“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review

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“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review

If there is one present day screenwriter who has written so much about the working-class neighborhoods of Los Angeles, it is writer-director David Ayer. In the past, he has written crime dramas such as “TRAINING DAY”“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS”“DARK BLUE” and “STREET KINGS”. Just last year, he added another entry in his crime filmography with last year’s “END OF WATCH”

Shot in documentary style (at least some of it), “END OF WATCH” followed the daily grind of Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, two young Los Angeles Police Department beat officers who are both partners and close friends, who patrol the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Taylor, a former U.S. Marine, is video recording his police activities for a film class, much to the annoyance of his fellow cops. The partners deal with a fire, occupants of a crack house, a public disturbance call that leads to a fight between a Bloods gang member named Tre and Zavalas, and a noisy party filled with Latino gang members that include a leader named Big Evil. But when Taylor has a hunch about Big Evil and convinces Zavalas that they should stake out the house of the home of the gang leader’s mother. When they do, the partners pull over a truck that leaves the house, arrest the driver and discover ornately-decorated firearms and a large amount of money inside the truck. Further investigations of the house leads to the discovery of more arms, human trafficking victims, and a warning from an ICE agent that the partners have stumbled into an operation with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. The agent warns Taylor and Zavalas that they are over their heads, but the two officers end up ignoring him. The young officers’ private lives are also explored. Zavalas’ wife is pregnant with their second child and Taylor meets and ends up marrying a young woman named Janet.

“END OF WATCH” is not a bad movie. It provided an interesting look at the daily lives of police patrolmen in the working class neighborhoods of Los Angeles. In a way, it almost reminds me of the 1988 movie, “COLORS”. In many ways. The movie also benefited from some superb performances by leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. The two actors managed to create a sizzling screen chemistry that made the close relationship between the two characters believable. They especially shined in the movie’s last reel, which featured Zavalas’ account of an embarrassing and funny encounter with his in-laws. And I also found Ayer’s direction very energetic. To my surprise, I was not even bothered by the the movie’s handheld camera format. And Ayer’s handling of the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang members, who are working on behalf of the Mexican cartel, was outstanding. In fact, I consider this last scene to be the movie’s pièce de résistance.

Despite the virtues I have listed . . . I did not like “END OF WATCH”. I do not dislike the movie. But I did not like it very much. Part of my disappointment with the film has to do with David Ayer’s screenplay. I could not tell whether he had intended for “END OF WATCH” to simply be a documentary style look into the lives of two police patrolmen . . . or a story about two police officers’ troubles with a Mexican crime cartel. It seemed as if he was trying to mix two different crime genres and failed to balance it out. It did not help that the subplot regarding Taylor’s film project had no real impact on the movie’s main narrative and it was simply discarded two-thirds into the movie. Ayer’s script allowed an ICE agent to warn Taylor and Zavalas that they had stumbled into a Mexican cartel operation following their arrest of the truck driver. But when an ICE surveillance camera recorded a cartel member putting a hit on the two young officers using Big Evil’s gang, the ICE agent failed to make a reappearance to warn the pair. Instead, Ayer’s script allows Tre to issue the warning. And I found myself asking . . . why. Why did Ayer allow Tre to issue a warning about the hit and not the ICE agent?

Aside from Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, the movie’s other characters strike me as one-dimensional . . . especially the character of Tre and the members of Big Evil’s gang. In fact, some of their dialogue felt as if it was over two decades old and had been lifted straight from “COLORS”. Ayers tried to broaden the other characters. He managed to somewhat succeed with the Gabby Zavalas character, portrayed by Natalie Martinez. But everyone else seemed to fall flat. David Harbour was simply wasted as disenchanted police officer Van Hauser, who continuously warned the two younger officers that the L.A.P.D. will stab them in the back one back. Unfortunately, Ayer never explained Van Hauser’s mindset. Watching“END OF WATCH”, I found it hard to believe that Anna Kendrick was once nominated for an Academy Award. She was surely wasted in this film as Taylor’s girlfriend and eventual wife. And her character struck me as even more one-dimensional as the gang members.

I wish I could say that I liked “END OF WATCH”. The trailer had impressed me. I was also impressed by the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Michael Peña, who projected a dynamic screen chemistry. And I found the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang dynamic. But somewhere along the way, the one-dimensional supporting characters and questionable subplots simply left me cold.

