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Magic Mike

I don’t prefer male strippers in real life, but as soon as I saw the commercial for Magic Mike, I said, “I’m in.”  What can I say? I appreciate all things aesthetically pleasing, and there was eye candy in abundance.  Unfortunately my girlfriends did not share my enthusiasm, and I could not get anyone to go see it with me.  I don’t discriminate, and there were at least three actors in this movie that I wanted to see.  That would be Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer), and Alex Pettyfer (Beastly).  Manganiello stole my heart as werewolf Alcide Herveaux on True Blood, Matthew McConaughey has been fine since A Time to Kill, and Alex Pettyfer got my attention in I Am Number Four.  Now Channing Tatum (The Vow) does nothing for me, so he’s not included in that list.  The fact that Steven Soderbergh (most recently of Haywire) directed it also lent an air of credibility to what otherwise seemed like a fluff movie.

Tatum stars as “Magic” Mike, a hard-working guy in Tampa just trying to make ends meet until he can start his own furniture business.  He’s the kind of guy who does a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Construction by day, stripping by night.  When he arrives to work at the construction site one day he meets new guy Adam (Pettyfer), a young kid on his first day at the job.  Mike is affable and experienced, and he immediately takes Adam under his wing.  Later that night Adam runs into Mike outside of his second job, a strip club owned by McCounaghey’s character Dallas, one part cowboy, one part surfer dude.  He both owns and “dances” at the club, and if you thought Matty had fallen off, I’m here to tell you he’s still got it.  I mean you could literally wash clothes on the man’s stomach, but I digress.  Mike introduces Adam to Dallas as “the kid,” and at 19, it fits.  Adam watches Mike perform, mesmerized by the effect he has on the crowd of women tearing at his clothes.  Tatum was actually a Florida stripper before making it big, so I’m guessing this was just like old times.  Later when Dallas needs to fill dead air and none of the other guys can go on stage, The Kid is thrust into the spotlight.  He timidly inches out on the stage while the women cheer him on.  He lacks the polish and finesse of the others, but he gets a warm reception and a star is born.  Soon Adam is living a wild new lifestyle, much to the dismay of his protective older sister (Cody Horn) Brooke, with whom he lives.  Complicating things for Mike are the developing feelings he has for Brooke, and a promise that he makes to look out for her little brother – who is dangerously out of his league in the fast lane.

Magic Mike was an odd movie, to me.  Let’s start with what worked.  First of all, it was funny in a cheesy, tongue-in-cheek sort of way.  Matthew McConaughey clearly relished every moment on screen in all his bare-chested glory.  I don’t think Channing Tatum is the best actor in the world, but there is something charming and accessible about him.  His experience was obvious, as he was the only one who could really dance.  Yep, this is the guy from the corny ass Step Up movie folks.  The women in my theater were practically in heat when he and Alex Pettyfer were on screen, audibly yelping and giggling like teenagers.  Despite the eye candy, Magic Mike wasn’t perfect.  The idea of a male strip club is a little far-fetched.  Most male strippers are patronized by gay men.  The idea of a packed house full of clamoring women isn’t very realistic.  And I always say that the way you begin and end a movie are extremely key in the audience’s perception of what they’ve digested.  Magic Mike ended so abruptly that everyone was kind of like, “that’s it?”  The resolution felt rushed, and then boom – roll credits.  I thought that it could have been a little better (it was really corny sometimes), but it managed to live up to the limited expectations I had for it.  I think you either want to see this movie or you don’t, and a word from me won’t really matter.  That’s why I couldn’t convince any of my friends to go with me.  But if you don’t have enough singles for the strip club, maybe you can treat yourself to a Magic Mike movie matinee.  Say that three times fast.  Grade: B.



The Ides of March

“Beware the ides of March…”  I’ve always liked the Shakespeare quote from Caesar, an ominous warning of betrayal.  It’s appropriate that the George Clooney (The American) directed Ides of March is named for the quote, as the movie is similarly characterized by the betrayal and cold ambition found in Shakespeare’s play.

