Saturday, February 16, 2013

Movie Reviews-End of Watch, Looper, Irreversible

End of Watch
directed by David Ayer
End of Watch is a big sloppy wet French kiss to the L.A.P.D., tongue swirl and all. Depending on how you feel about the L.A.P.D. and/or how effectively or whether you are able to put those feelings aside for a movie, you may really enjoy this movie as a neo-western or you may be a bit put off by yet another mainstream film in which most of the dying is done by the racialized other. Just once, I would like to see a modern film in which whites sacrifice for non-whites and die doing so. Those films tend to be pretty rare, Django Unchained notwithstanding. Ok, my particular racial hangups aside, what's this film about and how well does it work?

Well it's directed by the same fellow who wrote Training Day and S.W.A.T. and directed Street Kings and Harsh Times. So if you liked the plot or characterization in those films, you probably will appreciate the storyline here. It's not all that different. Two L.A.P.D. officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miguel Zavala (Michael Pena) are close friends and partners who share a rough camaraderie as they patrol the streets. Brian is a former Marine. Nothing is off limits for them. They tease each other a lot in ways that might be considered inappropriate were it not for their tight bond. Brian playfully mimics the singsong patois of Mexican-American women (Zavala is married to his high school sweetheart Gabby (Natalie Martinez) ) while Miguel cheerfully mocks the nasal Caucasian valley girl vocal rhythms of the Anglo girls Brian pumps and dumps. Brian is starting to get serious about one such woman in particular, Janet (Anna Kendrick). Neither Martinez not Kendrick have a lot to do here since their roles are decidedly secondary but they do very well with what they have. Martinez's big moment comes when she gleefully and graphically describes to a young couple exactly how a newly married wife should ensure that her husband doesn't cheat.
The movie's hook is that Brian is taking pre-law classes. One course is media studies so he's filming everything he and his co-workers do. For obvious reasons, his fellow officers aren't fond of this and tell him so repeatedly. No one wants to show up on youtube. They (jokingly?) threaten to beat him up while one stick in the mud complains to higher authority. The film's sweetest scene is after Brian and Janet have enjoyed carnal knowledge of each other. Janet tells the sleeping Brian (via his camera) how much she loves him but also takes the opportunity to go through his wallet. She finds names and numbers of other women and throws them out, telling the camera "Oh, you won't be needing these any more". I have heard that women sometimes do such things. 
But it's not all just fun and games. The dynamic duo is aggressively looking for bad guys. They don't like writing moving violation citations or handling less dangerous, more routine work, much to their sergeant's (Frank Grillo) dismay. He has ticket quotas that need to be met and he doesn't need cowboys.  Miguel and Brian are also constantly warned against being too aggressive by an older, quite bitter cop, Van Hauser (David Harbour) who tells them that he knows from horrible personal experience that the department will not back them up if things go wrong. Van Hauser is the sort of person people generally avoid speaking to as even telling him "Good Morning" is likely to set off a long diatribe about the person who ******d him over back in 1997 and how he's gonna get him back some day and how he doesn't make enough money, and his woman left him and life is one big bowl of s***. I worked with a few people like that and I'm sure you have also.

