Our victims today include an Israeli family dramedy, a sci-fi flick about teen boys who get mysterious powers from an alien goop, and a surprising comedic adaptation of an 80's television drama that I watched willingly. Down is up. Let's hop to it....
21 Jump Street - If any two actors in Hollywood should be happy about the year they have been having, their names would have to be Channing Tatum and Oscar nominee Jonah Hill. Hill showed real range in Moneyball and got an Oscar nod for it. Tatum performed well in Haywire and has received mostly positive reviews for Magic Mike. Yet here they are in a film adaptation of a classic television program, the garbage pail of all film genres. Nothing is more impressive than taking something that should NOT work and pulling it off. And I'm impressed.
Talk about exceeding expectations. I would have expected to HATE this film, but it was really funny. 21 Jump Street the show was so contrived, something that could only have flown in the 80's, but fortunately screen writers Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, knew that. They have crafted a slick, self aware, self parodying homage that I'm not sure I've ever seen the like of before. I'm sure we'll see plenty of movies try to recreate this formula with other TV shows in the next few years, but this is the birth of a whole new subgenre.
And both of the main actors are great. Their timing is right on point, their characters are extreme yet believable and they have better camaraderie than the actors in most serious cop buddy movies. The best part is, its a comedy that is actually funny. I laughed. Out loud. More than once. Available on DVD. 4 out of 5*
Footnote - This film was the nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this past year that represented Israel. Footnote is a very Israeli story, with both of the main characters being Talmudic scholars (those who study the second most Holy Book of Judaism, the Talmud). They are rivals in their field, employed at the same university, who also just happen to be father and son. All of these points of contention come to a head after some confusion over which of them is to receive a coveted award.
Writer/director Joseph Cedars (formerly of New York city) has been in the foreign language race at the Oscars once before, with his film Beaufort, and his film making style is quite distinct and interesting. He finds very creative ways of getting exposition and narration out of the way so that his actors can get on with the real drama and wit of their interactions. No small bit of wit involved either, by the way.
Both of the lead actors are very impressive, though I am not really familiar with either of their respective bodies of work. Shlomo Bar-Aba's Eliezer is the epitome of a crotchety old man while still having more than enough personality ticks and peculiarities to make him a unique creature. Lior Ashkenazi's Uriel is a far more gregarious soul, but no less eccentric than his father. Also of note is Micah Lewensohn, as Grossman, Eliezer's much more successful life long rival.
This film's look at familial relationships should be highly familiar to anyone who is close with a parent or child that they also have difficulty getting along with, or who has seen such relationships within their family. Available on DVD. 4 1/2 of 5*
Chronicle - This film was highly derivative of a million other stories about young friends who gain powers (or power or money or fame or whatever) and one of them lets it go to their head. It is called Chronicle because one of this particular trio of friends documents everything on video, so a lot of the movie is footage he has created, very reminiscent of dozens of films that utilize heavy amounts of "found footage" type camera work and scripting. The actors and director are largely untested and it shows...a lot. The special effects should probably just be called effects. If you've seen the promo where they use telekinesis on the teddy bear and laughed out loud, you've already gotten the best bit of the film, the one that got it an extra half star. I just don't have it in me to go on like this today, I think you get the point. Available on DVD. 1 1/2 of 5*
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