Film Review: Fingers (dir by James Toback)


Welcome to method actor Hell!

The 1978 film, Fingers, tell the story of Jimmy “Fingers” Angelilli (Harvey Keitel).  Jimmy is a creep who works as a debt collector for his father, a small-time loan shark named Ben (Michael V. Gazzo).  Jimmy is violent and brutal and often wanders around with a disturbingly blank-look on his face but we’re supposed to like him because he’s a talented pianist and he’s got a recital interview coming up at Carnegie Hall.  Jimmy carries a radio with him wherever he goes and he’s obsessed with the song Summertime.  He’s the type who will sit in a crowded restaurant and play the song and then get upset when someone tells him to turn off his radio.  By the end of the movie, I was really hoping that someone would take Jimmy’s radio and smash into a hundred pieces.

Jimmy is in love with Carol (Tisa Farrow, who was a far better actress than her sister Mia and who would later appear in Lucio Fulci’s classic, Zombi 2), who doesn’t really seem to all that into him.  Despite being in love with Carol, Jimmy still hits on every woman that he meets and, because this is a 70s films, he’s constantly getting laid despite being kind of a charmless putz.

Jimmy meets a former boxer named Dreems (Jim Brown).  Carol is apparently one of Dreems’s mistresses.  Jimmy silently watched while Dreems knocks two women’s heads together.  Jimmy stands there with his little radio and a blank expression on his face.  Is anything going on inside of Jimmy’s head?  It’s hard to say.

Eventually, Jimmy finds out that a gangster (Tony Sirico) owes his father money but is refusing to pay.  It all leads to violence.

As a film, Fingers is pretty much full of shit but that shouldn’t come as a surprise because it was the directorial debut of James Toback and there’s no American filmmaker who has been as consistently full of shit as James Toback.  Fingers has all of Toback’s trademarks — gambling, crime, guilt, classical music, and a juvenile view of sexuality that suggests that James Toback’s personal development came to a halt when he was 16 years old.  It’s a pretentious film that really doesn’t add up too much.  Again, you know what you’re getting into when James Toback directs a film.  Don’t forget, this is the same director who made a documentary where he was apparently shocked to discover that no one wanted to finance a politically-charged remake of Last Tango in Paris starring Alec Baldwin and Neve Campbell.

Fingers is a bit of an annoying film and yet it’s not a total loss.  For one thing, if you’re a history nerd like I am, there’s no way that you can’t appreciate the fact that the film was shot on location in some of New York’s grimiest neighborhoods in the 70s.  While I imagine it was more of a happy accident than anything intentional on Toback’s part (because, trust me, I’ve seen Harvard Man), Fingers does do a good job of creating an off-center, dream-like atmosphere where the world constantly seems to be closing in on its lead character.  Jimmy is trying to balance his life as violent mobster with being a sensitive artist and the world around him is saying, “No, don’t count on it, you schmuck.”

As well, Harvey Keitel gives a …. well, I don’t know if I would necessarily say that it’s a good performance.  In fact, it’s a fairly annoying performance and that’s a problem when a film is trying to make you feel sympathy for a character who is pretty unsympathetic.  That said, there’s never a moment in the film where Keitel is boring.  In Fingers, Keitel takes the method to its logical end point and, as a result, you actually get anxious just watching him simply look out of a window or sit in a corner.  Even though Jimmy eyes rarely shows a hint of emotion, his fingers are always moving and, just watching the way that he’s constantly twitching and fidgeting, you get the feeling that Jimmy’s always on the verge of giving out a howl of pain and fury.  It doesn’t really make Jimmy someone who you would want to hang out with.  In fact, I spent the entire movie hoping someone would just totally kick his ass and put him in the hospital for a few weeks.  But it’s still a performance that you simply cannot look away from.  Watching Keitel’s performance, you come to realize that Fingers is essentially a personal invitation to visit a Hell that is exclusively populated by method actors who have gone too far.

Anyway, my feelings about Fingers were mixed.  Can you tell?  It’s an interesting movie.  I’ll probably never watch it again.

Stallone Acts: Cop Land (1997, directed by James Mangold)


Garrison, New Jersey is a middle class suburb that is known as Cop Land.  Under the direction of Lt. Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), several NYPD cops have made their home in Garrison, financing their homes with bribes that they received from mob boss Tony Torillo (Tony Sirico).  The corrupt cops of Garrison, New Jersey live, work, and play together, secure in the knowledge that they can do whatever they want because Donlan has handpicked the sheriff.

Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) always dreamed of being a New York cop but, as the result of diving into icy waters to save a drowning girl, Freddy is now deaf in one ear.  Even though he knows that they are all corrupt, Freddy still idolizes cops like Donlan, especially when Donlan dangles the possibility of pulling a few strings and getting Freddy an NYPD job in front of him.  The overweight and quiet Freddy spends most of his time at the local bar, where he’s the subject of constant ribbing from the “real” cops.  Among the cops, Freddy’s only real friend appears to be disgraced narcotics detective, Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta).

After Donlan’s nephew, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), kills two African-American teenagers and then fakes his own death to escape prosecution, Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) approaches Freddy and asks for his help in investigating the corrupt cops of Garrison.  At first, Freddy refuses but he is soon forced to reconsider.

After he became a star, the idea that Sylvester Stallone was a bad actor because so universally accepted that people forgot that, before he played Rocky and Rambo, Stallone was a busy and respectable character actor.  Though his range may have been limited and Stallone went through a period where he seemed to always pick the worst scripts available, Stallone was never as terrible as the critics often claimed.  In the 90s, when it became clear that both the Rocky and the Rambo films had temporarily run their course, Stallone attempted to reinvent his image.  Demolition Man showed that Stallone could laugh at himself and Cop Land was meant to show that Stallone could act.

For the most part, Stallone succeeded.  Though there are a few scenes where the movie does seem to be trying too hard to remind us that Freddy is not a typical action hero, this is still one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances.  Stallone plays Freddy as a tired and beaten-down man who knows that he’s getting one final chance to prove himself.  It helps that Stallone’s surrounded by some of the best tough guy actors of the 90s.  Freddy’s awkwardness around the “real” cops is mirrored by how strange it initially is to see Stallone acting opposite actors like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta.  Cop Land becomes not only about Freddy proving himself as a cop but Stallone proving himself as an actor.

The film itself is sometimes overstuffed.  Along with the corruption investigation and the search for Murray Babitch, there’s also a subplot about Freddy’s unrequited love for Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) and her husband’s (Peter Berg) affair with Donlan’s wife (Cathy Moriarty).  There’s enough plot here for a Scorsese epic and it’s more than Cop Land‘s 108-minute run time can handle.  Cop Land is at its best when it concentrates on Freddy and his attempt to prove to himself that he’s something more than everyone else believes.  The most effective scenes are the ones where Freddy quietly drinks at the local tavern, listening to Gary shoot his mouth off and stoically dealing with the taunts of the people that he’s supposed to police.  By the time that Freddy finally stands up for himself, both you and he have had enough of everyone talking down to him.  The film’s climax, in which a deafened Freddy battles the corrupt cops of Garrison, is an action classic.

Though the story centers on Stallone, Cop Land has got a huge ensemble cast.  While it’s hard to buy Janeane Garofalo as a rookie deputy, Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick almost steal the film as two very different cops.  Interestingly, many members of the cast would go on to appear on The Sopranos.  Along with Sirico, Sciorra, Patrick, and Garofalo, keep an eye out for Frank Vincent, Arthur Nascarella, Frank Pelligrino, John Ventimiglia, Garry Pastore,  and Edie Falco in small roles.

Cop Land was considered to be a box office disappointment when it was released and Stallone has said that the film’s failure convinced people that he was just an over-the-hill action star and that, for eight years after it was released, he couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls.  At the time, Cop Land‘s mixed critical and box office reception was due to the high expectations for both the film and Stallone’s performance.  In hindsight, it’s clear that Cop Land was a flawed but worthy film and that Stallone’s performance remains one of his best.

 

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Jersey Shore Shark Attack (dir. by John Shepphird)


On Friday night, I saw Moonrise KingdomAs our own Leon the Duke explained in his own review on this very site, Moonrise Kingdom is a thought-provoking, relentlessly quirky little film from Wes Anderson.  It’s a film that makes you think and, as a result, come Saturday, I was in the mood to watch something that required absolutely no thought at all.  Luckily, SyFy was willing to help me out by showing an original film called Jersey Shore Shark Attack.

Why Was I Watching It?

I’d been meaning to watch a SyFy film for a while, mostly because my friend Kelly Thul always provides the most interesting twitter commentary on them.  When I saw that something called Jersey Shore Shark Attack was apparently playing on the channel, there was no way I couldn’t watch it.  After all, my BFF Evelyn refers to me as L-Wowww.  I used to call her Evooki but, after seeing Jersey Shore Shark Attack, her new name is Nooki.

What’s It About?

It’s holiday weekend on the Jersey Shore.  Preppies are uncomfortably mingling with Guidos, Joey Fatone is scheduled to give a concert, and greedy mayor Paul Sorvino is greedily dreaming of the money that will be made.  The only thing could ruin the holiday fun would be if a bunch of sharks suddenly showed up and decided to attack the Jersey shore.

