Tag: channing tatum

White House Down


White House Down (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Cale (Channing Tatum) snags an interview for a chance to become a part of the Secret Service but it does not go well. His record reflects that he has trouble committing to projects and seeing them through. It is also the day in which he and his daughter plan to take a tour of the White House. Emily (Joey King) is passionate about politics and it is exactly what they need to have the opportunity to bond especially since Cale missed her talent show performance. But something else is going on. Men disguised as blue collar workers surreptitiously gather inside the White House movie theater and await for a bomb to go off.

“White House Down,” directed by Roland Emmerich, is not an intellectual movie by any means but it is undeniably entertaining. Because the screenplay is willing to be goofy during the most unexpected moments as ludicrous events occur inside and around the White House, it is enthralling in its own way. More than once it proves that a well-placed attempt at a joke or a clever line is an effective distraction from the obvious clichés it embraces. Its goal is to deliver an escapist popcorn flick and it has the energy to match.

What I did not enjoy is the shallow earnestness of President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). One would think that since an ace performer like Foxx is at the helm, the character would have been written, or re-written, with more complexity from the moment we meet him. Is the president delivering syrupy speeches about America’s role in the war in the Middle East supposed to be a jab at liberals? If so, it is difficult to understand if it is supposed to be digested in that way because we do not know a thing about the character in order to make the necessary assumptions. Instead, he simply comes off silly—almost spineless—and I wondered how he got to be president in the first place. Sawyer is no Barack Obama.

The material picks up from the first explosion. The action sequences employ familiar quick cuts to evoke a sense of urgency but they are not done in such a way that it is difficult to tell what is going on exactly. There is a natural flow to the editing. Scenes that unfold in one scene offer various angles with accompanying cuts so we get a sense of place despite the flying bullets, pieces of wood, and broken glass. In addition, scenes that take place between two groups communicating via telephone are supported by dialogue that sounds urgent. The logic may not always connect but he flow to the editing is successful in creating the illusion that the thought processes are practical.

The villains actually work as a team for the most part. Though members of the group have different motivations, it is nice to see that the leader does not simply wait in a room and glare at his hostages while his henchmen do all the heavy lifting. Jason Clarke stands out as the lead underling named Stenz. Since we are given time to hate him for bit, the eventual hand-to-hand combat with the lead character is well-earned.

Though the two share a similar plot, “White House Down” exudes more joy than Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen.” The latter offers a few strong scenes but they are scattered among poorly-lit padding. With this picture, however, the energy is consistently positive. It invites us to have fun but at the same time it is not above having us poke fun at it.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Although not short on energy and defiance of physics, director Matthew Vaughn’s sequel to the surprisingly enjoyable “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is mildly entertaining in parts but a deflating experience as a whole. Pay close attention during the first would-be breathless action sequence that unfolds in the busy streets of London. It is so exaggerated to the point where the cartoonish action looks and feels fake. The predecessor works exactly because it recognizes the line between hyperbole and camp. And, more importantly, when to cross that line to shock us into paying attention.

For an action film with a running time of well above two hours, it is jaw dropping that it offers only three major action scenes. Worse, not each of them engages in such a way that we are invested in what is about to happen. These scenes are beautifully shot, particularly one that takes place in the snowy mountains of Italy, and capably edited, but there is not one moment when we feel our protagonists are in any real danger, that any one of them can drop dead at any second. And if one did, would we really care?

Part of the problem is the screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. While it is too preoccupied setting up satirical moments, which occasionally land, that we do not learn anything new about the characters we are already familiar with, especially Eggsy (Taron Egerton), our conduit into this world of spies and gadgetries, or those we have just met. There is a lack of intrigue this time around—disappointing because the picture introduces the American version of the Kingsman. While the cameos inspire smiles, getting to know the characters behind such recognizable names (Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges) would have been rewarding. What are the important similarities and differences between Kingsman and Statesman?

