30 July 2012

Take Three @ TFE: Danny DeVito

This week my "Take Three" column (every Sunday, three write-ups on three performances in a supporting/character actor's career) over at The Film Experience features Danny DeVito in Ruthless People, The War of the Roses and Batman Returns.

Take One: Ruthless People (1987) DeVito wants Bette Midler dead and gone in Ruthless People. The sooner the better preferably, with a minimum of fuss and personal expense. Sam "spandex mini-skirt king" Stone's wife Barbara (Midler) is kidnapped by the nicest people to ever venture to the criminal side, Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater. When, over the phone, Reinhold relays his strict rules regarding heiress Barbara's ransom, DeVito’s face brightens by the minute at the idea that she will be killed if he disobeys their orders or if any police intervention is suspected. Cue a fleet of cop cars and every news channel in LA reporting on the story. Cut to: Sam popping a champagne cork with filthy glee...

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23 July 2012

Take Three @ TFE: Eva Mendes

This week my "Take Three" column (every Sunday, three write-ups on three performances in a supporting/character actor's career) over at The Film Experience features Eva Mendes in Live!, Hitch and Last Night.

Take One: Live! (2007)
Building on her dramatic work in We Own the Night the same year, Mendes took on another (semi) serious role, one deviously tinged with delicious black comedy, as TV executive Katy in Bill Guttentag’s Reality TV mock-doc Live! Perfectly styled in sharp attire and a coffee ‘to-go’ in hand, Mendes' Katy is ambitious, ruthless and most likely hollow on the inside. She has grand ideas. One of them kick-starts Live!’s plot: six members of the public will play Russian roulette live on air; the sole survivor is the winner...
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17 July 2012

Take Three @ TFE: Vincent D'Onofrio

This week my "Take Three" column (every Sunday, three write-ups on three performances in a supporting/character actor's career) over at The Film Experience features Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket, Impostor and Staten Island.

Take One: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

The first thing I think about when I think about Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is D’Onofrio’s face, sunken into a foul grimace by deep hatred – of himself and everything and everyone around him – as he sits on a toilet in the starkly Kubrickian military ‘head’ in the dead of night, loaded rifle by his side. “Hi joker,” he says, in a decidedly creepy fashion, as Matthew Modine shines a torch on his face. Somethin’s up. He’s not quite... there. "I AM... in a world... of shit!” This exchange draws us into one of the film’s most powerfully effective scenes, one that stays wedged in your mind...
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16 July 2012

At the Cinema: Magic Mike

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh/2012/110mins)

The promise that Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is 110 chunky minutes of Channing vigorously shaking his Tatums at the screen is tempered slightly by the fact that it does actually have a story to sketch out in between the ab-flashes and slipped-out nips. Decent guy stripper/roofer/bespoke furniture-maker Mike (Tatum) reluctantly introduces The Kid (Alex Pettyfer, not credited with a proper name so I may as well call him Mike too) into the life of the Tampa Bay strip circuit: at first times are fun; then times are bad. This is the gist of it all. There’s some hazed yellow-tinged Florida scenery (courtesy of DoP Peter Andrews aka Soderbergh himself) balanced with many sweaty-chested interludes to wink-nudge us along on this nearly-rags-to-kinda-riches tale. It doesn’t quite nail the cosy sleaziness that made Boogie Nights a tragic yet game example of the boy-(eventually)-makes-good genre, nor does it have its staying power, but it does have pocketfuls of charm. Tatum’s skittish romance with The Kid Mike’s disapproving sister Cody Horn is entirely winsome and shows that these two could fill a whole film of their own, in the manner of Before Sunrise/Sunset, with just their idle flirty banter. Matthew McConaughey as the strip club’s still-fit veteran honcho plays his scenes with raffish poise. He’s such an accomplished performer that any director must breathe a sigh of relief when he signs on to their project; fuss-free professionalism comes as standard with him. The rest of the strippers played by Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Nash (let’s call them all Mike) don’t get much of a look-in personality wise, but they do play, respectively, a Ken doll, someone with a big dick, a fireman and Tarzan very capably.

The plot flip-flops between sunnier days (everyone drinks copious amounts of beer anytime, anywhere) and a few grim nights (everyone does copious amounts of drugs anytime, anywhere) with rapidity. We get an essence of struggle and a sliver of bleakness, but nothing substantially dramatic enough to fully invest in those straining in the dark. But Soderbergh knows that a handful of becoming characters frequently and affably delivering some decent lines with little haste means we won’t necessarily dwell on anything too sinister lurking in the background. (Was the girl played by Riley Keough dead the morning after the blow-out party? The film leaves her fate oddly unexamined.) The stresses of the current economy is touched on briefly (“The only thing distressed is you,” says Channing-Mike to a flustered female bank teller who won’t give him a loan), but Soderbergh is mostly generally happy to just get playful with his direction to show us how shabby-glam the whole scene is: low shots of the stripping stage put us in the thrill pit alongside hen-party hecklers; skewed-angle or close-up shots in flaring reds and blues make intoxicatingly abstract imagery of faces and bodies. There’s fun to be had with these people, especially Tatum’s Mike and McConaughey’s Dallas, and there’s one shot which visualises with icky daftness the very notion of the term ‘pig sick’.

Also, check out my Magic Mike-related article on 'male strippers in the movies' in the latest issue of Attitude Magazine.

3 July 2012

Take Three @ TFE: Alfre Woodard

This week my "Take Three" column (every Sunday, three write-ups on three performances in a supporting/character actor's career) over at The Film Experience features Alfre Woodard in Passion Fish, The Forgotten and Crooklyn.

Take One: Passion Fish (1992) After dismissing a string of unsuitable nurses, recently paralysed TV actress May-Alice (Mary McDonnell) opts to hire Alfre Woodard’s mysterious Chantelle in John Sayles’ Bayou drama Passion Fish. Chantelle enters the film out of nowhere, off a bus and into May-Alice’s house. She doesn’t let on any overt details about her life, but there’s a hint of intrigue about her, something amiss and troubling. It's evident in the slightly trembling nervous manner in which Chantelle goes about her new position. McDonnell’s icy actress will gradually thaw as a result of her dependency, but not before she attempts to make life miserable for Chantelle – who’s having none of it...

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