Lionsgate // 2003 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Aaron Bossig (Retired) // February 24th, 2005
Bought & sold.
A Jersey Tale emerges from the film festival circuit with a lot to offer movie fans. It's a solidly-made film by a group of young and promising artisans. Call it a hip new Latino movie. Call it a superb indie. Call it a decent way to spend an evening.
With a wedding on the horizon and a dream of becoming a DJ, Ray Ray Morales (Rafael Sardina, War of the Worlds) is eager to start a life for himself. The only problem is his fiancée Hilda (Cristina Ablaza) is expecting an expensive wedding, and the sound system Ray wants to start his business costs $3,000. Unfortunately, Ray's job as a shoe salesman isn't generating the kind of income he needs to live his dreams. Taking a side job with the neighborhood loan shark eliminates his money troubles, but introduces him to a whole new set of problems. Working alongside an elderly and troubled pawnshop owner, Ray starts to wonder where his loyalty should truly lie.
While A Jersey Tale is a fairly good movie, at first glance, it's not entirely easy to see why. Yes, it's competently made, and has some decent acting in it. But what exactly serves to separate it from all the other young-guy-gets-pulled- into-the-mob movies that continue to pop up? It's not found in a unique storyline, or in a groundbreaking directorial style. It's in the small things.
They might not have years of Hollywood experience (for most, it was their first big project), but the cast and crew of A Jersey Tale still manage to deliver a movie driven by great acting and imagery, at all times presented with key subtlety. Underestimating your audience is so easy for a young filmmaker to do, but the team behind A Jersey Tale makes the most of their gifts.
One example of this is how the love interest is worked into the movie. The initial conflict presented in the story stems from Ray Ray's attempt to earn enough money to keep Hilda happy. Naturally, this is not the foundation for a healthy relationship, but that problem is not forced into the story. Ray's conflict with Hilda escalates very naturally in the background of his chaotic work life until a solution naturally presents itself. And, when Ray finally finds a rewarding relationship, it's not shoehorned onto the conclusion of the movie as a saccharine ending -- the hero is left with an uncertain future, but a good feeling.
The pawn shop owner, Kutty (David Margulies, Ghostbusters), is written with a particular flair. His character is a stern, humorless old Armenian man. He doesn't welcome Ray's presence in his store, and even keeps his own daughter at arm's length. However, we the audience get to see through his iron exterior -- not through simple words, but in studying how he does business. Although he's a shrewd dealer and won't be taken advantage of, when given the chance to help the truly needy, he finds a way. By showing which customers Kutty haggles with and which ones he doesn't, the film gives us meaningful insight into Kutty's cold exterior.
To top it all off, a truly professional look is achieved by the composition of the film. The lighting and angles are orchestrated in such a way that they bring a very artistic look to what is already a good movie. Simple, yet effective, touches are added from such things as windows and lamps.
Lions Gate Home Entertainment may just be one of the most frustrating DVD producers in the industry. On one hand, they've been a boon to independent filmmaking, granting large-scale releases to small-time movies. Unfortunately, the quality of these releases has been far from guaranteed. While some titles, like Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow get full "Special Edition" treatments, other films get dumped onto DVD halfheartedly. A Jersey Tale is one of those films.
The most obvious problem with the disc is the aspect ratio. It's regular VHS-grade open matte. While the movie isn't presented in its native widescreen, the trailer and promotional material give away the truth -- this movie was created and exhibited in widescreen, and Lions Gate's reason for presenting it in open matte is lost on me. Yet they don't show complete disdain for the movie. The DVD also features an audition reel and a filmmakers' commentary, which might start to make up for the poor presentation. In addition, while Lions Gate didn't care enough to include the right aspect ratio, they did include both a 5.1 surround mix and a standard 2.0 mix. Lots of care to the audio, none to the video. This contradiction is making my head hurt.
As an enthusiast of independent film, I feel like Lions Gate is making us choose between lowering our standards or looking a gift horse in the mouth. To be fair, the open matte transfer is more or less clean, but if it weren't, would Lions Gate care?
If you have even a passing interest in independent film, Hispanic interest movies, or crime flicks in general, A Jersey Tale is made well enough to be worth the effort. The people in front of the camera cared, the people behind the camera cared, and in the end, they turned out a good movie.
A Jersey Tale, while not perfect, has done nothing wrong in the eyes of this court, and is free to be shown at film festivals and rental outlets everywhere.
The case against Lions Gate is suspended pending further evidence.
Review content copyright © 2005 Aaron Bossig; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Writer/Director Commentary
* Audition Reel
* Official Site