A story about a little boy and his marvellous toys

Wednesday July 11th 2012

Imagine, if you will, that Steven Soderbergh is a frolicsome child, and Hollywood his bountiful toy box. For more than two decades now, lil’ Steven has been free to play with each of his filmmaking toys in moderation, exercising them in low-budget experimental movies like The Girlfriend Experience and Bubble, on the sole condition that he continues to churn out something starring Matt Damon every couple of years (and eats up all his greens, there’s a good boy).

Now imagine that it is Steven’s birthday, and as a special treat his parents decide that he will be allowed to play with every single one of his toys simultaneously. He can even stay up past his bedtime and have a can of fizzy pop if he likes. The result is Magic Mike, a mess of Soderberghian devices so dense that it must surely be considered his definitive work. Among the toys utilised by Steven during the movie:

His young actor playing a role partially inspired by their own life story spinning top, which sees Channing Tatum channeling his former vocation as an Alabama nightclub stripper to bring the eponymous Mike to life, much as Gina Carano drew from her well of experience in the field of beating up men for Haywire and Sasha Grey ruminated on the commercialisation of sexuality in The Girlfriend Experience.
His casting unlikely actors in supporting roles and somehow managing to get great performances out of them rattle, used to great effect on Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Munn and — most astonishingly — Alex Pettyfer, who overcomes his apparent inability to act his way out of a paper bag to deliver a truly engaging performance as fledgling dancer Adam. Just wait until the world gets a load of his Schwarzenegger impression: minds will be blown.
His effortlessly proving that digital filmmaking is the way forward train set, which he’s been playing with since 2002’s Full Frontal, gets yet another outing in Magic Mike, capturing both the balmy haze of Mike’s personal life and the neon sheen of his stage persona in equally vivid fashion.
His unexpected injection of a dynamic action set piece rubber duckie, which blazes into life every time Tatum, McConaughey and the gang get within ten feet of a paying audience and/or cowboy outfit. Soderbergh (working under his regular cinematographic alias Peter Andrews) shoots each of the film’s many stripping scenes with a dazzling immediacy, placing them somewhere in the sweet spot between Die Hard 4.0 and a Hype Williams video.
His masterful use of title cards coloured blocks, deployed throughout the movie to signpost moments of poignancy, amp up understated LOLs and signify the passage of time. He’s always had a way with typefaces, and Magic Mike is no exception: shit’s like a convention for font enthusiasts.

I’ll be honest with you, readers: this whole toy box analogy seemed like a much better idea three or four paragraphs ago.