Sometimes movies slip through the cracks and, for better or worse, I catch up with them. Here's a handful, all directed by a range of men, from an Italian visionary to some dude named Robert Redford.
The Place Beyond the Pines, directed by Derek Cianfrance
A slow-burning drama told in three connected movements, all featuring an unusually haggard, unusually good Eva Mendes. The first has Ryan Gosling doing a version of his Drive persona, a bank-robbing, tattooed stunt biker living in Schenectady (a Mohawk word that gives the movie its title). The second miscasts Bradley Cooper as a lawyer turned cop in the same town. The last has two fantastic performances from Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan, whose relationship to each other and the rest of the movie is basically from the people who brought you Romeo and Juliet.
What Cianfrance has written has scraps of surprise and a fine chase sequence, but it doesn't reach for the stars or the emotional cosmos — or, at least, it doesn't know how to get there. He's given us plot points and episodes in search of thriller and tragedy. But no suspense. His previous movie with Gosling, 2010's martial-disaster drama Blue Valentine, was similarly unsure about how to build into something greater than shouts and murmurs. This time, you wonder whether Cianfrance reached the film's final third and realized that this was his movie, two high school burnouts who fascinate each other. But he had Gosling and Cooper and probably couldn't turn back. Once Ray Liotta shows up as his umpteenth crook, it's tempting to believe that a piece of software made the whole movie happen.
In the grand tradition of pumped-up, misplaced American exceptionalism, G.I. Joe: Retaliation steamrolled over its inherent terribleness (our own Wesley Morris called it "self-congratulation that's too brain-dead to know that it's farce") to go big at this weekend's box office. According to Hollywood.com, Joe and the gang pulled in $51.7 million domestically since opening on Thursday and another $80.3 million internationally, good for an overall ("Hang on. I'm just checking your math on that. Yes. I got the same thing") $132 million, and the biggest! international debut! of 2013!
That the movie managed that kind of public outreach isn't surprising only because of its critical taken-behind-the-wood-shed'ing; many assumed a smaller role for gold-heart-having stripper Channing Tatum would hurt Joe, as well. But as producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura pointed out, sequel king Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson managed to pick up the Tatum slack: "I believe in movie stars, that's for sure. And he certainly is one. He's this amazing specimen.
"Also, sometimes he'll bust out The People's Eyebrow right in the middle of a table read, and that is just the most adorable thing ever," Bonaventura did not add.
I'm not a nervous flier, and I thought that, based on what we saw in the trailer, I was prepared for the plane crash in the first act of Flight. I was not. I will always remember Flight for eliciting a reaction in me that no other movie ever has: That crash sequence was so terrifying that it made me cry.
Fortunately, I had lots of time to recover my composure; following the crash, the movie goes on for a couple more hours (the run time is 138 minutes, but it sure felt longer) as pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington, who's been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance) deals with the fallout from the crash. Is he a hero for coming up with a solution to land the plane that saved almost everyone on it? Or is he a villain for doing so with (spoiler) the help of a variety of intoxicants, both legal and not? As strong as that crash sequence is, by the end you can barely remember it was in the same movie as this long, depressing addiction drama.
When does a film about male strippers transcend its logline and become a compelling character study that everyone can enjoy regardless of their interest in dudes' waxed chests? When it's directed by Steven Soderbergh! I know it seems crazy, but I swear it's true. Channing Tatum, who plays the titular Mike (who actually is pretty magical), reportedly helped to inspire the script by mining his own earliest show business experiences as a young peeler: In the film, his Mike plays accidental mentor to Adam (Alex Pettyfer), ushering him into the world of professional male disrobing. At first, things are as much fun for the awestruck Adam (fat stacks of cash; no-strings-attached blowjays) as they are for the audience. However, it seems that sex work sometimes has a downside, which Adam has to discover on his own.
Tatum is not really my jam, but he's more likable here than ever before. Pettyfer does a pretty good job of hiding his British accent to play a washed-out college football star. Matthew Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Joe Manganiello give more depth to their secondary exotic dancer characters. (Wrestler Kevin Nash plays a stripper — not a dancer, so much — whom you could lift right out of the film without anyone's noticing.) But the true star of Magic Mike isn't Mike at all but Matthew McConaughey. As Dallas, the owner of strip revue Xquisite, McConaughey gets to nurture young talent, dangle elusive business opportunities, rock leather pants, and so much more. If there were any justice in the world, this performance would land McConaughey his first Oscar nomination. That is not a joke.
The moment when you finally meet someone you know only by way of the Internet can be, well, awkward. In some cases, that meeting is disastrous, because the real-life relationship pales in comparison to the Internet friendship. Other times, however, the in-person encounter strengthens the hunch that said person could actually be someone you have things in common with, beyond the laptop. As I hopped out of a cab and walked into Los Angeles's Paper or Plastik Cafe on a hot afternoon in August, I wondered which I was headed for.
Having spent over a year watching the YouTube phenomenon The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, created, written, directed, produced, and starring 27-year-old Issa Rae as the lovably awkward "J," and then exchanging e-mails for the past few months, I was banking on the fact that this young woman whose on-camera character and off-camera persona I connected with would ultimately be someone who, in real life, I connected with. Upon walking in and being put at ease by her similarly unprofessional attire and relaxed nature, it immediately felt as if we were about to have a conversation, instead of me conducting an interview. It was like we were new old friends. Or old new friends? Either way, it was good.
Today Forbes unleashed its list of the highest-paid celebrities. The most recent list, which charts cash monies acquired between May 2011 and May 2012, is an amazing list, mainly because it's full of surprises. I CAN'T WAIT TO TELL YOU WHAT THEY ARE.
Well, this is certainly an odd pairing: Alex Cross — an adaptation of yet another James Patterson paperback smash hit, this one about a psychologist/cop facing off against a dastardly serial killer — features not one but two familiar faces playing against type. In this corner we have Tyler Perry, in a rare sighting outside the Tyler Perry Presents universe. He's the quiet, loyal, uber-competent family man Alex Cross (it's the same guy Morgan Freeman played in Along Came a Spider), which would be a familiar role from Perry's more dramatic in-house fare, most recently February's Good Deeds — if it wasn't for the fact that Perry also has to jump in the air while shooting a gun, and run around sweaty yelling out orders at confused subordinates, and ominously whisper bonkers preposterous stuff like "I will meet his soul at the gates of hell before I let him take a person that I love."
While I haven't seen Bret Ratner's movie about a group of small-time crooks and hotel employees planning a major heist (and have no particular plans to), the idiotic Tower Heist theme song gets stuck in my head a minimum of once a day. It's a tower heist!
Perhaps it’s a bit of a lowest-common-denominator hack move for me to joke that the 99% of Tyler Perry's fans have decided to Occupy his blog in protest of casting Kim Kardashian in his new film “The Marriage Counselor”. I prefer to call it an homage. Alas, the perfectly ironic frosting on what figures to be another cinematic shit sandwich is not as sweet as we’d hoped since the recent divorcée is not slated to play the title role.
Eric Bana will star as Elvis Presley in Elvis & Nixon, which revolves around Presley’s 1970 visit to the White House. The meeting was initiated by Elvis, who wrote a letter asking to be made a "Federal Agent-at-Large" in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and later gifted the Prez with a Colt 45. Danny Huston is in talks for Nixon, and Cary Elwes will be making his directorial debut. Anyway, this is as good a time as any to remind you that if any of us get laid tonight, it’s because of Eric Bana in Munich. Grade: B+ [HR]
Kiefer Sutherland will make a dramatic return to television with Touch, which was just given a 13-episode order from Fox. Created by Heroes’ Tim Kring, it stars Sutherland as the father of a mute 11 year old who communicates through numbers. Along with his social worker pal Gugu Mbatha-Raw and gifted-children expert Danny Glover, Kiefer attempts to figure out the meaning of his son’s coded messages. Presumably, those messages are more insightful than your standard 11-year old’s “I want Burger King”? Grade: B+ [HR]
Alex Proyas’s adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost is adding a few names: Casey Affleck, who’ll star as Gabriel, the six-winged angel who teams up with the angel Michael (Ben Walker) to fight Lucifer (Bradley Cooper); and Camilla Belle, who’ll star as Eve, of Adam and Eve fame. Hopefully this movie is a massive success, if only to see easily swayed Hollywood execs attempt other poetry adaptations. Grade: B+ [HR, Deadline]
Exciting news for fans of folksy Christianity and cross-dressing! The New York Times is reporting that Tyler Perry, the niche-y, wildly successful creator of hardened felon Madea, is in talks with his long-time studio home Lionsgate to create his own television network. The working title? TylerTV, of course. And while the fledgling net will no doubt arrive preloaded with Perry’s films, sitcoms, stage-plays, and catchphrases, we’re hopeful that it will soon diversify its programming — and perhaps even snatch some preexisting programs from other, more cash-poor networks. For example, couldn’t Walter White — who has already definitively established his ability to do bad all by himself — use some tough, gender-bending love? Your move, AMC!