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“BREAKING DAWN, PART I” (2011) Review

“BREAKING DAWN, PART I” (2011) Review

Recently, Warner Brothers Studios decided to split its adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s last HARRY POTTER novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” into two movie adaptations. The first was released in the fall of 2010 and the second half, last July. Apparently, they decided to do the same with Stephanie Meyer’s last TWILIGHT novel, “Breaking Dawn”

I discovered that Meyer wrote the novel in three sections. The first section dealt with Bella Swan’s marriage to vampire Edward Cullen and their honeymoon in Brazil. There, she discovers that she is pregnant and that her unborn child’s growth is accelerating at a rapid pace. The second section dealt with shape-shifter Jacob Black’s efforts to save Bella and her unborn child from the Quileute wolf pack, who believe that the child is a monster and poses a threat to the community. The child’s birth nearly kills Bella and leads Jacob to “imprint” (or sense his “soul mate”) upon her. And Edward saves Bella by turning her into a vampire. The final section deals with Bella’s transformation into a vampire, and the Cullens and Jacob’s efforts to save the new baby named Renesmee from the Volturi, who sees her as a threat. Melissa Rosenberg based the screenplay for “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” on the novel’s first two sections.

How did I feel about “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”? I might as well be frank. It sucked. There. I said it. All right. There were a few aspects of the movie that I found entertaining. Billy Burke was funny as ever as Bella’s sardonic father, Charlie Swan. However, not all of the humor came from him. I have to admit that the entire sequence featuring Bella and Edward’s wedding struck me as rather funny. Taylor Lautner, as usual, made some sequences of the movie rather bearable. I realize that I am going to be slapped down for this, but his screen presence has grown rather considerably since he first appeared in 2008’s “TWILIGHT”. Both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison gave decent performances. But I was really impressed by Lautner. The final action sequence in which the Cullens, Jacob, Leah Clearwater and Seth Clearwater fought to protect Bella and her child from the Quileute wolf pack struck me as pretty exciting. However, the birth of Bella and Edward’s child turned out to be one of the most tense and excruciating birth scenes I have ever seen on film. I never want to experience such a thing again. The only reason I had listed it as a virtue was that I thought it was well shot by director Bill Condon.

Despite the virtues I had listed in the previous paragraph, I still believe that “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” sucked. And I cannot decide whether it was the worst or second worst movie in the franchise. The movie had its share of overwrought dialogue and one-dimensional characterization that has marred the franchise since the beginning. Melissa Rosenberg has a lot to answer for. Since the adaptation of this last novel was divided into two films, moviegoers (who were not squeeing fangirls of the franchise) were forced to endure Edward and Bella’s excruciating honeymoon in Brazil. God, what a torment that turned out to be! I realize that the honeymoon sequence was important to the story, considering that it featured Renesmee’s conception and Bella’s discovery of her unusual pregnancy. But was it really necessary to inflict scene after scene of the newly married couple cavorting on a private Brazilian island?

There is another aspect of “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” that really disturbs me. Why on earth did Charlie Swan’s closest friend and Jacob’s father, Billy Black, never warned Charlie about Edward’s true identity? Now, I realize that such a revelation would have forced him to tell Charlie the truth about his family and tribe. But one would think that Bella’s safety was more important. He kept his mouth shut when Edward and Bella first dated. And continued to remain mum when the young couple finally married. I hate to say this, but Billy Black’s silence on the identity of the Cullen family continues to astound me to this day. One can only wonder how Charlie will react to Bella’s transformation into a vampire.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”, but . . . who am I fooling? I could not care less. I disliked the film. Hell, I dislike the franchise. And no action sequence or tortuous childbirth scene could save this movie for me. But since other members of my family are fans of the franchise, I have one last TWILIGHT movie to endure, later this year. And then it will be all over. Thank God!

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

Three weeks ago, the third installment of the ”TWILIGHT” Saga was released in theaters. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2007 novel and directed by David Slade, ”ECLIPSE” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager, her love for vampire Edward Cullen and her friendship with the werewolf shape shifter, Jacob Black. 

