Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: 22 Jump Street

Release date: June 13, 2014
Running time: 112 minutes
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens
Who to see it with: Bros who like self-aware comedy


Follow-ups to surprise hits often try to outdo their predecessors by repeating their successful formulas while making everything bigger and broader. 22 does this while winking at the audience with self-aware jokes that poke fun at the nature of action sequels. Once again, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) go undercover at a school, this time a college. This makes their older appearances stand out slightly less, though poor, younger Jonah Hill remains a popular target for age-related humor. Another rift forms between the cops for very similar reasons, with a few changes that swap Schmidt and Jenko's roles. The setting unsurprisingly leads to fraternity antics, but is so focused upon Schmidt and Jenko that it never feels like a retread of Neighbors.

The sequel mocking is often funny and a smart way to differentiate 22 from other sequels; it also feels like an easy excuse for the filmmakers to put Schmidt and Jenko through a slightly altered version of 21's plot. Fortunately, Hill and Tatum are still fun to watch. They still have an organic, clashing, brotherly love that's fun to watch even during the not so funny scenes. This time, Captain Dickson becomes more involved in the case, giving Ice Cube more opportunities to get in on the action and comedy. Peter Stormare plays a bland villain. Little time is wasted on him and his scenes allow Schmidt, Jenko and other more energetic characters to shine, but I felt each of 21's high school antagonists contributed to the comedy. The self-referential humor can get old, and the jokes are sometimes just dumb rather than dumb fun. 22 Jump Street offers more of 21's fun bromance and back-to-school humor but is not totally unlike the sequels that it mocks.

NOTE: There's a funny scene during the credits AND a brief one following the credits.


What to Watch This Weekend: June 13, 2014

In Theaters: Obvious Child 
It technically opened last week but it's getting a wider release this week. It's an indie gem that has an equal blend of heart and funny.

From Redbox: Her
Possibly my favorite movie from last year. Just see it, it's an amazing film.

Streaming (Netflix): Omar
In our indie themed What 2 Watch, we have another well received indie film (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) about a young couple who live on opposite sides of an Israeli boundary wall in Palestine.

Streaming (Netflix, Amazon): Cabin in the Woods
It's Friday the 13th, so why not watch one of the better horror movies to come out recently! Cabin in the Woods was surprisingly good so check it out if you're hoping for a scare.

Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Release date: June 13, 2014
Running time: 102 minutes
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Djimon Hounsou
Who to see it with: Someone who likes cute creatures and drama


How to Train Your Dragon surprised many with a mix of fun and drama that stood apart from other Dreamworks films, and its sequel will likely satisfy fans in the same way. This time, Hiccup and his vikings must face the prospect of war after encountering a violent group of dragon collectors. Hiccup is also uncomfortable with his father's desire to make him into his tribal chief successor. These clashes bring much debate about the inevitability of war and the pressures of accepting greater responsibility.

HtTYD 2 is a fun adventure, but its pace often slows as Hiccup deals with growing pains and unexpected revelations. There's comic relief—often provided by Hiccup's wacky friends—but the movie sometimes feels more like a family drama rather than a dragon-packed adventure. The slower parts run a little long but add a sense of weight that many recent animated films lack. Darker moments provide meaningful character developments that promise interesting, new dynamics and relationships for the inevitable sequel. There's enough action and drama to keep adults interested, while any kid or animal lover will enjoy the animation of the many dragons, who act like giant, playful, winged cats and dogs. The dragons and their relationships with their owners are the highlights of the film. How to Train Your Dragon 2 should entertain entire families with its combination of fun creatures and family conflicts.


I agree with Lee on a lot of these points, especially that the darker moments provide more weight and character development for the film, but I didn't like the overall darkness. Maybe I'm getting old, but I thought the movie had a little too much drama and unnecessarily somber scenes for a movie primarily appealing to kids and families. That's not to say kids movies can't have that (Disney's Up does it perfectly) but in this case it seemed overblown and inappropriate. That being said, the story is at times fun, the animation is gorgeous, and I especially love the dog-like dragons. 


Review: The Signal

Release date: June 13, 2014 (Spooooky)
Running time: 95 minutes
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne
Who to see it with: Someone hoping for a little more suspense in their sci-fi


The Signal doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a horror-style scary movie, or a psychological sci-fi film? Well, it's kind of both and this straddling the line ends up hurting the movie. The film follows a group of college friends on a cross-country trip that gets derailed due to a detour to track down a rogue hacker. The initial part of the film works kind of like your typical horror movie, with plenty of suspense and uncertainty. After this ridiculous situation, it turns into a psychological sci-fi thriller with more suspense and uncertainty. 

