Wednesday, 12 June 2024

‘Mafia Mamma’ spoofs the family; Insight at TCM Festival



‘MAFIA MAMMA’ RATED R

Though not a marquee actor in the big box office sense, Toni Collette is nonetheless a phenomenal performer who deserves a film role that rises above the rather pedestrian assignment of suburban housewife thrust into a Mafia empire.

As so cheekily cast into the titular role of “Mafia Mamma,” Collette’s Kristin is first seen as the doting mother to a teenage son (Tommy Rodger) heading off to college and working in a marketing job that’s as exciting as finding a toy in a cereal box.

On top of perpetual worry about her son leaving home, Kristin is crushed to find that her immature husband Paul (Tim Daish), performing in a second-rate rock band, is cheating on her with a ditzy rock groupie.

News arrives that the Italian paternal grandfather she never knew has died, and that as the sole heir she needs to attend the funeral. The idea of taking a vacation in the ancestral homeland sounds like a good idea.

Good food and gelato await, but alas, she has no clue that grandpa Don Giuseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello) has bequeathed to her the family business that is embroiled in a blood feud with the Romano family.

With the help of Balbano consigliere Bianca (Monica Bellucci), Kristin overcomes her understandable reluctance to step into the role of running a criminal enterprise that she’d rather make legit over the strenuous objections of hot-tempered cousin Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta).

Fortuitous circumstances that seem unlikely allow Kristin to obtain some respect from other mafia figures but she’d prefer to have a fling with the handsome Lorenzo (Giulio Corso) that she met at the airport.

While Kristin would rather make wine and be seduced by an Italian hunk, the gangster film genre certainly won’t get a boost from limp references to “The Godfather.”

A Zoom meeting with her male colleagues planning a sexist ad campaign turns hilarious when the men are oblivious to Kristin fighting off an assassin. This just might be the highlight of the film.

Sad enough for an idea that sounded promising, “Mafia Mamma” turns flat like an extremely thin crust pizza.

The glimmer of actual jokes surface with the regularity of a Metro bus in Los Angeles, which is to say not often.

INSIGHT AT THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

As Yogi Berra once said to Yankee players, “You can observe a lot by watching.” You can also learn a lot and gain insight into show business at the TCM Classic Film Festival by attending a special presentation.

One such event that proved fascinating was “You Gotta Have a Gimmick: The Warner Bros. Trailers Show,” hosted by Randy Haberkamp of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Anyone who goes to the local multiplex knows that the previews of upcoming attractions have an impact on whether a future film release holds potential interest.

“The Trailers Show” demonstrated how advertising wizards were clever enough to pack theaters. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” starring sibling rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, may have gotten a boost with the tagline: “Try to remember this is only a motion picture.”

Another gem for Joan Crawford was the film noir “Mildred Pierce,” in which her titular role as the femme fatale was noted in the clip of Zachary Scott saying she “had more to offer a man in a glance than most women give in a lifetime.”

More to the point of Crawford’s role of the seductive woman likely to cause distress to a man involved with her, the most instructive tagline was Jack Carson’s observation that “loving her was like shaking hands with the devil.”

Haberkamp remarked that “films reflect their times,” and one must wonder at the pitch made for the 1953 Vincent Price horror film “House of Wax,” which did not feature either a single scene or actor in the promotional trailer.

The “House of Wax” trailer was a two-minute drill of taglines, from “It is Like Nothing That Has Ever Happened to You Before…” to “Every Astounding Scene in the Story Comes as Close as the Person Next to You … and You are Part of the Living Drama.”

The prize for best trailer might go to “Casablanca,” in which Humphrey Bogart is described as “the most dangerous man in the most dangerous city.”

A screening of “The Jackie Robinson Story,” which coincided with the actual day that he broke the color barrier of Major League Baseball, was not only fun to see the Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman playing himself, but offered glimpses into his personal journey.

Better still was the participation of his granddaughter Ayo Robinson who noted that all that Jackie wanted was respect as a human being. She pointed out that “acting was not quite his forte,” even if a prominent newspaper said he was very authentic in the film.

Interestingly enough, “The Jackie Robinson Story” omits some of the more vitriolic and hateful words and acts that confronted Jackie on and off the playing field.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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