Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Cop Land (1997)
If you think Stallone sucks, think again.
First off, hats off to James Mangold for assembling what had to be one of the finest casts of the 1990's. Second, another hat off to him for making the best Martin Scorsese film Scorsese never directed. Third, thanks for reuniting DeNiro and Keitel. They need to work more (together, that is).
But the real treasure of this film is Sylvester Stallone turning in the finest performance of his career (arguably) and the finest since the original Rocky (indisputable). If you have only seen Stallone in his pumped-up muscle fests of the 80's and early 90's, then you haven't seen the real Stallone. Copland allows Stallone to inhabit a character that completely unlike any other we have seen him do.
Freddie Heflin is the sheriff of a small town on the Jersey side of the Hudson River. He desperately wants to be NYPD but can't because he is deaf in one ear. The good news is, the entire town is populated with NYPD cops so the town has the lowest crime rate in the state. The bad news is someone got all those cops low-interest home loans through the mob in exchange for some favors. Freddie was given the position of sheriff because the locals think he's slow, stupid and will tow the line to keep his job. They are about to find out that they are wrong.
Stallone gained a lot of weight to become Freddie. He plays the role totally introverted, only speaking out toward the end when he is finally pushed in a corner. His clothes don't fit him. He walks awkwardly. He nods and smiles a lot. In short, Stallone melts into the character, leaving behind all the ego he has been accused of bringing to his parts. It's truly a revelation...and should have re-launched Stallone as a dramatic actor, possibly even a mini-DeNiro.
I'm not going to give away the whole story, but one of the best elements I have to mention here. The way Freddie lost is hearing is a tragic story. At the age of 18 he witnesses a car go off a bridge. He dives into the water to save the driver, a teenage girl. He rescues the girl, but loses his hearing in the process. The girl, whom he falls in love with, rejects him and marries another man, an NYPD cop. To this day, Freddie watches her from afar, always keeping an eye on her and hoping one day she'll come around to feel the same way for him as he does for her. It's a touching extra to a story of hard boiled men locked in a hardcore power struggle.
Lastly, I know a lot of people love Ray Liotta. At the time this came out I was not a fan. This, in my opinion, is Liotta's finest work. He utters one of the best quotes in cop movie history, "Being right isn't a bullet proof vest, Freddie."
CSI: Miami (2002)
Superior To The Original
I'm gonna get creamed with e-mails from fans of the original CSI show, but I can't help it. In my opinion, CSI: Miami is superior to the original and a good foundation for (the also superior) CSI:NY.
Don't get me wrong, the original is the original, but the fact that the real Miami/Dade CSI's are cops first allows this show to explode in gunfire at any moment...and place our lead, David Caruso, at the center of the action. Now I want to make something clear: Almost 15 years ago I saw some of Caruso's early work and I was trying to figure out what all the fuss was about. What makes THIS guy a sex symbol (on NYPD Blue)? Then, just as fast as he becomes a major star, he exits Blue, makes two movies that bombed (the really good "Kiss Of Death" and the laughable "Jade") and he's suddenly poison. It was after seeing Caruso in Kiss of Death and a previous film, The King of New York" that I realized we were missing one of the last REAL tough guys.
CSI: Miami has brought him back. Caruso spearheads this show with a vengeance. Sure his line readings have their own stilted rhythm, but he did the same thing on NYPD Blue and people loved him then. Caruso with a gun in his hand looks more natural than anything else I have seen on TV (and my favorite show is The Shield).
CSI: Miami is action packed. The stories are seedier. The cinematography is unmatched by any other show. Go watch the DVDs. Tune in Monday nights. I swear, you'll be a convert.
Then go watch Gary Sinise give the performance of his life in CSI:NY. You'll be glad you did.
Man on Fire (2004)
Tony Scott's Masterpiece
...and what is it about Brian Helgeland being a brilliant screenwriter when he adapts someone else's material but sucks a big one when writing something original? MINOR SPOILER I'll skip the synopsis of the story and get right to it: Denzel Washington deserves his academy award for this film. He was great in Traning Day but's flat out amazing in this film as an assassin who is just plain through living. He's not suicidal, he's just DONE with life. In what will be seen by most as a paint-by-numbers first half where he finds a reason to live again through his protecting of the little girl (kind of a twist on the whole Beauty and the Beast story), the second half is a tour de force of violent revenge. When Creasy begins his rampage through Mexico it's with the most heartfelt declaration I have ever seen in film, "I'm going to kill them." The moment that makes it all come together is when Creasy finds her diary. I'm not going to spoil it.
END MINOR SPOILER See this movie and let the emotions take you wherever you need to go. Get mad. This film is rare. There won't be more like it.
When was the last time you witnessed a scene of film violence that came off the screen as being so "real" it almost turned your stomach? I've seen them all and the closest I ever came was Johnny Depp's "killing the cook" scene in Once Upon A Time In Mexico.
That doesn't even begin to hold a candle to one all-too-short sequence in the middle of Michael Mann's masterpiece "Collateral."
Oh, sure, in my opinion "Heat" is a superior film, but when you have the combined forces of Pacino and DeNiro in your arsenal, how could you go wrong? No, "Collateral" nips closely at their heel's. Jaime Foxx and Tom Cruise put on a masterful two man show the commands your attention. You don't want to miss what Cruise's next trick will be...and what Foxx will have to do stay alive in the process.
The plot is simple: Foxx is a cab driver who randomly picks up a fare (Cruise) who turns out to be a hitman cleaning up witnesses in a high profile drug trial. Although reluctant at first, even without the knowledge of the killings, Foxx decides to take on the all-night chauffeur job as a way to make a little extra cash. He quickly realizes he has made a mistake that could possibly kill him.
Cruise's character is masterfully written. He's sly when he needs to be, violent and down-right mean when pushed and has a plan for everything. He knows exactly what the endgame of this night is going to be, even when obstacles are thrown at him...except for one.
Coming from someone who spent the better part of 1986-97 hating the bulk of Cruise's work, ANY praise I can heap on this guy is going to be genuine. Sure, Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise but his silver hair and confident delivery help us to forget the "Jerry Maguires" he's been in the past. In one explosively violent scene Cruise kills two street hoods who try to steal his briefcase containing all the information on his jobs. Without looking, Cruise administers a coup de gras shot on one of them with casual abandon. Never has Cruise looked more vicious than in that exact second.
True praise however should be reserved for Jaime Foxx. This guy exploded on the dramatic scene in Oliver Stone's could-have-been-brilliant "Any Given Sunday" and then perfected his abilities in Michael Mann's biopic "Ali." If the trailers for this year's "Ray", the Ray Charles biopic, are any indication of what's to come, we could be smelling dual Oscar Nominations for this guy. Foxx comes across as a young Samuel L. Jackson/Denzel Washington all rolled into one. He captures the true power of what an actor must do...react. Unfortunately for his character, that's all he can do...with one exception. Foxx's hesitation is the perfect Yin to Cruise confidant Yang. Their interactions are flawless. Watch the scene where Cruise forces Foxx to tell his boss off over the cab radio. It's never under the penalty of death...just one imposing his will over another. The power of peer pressure.
And where's my praise for Michael Mann? Right here: Shooting his beloved L.A. in Digital Video? Brilliant. His casting of Jada Pinkett Smith (an actress I hate) as the lawyer whom Foxx develops a desire for? Outstanding (first movie I have liked her in). His unorthodox framing methods that defy the norm for cinematography? True to form. His usual stock of supporting characters? Exceptional (Peter Berg was an interesting surprise).
But it all comes back to that moment. That one single solitary second of neo-reality filmmaking that made my stomach churn. The moment, like Johnny Depp's executing the cook, where digital video actually makes cinema murder leap off the screen like a snuff film. Be ready for it, it might stop your heart.
The Last American Virgin (1982)
Sweet...but oh, so bitter.
Easily the best teen sex comedy ever made. Even though movies like American Pie and Fast Times At Ridgemont High may be funnier, the final act of this devastating film reminds us just how horrible being in love can be...when that love is not returned. Without giving away the ending, be prepared for something you will not expect...get out your handkerchiefs.
Phone Booth (2002)
Fast, Cheap, and Totally In Control.
Because "Phone Booth" is a super-fast piece of cinema, I'll make this is as brief as possible. Joel Schumacher finally reminds us of what made him such a successful filmmaker in the late 80s/early 90s. His claustrophobic camerawork never allows us to stray out of the confines of this one section of New York, even the surrounding buildings mirror the confines of titular booth that Colin Farrel finds himself trapped inside.
And let's give a big hand to Farrel, who after some showy roles in "Daredevil", "The Recruit" , and "Minority Report" gets to pull off what is almost a one-man performance as the con man who gets his just desserts.
If I had any complaints, they would be these:
1.) Farrel's accent does waver a bit. For those who don't know, his natural voice is thick Irish.
2.) Katie Holmes was horribly miscast. Sure, she's pretty but she has less to do in the film than does Radha Mitchell who plays Farrel's wife. In fact Holmes literally disappears from the action at some point...as if she was never important to begin with.
