Tag Archives: Michael Fassbender

Haywire (2011, Steven Soderbergh)

Haywire’s plotting is meticulous and exquisite. And entirely a budgetary constraint. It’s a globe trotting, action-packed spy thriller with lots of name stars. The action in the globe trotted areas, for instance, is more chase scenes than explosions. Haywire doesn’t blow up Barcelona, lead Gina Carano chases someone down the streets. She doesn’t land a 747 in Dublin, she has a chase scene on the rooftops. And director Soderbergh does phenomenally with those sequences. While Carano’s in real danger and Soderbergh’s shooting realistic DV, David Holmes’s music riffs back to sixties spy movie music and contextualizes things. You still get to have fun watching the spy movie. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s just a different kind of spy movie.

One where the action set pieces are what Carano does, whether it’s stunts or fight scenes, she’s the action. Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs space out the action sequences, sometimes not actually going with a big Carano sequence in the situation. Sometimes the film focuses on her adversaries or allies. Soderbergh and Dobbs do a lot of action thriller without a lot of money.

The film starts with Carano–former Marine and spy-mercenary–is on the run. We don’t know from who, because when Channing Tatum shows up to bring her in, they don’t say the character’s name. It becomes obvious pretty soon, but Soderbergh and Dobbs go through all the motions to give Haywire a conspiracy thriller foundation. They don’t have time to engage with it–or, presumably, money–but it’s part of the film’s texture. Some creative decisions in Haywire just plump up the film. Soderbergh’s not trying to make a low budget spy thriller, he’s making a spy thriller with a low budget. He’s not… chintzing.

So after the first Carano action sequence, the film gets into flashback and explains Barcelona and Dublin, which keep coming up in dialogue. They seem less destinations for major spy intrigue and more stops on a tour group’s European vacation. Nicely, both sequences really pay off. They live up to the hype, even if the hype was really nonspecific so Dobbs and Soderbergh could up the mysteriousness.

Then it’s the flashback catching up to present and the film resolving. Ninety-three minutes of not entirely lean–though subplot-free–narrative. Carano works her way through various other spies and government officials. They’re sort of in glorified cameos, but it never feels like it. The magic of the pacing. Bill Paxton, for example, is in a cameo role. He’s in two scenes. One on the phone. But Dobbs and Soderbergh pace it where Paxton feels like an active supporting player. It’s impressive to see executed. Paxton’s fine–it’s a cameo, he’s got nothing to do–but the feat is how the filmmakers pull it off.

Paxton’s Carano’s dad. Ewan McGregor is her spies for hire boss, Tatum is a fellow spy for hire, Michael Fassbender is a fellow (but British) spy for hire. Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas as government guys who hire spies for hire. Anthony Brandon Wong and Mathieu Kassovitz are the guys the spies for hire go after. No one trusts anyone else. Something Dobbs and Soderbergh take their time addressing, which shifts the film from spy action to spy thriller, both for the film itself and Carano’s understanding of her situation.

So Carano.

As dubbed by Laura San Giacomo.

Yes, really.

Physically she’s great. The stunts, the fighting. It’s all nearly silent–trained killers don’t exchange banter in the seedy international spy ring underbelly of Dublin–so it’s just the fight, just the choreographer, just Carano and the actors and the stunt fighters. The fights are excellent. Soderbergh’s editing and photography, the fighters, Carano–great.

Carano dramatically? She’s really likable. Sympathetic. But the performance is hinky; the dubbing explains it. Carano’s dialogue is already terse so San Giacomo doesn’t really build a character. And the comedy moments are a little off. But it’s fine. Carano does well. The physicality of her performance is spot on. Soderbergh builds the movie–tone-wise–around her action sequences. The chase in middle flashback informs how something in the first act present was done. Exquisite. Always exquisite.

The cameos are all good. Bandares and Douglas have the most fun, though different kinds of fun. Tatum’s good. McGregor’s good. Fassbender’s more just effective. He’s a glorified cameo too. The movie’s Carano, Tatum, and McGregor.

Under pseudonym, Soderbergh also shot and edited Haywire. Technically it’s great. There’s great editing, there’s great photography, seperate sometimes, together sometimes. He does some excellent work in Haywire. With Holmes’s music an essential support. Holmes gets to foreshadow the slight change in tone for Haywire; how the filmmaking, narrative, and music shift gears–the music goes first.

There’s a lot of awesome to Haywire. It’s just an action movie on a budget with a problematic lead performance. The film does well not drawing attention–or even acknowledging–its constraints. But they’re there nonetheless.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, and directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Lem Dobbs; music by David Holmes; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Gregory Jacobs; released by Relativity Media.

