Articles by

<David Goldman>

04/21/14 9:26am

fading gigolo john turturro directing woody allen

There aren’t many actors who can segue from the Coen Brothers to Adam Sandler comedies, but John Turturro’s one of them. His latest, Fading Gigolo, which he wrote and directed, is about two friends who find themselves in the world’s oldest profession. The eclectic cast includes Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Liev Schrieber. We spoke with Turturro about the film in New York.

Fading Gigolo has an unusual premise, in which Woody Allen plays your pimp; how did it come about?
I thought it would be interesting to do something with Woody; we could have good chemistry and be an interesting duo, and then I thought what would happen if we wound up in the sex business. I was thinking about all these businesses closing throughout New York, and lots of these people had to reinvent themselves. I’ve also always liked movies about streetwalkers; Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria is one of my favorite movies ever. I think it’s a big part of life, and obviously you can trace culture and the dynamics between the sexes and how people go about their business politically and personally.


At the start of the film, what does Murray (Woody Allen) see in your character, Fiorvante? He seems like the kind of a guy who’s had some relationships but wasn’t that successful.
I think he’s a guy who… who knows what happened in his past? Maybe his father left his mother so he doesn’t trust in the longevity of a relationship and never committed to one. But Murray sees that he’s very comfortable with, and likes, women. He’s a regular guy who’s a good listener and is one of these people who expresses himself physically. I always thought of him like a Samurai-type of guy who works in a flower shop, but he can take apart a fixture, he can fix the plumbing, he can do all these different things. He’s not a forward person, but he’s not really shy. He’s just quiet. And the difference between someone who’s confident in who they are and not pushy… between confidence and cocky is a big difference. There are people you know, right away they’re like, “I’m gonna get over,” and there’s other people who are like, “Well, I’m going to enjoy the situation for what it is and if anything else occurs I can enjoy that too.” Murray knows Fiorvante and it’s like a father-son relationship. Murray’s never had a biological son and Fiorvante doesn’t have parents, but he can see something in him. Maybe he just did it [suggested that he become the pimp for Fiorvante] because he knows he’s going out of business, he just said oh yeah, I know somebody and he starts thinking oh, let’s try it. People do all kinds of all crazy things… it’s supposed to be a left-field idea.

There are so many different elements and cultures in the movie.
Well, I tried to represent, like when I ride around the park on my bike, I go, “Look at all these different people.” Some intermingle, and some don’t interact. So if you make a movie about New York, without even trying, it’s right in front of your face. Like my friend, he’s got a younger black girlfriend; he’s an older Jewish man… well, that’s interesting, so you draw on that.

Fiorvante has a relationship with a Hasidic widow. Did you have to do research into that world?
Oh, god, tons of it. I also went to this group where people who’ve left [that world] gather, and I met a lot of people there who were helpful, but I also did a couple of years’ worth of research.

How long did it take to film?
A little over six weeks, so we had a tight schedule and had to do a lot of preparation, obviously. We shot it on film and it was challenging to be able to do that material with that many different people and also have a unified look.

How did you approach Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara for the film?
Once Woody dug the script, my agent had recommended certain people. I met Sharon; I thought she’d be the right age, and that the whole idea of doing something out of the norm for a woman like her would be very surprising. Everybody responded to the material: Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schrieber. He’s really good in that role, and I think he made a big contribution, because I wanted a guy who was different than me, and a solid guy who grew up with boys. His character doesn’t really know how to approach or talk to a woman, but he’s really mad about this woman. I think he does a really lovely job.

So that scene in the Hasidic court—I really hadn’t seen that in a movie before.
They don’t usually grab people off the street (like in the movie), but it’s in the realm of the possible. So they do have those hearings, they have a moral police and all that.

You were born in Brooklyn, right?
I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens, then moved back to Brooklyn in 1988. My friend, Brandon Cole, he cowrote Mac and Illuminata [two of Turturro’s earlier directorial efforts], and he moved to Brooklyn first. I worked on his house in Williamsburg and he took me around, showing me what was going on. My other friend, Michael Badalucco [who has a small part in the film] is there too. I live in Park Slope, and in ’88 there were no restaurants there, Fifth Avenue was nothing, and there was no movie theater on Ninth Street. Now it’s changed a lot, and we’ve lost a lot of little establishments, which is a theme in the movie. My wife [actress Katharine Borowitz] and I are investors in the Community Bookstore, and she works at the Co-Op, so she keeps us planted there.

Do you know what your next project is?
I have some movies coming out, including one John Slattery directed, God’s Pocket [out next month, featuring one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances]. I did a part in Exodus [Ridley Scott’s biblical epic] with Christian Bale, and part of this Rio, I Love You anthology, an episode I did with Vanessa based on one of her songs from her new album. So now I’m reading things and hope to direct again.

10/04/13 3:00pm

AKA Doc Pomus
Directed by Peter Miller and Will Hechter

If a novelist had invented Doc Pomus, his story would still be hard to believe. Born Jerome Felder in Brooklyn, he contracted polio as a child, changed his name and tried to become an R&B singer (on crutches), then focused on songwriting, penning hits in the 50s and 60s for the Drifters, Ray Charles and Elvis (to name a few), including “This Magic Moment,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and “A Teenager in Love.” Falling into debt and obscurity as rock acts began writing their own material, he turned to gambling, running high-stakes poker games out of his Upper West Side apartment. In the 70s he got back to work, collaborating with Dr. John, Willy DeVille and others, and mentoring a new generation of songwriters, although largely confined to his apartment or wheelchair.

With a story this dramatic, and with a figure so influential in popular music, it’s incredible (and shameful) that no one’s made a movie about Doc Pomus before. (He died of lung cancer in 1991. He was 65.) Directors Miller and Hechter, along with Pomus’s daughter Sharyn Felder, have done an admirable job covering all aspects of his life, including his seeming restlessness and self-destructive tendencies. The interviews with the usual rock critics, biographers, and fellow musicians (B.B. King, Dion, Leiber and Stoller) are supplemented by lots of personal touches, including home movies, and Lou Reed reading from Pomus’s private journals. He was clearly a big man (who finally gave up smoking but not indulging his voracious appetite) with a big heart, helping out not just other writers, but assorted downtrodden denizens of New York. Anyone interested in the last 60 years of popular music should see this documentary; at the very least, you won’t ever hear “Save the Last Dance for Me” in the same way again.

Opens October 4

06/14/13 1:15pm

20 Feet from Stardom
Directed by Morgan Neville

This aptly named film is another documentary that shines a light on a neglected piece of music history. Like Standing in the Shadows of Motown did for the Funk Brothers—the musical collective that played on all those classics from the famed Detroit label—20 Feet From Stardom gives a voice to the back-up singers who’ve performed on stage and on record with Ray Charles, Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Sting, Michael Jackson and innumerable others.

It’s not surprising that just about everyone featured here started off singing gospel, whose exuberance and call-and-response both influenced and provided good training for the secular worlds of R&B and rock. Early shots of Ray Charles and his Raelettes leads into footage of Phil Spector and his stable of singers, who performed interchangeably on his records. Things speed up when we glimpse Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes, all of whom seem to be shaking and shimmying faster than humanly possible.

The movie features Darlene Love, who speaks frankly about her rise, fall and comeback, including her recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as Merry Clayton, whose dramatic wail almost overshadowed Jagger on “Gimme Shelter”; Joe Cocker and Leon Russell veteran Claudia Lennear; and Lisa Fischer, a stalwart on Stones tours for more than 20 years. Their stories are sad, hopeful and far from the rags-to-riches fantasy world of American Idol (one younger singer here, Judith Hill, was even voted off The Voice). Yet, as one participant observes, if they didn’t make it to the top, they didn’t suffer the pitfalls of massive fame either, and their spirit and love for what they do carries the film to a memorable conclusion: Love and her sisters-in-back-up doing a stunning “Lean on Me.”

Opens June 14

03/20/13 4:00am

The Sapphires
Directed by Wayne Blair

A group of friends form a band, bicker with each other and their manager, and endure the triumphs and humiliations of life on the road before finally making it big. If you’ve seen That Thing You Do!, Dreamgirls, or just about any episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, you know the plot. But this time the setting is quite different: The Sapphires is the story (“inspired by” a real one) of three aboriginal sisters in Australia in the 1960s, when aboriginals weren’t considered Australian citizens. Sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy, a runner-up on Australian Idol), are singing country songs when they’re spotted by a raggedy, hard-drinking musician, Dave (Chris O’Dowd, underplaying nicely). Determined to audition for a job entertaining the troops in Vietnam, the girls are convinced by Dave to switch to soul, which he insists will go over better with American soldiers. The trio are later joined by estranged cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who, because of her lighter skin, had been forcibly taken from her community years earlier to be raised by a white family, which was a common practice.

This is a world and culture rarely seen in movies (at least in the U.S.), and the scenes set in the girls’ native “Mission” and the contrast with their lives on the road (and the instant-growing-up that entails) provides additional drama although, incredibly, there’s little death or destruction onscreen until the end. O’Dowd and the trio of actresses, especially Mailman, who also starred in the play on which the movie’s based, are natural and believable in their roles, and their performances (both on and off stage) turn this familiar story into an appealing one.

