Here Are The Nominations From The Detroit Film Critics Society


The Detroit Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2021 earlier today.  It’s an interesting group of nomination, though I would point out that Detroit is usually one of the quirkier of the critics groups.  Every awards season, they nominate something or someone unexpected, there’s a brief flurry of excitement, and then everyone moves on.

I guess that’s one reason why I love them.

Anyway, here’s their nominations:

BEST PICTURE
Belfast
CODA
Cyrano
Don’t Look Up
King Richard

BEST DIRECTOR
Sean Baker – Red Rocket
Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
David Lowery – The Green Knight
Adam McKay – Don’t Look Up
Lan-Manuel Miranda – Tick, Tick…Boom!

BEST ACTOR
Nicolas Cage – Pig
Peter Dinklage – Cyrano
Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick…Boom!
Oscar Isaac – The Card Counter
Will Smith – King Richard

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye
Alana Haim – Licorice Pizza
Jennifer Hudson – Respect
Nicole Kidman – Being The Ricardos
​Kristen Stewart – Spencer

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jon Bernthal – King Richard
Troy Kotsur – CODA
Jared Leto – House Of Gucci
Ray Liotta – The Many Saints Of Newark
Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power Of The Dog

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Kirsten Dunst – The Power Of The Dog
Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
Rita Moreno – West Side Story
Diana Rigg – Last Night In Soho

BEST ENSEMBLE
CODA
Don’t Look Up
The French Dispatch
The Harder They Fall
House Of Gucci

BREAKTHROUGH
Alana Haim – Actress – Licorice Pizza
Emilia Jones – Actress – CODA
Woody Norman – Actor – C’mon C’mon
Agathe Rousselle – Actress – Titane
Emma Seligman – Writer/Director – Shiva Baby

BEST USE OF MUSIC/SOUND
Cyrano
In The Heights
Last Night In Soho
Tick, Tick…Boom!
West Side Story

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Don’t Look Up
The French Dispatch
The Harder They Fall
Licorice Pizza
Parallel Mothers

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
CODA
The Green Knight
In The Heights
The Power Of The Dog
Tick, Tick…Boom!

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Belle
Cryptozoo
Encanto
Flee
Luca
The Mitchells vs. The Machines

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Flee
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
The Sparks Brothers
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street
Summer Of Soul

The Many Saints of Newark Promises A Look At The Early Life of Tony Soprano


The Many Saints of Newark, which is finally going to be released on October 1st after being delayed by the pandemic, is a prequel to The Sopranos. It features Tony Soprano as a teenager, struggling to decide between entering the family business or going to college and — if The Test Dream episode is to be believed — maybe becoming a teacher or a coach. That’s a big decision for anyone to make. Of course, since The Many Saints of Newark is a prequel, we already know that’s going to happen. That’s kind of the problem with prequels. You can drag out the story for as long as you want but, eventually, you’re going to reach the point where everyone originally came in.

As you may have picked up on, I’m not totally sure that this film is really necessary. As I say this as someone who loves The Sopranos and who is planning on rewatchinng the entire series later in July. Thanks to the show’s use of flashbacks and the scenes of Tony talking to Dr. Melfi, it’s not as if we don’t already know about Tony’s childhood. I’m not sure that there’s a lot for the prequel to show us, beyond maybe clearing up who was actually responsible for the death of Dickie Moltisanti. If Tony ends up killing Dickie, it’ll cast his later treatment (and murder) of Christopher into an entirely new light.

Still, I’m definitely going to watch The Many Saints of Newark when it’s released on October 1st. Vera Farmiga as Livia Soprano seems like perfect casting and I’m also interested in seeing how Michael Gandolfini does at playing the young version of the character made famous by his father, the much-missed James Gandolfini. Apparently, Billy Magnussen will be playing the youngish version of Paulie Walnuts. In what world does Billy Magnussen grow up to be Tony Sirico? Ray Liotta also has a role in The Many Saints of Newark, which feels appropriate considering how much The Sopranos owed to the success of Goodfellas.

The trailer for The Many Saints of Newark was released today. And here it is:

Horror(-ish) Film Review: Hubie Halloween (dir by Steven Brill)


“Oh my God!” I said as I looked at what was new on Netflix, “A Halloween movie starring the guy from Uncut Gems!?  THIS IS GOING TO BE INTENSE!”