Miguel is insulted and challenged to a fight by a Bloods member Tre (real life former Bloods member Cle Sloan). Miguel beats Tre fair and square and arrests him but doesn't charge him with assault because that would have been a third felony. Tre respects this and later tries to do Miguel a favor. But first Tre survives a driveby from the local Mexican-American gang which is assiduously attempting to drive all blacks out of what it now considers to be a Mexican neighborhood. The drug rivalry and racial hatreds feed into each other. The Mexicans are depicted as very much the worst of the worst here though honestly Black people (especially black mothers) don't come off that much better. You could very easily watch this movie and think to yourself "Who the **** lost LA?".  I don't know if that was the film maker's intention or not but that question certainly crossed my mind.
After the driveby murder (they aren't supposed to be investigating it as they are not detectives) Miguel and Brian make a few arrests, shake some people down and stumble upon what they later learn are links between the city's Mexican-American gangs and the Mexican cartels. The cartels have a completely different set of rules regarding murder and who can or can't be killed. The Sinoloa Cartel does not automatically consider police officers to be untouchable. Miguel and Brian unintentionally disrupt an ICE investigation into human trafficking and narcotics importation. They are warned off for jurisdictional issues and concerns about their safety. Of course it wouldn't be much of a movie if they listened to this warning. This movie really looks realistic. I liked the cinematography. Every shot is captured by what looks like handheld cameras, surveillance cameras, dashboard mounted or cop mounted cameras or even night-vision. There's more than a hint of conspiracy or federal cover-up as we see ICE or other agencies gather intelligence on threats to L.A.P.D. officers without sharing it with that department. 
Yahira Garcia, aka Flakiss , a Latina rapper with no acting experience, steals most of the scenes she's in as "Lala", a swaggering thugged out racist lesbian gangster. She's Snoop's (from The Wire) evil twin. America Ferrara, Cody Davis, Shrondella Avery, and Kristy Wu also have roles. Obviously this is a violent film. There's gunplay, beatings and dead bodies. I didn't think it was over the top for an action film but YMMV. I'm kind of inured to cinematic mayhem. There are a few scenes which I DID think pushed the limit so take that for what it's worth. The film makes a few sharp changes in tone, which may catch you by surprise. The finality of death, as well as its banality, punches you in the gut. If I were a cop not only would I always have vests and body armor I think I would make sure I'm coming home at end of watch no matter who else gets got.
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Looper
directed by Rian Johnson
There are some movies which almost must be seen a few times just to get all of the little hints and stories within stories that are being told. Looper may well be one such film. I watched it a few weeks back and will probably watch it again this weekend. It was really that good. It could be a new Matrix. Time travel is something that has always fascinated people perhaps because it opens up some unanswerable questions about destiny, free will and causation. While supposedly physics allows for time travel  as far as I know no one has ever done it. I'm not sure if special and general relativity also allow for time travel into the future as that would really throw causation into question. It's like the ball being hit before the pitcher throws the ball. I remember reading somewhere that such a thing would also imply faster than light speed which also seems to be a fundamental quality of our universe. I don't know. I'm not a physicist and all of this is FAR beyond me. Maybe someone with physics knowledge can chime in.

Time travel into the past seems to be a bit more conceivable but again you get into that tricky question of destiny and free will. Physics has some theories about different choices (quantum) creating different universes. I am making the choice to type these words right now but perhaps in another universe I didn't and so my life goes down a different path. And maybe every living being makes an infinite number of choices and so there are literally an infinite number of universes. Maybe your mother didn't smile at your father at just the right time and so you never existed. Maybe you don't exist now and are just a figment of my imagination. Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" was an excellent short story that examined the perils that time travel into the past could engender. Looper is an excellent movie that examines all of the decisions that you make and how they impact your life. I know for damn sure I wish I had some decisions back because they turned out to be the wrong decisions. But what if I could send myself back in time a decade or more to talk to myself. Would the younger Shady listen?  What if the younger and older Shady not only don't like each other but have violently conflicting interests? Or would this all be pointless because what will be will be? The moving pen writes and having writ moves on and such. Or maybe time is really an illusion. Perhaps past, present and future are all one and it's just that our perception is tragically limited, much like the square in Flatland who is visited by a sphere, whom he perceives as a circle that can randomly and apparently magically change in size.

