June 30, 2012
The stripteasing scenes are, of course, the eye candy, just like the nude scenes in all those redundant slasher films from the 1980s were strategically inserted to draw a male audience in and on, keeping them waiting for what they may or may not see next. But there's never anything substantial going on in between these moments. Magic Mike is the same way. It has a dull story about the titular star stripper, (played by Channing Tatum) who has dreams of doing something more with his life (specifically, starting a custom furniture business). He sucks an impressionable 19-year-old loafer (Alex Pettyfer) into the biz, much to the chagrin of the boy's older, responsible, drag-of-a-sister (Cody Horn). The boy of course doesn't know how to handle his new-found "popularity" and eventually becomes a druggie.
The dramatic scenes are overly familiar. They're probably the stuff you've seen if you've spent any significant portion of your life watching the WB Network. The actors have no charisma, nothing interesting to do (well, that statement may not be agreed upon by a large portion of the audience). Horn seems like a less exciting version of Kristen Stewart (which makes her a corpse's corpse), Tatum seems to be playing himself, that is, occasionally charming but ultimately lacking in imagination. He turns over a dining room chair and pronounces it a knock-off, because he's a savant for carpentry. Totally believable.
Of course, people aren't lining up to see Magic Mike for its story. But it seems to me a sad state of affairs when nobody cares about the movie itself. You can get eye candy anywhere, from those mindless idiots on the Jersey Shore to an Abercrombie & Fitch ad, but movies are supposed to be capable of more than that. Magic Mike fits in with the summer movie line-up because it too is all about the special effects. Instead of buildings exploding, it's bodies strutting, and flexing and grinding. Magic Mike could have been salvaged by a sense of humor, but it's utterly lacking in wit, and every next step is so painfully obvious that you become increasingly aware of the two hours it takes to get from the beginning to the end.
Matthew McConaughey, who was so funny in an earlier 2012 movie, Bernie, is dizzyingly unappealing in this movie. His character, Dallas, is sort of the emcee of the strip club. He owns the place, but rarely does any of the stripteasing anymore. What's more, he's got plans to move the operation from Tampa to Miami, where they can dream bigger. This presumably means wealthier clientele. But it's such a lame attempt to put something in this movie at stake: does anyone actually care if they are able to successfully relocate?
Steven Soderbergh was able to turn Erin Brockovich into a fun movie by utilizing the natural charm and wit of its star, Julia Roberts. Magic Mike doesn't have that. Channing Tatum may not be the worst actor to grace the screen, but he's got no personality, no genuine star quality or mystery about him to give any durable staying power as an actor. Like all the other dancers, he's about as valuable as his appearance, which, like Magic Mike, isn't sustainable for long.
June 29, 2012
The movie is best not over-thought, because you might start to read a bunch of meaningless symbolism into it that isn't there. At its core, it's about an orphan named Sam (Jared Gilman), the misfit of the boy scout troupe, who abandons his camp entrenched on the New England coast, and takes off with a local girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward) with whom he has fallen in love. The incompetent adults in the movie try and track down their missing kiddos, twice losing them. These include Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, two lawyers who might be a less-interesting version of the characters played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in the 1949 comedy Adam's Rib), the boy scout leader (Edward Norton, who delivers every line with straight-faced aplomb and dedication, just like a boy scout), and the local coast guard Captain (Bruce Willis, who becomes a sort of father figure for the unwanted Sam).
Visually speaking, Moonrise Kingdom has some lovely images, and it seems as though it were pieced together like a storybook. The visual beauty is offset by Anderson's nonchalant, almost recklessly (but not quite) non-serious approach. It's not that he doesn't care about the story or the characters; they're not being pushed onto the screen to be mocked or made fun of, but he doesn't elevate their problems. For these characters, everything is already so elevated in their minds (from the Scout Master's obsession with orderly cabins and strictly adhered-to schedules to Sam and Suzy's determined puppy love), that Anderson is right to reign himself in. The movie would have felt heavy-handed otherwise. This is a portrait of a group of people who are taking everything far more seriously than the movie takes them. Still, Anderson hasn't pulled off anything that great. His inventions are a kind of obvious kitsch charm that he's been working on presumably all the way back to his early films. He's got a following that has embraced his cutesy hipster style. It's not offensive, but not as great as everyone's making it out to be.
