Tag Archives: Piers Marchant

Film Review: End of Watch

David Ayer
Score: 6.4

The found-footage phenomenon has its roots in breaking a central tenet of modern filmmaking: the distance between the protagonists and the audience. By removing the ‘artifice’ of a director’s camera, and putting it solely in the characters’ own hands, the theory holds, the impact of the action will be more raw and authentic-seeming without the cushion of a film crew and production artists and craftspeople to keep everyone at a safe distance. Hence, it’s popularity in the horror genre, perhaps most famously realized in the wildly successful <i>Paranormal Activity</i> series.

In David Ayers’ arresting film about young cops on the rough L.A. beat, he outright cheats the convention, including stylized ‘professional’ footage amongst the shots taken from squad car cameras, hand-held mini-cams, and tiny lavalier-style micro cameras stuck into shirt collars, each of which is operated by a young officer as part of a vague “film project” he’s shooting for a class.

The cop, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), is one half of a significant squad car bromance, along with his Mexican-American partner, Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), having met at the academy and stuck fast ever since. They patrol the mean streets of south L.A. with a hearty bonhomie, telling each other a stream of bawdy stories (Mike is married with children; as the film opens, Brian is happily single), unrestrained fist-bumping and, most of all, ripping on each other at every opportunity (both do a wicked impression of the other, one of the comic highlights in their never-ending repartee).

Naturally, they also get the job done. Do they ever. In the course of the few months in which the film takes place, the make huge drug busts, save a family from a burning building, rescue their fellow officers several times, and free a bunch of migrant workers held in a hellacious house of human trafficking.

It is this last bit of daring-do that runs them seriously afoul of a major Mexican cartel (the lazy-man’s catch all for ‘unequivocally evil’ villains, a kind of modernist fill-in for the Nazis), which leads to a significant price placed on their heads.

The action, as you can imagine, is plentiful and not-unpleasingly over-the-top, with bullets whizzing by our two protagonists seemingly every time they leave the man-cave of their squad car and venture out onto the sunny tarmac, but the strength of the film, fittingly, is watching the two buddies rip on each other even as they fiercely protect each other from the various outside threats that promise to do them harm, be they on the outside, with the cartel assassins in full chase, or internally, as they grate against the nerves of a fellow officer (David Harbour) and attempt to skate past the mandatory therapy sessions they earn for being so gun-happy.

Ayers’ script also includes a nice burning build — despite (or perhaps because of) the frequent danger Taylor and Zavala find themselves in, it’s hard not to take their gritty survival into question until the film reaches its action apex near the end. It doesn’t exactly make for passable realism — it’s like four episodes of an explosive cop show all bound together — but despite its found-footage conceits and concentration on the boys’ respective home lives (all of which are a good deal more realistic than their job) — we are to understand this to be the sort of cop movie, standard to the genre, in which hookers hook, shooters let fly, and drug lords stop at nothing to get their way.

None of which takes away from the performances of our two leads. Reportedly, Gyllenhaal and Peña spent some months in the presence of real L.A. cops, getting a feel for the rhythms and pace of the cops comradery, and their attention to detail shows. It’s just odd to have a movie with two such believable characters in a world that seems taken right out of a pulpy cop show from the ’70s.


Film Review: The Imposter

Dir. Bart Layton
Score: 5.9

As devastating as it is, extreme grief also offers us a glimpse of just how cold and callous the world around us can be, ripping the proverbial rose-tinted glasses from our field of view and allowing us, finally, to see things as they really are, in all their cold, stark reality. Our reaction to this experience could seem to go one of two ways: You permanently remove the comforting shackles of denial and continue to approach your life with that kind of uncompromising honesty, or you venture down the other direction and bury your head so deep in the sand you can no longer tell the time of day. The tricky question becomes positively identifying which direction you’ve gone.

And here lies the crux of Bart Layton’s gripping documentary about a family’s loss, subsequent hope, and even greater loss. The film concerns the Gibson family of San Antonio, who, back in 1994, suffered the devastation of having one of the youngest children suddenly vanish one night. Searching for him desperately, they had all but completely lost hope after four years, which is when they received extraordinary news: Their son, Nicholas, had reportedly been found — in Spain, of all places — and was waiting at a child services facility for them.

Nearly hysterical with happiness, the older sister of Nicholas, Carey, immediately made plans to pick the boy up and booked her first international flight. Unbeknownst to them at the time, however, the miracle would turn out to be anything but. The “boy” claiming to be Nicholas, was, in fact, Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old French vagabond trying to pass himself off as the lost boy in hopes to take on a new identity from which he could feel validated. Skillfully, he had gamed the system into taking him in to a shelter, and taken the time to search out the files of missing American kids, in order to give himself a chance to get stateside.

