Tag Archives: Channing Tatum

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

I was a little late to the party with the first Kingsman movie. When I finally watched it after hearing all the rave reviews, I inevitably a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good movie, full of energy and fuelled with sharp humour and one-liners, plus some exquisitely filmed action sequences (the church one in particular) by director Matthew Vaughn (did you know he’s married to Claudia Schiffer?), who already one of my favourite directors because of Kick-Ass and X-men: First Class. So perhaps my expectations were too high, or perhaps the film didn’t quite hit all the right notes for me — sometimes it just went a little too far for my liking with the crassness. I am one of several people who thought the final gag ended the movie on a sour note.

Accordingly, my expectations for the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, were therefore significantly lower. It dropped even more after I glanced some pretty unflattering early reviews suggesting the second instalment had lost the magic of the first. For me, the first film wasn’t magical anyway. And so it surprises me to say that I actually enjoyed The Golden Circle. There was a lot I didn’t like about it, but as a popcorn experience, I still felt it had enough entertainment, humour and fresh ideas to make it a fun time at the cinema.

As with most sequels of this nature, The Golden Circle picks up a little while after the end of the first film, with Taron Egerton’s “Eggsy” well into his new career as a secret service agent for the Kingsman. He’s had a lot of growing up to do since the “death” of his mentor (played by Colin Firth) in the first film and continues to rely on the intel offered by agent Merlin (Mark Strong) and good friend Roxy (Sophie Cookson). But a blast from the past comes back to haunt him, along with a brand new, ruthless villain played by Julianne Moore. This eventually leads them to a trip to the United States, where they encounter their American counterparts, the Statesman, featuring the likes of Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal (Oberyn!) and Jeff Bridges.

It’s a solid storyline that expands on the mythology of the original while introducing fresh faces and ideas. The way the Statesman mirrors the Kingsman is pretty witty, though it’s a shame that we couldn’t have seen a little more of them in action throughout the movie (perhaps in the third film?). The smart gadgets are as innovative as they were in the first film, and the action sequences are generally well choreographed, albeit lacking an iconic scene like the church one from the first film (more on this later). I also admit there are plenty of great jokes — typically sharp one-liners — that made me laugh out loud multiple times.

On the flip side, The Golden Circle is also riddled with problems. The first one arrives very early on in the film: Over-reliance on CGI. I like the camera movements and the pace of the action sequences, but it is so obviously cartoonish that it strips away reality and a sense of genuine tension. The car chase and Julianne Moore’s pet dogs, in particular,  just came across as too fake. Speaking of Julianne Moore, I love her and think she’s fantastic in pretty much everything she’s in, except here. It felt like she was acting in a different movie to everyone else. Part of it is the writing, part of it is the way she portrays the character.

Secondly, there are also quite a few misses with the humour this time around, with another crass idea that went a little too far again and made me cringe (not in a good way). I don’t mind rude jokes, though I don’t think they suit a film like this. It cheapens the otherwise classy feel of the production. There’s also a very famous celebrity who plays himself throughout the movie. The schtick works well at first before he comes back again and again and you realise it’s not a cameo but an idea that has been stretched way too thin.

Thirdly — and I don’t consider this a spoiler because it’s in all the trailers and posters — the return of Colin Firth. I understand the desire to bring him back given that he was an integral part of the success of the first film, but the whole arc containing his character took the sequel backwards instead of forward. When someone can die so comprehensively and then come back with ease, it really takes away from the emotions of the storyline.

Having said all that, I liked The Golden Circle for what it was—a fun sequel that tries to amp up on everything the original provided. I think Matthew Vaughn had the right idea because that’s what sequels generally need to do in order to please the audience, but there were just too many missteps along the way to make it as good as we all wanted it to be. Nevertheless, I grinned, I laughed, and I was entertained. That’s good enough for me.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Hateful Eight (2015)


The Hateful Eight, the eighth motion picture by master director Quentin Tarantino, was one of my most anticipated movies of 2015. Average, good or masterpiece, every Tarantino movie is an event in my cinematic calendar.

And this one certainly appeared to be promising, with a ridiculous cast featuring Old faces like Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, as well as new ones like Jennifer Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum.

The premise itself – even though Tarantino movies are usually more about the situations and dialogue than the actual plot – is also intriguing: a Western and whodunnit mystery rolled into one, with a bunch of nasty outlaws, bounty hunters and gunslingers all trapped in a cabin during a snowstorm.

Still, my expectations were kept in check after some lukewarm scores from critics I follow and a friend who called it one of the worst movies he has ever seen! The film also performed poorly for a Tarantino movie at the box office, though some blame that partly on it crossing paths with Star Wars (and besides, it still made money overall).

