“I crave something cold and chocolate”
When you look at the poster for R. Allen Russell’s Uncle Louie, it’s hard not to imagine an overwrought drama featuring a Godfather-esque mob boss presiding over his subjects. The opening scene plays up the stereotype as Benny (Craig Ferriera) takes a stroll through the California streets of his home, a Chihuahua stuffed inside his jacket front. Italian-isms such as this comedic choice of characterization populate the whole of the film, making it more parody than drama although it’s surprising level of introspection and talk of accepting the treasures one has in life also strangely juxtaposes with its comedy genre. Playing at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, this work, written by Joseph Mangelli and Joseph Izzo, is most definitely from aspiring filmmakers taking it upon themselves to make their mark and create. Despite many problems—most of which are a direct result of budgetary restraints and inexperience—you do ultimately get the feeling that the final product is exactly what was envisioned. It’s rough around the edges, confusingly pieced together in parts, and intentionally absurd, but I’d be lying to say it didn’t get me laughing a few times.
It isn’t always witty, intelligent screenwriting that’s necessary for successful humor; sometimes random, ham-fisted dialogue and plot can work on its ineptitude, causing you to raise your hands in giggling frustration at what’s onscreen. Uncle Louie did this for me. It would be easy to dismiss the work as a fun endeavor by a few guys in way over their heads, failing to find the polish of more seasoned industry veterans, but that defeats the purpose of creativity and freedom. I applaud the cast and crew involved for having the passion they so obvious had in order to craft this. There are definitely levels to the storytelling—the simple plot of a man and his pregnant girlfriend resurrecting his uncle from the grave through voodoo in order to diffuse a situation concerning an over-zealous, violent loan shark is only on the surface—that are apparent even if I had no clue what they meant. The titular mob boss re-enters our plane of existence through mirrors, that much I know. Why the film is bookended by two random people setting up a hand mirror on a card table, blinding the camera with light, I have no idea.
If I were to single anyone out, it would have to be Mikol Garcia. Playing Lester, the heavy who threatens bodily harm and to eat Benny’s dog Fidel, he is by no means a ‘good’ actor in the sort of terms you’d want him to be. However, his lack of polish adds to his menace with line readings full of contempt and anger, almost made to purposely not be in on the joke. One of the best moments of the film comes early on when his lackey James (Michael Senter) resigns. The recession hasn’t only been kicking Lester in the butt, but his employees have found working at a restaurant for tips may be more lucrative than punching debtors in the face. It’s a scene set up with complete seriousness, boss at the desk and punk lazing about relaying the information. The timing and atmosphere is perfect as this pencil pushing conversation takes place when you expect vulgarities and talk of chopping off fingers. It’s Garcia’s dejected “shut the f*ck up” that caps it all with a laugh before heading back to Benny and Bernice’s (Michele Mangelli) more tedious situation.
Ferriera and Mangelli do their best, his Benny finding more success at disguising the forced reactions and acting ticks than her Bernice. There are inconsistencies within their characters, but you don’t go see an ultra-low budget/amateur film like this thinking you’re going to get Oscar-caliber writing. The joke of the matter is that she actually has the money to pay off the loan he made behind her back, freeing them from the entire situation supporting the film. Sure, the cash is saved for their baby on the way, but when the alternative is having your car stolen, dog killed, and possibly your own wellbeing put at risk for rape or death, you pay now and worry about finances later. Or, I guess, you go to a mystic, sacrifice a chicken, and bring back to life a wiseguy from Buffalo, whacked in 1972. Benny’s father always told him Louie (Nick D’Arpino) was a fixer, instilling fear and doing what was needed to solve any situation; the part left out was just how sensitive this killer would be upon resurrection. The after-life makes you forget the little things back on Earth, so to say Louie gets distracted is a giant understatement.
Those distractions are fun, though, especially his barreling through a touch of ‘agita’ in order to eat as much food as he can. Arriving at their house covered with leaves and dirt, he gradually cleans himself up to look the part before confronting Lester in a nicely tailored suit with tanned skin and a quality cigar. The journey works as D’Arpino has the natural charisma to excel opposite Ferriera and Mangelli’s never-ending incredulity towards him. The dynamic is a flimsy one and I did almost hope Louie would give them the slip to journey on his own while Lester had his fun, but once the message of love and appreciating life work their way in, you understand the motivations behind many laughable moments. It’s when Uncle Louie is at its most crazy that it is at its best. I can forgive the convenient resolution, the inane ‘Tight-Lite’ scheme, and the odd lingering of scenes devoid of action as though the director forgot to yell cut because I remember I’m not watching a forty million dollar studio blockbuster. Hopefully the filmmakers can take this experience and evolve, working towards their dream of one day having their names in lights.
courtesy of Uncle Louie official site