On paper, the new film "The Vow" might seem like a rom-com juggernaut. The film boasts swoony leads Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook") and Channing Tatum ("Dear John"), writing alums from "My So-Called Life" and "Valentine's Day," and a story inspired by true events: a newlywed couple trying to reconnect after the wife suffers accident-related amnesia. But while "The Vow" appears poised to win the box office this week, critical reaction to the film has been lukewarm.
In a mixed review, The Times' Betsy Sharkey calls "The Vow" "a movie that leaves you wanting more. To care more, to cry more, to love more." While Sharkey commends Rogier Stoffers' cinematography, Kalina Ivanov's production design and Jessica Lange's supporting performance, she also writes that "The problems start with a very lopsided script." Four people share the screenplay credit, Sharkey notes, and "you feel their separate sensibilities fighting for control." As for the lead actors, Tatum fares well enough, but McAdams is given less to work with ("a lot of smiles and blank stares") and thus feels wasted.
Over the last decade, Steven Soderbergh has made big studio thrillers ("Contagion," the "Ocean's" movies) and small quirkfests ("Bubble," "The Girlfriend Experience").
Can he do them both at the same time?
That's the question surrounding "Haywire," a Jan. 20 release that world-premiered at a sneak AFI screening on Sunday night with directors and stars in attendance. An action thriller about a globetrotting female assassin--but with arty elements--the Relativity Media film contains each of the Soderbergh strains.
The studio quotient is satisfied by the locations (Dublin, Barcelona, Washington), the stars (Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum) and the general Bourne-ishness and "Salt"-iness of the premise, in which ... well, it's complicated, but basically said assassin hopscotches to distant locales and fends off, with a pugilistic flourish, the enemies lurking in the shadows.
But "Haywire' is also a film with the offbeat sensibility of Soderbergh's smaller work, a sensibility evident right from the opening scene in an upstate New York diner. Even more tellingly, like "Bubble" and "Girlfriend" (the latter of course sought to reconstruct adult-film star Sasha Grey as a mainstream actress) "Haywire" is fashioned around a first-timer -- the mixed-martial arts star Gina Carano, whom Soderbergh spotted while watching some televised fights and decided to build a movie around.
As Soderbergh put it at a post-screening question-and-answer session" "She's a natural beauty, and she beats people to a pulp in a cage. Why wouldn't you want to build a movie around her?"
The result is a spy thriller that has elements of "Warrior," not to mention Spike TV. Carano's heroine flips off walls and locks enemies in jujitsu leg vises. (The athlete herself seemed a little cowed by it all on Sunday night: "All of this is surreal," she told the audience after the screening. "I'm a little overwhelmed.")
Whether the MMA aspects and the larger thriller conceit will make audiences want to run out to this movie as much as they did "Contagion" ($74 million domestic) or even "The Informant!" ($33 million) remains to be seen. And those movies are the templates: For all their novelty, "Bubble" and "Girlfriend" were exceedingly niche films, critical curios but not mainstream plays.
Soderbergh has more commercial designs here, as he suggested when he offered his explanation for making "Haywire" in the first place.
"Why is Angelina currently the only woman who's allowed to run around with a gun and beat people up?" he said, suggesting the kind of star and category of film he had in mind. "Someone 20 years ago put Steven Seagal in a movie," he continued. "Why don't we step it up?"
Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire" will premiere Sunday night in the "secret screening" slot at this year's AFI Fest, festival organizers announced hours before the film's debut.
The thriller stars mixed martial arts star Gina Carano as a covert operative being hunted by assassins. The movie — also featuring Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor — is Soderbergh's 25th film and is set for release by Relativity Media in January. A question-and-answer session with the filmmaker and some cast members will follow the 9:30 p.m. screening at Grauman’s Chinese theater.
Last year, eventual best-picture nominee "The Fighter" played in AFI Fest's secret spot. The festival, which kicked off in Hollywood on Thursday, is offering free tickets to tonight's 9:30 p.m. screening on a first-come, first-served basis at the AT&T Box Office in the Hollywood & Highland Center until 6 p.m. Sunday.
Even by the grueling standards of indie films, Dito Montiel's crime drama, "The Son of No One," had a painful birth.
There were the financing problems back when the movie was trying to get going in 2009 and 2010 -– potential deals came and went, until Avi Lerner's Millennium Films stepped in with the cash.
Before Millennium even came on, Montiel found himself getting notes from some financiers asking him to shoehorn a car chase into the script, even though -- as he told us at the time -- "it's a movie about a guy with a secret; why would anyone be chasing him?"
Then there was this year's Sundance Film Festival, where walkouts at a buyer screening prompted a story that the movie had bombed, then a backlash to that story. By the time "The Son of No One" actually played for the public on the festival's closing night, a cloud hovered over it that even its principals couldn't ignore.
All that might make Montiel, a punk rocker turned filmmaker, happy to arrive at this point. His movie, which features the likes of Channing Tatum, Al Pacino and Katie Holmes, is finally being released this weekend by Anchor Bay. The company is a small distributor specializing in home-video titles, but has done reasonably well theatrically with the occasional niche picture, such as "City Island."
Then again, this is Montiel, who mixes prickliness and a what-can-you-do New York ennui. He may be the first person ever to earn the sobriquet of the punk curmudgeon.
"It's coming out, but in like 10 theaters," Montiel said when we caught up with him by phone this week to see how he was doing. "It's at the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade. But not even the good theater at the Third Street Promenade."
"Son" is set in the Queens, N.Y., projects where Montiel, 46, grew up. The director came of age in the '80s hard-core scene and transitioned to a film career, directing streetwise cinema such as "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" and "Fighting" before turning in a more crime-drama direction with this film, which is semi-autobiographical. Tatum plays Jonathan "Milk" White, a policeman who, as a child, shot a junkie in self-defense, then carries that secret with him into adulthood.
If you’re the type of person who’s marking your calendar for movies to see next summer, you probably were already ticking off June, if only for the hand-over-mouth spectacle of it all.
The month starts with Tom Cruise singing '80s tunes ("Rock of Ages”), then tosses us Kristen Stewart as a Grimm Brothers' heroine ("Snow White and the Huntsman") and Benjamin Walker as a vampire-hunting president (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”).
But it’s saving the best for last. Warner Bros. announced Thursday that it will release the male-stripper movie “Magic Mike” on June 29. If you haven’t been on the right listservs: “Magic Mike” is the Steven Soderbergh film in which Alex Pettyfer plays a young exotic dancer who's supposed to be Channing Tatum, who once was an exotic dancer, while Tatum plays an older dancer who mentors his own young self. It all goes down — where else? — at a club called Xquisite.
“G.I. Joe 2” comes out the same weekend, which will pose an interesting date-night dilemma: Have there have been two movies geared so decidedly to different genders? It also creates an odd situation in which one Channing Tatum movie will open against another.
In any event, Duke Hauser and his group can rest a little easier today: They’ll actually be only the second-most beefcake crew to grace screens that weekend.
EXCLUSIVE: The director Bennett Miller is known for generating Oscar heat for his performers: Philip Seymour Hoffman won a best actor statuette for “Capote,” and Brad Pitt is attracting that kind of talk for “Moneyball.”
Can the director make the same magic happen for (the to-date Oscar-free) Channing Tatum?
He might have his chance. The “G.I. Joe” and "Step Up" star is in talks to star alongside Steve Carell in Miller’s next film, the John du Pont story “Foxcatcher,” said two studio executives who’d been briefed on the project but asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to talk about it publicly.
In the film, Carell is set to play du Pont, the heir to the du Pont chemical fortune who, in an apparent fit of paranoid schizophrenia, infamously shot and killed the Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz in 1996 at a Pennsylvania facility du Pont had built (the titular Foxcatcher). He was jailed for the crime, and died in prison in 2010.
Tatum would play Schultz, a seven-time world and Olympic champion who left behind a wife and two young children when he was fatally shot at the age of 36. The role is in a sense a more prestige spin on physical-centric parts Tatum has been known for in movies such as "Fighting" and "The Eagle.” (Tatum is next set to star in the exotic-dancing tale "Magic Mike," based on his own background, as well as the reboot of undercover-cop TV series "21 Jump Street.")
The "Foxcatcher" situation was described by the executives as being in the talks stage, with no deal in place. Tatum’s representative and a producer on the film did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Miller is known for choosing projects carefully--he waited five years between "Capote" and "Moneyball," but hopes to begin shooting "Foxcatcher" in the first part of 2012. He has been developing the film, which is being financed and produced independently and does not yet have theatrical distribution, for several years.
The movie has a shiny pedigree: one producer, Anthony Bregman, was behind "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and the writers, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, penned "Capote.”
Even before it screened for the public Friday night, Dito Montiel's crime drama "Son of No One" already had generated a lot of headlines in the bubble of the Sundance Film Festival.
The movie became a hot topic after a story appeared in The Hollywood Reporter earlier in the week saying that a number of filmgoers had left a media and industry screening early. That prompted a sales agent for the film to tweet against the story (which prompted a followup item in The Hollywood Reporter).
But despite the walkout talk from earlier in the week, the movie, which co-stars Katie Holmes, played to a warm reception at a full house of approximately 1,200 filmgoers at the Eccles Theatre on Friday night.
Montiel's movie centers on a New York City police officer (Channing Tatum) tormented by a secret that threatens to catch up to him. As the walls close in, he finds himself on the run even from his boss (Ray Liotta) and wonders if he can even trust his godfather, who's also the police commissioner (Al Pacino).
At a news conference earlier Friday, the freewheeling Montiel, who was previously here with "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," addressed the walkout story, saying it "drove him nuts" but then added, "Whatever ... the movie's great."
A handful of audience members did seem aware of the earlier publicity. "I heard Katie [Holmes] wasn't coming because of all the bad press," one moviegoer said to another. "She hasn't been in anything good since 'Pieces of April.'"
Holmes did, in fact, show up at the last minute -- and for the first time all week, nearly the entire Eccles auditorium stood up to gawk and snap photographs of a celebrity. She later took the stage with Montiel and the rest of the cast, who spent most of the question-and-answer session praising the filmmaker.
On the red carpet before the screening, Tatum -- true to actor form -- said he'd not read any of the press surrounding the movie.
"I don’t ever read those things. People have asked me some interesting questions today," he said with a smiled. When asked what he meant by that, he replied, with a wink, "I don't know, you asked me." (Check out the video with Tatum below.)
From the stage, the actor self-deprecatingly noted that he only had about "15 words or lines in this entire movie." "[Montiel] convinced me the less I did, the better I'd be," he quipped.
Sony confirmed today that Channing Tatum will star in the film “21 Jump Street” opposite Jonah Hill. Hill, who is co-writing the movie, has said in the past that he wouldn't be playing the Johnny Depp character in the action-comedy remake of the 1980s TV show. So we guess that means Tatum won’t be playing Peter DeLuise's role (or appearing as Holly Robinson Peete).
Fan reaction was not hugely enthusiastic to the initial reports a few weeks ago that Tatum could star in the movie. Outside of “She’s the Man,” the 30-year-old hasn’t played in any comedies, or intentional ones, anyway. But there was at least a high school setting in the aforesaid Amanda Bynes flick. And with a storyline parallelling Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" it, too, was a reimagining of classic material.
A new crop of Oscar presenters were announced Tuesday by the show's producers, a group that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Pine, Gerard Butler and Sam Worthington.
There have been several points that one can infer from the growing list of celebrities set to appear on the Bill Mechanic- and Adam Shankman-produced show.
Organizers obviously are looking to strike a balance between the serious (Kate Winslet, Pedro Almodovar) and the youth-baiting (Taylor Lautner, Channing Tatum and Zac Efron, the latter two of whom have starred in Shankman-produced films). Despite the presence of some tween pin-ups, Shankman told my colleague Amy Kaufman, in a story set to be published in Wednesday's edition of The Envelope, that he could have pushed the Disney Channel angle a lot further.
"The biggest requests I get on Twitter -- and I’m not kidding, I’m still getting these daily -- are requests for Ashley Tisdale and Hilary Duff and Adam Lambert singing 'Time for Miracles.' And I was like, you know, you just have to sort of ignore that. Because those are not people in the movie business.”
What's particularly interesting about today's batch of presenters is not the youth but how many of them have something new to flog. Previously announced presenters who have movies coming out in the coming months include Steve Carell ("Dinner for Schmucks," "Date Night"), Robert Downey Jr. ("Iron Man 2," "Due Date"), and Miley Cyrus ("Last Song").
The new crop is even more marketing-ready: Stars like Gyllenhaal ("Prince of Persia"), Pine ("Unstoppable") and Butler ("The Bounty Hunter") all have movies set to be released this year. A few have multiple pictures, like Sam Worthington ("Clash of the Titans," "Last Night" and "The Debt").
The Oscars have always (but increasingly in recent years) tried to indulge the impulse for historical seriousness as well as the crowd-pleasing popcorn (well, the Oscar version). And producers of the show are often in a no-win situation: If they ignore the pop they're accused of being out of touch; if they embrace it, they're charged with pandering.
Still, the abundance of both young stars and actors with something to promote -- and not necessarily movies that will sweep voters off their feet -- makes us wonder if this will be the kind of year when the show tips a little more promotional than reverential (and further arouses the question of how much of that will be by the design of Mechanic and Shankman). Mechanic, for his part, at least nods to the demographic aspect. “The younger side of the audience has been drifting for years, so we’re more conscious of trying to build a youth element into the show," he told Kaufman.
We also wonder if all of this might make us yearn for a moment in the 2008 ceremony, when Jon Stewart offered an insider quip about stars' tendency to promote movies -- and then subverted it. "According to IMDB," Stewart said, "our next presenter is the star of 2010 Untitled Nicole Kidman project.'"
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Miley Cyrus. Credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times