Magic Mike XXL: Strippers on a road trip

Bow… bow, wow, wow. When Genuwine’s Pony kicks in you know you’re watching Magic Mike. Sometimes certain songs coupled with certain scenes elevate an entire film and glue it firmly to our memories. Such was the case three years ago.

Directed by Steven Soderburgh at the time in almost a documentary style, Magic Mike was a funny old beast. It was less about stripping and more male bonding; how these guys actually live and are part of a tribe. Like The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke but with more nudity. (Actually, scratch that, they’ve both got naked guys aplenty.) It focused on character too; so if it were mere titillation we wouldn’t have this sequel now.

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This time round Soderburgh’s long time assistant director, Gregory Jacobs, steps up to direct. He’s a man who has worked extensively with Soderburgh in the past and knows the style and tone of the first movie. Whilst not quite matching the first he does a passable job with this sequel.

So… why would a straight guy go to see Magic Mike, surely it’s one for the ladies? Well, yes, there’s male nudity in abundance but I’d argue this is a film that, in a manner of speaking, has more to offer the male market. Bear (or bare, geddit?) with me here whilst I state my case. First, the plot.

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius
Photo Credit: Claudette Barius

Mike has left the life of stripping behind to pursue his passion of furniture design. He’s got his girl, it’s all rosy. However, three years later things don’t work out as he plans and he gets a call from the old gang as they pass through town on their way to a stripper convention (Yes, it’s a real thing. Tatum actually attended one in his former life before acting.)

With only a little – rather convenient – persuasion from Genuwine’s Pony on the radio in his workshop (in a scene which riffs on Flashdance) he bundles in with the fellas for a road trip and one last stripping hurrah. They meet various characters along the way, including Jada Pinkett Smith’s stripper Madam Rome (Mike’s mentor) and Andie Macdowell’s lonely housewife Nancy, which all add something.

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That said, there’s things missing, specifically characters. Gone is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) crooning ‘ladies of Tampa’ and stealing scenes. He leaves a rather large hole which the rest of the cast try to fill with varying degrees of success. Gone is Adam ‘The Kid’ (Alex Pettyfer), gone is Mike’s love interest Brooke (Cody Horn), replaced rather half-heartedly with quirky and nomadic Zoe (Amber Heard Depp); who does what she can but has very little to work with. However, former players do step up, particularly Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Ritchie, who gets the funniest – and ballsiest – scene of the movie.

Stripping scenes aside, the movie itself, in its quieter moments, seems at pains to show these guys as more than strippers. They’ve got hopes and dreams like the rest of us and they’re just as vulnerable, if not more so. There’s one scene where two characters talk about how they’re modern-day healers for women. Weirdly, it’s quite touching and all rather spiritual.

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In parts it does drag a little, but overall it’s a pretty solid follow-up and doesn’t retread too much old ground. It feels like a good way to end, too. If we see a Magic Mike 3 in a few years I can safely say it’ll tank at the box office as there’s really nowhere else to take these characters. I think the actors knew that as they looked like there were having so much fun here and really went for it.

So… It’s a good laugh, fits the tone of the first and is surprisingly sensitive in places where it touches on the male bonding aspect and sense of belonging. But let’s leave it there eh? Mike’s stripping days are done. Time he hung up that thong for good.

Jupiter Ascending: Have the Wachowskis lost their way?

There’s a moment in the Wachowski siblings’ latest epic film where the main character realises bees respond to her and protect her. It’s quite tender and touching. A quieter moment in an otherwise epic – and thoroughly bonkers – sci-fi action film.

To say Andy and Lana Wachowski have been getting weirder of late is an understatement. Either that, or they’ve got to the point where they can now – as Sinatra once said – do it very much their way. A couple of years ago they tackled a book widely considered unfilmable (Cloud Atlas) and did a commendable, perhaps even brilliant, job. They delved into some big themes, jumped across time zones and dealt with constant shifts of tone, all whilst keeping the focus on the human side of things. And of course we all know just how good the first Matrix film was. Great concept, great story, with some exhilarating individual moments and scenes.

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And so on to their latest… Jupiter Ascending. One of their hits or a giant misfire? Well the truth is it’s somewhere in-between. Plot wise it’s utterly ludicrous. Although perhaps no more so than other sci-fi films, so maybe it’s the way it’s told and the performances, which we’ll come to in a bit.

After a bit of setup backstory we quickly meet Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), living out her life as a cleaner. We jump between her grim life and also get introduced to ‘the bad ones’ of the film, three siblings from the Abraxas family, a bunch of power-hungry, rather mad intergalactic royals; Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth).

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Through certain events the Abraxas lot discover Jupiter is the descendant/reincarnation (or something like that) of their family line, and she actually stands to inherit the earth ahead of all of them. Earth being the most profitable planet in their collection in terms of ‘mining raw materials’ (see the film to understand those quotation marks).

Obviously Jupiter has no idea about any of this until handsome splice (part human, part wolf) soldier Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) walks into her life. He thens whisks her into space for further adventures (with his top off a lot, naturally). Let’s leave it there plot wise, shall we? Beyond that it starts to go off the wall and then some.

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Getting a handle on a Wachowski film is the thing. With most directors you’ve got an idea of their style and material they get drawn to. With these two, the best you can say is they like characters that are fluid in terms of their sexuality and gender and race and colour and all that stuff. They love sci-fi and pushing the limits of what special effects can do. However, this does not make a good story, it just augments it.

I think, what it looks like they’re going for with Jupiter Ascending, is a fun thrill ride. A space adventure – and a bit of a love story. In that respect it delivers. It is fun, and thrilling and adventurous. It has funny moments and a few really odd ones (a sort of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy/Brazil moment in the middle of the film is, tonally, very confusing and kills the pace of the movie dead). On the plus side, it looks gorgeous. The sets are beautifully detailed and stunningly realised. And the effects are thoroughly immersive (particularly Caine’s rather fetching anti gravity boots).

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By and large, the characters are not vastly fleshed out. They probably suffer in that respect due to the vast amount of world building the Wachowskis have to do in the film’s first third. Kunis and Tatum are compelling enough leads (albeit largely lumbered with some particularly clunky, soap opera-esque dialogue, particularly Kunis) and Redmayne, after the emotional heavy lifting he did as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (which recently won him an Oscar), is clearly having the time of his life as the big baddie, really cutting loose going full out Emporer Palpatine. With his creepy, withered voice you half expect him to say something like, ‘Oh, I’m afraid the Death Star will be fully operational when your friends arrive.’ It’s that sort of performance.

His siblings, Titus and Kalique fare less well. Or just have a lot less to do. Each gets a scene or two, but it’s not much, after which they’re pretty much forgotten. You half wonder if the Wachowskis overcomplicated it having three siblings. Why not just have Redmayne’s Balem as the main antagonist and give him more scenes facing off against the strong and silent Caine? Actually, come to think of it, the same happens with Sean Bean, he turns up for a few scenes as Caine’s buddy Stinger (half man, half bee… keep up), then he bows out for an early bath and an easy pay cheque.

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Tonally, the whole thing feels like it sits quite well with the first Star Trek film of recent years (the J.J. Abrams’ one) or a slightly more melodramatic (less funny) Guardians of the Galaxy. Frankly, it’s no Matrix, but then what is? However, if you judge it on its own terms as a bit of a caper in space with some fun action set pieces, you’ll probably enjoy it.

So, get in the popcorn, leave your ego at the door and sit back and take it all in.

Trailer park: Gilliam, Godzilla, Jump Street and X-Men

130903ZeroTheorem_8026001Quite a lot of interesting films out in the next few months or so. From another glimpse into the mind of the lunatic that is Terry Gilliam to Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill proving that 21 Jump Street was no fluke… they hope (note: I haven’t actually seen it yet, obviously); there’s films galore to sate your cinematic appetites.

And if that lot doesn’t float your boat there’s also a bloody great lizard kicking up a stink and X-Men time jumping willy nilly, and indeed causing a load of havoc of their own. Enjoy.

The Zero Theorem (March 2014)
Weird, wacky, deranged, fantastical – you’d expect nothing less from Terry Gilliam right? It’s good to have the director back with this dystopian tale starring Christoper Waltz. Critics are already comparing this to Brazil and 12 Monkeys – two films widely regarded as his best work.


Godzilla
(May 2014)
In 2010 British director Gareth Edwards made Monsters with a crew of five people on a budget of about $800,000. It was a resounding hit. And so he gets given the keys to play on the big stage with a reboot of this franchise. Chances are this will be a blast.


22 Jump Street
(June 2014)
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are back as hapless cops sent undercover, this time to college rather than school. From the trailer it looks like the two have picked up where they left off. The old difficult second album, but if they pull it off expect some genuinely funny stuff.


X-Men: Days of Future Past
(May 2014)
This looks set to be the biggest one yet in the franchise, uniting cast old, new and all those in-between. The man that kicked it all off 13 years ago, director Bryan Singer, is back. So expect big, time-twisting things, epic action, even more epic performances. And Wolverine getting mad.

Best twenty films of 2012

It’s been an epic year for films across a variety of genres. This list reflects my taste in films so I hope you enjoy. Sorry Twilight, you didn’t make the cut!

  • Skyfall
    skyfall-craigStrangely there are people who don’t like this film and say it’s not classic Bond. I think it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond since Connery. To celebrate 50 years of Bond, the dream team of Mendes, Craig, Bardem and Dench pulled out the stops to make this film truly special.
  • Argo
    Can’t believe people still give Affleck a hard time for his early career. How many decent films does he need to direct before people will admit he’s a real talent? First Gone Baby Gone and The Town and now this. A proper, intelligent thriller.
  • Moonrise Kingdom
    This film is a great companion piece for The Life Aquatic, my favourite from Wes Anderson. As always, a great cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton. Although focus is on the two, young actors who confidently carry the story. A sweet and quirky tale.
  • Looper
    Rian Johnson and Gordon-Levitt are fast becoming a match made in heaven. First Brick and now this time-travelling sci-fi tale of assassins. This film had an interesting mix of futuristic and retro, plus it marked Gordon-Levitt out as a leading man in the making.
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKForget Hunger Games, this ranks as my favourite Jennifer Lawrence film, just edging Winter’s Bone. She has great chemistry with Bradley Cooper, both of them playing flawed characters in this acerbic, edgy and alternative type of rom-com. Highly recommended.
  • Chronicle
    Earlier this year this film was released and flew somewhat under the radar. Shown in found footage style, the best way to describe the first half is Jackass with telekinetic powers. It then goes darker as it builds to an epic finale. Thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.
  • Dark Knight Rises
    The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing bat franchise. Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt as Boy Wonder in the making. This was an emotional, visceral ending to the best set of Batman films of all time.
  • Avengers Assemble
    Despite my last comment regarding Batman, Marvel Studios has firmly staked its claim as the lighter, more upbeat side of the superhero world. Joss Whedon pulling off an incredible trick to balance a film with a host of big characters, letting them all shine equally.
  • Ted
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    Macfarlane knows his comedy. This film was his vision and really paid off. From script and direction through to mo-cap acting, he was the driving force. Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg added their dramatic and comedy talent to make this one of the funniest films of the year.
  • Life of Pi  
    Ang Lee’s tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker is a visual masterpiece. Taken from a Booker prize-winner novel, it makes you question the nature of belief and how you perceive the world. An uplifting and life-affirming tale.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Combine the talents of a Welsh Director and up-and-coming action star in Iko Uwais and you get an unexpected, kick-ass treat. Introducing us to pencak silat, an Indonesian form of dance and self defence, it’s breathtaking to watch when used to beat up bad guys.
  • The Hobbit
    Peter Jackson has worked wonders yet again. The dwarves are great and Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo. His ‘riddles in the dark’ scene with Gollum is brilliantly scripted. If you’re even a fleeting fantasy fan you won’t want to miss this exhilarating tale.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
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    Critically well received, this fantasy film has drawn comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth and is well worth seeing. It tells the tale of six-year-old girl Hushpuppy who, when looking after her ill and hot-tempered father, must learn the ways of courage and love.
  • Rust and Bone
    It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Marion Cotillard – there’s a permanent picture of her on my blog. Here she beautifully plays a killer whale trainer who forms an unlikely romance with a bouncer. Jacques Audiard directs this passionate and moving love story.
  • The Master
    Possibly a career-best film from Paul Thomas Anderson and performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Ultimately, this film is about the fascinating interplay between war veteran Freddie (Phoenix) and movement leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Seven Psychopaths
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    From the Director of darkly comic film In Bruges, this tale of kidnapped dogs and gangsters is hilariously scripted and brilliantly acted. With a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.
  • End of Watch
    Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in the hours with cops on the beat in South Central LA to form a real bond prior to filming. The results paid off, as this thriller cop movie has real believability and chemistry between the two leads.
  • Magic Mike
    Ladies of Tampa‘, croons Matthew McConaughey, before he smashes his guitar and strips in front of a horde of screaming ladies. This film, though, belongs to Channing Tatum. Before acting he was a stripper – this film gives an intriguing glimpse of life back stage in that world.
  • The Grey
    It’s Liam Neeson, he’s cold, he’s angry, wolves are trying to kill him. In a minute he’s going to get really mad – what’s not to like? This bleak adventure sees a bunch of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash – in the middle of a wolf kill zone.
  • 21 Jump Street
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    Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill team up in this cop buddy comedy remake. Tatum is – surprisingly – very funny, with great comic timing. Jokes are often set up and don’t pan out how you might expect, which is a good thing. Also, Johnny Depp has an outstanding cameo.