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.

 

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Beautiful Boy, Mile 22, Juliet Naked, The Equalizer 2, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, King of Thieves, Assassination Nation, Mandy


Lisa already wrote about the new trailers for The Predator and Zoe.  Here are some of the other trailers that were released last week.

First up, there’s Beautiful Boy.  Based on the memoirs of both David Sheff and his son, Nic, this movie is based on the true story of David’s struggle to understand and deal with his son’s drug addiction.  It stars Oscar nominees Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, and Amy Ryan.  It will be released on October 12th by Amazon Studios, who are hoping that they’ll have the same success with this film that they had with Manchester By The Sea.

And now, to quote the poet Python, for something completely different.  Mile 22 is the latest action film from star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.  Mile 22 is due to be released on August 17th.

Also due to be released on August 17th is Juliet, Naked.  This Nick Hornby adaptation is about a rock star (Ethan Hawke) and the couple (Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd) who are obsessed with his music.  We can expect this one to inspire many comparisons to High Fidelity.

On July 20th, Denzel Washington returns as retired CIA assassin Robert McCall in The Equalizer 2.  In the sequel, he’s investigating the death of a friend from the first film.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is the latest fantasy film to be based on a children’s book.  It looks like a change of pace for director Eli Roth, if not star Jack Black, and is set to be released on September 21st.

Also based on a young adult novel is The Hate U Give.  Amanda Stenberg plays Starr, a young African-American woman who finds herself at the center of protest and controversy after she witnesses the fatal police shooting of her best friend.  The Hate U Give will be released on October 19th.

King of Thieves is the latest film from The Theory of Everything‘s director, James Marsh.  Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, and Ray Winstone are over-the-hill thieves.  (Didn’t Caine already do this in Going In Style?)  This British film does not yet have an American release date.

In Assassination Nation, the citizens of suburbia become outraged and violent when a data hack leads to all of their darkest secrets being exposed.  (This would never have happened if they had just taken part in the Annual Purge like they were supposed to.)  Assassination Nation will be released on September 21st.

Finally, in Mandy, Nicolas Cage plays a man who seeks revenge on the cultists and demons that killed the woman he loved.  Mandy will be released on September 14th.

A Movie A Day #311: Crooked Hearts (1991, directed by Michael Bortman)


“The family is like a drug and we’re all junkies.”  So says Charley Warner (Vincent D’Onofrio), one of the many pissed off people at the center of Crooked Hearts.

Crooked Hearts is narrated by Charley’s younger brother, Tom (Peter Berg).  When Tom drops out of college, he returns home and discovers that Charley is still living with their parents, Edward (Peter Coyote) and Jill (Cindy Pickett).  Charley feels that he can only leave the family if Edward officially kicks him out but Edward refuses to give him the satisfaction of escape.  Instead, Edward throws parties to celebrate his children’s failures, all of which he can recite from memory.  Also caught up in this mess are the two youngest children, Ask (Noah Wyle) and Cassie (Juliette Lewis).  Cassie is narcoleptic and Ask has a list of very important rules that everyone must follow to be happy, including always making sure that your socks match your shirt.  By the end of the movie, one brother has set his own house on fire and another one is mercifully dead.

Tolstoy once said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” but he never got to see Crooked Hearts, a movie where everyone is unhappy in the most predictable way possible.  Aside from an overbaked script and underbaked director, Crooked Hearts does feature good performances from Peter Coyote and Vincent D’Onofrio but Peter Berg is boring as the monotonous narrator and Noah Wyle tries too hard to be eccentric.  I watched Crooked Hearts because Jennifer Jason Leigh was in it but Leigh’s role was small and could have just as easily been played by Mary Stuart Masterson, Penelope Ann Miller, Mary-Louise Parker or any of the other three-name actresses of the early 90s.  Family may be addictive but this movie is not.

A Movie A Day #81: The Great White Hype (1996, directed by Reginald Hudlin)


The Rev. Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) has a problem.  He is the richest and the best known fight promoter in America but the current (and undefeated) heavyweight champion is just too good.  No one is paying to watch James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Damon Wayans) fight because Roper always wins.  Sultan has a plan, though.  Before Roper turned professional, he lost a fight to Terry Conklin (Peter Berg).  Conklin has long since retired from boxing and is now a heavy metal, progressive musician.  Sultan convinces Conklin to come out of retirement and face Roper in a rematch.  Since Conklin is white and Roper is black, Sultan stands to make a killing as white boxing fans get swept up in all the hype about Conklin being the latest “great white hope.”

