First thing's first: Magic Mike delivers on the eye candy. Club Xquisite the wildest male strip club in Tampa sports an ensemble of muscled men ready to flash their ridiculous moves in even more ridiculous dance numbers (this crew has never seen a pair of assless pants they didn't like). Bringing a few dollar bills to the movie is recommended — Magic Mike is shot up close and personal enough that flailing them about will come naturally.
But between the codpieces air humping and penis pumps Magic Mike tells a surprisingly relatable funny and poignant parable centered on a character all too familiar to anyone with an ounce of ambition. Mike (Channing Tatum) leads a triple life: By day he's a roof tiler; by night an exotic dancer; and in his dreams he's a furniture craftsman and entrepreneur. When Mike first crosses paths with Adam (Alex Pettyfer) his worries about the future are dispelled slipping right into mentor mode to show the 19-year-old the wonders of sex drugs and rock and roll. Adam's broke and without direction — the perfect state of being for a stripper-in-the-making. Mike's sales pitch is irresistible and when Adam unwillingly takes the stage for the first time he feels the rush of a dozen woman screaming groping and stuffing singles down his jock strap. There's no question: A stripper's life is a journey worth embarking on.
In his typical fashion director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic Erin Brockovich) defies conventions sticking with Mike's ups and downs rather than transforming Magic Mike into a Goodfellas-esque "newbie in over his head" story. Between playing protector to the mesmerized Adam and attempting to strike up an actual relationship with Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn) Mike finds himself for the first time looking inward. Does a job define a man? He's convinced it doesn't but as Adam loses himself to the profession becoming the Xquisite's cutthroat owner Dallas' (the wonderfully slimy Matthew McConaughey) right-hand man and parlaying the gig into more dangerous ventures Mike realizes breakdancing in thongs may be more poisonous to his dreams than he ever realized.
Exploitation Magic Mike is not. The film's dance sequences are sexy and sleek but only to clue the audience into the job's allure. Backstage is equally important; Soderbergh does an amazing job constructing the boy's club atmosphere that keeps Mike and Adam coming back. Lively characters like Ken (Matt Bomer) and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) say little but speak volumes in the background of every scene. They're palling around and when they finally do reach out to Adam to profess their friendship it makes perfect sense. For a guy without a family the dancers are a perfect replacement.
While the cast is stellar Tatum continues his streak of star-making performances in the role of Mike. Obviously the man can dance — and he blows any memories of Step Up into oblivion. Beyond that he's perfectly in tune with Soderbergh's naturalistic style cool on his feet with the comedy and devastatingly subtle in the drama. His rapport with Horn who is equally striking in her casual approach is sweet and real a constant reminder that even a guy who lap dances in a fireman costume for a living has feelings too. Soderbergh enhances each of his performers with spot on photography: His Tampa is gritty and yellow-tinged the interior of the club a safe haven from the blase nature of reality. Magic Mike carries a full package.
Magic Mike hits all the right notes of comedy and drama that's completely unexpected in the summer blockbuster surroundings. Come for the stripping stay for the high-caliber filmmaking. Magic Mike is one of the year's best.
According to official Haywire lore director Steven Soderbergh chanced upon the woman who would become the star of his breakneck action-thriller one night while watching television. Which isn’t entirely unusual except that Soderbergh wasn’t watching some obscure indie film or BBC miniseries but a bout of women’s mixed martial arts fighting. So impressed was he at the sight of Gina Carano an American Gladiators alum turned cage fighter that he had the Haywire script from The Limey writer Lem Dobbs reworked to accommodate her casting.
In the film a conventional spy-gone-rogue tale made unconventional by its director and star Carano plays Mallory Kane a black-ops freelancer who seeks vengeance against her betrayers upon being double-crossed. Watching her in action it’s easy to see why Soderbergh was so enamored. Carano is a physical marvel: strong and agile a skilled fighter and grappler with the face of a model and the shoulders of a linebacker. Having grown accustomed to waif-like action heroines played unconvincingly by the likes of Beckinsale Jovovich and Jolie it’s refreshing to witness an actress who can deliver a knockout blow – and take one – with some credulity.
And Carano kicks a staggering amount of ass in Haywire. In the film’s many fight scenes Soderbergh prefers wide angles and long takes the better to showcase his star’s talent for violence. There are no shaky-cam close-ups to cheat the action and the sound is almost strictly diegetic lending each of Carano’s brawls (and they are brawls messy and destructive) a brutal verisimilitude.
