Reel Critics: Crime doesn't pay for audience

Director Ruben Fleischer served up a campy blood-fest in "Zombieland." Wisecracking shooters eliminated disposable members of the walking dead by the dozen. In "Gangster Squad," disposable gangsters line up to be shot to pieces by a more serious team of shooters: undercover L.A. cops.

The ambience of post-World War II Los Angeles is recreated with great style and atmosphere. Vintage Studebaker, Hudson and Cadillac cars parade across the neon landscape. The production values and acting are excellent.

Sean Penn plays mob boss Mickey Cohen with psychotic fervor. A sultry Emma Stone is steamy as Mickey's babe. Josh Brolin is the square-jawed leader of the secret cop team, with Ryan Gosling as his right-hand man. There are some fine scenes and snappy dialogue as the obvious plot develops.

But the violence quickly escalates to maximum levels for a mainstream movie. The mayhem gets more graphic and shootouts approach the ridiculous. The final gunplay rivals the crazy last scene in "Scarface" for gratuitous bloodshed. This film starts out to be "L.A. Confidential" but ends up as a "Call of Duty" video game.

'Life' is beautiful

Finally had a chance to see "Life of Pi," which got a slew of Oscar nominations last week. Now I know why.

Director Ang Lee, always a wonderful storyteller, has given us a film of wondrous beauty that deserves to be seen in 3-D.

The story is told in flashback by Pi (wonderful Irrfan Khan) about his epic 227 days adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger when he was 16. Having lost his family in a terrible storm, young Pi (played by Suraj Sharma) struggles to survive while keeping his sanity and belief in a benevolent universe.

There are images here so breathtaking as to defy description. One of the film's best achievements is the digitally conjured tiger (whimsically named Richard Parker), whose body and movements are incredibly real.

Pi and Richard Parker, first seen as prey and predator, seem to gain wisdom and grudging respect for each other during their adventure. Each needs the other to survive.

The ending is something I continue to ponder. Not having read the best-selling book, it is left up to me to decide what was real, what was imagined, and why.

In the final analysis, it does not matter. This is a movie that gently enfolds us in the wonders of life, and it is enough to just sit back and bask in its beauty. Is "Life of Pi" the best picture? No, but it's definitely not to be missed.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant at a company in Irvine.

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