Catching-Up With Two Courtroom Dramas: Suspect and 12 Angry Men


As a part of my continuing effort to get caught up with reviewing all of the movies that I’ve seen this year, here’s two courtroom dramas that I recently caught on This TV.

  • Suspect
  • Released in 1987
  • Directed by Peter Yates
  • Starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco, Fred Melamed, Bernie McInerney, Bill Cobbs, Richard Gant, Jim Walton, Michael Beach, Ralph Cosham, Djanet Sears 

Suspect is a hilariously dumb movie.  How dumb is it?  Let me count the ways.

First off, Cher plays a highly successful if rather stressed public defender.  And don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that Cher is a bad actress or anything.  She’s actually pretty good when she’s playing Cher.  But, in this movie, she’s playing someone who managed to graduate from law school and pass the DC bar.

Secondly, Cher is assigned to defend a homeless man when he’s accused of murdering a clerk who works for the Justice Department.  The homeless man is deaf and mute, which isn’t funny.  What is funny is when he gets a shave and a shower and he’s magically revealed to be a rather handsome and fresh-faced Liam Neeson.  Liam doesn’t give a bad performance in the role.  In fact, he probably gives the best performance in the film.  But still, it’s hard to escape the fact that he’s Liam Neeson and he basically looks like he just arrived for a weekend at Cannes.

Third, during the trial, one of the jurors (Dennis Quaid) decides to investigate the case on his own.  Cher even helps him do it, which is the type of thing that would get a real-life attorney disbarred.  However, I guess Cher thinks that it’s worth the risk.  I guess that’s the power of Dennis Quaid’s smile.

Fourth, the prosecuting attorney is played by Joe Mantegna and he gives such a good performance that you find yourself hoping that he wins the case.

Fifth, while it’s true that real-life attorneys are rarely as slick or well-dressed as they are portrayed in the movies, one would think that Cher would at least take off her leather jacket before cross-examining a witness.

Sixth, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the homeless man is innocent.  We know he’s innocent from the minute that we see he’s Liam Neeson.  Liam only kills who people deserve it.  The real murderer is revealed at the end of the film and it turns out to be the last person you would suspect, mostly because we haven’t been given any reason to suspect him.  The ending is less of a twist and more an extended middle finger to any viewer actually trying to solve the damn mystery.

I usually enjoy a good courtroom drama but bad courtroom dramas put me to sleep.  Guess which one Suspect was.

 

  • 12 Angry Men
  • Released 1997
  • Directed by John Frankenheimer
  • Starring Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Mary McDonnell, Tyrees Allen, Douglas Spain

The 12 Angry Men are back!

Well, no, not actually.  This is a remake of the classic 1957 film and it was produced for Showtime.  It’s updated in that not all of the jurors are white and bigoted Juror #10 (Mykelti Williamson) is now a member of the Nation of Islam.  Otherwise, it’s the same script, with Juror #8 (Jack Lemmon) trying to convince the other jurors not to send a young man to Death Row while Juror #3 (George C. Scott) deals with his family issues.

I really wanted to like this production, as it had a strong cast and a strong director and it was a remake of one of my favorite films.  Unfortunately, the remake just didn’t work for me.  As good an actor as Jack Lemmon was, he just didn’t project the same moral authority as Henry Fonda did the original.  If Fonda seemed to be the voice of truth and integrity, Lemmon just came across like an old man who had too much time on his hands.  Without Fonda’s moral certitude, 12 Angry Men simply becomes a story about how 12 men acquitted a boy of murder because they assumed that a woman would be too vain to wear her glasses to court.  The brilliance of the original is that it keeps you from dwelling on the fact that the accused was probably guilty.  The remake, however, feels like almost an argument for abandoning the jury system.

Shattered Politics #85: In the Loop (dir by Armando Iannucci)


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First released in 2009, In The Loop is one of the most brilliant political satires ever made.