Of course, as I’m sure you already guessed, Hubie Halloween might as well be taking place in a totally different universe from Uncut GemsUncut Gems was an intense drama that starred Adam Sandler as a man so self-destructive that he literally seems to spend the entire movie just daring death to reach out and take him.  Hubie Halloween, on the other hand, is fairly laid back comedy featuring Adam Sandler playing yet another well-meaning manchild.  The film features supporting performances from all the usual Happy Madison suspects, like Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows, Ben Stiller, Maya Rudolph, Keenan Thompson, and Colin Quinn.  It’s sentimental and it’s about thirty minute too long and the humor is often juvenile but also frequently funny.

Adam Sandler plays Hubie, who lives in Salem, Massachusetts with his mother (June Squibb).  Hubie is the town eccentric, the type of guy who thinks that he’s protecting the entire town but who mostly just gets on everyone’s nerves.  A lot of people make fun of Hubie (who they call Pubie).  Pete Landolfa (Ray Liotta) may be mourning the recent death of his father but he still finds time to toss Hubie into an open grave.  Not even Father Dave (Michael Chiklis) has much sympathy for Hubie.  Hubie is the type of guy who goes down to the local school to give a speech on Halloween safety, just for the students (and teachers) to respond by throwing all of their food at him.

One of the few people who is nice to Hubie is his new neighbor, Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi).  However, Hubie suspects that Walter might be a werewolf and when people start to disappear over the course of Halloween, Hubie suspects that Walter’s responsible.  Meanwhile, the police (represented by a heavily bearded Kevin James) thinks that it might be Hubie, seeing as how everyone who has disappeared is also someone who has bullied him.

Then again, Richie Hartman (Rob Schneider) has just escaped from the local mental institution.  Could he possibly have something to do with the mysterious happenings in Salem!?

When Adam Sandler won his Indie Spirit Award for Uncut Gems, he infamously announced that, if he didn’t get an Oscar nomination, he would get back at the Academy by making the worst film of all time.  Well, Sandler was snubbed the Academy.  (Though Sandler deserved that nomination — and probably nominations for The Meyerowtiz Stories, Funny People, and Punch-Drunk Love as well — it’s pretty obvious that the Academy is never going to nominate the star of That’s My Boy and Jack and Jill.)  However, Hubie Halloween is certainly not the worst film ever made.  It’s actually a rather likable and sweet-natured comedy, one in which the humor is definitely juvenile but, in contrast to some of the other Happy Madison comedies, never really mean-spirited.  In many ways, it’s a perfect Netflix film.  It’s good enough to keep you entertained while, at the same time, you don’t necessarily have to really pay attention to every minute of the film to get it.  It’s the epitome of the type of film that you can watch while doing something else.

One of the main complaints that’s always lodged against Sandler is that he primarily just makes movies so that he can hang out with his friends and get paid for it.  There’s a certain amount of truth to that statement and that, more than anything, explains why Sandler’s filmography tends to be so frustratingly uneven.  The cast of Hubie Halloween looks like they had a lot of fun making it.  Fortunately, in this case, that sense of fun actually translates onto the screen.  Steve Buscemi, June Squibb, and particularly Ray Liotta all seem to be having a ball getting to parody their own dramatic images.

Admittedly, Hubie Halloween is not a film that sticks with you.  It won’t make you laugh as much as Happy Gilmore and it won’t leave you stunned like Uncut Gems.  But, for what it is, it’s just likable enough to be entertaining.

 

Narc (2002, directed by Joe Carnahan)


Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is an undercover narcotics agent who has spent the last year under investigation for a shooting that went wrong.  Nick was firing his gun at a fleeing drug dealer but he hit a pregnant woman instead.  After 18 months of being caught in administrative limbo, Nick is made an offer.  It’s thought that, with his knowledge of Detroit’s crime and drug scene, that he might be uniquely suited to investigate the murder of another undercover agent, Michael Calvess.  Nick agrees but, in return, he wants a desk job.  He’s got a wife and a baby and he’s tired of putting his life on the line for nothing.  Nick also wants to work with Detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta).  Oak was one of the original investigators of Calvess’s murder.  Nick is warned that Oak has a reputation for being unstable and out-of-control.  Nick isn’t fazed because he has the same reputation.

