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Hail Caesar!

Hail Caesar

The Cohen mixes fact and fiction in their latest movie, with real life Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix being thrown into a fiction story. But is it worthy of the movie treatment?

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is having a rough day. While he’s trying to solve the messes and avoid scandals on various film projects he also has to find out what has happened to Baird Witlock (George Clooney), who seeming disappeared while filming his latest movie. All this while avoiding the gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Tacker (both played by Tilda Swinton).

The third film in the Cohen brothers “Numbskull Trilogy” The film is a diverting and entertaining experience. But the main plot regarding the kidnapping of Baird Witlock (George Clooney) by a group called as The Future is arguably the film’s weakest link. There is much more fun to be had watching Mannix (Josh Brolin) going round his different movie projects and sorting out the actors and directors on his various projects. Each of the different films predicted are enjoyable to watch and features nice set pieces, such as the sailor musical featuring Channing Tatum in an elaborate sing and dance number, which is a joy to watch. I guess the kidnapping is meant to be the strand that ties all these plots and films together but instead it slows the actions and makes you wish you were back on the set of Hollywood already.

There is a struggle within the film regarding old Hollywood. While the Cohen’s lovingly recreate old Hollywood pictures –the biblical epic, the show stopping musical, the old fashioned western- there is also the more sinister side on show. Whether it’s the sexism of the female star who must avoid a baby scandal or Mannix himself-a man not afraid to hit a woman to “shake some sense into her”, you can spend an age arguing over the Cohen’s true feelings on one of the golden ages of Hollywood.
With such a strong and accomplished cast as this, the standout actor is Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle. Although Ehrenreich is relatively unknown by most audiences I had previously seen him in Beautiful Creature. While the film was by no means a hit, to me Ehrenreich stood out and I’m glad to see the performance was not a fluke.  As the nice but dim Hobie, Ehrenreich is charming and provides much of the film’s comic relief. It now seems that Ehrenreich’s talents have been acknowledged by the Hollywood bigwigs as he’s since been cast to play a young Han Solo.

Rating 3/5 – a fun but slight experience with a memorable performance from Ehrenreich as a singing cowboy actor

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Magic Mike XXL

Three years on from the first Magic Mike movie and we are back in the world of male ‘entertainers’ lead by former stripper Channing Tatum. But with Steven Soderbergh stepping down as director and the fact that sequels in general are worse than it’s predecessors, can Mike work his magic on audiences a second time around?

Having left the male stripping world behind, Mike (Tatum) is struggling with his furniture business and his relationship is in tatters. When he’s given the opportunity by his former co-workers to join them for a last hurrah at the Stripping convention he eventually agrees and the scenes is set for a road trip like no other.

This is a distinctively lighter than the previous movie. While Magic Mike, showed the dark side of the male stripping world alongside the excess and girls, its sequel goes for a funnier light-hearted tone. Your opinion of the movie will probably depend on how you feel about the shift in tone as well as how much you enjoy seeing Tatum and friends without clothes.

Believe it or not there is a plot. It’s basically a raunchy road movie as the guys all prepare to say goodbye to this part of their careers for something that may not provide them with much success. This allows the movie to become more of an ensemble this time around with actors like Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello getting more development this time around.

Personally I really enjoyed the film and not just because of what I said about the lack of clothing. It’s actually very funny and the cast seem to revel in making the movie as outrageous as possible. Manganiello probably gets the best scene stealing moment as he perform a hilarious drug-fuelled, routine in a petrol station. There are also some new recruits to fill the space left by Mathew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer. While I initially found Donald Glover’s presence distracting having mainly known him as lovable duffus Troy in Community, he was really good in the role and also gets to show off his musical talents. Jada Pinkett Smith also made a fun appearance as Mike’s former employer/love interest Rome who knows how to put the boys in their place. There’s also some funny cameos by Elizabeth Banks and Andie MacDowell.

As much as I hate saying something maybe a ‘guy’ film or a ‘girl’ film, the film’s marketing shows that the movie is being directed at a mainly female audience, or at least anyone who fancies Tatum. There is a bit more to it than just good-looking guys in the entrainment world (only a bit ;)) but this is a film that knows what it wants to be and who it’s market is. And it will make a sizeable audience very happy.

Rating 4/5 – over the top and ridiculous but also very funny with it

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Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowski siblings are a talented duo but they haven’t managed to produce a film as good as The Matrix. Their latest is a space opera adventure starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis that has been panned worldwide. Does Jupiter Ascending deserve all the criticism it’s getting?

Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is an ordinary girl who cleans toilets for a living. Her life changes when she meets Caine (Tatum) an alien soldier, and realises she’s actually genetically identical to a dead alien queen and therefore is the owner of Earth. However the dead queen’s three devious children are all making plans against Jupiter. Can Caine save her?

Considering how many films are sequels, remakes or based on existing franchises you have to admire the Wachowskis for trying to produce something original. However when the end result is Jupiter Ascending it’s no wonder audience are rushing to see the latest Marvel movie instead. On the one hand Jupiter Ascending is never boring and there are some laughs to be had. Unfortunately none of it is intentional. Perhaps a bit more intended humour or some knowing winks at the audience would have been a bit bearable but everything is so serious that it’s hard to take the film seriously.

While some of the visuals are fine the script is poor with lines such as bees can tell if you’re lying and apparently they can also recognise royalty. I feel sorry for actors like Sean Bean (playing a bee/human hybrid Stinger Apini- yes it’s that kind of movie) having to be the one having to say such dubious lines of the film. Still at least he keeps a straight face while saying these lines. Him and Tatum look like they are trying to approach the film seriously while Kunis looks like she’s bored through most of the movie. Maybe because she’s constantly playing the damsel in distress throughout the film.

Then there’s the House of Abrasax family, who are the dead queen’s children. It seems as though the three siblings (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth) were directed to ham it up as large as possible, with Redmayne the worst offender. Middleton’s Kalique is perhaps the most interesting of the three but unfortunately she’s the one we see the least. Instead we get Redmayne’s Balem hamming it up in his plots against Jupiter and Booth’s Titus in a bizarre quest to try to marry his mother’s clone. And no one mentions how creepy that is.

Despite its flaws I could see Jupiter Ascending become some kind of cult classic in the future for those who like it’s camp ‘charm’.  It’s just a shame because you can tell that those involved wanted it to be taken much more seriously than that.

Rating 2/5 – ridiculous and dumb but it’s never dull

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Foxcatcher (2014)

Who knew there was so much drama behind the scenes of Olympic wrestling. Based on a true story Foxcatcher has seen Oscar nominations for actors Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo as well as for director Bennett Miller, can this movie live up to the hype?

Brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) are both US Olympic Wrestlers, however Mark feels overshadowed by his older brother Dave. When Mark is contacted by billionaire John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) to his farm, he offers Mark to join his private wrestling team, “Team Foxcatcher” (after his land Foxcatcher Farm), Mark sees an opportunity to make something for himself away from his brother. However Du Pont’s eccentric behaviour becomes more disturbed as time goes on, and when Dave joins the coaching of Team Foxcatcher, things becomes out of control.

Foxcatcher is one of those stories in which you can’t believe you haven’t heard of it before. Or at least I hadn’t. This a well made film, full of tense atmosphere and great performances. It’s mostly a drama but with Carell’s Du Pont menacingly hanging around the edges and circling the Schultz brothers it comes across like a thriller at times. The cast is strong all round, but Carell is the performance you will remember after watching the movie.

However there has been some controversy over the making of this film with the real Mark Schultz angrily disputing some elements of the movie. With that in mind you wonder whether interactions between Mark and Du Pont are as accurate as its portrayed in the movie. It also felt slow at the beginning and ends rather abruptly after the climax of Du Pont’s actions. Also while the movie is good, it’s doesn’t stand out as much as the other movies around this award season.

Rating 3.5/5 – three fine performances grounds this true crime drama

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22 Jump Street

Rewind back to 2012 before 21 Jump Street was released. It was the hit no one was expecting. After all it was based on a tv series with a ridiculous premise. It had that guy-Jonah Hill- from Superbad, before he was Oscar nominated and although everyone knew Channing Tatum was hot, and those of us who saw A Guide to Recognising Your Saints knew he could act, no one knew if he was funny. But then it was released, became a huge hit and most of all it was hilarious. But now that expectations are higher can the crew at Jump Street strike gold for a second time?

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are undercover again, this time as college students looking for the dealer of a new drug WHYPHY. But they struggle dealing with their new college lifestyle and maintaining their friendship at the same time. Will they get the dealers and still be friends?

As you can imagine no one in this film is taking themselves too seriously but they do take being funny as serious business, so cue lots of jokes about how ridiculous it is that there’s a sequel to this movie and how “second missions” are never as good the second time around. They are only bigger and more expensive than the first. Although they playfully acknowledge how similar everything is to the first movie the jokes are not a repeat of the first film.

Happily Tatum and Hill make for a great “power couple” once again. Hilariously facing relationship troubles due to Tatum’s new bromance with fellow jock Zook (Wyatt Russell-son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), cue a very jealous Schmidt. It’s also great to have Ice Cube as Captain Dickinson  back again with a brand new flash office across the road at 22 Jump Street, who also hammers it home how expensive everything is for the “second mission”. Theres also great cameos from Dave Franco and Rob Riggle from the first film.

The only thing that perhaps is missing from this film is the surprise element that the original had. No one was expecting it to be any good which made the laughs even more hilarious. While the jokes are still funny in this one I don’t think they come at quite a ferocious pace as the previous installment. However considering the state of most sequels now a days the fact that this one manages to be good in its own right is enough of an achievement.

Stay for the end credits to get some ideas on what future installments of Jump Street could look like. Is it wrong that I would actually want to see a lot of them?

Rating 4/5 – a great comedy with a brilliant double act in Hill and Tatum

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The Vow (2012)

When The Vow was released in 2012 it was the seventh highest grossing romantic drama of all time, but it takes more than that to impress me. So does The Vow have what it takes to draw me in?

Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are the perfect married couple, happily in love. Then they are in a car accident and Paige loses her memories for the past five years, including her whole relationship and marriage to Leo. Now Leo has to try to convince Paige that they were deeply in love and hopefully regain her memory.

First off I have to say if I woke up from an accident and the last five years of my life had been erased BUT on the other hand I was married to Channing Tatum, I wouldn’t be that upset. Or at least I could console myself in his lovely arms.

Anyway back to the film at hand. The beginning is very, very slushy, with flashbacks of Paige and Leo meeting, falling in love, and get married and blah, blah, blah. I was getting a bit bored. However the film picks up when Paige wakes up from her coma and thinks Leo is her doctor and not her husband (awkward!).

The film does well at showing Leo’s side of the story, how much he loves his wife and how heartbreaking it is that she doesn’t remember any of the moments they shared together. Perhaps too well as sometimes you feel like Paige is a massive bitch for rejecting poor Leo, even though realistically you couldn’t expect her to just fall straight back into a life she can’t recall.

The lead actors play their roles well. Tatum is sympathetic as the poor husband trying to get his wife to love him again, while McAdams handles the complex emotions her character goes through with aplomb. The rest of the cast is more underwritten. Sam Neill and Jessica Lange feel particularly underused as Paige’s rich parents who are – of course – not so keen on Leo. Although Lange does get a good emotionally charged scene with McAdams later in the film. It was also good to see Orphan Black‘s Tatina Maslany in a small role as Leo’s put upon employee and friend.

Slushy, romantic and although I did try to resist I fell for it’s charm in the end.

Rating 3.5/5 – A film for hardcore romantics only

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Haywire (2011)

I miss Steven Soderbergh. I wish the talented director of Out Of Sight, Magic Mike and Behind The Candelabra hadn’t retired. Still I recently got to see his 2011 action-thriller Haywire, can this briefly fill the void I’ve been missing?

Mallory (Gina Carano) works for a private company on ‘operations’, where her last case was rescuing a hostage. However all is not as it seems and soon after Mallory is running for her life with her former colleagues and the police after her. 

The opening scene is great as we’re introduced to Mallory and her colleague Aaron (Channing Tatum) at a small diner in upstate New York, which features a brutal and unexpected fight scene before going back in time to see how they ended up like this. From then on Haywire is an intreaging, fun, action film with also a nice amount of humour which helps break up the complicated plot and take a breather from the adrenaline packed fight scenes.

It’s great to see a strong female as the lead character in an action film. Steven Soderbergh built the role of Mallory around Carano who had never acted before, instead she was a mixed martial artist fighter. As expected the fight scenes are the high point in this film with Carano doing all her own stunts. Although she is not the most expresive actress she handles the role well and is strongly supported by her more experience cast members (most of whom she proceeds to beat up). Michael Fassbender in particular is great as a British operative and Bill Paxton has fun as Mallory’s protective dad. Only Ewan McGregor as Mallory’s boss and ex husband feels a bit out of place in the film, maybe because its hard to imagine tough cookie Mallory falling for such a slimeball.

However there are some downsides to this film that can’t be overlooked. The plot is overly complicated and confusing, I found it difficult to keep up at times and remember what the hell is going on and who is who and what they were doing. There is also moments of extream stupidity by the villians of the piece  and considering they are all meant to be intellegant people you wonder how they got their high powered jobs in the first place.

Although not perfect, Haywire is a fun film and reminds you of how versatile a director Soderbergh is,  jumping into different genres and coming up with something interesting and entertaining. It’s a shame we won’t be seeing any new movies from him, but if you’re a fan of Soderbergh and like action films, then give Haywire and Carano a chance. Just don’t expect to understand the plot.

Rating 3.5/5-too overly complicated for its own good but the fight scenes are ace.

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Side Effects

I’ve been meaning to write this review up for a while but it’s been a bit of a busy month, so I’ve been a bit slow with updating the reviews section.

Side Effects is Steven Soderbergh’s last film. The story follows Emily (Rooney Mara) a young woman dealing with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) recently being released from prison for insider trading. Although she is happy he is released she is suffering from depression and unable to cope, so she seeks help from a psychiatrist Jonathan (Jude Law). After consulting with Emily’s former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) Emily is prescribed a new drug Ablixa. Unfortunately Emily experiences side effects from the drugs which have far-reaching consequences for everyone involved.

This is one of those films that are difficult to review without giving away major spoilers. Luckily if you don’t go looking too much for them you should be able to go into Side Effects unaware of the major plot twist and turns. If you do avoid reading any spoilers than Side Effects should be able to enjoy the film as an intelligent medical-drama-thriller. Side Effects also gives us four great performances from its main players. It’s good to see Jude Law proving himself in another strong role after Anna Karenina, it reminds you why he was hyped up all those years ago.

The story is gripping as you follow Emily in her mental descent and when the story shifts to Jonathan’s perspective the story starts to reveal itself even more. The film raises lots of questions about responsibility and blame while questioning the motives to wanting and prescribing certain drugs. There are some good plot twists in the story which don’t undermine the action that has gone before it. In fact it makes you question what you have seen earlier. If this is going to be Soderbergh’s last film at least he leaves us with a film to saviour rather than to dispair.

Rating 4/5-gripping and tense, Soderbergh departs from the film world with an intelligent thriller that boasts an excellent cast and an intense plot. Au revoir Soderbergh!

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Magic Mike

I pride myself on being an objective reviewer that is not easily swayed by the male form. But Steven Soderbergh is making this very difficult for me when he serves up a cast that includes Channing Tatum, Mathew McConaughey and Joe Manganiello ( Alcide from True Blood). As male strippers! God help me!

For those who don’t know this is the film formally known as the Channing Tatum Stripper movie. Tatum, who also produces the film, stars as Mike, a male stripper who takes Alex Pettyfer’s The Kid under his wing and introduces him to a world of excess where girls fall at their feet. It’s a film based on Tatum’s own experience as a male stripper before he hit the big time. At first it was feared this could be the male Showgirls until Soderbergh was announced as director. Could Magic Mike go from being a lame joke to a credible, possibly award worthy film?

For anyone going to see the film expecting hot guys in very little clothes, they won’t be disapointed. The guys look amazing and no one is shy about showing off their bodies. However this isn’t just a film based on looks. At the centre of it we have Tatum’s Mike, a likeable, ambitious guy who hopes to get out of the stripping business to set up his own carpentry store.  We follow Mike as he tries to get a loan to start up his new venture, see him becoming friends with The Kid and romancing The Kid’s older sister (a great turn by Colby Horn). Along the way we see the darker, seedier side to his world and see him wonder if he has made the right choices in life.

Tatum continues on his way to becoming a surprising versatile actor. From his breakthrough performance in Step Up we’ve seen he can dance, in A Guide To Recognising Your Saints showed us his serious side, and 21 Jump Street proved he can do comedy. Magic Mike gives Tatum that chance to show all his skills here and he looks like he’s enjoying the chance to stretch himself.

Right now I’m leading the charge for Matthew McConaughey to get nominated for next year’s Best Supporting Actor. His brash, shameless bar owner Dallas is hilarious and McConaughey looks as though he’s having the time of his life (perhaps glad he’s got away from the string of so-so rom coms he’s been stuck with for the last few years-except How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, that one’s great).

Yes this is a film mostly for the ladies (and some men) to enjoy ogling hot guys but happily this film offers more of a plot than that, as well as characters you are happy to follow for an hour and 50 mins.

4/5 Good looking guys, great acting and an engaging story to boot, what more can you want? There’s even female nudity if the guys are feeling left out.

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