Starring Gina Carano (Mallory Kane), Ewan McGregor (Kenneth), Channing Tatum (Aaron), Michael Fassbender (Paul), Michael Douglas (Alex Coblenz), Antonio Banderas (Rodrigo), Anthony Brandon Wong (Jiang), Mathieu Kassovitz (Studer), and Bill Paxton (John Kane).


THIS POST IS PART OF GIRL WEEK 2018 HOSTED BY WENDELL OF DELL ON MOVIES.


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Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott)

Alien: Covenant is at its best when it’s pedestrian as opposed to anything else. Director Scott botches all of the big action set pieces; the more CGI vehicles involved, the worse it gets. The first false ending action sequence has “protagonist” Katherine Waterston suspended in mid-air from a careening CGI space ship while she fights a CGI alien in front of a CGI backdrop. Scott brings zero energy to it, which is appropriate as Waterston brings zero energy to her performance.

Waterston gets second-billing, even though technically Billy Crudup’s deeply religious captain gets more to do. He actually gets to do something with his character arc. Waterston’s is all in the first act and the film rushes through it. In space, no one has time for character development, especially not when Scott is setting up the film’s premise.

A colony ship experiences a freak accident then discovers a mysterious signal from far away. So they go and investigate. Aliens and another Michael Fassbender (he’s already in the movie on the ship) show up to make things difficult. The Fassbender they find is the one from the previous movie in the franchise–Prometheus, not Alien: Resurrection, though John Logan and Dante Harper’s script is loaded with desperate callbacks to the original series. Even more desperate is when Scott tries to do them. All it does is remind not just of better films but better acted ones.

Fassbender is fine, though a little too restrained for the absurd roles he’s got. Playing opposite himself, his ability results in some good scenes–made pedestrian by Chris Seagers’s worst production design on the film–but everyone else is mediocre at best. Crudup occasionally seems like he might try, but there’s nothing to do with the part it turns out so he gives up. Carmen Ejogo is so wasted as his wife, it’s never clear if she’s religious too (religion is frowned upon in the future, something the disasterous outcomes of the plot confirm as a good). Danny McBride has a big part as one of the ship’s pilots. He’s atrocious and not even comically so, because Scott has absolutely no sense of humor. Not even when he’s desperately trying to remind the viewer they probably liked at least the first two Alien movies.

Besides Fassbender, who’s uneven in one of his roles–he kind of flops with the blandly American accent–Demián Bichir is probably best. He’s got nothing to do, but at least he never embarrasses himself.

The score is either Jed Kurzel’s generic action music or Jerry Goldsmith’s themes from the original Alien; in space, the nostalgia is strong.

The sad part is even when he’s not contending with too much CGI, Scott just doesn’t have the pacing. Not to make it scary, not to make it exciting. Though he’s not the problem. Not even the script is the problem (well, not until the tacked on, way too long third act); it’s Waterston, Crudup, McBride, and the assorted supporting cast members who have no presence and only occasional competence. Scott doesn’t seem to think directing his actors is important. It’s not clear what he thinks is important to direct in Alien: Covenant. He’s not even energetic enough to be desperate.

Dariusz Wolski’s photography is mostly good. Not so much when he’s in Seagers’s dreary catacombs or any of the night scenes. But he’s much better at lighting Covenant than, say, Pietro Scalia is at editing it. Everything, even when it’s genially pedestrian, goes on too long.

Kind of like this franchise, at least with Scott steering it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper, based on a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Jed Kurzel; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by David Giler, Walter Hill, Scott, Mark Huffam, and Michael Schaefer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Michael Fassbender (David / Walter), Katherine Waterston (Daniels), Billy Crudup (Oram), Danny McBride (Tennessee), Demián Bichir (Lope), Carmen Ejogo (Karine), and Amy Seimetz (Faris).


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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, Bryan Singer)

X-Men: Apocalypse runs over two hours, which is surprising because–while the movie does plod along–I didn’t realize it plodded along for quite so long. I guess the first act is more successful in hindsight than while it plays out.

This entry takes place, pointlessly, in the early 1980s. Oscar Isaac is the blue mutant Mummy, back from the dead to take over the world. He enlists four people to help him. One of those people is Michael Fassbender. He’s got a wife and kid since the last movie. Seeing Fassbender’s retired mutant terrorist now a doting dad somewhere in the Soviet Bloc is kind of neat. Fassbender’s exhausted this time around. Playing second fiddle to Isaac, most of Fassbender’s eventual performance consists of reaction shots. At least during the first act, he gets something to do.

