Magic Mike suffers from a lack of focus and too much bare ass.

Yes. There is such a thing as too much bare ass. Although the 200 screaming women in my sold out screening would loudly disagree. Wow!  If anything, I can say that Magic Mike was a unique movie watching experience.  A very interactive experience.

First of all, I should let you know that I do not care for the male strip club environment.  Why would sexy, naked men dancing provocatively not appeal to me?  Well, usually after about a half an hour of laughing at the unbelievable, out of control reactions of the normally subdued women–I get bored. I tire of the constant bombardment of bare ass. I need substance. Sexy to me is mental. Humor. Intelligence. Those qualities turns me on more than gyrating hips.

So, it is easy for me to correlate Magic Mike with a strip club adventure.  It is fun at times.  Outrageous sometimes.  But, overall lacking substance.  And yes…I did get bored.

This is strike 3 for me towards director Steven Soderbergh.  A huge fan of many of his earlier films, these last 3 have not impressed me.  Contagion disappointed (I had high hopes).  Haywire had bad ass fighting and that is about it.  And now Magic Mike.

My biggest problem is that there are two separate stories being told.  And I blame writer Reid Carolin more than Soderbergh.  One is this funny, lighthearted  look at the behind scenes antics of male strippers with an intelligent, level-headed dancer taking on a protegé.  The other is a depressing, over-long look at the dark, seedy side of the stripper world–full of sex, drugs and appropriately enhanced dance music and it follows an old stripper trying to find himself.

There is nothing wrong with either story–except that the way it’s presented, you end up with an upbeat first half (with a energetic audience) and a sad, awkward second half (with an obviously deflated audience).  While my daughter and I wanted more story–I would dare assume 198 other women wanted more ass!  I think many of them did not sign up for an actual plot driven narrative. 😉

There are some bright spots.  The brightest is Channing Tatum.  I know!  This is the second film I’ve liked him in–and not because of his looks–but because he is growing as an actor and he truly delivers here.  Charming, funny, tortured and remorseful–he is able to infuse his character with all this and more.  And did I mention he can DANCE?!  Yes. We all know it, but he is showing off in this one.  😀  This script is based on some Tatum’s life experiences as a 19-year-old stripper and you can tell he is comfortable and familiar in this arena.

Second bright spot?  Matthew McConaughey.  I usually describe his movies as “shirt on or shirt off” films and this is a new addition because although his shirt is definitely off–McConaughey delivers a “shirt on” performance. Comical and sinister. He will make you laugh and he will intimidate you.  It is a fine portrayal of what I dubbed a “stripper pimp”.  Oh, how I wish his character had been developed and explored more.

Everyone else blends with the background–even said protege Alex Pettyfer, the other dancers and love interest Cody Horn.  Tatum and Horn have some natural chemistry (and they share my favorite moments in the film and some of the best dialogue) but the focus on their relationship is so sparse, that I did not feel anything for their eventual romance.

As you can see, I did not hate Magic Mike but I did not love it either.  It offers a certain level of entertainment, yet for me fails to achieve real depth.  I was watching the clock and ready to exit during the last 30 minutes.  Just like a real strip club, I was eventually bored and uninterested by the end.

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Madagascar 3 Runs Away with the Circus! Cool!

I have enjoyed the Madagascar franchise. They may have never been Pixar quality, but they have all been fun, family entertainment with cool characters and some genuinely funny moments.  Now, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted has the crew running away with a European Circus and guess what? It is the best film of the three!

This series has been easy money for its cast–Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen and my favorite Penguin Commando leader (and co-director), Tom McGrath–which all return for the latest installment.  Everyone is comfortable with their characters and they interact with each other effortlessly.  You can tell they are having a blast and the good time is contagious. The visuals are colorful and bright and kids will love all the slapstick and sight gags.

But what about the adults?  Well, this is the first in the series that reaches genuine emotion.  I will credit series writer/director Eric Darnell for working with master screenwriter (in my opinion), Noah Baumbach.  After the film I saw Baumbach’s name and immediately said, “That explains it!”  There is more depth in the narrative and it feels richer.

It also helps that they introduce some wonderful new characters voiced by three wonderful actors–Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston and Martin Short.  A leopard, tiger and sea-lion is exactly what has been missing from this bunch.  😀  And let us not forget that every good story needs a villain and the awesome Frances McDormand delivers pure malice with her French Animal Control Captain DuBois.  Nice.

Overall, this is a fun movie experience.  It never strays too far from kid-centric territory, but it actually delivers laughs and touches the heart.  I will say that is a good thing.

Brave is gorgeously told fairy tale! And the short La Luna is amazing!

You may have heard some rumblings. Whispers that Brave does not live up to the high standard set by Pixar. Poppycock! That’s what I say to that. I loved this entry into fairy tale territory and their first princess, is a headstrong, opinionated firecracker, who is not looking for a prince. Excellent! And the bravery they end up addressing delves deeper than just mere adventure and danger. It was funny and heartfelt. I do not about you, but that resonates as a solid Pixar film to me. (As recently discussed at Fog’s Movie Reviews, it may not rank as high as other Pixar Classics, but it is still a worthy addition to the company’s amazing filmography.)

Brave is also carrying many firsts.  It is the Pixar’s first fairy tale and princess movie and it is smartly set in 10th century Scotland. This allows for some unbelievably beautiful scenery. Actually, a bit of trivia is that to make Brave changes (for the first time in over 20 years) had to be made to the studio’s software (to create the complex visuals) and it reaches some incredible realistic heights.

Also, this was the first with a female director in the mix, Brenda Chapman ( with co directors Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell).   I think having Chapman on the team helped since this was the first time the story focused on a female lead.  There were very strong female themes that were explored and I am sure having a woman on board made it easier to be truthful to the feminine perspective.   As someone who appreciates strong women on-screen it was nice to see Pixar put there spin on it and hit the mark.

I will add that the narrative surprised me.  It was NOT what I was expecting given the trailers.  How awesome is that?  And although simple and straightforward it is told in an engaging fashion, full of love and a bit of magic. It made me laugh and it made me tear up (no spillover :D).  All the voice talent is spot on–especially Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson as the mother/daughter team.  I can not too much more for those who have yet to see it.  Go ahead.  Ignore the naysayers.  Pixar had there miss already with Cars 2 :).  I think you will come out happy you gave it a chance.

Another reason to go see it is for the new short that plays beforehand.  La Luna!  WOW!  It is absolutely lovely and kind of magical.

Kristen Stewart is the weakest link in Snow White & the Huntsman

Shocker? Not really. But it sure does spoil Snow White and the Huntsman‘s full potential. Which is a shame because there so much to like in this rendition of the Grimm fairy tale.

First time director Rupert Sanders does pretty well when you think of the scale of this film. Visually, it is stunning.  The set design and the look of the film are awesome.  The costumes are elaborate and realistic.  The creature effects are cool (the wood fay and the troll are very sweet!).  The mythology is solid and interesting (I wanted more mythology–it would’ve given the narrative more depth).  With all that, Sanders is able to create a believable universe and that can be difficult to do with this kind of material.

I especially loved the effects surrounding the evil queen–actually, I loved everything about the evil queen.  Charlize Theron is fantastic!  Truly evil.  That level of evil is usually toned down, but here Theron revels in it.  She is even able to bring a shimmer of vulnerability and sadness to her role and that stands as a testament to her talent.

Chris Hemsworth continues his rise and does well as the Huntsman.  He is charismatic and you want to cheer for him. (Hemsworth has the ever mysterious “it”–whatever “it” is–he has it.) Sad, brave, strong and heroic, the Huntsman is the character I wish I knew more about.

The seven dwarfs are also a treat.  They were able to assemble some fine actors (Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones and Johnny Harris) to portray these characters, but again–I wanted more.

I wanted more…seems to be the issue here.  This movie felt like the outline of a greater story that needed to be told.  There are so many opportunities to deepen the narrative that are never taken advantage of.  I would have loved to see more of the evil queen’s origins.  I would have loved to see the Huntsman’s self-destructive spiral, so I could appreciate his heroic turn.

And this leads me to the biggest problem…Kristen Stewart‘s Snow White.  Stewart is unable to infuse Snow White with…anything.  She is too wooden (the female Keanu Reeves :D).  All her emotions seem to be the same.  Fear? Love? Wonder? Pain? All of them–indistinguishable.

Even with the rich mythology–Snow does little more than stumble around and look towards the horizon/woods/castle/etc…expectantly? (If that is what the expression is supposed to be.)  I am not sure if her lack of talent  forced this boring characterization, but it weakens the film.   Stewart pales in comparison to ALL her co-stars–maybe it should have been called The Evil Queen and the Huntsman.

 

I can only imagine how much I would have loved it, if it had a bit more substance and a stronger Snow White.  It could have been a fantasy classic.  Could have.  Now I hear there is a sequel in the works and I can only hope that Miss Stewart is busy doing something else.  Fingers crossed.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Yeah…it’s what I thought it would be

When I first saw the trailer I thought…wow! that’s utterly ridiculous and yet, it looks sort of fun.  I was dead right (no pun intended).  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter ends up being a predictable, absurd narrative that happens to have some cool action sequences and some pretty solid acting.  But, unfortunately the ridiculous overpowers the rest in the long run.

Trust me.  I went into this completely aware of what I was getting myself into.  And as you may know by now, I do not apologize for liking senseless violence and carnage, at times.  And I know the genre may take it easy on plot and substance, but it usually makes up for it with badassness.  (Yeah, I like Underworld and Riddick, what about it? :D)  So, I was hoping ALVH would deliver along those lines and it kind of did.  Kind of.

The main attraction for me was director Timur Bekmambetov.  (I really enjoyed his 2008 film Wanted because it fulfilled the above requirements.)  He has a unique, stylized way of filming and thought, at least, it would look amazing.  I was right there too.  Bekmambetov creates a dark atmosphere that permeates throughout.  His action scenes are exaggerated and unrealistic, but hey…whatcha gonna do? Laugh it off.  There was a lot of laughing–and I do not think that was the intention.  Some sequences (like the horse stampede) were so over-the-top  that it took me completely out of it.  But, at least the vampires are nasty and look cool.

The novelist Seth Grahame-Smith also turned out the screenplay and I appreciated the clever connections to history, but felt he could not decide if he wanted this to be full-out fun or serious.  What resulted is an uneven story, that keeps changing tone and never truly captivates.

The cast is strong and they all take this seriously (maybe too much so).  Benjamin Walker is perfect as Lincoln but is only able to tap into either rage and vengeance or wise and sullen. Not truly fleshed out.  Dominic Cooper is way too cool for this movie–but doesn’t have much to work with.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd is really just a plot device–sad because she is lovely.   Rufus Sewell tries to reach for villainous heights but falls short–mostly because he is onscreen too little.  I am a fan a Anthony Mackie, but he too is only a plot device.  Well, as you can tell…all character development is rushed and there are many things we are TOLD to understand.  Abe falls for Mary–we may not see that happen–but trust them–it happens.  Mackie’s Will is Abe’s best friend–when? how?–don’t worry–he just is.  You get the idea.

Bottom line?  If you have low expectations and are clear on what you’re in for, you may enjoy yourself a little.  Otherwise you may want to skip this one.  Honest Abe killing vamps turned out to be pretty silly after all.

Moonrise Kingdom may just be Wes Anderson’s Masterpiece.

