By Tim Posada, 7/05/2012
“If you had a chance to change your fate, would you”? asks “Brave’s” Merida, played by Kelly MacDonald (No Country For Old Men” and “Boardwalk Empire”). Merida is contemplating upcoming nuptials when all she wants to do is let her disheveled red hair blow in the wind as she hones her archery abilities for that one fateful day when she’ll pit her skills against Legolas of “Lord of the Rings” (OK, not really). In setting and themes, “Brave” is remarkably, similar to “How To Train Your Dragon”, but with more humor than visual spectacle. Don’t forget that simplistic storytelling in the hands of animation masters, Pixar, still does more than any “Ice Age” flick.
(I’m just thankful we didn’t have a repeat of “Cars 2”.)
This is a fairy tale through and through. Princess Merida, rebelling against her mother’s desire for her to marry the son of a mighty clan leader, searches for a new fate in the form of a potion from a nearby witch (Julie Walters). Like most magic, our red-headed heroine must quickly grow up and face the consequences of her misplaced trust. But while the majority of the film focuses on the relationship between Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), we do get a touch of suspense in the form of Mor’du, an enormous bear that’s got it out for Clan DunBroch, once taking King Fergus’ (Billy Connolly) leg.
This is no “Up” or “The Incredibles”. In fact, I imagine many diehard Pixar fans might even be a bit disappointed by the simplicity of “Brave”. It feels much more like a kids film — with a much smaller audience — than many of the animation giant’s more engaging films. Still, this modest story is both fun and funny even if it doesn’t mark Pixar’s return to the fast lane. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: it’s enjoyable for the family and for a Friday night out.
It’s time for a ladies night out, and “Magic Mike” is just the guilty pleasure for you. Who wouldn’t want to see Channing Tatum and a bunch of male hotties — not to mention Matthew McConaughey seemingly channeling his cocky celeb self — dress up as soldiers, firefighters and cops, and ever-so gracefully dance their clothes off? Well, that’s how “Magic Mike”, the story of a male stripper (Tatum) in Tampa, markets itself, but what you get is something a little deeper than two hours of titillation.
Remember how “Pretty Woman” gave us the prostitute with a heart of gold? Well, this is the male stripper with dreams of being a custom furniture designer (conceptually the same thing). As a self-described entrepreneur, Magic Mike — just Mike by day — spends his days on construction sites or debating banks regarding his credit score, but by night he’s the god of scantily clad hip hop, as he puts his abs and “Step Up” skills to work for an audience craving R-rated entertainment.
We’re introduced to this obscure world through rookie performer, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old shy guy with no other job options. There’s club owner, Dallas (McConaughey); Richie (Joe Manganiello, the sexy, bearded werewolf from “True Blood”), known for his — eh hem — large personality; Ken (”White Collar’s” Matt Bomer), who deals some exotic drugs on the side; and DJ Tobias (comedian Gabriel Inglesias).
As for the ladies in this estrogen-funded subculture, there is Joanna (Olivia Munn), a psych student who enjoys three-ways with Mike and any unsuspecting groupie of the evening, and Brooke (Cody Horn), Adam’s concerned sister and the true love interest for Mike, who transcends the rest. Horn provides a stiff and seeming robotic demeanor that balances nicely with the flamboyant performances of these kings of the night.
For those unfamiliar with director Stephen Soderbergh, he put indie films on the map. Most know him for the “Ocean’s” trilogy and “Traffic”, but lately he’s gone back to his roots with more experimental films, like “The Girlfriend Experience” starring porn star Sasha Grey, or the espionage thriller “Haywire” with MMA fighter Mallory Kane. But with a screenplay by Reud Carolin, “Magic Mike” is surprisingly conservative, functioning more as a cautionary take than counter cultural exposé. Honestly, in the midst of many directors more prone to delve deep into the heart of the subcultural underground, like Darren Aronofsky (”The Wrestler” and “Black Swan”), it’s refreshing to view a film with a much less lofty (and exhausting) goal. That’s the true strength of Soderbergh: his lack of predictability and broad enjoyment of various narrative strategies.