Friday, June 29, 2012


Ever since word first leaked out that Steven Soderbergh was directing a film based on the pre-Hollywood stripping life of heartthrob Channing Tatum, the anticipation has been building for Magic Mike.  And now, after months of anticipation, the actual film sort of feels like the morning after a one night stand where you realize, the person you thought was so hot the night before, isn't all that hot and is even less interesting when you actually try to have a conversation with them.

In the beginning we meet Mike (Tatum), construction worker and auto detailer by day and exotic dancer by night, waking up from a threesome with two sexy ladies, one of which's name he can't remember.  The other is Joanna (Olivia Munn), a sexy, bi-sexual, psych student we later find out is studying nightlife workers like Mike for school.  Had these two really connected something interesting could have been explored with their relationship and the chemistry with the two actors could have been explored more, but alas the script feels like it's doing all it can to avoid being intriguing or fresh in the least.  Instead a nineteen year-old slacker named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) shows up at Mike's construction site with no experience and a busted hooptie and Mike, being the stripper with the heart of gold that he is, gives him a ride home where he meets Alex's older sister Brooke (Cody Horn), who is only slightly more lifelike an actress than Kristen Stewart.  Of course, Brooke has a boring boyfriend who she and Adam have dinner with that night and when Adam can't take it anymore he heads out of the restaurant where he runs into Mike at a nearby club.  Mike encourages him to talk to a girl celebrating her 21st birthday and before he knows it he's giving her a lap dance at Xquisite, the nightclub where Mike dances.

Soon after, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the owner, decides to take him on as a dancer and make him a part of the gang.  The other guys include Ken (Matt Bomer) nicknamed for his made-by-Mattel good looks, Tito (Adam Rodriguez), the latin lothario, Tarzan (Kevin Nash), the wild man and Big Dick Richie (Joe Mangianello), named for obvious reasons.  It would have been nice to find out if the guys were as colorful as their nicknames, but they don't do much other than a few awkwardly choreographed group dances and brief solos throughout the film that are too cheesy to be sexy.  The cheesiness wouldn't have been so bad if the film was a straight forward comedy like The Full Monty, but about half way through it tries to become Boogie Nights-lite and completely loses its way.

Adam gets into drugs, Mike gets rejected for a business loan and everyone else seems to be waiting around for something to do.  There were several scenes that felt like they were improvised, but not in an inventive Knocked Up kind of way, but more of an experimental way that would have worked better with comedians or skilled improvisors.  The romance with Mike and Brooke falls totally flat since the charm is only coming from his end.  Adam's downfall is pretty much ignored by the end of the film.  There are no consequences for his actions and taking care of him just serves as a device to bring Mike and Brooke together.  Worst of all, the sexy stripping that everyone has been waiting for is pretty anti-climactic.  Tatum is clearly the best (read: only) dancer in the bunch, but he mostly pop-locks as if his character from the Step Up movies has turned to stripping.  It's cool to watch, but not necessarily sexy.  The only one of the men with any real sex appeal ends up being Matthew McConaughey who, as the elder statesman, is the host of the show and only really gets one actual strip tease towards the end, but he earns it, and as far as those scenes go it's a highlight.

Overall, the "magic" in Magic Mike is utterly lacking, but if you just want to see some pretty actors in thongs, rent it and get someone to wake you up during the "good" parts because they are few and far between.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Remember back in 2005 when Extraordinary Machine came out reminding us of why we initially fell in love with Fiona Apple and confirming that she was well worth the wait?  Well now here we are in 2012, and after another lengthy hiatus the indie/pop goddess has graced us with a fourth album and once again our patience has been duly rewarded.  Where Extraordinary Machine found her at the sunniest we've ever seen her with songs like the title track and "Better Version of Me," on this latest offering she's more of the angsty, sullen girl we met on Tidal back in 1996.  In "Valentine" she sings about cutting herself (hopefully only figuratively) and wonders how she can ask someone to love her when all she does is beg to be left alone ("Left Alone").

