The Depths


Men love to manspliain even to other men.

(2017) Drama (Valor) Patch Darragh, Michael Rispoli, Charlotte Kirk, Michelle Ventimilla, Gia Crovatin, Anthony LoCascio, Hampton Fluker, Suzette Gunn, Michael Sorvino, Jennifer Bassey, Lucas Salvagno, Jesse R. Tendler, Randy DeOrio, Wally Marzano-Lesnevich, Leon Gonzalez, Alexander C. Mulzac, Tom Coughllin, Chuck Obasi, Peter Barkouras, Lisa LoCascio. Directed by Jamison M. LoCascio

 

Sometimes in order to be a successful writer you have to go somewhere you wouldn’t necessarily or even want to. You have to explore places that might be abhorrent to you, think thoughts that are alien to you and become people you don’t want to be. Sometimes, to write a great screenplay you have to plumb the depths.

Ray (Rispoli) and Mickey (Darragh) are best friends and aspiring screenwriters. They have been working two years on a screenplay about a pair of brothers who become killers; one repelled by it, the other becoming addicted to it. It seems like a swell idea and they take their completed masterpiece to a powerful producer but he passes on it, advising the two aspiring Oscar winners to “write what they know.”

Ray takes this to heart, arranging for him and Mickey to go on a call with a homicide detective. Mickey though thinks that scrapping the script and starting from scratch is the way to go. The two men get into a disagreement about the direction they want their script to go. The bad blood is fueled by Mickey becoming friendly with Chloe (Kirk), a prostitute who Ray had been seeing but whose relationship had been falling apart because of Ray’s jealousy and combative personality.

Mickey gets fired from his job at a hardware store because he is consistently late (having to do very much with his inclination to party) and decides to go full bore writing his own version of the script. He also gets addicted to cocaine, which is not a good idea when you’re unemployed. With Ray working on his own script, Mickey has faith in his writing skills and creative ideas (which he has a notebook to jot them down in) and believes his script will be the better of the two…until he finds that his precious notebook has been stolen. Things are bound to get ugly from there.

This was the first full-length feature by writer-director-producer LoCascio who also helmed this year’s Sunset. This outing is dramatically different in tone and construction; it’s nice to know that LoCascio isn’t a one-trick pony. There is almost a noir-ish feel to the film although in many ways it’s more street-gritty, sort of like what noir would be if it had been started forty years later.

Although the main cast aren’t household names, they are solid actors all with some strong resumes behind them. Darragh (Sully, Boardwalk Empire) does a good job as Mickey who starts off as a sweet screw-up and gradually sinks into an abyss of coke-fueled paranoia. Rispoli (Kick-Ass, The Rum Diary) goes from being the heavy to being sympathetic. He’s the most Noo Yawk of the two which fits the grittiness of the film to a “T.” Kirk (Vice, Oceans 8) is not only breathtakingly beautiful but also has the right amount of world-weariness and vulnerability to make the brassy Chloe more than just a stereotype.

The last third, as Mickey sinks further and further into delusional behavior becomes a bit more cliché than the rest of the film which is understandable but still drags the overall rating down a tad. The film also shows its minuscule budget pretty obviously, with only a handful of sets but it must be said that LoCascio manages to do a lot with a little. Nonetheless this is the kind of first feature that any director would be proud to have, and with those two films under his belt I think we can expect a lot more from him in the future.

REASONS TO GO: The film is marked by good performances and a strong story.
REASONS TO STAY: The story loses a little cohesion towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use, disturbing images, violence, partial nudity and sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won Best Narrative Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival in 2017.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nightcrawler
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
 Ready Player One

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The Rum Diary


The Rum Diary

Johnny Depp in a pose sure to get many a woman's heart aflutter.

(2011) Drama (FilmDistrict) Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Marshall Bell, Amaury Nolasco, Bill Smitrovich, Karen Austin, Julian Holloway, Bruno Irizarry, Enzo Cilenti. Directed by Bruce Robinson

Hunter S. Thompson remains an iconic figure; not only in the counterculture but also within journalism and I guess among those who admire American eccentrics. One of his close friends was actor Johnny Depp, who famously portrayed the author in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and helped get this novel, based on Thompson’s experiences in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the early 60s, published.