Wes Anderson is quirky and unique.  That is what I love about him and Moonrise Kingdom seems to be the perfect accumulation of all of Anderson’s style and talent.  While I was watching it I could not help but feel happy.  It is brilliant!  Funny, touching, silly and poignant.  Right now, it is my favorite film of 2012 (so far).

Let’s start with the story written by Anderson and Roman Coppola.  It centers around two special 12-year-old kids and their struggle to find themselves and love while running away from a New England island town.  Appropriately, it is set in 1965 and there are real risks and dangers involved–even if it is presented in a zany sort of way–and that elevates the stakes.  The narrative moves quickly and keeps you engrossed from start to finish.   As always, there are so truly affecting lines thrown in, among all the craziness, that make you nod with agreement and understanding.

Anderson’s direction is a thing of beauty.  Honestly.  Some of the sequences are masterful–blended together seamlessly and able to create greater impact.  It is 100% Anderson.  From voice over to side swipes.  Awesome.  There is a bit of magic in this one.

Now for the cast.  WOW!  The two stand outs are the 12-year-old leads.  Thousands tried out and the perfect pair was chosen.  In their début, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, knock it out of the park!  I am impressed and will be watching their careers rise–because it will happen.   They’re both natural and have a charisma that shines on-screen.  It must have intimidated them to be surrounded by some incredible talent–Edward Norton (fantastic)–Bruce Willis (melancholy perfection)–Bill Murray (DUH! Awesome)–Frances McDormand (lovely)–Tilda Swinton (great)–and Jason Schwartzman (hilarious).   I can only imagine how crazy and wonderful that must have been for these two young kids!

Yes.  I can go on and on.  But, as you know–I want you to go out and experience it yourself.  Even if you usually do not enjoy Anderson’s films–try this one–you may be surprised how much you will enjoy it.  Hopefully, it will make you happy too!

 

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Prometheus is full of grandeur and wonder, but thematically over reaches…

A female figure in silhouette stands before an enormous statue of a humanoid head. Text at the middle of the poster reveals the tagline "The Search For Our Beginning Could Lead To Our End". Text at the bottom of the poster reveals the title, production credits and rating.

Shame really, because it’s beautifully structured and could have been a solid sci-fi, horror film…maybe even a classic.  But, alas.  Despite brilliant visuals, seamless special effects and some strong acting, I was left wanting. I was entertained and captivated by the narrative, but by the third act it strays and so did my interest.  Too much dogma and too many unanswered (important) questions.  I still do not want to give too much away, so here is a brief breakdown.

A few things to know first.  1. I respect Sir Ridley Scott and most of his films.  2. I believe Alien is one of the best sci-fi films of all time.  3. I was very excited about Prometheus.  So excited, that I refused to watch any of the viral campaign because I did not want to spoil anything (I think that may have helped little) and stayed away from reviews!  So, I went in with a clear, eager mind.

Several notable aspects that must be mentioned.  1. The film is gorgeous. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski does a wonderful job with the look and style.  2. Amazing sets, creatures and cool future tech equals a geek’s dream. 3. There is a top-notch cast across the board. Stand outs?  Noomi Rapace is fantastic and Michael Fassbender is (again) incredible.  4. Scott is a master of building tension (the slow burn) and he does create a specific “atmosphere” that is mesmerizing.

Several negative aspects that must be mentioned.  1. Too many things that make you go…hmmm? or whaaa?  2. Events pick up speed (and violence) in the third act and makes it feel rushed, especially since it’s a stark contrast with the first half.  3. The “Big” themes feel forced and too broad.  4.  Damon Lindelof thinks he’s still writing for a Lost episode.  5.  Lindelof and Scott must think answers are taboo and should be avoided–actually they just keep asking questions…

All in all, in some aspects I think Prometheus succeeds brilliantly.  How?  Well, Prometheus will probably be the most divisive film of 2012 and will stir debates and discussions for years to come (more so, if the rumored sequel does happen).  Isn’t that what you want a film to do?  You want to promote dialogue and engage the imagination, right?  Well…only you can answer that question.