‘Magic Mike XXL’ is gonzo fun (Our grade: B+)

From left, Stephen "Twitch" Boss, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Joe Manganiello, Channing Tatum and Adam Rodriguez star in "Magic Mike XXL."
From left, Stephen “Twitch” Boss, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Joe Manganiello, Channing Tatum and Adam Rodriguez star in “Magic Mike XXL.”

One of the many non-abdominal reasons Channing Tatum has become such a popular Hollywood figure is the extent to which he has figured out how and why his charisma works — he gives the impression of a guy who knows exactly who he is and what he can do.

Tatum’s charm seems second nature, his dancing is stellar and, as the star and producer of the shapeless but exceptionally enjoyable “Magic Mike XXL,” he delivers on both. Dude has some swag.

» Read full review on MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Magic Mike XXL”

» Related: Austin native’s charmed life leads to ‘Magic Mike’

“Avengers” star Patrick Macnee dies at 93; Remember how awesome he was on “Battlestar: Galactica?”

British actor Patrick Macnee, who played secret agent John Steed on the 1960s spy series “The Avengers,” died Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93.

Macnee and co-star Diana Rigg in a 1968 publicity shot for "The Avengers" Photo: Getty Images
Macnee and co-star Diana Rigg in a 1968 publicity shot for “The Avengers” Photo: Getty Images

Macneee was best known by far for his role as Steed (and his array of completely awesome co-stars Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman),Tara King (Linda Thorson)  and the almighty Emma Peel (Diana Rigg, who can be seen of late on “Game of Thrones”).

I always found him a welcome, professional but slightly off-kilter presence on-screen. In addition to Steed, he was also in the James Bond movie “A View to a Kill” (1985), though nobody remembers him because that was also the one with a) an imposing  Grace Jones who looked like she could tear Roger Moore in half, b) an eye-poppingly weird Christopher Walken and c) a theme song by Duran Duran that was actually better than the movie.

He was also know for his role as Sir Denis Eton-Hogg, head of Polymer Records in “This is Spinal Tap.” He is show wishing band “great success” and tells them: “And so say all of us… Tap into America!”

But I also want to shout out two lesser-known Macnee roles.

Macnee and his nose in "Scrooge"
Macnee and his nose in “Scrooge”

He plays the young Jacob Marley in Brian Desmond-Hurst’s  absolutely bulletproof “Scrooge” (also released under the name “A Christmas Carol”) (1951) starring Alastair Sim. He’s only in two scenes, but Macnee brings a cynical thoughtfulness to young Marley, playing a clerk who is a bit worldlier than young Scrooge, the latter of whom is slowly turning into the more bitter man he will become. Marley is a bit ahead of Scrooge in the cut-throat capitalist department.

Macnee as Count Iblis in "Galactica"
Macnee as Count Iblis in “Galactica”

Not only did Macnee provide the opening narration for the original 1978 “Battlestar: Galactica” (“There are those who believe…that life here began out there“) and played the voice of the Cylon’s Imperious Leader), he also played one of the show’s most memorable baddies in two of the show’s weirdest episodes.

Macnee played Count Iblis, who might be Satan. Yes, that Satan.

At first, Iblis seems to be the sole survivor of a crashed ship and is welcomed on-board Galactica. He can move things with his mind, he promised to show them to Earth and he really freaks out Baltar. Meanwhile, several Viper pilots have vanished after reporting a very strange “ship of light.”

Long, two-hour story very, very short: the ship of light seems to be some sort of angelic force, Iblis is the devil disguised as a miracle working savior, the ship of lights brings people back to life after Iblis kills them after being outed, Iblis pretty much vanishes in a puff of smoke. (This is also a good time to remind you about the Mormon theology and cosmology  woven into the world-building on “Galactica”)  Iblis is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the false prophet and Macnee is totally great.

R.I.P., man. You kept it interesting.

 

 

 

A guide to fun movie references in ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’

Olivia Cooke as Rachel, Thomas Mann as Greg and RJ Cyler as Earl in "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl."
Olivia Cooke as Rachel, Thomas Mann as Greg and RJ Cyler as Earl in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has slipped in lots of sly movie references in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Many of the references are related to the director’s past — his association with Martin Scorsese, as well as Scorsese’s championing of such people as British director Michael Powell, who was basically persona non grata in his home country after the release of the controversial “Peeping Tom” in 1960.

Even the most devoted lovers of movies might miss a few of the references, so here’s a guide to some of the most notable nods toward cinema. Many of the references are personal for Gomez-Rejon, who says he sees the movie as a “love letter to the people who have taken care of me and influenced me and I was lucky enough to have in my life.”

Let’s start with Scorsese

Director Martin Scorsese is a mentor to filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who included many references to Scorsese and his movies in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
Director Martin Scorsese is a mentor to filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who included many references to Scorsese and his movies in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

The Martin Scorsese references are everywhere. On the walls of lead character Greg’s bedroom, you’ll see posters for Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and “The 400 Blows,” the classic 1959 French New Wave movie from Francois Truffaut. (Scorsese is one of the leading experts on Truffaut’s films.)

On Greg’s desk are two scripts. The first is for “Casino,” the 1995 Scorsese drama that was written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi also wrote Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Pileggi was also married to the late Nora Ephron, another mentor for Gomez-Rejon.

The other script on his desk is for Ephron’s “Heartburn,” which was about the screenwriter’s breakup with Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. (Among other associations, Gomez-Rejon was an assistant to Ephron on “You’ve Got Mail,” and she’s the one who got him into the Directors Guild.)

Greg also wears a T-shirt for “The Last Waltz,” the 1978 Scorsese documentary about the Band. (Other T-shirts include one touting New York’s Film Forum, a leading independent and repertory theater.) He also has a copy of the original 1989 edition of “Scorsese on Scorsese,” from Faber and Faber, as well as a DVD of “Taxi Driver” and “The Tales of Hoffmann,” a Powell film for which Scorsese did the DVD commentary.

Thelma Schoonaker, editing footage of "Woodstock," in the lower left corner.
Thelma Schoonaker, editing footage of “Woodstock,” in the lower left corner.

Greg’s computer screensaver is a photo of Thelma Schoonmaker, editing footage from the 1970 documentary “Woodstock.” Schoonmaker was married to Powell, and she became the main editor for such Scorsese movies as “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” She has won three Oscars, and she was a regular in Scorsese’s Manhattan office, where Gomez-Rejon interned in his senior year at New York University.

Schoonmaker gave Gomez-Rejon a copy of Powell’s autobiography, “A Life in Movies,” and it’s visible in a scene when Greg and Earl are working on one of their mini-movie parodies.

When Greg mistakenly eats some pot-laced food, a math teacher gives him a strange look. That’s Tony Buba, a beloved film teacher and documentarian from Pittsburgh. (Posters of his films are hanging on the wall in a DVD store that Greg and Earl visit.)

Movies-within-the-movie

The sly movie references really kick in when Greg and Earl start making their mini-movies, which Gomez-Rejon expanded from the book on which the movie is based.

The Archers logo for the production company of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is used for a fictional movie production company logo in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
The Archers logo for the production company of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is used for a fictional movie production company logo in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

Greg’s last name is Gaines and Earl’s is Jackson. So they label their movies as Gaines/Jackson productions. But their logo is the same one that was used by the Archers, the production company of Powell and his business partner, Emeric Pressburger. (The logo is a target, with an arrow in the bullseye.)

The Gaines/Jackson parodies take viewers through some of the most heralded art-house films in history. The parodies, which look like they could have been made by a couple of kids, feature Greg and Earl but also the visual stylings of Pittsburgh-based filmmakers Edward Bursch and Nathan O. Marsh, who have worked on some of Wes Anderson’s projects.

Gomez-Rejon came up with a list of movies that should be given the Gaines/Jackson treatment. Although not all of them made it into the bigger film, a partial list follows:

• “Anatomy of a Burger,” based on 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” directed by Otto Preminger.

• “Ate 1/2 (Of My Lunch),” based on “8 1/2,” directed by Federico Fellini.

• “A Box O’ Lips, Wow,” based on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

• “The Battle of All Deer,” based on “The Battle of Algiers,” by Gillo Pontecorvo.

• “Breathe Less,” based on Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”

• “Burden of Screams,” based on Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams.”

• “Can’t Tempt,” based on Godard’s “Contempt.”

• “Crouching Housecat Hidden Housecat,” based on Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

• “Death in Tennis,” based on Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice.”

• “My Dinner With Andre the Giant,” based on Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre.”

• “Don’t Look Now Because a Creepy Ass Dwarf Is About to Kill You!! Damn!!!” based on Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now.”

• “Eyes Wide Butt,” based on Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

• “Hairy, Old and Mod,” based on Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude.”

• “La Gelee,” based on Chris Marker’s “La Jetèe.”

• “Gone With My Wind,” based on Victor Fleming’s “Gone With the Wind.”

• “Grumpy Cul-de-Sacs,” based on Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”

• “It’s a Punderful Life,” based on Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

• “The Janitor of Oz,” based on Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

• “The Lady Manishness,” based on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes.”

• “Monorash,” based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon.”

• “My Best Actor Is Also a Dangerous Lunatic,” based on Werner Herzog’s “My Best Fiend.”

• “Nose Ferret 2,” based on F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu.”

The DVD cover of “Peeping Tom,” with Martin Scorsese commentary. Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” inspired one of the mini-movies made by characters in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
The DVD cover of “Peeping Tom,” with Martin Scorsese commentary. Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” inspired one of the mini-movies made by characters in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

• “Pittsburghasqatsi,” based on Godfrey Reggio’s “Koyaanisqatsi.”

• “Pooping Tom,” based on Powell’s “Peeping Tom.”

• “Rear Wind,” based on Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

• “Rosemary Baby Carrots,” based on Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

• “Senior Citizen Cane,” based on Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”

• “The Seven Seals,” based on Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.”

• “A Sockwork Orange,” based on Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.”

• “Vere’d He Go?” based on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

• “2:48 p.m. Cowboy,” based on John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy.”

It also might be fun to see if you can spot the allusions to Andy Warhol, the Pittsburgh native who attended the school that’s featured in the film, in the final mini-movie that Greg makes for his friend Rachel.

Cooke on shaving head for ‘Me and Earl’

earl2Olivia Cooke had some interesting things to say about shaving her head for her role as Rachel in “Me and Earl and Dying Girl” during a recent trip to Austin.

Cooke was in town with co-stars Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler to promote the film. An interview with the director, Laredo’s Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, will be online and in print on Sunday.

As Rachel, Cooke plays a young woman who has been diagnosed with cancer in her senior year at high school, and she becomes friends with Greg (Mann) and Earl (Cyler). And part of the role meant that she would have to lose her hair, either by wearing a skullcap or shaving her head. Cooke opted for the shaving, with the help of her two co-stars.

“It wasn’t liberating or freeing like everyone said it would be. It was hard,” she says. “I’ve never had no hair, and it means losing one of the most distinguishable features for a woman. You become almost unrecognizable, and you lose your femininity in a way.”

She adds: “There’s nothing really that can make you feel beautiful again, because you don’t get the attention you used to, and it made me feel angry for a while — how women are perceived, and how people consider hair is related to sexuality, and how you become inaccessible without hair.”

Still, Cooke says that her co-stars were great on the set and helped her get through it. They’ve been together quite a bit after making the movie, because they’re traveling around the country to do interviews.

The movie opens Friday in Austin. It’s a good one.

A near pitch-perfect ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ (Our grade: A-)

Olivia Cooke as Rachel and Thomas Mann as Greg in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
Olivia Cooke as Rachel and Thomas Mann as Greg in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

In the middle of the blockbuster season, it’s nice to see a small film that really could be a big hit — something quirky and smart like 2006’s August surprise, “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is this year’s hope amid the hype. After premiering at Sundance in January, it went on to win the festival’s grand jury prize and audience award. And it has a very big heart, especially for anyone who loves movies.

» A guide to fun movie references in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” 

» Read full review on MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

Wedded bliss put to the test at couples’ gathering in ‘The Overnight’ (Our grade: C+)

Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman, in a scene from the film “The Overnight.”
Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman, in a scene from the film “The Overnight.”

Michael Phillips | Chicago Tribune

Alex has an inferiority complex. His appendage is considerably smaller than average and at a key, comically awkward moment in “The Overnight,” this recent L.A. arrival (he’s a Seattle transplant, with a wife and child) gets a look at what his new friend Kurt has to offer.

In a couple of shots the actors who play these two — Adam Scott, sporting a goatee that tries too hard, and Jason Schwartzman, alternately gregarious and wormy — flourish prosthetic genitalia. Clearly, considerable time went into finding just the right fakes both for plausibility’s sake as well as for comedy’s.

» Read full review at MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “The Overnight”

‘Max’ is touching, but a bit clunky (Our grade: C+)

 Josh Wiggins in "Max." (Kent Smith/Warner Bros and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)
Josh Wiggins in “Max.” (Kent Smith/Warner Bros and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

Roger Moore | Tribune News Service

“Semper fidelis,” the Romans used to purr into their dogs’ ears, long before the Marine Corps adopted the Latin for “Always faithful” as their motto.

Most faithful of all? Marine Corps war dogs. That’s the message of “Max,” a touching if somewhat clunky crowd pleaser about one such dog who comes to live with the family of the soldier who died serving with him in Afghanistan.

» Read full review at MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Max” 

‘Aloft’ fails to ground its characters (Our grade: C)

Cillian Murphy as Ivan in "Aloft."
Cillian Murphy as Ivan in “Aloft.”

Rebecca Keegan | Los Angeles Times

“Aloft” sets up a compelling mystery — how could a loving mother abandon her son? — and then, frustratingly, refuses to solve it.

The first English-language film from Peruvian director Claudia Llosa follows a falconer (Cillian Murphy) as he embarks on a journey to find his eccentric, estranged mother (Jennifer Connelly). Instead of grounding its characters in a convincing world, the decades-spanning film shrouds them in a vague, New Age, woo-woo spirituality, making Connelly’s Nana, a single parent to one terminally ill boy and another underloved one, hard to really know.

» Read full review at MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Aloft”

‘Ted 2’ is more of the same bawdy bear (Our grade: C)

Mark Wahlberg stars as John in “Ted 2.”
Mark Wahlberg stars as John in “Ted 2.”

Michael Phillips | Chicago Tribune

“Ted 2” reunites Mark Wahlberg’s insecure-wallflower character with the chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff and racial, sexual, scatological insults voiced by co-writer and director Seth MacFarlane.

Madly uneven, more so than the mediocre 2012 hit that made half a billion worldwide, this one’s an easy predictive call. If you got your laughs out of “Ted,” you’ll likely come crawling back for “Ted 2.” It’s not the same film, but it’s same-adjacent.

» Read full review at MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Ted 2”

Giveaway: “The Spoils Before Dying” Dinner Party at Alamo Drafthouse

Will Ferrell. Kristen Wiig. Maya Rudolph. Kate McKinnon. Tim Meadows. We could go on, but we’ll stop there. These names not only bring smiles to our faces, but have united to star in an IFC and Funny or Die miniseries called “The Spoils Before Dying.”

The series airs on IFC Wednesday, July 8, at 8 p.m., but we have an opportunity for you to get a two-episode sneak peak at the Alamo Drafthouse on Tuesday, July 7 at “The Spoils Before Dying” dinner party.

The dinner party will feature a themed meal with drinks, the episodes and a Q&A with the series co-creators Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele. Want to go? We know you do. Secure your spot by entering our giveaway.

Send an email to austin360@statesman.com with subject “Giveaway: The Spoils Before Dying” and your full name in the body of the email by noon on Wednesday, July 1. One winner will be chosen at random for two spots at the party. The winner will be notified by 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1. Good luck!