The problem was, his “sister” was coming to Spain to pick him up and with his dark eyes, brown hair and sizable French accent, he looked and sounded absolutely nothing like the blonde, blue-eyed waifish boy who had gone missing in Texas so many years ago. Certain that the jig was up, “Nicholas” nevertheless dyed his hair and added some elementary tattoos to match the description he’d read about in the boy’s case file. Certain to fail, he met his pretend sister the morning she arrived and prepared for the inevitable recrimination and jail time that would await him for perpetrating such an elaborate ruse. To his shock, however, his sister welcomed him with open arms, and never looked back, bringing him triumphantly home to the rest of his new family without hesitation.

As improbable as the story is, things get even more peculiar stateside, where “Nicholas” meets his family, enrolls in high school, and, seemingly, has everyone fooled, including a befuddled FBI agent, who believes his story of being apprehended by a foreign paramilitary outfit and subjected to rape, torture and facial reconstruction, hook, line and sinker.

Not everyone falls quite so easily in the film. Questions are raised about “Nicholas” almost everywhere but within his own adopted family, who continue to cling to the hope that their boy has been magically returned to them. So much do the family hold onto this obvious fabrication, there grow a rising tide of suspicion that some of the members know more about the real Nicholas’ sudden departure than they have ever lead on.

Layton’s film, with its stream of found footage, slick reenactments and bevy of manipulative camera tricks, walks the razor-line between journalistic documentary and sensationalistic Hollywood melodrama in very thin shoes.

Wherever the film may stray from the sober, journalistic path of the straight doc, Layton utilizes well his significant ace-in-the-hole, Frederic. Endlessly smiling and chuckling at his own bravado, he comes across as a true sociopath, not once worrying about the shattering pain and false hope he was bringing to his new family (and, in fact, once incarcerated, he continued to reach out to parents of missing children, pretending to have valuable info for them about their beloved kids). He makes no bones about the insane manipulations he used to get to America and seems terrifyingly bemused by the whole affair, as if it were some sophomoric prank from his junior year in high school.

By the end, there are a good deal more questions than answers — despite the gnawing suspicions by certain law-enforcement personnel, no one in the family is ever charged with a crime — which is peculiarly fitting. Left to the chaotic self-absorption of its main protagonist, no story would ever have a satisfying closure.

Screen Grabs: July 8, 2011

This week, we look at three new summer comedies: one funny, one moronic, and one German.

Herewith, a brief round-up of this weekend’s opening flicks, and the conventional wisdom surrounding them. In descending order of rottentomatoes.com awesomeness.

Horrible Bosses

The Story: Three men with nightmarish work situations hatch a plan to eliminate each other’s bosses.
The Skinny: On paper, at least, you have three seriously funny leads in Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, and a director in Seth Gordon (King of Kong, “Community,” “Parks & Recreation”) who would seem to be a solid choice for a dark comedy. So, how’s it hold up? About average, from what Scott Ross at Popcorn Biz reports: “it’s a second-tier effort that’ll leave you amused, but won’t change your life.”
Full Review: Horrible Bosses
Now Playing: The Pearl
Complete the Experience: While we don’t recommend killing any of your bosses, you can certainly complain bitterly about them over a fine martini at The Ranstead Room.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Vincent Wants to Sea
The Story: A man with Taurette’s Syndrome escapes from a clinic with an OCD patient and an anorexic to spread his mother’s ashes in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Skinny: Ralf Huettner’s comedy sounds suspiciously like a lot of other movies that have come before it. In fact, whenever we hear the words “road trip” associated with a film, it almost always bums us out. The City Paper’s Sam Adams would seem to agree with this assessment, writing ” There’s hugging and learning, but little insight or memorable detail.” And while we understand the title’s in translation from the German, still, yikes!
Full Review: Vincent Wants to Sea
Now Playing: Ritz at the Bourse
Complete the Experience: If a beach you want to explore, might we suggest the fine piece of coastline at LBI? Though we don’t recommend scattering ashes indiscriminately.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%

The Story: A zookeeper in desperate need of romantic advice receives help from many of the animals he has been caretaking.
The Skinny: A broad, idiotic comedy from Kevin James (with help from Adam Sandler) is nothing new, but the mirthlessness is almost total and complete in this lazy film. It doesn’t help matters if reports are true that one of the animal wrangler companies involved with the film were, in fact, abusing the animals under their care. Our best advice would be to wait until your next cross country trip and catch it on the flight. Just don’t pay for the headphones.
Full Review: Zookeeper
Now Playing: UA Riverview
Complete the Experience: You can, of course, take in the beauty and grandeur of Philly’s own Zoo, just don’t expect to get a running commentary from the bears.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%

Screen Grabs: The films you should drop everything to see, and the ones you should avoid like the plague.