Channing Tatum

Magic Mike XXL

You know my opinion of sequels. Rarely are they a logical or necessary extension of an original movie. Cinematic purpose aside, they are nevertheless entertaining – especially if the original was satisfying. Magic Mike was wildly successful, aimed at a target demographic that showed up in full force for the provocative Steven Soderbergh (Contagion) film starring Channing Tatum (22 Jump Street) and Matthew McCounaghey (Interstellar). Thus I wasn’t surprised when I heard there would be a sequel, although I was mildly disappointed to see that not all of the original cast would be returning.

The plot details of Magic Mike XXL aren’t terribly important, are they? Anyone going to see this movie isn’t concerned with such matters, I’m almost certain. Suffice it to say that the titular Mike has made a post-stripping living for himself designing furniture, while the remaining “Kings of Tampa” (sans McCounaghey and Alex Pettyfer) are still giving the ladies fits on stage. Mike has been somewhat reclusive, and his old friends have to dupe him into a reunion. When they finally reconnect, the guys convince him to go on a farewell tour of sorts, one last big hurrah before parting ways again.

The guys’ swan song will take place at a huge male stripper expo, and they have a long road trip ahead of themselves to get there. Mike thinks they need to liven up their act with new material and gains inspiration after dropping in on old friend Rome (Jada Pinkett, The Women), a club owner who provides a unique experience for women who patronize her risqué establishment. With McCounaghey’s Dallas no longer in the picture, the guys need an emcee for their show, and Rome eventually obliges.

The bulk of the movie depicts the camaraderie amongst the guys while intermittently treating the audience to eye-popping gyrations from Channing Tatum, who is quite obviously the superior dancer and unquestionable star of the film. Tatum doesn’t really “do it” for me, but I can’t deny the heat his performances generated. The audience at my viewing was packed with giddy, squealing women who had a boozy good time howling at the screen. I wondered how they would behave at an actual strip club, since the movie had them acting like they’d never seen a real live man before. What else can I really say about Magic Mike XXL? If you enjoyed the first one; surely you’ll like the sequel. The dialogue and acting faltered at points, but the fraternal chemistry among the cast and sizzling dance routines made the film largely enjoyable. Straight men, this one isn’t for you (Duh). Grade: B


G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Once again I have to start this review with my fanboy disclaimer: I am not a GI Joe “buff,” and you shouldn’t have to be to see this movie.  I watched the cartoons as a child, but I’m approaching this review as an average moviegoer and not an enthusiast.  At any rate, I enjoyed the first edition and was looking forward to the sequel.  It was entertaining, and it opened up at number 1 at the box office – but it wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be.

We begin with Duke (Channing Tatum, Side Effects) and Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Snitch) as the movie opens with a glimpse into their affable friendship.  Tatum and Johnson have an easy rapport, and it’s always interesting to see these iconic cartoon/comic book characters brought to life.  Lady Jaye is portrayed by Adrianne Palicki (Red Dawn), who you may recognize from Friday Night Lights, while DJ Cotrona of Detroit 187 appears as Flint.  Duke is the clear leader, but his position is threatened when the Joes are ambushed by COBRA while on assignment.  It turns out the President is actually a disguised Zartan, who ultimately wants to free Cobra Commander from his prison and destroy the Joes in the process.  The ambush results in severe casualties, and nuclear warheads are stolen. The President (Zartan) blames the Joes and paints them as traitors, disavowing them.  Disgraced and betrayed, the surviving Joes band together to figure out who’s responsible and recover the warheads.

I’ll be succinct and quite simply tell you what worked and what didn’t.  We’ll start with the positive.  I thought the casting was effective and the lineup made sense.  Additionally, there were quite a few cool scenes and plenty of entertaining action sequences, including a memorable scene involving Snake Eyes (Ray Park, X-Men) and Jinx (Elodie Yung, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) battling ninjas on the side of a snow-capped mountain.  Bruce Willis (Red) makes a cameo as a seasoned Joe who lends a hand, and he’s a sentimental favorite of mine.   I think he’s gonna try to do the action thing until he’s collecting Social Security (if he’s not already), and you know what? He can still pull it off.

Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t without its flaws.  The 3D aspect was negligible, which is becoming all too common nowadays.  Secondly, the writing was not very impressive.  The movie faltered when it drifted away from action.  The dialogue was corny and the plot confusing at times, beginning with the appearance of RZA as a wise old martial arts master who has a history with Storm Shadow (Byung-hun-Lee, I Saw the Devil).  I thought I was watching The Man With the Iron Fists for a second.  I like RZA, but I couldn’t take him seriously. I think if you grew up watching the cartoons, you might want to see this off GP, and I can dig it.  But if you’re totally neutral about it, perhaps you should forego the experience.  It wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t THAT good.  Grade: B-

Side Effects

Known as the “master of suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock is considered a true pioneer of the contemporary thriller.  He popularized the idea of the “femme fatale,” a woman whose beguiling attributes rendered men helpless, often with deadly consequences.  So, when someone references Hitchcock or describes a film as “Hitchcockian,” I’m curious to see the supposed hallmarks of one of my favorite directors.  When I heard one of the stars of the new movie Side Effects describe it as reminiscent of Hitchcock – I was convinced to give it a look.

Side Effects is Steven Soderbergh’s (Contagion, Magic Mike) latest addition to a prolific career.  I’m a fan of his slick cinematography and the occasional languid feel of some of his movies, and Side Effects was no exception.  The movie features Channing Tatum (The Vow, Magic Mike) and Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), as Martin and Emily Taylor, a young couple trying to rebuild their lives after Martin’s release from prison for insider trading.  Separated for five years, the couple is eager to reunite, and they seem very loving and loyal to each other.  Emily appears devoted, having stood by Martin during his fall from grace.  However, soon after his release Emily falls into an inexplicable depression.  I suppose some jittery anxiety is normal, as the pair hasn’t been intimate in quite some time.  Yet Emily’s mood doesn’t comport with what should ostensibly be a very happy time in their lives.  After she commits a dangerous act that shall remain nameless (you’re welcome), she comes under the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), a psychiatrist who believes she may simply be feeling overwhelmed by Martin’s return.  Eventually he gives her a prescription, but she continues to deteriorate both rapidly and publicly.  She melts down at a black-tie party in front of their friends, and she needs consolation from a co-worker at her job.

Throughout her struggle, Martin remains patient and understanding as Emily listlessly goes through the motions of everyday life.  She tries one prescription pill after another, as nothing seems capable of snapping her out of her funk.  People suggest different medicines to her, and Banks gives her a sample of a drug called Ablixa ( after consulting briefly with her former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Broken City).  What follows is a series of events that will leave you shocked and scratching your head.  The movie really shifts gears about halfway through, and I understand the Hitchcock comparisons.  There was an intimate, dream-like quality to the film that made it feel mysterious and slightly foreboding, and I appreciated that aspect of the movie.

Despite the intriguing plot and expert cinematography, I found a lot to be desired when it came to performances.  To be fair, it was only Channing Tatum that left me underwhelmed, yet again.  I think he’s very good-looking and charming.  According to some, he’s even the ‘sexiest man alive.’  Unfortunately for Tatum, this was a trait that served him better in Soderbergh’s last film, Magic Mike.  Here I found him serviceable, at best.  There just never seems to be much beneath the surface, with him.  By no means do I think he’s unintelligent, but his performances always strike me as one note, failing to resonate.  Rooney Mara, on the other hand, was convincing as a troubled, unstable young woman.  Perhaps it’s her diminutive stature, but she always seems vulnerable, and I thought her physical make up served her well in the role.  Her character required a duality that she ably conveyed.  Lastly, Jude Law was effective as the well-meaning doctor who genuinely wants to help Emily but is clueless as to what deeper issues may be bubbling under her troubled veneer.  The pacing was a bit slow in certain spots, but this was remedied by the final act.

I’ve tried to reveal as little as possible, but I’ll leave you with a solid recommendation for this tense thriller. Side Effects was sexy, mysterious, and suspenseful.  Amidst a sea of Oscar contenders currently in some theaters, I thought it was a welcomed reprieve.  Grade: B+


Magic Mike

I don’t prefer male strippers in real life, but as soon as I saw the commercial for Magic Mike, I said, “I’m in.”  What can I say? I appreciate all things aesthetically pleasing, and there was eye candy in abundance.  Unfortunately my girlfriends did not share my enthusiasm, and I could not get anyone to go see it with me.  I don’t discriminate, and there were at least three actors in this movie that I wanted to see.  That would be Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer), and Alex Pettyfer (Beastly).  Manganiello stole my heart as werewolf Alcide Herveaux on True Blood, Matthew McConaughey has been fine since A Time to Kill, and Alex Pettyfer got my attention in I Am Number Four.  Now Channing Tatum (The Vow) does nothing for me, so he’s not included in that list.  The fact that Steven Soderbergh (most recently of Haywire) directed it also lent an air of credibility to what otherwise seemed like a fluff movie.

Tatum stars as “Magic” Mike, a hard-working guy in Tampa just trying to make ends meet until he can start his own furniture business.  He’s the kind of guy who does a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Construction by day, stripping by night.  When he arrives to work at the construction site one day he meets new guy Adam (Pettyfer), a young kid on his first day at the job.  Mike is affable and experienced, and he immediately takes Adam under his wing.  Later that night Adam runs into Mike outside of his second job, a strip club owned by McCounaghey’s character Dallas, one part cowboy, one part surfer dude.  He both owns and “dances” at the club, and if you thought Matty had fallen off, I’m here to tell you he’s still got it.  I mean you could literally wash clothes on the man’s stomach, but I digress.  Mike introduces Adam to Dallas as “the kid,” and at 19, it fits.  Adam watches Mike perform, mesmerized by the effect he has on the crowd of women tearing at his clothes.  Tatum was actually a Florida stripper before making it big, so I’m guessing this was just like old times.  Later when Dallas needs to fill dead air and none of the other guys can go on stage, The Kid is thrust into the spotlight.  He timidly inches out on the stage while the women cheer him on.  He lacks the polish and finesse of the others, but he gets a warm reception and a star is born.  Soon Adam is living a wild new lifestyle, much to the dismay of his protective older sister (Cody Horn) Brooke, with whom he lives.  Complicating things for Mike are the developing feelings he has for Brooke, and a promise that he makes to look out for her little brother – who is dangerously out of his league in the fast lane.

Magic Mike was an odd movie, to me.  Let’s start with what worked.  First of all, it was funny in a cheesy, tongue-in-cheek sort of way.  Matthew McConaughey clearly relished every moment on screen in all his bare-chested glory.  I don’t think Channing Tatum is the best actor in the world, but there is something charming and accessible about him.  His experience was obvious, as he was the only one who could really dance.  Yep, this is the guy from the corny ass Step Up movie folks.  The women in my theater were practically in heat when he and Alex Pettyfer were on screen, audibly yelping and giggling like teenagers.  Despite the eye candy, Magic Mike wasn’t perfect.  The idea of a male strip club is a little far-fetched.  Most male strippers are patronized by gay men.  The idea of a packed house full of clamoring women isn’t very realistic.  And I always say that the way you begin and end a movie are extremely key in the audience’s perception of what they’ve digested.  Magic Mike ended so abruptly that everyone was kind of like, “that’s it?”  The resolution felt rushed, and then boom – roll credits.  I thought that it could have been a little better (it was really corny sometimes), but it managed to live up to the limited expectations I had for it.  I think you either want to see this movie or you don’t, and a word from me won’t really matter.  That’s why I couldn’t convince any of my friends to go with me.  But if you don’t have enough singles for the strip club, maybe you can treat yourself to a Magic Mike movie matinee.  Say that three times fast.  Grade: B.




When I saw the trailer for Haywire I was instantly hooked.  This was my kind of movie.  I love watching a believable female lead do damage, a la The Bride in Kill Bill.  No weak “chick” fights, I wanna see something real.  To that end, Haywire seemed like it would deliver.  It stars Gina Carano, a real-life world champion MMA fighter.  If nothing else, the scenes promised to be authentic.  When I saw Michael Fassbender drop her with a sucker punch, I was sold.

The man behind the lens is acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Thirteen, Out of Sight), and his imprint is clear.  Haywire was slick and stylish, even when the action turned nasty.  The non-linear storytelling is another common feature of Soderbergh’s movies.  Haywire opens with our heroine outlining a mission gone wrong.  Carano is Mallory Kane, a covert operative who does freelance work for the government.  I think.  She was sent on a rescue mission to recover a hostage, a Chinese journalist.  When he winds up dead, Mallory learns that her superiors have attempted to frame her for his murder.  The storyline wasn’t too complicated, but there were little things that didn’t add up here and there.  One minute it appears that everyone is in on the betrayal, the next minute it seems as if key people are unaware.  Also perplexing was the fact that no reason for the betrayal was ever presented.  Mallory hadn’t acquired any new enemies and was admittedly an asset to her employer.  So why was she set up?  I guess I can just go along with the idea that she was expendable, but there were a couple of problems in the details for this flick.

Despite its flaws, I found Haywire to be enjoyable largely because of Carano.  It’s still odd to see a man and woman fight on screen as equals, and I couldn’t help rooting for Mallory to prevail.  For an inexperienced actress, I thought Carano gave a capable performance, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she reprised the role in the future.  It looks like this movie died relatively quickly at the box office, despite its noteworthy cast.   Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), Michael Douglas (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), and Channing Tatum (The Eagle) round out the cast nicely, though they aren’t given great material to work with.  Usually Soderbergh’s movies are better than this, but fortunately Carano’s deft fighting ability was enough to sustain the film, for the most part.  Less talking, more fighting please.  The format of the movie was intriguing in the beginning, but as the movie progressed, more implausible things started to happen with the plot development.  Mallory’s ability to fight her way out of any situation was actually more plausible than the whole frame-up scenario.

I liked Haywire, but there are too many other choices in theaters right now for me to give it a strong recommendation.  Wait for the DVD.