Tag: alex pettyfer

The Strange Ones

The Strange Ones (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Co-writer-directors Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein create a most intriguing dramatic thriller that is certain to frustrate casual moviegoers since the work is uninterested in handholding and providing easily digestible answers. Its tone is languid, its look is unadorned, and its dialogue can be downright opaque. But its uncompromising approach is exactly what I admired about it. It inspires the viewer to look for answers, sometimes inside the confines of the picture and other times within ourselves based on our life experiences, that make sense of the bizarre story unfolding in front of us.

Two brothers, Nick (Alex Pettyfer) and Sam (James Freedson-Jackson), the former likely to be mid-twenties and the other about thirteen or fourteen, are on a road trip toward a camping ground—at least that is what they tell strangers they happen to come across. The latter half of that statement is true: their destination is a cabin in the woods where Nick spent a portion of his childhood. But Nick and Sam are no brothers. Their connection is unclear but it is made apparent they are on the run from the authorities as the camera keeps still and focuses on the face of the elder “brother” when cops enter a diner.

The first third of the film dazzled me because the shapeless plot gives the impression that it is capable of turning into whatever form with a snap of a finger. That’s exciting. When Sam confesses to Nick that there are occasions when he is unable to tell between dreams and reality, my conclusions bordered on science-fiction. There is something off-kilter about Sam; his physical body is, for example, sitting on a chair but his mind and spirit feel as though they are hovering just a few feet above. It seems he is not really there; is what we are seeing reality or a part of his dream? The screenplay plays upon this conceit and it makes for a compelling experience when some answers are revealed eventually.

Freedson-Jackson delivered solid work in Jon Watts’ thriller “Cop Car.” Here, he gives an entirely different performance, a melancholy variety, employing techniques utilized by veteran performers, such as breaking sentences mid-thought as well as taking an extra beat or two between sentences, and getting away with it. And because we wish to know what is going on exactly, we rely on the flow of dialogue to fish out some answers or a hint of one, at the very least. Still, the performance does not rest on techniques. It is in the way he controls those eyes, how he makes them look blank or empty for the most part and how a sliver of life appears there during the most unexpected moments.

There is beauty admixed with the film’s tragic core, not just when it comes to the rural backroads and lifestyles but also in the ordinary people who make up communities. Sam meets a work camp manager named Gary (Gene Jones) who seems to care for the boy deeply. The old man’s wisdom pierces through the fog; Sam senses this and so do we. And yet, the material does not turn Gary into a typical savior who sheds light on the past and heals all traumas. He serves as a beacon, a guide.

There is an intelligence to “The Strange Ones,” a knowingness, that will be invisible to those expecting a standard drama, mystery, or thriller. Should one dive in, be willing to put in the work and examine each strand in order to determine truths from daydreams.

Magic Mike

Magic Mike (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a nineteen-year-old who lost his football scholarship, lands a construction job and meets Mike (Channing Tatum) at the site, a male stripper who hopes to start his own business someday. Recognizing a bit of himself in Adam, Mike introduces the college dropout to his team, the Cock-Rocking Kings of Tampa (Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez), led by a former stripper named Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Adam quickly learns the requirements of the job, but his hard-partying ways soon catch up to him while Mike considers stepping out.

“Magic Mike,” written by Reid Carolin and directed by Steven Soderbergh, offers outrageous and funny stripteases, but it barely works as a dramatic piece. This makes the picture halfway tolerable—really shining when sinewy men are performing on stage but deadly dull when the screenplay forcefully injects sensitive moments between Mike making an effort to change his station in life and Mike regaling Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn).

Scenes that take place in the strip club are at times executed with effervescent energy, one wonders why these guys are in Tampa and not Las Vegas. Bomer, Manganiello, and Rodriguez are not given much character to play, but they do make the best of their few lines. Because their characters remain a mystery for the most part, we are barely able to understand the group dynamics of the team. Mike, Adam, and Dallas get plenty of screen time, but that is only half of the so-called family. The film’s dramatic elements might have commanded more resonance if we knew, at the very least, every member almost equally.

Mike’s ambition to change himself into something more than a male stripper does not make a big enough impact. There is a scene that takes place in a bank. It is a well-executed piece because it shows two things. First, despite Mike’s compelling charm, the kind that women swoon over, it can only take him so far. Second, one can deduce that Mike, even though he is articulate, probably has a limited education and is insecure about it. He reverts to acting defensive when he is given reasons why he must be turned down, as if the person in front of him could read him like a book.

The material needs more scenes like this because it tells us about a character without being too obvious. It requires us to participate by weighing what someone might be thinking based on our real experiences with others. Instead, the picture has the tendency to show stripping every five to ten minutes—even though about half of them are not that memorable or entertaining. One might argue that these are used as crutches.

There is a sweetness in Mike and Brooke’s budding relationship. I enjoyed that Brooke is tough and uptight on paper but Horn plays her with a certain level of openness. Thus, even though at first she feels like sandpaper, over time we experience that there is a softness to her. I liked that Mike is the more overtly sensitive of the pair. I could not find fault with Tatum in the role whether his character is on- or off-stage. If only the picture followed his example.

In Time

In Time (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Set in the near future, humans were genetically engineered not to live past the age of 25. Once a person turned of age, a green countdown of one year appeared on one’s arm. When it reached zero, death was a certainty. Will (Justin Timberlake) was twenty-seven years old which meant he’d been scavenging for minutes for two years. In world where time was used as currency, as one would use money to buy a bottle of pop or pay toll to be allowed to pass a certain area, a couple of years, let alone hours, wouldn’t get an individual very far, especially if one lived in the ghetto, as did Will and his mom (Olivia Wilde), a place known as a Time Zone, where the rich limited the circulation of time. “In Time” began like a great science fiction film: it left us in middle of a curious era, handed us the rules of the game, and allowed us to navigate through the necessary exceptions and recognize why they were justified. We observed what people did in the Will’s time zone which ranged from people trying to make an honest living to earn time (but were often short-changed) to thugs (Alex Pettyfer) who harassed others and stole their time via arm-to-arm contact. One of the most compelling early scenes involved a woman who had only an hour and a half on her arm but a bus ride required a fee of two hours. After much begging to no avail, despite explaining that her destination was approximately two hours away by bus, the driver coldly suggested that she ran as fast as she could to get to her destination on time. I liked that the director allowed the woman to have only one look at the people sitting on the bus where not one volunteered to give minutes. It wasn’t that they were required to but it was a decent thing to do. That scene gave me strong feelings anger and sadness because I had been in that situation before. A person couldn’t pay for the the fare and I just sat there, impatient as to when the driver would finally step on the gas. Unfortunately, I felt like the film’s grand ambitions were thrown out the window in the latter half in order to make room for romance and chase sequences. While there was undeniable chemistry between Will and Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of an influential and rich man (Vincent Kartheiser) who could live for thousands of years if he so chooses, their differences were not explored beyond the set-up of poor guy wanting more and rich girl wanting to be less suffocated by parental controls. Since the roots of the partnership was executed superficially and lackadaisically, when they decided to rob banks and give time to he impoverished à la Robin Hood alloyed with Bonnie and Clyde, there wasn’t much tension or excitement. We wanted to them to get away from Timekeepers Leon (Cillian Murphy), Korsqq (Toby Hemingway, sporting a runway-ready haircut), and Jaeger (Collins Pennie), assigned by the government to capture the duo, because they strived to do good for the downtrodden but it was a passive rather than an urgent experience. Finally, I yearned to see more scenes of Sylvia’s father do more than looking glamorous and serious. There could have been complexity in him because we saw that he, too, worked for higher, possibly more sinister, echelons. It was a slight disappointment that “In Time,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, circumvented daring intricacies for the sake of digestible answers. If it had maintained its initial promise–heavy on the concept, light on the adrenaline–and had been more careful about clunky details, it could have been a paragon of modern science fiction.

I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four (2011)
★ / ★★★★

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) was an alien passing as a normal teenager. John and Henri (Timothy Olyphant), his guardian, led a nomadic lifestyle because the Mogadorians, an alien race that destroyed their planet, were on the hunt for the nine chosen ones. John happened to be number four on their list. John and Henri moved for Paradise, Ohio and it seemed like any other town in the middle of nowhere. But when John met Sarah (Dianna Agron), he found a reason to stay. “I Am Number Four,” directed by D.J. Caruso, could have been an interesting if the filmmakers had paid more attention to the characters instead of the CGI. When the best part of the film consisted of a battle between two giant CGI monsters, that is usually not a good sign. Casting was partly to blame. Pettyfer lacked enough dimension and angst for us to want to get to know him. The deadpan delivery of his lines worked against him because the script was already so thin. He was charismatic when he smiled but that was about it. There were some shots where I thought his pose could’ve made a great American Eagle summer ad, especially in the beginning when he was at beach, but I wasn’t interested in John’s story. I found myself more interested in the stronger actors like Sam, John’s friend who was bullied at school because he was interested in aliens, played with wit by Callan McAuliffe. Since he was pushed around like a nobody yet never seemed to fight back, most of us could easily relate to him. We wanted him to throw a punch or try to pull off a mean prank against his tormentors. He said cheeky things like his life being one big episode of “The X-Files.” But as the picture went on, Sam wasn’t given very much to do, perhaps because he didn’t have any superpowers. Instead, he ended up babysitting John’s dog. The picture had serious issues in terms of its pacing. It took too long to get into the meat of the story. I found it too preoccupied with delivering clichéd images like someone, in slow motion, strutting away from a massive explosion. Questions such as why the Mogadorians wanted to kill the nine, the importance of the rocks Sam’s father collected, and why Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) was intent on finding Number Four were awkwardly tacked on during the last forty minutes. Lastly, the villains were completely forgettable. All of them looked alike–bald and with teeth in desperate need of braces. If one stood out as a character foil against John, it would have been far more interesting. Based on the novel by Pittacus Lore, “I Am Number Four” was too much computer and not enough imagination. It felt like a very rough sketch of a television pre-teen flick on the CW.