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'Jupiter' crashes, 'McFarland' inspires, 'Fifty Shades'...

By JOEY OSTER/ VN FILM CRITIC
On February 24, 2015

BY JOE OSTER

VN STAFF WRITER

 

And now, in the wake of the Oscars Sunday, a few brief reviews of recent movies.

 

‘JUPITER ASCENDING’

There’s a reason “Jupiter Ascending” was pushed from its initial July 2014 release, called a massive flop before it even opened and eventually dumped in the impending graveyard that is the February movie schedule. It’s a deeply flawed film.

Channing Tatum stars as Caine Wise, a genetically spliced half-man, half-wolf whose hover boots allow him to glide through air as if he were on ice skates. Caine is hired as a bounty hunter of sorts to travel to Earth to retrieve and protect a lowly housemaid named Jupiter (Mila Kunis).

Jupiter is an intergalactic queen, or the reincarnation of a past queen. (The screenplay kind of muddles this detail.)

The Abrasaxes, a royal family who basically own the solar system, are in an arms race to acquire Jupiter, manipulate her and take back her inheritance, which includes the literal ownership of Earth and a few other planets.

Ironically, this royal family is led by newly minted Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. He is so horrible here that I’m stunned his award chances weren’t smeared by this performance.

Redmayne is continuously on the verge of bursting into tears. Every line is delivered as if he were still portraying Stephen Hawking in the final moments before ALS took away his voice. It’s as if his price for Oscar glory was to forever keep Hawking in every one of his future performances.

In the great scheme of things, “Jupiter” goes for it.

The Wachowskis, who directed, leave everything hanging out there. They set out to make a big, epic space opera, and they’ve succeeded on some levels.

There are some great action sequences, usually involving Jupiter falling from an insurmountable height in slow motion as Caine tumbles swiftly and dodges debris with his hover boots in an effort to secure her.

Both Tatum and Kunis are likeable enough to keep you invested, and the entire world of “Jupiter” is vast and enticing. It doesn’t usually work, but it’s charming to see a film that strives for “largeness,” for lack a better term, without being rooted in the previous canon of entertainment.

The story here is completely original, which is rare for a blockbuster, or at least at a wannabe blockbuster, in current Hollywood. Today, you need a built-in fan base of nerds and geeks thirsty for another installment in their favorite franchise or a retelling of their beloved graphic novel.

It can be argued that the massive box-office disappointment of “Jupiter Ascending” signifies the death of that originality formerly present every summer in blockbusters. Purists will say this is one more step in the direction of a summer-movie purgatory of Spider-man reboots and Jurassic Park VII’s.

But the real reason “Jupiter” flops? Despite its charm, it ultimately is just mediocre.

FINAL GRADE: C+

 

“MCFARLAND, USA”

Disney is a machine. It churns out likable hit after likable hit. This is pointing out the obvious. Anything Disney Animation Studios touches is as close to literal gold as one can get.

Surprisingly, though, Disney has an abnormally strong track record with family sports movies.

“Remember the Titans,” “Miracle,” “The Rookie,” more recently “Million Dollar Arm” and I could go on.

They always stick to the playbook. Get true story and a big-name star as the head coach, dramatize the lighting, cue the inspirational sports music and wait for the happy ending.

But what’s wrong with a little bit of cookie cutter?

What’s wrong with sitting back and letting Kevin Costner be Kevin Costner?

“McFarland, USA” does exactly this, and I don’t say this mockingly. Costner stars as Jim White, the real-life football-turned-cross country coach. He and his family relocate to McFarland, CA, after a scandal at his previous job as high school football coach.

McFarland is a dirt-poor, tight-knit community predominantly made up of Mexican-Americans whose primary occupation is working the fields and farms. The same goes for White’s high school students and eventual cross country team.

Every single day, the kids wake up at 4 a.m., work the fields, go to school, back to the fields and then finally to cross country practice. It’s pretty rough.

Carlos Pratts is a real standout as Thomas Valles, the best runner on the team and love interest of coach’s daughter (Morgan Saylor). He owns close to every scene he’s in.

“McFarland,” directed by Niki Caro, does a fantastic job of conveying the American experience. The sense of community and platonic love ooze out of the town and the people themselves. It sounds cliché, but it’s heartwarming.

Maybe it’s the former underachieving high school cross country runner in me, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t shed a tear or two as the portly comic relief Danny Diaz (Ramiro Rodriguez) barreled his way forward, desperately trying to pass any possible runner on the final leg of the state championship race.

It got to me, and I was surprised. But then again, it’s Disney; I should’ve seen it coming.

FINAL GRADE: B

 

“FIFTY SHADES OF GREY”

I’d like to articulate some deep profound thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey” and what its popularity says about today’s society, but it’s not even worth the time. It simply sucks.

The film is nothing more than something a 12-year-old boy would’ve stayed up late to watch on Cinemax. It’s an excuse to watch porn on the big screen; no one is going to see this for its great plot and character development.

To save everybody’s time, let’s hit on a few quick points:

n A major reason “Fifty Shades” doesn’t work is Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. He isn’t magnetic, which it literally the only trait needed for this character. Instead, Grey is wooden and monotone and seems a bit scared.

n It’s always nice to see the exceptionally likable Victor Rasuk, from the short-lived HBO show “How to Make It in America,” get some supporting work.

n Shout out to Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) for still rocking the flip phone in 2015. Respect.

n It pains me that this film was able to secure the rights to “Beast of Burden,” an all-time classic by the Rolling Stones. Bastardization at its finest.

All that being said, “Fifty Shades” is not a good film. End of story.

FINAL GRADE: D-

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