Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dolly's Gone Haywire!

Dolly Parton is easily my favorite living celebrity, an entertainer with enough cheerful spirit and musical talent to make Tennessee a worthy vacation destination (I’m heading there for the third time this spring). Hence, when the South’s favorite blond was line dancing back to the big screen, it seemed a natural recommend for my other favorite below Mason Dixoner, T.L. Bugg.

That’s right homefries: The Lightning Bug’s Lair is brimming with Joyful Noise, so hitch up yer horse and gallop on over for Zack’s what-I-imagine-must-be-rave-review. On my end, the Bugg sent me out on a covert mission to see Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire. There’s less gospel singing and more ass kicking, but balance is important in this day and age. Just ask Dolly’s bras.

Quick Plot: Mallory Kane (MMA star Gina Carano) sits down for a cup of tea in an upstate diner when the boring guy from the only bad Step Up movie comes in to talk and fight. REALLY fight.

Winning round 1, Mallory enlists the aide of a curious customer with wheels and speeds away on the snowy road, telling her story to him and more importantly, us.

See, Mallory has one of those jobs that we only know about because of movies like Haywire. She’s a covert operative something something, an esteemed professional who negotiates and executes super duper dangerous plans around the world. Her last mission in Barcelona—to grab a journalist that had been taken hostage—went so well that she now gets a quickie job in Dublin via her boss and ex-lover (the young Obi Wan Kenobi) to pose as the wife of fellow operative/hot person Michael Fassbender. When a few details become suspect, Mallory finds herself back in combat and on the run.

Steven Soderbergh is easily one of modern cinema’s most interesting directors, both behind the camera and away from it. In terms of technique, he’s created some genuine marvels (Traffic, The Limey) and plenty of worthy experiments. As if flicking on a light switch, he can seemingly shoot out a commercially appealing mainstream vehicle without pandering to a less arty audience, only to turn around half a year later with a made-for-peanuts indie that butts any theater formula. Oh, and he’s currently working on a film based on Channing Tatum’s experiences as a male stripper.

Why aren’t more people as shocked/fascinated by this as I am?

Anyway, Haywire falls somewhere in between Soderbergh’s experiments and crowd pleasers. It’s an action film, to be sure, but one clearly crafted by someone with ambition and more importantly, creativity. We’ve seen badass hot chicks in hand-to-hand combat, but Soderbergh stages his battles in a way that lets you actually SEE them, pulling the camera back and stopping the music to let each punch and bang resonate. Thinking back to my annoyance with the well-received Crazies remake (which I disliked for its close quarters-with-no-context fight scenes) makes me appreciate the patience and trust someone like Soderbergh has in his work.

And yet American audiences seem to essentially hate Haywire, awarding it a cinemascore of a D+ and spending their cash instead on George Lucas’ Lando apology or Kate Beckinsale’s leather workout. Did moviegoers feel victim to a bait ‘n switch, expecting ‘splosions and shootouts only to be insulted with storyline and a smidgen of dialogue?

I don’t understand the odd venom for Haywire because you know what? I rather liked it. Gina Carano isn’t an Oscar ready actress, but you know what? She doesn’t have to be. She’s believable, likable, and most importantly, great to watch and that in itself keeps Haywire as a film to care about. The supporting cast is overflowing with Soderbergh vets (Michael Douglas!), personal faves (Bill Paxton!) and underrated stars playing against type (sleazy Antonio Banderas!). While the storyline occasionally feels a tad more complicated than it has to be, it tracks back easily enough once we reach the third act.

Maybe the ending wasn’t big enough for some audiences? I can imagine some viewers may have felt like each fight follows the same beats, meaning the ending (no spoilers) doesn’t satisfy in the more obvious Big Boss Battle route would have. It’s a fair criticism if that’s how you felt, but sit back to consider the fact that this is probably how these fights WOULD flow, and just because MacGregor knows how to use a lightsaber does not mean we should see some Jedi mind tricks in a stylized but reality-based action film. Plus, the final line of the film is kind of hilarious in a simple and wraparound way.

High Points
Ewan MacGregor. Bill Paxton. Antonio Banderas. AND Michael Fassbender?

Apparently Steven Soderbergh has the same taste in man as me.

One of my main irks with the action genre is the cold blooded ambivalence it generally has towards civilian bystanders, giving the audience minor laughs or thrills as random passerbys get caught up in gunfire or used as human shields (I still love you though, Total Recall).  While some unlucky folks do find themselves in the way, the character of Mallory actively tries to prevent them from being killed, whether it’s warning some proud state troopers, non-fatally putting down some Spanish officers, or guaranteeing the safety of her game driver

Low Points
Channing Tatum, I understand that you have physical appeal and a weird muse-like hold over your new bestie Steven Soderbergh but please, for the love of all your muscle tees, OPEN YOUR MOUTH WHEN YOU SPEAK!

Lessons Learned
Never let an enemy order hot coffee when sitting across from your face

iPhones might have their charms, but nothing says superspy like a burner Blackberry

Don’t forget about the deer. NEVER forget about the deer

See/Skip/Sneak In
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Haywire on the big screen, but my $11 could easily have been spent on the latest Paracinema Magazine and a few rolls of toilet paper (I ran out). It’s a good film and more importantly, a genuinely special action movie so if you have the time and means, use that cash to make a point about what kind of cinema you’d like to see studios make. Or go see Joyful Noise because Dollywood could always use a new rollercoaster. The choice is yours, but you know what’s not? The freedom to choose which website to visit next. That answer is right here.


  1. we went and saw this too. I loved what I did manage to see, but missed the last half hour as we left. 2 chicks would NOT STOP TALKING even after I asked nicely. that led to asking not so nicely, glaring, questioning their mental status, and name calling. NOTHING WORKED! so we left. *sigh*

    Soderbergh makes quiet movies I find. I really enjoyed this and totally agree about shooting those fight scenes so we could see them. how refreshing. I'll be anxious to see the ending to this when I can... at home. with no talkers.

  2. Your mention of Dolly reminds me - Something you MUST pencil into your 2012 Christmas movie schedule is Dolly's Smoky Mountain Christmas, a 90's TV movie where Dolly and Lee Majors team up to save a bunch of orphans. You will have to acquire it from backstreet sources because it is not readily available on disc or streaming, AFAIK, but you'll love it. Lee Majors has a car chase in a sleigh while dressed as Santa. Need I say more?

  3. Karen, that breaks my heart! Audiences are the main reason I don't go to the theaters that often, A few years ago, my brother and I almost got into a Christmas rumble with a bunch of teenagers who talked throughout the runtime of Peter Pan. I do urge you to check out the ending. Not sure how far you got, but there's a great final fight sequence plus a funny lil end beat.

    Oh Trever! I only learned about Dolly's Smoky Mountain Xmas very recently and wanted to kill eeryone who knew about it and never told me! I watched her family xmas special filmed in Dollywood on youtube and my GOODNESS! Dolly + Christmas (as if I didn't already know that from Steel Magnolias) = MAGIC!

  4. We have a theater near us that posts large warning signs not to talk during the movie, and that ANY use of cell phones (even for texting) will cause immediate ejection, with no refunds. Their user reviews page on the local Yahoo listing is hilarious because it is loaded with 1 star reviews from yoofs whining and pouting about being thrown out and how the theater "stole" their money. "And all I did was reply to a couple of texts!" Needless to say, my wife and I love the place and go there whenever we can. We watched Star Trek there in absolute silence.

    In Dolly's Smoky Mountain Christmas, she goes hiking in the woods in high-heeled leather boots... and you believe it! :D

  5. Trever, I'm jealous. Although I did luck out with Haywire. Maybe it was just the luck of the design of the particular theater I went to, which has a full stadium setup that helps to block out what's happening in other rows. Did you hear the infamous Alamo Drafthouse call from the girl who got kicked out for texting? HIlarious!

    GOSH do I have to see SMoky Mountain Xmas!

  6. I agree with you 100% on Channing Tatum's rather strange (closed mouth) line deliveries. My favorite was when he mumbled out that he was hungover (which I'm still not positive if he was supposed to be or not) and it sound like he was about to cry.

    Liked the movie quite a bit. Glad I'm not alone. Everyone else I know that saw it seems to hate it with a passion. It's odd how much crankiness this movie stirred up.

  7. Jonathon, you're my new favorite person ever. Channing Tatum must be a super duper cool guy in real life because I simply don't understand how he keeps getting cast in all these big projects. He's no Denise Richards or anything, but he really is just a pretty face and body without really anything else poking through.

    And seriously, what's up with people feeling as if this movie gave them cancer? Was it just oversold as a big dumb action vehicle? I don't get the hate!

  8. Great write-up! Thought this was a lot of fun. Gina Carano's fight sequences were excellent. It was nice to see Paxton too.

    Also: No quick cuts during the fights!, finally!

  9. RIGHT? Quick cuts that don't let us actually see the action drive me--dare I say it--HAYWIRE!