Reviews – New movies opening November 23rd 2012

This weeks movie reviews including Gambit, End of Watch and more…

Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Wever, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, Matthew Russellm, Brea Bee.
THE PLOT: Having served his time in a mental hospital for attacking his wife’s lover, Pat Solitano (Cooper) is convinced that he can not only beat his bipolar disorder sans medication but, he can also win back the affections of his petrified spouse, Nikki (Bee). And when he finds an ally in the sleazy-going young widow Tiffany (Lawrence), Pat is even more convinced of his plan. Tiffany will get a secret message to Nikki. Only Nikki not only fails to do so, but she fakes a reply too. Oh, and just to add to the madness, Tiffany decides entering a dance competition will help keep her new man in check, something his dad (De Niro) fights, given that he firmly believes that having his son being at home helps his beloved football team win…
THE VERDICT: Okay, so that plot sounds a little bonkers, I grant you. And it is all held together by a man who has been known to be a little bonkers himself (Russell having even managed to ruffle George Clooney feathers). But, the surprising truth about this deliberately unconventional romantic comedy is that it’s truly romantic and truly funny – and all without ever once straying into Gerard Butler country. The smarts are actually smart here, as opposed to merely slick. It’s like David O. Russell took his 2004 offering I Heart Huckabees and made it likeable. And actually funny.
In pretty much the same way that he injected new life into the one-last-round boxer genre with The Fighter, here – with a script based on David Quick’s 2008 novel – Russell manages to reinvent another of cinema’s well-worn wheels. The key this time out – and perhaps even with The Fighter – is the simple underlining belief that, deep down and sometimes not so deep down, we’re all pretty much bonkers.

END OF WATCH (USA/16/109mins)
Directed by David Ayer. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour, Frank Grillo, American Ferrera, Cle Sloan, Maurice Compte, Yahira ‘Flakiss’ Garcia.
THE PLOT: LA, South Central, and LAPD partners Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) are plainly good at their job. To the extent that, when Zavala is challenged to go a few rounds with gang member Mr. Tre (Sloan) in the latter’s living room, the last-man-standing bout is strictly off the books. Respect!
But there’s trouble out on the streets, and it’s obvious that at least one hard rain is about to fall.
As part of an escalating turf war, one of Tre’s crew is gunned down by the Mexican Curbside gang, led by Big Evil (Compte) and La La (Garcia), whilst the random unearthing of some human trafficking quickly puts a price on Taylor – who’s keeping a video diary of his daily life on the beat – and Zavala’s heads…
THE VERDICT: It may be a buddy-buddy cop movie on the surface, but End Of Watch is more interested in the gritty truth than any loose cars, fast women and high-fivin’ shoot-outs. This is LA’s thin blue line through blood-tinted glasses, and the comparison to HBO’s The Wire are there pretty much from the start. And despite the buddy-buddy element, and another fine performance from Pena, this is really Gyllenhaal’s movie.
Having recently stated that witnessing a death during the early stages of research with the LAPD changed his life, young Jake has also now vowed to make only challenging movies from hereon in. Take that, Bruckheimer!
So, writer/director David Ayer (the South Central native who has so far concentrated largely on bad cops, writing the likes of Training Day and Harsh Times) has plainly gotten to his leading man here. And it’s easy to see why – even if End Of Watch isn’t quite Gyllenhaal’s Drive. Ayers is far too happy employing stereotypes here, and the odd 40-foot signpost for his subtle, underlying social commentary.
It doesn’t help that we’ve been here before, many times, from Colors to Training Day, from L.A. Confidential to Boyz n The Hood, not to mention last year’s Chinatown-esque Rampart. Still, End Of Watch works on its own terms, and if the mock-doc element makes about as much real sense as TV’s Modern Family, this is still a movie that leaves an aftertaste. 

GAMBIT (USA/12A/89mins)
Directed by Michael Hoffman. Starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Alan Courtney, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman.
THE PLOT: Having taken just about as much as he can from his boorish billionaire boss Lionel Shabandar (Rickman, in his element), art curator Harry Deane (Firth) has decided it’s time to turn. Enlisting the help of his forging friend The Major (Courtney), Harry hatches a plan. All he needs is a front – step forward Diaz’s hard-drinkin’ Texas rodeo queen – and a fake Monet. The plan being loads of Monet for loads of money, Harry walking away with millions whilst his media mogul boss is left standing with a fake. Only trouble is, when it comes to con artists, you never really know what you’re going to get…
THE VERDICT: What is it with the Coens? Whenever they take on a quirky comedy classic, it seems their own quirky simply cancels it out. Just like their painful 2004 revisit of Ealing’s The Ladykillers, here the brothers grin take on the eponymous swinging sixties hit (then led by Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine) and, well, suck it dry of any true swing.
And it’s not like they didn’t have the cast for the job – although the always-likeable Diaz really needs to start embracing at least her mid-20s soon before she turns into Goldie Hawn’s bitter twin. Maybe it’s all the director’s fault, the man behind the 2009 Oscar contender The Last Station being a somewhat surreal choice here.
Try as you might, it’s hard to find much to salvage or chuckle at here, anything remotely wry, crisp and dry having been tightened up and edited into much sharper punchlines for the trailer.

Directed by Debbie Isitt. Starring David Tennant, Marc Wootton, Jason Watkins, Joanna Page, Ian McNeice, Jessica Hynes, Pam Ferris, Thomas Ainge.
THE PLOT: It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas at St. Bernadette’s primary school if nice-but-dim teaching assistant Mr. Poppy (Wootton) has his wish come true – he has entered the school into the national Song For Christmas competition. With a little reluctant help from supply teacher David (Tennant), the choir sets off from the Midlands to the Welsh venue – only the dastardly Oakmoor School have made sure their journey is far from straight and narrow. And so, before you can say Bear Grylls, the gang are fending their way across the wilds of Wales…
THE VERDICT: Jesus wept.

Words – P Byrne