Screen Magic if you like your pleasures extra sweet

In the last week I have had the unexpected pleasure of viewing Magic Mike XXL twice. I wasn’t planning to. It just worked out that way. It’s been interesting, since then, to note the pretty mixed reviews the film has got. People seem be split down the middle over whether the film works or not. My take is this: if you loved the rather dour and pessimistic plotline of the original Magic Mike, you’ll hate the new film. If you’re looking for any kind of plausible plot or character development you’ll hate the new film. If you’re looking for a happy ending – well, somebody gets one but it’s certainly not universal.

But if your idea of a good night out is a comfortable (-ish) seat with a bucket of popcorn and Channing Tatum and the Kings of Tampa getting it on right in your face – you’re in for a treat. It’s cheesy, silly, and just a little bit clever, the screen is awash in gym-toned flesh and it made me feel good. No film needs to do more than that. Here’s the review I wrote for the film:

“Pure escapism bathed in Southern sunshine”

Okay, it’s official: this is my feel-good movie of 2015. Nothing’s going to top it. It’s funny, clever, and surprisingly subversive. And as for that boy – you know, the one who can dance – he’s finally got old enough to begin to be interesting. And, dear lord, he can still dance!

Magic Mike XXL is an altogether lighter, frothier confection than its predecessor. There’s not much room here for serious plot structure – it’s pure escapism bathed in Southern sunshine and marinated in a cocktail of pecs, biceps and spray-on tan. All the remaining characters from the original film get a bit more character development, but it’s not overdone; watching this film is far from being an intellectual exercise.

The film is full of parody, and sends itself up as much as the other films it references. Mike’s familiar ineffectual bumbling, here ramped up to an almost irritating degree, masks an incisive mind that is at work manipulating the rest of his crew until at the final moment they are all exactly where he wants them to be. This is where Channing Tatum shines: in a darker character, these machinations would be sinister or chilling, but he only wants what’s best for everybody – and in a film as light and sweet as candy floss everyone can get what they deserve, even if it’s only for five minutes under the spotlights in a rowdy club.

There were a couple of reluctant boyfriends amongst the overwhelmingly female audience at the cinema, and they both belly-laughed within the first few minutes. It’s good. Don’t take my word for it. You deserve to have the same goofy grin on your face – pure pleasure.

From Texas to Poldark, via The Shire

demelza 1aidan_turner_poldark1

There’s an interesting article in The Times today (‘When TV is your style guru’, Harriet Walker) about the way in which, these days, we get our fashion information direct from film and TV – the article cites programmes such as Game of Thrones and Mad Men as being particularly influential.

Now, I don’t think this phenomenon is new. If I look back to my own teenage obsession with fashion, it was influenced far more by film than by magazines (which I couldn’t afford) or newspapers (which were bought, rarely, by my parents and not available for me to read).

I always had an interest in clothes, fed in part by my Auntie, only six years older than me, who passed down some very trendy 1960s clothing. I especially remember the hot pink tartan kilt and matching skinny rib jumper, and the lurid orange nylon bell-bottom jumpsuit that produced marvellous amounts of static, creating a lovely light show under the bedclothes, or in any darkened room.

But the experience that suddenly made me aware that fashion was created, and then fed to the public, as opposed to being a response to public taste, was going to the cinema to watch the John Wayne film Hellraisers. This film about oil well cappers, based on the freely reimagined fictionalised biography of famous oil firefighter Red Adair, was costumed by a wonderfully inventive and elegant designer, Edith Head.

It’s probably fair to say that my attention was caught by the clothes not only because they were especially gorgeous, but also because the film was pretty slow. And then there was that essential moment of serendipity – the following day I went to play with a friend, and her Mum had a fashion magazine with an article specifically about the film costumes, and their designer. It was the first time I’d associated a particular person with design, and it led to a happy few years searching out Yves St Laurent and Chanel and a wealth of other designers, and hunting down other films dressed by Edith Head (there are a lot!) not to mention becoming one of those sad people who sits in a darkened cinema and watches the credits roll up.

These days one of the things that impresses me is the quality of costume design in modern productions. Gone are the days when the crew could mock something up out of metallic knit and call it chain mail. One exemplar of this drive for perfection is Peter Jackson, whose Tolkien extravaganzas, deservedly trumpeted for their creativity and production values, should also be appreciated for their painstaking attention to detail in costume design – everything from the weave of elven cloaks to the design of jewellery.

I was thinking on just this topic last Saturday, when I watched the most recent episode of Poldark. I know it’s hard to tear your attention away from the swooningly lovely Mr Aidan Turner, but do me a favour – next time, take a brief glance at the dresses worn by Demelza (upmarket peasant girl, but beautifully made and fitted) or Verity’s half mourning – delicate subtleties in shades of grey. And the menswear is just as good – subtle differences in station and attitude in matters as simple as the turn of a cravat, or the length of a coat. Another example of this drive for realism and believability in costume design is Outlander, recently filmed in Scotland and showing on Amazon Prime. Gorgeous work, from hessian rags to full tartan regalia, all with just the right amount of dirt for verisimilitude.

I am eagerly awaiting the sight, when spring finally arrives, of kilts on the street in numbers, or the return of the cravat. No, there’s nothing new in looking to film and television for fashion tips. It’s been going on since the first Victorian playhouse opened. Long may it continue!