Ryan Gosling (Drive), Philip Seymour Hoffman (currently in Moneyball), Marisa Tomei (The Lincoln Lawyer), and Paul Giamatti (most recently of The Hangover II) comprise a highly-acclaimed cast that is the best collection of actors I’ve seen in a while.  Clooney is Democratic governor Mike Morris, an ambitious contender for the White House, especially if he can win the Ohio primary that looms ahead.  An integral part of Morris’ campaign is his campaign manager and aide, Stephen Meyers (Gosling).  Meyers is a sharp young gun with political savvy beyond his years.  He is calculating and shrewd, and will tell you that he’s done more at his age than most of his older counterparts.  However, it is Meyers’ strong ego that leaves him susceptible to overtures from the opposition.  Morris’ opponent is a more seasoned Democrat, a representative of the status quo, while Morris (much like President Obama) has been anointed as the symbol of hope and change.   Stephen has truly bought into Morris’ image and thinks he is backing a winner.  As he tells another character, he is “drinking the kool-aid.”  The campaign is moving in the right direction until Stephen gets a call from Tom Duffy, campaign manager for Morris’ opponent.  Duffy tells Stephen that he’d like him to switch sides and that he should attach himself to a winner and look at the big picture.  Stephen ultimately declines, but let the whole thing linger on longer than it should have.  Instead of maintaining an impenetrable silence, he allowed for the possibility of uncertainty and cast Morris in a vulnerable light at a critical hour of the campaign.

While managing the campaign, Stephen crosses paths with a young volunteer named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood, True Blood) whose father happens to be the head of the Democratic National Convention.  They begin an intimate relationship that leads Stephen to discover that he and the governor share more than a similar ideology.  Meanwhile, Stephen tells Morris’ senior campaign manager Paul (Hoffman) about his exchange with Tom Duffy.  His admission is met with an impassioned diatribe on the virtue of loyalty, after which he is quickly dismissed from the campaign.  At first blush it seems that Stephen will be a victim of his own ego, but he still has an ace up his sleeve with Molly – who is carrying a secret that could derail the entire campaign.  It’s ironic that while Paul was reminding Stephen of the importance of loyalty, he had no idea that Stephen had been displaying great loyalty to the governor by cleaning his dirty laundry even while his own position within the campaign grew more and more tenuous.

After Stephen is fired he behaves vengefully and emotionally, almost validating the overture.  But you don’t get to where Stephen has gotten without having a fighter’s mentality.  He goes into survival mode and begins to play the game from within, angling to revive his role in the campaign and to leverage what info he has against the man he once believed in.

Ides of March was a pretty good political drama.  I’ve seen better, but it was a solid movie and an impressive directorial effort from Clooney.  I really feel that he captured the idealistic buzz that hums in a Democratic campaign, the enthusiasm and liberalism.  I chuckled at the Shepard Fairey-inspired prints modeled after Obama’s iconic ‘Hope’ poster, but otherwise I thought the campaign depiction was realistic.  Ryan Gosling continues to prove that he’s one of the best young actors around.  He is earnest and real in everything I’ve ever seen him in, and I am always endeared to his characters, whether he’s a criminal in Drive, a drug addict in Half Nelson, or a lovesick suitor in The Notebook.  Clooney was effective as the duplicitous Morris and of course it’s no difficult task for him to be the charming candidate.  The supporting cast was very good, and I should mention that Jeffrey Wright (Source Code, Cadillac Records) also made an appearance.  Another great actor in a pretty good movie.  I didn’t like the very last scene of the movie, but I enjoyed it overall. 8 out 10.

