Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 at the Movies: The Best (and Worst) of Times

Conventional wisdom says movies get lousier and lousier every year.  Or, more likely, we get older and older.  It's true, mainstream movies are louder, faster and more violent, are often created as "properties" and "franchises" by corporate brand-management teams, and anyone who's missing the intelligence of movies from the 1960s to the 1990s can hardly be faulted.

And yet, 2012 was actually a pretty great year to go to the movies.

(OK, maybe not to go into movie theaters, where audience etiquette is at an all-time low, digital projection further cheapens the experience -- think about those letterbox black bars on the top and bottom of the screen when you watch coming attractions; the theater could simply expand the screen to the proper ratio, but that takes time and money -- and prices are steeper than they've ever been.)

Some year-end surgery has kept me from seeing Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained and Barbara, three films high on my to-do list, but of the films I did see in 2012, here are my selections for the best ... and two booby prizes as the most miserable experiences I've had in the dark during the past 12 months -- not counting my sleepless post-surgery night!

  #10 - Skyfall  

James Bond hasn't been this fun for decades. Skyfall combines the easy humor of Connery and Moore with some of the finest action scenes in recent memory.  OK, so the ending goes on a little long, but I didn't mind one bit.  Fine performances by Daniel Craig and Judi Dench clinch the deal, as does a coda that blends pathos with a sly, knowing wink.  It's a given that 007 can't die ... but for a few minutes there, they had me going.  A brilliant title montage doesn't hurt, either.

  #9 - Beasts of the Southern Wild  

A memorable filmed tone poem, and more visually splendid than the overrated Tree of Life, anchored by waht has to be one of the most stunning performances of the year -- which happens to be from a 6-year-old.  Her name is Quvenzhane Wallis, and if I can't pronounce it, I certainly won't forget it.  Her Hushpuppy is the most brash, brazen, feisty, staunchly independent and emotionally complex character you'll see on screen in many a year.  Hushpuppy's journey through the backwaters of Louisiana before   and following a devastating hurricane is engrossing and heartfelt, even in its most obtuse moments. This isn't a mainstream studio film, and though it is demanding of its audience, neither is it what most moviegoers fear when they hear the words "independent cinema."  We need more movies like Beasts of the Southern Wild.

  #8 - Chronicle  

The best super-hero movie of the year.  It's original and brave, made to please the filmmakers and please the audience, not to cross-promote theme parks and consumer products.  Simultaneously dark and funny, moody and exhilarating, Chronicle is, let me say it again, the best super-hero movie of the year ... maybe the decade. 

  #7 - The Queen of Versailles  

No one could have planned it this way, but what starts out as a sharply satirical jab at the selfish excess of the late 2000s turns into one of the best filmed explorations of the pain inflicted, intentionally and not, by the people who caused the collapse of the housing market ... and that doesn't just mean the bankers and real-estate investors, it means everyone who was trying to live beyond his means.  The Queen of Versailles will amuse you, anger you, shock you and, surprisingly, move you.  Any movie that can do all of those things with this kind of flair has to be one of the best movies of the year.  It's available now on VOD -- watch it.

  #6 - Life of Pi  

Though I remain flummoxed by its lack of success to meaningfully mesh its spiritual first half with the grand, lonely adventure of its second half, a shortcoming it shares with the novel, Life of Pi contains some of the most arresting, complex, daring, beautiful, memorable, astonishing images of any movie this year.  It aims incredibly high and mostly succeeds.  It's a movie that will make even the most jaded filmgoer sit up and take notice.  Director Ang Lee seems giddy to take cinema places it hasn't gone before, and that more than makes up for its faults. 

  #5 - The Impossible  

Only at the end does it succumb to bathos, but for most of its running time The Impossible is a grueling, rewarding experience.  What happened to this family in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami shouldn't have been filmable, yet here it is -- a film that never lets its jaw-dropping technical accomplishments overpower the emotion.  It may not be quite as ultimately "uplifting" as its marketing wants you to believe, but The Impossible is a film that delivers searing, indelible images, underscored by powerful central performances. 

  #4 - Safety Not Guaranteed  

True joy is an emotion that many movies aim for but few succeed (and even fewer live-action films).  Safety Not Guaranteed ends with a scene of pure joy.  How it gets there is something I wouldn't dream of ruining.  If it's not the best film of the year, it's certainly the best slacker-time-travel-comedy-action-adventure-science-fiction-buddy-movie-romantic-fantasy.  You say you like movies?  Then this is one you cannot miss.  (For instant gratification, it's also available now on VOD.)

  #3 - Silver Linings Playbook  

At his best in the 1980s, James L. Brooks couldn't have made a better romantic comedy about damaged people.  Silver Linings Playbook is a rarity, putting its emphasis on empathy and compassion, presenting "crazy" people as ordinary as anyone else, burdened with the depth of their passion and emotion.  These are not easy people to like, but like them you do because the movie loves them so much.  I already felt a special warmth for Silver Linings Playbook and its richly felt, fine performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and (surprise, surprise) Robert De Niro, but then the audience broke into spontaneous applause at a climactic moment that could easily have come across as cheap and trite, and that settled it. 

  #2 - Argo  

Taut and sophisticated, suspenseful and funny, uncommonly intelligent and spectacularly well-made, Argo makes relatively recent history feel powerfully alive and vital.  Every moment of this film crackles with intensity.  The only pity is that studios seem to believe audiences will only accept a movie with the smarts of Argo during awards time.  If we had only one other film this good each year, we'd all be better off, and thankfully in 2012, we did ...

  #1 - End of Watch  

By every reasonable measure of expectation, End of Watch shouldn't be as good as it is.  It combines the hand-held ShakyCam of Blair Witch Project days with a tooth-rattling hip-hop soundtrack and a police procedural that has become so familiar to TV watchers.  But End of Watch defies those expectations with an authenticity to its story and central performances that is riveting from beginning to end.  There's not one false move, and it becomes a harrowing, mesmerizing experience that, despite its small-camera origins, demands to be seen on the big screen.  Easily dismissed as another cop thriller "from the director of Training Day," it turns out End of Watch can't be dismissed at all.  It's the one film this year that has stayed with me -- for all the right reasons -- like no other. 

And then there were these two, which also stayed with me ... for exactly the wrong reasons.

I've spent time wondering why these two movies incite such ire in me, why they stand out as the most miserable six or so hours I've spent in movie theaters this year, and it boils down to this: They can't exist on their own.  Each needs immense explanation from its director, who insists that there is more than meets the eye.  In both cases, my eyes were bugged out and tired at the end (and I'll admit to letting them rest for a few minutes in one of them).  Worse, unlike, say, Battleship, What to Expect When You're Expecting or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (movies I wouldn't dare pay to see), these at least had the pretense of being auteur-driven, serious-minded films.  I list them here in alphabetical order, not in the order I disliked them, for in that regard, they are basically equal.

The Master -- Paul Thomas Anderson's plodding, lugubrious, puzzling examination of the cult of religion (Scientology or otherwise) is a liquor-sodden bore.  The only thing more inexplicable than the way it's still-born on screen (with apologies to Hitchcock for that quote) is the praise heaped upon it, which may well by repeated by the Academy.  Could it be that any film from an important director will be regarded as a masterpiece even before it's seen?  As the movie heaves from one endlessly protracted, lifeless scene to the next, I admit to nodding off momentarily.  If there are merits, and there well may be, they escaped me completely -- though not for long, which allows me to say in childlike astonishment to those around me, "Did you happen to notice that the Emperor has no clothes?"

Prometheus -- It was not, the director and screenwriters insisted, a prequel to Alien.  Except it was, and not a very good one.  When it wasn't heaping unanswered questions upon unanswered questions, it was blatantly defying both logic and good judgment: Why wouldn't those women run sideways to escape a giant rolling wheel?  Why would scientists scamper off to an unexplored planet without checking, oh, you know, anything first?  Why would an android watch Lawrence of Arabia to learn how to be human?  Was it the only film he brought on board?  But why do I think Prometheus is one of the worst movies of 2012?  Because it took 33 years of equity and goodwill built up by the original (in every sense of the word) Alien and squandered it on stupidity.  Despite ravishing design and photography -- which gave it more to recommend than The Master -- it proved that even if you're Ridley Scott, you can't go home again ... and 3-D really does add nothing to virtually every film it's used on.  (Notable exception: Life of Pi.)  Prometheus is a science-fiction shaggy dog story, endless setup with no punchline.

You'll no doubt disagree.  Or not.  In any event, feel free to let me know how right or wrong you think I am.  I can take it.  After all, it's only a movie ... or 12.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


 3.5 / 5 

Hitchcock is a delightful little surprise, a movie in love with movies. It may seem of scant interest to anyone not already intrigued by the legendary director, and probably will be, but it's got such deliciously well-rounded performances that even the Hitchcock ignorant will walk away entertained.

While it sheds no new light on Alfred Hitchcock, who basically psychoanalyzed himself in a series of interviews with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock splendidly captures both the macabre humor and creative ambitions of a man whose artistic influence is still felt today.

It also has one of the single best monologues in years -- a raging, anguished chastisement of Hitchcock's famously controlling nature by his wife, played by Helen Mirren, an actress who looks nothing like Alma Reville but captures the frustration and pride of someone who's an artist in her own right but has accustomed herself to retreating into the shadow of her more famous spouse.

They don't have a traditional marriage, Alma and Hitch: They sleep in separate beds and seem more like good friends than husband and wife, but the setup worked well enough to keep them together for more than 50 years.

It's almost a trope to praise Mirren's abilities, but in Hitchcock she plays a character underwritten on the page and brings her to vivid life with a cock of the head or a purse of the lips.  She disapproves of her husband, but understands him intimately, accepts his limitations as a human and revels in his successes as a filmmaker -- and, boy, does she let him have it when he dares to accuse her of infidelity.  She's the heart of Hitchcock, though Anthony Hopkins isn't exactly forgettable.

He has the unenviable task of finding the person behind the persona, and he clinches it -- Hitchcock is about a real, nuanced man, not a caricature, and Hopkins transcends the makeup and the fat suit.  His Hitch wavers between having too much confidence and too little, recognizes his shortcomings, and figures he's too invested in his career, his marriage and the idea of making one particular film to give up on any of them.

Like Lincoln, Hitchcock focuses not on the entire life story of its subject but on one critical moment, in this case Hitchcock's decision to follow up the big-budget hit North by Northwest with the unprecedented violence and unsavory themes of Psycho -- a movie that apparently no one wanted him to make. But the more they denied him, the more determined he became, and when he finally gets to see the movie unspool before an audience, his exuberance is unabashed and infectious.  (Hitchcock said he liked to play his audience like a piano; it's fun to see that come to life here.)

Unlike that historical epic, though, Hitchcock actually explores the man, his actions and his motives, maybe not entirely successfully, but thoughtfully and with glee.  Hitchcock does assume we know a bit about the man, his movies and his frequent, failed romantic obsessions, and to that degree, it's a fair criticism to wonder if it's not simultaneously too broad for its detail-oriented core audience of Hitchcock buffs and too specific to be accessible to the mainstream.

Hitchcock also threatens to derail itself with a bizarre attempt to make real-life mass murderer Ed Gein (the inspiration for Norman Bates) into a sort of psychological stand-in for Hitchcock himself.  The fantasy scenes between the two of them don't work at all, but at least the filmmakers tried something different.

Most importantly, Hitchcock is made with genuine passion and admiration, and it's also magnificently cast.  Scarlett Johansson adds a head-turning supporting role as Janet Leigh -- in both physical appearance and in her manner (Leigh was one of the few actresses who spoke highly of her experience with Hitchcock), she's graceful and intelligent.  At Anthony Perkins, James D'Arcy is winningly dim -- everyone knows he's a closet homosexual except, it appears, him, and a scene with Hitchcock and Leigh patiently trying to explain to Perkins why Norman Bates might want to spy on naked women is priceless.  Also fine is Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, an actress spurned by Hitchcock and who's desperately unhappy making Psycho.  Toni Collette, alas, is mostly wasted as Peggy Robertson, Hitchcock's longtime assistant.

But Hopkins and especially Mirren are the stars. They command the screen and offer vivid reminders why -- even in a little trifle as relatively lightweight as Hitchcock -- there are hardly finer actors working today.  It's not a weighty or "important" movie, but Hitchcock knows how to keep its audience entertained almost as well as the Master himself.

