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.
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.
Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
Maybe it was the 3-D glasses that helped, but the game went into overtime this weekend for Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.The third installment in the franchise about a family of super spies took the top spot with a healthy $32.5 million*, making it the highest opener of the three. The first Spy Kids opened 2001 with $26.5 million, while the second, Spy Kids: Island of Lost Dreams, opened 2002 with $18.7 million. The ghostly swashbuckler Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl held on to second place with $22.4 million while the naughty actioner Bad Boys II dropped from the top of the heap last week to third with $22 million, barely slipping under Pirates .Not as many people, however, cared to see Angelina Jolie strut her stuff again. The outrageously stunt-laden sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life opened at No. 4 with $21.7 million, making less than half of what the original 2001 smash hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider did when it opened at $47.7 million. The heart-tugging Depression drama Seabiscuit rounded out the top five's home stretch with $21.5 million, though it managed to take the highest per average screening award; opening in 1,989 theaters, its $10,809 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this weekend.Other notable indies opening this week included the Bob Dylan starrer Masked and Anonymous, which debuted at $32,167, and the controversial Buffalo Soldiers at $29,000.Overall, box office numbers were up this week, nearly 10 percent from the same weekend last year and nearly 6 percent from last weekend. THE TOP TENDimension Films' PG-rated Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over premiered at the top of the box office with an ESTIMATED $32.5 million in 3,344 theaters ($9,719 per theater).In this third installment, junior agents Juni and Carmen Cortez have to go into a video game and shut it down before it and its creator can take over the world.Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayek and Ricardo Montalban.Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy actioner Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl held on to second in its third week with an ESTIMATED $22.4 million (-34%) at 3,416 theaters (+57 theaters; $6,557 per theater). Its cume is $176.1 million.Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.Sony Picture's R rated buddy actioner Bad Boys II dropped from its first place perch to third with an ESTIMATED $22 million (-53%) at 3,202 theaters (+16 theaters; $6,871 per theater). This high-octane sequel, which follows narcotics detectives Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett in another case, has made $88.4 million so far.Directed by Michael Bay, it stars Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union and Peter Stormare.Paramount Pictures' PG-13-rated action-packed Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life debuted at a disappointing fourth place with an ESTIMATED $21.7 million in 3,222 theaters ($6,754 per theater).In her latest adventure pic, Lara Croft journeys to an underwater temple in search of lost treasures. During her expedition, she stumbles upon a sphere that contains the key to Pandora's box.Directed by Jan De Bont, it stars Angelina Jolie, Gerald Butler, Chris Barrie, Ciaran Hinds and Noah Taylor.Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated tear-jerker Seabiscuit opened with an ESTIMATED $21.5 million in 1,989 theaters. Its $10,809 per theater was the highest average of any film playing wide this week.Set in the 1930s, this is a true story about a down-and-out racehorse named Seabiscuit pulled out of obscurity by three men and turned into a national hero.Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. *Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.As the box office numbers dropped off considerably, Warner Bros.' R rated sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines fell two places to No. 6 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-46%) at 2,689 theaters (-744; $1,895 per theater). Its cume is approximately $137.4 million.Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen crashed four places to come in seventh place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-52%) at 2,532 theaters (-470; $1,919 per theater). Its cume is approximately $52.7 million.Directed by Stephen Norrington, it stars Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West and Jason Flemyng.Universal Pictures' PG rated spy spoof Johnny English slipped three places to No. 8 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.3 million (53%) at 2,236 theaters ($1,923 per theater). Its cume is 18.4 million.In the film, the British Secret Service calls upon bumbling secret agent Johnny English when a plan to filch the monarchy's Crown Jewels comes to their attention.Directed by Peter Howitt, it stars Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller and John Malkovich.Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell three spots in its ninth week to No. 9 with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-45%) at 2,025 theaters (-455 theaters; $1,975 per theater). Its cume is approximately $312.6 million.Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.MGM's PG-13 rated Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde rounded out the top ten in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-57%) at 2,120 theaters (-1,085 theaters; $1,250 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.1 million. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge. OTHER OPENINGSSony Pictures Classics' PG-13-rated Masked and Anonymous debuted with an ESTIMATED $32,167 in 4 theaters ($8,042 per theater). Set somewhere, sometime in an unnamed country torn by civil war, concert promoter Uncle Sweetheart is scheming to find a headliner for a benefit show--benefitting himself, that is. Veteran TV producer Nina Veronica is put on the job to make sure the concert is an international spectacle. The clincher? Uncle Sweetheart manages to get the iconic cult star Jack Fate, just released from prison, to perform.Directed by Larry Charles, it stars John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Jeff Bridges, Angela Bassett and Bob Dylan, in his screen debut.Miramax Film's R-rated Buffalo Soldiers opened with an ESTIMATED $29,000 in 6 theaters ($4,833 per theater).In Stuttgart, West Germany in 1989, just as the Berlin Wall is about to fall, Ray Elwood of the 317th Supply Battalion has turned his military servitude into a blossoming network of black market deals--more out of boredom than ambition. When a new top sergeant arrives with the avowed intention of cleaning up the base, Elwood thinks can handle the new blood. If he could only find out what to do with the $5 million in stolen arms that just landed in his lap…Directed by Gregor Jordan, it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin and Ed Harris.WEEKEND COMPARISONThe Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $145.5 million, up 9.91 percent from last year's take of $132.4 million. The Top 12 films were also up 5.20 percent from last weekend when they grossed $138.3 million.Last year's top three included: New Line Cinema's PG-13-rated Austin Powers in Goldmember debuted on top with $73 million in 3,613 theaters ($20,225 per theater); DreamWorks' R rated drama Road to Perdition came in second in its third week of release with $11.1 million at 2,250 theaters (+91 theaters; $4,936 per theater average), Sony's G rated Stuart Little 2 dropped to third in its second week with $10.6 million at 3,282 theaters (+ 27; $3,233 per theater).
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Internationally renowned secret agents Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) have left spying behind to retire comfortably and raise their children Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara). Upon learning popular kiddie show host Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming) is plotting world domination via an army of robotic children the Cortezes take on one last mission to stop him - but the couple is soon captured by the mastermind behind the evil plan. Unaware of their parents' secret past Carmen and Juni are abruptly thrust into the spy game when they must rescue Mom and Dad utilizing a host of technogadgets and gizmos.
This movie's impressive cast is outstanding. Banderas in a pencil-thin mustache and sweet-faced Gugino are delightfully smooth operators the Nick and Nora Charles of modern espionage. Cumming steals the show; he's Pee-wee Herman as the Wizard of Oz a troubled yet endearing soul (his Oz-like scene with Juni in the cloud-filled virtual room is terrific). The precocious 12-year-old Vega is a real find - she and Sabara (well cast as the scaredy-cat little brother who learns how to overcome his fears) bicker and scrap like real-life sibs but band together when they must. Watch for an unexpected cameo surprise at the movie's end too.
Who'da thunk it ... violent action filmmaker Robert Rodriguez as kiddie-flick maestro? 'Tis true - Rodriguez's low-budget leanings lend themselves perfectly to this Willy Wonka-esque bit of whimsy - who cares about special eefct wizardry when you could have a movie this inventive going about it the old-fashioned way? Adults will especially appreciate the visual appeal (the beautiful surreal wedding sequence in the film's beginning is one of the best scenes in the movie) and pop-culture references the little ones might miss (ie; backwards speech à la the Beatles). Rodriguez himself has said he counts Dali and Gaudi among his influences; it shows in the movie's ultrabright colors and supreme attention to detail right down to the Cortezes' desk accessories.