Now that I’ve watched it I can say that I understand some of the negative feedback. Tarantino has always been a bit of an acquired taste, though if you appreciate his style you’ll tend to love most of his movies. On the other hand, if you don’t have the patience to learn how to appreciate his style, his films can sour in a hurry.

I saw the general release version, which is a whopping 167 minutes, but still 20 minutes shorter than the 70mm roadshow version. In my opinion, it probably would have been better at about 120 minutes. Told in six “chapters”, the film takes a long time to get rolling and didn’t really get interesting for me until the second half. But once it picked up momentum the film became a well-oiled machine that rampaged all the way until its thrilling finish.

As such, The Hateful Eight was a real a mixed bag for me. There were parts I didn’t care for and parts I consider vintage Tarantino. As usual, you have to pay attention to the dialogue, which is mostly sublime, and the dark humour and racism and violence is of course quintessential Quentin. Tarantino also again gets the most out of his cast, and it’s hard to pick a standout from the bunch. Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen seem very comfortable, as they should be, so I’d probably have to go with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell and Justified’s Walton Goggins.

Conversely, the pace of the movie is often slow – at times dropping to snail-like speed – with the conversation occasionally descending into pure convoluted indulgence. I’ve always indulged Tarantino’s ego and self-indulgence, though this time I felt having absolute free rein to do whatever he pleased may have ended up being a detriment.

Having said that, The Hateful Eight does have its cracker moments, those memorable scenes of hilarious mayhem and carnage only Tarantino can pull off to such perfection. My love for those moments does salvage the overall experience to some extent, meaning I will likely remember The Hateful Eight as a more enjoyable movie than it really is.

3.5 stars out of 5

Magic Mike XXL (2015)


I wasn’t as high on 2012’s Magic Mike as most people were, though thanks to director Steven Soderbergh the film turned out to be so much better than it should have been. I don’t think anyone expected a film about male strippers (supposedly a semi-autobiographical take on Channing Tatum’s real-life experiences) was going to be so dark and insightful.

The cash-grabbing sequel, Mike Mike XXL, is essentially what people thought the first film was going to be like. You can tell from the title alone that it’s much less serious and is more of a celebration of male stars stripping down and showing off their hard-earned abs. The message of Magic Mike is that the industry is not as glamorous and fun as it seems, while the message of Magic Mike XXL is, well, it actually is that glamorous and fun after all.

The premise for the sequel is simple. After leaving his stripping career behind and starting his own business, Mike (Tatum) is enticed into one last hurrah with his old gang — the Kings of Tampa — at a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. The film brings back Joe Manganiello (whose role is expanded to make him the film’s No. 2 behind Tatum), Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez and adds wrestler Kevin Nash, though Matthew McConaughey is gone for good. Also gone is Tatum’s love interest from the first film, played by Cody Horn, replaced by new character Zoe (Amber Heard). Minor roles are filled by celebs such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie MacDowell (looking great at 57) and Elizabeth Banks.

Magic Mike XXL is basically a fun road trip movie that’s nowhere as layered or interesting as the original. There are funny and well-executed moments here and there — like solo dance sequences from Tatum and Manganiello — but on the whole the film cannot shake the sense that everyone’s just in it for the cash. There’s no real story, just a patchwork of events. The characters and conversations aren’t particularly compelling. The attempts at drama and female empowerment come across as forced and corny. It’s one of those sequels some people might pretend never existed so they can preserve the memories of the original.

Strictly speaking, Magic Mike XXL isn’t a bad movie. The actors are too good and the execution is too slick for it to fall into that category. And if you like watching hot men take their clothes off — though not full monty or anything like that — you might have a fun time. It’s one of those films that’s best experienced with a group of people, preferably after a few drinks. If you’re expecting anything more you’re likely to be disappointed.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending (2015)


I wanted to be the guy to tell everyone that Jupiter Ascending is actually pretty good and completely unworthy of the 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Unfortunately, I can’t be that guy. While typically ambitious and visually eye-popping, the whole thing was just too bonkers and incoherent to be appreciated, especially as a once-off viewing experience. I could like it more if I watched it again, but it’s just not good enough to warrant another go.

I don’t even know where to start with the plot synopsis. Mila Kunis plays a domestic cleaner by the name of Jupiter, and it turns out she’s really important to a bunch of powerful aliens in space. Some want to kill her, some want to save her. Falling in the latter category is Channing Tatum and his blonde eyebrows. Tatum is a human spliced with wolf DNA and he has super anti-gravity rocket boots and a projected force-field shield. They fight off aliens and fly to distant galaxies and blow lots of shit up while flying through the air.

That’s an ultra simplistic description of the premise of Jupiter Ascending. In reality there is a plethora of discoveries and plot twists that I couldn’t really keep track of and gave up trying after a while. To be honest I may not have been paying my fullest attention to the conversations.

The problem with the film is that it’s just completely all over the place. The first few minutes or so, which detail Jupiter’s birth and her grown-up life, were quite interesting. But once the first alien appears on screen, all hell breaks loose. People just start bouncing off the walls, shooting blasters, smashing through buildings, falling out of the sky, kicking each other in the face, going invisible — you name it, they did it.

To make matters worse, they also tried to fit in all this convoluted exposition in between, so you’d end up going from crazy action one minute to boring explanations the next. With so many characters to keep track of — there’s a trio of alien “royalty” played by Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton, as well as a bunch of bounty hunters, Sean Bean, his daughter, and many other aliens and Jupiter’s extended family members — I was constantly lost trying to keep track of who’s who, which side they’re on and what motivations they have. It didn’t help that some characters were duplicitous, telling lies one second and the truth another, and people were being duped by secret schemes and nasty plans and so forth.

I also had trouble understanding what some of them were saying, including these crazy winged kimodo dragon-type aliens and Eddie Redmayne, who delivers a so-bad-he’s-good pussy villain with a permanently husky whisper. It’s hard to fathom that this is the same guy who just won an Oscar for portraying Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

I’ve been a fan of the Wachowskis when they were still the Wachowski Brothers (before Larry became Lana), even though their directorial efforts have arguably been sliding in the wrong direction since The Matrix. I like that they push the boundaries and challenge themselves with home-run projects– as evidenced by the polarising Cloud Atlas in 2012 — but this time I believe they bit off far more than they can chew.

There’s simply too much stuff to swallow in Jupiter Rising. The characters, their complex relationships, the unnecessarily convoluted plot, the twists, the gadgets, the weapons, the technology, and all the different alien races. Remember, much of this is sci-fi world building, so audiences have to take some time to accept and digest it. When it comes so fast and furious you’re just left wondering WTF is going on. In the end, the only thing I cared about was whether Sean Bean’s character was going to die. It’s like squeezing four Game of Thrones seasons worth of characters, backstory and world-building stuff into just a little over two hours. It’s too much. That’s why I think Jupiter Rising would have worked better as a TV series, where the concepts and characters could be introduced at a slower pace.

Mila Kunis is as good as Jupiter, though despite the praises of feminists her character is only marginally better than your typical damsel in distress in love with the hunky Channing Tatum. Speaking of which, Tatum’s physical performance is decent, but his acting is still not the greatest. He’s not the best actor in the world, and acting primarily against a green screen doesn’t help his wooden expressions. As for Eddie Redmayne, I don’t think it’s a horrible performance. It’s just that you can’t take his character seriously because of the voice and the eyeliner.

In fact, it’s impossible to take the entire film seriously. If you can forget about everything wrong with the movie, ignore the incoherent script and the WTF moments, and just go along for the insane, CGI-fuelled, action-packed ride, Jupiter Ascending could possibly pass as an entertaining experience. The bigger the screen, the higher the odds.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Foxcatcher (2014)


If you don’t know the true story behind Foxcatcher, then I suggest you avoid reading anything about the movie — apart from this spoiler-free review, of course — and anything about its real-life characters, American Olympic wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz, as well as multimillionaire philanthropist John du Pont.

I know I say that about every movie, but in this case it’s really for your own good. Foxcatcher is one of those slow, contemplative films so doused in melancholy that you know it will either end up turning around into something inspirational or that something tragic is going to happen. Not knowing what will transpire, however, makes all the difference in the world in terms of the film’s emotional payoff after sitting through more than two hours of anticipation.

That’s not to say Foxcatcher doesn’t deliver the goods if you know the background, for it’s a story so remarkable — with characters so conducive to psychological drama — that you’ll tend to forget it’s all based on true events.

There’s the young wrestler, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who has low self-worth — despite being an Olympic gold medalist — from living in his older brother’s shadow and a lack of financial stability. There’s Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), the more confident and savvy of the siblings whose career is tied down by his commitment to his wife (Sienna Miller) and children. And then there’s John du Pont (Steve Carell), the old, mysterious loner with mommy issues who wants to use his incredible wealth and power to build a patriotic national wrestling team with the Schultz brothers as his headliners.

Together, they form a tense triangle of power politics driven by money, loyalty, manipulation and control, all of which takes place before a backdrop of the competitive and often cutthroat world of amateur wrestling.

That description may make Foxcatcher sound like some kind of exciting thriller, though the pace is actually deliberately snail-like at times, full of solitary moments of silence, contemplation and self-reflection. Even the wrestling scenes are intentionally muted so that you don’t get any of that manufactured adrenaline that typically comes with Hollywood spots movies. But the emotions are undoubtedly there, and they actually feel more genuine and amplified. Those who have seen director Bennett Miller’s other acclaimed films Capote and Moneyball, will have an idea of the style I am referring to.

The three main actors have received critical acclaim for their performances, especially Carell and Ruffalo, who received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. To be honest, I actually liked Tatum’s performance the most. Far from just a beefcake, he was terrific at projecting Mark’s obvious lack of self-esteem and desire for approval. Ruffalo was very good too, though he’s always at that level, while I would have been fine had Carell missed out on he nomination in favour of Selma‘s David Oyelowo. Not to say Carell wasn’t great in this, but he still reminded me of Steve Carell behind all the makeup.

Interestingly, after watching the film, I went online to check out what their real-life counterparts looked like. I was surprised to discover that none of them really had much of a resemblance, except for maybe Tatum, though it’s a stretch to call him a lookalike of Mark Schultz.

One of the things about the film that I liked — but recognise others might be frustrated by — is how the relationships, motives and states of mind of the characters are left ambiguous and open to interpretation. Was it mentor and student, coach and wrestler, father and son, brother and brother, or all of the above? And was I imagining things or was there even something sexual lurking beneath the surface? I have a feeling Miller wanted to let the audience decide for themselves so they can try to make sense of why things turned out the way they did in the end.

That said, Mark Schultz and some other wrestlers have already confirmed that Foxcatcher more or less made up the dynamics of the relationships and the character traits of the central trio. For the record, however, Schultz eventually recanted some of his criticisms of the film and against Bennett (who is up for Best Director), saying that he “loved” the film.

I personally found Du Pont to be by far the most fascinating character, and was naturally disappointed that his psyche was not explored in as much depth as it probably ought to have been. That said, such an endeavour would have added more time to a movie that was already feeling a little on the long side, and in any case I understand that the screenplay was based on Mark Schultz’s book and thus from his perspective.

Flaws and creative licenses aside, Foxcatcher works as a compelling yet disturbing drama powered by three excellent performances and the direction of a master storyteller. I have a feeling it will go down as one of the more memorable films of 2014.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)


21 Jump Street, the big screen adaptation of the late-80s TV series that made Johnny Depp famous, is somewhat of a minor miracle. Everybody expected it to suck, and suck badly,  and yet it somehow became one of the surprise hits of 2012, featuring irreverent and self referential humor fueled by the seamless chemistry between the two leads, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

The film’s unexpected fortune is a fact that the inevitable and obligatory sequel, 22 Jump Street, makes fun of very early on, and it goes even further than that by dishing out pessimistic predictions for what will happen the second time around.

It’s the type of humor and wit that made the first film so enjoyable, but at the same time, it also serves as a self fulfilling prophecy — because admittedly, 22 Jump Street genuinely isn’t as good as its predecessor. That’s not to say that the film is not still significantly better than most comedies that get turned out these days. In fact, there’s a good chance it will end up as one of the better comedies of the year. 

Hill and Tatum return has the ultimate odd couple — one physically challenged and the other mentally — who are thrust back into the undercover business because it’s the only thing they haven’t yet screwed up. And so their superior, Ice Cube, sends them to college to figure out who has been selling a dangerous new drug to students.

The central premise is almost exactly the same except it is set in college, and the writers know only too well the pitfalls of such a by-the-numbers sequel. But instead of trying something drastically different, the film embraces its destiny.

In 21 Jump Street, the film made fun of how high schoolers these days are different to what they were back in the 80s, and it also flipped what we had expected to happen to the characters, making Hill popular and Tatum miserable. Of course, in 22 Jump Street, the roles are predictably reversed once again, with Tatum becoming a football star and Hill failing to catch up because of his physical shortcomings. It’s the old “we know that you know that we know what should happen” joke, if that makes any sense.

Apart from this one big in-joke, the strengths of the sequel are almost identical to that of its predecessor. Hill and Tatum have a legitimate bromance; their chemistry and the weight they feed off each other come across as effortless and genuine. I’m guessing that some of the biggest laughs in the film were probably improvised. There’s also some solid slapstick, farcical action, and of course a lot of trippy craziness. Those who understand Hill’s brand of awkward, outrageous and random humour will likely get the most out of it.

The supporting cast is also very solid, with Ice Cube seemingly (I say seemingly because I can’t remember) given a bigger role this time around, and newcomers such as Peter Stromare, Amber Stevens and Nick Offerman, with cameos from Queen Latifah, Dave Franco and Rob Riggle. The standout, though, has to be Jillian Bell, basically a psychotic anti-version of Jonah Hill. Former pro hockey player Wyatt Russell, who has been in This is 40 and Arrested Development, also does a great job channeling his inner Owen Wilson as Tatum’s new BFF.

There are no major problems with 22 Jump Street except that some of the jokes don’t work or come across as a little repetitive, and the unfortunate thing with having such a great introduction (which this film did) is that there is inevitable disappointment when the rest of the movie fails to live up to it. 22 Jump Street opened with a bang, but there was a lengthy portion in the middle — primarily college life — that sagged, though luckily shifting the scene to Spring Break in Mexico towards the end breathed some much-needed fresh life back into its system.

The verdict? It may not be as witty as it thinks it is and the edges may be somewhat rough and coarse, but 22 Jump Street is definitely still funny and enjoyable enough to warrant a viewing. Considering how badly it could have gone, the end result also passes as a minor miracle.

3.75 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 3

That’s My Boy (2012)


Adam Sandler, Adam Sandler, Adam Sandler. What the heck happened to you? That’s the question I kept asking myself throughout That’s My Boy (and every Adam Sandler movie I watch these days).

To be fair, I actually think That’s My Boy is one of Sandler’s better efforts in recent years (it’s not easy being worse than Grown Ups and Jack and Jill). It is a film that will divide and infuriate audiences because it is so politically incorrect, but I ascribe to the school of thought that as long as the material is funny it gets a pass. Sadly, not much of it is funny.

Sandler plays Donny Berger, a 14-year-old who impregnates his teacher (played by Eva Amurri and later on by her mother Susan Sarandon). I suppose this kind of behaviour was less frowned upon in 1984, because Donny becomes a huge celebrity and is high-fived everywhere he goes. Fast forward to present day and Donny has become a bum in need of cash, and his one life line is his estranged now-adult son, played by Andy Samberg (of the Lonely Island fame).

Most of the film is about Sandler trying to get back into Samberg’s life as the latter, who is clearly carrying emotional scars from his childhood, prepares for marriage to his wealth fiancee, Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester. It’s typical Sandler immaturity comedy, and a little bit of it pays off, but most of it doesn’t.

That’s My Boy tries to shock with themes such as paedophilia, statutory rape, incest, and so forth. The obscenity will offend, but I doubt it will produce laughs. The biggest problem with the film is a recurring theme in pretty much all of Sandler’s recent films — it comes across as mean-spirited. Tasteless I can stomach, but not this.

1.75 stars out of 5

Red Lights (2012)


I am a huge fan of the unknown and supernatural powers, so naturally I was drawn to Red Lights, which received surprisingly little buzz.

Cillian Murphy plays a young psychic debunker working with Sigourney Weaver. The pair become drawn into a nasty confrontation with Weaver’s nemesis, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), who disappeared from public view 30 years ago after his biggest critic died under mysterious circumstances. Weird stuff happens, the stakes rise, things get dangerous, and the debunkers become more and more frustrated as Silver seems to be revealing himself as the real deal.

While Red Lights is not as good as it probably could have been, I found myself really enjoying it. Maybe it’s my fascination with the subject matter, but it was interesting watching how psychics are debunked and wondering whether there really are supernatural powers that can’t be explained by science. The film has some tense moments, but it’s the intrigue that holds it together. It’s just unfortunate the script could not have brought out more from the characters.

I liked the ending, but I didn’t love the excessive explanations and exposition that came along with it. On the whole, it’s quite a flawed film, but my personal fascination with the occult made it a worthwhile experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Magic Mike (2012)


So I keep hearing rave reviews about Magic Mike, a supposedly semi-autobiographical film about Channing Tatum’s time as a male stripper. But I reckon people just liked it because ripped guys took their shirts off. Talk about double standards.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film, and I can definitely see it’s appeal, but in my opinion Magic Mike is overrated. The main character of the film is actually Alex Pettyfer (otherwise known as Number Four), a young stud who gets introduced to the lucrative and sordid world of male stripping by Tatum’s character, the titular Mike. At first Pettyfer is shy and nervous working for boss Matthew McConaughey, but as he finds his confidence he starts to become brash and loses control.

It’s the typical coming-of-age, rise-and-fall tale where the protagonist learns some valuable life lessons by the end of it all. So what’s good about it? Well for starters the execution from director Steven Soderbergh is excellent — it’s a sensitive and insightful portrayal that doesn’t sanitize what happens behind the scenes of a male strip club but does it tastefully and without that sleazy after taste. Secondly, the acting is very good, and this was highly unexpected for me because I never thought Tatum or McConaughey could act. The supporting actors are also solid, with familiar faces such as Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), Matt Bomer (White Collar) and Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) rounding out the cast.

