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 deal?

THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (R) 1994. The Boybutante AIDS Foundation presents a special screening of writer-director Stephen Elliot’s fabulous The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Terence “Kneel before Zod†Stamp, Hugo “Hello, Mr. Anderson†Weaving and Guy “Leonard Shelby†Pearce star as two drag queens and a transsexual heading to a cabaret gig in the middle of the desert. Priscilla deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Part of the Boy Ball Week fundraiser for AIDS Athens.

• AMERICAN REUNION (R) Sometimes reuniting with old friends isn’t all that bad, and American Reunion is much more entertaining than the last two times we hung out with Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Seann William Scott). At their 13-year reunion, the old gang—plus Michelle (Alison Hannigan), Vicky (Tara Reid), Heather (Mena Suvari), Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy), Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge), Nadia (a brief, unnecessary appearance from Shannon Elizabeth) and the rest (Natasha Lyonne, John Cho)—get up to their old antics. Once they were randy teens trying to get laid; now they’re randy adults with the same objective. Still, the scenarios (the hot girl Jim used to babysit, Oz’s celebrity dance show appearance, etc.) are funny, and the characters have aged well (some better than their actors). Biggs and Hannigan deserve a sitcom-y showcase, and Levy enjoys his dive into the raunchy end of the pool more than some of his paycheck-seeking costars. Yet Scott’s Stifler, forever stuck in his high school glory days, supplies the movie with its bounce and biggest laughs. Without the Stifmeister, the gang, including the audience, would have had a pretty boring reunion. 

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (NR) Into the burgeoning market for fashion documentaries comes Bill Cunningham New York. Eighty-year-old Bill Cunningham is a New York Times photographer, who, armed with an arsenal of cameras, rides around the Big Apple on his bicycle capturing the style of dress of the most unique denizens of the city that never sleeps. Many of the fashion world’s luminaries appear to discuss Cunningham in the feature debut of award-winning short filmmaker Richard Press (he has prizes from Sundance and the Berlin International Film Festival).

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (R) The Joss Whedon-scripted horror flick finally arrives (after moving from MGM to a better-fitting Lionsgate). Five friends travel to the titular cabin, and bad things happen. The premise sounds like The Evil Dead, but the trailer betrays a decidedly deeper mythology than the sparse logline. Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard (one of the best scripters in the Whedonverse stable) directs. The cast includes Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris “Thor†Hemsworth, and Whedonverse vets Fran Kranz (“Dollhouseâ€), Amy Acker and Tom Lenk (“Buffyâ€).

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.

CINEMA PARADISO (PG) 1988. The winner of the 1990 Oscar for Best Foreign Film is about the joy of movies and how romantic relationships feed and forbid a young boy’s love for cinema. Part of Ciné’s 5th Anniversary 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.

“FRESH LOOK†ATHENS INTERNATIONAL KIDS FILM FEST (NR) The fourth addition of the “Fresh Look†Athens International Kids Film Festival includes international shorts and features meant for the entire family. The 2 p.m. screenings on Saturday and Sunday are recommended for ages 5 and up; the 4 p.m. screenings on Saturday and Sunday are recommended for ages 11 and up. The lineup of films come from all over the world. A Q&A will follow each session.

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).

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.

LIFE SWAP (NR) The film Life Swap—Merging Cultures, Killing Stereotypes follows 10–12 University of Georgia students, faculty members and community members as they attend local events with academically, socially, ethnically, religiously, politically and/or physically diverse persons. The documentary’s goal, as stated in its subtitle, is to dispel the cultural misconceptions students may have about the people around them. Following the screening, the participants will engage in a panel discussion to talk further about their “life-swapping†experiences. Sponsored by the Black Affairs Council.

LOCKOUT (PG-13) A man convicted of espionage (Guy Pearce) is offered his freedom if he rescues the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace, nearly reprising her Taken role) from a space prison taken over by its inmates. This sci-fi actioner sounds strangely familiar (Escape from Space? Escape to Earth? Either way, where’s Snake when you need him?). Luc Besson is writing and producing, but the directors are unknowns (hard to tell whether or not that will be a problem). I am intrigued.

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.

PINA (PG) 2011. A nominee for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Wim Wenders’ latest film pays tribute to the late German choreographer Pina Bausch. Filmed in 3D, Wenders takes audiences onto the stage alongside the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and into the streets of Wuppertal where Bausch brought her creative visions to life for 35 years. Winner of the European Film Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Film Award in Gold for Best Documentary from the German Film Awards.

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.

RED TAILS (PG-13) Red Tails, a pet project of Star Wars creator George Lucas, succeeds everywhere it should and fails nowhere that should surprise anyone. The valor of the Tuskegee Airmen is every bit as worthy of patriotic, big screen fanfare as the flyers of Pearl Harbor and the WWI-era Lafayette Escadrille in Flyboys, and their movie is every bit the equal of dramatic lightweight and action heavyweight. These three aviation-centered war movies are near interchangeable, besides their single major hooks (Pearl Harbor, World War I and African-American pilots). A crew of attractive young black men (including Nate Parker, David Oleyowo, Tristan Wilds and Ne-Yo) are led into combat by stalwart veterans Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard and must battle racism on the ground and in the air. (The Luftwaffe knew they were dogfighting with black men.) The dialogue is tin-eared as previous Lucas films (the prequels come to mind) and does not benefit the actors at all. Still, exciting, jingoistic fervor can sometimes wear down any foe, even an enemy script. By Red Tails end, it’s near impossible to root against these great American underdogs.

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.

TALES OF THE NIGHT (NR) 2011. The latest masterpiece from internationally acclaimed animator Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress, Azur & Asmar) returns to the shadow puppet contrasted against bright Day-Glo backgrounds style of his Princes and Princesses. Six fables set in the exotic lands of Tibet, medieval Europe, the plains of Africa, the Aztec empire and the Land of the Dead blend history with fantastical creatures like dragons and werewolves. Nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

THE THREE STOOGES (PG) The Three Stooges—Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (“Will & Graceâ€â€™s Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso)—stumble onto a murder mystery and join a reality TV show while trying to save their childhood orphanage. Do the Farrelly Brothers have anything left in the tank? Too bad this movie didn’t happen when Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro were interested. With Sofia Vergara, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, Larry David (as Sister Mary-Mengele!), Farrelly regular Lin Shaye, Craig Bierko and Stephen “RevCam†Collins.

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.

• WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (R) Lionel Shriver’s terrifying epistolary novel is brought to the big screen in an almost entirely different form by filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar). A mother, Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton, in a Golden Globe nominated performance), struggles to rebuild her life amid flashbacks to raising her sociopathic son, Kevin. Ramsay foregoes Shriver’s letter structure, not lazily relying on voiceovers as most adapters would, but goes a bit overboard with the symbolism; does it really take two shots of Eva washing red paint from her hands to get the blood on her hands point across? The film offers a lot less insight into Eva, Kevin and mostly clueless husband/father Franklin (John C. Reilly) than the novel but successfully captures the loneliness of a mother whose bad seed proves far more than just distant and cold thanks to the tandem performances of Swinton and Ezra Miller/Jasper Newell/Rock Duer, who play Kevin as a teen, at 6-8 years and as a toddler (possibly the toughest task). If only the super-fragmented film—the first 15-20 minutes are more chore than hook—drew the audience in as readily and completely as its literary precursor.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (PG-13) Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, returns to the big screen for his first role since the epic story of the famed Boy Who Lived ended. Sporting tremendously manicured sideburns (the tiny fellow resembles a young Wolverine), Radcliffe stars as lawyer Arthur Kipps, a widower struggling to raise his young son. To save his job, Kipps must travel to a small, isolated village and tidy up the affairs at an abandoned old house. Like something out of Lovecraft, the locals aren’t very welcoming to this strange newcomer. Director James Watkins chills his old-fashioned ‘aunted ‘ouse with creepy dolls, dead children and the titular black-clad woman. February horror films typically don’t have as many successful scares as this film contains in its nearly dialogue-free middle act. Due to smart hiring (Watkins, whose Eden Lake deserves a wider audience) and casting (Radcliffe works hard to prove he can be more than just Harry; Ciaran Hinds is always welcome), England’s hallowed Hammer Films proves they’ve still got it after all these years.

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.