Sunday, 29 July 2012

Midnight in Paris

**** 
I can see why this is Woody Allen’s most successful film in a long time. It’s a bit daft, a lot of fun, and straightforwardly high concept. That concept being: each night as the clock strikes 12 a writer is transported from contemporary Paris to the city in the twenties where he rubs shoulders with his literary heroes.

Hollyood screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) is holidaying in Paris with cold fish fiancĂ©e Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her ghastly parents (Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller). To make matters worse, they bump into Inez’s pretentious friend Paul (Michael Sheen) who hangs around like a bad smell. Suffice to say, it’s not the greatest trip. Although Gil loves the city, he’s on a very different page to his travelling companions. Separated from the others one night, something magical happens and he ends up partying with the likes of Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). Each night he slips away to enjoy an adventure into the past – a time he considers to be The Golden Age.

Although the film is charming the means by which Gil makes this magical transition to the twenties is, admittedly, a bit crap. It’s not the lack of spectacle of his time travelling that’s a problem. We need nothing as dramatic as a DeLorean reaching a speed of 88mph. Or even, for that matter, any explanation for the time shift. The simplicity of it is a good thing but I don’t think Woody entirely sussed out how this universe functions. Couldn’t he have got Damon Lindelof to do a tweak? (Joke.) At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter because the film is so much fun. Colourful cameos abound in a plethora of icons of the arts. As well as the aforementioned, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Cole Porter (Yves Heck), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) are just a few of the others. All of these famous names are played with enough seriousness to convince and Allen’s direction keeps things light.

With Allen staying behind the camera Owen Wilson is effectively ‘The Woody Role’ just as say, John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway or more recently Larry David in Whatever Works. This time, though, with Wilson (obviously) not a Jewish East Coaster, I thought we might be in for something different but - just like John Cusack etc - every line he delivers sounds like one that Woody should deliver himself. Admittedly, it might be my own issue but it did draw me out of the film somewhat. Quibbles aside, Midnight in Paris is a delight and proves that Woody Allen has still got it.
 



Friday, 13 July 2012

Magic Mike

****
As Britain is pelted with heavy rain what better reason to go and see a film set in sun-drenched Florida in which, erm… lots of guys get their kit off. Inspired by lead man and producer Channing Tatum’s experience as a 19-year-old stripper in said Florida, he plays stage-monikered Magic Mike.

The masterstroke is that Mike is not the newcomer - that comes in the shape of supporting role Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a green teen overwhelmed by a life of thongs and baby oil. This shrewdly avoids the hackneyed, rags-to-riches fairytale seen many times before, from the sublime (Boogie Nights) to the ridiculous (Showgirls). Mike himself is thirty, an established stripper and smart entrepreneur. He mentors Adam and they embark on a rollercoaster of sex and drugs that segues seamlessly in and out of the job. Their manager Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who also strips, is another ten years older. We basically see the full age spectrum of male stripperdom. Matthew McConaughey is given ample opportunity to take more than just his shirt off and, no surprises there, but he’s very good at it.

It was never going to be the biggest stretch for Tatum but the part still requires acting and he makes for a likeable lead. With the right casting and confident direction - as proved in 21 Jump Street - he is capable of a star performance. He achieves nice chemistry with Cody Horn and truly shines on stage, busting insane moves as he peels off layers of clothing. The stripping scenes are priceless. Director Steven Soderbergh handles them with a perfectly pitched level of humour and excitement. Where something absurd like Flashdance – which upped the ante for cinematic effect - was grounded in no reality at all, this feels pretty authentic. These set pieces are bombastic and outrageous but they do feel believable.

The film in general is a lot of fun. It has an alluring energy and not just in the stripping scenes. (Those do indeed have tremendous zip and erm… bounce.) The story is a little slight but that kind of suits the subject matter. It’s all about the surface: less of what’s under the skin and more about the well, skin. Soderbergh also manages some stunning visual flourish. What could have been a damp squib in another director’s hands is brought to dazzling life, and this directorial pizzazz makes me increasingly troubled by the director’s threatened retirement.

Magic Mike is that rare beast – a film that will thoroughly appeal to both sexes. (And it’s not the sole reason for this but, for your information, it has plenty of eye candy for everyone.) Recommended to anyone old enough.


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Snowtown

***
This haunting debut from director Justin Kurzel deals with a series of grisly murders in South Australia in the late nineties, seen through the eyes of 16 year-old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway).

Charismatic psychopath John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) heads the small group responsible for the killings. When he goes out with Jamie’s mum (Louise Harris) he becomes part of an already-problematic family. He proceeds to be just the wrong kind of father figure the boy needs. Paedophilia seems to be on the rise in the area so Bunting offers the family protection and leads the local community in doing something about it. All the while he has a dark agenda of his own.

The film eschews much exposition for the sake of an extremely economic script. Keeping the details lean is good in some ways. For example, it creates a haunting atmosphere and shocking events appear out of the blue with little or no build-up. But it often lacks the requisite information to make sense of the story. However, seeing it from Jamie’s point of view means you are only allowed glimpses of what is occurring thus giving an incomplete view of events. So just like Jamie we are often left, appropriately, in the dark. Although this technique may be intended, I’m guessing it also may have sustained substantial cuts. For example, in one scene Jamie is seen to have been injecting heroin and this is treated as nothing new but we see no progress towards something so significant. Saying that, it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking. This violence - handled so casually in such a realistic environment - chilled me to the bone. The poor suburb in which the film is set is captured with a beautiful trashiness and the cast lends further authenticity. Pittaway gives a very mature performance for such a young man and Henshall is thoroughly believable as the seductive bad guy who takes him under his wing.

Following in the footsteps of Animal Kingdom this is another fresh and fascinating look into the Aussie criminal underbelly making British and American criminals look a little tired in comparison. It is a rich vein that I hope will get tapped much further.

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