Opens March 22

11/02/12 12:00pm

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman
Directed by Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett

Despite his proper English childhood and Cambridge education, Graham Chapman—King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the lead in Life of Brian—had an unconventional life that’s been given an unconventional treatment: a 3D animated film, with three directors (including Bill Jones, Terry’s son) and 14 animation studios handling different scenes. Chapman narrates via recordings of his 1980s autobiography, while his fellow Pythons, as well as supporting player Carol Cleveland, voice themselves and other roles (except for the suspiciously absent Eric Idle). A few film clips of Python sketches are mixed in, as well as a too-short excerpt from his memorial service. (He died of throat cancer in 1989.)

In addition to his life with Python, the film covers, in haphazard order, his time at university and medical school, his homosexuality (and the reactions of friends and family), and his problems with alcohol and drugs. Each scene is done in a different style, from cartoonish to graphic-novel-style realism, and while some, like a nightmarish depiction of detoxing, are appropriately evocative, others are just weird: why are the other Pythons portrayed as monkeys? There’s also no mention of anything Chapman did post-Python, including his lecture tour of U.S. colleges that, ironically, provides the film’s first audio clip, nor does the film delve too deeply into what led to his self-destructive lifestyle. And yet we’re subjected to what seem like half a dozen renditions of the Python classic “Sit on My Face.” The 3D is often impressive and the risky conception pays off. But a little more coherence and insight into Chapman’s story might have produced a movie that was not only visually engaging but emotionally as well.

Opens November 2

10/03/12 4:00am

Directed by Jim Field Smith

Butter made the rounds of numerous film festivals a year ago but is just now getting a release. It’s not hard to see why. The film barely recovers from its sluggish opening, in which we meet our two main competitors in an Iowa butter-sculpting competition: Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner), a scheming, all-American woman of “Christian” values; and Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a gifted, almost saintly 10-year-old African-American girl. The parallels to the 2008 election are pretty clear.

Bob, Laura’s husband and former butter champ, is Ty Burrell, essentially playing the same devoted, long-suffering role he does on Modern Family; Kristen Schaal does her usual goofy/creepy bit as another aspiring artist; and Olivia Wilde is the comic highlight as a stripper who’s in the contest purely for revenge. It’s also a nice surprise to see Rob Corddry, taking a break from playing insensitive schmucks, as Destiny’s supportive foster dad.

But the plot is all over the place, the jokes are scattershot, and Garner isn’t that convincing as the conniving Laura. Then again, the role as written makes little sense: she’s a conservative mom with a foul mouth (because profanity is always funny) whose dairy masterwork is a recreation of the Kennedy assassination, a detail we’re supposed to find “edgy” or something, but one which, incredibly, no character ever remarks upon.

Even though it uses a novel setting to satirize American politics, Butter is never as clever or hilarious as it thinks it is. Christopher Guest and company would have had a field day with these aspiring Milk-elangelos.

Opens October 5

04/26/12 4:00am

The Five-Year Engagement
Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Opens April 27

This latest effort from the Forgetting Sarah Marshall team has a promising beginning, as Tom (co-writer Jason Segal) and Violet (Emily Blunt) meet cute at a New Year’s Eve party, settle down, and then have to deal with relocating from idyllic San Francisco to cold and dreary Michigan after Violet is accepted at a psych program at the University there. This postpones their wedding for a few years, not to mention the career aspirations of Tom, a rising culinary star back home who’s now laboring in a bagel/sandwich shop and growing more resentful as time goes on.

Segal, director and co-screenwriter Stoller, and producer Judd Apatow deserve some credit for at least trying to tell a more grown-up story this time, forgoing the drug humor, nerdy pop culture references, and gross-out humor (mostly). But they seem incapable or unwilling to realistically (and comedically) chart this faltering relationship without sticking in pointless scenes like Segal deer-hunting, and bonding with assorted weird faculty spouses. It’s kind of incredible that, a decade or so into their comedic reign, the Apatow stable of writers and directors still haven’t quite figured out how crucial editing and pacing are for comedy; when the couple finally have their big confrontation, it feels about a half hour too late.

From her first scene, Alison Brie just about steals the film as Violet’s competitive sister (someone write a comedy for this woman to star in already), and the last half hour seems grafted on from a funnier, different film, including Brie and Blunt having it out while speaking in Muppet voices. A little more heart, insight and re-writing could have made this a sharp, perceptive date movie, instead of the flabby, occasionally funny one it is.

