Magic Mike – Review

The sacrifices that I make for this blog. It was such a chore dragging myself to see Magic Mike. 🙂

 

The film doesn’t waste much time cutting to the chase; viewers will have to wait less than 60 seconds to get their first eyeful of a (mostly) naked Channing Tatum. These people aren’t fools. They know why people are in the theater.

There are two important things to know going in to Magic Mike: 1) this is a movie about male strippers and 2) this is a movie about male strippers directed by Steven Soderbergh. I think most people who plan on seeing the film are focusing on the first point, when they really should be focusing on the second. Because while this is a movie that features very attractive men taking their clothes off, this is also a movie from the guy who made Traffic and Sex, Lies and Videotape. This isn’t going to be a campy and cheesy movie; there is going to be some substance behind the sculpted abs. I think people may be very surprised at the stripping to story ratio of the film; there is way more of the latter than the former.

Magic Mike is loosely based on Channing Tatum’s own past as a stripper. Mike (Tatum) is a construction worker by day and male stripper by night, with dreams of someday owning his own custom made furniture business. While on the construction site he meets 19 year old Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who has dropped out of college, is sleeping on his sister’s couch and is lacking any sort of direction. Mike takes a shine to Adam and introduces him to the world of stripping, serving as both his mentor and best friend. Mike also takes a shine to Adam’s sister (Cody Horn) and a flirtation develops. The guys spend their nights dancing and partying, but Mike begins to wonder if this is really what he wants to be doing with his life. Adam begins to make some questionable choices which could lead to his downfall.

I have to admit that I wasn’t a very big Channing Tatum fan going into this movie. I really hadn’t seen much of his body of work (pun intended) beyond 21 Jump Street and Haywire. His choice of roles and my taste in movies don’t really intersect. And while I think he is an attractive man and get why people go ga-ga over him, he’s never really appealed to me all that much. He’s just not my particular type of poison. But I did walk away from Magic Mike with new found respect for him. He carries most of the movie and does a fine job with the more emotional and fully clothed scenes. While Magic Mike chronicles Adam’s introduction to the business, this is really Mike’s emotional journey as he has to decide what will fulfill him and truly make him happy. There is a smidge of sadness to Mike and Tatum is able to play that very subtly. Tatum is also very good in the stripping scenes and is clearly the actor that is most comfortable up on the stage. Having not seen Step-Up, I wasn’t really aware that Tatum could dance, but he was pretty impressive. There is definitely a reason that he is the focus of most of the scenes in the club.

Pettyfer does a nice job of conveying Adam’s assimilation into this world; at first he is a bit hesitant and a little uncomfortable, but he quickly begins to embrace this new group of friends and the money and women that come with the territory. I do wish, however, that there was a little more time devoted to what makes Adam tick. The viewer gets some insight early in the film, but there are some points when I would have liked to know Adam’s motivation or thought process, especially toward the end of the story when he starts taking unnecessary chances. It’s more Mike’s story, but I would have appreciated Adam’s character sketch to be a little more complete. Pettyfer is also featured pretty prominently in the stripping scenes and while he doesn’t seem quite as natural as Tatum, he definitely gets the job done.

If there is any real cheese in the film it comes, I assume by design, from Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas. As a former stripper and owner of the club, McConaughey seems to be having a lot of fun. He gets to poke some fun at his image and reputation – his character just so happens to say “alright, alright, alright” a lot – and even gets into the act by getting some stage time as well. He’s the least grounded of the characters, but infuses some fun into the proceedings. He’s in fantastic shape, but this is the first time I’ve noticed some signs of age on McConaughey. That may have been intentional for the role, as his character probably would have some miles on him.

I was disappointed that some of the other guys in the cast don’t get a whole lot of screen time. I would have liked to see more from Adam Rodriguez, Matt Bomer and especially Joe Manganiello (who is my particular type of poison). They are mostly in the background for most of the scenes, though the all are given brief moments to shine in the snippets of their individual dance numbers. And I do mean snippets – their solo performances all last less than a minute and are usually part of a montage. They do a fine job in the group scenes, though the focus is clearly on Tatum and, to a lesser degree, Pettyfer.

I can’t really say much in favor of the women in the film. I did not like the casting or performance of Cody Horn, which is unfortunate. I thought her acting was too stilted and I did not buy the chemistry between her and Tatum. I thought she was definitely the weakest part of the movie. She’s not terrible, but she just didn’t work for me. Olivia Munn also has a bit role in the film, but I didn’t think that she was very good either, which is not all that surprising as I don’t think I’ve ever really liked her in anything that she’s done. She doesn’t get much screen time, but I continue to be unimpressed with her.

