Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Before Midnight (2013)

SONY-BDOS-01_Onesheet4.16.13_Layout 1A fan of the Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy-Richard Linklater franchise, I was quick to see Before Midnight. The first two installments are charming and left me needing to know what happened with Céline and Jesse. Could segment three sustain itself and meet expectations?

Before Midnight picks up eight years after Céline (Delpy) serenades Jessie in her excellent Paris flat in Before Sunset. Since then, they got together, lived in NYC, sired twin girls and now live in the City of Lights. As the movie opens, Jesse (Hawke) is dropping off his tween son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), at the airport. He’s spent the summer with Jesse, Céline and the twins in Europe.

Immediately afterwards, we are in the car on their road trip discussing their concerns. Jesse is troubled by living a continent away, especially with Hank heading into his teens. Céline is offered a dream job but is unsure. Their connection is still visible. The way they bicker is genuine. As they head to a seaside home where friends converge and dine, chatter swirls around love and relationships. This scene feels contrived. I’m bored watching Céline pretend to be an adoring fan of Jesse’s and the way the conversation drifts because truth is, I prefer to be with Céline and Jesse and see how they are when alone with one another.

I get my wish when the two receive an unexpected night alone. A big fat fight follows. It builds in their hotel room. As they recriminate, I experience that familiar crappy feeling. The one you get during a quarrel. Céline erupts. Jesse is gentle with his volleys but neither backs down. We get backstory tidbits that reveal fissures and relationship issues: feeling put upon, ignored and burdened with the hard work of raising kids. Céline goes the mean route. Is she reacting to the guilt of Jesse having left his wife, that he lives in Paris with Céline and that he is missing this son’s life in Chicago? Is she afraid he might leave? She doesn’t ask about his feelings on it. Instead, she’s adamant that she’s not moving to Chicago.

This one, like the others, is talky but some of discussions run laborious and despite the fighting being realistic, I want to better understand Céline’s motivations. I tired of the yelling. Are they setting up for the next installment—a separation, a divorce? Will they move to Chicago? Will Céline complain incessantly? All said, I’m in the minority; ALL the reviews I read gave nothing but praise for Before Midnight. I’ve thought about it a lot and still wonder what’s next. That fact alone might be the best recommendation.

Co-writer/Director: Richard Linklater

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 109 minutes

Scale: 4

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Compliance (2012)

Imagine you are the manager at a fast-food joint on a busy Friday night. You are short staffed. You are out of bacon and pickles. You are a happy-go-lucky type and your fiancé is about to propose. You tell yourself, you can weather this night. You huddle with your employees. You stress the importance of teamwork.

This is Sandra’s (Ann Dowd) scenario as the phone rings at ChickWich. A detective on the other end of the line tells Sandra he is on different line with her regional manager. Detective informs Sandra that her employee, Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer and that Sandra needs to question her. The questioning leads to searching Becky’s purse. The interrogation escalates and by night’s end, several people will push the boundaries of logic, rational thinking and harassment.

The beauty of Compliance is that you will criticize how far several characters go to following direction from a supposed authority figure over the phone. A few question but don’t push; they extricate themselves so as not to make waves. It will take the unexpected to say what you, the audience, will be declaring from the start: Stop.

Writer/director Craig Zobel was inspired by experiments conducted by sociologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s at Yale University. Milgram documented the lengths people will go to follow directions from authority figures, even if they diverge from the individual’s person code of conduct. Milgram’s conclusions have inspired many movies. In Compliance, Zobel applies Milgram’s findings to a frenzied Friday night in the back room of a fast-food establishment and shows you how it can happen. You will say over and over, I wouldn’t do it but many people have done just that.

Writer/Director: Craig Zobel

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 3

Magic Mike (2012)

Getting abseyThe eponymous hero is Mike (Channing Tatum), a roofer by day and stripper by night. His goal is to finance his furniture-making business.

Mike and Dallas (Matthew “When Do I Get to Take Off My Shirt” McConaughey) run a growing male-stripper joint with hopes of expanding into a second location.

At his roofing job, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) who is 19, aimless and crashing on his sister Brooke’s (Cody Horn) couch. Mike and Adam quickly get bromantic. Mike sets up Adam to become the club errand boy. When the club has a no-show, Mike pushes Adam on stage. He does an emo-boy routine to a funk version of “Like a Virgin.” Unchoreographed and sexy, Adam earns his g-string wings.

The dance routines are big numbers. Channing can dance. His moves are so fluid, he slithers across stage. Watch the Magic Mike trailer for the high notes.

Mike continues meeting obstacles to his dream. The bank turns him  down for a loan. It’s not clear how much he needs and why. With $13K saved, why he couldn’t launch is unclear. He had a friends-with-benefits/ménage-a-trois situation happening with Joanna (Olivia Munn) that he is trying to morph into something more.

The lifestyle of money, parties, women and drugs agrees with Adam while it irks Brooke who blames Mike for Adam’s benders and all-nighters. In the end, Mike’s bet on Adam costs him big in one respect but might be a victory in another.

Magic Mike wasn’t awful. Mike’s journey winds with no real arc but the story has its moments. McConaughey is good as the conniving co-owner. Had the movie delved into Mike’s path and offered some resolution, it would have been more satisfying. Instead, it ends abruptly and loose ends are left flapping. That said, there are rumblings about a Magic Mike 2.

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 110 minutes

Scale: 3