The Greatest Movie of the Last Decade Is About A Stripper Getting His Groove Back

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When I watched the first Magic Mike movie, I wasn’t sure how a movie about male strippers could be so boring. A big fat empty promise of a movie.

Magic Mike XXL makes good on that promise by understanding that all we really want is a series of stripping set-pieces with maybe some sort of plot tied around it. Poor old Channing Tatum, it turns out his life is a terrible basis for a movie, and everything’s way better when they are freed of trying portray the gritty melodrama of drug addiction and legal trouble.

You don’t even really strictly need to have seen the first movie to enjoy Magic Mike XXL, the movie gives you all the context you need. Mike was formerly part of a crew but he’s living a strip-free life. He had a girlfriend who he proposed to (the girlfriend secured at the end of the first movie), but she turned him down. There were some other dudes (Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer), but they’ve ditched the crew to be….not in this film, leaving them a bit rudderless and ready for “one last ride”.

Apart from some visually enticing stripping set-pieces, why does this make my film of the decade? If you’ve had a look at my past film reviews, you’ll know I generally prefer movies centred around women (my films of the year for 2019? Probably Hustlers, Booksmart and Little Women, although Parasite was an outlier). At the very least, I’d like them to pass the Bechdel test, which this…does not. So what is it about this film? It presents such a vision of non-toxic masculinity and celebration of women’s sexual desire that I scarcely believe it was actually written by a man. And directed by a man?

How something manages to be simultaneously sweet and extremely blokey – see the quest of Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) to find a woman who an handle his extremely large penis, and the delight of the gang when that woman turns out to be Andie Macdowell, who proves that Wine Moms deserve love too. Muted high fives and a muttered: “That beautiful nice lady was the glass slipper?”

The emotional vulnerability and support is a thread throughout the whole movie. They praise each other’s business success and entrepreneurial ideas (okay maybe not Richie’s ‘Condomints’, because it totally already exists). The friendship shown by the guys to Mike is what gets him out of his post-breakup funk (a lesson he tries to pass on to Amber Heard’s kinda-maybe-love-interest Zoe). They lift each other up, like when Richie is having a crisis of confidence about his role as a male entertainer and Mike tells him “You’re a Greek god, you could tie your shoe and make some girl’s year”. Honestly I know they’re all on molly but I still think this is one of greatest shows of male love and support I’ve seen on screen:

It’s also incredibly heartwarming to see the guys bond over their creative processes, both with each other and the folks they bring in to their orbit – drag queens, singers, and dancers. As the guys build towards their final acts embracing their ‘true selves’ and catering to what they actually think their audience wants to see (rather than the rote characters McConaughey’s Dallas roped them in to) they used their bond to support one another’s vision.

But my favourite thing about this film is how much these characters, and this movie, loves women. Firstly, it implicitly allows every female character to call the guys out on their bullshit. That includes’s Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome, a former…flame….it’s a bit weird… who’s built an epic life for herself and doesn’t appreciate Mike wandering back in for help, and my queen Elizabeth Banks as Paris, who runs the stripper convention they are journeying towards throughout the film.

I’m just gonna chuck this clip in here because the way she says “You’re not special” is honestly one of my favourite things:

It takes a chance encounter a Rome’s…well, I’m gonna go right ahead and call it a pleasure palace…with Andre (Donald Glover), who comes up with songs on the spot based on a few details about a woman in the crowd to summarise what becomes a key theme of the movie – that when a woman is willing to open up and be vulnerable with you, and tell you what they want – that’s a beautiful thing. Something that is emphasised again when Andie MacDowells’s Nancy and the Wine Moms Crew complain about their marital problems and are lifted up by the guys.

Rome’s venue Domina is also one of the key parts of the movie that celebrates a woman’s desire – and more importantly, the desire of all women, not just pretty thin white women. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in American racial politics, but seeing a venue without a white person in sight (…until Mike and the gang walk in), appreciating each other’s bodies is a beautiful thing. There’s an implication, I think, that Rome is extremely careful about who she lets through the doors to ensure everyone feels safe. And it’s a venue where women appreciate the beauty of the male body, rather than vice versa. I gotta say – and this is a ridiculous thing to say as someone who has taken their clothes off onstage twice in the last year – I am probably a bit of a prude, and the first time I saw this movie, the scene at Rome’s and the scene at the stripper convention were jarring. I had no idea if this is actually what goes on, or if it was being heightened for the movie. These days, I don’t care. Women celebrating their sexuality is a damn good thing.

The stripper convention once again emphasises that every single kind of woman gets to take part. Regular-ass women make up this crowd and have their fantasies catered too. I have never been more delighted, I think, to see a woman caressed to reveal the shorts she wears under her dress (we do it, gang, thigh chafing is real). No one is immune from being worshipped, and no-one is excluded from Rome addressing them as “Queen”.

That, in the end, is why I love this movie.

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(no but seriously who was the woman whispering in their ear when making this movie? Thank you, sincerely)

Katie’s Favourite (Melbourne) Things 2017 – Part 1

I’m sure my mother would refer to this as ‘A Guide To Gently Stalking Katie’. To which I would say ‘Mum, my entire life is online, they can just DM me if they want to know what movie I’m seeing when’.

I’ve just ticked over my first full year of living in Melbourne. I’m not going to claim I know it like an old-timer, and I will honestly admit there are swathes of the city and surrounds that I’ve only looked at with mild curiosity on the public transport map. I also live in the northern suburbs, so this will be somewhat north-focused, but you should probably also know that I fully subscribe to the northside/southside war and think of the entire south-east as Rich People Trashville with the occasional nice historical home (hello Como House, you have a very nice garden). Toorak makes me feel poor and St Kilda makes me uncomfortable with its fake ocean.

This is a bit city guide, a bit Year That Was, and hopefully interesting to someone. It’s time for….Katie’s Favourite Things (Part One).
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Cultural Things

The Wheeler Centre
A friend put me on to this one, and let’s be real, I am entirely trying to be your friend who puts you on to things with this post.
For a decent chunk of this year I was job-searching, and therefore incredibly keen to find free things to do that got me out of the house. Going for walks is fun and all, but it doesn’t particularly engage the brain. That’s where The Wheeler Centre, located in a wing of the beautiful State Library, comes in. They do some paid events, but the majority of their talks are free. For at least two ‘seasons’, I hopped on the site when the calendar was launched and booked a whole bunch of sessions, giving me regular things to look forward to. These included talks about women on social media, the changing nature of family, the real lives of Arab women, talks on podcasts, criticism, and the wellness industry. The Wheeler Centre is a forum to talk about ideas, with every session tending to have a carefully-chosen panel and opportunities for audience Q&A.
I know why I find the events so appealing. A former Arts student, I still enjoy the feeling of being engaged with the world of ideas and debate. I’ve also found a healthy selection of talks with a feminist slant, particularly Jane Gilmore’s round up of 2017’s representation of women in media. But you’ll find a pretty mixed crowd at the events. I’ve found that there’s a lot of people of retirement age who will come along not knowing much about the subject, I suspect because it comes with the best price tag of all for an interesting night out.
One of my favourite series at The Wheeler Centre this year was The Longform Society, a sort of book club for longreads. I was absolutely fascinated by our readings on robots, with a particular focus on ethics, and could have discussed them all night. Humanities nerds are for life, y’all.
If this all sounds pretty appealing to you but you’re not from Melbourne, they do quite a bit of live-streaming, as well as uploading audio and visual recording afterwards.

Honourable mention: The University of Melbourne hosts a huge amount of free public lectures on a dizzying amount of topics. I joined their mailing list after attending a Melbourne Knowledge Week event with Katherine Maher from Wikipedia, however I’ve found that the majority of evening talks start at 6pm, which is when I finish work.

Bump and Grindercise
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This is the only fitness class or endeavour I have ever been able to stick to. I did terribly at Zumba. I was okay at home workouts, but as soon as I took a break I struggled to get back in to it. But for Bump and Grindercise, I will drag myself out of bed every Sunday, because it’s fun. I will even go when I’m sick, mostly because there’s no-one at home to tell me I shouldn’t (note to self, extremely bad for recovery).
One of the greatest challenges is describing what Bump and Grindercise actually is. L’amour, the genius behind Bump, posted this clip from one of the routines, which probably helps a bit. Meg Crawford wrote about the classes for Time Out. But it mostly comes down to wiggling, jiggling, and giggling. While also getting the cardio workout from hell, and thighs so sore you can barely sit for days. L’amour calls it a dance exercise class, which pretty much sums up the vintage-inspired burlesque moves you’ll be doing between the twerking, squats and lunges. There’s a hefty bit of 90s to the soundtrack (think Spice Girls, Shaggy and Ginuwine) as well as tunes from the 50s and 60s. It’s a serious workout in a warm and silly environment. If you can’t make fun of yourself, you’re gonna have a seriously weird time grinding in a circle like in the clip I linked to. But everyone brings their best self to class, and everyone feels like their best self in class too. It’s a body-positive environment, something L’Amour embodies, and that’s what makes girls feel comfortable to dance around in lingerie. We don’t all know each other, there’s drop-ins every week, but it is an established safe space, where bullshittery will not be tolerated and everyone tries to uplift each other. Also celebrations are had with titty cupcakes.
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I’d long followed Bump and Grindercise through social media, and was so excited to start these classes when I moved down. I’m happy to say they completely surpassed my expectations.
Bonus fact: In addition to Bump and Grindercise, L’amour will be launching barre classes called Bump and Barrecise next year. If that’s more your style, I cannot give high enough marks for L’amour as a kind, patient, and supportive teacher, even if she is way bendy-er than any of us will ever be.

Palace Cinemas
This chain is not Melbourne-only, but every venue is unique. My local is Palace Westgarth, which is housed in a historical building and has five cinemas, as well as an outdoor screen in the courtyard, a new addition I haven’t had an opportunity to enjoy yet. I love when I go to see blockbuster films and wind up in the largest auditorium, the beautiful art deco style Cinema One.
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Palace plays the latest releases and indies, and their distribution arm allows them to hold numerous international film festivals during the year. It tends to make for an interesting lineup.
Whilst I’m incredibly fortunate to receive discount Palace tickets through my workplace’s employee rewards program, I’d also made the decision to join the Palace Movie Club long before I started there. Club membership is $19.50 a year here in Melbourne, and given members save over $5 on standard ticket prices, you only need to go to the movies 4 times in a year to make back your membership costs (I don’t know about you, but I go to the movies a lot more than that). Plus you get discounts here and there, access to advance screenings and some deals as part of the festivals. Even though I get cheaper-than-membership tickets now, I have maintained my membership for the perks. Also, I can’t pre-book my cheap tickets, so the membership comes in handy if you want to say, buy tickets with the best seats for opening day of The Last Jedi.
They turned out to be not so great tickets when the man and his son next to me talked the whole way through the movie, but that’s not Palace’s fault. In general, I find that there’s less teenagers than at a cinema in a shopping centre e.g the homeland of the Hoyts and Greater Union, which means I don’t feel like such a sore thumb when I indulge my number one love of going to the movies on my own.
Their snacks are also delicious, although I don’t believe that olive oil popcorn is that much better for you, and they will do a ‘feature-length’ pour of wine without the Gold Class prices. Bonus fact: The Palace Kino, which is in the CBD, has an amazing Tightarse Monday deal of $8.50 tickets.

Honourable mention: The Lido in Hawthorn. Similar variety of  blockbusters, indies and art-house. A modern venue, with a rooftop screen and no oddly-shaped cinemas, and as a bonus it isn’t part of a chain. They also do jazz and comedy nights. Delicious, substantial snacks and really decent variety of boozy drinks. I had a membership this year and at a members’ preview screening for Battle of the Sexes they were handing out Pimms Cup cocktails. However, I generally had a hard time booking member tickets on the site (usually resorting to the phone – eww, people) and it’s just a bit far from my house when there’s a great cinema down High St.  But overall a fantastic option for any Easterly types.

Event Things

Girls on Film Festival
Just a really chill celebration of all things lady in cinema, held at Brunswick Town Hall. This year was their third year, and I made it to a couple of events – a Spice World screening, and Girl Germs, an event with bands, video games, nail painting and collage making. The whole event has a welcoming vibe and a DIY spirit, and the movie lineup was absolutely killer, including Persepolis, The Sapphires, and The Craft as well as local and international indies. I had plenty of regrets about not being able to make it to more movies, and I think next year I need to get in earlier and support their crowdfunding efforts!
Also: Spice World does not currently have the camp classic status it deserves. If you haven’t revisited it, can I highly recommend it? You may not be able to recreate the experience of a room full of women who were probably Spice Girls ride-or-dies first time around, but I’m fairly certain it’ll still be magical.
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Series Mania at ACMI
I tend to wonder if people think of ACMI as somewhere to actually go and watch features, rather than just poking their nose in the exhibitions downstairs (although that’s a perfectly worthy journey, particularly when they had CodeBreakers: Women in Games on this year). ACMI actually plays hosts to a lot of interesting events – including the rather epic journey I went on this year watching all eight hours of ESPN’s amazing OJ: Made in America documentary in the big cinema there as part of the Australian International Documentary Conference.
Like the OJ event, Series Mania was free, and in this case was a four-day extravaganza of all things telly. This is an international concept that was started in Paris, so it was awesome to see a varied program brought Melbourne, with hefty local flavour. Although I didn’t attend, understandably the event in conversation with Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, was incredibly popular. I followed my interests and attended two events. The first was a screening of the first episode of The White Princess, which from memory was premiering on Stan the following weekend, followed by a Q&A with the divine Essie Davis, who also stars in one of my favourite Australian series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. In addition, several weeks before the premiere on ABC, I attended a screening of the first two episodes of Get Krackin’, the new comedy show from the Kates of The Katering Show. It’s unusual to get to watch comedy television in a large audience unless you’re at a recording, so it was fun to have that experience. If you want to recreate the experience at home, invite a bunch of mates over and fire up Get Krackin’ on iView. Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan were there for a Q&A afterwards, and proved just as relatable af as I always imagined them. Be my friend, Kates.
I’m really pleased to read that Series Mania will be back next year, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the program!
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PAXAus/Melbourne International Games Week
Yeah, yeah. Stay in your lane, Katie. You don’t know shit about MIGW. You only went to PAXAus. But golly, do I follow a lot of attendees on Twitter. I see the tweets from GCAP panels, people celebrating and receiving recognition at the Australian Game Development Awards, and the same troopers immediately following it up with that hustle life exhibiting at PAX Australia. It’s not the only event focused on games and tech in Melbourne during the year, but it brings together a bunch of local, national and international talent to straight up fuck themselves up on loving games. We’re incredibly lucky that the Victorian Government, through Creative Victoria, supports the industry and enables games to be a key part of the amazing cultural scene in Melbourne that we love to boast about.

And we do love boasting about it. I’ve just written a 2,000 word post just about culture and events. Which means the very best part of living in Melbourne – the food, duh – will have to wait til part 2.