Category Archives: 1997

Cop Land (1997, James Mangold)

Cop Land either has a lot of story going on and not enough content or a lot of content going on and not enough story. Also you could do variations of those statements with “plot.” Writer and director Mangold toggles Cop Land between two plot lines. First is lead Sylvester Stallone. Second is this big police corruption and cover-up story with Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Robert Patrick, and Michael Rapaport. And some other guys. It’s the bigger story. Ray Liotta floats between, on his own thing. Almost everyone in Cop Land has their own story going and Mangold’s just checking in on it as background every once in a while. It creates this feeling of depth, even though there hasn’t actually been any plot development. The actors help.

But Mangold doesn’t have the same approach to narrative between the plot lines. Stallone’s in this character study, De Niro and Keitel are in this detached procedural. Stallone’s story could be a procedural, it would make sense for it to be a procedural–even De Niro tells him it ought to be a procedural–but Mangold keeps it a character study. All the way to the problematic ending.

Because as impressive as Mangold gets in Cop Land–and the film’s superbly acted, directed, written, photographed–but Mangold can’t bring it all together. He starts showing his inability to commingle his plot lines with Annabella Sciorra’s increased presence in the film. She’s good and she should have a good part. As teenagers, Stallone saved her, going partially deaf in the process. He could never become a cop (his dream) and Sciorra ends up marrying a shitbag cop (Peter Berg–who’s so good playing a shitbag) who’s terrible to her. Mangold’s plot presents him with some opportunity for Sciorra’s character to have a good arc, but he skips it. It’s a distraction and he wants to stay focused on something else.

That problematic finish? Lead Stallone becomes a distraction and Mangold wants to focus on something else. It’s a painful misstep too, with Mangold just coming off the third act action sequence–the only real action sequence in the film–and it’s awesome. So Mangold’s done drama, procedural, character study, action, and he’s perfectly segued between the different tones while simultaneously cohering them. Cop Land is building. Then all of a sudden Mangold loses the ability to segue. And to cohere. Maybe because Mangold reveal Liotta as his own major subplot somewhere near the end of second act (after doing everything he could to reduce Liotta from his first act presence). It’s a narrative pothole.

Though, given the film opens with De Niro narrating the ground situation, it’s impressive Mangold’s able to get the film through ninety plus minutes without the seams showing. The opening narration is compelling and the Howard Shore music for it is great, but it’s completely different from everything else in the picture.

Even when De Niro returns to the narration.

Maybe Mangold’s just bad at the summary storytelling though audio device. He also botches using newsradio commentary to move things along or set them up.

Cop Land is a little story in a big world. Mangold has got a great handle on the little story but not the big world. Though the Stallone arrives in New York City scene is kind of great. Stallone, Mangold, cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards, Shore. It just works. Because Stallone lumbers.

The film’s full of flashy performances. De Niro, Liotta, Berg, Patrick, Rapaport, they all get to be flashy. Dynamic. Mangold gives them great scenes and the actors deliver. All of them consistently except Berg. Berg’s too absent in the first act for all the subplots he gets to affect in the second.

But Keitel and Stallone are never flashy. Stallone because it’s his character. His character is anti-flash. His character is a drunken sheriff who goes around town in his flipflops opening parking meters for quarters to play pinball. Keitel it’s a combination of performance and part. Keitel only gets a couple moments to himself in the film and they’re real short. Mangold juxtaposes Stallone and Keitel in the story but not how he tells that story. It’s a weird thing to avoid, but Mangold avoids a lot.

For example, Mangold strongly implies no one in this town of cops (and cops’ wives, and cops’ children) respects the local law enforcement. It gives Stallone this Will Kane moment, but Mangold’s never established how it’s possible. How the town could truly function. And then Cop Land has all this toxic masculinity, racism, and complicity swirling around the plot and Mangold keeps eyes fixed forward. When a subplot or character starts going too much in those directions… bye bye subplot, bye bye character. Even though Mangold makes sure to write a good scene or get a great performance out of it.

