Tag Archives: Sylvester Stallone

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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Oscar (1991, John Landis)

Excluding prologue and epilogue, Oscar has a present action of roughly four hours. The movie runs just shy of two hours. A lot happens with a lot of characters. And, while the film’s based on a play–which explains the limited setting–and even though it’s not like director Landis does anything spectacular except keep the trains running, it never feels stagy. Sometimes Landis’s composition is a little strange, but it’s never stagy. Oscar is always in motion. It never gets to take a break.

The story is extremely, intentionally convoluted. Sylvester Stallone is a mobster who’s going straight at noon; it’s a big day and he’s going to get a suit. We know he’s going to get a suit because the movie opens with flunky Peter Riegert reading off the morning schedule. It’s quickly executed, but it’s a good forecast. Even though Oscar never really looks good, Landis packages it fairly well. Bill Kenney’s production design is one of the big stars. Stallone’s got a mansion, people coming and going, the cops watching from across the street.

Oscar’s also a period piece, set in the early thirties, which presents some performance problems. Can’t forget to talk about those.

So Stallone’s got a big day and his accountant, a likable but somewhat thin Vincent Spano, shows up and throws a wrench in it. Turns out Spano is carrying on with Stallone’s daughter–Marisa Tomei in a great role. Except maybe it ends up Tomei likes Stallone’s elocution coach, Tim Curry. Curry and Tomei flirting ought to be weird, but it actually works out gloriously. There’s an adorable quality to Oscar, maybe because it’s a thirties gangster picture without any violence. Just positive vibes. Stallone is trying to go straight, after all.

There’s a whole lot more. The film isn’t real time but is consecutive enough characters’ presences define sections–like when Harry Shearer and Martin Ferrero show up as Stallone’s goofy Italian tailors. And Curry isn’t in the picture near the start, more like halfway, yet Landis and screenwriters Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland make it feel like Oscar can’t get on without him. Same with how Chazz Palminteri’s part grows. Initially, Riegert has a lot more to do, but eventually Palminteri ends up as the audience’s stand-in. He’s been watching the events unfold and the convolutions are driving him nuts.

It’s a great performance from Palminteri. There are a lot of great performances. Riegert, Tomei, Curry, Ferrero. And a lot of solid ones–Ornella Muti (who has way too little to do), Shearer, Joycelyn O’Brien, Elizabeth Barondes. Oscar is cast pretty well and Landis seems to know what do with the actors. At least those in orbit around Stallone.

The ones not in orbit? Like Kurtwood Smith’s doofus police lieutenant, the bankers hesitant to partner with Stallone–including William Atherton and Mark Metcalf, or rival gangster Richard Romanus–well, Landis has no idea. He goes for broad “hokey” comedy and it doesn’t work. Especially not with Eddie Bracken’s stuttering informant. What should be a nice cameo from Bracken is instead cringeworthy.

And how does Stallone do playing the relative straight man to all the lunacy? He does all right. He lets the better performances overshadow his own, which is great. He gets some funny stuff, but he never gets to goof. The goofing in Oscar is great; Ferrero and Shearer, Reigert and Palminteri–some finely executed comedy. Stallone’s good with Muti, good with Tomei, good with Barondes. And he’s good in the scenes with Spano.

Except Spano’s pretty thin. Landis shoots these over-the-shoulder shots down onto Stallone (Spano’s about four inches taller) and it seems like there should be something to it and there’s not. Here’s Spano trying to intellectually strong-arm Stallone for almost two hours, while never getting too unlikable, and Landis hasn’t got any ideas on how to visually jazz it up. It doesn’t do Spano any favors.

Nice score from Elmer Bernstein; there’s not a lot of it, but it’s nice. Mac Ahlberg’s photography is a yawn, though it’s not like Landis tasked him with anything ambitious or difficult. That mansion set is phenomenal. Great costumes too.

Oscar is a little quirky and the third act stumbles in large part thanks to Smith’s performance and Landis’s handling of the finale, but it’s a fine comedy with some excellent performances and sequences throughout.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; screenplay by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, based on the play by Claude Magnier; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Leslie Belzberg; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Snaps Provolone), Ornella Muti (Sofia Provolone), Marisa Tomei (Lisa Provolone), Vincent Spano (Anthony Rossano, C.P.A.), Tim Curry (Dr. Poole), Peter Riegert (Aldo), Chazz Palminteri (Connie), Elizabeth Barondes (Theresa), Joycelyn O’Brien (Nora), Martin Ferrero (Luigi Finucci), Harry Shearer (Guido Finucci), William Atherton (Overton), Mark Metcalf (Milhous), Ken Howard (Kirkwood), Sam Chew Jr. (Van Leland), Don Ameche (Father Clemente), Kurtwood Smith (Lieutenant Toomey), Richard Romanus (Vendetti), Robert Lesser (Officer Keough), Art LaFleur (Officer Quinn), Linda Gray (Roxanne), Yvonne De Carlo (Aunt Rosa), and Eddie Bracken (Five Spot Charlie).


