The cop genre can be a little tired but few have explored it as thoroughly as David Ayer. Ayer wrote the modern crooked cop movie Training Day with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke and he's written and directed a handful of other cop dramas based in South Central Los Angeles. Ayer's latest End of Watch has some of the same tropes at his previous movies — crookedness in the force the bond between two partners the push and pull between family and career — but our protagonists' biggest test is the street itself not each other.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are partners and best friends who sling racist insults at each other as often as they pledge their loyalty. As Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Peña) they are instantly likeable; they're goofy foul-mouthed brothers who are on the beat in South Central LA. They're definitely not always above board and they're a little smug about a recent bust; they want to find another big catch but when they do it lands them in the middle of a turf war and something way bigger than they could have anticipated. It's ugly it's graphic and it is in some ways a bit salacious in its portrayal of the violence most of us merely read about in the papers.
The conceit that Ayer uses to bring the viewer in close is that Brian is filming their work for a filmmaking class he's taking. Besides the dubious legality there are plenty of times when it's impossible for Brian to be filming so Ayers only uses this device when it's most convenient. At other times the camera moves to a typical third-person POV or even as if we were looking at footage from the in-car camera of a police chase. The most unbelievable aspect of the handheld camera is when the gangsters they're after are filming themselves at parties or on drive-bys. While it's interesting and effective insofar as it brings us up right into the action it's just not logical. At one point Ayer even uses night vision for a suddenly and weirdly introduced enemy. On one hand the use of Brian's footage (and how much it ticks off his fellow cops) is quite effective but on the other it's simply illogical. We're supposed to believe that this is indicative of Brian's goals his desire to grow past the life of an officer on the beat and start a family and all that but at the same time there's not much backing that idea up. Although the family angle comes in later it doesn't seem likely that Brian will give up life with his partner without a big push in another direction.
Ayer deftly switches between the violence of the job and the cops' intimate conversations in their car their regular off-duty lives and the bravado among officers jockeying for position on the force. The type of events Brian and Mike encounter can be stomach-turning; even the cops turn away before the camera offers the audience a look at what they've encountered. It's shocking at times and graphic in a way that's different than a horror movie or a shoot-'em-up like The Expendables 2. It sticks with you after the credits have rolled.
End of Watch also grabs you emotionally although sometimes it is a bit too on the nose. There are more than enough scenes where characters get drunk and mournful about the lifespan or lifestyle of a cop. Brian who is a bit of a womanizer finally meets a woman he can't believe would go for a cop Janet (Anna Kendrick). Kendrick isn't given a lot to do but when she's onscreen she brings some levity to this grim business. Mike's wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) also has quite a few zingers although her screen time is even less than Kendrick's.
There aren't many other notable female characters. It's great to see America Ferrera play against her Traveling Pants type as a police officer who comes from the neighborhood and knows the people she's up against. Although the butch lesbian cop is played-out Ferrera does a good job bringing Orozco to life. There's also a hint that she was once romantically involved with the female leader of the Latin gang that's taking over South Central. The various gang members and other people the cops meet on their beat are fairly flat too; they're just the bogeymen and women who haunt cops on the streets and in their nightmares. There are some references about a street code and the changing gangs of South Central but it's more of a plot device than anything else.
In the end though this isn't a sociological study; this is a portrait of a friendship. End of Watch has a lot to offer for fans of the genre especially if they've got their Kleenex at the ready.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston can relax; they are now surpassed in the couples rumor mill by the betrothed Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. So we're here to quash some buzzings and entertain you with others.
The latest rumor is that Zeta-Jones wants to take Douglas' name after they wed, according to the New York Daily News. Does this make her Catherine Douglas or Catherine Zeta-Douglas? We're not sure. But while we find out, we can tell you that she's not converting to Judaism, according to Douglas.
"I have had no formal religious training myself, and there has never been any debate with Catherine about it. Religion has not entered into the equation. Our child will be raised the same way I was," Douglas, 55, told London's Mirror.
He also admits that he misplaced her engagement ring before he proposed New Year's Eve. When Douglas couldn't find the sparkler in his luggage, he was "sure someone had stolen it," but Zeta-Jones, 30, remembered seeing him fumbling with a box at their hotel room in Wales over Christmas. Douglas called the hotel and asked housekeeping if they'd found a box, and lo and behold, it was there. It was shipped to Aspen, Colo., where he proposed at his resort. Kudos to the FedEx people for going above and beyond the call of duty.
A SHAGADELIC LAUGH: "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me's" Mike Myers and "American Beauty's" Annette Bening took funniest film actor and actress honors at the American Comedy Awards on Sunday night at Los Angeles' Shrine Exposition Center. The awards will be telecast March 23 on Fox.
Funniest motion picture went to "Analyze This," a mob comedy starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal, topping more offbeat nominees such as "American Beauty" and "Being John Malkovich."
Steve Martin was honored with a career achievement award. Said Myers, "I like Steve Martin because he's silly and smart, smart and silly."
MAKING PEACE: Before "Red Planet" opens Nov. 10 -- pushed back from June 16 -- Tom Sizemore would like to clear the air concerning reported rifts he had with co-star Val Kilmer.
"Val and I are friends," the 36-year-old actor told USA Today. "A lot of people say nasty things about him. ... We did 'Heat,' and he was sweet to me. We're together (in 'Red Planet') from Page 6 to the end, every day, for 16 hours. And we've had a really good time. "
Earlier reports said the two considered taking out restraining orders on the set. Kilmer says, "The idea that Tom and I have taken out restraining orders ... is completely untrue. I have known Tom for many years and have the utmost respect for him as a person and actor."
MAKING PEACE, PART II: Madonna, after giving some 65 interviews promoting her upcoming film "The Next Best Thing," finished her interview with Rosie O'Donnell and decided she had more good-doing to do. So the Material Girl popped on over to "Saturday Night Live" studios, where fellow diva Jennifer Lopez was rehearsing her musical number for this week's show. The two reportedly greeted each other warmly and laughed off rumors that Madonna snubbed Lopez at Donatella Versace's New Year's Eve bash over Lopez's criticism of her acting abilities in a Movieline.
OBITS: French director Claude Autant-Lara, known for his right-wing political stances and jabs at bourgeois society, died Saturday at age 98. Autant-Lara directed more than 30 films, many of them classics of 1940s and 1950s French cinema ...
John Vincent Imbragulio, a music executive who produced the rock 'n' roll single "Sea Cruise" among others, died Friday at age 74. Imbragulio owned Ace Records, Ace Music Publishers and Avanti Records ...
Todd Karns, who played James Stewart's younger brother in died Saturday of cancer at age 79. Karns' character, Harry Bailey, made the memorable toast in the film's final scene, saying "To my big brother, George. The richest man in town!" ...
Doris Kenner-Jackson, member of the Shirelles, died Friday of breast cancer. She was 58. The Shirelles, which also included Shirley Alston Reeves, Beverly Lee and the late Addie "Micki" Harris, had many hits in the early 1960s, including "Soldier Boy" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."
QUICK TAKES: Add Clint Eastwood to the roster of presenters at this year's Academy Awards on March 26 in Los Angeles. Eastwood picked up Best Picture and Best Director awards for 1992's "Unforgiven." ...
... Phylicia Rashad (CBS' "Cosby") has made plans to renovate the Brainerd Institute, a historic black school where her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, graduated ...
Paul Newman ran into a little car trouble at the 24 Hours of Daytona race Saturday. His Porsche blew an engine and was retired only eight hours into the race. Luckily, the 75-year-old Newman was not in the car when it blew; likely he was off hand-gliding or preparing for the running of the bulls.