”ECLIPSE” began not long after the 2009 movie, ”NEW MOON” ended. In Seattle, a young college student named Riley Biers is attacked and turned by a vampire. He soon becomes the center of a plot hatched by the red-haired vampire Victoria, to turn and create more newborn vampires to be used as an army for further attacks against Bella, Edward and the Cullens. Meanwhile, Bella and Edward continue their plans for a future wedding and Bella’s eventual transformation into a vampire back in Forks. Their plans are complicated by Bella’s friendship with Jacob and the rest of a local werewolf pack – traditional enemies of the Cullen clan. Worse, Jacob still continues to harbor love for Bella and she discovers that she finds herself physically attracted to him – despite her love for Edward. The two plotlines eventually converge when Alice Cullen has a vision of the newborn army attacking Forks led by Riley Biers. Jacob, accompanied by two fellow werewolves Quil and Embry, overhear this, which leads to an alliance between the Cullens and the Wolf pack.

Before ”ECLIPSE” had been released in movie theaters, advertisements and fans of the TWILIGHT saga began claiming that this film was the best of the three movies released so far. Considering my low opinion of the first two movies, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with them. It was certainly better than the first two films in the franchise. What made it better? Quite frankly, Victoria’s plot to kill Bella and get her revenge for her lover James’ death in ”TWILIGHT” did the trick. This particular plotline was responsible for the Cullens and Jacob’s Wolf pack to finally form some kind of alliance. I found it quite interesting to watch the Cullens and the Wolf pack battle against Victoria, Riley and their minions. This plotline also allowed Edward and Jacob to somewhat cease their constantly annoying rivalry over Bella . . . finally. There were other aspects of the film that I liked. I found it interesting to learn about the origins of the Quileute tribe’s hostilities against vampires. I also found the back stories for both Rosalie Hale and Jasper Hale rather interesting. It turns out that Jasper’s background in training newborn vampires for his sire Maria allowed Bella to understand how Victoria was using Riley Biers.

Despite these positive aspects about ”ECLIPSE”, I still found it a trial to watch. Why? Simple. I still had to endure the incredibly dull and tortuous love story between Bella and Edward. Even worse was the incredibly dull and tortuous love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob. Mind you, it seemed a bit surprising to learn that Bella was also attracted to Jacob. But it really did not help matters. Especially when I had to endure the god-awful dialogue between Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, written by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. I fear that Ms. Rosenberg had to utilize a good deal of the dialogue from Stephanie Meyer’s novel. One scene that had me writhing in despair featured Bella’s attempt to “seduce” Edward into having sex, following a conversation she had with her father about her virginity. It went on too . . . damn . . . long. And the dialogue was simply awful. Another scene that tested my nerves and patience centered on Jacob’s attempt to convince Edward to give up Bella, in order to stop her from becoming a vampire. The only thing that made this scene remotely bearable was Lautner’s occasional witty dialogue.

”ECLIPSE” also marked the return of members of the Volturi, the vampire coven that ensured the vampires’ existence as a secret from humans. Apparently, Victoria’s plans to use an army of newborns against the Cullens attracted their attention. I wish to God that it had not. I found them unbearable in ”NEW MOON”. And they were certainly a nuisance in”ECLIPSE” – especially Dakota Fanning’s Jane, who managed to stand around, while attempting to look menacing. I wish to God that Stephanie Meyer had not created them in the first. I tend to compare the Volturi to the game of Quidditch from the HARRY POTTER saga.

I found nothing remarkable about the performances in the movie. Well, Taylor Lautner managed to be occasionally witty, despite the addition of the dreadful dialogue he had to spout in this film. Jackson Rathbone also managed to be rather witty. Nikki Reed gave a surprisingly poignant performance as Rosalie Hale – especially in the sequence in which she recalled the sordid tragedy that led to her becoming a vampire. Bryce Dallas Howard did a solid job in replacing Rachelle Lefevre as the murderous vampire, Victoria. Billy Burke was entertaining, as always, as Bella’s sardonic, yet protective father. Kristen Stewart managed to be bearable in scenes that only featured Bella and Jacob. As for the rest of the cast . . . you can keep them. Including the very popular Robert Pattinson.

I understand that there will be an adaptation of the fourth novel in the TWILIGHT saga – ”Breaking Dawn”. However, the studio had decided to break this particular story into two films. I see that they were inspired to follow the example of Warner Brothers’ decision to do the same with the last HARRY POTTER novel. And considering how popular theTWILIGHT movies are with my family, it looks as if I have more suffering to endure in my future.

“NEW MOON” (2009) Review

 

”NEW MOON” (2009) Review

The sequel to last year’s box office hit, ”TWILIGHT” was released in theaters, last weekend. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2006 novel and directed by Chris Weitz (2007’s ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”), ”NEW MOON” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager and her love for vampire Edward Cullen.

”NEW MOON” began several months after the 2008 film, with Bella celebrating her birthday. However, her life underwent a drastic change when she cut her finger during a birthday party held for her by her vampire boyfriend Edward and his family, the Cullens. Her blood attracted the attention of Edward’s brother, Jasper Hale, and he attacked Bella. Not long after Jasper’s attack, Edward informed Bella that he and the rest of the Cullen clan plan to leave Forks. Following his departure, Bella succumbed to depression for several months, until she renewed her friendship with Jacob Black, the son of her father’s Quileute friend. Unfortunately, Bella’s relationship with Jacob threatened to fall apart, when he fell in love with her despite her feelings for Edward and when he began to manifest into a werewolf – a natural enemy of vampires.

I had not been particularly kind in my review of “TWILIGHT”.  And in ”NEW MOON”, I noticed that some of the aspects I had disliked in the 2008 film were also apparent in this latest film. The dialogue – especially between Bella and Edward – seemed as atrocious as ever. I found the movie’s 130 minute running time to be unnecessarily long. Bella and Edward’s relationship not only brought back bad memories of the romance between Buffy Summers and the vampire Angel during the first three seasons of Joss Whedon’s ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, it also made me realize that William Shakespeare’s play, ”ROMEO AND JULIET” might be overrated.

But what can one expect from adolescent love in fiction? If it caused young individuals to behave in the most ridiculous manner, then I can deal without it on my television screen or on a movie screen. And just to show how ridiculous adolescent angst was portrayed in this film, all I have to do is point out Edward and especially Bella’s behavior in ”NEW MOON”. For example, Bella sank into a depression for at least four to six months following Edward’s departure from Forks. Excessive much? She also risked her life with stupid acts that included accepting a ride a group of bikers that reminded her of the bunch that nearly accosted her in ”TWILIGHT”, rode a motorcycle before Jacob could teach her and engaged in bungee jumping without any elastic cord whatsoever. Why? Because Bella had discovered that thrill-seeking activities grant her visions of Edward. My God! What an infatuated moron! After Alice Cullen had a vision of Bella’s cliff jumping stunt, Edward assumed that his human ex-girlfriend had committed suicide and decided to kill himself by provoking the Volturi, a powerful coven of vampires, into killing him in Italy. What an idiot . . . and who wrote this crap?

And there were other aspects of the movie that bothered me. I never understood why Jacob and the rest of the werewolves in his pack found it necessary to walk around bare-chested, while in human form. If they were afraid of ruining their clothes, while transforming into werewolves, then they should have did without the shorts and tennis shoes as well. It would have made more sense. And I found the movie’s finale in Volterra, Italy to be a bore. Not only did I found Edward’s suicide attempt a waste of time, I also found his and Bella’s confrontation with the Voluturi vampire coven had seriously dragged the movie’s last half hour. Which also made me realize that using Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning in this sequence as a waste of their time.

Surprisingly, ”NEW MOON” was not a complete exercise in torture for me. It had its moments. I have to give kudos to director Chris Weitz for the original way he had depicted Bella’s depression by revolving a camera around actress Kristen Stewart, as she sat in front of window that revealed views of the passage of time over a four to six month period. Javier Aguirresarobe’s photography of the Pacific Northwest was just as impressive as Elliot Davis’ in the first film . . . and just as atmospheric. I can also say the same about his photography of Siena, Italy that served as the town of Volterra. Many of the interactions between Bella and Jacob seemed like a breath of fresh air, following the overwrought angst fest between her and Edward. With Jacob, she seemed so . . . normal. So relaxing. Until Jacob manifested into a werewolf and declared his love for her. Still . . . Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner had a relaxing screen chemistry that made me wish that Bella had chosen Jacob, instead of Edward.

I had been somewhat tolerant of Stewart’s screen chemistry with Robert Pattison in the first film. But after viewing ”NEW MOON”, my tolerance went by the way of the Dodo bird. I just found it so difficult to endure Bella and Edward’s moments together. Without Pattison around and during Bella’s saner moments, Kirsten Stewart seemed pretty solid. And she also did a good job in carrying the film on her shoulders. Graham Greene gave a subtle performance as Harry Clearwater, a Quileute tribal elder and friend of Bella’s father, Charlie. I also found Billy Burke’s portrayal of Bella’s father, Charlie Swan, a little more impressive in this film – especially in a scene in which Charlie pleaded for Bella to break out of her depression. And Michael Sheen gave an entertaining performance as Aro, the leader of the Volturi coven, even if I found his appearance in the film a waste of time. However, the performance that really impressed me came from Taylor Lautner, who portrayed Bella’s friend and newly manifested werewolf, Jacob Black. If I have to be honest, Lautner struck me as the movie’s true bright spot in an otherwise unimpressive film. He seemed like a natural and very relaxed actor. I also thought that he brought out the best in Stewart, allowing her to be more natural, relaxed and a lot less constipated.

Upon leaving the movie theater, my eyes spotted a poster for the ”TWILIGHT” saga third film, ”ECLIPSE”. Apparently, it is due in theaters next summer. And already, I am not looking forward to seeing it. Then again, perhaps I should. According to my sister (a fan of the movie, who is also familiar with Stephanie Meyer’s novels), the Jacob Black role is even bigger than in this one. I hope so. But a small part of me suspects that this third film might be a continuation of the mediocrity and annoying angst fest already found in ”TWILIGHT” and ”NEW MOON”.

“TWILIGHT” (2008) Review

 

”TWILIGHT” (2008) Review

When I first saw the previews for this adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s 2005 novel about teenage love and vampires, I had no idea that I had a glimpse of an adolescent literary phenomenon. About a week before the movie’s U.S. release, I finally realized what ”TWILIGHT” was all about when I read about the book series in several articles on the Internet .

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, ”TWILIGHT” is about seventeen-year-old Isabella “Bella” Swan, who moves to the small town of Forks, Washington in order to live with her divorced father, Charlie. There, she finds herself drawn to a mysterious classmate, Edward Cullen, who is revealed to be a 108-year-old vampire, but is physically seventeen. Although Edward discourages the romance at first, they eventually fall deeply in love. The arrival of three nomadic vampires, James, Laurent, and Victoria, puts Bella’s life in danger. Edward and his family – Alice, Carlisle, Esme, Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie – put their lives at stake to save her.

I am trying to fight off the inevitable – namely give my opinion of the movie – but I might as well get it over with. I wish I could say that I loved ”TWILIGHT”. After all, the premise reminded me of the first three seasons of a favorite television series of mine, ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” (1997-2003). But I barely liked ”TWILIGHT”. The movie not only moved at a ridiculously low pace, but I barely found it original. Who am I kidding? Aside from the portrayal of vampires as one-dimensionally good guys whose skin glistens in the sunlight, the story lacked any semblance of originality.

I found myself watching scenes that strongly resembled certain episodes from ”BUFFY”, including one that featured Edward feeding from Bella’s blood. Not only do Edward and Bella reminded me of Buffy and Angel, with less bite or complexity, but they also reminded me of the two leads from ”BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” (1987-1990) – Catherine and Vincent. By the way, I was never a fan of the Buffy and Angel relationship. I found it barely tolerable, which is why I preferred Buffy’s more complex and messier relationship with Spike, the series’ other vampire. As for ”BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”, I never became a fan. I found it a big yawn fest. But I was willing to give ”TWILIGHT” a chance. Unfortunately, Melissa Rosenberg’s script barely kept me awake. The dark and wet Pacific Northwest setting did not help.

The cast for ”TWILIGHT” seemed solid. Somewhat. Both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, as Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, managed to generate chemistry. Somewhat. Mind you, I found nothing electrifying about their screen chemistry or performances. I also feel that Pattinson managed to create a more memorable performance than the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, there were moments when he seemed in danger of overdoing it with the Byronic hero persona. Poor Stewart seemed to be stuck with a role that bordered on being dangerously passive for a female lead. As for the rest of the cast, I found nothing memorable about them – including Billy Burke, who portrayed Bella’s father or Cam Gigande (James), who came off as an early Spike wannabe. The teen roles in this movie annoyed me to no end. I realize that many years have passed since I was in high school, but I could have sworn that my fellow schoolmates had sounded more intelligent . . . and interesting than Bella and her school friends.

I wish I could say more about ”TWILIGHT”, but I cannot. I simply was not that impressed with the film. It was not a bad film. It had some good moments, which included a showdown between Edward and James at Bella’s old dance school in Phoenix. Between Hardwicke’s lethargic direction, Rosenberg’s script and the mildly interesting performances by the cast, I cannot see myself becoming a major fan of this movie. Perhaps I will learn to appreciate it more after watching it several times on DVD. Who knows?