Kingsman: The Golden Circle

For inSing

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Elton John, Sophie Cookson
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : NC16

The world’s most impeccably dressed superspies are back in the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, and this time, they’ve got help from across the pond. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has completed his transformation from rough-hewn street hooligan to dapper Kingsman agent. Things are going well for Eggsy, who is in a loving relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Without warning, Kingsman headquarters is decimated, leaving Eggsy and gadget-meister Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. The perpetrator? Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin and the sociopathic leader of a secret society known as The Golden Circle. To prevent Poppy from committing murder on an unprecedented scale, Eggsy and Merlin rendezvous with the agents of Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart – they operate out of a distillery instead of a tailor’s. The group is led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), to whom Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry) report. As the scope of Poppy’s plan is laid bare, the agents of both organizations must forge a partnership to foil her scheme. A spanner is thrown into the works when Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who was presumed dead, is still alive.

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is generally well-regarded by audiences and critics. It functions as director Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic spy-fi films and TV shows of days gone by, while also containing his trademark acerbic wit, shocking violence, and bravura style. Unfortunately, much of what made The Secret Service so appealing is missing from The Golden Circle. The film is still entertaining and funny, and the action sequences are as slickly-staged and eye-catching as ever, but this movie has a bad case of ‘sequel-itis’. The first film was anchored by the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-style arc of a gentleman spy training a young apprentice, and seeing the character develop as he is put through his paces. The Golden Circle doesn’t have that emotional anchor, and is tonally more all over the place than its predecessor. The moments which are meant to be sincere do not jibe with the wink-and-nod humour, which teeters on the edge of over-indulgence. If you’ve grown attached to the characters from the first film, you might not like how they’re handled here.

Egerton returns to his breakout role, and while he’s a fine leading man, he’s less interesting to watch now, since Eggsy has already arrived as a sophisticated gentleman. The friendship between Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is much more compelling than the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, so fans of the first film might be frustrated that the latter relationship is given far more emphasis here than the former. We also must question the decision to bring Firth’s character back from the dead. Sure, Firth’s performance as Harry in the first movie was brilliant, but audiences have already gone through the process of accepting Harry’s death, a shocking moment which is one of the elements that made Kingsman so memorable. When it is explained how Harry survived, this reviewer turned to his friend and exclaimed “what a cop-out!”

As is often the case in sequels to successful films, more stars sign on, eager to be part of what appears to be a mega-franchise in the making. Moore’s performance as Poppy, a twisted businesswoman with an affinity for 50s Americana, is serviceable because she is such a talented actress. However, it’s just what one would expect from her, and nothing more – the Poppy character isn’t all that surprising. Similarly, her bionically-enhanced henchman falls far short of Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle in the first film.

Bridges does almost nothing, while Berry stands around next to Strong. Tatum isn’t in this nearly as lo ng as the advertising would have you believe. Instead, it’s Pascal who steals the show. The inclusion of Elton John as himself might strike some as being a touch too silly even for an outlandish comedy, but the singer showcases surprising, delightful comic timing – and yes, even gets a fight scene to himself.

Those who were impressed with Kingsman: The Secret Service’s subversive humour, stylish thrills and throwback spy movie vibe with a bit of an edge will find those elements present in the sequel, but will be disappointed by how much of a step backwards this feels. At 141 minutes, it is also much too long, losing some steam just before the final act. A third instalment has already been planned, and we hope the series gets its mojo back with that one.

Summary: Bigger and flashier than its predecessor but losing too much of its charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that is mostly going through the motions. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flair for filming action sequences is still evident, though.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Logan Lucky

For F*** Magazine

LOGAN LUCKY 

Director : Steven Soderbergh
Cast : Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, David Denman, Sebastian Stan, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Farrah Mackenzie, Hilary Swank
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 7 September 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

         Despite announcing his retirement after 2013’s Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair and off to the races with this caper comedy. The Logan family hasn’t had the best of luck: Jimmy Logan (Tatum) has just been fired, and his brother Clyde (Driver) lost his left arm while on military duty in Iraq. Jimmy loves his young daughter Sadie (Mackenzie), but Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Holmes) plans on moving away with her wealthy new husband Moody (Denman), making it harder for Jimmy to see Sadie. While working his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmy hatches a plan: rob the vault containing money from the concession stands during the Coca Cola 600 race, one of the largest annual Nascar events. To pull off the heist, the Logan siblings tap on the skills of demolition expert Joe Bang (Craig) – but they’ll need to break him out of prison first. With limited resources and simple ingenuity, the crew must overcome a host of obstacles to make off with the money.

Logan Lucky has been referred to as “Redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, which is a fairly accurate description. There isn’t a hint of glitz or glamour to be found, and the protagonists are blue collar guys from the South who love John Denver. While the expected stereotypes are trucked out and some fun is had at the expense of the characters and their cultural backgrounds, they’re imbued with humanity and are, for the most part, well-rounded creations. Screenwriter Rebecca Blunt crafts a script that’s not only funny, but is also admirably elaborate when it comes to the mechanics of the heist. There are so many moving parts, and it’s easy to be fooled by the laid-back vibe of the film because there’s a precision to the many hoops our heroes must jump through to pull off the heist.

Part of what makes Logan Lucky feel fresh is its status as a ‘big small’ movie. Soderbergh deliberately circumvented the studio system, formed his own distribution company named ‘Fingerprint Releasing’ and teamed with distributor Bleecker Street, making this technically an indie film. There are big-name stars in the cast, and Soderbergh himself is a well-known director, but like its protagonists, there is a scrappy underdog feel to Logan Lucky. Soderbergh has personally devised a marketing strategy that goes against conventional wisdom, targeting the film’s advertising instead of unleashing the expensive publicity blitz most studio films get. While ostensibly born out of Soderbergh’s disillusionment with the big Hollywood machine, there’s nary a hint of bitterness in Logan Lucky, which is exuberant even as it touches on the very real struggles of America’s working class.

