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Magic Mike poster

Magic Mike, along with Katy Perry: Part of Me, was one of the faith-shakingly embarrassing trailers that seemed to hound this critic every time he went to the movies during the summer of 2012. “Oh, no, not this again,” he would think to himself, slumping into his seat as his heart sank in his breast. The fact of the matter is, however, that this amusing and unassumingly sharp drama from screenwriter Reid Carolin and director Steven Soderbergh not only rises to the occasion on more than an anatomical level, but ends up as one of the most outstanding films of its year.

Channing Tatum, who actually worked as a stripper during an earlier phase of his show business career, puts his skills to productive use in Magic Mike, a role perfectly suited to the actor’s dissolute good looks, sex power, and sense of humor. Tatum’s semiautobiographical Mike is an American original, a creatively driven renaissance stud who aspires to build handcrafted furniture for a living, but works at construction, car detailing, and stripping until he can put together the venture capital he requires. Handsome Alex Pettyfer plays Adam, the fresh piece of meat Mike recruits to join the dance revue at Club Xquisite, and whose pretty but staid sister Brooke (Cody Horn) will become Mike’s reluctant romantic interest.

It is Matthew McConaughey, however, who majestically steals much of Magic Mike as the Mephistophelean Dallas, the Gordon Gekko of male strip club proprietors. In particular, the sequence in which erotic drill instructor Dallas is training greenhorn Adam for his first tour of duty under the lights provides McConaughey with the most explosive monologue of 2012. “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t,” he prods his pupil like a madman, showing him how to win over a crowd of emotionally vulnerable women by whirling and thrusting his pelvis properly. “You are the husband that they never had. You are the dreamboat guy that never came along. You are the one-night stand, that free fling of a fuck that they get to have tonight with you onstage and still go home to their hubby and not get in trouble because you, baby, you make it legal. You are the liberation!” McConaughey even gets to sing a sweet little country ditty, “Ladies of Tampa”, which he himself co-wrote.

Soderbergh again shows himself to be the consummate master, a man in complete and comfortable control of his craft. Magic Mike is a career highlight, but with no small assistance from his collaborators at every level of this nearly perfect production. From performances to editing and visual design, Magic Mike is a classy show and deserving of repeated viewings. Music also adds much to the verve of the experience, with cleverly selected songs setting the movie’s various tones and rhythms. Of special note, Win Win’s “Victim” is darkly repetitive, cock-rocking magic; Countre Black’s cover of “It’s Raining Men” is a scintillating introduction to the men of Xquisite doing a campy raincoats-and-umbrellas routine; and Chris Mitchell’s coy rendition of “Like a Virgin” is an appropriate accompaniment to Adam’s shy first appearance onstage.

Highly recommended at 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Magic Mike is:

11. Anti-Christian. A crucifix pendant and cross tattoo appear in irreverent contexts.

10. Antiwar. The troupe of strippers performs a mock-patriotic military-themed routine, firing their crotches to the sound of gunfire. While, on the one hand, this points to the warrior ideal as a perennially appealing archetype in women’s sexual fantasies, it might just as easily equate war with show business as something tawdry, phony, and whorish, or suggest that war is really a sublimation of primal, sexually motivated aggression.

9. Anti-obesity. One of the strippers hurts his back trying to lift a chubby customer.

8. Pro-gay. “I don’t care what your preferences are,” says Brooke when she discovers her brother’s dance outfits and takes these for evidence of his homosexuality. Then, as if 2005’s Brokeback Mountain had been insufficient degradation of an American movie icon, the cowboy archetype is further downgraded by a homoerotic gunfight strip routine.

7. Statist. “Fuck school altogether,” Dallas opines with reason. His idea is that children should be homeschooled with special emphasis on finance and investment strategies, but Mike, presumably from faith in the liberal public education system, dismisses this as “stupid shit”.

6. Anti-American. “That’s the state of the country, man. America. People. Stupid.”

5. Pro-wigger. Mike affects a hoodie, backwards cap, and “y’all” talk.

4. Feminist/anti-marriage/anti-family. Brooke is offended and gets defensive when she assumes Mike is suggesting that she cook breakfast for him. A woman wearing a “bride to be” sash is seen dancing uninhibitedly onstage with one of the strippers, and Dallas explains that women patronize his establishment because their marriages are unfulfilling, with nude male revues providing the psychological “liberation” women require. The institution of motherhood, meanwhile, receives grotesque parody treatment in the memorable image of pink-haired tart Nora (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough) bottle-feeding milk to a piglet.

