Jupiter Ascending, or, The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Revisited

SPACE ATTACK

SPACE ATTACK

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative wasn’t the most successful venture I’ve ever set out on, but where the Initiative failed me spiritually and ruined me financially it did prepare me mentally for the idea of going to see Jupiter Ascending, the latest big budget sci-fi spectacular from The Wachowskis. The movie was originally supposed to be released in 2014 before being pushed to the cinematic no man’s land of February.

It didn’t look great, but it looked fun enough, and because of The 2014CTI I’d already committed, in my head, to seeing the movie. So, with a cautious sense of adventure, I saw the movie.

Five minutes into Jupiter Ascending I found out the name of the main character, played by Mila Kunis, is Jupiter.

Shit.

About half an hour later I found myself wondering how many people could have been fed by the film’s reported $200 million budget.

I know, I know, that’s not fair. That $200 million was never going to feed anyone. But Jupiter Ascending held my attention so poorly that that’s how far my mind wandered. Questions are what I kept myself occupied with during the movie’s two hour run time, and Jupiter Ascending prompted many, chief among them the gnawing inquiry “why is this happening to me?” Or more specifically, “how is this happening to me?”

Channing Tatum is a half-wolf man with anti-gravity roller blades that operate exactly like roller blades. Sean Bean is part bee and his name is Stinger. The primary antagonists in the film are pompous space aristocrats, poor, two-dimensional Joffrey caricatures that are so detestable you’d probably rather sit through a film entirely free of any conflict than watch another one of their puzzlingly performed monologues.

Don't worry about it.

Don’t worry about it.

So how did Jupiter Ascending get some $200 million dollars? I don’t know. I’m still trying to grapple with how it got my $10.

The film is at once imagination unshackled ($200,000,000!) and imagination constricted (rollerblades). There are a handful of cool ideas here, primarily genetic recursion and Channing Tatum, but they’re all taken in absurdly uninteresting directions with such precision as to feel intentional.

Perhaps Jupiter Ascending was born long after its own time. Maybe if it had been penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs in a pulp magazine before the First World War it would have thrived. I can picture myself reading it in a dusty old science fiction anthology and being charmed by its interplanetary romance, but on Friday night on the smallest screen at my local multiplex I felt like I was being purposefully antagonized.

Jupiter Ascending might have bewildered in 1915, but in 2015 it’s a movie with a dragon man wearing a leather jacket at which I had exactly no fun. An achievement of sorts to be sure.

 

If you’d like to have Jupiter Ascending recounted in full, obscenely, check out episode four of Beat by Beat, a Pony Tricks Podcast.  Also available on iTunes.

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Remembered, or, The Pony Tricks Bump: A Myth?

Two of the top five most popular posts on this website revolve around the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. The most popular post on this website today, January 7, 2015, is a discussion of Pain and Gain that was part of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. My decision to see every theatrical film Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson released in 2013 is paying dividends to this very minute for he and I both – lest we forget the coveted “Pony Tricks Bump” the Rock received in 2013, being named the highest grossing entertainer of 2013 by Forbes doubtlessly in no small part due to my examinations of his work.

I think we can all agree the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative was a rousing success.

But what of the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative?

What of it?

Unforgettable.

Unforgettable.

Where the 2013D“TR”JI was a mutually beneficial partnership between Dwayne Johnson and myself in which he became entertainer of the year and I learned several valuable life lessons from Fast and Furious 6, the 2014CTI has proven to be anything but, as not only have the lessons I learned from Tatum’s films this year fallen woefully short of life-affirming, Channing himself didn’t even crack the list of Forbes Top 10 Entertainers of the Year.

That being said, the Pony Tricks Bump still tentatively takes credit for his being cast as Gambit.

I went to the theater four times this year for the 2014CTI and I learned four very different, pretty lackluster lessons.

The LEGO Movie, in which Tatum made a brief appearance as Superman, taught me to keep my cynicism alive in the face of the first largely entertaining feature-length commercial I’d ever seen. Sure, sure, a fine lesson for a four-year-old girl, but I’m a twenty-something-year-old man. I don’t exactly need a refresher on cynicism.

Luckily, 22 Jump Street, which wound up being one of my favorite movies of the year, was there to pick up the slack. Sort of. 22 Jump Street is a masterclass in understanding that repetition, when blended with self-awareness, can be a beautiful thing. There’s no harm in doing something twice when it worked the first time, so long as you remain aware of the pitfalls of returning to the same well over and over again.

A great lesson.

And a total lie. As evidenced by the maligned sequel to the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative.

My good friend Channing.

My good friend Channing.

From there it was all downhill. The Book of Life taught me to never, ever, ever have kids lest I be dragged into films like The Book of Life every weekend for ten years. And Foxcatcher revealed new depths to my twenty-something pretension.

What of the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative?

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative was a disaster. Tatum was charming and fantastic in all of his roles this year, but somewhere between “Channing” and “Tatum” a certain “The Rock” was missing from my 2014.

2015 Initiative TBD I guess.

P.S. I love you, Channing.

Foxcatcher Problems, or, The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Complete

This is my third attempt to discuss Foxcatcher, the recent true crime film that also happens to be my final stop on the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative. My feelings on Foxcatcher are conflicted enough so as to make it nearly impossible for me to convey them without falling into a rambling pit. But hey, third time’s the charm, yeah?

foxcatcher

Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It recounts the events leading up to a murder. The film is well written, the cinematography is gripping and the performances, particularly those by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, are engaging. Foxcatcher is by no means a bad movie. I’m just not sure I understand why it’s a movie.

In my mind there’s something of an unspoken understanding between an audience and a filmmaker when it comes to films “based on a true story,” particularly when that true story is tragic in nature. The understanding being that the filmmaker is given permission to utilize or exploit (depending on just how cynical we want to get) a real life tragedy in order to put forward for consideration some potential truth. 12 Years a Slave used the story of Solomon Northrup’s enslavement to highlight a sickness in American history that is more and more often overlooked or downplayed. Captain Phillips used the hostage situation on the Maersk Alabama to highlight a glaring juxtaposition between the might and affluence of the Western World and the sheer desperation of the Third World. The recently released Imitation Game uses the life of Alan Turing to recount the life of Alan Turing, a scientist whose achievements and prosecution are both perhaps not as well-known as they should be.

With these examples in mind I again posit that I’m not sure I understand why the tragedy at the murder of Foxcatcher has been adapted into a film.

I’ve come up with a few answers on my own but they all feel like I’m reaching, assigning a reason for a works existence after it already exists, rather than discovering the reason why the work was brought into existence in the first place. Perhaps Foxcatcher is meant to highlight the disparity between rich and poor and how easily we overlook the former using the latter as playthings. Maybe it’s something of a cautionary tale regarding undiagnosed mental illness. One of the parties involved has stated that the story highlights the lengths to which American Olympians had to go to match the training regiments of Olympians in other countries. But the film doesn’t seem to lean in to any of those thesis statements.

As near as I can figure the events depicted in Foxcatcher were adapted to film because someone thought it’d make a good movie. And they’re not wrong. If I didn’t know Foxcatcher was based on a true story I’d more than likely be singing an entirely different tune. But Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It’s based on a murder. And while I’m not saying it specifically sets out to exploit a murder for entertainment or ruling out the distinct possibility that I’m just being difficult and don’t get it, I ultimately found the film conflicted and problematic at best.

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Returns, or, Book of Life: The Case for a Screener

In 2013 Forbes Magazine declared Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the year’s highest grossing actor. Coincidentally, 2013 was also the year of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. Did my coverage of every theatrical release starring The Rock here on Pony Tricks result in something of a Pony Tricks Bump for Mr. Johnson? Who can say?

Me. I can say.

Yes.

So as 2014 crept up infighting broke out amongst the Hollywood Illuminati, all of whom sought the aforementioned Pony Tricks Bump. And from on high I bestowed it unto one Channing Tatum.

Out of the goodness of my heart I declared the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative. And what have I gotten out of it?

Well I got to sit through Tatum’s latest, The Book of Life. Which is not a sequel to Tree of Life.

Sorry gang, you won't be seeing Tatum's butt in this one.

Sorry gang, you won’t be seeing Tatum’s butt in this one.

I’m a little late on this one, Book of Life has been out for two weekends now, but you have to understand – I really, really didn’t want to see Book of Life at all, and now that I have I still don’t.

I’ve seen three movies as a part of the 2014CTI and two of them have been animated and PG. It’s been rough.

To fulfill my obligation to this year’s Pony Tricks Initiative I had to go to a weekday morning showing of a children’s movie by myself, a lone, grown-ass man in a hoodie. Always a welcomed sight in a theater full of young children. Luckily for me there was no one in the showing I went to except an old lady.

Add to that sketchy experience the barrage a mind-numbing trailers for other kid-friendly movies I had to sit through and you’ve got some pretty successful birth control. Lord knows I don’t want to sit through any such nonsense ever again, let alone get dragged into it with any regularity.

Also the guy at the concession stand took forever to figure out how to fulfill my order of one cup of black coffee.

This is the thanks I get for the Pony Tricks Bump?

Come on Channing! At least send me a GD screener.

Go on now, GIT!

Go on now, GIT!

Book of Life, the actual movie rather than the suspect, interactive film-going experience, is steeped in Mexican culture, which is the only thing lending any sort of character to an otherwise by the numbers children’s movie. It tells the story of three childhood friends, two guys and a girl, sans pizza place, whose inevitable love triangle becomes the focus of a wager between two gods. One of the boys (Tatum) grows up to become a decorated soldier in peak physical condition, the other a humble, reluctant bullfighter who dreams of perusing his musical dreams.

Do I need to tell you anything else or have you figured out the entire story beat for beat yet? Cause you should have.

Book of Life shines brightest when it pretends to be progressive. Maria, the boys’ trophy made flesh, claims she is her own person and that she belongs to no one. We learn she studied fencing and kung fu. She turns down the advances of both of her suitors. Initially. She proves herself a formidable leader. And then we hit the third act and Maria is reduced to a damsel in distress left to fall in love with whichever suitor rescues her best.

Those fencing skills? That Kung fu? More a recurring joke than a particular set of skills, as Zoe Saldana’s voice talents are essentially wasted on a plot device masquerading as a character. The message here feels like something along the lines of “it’s okay to be a strong, independent woman as a parlor trick at dinner parties, as long as you revert to helpless swooning when it counts.”

What stuck with me the most about Book of Life was the discussion I had with myself afterwards as I silently tried to figure out exactly how I’d clarify the hackneyed character tropes to my theoretical future daughter, who needs to know that her future isn’t tied to a meager, predetermined list of men from which she must choose and who needn’t be a perpetual damsel in distress waiting for a hero to whom she’ll be indebted to love.

Basically, my kids are going to love going to the movies with me as much as I’ll love going with them. Hopefully they’ll emancipate themselves young.

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative wraps next month with Foxcatcher, a grownup movie for grownups. And seriously Channing, I think I’ve earned a screener.

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Unveiled, or, The LEGO Movie: Ethical

The LEGO Movie. Rated PG.

The LEGO Movie. Rated PG.

Last year I kicked off the now legendary 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative with in depth, expert coverage of the movie Snitch, a film that highlighted the legal absurdity of the American war on drugs. This year, today in fact, I kick off the soon to be legendary 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative with in depth, expert coverage of The LEGO Movie. A movie about LEGOs.

The animated movie stars Chris Pratt of Star Lord and Parks and Recreation fame as Emmet, a run of the mill LEGO construction worker, complete with a renal-failure-yellow face and everything. Emmitt spends his days following the instructions for a life of contentment, which have been handed down to the citizens of his city by President Business. The instructions include automaton pleasantry, watching the appropriate television shows, listening to the appropriate music and by and large doing everything everybody else is doing. Only it turns out President Business, played by Will Ferrell, is actually Lord Business, and his instructions for a life of contentment are really just instructions on how to fall in line with authority.

Fascism! In a kids movie! Outrageous!

Adorable?

Adorable?

The LEGO Movie boasts solid animation that evokes old fashioned stop motion. It also boasts a cast of literally everyone: Will Arnett, Morgan Freedman, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Liam Neeson, Jonah Hill.

Also Channing Tatum.

But what parents will be happiest about in regards to the LEGO Movie is its overall message. You know, you only have to believe you’re special to be special or whatever the hell. I’m a loose-cannon renegade myself, so I knew as much already, but for a dorky little kid I’m sure it’s very fulfilling.

Regardless the LEGO Movie treats its theme seriously and laces it with just enough indictment of techno-fascist Western culture to be way over children’s lice-ridden heads.

Emmet’s town, Bricksburg, is a place where politics and popular culture are one and the same, with the latter used to placate and pacify the masses while the former rub their grubby mitts together over candlelit plots and schemes. Amongst this backdrop Emmet is very much ordinary. In fact he is arguably the most ordinary among his fellow citizens. You know, like your kid is. But Emmet is soon taken on a journey in which he learns, you guessed it, any ordinary schmuck can be special.

It’s a worthy message, and one communicated with great sincerity. And yet, more so then most any other Saturday morning cartoon or animated feature film, the LEGO Movie is literally a 100-minute toy commercial.

$$$$$$$$$$$

$$$$$$$$$$$ AM I RIGHT?

You can get the Getaway Glider for $12.99. You can get MetalBeard’s Duel for $34.95. You can even get Lord Business’ Evil Lair for only $85. There’s a corresponding $3.47 in corresponding LEGO sets per minute of LEGO Movie. I did the math on my phone. And with a kids’ movie as well done as this what self-respecting tike wouldn’t want every buck of it?

But every kids’ movie comes with kids’ toys. At least LEGO Movie has a good message associated with it instead of mindless potty humor. Every kid should be exposed to the belief that every human life has its own inherent, individual worth, no?

But now your child can associate that belief with a neatly consolidated aisle of stylized building blocks at your local retailer.

But really, the LEGO Movie is a solid, exceedingly enjoyable movie for all ages.

But really, the LEGO Movie is potentially a subtle, sinister subversion of your children’s fiscally susceptible little noggins.

But really, it does have some fantastic performances and genuinely funny jokes.

But really, seriously, $85 for Lord Business’ Lair?

So yeah. I saw the LEGO Movie and if nothing else, I’m certain it is a thing that exists.

And that Channing Tatum is definitely in it.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Does the LEGO Movie’s admirable message elevate it above being a glorified toy commercial, or does it make its use of the commercial property all the more sinister?

2. On a scale of 1 to 10 how hot is Channing Tatum, am I right?

3. Is there some sort of way to set out some kind of sort of PayPal donation thing on this site in which people can send me LEGO sets? Because they are very expensive.