Julianne Moore plays the villainous 1950’s-obsessed Poppy, a pavonine performer of flawless camp, a set piece on her own, milking every moment for what it is worth. I admired that she calibrated her performance in such a way that it complements Samuel L. Jackson’s from the predecessor but not quite as boisterous. But, like her heroic counterparts, Poppy, too, is not given much dimension. We do not learn about how she got to where she is and why, on a deeper level, does she wish to enact her endgame. Yes, ego is a factor, but what separates her from other maniacal villains?

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is not required to deliver deep thoughts and emotions, but it must entertain on such a high level that we end up choosing to overlook—or forget completely—its shortcomings. But since the film does not manage to overcome such a bar, we thirst for something to chew on or hang onto. Those looking to see a spy-action picture that goes from one breathless piece to another would be advised to explore alternatives.

Jupiter Ascending


Jupiter Ascending (2015)
★ / ★★★★

There is very little to recommend in “Jupiter Ascending” which is all the more disappointing because it is written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. The story is as ordinary as any cliché-ridden sci-fi action dud to come out of Hollywood in the past two decades, the special and visual effects are so overdone that the images end up looking cheap, and the performances barely have any pulse.

The plot is irrelevant but here it is: Although Jupiter (Mila Kunis) cleans houses for living, three siblings from one of the most powerful dynasties in the universe wish to get their hands on her. This is because Jupiter is the rightful owner of Earth; if she ends up dead or married off, she, by default, will lose her claim. A genetically engineered human named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) rescues her from an attack and the two eventually develop romantic feelings for one another.

It pains me to write the former paragraph because it sounds like fluff from a D-grade romance novel. Most surprising to me is the fact that great performers like Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean signed up to appear in this. Did they even bother to read the script? The dialogue is atrocious—often hyperbolic when unnecessary, the futuristic lingo and alien terms sound forced and cheesy, and none of the characters gets a glimmer of complexity. I can imagine a smart and creative high school student being able to write better material than this two-hour dross.

The action scenes, which are supposed to be the highlight of the picture, do not work on any level. Take, for example, shots of a craft moving at incredibly high speed crashing onto another object or building. The impact looks soft as butter because the images, including the background, are plagued with CGI. The artificiality is so overwhelming that we never believe we are watching a real conflict unfold—just a series of pixels designed to look or emulate something that is exciting. It is an empty, disappointing experience. Frankly, I found the images to be ugly, painful to look at.

The romance between Jupiter and Caine begs to be criticized. Kunis and Tatum share no chemistry. The so-called acting is so forced and awkward, watching them is like dropping in during rehearsals. Some scenes entertained me not because of what is happening but due to the fact that I kept noticing Tatum wearing more makeup than Kunis. Moreover, the exchanges between the leads should inspire anger because we know that The Wachowskis can write on a higher level than what is presented. Here, it appears as though they gave up halfway through because the material makes no sense whatsoever or they did not even try in the first place but figured they could use the paycheck.

Sitting through “Jupiter Ascending” is an act of self-punishment. Use your two hours into doing something more worthwhile like reading a good novel, spending time with your family, or engaging in a hobby. It is a mystery to me how this film received the green light from the studio. Right off the top of my head, it is because the Wachowskis hit commercial gold before with “The Matrix” and lightning could very well hit again. While this may sound pessimistic, the final product itself does not give us any reason to react under a more positive light.

Foxcatcher


Foxcatcher (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Director Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” is a strange crime-drama, one that is based on a true story, in that it chooses to tell its story in a muted manner rather than through an expected, hyperbolic lens. Though credit must be given for having taken a risk, what results is a movie that is the opposite of interesting or entertaining. Its languorous pacing does not help to jolt us into paying more attention. Halfway through, I found myself at the edge of boredom despite a curious performance by Steve Carell.

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) gets a call from John du Pont (Carell), a wrestling enthusiast and heir of one of the wealthiest families in the nation. Mark, who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, hopes to participate in the event once again in 1988 and the plan is to be trained by his brother, David (Mark Ruffalo), also a renowned wrestler. du Pont offers to get him where he needs to be and the ambitious athlete, tired of standing in his brother’s shadow, seizes the opportunity. A bizarre symbiosis is created as Mark becomes estranged from David.

