Jupiter Ascending

February 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne
Directed by: The Wachowskis (“The Matrix”)
Written by: 
The Wachowskis (“The Matrix”)

When the Wachowskis released “The Matrix” in 1999, they created a space for themselves in the big-budget movie landscape. With an original idea and modest budget, the imaginative sci-fi thriller won four Oscars (yes, technical awards still count) and gave the Wachowskis good will in the Hollywood world. Then an interesting thing happened…The Wachowskis became divisive. The 2nd and 3rd entries in “The Matrix” franchise were not as beloved as the first and while “Speed Racer” was pretty universally disliked, “Cloud Atlas” was one of the most polarizing films of the last few years with equal parts love and hatred. One thing that can’t be contested, however, is the post-“Matrix” box office performance with “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas” making $44 and $27 million domestic respectively, and both with a $100 million dollar budget. And yet here we are, over 15 years removed from “The Matrix,” with the Wachowskis being handed over $175 million for their latest sci-fi entry “Jupiter Ascending,” despite their recent box office and critical disappointments. At this point, perhaps Warner Brothers should find a better place to dump their money.

As a maid in Chicago, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) sees her life change when she is rescued by Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically mutated, ex-military hunter, and taken to another planet where she finds out she might be the heir to controlling the planet Earth. Caine and others must fight to keep her safe from a power hungry villain (Eddie Redmayne) keen on restoring his ownership of Earth, which he believes to be his.

The first half of “Jupiter Ascending” feels like it sets a record for the largest amount of expository dialogue in a single film. Nearly every time Kunis’ character speaks in the first act or two, it is to ask a question about why, where or what something is. This leads to a series of inane responses by a rambling Tatum who spouts futuristic mumbo-jumbo that, not so shockingly, is mostly inconsequential to the plot or anything that happens thereinafter. The Wachowskis essentially use this exposition and introduction of a bunch of characters to build their own unique world, which is met with middling results.

Visually, the world they create can be stunning with great set pieces and truly impressive special effects. There’s a chase scene that happens in downtown Chicago where the duo get to flex their free flowing camera and sequence choreography muscles that is particularly exhilarating and a reminder of how unique The Wachowskis can be. Yet everything seems to be undone by the innate silliness of everything else.

Many characters in the film are spliced with DNA of other species including Tatum with a wolf, Sean Bean’s character with a bee, and an unintentionally (I think?) hilarious Elephant-spliced pilot. But it is more than just character design. One of the tools that Caine uses are gravity defying boots that allow him to surf the sky. The problem is that whenever Tatum is utilizing the boots, he moves exactly like one moves when rollerblading, making for hilarious scenes of Tatum “skating” through mid-air or around corners. It is funny every time it happens, which is a lot.

Even looking past some of the goofier elements, the screenplay is repetitive and convoluted, with the Wachowskis trying to pack in so many different details to a story and world that isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Mix that with a bunch of actors who feel completely out of place, especially a particularly dreadful Redmayne, and you get a complete disaster of a film. There’s some unintentional comedy gold here as well as a few action sequences that are legitimately impressive and fun that can help boost entertainment value, but not nearly enough to make “Jupiter Ascending” a journey worth taking.

Foxcatcher

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”)
Written by: Dan Futterman (“Capote”) and E. Max Frye (“Where the Money Is”)

When the buzz-worthy true story film “Foxcatcher” was pushed from its December 20, 2013 release date citing the film not yet being completed, you couldn’t blame film fans for being a little concerned. Normally when a film’s release date gets pushed back, (see “The Great Gatsby” being pushed from December to May) it could be the sign that a movie isn’t quite as good as believed and has fallen out of awards contention. But in an act of faith and belief in the films merits, Sony Pictures Classics shelved the film nearly an entire year to have it ready to compete for the 2014 awards season. It’s too bad “Foxcatcher” falls short of being worth the wait.

Seeing a way to escape out from under his brother Dave’s (Mark Ruffalo) shadow, Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) accepts an invitation to train at the estate of billionaire heir John du Pont (Steve Carell). As the training facility at Foxcatcher Farm grows, so does the ego of du Pont as he insists on being heavily involved in the training and referred to as “coach.” As the pressure mounts, du Pont’s behavior spirals out of control, the relationship between him and Schultz becomes strained and Schultz must fight to keep himself and his career together.

When the first promotional materials came out for the film, displaying the comedic actor Carell wearing facial prosthetics, breathing heavily and speaking with an odd tone, it was clear that this was a character meant to be chilling and dark. This is exactly what is brought forth in the film, albeit with a striking lack of nuance. Even though certain elements of Carell’s performance can certainly be unsettling, it can’t help but feel a little one-note. It may be that the prosthetics were so obvious, but the performance also felt distracting and unfortunately, Carell never fully disappears into the role. Tatum, on the other hand, is extremely underused. Spending most of the film sulking, he rarely gets the chance to do anything beyond subtle character work and the occasional hulking out scene.

In this case, the faults of the films characterization should not be placed entirely on the actors. One of the biggest flaws of the film is that its screenplay provides so few arcs for its two lead characters. In Carell’s case, there’s almost no arc and with Tatum, the character turns are so quick and jolting, often changing from scene to scene. Ruffalo, who plays Mark’s brother Dave is given the most to do character-wise and it is no coincidence that he gives the best performance of the film.

“Foxcatcher” is a film that is somber, moody and unquestionably dark, yet it is slow moving to the point of feeling labored, cold, and quite often subdued to a fault. It is beautifully shot and there are without question scenes that display the kind of talent that Miller has as a director. Still, the event that the entire movie is clearly building towards often lacks the necessary tension and never quite seems worth the journey. There are some themes like sibling rivalry and the quest to be lauded that are at play here, but for such a rich and interesting story, “Foxcatcher” is all mood and atmosphere and not much else.

The Book of Life

October 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Directed by: Jorge R. Gutierrez (debut)
Written by: Jorge R. Gutierrez (debut) and Douglas Langdale (debut)

The Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English, is as festive a celebration of death and dying as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Meant to honor and remember the dead, the Halloween-adjacent holiday features intricate, colorful depictions of skulls, a full spectrum of flowers, and sweet breads placed on altars to pay tribute to family members who have passed on. “The Book of Life,” an animated film produced by Mexican-born Guillermo Del Toro, spends its second half awash in the style of the holiday, depicting its characters as wood-carved representations of sugar skulls attending lavish parades in the Land of the Remembered. Unfortunately, this is where the plotting becomes most routine, wasting the beautiful visuals on what ultimately amounts to a ho-hum, by-the-book animated film with miscast celebrity voiceovers.

The movie begins as a story within a story told to schoolchildren visiting a museum. It centers on the relationship between three childhood friends in a small Mexican village who are made the subject of a wager between supernatural rulers La Muerte (voice of Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman). Aspiring singer Miguel and his macho soldier-in-the-making best friend Manolo both nurse a crush on Maria, a mischievous girl who is friends to them both. When one of their adventures gets out of hand, Maria’s father sends her away to a convent in Spain to curb her wild ways. As the years pass and the boys grow into men, Miguel (voice of Channing Tatum) has been pressured into bullfighting by his father and Manolo (voice of of Diego Luna) has become the decorated soldier he always dreamed of. On the day Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana) is to return to the village, both men make a play for her heart. When tragedy strikes, though, Miguel makes a grim bargain with Xibalba and must venture through the realms of dead to follow his heart.

While never venturing in to bad movie territory, “The Book of Life” begins to wear thin at the halfway mark. The lack of commitment to an all-Hispanic voice cast really begins to stand out when very white guy Channing Tatum takes over the voice of the adult Miguel, and really gets into groan-worthy territory when Ice Cube turns up as a mythical candle maker who talks exactly like Ice Cube circa 2014, sans curse words. Miguel’s adventure through the colorful Land of the Remembered and the grim Land of the Forgotten take too long to get going and end up feeling rushed. These scenes are filled with leaps of logic and end up being nothing but a retread of a frantic lesser Dreamworks animated piece of filler, which is a shame because the production design is strikingly unique from start to finish. “The Book of Life” doesn’t deserve to be left with the forgotten souls, but don’t bother leaving any pan dulce on the altar for it either.

