Watch: #ChanningTatum and The Boys are Back to the Grind in #MagicMikeXXL Trailer

Magic Mike XXL Poster

The success of 2012’s Magic Mike (yes, it really has been three years) virtually guaranteed that a sequel would be made, whether anyone wanted it or not. I’m thinking that the same audiences that made the first one such a surprise hit, are gonna want to get in on this action as well.
What’s not to like? Most of the same ingredients have been reassembled, namely Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash, plus a few tweaks have been made that at first blush would appear to be for the better. One, no Alex Pettyfer. Thank you, sweet baby jeebus. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I’m pretty sure his abs were chiseled from wood – which would explain his acting. Ditto Cody Horn.
I’ll miss Matthew McConaughey, but he’s now an Academy Award winner. The price to get him to take off his shirt has probably quadrupled since then. Steven Soderbergh isn’t directing, but his presence will still be felt. He’s on board as executive producer, overseeing his long-time assistant director and producing-partner, Greg Jacobs at the helm.
The additions should be fun. In the trailer below we get a glimpse of Elizabeth Banks, Andie Macdowell and Jada Pinkett Smith, who seems to be doing a riff on her “Gotham” character, Fish Mooney (but I could be wrong). Who we don’t see, at least I didn’t see them (I might have to watch it a few more times *cough*) are terpsichorean newcomers Donald Glover and Michael Strahan.
Feast yer peepers on this:

While it would be so easy to dismiss Magic Mike XXL as just more voyeuristic, stereotypical piffle, that would be missing the point. It is voyeuristic and somewhat stereotypical, but the film knows it. No one is taking themselves too seriously here. Everyone is in on the joke. Let’s face it, these boys need an outlet to show off the fruits of all of that hard work and long hours put in at the gym. Tatum-tot is never going to be known as a great thespian. He knows where his strengths lie. The original Magic Mike was conceived by Tatum and written by his producting-partner, Reid Carolin and it was based on his own real experiences. This time around he and Carolin co-wrote the script as well as produced. And Joe Manganiello can only cash in on his guns and pecs for so long, before the Werewolf thing is a distant memory and he gets too long in the tooth. Where else, and by whom, are these guys going to get the unrestrained adoration they crave on so grand a scale as a wide release motion picture shown on the big screen with audiences cloaked in the anonymity of a darkened theater, free to drool at their leisure without worrying about going home covered in body glitter, and the only dollar bills they’ve parted with paid for a ticket and popcorn?

And given that 95% of what Hollywood produces is still aimed at 18-25 year old straight man-boys, I think the rest of us have earned this.

The question now will be, where do they go from here?  There is only one way to up this ante. If Magic Mike XXL is the hit I predict it will be, the 3rd installment will be in 3D…in IMAX.

Magic Mike XXL, which also stars Amber Heard, Stephen “Twitch” Boss, and Gabriel Iglesias, starts its strut across the globe in the US on July 1 and the UK on 3rd July.

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Oscar Nominations 2015: The Fallout

Oscars, nominations, Academy Awards, AMPAS, poster, Neil Patrick Harris

This morning, Thursday January 15, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (along with a somnambulant Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, and Alfonso Cuarón) stood on a mountain top (okay a stage) to hand down that august body’s nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards. Given the complete hodge-podge and mishmash of this year’s list of nominees, seemingly culled together by blind monkeys banging away at keyboards, I can understand why they do it at the arse-crack of dawn (at least for those on the West Coast). They’re hiding under the cover of darkness.

I have to say I’m not really all that shocked by who was nominated, but rather surprised, puzzled and, yes, a little pissed-off, by who wasn’t.

One step forward and two steps back: last year I fantasized about more than one person of color being nominated for Best Actor. This pipe-dream was unfullfilled, but at least one black actor not named Denzel managed to slip past the color barrier (Chiwetel Ejiorfor), even if they did ultimately hand the prize to the middle-aged white guy. I was left with the thought that perhaps a corner had been turned and that in subsequent years we would begin to see nominees more reflective of the culture. This year is not one of those years.

Despite a mesmorizing performance by David Oyelowo as the man known as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (rather than a two-dimensional bold-faced type legend) in Selma, for which he received nothing but glowing reviews, the actor did not receive an Academy Award nomination. Neither did the film’s director Ava DuVernay, who until a week ago when the Director’s Guild also snubbed her, had been favorited to become the first African-American female director nominated.

Back when I began ruminating on the subject, I had thought that Oyelowo might just snatch the Oscar most were then already giving to Benedict Cumberbatch, the way I so desperately wanted Ejiofor to get the Oscar he so richly deserved, instead of the anointed Matthew McConaughey. (Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of both Ben and Matty, as you well know, but the award is for Best Performance, not body of work or for being an all-around brilliant actor/charming human.) Now of course, Oyelowo was ignored and Cumberbatch will almost certainly lose to either Eddie Redmayne or (more likely in this arena) Michael Keaton.

If Oyelowo was too dark for them or they couldn’t pronounce his name (O-yellow-o, and he’s been around long enough for people to get it right), the Academy could have opted for the equally deserving Guatemalan/Cuban actor, Oscar Isaac. When are they going to recognize this man? Bradley Cooper has been nominated three years in a row! After the egregious omission of Isaac’s name on last year’s list for Inside Llewyn Davis, I should have been prepared. A Most Violent Year (which incidentally included David Oyelowo in a fantastic supporting performance) probably wasn’t seen by enough voting members. I know the National Board of Review doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the film’s win should at least have put it on the radar. Maybe Isaac is just too good…like his costar Jessica Chastain (also denied after a year that also included The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Miss Julie and Interstellar). When we expect greatness, perhaps it’s not as likely to be rewarded? No, that can’t be right. Otherwise how the hell does one explain Meryl Streep? She made a movie? BAM! here’s a nomination!

Even if the Academy can only see white, I’m puzzled by the representatives it chose. As I mentioned on Facebook, I am a fan of both Steve Carrell and Bradley Cooper, but fake noses and weight gain/loss need to stop being reasons for nominations, let alone wins (Nicole Kidman and Matty again, respectively). I love you both, I do, but neither of you were better than Oyelowo or Isaac or Ralph Fiennes or Tom Hardy or Timothy Spall or Jake Gyllenhaal, all of whom are more deserving. JMHO.

So, moving on to Best Actress, the race boils down to Julianne Moore and four other white women. Doesn’t matter which ones. Moore, an exceptionally talented actress who has never won, has already been chosen for her role in Still Alice, a film 99.9% of the country has not had a chance to see yet. Another weird and mystical Oscar phenomenon, this one has plucked Moore’s name from the magic hat, while leaving two other actresses, Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Chastain, both in similar situations, in the lurch.  (Cake, like Still Alice has not opened yet here in Boston, a city which is usually on the 2nd rollout tier right behind NY & LA. A Most Violent Year, which I was lucky enough to see last summer, opens this weekend) Then there’s Golden Globe winner Amy Adams. Adams was, up until this morning, thought to be in a horserace with Moore. Like Moore she’s been nominated many times before, but has never won. Not even nominated. Some pundits are putting it down to the fact that reviews for Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes were decidedly mixed, even while Adams was praised, and that “it wouldn’t be worth nominating her again if she wasn’t going to take the prize”*.  Adams might disagree.

It is nice that Rosamund Pike got a nod for Gone Girl, though she’s apparently meant to carry the banner for the entire film which failed to get recognition for director David Fincher, screenwriter Gillian Flynn, or costar Ben Affleck. (Hell, I thought they’d at least nominate the Oscars’ telecast host, Neil Patrick Harris for Best Supporting Actor. He was worthy and that would have made good tv.) I adore Marion Cotillard, but her nomination was a surprise, especially for a French film that while it’s received a lot of critical praise, no one not on a list for Academy screeners has seen. However, she could have been nominated for The Immigrant and I’d have been happy, so I won’t quibble here. The category is rounded out by Reese Witherspoon and Felicity Jones, to absolutely no one’s surprise.

Best Supporting Actor does happen to include some truly great performances, including Edward Norton in Birdman and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, but as much as I love Mark Ruffalo, I think Channing Tatum gave the better supporting performance in Foxcatcher. And anyone who knows me, knows that it is no small thing for me to praise Tatum-tot.  And don’t get me started on Robert Duvall. Another nomination for longevity.

On the distaff side, Laura Dern came out of left field to pick up her first nomination since 1992 (for Rambling Rose), after being forgotten by the Golden Globes and SAG. Keira Knightley, Emma Stone and Meryl Streep were all Globe nominated, as was Patricia Arquette, the Globe winner receiving her first Academy nomination for a film in which she gets to age twelve years on camera. Nice choices, but what a nice surprise it would have been if Tilda Swinton‘s name had been called this morning for Snowpiercer. (Although why her performance in Only Lovers Left Alive has not been part of the conversation is beyond me. Same reason Tom Hardy hasn’t been, I guess.)

There is so much head-scratching to be done over today’s announcement that I’m making myself dizzy.  Where’s JC Chandor for Best Screenplay, let alone director or Best Picture? And where’s Christopher Nolan? Remember when the interwebz declared the race over before it had even begun and Interstellar would be the winner? I don’t care what the science means and whether or not it’s realistic, it wasn’t nearly as confusing as Inception and it had the heart missing from most cold and earnest sci-fi extravaganzas.

For some odd reason, there are only eight Best Picture nods this year, when there can be as many as ten. As you can probably guess, I’m very pleasantly surprised that The Grand Budapest Hotel is among them, but the question is begged, how then, did Selma wind up as one of them?“ It’s only the fourth movie to be so nominated without first having been nominated by any of the major guilds:  the Producers Guild, the Writers Guild (for which it was ineligible), the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. The only other bone the film received was Best Original Song, a surprise to no one. This is a film that not only directed itself (like fellow Best Pic nominee American Sniper), but it also wrote itself and was acted by holograms. And then there’s Bennett Miller, who got a Director nomination, but what does that mean if his film, Foxcatcher, did not? What, exactly, is his achievement other than directing Carrell and Ruffalo to nominations of their own?

Ironically, I’m watching as I type this, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writer/directors of The Lego Movie, accept the Critics Choice Award for Best Animated Feature. It’s ironic because while this movie has been hailed audiences and critics alike and was widely expected to take the Oscar, was not even nominated for one! (Admittedly, I will root for How to Train Your Dragon 2 for sentimental reasons as well as the fact that it’s a damn fine film.)

Another bit of irony, the above mentioned group just handed the aforementioned un-nominated Jessica Chastain its first ever “MVP Award” because of the four extraordinary performances she gave this year.  She is the epitome of class and grace, something the Academy could use some more of.

Of course, none of the above grousing means I won’t be eagerly awaiting my high holy day and preparing by watching with bated breath the SAG and BAFTA awards shows.  I’ll be back before February 22 with my predictions. (I went 23 for 24 last year, so I have a lot to live up to, even if only in my own mind LOL) We all need time to see all of those live action and animated shorts.

Here’s the complete list of nominees:

BEST PICTURE

American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

BEST ACTOR

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

American Sniper, Jason Hall

The Imitation Game, Graham Moore

Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten

Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo

Boyhood, Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness

Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Birdman (The Unexpected Virute of Ignorance), Emmanuel Lubezki

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert D. Yeoman

Ida, (Ryszard Lenczweski and Lukasz Zal

Mr. Turner, Dick Pope

Unbroken, Roger Deakins

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero

Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges

Into the Woods, Colleen Atwood

Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran

Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard

BEST FILM EDITING

American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary Roach

Boyhood, Sandra Adair

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling

The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg

Whiplash, Tom Cross

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)

The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)

Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)

Mr. Turner (Gary Yershon)

The Theory of Everything (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

“Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie

“Glory” from Selma

“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen; Anna Pinnock)

The Imitation Game (Maria Djurkovic; Tatiana Macdonald)

Interstellar (Nathan Crowley; Gary Fettis, Paul Healy)

Into the Woods (Dennis Gassner; Anna Pinnock)

Mr. Turner (Suzie Davies; Charlotte Watts)

BEST SOUND EDITING

American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Interstellar

Unbroken

BEST SOUND MIXING

American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Interstellar

Unbroken

Whiplash

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Guardians of the Galaxy

Interstellar

X-Men: Days of Future Past

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Big Hero 6

The Boxtrolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Song of the Sea

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón; Argentina)

Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze; Estonia)

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako; Mauritania)

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski; Poland)

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev; Russia)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM

CITIZENFOUR

Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days in Vietnam

The Salt of the Earth

Virunga

BEST DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Joanna

Our Curse

The Reaper

White Earth

BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

The Bigger Picture

The Dam Keeper

Feast

Me and My Moulton

A Single Life

BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

Aya

Boogaloo and Graham

Butter Lamp

Parvaneh

The Phone Call

* Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh

Catching Up Before We Find Olympus Has Fallen

The last Gerard Butler movie that I discussed at this address was Coriolanus. There wasn’t a lot to talk about in the Land of Butler for many moons, but after a long drought, last fall we were given Chasing Mavericks and then in short order, Playing for Keeps, both of which I championed prior to their theatrical runs, elsewhere. It’s fitting that we talk about them here, now, as they’re both due to be released on dvd within the next few weeks.

Let’s start with Chasing Mavericks in which newcomer Jonny Weston played real-life surfing legend Jay Moriarty and Gerard Butler played his mentor, Rick “Frosty” Hesson.

By now, even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ve seen myriad interviews and reviews. Once again I’m struck by the disconnect between what those who are paid to view and review movies think and what the movie-going public actually likes. While I don’t always agree with public sentiment, on this film I do. 77% of the Rotten Tomatoes crowd liked this movie a lot, while only 32% of critics did.

Let me offer my completely biased opinion on this one. As far as inspirational stories go, despite the fact that you may think you know the tale (and cynics will tell you that is the case), this one has managed to sidestep a lot, not all, of the usual hackneyed, movie-of-the-week, traps. Of course it does tick some of those boxes – Absent father: check, Neglectful mother: check, Girl-Next-Door: check, etc.

But, instead of focusing on the fact that it contains a lot of clichés found in other inspirational sports movies (Is it cliché if it’s true? The fact that certain elements are part of the true story is the reason someone wanted to film it in the first place) or Butler’s accent (although to be fair, a lot of critics who didn’t like the film overall have praised his performance, some calling it his best), why not focus on what the movie is really about: relationships.

While the film is set in the insular world of big-wave surfing, both Frosty and Jay have strong growth arcs as their “surrogate father/son” relationship forms, grows and then reverses. Chasing Mavericks isn’t just about Jay Moriarty becoming a world-class surfer, it’s also about his personal growth from misfit kid into a confident man, as well as Frosty’s growth as a husband and more importantly, as a father.

What you get is an emotionally stirring story set against some of the most incredible surf footage on film, made all the more poignant knowing that everything that Frosty warns Jay about, as well as providing him with the wisdom to survive it, is real.

It’s a true story so yes, people are born and people die within the course of the film. The overall message though is simple: live life every day, every minute. Live like Jay.

Playing for Keeps is more problematic.

What started as a story about a little league dad besieged by desperate housewives called “Slide”, morphed into a soccer movie (about pretty much the same thing) when producer Gerard Butler optioned the script. The title was changed to Playing the Field and the plot would seem to support that title. Butler’s character is a pro-soccer (even though I’m American, I so want to call it football as the rest of the world does) player whose career is at an end. Apparently it was all downhill from there and since nothing else has gone right in his life, he decides it’s time to reconnect with his son and his ex-wife (Noah Lomax and Jessica Biel respectively) who are living in a small town somewhere in Virginia. The trouble of course, arrives in the form of those infamous “soccer moms” who can’t keep their hands off of him. (Why anyone had a problem believing this part of the story is beyond me. C’mon!) These women are played by Catherine Zeta Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer, so it’s not as if it would have been a hardship for George (Butler) either.

Okay, so that’s all well and good. I would have liked to have known a little bit more about George and why his career ended, but frankly that was the least of this film’s problems. The trouble really began when someone somewhere along the line decided to shift the focus of the film from George and the ladies in what could have been a funny, sexy romp, finally taking advantage of its star's appeal, to a family melodrama about George and Stacy and Lewis. With the tonal shift came a title change as well, to Playing for Keeps. (My theory is that the producers, Butler among them, heard the universe groaning under the weight of another bad rom-com and took a different tack.)

But having decided that they were now going for warm and fuzzy as opposed to hot and sexy, both elements of the story remained. Women still pursued George and he still accepted their favors, conflicted about his attraction to them and his desire to “play the field” vs nurturing a renewed relationship with his wife and son, but the comedy had been bled out of it.

Here’s the thing, either element could have worked on its own and I even believe both elements could have worked in the same movie, but they had to GO FOR IT. The director, Gabriele Muccino, is Italian. Italians appreciate romance, drama and farce all in one movie (and the fact that this one opened HUGE in Italy, not to mention Roberto Benigni’s entire career, bear that out). I think Muccino pulled his punches for an American audience.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot to like about Playing for Keeps. (Despite what you may have heard, I don’t think it was in any way misogynistic. But then again I don’t ascribe hidden motives or darker meaning to it in any way.) For one, the star hasn’t looked this good in a long time. (In both Chasing Mavericks and Playing for Keeps, Butler's hair deserved its own credit. In PFK he got to keep his accent! Bonus! And then there was that towel…) Okay all of that aside, in PFK, Gerard Butler gives one of his finest, most subtle performances since Dear Frankie (when the script allowed him to be subtle and vulnerable and emotionally engaged that is).

I’ve never been much of a Jessica Biel fan, but then I haven’t seen a lot of her work. I caught a film version of Noel Coward's Easy Virtue with Biel, Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas and she held her own in some pretty good company. I think she was equally good here.

Catherine Zeta Jones looked like she was having a blast playing the vixen in a small but crucial role. Perpetual second-fiddle Judy Greer (who really needs a starring role) also looked like she was having fun. The woman who nearly stole The Descendants from George Clooney got to put the moves on Gerard Butler and had some nice comic moments as well. Uma Thurman’s character, I believe, fared the worst. There was nothing wrong with her performance, but her scenes were cut to make her look a tad nuts. Crying in one scene, then the next time we see her she’s rolling around in a bed lying in wait for George and giggling like she’s on Lithium.

I believe that the stories of each of these characters, as well as that of Dennis Quaid, were more fleshed out in the original and a lot was left on the cutting room floor.

The best part of Playing for Keeps, at least the version we got to see, was George’s relationship with his son Lewis. The young actor who played him, Noah Lomax, was a revelation. He’s adorable, but he’s also talented. There was nothing “kid actor” with its attendant mugging and stiffness about him, there was only a natural kid. Noah next appears in Safe Haven with Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, out next weekend. I hope he goes far.

I’ve mentioned the disconnect between critic and Joe Ticketbuyer, but I also wonder about the gap between what an actor promoting a film says that his or her experience in making that film was, as compared to what the critics have to say about the finished product.

If an actor really doesn’t believe in the product they’re trying to sell you, I think it’s obvious, just as it’s obvious when they do. I realize they are “actors,” but I look for non-verbal cues like body language, which are usually dead giveaways, to me anyway.

One of the things I have always liked about Gerard Butler is how passionate he gets about his work and how committed and tireless he is when it comes time to promote it and get it out there. During interviews answering the same questions over and over, he manages to sound enthusiastic and respond in a slightly nuanced way each time. My obvious soft spot for Butler notwithstanding, (I’ll be the first to say that he needs to choose his projects better) but if that’s “acting”, give the man a break, a good role and an Oscar.

“A movie has to be really bad for me not to like it. If a movie entertains
me and/or makes me laugh {or cry} then I will like it. A movie’s number one job
is to make sure the audience is having a good time…”*

Can we talk about Olympus Has Fallen now?

Here’s the official synopsis:

When the White House (Secret Service Code: “Olympus”) is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President is kidnapped, disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself trapped within the building. As our national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning’s inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the President (Aaron Eckhart) and avert an even bigger disaster. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) directs an all-star cast featuring Butler, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd and Rick Yune.

This one has been through a few title changes as well. First it was Olympus Has Fallen, then it during the Cannes Film Market it was changed to White House Taken then, so as not to be confused with Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, it was changed back to Olympus Has Fallen. Personally, I like that title a lot better.

Film District (which also released Playing for Keeps) has decided to move UP the release date for Antoine Fuqua’s action flick, from its April date to March 22. One theory is the move is an attempt to put even more distance between OHF and that other similarly themed flick starring our favorite tater, Channing Tatum-tot. (It’s a tag team match folks! Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart vs Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx! Who will win? We may have to have Antoine Fuqua take on Roland Emmerich as the tie-breaker. Secret weapon: Morgan Freeman vs. James Woods. Advantage: Olympus Has Fallen.)

Personally, I really don’t get the assumption that Olympus Has Fallen is somehow the “low rent version" of Tot’s pic. OHF was announced first, cast first, rolled into production first and finished first. It has a better cast and purportedly a better script. How does that make it the “Hydrox version” to WHD’s “Oreo”? WHD did get a series of stills published in Entertainment Weekly back in November. That is the kind of thing that signals the upper hand to the average movie-goer. As it is, you can’t read or hear about one movie without the other being mentioned.

We now have two trailers out for OHF, both a domestic and UK edition. The UK version is slightly shorter, tighter. The differences are very subtle. (I've included both below) Director Antoine Fuqua has admitted working on the trailer up until about three days before it was dropped. Think maybe the earlier release date caught him by surprise?

Personally, I think the move had something to do with getting a “quality” product with Butler’s name on it before the viewing public ASAP. It’s all about perception. And the perception is, G needs a hit.

White House Down is currently scheduled for June 28. We’ll see if it stays that way. As Deadline (and countless others have) pointed out, the theory is it’s usually better to be first ie: Capote did much better than Infamous. BUT just last year, after a spirited game of leap frog, Relativity put Mirror Mirror out first, yet Universal’s Snow White And The Huntsman did far better. Of course they were apples and oranges. And it’s still all about the execution.

Olympus Has Fallen also stars Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Dylan McDermott and Radha Mitchell and will be released in the US on March 22 and in the UK on 19th April. My hopes remain high.

*Eriq Martin/IGN

Parts of this post have appeared on INeedMyFix.com

Domestic Trailer:


UK version:


Dueling Centurions: The Conclusion

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After much anticipation…seriously, what seemed like years of anticipation, and in fact, the first post I did about it was 24 August 2009, I finally saw The Eagle (of the Ninth).

Meh.

I wish I could leave it there. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else still planning to see it and everyone should be allowed to make their own judgments, but I need to get this out and move on.

I’m disappointed on a number of levels, not the least of which is the amount of screen time given to Mark Strong. When production began on the film and details started to be released, it was revealed that Strong would be a ‘good guy’, in and of itself enough to cause a flutter of excitement given his recent spate of villains. But by the time he actually shows up in this film, I had forgotten he was in it. He has one good scene, albeit with an American accent, and then disappears. (I’ll say no more on that score.) All I can think is “what a waste”. 

Seriously, why cast an actor of Strong’s caliber if you aren’t going to give him anything to do? (Sorry, climbing out of the mist looking menacing is not enough.) Director Kevin Macdonald might as well have cast Dimitar Berbatov*. I have to wonder if the rest of Guern (Strong’s character) didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, along with the rest of the source material’s title.