I found Carell’s makeup so distracting, it took away from an otherwise near magnetic performance. It is clear that the actor can deliver dramatically, even though many of us regard him as a comedian, so why is it necessary to make him look like the real person he tries to portray? The gimmick does not work because if one were to look closely, one would conclude that the makeup looks different from one scene to other. When it comes to dramas, I tend to focus on the characters’ faces in order to capture their essence and understand who they are underneath their behaviors. Here, we are constantly confronted by the makeup. It is not like we ever forget that Carell is in there somewhere.

Based on the first twenty minutes, the relationship between Mark and David is worth looking into. While understandable that they must spend time apart during a significant chunk of the picture’s running time, when they do get back together, the fascination is no longer there. Their relationship is reduced to a sibling rivalry, at least from Mark’s point of view, and I never felt their closeness, who they are outside of the sport.

The cinematography’s muted colors prove soporific. Combine this with a script commanding a silent, muffled energy and characters who mumble a lot, it becomes a real challenge to sit through its one-hundred-thirty-minute running time. By the final act, I felt unmoved by its life-or-death event. In fact, I just felt glad that it finally happened because it indicates that the film is coming to a close.

Halfway through the movie, I wondered if the story of “Foxcatcher” is one even worth telling. With so many movies about scarred but ambitious men who have issues with their mother easily available out there, what makes this one so special? For some, I suppose, it may be considered as an achievement to create one of the most tonally flat works to come out in recent memory.

The Book of Life


The Book of Life (2014)
★ / ★★★★

“The Book of Life ” is written so blandly by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and Douglas Langdale, the rather unique animation—the characters looking blocky and very marionette-like—is overshadowed by a screenplay that challenges the audience to keep their eyes open. One would think that because the animation looked so distinct, the material would strive to be more compelling or unique, full of surprises. This is not the case and thus the picture is not only a big disappointment, I felt like it was a waste of film.

La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), leaders of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, respectively, make a wager involving three childhood friends. Maria (Zoe Saldana) has won the hearts of both Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) but she must eventually decide who she wishes to marry. La Muerte thinks that Maria will choose Manolo while Xibalba believes Joaquin has it in the bag. Who will Maria choose?

I felt no passion writing that last paragraph because the story is as standard as it sounds. There is no excitement in the story because right from the very beginning, we suspect who Maria will choose ultimately—and she does. And while the script does show good qualities of each man, there is still a lack of tension or drama because there is an obvious and constant leaning toward one character both in terms of character design and what he stands for. We never believe that Maria would ever choose the alternative.

Listening to renditions of various songs from pop culture is like enduring the sounds of nails being scraped on a chalkboard. A tip: If one were brave enough to offer a rendition, it should at least be as good or better than the original material. Otherwise, it comes across laughable, lazy, and out of nowhere. It appears as though a lot of effort is put into making the picture, so why didn’t the filmmakers take a chance and create original songs?

The idea is to make money, right? So let us Look at Disney animated films. Despite mediocre efforts, like Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s “Frozen,” because more than a handful of songs are either endearing or memorable, sometimes both, it made a lot of money. Sometimes the songs themselves can sell a movie. Yes, part of the game is to make money but another part is to get people to actually see the work. The animation here, solely from a visual standpoint because I had not seen anything like it before, is worth seeing.

Genuine comedy, subtle cues, and creativity are drowned by mindless action, from bulls charging at a matador to bandits terrorizing a small town. It is difficult to care about what is happening because we never grow close to the characters. Other than wanting to marry the girl, Manolo and Joaquin do not seem to have a specific motivation that everybody can relate with at one point or another. We deserve much better than this.

Magic Mike


Magic Mike (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a nineteen-year-old who lost his football scholarship, lands a construction job and meets Mike (Channing Tatum) at the site, a male stripper who hopes to start his own business someday. Recognizing a bit of himself in Adam, Mike introduces the college dropout to his team, the Cock-Rocking Kings of Tampa (Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez), led by a former stripper named Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Adam quickly learns the requirements of the job, but his hard-partying ways soon catch up to him while Mike considers stepping out.

