162-165: Magic Mike, Haywire, Iron Fists, Nemo

162: Magic Mike

During the production of Haywire director Steven Soderbergh struck up a conversation with one of his stars Channing Tatum. It turned out Tatum had quite a history. When he was a young guy he used to earn his living stripping on stage in front of hundreds of screaming women. This intrigued Soderbergh and he decided to turn Tatum’s story into a movie, something Tatum was all too happy to be a part of. Tatum chose to play himself in the movie. Mike (Tatum) is a young stripper who is very good at his job, but he really wants more out of his life. He likes to design furniture, for instance. One day he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) and makes it his mission to induct him into the wild life of stripping. The boy turns out to be something of a talent. All the while Mike is working with his boss Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) to open a new bar in Miami, where supposedly the real money can be made. There are some entanglements with Adam’s sister and of course everything goes sour in the end. Well, let’s just say this is not a movie one watched for the story. It is like Top Gun for women. It is fairly safe to say they watch Magic Mike for the performances of the men, not the intricacies of the plot. I am not entirely the best person to judge the performances, but I can recognize that there is a high level of competence on display there. It helps that Tatum has some experience in the matter. Magic Mike is enjoyable if male stripping is your thing.

163: Haywire

Steven Soderbergh knows how to direct people with limited acting prowess. Look at Out of Sight, one of my favorite movies ever, and you will see Jennifer Lopez acting her heart out like never before or again. The same goes for Gina Carano in Haywire, Soderbergh’s first foray into the pure action movie genre. Carano used to be a professional fighter, but when Soderbergh saw her do her thing he wanted her in this movie. A wise choice, because what he needed in this movie was somebody who knows how to fight and make it look believable and Carano is not somebody you want to get into an argument with. She may be beautiful, but she will rip you to shreds if need be. She takes on Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and several others and every time you will be on the edge of your seat. Soderbergh frames everything in a very matter-of-fact way which lends a frantic reality to the movie. In addition to the action the movie is also surprisingly slow and introspective. That surprised me and reminded me of Soderbergh’s excellent thriller The Limey. There is a beautiful restraint to Haywire. The story may be fairly forgettable, but the action sequences and characters will be remembered for a long time.

164: The Man with the Iron Fists

Sometimes a person’s obsession should stay behind closed doors. A shining example of this is RZA’s obsession with kung fu movies and his directorial debut The Man with the Iron Fists. RZA (or Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) worked with Quentin Tarantino on the Kill Bill movies because of his seemingly limitless knowledge of kung fu movies and the sound effects used in these movies. It is this connection with Tarantino that undoubtedly made The Man with the Iron Fists a possibility, because I can’t think of a single other reason why this movie would have been made. Who would give a first-time director a big pile of money to direct his own debut screenplay and star in it himself? Nobody, unless you have people like Tarantino and Eli Roth (Hostel) backing you. This would of course not have been a problem if the movie in question had been good, which it is not. The Man with the Iron Fists is a jumbled ultra-violent mess with a lot of squandered potential. There are some great ideas here, which, in the right hands, would have made for a great tribute to a movie genre a lot of people love. The truth is, however, that a lot of the movies in the kung fu genre aren’t any good and The Man with the Iron Fists belongs to that group.

165: Finding Nemo 3D

Finding Nemo is my favorite Pixar movie. It has been for years. Toy Story 3 came close to dethroning Finding Nemo, but little details kept that movie from taking the top spot. After all these years Nemo is still a flawless movie. It flows perfectly from beginning to end and never veers from its path. It presents some of the best characters created for an animated movie (Bruce in particular). I still crack up at the same jokes as years ago, I still choke up at the same moments and I have seen Finding Nemo probably dozens of times since its release. Now that I have aged a little with the movie other things come into play. Since then I have become a dad twice and now I view it more through the eyes of Marlin, not Nemo. I recognize his reluctance to let his precious kid go, because that’s how I sometimes feel and then my oldest goes off and amazes me with everything he is capable of. It is hard to realize that Finding Nemo will be ten years old next year. It is as stunning as ever with its vibrant colors and beautiful compositions. Now, in 3D, I got to experience it again on the big screen with my kid who had only seen it on the small screen. He loved it… twice. The 3D didn’t really add that much to the movie. It was very subtle and never as eye-popping as it could have been. I think that sometimes the creators of these 3D editions could go a little further, but I guess they are being conservative after all the backlash in recent years.

