Tuesday, March 27, 2012

21 Jump Street

Movie Name: 21 Jump Street
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Ice Cube, Dax Flame, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Jake M. Johnson, Nick Offerman, Dakota Johnson, Johnny Simmons, Caroline Aaron
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

"21 Jump Street" is the first live action feature film from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, both of whom previously directed the animated "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". The film is an adaptation of the TV show from the late 80s, created by Stephen J. Cannell and Patrick Hasburgh, that launched the career of Johnny Depp. The film follows the lives of Schmidt and Jenko, who were completely different in high school, and who both end up as unlikely friends in the police force. Because of their looks and young age, they both end up being part of a special program, an undercover assignment which aims at tracing crimes in high school. Schmidt and Jenko end up reliving their high school experiences, but in completely opposite shoes.
The film, which borrows heavily from the style that Judd Apatow started with "40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up",  lives from the sense of irony that the writers have placed in the action sequences and the traditional high school films that have been done by other film makers. The directors enjoy the tongue-in-cheek moments, and playing with the audience's expectations, but in the end the film has a moral ground that is exactly the same as the films that it pokes fun of (the cliches are all there). The acting of all the actors is uniformly forgettable, with Jonah Hill again playing the same type he has created for all of his previous films (with the exception of his character in Bennett Miller's "Moneyball"). A mediocre effort.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Movie Name: Jeff Who Lives at Home
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Stars: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Zissis, Evan Ross, Matt Malloy, Joe Chrest
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

After expanding their visibility with the comedy "Cyrus", the Duplass brothers are back with "Jeff Who Lives at Home". The film follows the story of eternal slacker and pothead Jeff, who is 30 and lives in his mom's basement. Jeff believes that everything in life has a purpose, a meaning and that nothing occurs out of a coincidence. He sets out to finish a task assigned by his mom, and ends up connecting with his brother, going through a meltdown of his own, and with his own mother, who is trying to find meaning to her own life, now that she's getting older.
"Jeff Who Lives at Home" is a small film, filled with a glimmer of home and optimism, something that Jason Segel embodies perfectly with his eternal look of a man-child. Jeff is a young man whose life holds little meaning for himself and for his family, but who's trying to live beyond his small universe. The people in his sphere are trying to somehow bring some meaning and feeling to their lives - his brother who listens to no one, and ultimately cares about no one, and his mother, who after years of being alone, has reached a point where she simply feels trapped in her life. The film does a good job of presenting the search for a meaningful life and meaningful relationships with a sense of irony and great humor, which permeates all the situations of the film. The high point of "Jeff Who Lives at Home" is the cast, with Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon all creating heartfelt characters who are flawed and ultimately human. A film worth watching.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

John Carter

Movie Name: John Carter
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Andrew Stanton
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, Daryl Sabara, Ciaran Hinds, Art Malik
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Andrew Stanton's first live action film "John Carter" comes surrounded by a cloud of news concerning the film's budget and it's poorly conceived marketing campaign, which has been obscuring the film's qualities. The film follows the story of John Carter a skilled veteran of the civil war, who finds himself through a strange device, on the plains of Mars. There he is thrown in the midst of a battle for the domain of the planet, and thanks to his newly found physical capabilities (due to the changes in the gravity of the planet), he ends up changing the tides and the overall life of the inhabitants of the planet.
The path of this film to the screen is marked by many attempts from different studios and filmmakers (most notably Robert Rodriguez), and after directing many of Pixar's big hits, namely "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E", Andrew Stanton was the name selected to create the world of Edgar Rice Burroughs' hero on the screen. The film ends up having mixed results - in an attempt to create more than stereotypes and allow for character development, Stanton creates a film that has an irregular pacing. "John Carter" though with it's flaws in pacing and the somewhat predictability of the plot, still has lots of positive things to offer, namely it's fantastic visuals, ranging from the production design, costumes and the stunning special effects. Though flawed, it's a film with solid actors and a solid and entertaining core. Worth watching.

Monday, March 5, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Movie Name: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Year of Release: 2010
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Siobhan Fallon, Alex Manette, Ashley Gerasimovich, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

British director Lynne Ramsay is back after a long hiatus that followed "Morvern Callar". "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is an adaptation of the book from Lionel Shriver and follows the story of Eva Khatchadourian and her family. Eva writes travel books/itineraries, and is married to Franklin, a man who is down to earth and lovable. Eva gets pregnant and upon the birth of the child, she tries unsuccessfully to  bond with the baby, who grows up alienated from her in every possible sense. The child's behavior is antagonizing, cruel and slowly starts eroding the well being of Eva's life. When Eva becomes pregnant with a second child, there's a temporary change in his behavior, but the anti-social behaviors quickly return. Things escalate when Kevin, aged 16, decides to go on a murder spree.
The story behind "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is indeed the nightmare of any parent - the inability to reach out to your own child, to make that child feel loved and ultimately happy. Kevin's behavior is troublesome, and Eva who tries and makes every attempt to understand her child, can't fathom the reason why that gruesome behavior comes from her own child. The film smartly moves between Eva and her life before the birth of Kevin, his years growing up and the aftermath of his actions. Tilda Swinton is simply remarkable as a woman who goes from being full of life and dynamic, to a shell of someone who is just trying to survive, someone who lost everything and has no understanding of what has occurred. Her sad eyes, her posture truly show the loss of everything and the emptiness that comes from it. It's a fantastic performance from an amazing actress who anchors this film and makes us all agonize with her. Though the songs chosen throughout the film are at points almost distracting, the soundtrack from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood is very good. A very good film worth seeing!