GOD’S POCKET (2014)

Directed By: John Slattery 
Written By: Alex Metcalf & John Slattery 
Based on the Novel By: Pete Dexter 
 Cinematography By: Lance Acord 
Editor: Tom McArdle 

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Joyce Van Patten, Eddie Marsan, Christina Hendricks, Molly Price, Dominic Lombardozzi, Caleb Landry Jones, Sophie Takal 

When Mickey’s crazy step-son Leon is killed in a construction ‘accident’, nobody in the working-class neighborhood of God’s Pocket is sorry he’s gone. Mickey tries to bury the bad news with the body, but when the boy’s mother demands the truth, Mickey finds himself stuck in a life-and-death struggle between a body he can’t bury, a wife he can’t please, and a debt he can’t pay


This is a film that’s hard to describe as the fact that you have seen stories like this on-screen before. Though this one feels strangely authentic and that is the scary part. As the film is so downtrodden it seems almost the product of nightmares.

Luckily the film stays low-key. It goes by quickly and with nary a kick. Though it takes its time to tell its story. It doesn’t feel like it’s dragging. It’s surprisingly lean, though it feels indulgent. There is no real fat in the film.

The film has an amazing group of actors, who are all good and believable. You only wish the film had more to give them as far as story and quality. While the film relies heavily on the atmosphere it feels at times like it has very few places to go. It presents circumstances and challenges but very little action and story.

This being one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances it is noteworthy as he is our put upon the protagonist. Trying to figure his way out of an increasingly sticky situation. While also being his own worst enemy. He seems to be one of the few semi-decent characters who while not being from the neighborhood which everyone reminds him. Still seems very much the product of it as he seems to fit perfectly in.

The film is the story of more a neighborhood that seems to be its own trap. We just watch the inhabitants as they go about their day-to-day life. The main story selling point the death of a young man seems to be just one of those things. An act of senseless violence. That seems like it will become some story of the investigation and seeking justice. Though it ends up just being a catalyst for changes and actions for some characters and setting in motion events.

The film seems constantly depressing as the characters seem to always make the wrong decisions and there is little to no humanity. Everyone is out for themselves. Anytime there is humanity shown it is rather surprising and usually followed by acts of merciless violence.

Christina Hendricks continues to come across as a desirable screen icon. She is luminous and beautiful and though she plays a grieving mother. Later in the film, as she seems to be irresistible to any male. She seems oddly emotionless as her character knows better yet is shocked by the attention paid to her. She commits an act but does so with what seems little care. That has incriminating results that she oddly seems to have no concerns about. Though they affect her.

Richard Jenkins truly makes a mark as a columnist in the middle of all this investigation. While being from the neighborhood has his own demons to deal with while trying to get the story. As he is easily distracted and we get some clues for his condition. We observe his questionable prowess with women also.

In fact, the entire third act of the film becomes strange at how quickly the neighborhood turns from favorable to certain inhabitants to just pure hate and the reason seems rather thin. Like it happens more because the script and story demand it rather than naturally or organically.

John Slattery making his feature film debut, Picked an exemplary story to tell. It always seems when actors choose to direct they pick material more character-based and depressing that has to be gritty to bring more of a reality, but smartly pick material that allows for an ensemble to play off of and includes actors friends who are more the character actor types. He could have done slot worse in the material.

The film at times feels like it is trying too hard to be gritty and showcase all his grime and crime. Then at other times it wisely becomes more understated.

The film has a strangely happy ending or as close as this type of film can have.

This is a film that feels in the same world as TREE’S LOUNGE only not as optimistic and also would go well with a viewing of THE DROP only this is less exciting and feels more authentic.

Grade: B-

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (2007)

Written & Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Cinematography By: Harris Savides
Editor: Carol Littleton

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Halley Feiffer, John Turturro, Cirian Hinds, Zane Pais, Seth Barrish, Flora Closs, Michael Cullen 


 A slice of family life: sisters, husbands, children, history, secrets, jealousies. Margot and her teen son, Claude, travel from Manhattan to her family’s Long Island home, occupied by sister Pauline, Pauline’s daughter, and Malcolm, the slacker Pauline will marry outdoors that week under a tree neighbors want removed. Backbiting marks family discussion, particularly between the sisters and in Margot’s cutting remarks to Claude. Pauline tells Margot a secret that Margot promptly tells Claude. Margot dislikes Malcolm and undermines him. She also has marital problems and a lover nearby. People are cruel, inside and outside their families. Is there a refuge for Margot or for Pauline? 


