Movie DopeMovies

Movie Dope

21 JUMP STREET (R) 2012’s biggest surprise to date has to be this brilliantly dumb comedy from star-producer-story contributor Jonah Hill. A pair of pathetic new cops, Schmidt and Jenko (Hill and comedy revelation Channing Tatum), blow their first bust. As a result, they are transferred to a special undercover unit that sends fresh-faced policemen into local schools to nab drug dealers and the like. Their angry black captain (played with perfect apoplexy by Ice Cube) tasks the duo with finding the supplier of a new synthetic drug. Schmidt and Jenko hilariously discover that today’s high school flips their previous experiences. Former cool kid Jenko is banished with the nerds, while Schmidt experiences what it’s like to be popular. What should not work in this remake of the late ’80s/early ’90s Fox program, most famous as a launching pad for Johnny Depp, does with surprising comic force. The mission that Hill’s The Sitter half-accomplished is successfully completed by this flick, thanks to Scott Pilgrim scripter Michael Bacall’s smart riffs on ’80s action movies and two perfectly in sync leads. Could Hill/Tatum be a new comic duo or is this a one-time lightning in a bottle time deal?  

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (G) Come on, Fox! If you’re going to keep releasing new Chipmunks entries each holiday season, the least you can do is make a Christmas-themed movie featuring the furry trio’s classic holiday tunes. Instead, Alvin, Simon, Theodore, the Chipettes and Dave (poor, paycheck-cashing Jason Lee) start out on a cruise ship and wind up on a deserted island.

AMERICAN REUNION (R) The alumni of American Pie reunite for a fourth movie. Everyone—married Jim and Michelle (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Vicki (Tara Reid), Oz (Chris Klein), Heather (Mena Suvari), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) and Stifler (Seann William Scott)—returns to East Great Falls, Michigan for their 10-year high school reunion. Even Jim’s dad (the great Eugene Levy), Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge) and Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) are back. Directed by Harold & Kumar creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

CHICO & RITA (NR) 2010. The Latin ballad called a bolero is brought to animated life in this musical romance about piano player Chico (v. Eman Xor Oña) and beautiful singer Rita (v. Limara Meneses). Directed by Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba, this Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature was also nominated for the Annie in the same category, and won Best Animated Feature awards from the European Film Awards, the Gaudi Awards and the Goya Awards.

CYRANO AGENCY (NR) 2010. In this Korean romcom, Byeong-hoon (Eom Tae-woong) and Min-yeong (Park Sin-hye), two members of the Cyrano Agency, attempt to find matches for their lovelorn clientele. One particular client, Sang-yong (Choi Daniel), proves exceedingly difficult to pair with his chosen target, Hee-joong (Lee Min-jung). This lighthearted flick from director Kim Hyeon-seok is not an international award winner or critical darling, but might give romantics their fix until the next Reese/Kate/Katherine vehicle. Part of the Korean Film Festival sponsored by the Korean Student Association; Korean snacks will be provided.

DECLARATION OF WAR (NR) 2011. Valérie Donzelli’s film examines how two parents, Romeo and Juliette (Donzelli and real life partner Jérémie Elkaïm), deal with their infant son’s brain tumor. The film was nominated for seven César Awards and won three prizes from the Gijon International Film Festival. Part of the French Film Series.

DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX (PG) Released on Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday, this pleasant animated adaptation of the beloved children’s author’s environmental fable fails to utterly charm like the filmmakers’ previous animated smash, Despicable Me. The Lorax may visually stun you, and Danny DeVito’s brief time as voice of the Lorax could stand as his greatest role, one that will go unrecognized by any professional awards outside of the Annies. Unfortunately, the movie spends a lot less time with the fascinating, entertaining forest fighter than it does with Ed Helms’ The Once-ler (I’m usually a big Helms fan but his zany naïf felt incongruously calculated here) and bland Zac Efron’s bland protagonist, Ted. On the bright side, the film excels as a traditional movie musical, where characters naturally transition into songs that deepen their character or advance the plot without some silly justification via subjective dream sequences or glee club memberships. The songs they sing could be more memorable; I cannot recall a single one a day later. The Lorax is not the year’s best animated feature (imagine what Pixar could do with Seuss), but the childishly funny film does not pander to its audience, young and old, even if it does preach a bit.

THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN (NR) 2009. A French family struggles to survive as its patriarch, film producer Gregoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), hemorrhages money. Mia Hansen-Løve’s film won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize from the Cannes Film Festival. Part of the French Film Series sort of sponsored by the UGA French program, the film will be introduced by Dr. Richard Neupert, film studies coordinator at UGA, as well as other guests.

FRIENDS WITH KIDS (R) Jessica Stein herself, Kissing Jessica Stein star and writer Jennifer Westfeldt, heads back to the big screen in her directorial debut. Two besties, Julie Keller and Jason Fryman (Westfeldt and the increasingly awesome Adam Scott), decide to have a baby together, thinking their platonic relationship will suffer less from childrearing than a romantic one would. The cast is tough and filled with Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm and Chris O’Dowd) and Edward Burns.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (PG-13) Marvel’s Neveldine/Taylor experiment might have gone better had the company had the guts to release another R-rated flick a la their two Punisher flops. The Crank duo brings their frenetic, non-stop visual style, but those wicked paeans to hedonism had a narrative need to never slow down (its lead character would die). Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance must pump the brakes occasionally to let the “story†catch up, and Neveldine/Taylor never seem as comfortable when the movie’s not rocketing along at 100 miles an hour. They also don’t keep a tight enough rein on their star; Nic Cage is allowed to unleash every one of his worst acting instincts as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, tasked with saving a young boy from the Devil (Ciaran Hinds). A handful of my favorite actors (Hinds, Idris Elba, Anthony Head) cannot save this merrily daft movie. Not even the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert, who makes the most of his pitifully small screen time, is a match for the movie’s voracious, unhinged lead. Nonetheless, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a step up from its tremendously awful predecessor (Neveldine/Taylor > Mark Steven Johnson).

GOOD DEEDS (PG-13) Good Deeds is another average melodrama from the entertainment juggernaut that is Atlanta’s Tyler Perry. Perry stars as Wesley Deeds, the uptight CEO of a software company who befriends a struggling widowed mother, Lindsey Wakefield (Thandie Newton), on the virtual eve of his wedding. Naturally, his relationship with Lindsey and her cute daughter, Ariel, awaken the spark of life that’s been lying dormant in Deeds for the bulk of his adult life, a course charted by his domineering mother (Phylicia Rashad). Perry has two tonal modes: the headspinning comic/dramatic combo of his Madea movies and the grindingly humorless melodrama of his non-Madea flicks. (Why Did I Get Married? remains his best movie, as it retained a sense of humor and drama without Perry donning a dress.) Good Deeds is planted squarely in the latter camp. Lighter moments are so hard to come by you will yearn for Madea to drop in to say “hur-lo.†Supporting characters, such as Wesley’s fiancee, Natalie (Gabrielle Union), and his brother, Walter (Brian White), are infuriatingly one-dimensional. Good Deeds is duller than most of the 11 movies directed by Perry since 2006 (!); it’s also superior to the bulk of them.

GROW! (NR) 2011. An hour-long documentary following 20 young Georgia farmers as they find purpose in working hard for good food.

HUGO (PG) Oh, to be an orphan living in an early-20th-century clock! Despite its near perfection, this 3D family film—Martin Scorsese’s first—may be the loveliest wide release to struggle to find its audience this year. Yet it’s no wonder Scorsese, himself a film historian as well as a film lover, decided to adapt Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, whose central mystery revolves around an early cinematic master. Parisian orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who lives inside the clocktower of the train station, seeks the answer to a mysterious automaton, left unsolved by his late father and clockmaker (Jude Law), with the help of a toymaker named Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his charge, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Knowledgeable cinephiles will be enthralled by Selznick’s story, wonderfully adapted by Oscar-nominated scribe John Logan, which I refuse to spoil, and enchanted by the legendary filmmaker’s gorgeous imagery, which conjures memories of Amelie and was awarded with Oscars for cinematography, visual effects and more.

THE HUNGER GAMES (PG-13) While a successful adaptation of a difficult book that near everyone has read, The Hunger Games has little cinematic spark. It’s a visual book report that merely summarizes the plot. It’s a well-written book report, but it’s still a book report. Seabiscuit director Gary Ross was not the most obvious choice to direct this dystopian adventure in which 24 teenagers are randomly selected for a contest in which only one will survive. That bleak premise was handled with more appropriately bloody violence in the Japanese film, Battle Royale, and America’s version of the game needed more of a visceral gut-punch to look less like “Survivor: Teen Island.†The book’s R-rated violence was deliberately shot with near incomprehensibility so as to retain a PG-13 rating. Seeing these popular characters brought to life proved most of the controversial casting choices were successful. Jennifer Lawrence has Katniss’ steely beauty, and Josh Hutcherson has Peeta’s magnetism. The jury is still out on Liam Hemsworth’s Gale. Woody Harrelson nails the obviously less alcoholic Haymitch. More time spent in the Capitol with Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna will be a boon for the sequel. All critiques aside, I was left with one question: How long until Catching Fire?

THE IRON LADY (PG-13) As a fan of all things British, The Iron Lady should have been more appealing to me, but the clumsy construction by director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) and writer Abi Morgan sink it. Meryl Streep may not be a revelation (she cannot be; the highest level of acting is expected of her), but her Golden Globe winning and sure to be Oscar nominated portrayal of Margaret Thatcher goes beyond mere impression. Too bad the film wastes far too much of its sub-two-hour running time on the later years framework. Any time Streep’s ancient Maggie (the makeup is good) appeared to harangue a hallucination of her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent, classy as ever), was a time to check out. And these flash-forwards happen a lot, sometimes for mere seconds, ripping us from the more interesting tale of Thatcher becoming the first female Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom. The Iron Lady’s BAFTA nomination for Best Original Screenplay is utterly baffling. As a BBC television production, The Iron Lady might satisfy, but as big screen, awards bait biopic, it falls woefully short. Maggie would certainly not have approved.

• JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (R) Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the better entrée into mainstream cinema for the filmmaking Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark (“The Leagueâ€â€™s Pete), than their previous film, Cyrus. Jeff is a simple, sweet, comedic character study about a 30-year-old slacker (the eminently likable Jason Segel has never seemed like so much of a giant) who lives in his mother’s basement, while watching Signs one too many times. Jeff looks for signs in everything, and one fateful day, those perceived signs lead him on a bit of an adventure with his brother, Pat (Ed Helms). Pat, as played by Helms, really wants to be a Danny McBride character, but at heart, he’s just too nice. The largest criticism one could level at Jeff is that the movie is too nice. It lacks a harsh bone in its sweet, man-child body. Otherwise, the film is easily the most complete, the most traditional of the Duplass’ four features.

JOHN CARTER (PG-13) Civil War veteran John Carter (“Friday Night Lightsâ€â€™ alum Taylor Kitsch, whose career is poised to blow up or implode in 2012) is transported to Mars, where 12-foot-tall barbarians rule. WALL-E director Andrew Stanton becomes the latest Pixar filmmaker to make the jump from animation to live action. I’d love to see his film be as successful as Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. With Bryan Cranston, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church.

JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (PG) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’s biggest problem might be time. Many of the young people who enjoyed its 2008 forebear, Journey to the Center of the Earth, might have outgrown the Brendan Fraser/Dwayne “The Rock†Johnson brand of family adventure movie. Sean (Josh Hutcherson, soon to be Peeta in The Hunger Games) and his future stepdad, Hank (the always appealing Johnson), travel to the mysterious island to find Sean’s granddad (Michael Caine). Along for the ride are a goofy helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman, being as Guzman-y as ever) and his gorgeous daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). The island’s giant, 3D-tastic flora and fauna make for a movie that’s fun to look at for an hour and a half, especially on the big screen, but does not create the sort of lasting impression needed to survive in today’s oversaturated entertainment market.

• MIRROR MIRROR (PG) Not much clicks in 2012’s first reimaging of Snow White (the darker Snow White and the Huntsman drops in June). Julia Roberts does not an Evil Queen make; the anachronistic dialogue is wincingly unfunny; and the live action cartoon, overflowing with Stooge-y slapstick, is a tonal decision only pleasing to undiscriminating children, many of whom found Mirror Mirror to be rousingly delightful. It’s not. The classic Grimm’s fairy tale remains largely the same. When the king (Sean Bean) dies, his evil queen (Roberts) takes over and hatches a plan to take his rightful heir, Snow White (Lily “Daughter of Phil†Collins), out of the picture. Instead of dying, Snow meets up with a band of dwarves, meets a charming prince (Armie Hammer), and winds up happily ever after. Pretty much all that happens in the new version, but Snow is more proactive heroine and less distressed damsel. Naturally, Tarsem stages the silliness with the lush, visual wizardry one expects from the Immortals director, but the returns are diminishing. His amazing visions need to be matched with material that can equal them, and to date, they have not. 

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE—GHOST PROTOCOL (PG-13) Mission: Impossible is that rare franchise that has actually gotten better with each new installment and in inverse proportion to its megastar’s popularity. Tom Cruise had few peers in 1996 when the weak, original M:I opened; now he’s more often a punchline, albeit a badass punchline who does many of his own death-defying stunts, like climbing the outside of the world’s tallest building. What sets the Mission: Impossible franchise apart from any other existing action series is its star-producer’s knack for finding the best, new behind the camera talent. First-time live-action feature director Brad Bird is known to be an animation auteur (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), and he apparently doesn’t realize action of the live variety has limitations. Now he’s the guy who can still make a Tom Cruise stunt spectacular stand out like it’s the late ’90s. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his new team (the gorgeous Paula Patton, stalwart Jeremy Renner and A-1 comic relief Simon Pegg) must clear IMF’s name after a bombing decimates the Kremlin. From Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, the action doesn’t let up from scene one.

POETRY (NR) 2010. This Palme d’Or nominee from director Lee Chang-dong concerns a 60-year-old woman (Yun Jeong-hie, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award winner for Best Actress) who finds the strength to face a heinous family crime and Alzheimer’s in a poetry class. Poetry won the Cannes Film Festival’s award for Best Screenplay and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury Special Mention. Part of the Korean Film Festival sponsored by the Korean Student Association; Korean snacks will be provided.

POINT BLANK (R) 2010. A nurse must help a thief escape his hospital imprisonment after the crook’s henchmen take his pregnant wife hostage. Point Blank, which won a National Board of Review Award as one of the top-five foreign language films of the year, sounds like a summer tentpole pic. Part of the French Film Series sort of sponsored by the UGA French program, the film will be introduced by Dr. Richard Neupert.

PROJECT X (R) This teen “greatest party ever filmed†flick could use a more descriptive title, preferably one that doesn’t get as many children of the ’80s’ hearts racing at the thought of a remake of the Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt and a monkey movie. As a responsible adult, I lament how this teen comedy, produced by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips, condones the Internet era’s hedonism as teenage rite of passage. Three unpopular high schoolers—Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown)—throw a party so wild (sex, drugs, alcohol, fire, a midget; it’s like the boys go to Bret Easton Ellis High) that not even the cops can stop it, a conceit that play rights into teenagers’ already overinflated egos. As a former teenager, I wish I’d been invited. The appeal of Project X truly depends on the perspective—adult or teen—from which you view it as the party supplies few surprising acts of debauchery. It does add a novel running gag about two overzealous, overmatched teen security guards. Their misadventures had a sense of freshness from which the rest of this slightly tired party flick could have benefited.

SAFE HOUSE (R) For Safe House’s target fans of Denzel Washington, whizzing bullets and car chases, the action flick is critically bulletproof; for me, it was competently boring. Former CIA operative turned rogue asset, Tobin Frost (Washington), goes on the run with green agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, in the thankless role anyone could have filled) hot on his heels. Washington remains the laziest talent in Hollywood. What draws him to waste his chops on these action-filled scripts with such obvious plot trajectories? You can tell which CIA bigwig (the suspects being Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson) Weston shouldn’t trust from the trailers, and try as they might to imply otherwise, one can easily presume Washington’s Frost hasn’t gone rogue for sheer psychopathic thrills or mere greed. The predictable action is delivered with the workmanlike craftsmanship (quick edits, handheld camerawork, etc.) one expects from a production that is clearly influenced by Washington’s work with Tony Scott, but lacks his more artful eye. Safe House should make enough money to keep Washington’s rep as a box office draw undiminished, but won’t make much of an impression in his increasingly inconsequential filmography.

A THOUSAND WORDS (PG-13) An Eddie Murphy family comedy, directed by Brian Robbins (Meet Dave and Norbit), that’s been in the can since 2008? Nothing in this sentence implies anything good (or funny). A literary agent, Jack McCall (Murphy), is taught a lesson on truth by a spiritual guru via the Bodhi tree that appears on his property. Every word Jack speaks leads to a fallen leaf; when the last leaf falls, so does Jack. With Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, Allison Janney, Jack McBrayer and Clark Duke.

TITANIC (PG-13) 1997. One of the biggest hits of all-time and the winner of 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) gets even bigger with the addition of a third dimension. The shocking maritime disaster that took 1,514 lives becomes the backdrop for the love story of Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) in King of the World James Cameron’s old-fashioned, blockbuster epic. I scoffed at the rerelease, but a recent trailer left me surprisingly interested to rewatch the film for the first time in years.

TOMBOY (NR) 2011. Director Céline Sciamma’s latest film starts with an intriguing premise. A 10-year-old girl moves to a new town and is mistaken for a boy. Living up to that new identity proves difficult. Hollywood would take this rich idea and ruin it with a shining tween star/LCD humor. Winner of awards from Berlin, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Torino. Part of the French Film Series sort of sponsored by the UGA French program, the film will be introduced by Dr. Richard Neupert, film studies coordinator at UGA, as well as other guests, during its Mar. 26–Apr. 5 run.

WAR HORSE (PG-13) Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play, told through life-size puppets, is about a young man named Albert’s (Jeremy Irvine) journey through World War I to find his beloved horse, Joey, which was sold to the cavalry. The script, credited to Academy Award nominees Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, one of my faves, might intrigue me more than the presence of the erstwhile Mr. Spielberg. With Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston and more Brits than you could shake a Potter at.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (R) If you have yet to read Lionel Shriver’s terrifying book, you are missing what can best be described as a Jack Ketchum horror novel of which Oprah would approve. Golden Globe nominee Tilda Swinton stars as the mother of Kevin (Ezra Miller), the perpetrator of a Columbine-type massacre. John C. Reilly plays the clueless father. Palme d’Or nominee Lynne Ramsey’s third film (Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar) is receiving sharp reviews, but it is not for everyone. I have been waiting for this one since Cannes.

• WRATH OF THE TITANS (PG-13) Is the problem that they don’t make them like they used to or that they make them too much like they used to? Wrath of the Titans, the tedious sequel to the boring remake of Clash of the Titans, is fully stocked on seen-that-before moments. Demigod Perseus (former next big thing Sam Worthington) is asked by his godly pops, Zeus (Liam Neeson), to help save humanity again. Apparently, Zeus’ bro, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), and Zeus’ other kid, Ares (Edgar Ramirez), are scheming with Zeus’ Titan dad, Cronos, to stage a monstrously large prison break, and the half-god is the only person who can stop it. Battle: Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman brings the exact same bag of shaky action tricks to ancient Greece, but believe it or not, Battle: LA is more exciting.