the traveler's resource guide to festivals & films
a site
part of Insider Media llc.

Connect with us:


"Brooklyn’s Finest" Is Just Okay

Brooklyn’s FinestRichard Gere Stars in Brooklyn's Finest
directed by Antoine Fuqua
starring Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes, Richard Gere, Will Patton, Ellen Barkin and Ethan Hawke  

The New York City cop drama was once a staple in both television (Naked City, NYPD Blue, and the sadly underwatched Life On Mars) and on film (Internal Affairs, Serpico, The French Connection and Fort Apache). In recent years there has not been that much in the genre probably because the cost of filming in New York is not cheap, particularly in light of the recent repeal of certain New York State tax credits, and because audiences are too sophisticated to have film studios try to pass off Toronto or Vancouver for the Big Apple.

Brooklyn’s Finest is a decent attempt to revive the gritty urban crime drama and features a highly respected cast. Shot in an economical 41 days, most of the action in Brooklyn’s Finest takes place in Brownsville. Astute observers will recognize Brighton Beach’s Oceania Theater while an uncredited Rego Park is the exterior for the small house where officer Sal Procida (Hawke) and his large family live.

Pittsburgh native Fuqua, who directed 2001's Training Day, clearly knows his way around New York. He wisely keeps scenes from dragging but for some reason refuses to allow levity in any of them. A few laughs would not have added, rather than detracted, from this police drama.

The film follows the complicated lives of three officers, the about-to-retire Eddie Dugan (Gere); Clarence “Tango” Butler (Cheadle) who has been an undercover cop so long that he is actually friends with a drug kingpin named Caz (Snipes) who he met in prison when he was establishing his false identity; and finally, the aforementioned Sal Procida, a narcotics officer who feels that he has to become dirty in order to be able to give his ever-growing family a better life.

There is almost no interaction between the three policemen lead characters as their stories are told in separate arcs. The easiest to follow is Sal, who for all of his gruffness and willingness to break the law, is a determined family man who is overwhelmed by his wife’s chronic health problems and his guilt over not giving his kids a better life. It is impossible not to root for him even as he is bending and overtly breaking the law.

Tango is a bit more complex. He is a guy who knows right from wrong despite hobnobbing with drug dealers and pimps but is only motivated by moving up in the law enforcement ranks. His goal is to be a lieutenant and wear a suit to work a la his NYPD mentor, Bill (Patton).

As expected, the hardest character to figure out is Gere’s Dugan. We met Eddie as he wakes up alone in his dingy apartment with a bottle of booze next to his bed. He also seems a bit too fond of Russian Roulette. Despite these unmistakable signs of depression, Eddie exhibits an almost Zen-like calm during his shift. Avoiding drama and needlessly sticking one’s neck out have been his modus operandi for putting in his time to get his pension. Eddie is a loner whose female companionship consists of a prostitute that he fantasizes will leave “the life” and live with him in his Connecticut cottage when he retires.

The acting by nearly everyone is superb with the exception of Barkin who plays a tough-talking higher up in the NYPD who is more concerned with the department’s public relations than with justice. It is sad to watch this once respected actress chew up scenery in a rather obnoxious and hard-to-watch manner.

The entire film is shot in depressing earth tones and the ending is anything but uplifting. There is also an anachronistic feel to Brooklyn’s Finest. The level of drug-related violent crime in housing projects is more fitting with 1991's New Jack City than with 2010 New York City. Not a bad movie by any means but if you really want to see Brooklyn’s Finest then wait for the DVD or even when it's on cable.

What's Up? Docs: Oscar-Nominated Shorts at MoMA

Nature documentaries are boring.

If you believe that, set aside 40 minutes and prepare to be astonished. It's the running time for Rabbit à la Berlin, a history of the Wall told from the POV of wild rabbits who lived between East and West Berlin. Heavily guarded, grassy and predator-free, the Death Zone they called home for 28 years let them to do what rabbits do. They flourished.

But in time some tried escaping their safe animal farm for West Berlin. And since the fall of the Wall, the furry rodents have been struggling to survive under freedom — just like former citizens of the Soviet Bloc.

Directed by Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra, the film (Królik po berlinsku in Polish and Mauerhase in German), was produced by Polish broadcaster TVP. It's one of five short documentaries vying for this year's Oscar.

Last Sunday &mdash a week before the March 7 &mdash 2010 Award ceremony, New York's Museum of Modern Art screened the whole classy quintuple at its "Eighty-Second Academy-Nominated Documentary Shorts" program. The annual bloom is among MoMA's most highly anticipated, with tickets being snapped up the moment they go on sale. This year it clocked in at around three hours. And not one audience melee broke out, surely a Museum first.

Perhaps viewers were stunned into silence by China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province. In the first 39-minutes of the evening, Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill had taken them on a journey through the emotional and physical rubble of 's 2008 earthquake, where communities mourned its young casualties and decried official negligence.

What begins as disaster coverage boils into a political diary of protest over shoddy building and relief efforts.

A collective gasp went up in the auditorium with each new horrific fact: that families were compensated $317 per dead child; that gatherings of more than three parents were forbidden at school sites; that, given China's one-child policy, most parents lost their only child. And so on.

