The Tatum Quandary

If there’s a bright center to the universe, he’s the actor that it’s farthest from.

Having just spent a post enthusiastically talking up the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, it seems fitting to relay the news that a synopsis has been divulged for the siblings’ Jupiter Ascending project. It sounds ambitious and exciting. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be a great film, because they  cast Channing Tatum as the male lead. Keanu Reeves is no Cary Grant, but he’s got his own sly kind of charisma, and he can be surprisingly versatile with the right material. Emile Hirsch isn’t quite so lucky in the charisma department, but he’s a hardworking actor, and he at least understands, in theory, how to do a dramatic line reading. Channing Tatum? Let’s see, how do I put this…

Imagine that you’re in a rocket ship on a decades-long journey from the Milky Way to the Andromeda galaxy. You’re at exactly the halfway point between the galaxies — i.e. the deadest of dead space — when your ship suddenly hits a theoretically impossible bubble in which even dark matter does not exist. To preserve your fellow astronauts and the integrity of the voyage, your lifepod is jettisoned into space. The rocket continues on, leaving you alone, floating in the starless void between the galaxies in a freakish, scientifically improbable pocket of space where even the matter that we are unable to physically observe does not exist. And there you stay until the universe winds down into a cold, cosmic sepulcher, its celestial bodies drifting further and further apart into the infinite blackness, dying the most silent and ineluctable of eternal deaths.

Now. That feeling you have? It’s not even half as bad as Channing Tatum’s best performance.☕

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About mjschneider

Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by mjschneider

18 responses to “The Tatum Quandary

  • jubilare

    wow. Not sure what to say to that. I’ve never seen him in anything, so I can’t relate, but that is brutal.

    • mjschneider

      Well, you know, he’s not the worst actor ever, but he’s the worst actor working who keeps landing A-list gigs. I keep the really harsh stuff in reserve for those who truly deserve it. :)

    • jubilare

      What kind of diatribe would the worst actor ever earn?

    • mjschneider

      Something along the lines of the first third of the Divine Comedy, I think.

    • jubilare

      Is that worse, do you think? I’m not so sure.

    • technicolorlilypond

      Yeah, I have to say that this is really mean. Mere vulgarity or everyday disparagements are positively kind compared to saying with a straight face that one would honestly prefer to die alone in the void of the universe than see a Channing Tatum movie. Granted, I don’t care for him as an actor and can think of many unpleasant things I would rather do than watch him onscreen but come on, die alone in a void? No, he is not that bad. Spend two hours plucking deer ticks from my flesh and treating fly bites rather than watch a Channing Tatum movie? Sure! Death in lonely void? No! That is too mean. I hope that no worse actor or actress ever presents themselves in the spotlight to tempt you to write something even more mean. :-)

  • mjschneider

    Well, I guess it’s worse on two levels. One, it’s the difference between the total vacuum of screen presence vs. active torture; two, I’d have to up my eloquence by a factor of a thousand to do justice to an actor that bad. I’m not even sure I’m capable of communicating the intolerability of the worst of bad actors.

    Obviously, I indulged in a bit of hyperbole in this post. The majority of it stems from how much I hate seeing Channing Tatum on screen. The smaller (but no less significant) part is that this dude keeps getting headliner roles on the basis of no discernible talent. In that respect, he’s like Jessica Alba. The only reason people want to see them at all is because they’re beautiful. Never mind that they can’t sell a scene to save their souls. They’re simply terrible at what they do; their continued success degrades their profession, confirms the lowest taste in popular culture, and drags otherwise serviceable (or even good) movies down with them. I wouldn’t think so badly of Channing Tatum if he didn’t have such a successful career, because the chances are that if he didn’t have such a successful career, I’d never have to see him at all. My vitriol is in direct proportion to how desperately his status as a star needs to be eroded.

  • jubilare

    I’m sure you would be able to do the topic justice if it came up. After all, we already know you can speak in iambic meter ;)

    I hadn’t noticed the prettiness factor, but then I have less-standard tastes. It is somewhat tragic, though, for non-actors to get parts that require acting.

  • mjschneider

    I dunno, Ellen. I’d say Step Up is pretty far over the line. Compared to that kind of brutality, I’m just the powdered sugar on top of a cream puff.

  • David

    Aw, this does seem a tad harsh. I’ve only seen him in The Eagle where he was actually pretty decent and reasonably likable, if still hopelessly one-dimensional and miscast (with a part that was mis-written). Consider that the movie used him to rewrite and almost butcher one of my favorite literary characters, but I didn’t come away hating Tatum’s character for it: that’s quite an accomplishment. At least with that role, he attacked it with earnestness and a certain honesty that seemed to compensate a bit for his lack of talent.

    Also, great landscape photography and Jamie Bell as a co-star may have helped.

