Cop Out

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Let's keep it simple: Cop Out is cut straight from the mold of buddy-cop comedies such as 48 Hours and Lethal Weapons.

p1Detectives Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) have been partners in the NYPD for nine years. They know each other probably better than they know their respective families. They're working on a drug case and something goes very wrong, so they're suspended for thirty days. Meanwhile, Jimmy needs the money to pay for his daughter's wedding. He decides to sell his prized baseball card instead of being humiliated by her wealthy stepfather.

p2Then Jimmy gets robbed by a thug named Dave (Seann William Scott). After tracking down Dave, they realize the card has been sold to a drug dealer named Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), who happens to be behind the case Jimmy and Paul were working on. When they try to negotiate with Poh Boy, they find that the drug dealer is involved with more than drug trafficking.

p3Bruce Willis (Surrogates) is basically doing a funnier version of his Die Hard alter-ego. There's nothing wrong with that, since he owns that character. Willis seems to have a lot of fun playing goofy, especially with Tracy Morgan (G-Force), who is also playing a variation of his character on 30 Rock. They have great chemistry together, though, and that's what really matters in a buddy cop comedy. The friendship between Jimmy and Paul seems genuine. In fact, there are moments where Jimmy should have beaten the crap out of Paul, but he didn't. It shows us  the bond between the two are closer than that of real brothers.

p4Seann William Scott (Role Model) has third billing but his role is a minor one. They're setting him up as the third banana (probably in future sequels), someone like Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapons. However, despite some funny moments with Willis and Morgan, his role is too peripheral and annoying. Guillermo Diaz (No Exit) plays viscous drug lord Poh Boy with flair. He's quite interesting to watch and makes the "bad guy" one of the most memorable in the film.

p5Mexican beauty Ana de la Reguera (Empire State) is lovely as a hostage who holds the key to capturing Poh Boy. She has a few funny lines, too, albeit in Spanish. Jason Lee (Alvin and the Chipmunks) is dutifully smug as Jimmy's daughter's stepfather, and Rashida Jones (I Love You, Man) is in great form as Paul's neglected wife. Rounding out the cast are Kevin Pollak (Tropic Thunder) and Adam Brody (The Ten) as a pair of cops who are, like, the counterpoints of Jimmy and Paul.

p6Written by brothers Robb and Mark Cullen (Las Vegas), the script follows pretty closely to the buddy cop formula. The plot is contrived and convoluted, only to serve as the background for the characters to bicker and fool around. However, they also seem to have written the roles specifically for Willis and Morgan -- they fit the actors perfectly. The strength of the screenplay is definitely not in story or even dialogue, but in the relationship-building and the antics between these characters. Clearly, they have "franchise" in mind when developing these characters -- the plot is secondary. The relationship is the meat.

p7Director Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri Make a Porno) finally gets to do a "mainstream" film. There are still traces of Smith's trademarked smugness and pervasiveness, what with the dirty jokes and perverse, potty humor. But Smith also succeeded in following the formula and not straying from the proven genre. At times, the editing and flow seem to suffer from too much wandering, but Smith is able to snap the story back to its main focus and pull the threads together.

p8While there's nothing original or unpredictable, it is funny -- due to its likable cast -- and will satisfy fans of the genre. It may be standard entertainment, but it's not a complete cop-out either.


Stars: Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Seann William Scott, Guillermo Diaz, Jason Lee, Ana de la Reguera, Kevin Pollak, Adam Brody, Rashida Jones
Director: Kevin Smith
Writers: Robb Cullen, Mark Cullen
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual references, violence and brief sexuality
Running Time: 107 Minutes

Ratings:

Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7.0 out of 10

Shutter Island

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Set in 1954, Shutter Island is an intellectual, psychological thriller-drama that turns out to be something we don't quite expect.

p1US marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Shutter Island, an intense-security hospital for the criminally insane off the coast of Massachusetts. They're investigating the disappearance of a murderess (Emily Mortimer) who escaped the night before. Under the supervision of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the guards and medical staff are supposed to give Daniels the cooperation they need.

p2Soon, Daniels discovers clues that may indicate Cawley and his staff are hiding something. Daniels is not without a personal agenda, either. He takes on the case because he's looking for an inmate, Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas), who's an arsonist who set fire to Daniels' apartment and killed his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), and he discovers that Laeddis spent a few years on Shutter Island before he, too, disappeared. In his dreams, Dolores appeals to Daniels to find Laeddis and kill him for her.

p3A storm makes it impossible for anyone to get to and off the island. Within the confinement, Daniels begins to unravel, believing that Cawley is onto him. He also believes that Cawley and his wardens are conducting human experiments on the patients, much like the Nazis did (Daniels was a soldier during the war, and went through horrific situations while liberating Dachau). He begins to distrust everyone around him, including Chuck.

p4Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road) has always been an intense actor (even in his lighter films such as Catch Me If You Can). Here, he plays the skeptical US marshal with credibility (even though his "baby face" continues to be a distraction). As the plot progresses and the character unravels, DiCaprio has a firm grip of the emotions. He's given a solid performance.

