Resisting the temptation to capitalise on the camp value of these characters, Channing Tatum and his producing-writing partner Reid Carolin create a startlingly loose and thoughtful follow-up to their 2012 hit. Yes, it's still the story of a group of ridiculously muscled men who take their clothes off for a living and enjoy a laugh. And even without much of a plot it's a remarkably astute exploration of masculinity and gender politics. In the last three years, Mike (Tatum) has made a decent go of his furniture-making business, but his life feels stuck in a rut.
Then his old pals ask him to go on the road for one last hurrah to a stripper convention. So he heads off with new-age healer Ken (Matt Bomer), lovelorn beefcake Richie (Joe Manganiello), artful biker Tarzan (Kevin Nash), macrobiotic smoothie expert Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and food-truck driving deejay Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias). Along the way, they meet up with Mike's old mentor Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), who provides two new guys for the team (Donald Glover and Stephen 'tWitch' Boss). And they get some favours from a newly single Southern belle (Andie MacDowell) and another old friend (Elizabeth Banks).
There's very little to the story, but the film's improvisational style allows all of the characters to deepen in quiet but significant ways. So the journey these people take is even more internal than the highways they traverse from Tampa, Florida, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The main point is that these men need to figure out who they are if they have any hope of finding happiness, and each one takes his own subtle voyage of discovery. The actors dive into this approach, which requires unusually subtle performances that combine sexy physicality with earthy, boisterous humour. What the film never does is fall back on the usual cliches about machismo or sexuality.
Continue reading: Magic Mike XXL Review
Gorgeously shot, this period drama has a terrific setting and vivid characters, but is edited together in a jarring way that distances the audience from the situations. As the story progresses, the film also shifts strangely from a riveting exploration of a power couple with a pioneering spirit to a more melodramatic thriller about corruption and murder. It's consistently engaging thanks to the power of the cast, but it should have also been darkly moving as well.
The story is set in the late 1920s, as lumber baron George (Bradley Cooper) struggles under the economic pressures of the impending Great Depression. Then he meets Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) and it's love at first sight. A feisty, outspoken woman with a background in logging, she immediately ruffles feathers in George's camp by giving out advice that's actually helpful. George's two righthand men, accountant Buchanan (David Dencik) and foreman Campbell (Sean Harris), both quietly wonder if this woman is going to mess up their all-male world of underhanded bribes and physical danger. But she develops a rapport with George's hunting tracker Galloway (Rhys Ifans). Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Toby Jones) is trying to get George's land declared protected national parkland.
Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) gives the film a grand scale with expansive mountain landscapes and a sweeping romantic tone. The Western-style bustle of the logging camp is lively and authentic, as is the continual threat of death or dismemberment on the job. Against this, Cooper and Lawrence have terrific chemistry both with each other and the characters around them, sharply portrayed by strong actors who know how to invest plenty of attitude into even a small role.
Continue reading: Serena Review
Scarlett Johansson goes off the radar in this low-budget Scottish thriller, which is far more offbeat than anything she's ever done before. Her fans are likely to be perplexed by the film's lack of any meaningful dialog, its ambiguous plot and relentlessly artful imagery. But inventive filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) has created one of the most atmospheric sci-fi horror movies in recent memory.
Just outside Glasgow, an alien creature assumes the shape of a woman (Johansson) and starts prowling the city streets in search of men. With disarming flirtation, she sparks the sexual appetites of a series of guys, luring them into her inky lair, where they're trapped like bugs in a roach motel. But some unexpected events get her thinking about human sexuality, so she decides to explore it herself. With the next guy, she has a go at romance, and then later she puts herself into a startlingly vulnerable situation. But by going off the grid, she alerts her alien cohorts that something isn't quite right.
By refusing to use standard storytelling or filmmaking techniques, Glazer has made a movie that feels like it comes from outer space. But while we never get a grip on any of the characters, we can easily identify with the yearning emotions they're feeling. Which draws us in on a deeper level than we expect. In this respect, Johansson's performance is unusually subdued. Setting her glamorous Hollywood image aside, she becomes a lost soul who almost looks frumpy (she's still gorgeous enough to get any man she wants), and her search for meaning in human sexuality is fascinating.
Continue reading: Under The Skin Review
This film proves that all the right ingredients don't necessarily make a movie work. Even with top-drawer filmmakers and actors, this dramatic thriller simply never grabs our interest. It looks great, and everyone is giving it their all, but the story and characters remain so badly undefined that we can't identify with either.
The story's set on the US-Mexico border, where a slick lawyer (Fassbender) known as "the Counsellor" has slightly too much going on in his life. He has just proposed to his dream woman Laura (Cruz), while he's planning to open a nightclub with Reiner (Bardem). For extra cash, he's organising a massive cocaine shipment with Westray (Pitt). And it's this drug deal that goes wrong, creating a mess that engulfs Reiner and Laura, as well as Reiner's shrewd girlfriend Malkina (Diaz). As his life collapses around him, the Counsellor scrambles to salvage what he can, even as he realises that it'll be a miracle if anyone survives.
There are problems at every level of this production. McCarthy's first original script is simply too literary, putting verbose dialog into the actors mouths that never sounds like people talking to each other. Fassbender and Bardem are good enough to get away with this, but Pitt and Diaz struggle. Both Fassbender and Cruz bring out some wrenching emotions in their scenes, but their characters are never much more than cardboard cutouts. In fact, no one in this story feels like a fully fleshed-out person. And the little we know about each character makes most of them fairly unlikeable.
Continue reading: The Counselor Review
While the premise of this sci-fi thriller feels like yet another of Stephenie Meyer's two-boys-one-girl fantasies, a superior writer-director and cast make this is a stronger film than Twilight. The plot may be rather contrived, but the actors bring out some sharp intelligence in the script to make it surprisingly involving.
It's set in a future time after aliens have snatched the bodies of 90 percent of humanity, eliminating hunger, crime and the environmental crisis. But secret pockets of rebels have avoided being possessed by these white mini-jellyfish beings, and are seeking ways to fight back. So when the alien being Wanderer is implanted in the resistance leader Melanie (Ronan), the head Seeker (Kruger) hopes to infiltrate her memories and find out where they're hiding. But Melanie is stronger than anyone thinks, managing to remain conscious alongside Wanderer, winning her to the rebel cause. She heads to the human's secret desert hideout, where Uncle Jeb (Hurt) renames her Wanda and accepts her into the fold. But some humans aren't so sure, and the Seeker is hot on her trail.
It's deep in this maze of rather too-sophisticated caves that the crinkled romance develops, as Melanie is reunited with her boyfriend Jared (Irons), but doesn't want him kissing her when Wanda is in control of her body. Then Wanda falls for Ian (Abel), and their kissing makes Melanie even more furious. Yes, like Twilight, this film seems to think that kissing is the ultimate expression of human connection, giving this film a quirky four-sided love triangle at its centre. Meanwhile, the more thriller-like plotline builds as the Seeker gets ever closer. All of this is played out very seriously, with almost no offhanded humour or humanity, but the emotions are intriguingly resonant.
Continue reading: The Host Review
Tatum plays Mike, a construction worker who moonlights as a stripper in a women-only club in Tampa, Florida. When he notices hot, 19-year-old Adam (Pettyfer) on the building site, he invites him along to the club, where owner Dallas (McConaughey) is hoping to take the show to the Miami big time. Soon Adam is part of the team (which includes actor-hunks True Blood's Manganiello, White Collar's Bomer and CSI Miami's Rodriguez), but he also gets tempted by the darker side of the scene, namely girls and drugs.
Continue reading: Magic Mike Review
Meanwhile, the movie forces me to reconsider my own, because it spends a lot more time seeming like a good movie than actually being one. For a film with such an ominous, encompassing title, We Own the Night is content to skim the surface of the NYPD, lacking the obsessive attention to detail that distinguishes other crime-heavy glimpses into bygone American eras as diverse as Gangs of New York, Zodiac, or The Assassination of the Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Even Night's period details feel half-assed and incidental, like background songs that sound more like bits of '90s soundtracks to '80s-set movies instead of 1988 itself. In fact, though an early subtitle says so, the year doesn't even seem to be 1988 in particular but a vague, amorphous "eighties," Wedding Singer style.
Continue reading: We Own The Night Review
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