3. Drug-ambivalent. Strippers partake of something called “hey juice” and stupid sorority girls demand to know: “Who do we have to fuck to get a fucking drink?” Joints are passed around without consequence, but drinking and harder drugging (and drug dealing) get Adam and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) into serious difficulties. Mike and Adam barely make it out of a sorority house with their lives when Adam enrages a girl’s boyfriend by slipping her some E. To its credit, Magic Mike contains a classic morning-after atrocity scene too good to spoil.

2. Slut-ambivalent. Relatively conservative Brooke regrets her adolescent decision to get tattooed. Adam is warned to avoid oral contact with customers so as to avoid contracting herpes. One laid-back dope dealer enjoys an open marriage (“My wife’s tits are awesome. Check ‘em out, man.”), but this segment, rather than serving as an endorsement of swinging lifestyles, is intended to evince the decadence and the seductive evil of the world into which Adam is being initiated. Casual orgy partner Joanna (Olivia Munn) comes across as unhappy and frightened by intimacy, with Mike ultimately realizing that what he needs is a good girl and a sexually conventional life. In the final analysis, Magic Mike is less than satisfactorily judgmental where sexual promiscuity is concerned, but does give the impression that such escapades are best suited for youth if at all necessary and better abandoned in maturity.

1. Anti-capitalistic-cum-populist. In Magic Mike’s complicated and nuanced moral universe, informed by the compassionate socialist-populist worldview of screenwriter Reid Carolin (whose nonprofit group Red Feather Development has, according to Wikipedia, been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show!) and director Steven Soderbergh (hagiographer of Che Guevara and happy producer of George Clooney’s disingenuous anti-McCarthy clunker Good Night, and Good Luck) honest toil when set to the pattern of the typical employer-employee paradigm becomes a species of semi-prostitution. “You don’t wanna know what I have to do for twenties,” Mike tells Brooke significantly. The capitalist, as exemplified by Mike’s construction foreman, is a petty exploiter who balks at the notion of paying “benefits and shit”.

It is stripper-impresario Dallas, however, who most clearly personifies capitalism in this film. Icy, dishonest, superficial, materialistic, and nihilistic, he is also a charming, seductive swaggerer whose charisma no viewer will deny. A manipulator of others, Dallas also whores himself, serenading his customers (whom he describes collectively as his “wife”) and climbing back into the saddle for an impressively sweaty farewell performance of his own, erupting a shower of crumpled dollar bills onto his naked torso. Going into business as partners with Dallas is clearly a matter of dealing with the Devil (“Nobody walks on water on my team.”), and Dallas expectedly lets Mike down, going back on his glorious promises. Commerce, for Dallas, is glorified theft. “You are worth the cash you pry out of their fuckin’ purses,” he snidely pontificates.

It is the small, honest, dream-driven entrepreneur, uncorrupted by greed and mercenary prudence, with whom these filmmakers sympathize. Mike’s desire to start his own custom furniture business is admirable and casts him as, if not a starving artist, then a creative man of principle unwilling to compromise on his vision. This type of endeavor, Magic Mike charges, is thwarted at every turn by the old boys’ club of the business and financial establishment. This becomes painfully obvious when Mike, seeking a startup loan for his venture, is turned down as a bad credit risk by a bank’s loan officer (Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt, who, this reviewer is grieved to report, is at no point in the film treated to a private dance from Mike). “The only thing that’s distressed is y’all,” Mike tells her defiantly on being refused. One of the morals of Magic Mike, then, is that self-reliance and hard work, even if it results in a less comfortable life than that of a high-class courtesan, is, albeit a more difficult one, a more dignified way to live. Magic Mike, consequently, has mostly scorn for slacker Adam, who shirks his responsibilities, sleeps on his sister’s couch, and refuses to interview for a job that requires his wearing a “fuckin’ tie”.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Lap Dance

As salacious and lugubrious as its title indicates, this female version of Magic Mike concerns the lure of glorified whoring that euphemizes itself as “dancing” and warns of the stresses it places on a committed relationship.

Aspiring actress Monica (Ali Cobrin) seems to have found happiness with her fiancé Kevin (Robert Hoffman) until her father (James Remar) is hospitalized with cancer. When the hospital bills overwhelm the family, Monica rolls up her sleeves and skirt and goes to work in a strip club giving lap dances to cash-flashing black guys. In addition to straining relations with Kevin, Monica raises the ire of a rival performer, Lexus (Carmen Electra), who feels threatened when her top boyfriend/client Chicago (Datari Turner) begins making advances toward Monica for more than a lap lambada. Meanwhile, Kevin, neglected by Monica, drifts into a friendship and liaison with Jade Lee (K.D. Aubert), another dancer at the club.

Lap Dance delivers plenty of the cheap thrills promised by its title, but has some substance to offer, too – substances other than those called to mind by a movie titled Lap Dance.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Lap Dance is:

5. Drug-ambivalent. Kevin takes a devil-may-care attitude toward weed, but ecstasy, while pleasurable, carries a more sinister vibe in the film.

4. Pro-gay. Lexus and lesbian lover Jade Lee hope to “start a family”.

3. Anti-capitalistic. Whites come into social and inevitable sexual contact with blacks only through the sordid pursuit of Mammon. Addiction to money and ersatz glamor cause Monica to forget her principles and her promises. “I sucked a big black dick,” Monica taunts Kevin when he asks her what she had to do to get so much money.

2. Miscegenation-ambivalent. Lap Dance was produced, written, and directed by blacks – star/producer Datari Turner and screenwriter-director Greg Carter – which makes its mixed message about mixed relationships something of an enigma. On the one hand, the stock Hollywood type of Africanus cinematicus is very much in evidence, with blacks portrayed as physically desirable, intelligent, ambitious, and capable – appearing as doctors, playing chess, making plans to attend the opera, and giving advice to whites about the value of hard work – but whites’ increasing involvement with blacks in Lap Dance parallels and expresses their flirtation with darkness, which is to say evil, the strip club appearing as twilit netherworld frequented by well-heeled black devils. Blacks, furthermore, are depicted as privately brutish and sexually promiscuous, with Chicago issuing orders to the women in his life and brusquely grabbing Lexus by her hair. “The minute you go runnin’ after a woman is the minute you lose your power,” is Chicago’s approach to romance. Still, “We both got jungle fever,” Kevin confesses to Monica. Whatever the negatives associated with blacks and miscegenation in Lap Dance – promiscuity, infidelity, drugs, dishonesty, and cruelty – the fact that it seems such a matter of course and that Kevin raises no objections to his fiancée grinding against congoid crotches for a living works as a de facto normalization and hence endorsement of interracial depravity.

1. Anti-slut. Lap Dance functions as a compression and microcosm depicting the moral decline and fall of the European woman. “The woman that I loved was a good girl,” Kevin tells Monica after their relationship has hit the rocks. “She loved her family and she loved herself”; but now, he tells her, “You’re just a cheap trick.” Woman’s descent into misery has been brought about not by a totalitarian patriarchy, but by her own abandonment of traditional values and men’s permissive short-sighted nihilism.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Katy_Perry_Part_of_Me

MTV Films’ latest project in the controlled demolition of civilization follows popular candy-coated nut Katy Perry on her California Dreams Tour of 2011, “a year filled with tremendous success and personal heartbreak” for the twinkly star. Along with seemingly interminable adulation from friends and toadies, the viewer is treated to Perry’s bouts of depression as her long-distance relationship with Russell Brand disintegrates. Even so, to be granted entry into the world of Katy Perry is to be plunged into a dazzling phantasmagoria of lollipops, hearts, balloons, confetti, and sexy, garish costumes.

“I feel a real connection to fairy tales, and I think that in some ways I live in a fairytale,” the singer confides, and one quickly sees what she means when confronted with so many sissy prancers ducking, gliding, and kicking around the stage in their candy cane pants. Even freaky Russell Brand, when he meets his lady backstage, looks embarrassed to be seen mixing with this lot of dubious company. Too much hagiography begins to wear on the viewer’s patience, and Perry minus the whorish makeup and the wardrobe is actually rather an uninteresting individual; but Katy Perry: Part of Me does feature some impressive concert cinematography and grotesque visuals aplenty.

2 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Katy Perry: Part of Me is:

10. Pro-miscegenation. Interracial couplings can be glimpsed among her backup dancers.

9. Corporate. Brand sends Katy a text message with a picture of a McDonald’s restaurant and suggests they name their firstborn Ronald.

8. Anti-Christian. Katy’s conservative Pentecostal upbringing, which forbade her to watch The Smurfs or eat Lucky Charms, definitely started to cramp her style as she discovered her inner freak. “I felt like I was never even allowed to even think for myself, and having any kind of feminist live-on-your-own independent spirit is just, ugh, the devil!” (cf. no. 5) Today Perry’s beliefs appear to drift more toward permissive New Age nebulousness: “I really do believe in God[, even if I] probably don’t believe in all the same details that my mom believes, but I have a spiritual relationship with God, and it’s one-on-one, and it’s continually evolving.”

7. Pro-drug. Katy be “sippin’ on gin and juice”.

6. Family-ambivalent. Perry is close with her grandmother, and her parents are generally supportive despite not approving of all of their daughter’s output. She is unprepared, however, to have children of her own.

5. Underachievingly feminist. “I kinda want to be a leader, but, you know, then there’s all those responsibilities.” Still, California girls like Katy are naturally “fine”, “fresh”, and “fierce”.

4. Multiculturalist. The film goes to great lengths to portray Katymania as a messianic and postracial phenomenon and opens with a series of webcam effusions from teen admirers of various races and orientations who say that Perry has shown them that “being weird is okay.”

3. Pro-gay. Perry’s breakout hit, “I Kissed a Girl”, occasions a lesbian smooch from View host Whoopi Goldberg. Among the fans who receive screen time are some Japanese drag queens.

2. Pro-wigger. One must, one supposes, muster something resembling admiration for a songwriter who rhymes “peacock” with “beyatch”. “West coast, represent!”

1. Pro-slut. In addition to her salacious booty-shakery onstage, Perry’s lyrics tend to be of the tawdry “let you put your hands on me in my skintight jeans” and “I wanna see your peacock” variety.

Street Music

Street Music (1981) ****1/2

A bittersweet variation on a staple 80s genre – the underdog story in which a motley assortment of misfits band together to save the [insert cause of choice: summer camp, dance club, etc.] – Street Music serves as the perfect vehicle for sprightly, diminutive cutie Elizabeth Guttman (alias Elizabeth Daily), whose exotic looks viewers may recognize from such classics of the decade as Valley Girl (1983) and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985).

Guttman plays Sadie Delaware, a busker who makes her living giving spirited renditions of old-timey jazz songs. Yet to get her big break in show business, Sadie lives with her boyfriend Eddie (Larry Breeding) in the ramshackle Victory Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, a colorful slum full of alcoholics, eccentric old codgers, and prostitutes. Unfortunately for the hotel’s residents, it is scheduled to be demolished, and all of its occupants are expected to vacate within a matter of days. Monroe (D’Alan Moss), a black Marxist who works at the Victory, hopes to mobilize the elderly tenants to picket and fight the eviction, but Sadie just wants to get out of the ghetto and make a better life for herself.

Street Music taps into common liberal fears of the 1980s: loss of individuality, ideals, and character; the sacrifice of the little guy on the altar of rising consolidation, commercialism, corporate power, and conformity. The tenants of the Victory – old Jews, blacks, Hispanics, crazies, food stamp recipients, and bohemian artists – represent the liberal dream of harmonious racial diversity in a setting of noble squalor and hearty communitarian grime. A modest movie about little heroisms, full of graffiti, garbage, and heart, Street Music will appeal to admirers of truly independent cinema. Sticklers for craft, however, are warned that, true to its subject matter, Street Music‘s boom operator seems to have been a drunkard, with the microphone dipping into view in more than one of the scenes.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Recommended.

Rooftops

Rooftops (1989) ***1/2

West Side Story director Robert Wise returns to the dance-oriented inner-city fantasy in Rooftops, the story of homeless heartthrob T (Jason Gedrick), who lives in a Lower East Side water tower “like a bat or a rat or something”. T falls for nappy-headed Puerto Rican treat Elana (Troy Beyer), unaware that she works for her cousin Lobo (Eddie Velez), the neighborhood crack cocaine kingpin. Lobo is making life difficult for everyone; and when one of his henchmen burns T out of his tower, Lobo’s days as the local thug-in-chief are numbered.

A prime document of the War on Drugs and its naive “Just Say No” ethos, Rooftops packs a vibrant blast of nostalgia for 80s freaks. Set in a fairy tale barrio where bright, resilient youths settle their differences with beat-driven martial dance showdowns, the movie is splashed with graffiti and peppered with quaint slum dialogue like “You dissin’ me, homeboy” and “don’t bust on my crib”.