But I got sidetracked. I wanted to count the characters. We’re up to seven. Yes, seven. Bad guys and people related to the bad guys. Isaac’s other lackeys get even less to do than Fassbender, though Alexandra Shipp does get a couple scenes to act in. She’s good. Olivia Munn has maybe two scenes with acting and she seems like she’s good. Shipp at least gets an arc, Munn doesn’t. Ben Hardy’s the other lackey. He’s awful. Luckily, he has even less to do than Munn.

But there are also a lot of good guys. Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult are all back. Each is good in parts, none of them has a good part in the script, none of them has a character arc. Evan Peters is back, Rose Byrne is back. Byrne has nothing to do. But she manages. Peters has a bunch; he’s great. Kodi Smit-McPhee is another new addition. He’s actually great, which is a surprise in this film. Other new additions Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan are both bad, with Sheridan being infinitely worse than Turner. And she’s still pretty dang bad.

Great photography from Newton Thomas Sigel. Tired music from John Ottman. Tired direction from Singer. Apocalypse doesn’t really have a story for Isaac outside lame world domination, so screenwriter Simon Kinberg and Singer just pack it with characters.

See, I forgot. I was supposed to be counting. It’s something like fifteen characters. It’s way too many. If the acting were better, they might carry it, but it’s not. And even though Turner and Sheridan, as good guys, get more to do than Munn and Shipp, it’s not character stuff.

X-Men: Apocalypse is a lame, by the numbers superhero event picture. Fassbender looks painfully contractually obligated to participate, with McAvoy and Lawrence hiding it a little better. Hoult is the most enthusiastic and, when one gets bored watching the film, he does imply seeing these characters together should be special. It isn’t, but what if it were?

Oh, and Isaac. He’s actually good. His part is terribly written, terribly directed, with dumb audio effects in post, but he’s scary as an immortal, evil smurf.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; screenplay by Simon Kinberg, based on a story by Singer, Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Michael Louis Hill and John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Kinberg, Singer and Lauren Shuler Donner; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring James McAvoy (Professor Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven / Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy / Beast), Oscar Isaac (En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse), Rose Byrne (Moira Mactaggert), Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver), Josh Helman (Col. William Stryker), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers / Cyclops), Lucas Till (Alex Summers / Havok), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler), Ben Hardy (Angel), Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Munroe / Storm), Lana Condor (Jubilee), Olivia Munn (Psylocke) and Hugh Jackman (Man in Cage).


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Steve Jobs (2015, Danny Boyle)

Steve Jobs is unexpected. It is a parody of itself, it is a parody of being an “Oscar-worthy” biopic about a topical, zeitgeist figure. Down to having Seth Rogen in a dramatic part. Steve Jobs feels very conscious. In Michael Fassbender’s Jobs, the film gets to create a world where Steve Jobs doesn’t just get to act like a movie star, he gets to look like one too. Director Boyle, cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, editor Elliot Graham, they embrace the artificiality of it all. Because Aaron Sorkin’s script isn’t a screenplay as much as a filmed stage play, the performance is part of it. The casting is part of it.

Just getting it out there–Rogen’s good. Boyle’s a good enough director, Sorkin’s a good enough writer, they can turn Rogen’s inability to actually act into an asset. Rogen’s so disarming, one really does believe he can do math (and all the other stuff Steve Wozniak can do). It’s a strange performance and Fassbender plays off it a little differently than any other in the film.

Every actor has a different style. Fassbender treats the whole thing as a metamorphosis without every determining whether he’s going from caterpillar to butterfly or butterfly to something else. There’s a weight to the role. Fassbender’s this perfect Aaron Sorkin lead–abrasive but almost always right, condescending but strangely earnest–and Boyle just sits back and watches him go, watches him play off the other actors, who are doing different things.

Kate Winslet’s got this big performance. It’s supporting, but it’s another perfect Sorkin character. Except Winslet’s got her own performance going on, her own understanding of the character. It’s a very different approach than Rogen gets. The film’s about its actors and how they perform the script. Just Sorking walking and talking-style; everyone popping in like it’s A Christmas Carol to tell Ebenezer Jobs how he still hasn’t figured it out yet.

Great supporting performances from Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and Katherine Waterston.

It’s an understated, strange, wonderful film. Boyle and Sorkin get along like Capra and Riskin, Fassbender and Winslet are phenomenal. Steve Jobs is magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Walter Isaacson; director of photography, Alwin H. Küchler; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Daniel Pemberton; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon and Scott Rudin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Kate Winslet (Joanna Hoffman), Seth Rogen (Steve Wozniak), Jeff Daniels (John Sculley), Michael Stuhlbarg (Andy Hertzfeld), Katherine Waterston (Chrisann Brennan), Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo & Perla Haney-Jardine (Lisa Brennan) and Sarah Snook (Andy Cunningham).


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