Saturday, August 20, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Brooklyn Banker, Criminal

The Brooklyn Banker
directed by Federico Castelluccuio
Federico Castelluccuio is an Italian actor and painter who is probably best known to American viewers as Furio, the handsome, tall, vicious, intense, lovestruck mafioso bodyguard/hitman on HBO's series The Sopranos. This film was his feature directing debut. Well not everyone hits a home run their first time at the plate. This movie was enjoyable enough at times but overall because the subject matter has been so well trod over the years, a film really has to shine in order to stand out in this genre. The Brooklyn Banker is a quiet little film that purports to tell a story of what once was, when Italian American organized crime, the Mafia, ran the streets of the titular borough. This film was looking to be gritty but not excessively violent. It name checks and tries to model itself after the early work of Martin Scorsese, most notably Mean Streets. But I thought that the male lead of The Brooklyn Banker was ever so slightly miscast. Or maybe the character wasn't written well enough or with enough detail. In any event although the character is someone that I should have had some sympathy for or identity with, a middle class striver who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd, I didn't have much sympathy for or interest in the character at all. There were a number of times that I thought he was something of a jerk. I was not invested in his success or well being. To paraphrase a presidential candidate, he was low energy. And that impacted almost everything else in the movie. This movie uses most of the familiar tropes and cliches that make up Italian-American crime stories, the street smart wife, guys in the neighborhood upset about THEM moving in, religious festivals which bring everyone together, the priest who knows what's what, Sunday family dinner, making the sign of the cross, etc. You've seen this story a million times before. That's okay. As discussed some people think that there are really only a handful of original stories once you strip away all the fluff.  But if it's unfair to demand amazing originality from every last movie, it's not too much to demand entertainment. And I didn't think that The Brooklyn Banker rated all too highly on that front. It wasn't something that left much of an impression on me.

In 1973 Brooklyn, Santo (Troy Garrity) is a VP at a local bank branch. As he wryly remarks to someone in the neighborhood, that's not as prestigious as you might expect. It's a national bank. There are a lot of VP's. He's married (although it's questionable as to how happy he is as apparently Garrity's contract disallows all smiling) with two kids and a third on the way. He wife is constantly reminding him that an apartment that was ok for two adults and one child will not be ok for two adults and three children. They need to move to a nicer neighborhood and buy their first house. Presumably like some of her co-ethnics, she's also not crazy about the slow influx of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans into a formerly predominantly Italian/Irish area. Santo hears his wife but he doesn't think his salary can support a move just yet. They'll just have to deal. Santo's father-in-law Benny (Paul Sorvino), perhaps looking to help his daughter, son-in-law and grandkids, mentions Santo's job and amazing facility with numbers to the local mob chieftain Manny (dead eyed Sopranos veteran David Proval). Manny would like a small favor from Santo, just one you see. What could be wrong with that? And Benny works for Manny so as far as Manny is concerned Santo is virtually family already.  Can you really turn down family? Santo's upset that Manny even knows his name. Santo looks for advice from the local priest Father Matteo (Sopranos alum Arthur J. Nascarella), his uncle. Matteo goes back, way back with both Manny and Benny. He knows more than he tells and sees more than most realize. Matteo wasn't always on the straight and narrow. But he's Santo's conscience. There's an undercurrent of a theme about family responsibilities and legacy- Santo never knew his father, a plot point which will become important later on- but because Santo mostly seems uninterested in the events he's a part of, it was very difficult for me to care about what happened to the character. Father Matteo, a skilled morra player, was very cool. I would have liked to have spent more time with him. He seemed to have a more interesting backstory than Santo. 

The film looks good, if a little too clean for the gritty era it's depicting. It gets the wide ties and lapels right. There's a minor but underdeveloped theme about how prejudice can be felt and experienced, whether it is by the Hispanic women who attract the Italian hoodlums' disdain or by Santo himself, who is being ethnically profiled by both his boss and law enforcement. Basically you can flip a coin about watching this movie. It's meh.

directed by Ariel Vroman
This is a film with an impressive A list cast along with a few up and comers. But the central premise is faulty. If we really could seize the memories and for lack of a better word, soul, from a dying human, why wouldn't we just download them to a computer. If we did that there wouldn't be ethical concerns or pragmatic worries about losing the fading memories inside of someone else's reassertive personality. But if we downloaded one man's memories to a computer instead of to another man then that we wouldn't have this movie or any reason to peer down Gal Gadot's clingy blouse. Snicker. So obviously the thing to do is to download critical world changing information that multiple murderous organizations are seeking into the mind of a man who is brain damaged, murderously unstable and morally empty. What could go wrong? Well I'm not going to say that this was an unambiguously bad film but it could have been much much better. The chase elements are well done but almost a little too well mannered. Considering what the stakes were the movie might have done better to go even further over the top. Despite the cast the story is pretty painfully formulaic. But if you can turn your brain off and just go with the flow the film is entertaining enough. But if you spend any too much time thinking about stuff then you won't enjoy this movie. This is a movie which supports the establishment all the way. It takes more than a few low blows at people like Snowden and Assange. This film thinks that anarchists and whistleblowers are at best silly people and at worst downright corrupt and malevolent. YMMV on this. The anarchists seem well, to be a bit too organized and numerous to be true anarchists. They lack any sort of even remotely interesting backstory. Basically just think of them as generic bad guys. They even have their evil lairs, like most would be evil overlords.

Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is your typical cool CIA agent stationed in London. He's eager to get home and get reacquainted with his sexy wife Jillian (Gal Gadot), but first he needs to wrap up a deal with a shadowy hacker known as the Dutchman (Michael Pitt from Boardwalk Empire). The Dutchman has possession of a device which could change the world for the worse. Immediately. Unfortunately for Bill, the Dutchman's boss, the insane evil anarchist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla) has learned of the Dutchman's betrayal. He wants his property back. And as he is just as skilled with electronic surveillance and computers as the Dutchman, it's child's play for him to manipulate, follow and capture Bill. As you might imagine this doesn't end well for Bill. By the time that Bill's boss , station chief Wells (Gary Oldman) and co-worker Lynch (Alice Eve) are able to track down Bill's location, Bill is virtually brain dead. But as you should know from listening to Miracle Max, virtually brain dead is not completely brain dead. Wells needs to know what Bill knew right now. There's no time for moral qualms. He pulls in neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) who has an experimental process to transfer the memories of a dead man into those of a living one. And the man Franks has in mind is a savage, murderous, merciless killer with nothing good inside him, one Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). Stewart is not given a choice in the matter. Post surgery a confused Stewart claims not to remember anything or know who Bill Pope was. But when Wells directs his people to dispose of the confused and injured Stewart, we see that Stewart may not have been entirely truthful about what he remembered. This sets off a long chase that involves a number of different organizations, all of whom would like to capture Jericho Stewart alive or failing that find out where the Dutchman is. 

The other question is will Jericho be able to recapture his lost humanity? Oh the suspense. There's a fair amount of violence and as mentioned a little cleavage here and there. Costner slightly overacts. Jones underacts. The special effects are what you would expect. This movie was ok but it wasn't something memorable. 
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