This is Tatum’s fourth collaboration with Soderbergh, after Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects. The Jimmy Logan character taps into all of Tatum’s strengths as a performer, and the ‘lunkhead with a heart of gold’ archetype falls right within his skill set. While Tatum has showed off his comedic chops in other films, he’s largely restrained, and there are even moments when his performance is genuinely moving.

Driver plays well off Tatum, bringing a quiet earnestness to the role of Clyde. Keough is well on her way to A-list leading lady status, playing the plucky Mellie with entertaining confidence. The scenes in which Mellie bonds with her niece Sadie, styling Sadie’s hair before a beauty pageant, are quite sweet. Child beauty pageants aren’t depicted in the film as being exploitative the way they often are in real life, with Sadie taking great pride in her performance. Sadie’s talent showcase is the film’s most unabashedly sentimental scene, and thanks to child actress Farrah Mackenzie, it works.

Craig performs a heist of his own, single-handedly stealing the movie. This is a piece of stunt-casting that pays dividends: sporting a bleached blonde buzz cut, tattoos and affecting a southern accent, this is Craig like we haven’t quite seen him before. As with any good heist crew, there must be eccentric characters, with Joe Bang being the most eccentric of the bunch. Tatum, Driver and Craig develop an unlikely and amusing triple act, the result being silly while not so over-the-top as to lose audiences. Hearing Craig say lines like “I’m about to get nekkid” in a ridiculous drawl is the height of entertainment.

Not all of it works: as is often the case with ensemble comedies, there are a few too many characters and subplots at work. Seth MacFarlane’s turn as egotistical moustachioed Nascar driver Max Chilblain doesn’t land as naturally as the other performances, calling too much attention to itself and feeling awkward and forced in the process. Sebastian Stan, playing Dayton White, a driver on Chilblain’s team, gets very little screen time. So too does Katherine Waterston, who pops up for only a couple of scenes. Hilary Swank appears late in the movie as an FBI agent investigating the heist, and like MacFarlane, she goes a little too broad, registering as off-key.

Funny, packed with quirky down-home charm and containing an impressively-engineered central heist, Logan Lucky is bona fide sleeper hit material, and is enough to make one hope Soderbergh keeps making movies for a while longer yet.

Summary: If you’re looking for a quality comedy somewhere in-between obscure indie and full-on Hollywood blockbuster, you’re in luck: Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Redneck Ocean’s Eleven’ is a hoot.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Hail, Caesar!

For F*** Magazine

HAIL, CAESAR!

Director : Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast : Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 10 March 2016
Rating : PG

The Coen Brothers peel back the curtain on the turning cogs of the ‘50s Hollywood studio system machine in this comedy. Eddie Mannix (Brolin) is a fixer employed by Capitol Pictures, who has to ensure that celebrities’ dirty laundry remains in the hamper. When Baird Whitlock (Clooney), the star of the blockbuster Biblical epic Hail, Caesar!, is abducted, it’s up to Mannix to procure the $100 000 ransom and rescue the actor. Hobie Doyle (Ehrenreich), another one of Mannix’s clients, is a “singing cowboy” actor who is cast in a period drama helmed by prestigious director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes) in the studio’s attempt to push him as a big star. He is drawn into Mannix’s mission to find Whitlock. Other figures working on the Capitol Pictures soundstages include actress/synchronised swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Johansson) and song-and-dance man Burt Gurney (Tatum), who harbours a dark secret.

            At the time of writing, Hail, Caesar! has an 82% score from film critics but only a 45% audience score on review aggregating site Rotten Tomatoes. The Coens’ tribute to 50s Hollywood is certainly geared towards cinephiles and packs in plenty of nostalgic period detail, with plenty of homages to the tropes and styles of that era’s moviemaking business. There’s a freewheeling frivolity to the film that might alienate those unfamiliar with the historical context in which the Hail, Caesar! is set. There are Easter Eggs and references galore, most of which were lost on this reviewer. In addition to drawing on the films of Old Hollywood, the Coens reference their own back catalogue: the fictional Capitol Pictures studio also featured in Barton Fink.

The Coens have written and directed some startlingly bleak black comedies, and in contrast, Hail, Caesar! is a frothy and frolicsome enterprise. By having the main character be a studio fixer, whose job it is to keep everyone in line and on brand, the Coens have the opportunity to satirise the iron grip the Old Hollywood studio system had on its contract stars. We do get some of that, to be sure, but the film favours silliness over bite at every turn.



            Because of the clout the Coens have built up over their career, they have access to some big names and many of the cast members in Hail, Caesar! are returning Coen Brothers alumni. Eddie Mannix is a fictionalisation of the real-life Hollywood fixer-turned producer of the same name. Brolin captures the character’s strong work ethic and is a reliable straight man of the “comically serious” variety, trudging through the over-the-top shenanigans that occur throughout the film. In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty and Hail, Caesar!, Clooney plays characters who aren’t too bright, forming the so-called “numbskull trilogy”. Here, Clooney’s Baird Whitlock is modelled after Kirk Douglas; his character in the film-within-a-film being a Roman centurion who is eventually moved by the power of Jesus Christ. Clooney’s lackadaisical charm shines through; Clooney clearly very comfortable working with the Coens.

            A selection of famous faces pop up in extended cameos that could be described as “gratuitous” if one isn’t in a particularly charitable mood – but we’ll be darned if the casting isn’t spot on. Swinton hams it up in a dual role as rival gossip columnists who happen to be twin sisters. Coens oft-collaborator Frances McDormand is a film editor who has a scarf-related mishap and Jonah Hill shows up as a surety agent. Johansson plays an Esther Williams-esque actress and participates in a lavishly choreographed synchronised swimming sequence. Her character is perceived as sweet and elegant, when she’s actually a surly, irascible chain-smoker. Tatum is absolutely hilarious here, while also getting to show off some very fancy footwork in a tap dance number that’s a tribute to Gene Kelly. Ehrenreich may not be as well-known as his co-stars, but he’s plenty likeable as the unrefined singing cowboy who has his life taken over by the studio.

            Hail, Caesar!is plenty of very broadly played fun and is sure to appeal to viewers who have an affinity with the movies of 50s Hollywood and the behind-the-scenes gossip that came with them. Alas, it’s far from the Coens’ sharpest material and there are instances where they seem to be caught up in the minutiae and get a little carried away with their elaborate odes to this bygone era of filmmaking. This can be viewed as something of a companion piece to Trumbo, set against the same political climate in Hollywood but played straight, natch. If it’s nostalgia, whimsy and a couple of intricately staged musical numbers that you’re after, the Coens have got you covered.

Summary: A light-hearted romp through 50s Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! is packed with loving homages but does play a little too “inside baseball” for non-initiates to get into.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

The Hateful Eight

For F*** Magazine

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Director : Quentin Tarantino
Cast : Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum
Genre : Western/Thriller
Run Time : 167 mins
Opens : 21 January 2016
Rating : R21

Hang on to them reins, boys and girls, because Quentin Tarantino’s wrangled up his eighth motion picture and is coming at you guns a-blazin’, all shot in glorious 65mm. It is some time after the Civil War in wintry Wyoming and bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) hitches a ride on a stagecoach occupied by fellow bounty hunter John “Hangman” Ruth (Russell) and his captive, Daisy Domergue (Leigh). Ruth is delivering Domergue to the town of Red Rock, and the trio comes across Chris Mannix (Goggins), apparently the new sheriff of Red Rock. The four arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge, which is being looked after by Bob the Mexican (Bichir) in Minnie’s absence. They meet the other lodgers: English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), ranch hand Joe Gage (Madsen) and former Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Dern). Trapped in the middle of a fierce blizzard, this motley crew aren’t going to sit all quiet-like and wait for the storm to blow over, with mysteries unravelling, tensions mounting and lots of blood being spilled.

            As can be expected with any new Tarantino project, there was a great deal of pomp and circumstance surrounding the development of The Hateful Eight. The script surfaced online in January 2014, inciting Tarantino’s rage and a degree of finger-pointing as to who exactly leaked the screenplay. Tarantino briefly considered scrapping the film entirely and publishing The Hateful Eight as a novel instead. A live reading was staged before the film eventually went into production. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone came on board to score his first Western in 34 years and provide the first original score for a Tarantino film, the soundtracks of which customarily comprise existing songs. Then, the film was released in an old-fashioned roadshow presentation projected in 70 mm format, this version containing an extra 20 minutes of footage compared to the regular theatrical release.

            After all of this build-up, The Hateful Eight emerges as a film that is Tarantino’s through and through, but is not one of the director’s stronger efforts. With all the accolades he has amassed and with the impact his films have made on the pop cultural landscape, it makes sense that Tarantino would be given carte blanche to create the film he wants to. This is a spectacularly self-indulgent piece, and while Tarantino has made self-indulgence work in his favour in previous films, The Hateful Eight will test audiences who aren’t already converts to his style. Near the beginning of the film, Ruth orders Warren to put aside his pistol “molasses-like”, which is exactly the pacing of the movie. The 167-minute-long theatrical cut is already a challenge to endure, let alone the 187-minute roadshow cut. The cast is peppered with actors who have worked with Tarantino before and the director’s penchant for bombastic monologues and excessive, gory violence is in full force here. He has always planted his flag at the intersection of artfulness and vulgarity, and that flag is definitely still standing.

            At its core, this is a mystery, with Tarantino citing the Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None as a reference point. It seems like it would work better as a stage play, and Tarantino does indeed have intentions of writing and directing a Broadway adaptation of the film. There are twists, turns and reveals, but this is a more straight-forward story than it is presented as, with the feeling of a tense, intimate drama being bloated to epic proportions, stuffed with over-the-top posturing and drenched in mostly unnecessary blood. Our characters arrive at a locale, are stuck there and a whodunit unfolds. The sometimes ridiculous heights that this reaches detract from the overall impact and suspense.

There are ingeniously staged moments of ratcheting tension that are immediately undercut by fountains of arterial splatter. One can imagine Tarantino rubbing his hands with glee, setting special effects makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger loose on set, armed with assorted viscera. When Tarantino was paying homage to genres like the gangster movie, Blaxploitation or the martial arts film in the past, bloody violence makes more sense than it does in association with westerns, even given revisionist works by the likes of Sam Peckinpah. The violence crosses past the point of being shocking into being pointlessly numbing.

            Watching the cast at play is fun and thankfully, there’s a great deal of that going on here. This is an ensemble piece, but Tarantino’s oft-collaborator Jackson takes the lead as Major Marquis Warren. We initially lean into rooting for Warren because, as the lone black character for the bulk of the film, Warren is the target of strong racial slurs, but his own volatility and detestable actions soon come to light, making him at once fascinating and repulsive. Russell’s more understated approach is the ideal counterpoint to Jackson’s style, and for the most part, it’s clear this is a cast who knows full well what they’re doing.

Leigh is remarkably believable as the scuzzy Domergue, bad teeth, black eye, stringy hair and all, perhaps the most authentic of the bunch in mannerisms and appearance. Jennifer Lawrence was reported under consideration to play Domergue. Dern has a quietly commanding presence and carries one of the film’s most powerful moments, a conversation between Warren and Smithers about the fate of Smithers’ son. Goggins is entertaining though often bothering on annoying as he enthusiastically bounces about the set. Madsen puts in the least effort, though perhaps there’s a charm in that stemming from the Reservoir Dogs connection. In addition to Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange, a.k.a. Tim Roth, is also present.

            Tatum’s appearance, however brief, completely pulled this reviewer out of the film. The actor has stumbled awkwardly through many a dramatic role and the ruthless badass Tatum plays in The Hateful Eight doesn’t capitalise on any of his comedic strengths. Stunt performer and actress Zoë Bell, a Tarantino mainstay, also has a minor supporting role. Bell’s New Zealand accent is acknowledged, but that doesn’t make it any less out of place in the setting.

            For fans of Tarantino’s technique and style and those who have enjoyed dissecting his back-catalogue and devising theories about how the events of all his films are connected, The Hateful Eight will be a largely fulfilling experience. However, if the wanton violence and odes to specific pop culture ephemera in his previous movies were alienating, The Hateful Eight is all the more so. It is generally true that a director making a film for himself is better than a hired gun just cashing a check, but The Hateful Eight feels like it was made primarily for Tarantino’s own amusement, and that if the general audience happens to like it, it’s mostly because they’ve been conditioned by the director’s own oeuvre.



Summary: The Hateful Eight is packed with its director’s signature flair, but it often feels saturated and overwhelmingly self-indulgent, a cloud of “you’re supposed to like this because it’s Tarantino” hanging over it.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong
            

Mike and Friends’ XXL-ent Adventure

As published in Issue #66 of F*** Magazine

Text:
MIKE AND FRIENDS’ XXL-ENT ADVENTURE
F*** gets the low-down on the sexy sequel from the hunks of Magic Mike XXL 

By Jedd Jong
2012’s Magic Mike, a comedy-drama set in the Florida male revue scene, was a box office hit and received largely positive notices from critics. Naturally, most of the audience was there to admire the sculpted bods on display, and those that say they weren’t probably were as well. Drawing inspiration from the real life experiences of star Channing Tatum, Magic Mike was directed by Steven Soderbergh and saw Tatum revisit his early career as an exotic dancer.
This July, audiences can look forward to an upsized serving of eye candy courtesy of Tatum and his co-stars, many returning from the first film. Gregory Jacobs, who was the first assistant director on Magic Mike, takes over the directorial reins from Soderbergh. Writer/producer Reid Carolin also returns, sharing screenwriting credit with Tatum himself. This time, our loveable band of male strippers embarks on a voyage from Tampa to Myrtle Beach to attend a massive stripper convention.
F*** speaks exclusively to Tatum, Carolin, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer over the phone from Los Angeles. The different time zones mean the telephone conversations take place at around 5:40 am in the morning on our end, but we really can’t complain.

CHANNING TATUM AND REID CAROLIN

“XXL” is a good way to describe Channing Tatum’s career – the actor is rapidly climbing the A-list ladder and is bigger than ever, with successes like the smash hit action-comedy 21 Jump Streetand its sequel 22 Jump Street under his belt. He’s also secured a place in the X-Men pantheon, possibly appearing in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse before getting to headline a solo spin-off film as Gambit a.k.a. Remy LeBeau. Tatum garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of wrestler Mark Schultz in the dark sports drama Foxcatcher and will be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s next film, The Hateful Eight.

Tatum speaks to us alongside Reid Carolin, co-writer and producer on Magic Mike XXL and a close friend of his. Tatum and Carolin first worked together on 2008’s Stop-Loss and they have since become producing partners. Tatum and Carolin discuss whether the sequel will tie up some dangling plot threads from the first film, what it was like with Jacobs at the helm instead of Soderbergh, how the sequel is more of a road trip while also grander in scale and how the stage musical adaptation of Magic Mikeis progressing. 

The first Magic Mike ended on a cliffhanger with the fates of Adam “The Kid” and Brooke up in the air. The sequel takes place three years later and it seems that storyline isn’t being continued. What was the reason behind that decision?

Channing: Well no, it is being continued. We pick up three years later and certain things happen that you have to see the movie to be able to get those cliffhanger answers [laughs].
Reid: One of the things that’s fun about this movie is that a lot can happen to somebody’s life in three years between one movie and another. And so, I think part of the movie when you go see it, is dealing with exactly what your question is suggesting.
What is it like having Gregory Jacobs directing but having Steven Soderbergh remaining on board as cinematographer and editor?

Channing: You know, to be honest, it was a lot like the first movie [chuckles]. They really do work in such a way that…they’ve made movies together for over 20-25 years or something, it’s really close to that. It’s been for a very long time and Greg was always Steven’s line producer, he was the first AD (Assistant Director) and his producer. And Steven has always been his own camera operator and his own DP (Director of Photography), his own editor and obviously the director. And the only hat Steven didn’t wear [on this film] was pretty much the directing hat and Greg put that one on and it really kind of works seamlessly. You know, if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but it really just did. Those guys, they just love each other and they’ve been doing it so long, they just speak the same language, they really do.
Reid: Yeah, I think movies are signatures of their directors and you’ll notice the distinct difference between the two movies – not in terms of the style or the way that the camera’s moving and the aesthetic vibe of the movie, but tonally and in the shape of the movie, you’ll notice a pretty big difference between the two films which I think is really exciting for us to be a part of because sometimes when you make sequels, they’re just sort of obligatory. They exist because the first movie was a success and they don’t necessarily feel like stories that are new explorations and deserve to be told in and of themselves.
The great thing is that I think we got to tell a story that is maybe much different from what people were expecting, and that was interesting to us not just because it’s a sequel but because we like the story. And also, you get to tell it through the eyes of a new person who wants to put a new stamp on the story. And what we got, like Chan said, was even surprising to us. It was awesome watching them work together and figuring out this new collaboration.
There have been many sequels that try to up the ante and go as big as possible and in the process lose the essence of what made the first film enjoyable; 22 Jump Street parodied that type of sequel. How does Magic Mike XXL retain what audiences liked about the first movie while changing it up just enough?

Channing: Well basically, when we read the message boards for the first movie, they were like “the only thing we really liked about the first movie was the guys getting naked, so do less of the story and less of everything else that wasn’t nakedness.” We just basically followed that. [Laughs] No. [Laughs] Don’t think we didn’t think about it. We really did have a unique opportunity to completely…and I actually said this in the press for the first movie, I said “I just want to, like, do a completely different film.” And I think it is such a uniquely different film in so many ways, even having a different director but a same sort of vision and understanding of the movie, just with a different heart and a different soul in a way, but with the same characters and the same spirit, but I think when you watch the second one, it’s way more of an adventure than it is, I don’t know, a cautionary tale or…the first one was very “slice of life”, to give you a window into the very weird subculture of that world. We had to really prove that we know what that world was, it is a real world with danger and very illicit sort of fun but ultimately with a real person in it that wanted more than that and that’s why I got out. This one is more of a…it’s a road trip. I think these guys realise that this life, Mike is kind of realising that his run is over. His time was over doing this. They’re realising it now.
Reid: I was just going to add to that, I think if you look at 21 and 22 Jump Street, obviously 22 did a good job satirising what it means to make a sequel but the actual essence of the story was obviously the same as the first one. It was about two people trying to navigate this relationship that they have and grow together and stay with each other through all these obstacles that present themselves. And so, while the second movie was making fun of itself, it was still basing itself off the same story paradigm. And I think when you look at our movie, obviously we’re not taking this bigger satirical, more meta approach, but the story’s changing a lot.
In the first one, it’s a lot about a guy who feels unfulfilled by his work in the world of stripping and he’s looking at all the things that stripping represents that are dark or negative or reasons for him to feel like he’s not growing as a person so of course, he leaves. And the second one, is a lot about the embracing of the other side of this world because after you’ve stepped away for a few years and you let that go and you move on with your life, you’re starting to feel fulfilled, then you start looking at some of the things in that world that were really fun, that you could celebrate, that you were really good at. And so, when he goes back into it in the journey of this movie, it’s a lot about “what are the great things about this world? What are the ways that these guys can represent women freeing themselves to have a great time and to open up?” And that’s why I really love this movie and I’ve always wanted to make it because it’s a complete and total departure from the first one into the absolute other side of this world.
Channing, the first Magic Mike can be described as “semi-autobiographical”. Did you continue to draw from your own life experiences for the sequel?

Channing: You know, the first movie…you know, look: the only real thing other than that I know what the world is like and kind of what these guys are like, the only thing that was really, I guess I could call mine or say was my story was I was 19, I had a sister, and I entered the stripping world. There wasn’t an older figure that ushered me in or anything like that, it was another story altogether. This thing, the only thing that was actually factual was I went to a stripping convention twice during my year of stripping.
Reid: You just danced in a wood shop to “Pony”?
Channing:[Laughs] in my infinite time dancing around the garages and stuff in Florida, for sure factual. [Laughs] but…sorry. So yeah, really it’s just we took the set piece of this convention that these guys go to, it’s just a destination for them to go on this…it’s an Odyssey, it’s Greek [laughs]. We go on this long journey and like learn stuff and use that to better themselves.
Reid: We took the narrative of Chan’s real story of driving up to this convention with a bunch of crazy guys doing a bunch of crazy stuff and tried to turn it into our own little stripper road trip odyssey. Stripper Easy Rider.
How is the progress going on the stage musical adaptation of Magic Mike, which I think Reid, you are writing?

Reid: I’m not writing it, actually, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is writing it and we’re going to see a full reading of it with all the musical numbers and stuff later this month. We don’t know where it’s at, we’re going to discover pretty soon.
Channing: Yeah, I mean that specifically is just not…not our world [laughs]. Look, I mean man, I’ve probably only seen in my life, God, maybe three musicals? So we’re really looking to them for this thing and kind of leaning on them, you know? I just wouldn’t even know to begin [laughs]. What’s odd is I know they’ve done a lot of work on this first concept we’ve presented them with, but I kind of think this second movie really suits itself better to an actual musical. We’re going to, again, let them do the hard work [laughs]. 


JOE MANGANIELLO

The actor best-known as the often-shirtless werewolf Alcide Herveaux on TV’s True Blood is back to send women (and many men) everywhere into a frenzy. He looked considerably different than then he did now, but the first thing most audiences saw Manganiello in was probably 2002’s Spider-Man, in which he played school bully Flash Thompson. He recently became a published author, writing the bodybuilding manual Evolution. Manganiello’s personal fitness regimen has been called “Hollywood’s hardest workout”, and the results are evident. Manganiello is reprising his role as “Big Dick Richie” – he’s probably very pleased with the character’s nickname and is just shy about admitting it out loud. Manganiello shares about a rather painful mishap he experienced on set, the similarities between a stripper convention and Comic-Con and the responses men in general have had to the first Magic Mike movie.
You’ve done action-oriented films and TV shows. Which is more physically challenging, dancing or action sequences?

[Laughs] Um, well, they’re very similar actually. They’re both somewhat choreographed routines… they’re very similar, I guess is the answer. I don’t know what’s more challenging, [but] I do know that I’ve shot a million action sequences, fight scenes, and never been injured but during my finale routine in Magic Mike XXL, the first take there was an accident and because of the accident, my bicep was torn and I had to have surgery to repair it.
I hope you’re feeling much better now!
Yeah, after about ten…you know, seven weeks in a cast and brace, three months of not being able to put weight on it, it’s starting to get better.
While promoting the first Magic Mike film, you mentioned how your True Blood contract prevented you from taking the role of Superman in Man of Steel. Are you continuing to pursue comic book movie parts can you comment on the Suicide SquadDeathstroke rumour?

