Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Movie Trailer - No Good Deed

Director: Sam Miller
Starring: Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Bibb
Release: September 12th, 2014

I like horror movies much more than thrillers, if just because they both feel pretty unbelievable but at least horror doesn't take itself too seriously.  This one looks like a bit of both, with Idris Elba thrown in.  I like him, he's a very good actor, and I guess I'd give him a shot to convince me that he's a psycho killer.

DVD Review - In Secret

Director: Charlie Stratton
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange, Tom Felton
Year: 2013

This was a case of the actors in the film intriguing me enough to watch something that I most likely would not have otherwise.  Elizabeth Olsen, sister of the famous Olsen Twins, has burst onto the scene since 2011 with roles in Silent House, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Kill Your Darlings, Very Good Girls, Oldboy, and Godzilla.  Oscar Isaac won me over with Inside Llewyn Davis, if not so much with Drive.  Jessica Lange is a veteran of course; I'll always remember her in King Kong.  And Tom Felton is really only known for one thing, that being Draco Malfoy, the nemesis of Harry Potter in that incredibly successful series.  Putting these four actors together in a film was enough to catch my attention, even if I had reservations about them all playing middle class French of the 1860s.  And that's where the trouble did turn up, as they all were fine individually as their own characters, but as a whole the movie felt forced and stiff, a bad backdrop for good actors.

The Movie

This is the story of Therese, a young girl forced into a life she never imagined.  Without a mother, and with her father abandoning her with the hollow promise to return, Therese is left to live with an aunt & cousin.  They treat her well, but with the constant knowledge that she is a burden, a boarder, someone who must be appreciative and dutiful.  That duty extends to marrying her cousin Camille when they both come of age, a sickly young man who Therese has always been a nursemaid to, a caretaker who shares no love.  But marry him she does, and when he takes a job in Paris, Therese and his mother set up a small shop that will become their daily lives.  Routine and responsibility, that is her new life, and yet she longs for something more; for love, for passion, for romance, for sex, for fulfillment, for anything beyond the dreary walls of the shop, outside the cold touch of a husband she has never wanted.

Enter Laurent, Camille's handsome friend who comes weekly to play dominoes, the only partially exciting event of the entire week.  Therese immediately falls for him, his brooding good looks, and his artistic manner.  The two begin an affair that will endanger the structure of their lives, yet becomes the only thing they each have to live for.  They love one another, but they are trapped, Camille ignorantly standing in the way of their happiness.  But what if he should disappear, fall ill, have an accident; after all, people die every day in strange ways, why not Camille?  And so the wildly unpredictable couple contemplates murder, battling with the choice between a hidden love affair and a public relationship, wondering if they could go through with such an act and whether or not they would ever be found out.  Therese & Laurent, Camille & Madame; four players on a great and dramatic stage, with all their lives in the balance.

Again, the acting wasn't the problem.  That's what I look for in a film beyond anything else, quality acting, and if I get that I'm willing to forgive a good deal.  Every character here was well-developed and thought out, with a strong actor behind it.  Tom Felton was solid as Camille, playing the dim & grim husband to perfection.  Jessica Lange was equally formidable as his mother, the cold hearted head of the household who loved only her son.  Oscar Isaac as Laurent was the handsome home wrecker you'd imagine, a dark & moody man who swept the ladies off their collective feet.  And Elizabeth Olsen did a fine job as the main character, the young woman trying to fulfill her needs, trying to find love in a dreary world.  She might actually have been the weakest of the crew, attempting a pseudo-British accent for some reason, often failing to live up to the moment.  As a hungry housewife she was great, but when it came to more dramatic work she fell a little short.

The same could be said for the film as a whole.  When it focused on sexuality and the virtual imprisonment of women during this era the movie was spot on.  You could feel the tension, the desire to break free, the loneliness of a loveless marriage.  But when deeper themes were presented the story took a turn for the weak.  All the anger & drama of the second half of the film felt a little pushed, a little college theatre, and left me thinking that I'd rather just go back and watch the first half over again.  Either the director didn't have the chops to pull off the darker side of the story or the actors didn't, because someone failed to continue what started so well and see it to the end.  The plot is based on an 1867 classic and always feels very true to that time, but I almost wish they'd gone off the script a bit and taken the finale of the film in a different direction.  What started as a slightly erotic thriller became just another dull drama, and I think that could have been avoided.  After all, the talent was there to pull it off and the beginning of the story was great, it just didn't finish well.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (16x9 Widescreen), the video is really excellent.  The film was shot using an Arri Alexa Plus camera and exhibits a very crisp image.  The picture quality is very high, with clean & balanced shots.  The film does tend to be a bit dark, making indoor night scenes hard to decipher, but that's the only visual flaw of the film.

Audio - The only audio option on the disc is English 5.1 Dolby Digital.  There is also the choice between English or Spanish subtitles.  The sound quality of the film was quite good, with a nice balance between dialogue and music.  The background themes created a dramatic atmosphere and added to the mood of the film.

Extras - Commentary can be played along with the move, with director Charlie Stratton and producers Mickey Liddell & Pete Shilaimon.  There are three very short deletes scenes.  And there are also three trailers: Thanks For Sharing, Gloria, and Flowers in the Attic.

Final Thoughts

Rent It In Secret is a film that is better in parts than as a whole.  The actors that make up the cast are all solid, each playing their part well.  And the beginning of the story is very fascinating, a look at life at this particular time.  But by the end the plot drags, the mood darkens, and the script loses its way.  It's a fine movie that doesn't impress, a film that will only disappoint if you're looking for greatness.  The video quality is excellent, the sound strong, and there are a few extras on the DVD.  But taken in its entirety, the film lacks punch and becomes a mediocre drama.

☆ ☆ ☆ - Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ - Video
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ - Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ - Extras
☆ ☆ - Replay

Friday, June 27, 2014

Movie Trailer - Dumb and Dumber To

Director: The Farrelly Brothers
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner
Release: November 14th, 2014

You either are or are not a fan of the original.  No one who didn't like the first one will like this one, while only about half those that loved the original will enjoy this.  Isn't that a recipe for disaster?  I just don't think these guys are that funny, and I think this movie looks like a ripoff of an idea that died a long time ago.

Movie Review - Chef

Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara
Year: 2014

I first heard about this film on Top Chef.  In case you're not familiar with the show, it's a cooking competition at the end of which one chef takes home a grand prize after many difficult challenges.  Often they invite guest judges onto to show, including L.A. food truck guru Roy Choi.  On one particular episode, Roy brought actor/director Jon Favreau with him onto the set in order to promote the latter's new movie Chef.  Favreau and Choi worked together on this project in order to bring real world cooking to the big screen and to tell a fictional story in the most realistic way possible.  Sounded like a cool idea at the time, and I was excited to see a Favreau-directed film based on a topic that I was quite interested in.  Perhaps it was the pairing of the two talents, but the movie succeeded in both making my mouth water and pleasing my critical eye, delivering a story that felt real in a way that many true stories can only dream about.

Carl Casper has plateaued.  Once a promising young chef, he's now been working at the same restaurant for years, producing the same food every day and losing a bit of his creative spirit in the process.  He's divorced, has a son that he doesn't have time for, and isn't really enjoying his current life.  So when the owner of the restaurant refuses to let Carl cook new food and when a local critic gives the boring menu a bad review, Chef Casper flips out.  He goes on a tirade that goes viral on the Internet, loses his job, and finds himself with no vision for the first time in his life.  But with the help of his son, his ex-wife, and his sous chef, he's about to get back on track.  After flying to Miami, Carl buys a food truck, committing himself to only cooking food from the heart, real local favorites, and having fun while doing it.  So across the country goes the food truck, with the Chef's dreams inside it.

First off, I really like Jon Favreau.  He's an actor who rarely feels Hollywood, who you always root for because in many ways he's just a normal guy.  He's not a heartthrob by any means, nor is he hilarious, but there's something about the guy that's approachable and likeable.  A lot of people would say the same about the movies he directs (Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens), though I'm not a fan of either of those.  I prefer him as an actor, even in the stupid movies he often finds himself a part of.  But Chef is different, as he writes, stars, and directs, taking full control of the film and putting a lot of himself into the story.  Perhaps that's why it felt so believable and so honest, because it had a lot of soul poured into it.  It sounds corny, but I kept having to remind myself that Favreau wasn't a chef, that this was just acting, that it wasn't real life.  But that kind of attention to detail and that hands on approach really helped make the film successful in many different ways.

Perhaps the best part about the film was the food.  So many scenes showed the chef lovingly crafting meals, not only for customers but often for the people he cared about in his life.  It was his way of showing them that he loved them, by taking time to create a meal that they would love.  A lot of time was spent showing fresh ingredients, recipes in process, food cooking slowly and beautifully.  Even the sound made me hungry; the sizzling of butter, the crunch of a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.  The film was a homage to food and the crafting of great dishes, to the talent & effort that excellent chefs exhibit every day all across the country.  But you don't have to be a foodie to enjoy the film, there was more to hook you.  A good father/son story, some nice acting by the side characters, a cool soundtrack, locations across the nation; it was a film that celebrated the best of what our country has to offer, from its diversity to its cuisine.  Chef, in many ways, was a feel-good movie.  Soul food, heartwarming drama, people happily following their dreams; it wasn't all fun & games but the overall arc of the story was a positive one and left me feeling good.  I guess that's what great food should do, and great movies too for that matter.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Movie Trailer - The November Man

Director: Roger Donaldson
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko
Release: August, 27, 2014

I don't really like action movies, especially if they're not sci-fi or fantasy.  But remember when Pierce Brosnan was cool?  Could this be a return to those days?  It might not be likely, but I guess it's possible.  And it just might also be possible that this film will be more than a couple wannabe bad asses jumping around & shooting randomly.

DVD Review - Camp Blood First Slaughter

Director: Mark Polonia
Starring: Houston Baker, Elizabeth V. Costanzo, Cindy Wheeler
Year: 2014

I used to think that the term 'campy' derived from horror movies set at camp.  Made sense to me, as so many b-movie slasher films used summer camps as their killing grounds.  And they were all so ridiculously over-the-top, so humorously dumb, so campy. Well of course the term and the style of humor go further back than that, but the word still brings to my mind the over-dramatic and often silly style that I so often enjoy in horror movies.  Judging by the title, I assumed Camp Blood First Slaughter would be campy beyond belief, delivering all the inane plot points that can be both so bad & so good at the same time.  That was what I wanted, but it wasn't what I got.  Instead what we have here is one of the worst "movies" ever made, a joke of a film, and something that's neither campy nor enjoyable in the least.

The Movie

We're going back to school with a group of students who will mostly, and unsurprisingly, end up dead by the end of the film.  It all starts in class where the group is studying urban legends.  One specific legend touches their very town, that of the Camp Blood killer.  Supposedly a clown has been haunting the nearby woods for years, killing unsuspecting young people, and making the area a dead zone.  Their professor challenges the students to prove or disprove the legend, to bring back factual evidence in exchange for a good grade and bonus points.  So off into the woods they go, a group of wannabe documentarians who just want to camp out, have a good time, video tape the woods, and come back with their assignment complete.  But coming back alive with be the real challenge.

Turns out there is something, or someone, guarding the area, a place known as Camp Blood.  A local man tries to warn the kids off, but of course they don't listen.  However, when one of their party goes missing, they start to wonder just what's going on.  And so they split up in order to track down the truth, going their separate ways to unravel a mystery.  Which just results in them getting picked off one by one, brutally murdered by a force that seems too terrible to exist.  So as the group starts to dwindle, the remaining members must band together to survive, solve the crime, and get back to town before the killer gets them all.  But the identity of the murderer will be the biggest twist of all, proving that urban legends have a power that just can't be denied.

I wanted campy.  I wanted cool decapitations, stupid humor, and naked people in tents.  That's what I signed up for, but that's not what I got.  How hard is that to deliver?  A thousand movies have been made following that recipe, and yes it gets a little old, but it's always enjoyable, always fun.  It would have been simple and cheap to throw a campy bloodbath together to make audiences happy, give them a simple story with gratuitous violence and nudity, and call it a day.  Instead what we have here is a student film shot using handheld cameras.  No hot people, no cool deaths, just some stupid "special effects" and a psycho with a machete.  Every classic piece was missing from this film, every ingredient that might have made it even slightly palatable.  I assume the film makers enjoyed horror, thought they were making a homage to the genre, tried their best to create something classic with a twist.  But they failed, it's that simple.

They failed to make a movie, let alone a good one.  It was barely cinema, it was more like a group of friends who decided to do a skit.  The acting was the worst, they were probably in the woods down the street from their houses, and the killer was a completely uninspired cop out.  It was painful to watch them bumble around pretending to be scared while a heavy breather watched them from behind some trees.  If they were trying to make a good campy movie they failed in every measurable way.  Maybe to those who aren't familiar with the genre this movie looks like all the rest; a silly attempt at fear & gore.  But having watched many an awesomely terrible slasher film, I can say that this one is just terrible.  I would be embarrassed to be a part of this project unless it was just done for fun with friends with no intent to show it to the public.  Sadly, it was put out there, I watched it, and will never get those ninety minutes back.  A complete waste of film & time; stay away.


Video - With an aspect ratio of who-the-f-cares, the video was as horrible as the film.  Handheld cameras abounded, and yet any drama that might have created (i.e. Blair Witch) was missing.  Every once in a while intentional fake garbling of the video would flash across the screen, which may have been the most exciting thing about the entire movie.  Nothing visually interesting, with the worst picture quality you can imagine.

Audio - The audio rivaled only the video in the complete crap department.  There are no audio options of the disc, no languages or closed captioning.  The sound quality of the movie was as poor as the rest of the project, with bad balance and the feeling that you'd rather not hear what anyone was saying anyway.

Extras - There are no extras on the disc.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  What else can I say; Camp Blood was incredibly awful.  The only thing I could say in its defense would be that it was more a project than a film, feeling like an experiment rather than a movie.  It was stupid, badly done, and never felt like the campy horror it was trying to be.  The video was terrible, the audio just as bad, and there were no extras on the DVD.  I wouldn't recommend this movie to my worst enemy; it's a failed attempt at whatever it was they were attempting, and not something anyone should watch.

- Content
- Video
- Audio
- Extras
- Replay

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Trailer - Frontera

Director: Michael Berry
Starring: Ed Harris, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria
Release: July 31st, 2014

I like Ed Harris a lot, he always brings something intangibly excellent to each one of his roles.   But Pena & Longoria are on a whole other level, one much lower that houses mediocre talent that only very rarely falls into a perfect role.  So I don't have much faith in this one.

Book Review - Anne of Green Gables

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Year: 1908

Mark this up as a book I most likely would never have read on my own but am glad that I was introduced to.  My wife recommended it as a family read, having loved it as a child and knowing that our daughter would as well.  I remember my sister and the girls in school reading this series, so I guess I always saw it as a "girl book".  Well, I'm glad my eyes were opened.  It's amazing the number of children's classics that are absolutely wonderful.  I guess it shouldn't be amazing, it should be expected, they're classics for a reason.  But we sometimes forget that books written one hundred years ago can be just as poignant as one written yesterday.  If you have the time, I'd advise you to read/reread those musty books on your parents' basement bookshelf; they're usually worth it.  And Anne of Green Gables should be at the top of your list, as it's both an incredible classic and a beautiful piece of writing, a novel you won't regret or soon forget.

Anne is an orphan.  She's a homely redhead unwanted by the world, but given a chance to have a family on account of a slight mistake.  The Cuthberts of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, Canada have just sent away for a young orphan boy to help them on their land, Green Gables.  They are sent Anne instead, an accident that they mean to correct at once.  But Anne isn't so easily gotten rid of.  Her charming, talkative, imaginative ways capture the hearts of shy Matthew and gruff Marilla, a brother & sister who have long lived in quiet retreat and whose lives are entering their autumn stage.  They never expected life in the form of an active & bright young girl to enter their home, but their world is enriched by it.  As is all of Avonlea for that matter, as Anne has a gift for friendship, for sharing joy, and unfortunately for getting into trouble.  But she means well, loves deeply, and will ultimately affect everything around her in a positive way as she settles down in her new & wonderful home.

It's just a beautiful book, simple put.  There's no other way I can describe it; it's a beautiful depiction of life.  Life at that time, in that place, in the world of those characters, life as seen through the eyes of a fantastic child, a girl who we could all do to be more like.  Anne exhibits traits that are both enviable and rare; compassion, loyalty, wonder, genuine excitement, a passion for living that is so often swept underneath our daily routine.  She and the other characters are written so well that they begin to feel like part of your own life, real people who are living alongside you.  To think that the book was written so long ago and yet remains relevant, morals & lesson & moods that haven't really changed much in the last century.  And the way the author describes the Island makes you want to run right out and book a trip, see the magnificent scenery for yourself.  It's a book that has that effect; it draws you in, feels like reality, and leaves you wanting more.  If you've never read it, do yourself the favor of giving it a chance.  And if it'll be a reread, do it; read it to yourself, your kids, whoever, just read it and enjoy.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Best of Me

Director: Michael Hoffman
Starring: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato
Release: October 17th, 2014

Goddam Nicholas Sparks.  I'm tired of these incredibly sappy, unbelievable love stories that have no depth, no reality, and can't possibly be enjoyed by anyone but very unhappy middle-aged women.  It's one of those genres of film that seem totally pointless, yet are still being produced because just enough people are tricked into watching them.

Movie Review - Pete's Dragon

Director: Don Chaffey
Starring: Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney
Year: 1977

I love old school Disney and I still have a ton of VHS tapes that I watch with my kids.  Yes they keep making great films, but nothing touches the classics of the 60s & 70s.  Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks; excellent early stuff from a company that just knows how to produce hits.  Unfortunately, Pete's Dragon doesn't hold up exactly the same.  If I had had to guess, I would have said that it was made in the 50s; it feels like a black & white musical that can't quite translate to today.  But it was released in 1977, thirteen years after Mary Poppins.  When you look at it that way, excuses fly out the window and you're left wondering why a movie made in that era by those people isn't better.  I guess not every Disney movie can be a hit, and it's not like Pete's Dragon is a complete failure.  But it's definitely one of the weaker you'll see, for a good many reasons.

Pete is an orphan boy who's having a hard time.  The family that bought him for $50 has always treated him terribly, and after many attempts to run away it seems as if he's finally succeeded.  Well, it helps when you've got an invisible giant dragon knocking people out of the way whenever it's necessary.  Elliot is Pete's constant companion, there to help him however he might need it, whether that's roasting apples with fire or taking him on a little flight.  But it's hard to be inconspicuous when you're a big green dragon and when Pete tries to make a new start in a new town Elliot accidentally makes a lot of trouble.  Living in a cave down by the ocean, the duo meets Nora and her father Lampie, the operators of a nearby lamp house and a pair of friends who might just offer Pete something he's never really had; a home.

It's a fun story, a boy & his dragon, and it's great what they could do with an invisible Elliot on the set of the movie.  The music is good too, catchy songs mixed with heartfelt, creating a backdrop for a pretty engaging story.  But there are also some problems.  The acting wasn't very good from either Pete or Nora, a big issue since they're the leads.  They could sing, in fact Helen Reddy was famous for her voice, but acting talent was not in ready supply.  The film felt like a play, which I guess was pretty cool, but it also felt like it was made in the 40s.  By 1977 they should have been able to do more with this film, polish it up, create a more dynamic movie, generally do a better job.  It felt amateur throughout and Disney was by no means amateur at that time.  Pete's Dragon is more of a sideshow than a main event, failing to blossom as the musical it could have been.  It's still enjoyable after all these years, but nowhere near as good as so many that came before & after.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, June 23, 2014

Movie Trailer - Are You Here

Director: Matthew Weiner
Starring: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler
Release: August 22nd, 2014

I'm gonna chalk this one up to a very badly made trailer.  I just don't believe it'll be as crappy as it's been made to look.  Owen Wilson has real talent.  I know he doesn't always show it, but it's there.  And I think the same can be said about Zach Galifianakis, if not Amy Poehler.  I know she's kinda funny, but that doesn't mean she's a great actor.  Anyway, I'd be willing to give this film a shot; I think it could surprise us.

Movie Review - Jaws

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Year: 1975

Not every classic lives up to its fame decades after its release.  Maybe the film was great in its era but loses something over time.  Or maybe years of hype lead you to expect perfection when it's not even close.  I've seen Jaws a few times in my life and I can say this with certainty; it is as good as advertised.  It's not stuck in the 70s, it's not lost in translation, it's not overrated.  It is a phenomenal film that is as close to directing perfection as you're likely to see.  Don't brush it aside as just another classic film that's probably not as good as people say.  And also don't write it off as a horror movie that will scare you out of going in the water.  It's much more than just those things, and the only way you'll find that out is by watching it, which I would strongly recommend.

The small town of Amity has a big problem.  A young girl and an even younger boy have both become victims of a shark attack, leading the island community to panic about the safety of their waters.  Problem is, it's 4th of July weekend, and while the chief of police wants to shut down the beaches, the mayor knows that the city will go broke if they don't have holiday traffic.  So they do remain open and the shark does strike again.  There is no shortage of volunteers to catch the beast, but no one has ever gone up against a shark this size before.  So a trio of would-be hunters set out in a boat to kill the monster; Chief Brody, a veteran fisherman named Quint, and the young scientist Hooper.  The men go out to catch the fish, but may not return with their lives, as the great white shark they're up against is unlike any that these waters have ever seen.

At its core I guess Jaws is a horror movie, but that's not giving it enough credit.  It's so much more than just a film about a man-eating shark and the adventure to kill it.  Creature features are a dime a dozen, but it takes magic to scare audiences this much and to make them unable to forget the haunting feeling that your project delivers.  A lot of that has to do with the music, that classic duh-nuh-duh-nuh that makes you want to draw up your legs and never set them down again.  Spielberg created a mood of terror and helplessness that lasts the entire movie, a certainty of death that's really hard to shake.  And his actors were more than capable of helping to deliver that feeling.  Roy Scheider is strong as the straight man, Robert Shaw as the detestable ship captain, and Richard Dreyfuss as youth, intelligence, and comedy all rolled into one.  There's not a piece of this film that isn't wonderful; even the first half of the film featuring all the silly 70s side characters isn't awful, it adds to the set up and gets you ready for the second half.  And it's that latter part that's genius, that will frighten you, excite you, impress you, and hopefully convince you that this is a classic film that deserves every accolade it's ever received.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Movie Trailer - Sharknado 2: The Second One

Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox
Release: July 30th, 2014

If you saw the first one you'll know what you're in store for.  Sharknado was probably the worst movie ever made.  Now, that didn't stop me from enjoying it, and I will definitely be seeing this one as well.  I mean, sharks from the sky?  I can't not watch that.

Movie Review - Jersey Boys

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen
Year: 2014

I grew up on Frankie Valli.  My dad was a big Four Seasons fan and instead of being raised on Def Leppard and Lynard Skynnard like a lot of my Ohio friends, I was raised on 50s & 60s pop: The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, The Monkees.  This is the music that defined my taste, and even though I did eventually branch out, I never stopped loving the golden oldies that I grew up digging.  So now that a play has been produced using Frankie Valli as a platform, and now that a movie has come from that play I was right there in line to see the show.  I knew I'd enjoy the music; it's some of the best the genre has ever produced.  But I had my reservations about how the story & the songs would translate to the big screen.  Unfortunately my doubts were all realized, as the music was phenomenal, of course, but the rest of the movie?  Not so much.

It's a portrait of the American dream; a group of young men who might be a little rough around the edges but who never give up, who always knew they'd leave the old neighborhood behind, make it big despite such small beginnings.  And it all revolves around Frankie.  His voice is one in a million, and when he & his friends finally form a cohesive band, the sky's the limit.  After a slow start, the band produces hit after hit, becoming the icon that we all know today.  But the road wasn't always paved smooth.  Like all band mates, there was trouble, conflict, and tension that living on the road together 250 days out of the year didn't help.  Money became god, family was left behind, and even the mob of the old days reared it's ugly head.  The boys stuck by each other through thick & thin, keeping the old honor code alive, and finally becoming the Hall of Fame group that America loved so much.

Let me say first off that I have a bias toward biopics.  I just don't like them, especially when they're about musicians.  It's just too easy to hook us in.  Take a true story, play the music that we all love, and get an actor to play the lead singer.  Show what he went through, how his genius shone, and give us a happy ending.  That's all you really have to do to get most audience members to enjoy your film.  But what work did you do?  The soundtrack was enough, nothing more was needed, it's excellent music already that you as a filmmaker had nothing to do with.  So to get me to like a biopic there has to be something more, something that stands out, something that goes beyond just pretending to be a famous singer & belting his old tunes.  At first glance it seems like Jersey Boys brings that extra trick, bringing the stage to the screen, portraying the group from a slightly unusual angle.  But sadly no, it's not really new at all, it's just more of the same.

Yes it's a Broadway musical, but it still sticks to the same tired biopic timeline, complete with tragedies, high points, addictions, money problems, misguided fame.  I know it's a true story, but that doesn't stop it from feeling like just another attempt to win audiences over with good music badly done.  I tried to be as forgiving as possible, knowing my bias and knowing that this was basically a play not a film, but I couldn't help myself; it wasn't a well-made movie.  These actors aren't film guys, they're not used to this, it isn't their thing.  That showed too clearly and I couldn't forgive them their lack of acting chops.  And on top of that, JLY has a good copycat voice, he kinda sounds like Frankie, but he is nowhere near as great.  What Frankie did was wow us with a voice that should have been annoying but never was.  JLY annoyed me plenty, never impressing me with his instrument, always sounding like a lounge singer trying to pass as famous.  I'm sure the play is better, I'm sure it comes across better in that medium, and I assume the jokes & dramatic moments all feel a little more believable.  It just didn't work on film, although a lot of the older crowd where I watched enjoyed what I found to be stereotypical, recycled, and slightly juvenile humor.  So the music is excellent if you like Frankie Valli, the movie feels like a play, and it's not a complete flop by any means.  But judged as a film, it's full of mediocre talent, amateur filmmaking, and uneven performances.  If you grew up loving these songs and you don't have extremely high standards, then by all means enjoy yourself.  Otherwise, this one's not for you.

My rating: ☆ ☆

Friday, June 20, 2014

Movie Trailer - School Dance

Director: Nick Cannon
Starring: Bobb'e J. Thompson, Luenell, Mike Epps
Release: July 2nd, 2014

Worst movie ever.

Movie Review - Out of the Furnace

Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson
Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker
Year: 2013

There are a select few names that get my attention immediately, names that I might watch in a film even if every sign pointed to disaster.  Tom Hanks, Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis; actors that I respect enough to trust with almost anything.  Christian Bale is right up there on that level.  He's a proven talent who brings something new to every role, who can get me into a theatre with nothing more than a mention.  Now, let's be honest, he's had his fair share of clunkers.  Public Enemies, Terminator Salvation, Reign of Fire; all films that failed, at least in my mind.  But it really doesn't matter, he still draws me in, because I know he'll produce another American Hustle, The Fighter, or American Psycho.  Luckily, Out of the Furnace is in the latter category, a film that succeeded on every level and is one of Bale's best, if more quiet, performances to date.

It's a tale of two brothers, as classic as the idea of kinship and revenge.  Russell & Rodney Baze may be related, but they live quite different lives.  Russell the hard-working, reserved older brother, Rodney the impetuous, troublesome younger.  Russell has worked at the town mill all his adult life, just as his father did before him.  Rodney joined the army but never really escaped, finding himself in debt and in over his head more often than not.  But it's Russell who makes the big mistake, drinking & driving & spending time locked away.  When he gets out, Rodney has sunk deeper into an underworld of gambling, bare-knuckle boxing, dirty money, and dangerous people.  But the two are brothers and that bond can't be severed.  So when Rodney get's into the biggest trouble of his life, his family is right there at his back, willing to pay any price for revenge, restitution, and the balance of honor.

Of course Christian Bale is excellent in this film, let's just get that out of the way now.  He plays Russell with a silent strength, with a deep rumble that you can feel just beneath the surface.  It's one of the more understated roles I've ever seen him play, and that sort of control over your talent is something not often seen.  It's not the most dramatic or impressive performance perhaps, but every action and every expression speak volumes, creating a mood that I just loved.  I appreciate very much when a director lets the film do it's own talking, when every emotion doesn't have to be spelled out, when I'm allowed to find my own way through the story.  Out of the Furnace exhibited this kind of restraint, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I can't fail to mention the side actors, as they did an incredible job as well.  Affleck & Harrelson especially, two characters who were excellently cast and performed perfectly.  This is a film that I would have rated five stars had there been anything to love, but it just wasn't that kind of movie.  It was dark, quiet, laden, and allowed its actors to tell its story in a way that was great to see.  Hard to love perhaps, but with a quality that's impossible to deny.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Movie Trailer - Very Good Girls

Director: Naomi Foner
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook
Release: June 24th, 2014

Oh man, and I had high hopes for this one.  Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, a coming-of-age drama.  Problem is, they're both in their twenties and this movie looks like it was made by a 13-year-old.  Sorry, Naomi Foner, but your directorial debut might be your last; this looks awful.

Book Review - The Phantom Tollbooth

Author: Norton Juster
Year: 1961

When I was young, my sister & I would watch the movie version of this novel as often as we could.  We'd borrow the VHS from the library, keep it for a week or two, and have a ball.  It was a strange film, filled with 70s psychedelia, hand-drawn animation, and characters that made little to no sense.  There were greater points being made than my young mind could wrap around, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless.  Now, as an adult reading to my children, I appreciated the plot on another level, understanding more of the intricacies than I did the first time around.  It was nice to read the actual text after all these years, and my kids had fun with the whimsical story, the colorful characters, and the weirdness that is The Phantom Tollbooth.

Milo is a pretty boring boy.  He doesn't love anything, can't get up the energy to get excited about anything, and wonders what the point is of doing literally anything.  His world consists of the daily activities he must do just to live, nothing else, with no room to actually turn his head to notice anything that could potentially be interesting.  Until, one day, Milo receives a large package.  It's addressed to him, although it's not his birthday, and when he opens it he discoverers a very odd present.  Inside is a tiny tollbooth, complete with a small car and change to pay your way.  When Milo gets in the car and drives through, he finds himself transported to a strange world, one in which nothing is as it seems.  A dog who functions as a clock, a spelling bee who buzzes words, a doctor of sound, a conductor who orchestrates sunrises, a king who mines numbers from caves; the list of extraordinary characters goes on & on.  Milo must try to make sense of it all and rescue the princesses of rhyme & reason if he is to put this chaotic land back in order and get himself back to a life that might not be so boring anymore.

