Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reel Thoughts Preview: Do You Believe in Magic?

We’re fairly certain that Sir Laurence Olivier didn’t start his acting career as a stripper named “Chan Crawford” in a troupe called “Male Encounters”, but then again, he didn’t have Channing Tatum’s abs of steel. Tatum joins a gorgeous cast of Hollywood hunks in esteemed director Steven Soderbergh’s (Traffic) sexy and fun-looking romp Magic Mike, in theaters this Friday.

Check out YouTube and you’ll see where the inspiration for this film about a seasoned male stripper showing a “Kid” (Alex Pettyfer) the ropes (and g-strings) of the business originated. Tatum is a rarity – a drop-dead handsome actor who is comfortable enough with his masculinity to have stripped in Florida and posed for some pretty homoerotic pictures to pay the bills. As Ulla in The Producers sings, “If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!” and Tatum is happy to oblige. He pitched the idea of a film about his experiences as a dancer and Soderbergh saw the potential.

Magic Mike is a Tampa stripper who teaches a newcomer everything he needs to know about dancing, partying and making big money taking off his clothes. In the process, he falls for the Kid’s protective sister Brooke (played by newcomer Cody Horn, who just happens to the be the daughter of Warner Brothers President Alan F. Horn). Eventually, every stripper has to hang up their tear-away pants and settle down, but Brooke isn’t much interested in joining Magic Mike’s lifestyle. Fortunately, the audience is treated to many scenes of what exactly Mike and company do for crumpled up singles, fives and the occasional twenty dollar bill. “You don’t want to know what I have to do for twenties,” Mike warns Brooke, but we can only hope he shows us.

While it will be a couple of days before we can see Tatum and his boys strut their stuff under the watchful eye of club owner Matthew McConaughey, we do know enough about the film to introduce you to the Men of Magic Mike:

- Dallas: McConaughey plays the owner of the night club who shows off some pretty ripped abs himself. McConaughey is photographed shirtless so often, it’s become his trademark, and who can ever forget his Texas arrest for naked bongo-playing?

· 'Magic' Mike Martingano: Tatum plays a big draw at McConaughey’s club who is trying to find something more to do with his life. Tatum is comfortable in comedy, drama and Nicholas Spark-y romances, and more than comfortable out of his clothes.

· The Kid: Pettyfer plays the young guy who Magic Mike indoctrinates into the world of stripping. At twenty-two, Brit Pettyfer has already gained a reputation as a bad boy, which he denies. He likes tattoo tributes to his girlfriends, who’ve included Emma Roberts and Glee’s Diana Agron. He’s best known as the lead in I Am Number Four and Beastly.

· Ken: Matt Bomer has recently come out, which makes him even more gorgeous. In addition to his starring role in the USA Network's White Collar, Bomer also drew raves for his musical work on Glee as Darren Criss’ semi-famous brother. His great physique is drawing raves in Magic Mike. At thirty-four, he and his partner have three children who were born via surrogate.

· 'Big Dick' Richie: Joe Manganiello’s moniker must refer to his 6’5” height, right? This thirty-five year-old True Blood werewolf has been driving audiences wild with his rugged looks for a decade, but he is also a classically-trained theater actor. (It’s also just a coincidence that his 2002 role in something called The Ketchup King was as “Black Dildo.”)

· Tito: Adam Rodriguez rocked Ana Ortiz’ life on Ugly Betty and made CSI: Miami bearable. It only makes sense for a Florida-set comedy to have some Latin flavor.

Eight Sizzling Stripper Sagas:

Magic Mike isn’t the first film to delve into men baring all for their art (and those crumpled singles), but it may be the sexiest. Here are six films to see if you’re into eager ecdysiasts, male or female:

The Full Monty (1997): This hit British film about a bunch of regular blokes who turn to stripping when their factory shuts down was more heartwarming than heart-racing, but it spawned a hit musical and featured Once Upon a Time’s Robert Carlysle, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Addy.

A Night in Heaven (1983): All stripper movies seem to be set in Florida (heck, even the Octomom is set to strip in the Sunshine State), so it is no surprise that this overheated drama was filmed in Titusville. Lesley Ann Warren plays a sexually frustrated professor who falls in lust with Ricky the Rocket, one of her failing students who she spies stripping at a bar called Heaven. The Blue Lagoon’s Christopher Atkins continued his mostly unclothed career as the sexy but immature Rick.

Ladykillers (1988): Grade A Cheese with a healthy serving of beefcake! This TV movie stars Marilu Henner as a tough detective in charge of finding out who is killing the strippers of LA’s hottest club Ladykillers right in the middle of their finales. Her solution is to send her partner, played by Melrose Place’s Thomas Calabro, in undercover, although it is really more of an 'uncovered' stakeout. Another Lesley-Anne, Lesley-Anne Down, plays the Joan Crawfordesque owner of Ladykillers, but is she living up to her bar’s name?

Trick (1999): This hilariously sweet romance tells the story of sweet Gabriel, played by Christian Campbell, who meets sexy stripper Mark, played by adorable John Paul Pitoc. As the title says, they just want to “make it” in the city, but everything and everyone is standing in the way of their trick, including the hilarious Tori Spelling and and the scene-stealing Miss Coco Peru.

The Chippendales Murder (2000): Who knew that before he was a ruthless Iraqi assassin on Lost, Naveen Andrews played Steve Banerjee, the man who invented Chippendale’s male revue? This TV movie featured Castle’s Victor Webster in a very revealing role as dancer Marco Carolo. It’s the true life tale of how Banerjee tried to poison his star strippers when he found out they were going into competition with him.

For Ladies Only (1981):  Many a gay man of a certain age looks back fondly upon this made-for-TV beefcake classic, which starred a hot and hunky Gregory Harrison as an Iowa farm boy trying to make it big in the Big Apple. The (almost) all-star cast also included Empty Nest's Dinah Manoff, Reagan daughter Patti Davis (as Harrison's love interests) and a pre-Beastmaster Marc Singer. Why isn't this on DVD yet?

Striptease (1996): What kind of a stripper (in Florida, naturally) does her bump-and-grind routines to Annie Lennox songs? Do truckers and horny businessmen even know who the Eurythmics singer is? Of course, Demi Moore was trying to do “art” with her “striptease,” which makes this sad comedy funny for all the wrong reasons. Burt Reynolds is embarrassing as a sleazy and obsessive congressman who fixates on Moore at “The Eager Beaver” and who likes to cover himself in Vaseline.

- Showgirls (1995): No list of supreme strip-a-thons is complete without mentioning Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece of bad taste. While the glitzy “Goddess” number at the Stardust Casino was getting all the buzz, the real action was happening over at the Cheetah Show Club, where Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi Malone didn’t just pole dance and lap lance, she “lick-danced” the stripper pole in one awesomely crazy moment (to a Prince song, no less). That, Demi, is how you do it! The Cheetah is a treasure trove of talent, from Lin Tucci’s boob-baring comic Henrietta Bazooms to Rena Riffle’s sweet Penny, all under the watchful eye of sleazy club owner Robert Davi, who only ten years earlier had been a Bond villain.

Preview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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