The major difference is that this album could have just as easily been titled Tribal (It would have been less of a mouthful than the 23 word moniker it ended up with).  From the guttural wails on the opener "Every Single Night," to the rumbling drums and overlapping vocals on the closer "Hot Knife" every track feels raw and primal.  "Periphery" contains what sounds like marching feet on gravel, and on "Werewolf" she seems to be yelling at her lover over a pack of screaming children.  Thematically this is nothing new for her.  Her famously poetic lyrics lay her emotions so bare that she might as well be singing stark naked.  On past albums though, this emotional nakedness was often accompanied by lush strings, plaintive horns and Apple's own sturdy piano, making her the alterna-jazz chanteuse that provided the soundtrack to all of your break-ups.  This time however, the instrumentation is so stripped down and simple it borders on experimental but, in the end, the arrangements work by punctuating the visceral lyrics.  As she sings in "Every Single Night" she just 'wants to feel everything' and apparently she wants us to do the same.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


The year is 1987 and the smell of Aqua Net is in the air, which is fitting since hair bands rule the airwaves.  Also, since this is a campy musical people break into song on the bus.  This is where we meet our protagonist Sherrie (Julianne Hough) on her way to Hollywood, rock albums in tow, leaving behind her grandmother in Oklahoma.  Young, blonde and beautiful she sets out to become a rockstar, but if you've ever seen ANY movie before you know where this is going and there will be few surprises in Rock of Ages for you.  That's okay, because it's not supposed to be anything more than a fun, singing and dancing ride down memory lane and on that level it totally delivers.  If, like me, some of the songs are before your time, you will still have fun.  If Journey, Poison and Bon Jovi were your high school soundtrack, then you'll enjoy it even more.  The Gleeks, however, will absolutely love it!  There's puppy love, mash-ups and the requisite Journey songs to boot.  If most of the scenes weren't at a concert venue, I would've been looking for a band to appear out of thin air when the singing started.

Hough (Dancing with the Stars) who is known more for her dancing than her singing will probably continue to be after this movie.  She has chops, but she's not the showstopper she would need to be to make this her star-making role.  However, the camera loves her and she has the angelic face of the country girl in the big city that make her a perfect fit.  As Drew, the boy she falls in love with, Diego Boneta is even blander, but not too much to bring the movie down with him, and his boy band excursion is one of the film's highlights.

In the end though, it's the veteran stars that keep this ball bouncing even when no one's singing.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is a hoot as a political wife rallying against the sex, drugs and rock and roll on the Sunset strip.  The camp factor is probably at its height when she's joined by a group of ladies to cover Pat Benetar in a church.  Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are both hysterical as guys that run The Bourbon, a hip spot on the strip, where most of the action takes place.  Baldwin is a joy to watch in anything these days and Brand is essentially playing an 80's version of himself (which isn't all that different as it happens), but that's not really a complaint.

The real draw, especially in terms of curiosity is, of course, Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx.  He doesn't disappoint either.  He manages to ooze sex yet still be hilarious and does surprisingly well with the vocals.  He may not be able to wail like Bon Jovi, but he does a more than satisfying job.   He's so good he never gets upstaged by his monkey sidekick and his scenes with Malin Ackermann as a Rolling Stone reporter profiling him are some of the sexiest in the film.  Ackermann, in her tight miniskirt and sky-high Reagan-era perm, is exactly the kind of "reporter" you would expect to see in a White Snake video, complete with "brainy" glasses that are begging to be ripped off at just the right moment when she's writhing on top of a Mustang.  Mary J. Blige is in full diva mode as the matron of a strip club where Sherrie ends up working at one point.  Her primary reason for being in the movie is to look fabulous, (her wigs seem to change every time the camera cuts to her) and do some soulful wailing on the big group numbers.  Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.