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Stax takes an in depth look at Scorsese's DINO project

Here's an IN DEPTH look at a draft of DINO. I say 'a draft' cause I don't know at what point in the process this script was written. Is it 2 years old, has it been rewritten since HBO's RAT PACK? I don't know. Take this review and look at the project as a point of view on a script that once existed. Because we don't know the current state of the project or this draft... It's a bit ludricous to put a great deal of weight on the statements that Stax makes... Unless it is the current draft, which would then raise some modest concerns. Ultimately Scorsese is a master storyteller and... I trust his hand wielding this (and any other project he chooses to take on). So read this, and wonder... "Where is this now?" I'll try to find out which draft this is, but so far... I have been out of luck. ("well get some"... ahhh shucks Mr Bradley, I'm sorry) Here's Stax...

Stax here. I managed to buy a copy of the screenplay for Martin Scorsese's future project "Dino", written by Nicholas Pileggi (and not by Paul Schrader, as erroneously reported elsewhere) and based on the gritty Nick Tosches bestseller. Now the script only had a card stock cover and not a title page, so I'm not sure what draft it is or when it was dated. Bear that in mind when you read my review of it. I'll give you my reaction to it and then go into a more detailed run down of the story itself. It runs 166 pages and it is an epic. I've been so jazzed about this project since I first heard of it that I guess my expectations were just too high. After all, we have double-Oscar wiiner Tom Hanks as Dino (all but signed by all accounts), Scorsese directing and Pileggi scripting and it's about the wildest nights in 20th Century American History so I guess I was expecting the Phantom Menace of biopics! After reading this draft, I'm going to lower my expectations somewhat. In terms of tone and style, it reminds me of a weird hybrid of King of Comedy and Casino, if you can imagine that. But it also has a lot of "Lenny" in it, too, in the way it uses mock latter-day interviews with the people in the dead entertainer's life to tell you what the good ol' days were like.

The script manages to cram a lot in and is a relatively brisk read but it's pacing reminds me of Casino: there are exciting flourishes throughout but there's a lot of been there-done that wiseguy schtick, too. It employs the multi-narrator voice-overs device used in GoodFellas and Casino but here it just seems tired and expositional and kind of a cheat for not getting to know Dean Martin through his actions, but rather by people TALKING about him. While this V.O. technique worked great in GoodFellas and to a lesser degree with Casino, here it gives the film a bit of an E! True Hollywood Story feel to it with the actual scenes seeming more like re-enactments than genuine drama at times. In fact, I saw the E! True Hollywood Story on Dino and I have to say I learned just as much about the man from watching that as I did from reading this script. Also, the latter part of the film dealing with the Rat Pack, JFK and the Giancana mob also seems tired after HBO put out their "Rat Pack" film last year; indeed, some of the scenes are almost identical to ones portrayed in that film. Yes, these stories are all an unavoidable part of Rat Pack lore now but maybe that's part of the film's problem. We know all of this stuff by osmosis now so the film ends up having an almost Greatest Hits/TV movie feel to its narrative structure that I didn't like.

The relatively plotless, vignette-style of storytelling Scorsese and Pileggi employed twice before worked then because we didn't know anything about these guys or what would happen to them. Their character development was less important because it was an almost anthropoligical study of a lifestyle. DINO has sequences like that that study celebrity lifestyle in the 50s and 60s which are entertaining but, again, in a been there-done that fashion. That's part of the problem Casino had; it fluctuated between being a study of mob practices and a tragic character study. The pace in the film could go from being too jarring to too damn slow. "Dino" is similar but it suffers more because, unlike GoodFellas and Casino where the main characters helped create the dire circumstances by which they would fall from their perch (they're cut down kicking and screaming!), Dean Martin just ... walks away. Zones out. Shuts himself off. (Imagine that very last shot of Casino where DeNiro's blank stare seems to take some of the zing away from it all -- and now imagine that for the last fifteen pages. Kind of frustrating.) Dean didn't create or control the events swirling about him; he just went along for the ride and reacts to it all in the same aloof manner. In fact, Sinatra drives the plot in the latter half of the script. All that JFK-Giancana stuff was Sinatra's bag, baby; he wanted JFK elected and Giancana was his pal. Dino could care less about any of that. In a movie called Dino about Dean Martin, I don't really want to spend an hour caring about what Sinatra wants and worries about. Frankie's had his biopics; if Dino doesn't care what's going on in the film, why the hell should I? It's not like we haven't heard it all before anyway. I'll rent The Rat Pack if I want to see that period recreated.

My biggest problem with the script, though, is how under-developed the characters are. Martin is painted as a contradictory, elusive, flippant PERSONA, not a real person; all the right questions are asked about him but they're not answered. Of course, that's part of Dean's mystique: no one knows for sure what made him tick so he was either this incredible enigma or a completely vacuous and cold as ice playboy. So maybe he was just a persona. This is compelling to muse about but after 2 hours and 45 minutes it is quite frustrating to not feel anything more about Dino, and not know much more about him, than you did at the beginning (or going into the cinema!). It's a fundamentally unsatisfying drama if the main character remains a steady blip on the radar screen throughout, a straight line for nearly 3 hours with no arc whatsoever. Dino's a wise-cracking cypher whom we only learn about through the V.O. and mock interviews of other characters in the film. His nature is blamed on his being Italian more than anything else. And after reading this, there is just no way on God's earth I can buy Tom Hanks as Dino. No way. I don't care how much of a "Hoffa" they pull with the make-up job, Tom ain't Dino! Women don't swoon for him. Men don't want to emulate him. He's not sexy and he's not cool. He'll emasculate Dino. And there's no way I'd by him as the son of Italian immigrants. By casting Hanks, the filmmakers must be attempting to make up for the disagreeable parts of Dino's character: the hurt he caused his family, his playboy antics, his cold and distant SOB nature. It's a cheat: Hanks is a likeable everyman so people will naturally like him as Dino and we're over that dilemma. Uh-huh. You can't make up with casting what isn't there on the page. In fact, the audience may end up resenting Dino MORE if Hanks plays him just because they want him to be Jimmy Stewart. IMHO, I think they need a George Clooney or Nicolas Cage for this (even though I can't imagine ANYONE really being perfect for it). Whoever it is has to be a good light comedian (Hanks is) with sex appeal and machismo (again, NOT Hanks -- sorry, Tom!). Dino didn't give a damn whether you liked him or not; can you believe Tom Hanks in that? If he passed on the Clinton role in Primary Colors because he didn't think he could play a philanderer, then why on earth does he think he can pull this off? I saw him play Dino once on a Saturday Night Live skit; I fear the film would just be damn near 3 hours of the same.

Jerry Lewis? One note portrayal as either a hyper young control freak in awe of his best pal Martin, or as a mellowed, post-rehab telethon king looking back on how obnoxious he was in his youth. I can't see Jim Carrey agreeing to 45 minutes of screen time for this part, even if it is Scorsese directing it. There's nothing there for him, really. Better to give it to a younger comic more in need of a new challenge and not a big star like Carrey (I'm going out on a limb and recommending Adam Sandler for it -- let the hate mail begin!). Dino's second wife Jeanne (mother of his beloved son Dean Paul) is the primary female character but she is nothing more than the suffering wife. Even Dean Paul is shorted here; he's the spirit of youth and freedom cut down in his prime. Since Dino never spent much time with him we don't, either, so his untimely death, and Dino's mourning, lacks the pathos it needs to make us feel anything real for Dino.

Sinatra is, well, exactly what you expect him to be: tough, hot-tempered, seductive, in awe of Giancana and Kennedy, full of love for Dean. But you run the risk of a Phil Hartman impersonation here; like with Lewis, I can't see the ever-mentioned front-runner in this role. Scenery-chewing John Travolta would only add to Sinatra's domination of the latter part of the film; IMHO, cast a recognizable but not overbearing actor like Aidan Quinn as him. Or if you want a star, then Bruce Willis fifteen pounds lighter. I just can't see Travolta in it after reading this script. Not even as the fatter, older Frankie. The rest of the Pack are passersby, really. Forget about Wesley Snipes playing Sammy Davis, Jr.; it would be an insult to him to be in it as Sammy really is nothing more than another hanger-on. Billy Crystal had more of a chance to give Sammy some depth than whoever plays him here. In fact, Joey Bishop has more screen time and dialogue than Sammy (as do Giancana, various mobsters and managers)! Ditto Peter Lawford (unless you knew he was JFK's brother in law going in, the film would never really tell you). Shirley MacLaine has a bit part as the Pack's self-proclaimed mascot early on. There's a funny bit with her and Giancana playing cards. JFK and RFK are throw-away cameos for look-alikes, nothing more, so don't expect any of the depth to their relationship w/the Pack that we saw in HBO's "The Rat Pack". All of these cameos peppered throughout a rushed, highlight-laden latter part of Act 2 may make you feel like you're watching a Legends in Concert show rather than being caught up in a well-developed story. The script takes for granted how much viewers know about the times and the players; Dino and Sinatra fans and older viewers will see it as another re-enactment while younger viewers may just get lost in the shuffle.