If Rabbit à la Berlin uses nature as an allegory of totalitarian rule, China's Unnatural Disaster takes it as a platform for people to express civic rage. One bereaved mother sums up her disillusionment as "this is a lesson of blood." Another, pardon her Chinese, tells a fat cat to "search your mother's cunt."

Death and politics also coalesce in The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner. The 38-minute film by Daniel Junge trails the former Washington State governor's 2008 campaign to legalize assisted-suicide. Gardner mounted the initiative while combating Parkinson's disease. 

As Woody Allen has noted, success amplifies what you already are. But what if success ends what you are? Tough to say which caused more audience squirming, this conundrum, Booth's growing incapacitation or his opponents' efforts to quash the ballot. What's plain, though, is that Junge picked a compelling hero and that his own cogency — a skill perhaps honed as creative director of campaign strategy firm Just Media — helped him construct a sturdy work of nonfiction.

Work, or lack thereof, is the focus of another entry with "Last" in the title. The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant gives a 40-minute insight into the final six months of General Motors' factory in Moraine, Ohio. The backstory on its shuttering involves "the slowest auto market in 15 years."

Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert build the film almost entirely out of conversations with workers. Speaking to the camera between shifts, these mostly middle-aged men and women give unemployment a personal face. Will blue collar workers without computers find new jobs? Are they up for retraining? Can they hope to re-experience the pride and mastery they achieved as autoworkers? Hope is the key word here, and it's not in conspicuous supply.
It is in Music by Prudence.
The film opens with shots of the Zimbabwe bush so surreal and chords of a woman's song so rousing that what comes next is a jolt. A mangled and legless African gets stuck in a puddle with her wheelchair. She is 21-year-old Prudence Mabhena, the source of the voice, the producer of the film and the lead singer of Bulawayo-based group Liyana.

Maybe the Shona and Ndebele languages have a word for "uplifting" to suit her 35-minute story, directed by Roger Ross Williams. From the paternal grandmother who blamed her arthrogryposis on witchcraft (and wanted her killed) to the stepmother who let her marinate in three weeks' worth of bodily eliminations, Prudence thankfully made it to the King George VI School for the disabled. There she met the seven other members of Liyana and became the singer, songwriter, lyricist, arranger and choreographer who's now recognized as an emerging star.

MoMA thundered with applause after the group's climactic Afro-fusion performance of marimbas, African drums, keyboards, shakers, keyboards — and, of course, dear Prudence.

However different these five Oscar contenders, one common denominator is HBO Documentary Films. The network, which has a long history of sweeping awards, was behind all but Rabbit à la Berlin.

Interwoven news clips are another element some of the films share. China's Unnatural Disaster replays the devastating earthquake through television and cell phone footage; and The Last Campaign dusts off archival reels of Booth Gardner from the heyday of his governorship.

Rabbit à la Berlin takes the historical footage award, however. MoMA's savvy spectators ooohed at the shots of Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy on opposing sides of the Berlin Wall, and seemed no less moved by scenes depicting armed punishment of dissidents.

Allegedly, the filmmakers only turned up six images of the original rabbits, though it's easier to guess which film will take the Oscar than which bunny was a body double.

Eighty-Second Academy-Nominated Documentary Shorts
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
February 28, 2010

"The Crazies" for You

Directed by Breck Eisner
Written by Ray Wright and Scott Kosar, based on the screenplay by George A. Romero and Paul McCollough
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker

Often eclipsed by his genre-changing Living Dead movies, George Romero’s 1973 The Crazies, also released as Code Name Trixie, in which a bio-weapon is accidentally unleashed on a small American town, is scary and as timely as it was during the Vietnam. And while the original holds up just fine, this slick variation on a theme proves that a sequel that pales by comparison with original does come along every once in a while.

Welcome to bucolic Ogden Marsh, Iowa, pop. 1260. The countryside is beautiful and the farmland fertile; folks are friendly and the pace of life is comfortably slow. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), rarely have more on their plate than out-of-season duck hunters, teenage mischief and the occasional drunk-and-disorderly. Dutton's wife, Dr. Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell), is newly pregnant, and everything’s right with the world… until it isn’t.

On the opening day of high-school baseball season, longtime town drunk Rory Hamill (Mike Hickman) walks onto the field with a loaded shotgun; David fails to talk him down and is forced to kill him. The strange thing is that Rory’s wife swears Rory had been sober for two years, and the medical examiner’s report bears out her assertion. So what made Rory recklessly endanger a group of teenagers the same age as his own son?

Judy is faced with her own puzzle: Farm-wife Deardra Farnum (Christie Lynn Smith) has brought her husband, Bill (Brett Rickaby), into the office; something just isn't right with him, she insists. And though Farnum seems physically fine, Judy's nagging feeling that Deardra is right comes back to haunt her when Farnum burns his home to the ground, having first shut Deardra and their son inside. Locked up in the town’s holding cell, Farnum’s not rightness is more apparent by the hour, and David arranges to have him transferred to big-city Cedar Rapids the following day.

