I was ready to hate 21 Jump Street, but shockingly I didn’t…

I didn’t LOVE it either, but I liked it well enough to enjoy myself. Seems  21 Jump Street was better than it had the right to be. The most shocking part is that there was an actual narrative–WHA?!  A narrative that was well-executed, well acted and kept my attention.  Wait…wait…you want to know the really, really shocking part?  My favorite character was played by Channing Tatum!!  WHA-WHA?!  I know.  Craziness.  (For those who do not know Mr. Tatum annoys me–he is Keanu Reeves replacement for best wooden acting.)

There were a few things that were keeping me from running to theater to watch 21 Jump Street.  First, it appeared to have nothing in common with the original source (yes…I am old enough to have watched the television series and I am not a fanatic about it, but still…), which was more of a dramedy than a straight out comedy.  Secondly, the trailer was not funny to me.  But, I started hearing all the positive press and reviews and thought I would give it a chance.

I am glad I did and although I did not think it was the “best comedy since Hangover (part 1)” (which still ranks #1 of making me cry from laughter throughout), I did have fun.   There were times of genuine laughter, some of the jokes were dead on–LOL moments for sure!  And there were also times of me–shaking my head–laughing–but more at the absurdity, and not at the punchline. 

The best thing about this film is that writer Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim–one of my favs) is clever and infuses the story with real moments–amidst all the ludicrous behavior–and those moments are the heart of the story and what makes you care for these two guys.  Then add the directing team of Chris Miller and Phil Lord (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs–another fav) and let them create this zany, fast-paced ride–without losing sight of just how absurd it all is and having massive fun with it. Some of the most successful ‘funny” happened when they were mocking themselves.  Well done guys!

Jonah Hill is strong here and I already know that this kid has some comedy and acting chops (check out Cyrus if you doubt it)–so no surprise there.  But Channing Tatum? He, I usually avoid–but I liked him here–his style worked–he is still wooden, but he is supposed to be. And yet, he was able to emote real sadness and was pretty damn funny.  Shocker, for sure!  The supporting cast is solid–especially the HS kids–but this is the Jonah + Channing show–all the way. 

Overall it was a good time.  It was probably better that I had ZERO expectations, because it allowed me to go it with an open mind.  So, I will say–check it out if you want a fun, silly and sometimes really funny time.  You may thank Korean Jesus for it!  😉

Red Band trailer–do not watch if you’re sensitive to foul language!  

Advertisements

The Hunger Games does not disappoint! Whew! Thank goodness!

I was worried. Hopeful, but still worried. Thankfully, my fears were laid to rest. The Hunger Games was AWESOME!  They captured the essence of the book, left every major part intact and they added new, additional material that made the narrative even more effective–nicely done, Hollywood, nicely done indeed!

We all know that Hollywood has been known for ruining strong source material before and so, I was rightfully concerned. I was encouraged by a few things: I like writer/director Gary Ross, he is known for creating believable characters in his films and he was working closely with source writer Suzanne Collins, which was encouraging and a good sign.  Then we had Jennifer Lawrence, who is very talented and fit the image of Katniss that I had created in my mind. Add Josh Hutcherson, who I believe is underrated and will have a big future and Woody Harrelson, who is brilliant and I dare say I was a little excited. Finally, the first trailer impressed me (and motivated me to read Collin’s Trilogy, which I loved!).  And all though there were many reasons to be excited, that still did not guarantee a success. 

Well, they did it!  The Hunger Games delivers on all of its potential and then some! 

Ross was able to take his time and introduce all the characters and set up the world properly (as well as allude to the future installments).  Lawrence and Hutcherson were amazing!  Each embodied the spirit of Katniss and Peeta and yes, Harrelson continues his brilliance.  Also add the ever-entertaining Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks (who was the perfect Effie!), Donald Sutherland (a convincing villain) and the unexpected Lenny Kravitz (who was lovely as Cinna!) and you have a great cast of excellent actors!

Of course the stand out is Lawrence.  She carries this film on her shoulders. At this point of the story she is the primary player and Lawrence is able to infuse Katniss with strength and determination, as well a vulnerability and uncertainty.  Absolutely wonderful!  There is a scene in which she is trembling with fear and my heart went out to her–this young woman is going to have a long and brilliant career.

Another great thing is that they successfully created the world of Panem, from the lush forest and poverty of the districts to the cold beauty of the Capital.  And The Game arena was just as I imagined.  The special effects were perfect–from the critters to death announcements.  It is always fun when you get to see what has played out in your mind come to life! 

I have heard some complainants about the level of violence and/or the lack of violence. Here I will have to side with the PG-13 rating.  Yes, it would have been nice to see more gore (like in the books) but I think it would have excluded too much of the target audience. I thought it was just enough–sometimes I think it is more disturbing to leave it to your imagination. 

