Mob stories continue to be such a hit with movie audiences that you can't blame Mafia sons -- whose dads did the crimes and the time -- from trying to cash in.
The latest picture is from Fred Carpenter, an independent filmmaker who has written, directed and produced quite a few low-budget mob movies in the last two decades, and who has come up with a new twist on the Godfather and Goodfellas genre in his never-ending quest for the big time.
Instead of a plot that revolves around the usual mayhem and assorted mob madness that airs regularly on both the big and little screen, Carpenter has employed relatives of some pretty well-known real-life wiseguys in a film that focuses on three 17-year-old high-school football players growing up in the turbulent 1960s.
Paul Vario, the grandson of the legendary Luchese capo played by Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas, leads the way. (Remember the wedding scene, where everyone is named Peter or Paul? He's one of them.) Also featured is Anthony Trentacosta, the namesake son of the late Gambino soldier who was known as Tony Pep. Both get top billing on the DVD that Carpenter has sent out to reviewers of the movie, "Just Like Joe."
Other cast members include Anthony L. Gurino, whose father, Caesar Gurino, is a twice-convicted longtime pal of the late John Gotti, as well as Gaetano (Tommy) LoGuidice, an actor whom the FBI carries as a Gambino associate. The film is set in 1969, the tumultuous year of Woodstock, peace, love, and anti-war protests.
The movie follows the ups and downs of three diverse, and very different teenagers as they deal with two burning issues of young men of the era -- racial prejudice and the fear of dying in the Vietnam War. Their only real bond is their desire to be "Just Like Joe," -- Joe Namath -- the swashbuckling rebel icon who boldly predicted that he would lead the New York Jets to their only Super Bowl victory in that special year.
"If I drop dead tomorrow, I can die with a smile on my face because I know I made an awesome movie," said Carpenter, adding that the flick, which cost a total $400,000 to make -- he insists none of it is mob money -- "appeals to right-wing Republicans and liberal Democrats alike."
Gang Land hasn't seen the movie, but Carpenter, who said the final cuts were made last month, says audiences at five screenings -- the most recent was in June at the Fairfield Community Theatre in Fairfield Connecticut -- loved it. The film won the Audience Award last year as the favorite of attendees of the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore.
Vario, who was known as "Pork Chops" in the 1980s when he frequented Channel 80, a hot Luchese family nightclub in Freeport, L.I., plays the blind father of the team's star quarterback -- his fifth acting role since he entered the world of make believe in 2001.
Vario, 47, told Gang Land he became an actor that year when Danny Provenzano -- a nephew of Tony Pro Provenzano, the wiseguy credited with orchestrating the demise of Jimmy Hoffa -- walked into "my desert shop and said, 'Hey, you wanna be in a movie.'" That led to his first role -- "Big Paulie" a mob bodyguard in "This Thing Of Ours," a 2003 Provenzano flick that starred Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore, who were then making their gangster acting bones in The Sopranos.
Tony Pep died in federal prison four years ago while doing time for racketeering and never got a chance to see his son play Mr. Borgotto, the team's coach. Trentacosta, 42, says he got into the acting business "by accident," when Carpenter, who has shot all 14 movies he's made on Long Island, was looking to shoot a scene for "Just Like Joe" at a storefront business he was operating.
"At first, I thought he was an FBI agent, but then he convinced me he was on the up and up," said Trentacosta. "But I had to leave to get a haircut so I told my wife to take care of him and she didn't want to, so I blew up and yelled at her -- I got a bad temper, I do that a lot -- 'You do what the fuck I say.'"
"Carpenter looks at me and says, 'Could you do that in a movie?'" And an acting career was born.
Gurino, who dated his high-school sweetheart Victoria Amuso, the daughter of Luchese boss Vic Amuso for eight years before they broke up five years ago, took a somewhat more traditional path into the acting business. He graduated from St. John's University in 2001. A year later, he went to acting school.
"I always wanted to be an actor," said Gurino, who played a homeless boy in "The Equalizer," a CBS episodic about a former spy-turned private detective back in 1987, when he was eight years old.
The 30-year-old actor, who plays a racist bully in "Just Like Joe," has officially appeared in six movies, although he has sometimes wound up on the cutting room floor.
"I was in a scene with Denzel Washington in American Gangster. It was exciting but it got cut out of the film," he said. "But I got a credit."
LoGiudice, who plays a rival high school coach, has appeared in five episodes of the Sopranos, as well as 10 films, including Analyze This, Donnie Brasco and Goodfellas, in which he played a member of Henry Hill's crew of thugs in the 1970s. Gang Land could not reach LoGiudice, 34.
"This is one of the best independent films ever made," Carpenter declared unabashedly. "The acting is phenomenal. There are a few Oscar-winning performances."
Relax, Academy members. This is not an offer you can't refuse.
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