Monday, April 21, 2008

Street Kings

Year: 2008
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Terry Crews, Naomie Harris

Movies about dirty cops can be interesting if done right. The Negotiator remains my all time favourite cop thriller, while most people would say Training Day was awesome. Street Kings on the other hand, doesn't quite live up to these two.

First, the plot. Keanu Reeves stars as Detective Tom Ludlow, a veteran cop with the LAPD's Vice Squad. He's good at getting the job done, even if he has to break the law to nail the bad guys. To his superior, Capt Jack Wander (Whitaker), he is the golden boy of his squad. Wander uses his influence to protect Ludlow and give him the reins to do his job.

However, Ludlow isn't a happy man. His wife has passed on, he has a drinking problem and now he has another mess. He finds out that his former partner Terrence Washington (Crews) has been giving up information about him to Internal Affairs. Wander warns him to stay cool, but Ludlow decides to do something about it. He goes to confront Washington at a grocery store, but suddenly two gangbangers walk in with machine guns and kill Washington right in front of him before fleeing.

Ludlow is devastated over the incident, but now he has bigger problems. The fact that he was there makes him a suspect to the murder. Internal Affairs chief Capt James Biggs (Laurie) begins investigating Ludlow as Wander does his best to cover up for him. But Ludlow refuses to back down and begins poking around on his own. He teams up with the cop assigned to Washington's murder, Detective Diskant (Evans) and start combing the streets looking for his killers.

David Ayer is the guy who wrote Training Day, so you'd want to see some equal measure of quality here . Unfortunately, no. Plotwise, it's just too damn predictable. It doesn't take a genius to figure out who's the real bad guy in the film within the first half of viewing. The authenticity of the sets and language used is good, but not enough to make it interesting. It gets dull after a while when you realise you're actually smarter than the lead character.

Speaking of which, I gotta hand it to Reeves for pulling off a worthy performance this time around. He's believable enough as the rogue cop trying to do the right thing, much better than playing a messiah or a supernatural hunter. Whitaker is a little over the top here, but he's all right. It's an about turn from his role in The Shield. Laurie isn't so far removed from Dr House in his performance here, but still manages to make his scenes memorable.

I watched The Shield a lot, and honestly that show is way better than Street Kings. It's more unpredictable and the cops are characters you can learn to love or hate. In this film, you couldn't be bothered with the characters after a while.

While Street Kings is in no way bad, it's not very good either. (3.5/5)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fool's Gold

Year: 2008
Director: Andy Tennant
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland, Ewen Bremner, Ray Winstone, Alexis Dziena, Kevin Hart

I went to see this yesterday because I needed something to do to pass the time. It was either this or The Kite Runner. I thought, hey why not watch an adventure comedy. Might be fun. Who knows? But perhaps I made an unwise choice.

Fool's Gold focuses on an odd couple, Finn (McConaughey) and Tess (Hudson). Finn is a treasure hunter seeking fortune in the Bahamas, particularly an ancient Spanish treasure thought to have sunk somewhere along the coast. Finn is a very enthusiastic and charming guy, but it's not enough to get him out of trouble. See, he owes money to a black guy called Bigg Bunny (Hart), and he's just used up all his resources in finding this treasure.

Things get worse when Tess divorces him, because she is sick and tired of him messing up her life and their marriage. But he gets a new lease on life and finding the treasure when he meets up with Tess's employer, the very wealthy Nigel Honeycutt (Sutherland) and his pretty daughter Gemma (Dziena). He convinces Nigel to sponsor his expedition and persuades Tess to go along. With much reluctance, she agrees. But it's not a smooth plan, as Finn finds a rival in his old friend Moe (Winstone), and Bigg still pushes Finn for payback and all the gold he may find.

Andy Tennant gave us some nice films in the past, such as the lovable Sweet Home Alabama, the likeable Ever After and the underrated Anna & The King. You can always find fascinating characters, great chemistry between the leads and an interesting plot in his films. It's unfortunate however that this time he only scores one out of three.

Hudson and McConaughey do have excellent chemistry together, but this and the very humorous portrayal of Gemma by Dziena is all that Tennant has going for in Fool's Gold. Dziena plays Gemma as a totally clueless girl who gives the term "slow on the uptake" a whole new meaning, and it works. But it's not enough to carry Fool's Gold beyond average.

The plot isn't much to begin with and the script doesn't give much for Hudson and McConaughey to work with. Given the right dialogue, the two could have made the audience laugh out loud constantly. Alas, it was not to be. Winstone is wasted in his role, and Ewen Bremner as Finn's partner even more so. And why the hell is The Cosby Show's Malcolm Jamal Warner in this film playing a fat, tubby henchman for Bigg Bunny? That is so wrong. So, so wrong!

There are a few genuinely funny moments, but I wish there were more. It would have made up for so many of the boring areas I sat through. The ending is also predictable, but I guess I can forgive that, it's a romcom after all.

Dull and uninteresting. Wished it was better. (2.5/5)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Country For Old Men

Year: 2007
Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald

You know, I'm probably one of the last people on earth to watch No Country For Old Men, considering the enormous amount of time it took for this film to make it to Malaysian cinemas. Of course, I could have opted for other less legal means to see it, but watching movies shouldn't be about just seeing it per se, it should also be about being in a cinema and experiencing it. It's very old school, but I am old fashioned in a lot of ways, so there.

So anyway, by now you'd know that No Country is the film that won Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and earned several more for Best Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the film revolves around a bag of money and three men chasing each other because of it.

Llewelynn Moss is a man out hunting for deer when he stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone awry in the desert. He finds a bag of money, US$2 million to be exact, and decides to keep it. Before long, he finds himself hunted by Mexican gangsters and a mysterious hitman by the name of Anton Chigurh. Chigurh just isn't any kind of hitman though. He's a psychopath who doesn't think twice about killing anyone in his way, and will not stop in his search for the money.

Meanwhile, the town sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, takes on the case, and tries to piece together where Moss is going and who's after him, to try and save his life and maybe stop the carnage. But it is tough, since Moss is pretty good at running and improvising in order to survive, and Chigurh just keeps on going, gunning down innocent bystanders and even his own employers to get to his quarry.

This is actually the first time I'm watching a product of the Coen brothers, and it's not bad actually. I am aware of the buzz surrounding their previous efforts like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, but had never seen them. So now I get to experience their version of dark humour, and it is quite fascinating. No Country is probably least expected to be funny in any way, but the Coens somehow make it possible. All three protagonists are given just the right dose of humorous lines and unwitting charm, to endear them to the audience instead of coming off as two dimensional. It is in this respect that the Coens deserve the most credit.

Performance wise, Tommy Lee Jones gives a strong performance of a man who tries to do the right thing, but is slowly getting weary of the situations surrounding him. Josh Brolin also does well in his role as the guy who makes one mistake after another, starting with taking the money in the first place, and tries to stay away from making more errors as he goes along. But the one you'll love watching is Javier Bardem as the creepy Anton Chigurh. Chigurh comes off as a cross between The Hitcher's John Ryder and T2's T-1000, with a novel idea on opening locked doors. Even in his quiet demeanor, Bardem gives Chigurh a lot of character by exploring the twisted reasoning behind his murderous spree, in the scenes where he talks to some of his victims before slaughtering them. Bardem truly earned his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

I have heard that a lot of people didn't like how the film ended, and I can concur. It's an anti-climax, and somehow it doesn't feel like a perfect resolution, at least not for me. Films with endings like these are an acquired taste, either you love them or hate them. And I do wish Jones had more to do instead of waxing philosophy for most of his scenes, leaving the action to Brolin and Bardem. Nevertheless, No Country succeeds in telling a story peppered with violence and dark comedy, with superb cinematography and fine performances from its cast.

But I do wonder if it deserves the Best Picture award in the end. I guess I'll have to watch the other nominees first. I think I could relate more to There Will Be Blood, but that's just me. (4/5)


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