Which is exactly what happens.

Fortunately, when the greedy Mayor refuses to close down the beach, there are a few Guidos who are willing to do the right thing.  The Complication (Jeremy Luc) and his friends Paulie Balzac (Daniel Booko), Donnie (Joey Russo), J-Moni (Alex Mauriello), and BJ (Audi Resendiz) take it upon themselves to battle the sharks.  However, the Complication’s ex, Nooki (Melissa Molinaro), has defiantly gone sailing with a bunch of preppies and now finds herself stranded at sea, surrounded by circling sharks…

What Worked?

A lot of people are probably online right now talking about how “stupid” and how “bad” this movie was but you know what?  I loved it.  This movie was a lot of fun and, like the best film parodies, it was very smart about being stupid.  Let’s put it like this — if you’re criticizing this film for having silly dialogue, terrible special effects, and bad acting, you’re missing the point.

Add to that, the acting isn’t that bad.  The film’s stars do a good job at capturing the “personas” of their Jersey Shore counterparts and I would even go so far as to compare this movie to the classic South Park episode “It’s a Jersey Thing.”

Plus, Tony Sirico’s in it and he gets to go all Robert Shaw and deliver a half-crazed monologue about shark attacks.

Plus, there’s a reporter who says things like, “Stay away from the pier, yo!”

Plus, Joey Fatone’s in it!  And he gets eaten!

What’s not to love?

What Didn’t Work?

It all worked, dammit!

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I’m Italian (well, a fourth-Italian) and I don’t swim either.   (Though I certainly don’t mind getting wet…)

Lessons Learned:

It’s a Jersey thing.

5 Performers Who Deserve A Role In A Tarantino Movie


One of the great things about watching a Quentin Tarantino film is the chance to see B-movie actors and various grindhouse veterans getting a chance to show off just how talented they actually are.  Below are four men and one woman who, in a perfect world, would have a date with Tarantino in the near future.

1) Giovanni Lombardo Radice

Who is he? He’s one of the great Italian exploitation actors.  He played a character named Charles Bukowski in Cannibal Apocalypse.  He was Bob the Pervert in City of th Living Dead.  Remember his little disco dance in House On The Edge of the Park?  And who can forget him snorting cocaine, getting castrated, and shouting “Twatface!” in Cannibal Ferox?  He was also a regular in the movies of Michele Soavi and though he hasn’t been as active in recent years, he can be seen in both Gangs of New York and the Omen remake.

Why Should Tarantino Use Him?  Are you kidding?  Because he rocks that’s why.  Plus, Tarantino has said that he’s a fan and, in a documentary included on the Cannibal Apocalypse DVD, Radice expressed a desire to some day work with Tarantino.  And, with his current bald look, Radice could easily play Mussolini if Tarantino wanted to make a prequel to Inglorious Basterds.

2) Tony Sirico

Who is He? He’s the Italian version of Danny Trejo, a real-life gangster who went to prison and then became an actor. 

Why Should Tarantino Use Him? Because Paulie was my favorite character on The Sopranos.  Sirico deserves at least one starring role in his  post-prison career.

3) Colby Donaldson

Who Is He? Okay, Colby’s kinda been a little bit pathetic on the current season of Survivor but in his two previous appearances on the show, Colby was the man.  In between reality show appearances, Colby has pursued a career as an actor and, surprisingly, he’s not half bad.  His best post-Survivor role, though, was playing himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Why Should Tarantino Use Him? Because someday, Tarantino’s going to have to make an actual western and who would be better to star in it than my fellow Texan, Colby?

4) Fred J. Lincoln

Who is He? Lincoln has spent most of his career working in the porn industry but Lincoln has appeared in a few “mainstream” movies.  Most infamously, he played “Weasel” in the original Last House On The Left.  In the 70s, Lincoln was the owner of Plato’s Retreat, an infamous sex club in NYC.  He’s also one of the central figures in Legs McNeil’s The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry .

Why  Should Tarantino Use Him?  David Hess got the majority of the attention but, of Last House’s trio of killers, Lincoln was the truly scary one.  A cameo in a Tarantino movie would be the perfect way to pay credit to Lincoln’s role in one of the seminal exploitation films in history.

5) Catriona MacColl

Who is She? English actress who appeared in several exploitation films in the late 70s and early 80s.  She is probably best known for starring in Fulci’s Beyond trilogy.  Currently semi-retired from acting and living in France.

Why Should Tarantino Use Her? Because she starred in The Beyond, of course!