p5Mark Ruffalo (Where the Wild Things Are) also gives an understated performance as Daniels' amiable and trusting partner. Through his character, we start to wonder if there is indeed a conspiracy, or if it's all in Daniels' head. Ben Kingsley (Fifty Dead Men Walking) is perfect as Dr. Cawley, the authoritative figure who also gives us the creeps.

p6Michelle Williams (Mammoth) is fine as Daniels' deceased wife, Dolores. She appears mostly in Daniels' dreams or as a ghostly vision. Her portrayal reflects the sadness and longing for Daniels. Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl) and Patricia Clarkson (Cairo Time) plays the same character, Rachel, but differently -- the first Rachel is an insane murderess who drowned her three children, and the second Rachel is the one who actually escaped. Both Mortimer and Clarkson are excellent in their roles.

p7Adapted from Dennis Lehane's (Mystic River) psychological thriller, the script by Laeta Kalogridis (Pathfinder) is taut and suspenseful. The twists and turns of the plot follow rather closely to the novel, and Lehane is a master in weaving mysteries and thrills. The dialogue and characters are quite memorable. That said, the script relies on a few unnecessary dream sequences, visions, and flashbacks that, in my opinion, dampen the experience and reveal too much for those who are observant. Granted, the writers are supposed to leave enough clues for the audiences, but I think some of the clues are simply too on the nose and obvious. Within the context of the story, I think less is more. Not to mention some of these sequences don't really move things along. They drag.

p8Shutter Island is Martin Scorsese's (The Departed) first major film in four years. His direction is masterful, especially as an atmospheric piece. The way he uses lighting, shadows, colors and camera angles is truly exceptional. The images are haunting and the pace is good. He also decided against using an original score: instead, the score includes mostly traditional and contemporary classical pieces.

Still, this is far from being Scorsese's best film. Sometimes he lingers, and sometimes the editing is rather choppy. The dream sequences seem excessive (thought well done). However, I enjoyed the film very much. The performance and direction are top-notch. The atmosphere is exceptional. The imageries are haunting, and the psychological aspects of the film is thought-provoking.

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis (based on novel by Dennis Lehane)
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity
Running Time: 138 Minutes

Ratings:


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8


Total – 7.5 out of 10

The Wolfman

© 2010 Ray Wong

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A remake of the 1941 classic, The Wolfman harks back to the golden days of Hollywood, aided by modern-time special effects and an actor born to play the role.

p0After Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) receives a letter from his brother's fiance, Gwen (Emily Blunt), that he's been missing, Lawrence returns to London to help. Upon his arrival, however, his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), informs him that his brother has been found dead, apparently tortured and killed by either a "beast" or a mad man. Lawrence vows to Gwen to find out who killed his brother.

p0Lawrence's investigation leads him to the Gypsies, where Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin) tells him the beast is actually a cursed man. The beast attacks the camp and kills many men, and seriously injures Lawrence. However, within a month, Lawrence completely recovers from his mortal wounds, only stronger and better. The townsfolk suspects Lawrence as the mad man since he was institutionalized at the asylum when he was a child.

p0The Scotland Yard hears about the incidents and sends agent Abberline (Hugo Weaving) to investigate. After another deadly attack by the beast, Lawrence is found wandering around the Talbot house in blood. Abberline promptly arrests Lawrence and takes him back to London, where they finally get a true glimpse of "the beast."

p0Benicio Del Toro (Sin City) is perfect to play Lawrence Talbot as well as the Wolfman. He has the physicality, the looks (if not a bit too obvious), and the mannerism. As Lawrence, Del Toro is understated, and broody, a tortured man yearning for his father's love. As the Wolfman, he literally roars to life and delivers a fierce performance.

p0Anthony Hopkins (Bare Knuckles) has the role of John Talbot down-pat. In a way, the role is too stereotypical for him to play, but the fact is he plays it so well that I can only imagine another actor filling those big shoes: Donald Sutherland. Emily Blunt (Young Victoria) returns to old England with her bodice and gives us a sympathetic and strong heroine. Her role is less of a victim or love interest and more of a savior for Lawrence.

p0Hugo Weaving (Last Ride) is rather underwhelming and uninspired as Abberline, who is practically Agent Smith (from Matrix) in a hat and overcoat. Geraldine Chaplin (Inconceivable) is in fine form as the Gypsy woman. The rest of the supporting cast does they job in re-creating 19th century England.

p0The script by Andrew Kevin Walker (The Follow) and David Self (Road to Perdition) follows the classic with similar set-ups, characters and dialogue. They've made some changes, of course, but the legend remains rather intact. However, it is surprising, given the rich source material they get to work with, how choppy the plot is in places. I wonder if it's the problem with the screenplay, direction, or editing. There are some key scenes that are classic horror, and certainly they do not shy away from the blood and gore.

p0Joe Johnston's (Hidalgo) direction is inconsistent. He successfully re-created the atmosphere, look and feel of both the period and "classic horror." At the same time, the pacing seems off. The editing is especially choppy. He also relies too much on the "jump out and shock" tricks. That might have worked in 1941, but not 2010 -- it just feels cheesy. I do, however, understand what Johnston's trying to accomplish, what with the traditional makeup (instead of CGI characters) and atmosphere, and I have respect for that.