Magic Mike is billed as a comedy-drama, but it’s predominantly a drama where the comedy comes naturally from the antics of a strip joint. The film gets darker and more serious as it plods along and ditches the comedy completely before the end. It’s no wonder why I found the first half much more enjoyable.

3 stars out of 5

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)


You don’t need me to tell you that any ensemble cast movie based on a pregnancy guide book (!) is going to suck. But I will tell you anyway. What to Expect When You’re Expecting sucks. Balls. The film is so far off what a real pregnancy is like that it should have been called What NOT to Expect When You’re Expecting.

The film actually starts off strongly with a hideous-looking Cameron Diaz and Glee’s Matthew Morrison participating in a celebrity dance competition that also includes NBA star Dwyane Wade, which was kind of amusing. But everything goes downhill from there, especially as we start jumping around from pregnant couple to couple, each suffering from a different set of circumstances that is supposed to reflect real life.

We’ve got JLo and Rodrigo Santoro dealing with adoption, Elizabeth Banks unexpectedly feeling awful throughout her pregnancy, an old Dennis Quaid and a young Brooklyn Decker, and a young Anna Kendrick and young Chace Crawford. All of them are having babies! And there is a father’s group where a bunch of fellas , including Chris Rock, gather to bitch about their problems. Oh, the humanity!

Aussie Rebel Wilson stole some scenes with her random boganness, but in general the film was an disingenuous money-grabbing turd that had almost no laughs and way too much sappy melodrama, feigned joy and manufactured elation. Don’ watch this film if you have a child or intend to have a child. Actually, just don’t watch this film.

1 star out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 2

21 Jump Street (2012)


You can be forgiven for thinking that a movie version of 21 Jump Street, the iconic 1987 TV series that made Johnny Depp a star, would be lame. Few movie reboots of old TV series are successful for a multitude of reasons. But this one, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, is a surprise hit — mainly because no one actually expected it to be funny.

Strictly speaking, 21 Jump Street is not a reboot of the TV series at all. It’s more of a homage/spoof that takes the basic concept of police officers going undercover as students to catch bad guys and drug dealers. Hill, a geek, and Tatum, an underachieving jock, are high school classmates who become best friends at police academy. They are idiots but look kind of young (well, Hill at least) and are assigned to the “revived” division at 21 Jump Street to go undercover as brothers, though a mix-up has them picking up each other’s assigned identities.

The reason the film works so well, apart from the amazingly effective chemistry between Hill and Tatum (whose acting isn’t all that bad here), is because it doesn’t take itself seriously and delivers much amusement making fun of the whole ridiculous premise and idea.

One of the running gags, for example, is that Tatum used to know what was cool 10 years ago (such as how to wear your backback, how to treat people and issues), but now those things are frowned upon. Another one is how old Tatum looks to be a high school student. Stuff like that.

Not all the jokes worked for me but enough of it was consistently funny for this to be one of the better comedies of the year. The film also had some excellent surprises, especially towards the end, although as usual the running time of 109 minutes felt like it dragged on a little past its welcome. A sequel, 22 Jump Street, has reportedly been green-lit, but I am sceptical that it can rekindle the magic the second time around.

4 stars out of 5

Contraband (2012)


Contraband is a crime thriller starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale and Ben Foster. Marky Mark is an ex-smuggler who has given up the rough life for the sake of his wife (Beckinsale — can’t blame him) and two kids. But his brother-in-law is still in the game and gets in trouble, and Marky Mark becomes embroiled in the mess and has to go to extreme measures to keep his family safe.

Contraband dark, it’s moody and it’s violent, but it also comes across as generic and average. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just feels like there are so many of these types of movies every year and after a while you just can’t remember anything about it. To be fair, the plot is intricate and well thought out, though I found it unnecessarily convoluted. But the core problem is that there’s not much to make Contraband stand out from the rest of the pack.

Marky Mark has done what feels like a dozen similar roles and feels exactly the same as he does in those films, and Kate Beckinsale is somewhat underused. Ben Foster is effective with his trademark wide-eyed maniac routine, and the supporting cast of Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas and JK Simmons is solid. But the performances can’t save Contraband from being the forgettable film that it is.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Grey (2011)

the grey

I wanted to watch The Grey because I like survival thrillers and I wanted to watch Liam Neeson punch a wolf in the face.

Neeson plays a depressed, suicidal dude who protects an oil drilling team from wolves in Alaska, and on his way out of there their plane crashes. They are in wolf territory and he must lead the survivors (including a virtually unrecognisable Dermot Mulroney) to safety. Time for Liam Neeson to channel his inner Bryan Mills (Taken), Ra’s Al Ghul (Batman Begins), Zeus (Clash of the Titans), Qui-Gon Jinn (Star Wars), John “Hannibal” Smith (The A-Team) and Oskar Schindler (Schindler’s List).

Over the last few years, Liam Neeson has emerged as the one dude you never want to mess with, and that applies to wolves too. The Grey is a solid survival thriller that has plenty of close calls and Neeson doing what he does best. Many have compared it to the 1997 film, The Edge, starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, which is about surviving a bear in the woods. I think The Edge is probably the better film, but The Edge doesn’t have Liam Neeson. Strangely, another film it reminded me of was Frozen, a 2010 survival horror about a bunch of kids stuck on a ski lift and then being hounded by wolves.

One problem I had with The Grey was all the philosophical and religious mumbo jumbo that was probably trying to add for meaning to the film but for me just slowed it down unnecessarily and disrupted the tone. The ending was also a little anti-climatic, though there is a nifty little post-credits scene everyone should stick around for.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I know technically this is a 2011 film but it was released in 2012 in most places I know.

The Cold Light of Day (2012)


If you want to be mean about it, The Cold Light of Day should have been a straight-to-DVD movie. If it had been, the film probably wouldn’t have gotten such scathing reviews.

I suppose this was a star vehicle for Henry Cavill, who would go on to become Superman. Cavill plays Will Shaw, a struggling advisor who doesn’t get on too well with his dad, played by Bruce Willis, who unbeknownst to him is actually a CIA agent. Will’s family suddenly disappears after an boating incident, and when he tries to track them down he finds himself in mortal danger as shady characters start coming after him.

The pace of the film is frantic but for some reason there is little excitement or a sense of real danger. Cavill runs around, gets shot at and must do everything he can to survive while trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It’s one of those films where a lot happens but everything feels bland, lifeless and cliched. I could stomach the stupidity of it all but when an action film starts to bore you know something is seriously wrong.

Cavill looks pretty good but he struggles mightily trying to carry the film. I presume Bruce Willis picked up a nice paycheck for this movie but that was about it. The man has become a walking caricature of himself. And Sigourney Weaver…sigh…I don’t know what’s happened to her but this is a performance that lines up nicely next to her role in that Taylor Lautner movie, Abduction.

Having said all that, The Cold Light of Day is not that bad, and certainly better than the 5% it got on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just a fairly average B-grade movie that wasn’t supposed to be one.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: White House Down (2013)


We all knew it was coming, so let’s not pretend to be surprised to see another film about terrorists attacking the White House. Less than four months after Olympus Has Fallen, we now have White House Down, which has basically the same premise and even some of the same plot points and characters.

But is it better?

It probably should have been. Olympus Has Fallen was made for US$70m, while White House Down had more than double that budget with US$150m. Olympus Has Fallen starred Gerard Butler as the hero and Aaron Eckhart as the president, while White House Down features Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx — a closer race won by the latter duo because of their wider recognition and appeal. Lastly, Olympus Has Fallen was directed by Antoine Fuqua, known more for gritty crime dramas like Training Day and Brooklyn’s Finest, while White House Down has Roland Emerich, who has more experience with epic, special effects-laden blockbusters like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Take those factors into consideration and White House Down looked like the more promising film — on paper.

That said, I prefer Olympus Has Fallen, and by a not insignificant margin. All things considered, it’s just better. More action packed, less ambitious and less pretentious. Olympus Has Fallen knew its limitations and stuck to its “Die Hard in the White House” routine, whereas White House Down wanted to be more diverse than just an enjoyable popcorn movie but stretched itself thin by trying too hard.

The plot is straightforward: Channing Tatum plays a capable ex-military guy who wants to get into the Secret Service. His daughter is a White House geek for some reason and they visit the White House on a day where terrorists attack and get a hold of the president, Jamie Foxx. Guess who is the only man that can save the day?

For the most part, White House Down is a perfectly adequate. Tatum is a fine action hero who appears more out of his depth than Butler was in Olympus Has Fallen, making him also more vulnerable. The majority of the action sequences are explosive and creative, though the attempts at mixing them with humour don’t always turn out effective.

My first problem with the film is the casting. As I said, Tatum can do action, but he can’t act. Whenever he’s not running around and has to engage in a conversation he becomes silly. The jokes and one-liners that come out of his mouth feel flat and forced. I like him but I hate him. I have complex feelings for this man.

