Rewind Review: Cop Out

Cop Out is the kind of film that shows you the proof is in the pudding, meaning all the pre-release news, trailers and other miscellanea don’t give you a true insight into the quality of a film. Examples here are plentiful. There is of course the title controversy – Kevin Smith, the director (this was the first film he directed that he did not write), wanted to name the film A Couple of Dicks after a line in the film and using the archaic slang for detective as a double entendre. That was shot down for advertising reasons as the title would limit their TV ads to late night. Then the trailer looked funny in parts and in others not so much. Anyway, I digress.

Cop Out is one hell of a movie that proves that Kevin Smith knows how to make a funny movie, whether he penned it or not, but it also does much more than that. It also ends up being a pretty good action crime movie at the same time, and what’s more neither of the two is ever struggling with the other. They balance perfectly together right from the first viewing. It’s in the neighborhood of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, third film yet to be) in terms of being a spoof, an homage and a film of the genre at the same time.

The film benefits tremendously from the unlikely pairing of Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. They’re not the first two you’d think of when trying to pick foils but man did it ever work here. However, a comedy can only be a true success when it also has memorable turns from the supporting cast. This film also has the benefit of that in many areas. First there’s Seann William Scott, who it may be safe to say has never been better, as the wild Parkour-practicing criminal the partners frequently run into. Then there’s Susie Essman in a very memorable one scene appearance as a woman who is being robbed and who takes no crap. And most importantly amongst the supporting stars is Ana de la Reguera as Gabriela, the Spanish-speaking kidnapping victim they happen upon.

copout576

The soundtrack to this film is noticeably good and does have a few toe-tappers that complement the score, which was somewhat reminiscent of action films of the 1980s, quite nicely.

The film starts with a very funny scene illustrating Paul’s (Tracy Morgan) odd interrogation techniques, which not only set the film up as an homage but also gets him the information he was after. The scene that follows that will kick the film off and send them on their mission as rogue cops. It’s a really well-structured beginning. Also, there is some character-building in as much as Jimmy (Bruce Willis) has a personal stake in retrieving something stolen from him which he planned to sell in order to pay for his daughter’s wedding. While Paul is haunted by the thought of his wife cheating on him and that paranoia is played on through suppositional flashes in which he imagines their exaggerated courtship to tremendous humorous effect.

The dialogue also needs to be cited for its excellence, while that should seem obvious it’s not always necessarily true. Take Dave, (Seann William Scott) the confrontational thief, he is constantly pestering Paul with games of shadow, knock-knock jokes and other nonsense but the film is somewhat conscious of this silliness and even plays up that for more comedy when they have an exchange of “Duck season!” “Rabbit season!”

cop-out-2010-movie-review-detective-jimmy-monroe-paul-hodges-dave-seann-william-scott-tracy-morgan-bruce-willis-kevin-smith

Cop Out is an uproariously funny film that doesn’t throw plot completely out the window as has you engaged in all elements of the tale.

10/10

Advertisements

Rewind Review: RED

What is it one can really say about the film Red? It does happen to get off to a good ambling start but somewhere along the way the novelty wears off. One of the highlights of the film is the siege upon Frank Moses’ (Bruce Willis) house. That is very early on.

While the film never takes a narrative jump too big it does progressively grow its web of conspiracy to a very high level. It was much more enjoyable and relatable when it was on a more personally based. The more entanglements of politics and the military-industrial complex that get mixed into it the less effective it becomes.

This is also a film with a rather interesting albeit not always overly-successful tonality to it. It’s part comedy, part action and part drama. The comedic never takes things too far out of the realm of believability and is always well-placed. It’s the action sequences that make you think a bit too much about what the real ramifications of these events would be.

red2-1

Where it does succeed, however, is that almost all the drama flows out of the characters as opposed to the situation which is why we remain involved in this particular tale.

The cast of this film is another thing that keeps a rather thin premise barely above water. Deserving first mention is a most welcome turn from Academy-Award winner Ernest Borgnine. It’s always good to see screen legends of a previous age getting legitimate work in today’s Hollywood. Bruce Willis is his usual action-star self in this vehicle and unlike some members of The Expendables doesn’t look out of place still playing an action lead.

