The Last Castle (2001, directed by Rod Lurie)


It’s Redford vs. Gandolfini in The Last Castle!

The last castle of the title is a United States Military Prison, one that was originally constructed during the Civil War and which resembles a castle, but with one big difference. Castles were originally designed to keep people from entering. The purpose of this castle is to keep people from leaving.

Colonel Ed Winter (James Gandolfini) is the prison’s commandant, a martinet who has never served in war but who keeps a collection of bullets and weapons in his office. Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford) is the newest inmate. Irwin was a highly respected general until he disobeyed a presidential order and eight of his men died as a result. Irwin has been stripped of his rank and sentenced to ten years. He tells Winter that he just wants to do his time and then go home. That’s fine with Winter, until he overhears Irwin disparaging his collection of battlefield memorabilia.

At first, Irwin tries to lay low.  Even when he sees firsthand that Winter is a sadist who manipulates the inmates and who isn’t above ordering his guards to kill an inmate in order to make a point, Irwin tries to stay uninvolved.  But eventually, Irwin’s natural military instincts kick in and he leads the prisoners in a revolt against Col. Winter.

The Last Castle requires a healthy suspension of disbelief.  Irwin brings the inmates together by reminding them that they were once soldiers and that, even when serving time in a military prison, they’re apart of a grand tradition of soldiers who have been court-martialed.  He soon has them saluting and standing at attention and walking in formation.  The movie overlooks the fact that most of the prisoners were sentenced to the prison by men much like General Irwin.  The idea that all of them are just waiting for someone to once again start barking orders at them just doesn’t seem plausible.  Instead, it seems more likely the Irwin, as a former general, would be the least popular inmate in a prison that’s full of enlisted men who feel that they were screwed over the army.  In the end, Irwin asks the prisoners to sacrifice a lot but, in the end, it doesn’t matter how heroically he’s framed in each scene or how much the music swells on the soundtrack, Iwin’s rebellion seems like its more about ego than anything else.  Even if it means getting rid of Col. Winter, would any of the inmates realistically be willing to die for Eugene Irwin?

At the same time, The Last Castle is worth watching just to see James Gandolfini face off against Robert Redford.  Gandolfini plays his role with the type of neurotic energy that only a method actor is capable of capturing while Redford is his typical move star self.  The contrast between their two styles of acting translates well into the contrast between Winter and Irwin’s philosophy of leadership.  Among the inmates, Mark Ruffalo and Clifton Collins, Jr. both have early roles.  Of the two, Ruffalo gets to play the only character in the film with a hint of moral ambiguity and he runs with it.  Clifton Collins, Jr., meanwhile, plays a character whose fate will be obvious to anyone who has ever seen a film before.  The Last Castle has its moment but it’s never a surprising movie.

The Last Castle ends with a spontaneous display of patriotism, one that is effective but also feels implausible and out-of-place.  It’s the perfect way to sum up this frustrating but occasionally diverting film. 

 

Film Review: All The King’s Men (dir by Steven Zaillian)


On September 10th, 1935, a Senator named Huey Long was shot and killed at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rogue.

While it’s generally agreed that Carl Weiss, the son-in-law of a political opponent, approached Long, there’s still some debate as to whether or not Weiss was the one who shot Long. Did Weiss fire one shot at Long or was Long himself accidentally shot by his many bodyguards, all of whom opened fire on Weiss? (Weiss died at the scene, having been wounded at least 60 times.) There’s even some who argue that Weiss didn’t even have a gun on him when he approached Long and that Long’s bodyguards misinterpreted Weiss’s intentions. Or, as some more conspiracy-minded historians have suggested, perhaps Long’s bodyguards were themselves paid off by one of Long’s many enemies. With Huey Long, anything was possible.

Huey Long has been described as being an American dictator, a man who ran for office as a populist and who, as governor and then senator, ruled Louisiana with an iron fist. His slogan was “Every man a king,” and he promoted a platform that mixed Socialism with redneck resentment. (In modern terms, he mixed the vapid but crowd-pleasing rhetroic of AOC with the bombastic but calculated personal style of Donald Trump.) He often played the flamboyant buffoon but he also knew how to reward his friends and punish his enemies. At the time of his death, he was planning to run for President against FDR. It’s said that, in typical Long fashion, he planned to run as a third party candidate and draw away enough votes from Roosevelt to allow Republican Alf Landon to win. Then, in 1940, Long would run for the Democratic nomination and send President Landon back to Kansas.

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Whether his plan was feasible or not, they came to an end with his death. However, his legacy continued as members of the Long family dominated Louisiana politics for decades to come. Huey’s brother, Earl, served as governor of Louisiana for several contentious terms. Huey’s son, Russell, spent nearly 40 years in the Senate and, as chairman of the Finance Committee, was one of the most powerful men in the country. As late at 2020, Huey’s third cousin was serving in the Louisiana Senate. In the past few years, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been compared to Huey Long. Of course, if Huey were alive today, he’d probably be very popular online. Political Twitter has never met an authoritarian that it couldn’t make excuses for.

Among those who were fascinated by the life and death of Huey Long was a Southern poet and novelist named Robert Penn Warren. Warren used Long as the basis for Willie Stark, the man at the center of the novel All The King’s Men. In the novel, Stark is a classic and tragic American archetype, the man of the people who loses his way after coming to power. Stark starts the book as an idealist who wants to make life better for the poor but who, as he works his way up the political ladder, loses sight of why he first entered politics in the first place. He goes from fighting for the people to fighting only for himself. The book was controversial but popular and won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize. In later interviews, Warren often said that All The King’s Men was never meant to be a book about politics but instead a book about two men, Willie Stark and reporter Jack Burden, losing their way during the tumult of the Great Depression.  Regardless of Warren’s intentions, most readers and critics have focused on the book as a cynical look at American politics and the authoritarian impulse.

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Considering the book’s popularity, it’s not surprising that All The King’s Men was turned into a movie just three years after it was published.  Directed by Robert Rossen and starring a perfectly cast Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark, the film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1949.  Just as with the book, the film was considered to be controversial.  Many claimed that the film’s cynical portrayal of American politics was the equivalent of supporting communism, despite the fact that both the novel and the original film present Stark as being the epitome of the hypocritical Marxist dictator.  Indeed, if any character would have inspired audiences in 1949 to distrust socialism, it would have been a faux populist like Willie Stark.  Still, John Wayne was so offended by the book and the script that he very publicly turned down the role of Willie Stark.  That was all the better for Broderick Crawford, who won an Oscar playing the role.  When seen today, the original All The King’s Men holds up surprisingly well, as does Crawford’s lead performance.  Filmed in harsh black-and-white and featuring a cast of cynical, tough-talking characters, it’s a political noir.

Those who found the 1949 version of All The King’s Men to be dangerously subversive obviously had no idea what was in store for them and the country over the next couple of decades.  There’s a reason why the best-known book about the downfall of Richard Nixon was called All The President’s Men.  By the start of the current century, with all of the political corruption that was happening in the real world, the flaws and crimes of Willie Stark seemed almost quaint by comparison.  In 2006, with George W. Bush serving his second term, America embroiled in two unpopular wars, and the economy looking shaky, it was decided that it was time for a new version of the story of Willie Stark.

This version was directed by Steven Zaillian, the screenwriter whose credits included Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, Hannibal, and American Gangster.  The role of Willie Stark was played by Sean Penn, who was both an Academy Award winner and an outspoken critic of George Bush.  (And, make no mistake about it, the new version of Willie Stark would be as much based on Bush as he was on Huey Long.)  Jude Law played Jack Burden, the reporter who narrated the story of Stark’s rise and fall.  Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, and Kathy Baker all had supporting roles.  This was a cast full of Oscar nominees and, indeed, the film’s trailer had that portentous, “the movie is very important and award-worthy” feeling to it that studios go with whenever they’re trying to convince audiences that they have an obligation to see a film, regardless of how boring or annoying it may look.  Entertainment Weekly predicted that All The King’s Men would be an Academy Award contender. For nearly two months, one could not see a movie at the Dallas Angelika without also seeing thee trailer for All The King’s Men.  It was a movie that was due to arrive at any minute and it was coming with an awful lot of hype.

And then, the strangest thing happened.  The film itself kind of disappeared.  It arrived and then it promptly got lost.  The reviews were overwhelmingly negative.  Audiences did not turn out to see the film.  It was a box office bomb, one that pretty much ended Steven Zaillian’s career as a director.  The film played for a week in Dallas and then left the city’s movie screens.  Even if I had been planning on seeing the film when it was originally released, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity.  The Gods of cinema, politics, and Southern accents were conspiring to protect me from suffering through a bad movie and I guess I should be thankful.  There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than hearing a bad Southern accent in a movie and the trailer for All The King’s Men was full of them.

Way back in November of last year, I noticed that the 2006 version of All The King’s Men was available on Encore On Demand.  At the time, I had politics on my mind.  The Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections had bee held earlier that week.  Biden’s huge infrastructure bill had passed the House on the very same night that I came across the film.  Hell, I figured, could watching Sean Penn as Willie Stark be any worse than watching Joe Biden try to give a speech from the Oval Office?  So, I decided to give the movie a chance and I quickly discovered that watching Sean Penn’s Willie Stark was a lot worse.

In All The King’s Men, Sean Penn gives the type of bad performance that can only be given by a good actor.  Penn yells and grimaces and barks out order like the villain in a badly dubbed Bollywood movie.  When he watches a dancer, he doesn’t just look at her.  Instead, he stares with all the intensity of a cartoon wolf who has just spotted Little Red Riding Hood.  There’s nothing subtle about Penn’s performance, least of all his overbaked accent.  The only thing wilder than Penn’s accent is his hair, which often seems to be standing up straight as if he’s just removed his fingers from an electrical socket.  It’s a performance that is heavy on technique but empty on substance.  In both the book and the original film, Willie Stark is flamboyant in public but cool and calculating in private.  In the remake, Penn yells and sweats and jumps around and comes across as being so desperate that it’s hard to buy into the idea that anyone would believe a word that he said.  Broderick Crawford’s Willie Stark was believable because Crawford, with his bulky build and his plain-spoken manner, came across as being a real human being.  One could imagine voters looking at Crawford and believing that he was just like them.  Sean Penn, on the other hand, comes across like a rich man’s version of a poor man.  Penn is too obviously condescending to be an effective populist.  Voters will forgive a lot but they’ll never forgive a politician who openly talks down to them.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re a very talented group but not one of them is convincingly cast.  In fact, many of them give career-worst performances.  Anthony Hopkins does his usual eccentric routine but it doesn’t add up too much because the audience never sees him as being anything other than Anthony Hopkins using a rather spotty Southern accent.  When Hopkins’s character dies, it’s not a tragedy because the character himself never feels real.  Instead, you’re juts happy that Hopkins collected a paycheck.  Kate Winslet seems to be bored with the role of Stark’s mistress.  Mark Ruffalo is dazed in the role of Winslet’s brother.  As Jack Burden, Jude Law seems as lost as anyone, which wouldn’t be problem if not for the fact that Jack is the one narrating the film.  When your narrator is lost, you’re in trouble.

There’s really only two members of the cast who escape the film unscathed.  Jackie Earle Haley is properly intimidating as Stark’s devoted bodyguard.  Haley doesn’t get many lines but one look at his disturbed eyes tells you all you need to know about how far he’ll go to protect his boss.  On the other hand, James Gandolfini gets several lines and he does such a good job of delivering them and he plays the role of a corrupt political boss with such a perfect combination of good humor and cold pragmatism that you have to wonder just how much All The King’s Men would have been improved if Gandolfini had played Willie Stark instead of Sean Penn.

Steve Zaillian’s direction involves a lot of soft-focused flashbacks and several visual references to the Nuremberg rallies.  Just as with Penn’s performance, there’s nothing subtle about Zaillian’s direction, despite the fact that the story itself is so melodramatic that it calls for the opposite of a heavy-handed approach.  One wonders what exactly Zaillian was trying to say with his version of All The King’s Men, which presents Willie Stark as being a monster but still as the audacity to end with a clip of him giving a rousing campaign speech.  Again, the problem is that we never buy into the idea that Willie Stark was ever sincere in his desire to help the common man.  Everything about both Penn’s performance and Zaillian’s direction serves to suggest that, from the start, Stark viewed them as just being a means to an end.  Ending the film with a flashback of Willie giving a campaign speech is about as moving as a friend from high school contacting you on Facebook and then trying to get you to take part in a pyramid scheme.  There’s no sincerity to be found in any of it.

In the end, it’s a film of overheated performances and meticulously shot scenes that all add up to very little.  There are a few moments where Sean Penn’s body language and his vocal inflections suggest that he’s trying to channel George W. Bush but there’s nothing particularly shocking or subversive about that.  In 2006, every movie and TV show had to find a way to take a swipe at Bush and Penn’s never been particularly reticent when it comes to broadcasting his politics.  Though All The King’s Men was executive produced by political consultant James Carville, there’s very few moment in the film that feel authentic.  It’s like a high school senior’s view of politics.

All The King’s Men came and went quickly.  Fortunately, everyone was able to move on.  Steven Zaillian has not directed another film but remains an in-demand scriptwriter.  Sean Penn, Anthony Hopkins, and Kate Winslet all won Oscars after appearing in this film (though, it should be noted, none of them won for this film).  Mark Ruffalo and Jude Law went on to join the Marvel Universe.  Jackie Earle Haley continues to be a much-respected character actor.  Tragically, James Gandolfini is no longer with us but his performance as Tony Soprano will never be forgotten.  The second version of All The King’s Men wasted a lot of talent but, fortunately, talent always finds a way to survive.

Horror Film Review: Fallen (dir by Gregory Hobilt)


“Time is on my side….” sings an ancient Sumerian demon, who is apparently a huge fan of the Rolling Stones.

“Do you like cream?” asks a possibly crooked detective who is played by a slightly less heavy than usual James Gandolfini.

Donald Sutherland walks through a shadowy police station and flashes his big smile.

A detective played by John Goodman talks on the phone and makes cheery jokes while investigating a brutal murder.

A demon jumps from person to person, possessing everyone for a matter of seconds, just so he can freak out one specific person.

“Beware my wrath,” a white-haired businessman says to Denzel Washington.

There’s no way to deny it.  1998’s Fallen is a film that’s full of strange moments.  Some of it works and some of its doesn’t but it’s never boring.  Denzel Washington plays John Hobbes, a Philadelphia detective who has achieved a small amount of fame as the result of capturing serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas).  Reese asks to see Hobbes before he’s executed and it turns out that, for a man about to pay the ultimate price for his crimes, he’s in a surprisingly good mood.  Before he goes in the gas chamber, Reese chants something in Aramaic.

Soon, new murders are being committed in Phladelphia.  Hobbes and his partner, Jonesey (John Goodman at his most Goodmanesque), suspect that the killer is a copycat, trying to capture some of Reese’s notoriety for himself.  Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz), the daughter of a detective who committed suicide after being accused of committing a series of murders, tells Hobbes that the new killings are actually being committed by a demon named Azazel.  Azazel can jump from body to body and can compel people to do terrible things.  Gretta asks Hobbes if he belives in God.  Hobbes says it’s hard to have faith when you deal with murder every day, a somewhat clichéd line that Washington makes work through the absolute conviction of his delivery,

Denzel Washington is the key to this film’s success.  Sure, there’s a lot of murders and a lot of twists and a lot of possessions and there’s a lot of scenes that are shot from the point of view of the demon but, in the end, Fallen works because Washington is absolutely convincing as a man who is facing an evil that is beyond human understanding.  Washington gives a very naturalistic and grounded performance, one that keeps an element of reality in Fallen regardless of how messy the story may get.  When it becomes apparent that the demon is going to try to harm his brother and his nephew, Washington’s fury feels real.  When Hobbes discovers that the demon has gotten to one of them, Washington’s underplayed reaction makes the scene even more poignant and painful.  It’s hard to imagine Fallen being anywhere near as effective with an actor other than Denzel Washington in the lead role.

Fallen is a twisty movie.  The demon moves quickly and it always seems to have a backup plan.  He manipulates Hobbes into doing some things that are so terrible that you’re not sure that Hobbes is every going to recover, even if he does somehow manage to defeat Azazel.  Hobbes and Azazel are worthy adversaries and, as a result, the film gets away with a lot of stuff that wouldn’t otherwise work.  Even the use of Time Is On My Side pays off, as the one character who you don’t want to hear sing the song suddenly starts doing a Mick Jagger impersonation and you’re just like, “Oh no, what’s going to happen now?”  The film’s high point is a lengthy sequence where Hobbes stands on a busy street and watches as Azazel jumps from body to body.  Everyone who passes Hobbe gives him a death glare.  It’s a frightening moment, one in which Fallen captures the intensity of a nightmare.

I watched Fallen earlier today.  I can’t really say that I was expecting much from it but I was surprised.  It’s actually one of the better horror films that I’ve watched for the first time this month.  It’s big and strange and creepy and it’s got Denzel Washington doing what he does best.  What more could you ask for?

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.

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* 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!


46-frances-ha

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