Reeling: The Art of Spectacle

This week: Magic Mike XXL, Moulin Rouge, and The Greatest Showman all revel in the theatrics of cinema, both new and old.

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Ditch the self-consciousness. To hell with restraint. Who needs a plot anyway? Entertainment that deals with entertainment by being it and being about it doesn’t need to explain itself – XXL fulfils its terms by existing, and its existence is one of perpetual joy. No expense is spared: Donald Glover has several music numbers, there’s an entire D’Angelo cover that doesn’t suck, women and men can have equal fun, and Channing Tatum’s God is a she. Sequels were good for a brief moment. [B+]

Moulin Rouge (2001)

Everything about Moulin Rouge that I suspect was cool in 2001 has aged into the charmingly uncool now. Bawdiness and creakily old-school designs don’t really have much of a place in the era of squeaky clean musicals, both on the stage and the screen. Stuffed into Luhrmann’s MTV splurge, it’s even less suited to the now. But the novelty of a jukebox musical that properly fashions its singles grab-bag into the framework of the film hasn’t worn off. They’re nestled into the narrative – even if it’s a little cheeky on Luhrmann’s part to act like every character is coming up with the songs on the spot, the breathlessness of creation and improvisation couldn’t be better staged in the first two acts.

Those last 45 minutes leave a bit to be desired, though. The Queen song was just misguided, and sags the entire movie down. The actual finale then felt like a game of catch-up, and the film tries so hard to compensate for its flab by not knowing when to quit. Until it does, and then the dazzling energy is right back again. [B]

The Greatest Showman (2017)

Filled with not-my-thing-isms, namely musical numbers that sit at the peak point in the hell-scape between Broadway showstoppers and tub-thumping radio pop, and choreography that emphasises knockout power over entertainment value (that might also be to do with how horrifically the dances are edited). But the subjectivity of the experience at least gives me heed to appreciate what was achieved with this venture – the perfect product. Jackman, Efron, Zendaya, and Williams all chime with wildly disparate demographics, the songs, lowest-common-denominator though they are, wouldn’t have a difficult path to the charts, and the story itself has crystal-clear peaks and troughs. In a twisted way, I will be in perpetual admiration of the box-office engineering employed here. [C]

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