Can't buy me love: John Turturro (left) and Woody Allen.
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Fading Gigolo: A little John Turturro goes a long way. Too much is plain revolting

John Turturro's fifth film as director is remarkable for getting so much wrong. The characters are vacuous, it misfires comically, but worst of all is his choice of leading man.

Fading Gigolo (15)
dir: John Turturro

Fading Gigolo begins in a bookshop. Its elderly owner, Murray, is recounting to his fiftysomething pal Fioravante a conversation he had with his dermatologist. The skin doctor and her female friend were interested in experiencing a threesome and wondered if Murray knew anyone who could oblige. Murray suggested Fioravante and a price tag of $1,000. Despite Fioravante’s lack of experience in male prostitution (he is a plumber and a florist), he gives a shrug of consent.

In no time, the two men are in cahoots: Fioravante the impassive stud and Murray his enterprising pimp, drumming up business and taking a cut of the profits. With or without the jazz score trying to persuade us that what we are watching is funny and spry, this would be a peculiar start to a light comedy. It couldn’t feel any loopier if the pimp were played by Woody Allen in a rare departure from his own films and the dermatologist by Sharon Stone, or if the film climaxed at a tribunal of Hasidic elders. All of which happens to be the case.

John Turturro, who wrote and directed Fading Gigolo, takes the lead role of Fioravante, which is the first sign that all will not be well. Turturro is an accomplished miniaturist capable of suggesting entire lives in the briefest of screen time. He was electrifying as a craven hood in Miller’s Crossing and a paedophile bowler in The Big Lebowski, both films by the Coen brothers. But a leading man he is not. He is the acting equivalent of coriander. A little goes a long way and too much is plain revolting.

He is not his usual overbearing self in Fading Gigolo. He isn’t really anything. The part he has written for himself is large and broadly flattering, yet faint to the point of being no part at all. It’s not only that Fioravante is vacant: cinema’s best-known stud, Joe Buck, played by Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, was hardly the sharpest six-shooter in the saloon but at least he was full of chaos and conflict. Fioravante’s only distinguishing quality is his ability to bring sexual pleasure to any woman at will. Oh, and he’s not bad at flower-arranging. As complex characterisation goes, it’s not quite Hamlet.

That sweaty liaison with the dermatologist promises to make this a skin flick in both senses of the word. The real focus of the story, though, is Fioravante’s involvement with Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a rabbi’s widow. He helps to coax her out of her grief with his sensitive hands and his complete lack of discernible personality. In Fading Gigolo, men give fulfilment and pleasure to women. What women bring to men is unclear, apart from gratitude and a nice boost to the ego.

In the margins of the film, odd scenes pile up like leaves in autumn. The neighbourhood patrol officer Dovi (Liev Schreiber) twigs that the pimp Murray has been behaving strangely. Dovi hides with his deputy in the bushes while the old man is leading a softball game in the park between his four African-American stepchildren and a
group of naive young Hasidim. What are the chances that those tykes will hit a home run that clocks one of the snoops on the head? We can only hope there will be some jaunty music to tell us when to laugh.

It would be misleading to suggest that the film falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category. But a degree of obscure pleasure can be derived from the wrong-headedness of everything about it, from title to conception to tone; from music to editing and even the placement of the camera.

If in doubt, Turturro opts for an extreme high or low angle, or a crane shot swooping down on to the action. And he is in doubt a lot. Despite this being his fifth feature film (his previous work includes the 2005 musical Romance & Cigarettes), he gets almost nothing right. Though on reflection, perhaps that is unfair. I shouldn’t have said “almost”.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Peak Ukip

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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