Matthew McConaughey was widely praised for unveiling his darker side in Killer Joe a couple of weeks ago, but he’s in equally impressive form in Magic Mike (16s), during which he reveals virtually everything else. A former male stripper who now runs a strip bar in Florida’s Tampa Bay, Dallas (McConaughey) manages a stable of well-oiled hunks, chief among them Magic Mike (Channing Tatum, who is in reality a former male stripper). Steven Soderbergh’s latest film is the most recent remake of the Hollywood staple A Star is Born, as Magic Mike takes newbie stripper Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, only for the shy young man to become a preening diva in less time than it takes to peel off a thong. Despite being pitched as a movie version of a night out with the Chippendales, this is a pleasingly cynical take on the sleazy world of male stripping, as Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn in a film-stealing performance), provides the sceptical female gaze that burns through the glitz ‘n’ glam to reveal some tawdry home truths. That said, the movie is good dirty fun, with McConaughey, Tatum and Pettyfer hamming it up, but while the expanse of bare flesh is at first diverting, Soderbergh’s subversive filming of the raunchy routines means that it grows monotonous and eventually repulsive. The director may well be having his (beef)cake and eating it, but the result is a fascinating movie.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (15A) is a daring concept, being a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of an impending meteor strike that is going to wipe out humanity. Abandoned by his wife, can Dodge (Steve Carrell) find his high school sweetheart in the days before the apocalypse? And can Penny (Kiera Knightley) reunite with her family? “This is not the Ark, it’s the Titanic,” one of the characters tell us early on, setting the doom-laden tone. Thus the romance is pointless and the comedy is of the black variety, but Steve Carrell’s understated performance is a winning one. By comparison, Keira Knightley’s one-note performance is relentlessly grating, her contrived wackiness undermining the best of Carrell’s thoughtful, measured work. It’s still an intriguing journey, of course, but you may find yourself wishing the meteor would get a move on.
Adrien Brody plays substitute teacher Henry Barthes in Detachment (15A), a film about a demoralised and underprivileged school as seen through the eyes of its teachers. Tony Kaye’s film is a hard-hitting tale at times, but the story asks too much of Brody’s character for him to be entirely believable, his levels of self-sacrifice approaching Christ-like as he coaches his unresponsive kids, nurses his dying grandfather and takes teenage prostitute Erica (Sami Gayle) off the streets and into his apartment. Brody and Gayle are superb in exploring their difficult relationship, while the supporting cast includes Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Blythe Danner and Bryan Cranston, with Caan’s eye-twinkling performance as an irascible cynic something of an antidote to the politically correct platitudes.
The Women on the 6th Floor (12A) is set in 1962, in the home of well-to-do Parisian couple Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini) and Suzanne Joubert (Sandrine Kiberlain). Into their bourgeoisie lives comes Maria Gonzalez (Natalia Verbeke), a maid who lives with her Spanish compatriots on the 6th floor of the Joubert home. Jean-Louis finds himself taking on the concerns of her friends, improving their living conditions and addressing issues such as domestic violence. Written and directed by Phillipe Le Guay, The Women on the 6th Floor is something of a fairytale in terms of how implausible its storyline becomes, but it’s a very charming piece of period filmmaking. Fabrice Luchini is no one’s idea of a leading man, but the character is so deftly fleshed out that the tender romance between Jean-Louis and Maria tugs so persuasively on the heart-strings that you’re prepared to forgive the blatant manipulation.