No, um…there’s a lot of rumours that float around about me. I can’t uh, I don’t know. There’s a lot of rumours. None of them are rooted in anything real.
Do fans see you on the street and yell “yo, Big Dick Richie!”?
Uh, yeah. That happens, sure.
You famously rocked a firefighter get-up in the first movie. Are there any particularly interesting costumes this time around?
Uh, yes, very much. I think for this film, for the characters, was about taking stripping to the next level. It was about evolving past the archetypical “fireman, cop, cowboy” routines and really, really getting to the heart of what makes women happy and what is sexy for women. That’s really the arc of the characters and their journey as we’re going on this crazy trip together where we all come to our own individual conclusions about how to take male stripping to the next level.
What was the camaraderie like between you guys, especially with the new cast members for the sequel?
Oh man…I mean, first of all, the guys, all of us from the original movie, are best friends. We just love each other, love spending time with each other, so that was a pleasure. The new cast members, they fit right in, but it was really fun for all of us, the veterans, to watch the new rookies do their new routines on camera [laughs], a lot of fun. We got to watch them go through the emotional roller coaster that we all go through doing our first routines, so it was fun.
Like an initiation?
Yes, very much, it was like a fraternity.
You’ve been to Comic-Con several times and in this movie, the characters go to a stripper convention. They’re inherently different but can you compare what both types of conventions are like?
They are similar in many ways. I think any sort of convention or fan gathering, people want an excuse to get excited. And…this is…I would say a male stripper convention is a lot louder, a lot rowdier, than say your average Comic-Con. We were performing in front of more than 900 women a night during our finale routines and uh, it was *phew*, I mean it was the loudest noise I’ve ever heard or ever been witness to, 900 women screaming and throwing dollar bills.
Were the 900 women paid extras? I’m pretty sure they volunteered and would turn up anyway!
Yeah, they got paid for it, I think [laughs]. It was an experience, like none I’ve ever had.
Have there been guys who’ve come up to you and said “my wife/girlfriend dragged me to see Magic Mike but I ended up really liking it”?
Every guy I’ve ever met. Every guy, every guy. There’s not a guy that I met who saw Magic Mike who didn’t like it. Every guy who’s seen it gets it. It’s really funny, and it’s about men. It’s a story about men. I think guys get scared away from it because they think it only appeals to women but we are men’s men. We’re a bunch of dudes and it does appeal to guys because we’re guys. Any guy that saw Magic Mike 1that I’ve met, thought it was great thought it was hilarious, and I think they’ll find it even more so this time around.
They are very different films, but both have very high testosterone levels; can you compare working with the ensemble in Magic Mike XXL and the ensemble in Sabotage?

Um, wow! That’s interesting. In Sabotage, I met my childhood idol who’s now become one of my best friends, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was incredibly fortunate for that because I’ve met a friend for life in him. With Magic Mike, I’ve been friends with Matt Bomer since we were both 18 years old, freshmen in drama school, so I kind of came into this film with a best friend already in the cast and certainly all the other guys in the cast have become best friends as well. I consider them all my best friends. You know, honestly I think with Sabotage it was more dramatic, more serious, whereas with Magic Mike we just laugh all day, every day. Arnold Schwarzenegger really worked out hard in the gym, Arnold and I have worked out, the entire cast of Magic Mike, we all go to the gym. Long day of filming, 16 hour day, it doesn’t matter, we all head to that gym afterwards. We all push each other to be the best versions, to put in the best performance.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one of your male co-stars, who would it be?

You know, Matt Bomer and I, like I said, we’ve been friends since he was 18 and I was 19 and we were freshmen in drama school. Matt is like a brother to me and he’s just become one of my best friends over the years. [Chuckles] he and I share so much history so I’m gonna have to go with Matt.  
MATT BOMER

The dashing Matt Bomer, with that chiselled jawline and baby blue eyes, was unfailingly charming during his five-year run on the TV series White Collar, in which he played the lead role of conman Neal Caffrey. Bomer is also a charming interview subject, expressing friendly concern for the early hour for this writer at which the phoner is taking place. Besides his good looks, Bomer boasts considerable acting chops, bagging a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination for the HBO television movie The Normal Heart. Bomer returns in Magic Mike XXL as stripper Ken, who got to perform a memorable routine as, what else, a Ken doll in the first film. He discusses the camaraderie and competition between the cast members, whether he will keep his focus on feature films or return to the small screen and what it was like filming a routine in front of nearly 2000 screaming women.

What’s been going on in the life of your character Ken in the three years between Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL?


Like a couple of the other guys, Ken is at kind of a crossroads…figuring out what I’m allowed to say and what I’m not [chuckles]…he knows that a certain chapter of his life is closing and he’s figuring out what he’s going to do next. He’s a part-time actor and right now he’s stripping to pay the bills and he knows that that sort of security he has in the job is going away. His marriage has sort of not worked out the way he thought it was going to and he has to figure out what the next chapter of his life is going to be. Thankfully, he has Mike to help him out.
Assistant choreographer Teresa Espinosa said that of the cast in the first film, you picked up the choreography the quickest. Did that remain the case on the sequel, now that tWitch is in the cast?

[Lauhgs] I paid her to say that. A small fee. I don’t know if that was true or not. I love Teresa and [lead choreographer] Alison [Faulk] and what makes them so amazing is not just the amazing choreography they give everybody but that they were really good at finding the choreography for everyone that showed them in their best light. By no means am I the best dancer in this movie, so maybe they gave me simpler choreography in this movie and I learned it fast. I know that they have a pretty amazing work ethic on this movie and I like to work pretty hard too, so one of the most fun things about working on the film was getting to do rehearsals with them so early on. We were in dance rehearsal spaces about a month, a month and a half before we started filming, just practising every day. That was such an incredible learning experience, it also prepares you for that moment when suddenly, there are 2000 people there, cameras rolling. You obviously want a lot of spontaneity to stay in there but you feel like you’re prepared for whatever’s gonna happen.
In the first film, you had the memorable Ken Doll routine. Without giving too much away, do you have a big set piece routine in Magic Mike XXL?

I wouldn’t say it’s a “set-piece” routine but there’s definitely a big surprise routine coming from Ken, what that I don’t think people would expect.
When discussing the first film, you told The Hollywood Reporter that “Steven’s not gonna do a movie that doesn’t have some substance to it, outside of just a bunch of guys taking their clothes off.” Where do you feel the substance in the sequel lies?

I think it’s a different movie – the first one was much more a meditation on business ethics, does your choice of career define your destiny. This really is a stripper Odyssey, it’s a road trip movie where these guys who were thrown out of their usual element when they go out on the road, they find out things about themselves that are going to serve them later in life when their life changes direction. For me, it was much more of a road trip movie in the vein of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or The Last Detail.
Channing and Reid referred to it as “Stripper Easy Rider

I like that too. [Laughs]

Was it a relaxed set with everyone joking around and at ease or was it more focused and intense because of the choreography involved?

I think it was a little bit of both. Just depending on what the substance was on any given day. But mostly one of the really fun things and I think one of the reasons why everyone came back into the sequel was because we had so much fun working together and we had a really fun group dynamic where everybody got along well and we fell back into that really easily. There was always an inherent sense of fun underneath everything but there were days where you had to take it a little more seriously. The nice thing was, even though we’re all really competitive guys, we were very supportive of each other and it’s one of the few film’s I’ve been on where somebody would stay after their work day was done to watch somebody else’s routine and support them. It was a little bit of everything, but underneath it all, a real sense of fun.
So there was a sense of camaraderie that carried over from the first film?

Absolutely. I think all the guys are really great guys but so much of it stems from Channing. Even when it wasn’t an ensemble movie per se in the first one, he made everybody feel so important and special and valued, so in a movie like this, where the ensemble is so important, it just kind of carried over.
In what way did the competitive nature of the cast manifest itself? Were there spontaneous push-up contests?

[Chuckles] Well, it’s more a team dynamic, it’s not “me vs. you”, it’s us as a team being the best we can be. I would compare it to locker room jokes and humour. At the same time, we really held each other accountable in terms of what we were allowed to eat, how often we worked out, what we were doing to stay in shape. We were really supporting each other; it was kind of a group competitive dynamic, I guess.
What was the vibe in Myrtle Beach like compared to that in Tampa?

Um, they’re different towns, that’s for sure. A lot of the exteriors we did in Tampa were beach-oriented, like the sandbar party, whereas in Myrtle Beach, a lot of it were the exteriors leading up to the convention. I think if you’re talking about the events that transpire as opposed to the actual location, all I can say is one of the reasons it’s called “XXL” is definitely because of the convention that takes place in Myrtle Beach. On the first movie, we had close to 200 extras, maybe 300? I know it was a small club. But in this film, I think there were literally 2000 women in the room when you did a number. It just magnified the energy of the room when you did the performance, just electrified.
 
Joe said it was the loudest noise he’d ever heard in his life.

[Laughs] I don’t know about that, I’ve been to some pretty big concerts. But I understand what he’s saying, it’s a really kind of intense exchange of energy that’s going on between the performer and the audience. I’ve heard some louder concerts in my lifetime, but it really was mind-blowing. It took me a take or two to remember what my name was, to be able to do my thing [laughs].
The first film has really struck a chord with the gay community. Have people come up to you to say how they were affected by the movie?

Um, I wouldn’t say specifically from that community. I think what’s great about the movie is I hear things from all different kinds of communities: men, women, straight men, gay men, gay women, straight women…it really runs the gamut. The immediate response was from straight women and gay men, probably, but I think one of the interesting things about the movie having a life on cable, I think it was picked up by HBO where a lot of straight guys had the chance to see it, and I hear from them and they go “you know man, that was actually a really cool movie!” [Chuckles] I don’t know what it was that they were expecting, but when they watched it from the safety of their home, they realised it wasn’t just a bunch of dudes getting naked the whole time. So I hope those guys who saw it on HBO will come out and support it this time as well, because there’s definitely a lot of fun to this movie and hopefully there’s something for everyone.
Joe said something along those lines; that a lot of straight men have come up to him to say they enjoyed the film in spite of their expectations of it.

Yeah, like I said, I don’t think people knew what to expect. The first film dealt a lot with the world of business, with profession and destiny, and I think that’s something any men can related to. And obviously, there were things in there for women as well. I think the sort of group male dynamic in this is something guys can relate to and there’s obviously a lot for the women as well, so I hope that carries over.
White Collar concluded a little while ago. After Magic Mike XXL, would you take up a lead role in a TV series again or are you choosing to focus more on feature films?

Well, I’m playing opposite Lady Gaga in American Horror Story. I don’t discriminate between mediums. I think the notion that “film is best” or whatever it is, I think that’s kind of an antiquated notion. I think now people just go where the story and the writing is the richest, and sometimes that’s in a film if you’re lucky, and sometimes that’s on cable TV or regular TV. It’s really about the story. That’s what has always interested me as an artist, the story, not “how is this going to be marketed” or “how many people are going to see this”. When I sat down to do the first Magic Mike, it was a very small independent film. I just thought “wow, this is such an interesting world, this is a filmmaker I’ve always wanted to work with.” I was a big fan of Channing and Matthew’s [McConaughey] work and thankfully it became something bigger. To me, I’m always interested in the story. So whatever the medium that the story I’m interested in is on, I can be there.
You provided the voice of Superman in the animated film Superman: Unbound – after playing the character in a Japanese car commercial. As an actor, what is it like using only your voice compared to, well, using mostly your body, as you do in the Magic Mikemovies?

[Laughs] You know, it’s a really unique challenge and I hope it’s something I get to continue to do, because there’s something really free about it. I get crazy man, in the recording booth. I’ll begin to do it physically as well, in any way I can. I think it reminds you as an actor how important it is to use your voice. It’s definitely a different kind of challenge, I’ve learnt so much from doing it and I hope I get to continue to do it.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one of your male co-stars, who would it be?

[Laughs] Oh my goodness, gosh! From both films or just this one?
From both films.

I would say…probably Joe, because I’ve known him since we were 18, we went to college together. We’ve known each other for so long that there’s no bulls***, we’re pretty direct with each other, we can tell it like it is. He’s also a really solid guy who I think would remain sane under the crazy-ass circumstances of being stranded on an island [laughs]. And he’s yoked enough that he could take down any wild animal who would attack. I would say Joe.
You’d be pleased to know that Joe said you as well.

Yay! 
Magic Mike XXL opens 9 July 2015.

Jupiter Ascending

For F*** Magazine

JUPITER ASCENDING 

Director : Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Cast : Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean
Genre : Sci-Fi/Action/Fantasy
Opens : 5 February 2015

It seems that The Wachowskis enjoyed working on the futuristic “An Orison of Sonmi~451” section of Cloud Atlas, because with Jupiter Ascending, Lana and Andy go full-on sci-fi space opera. The title refers not only to the planet but also to the character Jupiter Jones (Kunis). The daughter of an astronomer and a Russian immigrant, Jones lives with her mother’s extended family and works as a maid, scrubbing toilets for rich families. Interplanetary warrior Caine Wise (Tatum) arrives on earth to guide and protect Jupiter, who is in reality the reincarnation of the queen of the universe. The queen’s three children, Balem (Redmayne), Titus (Booth) and Kalique (Middleton) Abrasax, are vying for inheritance of the planet earth, Jupiter’s emergence throwing a spanner in the works. Breaking free of her mundane existence, Jupiter comes face to face with her larger-than-life future among the stars.

            A friend of this reviewer remarked that she thought Jupiter Ascendingwas an adaptation of a young adult novel, and it’s not hard to see why. The Wachowskis follow the “chosen girl” template to the letter, with the Mary Sue trope of an ordinary girl who discovers her extraordinary destiny in full effect. The foremost example of the space opera subgenre in film is the Star Wars saga – unfortunately, Jupiter Ascending has more in common with the prequel trilogy than the original three films. The Star Wars prequels were preoccupied with political nitty-gritties that didn’t exactly make for very thrilling storytelling. There, it was trade negotiations, here, it’s a dynasty-run corporation. A good portion of this film is Mila Kunis about to sign contracts. With the three siblings jostling for control of an intergalactic corporate empire, this is Dallas in outer space.

            While the story isn’t the greatest, the milieu in which it takes place is quite impressive. This is a visual feast and everywhere one looks in Jupiter Ascending, care and effort is evident. From the production design by Hugh Bateup to the costume design by Kym Barrett to the visual effects work supervised by Dan Glass, this does not feel like hastily slapped-together sci-fi schlock. Sure, the visual ideas may not be earth-shatteringly unique, but this is the kind of film in which every little prop feels like a work of art. When there are low budget productions out there painting NERF guns black and hoping the audience doesn’t notice, that is worth something. A scene in which Caine swoops between skyscrapers on anti-gravity boots makes far better use of the Chicago skyline as an action sequence environment than the Transformers movies ever did. One of the locales is a city inside the storm of the planet Jupiter’s red spot. There is the feeling that there is a rich mythology and the potential for an engrossing universe somewhere waiting to be built upon that this particular story doesn’t tap into.


            There is an effort made to have Jupiter Jones be at least a little more than the tabula rasa protagonists of her type often are – Mila Kunis is sufficiently charming in the role and finds the right balance for the character such that she doesn’t come off as wholly annoying. We also get to see her relatives, their squabbles juxtaposed against the grand intergalactic family dispute. Points there, seeing as it would be easier to go the “conveniently an orphan” route. That said, it is still difficult to buy Jupiter as little more than a plot device.

            Caine is also very much a stock character – stoic, tough, not necessarily a romantic guy. We stand by the opinion that Channing Tatum’s true calling is comedy and he’s not the greatest at the straight-up man of action thing, but he does give it a good attempt here. He does look slightly goofy playing a space warrior spliced with wolf DNA and, naturally, he goes shirtless for a portion of the film. Going off Eddie Redmayne’s performance here alone, it’s hard to believe that he is an Oscar nominee. As the supercilious aristocratic villain, Redmayne opts for a hoarse, mumbling line delivery and his outbursts aren’t as hammily entertaining as this reviewer was hoping for. Douglas Booth’s Titus is preening and vain; these just aren’t very original interpretations for characters of this type. Sean Bean is as reliable as he usually is, but as “the mentor”, it’s another stock character without many dimensions to him.

            When Jupiter Ascending was pushed back from its summer 2014 release date, speculation was rife that it was because of a certain Marvel space opera flick that posed heavy competition and there and then, many made up their minds that the film would be a train-wreck. While there are potentially laughable elements, Jupiter Ascending is middle of the road rather than outright terrible and it is very competently made. The abundance of visual splendour does make up somewhat for the “been there done that”-ness of the plot.

Summary: Jupiter Ascending’s generic, sometimes uninteresting plot is rescued by exciting, meticulously-crafted visuals and fun action sequences.
RATING: 3out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong