Tag Archives: Channing Tatum

Science, Fiction

Fly Me to the Moon

by George Wolf

Apologies to the Seinfeld/Maher committee, but the biggest problem in comedy isn’t woke madness, it’s people not even realizing when their leg is being pulled.

Remember “Birds Aren’t Real?” It gained real believers. Q Anon? There’s good reason to think it started as gag, just to see just what type of wacked-out conspiracies some folks would buy into.

Then there’s 2002’s Opération lune, a MOCKumentary about the conspiracy theory that the Apollo XI moon landing footage was faked by Stanley Kubrick. The mocking even included much laughing and fessing up at the end of the film, but to this day conspiracy fans cite it as proof of the NASA/Kubrick hoax.

Fly Me to the Moon adds more historical fiction to that Opération lune idea, wraps it an impressive throwback sheen, and then leans on the playful chemistry between Scarlett Johansson and Woody Harrelson for some winning rom-com moments.

Trouble is, they aren’t playing romantic partners.

Scarlett is Kelly Jones, a born saleswoman who’s hired by NASA to get the public back behind the Apollo program. Channing Tatum is launch director Cole Davis (loosely based on Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton), a committed leader who has little use for Kelly’s marketing ploys, even if he can’t deny her beauty and charm.

Kelly’s campaign works so well that President Nixon decides the moon landing is now “too big to fail,” and sends Moe Berkus (Woody) in to charge Kelly with filming a fake landing that can be used for backup.

And Kelly better agree to the ruse no matter what Cole thinks, or else some embarrassing facts about her past might come to light.

Director Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon) weaves some snappy production design into a zesty 60s aesthetic. There is style aplenty, which always props up a debut screenplay from Keenan Flynn, Rose Gilroy and Bill Kirstein that throws a drive-by bone to the science vs. religion debate while it delivers more amusement than outright comedy.

Nice supporting turns from Ray Romano and Jim Rash add to the list of likable elements, but as Kelly and Cole finally get romantic, you can’t be blamed for wanting a little more Woody. No doubt, Tatum has proven to be a solid comedic talent, but here he’s tasked instead with delivering Cole’s tortured backstory as well as his conflicted torch for Kelly, and neither is convincing.

Johansson carries the film by crafting Kelly as a delightful blend of con artist and seductive vamp. Harrelson is a natural as the winking rogue with a talent for intimidation. It’s no surprise, then, that the entire film steps more lively when those two are trying to outfox one another.

Enjoy their mischief, even if none of this really happened, a fact which makes the two-hour-plus running time seen a little more bloated. Still, Fly Me to the Moon has just enough stylish star power to make it a satisfying flight about something that never really happened.

And remember, birds are real.

Romancing the D

The Lost City

by Hope Madden

A romance novelist who’s really a bit of a hermit becomes a reluctant adventurer looking for legendary jewels in a far-off land, with a roguishly handsome man—part hero, part heartthrob—at her side.

No, it isn’t Romancing the Stone. It isn’t even Jewel of the Nile. Aaron and Adam Nee’s romantic adventure comedy The Lost City offers less adventure, more screwball comedy. And more sequins.

Sandra Bullock is Loretta Sage, whose romance novels are known less for their anthropological mysteries than their hunky hero. That hero has been depicted over many book covers by Alan (Channing Tatum).

Promoting their latest effort, The Lost City of D, Loretta gets nabbed by a wealthy villain (Daniel Radcliffe, playing delightfully against type), who believes she can decipher a map leading to untold riches.

The real gem in this film is Brad Pitt in an extended cameo as the tracker hired to find Loretta. The Oscar winner and veteran leading man is just so much fun when his only goal is to be funny, and in this movie, he’s a riot. (It helps that he gets to deliver the film’s single best line.)

Bullock and Tatum are both solid comic performers, but neither is given much to work with in this odd couple romance. A grieving widow given up on love, Loretta doesn’t offer Bullock a lot of room for hilarity. Instead, she becomes a rather dour anchor for the project.

