Tag Archives: Michael Rapaport

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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Kiss of Death (1995, Barbet Schroeder)

Kiss of Death takes place over four years, has eight to ten significant characters, and runs an hour and forty minutes. It skips ahead three years at the forty-five minute mark. And the last twenty minutes could have their own movie, as David Caruso returns to the city to face Nicolas Cage, who knows Caruso snitched on him only it’s never clear how he knows or to what extent.

And it’s important to look at why it’s unclear because Richard Price wrote this Kiss of Death–I’m a Price aficionado–but Price also wrote it like a novel. Then he cut a bunch out of a four-hour miniseries, threw in some more scenes of Cage’s absurd villain who isn’t actually a character so much as an unthinking monster moving his way through the film, and called it… well, probably not good, but called it a movie. Only it’s not a movie, especially not with Schroeder directing.

Kiss of Death is a remake of film noir and, in updating noir, Schroeder basically dumps anything related to the genre in terms of visual style. Luciano Tovoli’s photography is technically fantastic, but it has no personality. The film opens on this fantastic tracking shot of an auto yard, which figures into the fates of Caruso, Cage, and everyone else in the film only Schroeder’s got no visual style to tie it in. It’s like doing a Touch of Evil homage without understanding how it works for the viewer. It feels tacked on and generic, like almost everything else in the picture.

But, you know, Schroeder’s not terrible, he just doesn’t know what to do with this movie. He directs maybe four of the actors well. And never Caruso, who’s going through all these physicality bits–trying to do more with saying less–only Schroeder doesn’t seem to pick up on them. Caruso’s walking away in a medium long shot physically reacting to something and Schroeder doesn’t want to concentrate on Caruso. He doesn’t understand how to make Caruso the protagonist given the depth of supporting characterization. It’s kind of a mess.

Caruso’s okay. He’s best with Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kathryn Erbe. His scenes with Michael Rapaport and Stanley Tucci are too forced, either by script, direction, or Caruso himself. It’s an okay performance, not great, but with glimpses of great. Cage is in a similar boat. The actor, the script, and the director are all in disagreement about how to portray the character. When it’s Cage and Caruso together, Kiss of Death is at its best. There are lots of contrary things going on and the actors are still working so it creates a tone for the film, which otherwise has none.

Jackson’s got some really good moments, same for Erbe, though she’s utterly unappreciated. Actually, Helen Hunt’s unappreciated with some really good moments too. It’s kind of like Kiss of Death has too many good actors without enough material for them to do, so Price hints at better stuff off screen and then Schroeder’s not good enough at the on screen. Kiss of Death is its own worst enemy.

Michael Rapaport’s probably gives the film’s best performance as an annoying worm of a sociopath. Stanley Tucci’s fun as a righteous but greedy district attorney. Anthony Heald’s phenomenal as the mob lawyer. He gets two scenes. Just watching him and Tucci argue in front of a judge could carry a movie.

Lee Percy’s editing is a tad fast-paced. Trevor Jones’s music is a disaster.

Kiss of Death has too much potential, too little ambition, and some rather good performances (all things considered).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Barbet Schroeder; screenplay by Richard Price, based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky and the 1947 screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Lee Percy; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Schroeder and Susan Hoffman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Caruso (Jimmy), Samuel L. Jackson (Calvin), Nicolas Cage (Little Junior), Helen Hunt (Bev), Kathryn Erbe (Rosie), Stanley Tucci (Zioli), Michael Rapaport (Ronnie), Anthony Heald (Gold) and Ving Rhames (Omar).


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The Heat (2013, Paul Feig), the unrated cut

I’m trying to imagine The Heat without Melissa McCarthy. Even though she gets second billing–the film opens introducing Sandra Bullock’s character, a superior FBI agent with no personal skills (and an odd klutziness the film never actually deals with)–McCarthy’s the only reason to watch the film and she’s the only consistently good thing in it.

Bullock ends up okay. She’s got a character arc, McCarthy doesn’t. But Bullock basically just stops being annoying and then she’s better. Inexplicably, for the postscripts, the film returns her more to the annoying side, which sort of closes things poorly.

Except McCarthy’s there to save it.

There’s a plot involving a mystery drug dealer and the most unlikely FBI operation on film, then some stuff with McCarthy’s ex-con brother (a downtrodden Michael Rapaport). Mostly it’s about McCarthy being funny, being obscene, making fun of Bullock in funny, obscene ways. Then, once they bond, it’s about them making fun of other people. There’s not much of an actual plot. There’s a really odd part where there’s a useless phone bugging.

The humor’s constant and Feig does a fine job directing the large cast. There’s a lot of thankless appearances. Between the more recognizable supporting cast members–Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin, Thomas F. Wilson–only Wilson gets a good laugh. Curtin should, but she’s too underutilized. Her casting seems like an afterthought. Wayans, who’s good, has nothing to do.

It’s a fine time and an excellent vehicle for McCarthy. The rest doesn’t matter.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Feig; written by Katie Dippold; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Jay Deuby and Brent White; music by Michael Andrews; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sandra Bullock (Ashburn), Melissa McCarthy (Mullins), Demian Bichir (Hale), Marlon Wayans (Levy), Michael Rapaport (Jason Mullins), Jane Curtin (Mrs. Mullins), Spoken Reasons (Rojas), Dan Bakkedahl (Craig), Taran Killam (Adam), Michael McDonald (Julian) and Thomas F. Wilson (Captain Woods).


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Special (2006, Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore)

Michael Rapaport’s kind of floundered through Hollywood for the last fifteen years. It seems like he would have been a great 1970s character actor–twenty years too late, he ended up on a sitcom. Special‘s probably his best performance; he inhabits the role of a lonely schlub who makes fun of himself for still reading comics, never asks out the girl he likes and never stands up to anyone. Then he gets a magic pill and becomes a superhero.

The viewer, however, understands Rapaport’s having a unique reaction to a trial drug and is hallucinating everything. Special shifts from humor to drama quickly–often so fast, laughing at Rapaport’s more outlandish behaviors immediately causes guilt when reality becomes clear. The film sets up a strange relationship with its audience, one where it’s inviting laughs after it seems like it should have gone full drama.

Rapaport also narrates a lot of the film and that narration, his delivery of it, is fantastic. The narration really compliments the onscreen action, it’s unexpectedly successful (since narration’s usually such a misstep).

But when Special becomes about the human condition, instead of a misfiring brain on a drug trial, things start to fall apart. The film doesn’t have an ending–going through two or three false ones before finally stopping. That lack is intentional, to embrace the filmmaking style–Special‘s a little vérité, I really do think they just had Rapaport walk around in a goofy suit and filmed people’s reactions–but it isn’t honest to the characters.

Special has a great bunch of actors working in it. The entire cast–Paul Blackthorne (who gets a great close), Ian Bohen, Josh Peck, Robert Baker, Jack Kehler and Christopher Darga–is excellent. But the best surprise is Alexandra Holden, who spends most of the film in a cursory role, only to play a crucial part in the conclusion–it’s practically a melodramatic plot development, but it doesn’t quite qualify because it’s just a detail–and Holden pulls it off. She doesn’t just make it work, she makes it wonderful.

The film only runs eighty minutes. It’s subplot free–Rapaport’s character is defined through his voiceover, since there’s barely any time for the viewer to get to know him before he starts going crazy. It just loses itself in the last twenty minutes.

Technically, it’s solid. Directors Haberman and Passmore combine comedy and lyricism–Special‘s not a commentary on the new superhero genre, which isn’t just a pleasant surprise, it’s also essential to the film working. There’s no fetishistic attitude, no references to famous films. The music, from Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, accounts for a good deal of the film’s success.

Special needed another ten minutes, an ending instead of a stopping, but it’s got a lot of great acting and, even though the concluding sentiment is a tad trite, it’s a fine viewing experience.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore; director of photography, Nelson Cragg; edited by Mike Saenz; music by Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval; production designer, Nathan Amondson; produced by Frank Mele and Edward Parks; released by Fabrication Films.

Starring Michael Rapaport (Les), Paul Blackthorne (Jonas Exiler), Josh Peck (Joey), Robert Baker (Everett), Jack Kehler (Dr. Dobson), Alexandra Holden (Maggie), Ian Bohen (Ted Exiler) and Christopher Darga (Steve).


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