Mini Movie Reviews: Django Unchained, Magic Mike, Flight, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hope Springs
Critics were astounded when it turned out that men wanted to watch a movie about male strippers. This is because critics are dumb. Magic Mike appeals to men because male strippers are shown as a low-level form of gangsters – having threesomes by the dozens, earning mad cash, part of a clan that only a few six-packed beauties can aspire to. The bodies on display are for women, sure, but the storyline is pure masculine wish-fulfillment.
Unfortunately, Magic Mike is precisely half a good movie. The tale of Magic Mike bringing his bro-heim into the fold is compelling, interesting, and clever. But then the movie gets weighted down by society, where everyone knows that Those People Who Take Off Their Clothes Can Be Up To No Good, and so we are treated to a really tortured, character-wrenching series of plot twists where we see the emotional toll that all of this happiness and freedom brings you, complete with a botched drug deal and backstabbing and OH THESE STRIPPERS, THEY CAN NEVER BE HAPPY. And so, as payment (spoilers!), Magic Mike has to abandon his club, and all his money, but as his reward he gets the cute, innocent girl he’s wanted to fuck all along.
Yes, society. Good women are the prize that all men should get for acting wonderfully, and no person can be a sex worker without being secretly miserable and dysfunctional. Way to go, fellas.
As a side note: the dance sequences in the film are elaborate, creative, and amazing. One suspects there are a lot of disappointed women turning up at Chippendale’s afterwards.
I know what they’re trying to do with this movie, but they fucked it up.
The intent is to ask, “How do you get back to your normal life after a major, life-changing event?” And the first half hour of Flight, where the plane crashes and only Denzel Washington can save from total wreckage, are riveting. Denzel earns his Oscar nomination here, because while the plane is plummeting straight down at 10,000 feet a minute and the crew is panicking, Denzel is barking our orders, calmly telling everyone what to do in the attempts to fix this. Except, because Denzel’s acting is pitch-perfect, you realize that Denzel realizes just how bad things are, and is pretty sure he’s about to die, but is refusing to let it get to him. (Perhaps, in part, because he’s drunk. But he’s also a damn good pilot.)
The problem is that the most intense part of the film comes at the beginning; hell, you could have ended Flight at 34:00 and I would have been entirely satisfied. But no, we then have to follow an alcoholic through his increasing assholery… so we not only have the aftershock of a lot of talking heads, which feels like a come-down after GOD DAMN THAT PLANE CRASHED, but the lead is entirely unsympathetic. So we’re feeling drained, and though we don’t care.
The ending is also a large portion of bullshit. We also probably did not need the ridiculously stereotyped porn star/junkie, fucking desperately for cash.
Like Flight and Magic Mike, this was a beautiful first half of the film. The segments where Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz meet and become friends, with Christoph training Django how to be a bounty hunter… it was beautiful. There were moments of true friendship, laughs as race was played with overtly, and some great action sequences.
Then there’s an hour and a half at Leonardo DiCaprio’s mansion when there should have been forty-five minutes. And to drag the movie out further, one of the characters does a truly stupid thing that’s totally at odds with everything he’s been shown to be beforehand, at a time when he had effectively won. (I mean, seriously, a little humiliation aside, he’d gotten everything he set out to do.) It just felt tedious at the mansion (though I loved DiCaprio’s performance), with too many mundane plot twists and not enough forward motion. I mean, if you’re gonna have people speaking, sure! Have DiCaprio whip out the skull of his old slave servant and whap it on the table. But we needed more skull-whapping moments, and less long dinner conversations.
Also, though I enjoyed it, I kept thinking, What would be the reaction if this had been made by Spike Lee? And if we hadn’t had the ha ha, the guy directing this is on our side, this movie would have freaked the fuck out of America, and so it’s basically a multi-million dollar exercise in white privilege. That doesn’t dismiss the goodness of the film, of course, but realistically it proves that this is all about the messenger. And Tarantino’s in-film assertion (who knows whether he believes it) that the reason the slaves didn’t revolt is because they were meek and not as good as Django was, just maaaaaybe, a little facile given that at at least three points, Django only escapes out of purest fucking luck. Hey, great to think that the point of the entire slavery thing is that blacks need to be more badass, but if Samuel Jackson had limped into that shed literally a minute later, we’d be talking about a very dead and humiliated Django.
So lots of problems. Still entertaining. But hoo boy.
Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Like the Battlestar Galactica remake, I did not enjoy this so much as I appreciated it. It was beautifully done, a window to a level of poverty and culture that we don’t see much, but the whole thing was catastrophically painful and depressing. Some seemed to think it was an uplifting fairy tale, to which I ask them exactly what brand of crack they are smoking.
This is the perfect Oscar movie. Brilliant performances, saddening, you leave the theater feeling wrung of all happiness. Good work, Oscars.
This is a perfect little movie. It doesn’t shoot high, restraining itself to the sex life of a very frigid old couple, but it hits every note it sets out to. In a weaker Oscar year, I think Tommy Lee Jones could (and should) have been nominated for his performance.
A lot of people don’t like this film because, well, it’s about old people learning to fuck again, and OMG EYEW. To which I say, fuck you, old people have every right to fuck and even more, and your disgust shouldn’t enter into it. But Hope Springs is also a small movie; there’s no outside interference. Steve Carell plays their therapist, in a truly amazing role because he’s actually a perfectly helpful therapist. He’s not trying to break them apart, he’s not incompetent, he is just in fact there to help, and he bats probably 85% in terms of giving good advice.
So what you have is a paintcan movie, where two people are effectively locked in a room until they work out their problems. It’s good, subtle work, and enjoyable.
Plus, if there’s another film where Meryl Streep is sucking off somebody in a movie theater, I can’t think of it.