Movie Review: God's Pocket (2014)
“God’s Pocket,” written and directed by John Slattery of “Mad Men,” is more fun than I thought it would be.
It’s set in the 1970s in a fictionalized version of a crime-ridden, blue collar section of South Philadelphia, Schuylkill (a.k.a. “Devil’s Pocket”), and focuses on the down-and-out, the scroungers, the made and the marginalized. The people from God’s Pocket, we’re told, rarely leave God’s Pocket, and don’t trust anyone not from God’s Pocket. And if they’re smart, and they are not many of those, they wouldn’t trust anyone from God’s Pocket, either.
The local newspaper has an alcoholic columnist, Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins), who likes to wax rhapsodic about the area. He’s its poet laureate, and he’s the kind of poet laureate it deserves. Early, he says, “I’ve been writing the story of this city for 20 years,” and I answered back at the screen, “So you should be better at it,” because he’s lousy. He’s semi-celebrated but 90% inebriated. That’s how you can tell it’s the 1970s: a newspaperman is a local celebrity.
Anyway he spends a lot of time sentimentalizing God’s Pocket, defining it narrowly, so allow me to try the same. There are two things you need to know about God’s Pocket and “God’s Pocket,” and they are both unexpected and the expected: You never know who’s going to win a fight and everyone is going to try to fuck Christina Hendricks.
Truth won't out
The movie opens with two funerals, spaced a few days apart, so, like in the cold opens of “Six Feet Under,” we wonder who is going to die.
It doesn’t take long to find out the first. Hendricks plays Jeanie Scarpato, first seen with her husband Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) huffing and puffing on top of her in the early morning light. Then she rouses her twentysomething son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones, trying to channel Heath Ledger), for work. He’s a druggie, thinks he’s a toughie, plays with a pocket razor at the factory. He also thinks he can pick on the one black guy there. Wrong. After putting the razor to his throat, ha ha, the dude clubs him with a lead pipe. Down he goes. Dead, it turns out. But the foreman, Coleman Peets (Glenn Fleshler, who played George Remus on “Boardwalk Empire” and—more memorably—Errol Childress in “True Detective”), tells the cops a crane swung and hit him. All the others agree. Nobody really liked Leon. Or maybe that’s just the way in God’s Pocket.
Jeanie, distraught, knows something else happened—she just knows—so she asks first her husband, then the cops, then Richard Shellburn, to investigate. They all kinda do. Because, well, it’s Christina Hendricks.
At this point you think: Who’s going to find the answer first? But that’s the wrong question. “First” is particularly wrong. Truth doesn’t out in God’s Pocket.
Instead, Mickey asks his connected friend, Arthur (John Turturro), to see if local crime boss Sal Cappi (Domenick Lombardozzi, Herc on “The Wire” and Ralph Capone on “Boardwalk Empire”) can’t send some guys down to ask some questions. They do. And Coleman Peets is there all by himself. Uh oh. But no. As I said, you never know who’s going to win a fight in God’s Pocket. Peets sends both men back, and one (Sal’s brother) without an eye. This sends an enraged Sal back at Arthur; but Arthur’s Aunt Sophie (Joyce Van Patten), running the register at their flower shop, takes out a gun, misfires, then kills both Sal and his brother. Then she and Arthur skip town.
Meanwhile, Shellburn’s investigation turns into more of an investigation of Jeanie. Meanwhile, the cops ... Well, they’re cops. They don’t factor.
Mickey is on his own, hapless, downward spiral. At the local bar, the Hollywood, run by McKenna (Peter Gerety, Judge Phelan on “The Wire”), a collection is taken up for Leon’s funeral, but Mickey blows it at the racetrack and then struggles to hide all this from Jeanie and the town. Unfortunately, the local funeral director, Smilin’ Jack (Eddie Moran), doesn’t accept half payments; and after losing a fight to a disappointed Mickey, locks both him and Leon’s corpse out in the rain. Mickey then: 1) loads up Leon in his meat truck; 2) tries to sell the stolen meat to make up the rest of the funeral charges; 3) winds up selling the truck instead, but 4) in the process, the truck is driven away for a testdrive, which Mickey didn’t agree to, and, chasing the truck, he spooks the driver into traffic, and Leon’s corpse winds up an accident victim: dead a second time.
