Freebie and the Bean

Freebie and the Bean is one of the prototypical buddy cop movies, this stars natty dresser and crazy driver James Caan as “Freebie,” and the hot-tempered but by-the-books Alan Arkin as “the Bean,” so called because he is Mexican. When they’re not trying to kill each other they’re a great team of detectives, but they tend to destroy lots of property in the process. Sound familiar? Well, this is one of the early ones, sort of a West coast version of The Seven-Ups. There’s a hit on by Michigan Phil. Our two unorthodox street detectives have to stop the hit, with their zany method of crime fighting.

Unorthodox methods

Arkin and Caan have some terrific comic energy and riff off each other very well, so seeing them blunder and bellow through typical cop movie scenes is very entertaining. This one sets up all the cliches- oil & water buddies, loose cannon cops, ridiculous car chases, and the “gotcha” ending- but does them so well that it doesn’t feel weathered. There are multiple set pieces – the first car chase establishes how crazy Freebie is, then they top it a few times. They jump a moving train. They get stuck in San Francisco traffic so bad that Freebie commandeers a dirtbike and chases a van through a park during an art exhibition, knocking down a huge set of dominoes.

“let’s get a taco”

Richard Rush doesn’t even bother to linger on the dominoes, they just tumble in the background as a sight gag as the chase goes on, and never interrupts the pacing of the movie. There are a lot of stunts and memorable scenes, but director Richard Rush (The Stunt Man) nonchalantly keeps the story going, and focused on the characters. Both guys have lives other than cops; Bean is convinced that his wife (a hilarious Valerie Harper) is cheating on him; Freebie has his girl, but we never get “drama” shoved in our faces for its own sake. It’s sad that Rush made so few movies, because he makes this seem effortless.
Before The Blues Brothers put a cop car “in a truck!” these guys put one in a 3rd floor apartment. This is also where the “let’s get a taco” line from Reservoir Dogs comes from; Bean is always hungry, and when he beats up a huge redneck with a billy club up his sleeve he says casually “let’s get something to eat.” Later on he’s clamoring “I need a taco!” but I’ll leave you to discover that very funny scene. But even with all that, the majority of the fun comes from Arkin and Caan strangling each other as they drive each other nuts during their police work. These are two of our best actors, enjoying themselves and we get to share in the fun. This is a lost gem of the ’70s and fans of Arkin and Caan should definitely hunt it down. It is criminally not on DVD, but can be found on youtube.

The cycle chase

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

There was a big brouhaha over Paul Blart: Mall Cop being #1 recently, like it was some sort of stain on the underpants of cinema, so I had to see it. And it’s really not deserving of the hate- this isn’t Mall Cop Movie, but we’ll get that next year I assume. It’s not great, but it’s a fun family-friendly comedy with Kevin James from “King of Queens,” and will definitely appeal to fans of the show.
Paul Blart is a sad sack mall cop who keeps failing his State Trooper test due to hypoglycemia, which makes him fall over like a fainting goat when he doesn’t get enough sugar. This relegates him to mall cop duty at the West Orange Pavilion, where he takes his job very seriously. He takes his Segway scooter home to practice. He could compete with figure skaters on that thing, as demonstrated in a video his mom posts of him on a dating website. See, he’s a lonely single Dad too- living at his mom’s, with his suitably chunky daughter Maya- and unfortunately the movie spends way too much time on this and his romantic life, to be really funny.

As he rolls around the mall showing a new recruit the ropes, he sees Amy (Jayma Mays) , who runs the hair extensions kiosk, and falls for her. And drives headfirst into a minivan. He gets off on the wrong foot with her and stays there, as an obnoxious pen salesman keeps muscling in on him. There’s a scene at a chain restaurant where he accidentally drinks margaritas thinking they’re lemonade (since he doesn’t drink) and dances like nobody’s watching. Except Amy- and everyone else- is.
When the mall gets taken over by thieves who take hostages, Blart is in the McClane role in Die Hard (yippie ki yay Mister Falcon) and the energy picks up. I went in expecting a lot more jokes, even kid-level ones, but it takes a long time to build up steam and even then there are only a few solid laughs. This reminds me of the family-friendly gutless comedies of the ’80s. Newsflash- fart jokes won’t make your kids worship the devil.
This is definitely funnier than 3 episodes of “King of Queens” stuck together, but hopefully James will drag comic Patton Oswalt along for his next movie, because this one fizzled. He’s got Jamal Nixon- the hefty young black comic who was young “Hercules” in Nutty Professor 2- but he needed more help. This was not quite as bad as some of Jim Carrey’s early efforts, or Larry the Cable Guy, but save it for cable or maybe a rental. Kevin James is funnier than this, and if the movie weren’t so dry and tame, it would be easier to watch. As it is, if you catch it once the mall gets taken over, you’ll see the best parts.

Rating: 2.5 Blarts out of 5

Changeling

This is a solid police procedural and period drama based on the true story of the disappearance of Walter Collins, a 9 year old boy in Los Angeles in the late ’20s. Angelina Jolie is excellent as the distraught mother, who butts heads with the corrupt L.A.P.D. and pays the price, but never, ever gives up. Like Zodiac, the movie recreates a city at a certain time- this is Los Angeles on the cusp of the depression, and Christine Collins (Jolie) is a rare single mother, working as a switchboard operator. One day she is called in on a weekend, and she tells Walter she’ll have the neighbors check in on him. He’s a quiet, well-behaved boy. But when she comes home, he is gone.
Her calls to the police go largely ignored; they assume he’s a runaway, and there is little they can do except see if he shows up as a lost child. In the meanwhile we hear Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich) on the radio, railing against the corruption of the L.A.P.D. And we get to see it first hand, when Christine refuses to be ignored and beats her head against the wall that is Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan, Sleepers). Months go by, and finally Walter is found- traveling with a hobo in the midwest. After the corruption charges, the higher-ups in the force want a big photo op for their success. But when the train arrives, Christine doesn’t recognize her son. Surrounded by police and reporters pressuring her, she admits that perhaps he has changed, and takes him home.
A mother knows her own son, but eventually she proves to herself that he is indeed a changeling- another boy masquerading as her son. He is 3 inches shorter, but refuses to do anything but call her “Mom,” even when confronted with friends and teachers who he doesn’t recognize. The movie has an almost supernatural creepiness, as we generally trust children. The story goes places you don’t want to imagine, as Christine hunts down her real son. The movie is based on occurrences we imagine only happening in the present day, and not in the wholesome past, but monsters have always been with us.
They take some liberties with the truth and the third act is a bit weak; not knowing when to end the story, making us think some justice was done when it wasn’t, and giving us a silly “saved by the bell” rescue when Christine is thrown in a mental institution. But the acting is solid, the story heart-wrenching and chilling, because the basics are very true. Angelina Jolie gives a strong performance, and Eastwood’s direction is some of his best yet, with the cinematography standing out. This would make a fine pairing with another great crime drama, L.A. Confidential. It is based on the true story of the Wineville Chicken Murders, and how corruption in the police force let the unthinkable occur while they lined their pockets- something we should not soon forget.

Rating: 4 shots of Angelina being firehosed out of 5

Bad Lieutenant

What a twisted tale of redemption. Ferrara goes where most won’t. If you want to write a tale of a bad man doing good, you might as well make him as bad as imaginable. Harvey Keitel once again embodies a role no one else would touch, playing a crooked junkie degenerate gambler NYPD cop on the fast-track to self-destruction. We meet him when he is trying to commit suicide by proxy, either by overdose or by getting so deep in debt that the mob rubs him out, doing him the favor.
Ferrara paints the life of a man in misery, who has hurt everyone around him- during the brief scenes with his family they say nothing, and move cautiously around him, having learned to flinch whenever he moves. He reminds me of the lyric from Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire”– “like a beast with his horn, I have torn everyone who has reached out for me.” We follow him as he treads a path of corruption through the city- scoring drugs, trying to steal evidence, shaking down thieves. These aren’t the usual fetishistic admirations of the junkie ritual like in Pulp Fiction; when he shoots up with his fixer, the deal comes with an S&M show set to Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love,” showing the level of self-degradation necessary to put a flicker across his burnt-out receptors. The irony of using a heartfelt ballad from the ’50s is not lost; “LT” is a child of that era, and the song would remind him of his teen days when he wasn’t a piece of human wreckage.



Everything changes when a nun is raped and brutalized in church; the rest of the cops are mobilized, but he remains unmoved. He has faith in nothing. When the church puts up a $50,000 reward, he smirks “Girls get raped every day. They give a shit this time because they wear penguin suits?” The other cops are so offended that they challenge him, and he defends himself by saying he was raised Catholic. Martin Scorcese brings a “fallen Catholic” sensibility to his mob films, but Abel Ferrara makes a true Catholic redemption fable here. The Lieutenant as much as rapes two girls he pulls over for driving without a license; he never touches them, but his lewd demands are unforgettable.

and you thought Nunn Bush was a brand of shoes.

Originally he wants to hunt down the rapists for that money, to save himself from the loan sharks. But when he talks to the nun, she says she forgives the boys. She won’t name them, even when he eavesdrops on her confession. All is lost; LT knows he can’t pay off the mob, and he is going to die. He breaks down in the church, and his glimmer of faith is rewarded; he finds a way to catch them. But this isn’t a heroic tale, and how he redeems his life of evil does not sit well with the audience. We want revenge, and thus Ferrara shows that if we truly believe in the laws of God, we are just as guilty as LT. Wrath, and murder are our sins. The Lieutenant dies for his own sins, but by freeing the rapists as the nun asks, is he performing the Will of God, by letting Him judge them? Or is the nun insane from her trauma, and is it all in his head?

The end of this scene is actually pretty clever…

LT sees Jesus in the church, hallucination or not; some of the scenes of him bringing the boys to the bus are done in handheld, at eye level, as if to show Jesus watching. The ending is one of the most powerful in cinema, as LT fights every fiber of his being that wants to mete justice, but “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” I am irreligious, but was raised Catholic, and know the rules. This is Seven without the glitz or the serial killer angle. It’s an unflinching look at the evil of the world circa 1990 New York City, and an accusing finger pointed back at those who like Travis Bickle, wanted a “real rain to come and wash the filth away.”

“Your lives ain’t worth shit in this town.”

If you can get past the raw emotion of Keitel’s performance, and the brutality of his behavior, this is a great film. Unfortunately due to Jimmy Page being a cocksucker, Schooly D’s excellent “Signifying Rapper,” which used a sample from “Kashmir,” is cut from the film. Years later Page would show how principled he was by allowing Puffy Daddy to sample it in a shitty song that was used in the shitty shit movie Godzilla. See this before Nick Cage and Werner Herzog(!!!) make a remake/prequel/wtf called Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which will be interesting, to say the least. Just make sure you get the original NC-17 cut, or you’re wasting your time.

Just remember that Full Frontal Harvey and his porkchop are waiting for you.

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