Archive for July, 2012

Dark Horse

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on July 24, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Todd Solondz is not for the masses. The director’s films are frequently depressing exercises that detail a curious cast of misanthropes. Though this may sound like a reproach, his movies can be a catharsis. They dissect a suspected underbelly of middle American life. He’s the caretaker of a well manicured garden who removes a monumental stone statue to reveal a family of worms living in the soil underneath. Regardless of whether you connect with these loners, the experience gives the viewer a sense of superiority. Solondz seems to closely identify with this lot more than any director working today. Blending elements of comedy and drama, he revels in exposing the picture perfect facade of suburbanites

Dark Horse begins with an atypically lighthearted touch. The songs that underscore the action are light bouncy dance pop ditties. The mindlessly upbeat score doesn’t jive with the depression unfolding before us. Get it? It’s ironic! Yes the charm is in these type of details. Jordan Gelber is Abe, a Jewish 35 year old that still lives at home with his parents. In a bit of stunt casting these roles are portrayed by Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken. Their very presence is comical. Abe’s quarters resembles the bedroom of a toddler. It’s absolutely packed with comic book memorabilia and Simpsons figurines. Abe sports a gold blingy nameplate necklace in script. He wears goofy t-shirts with messages like “Matzo Ball’er”. He drives a ridiculously huge bright yellow hummer. He meets attractive Miranda at a wedding and they embark on an odd relationship. Over time, he develops from a shallow caricature of a loser into a heartbreaking schlub with a soul. He’s almost Marty-esque.

The relationship of the central couple can be somewhat baffling. Initially you feel sorry for these people. Todd Solondz has a snippy contempt for these individuals that can be amusing. Selma Blair plays Miranda, the object of Abe’s affection. She’s outwardly pretty but possesses some internal dysfunctions of her own. She is amusing at first but over time her personality wears on you. Blair does the best with what she’s given, but there is no depth as her oddball character is written. She is an expressionless void of a woman. Her character is frustratingly vague, representing an emotion not a human being. Only when her ex-boyfriend shows up does she even bother to crack a smile. As lovers, Miranda and Abe behave in inexplicable ways. Their self punishing choices show a lack of desire to help themselves. After a while you start to realize these eccentrics deserve their lot in life.

It’s not easy to get on Todd Solondz’s wavelength, but once you do it’s a unique ride. The story goes from optimistic to very grim. He draws humor from serious situations. There’s a feeling of schadenfreude in watching their pathetic lives implode. Two-thirds of the narrative is really quite engaging. But Solondz doesn’t know how to end his tale effectively. It loses momentum and the ending mixes fantasy with reality in a confusing climax. Before we arrive at the inevitable conclusion, however, we’re treated to Abe’s fantasies. These aren’t delusions of grandeur where a nebbish becomes a hero. They’re practical displays of the truth that assert the harsh reality of his existence. Frequent star of these daydreams is his co-worker Marie. Hollywood take note of actress Donna Murphy who memorably gives life to the role. She nearly steals every scene she’s in. Mousy secretary by day, but seductive cougar by night. She extracts laughs simply by the slinky way she walks with a glass of wine in her artfully decorated home. If everyone had been this well written, Dark Horse could have been something revelatory. Instead it’s merely satisfying.

Advertisements

True Romance

Posted in Crime, Romance, Thriller with tags on July 23, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketClarence Worley (Christian Slater) is celebrating his birthday by attending a Sonny Chiba triple feature at the local movie theater…..alone. There he happens to meet Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette). Turns out their chance encounter is anything but. You see she was a call girl hired by his boss as a present of sorts. Despite her questionable vocation, they fall in love and get married. Feeling chivalrous, Clarence decides to officially inform her former pimp that she no longer intends to continue working for him and that’s where the madness begins. The thriller doesn’t let up until the finale.

