I recently flew to London. Even though it was a redeye and I should have been sleeping, just like the kid who turns the sound way down and sneaks in a forbidden late night in front of the tv, I watched three inflight movies – Haywire, Young Adult and Chronicle.
Haywire – disappointing but we’ll get to that soon
Young Adult – I was not a fan of Juno. I thought it was style over substance, and hipster style at that. But Young Adult was surprisingly engaging and I welcomed the dark ending.
Chronicle – I know it was a hit with the kids so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I am still wondering what all the fuss was about.
I am almost always up for a movie. Any movie. I’d rather watch a movie over tv not because of any issue with quality but because a movie is generally self-contained and as a completist, I can tick something off my list in a couple of hours rather than get sucked into a new series that will make nagging demands of my time. I think all airlines have individual monitors and choices now. Long gone are the days when we were subject to suffer through Flubber together. And with that came freedom from the blandest, safest movie. Now we have a tidy little menu allowing us to indulge somewhat privately.
My criteria for inflight movies is pretty low and the antithesis of what I normally watch on land – something I haven’t seen, nothing too heavy as I suspect good dramas have had something edited out for content, and a bonus is something silly, preferably teen, that I would never watch other than when I’m strapped into a chair for 6 hours. These movies hit all the marks. As I glanced around I noticed many other flightmates also chose Haywire and Young Adult. The Iron Lady also got a lot of views which I suppose could have made good context for London but it violated my drama rules so it was out.
But onto Haywire. I always thought I was a Soderbergh fan but I don’t think I am anymore and have not been for a while. It’s like that friend that you think you’re so close with until you realize you haven’t even emailed in 3 months. And when you try to reconnect you don’t even know what to say except, How’s it going? Are you still moving? You said you were moving right or were you just planning a trip? Delete delete delete. How’s it going? Let’s talk soon!
Sex, Lies and Videotape – yeah remember 1986? – was so intense I felt like I was intruding on someone’s private conversation. It made me physically uncomfortable. Out of Sight was crazy sexy, stylish and cemented George Clooney as an old-school dreamboat and launched Jennifer Lopez as a legitimate actress. She decided she’d rather have celebrity over credibility so now she has red carpets and perfume but also The Back-Up Plan. The Limey was stylized but effective. Erin Brockovich was fine.
I remember liking Traffic. Ocean’s Eleven was and still is decadent fun. It was a glam, frothy champagne cocktail followed by a second, buzzy for the sake of it. He could do big entertainment without making you feel guilty about it. I saw Solaris, The Good German, Ocean’s 12 and 13. I didn’t hate them. I didn’t and won’t see Che or The Girlfriend Experience. I got a kick out of The Informant! because I love a goofy Matt Damon and the central Illinois setting. But I skipped Contagion so where does that leave us? Are you still moving? You said you were moving, right?
So yes, Haywire. It was boring. In my book, that’s the worst. I’d rather be offended than bored. Try to do something. And don’t tell me you did because you and I both know better.
I’ve read that Haywire got a D+ on CinemaScore. It wasn’t that bad. Yes, Gina Carano gives a wooden performance and has zero chemistry with her talented costars – Channning Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton and Michael Fassbender. A cardboard cutout of Chewbacca with lines dubbed in Wookie would have generated more zing. Actually, I would watch that. Someone do that with a scene and put it on YouTube. The only energy is when Carano is handing someone their ass.
She’s an MMA fighter, sexy, pretty and has a great throaty voice. Kathleen Turner before she turned into drag Kathleen Turner. The fight scenes are nice. You can hear the heavy breathing, twisting clothes and scuffling shoes. These are long takes and shots with no frenetic editing so you can actually see what is happening. And what is happening is that she can fight. Do not piss off Gina Carano. Gina, by the way, this is nothing against you. All the blame – and I do mean all of it – is on Soderbergh. He could have set you on an action star path like Jason Statham but instead, he made you a trivia question. She’s got more work but really, Fast and Furious 6?
Here’s what’s so annoying and disappointing. Soderbergh knows his way around a movie. He can do action, he can do sexy, he can do style. He handpicked Carano and ostensibly created a movie for her. He failed her and us. The movie looks good enough. I don’t think Soderbergh could have a generically lit movie if he tried. I am fine with slower pacing. The American, with Soderbergh pal Clooney, was great. It wasn’t slow, it was paced. It created a tone and atmosphere. Haywire dragged. Soderbergh squandered his talents and Carano’s, a real-life bruiser. I liked when she took her shoes off to fight and wasn’t afraid of the body you’d have to have to beat the shit out of someone. But you still need a story and someone who can deliver it. I still need to care. Soderbergh – I’m looking at you.
I have also read some criticism that posits the tremendous flop that was Haywire was because the action lead was a woman beating up dudes. I don’t buy it. There’s plenty to contradict that theory. Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were loaded with female fighters and not the pillow-fighting kind. Both an anticipated and a sleeper hit, the directors delivered the goods. There were cheers and applause in the theater when I saw both. And while some may argue that there were more female-on-female bits, there was plenty of male butt kicked. These were dynamic performances with a solid story and direction with vision.
I also don’t buy the argument that Carano’s monotone delivery and stiff performance is the major offender for a lifeless action movie. I have one word – Schwarzenegger.
I am a fan of directors. If I like a director, I will see whatever they put out. Not so with actors, even a favorite actor still has to earn my attention each and every time. But I will follow a good director to the gates of entertainment hell just as I will never watch a bad one. Joel Schumacher, please stop. I have a soft spot for weirdos. The more authentic and genuine the weirdo, the wider the berth allowed for experimentation or just plain failures. Herzog, Cronenberg, Aronofsky, Fincher – I have followed them all and been disappointed by them all. But the disappointments, even if self-indulgent, I believe were genuine attempts at greatness. My point is, I don’t think this was a misstep for Soderbergh. I don’t think he was really going out on a limb here. I think it was just kind of sloppy.
Haywire suffered from accurate, bad word-of-mouth. Was Carano’s performance bad? Yes. But Soderbergh should have worked around it or pulled the plug. Are people uncomfortable with a female protagonist beating the crap out of people? Possibly, but not enough to tank a movie that otherwise looked good on paper. Soderbergh can make a good movie. But as evidenced by his recent output and my own lack of interest, maybe it’s that he used to make a good movie. Does he have too much clout, is he surrounded by yes men, just being lazy? I suspect it is a bit of everything. I am currently under the spell of Channing Tatum and will see Magic Mike. The trailer looks promising. I will meet Soderbergh for coffee and I hope to come out friends again with plans for dinner.
Soderbergh – let’s talk soon!