    Still, I don’t want him to be in any more Rosemary Sutcliff adaptations. Kevin MacDonald, what were you thinking?

    So I dunno. Everyone has their media pet peeves. A lot of other things have annoyed me more than anything Tatum-based. Like the popularity of Sam Worthington in fantasy action epics, actually; even though he’s better than Tatum. I still find him very boring and uninspiring. Or board-games inspiring movies. And movies without decent scripts. And Kristen Stewart. Also, the recent glut of fantasy movies (my favorite genre) full of deconstructions, feminist revisionism, cynicism, gratuitous violence, immoral sex, and general irreverence (i.e. things I’m not a fan of). So many things that could be good, with redeeming value, instead infected with crass immorality. +(

    • mjschneider

      I haven’t seen The Eagle. I’d considered it when I heard it was going to be made. Then I saw that Channing Tatum was in it. This is a speculative question, but do you suppose they rewrote the part to fit Tatum, as opposed to an actor that wouldn’t require such butchery in order to make it work?

      Re: your pet peeves, I’m in almost total agreement. Sam Worthington does suck, though he is at least passable. Rather than offend me by his existence, he’s simply preternaturally bland. I haven’t seen any board game movies yet, though I’m frankly looking forward to whatever Ridley Scott does with Monopoly. Bad scripts = bad movies, unless they’re made in Hong Kong, in which case sometimes they’re wonderful. Kristen Stewart can twirl her hair and bite her lip and not do a whole lot else. She can sort of go through the motions, but she doesn’t do anything for me.

      Your mini-rant on fantasy is intriguing. I’m actually having a hard time thinking of too many straight-up fantasy movies that have come out recently — or, at least, ones that I’ve seen. I suppose there are a lot of ones that fall under that broad category, but very few high fantasy, in the vein of Tolkein. From what you say, it sounds like you’re specifically thinking of Your Highness, which I avoided based on the trailer. This could be an interesting discussion, though, if you want to name names. :)

    • David

      That’s possible, although even the flattened part as written was a tad beyond his range. I think MacDonald was hoping that The Eagle would be the film where Tatum’s bland earnestness transformed into real acting, perhaps by the influence of Jamie Bell. It didn’t happen, but I still think Tatum is watchable in it.

      At times Worthington is quite likable, as he’s got a discernible sense of humor, but the movies he’s been in haven’t done him any favors for my opinion: Avatar and Clash of the Titans mainly.

      The heart of my fantasy rant is basically the appearance of so many movies I would normally love (for their premise, their visuals, their casting, etc.), and feel a personal connection for loving because they are my favorite genre, but that end up being or including enough things that I am opposed to morally or philosophically. I’m bugged that we have 2 Snow White “reinterpretations” this year, both turning one of fairyland’s meekest and gentlest heroines and turning her into a pseudo-feminist warrior archetype (because I guess gentleness and femininity is seen as a bad thing these days). Ditto with Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I’m bugged that Tarsem Singh followed one of my favorite movies (The Fall) with a ridiculous interpretation of Greek mythology that, while gorgeous to look at, was apparently just a showcase for glistening abs and artsy-bloody violence. Kind of like 300 in that respect, actually. Even the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels got increasingly (and needlessly) violent and macabre, greatly hurting their appeal to me. I’d be more willing to put up with their lousy, aimless scripts if they weren’t so fond of grossness.

      As you can see, my thoughts on this topic involve many things and aren’t well organized yet. And it goes beyond fantasy, of course — it’s just that I love fantasy more than other genres, so I’m more bugged when I sense lost potential. And it’s not like there haven’t been plenty of good fantasy movies that I have really liked in the past decade. But when I see a new trailer for a fantasy movie nowadays, I’m always wary, thinking to myself “So are they gonna throw a sex scene into this one too? Is the hero going to be grim and brutal, again? Are all the heroines going to be kickass sexy fighters, as if no girl is allowed to be admired if she dares to be peaceful and feminine?” When watching fantasy movies made before the 2000s, I don’t have to be as wary about that. (But there are other things to be wary about, of course…bad effects, not taking fantasy seriously…)

  • jubilare

    Oh no, the cyclops is frowning! But then again with the miscasting of Aquila and degradation of the fantasy genre, I am glad it is not a crying cyclops.
    Pet peeves are interesting things. I have a friend who is violently allergic to Nick Cage. I know if he is in a film, I won’t be able to get her to watch it.

    And Lilypond, your name is Ellen! I kid not when I say that is one of my absolutely favorite names!

    • David

      I don’t think the cyclops has ever cried yet, perhaps because I hardly ever do. He does grin toothily +D, wink ‘-), and stick out his tongue +p.

      From what I’ve seen of Nic Cage, I suppose I kind of agree with Roger Ebert: “Cage is a good actor in good movies, and an almost indispensable actor in bad ones.” Not that he’s always right for the role, but he almost seems to bring something manically and uniquely crazy to it.

    • jubilare

      Sometimes even a cyclops needs to cry!

      I have no problems with Cage. I’ve enjoyed him on screen, which is why I think pet peeves are so interesting.

    • mjschneider

      I agree with Ebert on Cage. Cage chooses to be in a lot of terrible movies. I think he’s drawn both to the challenge and to that kind of lowbrow and/or eccentric role. He’s often more marvelously in tune with what the role (and film) actually is than the filmmaker. He got a lot of flack for The Wicker Man, but I think his performance in it is actually pretty brilliant.

  • mjschneider

    The heart of my fantasy rant is basically the appearance of so many movies I would normally love (for their premise, their visuals, their casting, etc.), and feel a personal connection for loving because they are my favorite genre, but that end up being or including enough things that I am opposed to morally or philosophically. I’m bugged that we have 2 Snow White “reinterpretations” this year, both turning one of fairyland’s meekest and gentlest heroines and turning her into a pseudo-feminist warrior archetype (because I guess gentleness and femininity is seen as a bad thing these days). Ditto with Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I’m bugged that Tarsem Singh followed one of my favorite movies (The Fall) with a ridiculous interpretation of Greek mythology that, while gorgeous to look at, was apparently just a showcase for glistening abs and artsy-bloody violence. Kind of like 300 in that respect, actually. Even the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels got increasingly (and needlessly) violent and macabre, greatly hurting their appeal to me. I’d be more willing to put up with their lousy, aimless scripts if they weren’t so fond of grossness.

    As you can see, my thoughts on this topic involve many things and aren’t well organized yet. And it goes beyond fantasy, of course — it’s just that I love fantasy more than other genres, so I’m more bugged when I sense lost potential. And it’s not like there haven’t been plenty of good fantasy movies that I have really liked in the past decade. But when I see a new trailer for a fantasy movie nowadays, I’m always wary, thinking to myself “So are they gonna throw a sex scene into this one too? Is the hero going to be grim and brutal, again? Are all the heroines going to be kickass sexy fighters, as if no girl is allowed to be admired if she dares to be peaceful and feminine?” When watching fantasy movies made before the 2000s, I don’t have to be as wary about that. (But there are other things to be wary about, of course…bad effects, not taking fantasy seriously…)

    Sorry for the delayed response. Weekends are my workweeks, and this last week in particular has been (and will continue to be) a little crazy. There’s some great grist in your response, though, and I wanted to get cooking on it! I’m going to break it into a couple of subtopics, if that’s okay, because it’ll be easier for me to process.

    Femininity in fantasy. I think it’s problematic to define femininity in terms of meekness/gentleness or as an antithesis to sexiness, kicking ass, or fighter. Which isn’t to say that there’s no place for traditional representations of women as placid damsels, but I think there’s also a place for the warrior woman. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. If I tire of the Xena knockoff, it’s more because filmmakers seem to shoehorn it into stories where it doesn’t make sense — and those are often stories where the story itself doesn’t lend itself to grand battles (Alice in Wonderland) or in stories where it doesn’t make sense that a woman raised in the traditional mold would suddenly be able to pick up a sword, throw on fifty pounds of armor, and start hacking expertly away at orcs and other beasties. Eowyn is a classic example of the woman warrior in which her place in the world is laid out carefully, her characterization is robust, and her very function is to challenge warmaking as an inherently masculine task. Buffy Summers is another female warrior whose place in her world is carefully laid out and her characterization very robust. Neither of these characters is an attempt on the part of the author to define “femininity” or “masculinity,” but to challenge the conventional assumptions inherent in both terms. I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss that project as “pseudo-feminist” as a whole, though I think that a lot of fantasy heroines are designed to be “feminist,” except that the so-called “feminist” authors essentially define “femininity” in traditionally “masculine” terms. Which is just as problematic as defining “femininity” in traditionally “feminine” terms. The rare example that thwarts both of these trajectories is to be treasured.

    Artsy-bloody violence. Let’s grant that what each person considers to be gratuitous is usually contingent upon subjective preference and priorities. I’ve wrestled with the question of what’s too much quite a bit, and I still don’t have a consistent principle. That said, I know what you mean. There’s a difference between action and violence, and between violence and bloody violence. I haven’t yet seen The Immortals, but I have seen 300, and besides the fact that it’s violent (which seems to be a big selling point to its fan base), the violence is, for lack of a better word, beautiful. The film certainly glorifies violence for the sake of violence (despite all the jingoism of its story); for me, the biggest problem was that, for all its stylization, the violence was boring. The first couple of fast-slow-fast-mo arterial sprays were kind of galvanizing… and then the movie continued for another forty-five minutes, repeating the same trick over and over and over. It fetishized how beautiful the brutality was, then made it routine. I’m not as sure what you mean regarding the Pirates sequels in terms of the explicit brutality of the violence, but I do think they aimed to be slimier and more tasteless as they went on. On the whole, though, I think the level of violence is something contingent upon the story that’s being told. I tend to feel that antiseptic depictions of violence are dishonest, yet sometimes the overt goriness makes them fetishistic. Combining the horror and adrenaline of battle is a tricky task; you want the audience to be thrilled by the action and in suspense over what’s at stake, yet you don’t want to tastelessly pander to bloodlust. I’m not sure that this balance has ever been struck with perfect success.

    Grim and brutal. I separated this from “artsy-bloody violence” because I think this is more a matter of tone and attitude. I think the last four Harry Potter movies are a great example of this. They might not be as bloody as 300, but the color palette is almost literally composed entirety of grays and blacks; the humor is sapped from the camaraderie; the magic seems to be gone, because of the films’ search for “gritty realism,” or whatever you want to call it. I’m not a fan of making things literally washed out and visually dark as a metaphor for the “darkness” of the stories. Obviously, there’s a place for that. But it seems to be prevalent, and more than that, it seems to be a key component of trying to inject “moral complexity” into a story. I’m a fan of straightforward good-vs-evil stories; I’m also a fan of stories that are more complicated. What doesn’t make sense, though, is when a story that is predicated upon one premise — good vs. evil — is presented in the style of the other. Much has been made of how the Harry Potter movies became more “adult” as they went along, as it became harder to know the “right” thing to do. Sure, Harry’s struggle to do the right thing was always at the heart of the series, but there was always a right thing to do. There was always Good versus Evil. Gussying up the series as if it were all that difficult to tell the difference was, I think, a profound misunderstanding of the entire trajectory of the story. And that’s why I think a lot of “grim and brutal” heroes feel a bit off somehow; the stories are not intrinsically morally complex, but they’re affecting that tone because it is now in vogue to do so. That tone works for the Batman movies; it doesn’t necessarily work for everything else. I’m not inherently opposed to grim and brutal heroes or stories (in fact, I like many of them), but its proliferation is a trend that may speak more of a cynical attitude that doesn’t befit the structure or themes of the stories that are being told. I’d contrast the full-blooded romanticism of John Woo — whose films are often grim and brutal — with the washed-out gray nihilism of contemporary fantasists.

    Sex. Again, not opposed to depictions of sex in principle, but like everything else in a film, what purpose does a sex scene serve in the overall set of aesthetic choices? Is it there because the audience needs to share in the physical intimacy of a couple in order better to comprehend their bond? Or is it there because the film is pandering to a prurient desire to see naked flesh (and often disproportionately the female’s)? Again, this may boil down more to personal preference and personality. For instance, I tend not to be as offended by a gratuitous sex scene than I am by gratuitous brutality. It would be far easier for me to sit through a hardcore porno flick than Silent Hill again. I only offer this false dichotomy to illustrate my priorities in judging gratuitousness or what offends me. I guess the term “exploitation” would be the operant one here. The entire story of Shortbus is organized around sex, so its prominent and explicit performance there fits the thematic aims of the film; the scene of the young girl oracle writhing around nigh-naked in 300 is organized around titillating the audience with a highly stylized scene of a young girl writhing around in a transparent sheet. It may have something to do with the story and its anti-authoritarian bent (the priests exploit maidens for their vicarious carnal greed! Oh snap!), but it’s a protracted tangent in a film in which the themes of fighting against oppression are bluntly and redundantly stated elsewhere. As such, it felt exploitative, and that offended me.

    Lost potential. Another criterion with a highly subjective set of priorities, but again, I think I know what you mean. It’s very hard not to bring things to the table with any film, let alone one working in a genre about which you care most passionately. I’m frankly terrified to see the upcoming adaptation of Ender’s Game, because writer/director Gavin Hood has proven himself to be a subpar hack, and I literally cannot imagine how he could possibly do justice to a book I dearly love. Is it fair of me to judge his work against my love of Orson Scott Card’s book? Probably not. But it’s going to be a factor, whether I like it or not. And that’s just a highly specific example (and sci-fi instead of fantasy, but you probably get my drift). If you’re well-versed in fantasy tropes, lore, and literature (not to mention cinema), it’s going to be especially hard for a new film to compete and live up to the best or most memorable of what you’ve already experienced. I wonder how many contemporary fantasy films are even trying to live up to the history of the genre, as opposed to the latest, financially successful “fantasy” film. They often seem to be competing most directly with the most recent box office hit (and its tropes and style), rather than the earlier stories that are most thematically similar. This kind of synchronic cannibalism may give newer stories a feeling of discontinuity with the past (or even the wider contemporary context), which may heighten the feeling of lost potential.

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