Chris Cooper

The Muppets (2011, James Bobin)

The Muppets is confused.

The screenplay from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller oscillates between being this lame story about Segel and his brother, a Muppet named Walter (indistinctly performed by Peter Linz), and his girlfriend (Amy Adams) and a better story of the Muppets reuniting.

The better story is, unfortunately, not exactly good. There are some good moments, but Segel and Stoller take a very serious approach to the Muppets. Kermit is a, well, hermit. Gonzo and Piggy have sold out. Fozzie’s working in Reno. Rowlf doesn’t even get a backstory; it’s hard not to read into that slight, since Rowlf was previously the symbol of Jim Henson’s legacy.

But the good stuff in The Muppets can’t outweigh the bad. Segel gives a weak performance, but he’s still leagues ahead of Adams. Adams is shockingly bad and creepily artificial. Neither character matters to the film and much of The Muppets is Segel and Stoller forcing their story into the picture.

Most of the human performances are bad. Chris Cooper is awful, maybe even worse than Adams.

Only Rashida Jones is good and she’s barely in it.

Watching The Muppets, I tried to imagine watching it again and could not. Segel and Stoller have some really stupid details and, until Kermit shows up, the film is pretty dreadful. Bobin is a bad director.

As for the Muppets… Without the original performers, Muppets feels even more like a corporate construction.

It’s not a complete failure, but it’s too close to being one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Bobin; screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created by Jim Henson; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by James M. Thomas; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Steve Saklad; produced by David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Peter Linz (Walter) and Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman and Matt Vogel as the Muppets.

Starring Jason Segel (Gary), Amy Adams (Mary), Chris Cooper (Tex Richman), Rashida Jones (Veronica) and Jack Black (himself).


The Town (2010, Ben Affleck), the extended cut

Affleck’s directorial abilities are impressive. He’s got a great sense of composition–he seats his actors on either end of the Panavision frame, leaving this great space of emptiness between them. Except, of course, when he’s on screen with Rebecca Hall, as their bridging the gap is the whole point of The Town.

But he’s got his problems too. He casts too strongly.

Between himself, Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm, Affleck’s got three strong lead performances. He doesn’t have enough story for all three, so it’s hard to track them across the film’s narrative canvas.

For a while, the large canvas does Affleck good–and even after it gets too big, it still does allow for some really solid scenes, unimportant to the plot, but very human. The benefit is the lack of expectable. The story develops organically, one moment growing into the next, the opening feeling of foreboding waning as characters and relationships become more clear.

Some of the best moments are the ones Affleck holds longer than he needs to hold.

But, in the end, it’s a heist movie and heist movies have big, third act heists.

Affleck is able to do some different things with the way that heist works, but not enough to shrink it to fit the rest of the film.

Excellent performances from everyone–Hamm’s amazing and Hall’s quietly heartbreaking. Great supporting turn from Titus Welliver and–a big surprise–Blake Lively.

Even with its problems, The Town is an outstandingly piece of work.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Peter Craig, Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on a novel by Chuck Hogan; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Harry Gregson-Williams and David Buckley; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Graham King and Basil Iwanyk; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Doug MacRay), Rebecca Hall (Claire Keesey), Jon Hamm (Adam Frawley), Jeremy Renner (James Coughlin), Blake Lively (Krista Coughlin), Slaine (Gloansy Magloan), Owen Burke (Desmond Elden), Titus Welliver (Dino Ciampa), Pete Postlethwaite (Fergie Colm) and Chris Cooper (Stephen MacRay).


City of Hope (1991, John Sayles)

City of Hope is a raw John Sayles John Sayles movie. The camera follows the characters until it bumps into other characters, which is a simple, straightforward method, both a little more honest but also a little more amateurish. It introduces a gimmick into the film, which rarely does anything any good. It isn’t always the bumping characters–the most effective sequence is when, at the same time, separated by cuts, a bunch of characters decide to sell themselves out or not to sell out. But the bumping does pop again and it is noticeable. Maybe it’s a consequence of pan and scanning a 2.35:1 film (City of Hope, as far as I can ascertain, has never had a non-pan and scan video release). The pan and scan does hurt a little, but the gimmick would still be there, wider field of action or not. It’s not bad–films still do it today, good films, but they’re films made after Sayles (much like Sayles makes films after the Altman Nashville standard). It’s a raw artist in progress and it’s a thing sixteen years has made more noticeable. It doesn’t date the film, but City of Hope does have a visible place in Sayles’s body of work.