The Wolfman is a throwback to old Hollywood classic horror and, by that standard, it has succeeded in delivering an entertaining, gory Greek tragedy.

Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Geraldine Chaplin
Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self (based on original by Curt Siodmak)
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence and gore
Running Time: 102 Minutes

Ratings:

Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 6
Production – 8

Total – 7.1 out of 10

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

© 2010 Ray Wong

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A remake of Harvey Keitel's 1992 movie, Bad Lieutenant follows the life of a New Orleans detective as he tries to crack a multiple-murder case.

p1 Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) recently got promoted to lieutenant after a heroic act during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His investigation of a multiple-homicide case leads him through the underbelly of New Orleans' organized crime.

p2McDonagh is also a drug and gambling addict. His on-and-off girlfriend, Frankie (Eva Mendes), is a high-class call girl who relies on him for her fix. But McDonagh's sources are quickly drying up, not to mention he's seriously owing his bookie, Ned (Brad Dourif).

p3The investigation leads McDonagh and his partner Pruit (Val Kilmer) to gangster Big Fate (Xzibit). However, they don't have any physical evidence and their only witness is a fifteen-year-old boy Daryl (Denzel Whitaker), who, due to McDonagh's negligence, promptly flees the country. At the same time, he gets tangled up with another mobster, who now demands a big payout, while trying to defend Frankie. Eventually, McDonagh makes a deal with Big Fate, to be his inside job at the NOPD, in exchange for a cut in the cocaine trade that could satisfy his drug habit and get him out of debt once and for all.

p4Nicolas Cage (Knowing) returns to playing antihero with great effect. As the severely flawed protagonist, Cage is both difficult and a joy to watch. Not since Leaving Las Vegas has Cage given us such a down-and-out, shady character that elicits such pity and fascination at the same time. He's very interesting when he's not playing a superhero.

p5Eva Mendes (The Spirit) is sexy playing the part of a fucked-up prostitute. Her character is kind of superficial but, ironically, she makes us understand McDonagh better, why he's so drawn to her in the first place -- she's always there for him, as he is for her. Val Kilmer (Hardwired), despite second billing, has a relatively small role as Detective Pruit. His character is just as corrupt as McDonagh, but seemingly without the requisite conscience.

p6The supporting cast is all solid, including Jennifer Coolidge (ExTerminators) as McDonagh's alcoholic stepmother; she always gives interesting performances although she's quickly becoming a parody. Fairuza Balk (Grindstone Road) plays an officer who has the hots for McDanagh; she's super hot herself. Brad Dourif (Junkyard Dog) is effectively edgy as McDonagh's bookie. And Xzibit (American Violet) is super cool as mob boss Big Fate.

p7Written by William M. Finkelstein (NYPD Blue), based on Victor Argo's original, the screenplay is an interesting mix of character study, crime thriller, suspense, and comedy. McDonagh is written and portrayed as a seriously flawed, corrupt crook of a cop, and there's no sugar coating. Except McDonagh is also a decent human being in that he is always polite and nice first, until he's being trampled upon or pushed. And that he never hurts, at least not intentionally, the innocent. Now, if you're a crook yourself, all bets are off. That's probably the biggest strength of the story: this unflinching, uncompromising character that is not your everyday hero, but a hero nonetheless. We end up pitying him but also wishing him well.

p8Finkelstein's screenplay follows multiple threads and weaves them together skillfully. At times, it's an odd experience, to see how the plot unfolds as different seemingly unrelated subplots mesh together. There's also an edge to the writing, and a taut tension through and through. At times, the characters do come across as too hardboiled, somewhat clich├ęd: the corrupt cop with a conscience, the prostitute with a heart of gold, the absent father, the indifferent stepmother, etc. However, Finkelstein is able to compensate with witty dialogue, wacky scenarios and interesting characterization of the protagonist, who despite all his flaws is really good at his job.

Director Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn) is able to sustain the story with intensity and humor. The look and feel of the film is often gritty and, honestly, rather unattractive. It doesn't show New Orleans in the greatest light, and why should it? It's not a travel log. In a way, it is a reminder to us how much that city is hurting, and continues to hurt. What Herzog manages to do is keeping it real (despite some surreal moments), creating a world where these characters live and breathe in. New Orleans may not be a glamorous place, but it has an edge unlike any place else. The result is a bad-ass movie that is fun to watch.

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Jennifer Coolidge, Fairuza Balk, Brad Dourif, Xzibit, Michael Shannon
Director: Werner Herzog
Writers: William M. Finkelstein, Victor Argo
Distributor: First Look
MPAA Rating: R for drug use, language, violence and sexuality
Running Time: 122 Minutes

Ratings:

Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7.6 out of 10