Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (15),
Magic Mike (15),
This is a strong week for character-driven films, with offerings across the spectrum from gleeful comedy to out-and-out gloom, via the delicate blend of comedy and pathos that is Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World.
As a massive asteroid approaches the Earth, humankind is shutting up shop; individuals must decide how, and with whom, they wish to spend their last days. Insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell) experiences a double whammy, when his wife makes her immediate choice – and promptly leaves him. The first days of the countdown are the film's funniest, and darkest, as Dodge continues to field calls from customers wanting life insurance (telling them that "the Armageddon package is extra") and attends a suburban "last supper" party where his friends teach their kids how to get drunk, while they hit the heroin.
Dodge himself is frozen in an ill-timed (or perhaps entirely appropriate) existential crisis. Then he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), an English neighbour who has also just lost her partner. Penny is as extroverted as Dodge is introverted, kooky to his uptight, and 20 years younger. An odd couple indeed, who hit the road in search of the perfect way to die.
Writer/director Lorene Scafaria (who wrote the smart teen comedy Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) balances humour, sadness and a plangent romance with no-frills aplomb, while maintaining the integrity of her scenario to the bitter end. Carell can sometimes be too maudlin, Knightley too gawky, but they also strike many of the right notes, making us believe in their characters when we most need to. With an effective retro soundtrack that includes The Beach Boys and The Walker Brothers, the result is surprisingly affecting.
Steven Soderbergh's celebration of male strippers, Magic Mike, brings to mind Boogie Nights. It's not in the same league, but just as Paul Thomas Anderson had great affection for his troubled porn stars, so Soderbergh embraces his stripper heroes, g-strings and all, to great comic effect.
Mike (Channing Tatum) is a roofer by day, stripper by night, who really yearns to be a furniture designer. When he meets young drifter Adam (Alex Pettyfer), he takes him under his wing and shows him the ropes at Club Xquisite. As the girls, cash and party life goes to the younger man's head, Mike is drawn to Adam's sister, a nurse who finds it difficult to take the self-styled "entrepreneur" seriously.
While the world of female stripping is dark and exploitative, that of male strippers merely seems ludicrous, and it translates into good comedy. This is fresh, funny, sexy, even risqué – it's not that often you get to see well-known Hollywood stars bare so much ass.
As you're watching Tatum going through his gyrating, somersaulting, barely-clad routines, it's worth noting that the story is loosely based on the actor's brief time as a teenage stripper. Matthew McConaughey follows his icy performance in Killer Joe with a scene-stealing turn as club owner Dallas, the fruitiest MC since Joel Grey in Cabaret. "The law says you cannot touch," he tells the screaming women in his audience, "but I think I see a lot of law-breakers in this house."
There are many films about school teachers trying to buck the system and break through to problem kids, but none I've seen are as depressing as Detachment. It's also compelling and thought-provoking; you just need to take a deep breath. Adrien Brody is superb as a New York substitute teacher battling his own demons as well as pupil hostility and parental indifference.
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