It’s when the action stops in Haywire that Carano’s deficiencies as an actress become apparent – she’s wooden and flat well beyond the requirements of her coldly efficient character – and so Soderbergh labors conspicuously to ensure it hardly ever does. When Mallory Kane isn’t fighting she’s running a fugitive agent scrambling to find out who engineered her downfall even as threats amass against her. Each lengthy pursuit is stylishly photographed from a variety of exotic angles (my favorite being an extended tracking shot of Carano facing the
camera in the center of the frame as if to say “Jesus would you look at her?”) Hitchcockian chase sequences to cleanse our palate in between the film's bloody skirmishes.
Carano’s dialogue is wisely kept spare her expressions limited exclusively to icy stares and Mona Lisa smiles. Most of the talking is done by her co-stars an impressive lot that includes Ewan McGregor as her boss and former lover Channing Tatum as a fellow freelancer and Michael Fassbender as a British agent with whom she partners on a dubious mission. All three eventually end up in combat with her and it’s hardly a spoiler to say they don’t fare well. Against a figure as formidable as Carano Obi-wan Kenobi G.I. Joe and Magneto don’t stand a chance.
Contagion a sharp thriller from writer/director/cinematographer/editor/do-all Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11 The Informant!) is like an adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel that never was. The movie quickly sets up its pawns in order to engage you in a game of pandemic chess where the terror comes from science and the humanity comes from your own empathy. Instead of relying on a sci-fi backstory outlandish deaths or large-scale set pieces Soderbergh lets the facts do the talking—and it's scary as hell.
Much like his Oscar-winning film Traffic Soderbergh unfolds the story by weaving in and out between a series of character perspectives: Matt Damon's Mitch who loses his wife to a mysterious virus and strives to protect the rest of his family; Laurence Fishburne and Jennifer Ehle members of the Center for Disease Control racing against the clock to find a cure; Kate Winslet's Erin a field agent tracking down the source of the American outbreak; Jude Law's Alan a high-profile blogger searching for the truth behind the disease; and Marion Cotillard's Dr. Orantes another agent hunting for Patient Zero in Hong Kong. While the drama spans globally each characters' quarrels are playing out in a claustrophobic scenario a world in which any person they meet any object they touch can infect them with the life-threatening disease.
Soderbergh doesn't have much time to dive into his characters' backstories but the film's screenwriter Scott Z. Burns carefully constructs each scene to deliver just the right balance of terrifying scientific babble and revealing personal drama. When the virus starts massacring the world population and vandalism riots and societal unrest emerge the thing that makes Contagion click is our interest in the personal stories. Damon as seems to be the case with everything he touches elevates the material being the perfect everyman and our surrogate for the too-plausible-for-comfort scenario. Fishburne too turns what's normally a plot-forwarding government agent role into a man dealing with the weight of his decisions watching citizens of the country drop like flies from his ivory tower. It's heavy stuff but Burns' playful dialogue helps the cast lighten the harrowing mood—only so the movie can pull the carpet from underneath you over and over again.
But in the end Contagion is Soderbergh's show. The director uses every ounce of cinematic artistry to leave us squirming in our seats with a fetishistic approach to shooting the most mundane of objects. The close-up is Soderbergh's weapon of choice honing in on common day objects that we realize are infested with germs (with the effect amplified by a thousand if you catch the movie in IMAX). A door handle a bathroom drier button the human face—Soderbergh lingers as a reminder of his invisible villain: the virus. That's a compliment: the design and photography is striking the purposefully pristine picture quality fills the characters' quest to stay healthy with tension. Composer Cliff Martinez's electronic score compliments the icky scenario germinating over the picture like audible infection. The world of the film is rich with detail. Just the icky kind.
Contagion isn't flawless. With so much going on things fall to the wayside—Cotillard's plotline specifically gets lost in the shuffle—but the reality keeps us engrossed. The movie plays like an oral history of a horrific event with each detail frighteningly exposed. Except in the case of Contagion it's not an event that has happened so much as one that could happen.
And at any moment.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
It’s the fall of 2008 just before the presidential election and Chelsea an upscale call girl is at a crossroads in both her professional and personal life. Though her business is thriving (she not only provides sexual services but the premium “girlfriend experience” as well) she’s looking for more satisfaction. But just as she contemplates expanding her enterprise a conflict arises with her own real-life boyfriend an ambitious personal trainer who likes their nice lifestyle but feels he is not getting as much of the "girlfriend experience" as he should. An encounter with a new out-of-town client provides a turning point that could affect everything.
WHO’S IN IT?
