Tag Archives: cop

Serpico – Review

21 Oct

There are certain movies that I’m really surprised I haven’t seen yet. These aren’t movies that stay under the radar or anything, but movies that are well known and loved by audiences. Some of them are even considered classics. What can I say? Nobody’s perfect. I just got around to seeing one of these films that I’d list in these “movies I should have seen already” categories. That film is the 1973 classic by Sidney Lumet, Serpico. I can’t even say I knew what the film was really about. All I knew was that this movie helped form Al Pacino’s career, which is kind of a big deal if I say so myself. After seeing Serpico, I have to say that I didn’t love it. I liked it and it’s certainly a movie I’m not going to forget, but it had major issues that rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s get right into it.

All his life, Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) has wanted to be a police officer. When that day finally comes around, it’s a dream come true. Starting out as just a uniformed officer walking the beat, he begins to see signs that life on the force may not be what he expected, especially after seeing a suspect get roughed up in an interrogation room. As time goes on and he begins to adjust, he is bumped up to a plainclothes officer working more dangerous and criminal cases. What he sees is corruption on a massive scale with his coworkers shaking down drug dealers, pimps, and other criminals. Serpico looks everywhere for help, even going so far as to bring his grievances to the mayor. When no one is able to help, the biggest danger for Serpico isn’t the criminals he busts on a day to day basis, but his fellow police officers who feel he can’t be trusted.

Many people consider this movie a classic, and I believe that because of its impact on the genre. You won’t see any argument from me because my complaints are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I want to get the positives out of the way first because they truly do outweigh the negatives. This was a very early film in Al Pacino’s long and praised career, and if it wasn’t for Serpico, he may not have made it as big as he did. Let’s not forget that he was Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, but this was just another notch in making his career. Pacino is excellent as Serpico. After having spent a lot of time with the real guy, it’s no surprise that he has his voice completely altered and a lot of these mannerisms you don’t really see in other roles that he’s done. This is a complete transformation and a performance that really helped define the times in terms of acting with it being the early 1970s, one of the largest times of change in film since sound was first introduced.

The story of Serpico is also incredibly engaging. As the narrative moves forward and Frank’s plight becomes more dire, I actually felt myself getting stressed out. It’s not terribly hard for a movie to have me guessing as to what’s going to happen or feeling some sort of suspense, but this movie made me physically feel stressed. Everywhere Serpico turns, he’s met with a brick wall, and we see that over the span of over two hours. Pacino’s performance and the writing really brings this character to life onscreen, so we as an audience truly want to see him succeed and finally be able to live the life that he’s wanted. Sidney Lumet is a very talented director who is able to turn characters’ environments into characters themselves. Just think of that one room in 12 Angry Men. What Lumet does for New York City in Serpico is something on a whole new scale. Having filmed this movie in mostly all of the boroughs of New York City, I saw different aspects of life clash and combine making the city live and breathe. It’s essential to this film’s story and Lumet pulled it off flawlessly.

Speaking of flawless, this movie as a whole is not. As I was watching the story play out, I could tell that time was passing. Serpico’s apartment changed furniture, his different friends come and go, and his hair, beard, and clothes change. I figured this was probably a 3 year period. Boy, was I wrong. Serpico‘s story starts in 1960 and spans to 1971! WHAT?! I never got the sense that that was how much time was passing until after the movie was over and I was doing some research on it. If I had known how long all of this was going on, that would’ve added a whole new layer of dread to the stress I was already feeling for our hero. That being said, how smooth can you turn 11 years into a 2 hour movie? There are elements to Serpico’s life that do feel glazed over, forgotten, or rushed in favor of other interests. This kind of muddles the overall story for me, and I can’t help thinking this may have been better as a miniseries on HBO.

Serpico is a very good movie that is full of great elements that is ultimately bogged down by an overabundance of information. Al Pacino’s performance is outstanding and the overall emotional and physical response this film got from me says a lot about the story. Sidney Lumet also films New York City perfectly which brought a whole new sense of realism to the crime drama film. I just wish the story was told a bit more cohesively and smoothly, but instead I felt like I was jumping all over the place without knowing exactly where I landed. Still, Serpico has earned its right to be called a classic, and I’m not going to dispute that.