 

The other negative remark I have heard has been about the “love triangle” situation.  First, let me state that the book does a better job of clarifying Katniss’ intentions towards Peeta (she is playing “the game” of love, to get positive response, which leads to help from the sponsors, in order to survive), but the film does hint at this–you just have to be paying attention.  One of the things I love about Katniss is her clear focus on survival–she will do anything to protect her family and she lets nothing stand it the way of that.  The “love triangle” is not a motivating factor in anything that she does.  Love grows naturally, slowly and understandably so with time, but it is NOT and should not be the main selling point of this narrative.

I will end by saying that I went with my man-friend, who has yet to read the novels, and he was completely impressed with the film and the world he was introduced to.  He stated that it was intelligent, creative and engrossing.  Now, he is going to read the books, (that up to this point he has been hesitant to read because of their Young Adult status). YES!  Hooked!  Welcome to club, my friend!

As you all know the film is a hit! YAY!  And everyone has signed up to finish the trilogy.  So, next up? Catching Fire.  Now the only question left is: How am I suppose to survive until November of 2013?? 

Our Idiot Brother turned out to be NOT as idiotic as I thought…

 (2011)

When I saw the trailer for Our Idiot Brother I thought…Nope. Not interested. How could I possibly care about someone who is that stupid? Well, it turns out I was wrong and could care a lot.  That was tricky thing to do because Paul Rudd‘s Ned could easily cross the fine line between innocence and absurdity, but Rudd is able to create a genuine character, not a caricature and that is a direct result of his talent.

The idiot brother, Ned, is actually an idealist that is very aware of how the world sees him.  And yet, he chooses to believe in the good or at least, the potential of good in others.  The story drops Ned off (after a stint in prison for a very silly lapse in judgement) into the middle of the lives of his three sisters.  His direct, innocent and unintentional observations begin to cause havoc on their already dysfunctional lives and of course, they blame him when things begin to fall apart. 

Elizabeth Banks , Zooey Deschanel , and Emily Mortimer  are perfect as his siblings–each fulfilling a standard stereotype–Banks is the type A professional–Deschanel is the free spirit and a lesbian–Mortimer is the frazzled mother of two–but even with the clear types they play their parts well. 

Writer/Director Jesse Peretz has created a simple, yet effective narrative. Peretz, along with his sister Evgenia Peretz seem to truly understand these characters and they created a loving portrait of a what feels like a real family.  They have also added some great supporting characters.  Rashida Jones is always a pleasure (and I like her the more I see of her).  Steve Coogan and Adam Scott are great and solid male foils for the women.  I must point out that there is a very clever, and well done, subplot that involves Ned’s dog, Willie Nelson, that is a thing of beauty. 

Surprisingly, I was taken in by this little story.  I found myself invested in the well-being of these people, especially Ned, who had stolen my heart by the end of it.  I love when a film takes you on an unexpected journey–so, go ahead and check it out–you may find that you will care for and like Ned more than you do most people and he is NOT the idiot everyone thinks he is. 

Can I dare hope that Tim Burton has found his lost mojo?

Okay. I love Tim Burton, but Alice in Wonderland disappointed me greatly (especially when I was almost giddy with excitement beforehand) and if I were being honest he has been hit and miss of late.  So, when Dark Shadows was announced I was NOT giddy, I was worried and planned to skip it, because it seems like both Johnny Depp and Burton were starting to lose my interest. 

Then I saw this trailer and I am almost afraid to hope.  Can this be the return of the Burton I once loved?  Can the magic of Depp and Burton be conjured up again? 

I want to believe…really, I do…

Related articles

John Carter will take you on a beautifully realized adventure!

John Carter feels old school–a throw back to a time when character development and atmosphere were placed in higher regard than special effects and mindless action.  And although Andrew Stanton has created a beautiful Martian landscape, orchestrated thrilling action sequences and realized memorable CG rendered alien characters–this story can be stripped down to the telling of a journey, taken by a disillusioned confederate era captain, who ends up finding his destiny.  Bravo! 

I have never read the novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I do know about them and as a Sci Fi geek I am aware of their significance to our genre. Yet, I was able to come in with a clean slate and be introduced to this new world.  And what a world it is!  Stanton is able to maintain a perfect balance throughout the narrative and it’s a testament to his storytelling abilities.  He mixes action with character growth and sprinkles in humor and poignancy, for good measure.  The story takes its time and allows you get lost in all its details. 

(Side note–I am so excited that both Pixar directors–Stanton and Brad Bird–have not disappointed in the live action arena–can’t wait to see what they do next!)

The cast is perfect.  Taylor Kitsch as John Carter is scrappy and tough, but with enough sadness and pain to make him a believable hero.  Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah is the right mix of intelligent, badass and vulnerable.  Mark Strong (again) plays a strong villain and Dominic West has being a jerk down to a science.  The remaining characters are motion captured and are brought to life, most memorably, by Willem Dafoe (Tars Tarkas–Leader of the Tharks) and Samantha Morton (Sola).  I also loved all the creatures–especially the “doggy” Woola!

I found that it was easy to lose myself in this adventure.  It had a little bit of everything and a whole lot of wonderful.  (Now, I am looking forward to the proposed trilogy!)  Go check it out–the trailer doesn’t do it justice–trust me, this is a journey worth taking!

I wanted to like Ghost Rider:Spirit of Vengeance…really, I did…

Why? A comic book hero? Idris Elba? Nicolas Cage is a skeleton on FIRE?  C’mon!  And guiltily, I enjoyed the first Ghost Rider (2007)–it had a solid mythology and was fun.  So, I was thinking this would be more of the same or at least some Drive Angry horribliciousness (yes…it is my word to describe movies that are horrible and awesome–I will also use Badtastic–as in Starship Troopers!). Anyway–I was WRONG!

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t even qualify as a sequel, since it has nothing at all that ties it to the original–not the story or even Nicolas Cage (who is now even more of a caricature).  The narrative is convoluted.  The acting is ridiculously bad–even by the good actors.  The script is actually just a string of clichés.  The only bright spot is the use of some cool special effects, but sadly one can not live on effects alone.

Oh, we did laugh. At the movie though, not with the movie.

There are many reasons to dislike This Means War–and yet…

Is it weird that I wanted Chris Pine and Tom Hardy to hook-up??  This Means War only works because of the chemistry between these two guys and that Reese Witherspoon only serves as an intrusive wedge between these two souls that are meant to be together!  Oh wait…that is NOT the way it’s suppose to go? Well then…

In that case, it was predictable, full of “really?” plot points, a bit cliché and over-the-top.  AND still I enjoyed myself.  I guess there is power in chemistry.  And trust me, these two (good-looking :)) dudes have it.  They are both very good actors in a mediocre film–and they seem to truly enjoy each other’s company–you can feel how much fun they’re having. Witherspoon is okay–charming and sweet, like always. The real surprise for me was Chelsea Handler, who was believable and funny–who knew? 

There are few genuine laughs and when you get past the unrealistic (and illegal) use of taxpayer money–it is fun–kind of like an ice-cold Coke Cola–bubbly, sweet and full of empty calories.  This is directed by McG , who again proves to have a strong sense of action and little sense when it comes to character development and narrative. 

Oh well.  Good thing every once in a while you just want a Coke.

Anonymous is interesting, but could have been great–

I love Shakespeare! Truly, madly and deeply. And that is probably the reason I enjoyed most of Anonymous.  There has been a theory (Oxfordian) around for a long time now that questions if William Shakespeare was the author of all the acclaimed works written under that name.  This film addresses that interesting aspect, but it also involves some of the political intrigues of the time and that is where the story goes off the rails for me.  If they had stayed focused on Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford (the true author according to the theory), I believe it could have been better.

The narrative starts strong, but then strays quickly into melodrama. Affairs–double-crossing–secret dreams–jealous playwrights-etc,etc.  Yeah, it strays into territory that seem unnecessary. 

They assembled a strong cast though.  Rhys Ifans is almost unrecognizable as the Earl of Oxford and he has the charisma and presence to play this role–I found myself wanting to believe that he was the one that wrote all the words I love.  Vanessa Redgrave plays the older Queen Elizabeth and is lovely.  (For a nice touch they got her daughter, Joely Richardson, to play the younger Elizabeth.)  And the underused David Thewlis is always a pleasure to watch–I wish they would have given him more to do than plot against the kingdom and object to things.

Anyway, back to the best part…the theory.  It does makes sense when you think about it–Shakespeare was illiterate, as were his children (why would he not educate them?)–how did he know so much about court etiquette if he was a mere actor?  Then again…brilliance can spring from the ordinary, right?.  Well…for me, it makes no difference who is the author–To quote “Shakespeare“… “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Indeed!  All that matters is that the work exists and we are all the better for it.

I Saw the Devil is not easy to watch, but hard to turn away from…

  (2010)

Let me start by saying Koreans are WHACK!  I’ve seen a few of their films and yeah…they’re some crazy people. Crazy and brilliant!  I Saw the Devil is an emotional journey. An intense story about a psychopathic serial killer and the secret agent that stalks him in order to seek revenge.  It is a graphic, gory, unflinching look at a monster which would be almost unbearable to watch, if not for the fact that it is, at its core, a sad tale of loss.  How far is someone willing to go for justice? Or Vengeance? 

The killer is perfectly played by Min-sik Choi (also famously in Oldboy–another Korean classic).  Min-sik is very convincing as a soulless monster–it gave me the willies.  Byung-hun Lee plays his counter–the secret agent who places his own soul in jeopardy in his pursuit of revenge for the death of his finance.  Byung-hun is quiet and stoic which makes his descent into darkness all the more disturbing and sad. 

If you have a strong stomach and do not mind delving into dark side of the human psyche, you will appreciate what director Jee-woon Kim has accomplished.  He has taken what could be a straight shock-horror film and has created a melancholic portrait of grief.  I could not take my eyes off the screen, but was exhausted by the end.  WHEW!