Perhaps what’s best about these performances is that they did serve the story and weren’t merely used as adornment. John Malkovich’s character is a prime example. He brings forth most of the comedy in this title and it is due in large part to his paranoia. We find out through the course of the story that his paranoia is, in fact, perfect and he ends up being a great asset to the team and not a detriment.

2013-07-19-red2

Another way in which this film falls a little short is being too cute when you don’t have to. Without giving too much away there is a twist regarding the whereabouts of Morgan Freeman’s character. It is so blatantly obvious that they later waste a cut to reveal the “trick.” I highly doubt a high percentage of the audience was that fooled such that it was necessary and it really wasn’t needed to better convey the tale.

Red is a funny and entertaining film but ultimately the promise it shows early on is never followed through and it ends up being a rather forgettable experience when the opposite was promised.

6/10

Considerations for the 2013 Robert Downey, Jr. Entertainer of the Year Award

Originally I didn’t want to list considerations for either Entertainer of the Year Award or Neutron Star Award. The reasoning behind this was that these awards being for a body of work should’ve had their winners be rather apparent. However, owing to previous memory lapses, I reconsidered this philosophy.

Therefore, any and all eligible, worthy candidates for either award will be kept on this list. It will be one of the running lists that I update on a biweekly basis.

In essence, this will give those who stand out in these categories their due. For example, last year I felt remiss in not mentioning Matthew McConaughey in my explication for the Entertainer of the Year Award for 2013. In my reasoning behind Samuel L. Jackson’s win I had to talk about his year and how great it was and why Jackson’s superseded it. With this list, at year’s end I will be able to discuss each of the prospective candidates works.

Please note that while this award only requires two ‘participations,’ no “eggs will be counted before they’re hatched,” meaning if I have yet to see a second title, though I may expect to, that person will not be listed yet.

Without further ado, the candidates…

Candidates

Nicholas Hoult
Dwayne Johnson
Ryan Simpkins
Ty Simpkins
Rebecca Hall
James Franco
Spencer Treat Clark
Michael Shannon
Bruce Willis
Chloe Grace Moretz
James Wan
Hailee Steinfeld
Sandra Bullock
Abigail Breslin
Ben Kingsley

Shyamalan Week: BAM Best Picture Profile – The Sixth Sense

Introduction

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

Here’s another one where I’ve decided on a different tact as opposed to the pre-existing text I’d written. I don’t recall what the assignment was but I originally wrote a comparison between The Sixth Sense and American Beauty as they were best picture nominees. I’ve decided to edit that such that I only discuss The Sixth Sense and why it won the BAM Award for Best Picture of 1999. As I recently stated in the site’s first official piece on Django Unchained all the Best Picture winners should have write-ups and to that end, those that do not yet will get their due in December. However, since I decided to focus on the work of M. Night Shyamalan this week, I may as well post it now.

Overly-Cautious Warning: If you’ve never seen this film stop what you’re doing right now and go see it. I do spoil it eventually in this analysis.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

When I first saw the trailer to The Sixth Sense I knew I wanted to see it. I thought it was going to be one of “My Movies,” meaning no one but me would like it. There was a sneak preview a week before the nationwide release. My family and I got our tickets early via Moviefone. Thank goodness we did because there were many people walking up to the box office wanting to see it and being turned away because it was sold out. That was a good sign.

The film spent five weeks at #1 at the box office. I then started to hear the Oscar buzz stirring. After the Golden Globes and SAG Awards it didn’t seem likely it would do much at the Oscars. It didn’t. That doesn’t make it right, though. However, that’s why I had started the BAM Awards in the first place.

The Sixth Sense starts slowly but builds upon detail, one thing that give it a boost is amazing ensemble acting. The role of Cole’s mother is played by Toni Collette, an Australian actress. She had her Philly accent down so well I believed it was authentic at the time. She’s a very caring, playful mother but there’s also anger, fear and worry in her performance.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

If you want character development this film is definitely for you, it’s not a concept-only piece. It has a strong and fairly high concept, but there is a lot of character to it. You are thrown into the life of Malcolm Crow (Bruce Willis) immediately. There is a confrontation in the first few minutes. This confrontation ends up being pivotal in the rest of the story. Then a year later he meets a boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). From that moment forward there is rarely a moment when one of them isn’t on screen.

Films of a supernatural nature like this one often have underlying messages and present real questions. These movies, like horror fiction, are generally frowned upon. This may be another reason it didn’t win at the Oscars. If that’s so, it’s not justified.

In my estimation, Haley Joel Osment is not a supporting actor in this movie, he is the lead. Just like Joseph Cross wasn’t a supporting actor in Shyamalan’s previous film Wide Awake. Bruce Willis like Rosie O’Donnell prior sold the film. While Crow starts and ends the movie, a vast majority of it is dealing with Cole and his issues. You can argue Crow is a lead based on perspective, but if you’re talking screen time and, more importantly, who faces and ultimately overcomes their obstacles it’s Cole.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

Osment’s performance is incredible. The best acting is when you believe it’s happening and he sold it to you and you bought it because it’s real. He’s genuinely afraid. He’s shy and awkward when necessary and his suffering reaches off screen and wrenches your guts. In one scene when the thermostat drops and his breath vaporizes, I felt cold. Osment’s performance would not have been so amazing if not for the brilliant script. The script is nearly Hitchcockian in both its detail and the way Shyamalan is seemingly tossing elements up and plucking them down at exactly the right moment. The ways Shyamalan got everyone to believe Bruce Willis was alive then allowing hindsight to show he definitely wasn’t is both amazing writing and directing.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

The Sixth Sense has subplots, even aside from the obvious ones which are the tales of the spirits that Cole sees. One example is the characterization of a secondary player: Tommy Tommasimo, played by Trevor Morgan, isn’t just a bully. His performance is typical of a bully when it has to be, but in his character’s cough syrup commercial it’s commercial acting and satirical. It also gives the audience good comic relief. Tommy in the end of his narrative is comedic and dejected. He becomes and inside joke between Cole and Malcolm. Another storytelling interlude goes as follows: In a classroom scene where the school grounds were the sight of hangings. His teacher denies the fact. Then Cole starts to yell calling him by his boyhood nickname. It’s very intense and serves as momentary comic relief as well. We empathize with Cole for it, and who wouldn’t want to know their teacher was called ‘Stuttering Stanley’? We see the hanged bodies later and perceptive viewers are awed, those who miss the connection will be frightened regardless. It works on two levels.

That’s what most of the brilliance of the script and the film is: connection. Cole’s mother is cleaning and she notices some spots shining in the pictures. All we see her do is questioningly look at it. Later, when Cole tells her his secret she believes him deep down. The proof is given after. That too is a subplot. It’s a movie of such intricacies but it works because of its intimacy. There aren’t too many characters in it. The movie deals realistically with the supernatural. There is a psychologist involved with the boy. Cole at one point is in the hospital and the doctor questions his mother about the bruises on his body. This is a societal critique, but a subdued one and a welcome one. Both her and the therapist are in the room and disgusted by these accusations. They don’t see each other. We don’t know that though.

The crumbling marriage of Malcolm Crow is also a pivotal part of the puzzle. This also works brilliantly as an illusion. The best illusions are the ones we believe to be true. He and his wife never speak to each other anymore. She is with another man and Malcolm never quite chases him down. What’s crucial is when Malcolm comes to the restaurant late. She signs the check says “Happy anniversary” and leaves. This is so key because we think she is talking to him. She wasn’t and what’s best is the way all the pieces fit together and nothing is really out of place.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

The film also expertly foreshadows after re-viewing The Sixth Sense you see how it was set up all the way through the movie and you wonder how everyone took the bait, but we did. The ending was a shock. Nothing in The Sixth Sense seems forced or out of place. It all comes together in the end and it moves me. Cole asks, “Grandma says the answer is ‘everyday.’ What’s the question, Mama?” His mom is on the brink of tears and puts her hand on her chest, “Do I make her proud?” This is something we can all identify with. I got teary-eyed just thinking about it. I went to see it again with my cousins in Brazil. They all loved it. It’s truly a universal movie and now fourteen years on this films has not waned in my eyes, not in the slightest. It’s tremendous.

