Movie Review: Vergara and Manganiello face the “Bottom of the Ninth”

Husband and wife Joe Manganiello and Sofia Vergara star in “Bottom of the Ninth,” a “second chance” romance that get swallowed by the generic and generally dull baseball story it’s wrapped in.

Manganiello plays a ballplayer sent to prison for a deadly mistake he made in his youth, trying to start over again 18 years later when he gets out.

Vergara is the neighborhood girl he left behind, probably not reluctant enough (realistically) to reconnect with an old flame with horrific baggage, wracked by guilt and struggling to “grow up” after losing the promise of a life where he’d never have to.

Sonny Stano (Manganiello) was a Bronx kid who had it all back in the ’90s, a big swing and a big league contract. But a teenaged brawl ended that looming career with the Yankees. He turned his back on the game while in prison, doing nine years for (I’m guessing here) manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter, and nine more years “for just staying alive.” He had to fight and hurt others just to survive Sing Sing.

Getting out, going back “to the old neighborhood,” he figures out that there’s no forgetting, no making amends, no going back.

“Second chances are hard to come by,” the old friend (James Madio) who hires him to haul fish and run personal errands, says. Like everybody else, he’s tactless about “You were the king, once, remember Sonny? And “that kid whose life you took.”

Denis O’Hare (“Dallas Buyers Club) is the perfectly blunt parole officer, not sugar coating the “major league contract, and you blew it” past.

Michael Rispoli is the old Yankees coach, now minor league manager, who tries (inexplicably, I should add) to reconnect. Sonny’s not having it.

“Me and baseball? We’re done…I gotta grow up.”

But the petty indignations of the menial job — caddying is included — eat at the former baller.

“You were a Yankee?”

“What happened?”

Killed a guy.”

The batting cage beckons. The sweet, beefy swing is still there.

So is that “offer” from the old coach. Help teach the rookies on the Staten Island Empires. Get back to the game and give back to the game.

And so is Angela (Vergara), the one he wanted to “move on with your life” back then, but still making him weak in the knees as a 40ish single mom/Spanish teacher.


The problem signs with “Bottom of the Ninth” bubble up almost right from the start, a funereal “slow walk” back through the old neighborhood that make everything that follows seem enervated.

Director Raymond De Felitta did “City Island” with Andy Garcia, and his special gift to the cinema is stretching 65 minutes of story into 110 minutes of movie. Slow, leaden scenes, one right after the other, are the rule. The conflicts here are either lost in the editing, watered down or so abrupt as to seem ridiculous and out-of-the-blue.

The only hints of style are in the baseball scenes, extreme close-ups of what Sonny “sees” in the batter’s box, “reading” pitchers, what he might be able to teach the cocky Latino (Xavier Scott Evans) slugger who might say “I don’t have to listen to no sorry-ass ‘never was,'” but who has no idea how to hit big league pitching.

The love story follows a familiar path, but is shockingly lacking in sparks. I like these actors, but Vergara dials her on-screen bubbliness down so far as to be drab on screen. And Manganiello struggles to play meek, chastened and wounded.

He’s a big guy who shines when he swaggers, is self-aware of his “Magic Mike” beefcake and has a laugh with it. He’s a convincing hitter, but the character seems like a poor personality fit. Sonny’s a boring, brooding figure that isn’t a compelling reason to immerse yourself in his story.

There’s a little life in the tired locker room tirades of Rispoli’s “Bull Durham Lite” manager, and Burt Young shows up as an old Yankee telling old Yankee stories.

But “Bottom of the Ninth” plays more like the “Seventh Inning Stretch,” a long pause between scenes where nothing much of consequence happens.


MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some violence.

Cast: Joe Manganiello, Sofia Vergara, Michael Rispoli, Burt Young, Vincent Pastore

Credits: Directed by Raymond De Felitta, Robert Bruzio. A Saban Films release.

Running time: 1:51

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Movie Review: Jamie Bell goes neo-Nazi for “Skin”


The leader of the “Keep America White” Nordic Social Club can curse and bully with the best of them. But it’s when he (Bill Camp) dials it down to a whisper that the real menace kicks in.

“I still own you,” he growls at one of his disciples, “and every inch of ink on you!”

Skinheads, their culture, common backgrounds, penchant for violence and passion for symbolic tattoos are the characters and the setting for “Skin,” Guy Nattiv’s searing and seriously unsettling tale of the white supremacists who crawled out from under their rocks when the White House changed hands.

It’s a world of racist rallies, blood rituals and blood spilled, marches for “Blood and Soil!” and the brawls that descend into riots when counter-protestors show up. Hazing and tests of testosterone, Lynyrd Skynyrd covers and rough, unemotional sex, racist rhetoric and the raging mindset that fosters.

For the old folks at home, these are fascists, “very good people,” to some. They’re the “fa” in “AntiFa,” which a whole lot of older Fox News addicts know to fear, but don’t care to find out the crazed “fa” bigots are that they’re protesting against.

Jamie Bell once again transforms himself, this time into Byron “Babbs” Widener, an Ohio skinhead deep into the culture, taken in when he had no home or “family,” now covered in the tattoos of the hardest of the hard core.

The film is framed within shots of Byron going through the excruciating pain of having those tattoos, which were imprinted just as painfully, removed. So we know he took a shot at getting out, and very quickly the narrative sets up his reason.

A rage-aholic with no impulse control, chief lieutenant to “Dad” (Camp) and Mom (Vera Farmiga), can Babbs be saved by the love of a good woman? That would be Julie, played by Danielle Macdonald (“Patti Cake$”), who grew up in “the life,” but with three daughters already, at least talks the talk.

“I don’t want my kids to be around this.”

Tough and tender Babbs sucks her back in. Will she be enough to lure him out?

New recruits are enticed with the promise that if they “join the real deal” they can “do some REAL damage.”

Not just pulling racist online trolling, wearing racist T-shirts and the like. Pulling guys out of melees to beat half to death. Mosque burnings, the works.

Nattiv allows time for just one scene where the ineffectual, threatening cops (Mary Stuart Masterson) try and “turn” Babbs, and plenty more time for the equally long shot approach of Daryle Jenkins (Mike Colter of TV’s “Luke Cage”). He runs the One People’s Project, and he’s had enough confrontations to figure out that meeting violence with violence isn’t the smart play.

“You’ve got a heart! You ain’t like them, Babbs! Love you, Babbs!”

Yeah, yelling that in the middle of a march or perp walk is just what a skinhead wants to hear. Colter makes it seem sincere, even if the character is left under-developed.


Camp is a total buy-in as the “Nordic” chief of this “like REAL Vikings” club/cult. He’s smoothest in the “intervention” they stage when they fear Babbs is drifting away.

Farmiga dazzles as the seductive master saleswoman, the bait for wayward white punks looking for direction, for a family.

“You can call me ‘Mom.”

Macdonald carries herself like the catch she knows she is, Big Girl Magic incarnate.

But it is Bell who makes the movie, belligerent, coiled fury from the tip of his bald head to the toes he bounces on as he stomps into the frame, threatening one and all, righteous in his racist wrath.

The “true story” angle and the foreshadowing — those framework scenes where we see Byron try to erase the emblems of his past — rob “Skin” of its sense of surprise.

The power of Bell’s performance, the horror of the rhetoric and mindless mindset render “surprise” a moot point. We know they’re coming. We just have to decide what to do about them.




MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and brief drug use

Cast: Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Vera Farmiga, Bill Camp, Daniel Henshall

Credits: Written and directed by Guy Nattiv.  An A24 release.

Running time: 2:00

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Preview, Netflix throws Chris Evans and Sir Ben Kingsley at “The Red Sea Diving Resort”

Netflix has a mixed bag on action pics, and that problem extends to the trailers they tend to cut for them.

This one doesn’t really sell this “true story” — and you can feel they’re leaving something out — lots of somethings.

It’s disingenuous in the extreme.

This July 31 film, “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” based on wasn’t about rescuing “dissidents” from famine and civil–war torn Ethiopia. It was about rescuing Ethiopia’s Jews from Sudan, one of several operations carried out by the Mossad (“Operation Moses,” “Operation Solomon”) etc).

Leaving that out of the trailer is either out of fear of anti-Semitic backlash or a simple acknowledgement of the overall optics of Israel bringing in more co-religionists — whose assimilation has been anything but easy  — sure seems less “heroic” than the altruism being sold here.

They’re boosting their population share of multi-ethnic Palestine/Israel, one of many ways that lead people as highly placed as Jimmy Carter to refer to Israel as “an Apartheid state.”

Timing’s a bit odd, too. Netanyahu puffing? It premieres on Netflix July 31.

