Movie Review: End of Watch (2012)

October 16, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I initially wasn’t planning on watching End of Watch even though it was directed and written by David Ayer, the same guy who gave us Training Day (as well as SWAT and Street Kings) — which was fantastic but also emotionally draining and exhausting to get through because it was so heavy duty. The trailer made it look like just another gritty cop drama, which I usually prefer to catch on DVD rather than at the cinemas. But in the end, strong word of mouth won me over.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as two police officers working in South Central LA, which is one nasty place filled with drug dealers, gangs and drive by shootings. Gyllenhaal’s character is doing a film project for class, which requires him to carry around a camera whilst on duty.

I didn’t like how the film started or where it appeared to be heading. I am sick of these “found footage” or faux documentary films made with shaky cameras that make me want to throw up, and End of Watch initially made me think that the whole film was going to be a frustratingly nauseating ride.

Fortunately, although somewhat strangely, the film more or less reverted back to traditional film-making methods with steady shots, interspersed with these film project cams and other police security cams (such as from their patrol vehicle). On the one hand it was a relief knowing I wouldn’t have to feel like vomiting all throughout the movie, but on the other it begged the question of why those shaky shots were necessary at all, given it wasn’t pretending to be real footage anyway.

Like Training Day, End of Watch is gritty and hardcore, with intense action, edge-of-your-seat suspense and confronting scenes that challenge the audience to not avert their gaze. The key difference between the two films is that End of Watch is driven by the close friendship and brotherhood between the two leads. I like Gyllenhaal and I love Pena (I think he is one of Hollywood’s funniest and most underrated actors), so I guess that helped skew things in the film’s favour for me.

The movie is dedicated to police officers, but it’s not a total suck job like say Act of Valor. The characters are presented as believable people with personality quirks and flaws, real hopes and fears. It’s proof that well fleshed out characters can do wonders in terms of engaging the audience.

The supporting cast is also solid, including the recently omnipresent Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez, who play the partners of the two leads, as well as America Ferrera aka Ugly Betty, a no-nonsense female police officer. Special mention goes to Yahira Garcia, who was frighteningly convincing as gang member Lala (at least for someone who has no idea what gang members act like).

End of Watch is a film that creeps up on you. In the beginning I was thought I was going to hate it because of the camera issues. Then for a while I thought it was repetitive and wasn’t getting anywhere — it felt like a Cops marathon, with the two officers going on episodic missions, one after another, with no real sense of a progressive narrative.

Eventually, as the various strands began to become tied together, I discovered that it was actually a very well-crafted film. The final climax, in particular, was riveting stuff, as suspenseful as anything I’ve seen from an action or thriller this year. It was also good to see the film not bow down to cliches and finish on a strong note that tugs the heartstrings by just the right amount.

On the whole, End of Watch wasn’t quite what I had expected, but it turned out to be a satisfying experience largely thanks to the genuine chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena. I did have some issues with the arguably unnecessary shaky camera and an occasionally stagnant narrative during the first half, but all things considered it’s still a superior action thriller.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: It’s actually a good thing if you don’t know what End of Watch means (its a euphemism) because it gives away part of the plot.

Movie Review: 30 Minutes or Less (2011)

January 2, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

The good thing about being stuck a home with a baby is that I can finally start to catch up on my backlog of posts without having an opportunity to increase that backlog.

So today I am going to start with a movie review, the surprisingly decent 30 Minutes or Less.

Danny McBride is a somewhat polarising figure.  We know he can be funny (Pineapple Express) but we also know he can be annoyingly unfunny (Your Highness).  Now we know he can play nasty, stupid villain quite well too.

In the Ruben Fleischer-directed 30 Minutes or Less, he plays a scheming slacker who is after his father’s “fortune”, and together with his bumbling but  knowledgeable sidekick (Nick Swardson) come up with an unnecessary convoluted plan to get his hands on the money.  Without giving away too much more, that plan somehow involves putting under duress Jesse Eisenberg’s character Nick, an abused pizza delivery boy who works for a pizza joint that offers the titular “30 minutes or less” delivery policy (or you get your pizza free and the money comes out of the delivery boy’s wages).

Like many other McBride films, 30 Minutes or Less is highly sporadic, relies on sex jokes (though not as extreme or frequently as some of his other films) and is frankly a little hit and miss — that said, I did find it quite funny.  There was more plot than I had expected (which, for a McBride movie, doesn’t necessarily mean much), but what I think helped the film was the wonderfully talented comedic cast.

Jesse Eisenberg, coming off his performance as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, isn’t overtly funny but does a great job as the straight man in this farce.  It’s similar to what he did in Zombieland, also a film directed by Ruben Fleischer.

Eisenberg allows the comedic talents of the other actors to shine through, in particular his best friend, Indian-American comedian  Aziz Ansari, who has some ripper lines and, for lack of a better expression, a funny face.  Another, who almost steals the show, is Michael Pena, who is utterly hilarious as an assassin.  Fred Ward, who plays McBride’s domineering father, is pretty good as well.

I guess it depends on your tolerance level for jokes based on stupidity and crudeness.  For me, 30 Minutes or Less pressed my buttons but didn’t cross my threshold, which is why I thought it was one of the better comedies of the year.

3.5 stars out of 5!

 
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