> Volume 4 > Number 36

Volume 4, Number 36

This Week's Reviews:  City by the Sea.

This Week's Omissions:  Swimfan.

Video Review:  America Remembers.

Capsule Reviews:  The Country Bears, Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat.

Michael Caton-Jones

Robert De Niro
Frances McDormand
James Franco
George Dzundza
Eliza Dushku
William Forsythe
Patti LuPone
Anson Mount
John Doman
Brian Tarantina




Requiem for a Dream
Aronofsky, 2000

Taxi Driver
Scorsese, 1976

The Town is Quiet
Guédiguian, 2001

The Yards
Gray, 2000

You Can Count on Me
Lonergan, 2000

City by the Sea


New York Daily News reporter Mike McAlary became an icon for the news media in the 1990s -- his prose style was almost as commanding as the crime stories he somehow became privy to. His claim to fame occurred in 1997 when he received an anonymous phone call about New York police officers sodomizing a suspect with a plunger. His articles on the Abner Louima case and the "blue wall of secrecy" brought McAlary a Pulitzer Prize.

McAlary died in 1998, leaving behind a profession of investigative journalism that held him as the closest thing to a 1990's Woodward and Bernstein. Though the Louima story was important from a historical aspect, a more professionally challenging McAlary piece came with his 1997 Esquire story on the possibility of a "murder gene" found in the LaMarca family. Titled "Mark of a Murderer," the story looked at the way Joey LaMarca may have inherited a gene from his grandfather, Angelo LeMarca, which led him to kill a two-bit junkie in the dilapidated neighborhood of Long Beach. Creating an even more puzzling side to this story, though, was the person that connected Joey to Angelo: father/son Vincent, who was a lauded member of the Long Island police force.

City by the Sea tries to do with McAlary's article what Dog Day Afternoon did with the P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore article that inspired it. But the end product in this case is not near as affective as Sidney Lumet's 1973 masterpiece. Part of the reason is that City by the Sea screenwriter Ken Hixon hasn't enough belief in the true story the film is purporting to be. What was in reality a drama that tried to understand familial lives in the cutthroat world of Long Beach has now become an inarticulate police drama that pits father against son instead of allowing their unusual relationship to run the show.

The film does use the estrangement between Vincent (De Niro) and Joey LaMarca (Franco) that began when the father walked out on his wife (LuPone) and child. However, much of the drama has been muted by trying to place Vincent into the criminal investigation for Joey. This was a case that captured a reader's attention because of the dynamics to its history, but the possibility of a father serving in a police force after his son (which didn't happen -- Vincent had already retired when the case came to the Long Island police). For heaven's sake, Joey LaMarca intentionally murdered James Winston, but the filmmakers want Joey to seem sympathetically by making it an accidental killing of a drug dealer.

Even the story of Angelo LaMarco is so lightly brushed over that the main thrust of McAlary's article is lost within the movie meant to recreate it. Instead, Hixon felt more at home working with hackneyed characters and story elements that are blatant additions for the sake of moving the story along. These trappings would not be so damaging were they not so clichéd and uninteresting. This is a movie that adds the overzealous media, a smarmy drug lord (Forsythe), a portly police partner (Dzundza), a sharp new detective (Mount), and a smart lover (McDormand). So clichéd are these characters that two of the performers (Dzundza and McDormand) have played them many times before in more successful movies (including Basic Instinct and Wonder Boys, respectively).

While the occasional interludes with the genealogy of morals that made the first story interesting does bring the film back from the dreck, uninventive performances from most of the cast reminds us why this worked so much better as simply one man's article. James Franco and Eliza Dushku as the film's young couple are nearly devoid of appeal -- while both are attractive people, they seem to think that slurring speech and looking wistfully is method acting. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro and Frances McDormand as the film's old couple show some odd chemistry (romantic chemistry, of course, has been one of De Niro's few problems as an actor) though most of their scenes are filled with dialogue that cannot be covered by fine acting.

Even when ruining the true story with all the artistic additions, the filmmakers do find a fine route to take to establish the setting. By showing the deterioration of Long Beach in relation to the story (the film takes its title from the nickname given to the once vibrant 1950s beachfront destination), the movie gets a good Atlantic City vibe that cannot be overlooked. Even though the drama is nothing compared to Louis Malle's film, the chance to look at the way a place can decay in such little time is astounding (for the record, though, most of the film's exterior shots are of Asbury Park, New Jersey).

Director Michael Caton-Jones worked with De Niro previously in This Boy's Life, another glance at the relationship between father and son (though, in that case, it was a stepfather instead of an estranged one). Both of these films are hurt by an impenetrable self-righteousness filled with thick helpings of heavy-handed morality. In the end, though, the problems are more inherent to City by the Sea since it had somewhere to go instead of a straight "don't be an absentee dad" story. Mike McAlary proved it.

America Remembers


In 1963, when President Kennedy was shot, The Washington Post's Mary McGrory said: "We'll never laugh again." Patrick Moynihan replied: "Heavens, Mary, of course we'll laugh again -- we'll just never be young again."

Those words reverberated with me throughout the weeks following 11 September 2001. I had slept late that morning and woke to a phone call: "What the hell is going on," said the voice on the other side of the line. I had no earthly idea what he was talking about -- until I turned on the television.

The first tower fell within minutes as a genuinely befuddled Dan Rather tried desperately to make some sense of what he was trying to report: how and why had three planes (the fourth, which would later crash into the Pennsylvania countryside, was still missing) crashed into US landmarks?

The news trickled down over those weeks as citizens of the world, from France to Malaysia, from Canada to South Africa, watched to find out the answer to those questions. Heroes arose -- President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani -- and the search for survivors continued as professionals and volunteers attempted to sift through the rubble of the once tall Twin Towers.

These words seem like so little, though. More staggering, this was an attack that was caught by the media of the world, however chaotic the telecasts may have been. As the major networks ceased programming for the next few days, it became clear that this was not going to be like Pearl Harbor where the most recognizable part of the attack was in President Roosevelt's "A Date Which will Live in Infamy" Speech -- instead, the collective memories of this would be in the startling images.

CNN has long been the first name in news, and they proved why they deserved such a title in the aftermath of September 11th. As a news junkie, I would have already been on the channel for much of the time to see programming like Crossfire and Inside Politics. But my normal five or six hours of CNN watching nearly doubled -- even when at work, I was still watching their coverage in search for that information that was ever-so unattainable.

As the anniversary of that day approaches, CNN has issued a documentary commemorating their coverage. America Remembers, as it is titled, serves as a reminder -- perhaps one most are not ready to revisit -- of the emotions that struck everyone as reports of the falling buildings, hunts for Osama Bin Laden, fears of a stock market collapse, and stories of anthrax cases came across the airwaves from the various personalities of the Cable News Network.

Aaron Brown, a new face to the network that fateful Tuesday, recounts his baptism by fire; Elizabeth Cohen goes over the emotions that struck her as she interviewed people searching for their missing loved ones; and Bill Hemmer notes the startling universality of the loss. No one entered that work day knowing what was going to happen, and none of them will ever forget what did.

The documentary could be called egregious since none of these images will be forgotten by those who huddled in front of their television screens last September. But I counter, America Remembers serves not as a reminder as it is a document. It may be a time that most of us will not want to remember so vividly, but it is a time that should be kept and vaulted. The reminders may be so wrenching, but the facts are undeniable and the memories are forever etched. Future generations will know about that day as prominently as those born after 22 November 1963: the massive coverage of last year's events are just as important as the Zapruder film. The reporting may be enormous, lacking that maddening Kennedy-obscuring sign during the assassination, but the need for these moments to be captured and saved is just as large. We may have more images to look over, but those questions still remain unanswered.

Capsule Reviews: Since things are backlogged and there happens to be two spots in this week's lineup, I have decided to use capsule reviews for The Country Bears and Martin Lawence Live: Runteldat (plus, they were not viewed in a theatre).  Though, as I said in the last capsule review column, these would be better suited if they were called "Flippant Remarks."

The Country Bears

(Dir: Peter Hastings, Starring Haley Joel Osment, Diedrich Bader, Candy Ford, James Gammon, Brad Garrett, Toby Huss, Kevin Michael Richardson, Stephen Root, Christopher Walken, Stephen Tobolowsky, Daryl Mitchell, and Eli Marienthal)



An innocuous little concoction, The Country Bears is truly a film for the kids with nearly nothing to give to the attending parents. There are a couple moments of joy with the personification development of some of the bears, but most of the film shows the strings that are inherent with any movie that comes directly from a show at Disney World (though much of it seems oddly like the characters at the long-deceased Showbiz Pizza chain).

Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat

(Dir: David Raynr, Starring Martin Lawrence)



Since The Original Kings of Comedy proved to be a success with movie audiences, we are forced to sit through a wholly unappealing presentation of Martin Lawrence's comedy act on theatre screens. Lawrence is not a truly unfunny guy, but the form of his comedy act never really hits anything that might be considered funny. Meanwhile, David Raynr fails to ever find a way to show the performance that does not seem like a standup act that can be seen any afternoon on Comedy Central.




Reviews by:
David Perry