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Over the Top (1987, Menahem Golan)

Is Over the Top terrible? Yes. It’s a terrible film. Is it an interesting terrible film? No. I mean, maybe if you wanted to examine Giorgio Moroder’s inept eighties synthesizer score or David Gurfinkel’s weird photography, you might be able to find some kernels of interest. But it wouldn’t be particularly rewarding.

At best, the most interesting thing about Over the Top is how detached Sylvester Stallone–reductively speaking, the plot is Rocky with arm wrestling, dead moms, deadbeat dads, truck driving–but Stallone’s completely detached from any of the machismo. It’s very, very strange, because it’s all about him wanting his son to man up. He’s been raised by his strangely manipulative but terminally ill mother (Susan Blakely in the epitome of a thankless performance) and his awful rich guy grandfather Robert Loggia. David Mendenhall’s the son. He’s real bad. Stirling Silliphant and Stallone writes Mendenhall’s like he’s Marcie on “Charlie Brown.” It’s really weird. Weird in a bad, not interesting sort of way.

Then there’s Golan’s direction. It’s Panavision. It’s terrible. The editing is really bad too. James R. Symons and Don Zimmerman have to cut multiple eighties Stallone movies montages and they flop on all of them. Except maybe the final match, which is strangely effective. Maybe because Rick Zumwalt’s villain is really unlikable, but who knows. Maybe Over the Top just wears one down after ninety minutes. It bottoms out real early. There’s no disappointment to be had.

It’s not like even Loggia is any good. Maybe it’s interesting as a low point in Silliphant’s career.

No, it’s not. Maybe the production history is amusing, like Stallone really hated Mendenhall–they’re terrible together but it’s actually more Stallone’s fault. Both as the actor and one of the screenwriters.

Anyway. I think three hundred words on Over the Top is more than enough.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Menahem Golan; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Gary Conway and David Engelbach; director of photography, David Gurfinkel; edited by James R. Symons and Don Zimmerman; music by Giorgio Moroder; production designer, James L. Schoppe; produced by Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Lincoln Hawk), David Mendenhall (Michael Cutler), Susan Blakely (Christina Hawk), Robert Loggia (Jason Cutler) and Rick Zumwalt (Bob ‘Bull’ Hurley).


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Rhinestone (1984, Bob Clark)

With the exception of Dolly Parton, everyone involved with Rhinestone seems nervous. Well, maybe not Richard Farnsworth. He seems impatient, like he can’t wait for his scene to be over. Top-billed Sylvester Stallone spends the first half of the film trying too hard, seems to relax, then finishes the film not trying hard enough. It’s like Stallone resents the stupid stuff he’s got to do but then he’s no good at the serious stuff either. Sure, he’s got terrible dialogue, which he wrote for himself (along with whatever remains of Phil Alden Robinson’s original script), but he’s still not acting well. He’s acting poorly.

When does he act well? During the ten or fifteen minutes when he’s a greased up romantic lead in some weirdly racy, somewhat wholesome perfume commercial with Parton. The film looks different too, like director Clark and cinematographer Timothy Galfas were just pretending to be wholly incompetent and they were really just pacing out this eventual payoff. Sadly, editors Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler don’t improve during this section of the film. They’re bad throughout.

While Parton isn’t good–it’s not possible to be good in Rhinestone–she’s earnest and she’s capable. She takes her job seriously, which is probably why her original songs for the film are good. Rhinestone should, frighteningly, be better. Even with Stallone, it should be better. The movie isn’t Rocky with country music, it’s Stallone doing a “Barbarino” impression with country music. If it were Rocky with country music, it’d be a lot better.

The problem is the tone. Clark wants to take it seriously. He wants to take Stallone as a country western star who dresses in an incredibly lame silver sequined cowboy outfit. Sylvester Stallone as a successful country western star is not possible. It’s just not. More idiotically, the film itself doesn’t take that idea seriously.

There’s one music number I resent myself for liking and Tim Thomerson’s amusing, though not good (he’s nervous but trying to get past it). Parton’s got a lot of presence and she and Stallone actually have what appears to be chemistry, if a lot more platonic than the narrative requires, but it’s not like she makes it worthwhile. She just doesn’t embarrass herself. Everyone else embarrasses themselves at some point or another.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Clark; screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Robinson; director of photography, Timothy Galfas; edited by Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler; music by Dolly Parton and Mike Post; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Howard Smith and Marvin Worth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dolly Parton (Jake), Sylvester Stallone (Nick), Tim Thomerson (Barnett Kale), Richard Farnsworth (Mr. Farris), Steve Peck (Mr. Martinelli), Penny Santon (Mrs. Martinelli) and Ron Leibman (Freddie Ugo).


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