Tag Archives: William Goldenberg

Heat (1995, Michael Mann)

Until the final scene, director Mann is still carefully plotting out Heat. The film’s narrative construction–when he introduces a character, when he returns to a character, how he transitions from one character to another–is magnificent. Heat is a delicate film, with Mann never letting a single element carry a scene. He’s always working in combination–sound and actor, photography and sound, editing and actors. All of these elements should cause distance between the viewer and the film; instead they bring the viewer in closer.

Much of the film deals with the relationship between the various men and their suffering women. Even if one of the male characters’ women doesn’t know she’s suffering, she’s going be soon. Mann posits his driven male characters are unable to function in relationships, then he explores the relationship between the driven male characters.

With crooks Val Kilmer and Robert De Niro, Mann sets up something near a protege and mentor relationship. With De Niro and cop Al Pacino, Mann goes with an alter ego. The scene between Pacino and De Niro, where Pacino finally gets to let down his guard–up almost entirely in the rest of the film–is startling. It’s an island in the chaos.

Great supporting performances from Amy Brenneman, Diane Venora, Dennis Haysbert, Mykelti Williamson and Kevin Gage. Brenneman’s the closest thing Heat has to a sympathetic character. Everyone else is just extant.

Nearly three hours, Heat never gets unwieldy. Mann’s deliberateness keeps it painfully, depressingly, beautifully, devastatingly subdued.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Mann; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dov Hoenig, Pasquale Buba, William Goldenberg and Tom Rolf; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Art Linson and Mann; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Al Pacino (Lt. Vincent Hanna), Robert De Niro (Neil McCauley), Val Kilmer (Chris Shiherlis), Tom Sizemore (Michael Cheritto), Diane Venora (Justine Hanna), Amy Brenneman (Eady), Dennis Haysbert (Donald Breedan), Ashley Judd (Charlene Shiherlis), Mykelti Williamson (Sergeant Drucker), Wes Studi (Detective Casals), Ted Levine (Bosko), William Fichtner (Roger Van Zant), Natalie Portman (Lauren Gustafson), Tom Noonan (Kelso), Kevin Gage (Waingro), Hank Azaria (Alan Marciano), Susan Traylor (Elaine Cheritto), Kim Staunton (Lillian) and Jon Voight (Nate).

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Argo (2012, Ben Affleck)

Ben Affleck is a calm, assured director; Argo is something of a distant film. He never lets himself take the spotlight, but he also doesn’t let any of the supporting cast take it either. He casts the film beautifully–whether it’s Clea DuVall and Scoot McNairy as some of the people Affleck’s trying to rescue or John Goodman and Alan Arkin as Affleck’s Hollywood sidekicks–every performance in Argo’s perfect.

And Kyle Chandler too. Can’t forget him. He’s amazing in his handful of scenes.

But the perfection–the end credits roll with pictures of the actual people and the film went out of its way to cast on look–comes at a price. Affleck never lets loose. Every moment of Alexander Desplat’s score fits, but he never gets enthusiastic. The most stylish thing in the film is the seventies era Warner logo at the opening. Otherwise, Affleck is way too precise.

The result is an exceptional docudrama; but Affleck’s methodical and procedural approach hurts it a little. The one place Affleck does create something singular is with his recreations of the Iran hostage crisis. If his character’s attempts at rescuing the stranded people is the film’s main emphasis, the recreation comes second. The plight of the people? A distant third.

The postscript has the film’s most personality. Director Affleck gleefully calls back to his own childhood; he does it in a very controlled setting, however. He never lets the technical enthusiasm loose to infect Argo, which is too bad.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Chris Terrio, based in part on a book by Tony Mendez and an article by Joshuah Bearman; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Grant Heslov, Affleck and George Clooney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez), Bryan Cranston (Jack O’Donnell), Alan Arkin (Lester Siegel), John Goodman (John Chambers), Victor Garber (Ken Taylor), Tate Donovan (Bob Anders), Clea DuVall (Cora Lijek), Scoot McNairy (Joe Stafford), Rory Cochrane (Lee Schatz), Christopher Denham (Mark Lijek), Kerry Bishé (Kathy Stafford), Kyle Chandler (Hamilton Jordan), Chris Messina (Malinov), Zeljko Ivanek (Robert Pender), Titus Welliver (Bates), Keith Szarabajka (Adam Engell), Bob Gunton (Cyrus Vance), Richard Kind (Max Klein), Richard Dillane (OSS Officer Nicholls), Omid Abtahi (Reza Borhani), Page Leong (Pat Taylor), Farshad Farahat (Azizi Checkpoint #3) and Sheila Vand (Sahar).

Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann), the director’s cut

Michael Mann’s director’s cuts are sometimes large and sometimes small. They usually include music changes. In the case of Miami Vice, he adds an opening, changes some music and does a few little things. It’s too bad, because even though it having an opening works out nice, neither of these major choices seem to be good ones. The opening introduces the cops’ speedboat racing team. They later use the same boat while undercover. It’s got their team name on the side. The change of music at the end starts out all right, but leaves the big shootout with some terrible scoring after the song runs out.

Watching Miami Vice on HD-DVD, it almost looks worse than it did in the theater. The DV makes it look like a sitcom. This viewing made it crystal clear what the big deal is about Mann using the DV. The actors have to work two or three times harder–only Colin Farrell manages it with any dignity–while Mann gets to cop out and do whatever he wants with the DV. There are some cool sequences in Miami Vice, but they never look good in high-def. They look like CG or the new “Grand Theft Auto.” The only time it ever looks good is the night shooting, when the sky is visible and the DV actually can photograph the differing colors well. I’ve seen DV well-lighted–from art school students no less–and it is not well-lighted in Miami Vice. Dion Beebe is an exceptionally unimpressive cinematographer.

The real problem is Mann’s script. He makes everyone in the movie, when he’s not borrowing his Manhunter lines, talk like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro do in Heat. Farrell can manage, so can Jamie Foxx to some degree (it’s sort of amazing how little Mann gives Jamie Foxx to do in the film), but when Naomie Harris starts doing it? It’s silly. There’s lots of bad acting in Miami Vice too. Barry Shabaka Henley stumbles through Mann’s dialogue, while Li Gong tries but just doesn’t work. It’s not believable her character wouldn’t speak English better.

John Ortiz’s evil villain starts out okay, but Mann reduces him to comic book status later on and it’s just bad.

I don’t know if I was expecting the director’s cut to help much–there’s still absolutely no partnership between Foxx and Farrell in the film–but I was expecting hi-def to make it look better.

I also don’t know how I feel about Mann always screwing up the music in his revisions. He kills the momentum at the end of Miami Vice and doesn’t even bother saving it from a jarring cut between the final shot and the credits.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the television series created by Anthony Yerkovich; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell; music by John Murphy; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by Mann and Pieter Jan Brugge; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Colin Farrell (Sonny Crockett), Jamie Foxx (Ricardo Tubbs), Li Gong (Isabella), Naomie Harris (Trudy Joplin), Ciaran Hinds (Agent Fujima), Justin Theroux (Zito), Barry Shabaka Henley (Lt. Castillo), Luis Tosar (Montoya), John Ortiz (José Yero) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gina).

Gone Baby Gone (2007, Ben Affleck)

There’s one singularly profound moment in Gone Baby Gone, when Affleck plus vieux has one of those filmic moments directors rarely have. He takes a broken, melodramatic scene and makes it sublime. It’s a wonderful moment, coming just after the film’s second ending and before the third and fourth. The film has a lengthy list of pros and a lengthy list of cons. The cons have a lot to do with the script–specifically, I’m assuming, the particulars of adapting a novel. There’s also Affleck’s handling of Michelle Monaghan, who might have been a main character in the novel, but is a fourth wheel here. But the major problem is Affleck the filmmaker–not even the director, because Affleck does a great job–because he doesn’t seem to understand to make a film in this genre great, it has to accept it’s in the genre. Gone Baby Gone is, everything aside, an investigative mystery. Regardless of who is investigating, regardless of how the intricate the crime… it’s an investigative mystery. And Affleck refuses to label it and spends a lot of energy trying to distance the film from itself.

That error aside–I’m going to deal with Monaghan now, just so I can have a couple paragraphs of praise. Monaghan is important in the first act, almost absent in the second, and thrown in for effect in the third. When the film started, I thought it was going to be a gritty Thin Man. It’s not. The film’s about Affleck plus jeune being Catholic and understanding himself. The film skirts the Catholicism, which is a real mistake, because it dictates lots of important decisions. As for understanding himself, a lot of it is in relation to Ed Harris’s character and, for a lot of the film, it’s about Affleck and Ed Harris… not Affleck and Monaghan. She’s part of the character’s ground situation, not an active mover in the story, at least as Affleck plus vieux‘s script sets her up. So she’s a real problem third act. Monaghan’s good, really impressive, but she almost could have gone unbilled.

Casey Affleck is, no surprise, excellent in the film. He holds his own against Harris, who’s turning in some of his best work in recent years here (Harris gets the genre, however). Also excellent are Titus Welliver and Amy Ryan. Ryan’s no surprise either and Welliver’s a good actor, but he’s better than I expected when I saw his name on the credits. His role’s one of the more complicated and he does great work. Running through the laundry list, Amy Madigan, Edi Gathegi and John Ashton, all good. Morgan Freeman is severely underwhelming. It’s a perfectly fine, boring Morgan Freeman performance. It’s getting hard to remember his great acting… back when it was electrifying, instead of Bromo-Seltzer.

Technically, great John Toll photography, great score from Harry Gregson-Williams.

A sign of great future potential from the Affleck brothers. Hopefully next time, Affleck plus vieux won’t be trying so hard to prove he’s legitimate.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; director of photography, John Toll; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Affleck, Sean Bailey, Alan Ladd Jr. and Danton Rissner; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Casey Affleck (Patrick Kenzie), Michelle Monaghan (Angie Gennaro), Morgan Freeman (Capt. Jack Doyle), Ed Harris (Det. Remy Bressant), John Ashton (Det. Nick Poole), Amy Ryan (Helene McCready), Amy Madigan (Bea McCready), Titus Welliver (Lionel McCready), Michael K. Williams (Devin), Edi Gathegi (Cheese), Mark Margolis (Leon Trett), Madeline O’Brien (Amanda McCready), Slaine (Bubba Rogowski), Trudi Goodman (Roberta Trett), Matthew Maher (Corwin Earle) and Jill Quigg (Dottie).

Pleasantville (1998, Gary Ross)

All through Pleasantville, I kept wondering how–for a film with so many problems–it could have not only some of the most emotionally affecting (not effective) scenes I can remember seeing, but also an overwhelming ending, which makes the whole film seem like it was better than it was… Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s name at the end on the producer list. That one’s a cheap shot at Gary Ross, but there’s a litany of things wrong with Pleasantville.

Firstly, it makes no sense. It doesn’t establish any reasonable rules for its fantasy (in fact, it seems to be trying to play down the fact it’s a far out science fiction story about a couple kids’ adventure in an alternate reality). The people and objects colorize for emphasis, not for any logical reason. It’s distracting and cheap–Pleasantville is very cheap. It’s the intelligentsia (or what passes for them in America–and in Hollywood films for that matter–so think Spielberg, which Ross does a lot) sucker punching the right wing. There’s another problem with Pleasantville: it presents a number of complicated problems and gives them all easy solutions. Some people exist after they switch universes, others appear to be gone from the collective memory. But back the sucker punching the right wing. The bad guys in Pleasantville are a bunch of white guys who are pissed off their wives aren’t cooking them dinner. I had to remember it came out before 2001, because I really can’t see it being released otherwise until a couple years ago (when Hollywood finally stopped lionizing fascist white men). Ross is real cheap with his comparisons too–are the newly conscious people of Pleasantville supposed to be stand-ins for blacks in America circa 1958, Jews in Germany circa 1934, or something else entirely? Or all three, whenever it suits Ross for the most effective scene (he loves the Nazi imagery though).

It’s weird to see a film, recognize it’s working you over, yet still let it do that number on you. And Pleasantville does it. It might be the only film to do it.

Ross’s composition is poor, the editing of the film is atrocious, so what drives it home. Randy Newman’s score is immeasurably important and the film couldn’t work without it, but it also couldn’t work without the performances. Tobey Maguire’s been so ineffective for so long, it’s a bit of a shock to see him act so well. Reese Witherspoon is even good, though her role is very simple. But the film works because of two people–Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen. Allen’s too good for it and she brings the material up to her level. Daniels’s role is also geared to be cheap (the character goes through extraordinary change in five hours, which take place over five minutes in the film, and we’re supposed to be wowed), but his performance is touching and tragic and wonderful and the longing in the scenes between the two of them, the longing for something unknowable… it makes Pleasantville a significant and essential viewing experience. It’s a cheap film, terribly, terribly cheap, but it’s a magnificent two hours and four minutes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gary Ross; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Ross, Jon Kilik, Robert J. Degus and Steven Soderbergh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Tobey Maguire (David), Jeff Daniels (Mr. Johnson), Joan Allen (Betty), William H. Macy (George), J.T. Walsh (Big Bob), Don Knotts (TV Repairman), Marley Shelton (Margaret), Jane Kaczmarek (David’s Mom) and Reese Witherspoon (Jennifer).

Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)

DV Michael Mann–because there is a difference between Michael Mann on film and Michael Mann on DV–doesn’t bother giving Miami Vice a first act. I suppose he intends the absence to be some sort of cinema verite thing, but it doesn’t work, it just gives the audience no characters to identify with. Lethal Weapon 2 did the same thing, except it was a sequel. So, maybe Mann intended the audience to just assume Miami Vice the movie follows up “Miami Vice” the TV show, but I doubt it. Some of the film’s problems stem from this lack. Colin Farrell flounders through the first half hour (or hour, time stands still during Miami Vice) because his character is never defined. Mann even gives him a character arc, only leaving off the front part of it. A houseboat and a pet alligator might have been useful. Poor Jamie Foxx, despite being top-billed, is barely in the movie. He dominates the beginning, the pre-Farrell story parts, when Miami Vice seems like Mann’s greatest stylistic misfire. The film barely ever feels like Michael Mann, but once Farrell’s story takes over, it gets closest to it. Even the awesome gunfight at the end is lacking any of the depth Mann usually brings to a film. The difference in Miami Vice is the bad guys. Heat had one, maybe two, bad guys, everyone else was gray. Miami Vice has seven good guys and thirty bad guys–and the bad guys are real bad (which makes the end a lot of fun, but not really dramatically solid).

Rating Mann’s use of DV is difficult. At the end, he seems to be going for ultra-realism (which, I imagine, is why the supporting cast is made up of low profile actors, no one famous), but during the film, he doesn’t embrace it. Miami Vice occasionally looks like a documentary, but never plays like one. The quality of the DV shots change from time to time, especially at night, or in contrast-heavy lighting. Maybe Mann needs to shoot in studios and do CG backdrops, something besides the DV, which simply does not look good.

I hoped Miami Vice would be a soulless, blockbuster version of Heat but Mann had different ideas. There’s some evidence he had more story for Jamie Foxx, maybe an examination of his relationship with fellow officer girlfriend Naomie Harris (who’s good). It’s also possible I’m just making excuses for Mann, because he didn’t even see the need to make Farrell and Foxx convincing partners. He still casts right (Li Gong impressed me, even with the pigeon English) and Colin Farrell can actually smile with his eyes, which is a neat trick. I went from–at the beginning–thinking Mann had finally lost it. By the end, I decided he still had something left, just not a lot. He probably should stop writing, but he definitely needs to drop the DV.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the television series created by Anthony Yerkovich; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell; music by John Murphy; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by Mann and Pieter Jan Brugge; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Foxx (Ricardo Tubbs), Colin Farrell (Sonny Crockett), Li Gong (Isabella), Naomie Harris (Trudy Joplin), Ciaran Hinds (Agent Fujima), Justin Theroux (Zito), Barry Shabaka Henley (Lt. Castillo), Luis Tosar (Montoya), John Ortiz (José Yero) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gina).