The film spends less time in the strip club that I’m guessing most people will expect; the film is mostly focused on Mike and Adam and the two different courses that their lives are on. While that journey was interesting, there were also moments when the movie drags a little bit. The movie dwells much more on the quiet moments than on the flashy dance numbers and sometimes you wish that there was just a little more going on. I would have liked some more dance numbers because, beyond the obvious reasons, they brought a little bit of life and fun into the film. For a movie hyped to be about men taking their clothes off, there is a lot of melancholy.

I’m stressing what to expect with the film because the audience that I saw the film with decidedly was expecting a different kind of movie and left audibly unhappy. The crowd was definitely on the young side – I was at least 10 years older than the next oldest person – and may have thought that they were getting something closer to Step Up. I don’t think they film did itself any favors in its marketing for two reasons: the advertisement is definitely playing up the importance of the stripping disproportionately to the amount of actual stripping in the movie and they already showed a lot of what was in the movie. The first performance to “It’s Raining Men” would have been a lot more enjoyable if I hadn’t already seen it posted on half of my Facebook feed. I would have preferred more of an element of surprise.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • The audience at the midnight screening was surprising, both in its sheer number and the gender breakdown. One of the reason I like going to midnight showings (other than I go for free) is that it isn’t very crowded and I can roll into the theater 10 minutes before show time and have my pick of seats. At most, there are usually 20-30 people in the theater, but last night I walked in and the place was packed. By the time the movie started, there were very few empty seats. Also surprising was the number of men in the audience with their girlfriends. I was impressed – it showed a level of comfort that I don’t think most men would have had 10 years ago and it showed a level of compromise that I am unfamiliar with. I don’t even remember the last time a guy did something with me that he had absolutely no interest in. So kudos to those young men for taking one for the team. I thought they may sneak out to go see Ted across the hall, but they made it through the whole film.
  • There is more female nudity than I expected, so if you do go with your husband/boyfriend, there’s at least something for him too.
  • As a kid that grew up watching wrestling (shh – don’t tell anyone), it kind of freaked me out that one of the male strippers was none other than Kevin Nash (aka “Diesel”). I’m not really sure why he was cast, other than the fact that he is really tall and in good shape – he isn’t particularly handsome by most standards and he looked really uncomfortable up on the stage. In fact, if you can tear your gaze away from Tatum, watch “Tarzan” in the background. He is by far the worst dancer and just looks really lost up there.
  • Soderbergh always makes some interesting choices in his direction and I have to say that they pay off. Magic Mike has his very distinct look and there are some cool shots that he employs that contribute a lot to the story line.
  • I had to laugh at all the elaborate gimmicks and costume changes that were used during the “male revue.” It kind of seemed like a waste given the fact that all of it was going to be ripped off anyway. But I appreciated the creativity that went into it.

I’ll be very interested to see what the reaction to this film is. I think that a lot of women are using the film’s opening as an opportunity for a night to get together with their girlfriends, have a few cocktails and then hoot and holler and ogle some men. That’s great, but I think that they are going to be surprised to find that there aren’t quite as many opportunities to cat call as they thought there were going to be. Stripping makes up a fairly small amount of the film. I generally liked it, but thought that the pacing was off in some places. If you see it, let me know what you think.

Magic Mike opens nationwide today.

Sneak Peek – People Like Us

The summer movie offerings this year have for the most part fallen into two main categories: adaptations or franchise sequels/reboots. It has been a summer ruled by The Avengers, anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises, the return of Men in Black and the failure of Battleship. The films of summer tend toward the big, the bold and the explosive; the more special effects, the better. So it is not necessarily surprising that a smaller character comedy/drama along the lines of People Like Us would get lost in the shuffle. I tend to know about movies long before they see the light of day, but somehow I didn’t even hear about this film’s existence until two weeks ago. It was completely off my radar. It was the first time in a long time that I went into a screening without knowing a lot about what I was going to see.

People Like Us is the story of smooth talker Sam (Chris Pine), who takes short cuts in his personal and professional life, to the point that he may be facing an inquiry from the FTC for his practices. When he receives the call that his estranged father has died, he reluctantly returns home to LA and to face a mother that he hasn’t spoken to in years (Michelle Pfeiffer). When the lawyer contacts Sam about the terms of his father’s will, he is shocked when asked to deliver $150,000 to a single mother Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her 11 year old son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario). Sam seeks them both out, without revealing his identity or intentions, and slowly becomes more ingrained in their lives.

