Male Enhancement: ‘XXL’ Doubles The Pleasure Of The First ‘Magic Mike’

magic-mike-xxl-channing-tatum-strip-amber-heard-stephen-bossIf you’d told me before the fact that a movie about male strippers starring Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum would have been amongst my top five films of 2012, I may not have believed you, except for one key fact — the movie was directed by Steven Soderbergh, who tends to elevate could-be lowbrow material above and beyond expectations.

The first Magic Mike was, seemingly, an anomaly — a relatively light-hearted summer crowd-pleaser with real substance beneath the surface. Shedding genre conventions like rip-away pants, underneath the fairly straightforward plot beats of your average frustrated dancer movie, you could find both hard bodies in thongs and a pretty astute treatise on American economics — a tragedy about the working class. (Yes, seriously.)

Magic Mike XXL jettisons the All About Eve-esque plot machinations of the first film (as well as “The Kid” character who set them in motion, thankfully). In fact, it essentially jettisons any semblance of a plot at all. It’s as frivolous as you’d expect a summer sequel to a movie about male strippers would be, but it’s hardly disposable. Like the original, it’s a rarity, but in a different way. Magic Mike XXL is less about this gang of hunks, and more about the people who drop singles to ogle them. (Women, mostly.) Watch Magic Mike XXL, and you’re not really watching a movie about male strippers — it’s the rare movie that’s true subject is its own audience. If you’ve seen Magic Mike XXL, chances are, you’re somewhere in this movie.

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There And Back Again: The Sound, Fury & Nothingness Of ‘Mad Max’

mad-max-fury-road-nicholas-hoult-charlize-theron-nux-imperator-furiosaI’m tempted to post my review of Mad Max: Fury Road as a series of questions that popped into my head while watching it, but I won’t do that. It’s an early summer blockbuster that is being hailed by many critics as a masterpiece. Some have called it one of the most revolutionary action movies of recent years. There’s certainly something distinctive about it — that much is true. You can tell that just from looking at the pictures.

More than anything, Mad Max: Fury Road has reminded me that moviegoing is a subjective experience. One man’s Speed is another man’s Speed 2: Cruise Control. (I’m probably one of few people who actually likes Speed 2: Cruise Control, and prefers it to Mad Max: Fury Road, but let’s not go there.) Some people can sit through a film and find it wild and daring and completely innovative, while someone else — like, say, me — can sit there and be bored and frustrated all the while.

We all bring a little something different with us into a theater, and we all take a little something different home with us when we leave. Some leave with the treasure, some leave with the empty box that it came in. I was hoping to be exhilarated and dazzled by Mad Max: Fury Road, and from what I saw and heard of the film before its release, I had every reason to expect to be. So what happened?

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The Tens: Best Of Film 2007

My Top 10 for the year 2007 comes to you from the midst of the WGA Writer’s Strike of 2007-2008, when there was some doubt about whether or not a typical Oscar telecast would even be possible without those striking scribes.

That would have been quite a shame, since 2007 is one of the very best (if not the best) cinematic years of the new millennium thus far. In almost any other year that decade, my #3 choice would probably have been my #1 choice.

Of course, the Oscars did happen, with major wins for Marion Cotillard, Diablo Cody, and the Coen Brothers, amongst others. But it’s interesting, and a little depressing, to imagine an alternate reality where we never saw a bunch of very deserving actors and filmmakers take home the gold for a job well done.

(A briefer version of this Top Ten list was first published in my “Confessions of a Dangerous Film Student” column in INsite Boston in early 2008.)

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Hard.in.the.City’s 2015 Oscars Drinking Game

SANDRA-BULLOCK-ENVELOPENo, Academy Awards drinking games are nothing new or novel, and yes, every other more reputable pop culture website has already posted one.

But if I’m going to be watching the Oscars, and I’m going to be drinking, and I’m going to be playing a game, I may as well be playing my own Oscars drinking game, so here it is.

I tried to avoid some of the most obvious ones, because I know me some Oscars, and if I wanted to, I could seriously get you drunk before 6 PM.

Have fun, everyone!

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The Not-Oscars 2014

not-oscars-2014Once again, it’s Oscar time.

This year’s race is gearing up to be one of the least predictable in recent memory. For every race that has an all-but-guaranteed winner (Julianne Moore, Best Actress; J.K. Simmons, Best Supporting Actor), there are as many that are truly up in the air — some with not only two possible winners, but several. Best Actor? It’s anybody’s guess whether it goes to Eddie Redmayne or Michael Keaton, and an upset by Bradley Cooper isn’t out of the question. Will the Academy reward Richard Linklater’s assured hand at shepherding Boyhood, a 12-year-in-the-making indie that’s full of genuine emotion and about as naturalistic as film can be, or Alejandro Inarritu’s brash, attention-grabbing stylings in the seemingly editless celebration of artistic ego Birdman? We’ll have to wait and see.

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The Tens: Best Of Film 2014

Nightcrawler-JAKE-GYLLENHAAL-CAMERA-DEAD-BODY-BEST-OF-FILM-2014It was a very good year at the movies… but a weird one. Reversing the trend of recent years, the summer blockbuster fare offered a surprising amount of good taste, from the goofy-fun Guardians Of The Galaxy to the surprisingly clever Edge Of Tomorrow. Even sequels like Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and unnecessary reboots like Godzilla offered something in the way of quality.

I saw many films I liked over the course of the year, and not too many that I didn’t. 2014 was not a year of masterpieces, save one or two, but a year when more movies than average were better than you’d think.

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