“Magic Mike,” written by Reid Carolin and directed by Steven Soderbergh, offers outrageous and funny stripteases, but it barely works as a dramatic piece. This makes the picture halfway tolerable—really shining when sinewy men are performing on stage but deadly dull when the screenplay forcefully injects sensitive moments between Mike making an effort to change his station in life and Mike regaling Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn).

Scenes that take place in the strip club are at times executed with effervescent energy, one wonders why these guys are in Tampa and not Las Vegas. Bomer, Manganiello, and Rodriguez are not given much character to play, but they do make the best of their few lines. Because their characters remain a mystery for the most part, we are barely able to understand the group dynamics of the team. Mike, Adam, and Dallas get plenty of screen time, but that is only half of the so-called family. The film’s dramatic elements might have commanded more resonance if we knew, at the very least, every member almost equally.

Mike’s ambition to change himself into something more than a male stripper does not make a big enough impact. There is a scene that takes place in a bank. It is a well-executed piece because it shows two things. First, despite Mike’s compelling charm, the kind that women swoon over, it can only take him so far. Second, one can deduce that Mike, even though he is articulate, probably has a limited education and is insecure about it. He reverts to acting defensive when he is given reasons why he must be turned down, as if the person in front of him could read him like a book.

The material needs more scenes like this because it tells us about a character without being too obvious. It requires us to participate by weighing what someone might be thinking based on our real experiences with others. Instead, the picture has the tendency to show stripping every five to ten minutes—even though about half of them are not that memorable or entertaining. One might argue that these are used as crutches.

There is a sweetness in Mike and Brooke’s budding relationship. I enjoyed that Brooke is tough and uptight on paper but Horn plays her with a certain level of openness. Thus, even though at first she feels like sandpaper, over time we experience that there is a softness to her. I liked that Mike is the more overtly sensitive of the pair. I could not find fault with Tatum in the role whether his character is on- or off-stage. If only the picture followed his example.

22 Jump Street


22 Jump Street (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Given that I felt lukewarm toward Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s “21 Jump Street,” the idea of yet another sequel—born from only a slightly above average reboot no less—did not exactly excite me. That is, until I saw the trailer for “22 Jump Street,” also directed by Lord and Miller, which showcases a level of self-awareness, an attitude that reflects my sentiment: “Another sequel? Is this really necessary?” I thought then that it just might work. Necessary it is not, but it does work.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) has botched up yet another operation. Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) has a solution: assigning the not-so-dynamic duo on a very similar case that they have managed to solve in the past, only this time they are going undercover as college students instead of high school students. A girl was found dead. It is believed that her passing was due to a drug called WHYPHY—similar to Ritalin during its early phases but has pernicious effects later on. Schmidt and Jenko must find the dealer which will then allow them to capture the supplier.

Although the picture is not riotously funny in every single scene, its constant willingness to go out of its way to look silly or stupid is so infectious, one cannot help but crack a smile through the attempts. However, when the most effective punchlines do come around eventually, they tickle the gut as a feather does to the foot.

A weakness I found in its predecessor is the unconvincing arc between Jenko and Schmidt. That is, how their rivalry evolved into a strong friendship. Here, since they start off having a strong bond already, the screenplay gets more of a chance to play around with that friendship. The “bro-mance” between the lead characters, though overplayed during the second half, are very funny.

Hill has a way of making Schmidt come across so needy and clingy at times that we relate to Jenko wanting to get to know other people who are more like himself: into football, working out, binge-drinking (Wyatt Russell). Tatum plays an oaf of a character but we love Jenko anyway because the jokes directed at or coming from him are good-natured and full of energy. He, too, is good-natured when it comes down to it and so it is impossible not to like him.

Thus, like classic partnerships, Schmidt and Jenko are opposites. We all know what they say about opposites and so the writers—Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman—must find fresh ways to make the idea amusing. Since Hill and Tatum’s styles of comedy are different—though not exactly opposites—the comedic situations tend to work more than a handful of times. I enjoyed that the actors seem game for anything—even making fun of their physiques as well as their past roles in other movies that are considered to be “unsuccessful.” (I enjoyed Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down.”)

It could have benefited from a stronger investigation or more sleuthing. The protagonists are supposed to be undercover cops after all. This shortcoming is also found in the first picture. The filmmakers wish to make the same movie and poke fun of it through a heightened sense of self-awareness—which is fine. But the approach proves to be a double-edged sword in that it is likely to have similar deficiencies unless the writers actively try to work around it. I suppose they are able to do this—at least to a degree—because such a limitation is less severe here.

“22 Jump Street” offers a good time including a little bit of sweetness. It targets many things—from the ritualistic stupidity of undergraduate life and all it has to offer to very close male friendships—but the material never results to being mean-spirited about any of them. Since we are experiencing a period of very cynical and pessimistic filmmaking, that specific quality is, in my eyes, an achievement worthy of praise.

Side Effects


Side Effects (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

A day after her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison, Emily (Rooney Mara) decides to crash her car onto a brick wall. While at the hospital, she, relatively unscathed, is approached by a psychiatrist, Dr. Banks (Jude Law). Instead of hospitalizing Emily for an obvious suicide attempt, they make a deal: twice a week they are to meet and work on her depression. At first, she is prescribed SSRIs, an antidepressant, but it makes her physically sick. Word has it that a better, newer drug called Ablixa works wonders so she requests to be put on it. Initially, the drug works: she is happier, her sex drive is back, and it is easier for her to tackle every day tasks. However, the drug does not seem to be as miraculous as it is shown on the TV commercials.

At least the picture begins with a genuine air of intrigue. Events that leave up to Emily’s request to take the magical Ablixa are rooted in reality. There is something scary and true about people hearing about a certain pill from a friend of a friend’s and then deciding from there that she, too, wants to be on that drug without doing much research about it. I enjoyed that the director, Steven Soderbergh, not once shows us that Emily is capable of going to Google to learn more about the drug. This an important piece of the puzzle.

To complement Emily’s constant state of gloom, a foggy, yellow-orange color is largely utilized in the first half. It is so heavy, I noticed that its tone had an impact on me. I began to feel lethargic–but not bored–and anxious. Partner this technique with many close-ups of a woman who is suffering in the mind and body, it is easy to believe that the protagonist is depressed, that she really does need an antidepressant, a powerful one, to help her to function normally. If we do not believe in her state of affliction, the rest feels like playing dress up.

However, the events that transpire in the second half are less rooted in reality, a compilation of uninspired typical thriller elements. We are subjected to one twist after another. I suppose those who have not seen very many thrillers will find it “brilliant.” After all, not much time is given for us to digest a reversal prior to the next one. But to me, it is simply trying too hard to appear smarter than it really is. After the second or third twist, I did not care about the story any longer. Instead, I anticipated the next curveball, wondering if I could outsmart it. And I did. So I suppose it is, in a way, predictable.

The performances are solid all around. I especially enjoyed Law’s performance as a doctor who means well. There is an arrogance to Dr. Banks that the actor highlights only slightly, but it is there. Combined with his eventual state of desperation and fear of losing everything he has worked so hard to attain, we end up questioning his true motives. Meanwhile, Mara holds her own. At this point, I am used to seeing her playing mysterious characters so that spell she casts has become a product of diminishing returns. But it is Catherine Zeta-Jones, playing Emily’s former psychiatrist, who piqued my interest most. She portrays her character like a wall, so cold and difficult to read.

Written by Scott Z. Burns, “Side Effects” might have been a better movie if its tone had adapted to its mood. The first half is serious and curious while the second half is devious and, in its core, silly. There is a heavy-handed self-seriousness throughout. As a result, only half of it works. We are not welcomed into taking pleasure from the delivery of the supposedly powerful left hooks.

21 Jump Street


21 Jump Street (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

After graduating from a police academy, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), current best buds but former high school nerd and jock, respectively, thought their career would be as exciting as a fast-paced action movie. A bucket of cold water to the face, their first assignment turned out to be patrolling a public park, tedious and unchallenging until a possible drug bust that could give them a promotion. When the duo finally apprehended one of the drug-dealing bikers, Jenko had forgotten to read the perp’s Miranda rights. Due to their incompetence and immaturity, as a form of punishment, Schmidt and Jenko were assigned by their captain to infiltrate drug dealers in a high school and find their supplier. “21 Jump Street,” based on the screenplay by Michael Bacall, made me laugh, although not consistently, so there was no denying that the comedy was there. However, when the jokes were not the centerpiece and the film focused on the investigation involving the drug that killed one of the students (Johnny Simmons), there was a dearth of ingenuity in Schmidt and Jenko’s procedures. It seemed as though they only happened to stumble upon pieces of information which may or may not relate to their assignment. I got the sense that the writer, never the characters, was the one putting the pieces together. This was disappointing because we were eventually supposed to believe that Jenko and Schmidt were ready for real police work. I was far from convinced. If I was watching a comedy show, I would be ecstatic to be entertained by them. They were sarcastic in just the right moments but it was obvious that they were good-natured guys. But if I was a person who actually needed help or was a victim of a crime, I would be very worried that the job, delivering justice and the like, wouldn’t be performed expediently. Furthermore, Jenko and Schmidt’s relationship did not have an interesting arc. I liked that the writing was cursory in glancing through their sort-of rivalry when they were in high school. It wasn’t necessary that we got to see how much of an outcast Schmidt was nor did we have to see Jenko being the cool hunk. What I expected, however, was getting a real sense of the ugly details of their past once they returned to high school. I waited for good reasons why Schmidt and Jenko acted the way they did once they were, in a way, transported to their past. Instead, it relied too much on Schmidt wanting so desperately to be cool, pretty much becoming a lapdog of Eric (Dave Franco), the kid they were supposed to watch in suspicion that he was directly related to the source of the drug in question, and Jenko hanging out with the nerdy Chemistry guys. What the film lacked was not only a genuine connection between its protagonists but how that connection was challenged and transformed so that they could become better friends and, perhaps more importantly, reliable partners out in the field when things got really tough. The chase scenes in “21 Jump Street,” directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were enjoyable, at their best when they poked fun of other action flicks. While Hill and Tatum seemed game to banter and get into all sorts of physical humor, without the relatable pieces to support the punchlines, the picture was only mildly and inconsistently entertaining.

The Vow


The Vow (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

A truck smashed into a couple’s car while on their way home from a romantic night out. Leo (Channing Tatum) suffered a few injuries, but Paige (Rachel McAdams) had severe brain hemorrhaging so the doctors thought it would be wise to keep her in a coma until her brain had a bit of time to recover. When Paige woke up, she had no memory of Leo, including getting married to him and moving to the city to pursue her career as an artist. She remembered being in law school, being engaged to a man named Jeremy (Scott Speedman), and living a completely different lifestyle prior to the accident. Inspired by a true story, “The Vow,” based on the screenplay by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, offered several good scenes because it was able to capitalize on the chemistry between Tatum and McAdams, but certain plot mechanisms were so obviously designed to make us feel sorry for the couple and angry toward everyone else. Take Rita (Jessica Lange) and Bill (Sam Neill), Paige’s parents, as an example. We were given background information that Paige hadn’t spoken or seen them in years for reasons yet unknown to us. When the parents arrived at the hospital, it was difficult to get to know their characters, as if the material wasn’t at all willing to give them a chance. They were so serious, tight-lipped, and stern. Every time they opened their mouths, it was about chastising Leo for not calling and letting them know that their daughter had been involved in a terrible accident and attempting to get their daughter to live away from her husband. Because that scene–and others of its type–was so manipulative, it was difficult not to consider more realistic reactions. While the parents would still probably be angry with Leo for not being informed, wouldn’t they also have felt some sort of relief knowing that Paige was still alive? Since the parents were pigeonholed as villains for the majority of the time, the script lost the necessary complexities in the human drama: the disapproving parents seizing a new chance to lead a new life with their wayward daughter at the cost of Leo and Paige’s marriage and Paige’s personal struggle to put together the pieces of a life she had great trouble remembering. If the relationships had been messier, like life, it could have been much more compelling. However, the film was not without moments of truth. This may sound kinky but I found the scene where Leo passed gas in the car and Paige, to my horror, actually pulled up her window so she could bask in the stink. While most people would consider such a thing as downright disgusting, I found it romantic because it felt real. It may not have been subtle but it was an effective symbol of complete acceptance. If your partner is willing to sit with you during the good, the bad, and the unsavory vapors, I say your partner is a keeper. And why shouldn’t there be more unpleasant scenes like that portrayed in serious romantic dramas? I’d rather watch a well-placed fart scene than a series of monotonous seriousness where I find myself sitting passively, desperately waiting to be surprised. “The Vow,” directed by Michael Sucsy, was at times too constrained by what people come to expect from a romantic drama, punctuated by bright moments when it seemed free to do whatever felt right for the material. Because of the push and pull, the film was uneven but it was far from a mess.