Viewed 12/27/12 -- Laemmle North Hollywood


Catching Up: "People Like Us"

 3.5 / 5 

Movie like this used to be commonplace, but have now become so rare that Hollywood studios don't quite know what to do with them -- small family dramas that don't try to do much more than present great emotional discord that needs to be brought into harmony by the final fade-out.  People Like Us was dumped by its studio into the mid-summer fray, and it's a movie that deserved a much better chance to find an audience.

It stars Star Trek's Chris Pine as Sam, a sleazeball of a human being who makes his living in a shady business bartering expired goods.  News of his estranged father's death doesn't exactly endear him to anyone: He goes out of his way to avoid the funeral, leaving his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) sitting alone at the service.  Her friends clear out fast as soon as he walks into her home -- this guy's bad news all around.

But he has reason to be.  Turns out his childhood wasn't exactly storybook, and his late father's attorney literally leaves him holding the bag, a shaving kit stuffed with $150,000 and a note with a name and an address.  Sam's job is to get the cash to the mystery person and, importantly, to "take care of them."

It doesn't take long for Sam to discover a long-buried secret, that his father had a second family and the money is intended for a boy who would be Sam's nephew and his father's grandson.  That means the boy's witty, charming, beautiful is Sam's sister -- and Sam, being something of an emotionally backward scumbag, would sooner keep the money for himself than start digging into this messy affair.

Life, being what it is, has other plans for Sam, and he finds himself embroiled in a family drama that borders on silly soap opera but mostly, and deftly, skirts the theatrics and finds some surprising emotional truths.

Elizabeth Banks plays the sister, Frankie, with an effective blend of integrity and desperation -- she's a woman ill-equipped for life and motherhood, but she knows it.  Pine's Sam sees her potential, and it's interesting to see how naturally People Like Us dips a toe into standard romantic-comedy territory by letting us see the situation through Frankie's eyes.  Both she and her troubled 11-year-old son are falling hopelessly for the smooth-talking Sam, who cowardly refuses to let her in on the truth -- she just sees this handsome, good-hearted man who insinuates his way into her life.

That twist is what makes People Like Us resonate more deeply than a standard-issue rom-com, because it isn't, it just feels like one -- and its filmmakers are fully aware that it is not what it appears to be.  Wisely, they hold off until the last moment to draw it all together.

People Like Us breaks no new ground, but it is a movie filled with compelling, honest performances, and Pine, Banks and Pfeiffer are all genuinely captivating.  Pfeiffer, particularly, shines in an underwritten role that she manages to make feel rich, complex and dimensional.  She's the kind of woman who believes she's free-spirited, honest and open, but she's repressed her own secret so well, when it finally rises up, the reaction is visceral, physical, and Pfeiffer shines in a scene that could have felt wrong in lesser hands.

Everyone in this movie feels exactly right.  The writing is strong, the dialogue sparkles without cloying -- when Sam tells Frankie she's strong, her only response is the natural one: "I don't feel strong."  She feels like she's been doing it wrong, which is funny because her brother would have said, just a few weeks early, that he feels he's been doing it right all this time.  But both of them have wound up here, riding those Gatsby-like boats ceaselessly into the past, striving for that future.  It may not come for either of them, but by the end, if they make mistakes, they've got someone to share them with.

People Like Us is warm, gregarious and genuine.  Coming from the writers of Transformers, Mission: Impossible III and Cowboys & Aliens, that's saying a lot -- turns out that beneath the bombast and visual effects, there's a real, beating heart in Hollywood, even if it seems to be getting smaller and smaller all the time.   

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Les Miserables"

 3 / 5 

Using modern, digital filmmaking techniques to adapt the musical version of Les Miserables to film is a bit like using blog posts to write Gone With the Wind.  You can do it, it just won't see the same.

The truncated Les Miserables that became a stage sensation in the late 1980s whittles Victor Hugo's 900-page epic into about three hours, narrowing its focus to the dogged determination of Inspector Javert to track down Jean Valjean, the love story between Marius and Valjean's daughter Cosette, and the little matter of the French Revolution.

With frantic editing and a relentless -- almost exhausting -- reliance on close-ups, director Tom Hooper gets the first two pretty much right, it's the French Revolution part that suffers, which is quite a thing to suffer in a story about, you know, the French Revolution. The politics are all pretty murky, and Les Miserables misses a bet by not drawing some correlation to the failed Occupy movement that almost swept the globe.  Still, the stage musical had vocal theatrics on its mind more than historical education, and on that level, Les Miserables the film does about as well as Les Miserables the show.  But anyone who hasn't already seen the musical may have a bit of a hard time figuring out what all the fuss was about, and in part that's due to the critical decision by the director to have his actors sing live on set rather than lip sync to pre-recorded tracks the way musicals have been doing for 80 years or so.

The lead actors are all reasonably well-known names, so the question most on peoples' minds will be simple: Can they sing?  Why, yes, with one exception, they can -- and quite well.  Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and the less-known Eddie Redmayne are all genuinely sensational; Hugh Jackman seems constrained, particularly at the beginning, but ably blends nice vocals and solid acting. Only Russell Crowe feels miscast -- he doesn't have as much as bad voice as one with a narrow range, and his big number, "Stars," falls curiously flat for being a showstopper.

That's a pretty good scorecard, though, and the supporting actors are even better, with Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit real standouts.  Oddly, Sacha Baron Cohen begins his role with a thick cockney accent and mysteriously switches to French after a couple of scenes.

But then comes the pesky matter of the live singing, and on this count the actors aren't at all to blame.  Rather, it's the frankly bizarre decision to shoot virtually every number in a tight close up, and the net effect is that the audience watches an epic-free epic.  There's no sense of scale or scope, no sense of movement or tempo that accompanies the music, none of what makes movie musicals such a specific and often unsuccessful genre: They require space to breathe, they demand the audience see a full performance.

Les Miserables, on the other hand, is like going to see the Broadway musical and renting old-style opera glasses -- as soon as a character launches into song, bam!, everything else falls away and we watch a single character sing about the importance of the French Revolution ... but we don't see it.

There are some exceptions, there are moments when Les Miserables goes soaring into the rafters both aurally and visually, and those are the moments that unfortunately serve to call out what's missing at so many other critical moments.  

Les Miserables is a noble effort.  It's a good, adequate movie, far superior to such wretched musical efforts in recent years as The Phantom of the Opera and the so-bad-I-stopped-watching-halfway-through Rock of Ages.

Les Miserables was clearly made by people who wanted to do the stage show justice, but in that, they've left us holding a bit of a mixed bag.  It's an almost-flawlessly sung and acted version of a story that tells of heated passion and relentless determination to make life better.  The singing they got, the passion and determination is what they needed to work on.

It's a perfect example of a movie that could have benefitted from using the styles and techniques that may be old, but they work.  We needed a cinematic Les Miserables for all ages, not just the digital one.

Viewed 12/25/12 - Reading Grossmont


Saturday, December 22, 2012

"The Impossible"

 4.5 / 5 

By chance, I stumbled across the remarkable Channel 4 documentary "Tsunami: Caught on Camera" about a year ago and was mesmerized by the enormity of a calamity that is barely comprehensible.  A quarter of a million people died in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, and tourists were only a fraction of them, so I was dubious about The Impossible.

Would it be, well, possible to capture the scope and scale of the devastation, both physical and emotional, through the lens of Hollywood, with beautiful people like Ewan MacGregor and Naomi Watts suffering nobly through wet clothes and unglamorous makeup?

The opening moments of The Impossible don't bode well: Here are fair-haired white folks anguishing over spoiled-people problems like whether she'll have to go back to work as a doctor if he loses his job.  Then, without warning, it happens -- and the disaster-movie-veteran reaction takes hold: This had better be good, we'd better be wowed by this big wave.

We are.  That's when The Impossible begins going places most movies wouldn't dare.  It's excruciating, nerve-wracking, nausea-inducing and altogether riveting in its depiction of a family quite literally torn apart by a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

Viewed solely as a technical exercise, The Impossible is extraordinary.  The visual effects are peerless: You can have your Avengers and your Prometheus, here is visual-effects mastery in absolute service of the story.  The omission of The Impossible from the short-list of possible Oscar nominees is shameful, but perhaps explained by the awesome accomplishment here -- not once do you consider that what you are watching is not real.  It makes a similar, shorter sequence in Clint Eastwood's The Hereafter pale by comparison.

But The Impossible aims for more than visceral thrills, and quite wisely steers clear of the Grand Hotel-style dramatics of '70s-era disaster movies.  From the moment the wave strikes, we're with Maria, the mother in the previously pretty family, who miraculously finds her son amid the deadly waters.  This is no feel-good discovery: They wind up lost and alone amid the devastation, horribly injured with no way to know the fate of the others.

The movie focuses tightly on this family, particularly Maria and her young son Lucas (the stunningly good Tom Holland).  She is gravely wounded, and he's the pouty, sullen pre-teen who has to grow up instantly.  There's a simultaneously grueling and touching scene where residents of a wiped-out village find them and offer them care -- and that unprompted humanity is one of the movie's running themes.

Later in the movie, there's a painful moment where Henry, the father, asks one of the film's few Americans to use a cell phone, and the response he gets is certainly a slap in the face for the U.S.A. -- and perhaps rightly so, because the post-disaster scenes the world sees after American tragedies tend to be of looting and chaos, not the kind of stoicism and compassion on display here.

There is much beauty in The Impossible, but it's not visual.  This is one of the most excruciating and terrifying films you'll ever see, unflinching in its depiction of real loss and devastation, not to mention the physical consequences it has on people.  Maria ends up in an overcrowded hospital, clinging to life with Lucas by her side -- until suddenly, wrenchingly, for the second time in an anguished day, he isn't.

The Impossible is an emotional gut-punch, honest and true, bordering on maudlin only in its final 10 minutes or so.

Much has been made over the filmmakers' decision to focus on a nice, white, fair-haired family, and the criticism isn't unfounded.  We see very little of the effects of the tsunami on the Thais themselves.  But, then The Impossible is telling a large story at a very human level, and the only way to do that is to focus tightly on one family.  It's a film that is often impossible to watch without flinching, maybe never more so than the moment Henry finally finds a cell phone and calls his parents back home.  In that scene, The Impossible shows us beautifully, perfectly, the overwhelming depths of despair, isolation and suffering that survivors experienced ... and the compassion and humanity that saw them through.

The Impossible is difficult, gripping and altogether exemplary.

Viewed 12/22/12 -- ArcLight Hollywood


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Catching Up: "Magic Mike"

 3.5 / 5 

Magic Mike feels, impressively, a lot like a 1970s character study about troubled and lonely people, but is marketed as a salacious, flashy 21st century piece of high-concept pabulum.

Here’s the pitch: Matthew McConaughey owns a strip club and Channing Tatum is his stripper.  You can imagine the response this one had in the development rooms – “Gay guys and straight women will love it, which is more than you can say for that female stripper movie with Cher.”

So, that’s the movie they thought they were getting, a crazy, flashy number filled with hard butts and chiseled abs.  Except this movie is to stripper movies what Popeye was to comic-book movies.  It’s an auteur’s film through and through, and fortunately bringing an artistic director’s eye to pulp material works a lot better for Steven Soderbergh than it did for Robert Altman.

Magic Mike is indeed about male strippers, and it has some awfully pretty boys fronting it.  We’re at the point now where Matthew McConaughey has turned into the elder statesman (an odd point to be, it should be noted), but even he gets a very long moment to flash his butt and his pecs

Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer are the handsome young boys – Tatum is the titular character, who thinks he’s doing pretty Alex a favor when he suggests the boy come to work at the club.

But faster than you can say All About Eve, Alex sets his eyes on the prize: Being the lead dancer.  Things get complicated when drugs and a girl come into the picture, but then, things are no doubt always complicated in the lives of men who take their clothes off for money.

It’s would be easy to dismiss Magic Mike as prurient entertainment that turns the tables on the male-dominated movies – after all, men have been hooting and hollering at scantily clad women (serious actresses included) for centuries.

But Soderbergh gets at the grime underneath the polish, and is more interested in the desperation than the ambition.  Despite some (mostly) intentionally campy moments and the surface-level silliness of the whole thing, Magic Mike makes it clear that in this world, there are only two kinds of people: users and the used, and there are a lot more of the latter.  Tatum’s Mike doesn’t understand which kind he is until pretty late in the game, and then he wants to change his fate – he just doesn’t have a clue how.

The acting is top-notch, the people (yes, even the girls) are impressively attractive, and the Tampa, Fla., location is just wonky enough to help make the story work even better: For a lot of these people, Tampa is as close to the promised land of Miami that they are ever going to get, a hard fact that’s just now dawning on them.  They’d give the shirts off their backs to get out of this place – too bad they threw them to the drunk chick in the front row last night.