G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

August 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans
Directed by: Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy”)
Written by: Stuart Beattie (“Australia”), David Elliot (“Four Brothers”), and Paul Lovett (“Four Brothers”)

While video-game adaptations for movies are still finding their way to the big screen, Hollywood has deemed it necessary to also turn more toy lines into feature films. As if “Transformers” wasn’t enough of an unnecessary ploy, welcome “G.I. Joe” to the fray.

Call it pure, mindless summer fun for the escapist in all of us, but where the movie lacks severely is in a fleshed-out narrative and memorable special effects. Still, at least “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” stays true to its original toy soldiers by making every one of its characters is as synthetic as the Hasbro toy they spawned from.

In the film, a top-secret Special Forces brigade known as G.I. Joe (short for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity) is sent on a mission to find a massively destructive weapon that has fallen into the hands of the mysterious Cobra organization.

Channing Tatum (“Fighting”) stars as Duke, who along with his friend Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) become the newest members of the elite military group. Duke jumps on board since he is familiar with the femme fatale known as the Baroness (Sienna Miller) who is part of the evil plot to destroy the world.

For fans who collected the action figures or watched the 80s cartoon, there are plenty more characters carrying high-tech weapons that will probably transport you back to a time when melting things with a magnifying glass was considered the highlight of the weekend. But unless you know the entire mythology of the series, there’s really no reason to start learning about it now.

This isn’t rocket science we’re dealing with here. Basically, all anyone needs to know about “G.I. Joe” is that there are good guys and bad guys and a whole lot of fighting that needs to happen before the credits roll. This includes a tedious scene where about 100 vehicles are destroyed for what seems to be an eternity. There are also a couple of head-to-head ninja sequences between Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) that aren’t half bad.

Overall, “G.I. Joe” is one big cartoon of a movie. Depending on how invested you are in the franchise will make or break this visceral action-pack adventure for you.

Fighting

April 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao
Directed by: Dito Montiel (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”)
Written by: Robert Munic (TV’s “The Cleaner”) and Dito Montiel (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”)

With the sport of Mixed Martial Arts rising in popularity after every pay-per-view event each moth, it’s evident that film studios want to try to bank on the industry while its fan base is bloodthirsty for extra ground-and-pound moments.

While “Fighting,” is less about sanctioned matches than last year’s mainstream dud “Never Back Down,” it still follows the same blueprint. In that movie, Oscar-nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond”) played a mentor who takes a young, hungry, and easy-on-the-eyes fighter under his wing so he can win the respect of his classmates.

In “Fighting,” Hounsou is replaced with another Oscar nominee, Terrence Howard (“Hustle & Flow”), who plays Harvey Boarden, an overly cordial fight agent on the lookout for “hidden talent.” Here, Channing Tatum (“Stop-Loss”) plays the pretty-faced fighter, Shawn MacArthur, who has nothing to lose when he’s caught up in the world of underground brawls. When Harvey offers him five grand for his first fight, Shawn is all in without much question. What should be in question, however, is what Harvey actually sees in Shawn. That tidbit of information is for screenwriters to explain in the DVD commentary since they don’t do it in the movie.

What’s more bothersome about the script is that Shawn doesn’t really seem passionate about fighting. While the tagline of the movie is “Some Dreams are Worth Fighting for,” it’s unclear what that dream is. Most fighting movies pick something like respect, love, family, or survival. “Fighting” screenwriters choose money, which is a mediocre reason to get your protagonist bloody and bruised.

Nevertheless, Shawn fights; Shawn wins; Shawn falls for a nice waitress girl (Zulay Henao) who apparently likes bad boys. It all leads up to a final fight with a former high school wrestling teammate who has a personal feud against him. It’s a plot point that isn’t examined for more than a few scenes and therefore doesn’t make much sense on paper.

But who’s worried about the storyline when there are enough high-energy fight scenes to fill an entire fight card? Actually, let’s retract that statement and simply do a quick play-by-play of Shawn’s first fight in the movie. 1) Shawn is repeatedly knocked to the floor by a stronger fighter. 2) Shawn wins the fight when his opponent hits his head on a porcelain water fountain. 3) Shawn is praised by his entourage for his victory and later becomes “the biggest draw in town.”

Not much works for “Fighting” although its B-movie impression at the beginning is fairly promising. But with a script that goes cold quickly and some pitiful plot twists and dialogue, there isn’t much reason to cheer and no one to root for in this minor addition and major letdown to the genre.

Stop Loss

March 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”)
Written by: Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Mark Richard (debut)

It’s a financial risk this day and age to produce a film on the war in Iraq. Look at recent movies like “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lions for Lambs,” and “The Kingdom,” all of which scraped in some change but for the most part were forgotten with the exception of Tommy Lee Jones’ Oscar nod for the former. What mainstream moviegoer would really spend his or her time and money on something they could see on CNN for free?

Things might have been different for “Stop Loss,” the first film of Kimberly Peirce’s career since she lead Hilary Swank to her first Oscar in “Boys Don’t Cry” nine years ago. Like any negative war story you would find buried inside any of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, the term “stop-loss” is one few people have come across in the five consecutive years the U.S. has been in the Middle East.

That is why “Stop Loss” is such an interesting story, although it’s touted in a most uninteresting way. For those of you who are still wondering, stop-loss is a term used to describe a military policy where the government can retain a soldier for longer than the contract he or she signed. Some critics call it a “back-door draft.”

In “Stop Loss,” soldier Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) has just finished serving his term in the Army and is ready to get back to his small Texas town to be with his family. During his last mission, Brandon experienced a lot of casualties when his troop was ambushed by insurgents. Wounded himself, he returns home to a war hero’s ovation alongside his friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), who has also come to the end of his military service and is ready to settle down and marry his fiancée.

But apparently earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart isn’t enough to allow Brandon to bow out gracefully. Short of good soldiers in Iraq, Brandon’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Col. Boot Miller (Timothy Olyphant) decides that he will send Brandon back out to Iraq once his leave is over. Rather than return to a war he no longer wants to fight, Brandon opts to go AWOL just long enough to figure out how he can beat the system.

Attempting to put a face on the soldiers isn’t enough in “Stop Loss” as Peirce and first-time screenwriter Mark Richard forgot to include souls within the men. Instead, Peirce relies on cliché Texas characterizations (everyone in the Lone Star State wears a cowboy hat, knows how to two-step, and shoots guns for fun) and a skim-across-the-surface take on the real controversy behind this military loophole.

The authenticity of these stories is in the minds of the men who experience them, not in a sluggish foot chase mended together by Hollywood. “Stop-Loss” would have been so much more compelling and convincing if it had been an insightful documentary on these little-known events. It’s a shame to see the topic wasted on such a pop-culture-friendly message geared toward twenty-somethings, who will be the first to walk out of the theater voicing their hatred for the Bush administration and loaded with another talking point.

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