MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Police; The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2; Red Dawn; The Lincoln Lawyer



POLICE (Three and a Half Stars)

France:  Maurice Pialat, 1985 (Olive)


Louis Magnin is a brash tough French cop, or flic — played by the brash, tough, earthy  and likably thuggish French movie superstar Gerard Depardieu. Simon is a somewhat slimy-looking Tunisian-French drug trafficker, played by Jonathan Leina. For about ten minutes, in just a few long moving camera shots, at the start of Maurice Pialat’s tough, acidly  perecptive and almost cruelly unsemtimental crime thriller Police, we watch Louis beat the hell out of Simon, both verbally and physically. Louis’ goal: to intimidate and break Simon and get a leg up on cracking the Tunisian brothers’ drug operation. It’s a scene riveting and scary and convincing. So is the rest of the movie, in which we watch Simon’s brother’s courier girlfriend, Noria (Sophie Marceau) hops in the sack with both Louis and the gang’s grinning, good-time corrupt lawyer Lambert (Richard Anconina) — a shyster so snakey and weaselly, he makes most mob mouthpieces look nice.

Mauirice Pialat, like John Cassavetes, Sidney Lumet, Ken Loach and other unsparing cinematic realists, is a filmmake and former painter who excels at capturing the dark side of every world he puts on the screen, as well as getting almost unbearably honest and brutally unsentimental performances from his casts. And that’s what he does here — getting, you sense, the best they can give, from the actors above, and from Sandrine Bonnaire as another hanger-on and Yann Dedet and Mohammad Ayari  as other members of the gang. Like many another laceratingly candid police drama  — like Detective Story and The French Connection and Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, Pilat’s Police draws parallels between the “good” guys and the “bad” — though here, badness is a constant, good a temporary blessing. It’s a hell of a cop thriller. Almosty literally. (In French, with subtitles.)

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 2 (Blu-DVD Combo/UV/Digital) (Two Discs) (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Bill Condon, 2012 (Summit Entertainment)


1he moony, mega-popular “Twilight Saga” first began to haunt the dreams of susceptible moviegoers back in 2008, with the relatively modest teen scream romance,  Twilight — a show that appealed mightily to fans of original novelist Stephenie Meyer and fans-to-be of stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, as well as anyone partial to vampire  clichés. It was a typical young adult romance with a Dracula twist: Girl Meets Vampire, Girl Meets Werewolf. Slam-Bang Finale). Now, four movies later, with the appearance of the fifth and final installment, The Twilight Saga; Breaking Dawn, Part 2, the whole twilight shebang has drained its last drop of blood, for the moment.. We’ve gone though all four Meyer books — “Twilight,” “New Moon,” “Eclipse” and, in two parts,  “Breaking Dawn” The long teen-to-twenty vampire night is over.

Or is it? The sexless romance that made the hearts of teens tingle has been consummated. In Breaking Dawn, Part 1, Bella and Edward got it on, and we saw (simulated) sex, a pregnancy, a birth, and (now. in this movie) an unusually rapid childhood for Edward and Bella’s little girl Renesmee, or “Nessie” for short. Meanwhile, the wickedly busybody Volturi of Italy (the bad guys) have assembled under their preening leader Aro (Michael Sheen, doing a semi-Vincent Price routine), to hatch up more trouble.

As it happens Aro’s cohorts and minions are confused about Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy); they think that instead of being born a vampire, she was turned into one by infection — making Little Nessie prone to all kinds of bloody vampire problems. So the Volturi head for the forest and the Cullens’ place and another climactic showdown — while the Cullen family and friends gather some new buddies, trot out more expensive-looking special effects and unspool a ton of credits.

Breaking Dawn, Part 2 may actually be the best of all the Twilight movies, even if you count the two parts of Breaking Dawn as one movie instead of two, which you probably should. Michael Sheen alone pushes it over the top.  Then again, maybe I was just happy to see it finally end.

What The Saga eventually became, was a corny romantic movie not so much about vampires and werewolves and Volturi, but about movie stars and what they mean to the audience who doats on them. Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner certainly became movie stars relatively early on, and it’s an irony that they hit it so big. because movie stars (on the screen) are, in a way, as ageless  as vampires.  Movie stars crave immortality just as vampires do; they just don’t have to suck blood to achieve it. (Or do they?)

A problem I’ve had with the Twilight series from the beginning then is that the threesome doen’t appeal to me all that much, alone or together. Not their fauly, amybe. Kristen Stewart is at her most attractive and fesity in this movie. Pattinson gives us his pensive, James Dean-Monty Clift look and Lautner smiles and bares his torso (again and again) manfully, and no doubt they mean something special to the team’s fans pouring into the mutliplexes, but not me. Any way, the problem fwith the series is not so much with the actors as the scripts and the direction.  The dialogue, is unimaginative, and  funereally paced. Sheen steals the movie by sneering t everyhting, like Ricky Gervais at a particulalry bad Golden Globes. .

Largely because of Sheen, this episode has something that’s been relatively ignored in most of the other four: jokes. They’re not very good jokes. (A real stinker: Bella castigating Jacob for nicknaming her daughter Nessie, “after the Loch Ness Monster.”) But at least there’s an effort, a semi-jocular mood furthered by Sheen’s antics and by director Condon’s lighter hearted, camp-vampy approach. (Condon also had fun with the Franken stein legend in Gods and Monsters.)

And then there’s that big final battle in the snow, with heads rolling and veins bursting, and a surprise ending. And I hope I’m not ruining anything by saying that somebody lives happily ever after. Or a lot of them do. At least in this movie. Anyway,  Twilight, five times or oneisn’t my cup of vino rosso. And the kids are just not my kind of movie stars. Maybe they will be, some day.

Extras: Commentary by Bill Condon; Seven Part “Making Of” Documentary; “Jump to Edward and Jacob.”


RED DAWN (One Star)

 U. S.: Dan Bradley, 2010-2012

Red Dawn, a thoroughly idiotic movie, is a  remake of John Milius’ Cold War bang-bang fantasy of the same title.  That 1984 jaw-dropper was an action teen movie about high school footballers turned anti-Red guerillas: a band of letterman brothers led by Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell, battling a Soviet invasion in Colorado.

1984, the height of the Reagan era, was probably a good time for the original movie. I doubt a good time exists for its dopey, off-the-wall cinematic descendant. Here, in the new Dawn — directed by Dan Bradley and written, or maybe scribbled, by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore — the setting is Spokane, Washington and thefearless young guerillas-to-be play for the local football team, the Wolverines. But that’s only the beginning. In the raging world battle to come, after a parachute invasion of Spokane by the North Korean army, the guys reassemble with the prima donna quarterback Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) and are led, more decisively, by Matt’s stoic Marine vet older brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth). Their foes are that sizable, but inept mass of invaders from the land of Kim Jong-un.

Wait a minute. North Korea? Really? (Dennis Rodman, take note.) The movie begins with a football game, which the Wolverines lose, then proceeds the next morning to that air assault on Spokane, with nobody offering resistance except the quarterback, his teammates and his older pre-Thor brother. For most of the movie it’s just the Wolverines, and a few outsiders, against the Korean red hordes, led by the photogenic, but somewhat impotent, Col. Cho (Wil Yun Lee), who keeps spotting the Wolverines and letting them get away. If you’re wondering why North Korea and the fumble-fingered Col. Cho would want to invade a city like Spokane, instead of just dropping a bomb somewhere, and probably missing — well, wonder away. As far as I could tell, it was all part of a bizarre war plan, preceded by a prologue of TV appearances by Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, all warning about coming cyber-wars.

Actually, there’s a simpler explanation. The villains in the script and movie were originally Chinese, but MGM had financial problems, the movie was shelved, and then, after Hemsworth became a bigger star, and worries arose about losing Chinese box office, the show was digitally altered and reworked to turn all the Chinese references into North Korean ones. (Me, I would have gone for the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.)

That new change proves even more wildly implausible than the Chinese invasion in the earlier version, and the Soviet invasion in Milius’ original. North Korea may have a fraction of the U..S.‘s population, a fraction of our weaponry and nuclear arsenal, a fraction of our computer hackers, and a fraction of our Hollywood screenwriters and FX experts. But their invasion, at least as this movie imagines it, is astonishingly successful, triggering what seems to be a total collapse of the U. S. air defenses, T. V. networks and ground, sea and air troops, including the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, all local police departments, Civil Defense, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, all local gun clubs and the Marines (except one).

There’s nobody, it seems, who can fight these bastards and withstand their deadly parachute drops but a few football buddies (who don‘t even have their helmets), hiding out in the woods.The basic premise of this Red Dawn reboot, seems to be “Go Wolverines!“ The hook is “Football pals and sexy girls hide out in the forest, find big guns, and shoot evil North Koreans, who have conquered Spokane for some damned reason that nobody bothers to explain. I did notice that the American “free zone” after the invasion seemed to bounded by Michigan, Montana, Alabama and Arizona, an odd configuration that would seem to correspond to many of the red states won by Mitt Romney. A conspiracy? Secession? Maybe. But maybe North Korea simply misunderstood the meaning of the term “red state.”

Dan Bradley, who directed this balderdash — it would be flattering  to call it a travesty — is a very active and successful second unit action director who keeps the action here exploding right on schedule. The technical work is better, I bet, than the North Koreans could have managed, even if you put their parachute experts to work on it. The less said about the writing, the better. The actors, I assume, cashed all their pay checks. But if President Obama, Biden and Clinton have anything coming, I’d advise them to donate it all to charities — in South Korea.


The Lincoln Lawyer (Three Stars)

U.S.: Brad Furman, 2011

Los Angeles as the city on wheels — as a supreme car community, with a highly mobile and motorized citizenry — gets the lawyer that it probably deserves in  Mick Haller, star mouthpiece of director Brad Furman‘s okay neo-noir The Lincoln Lawyer. Haller, the best part McConaughey has had in quite a while (he’s had better ones since, in Bernie and Magic Mike),  is a cynical, smartly dressed defense attorney with a fashion-model profile and a gift of gab, whose only office is a swanky chauffeur-driven black Lincoln Continental, with a roomy back seat where he prepares cases, as his streetwise driver Earl (Laurence Mason), rushes him from one courtroom to another.

Most of his clients are probably guilty, something that doesn’t bother Haller overly much — perhaps since his ex-wife Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei) is a sharp prosecuting attorney, who evens up the odds. And none seem guiltier than Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a narcissistic, bad-tempered Beverly Hills playboy, with a tolerant socialite mother (Frances Fisher). Roulet is a spoiled psycho who’s been accused of assault and attempted rape by a victim whom he may well have terrorized and battered.

But there’s another of Louis’ possible victims capable of throwing even more of a worry or a scruple into the tough-hided Haller, and that’s the dead woman for whose murder another Haller client (Michael Pena) now rots in jail. Meanwhile, as Mick‘s shaggy best buddy, p. i. Frank (William H. Macy), tries to dig up the facts, and Earl tries to keep his boss/rider on schedule, Haller spars with bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo), prosecutor Ted Minton (Josh Lucas) and a bevy of tough-talking cops.

That’s the kicker — the moral quandary, and what it does to you to keep defending the probably guilty and maybe the truly heinous (and perhaps even putting them on the street to commit atrocities again) — that animates novelist (and ex-L. A. Times crime reporter) Michael Connelly’s story. It‘s been sharply adapted by John Romano, and atmospherically directed by Furman (The Take), and it keeps posing the kind of moral questions that were common in the classic noirs of Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Thompson or George V. Higgins, but aren’t always as satisfactorily handled in today’s movies and TV shows.

It’s a tough story, hard-nosed and audience-savvy: a neo-noir in settings both glamorous and salty, and a movie that gives you a tingling shot of L. A. style, plus a very good cast having a lot of fun playing deeper-than-usual roles that suggest real, or at least interesting, people. Especially McConaughey. He’s been good at courtroom thrillers before, especially in the Grisham-based 1995 A Time to Kill, but Mick Haller, based on a real-life lawyer Connelly met at a Dodgers game, is a character you could stand seeing a few more times, in a few more movies.



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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon