Thursday, November 27, 2014

Random Movie: 21 Jump Street (2012)

If you would have asked me six months ago about the 21 Jump Street remake, I likely would have had a pained look on my face paired with an enthusiastic thumbs down. I wouldn't have been the only one as #pbf remarked in his rant just prior to its release. As the premiere grew closer and I kept seeing more trailers and clips, I felt a small glimmer of hope that it could actually be good. Yes, even with Duke himself, Channing Tatum, playing a lead role.

I can't say I am a fan of the originating series but nor am I a foe. Given that I was five when it premiered and never caught it in reruns, I was not as perturbed at the piggy-backing on a famous name as some. Yet, like most in the movie-watching world, I am leery and over saturated with crap movies churned out simply because they ride the coattails of nostalgia. Thankfully, I believe Jonah Hill and writer Michael Bacall share that sentiment as Jump Street is not just an empty box office cash-grab for the fans of a nearly thirty year old series. For starters, yes, the film is a comedy whereas the series (from what I've been educated on) was more angst and drama. I guess that makes this more of a re-imagining? But beyond culling the basic premise from the series and sending undercover police officers Hill and Tatum back to high school, Jump Street is almost equal parts gross-out comedy, buddy cop comedy, fish-out-of-water comedy, and satire, especially pertaining to the hollowness of Hollywood productions of recent memory.

It sounds mighty ambitious but with the directorial team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Jump Street ends up being a wonderful example of not only how to not crap upon an existing property (cough, Nightmare on Elm Street redux) but how to make a hugely entertaining movie from start to finish. The biggest asset to the film is the chemistry between Hill and Tatum as the misfit policing duo. Years ago, Jenko (Tatum) was the guy who cared more about sports and girls than passing high school while Schmidt (Hill) was the nerdy, Eminem wanna-be with no social skills to speak of. Perhaps the fact that he was emulating a pop culture icon half a decade too late is part of the reason why. As they come up together in the generic Metropolitan Police Academy, they forge a friendship since Jenko is too obtuse to know all of the Miranda rights and Schmidt cannot even intimidate a child who unlawfully feeds waterfowl. After an arrest goes embarassingly bad, the two are reassigned under the angry and black captain Ice Cube to pose as teenagers to bust up a drug ring.

Immediately, the tables are turned on the two as Jenko's lazy and punchy ways are deemed intolerant while Schmidt's sensitivity and intellect are honored in modern high school. Some of the best moments in the film are the two coming to grips with their new status in the social pecking order as Schmidt is welcomed by the cool kids, including James' little brother Dave Franco while Jenko is stuck hanging out with chemistry nerds. Eventually, the two manage to infiltrate the drug ring and discover that weird eco-loving hippy kids are the ones behind it. Yeah, it\'s been a while since I was in high school as well.

The filmmakers were smart in turning Schmidt and Jenko's training and regular police business into a tightly edited vignette but it sets the stage nicely for the rest of the laughs to roll in. In fact, unlike many recent comedies I can think of, Lord and Miller cut away at the apex of a humorous scene as opposed to letting it run painfully long like your average SNL skit. And for such a fluffy harmless comedy, most of the characters are clearly defined with Jenko and Schmidt having touching and still quite funny character arcs.

Given the right film, you cannot deny that Jonah Hill is a talented actor and even though his emaciated face looks a bit odd, he embodies the typical awkward kid who is ecstatic at another chance at popularity. And while Channing Tatum is typically placed just a few rungs higher than Pauly Shore, his charisma and comedic timing almost purge my fleeting memories of that damn G.I. Joe movie. The rest of the film is populated with other good actors like Brie Larson and comedic relief from Rob Riggle and Chris Parnell to leave no character unmemorable in one way or another.

#pbf is probably mad at me for liking this one so much. Not as mad as he'll be at himself when he gets around to it though.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Random Movie: Heavenly Sword (2014)

There are not too many positive examples of video-game-to-film transitions that you can point to. Some, like the first Resident Evil movie, are spun off from their console counterparts into a mediocre cinema treat that is begging to be forgotten after you’ve concluded watching it. Others are rancid piles of feces. Heavenly Sword: The Movie (based on the hit interactive graphic adventure!) falls more toward the former than the latter. It is not however without its own issues.