What truly sells True Romance is Quentin Tarantino’s script. In the late 80s Tarantino wrote and directed an amateur film called My Best Friend’s Birthday. This was made along with his fellow video store and acting class buddies. Its screenplay would partially form the basis for True Romance. There are definitely signs that dependable action director Tony Scott is behind the camera, but Tarantino’s fingerprints are evident in every scene. From Alabama’s opening monologue and Gary Oldman’s pimp Drexl Spivey to side characters like Brad Pitt’s stoner roommate and Bronson Pinchot’s two-bit actor – the supporting cast gets all the best lines. And these people aren’t afraid to die. Nowhere is that more noticeable than in a memorable exchange between mobster Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) and Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper). Vincenzo grills him on where Clifford’s son, Clarence, can be found. Clifford doesn’t answer the question, but rather gives his take on history. His ideas about the Moors are unprintable here but it’s surely something you wouldn’t want to say to a Sicilian if you expected to live.

True Romance is an entertaining mix of action and dialogue. One’s enjoyment of the tale will depend on your ability to stomach the violence. The script is really the pinnacle of this production. At times the unrestrained mayhem threatens to derail the momentum of a clever story. All the bloodshed straddles the line between the ridiculous cartoon variety and hardcore, turn your face from the horror, category. Apparently Virgil, a mob henchman played James Gandolfini, hasn’t heard the phrase “never hit a girl”. Depending on your outlook, his altercation near the end with Alabama is either one of the most vicious beatings committed to film or the coolest fight scene ever. The display includes such creative weapons as a toilet bowl lid, a corkscrew. and using an aerosol can as a flamethrower. Alabama actually laughs in his face at one point during the brawl. Dang! This girl can take a punch. Patricia Arquette is altogether winning as the female lead. Her blend of quirky and cute, sexy and tough is a brilliant balancing act. Christian Slater’s Elvis Presley-loving, comic book store clerk and movie buff is clearly based on the writer’s own persona. Slater somehow manages to seem adroit with a weapon but still socially awkward. Their “true romance” is recounted in a way only Tarantino could tell.

The Dark Knight Rises

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Superhero with tags on July 20, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketI love Christopher Nolan. Memento. Insomnia. The Prestige. Inception . Even without the Batman trilogy the visionary director has an impressive filmography. With the crowing achievement that is The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan caps the trilogy in a way that is both artistic and crowd pleasing. It was a task that could’ve been insurmountable, Let’s face it, The Dark Knight is considered by many to be one of the greatest superhero films of all time. If the auteur doesn’t quite equal that last episode for its poetic heights, he certainly approaches it for sheer spectacle and rousing emotion.

When we last saw Batman, he had taken the rap for the crimes of Harvey Dent, Two-Face, and gone into hiding. Now branded a hero, Harvey Dent is currently being celebrated at the 8th annual Harvey Dent Day, since the once noble district attorney’s death. The lie has given the city hope in the decency of man, but it has also had the adverse effect of branding Batman a criminal. A new supervillain, Bane, comes into power aided by a business rival of Bruce Wayne. His appearance coaxes Batman out of retirement who must now fight the terrorist and put a stop to his destructive stranglehold over the city.

Batman is nothing without fascinating side characters and there are at least two worth discussing in detail. Tom Hardy is Bane, a supervillain who speaks using a digitized voice-box. He’s suitably intimidating, the brute force of a wrestler coupled with an intellectual capacity to match. Overall it’s a startling portrayal and a memorable villain worthy of the Batman universe. The thing is, his voice is so distorted, so electronic sounding, he’s difficult to comprehend at times. Because Bane wears a mask that covers half his face, we can never see his mouth so the performance sounds as if Hardy has been reduced to an actor playing the body with a different actor’s disembodied voice, a la James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. Regardless, he’s frightening and the drama more than makes up for the deficiencies in the hard to understand dialogue. The other figure is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a sleek and sexy cat burglar that has sort of a love-hate (read ambiguous) relationship with our main protagonist. This re-reimagining of Catwoman definitely is a modern update. She’s never referred to by that name and her costume bears little resemblance to the character we have come to know in previous incarnations. Nevertheless, Hathaway’s interpretation is wonderful. She’s literally given the best lines in the production and she manages to deliver them with a winking sensuality that makes her altogether captivating. She isn’t Michele Pfeiffer awesome, but she is awesome nonetheless.

