Talking Movies

July 11, 2012

Magic Mike

Steven Sodebergh surely claims the crown of hardest working man in Hollywood by directing an odd and moody movie about male strippers, his third film in 10 months…

Channing Tatum’s Mike styles himself an entrepreneur because of his auto detailing and custom furniture businesses. He encounters Adam (Alex Pettyfer) at yet another job, construction, where he has to teach the young slacker how to tile rooves, before running into him again at a nightclub. He uses Adam as a wingman as he entices girls back to Xquisite where, as ‘Magic Mike’, he actually makes his living as lead stripper. When one of the strippers passes out, from taking too much of the refined GHB they use to maintain their energy, Adam is quickly pressed into action and impresses both Mike and his boss Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) is less than impressed that her younger brother, who blew a football scholarship, is now stripping as ‘The Kid’ and Mike starts a charm campaign to win her over even as he mentors Adam in the business.

Tatum is a fine actor when called on, witness Stop Loss, and indeed one of his Stop Loss producers Reid Carolin scripted this version of Tatum’s own chequered past for Nicolas Winding Refn to direct. Tatum’s charismatic as Mike and delivers a tremendous put-down to a banker who refuses him a loan despite all the cash he earns from ‘event management’: “I read the papers. The only ones who are in distress are y’all.” McConaughey is wonderfully sleazy as a riff on Cabaret’s MC, and at one point puts Mike in his place under some harsh lighting which makes you think – as he gets older the menace of that Texan drawl will surely see him create an iconic villain this decade. Sadly Pettfyer fails to make you remotely care about Adam’s fate, suggesting that loathsome villains like his In Time turn are a far better use of his talents than flawed heroes. Cody Horn is far more engaging, her unimpressed visage continually and wordlessly disapproving of Adam and Mike’s antics.

There are odd moments when actors stumble over lines and performances start to fray at the edges towards the end of long takes, which might be attributable to Soderbergh’s new ‘3 takes’ rule, but this film is undone by the writing not the directing. There are some nicely choreographed sequences like the first “It’s Raining Men” dance, but this is an oddly coy film about male stripping, indeed there’s arguably more female nudity, so is this about the degradation of stripping? Brooke hates Adam stripping, but understands the adulation Mike receives is a powerful drug, while still disapproving of his job. Mike is involved with a psychologist (a typically abrasive Olivia Munn) studying the strippers who, especially Matt Bomer (White Collar) and Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami), are terrifyingly uncharacterised – a gesture to implicate the cinema audience as only interested in their physique, like the Xquisite audience? At times this feels like a male version of Showgirls or All About Eve. Mostly Showgirls. But mostly this feels like a blank record of excess. Its drug-addled decadence in yellow-filter Tampa rehashes scenes and arcs seen far too often before and is ultimately pointless.

Tatum is very likeable, and the relationship between Mike and Brooke convinces, but once the sense of drift sets in after the entertaining opening it becomes a riptide that strands Magic Mike drowning in inconsequence.

2.5/5

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November 9, 2011

Miscellaneous Movie Musings

As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

Bane
I’m expanding my tweeted reservations about Bane’s role in The Dark Knight Rises. I’ve heard it argued that Bane is a great villain because he makes Batman physically vulnerable. But Nolan’s Batman is already physically vulnerable. We’ve seen Scarecrow set him on fire, Ras Al’Ghul drop a log on him and Two-Face shoot him. Bane making Batman scared of a beating isn’t really that interesting, and it’s certainly not as interesting as what the Joker did to him. The Joker was able to wound Batman deeply both emotionally and ethically, and it’s not at all clear that you can actually top that combined intensity and subtlety of villainy. Ultimately Bane remains defined by his physique, hence the casting of the post-Bronson bulked-up Tom Hardy; he is a hulking villain in the proper sense of the word. But therein lies the problem, Bane’s physique is his defining characteristic to the exclusion of almost all else. His appearance instantly raises the question of whether this film will end with the Dark Knight crippled in a wheelchair after Bane easily breaks his back. Choose nearly any other villain in the Batman universe and it doesn’t lead to that sort of immediate mere physicality based second-guessing because they have multiple interesting storylines in the comics. Bane has Knightfall…

Just In Time
I’m becoming increasingly aggravated at the spoiler-filled trailers and TV spots being authorised by major studios for films. The Ides of March’s TV spot gives away all but one development in the entire freaking movie, which is meant to be twisty. Knowing beforehand how characters react to events you haven’t seen yet only diminishes a movie. But there’re worse examples. Olivia Wilde Thirteen dies in the first act of In Time. I knew this before I saw the film because it was flagged by a voiceover and accompanying dramatic images on a TV spot. If you know your story structure and can calculate her star value, you can easily guess that her death marks the end of the first act and is the traumatic plot-point that spurs our hero into violent action against the villains in the second act. And you’d be right. But it’d be nice to find that out in the cinema as a genuine shock rather than be told it on TV by seeing a frantic Thirteen running and collapsing into Timberlake’s arms with her body-clock showing all zeros as we’re warned ‘just don’t let your time run out’…

The Dark Knight Dies
Let’s second-guess Christopher Nolan shall we? Nolan said The Dark Knight had been chosen as a title for a very specific reason so I instantly assumed something sent Batman over the edge of his code, and predicted that it was Joker killing Alfred. I later refined that to Alfred or Rachel, and was thus not too surprised when it came to pass. I’m convinced that The Dark Knight Rises teaser trailer is subtly hinting that Batman is going to die in its final minutes. I think the closing images of rising up past skyscrapers are the hallucinations of a dying Batman imagining an ascent out of crumbling skylines, as Gotham’s consumed by evil, to the white light of Heaven. Bane will probably break someone’s back but I think it won’t be Batman it will be Gordon, and that’s why Gordon is in hospital in this trailer…

November 1, 2011

In Time

Andrew Niccol, writer of Gattaca and The Truman Show, brings his usual intelligence to a sci-fi actioner which takes Ben Franklin’s dictum ‘time is money’ at face value.

Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a 28 year old living minute to minute – literally. All humans have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and then die one year later unless they can earn more time by working, borrowing or stealing. Salas encounters Henry Hamilton (White Collar’s Matt Bomer), who, like an Anne Rice vampire, just wants to die as his mind has had enough, and has come to the Dayton ghetto to ‘time out’. He gifts Salas a century of time urging him – “Don’t waste my time”. Salas though is almost immediately struck by personal tragedy and so travels to New Greenwich, the richest time zone of them all, to try and use his time to bring down the corrupt system. He’s quickly made by timekeeper Leon and kidnaps time heiress Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), who becomes an unlikely ally in his crusade.

Timberlake sells the hurried nature of ghetto dwellers well with jumpy physicality, and also conveys a burning sense of righteousness, but, while Seyfried is gifted at comedy, here her huge eyes and pouting lips prove remarkably inexpressive and she’s out-acted by Olivia Wilde – who only has three scenes. Wilde’s stunt-casting concretises the high-concept by being Timberlake’s mother, but the horror on her face when a bus-fare suddenly rises lethally beyond her means is visceral: “But it’s a 2 hour walk. I only have an hour and a half left”, “So run…” Cillian Murphy is superb as Leon. He can’t be bribed, and to Salas’ amazement jumps, runs, shoots, and lets his time run low just like the ghetto inhabitant he used to be, making him formidably implacable. Leon is a great villain as he understands the system is unjust but swore to uphold it. Supporting turns are less nuanced but still effective. Alex Pettyfer is career-definingly loathsome as ghetto criminal Fortius, a sadistic but cowardly psychopath, and Vincent Kartheiser essays another weasel as time magnate Phillipe Weis.

Niccol fleshes out his high concept with numerous delightfully re-imagined phrases, “Do you come from Time?”, but like the best sci-fi this scarifying future is really dissecting our present. A critique of Darwinian capitalism it pits Weis’ “For a few to be immortal, many must die” against Salas’ “No one should be immortal if even one person has to die”. Salas’ motto is essentially an allegorised version of JS Mill’s moral axiom “Every person alive ought to have a subsistence before anyone has more” and is obviously morally right. Niccol though can’t mesh sci-fi brains with action brawn never mind square his allegorical circle. Salas and Sylvia become a latter day Bonnie and Clyde car-jacking the time-rich and staging heists on time-banks to the strains of Craig Armstrong’s ‘Karmacoma’ sampling score before then re-distributing time throughout the Dayton ghetto. We’re explicitly told robbing time-banks cannot break the system, yet that’s all Niccol proffers as ultimate solution to his problem. That and a credit crunch referencing possibility of time-market contagion…

In Time buckles in the third act, feels like it’s missing a detailed back-story between Leon and Will’s father, and features remarkably under-populated cities and a tendency to remove obstacles too easily, especially travelling across time zone borders. And yet it’s so near greatness that you want to like it. Well worth your time.

4/5

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