Even worse than Tatum is Jamie Foxx. He may be an Oscar winner, but he’s not POTUS material. Most of the time he looks like he’s about to break into a rap or start trying to sell me something, especially when he’s talking politics. He’s just 50 shades of wrong for this role. Worse still, he has a much bigger role than Aaron Eckhart in Olympus Has Fallen so we are constantly reminded of how wrong he is for this film.

But hey, at least he had fairly good chemistry with Tatum.

As for the villain, Aussie Jason Clark — he’s good, but the character’s not terribly interesting. Maggie Gyllenhaal is not bad, Richard Jenkins is pretty good, and James Woods is excellent — but when the two leads don’t work the best supporting cast in the world isn’t going to be enough.

Another issue I had with the film was the lack of believability and logic. When I reviewed Olympus Has Fallen I noted how outrageous it was, but at the same time it passed my smell test because there was so much stuff happening that I wasn’t given enough time to process my scepticism. I kept thinking, “I guess that could work.”

With White House Down, however, I kept thinking, “Well that was too easy.” And it did seem too easy how a few guys, who clearly aren’t that skilled because they can’t even take down Channing Tatum, could take control of the White House just like that, and then for the rest of the US government to just sit around and do basically nothing for almost the rest of the film? Often I found myself asking, “Couldn’t they hear that?” or “Surely they should have felt that explosion?” My smell test was severely challenged.

I sound harsh, but that’s only because I’m placing White House Down side by side with Olympus Has Fallen, which I enjoyed more. There are positive elements to White House Down, including a few spectacular set pieces on the White House lawn and the aerial scenes with the helicopters. Some of the humour worked, and despite the excessive running time of 137 minutes, I did find most of the film engaging.

But it was still the inferior of the two White House films this year.

3 stars out of 5

PS: It’s not uncommon for Hollywood studios to green light a similar idea at the same time. The most recent in my memory being Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman last year and No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits in 2011. And of course, there was Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998. Strangely, the film that came out second usually did just as good if not better than the first. Doesn’t look like that will be the case here.

Movie Review: GI Joe: Retaliation (2013)

GI_Joe _Retaliation_27

I have pretty much erased 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra from my memory. I vaguely recall Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller, a couple of ninjas and some crazy hi-tech machinery, but that’s about it.

The sequel, GI Joe: Retaliation, is probably better than its predecessor, but chances are I also won’t remember much of it in a couple of years. It’s a typical popcorn movie with lots of fight scenes and explosions and corny jokes, but for the most part I found it fun while it lasted. 

It makes no difference if you haven’t seen the first film. The GI Joes are some special American soldiers who do the heavy lifting for the US government. Channing Tatum is back as Duke, and this time he has brought along his buddy The Rock, who plays his second in command. Just about everyone else is gone, except for the white and black ninjas (Lee Byung-hun and Ray Park — better known as Darth Maul) and Jonathan Pryce, who plays the US president. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had better things to do but his character, Cobra Commander, returned behind a convenient mask.

The big new addition to the franchise is Bruce Willis, who appears to be going through a Nicholas Cage phase (ie, “I’ll do whatever you pay me to do”). John McClane is just everywhere these days. Here he plays Joe, apparently the original GI, which makes perfect sense given that Demi Moore once played GI Jane.

The story is not important. All you need to know is that the bad guys (Cobra) want to retaliate, and then the GI Joes want to retaliate against the retaliation. There is a big surprise for those who don’t already know it near the beginning, but apart from that the rest of the film sails on predictably.

The highlight of the ensemble cast is Lee Byung-hun, who gets to show off his impressive physique and sword skills as the white ninja. The scenes between him and Ray Park, especially with all the ninjas flying around on the mountains, are clearly the highlight of the film. To be honest I found the other action sequences involving loads and loads of massive guns and tanks to be rather “meh.” I guess I need to be a gun nut (or American, or both) to appreciate it.

The rest of the cast is adequate, save for some sub-par acting by Channing Tatum (even for him). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been taking too much steroids lately and he looks like he could explode with one more injection. I don’t get the obsession, but other people clearly do and he is cashing in on it. Adrianne Palicki (Red Dawn) provides the eye candy and girl power as the token female GI, and her male counterpart is DJ Cotrona (no idea where he came from).

What impressed me most about the movie was its nonchalant attitude towards violence and global nuclear destruction. There’s a lot of over-the-top carnage, dialogue and silliness but director Jon M Chu takes it in stride and delivers it in a tongue-in-cheek style. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the man who directed Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. There is one scene involving the world’s nuclear powers that is just a complete farce, but because Chu just wings it the scene becomes oddly enjoyable. Never mind that a major foreign city is completely obliterated (it’s not American, so who cares, right?).

3.25 stars out of 5