It's hard to talk too much about this film without giving spoilers but basically in 2044 time travel is not only considered possible it actually takes place. Or to be more precise, it takes place in 2074 but the effects occur in 2044. See by 2074 time travel has been invented but it's not legal. Murder still exists but it's virtually impossible to get rid of a body. So criminal organizations being nothing if not inventive send their victims back in time (with payment attached) to 2044 where hitmen called loopers kill them and dispose of the body. Eventually the looper's future self will be sent back to 2044 where he will be murdered by a younger version of himself. No witnesses, no bodies, no snitches. This is called closing the loop. Left unexplained is exactly why the older looper in 2074 wouldn't have the memories of what he did in the past and what his employers intended to do to him. It seems like such a person, being the resourceful violent thug that he is would take steps to kill people in 2074 or failing that go underground. Anyway as is explained in voiceover the hitter business doesn't attract a lot of deep thinkers. So it's a nice little setup for looper Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cold blooded man who is also skimming a little bit from the payments he receives. Joe also has a thang going on that is a little more than client/call girl but something less than boyfriend/girlfriend with prostitute/stripper Suzie. (Piper Perabo)
An affably evil hitman from the future Abe (Jeff Daniels) oversees everything to make sure no one gets too far out of line or asks questions they shouldn't. Joe's co-worker and only friend Seth (Paul Dano) shows up at Joe's apartment with a harrowing tale. Seth was on the verge of closing his own loop when his future self told him they were being played and that some unknown man called the Rainmaker was killing all the loopers prematurely. Seth thought twice about killing his future self. Older Seth escaped and now Abe and his crew are looking for both Seths to terminate them. Initially Joe hides Seth but when Abe explains the facts of life Joe sees the light. Eventually Joe terminates his own future self (Bruce Willis). Or does he? Gordon-Levitt not only wears makeup and prosthetics to make himself reasonably look like a younger Bruce Willis, he also does a pretty fair job of mimicking Willis' thin-lipped smirk, vocal cadence and casual one liners. Future Joe has his own plans, which obviously conflict with those of present day Joe.

Words can't explain how good this movie is. Just see it. It combines action, drama, some really deep questions about causation and time, Freudian overtones, and oh yes, the battle for one soul's redemption. And the special effects are not only awesome, they are surprising, which is getting increasingly hard to do. Emily Blunt and child actor Pierce Gagnon have critical roles. I also liked this film because the ending does not explain everything that happened or will happen. You can have different interpretations. It's a pretty smart flick and doesn't spoon feed you things. Looper shows that sci-fi or action films can be just as smart as any talky drama. I'm definitely going to watch this again because even writing this I can think of a few things which I missed or am now thinking about differently. Once you start to think about the paradoxes and loops within loops you might have to sit down for a while.
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Irreversible
directed by Gaspar Noe
I think Monica Bellucci is one of the planet's most beautiful women. Because I recently watched Amelie I thought I'd check out another French language movie. So for those two reasons I sat down and watched Irreversible in its entirety. As the President might say, let me be perfectly clear. This was a mistake! I should not have watched this film. Let me say that again in stronger language. Watching this movie was like going to an expensive exclusive restaurant , sit down to eat a scrumptious looking salad, think the taste is odd and then discover a half-eaten piece of excrement in your salad bowl. So you will gag, attempt to vomit, demand alcohol and mouthwash and spend the next few hours trying to forget what you just did. And when you angrily confront the waiter, chef and management, they smugly point to small print on the menu that reads "There may be small pieces of sh** in salad added for taste. Caveat emptor!!"

To be fair, I had heard that some of this movie's scenes were rough. Bellucci herself had said they were among the toughest things she ever did. I had seen bits and pieces of Irreversible over the years and knew the basic story outline. But I had never watched the film all the way through or seen the infamous scene unedited. So this was a bit of a shock. And I don't shock easy.

Irreversible tells the story in reverse chronological order and jumps around a bit. This can be confusing sometimes but it would have worked here were it not for the underlying ugliness. Two men, Marcus (Vincent Cassel-Bellucci's real life husband) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel), are frantically searching for the homosexual pimp who attacked, beat and raped Alex (Monica Bellucci). The rape scene is the ugliest, harshest and bloodiest I've ever seen. It's also seemingly interminable. Unwatchable. There are ways to show that someone is the bad guy without also seeming to enjoy the defilement and degradation of a woman. 

Marcus and Alex are an item. Alex and Pierre used to be together but in a bit of strangeness Marcus and Pierre are good friends. The trio hang out together constantly and don't mind sharing intimate details. At a party Marcus is behaving like a bit of a jerk. He's high and fondling other women. Alex gets annoyed and leaves, declining Pierre's offer to escort her home.

Homosexuals and transgender people are portrayed as the scum of the earth, who aggressively seek to inflict their "perversions" on other people. The homosexual/S&M underworld is NOT a place you want to visit. Things that were hinted at in Blue Velvet are shown in full frontal here. Cassel does a good job portraying the anguished guilt and insensate rage of a man who will kill the entire world if that's what it takes to get rid of the fact that he failed to protect his woman. His acting is about the only "good" thing in this film. Now where's my mouthwash?
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