Monthly Archives: July 2012

Steve McQueen’s Shame offers the story of Michael Fassbender, a New York City something or other, who is a sex addict.  We learn this because he flirts with women on the subway, engages prostitutes, and masturbates/watches porn morning, noon and night.  When his unbalanced sister, Carey Mulligan, comes to visit, his equilibrium is shattered, either because she is nude in his apartment, she sleeps with his boss, or she references their childhood.  No matter.  This is the kind of film that is destined to have as a penultimate scene Fassbender on his knees, in the rain, with a “will he or won’t he crawl back into sex addiction?” finale.

Why is Fassbender this way? As Mulligan says, “we’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.” However, that place is actually identified in the script as either Ireland or New Jersey.  And that is the sum and substance of motivation, backstory or reason.

In place of exposition, McQueen provides pointless, overly showy scenes, including a long, several block Fassbender jog through the streets of NYC; a preposterous nightclub song by Mulligan (she sings “New York, New York” and sports a Marilynesque “Happy birthday, Mr. President” skintight dress); and, a ridiculous threesome with Fassbender and two women that is half Obsession by Calvin Klein, half Showtime soft core.

“I know how you feel, pal.”

My wife summed it up beautifully: “I don’t even think he was a sex addict.” Her comment is akin to watching Raging Bull and declaring, “I don’t even think he was a boxer.”

Also, Hans Zimmer should sue the composer, Harry Escott, who ripped his work off on The Thin Red Line damn near note for note.

The 1.5 stars are awarded because our good friend’s sister is in the picture and the movie looks great.

The best of the buddy-cop genre, I got a chance to watch this 1982 release last night with my boy. This was Eddie Murphy’s kinetic debut as hustler Reggie Hammond, released from prison for 48 hours under the brutal watch of Detective Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) to hunt for Hammond’s ex-partners, who have gone on a cop-killing spree in San Francisco. The film catapulted Murphy to stardom. It was also the first picture to feature a Saturday Night Live comedian in a raw, crime story.

The film holds up well. Murphy is very funny but he does not treat every scene as an opportunity to do a bit or schtick.  Rather, he picks and chooses his moments, trusting in the story directed and mostly written by Walter Hill. He has one virtuoso scene, when he poses as a cop to roust a redneck bar, but even there, where he puts a knife to a man’s face and tells him, “I’m your worst fu***** nightmare, I’m a ni**** with a badge”, he is in keeping with the picture’s tough tenor. And Nolte’s Cates is brutal, unpleasant and an unrelenting racist, almost shockingly so, given our current advanced ethos. Given that we’re dealing with tough cops and criminals, the racial dynamic is not off-putting.  It just adds to the tension.

I was also surprised by the gritty brutality of the movie. The body count is high, but rather than explosions and elegant slo-motion, Hill takes more of a Sam Peckinpah approach. The shootings are bloody and awkward, not stylized. And the bad guys – Albert Ganz (James Remar) and Billy Bear (Sonny Landham) – are scary bad.

James Horner’s original music (he’s been nominated 5 times and won for his scoring of Titanic) is apt, a moody mix of jazz and Asian chimes.  Hill also uses San Francisco to his full advantage, mixing the grimy feel of Bullitt and Dirty Harry with a little early 80s glitz.

It has a few weaknesses. Annette O’Toole, for whom I have had my own weakness since Robby Benson’s One on One

is wasted as Cates’s suffering girlfriend. And the finale, where Cates and Hammond just “play a hunch.” is a bit lazy. Still, this is a solid crime picture.

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A successful parody of both high school teen flicks and buddy-cop movies (ala’ Hot Fuzz).  A blast of a picture, made better by strong chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.  Hill was the high school geek, Tatum on the top of the social totem pole, but after graduation, they both ended up on the police force, with dreams of car chases, shoot-outs and slo-mo explosions.  Instead, they are assigned as bike patrolmen, and after they screw that up, they are shipped off to the Jump Street division, where their youthful faces land them back in high school, undercover, to break up a drug ring.

So far so good, though not much beyond the formula.  But the material is elevated during their second stint in high school, where Tatum finds himself the geek.  Aggressive jocks, immediate put-downs and a hierarchy are out; tolerance and peace are in; and the main drug dealer (played by James Franco’s brother, Dave, in a very funny, emo/enviro turn) cleaves to the cooler Hill, leaving Tatum as the odd man out.  Hill basks in a high school popularity he always craved, leading to a great exchange where Tatum screams at Hill, “You’re in too deep” after he finds that Hill is filling out college applications in the hopes of matriculating at Berkeley with Franco.

Which brings me to Tatum, who I had unfairly classified as a graduate of the Josh Hartnett school of lobotomized acting.  Indeed, to watch Tatum play Roman period, as he attempted in The Eagle, was cringe-inducing.  But as Clint says, “A man has got to know his limitations.”  Tatum redeems himself and steals this picture with great timing and unexpected sensitivity.  He is also getting very good reviews for Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike.