Capone: Just a guilt-ridden rodentia since syphilis and dementia took away his verve.
You know Muni and Robards and Rico Bandello/ Steiger and Gazzara and Dame Judith who was no fellow/ But does Tom Hardy present a compelling scumball/ or is Capone yet another long haul?/ Così cosà.
After serving a decade behind bars and no longer considered the “shame of the nation” he once was — see what a syphilis and dementia frappe where a brain once lived will do to a man? — the feds sentenced Fonse (Tom Hardy) to spend what would be the last year of his life in a Florida mansion. And just to be clear: there’s no future in brandishing the past. The name is Fonse. Not Al. Not Mr. Capone. And certainly not Scarface. Just Fonse. Our initial encounter with Fonse on a blustry Thanksgiving Day finds him stoking fear (and pronounced irony), snarling down wood-brown halls with fire iron extended: Karloff’s feeble-minded monster playing hide and seek with his grandchildren.
Fonse delights the family with after-dinner tales of a childhood spent in Park Slope, staring out the widow of his family’s rat-infested tenement at the rich folk across the way as they enjoyed a holiday feast. Thanksgiving lives on in his mind as a day of vengeance, an annual excuse to “shove it in Brooklyn’s face.” It’s one of the few coherent moments the now fruity capi di tutti is afforded. It’s a wonder he can remember to puff hard enough to keep the cherry going on the soggy scrap of undigested cigar wedged in the corner of his mouth.
Hiding beneath a Lady Scarface scarf so as not to be made by the Highway Patrol — never mind the pervasive stogie — Fonse accompanies trusted friend Johnny (Matt Dillon, you look marvelous) across state lines, purportedly on a fishing trip. It’s here that a paranoid Fonse remembers to tell Johnny that he forgot where he stashed $10 million in cash. Eventually everything begins to play out as an outgrowth of Fonse’s delirium.
The conjectural framework has more holes than a Clark Street garage on Valentine’s Day. November 28, 1946, the war still fresh in the minds of most Americans, and what’s on the radio for menfolk and children to gather ‘round while the women do the dishes? I’m betting anything but a conveniently planted history of the above-referenced gangland massacre.
Hardy’s wet sandpaper blush and hollowed-out eye holes couldn’t have been more telling had the blackness been optically matted-in. But what’s a fellow actor to do when forced to share screen time with a colleague given little more than catatonia as a driving motivation? As Mae Coughlin, Fonse’s bride for 29 of his 48 years, Linda Cardellini, the film’s main source of compassion, is given little to do other than wipe the corners of her husband’s mouth — or strip the sheets and escort him to the shower after a bout of fecal incontinence. The two were purported to be deeply, devotedly in love, but that doesn’t stop writer-director Josh Trank (Chronicle, Fantastic Four) from giving Mae pause for comeuppance. Two slaps from Ms. Coughlin and the big gorilla hit the deck like a sack of flour.
Difficult as it is to dramatize a character in the end-stages of farblunget, Trank relies on guilt-tinged fantasy sequences as tugboats. What begins with a bloodied young boy at the foot of his bed is soon followed by a somnambulistic stroll through a basement party with Louis Armstrong (Troy Anderson) on trumpet, opening for a guest slasher on knife. And what point is there, other than facile insurrection, in having Al Capone join the Cowardly Lion for a superimposed singalong? I kept hoping the lurking coppers would step in and drive the story in a direction other than hearty tight shots of Hardy’s gelid gaze. Now playing at a Redbox near you. ★★
Video On Demand New Release Roundup
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy — Elizabeth Carroll’s name appears just below “Directed By,” when her credit should read, “Keeping Pace With a 90-Year-Old Activist, Author, and Honorable Foodie by.” Who knew the world’s foremost authority on regional Mexican cuisine was a white British lady? Diana Kennedy is a recipe catcher, traveling the backroads of Mexico, researching and gathering data on pinches of this and dashes of that. Her feisty nature calls to mind Katherine Hepburn, first when she refers to her late husband Paul as “the Spencer Tracy type,” and again when the word “calla lilies” blooms from her lips. Kennedy is equally celebrated for her PBS series The Art of Mexican Cooking, and a then-and-now comparison of guacamole recipes finds that little has changed — particularly an avoidance of blenders and garlic. Her thoughts on sustainable living are as reliable as the cooking classes taught out of her kitchen, a tradition that continues to this day. Visit the Digital Gym’s website for a screening link. 2019. —S.M. ★★★
Military Wives — If Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty had balls, it would have proudly displayed them in the film’s curtain shot. This time, with their husbands and lovers deployed in Afghanistan, rather than take a strip-tease show on the road, Cattaneo’s titular guardians of the home front, here bivouacked at a British army installation, look to singing to ease the anxiety and loneliness. Cute happens, the act catches on, and the ladies travel to Albert Hall to belt out a few tunes. Arrogant professionalism clashes with amateur aspirations when the frosty, high-strung Colonel’s wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) takes on the manager of the local PX (Sharon Horgan) to see who will command group loyalty. At least two dozen members of the choir appear for the climatic recital. But for a few single-use figurines — a tone deaf beautician, a recent war widow, a camera-shy nightingale — the only characters allowed even a modicum of depth are our leads, both of whom display a gift for sprightly one-upwomanship. 2019. —S.M. ★
Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer — I refused to subscribe; the tabloid hit my local 7-11 sooner than it would have reached my mailbox. Publisher Generoso Pope, Jr. first envisioned the Enquirer as a gore rag. But carnage and checkout lines didn’t mix, so he opted for celebrity gossip. If the stories weren’t true, they should have been. Bob Hope claimed his mistresses as tax deductions; Pope killed the story in exchange for a slew of positive interviews with the comedian. Ditto Bill Cosby, who paid the lease on a “stabbin’ cabin” belonging to a Vegas dancer. But after their coverage of the O.J. trial outclassed the Times, the paper went swell-headed. It’s been 15 years since I last picked up a copy. That’s what happens when shit goes legit. This latest talking heads documentary from CNN is to cinema what the tabloid was to journalism. The fuzzy library clips used to illustrate the era appear to have been lifted from industrial films for the Holiday Inn. And with all the salacious tidbits up for discussion, why devote 10 minutes to Trump’s checkered past? This is CNN. 2019. —S.M. ★★
The Trip to Greece — It’s more of an outright faceplant than a trip when duelling fusspots Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon retrace Odysseus’ ten-year journey from Troy to Ithaca in six days. Lunches consist of three-camera shoots with a side of bumpy cutaways to the kitchen or waitstaff, brought in to trim the open mic schtick when it goes too long. Michael Winterbottom has made so many masterpieces (In This World, Tristram Shandy, The Wedding Guest) that he’s allowed to coast, but the black-and-white Bergmanesque dream sequence involving Coogan’s dying father was patently morbid. I consider myself a Winterbottom completist, when in truth, during the decade since this series of in-joke radio travelogs has been in existence, this is only my second Trip. I have no intention of booking passage should there be another installment. Coogan and Winterbottom have teamed for 8 movies and a TV series. The law of diminishing returns indicates it’s time they took a break. 2020. —S.M. ●