3.) Forrest Whitaker's character brought with him one of two things: either too much unnecessary backstory that was never fully examined, or not enough necessary backstory to fully explain where he's coming from.
Phone Booth clocks in at less than an hour and a half so don't get too comfortable. The events play out in real time which is ironic since "24" star (and long-time Schumacher cohort) Keifer Sutherland gets the unshowy part of the voice on the other end of the phone. we do get a look at him near the end, but his screen time is sadly limited.
The Green Mile (1999)
Warning to Teamsters: Bring 5 Hankies
I went looking for an experience. Something that would take me to the limits of my own existence and remind me that even in the darkest corner of my own life, there was hope. I was reminded, instead that along with the triumph there must also be sacrifice. A part of me died in that theater, but I walked out feeling renewed, refreshed...and a little cursed.
I think Paul Edgecomb feels the same way.
Tom Hanks has to be the epitome of a Hollywood living legend...and the guy's only in his 40s. He went from scraping his way through sophomoric slap like The 'Burbs, Turner & Hooch, and Bachelor Party to rise up in the 90s as our towering "everyman." Anyone who marvels in his "simple guy in complicated circumstances" roles such as Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan knows that he can deliver the goods...and an Oscar nomination (or win...or two...in a
ROW!!!) But Tom does something very interesting in The Green Mile. He lays back.
The breakout performance in this film goes to Michael Clark Duncan (right now tied with Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment for my Best Supporting Actor vote). Crippled by his size, Mr. Duncan has a limit of the roles he can play. However, given the role of a child-like behemoth with Christ-like powers of healing, Duncan brings to the screen a performance that will transcend the Denzels and the Poitiers of the world.
The Green Mile is Cell Block E in a Louisiana State Prison, death row. Paul Edgecomb run this wing with compassion, a startlingly different approach considering the legendary cruelty of southern prisons. He is surrounded by men in him employ who all share his philosophy that these men ultimately await the most devastating punishment. Why make their stay any more troubling.
All save one: Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchinson), relative of the Governor and always ready to remind anyone who disagrees his HIS methods just who got him his job. Percy hates everything about The Green Mile; the prisoners, other guards, even a tiny, brave mouse who befriends one of the inmates (Michael Jeter). It isn't until another new inmate is processed, a man they call "Wild Bill", that Percy will meet his equal.
So where is the common thread? What is a messianic character doing on death row? What role will Tom Hanks play in his redemption? And what's this "curse" thing I brought up in the beginning of this review?
If I could tell you, you wouldn't slap the money down on the box office and find it for yourself. Let me just tell you that the final blessings bestowed by John Coffey (Duncan) could make optimists and pessimists alike find a common ground. How you perceive the final moments will be up to how you impart on yourself...and the world.
If John Coffey guilty of his crime? Are the fates of the characters in this film deserved? Half and half. Evil is punished, bu t goodness must bare witness...and that has a price as well. Will Tom Hanks win another Academy Award? He shouldn't. Is this a good film? No. It's an incredible film.
I still weep for Paul Edgecomb.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
The One Thing The Horseman DIDN'T Cut--The Plot
Having observed the best and worst stories of the past year I can only state, in my humble opinion, that this time Hollywood went too far.
When Hollywood has a story that involves random violence and punishment of sinners in general, the first question the suits ask is, how can we make this "relate" to the audiences in general? In other words, they try to second guess you, me, your idiotic friend sitting next to you, and the audience as a whole.
WHO CARES??????? The Headless Horseman is a classic. He can explode from the shadows, chase down a sinner and lop off his head with all the incredible digital effects at his disposal for THREE HOURS of screen time, it doesn't make a difference. Just make sure that Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp, the hero) finds a way to dispatch him and save the day.
Hollywood, however, has presented the Headless Horseman as a poseur. Rather than making him a servant of hell that appears in the mist, a sharpened blade ready to sever the head of his victim, he is now the servant of.....wait, I guess that would be giving it away.
But once again, I say, WHO CARES?????? Let the Horseman ride free. Let Ichabod Crane detect his existence. Let Miss Van Tassle (Christina Ricci, unbelievably blonde) work her charms. And let the townspeople quiver in fear, not because they all know they are part of some conspiracy, but because he who is without sin shall retain his (or her) head.
But allow me to marvel at this film's incredible visionary process. Tim Burton (who I do not fault one iota) has given us his darkest vision yet. The sets are immaculate, the photography is wonderfully washed out (near black and white), and the pacing is heart-stopping. This being is umpteeth pairing with Johnny Depp gives us a sort of backwards Stanly Kramer/Spencer Tracy quality (or Capra/Stewart, you decide).