These two figures would’ve been enough to maintain an interesting plot. However the somewhat overly complex storyline has an over-packed supporting cast. These include a key executive on the board of Wayne Enterprises (Marion Cotillard), a resourceful police officer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt ), acting deputy commissioner Peter Foley (Matthew Modine), Bruce Wayne’s business adversary John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) and his assistant (Burn Gorman). Of course this doesn’t even mention returning favorites Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Police Commissioner James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. There’s even a couple of surprise cameos which I won’t elaborate on for fear of spoilers. It’s a dizzying array of personalities and at times one wishes the narrative had simply focused on the Batman vs. Bane concept for simplicity. When these two face off in hand to hand physical combat, nothing matches the well choreographed scenes for raw visceral action.

As expected, what’s a summer blockbuster without grandiose set pieces designed to really wow the audience? From a football stadium attack to a prison riot – The Dark Knight Rises has edge of your seat excitement in one extravagant demonstration after another. The opening prologue aboard a CIA airplane is a breathtaking event that galvanizes interest right from the start. Later there’s a particularly chilling takeover of the city that inadvertently recalls occupy Wall Street protests. These aren’t empty examples of pyrotechnics, they’re brilliant illustrations arranged to give life to a script with a depth rarely seen in these types of films. If Marvel’s The Avengers is lighthearted, fun popcorn entertainment, this is the somber creative vision of a master at work.

Christopher Nolan realizes that none of these fantastic displays would resonate without an emotional connection to the people involved. The magnitude of despair woven into the development of various characters is indeed impressive. Christian Bale’s personal conflict to reconcile his desire to help his beloved city vs. a longing to live a normal life is beautifully played up in this installment. Michael Caine provides some of his most affecting work of the entire series. His interactions with Batman highlight this inner struggle. And struggle he does! Bruce Wayne rises not once, but TWICE in this chapter. The first time is his re-emerging from his self imposed exile. The second is almost Rocky-esque in the way it exaggerates our hero’s underdog status. It’s a bit manipulative sure, but it’s effective because it gets the viewer to cheer for someone who’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Christopher Nolan more than lives up to the daunting mission of putting a fitting coda on the Dark Knight series – a satisfying conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies ever. It stands for goodness in the face of evil and isn’t that what superhero films are all about?

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Posted in Drama, Fantasy with tags on July 13, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketBeasts of the Southern Wild is a spellbinding document. Hushpuppy is a fearless 6 year old girl that lives with her father Wink in a place she refers to as “The Bathtub” – a southern community along the Louisiana Delta. Hushpuppy and Wink live in abject poverty. This tale exposes a subculture of which many Americans may be unaware. The utter squalor suggests a third world country and not the U.S. at all. The presentation is like anthropological evidence of a civilization hidden from view.

Director Benh Zeitlin has assembled a cast of locals with no acting experience. Dwight Henry who plays Wink, owns and runs a cafe in New Orleans in real life. Here he plays a stern man that practices a version of tough love with his daughter to keep her prepared for a rough existence. At least they’re surrounded by a close-knit community that support one another. Quvenzhané Wallis is a revelation as Hushpuppy. She casually observes everything around her with keen senses. Fortunately Wallis is untrained and natural, and she’s flawless. I hesitate to even call it acting because Zeitlin has wisely allowed her to simply be. Witness the tender display where she holds the tiny critters she discovers close to her face. It’s just as you would listen to the ocean in a seashell held up to your ear. Her poetic voice-overs help educate the viewer. One on one banter is irrelevant. It’s the visual that becomes the focus. Many scenes simply rely on the emotion she registers on her expressive face. The lens lovingly registers every expression upon her countenance.

Beasts subverts the very conventions of film. The filmmakers have filtered the narrative through the stream of consciousness of a young girl. It’s fiercely innovative, highly distinctive and peculiarly told. This doesn’t rely of the traditional methods of storytelling. It’s filmed rather haphazardly and much of the discourse is indecipherable. But all of these techniques actually serve to heighten the drama of a bewitching little girl. As she drifts through life, her observances of adult conversations can be confusing. Dialogue fades in and out, people talk over each other, local jargon is used – it’s an admittedly free-form script. At times I almost wished for subtitles. As a child’s grasp of the conversation of a roomful of adults is superficial at best, so too is ours of their discussions. This cursory comprehension of what is being talked about helps define our intrepid main character. Her understanding or lack thereof is also our understanding. This allows the audience to identify with her all the more.

The chronicle is highlighted by a gorgeous poeticism . It presents these people, without the artifice of Hollywood. As Hushpuppy’s world gets tougher, temperatures rise and the ice caps melt causing mythical prehistoric creatures called “aurochs” to run loose toward their area. The rising waters threaten their region. Shades of Hurricane Katrina, but past the politics that would divert attention from these fascinating people. Wink disappears for a period and we’re unclear as to where he has gone. He later returns wearing a hospital gown, but still fails to give an explanation. Just what exactly is going on? And where is her mother?  These are questions that Hushpuppy has as well as she attempts to locate her missing parent. The action is very much filtered through he eyes of a toddler. We aren’t privy to adult discussions. Hushpuppy is left in the dark much in the same way. The cinematography utilizes a shaky cam, often from a low vantage point as if Hushpuppy were carrying the camera herself. In adopting this approach, director Benh Zeitlin has created a much more heartbreaking work of art from Lucy Alibar’s one-act play. While the events unfold, they tend to meander. We realize there really is a story – just not a traditionally told one. The footage is raw. However, Beasts of the Southern Wild becomes an even more elemental picture because of it.

Headhunters

Posted in Crime, Drama, Foreign, Thriller with tags on July 12, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Every now and then a film comes along so quietly, without fanfare, that when it manages to entertain in such a consummate way, I walk out of the theater like a zombie shocked at how great it was.  Headhunters is one of those pictures. Not only is it one of the best of the year, it’s also a reminder that sometimes, the most exciting stories aren’t being made in Hollywood or even the U.S. at all. The white knuckle ride is based on Norwegian author, Jo Nesbø’s bestselling novel of the same name. The thriller furthers the rise of Scandinavian crime fiction. It follows in the recent success of the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson of which The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the most famous entry. The production was such a success in its native Norway, there’s already an American remake in the works. Please see this first.

Roger Brown lives a dual life. Within the law he works as a corporate recruiter, finding talented people who work for other companies and making them lucrative offers to join the firm with which he‘s currently employed. Roger sort of looks like a healthier blonde version of Steve Buscemi. He’s married to a ridiculously tall gorgeous blonde who exacerbates his crushing insecurity that he isn’t good enough for her. You see at 1.68 meters tall (about 5’5”) he’s got a bit of Napoleonic complex. He’s got a mistress as well. In order to keep them both happy he showers them with expensive gifts. That obviously costs a lot of money and so he has taken on a second job of sorts. Here’s where he operates outside the law stealing rare works of art.  Then one day he interviews a job candidate who seems to be the perfect match for a new CEO position. He’s a handsome but ruthless technical expert named Clas Greve, played by actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The actor is evil on TV as well as brutal swordsman Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones. Coincidentally Clas Greve is likewise in possession of a rare and priceless masterpiece by Peter Paul Rubens which Roger would desire to own. Upon learning of this, Roger realizes his two worlds are about to collide. Little does he know how catastrophic the merger will be.

What makes Headhunters so ridiculously engaging is how the narrative develops in a way that you cannot guess the outcome. That’s precisely the fun. Like classic suspense of the past, this has the kinds of twists and turns that would make Hitchcock proud. There’s one surprise after another and the developments are innovative in that way. However I can attest, Headhunters is very much an example of modern storytelling that resembles something by Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers. It’s bloody and raw. Think Pulp Fiction or Fargo. If you think those are lofty comparisons, you haven’t seen this movie. Yet there’s a humanism present that sets this apart from those classics and makes this distinctly different. These are people with insecurities and weaknesses that are altogether apparent. In between the action, there is a declaration of love that’s incredibly touching. They still long to be loved. The violence never seems gratuitous, only necessary to emphasize the absolute nightmare of which Roger becomes a part. It’s a drama that starts slowly but as the tale unfolds it seizes the viewer with brute force. It’s pretty over the top. There’s a depiction of an auto accident where I literally forgot to breathe for 60 seconds. But that’s the standard set piece prevalent here and that’s what makes this thriller so exhilarating.

Ted

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy with tags on July 10, 2012 by Mark Hobin

A young boy with no friends makes a wish that his teddy bear could become a real living breathing buddy. He gets his desire and they pledge to be “thunder buddies for life” to each other. The opening plays it fairly sweet and tame, as Ted becomes a genuine pal to little John Bennett. Everyone can see the little bear walking and talking as well, so the fantasy addresses Ted’s expected rise and inevitable fall from popularity within the public eye. Jump forward to the present day and Ted still remains John’s constant companion. But now the stuffed toy is a crude talking, pot smoking slacker with an oversexed disposition. Now that John has grown up, the tone switches to more mature (a.k.a. immature) humor. The main focus is on Ted and the bear’s relationship as adults and how it relates to his longtime girlfriend, Lori Collins.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of The Family Guy, makes his directorial debut with this high concept comedy about low brow people. You might think the jump from cartoon to live action would be a big leap, but Macfarlane stays true to the same irreverent sensibility. It’s got hip jokes galore that reference things from Flash Gordon and Cheers to Susan Boyle. There’s even a flashback that manages to re-create the Saturday Night Fever scene from Airplane!  Yes, it’s got those free association gags that lampoon everyday existence, but the comedy is more intelligent than a cursory run through pop culture. The script is thoughtful, mining humor out of the incongruities of life. For example when Ted purposefully sabotages his own interview for a job in a grocery store, the irrational manager regards Ted’s nonconformism as a sign of strong character and hires him on the spot. Furthermore, it’s the minor details that further push this fable into the realm of greatness. Patrick Stewart narrates the saga with a precious reverence reserved for fairy tales. It really sets the mood. The incidental music is also humorously quirky like the jazzy segue way you’d hear in an episode of a 70s sitcom like Mary Tyler Moore.

Right from the start, part of the humor is derived from the fact that Ted looks like Snuggle the Fabric Softener mascot but talks like a sailor. The dichotomy between his cute and cuddly exterior and vulgar interior is an incongruous mix and it works surprisingly well. The sight of a fluffy teddy bear kicking the stuffing out of Mark Wahlberg in one scene is hilarious. The action artfully juggles the atmosphere both ways. There is a serious attempt to mine poignancy at certain points and adult humor the next. One’s enjoyment of the movie completely rests on the viewer’s acceptance of this idea. For the most part it succeeds because the script is intelligently written and the feature follows the traditional movement of a narrative that has a point. In the end, this is about the classic man-child who must grow up and strike an acceptable balance between his best friend and his sweetheart. Mark Wahlberg is really enjoyable as the thirtysomething (he’s actually 41) with a tedious job at a car rental agency. As the perpetually adolescent minded John, I can’t think of a time where he’s been more blissfully agreeable in a film. What makes the story so affecting is that it doesn’t simply rely on a gimmick. You could replace Ted with Seth Rogan (but let’s not) and the story would still make perfect sense. It’s the chemistry amongst Ted and John and Lori that makes this so engaging.

Savages

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on July 7, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Savages is the work of an auteur having fun, but with little regard for quality or art. It’s a sensational movie and I mean that in the sense that a tabloid is filled with sensational news. Lurid, sleazy and colorful, it’s a movie that seeks to entertain with brazen force. It’s startling and memorable, but also superficial and trashy. To a certain extent it succeeds. Lately Oliver Stone’s track record hasn’t been as solid as it once was in the 80s. Yet he’s still able to entice talented stars to his productions. There’s a trio of powerhouse supporting parts that very nearly save the picture.

Savages tells the tale of marijuana growers Ben (the brains) and Chon (the brawn) a couple of best friends living in Laguna Beach who have become very successful at what they do. They share a girlfriend of sorts named Ophelia. Nicknamed “O” she and her men have sex, grow pot, make lots of money. Their glossy, sun soaked ménage à trois lifestyle is photographed like a 70s travelogue for Saint-Tropez. Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively occupy the starring roles. They’re outwardly attractive but hollow charisma has the combined personality of a single Mylar balloon. That’s not really an issue because they’re supposed to be a hedonistic trio of beach loving, California friends. They nail their parts. Over dinner Ophelia likens their relationship to the one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and my mind questioned whether such a vacant airhead would have even ever heard of that film.

