This was originally supposed to be a review of the Xavier Gens film "The Divide."
That will not be happening.
Over the course of my life, I'd wager I've seen at least 10,000 movies. Maybe more. I've had years where I've mainlined as many as 500 movies, many of them older catalog titles. I have a voracious appetite for all types of movies, both high art and low. I love smart sophisticated movies, I love experimental films, and I love genre junk. I love any movie that offers me a genuine experience of some sort, where there's something that moves me or that I recognize as true and well-observed or where someone just plain surprises me. I am open to pretty much anything when I sit down to a new film.
But at the age of 41, at about 94 minutes into "The Divide," I reached a breaking point, and I realized that I am pretty much incapable of sitting through one more cheap, pointless, exploitative rape in a movie.
This was originally supposed to be a review of the Xavier Gens film "The Divide."
Now that I've seen both "21 Jump Street" and "Haywire," I am officially prepared to say that 2012 is the year Channing Tatum turned the corner.
I've known people who are fans of his work since "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints," and I've certainly seen most of his films up to this point. I've always felt like he was tough to cast just right, and whatever his most vocal supporters saw in that work, I wasn't seeing it. I thought he showed signs of life in things like "Stop-Loss" or his supporting freakshow role in "The Dilemma," but he still wasn't connecting for me across the board.
Now, with this one-two punch, I'm seeing a much looser, funnier, alive presence onscreen, and I think the same is true of our interview when we sat down to talk about "Haywire." I'm not sure what happened, but it can't just be that the material is better. It's like something opened up inside of him, and suddenly he's able to project whatever that new energy and joy is, and it's really apparent in the work.
Ewan McGregor was, at one point, on track to be a gigantic movie star.
Instead, his career has become something much more interesting and unusual and hard to pinpoint, and I'm glad. McGregor made such a strong impression with his first few major film roles in the Danny Boyle films "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting," and by the time he was cast as Young Obi-Wan in "The Phantom Menace," he appeared to be on track to be one of the biggest actors of his age.
His heart does not appear to lie in the blockbuster mainstream world, though, and he's spent years now moving back and forth between the indie world and Hollywood, and his choices seem to me to be genuinely motivated by his own particular interests. Well before Michael Fassbender was getting teased about his equipment on the Golden Globes by George Clooney, Ewan McGregor was the Guy Who Liked To Show His Junk, and the contrast between that and his appearances in the "Star Wars" films and a "Nanny McPhee" sequel and "Robots" is pretty startling. Not many people are able to effortlessly switch modes like that, but I think it's in no small part because McGregor is so quietly charismatic.
The most unusual thing about this story is the idea of Warner Bros. getting back into feature animation, something that has not been a great strength of theirs in the past.
As much as I adore "The Iron Giant," I can acknowledge based on what I know about that process that it is a good thing Warner shut down their feature animation division in '99. Every now and then, you'll see a studio get the idea that they should be making animated films so they can get a slice of that financial pie, and they'll spend a lot of time and money to do so, and inevitably we'll get one or two movies that cost way too much and underperform, and then the studios get right back out of that business. Remember when 20th Century Fox bought Don Bluth a giant animation studio in Arizona? You know… the one that was supposed to replace the giant animation studio that Bluth ran into the ground in Ireland? And do you remember when that entire thing went belly up about a year and a half later?
The last time Steven Soderbergh and Lem Dobbs collaborated, the result was "The Limey," one of my favorite of Soderbergh's films overall. It's a tough-minded, broken-hearted little revenge thriller, and Terrence Stamp is awesome in it. It's got style to spare, and it's really lean. Gets in, gets it done, and then gets out.
When I first heard about "Haywire" and heard that the film was created specifically to showcase Gina Carano, a well-regarded MMA fighter in real life, I admit that I sort of wrote the film off immediately as "lesser" Soderbergh. The last film he made where he built a film around a real-life personality was "The Girlfriend Experience," an only slightly successful movie that is more experiment than experience, so I admit my hopes were not especially high.
I would argue that part of why "Haywire" works so well is because Lem Dobbs is the screenwriter, and he approached this with a wicked pulp spy movie sensibility that pays off in a film that works first as a spy film, second as an action film, and then also as a drama. It's genuinely well-written. It's clever. And while there's plenty of room in the film for Carano to snap into her own skill-set and start beating holy hell out of anyone within arm's reach, which she does in spectacular fashion several times, those moments are character punctuation. There's not a single unmotivated or gratuitous action beat in the film.
In other words, forget what your calendar tells you. "Haywire" is no mere January movie.
Gina Carano has charisma to spare, and it's little wonder Soderbergh felt driven to make a film in which he could showcase her.
I'm not a fight fan. Well, that's only part true. I don't watch MMA or UFC or really any sort of fighting, but that's because there are only so many hours in any given day, and I have to prioritize about what I do with my time. I always have more movies to watch. I always have something to read. I always have something I could be writing. I am constantly able to find something that I should be doing, and so the idea of spending a night watching fighting just doesn't fit into the timetable I've got set up.
I do like the actual sport of fighting, though. I grew up a boxing fan, and I see how boxing has evolved into these other major forms of organized fighting now. I can see why the audience is drawn to the other forms, and I can see why the stars that have emerged from this world are considered stars. There is a different level of physical engagement we see from these people, a different level of abuse that they seem willing to subject themselves to, and that's part of the thrill of MMA. We're impressed by these people because it seems completely deranged to voluntarily step into a ring where someone could beat the holy hell out of you and leave you unconscious with a torn rotator cuff within 45 seconds of starting. That's not a tornado I want to stick my arm into, thanks, so those who do it and who do it well are definitely to be admired.
Fifty years ago today, Terence Young stood on a set in Jamaica and rolled film for the very first time on a feature film about Ian Fleming's creation, James Bond. It was the scene where Bond arrives at the Kingston airport and tries to avoid being photographed. It was a significant day at the end of a long search for the right man to play the part and even though Ian Fleming wasn't convinced at first, Sean Connery not only turned out to be a nascent movie star, but he made Bond an icon that endures even now.
Fifty years later, EON Productions and Sony are in production on the latest film in the series, with Daniel Craig playing Bond for the third time. And today, Sony Pictures released a terse but interesting summary of what we can expect when "Skyfall" opens later in the year.
I've been a Bond fan since my first exposure to the character. I was seven years old when my dad took me to see "The Spy Who Loved Me" in the theater, and it was love at first sight. Sure, part of the kick was the idea that my dad was taking me to see a "grown-up" movie with him, just the two of us. And part of it was because I could tell how important the character was to him. Mostly, though, the whole thing was just so damn cool.
After all, he had a car that turned into a submarine. When you're seven, that's the most insanely mind-blowing idea possible.
There was a period of time there where it seemed like if you chose to show a kid the movie "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," people might view that as bad parenting or a controversial choice because of some of the real-life misadventures of Paul Reubens.
Thank god that's over.
I'm old enough that my first exposure to Paul Reubens and the Pee-Wee Herman character came through the Cheech and Chong movies he appeared in. I was only ten years old when "Cheech & Chong's Next Movie" came out, so I didn't catch up with it until it showed up on cable a year later, which was right around the same time HBO first aired "The Pee-Wee Herman Show," a videotaped version of the show that Reubens staged in LA with the help of the Groundlings. That's how he ended up in the Cheech & Chong film, too. There was an entire LA underground comedy scene that was captured in those early films that Cheech & Chong made, and when you see him play the character in "Next Movie" or when you see him as "The Hamburger Dude" in "Nice Dreams," that's the impression I had of Reubens for many years. There was something great about the way he set the raunch and the rock-and-roll of the late '70s against the super-pure '50s kids show aesthetic that he so obviously adored, and it was edgy without being full-blown dirty. I've written about this before, actually.
There's a fair amount of online chatter this week about the impending purchase of Summit Entertainment by Lionsgate, and while I've seen a fair degree of snark and a lot of "Twilight" related comments, this is a significant deal, and it deserves some real consideration about what it means to the creative community and what it means for both companies.
First, if I'd known that Summit was selling for a mere $412.5 million, I might have made a bid on it myself. What a bargain.
I kid, but that number seems low when you look at the success of Summit's "Twilight" movies. The truth is that for many people, Summit IS "Twilight" and vice-versa, and the question of what they might be after that series ends is a scary one. I've often said that both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to New Line was "Lord Of The Rings." Best because of the huge financial and critical success they enjoyed, finally winning a Best Picture Oscar, something that would have been impossible to imagine in the "Pink Flamingos"/"A Nightmare On Elm Street" early days of the company, but worst because after they made "Lord Of The Rings," they started chasing that success, making much more expensive movies and eventually pricing themselves right out of business.
Woody Harrelson's having a lovely moment these days.
I sat down with him this week to talk about his movie "Rampart," and that represents one part of what I like about his work right now. He's a great character actor, but it took a while for filmmakers to really figure out his range. I think he has a strong connection to filmmaker Oren Moverman, and I am excited to see if they're going to keep working together moving forward from here.
But Woody has also become a valuable asset for big studio movies when they find the right role for him, and I think Haymitch, an important figure in the world of "Hunger Games," could be one of those cases where he's not the first name you think of, but he's could turn out to be an inspired choice.
He's certainly ready for whatever happens, and I think it's interesting to see how different his attitude is from Elizabeth Banks, who we spoke to yesterday. She's keeping her head down, focused on the work she's doing, and tuning out the rapidly-mounting hype for the films. Woody, on the other hand, seems totally at peace with whichever way this goes. It could be gigantic, and he'd be happy to keep on playing the character in future films, or this could just miss, and he'd still be satisfied with the work and the experience.