Now Depp has gotten the movie made. He plays Thompson surrogate Paul Kemp, a boozehound journalist who has seen the bright lights and big city of New York but has been exiled to the San Juan Star, an English language newspaper that is on its last legs, edited by Lotterman (Jenkins), a harried frazzled man who is watching his empire crumble around him.

Kemp hooks up with Sala (Rispoli), a once-competent photographer who has fallen into a booze-induced haze of rum and cockfights while he waits to collect the severance pay that is sure to come when the Star folds. The two wind up sharing a room with the mercurial Moberg (Ribisi), whose brain has been filleted by drug use and alcohol abuse. He’s been fired from the Star but still hangs out around the newspaper, avoiding Lotterman and waiting for his paycheck.

Kemp is approached by Sanderson (Eckhart), a shady businessman who brokers quasi-legal land deals that enrich the pockets of his American friends but not so much the people of Puerto Rico. Sanderson’s girlfriend Chenault (Heard) takes a shine to Kemp but the combination of rum, debauchery and intrigue prove to be a more alluring combination in many ways.

Robinson made his reputation as a director with Withnail and I, an account of an alcoholic from the point of view of his friend. After the best-left-forgotten Jennifer 8 he has been absent from the director’s chair for 20 years. This isn’t, sadly, an auspicious return to the form of the former; thankfully it isn’t a project sunk to the depths of the latter either.

Much of the movie’s high points – and low ones – come from Depp. Nobody can play drunk like Depp can and although Rispoli and Ribisi do their best (and it’s pretty good) it’s Depp’s show without a doubt. Although he’s pushing 50 and is playing a man who has to be about half that age, he still makes Kemp a believable journalistic Quixote, tilting at the windmills of corruption and arrogance with Rispoli an effective Sancho Panza.

The chemistry between Depp and Heard is a little dicey. Heard is a very good actress but she’s playing a gold-digger who, it seems to me, would be more attracted to the size of a wallet rather than to the kindness of a heart. Why Chenault falls for Kemp is a complete mystery and doesn’t seem to fit with the girl’s character and Heard isn’t able to really offer an explanation either.

The movie is paced like a long languorous Caribbean afternoon, passing in a haze of rum, heat and thunderstorms. It doesn’t have the kind of edginess you’d expect with something that Thompson wrote and it might well be best seen after having quaffed a glass of 400 proof rum. No such thing? Oh, I beg to differ my friends…

REASONS TO GO: Nobody does drunk like Depp.

REASONS TO STAY: Kind of stodgy for a Hunter S. Thompson adaptation.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of foul language, enough drinking to drown the Antarctic in rum and a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robinson, who also wrote the screenplay, had been sober for six years before taking on this project. He was hit by a severe case of writer’s block and began drinking, a bottle a day, until the script was completed. He continued to drink during production and quit drinking immediately afterwards.

HOME OR THEATER: While the look of a squalid Puerto Rico is sometimes offset by the gorgeous vistas of beach and jungle, the movie works as well at home as it does in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Dead Girl

Invincible


Invincible

Greg Kinnear and Mark Wahlberg practice the Philadelphia Eagles' secret handshake.

(2006) True Sports Drama (Disney) Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rispoli, Kevin Conway, Michael Nouri, Paige Turco, Kirk Acevedo, Dov Davidoff, Michael Kelly, Nicoye Banks, Stink Fisher, Lola Glaudini. Directed by Ericson Core

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones once said “Never tell me the odds.” Vince Papale not only heard him say it, he lived his life by it.

Papale (Wahlberg) was like many people in South Philadelphia in 1976, fighting for survival. He was holding down two jobs, as a substitute teacher and as a part-time bartender. When the school district cut back on teaching positions, Papale found himself in a bind. His wife Sharon (Glaudini) could handle no more and she left him, writing a vitriolic note that left no uncertainty about how she felt – the man she married was a loser who would never amount to much.

The Philadelphia Eagles NFL team was in similar straits. They’d suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, and not just losing seasons, humiliating seasons. The fandom in Philly, never known for being particularly tolerant of losing teams, was angry. Already in a bad mood because of the economy, strikes and unemployment, the lift they were looking for from their football team just wasn’t there. Owner Leonard Tose (Nouri), looking for a way out of the downward spiral, knew the team needed a change in the head coach position. Rather than hiring a well-known name, he selected a college coach with no previous professional experience – Dick Vermeil (Kinnear) from UCLA.

Vermeil was coming off an inspiring Rose Bowl win over Ohio State. He knew that he would be in the crosshairs to win immediately, but also realized that he didn’t have much in the way of personnel. In order to build more interest in his team, he announced that he was going to hold open tryouts. Keep in mind that open tryouts are virtually unheard of for an NFL team, who normally add players through trades with other teams or through the college draft. 

Papale’s friends, like Pete (Kelly), who had never been the same after his brother was killed in Vietnam, and Tommy (Acevedo) who was on strike at Westinghouse, and his employer at the bar Max (Rispoli) all urged Papale to attend the tryout. Not only was Papale a superfan, he was also dominant in the pickup football games played in a loose league that pitted the employees and customers of various South Philly bars against one another. When Max’s comely cousin Janet (Banks), a hardcore Giants fan, chimes in, he finally gives in despite the misgivings of his father (Conway).

The local media treats the tryouts as a joke and for the most part they are, but Papale, who is big and speedy and also has heart and determination catches Vermeil’s eye. Of all the tryouts, Vince is the only one to be invited to training camp. The guys at the bar are ecstatic and all of South Philly picks up on it. Vince is their hero, living a fans dream.

The other players in the Eagle locker room are not so sanguine. They look at Papale as an upstart, an invader and an affront. They all expect him to be cashiered after a few days as does Vince himself. To everyone’s surprise, he hangs in there. Papale doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit and he gives everything he can, figuring he might as well leave it all on the field. After all, he is 30 years old. When is he going to have another chance to try out for an NFL team?

For Vermeil, the pressure becomes exponentially more intense. As the Eagles lose game after game in the preseason, the press is howling for blood, the fans are right there with them and only his wife (Turco) seems to be in his corner. Still, Vermeil knows what it takes to win whether in college, high school, NFL, pee wees what have you. And although it is getting harder to keep Papale, who is taking quite a beating from the resentful veterans, he just can’t deny the attitude which is precisely what he wants to instill in his team. 

At last, he relents and gives Papale the last spot on the team to play on the special team squad. Although the media spotlight on Papale brings the kind of attention to the team that sells tickets (which makes Tose happy), if Papale doesn’t perform in the games, it is going to be very bad for Vermeil. Their fates are now inextricably linked.

Of course, this is a Disney sports film so you know immediately how the movie is going to end. It is totally formula, but it is a successful formula. Wahlberg is convincing as a big hearted fan full of self-doubt. Director Core has captured the atmosphere of South Philly perfectly. Da Queen’s family is from Philly (although not the south side) and she vouches for the authenticity. It has the feel of a working class neighborhood, where everybody knows each other and they’re all in the same boat together.

The football scenes didn’t ring as true to me, with players leaping like gazelles (although the pop of the hits was captured nicely on the soundtrack) and shimmying and shaking. Frankly, Friday Night Lights caught more of the feeling of being on the field than Invincible did. Still, that can be overlooked, particularly when you throw in the awkward romance that is generated between Janet and Vince, two wounded souls that are gun-shy but drawn to each other like a moth to a flame.

Disney has created itself a new niche in the sports underdog movie, with things like The Rookie and Remember the Titans among others. Invincible doesn’t disgrace itself and in fact hits a lot of notes really nicely, much the same way Miracle did. If you’re looking for a reason to feel good, here’s a movie that will generate the warm fuzzies in just about anyone.

WHY RENT THIS: Successful sports underdog movie hits all the right notes. Wahlberg captures the never-say-die attitude of Papale perfectly. The romance between Wahlberg and Banks works.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ll feel like you’ve seen this movie before.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of foul language and some football violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Both of Papale’s real life children make cameos in the film, during a pick-up football game his daughter Gabriella play the quarterback who throws the ball to her brother Vincent, wearing the makeshift #83 jersey.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a terrific feature on the real Vince Papale, “Becoming Invincible” which nicely imitates the NFL Films documentary style. On the Blu-Ray edition, “Becoming the Vet” shows how the filming took place at Franklin Field, the Eagles’ home field from 1958-1970; the filmmakers used computer graphics to give the stadium the look of Veteran’s Stadium, where the Eagles played at the time the movie was set but was imploded in 2004, shortly before filming began.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $58.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie broke even and possibly made a little money.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Fog (2005)

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