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"City by the Sea"

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones ("Rob Roy").
Written by Ken Hixon.
Starring Robert De Niro, James Franco and Frances McDormand.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  8/27/02 


Here’s what is good about the upcoming Robert De Niro film “City by the Sea”, which I saw tonight with my friends Aaron and Marnie, aka “The Big Worm”—

  1. Frances McDormand.  Once again, the Coen Brothers’ regular is great and lends another film with her vast talents.

  2. A very intriguing plot which is based on a true story about a father (De Niro) that must pursue his son (James Franco) on murder charges.

Otherwise, “City by the Sea” proves that the month of September will provide for ridiculously-shitty films.  De Niro stars as cop Vincent LaMarca, a 25-year-vet of the NYPD that discovers a body washed up in the morning tides of a local beach.  Turns out that body is a pusher named Picasso that was stabbed by LaMarca’s son Joey (Franco) in self-defense, and the manhunt begins for the cop’s son with the son’s father in charge of the investigation.

De Niro is giving performances these days like he doesn’t care much about movies any is amazing to watch good actors work with bad-to-average directors, and director Michael Caton-Jones (director of the Bruce Willis/Richard Gere shitbomb “The Jackal”) definitely falls into this category.  De Niro is bad when he is not inspired, and he has been so bad in his two films this year (“Showtime” was the other) that you forget this is one of the greatest actors of all time.  And, he is working with only McDormand in many of his scenes, so one would think that prospect would excite him...but, it does not.  His other co-stars?

  • Anson Mount—biggest role to date before “City by the Sea”?  Britney’s lover in “Crossroads”

  • James Franco—did breakthrough with his small part in “Spider-Man”, but also appeared in “Deuces Wild”...yeah, I didn’t see it either

  • Eliza Dushku—yep, she’s hot, but a good actress, this “Buffy” co-star is not

  • William Forsythe—best remembered as the bad guy from Steven Seagal’s “Out for Justice” and the bad guy from Howie Long’s “Firestorm”; guess what?  He’s the bad guy here, too

You know how they say that in sports, teams play to the level of competition on the opposite side of the field?  Well, I think that in the case of film, sometimes it seems like actors just are happy to blend in with the other kids in the pool, and if that pool is full of shitty get my drift.

The foreshadowing in “City by the Sea” is textbook (you can guess what happens when De Niro’s partner doesn’t “wait for the backup”, like all bad movie cops do), the emotional numbers come through at the worst possible times (“Why weren’t you there for me when I needed you most?” while a sniper is taking aim at a lead character), and characters named Snake and Spider make for a predictable experience.  The movie had at least four hearty-laugh scenes that were of unintentionally-comedic nature, and there was a guy sitting next to Aaron that may have had the worst laugh in film audience history.  He also pulled the no-no of pulling out a five-course dinner just as the opening credits rolled, annoying everyone around him as he rifled through his plastic bags for his “silverware”—a plastic knife and a spork, that genius concoction of a spoon with three sharp edges at the end.

Now that I think about it, the spork is more creative than this movie.  Bad, not awful.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09