Sunday 18 March 2012

Review: 21 Jump Street

Year: 2012
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Screenplay: Michael Bacall
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube

Synopsis is here:

All I know about the original 21 Jump Street is that; the original series, made Johnny Depp a teen idol. This was something he rejected, but it is what spring boarded him into the public concious. More so than his Nightmare on Elm Street role.

The idea behind the 21 Jump Street TV series is one of those streams of pop culture that someone like myself find surprising. It's not that I find it unbelievable, as a quick Google search can provide some interesting results. For me, it's that a show like that went on for so damn long. I may not know too much about it, but they mined this idea enough for 5 seasons? Fair enough. Then again I'm the kind of guy that gave up on Lost after two.

The film 21 Jump Street is a silly movie, yet it knows just how ridiculous it is. Early on, a police chief slyly denounces not only just the exercise of the film itself being made, but the current Hollywood trend of rehashing "old 80's shit and pretending that no one will notice". It's a typical wink to the camera gag that we've seen often before but it works well enough here. A problem comes however, when all the post modern gags and references fly in, and the young audience don't notice. It came to no surprise; that like the recent Apatow comedies, 21 Jump Street often fires jokes that will fly over the heads to anyone born after 1990, or isn't invested in pop culture. This isn't too much of a an issue, as there's other elements that may tickle the funny bone.  

I have to admit, by the time Icecube appears as the Angry Black Captain telling our two dunderheaded heroes to "embrace your stereotypes", I was won over. While not as subversive as expected, 21 Jump Street runs with what's got and manages to keep up a decent amount of comedic stream. Be it the effects of synthetic drugs working it's way through the body of these two "brothers", or the Galaxy High switcheroo the film plays between the leads, the film mines decent laughs out the absurd nature of the plot (they really don't look like teenagers).

For me it works, because Jonah Hill is an amusing motormouthed talent, while Channing Tatum lets loose and plays good looking dumb jock way better than I expected. Tatum has never really been a favourite of mine in terms of presence. Yet here, showing his comedic chops, he brings his best performance, wonderfully enthusiastic and at times sweet.

This could be said of much of the film, which captures some inbetweener style laughs and brings about a wonderfully charming double act to the furore. When the film misses the mark, it's with gross out gags that aren't so much disgusting, but badly placed. The film, like so many comedies, fumbles with it's pace in the later half and tries desperately to get back up to speed (may I suggest more of the wonderfully cute Ellie Kemper sticking out her tush?). The negatives in no way overshadows the positives. It's a film which has gigglesome moments in the duos bumbling antics and delayed explosions. It does so with a cheeky nod and a wink. It knows it's silly and allows you in on the joke.

Friday 16 March 2012

Review: John Carter

Year: 2012
Director: Andrew Stanton
Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe

Synopsis is here:

The goings on behind John Carter, remind me much of situations that have happened in places where I've worked. Here, we have an expensive product (reportedly over $250 million) that has a uncertainly in it's success, despite similar commodities having large amounts of achievement. A bunch of cooks  (executives, marketing and the like) who are all chopping and changing the recipe, despite appearing to hold their own reservations to the broth itself. There's is a braying, foaming at the mouth mob (we call them the consumer), seemingly waiting to rip the product to sheds. And at the end of all this, there is a director who honestly wants to do the best job he can.

John Carter (formerly of Mars) has so many disparaging factors attacking it from all sides that one was never really surprised at it's revenue stream. Many are debating the films financial success, but all in all, it's save to say that the film hasn't impressed as hoped. But then again how could it? With all the name altering, release shifting and weak marketing, Carter had seemingly lost it's voice before it even began. Let's not lie to ourselves. Despite the original story being a foundation of so much the fanboys hold dear, this attempt, with it's lack of known names and third world debt busting budget, was always going to be a tall order. But with so much nonsense surrounding it, at no point did any of the elements look to combine to create one true vision. All this and I've not yet got on to the bloody film itself.

John Carter (of Mars, Barsoom, whatever) is a film which is as flawed as it is entertaining and as earnest as it is erratic. For every character moment which sparked interest in me, there was juncture based on quite weak motivation. It's ambition clearly shows throughout, and yet it still feels slashed to try and fit everything in. With this said, the film still feels lengthy and yet you're never quite sure why it does. Sub-plots appear streamlined for a sequel not yet green lighted for a sequel Disney have not yet entered on to the franchise farm. However; if a sequel were to appear, I'd happily pay money to see it.

The thing is; while everything doesn't hang together as gracefully as you would hope, (American Civil War! Now MARS! Now Roman style Colosseum antics! An eternally lengthy Royal Wedding!) John Carter didn't bore me, as it jumped haphazardly from point to point. And why would it? Stanton's film; gives us a lead character who has enough heroism and appeal to keep investment. True, the first time Taylor Kitsch opens his mouth, his gravelly voice is more than a little gigglesome, and much of his reasoning behind his actions are muddled and murky at best. Despite this, Kitsch gives his performance his all and it clearly shows. As does the turn from Lynn Collins, whose display will remind many of Princess Leia, like so many characters of such an archetype.

Everyone in the film are so engaged in the situation, you just wish everything could be a bit more clear. We have three different tribes, all fighting, but for reasons that the audience are merely asked to bypass. The films antagonist (Brit villain for hire Mark Strong), is the type of heartless, immoral bastard that you you will love to hate. However, the film underplays the nefarious nature of the events that occur, much like the reasons for Carter to join the war that is taking place. When reasoning arises, it comes across mealy mouthed and unimportant. It just doesn't match the energy of the characters.

This brings frustration as when the film hits the mark, it strikes strong. A wonderful set piece involving Carter fighting for his life, intercut with his own personal back story is a moment I found emotionally overwhelming (all of the set pieces I enjoyed). It's old fashioned style towards everything is also welcoming. There is no pandering to modern trends; and this alone, gives the film a strange freshness about it despite the story itself being technically older than the films that have come before this movie (if that even makes sense). The films humour is also quite charming.

It's a shame we've been spoilt visually in the past however, as Avatar looms large over Stanton's industrious effort. The film is good looking and stylish in it's own right (despite that bloody orange/teal colour palette), but it just cannot match the efforts that take place in James Cameron's beautifully realised vision. It is; however, much more of a match, in its story. Despite both featuring the same archetypes within them, John Carter's various tribes, space travel and mixture of sci-fi and period history appears to be much more dense and enjoyable than Cameron's grunts on Pandora.  There is a richness in between the lines that could have been further unlocked were it not for all the mitigating factors that the film clearly had issues with. The development hell faced, along with the need to be a franchise can clearly be seen within John Carter.

I can say however, I was never bored with John Carter. I always wanted to know what came next, enjoyed its sense for adventure and its banter. Carter didn't reach the truly epic scale I had hoped, but by no means did it truly disappoint itself. It's a damn shame that all the pottering about the money, the release date, the marketing and everything in-between, have not allowed the film to breathe. John Carter isn't perfect but wear its flaws, like its heart, on its sleeve and goes down fighting.

NOTE: I'm not in Marketing. If I was I would have simply gone down this route: "Before avatar, before star wars route, Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) takes you to Mars!" I don't know how that would work. But like I said, I'm not in marketing.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Review: This Means War

Year: 2012
Director: McG
Screenplay: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine

Synopsis is here

This weekend for me has, unfortunately, been a disastrous double bill of recent features that have made me cry out for improvement. The twitterverse, blogosphere and forums keep crying out for original movies to be made and I fully understand where they are coming from. However, when the original films being made are as vapid, predictable and bland as this, then I will happily enjoy the retreads, rehashes and reimaginings. An American remake of a good movie, still often has decent material to back it up. This Means War is the sort of sub-par feature film; that has the writers of HBO laughing their arses off. Please note, they're not laughing because the jokes in this film are any good.

In fact not much of This Means War is any good. It is a film in which one of the CIA agents; FDR (Pine), breaks and enters the love interest, Lauren (Witherspoon) house to gain knowledge of her, obtains said knowledge by staring at it full on in the face, then promptly forgets in pretty much the next scene. Other reviews have mentioned the gross invasion of privacy in such scenes. I'm not particularly worried because it appears that these seemingly young, fit and healthy men have a shocking case of alzheimers.

It's not as if the females get a fairer shake of the rattle. While on a date with FDR, Lauren leaves his living room and Tuck (Hardy) shoots FDR with a tranquillizer dart. FDR pulls the dart out but falls to the sofa asleep. Lauren re-enters the room and is annoyed that her date is asleep because she wanted to get laid. What annoys me is that she can't see the massive dart resting beside her date. It's not hard to see, and a cut away of the dart rolling away would cover the tracks. The film plays out as if all the audience are affected by extreme ADD.

Small yet frustrating factors aside, This Means War fails for me simply because it doesn't know what to do with it's young and talented cast. Witherspoon is an actress with a Meg Ryan cuteness and a huge amount of comic potential that is wasted in scene after scene. Tom Hardy looks like he's waiting for a phone call from Nicolas Winding Refn while Chris Pine has had the charisma vaccumed right out of him. None of the dialogue sparkles for any of them and none of them are given any real time or space to show that every one of these actors can actually be quite amusing.

But then again this is a McG film, therefore all that matters is throwing as much at possible at the screen and hoping it sticks (See either Charlie's Angels film for example). The Micheal Bay-lite director once again gives us an ugly looking film (I have no idea how he gets that hideous colour scheme) that misunderstands overediting with being kinetic. Yet again the modern audience is give action sequences with little to no geography but what does it matter as long as people are seen dying and cars explode. Come to think of it, these CIA agents kill a lot of people needlessly in this sweet, harmless romantic comedy don't they? But then again such things matter in this as much as a coherent screenplay.

I think one of the worse things about This Means War, is the fact that the film constantly references films and filmmakers better than itself and it's creator. Watching McG imitate Martin Scorsese's Copacabana sequence from Goodfellas is an unfortunate tease, reminding me I could have been having more fun at home with something more entertaining.

Friday 2 March 2012

Review: Project X

Year: 2012

Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Screenplay: Michael Bacall and Matt Drake

Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown

Synopsis is inconsequential is there doesn't appear to be a story. 

What the fuck ever happened to the Teen Film? I walked out of the Project X and that's the first thought that stuck me as I left the theatre. They never used to be as belligerent as this. From your the likes of Animal House (1978) to Ferris Bueller (1986) to my favourite film House Party (1990), there was always a certain element of charm and innocence to the films, lest not their leads. A reason to follow them and spur them on when they "get the girl".

Project X is what you get when you shoehorn a sub par American Pie direct to DVD sequel into a sub-genre that is getting overused at the best of times. But there's more. A liberal sprinkling of MTV reality T.V morals is added to the mix (fame is everything) just to show how insidious the undertones of this movie is. I would send a pox on this film, if it wasn't already so sickly.

Utilizing the trend of "found footage" - despite looking like an tediously over-long, slick music video half of the time, Project X details a weakly told tale of a boys birthday party gone wrong. The idea of lurid teen horniness, pranks and parties going array isn't really a big thing. Films like Superbad (2007) and T.V Series' such as Skins (2007) have their sticky foundation based on such elements. Even last year; one of the biggest British hits of the year was of course The Inbetweeners Movie, a film which managed captures the awkwardness of adolescence that was brought across in the T.V series before it. The thing is, all the above examples do well to at least try and counterbalance some of the more dubious morals on display. But then again none of the above examples have anyone as vile as Costa.
Costa is a character whose lack of remorse or care for anything except his love for "pussy" and "bitches" is a almost as off-putting as the dubious Jewish stereotype that's bestowed on him. But then again this is a character whose quick to use "nigga" in a film in which no black characters say anything substantial and yet hip-hop is blasted out of every audio orifice. This is no Inbetweeners Jay, who is clearly made the butt of the jokes due to his over exaggerations, but a loud mouth wannabe stifler character who garners far too much attention in a film like this.
Oliver Cooper clearly has talent however, as I do not believe for a second that the actor is as obnoxious as his fictional counterpart. Unfortunately it his the characters voice which sets the tone, and he's not even the lead character.

The tone is lots of drunken jailbait breasts bouncing around to loud music as events head way out of control. The plausibility of what happens isn't really the issue, it's the lack of empathy for these nimrods in a film that forgets the basic element of found footage: you have to be really good at making things look bad. To make things worse, the film takes overdone elements and wears them into the ground a little more, doing nothing to make them more interesting. The popular girl is a bitch, there's a blonde douchebag that turns up, the fat friend is also considered to be a little "special", "great stuff". When a car flies into the swimming pool in the films later half, I yawned. Not only was I immediately reminded of Oasis' third album (or The Who), but that even John Hughes was better at how he staged such scenes. He also understood the importance of consequence, character arcs and general entertainment. I fear now he is slowly rotating in his grave. If however you still find the idea of dogs humping amusing, you may find more than I did here.

Note: The film isn't funny either.