In the days leading up to the fight, crusading journalist Mitchell Kane (Jeff Goldblum) attempts to expose the crooked Sultan before getting seduced into his inner circle.  Meanwhile, boxer Marvin Shabazz (Michael Jace) and his manager, Hassan El Rukk’n (Jamie Foxx), unsuccessfully pursue a match with Roper.  Conklin gets back into shape while Roper eats ice cream and watches Dolemite.

In its attempt to satirize boxing, The Great White Hype runs into a huge problem.  The fight game is already so shady that it is beyond satire.  This was especially true in the 90s, when the The Great White Hype was first released.  (Even more than the famous Larry Holmes/Gerry Cooney title fight, The Great White Hype’s obvious inspiration was the heavily promoted, two-minute fight between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley.)  The Great White Hype is a very busy film but nothing in it can match Oliver McCall’s mental breakdown in the middle of his fight with Lennox Lewis, Andrew Golota twice fighting Riddick Bowe and twice getting disqualified for low blows, or Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear.

The Great White Hype has an only in the 90s supporting cast, featuring everyone from Jon Lovitz to Cheech Marin to, for some reason, Corbin Bernsen.  Damon Wayans is the least convincing heavyweight champion since Tommy Morrison essentially played himself in Rocky V.  The Rev. Sultan was meant to be a take on Don King and Samuel L. Jackson was a good pick for the role but the real Don King is so openly corrupt and flamboyant that he’s almost immune to parody.

When it comes to trying to take down Don King, I think Duke puts it best.

The National Board of Review names Manchester By The Sea the best of 2016!


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Oscar season has officially begun!

Earlier today, The National Board of Review named their picks for the best of the year.  They went with Manchester By The Sea and a whole lot of other films that I hope to finally get to see in December!

My favorite two winners?  Amy Adams for best actress and Kubo and the Two Strings for Best Animated Film.

A cavaet: Of the so-called “major” precursors, The National Board of Review is usually the one that seems to match up the least with the actual Oscar results.

Here are the winners!

Best Film:  Manchester by the Sea

Best Director:  Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Actor:  Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival

Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Best Supporting Actress:  Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay:  Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay:  Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, Silence

Best Animated Feature:  Kubo and the Two Strings
Breakthrough Performance (Male): Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Breakthrough Performance (Female): Royalty Hightower, The Fits

Best Directorial Debut:  Trey Edward Shults, Krisha

Best Foreign Language Film:  The Salesman

Best Documentary:  O.J.: Made in America

Best Ensemble:  Hidden Figures

Spotlight Award: Creative Collaboration of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg

NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  Cameraperson

Top Films

Top 5 Foreign Language Films

  • Elle
  • The Handmaiden
  • Julieta
  • Land of Mine
  • Neruda

Top 5 Documentaries

  • De Palma
  • The Eagle Huntress
  • Gleason
  • Life, Animated
  • Miss Sharon Jones!

Top 10 Independent Films

  • 20th Century Women
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Creative Control
  • Eye in the Sky
  • The Fits
  • Green Room
  • Hello, My Name is Doris
  • Krisha
  • Morris from America
  • Sing Street

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Back to School #64: Friday Night Lights (dir by Peter Berg)


For the past three weeks, I’ve been looking at some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable high school and teen films ever made.  I’ve been posting the reviews in chronological order and, as I look back over the previous 63 Back to School reviews, one thing that I can’t escape is football.

It’s funny.  Despite being a Texas girl, I know very little about football and, whenever I have found myself watching a game, I’ve usually end up getting bored out of my mind.  I’m not a huge fan of sports films, either.  It’s just not my thing.  And yet, as a result of doing this series of reviews, I’ve watched more football films over the past month than I had probably seen in my entire life previously.  Some of the films that I’ve reviewed specifically were football films — The Pom Pom Girls, All The Right Moves, and Varsity Blues, for example.  However, even the film that weren’t specifically about the sport often featured scenes set on the football field.  Just think of Forest Whitaker in Fast Times At Ridgemont High or the socially conflicted jocks from Dazed and Confused.

For a lot of films, football and high school seem to go together.  And one of the most acclaimed high school football films is 2004’s Friday Night Lights.  Now, I have to admit that Friday Night Lights is not one of my favorite films.  It’s a football film, I’m not into football, and therefore, Friday Night Lights is a film that I respect more as a well-made film than like as a source of entertainment.  Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Friday Night Lights is that I understand why so many people who do love football also happen to love this film.

And I do have to say that I appreciate that Friday Night Lights is also a film about Texas that actually manages to realistically portray my home state without resorting to the predictable clichés that dominated Varsity Blues.

Taking place in Odessa, Texas, Friday Night Lights follows the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers.  As opposed to most sports films, Friday Night Lights does not focus on a team of lovable underdogs.  Instead, the Panthers are already known for being a championship team.  As the season begins, Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is under tremendous pressure to continue that winning tradition.  However, when the team’s star player is injured during the first game of the season, the Panthers suddenly find their pre-ordained winning season in doubt.  Gaines finds himself being alternatively celebrated and demonized depending on how the previous night’s game has gone and his players find themselves under tremendous pressure from everyone in town.  The film features a great performance from Billy Bob Thornton and a really good one from Derek Luke, playing a player who abruptly goes from being a future superstar to a present could-have-been.  In fact, the entire film is well-acted with even country singer Tim McGraw giving a surprisingly multi-faceted performance as a former player-turned-drunk.

In short, Friday Night Lights is a lot like Varsity Blues, except that it doesn’t suck.

(Incidentally, Friday Night Lights did inspire a TV series.  I never watched it.)

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Film Review: Battleship (dir. by Peter Berg)


For nearly a year now, we’ve been seeing teasers and trailer for the film Battleship and we’ve all smirked and laughed.  “Really?  A film based on an old board game?  Alien battleships that look like they’ve escaped from a Transformers film?  Action scenes that look like Battle L.A.?  AND LIAM NEESON!?”

Yes, we’ve all been prepared to hate this film.  In fact, the most popular thing I ever tweeted (RT’d by 22 people within minutes of being posted, I might add) was a joke about how Battleship looked like it was a film specifically made for people who thought Battle L.A. was too complicated.  So, after all this build up, I finally saw Battleship on Friday and you know what?

While I wasn’t one of the many people who applauded at the end of the movie, I actually kind of enjoyed it.

(Does that make me a bad person?)

Battleship is the story of two brothers, a somber-looking admiral, and an alien invasion.  Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) is a Commander in the U.S. Navy.  In a genuinely amusing scene, his irresponsible younger brother Alex (Taylor Kitsch) is arrested while breaking into a closed convenience store so he can get a chicken burrito for Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker, a great name) who is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson).  Stone arranges for Alex to avoid jail by joining the U.S. Navy.

Jump forward seven years and Alex is now a lieutenant, engaged to Samantha, and hated by his future father-in-law.  When five alien ships crash into the ocean, both Stone and Alex Hopper are on the battleships sent out to investigate.  They quickly discover that the aliens are not friendly and soon, the future of humanity rests on the untested shoulders of Alex Hopper.  Well, Alex Hopper and a street-wise sailor played by Rihanna…

I really, really expected that I was going to hate Battleship and I was even kind of looking forward to coming back to the TSL Bunker and writing up my snarkiest post since my review of Avatar.  Therefore, imagine just how shocked I was as I watched the actual film and discovered that it’s actually not that bad of a time waster.  Yes, the film is predictable and the script is full of clichés and dumb dialogue but the difference between Battleship and Battle L.A. is that Battleship is aware of its own stupidity and is even willing to encourage the audience to laugh at the pure silliness of actually basing a movie on a board game.  Even the film’s final act of heroism — which features a lot of inspiring speeches and a return to duty by an iconic battleship of the past — feels less like typical third act posturing and more like a very deliberate parody on the conventions of recent U.S. Military Vs. Alien Invaders films.  Whereas films like Battle L.A. and Acts of Valor often feel like recruiting films for the military, Battleship feels like a recruiting film for movies about the military.  The CGI looks good, the battle scenes are nicely done and director Peter Berg seems to be having fun finding ways to visually remind us of the original Battleship game.  Taylor Kitsch makes for a surprisingly likable hero, Liam Neeson grimaces through his 6-minutes of screen time, and Alexander Skarsgard is to die for in his white naval uniform.  Even Rihanna appears to be having fun uttering silly lines like, “Boom” and “Mahalo, motherfucker.”

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Battleship is hardly a masterpiece.  It’s about 20 minutes too long and there’s a few times, especially during the middle of the film, when Battleship seems to run out of momentum.  Fortunately, every time this happens, Taylor Kitsch delivers another hardboiled line or Liam Neeson grimaces as he stares out at the alien fleet and the film picks back up again.  Battleship isn’t a great film and it might not even be a good film but it’s hardly the crime against humanity that I was expecting.