There are small pleasures in “God’s Pocket,” not least all the alums from the great HBO, etc. shows of the last 10 years. It’s sad watching Philip Seymour Hoffman, of course, but his performance still gives off small pleasures. On the phone, the doubtful raise of his eyebrow he gives when he says of Leon, “They say something fell on him.” Mostly, though, I just like his head-shaking disappointment in everything and everybody. Sal unnecessarily decks a guy, a civilian, and Mickey shakes his head. Smilin’ Jack takes a swing at Mickey, Mickey shakes his head. Mickey is the guy not from God’s Pocket, and sometimes folks forget. “Oh right, you’re not from here.” He’s hardly a moral exemplar (gambling, etc.) but in a way he is. When he learns Jeanie is schtupping Richard Shellburn, he’s not enraged; he just sighs. Way of the world. Basically: What a disappointment everyone is turning out to be. In fact, when Shellburn shows up at the local bar, and the patrons object to one of his sappy columns—he describes them as dirty-faced—it’s Mickey who tries to come to his rescue. To no avail. Shellburn is taken outside and beaten to death. The second funeral is his. Someone else will have to write about it.
That’s how this all began, actually. “God’s Pocket” is based upon the novel of the same name by Pete Dexter, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, who, in 1981, was nearly beaten to death in Schuylkill by locals who objected to one of his recent columns about a drug deal gone wrong. He suffered a concussion and gave up the newspaper business for writing novels. He won the National Book Award for “Paris Trout” in 1988. “God’s Pocket,” from 1983, is his first novel.
Why did it attract Slattery? Who knows? It’s not a great story but at least it surprises now and again. I didn’t walk away from it, as I do with most Hollywood movies, shaking my head.
Actually, Wallace Matthews, That is Exactly What I Want
From the ESPN.com/New York columnist's post on the Yankees 4-2 loss to the woeful Texas Rangers tonight:
Not what you want: Derek Jeter with the bases loaded, that is. The captain ran his streak of futility to 0-for-8 (he has two sacrifice flies) with the bases loaded this season, rapping into a 4-6-3 double play to end the fifth inning with the Yankees clinging to a 2-1 lead.
Anyone have a GIF of this? So I can watch it again and again?
Boies on Colbert
While P and I were in Europe, super lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson, who argued opposite sides of Bush v. Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2000, and who became friends afterward and teamed up on the Prop 8 case, were on Stephen Colbert's show. You should watch the whole interview, but this part cracked me up:
Olson: I think that [Bush v. Gore] was a solid decision. Of course, I may be a little biased. But I think David agrees actually.
Colbert: I'm afraid we don't have time for his answer.
Boies: That's exactly what the Court said.
Even Colbert, master of the quick-witted response, was impressed.
I got to interview both men in January in New York, which was a great if nervewracking pleasure, and even got to correct Mr. Boies on his baseball knowledge. (My wheelhouse, apparently.) He used Babe Ruth as a metaphor for someone who hits a lot of homeruns but still strikes out a lot —more than anyone else in baseball history, he added. I had to tell him that the Babe was usurped in strikeouts long ago, and that Reggie Jackson holds the mark now. In fact, and obviously I didn't have this knowledge at the time, but the Babe is currently 107th on the career strikeout list with 1330—about half of Reggie's total.
That was a small sidebar, of course. Most of our interview was about the law in general, and the push for the federal constituational right for same-sex marriage in particular. Read the whole interview here.