Gabriel Iglesias – The Fluffy Movie

July 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Although his nickname “Fluffy” has defined him for years, stand-up comedian Gabriel Iglesias isn’t worried about losing his professional identity now that he has shed 100 pounds in an effort to combat his Type 2 diabetes. He’s more interested in staying alive.

“I’m more concerned about me being around than keeping an image,” Iglesias, 38, told me during an interview to promote his new film “The Fluffy Movie,” which hits theaters July 25. “I still got a ways to go. People keep asking, ‘What do we call you if you keep losing weight?’ I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. I’m lifting weights. Call me Buffy.’”

Aside from having to buy smaller Hawaiian shirts, Iglesias hasn’t changed much and is still one of the most popular stand-up comedians on the planet. During our interview, Iglesias talked about how “The Fluffy Movie” is the most personal stage performance he’s ever done and why he thinks dropping his nickname (and more denim shorts sizes) is critical to his future.

I’m a little disappointed you’re not wearing one of your famous Hawaiian shirts today.

Man, you know what? Those things are itchy. On stage, I’d rather rock a shirt with Transformers or something Marvel. I’ll wear a Hawaiian shirt if I’m doing something for TV or a movie. I own over 700 of those things. Chingos Hawaiian shirts!

You’ve done stand-up specials for TV before. How is “The Fluffy Movie” going to be different than what we’ve seen on Comedy Central?

I think all the other specials (2007’s “Hot and Fluffy,” 2009’s “I’m Not Fat … I’m Fluffy” and 2013’s “Aloha Fluffy”) have led up to this movie. Every time I put out a special, I put more and more personal stuff into it. This movie is going to be the icing on the cake. I’m telling people the story of how my mom and dad met and how I came to be. The material is super personal. I’m talking about my issues with Type 2 diabetes and the reason I had to start losing weight. I’m talking about having to eventually drop the “Fluffy” nickname. It could get to a point where I’m no longer a big dude. I’m talking about how my father showed up after 30 years of being gone. There’s a lot of emotion in this thing.

Was it therapeutic for you to reveal all these things?

It was extremely therapeutic because everyone thinks comics are happy. We’re not. We’re jaded. People think if you have money, it’ll fix the problems, but it creates different ones. As a comedian, especially one that works as much as I do, there is a lot of sacrifice. People don’t see that I’m away from my family 46 weeks out of the year. I miss all the birthdays and anniversaries and holidays. But getting on that stage is electric.

Does a film allow you to get a little more animated with the way you deliver your jokes?

Well, there are usually restrictions for my live shows. It’s adults only. I wanted the movie to be something everyone could enjoy. I wanted it to be family-friendly. So, no, I don’t cuss or anything like that. The only F-word in this movie is “fluffy.”

You’ve embraced that nickname for so long, but now it’s time to let go.

Yeah, this is probably going to be the last time you hear the name “Fluffy” in a title. I branded it so much that people are going to call me that no matter what. It’s in everything I’m in. If you Google the word “fluffy,” I’m the first thing that pops up. It’s me, dogs and rabbits.

People always joke about whether an overweight comedian can still be funny after they lose weight. What do you think about the idea you might lose it if you get skinny?

You know, people were saying the same thing about Jonah Hill and look what he did after he lost weight. He was nominated for two Oscars and he just had this movie “22 Jump Street” come out where he’s the lead over Channing Tatum! Can a big guy get small and still be successful? Hell yeah!

You come off as such a nice guy on stage. When, if ever, are you an asshole?

When I drink. If I’m drinking I can either be the nicest guy ever or I’m the guy you should leave alone. That’s my cross to bear. Drinking can bring out a dude that has some issues.

You were in the film “Magic Mike” back in 2012. Since the sequel is called “Magic Mike XXL,” can we assume you’ll be taking the stage alongside Channing Tatum?

It sounds like I’m going to be, right? Yeah, they’re going to make me twerk. If I twerk, I’m going to sell it hard.

Strippers and comedians both perform on a stage, so it should be an easy transition for you.

Yeah, one has a mic and one has a pole. We both put our hands around it and make the room go crazy.

22 Jump Street

June 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21 Jump Street,” “The LEGO Movie”)
Written by:  Michael Bacall (“21 Jump Street”), Oren Urizel (debut) and Rodney Rothman (“Grudge Match”)

At this point it is almost common knowledge that 2012’s big-screen version of “21 Jump Street” should not have worked at all. A comedic spin on a late-‘80s undercover teen crime drama starring a young Johnny Depp, the film starring the schlubby Jonah Hill and the beefcake-y Channing Tatum went on to become a hit with both audiences and critics. With success comes sequels, and when it comes to “22 Jump Street,” what is the approach? In the hands of Hollywood’s hottest directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the answer is a brilliant and hilarious deconstruction of just what a sequel is made of.

Unlike how “Muppets Most Wanted” earlier this year acknowledged the diminishing returns of sequels in an opening number that amounted to the cleverest thing in the whole movie, “22 Jump Street” merely flirts with breaking the fourth wall by camouflaging all of its talk on the nature of sequels in the trappings of another police assignment that happens to resemble their first adventure. This time around, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) must infiltrate a drug ring at a local college dealing “Whyphy,” a mix of Aderall and Ecstacy responsible for the death of a female student. Along the way, Schmidt and Jenko fall into patterns reminiscent of their first undercover assignment, only this time it’s happening in a college setting.

Much like Lord and Miller’s “The LEGO Movie,” the plot of “22 Jump Street” is merely a framework to hang metatextual jokes and references on. There are no real surprises to be had when it comes to figuring out who the drug dealer is this time around, especially when monologues from Ice Cube’s and Nick Offerman’s police captains basically spell out just how the plot and interpersonal conflicts between Hill and Tatum will unfold. The film is a near-masterpiece of subversion – earned by Lord’s and Miller’s box office pedigree – that would be impressive enough even if the movie wasn’t as funny as it is.

The laughs work on multiple levels, from the pure physical humor of Hill and Tatum, the dim frat-boy antics of Jenko’s new would-be soul mate Zook (Wyatt Russell), or the meta-humor maybe a third of the audience will laugh at, like a reference to red herrings or an over-cranked car chase taking place in front of the Benjamin Hill Film studies building.  Perhaps sensing there’s not much else to wring out of this premise, Lord and Miller button the end of the film up with dozens of clips of would-be sequels. While I’d be fine with this being the curtain call for the Jump Street gang, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see Hill and Tatum continue their adventures in culinary school or a prestigious dance academy.

White House Down

June 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods
Directed by: Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”)
Written by: James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spider-Man”)

From the get-go, “White House Down” has to overcome the fact that 2013 has already seen a movie with pretty much the exact same plot. Just three months ago, “Olympus Has Fallen” hit theaters with Gerard Butler as a disgraced Secret Service agent who find himself as the lone good guy inside the White House after it has been taken over by terrorists. As an R-rated macho cheese fest, “Olympus” was a stupid, fun ride with ham-sandwich performances from the likes of Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo paired with the sheer glee of seeing Butler stab terrorist after terrorist in the brain.

“White House Down” ups the ante with a better lead actor in Channing Tatum and more of a buddy-cop vibe, teaming Tatum’s wannabe Secret Service agent with Jamie Foxx’s Obama-ish president for some executive branch ass-kicking. The thing is, we’ve seen it all before…and it was more fun the first time around.

Tatum stars as John Cale, a Capitol police officer with dreams of becoming a Secret Service agent. His current post involves escorting the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) to and from his home, as well as keeping squirrels out of the Speaker’s bird feeder. Cashing in a favor, Cale scores a job interview with the Secret Service inside the White House. Looking for a chance to connect with his politically nerdy daughter Emily (Joey King), Cale brings her along. After bombing his interview with Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Cale and Emily take a tour of the White House where a chance encounter with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) leaves Emily starstruck. During this tour, however, a bomb destroys the dome at the Capitol Building, sending Washington and the nation into a panic. It’s just a diversion, however, as the real goal of the terrorists behind the attack is taking over the White House.

Directed by Roland Emmerich (the director behind “Independence Day,” a film that gets a groan-worthy name-check in this film), “White House Down” sputters out of the gate, taking too long setting up Tatum as a failed family man and cop instead of just getting straight to the explosions. Tatum regresses slightly into the bland beefcake he spent all of “Magic Mike” and “21 Jump Street” moving away from last year, while Foxx isn’t as miscast as the President of the United States as you might think (Garcelle Beauvais, who played Foxx’s love interest on the sitcom “The Jamie Foxx Show,” plays the First Lady here…a distraction to the maybe three people who will make that connection). Still, neither is given much to work with. Plot points hinge on played-out things like launch codes and genius hackers and not killing the good guys/bad guys when you have a chance early in the film’s running time. The PG-13 rating also keeps the action and violence relatively tame. There are flashes of fun, however, like a chase across the White House lawn in presidential limousines that features the president firing a rocket launcher. Those moments are all too rare, though – as rare as the opportunity to say, “You know, that Gerard Butler movie did it better.”

Magic Mike

June 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McCoughnahay
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”)
Written by: Reid Carolin (debut)

Channing Tatum is a beefcake. I’ve met him face to face and can tell you, for a fact, that he is an unnervingly handsome man. Of course Hollywood realized it years ago, sticking him in thankless lunkhead roles wherein his only direction seemed to be “keep being handsome.”

On the surface, this trend seems to continue with “Magic Mike.” Tatum plays Mike, a 30-year-old male stripper living a hard-partying vampire’s life in Tampa, Florida. Mike is the star attraction at Xquisite, an all-male revue club owned by half-crazy semi-retired stripper Dallas (Matthew McCoughnahay), where he spends his nights earning g-strings full of singles by grinding on housewives and brides-to-be. On occasion, though, Mike strives to have a day job, and while working construction he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old college dropout who quits the gig after the foreman catches him trying to make off with an extra Pepsi. Mike takes him under his wing, and a night that begins with Adam suffering through dinner with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn) and her d-bag boyfriend ends with him awkwardly stripping for co-eds at the club under the newly-minted stage name “The Kid.”

Once again, Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) makes directing look breezy and effortless, letting conversational scenes unfold at a distance in one improvisational take while cheeseball dance routines are shot and choreographed to highlight every ab, pec, and glute writhing on the smoke-filled stage. The film evokes “Boogie Nights” without the pathos, reveling in a theatrical form of sexual entertainment (dig those Vegas-worthy props and costume changes) someone like your mom might happily partake in while portraying the performers as a close-knit, make-shift family. Led by an hilariously self-parodying McCoughnahay (who plays the bongos nearly-naked and constantly drawls “alright, alright, alright!”), the men known as the “cock-rocking kings of Tampa” end up being less tragic than expected…at least at first. A late-movie shift toward the dark underbelly of drug use feels inevitable yet wrong somehow, especially after the raunchy fun and camaraderie on display in the first two acts.

Perhaps that’s how it really happens, though, as Reid Carolin’s screenplay is based on Channing Tatum’s real-life experience as a male stripper. Building off his winning performance in “21 Jump Street,” Tatum owns “Magic Mike” from beginning to end. His stellar moves drive the excitement of the dance sequences, and his natural charisma opposite Pettyfer and an always-scowling Horn powers the plot past its few narrative leaps of faith. This beefcake has real chops.

As a man, its tempting to dismiss “Magic Mike” as nothing but a male stripper movie–and the screening I saw being filled with dressed-up women whooping it up certainly reinforced that this is the public sentiment toward the film–but that’s not fair to one of the most interesting Hollywood turnaround stories in Channing Tatum and one of the most prolific, creative directors working today in Soderbergh.

You aren’t going to want to stuff a dollar in its g-string, but throwing it ten dollars at the box office wouldn’t be a mistake.

Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum – 21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new film “21 Jump Street,” based on the TV series that ran from 1987 to 1991 on Fox and launched the career of Johnny Depp, two immature, mediocre cops played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are assigned to pose as students in an undercover program to break up a high school drug ring.

Before the movie’s world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, I sat down with the cast and directors to talk about their experiences in high school, adapting a cult TV drama into an action comedy, and the inevitable fan backlash that comes with it.

First up were stars and executive producers Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

Were you fans of 21 Jump Street before doing the movie?

Channing Tatum: I was, yeah. I don’t think Jonah was old enough, but I watched it with my sister all the time.

Jonah Hill: I didn’t watch it the first time, no. I watched it all when I was adapting it.

Are you aware of a somewhat small backlash online that’s calling this “21 Jump Street” in name only, since it’s a comedy?

JH: Yeah, we’ve been crying about it every night. Uh, I find myself unable to work or get up in the morning–

CT: (Laughs)

Some of the comments are pretty brutal.

JH: Yeah, ’cause there’s seven nerds who watched the show the first time that, uh, yeah…its pretty hard, you know?

CT: What those guys don’t know is that the actual creator of the show basically gave (Jonah) the blessing. He was ecstatic about (him) coming in and re-doing this thing.

JH: Yeah, Stephen Cannell. We got to know him really well and he was really supportive of the show being turned into a film and having it be interpreted in a different way. There’s maybe 10 people in the world who care about this.

That’s probably a little high.

JH: Yeah, exactly. The movie’s awesome. That’s all we care about.

As you were writing, did you perfect the Stephen J. Cannell Paper throw?

JH: No, in one version of the script we had—he unfortunately passed away, Stephen. He was a great guy. We had him, at one point, doing it. He worked in the police station and we were gonna have him [mimes the paper toss over his head].

CT: Aww, that would have been awesome!

JH: Yeah, that would have been really cool.

Did you suspect there were any undercover cops in your high school?

CT: I don’t know. I actually know there was an undercover, sort of, in my 8th grade school. It was like an undercover sort of, like, gang-type thing.

A student?

CT: It was a student-student, not an older person playing a student. They were working in cahoots with the police or whatever. We had a bunch of gang stuff in Florida.

Any plans to keep going with a “Booker” spin-off?

JH: Uh, no.

CT: (Laughs)

There are fans of that, too.

CT: I actually didn’t see that one.

JH: I’m feeling like you represent this weird subculture of 12 people who give a shit.

I do have friends that were, surprisingly, yelling at me about this. I have to make sure they’re represented.

JH: Oh, well. You can leave if you want.

CT: (Laughs)

Don’t worry, I don’t feel the same way.

JH: Yeah. Oh, great.

I loved the movie.

JH: Yeah, the movie’s great, so…

21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson
Directed by: Phil Lord (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”)
Written by: Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”)

Considering the handful of ’80s TV shows adapted into films over the last decade, it’s impossible not to dread the idea of “Manimal” or “Magnum P.I.” finding their way to the big screen anytime soon. Even as popular as the retro revival is today — from skinny jeans to the resurgence of 3D movies — there’s really no excuse for things like Michael Mann slummin’ with “Miami Vice” or the intentional ridiculousness of “The A-Team.” For obvious reasons, we’ll give Jessica Simpson wearing Daisy Dukes a pass for now.

Yet on the heels of these substandard movie versions comes the surprisingly clever and often funny “21 Jump Street,” an adaptation of the TV series that launched teen heartthrob Johnny Depp’s career in 1987. While the plot itself leaves much to be desired, screenwriter Michael Bacall (scribe of the overrated “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the duo behind the deliciously entertaining “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) use the kitschy nature of the crime show to their advantage by mocking its own drawbacks. More telling is their recognition that a “21 Jump Street” movie isn’t necessarily something fans of the series were begging Hollywood to make. With the pressure at a manageable level, the filmmakers toss all logic aside, don’t overdo the nostalgia, and simply have fun with it.

Starring hunky Channing Tatum (“The Vow”) and not so chunky Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) coming off his first Oscar nomination, “21 Jump Street” takes the procedural buddy cop setup and injects some much-needed energy into the tired formula. Assigned to go undercover as high school students to find the supplier of a new hip, hallucinatory drug students are dropping, rookie police officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) maneuver their way through the social network of a younger generation. It’s not just about popular kids and nerds anymore, as we learn when Schmidt points out a group of Asian girls hanging out before class dressed like punk manga comic book characters and asks, “What the hell are those?!”

Like Drew Barrymore in the 1999 rom-com “Never Been Kissed,” Hill and Tatum are forced to revisit their awkward teenage years (Jenko was a dumb jock; Schmidt was a wastoid) and do so with some sharp comedic timing. Neither will ever be able to pull off Peter DeLuise’s mullet, but the hilarious Hill and Tatum tandem is a good enough reason as any to ignore ’80s TV show-turned-movie history and (cue Holly Robinson) jump down on Jump Street.

The Vow

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, Scott Speedman
Written by: Michael Sucsy (debut), Marc Silverstein (“He’s Just Not That Into You”), Abby Kohn (“He’s Just Not That Into You”), Jason Katims (“The Pallbearer”)
Directed by: Michael Sucsy (debut)

If you’re in a serious, long-term relationship, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ve discussed with your significant other if they would stand by you through anything that happened. You’ve probably cooked up the most absurd scenarios ever, promising to stay with them even if they encountered an event ranging from a minor cosmetic abnormality through full-on incontinence. “The Vow” takes a shot at one of those tests of true love, but fails to fulfill its promise of being a satisfying date-night movie.

Inspired by true events, “The Vow” opens with a car accident that causes Paige (Rachel McAdams) to lose the previous five years of her life, erasing her husband Leo (Channing Tatum) from her memory completely. When Paige’s estranged parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) come back into the picture, Leo is left to try to convince Paige of their previous feelings for each other and make her fall in love with him again, while trying to keep her last known boyfriend Jeremy (Scott Speedman) at bay.

If you took the over in the “Channing Tatum shirtless” office pool, you’ll come out a winner. Tatum is good enough in the role of Leo. He’s convincing in showing that he truly cares for Paige, but like with most of his performances he leaves something to be desired on the acting front. McAdams proves herself to be pretty charming in her short-lived pre-accident moments. But once the accident happens, she reverts back to her old self which makes sense in theory, but robs her of the personality she establishes early on. One of the biggest issues facing “The Vow” is the seemingly lazy effort put into creating any interesting secondary characters. The random vindictive intentions of ex-fiance Jeremy are forced and misplaced given his outward behavior. In fact, the forcedness of all of the characters who are foils to the romance make the already weak characters that much more stale.

While the plot of the film might seem similar to 2004’s “50 First Dates”, it is a little different in that Tatum’s character doesn’t have to reintroduce himself to his love on a daily basis. But perhaps that’s why “The Vow” fails to strike a chord. Though Leo goes through the big spectacles and far-fetched ideas to reignite their love, his sense of frustration kicks in and the passion isn’t felt as strong as something like “50 First Dates” where Adam Sandler’s character refuses to give up. After the accident, Paige has changed, and no longer has chemistry with Leo. Unfortunately for “The Vow,” watching someone try to force a relationship on someone else does not make for a good romance.

Coming out just in time for Valentine’s Day, “The Vow” knows its exact target audience. Although it occasionally comes off as sincere, the story is too schmaltzy, the humor is too flat and the characters are too flimsy to stand on their own.

The Eagle

February 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jaime Bell, Mark Strong
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (“State of Play”)
Written by: Jeremy Brock (“The Last King of Scotland”)

If it was possible ignore the inconsistent accents, the hammy dialogue, or the cast full of men playing dress up in 2nd century Roman costumes instead of fleshing out authentic characters, then maybe “The Eagle” would feel more like a fictional epic and less like a second-rate miniseries found on Starz after midnight. Without the sex and the campiness, what’s the point?

Instead, “The Eagle,” directed by Kevin Macdonald (“State of Play”) based on a script adapted from Rosemary’ Sutcliff’s 1950s novel “The Eagle of the Ninth,”  takes itself entirely too serious. With a lifeless Channing Tatum (“The Dilemma”) taking the lead, the whole production feels like a charade in Roman warfare.

In “The Eagle,” Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, a young Roman centurion who sets out with his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell) to learn the truth behind his father’s disappearance and tarnished legacy. To bring honor back to his family’s name, he plans to go out and find a symbolic golden eagle, an emblem once carried by his father when leading a 5,000-man legion known as the Ninth.

The plot never expands from there making Marcus’ search for the statue feel more like a high school scavenger hunt. While the numerous battle sequences do their best to keep the action high, Macdonald’s decision to shoot the sword-weilding scenes so chaotically is a misstep. By the third bloodless combat scene, they all start meshing together and lose interest.

Without any depth to the screenplay and some unintentionally humorous homoerotic character interaction, “The Eagle” is all brawn and no bite. Tatum may have that leading man screen presence, but with a script this weak, his frat boy looks can only get him so far. In “The Eagle,” body armor, a wool tunic, and sandals are about all that define him.

Dear John

February 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules”)
Written by: Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”)

There’s only so much a filmmaker can do to avoid over-romanticizing the film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. While a director like Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules”) has proven in the past that he can create great chemistry between actors (Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron in “Cider,” Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche in “Chocolat”) , it’s not always about the lovey-doviness.

If that was the case, “Dear John” wouldn’t fare so badly. There are, however, intangibles that make a difference in whether or not a story succeeds. In “Dear John,” Hallstrom and screenwriter Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”) almost manage to get past most of the pitfalls of a sentimental romance, but the third act is so incoherent when compared to the first hour of the film, it’s hard to fully recommend it.

The film follows the lovefest between special forces soldier John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and innocent college girl Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) who meet at author Sparks’ favorite locale – the beach (see “Message in a Bottle,” “Nights in Rodanthe”) – during a two-week-long spring break.

The courtship begins easy enough, but, of course, there’s only two weeks to get these young lovebirds to the point where they can’t live without each other. Things begin to progress rather quickly like most cinematic romances. John is a man with a past, although not much is explained about what made him so troublesome before he shaped up in the Army. He lets Savannah deep into his life and even introduces her to his coin-collecting-reclusive father (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins) who Savannah believes is showing signs of autism.

While John and Savannah’s relationship flies by fast, Hallstrom and Linden are able to make the love story believable and sweet enough without drowning it in too much sap. The father-son story between Tatum and Jenkins offers an affectionate element rarely seen in these types of films. It’s a heartwarming part of the narrative mostly because of Jenkins’ effortless  performance, which is, unfortunately, thinly-written.

Where “Dear John” falters most is when John and Savannah are sent on their separate ways. John must return to military duty while Savannah goes back to college. Before they say their goodbyes, the two make promises to each other including keeping in contact through letters. The long-distance relationship is less interesting as letter pass back and forth and the narration becomes more and more like something you would find in the greeting card section marked “Missing You.”

When John proclaims to Savannah that “It’ll all be over soon and I’ll be back for good,” he doesn’t anticipate something like 9/11 happening. The tragedyaffects their plans to be together when John decides to reenlist with the rest of his platoon. From there, “Dear John” just delays the inevitable as the story becomes more and more melodramatic with each mail call. Hallstrom and Linden play the sympathy card for the final half-hour and unfortunately turn “Dear John” into an overemotional and manipulative mess.

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