I don’t know if this is supposed to be misery/tragedy emotional pornography with some humor or not. As it is beautifully filmed with natural lighting, but when you are complimenting the filmmaking or certain technical aspects over the whole of the film or you just happen to notice and focus on that more than anything else. You know the movie might be in trouble.

I was looking forward to this film having loved his previous film THE SQUID & THE WHALE. Not to mention other films he has made before and since. This was his bug follow up project. Though I have to say this was a big disappointment really his first for me. It might be because he was following up a big success and his film would have to live up to it and it falls short.

I should have known when Nicole Kidman was cast in it. Not that she is a bad actress. Quite the contrary. Around this time and. Wrote She only seems to do independent films when she wants to be noticed m. As her career might be in trouble and she wants to prove herself to critics again (TO DIE FOR, FUR, RABBIT HOLE) she also comes off as icy onscreen so if she was looking to play different. She could have tried Jennifer Jason Leigh’s role in this film.

Unfortunately for her. This was not like the redirection Charlize Theron had with MONSTER. Here she plays such a bitchy unlikeable character, It’s hard to like anything about her unfortunately for this film other than the kids the same goes for almost every character in this film. Jennifer Jason Leigh is fragile, sympathetic and pathetic. Oddly enough though this maybe the best and funniest work ever by jack black at the time. It takes awhile to get ignited but You can see all the promise people have been saying about him. Though The uncomfortable nature of his relationship with the teenage girl in the film feels reprehensible and especially after the film tries to get us on his side. After that it seems pretty easily to detest his character.

The constant war their characters have with their neighbors could have gone on longer. Those scenes might have sped the move up. The way it stands the neighbors come off like a mix of the duckie boys from THE WANDERERS and The Bumpasses of A CHRISTMAS STORY. They seem to be dirty and mean instead of just mean like the other characters in this film. Who just have better wittier one liners and vocabularies.

Nicole Kidman is the main attraction here. As the film takes place more or less around her character. Even though she is only there for a wedding, but her arrival brings old family drama and her sister’s drama and problems with her fiancé to the forefront.

Of course Nicole Kidman stands out in this film as she all but consumes the film and takes it with her. As she is thebttile character everything seems to stem from her. Even when we try to get into the side stories of other characters they are usually all connected or come back to her 

This is also the moodiest if all of writer director Noh Baumbach’s films which usually are dramatic and go to dark places though usually manage to have a smile. While the film does have humor it seems to have a chilly mean spirited vibe throughout. Which again seems to stem from Nicole Kidman’s character

The film offers the actors plenty to play with and they all get room to shine a bit, but the film and screenplay are more focused on the character of Margot. Her name is in the title.

Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, & Jennifer Jason Leigh moved in together during filming because they wanted to perfect their roles as a dysfunctional family.

The film exists as an emotional melodrama where the overall mood is depression and just melancholy with some bits of humor. While most of the characters are intellectuals.

Jack Black gives an ok performance and much was made of his appearance in the film. Here he gets to play a character who is unlikeable and normal. Which is something that is rare for him. As now he seems more the master of cameo roles or kids entertainment comedy. Though with a kind of wicked streak enough that adults still find him funny. He seems to manage to have it all.

This seems more like a film devoted to the 1970’s and with a twist of the French new wave in presenting a kind of familiar story more emotionally but also with more cutting edge pizzaz.

The film is Not a complete failure. It tries to play more like a European film or at least seems to be inspired by them. Though this film among other does make me wonder why when a film Is depressing they call it realistic and natural. There are a few happy moments that feel like simple pleasure within but in these films it just seems to be more attention paid to the doom and gloom.

