Saturday, 28 July 2012


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

Set in the not-too-distant future where the advances in technology are only slight but the gap between the haves and the have nots has continued to grow, Canadian auteur David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, like his previous film A Dangerous Method, is a talk-fest with sex replaced this time round by economics.

Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a young, hot shot futures trader who's made millions on the stock market by anticipating its trends, or listening to those who do. But on this particular day, when he's off to get his hair cut at an old New York neighbourhood barber shop across town, the bottom seems to have fallen out of the market and, as a consequence, his golden existence.

Packer's security detail (Kevin Durand) has also received a threat against the trader, and with the have nots seemingly taking to the streets en masse, travelling in a white stretch limousine -- where he conducts a series of meetings with various hangers on -- may not have been the wisest of moves; slow moving traffic and hostile 99 percenters not making for the safest of passages.

What it does provide Cronenberg is time for a series of cameos from the likes of Jay Baruchel (a programmer), Juliette Binoche (high class hooker), Sarah Gadon (Packer's new wife who he sees more on this day than the entirety of their marriage previously), and Samantha Morton (spiritual guru of sorts), who take meetings with Packer in the back of his limo and discuss capitalist theory or some such.

My eyes tend to glaze over whenever talk turns to things financial so I may have missed the finer points of these discussions, but to Cronenberg's credit, adapting his screenplay from a novel by Don DeLillo, I was never bored. And compared to A Dangerous Method, which managed to make the sexy subject of psychoanalysis a yawn, Cosmopolis is a much livelier (though sporadic) affair.

It's made even livelier when Paul Giamatti shows up. No one does sweaty nervousness quite as well as Giamatti, and it's his injection of humour and energy which enlivens both the film and Pattinson's performance.

Pattinson's Packer sits somewhere between Twilight's Edward Cullen and Bel Ami's Georges Duroy, and continues the actor's trend of being the most passive/vacant leading man in film today. But rubbing up against a live wire such as Giamatti brings him momentarily to life.

Following its lukewarm reception at Cannes this year, my enjoyment of Cosmopolis was perhaps as a result of my lowered expectations. Then again, I'm not a huge Cronenberg fan (I've regrettably only seen a handful of his films) and this film wasn't really on my radar to begin with.

But as far as talk fests go, Cosmopolis plays like a forensically cool theatre piece, no doubt to be savoured more by students of Cronenberg and economics but not without interest for those, like me, who are illiterate in both subjects.


20th Century Fox Films
Now Showing

Benjamin Walker, who plays the titular character in Timur Bekmambetov's alternate history period-horror film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, bears an uncanny resemblance to Liam Neeson. In fact, Walker played the younger version of Neeson's Alfred Kinsey in the 2004 film, Kinsey. And just like the Irish actor's ex-CIA operative character in Taken (2008), this Abe Lincoln has a very particular set of skills.

For as the title suggests, this Lincoln, the future 16th president of the United States, is also a vampire hunter; recruited by the mysterious Henry (Dominic Cooper) and trained in the ways of slaying the living dead (although his pupil isn't above improvising when the occasion calls for it).

And Lincoln was a willing recruit. Having watched, as a boy, his mother die as a result of a vampire attack (Aussie actor, Martin Csokas, hamming it up), he's had vengeance in his heart and an axe to grind, quite literally: the wood chopping implement becoming Abe's weapon of choice in vanquishing the vamps, and Henry, as his mentor, providing him with a focus for his anger and a code to live by.

That code includes no personal attachments, but not even a vampire slayer can live by the axe alone. Besides, who could refuse the advances of the pretty and even more intelligent, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)?

The courtship of the witty woman by the lanky (but unbeknownst to her) axeman (encouraged by Abe's friend and employer, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), and childhood friend and freed slave, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie)) provides a great deal of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's charm and humour.

And both of those elements are intermittent if not entirely rare in Seth Grahame-Smith's screenplay. Adapting his own novel, Grahame-Smith (who also penned the Jane Austen spin-off, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) has had to excise a great deal of the historical information, and some of the serious intent, contained in his book.

It's a little jarring when, at about halfway through its brisk 105 minute running time, the film leaps forward some 20-odd years to when Lincoln, who had only just begun to develop an interest in public office, is suddenly the President of a country at war with itself.

That would be the Civil War, fought between the Northern and Southern states, and primarily over the issue of slavery. Thankfully, Grahame-Smith has wisely chosen to keep one of the more clever conceits (after the title, of course) of his novel: that the slave trade among the Southern states was a means of both sating the vampire population whilst also filling their coffers in the hopes of funding their own revolution.

Rufus Sewell and Erin Wasson play an ambitious (i.e. ruthless) pair of vampire siblings intent on creating their own empire in the New World, and bringing down the idealistic Republican president in the process.

Even as it's defying history, logic and, in its super slo-mo action sequences (a trademark of Russian director, Bekmambetov, whose previous Hollywood outing was 2008's Wanted), gravity, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter remains entertaining. Perhaps not bloody good fun, but fun nonetheless.

It's history -- alternative rather than authoritative; if you want facts, wait for Steven Spielbeg's Lincoln later this year -- come to life, albeit in unnecessary if not completely distracting 3D (Caleb Deschanel's sepia-like cinematography not overly darkened by the post-conversion process).

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Roadshow Films
Opens July 26

Perhaps Lady Luck had a hand in proceedings, but it's more than likely a mere coincidence that Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh's take on the world of male strippers, should land in our cinemas -- and laps -- at the same time that the erotic novel, 50 Shades of Grey, is racking up book (and adult toy) sales around the globe.

Soderbergh came up with the idea after talking with leading man Channing Tatum during the filming of their previous collaboration, Haywire; Tatum revealing his pre-acting past where he was a member (pardon the pun) of a male erotic revue. Magic Mike, penned by Reid Carolin, no doubt draws on some of Tatum's experiences but the actor adopts the titular role here as a veteran of sorts of male exotic dancing.

Tatum's avatar, if you like, is Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old failed college footballer with no prospects but good looks and a hot bod. Mike introduces 'The Kid' to this heady world, full of alcohol-fuelled women out front and jockstraps and penis pumps backstage, and all overseen by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).

Dallas is the wizened old stripper who is both leader of the pack and mother hen to his small but committed troupe, comprised of Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Ken (Matt Bomer), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash). And McConaughey is great in the role, and still in great shape for an 'old guy'.

Not afraid to bare almost all or to look silly, the actor in a tight yellow tank top and black short shorts is a sight to behold. I'm not sure if he auditioned for the role of Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages, but McConaughey could certainly have shown Tom Cruise a thing or two.

Magic Mike is a 'star is born' story charting the rise of Adam in the world of stripping, and essentially a parable about sudden celebrity, be it as an actor or athlete, and the mixed blessings it can bring. Mike, who has ambitions outside of stripping -- he makes furniture from recycled materials -- is smart enough to know that taking his clothes off is a means to an end.

But Adam, young, dumb and full of confidence, is dazzled by life in the spotlight. And as his big sister Brooke (Cody Horn) fears, he is susceptible to the pitfalls accompanying the sudden easy access to sex and drugs, both of which make their presence felt when Soderbergh's film takes a darker turn in its second half.

But for all of those dark subjects, Magic Mike is a rather conservative affair. And for a film about male strippers, there is a noticeable absence of cock. You'll see more bare breasts than you will male appendages, and Soderbergh (as cinematographer Peter Andrews) is at great pains to even avoid his actors' crotches during their on-stage routines; it's all abs and butt cheeks but no balls.

Still, the film is at its best when Mike, Adam and the rest of the guys are on stage, bumping and grinding in various states of undress; Tatum got his big break in dance flick Step Up (2006) and the guy has still got the moves. It's when we venture outside into the daylight, and a budding romance between Mike and Brooke (Horn is no great shakes as an actress), that Magic Mike loses some of its momentum.

But the predominantly female audience for Magic Mike certainly shouldn't feel they are being short changed: they're getting bang for their buck. As are the producers, with Magic Mike (made on a budget of $7m) passing $100 million at the U.S. box office this past weekend.

It's something that Hollywood tends to forget on a regular basis: that women go to the movies, and they have money too. And when you produce something that hits their G-spot -- or funny bone, as evidenced with Bridesmaids last year -- they're more than happy to stuff wads of cash in the metaphorical g-string that is the box office. All but naked man candy only sweetens the deal.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Personal massager. Sex toy. Marital aid. A vibrator by any other name would work just as effectively in hitting the sweet (G) spot. And in spite of its Hitchcockian title, Hysteria is, in fact, an effective period dramedy, set in 1880 and detailing the invention of said pleasure-producing device.

Of course, the invention of the vibrator came about not as a means to pleasure women but, according to Tanya Wexler's film (penned by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer), as a by-product of the treatment of women for various psychological maladies and ailments; ironically by men, and even more ironically, in Hysteria, as a result of one man's wanker's cramp.

Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is an idealistic young doctor, the kind who believes in the new science and germs and as a result, often comes into conflict with his superiors and is regularly fired from his place of practise.

His latest bout of unemployment leads him to accepting a position with Doctor Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), an uptown medico with a private clinic and predominantly female clientel. For Dalrymple specialises in the treatment of women's hysteria -- anything from tiredness to depression -- and it's a hands-on treatment.

One of the film's comic set pieces is Granville's introduction to Darymple's method: the patient in stirrups and her modesty protected by miniature red curtains, Darymple applies a mixture of oils to his hands before applying them to the patient's nether regions; a little 'how's your father?' until the patient achieves climax and, ta-da, patient satisfaction guaranteed.

Granville's youth, charm and good looks make him a popular addition to Darymple's practise (a one-hand wonder, if you will), so much so that the young doctor begins to develop RSI in his wrist.

But with the help of his friend and some-time benefactor Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett, relishing his character's impropriety), a wealthy bachelor with a fascination for new technologies like electricity and the telephone, Granville hits upon an invention that achieves the same results for treating hysteria but in half the time. Spare the wrist, spoil the patient.

The sub plot of Hysteria involves Granville's divided attentions between Darymple's two daughters: the pretty and demure, Emily (Felicity Jones, sadly underused), and the impassioned Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal, effectively affecting a British accent but speaking slightly loudly so we notice it).

The elder Charlotte is an insufferable suffragette who works in the poor part of London, helping women with abusive and neglectful husbands, and educating their children. And even though Granville has (rather clumsily) proposed marriage to Emily, with the promise of taking over her father's practise in the future, he can't help but be drawn to the firey Charlotte.

It's probably no coincidence that the invention of the vibrator should occur at the same time that the suffragette movement began making its presence felt, although a sexual revolution wouldn't occur until decades later when the invention of the contraceptive pill allowed women to take control of their bodies and not just their orgasms.

Not that Wexler's film is overtly political or sexual. Hysteria, despite its stimulating subject matter, is as polite as the Victorian era in which it is set. Never bawdy, it prefers to tip-toe around its subject (to tease if you will), rather than zeroing in on it like Granville's device does.

As a result, Hysteria doesn't achieve cinematic paroxysm but it's pleasant enough to leave you with a smile on your face.