It’s also his most traditional story–one of the two primary storylines is Italian-Americans and their relationship to work and corruption. Sure, it’s political corruption–but the corrupt mayor is Italian. Vincent Spano’s character is also a very general lead for a Sayles film too–like I said, it’s all very raw. The other primary story, about Joe Morton’s attempt to be a successful and moral politician, is more radical. However, the Spano story, simply because Spano, and Tony Lo Bianco as his father, are so great. Joe Morton’s great too, but Sayles gives Spano a romance with Barbara Williams (who’s also fantastic). Watching certain moments in City of Hope, it’s obvious Sayles spent a lot of time figuring them out. There are some short car ride conversations he does beautifully, but also the scenes with Spano walking Williams home. Those scenes are amazing, pan and scan or not.

Where Sayles lifts the film from the norm is in the third act, when the viewer discovers it’s actually not all about people bumping into each other, or the titular City of Hope, which pops up three times at least, but is actually all about watching people corrupt themselves. There’s a wonderful juxtaposition of one woman telling her husband not to sell himself out, then congratulating him (that one’s from Macbeth, right?), with another not supporting dishonesty, after positioning herself to do so. Except every character in City of Hope, not just those four–with the exception of Williams, who’s a bit of a saint–eventually makes the choice to corrupt or redeem him or herself. Well, not redeem, but not further corrupt.

Besides the aforementioned, Tony Denison is great, so is Angela Bassett. Chris Cooper’s only in it for maybe four minutes, but in that time, it becomes clear his never becoming a leading man is a considerable tragedy for American cinema.

I’m probably less enthused about the film than I should be, but it’s only because I spent the entire time wondering how beautiful it must look in the right aspect ratio.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by John Sayles; director of photography, Robert Richardson; music by Mason Daring; production designers, Dan Bishop and Dianna Freas; produced by Sarah Green and Maggie Renzi; released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Starring Vincent Spano (Nick), Tony Lo Bianco (Joe), Joe Morton (Wynn), Angela Bassett (Reesha), John Sayles (Carl), Gloria Foster (Jeanette), David Strathairn (Asteroid), Kevin Tighe (O’Brien), Barbara Williams (Angela), Joe Grifasi (Pauly), Louis Zorich (Mayor Baci), Gina Gershon (Laurie), Rose Gregorio (Pina), Bill Raymond (Les), Jace Alexander (Bobby), Todd Graff (Zip), Frankie Faison (Levonne), Tom Wright (Malik), Tony Denison (Rizzo), S.J. Lang (Bauer), Chris Cooper (Riggs), Stephen Mendillo (Yoyo), Josh Mostel (Mad Anthony), Daryl Edwards (Franklin) and Lawrence Tierney (Kerrigan).


Syriana (2005, Stephen Gaghan)

What a sprawling and ambitious film… oh, wait, it’s actually neither. Syriana has a bunch of good performances (Matt Damon being the stand-out lead and Amanda Peet or Alexander Siddig being the supporting, with William Hurt turning in a really nice extended cameo), but with the exception of the Muslim suicide bomber, it’s emotionally empty… soulless. I did have one problem with the suicide bomber–he strikes at target whose destruction would immediately improve the world. That’s not how suicide bombers actually act (the world situation would be a lot different if they did).

Describing the three main, failed plotlines–man has to come to terms with his son’s death, man has to come to terms with his career ending, man has to come to terms with racism–makes Syriana sound rather promising. But Gaghan displays even more disinterest in the human condition than his script for Traffic did. He’s not writing about people brought together by coincidence or passion, these people are all brought together by the situation. Syriana is dramatic fiction. Trying to present it as a multiple camera, pseudo-documentary does disservice to all the good work the actors put in to the film.

