Magic Mike * * *
Cert 15, 110 mins
Seventeen years after Paul Verhoeven’s disastrous Showgirls, here’s what you’ve been waiting for ever since.
A film about male strippers and their pouches, poses, loin cloths and shallow egos.
Not forgetting, of course, ‘rumble strip’ six packs galore.
Magic Mike might have been seen as just another excuse to showcase rippling muscles had it not been directed by Steven Soderbergh.
But if you are hoping that if anyone can match the towering, character-driven performance by Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008) then prepare for disappointment. After the Oscar-winning Traffic and the seriously uneven Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike is already on its way in the US to being Soderbergh’s next biggest hit – far ahead of his box office flops like Full Frontal, Solaris, The Informant! and Che.
Such is life. There’s a demand for this kind of sleaze in clubs... and Soderbergh, doubtless eager to fund some riskier projects, is busy proving there’s a market for it cinemas, too.
Where he succeeds, compared with Total Recall and Basic Instinct director Verhoeven, is that there hasn’t been any ludicrous hype about this film.
And, once up and running, it’s as much about Magic Mike’s (Channing Tatum) desire to escape the easy-money clutches of his trade.
As the leading man of the title, it’s an opportunity for Tatum to keep seriously fit while constantly working out in front of the camera.
He’s as fit as they come and a decent actor, too. Do NOT expect this to be a sequel to Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John, though.
Co-star Alex Pettyfer plays young recruit Adam.
He has much less to do – and contributes to a fair degree of mumbling – which is why the jury is still out on the Hertfordshire-born star of Alex Rider: Stormbreaker (2006) and I Am Number Four (2010).
But it’s Adam’s arrival – and the mere hint that he’s about to hit the slippery slope to an early grave – which gives Mike’s character a bit more depth.
That and his unlikely desire to start selling bespoke furniture.
The other central character is club boss Dallas, played with every muscle and sinew by Matthew McConaughey.
After excelling in last year’s The Lincoln Lawyer and dividing opinions with Killer Joe, McConaughey is shaping up to be where his career should have taken him a long time ago. Resembling a cross between Robbie Savage and Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, McConaughey revels in every minute he’s on screen as he seeks to grab his own second chance of stardom and respect.
No pose is beneath this man of muscle.
On the sidelines, there’s an interesting supporting role for relative newcomer Cody Horn.
As Adam’s sister, Brooke, the potential love interest for Mike has a detached air about her which adds to her character’s mystique in a film where the men are flaunting and flinging themselves at every opportunity.
When it originally appeared as a cinema poster, Magic Mike looked as if it might be a summer holiday children’s film.
Make no mistake, this is an 18-certificate film for adults in all but the BBFC’s sorry judgement which will inevitably lead to some under age viewers slipping in somewhere. Magic Mike is raucous, often ludicrously indecent and quite likely to send home women home thinking they’ve just had the cheapest hen night out in history.
Katy Perry: Part Of Me 3D * * * *
Cert PG, 97 mins
Against all the odds, and given the fact that Russell Brand is included in this story, here’s a film about a pop diva that’s just about as squeaky clean as can be in 2012.
The simple story is about a girl who achieves her lifelong dream to become a pop star.
Keen to leave people with delta-wide smiles on their faces, Katy Perry is an entertainer with the right kind of ‘E’.
Archive footage shows her minister father was quite the preachy type, the sort who gets excited waving his arms at the converted.
There’s even a little clip revealing how Katy and her siblings weren’t even allowed to watch Sister Act (but the sequel Sister Act 2 was all right). The film’s title is very accurate because we only get part of Katy Perry.
There are few clues as to how she ended up with Russell Brand or why they really split up when she clearly loved him.
But where the film really does score is by showing a tearful Katy having to overcome a relationship which meant so much to her in order to get back up on to the stage ready to entertain the masses.
I didn’t know much about Katy Perry before seeing this film with a completely open mind.
I’ve since looked up to see that she was born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson (aka Katy Hudson) and was born 27 years ago on October 25, 1984 in Santa Barbara.
Here mantra is that if you can ‘be yourself you can be anything’.
Rock and roll films are usually about excess, rebellion and, all too often, death. They’re often retrospectives of tragedy and, ultimately, failure.
Katy Perry seems to be trying to create a better future through sheer positivity.
Not since the Michael Jackson film This Is It (which inevitably had a ghoulish quality) has there been a contemporary music documentary quite like this one.
But directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz might have been able to trace Miss Perry’s musical origins in greater detail, particularly with the debt that she clearly owes everyone from Dusty, Marianne and Petula right through to Alanis Morissette, Madonna and The Spice Girls. If she wants to become a timeless artist who can survive beyond 35, Katy needs some slower songs where the lyrics are doing most of the work.
Her current range is catchy in the moment, but rather forgettable afterwards despite their cleverness and craft. I would also hope she can find the right man, have children and become a spiritually richer person and a more rounded artist.
But isn’t it wonderful to see someone who can write her own songs? Against all of the odds in a business that is potentially so ephemeral, dangerously shallow, nihilistic and sycophantic, Part of Me is, in its own little way, one of the films of the year.
Where Do We Go Now? * * *
Cert 12A, 102 mins
Directed by Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki (Caramel, 2007), this is an attempt to illustrate the differences between religions – and how they might be harmonised.
Although there tone is often lighthearted, the subject matter between Christians and Muslims is more profound.
The opening voiceover tells us that this is a tale of a ‘lonely town, mines scattered all around... two clans with broken hearts under a burning sun, their hands stained with blood in the name of a cross or a crescent’.
In a story of ‘long dark shadows’, there are moments of supreme levity.
After considerable efforts have been made to establish a communal TV service, for example, the look on the natives’ faces when they are watching a weather forecast being delivered by a buxom lass flickering in and out of focus is a real highlight.
Thereafter, while Labaki struggles to maintain an even keel between the differing religions, generations and sexes and the direction of her sometimes earth-shatteringly serious story, the cinematography of real faces and unfamiliar landscapes frequently provides ample compensation.
In generational terms, the ‘young, gifted and black’ star Harry Belafonte is a singing equivalent of Tony Bennett, eight months his senior.
While Bennett’s other skill is painting, fellow 85-year-old Belafonte is an actor and leading activist, too.
Born on March 1, 1927 in Harlem, his father abandoned his domestic Jamaican immigrant mother at birth. Later working as a cleaner’s assistant, he was one day given tickets for a show at the American Negro Theatre.... which he discovered was a place of truth and power which could influence people profoundly.
Sing Your Song * * *
Cert 12A, 104 mins
In many ways it was a template for his own life, which includes some remarkable footage of him talking with JFK, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Thanks to the theatre, Belafonte found himself alongside the likes of Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando and Tony Curtis... and he discovered singing, too.
“As I sang my popularity began to grow... Scarlet Ribbons gave me recognition across the country,” says the father of four, perhaps most famous for The Banana Boat Song.
Angered by racism and determined to do something about it for the benefit of the country he fought for during the Second World War, he adds of the time: ‘We belonged to anything we could belong to.’
Trying to establish himself in fearful post-war Hollywood, Belafonte found new barriers and challenges to overcome. With chaotic financial affairs, he saw psychiatrist Janet Kennedy and grew close to Africa and Africans. Because Belafonte narrates his own story, Sing Your Song increasingly feels more like a personal memoir. But many people from all racial divides will still find his infectiously-youthful smile, guiding principles and determination to use the power of art as a form of rebellion with stars like South Africa’s fellow civil rights activists such as Miriam Makeba (who died in 2008) are collectively nothing less than inspirational.
Belafonte has achieved both feats as you can see at the MAC, Cannon Hill Park from Tuesday to Thursday (July 17-19).