(Somewhat Guilty) Pleasures of Summer

Magic Mike (2012)     ★★★★

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Warner Bros. Pictures)

*CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS*

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/65/Magic_Mike.jpg/215px-Magic_Mike.jpgWhen women flock to see a film about a male stripper, you would instantaneously form the conception of a subpar romantic-comedy, that starring a popular male actor (with grad-A pecs) who ditches the swinger life for true love. While this is partially the premise for Magic Mike, it would be wise to ditch those notions of mediocrity. Steven Soderbergh’s stylistic confidence is the framework for a show that is surprisingly enthralling, only failing to reach the mark when the script (written by Reid Carolin) exhausts its narrative ambition. Regardless, it’s also one of the year’s best comedy-dramas, and will continue to lure in audiences who aren’t simply looking for a shot of Channing Tatum’s naked rear.

Based upon Tatum’s experience as a Tampa stripper at age 19, the performance of this 32-year-old heartthrob is simply terrific. After proving his knack for comedy in this year’s hilarious 21 Jump Street, Tatum deftly blends his charisma with dramatic composure, instantly transforming Mike into a memorable character and frontman for the film’s conveyance of a quite compelling, albeit predictable, method of storytelling. The kid he begins to train, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), is also very well-played; moody and impulsive, good-looking and hungry for vice. But as the narrative runs its course, he becomes more and more unlikable. Although this is surely the intent of the filmmakers, they fail to surpass convention in the relationship between Mike, Adam, and their differing views of life throughout the movie’s third act, which falls rather flat.

But for the most part, Magic Mike also fulfills the cliché of being balls-out fun, featuring accomplished talent behind and in front of the camera. Matthew McConaughey, after graduating from indie roles into full-fledged, Hollywood movie-stardom, has returned to his roots over the past few years, generating much buzz for his performances in the likes of The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Killer Joe, and Soderbergh’s film. Here, he plays Dallas, the lead stripper and entrepreneurial force behind Tampa’s finest gentlemen, giving a hilarious performance, and enacting a compelling symbol of the negligent, greedy world that Mike wants to escape before it’s too late, in addition to the one that quickly grabs Adam by the privates. The other fellas, including Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello, are also terrifically played.

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In fact, the only flaw in the film’s casting is Cody Horn as Alex’s sister / Mike’s love interest, who appears almost distractingly amateurish. Never once is she believable as the character, appearing to read lines rather than play a part. Although one bum performance shouldn’t be much of a problem, the ridiculous talent on display in Magic Mike makes her presence seem even weaker. Horn states dialogue with exactly the same vocal inflection and body language, with the exception of one panicky scene she plays rather well. The result drains dramatic weight from several key moments, especially when Tatum gives his inevitable “I’m not JUST a stripper! I’m a man with ambition and stuff!” speech.

Eventually, Carolin’s script takes an easy route to self-resolution, but it’s easy to see what the film is going for. Soderbergh, who may soon retire from directing, composes long takes with such interestingly composed foreground and background; artistry that would arouse movie nerds just as much as Tatum’s chest for nearly anyone with estrogen. As for the dance sequences (and this is coming from a heterosexual man), they are simply superb. Not only are they over-the-top funny, but Soderbergh actually allows each frame to breathe; he doesn’t follow the music video mentality of quick-cut nonsense, that methodology almost always resulting in visual incoherence.

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By cutting sparingly, and allowing the audience to view each shot for an extended period of time, we are able to see how truly talented each of these actors are. They not only look damn ripped, but can rock a dance routine like an urban Gene Kelly. And because Soderbergh choreographs these scenes without swapping to a different angle every half-second, we are actually able to enjoy them in real time and space. We become an audience member at the Xquisite Strip Club, and as a result, are considerably more involved in Mike’s story.

Unfortunately, despite this excellent cinematography and editing (for the latter, consider a dual sex-scene/montage where Soderbergh uses a different color filter for each plane of action), Magic Mike never capitalizes on its own greatness. Soderbergh keeps a light-hearted tone throughout most of the film (think of the Ocean’s movies), even as it descends into the darker territories of the stripper scene. For the most part, this is a pretty cool decision; it keeps the film from entering predictable, morality-tale area. But as the movie keeps trying to explain that Mike is a three-dimensional person, it never fulfills the promise of giving him more than one decision to make.

Mike wants to be a custom-furniture maker, but he may never get that chance, whether or not he ditches the dollar-bill-spewing nightlife. But how would he cope with life without making cash, or fulfilling his dream? How would he deal with complete ambivalence to any aspiration he has? We’ll never really know, and in that regard, Magic Mike is slightly underwhelming. But what the film does show us – three months in the life of a stripper questioning his existence, and another who finds women, drugs, and ripping off clothes as a reason for existing, this is a highly functional movie. It’s witty, outrageous, bizarre, artistically sound, thought-provoking, and compulsively entertaining. But let’s revisit that third word, bizarre, and place it in its proper context.

I believe Steven Soderbergh is one of the most talented directors of the past couple decades, and one reason why his films are as compelling as they appear is not only because of his terrific camerawork, but also his knack for taking seemingly overused concepts and twisting them in a slightly unfamiliar way. I was conversing with a friend the other day, saying something in the ballpark of, “Soderbergh is a great director, but he never gives me exactly what I want.” The friend responded, “Maybe he doesn’t want to.”

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Rumor on the street is Soderbergh wants to explore painting after he finishes his last few films. Maybe he would do a portrait of Channing Tatum. I can see it now – the beefy actor standing in a room, pondering the brushstrokes, as the bald-headed, thick-rimmed artist sits on a nearby couch, eagerly awaiting his reaction with folded hands. Tatum may sarcastically comment, “Well, it looks great, Steve, but I’d love to see a little more shading on the biceps.” They’d both laugh. Soderbergh may then reply, “C’mon Channing, you know we both had our chance to look good.”

Mike sure does look good, but he may never find exactly what he wants. Because as Magic Mike would like us to believe, “exactly what you want” is difficult to obtain, especially when everyone criticizes us for not enough bicep shading. But the film is still charming and hopeful, even mildly carefree in its execution, maybe because Mike, an arguable surrogate for both Tatum and Soderbergh, has now descended into something that makes desire seem puny in comparison – the bliss of freedom, the embrace of the unknown. It allowed Tatum to become an actor, and if Soderbergh hopes to match his cinematic skills to those on a canvas, he’ll follow his star’s example, and continue to paint the biceps any which way. Because in this day and age, having them simply isn’t good enough. Or maybe it is. I guess it all depends on what you want.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 4/5

 

 

GENRE FLICK DOUBLE FEATURE

PIRANHA 3DD IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR RENTAL AT YOUR LOCAL REDBOX. MEANWHILE, THE RAID CAN NOW BE RENTED OR PURCHASED VIA ITUNES. BOTH FILMS HAVE OFFICIAL, UPCOMING BLU-RAY / DVD RELEASE DATES.

 

Piranha 3DD (2012)     ★★

Directed by John Gulager (Dimension Films)

https://i0.wp.com/www.attackfromplanetb.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/NewPiranha3DD3.jpgDespite the D’s being doubled, this sequel to the 2010 horror/comedy remake isn’t nearly as fun, hinging only on sporadically hilarious moments of over-the-top, sexual gore, complemented by the walking, talking self-parody known as David Hasselhoff. It’s over before you know it, and the arrangement of scenes is barely enough to provide a cohesive narrative. So depending on your tolerance for this vein of “D-movie” (I’m introducing you to the film’s level of humor), this might be one to catch with your less-sober buddies.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 2/5

BD / DVD RELEASE – September 4th

 

The Raid: Redemption (2012)     ★★★ 1/2

Written & Directed by Gareth Evans (Sony Pictures Classics)

http://drkronner.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/4f762d1a1d518-image.jpg?w=590Meanwhile, action fans could do no better than The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian extravaganza that features astonishingly breathtaking sequences of gunplay and martial arts, all taking place within a crime-ridden apartment complex that the law has been sent to bring down. The violence is relentlessly exciting and intense, faring far better than writer/director Gareth Evans’ storytelling. But that’s understandably secondary to the tightly shot and edited thrills that come one after the other, solidifying The Raid as this year’s best action film.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 3.5/5

BD / DVD RELEASE – August 14th

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