Thursday, January 26, 2012


With flat, dark eyes that project about as much emotion as the chunks of onyx they resemble, mixed martial arts (MMA) star Gina Carano is not quite ready for her closeups in Haywire. She also seems a little uncomfortable in the dresses her character has to keep putting on to disguise herself, as stiffly self-conscious as a little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes, and to add insult to injury, director-cinematographer-editor Steven Soderbergh had to digitally manipulate her voice in post-production to achieve the cool confidence he was after. But Carano relaxes in action, owning the screen in the medium and long shots that focus on not just how good her banging body looks but how well it moves.

Soderbergh built this film around Carano (with the help of screenwriter Lem Dobbs) after seeing her MMA cage fighting, in much the same way that he created The Girlfriend Experience for porn star Sasha Grey. The chilly super-competence of these post-feminist heroines is a good fit for Soderbergh’s cool, controlled style, and their slightly unconventional routes to success resonate with his ethos as a filmmaker.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Iron Lady

“It used to be about trying to DO something. Now it’s about trying to BE someone,” sneers The Iron Lady’s Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) of our changing social values. She’s right, of course, but the irony of The Iron Lady is that it’s a textbook example of that trend.

Not that examples are hard to come by. Celebrities who are famous just because they look good in the spotlight aren’t anything new (remember the Gabor sisters?), but for the last 10 years or so they’ve been multiplying like flu victims in Contagion, with Paris Hilton in the Gwyneth Paltrow role. A few of the reality shows that dominate network TV ratings are built around people who can actually do something extraordinary: How amazing is it when those contestants on Project Runway make stylish outfits out of office supplies? But mostly, we watch reality shows not because of what their stars can do but because of who they are and how they behave—-or, better yet, misbehave.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crazy Horse

Asked for her definition of eroticism, one of the members of the Crazy Horse’s staff offers this: “Seduction without offering yourself. Restraint.”

That’s not a bad way of describing Frederick Wiseman’s thoughtful, undogmatic approach to filmmaking, which layers on information without commentary, letting viewers draw their own conclusions. But Wiseman’s exploration of Paris’ Crazy Horse cabaret, which bills itself as the world’s classiest purveyor of nude dancing, is the opposite of a seduction.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

In ex-British spy John le Carré’s Cold War novels about his former profession, the main weapons are intellectual brilliance and psychological acuity and the prize is a secret concealed within a secret. You wouldn’t think something that heady would be very cinematic. But the winner in le Carré’s mind games is generally the best watcher, the one who notices the most about his environment and the people around him, and that makes his stories ideally suited to a visual medium like film.

While body-rush fantasies like the Mission Impossible TV and movie series turn the spy/counterspy game into a question of who has the best techno-toys (and, in the movies, Xtreme fighting skills), le Carré is pure head rush, a mental game with the added thrill of feeling scarily plausible. Done well, films of his stories sharpen your senses, making you notice things and tune into frequencies you wouldn’t ordinarily pick up on. They give you the psychological equivalent of the thrill you imagined experiencing as a kid if you’d bought a pair of those X-ray vision glasses they used to advertise in comic books. And Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the latest adaptation of one of the author’s George Smiley books, is very well done indeed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The L Magazine's 2011 Film Poll

Here's The L's annual poll of its regularly contributing critics. We each pick 20 movies, ranked in order of preference, and the editors compile our choices into a Top 25 list.

1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Like the God of Job, Malick can leave his supposed intimates struggling to make sense of themselves within his cosmos: he's burned through who knows how many editors, worked sound teams to the bone, and left composers and many actors feeling cheated. But his methods have also inspired devotional loyalty among those who've achieved their capacity for grace under his eye: in The Tree of Life, he coaxes the work of a lifetime out of Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Emmanuel Lubezki (and Jack Fisk, whose realization of Malick's hallowed spaces is his own life's work). And by prodding us to engage with our own capacities, he makes us into better, more open, attentive moviegoers. And people? Sure. Mark Asch

Friday, January 6, 2012

Women Behaving Badly

We’ll know feminism has finally taken root when the female leads in the stories we tell ourselves behave just as badly as the male leads do. We haven’t gotten there yet, but two current movies are giving us an idea of how things might look when we do.

Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the title character of David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is as grimly antisocial and borderline fanatical as any male movie vigilante (think Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name). This is one woman who could care less what people think of her, mainly because she doesn’t think much of almost anyone else. In fact, the whole purpose of the spiky Goth getup that gives the movie its name is to keep people at a safe distance.