As a nation reacts with faux-surprise to the news of TomKat's demise, one question remains: what movie to see this weekend to ease the faux-pain? You could ogle Magic Mike's ludicrously luscious abs (review below); guffaw in spite of yourself at Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane's big-screen leap, Ted; or suffer through Woody Allen's latest, To Rome With Love (a big reason I won't be seeing it: Dennis Harvey's review).
You could get in line for The Amazing Spider-Man, which I have seen but am not allowed to whisper a word about until its opening Tuesday, July 3. Ahem.
Or, you could hit up the Roxie, which is opening both a strange nugget of sci-fi-ish weirdness and a Beat-gen classic (and while you're there, pick up tickets for the theater's July 6 kung-fu double feature). Also of note: Canadian Léa Pool's eye-opening documentary about "breast cancer culture." Reviews below.
OR, you could get a jump start on the holiday by watching the most patriotic movie of all time, probably screening on a basic cable channel as you read this. Welcome to Earth!
Magic Mike With conservatives continuing to hammer away at the reproductive rights that we all took for granted, just so they can reset the time machine for the Eisenhower age, it speaks volumes that red-blooded American women are so excited about this movie. Their desire-slash-gaze continues to be marginalized, while throwback pinups and chesty manscapers continue to shoot come-hither looks to the dudes, both straight and gay. That might be why director Steven Soderbergh harks directly to the then-new freedoms of the ‘70s with the opening shot of his male stripper opus: the boxy old Warner Bros. logo, which evokes the gritty, sexualized days of Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch, and Joe Namath posing in pantyhose. Was that really the last time women, en masse, were welcome to ogle to their heart’s content, pre-AIDS, pre-teen abstinence? That might be the case considering the outburst of applause when a nude Channing Tatum rises after a hard night in a threesome, in Magic Mike’s first five minutes.
Ever the savvy film historian, Soderbergh toys with the conventions of the era, from the grimy quasi-redneck realism of Reynolds’ ‘70s movies to the hidebound framework of the period’s gay porn, almost for his own amusement, though the viewer might be initially confused about exactly what year they’re in. Veteran star stripper Mike (Tatum) is working construction, stripping to the approval of many raucous ladies and their stuffable dollar bills, and jumping in the sack with psych student Joanna (Olivia Munn). He decides to take college-dropout blank-slate hottie Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and ropes him into the strip club, owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, whose formidable abs look waxily preserved) and show him the ropes of stripping and having a good time, much to the disapproval of Adam’s more straight-laced sister Brooke (Cody Horn, daughter of Warner Bros. president Alan Horn). Really, though, all Mike wants to do is become a furniture designer.
Boasting Foreigner’s “Feels like the First Time” as its theme of sorts and spot-on, hot choreography by Alison Faulk (who’s worked with Madonna and Britney Spears), Magic Mike takes off and can’t help but please the crowd when it turns to the stage, with Tatum and McConaughey filling out the none-too-challenging narrative and their sparsely sketched characters where they can. Unfortunately the dour, chemistry-free budding romance between Mike and Brooke sucks the air out of the proceedings every time it comes into view, which is way too often. The ladies in the audience will also be frustrated that this wasn’t, say, a male version of Frederick Wiseman’s, ahem, penetrating 2011 Crazy Horse and certainly less of the thrill ride they might have been promised. (1:50) (Kimberly Chun)
Beyond the Black Rainbow Sci-fi in feel and striking look even though it's set in the past (1983, with a flashback to 1966), Canadian writer-director Cosmatos' first feature defies any precise categorization — let alone attempts to make sense of its plot (such as there is). Arboria is a corporate "commune"-slash laboratory where customers are promised what everyone wants — happiness — even as "the world is in chaos." Just how that is achieved, via chemicals or whatnot, goes unexplained. In any case, the process certainly doesn't seem to be working on Elena (Eva Allan), a near-catatonic young woman who seems to be the prisoner as much as the patient of sinister Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers). The barely-there narrative is so enigmatic at Arboria that when the film finally breaks out into the external world and briefly becomes a slasher flick, you can only shrug — if it had suddenly become a musical, that would have been just as (il-)logical. Black Rainbow is sure to frustrate some viewers, but it is visually arresting, and some with a taste for ambiguous, metaphysical inner-space sci-fi à la Solaris (1972) have found it mesmerizing and profound. As they are wont to remind us, half of its original audience found 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey boring, pointless and walk out-worthy, too. (1:50) Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
The Connection The first re-release in a project to restore all of quintessential 1960s American independent director Shirley Clarke's features, this 1961 vérité-style drama was adapted from a controversial off-Broadway play by Jack Gelber. Set exclusively in a dingy Greenwich Village crash pad, it captures a little time in the lives of several junkies there — many off-duty jazz musicians — listlessly waiting for the return of their dealer, Cowboy. To mimic the stage version's breaking of the fourth wall between actors and spectators, Clarke added the device of two fictive filmmakers who are trying to record this "shocking" junkie scene, yet grow frustrated at their subjects' levels of cooperation and resistance. With actors often speaking directly to the camera, and all polished stage language and acting preserved, The Connection offers a curious, artificial realm that is nonetheless finally quite effective and striking. A prize-winner at Cannes, it nonetheless had a very hard time getting around the censors and into theaters back home. Hard-won achievement followed by frustration would be a frequent occurrence for the late Clarke, who would only complete one more feature (a documentary about Ornette Coleman) after 1964's Cool World and 1967's Portrait of Jason, before her 1997 demise. She was a pioneering female indie director — and her difficulty finding projects unfortunately also set a mold for many talented women to come. (1:50) Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
Pink Ribbons, Inc. This enraging yet very entertaining documentary by Canadian Léa Pool, who's better known for her fiction features (1986's Anne Trister, etc.), takes an excoriating look at "breast cancer culture" — in particular the huge industry of charitable events whose funds raised often do very little to fight the cease, and whose corporate sponsors in more than a few cases actually manufacture carcinogenic products. It's called "cause marketing," the tactic of using alleged do gooderism to sell products to consumers who then feel good about themselves purchasing them. Even if said product and manufacturer is frequently doing less than jack-all to "fight for the cure." The entertainment value here is in seeing the ludicrous range to which this hucksterism has been applied, selling everything from lingerie and makeup to wine and guns; meanwhile the march, walk, and "fun run" for breast cancer has extended to activities as extreme (and pricey) as sky-diving. Pool lets her experts and survivors critique misleading the official language of cancer, the vast sums raised that wind up funding very little prevention or cure research (as opposed to, say, lucrative new pharmaceuticals with only slight benefits), and the products shilled that themselves may well cause cancer. It's a shocking picture of the dirt hidden behind "pink-washing," whose siren call nonetheless continues to draw thousands and thousands of exuberant women to events each year. They're always so happy to be doing something for the sisterhood's good — although you might be doing something better (if a little painful) by dragging friends inclined toward such deeds to see this film, and in the future question more closely just whether the charity they sweat for is actually all that charitable, or is instead selling "comforting lies." (1:38) (Dennis Harvey)