End Of Watch: Film Review

For a delightfully different kind of cop movie, pick End Of Watch.

Here, there’s no big gunfight set piece where the members of the force fight street gangs. There’s no good cop versus bad cop either. There’s not even really a big case that involves a huge twisted plot to begin with. There’s no intentional wisecracking and there are no witty one-liners to get you into the characters. There’s

What exists is a movie about two cops who are just doing their jobs. Like you doing your job and me doing mine. The difference is, their job constitutes of dealing with some very nasty bastards and being in some very hairy situations. This movie brings us near their jobs, documentary-style (complete with shaky, dizzying handheld camera work that gave me motion sickness – so you know the lengths they went to make this look as real as possible), so you get pulled really deeply into its intensity.

Far be it from me to judge its authenticity, but the story feels very honest. Even at its funniest (such as when a blowjob is being discussed) or gruesome (like when knife was sticking out of a guy’s eye), it never seemed gimmicky. When they talk down on a rookie cop, it’s not comic relief – it’s genuine abuse. When they rescue kids from danger, it’s not a heroic moment – it’s real responsibility.

Props must be given to Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña for being able to delivering that honesty to us. Gyllenhaal tones down his charm and ends up giving one of the best performances in his career (I’m not a fan of his so consider that a high praise from me), but my favorite was Michael Peña. He was amusing, charming, engaging and earnest in this role – not just a perfect balancing act for the more serious cop Gyllenhaal played, but also the real star of the show. Definitely not bad for two actors who reportedly did not really click on the first day of shooting.

Supporting roles from the likes of Anna Kendrick and America Ferrera were also interesting to see but instead of being a crowded star-studded movie, this remained a low-key arthouse-esque cop flick. And it’s all the better for it. (Lay off the shaking camera movement, though.) End Of Watch is one movie you’d be glad you’d sit through for almost 2 hours.

Frankenweenie (2012): Film Review

Tim Burton is ALIVE!

After the disappointing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that he produced and the underwhelming Dark Shadows, you would wonder whether Tim Burton would end this year with a third strike and send him out of the game for a good long while. But, as they say, third’s time a charm and one of my favorite filmmakers in the world has proven it. His last feature of 2012, Frankenweenie, is the winning bat.

When young Victor Frankenstein lost his dog Sparky to a car accident, he was desolate. But inspired by a lesson in science class and his own father’s words (“If we could bring him back alive, we would”), Victor came up with a way to resurrect Sparky. So he did. Then someone found out his secret and all hell – literally – broke loose. In the ensuing chaos, a love letter was born… to the people, the characters and the films that made Tim Burton the filmmaker that he is today.

It’s clearly a very personal movie. Burton made Frankenweenie as a short film for Disney back when he was a 25-year-old animator working for the company. But the project was shelved and he got depressed. So it’s sweetly ironic that he got to resurrect this project for the same studio that cancelled it. As such, it comes as no surprise that there’s a myriad of references to Burton’s old movies and the classic ones he used to watch as a child. There was everything from Edward Scissorhands to Batman, and The Mummy to Gremlins, and even Godzilla, complete with a Japanese character (a boy named Toshiaki). But instead of pastiche, the ‘borrowed’ ideas did not only create much of the film’s humor but also brought to it a thrilling and captivating sense of adventure.

While the idea is probably not refreshing (Cabin In The Woods is also a movie that was a love/hate letter to horror movies), the feeling of freshness is prevalent throughout. The reason for that is the wide-eyed innocence of the narrators, Victor and Sparky. As we follow the story from the boy and his dog’s points of view, we are taken back into our childhood. Whether you were lucky enough to own a pet when you were young or not, that special friendship with someone or something you had when you were little was evoked so powerfully in this relationship that Victor had with Sparky.

But none of this would probably work if the film hadn’t been in black and white. I couldn’t not imagine the film being as wonderful if it had been in color. It could be that we associate black and white photographs to the past and so the vision of story became more powerful that way. Or it could be that the black and white softened the morbidity of the story. Or maybe it was Burton’s way to subtly direct us to focus on the story so that we wouldn’t get distracted by the visuals. Whatever it was, this technique worked. And it worked perfectly.

Anyone tired of seeing modern-day animated movies, with all the smooth digital rendering and life-like images, would also find the animation in this movie highly attractive. As Burton said, stop motion seemed like a dead art in filmmaking. Certainly, the most successful animated movies in recent years hadn’t been done in stop motion. But Frankenweenie will give us a new appreciation for it. Even if it doesn’t help to sell tickets of the stop motion animated movies, it will at least show people that the art is, like Sparky, pretty much alive.

I cannot give this movie enough praise. It’s simply an experience to have on your own. It may have a logic-defying plot but is thoroughly heartfelt, evocative, adventurous, exhilarating, fantastical and magical: very entertaining for kids – a way to experience monsters without having to have nightmares later – but profound enough for adults to enjoy. And who knows, maybe it’ll inspire parents to understand their kids better? Because my favorite line from the movie is one that I would hold dear for the rest of my life and probably one day convey to my child.

    Victor’s dad to Victor: “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about.”*

And that is, really, the message that Burton seemed to be trying to tell us: sometimes being an adult is boring, so trust your inner child and just have fun. I could be wrong, of course, but heck, that’s a pretty damn good line anyway.

Frankenweenie is easily one of my favorite movies of 2012, along with – among others – The Artist, The Avengers, Prometheus and The Raid. I would recommend it to everyone. And yes, I will recommend this in 3D.

* Note: This quote is an approximation. I will correct it later with the real one from the movie.

Dredd 3D (2012): Film Review

After pining for it for about a week, I got to see Dredd, the Pete Travis-directed and Alex Garland-penned movie based on the character from the comic book 2000 AD. If you’re like me, who’s a fan of Karl Urban and geeky enough to follow Comic-Con news, then you know the hype has been around for some time… and you’d have heard of the enthusiastic response it got from this year’s SDCC. So with that kind of prelude for the movie prior to its release, naturally I had high expectations.

And it did not disappoint.

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Is it just me… or is George Lazenby actually an OK Bond? (Bond 50 Edition)

Ah, George Lazenby. Whenever I hear the song of my favorite Scandinavian singer Sondre Lerche, Like Lazenby, I am always reminded of everybody’s favorite black sheep of the Bond family. It had been years, when the Lerche song was released in 2009, since I saw the Aussie’s first and only Bond outing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I told myself to watch this film again but never got round to doing it until last week when, in preparation to create a Bond special that we’re planning for our magazine, I bought the movie on DVD. And it surprised me to realize that hey, Lazenby wasn’t that bad.

Hear me out. First of all we have to remember that James Bond is not exactly a difficult character to play. All he has to do is show up, find out who’s messing around with the world at any given time, check back with M and catch the bad guy while traveling to exotic locations and romancing the ladies. It’s not like he’s the brain of MI6 operations who has to deal with a suspected treason by someone who is an upper echelon of an esteemed agency and conduct an investigation in secret like George Smiley. Bond movies essentially are boy fantasies – the cool gadgets, the swanky cars, the dashing suits and the impossibly gorgeous ladies. If Le Carre is the thriller of the so-called espionage genre, Fleming is the romance of the genre.

There is no need to hire someone like Gary Oldman to play this bloke. Of course it does help if your Bond can act too, but we don’t need an Oscar winner in this role. In fact, given the amount of action set pieces the movies have and the crazy stunts the character is given to do, it’s better to have a physical actor as Bond. It just so happened that the first Bond actor Albert Broccoli got was Sean Connery, who by the time he took on Bond in Dr. No, had already had a considerable amount of acting experience. Lazenby’s ‘mistake’, if we could put the blame on him, is that he was the one Broccoli gave the role to after Connery got even better at acting and was already established for playing Bond. In my opinion, it was a case of ‘being in the right place on the wrong time’. Perhaps if he were to play Bond after Roger Moore…

But looking at the movie itself, I could find nothing exactly wrong with Lazenby’s acting. He was said to be a bad actor by some of the hoity toity critics of the time but, looking back, I find most movies in the past were acted in a certain way. I’m a child of the ’80s and a product of ’90s. I wasn’t born yet when Connery, Lazenby and Moore started their Bond tenure. So when I looked back to Bond in my formative years (after discovering him in mid ’90s through Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye) I wasn’t fussed about how Lazenby acted. I looked at the film, found out the story and decided that, well, it was good enough for me.

Today OHMSS even seems like the best Bond film so far in terms of story. It is ridiculously compelling: Bond wanted to go after his archenemy Blofeld but was denied by his superior, so he turned to a criminal boss with connections that could help him. He met the woman who fascinated him so much that he genuinely wanted to marry her and settle down. And after he took down the villain with their help and finally married her, she was killed on their way to their honeymoon in a vengeful drive-by shooting. Sure, a more capable actor would’ve delivered Bond’s words to the policeman at the of the film in a more poignant and emotional way. But even with the way Lazenby said it, I could already feel the pain. Imagine that happening to you on the day of your wedding. You don’t need a better actor to convey just how insanely heartbreaking that was; it was horrible enough the way it was.

Lazenby’s lines were a little silly but most Bond lines were silly before Daniel Craig revolutionized the role and made his cold expressions work for him. Perhaps he was rather stiff in certain scenes but that didn’t diminish the fact that he cut a handsome figure, be it in a suit, kilt or ski gear. Some of his Australian accent seeped through the dialogue but Connery, too, had a brogue. And if his expressions in certain scenes weren’t emotional enough, you can say the same of about two dozens actors in Hollywood working today who play lesser roles than James Bond.

Some of the resentment towards this man probably also stemmed from the fact that Lazenby renounced the role after his alleged bad experience making the movie. He could’ve probably played in more Bond movies if he wasn’t in a hurry to end his ties to the studio. If it’s true what is said about how he claimed the producers treated him like he was an idiot then perhaps the fault goes both ways. (I imagine some producers and filmmakers could be utter snobs and creative differences are a common occurrence in the industry. Surely this happens even to the best of them.)

This, however, has no bearing on the fact that Lazenby didn’t make OHMSS an awful film. In fact, many fans will agree with me that OHMSS is actually one of the best Bond films. Certainly if people are still remembering the film today, be it because they like Diana Rigg’s amazing performance as Tracy Draco or because they want to remember how bad Lazenby is like me, then Lazenby had already done his job in keeping this movie alive throughout the years.

It is my opinion that there is no good or bad Bond, although there are good and bad Bond films. Whoever plays Bond, he is there to make sure the movie works. Lazenby, whether you hate him or love him, had done just that. In my eyes, he has done Her Majesty and the 007 institution a decent – if unappreciated – service.