Cinematographer Harris Savides used old lenses and shot mostly in natural light to get the dim, ominous look of the film. The natural light and old lenses making the hues darker doesn’t cover up sub par material. This film just heavily is disappointing. It has It’s moments but not enough for the audience. You never know you might like it.

The film feels like an overblown second novel that has too much to prove. Like the first one wasn’t a failure so it feels bloated with self importance. Like the writer is trying too hard to prove themselves. As he wants to explain things yet also be vague enough to have the evidence read into more

GRADE: C

HE GOT GAME (1998)

Written & Directed By: Spike Lee
Cinematography: Ellen Kuras & Malik Hassan Sayeed 
Editor: Barry Alexander Brown 

Cast: Ray Allen, Denzel Washington, Milla Jovovich, Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Ned Beatty, Hill Harper, Rick Fox, John Turturro, Zelda Harris, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Roger Guenveir Smith, Lonette McKee, Arthur J. Nescarella, Jim Brown, Jennifer Esposito, Saul Stein, Ron Cephas Jones, Jamie Hector, Kim Director, Heather Hunter, Jill Kelly 

Jake Shuttlesworth is in prison serving time for killing his wife in a violent family feud. He is released on parole, but with one condition – he must persuade his son, genius basketball player Jesus to sign with the governor’s alma mater university, Big State. And Jake only has a week to do it.


At first, glance didn’t really like the film. A few scenes fascinated me but ultimately just thought it was ok. Though over subsequent years and rewatching really got into the film and enjoyed it. As there is more than meets the eye. Plus as getting older can fully grasp many scenes and subjects brought up. 

This film is surprisingly strong as a drama. That at first one thinks it will be a sports movie about corruption and recruiting. While it does involve those the film actually has a compelling story and a kind of community commentary of the times.

No one is truly innocent in the film including the basketball prospect played by Ray Allen. As everyone wants something from him. We see how some of his decisions directly affect them also.

Ray Allen’s character is more innocent though he is guilty of certain things as a young man given a certain level of celebrity character or popularity and power for the first time he is weak when it comes to indulgence as that is what various people are using to seduce him to sign and commit to them. Even his girlfriend to a degree. Ray Allen gives a convincing performance 

As the film shows characters who supposedly love and care about the basketball phenom but seem more interested in trying to become invested in his fame.

The film shows How his family even uses him or considers that love and blood an investment. Leaving only his younger sister as truly the only innocent one who asks nothing of him 

Other than noticing her performance in KIDS this was the next first noteworthy role of Rosario Dawson where she plays a damaged vixen. Ray Allen’s onscreen girlfriend and maybe a kind of gold digger. He has multiple levels throughout. 

Denzel Washington plays his role strongly and this is one of his first more dislikable characters on screen. Even as he is more the protagonist of the film. At least the film gives him a three-dimensional role to play.

His character is still never a hero or a saint. He has made mistakes that he will pay for, for the rest of his life. Still, he loves his son and wants what is best. The least he can do and kind of finds his soul in the process. 

There are some sex scenes but one, in particular, that seems more a pornographic fantasy seems to be the one scene where sex is used as part of the recruitment. The roles of the vixens played by actual porno actresses of the time 

While at first, it seems unnecessary or even like baggage. One can see why Milla Jovovich’s character and scenes are here to humanize Denzel’s character and show he can be decent and nice but this isn’t a love story or a fairy tale. As he is no white knight. If anything this movie is all about harsh reality and showcases broken promises. 

The film gives commentary on how the community is Being sunken in a speech by a drug dealer who does profit from it but has seen the best and worst of people and riches and gives Allen’s character a sermon and warnings to protect him. Even if it just seems written to give one of spike Lee’s regular actors Roger Guenveir Smith a role and an impressive one.

Basketball is spike Lee’s passion other then filmmaking a die hard new yours Knicks fan and he introduced Basketball icon Michael Jordan into sneaker marketing

There are so many subjects going on in spike lee films that some are explored mroe and others more in the background or left on the side.

This Movie involves at the time more the controversial route of paying ir bribing players for Recruitment to head a college Team to win championships less about the education. Only A few years later it would be deciding whether to go professional Straight from high school or play for College .