Let me add that I could listen to David Boies talk about almost anything. He has a moment on “Colbert,” and it comes at about 4:40 in the above link, where I just fall in love with him all over again. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Eurotrip 2014: Dekuju, Praha; Tag, Wien
It took me several days to finally remember the Czech for “thank you”: dekuju. The spelling threw me at first, I guess, but it stuck once I realized it was basically like Elmer Fudd saying “decree”: de-KWEE. Hehehehehehe. I also learned “Good morning” in Czech: Dobré ráno. That was it, though. I had an app I planned to use to learn more Czech but it kept crapping out on me. But those two words went a long way in the touristy circles I ran in, even as they were wholly unnecessary, since most folks spoke English. And German. And maybe Russian. Seriously, all of those “Speak English!” folks in the U.S.? They need to get out more. It’s less the number of languages people from other countries speak than the fact that you can go pretty much anywhere in the world and people will speak your language. English is doing just fine, dekuju.
P and I were reluctant to leave Prague yet arrived at the train station more than an hour early—even though the platform wouldn’t be announced until 20 minutes prior to departure. I didn’t know this. I always think earlier the better but here I felt like a rube. While we waited, P bought a coffee and I exchanged most of our korunas for euros. That was an oddity of our trip: We were visiting three countries in Europe, but two of them, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, weren’t on the euro. So we had a lot of exchanges. I spent a lot of times examining small coins. Was this a .... what was this?
Ten minutes before departure, our train platform was finally announced, and the huge, waiting crowd streamed through the tunnel—which includes a small bust of Woodrow Wilson, onetime hope of the world—and scrambled for a seat. We were less insistent since we bought tickets with assigned seats. Of course someone was in them. P spoke to him and the man apologized, moved his stuff, and sat in the seat in front of us. I was confused, though. How many seats were already bought? How could you tell? Were we even in the right place? Later in the trip—Vienna to Geneva—it happened again, but with a less polite deportee, but that time, an hour or so later, I found a conductor, who took a look at our tickets and declared, “You’re in the wrong car.” Wouldn’t be surprised if this was true during the Prague leg, too. Nothing more first-world than that, right? Declaring ownership of a spot you don’t own and booting folks from it. As they apologized for your mistake.
The car from Prague turned out to be the kid car. By which I mean the teenage car. Late teens? A group from ... Spain? I think they were on a second leg of a trip, because they were all tired, and several fell asleep sitting up, and one kid threw up. It was a source of great amusement for the others. Almost forced amusement, to be honest. One of the kids wore a T-shirt reading, I believe:
NO SOY YO
ES LA PERA
“Es la pera” or “Soy la pera” apparently means “I’m the pear,” which apparently means “I’m the shit.” But the rest? Anyone? Bueller?
Five hours later, after rattling past various rolling hills as well as a nuclear reactor in Brno, we arrived at the Wien-Miedling station. We walked down the stairs, took a left, and wound up blinking in the sun. I thought we’d see a train station, or at least a city, but we seemed in the sticks. Has we gotten off in the wrong spot? The Rough Guide to Vienna (also by Rob Humphreys) was a little sketchy on the subject, and I was ready to go back and turn right where we’d turned left, but P was anxious. So we just took a waiting cab to our hotel. Overpaid.
The pension kind of threw us, too. It wasn’t a hotel? With a lobby? It was just a door? We knew what pensions were but some assumptions are hard to break. Instead of a lobby, a heavy door led to a dark hallway, which led to an old-fashioned glass elevator, that you took to the third floor and the Pension Neuer Markt. It was a bit frayed around the edges but otherwise wasn’t bad. We got the key and I thanked the receptionist. Dekuju. I mean ... What is it again? Danke schoen. Thank you, Wayne Newton. Although, for me, in Vienna, I kept thinking of the “By Strauss” number in “An American in Paris.” Danke danke, bitte bitte.
Fifteen minutes to freshen up and then out into the blinding 4 pm sun. We walked a half block and ... boom. St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We laughed, it was so near and so beautiful. P wanted to go in right away but I counseled a walk around the city, saving the Cathedral for the next day. A block away, we tried to get a gelato at a busy store but were too frustrated by the disorganization. As we walked, P kept looking into shops for a new purse. That was her purchasing goal for the trip. Generally, though, she’d come out of the store, wrinkle her nose and shake her head. Not there. She would find what she wanted in a few days, and in the unlikeliest of places.
On Grabben, we had drinks at the outdoor café in front of the Pestsäule, a mercy column commissioned by Emperor Leopold I after the plague of 1679. It’s a statue that soars impossibly. It’s like a statue version of one of those supertall wedding cakes. Much of Vienna felt this way to me. Architecturally, it was impossibly white and fluffy. I wanted to scoop some of the icing off the buildings with my finger.
That night, the Rough Guide let us down—or time did. For dinner, Immervoll at 17 Weihburggasse sounded good, but when we got there, it wasn’t. We walked along: 13 ... 15 ... 19 .... What the--? A waiter at a nearby cafe told us it had moved a few blocks away—if the new one was even the same one. Instead, we ate at a quaint-looking but expensive restaurant run by an Asian dude. I had the weiner schnitzel. I was surprised when it arrived as deep-fried veal. I expected sausage. It was so-so. Maybe all weiner schnitzel is.
Heading out of Prague. This is probably about halfway to Vienna. P gently being rocked to sleep.
All the stuff you see out the train window from Praha to Wien: buildings ...
... decrepit train stations ...
... nuclear reactors ...
... and then, boom, Vienna. Stephansdom: Half a block from our pension.
Vienna ... or Vienna on Broadway? Only Neil Patrick Harris knows for sure.
The Pestsäule on Grabben. All the architecture in Vienna just goes up and up. Even statues to plagues.
P on Grabben, looking for a good new purse. She found it, but days later, and in the unlikeliest of places. *FIN*
Weekend Box Office: Hollywood Releases Crap Movies, America Doesn't Go See Them
The image to the right appeared in my email inbox on Friday.
Of the new films, “The Purge: Anarchy” (49% RT) grossed $28.3 million for second place, “Planes” (49%) grossed $18 million for third place, and “Sex Tape” (16%) uploaded $15 million for fourth place.
Is it still summer? Because it’s hard to tell from both the crap movies Hollywood is releasing and our tepid reaction to them. (BTW: Correlation?)
In overall 2014 box office news, “Spidey 2” crawled over the $200 million barrier, “Transformers 4” ($227m) is bumping up against “Maleficent” ($228m) for fourth place, but “Captain America” still rules with $258 million.
No worries. “Hercules” arrives next week. Here he comes to save the day.
- Indiewire's writers lay out the most underrated and underseen movies of the year so far ... and of course I haven't seen almost any of them. Only one, in fact: “Noah.” And I don't really agree with that choice. Among the others? “Dom Hemingway,” “The Rover,” “Le Weekend,” “God's Pocket,” “The Internet's Own Boy” and “Borgman.” Anyone see them? Anyone like them? “Borgman” had good buzz at SIFF this year.
- Nice review of “Boyhood” by Anthony Lane.
- Even John Boehner's friends are tired of John Boehner's whining.
- Jeff Wells slams the latest poster for “Skeleton Twins,” the funny, emotional, Sundance film starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, as “a poster that says ‘meh, no biggie’…a poster that screams Netflix and VOD when there’s nothing else to watch.” Can't disagree.
- But it still beats the official posters for “Philomena” and “Klumpfisken”: man, woman, bench, fake, ick.
- David Remnick was recently in Moscow interviewing officials who said Vladimir Putin needed to bring down the political temperature. And this was before Malaysian Airlines #17 was shot over Ukraine—supposedly by Russian-backed separatists.
- Post-MH17, Andrew Sullivan asks Charles Krauthammer and other chest-beating right-wingers, “How do you like your Vladimir Putin now?”
- Hey, Ukranian separatists: You've just shot down a passenger jet and pissed off the entire world. What do you do for an encore? You seize control of the bodies.
- James Garner, dead at the age of 86.
