Monday, July 27, 2015

Southpaw


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

Ant-Man


I don't know if the actual universe is expanding but the Marvel Cinema Universe is growing unabated. The latest Marvel star is Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, cat burglar turned super hero Scott Lang. Rudd is a beguilingly self-deprecating comic actor, whose character is enlisted by aging genius inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and, reluctantly, his daughter (Evangeline Lilly) to don a miniaturizing suit and lead an army of ants against former student and present nemesis Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who wants to militarize Pym's research and score a big payday. Veteran TV director Peyton Reed crafted this film with an eye toward the natural incongruities -- hardscrabble con artist and thief working with former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative -- to impressively comedic effect. Speaking of effects, the opening set piece that introduces our hero to the wonders and dangers of an insect-size existence are, er, Marvelous, which is to say this often uproarious movie is best enjoyed in 3D.

Trainwreck


Judd Apatow's latest addition to his stable of vulgar artists is that filly named Amy Schumer, a comedian of some repute in certain quarters. I will admit to not knowing much firsthand about Ms. Schumer before seeing Trainwreck, which, as is true for most Apatow films, has its moments, despite being about half as nasty as any of his other films that had male leads -- for example, Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin. That's not to say Trainwreck -- the story of a New York magazine writer with daddy issues and a fear of intimacy -- isn't filthy. It is. Wonderfully so. But it also has genuine moments of tenderness -- which kind of means we get to care about this foul-mouthed, miserable sexpot and the sports doctor she's fallen for (Bill Hader). It's a good show. Apatow's movies always score major points with supporting players, in this case with Tilda Swinton as a wickedly unfeeling magazine publisher and a surprisingly entertaining LeBron James as himself. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Amy


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

Magic Mike XXL


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 [2012]) 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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