Final Grade: B+

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Street Kings & Street Kings 2: Motor City – Review

28 Jul

Crime movies are some of my favorite kinds of stories. Wether it’s told from the side of the criminals, the police, or both, these movies tend to excite me and grip me until the very end so long as the story is good enough. For this review, I’m going to be looking at Street Kings and its sequel Street Kings 2: Motor City. I can’t really say my feelings at this point on the sequel, but I was very excited to see the original Street Kings. I heard a lot of great stuff about it, and now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m honestly a little underwhelmed.

As always, we’ll be starting with the original 2008 film by David Ayer.

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Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a star in the LAPD, but his unorthodox techniques and his heavy drinking is starting to get the better of him even with the support of his police unit, run by the affable Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). What only adds more to Ludlow’s stress and drinking is the fact that his old partner (Terry Crews) is informing on him to an internal affairs captain, James Biggs (Hugh Laurie). When Ludlow is at the scene of his ex-partner’s murder, Biggs really sets his sights hard on Ludlow who is now determined more than ever to find the real killers. With the help of homicide detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans), Ludlow starts a small war with the criminal element of L.A. in hopes to force the murderers into the open, but the corruption plaguing the police force goes deeper than Ludlow ever anticipated.

It’s clear that Street Kings has all of the makings of a really cool cop thriller. There’s a strong cast, David Ayer in the director’s chair, and the original story was written by James Ellroy, who is known for penning the modern classic L.A. Confidential. Well, Street Kings doesn’t quite live up the hype that I’ve been exposed to. So many people have told me that this is a must see movie, and honestly, it’s just alright. It certainly isn’t a bad movie, but you have to admit, it’s pretty derivative. Reeves’ character is a cop who most certainly doesn’t play by the rules, and then has to clear his name and weed out the corruption in the police force. It’s so many different clichés rolled up to form an even bigger cliché in the form of a two hour movie. Everything that happens in the movie has been seen before time and time again.

I don’t want to make it sound like Street Kings is a total waste of time, because that’s not the case. In fact, it’s a pretty competent movie for the most part. The cast really does their best with the material that’s given to them with Whitaker and Evans really stealing the show. David Ayer also has a really gritty eye, which is why he’s really good with this genre. The streets of L.A. really takes a life of their own and the presence of violence and death always feels like it’s lingering amongst the fog or right around the corner on a dark urban night. There’s plenty of style and Ayers captures it perfectly. I’m really only disappointed in the writing. I don’t know what Ellroy’s original screenplay was like before other writers hopped on to add their own take on things, but if it’s as clichéd as the final product, I’m pretty disappointed.

If you’re looking for an easy way to kill a couple hours, then Street Kings is a fine choice. You really don’t have to think to hard because the story and characters are all so familiar. As a movie to watch and review, I have to say it’s a bit of a disappointment. I’m not upset that I watched it, but I really have no need or desire to watch it again.

Street Kings is one of those movies that needs no sequel, but it ended up getting one that a lot of people probably never noticed. They took the themes and changed the city, the characters, and the story and released it straight to DVD. This is 2001 film, Street Kings 2: Motor City.

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Now taking place in Detroit instead of L.A., the story revolves around an aging narcotics  detective Marty Kingston (Ray Liotta), who doesn’t have the cleanest record on the force but is known for a couple huge busts. After his  partner (Scott Norman) is gunned down after leaving a night club, Kingston teams up with a young homicide detective, Dan Sullivan (Shawn Hatosy). At first Sullivan is wary of his new partner, but after more officers are killed in the same way, the two put aside their differences and begin acting together to find the culprit. Once again, however, the corruption in the police department runs deep and both men find their lives uprooted as the investigation comes closer to a conclusion.

This being a direct to DVD release, you have to take everything I say about Street Kings 2 with a grain of salt. Some of these straight to video releases can be good, but there’s normally a reason, wether it’s budget or otherwise, it didn’t get a theatrical run. For what it is, this movie isn’t too awful, but it is pretty bad. One thing good that came from it is that the story, at it’s core, is pretty much the same exact one as the original, which is automatic points off. It does, however, make some changes that I really liked and added a new sense of suspense and tension that wasn’t in the original. It’s also always cool to see Ray Liotta, and he did good in this film, but it’s a sad reminder that his career didn’t exactly go in the right direction.

Everything else about this movie is a bit of a joke. While some elements of the story might have been good, the writing in general is far from acceptable. There are some horrendous lines of dialogue that are shamelessly over expository. There are some lines delivered that are downright laughable. Ray Liotta is really the only actor in this movie who isn’t cringeworthy. Shawn Hatosy and Clifton Powell are probably the worst offenders in the acting department for this particular film. I already said that the story is pretty much exactly the same as the first movie which makes this one a copy cat of a movie that was already copying other movies. That made this an occasional chore to sit through.

Street Kings 2: Motor City is a coherent movie, but that’s really all I can say about it. The acting is awful, the story is clichéd, and there’s nothing of real substance to be found. A few scenes worked well, but most of them fell flat on their faces. Stick with the first one and leave this sequel well enough alone.

It seems that not too much can be said for Street Kings or it’s sequel. The first on is a mediocre cop movie that may be worth seeing once, and the sequel is just a goofy attempt at a drama. Only people who are really into this genre should check out the original. Other than that, there’s nothing else to really discuss.

Rampart – Review

17 Dec

Throughout my movie watching career, there have been collaborations between certain actors and film makers that work so well it should be illegal. For the sake of this review, the collaboration is between writer/director Oren Moverman and his go to actor Woody Harrelson. In 2010, Harrelson was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Moverman’s heart wrenching drama, The Messenger. The two were then reunited 2012, along with co-writer James Ellroy (best known for L.A. Confidential), with Rampart. The performances and overall story in this film are really something to behold, but the overcrowding of subplots and an over the top artsy fartsy style almost ruined the movie for me.

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The year is 1999 and Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is a police officer in the Rampart Division of the LAPD. Unfortunately for the people of Los Angeles, Brown is a racist, homophobic, and generally intolerant bigot who will resort to violence whenever he wants to to get the information he wants. After he is caught almost beating a suspect to death on tape, Officer Dave Brown’s life soon starts spiraling out of control. His ex-wives who are also sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) want nothing more to do with him while Assistant District Attorney Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver) starts pushing him towards an early retirement. As if that wasn’t enough, Brown becomes embroiled in an affair with an attorney working against him named Linda (Robin Wright) but also gets into more trouble after getting bad advice from his mentor, Hartshorn (Ned Beatty), which ends in a brutal murder.

I think the main reason to see Rampart is to see all of the amazing talent at work. Harrelson gives what may be the best performance of the year. It probably even beats his work on True Detective, especially since there is so much more corruption and hostility flowing through his character’s veins. A lot of the other actors I feel get under utilized though. For example, Steve Buscemi is only in one scene and I wanted to see him a lot more. Ice Cube also only shows up towards the end even though his character had a lot of great potential. After Harrelson, I think the next performance you really have to pay attention to is Ben Foster’s. Foster is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors and his small role in Rampart and his leading role in The Messenger proves he’s capable of a lot more than he is given.

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James Ellroy is a master at writing in the crime genre. He has written plenty of murder mysteries and dramas while also penning screenplays and having involvement in documentaries. That being said, both Ellroy and Moverman went a little overboard in Rampart. The story of a corrupt cop finally facing his demons and getting what he has coming to him is great, and they show his breakdown wonderfully. The problem is that there is way too much crammed into this movie. It’s like they tried to take everything from a long novel and stuff it into a movie that’s less than two hours. Characters are underused, plot lines are unresolved, and some of the development feels either forced or nonexistent. Luckily, the crux of the story is there and really good. This is more of a character study of Dave Brown and Ellroy and Moverman hit the nail on the head when it came to that area of the screenplay.

Another major complain that I have with Rampart is that Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski went a little overboard with the art design. There’s a motif throughout the film that Dave Brown slowly begins disappearing. The start of the movie has him at the forefront of the action going on onscreen and while the movie goes on, he becomes framed behind objects and obscured. That’s an example of great artistic design. On the flip side, there’s a scene where the camera keeps cutting and spinning during a meeting and it’s not only unnecessary, but looks stupid. I get what they were trying to do, but it just didn’t work and only succeeded at annoying me. If Moverman and Bukowsky just toned it down a little bit, the film would have been all the better for it.

I almost loved Rampart and at the same time I almost hated it. I really don’t know how else to explain how I feel about this movie. On one hand it tells a really complex story about a man who refuses to change who he is and has to suffer for it, and on the other hand it’s an overstuffed movie that seemed to be going nowhere at parts. I feel equal on these two sentiments, so Rampart really just left me baffled. I wanna say give it a watch, but I can’t see anyone really coming out of it without a lot of questions that need answering.

Bullitt – Review

11 Jan

Now we’re talkin’. Mac. Bandito. The King of Cool. Of course, I’m talking about Steve McQueen, an action star that even over 30 years after his death, he’s still recognized as one of the coolest, iciest actors in film. The movie that took his career and made it international was the 1968 cop/crime film Bullitt. Now, what’s cool about Bullitt is that it is the main influence for action movies of the 1970s through the 1990s. Think of any huge action movie and it could probably be related to this one somehow. Even though this is one of the most influential and important films in film history, it hasn’t aged well in a lot of ways making it sometimes a bore to sit through.

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Lt. Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is the kind of cop that will do anything that needs to be done in order to finish a case the way he wants it finished. When a seedy politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) enlists the aid of Bullitt to protect a witness testifying against the Chicago mob, Frank just thinks it’s going to be a by the books protection. When the witness ends up dead and another cop severely injured, Bullitt takes to the streets to hunt down and find those responsible, but the conspiracy is thicker than Bullitt could have imagined.

Let me start by saying this, I dare you to watch the Dirty Harry movies or the Lethal Weapon movies or even play games in the Driver and Grand Theft Auto series and not think of Bullitt. This is widely considered to be the first modern cop/action film with many others trying to copy the formula that is laid out in this film. This is a movie that demands respect because of the influence that it had on films to come. When this movie came out, it must have blown audiences away showing a much more gritty and urban look that wasn’t really used in movies of this kind in America. Still, there are things about this movie that just haven’t aged very well which makes it kind of odd to watch it almost 50 years after it was originally released.

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The movie starts out really good with McQueen’s Frank Bullitt the definition of a hard boiled cop. He does things his own way and gets them done, which I love seeing. Characters that break the rules to do the right thing is just fun for me, I don’t know. So things are going great and then the second act becomes very wandery. I see this a lot in movies from the 1960s, with musical interludes and various shots of the environment. That was sort of the style of the time, but it really brings Bullitt to a skidding halt after a great first act. The third act kind of picks up again, but I was sort of losing interest in the movie by then. Shave off maybe 20 minutes, and we would’ve been good.

I can’t finish this review without talking about the famous car chase. There were car chases before in movies, with the Keystone Cops coming to mind first for some reason, but many people say that the car chase in Bullitt was the first modern car chase. Who knows, without the chase scene in Bullitt we might not have gotten that awesome car chase in The French Connection just a few years later. Seeming to go all through San Francisco, the car chase lasts 10 minutes with the only soundtrack being the revving of the engines. It’s a blast watching the cars fly over the hilly landscape of the city and is definitely one of the best car chases ever filmed.

Bullitt is one of the most influential modern movies that laid the groundwork for action/crime movies to come in the 1970s through the 1990s. That being said, it hasn’t really aged all that well. I was disappointed to see how slow the movie got in the middle and and giant plot hole in the middle of the movie that we seem to just need to ignore. It’s great to see an important and classic film even if it isn’t really that cool anymore. There were times where I just wanted to watch Dirty Harry, a movie that aged a lot better. Still, if you’re a film enthusiast, Bullitt should be seen for the history.

Bad Lieutenant – Review

6 Feb

Abel Ferrara is one of those film makers that you either love or you hate. Some people may call his movies smutty or exploitive, but there are others who call him a true artist with a firm grasp on the medium. In my opinion, Ferrara takes exploitation movies to a more artistic level. I’ve already reviewed his 1990 film King of New York, but now I will be looking at what is objectively called his best movie. It goes without saying that it’s his 1992 crime film Bad Lieutenant.

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The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) is not exactly the kind of cop anyone wants to deal with. He seems a little rough around the edges, but he’s more than meets the eye. He’s violent, addicted to all sorts of drugs, and gambles away most of his money. He seems to have the year’s World Series all figured out, and begins betting everything he has into the game. During all of this, he is also investigating the rape of a young nun (Frankie Thorn), but this particular case gets him thinking about his own actions and what may be the only chance he has at redemption. As his gambling and drug abuse worsens, he is pushed over his limits and begins to lose track of his own life and the parameters of his enforcement of the law.

Before I started watching Bad Lieutenant, I had it in my head that this was going to be a straightforward crime film where the Lieutenant was going to have to catch the guys who raped the nun, and along the way we would see him engage in all of his dark, illegal activities. It’s actually the other way around, in a sense. We actually see the Lieutenant practically destroy his life with drugs and gambling, and sometimes he moves on the case, but not too often. This is more of a character study than it is a straightforward narrative.

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That being said, I do wish there was more of a story. There is some semblance of a plot, but a lot of the movie is just the Lieutenant on the job in the seediest parts of New York City as he gets into all sorts of depraved things. The depravity does reach an all time low in Bad Lieutenant, and there were time that I was surprised that the character went as far as he did. He’s a reprehensible human being, but also very interesting. Still, as cool as his character is, I wanted to see more from the movie. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because not a whole hell of a lot happens by the end of the movie. I guess part of this is because I went into it expecting a more straightforward movie and wasn’t really expecting a movie as wandering as this, if that makes sense.

Harvey Keitel does do an outstanding job as the Lieutenant. That same year he starred in Quentin Tarantino’s first film Reservoir Dogs, but his performance in that just doesn’t match the visceral intensity that he displays here. It was said by the people making this film that Keitel dove really deep into this character and Ferrara left him a lot of room for experimentation and improvisation. Now, the stuff that the Lieutenant gets into, if I hadn’t made it quite clear before, is reprehensible and by the end of shooting, crew member said it was almost hard to watch Keitel get so into character.

It would be easy to call Bad Lieutenant a piece of trashy exploitation, but whoever says that would be sorely mistaken. This is a beautifully shot movie filled with disgusting people and places. Abel Ferrara has a way of filming dirty urban environments and the characters that inhabit them with such a gritty style, and rare moments of true beauty, that it’s hard not to feel like you’re really in the movie with the characters. Now that I know what it’s all about, Bad Lieutenant deserves a second viewing from me, but this movie is not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, it has the hitting power of a Louisville slugger and is as loud as a magnum fired point blank, so if you can stomach the content check out Bad Lieutenant.

Safe – Review

26 Oct

I know that I just reviewed a Jason Statham movie a couple of weeks ago, but I just watched Safe in its entirety, so it’s only fair that I give it a review. By this point in time, we all know what to expect going into a Statham movie. There’s going to be a lot of ass kicking, gun shooting, car chasing action from beginning to end. Can that be tedious? Absolutely. Especially since we have seen it a hundred times before. Safe is very familiar, but there are just enough properly executed elements that saved this film from falling into the realm of mediocrity.

Luke Wright (Jason Statham) is about as down on his luck as one can possibly get. He lost his wife, job, and practically his entire life, forcing him to spend his nights at homeless shelters. He’s about to end it all when he see a little girl, Mei (Catherine Chan), being chased by Russian gangsters. He saves her, and makes it his mission to protect her from not only the Russians, but the Chinese mafia and the police who all want the number that she has memorized.

Pretty straightforward stuff here. Statham is a good guy who has to protect an innocent person from a lot of bad guys. What I love here is that there are SO many people to worry about. Three different factions blocking these two characters in the city and closing in on them, all while at war against each other, makes for some high octane action that doesn’t let up. Once the ass kicking starts, it doesn’t quickly end. Not only is there a lot of action, but it’s memorable and, thankfully, not so shaky that I have no idea what’s happening. It has enough aesthetic effects to make it intense and still watchable.

 

Another star of this movie was the outstanding sound design. The gun shots, the car chases, and the fight scenes all had a “pop” that really made them more immersive. Sound is a very important aspect of an action film. Are you really going to have a good time with muted gunfire and punches that don’t even sound like they’re landing? Of course not. Action is meant to thrill, and sound is part of the equation. In this, Safe, easily blows a lot of other films in this genre out of the water.

Pretty much what I’m saying is that this film had a lot of surprises. Statham’s performance goes beyond what he usually gives with scenes of genuine emotion that actually do tug at the heart strings. Catherine Chan unfortunately doesn’t hold up too well all of the time, but that’s pretty understandable considering she’s a young girl in an off the wall crazy action movie. One more surprise is the excellent implementation of zooms and camera tricks. It isn’t too often that a movie of this kind properly uses these techniques without going overboard (ahem, Bad Boys II). There were times where I would think to myself, “Wow, this  scene looks fantastic.”

 

Safe is one of those movies where you don’t really expect much, but end up getting a lot more. It isn’t derivative, stupid, or unoriginal. Sure, we may have seen some of these plot points before, but this film pushed to make them into something new. Thankfully, it succeeds. I want to like every Statham movie that I watch, but this isn’t always the case. I can say that Safe is one of his best films to date.

Blitz – Review

14 Oct

If Jason Statham is in a movie, you know there is going to be a certain degree of ass kicking. It’s pretty much a given, and Blitz is no exception. This is still a mixed bag for me with more positives than negatives. Still, it’s frustrating to see a movie that has the potential to be great, but falls short, nonetheless.

Detective Sergeant Tom Brant (Jason Statham) is causing a bit of controversy for the police force due to his violent tendencies. His position on the force appears to be jeopardy until a maniacal serial killer, who goes by the name Blitz (Aidan Gillen), begins targeting cops. Now they could use a cop like Brant, and with the help of Sgt. Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), a manhunt through the darkest corners of London begins with deadly consequences.

I want to start with the positives. First of all, Aidan Gillen gives a phenomenal performance as the killer. He doesn’t even have to say anything. Just his facial expressions and body language are enough to understand what he is thinking. The whole psychology behind him is so well crafted that I couldn’t help but love to hate this guy. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about any of the other characters, including Statham’s. It’s weird to have a movie where the main character isn’t anything memorable. It makes you almost not care about the outcome. Thankfully, Gillen supports the entire cast and makes the viewer care.

 

The compositions of the the shots in this film are surprisingly well done. Not very often do I see an action thriller of this caliber with style so above average. The use of negative space is utilized to the best degree that really gives the feeling of being exposed. No one is safe in this movie and there is nowhere to hide. This could have been a very bland looking movie. The gray London streets without anything really interesting to look at. But, the film makers recognized this and made it much more elaborate.

As far as the story goes, it’s nothing I haven’t really seen before. Sure, it’s original in its own way, but the formula remains the same. A tough cop who’s been through hell and back uses whatever means necessary to bring a villain to justice, even if it compromises the integrity of the station. Basically, it’s your textbook “tough as nails cop who doesn’t play by the rules.” I don’t want to say that the movie had stretches where it bored the shit out of me, but it had stretches where it bored the shit out of me. Statham has been in movies that are thrilling and not very violent. He can kick ass or act in a plot driven story like The Bank Job and ChaosThese are two fine examples. This one was close, but wasn’t as original as the other two I mentioned.

 

Blitz is saved from the hell of sub par action thrillers, and sits comfortably in the upper realms of the land of mediocrity. Jason Statham has been in many awesome action and thriller films, and even a couple bad ones. This one is closer to being good than bad, but is still just ok. Aidan Gillen’s performance supports the entire movie, and the style that is present adds a little bit more.Too bad the story and the rest of the characters have all been seen before in one form or another. If you’re a Jason Statham fan, then I don’t see why you should skip this. It isn’t bad, but isn’t too good. Still, give it a chance and see what you think. It definitely has potential.