ONE OF One of the first times I saw Joe Izzo’s byline in Metro‘s food section was on a piece that celebrated a local institution known as Sam’s Log Cabin. Izzo hailed the joint as “a landmark of rare historical significance with a life and character all its own.”
Like most interesting places of similar stature in San Jose, Sam’s is now gone, but I remember the moment when I first read that piece.
Little did I know, Izzo also wrote screenplays and even littler did I know that many years later I’d be learning of his new film, Uncle Louie, and its world premiere at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival on April 14.
A fractured and mystical fairy tale situated in quite a few celebrated San Jose locales and streets, Uncle Louie is not a multimillion-dollar Academy Awardwinning tour de force by any definition of any of those words. In fact, Izzo and a menagerie of characters threw it together for less than the price of a new car. Call it a below-budget cult classic if you will. Joe Bob Briggs would probably give it a rave review. People who dig this film probably aren’t the new-car types anyway.
The main character, Benny (Craig Ferriera), is waiting in limbo for his business plan to market a new product all over the world. Benny and his pregnant wife, Bernice (Michele Mangelli), are also in a predicament. They owe money to a rough character named Lester (Mikol Garcia), who won’t go away until he gets paid.
Lester begins to swipe things—namely Benny’s dog, Fidel—as collateral until he gets his dough. As a result, Benny and Bernice attend a voodoo ceremony to raise Benny’s Uncle Louie (Nick D’Arpino) back from the dead for just 24 hours. Louie, a cigar-smoking Italian-American from Buffalo, was a professional hit man in life, so they plan on using his talents to help exterminate Lester.
What follows is a tale of karma and forgiveness. Louie brings back all sorts of moral stories from “the other side,” including whether or not Jesus forgave Hitler. Now that Louie is temporarily walking the earth again, he educates Benny and Bernice with quite a few lessons from life and death. Is revenge worth it in the end? How does karma actually function? Is there an afterlife? Are people really better off on the other side, if it even exists at all? And where in San Jose can one get a decent anchovy pizza?
Since the film takes place in San Jose and environs, natives will recognize several celebrated landmarks. Rosicrucian Park, the Pink Poodle, the pedestrian tunnel under The Alameda, the Anno Domini gallery, Al Castello restaurant, the statue in front of Babe’s Muffler, Tony & Alba’s Pizza, Oak Hill Cemetery, as well as the clock at Time Deli all play significant roles in the narrative.
“We used those landmarks for their character, their colorful elements and wonderful old signs,” Izzo told me. “Our locations, all of them, play themes of our story. The scenery burst with color. Over at the cemetery, we caught blasting fountains and lens flares galore. It was a cinematic dream.”
When Louie appears from the dead, he smells like sulfur. Covered in leaves and twigs, it takes him awhile to realize what’s happened.
“Voodoo is one of the only religions—and we did our research—claiming to be able to reanimate the dead for determined periods of time,” Izzo said. “It made sense. And I think we pulled it off.”
Izzo even used local talent for the soundtrack. Booty Chesterfield chimes in with two ukulele tracks. The film opens with a twisted version of the old Guy Lombardo tune “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think),” and then later on we hear a version of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.” Both songs tie in to the film’s themes.
And what would be a mystical karmic romp across the San Jose landscape via Buffalo, N.Y., without serendipitous resonance of some sort? Well, both of Izzo’s parents grew up in Buffalo, and he himself vacationed in Buffalo every summer as a kid. He says the film premiering in Buffalo is “an event of extraordinary synchronicity.” He also hopes to show the film in San Jose once the whole Buffalo adventure is over. We’ll keep you posted.