Twenty-one-year-old Sasha Grey is a superstar in the adult film world the star of over 80 porn movies and the recipient of such prestigious industry awards as Best Group Sex Scene Best New Starlet Best Three-Way Scene and Female Performer of the Year. As Chelsea she proves she can actually act — even if her role in The Girlfriend Experience isn’t far from her own persona. In a rare instance of porn crossing over into mainstream she fully embraces the contradictions in this young woman and does it without resorting to any explicit sex scenes. This is a movie where the act is talked about but not really shown. As her real life boyfriend Chris Chris Santos is essentially playing himself and does so effectively in his film debut. Mark Jacobson is the interviewer to whom she tells her story throughout. In a bit of offbeat casting film critic Glenn Kenny plays an erotica connoisseur who promises a nice plug for her on his web site if she gives him free services.
Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh likes to balance his filmmaking between blockbusters along the lines of the Ocean’s franchise and small experimental movies like this 77-minute look into the life of a contemporary call girl. Although his previous efforts in this vein Full Frontal and Bubble have flopped the director hits the bullseye this time with the help of innovative casting and a well-written script by his long-time collaborators Brian Koppelman and David Levien. It also helps that the exotic world they portray here is endlessly fascinating.
Time constraints keep The Girlfriend Experience from really getting under the skin of the character and much of it feels too episodic to be the masterpiece it might have been. It would be interesting to see Soderbergh take this further with a bigger budget and more complex storyline.
He may be just a film critic but as an actor Kenny scores with a dead-on portrayal of a sleazy sex operator looking for a freebie as he offers Chelsea potential new business opportunities in the Middle East: “In Dubai they say the Russian hookers are best but I want to convince them to buy American!”
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Since this has been on cable and satellite “On Demand” services for a month preceding its theatrical run rest assured — it’s probably preferable to watch at home.
Merging Serpico with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy Pride and Glory details an extremely complicated investigation into the gunning down of four New York City cops after an attempted drug bust goes terribly wrong. With increasingly bad PR and an apparent cop killer still at large the Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) assigns his son Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) to lead the probe. The younger Tierney is reluctant since he knows all four cops served under his brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). Ray’s instincts may be right because as he digs deeper he discovers an awkward and uncomfortable connection between Francis Jimmy and the case. Could his own family have been involved in an inside job and tipped off the drug dealers? Soon Ray finds himself having to choose between the greatest moral dilemma of all: loyalty to the job or loyalty to his family. Although Pride and Glory doesn’t break any new ground and is composed of elements we’ve seen in many previous films dealing with police corruption this film is distinguished by some of the finest work in the storied careers of many of its cast. Norton follows up his summer comic-book movie The Incredible Hulk with a far smaller and more focused character in P&G playing a man caught in a moral bind facing the unthinkable prospect of going after his own family members. Norton wears his ticklish predicament on his face and is enormously effective conveying pure angst. Emmerich (Little Children) delivers a rich portrayal of a tortured soul not only caught up in an intense investigation but dealing with a wife (Jennifer Ehle) dying of cancer. Farrell is better than he has been in some time playing a shady officer who seemingly will stop at nothing to get what he needs. Voight as the proud family patriarch and veteran of the NYPD clearly understands the dilemma of this man who is watching his family torn apart. Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor has spent a frustrating couple of years trying to bring this story to the screen but his perseverance pays off. Pride and Glory is a well-written cop tale that co-exists as an interesting character study about the power of family ties vs. personal pride. O’Connor manages to put us right in the center of the moral conflict at the heart of his story and with several first-rate actors (even in the lesser roles) crafts a film that seems authentic to its core. Incorporating Declan Quinn’s in-your-face realistic cinematography O’Connor resists going for a more obvious audience-pleasing flashier style achieving a look and feel that seems more grounded in the milieu he’s trying to capture. His script co-written with Joe Carnahan (who wrote and directed the equally gritty Narc) is tight and unsympathetic slowly letting layers of a very intricate and complex story peel away to reveal a core that packs a punch right to the gut.
Top Story: "Love Doctor" Luther Vandross Suffers Stroke
R&B singer-songwriter Luther Vandross suffered a stroke Wednesday, just days before his 52nd birthday, his label J Records said on Thursday. The singer, who has battled weight and health problems for years, is undergoing medical treatment at an undisclosed hospital. "Vandross is under medical care, and his family and friends are hopeful for a speedy recovery," Carmen Romano, the entertainer's business manager, told Reuters. The five-time Grammy winner became a frequent fixture on the urban music charts, but mainstream success eluded him until 1989, when he enjoyed his first Top 10 pop hit with "Here and Now," from the compilation album, "The Best of Luther Vandross ... The Best of Love. " The song has since become a classic wedding ballad.