Other sights and sounds of sentimental interest include the expected 80s fashions (Batman tank top, anyone?); funky music by the Eurythmics, Etta James, and others; and several shots of the World Trade Center looming large and doomed in the distance. Rooftops is elegantly photographed and entertainingly choreographed, but will be most likely to please admirers of period kitsch along the colorful lines of Body Rock (1984), Delivery Boys (1985), Band of the Hand (1986), and Lambada (1990). One only wishes Rooftops had more dancing and less sanctimonious anti-drug messaging.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rooftops preview

Underground

Underground (1991) *****  “Most of the people who come here you can hardly call people,” says bartender Whitebread (credited as playing “himself”) of the clientele at the strip club that serves as the sordid setting of Bret Carr’s remarkable exploitation entry Underground. The fun begins when innocent bimbo Allison (Rachel Carr), fresh off the Greyhound bus from Nebraska, gets lured into a waitressing job, unaware that her new place of work doubles as a white slavery clearing house run by degenerate Rudy Gantz. Clement von Franckenstein delivers Underground‘s center ring performance as grime-dripping, gloriously potty-mouthed Gantz, the super-sleazy strip club proprietor who introduces himself to the viewer by unleashing a mightily sustained volley of hall of fame profanity worthy of Joe Pesci or Al Pacino as he makes a dishonest deal over the phone. The clearly psychotic Gantz spends much of the movie badgering his subordinates as he frets and mugs and arranges to rectify an unprofitable “paucity of pussy”, sending henchman Tony (Jack Savage, a poor man’s Alan Rickman) on thankless errands to procure fresh meat for his periodic auctions.

Underground is a real treat for trash aficionados, with roughly half its run time devoted to sultry strip routines, the amazing Debra Lamb being particularly praiseworthy in her balletic pole turns as “Fire Girl”. The film should please admirers of Katt Shea’s contributions to the erotic strip-thriller subgenre, especially Stripped to Kill, to which Underground bears a telling stylistic resemblance with its dark, cavernous nightclub and atmospheric use of colored lights, shadows, and smoke. Both films mythify the lowest of Los Angeles, recasting the city as a decidedly adult fairy tale universe of ogres, princesses, and spells as exemplified by juggling jester Whitebread when he says of Allison’s transformation into an LA temptress, “Hey, man. You got the magic. She ain’t the same virgin princess as last night. I think some prince fucked her and woke her up to reality.”

Bret Carr’s screenplay is just as nasty a joy as the dance routines in Underground. Other memorable lines include any number of Rudy Gantz’s utterances, such as when he barks at Allison, “I am not Dick Clark and this is not the fucking Solid Gold dancers. Now lose the top, you cunt!” Then, too, there is the appalling “Rat”, who, brandishing and licking a knife, waxes sentimental about a woman and laughs, “I loved her. All I wanted to do was cut her pussy and save it for my collection.” Even the scummy songs accompanying the strip sequences, several performed by Jean Stewart, contribute to the all-pervading perversion of the experience, with titles like “Clit Fingers” and “Panties Down”; references to bestiality and statutory rape; and such lines as, “Piss on the teacher! Shit on her desk! Rip all her clothes off! Scratch your name on her chest!” In sum, Underground is mandatory viewing for seekers after the obscene and extreme, a triumph of reverent, aesthetically piquant presentation of the female form and an LA-flavored highlight of what this reviewer likes to term the Kelly Bundy Era in movie bimbo fashions.

Tokyo Decadence

Tokyo Decadence aka Topaz (1992) ****1/2  One of the most shocking and frankly depressing films ever to emerge from Japan or anywhere else, writer-director Ryu Murakami’s Tokyo Decadence offers a chilly portrait of his country as an emotional dystopia of nihilistic sado-power relationships, sunglasses and blindfolds, rubber and plastic, sterile interiors and intimidating exteriors of steel, concrete, and glass that weigh upon the individual, in this case delicate call girl Ai (Miho Nikaido), still wounded after being jilted by a socially superior lover. Set in the ragged aftermath of Japan’s years as an economic powerhouse, the film is an exotic and more depraved cousin of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street in its message that soullessly transitory economic and earthly prosperity can come at a terrible price, at the national as well as the individual level. Japan, as depicted, is a place uprooted from tradition and morality, left to drift and divert itself in jaded, mutually degrading sadomasochistic pleasures, and Ai, as she moves from blackly absurd gig to gig, meets an array of men and women representative of the decline: gangsters, sluts, drug addicts, and a rogue’s gallery of self-loathing, degenerate johns who share what Murakami characterizes as the fatal Japanese misfortune of “wealth without pride”. Tokyo Decadence is an experience that, for better or worse, burns itself irreparably into the viewer’s memory, and is recommended more for the art house crowd than for exploitation audiences, its explicitness being more unpleasantly allegorical than erotic.

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