Tag Archives: Ray Liotta

Return to Sender

Elvis-tinged parable of twins is bland exercise in make-believe


The Identical

Starring Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta & Ashley Judd

Directed by Dustin Marcellino

Rated PG

The movie or its marketing materials don’t say it, so I will: The Identical is the strangest Elvis movie not about Elvis you’ll likely ever see.

It’s about a young man who grows up in the South, unaware that he has a twin brother who’ll grow up to become a hip-shakin’ singing sensation—just like Elvis. The young man shares his twin’s musical talent, his Elvis-y stage moves, his Elvis-y looks, and he even gets hired as an impersonator, becoming famous as the best Elvis-y copycat in the business.

But The Identical only makes one fleeting reference to Elvis. Instead, it pretends its characters exist independently, in a bubble, but parallel to real events and real people, including Elvis. It all makes for a curious, weirdly weightless little exercise in make-believe—especially since the movie make-believes it’s not about Elvis. (The movie doesn’t have any rights to actual Elvis music, or anything else “Elvis”—because those things cost a lot of money.)

Elvis actually had a twin brother who did not survive childbirth. What might have happened, though, had Presley’s twin lived? Perhaps something like this, The Identical suggests.


Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd

A poor couple in Depression-wracked Alabama gives birth to twin boys, but can’t afford to raise them both. So they give away one to a traveling evangelist (Ray Liotta) and his wife (Ashley Judd), swearing them to lifelong secrecy. Then they stage a mock funeral, burying an empty shoebox behind their ramshackle house, so the neighbors won’t question why the infant is no longer around.

The years pass. Newcomer Blake Rayne (a former Elvis impersonator—for real!), making his acting debut, plays both the preacher’s kid, Ryan Wade, as well as the pop-rock sensation Drexel Hemsley, although Drexel has only a couple of scenes and one mumbled line of dialog. This is the story of the “other” brother, who’s tugged between the rock ’n’ roll DNA somehow in his genes and the wishes of his father to pursue a more righteous path.

The Identical is a modest little movie, made on a shoestring, no-frills budget of $3 million. Sometimes it feels just one rib poke away from a Saturday Night Live skit, or the kind of outright parody John C. Reilly did with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, his faux-Johnny Cash send-up. But it plays it straight—and narrow, constantly hammering its faith-and-values themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and discovering “who [God] made us to be,” and over-amping every emotional tone to eleven.

Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano provide hijinks that feel lifted from old Happy Days reruns. Judd spouts homilies like “Slap the dog and spit on the fire.” And Liotta (also one of the executive producers), best known for playing a mobster in Goodfellas, digs in to his role as a man of the cloth like it was made out of ham and cheese.


Despite some scenes with howlingly high levels of hoke, some viewers will nonetheless likely find something to love about this bland, edge-less, Elvis-tinged parable, which has nothing to offend, shock or rub even the most sensitive of sensibilities the wrong way—like a lot of Elvis’ music, or his own movies. Come to think of it, Presley may have “left the building” long ago, but his spirit is still around, even in a strange little movie that pretends it’s not.


—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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What’s Up, Doc(s)?

Film festivals offer movies for every taste—mine happens to be documentaries


“Led Zeppelin Played Here”—or did they?


If there’s a film festival anywhere near you, by all means, check it out.

You may not consider yourself a movie buff or a “film connoisseur.” But film festivals aren’t necessarily the snooty, spotlight-drenched superstar art fests you might imagine them to be, and almost all of them offer real off-the-menu treats, opportunities to go beyond the usual fare of the local movieplex. And many, if not most of them, are ticketed events open to the public.

I recently spent most of 10 nights at the 2014 Nashville (Tenn.) Film Festival, a gathering that’s generated a big buzz over the years as a don’t-miss event for many upcoming filmmakers and actors—like Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd and Seth Green, who were there this year to promote their roles in The Identical, about a young man who grows up not knowing he’s actually the identical twin brother of a successful singing superstar, a la Elvis.


“Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory”



At the Nashville festival—which screened more than 250 films from 50 different countries, to a record-breaking 42,000 attendees—as with most fests, there were films for just about any taste. I’ve always loved documentaries, and this year the NFF had another bountiful slate, with an especially strong emphasis—Nashville being Music City, you know—on musical topics. (Many of them were sponsored by Gibson guitars, one of the festival’s main sponsors. Thank you, Gibson!) Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory was an emotionally moving chronicle of a social worker, iPods and the use of music to “re-awaken” Alzheimer’s patients. In The 78 Project, two musicologists record a variety of performers the old-fashioned way—with a 1930s direct-to-disc recorder, one microphone, one blank disc, and one three-minute take. I smiled almost all the way through Brasslands, a joyous look at three groups—including one unlikely contender from New York City—competing to bring the trophy home from the world’s largest brass band competition in a Serbian village.


“Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty”

It was a bit of a different vibe at Led Zeppelin Played Here, a serio-comic examination of a 1969 incident involving a certain about-to-be famous British rock band that may—or may not—have played at a youth center in Wheaton, Md. And Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty rocked me with a portrait of the journeyman albino blues guitarist who’s lived through a monstrous heroin addiction, partied with Janis Joplin and performed and recorded alongside his younger brother, Edgar.

Glen CampbellllIllBeMe2

“Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”

But the highlight of the festival, especially for music lovers, was seeing the event’s crown jewel documentary, Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me, about the country singing star’s valiant struggle with Alzheimer’s, receive the Grand Jury Prize in its category, and also the top-voted audience award.

Some of these films may come to a mainstream movie theater, or show up on Netflix or cable TV, or be released on DVD. But there’s just something about seeing them in a theater full of like-minded film fans, in a big, dark room—and seeing them first.

And they only way you can do that…is at a film festival!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Puppet Power

Jim Henson’s creations still serving up ‘entertainment for everybody’


Muppets Most Wanted

Ricky Gervais, Tiny Fey & Ty Burrell

Directed by James Bobin

PG, 107 min.


The Muppets have been around since 1955, and their creator and longtime driving force, Jim Henson, the puppeteer who brought them from TV’s Sesame Street to Hollywood and beyond, died in 1990. But Henson’s original idea that his Muppets offer “entertainment for everybody” is still very much alive and well.

The troupe’s eighth movie is yet another family-friendly, something-for-everyone affair, a rollicking roundup of trademark put-on-a-show shtick, gonzo sketch comedy, toe-tapping musical numbers and a zany bombardment of guests. As always, the felt-and-foam antics of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the other familiar Muppet cast are bolstered by a parade of Hollywood pop-ins, which helps freshen up some of the vaudeville-style gags.


Tina Fey plays a Siberian prison warden with a penchant for song-and-dance.

The cameos come fast, and often last only for an instant—step out to the lobby even for a moment and you could easily miss Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Saorise Ronan, Salma Hayak, Ray Liotta, Stanley Tucci, Chloë Grace Morentz, Josh Grobin, Celine Dion or a number of others who all seem eager for even a small part of the fun and a moment in the Muppet sunshine. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell have more substantial roles in the story, which concerns a nefarious Kermit look-alike who infiltrates the ensemble, beginning a trans-European crime spree and sending everyone’s favorite show-biz amphibian away into shivery Siberian exile.

Of course it sounds preposterous. But you do understand we’re talking about a bunch of talking, singing, dancing puppet animals…right?


—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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