- Long read of the week: Jill LePore not only disrupts “disruptive innovation” in general and its advocate, Clayton M. Christensen, in particular, she lays waste to them. As recently as 2011, Forbes magazine called Christensen “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years.” But LePore quietly eviscerates him: “In 2007,” she writes, “Christensen told Business Week that 'the prediction of the [disruptive] theory would be that Apple won’t succeed with the iPhone,' adding, 'History speaks pretty loudly on that.' In its first five years, the iPhone generated a hundred and fifty billion dollars of revenue.” Inevitably, there's been pushback against LePore. Who disrupts the disruptor of disruptive innovation theory? Forbes, of course. No mention of the iPhone in that one.
How I first came across James Garner: as the laid-back, perpetually put-upon private eye Jim Rockford.
Miss Me Yet? Part VII
“I went to a communications meeting the day after Jeffords switched. I remember feeling like I was looking at people who had won a reality-game ticket to head up the White House. There was this remarkable combination of hubris, excitement, and staggering ignorance.
”Someone made the suggestion that perhaps the president should call the new majority leader. And it’s like, Well, I’m not sure that’s really necessary. Margaret Tutwiler [assistant to the president and special adviser for communications] was there, and I remember her sitting at the head of the table, her eyes just sort of wide, and she sort of lost it. She’s like, Are you fricking kidding me? She goes, The president of the United States calls the new majority leader. The president of the United States calls the new minority leader, right? The president does these things because, you know, these things have to be done.
“And, you know, people around the table—Karl [Rove], Karen [Hughes]—all these people were like, Oh, well, do we have to? It was like an absolutely serious debate.”
-- David Kuo, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, from Vanity Fair's ”An Oral History of the Bush Administration"
Quote of the Day
“How can Putin really manage this? You’d need to be an amazing conductor. Stalin was an amazing conductor in this way. Putin can’t quite pull off this trick. The audience is warmed up and ready to go; it is wound up and waiting for more and more conflict. You can’t just say, ‘Calm down.’ It’s a dangerous moment. Today, forty per cent of Russia wants real war with Ukraine. Putin himself doesn’t want war with Ukraine. But people are responding to this media machine. Putin needs to lower the temperature.”
--former Putin adviser Gleb Pavlovsky in Moscow (to the New Yorker's David Remnick) a few weeks before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, most likely by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists.
Movie Review: A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010)
I checked this out because I was so impressed with the later Hans Petter Moland/ Stellan Skarsgård collaboration, “Kraftidioten,” but “A Somewhat Gentle Man” (Norwegian: “En ganske snill mann”) didn’t quite work for me. Despite its great title, the dark humor is slightly off, its secondary characters aren’t as memorable, and then there’s the ick factor.
The ick, by the way, isn’t about violence; it’s about sex.
Skarsgård is excellent as Ulrik, a pony-tailed mob enforcer who, as the movie opens, is being released from prison after 12 years. A friendly guard offers him a bottle of booze and a piece of advice: Keep moving forward; don’t look back. So what’s the first thing Ulrik does when he steps out the gates? He looks back.
Not with animosity. If anything Ulrik seems stupefied, and it takes us a while to figure out it’s no pose. He was once a man who could kill without thought, but now he’s a man who doesn’t have many thoughts. Mostly he’s interested in going along to getting along. To a cringe-worthy degree.
At a café, he meets his old mob boss, Rune Jensen (Bjørn Flobert of “Kitchen Stories”), and the gum-chewing, matter-of-fact but argumentative assistant Rolf (Gard B. Eidsvold), and the former sets him up with a place to live, a job, and an assignment. The place to live is with Rune’s sister, Karen Margrethe (Jorunn Kjellsby), an ugly, unpleasant woman who sticks Ulrik in the prison-like surroundings of her basement. The job is at an automechanic’s garage, run by Sven (Bjørn Sundquist), who talks out subjects in long run-on sentences, and who warns Ulrik away from his secretary, Merete (Janikke Kruse), a pretty but severe woman. And the assignment is to kill the guy who sent Ulrik to jail 12 years ago.
So what happens? He winds up rejecting the assignment but sleeping with the woman. Not Merete; Karen Margrethe. That’s the ick factor. Imagine Billy Crystal sleeping with Anne Ramsey in “Throw Momma from the Train” and you get an inkling. Then times it by three.
First, Karen Margrethe brings him a television set, which he adjusts to get a Polish station; then crappy dinner leftovers; then increasingly elaborate dinners as her interest is piqued by his lack of interest. Finally, she steps out of her voluminous underwear and lays down on the small bed where he’s watching TV and tells him to get on. He does so dutifully. Not many movie scenes are tougher to watch.
Then it happens again. And again. Each time, you’re waving your hands in surrender: “No ... no!”
The world—and other women—act upon Ulrik as well. Merete’s former husband shows up at the garage and acts like an asshole; Ulrik watches. Ulrik’s ex-wife (Kjersti Holmen) tells him his son has disowned him, then asks for a quickie; he obliges. The son, Geir (Jan Gunnar Røise), finally meets the father, but without emotion, and introduces him as his uncle to his pregnant wife; Ulrik nods and goes along with it. Meanwhile, whenever he takes out a cigarette he’s told he can’t smoke there.
But slowly he begins to break out of his spiritual prison. Sven has a heart attack and asks Ulrik to watch the garage, where the ex-hubby shows up and beats on Merete until Ulrik headbutts him, takes him outside, warns him against hitting women and children, then breaks both arms. Merete is slowly grateful and, in passive-aggressive fashion, seduces him. But Karen Margrethe suspects, gets jealous, rats him out. All the small things Ulrik had slowly built up crumble, so he agrees to take back the assignment to kill the man who sent him to prison. But will he go through with it? Can he still kill without thought? Without conscience?
The ending is nice—standing outside at the salvage yard, enjoying a smoke, talking up the coming spring—and, again, Skarsgård is perfect in the role. You buy him as both acted upon and actor; as stupefied and smart. But the tone of the humor is either too loud (Sven’s run-on sentences) or too soft (the no-smoking bits). A few years later, with “Kraftidioten,” Moland gets the tone perfect.
- Drew Taylor and Jessica Kiang over at HitList rank all eight “Planet of the Apes” movies and get most of it right: from the awfulness of Tim Burton's 2001 attempt to how good the recent movies have been. But what makes the list worthwhile is less that than the fact that they've obviously rewatched the films. So often such rankings are just filler for a site, SEO crap, and it reads like crap. Even when it reads well, you can tell the writer just cobbled together a list from memory. Not here. Taylor and Kiang go deep. They know movie details and subtext. I love their reading of “Escape from ...” (No. 3), for example.
- Did you know Woody Allen wrote, directed and starred in a short mockumentary in 1971 called “Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story”? I didn't, and I'm a huge Allen fan. It's a bit Philip Roth's “Our Gang,” isn't it, mixed with “Take the Money and Run.” Wallinger (Allen) is Pres. Nixon's right-hand man, which gives Allen an opportunity to send up the Nixon administration, Kissinger (the rumors of sexual prowess), the GOP, etc. It was supposed to air in Feb. 1972, but PBS got scared and pulled it at the last minute. Shame. Via Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere.
- My “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” of Batman '66? Get a load of the rest.
- Should you bat your worst hitter first? Apparently only when it's Derek Jeter.
- Ah, but you can't say that! Because it's Derek Jeter!
- And just so you know it's not me, here's Deadspin's post-All Star Game “Haters Guide to Derek Jeter.”
- BTW: Did Adam Wainwright groove the bottom-of-the-1st pitch that Jeter hit for a double? If so, there's a history of such grooved pitches to retiring legends.
- Goooooooooooal! The final one of the 2014 World Cup. It's a beaut.
- Finally, last Friday, Richard Linklater's “Boyhood” opened for a limited release but goes nationwide tomorrow, and it's getting the expected raves. Andrew Sullivan tallies them up. Jeff Wells says yeah, but. Here's my review. If you have the chance, go.
The 2014 movie to see.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard