On Tuesday, one of the year's most surprising big-screen hits arrives on Blu-ray. On the surface, Magic Mike appeared to be the kind of high-concept, low-intelligence romantic comedy that usually gets dumped in the movie doldrums of summer. A "normal" boy-girl relationship (between stars Channing Tatum and Cody Horn) presented as the moral center in the dubious world of male stripping? Check. A lead cast populated by safe (read: bland) male and female actors like Channing Tatum, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, and White Collar's Matt Bomer? Check. A throng of gyrating, muscular, shirtless dudes thrown in whenever things get too boring? Check. This might sound dire - happily, it's anything but. Director Steven Soderbergh depicts his male strippers with an eye both affectionate and deeply critical, and he and co-writer Reid Carolin avoid easy moralizing. Best of all, the performances are uniformly wonderful, from Tatum's wry hero to Matthew McConaughey's equal parts electric-and-creepy turn as the strippers' head M.C.; he's Cabaret's Joel Grey for the leather chaps generation.
In his Blu-ray review , Kenneth Brown assesses the film from within the director's body of work, how "For all its flash and sizzle, Magic Mike will go down as a lesser film in Soderbergh's canon. It has that patented Soderbergh spark, that unconventional indie hook. But not in every regard, and certainly not when it comes to every aspect of the movie. Tatum, McConaughey, Munn and a string of impressive dance sequences defy expectation."
Less critically successful is another new release: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. An adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith history-horror hybrid, the film was directed by Wanted helmer Timur Bekmambetov, and this feature shares a good deal in common with that earlier action epic. Both stem from contemporary pop fiction (the novel, in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's case, or graphic novels for Wanted), both throw logic out the window in service of insane narrative complications, and both share a propensity for hyperbolic, ludicrously staged carnage. More importantly, like Wanted, the sugar-rush kineticism of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter grows wearing after a while, but when it's working, the mayhem on display is inspired and more-than-a-little audacious.
Finally, we end on two vintage Blu-ray reissues. First up is a screen rarity: Fear and Desire, the much-discussed-but-little-seen first narrative feature from legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Apparently, Kubrick felt that Fear and Desire was so amateurish that he spent years collecting - and destroying - prints of it to keep the picture out of the public eye. On first glance, it isn't hard to sympathize with him. Technically, it's operating on the level of a decent student film, and Howard Sackler's bizarre war-obsessed screenplay feels like the first draft of a way-too esoteric Twilight Zone episode. However, the film remains an interesting, if not successful, experience, and there are brief reminders of the talent that would drive such classics as Paths of Glory, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Barry Lyndon.
Casey Broadwater's Fear and Desire Blu-ray review comments on the "flashes of future Kubrick," how "although his signature single-point perspective isn't on display—the visual technique that provided The Shining's fearful symmetry—the cinematography is often impressive, with stark chiaroscuro lighting during the few indoor scenes and gorgeous documentarian closeups of the soldiers' weathered faces. More than anything, Fear and Desire—with its themes of bestial man, existential absurdity, and the dehumanizing effects of war—feels like a rough, rough draft of the ideas Kubrick would later hone in Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket."
From the Criterion Collection, we get Sunday Bloody Sunday, John Schlesinger's 1971 drama about a most unusual love triangle (its participants: Glenda Jackson, Murray Head, and Network's Peter Finch). Though he's better known for his work on Marathon Man or the Academy Award-winning Midnight Cowboy,
Schlesinger made his masterpiece with Sunday Bloody Sunday. It's an adult and achingly intimate story of three people trying to hold on to whatever kind of romantic attachments they can find; in its subtle, carefully observed way, this is as devastating a love story as David Lean's great Brief Encounter.
In his Blu-ray review, Svet Atanasov writes that, "the dialog is crisp, intelligent but not superficial, and extremely fluid. The viewer learns about the main characters not by observing their actions but by listening to their conversations and the manner in which they describe each other. It sounds simple, but it is not. There isn't even a whiff of politicizing, and this, again, is a tremendous accomplishment for a '70s film. The three leads are exceptional. Schlesinger's camera often follows them closely, but it never feels like they are there because of it. Everything they do is incredibly natural and real, and it feels like the camera just happens to be there documenting it. [A] tremendous film."
I'm very much looking forward to blind-buying Sunday Bloody Sunday at Barnes & Noble during the retailer's upcoming Criterion 50% off sale. Other films releasing this week that I plan to buy in the near future include Magic Mike, Fear and Desire and maybe the Blade Runner 30th anniversary digibook (even though I already have the terrific briefcase from a few years ago).
Love Blade Runner to death, but passing on this new one. Have enough already, and admittedly haven't gotten back to the blu set's special features. Yet (next year for sure). I guess one explains the other.
Blind bought the Doors disc, plus the 3 best buy Bonds. The Kubrick and Schlesinger are on order. Good chance I'll pick up Penalty and maybe the Peter Gabriel discs at some point...