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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

Slightly less simplistic and ridiculous than this past summer’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Steven Spielberg’s snooze-inducing Lincoln – which, for the purposes of this review, shall go by the more appropriate and poetic title Stinkoln – is a study in arrogant Hollywood leftism thinly disguised as a prestigious period piece and civics lesson.  The essence of bare-assed propaganda, Stinkoln has multiple ulterior motives, which, however, are unified by the idea that the United States are a cess pit of ethical retardation and gross injustice, a situation that can be remedied only by a dictatorial executive beloved of “the people” and “clothed in immense power”.

Stinkoln fires its first shot with inspiring footage of black soldiers shooting, stabbing, and strangling white soldiers in open race warfare, after which two of the heroic Negroes pester the president himself for a raise and complain about their second-class citizen status.  Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis, doing his best Walter Brennan impression) gives evidence in this, his first scene, of what a shrewd politician he is by listening sympathetically, but then pretending to be half-senile and abruptly changing the subject, telling unfunny jokes instead of answering the Negroes’ concerns.  Lame comedy, unfortunately for the viewer, is a tactic that will be shamelessly employed by the commander-in-chief throughout the film, which focuses specifically on Lincoln’s crafty intention to stall peace negotiations with the Confederacy in order to force the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, finally abolishing slavery.  Opposition is strong in that “rat’s nest” of “hicks and hacks” the House of Representatives, however, and securing the necessary votes is no easy task for the Anointed.

David Strathairn, veteran of another self-congratulatory and horribly overrated liberal propaganda film, 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck, appears as Lincoln’s David Axelrod, William Seward, the unscrupulous muscle whose duties as Secretary of State also include overseeing a posse of political operatives engaged in bribing and browbeating representatives into enacting the people’s will.  Alternately aiding and irritating the president is First Lady Mary (Sally Field), an erratic, self-important ditz who characterizes her headaches as “another casualty of the war”.  Tommy Lee Jones steals the show, however, as Lincoln’s cantankerous, insult-spouting Marxist id, the abolition-uber-alles Radical Republican Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt also figures in the cast of hundreds, wasting a few minutes of his promising career as Lincoln’s idealistic first son Robert.

As a costume drama Stinkoln succeeds in recreating the look and feel of a place and time.  It sacrifices most of the entertainment value it might have had, however, in functioning as a political passion play.  Sanctimonious, rigid, hateful, and partisan, Stinkoln has nothing but smiling contempt for its audience, the American people.  Presenting a righteously reconfigured genocidal Ozymandias archetype for popular adoration and executive imitation, this freak-bearded Kool-Aid pitcher of a film is not only irresponsibly subversive but – arguably more unforgivable – actually boring. Lincoln’s dialogue consists almost entirely of purple prose that constantly chafes the viewer’s patience and makes this two-and-a-half-hour lecture on freedom feel more like four hours of chain-dragging bondage.  One of the kookiest, most cocksure, cruddy, overstuffed, oversimplified, overwrought, overbearing, and overlong offerings of Steven Spielberg’s overly hyped career, Stinkoln earns 2.5 of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Stinkoln is:

7. Anti-tobacco.  Second-hand smoke agitates emphysema.  An evilly racist representative rudely spits tobacco juice after voting against the Thirteenth Amendment.

6. Pro-miscegenation.  Thaddeus Stevens, Stinkoln reveals, has secretly been balling his black housekeeper, and therefore has more than a humanitarian motivation to pass the Thirteenth Amendment if he wants to keep the taste of that sweet brown sugar on his crusty, lusty old white lips.

5. Militarist/pro-NWO.  Government-directed bloodshed is the Philosopher’s Stone of social justice.  Brainwashed Robert, after seeing a patriotic heap of severed body parts, decides he is “nothing” if he fails to enlist to assist in the extermination of the enemies of the state.  Featured prominently in one scene is a George Washington statue by Frenchman Jean-Antoine Houdon (who also sculpted Rousseau and Napoleon), depicting America’s first president resting his left hand significantly on a fasces.

4. Anti-South.  Southern diplomats are pale, vampiric creatures who wince at the sunlight on emerging from the coffin-like darkness of their carriage (cf. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).  Robert E. Lee is, however, granted at least a measure of dignity of bearing in his brief appearance to throw in the towel.

3. Egalitarian, and specifically espousing a form of liberation theology.  Lincoln derives his power to redistribute property from “the people”, who, however, have defective moral compasses and require a man of superior fiber and spirituality to lead them to glory.  Equality = Fairness = Justice in Lincoln’s sophistic recipe for a moral economy.  Before his assassination, the president tells his wife he would like to travel in the Holy Land and visit Jerusalem, thus setting up the tacky Jesus comparison that finds its explicit expression in the beatific deathbed tableau, with Daniel Day-Lewis aglow in demise and looking like the figure in Bernardo Strozzi’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ.

2. Anti-slavery (i.e., pro-yawn).  Tad Lincoln (Gulliver McGrath) appears as a whiny, neurotic mess wracked by acute white guilt.  He divides his time between playing with toy soldiers and staring with naked self-loathing at photographic plates of miserable slaves.  One of the White House domestics recalls being beaten with a shovel as a child.  The horror!

1. Obamist/Machiavellian.  Political oppostion and pesky legal restraints are to be overcome by any necessary means.  What this country needs, Stinkoln dares to suggest, is an enlightened despot “clothed in immense power”.  It helps the masses to swallow the bitter pill of tyranny, however, if their dictator presents himself as Main Street incarnate, a folksy figure of Andy Griffith wholesomeness (think A Face in the Crowd) who tells jokes and anecdotes and whittles during strategy meetings.

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