What Netflix Sent Me: Fading Gigalo (2014)

zrtn_038p6a80b242_tnRemember way back when, the Coen Brothers gave us The Big Lebowski?  A film that would long live on in people’s hearts, and would become a cult classic… in that movie, we were treated to many great characters, one of which is someone simply known as “The Jesus” played by the great John Turturro.

Now, this may be the role which people will most remember John Turturro by, but he’s so much more than just “The Jesus”.  Early in his career, he played a hateful pizza shop worker in Spike Lee’s iconic career; Do the Right Thing.

For me, John Turturro has always been an actor I enjoy… not just because of his role in The Big Lebowski, but because he plays parts with such believability, and uniqueness.  He’s not a mainstream actor by any means, but he’s talented nonetheless, and he is unfortunately very underrated.

Fading Gigolo, is a film which Turturro not only starred in, but also directed.  Looking at the IMDb page for John Turturro, you can see that in the past he’s directed a few other films, but nothing really of note.  This film however, seems to have gotten a little bit more press than his previous films.  Perhaps that’s due to the film’s co-star, Woody Allen, who very rarely acts in films by other filmmakers.  (John Turturro played a small part in Allen’s 1986 film, Hannah and her Sisters)

The film follows the story of Fioravante, who has spent most of his life working in a flower shop barley getting by.  His best friend is Murray (Woody Allen) who convinces him to have a “menage” with someone whom Murray knows.  Murray believes that Fiorvante has a mysterious quality about him that women would love, and tells him he should consider being a gigalo.  After realizing how much money he could make, he gives in and starts getting clients interested in his “services”.  Murray fixes Fior up with an orthodox Jewish widow with six children who is struggling to get over the loss of her husband, and yearns to be touched again.  Meanwhile; Dovi, a neighborhood watch leader gets suspicious of the activities that Murray and Fior are up to.

This movie is just another example of how underrated John Turturro is as an actor, the scenes that he shares with Avigal, the orthodox Jewish woman he is falling in love with, are some of the best scenes in the movie.  They have a unique chemistry and relationship, that only end up breaking your heart.

Woody Allen helps to serve as comic relief… you can see the fun that Allen is having in the movie along with some of his pint size co-stars.  When I first saw the trailer for this I figured that it would just be John Turturro making a Woody Allen film, starring Woody Allen. But I would say I couldn’t have been more wrong… or I couldn’t have been more right?  It definitely had the same feel as a Woody Allen film, but I think that Turturro knew how to make it his own as well.  Not to mention, there was nudity… and I can’t think of a single Woody Allen movie with nudity.

Movie Review: Whiplash (2014)

WHIPLASH+onesheetWhere do I start with this one?  Whiplash, stars Miles Teller (Project X, the future Reed Richards) as Andrew, a young music student at a prestigious (yet fictional) conservatory of music. His passion is being the best drummer in the world.  In order to do that, he has to get in the good graces of the school’s best jazz band, lead by a temperamental perfectionist named Fletcher, played by a very bald, and a very muscular J.K. Simmons (the guy from the State Farm commercials; aka Juno’s Dad).

This movie honestly did not turn out like I thought it was going to. Based on the trailer, I understood that the story was about a young student studying the drums at a fine conservatory, and I knew that J.K. Simmons was playing a band director. And yes, in a way, that’s exactly what I got, but I thought Andrew and Fletcher’s relationship was going , more like a mentor and protegé relationship.  I thought Fletcher would take Andrew under his wings, and teach him what it means to be a good drummer…

That couldn’t have been further from the truth… Fletcher is the Gordon Ramsey of band teachers.  He berates, hazes, demeans, and physically assaults these students to make them the best.

This film made me very uncomfortable at times.  Simmons tactics as a teacher and director was very frightening.  I’ve always considered myself passionate about my chosen career path, and I’ve been in situations where mentors turn out to be monsters, so for me personally I could easily put myself in this young man’s shoes. This strategy of scaring the student into being better than they are and practicing more is a wrong-minded approach.  These tactics did lead Andrew and others to do better, but clearly there was a cost.

However, none of that should devalue the film, there were many times my heart was beating out of my chest after the amazing drumming and jazz music that helped tell the story.  The filmmakers did a great job with casting, Miles Teller was great… whether he was beating the hell out of the drums, or trying to ask a girl out, he played the part well.

I’ve always been a fan of J.K. Simmons, he’s a character actor who gets around.  As I said above, he’s probably most well-known as Juno’s dad in the Jason Reitman film; Juno, he was also in the TV show; The Closer, and he also played J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi Spider-man movies. Out of all the things I’ve seen him in, he’s really impressed me the most with this film.  He was nearly unrecognizable with his shaved head, and impressive physique, but most of all he really did deliver an Oscar worthy performance.  He certainly has a good chance to win that Best Supporting Actor Oscar…

Out of all the best picture nominees this year, I wouldn’t say this one would be my favorite, but it gets bonus points for J.K. Simmons.

 

 

Movie Review: Tammy (2014)

tammy1Okay, raise your hand if you saw Melissa McCarthy’s last solo vehicle; Identity Thief?  If you didn’t raise your hand, don’t worry… you didn’t miss anything.  I think I reviewed that movie somewhere on here before, and if I remember correctly I gave it a pretty poor review.  It was a poor movie for such a talented comedic actress.

Well, I am happy to report that McCarthy’s latest starring film; Tammy, was a delight, and much funnier than the film before it.

I realize it’s not all that fair to judge an actors performance on the one before it, but to date Identity Thief and Tammy are her only two starring roles, where she is the center of the film… it is a Melissa McCarthy “vehicle”  (I suppose you could say that The Heat is also a Melissa McCarthy vehicle, but it’s equally a Sandra Bullock vehicle as well).

Not unlike the character she played in Identity Thief, the eponymous character of this film share certain intellectual shortcomings… meaning, they are both dumb, dimwitted, and just all around not smart.  But the big difference here is that Tammy ultimately has heart, and cares for the ones around her.

For those unfamiliar, Tammy; is about a down on her luck fast food employee who loses her job, and discovers her husband is cheating on her, all in the same day.  After finally having had enough, she and her alcoholic grandmother hit the road to find a new life. Tammy’s grandmother; played by the great Susan Sarandon, is the only person who believes in Tammy and will do whatever it takes to help her find a new life, and maybe protect her or lose her in the process.

There’s a long history of “road movies”; where the two main characters hit the road in search of something better, heck one of the greatest road movies of all time; Thelma and Louise, also stars Susan Sarandon.  As with any road movie, the protagonists go on a journey, and on the way they discover not only the world that they never knew existed, but they also discover themselves as well.  And along the way, they have many side journeys that either help to move the story along, or to add some comic relief.

This film is no different, except it brings on a lot more laughs than many road movie predecessors.  In fact, in this movie the laughs keep on coming… and it keeps the film fun and enjoyable, while also adding a lot of heart.

Overall the movie was; much to my surprise, good… in fact it was really good.  It was very well written (co-written by McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone, who also directed the movie) and even though the title character mainly serves as the butt of the jokes, it never once felt like the comedy was over the top or out-of-place.

Sadly because of Identity Thief, and because of the similarity between characters, I almost passed this movie by without giving it a chance.  I was very pleased that I had watched it, and I hope that Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone can come up with many more films that are just as funny and enjoyable as this one.

Also sadly, it seems I’m the only one who feels this way about this movie, as Tammy is on the list of the worst movies of 2014.  As usual, I am contrary to any popular opinions… but that’s why you love me right?