The film works as a wondering showdown that we know will eventually have to happen between the main two characters and we know the set-up.

Showcasing the beauty of the game in Slow motion action of a pickup game along with classic classical music on the soundtrack. Showing the players as almost modern-day warriors with their strengths and physicality. The art of physical perfectionism. This is the closest we come to seeing director Spike Lee’s well-known love of the game.

Throughout the film, it seems like regular old cast members of most of his films stop by for what amount to almost guest star roles. Though important ones as different guides for Allen to pick a side.

At first, the film feels more contemporary for its time, maybe more mainstream but as it goes along it reveals more and more depth. As it tackles a bunch of subjects that are revolving its Main characters. Showing them and commenting on them while keeping the focus on the main characters. 

Though it can be accused of being melodramatic at times, understandable (selling devotion and renting your soul but then have more stakes in you from others)

The film Acknowledges the commercialization and business aspect that the game has taken but also tries to sell the art of it.

In the end, you come into the film expecting one thing and it eventually reveals itself to be so much more and ends up being one of Spike Lee’s stronger movies.

Grade: B 

ROUNDERS (1998)

Directed By: John Dahl 
Written By: Brian Koppelman & David Levien 
Cinematography By: Jean-Yves Escoffier 
Editor: Scott Chesnut 

Cast: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Martin Landau, Gretchen Mol, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Michael Rispoli, Famke Janssen, Josh Mostel, Melina Kanakaredes, Lenny Clarke 

A young man is a reformed gambler who must return to playing big stakes poker to help a friend pay off loan sharks


The Film takes you into the backroom parlors and other places around the city where gambling and illegal gaming is going on.

The film puts you in the right atmosphere of a certain kind of elegance and well as an underground network of con men and illegal activities. Which the film tries to come off as cool and slick, but comes off as stiff. The confines though feel illustrious and classic. Like age-old traditions which help give the film a richness. All the scenes seem to filtered with deep dark reds.

By all means, considering the talent involved in the film, this should be a better film. The way the film plays, it acts like it’s a better film then what it is. While it has a pedigree, the film hasn’t earned that right yet.

While it has it’s share of surprises the story feels fairly predictable. The thing that keeps you watching is wondering when and how what you know is going to happen.

Though he is good Edward Norton seems to be coasting through this film. While Matt Damon seems to be taking it seriously while that works for him. It’s not too much of a stretch. While Norton seems to be trying to create a character with very few details. But seems to be going for classic gritty scumbag.
The film at least gives him an important decision to make but either way it is looking up for him whichever decision he makes. only one is more dangerous and uncertain. While the other he is good at but has no passion for.

At the time Hollywood’s it girl Gretchen Mol has what passes for a female leading role, though in the end, it comes off as a typical girlfriend role. There isn’t a real character there just a point in the script to give the lead something to be working toward and pulling him in one direction while the other direction entices him.

It’s fun to see John Malkovich hamming it up in his role. Where he gets to be a character and a heavy. While also getting to be funny

The film seems to have an attitude like it’s supposed to be or going to be a classic New York tale, yet comes off as mediocre and a story that feels familiar that is not necessarily better but isn’t worse than how we have seen it before.

It’s entertaining and a disappointment only because you go in thinking about the possibilities that it never achieves. One of the problems in this film is that we understand the bonds of friendship, but these guys are hustlers and poker players a game of not only skill but smarts. Now he realizes his friend is a screw-up which almost anyone except for him can see. So that when a betrayal does eventually happen He is so shocked. Yet expects loyalty even though they are not family.

I know I am hard on this film, it’s not a bad film. Maybe it’s just the fact I have seen so many films this one does little to distinguish itself. It’s a good film that is enjoyable yet there is nothing too special about it. I remember seeing this in theaters on opening night with a small audience. I expected a bigger more appreciative crowd. Yet the theater was nearly empty. The film is entertaining and as long as you don’t expect much it’s good. It’s just watching it and thinking of how much better it could hurt a little. It does set an intoxicating mood with it’s elements. Giving it a feeling of warmness in treacherous times.

GRADE: B