Savages is highlighted by a trio of supporting performances by a game cast that are in on the joke of this ridiculous spectacle. Ben and Chon’s business attract the attention of a Mexican drug cartel. Elena Sánchez is the head of this gang and she sends her representatives to make an offer to form a partnership with her intimidating group. Known as La Reina or The Queen, Salma Hayek inhabits the role with gusto. She sports Bettie Page bangs and a chunky diamond necklace that would make Joan Crawford envious. It is a bit hard to believe that a woman so concerned with fashion and makeup would be such a ruthless powerful drug cartel leader but that’s what makes the role so deliciously absurd. She’s joined by Benicio del Toro who depicts her right hand henchman. He delivers his lines with a hilariously thick Mexican accent. At some points it’s almost a parody of a voice, like Speedy Gonzales played at half the speed. Also adding to the fun is John Travolta in a “why me” portrayal as a slimy DEA agent covering both sides. It’s a liberating display and welcome comic relief every time he’s on screen.

In the end, the narrative is simply too sloppy. There are moments of genuine promise. When Ben and Chon finally go on the offensive, their planned attack on the cartel is an exhilarating frenzy of excitement. But right after, the chronicle flounders with assorted scenes that do nothing to advance character or plot. For each brilliant segment that accelerates the script in a good way there are 3 more that knock it back. At 130 minutes, there are long stretches that could have easily been edited out that would’ve made the drama tighter and much more engaging. Blake Lively’s flat toned narration isn’t any comfort. It feels like death whenever the director lazily relies on her dispassionate intonations to help carry the story. Additionally several scenes dwell on unpleasant details to no apparent purpose other than to disgust the viewer. Savages will have interest for some viewers who can look past all the problems. Ultimately the negatives outweighed the positives for me to truly recommend this film.

Magic Mike

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on July 6, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Steven Soderbergh is a brilliant director. Who else could take a potentially lurid subject like male stripping and fashion it into an introspective little drama? His document rises above the topic to become a rather engaging chronicle of a ”career”-minded individual. The narrative admittedly follows the familiar trajectory of a cautionary tale involving booze, drugs, and women. It’s the multi dimensional characters that really set this apart. Channing Tatum plays Mike Lane who labors as a roof tiler for a local construction company. New hire Adam (Alex Pettyfer) becomes a member of the crew supervised by Mike. Following an accusation of taking extra sodas by the head boss at work, Adam quits in anger after only one day. A college dropout with a slacker mentality he has no prospects. Feeling sorry for him, Mike takes the rookie under his wing and introduces him to his other occupation.

2012 has been the year of the Tatum. The actor has appeared in no less than 3 box office hits that have grossed in excess of 100 million dollars this year. The Vow, 21 Jump Street, and now Magic Mike. Furthermore, this follows in the midst of the delayed debut of G.I. Joe: Retaliation. It was moved from its original intended release date of June 29 2012 to March 29 2013 ostensibly to retrofit the print in 3D. But it was reported in May that the *REAL* reason was based on the test screening audience’s rumored dissatisfaction with the movie. The root of their issue? That Channing Tatum’s character dies too early. Reshooting a film due to a star’s newfound popularity is the very definition of having arrived in Hollywood.

The drama is highlighted by an appealing and colorful supporting cast. Matthew McConaughey is terrific as the owner of the club where the guys dance. He portrays the aging boss (He‘s in his 40s!) with his typical laid back Texas charm. But just because he deals in a sketchy industry doesn’t mean he takes his job any less seriously. He’s a focused businessman and rules his boys like the madam of a brothel. There’s sort of a backstage camaraderie between the guys that you might find with the performers of any legitimate theater production. Alex Pettyfer is Adam, dubbed “The Kid” onstage. He suitably conveys a wide eyed innocence seduced by the money that makes it believable he’d get into this line of work. And let’s not forget the women of the picture. Cody Horn is Brooke, Adam’s sister. Her part is key because she represents the saga’s moral center. There’s a scene where she visits the club to find out what her brother has gotten into. Even before her brother has a chance to perform, Mike takes the stage. Her face registers judgment, then curiosity, followed by disgust as she watches the show. It’s a subtle display, but her role really ties these different worlds together. Also of note is Olivia Munn as the woman with whom Mike has a prior relationship. The intensity of their commitment seems to be up for debate as the tale unfolds.

Screenwriter Reid Carolin’s script is much more concerned with getting to know these people than superficial displays of lascivious behavior. Carolin is Tatum’s producing partner. They worked together on Stop-Loss. Here he fashions a fictionalized account based on Channing Tatum’s own experiences as dancer in Florida before he became a Hollywood actor. Maybe that’s why there’s a surprising depth to these individuals. Director Soderbergh does initially present Mike’s world with a hedonistic superficiality, but he also contrasts this with Mike’s ultimate desire to launch his furniture-design company. There’s a memorable segment where he’s trying to apply for a loan at the bank and it’s reminiscent of that heartbreaking bit in Boogie Nights where Don Cheadle’s character attempts to open his own stereo equipment store. Magic Mike’s subject matter shares other similarities with Boogie Nights in theme. While the breadth of human experience isn’t anywhere close to that landmark film, Magic Mike still manages to present an interesting take on the life of people who exploit sexuality for money.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on July 4, 2012 by Mark Hobin

The Amazing Spider-Man is a dependable revisitation of the superhero series that debuted just a decade ago. The last entry only came out 5 years back and we have already been blessed with a reboot. The current version trods much of the same territory that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man did in 2002. Oh there are some variations this time around. The webs Peter Parker shoots are mechanical devices that he invents instead of a genetic mutation that springs biologically from his body. He’s initially perceived as a menace, not a help, by the police. He’s got a different girlfriend and the villain has changed too. If you feel those are refreshing changes, you will enjoy this a lot more. It’s really a film that should rightfully be deemed a remake over a reboot – like a reheated leftovers with a few savory tidbits for variety.

One area where the movie excels is in the casting. Andrew Garfield has a sarcastic nerd sensibility that is keenly appealing. He nails the excitement of a adolescent coming to grips with his newfound powers, perfectly. It’s hard to explain how he can come off as insecure and confident at the same time, but he does. A good example occurs when Peter humiliates the school bully in front of his friends at basketball practice. There’s glimpses of genuine wit throughout the script. After Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, he fights back against a group of thugs who are harassing him on a subway. At one point, he casually rests his hand on the shirt of the hoodlum’s girlfriend and he accidentally takes it off with his sticky hands, The scene has a quirky sense of humor. Later when confronted by a car thief with a knife, he drops to his knees in agony and cries “You’ve found my weakness…it’s small knives” right before bombarding the criminal with so many webs he cannot move.

Where the movie falters is in the details. Following the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben, the direction of the narrative appears to be Spider-Man‘s search for the man who killed his Uncle. He becomes a vigilante of sorts apprehending various suspects that match the description of the killer. But once his father’s old colleague, Dr. Curt Connors, injects test serum into regenerating his absent arm, the story shifts focus. Dr. Connors metamorphosizes into The Lizard, a creature that kind of looks like Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine. Now all of Spider-Man’s efforts are concentrated on stopping this sociopath. His original mission is dropped and forgotten. The Lizard is a rather perfunctory attempt at fashioning an exciting antagonist right down to his moniker. He’s not particularly memorable. I couldn’t even understand if The Lizard was supposed to be an evil mastermind or some tragic antihero. First he’s a noble scientist helping people with missing limbs, but then he evolves into a malevolent lizard man and he’s out to infect humanity by turning everyone into lizard monsters like himself. Then yet again he returns to being good trying to safely pull our hero up out of harm’s way. I suppose the schizophrenic nature of the villain is something akin to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but it renders his personality confusing and he’s difficult to get excited about.

The Amazing Spider-Man is merely an acceptable update. Fittingly named director Marc Webb doesn’t put a unique stamp on the production to make the web-slinger his own. There isn’t enough inspiration to explain why another interpretation of the same movie needed to be made. It’s just all so familiar. However there are enough flashes of ingenuity to label this an entertaining diversion. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone inhabit their roles beautifully. The romance is stronger in this installment making their relationship the plot’s emotional center. While they’re charismatic characters, the villain is a complete bore. Given 136 minutes of action to fill, he’s not sufficiently compelling to maintain interest. I was constantly checking my watch during the final third. Let’s call this The Adequate Spider Man.

If I may paraphrase the Blocko-Land Announcer’s query in The Simpson’s episode “Hungry Hungry Homer”: So! How much did you LOVE The Amazing Spider-Man!?

It was alright I guess.