For most of the film, Brenton Thwaites is asked to carry the movie, and he does a good job of it. He is an interesting lead character that is easily likable, even if some of his decisions are pretty bone-headed. He's joined by some other lesser known actors and eventually by Laurence Fishburne, who does a great job of playing an eerily calm researcher trying to figure out what happened to the three kids. The story develops slowly, with some strange occurrences and unanswered questions that linger until the end. And, although the ending does try to wrap up some of the uncertainty (I was actually thinking it would end without leaving any answers), the film ends up being unfulfilling given how quickly it tries to tie up the loose ends. 

Many of the questions are left unanswered, although sometimes they're hinted at, and the film seems to have weird situations for the sake of being weird. The cinematography is beautiful, and there are plenty of wonderful shots that show how good the movie could have been. But, in the end, the film feels like more of a style piece than anything. It doesn't explain much and leaves the viewers with more questions than answers. It's not a total train wreck, some of the ideas are interesting and the film has some good effects and cinematography, but the lack of identity really hurts what could have been a fresh film.


I enjoyed the identity crisis. It contributes to the scattered story but also adds more unpredictability. I'm thankful that the horror portion is brief because the characters attempt to commit as many clich├ęd horror movie mistakes as possible in just a few minutes. The storytelling is often intriguingly mysterious, but the mystery and plot sometimes rely too much on informed characters needlessly withholding helpful information. Laurence Fishburne's character is almost comically unhelpful in his interactions with the friends. This behavior makes slightly more sense after seeing the ending, but their strange methods seem a bit unnatural and designed to create plot twists. I enjoyed the few comedic moments though they clash with the movie's serious tone. The Signal is a mysterious and refreshingly open-ended science fiction story with unsatisfying storytelling.


Review: Obvious Child

Release date: June 6, 2014 (DC area June 13)
Running time: 85 minutes
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross
Who to see it with: Anyone who has lived in New York


One of the things I love about independent movies is the opportunity those movies give to lessor known actors. You can see some stars you've never heard of--or only seen tangentially--shine when they're finally given the chance. I didn't know who Jenny Slate was, but after Obvious Child, I'm excited to see what she does next. The movie doesn't bill itself very well; it seems like a vehicle for a stand-up comic to make the jump to major films. But don't let the terrible trailer steer you wrong. What you get with Obvious Child is a unique movie that feels very genuine in its humor and message.

What I loved about the film are the various personalities that you meet. The characters are all fairly extreme caricatures of individuals you would meet in New York, but in the context of the film, they fit perfectly. The humor is fairly modern and pretty raunchy at times, but those hoping for a little more edge to their movies will appreciate it. And the humor is not all stand-up; Jenny Slate's routines make up an important part of the film but they are not even a majority of the movie. The rest of the humor is in the context of ridiculous and realistic conversations between the characters. The plot of the film focuses on a situation that is easily relatable to. And that is probably the great thing about Obvious Child, it's a film that straddles the line between believable and silly, and does it perfectly. It's a genuinely funny film, with an equal combination of crazy and heart. 


Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Release date: June 6, 2014
Running time: 113 minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Who to see it with: A fan of sci-fi films or video games


Edge of Tomorrow follows an unlikely soldier who gets the ability to restart his day whenever he makes a mistook.... Edge of Tomorrow follows an unlikely soldier with the ability to restart his day whenever he makes a mistake.  It's a premise that is instantly familiar to anyone who has seen Groundhog Day; in fact, I imagine the pitch for this film was "It's Groundhog Day, with guns."  And you know what, that's a pretty great premise to start from.  PR manager turned soldier Cage (Cruise) is thrown into the battlefield and then discovers that every time that he dies, he goes back to the previous day. As he slowly tries to figure out why this is happening, he also begins to learn the battle and be able to avoid pitfalls that had previously caused him to restart his day.

It's a great premise and made all the more enjoyable by Cruise's performance. His character is not likable at first, and he plays it to perfection. As he experiences the same day over and over, he slowly learns from his experiences and changes in important ways. In fact, it's another similar premise to Groundhog Day, but instead of Cruise becoming a lovable town hero, he becomes a super soldier. Blunt plays another badass soldier who believes Cage's crazy story tries to train him to fully utilize his gift. The surprise performance is by Bill Paxton, who plays the field commander / drill sergeant to perfection. His performance is so enjoyable that you see the same sequence over and over again but still are surprised by what happens. And I guess that's the best part of this movie; that you can see the same basic sequence of events for two hours and still enjoy the surprises that come from it.

The effects of the film are top notch, however I could have used a better antagonist. The enemies of the film are designed to be scary, and successfully at that, but do look a little too ridiculous. But, that being said, the movie feels a lot like a video game, with many similar themes. The "rebooting" mechanic is the most noticeable, but also the unrealistic enemy and dire situation just scream triple-A game. And I loved it! As games have become more cinematic in their presentation and mechanics, it's only natural that those two areas begin to bleed over. And, like many video games, the ending of the film is ambiguous. Some people may not like this, but I enjoyed having a conversation with someone right after about our different, legitimate, conclusions. Edge of Tomorrow is another very good Tom Cruise sci-fi film (following last year's Oblivion) that you should make sure to see.