Mangold fumbles Cop Land’s finish. He doesn’t know how to scale the narrative distance. Even if he did, there are some other significant pitfalls. But it’s almost great. Cop Land is almost great.

The acting is all good. De Niro is able to handle the Pacino-esque ranges in volume. Stallone self-effaces well. Maybe too much since Keitel’s a tad detached. Liotta takes an overly complicated role with too little development and gets some great material.

Much of Howard Shore’s score is excellent. When it’s not excellent, even when it’s predictable, it’s competent. Excellent photography from Edwards. Lester Cohen’s production design is good, even better than Mangold’s shots of it.

Cop Land comes real close; real, real close.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Mangold; director of photography, Eric Alan Edwards; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Freddy Heflin), Ray Liotta (Gary Figgis), Harvey Keitel (Ray Donlan), Robert De Niro (Moe Tilden), Michael Rapaport (Murray Babitch), Annabella Sciorra (Liz Randone), Robert Patrick (Jack Rucker), Arthur J. Nascarella (Frank Lagonda), Peter Berg (Joey Randone), Janeane Garofalo (Deputy Cindy Betts), Noah Emmerich (Deputy Bill Geisler), Malik Yoba (Detective Carson), Cathy Moriarty (Rose Donlan), John Spencer (Leo Crasky), and Frank Vincent (PDA President Lassaro).


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Absolute Power (1997, Clint Eastwood)

Absolute Power has a number of narrative issues. Well, less narrative issues and more narrative slights. As the film enters the third act, director Eastwood and screenwriter William Goldman decide the audience has gotten enough out of the movie and it’s time to wrap things up. It’s a shame because the film goes into the third act at its high point.

The first thirty minutes of the movie have Eastwood playing an old man cat burglar who sees something he shouldn’t. There’s a little character establishment montage during the opening credits for Eastwood–he likes to sketch, he doesn’t know how to work a VCR, he’s solitary but still takes care of himself–then it’s into the break-in sequence, which leads to a really tough murder sequence. It goes on and on, getting worse and worse.

Then there’s a cover-up sequence, where Eastwood really shows off all cinematographer Jack N. Green is going to do with Absolute Power. Even with its issues, the film’s beautifully made, beautifully acted. Green’s photography, with its occasional soft focus, is stunning. Absolute Power’s entertaining because of the actors, but Green helps out a lot with presenting their performances. Because eventually everyone’s fighting for time.

You know, a better defined present action and subplots probably would’ve helped. Because everyone’s just present. Eastwood and Laura Linney, as his daughter, get some hints at his weak parenting, but it’s not like Linney’s got anything to do but be around for Eastwood and his thriller storyline. Same goes for cop Ed Harris. Well, eventually he gets to flirt with Linney a little and all of a sudden, it’s like Eastwood’s goal for Absolute Power is just for everyone to enjoy themselves. There’s so much charm in the scenes between Harris and Linney–and Harris and Eastwood–narrative slights don’t really matter.

But it’s also about ability. The other half of the film has Secret Service agents scrambling to cover up a Presidential indiscretion and some of these scenes aren’t the best. Goldman’s got to do a bunch of exposition, but not too much for anyone to ask logic questions. The acting gets it through–Judy Davis, Dennis Haysbert, Scott Glenn, Gene Hackman. All of them are phenomenal, but all of them come at their parts differently. And most of their scenes are together; Haysbert just waits. And Eastwood loves showing Haysbert’s patience. He’s got fewer lines than Glenn–as another Secret Service agent–but he makes more an impression. He’s terrifying. Glenn’s good, but sympathetic. Davis and Hackman both get to go wild; no one plays menace better than Hackman and it’s almost like Davis’s playing protege. It’s very helpful having that acting depth since there’s nothing but action or actions for them in the script.

E.G. Marshall’s good in a smaller part as a wealthy mover and shaker. He gets some of the film’s worst lines but Marshall just makes them work. Even in the third act, when Absolute Power is racing downhill to get finished as soon as it can, Marshall is patient in his performance. His deliberateness makes all the difference. Or, enough difference to keep things afloat until Eastwood can get to the incredibly gentle finish.

Awesome editing from Joel Cox. The thriller sequences are phenomenally cut. And Lennie Niehaus’s score is good. It does quite a bit of work throughout the film, though it can’t hold up the third act. Nothing can. It’s just too much all at once.

Eastwood, as an actor, gets some good scenes and then some fun ones. He and Linney are fantastic together–maybe the cutest thing about the film is how similar Linney and Eastwood seem after the film spends time with them. When it comes time for ominous line deliveries, they give them in the same way. Eastwood initially gets away with it because he’s Clint Eastwood, but by the end, they get away with it because she’s his kid and he’s her dad, after all.

Harris is fun. He plays great with his partner, Penny Johnson Jerald, who isn’t in it enough. Though almost no one is in Absolute Power enough. Not Jerald, not Davis, not Hackman, not Marshall. Especially not with how much story Goldman and Eastwood are telling. Again, they manage to get away with it, but it’s a rush. Goldman’s script is too spare, especially given Eastwood’s preference in the family drama over the thrills.

Absolute Power has that adaptation curse–too much content but not enough story; still, it’s masterfully produced, with rich performances.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by David Baldacci; director of photography, Jack N. Green; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood and Karen S. Spiegel; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Luther Whitney), Ed Harris (Seth Frank), Laura Linney (Kate Whitney), Scott Glenn (Bill Burton), Dennis Haysbert (Tim Collin), Judy Davis (Gloria Russell), E.G. Marshall (Walter Sullivan), Melora Hardin (Christy Sullivan), Penny Johnson Jerald (Laura Simon), and Gene Hackman as the President of the United States.


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Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth (1997, Anno Hideaki, Masayuki and Tsurumaki Kazuya)

Just over the first half of Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth is all right. It’s a compilation of episodes from the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” television show, expertly edited by Miki Sachiko. There’s very little exposition, with all the backstory on the giant monster fighting–but not really giant monsters, kind of giant cyborgs–coming in as the first half progresses. It’s far from perfect, but it’s all right. It moves. And Miki tries to give it a narrative.

Miki gets the credit–along with the director of the first half, Masayuki–because the rest of Death (being the first half of the film) is a bit of a gross mess otherwise. Anno Hideaki and Satsukawa Akio’s script is all about these three kids, two girls, one boy, charged with piloting the titular Evangelion. They’re giant cyborg mechs fighting Angels, which aren’t just called Angels, they’re apparently humanity’s ancestors. Just reformed as giant monsters. Again, there’s no exposition, there’s no time for it. I’m sure the actual show has the entire backstory. But it wouldn’t help things, not get out of the gross.

The boy’s a little bit of a pervert. His dad has some creepy relationship with one of the girls, who the boy also lusts after; she’s some kind of clone or something. The third girl gets nothing to do in the first half except to imply drama without actually causing it (Miki’s got twenty-four episodes to cut together after all). In the second half, she gets more to do as far as action, but she also gets to get perved on while unconscious by the boy.

Also, all the adult women around these kids are grossly characterized too. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something so misogynist with so much lip service paid to missing mothers. And all that lip service is from the female characters. Dudes could care less. The boy’s got perving to do, plus he’s not vicious enough so his dad’s got to help him kill.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth is also effective, at least in the first half, when it’s violent. Masayuki’s a fine director.

Now, the second half. The second half, the Rebirth part, is only about thirty minutes. Thirty crappy minutes. Thirty poorly directed, poorly edited minutes. Even with the problematic conclusion to the first part–oh, right, the boy’s also got a serious crush on the wrong boy, which is unrelated to why he molests a girl in the first scene of the second part–the first part has some amazing narrative efficiency thanks to Miki’s editing and is occasionally stunning. Fantastic use of music, for example. And Masayuiki’s a fine director.

Tsurumaki Kazuya directs the second part. Tsurumaki isn’t a fine director. Tsurumaki is a bad director. Especially after the first part.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth succeeds at disappointing, which is something since it doesn’t exactly start off promising much.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Anno Hideaki, Masayuki and Tsurumaki Kazuya; written by Anno and Satsukawa Akio; directors of photography, Shirai Hisao and Kuroda Yōichi; edited by Miki Sachiko; music by Sagisu Shiro; production designer, Okama; produced by Kadokawa Tsuguhiko; released by Toei Company.

Starring Ogata Megumi (Ikari Shinji), Hayashibara Megumi (Ayanami Rei), Miyamura Yûko (Sôryû Asuka Langley), Mitsuishi Kotono (Katsuragi Misato) and Tachiki Fumihiko (Ikari Gendô).


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The Postman (1997, Kevin Costner)

Where The Postman succeeds, besides with the performances, most of its technical aspects, is with director Costner’s ability to find each character’s emotional reality in a scene. He achieves a sort of alchemist’s miracle, but not with lead into gold, but with saccharine into sublime. With one unfortunate exception, every emotional moment in the film hits thanks to Costner’s direction of the actors. And Stephen F. Windon’s gorgeous cinematography, of course.

The Postman’s post-apocalyptic future never gets a thorough explanation. From the tidbits, it sounds a lot like white supremacists come to power and ruin the United States and possibly the whole world. The latter part is somewhat unclear. What also doesn’t get an explanation is the film’s basic thesis–the importance of communication between people. It’s in the film instead; the emotional impact of that communication is what Costner showcases. There’s also quite a bit–usually involving Costner’s sidekick Larenz Tate–about the young versus the old. It’s a wrecked, hopeless world, one where Costner’s protagonist–of course he stars in it as well–really doesn’t care about the world. It’s all very sincerely inspiring, especially since there’s such a fantastic contrast between Tate and his two mentors, Costner and Daniel von Bargen.

So there’s the whole communication thing, there’s the whole young vs. old thing, there’s also the whole army of white supremacists (led by a phenomenal Will Patton) and then there’s also the very, very complicated romance. Costner’s love interest, Olivia Williams, plays a major role in the second act and then gets shoved aside in the third. Worse, her character is the one the script fails completely. After building an incredibly complex character, the solution to her character arc is the film draining her character of any content. She’s still good, but it’s extremely unfortunate.

Also unfortunate, in general, is the third act. It’s where special effects come in, it’s where there’s too much summary, it’s where the pragmatic voiceovers come in (Peter Boyle’s editing is strong, but he can’t make third act montages work, which is partially composer James Newton Howard’s fault too). The movie’s about Costner’s character and his reluctant self-discovery, but it’s about a lot more too. Some of the third act acknowledges the rest and, sadly, the finale doesn’t.

Tate’s great, Williams’s great when her role’s well-written and fine when it’s not, James Russo’s great as one of Patton’s officers, von Bargen’s great, Giovanni Ribsi’s really good in a small part. And Costner’s really good. Even though he’s The Postman, he doesn’t hog the spotlight. Given the finale, maybe he should have. But he can tell he’s got a lot of excellent actors hitting all the right marks and he gives them their time.

The Postman’s not a great film. It’s a rather good one with countless great moments. With a better third act, a better score (maybe even still from Howard, but just better), it might have been. Great production design from Ida Random too. It’s an impressive attempt from Costner.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Costner; screenplay by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by David Brin; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Peter Boyle; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Costner, Steve Tisch and Jim Wilson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (The Postman), Will Patton (General Bethlehem), Larenz Tate (Ford Lincoln Mercury), Olivia Williams (Abby), James Russo (Idaho), Daniel von Bargen (Sheriff Briscoe), Scott Bairstow (Luke), Giovanni Ribisi (Bandit 20), Roberta Maxwell (Irene March), Joe Santos (Colonel Getty), Peggy Lipton (Ellen March), Ron McLarty (Old George), Rex Linn (Mercer), Todd Allen (Gibbs), Brian Anthony Wilson (Woody), Shawn Hatosy (Billy), Charles Esten (Michael), Ryan Hurst (Eddie March) and Tom Petty (The Once Famous Man).


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