It's quite a trippy ride, an adventure akin to Alice in Wonderland.  There are a lot of random oddities, nonsensical conversations, and puns galore.  It makes only a little sense, but then that's not really the point.  As a kid I enjoyed the funny & wild story, but as an adult I enjoyed it for other reasons.  Milo's journey is one through academia, visiting Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, the Valley of Sound, the Mountains of Ignorance, the Doldrums.  The land is presented as an example of what knowledge can do, what one can learn if any effort is made, what mistakes one can make if wearing blinders through a colorful world.  In the story, Rhyme & Reason being gone has turned the world upside down, so things are a little confused, but that only aides in making the lessons of the book stand out; knowledge over ignorance, the importance of balance, exposure to different studies.  It's an interesting book from an adult's perspective, an enjoyable one from a child's.  But either way, a fun read, a good story, and a fascinating viewpoint.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Green Inferno

Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Kirby Bliss Blanton
Release: September 5th, 2014

Part of me really wants to know what's going on in this movie, part of me really, really doesn't.  I'm sure it'd give me nightmares to see just a couple actual scenes, so I should be thanking whoever pieced this trailer together and didn't terrorize my mind.  But there's still that other part, and I still kinda wanna know.  Kinda.

DVD Review - Mischief Night

Director: Travis Baker
Starring: Brooke Anne Smith, Marc Valera, Malcolm McDowell
Year: 2014

It's not every day that you get a twisted take on a classic.  When I sat down to watch this movie I never expected to see anything but another cookie-cutter slasher, just one more Halloween killer-on-the-loose film.  Well technically it's the night before Halloween, not the actual holiday, so maybe that's how they got away with being different.  Because different it was, an original take on a standard set up; not something you see everyday.  Especially out of this genre, where more money is spent on fake heads than on quality actors, much to my continued dismay.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good bloodbath, but I also love when there's enough talent behind a character to keep me from wanting to reach into the screen and throttle them.  Thankfully Mischief Night was a surprisingly interesting film, one that took the old premise, mixed it up a bit, and left me pretty satisfied.

The Movie

It's the night before Halloween, Mischief Night, an evening made for tricks, pranks, thrills, and danger.  Teenager Kaylie is stuck babysitting, filling in for a friend who may or may not be sick.  It's not that she minds overly much; the baby is behaving well, the house it full of free booze, and what else would she be doing anyway.  Not talking to Graham, that's for sure, the boy who holds her heart though he doesn't even know it.  Graham might be hooking up with Daphne anyway, the sick friend, so what's it to Kaylie if she's working while they're out sucking face.  Other than a strange old guy going around warning people to lock their doors the night is pretty quiet, and Kaylie settles in to drink away her problems.

But here's where things start to get interesting.  Kaylie notices a figure outside, a masked man who is assuredly up to no good.  Phone calls to Daphne produce nothing, locking the doors isn't working, and it's almost a foregone conclusion that, whoever this guy is, he is getting in and killing whoever he wants.  Seems like the classic babysitter-gets-attacked-by-a-psycho story.  Not so much.  Because yes he gets in, and yes he's a sociopath, but things don't go as planned.  Kaylie isn't the goody goody he expected, he's not the cold blooded killer he appears, and the night's events aren't going to follow the order that you've seen a thousand times before.

I guess that's what makes Mischief Night work; it doesn't stick to the standard timeline or parade the typical events across the screen like you've seen done a thousand times.  It changes what you predict will happen, and that makes it interesting.  It's a fresh take on a classic story, a new & strange way to look at the genre, and that's always nice.  Had it gone the opposite way I think it could have worked as well, if it had become a spoof or a homage, following the typical events down to the letter.  That idea has been successful, and really I thought that's where this one was heading, so I was even more surprised when it went in a new direction.  Pleasantly surprised though; apparently I was ready for a little variety in my slasher film.  Well this movie delivered.

Not to say that it was incredible.  I liked the plot, liked the original direction they took it, and enjoyed that it was something a little unexpected.  But it was still a low budget slasher movie, it still had the fake heads, the butcher knives, the hot young things.  Which, I guess could be to its credit if that's what you were looking for.  They definitely kept a lot of old school ideas in play, sticking to the common themes, but adding in those new ideas that ending up being why I liked the film.  But again, it still wasn't amazing.  The acting was OK, Smith & Valera both doing a commendable job with what they were given, Malcolm McDowell producing a nice cameo that kinda stole the show.  There was a little blood, a little sex, nothing too spectacular, nothing that horror aficionados would really be impressed by.  In the end the new take on the old concept was the best part of the project, with the pieces being fairly throwaway, culminating in a movie that was enjoyable but not wonderful.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 16x9 Widescreen the video is pretty great.  The film was shot using a Red One MX camera with Red Pro Prime lenses.  The picture quality is really nice, with a clear, clean image and good color balance.  The majority of the movie was shot at night in a dimly lit house, so the visuals aren't amazing but at least the picture is there to support a few nice shots when called upon.

Audio - On the disc you have the choice between English 5.1 Dolby Digital and English 2.0 Dolby Digital.  There are also Spanish or English SDH subtitles.  The audio quality was fine, nothing spectacular, with a good sound balance.  The film had a lot of personal dialogue, it was well produced, and the sound was never really an issue.

Extras - There are four trailers on the DVD: You're Next, Texas Chainsaw, the Saw series, and Children of Sorrow.

Final Thoughts

Rent ItMischief Night was a fun, quick, watchable film that took an old concept and freshened it up a bit.  The acting, direction, and budget were all still a little suspect, but at least they tried to do something different and succeeded in getting my attention.  It's a movie that fans of the genre should enjoy, if only because of the twist, and perhaps despite the lack of gore & nudity.  The video was really nice, the audio fine, but there weren't many extras on the disc.  All in all, an enjoyable horror movie, nothing spectacular, but a refreshing take on an overused plot.

☆ ☆ ☆ - Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ - Video
☆ ☆ ☆ - Audio
☆ ☆ - Extras
☆ ☆ - Replay

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Movie Trailer - Affluenza

Director: Kevin Asch
Starring: Ben Rosenfield, Gregg Sulkin, Nicola Peltz
Release: July 11th, 2014

What is this, Laguna Beach the movie?  Why would I want to watch a ninety minute movie about rich kids being upset with each other?  Did someone not watch this trailer and think to themselves that there might be one or two too many scenes of teenagers crying about money?  Maybe just one less would have made me want to watch the movie.   Or maybe not.

Movie Review - Brave

Director: Mark Andrews
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly
Year: 2012

Braveheart and then Brave; I'm enjoying movies about courageous Scottish people right now apparently.  It must be the accents, they get me every time.  And the swords.  And the giant redheads.  Anyway, Scottish history is fascinating, as is Scottish myth.  Whether it be fictional, actual, or mythical, the legends and the land are ripe with stories, tales of daring & adventure that seem tailor-made for the screen.  Braveheart is a phenomenal movie, an entertaining masterpiece, a story well-told.  And Brave isn't far behind it.  It's just one more excellent Pixar film, perhaps not one that was loved by children everywhere, but definitely one that won my heart and gained my respect as a solid bit of animation.  It had a moral to impart, a tale to weave, and it didn't waste time with frills in getting the message across, something I appreciate more than I can put into words.

Princess Merida is an unlikely hero.  She can't even control her own life, let alone set out on any adventures.  Her mother is grooming her to be a future queen, but Merida would rather ride around on her horse & shoot her bow than dress up in a fancy gown and sit still.  Her father understands, he's a beast of a man with a kind heart, a bear-fighter and an honest king.  Merida is more like him than her mother, and when Elinor tries to force her daughter to choose a husband she may have pushed her daughter too far.  Merida buys a curse that will change her mother, but she never imagined into what.  So when Elinor transforms into a bear and her own husband drives her off, Merida knows that it's up to her to fix the family that she has torn apart.  She must seek a solution, brave all dangers, and actually get to know her mother, as she tries to right the wrong and change her own fate.

That's the moral really, taking your life into your own hands and changing its direction if you don't like the course it's on.  That and getting along with your mom.  But those are really the key messages and the main story lines.  As opposed to Frozen, which I like more every time I watch it FYI, Brave stays simple and therefor stays relevant.  It's not overly complicated and I appreciated that it allowed for one point to be made well.  It doesn't have the musical numbers that other Disney movies have, but it does have a nice background score and great mood music, heightening the feeling that you've been transported to ancient Scotland, or at least a fairy tale land that's very similar.  The voice-overs are excellent, the action is very cool, and the animation is perfection.  It's a beautiful movie that is as enjoyable to view as it is to watch, a story that's simple & clean, a film that speaks strongly & clearly.  If you like Disney/Pixar you'll like Brave.  It may not be your standard princess tale or the greatest feat in computer animation, but it takes from both worlds and creates a story that's one of the more pleasant & entertaining you're likely to see.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, June 16, 2014

Movie Trailer - A Walk Among the Tombstones

Director: Scott Frank
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank De Julio, Olafur Darri Olafsson
Release: September 19th, 2014

I won't deny that I love Liam Neeson.  I saw & enjoyed Non-Stop for crying out loud, entirely because of him.  But I think this one actually looks solid, a perfect movie for Neeson and the way I like to see him.  I like the story, the darkness, the song in the trailer, though that's always misleading.  Anyway, I'm in.

Movie Review - Braveheart

Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Mel Gibson, Brendan Gleeson, Sophie Marceau
Year: 1995

Braveheart is the best movie ever made.  Now don't start yelling, hear me out.  It's not my favorite film, it's not a perfectly sculpted work of art, it's not without its flaws, its only partially true, and when compiling a Top 10 I doubt it makes most critics' lists.  So I understand your cynicism when I call it the greatest movie.  But first let's separate movies from films.  Let's call movies entertaining and lets call films fascinating. As far as movies go, Braveheart should be the gold standard.  It delivers every single aspect you could ask for from an entertainment perspective: story, character, action, blood, music, humor, heart, love, war, friendship, honor, history.  There's a little taste of everything here, a bit for everybody, a movie that gives us what we want when it comes to enjoyment, entertainment, and the theatre experience.  Braveheart does it all and has been copied countless times in an effort to recapture the magic of a movie that may have hooked us in a couple of cheap ways, but man did it hook us, and man are we glad it did.

This is the "true" story of William Wallace.  As a boy, Wallace grew up in a Scotland that had no king, a country whose nobles fought for power, and whose people bent knee to England's most ruthless sovereign, Edward the Longshanks.  Wallace witnessed Longshanks' methods early, seeing the murder of patriotic Scotsman and later the deaths of his father & brother.  Years later, having been educated by an uncle, Wallace returns home to find a wife and to start a family.  He only wants to live in peace, but when his love is taken from him he will stop at nothing for revenge.  Rallying the angry Scottish peasantry and defying the traitorous nobles, Wallace fights Longshanks and his English rule, determined to make Scotland a free country once again.

Braveheart is an amazing movie, it's that simple.  Again, not a perfect film perhaps, but an excellent source of quality entertainment that delivers all we could ask for from an epic biography.  The story may not be 100% accurate, but I'd rather enjoy myself than watch three hours of facts run across the screen; if I want information I'll read a book.  That's the problem with too many biopics; they stick to the story but forget their audiences.  Braveheart has no such problem.  Yes it's long & dramatic, but it's highly enjoyable, always interesting, and hooks us in a way few movies have ever done.  The accents are shaky from time to time, especially Mel Gibson's, the story relies heavily on emotion that could be described as cheesy, and the battle scenes are a bit heavy handed, literally lopping off limbs with heavy objects.  But the movie overcomes its flaws, which can't be said often.  It's a plot that's historically based, well crafted, strongly acted, touched with humor, supported by a phenomenal soundtrack, and worth every minute of the time it took to tell such an entertaining story so well.  Gibson stars & directs, never better in either capacity, his cast is perfection, his action sequences never feel forced (The Patriot), and ultimately what we get is a project that was produced with thought & detail.  It's the best movie I've ever seen, if you're looking for pure package entertainment.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Movie Trailer - What If

Director: Michael Dowse
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver
Release: August 8th, 2014

The thing abut romantic comedies is that you have to be able to trust that the lead actor won't force the movie into being a cheese ball, that he or she will guide it into being something different, something refreshing instead of stupid.  I trust Harry.

Movie Review - 22 Jump Street

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Year: 2014

Before seeing 22 Jump Street, you had better see 21.  Often the sequel isn't exactly reliant on the original, but in this series the second plays heavily off the first.  And it's worth your time to go back, to check out the one that started the franchise, the film that launched itself off the classic TV series.  It's a funny movie; not too much more can be said about it.  It's not wonderful, but it gets plenty of laughs, relying on two pretty hilarious guys and some cool side characters to keep you chuckling throughout.  So watch the first one; I'd recommend it to anyone who likes slapstick, drug use, easy comedy.  But don't expect quite as much out of the second.  Because although it relies heavily on the original and takes almost all its humor from that film, apparently those jokes get old.  Fast.

A little back story.  Schmidt & Jenko are a pair of knucklehead cops who just want to do a good job.  Their first assignment was with Jump Street, an undercover operation working to bust a drug ring in a local high school.  They look young, so the duo was sent back to school to solve the crime.  Now, after a brief stint back on regular duty, the boys have messed up again, earning themselves another trip to Jump Street where this time they'll be heading off to college.  There's another drug situation going on, another group that needs infiltrated, and another facade that needs put up.  Schmidt mingles with the arts crowd, while Jenko gets on the football team, all in an effort to solve the case, prove their worth, and win the day.

If you've seen 21 you'll be totally prepared for the set up of 22.  It's exactly the same, and I mean exactly.  The mistake, the demotion, the new identities, passing for students, pretending to be brothers, making stupid storyboards, flirting with the pretty girl, making friends, bungling the case, shooting up some rooms.  They don't hide the fact this one will be exactly like that one.  Actually, they come right out and say it, making joke after joke about the audacity of Hollywood, about sequels being ripoffs, about big budgets after a mild success.  It's funny at first, they way the film makes fun of itself, and the humor is right there where the other movie left off.  It's like everyone involved owned the fact that this would be a slightly less hilarious version of the original, that it would steal everything not tied down, that it would ultimately be one big joke on us.

And so that idea was amusing right at first, and I appreciated that at least they knew that I knew.  But man did it get tired.  It just never let up, the fake movie feel, the play on the knowledge that the audience had, the use of recycled comedy.  The trick couldn't stand up for ninety minutes, it was destined to fail, and fail it did.  I laughed quite a bit for the first 1/5 of the film, had a good time.  But then it just got old and forced and done.  Maybe I didn't love the first film enough, maybe I was supposed to be more on board.  Because I liked the original, it was funny, but it wasn't enough to make me want to watch an exact copy that made fun of that fact this it was a copy.  The acting in the film was fine I guess; Hill & Tatum were still a funny pair.  But the side actors didn't do it for me this time.  An over-the-top Ice Cube, a stupid evil character who only made you-guys-are-old jokes, a frat house full of mediocrity; nothing special and nothing to support a storyline that desperately needed some help.  Watch 21 for a few laughs, skip 22 unless you are infatuated with this plot, because all you're going to get is another version badly done.

My rating: ☆ ☆

Friday, June 13, 2014

Movie Trailer - Left Behind

Director: Vic Armstrong
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Lea Thompson
Release: October 3rd, 2014

You're kidding me right?  They did not just remake a Kirk Cameron movie and cast Nick Cage as the star.  That would be ridiculous and no one would ever really do that.  The Rapture must have happened for real and the only filmmakers left are the ones with no taste and no sanity.

Movie Review - 21 Jump Street

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Year: 2012

You can't love movies and like Channing Tatum.  He's one of those pretty actors who represents the very worst of Hollywood.  His movies are a mix of sappy rom/com and throwaway action, films that have only one goal; to make a quick buck.  And on top of that he seems like a tool.  I'm sorry, but you can just tell.  I know that's a me problem and not everyone feels that way, I simply don't like the guy.  But recently he's had me rethinking my position.  A bit part in This Is the End, a voice in The Lego Movie, an upcoming role in Foxcatcher; I like the way he's heading and I wonder if his douchey days are behind him.  Well, he's still going to be a pointy-eared bounty hunter in Jupiter Ascending, which I think looks terrible, so maybe I'll wait to bit before pronouncing his ways changed.  But watching him in 21 Jump Street does give me hope.  Yes it's a stupid comedy, but it's better than you might think, and Tatum brings his a-game, for whatever that's worth.

As someone who never watched the TV show, my slate was clean for what will be a partially classic setup for some.  Police officers Schmidt & Jenko are partners who hate their boring park patrol jobs.  They weren't always friends, leading two very separate lives at the high school they shared, becoming close in the academy when they realized that they could help each other out, Schmidt being the brain & Jenko being the brawn.  Now, after a major screw up, the duo has been demoted to Jump Street, an undercover division specializing in high school operations, using young-looking officers to infiltrate crime rings that no one else can touch.  So back to school they go, but things are different these days.  The cool kids are eco-friendly, tolerant, tech-savvy, and super smart.  In order to bust up a modern drug ring, the officers will have to convince the students that they're on the level, that they can be trusted, and that they're 17-year-olds too.

It's funny.  I'll go on, but there's not much more that needs to be said after that.  21 Jump Street is a funny movie that doesn't aspire to be anything greater, a comedy that does its job but won't blow you away with anything original.  The humor is part crass, part drug-related, part high school memory, and is always quick & easy.  Ice Cube as the angry captain, Nick Offerman the angry deputy chief, Jake Johnson the angry principal; come to think of it, most of the side characters are very angry at the leads, but somehow they're all pretty hilarious.  But the stars make the movie work.  Hill & Tatum are a nice comedic pair, not amazing, but solid.  Hill plays the smart-but-insecure part well, while Tatum plays dumb-but-secretly-sensitive.  It works, the film works, and the comedy is ever-present.  Should you enjoy a little slapstick?  Definitely.  A little penis humor?  Of course.  But those who appreciate this genre will find 21 Jump Street right up their alley.  It might be funnier at the beginning then at the end, and my rating might have dropped bit by bit, but I did enjoy myself, did laugh, and would recommend this as a way to kill some time while having a few chuckles.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