02/29/12 4:00am

The Lorax

Directed by Chris Renaud & Kyle Balda

In the continuing effort to translate Dr. Seuss classics into big-screen, computer-animated film-events, his 1971 cautionary tale about environmental destruction is now a 3-D movie, written and directed by much of the team from Despicable Me. Understandably, the story has been expanded, with additional characters, subplots and superstar voices. But in their efforts to make a kid-friendly hit, some of the darker aspects of the book have been pushed aside.

When the film opens, the main action in the book has already happened: all the Truffula trees in Thneedville are gone, and an evil, pint-sized magnate controls the town’s air (natural air now being a scarce commodity). But as plastic as it looks, Thneedville still seems like a fun place to live (the filmmakers admit they used Disneyland and Vegas as inspiration). Nor does it help the film’s theme that our hero, Ted (Zac Efron), wants to bring back the town’s trees not out of a sense of ecological responsibility but to impress his crush, Audrey (Taylor Swift). Ted learns about his town’s original incarnation from the Onceler (Ed Helms), a once-wealthy inventor who spun thneeds (multi-purpose garments) out of the trees, before he chopped them all down. The film seems to blame the Onceler and his air-selling colleague for the town’s condition, but someone had to buy all those thneeds, right? (just one example of how some tinkering could have made this a much sharper script). The songs are also not really needed, save for a Beauty and the Beast-style “here is our town” opening, and a pop-rock-rap illustrating the Onceler’s descent into capitalistic decadence, like a Schoolhouse Rock lesson on how to lose your soul.

Where The Lorax hooks you in is its look: vibrant, psychedelic colors, appropriately Seussian animals and townspeople, and several lively chase scenes, all of which make good use of the 3-D. It’s certainly fun to watch, sure to draw in the kids and give their parents something to marvel at, but the film’s ecological message may get lost amongst all the fireworks.

Opens March 2

01/06/12 4:00am

Directed by Michael Cuesta

What do you do after you’re unceremoniously dumped from your dream job? That’s the problem facing Jimmy (Ron Eldard), a Blue Oyster Cult roadie who’s just been fired after 20 years with the band. With nowhere to go, he returns to his old Forest Hills neighborhood, to an aging, forgetful mother and a place where everyone either escaped years ago, or abandoned their dreams and settled down. Two such residents are childhood tormentor Randy (Bobby Cannavale) an arrogant, drug-snorting car dealer, and his wife Nikki (Jill Hennessy), who’s trying to expand her own modest music career. This is more salt in the wound for the already-hurting Jimmy, who had a fling with Nikki when they were teens (illustrated by some nice home-movie-style flashbacks).

Roadie, which played last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, may be clichéd at times (it doesn’t help that one character actually yells, “You think you’re better than me?”) but Cuesta and his co-screenwriter (and brother) Gerald get a lot of details right, from the 70s décor of Jimmy’s house to his untouched childhood bedroom, complete with orange crates full of vinyl (older Long Islanders may get misty hearing the Good Rats on the soundtrack). Cannavale is a bit over-the-top as the grown-up bully, but for the most part the actors avoid being caricatures, especially Eldard, who projects the right mix of bravado and vulnerability. Despite all the shouting and posturing on display, the film’s effectiveness lies in what’s left unsaid, and while Jimmy may seem pathetic to some, his story is one many viewers (particularly those of a certain age, and a certain geographic area) may find all too real.

Opens January 6 at Cinema Village)

06/16/11 4:00am

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Directed by Mark Waters

The 70-year-old children’s book about a housepainter who inherits a colony of penguins, apparently wasn’t sufficiently “relatable” for Fox executives, who transformed it into another story of a father learning to re-connect with his family. The 2011-model Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey, toning down the mania but still not enough to be emotionally convincing) is a high-powered, designer-clad lawyer who lives to make deals and buy up most of Manhattan (there’s something the kids can relate to). Adding to the stock characters checklist: his ex (Carla Gugino), who still harbors a soft spot for him; his sullen teenage daughter; his globe-trotting absent father, etc. Kids who’ve never read the book may enjoy some of what’s here but it’s pretty familiar, and director Mark Waters and the screenwriters (including the duo responsible for comedy classic Hot Tub Time Machine) never fully exploit the penguins’ comic possibilities beyond the flatulence-and-poop-jokes stage —each bird is given one trait: clumsy, loud, stinky, and that’s about it.

While not a horrible film, Popper represents a real blown opportunity. The novel includes plenty of screen-ready slapstick for the kids, and the plot, in which Popper and family devise a stage act for the birds, who then become national stars, would have been easily adaptable in this age of YouTube and televised talent competitions. If you have a child under 11 or so, skip the theater, stay home and read them the book.

Opens June 17