But the following day, some local good ol’ boys find a corpse in a nearby swamp, still harnessed to a parachute; David and Russell soon locate his plane — a big, black thing that has "military" written all over it — submerged nearby. What it was carrying is anybody’s guess, but the fact that that no one reported it missing is mighty suspicious, not to mention worrying — the swamp drains directly into Ogden Marsh’s water supply. To top it all off, when David and Russell return to the station they find all connections to the outside world severed: Landlines, cell phones, Internet... all dead. And then all hell breaks loose: Their friends and neighbors become bloodthirsty monsters and a military task force swoops in to contain the ever-worsening situation.

There was no reason to expect The Crazies would be any better than dozens of other amped-up, dumbed-down Hollywood horror remakes; Crazies co-writer Scott Kosar had a hand in the dismal do-overs of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Amityville Horror (2005); his partner, Ray Wright, helped transform J-horror classic Pulse (2001) into a generic "pretty young people in peril" picture; and of director Breck Eisner’s only other major credit, the dismal action-comedy Sahara (2005), the less said the better.

But The Crazies is scary as hell: The small town setting never feels condescendingly symbolic, the characters are actually characters (Eisner had the advantage of a stronger cast than Romero's) and the escalating tension hinges on the fact that line between abnormal behavior triggered of extreme stress and the warning signs of infection is blurred and constantly shifting. And if the notion of germ-warfare mishaps and government cover-ups is less shocking than it once was, it's because today’s reality bears an unnerving resemblance to yesterday’s paranoid fantasy.

Fans of the original will be pleased by the remake’s subtle call outs to its predecessor, notably a haunting cameo by '70s exploitation favorite Lynn Lowry and a brief mention of the toxin’s code name: "Trixie."

 For more by Maitland McDonagh:

Laura Linney in "Time Stands Still"

Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Starring Laura Linney, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian, Brian D'Arcy James

Donald Margulies' powerful and moving play dissects the professional and psychological passion of a photographer who covers the horrors of wars, famine, and genocide. "Time stands still" represents the moment when she presses the shutter button and sees the world only through the view finder. Time stops, sound cuts out; her experience is just what is taking place in the rectangle. There is an objectifying and separation from reality. And for Sarah Goodwin (Laura Linney) it's the only moment in life that counts.

Now, she's come back to her walk-up loft in Williamsburg (the lower-rent Brooklyn neighborhood to which artists have moved) after getting seriously injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Her head is full of shrapnel, her leg is busted. James Dodd (Brian D'Arcy James), the journalist she lives with, has brought her back from a hospital in Germany, guilty that before the attack he returned to New York, shell-shocked by his reporting experience, and left her alone in Iraq.

Director Daniel Sullivan's staging is crisp and unsentimental.

Sarah is tougher than James in every way, even brutally critical about his writing. He wants to live where he doesn't get parasites, where his back doesn't hurt following the war du jour. For her, work comes first, before a personal relationship.

But this is not just a personal drama, which is the easy "Hollywood" style of dumbing down serious issues. Sarah and James are people with interesting lives, interesting thoughts. One is the issue: "Are photographers exploiting their subjects?

Sarah is challenged on that by Mandy Bloom (Alicia Silverstone), the new 25-year-old girlfriend of Richard Ehrlich (Eric Bogosian), the middle-aged photo editor of the magazine for which Sarah and James freelance. Mandy, a bit of a ditz who works as an "event planner" (Richard met her at a museum party for a book about Darfur), arrives with "get well" balloons.

Mandy asks Sarah, "How could you stand there and do nothing" when she sees people suffering in disasters. Sarah replies, "I'm not doing nothing, I'm taking their picture." On the one hand, Sarah says that the camera is there to record life, not change it. But she also acknowledges she is driven to do her work because it will change things. Or is she pulled in by the drama?

Margulies' repartee is sharp and clever and shifts the moods to underline the complexity and subtlety of his story. When Mandy leaves the room, Sarah and James ride Richard, "You always wanted a little girl" and, "There's young and there's embryonic." When the men go for ice cream, Sarah quips, "Hunt, gather.."  She calls her father's second wife Evita instead of Evelyn.

Sarah and James represent the bright and adventurous. Richard is a decent guy, doing the best he can to help his friends as an editor, but worn down by the bureaucracy and by a previous smart but demanding girlfriend. He is settling for comfort.

Linney is intense and driven as Sarah. Through her we get a sense of the mind and spirit of any committed and creative person.

D'Arcy James shows James as resolute but also vulnerable. He erupts in anger on personal matters, as when the magazine doesn't run his story, but he is also sensitive and forgiving when Sarah admits a betrayal.

Bogosian is appropriately mild as the corporate cog who has given in and given up, as if all passion has been snuffed out. Silverstone is good as the wide-eyed, Mandy, the child-like creature who has her conventional life mapped out.

Margulies has given us another very fine, very intelligent play about people, their dreams and how they persevere — or settle.

Time Stands Still
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street

New York City, NY
(212) 239-6200
Opened January 28, 2010; Closes March 27, 2010.

For more by Lucy Komisar:

Photo credit: Joan Marcus



Newsletter Sign Up

Upcoming Events

No Calendar Events Found or Calendar not set to Public.