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Fading Gigolo Blu-ray Review

Fading Gigolo (2014) movie poster Fading Gigolo

Theatrical Release: April 18, 2014 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: John Turturro

Cast: John Turturro (Fioravante/Virgil Howard), Woody Allen (Murray Schwartz/Dan Bongo), Vanessa Paradis (Avigal), Liev Schreiber (Dovi), Sharon Stone (Dr. Parker), Sofํa Vergara (Selima), M'Barka Ben Taleb (Mimou), Tonya Pinkins (Othella), David Margulies (Chief Rebbe), Abe Altman (First Rabbi), Sol Frieder (Ancient Rabbi), Max Casella (Guy at Counter), Loan Chabanol (Loan), Eugenia Kuzmina (Lady on Street), Michael Badalucco (Burly Driver), Aida Turturro (Driver's Wife), Allen Lewis Rickman (Hasidic Driver), Bob Balaban (Sol Hirsch)

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Studying the American film industry as closely as I have over the past several years illuminates certain realities. For instance, it's easy to distinguish a mainstream film from an independent one.
Mainstream films cost more, are effortlessly classifiable by genre, are often based on an established property like a bestselling book or comic, and boast one or more of the following: a good amount of star power, an appealing high concept, dynamic thrills or visual effects. The really mainstream ones are rated PG-13, though comedy, action and horror entries are just as likely to limit their audience with an R rating.

Independent films are more likely to dabble in grays, explore edgy or uncomfortable material, present the vision of a single writer (or even a writer-director), cast unknown actors, stretch a tight budget, and be admired by critics. If you were to look up showtimes at your closest theaters (especially if you do not live near the cultural center of a major metropolis), you might assume that mainstream films far outnumber independent ones, but of course, that isn't the case. Of the more than 400 films released to North American theaters this year so far, only around 80 of them have played in over 1,000 theaters at the same time. For every one of those films you see advertised extensively on television and possibly even billboards, there are four relying heavily on critical buzz and word of mouth to be discovered.

Most of these indies never see their theater count rise north of 100 or their domestic gross exceed $1 million. Those that do must be considered successful to some extent. That definition of commercial success is one we can apply to Fading Gigolo. Its $3.8 million haul from a spring release that peaked at 356 theaters is bigger than the returns of all but two non-IMAX 2014 films released as narrowly (the Indian drama The Lunchbox and the post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer). To put things in perspective, The Expendables 3 earned almost $6 million on its opening day and it is considered a huge disappointment, but it did play on about ten times as many screens.

Fading Gigolo is the biggest hit to date for its writer-director John Turturro, but certainly not for its star, John Turturro. Turturro, who has been acting in films since the early 1980s, made his behind-the-camera debut on 1992's Mac and has added a new writing and/or directing credit to his filmography every few years since then. Turturro has attracted some talented colleagues to his projects, like Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, and James Gandolfini on 2007's Romance and Cigarettes. But his filmmaking career has been a footnote to his acting one, which has seen him repeatedly work with the likes of the Coen Brothers and Spike Lee, yet also not feel out of place in Adam Sandler's circle of friends/recurring co-stars and in the ensembles of Michael Bay's blockbuster Transformers movies.

To cope with the closing of his bookstore, Murray Schwartz (Woody Allen) pitches his best friend Fioravante (John Turturro) a career in prostitution.

Turturro plays Fioravante, the titular character, though someone who stumbles into the world of male prostitution. A New York florist, Fioravante is motivated by dwindling bank account balances to follow up on a crazy idea pitched by his friend, Murray Schwartz (Woody Allen), whose family's rare bookshop is closing. Murray's dermatologist (Sharon Stone) has confided in him that she is looking for a man with whom her and a girl friend (Sofํa Vergara) could have a threesome. Murray recommends Fioravante for the job and soon enough, the lifelong pals separated by a generation are agreeing to a 60/40 split of the proceeds. Excited by their prospects, they even come up with stage names: pimp Murray calls himself Dan Bongo and Fioravante picks Virgil Howard as his gigolo moniker.

Virgil's first solo session with the skin doctor nets $1,500 with a generous 50% tip and he picks up some other clients along the way. Meanwhile, a romance begins to blossom between Virgil and Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the widow of an Hasidic rabbi whom Murray has referred. The relationship develops with massage and conversation, but it immediately assumes more meaning than Virgil's sexual clients. At the same time, an Hasidic police officer (Liev Schreiber) grows suspicious of Murray's sketchy behavior.

Woody Allen's appearance in this film is kind of a big deal. He rarely acts for himself anymore and almost never appears on camera for any other director. By doing so here, the hard-working septuagenarian provides his blessing and gives this project the feel of one of his own sex comedies. Unfortunately, that isn't a genre that Turturro seems well-suited for. There isn't so much as a single chuckle to be found here. The sex isn't sexy, either, not that one really expects that in a comedy. Virtually all independent comedies are really dramedies and Turturro tries to steer this film that way with the romance between the gigolo and the rabbi's widow. Fading Gigolo also strikes out on that front.