Couric and Leno Trade Places for a Day
NBC's Today show co-host Katie Couric and Tonight Show host Jay Leno will switch jobs for a day on May 12, Reuters reports. "People like her, she has an infectious personality, and she's so cute that if she bombs, she can get away with it because she's cute," Leno told Access Hollywood. Leno will interview U.S. officials on the reconstruction of Iraq while Couric will talk to Joan Rivers about the comedian's latest plastic surgery.
"Friends" Stars Design Recliners for Charity
Friends stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer have teamed up with La-Z-Boy to design six unique versions of the popular reclining chair, a spokesman for the company said. The recliners will be auctioned on eBay from May 12- 22, with proceeds going to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Pam Grier's "Wilder" Gets DVD Release
Wilder, a never-released action film starring Pam Grier as a tough single-mom cop, will come out on video on May 13. Produced by Canadian-based Cinequest Films three years ago, the film will be distributed on DVD and VHS by Florida-based firm MTI. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the company has come on strong in the home video market during the past year by digging up little-known pics with popular stars and developing a brand of twisted B-horror films with outrageous plots that border on comedic insanity.
HBO Pulls Oliver Stone's Castro Documentary
HBO has pulled director Oliver Stone's documentary about Cuban President Fidel Castro from its May schedule because of Cuba's recent crackdown on dissidents. "In light of recent events, we felt unless Oliver Stone can return to Cuba and interview Castro...it was somewhat dated and incomplete," an HBO spokeswoman told Reuters Thursday. Comandante was made in February 2002 with Stone and his crew taping some 30 hours of conversations with Castro over a three-day period.
Dr. Robert Atkins Dies
Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who endured decades of criticism over his low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, died Thursday at the New York Weill-Cornell Medical Center after suffering a severe head injury during a fall, The Associated Press reports. He was 72. Atkins' book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, was dismissed as nutritional folly by the American Medical Association when it was first published in 1972, but his approach was finally vindicated earlier this year when a half-dozen studies showed people on the Atkins diet lost weight without compromising their health.
Detroit Preps for Hip-Hop Summit
Eminem and hip-hop veterans Rev. Run (Run D.M.C.) and Doug E. Fresh are among those who will take part in the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network's (HSAN) April 26 Detroit summit, Billboard.com reports. The event, which will take place at the city's 13,000-capacity Cobo Hall, will focus on youth empowerment and will operate under the theme "Remix: Rebuilding, Refocusing, Reinvesting, Resurgence." Tickets, which are free of charge, are available on a first come, first served basis.
Role Call: Willis Forgets Amnesia Pic
Bruce Willis has dropped out of the amnesia thriller Me Again two months before it was set to shoot. According to Variety, producer-distributor Intermedia, which recently laid off employees and slashed production deals, could no longer afford Willis' $25 million price tag and the actor did not want to renegotiate his salary. Willis was also due to collect nearly $5 million more for the producing efforts of his partner in Cheyenne Enterprises, Arnold Rifkin, and his brother, producer David Willis. Diane Lane remains in the pic's female lead.
Beatles child Stella McCartney may have been named Designer of the Year at this year's VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, but it was her father who stole the show. Paul McCartney surprised his daughter at the fashion awards on Friday night, presenting her with the designer award for her work at Chloe. The former Beatles singer received a standing ovation from the audience.
Also bringing the high-fashion audience to its feet at the Theater at Madison Square Garden was Godfather of Soul James Brown, who joined singer Lenny Kravitz on stage to perform "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag."
Supermodel Giselle Bundchen (reportedly Leonardo DiCaprio's main squeeze) and Cuba Gooding Jr. served as co-hosts for the annual fashion awards show.
The in fashion at this year's show, broadcast on VH1, was leather.
Gooding Jr. donned white leather pants; Most Fashionable Artist, Male, winner Enrique Iglesias sported a brown leather jacket; and Jennifer Love Hewitt wore a tailored white leather pants suit.
Also popular this year: A no-tie look for presenters Dylan McDermott and Christian Slater; pants suits for Chloe Sevigny (Best Female Celebrity Style) and Macy Gray (Most Fashionable Artist, Female); and beads for "Law & Order's" Angie Harmon and Versace Award winner Jennifer Lopez.
The winners at the 2000 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards:
Celebrity Style, Female: Chloe Sevigny Celebrity Style, Male: Jude Law Most Fashionable Artist, Male: Enrique Iglesias Most Fashionable Artist, Female: Macy Gray Avant Garde Designer: Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga Model of the Year: Carmen Kass Designer of the Year: Stella McCartney Most Stylish Video: "Ex-Girlfriend" by No Doubt Visionary Video: "Stand Inside Your Love" by Smashing Pumpkins Versace Award: Jennifer Lopez
The Associated Press contributed to this report.