Magic Mike (2012, Steven Soderbergh) – “Male stripper movie with a pedigree” sounds like a phrase that never would have been uttered before the creation of Magic Mike, a look at the inner workings of a profitable Tampa, Florida adult nightclub from star and former male stripper Channing Tatum and acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh. It might be tempting to say this film wouldn’t be as much of a stretch for Tatum as it would be for the man who made Traffic, Che, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape, but it actually fits very nicely into the director’s latter day output in displaying the ins and outs of various occupations. Granted, it’s not an intense exploration into the seedier side of playing private dancer to paying customer’s escapist fantasies, but it’s an assured piece of summertime fluff made by a filmmaker who generally seems to be cutting loose.
Tatum stars as the titular conjurer (probably named so because his clothes seem to be constantly disappearing), a hard working jack-of-all-trades who makes the majority of his money hip-hop dancing on stage at the ludicrously named Xquisite as part of an elite team of male performers affectionately dubbed “the cock rocking kings of Tampa” by their slightly mental boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). One day on a job site, Mike meets a brash younger man named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) who has no real profitable skills, a disrespectful attitude towards authority, and still lives with his sister (Cody Horn). After some coaxing and trial by fire, the dancers allow Adam into their world when Mike begins to mentor him, but the young and naive Adam continues to look for easy ways to make money, putting him at odds with his new best friend’s only slightly more stabilized world view.
Tatum naturally embodies Mike’s bro-like tendencies, but he distills them into a likeable persona of a man who generally wants to do the right thing. He’s the typical everyman in his mid-20s who thinks he knows what he wants out of life (in this case to have one stable job manufacturing artsy furniture), but he’s frustrated with his inability to make his dreams a reality. Conversely, he sees within Adam (played nicely as an almost irredeemable little shit by Pettyfer) someone that he used to be not that long ago, but he doesn’t fully know exactly how to tell him he’s screwing up. Maybe Tatum’s performance here isn’t fully on the level of the hilariously self-deprecating turn he had in 21 Jump Street since he actually has to act (somewhat) dramatically in this one, but it’s pretty darn close. It’s hard to not imagine the character and the actor similarly cracking up over having to dress like an overtanned John Cena while grinding across a seemingly lubed up stage to Ginuwine’s “My Pony.” The supporting cast also yields some surprises, especially in the case of the pitch-perfect McConaughey who exudes equal parts sleaze, corniness, and menace sometimes within the same scene.
Almost as far back as Erin Brockovich through Traffic and The Girlfriend Experience and up to last year’s Contagion, Soderbergh has shown himself as a filmmaker who revels in depicting the inner workings of any particular system. He doesn’t so much make “films” in the classical sense anymore, but rather he makes mostly fine crafted procedurals in how to do a job and how do it/not do it well. The relaxed setting here allows for him to stop thinking to an even greater degree than the over thought and half-baked Tatum co-starrer Haywire earlier this year. It might seem like a project that’s beneath him, but every frame of the film looks and moves just like any other Soderbergh movie even if the screenplay from Reid Carolin (who also appears as a dancer and who loosely based the film on young Tatum’s personal experiences) suggests a very standard and static rise and fall story.
The Blu-ray captures the bright lights and hazy mornings of Soderbergh’s digital photography wonderfully, and the sound mix sufficiently steps up its game during the film’s dance sequences, of which the disc also includes extended versions for. There’s an option to watch just the dances, but the true fun comes from watching the movie as a whole. The only other featurette on here, however, is a sadly disappointing 7 minute behind the scenes look at the making of the film, which really doesn’t say much at all. It’s a shame since there’s so much more that could be said about this one. – Andrew Parker
Check out our interview with Magic Mike stars Channing Tatum and Joe Mananiello here! (https://thatshelf.com/2012/06/26/interview-channing-tatum-and-joe-manganiello/)
Chernobyl Diaries (2012, Bradley Parker) – Chernobyl Diaries is the first official follow-up project from Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli. The man who made a $200 million hit from his house might not be directing this particular outing, but he wrote and produced this globetrotting little horror tale with links to that old nuclear disaster. It’s pure nuts ‘n’ bolts horror stuff that doesn’t have ambitions beyond making the audience jump in their seats. However, it’s at least an efficient little scare factory with an evocative location that hasn’t really been seen (or exploited) onscreen before.
The film centers on a group of fairly indistinguishable 20-somethings. Two impossibly beautiful women and a somewhat dorky guy with a terrible sense of humor make a pit stop in Kiev during a Euro-trip to visit the dork’s brother. Even though the plan is to go to Moscow, the local bro has another idea. He found out about a secret tourist trip to Pripyat, the city that was evacuated after the Chernobyl disaster that can now be visited by tourists. So they all pile into a beat-up van with a sketchy tour guide to visit a radioactive ghost town. A military post outside the city refuses to let them enter, but the guy running the tour knows a secret entrance and takes them into the town anyway. Everything seems fine at first despite the deeply creepy location…and then the van refuses to start and they are trapped overnight. Once the sun goes down, they hear strange noises, so the tour guide goes to investigate and doesn’t come back. Soon the young folk are being hunted, but they aren’t sure exactly what’s hunting them. Spoiler alert: it might be mutants from the nuclear disaster… well, it couldn’t really be anything else, could it?
Chernobyl Diaries features some of the most poorly written characters and dialogue from a horror movie in recent memory. However, the good news about that is that little time is wasted developing character. The filmmakers use the absolute minimum number of scenes to get their characters trapped in the rotting city so that most of the running time could be dedicated to creep-outs and attacks. Aside from the setting, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been seen in other horror movies, but it’s executed so efficiently that it’s hard to mind it. Enough of the scenes work to make it worth seeing provided that you enjoy this type of movie and go in with appropriately lowered expectations. Accusations that the movie exploits a genuine disaster have already been made and they aren’t without merit (this flick does turn the tragedy into a mutant freak show after all). However, Chernobyl Diaries offers such basic and predictable monster movie entertainment that it’s hard to imagine anyone actually getting upset.
The film slides onto Blu-ray in a decent package that was clearly rushed for Halloween. This being a major studio release, the technical specs are of course strong. Granted the color palette of greys n’ shadows and the handheld photography ensures that it isn’t exactly a showpiece disc, but the visuals and audio are still about as strong as possible. Special features are fairly slim, there’s a fake commercial for the tour that’s moderately amusing, an alternate ending that’s somehow less satisfying than the final cut, a single deleted scene and a two minute expose on the Chernobyl disaster. So, not much of interest, but at least there’s something. Chernobyl Diaries will never be considered a classic, but given some of the crap Hollywood has cranked out over the last few years claiming to be horror movies, you could do a hell of a lot worse. – Phil Brown
Check out our interview with Chernobyl Diaries writer and creator Oren Peli here! (https://thatshelf.com/2012/05/24/interview-oren-peli/)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012, Timur Bekmambetov) – Adapted from a book by Seth Grahame-Smith (a follow up to his best selling Jane Austen/zombie mash-up), Abe Lincoln: Vamp Hunter tells the secret tale of Abraham Lincoln’s early days as a vampire hunter before becoming a politician and how the bloodsuckers returned just in time for the end of the civil war. Getting into specifics is pointless as it’s just as absurd to describe as it is to watch. The good news is that the movie is a hell of a lot more fun than it has any right to be. Not quite a comedy, horror or action movie Grahame-Smith nimbly mixes all three genres through a deadpan absurdist tone that is completely unique and translates surprisingly well to the big screen.
A major reason for the film’s success was the choice of director Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, Wanted). The man has a gift for visual design and insane set pieces that is put to good use here, particularly during Lincoln’s many silver axe-based vampire slaughtering sprees. Bekmambetov has always been a bit weak in terms characterization and storytelling, but in a weird way it kind of works here. The director clearly never imposed himself onto Grahame-Smith’s script, which plays out true to the author’s voice. More importantly, he plays the inherent camp humor so straight it’s almost as if he didn’t realize the book was comedic. That approach (perhaps inadvertently) works perfectly though. It’s easy to imagine a straight up comedy take on this exact script that would get a little muggy and irritating (although I’d love to see what the British cult comics The League Of Gentlemen would have done with the material). However, with Bekmambetov not playing to the gags, they are there to be discovered only by knowing viewers and it’s all the more funny because of how seriously this ridiculous subject matter is treated.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an expert piece of genre cheese with mindblowing horror/action sequences, surprisingly understated performances from a cast of character actors rather than stars, and a sneaky n’ witty streak of dark/camp humor. It was too weird to be a blockbuster hit, but just weird enough to become something of a cult classic. Fox’s new Blu-ray features one hell of a transfer and sound mix (perhaps because the studio assumed it would be a hit) and with Grahame-Smith being style-over substance guy there are plenty of sequences to take your system for a work out. Special features are limited to a decent (if brief) documentary about the production and an information-packed commentary track with the director. It’s a nice package and one that’s also available in 3D if you’re one of those lucky so-and-sos with a super expensive television. The bottom line on Abe Lincoln: Vamp Hunter is this: movies this wacko and creative aren’t supposed to come out as summer blockbusters and they certainly aren’t supposed to be financed by major studios. If you have the right sick sense of humor, this thing is an oddity to be cherished and makes for some fine Halloween viewing material if you missed it in theatres along with everyone else. – Phil Brown