Another actor I was looking forward to seeing was Douglas Henshall. I completely forgot about him until I saw the credits. Where the hell was he? Supposedly he was someone called “Cradoc”, but I’ll be damned if I know what that was and I certainly didn’t recognize him. (Oh well, I’ll have to wait for dvd to find him, since I’m not spending another $11.50 to do it.)

I still don’t get Channing Tatum’s appeal. I do realize that I’m not his target audience, which seems to consist of the teenage girls who swooned over him in GI Joe and Dear John, and who will no doubt be the core group of The Eagle’s ticket buyers. He’s not the worst actor I’ve ever had to endure, he’s just kind of…meh. What’s worse, is that he brought down Jamie Bell, who is a good actor, to his level. (And was it just me or were their matching ears a little disconcerting?)

Okay, now that I’ve gotten all of that bitching out of my system, I can, hopefully, discuss the film in a somewhat intelligent manner.

In the context of comparing the two recent films dealing with the infamous “lost legion” of the Roman army in ancient Britain, there is, JMHO, no comparison.

Both films take place in 2nd century Britain, north of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now Scotland. Both films make great use of the natural landscape and have moments of stunningly beautiful cinematography.  While Centurion managed to make sweeping vistas of the snow covered highlands breathtaking, The Eagle made the country look exceedingly stark and harsh. One thing, though, that I do not understand, is the propensity of film-makers to make one of the most gorgeous places on earth (Scotland)  seem so bleak, like it exists in perpetual winter. 

Both are tales of natives vs invaders, much like American cowboys and Indians westerns. In Centurion, the invaders were the underdogs trapped behind enemy lines, ostensibly trying to rescue their captured leader, but who ultimately just wanted to get out and get home.  In The Eagle, the invaders purposefully crossed over into enemy territory, this time to get back a captured symbol of not just leadership, but the superiority of Rome and her army. Again, the tension supposedly supplied by the question of whether they would make it back alive.

Herein lies the rub. In both cases we are asked to root for the Romans as “the good guys” and care about their mission and their survival, just as we do for the cowboys. The difference is that I did buy into that in Centurion, I did not in The Eagle. I didn’t feel any of it. I blame most of that on the lead’s lack of charisma (probably not fair to compare him with Michael Fassbender in this or any context) and his seeming inability to generate empathy, not to mention the fact that I did not perceive any chemistry between Tatum’s Marcus Aquila and Jamie Bell’s Esca. Unfortunately, the entire movie hangs upon this relationship.

By trying to tell the story of what may have happened to the lost Eagle of the 9th Legion while at the same time creating a ‘buddy’ picture, director Kevin Macdonald fails to do justice to either one.  We’re meant to believe that Esca would feel so honor bound by one simple act on the part 0f Marcus that he would forget about not only all of the atrocities and horrors committed on his people as a whole, but his own family in particular.  I didn’t buy it for a second and could see no reason why Bell’s character wouldn’t kill Tatum’s in his sleep and wear his skull for a hat.

And without revealing too much, I just have to say that that “21st century bromance” ending would have jerked me out of the moment…had I been in it in the first place.

In fact, the only characters I did believe were Donald Sutherland’s Aquila, Ned Dennehy’s Seal Chief and Tahar Rahim’s Seal Prince. The latter was able to do more in his few scenes, with just his dark eyes burning out of his mud covered face, than Tatum did with an entire movie revolving around his finely chiseled features.

Centurion was a naturalistic hard R, while The Eagle was like a bloodless Howard Hawks western that worked hard at maintaining its PG-13. Somewhat understandable given the target audience of the source material and the one the makers were hoping to cultivate with the film, but basically it boils down to how much fun I had watching Centurion and how badly I just wanted The Eagle to be over.

Meh. JMHO

(out of 5)

*Mark Strong is often said to resemble either actor Andy Garcia or Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov