Stallone Acts: Cop Land (1997, directed by James Mangold)


Garrison, New Jersey is a middle class suburb that is known as Cop Land.  Under the direction of Lt. Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), several NYPD cops have made their home in Garrison, financing their homes with bribes that they received from mob boss Tony Torillo (Tony Sirico).  The corrupt cops of Garrison, New Jersey live, work, and play together, secure in the knowledge that they can do whatever they want because Donlan has handpicked the sheriff.

Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) always dreamed of being a New York cop but, as the result of diving into icy waters to save a drowning girl, Freddy is now deaf in one ear.  Even though he knows that they are all corrupt, Freddy still idolizes cops like Donlan, especially when Donlan dangles the possibility of pulling a few strings and getting Freddy an NYPD job in front of him.  The overweight and quiet Freddy spends most of his time at the local bar, where he’s the subject of constant ribbing from the “real” cops.  Among the cops, Freddy’s only real friend appears to be disgraced narcotics detective, Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta).

After Donlan’s nephew, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), kills two African-American teenagers and then fakes his own death to escape prosecution, Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) approaches Freddy and asks for his help in investigating the corrupt cops of Garrison.  At first, Freddy refuses but he is soon forced to reconsider.

After he became a star, the idea that Sylvester Stallone was a bad actor because so universally accepted that people forgot that, before he played Rocky and Rambo, Stallone was a busy and respectable character actor.  Though his range may have been limited and Stallone went through a period where he seemed to always pick the worst scripts available, Stallone was never as terrible as the critics often claimed.  In the 90s, when it became clear that both the Rocky and the Rambo films had temporarily run their course, Stallone attempted to reinvent his image.  Demolition Man showed that Stallone could laugh at himself and Cop Land was meant to show that Stallone could act.

For the most part, Stallone succeeded.  Though there are a few scenes where the movie does seem to be trying too hard to remind us that Freddy is not a typical action hero, this is still one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances.  Stallone plays Freddy as a tired and beaten-down man who knows that he’s getting one final chance to prove himself.  It helps that Stallone’s surrounded by some of the best tough guy actors of the 90s.  Freddy’s awkwardness around the “real” cops is mirrored by how strange it initially is to see Stallone acting opposite actors like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta.  Cop Land becomes not only about Freddy proving himself as a cop but Stallone proving himself as an actor.

The film itself is sometimes overstuffed.  Along with the corruption investigation and the search for Murray Babitch, there’s also a subplot about Freddy’s unrequited love for Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) and her husband’s (Peter Berg) affair with Donlan’s wife (Cathy Moriarty).  There’s enough plot here for a Scorsese epic and it’s more than Cop Land‘s 108-minute run time can handle.  Cop Land is at its best when it concentrates on Freddy and his attempt to prove to himself that he’s something more than everyone else believes.  The most effective scenes are the ones where Freddy quietly drinks at the local tavern, listening to Gary shoot his mouth off and stoically dealing with the taunts of the people that he’s supposed to police.  By the time that Freddy finally stands up for himself, both you and he have had enough of everyone talking down to him.  The film’s climax, in which a deafened Freddy battles the corrupt cops of Garrison, is an action classic.

Though the story centers on Stallone, Cop Land has got a huge ensemble cast.  While it’s hard to buy Janeane Garofalo as a rookie deputy, Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick almost steal the film as two very different cops.  Interestingly, many members of the cast would go on to appear on The Sopranos.  Along with Sirico, Sciorra, Patrick, and Garofalo, keep an eye out for Frank Vincent, Arthur Nascarella, Frank Pelligrino, John Ventimiglia, Garry Pastore,  and Edie Falco in small roles.

Cop Land was considered to be a box office disappointment when it was released and Stallone has said that the film’s failure convinced people that he was just an over-the-hill action star and that, for eight years after it was released, he couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls.  At the time, Cop Land‘s mixed critical and box office reception was due to the high expectations for both the film and Stallone’s performance.  In hindsight, it’s clear that Cop Land was a flawed but worthy film and that Stallone’s performance remains one of his best.

 

Insomnia File #33: The Comedian (dir by Taylor Hackford)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep around two in the morning last night, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2016 film, The Comedian.

It probably wouldn’t have helped.  It’s not that The Comedian is a particularly interesting movie or anything like that.  Abysmally paced and full of dull dialogue, The Comedian would be the perfect cure for insomnia if it just wasn’t so damn loud.  Robert De Niro plays an aging comedian named Jackie Burke and, in this movie, being an aging comedian means that you shout out your punch lines with such force that you almost seem to be threatening anyone who doesn’t laugh.  However, the threats aren’t necessary because everyone laughs at everything Jackie says.

Actually, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that everyone laughs.  In The Comedian, Jackie is such a force of pure, unstoppable hilarity that all he has to do is tell someone that they’re fat and literally the entire world will shriek with unbridled joy.  The thing with laughter is that, in the real world, everyone laughs in a different way.  Not everyone reacts to a funny joke with an explosive guffaw.  Some people chuckle.  Some people merely smile.  But, in the world of The Comedian, everyone not only laughs the same way but they also all laugh at the same time.  There’s never anyone who doesn’t immediately get the joke and, by that same token, there’s never anyone who can’t stop laughing once everyone else has fallen silent.  The Comedian takes individuality out of laughter, which is a shame because the ability to laugh is one of the unique things that makes us human.

Anyway, The Comedian is about a formerly famous comedian who is now obscure.  He used to have a hit TV show but now he’s nearly forgotten.  Why he’s forgotten is never made clear because nearly everyone in the movie still seems to think that he’s the funniest guy in the world.  Jackie’s an insult comic and people love it when he tells them that they’re overweight or when he makes fun of their sexual preferences.  This would probably be more believable if Jackie was played by an actor who was a bit less intense than Robert De Niro.  When De Niro starts to make aggressive jokes, you’re natural instinct is not so much to laugh as it is to run before he starts bashing in someone’s head with a lead pipe.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that Jackie gets into a fight with a heckler.  The video of the fight is uploaded to YouTube, which leads to a scene where his manager (Edie Falco) stares at her laptop and announces, “It’s going viral!”  Later on, in the movie, Jackie forces a bunch of old people to sing an obnoxious song with him and he goes viral a second time.  I kept waiting for a shot of a computer screen with “VIRAL” blinking on-and-off but sadly, the movie never provided this much-needed insert.

In between beating up the heckler, ruining his niece’s wedding, and hijacking a retirement home, Jackie finds the time to fall in love with Harmony Schlitz (Leslie Mann), a character whose name alone is enough to The Comedian one of the most annoying films of all time.  Harmony’s father is a retired gangster (Harvey Keitel) and you can’t help but wish that Keitel and De Niro could have switched roles.  It wouldn’t have made the movie any better but at least there would have been a chance of Keitel going batshit insane whenever he took the stage to deliver jokes.

I’m not sure why anyone thought it would be a good idea to cast an actor like Robert De Niro as a successful comedian.  It’s true that De Niro was brilliant playing a comedian in The King of Comedy but Rupert Pupkin was supposed to be awkward, off-putting, and not very funny.  I’m not an expert on insult comics but, from what I’ve seen, it appears that the successful ones largely succeed by suggesting that they’re just having fun with the insults, that no one should take it personally, and that they appreciate any member of the audience who is willing to be a good sport.  Jackie just comes across like a cranky old misogynist.  Watching Jackie is like listening to your bitter uncle play Vegas.  I guess it would help if Jackie actually said something funny every once in a while.  A typical Jackie joke is to refer to his lesbian niece as being a “prince.”  Speaking for myself, when it comes to Robert De Niro being funny, I continue to prefer the scene in Casino where he hosts the Ace Rothstein Show.

Perhaps the funniest thing about The Comedian is that, when it originally released into theaters, it was advertised as being “The Comedian, a Taylor Hackford film,” as if Taylor Hackford is some type of Scorsese-style auteur.  Taylor Hackford has been making films for longer than I’ve been alive and he has yet to actually come up with any sort of signature style beyond point and shoot.  The second funniest thing is that The Comedian was billed as a potential Oscar contender, up until people actually saw the damn thing.

Though it may have failed at the box office, The Comedian seems to show up on Starz quite frequently.  They always seem to air it very late at night, as if they’re hoping people won’t notice.  

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Megan Leavey (dir by Gabriela Cowperthwaite)


One of the best (and, in my opinion, overlooked) films of 2017 was Megan Leavey.

Based on a true story, Megan Leavey tells the true story of … well, Megan Leavey.  When the film starts, Megan (played, in one of the best performances of 2017, by Kate Mara) is living a somewhat directionless life in upstate New York.  Her parents are divorced and she’s closer to her father (Bradley Whitford) even though she has more contact (and shares a much more strained relationship) with her mother (Edie Falco).  Speaking as a child of divorce, the scenes of Megan trying to navigate the mine field between her parents rang painfully true at times. I spent the entire movie waiting for Megan and her parents to have some sort of big moment where, in typical artificial movie fashion, all conflicts would be solved and everything would suddenly be okay.  To the film’s credit, that moment never comes.

Instead, Megan enlists in the Marines.  She finds herself assigned as a Military Police K9 handler.  What that means is that Megan finds herself in Iraq, working with a dog named Rex.  Rex’s job is to sniff out explosives and other threats.  One wrong move by either Megan or Rex will result in not only their deaths but also the deaths of everyone around them.  Remember how tense some of the scenes in The Hurt Locker were?  Well, that’s nothing compared to the intensity of the bomb-sniffing scenes in Megan Leavey.  After all, in The Hurt Locker, we only had Jeremy Renner to worry about.  Megan Leavey, however, features a truly adorable dog.

When Megan returns home from serving two tours in Iraq, she struggles with PTSD and the adjustment to civilian life.  Rex is assigned to a different handler and continues his duties, leaving Megan without the one creature that she felt she could trust.  And again, Megan Leavey deserves a lot of credit for not offering up any easy or pat solutions for Megan’s difficulties to adjusting to life back in the States.  It’s too honest a film and has too much respect for it audience to cheapen its narrative with easy or manipulative sentiment.

When Rex develops facial paralysis, he is retired from active duty.  With the help of her U.S. Senator, Megan adopted Rex and gave him a home until he passed away in 2012.  That senator was Chuck Schumer and thankfully, Megan Leavey resisted the temptation to cast Chuck Schumer as himself.  Instead, when Megan approaches her Senator on the Capitol steps, the senator is played by a professional-looking character actor who looks and sounds absolutely nothing like Chuck Schumer.  By making this simple casting decision, the film keeps the focus off of the politicians and on Megan and Rex, where it belongs.

Did Megan Leavey make me cry?  You better believe it did.  However, it earned every one of these tears.  This is a wonderfully sweet and moving film, one that works largely because it refuses to overemphasize the sentimental aspects of the story.  Instead, Megan Leavey always remains rooted in reality.  It’s a gritty film about a dog and a soldier who survived being sent to one of the most dangerous places n the world.  It’s the story of how Rex saved Megan’s life and how Megan returned the favor by saving Rex’s.  It’s a sweet, straight forward story that can be appreciated even by people, like me, who prefer cats.

Here Are The Very Confusing SAG Nominations!


Spotlight

The nominees for the SAG Awards were announced earlier today!  The SAG Awards are usually one of the more accurate of the various Oscar precursors.  Because so many members of the Academy are also members of the Screen Actors Guild, the SAG Awards are usually a pretty good indication of what films are on the Academy’s radar and which ones aren’t.  Occasionally, an actor will be nominated by SAG and then snubbed by the Academy.  Last year, for instance, SAG nominated Jake Gyllenhall for Nightcrawler, Jennifer Aniston for Cake, and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent.  None of those three received any love from the Academy.  But, for the most part, SAG is one of the most reliable precursors out there.

And that’s why so many of us are in shock today!  The SAG Awards in no way resembled what many of us were expecting.  Other than Spotlight, none of the film’s that many of us expected to be nominated for best ensemble (the SAG’s equivalent of the Academy’s best picture) were nominated (and even Spotlight only received one other nomination, for Rachel McAdams who, up to this point, hasn’t really figured into the Oscar discussion).  The Martian was not nominated for best ensemble or anything else for that matter.  Creed was totally snubbed.  Brooklyn was nominated for actress but not ensemble.  Mad Mad: Fury Road was nominated for its stunt work and nothing else.  Helen Mirren received two nominations, for films that hardly anyone (outside of the SAG, obviously) was really paying any attention to.  Sarah Silverman received a best actress nomination for I Smile Back, which I hadn’t even heard of until about a week ago.  It’s an unexpected and strange group of nominees.

Keep in mind, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the nominees are unexpected.  Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton will both receive deserved boosts in their hunt for Oscar gold.  At the same time, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy to see either The Big Short or Trumbo nominated for best ensemble because I know I’m going to feel obligated to see them and they both look so freaking tedious and blandly political!  But consider this: if The Big Short and Trumbo are both huge Oscar contenders, we may face a situation where both Jay Roach and Adam McKay are nominated for best director in the same year.  I think that’s one of the signs of the apocalypse and, at this point, I’m kind of ready to welcome the end of the world.

Anyway, here are the SAG nominations!  Look them over and, after the Golden Globe nominations are announced tomorrow, update your Oscar predictions accordingly.

Best Performance by a Cast Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

  • Cate Blanchett – Carol
  • Brie Larson – Room
  • Helen Mirren – Woman in Gold
  • Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
  • Sarah Silverman – I Smile Back

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
  • Helen Mirren – Trumbo
  • Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

  • Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
  • Jon Hamm – Mad Men
  • Rami Malek – Mr. Robot
  • Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul
  • Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

  • Claire Danes – Homeland
  • Viola Davis – How to Get Away with Murder
  • Julianna Marguilles – The Good Wife
  • Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey
  • Robin Wright – House of Cards

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Key and Peele
  • Modern Family
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Transparent
  • Veep

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Ty Burrell – Modern Family
  • Louis CK – Louie
  • William H. Macy – Shameless
  • Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
  • Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
  • Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
  • Ellie Kemper – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
  • Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

  • Idris Elba – Luther
  • Ben Kingsley – Tut
  • Ray Liotta — Texas Rising
  • Bill Murray – A Very Murray Christmas
  • Mark Rylance – Wolf Hall

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

  • Blacklist
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • Marvel’s Daredevil
  • The Walking Dead