Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Magic Mike


I usually start my reviews for Steven Soderbergh films on the defensive. I slowly back into my praise by issuing a handful of disclaimers about how taken I am with Soderbergh’s command of the cinematic medium. How, even if you don’t like what he’s doing, it is simply impossible to deny that he knows exactly what he’s doing. The way he uses color as a storytelling device, his penchant for digital technology, his seemingly effortless and equal skill behind the camera and the editing bay, and so on.  

Technically, I consider Steven Soderbergh’s films to be flawless. There’s a scene very early in his new excellent film, Magic Mike in which the camera is placed in the back of a pickup truck. There’s nothing going on, just the camera tracking the gorgeous Tampa landscape, but suddenly, the camera pivots and shows us the view from the other side of the truck.

That’s it.

It’s a simple, quick pan that serves no other purpose than to establish the city the film will be set in. But, to me, shots like that are complete bliss. Because Soderbergh operates his own camera, I can just see him standing in the back of that moving truck. Maybe an assistant director asked him why he felt the need to pivot the camera so rapidly. “I dunno,” Soderbergh might’ve murmured. “Because it looks cool.”
So, yeah, I love everything there is to love about the films of Steven Soderbergh. And when it was announced that his next film was going to be a character study about a male stripper, I didn’t bulk in the slightest. Moody high class escort, lonely doll factory worker, legendary guerilla warfare fighter, sweet hearted male stripper – if it’s got Soderbergh’s name on it, I’m there.

In Magic Mike, Channing Tatum stars as a 30-year-old man about town living for night in Tampa. He wakes late, often with a naked girl(s) next to him, works a day job, pre games at a hot club, then strips his life away in front of dozens of eager women. He finishes his act, drinks definitely, does drugs maybe, picks up a girl, takes her home, wakes up, repeats.

And that’s about that. There is a slight shred of a plot including Mike taking Adam (Alex Pettyfer, boasting perfect swagger) under his wing and showing him the ropes. During this, Mike eventually falls for Adam’s older sister, Brooke (Cody Horn, a natural), even though he plans to soon move to Miami with his boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, sensational), and the rest of their stripping crew.  But that’s not really the movie. At its heart, Magic Mike is about a loyal, carefree, kind man who makes a living the best way he knows how. There’s little conflict, moderate drama, and by the end, you may ask yourself what was the point of it all.
My answer: to explore a part of the world we rarely (if ever) see explored. That’s the beauty of a well-executed character study – we focus on the man. And, if done well, as I believe Magic Mike is, we may find ourselves completely taken with a subject we never saw coming.

I’m not quite sure what there is to like about Channing Tatum. He seems like a nice enough guy, but I have yet to see his acting skills live up to his A-list status. That was, until this January, when he completely blew me away with a restrained, focused performance in Soderbergh’s Haywire. And now, after his game-changing work in Magic Mike, I’m curious to see Tatum’s career evolve. There’s a scene in the film in which Mike and Brooke engage in a long, heated argument, most of which Mike stutters and slips and stammers through. Basically, he talks how people talk in real life during a similar situation. When was the last time you saw that in a movie?

You may take what I’m saying as the makings of a boring film. Fair enough. Magic Mike isn’t for everyone, no Soderbergh film is. Point in fact, the theater I saw this film in was packed with women of all ages, very few of who seemed pleased as they left the theater. Magic Mike isn’t a chick flick, nor is it a Boys Gone Wild romp. It’s an endearing character study that ranks among the best films released so far this year. It is, for me, completely unmissable. A-

27 comments:

  1. Can you find a clip of that pan you describe?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm I doubt I kind find that clip from Magic Mike, but it is a very Soderberghian shot. Let me try to find it from another one of his flicks.

      Delete
  2. I know a lot of friends of mine, who are teenage girls, went to see this film because of Channing Tatum and the concept of "male stripping".

    From your words "unmissable" ... I will see it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder if your friends were as disappointed as the women that were in my theater. There is male stripping in it, sure, but no full frontal nudity or anything like that. It isn't gratuitous at all. Seriously, quite a fine film.

      Really curious to read your take on it.

      Delete
  3. Great review! I really need to see this one, didn't even know McCoonaghuey was in it, so glad to see him take on some of the roles that are different from what he has been doing lately.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dude, old boy McConaughey is fucking remarkable in this. Easily his best role since Frailty (or A Time to Kill). In Magic Mike, he is funny, endearing, terrifying and completely lost. With this, Killer Joe, and Mud, he's going to have a hell of a year.

      Delete
  4. I'm actually quite excited to see this one, even though "Steven Soderbergh's male stripper movie" didn't really have me sold from the beginning. And no, I don't want to see it because it has lots of topless men in it. In fact, that's the last reason why I want to see it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Then that's good, because that's the last reason you SHOULD see it! It really is nothing like what the trailer shows. Far more intelligent than people may initially think.

      Delete
  5. wow, a character study! maybe i'll check this out then

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great job. As I said in my review it seemed like more men were pleasantly surprised (in a good way) about the film while the women seemed disappointed. They wanted 2 hours worth of dancing and gyrating with no plot (And they didn't get that.) And as a Soderbergh fan I also live by the "if it’s got Soderbergh’s name on it, I’m there" creed. I was loving the camera work in this film (the back of the pickup truck shot was my favorite. So simple, but says a lot.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! Seems like we definitely "got it," which is awesome. I mean, I was laughing out loud at all the audible groans from the many women in my theater. Bunch of little hornballs, right there.

      Soderbergh is the man!

      Delete
  7. Hi! Great site! I'm trying to find an email address to contact you on to ask if you would please consider adding a link to my website. I'd really appreciate if you could email me back.

    Thanks and have a great day!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'll read this review after I've seen it but I'm glad you liked it man! We have to wait another 3 weeks in Australia which is a shame.

    Alex.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool man. I loved everything about it, thought it rocked. Hope you dig it!

      Delete
  9. Thanks for this terrific review. I love thoughtful character studies in both books and film. I'm glad I read your article before seeing Magic Mike, which is definitely on my list. Now I'll have some ideas about what to be looking for in terms of cinematography. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank YOU for reading and leaving such a generous comment. Soderbergh has shot all of his movies since Traffic, and I just love what he does with a movie camera. His films have such depth and composition - they are just fantastic looking. And, usually, fantastic in general. Hope you enjoy this one!

      Delete
  10. I loved this movie. Matthew M's performance is Oscar worthy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wasn't that scene when he told Channing off just remarkable? I'd volly for a McConaughey Oscar nom.

      Delete
  11. Good review, I enjoyed this movie a lot as well. Might be the best so far this year like you said.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice! Love hearing that. Seriously underrated flick right here.

      Delete
  12. Only released in Australia this week and, as ever, Soderbergh gives us an entertaining watch. I'm not sure he'll ever do better than Out of Sight, which is in my all time top ten, but this is a worthy addition to his catalogue.

    Apart from his looks and build, Tatum has used an easy charm in his early career to get main roles, and it's reasonable to expect him to improve with each outing, coming off such a low base as he is. Enjoyed his work here, and Cody Horn was eminently believable in arguably the key role of the entire film.

    If anything, I felt that there was a better movie to be expanded upon in the relationship between Tatum and Horn, and the drug subplot with Pettyfer felt rushed and forced. The ingredients were all there, and another 20 minutes may have been warranted for this one.

    McConaughey does good work here, and the studio will push hard for a (worthy) Best Supporting nom, but i've got Caine in front of him at this stage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Cam, thanks so much for the comment here. Seems like you and I dug the flick almost equally. So glad to see some Horn support here. That was not a performance that the majority of people were going to enjoy, but I thought what she did with it was natural and real.

      I agree that the Tatum/Horn dynamic was more interesting than Alex's drug bit, but oh well!

      Out of Sight, shit man, that's a great great film. Traffic is still my favorite Soderbergh though. Either way, truly visionary filmmaker.

      Delete
  13. More than anything, I think the director knows how to work with actors, and really understand the life of strippers. I am a male stripper in perth and it catches the vibe and feel of my environemnt. The director knows how to play with their limitations. Olivia Munn is quite good, and Alex Pettyfer is perfectly cast as an arrogant young know-it-all. If there’s a bad thing about the movie, is that Magic Mike is more of a three star, “really good for what it is” movie, more than a film that transcends its genre to become truly great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, the cast was perfectly fit here - Soderbergh knows his shit indeed. I love that naturalism he strives for, it feel so... real. Really dug Magic Mike.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      Delete
  14. Magic Mike works with a Boogie Nights-esque structure, showcasing a glowing cash-strewn catwalk empire before eventually urinating all over it.

    ReplyDelete