Straw Dogs *spoiler alert*

I looked forward to Straw Dogs for a few reasons.  First off, it looks like my kind of movie: dark, unsettling, and potentially delving into some real human emotion and touching on some  intriguing psychological themes.  Secondly, it features a nice piece of man candy in Alexander Skarsgard, better known as vampire Eric Northman on HBO’s True Blood.  I like Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) and James Marsden (X-Men: The Last Stand) too.  So it stands to reason I would have enjoyed Straw Dogs, a remake of the 1971 thriller of the same name which featured Dustin Hoffman.  Well, I didn’t dislike it but I can’t say I really enjoyed it either.

David and Amy Summer have relocated temporarily to Amy’s hometown in Mississippi for a reprieve from Hollywood.  David is a screenwriter and Amy is a modest television star.  Her father has recently died and they need to settle some things with his home.  At the local bar they meet Amy’s old high school flame Charlie, a tall handsome former football star that time has forgotten.  He and his cronies remember Amy well, and they haven’t changed much.  David is clearly out of his element, surrounded by hyper-masculine drunken good old boys who admire his Jaguar and wonder why his shoes have no laces.  Amy is every bit as lovely as she was in high school, and her fancy Hollywood lifestyle and husband stand in stark contrast to her humble beginnings.  It’s almost as if her selection of David as a mate is a rejection of Charlie and his way of life.  It sounds like a bit of a stretch, but Charlie makes it clear that he still has a thing for Amy.  His lascivious stare and inappropriate gestures are obvious, though David does nothing to discourage it.  In fact, he hires Charlie and his gang to patch up the roof of the barn next to their remote property.  His reasoning is that Charlie is an old friend of Amy’s, so why not give him some work.  This proves to be a decision that has devastating consequences.

Tensions rise out at the house, as Charlie and company start working.  They are already drooling over Amy, lamenting missed opportunity with her while inwardly snickering at her choice of man.  There is no excuse for their leering, but she doesn’t help matters by jogging around in barely-there shorts without a bra.  She complains to David, who tells her to dress more appropriately.  This scene is a bit of foreshadowing David’s inability to protect and defend his wife.  When the family cat is found hanging by its neck in the closet, Amy demands that David take action.  He seems reluctant to point the finger at Charlie and his gang, though it’s unlikely that anyone else could be responsible. Instead of confronting the men, David seems as if he is still looking for acceptance from them.  Instead of proving his manhood by sticking up for his wife and making her feel safe; he seeks to prove it by showing this group of goons that he’s one of them.  When they invite him to go hunting, he accepts.  Unbeknownst to David, the hunting excursion is really a ruse to get David to leave Amy unattended at the house.  While David roams about in the woods, Charlie and another crony invade the Sumner home and victimize his wife.  These are men that went to high school with Amy, they are not strangers.  They view her as an unattainable object, one that has transcended their current station in life.  I think it is just as much about David as it is Amy.  They don’t view him as a man.  They don’t respect his relationship with his wife and they question his ability to protect her.  Violating Amy is a twisted assertion of their manhood, and a cruel thing to witness.  Even more unsettling than Amy’s rape was the aftermath.  Amy doesn’t tell him what has happened, and he has no idea that his wife was violated by the same men he has refused to confront.  Now that David was duped into hunting and embarrassed, he is ready to fire Charlie and his men.  Amy calls him a coward, and we as viewers know why.  She can’t expect him to know intuitively that she was raped, but he’s done nothing to inspire confidence up until this point.

When David fires Charlie the next day, the stage is set for everything to come to a violent head.  When the local town hothead (James Woods) and former high school football coach comes looking for his daughter’s mentally-challenged would-be boyfriend on the Sumner property – things turn nasty when David refuses to give him up.   This was the final act of the movie, the big payoff.  I enjoyed seeing Charlie and his fellow brutes get their comeuppance, but the final scene did not undo my previous frustration.  Why is David more protective of a stranger he barely knows than he was of his own wife?  Straw Dogs had the potential, but something fell short.  I do think it captured the almost imperceptible delineation between football and religion in the South, and the simplistic but happy way of life found beyond the bustling metropolis.  Something was missing though. Perhaps the original is more rewarding.  I think I’ll cue up the Netflix…