Oak turns out to be more than just out of control.  He is the epitome of a bad cop, beating suspects and thinking nothing of threatening to kill a man unless he confesses.  However, Oak gets results.  Oak suggests that you can’t fight crime in Detroit if you play by the rules and Narc is the type of grim and gritty film that doesn’t give you any reason to think that Oak is incorrect.  Oak and Nick investigate Calvess’s death and both of them discover that the department would rather just sweep the case under the rug than actually discover what really happened.  The department just wants someone that they can pin the crime on, not the truth.  Even after the case is officially declared as being closed, Nick and Oak continue their investigation.  Nick, however, starts to suspect that Oak knows more about Calvess’s death than he’s willing to admit.

Narc opens with an amazingly shot chase scene that will leave you breathless and then it just keeps going without once letting up on the intensity.  Narc is a grim and violent film about two damaged men trying to solve a case that no one else cares about.  Jason Patric has never been better than he was in Narc and, while Ray Liotta has played his share of unstable cops, he takes things to whole other level with Narc.  Director Joe Carnahan does such a good job of capturing the decay and desperation of life in Detroit that, even while you’re worried that both Nick and Oak are going to end up going too far in their pursuit of what they consider to be justice, you still can’t help but feel that they’ve both got a point.  Who plays by the rules when the world’s on fire?

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Marriage Story (dir by Noah Baumbach)


The Oscar nominations were announced earlier today and, as happens every year, some of the nominations were met with acclaim while others left observers scratching their heads.  Right now, on twitter, there’s a fierce debate going on between those who think Joker deserved all of its nominations and those who believe that the Academy has once again deliberately snubbed women and people of color.

As for me, I’m just shaking my head at all the nominations for Marriage Story.  I get the feeling that, out of all of the recently unveiled best picture nominees, Marriage Story is the one that we will have forgotten about within the next year.  It’s an acclaimed film and I’m happy that Scarlett Johansson finally got a nominations (two nominations, as a matter of fact, as she was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Jojo Rabbit) but, in the end, Marriage Story feels rather hollow.

Marriage Story is about the end of a marriage.  Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) is a New York-based theatrical director.  Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) is his wife.  Nicole is an actress who, before she married Charlie, was best known for appearing topless in a teen comedy.  Charlie is often credited with having resurrected her career.  On the surface, they’re the perfect New York couple.  However, when we first meet them, their marriage is coming to an end.  Charlie, we learn, cheated on Nicole with a production assistant.  Nicole wants to go to Los Angeles so that she can star in a television series and have a career that’s not dependent upon her husband.  Caught in the middle of all this is their son, Henry (Azhy Robertson).

At first, Charlie and Nicole agree to an amicable split, one with no lawyers and no accusations.  That doesn’t last.  Nicole hires the cheerfully ruthless Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern).  Charlie, after moving out to Los Angeles, finds himself torn between hiring either the the kindly (but ineffectual) Bert Spitz (Alan Alda, in a role he was born to play) or the somewhat sinister (but definitely effective) Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta, also in a role that he was born to play).  While both Charlie and Nicole try (and often) fail to maintain a civil relationship for Henry’s sake, their attorneys go to war.

There’s a lot of good things to be said about Marriage Story.  Though I think that his truly award-worthy work for 2019 was not in this film but instead in The Report, Adam Driver does a good job with role of Charlie.  Scarlett Johansson, who has so often been unfairly overlooked at awards time, again proves herself to be one of the best actresses around.  Dern, Alda, and Liotta are well-cast as three very different (but very recognizable) attorneys.  Noah Baumbach’s script has several good lines.  The scene where Nicole’s sister is awkwardly recruited to serve Charlie with the divorce papers is both funny and cringey.  The much-acclaimed scene where Charlie and Nicole go from having a polite (if awkward) conversation to yelling at each other is definitely effective even if it’s power has been diluted by it’s subsequent reinvention as a twitter meme.

That said, Marriage Story ultimately left me feeling dissatisfied.  It’s pretty much an open secret that the film is based on Noah Baumbach’s divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh and, watching the film, you can’t help but feel that you’re only getting one side of a very complex story.  My first warning sign came when Nicole left for Los Angeles and the film cut to her on the set for her new television series.  Marriage Story goes so overboard in portraying Nicole’s show as being vapid and silly that you can’t help but feel that we’re meant to look down on Nicole for abandoning Charlie’s avant-garde theater productions to star in it.  We’re meant to say, “She gave up Broadway so she could star in some second-rate Marvel show!?”  From the claim that no one took Nicole seriously until Charlie married her to it’s portrayal of her being easily manipulated by her attorney, there’s a pettiness to the film’s portrayal of Nicole.

As for Charlie, he’s presented as being flawed but, as the film progresses, it’s hard not to notice that almost all of his flaws can also serve as a humble brag.  He’s a little dorky,  He’s too intense.  He works too hard.  Sometimes, he has a hard time not being the director.  Almost all of Charlie’s flaws are the type of stuff that people mention in job interviews whenever they’re asked to name their biggest weakness.  “Well, I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist, sometimes….” It’s hard not to feel that, despite a few scenes where Nicole gets to open up, the film is really only interested in Charlie’s perspective.  By the end of the film, Marriage Story reduces Nicole to merely being an obstacle standing in the way of Charlie and his son and it’s hard not to feel that both the character and the actress who plays her deserves better than that.  The film goes from being Marriage Story to simply being Charlie’s Story.

While you’re watching the film, it’s easy to get swept up in Driver and Johansson’s performances.  It’s only afterwards, when you really think about it, that you come to realize that Marriage Story doesn’t really add up to much.  It’s a good acting exercise and I’m sure that it will be popular among community theater actors who have been asked to prepare a monologue for their next audition.  But the whole is ultimately far less than the sum of its parts.

Here Are The 2019 Independent Spirit Award Nominees!


Here are the 2019 Indie Spirit Award nominations!  These nominations are meant to honor the best independent films of 2019 and their announcement marks the official beginning of awards season (at least as far as this sight is concerned!)  I hate to say it but I still need to see quite a few of the films nominated below so, for now, I’ll hold off on any editorial commentary.

For those looking for some sort of evidence of how the Oscar nominations can go, the Independent Spirit Awards can be an iffy precursor, just because several of the expensive, major studio contenders aren’t eligible to nominated.  (For instance, neither The Irishman nor Once Upon A Time In Hollywood were eligible.)  That said, for the record, the two biggest Spirit nominees are The Lighthouse and Uncut Gems.  Waves and The Farewell, which have been the center of considerable Oscar speculation, did not do as strongly in the nominations as many people apparently expected.  Make of that what you will!

Here are the nominees!

Best Supporting Female

  • Jennifer Lopez – HUSTLERS
  • Taylor Russell – WAVES
  • Zhao Shuzhen – THE FAREWELL
  • Lauren “Lolo” Spencer – GIVE ME LIBERTY
  • Octavia Spencer – LUCE
  • Best Supporting Male
  • Willem Dafoe – THE LIGHTHOUSE
  • Noah Jupe – HONEY BOY
  • Shia Labeouf – HONEY BOY
  • Jonathan Majors – THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
  • Wendell Pierce – BURNING CANE

Best Screenplay

  • Noah Baumbach – MARRIAGE STORY
  • Jason Begue, Shawn Snyder – TO DUST
  • Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie – UNCUT GEMS
  • Chinonye Chukwu – CLEMENCY
  • Tarell Alvin Mccraney – HIGH FLYING BIRD

Best First Screenplay

  • Fredrica Bailey, Stefon Bristol – SEE YOU YESTERDAY
  • Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen – DRIVEWAYS
  • Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy – BLOW THE MAN DOWN
  • Jocelyn Deboer, Dawn Luebbe – GREENER GRASS
  • James Montague, Craig W. Sanger – THE VAST OF NIGHT

Best Cinematography

  • Todd Banhazl – HUSTLERS
  • Jarin Blaschke – THE LIGHTHOUSE
  • Natasha Braier – HONEY BOY
  • Chananun Chotrungroj – THE THIRD WIFE
  • Pawel Pogorzelski – MIDSOMMAR

Best Editing

  • Julie Béziau – THE THIRD WIFE
  • Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie – UNCUT GEMS
  • Tyler L. Cook – SWORD OF TRUST
  • Louise Ford – THE LIGHTHOUSE
  • Kirill Mikhanovsky – GIVE ME LIBERTY

Best International Film

  • INVISIBLE LIFE, Brazil
  • LES MISERABLES, France
  • PARASITE, South Korea
  • PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, France
  • RETABLO, Peru
  • THE SOUVENIR, United Kingdom

Best Documentary (Award given to the director and producer)

  • AMERICAN FACTORY
  • APOLLO 11
  • FOR SAMA
  • HONEYLAND
  • ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS

The John Cassavetes Award is presented to the best feature made for under $500,000 and is given to the writer, director, and producer. 2020 #SpiritAwards Nominees are:

  • BURNING CANE
  • COLEWELL
  • GIVE ME LIBERTY
  • PREMATURE
  • WILD NIGHTS WITH EMILY

Best Female Lead

  • Karen Allen – COLEWELL
  • Hong Chau – DRIVEWAYS
  • Elisabeth Moss – HER SMELL
  • Mary Kay Place – DIANE
  • Alfre Woodard – CLEMENCY
  • Renée Zellweger – JUDY

Best Male Lead 

  • Chris Galust – GIVE ME LIBERTY
  • Kelvin Harrison  Jr., – LUCE
  • Robert Pattinson – THE LIGHTHOUSE
  • Adam Sandler – UNCUT GEMS
  • Matthias Schoenaerts – THE MUSTANG

Best First Feature (Award given to the director and producer)

  • BOOKSMART
  • THE CLIMB
  • DIANE
  • THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
  • THE MUSTANG
  • SEE YOU YESTERDAY

Best Feature [award given to the producer(s)]

  • A HIDDEN LIFE
  • CLEMENCY
  • THE FAREWELL
  • MARRIAGE STORY
  • UNCUT GEMS

Best Director

  • Robert Eggers – THE LIGHTHOUSE
  • Alma Har’el – HONEY BOY
  • Julius Onah – LUCE
  • Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie – UNCUT GEMS
  • Lorene Scafaria – HUSTLERS

The Robert Altman Award is given to the ensemble cast, director & casting director of one film: MARRIAGE STORY – Noah Baumbach, Douglas Aibel, Francine Maisler, Alan Alda, Laura Dern, Adam Driver, Julie Hagerty, Scarlett Johansson, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson, Merritt Wever

The Truer Than Fiction Award, in its 25th year, is for emerging directors of non-fiction features and includes an unrestricted grant. Finalists:
Khalik Allah – BLACK MOTHER
Davy Rothbart – 17 BLOCKS
Nadia Shihab – JADDOLAND
Erick Stoll & Chase Whiteside – AMÉRICA

The Producers Award, now in its 23rd year, honors emerging producers who demonstrate creativity, tenacity and vision, despite highly limited resources. The award includes an unrestricted grant. These are the finalists:
Mollye Asher
Krista Parris
Ryan Zacarias

The Someone To Watch Award, in its 26th year, recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision and includes an unrestricted grant. The finalists are:
Rashaad Ernesto Green – PREMATURE
Ash Mayfair – THE THIRD WIFE
Joe Talbot – THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

The Bonnie Award will recognize a mid-career female director with a $50,000 unrestricted grant. The 2020 Film Independent #SpiritAwards Bonnie Award finalists are:
MarielleHeller
KellyReichardt
LuluWang

Who Watches The Watchmen: Unlawful Entry (1992, directed by Jonathan Kaplan)


The upscale and complacent life of Michael and Karen Carr (Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe) is interrupted one night when a burglar breaks into their home via their skylight.  The intruder briefly holds a knife to Karen’s throat before taking off.  Shaken by the encounter, the Carrs are very happy when a seemingly friendly cop, Officer Pete Davis (Ray Liotta). offers to help them cut through all the red tape and get a security system installed in their house.

At first glance, Pete seems like the perfect cop but actually, he’s a mentally unstable fascist who quickly becomes obsessed with Karen.  When Pete offers Michael his nightstick so that Michael can use it on the man who earlier broke into his house, Michael refuses.  That’s all that Pete needs to see to decide that Michael’s not a real man and that Karen would be better off with him.  Even after Michael orders Pete to stay away from his home, Pete continues to drop by so that he can spy on the couple.  When Michael complains, Pete frames him by planting cocaine at his house.  When Michael says that he’s innocent, no one believes him.  Why would they?  Pete’s a decorated cop who is keeping the streets safe.  Michael is just a homeowner.  While Michael sits in jail, the increasingly violent and unhinged Pete makes plans to make Karen his own.

“Who watches the watchmen?” as the old saying goes.  Unlawful Entry is an efficient and no-nonsense thriller that was ahead of its time as far as its portrayal of a policeman abusing his authority is concerned.  Jonathan Kaplan was trained in the Roger Corman school of filmmaking so he doesn’t waste any time getting to the story and he even finds a role for Dick Miller.  Ray Liotta, fresh off of his performance in Goodfellas, is perfectly cast as the manipulative and misogynistic Pete while Kurt Russell is once again the ideal everyman.  Madeleine Stowe, who was one of the best actresses of the 90s, does not get to do much beyond be menaced but she does it well.  Whatever happened to Madeleine Stowe?  Kurt Russell’s career is still going strong and Ray Liotta still appears regularly in gangster movies and Chantix commercials.  Isn’t it about time for a Madeleine Stowe comeback?

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.

 

Film Review: Unforgettable (dir by John Dahl)


You have to give the makers of the 1996 film, Unforgettable, some credit.  It takes a certain amount of courage to give your movie a title like Unforgettable.  You’re practically asking some snarky critic to comment on the fact that she can’t remember your movie.

Well, I’ll resist the temptation because I can remember enough about this movie to review it.  I saw it a few days ago on This TV and, at first, I was excited because it was a Ray Liotta movie.  Ray Liotta is an entertaining and likable actor who, nowadays, only seems to get cast in small, tough guy roles.  Nowadays, a typical Liotta role seems to be something like the character he played in Killing Me Softly.  He showed up.  He was tough.  He got killed for no good reason.  So, whenever you come across a film in which Liotta gets to do something more than just get shot, you kind of have an obligation to watch.

In Unforgettable, Liotta plays Dr. David Krane, who is haunted by the unsolved murder of his wife.  Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately), Dr. Martha Briggs (Linda Fiorentino) has developed a formula that can be used to transfer memories from one person to another.  All you have to do is extract some spinal fluid!  Or something like that.  It doesn’t make any sense to me and I have to admit that I kinda suspect that the science might not actually check out.

Anyway, Dr. Krane is all like, “I want to inject myself with my dead wife’s spinal fluid so I can experience her final moments!”

And Dr. Briggs is all like, “But this could kill you because there’s all these vaguely defined side effects!”

But Dr. Krane does it anyway and he discovers that his wife was murdered by a lowlife criminal named Eddie Dutton (Kim Coates)!  So, Dr. Krane chases Eddie all ocer the city and it’s interesting to see that a doctor can apparently keep up with a career criminal.  I mean, you would think that Eddie’s experience with being chased and Krane’s inexperience with chasing would give Eddie an advantage.  Anyway, regardless, it doesn’t matter because Eddie is eventually gunned down by the police and Dr. Krane is fired from his job.

Hmmm … well, that was quick.  I guess the movie’s over…

No, not quite!  It turns out that someone hired Eddie to kill Dr. Krane’s wife!  And it turns out that person was a cop!  But which cop!?  Well, there’s only two cops in the film who actually have any lines so it has to be one of them.  And one of the cops is so unlikable that it’s obvious from the start that he’s a red herring.  So, I guess that means the actual murderer is the one that you’ll suspect from the first moment he shows up.

(For the record, the two cops are played by Christopher McDonald and Peter Coyote.  I won’t reveal which one is unlikable and which one is a murderer but seriously, you’ve already guessed, haven’t you?)

Anyway, it’s all pretty stupid and a waste of everyone involved.  Ray Liotta is likable and sympathetic but the film gets bogged down with trying to convince us that crimes can be solved through spinal fluid.  It’s a dumb premise that the movie takes way too seriously and it never quite works.

Still, I hope that someone will give Ray Liotta another good role at some point in the future.  He deserves better than supporting roles and Chantix commercials.