Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain and Gain (2013)

Getting big and buff down the gym is something that’s incredibly trendy right now. You go into your local health food store (assuming that my loyal Phagelings frequent such establishments) and you’re immediately bombarded by an assortment of lotions and potions to get ripped. Big and buff is in. Well, at least that’s what the practitioners believe anyway. I’m not sure all the ladies swoon over colossal, potentially roided-out arms and pecs… After all… we all know what too much of THAT does to you, don’t we gents? And no-one likes opening up their Christmas present to find it’s 4 sizes too small and doesn’t work… am-I-right ladies? Yeah… Ok, we can dispense with all this chat now and concentrate on the film… oh wait, this is actually one of the plot threads? Tiny, little…? Oh… ok then. Well… it’s all about Pain & Gain isn’t it?

Pain and Gain (2013)

Yes, Pain & Gain has finally landed in the UK after an enormous delay transferring over the Atlantic Ocean. Michael Bay finally steps away from the Transformers franchise for a moment to deliver us an almost Bad Boys-esque film about a group of guys that are big on gym work and big on getting getting rich quick. The film focuses on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) – a body builder turned personal trainer that’s tired of not getting everything that he wants. He leads a comfy life, but wants more… don’t we all? This leads him to the idea of robbing one of his clients (Tony Shalhoub) for all he’s worth. He brings in two fellow gym-bunnies in the form of Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and gets away with it… for a while…

The plot is a fairly typical “kidnap and ransom” affair, but it’s done nicely and kept me entertained for the most part. I’ve always championed Mark Wahlberg as the every man, and Pain & Gain does nothing to change my opinion of him. He puts in another solid turn here as Lugo. What did impress me more was Dwayne Johnson. FINALLY, we’re seeing him in a role that requires him to do more than look BIG. Let’s not beat around the bush here… he looks goddamn massive in this film. Dwayne is a walking advertisement for gym work if you want to get “big”. What I found refreshing was that his character called for a wealth of emotions to be displayed. It wasn’t all “mean and moody”, which is what he’s had to do time and time again, over and over again. His character goes through the most dramatic arc out of the lead three protagonists, and it was his journey that I enjoyed the most.

Pain and Gain (2013)

Credit also needs to go to the supporting cast, most notably Shalhoub as the kidnapped Victor Kershaw, who played his part with aplomb. Similarly, Rebel Wilson turns in another performance that adds to her stock of “crude and lude” characters. It’s not so much remarkable for that, but it was nice to see her humour injected here. Much has actually been made of the “dark humour” of this film… which is true, to a certain extent. The humour definitely ramps up at times, but at others… it all comes across rather dour.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the opening 30 minutes. The film is trying to align itself and bring the viewers up to pace, but it all just feels disjointed and odd. It’s as if Michael Bay was aiming for an almost Spring Breakers-esque introduction with lots of voice over narrative in an attempt to make it seem somewhat artistic and lofty. Unfortunately it just left me a little deflating and disinterested. Luckily, the film picked up somewhat once this intro segue had passed, but it still left a sour taste in my mouth to a certain extent.

Pain and Gain (2013)

I think this draws attention to the film’s biggest flaw: it’s somewhat bloated. And we’re not just talking about Johnson’s arms here. A good 20 minutes could have easily been cut from the film and it wouldn’t have suffered whatsoever. Those extra 20 minutes led me to become distracted at times and somewhat detracted from the film as a whole. Don’t get me wrong – it had a fun plot and one that kept you intrigued, but it never had you second guessing and wondering what might develop. It was all quite linear… unlike the contours of Dwayne Johnson‘s neck…

Pain & Gain is a solid film, but can’t ever be classified as anything exceptional. The film is held together by a compelling story and a strong performance from Wahlberg and an arguably stronger performance from Dwayne Johnson, but this can’t disguise the excess embedded in the film as a whole. The humour was there, but was deflated somewhat by the exposition of those trailers. Damn you trailers! You’ve struck again, you cunning sons-o’-guns!

Pain & Gain was pretty much a balance of pain and gain… but I could have done with less pain in this testosterone-fuelled sandwich if I’m honest. It didn’t make our Phagey parts shrivel and become useless, but it also didn’t make us feel on top of the world and massive. It left us like the average gym guy… kinda normal. But unlike the average gym guy, we won’t be giving up… we’ll be back… now, there’s a quote from a REAL gym guy!

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

2013 has seen a number of films promoted solely on the strength of their lead actors. This statement probably doesn’t seem that outrageous, as most films are pumped into your subconscious thanks to their leads. What’s more atypical about 2013 is the number of films that have missold you on these leads. The films that spring to mind most prominently? Side Effects and GI Joe: Retaliation. Funnily enough, both films pimped out Channing Tatum as a drawcard. Too bad his performances were… cut short, shall we say? Yes, cut short in both films. He shouldn’t have been sold as a ‘star’ of the movie, as he rivalled Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables for sheer brevity. So, we now come to The Place Beyond The Pines – another film that’s sold heavily on ‘featuring Ryan Gosling‘… I think you know where I’m going with this review, right?

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Briefly, The Place Beyond The Pines is set in Schenectady, New York – a place of no hope for many. Our ‘protagonist’ Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt bike rider with the travelling carnival. His stopover in the town reveals that on his last ’round’ he got a girl (Eva Mendez) pregnant and now actually has a kid… Wow, quite a revelation! So Ryan jacks in his job and decides to hang around. But how will he make his money? Bank robbery of course! This leads his life to crash into that of Avery – a local beat cop (Bradley Cooper)… And the story unfolds.

That description would be fair to summarise the first third of the film, as the film truly is chopped into three different stories focusing heavily on Gosling, Cooper and their respective sons Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. The trouble with this is that screen time is cut down a hell of a lot for all of them. Want your Gosling fix? 45 minutes. Cooper? 45 minutes? Others? Oh come on – you didn’t come here for the others did you? And this is the crux of the problem – you’ve come to the cinema for the two leads. You expect to see your two leads a lot!

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Gosling came onto my radar solidly with the 1-2 combo of Drive and Crazy Stupid Love. I thought he was fantastic in both and I couldn’t wait to see what he did next. But since then? A lacklustre showing in Gangster Squad. I’ll pass. Having said that, I thought that his screen time was used well here and he was almost back to his Drive form. Gos-worshippers will be glad to hear he once again gets his top off and he does, once again, look ripped. So add a star onto my score if that figures highly in your enjoyment of a movie!

Now let’s move to one of my favourite actors – Bradley Cooper. Many regular Film Phage readers will know I bloody love this guy. He’s been going from strength to strength with recent performances, and he was rightly nominated for an Oscar this year for the brilliant Silver Linings Playbook. The Place Beyond The Pines is another shining example of ‘new’ Cooper. The guy that’s not playing the jock, the bully or the cocky one. In fact, his character here is thrust into the limelight and he plays humble and worried with great vigour. Although I’m a fan, don’t think that I won’t criticise the guy… But he doesn’t merit it here. It just fuels my excitement for his next on-screen appearance, which I guess will be The Hangover: Part Three. Sure, it’ll be a return to his ‘roots’ (not Hot Wet American Summer roots – his first film… that was awful) but his cocky roots. Bring it, Brad.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

So after my gushing, let’s return on track. The real reason this film came unstuck for me was the erratic plot weaving. The writers have tried to be clever and weave a ‘sins of the father’ circle for the film, but it comes across bloated and messy to follow the three different, but interlinked, stories. I’d rather have just seen stories 1 and 2 expanded and skip over the third act altogether. That third act just kept on going, with a dissatisfying conclusion too. Nothing can spoil a movie more than a seemingly half-baked ‘open’ ending. The Place Beyond The Pines typifies this beautifully.

If you add this onto the fact that our stars only feature for a modicum of the overall running time and the film becomes incredibly frustrating. A frustration that is once again compounded by the previews and trailers for the movie that make it out to be an exciting film about bank heists… It is about bank heists. For about 30 minutes. Why do you do this to me Hollywood? Why do you get me so excited only to let me down at the last minute? It’s like promising me the most delicious, authentic pizza from northern Italy and only delivering me a slice of Bob’s Kebab World’s pizza that’s clearly fallen on the floor several times… You can’t tell I’m in Italy now can you?!

The Place Beyond The Pines promised a hell of a lot, but delivered remarkably little. It’s lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are strong but are ultimately undermined by the bloated plot and restricted screen time for them both. Once again, hype has got in the way of a movie for me, thanks to artistically edited trailers. Let’s try and be a bit more honest from now on ok?

So although The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t once again resign poor Channing Tatum to the cutting room floor at an early point, it does again play into a recurring theme of 2013 – false advertising. Next you’ll be telling me that Bradley Cooper‘s not actually in The Hangover: Part Three. Let me tell you this now – if that’s the case, you’re going to see one hell of an enraged Phage come the end of the month! Equally, if I don’t find some pizza in the next 30 minutes, we’re also going to have a problem here… Coops and pizza: my sedatives.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Have you ever read the title to a film and had a thought that has nothing to do with the film itself? Maybe it’s an inappropriate one? Oh come on – you’re saying you haven’t read the title Debbie Does Dallas and wondered how she managed that feat, or who the hell Dallas is? How about Blow, Snatch or Free Willy? Let’s get one thing clear – the title of Killing Them Softly doesn’t make me think of an innuendo. I’m not some weird deviant. Maybe Ted Bundy would find it appropriately inappropriate. No, Killing Them Softly just makes me think of that damn Fugees song from years ago with a very similar name. I was disappointed when the film didn’t open with this tune… but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the film itself.

Killing Them Softly tells the story of the aftermath of a gambling den robbery carried out by two money-hungry guys: Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). The robbery goes well… but you can’t let bad guys get away with a robbery like that now can you? Cue the hiring of Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to dispose of the problem. And by dispose, I truly mean it.

If the plot sounds fairly generic and simplistic, then that’s probably because it is, but don’t let this deter you from the movie. The whole vibe of the film reminded me a lot of a hybrid of Killer Joe, Death Proof and Drive. It had the malice of Killer Joe, the extended, witty, well written dialogue that Tarantino favours, and the occasional bouts of brutal violence that Drive employed.

All of this is held together by the main man: Brad Pitt. Now, he may be the biggest name on the poster, but he doesn’t appear for quite a while. This leaves the film to be driven primarily by McNairy and Mendelsohn. I thought their dialogue was fantastic. It was rough – maybe too rough for some, but grounded. It felt believable. Sure, it may not have contributed much to the plot but it coloured the characters perfectly. You quickly felt that Mendelsohn‘s Australian character was scummy – a real low life, but you noticed that McNairy’s was less obtusely offensive and more reserved. Real kudos has to go to writer / director Andrew Dominick (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James…) for adapting George V. Higgins’ book so well. The lines really pop off the screen. Similarly, James Gandolfini picks up where The Sopranos left off to deliver another delicious slice of mob mentality. His performance was particularly noteworthy just because he’s such an abrasive, unlikeable character.

I’m sure you’re yearning to know how Pitt performs and he’s his usual reliable self. Possibly giving his best performance of the past few years. His take on this role wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe; namely because you didn’t expect such a performance from McConaughey. But with Brad Pitt you’ve seen him play the good guy and the crazy guy before. That takes nothing away from his performance though, which was as mesmerising as ever.

What I liked less about the film was it’s idea of supplanting the story against the backdrop of the global recession and the 2008 US election. It was just a peculiar way of shoehorning in some political agenda. You’d have lengthy pieces of the film which consisted of nothing more than George W. Bush or Barack Obama talking about the recession. I appreciate the fact that the dialogue was semi-related to the plot point of the film, but it just seemed jarring and removed me somewhat from the movie.

This scene is pure Tarantino when not directed by Tarantino.

That being said, at 97 minutes in length, the film rips along at a fair pace. For some, the use of long dialogue scenes will be off-putting. If you’re not a fan of Tarantino‘s reliance on similar scenes then you may not be in for a thrill ride. This film is much more Reservoir Dogs and less of a bang-bang shoot ’em up of a film. If that appeals to you, as it does to me, then I heartily recommend you get yourself a ticket. It’s not one of Pitt‘s tent pole films, but nor is it one of his surreal indie flourishes. Yes, I’m looking at you Tree of Life

Killing Them Softly isn’t this year’s most cerebral film, nor does it ever seek to challenge you intellectually. That’s not to say it’s a mindless effort like Transformers, but it doesn’t require that much energy to compute what’s going on. However, it’s one hell of a ride to be on. All actors, both big and small names alike, are really firing on all cylinders here.

And you’ll be glad to know that the film no longer makes me think of Killing Me Softly. That song is way too mellow and peaceful to embody Killing Them Softly. If I had to pick a song to convey the film’s message it’d be Slayer’s Raining Blood, because oh yes… there will be blood. Ted Bundy would bloody love that too the basket case!