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.

Men in Black 3 review

Though the biggest movie of the year has probably already opened with The Avengers, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kickoff of summer movie season. The model has clearly changed as the offerings this weekend are on the lackluster side, with Men in Black 3 being the flashiest of the bunch. While it won’t break any box office records or probably win any awards, Men in Black 3 is a fine, if not ultimately pretty forgettable, film. If you are a fan of the earlier movies in the franchise, then this will be right up your alley.

It’s debatable if this film is even really necessary; it’s been ten years since the Men in Black 2 debuted and I don’t really remember there ever being a groundswell of support for another film, perhaps because the second film wasn’t all that good. Clearly everyone involved felt like there was still some money to be made from this venture. Maybe Will Smith is having some money problems or wanted to resurrect his film career.

Men in Black 3 finds Agents J (Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) still working together and maintaining their uneasy friendship while they keep an eye on the aliens that walk among us on Earth. The trouble starts when alien Boris the Animal (the unrecognizable Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Concords) escapes his lunar prison with revenge on his mind. Boris plans to go back in time to kill Agent K, the man who arrested him and cost him one of his arms. By eliminating K, Boris can also undo the chain of events that protected the planet Earth from his alien race’s invasion and prevent their ultimate extinction. J has to go back to 1969 to prevent Boris from being successful and to save his partner and Earth from peril.

I felt a little ridiculous even typing all that.

While the whole time travel thing has been done before in plenty of other films, it was a nice way to reinvigorate the movie and freshen up the franchise. I don’t know how much mileage they could have gotten out of more of the same of Smith and Jones chasing aliens and Jones being cantankerous. With time travel, they get some new blood with the introduction of Josh Brolin as 1969 version of Agent K. Brolin’s inclusion in the film is what made me interested; I think he generally does good work (he was a GOONIE, for goodness sake) and I was interested to see how he would pull off what was basically a Tommy Lee Jones impersonation. Brolin does a fine job and I think captures Jones pretty well; he is definitely one of the best things about the film. Without his inclusion, this movie would have been a rehash of the previous two movies. Smith is at his affable best; he definitely has on screen presence and delivers during the film’s one emotional scene. I’ve kind of grown tired of him mugging his way through these kinds of films and wish he would return to more serious roles; I thought he was quite good in Ali and would like to see him do more of that type of work. Clement was a fun bad guy, though I spent half the movie trying to figure out who the actor was behind Boris due to the makeup and special effects. I knew I knew the voice, but I just couldn’t place it until I looked it up on IMDB.

Also distracting was trying to determine if Howard Stern had a cameo in the movie. It sure looked like him during the film, but this screen grab makes me think that it was his impersonator. You decide.

Stern or not?

I do appreciate that the movie did acknowledge, however briefly, that as a man of color, 1969 might not be the most desirable destination for Agent J. They don’t dwell on it – Men in Black is not the right vehicle for social commentary – but I’m glad that they didn’t gloss over it either. A few jokes were made and then they moved on, which I thought was just right.

The special effects of the alien creatures that they encounter deserves special recognition as I thought that they were quite impressive and creative. While the aliens tend toward the cartoony side of the spectrum, they are very well done and show a lot of ingenuity. The woman sitting behind me at the screening apparently was impressed as well, as she insisted on saying “Oh my God” every time a new creature made its appearance. Believe me – it got tiresome.

Even with the addition of Brolin and the likability of Smith, the film just didn’t hold my attention throughout. I’ve never been a huge MIB fan; in fact, I couldn’t even remember if I had seen the second movie (spoiler: I had). The movie isn’t bad, but it is a little too inconsequential for my tastes. There were a few funny moments, but I found the rest of the plot pretty predictable and by the numbers. I don’t know if they thought that the reveal at the end was going to be a surprise, but I saw where they were going to end up in the first act. There was still some sweetness and nice moments, but this is probably not a movie that I would have chosen to go to if a) it wasn’t free and b) I didn’t write a pop culture blog. Older kids might get a kick out of the film – little ones might be a little frightened by some of the aliens – but I think adults will generally find this kind of meh. Like I said out the outset, I’m not sure that this was a movie that really needed to be made. But it is harmless and certainly not a terrible way to spend an hour and 45 minutes. It just wouldn’t be my first choice.

Men in Black 3 generally works as a standalone movie; a basic knowledge of what the Men in Black do might be helpful, but it is pretty easy to figure out the gist of it from the context of this film. So if you’ve never seen the previous films and are curious about this one, I don’t think you’ll be at any disadvantage. This isn’t Lost.

The one thing that I appreciate the most about Men in Black 3 has nothing to do with the movie itself, but with one of its tie-ins with Dunkin Donuts. I’m a big fan of the iced Black Mocha Cream coffee that is being sold in promotion of the movie. It’s fantastic and I could drink it every morning. If this movie had to be made for me to get that drink, it was worth it.

Men in Black 3 is a perfectly ok film and is a definite improvement over the previous film in the trilogy. But it isn’t a must see and it is fairly disposable; this is not a movie you’ll be talking about after you see it. If you have enjoyed the series in the past, you’ll like this. If your kids drag you to it, it isn’t torture. But you can probably find better ways to spend your time at the cinema.

Men in Black 3 opens nationwide today.