Depp has said in a few interviews that key to his performance was to play Ichabod like a 13 year old girl. Knowing this going in only makes some of the funniest scenes in the movie even more so...and did I mention the humor? Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare In Love) apparently did a stem to stern re-write of the script (credited to Se7en's Andrew Kevin Walker). It helped, I think, in the comedic aspects, but whoever's idea it was to introduce the "conspiracy theory" (and a nowhere flashback to Crane's childhood) to this film should have had the Horseman loosed on him.
One last praise: digital effects. I can not relate to you here why I loved them. I can only tell you that I was shocked. Amazed. Horrified. ...and I loved it.
The Wild One (1953)
Brando Brings Class to an Otherwise Schlock Film
Ok, the dialogue is hokey, but this was considered a B-film until Brando got involved. Sure, the characterizations are stilted and Columbia touted the fact that the cast hung out with "real" bikers, but what "respectable" biker gang would hang out with a bunch of Hollywood wannabes. Well, with Brando maybe, but it ends there.
Still, the story is based on a real event and the moral of the story still resonates today: Once you take a "wait and see" attitude on crime, you have marked yourself as a coward. If you don't stare opposition down at the first sign of aggression, you stand the chance of being trampled.
Now, let me interject my own opinion here (something a critic should never do). This is not to say that violence solves problems nor does it mean to push the average drunk in a bar when he calls you a dirty name (I'm trying to censor myself, not an easy thing to do). It means, rather, to let your opposition know that you will not tolerate aggression and you are prepared to stand up in your own defense.
Calm down, pacifists. You have a voice too. Besides, this is a film review not a dissertation on world politics.
Brando and his unruly gang of motorheads blaze into a sleepy one-horse town looking for kicks. It all starts as harmless fun until a drag race results in a civilian car wreck and one of the gang is injured. The driver of the car demands justice. The local constable knows that if he tries to flex his authority that the gang will revolt and tear the town to shreds. He favors diplomacy. Brando, however, cares nothing about this. He is infatuated with a local girl (Mary Murphy), a square who intrigues him to no end. Out of all the women he could possess, she awakens in him the man he never was. One problem: Her father is the local cop.
Out of the dust rides a rival gang led by Chino (Lee Marvin in all his beer-swilling glory). A fight erupts and eventually the policeman is forced to stand up for the town. Chino is hauled off to jail. This act, however, comes too late. By now Brando has no respect for the policeman's authority, daughter or no daughter, and the rest of the two gangs have pretty much taken over the town. When the citizenry revolts, it only begats more violence only now, more extreme.
Say what you will about the supporting cast but don't count out Brando's impassioned character. He realizes that what his gang is doing is wrong but he has nothing else to cling to. In another world he probably could have ran off with the girl of his dreams and become a respected member of society...but that is not his destiny.
The Limey (1999)
An Argument for Peter Fonda
Peter Fonda - wow! Where has this guy been the last few decades?
Terrence Stamp - wow! Where has he been the past few decades...and why didn't he stay there?
Stamp's performance in this film is awful. From his post bloodbath declaration to his final violent act, stamp lumbers through this movie, never showing us a real sense of urgency, want, or a true malicious action. Even the killing of a security specialist during a party hosted by Peter Fonda comes across as a cruel joke rather than the opening bell to the war that is to come.
To counter, Peter Fonda's never been better. I understand why people laud him for his performance in Ulee's Gold. He was basically channeling his father, Henry. Other than that, I felt he was rather inanimate and sleep-inducing. In The Limey, Fonda exudes all the charisma a sleazy Hollywood producer would have. He looks right at home standing poolside of a Mulholland Drive estate, leering into the eyes of the late-teens bimbo he's somehow procured. Even after the aforementioned murder of his security specialist, Fonda's character feels the impending doom and he shows it through his anguish. If this film doesn't get Fonda more work in the Kevin Spacey, William H. Macy vein, I will be disappointed. ...and let's not spare Steven Soderbergh. This from the guy who directed sex, lies & videotape and Out Of Sight? Well, I wasn't fond of Kafka or The Underneath either. The unnecessary editing style did more to confuse me rather than to tell a story or to build suspense. I was trying to figure out why Lesley Ann Warren (who hasn't aged a day in a decade) asked a question in a hotel room and Stamp answered her at an outdoor restaurant. Also, showing Stamp's first meeting with Luis Guzman, TWICE, had no meaning. I think someone forgot to screen the first edit before it went to the exhibitors.
If you like Peter Fonda, this is some of his best work. Other than that, stay away...stay far away.