The film opens in London, as a slightly ridiculous man named Toby (Chris Addison) starts his first day as the special assistant to the Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander).  And what a day to start!  Both the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister are eager to invade the Middle East and, during an interview the previous night, Simon accidentally announced that war was “unforseeable.”  This has led to people accidentally assuming that Simon is anti-war (Simon really doesn’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other) but it also means that the Prime Minister’s compulsively profane assistant, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), is now running around the office and threatening people.

(I doubt that there’s any way that I can do justice to Capaldi’s performance here.  You simply have to see him.  He is a force of nature, a tornado of nonstop profanity and aggression.)

Not every government official in the U.S. is enthusiastic about going to war.  Both Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and her former lover, Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini) are opposed to the war.  Karen’s assistant, Liza (Anna Chlumsky), has even written a paper that explains why a war in the Middle East could not be won.  Karen hopes to use Simon as a spokesman to keep the British out of the war and, therefore, America as well.

(Toby, meanwhile, just wants to have sex with Liza.)

However, there are a few factors that complicate things.  First off, Malcolm is determined to make sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants and if that means bullying and scaring everyone into supporting an unwinnable war, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.  Secondly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State For Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche) is eager enough to start a war that he’s actually started a secret committee to find a way to get into the war.  (The committee, of course, has been called the Committee For Future Planning.)  Third, and perhaps most importantly, Simon is an idiot.

Along with being both a satire of American-British relations (my favorite moment comes when a random American tourist tells Malcolm to stop cursing in public) and the lead-up to the Iraq War, In The Loop is also a devastating look at how government works.  In the Loop makes a good case that, for all the titles and the committee and the talk about doing what’s right, most government policy is the result of a combination of stupidity and needless aggression.  As played by Capaldi, Malcolm has no ideology or core beliefs.  He simply makes sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants.

And if that means going to war, then Malcolm will do whatever it takes to push Britain into war.

Director Armando Iannucci is probably best known for creating two political comedies, the Thick of It and Veep.  And while I’ve never seen The Thick Of It, I absolutely love Veep.  From what I’ve read, all three projects share the same fictional universe.  (Capaldi’s Malcolm was the main character on The Thick Of It.)

Though, actually, I think it’s debatable just how fictional that universe is.  Ultimately, In The Loop is probably one of the most plausible satires that I’ve ever seen.

Shattered Politics #59: Night Falls on Manhattan (dir by Sidney Lumet)


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Oddly enough, right after I watched City Hall, I watched yet another 1997 film about politics and police corruption in New York.  And while Night Falls on Manhattan is definitely not one of Sidney Lumet’s best films, it’s still definitely an improvement on City Hall.

Night Falls on Manhattan tells the story of what happens when two veteran detectives — Liam Casey (Ian Holm) and Joey Allegreto (James Gandolfini) — attempt to arrest drug dealer Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey).  Liam ends up getting shot multiple times before Jordan, disguised as a police officer, flees the scene.  As the cops search for Jordan, they accidentally shoot and kill one of their own.

In short, Manhattan has gone crazy and only the prompt capture and conviction of Jordan Washington will set things right.

However, the police don’t have to spend too much time searching for Jordan because, the very next day, he turns himself in.  He’s accompanied by a veteran radical lawyer named Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss).  Vigoda announces that yes, Jordan is a drug dealer and yes, he did shoot Liam Casey.  However, Vigoda claims that Jordan has been paying off the cops and that Liam and Joey weren’t actually trying to arrest him.  Instead, they were specifically looking for an excuse to execute him.

Flamboyant District Attorney Morganstern (Ron Leibman) know that his office has to convict Jordan.  And luckily, he has a secret weapon.  Liam’s son, Sean (Andy Garcia), just happens to be a former cop and an assistant district attorney.  He assigns Sean to handle Jordan’s prosecution.

Sean, it turns out, has political ambitions of his own and, by prosecuting Jordan, he not only gets revenge for the shooting of his father but he also furthers his own career.  (He also gets a girlfriend, in this case an associate of Vigoda’s who is played by Lena Olin.)  When Morganstern has a heart attack, Sean suddenly finds himself being mentioned as a candidate to replace him in the upcoming election.

However, even as Sean appears to be shoo-in to be the next district attorney, he also discovers that neither Liam nor Joey were as innocent as he originally assumed..

Night Falls In Manhattan is an occasionally diverting legal and political thriller.  As a director, Sidney Lumet had an obvious feel for New York culture and, as a result, the film feels authentic even when the plot occasionally veers into melodrama.  As opposed to City Hall, you never doubt the plausibility of Night Falls On Manhattan.  Though Andy Garcia is a bit an odd choice to play an Irish-American (and it’s particularly difficult to imagine him being, in any way, related to Ian Holm), the rest of the film is well-cast.  Fans of The Sopranos will enjoy a chance to see James Gandolfini playing someone who, because he’s on the “right” side o the law, is actually more dangerous than Tony Soprano and Rob Leibman is thoroughly believable as a bullying crusader against crime.

After I watched Night Falls on Manhattan, I did some checking online and I was surprised to discover that the film is apparently not better known than it is.  While it definitely uneven, Night Falls On Manhattan is an interesting look at crime, ethics, and urban politics.

Here’s The Trailer for James Gandolfini’s Final Film


The DropEarlier this year, I was one of my many people to be surprised by the fact that James Gandolfini did not receive a posthumous Oscar nomination for his performance in Enough Said.  After all, Gandolfini was a talented and popular actor who died far too early and his performance in Enough Said showed that he was capable of playing a lot more than just Tony Soprano or other gangster types in films like Killing Them Softly.

Judging from this recently released trailer, The Drop will features Gandolfini in the type of role that he was best known for.  Along with Gandolfini, The Drop features Tom Hardy and the only girl with the dragon tattoo who matters, Noomi Rapace.  Perhaps best of all, it was written by Dennis Lehane, whose books have inspired superior crime films like Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Gone, Baby, Gone.

Here Are The 2013 SAG Nominations!


This morning the SAG Award nominees were announced and, perhaps not surprisingly, the story is less who was nominated and more who was snubbed.  For instance, Oscar front-runner Robert Redford’s performance in All Is Lost was ignored while Forest Whitaker’s rather one-note turn in The Butler was nominated.  Tom Hanks was not nominated for Saving Mr. Banks but the late and missed James Gandolfini picked up a nomination for Enough Said. Myself, I’m more surprised that Octavia Spenser was not nominated for her performance in Fruitvale Station.

As has been pointed out over at Goldderby, the SAG Awards are no longer the fool-proof Oscar prediction tool that they used to be.  Getting a SAG nomination no longer guarantees you an Oscar nomination and, by that same standard, getting snubbed is no longer an automatic cause for concern.

That said, the SAG winners do typically end up receiving an Oscar nomination in January.

The film nominees can be found below:

BEST FILM ENSEMBLE
“12 Years a Slave”
“American Hustle”
“August: Osage County”
“The Butler”
“Dallas Buyers Club”

BEST FILM ACTOR
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Forest Whitaker, “The Butler”

BEST FILM ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”

BEST FILM SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Daniel Bruhl, “Rush”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

BEST FILM SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”
Oprah Winfrey, “The Butler”

BEST FILM STUNT ENSEMBLE*
“All is Lost”
“Fast & Furious 6”
“Lone Survivor”
“Rush”
“The Wolverine”

The full list of nominees can be found here.

—-

* Isn’t it about time that stunt performers get an Oscar category all their own?

12 Years A Slave Wins In Boston


The Boston Society Of Film Critics voted earlier today and 12 Years A Slave — which, so far, has been underperforming with the critics’ groups — swept the awards.  The Wolf of Wall Street came in second for most of the major awards.

BEST PICTURE
“12 Years a Slave”
Runner-up: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

BEST DIRECTOR
Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”)
Runner-up: Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”)

BEST ACTOR
Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”)
Runner-up: Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”)

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)
Runner-up: Judi Dench (“Philomena”)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
James Gandolfini (“Enough Said”)
Runner-ups:
Barkhad Abdi (“Capt. Phillips”) and Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) tie for second.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
June Squibb (“Nebraska”)
Runner-up:
Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”)

BEST SCREENPLAY
Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”)
Runner-up:
“The Wolf of Wall Street”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“Wadjda”
Runner-up: “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“The Act of Killing,” Josh Oppenheimer
Runner-ups:
“Blackfish,” “Leviathan,” “At Berkeley,” “Crash Reel,” “20 Feet from Stardom ”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki
Runner-up:
“Frozen”

BEST NEW FILMMAKER
Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”)
Runner-up: Josh Oppenheimer (“Act of Killing”)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity”)
Runner-up:
Phillippe Le Sourd (“The Grandmaster”)

BEST EDITING
Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill (“Rush”)
Runner-up: Thelma Schoonmaker (“The Wolf of Wall Street”)

BEST USE OF MUSIC IN A FILM
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
Runner-up: “Nebraska”

It’s The 2014 Independent Spirit Nominations!


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The nominees for the 2014 Independent Spirit Awards were announced earlier today.  While the Spirit noms aren’t exactly the most accurate of Oscar precursors (and the rules of Indie Spirit Awards are pretty much specifically designed to honor the type of low-budget films that are often ignored by the Academy), more than a few of the Spirit nominees are usually remembered when the Oscar nominations are announced.

The winners will be announced, by Patton Oswalt, on March 1st.

Myself, I’m just happy to see Frances Ha and Upstream Color’s Shane Carruth nominated.

Best Feature:
“12 Years a Slave”
“All Is Lost”
“Frances Ha”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Nebraska”

Best Director:
Shane Carruth, “Upstream Color”
J.C. Chandor, “All is Lost”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Jeff Nichols, “Mud”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

Best Screenplay:
Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”
Nicole Holofcener, “Enough Said”
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, “The Spectacular Now”
John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”

Best Female Lead:
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”
Gaby Hoffman, “Crystal Fairy”
Brie Larson, “Short Term 12″
Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”

Best Male Lead:
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

Best Supporting Female:
Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale Station”
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Yolonda Ross, “Go for Sisters”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

Best Supporting Male:
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Will Forte, “Nebraska”
James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Keith Stanfield, “Short Term 12”

Best First Feature:
“Blue Caprice”
“Concussion”
“Fruitvale Station”
“Una Noche”
“Wadjda”

Best First Screenplay:
“In a World,” Lake Bell
“Don Jon,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt
“Nebraska,” Bob Nelson
“Afternoon Delight,” Jill Soloway
“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” Michael Starrbury

John Cassavetes Award:
“Computer Chess”
“Crystal Fairy”
“Museum Hours”
“Pit Stop”
“This Is Martin Bonner”

Best Cinematography:
Sean Bobbit, “12 Years a Slave”
Benoit Debie, “Spring Breakers”
Bruno Delbonnel, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Frank G. DeMarco, “All Is Lost”
Matthias Grunsky, “Computer Chess”

Best Editing:
Shane Carruth & David Lowery, “Upstream Color”
Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, “Museum Hours”
Jennifer Lame, “Frances Ha”
Cindy Lee, “Una Noche”
Nat Sanders, “Short Term 12”

Best Documentary:
“20 Feet From Stardom”
“After Tiller”
“Gideon’s Army”
“The Act of Killing”
“The Square”

Best International Film:
“A Touch of Sin”
“Blue Is the Warmest Color”
“Gloria”
“The Great Beauty”
“The Hunt”

Robert Altman Award (given to a film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)
“Mud”

Piaget Producers Award:
Toby Halbrooks & James M. Johnston
Jacob Jaffke
Andrea Roa
Frederick Thornton

Someone to Watch Award:
“My Sister’s Quinceanera,” Aaron Douglas Johnston
“Newlyweeds,” Shake King
“The Foxy Merkins,” Madeline Olnek

Truer Than Fiction Award:
“A River Changes Course,” Kalvanee Mam
“Let the Fire Burn,” Jason Osder
“Manakamana,” Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez