Books, News and Reviews

 
 

Arts in Review

A Decade Later, Chicago Overcoat Still Finding Its Fit

"YOU CAN'T STOP THE FLOOD OF MEMORIES when it starts to rain," says Lou Marazano, played by actor Frank Vincent in the gripping crime drama Chicago Overcoat. "You either fight to get dry, or you let it pour all over you."

In this 2009 film from director Brian Caunter, Lou is an aging hitman for the Chicago mob who hasn't killed anyone for 20 years and never rose through the ranks, but is now looking for one last lucrative job so he can retire to Las Vegas. "I don't have any delusions of status," he says in one of the movie's many well-written voiceovers. The screenplay is by Josh Staman, Andrew Alex Dowd, John W. Bosher and Caunter.

Lou is given another chance when authorities begin investigating mafia embezzlement of a union pension fund that threatens a crime boss played by Armand Assante, who is in prison for a short-term sentence that could stretch to 25 years if witnesses talk. The chieftain wants them murdered, but there's not enough cash in the budget to hire a young, agile killer for the job. Lou asks for the assignment, against the initial resistance of his organized-crime superiors, who remind him that such work is a young man's game and the pay isn't worth the risk for him. But Lou has a daughter who's divorced from her young son's deadbeat, coke-head father, himself a member of another Chicago-area mafia crew in Cicero. Lou wants to provide for his daughter and grandson and to move to Vegas for a fresh start.

Vincent, who died Sept. 13, 2017,  memorably portrayed gangsters in the Martin Scorsese films Goodfellas and Casino, and also played Tony Soprano's nemesis Phil Leotardo in the final season of The Sopranos. In Chicago Overcoat, his character arranges an alibi for his newly commissioned hits by reuniting with his former lover, Lorraine (Kathrine Narducci, who played Charmaine Bucco on The Sopranos).

Lou's second hit, in which he suffocates a corrupt city alderman one night by pulling a plastic bag over the man's head, is partially witnessed through the office blinds by cops staking out the building from across the street. Lou finishes the job and gets away, but is picked up by a patrolman while walking along the street under the 'L' tracks. At the police station, Lou is interrogated by a cop who remembers him from the old days and has a score to settle. Thanks to Lou's alibi, the police have to let him go. But he has been exposed, and the mob bosses decide to have Lou killed. He ends up fighting gangsters and then cops in the film's dramatic conclusion, in one scene with an old Thompson submachine gun nicknamed a "Chicago typewriter."

Made for $3 million and shot on 35-millimeter film by six then-recent graduates of Chicago's Columbia College film school when they were in their early twenties, Chicago Overcoat is a remarkably accomplished piece of independent moviemaking. (The title is Depression-era slang for a coffin.) Particularly impressive is that the young men not only got a feature film produced with recognizable stars (who also included Stacy Keach and Mike Starr), but they convincingly wrote the story from the point of view of a man in his sixties whose glory days are far behind him and who is looking for one last opportunity to regain his self-respect.

In September, the filmmakers are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the start of principal photography on Chicago Overcoat.

"We were certainly aware of what a great opportunity it was at that age," Chris Charles, the movie's casting director and associate producer, told Moresby Press. And now, "Ten years later, the film is still finding an audience."

Charles said the costs of a theatrical release were too high, so the film premiered on Showtime. "It's just so difficult to compete with studio films that have huge marketing budgets," he said. "It's incredibly expensive to put a movie in theaters." Chicago Overcoat has since been released on home video and through Redbox, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, and most recently, Amazon Video, where Amazon Prime members can watch the movie for free.

Have the talented filmmakers behind Chicago Overcoat received the esteem they deserve? "I'm very satisfied with the recognition it got," said Charles, who estimates that millions of people around the world have seen the film on television. "For a bunch of guys coming out of school in our twenties and taking our first crack, I think we did ok."

In a strange and sad coincidence, Frank Vincent died the same day this story was first posted, at the age of 78.

"Honestly, it still hasn't sunk in for me yet," Charles said two days later. "Frank really took a chance with us, and we'll never forget it. We became quite close with him and his wife, Kathy, over the years, and we had plans to work together on other projects. But it's nice to know that Frank will live on through all of his iconic performances."



William Friedkin Revisits Exorcist, Documentary Roots in The Devil and Father Amorth

NEARLY 44 YEARS AFTER THE EXORCIST scared the hell out of audiences when it was first released in 1973, director William Friedkin is returning to the subject of demonic possession with a new documentary called The Devil and Father Amorth. Friedkin has long maintained that the original film was based on an actual case, but the new documentary follows a real priest, Father Gabriele Amorth, as he performs an exorcism on a young woman in Italy in 2016. The documentary also compares the actual exorcism to the fictionalized one in the horror classic.

On the Fourth of July, Friedkin told Moresby Press that he had just finished the documentary. The Devil and Father Amorth then premiered Aug. 31 at the Venice Film Festival. General release dates have not yet been announced.

The director was granted access to witness and film the real-life exorcism on a video camera. “I’ve never stopped being fascinated by the nature of good and evil, and the possibility of demonic possession,” he said in a May statement. 

Unlike in the 1973 movie, where the possessed child is strapped to a bed like a chained monster, the woman in the documentary visits the exorcist as if seeing a psychiatrist for therapy sessions. Still, Friedkin was terrified by what he witnessed, he wrote in Vanity Fair magazine.

The new film, Friedkin's first since Killer Joe in 2012, marks not only a return to the subject matter of demonic possession and exorcism, but to his documentary roots. The director got his start in live television for WGN in Chicago—where he was born and raised—and launched his filmmaking career with the TV documentaries The People vs. Paul Crump (1962), about a man on death row for murder whose life was spared because of the film; and The Thin Blue Line (1966), about moral ambiguity in police work.

Friedkin won the Academy Award for Best Director for his 1971 film The French Connection, in which he used what he called "an induced documentary" style of filmmaking that lent the true-crime thriller its powerful realism.

Good Time Is a Nightmare of Depravity

GOOD TIME must have been intended as an ironic title for a movie that is anything but. A physically nauseating experience, the film that opened Aug. 17 is shot in a series of extreme close-ups with a constantly moving camera against blurring backgrounds. Co-directed by brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, it tells the story of Connie and Nick (Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie), brothers who rob a bank in Flushing, Queens, despite Nick's mental handicap that from the start shows him as a young man tortured by his own existence. While they try to make their getaway in a town car, a red-paint bomb planted by the bank teller explodes in their bag of cash, covering the robbers and their stolen loot.

Against a score of bleating electronic music that only deepens the queasiness, the hapless brothers stagger into a Domino's pizza joint to clean themselves off in the bathroom, over the proprietor's protestations. They remove their black-man masks and ditch their stained outer layers of road-worker clothing, and temporarily stash the money behind the bathroom's ceiling tiles. They might have gotten away, but when a cop slows his car to question them on the sidewalk, Nick panics and runs, and the police give chase.

Connie escapes but the cops catch Nick after he runs through a plate-glass window. In jail, Nick gets into a fight with the other prisoners, and winds up in the hospital. His brother tries to break him out, but only after talking his way into the home of a poor family with whom they've shared a shuttle-van ride from the hospital does Connie realize that the bruised, bloodied and sleeping man he's sprung in a wheelchair is not his brother Nick, but a stranger bearing a resemblance to him (Ben Edelman). The man turns out to be a lowlife criminal who was injured jumping out of a speeding taxi cab while tripping on acid, after being pursued by cops for drug dealing during his first night out of prison.

Needing money to pay Nick's bail (most of the paint-spattered cash is worthless), Connie and his new accomplice sneak into a cheap amusement park after hours in search of a soda bottle full of liquid LSD—another scene that adds to the movie's overall feeling of a bad dream. When a security guard (Barkhad Abdi) catches them, they beat him, take his uniform and pour a massive dose of lysergic into his mouth, so the man will seem psychotic and criminal when the cops arrive.

Things do not end well for Connie, his ersatz partner, or his brother. The movie is something of an auteur outing for the co-directing brothers Safdie, as Benny also stars, co-wrote the film (with Ronald Bronstein), and is given editing and sound credits. Unfortunately, Good Time makes you feel like a prisoner yourself, trapped in a motion-sick nightmare of crime, poverty and mental illness.

Follow Moresby Press on Twitter: @MoresbyPress


What is 'Blockchain,' exactly?

Aug. 31, 2017

A term that's been appearing more frequently lately but often without clear explanation, "blockchain" is a technology intended to create trust between strangers so they can exchange things of value over the Internet, without the involvement of third parties. According to its proponents, blockchain is going to change the Internet and the world.

Think of it as a publicly available digital ledger of anonymous transactions assembled chronologically like a chain of blocks, with each time-stamped block, or digital file, representing a transaction or group of transactions. Once written, each block is permanent and can't be edited, thereby building a trustworthy record.

Blockchain originated as the underlying technology for the digital currency bitcoin. The "cryptocurrency" has been used to buy and sell illicit goods and services on the Internet black market, but is now expanding into mainstream commerce.

Bitcoins, which are really not coins at all but rather encrypted digital files perceived as valuable because they can only be created by solving extremely complex math problems, are just one example of digital properties that can be tracked and exchanged using blockchain technology. Blockchain verifies the value and ownership of digital properties from cryptocurrencies to documents and even songs, on networks of millions of computers, without the need for centralized authorities. In a sense, the digital record the blockchain creates is the authority, and the source of the trust it inspires.

According to its champions, blockchain technology is poised to spread beyond finance and to establish trust for people exchanging anything of value over the Internet, heralding a new era in how business interactions, food-supply chains, contracts, land titles, intellectual property like music, and even voting and journalism are stored, authenticated, moved, documented and archived, using advanced cryptography. Unlike traditional intermediaries such as banks, credit-card companies and online retailers, blockchains can't be hacked, thereby making digital transactions safer and more secure, while also protecting privacy.

Don Tapscott is a leading authority on how technology affects business and society, and author of the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Underlying Bitcoin is Changing Business, Money and the World (Portfolio, 2016), written with his son, Alex.

Blockchain "is the next generation of the Internet," Tapscott said in a 2016 TED talk. The innovation "holds vast promise for every business, every society, and for [all people] individually. For the first time now in human history, people everywhere can trust each other and transact, peer to peer."

According to Tapscott, blockchain could wrest power and wealth away from intermediaries and give that leverage back to the people. The increased prosperity that blockchain might create could help alleviate income inequality and the anger, divisions and other problems that such unfairness has inflicted on people around the world. 

 

Don Tapscott, a leading authority on how technology affects business and society, during his May 2016 TED talk on blockchain technology.


 

Shadows the Sizes of Cities, A Novel

GREGORY W. BEAUBIEN

Young travelers, murder, a love triangle, and the legacy of a father's sins

"EXCELLENT ... THRILLING ... A GREAT READ"

"COMPELLING ... STYLISH ... A FINE NOVEL"

"EXCITEMENT ... ATMOSPHERE ... FAST-MOVING ... TENSION-FILLED ... 

DISCOVER ITS SURPRISES FOR YOURSELF"

Buy the paperback or e-book today