Act One establishes Dean Martin as the inebriated, affable host of his own hit variety show in the latter 1960's (no mention of Matt Helm in this draft, folks, sorry!). Dino is introduced to us as we watch his TV show: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Dean Martin Show, starring Dean Martin!". These scenes remind me of King of Comedy. It's fitting that this is how we are introduced to Dean as we only know him, as most people do, through what he decided to reveal on TV, which was all a gimmick. They intercut variety show skits of Dean in various buffoonish acts with an "At Home With --" TV special documenting Dean's seemingly placid and perfect home life with 2nd wife Jeanne and their brood of kids. We then get "true" glimpses of the real Martin home, with Dean as aloof and disenchanted and only wanting to stay in and watch the tube. Dean tells her: "I'm Italian. I need a wife. I need kids. I need a home. I may not come home, but I need a home." Dean slips his son Dean Paul with a $20 to not do whatever it was he was doing and to not tell his mother (!); Jeanne admonishes for bribing their child like he's a head waiter. Dino would gladly stay at home all the time but that's not what Jeanne wants or expects; she just wants him to BE there when he is home and not roll over and watch TV. On page 8 Jeanne asks the question/theme of the whole film: "What's the good of being Dean Martin if you don't enjoy it?". I refer you to my prior commentary to see if this script answered it successfully or not. Dino can walk away from all the glitz and glamor and excess and just go home and put on his PJs and the TV and not give a damn. To paraphrase what Dean Paul tells him near the end, if you don't complain about problems then they're not real. Dean realizes at end I think (after Dean Paul dies) that that isn't so. But does he care or change? No. He just withdraws and goes eat pasta by himself.

The first 23 pages establishes Dean's work ethic, or lack thereof; he has audio tapes of his TV rehearsals sent to him and listens to them on the golf course. He then shows up 5 minutes before the final rehearsal and asks: "Which way do you want to point the Italian?" After Dean Paul teases him for not being with the times (he shows him an album cover of Sinatra wearing love beads and nehru and Dino scoffs that he looks like Mahatma Gahndi), Dino effortlessly knocks the Beatles out of the #1 spot on the charts with a failed Sinatra tune, "Everybody Loves Somebody." Dean Paul gives him a gold watch as a present and asks why he can't be reached at home anymore; Dino tells him if he wants to reach him to call his agent and then he'll know to return the call or not! Jeanne tells the off-screen interviewer that she accepts Dean's philandering and says: "There are 2 Dean Martins. The man the public sees on TV and the man I know as a husband and a father. ... I think he's more Italian than anything. ... The reason he doesn't show an interest in almost anything is that he truly is not interested in almost anything. Way deep down, he doesn't give a damn. ... Now after 23 years of marriage with 3 children, i still don't know the first thing about him. There's either nothing there, or too much." When protest groups picket Dean's show because of its sexist and drunken subject matter, Dino shrugs it off with "the guys in Steubenville (Ohio, Martin's hometown) want the broads. Give 'em the broads."

Now it's the mid-70s and Jeanne publicly announces their divorce after 23 years and 3 kids because Dean has fallen for a younger woman. Dean also ends his hit show. He walks away from it saying "I gotta take a leak." Dean's got $50 million, been a star for 30 years -- he could can do whatever he wants. What Dean wants to do is live carefree. As he tells his son Dean Paul: "You gotta have fun, pallie. If not, you may as well lay down and let them throw dirt on you." But Dean's idea of fun, however, seems to be dining alone and going to bed early to watch TV. For all his "gotta love living" attitude, Dino seems to be a pretty solitary man. He is an outcast but one who has cast himself out; everyone else wants him around.

Act 2 begins in 1946 New York City with 29 year old Dean, "an Adonis" (again, I say, Tom Hanks?!), meeting up with 19 year old Jewish comic Jerry Lewis. Jerry, in his "interview", speaks fondly of Dino: "I'm 115 pounds and fighting acne and here's a god. That's the way I saw him. That's the way everybody saw him." Tom Hanks?!! The next 50 pages, the first part of act 2, deals with the successful partnership of Martin & Lewis. It's a mini-TV movie all of its own, following the tried and true and tired rags to riches formula. We get Dean and Jerry wowing 'em at the Copa, on TV, and, of course, as the hottest comedy duo in Hollywood. Early on in their friendship, Dean relates to an awed Jerry his "origin" (shown in flashback with, presumably, a few different actors as young Dean and adolescent Dean): becoming a croupier in a backroom mob gambling joint in Steubenville, OH; a failed boxer who'd bet against himself to make money; an aspiring crooner who learns to sing by watching Bing Crosby films; and a nightclub singer who can nail any woman he wants, including the owner's wife. But the most revealing flashbacks are of Dean's dad Gaetano/"Guy" arriving from the Abruzzi countryside with only his sack full of barber's tools and proudly setting up shop in Ohio. The American Dream. But Gaetano's a tough, wise soul whoi can deftly turn down the mob's "offer" to use his shop as a front. He also teaches his adoring son Dean a harsh lesson. Dean runs up to his dad every day he comes home for work, jumping up into his arms for hugs and kisses. Finally, Guy stands back and lets his boy fall and hurt himself on purpose. When Dean begins to cry, BOTH his parents admonish him: "How many times have I told you never to trust nobody?" and "What's the matter with you? You want to show people that you're hurt? That you're weak? They'll take advantage of you." This mistrusting, immigrant mentality stays with Dean his whole life and seems to be the only reason for his cold, detatched relations with even his own family. He even tells Dean Paul before he dies that the whole world's "a con." Dean Paul tried to show him another aspect of it but Dean wouldn't partake; he'd lose that chance forever when his boy would die.

In 1947 Dean, already married to blink-and you'll miss her-Betty, falls for Orange Bowl queen Jeanne Bieggers. She won't sleep with him until they're married; she doesn't find out until he leaves his wife that he was married with kids! His response: "I wanted to make sure you'd marry me first." 3 years later his divorce comes through. He sends Jeanne a telegram: "I love you. Ticket to follow." Meanwhile, the Martin and Lewis act transforms more into the Jerry Lewis act with Dean being more of a straight man. His songs are cut down, he has less to do in their films, and his frustration grows more and more. He likes Jerry but wants to be a star, too. Again, the presentation of all this is very TV movie-ish and a little too pat. Jerry becomes a control freak with their films but, much to everybody's surprise, he's right more often than not. He even shows up the DP and director by showing them which lens is the best one to use (you know Scorsese must love that moment!). But Jerry never really comes alive here. Reading their comedy act really isn't that funny; I imagine watching the actors improv and play it out should be, depending on who is cast as Jerry. Finally, after their respective entourages of cronies have advised them they can go it alone, Dean and Jerry call it quits on the most successful act in showbiz at that time. After a farewell show at the Copa, a weeping, adoring Jerry hugs his pal good-bye. Dino walks on out with zero fanfare. Jerry: "He walked out on all that success. All the money. All the cheers. All the applause. All that love ... but I don't think he ever needed it. ... And, that was it. We didn't talk again for 20 years." That was 1956.

P. 75, Dean's solo career begins. After a failed attempt at dramatic acting and solo roles, Dean bounces back with a successful nightclub act. He and his writers (incl. Sammy Cahn) come up with his schtick. Like Jack Benny being a cheapskate and Lucille Ball being ditzy, Dean will be an affable drunk. It works. Truth is, he's drinking apple juice. For now -- the real alcoholism begins later. As Dean reveals to a TV interviewer, "I drink I guess because I'm insecure. ... I guess I can't accept the fact that I'm Dean Martin, the movie star and all that stuff. To me, really deep down, I know I'm only Dino Crocetti from Steubenville, Ohio, and I suppose I gotta drink in order to believe I really am Dean Martin. .. without the booze I'm Wayne Newton." But since Dino is always in on the joke and sees the whole world as a con, no one (incl. this reader) knows whether or not to believe him. Jeanne says he couldn't help being the way he was because he "was always on the con, with crooks, cheats and hookers, I don't think he knew any better." As for his philandering, Jeanne accepted it but says Dean may have only felt a little shame but NEVER any guilt.

P. 90 -- we FINALLY meet Frank Sinatra! I won't get into all the Rat Pack antics as they're all pretty familiar by now and I ranted about it at the beginning. For the next 30 pages it's all the glitz and glamor we expect from the Summit. They do Ocean's 11 and do their act at the Sands to help out Sinatra's pal Sam Giancana and the mob, since Vegas is no longer doing the business it once did. Of course, after the Rat Pack arrive, Vegas booms. Dino is able to wisemouth Giancana and the mobsters while no else can; only Dino, Sinatra reveals, could do this. Not even he could get away with it. Why? 'Cause he was Dino. Frank reunites Dino with Jerry Lewis during the telethon but here it's a gaping error; in reality, the reunion happened in 1976 or so. Here, it's like 1960! Jerry says earlier in the film "and we didn't speak for 25 years", yet it's only 5 years later in screen time the way the movie presents it! That blatant goof really irked me; how could Pileggi not catch that?!

P. 120-147 deals with the whole Sinatra-JFK-Giancana-Judith Campbell Exner affair that the HBO film dealt with. Again, it's really Sinatra's plot here with Dino just along for the ride to appease Frank. He knows that the Kennedys will ditch them when the time comes and that they're only a couple of "dagos" to them. They'll invite you to the White House but count the silverware before you leave. JFK and RFK are just talking heads; whoever plays them will just be playing the myth, which curses every actor portraying a Kennedy to turn in a bad performance. Unfortunately, the script gives the characters nothing else to play but that image. The party comes to an abrupt and tragic end when JFK goes to Dallas in 1963 and [MAJOR SPOLIER DELETED :) ] The script implies the mob was behind his death; they openly wish for gangbuster Bobby's death. Pileggi stops the objective viewpoint in his writing when he gives us a full paragraph about what JFK's death means for all involved! Christ, that kind of thing wouldn't get passed a freshman screenwriting class! There is a montage of JFK's motorcade and his funeral procession intercut with a recreation of the closing finale of Ocean's Eleven with Sammy singing the end song.

The last twenty pages brings us back to where we were at the beginning. Dean retiring from his TV show and divorcing Jean for a younger flame. His beloved son Dean Paul is now an adult, dating Dorothy Hamill and a captain the USAF reserves. Dean Paul wants to take his old man flying but Dean won't no matter how liberating his son says it is. Dean thinks his boy's crazy for wanting to serve his country; after all, to Dean, the world is crooked and you gotta fight it alone. Besides, why does his son want to fight to escape -- from Beverly Hills? Dean Paul responds "I can dream, can't I?" But Dino never gets a chance to bond further with his son. Dean Paul's fighter jet crashes into a mountain, ironically the same one Sinatra's mother died hitting. Dino's adherence to his cagey, immigrant-inspired world view has prevented him from growing close to his pride and joy and now it's too late. As I said before, however, this climax lacks the pathos needed because Dean Paul is so under develeoped and seen so little in the film. And when he is he is a symbol not a character. In the end, Dino has completely withdrawn from life. He even drops out of the Rat Pack reunion tour, much to Sinatra's chagrin. The film ends with Dino dining alone in the back room of La Famiglia restaurant in Beverly Hills and being introduced to a young boy named Dominic. Dino adjusts the kid's suit in the mirror, showing up to dress just right, passing on the tips of having a cool image to a new generation. Dino, alone at the table, has a spotlight pointed at him in a surreal moment, as if God is calling him. The script ends with the young cool Dino we all remember and love crooning "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" as the end credits roll.

In closing (yay!!), the script to DINO presents an at times exciting and poignant study of an elusive and entertaining man and of a once-in-a lifetime moment in US pop culture history. It's problems lay with its underdeveloped characterizations and the over-all familiarity of the Rat Pack/JFK/Giancana sequences. Scorsese has said in print and TV interviews his intention with this film is to show how Dean Martin was born Dino Crocetti and stayed that way until he died. This project will allow him many visceral flourishes I'm sure, but I think the plotless-overlong-V.O. narration-wiseguy film this has been done to death by Marty. If Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski can craft poignant, funny, entertaining and enlightening portraits of such larger than life people as ed Wood, Larry Flynt, and Andy Kaufmann, then I don't accept that Scorsese and Pileggi can't do the same with DINO. Maybe those 2 writers can take a stab at rewriting this? Otherwise, DINO may make you enjoy some of the high life sequences but you may, like Dino did with everything in his life, walk away from it and not give a damn despite all the fun. I'm afraid I did against my best wishes. Let's hope that can be changed before this film finally gets made.


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