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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Magic Mike; The Little Shop of Horrors


MAGIC MIKE (Two and a Half Stars)

U. S.: Steven Soderbergh, 2012 (Warner Bros.)


The art and commerce of striptease — at least as we see it in director Steven Soderbergh and producer-star Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike — is entertainment in a very elemental (let’s say “stripped down“) form. The performer takes off her/his clothes and writhes or dances suggestively. The audience, if they choose, get to holler rude, lewd lines, drink themselves into a stupor and stuff paper money down the stripper’s pants, panties or bras. In this kind of show, technique is helpful, but not as crucial as looks or stage presence — both of which Tatum had in his brief career, in his teens, as a male exotic dancer. The dancing doesn’t have to be particularly good, but it’s best when the dancer has a sense of humor or drama. (I guess Tatum must have had those too.)

“Tease” is an apt word. The audience slaps down cash, like customers at a meat market picking out a thigh or breast. The next step up, or down, may be prostitution, which sometimes actually is the next act (in certain venues, in certain places). But here it’s only suggested. In any case, what we see often has the smack and bump and grind of truth, at least some of the time.

Tatum, who plays Magic Mike, star dancer dude at the raunchy Tampa club Xquisite, is also one of the film‘s producers, and his producing partner Reid Carolin also wrote the script (I assume based largely on Tatum’s memories and research) and has a supporting part. The plot loosely resembles All About Eve crossed with Boogie Nights, and (at its worst) Showgirls and Burlesque — mostly without bitchery. Instead, Tatum’s show emphasizes backstage camaraderie among the dancers, including friendly undressers Mike, Paul and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello).

Maybe it’s a buddy-buddy show, deconstructed. Tatum as Magic Mike, ab-happy king of the strip hill at Xquisite, befriends college dropout Adam a.k.a. “The Kid” (Alex Pettyfer) on a construction job, introduces him to Xquisite head honcho and strip-savvy mentor Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), and gets him a job at the club — where The Kid’s fresh-young hunk looks and what-am-I-doing-here attitude make him an immediate sensation among the screaming ladies in the audience. Meanwhile, Magic Mike, who wants to go legit with a custom-made furniture business, also gets a yen for Adam’s sister, sensible Brooke (Cody Horn). The Kid’s star rises. Things get darker. There’s a lot of sex and nudity, including an orgy with a pig wandering around. (This must have happened sometimes, somewhere.) Dallas wants to take the act to Miami. The club deejay, good-natured chubby Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) peddles Ecstasy on the side. Alex loses a lot of drugs and dough. Hey, stripping isn’t all “woman, money and good times,” as one character puts it. Some mornings you wake up with a pig staring at you.

Magic Mike struck me as realistic in the club milieu, but phony in its story — though the dialogue is sharper and the acting metter than usual for this kind of show.  There’s one knockout performance, by Matthew McConaughey as the  utterly shameless club czar and sometime stripper Dallas. (In one dance, he’s dressed as Uncle Sam.) McConaughey plays it strictly for sleaze and laughs, but he also suggests a real person: a sleazy funny one who loves the feel  of a Lincoln on his scrotum. If the entire movie were as entertaining as McConaughey — or a bit darker than Tatum and Soderbergh seem to want to make it — it would have been  better, cooler.

Tatum has the looks and presence for Mike, but not quite the magic. His onstage backflips are awesome, but I thought he spent too much time  seducing the camera, and not enough digging into the guy. Pettyfer does an even more narcissistic job, and the fact that The Kid is supposed to be narcissistic and irresponsible isn’t much of an excuse. Sister Brooke is a typical decent-onlooker part, typically done. People who like the dancing won’t care all that much about the acting — and vice versa.

So why did a brilliant and unpigeonholeable filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh want to make this movie? Well, sex — if not always lies and videotape — has worked for him in the past, and it’s always good news when a gifted moviemaker who really takes chances,  gets a financial hit. Obviously, Soderbergh likes to work, likes the whole job of directing movies. (He also photographed and edited this one.) He likes working with good-looking actors, and Magic Mike allows him to twist around sex roles for men that way Haywire twisted them around for a woman (Gina Carano). Maybe he liked the music. And maybe he’s always secretly nourished the desire to do a pig-at-the-orgy scene.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Blu-ray Director’s Cut Combo Pack) (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Frank Oz, 1986 (Warner Bros.)

Adapted from Roger Corman’s  1960 Z-Budget classic The Little Shop of Horrors, which is about a carnivorous plant and the hapless schmo of a schlemiel of a schnook who discovers it and then has to feed it, this is really one of the best musical comedies of the ‘80s. It also marked the beginning of a brief period when the team of lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken not only ruled the roost (largely at Disney) as that era’s top Hollywood songwriters, but played a major role in bringing back the musical comedy as a movie genre. Director Frank Oz’s movie, his best, is based on Ashman and Menken’s hit Off-0Broadway musical, which was of course based on Corman’s movie, which was, according to Leonard Maltin, shot in two days. (Two days well spent.)

The cast all click; so do the songs; so does the movie. Rick Moranis, at his nerdiest, plays sub-hero Seymour, Ellen Greene is the sweet gal who  sings (with Moranis) that unique, heart-ripping  ballad “Suddenly Seymour,” and supporting roles and cameos are filled by the comical likes of  John Candy, Jim Belushi, Chris Guest, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin and Bill Murray — having a ball in Jack Nicholson’s old Corman role of the masochistic dental patient (with sadist Martin as his dentist).  And, to top it all off, Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops brings down the house, and maybe the planet, with his roaring rendition of “I’m Just a Mean Green Mother from Outer Space.” Sing it again, Levi.

Extras: This package, a dandy, includes the original theatrical version, the director’s cut, the 20-minute alternate (much darker) ending, more outtakes and deleted scenes, trailers, and the documentaries on the dire4ctor’s cut and on A Story of Little Shop of Horrors




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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon