Magic Mike XXL


You're welcome, ladies.

You’re welcome, ladies.

(2015) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Kevin Nash, Elizabeth Banks Andie MacDowell, Amber Heard, Michael Strahan, Donald Glover, Stephen Boss, Rhoda Griffis, Jane McNeill, Ann Hamilton, Mary Kraft, Kimberly Drummond, Carrie Anne Hunt. Directed by Gregory Jacobs

Sometimes a movie is only as good as the audience you view it with. I can’t imagine seeing Magic Mike XXL in a room full of dour, jaded critics. They would never get what this movie is about on their own. What I did see this movie with was a room full of screaming, hooting, hollering women who would have thrown dollar bills at the screen had they thought of it.

And that’s just how Magic Mike XXL should be experienced. Channing Tatum returns as the titular male entertainer, now having hung up his G-string with a custom-made furniture business. His girlfriend from Magic Mike has left him and while he is doing what he wanted to do in the first film, he kind of misses the life. When Tarzan (Nash) calls, Mike comes running. The remaining Kings of Tampa – Dallas (Matthew McConaughey’s character from the first film) having absconded to Europe with the Alex Pettyfer character – are ready to close out their careers with a bang, at a male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach over the Fourth of July weekend. So Mike piles in to a fro-yo van owned by Tito (Rodriguez) along with Ken (Bomer), Tobias (Iglesias) and Big Dick Richie (Manganiello) for a road trip for bros.

So this becomes a road trip movie, with a stop in Savannah to visit Rome, a private club run by Rome (Smith)  in which female members get up close and personal with a gaggle of strippers whose members include Augustus (Strahan), Andre (Glover) and Malik (Boss). With Tobias having been injured in a van accident, the Kings are in dire need of an M.C. and ask Rome who declines. She and Mike have a history y’see…

After a stop in house of randy older women including Nancy (MacDowell), the mother of Megan (Hunt) whom they met in a Jacksonville bar and whose buddy Zoe (Heard) is the new romantic interest of Mike, in a kind of non-threatening platonic way they run into Rome who has changed her mind and it’s on to Myrtle Beach, the Redneck Riviera, where the boys will go out with a bang.

This isn’t nearly as serious a movie as the first Magic Mike was. That movie’s director, Steven Soderbergh, is still behind the camera but as a cinematographer this time. What we have here is more of a road movie that doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously. I will give you that the filmmakers understand their target audience as the women in our audience lost their minds nearly every time that the men started dancing or stripping. However, it was surprising to me that most of the women in the audience seemed to be fonder of Manganiello than of Tatum, although after one simulated sex/dance sequence featuring the star, one audience member exclaimed “I think I need a cigarette.”

\I will also say that the movie does look at the bond between men in a way not usual to Hollywood, which tends to view male bonding as a macho thing done over guns, cars and violence. The Kings of Tampa are all pretty sensitive guys who admire and respect women rather than viewing them as objects to be taken to bed as conquests and then cast aside. They view what they do as a kind of therapy, giving their clients something they need – not just a sexual release but adoration as well. I think most women’s fantasies are about guys like these, sensitive but sexy, handsome and hot as well. What woman wouldn’t want to be adored by guys like these?

The plot is kind of threadbare and I was left wondering if I’d seen this in a room full the aforementioned dour and jaded critics would I have liked this movie as much? Probably not. Because the women in the audience were having such a good time, I ended up having as good a time as well and that’s something to consider. The movie is in many ways not nearly as good as its predecessor but in many ways better – it gives its audience exactly what they want and that isn’t such a bad thing at all.

REASONS TO GO: Has heart as well as tush. We end up caring what happens to these guys.
REASONS TO STAY: Extremely lightweight and disposable. More of an experience than a movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Language, male butt nudity, sexual situations and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Holdridge and Saasen not only co-starred and co-directed the film but also co-wrote it based on their own experiences.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/19/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Little Miss Sunshine
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Finding Bliss

English as a Second Language


English as a Second Language

Maria Conchita Alonso chainsmokes and lectures her daughter.

(Inferno Filmworks) Kuno Becker, Danielle Camastra, John Michael Higgins, Maria Conchita Alonso, Efrain Figueroa, Harold Gould, Sal Lopez, Treva Etienne. Directed by Youssef Delara

America can be a really hard place to live, particularly for Latin American immigrants. While they can survive on a day-to-day basis without learning to speak English, in order to succeed and thrive here they must speak it fluently, or at least enough to get by.

Bolivar de la Cruz (Becker) has come to the United States illegally, crossing the border in order to make enough money to feed his family back home. He arrives starry-eyed, expecting the wealth and riches of America to fall at his feet. Instead, he encounters suspicion, prejudice and indifference in his quest to find work.

Lola Sara (Camastra) is the child of legal immigrants to the United States, living with one foot in each world. Her parents (Figueroa and Alonso) want the best for her and push her to attain a law degree, which would mean a comfortable life for herself and her family. She is less sure of what she wants and rebels in whichever way she can, partying with her friends and sleeping with men she picks up in the discos.

The worlds of these two people collide briefly when the car Bolivar is riding in is involved in an accident late one night with the car Lola is driving. Lola is clearly impaired and while Bolivar is eager to stay and make sure the young woman is all right, the others in the car, worried that they will be caught and returned to Mexico, flee the scene. Lola winds up being arrested for driving under the influence and is ordered to do community service.

Bolivar is having a terrible time finding work. He goes day after day to a local hardware store where people come to hire illegal aliens and while many of the people waiting there are hired, Bolivar is not. He meets Pepe (Lopez), who tells him that the secret to finding work is learning English. He tells him about free English as a second language classes at the local community college.

As it turns out, Lola’s community service assignment is at that very class, serving as a teacher’s aide. Bolivar is pleased to see that she is all right although she barely remembers him. Still, he feels drawn to her and asks if she can tutor him which she turns down.

Bolivar learns enough English to get hired as a day laborer at the house of a club owner (Higgins) who has difficulty keeping his hands to himself. He offers Bolivar a job dancing at his club but Bolivar, disturbed at his advances, refuses. Eventually, broke and with nowhere to stay, he relents and begins dancing as a male stripper at the club, making more cash than he ever could have imagined. This leads to work in the “back rooms” as a club, giving private dances away to middle-aged women which is a euphemism for male prostitution.

Lola becomes one of his clients one night, which leads to further interaction between the two. She has gotten pregnant from one of her one-night stands and needs to go get an abortion, but doesn’t want to go alone – and there’s nobody else to take her. Desperate, she turns to the gold-hearted Bolivar who takes her for her abortion. Even though he is married, there is some attraction between the two which leads her mother to mistake him for the father of the baby when she accidentally finds out about her daughter’s pregnancy.

In the meantime, Lola has found that she has a flair for teaching and that she rather enjoys it. Bolivar is making money but his life is falling apart. Can these two worlds truly co-exist?

This is a movie that got little notice other than some awards in smaller film festivals, mainly those catering to Latin cinema. Despite the presence of rising star Becker and studio interest, it was deemed unmarketable and wound up going quickly to video and cable television. That’s a shame because this is a solid, well-acted movie that gives insight into the Latin immigrant experience that we rarely get to see in the movies, certainly not as authentically as we see it here.

Alonso, who had some high-profile roles in the 80s and 90s, is still an attractive woman playing a matronly role unusual for the former beauty queen. She handles the role admirably and is one of the best things about the movie as the bitter, chain-smoking mom. Her relationship with her daughter is strained, and some of their confrontational scenes ring oh so true. Higgins also does some fine work in a fairly negative role.

Becker, the Mexican soap star who has found mainstream stardom in the Goal movies, fares less well. Playing the naïve Bolivar, his character goes from sunny to embittered during the course of the movie, finding little about America to love. Although he clearly has the physique for the role, he seemed lost at times, and I got the clear impression that he was unsure of his own abilities to carry the role. There are plenty of fine Mexican and Latin actors who might have done better in the role, but Becker certainly has star power in the Latin community.

Director Delara has a fine eye for color and composition, which serves the movie well. It is an excellent-looking film that captures the flair and atmosphere of the Latino community in Los Angeles, from the discos to the taquerias to the workplaces and finally to the homes. It is a compelling work that would have benefited from better casting in the lead, but still in all worth seeing as a different viewpoint on the immigrant experience. Considering the Bush Administration’s efforts to demonize the Latin immigrant community (particularly those who arrived illegally), it is a timely message to humanize what is often painted with a prejudiced brush.

WHY RENT THIS: A compelling look at the Latin experience in the United States. Fine supporting performances from Alonso and Higgins

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat sudsy at times. Becker seems lost in his role.

FAMILY VALUES: While the movie is rated “R” and there are scenes depicting violence, sexuality and drug use, this really is quite suitable for older and more mature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Delara also worked as a visual effects coordinator on several Star Trek movies and television shows.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: King of California