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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Strictly Sinatra (2000)

"I don't want to spend the rest of my days looking out the window, watching the world go by."
- Toni Cocozza (Ian Hart)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: August 26, 2002

Stars: Ian Hart, Kelly Macdonald
Other Stars: Brian Cox, Alun Armstrong, Tommy Flanagan, Iain Cuthbertson
Director: Peter Capaldi

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:36m:40s
Release Date: August 27, 2002
UPC: 025192155420
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- CB-B D-

DVD Review

We've all cut loose with a few bars of our favorite song in the shower when we were certain that nobody was listening, or have been suckered by peer pressure and/or beer into performing a karaoke number for a select circle of friends and acquaintance shortly thereafter sworn to eternal silence. But while most of us have the great good sense to know not to leave our day jobs and pursue a singing career, the hero of this movie does not, the poor lad. Toni Cocozza, a Scots fellow of 28, has even put together a nightclub act in tribute to his god, Francis Albert, and the title of the act provides the name of the film.

Toni dreams of the big time, of Vegas, or at least of getting on television, for then he could bill himself as "Television's Toni Cocozza." The members of his small following are geriatric, and early on in the story he captures the fantasy of the local organized-crime boss. Hey, if you can't play the Sands with Dino and Sammy for Sam Giancana, at least you can belt out The Lady Is A Tramp in the local pub for the muscle in town.

The great Brian Cox is on hand as the button man of the mob, and he's the catalyst for the Faustian bargain that Toni strikes: Toni failed brutally in his audition for a Star Search-like television show, but Cox has a little chat with the show's producer, and makes him an offer he can't refuse. So Toni is to be on the tube, and he's indebted to organized crime. If you've ever seen a mob movie, you know that they're going to collect on that chit.

Peter Capaldi, the writer and director of the film, must have had some serious late fees to pay at Blockbuster on his copies of Casino and GoodFellas; there isn't enough originality in the script or direction to consider this anything other than principally derivative of the work of Martin Scorsese. Many of Scorsese's signature stylistic techniques are ripped off—the overcranked camera, the dolly in, the camera perched over the shoulder of the protagonist as he walks through the bar. In a number of the scenes, you may think that the Harvey Keitel character in Mean Streets got impossibly lost and ended up wandering through the bars not of Little Italy but of Scotland.

In story terms, though, the Scorsese picture that this movie most resembles is The King of Comedy, with Toni's loony quest for saloon singer respectability akin to Rupert Pupkin's pipedreams of being a first-rate standup. The story flails about for far too long, and culminates in a largely unconvincing climax, the inevitable drug deal gone wrong, with characters behaving illogically and inexplicably. It even features the ultimate Sinatra cliché, a heartfelt version of My Way. (Scorsese at least had a sense of irony about the song, when he used Sid Vicious's version over the closing credits of GoodFellas.)

Capaldi does deserve high marks for getting good work out of his actors, though. As Toni, Ian Hart turns in good work as a guy who could be easily dismissed as a no-talent buffoon; he's so full of emotion by the end of the story that he almost turns Toni into a good singer. But not quite. Kelly Macdonald plays Toni's love interest, and she confirms the good notices she rightly earned in Gosford Park. Cox is of course excellent, as are the other third-rate mobsters; throughout, the contributions of the cast are first rate.

The material isn't, unfortunately, and cut-rate renditions of Frank Sinatra tunes coupled with a derivative plot make it difficult to sustain interest in this movie. There's a certain amount of style on display here; unfortunately, most of it is Martin Scorsese's. If the filmmaker can break loose of those shackles of influence, he may well be able to come up with a film that's truly his own, and is more entertaining than this one.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is pretty reasonable, though the filmmakers favor heavy filters that present resolution problems, on home video especially. The colors are solid, and the many night scenes are shot with panache. The occasional scratch or bit of debris crops up in the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: If your home theater setup is equipped for it, you'll want to go with the DTS track. The dynamics on the 5.1 track are mightily askew—you'll strain to hear much of the whispered dialogue, and if you've turned up the volume, you'll be punished the next time a Sinatra cover comes up on the soundtrack, as the music is impossibly loud. Most annoyingly, the different audio tracks are accessible only through the DVD menu, and not via remote control.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Subtitles and chapter stops are the only extras.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Given its tremendous debt to one of America's great directors, this movie might have more rightly been called Strictly Scorsese. And if you want to see a Scorsese picture, go to the genuine article, not here. This Scottish character study has its heart in the right place, but doesn't provide a new or fresh take on familiar material, making it difficult to recommend.


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