Thursday 20 October 2016

Movie Reviews: Terminator: Genisys, Amy and Magic Mike XXL

Arnie in Terminator: Genisys

Terminator: Genisys is as poor as its title suggests, Amy is a poignant portrait of the departed singer Amy Winehouse, Magic Mike XXL is a romp

Terminator Genisys

Action/sci-Fi. Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, JK Simmons, Matt Smith, Byung-hun Lee. Director: Alan Taylor. Cert: 12A

Where Magic Mike XXL is lacking in plot, it's perhaps fair to say that Terminator: Genisys has the opposite problem.

Explaining it is not unlike trying to get one's head around the Hadron Collider, but here goes: in the year 2029, the robot overlords have finally taken over, leaving humankind stranded in a sort of post-apocalypse holocaust. Just as always was, John Connor (Jason Clarke) is the resistance leader who becomes humankind's only hope to get out of this mess.

As happened in previous Terminator outings, John sends his friend Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), so that she lives long enough to actually give birth to him. The dastardly machine overlords, however, send back a terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to assassinate her. Still with me? Good.

Here is where things get a little… complex. This time around, Sarah Connor's life has turned out differently, and she has been existing in a parallel existence. Far from meeting the cyborg as an adult, he has been her faithful companion since childhood. Sarah Connor isn't a hapless waitress dragged into a mighty fine mess by her own as-yet-unborn son. Rather, she is a ballsy warrior, ready and willing to raise hell all on her own. Long story short, everything you know about the Terminator time-line up until now no longer exists. Rest assured, Arnie is present, correct and as stiff as ever, even if Sarah has been teaching him to be more human-like.

Ultimately, Terminator: Genisys's manic plot will leave most but the most die-hard Terminator fans confused and bored (a spectacularly hard trick to pull off). Tragically, the film doesn't even have any comic relief to take the edge off.

When Schwarzenegger, playing an inanimate cyborg without a soul, is your film's most charming element, you really are in trouble.

Rating **



Documentary. Starring: Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse,  Janis Winehouse, Blake Fielder-Civil, Nick Shymansky, Lucian Grange, Pete Doherty. Director: Asif Kapadia. Cert: 15A

It's the early 90s, and a heap of young teenage friends in north London are horsing about in front of a home camera.

Brandishing scrunchies or lollipops and out-goofing each other, they sing Happy Birthday to their friend Lauren. One of them - a dark-haired and precocious kid of 14 - lets her smoky, already world-weary jazz voice loose.

It's clear from the outset that on the stairs of this nameless London semi, we're watching a once-in-a-generation talent.

It didn't take long for the world to sit up and take notice of Amy Winehouse's talent, yet thanks to a heady brew of alcohol, drugs, sex and emotional fragility, it all soon descended into overblown tabloid caricature.

Before her death in 2011, aged 27, Amy Winehouse and her comically towering barnet were unavoidable; her ongoing troubles and demons the punchline for cheap award ceremony gags. Though she was a spirit animal of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, the media were intent on packing her next to Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan; women both beautiful and damned.

We tend to think we know Winehouse's sad, chaotic demise inside out, but Asif Kapadi's documentary proves otherwise. As the director of Senna (charting Ayrton Senna's life and death), Kapadi has already shown us that he has a keen forensic eye for narrative, and a knack for refashioning a story into something far more compelling and affecting than ever thought possible. And Amy, for that reason, will truly surprise audiences.

You'll be jolted by a sadness, a poignancy and a delicacy that seemed missing from Winehouse's breakneck tale the first time around.

Using a treasure trove of private home-video footage and press material, Kapadi creates a visual motif in which the paparazzi take on a supporting role in Winehouse's chaotic life.

Interviews with a host of supporting characters - her parents, one-time manager Nick Shymansky, label executives, friends, her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil - don't happen on camera: instead, their voiceover interviews push forward the narrative.

Winehouse barely leaves the frame for more than a few seconds.

There are some moments of welcome light relief: the face Winehouse makes during an interview in which the journalist somehow links her to Dido is worth the ticket price alone. And, as she attempts to push her career out of the gate early on, we see Winehouse as wonderfully untarnished, with no shortage of gob and sass. It makes the second half of the film, which documents the final few years of her life, all the more queasy to watch.

Ultimately, Amy is the story of a girl who was let down by the people around her. Faced with this runaway train of a girl, everyone around her seems helpless and confused about the speed at which things unravelled; still reeling over their respective parts in the soap opera.

Sadness seeps through every second of Amy, but far from dwelling on what might have been, Kapadi invites us to celebrate and reconsider Amy's legacy and her talent. He has put some much-needed meat on the bones of this tragic tale, and for that alone he should be applauded.

Rating ****


Magic Mike XXL


Drama/comedy. Starring: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Nash. Director: Gregory Jacobs. Cert: 16

IN 2012, Magic Mike was a bolt from the blue. Charting the rise of a young male stripper, the Steven Soderbergh-directed film was met with acclaim and became a proper little goer at the box office, contributing to Matt McConaughey's McConnaissance to boot.

Sequels are the way things are done in Hollywood these days, but did the world really need a second Magic Mike outing? If you've seen one greased-up eight pack, you've seen 'em all… right?

Evidently not. Writer Reid Carolin decided to get the band of merry dancing bear brothers back on the road for one last hurrah. Soderbergh is still in the mix too, after a fashion (he is behind the camera as cinematographer, using the pseudonym Peter Andrews). This time around, the plot has been stripped back so much that it's as flimsy as the cast's thongs.

The titular Mike (Channing Tatum) has bowed out of the limelight, preferring instead to restore furniture and enjoy a life of domestic quietude with his top firmly on. Until, that is, he gets wind of the news that the Kings Of Tampa are reforming for one last outing in Myrtle Beach.

The troupe pack their fireman helmets and protein shakes and take to the road in an up-cycled food truck. Each interchangeable beefcake dancer is as frightfully brawny as the last, the finer details of their bromances lost on the wind.

Still, the absence of a firm plot isn't going to matter much to Magic Mike XXL's core audience. Packed to the rafters with highly choreographed routines and pelvic thrusts, the film is a low-calorie, enjoyable romp. But like any overly long Diet Coke ad might well be, it all falls a little flat at the end.

Rating ***



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