“End of Watch” taps into many emotions

Jack Webb was a pioneer in offering the cop-buddy format in crime drama presentations, first with his Joe Friday-and-partner gigs in the radio and television productions of “Dragnet,” and later as the driving force behind “Adam-12.”

Most of the time these days, the cop-buddy element is used effectively in comedies, but as “End of Watch” demonstrates, it also can embellish the story in serious dramas.

“End of Watch” is propelled by pitch-perfect chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michel Pena in the lead roles. Gyllenhaal is Brian Taylor and Pena is Mike Zavala, street cop partners in LAPD, working the tough South Central Los Angeles beat.

They are also best friends — and see themselves as brothers — who will cover each other’s backs. They are able to kid each other with insensitive comments about their cultural differences, knowing they also share many passions and a mutual respect.

Taylor, who is also studying law, is the loose cannon of the duo, sometimes overstepping his bounds that can have him butting heads with authority. Zavala, affectionately known as Z, is more conventional. He is a family man, tuned into his responsibilities as a husband and father as well as being an efficient police officer.

Writer-director David Ayer, who has explored the law enforcement world before with his screenplays “Training Day” and “S.W.A.T.,” captures the tone and mood of police work, presenting the personality conflicts, the mischief and pranks and the grim and macabre humor employed that help these people cope. But the gems in Ayer’s script are the exchanges between Taylor and Z as they discuss life and love and their police work.

Taylor, who is taking a film class, carries a video camera with him at all times, giving “End of Watch” that recovered-footage look that can add a touch of realism while also being an annoying gimmick. Ayer also uses the standard police unit-mounted cameras to present point of views.

There is a lot of humor in the movie, mostly provided by the Taylor-Z exchanges, but also adding touching and funny moments are the women in their lives. Z has been married for years to Gabby (Natalie Martinez), who gets a key moment in providing candid and explicit love-making tips to Taylor and his bride. Anna Kendrick is Janet, who captures Taylor’s heart after his seemingly endless forays into relationships that he insists never get past a third date. Kendrick gets to shine in a scene when she covertly records herself in a monologue on Taylor’s video camera and later showing some great moves on the dance floor during her and Brian’s wedding reception.

While there is a light tone interspersed throughout “End of Watch,” a cloud of apprehension hangs over it. These two officers are in the line of fire daily, and their police work has upset the operations of a local outlet of a Mexican drug cartel, putting them in the target sights of these people. This is a drama and the element of violent death lurks in the background.

Gyllenhaal, with a nearly shaved head, is very convincing as the ex-Marine Taylor, physically adept and driven, but also a person who wants to savor the rewarding aspects of life like the kind of marriage enjoyed by Z and Gabby, along with fatherhood.

Pena has been one of my favorite actors the last decade or so. He has made me laugh with his comedic and goofy performances in movies like “Observe and Report” and “Tower Heist,” and has put in a lump in my throat with his dramatic work in “Crash,” “Babel” and “World Trade Center.” He really gets the best lines in “End of Watch” and his Z is a tower of keen observations, dedication and loyalty.

“End of Watch’ has the viewers experiencing various emotions. There are the funny moments and poignant ones, along with violence and tragedy and absolute rage and disgust at some of the nastier characters. This is a wrenching movie, however, that can leave you drained — these two cops will stick with you long after you depart the theater.

Murder “House” devalues property values and psycho thrillers

This is the usual setup: Rural area with few homes, surrounded by the woods. One house harbors a violent history, but an uneasy status quo is maintained in the neighborhood until new residents arrive and mess things up.

So that is what “House at the End of the Street” presents. It opens with a the double murder of a couple by their seemingly sleep-walking teenage daughter, who then flees into the woods. So, will this house be haunted, or just sit there dead and rotting like the Myers house in “Halloween”?

Fast forward four years and the obligatory new residents show up. They are Sarah and Elissa Cassidy (Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence). Sarah is the divorced single mother trying to make amends from her not-so-motherly past. Elissa is the teen daughter dealing with issues of a broken home.

They rent a house that, naturally, is next door to the home where the killing took place. At a neighborhood picnic, Sarah and Elissa are told of the story. The couple’s daughter, Carrie Anne, committed the murders and disappeared into the woods. Although believed to have drowned, Carrie Anne’s body never was found. So, while the adults talk bitterly about depressed property values and a desire to buy the murder house and destroy it, the younger people cultivate creepy stories of Carrie Anne living in the woods.

Initially told the house is vacant, Sarah soon spots a light on in one of the upper rooms, and upon inquiring of the local police officer, Weaver (Gil Bellows), is told that Ryan, Carrie Anne’s older brother, who was living with an aunt at the time of the murders, now resides in the house. Ryan keeps to himself, Weaver says, and never has caused any trouble.

Elissa, meanwhile, tries to mix in with her new classmates at the local high school. She has some successes — a singer who was in a band while living in Chicago, Elissa hooks up with some musicians at her new school. But after an unpleasant experience with a local boy at a charity event, she starts walking home.

And who should come cruising by, conveniently when it starts raining, but Ryan (Max Thieriot). Ryan presents the persona of a decent young man, haunted by his family’s grim past, perhaps harboring some guilt — and obviously lonely.

Thieriot has the look of someone who could be an innocent, sensitive guy, but also exudes the creepiness of a person who might not be who he pretends to be. For one thing, Elissa asks, why continue to live in the house where your sister murdered your parents? Well, says Ryan, I am fixing it up and will sell it.

Ryan practically offers a confession one day while walking in the woods with Elissa, talking philosophically about everything having secrets.

Yes, Ryan has secrets, and thus evolves the story as Elissa and by default Sarah soon find themselves learning more than they wish to know. Ryan is not exactly thrilled either at what’s being revealed.

The screenplay by David Loucka, from a story by Jonathan Mostow, does not present any shocking twists and in fact borrows heavily from a classic thriller of 50 years ago.

This is a mildly suspenseful effort, but Lawrence, an engaging actress, lifts this from the mundane with her Elissa, who can be bitter and snotty with her mother yet show some mature sensitivity and awareness. Her performance adds dimension to the nice-girl-who-survives, a staple of the horror/suspense genre.

Lawrence, by the way, has a knack for signing on to play characters with double letters in their names: Elissa, Katniss. Ree, Tiffany.

“Evil” may be a recurring resident in theaters forever

“Resident Evil” has become both a video game and a movie franchise, and the way writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson is playing it, he appears ready to let this all go on indefinitely.

The fourth movie in the series, “Resident Evil: Retribution,” kills the notion embraced by Alice (Milla Jovovich) and her friends, who at the end of “RE: Afterlife” were on a ship sailing to what they hoped might be some peace and quiet for a change — although we viewers knew better.

Never count out the vast Umbrella Corporation that has its financial and political tentacles stretched all over the world. As “Retribution” opens, Alice is literally blown off the ship during a massive attack and upon regaining consciousness finds herself in a Twilight Zone-ish parallel world in which she is a loving housewife and mother of a deaf girl named Becky (Aryana Engineer), living in pre-disaster Raccoon City.

Soon the zombies attack and as Alice and Becky flee, they are offered an escape ride by Rain (Michelle Rodriguez). Say what? Didn’t Rain die in the original — twice? First as a human then as a zombie?

Well, who knows? Before long, Alice finds herself waking up again and feeling deja vu. She is locked up in some cell, with barely any clothing on, just like she had been at the end of the first “Resident Evil.”

She is back in an Umbrella Corporation hive, being interrogated by her former ally now enemy Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), who is head of security. Of course, Jill is dealing with Alice, who always seems to get out of these binds. So the computer crashes, forcing a reboot that compromises the security system. Now appears Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), who tells Alice this computer crash was engineered by Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who needs Alice to escape, hook up with some heavily armed operatives and blow this facility up.

All this ties in with the runaway control of the Red Queen in the master computer, which wants to destroy human life on the planet. Who knows why? Only now in addition to zombies by the millions, there are clones being manufactured by the thousands, which explains why the twice-dead Rain is alive and well-armed and intent to kill Alice; and One (Colin Salmon), who was diced into little bitty pieces in the original, also is back for an encore.

“RE: Retribution” is essentially a video game on the big screen as Alice and Ada, soon joined by Luther (Boris Kodjoe) and Leon (Johann Urb) and their group, encounter all kinds of obstacles in their quest to get out from this underground facility before the set charges detonate.

There ensues the usual slow-motion choreographed mayhem, and Jovovich still looks good putting the hurt on various undead and mutated creatures. After escaping from and destroying the Umbrella facility, Alice meets up with Wesker, who pretty much tells Alice she can forget early retirement. She has been appointed to lead mankind’s last stand against the Red Queen’s decimation of the human race, a battle for survival that will be depicted in “Resident Evils” to come.

Now, as she approaches age 37, Jovovich might be thinking she’s getting too old for this stuff. Fear not. During her escape maneuvers in this latest movie, she was reunited with Becky, and even though Becky might be a clone, Alice’s mother instincts have kicked in. Could Becky become the next generation?

And this: It looks like Rain again met her demise, but you can bet if there is a way she managed to slip out of her dire situation, she also may be back for more.

Miscellany: If you have someone on your gift list who is a fan of “Alien” and also enjoys Asian cuisine, here is an usual item for them: Alien Chopsticks. These are detailed, nine-inch utensils that at the top have sculpted creatures from that classic sci-fi horror movie: your choice of either the face-hugger, chest-burster or the Xenomorph. They are priced at $9.99. See kotous.com.

TV chef Anthony Bourdain has a macabre side to his nature. He has co-written with Joel Rose a graphic novel titled “Get Jiro.” Published by Vertigo, it is the story of a sushi chef who brandishes a Samurai sword to behead customers who do not hold his food in the highest regard. Landgon Foss served as the artist on the book.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3” on DVD, Blu-Ray

Releasing “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta” directly to DVD and Blu-Ray is an act of compassion. Parents are free of the obligation of sitting through this movie in the theater. Instead, they can insert this disc into the player and disappear while the children eat it up.

Not that “BHC3” is bad. It’s a cute movie. Typically, it is hard to go wrong when you have a movie about animals dealing with human issues. Make them live-action dogs or cats with human voices, and you can put together a workable movie that will delight children and minimize the groaning among adults.

Dana Starfield makes a screenwriting debut with “BHC3,” taking up the story of characters created by Jeffrey Bushell.

Rachel Ashe (Erin Cahill, who took over the role from Piper Perabo in “BHC2”) and boyfriend Sam Cortez (Marcus Coloma) both get jobs at the Langham Huntington Pasadena Hotel. Rachel is hired as a chef and Sam as the landscape architect. Naturally, they bring their extended family of dogs: Chloe and Pepi, now married, and their litter of five, along with Pedro the grinner (Ernie Hudson).

Chloe (voice of Odette Annabelle) is the only one fitting in at the hotel. Rachel is butting heads with an officious lead chef, Didier (an over-the-top Sebastian Roche) while Sam is straddled with a lazy assistant, Lester (Kyle Gass).

In the dog world, Pepi (George Lopez), has found a comfortable niche as a father to his five pups: Rosa (Kay Panabaker), Papi Jr. (Logan Grove), Pep (Emily Osment), Lala (Maddison Pettis) and Ali (Delany Jones). He is homeschooling his children but soon has that responsibility usurped when the pups enroll in the hotel’s doggy day school academy, run by the overly perky Jenny (Briana Lane) and the St. Bernard Oscar (voice of Jake Busey).

In addition, Rosa, the runt of the litter, feels left out and Pepi has to deal with boosting her sagging self-esteem. He decides to have a Quinceanera for Rosa, and enlists the help of bulldog Sebastian (Tom Kenny) to audition and book the proper music for the event.

Back at the hotel, the stressed out and pompous hotel manager Terrence Hollis (Cedric Yarbrough) has his hands full as the overbearing travel writer Amelia James (Frances Fisher) checks in to do a review of the hotel. She has a stuck up and spoiled dog named Charlotte (Lacey Chabert).

Pepi, with little to do, soon learns that Jenny and Oscar are up to something, but every attempt he makes to uncover incriminating evidence only gets him into more trouble.

There will be no surprises in this story. Pepi will redeem himself, the bad guys will be rooted out — marking the only appearance of Delgado the police dog, voiced by Miguel Ferrer — and Rosa will have an opportunity to show her formerly dormant fortitude.

Though mostly directed toward children, “BHC3” does have some moments for the older crowd. In particular is the audition scene wherein dog groups parodying real acts are given a chance to perform: Black Labbeth, Houndgarden (dogs howling in a garden, apparently a big hit in Seattle), Bob Marley and Me, Lady Gaga and the Tramp and the Black Eyed Fleas.

Later, during the credits, members of Black Labbeth (in British accents) discuss other acts with such names as The Rex Pistols, Iggy Pup, Coldspay, Rage Against the Vacuum Cleaner and even get into the country western realm with Collie Parton (big fur).

With the holidays coming up, “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3” could be a nice little gift under the Christmas tree.

“The Cold Light of Day” leaves you cold

Oh, no! Ripley’s gone bad.

Sigourney Weaver, who 33 years ago broke ground in creating the resourceful female character who could overcome her fears and conquer evil, has opted of late to take on roles of people who are nowhere near to assuming hero status.

Several months ago she was featured as The Director in “The Cabin in the Woods,” someone willing to destroy a lot of people to achieve her objectives. Now she is at it again in “The Cold Light of Day.”

This action flick quietly sneaked into theaters after a few showings of its trailer but not a lot of enthusiasm as far as displaying it to the media pre-release. That usually means trouble, and in this case, that is the case.

“Cold Light” is not a bad movie. It is just one that has very little originality, which is interesting given that among its thousand or so producers is Steven Zaillian, who recently wrote screenplays for “Moneyball” and the English-language version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Too bad he decided to hover in the producer realm rather than serve as a writer.

The screenplay is credited to Scott Wiper and John Petro, two guys who have nothing else significant on their script-writing resumes. And while director Mabrouk El Mechri shows some style in piecing together action sequences, he is straddled with a story that is cobbled together from previous spy-espionage-terrorism films.

Henry Cavill, who played Charles Brandon in the Showtime series “The Tudors,” is the lead character, Will, a young man who reluctantly joins his family for a sail-boating vacation in the waters off Spain and soon finds himself in a life-and-death situation with his family in peril.

Before things spin out of control, it is obvious Will has issues. His business is failing. His relationship with his father, Martin (Bruce Willis) is strained. In the background, Will’s mother Laurie (Caroline Goodall), younger brother Josh (Rafi Gavron) and Josh’s girlfriend, Dara (Emma Hamilton), wear forced smiles, trying to pretend everything is just peachy.

When Will’s lack of concentration while guiding the boat leads to a small mishap, Martin heaves Will’s cellphone into the ocean. Sulking, Will decides to swim to shore and get some things in town. But upon returning, he finds the boat abandoned.

Reporting the missing persons to the local police, Will soon learns the local law enforcement may have knowledge of the disappearance and are trying to seize him. Fortunately, Martin shows up and exhibits some fighting skills Will had never seen old Dad engage in before.

Now it’s confession time. Martin has to admit that all these years, his supposed role as some low-level diplomat for the United States really was a cover. He’s actually CIA, and this recent kidnapping of the family is the result of people wanting some briefcase Martin had confiscated during one of his CIA operations.

Martin calls a “friend,” and it turns out to be Carrack (Weaver). Soon it is evident that Carrack and Will may have had a falling out.

Suddenly, Will finds himself alone, with a lot of questions and no answers — and time running out, as someone keeps calling Martin’s cellphone, now in Will’s possession, saying that if he does not produce the briefcase within a few hours, his family will be killed.

The way Will conducts himself from this point, the movie could be titled “The Clod in the Light of Day.” Meanwhile, Carrack tries to reach out to Will with the typical “you can trust me” assurances you know are not true. It does not help that Carrack is being accompanied by a sharpshooter, Gorman (Joseph Mawle), a man with the crazed look of someone who enjoys taking people down with a high-powered rifle.

Will wisely does not trust Carrack, and has the presence of mind to go through the data in Martin’s cellphone, which helps him hook up with Lucia (Veronica Echegui). Here, the supposed plot surprise of Lucia’s relationship to Martin is no surprise at all.

If there is one element that is not predictable, it’s the revelation of who is after the briefcase.

In the latter part of the movie, as Will gets more beat up yet somehow manages to stay alive, Weaver steals the show as Carrack, a person with no conscience whatsoever, wisecracking her way through chase scenes. Here she channels her famous Ripley, except this is Ripley gone astray.

One positive aspect of “The Cold Light of Day” is that it does not insult your intelligence by having Will, a novice in these cat-and-mouse games with national security at stake, suddenly evolving into an adept operative, outsmarting much more experienced spooks. He really does need a lot of help — and gets it.

This movie also needs a lot of help but does not get it. “The Cold Light of Day” will slink out of the theaters with the same lack of fanfare that heralded its release. In a few months it might even sell a few DVDs before being a schedule filler on Cinemax, Starz, Encore, etc.

“Lawless” pits booleggers against crooked law enforcement

Moonshine makers and bootleggers usually make good subjects for wacky adventure comedies, but there was a serious and violent side to the underground industry that thrived during the Prohibition years.

Writer Matt Bondurant came upon a mother-lode of rich material when he discovered his grandfather, Jack, was one of three Bondurant brothers who were successful in the mooshine business in Franklin County, Virginia, when the biggest issues facing the country were Prohibition and the Great Depression.

As has been chronicled many times, the ban of production and sales of alcoholic beverages led to the unintended consequences of flourishing organized crime and corruption among law enforcement officials. The Bondurant brothers stood out as one group that refused to give a bigger piece of their action to law enforcement people who had more clout than the local gentry.

Matt Bondurant seized upon this rich family history to write the novel “The Wettest County in the World.” Nick Cave, who is a musician, actor and writer, adapted the novel to the screen, whereupon it was directed as “Lawless” by John Hillcoat (“The Road”).

Tom Hardy — now without his Bane mask from “The Dark Knight Rises” — Jason Clarke and Shia Labeouf play the Bondurant brothers, who in the early 1930s own a little eatery in the backwoods of Virginia but reap more profits from their moonshine operation. They have a cozy relationship with the local police, keeping those boys happy by supplying them with the liquor.

Hardy is Forrest, the head of the family. He is stoic and a man of few words. He is a man who would prefer to avoid violence but will not hesitate when it is necessary. He is disciplined and knows the value of feeling fear to keep the edge.

Howard (Clarke) is the real muscle in the family. His own drinking habit can make him unreliable, but when he gets tanked up, he can be a mean drunk, which can come in handy.

LaBeouf is Jack, the runt of the family. Much like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” he is not expected to play a vital role in the family business, relegated to being a driver.

The status quo is shaken up when a special deputy is brought in by a crooked district attorney. Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is the deputy drafted from Chicago and he rolls into Franklin County with a “there’s a new sheriff in town” swagger and lays it out: bootleggers must ante up their law enforcement payoffs or be put out of business.

Forrest, who is convinced Bondurants are indestructible, tells Rakes to get lost, which is equivalent to saying, give it your best shot.

Jack, meanwhile, has aspirations of being more involved with the bootlegging business. Thanks to his friend Cricket (Dane Dehaan), he does prove worthy, as Cricket helps them build a huge distillery deep in the woods where Rakes cannot find it. Cricket also soups up the Bondurant delivery vehicle so it can outrun the police.

Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) plays Maggie Beauford, a young woman who has fled the fast life in Chicago for a more sublime existence in Virginia. Forrest hires her to help run the eatery, and he soon finds himself encountering something new and alien to him: falling in love.

Jack, meanwhile, is drawn to Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowsks), the daughter of a local preacher.

Jack also manages to initiate a cordial relationship with a renowned crime lord, Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), whose screen time is riveting but way too short. Jack scores a good business deal with Floyd and the Bondurant family’s fortunes grow even more.

But Jack’s pursuit of Bertha has him lowering his guard, giving Rakes and his men an edge they soon exploit.

The story arc of bootleggers against corrupt authorities is predictable. Posturing and threats soon escalate into violence, and almost always somebody innocent gets caught in the crossfire, which in turn galvanizes the victims to strike back.

Although Jack is the main character in “Lawless,” Hardy’s Forrest steals the movie. Hardy seems to be channeling Marlon Brando with his grunting, mumbling delivery. He firmly believes he cannot be killed, and by golly, he proves it throughout the movie.

LaBeouf’s Jack is an exasperating character, often naively stumbling into trouble. When Forrest is prompted to slap him around, it is hard not to think Jack deserves even more of a beating from his brother.

Pearce oozes slimy corruption as Charlie Rakes, a despicable character who abuses power and is greedy in the name of law and order. Of course he becomes increasingly evil and becomes completely unhinged in the final confrontation.

While the story unfolds in a familiar pattern, “Lawless,” driven by some keen performances, surprises in who survives and who does not. The Bonderants were breaking a well-meaning but foolish law, but their own code of honor versus that of authorities easily made them the good guys.

September birthdays: Some grand people approach or hit their 90s and beyond
Ground-breaking TV funnyman Sid Caesar will be 90 on Sept. 22. Also hitting 90, on Sept. 16, will be Janis Paige. Mickey Rooney turns 92 on Sept. 16. Jayne Meadows, widow of Steve Allen, will be 92 on Sept. 27.
In their 80s: Lauren Bacall, 88 on Sept. 16; Angie Dickinson, 81 on Sept. 30; Anita Ekberg, 81 on Sept. 29; Larry Hagman, 81 on Sept. 21; Earl Holliman, 84 on Sept. 11; ian Holm, 81 on Sept. 12; Anne Meara, mother of Ben Stiller, will be 83 on Sept. 20; Bob Newhart, 83 on Sept. 5; and Adam West, the TV Batman, will be 84 on Sept. 19.

Milestone birthdays: Lacy Chabert, 30 on Sept. 30; Lola Falana, 70 on Sept. 11; Kristy McNichol, 50 on Sept. 11; Ian McShane, 70 on Sept. 29; Rob Morrow, 50 on Sept. 21; Gwynyth Paltrow, 40 on Sept. 28, Nia Vardalos 50 on Sept. 24.

Will Smith, 44 on Sept. 25, and Jada Pinkett Smith, 41 on Sept. 18, share September birthdays. And of course, Michael Douglas, 68, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, 43, celebrate on Sept. 25.

Other notables: Franky Avalon, 72 (9/18), Brigitte Bardot, 78 (9/8), Jacqueline Bisset, 68 (9/13), Wilford Brimley, 78 (9/27), Harry Connick Jr. 45 (9/11), Marion Cottilard 37 (9/30) Brian DePalma 72 (9/11), Elvia, Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson) 61 (9/17), Colin Firth 52 (9/10), James Gandolfini 51 (9/18), Hugh Grant 52 (9/9), Linda Gray 72 (9/12), Mark Hamill 61 (9/25).

Linda Hamilton 56 (9/26), Mark Harmon 61 (9/2), Salma Hayek 46 (9/2), Jennifer Hudson 31 (9/12), Jeremy Irons 64 (9/19), Amy Irving 59 (9/10), Tommy Lee Jones 66 (9/15), Michael Keaton 61 (9/9), Richard Kiel 73 (9/13), Melissa Leo 52 (9/14), Sophia Loren 78 (9/20), Amy Madigan 62 (9/11), Michael Madsen 54 (9/25), David McCallum 79 (9/19), Bill Murray 62 (9/21), Sam Neill 65 (9/14), Olivia Newton-John 64 (9/26).

Ryan Phillipe 38 (9/10), Amy Poehler 41 (9/16), Keanu Reeves 48 (9/2), Emmy Rossum 26 (9/12) Mickey Rourke 56 (9/16), Adam Sandler 46 (9/9), Charlie Sheen 47 (9/3), Mira Sorvino 45 (9/25), Eric Stoltz 51 (9/30), Oliver Stone 66 (9/15), Jennifer Tilly 54 (9/15), Lily Tomlin 73 (9/1), Naomi Watts 44 (9/28), Raquel Welch 72 (9/5), Michelle Williams 32 (9/9).