Monthly Archives: July 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home — 4/10

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (2012, Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass): 4/10

Not much to say about this trite time-filler, a big step back for the Duplass brothers. Where CYRUS was observant, unique, and entertaining, this movie is lazy, formulaic, and false (“Oh I get it! The glue is a metaphor! How profound!”). Jason Segel gives his least believable slacker performance yet, forced to be way too sincere (and he’s so much better when he’s either smugly confident or blissfully optimistic, as in I LOVE YOU, MAN and THE MUPPETS). Then there’s Susan Sarandon, stranded in a half-formed role with a terrible subplot involving Rae Dawn Chong (whose pleading romantic Carol character had me yearning for her terrible line-readings in the awesome COMMANDO), and finally Ed Helms — whom I just don’t like and probably never will. He’s not funny when he’s being goofy, and not appealing when he’s being dramatic. His range is limited, he’s hard to like or root for, and it always seems like he’s acting. Pretty deadly combination of qualities.

Dare we discuss the ludicrous third act Dramatic Moment that ties everything up neatly? Uh… no. Maybe we can discuss Judy Greer, who emerges unscathed with another fine turn, but her character’s confusion and undefined motivations are indicative of a film that’s equally adrift in something I just don’t give a shit about.

 

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Magic Mike — 7/10

MAGIC MIKE (2012, Steven Soderbergh): 7/10

Some part of Steven Soderbergh must be annoyed that nobody gets his indie stuff. You never hear anyone talk about FULL FRONTAL or BUBBLE or SCHIZOPOLIS, and only sometimes people mention in passing the likes of THE LIMEY, KING OF THE HILL, and SOLARIS. It seems like whenever Soderbergh wants his name bandied about, he’ll just jump onto the crowd-pleasing train and put out an OCEANS movie or CONTAGION or OUT OF SIGHT. And it’s a good idea — OCEAN’s TWELVE is one of his best films, and BUBBLE is one of his worst. So you really never know what’s going to hit.

Ask anyone how many Soderbergh films have come out this year, and most of them will say none, or they don’t know. “What’s HAYWIRE?” And many of your friends will say, “Wait a sec, are you telling me the guy who directed TRAFFIC and ERIN BROCKOVICH did the male stripper movie?” So it makes sense that after the wrongly ignored and compellingly philosophical THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, Soderbergh would pretty much make the same movie again, but this time with a lot more buzz.

The subject matter here is commerce. Sex is just another commodity, like money or gold or time or chutzpah, that is used to get what we want. And everything in MAGIC MIKE is a negotiation. Early on we hear Mike negotiate with his construction foreman for a proper day rate. Later he makes a bargain with Adam to get him to come to Xquisite. Dallas makes deals with his dancers. Adam negotiates with Brooke. It’s nearly impossible to make it through a scene in MAGIC MIKE without thinking of the negotiations we make to get what we want, and what currency we have to do so. This is brought to a fairly obvious level in the scene where Mike pitches his custom furniture line to bank loan officer Betsy Brandt (Marie from BREAKING BAD) who is charmed by Mike’s sexuality, but eventually things turn sour. [Though Channing Tatum’s got nothing on Don Cheadle, who knocks this scene out of the park in BOOGIE NIGHTS].

I think the ultimate point was made clearer in THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, because that film didn’t need to compromise its vision to sell tickets — and a lot of scenes here are geared towards crowd-pleasing. Though it’s important to point out that Soderbergh makes sure not to put the audience in the same seats as the strip club patrons: the second or third shot of the film is a leering stare at Tatum’s bare ass, and it’s done so that we’ve gotten it out of the way. So when he strips on stage, we’re not as excited as the ladies in the audience are. We’ve seen it already. Been there, done that. Now the stripping just looks like work. And that allows us to empathize more with Tatum than with the crowd, and that’s key. (Also note that in the same scene that introduces us to Tatum’s ass introduces us to Olivia Munn’s magnificent breasts, equalizing the gender lines and reducing the voyeur aspect of the movie very early on).

Furthermore, the women in the film are given stereotypically male traits (that are usually found in Hollywood films with this subject matter) — Brooke is the responsible money earner while her stripper sibling is the deadbeat; Joanna is the cold booty call who wants her toy to shut up and stop asking questions; and the female patrons are the leering sex-fiends tossing money at the strippers.

Soderbergh, who’s his own DP as usual, does a nice job with visuals here, and gets stellar performances out of his cast. Cody Horn is a revelation as Brooke, defying the notion that nepotism in Hollywood leads to shitty talent (Horn’s father is the Chair of the Walt Disney Company and former President/COO of Warner Bros.). Tatum and McConaughey are strong performers as well. Alex Pettyfer is fine as Adam, but during the movie he had so many awkward pronunciations that I started to wonder if he was an English actor trying to sound like an American — and I pledged to Google him when I got home to check (and yes indeed, the kid is a Brit).

I don’t really know how to end this poorly-written review so I’m just going to stop typing. MAGIC MIKE was pretty decent; give it a look if you get a chance.

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