You might not expect much from a movie about male strippers, but with a director like Steven Soderbergh at the helm you never know what to expect.
By David Feltman
“I’m not my goddamned job.”
Soderbergh has developed a reputation as a genre chameleon, making films like ‘Ocean’s 11’ and ‘Schizopolis’ in equal measure. The only thing that ever remains consistent is a fascination with fringe economies and the ways people lie to each other. In ‘Magic Mike’ we are treated to plenty of both of these Soderberghian elements.
Channing Tatum stars as the titular Mike, a self-described entrepreneur who strips and works construction jobs while dreaming of starting his own custom furniture business. Tatum is so economically minded that he won’t even remove the protective plastic wrap from his truck’s dashboard for fear of depreciating its value. It’s Tatum’s unceasing hustle that leads him to the perennial fuck-up, The Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer. Pettyfer, having blown a football scholarship and freshly fired from his construction job, finds himself aimless and sleeping on his sister’s couch when he runs into Tatum outside of a club. Pettyfer isn’t much more than a pretty face, but Tatum instantly puts that face to work pressing strip club fliers into the hands of college girls. Pettyfer is quickly taken under Tatum’s wing at the strip club and Pettyfer’s immaturity leads both men into a downward spiral.
Every scene that doesn’t include a bare ass does include a conversation about making money. Everyone in the film is obsessed with getting rich by making investments, selling drugs, building a male stripper empire, making custom furniture, etc. Soderbergh delves gleefully into the minutia of the stripper economy and how it generates fantasies and lies: between co-workers, lovers, family, customers and, most importantly, between performers and audiences. Tatum completely commits himself to fulfilling the fantasies of others all in service of reaching his own dream. But when his dream finally falls apart he has nothing but artifice to cling to.
Tatum has never been accused of being a good actor, but Soderbergh wisely employs him here in a role that doesn’t really require him to act. Tatum, himself a former stripper, is completely at ease and a natural dancer on stage. Matthew McConaughey plays the club owner, but really only ever plays himself, going so far as to play bongos and dropping his signature “Alright, alright, alright.” These small touches are Soderbergh’s way of winking at the audience and offering a small dose of reality underneath the fiction.
Despite all of the overt drama, ‘Magic Mike’ is often funny and thoroughly enjoyable. Soderbergh’s use of the RED digital camera is fluid and clever, particularly in a very deftly handled cock pump scene. And despite there being a cock pump scene, the movie is never gratuitous with nudity. However, the theater-fulls of red-faced women coming out of this movie are a testament to this film’s bottom line effectiveness. The sudden popularity of films like ‘Magic Mike’ and books like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ may be signaling a new, more aggressive wave of feminine sexuality in pop culture. If that’s the case, at least it’s generating a higher quality of exploitation film than, say, ‘Showgirls.’
By David Feltman
“Are you willing to pay the price your freedom would cost?”
Surprisingly, the new Disney/Pixar film, ‘Brave,’ offers up just as many bare man asses as ‘Magic Mike’ and an even stronger, definitely more positive, feminist message.
Mixing the classic Disney components of fantasy, magic and princesses, Pixar takes a fresh approach to an old recipe. ‘Brave’ follows Princess Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, on the eve of her betrothal. Three suitors come to participate in an archery contest that will decide who will become her prince. But in a Disney first, this is a princess that doesn’t need a prince charming. In the tradition of Katniss Everdeen, Merida takes up a bow and competes for the right to her own hand, quickly shaming her suitors.
Despite all of its heavy-handed pontification on “changing your fate,” ‘Brave’ is a touching story about a mother and daughter learning to listen and communicate with each other as well as how to reconcile independence with maturity. Merida recklessly solicits a spell from a witch that is supposed to change her mother’s mind about Merida’s impending marriage, but instead transforms her mother, Emma Thompson, into a bear. And, as it would happen, her father, Bill Connolly, really likes to kill bears. The resulting adventure to undo the spell demands mother and daughter to deal with their differences and literally mend their relationship.
‘Brave’ serves as an interesting study in gender roles. Merida, as wild as her shock of red hair, may be more comfortable with a sword or a bow, but also finds herself heroically sowing on horseback to save her mother. As silly as that may sound on paper, it’s an act that feels completely natural within the context of the film and shrewdly eschews the lines between boy stuff and girl stuff. Just to add a little feminist bow on top, it’s the women that topple the antagonist at the end.
The supporting cast is surprisingly sparse for a Disney/Pixar joint, as the film devotes itself almost entirely to mother and daughter. As if to serve as a counterpoint, the film’s setting feels immense in size. Soaring shots of plains and mountains subtly enhanced with the aid of 3D and pristinely textured CG makes for a gorgeous looking movie. The comedy is mostly downplayed and relegated to bodily functions and a constant baring of bottoms. While the gags are a little crass at times, ‘Brave’ is a layered and compelling movie that effortlessly blends complex gender issues with boogers and butts.