Channing Tatum

Mila Kunis waits to be saved by Channing Tatum in the tedious and horribly written “Jupiter Ascending.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

In “Jupiter Ascending,” released Friday, directors Andy and Lana Wachowski attempt to combine a space opera, an action-adventure spectacle and political power struggle into one epic film. Instead, they cram three separate stories into one mediocre and confusing movie. The Wachowski siblings have cobbled together a poor excuse for a sci-fi spectacle, failing to repeat the success they generated from “The Matrix.” 

Far off in space, the ancient, alien Abraxas family claims ownership over the Earth and several other planets. When the matriarch of the Abraxas clan dies, siblings Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) fight for supremacy and total control of their inheritance. On Earth, a young woman named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) learns that she genetically matches the trio’s deceased mother, making her the Earth’s owner. With the help of genetically modified ex-soldier Caine (Channing Tatum), Jupiter attempts to survive the onslaught of the jealous heirs who seek to claim her birthright.

Watch the trailer for "Jupiter Ascending" here:

“Jupiter Ascending”’s biggest problem is the Wachowskis’ unfocused story. It’s clear that “Jupiter” isn’t aiming to be a serious drama, but the logic the Wachowskis insert into this universe is, at times, just nonsensical. For instance, Jupiter learns she is a descendent of the royal family because bees refuse to sting her. 

The story is packed with an absurd amount of subplots. As a result, the pacing is an absolute mess. By itself, Jupiter’s conflict with the three siblings would have provide enough story for an entire trilogy — much less a 120-minute film. But on top of the sibling squabbles, the Wachowskis also throw in love triangles and spend copious amounts of time developing minor characters. 

It’s disappointing that the story is mediocre, as some of the Wachowskis’ ideas do have the potential to be fascinating. The notion of a galactic royal family in control of the Earth is an intriguing concept. The Wachowskis let their original storyline fall to the wayside as they focused on less interesting characters and plot points. 

Kunis can’t do anything to save the dull, weakly written Jupiter. Despite being heir to the entire planet, Jupiter never rises above the textbook damsel-in-distress. Caine saves her countless times, but even his role as a protector doesn’t make his character any more interesting. Tatum is reduced to a scowling grunt, and it’s difficult to take him seriously when he wears eyeliner and prosthetic ears. Meanwhile, Redmayne gives a bizarre performance as main antagonist Balem, rarely speaking above a whisper — except when he shrieks loudly during moments of displeasure. 

The movie’s visuals served as a rare bright spot in what was otherwise a mediocre movie. The Wachowskis demonstrate their knack for creating massive worlds and spectacles through beautiful cities and environments that hover around in space. Even though practically every effect is computer-generated, the result is still dazzling. 

“Jupiter Ascending” is a great looking movie with clever ideas, but it is crippled by dim characters. In its attempt to be an over-the-top galactic adventure tale, the film forgets to flesh out its main characters — and loses the chance to deliver a clear, focused story. What could have been a promising space adventure is instead an incompetent, disappointing mess of a movie.

Houfei Yang and Greg Thuman are the members of Primal Static, a duo that fuses electric, rock and blues. Their diverse backgrounds - Yang, a classically trained pianist and Thuman, a self-taught guitarist - produce an eclectic sound that can be heard at Local Live on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The story behind Primal Static is just like the story behind the film “Step Up,” minus Channing Tatum and all of the overdramatic dance scenes. The band’s two members, Houfei Yang and Greg “2Man” Thuman, come from completely opposite musical backgrounds and somehow came together to form a band capable of creating semi-cohesive tunes.

Yang, originally from China, began playing the piano at age four. She moved to the U.S. to attend UT on a piano scholarship before moving to Baltimore to attend the Peabody Conservatory for graduate school.

“I was brought up to be a professional pianist so I was used to practicing four or five hours a day,” Yang said.

On the other hand, Thuman was born and raised in Annapolis, Md., where he spent most of his time writing songs and teaching himself to play the guitar.

“I typically wanted to shy away from school as much as possible,” Thuman said. “I’m a totally different person from Houfei.”

Thuman and Yang met while Yang was living in Baltimore. Thuman posted fliers advertising auditions for a band he wanted to start, and Yang responded to the call.

“I called to see what was up and he didn’t answer the phone, so I left a voicemail,” Yang said. “It wasn’t anybody talking, it was just a guitar solo. It was so stunning I couldn’t even talk. I didn’t expect that. I was calling someone I didn’t know.”

Thuman was impressed not only by Yang’s esteemed piano playing, but also by her willingness to try new things.

“She was totally conservatory trained. I had to help her out of that straitjacket,” Thuman said. “But she wants to see places and broaden her boundaries. She has that sort of discipline that someone has with the piano and also a sense of adventure.”

Before joining Primal Static, all of Yang’s performances involved playing rehearsed, classical pieces behind a piano. This is her first diversion from that atmosphere.

“I never ever really felt what it’s like to bring your original music in front of a live audience,” Yang said. “It’s a kind of edgy excitement to earn that applause.”

Thuman said Yang’s competitive background has helped tremendously when it comes to dealing with the cutthroat music industry.

“I think the most eye-opening thing to her has been the business,” Thuman said. “It’s been good for us because she used to do a lot of piano competitions, so she’s pretty tough. I think she’s been really strong.”

For now, the group is an unsigned, independent act. They plan on releasing a five-song EP, which was recorded all analog, at their performance for this Sunday’s “Local Live.”

“The music industry has been so different that I’m not sure a label is the way to go,” Thuman said.

Not only does Primal Static lack a label, but like many other bands, it also lacks a specific genre. While Thuman describes the sound as street music, the songs range from something that resembles the style of ‘90s post-grunge band Live to the bluesy rock tones that can be found in Japanese-American singer-songwriter Olivia Lufkin’s “A Little Pain.” 

The band’s self-described eclectic sound could very well be a result of the strange collaboration that is Primal Static. Despite their extremely different backgrounds, Yang and Thuman become more cohesive with every rehearsal and performance. 

“I like Bach and things like that, but I’m a rocker, no doubt,” Thuman said. “Us learning from each other has been mutually complementary. It grew over time as we grew tighter as a group.”

Thuman said the band’s onstage performance relies heavily on the energy of the audience. The two feed off each other and the reaction the audience has to their music. 

“If the audience is really into what you’re doing, you can go anywhere,” Yang said.

According to Thuman, the band has self-funded most of its projects and recording thus far. He said for now, money is not what matters most.

“Through the years we’ve been doing this, I’ve realized the thing that matters most is the people,” Yang said. “It’s about the music and the people that this music means something to.”

Photo Credit: Carlos Pagan | Daily Texan Staff

Magic Mike” is director Steven Soderbergh’s third film in nine months, and it’s remarkable that he hasn’t burned himself out yet. After “Contagion,” a sprawling ensemble piece that released in September, Soderbergh has been building his films around singular personalities, first with MMA fighter Gina Carano in January’s underrated “Haywire,” and now with Channing Tatum in “Magic Mike.” And most surprising of all, “Magic Mike” is a worthy addition to Soderbergh’s filmography, a surprisingly touching and smart examination of a very seedy profession.

Based on Channing Tatum’s past as a male stripper, Tatum plays Mike, an aging stripper at a Tampa, Fla. nightclub with greater aspirations. Mike has a knack for furniture design, but is trying to earn money any way possible, and it’s at a daytime construction job that he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer). Before too long, Adam and Mike are hanging out, and then Mike gets Adam a job at the club where he works, owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).

What follows is a fairly standard story of an aging star being pushed out of the spotlight by his up-and-coming protege, but it’s Soderbergh’s precise stylistic control that keeps the film from becoming dull. He shoots the strip club scenes with a seductive glamour and sheen, but when Mike and his co-workers venture out into the real world, things take on a washed-out, almost hungover visual grit. Also impressive is the fearlessness with which Soderbergh dives into the male stripper culture, and the depth of the small observations he makes about the sense of community that exists among its inhabitants.

It can be assumed that Soderbegh took an interest in Tatum after his physical, roguish turn in “Haywire,” the first of many impressive performances he’s given this year. However, “Magic Mike” may be his best performance, and he’s an arresting presence in the film. He’s a showman, full of bravado and confidence on and offstage, and it’s a self-aware, deeply charming performance in a film full of them. Mike ends up romantically entangled with Brooke (Cody Horn), Adam’s protective older sister — Horn’s restrained, coy demeanor makes for good chemistry with Tatum’s energetic goofiness.

I wasn’t really aware of what the audience for “Magic Mike” was until I attended a press screening full of middle-aged women hooting and hollering every time a bare chest or thong came onscreen, but that crowd will certainly find what they’re looking for. However, the film carries unexpected dramatic weight beneath its seductive exterior, and the way Soderbergh juggles sheer entertainment and more complex character development is the most impressive trick “Magic Mike” could have hoped for.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill hold a Q&A at the end of the premier of their movie 21 Jump Street held by SXSW at the Paramount Theater Tuesday night. Tatum and Hill play the part of two undercover cops named Jenko and Schmidt.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum don’t seem like a great comedic duo on paper, but together they make “21 Jump Street,” a film that shouldn’t work, a hilarious, surprisingly touching comedy.

The film screened at South By Southwest last week, and The Daily Texan participated in a round table interview with Hill and Tatum.

The Daily Texan: SXSW seems like a great place to bring this film and show it to a crowd.
Jonah Hill:
Yeah, it’s been really fun. I made [Channing] wait to see it with an audience, with the crowd tonight, because South By is the best place to show a movie in the world. In fact, five years ago exactly, I was here promoting “Knocked Up” with Paul Rudd when I got the phone call asking me to adapt this TV show into a movie, and I started working on it five years ago exactly, in this same hotel. It’s kind of insane.

DT: Was it originally a comedy?
Hill:
My agent said you should do it as a comedy, and I said, “Let me think about it. I don’t want to be someone who remakes things,” and that’s why one of the first jokes is about how lazy it is. I wanted to make “Bad Boys” meets a John Hughes movie, and that’s the idea I had and that’s what I feel like we’ve done our best shot at, our best version of.

DT: When you two first met, could you tell that you had that chemistry that would translate so well on screen?
Hill:
It’s crazy because we took a gamble at it and ended up becoming great friends and got lucky that it worked.

Channing Tatum: Sometimes it’s not like that.

Hill: We didn’t know each other.

Tatum: We waved at each other from across a restaurant. “Superbad” came out, and I was like “’Grats, dude!” And he was like “Sup?” And that was it.

DT: How do you feel about the backlash from “21 Jump Street” ... I don’t know what you would call them, purists, I guess?
Hill:
We’ve heard that once today, and that made me laugh so hard. Those 15 people. There’s a script that’s a pure adaptation of the series, and I can get a copy of that to the 15 nerds who are complaining online. The writers of it actually came up to me and were like, “Oh man, your version is about a billion times better.”

DT: How did you decide what to keep from the original series?
Hill:
We just wanted to pay homage at certain points, just to have that fun stuff for people who love the show, but “21 Jump Street” purists ... It’s like, “Shut the fuck up!” You know, it’s not like we remade “The Godfather.” I would never remake something that was like a brilliant, amazing thing. It was something that was fun, but it didn’t need a remake. What’s funny is, when you talk to young people, they don’t even know what “21 Jump Street” is.

Tatum: Just keep bringing it back. I don’t care. Remakes or not, good stories are good stories. Good movies are good movies.

Hill: Those people who are complaining, they haven’t seen the movie. What’s hilarious is, the best thing our movie has going for it is its extremely low expectations because it’s a remake of a television show. They always suck. Ours is good, and that’s the twist of the movie, that it’s not awful.

DT: Channing, was it difficult to keep up with the more experienced comedians on set?
Tatum:
I don’t think you can keep up with these guys. They’re truly the elite of what they actually do, but they set a great stage for me to not feel bad about failing and really going for it.

DT: Jonah, what was it like getting to do action scenes?
Hill:
It was fun. I liked it a lot. That’s why it was important to cast Channing opposite me because, in order for a movie to feel like “Bad Boys” meets a John Hughes movie, you need it to have some action credibility there, and I had never done action movies before, so I don’t have credibility in that universe and Channing has done a ton of it and is amazing at it. It was really fun, honestly. There’s no other way to put it.

DT: It seemed like there were some bits from the trailers that didn’t make it into the movie. There was a scene where Channing runs over you with his car and the windshield is smashed.
Tatum:
That’s interesting. We saw a really early cut of the movie. I haven’t seen the movie either.

Hill: I know there’s been a lot of backlash from windshield purists.

Published on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 as: "21 Jump Street' stars discuss film