Haywire


Haywire (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) thought she was safe in a diner, at least for a while, until she looked outside and saw Aaron (Channing Tatum) approaching. He took a seat in front of her and commanded her to get inside the car. Mallory was not to be persuaded this way. After she mentioned Barcelona, Dublin, and the name Paul, Aaron realized he had no choice but to force her, through extreme violence, despite customers watching. We needn’t worry, though, because Mallory Kane was a former Marine. As a private contractor, she was more than capable of defending herself against colleagues about twice her size. “Haywire,” written by Lem Dobbs, had a simple plot yet quite labyrinthine at the same time because we were dropped in the middle of whatever was going on and we didn’t have a clear understanding of the characters’ motivations. Two-thirds of the picture focused on a flashback sequence involving two assignments in Barcelona and Dublin, respectively: the extraction of a kidnapped Chinese man (Anthony Brandon Wong), in which Mallory was the leader of the on-site operation, and Mallory serving as an escort of a British agent (Michael Fassbender). As pieces fell into place and the plot made more sense, the film was still able to keep a high level of excitement and mystery. Perhaps it was because the fight and flight scenes were equally compelling. Whenever Mallory faced an enemy and both had to inflict incredible amount of pain to each other, there was a lack of score. The sounds–heavy blows delivered to the body, furnitures cracking due to uneven distribution of forces, posh glass breaking–were magnified and they made the visual experience much more visceral. At one point, I found myself wanting to get up and engage in a one-sided fight against a punching bag. It was a great decision to allow the one-on-one matches to play out. Most of the time, Mallory’s enemies were experienced fighters so I found it believable that it would take time for one of them to make a critical error or reach exhaustion. The escape scenes were quite impressive, too. Mallory’s stint in attempting to evade a tracker in the streets of Dublin was almost suspenseful on a Hitchcockian level: a beautiful woman in a foreign country suspecting that a stranger was observing her from afar and following wherever she went. The chaos that Mallory experienced was complemented against the chaos happening under the jurisdiction of Coblenz (Michael Douglas), an influential United States official for various discrete operations. Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) and Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) were the puppeteers of the game, the reason why Mallory seemed to have gone rogue. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Haywire” was at times weighed down by desultory technical artistry. Most of the scenes were in color but select scenes were in black and white. I found it inconsistent and I got the impression that the director was trying too hard. Nevertheless, the film was fun due to its energy and well-choreographed duels. It doesn’t require much brain power to sit there and watch it all unfold.

Dear John


Dear John (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) and John (Channing Tatum) met over Spring Break and it was love at first sight. Savannah had dreams of opening her own summer camp one day, while John was a soldier who felt like the battlefield was more like his home. In the early stages of their relationship, they promised to write letters to each other and tell each other everything. But over the years, their love for one another (at least from a romantic angle) dissipated because of distance and circumstances. Or maybe they just matured emotionally. I didn’t read Nicholas Sparks’ novel from which the picture was based on but I think the movie was strong as a stand alone. I understand why people (especially fans of the novel) didn’t like the picture either because it didn’t remain loyal enough to its source or they expected that they were in for a typical romantic movie but it turned out to be a depressing journey. But that’s what I liked about it–it still had elements of sappy romance but it was very sad in its core because the characters made certain decisions which they could never take back. I’ve forgotten that Seyfried was the hilariously clueless girl from “Mean Girls” and Tatum was an actor I didn’t particularly care for. I was invested in their characters and by the end of the movie, I wanted to know what would happen next. I loved watching the characters change over the years and I believed every major change that happened in their lives. Savannah changed from an idealistic young woman seemingly ready to tackle the world to someone who became sort of defeated and almost closed down. Even though we didn’t see her go through difficult times in her life, the way Seyfried played her character made it unnecessary. Meanwhile, John changed from somebody who would rather surf and not talk to anybody (basically, your stereotypical stoic man) to making a real effort in connecting with his autistic father (Richard Jenkins). Although I didn’t care much about the scenes in the army, there were real touching moments especially when John explained to Savannah, through handwritten letters, why he was like a coin and why his relationship with his father was so strained. Fans of movies like “The Notebook” will most likely be disappointed because “Dear John” is not as romantic. In a way, “Dear John” is more of a story of friendship than a story of lovers. I enjoyed “Dear John” because it was so different from what I expected and it had an honesty that made it feel like I was watching a relationship based on something that could potentially happen in real life.

Step Up 2 the Streets


Step Up 2 the Streets (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Jon Chu directs the sequel for “Step Up” and I must say that although the dancing was much more incredible than the first, the story did not quite hold up. Briana Evigan decides to audition to attend Maryland School of the Arts with the help of Channing Tatum (a more than welcome return). In the school, she meets a geeky kid (Adam G. Sevani) who has a passion for dancing but decides not to pursue it because he doesn’t think he’s good enough and an all-star charming guy (Robert Hoffman) who’s sick of the school’s way of structuring/limiting certain styles of dancing. Evigan and Hoffman team up and gather outcasts who have a talent for dancing in order to compete in The Streets, an underground hip-hop battle of dance. Aside from the first scene when Tatum reprises his role to pass the torch (and for the audiences to find out what happened to him after the first film) and the final dance scene in the rain, the rest of it was pretty weak. The dialogue was laughable because even though it makes fun of pop culture such as “The Hills” and the “High School Musical” franchise, they resort to the same type of drama that defined such references. So, in a way, the sequel’s jokes worked against itself. Other than the two leads, we didn’t really get to know who the outcasts were outside of their stereotypes. Although they might have said one funny line or two, they were still one-dimensional. I almost wished that the picture could have focused more on the relationship between Evigan and the strict dance professor who wanted to mold her talents (Will Kemp). I felt like there could have been a two-way street connection between the two to highlight the fact that there are teachers out there who truly care for their students. That would have been a much better film because such an issue is concrete and universally relevant. The bit about the rivalry between groups felt too forced at times. Still, if one is in the mood to see impressive dancing, then by all means, see it. If one cares more about the story, I suggest to watch its predecessor instead.

Step Up


Step Up (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

There’s something about dance movies that initially repel me from watching them, but when I actually give them a chance I can’t help but get engaged. “Step Up,” directed by Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses,” “The Proposal”), tells the story of Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) who gets community service for vandalizing the props of a school for the arts (along with two of his friends–Damaine Radcliff and De’Shawn Washington). Initially assigned to mop the floors, take out the garbage and fix knickknacks, he decides to help out a girl (Jenna Dewan) named Nora for her Senior project after her partner gets a sprained ankle. What initially starts out to be a typical dance movie becomes a story about lower class people striving to be something so much more. I noticed it change gears somewhere in the middle and I liked it that much more. I like the fact that instead of the students from the school making fun of others outside of their bubble, it’s the people from the outside who have prejudice toward the students. Typically, it’s shown as the other way around so I found that to be refreshing. I thought it was also a good move by the movie to recognize that most of the students in the art school are not rich, like most college students, in fact, they’re on financial aid or scholarships and they have to work their butt off to earn their place. I couldn’t be any more wrong when I thought that this was just going to be another one of those movies that glorify dancing and being “gangster” and nothing else. It’s actually pretty thoughtful and it presented characters going through pivotal moments in their lives. I also enjoyed watching the supporting characters such as Mario as an aspiring musician/DJ, Drew Sidora as Dewan’s energetic friend and Rachel Griffiths as the art school’s director. Overall, I liked “Step Up” because it surpassed my expectations and it made me want to, strangely enough, dance.