Tatum’s dunderheaded beefcake is appealing enough, but can’t quite keep the film afloat. A side plot featuring Da-Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite Is My Name) feels like filler, which this 2-hour film did not need.

There are some chuckles, especially when Pitt’s onscreen. Bullock and Tatum share enough chemistry, deliver physical comedy well enough, and generate enough charm between them to keep the breezy entertainment enjoyable.

The Lost City offers pretty, lightweight fun, not unlike a romance novel.

Dogs of War

Dog

by Hope Madden

Dog—the new Channing Tatum film about a former Army Ranger driving cross country with another former Army Ranger, this one an angry Belgian Malinois named Lulu—is not what you expect.

I wish that was a good thing.

Because what you expect is likely not that good to start with: hunky but irresponsible man learning love and responsibility from an anxious but lovable hound. And you do get that. The emotional trajectory of Dog is no more in question than whether the two bedraggled messes will make it on time to their final destination, the funeral of a fallen comrade.

But if you are expecting to laugh, even once, you are in for a surprise.

The film, co-directed by Tatum (his first effort behind the camera), makes a number of weak attempts at comedy. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen all of them. Not a single one lands, and each supposed joke is so lazy, so telegraphed and tired.

Dog is a road trip film, which is often an excuse to string together random comedy sketches. Sometimes this works (Vacation, The Mitchells vs. the Machines). Usually, it doesn’t. Certainly, Dog doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities for hilarity inherent in the cross-country trip.

But don’t dismiss Dog as simply a decidedly unfunny comedy. Tatum and co-director Reid Carolin, who co-wrote the script with Brett Rodriguez, use the gags as a sweetener on top of a very dark story about PTSD and living with the emotional and physical damage of war.

What lies just beneath the weakly attempted comedy is an incredibly dark film. Not a dark comedy—not by any stretch. Tatum and gang are not going for laughs at the expense of these two scarred veterans and their collective trauma.

Lulu is every embattled, broken veteran and we don’t want anything bad to happen to Lulu. Why, then, are we so careless with our broken and embattled veterans who are not also beautiful Belgian Malinois?

It’s a worthy message trapped in a sincere, tonally chaotic, humorless, lazily constructed mess of a movie. Dog has merit I did not expect going into it. I wish it was a better movie.

Mythbuster

Smallfoot

by George Wolf

So, while we’re down here debating the existence of Sasquatch/Yeti/Bigfoot, an entire community of them lives above the clouds, wondering the same about us shorter, wee-footed folk.

That’s a cute and clever conceit for a family tale that might look a lot like Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., which makes it even more surprising when WB’s Smallfoot instead flirts with becoming the most ballsy, subversive animated film since Zootopia. It’s a film with big ideas, some generic and some risky, but just too many to juggle into a truly memorable takeaway.

Channing Tatum leads the voice cast as Migo, an affable Yeti who has always bought in to everything his village’s “Stonekeeper” (Common) was selling, including the fact that the legendary Smallfoot wasn’t real. But then Migo sees one, which raises some questions, and questions themselves are a problem.

Migo, like all the Yeti, has been taught to suppress any questions he may have about the stones the Stonekeeper is keeping. Those stones guide the beliefs of the Yeti through the various statements written on each. You might even call them…commandments.

Woah.

Smallfoot raises eyebrows early, but once Migo manages to bring smallfooted Percy (James Corden) back to his village, it settles into a pleasantly entertaining mix of messages, music, and Looney Tunes-worthy pratfalls.

Tatum gives our hero a fine voice (though his singing is a bit thin), Corden is always fun and the support cast (including Zendaya, Danny DeVito, Gina Rodriguez and LeBron James) is capably unique, but co-directors Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig chase too many snowtrails.

Some moments, like the Stonekeeper telling Migo about the ease of deception, find their mark, while others such as Percy’s struggles with reality TV become overly familiar distractions.

The driving theme here is truth, and how very hard it can be to find. Question, be brave, explore science as well as faith. Maybe sing a song. Though Smallfoot doesn’t deliver on its radical beginnings, it finds a comfort zone less likely to spark partisan rancor in the aisle.





Hillbilly Heist

Logan Lucky

by George Wolf

You’re not long into director Steven Soderbergh’s latest before you expect to see Brad Pitt standing around eating something.

Why?

Because Logan Lucky is essentially Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 with hillbillies, which had to intrigue Soderbergh when he first read the script from Rebecca Blunt. If that is her real name.

No, seriously, Blunt is rumored to be a pseudonym for the actual writer, who should just ‘fess up and take credit for this hoot of a heist homage.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets laid off from his job fixing sinkholes underneath Charlotte Motor Speedway, so he puts together a 10-point plan for his next career move. Two of those points are labeled “shit happens.”

The rest is simple.

Jimmy, his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), will bust redneck robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail to help them rob the speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, and then have Joe back in the slam before anyone is the wiser.

Soderbergh structures everything to parallel his Ocean‘s films so closely that when he finally addresses that elephant outright, the only surprise is how often the rubes draw a better hand than the Vegas pretty boys.

Logan serves up indelible characters, fun suspense, finely tuned plotting and solid humor, including a hilarious bit with a prison warden (Dwight Yoakam) explaining to some rioting inmates why the next Games of Thrones novel isn’t available yet.

As Bang, Craig is a flat out riot, doing fine justice to the best character name since Chest Rockwell, and standing out in an ensemble (also including Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank and Sebastian Stan) that shines from top to toe.

Assembled as precisely as a letter-perfect grift, Logan Lucky has smarts, charm and some downright weirdness. It’s a late August blast with more than enough fun to beat our summertime blues.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





It’s Only Make Believe

Hail, Caesar!

by George Wolf

Coen Brothers films can be brilliant (No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man), or not (The Ladykillers, The Hudsucker Proxy), but they’re always crafted with interesting ideas. Hail, Caesar! offers a few too many of those ideas and not enough places for them to fully take root.

The setting is Hollywood’s “Golden Age” of the 1950s, when Hail, Caesar! is the new “story of the Christ” epic being produced by Capitol pictures, and starring their biggest asset, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney).

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the square-jawed, no nonsense Capitol studio “fixer,” which means he’s the one dealing with kidnappers who are demanding 100,000 dollars for Whitlock’s safe return.

But there’s more.

Swimming-pool starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannson) is facing a scandalous pregnancy, singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is having trouble adjusting to his new image makeover, and communists may have infiltrated the studio!

Looks like Eddie picked a bad week to quit smoking! No, really, he promised his wife he would quit, and his tobacco guilt is just one of the issues that makes a regular in the confession booth.

Crisscrossing situations combine for a madcap romp that homages various classics of the era, including musical numbers recalling Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Roy Rogers. The Coens’ writing is as witty and eccentric as ever, but save for two specific bits, rarely more than amusing.

Eddie’s consultation with a roomful of religious elders about the studio’s depiction of Jesus leads to some nice one-liners, while Hobie’s struggle to wrap his cowboy drawl around more refined dialogue finally turns funny after how-long-can-this-go-on repetition and the growing disgust of Hobie’s proper English director (Ralph Fiennes).

Like Fiennes, more famous faces (Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill) come and go quickly, all beautifully framed by esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins, but the parade of glorified cameos only makes the film’s eccentricities seem more disconnected.

Still, Hail, Caesar! is a fine looking swing that just misses. Beneath all the old Hollywood glamour is familiar Coen territory: faith, folly, finding your purpose and just trying to live a good life.

They’ve done it worse, but they’ve done it better.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Still a Magic Man

Magic Mike XXL

by Hope Madden

Rarely is a sequel superior to the original film – Bride of Frankenstein, The Empire Strikes Back, maybe The Godfather, Part 2. That’s heady company for Magic Mike XXL – in fact, the movie should never really be mentioned in the same sentence as those particular films – but let’s give it its due. It is a better movie than the original.

It’s been three years since Mike (Channing Tatum) left male entertainment behind him for the settled life. But he’s bored, basically, and he misses it, so he joins the old Tampa Kings for one last trip to the national stripper convention in Myrtle Beach.

There is a huge, gaping hole in this film shaped like Matthew McConaughey, who was the only reason to watch the original. McConaughey was Dallas, the leader and emcee for the Tampa Kings, and the performance was positively unhinged. This was just at the beginning of what anthropologists will call the McConaissance – that period of unbelievable performances that led to his first Oscar. He does not return for the sequel, and his inspired lunacy is dearly missed.

On the other hand, both Alex Pettyfer and Cody Horn are blessedly missing. I’m sure they’re nice people, but Lord they cannot act.

Another positive change, weirdly enough, is a switch in director. Steven Soderbergh directed the original to be a gritty expose on the dangerous world of Florida stripper life, while the film owes its irrational success to one thing: beefcake.

Director Gregory Jacobs embraces this. Welcome aboard a road trip of muscle and thong, spray tans and gyration as Tatum and his buds hope to pull off one last, big dance. They want to go out in a tsunami of dollar bills and they hope you brought your singles.

Tatum is effortlessly charming, as always, but his posse gets more of an opportunity to show off personality as well as pecs this time around. Joe Manganiello, in particular, gets more screen time in a film that’s far more bromance than romantic comedy.

There are also cameos aplenty, some glitter, some baby oil, and at least as much screaming inside the theater as on the screen. Ladies, calm down.

Magic Mike XXL is not a great movie by any stretch, but it knows what it is and it runs with it. Well, dances with it. And that’s fine.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Patience Waning

Jupiter Ascending

by George Wolf

Didn’t we see the first trailer for Jupiter Ascending sometime around 1998?

It seems like quite a long journey toward an opening weekend, and the film is such a ridiculous mess, you wonder why they just didn’t get it over with and take their lumps long before now. There’s only so much you can fix in post-production.

Writers/directors Andy and Lana Wachowski, creators of The Matrix trilogy, again focus on an alternate reality that Earthy humans can’t even fathom.. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) gets hip to the news pretty fast, when the swashbuckling Caine (Channing Tatum) swoops in on his gravity boots and saves her from alien assassins who’ve been posing as fertility clinicians.

Sneaky.

Jupiter has been marked for death by the evil galactic ruler Balem (Eddie Redmayne), because she’s the only thing standing in the way of his long-standing plan to “harvest” Earth and everyone on it. It seems that Jupiter is first in line to inherit her planet, a fact even she can’t doubt when a swarm of bees seems to fall under her command. Jupiter is told “bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty,” and that she is, in, fact, a Queen.

Your move, Beyoncé!

The Wachowski’s intent seems to be a modern-day Star Wars, but they focus too much on the visuals while their big yarn becomes a bigger yawn. Impressive starships, sparkling costumes and an array of other-worldly creatures can’t hide the sophomoric storytelling at work here. The convoluted plot is thrown at us in hyper speed, as if pages of script were tossed aside to make room for the next battle sequence.

Kunis and Tatum bring one-note performances to their one-note roles, but Redmayne’s effort backfires badly. Though he’s proven himself a gifted actor, here he’s pushed to laughable levels of “bad guy” theatrics. Seriously, people will laugh.

Of course, Redmayne may get the last one with a best actor Oscar in just a few weeks, and Jupiter Ascending will quickly settle into the role it has earned: a bad memory.

 

Verdict-1-5-Stars

 





Trading Olympic for Oscar Gold

Foxcatcher

by Hope Madden

Sibling rivalry, loneliness, competition and madness fuel director Bennett Miller’s award-worthy true crime tale Foxcatcher.

The film follows the events that unfolded as Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz, and later his older brother, gold medal winner Dave (Mark Ruffalo), get involved with sinister millionaire John du Pont, who’s looking to bankroll 1988 US Olympic competitors.

Tatum performs as we have simply never seen him before, a fact that may be outshone by the other two quite amazing performances. Tatum has proven himself a facile comic talent, but his dramatic skills to this point have been lackluster at best.Yet here he brings a brooding, insecure competitor to life in every facet of his performance.

The always excellent Ruffalo is likewise stellar as the more congenial, more talented of the brothers, and the two together create a realistic sibling bond, one as desperate for the other’s approval and help as he is to finally best him; the other a tender, protective mentor.

Joining them, Steve Carell is revelatory as John du Pont. Never transparent, offering no easy answers, equal parts monstrous and pathetic, Carell creates an enigmatic and unseemly presence that haunts the screen. His graceless chemistry with all cast mates creates an uneasy tension in every frame, though his scene with a marvelous Vanessa Redgrave is particularly intriguing.

One thing you can expect from a Bennett Miller film is his meticulous attention to the setting. Miller creates such rich yet understated contexts that the drama unfolding within that environment cannot help but feel authentic. Whether it’s small town 1959 Kansas rocked by murders in Capote or Billy Bean’s world of low rent MLB wheeling and dealing in Moneyball, Bennett shows such respect for the settings of these true tales that the stories immediately take root.

Foxcatcher benefits from his measured touch – from the spare score and the film’s unusual pacing to the embedded, inescapable symbolism he mines of the relationships and the sport of wrestling. It all contributes to a building sense of unease that befits the tale.

Miller may go unnoticed as the maestro behind the weird onscreen magic, but his faith in unproven talent alone is reason to hail him one remarkable director.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Fall Preview Countdown

 

Football, honey crisp apples, leaves to rake – you know what that means? It means the cinema will turn from alien invasion bombast to thought provoking, character driven awards bait. Hooray!  Here are the ten fall movies we are most excited to spend time with between now and the holidays.

 10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Sure, it’s another blockbuster and hardly the kind of adult, autumnal fare you’ll find on the balance of the list, but we don’t care. We’re as geeked for Katniss’s next step as any 13-year-old girl. Director Francis Lawrence took the franchise into ingenious new territory with Catching Fire and we are eager to see where JLaw and team can take the political maneuvering next.

9. Fury (October 17)

Brad Pitt returns to Nazi Germany, but don’t expect the dark comedy of Inglourious Basterds. Writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch) is at the helm of what is being described as a brutal but honest look at WWII.

8. Whiplash (October 23)

The always spectacular J. K. Simmons and talented, young Miles Teller join forces in a cymbal-crashing boot camp for musicians. Buzz for this one is great, and we love Simmons, so we’re ready to rock and roll.

7. Men, Women & Children (October 17)

Jason Reitman made his first major misstep this year with the syrupy mess Labor Day, but we are optimistic he will recover with this ensemble drama about how technology is changing our personal landscapes. Co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) should help.

6. Rosewater (November 7)

Jon Stewart writes and directs this true story of a journalist imprisoned and tortured for simply reporting on Iran’s 2009 election. Clearly a topic close to Stewart’s heart, we are eager to see if he can do at the helm of a film what he’s managed to do with his comedy show: articulate the people’s need for unencumbered journalism.

5. Birdman (October 17)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu takes a break from heady, heartbreaking drama (Biutiful, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) for something lighter and a bit more meta. Onetime Batman, current struggling actor Michael Keaton plays a struggling actor once known for his role as a superhero. We are in.

4. Foxcatcher (November 14)

Steve Carell has gotten notice for an unforgettable and surprising turn in a true crime drama co-starring Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) has done no wrong so far in his career, and we are intrigued to see where he takes us next.

3. Interstellar (November 9)

Because Christopher Nolan. If he’s directing, we’re in line for tickets, so this space exploration/wormhole business starring Matthew McConaughey (hey, he’s been a good bet lately, eh?) sounds like time well spent.

2. Gone Girl (October 3)

Who else would we line up to see no matter what? David Fincher, who helms this gritty crime drama about a missing wife and a husband who looks guilty. Ben Affleck stars, which is not always his strongest suit, but we’re betting on Fincher.

1. St. Vincent

Bill Murray plays the aging, boozy whoremonger next door who lends a hand to the neighborhood’s new single mom (Melissa McCarthy) in need of a babysitter. What could go wrong? We will be on hand to find out.