House Logo
Explore categories +

Michael Imperioli (#110 of 4)

Summer of ’91 Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

Comments Comments (...)

Summer of ’91: Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

Universal Pictures

Summer of ’91: Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

The interracial love story that anchors Jungle Fever is the least interesting element of Spike Lee’s 1991 joint. It’s the dull circle from which more compelling plot tangents offshoot. While the director is game for a surface-level exploration of the trials and tribulations of forbidden love, his once-controversial subject matter is merely a selling point designed to get asses into theater seats. Once Lee hooks his audience with the promise of sin, he pivots his social commentary to a tragic secondary character, just as Douglas Sirk did in Imitation of Life. This is appropriate, because Jungle Fever is the equivalent of a 1950s message picture. Expertly wielding his influences, Lee throws a dash of Delbert Mann and a soupcon of Stanley Kramer into the proceedings. Though the outcome is at times woefully dated, it’s also the origin of several ideas Lee would return to in subsequent films.

Tribeca Review: The Wannabe, The Driftless Area, & Meadowland

Comments Comments (...)

Tribeca Review: <em>The Wannabe</em>, <em>The Driftless Area</em>, & <em>Meadowland</em>
Tribeca Review: <em>The Wannabe</em>, <em>The Driftless Area</em>, & <em>Meadowland</em>

Set in Little Italy, executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, and “inspired by” a true story, The Wannabe is a solid but unexceptional addition to the growing canon of gangster movies whose mobsters aren’t glamorous, soulful antiheroes, but canny and unprincipled brutes. Not much is known about why the real Thomas and Rosemarie Uva chose to do something as risky and, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid as robbing mafia social clubs in Queens (the Daily News called them Bonnie and Clod). In last year’s Rob the Mob, Thomas is portrayed as being angry at the mob for having beaten his father when he was late with his payments on a business loan, but The Wannabe’s writer-director, Nick Sandow, shows him as motivated by a childlike obsession with the mafia in general, and John Gotti in particular. Desperate to be accepted into one of the families, this version of the man somehow convinces himself that robbing gangsters as they play cards is a good way to prove that he belongs. But then, thinking isn’t exactly his strong suit.

Sopranos Week: I Believe in America

Comments Comments (...)

<em>Sopranos</em> Week: I Believe in America
<em>Sopranos</em> Week: I Believe in America

With the final episodes of The Sopranos soon to air on HBO, it’s worth considering where the show fits in the pantheon of great mob stories that have been committed to film. Yes, The Sopranos is a TV show, but as such it is sui generis and can only be compared to films.

In one self-referential scene, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) and her family are eating dinner while her ex-husband laments how Italian-Americans are portrayed in movies about the Mafia. Her son, Jason, counters that mob movies have replaced westerns as the dominant narrative of the American experience. A self-serving viewpoint, perhaps, from a show like The Sopranos, but it’s also an observation that is hard to dispute.

The Sopranos Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, "Members Only"

Comments Comments (...)

<em>The Sopranos</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “Members Only”
<em>The Sopranos</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “Members Only”

Talk about starting with a bang. Last night’s Sopranos premiere broke with the show’s traditional slow-building intro by jam-packing two hours of plot into 60 minutes and capping the episode with one of its most startling violent acts: de-fanged, housebound and Alzheimers’-suffering ex-mob boss Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) shooting New Jersey mob kingpin Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in the chest at close range. It was vintage Sopranos, expected yet somehow surprising, and twisted and pathetic rather than superficially exciting. You always figured Tony might get shot, but not like this. It was downright humiliating, especially when director Tim van Patten cut to a God’s-eye-view shot of fat, bloody Tony lying on the kitchen floor, laboring to hoist his bathroom-scale-certified 280 pounds high enough to grab the wall phone and call 911.

Tony can’t die, of course; at least he can’t die this soon. Series creator David Chase can go on all he likes about how every cast member is fair game, but you still know he’s not going to kill his leading man with 19 episodes left to go. So as powerful as that shooting was, it still feels a bit like wheel-spinning. (Michael Imperioli’s Chris Moltisanti survived a less embarrassing shooting incident in Season Two.) But it’s still a shocking development, one that sets the stage for Chase and his writers to indulge their David Lynch-Dennis Potter fixation by pulling Tony out of this world and putting him into another one. The lead sentence from one of my Star-Ledger colleague Alan Sepinwall’s Sopranos preview pieces now makes sense: “There are going to be more dreams. Deal with it.”