Magic Mike @ IMDb
Haywire @ IMDb
The Man with the Iron Fists @ IMDb
Finding Nemo @ IMDb

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095: Matchstick Men

This is the fifteenth movie in my Ridley Scott retrospective.

Before Nicolas Cage went totally berserk and had to accept any role he could get his hands on he actually had a career. He won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and was nominated for one for his phenomenal double role in Adaptation. Sometimes we tend to forget that this guy can really act… in his own way, that is. One role he was meant to play is the lead in Matchstick Men, one of Ridley Scott’s more ‘normal’ movies.

Cage plays Roy Waller, a con artist who makes a living scamming unsuspecting people with his partner Frank Mercer (the fabulous Sam Rockwell). Roy suffers from all kinds of psychiatric problems from agoraphobia to full-blown obsessive compulsive disorder. He is a psychiatrist’s dream client. One day he discovers he has a 14-year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), out of an old failed marriage. This, at first, seems like a burden to Roy, but as time progresses she becomes more and more something Roy was missing from his life. Something to anchor him and keep him moderately sane. And all the while Roy and Frank are trying to pull off a huge scam on a millionaire (Bruce McGill).

Roy starts out as a total wreck. He has to repeat everything he does multiple times, his house is like an ad for Lysol and being outside can send him into a frenzy. Even opening a door without him expecting it will freak him out. About halfway through the movie his relationship with Angela enables him to actually make contact with other people, like the cashier at the supermarket, be in open spaces like a bowling alley and be a little more open-minded about treating his house as a living space and not a mausoleum. He even admires, to a certain extent, the stuff Angela leaves behind in his fridge. It is heartwarming to see these two characters grow so lovingly, even though you know this can’t end well, can it?

As I said, Cage was born to play this role. He gets to throw all his tics and mannerism out there and have it not be really showy or out-of-character. When he is on the job he is his extremely charming self and the tics aren’t there, but when he gets home his neuroses start to really kick in. This juxtaposition leads into an interesting plot twist later in the movie. Cage manages to balance these different situations expertly. When he goes off his meds altogether Cage goes all out as well. He is all over the place. This is a masterclass in playing a neurotic mess. It is especially funny that even when Roy is totally wrapped up in his neuroses he still has time to run back to a cab he was just in to close the door, because he doesn’t want to be rude. It is moments like these that make Roy one of Cage’s best characters ever.

Sam Rockwell is his equally charming partner and the more devious part of the team. He doesn’t have the smarts Roy has, but he pushes him to do greater things. Whether that’s a good thing, well… He is not weighed down by any shred of remorse over what he does. If there is one person you don’t want in your life, it is Frank. This guy has ‘bad influence’ written all over his forehead. Alison Lohman completes the triangle of evil-doing. She is more than willing to join Roy and Frank on their cons, but more out of curiosity than a lust for evil. I love the fact that she was really twenty-four when the movie was shot. She looks and acts exactly like the insecure teenager she is supposed to be. Great job.

Ridley Scott is of course known for his big epics, but with Matchstick Men he shows he can also take a step back and let the acting and story take the lead. The visual flair is still there. There’s enough light streaming through smoky or dusty atmospheres (his directorial signature) here to fill an entire movie and therefore Matchstick Men is very much a product of Ridley Scott. Attention to detail and a feeling for his characters make Scott’s movies often so enjoyable. As a whole Matchstick Men is a fun upbeat movie about con artists, a dysfunctional father-daughter relationship and a shitload of money.

> IMDb