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IT’S A (MOSTLY) FAIR COP
My first cinema film review of the year is Gangster Squad, a bit of a throwback directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland). The film deals with the Los Angeles Police Department’s decision to set up a secret group of police, led by Sgt John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), to bring down gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Gangster Squad is an old-fashioned film, feeling like an extended episode of Dragnet with violence but sometimes it’s quite refreshing to see a film that’s so out of kilter with contemporary mores. Brolin acquits himself well here as does Ryan Gosling, who plays fellow police officer Jerry Wooters, who becomes involved with Cohen’s squeeze Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). The rest of the supporting cast include Robert Patrick (grizzled cop Max Kennard) and Giovanni Ribisi as boffin Officer Conway Keeler. Penn as Cohen is ridiculously over the top, complete with nose prosthetic, chewing the scenery and sometimes seems as if he’s trying to take a bite out of the cast. Gangster Squad is no LA Confidential and if you’re after subtlety, then you need to seek out something else. However it doesn’t outstay its welcome, there are some enjoyable scenes, some decent performances and director Fleischer does a decent job with the pace. If you’re after a cheesy slice of old-fashioned gangster fun, then you could do worse than check Gangster Squad out…

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MUSCLING IN

Boca is a period gangster film, a look at the life of Sao Paulo’s godfather Hiroito during his heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, that’s just hit Blu-ray and DVD. The movie is based on the real-life Hiroito’s biography. Daniel de Oliveira plays the title role and we watch his rise from a young boy obsessed with prostitutes in the city’s red light district to a major player on its streets, dealing drugs, running hookers and building up quite a fearsome reputation in his own right. His is a life of violence, as he is accused of murdering his father, and he quickly becomes alienated from his family, as he is drawn to the demi-monde of the city. Director Flavio Frederico recreates the world of 1950s and 1960s Sao Paulo with some skill and panache and the setting definitely has a very different feel to it, marking it out from American films dealing with a similar subject. Also, the South American cast exude a kind of cool on screen that a US cast would be hard-pressed to match here. De Oliveira is suitably charismatic as the main protagonist, making a credible kingpin. He is also able to carry off the scenes where he has to come across as a ruthless psychopath. Hermila Guedes, who plays his prostitute wife Alaide, performs well on screen and acquits herself admirably. My own quibble, and this is a minor one, is that the 90 minute running time is far too short, as it’s such a rich subject that it seems that it could have supported more. Brazil is already a major player in foreign language movies with films like City of God and Central Station: Boca is a stylish and exciting gangster biopic, a worthy addition to the country’s modern cinematic heritage…


DAYLIGHT ROBBERY?
Michael Mann is a director, like Michael Bay, who is all about the surface. Since he got his start on slick Eighties TV series Miami Vice, that’s not terribly surprising. Public Enemies, his biopic of bank robber John Dillinger with Johnny Depp in the title role and Christian Bale as his adversary Melvin Purvis, looked impressive when the trailer started doing the rounds at the beginning of the year. Now I’ve had the chance to see it, at a press screening last week, I’m afraid that it suffers from the flaws that nearly all of Mann’s films possess. We are treated to a rather meat-and-potatoes account of how Dillinger, after spending years on the FBI’s most wanted list and pursued by agent Purvis, played with nuance by Bale, is tracked down and brought to justice in quite a brutal way. Mann’s film looks elegant and he manages to recreate the Thirties with style and pizazz but structurally Public Enemies is very much by the numbers. The law enforcement who try to apprehend him come across as incompetent and almost Keystone Cop-like in their lack of savvy and there is even a scene where Depp as Dillinger walks into the police station, wandering unimpeded amongst the police. Depp is quite charismatic on screen and you are left cheering for him but Bale, while his performance is understated and probably his best in years, doesn’t have much to work with. There also isn’t any chemistry between Bale and Depp and Public Enemies just isn’t very thrilling as a cinematic experience. If you were to compare it to something like Arthur Penn’s classic Bonnie and Clyde, it isn’t even in the same league. Visually it is impressive but it is a hollow and unemotional experience and it makes you question just how versatile Johnny Depp actually is as an actor. In the hands of another director, Public Enemies could have been a modern movie classic but it falls so short that it is nothing more than an interesting curio with a solid but unengaging cast…