Thursday, January 21, 2016
James' Mangold's Cop Land, his 1997 sophomore effort is a film of grand ideas on a small scale. Featuring a cast of some of the best character actors of their generation, in atypical roles (Stallone especially), it weaves a story of police corruption in a small New Jersey suburb.
Having only a passing interest and respect for Mangold perhaps helped in my appreciation of this picture, in that one has no idea what to expect if going in cold. From it's admittedly silly title, one might think they were getting into a typical 'cops & robbers' genre picture. What the audience actually gets is a look into the lives and machinations of a small town almost entirely inhabited by police officers and their families. Every town has a "Cop Bar," a place where the local officers will gather after a day's work, Cop Land on the other hand takes place in the fictional town of Garrison, NJ, where crooked NYC police officers have basically bought an entire town and turned into their own personal playpen.
Sylvester Stallone stars as Freddy Heflin, the puppet sheriff of the town, which is actually run by NYC police lieutenant Donlan, played masterfully by Harvey Keitel. Stallone plays a long broken man, struggling to get by with nothing but dreams and memories to keep him going. This is one of Stallone's strongest performances in a long and varied career. He's no Rocky Balboa here, but Heflin is just as sympathetic. Small character building moments really build the character into something more than had it been in the hands of a weaker actor. This is really something special.
As for the rest of the cast? Hoooh boy, they're something else. Keitel pulls off "slimy" like few others and he really brings his A game here. Ray Liotta on the other hand, goes against type by actually playing a "good guy" this time around, which is a pleasure to behold. Robert DeNiro also deserves credit for playing a dialed down Internal Affairs agent who's been watching over the town for years. Oh and Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 and The Sopranos fame, gets almost as much screen time as his more accomplished counterparts, which is both a credit to Mangold's belief in him and to his talent as an actor. Everyone here is aces.
This is a Suburban Western with some nasty grit and a much darker tone than most star-studded 90's genre movies. Want to witness a riveting story? How about some electrifying performances? Then I implore you to check out Cop Land. There won't be any disappointment.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
An earth shattering look at free speech in America and one of its strongest proponents.
Milos Forman does fantastic work here directing Harrelson to one of his best performances as "smut peddler" Larry Flynt. This is a great cast all around with a career making turn by Edward Norton and Forman's usual group of ensemble players.
The standout here, even more than Harrelson is Courtney Love, whose performance is transcendent. She goes toe to toe with Woody and lights up the screen. Really great work.
This is an essential picture for anyone who's ever had an unpopular opinion and gotten flak for it. The People Vs Larry Flynt proves that just because you speak out against what's accepted, it doesn't make you a criminal to say it. You deserve to be heard, no matter what.
Evidence that a heartfelt story doesn't need to have lovable or even likeable characters to get its point across. This is one of the absolute best films of the 90's
Monday, May 25, 2015
Biopics tend to get a bad rap and for good reason as it can be close to impossible to fit an individual’s entire life into two hours of film. However, when something like Bob Fosse’s “auto-biopic” comes along, it throws conventional criticism of the genre out the window. All That Jazz, a thinly veiled autobiographical telling of Fosse’s life, is like no film you have ever seen before; a ‘musical that isn’t a musical’ that’s both visually and thematically stunning with towering production values and performances from all involved.
One of the most magical movie experiences in my thirty years on this planet, Woody Allen’s masterpiece, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a heartwarming film from it’s whimsical start to its devastating finale. The story of a Depression era waitress named Cecilia (Mia Farrow) and her literal love affair with the cinema, Purple Rose of Cairo features a fun premise that’s backed up by some of the cast’s best performances. A masterful look at our shared love of film both as a medium of art and a form of escape.
Visually breathtaking and featuring a knock-out performance by Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is one of the most difficult science-fiction films in years. As an alien who hunts for human flesh in rural Scotland, Johansson commands your attention at every turn, using her charms to ensnare not only unsuspecting Scottish men but the audience as well. With free-flowing cinematography by Daniel Landin and the best musical score of 2014 by Mica Levi, Under the Skin will leave you confused and breathless. Something the best science-fiction is supposed to do.
Almost violently depressing, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is one of the darkest films I saw in 2014 and perhaps that’s why I love it so much. Featuring break-out performances by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, it tells the story of the Schultz Brothers, Olympic Gold Medal wrestlers, and their precarious relationship with billionaire John E. du Pont. Carell has been getting most of the praise but it’s Tatum who truly transforms for his role. This guy has some real acting chops and I couldn’t be more delighted to watch him grow as an actor.
4. The Babadook
A masterclass by first time director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is the scariest film in about a decade. Essie Davis is by turns terrifying and terrified by her young son and the intrusion of Mister Babadook into their lives. As great a metaphor for grief and loss as it is a horror film, The Babadook reaches to places deep in your mind and latches on, unwilling to let go, much like loss itself. A phenomenal first feature by Kent, this is a director I’ll be following from this point forward.
For the second year in a row a J.C. Chandor film has made my Top Five. After the harrowing All is Lost, we’ve been treated to A Most Violent Year, a brutal story of a man trying to stay clean in a corrupt 1981 New York City. Featuring perfect performances from the entire cast, especially Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, great direction by Chandor and yes, a good amount of violence both verbal and physical, A Most Violent Year is one of the most constantly engaging films of 2014. Oh and Albert Brooks forever and always, please.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Visceral and unflinching. Miami Vice is the most Mannish of Michael Mann films.
A mood piece disguised as an action/crime drama, Vice updates the dated 80's television series for the 00's and is glorious entertainment. Mann's style has rarely been so on display, from his choice of digital to the riveting action sequences, this might be one of his best.
Farrell and Foxx bring great depth to the iconic roles of Crockett and Tubbs and have great chemistry both with each other and the supporting cast. Speaking of which, Gong Li is ravishing as Farrell's love interest Isabella, a harsh business woman with a taste for Cuban nightlife. Everyone here is on top of their game.
Dion Beebe's cinematography is both eye catching and revelatory. I seem to come away from most recent Mann films saying this but the use of digital is a breath of fresh air. Everything is so immediate and in the moment, it all feels so real, which at certain moments can be overwhelming in the best way.
Some have criticized the dialogue mix but I wasn't bothered in the slightest. Some words and even full sentences are unintelligible or inaudible but it works. These are real characters and perhaps some of their exchanges are none of our business in the first place. When talking to someone in real life, in a crowded bar or city street, you don't pick up on every word said and Mann knows this and works it into his films. It's a masterstroke of realism and he should be applauded for it.
Miami Vice is thrilling from beginning to end, culminating inn one of the most brutal gun fights of the last ten years. It's a high point for crime cinema and comes with the highest of recommends.
Just check your expectations at the door.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
"Horses are stupid. All they do is eat and shit. It's all very silly."
Almost violently depressing, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is one of the darkest films I saw in 2014 and perhaps that’s why I love it so much. Featuring break-out performances by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, it tells the story of the Schultz Brothers, Olympic Gold Medal wrestlers, and their precarious relationship with billionaire John E. du Pont. From the pacing to the atmosphere of increasing dread, to Vanessa Redgrave stealing every scene she's in, Foxcatcher is pretty on point.
Though Carell got most of the praise it’s Tatum who truly transforms for his role. This guy has some real acting chops and I couldn’t be more delighted to watch him grow as an actor. Ruffalo has rarely been better and this is definitely a career best for Tatum. Carell is offputting and bizarre but I think that's kind of the point, the man plays menace quite well.
From a technical standpoint, it's a marvel. Featuring some of the best sound design I've heard in a while and a fantastic, haunting score by Rob Simonsen, Miller's film is a somber affair for sure.
This was one of the few 2014 films that I was hyped up for and it actually delivered. I still haven't seen Moneyball but so far Bennett Miller hasn't let me down as a filmmaker.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”
That line, said by Edward Norton during a heated exchange with Michael Keaton tells you all you need to know about Birdman. This is, essentially, a super-hero movie that despises super-hero movies and the trappings that go along with them.
Twenty-Five years ago Michael Keaton lit up the screen as The Dark Knight in Tim Burton’s Batman, a role that went on to define his career whether he liked it or not. Fast-forward to 2014 and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and Keaton is playing a fictionalized version of himself, trying to right the damage done by playing such a famous character. Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a once blockbuster-headlining superstar with one last chance at legitimacy as an actor. The man has sunk every last penny into a Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and as the film starts, is at his wit’s end dealing with bad actors, a problematic daughter and oh yeah, the constant heckling from Birdman, the voice inside Riggan’s head.
Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of Birdman, is a tough nut to crack. He’s previously shown a great ability to tell a globe-spanning tale of interconnected misery with his 2006 opus Babel. Here the misery and redemption is not globe-spanning but instead confined to a two block radius around the storied St. James Theatre in New York City. Iñárritu shows that he has an ear for great dialogue and is able to get some arresting performances from his cast. This is in thanks to some heartbreaking monologues where the actors/characters are able to bare their souls. Various subjects such as ego and obsession are touched upon with a grace (some would say heavy handedness), that approaches an ethereal quality that isn’t unwelcome in the least. This is a director who will constantly surprise you with the stories he chooses to tell.
Just so I don’t come off like a broken record from here on out, everyone in the cast is doing career best work. Keaton in particular is masterful as the on-the-cusp of redemption Riggan Thompson. He’s proven himself as a fine actor before in films like the underrated Game 6 and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, but here he has upped his game into the stratosphere, giving his best performance yet. Filled with conviction and an indelible sadness, his is one of the towering performances of a year filled with great ones. The supporting cast is also one of the strongest you’ll see in theaters in 2014 as well. Emma Stone deserves particular praise for her portrayal of Riggan’s daughter, a fresh out of rehab twenty-something hiding a world of anguish behind her eyes. She’s truly given the opportunity to shine in Birdman, giving one of the strongest performances in the film outside of Keaton. Pathos that was only teased elsewhere in previous roles really comes to the fore.
The rest of the cast is aces as well, from Zach Galifianakas turning in a fine dramatic performance to Naomi Watts dazzling as always. Her character in particular has some strong moments and she hasn’t been this heartbreaking since 2001’s Mulholland Drive. The real star of the supporting cast, when it comes right down to it, has got to be Edward Norton. Playing a Broadway actor who is so full of himself he can be downright painful, Norton plays the role he was born to play: Himself. Few actors would have the courage to play an exaggerated version of themselves, especially when the character is so vile and Norton deserves some respect for even going through with it.
On a technical level Birdman is a masterclass. From the pounding drum score to the seamless editing, it’s a marvel. Emmanuel Lubezki is having an absolute field day here with his camera. Filmed and edited to resemble one continuous shot, the cinematography can be jarring at first but settles into a steady rhythm before long. Taking his sweeping camerawork he employed and won an Oscar for in Gravity and using it in the enclosed space of a Broadway theater is an inspired choice. Lubezki is a cinematographer with an eye for beauty in even the ugliest situations as evidenced by his previous work with directors Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) and Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) and his work here reaches the same great heights as before.
An existential super-hero film if anything else, Birdman is one of the best films of the year. A great behind the scenes look into the world of Broadway and the way super-hero films can ruin the lives of those who star in them, this is a film that should be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in strange, unique stories. Breathtaking from start to finish and a truly surreal experience, Birdman is one of a kind and a high point for the Fall movie season.