Posts Tagged ‘John Turturro’

God’s Pocket: Devil’s Work—Movie

June 16, 2014

God’s Pocket” is one hodge-podge of a sometimes satisfying film. Directed by actor John Slattery with screenplay by Slattery and Alex Metcalf based on Peter Dexter’s novel, “God’s Pocket” is full of some terrific performances in a movie that not only doesn’t deserve them, but worse still, doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be.

Gods-PocketGod’s Pocket is the name of the poor, hard-drinking, hard-working class Philadelphia neighborhood where the film is set, and covers a few days in the life of its citizens. It’s the type of neighborhood that even if you have lived 30 of your 50 years there, you are still considered an “outsider.” Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is such a man. Mickey engages in the illegal beef trade, plays the ponies with friend and sometime partner, Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) and is a regular at McKenna’s (Peter Gerety) bar. He’s married to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), who has a grown son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), who still lives at home. With journalist Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins) acting as narrator, the film begins with a funeral and then goes back three days before the service.

One particular morning Mickey gives Leon a ride to work—a Philadelphia construction site. Leon is all mouth and not much more. At one point during the work day, he seems to be completely wasted and starts hurling racial epithets at Old Lucy (Arthur French), an elderly black construction worker. When Old Lucy has taken as much abuse as he can handle, he hits Leon over the head and Leon drops dead. Not wanting to get Old Lucy in trouble, the workers all agree to tell the police that Leon fell in an unfortunate “accident.” Jeanie takes the news of Leon’s death badly and doesn’t believe it was an accident. She wants Mickey to use some of his contacts to find out what really happened. Mickey promises that he will, but first he has other, more pressing problems to solve. He and ‘Bird’ owe money to some bad people and are under the gun to come up with the money promptly…or else. To make matters worse, he doesn’t know how he’ll pay for the coffin Jeanie wants for Leon. While Mickey is trying to make quick money, Jeanie also contacts the newspaper about Leon’s accident. The paper assigns local columnist Richard Shelburn to the story. Writing about the city for 20 years, Shelburn is burned out, on an alcoholic downward spiral and, like Mickey, considered an outsider in the God’s Pocket neighborhood. He goes out to interview Jeanie and as soon as he lays eyes on her, is immediately gob smacked. Shelburn begins making overtures, which are not necessarily ignored.

As “God’s Pocket” unfolds, we are introduced to a whole host of characters—and never has that word so appropriately been applied. Chief among them is Joyce Van Patten’s Aunt Sophie. She’s a gun-toting florist and takes guff from no one. Van Patten plays her with both barrels, literally, and is terrific. Peter Gerety is spot-on as the neighborhood owner of a small bar. Then there is Eddie Marsan’s portrayal as funeral director, Smilin’ Jack Moran. He is sheer perfection as a smarmy salesman and businessman.

Christina Hendricks is great as the local beauty who’s gone nowhere and has pretty much given up on life. We wonder if she was really ever in love with Mickey. It’s hard to tell. Jon Turturro’s performance as the laid-back gambler is outstanding and one has the feeling that there might be more to him than meets the eye. Richard Jenkins is absolutely fantastic as the hard-drinking columnist who still has a way with words when he actually cares. Finally there is Philip Seymour Hoffman. In one of his last performances, he is hauntingly terrific. Overweight and downright messy, Hoffman’s portrayal of the unlucky Mickey is riveting.

Despite this outstanding cast and phenomenal acting, “God’s Pocket” never fulfills its potential. Director Slattery has directed some wonderful episodes of “Mad Men,” but he really stumbles with “God’s Pocket.” Sometimes it’s pure “Weekend at Bernie’s”…other times it’s pure melodrama. He never manages to meld the two together and the film suffers greatly because of that.

“God’s Pocket” is playing in limited release and is available On Demand. If you are a fan of terrific acting and still mourn the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, then it is worth checking out.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

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Fading Gigolo: Bright Gem—Movie

May 14, 2014

At first glance, one might mistake John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” for a Woody Allen movie. But once you settle in and watch, you realize that Turturro has his own voice…a kinder, gentler voice that serves him and the movie well. Written and directed by Turturro, “Fading Gigolo” is the story of two NYC friends— Fioravante (Turturro), a florist, and former bookstore owner, Murray (Woody Allen). An off the cuff question by Allen’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), wondering if he knows anyone who would be interested in a ménage à trois…and she’s will to pay…with her and a friend, sets the wheels in motion for the rest of the film.Fading Gigolo

Murray runs the question by Fioravante to see if he might be interested and offers his encouragement for his participation. Murray would take a cut of the fee and both men can use the money, especially Fioravante. He initially has some doubts about pursuing this, most especially when it comes to his looks, telling Murray, “I’m not a beautiful man.” Murray reassures him with the hysterical comeback, “Some guys look better when they’re naked. I figured you’re one.” Deciding to use the name Virgil Howard on this new career path, Fioravante finally agrees. But before the threesome can happen, Dr. Parker decides on a trial run first. Turns out that Fioravante is more than good at his new “job.” The other member of the future ménage, the hilarious sex-bomb, Selima (Sofía Vergara), also requests a sneak preview and she is more than happy with this non-beautiful man.

New career aside, Fioravante’s life is fairly solitary while Murray lives in a boisterous home with Othella (Tonya Pinkins), helping to raise her young sons. When one of them gets lice, Murray takes the children to a woman he knows who handles this kind of problem—a young Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), whose husband was a rabbi in the Hasidic community in which she lives. She’s been a widow for two years and has been guarded from afar by the love-struck neighborhood watchman, Dovi (Liev Schreiber). Murray turns out to be pretty good at his new job, too. He quickly sizes up Avigal’s loneliness as well as her tenseness and mentions that he knows someone who can be of help. Watching Avigal leave the confines of her constrictive neighborhood and Dovi’s reaction to it is one of the film’s small pleasures. When Avigal meets Fioravante, he immediately puts her at ease and you can sense a change taking place within her.

Turturro beautifully captures the NYC ambiance…not the big city with its skyscrapers…but the NYC of its small, bustling communities that exist within it…the vitality which makes the city such an inviting place to live. We are introduced to folk who come it its delis, bookstores and coffee shops. And to say he gets the most from his actors is putting it mildly. Woody Allen rarely acts in anyone elses movies but his own, and truth be told, as an actor, he hasn’t been this likeable in years. He is absolutely terrific as the “helpful” friend. Vanessa Paradis simply glows as Avigal. She’s unconventionally beautiful and the way in which she blossoms from the dowdy, shy woman to someone with a voice is amazing. Sharon Stone is also very good and sympathetic as a woman trying to put some spice in her life. Vergara and Schreiber add zest, fun and depth to the film. Finally there is Turturro himself. He is utterly fabulous. He might not be a “beautiful man,” but over the course of the movie he becomes one.

“Fading Gigolo” is a small movie with a large heart and awesome performances. It’s NYC and entertainment at its best.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Elaine Stritch—Shoot Me: A True Treasure—Documentary

March 17, 2014

Elaine Stritch—what an utterly fascinating, talented force of nature she is. Frankly, I want to be her when I finally grow up. If you love the performing arts and its artists, then the documentary, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” is a must see for an inside, no-holds barred, vanity-free look at this hard-working performer.ela-poster-v2

Director Chiemi Karasawa appears to have been given unfettered access to Stritch, whether it is in rehearsal for “30 Rock,” preparation for one of her one-woman shows, or even a stint in the hospital. It’s a decidedly unglamorous view, but one in which you come away with a greater appreciation and understanding of the woman and what it means to be a “Broadway Baby.”

The documentary opens with one of Stritch’s regular walks on the Manhattan streets and the first of her many quips, “I wish I could f**king drive. Then I’d really be a menace.” Thankfully she doesn’t drive, because not being able to watch her navigate the NYC landscape with her hulk-like stride, dressed in her fur coat, hat, black stockings and shirt, would deprive New Yorkers of quite the sight. How she has managed not to get hit by a car is a mystery and blessing in and of itself, but somehow she hasn’t. It’s wonderful to watch NYC natives and tourists stop her to say “hello” and just chat in general, and you can see that she derives a great deal of pleasure from it as well.

As the documentary notes, Stritch has many film and television credits to her name and certainly has guest-starred in many television shows, even winning Emmys along the way, but she is best known for her work on Broadway…as either part of an ensemble or for her one-woman shows.  “Shoot Me” takes us behind the scenes as she prepares what is probably her last show, “Elaine Stritch: Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time.” Stritch is no Bernadette Peters, but in her own way she is the perfect person to sing his music.  When she sings…belts is more like it… she tells a story and makes the song her own. Poignant and funny, her rendition of “I Feel Pretty” gives new meaning to the song. The only problem…her memory is failing and she’s not always able to remember the lyrics. Watching her work with her longtime musical director, Rob Bowman, melts your heart…he is so patient with her. And when she forgets the words in concert, it matters not. She’s such a performer that she makes it work.

Alec Baldwin, who played her son on “30 Rock,” is one of the film’s producers, and in interviews, their love for one another is evident. When he’s late to rehearsal she starts calling him Joan Crawford. It’s probably only something Stritch could get away with. Among many, there are other conversations with John Turturro, Nathan Lane,  Cherry Jones, Tina Fey and most poignantly, James Gandolfini, to whom the film is dedicated. All simply admire and adore her.

Stritch is a recovering alcoholic. She makes no excuses, saying she just enjoys drinking. Now she has one drink a day and says that if she was on a desert island and could have just one item, it would be a stocked bar. She’s also diabetic and is constantly monitoring herself. The most dramatic part of the documentary is when we see her experience a hypoglycemic attack and watch her being taken to the hospital.

Residing for years in NYC’s Carlyle Hotel, Stritch was 86 when filming the documentary began. At that time she was contemplating a move back to her Detroit hometown where her family resides, and taking life a little easier.  After completion of the film, as her eyesight worsened and her memory continued to fail, she did make the transition.

But somehow it seems wrong to say she’s done with NYC and all that it’s meant to her. As the documentary and Stritch point out, she’s faced debilitating diabetes, alcoholism and dare one say it, old age, and “she’s still here.” Praise the Lord.

4 nuggets out of 4


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