We’re a chore to be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

            I weep inside because I know what the fate of our species is. I have seen it in the fate of other species in the viral mind. We will be filed away in their common mind archives, our bodies allowed to run until they break down and fall apart. Then the tissue will be used for spare parts.

            They have no concept of joy or pride. No emotion whatsoever – they just are and they do. Their minds are cold and hard, like frozen steel. They don’t understand love and they don’t want to. They look at us the same way we looked at flies; pests that are meant to be eradicated.

            I don’t see a way out. I can’t even control my own body, let alone figure out a way to stop the process. It’s doubtlessly too far gone by this time to even consider it anyway. Our species is doomed. And there’s nothing I can do but watch it happen. I can’t even scream. But I can weep. Once in awhile, I can force a tear from my eye if I concentrate hard  enough. At least I can do that much.