Tag Archives: James Newton Howard

Freedomland (2006, Joe Roth)

I didn’t see Freedomland when it came out because I loved the novel and Richard Price adapting the novel or not, the movie’s cast and crew aren’t encouraging it. No movie directed by Joe Roth should inspire confidence, especially not one about racism. Freedomland is about racism. It’s about the really uncomfortable realities of racism. Not racist cops, but racist people. The film opens telling the viewer it takes place in 1999, which when the novel should have been adapted. Possibly even starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore in the leads. Possibly with the entire supporting cast intact. But not with Joe Roth directing. Not directing it in Panavision aspect. Not with really slick photography from Anastas N. Michos and awful slick rapid fire editing from Nick Moore. Not with the James Newton Howard occasionally upbeat score. Not with sunny-time super-producer Scott Rudin apparently hunting down a Crash Oscar of his own. Because that Freedomland, this Freedomland, it refuses to call any white characters racist. It refuses to let the racist white cops be racist. It’s particularly mortifying and embarrassing because it’s all post-production neutering. It’s obviously shot Super 35 too, so they even cropped it to this nonsense.

Though someone tried hard to give Jackson as much slack as the frame would allow. Moore’s performance is an unsalvageable train wreck. Roth can’t direct actors, but Freedomland’s cast doesn’t need for direction. They need for some kind of honesty, which just isn’t present in the filmmaking. They need verisimilitude and Roth doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It’s about a black cop (Jackson) suspecting a white woman (Moore), who works exclusively with black people in the projects–specifically black children–is lying about a black guy kidnapping her son. The point of Freedomland is it can’t be more about race if it tried. And Roth and Rudin reduce the film to a ball-less Hallmark movie. It’s unclear how responsible Price is for it, because some of the responsibility is definitely on him. The post-production can be responsible for the atrocious, offensive editing of a riot scene, but the film gets to that riot scene because of Price’s script, because of how he handles the characters. Freedomland is half-assed filmmaking from people who know better. Even Roth should know better. It’s why he shoots it Super 35, so he doesn’t have to commit to anything while actually directing the actors.

Jackson tries. It’s a good part. It’s a poorly written part in what’s a disastrous film, but it’s a good part. And he does try hard. He does fall into a lot of his acting tropes and he never manages any chemistry with Moore, but it’s an admirable performance.

Edie Falco’s great. It’s embarrassing watching Moore opposite Falco. Her part’s terrible, even just going off the script, but she’s great. While Roth’s direction screws up a lot of the part, Price’s script isn’t there for the character.

Good support from William Forsythe. Moore-levels of train wreck from Ron Eldard as her racist cop brother. He and Moore don’t really have any scenes together, which is good because some kind of singularity would occur if they actually had to act at each other under Roth’s incompetent direction. Aunjanue Ellis’s fine. Lots to do in a lame part. She does what she can. Same goes for Clarke Peters and Anthony Mackie.

LaTonya Richardson Jackson stands out; she gets actual chemistry off Jackson, which no one else in the film gets. It’s hard not to assume its because they’re married off screen.

Freedomland is hard to watch and not for any of the reasons it should be hard to watch. It’s opportunistic, insincere and overproduced. If it were well-acted, well-directed, well-anything, it might be interesting as a failure. Instead, it’s even worth a footnote. Except as one of Jackson’s stronger performances. And as one of Moore’s worst.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Roth; screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel; director of photography, Anastas N. Michos; edited by Nick Moore; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Scott Rudin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Council), Julianne Moore (Brenda), Edie Falco (Karen), William Forsythe (Boyle), Ron Eldard (Danny Martin), Aunjanue Ellis (Felicia), Clarke Peters (Reverend Longway), Anthony Mackie (Billy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Sullivan), Fly Williams III (Rafik), Dorian Missick (Jason) and Peter Friedman (Lt. Gold).


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Marked for Death (1990, Dwight H. Little)

The beginning of Marked for Death is nearly all right. It’s a prologue, with lead Steven Seagal–as a DEA agent–in Mexico, doing an undercover drug buy. Things go wrong. Until things go wrong, it’s not bad. Director Little has a lot of motion (which is fine when people are moving around, much less when he’s zooming in to try to keep conversations interesting) and it’s effectively tense. Then the action starts and it all goes to pot, because Little can’t direct an action scene, much less a martial arts scene for Seagal. Marked for Death just never clicks, even though it has most of the required pieces. A sense of humor would have made all the difference.

Seagal has some bad acting in the film, but not too much. He’s opposite actual good actors a lot of the time–Keith David, Tom Wright, Kevin Dunn–and they help the film. They don’t help Seagal’s performance. There’s not much one can do with the part–his DEA agent resigns only to get into a fight with a Jamaican drug lord. To make matters worse, the drug lord (Basil Wallace, who over-acts in the part), goes after Seagall’s family.

Along the way, Seagal drafts high school teacher David as his sidekick in vigilante mission. He also meets a girl–an awful Joanna Pacula–before heading to Jamaica for the showdown. The best parts in the film are some second unit establishing shots in Jamaica, amid palm tress.

Speaking of palm trees, the unbelievably inept chase scene–set in the Chicago suburbs–is littered with palm trees. After the film goes out of its way to establish the Chicagoland connection. Seagal just loves being a soulful Catholic Chicago dude. He should’ve remade the Blues Brothers.

If you look past how the film demonizes Jamaicans (they’re not characters or caricatures even, they’re boring monsters), Marked for Death is just goofy bad, with a lame score from James Newton Howard (who actually appears to be mocking the scenes he’s scoring at times), the crappy script from Michael Grais and Mark Victor, inept action editing. But, through it all, Little still manages to fail everyone else involved. His direction is the pits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dwight H. Little; written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Grais, Victor and Steven Seagal; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Steven Seagal (John Hatcher), Joanna Pacula (Leslie), Keith David (Max), Tom Wright (Charles), Kevin Dunn (Lt. Sal Roselli), Elizabeth Gracen (Melissa), Bette Ford (Kate Hatcher), Al Israel (Tito Barco), Arlen Dean Snyder (Duvall), Victor Romero Evans (Nesta) and Basil Wallace (Screwface).


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Major League (1989, David S. Ward)

There’s so much strong acting in Major League and director Ward’s script has such likable characters (and such a hiss-worthy villain in team owner Margaret Whitton), the film moves on momentum alone for quite a while. It’s only in the third act, when Ward throws in an unnecessary plot twist to ratchet up tension. He shouldn’t need it–it’s a baseball movie and it’s the big championship game–but, while League has a sports emphasis… it’s a comedy first.

And character drama gets comedy.

Thanks to nice direction, excellent photography from Reynaldo Villalobos and James Newton Howard’s score (which easily toggles between dramatic and comedic), it comes through all right. Even when the film stumbles, it stumbles likably.

Since he’s the ostensible lead, top-billed Tom Berenger gets to romance Rene Russo, which leads to some good scenes. Charlie Sheen and Corbin Bernsen get the next billings, but don’t have a lot to do (until that third act misfire). But they’re both appealing, as is Wesley Snipes. The best acting of the ball players probably comes from Dennis Haysbert and Chelcie Ross, who distinguish themselves in caricature roles.

Whitton’s villain is good, James Gammon’s good as the coach and Charles Cyphers has fun as management.

Ward understands the baseball picture as an American film standard and engages with that standard. Not with much ambition, but he’s got a strong enough cast and script he doesn’t need to do much. It’s a solid and affecting enough with some good moments.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by David S. Ward; director of photography, Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Dennis M. Hill; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jeffrey Howard; produced by Irby Smith and Chris Chesser; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Berenger (Jake Taylor), Charlie Sheen (Ricky Vaughn), Corbin Bernsen (Roger Dorn), Margaret Whitton (Rachel Phelps), James Gammon (Lou Brown), Rene Russo (Lynn Wells), Wesley Snipes (Willie Mays Hayes), Charles Cyphers (Charlie Donovan), Chelcie Ross (Eddie Harris), Dennis Haysbert (Pedro Cerrano), Andy Romano (Pepper Leach) and Bob Uecker (Harry Doyle).


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Night and the City (1992, Irwin Winkler)

Night and the City ends on a comic note. Given the film deals with struggling and desperation–with no humor–having a funny line for a finish doesn’t just feel wrong, it invalidates all the work Robert De Niro does in the film. It turns his performance into a comedic one, which it had not been until that final moment.

Not to mention it undoes a bunch of Jessica Lange’s excellent work. She plays his love interest; she has a husband too. City seems complicated but it really isn’t. Richard Price’s script is full of great dialogue and great parts for actors–Cliff Gorman (as Lange’s husband), Alan King and Jack Warden are all excellent–but it doesn’t move very well. Even though Lange painfully explains why she likes De Niro, it’s not convincing. His ne’er-do-well ambulance chasing lawyer turned boxing promotor isn’t an entirely weak character, but he can’t hold up the entire picture.

Director Winkler is a lot of the problem too. The third act is a disaster, but these terrible music montage choices start somewhere in the second half. City never has much of a style–Winkler apes other New York directors–but it does have amazing editing from David Brenner to distinguish it. Not even Brenner can make the music choices work.

With a better director–and De Niro sharing more of the runtime with the supporting cast–City might have been a decent little picture. Instead, the film is an almost competent misfire.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Irwin Winkler; screenplay by Richard Price, based on the novel by Gerald Kersh; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by David Brenner; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Jane Rosenthal and Winkler; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Robert De Niro (Harry Fabian), Jessica Lange (Helen Nasseros), Cliff Gorman (Phil Nasseros), Alan King (Boom Boom), Jack Warden (Al Grossman), Eli Wallach (Peck), Barry Primus (Tommy Tessler) and Gene Kirkwood (Resnick).