Screening Room: ‘Magic Mike XXL’

No need for shirts in 'Magic Mike XXL'  (Warner Bros.)

No need for shirts in ‘Magic Mike XXL’ (Warner Bros.)

For Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh took an effortlessly charming Channing Tatum, an impeccably entertaining Matthew McConaughey, threw them together with some classic rock hits, male stripper dance moves, and a backdrop of economic insecurity, and made it into one of the most unlikely successes of 2012. Now there’s a sequel, and quite incredibly it beats out the original in every way.

Magic Mike XXL is playing pretty much everywhere now. My review is at PopMatters:

It’s no criticism to say that Magic Mike XXL doesn’t have a lot at stake. Following Magic Mike‘s model, it’s got a low budget and simple concept, and will likely clean up on its July 4 opening weekend. But this just-tongue-in-cheek-enough sequel, unlike the frantic and insecure Jurassic World, carries a devil-may-care casual confidence that wins you over precisely because it’s not trying to go bigger and bolder. Instead, it brings the further adventures of a merry band of male entertainers who love what they do, know they can’t keep doing it forever, and want to go out on a high note…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: Independence Day Edition

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Screening Room: ‘Amy’

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One face of ‘Amy’ (A24)

Amy-posterIt’s too early to start really talking Oscars, but if we were, then Asif Kapadia’s moving and unromantic Amy would be a strong contender.

Amy opens in theaters tomorrow; seek it out. You can read my review at Film Racket:

Before becoming a punch line for tabloid-huffing, talkshow-loving misery vampires, Amy Winehouse wasn’t just a star talent, she was a constellation unto herself. Bursting into the moribund pop music scene of the early 2000s with verve and danger, she came on like some savvier Billie Holiday in a field of Auto-Tune tarts. There’s a heavy dose of that briefly blazing performer in Asif Kapadia’s potent, powerful documentary Amy

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Jimmy’s Hall’

'Jimmy's Hall' (Sony Pictures Classics)

‘Jimmy’s Hall’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Ken Loach’s latest slice of life from the British isles is based on the true story of Jimmy Gralton, an activist deported from Ireland  for political agitation who returns in 1932 to reopen his community hall. Trouble, with “mother church” and other forces of oppression, follows.

Jimmy’s Hall is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

Wearing a big progressive heart on its union-made sleeve, Jimmy’s Hall could easily have been a carefree lark about good times and toothless rebellion, if it had been directed by somebody besides Ken Loach. Another filmmaker, one without a political vertebrae to speak of, could have conjured up a piece of twee Irish fun that would have been twice as fun to watch but several times more pointless. Loach does have a thing for speeches. While they drag the film to a halt more than once, there’s a bright and touching sincerity running throughout that makes that wandering stodginess not matter so much…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Stephen King on His Muse

Calliope -- she was the muse responsible for those writing epic poetry. (Library of Congress)

Calliope — she was the muse responsible for those writing epic poetry. (Library of Congress)

There are writers who like to talk about their muse. They don’t have to necessarily be thinking about one of the classical nine Greek muses, just trying to personify that indefinable thing which is inspiration. It’s an easy thing to wax poetic about because, well, most writers don’t truly understand this thing that we do.

Stephen King has his own way of describing his muse, when talking about his writing room:

My muse is here. It’s a she. Scruffy little mutt has been around for years, and how I love her, fleas and all. She gives me the words. She is not used to being regarded so directly, but she still gives me the words. She is doing it now. That’s the other level, and that’s the mystery. Everything in your head kicks up a notch, and the words rise naturally to fill their places. If it’s a story, you find the scene and the texture in the scene. That first level — the world of my room, my books, my rug, the smell of the gingerbread — fades even more. This is a real thing I’m talking about, not a romanticization. As someone who has written with chronic pain, I can tell you that when it’s good, it’s better than the best pill.

Is that helpful to somebody struggling with the blank page? No, of course not. What’s helpful is how King ends the piece:

My muse may visit. She may not. The trick is to be there waiting if she does.

Meaning that being a writer is somewhat like being a Boy Scout. Always be prepared.

Weekend Reading: June 26, 2015

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Screening Room: ‘Dope’ – Nerds in the ‘Hood

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Rick Famuyiwa’s antic comedy Dope tracks the adventures of three LA nerds obsessed with everything their peers aren’t — ’90s hip-hop, manga, skateboards, flat-tops — and just trying to survive high school in one piece.

dope-posterDope is playing now; my review is at PopMatters.

Here’s the trailer: