Following a four year stint in “retirement”, American auteur Steven Soderbergh returns to the multiplexes with the kind of snappy, crowd-pleasing, whizzbang fare that throttled him from indie delight to box office superstar. Assembling a sublimely cast trio of Magic Mike (Channing Tatum), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Bond, James Bond (Daniel Craig) in a delightful supporting role, Logan Lucky, much like the film that rocketed Soderbergh to success (Ocean’s Eleven), rides on the back of its stars’ natural well of charisma as well as a pithy screenplay (courtesy of maybe pseudonym Rebecca Blunt) that constantly waffles between sly, chuckle-inducing commentary and witty narrative sleight of hand. Read More
The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! exists in some zany cinematic purgatory of indecisiveness. Their critique of 1950s Hollywood dwells in an occasionally bemusing middle ground; that is, it can’t decide whether it wants to be a skewering of or a love letter to the golden era of tinsel town. Those who’ve found solace in the bewilderingly esoteric arms of A Serious Man or the bombast of The Hudsucker Proxy will likely concede Hail, Caesar! as a new coming for the seriocomic duo but I like my Coen’s like I like my coffee and Hail, Caesar!’s semi-satirical goofball makeup couldn’t be further from the blackest of comedy that defines the brothers’ greatest ventures. Read More
Have you ever wondered what Channing Tatum would look like in a little sailors outfit? Wonder no more. The trailer for Hail, Caesar!, the newest comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen, has arrived and it looks nothing short of glorious (and features Tatum dressed oh-so-preciously) . Hail, Caesar! tells the story of a tentpole movie production halted when its leading man (George Clooney) is kidnapped and held for ransom. The sure-to-be winning picture is brimming with talent; in addition to Tatum and Clooney, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand are set to star with cinematography provided by all-star DP Roger Deakins. Read More
In 2012, Steven Soderbergh accomplished the impossible by making audiences – made up of various chromosome compositions – fall in love with a ragtag scrap of male strippers. Magic Mike not only dominated the box office – netting north of 113 million dollars domestically on a 7 million dollar production budget – but won the hearts and minds of critics, who rewarded the film with a 80% Rotten Tomato score. All signs pointed swiftly towards the birth of a new franchise centered around denuding men with real world issues. Women (and some men) rejoiced; ’twas raining men. Read More
The Wachowskis have been getting blank checks from Warner Bros since pulling off The Matrix in 1999 and with Jupiter Ascending have likely made their last boundless blockbuster. In 2012, Cloud Atlas turned a budget north of $100 million (though no official budget was ever released) into a pitiable $27 million domestic return, a figure almost as bad as the lowly $43.9 domestic box office cume from a $120 million investment on 2008’s Speed Racer. With their latest, they’re about to pull off their biggest magic trick yet, making a $175 budget disappear into thin air. To say the bloom is off the rose is a lie by degree. This movie’s gonna get crushed.
And rightly so. The Wachowskis have always skated by on their awesome sense of spectacle, often at the expense of a cohesive story, but Jupiter Ascending is not just their latest but their most egregious offender of complete and utter style over substance. In their defense, the style is often blindingly cool, if only for a brief moment. No scene better utilizes their captivating handle on big budget pageantry than a first act escape scene, one that reportedly took upwards of six months to film. The issue remains: why dump so much time and resource into a glorified stunt and so little into plot, character and general story cohesion? The answer is mindbogglingly unaddressed.
With Jupiter, one established Wachowski mainstay remains in their FX-driven manipulation of gravity. Bullet time has been replaced by gravity boots and Keanu Reeves’ wooden acting is subbed in by a frequently shirtless and rarely compelling Channing Tatum. Tatum plays the role of a warrior “splice” – a genetically engineered part-man, part-dog. He once had cyborg-enhanced wings but got them hacked off Maleficent-style when he bit the wrong rear end. Or was it ear end? His is a lackluster bit of back story that’s never explained or accounted for in a movie full of lackluster bits of back story that are never explained or accounted for. But such is Jupiter Ascending.
Tatum’s effortlessly seductive (or so we’re told) Caine Wise is tasked with retrieving an Earthling woman at the center of a galactic land grab but in a guns-blazin’ fix gets mixed up and ends up with the wrong chick: a Russian toilet-scrubber by the name of January “I Like Dogs” Jones (Mila Kunis). The maid mix-up winds up COMPLETELY forgotten about as it turns out our heroine is actually an heiress of the highest order – the reincarnation of an interplanetary Tzar and somewhat recently deceased head of family to the Abrasax clan. With a hefty sum of a birthright (including, ya know, the Earth), the rest of the Abrasax fam-damily tries to win over the pea-brained January with various schemes and assaults of paperwork. You can almost hear Wachowski’s whine, “Bureaucracy’s a bitch.” After a few queues to get the ol’ inheritance files in order, many things explodes and Tatum’s dog-boy is called to the rescue – like Lassie with a six pack – more times than I’d like to report on.
In a pinch, Kunis’ Jupiter Jones is as compelling a female lead as Denise Richards’ Christmas Jones and just about as believable as Richards’ is as a rocket scientist. She’s a perma-damsel in distress, haplessly entering herself into laughably dumb situations and finding herself subsequently incapable of getting out without being rescued by her half-canine prince. It makes me wonder why the Wachowskis even bothered making a film with a female protagonist when they’re just going to make her so pathetic and pitiable. It’s an asinine step backwards in an industry that demands two forward. The gross lack of chemistry between Kunis and Tatum doesn’t help either, nor do the odd bestiality undertones.
And just as Channing Tatum is a dog genetically spliced with a human, Jupiter Ascending is The Princess Bride genetically spliced with Star Fox, a bombastic video game of a space-set fairy tale that feels like it needed something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue in order for the studio to marry it to a budget so high. The result is a rip-off by assault; kitchen sink FX hogwash laid upon tired narrative tactics.
What is truly visionary in terms of set production, lavish costumery and creature design results in something totally and tonally defunct in the story department. As Eddie Redmayne greedily dismantles everything great about his work in The Theory of Everything as a necky, whispering, totally bratty villain, the Wachowskis make a mockery of their own legacy as storytellers. Even when they haven’t been firing on all cylinders, the sibling filmmakers have been able to provide dazzling, heady escapism. Jupiter Ascending though just makes you want to escape the theater.
On the most recent season of American Horror Story (Freak Show) there’s a depraved foil by the name of Dandy Mott, a highfaluting, affluent shut-in with a penchant for inflicting violence on those his physical inferior. His tailored suits and slickly oiled part stand in stark contrast to the tattered, deformed calvary of freaks that make up the namesake of the season, but beneath the perfumed facade of opulence and manicured sophistication is a reeking air of base barbarism. His is a most brutish proclivity nurtured utmost by an uninhibited sense of entitlement. In possessing all, nothing has value. Not even human life. With great money comes great power… and little responsibility. As King Joffrey infamously teased, “Everyone is mine to torment.”
Since the most recent economic collapse and subsequent Occupy movement, those in the upper echelon, the “one-percenters”, have become a sort of nationally derided myth. They jet around the world in lavish abandon, attending lush fundraisers, imbibing impossibly priced champagne and banging it out with gaggles of Eastern European models. Maybe slashing the throats of homeless vagabonds every once in a while for good measure. They’ve become caricatures, long teeth and all; braggarts removed from reality; personified wallets who can’t fold into the ebb and flow of middle-class normality. In this folklore view of the uber-wealthy, Patrick Batemans are hiding everywhere. If ever there was a symbol for the recklessly moneyed lifestyle of the criminally wealthy, it’s John du Pont. He’s pretty much the Batman of being a douchey trust-fund baby.
Watching interviews with Du Pont, it becomes immediately clear how out of his depth he is in just about any situation. From charities to coaching, he fumbles his way through his affairs unconvincingly. Writing checks his brain can’t cash. Like a special needs kid quoting Rudy. It’s almost heartbreaking how bad this guy is at being human. Droning on about discipline, responsibility, ornithology, or philately, there’s something to the way he speaks (so soft, so mindless) that makes you want to tune out. That demands it. His patterns of speech may be polished but they’re oh so hollow, like a Kenny G record. He’s basically a walking, talking Ambien with stubby teeth and a quality for malfeasance. There’s no question that were he not quite literally made of money, no one in their right mind would give this loon the time of day.
Foxcatcher follows the true story of du Pont and his relationship with Olympic gold medalists Mark and Dave Schlutz. After winning the top prize for wrestling at the 1984 summer games, Mark (Channing Tatum) still exists in the shadow of older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) until mysterious millionaire John du Pont invites Mark to take part in a training initiate known as “Foxcatcher”. While training at du Pont’s world class facility for the upcoming Worlds championship, Mark and Du Pont strike up an odd relationship that doesn’t fit neatly into a coach-pupil/father-son/boss-employee box. At times, their connection is that of an upsetting bromance. It’s odd but in a very specific, unclassifiable way. Picture an out-of-shape bag of man “pinning” down an Olympic athlete – who rightfully can’t mask his disdain for this lesser act of ego-masturbation – and you’ll get a general sense of their relationship. The whipping boy and the mutt seems as close as I can get.
If you didn’t live through the ’80s (or watch the trailer) you might not know how this story ends and I’m not going to spoil it for you here. We’ll just say that things get a little messy. In a first-degree kind of way. But it’s a quietly devastating tale, more than worth the journey.
As Du Pont, Steve Carrell is a frightfully vacuous vessel of self-righteous delusion. So he’s Michael Scott without the punchlines. (That’s what she said!) He’s the kind of guy who pats himself on the back and won’t stop until you join in on the patting. A pasty, flat-faced, shark-nosed, long-gummed mama’s boy with drug-fueled paranoid fantasies, he’s a misanthrope at an arm’s length from reality. Director Bennett Miller approaches his character with similar distance.