The politics Syriana discusses are probably not common knowledge, but a common American isn’t well-informed (or interested). There’s nothing in this film that has been documented, nothing that five minutes of a Noam Chomsky interview wouldn’t elucidate further. It’s political science for people who watch “Friends.” I really didn’t expect much more from the film (or Gaghan), so I’m not disappointed. Seeing the good acting (though Jeffrey Wright was so passive he disappeared and it’s the first bad Christopher Plummer performance I’ve ever seen), particularly Hurt and Peet, was a treat and the film’s only a couple hours long. I just wish I hadn’t had to pee for the second hour.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Gaghan; screenplay by Gaghan, suggested by a book by Robert Baer; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Jennifer Fox, Michael Nozik and Georgia Kacandes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Bob Barnes), Matt Damon (Bryan Woodman), Jeffrey Wright (Bennett Holiday), Chris Cooper (Jimmy Pope), William Hurt (Stan Goff), Mazhar Munir (Wasim Ahmed Khan), Tim Blake Nelson (Danny Dalton), Amanda Peet (Julie Woodman), Christopher Plummer (Dean Whiting), William C. Mitchell (Bennett Holiday Sr.), Shahid Ahmed (Saleem Ahmed Khan) and Alexander Siddig (Prince Nasir Al-Subaai).


Matewan (1987, John Sayles)

What was that? Did anyone else see that? (Probably not, I’m watching the Canadian widescreen DVD).

Sayles actually ripped off the looking at the camera bit from The 400 Blows. He actually did it–while having the character’s future self narrate the epilogue. I’ve been dreading watching Matewan for over a year, since April 2004 in fact. I thought the dread came from my having only seen Matewan in school, but I guess I was just being smart. Matewan is easily Sayles’ worst film. It’s also one of his only “bad” ones. Matewan isn’t that bad, of course (get to that in a second), it’s just propaganda. Sure, it’s historically accurate, but it’s also propaganda. Management abusing labor is a fact and it’s a crime and Matewan is accurate in its depiction of it. But. Sayles presents one agent of management as a human being. The rest are not. The rest are villains. So, if there’s a shoot out with the villains, it’s impossible to care about them, impossible to think their deaths are at all a tragedy. Their deaths are weightless. Even Lethal Weapon 2 made excuses about its level of violence. It’s a disappointment, but Matewan is also Sayles’ first “big” film and it obviously got away from him.

There are signs of the Sayles goodness, of course. There are lots of interesting characters, but he doesn’t know what to do with them. There’s still too much of a story, instead of all the little stories that usually propel his films. There’s the Sayles cast, Chris Cooper and David Straithairn and Mary McDonnell are all excellent, Cooper the most. It’s hard to believe he didn’t become a vanilla leading man after Matewan.

I’m incredibly upset about this film… I was off movies because Stripes was so shitty, because an Ivan Reitman/Bill Murray picture was so painfully mediocre (and unfunny). What is a bad John Sayles movie going to do to me?

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Sayles; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Sonya Polonsky; music by Mason Daring; production designer, Nora Chavooshian; produced by Maggie Renzi and Peggy Rajski; released by Cinecom Pictures.

Starring Chris Cooper (Joe Kenehan), James Earl Jones (‘Few Clothes’ Johnson), Mary McDonnell (Elma Radnor), Will Oldham (Danny Radnor), David Strathairn (Police Chief Sid Hatfield), Ken Jenkins (Sephus Purcell), Gordon Clapp (Griggs), Kevin Tighe (Hickey), John Sayles (Hardshell Preacher), Bob Gunton (C.E. Lively), Josh Mostel (Mayor Cabell Testerman), Nancy Mette (Bridey Mae), Jace Alexander (Hillard Elkins), Joe Grifasi (Fausto), Gary McCleery (Ludie), Jo Henderson (Mrs. Elkins), Maggie Renzi (Rosaria), Tom Wright (Tom), Michael B. Preston (Ellix), Tom Carlin (Turley) and Jenni Cline (Luann).


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