The solid acting of the cast overcomes a lot of the shortcomings of the plot and direction. Sam is not written to be a very sympathetic character – he considers keeping the money that he has been charged to deliver and is kind of a jerk– but Pine manages to bring likability and vulnerability to the role. Pine has real chemistry with his co-stars which is essential as much of the story hinges on his developing relationship with Frankie and Josh. Banks gets to flex some of her more dramatic acting muscles as the damaged and struggling Frankie. Frankie has had a tough life and is very reluctant to let anyone in and Banks is able to balance that with the moments when Frankie’s humor is allowed to shine through. Newcomer Michael Hall D’Addario does a fine job as Frankie’s smart but troubled son and manages to give a performance that allows him to deliver some nice one liners without his entire portrayal becoming too cutesy. He and Banks have some nice scenes together. Pfeiffer isn’t given a lot to do, but delivers when called upon in a few emotional scenes in the film. Olivia Wilde is pretty much wasted as Sam’s frustrated girlfriend as is Mark Duplass (The League) in a minor, minor role as Frankie’s neighbor.

The actors definitely make more out of the script that they were given than should be expected; the story line is way too sudsy and overdone. The film would have benefitted from a more focused approach that was simpler and not so saccharine sweet. The plot was a little too contrived for my liking; Sam, inexplicably, continually refuses to tell Frankie who he is and why he is there to the point of utter frustration for the audience. The slightly intoxicated gentleman next to me kept saying “just tell her” throughout the latter part of the film. The longer he withholds this information, the less believable the whole thing becomes. The impending FTC investigation hangs over the proceedings, when it could have easily be partially resolved if Sam would simply answer his phone. There is enough drama to be derived from the central premise to sustain the movie, but the writer apparently comes from the school of thought that “more is more.” There was also some inconsistency in the characterization of Sam’s deceased father, who we never meet on screen. Our only knowledge of him comes from what others have to say about him and I was perfectly OK with the idea that he was a jerk and not very good to the people around him; Pfeiffer tells a story about him that makes him seem particularly cruel and unfeeling. But then the filmmakers couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to try and explain his actions and soften him a bit, which just didn’t feel earned nor did it match what the audience has been lead to believe. I get that people are complicated and nuanced, but this just felt too artificial. And the ending is so sweet that I may have developed diabetes after watching it.

I do think that People Like Us is worth a view and it does provide a nice escape from the bigger budget and louder films that currently dominate the landscape. The actors elevate the film and their performances compensate for the areas where the plot is lacking. For its faults, it is still a nice little film that might have been improved in the hands of a more seasoned writer and director. I can’t say I’d plunk down $10 to have seen this, but I’m glad I took a chance on it even if it wasn’t totally satisfying.

People Like Us opens nationwide on Friday June 29th.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Heather’s Tired Edition

I’m exhausted today and feeling a little under the weather, so it seemed like a good time to round up some of the pop culture odds and ends that I’ve been squirreling away the last two weeks. Enjoy!

  • There is absolutely no way that I am NOT going to see this movie. Liam Neeson is the man:

 

  • From When Harry Met Sally:

Harry: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.

Sally: Which one am I?

Harry: You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.

Sadly, that last line has been used to describe me. Rest in Peace, Nora Ephron. You wrote some great lines (though your movie Heatburn was pretty terrible) and you helped make Meg Ryan a star.

  • Mother Jones put together some funny political attack ads for the characters on Game of Thrones.

 

  • I read a really interesting graphic novel this week called Hit by Pitch, which tells the story of the only person to die during a baseball game after being hit in the head by a pitch as well as profiling the two men whose names are forever linked because of the incident (Ray Chapman and Carl Hays). I learned a lot from the book, as I was only vaguely aware of this sad moment from baseball history. And yes – it was a Yankees player that threw the fatal pitch.
  • What happens during a rain delay for the Charleston River Dogs minor league baseball team and one of their owners (aka Bill Murray) is in attendance?

 

  • This is the greatest lawsuit ever (and the second one of its kind filed in West Virginia), involving Kim Kardashian, Kris Humphries, Charlie Sheen and barn yard animals. One word for you – meth.
  • Someone took the time to organize the Stephen King universe into a flow chart. Impresive!
  • More people with a lot of time on their hands – check out this recreation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night using dominoes:

 

  • Louis CK continues to be awesome – for his latest stand up tour, he’s selling tickets directly to fans. No processing fees, no sales tax; all seats are $45. Resell the ticket for more than that and the ticket will be voided. Unfortunately he doesn’t look to be coming to my area so I don’t think I’ll see him this go round, but I love how he is changing how business is done. Don’t forget to tune into his FX show Louie this Thursday at 10:30 ET. You won’t be disappointed (or maybe you will, but that’s your problem).
  • Two of my favorite musicians playing together on one of my favorite songs? My head just blew up.

 

  • Happy 40th Anniversary to the Atari! Believe it or not, the console from my childhood still works, though I think my brother is currently in possession of it. Might be time to pay him a visit and play a few rounds of Space Invaders.