REVIEW: Magic Mike

Magic Mike
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Reid Carolin (screenplay)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn and Matthew McConaughey

Magic Mike is not a radical film.  Its form is decidedly modern, with director Steven Soderbergh creating a lived-in yet color-saturated urban Florida summer.  Its content, a fairly standard “Getting my life together” narrative, has been made radical because of Hollywood’s endless dedication to the male gaze.

As you are probably aware at this point, Magic Mike is the Channing Tatum stripper movie.  It is a summer success story that is somehow a surprise because averting the endless movie camera gawk at the female form and aiming it at men is seen as a risk.  Studio executives remain in a state of shock when the non-heterosexual male half of the population turns out to support a movie made for them.

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SPOTLIGHT: Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender is one of the most talented actors to emerge in recent years.  Since his breakout role in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, he has gone on an acting rampage with some of the most talented directors in the world, including David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino.  He often plays characters who you normally would not sympathize with, but his tremendous range and emotional depth make it nearly impossible.  Oscar recently snubbed him for his performances in Shame and A Dangerous Method, though he hopefully has plenty of time to wow them and a wider audience in the coming years.

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REVIEW: Haywire

Haywire
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Lem Dobbs (screenplay)
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas

Like a virus that won’t go away, Mallory (Gina Carano) jumps around the globe, slowing down or killing anything that gets in her path.  That is largely where the narrative similarities between her story and the one from director Steven Soderbergh’s last film, Contagion, end though.

Haywire is curious when placed with the rest of his catalog in that it focuses on a single individual but also contains a large ensemble cast.  Usually his films are one (Erin Brockovich) or the other (Traffic).  At the center of this semi-departure is MMA fighter Gina Carano, who Soderbergh saw fighting on TV and decided to build a movie around.  Carano’s ferociously physical performance as Mallory is by far the movie’s greatest asset.  Soderbergh films most of the action sequences in confined areas, letting her utilize the environment in astonishing and brutal ways.

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SPOTLIGHT: Matt Damon

Matt Damon is one of the hardest working, most consistently superb screen actors working in Hollywood today.  He’s one of the few people working inside the modern-day studio system who has yet to fully succumb to a large pay day.  Even looking at his page on IMDB, you see he has 5 films slated for release in 2011, the first of which was The Adjustment Bureau. His name on the marquee was enough to draw studio money to a film otherwise filled with lesser names.  Since his big break in Good Will Hunting, he has evolved into a full-fledged movie star without losing his passion-project sensibility.  Whether he’s chasing down the truth in The Bourne Trilogy or partnering with Clint Eastwood, you have enough faith of his ethic off-camera to enjoy what’s about to be in front of it.

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Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

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