Magic Mike

Magic Mike

Comedy/Drama, 2012

110 minutes

Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Written by: Reid Carolin

Yes, Magic Mike is a movie about male strippers. And maybe that is reason enough, for some people, to see it. No judging if that’s you; in the words of Matthew McConaughey, “All right, all right, all right.” Most people don’t believe me when I explain that that wasn’t my motivation for watching it. Because, I guess, not everyone finds even the trailers for it freaking hilarious.

Okay, for starters: McConaughey pretty much plays himself—or at least the person I like to imagine he is—all oiled-up, bongo-playing smarmy charm. He has paintings and sculptures of himself scattered all throughout his house; basically, even breathing the same air as him will corrupt your innocence. He’s magnificent. (I’m pretty sure if Daniel Day-Lewis had played him, there’d be Oscar talk.) Secondly, Channing Tatum. This guy, despite having a ridiculous name that is equally as plausible forwards or backwards, is a gem. He is truly funny, which I get that most people don’t want to believe based on how he looks. But he is. He was (surprisingly) hilarious in 21 Jump Street, which was a straightforward comedy, and he is just as funny here, even though Magic Mike is, ostensibly, a drama.

But really it’s more of a dramedy. That’s because men taking off their clothes is inherently comical. It doesn’t feel exploitative or sad or dirty; it’s not as complicated as women taking off their clothes, which, no matter the circumstances, always has those nasty patriarchal overtones. The men in this movie have some control over their destiny: they’re in stripping for the money, the rush, and occasionally the drugs, but not because of some sad childhood or debilitating self-esteem issues. Thus, we can laugh at them, or with them, really, since they know how ridiculous they’re being. And they are, knowingly, being absurd.

You see, while men just want to see the clothes coming off; women enjoy the theatricality. Thus, the stripping scenes are all inventively choreographed, with cheesy themes like “It’s Raining Men” used to showcase the men’s many…talents. I honestly don’t think you have to be attracted to these men to be amused by their onstage antics. And, really, that is just one minor part of the film.

It is what happens offstage that makes Magic Mike more than just a “stripper movie.” There is a genuine story lurking there about the pitfalls of easy money, available drugs, and powerful fantasy. There are even ethical questions, which you might want to skip over if you’re just looking to enjoy some nearly-naked hot guys. But please don’t skip over them just to enjoy some nearly-naked hot guys. The hot guys will still be there when you’re done considering the ethical questions. Magic Mike, for all its pumping bass and flashing lights, is more significant than it appears to be. It’s not just tricks and theatrics, but story and substance. And for a movie that features a character named “Big Dick Richie,” that’s no small feat.


Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed

Comedy, 2012

86 minutes

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

Written by: Derek Connolly

The funniest, most charming, and most keenly observed movie of the summer is one that most people probably did not see. Safety Not Guaranteed takes a bizarre premise (inspired by real life) that could have easily translated into broad, unsophisticated comedy and instead delivers a story that is subtle, compassionate, and quietly hilarious.

The plot hinges upon a highly improbable classified ad that spurs the main characters on a journey of self-discovery:

“Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.”

This ad catches the attention of Jeff, a journalist from a Seattle magazine, and he assembles a team of interns to track down the person who wrote it. The interns, Darius and Arnau, are both misfits in their own unique ways, and they each favor a different approach to finding the mysterious ad writer. Inevitably, it is the sullen but comely Darius (Aubrey Plaza) who discovers and approaches the man; he turns out to be an unassuming grocery store clerk named Kenneth Calloway. Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is just as weird as you would expect, but he is also surprisingly smart, sensitive, and real. A loner like Darius, he proves himself unexpectedly endearing, to the point that Darius ceases to engage with him as a reporter and starts to develop real affection for him.

Of course, there is still the whole matter of time travel, and it turns out that, despite how ridiculous it seems, Kenneth totally believes in it. Furthermore, he’s convinced that there are government agents after him, hoping to put a stop to his experiments. Both Darius and the audience worry that Kenneth might not be as harmless as he seems, but at the same time start to wonder if maybe he could be right. And therein lies the charm of the film: anything seems like it could be possible. The characters—not only Darius and Kenneth, but also Jeff and Arnau—learn to embrace the world rather than to hide from it, to look for meaning rather than to accept emptiness. They begin to find possibility where before they were limited, and even the audience can’t help but join in. Safety Not Guaranteed makes it easy to believe in anything. Even time travel.

The Tiger’s Wife

We were seventeen, furious at everything because we didn’t know what else to do with the fact that the war was over. Years of fighting, and, before that, a lifetime on the cusp of it. Conflict we didn’t necessarily understand—conflict we had raged over, regurgitated opinions on, seized as the reason for why we couldn’t go anywhere, do anything, be anyone—had been at the center of everything. It had forced us to make choices based on circumstances that were now no longer a part of our daily lives, and we kept it close, a heavy birthright for which we were only too eager to pay.

After months of seeing Téa Obreht’s cherubic face imploring me to buy this book (in bookstores, online, and, eventually, in very vivid, frankly horrifying, hallucinations), I finally gave in and read it. I had thought, maybe hoped, that because Obreht is only two years older than I am—and because she looks about a decade younger than that—that her debut novel would not be all that impressive. I had expected glimmers of promise, but mostly overwritten, indulgent, standard MFA-style writing. (You know the type, even if it exists mostly in our collective imagination.) Well, in spite of Obreht’s actual MFA, there was nothing derivative, self-congratulatory or even just plain mediocre about The Tiger’s Wife. Obreht is a true writer, and this is her beautifully-composed evidence.

The Tiger’s Wife is not really one story, but rather three separate threads woven together. It is narrated by Natalia, a doctor on a goodwill mission to a devastated town across the border from her home country. War has rewritten both the landscape and the lives of the inhabitants on both sides; Natalia herself has spent her entire life either anticipating war, living through it, or experiencing the aftermath. As a result, there are new tensions between people who were once allies, and there is discord where there should be harmony. The rational Natalia immediately clashes with superstitious villagers, but over time she begins to question her own certainty in what is true. Her time in the village reminds her of her beloved grandfather’s upbringing—vivid to her from the stories he would tell—and her narration switches back and forth between her own experiences and those of her grandfather decades before.

Obreht introduces a folk tale quality to her storytelling as she describes characters like the Deathless Man and the Tiger’s Wife. It is these fantastical characters that move the novel forward; the reader can’t wait to learn more about them. The interaction between Natalia’s grandfather and the Deathless Man is particularly interesting: they meet numerous times throughout the novel, and each meeting is both unnerving and completely magical. While other sections can tend to drag, brought down by too many beautiful details and left to languish in excessive specificity, the novel as a whole is always buoyed back up. The Tiger’s Wife is a stunning debut that promises good things from (and for) Téa Obreht.

Mini-Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

Comedy/Drama, 2012

94 minutes

Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

You either adore Wes Anderson or you don’t: as for me, he sets my little hipster heart atwitter. His movies are meticulous, which means they look great… but, consequently, often focus on smaller details and quieter stories rather than on lots of action (i.e., explosions). Moonrise Kingdom is, no surprise, a simple story that, though engaging, is in no way big. It centers on a pair of preteen lovebirds in the 1960s who run away from their respective homes to live together in the wilderness of their small island. What is so charming about this movie is not simply their innocent, tentative relationship, or the comic panic that ensues when their parents, the police, and the boy’s scout master realize these children have gone missing, but rather the way all of these characters come together to inhabit their very specific world. Every detail is carefully planned and endearingly quirky: the atmosphere, while stylized, is very true to itself. As a result, the movie never feels too consciously cute. Moonrise Kingdom welcomes its viewers into its own unique corner of the world; happily, I found that it’s somewhere worth visiting.

Mini-Review: Gravity Falls

“Gravity Falls” may be a cartoon airing on the Disney Channel, but that doesn’t mean it’s not weird and wacky and wonderfully original. Much like “Phineas and Ferb,” it’s appealing to all ages, packed with clever gags and winning characters that can be more sophisticated than those on typical “kid” shows but are still quite accessible. The plot focuses on the adventures of Mabel and Dipper Pines, two tweens who are spending their summer in the mysterious Gravity Falls, Oregon. They live with their great uncle, or Grunkle, Stan, who runs a tourist trap of oddities called The Mystery Shack. Though their uncle’s business is clearly a scam, Mabel and Dipper soon discover that things in Gravity Falls really aren’t as they seem. Supernatural creatures appear to live in the forest, and seemingly normal inhabitants possess very unusual talents. The siblings quickly learn to trust in and rely on one another, and their bond deepens as they try to survive their bizarre new home. Though mostly a comedy, “Gravity Falls” does a good job of establishing an overarching mystery. Additionally, it is surprisingly heartwarming in its portrayal of Mabel and Dipper’s relationship. I appreciate some good whimsical escapism, and “Gravity Falls” certainly delivers. Any show that says it’s okay to bedazzle your face is fine by me.

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