Thursday, December 27, 2012

Not coming to a theatre near you

I’m all for watching movies in the hall; it’s the natural order of things, and you can’t underestimate the pleasure of hurling abuse (or a shoe) at someone who won’t turn off their cellphone. Yet, sometimes you just know certain films aren’t going to make it to your friendly neighbourhood multiplex. Here are four cases from last year: movies that are unlikely, for one reason or another, to get a theatrical release in India, but are still worth looking out for on DVD in 2013.  

Magic Mike

Steven Soderbergh, it may be assumed, makes his ‘entertainers’ (the Ocean’s trilogy, Haywire) in order to finance his more ‘serious’ films (Traffic, Che). If this is true, it’s also worth mentioning that Soderbergh doesn’t condescend to, or have contempt for, the multiplex audience. His popcorn films are made with precision and humour, and filled with top-range actors who want a shot at an Oscar in one of his prestige projects. Magic Mike – his film about male strippers that’s based on the pre-fame experiences of its star Channing Tatum – is, on the surface, a lively musical comedy. As he waits for bank loans to materialise and finance his furniture designing ambitions, Mike Lane (Tatum) makes his living working as a stripper at a club in Tampa, Florida. In between all the bumping, grinding and general hell-raising, there are a series of off-the-cuff conversations, mostly between Mike and Brooke (Cody Horn), the level-headed sister of a new recruit he brings in. As they argue about stereotypes and self-delusion, the movie becomes a cracked portrait of its times, especially when Mike insists that he isn’t defined by his profession or his lifestyle, a post-millennial sentiment if ever there were one.

Take This Waltz

After sharing a cab ride home from the airport, Toronto-dweller Margot (Michelle Williams) realises that Daniel (Luke Kirby), an obnoxious stranger she met on the flight, is her neighbour from across the street. As time goes by, her distaste gives way to friendship and flirtation. Only problem is, she’s already married. This is the strange story of Take This Waltz, the close-but-no-cigar film of the year. Director-screenwriter Sarah Polley tries hard to replicate the rhythms of everyday speech, and the conversations end up sounding rather silly at times (never more so than when Daniel verbally seduces Margot in a coffee shop). Daniel’s profession too is offensively cute: he’s a rickshaw-puller by choice. Yet, if you ignore the blind spots, there’s a lot to admire in Take This Waltz. There are fantastic performances by Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen (yes, that Seth Rogen), and a touching turn by comedian Sarah Silverman. The production design – tactile, almost breathing – is a thing of wonder. And there are two unforgettable sequences, both set to the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”, that should go some way in ensuring that Williams is nominated for yet another Oscar.

Killer Joe

The nastiest film of 2012 was made by a 77-year-old director. William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) worked with Tracy Letts to adapt the latter’s 1993 play about a killer-for-hire and his brush with an unbelievably screwed-up Texan family. When a drug dealer desperate for money hires ‘Killer Joe’ Cooper to bump off his mother for insurance money, he sets into motion a series of events that’ll violently alter the lives of his dim-witted father, foul-mouthed stepmother and dreamy sister, whom Joe keeps as a ‘retainer’. It’s sickeningly violent and very disturbing, even if you’re familiar with Letts’ perversely funny style (he wrote the Pulitzer-winning play August: Osage County). Watch out for Matthew McConaughey, who, as Killer Joe, drops his easy-going shtick and creates a character with all the hypnotic menace and unpredictability of a rattlesnake.

Ruby Sparks

This sophomore effort by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) would have released in theatres here had it starred Katherine Heigl and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and not Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano. Ruby Sparks is a smart riff on the Greek legend of Pygmalion, in which an artist falls in love with his own creation. The hysteria surrounding his Salinger-like debut is yet to fade, but novelist Calvin Weir-Fields spends his days battling writer’s block and a host of neuroses. One day, he writes about a girl who’s been appearing in his dreams, and the words start to flow. He’s surprised, but not as surprised as when he wakes up one morning to find Ruby Sparks, his creation, alive and in love with him. He soon discovers that he can dictate what Ruby feels by writing about her, which leads to an unsettling second half that alternates between dark comedy and psychological drama. Though Kazan’s screenplay doesn’t push the point, Ruby could be anyone who’s being controlled, physically, artistically or emotionally.

This piece appeared in the December issue of Man's World.

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