COP LAND, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, and INFERNAL AFFAIRS Blu-ray Review

     December 4, 2011

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Lionsgate has acquired Miramax’s back catalog and have been putting on these titles in 1080p remasters that look good to great, with generally the exact same supplements as previous releases. James Mangold’s Cop Land, starring Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Harvey Kietel, and Robert Patrick, George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, with Sam Rockwell, Julia Roberts, Clooney and Drew Barrymore and Infernal Affairs – the film that was remade as The Departed – all have arrived on Blu-ray. Each looks great and has all the extras of previous releases. Check out our reviews after the jump.

cop-land-blu-ray-coverThere’s a long-standing controversy over Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat. In it, leads Al Pacino and Robert De Niro share exactly one scene together in a three hour movie, yet the way the scene is shot and cut suggests the two didn’t really didn’t appear together. One of the film’s big selling points was seeing these two ’70s icons on screen together for the first time, and yet they didn’t appear to be in the same room in the only scene they shared. They did shoot the scene together, and what James Mangold’s Cop Land proves is that Mann was right to shoot it that way – Mangold does the same thing with many of his powerhouse leads. De Niro shares scenes with both Sylvester Stallone and old friend Harvey Keitel, and Mangold makes sure to keep the actors out of each other’s shots as much as possible. The reason for this becomes obvious: When A-list actors and stars share the frame (particularly when they represent opposing viewpoints), the audience can’t be sure who to look at. It’s distracting.

Being chock-full of such leads is what made Cop Land‘s reputation, and it’s one of the reasons why the film seemed to be a misfire upon release: Scorsese vets De Niro, Keitel, Liotta, Frank Vincent, and Cathy Moriarty appear alongside such other notable talents as Patrick, Annabella Sciorra, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, and Michael Rappaport, and yet the picture focuses mostly on Stallone in a character-driven performance — he was trying to ditch his (brainless) action-star image with this effort, and audiences expected something more from this cast than a character study. But the movie’s box office failure should come as no surprise; such efforts (like underperformers Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) tend to end up alienating the star’s fans by not fulfilling their normal roles, while also proving problematic to art-film aficionados who have trouble supporting a title that seems to be aping mainstream sensibilities.

cop-land-imageThe years have proved a bit kinder to Cop Land — although it still feels smaller than its cast, it works because it’s a western. Stallone stars as Freddy Heflin, the sheriff of a small New Jersey town nicknamed “Cop Land” because it’s inhabited by New York cops who moved there to be away from the city and its crime. Freddy has always dreamed of being in the NYPD, but because of a hearing loss he suffered while saving Liz Randone’s (Sciorra) life, he’s never made it that far, always been regarded as a nice guy, but maybe a bit dumb. Heflin gets sucked into big league drama when Murray ‘Superboy’ Babitch (Rappaport) gets into a shoot-out with two unarmed black youths when one points a steering wheel lock at him that Murray mistakes for a weapon. Murray’s uncle is Ray Donlan (Keitel) — he and his men try to clean up the scene of the crime by planting evidence, but others on the scene are suspicious of their acts, which leads Murray to (supposedly) commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (De Niro) suspects something hinky, but he can’t find any real evidence. So he puts pressure on both Heflin and Donlan to come clean. At first looking to protect Donlan out of loyalty to his neighborhood, the fact that so many of the cops around Cop Land are dismissive of Freddy and his best friend/undercover cop Gary “Figgsy” Figgis (Liotta) leads Heflin to search for the truth, especially after Freddy sees Babitch and fears Ray and his boys will kill him to keep their hands clean.

cop-land-imageCop Land is Mangold’s best film so far, it does great work establishing all of the characters and the sweep of the piece, but because there are so many great performers, one expects it to be more profound than the neo-western it is (it’s just a movie about a sheriff cleaning up his town). The real star of the piece is Liotta as Figgsy, who’s smarter than Freddy and has more weighty moral issues hanging over him, and as such his decision to pursue good carries more gravitas. Small, but solid.

Cop Land is presented widescreen (1.78:1) and DTS-HD 5.1 master audio in a good looking transfer of the film. This is the extended cut of the film – it seems the theatrical cut (this version runs 14 minutes longer) will be forever forgotten. The film comes with an audio commentary with Stallone (who’s a sharp commentator), Mangold, Robert Patrick, and producer Cathy Konrad; a making-of featurette (14 min.); storyboard comparisons (2 min.); and two deleted scenes with optional commentary (5 min.).

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind came out as Charlie Kaufman was one of the most buzzed about writers in Hollywood. Being John Malkovich was a revolution, and though Michel Gondry didn’t fare as well with Human Nature, Spike Jonze was working on his second with Kaufman in 2002 – Adaptation. Kaufman’s Dangerous Mind script had been a hot property, but was deemed too weird, etc. (much like Malkovich must have seemed). Enter George Clooney. Having proved himself a box office draw after such films as The Perfect Storm and Ocean’s Eleven, he had eyes on the project and brought it to the big screen as his directorial debut.

Now that Clooney’s made four films, it’s easy to get a better grasp on him as an auteur. He has a real affinity for period work, and he definitely applies that here as much as he can. His films are serious and interesting, but they don’t make much of an impression. I guess the best of the bunch is Good Night and Good Luck, but the films don’t go much beyond surface – he doesn’t have a killer instinct. And he’s all wrong for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. It’s easy to see why: the film is supposed to be funny.

Based on the autobiography of Chuck Barris, the film tells of Barris (Sam Rockwell) as he achieves success as a TV producer with such shows as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, and as he trains to be a CIA operative who goes on assignments to kill people. His handler is Jim Byrd (Clooney), who tells him to send dating Game contestants to faraway places so Barris can kill people. There he meets Patricia Watson (Julia Roberts), the ultimate spy femme fatale. But he still loves Penny (Drew Barrymore) the hippy girl he met while he was coming up.

confessions-of-a-dangerous-mind-imageClooney plays everything too straight, and this is a film that calls for a heightened tone. Many have called Barris’s book bullshit, and the CIA flatly denies he ever did any killing for them. Barris has wiggled a little and said that it may not have been for the CIA he did his killing. That’s the hook of the movie is that Barris, the over-the-top presence on The Gong Show thinks he’s an assassin. And the material suggests it could have played as a live action cartoon, but Clooney just doesn’t have the rhythms for it, and the absurdity of what goes on never feels like your leg is beign pulled. Playing it straight is an option, but Clooney gets more interested in playing with the camera in ways that don’t necessarily benefit his narrative. The performers all do good work, but Clooney went too Alan J. Pakula and not enough John Landis.

The Blu-ray is widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 master audio. Clooney and his DP Newton Thomas Sigel use a lot of filters early on, but it looks as it did theatrically, and it’s a perfect transfer. The film comes with all the original supplements. They kick off with a commentary with Clooney and Sigel that gets into the tech side of things, but Clooney is pretty articulate about his influences and what he was going for. There’s seven “Behind the Scenes” featurettes that explore Barris and his myths, the actors, and Clooney’s in-camera tricks (23 min.. There are eleven deleted scenes (23 min.), all with optional commentary by Clooney and Sigel where they’re mostly apologetic about cutting things they like. The disc also includes three “Sam Rockwell Screen Tests” (7 min.), a look at “The Real Chuck Barris” (6 min.) and five recreated “Gong Show Acts” (5 min.).

infernal-affairs-blu-ray-coverInfernal Affairs came out in 2002, which is a while after the world had turned its eyes from Hong Kong cinema. During the 1990’s, John Woo and many others came stateside when their work had re-energized action filmmaking. But by 2000, films like X-Men, Charlie’s Angels and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had shown that western filmmakers had swallowed those influences whole, while many Hong Kong stars went Hollywood. Filmmakers like Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam put some time in America only to eventually go back, while stars like Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung still find themselves called back for American movies. As much as this had to do with the filmmakers and stars, another aspect of it was the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 – many artists were worried that once they re-entered a communist nation their work would be considered offensive, or there would be no money. Hong Kong cinema has survived, but doesn’t seem to have the same hustle and bustle, and for a while it seemed Korean cinema (with Chan Wook-Park and Bong Joon-Ho) became the new hot spot for fanboys.

But though Infernal Affairs got a brief theatrical run in 2004, the premise was too good to ignore. Gangster Hon Sam (Eric Tsang) wants a man on the inside of the police force, so he gets Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau) to become an officer of the law. While SP Wong (Anthony Wong) needs someone to go deep undercover, so he kicks Yan (Tony Leung) out of the force early on to give him the credentials he needs for great undercover work. Cut to ten years later, and both rats are very close to their cheese. From there the stakes are high as both men are trying their hardest to find each other out before they get ratted out. But the film makes a point of having them interact before things get super-heated and they are kept close through cutting.

infernal-affairs-imageThat is the plot summary, but all that matters is that the film realizes its brilliant premise: A cop who pretends to be a criminal and a criminal who pretends to be a cop have to face off to see who can survive. It’s such a great premise that it’s a shame that Martin Scorsese didn’t lock onto that aspect of the film for his remake – though if he had it probably wouldn’t have won the academy award. His version is his Boston gangster picture, with the duality at the center a facet that never comes under too much scrutiny (though it does have both men romancing the same woman). Perhaps that duality, that yin and yang was seen as too Eastern a concept, but it’s what makes the film great, and something of a classic. Had I not seen it beforehand, I might have enjoyed Scorsese’s take all the more.

But this film is about applying pressure on the men so they both must chase each other, and it’s expertly staged and directed, with a great ending (though very similar to the remake). Perhaps it’s a situation where whichever you see first is going to leave the bigger impression. But here it’s about the narrative conceit, and so it builds on a lightning quick genre sensibility. Claustrophobia is the key here, and you feel it when things get heated, this is one of the best genre films in a good long while.

Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 master audio for both the original Cantonese and the English dub tracks. Score. The picture quality is good – Hong Kong films are notoriously poorly looked after, and this one (perhaps because it’s relatively new) looks in good shape. There seems to be some slight American tinkering, but it’s been nearly a decade since I saw the original DVD release. Extras include a making of (15 min.) and behind the scenes footage (4 min.), a less ambiguous alternative ending (3 min.), and two trailers.

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