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.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Then again Ratatouille does come from Brad Bird the creator of The Incredibles so you know you are in for something good. Meet Remy (Patton Oswalt) a rat who dares to dream the impossible dream of becoming a gourmet chef. All his life Remy has had a gifted sense of smell. While his family rummages through the garbage for scraps Remy only goes for the good stuff stealing directly from the kitchen. For instance a piece of brie combined with a fresh berry is just heaven for Remy. Then circumstances literally drop Remy into the Parisian restaurant of his dreams Gusteau’s where he soon discovers having whiskers and a tail is detrimental to cooking five-star meals. So close and yet so far away. But as luck would have it the petite rodent befriends the restaurant’s shy outcast garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) and together they form a most improbable partnership. With Linguini’s clumsy body channeling Remy’s creative brains they turn Paris upside down. Vive Remy! Ratatouille doesn’t have any showboating animated characters in need of A-list voices to bring them to life. Instead the vocal talent all take a backseat to the story and it works out perfectly. Stand-up comedian Oswalt (TV’s The King of Queens) taps into a rodent frame of mind and gives Remy a nice mix of intelligence spunk and food savvy while voiceover veteran Romanoo is effectively goofy and sweet as Linguini. There’s a slew of other more well-known voices as well including: Ian Holm as the domineering slightly sadistic short-in-stature chef Skinner at Gusteau’s; Janeane Garofalo as Collette the only female in the kitchen who at first resents Linguini but then grows to love him (mais oui!); Brad Garrett as the late great chef Auguste Gusteau Remy’s mentor whose spirit resurfaces in Remy’s imagination; and finally Peter O'Toole—yes THE Peter O'Toole—as the pompous food critic Ego who hates everything he eats. Well that is until he samples Remy’s cuisine. What can I say? Helmed by the ultra-talented Brad Bird Ratatouille is simply a masterpiece in animation which is quite a compliment in this day and age of the CGI glut. Reaching the standard they set with Toy Story Pixar has never stopped churning out the highest quality CGI you’ll ever see onscreen unsurpassed by any of their competition. Ratatouille’s attention to detail is nothing less than amazing down to Remy’s rapid breathing when he’s frightened just as if we are watching a real rat to the way Bird and his crew turn the City of Lights into a truly mesmerizing sight. And for those who love to cook—or eat good food for that matter—forget about it! Ratatouille is the delicacy you’ve been waiting for on par with expert cooking movies such as Like Water for Chocolate or Babette's Feast. Pixar clearly has defined the way we watch animation creating films that are not only entertaining for the children but just as hilarious compelling and heartfelt as any live action film. Now if only the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can just get off their high horse and consider an animated film worthy of a Best Picture Oscar. Ratatouille might just have a chance.
A Good Year has the makings of a pleasant serene romp through grapevines and lovely French vistas. But while being terribly atmospheric the story itself tends to drag on. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Peter Mayle the first 40 minutes or so are somewhat engaging as we’re introduced to London-based investment expert Max Skinner (Crowe) who has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle and is being forced into an “extended” vacation in Provence. Max remembers many wonderful summers he spent there with his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) as a child. But now the old man has passed away and Max has inherited his uncle’s small French vineyard. He’d like to sell it straight away but then he meets lovely local café owner Fanny (Marion Cotillard) and becomes smitten. There’s also the problem with a young American woman Christie (Abbie Cornish) who shows up and claims she’s Henry’s illegitimate daughter. Can Max settle into what seems to be an intoxicating new chapter of his life--and drag A Good Year down with him? Of course. Mr. Anger Management is obviously going for a gentler image with this performance and he’s more than capable handling the job as romantic lead. But honestly Crowe is much more effective as Max the snarling pack leader of the financial wolves than as Max a sap softened by Provencal wine and women. Sorry Russell but playing tough (or tortured depending) suits you better. Most of the other characters surrounding Max add nice color all sun-kissed country-minded and eccentric. Cotillard (A Very Long Engagement) is particularly glowing as the hardened Fanny who has had her heart broken a few times and doesn’t want a repeat performance. Cornish (Somersault) beams as well as the girl from Napa Valley Calif. who knows a few things about winemaking. Actually some of the more engaging scenes are flashbacks between Finney as the roguish Uncle Henry and his young nephew--played with understatement by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Freddie Highmore. Too bad Highmore couldn’t have played the older Max as well. You can see what director Ridley Scott was trying for with A Good Year. A labor of love for the director--who is good friends with the novelist Peter Mayle as well as owns a vacation home and vineyard in Provence--A Good Year is full of astounding beauty. Scott frames the exquisite lush vistas of this southern French community with a tender loving hand. You’ll certainly be tempted to pick up a Fodor’s guide to the area while checking online for destination prices. But the film seriously lacks the necessary narrative to carry it through. Mayle’s novel apparently reads very much like a travelogue and screenwriter Marc Klein (Serendipity) seems to have difficulty fleshing out parts to make a more cohesive script. Most importantly however like Crowe A Good Year just seems ill-suited for Scott’s more serious action-minded sensibilities. What worked for the two collaborators in the gladiator rings of Rome doesn’t ring as true in the grape-soaked vineyards of Southern France.
Although ABC's giant "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is making lots of folks richer (including network suits), a couple of people still aren't happy. One, apparently, is host Regis Philbin, who reportedly is making eyes at his contestants' money.
According to today's New York Post, Philbin is asking to be paid $250,000 an episode -- more than double his current $100,000-per-episode haul. With the show said to be adding a fourth night (Wednesdays) to its schedule, that means Philbin would be angling to become a millionaire -- each and every week.
"It's all very friendly. It's just not resolved," an unnamed source tells the newspaper's Page Six gossip column. "Regis is so tied to ABC, he's not going to mess around. It's kind of a family deal. They are in business together."
All this probably doesn't mean much to contestant Bob Bass, who walked away with $32,000 on Thursday but is contesting the question that stumped him.
On the installment, Bass was asked: "Who was the youngest president at his inauguration?" Bass answered John F. Kennedy. He was told the answer was Theodore Roosevelt.
For the record, Kennedy was inaugurated Jan. 20, 1961, at age 43; Roosevelt was sworn in after President McKinley's assassination in 1901 at age 42. Roosevelt didn't get his own official inauguration until March 4, 1905, after he won his own election -- and by then he was 46.
Yes, we looked this all up. And, yes, we're standing by you, Bob.
No comment from ABC on the Regis contract situation -- or the suspicious question.
DOH! It's curtains for a cast member of Fox's "The Simpsons," which in the grand name of February sweeps plans to kill off one of its cast members. And, according to reports, Maude Flanders, wife of Homer's annoying neighbor Ned Flanders, seems to be the front-runner for the job. Other possibilities include school principal Seymour Skinner and Moe the bartender.
"We're in our 11th season, and we're always looking for new ways to shake up the show a little and do something that might open up new story possibilities," Mike Scully, the show's executive producer, told The Associated Press.
While Scully wouldn't confirm Maude's demise, there are clues: First, Maude's voice-over actor, Maggie Roswell, recently left the show. And secondly, the killer episode is titled, "Alone Again, Natura-Diddly" -- an apparently reference to Ned's annoying overuse of the word "diddly."
The episode airs Feb. 13.
TOUCHDOWN! The St. Louis Rams may have emerged the big winner in Sunday's Super Bowl, but ABC didn't do too shabbily, either.
The telecast drew a 43.2 rating and a 62 share, up 7 percent from last year. Overall, more than 130 million viewers watched the big game, making this year's St. Louis-Tennessee Titans rumble the 19th-highest rated Super Bowl and the fifth most-watched telecast in U.S. history.
We have no specific figures, but we're pretty sure beer-and-chips consumption was pretty high Sunday, too.
IT'S LIKE, A DEAL: Peter Mehlman, a former "Seinfeld" writer and the creator of "It's like, you know ..." has signed a three-year deal with DreamWorks Television worth a low eight figures, according to Daily Variety. Mehlman, whose show was recently canceled, will continue to develop and produce series programming. There won't be an "It's like, you know ..." movie, though. "I have a 22-minute personality," Mehlman said.