The Awards

The Sixth Sense was nominated for 10 BAM Awards, and won seven.

The wins were in the following categories:

Best Picture

Best Director

Best ActorHaley Joel Osment

Best Performance by a Child Actor – Haley Joel Osment

Best Supporting Actress – Toni Collette

Best Score – James Newton Howard

Best Cast

The Other Nominations were for:

Best Original Screenplay – M. Night Shyamalan

Best Cinematography – Tak Fujimoto

Best Supporting Actor – Bruce Willis

Samuel L. Jackson: The Unbreakable Avenger

Warning: if for some strange reason you have yet to see Unbreakable you should before reading this, there are spoilers within.

When I saw that Bubbawheat was doing a blog-a-thon covering actors in comic book movies, I thought it was very appropriate. Now there generally is a delineation between comic book and superhero films, and there is value at looking at individual actors who have appeared in this kind of movie multiple times. However, one of these roles played by Samuel L. Jackson is in a film that toes the line very carefully.

Now, when referring specifically to the superhero film it’s especially interesting because we are currently immersed in a seeming golden age of the the Superhero film. There were occasional bursts of greatness, but now these kinds of tales are attracting not only the state of the art techniques, not only A-List actors, but also top directors and writers to the cause creating richer, more human stories, that are still filled with incredible spectacle. In short, we’re getting a much more complete film than we ever thought we were going to get from the genre.

However, being in the midst of such an age sometimes we don’t necessarily stop and look around to see how we’ve gotten to where we are. Looking at some actors who have participated in many of these films can start to show us some of the indicators of the rise of this subgenre.

The Avengers (2012, Marvel/Disney)

Samuel L. Jackson is a man who has been myriad films from record-setting blockbusters to small indies he believes in and wants to help out. Sam himself may have a type and a persona, however, he doesn’t allow that to pigeonhole the kind of film he does. It’s funny that I find myself writing about Sam Jackson again so soon after I named him 2012’s Entertainer of the Year, but a line I wrote in that post came back to me as I scanned the list of candidates for this blog-a-thon. With regards to his still-ongoing portrayal of Nick Fury in Marvel’s Phase One, I parallel it to Alan Rickman‘s work as Severus Snape.

Aside from the fact that Rickman appeared in one series, and Jackson’s portrayal of Fury is part of a universe of franchise films, there are really a few similarities of note. If you’re looking just at the film textually, and not inferring any pre-acquired information from the comic books, Fury’s presences in each film is a necessity, but it’s nebulous. We try, as we go from tale to tale, to ferret out his nature and his intentions. Ultimately we see his main desire in Phase One is the creating The Avengers. However, and there is some follow-through on this in The Avengers itself, being the head of an intelligence organization he does dabble in a gray area much of the time, and that was set-up bit by bit in the films leading up to The Avengers and expanded there. I can only imagine that as the Marvel films proliferate that his character will continue evolve and become richer.

Now, make no mistake about it Fury is most definitely on the right side of the divide. The other of his comic book film characters I am taking a closer look at is Elijah Price in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. Now, this character brings to mind another statement I made in writing about Jackson’s entertainer of the year award, in the four films I cited in that award (The Good Samaritan, Meeting Evil, Django Unchained and The Avengers) he was a protagonist in two and an antagonist in the other two. He usually splits that fairly. Now, Price’s confrontational and difficult demeanor is apparent throughout. The twist, when Shyamalan still did them, is that views himself as the super-villain in his delusional relationship with David Dunn (Bruce Willis).

Unbreakable (2000, New Line Cinema)

This was a film well ahead of its time. There are quite a few reflexive superhero tales around now from the well-known and well-done Kick-Ass, to lesser known ones of lesser quality. However, Unbreakable, about which sequel rumors persist to this day is the kind of film that really could, and still can, have a sequel blow up and be something far greater than the original.

I’m not a critic of Unbreakable. I do like it, however, it’s not a film that’s impeccably rendered like The Sixth Sense is, or even like Shyamalan’s earlier film Wide Awake is. Jackson is a self-proclaimed comic fan, Ubreakable was his first title in the milieu and his filmography since then bears that out.

As either the persistent, hovering-around-the-periphery lynchpin on the Marvel universe or the injury-riddled, megalomaniac always seeking the yin to his yang, Samuel L. Jackson has always had an aptitude for injecting superhero films with life, for creating layered characters with quite a few notes to them. As the subgenre progresses one can only imagine Jackson going along with it and adding his own unique flavor to the entries to come.

What Should You Want a Franchise to Do Next?

I cannot say I’m a die hard Die Hard fan, not just because that’s a pun, but also because it’s true. However, what the chatter about the latest Die Hard did reveal to me is that even in disappointment, which is the fairly universal reaction to the latest installment, there are different grades of frustration. Furthermore, differing thoughts on what the future of the franchise should be by those who hold it dear.

Essentially, what struck me as most interesting to write about was examining the logic of differing plans through the spectrum of my feelings on other series’.

One of the first I heard can be succinctly described as “Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.” In other words, “Why end the series on a sour note?” However, if I were to apply that to a series I truly liked there would need to be something that I wanted to see salvaged. Because on the surface it can seem a contrarian statement to say “Man, that wasn’t very good, they’ve got to make another one.” However, I do get the sentiment. I think a series in my mind that has gone off course but can still be righted is say the Final Destination films. So far as Die Hard goes, I don’t think a third generation is an eventual solution or becoming further spy-oriented. Again, not a die hard, so I won’t over-speculate.

Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)

As opposed to continuing and just fixing the story, another reaction that’s possible it to want to go back to square one. I doubt this would be satisfactory to Die Hard fans. I know it’s a course of action I would accept as a fan of the Hellraiser concept and works wherein Barker was involved, that series is so far from healthy, restarting is the only way to come close to his intention for the character. Especially when the last film prompted Barker to respond that this particular plot it didn’t even come from his a-hole much less his mind, one wonders how worried about being true-to-form Dimension really are. In Die Hard terms, I find it hard to believe an attempt that doesn’t involve Bruce Willis would be made any time soon. The reboot option may only come when he’s really, really old and plays a humorous cameo wherein my generation and those above can tell the youngins that he made the first one and it was better.

So righting the ship and a reboot are options, but not viable ones in this series. The other two options that are theoretically possible would be a prequel, which also doesn’t makes sense here, and just ending it. These two seem to be the two hardest options to accept when your the fan of a franchise. Usually my litmus test about a prequel, or a tale in the same realm being told, is involvement of the originator of the series, like if Rowling pursued other wizarding stories or pursued a new strand of tales with her triad.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001, Warner Bros.)

Another determining factor is: is there room for narrative growth? Lucas had plans for more Star Wars, so now that the decision about proceeding on a new installment belongs to someone else; it’s happening and that’s fine by me. The reported stand-alones are too. The differentiation between the Star Wars and Harry Potter properties is one of time and ownership. So far as we know, lest we get new indications otherwise, Rowling’s world-building is complete. Lucas’ plan was always longer.

Few franchises have a grand design, and that prompts many follow-ups to come about due to responding to questions such as “Well, why not?” or “Well, what now?” Those with a grand design seem to have more staying power, and those who are consistently trying to re-invent the wheel are gambling more.

In the end, I believe “The Ain’t Going Out Like That” school should be the one we feel a film falls into least. A desired abandonment, as nihilistic as it may sound, could be the preferred reaction to most disappointing late-franchise sequels. The cessation of installments ends the false hope, that no matter if we know better, that part of us always holds onto believing that an intangible piece of the first film’s magic will come along into the second, third, fourth and fifth. So perhaps rather than wanting it to be fixed perhaps a franchise we feel is broken should be left alone until it heals or dies.