About six weeks ago, Kenny asked me to review this film. Having never even heard of the game before, I was reluctant to take part for fear that it catered solely toward those already familiar with the premise. Having read the film’s summary on Wikipedia, I realized that it did a fine job in conveying some of the more important points but due to the necessary truncation, some elements were not as fleshed out as I would have preferred. I blame Todd Farmer, writer of the interstellar juggernaut Jason X.

Heavenly Sword’s biggest flaw is surprisingly that it tries too hard with too little to fall back on. Consider what it would look like if you combined a modest-budget CGI film from the early 2000s with an epic, sweeping picture like The Matrix or Inception and you have already arrived at your final destination: this film.

Employing no less than three different animation techniques and a smattering of ill-placed narration to fill in the story’s gaps, Heavenly Sword is a movie in conflict with itself. On one hand, the structure of the story is as transparent and cliché-ridden that you will probably guess the majority of the ebbs and flows. On the other, director Gun Ho Jang uses quite skillful choreography and style to distract from the other shortcomings. In the end, you have a nice looking film, but one that is sloppily stitched together from standard movie tropes like the hero’s journey or seeking revenge without adding anything to the mix.

Fringe’s Anna Torv reprises her role from the game as the voice behind Nariko, the daughter of a great warrior and the general laughing stock of her clan who recognizes her skill but dismisses them because ... she's a girl. When their compound is attacked, Nariko’s father sends her out with the titular scimitar to find her half-brother, The Chosen One. It is he, and only HE!, who can wield the sword and defeat the advancing armies of the big bad, King Bohan (Alfred Molina). Bohan is the typical antagonist who wants the MacGuffin and will stop at nothing to acquire it, even if that means the senseless massacre of a few dozen people who apparently do not bleed in this world.

Nariko is paired with the plucky youngster Kai whose secret power is unleashing the power of a Gatling Crossbow in some of the film’s neatest sequences on her quest. And of course Nariko faces a number of big bosses at the end of the levels, err… sequences. And of course, you probably know what will happen to Kai. And you probably know what will happen when Nariko is finally reunited with the brother she never knew of, The Chosen One. If you do not, you need to watch more movies.

For as many sequences and scenes as this movie does right (which are a few, especially the boss fights), there are a number that are simply underwhelming. Without a slew of knowledge about the production of CGI-only movies, I cannot speculate as to why there are drastic differences in animation and shot composition throughout the film or even in the same scene.

One minute, I willfully embrace the dodgy animation and enjoy the rough and tumble fights. The next, I’m wondering who decided that literally taking a cut-scene from a video game and splicing it in would be a good idea. Likewise the score will go from epic horns and strings during a fight to staccato blips of an 80s synthesizer to a reaction shot. Bizarre is as close as I can get to describing it.

But, in spite of the (probably) shameless cash grab and questionable material, Heavenly Sword does hit the mark, especially as it pertains to Nariko’s journey. It is not shocking nor surprising nor anything new, but over the course of the film’s runtime, her spunk and determination do get to you, even if you can’t forget that the scene you are watching is basically Neo fighting the 100 Agent Smiths in whichever Matrix sequel. Only in better CGI.

Heavenly Sword is available on DVD and Blu-Ray September 2, 2014.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Random Movie: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

As one half of 2013′s dueling White House under siege films, Olympus Has Fallen is so patently absurd that it is borderline offensive. From the opening frame of the film, the story apparently takes place in a fictitious universe that lacks any common sense of terrorist attacks, tactical ability, or even the best way of not dying from automatic machine gun fire. But even though it is stupid enough to make your eyes bleed, this is way better than it has any right to be.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Twister 2 Exists! Only Now It's Called 'Into the Storm'

Considering that Twister was 1996′s second highest grossing film, I have always found the lack of a rushed, blatant studio-cash-in sequel puzzling. Even as the years ticked by, I can't help but think that Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, and Jami Gertz all had their agents pestering Warner Brothers for a follow-up, even if it in all likelihood would be a soulless reusing of the first's films flimsy structure without any of the accidental charisma that the original had.