Tricksters. Movies Reviewed: Let’s Be Cops, Magic in the Moonlight

Posted in Action, comedy, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on August 1, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Is a simple change of clothes enough to convince a casual observer you are someone you’re not? Can a thump on a table at a seance make people think you can talk with the dead?

This week I’m looking at two movies about fraudsters, tricksters, and those who want to expose them.

There’s an action/comedy about two ordinary guys in LA who disguise themselves as cops; and a comedy about a magician in the Cote d’Azur who wants to unveil a false psychic.

lets be cops affiche 1545916_864025440291520_7986492045948420855_nLet’s Be Cops
Dir: Luke Greenfield

Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson (from New Girl with Zooey Deschanel) play best buds and roommates living in LA. They like karaoke and nightclubs but they get snubbed by women, disrespected by tough gangster types, and made to stand in long line-ups. They went to the same college, joined the same frat, and left Ohio with big ambitions. But O’Malley’s (Johnson) pro football career tanked before it started. Now he’s a kids’ football coach.

Damon’s character is doing a bit better – he’s following his passion: video game design. He puts together an elaborate pitch to his work team about his latest project, a police-action-type game. But they trash it before they even play with it. “You need zombies” they tell him. He goes home with his tail between his legs, lets be cops, wayans, johnson 10275539_890798457614218_681345999746128683_ocarrying the pair of police uniforms he had planned to use in his pitch.

But he finds a good use for them after all. The two of them wear the uniforms to a costume party that night. And, to their amazement, on their way home, they are mistaken for the real thing. This being LA, immediately a parade of beautiful women ogle them and then smother them with hugs and kisses, because, well, they’re cops.

They also get the respect they miss in their real lives. Strangers listen to them and do what they say. They can walk to the front of the line of any nightclub. And, at the diner they frequent, the cute waitress (Nina Dobrev) suddenly says she likes “Chang” (that’s the name on Damon’s police uniform, and the one he goes by for most of the movie). Their scam starts to escalate. Damon wants to call it quits – it’s totally against the law to impersonate a cop. But O’Malley doesn’t see it that way – he takes it all very seriously. He gets hold of a police car, and starts studying official codes and techniques on-line. Soon enough, they’re behaving like real cops.

Lets be Cops 10543517_886078598086204_5874267812085220254_oThey go doubly undercover – now they’re civilians disguised as police disguised as civilians. They become in involved with real police work, alongside local police (Rob Riggle) who take their outfits at face value. Will their plans fall apart when they face real danger, and organized crime? And will Chang’s budding love affair fall apart if his girlfriend ever finds out he’s not a cop?

I thought this movie was a lot of fun. It started as a one-joke comedy – Let’s be Cops, but it gets carried through quite nicely, turning into a good action flick along the way. Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. are really funny (except for the offensive Chinese accent) keeping their characters believable without overly mugging to the camera. I liked this movie.

Magic in the Moonlight
Wri/Dir: Woody Allen

Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 99d6670f-43c4-439a-8115-c5f4401e534cIt’s the late 1920’s (before the Great Depression). Stanley (Colin Firth) is a professional magician, touring continental Europe. He performs in a riot of chinoiserie under the stage name Wei-ling Soo. He makes elephants disappear and saws women in half. He’s also a rude and snobby egotist. So sure is he of his expertise, that he will gladly debunk any mystic he encounters. So he gladly takes up on a friend’s offer of a vacation in the south of France. Once there, he promises to expose a young psychic operating out of a villa owned by millionaire American industrialists.

But he is surprised to meet the adorable Sophie (Emma Stone), a plain-spoken and pretty young woman from Wisconsin. She doesn’t seem like a charlatan; just a simple girl who falls into momentary fogs… and comes back with uncanny visions. Even Stanley is surprised by how much she knows about him.

He still vows to expose her. But during a séance he is shocked to see what appears to be _DSF0054.RAFreal magic: a floating candle with no strings attached. How does she do it? he wonders. His beliefs are further called into question when they visit his maiden aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) at her villa in Provence.

Meanwhile, Sophie is being wooed, relentlessly, by the heir to a fortune. Brice (Hamish Linklater) plays the ukulele and croons off key to Sophie, telling her if she marries him she’ll live in luxury. He is young, handsome and loaded. The much older Stanley is already engaged to a upper-class, educated Englishwoman. And yet, despite their adversarial stance – of a psychic and a magician sworn to expose her tricks — there seems to be an attraction growing between Stanley and Sophie. And when they are caught in a rainstorm on a country road, they share an intimate DSCF9804.RAFconversation by moonlight. But can it last? And will it stand up to scrutiny?

Magic in Moonlight is just delightful. It’s the first of a long stream of annoying movies Woody Allen made in Europe that actually works. Well-written, perfectly executed, great acting, beautiful scenery and period costumes, nice music… And Colin Firth and Emma Stone have great chemistry. It’s not a deep movie with any subtle subtext, but it is a very cute romantic comedy, in the best sense of the word.

Magic in the Moonlight starts today, and Let’s Be Cops opens in Toronto on August 13th. Check your local listings. Also look out for An Honest Liar, a wonderful documentary about another magician who exposes fake psychics. It’s playing at the HotDocs theatre in a week. And Toronto’s Palestinian Film Festival has an outdoor screening and party in Christie Pits on August 8th. Go to TPFF.ca for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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