With Tilda Swinton (looking stuffy and quite hilarious as the social services lady) and Harvey Keitel as a self-important Scout Master.
June 25, 2012
She plays Darius, an intern at a Seattle magazine, who accompanies one of the columnists (Jake M. Johnson, of TV's New Girl) and a fellow intern (Karan Soni), to a small coastal town to write a piece on an eccentric named Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who's soliciting a partner for his time traveling endeavors in the classifieds section of the paper.
The relationships that develop as a result of this oddball set of events are interesting to watch, but you can never shake the creepy feeling you get because he's so much older than she is. This isn't the same as when Audrey Hepburn only acted with men who were hundreds of years older than her (Cary Grant in Charade, Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, etc). Audrey seemed perpetually grown-up (young enough to be chic, old enough to be sophisticated, wordly, and legal). Aubrey Plaza (the first names are only a letter away from each other), is perpetually adolescent. She's in her late 20s, but she looks 16. The chemistry between the two actors is muffled by the age discrpenancy.
Jake Johnson undergoes an inexplicable change from dirtbag to nice guy, which is odd because the reason he takes the assignment to follow the "crazy guy building a time machine" is so that he can meet up with an old flame for a one night stand. Johnson gives a winning performance that makes his sleazy persona pitifully real and somehow likable, but you wonder how the writer, Derek Connolly, convinced himself that Johnson's character could pull such a profound 180 so quickly. Johnson's performance lends it more credibility than it deserves.
The movie is at its best when it doesn't try to go for the predictable sentimentality that indie movies always shun with tongue in cheek. It's a peculiar tension to be both sweet and too smart for its own good. Aubrey Plaza is on her way to being the same kind of indie movie poster child as someone like Zooey Deschanel, who represents a sort of concentration of everything darling and obnoxious about "indie" culture. But Plaza wins you over because she's a cynic, but she's also good with the quippy lines, and Connolly has a knack for writing dialogue that is funny without beating the audience over the head. Such are the particular joys of Safety Not Guaranteed, a movie which is amusing, perhaps slight, perhaps less important and reverential about life than it thinks it is, but not totally dishonest nonetheless. (Some audience members may find that the marketing for this movie has misled them. It's not at all about time travel, but about the cult of eccentricity and the unexpected founding of new relationships.)
Directed by Colin Trevorrow. With Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, and Stephanie Langhoff.
June 16, 2012
Without its cast, Big Business is a fairly limp comedy that fails to amount to anything surprising or novel. This plot has been done before at least a handful of times (going all the way back to Shakespeare and The Comedy of Errors), including with Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland in the French Revolution comedy Start the Revolution Without Me (1970). Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin generate most of this movie's appeal: When she's playing a domineering capitalist, Midler is sensational. She looks like she's having fun, and Tomlin gets overshadowed as the spacy sister who's out of place in the big city. (She was born to a humble West Virginia farmer and his wife, who, from the few minutes we see of her at the beginning, must have died from the sheer exhaustion of bearing too many children.) She's felt out of place her whole life, just like the Midler who's grown up in the country, not knowing she had city life in her blood.
One of the problems of Big Business is that it gets sidetracked trying to think of ways for its four main characters not to run into each other. The four of them end up getting booked at the Plaza in neighboring hotel rooms, so director Jim Abrahams milks the mistaken identity plot line for more than it's worth. Abrahams uses the crusade against a giant corporation which threatens to destroy the economic means of a small town as an afterthought, a way to give the movie some kind of moral impetus, not to mention a sappy finale that will unite the girls who are so different from each other. It's probably the most obvious part of the movie (but might also be the reason it was such a crowd-pleaser.)
The supporting cast is terrific: Fred Ward as the rural Tomlin's clueless but devoted boyfriend, Edward Herrmann and Daniel Gerroll as the urban Midler's flunkies, Barry Primus as her ex-husband, Seth Green as her adolescent, out-of-control son, Michael Gross as the urban Tomlin's exasperated doctor boyfriend, and Deborah Rush as the New York girls' complaining mother (seen at the very beginning).
June 10, 2012
The magnificent special effects are there to woo us. They aren't overpowering until the end. When the movie gets claustrophobic, you start to really feel the Alien kinship. It's almost the same damn movie at times. In fact, Prometheus feels like the accumulation of every science fiction movie and book and short story and painting ever concocted. And I say this not having all that strong a knowledge of the genre, but only based on what I am familiar with: Alien and Aliens, bits of Planet of the Vampires, The Thing From Another World, Forbidden Planet, et al. That's not to say it's not entertaining. Much of it is fun in a nasty sort of way. You get a kick out of the characters falling prey to what they encounter on the planet they're exploring. (It was however, irritating, to see some old cliches employed to help facilitate the horror. Movie characters never seem to get smarter with age.)
The plot involves two scientists searching for the beings that created the human race. They journey to another planet where they make some decidedly historic discoveries, but, as you might have imagined, not all of them are good, and pretty soon death enters the spaceship on which they traveled. It's not exactly like Alien from there on out. Scott is really trying hard to capture a sense of wonder amidst the horror he wants to create. So this might be a mixture of Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey (or Solaris). It certainly grasps at the pretentious, although not as firmly as Stanley Kubrick did in 2001. Scott's got an action movie sensibility. His movies get distracted from the bigger ideas that often weighed Kubrick down.
Michael Fassbender, who plays a polite, super-smart robot on board the ship (thus making another connection to the Alien movies), resembles Keir Dullea from 2001, and his voice resembles HAL's. Guy Pearce is unrecognizable under CGI-generated make-up designed to age him significantly. The two scientists are played by Noomi Rapace, who's a pretty good lead, and Logan Marshall-Green. Charlize Theron plays the woman who presides over the ship like an ice queen. She owns the company that's funding the mission. Her character isn't particularly well thought out (none of them are, actually), and we never really know why she's so domineering. You get the feeling that the movie's going to make more use of her but nothing comes of it. Idris Elba seems to have the most humanity among the crew. He plays the ships' captain, and the only person with a sense of humor, which endears him to us more than most of the other dispensables on board. (Remember how it was impossible to tell who was getting killed in Aliens, and then you realized it didn't matter because there had never been much attempt to introduce them either by face or by name in the first place? The same thing happens in Prometheus, a little.)
The script is by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, both sci-fi junkies who keep the movie interesting as they rip off everything they've ever watched and read. Prometheus is fun for about three fourths of the way, but the ending feels too anti-climactic, too deflated, to be exciting or compelling. The movie's still trying to hold on to both the "marvel and mystery" of the origins of life and the horror of the beings discovered on the distant planet, and so it just feels like any other outer space epic, one you might have caught while watching the Sci-Fi channel late one night.
With Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie, and in a small role as Rapace's father, Patrick Wilson (seen in a dream sequence.)
June 09, 2012
Rampart (2012) is set in 1999. Officer Brown (Harrelson) has been caught beating a man on tape, and because the police department is already embroiled in a massive, complicated scandal, they decide to feed Brown to the press. He doesn't like the idea of being the rolling head, mostly because he's living in a world of denial, unable to admit to himself or anyone else that he's capable of working outside the parameters of the law. Even the case twelve years earlier in which Brown allegedly killed a serial rapist, emerging a hero, is thrown into question. Meanwhile, Brown's not exactly father or husband of the year, having married two sisters, fathering a daughter with each, and failing to be present in any of their lives in a substantive manner.
James Ellroy, the hyperbolic, ultra-weird mystery novelist who wrote L.A. Confidential, co-wrote the screenplay for this with the director, Oren Moverman, who lacks the kind of skillful imagination to make Rampart very compelling. You can hardly tell that Ellroy had much to do with this, since most of his work is dripping with pulpy dialogue, sometimes wonderful, sometimes ridiculous. Rampart is too cautious to try anything like that, and as such it walks a straight line of mediocrity. It's got a cast of characters who all turn out to be fairly uninteresting, but ultimately we're told that's the whole point: Brown is living in a dream world where he's Bruce Willis from Die Hard, only everyone else is firmly ensconced in reality. But the movie hasn't much else to go on from there, and spending two hours with a deluded cop with too much machismo to make rational decisions isn't all that much of a good time, unless your idea of a good time is watching re-runs of Cops.
With Ben Foster, Robin Wright (as a lawyer who enjoys sleeping with Brown because of his reputation as a guy who kills serial rapists), Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon as the two sisters he married (one after the other, not at the same time, the movie points out to us), Sigourney Weaver as the hard-nosed district attorney, Ice Cub, Brie Larson (who is convincing as Harrelson's estranged teenage daughter, although her disgruntled teenage misfit daughter is cliched in the most obvious, unimaginative way), Steve Buscemi, Jon Foster, and Ned Beatty, as a retired cop who's "helping" Brown make a little money on the side.
June 08, 2012
Jackson and co-writers Stephen Sinclair and Fran Walsh lovingly pay homage to the George Romero zombie classics (also, they're apparently trying to top Lucio Fulci, the director of the Spaghetti splatter flick Zombie, in terms of blood and guts, which they do, and with a much keener sense of humor than Fulci). But their story also has more than a bit of Psycho's bad pop psychology: a timid, simpering man named Lionel (Timothy Balme) lives with his crotchety mum (Elizabeth Moody), who dominates his life. When she is bitten by a Sumatran rat monkey (a fairly obvious but nonetheless icky concoction of claymation) at the zoo, she starts (literally) falling apart, and transforms into a flesh-eating ghoul. It's the ultimate picture of the clinging mother devouring her son's independence.
Naturally, the mum spreads her "sickness," until soon poor Lionel, looking wide-eyed and at his wit's end, has a basement full of flesh-munching dead creatures to contend with. He tries to pacify them with food that isn't human remains (which is sort of liking trying convince children to eat broccoli when there's an ice cream sundae in the freezer), and knocks them out with tranquilizers, but nothing works long enough or sure enough. Jackson employs the use of a sleazy, money-grubbing uncle, played by Ian Watkin, who brings a large group of moronic friends to the house for a party, pushing the movie into its conclusion: an all-out zombie bloodbath. Every scenario you could never have imagined is enacted, with every household appliance and garage gadget you could lay your hands on (including, most memorably, a lawn mower, a light bulb, a blender, and garden shears).
Peter Jackson knows how to deliver a comic-book type horror movie, one which never takes itself seriously. The characters are the stuff of old melodramas, caricatures who serve their respected archetypes as Jackson pulls everything together with blood-drenched glee. This obviously isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's a ridiculous, audaciously horrifying black comedy for those who are game. With Diana Penalver, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Devenie, and Jed Brophy.
Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, R.J. Parnell, and David Kaff play the members of Spinal Tap, and do all of the playing and singing themselves. The movie's a mockumentary (the first one to involve many of the people who were behind such later films as Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show), and while it's often an hysterically droll experience, it's also surprisingly energetic, and even serious at times. The lines between mock and doc are purposely blurred, and the performances are completely invested in the material, which may be one of the reasons This Is Spinal Tap remains such a cult classic. Written by Guest, McKean, Shearer, and director Rob Reiner (who plays the director of the documentary).
With Tony Hendra and June Chadwick; featuring cameo appearances by: Ed Begley, Jr., Fran Drescher, Patrick Macnee, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, Anjelica Huston, and Fred Willard.
June 04, 2012
Poor Johnny Depp, who has played every weird, pale character in filmdom at this point (almost always under Burton's watch, incidentally) is propped up on screen to try and sustain this mess for two hours as he, playing vampire Barnabas Collins, fumbles his way through 1972 Maine, trying to adjust to the culture shock. (He's a vampire who's been in the ground, chained inside a coffin, for nearly 200 years, thanks to the curse of a conniving witch who's in love with him.) When Barnabas gets released from his deep slumber, he shows up at the family mansion and makes plans to improve the Collins name, which has fallen out of fashion in the town which owes its very existence to the once great Collins clan. Nor is the family business, a fish cannery, successful any longer, having been usurped by a clever competitor, the witch from 200 years back (Eva Green), sustained in her youth and beauty by dark magic. Too bad she couldn't work some magic with this movie. It's abysmal, and you start to wonder how in the world everyone botched it so badly.
Whenever they don't know how to make a scene interesting, or even remotely energized, the makers of Dark Shadows insert some overplayed 1970s song, whether it means anything at all to the context or not, and this is meant to remind us how cool the 70s were, or how cool this movie is for recognizing how cool the 70s were. And usually Depp's character makes some kind of bemused observation to remind us that it's supposed to be funny that he's been displaced. Anachronistic wit at its most subtle and original.
The problem with Dark Shadows is that it doesn't know how to be a movie. Everyone has a lot to say, but nothing that moves the story along as much as one would hope. Exposition clutters the film, clunkily making itself known at every turn. Nobody seems sure how to tell this film's back-story succinctly or cleverly. Nobody seems sure how to get the plot moving succinctly or cleverly either. Smith is apparently fond of dialogue, but he doesn't have the garish sense of gab of someone like, say, Quentin Tarantino, whose talky movies are usually interesting because of what's being said, and also because of who's saying it, and how they're saying it. The actors in Dark Shadows haven't been given enough good material to really shine. And nothing interesting or original is happening in the first place.
Michelle Pfeiffer looks fetching, and she's still got the ability to command the screen, but Burton and Smith turn her into a deflated hag. She lumbers through the movie just like Smith's screenplay and hasn't anything all that interesting to do or say. She's the current representative of the Collins family and estate (along with her no-good brother, played by Johnny Lee Miller.)
With Helena Bonham Carter who is, not surprisingly, given nothing interesting to do, as the alcoholic live-in headshrinker. This film is as anachronistic as its character. It's a movie in search of a story, and the creators hoped that a lot of fancy set design and big stars and bad jokes (all of them seemingly aimed at getting into the movie trailer, which they did.); Bella Heathcote appears as a young woman who goes to the Collins mansion to be the new governess. (Her character gets ignored for much of the movie, which suggests that she is a character of convenience, contrived merely to stir up Depp's passion for his long-dead lover, whom she resembles.) Watch The Addams Family, or Beetle Juice, instead. With Jackie Earle Haley, Chloe Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath as the two children in the house, and, in a cameo appearance, Christopher Lee, who is also used for no good reason.
June 03, 2012
It's an elongated sitcom, written by Rudd, director David Wain, Ken Marino, and Timothy Dowling, and between the four of them they couldn't come up with any original ideas or gags. The characters are all familiar archetypes: Danny is a sardonic curmudgeon, Wheeler is a horny man-whore, Elizabeth Banks, as Danny's girlfriend, is the beautiful, successful lawyer who's somehow put up with Danny's shiftless negativity for seven years, and Jane Lynch is the oddball director of the Big Brother-like organization. Lynch gives the film a few moments of relief, but her character is weird for no reason. There isn't anything credible about her, or anyone else. Forget motivation or story impetus. There are moments where Rudd and Scott mesh well together. They get into a comic rhythm that is funny and engaging, but the movie isn't well-thought-out enough to sustain their performances, and their performances don't do much for the movie overall. They may get you through it, but that's about it.
June 01, 2012
Fonda gets overshadowed by Lily Tomlin,
who has an amazing air of confidence when it comes to doing funny scenes, and she seems to be completely in touch with her character and her character's frustrations about having to deal with a sleazy boss, Mr. Hart (Dabney Coleman), who passes her up for a promotion in favor of a man with less experience. Fonda is pinched and cold and unappealing until her character loosens up mid-way through, but even then she's already established as sort of the drag of the three. Dolly Parton, in her film debut, has a natural amiability that shines through her performance as Hart's good-natured assistant. Unbeknownst to her, Hart's been spreading rumors about them, and she has accrued the reputation of "office slut."
One problem is that most of 9 to 5's comic suspense is generated by a very contrived, easily avoided, mistake. (This was something that rendered the more recent comedy The Hangover absolutely ineffectual as a believable comedy.) Tomlin's character accidentally puts poison in Mr. Hart's coffee (the box oh-so-closely resembling his favorite artificial sweetener), and when he falls and hits his head, she mistakenly assume he's been poisoned by the loaded beverage, and proceeds to steal a corpse, which believes to be that of Mr. Hart, from the hospital. She ropes the other two girls into her panicky misadventure, and this sets up the progression of the rest of the movie. There are funny moments, and as mentioned before, the three ladies are fun to watch, but all of this seems contrived, on a sitcom level. And there are so many ways 9 to 5 could have avoided such a mistake.
Nevertheless, it's a fun comedy that has found its way into the pop culture memory bank. At any rate, Parton's song, "9 to 5," is remarkably catchy and still fun to listen to, and she even adapted the film into a Broadway shot several years back. Directed by Colin Higgins. With Sterling Hayden, Elisabeth Wilson, Henry Jones, Lawrence Pressman, Marian Mercer, and Peggy Pope.