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Preview, David Oyelowo, “Don’t Let Go” of your niece

This tiny bit of BH Tilt raised the hairs on the back of my neck once or two.

A favored niece kidnapped and murdered, a call, from the past? From that niece in the future?

“Wrinkle in Time” heroine Storm Reid is the niece, with the formidable and always empathetic David Oyelowo (“Selma,” “The Queen of Katwe, “United Kingdom”) as the uncle, and Mykelti Williamson.

“Don’t Let Go” opens on Aug. 30.


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Movie Review: Bullies are warned of “Consquences,” but will they ever see them in this Slovenian drama?


The words come out in different sentences, but bullies never hear them.

“There will be consequences,” ineffectual authority always says. But when that warning isn’t backed up with action — meeting violence with the full force of the law, or on a more jungle law level, meeting violence with violence — threats have no meaning.

“Consequences” is a Slovenian/French co-production about the pecking order in Ljubljana’s version of reform school. It follows a familiar path and hits many an easily anticipated way-point along that path. Writer-director Darko Stante drops obvious foreshadowing hints in our path, and rarely trips us up with misdirection or twists.

It’s still a grimly if modestly harrowing tale of wayward youth coming of age.

We meet Andrej (Matej Zemljic ), a lean and mean teen at a party, making out with a girl who taunts him when he “doesn’t feel like” having sex with her. We don’t see it, but it’s pretty obvious that he punches her.

Add that to the fact that he steals, rejects authority from his long-suffering mother (Rosana Hribar) and ineffectual pushover father (Dejan Spasic), on up the social ladder, and that this smirking, spoiled punk seems like a lost cause.

“I can’t worry about him anymore,” (in Slovenian, with English subtitles) his mom tells the judge. To “The Centre,” says the judge, even though she hasn’t seen Andrej bully and threaten his parents. This will straighten him out and teach him a lesson.

The fact that he has a pet white rat tells us he has a sensitive side. But all his behavior makes us fear for the rodent and anybody else within his reach. He’s out of control.

We don’t fear for Andrej, even though he’s leaner than the meanest dogs in The Yard. But standing up to Niko (Gasper Markun)  and taking his medicine from the psychotic top dog, Zele (Timon Sturbej) means he won’t have to follow roomie Luka’s go-along-to-get along survival strategy.

“Smoke weed…mind your own business.”

Andrej is “in” with the tough guys.

That might seem like the safest place to be. We and Andrej have seen counselors and teachers alike break up fights, non-violently, but spinelessly.

“There will be consequences.”

Their biggest threat? Taking away these sociopathic thugs’ weekend release. It’s a step rarely taken. The teachers are scared of them, too. The weak are pitilessly beaten, humiliated and robbed.

Stay on the good side of the psychotics is a survival strategy worth considering.

What we’re watching is a young man with just a hint of humanity wrestle with smothering that humanity, all for the sake of the approval of a monster-in-the-making.


Stante sketches in the reformatory in very brief scenes which capture both the nature of the place — teens are taught welding — and the characters inhabiting it. The strongest have learned that they need never control a violent impulse, even those involving open flames and tools.

Quick scenes establish psychotic Zele’s weekend routine — shakedowns, car thefts, beatings, drugs, partying. Andrej is cruel enough to cut the mustard, and soon finds himself charged with taking on tough-guy duties, “collecting” as we say in mob movies in the states.

The “surprises” here either aren’t that surprising, or seem too-abruptly introduced to give this routine teens-in-stir story its standard formula twist. The visual cues are blatant, the payoff fairly commonplace in such movies, if not in Eastern European ones.

On the plus side, the young leads are convincing, if more repellent than compelling. And the story takes on the air of inevitability far earlier than any truly inventive twist on the genre would allow.

The “Consequences” here are a movie that’s more intriguing than arresting, and not harrowing enough to be the most convincing recreation of the real thing.


MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, substance abuse-drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sexual situations, profanity

Cast: Matej Zemljic, Timon Sturbej, Gasper Markun

Credits: Written and directed by Darko Stante. An Uncork’d Entertainment Release.

Running time: 1:35

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Netflixable? Jean Reno & Co. are on the road in the desert in “4 latas,” or “4L”


It’s a well-established fact that I will watch and get something out of any picture that’s set “on the road,” and any movie set anywhere that stars Jean Reno.

That ethos isn’t given too severe a test by “4L,” (“4 latas”), a Spanish dramedy about old friends who set out to visit a third member of their former crew before he dies.

The hook here is that the friend, Joseba, is dying in Timbuktu. And as Joseba’s estranged daughter Ely (Susana Abaitua) tells and Tocho (Hovik Keuchkerian) and Jean Pierre (Jean Reno) when she meets them in Spain (actually, the Canary Islands), “If you really cared about my father, you wouldn’t go visit him by plane.”

The solution? A vintage Renault Paris to Dakar Rally car, a 1975 Renault 4L (four liters, or “latas” in Spanish).

We’ve seen lonely, drunken druggy Tocho literally chuck his security guard job, stripping the uniform off, on the street in front of his flat, keeping his boots. Jean Pierre isn’t hard to lure from his unsuccessful, half-forclosed Chateau du Soleil winery.

Ely? She’s young and tattooed with a pierced nose, no aims in life and given to picking up young men who never ever learn her name. It was her dad’s car, one he had restored in memory of treks the three guys used to make across the deserts of northwest Africa. She’s coming, too.

Maybe they’ll shoot a documentary about “”a grand adventure” through the “impenetrable desert” where “our cannot be return not guaranteed,” Jean Pierre narrates to Tocho’s camera, “a journey for humanity, for the love of Africa.”

Or maybe not.

At least Ely has Dad’s old journal, which Joseba (Juan dos Santos) narrates to her as she reads it, remembering a 1982 crossing in younger days, with a then-newer Renault 4L.

“Sin is what makes the world go round, and the desert is the epicenter of sin.”


Director and co-writer Gerardo Olivares (“The Lighthouse of the Whales, “14 Kilometers” and “Brothers of the Wind”) isn’t far from his comfort zone with this one. He serves up what you can only call standard-issue road trip/desert trek cliches — breakdowns, Third World (Morocco to Algeria to Mali) bribes, illness and romance, encounters with bandits, an old enemy, new friends and bemused stoners, old wounds and new blunders.

“This is the desert,” we’re told, in Spanish, sometimes French and rarely English, with subtitles. “Something happens at the last minute, and you get another chance.”

And as it drifts along and occasionally sputters to a halt, you either go with it’s picaresque pokiness, enjoying Reno’s grumping and diarrhea gags, appreciating the Keuchkerian (“The Night Manager,” “Assassins Creed”) spin on an ill-tempered burnout, or you won’t.

As the crew finagles its way through checkpoints, putters across the almost trackless wastes of the Sahara and exults in the “freedom” of Africa, all set to a lovely, sensitive world music/folk-rockish soundtrack by Yuri Mendez and the Cube, I almost did.

It’s not quite cute enough, not nearly as funny as you’d hope (although there are laughs, a checkpoint drug dog named “Gadaffi” for one) and not anywhere near as deep as Olivares seems to believe.

“4L” is set in Africa and feels like Africa, but that grounding flow of Africa into your soul that one character promises never happens.


MPAA Rating: TV-MA

Cast: Jean Reno, Hovik Keuchkerian, Susana Abaitua, Juan Dos Santos

Credits: Gerardo Olivares, script by Olivares, Maria Jesus Petrement and Chema Rodríguez. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:44

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Preview, Cavill and Minka, Kingsley, Fillion, Tucci and Alexandra Daddario — “Night Hunter”

Has a vague, rural “Nightwatch” feel to it, the smell of “vampires” to its story of a serial abductor and murderer.

It opens in Russia first, Direct TV in August and theatrical in that dead zone before fall films begin in early Sept.

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Two year-old Suicide Scene Edited Out of Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’

It was controversial when it first popped up on the streaming service.

And while I can’t recall be lin any copycats, the very disturbimg and graphic suicide scene that was the climax to the first season of “13 Reasons Why” became the signature of a show now in it’s third season.

Now, on further reflection, Netflix has cut it. Were lawyers involved?

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Preview, Kirsten, Skarsgard and Ted Levine muse “On Becoming a God In Central Florida”

America’s cult of swindlers pyramid schemers and hustlers meet in their Mecca, Orlando and environs, in this Showtime series, premiering Aug. 25. A natural move for Kirsten Dunst.

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Austin Butler is Baz Luhrmann’s idea of Elvis



Tom Hanks plays that slippery Dutch con artist Col Tom Parker, and Butler, a TV actor with roles in “The Dead Don’t Die” and “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” gets his big break.

Per Variety.

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