Monday, July 27, 2015
Antoine Fuqua is a reliable, if not artful, film director. He smartly chooses material with a strong, centering presence -- Denzel Washington in Training Day and The Equalizer, for example. In his latest film, Southpaw, Fuqua directs Jake Gyllenhaal, who is both reliable and artful, in the starring role of New York boxing champion Billy Hope, who knows how to take a licking and keep on ticking, if a bit more slowly of late. Gyllenhaal, famously immersive in his preparation for roles, is ripped and rocking as Hope, whose wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), wants him to step away from the ring so that there will be something left for her and their daughter, Leila (child actress Oona Laurence). After Maureen is shot in an incident that's far too street for this picture, IMO, Billy descends into drug addiction and self-destruction. His manager (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) dumps him for a bankable pugilist, his daughter is taken away by child protective services, he's tossed out of his mansion, his automobiles are repossessed and the poor orphan from Hell's Kitchen is out on the street. A judge orders him to clean up or risk the permanent loss of his child, and Billy goes to a boxing gym run by Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), the personification of all that Hope (no heavy symbolism there, huh?) lacks in his life -- discipline, focus, integrity. Wills takes Hope on, helps him learn how to defend himself in the ring (and out) and dispenses valuable wisdom. All of this, of course, leads to a Las Vegas showdown between Hope and his nemesis Magic Escobar (Miguel Gomez). A predictable tale, no question, but Fuqua is such a masterful storyteller -- and Gyllenhaal and Whitaker are so good -- that you won't mind you've seen this a hundred times before. Recommended.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
British documentarian Asif Kapadia's film on singer Amy Winehouse's tragic and precipitous drug- and alcohol-induced fall from stardom is riveting and nearly unbearably depressing. Comprising mostly the personal video shot by Winehouse herself and her friends and concert footage, the film traces in unblinking detail the Grammy-winner's steady rise from obscurity as a club act to international superstardom and every false move and bad decision she made, most of which involved the parasitic men in her life. Winehouse's death in 2011 at age 27 was sudden but not entirely unexpected as much of her notoriety was rooted in her seemingly self-destructive addictions. Though she was working through a recovery at the time of her death, the damage had been done and her heart gave out. Kapadia makes it clear in his fine picture that Winehouse was genuinely loved by most people in her life but she could not manage to love herself. Recommended but terribly grim.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Channing Tatum is eminently watchable even when he's acting badly, which he does often (White House Down) but not always (Foxcatcher). But Tatum is most watchable when he's dancing. He's leonine grace wrapped in B-boy swagger. He's always been pretty fly for a white guy, and he marshals his XXL amiability and athleticism as he returns to the role of Mike Lane, a former Tampa "male entertainer" named Magic Mike who reunites with his unique band of brothers (Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez) for one last hurrah at the annual stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Lane has been out of the game for a few years building a custom-made furniture business when he gets a call the boys' former leader (played by Matthew McConaughey in the first Magic Mike ) has died. The call is a ruse to lure Lane back into the game. It works and off the merry band go for a July Fourth weekend of bonding, teasing and tantalizing -- with one another and assorted women along the way. As they make their way from Tampa to Jacksonville to Savannah to Charleston and finally the Grand Strand, the Kings of Tampa visit two powerful women played by Jada Pinkett Smith and Andie MacDowell, who lend the film a refreshing air of feminine affirmation that isn't rooted in motherhood or martyrdom. Smith and MacDowell are both terrific. The dancers, who seem to revel in their sexual objectification, try to heal broken women while embracing their own fractured and fragmented natures. Reid Carolin's script has its moments of zen and it's pretty gay-friendly but the final act is a little, well, limp after a pretty scorching buildup. Still, it's worth a few bucks.
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