“Magic Mike”

Richard’s Review:  3 1/2 stars

Here's the answer to the first question most people have asked me about "Magic Mike": Yes, Channing Tatum appears naked but not nekkid. In movie terms naked means posterior shots. Nekkid is when he turns around. Channing is now too big a star to turn around, but rest assured film fans. Within a minute of appearing on screen Tatum leaves little to the imagination.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Magic Mike" is a loosely biographical account of Tatum's time spent dancing for money in a Tampa, Fla. strip club. He plays the title character, a 30-year-old entrepreneur and stripper with one foot on the stage and one in the business world. When he recruits the hot-headed Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to dance at the club he gets drawn deeper into the dark side of selling sex.

Let me first say "Magic Mike" is abtastic.  There haven't been this many finely sculpted stomach muscles in one place since the Dr. Ho infomercials of the late 1990s.

The genetic blessings of Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez as Chippendales-like dancers redefines the art of dirty dancing. Little touches, such as the way Mike smoothes out sweaty, rumpled dollar bills before he shoves them down his G-string, also paint an effective portrait of these dancers who liberate the sexual passions of the giddy girls in their audiences.

When Mike is showing some skin the movie works. The film falters, however, when it tries to get to the heart and soul of its characters. Up until the final half-hour it's all about "women, money and good times," as Mike says. But the film’s turn toward the dark side isn't nearly as interesting as what comes before it. "Boogie Nights" did it first and did it better.

By the time "Magic Mike" reaches its redemptive moment, with the classic rock anthem "Feels Like the First Time" blaring in the soundtrack, the movie feels like something we've seen before.  

But for those who stopped reading after the words "Channing Tatum" and "naked," "Magic Mike" offers the pleasures of an endearing performance from the titular character. It also offers an unhinged performance from McConaughey and lots of buff, hairless men doing things that would make your grandmother blush.


Richard’s Review:  3 1/2 stars

Fans of “Family Guy” already know what to expect from “Ted,” the big screen directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane. As the writer and the voice behind Peter Griffin on that show, MacFarlane has redefined the limits of what is acceptable on prime TV. Now imagine that without a network censor looking over MacFarlane’s shoulder. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Ted.”

When John Bennett (Mark Walhberg) was a small, lonely child he wished for just one thing -- a best friend. His wish came true and Ted, his trusty teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane), came to life. The pair became “Thunder Buddies” for life, which causes problems when John grows up and moves in with his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). After four years of living with John and the pot smoking, foul-mouthed Ted (imagine rooming with Bob Marley and Charles Bukowski), Lori issues an ultimatum: It’s either her or the stuffed, stoned bear.

The novelty of watching a stuffed bear spout words that would make a biker blush fades soon after the opening credits. After that, the movie relies on Seth MacFarlane’s trademarked blend of awkward, inappropriate humor to get laughs -- and you know what? It works. I didn’t feel good about laughing at some of the gags, but I still laughed.

The movie is structured like a long-form episode of “Family Guy.” There are flashbacks and fight sequences that intentionally go on too long. There are pop culture references (MacFarlane gives “Flash Gordon” star Sam Jones the biggest part he’s had in 20 years), as well as the kind of jokes you would repeat around the water cooler the next day, but only in a whisper. MacFarlane is an enemy of political correctness, and no one or no subject is off limits in this movie.

“Ted” works best when it is cursing and drinking. But the film also has a heart, much like an R-rated “Alf.” Despite the concept of a teddy bear who comes to life and gets high with his owner, “Ted” is a fairy tale and a raunchy one at that. The film wants you to take the relationship between John and Ted and Lori -- the two most important people in John’s life -- seriously. MacFarlane eases off on the raunch in the last half-hour to allow the characters’ relationships to take centre stage. Even so, MacFarlane still ends things off with some memorable jabs.

“Ted” must be the coarsest movie to ever star a teddy bear, but beneath the crudeness is a real stuffed beating heart.

“People Like Us”

Richard’s Review: 2 1/2 stars

With a cast that includes Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde and Michelle Pfeiffer, apparently the “people like us” referred to in this movie’s title are all exceptionally good-looking persons. Just as the cast reflects a specific, unreal vision of real life, so does the script.

Chris Pine plays Sam, a sleazy New York salesman who is on the cusp of being investigated for fraud. When his estranged father passes away, Sam travels to Los Angeles only to confront his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) and his father’s legacy -- a daughter named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) from a second, secret family.

This family drama has much going for it, but gets almost fatally bogged down by melodrama.  The movie is also diminished by the way it stretches out Sam’s inability to tell Frankie why he has glommed on to her and son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario).

To make up for the slow-moving story, director Alex Kurtzman tries to jumpstart the pacing with frenetically-edited scenes that would seem more appropriate in an action film. Pine is best known as the young Captain Kirk, but not all his movies need to be cut as though a fight in space is about to break out.

It’s too bad because at the core of the film is an interesting story, which is ably performed by the attractive cast (even if they are frequently saddled with long melodramatic, confessional speeches).

Pine proves he can do more than action movies and Pfeiffer has a small, but complex part in the film.  But it is D'Addario who adds heart to the story. D’Addario grounds the movies as Frankie’s troubled 11-year-old son. He also gives viewers a reason to feel empathy for him as well as Sam and Frankie.     

“People Like Us” is an effective family drama, but is clumsily told.

 “Take This Waltz”

Richard’s Review: 4 stars

“Take This Waltz,” the second feature from actor-turned-director Sarah Polley, is a bittersweet Canadian kitchen-sink drama about being trapped in a marriage with someone who can’t speak his mind and falling in love with someone who can’t help but speak his mind.

Margot (Michelle Williams) is a struggling writer married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook writer and home cook. Married for five years, the couple has a loving but superficial relationship. Margot’s not unhappy exactly, but she’s not entirely happy either. When she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), a quick-talking neighbour, painter and rickshaw driver, Margot must make the painful decision to trade someone old in for someone new. 

In her last film, “Away from Her,” Polley placed Alzheimer's disease between a husband and wife. Here she shows what happens when one partner takes a relationship for granted.

Polley creates complicated relationship patterns in her films, weaving together small moments to create a large and profound truth. “Away from Her,” is a sublime mix of the mundane and the heartfelt, just like real life. “Take this Waltz,” too, is an interesting look at how relationships unravel, but has more of a melancholy edge.

From the minor chord music that makes up much of the soundtrack to Williams’ terminally sad expression, the movie redefines bittersweet.

We never really see the upside of Margot’s relationships and it’s hard to know when she’s happy or if she’ll ever be truly contented. The focus here is a little fuzzier than it was in “Away from Here,” and Margot’s search for happiness is a little less defined. Some audiences will get it, while others will likely find Margot self-serving. 

So why spend time with Margot, Lou and Daniel? Apart from the beautiful shots of Toronto neighbourhoods (although Torontonians will notice that the geography doesn’t make any sense!), “Take this Waltz” is recommended for the uncompromising way it presents its story. This isn’t a romcom, although there are laughs and it isn’t a traditional romance. This is a refreshingly raw slice of life and spotlights all the frustrating things that make us human. 

Williams, Kirby and Sarah Silverman (as Margot’s sister-in-law) hand in strong work, but the real surprise comes in Seth Rogen’s naturalistic performance. As a comedian I expect him to always go for the joke. But his reactions here are completely derived from the situation and feel authentic.

“Take this Waltz” doesn’t have the emotional impact of “Away from Her.” It’s a different, lower-key story about the erosion of a relationship.