Only in a movie written and directed by John Turturro would these two women (Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara) be willing to pay thousands of dollars to sleep with John Turturro. Hasidic police officer Dovi (Liev Schreiber) grows suspicious of Murray, while Max Casella works a counter in the background.

The biggest problem is that there isn't one moment in the film that feels genuine. Beautiful women willing to pay thousands of dollars to sleep with some average-looking middle-aged schmoe recommended by dermatology patient? Sure. That middle-aged schmoe being cultured, perpetually single, and a sexual dynamo? Okay. The schmoe then falling for this religious widow who removes her wig for him?
If you say so. Viewers are able to suspend disbelief when served something exciting and entertaining. This uneven mess couldn't be further from either. The project honestly feels like a lame excuse to film a simulated sex scene with Sofํa Vergara and Sharon Stone. Mission accomplished, John Turturro.

I struggle to make sense of how this ill-conceived film was able to sell 450,000 tickets as is. Part of me suspects that some were purchased on the mistaken belief that Allen wrote and directed this. That may be an understandable mistake given the tone of the trailer, the easily-missed director's credit, and the fact that Allen's fans have been aging with him. It is tough to imagine anyone but old people seeing the humor in Gigolo, which Turturro imbues with neither the offbeat artistry of the Coens nor the broadly appealing playfulness of Sandler's better farces. It's a dumb movie utterly devoid of logic and laughs whose stupidity surprises in light of what we know of independent cinema and the considerable talent and experience assembled here.

Having recently concluded its theatrical run as the second highest-grossing release in the four-year history of Millennium Entertainment, Fading Gigolo came to DVD and Blu-ray this week in separate single-disc editions. We review the latter here.

Fading Gigolo Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($28.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

So rare are problems on new movies' Blu-ray transfers these days that part of me is almost grateful that Millennium Entertainment gives me something to check on and write about in this section of their reviews. That would be their otherwise regrettable practice of cropping 2.40:1 films to 1.78:1 for home video. It's puzzling how this tactic has escaped the notice of the general public and ordinarily quick-to-petition/boycott home theater enthusiasts. Fortunately, it is a non-issue for Fading Gigolo, which appears in 1.85:1 here matching the aspect ratio of its theatrical exhibition.

Shot on 35mm film (with opening titles in 8mm), the film looks great on Blu-ray. Turturro seems to have mastered the technical side of filmmaking; it's the storytelling that fails this movie. Besides the sharp, clean, warm picture, there is also satisfaction to be had in the default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, which reveals that Turturro shares Allen's ear for jazz.

Woody Allen improvises about Eminem in this bonus clip. If you missed the bottom of this screen, you may have left this trailer assuming it advertised a film by Woody Allen.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On Blu-ray, Fading Gigolo is equipped with an audio commentary by John Turturro and his assistant Cameron Bossert. Turturro comments on what's onscreen, with Bossert chipping in occasionally.
Covering the usual topics (rushed schedule, filming locations, scenes' evolutions, musical choices, film formats) and some less common ones (the inspirations for characters and their names), it's not a very interesting listen, even if Turturro clearly takes pride in his craft and shows appreciation for his collaborators.

On the video side, where everything is encoded in HD, six deleted scenes are presented glaringly without a "Play All" option. They show us more of Murray lamenting the closing of his family's rare bookstore (1:19), Woody Allen improvisation (3:05) with the black children to whom his character inexplicably looks after, extended Sharon Stone post-coital nudity and clothed sex (2:21), two Woody baseball field outtakes (0:25 & 0:57), and an extended jazz club scene (2:54).

Finally, Fading Gigolo's trailer (2:23) joins the disc-opening ones for Rob the Mob, Good People, Parts Per Billion, and Life of a King in a Previews section.

The menu plays clips in rectangles of varying sizes it moves around, while some of the jazzy score plays. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume playback, unfortunately.

The insert-less standard blue keepcase is topped by a cardboard slipcover embossing the title and mildly reworking the keepcase's front and rear covers.

Rabbi's widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) makes for an unlikely and unusual client for our "Fading Gigolo." Fioravante (John Turturro) considers his future at a table with Murray (Woody Allen).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

John Turturro's Fading Gigolo is a remarkably stupid and shockingly unfunny film. Though it evidently carries the Woody Allen seal of approval and seems to have performed okay with moviegoers, this indie comedy is just as bad as advertised.

Millennium's Blu-ray offers good picture and sound plus an okay handful of bonus features, so those liking the movie should approve, even if I absolutely cannot. It's a disc I can see turning up on clearance racks in the very near future.

Buy Fading Gigolo from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
John Turturro: The Big Lebowski • Transformers • Cars 2 | Sharon Stone: $5 a Day • Lovelace • Border Run
Woody Allen: To Rome with Love • Broadway Danny Rose • New York Stories • Crimes and Misdemeanors
Sofia Vergara: Modern Family: The Complete First Season • The Smurfs • The Three Stooges
Bob Balaban: Girl Most Likely • The Monuments Men | Max Casella: Blue Jasmine
2014 Indies: The Grand Budapest Hotel • The Railway Man • The Lunchbox • Only Lovers Left Alive • Rob the Mob

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Reviewed August 21, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Millennium Entertainment, QED International, and Antidote Films.
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