After much consideration, WordMaster and I have decided that the time has come to close up shop at Wicked Stupid Plotless. Originally started by our friend C.E. Jenkins, this blog has been a blast to work on, a casual outlet where we could express our opinions and thoughts on our favorite subjects, and posting here has helped me make me a better, more mature writer. When we first launched this blog four years ago, we were fresh-faced kids entering college, but now that we have both graduated, it seems appropriate to start charting a new path.
Although we won't post on this blog anymore, all of our posts will remain up for reading, and we both plan to still write. I am starting a blog at lovinglyderivative.wordpress.com, where I will focus on territory similar to what I discussed here (i.e. pop culture with an emphasis on movies and TV), while you can find WordMaster at theauramusings.wordpress.com/.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you will follow us on our new ventures.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Magic Mike was essentially an art house movie. Endowed with a modest $7 million budget, the 2012 Channing Tatum vehicle was branded a “surprise hit” when it grossed $167 million worldwide and garnered warm critical reviews, including sincere (if ultimately futile) Oscar buzz for costar Matthew McConaughey. Interestingly, though, the reason Magic Mike gained legitimacy with critics also served as the basis for audiences’ most vocal complaint: for a film whose popular appeal stemmed almost entirely from the promise of hot, naked men, it’s a rather serious affair, dealing with the then-ongoing economic recession and drug addiction. Or, as Tatum succinctly put it, people wanted “less story. Less plot. Just dudes’ things.”
On that front, the sequel delivers. Appropriately titled Magic Mike XXL, it costs twice as much as its predecessor ($14.8 million, still economical compared to most high-profile summer flicks these days) and throws restraint out the window. To say there’s a story here would be lenient. The first hour or so teases us with a flimsy narrative about coping with disappointment in life, but any semblance of genuine conflict dissipates by the time Mike and co. arrive at the exclusive club run by Jada Pinkett Smith’s suave emcee Rome. At this point, the film, helmed by frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator Gregory Jacobs, sheds its semi-respectable guise and reveals itself as a full-blown musical, a parade of exuberant dance and song numbers (the latter courtesy of Matt Bomer and Donald Glover) punctuated by snippets of dialogue. The soundtrack is seductively frothy, with tracks as varied as the Backstreet Boys’s “I Want It That Way” and Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer” competing to get lodged in your head.
Inside Out is vintage Pixar. After spending a few years mired in an adolescent funk, the studio has emerged with a take on the coming-of-age story that’s as clever as it is poignant and that suggests a newfound sense of maturity. For his follow-up to, well, Up, director Pete Docter, along with a pitch-perfect voice cast and Pixar’s usual team of genius animators, explores the uncertainties of growing up and the complex interplay between emotion and memory by delving into the mind of an 11-year-old girl. The result is a film of such piercing yet exquisite intimacy that writing this review seems like a fruitless endeavor, since no words could adequately convey that feeling. The sensation of watching Inside Out lingers long after details about the plot and particular jokes begin to fade.
Pixar’s latest work is most reminiscent not of any Disney or animated movie, but of last year’s Boyhood. While Richard Linklater’s flick offers a more anxious and ambivalent outlook on life, an attitude concisely captured by Patricia Arquette’s wrenching final line, both movies are as much about parenting as they are about being a kid, in part because their makers are unavoidably coming from that perspective, and with their white, middle-class, presumed-to-be-heterosexual protagonists, they largely adhere to popular imaginings of childhood as happy, suburban havens of innocence. These romanticized depictions are so often reproduced by Hollywood they’ve taken on an almost mythic status, seemingly grounded more in a particular set of ideals than in reality.
However, both Inside Out and Boyhood have more on their minds than nostalgia. By making the children at their centers distinctive and well-rounded enough to feel like individuals instead of archetypes, they sidestep many of the potential pitfalls and clichés that frequently doom coming-of-age tales. You don’t have to share Riley’s passion for hockey to relate to the meaningful role it plays in her life, just as you didn’t need to agree with Mason’s teenage existential musings to recognize that they are his way of making sense of the world around him and cementing his own increasingly independent identity. These movies succeed, in other words, because they understand that art taps into universal sentiments – namely, people’s capacity for empathy – most effectively when it portrays specific, not vague circumstances; they simply tell their own stories rather than attempting to cater to all possible audience members.