End of Watch: two of LAPD’s finest end up with a bounty on their heads after accidentally disrupting the activities of a brutal cartel. From the opening car chase this feels very realistic, shot primarily on dashboard / surveillance / handheld cameras etc. This style not only lends itself to authenticity – glamour is played down throughout – but heightens the drama and urgency of action sequences. Both leads (Gyllenhaal and Peña) are superb, the naturalistic script makes them genuinely feel like friends, and their performances make you believe that they are regular guys – the fire scene in particular shows us that they are real heroes. What sets this aside from most cop films is that the antagonists are painted as being so ruthless and violent that there’s a genuine sense of danger that simmers throughout the film, hitting boiling point at the climax. My only major issue is that because the overall style is ‘handheld’/’genuine’ footage, characters in the middle of drive-by shootings / full-blown firefights / intimate moments are always carrying a camera/phone etc; even when there’s plenty shots in the film that aren’t handheld, so it seems a bit stupid. Also, if the penultimate scene had been cut, the ending would have also been so much more powerful. Niggles aside, End of Watch is a stunning cop film, with a strong ‘buddy’ vibe, real threat and two great performances at its heart. This is easily the best cop film in years, and arguably ever.
30 Minutes or Less: two lazy rednecks kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank. There are plenty laughs here, but several unnecessary handicaps for a comedy film: the central character is a negative-Nancy and continually craps all over the knockabout tone of the film; some of the stuff is pretty grim (family murder/kidnap/bomb-vests) but related jokes are all played like is was a standard upbeat comedy; finally, it’s such a stupid, stupid story – especially when the hitman & strippers are added – that you lose interest. Both hicks were funny, McBride is token McBride and Swardson is a solid partner for him. The dialogue didn’t feel quick / smart / dry / sarcastic / scathing enough for Eisenberg‘s brand of humour, making it easy for Ansari to really shine as the comedy highlight. It’s a textbook example of when a trailer features and ruins all of the best gags. The story would have made a fantastic black comedy or screwball (given the number of ridiculous plot developments) but by playing it safe just leaves the film feeling messy and all over the place. Still, it’s entertaining and quite funny, but the silliness means it’s mostly forgettable; definitely sub-Zombieland.
Battle: Los Angeles – Aliens have come to invade our planet, and of all the cities in the world, we totally can’t lose LA!!! Hang on a second, I think I’ve seen something like this recently… There’s one simple thing would have made this better – a tripod. You spend around 80% of the time having no idea of what was going on other than ‘shit is being blown up’ and ‘it’s been filmed on shaky cam’. It’s more of a war film than any other invasion movie, made apparent by the film being propped up with the aid of every single war cliche you can think of. The music was a big miss, with ultra generic music – particularly the bursting-with-pride-and-sentiment soliloquies. Speaking of which, these solders are so amazing that it feels a bit like it could have been funded by Marines, and aimed at Marines. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more like a film you’ve seen before WHAM – Michelle Rodriguez pops up as a female soldier. For all the wrongs in Battle LA, you do have to see this in a cinema, but only because it’s so big, flashy and loud. The bottom line here is that Battle LA is Skyline, but with a bigger budget and MARINES instead of civilians.
The Lincoln Lawyer: follows a defense attorney that will represent any scumbag if the money’s right, but his latest case isn’t all it seems. First off, this is way, way better than the trailer makes the film look. Being based on a successful novel, the story’s rock solid, and stands up to the best court-based dramas out there at the moment (i.e. The Good Wife). There’s plenty interesting developments as the story moves forward. It’s also quite slick and really well made; the standout shot being the long revolving one in the courthouse. From out of nowhere McConaughey’s is excellent as a streetwise southern lawyer and Phillippe rises to the challenge with an equally believable performance. It’s a little slow in the 3rd quarter, and could have probably done without the last 15 minutes (everything after the major verdict) but hey ho, it still works well. Sack the casting director too; putting in two of the three most obvious latino typecasts working today. I was pleasantly surprised walking out of the cinema after this, well worth your time if you like your legal-flicks, topped off with a superb bluesy/R&B soundtrack.
Shooter: ex-sniper with a vanishing pony-tail (stupidly) gets caught up on the wrong end of a presidential assassination attempt. The politics and explanations in this were so clichéd and had so many twists / conspiracies that Michael Moore could have written it. Wahlberg’s not exactly on form, and pretty much mumbles his way through the majority of the script, which is heavy on the sniper talk – giving the film (and Swagger) authenticity. The best thing about this film was the action, and although there’s not loads, it’s was about quality over quantity – especially the cottage shoot-out and counter-sniping scenes. The ending feels totally rushed, with everything being cleared up in about two minutes flat. It’s an OK flick, but ends up way off target.