Mid90s

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterson
Directed by: Jonah Hill (debut)
Written by: Jonah Hill (debut)

It looks like two-time Academy Award-nominated actor and first-time writer/director Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) has picked up a few tricks during his 14-year career from some of the top-tier filmmakers he’s worked with, including Bennett Miller, Martin Scorsese and Joel and Ethan Coen. In his admirable directorial debut “Mid90s,” Hill proves he’s operating from a place of purity, compassion and meaningful emotion.

In a way, “Mid90s” is the spiritual successor to Larry Clark’s controversial 1995 indie film “Kids,” although not nearly as provocative (at least by today’s standards). Hill has crafted a lived-in world where his young characters — most of them teenage boys — feel like they are the kings of their own destiny. From the perspective of a child, it’s not as captivating or unique as films like “The Florida Project,” “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” but Hill has tapped into a specific time and location worthy of thoughtful exploration.

Set in Los Angeles in the, well, mid-’90s, Hill introduces us to his crew led by actor Sunny Suljic (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) in what will undoubtedly be considered his breakout role in years to come. Suljic stars as Stevie, an undersized 13-year-old kid in search of his own identity and reputation.

Stevie’s home life is bearable, although he’d probably like it more if his aggressive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) would stop beating the hell out of him. Their single mother (Katherine Waterson) is loving, but gives them the freedom to do as they please. That independence leads Stevie to a local skate shop where he finds solace hanging around with the teens who frequent (or work at) the store.

The young men — aspiring skateboard pro Ray (Na-kel Smith), jealous Ruben (Gio Galicia), aspiring filmmaker “Fourth Grade” (Ryder McLaughlin) and scene-stealing slacker “Fuckshit” (Olan Prenatt) — take a liking to Stevie, who starts skateboarding with them. “Mid90s” is a plotless film, so we spend most of the time observing the guys as they skate, smoke weed, drink beer, insult each other and talk about what they want to do with their lives and why they like skating. It’s a shifting dynamic that is authentic and, occasionally, deeply moving.

As far as coming-of-age films go, “Mid90s” isn’t groundbreaking, but the impression that Hill is connected to the material in an intimate way is strong. He knows these kids’ lives and doesn’t settle for the easy route by diluting the narrative with nostalgia-heavy scenes or an overshadowing soundtrack. In “Mid90s,” Hill wants us to empathize with these boys. We’re all the better for him allowing us to do just that.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

August 3, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”)
Written by: Gus Van Sant (“Last Days”)

Three-time Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”) stars as quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” a conventional biopic stifled by a screenplay that doesn’t allow its main character to flourish or make meaningful relationships.

Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”), who made one of the most memorable biopics of the last decade in 2008’s “Milk,” works off his own script based on John’s memoir of the same name.

Although writing has been, at best, an inconsistent endeavor for Van Sant in the past, what saves “Don’t Worry” from losing its footing completely is Phoenix’s portrayal of the controversial Callahan, who we see in the film through flashbacks as an alcoholic 21-year-old kid from Portland, who becomes paralyzed in a drunken car accident in 1972.

Most of “Don’t Worry” focuses on John’s physical and emotional recovery after the crash as well as his effort to kick his drinking habit by finding support in Alcoholics Anonymous. In AA, he meets Donnie (Jonah Hill), the group’s leader whose easy-going demeanor keeps John’s addiction in check. Despite the importance of Donnie and the other AA members, Van Sant’s script keeps them at an arm’s length away and never really acknowledges their value.

The same can be said with the way Van Sant handles John’s love interest Annu (Rooney Mara), a Swedish physical therapist who feels like an afterthought as soon as she leaves the room. An hour into the film and it’s almost like John has been alone the entire time. Even more problematic is the fact that because of the way the narrative is constructed, John’s artwork, the most fascinating thing about his life from a cinematic standpoint, only makes an impression in the second half of the story.

When his cartoons are given their moment to shine, however, is when “Don’t Worry” becomes a charming inside look into a man’s comically dark and clever mind through the politically-incorrect doodles he creates on issues like physical disabilities, race, religion and anything else that would cause conservative readers to gasp. Van Sant enhances some of these scenes by having John’s drawings come alive on paper. The subtle animations of his scribbly characters bring a happiness to the picture that balances the sobriety storyline well.

Still, it’s too little too late for “Don’t Worry” when we get to anything that resembles a significant part of who John really is – from his artistic abilities to his friendships to some of the personal baggage that weighs him down. Phoenix gives a triumphant performance, but “Don’t Worry” needed more color – something like 2003’s superior “American Splendor.” Van Sant, unfortunately, thought it adequate enough to scribble in pencil.

War Dogs

August 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Big Short”)
Written by: Stephen Chin (“Another Day in Paradise”), Todd Phillips (“The Big Short”), Jason Smilovic (“Lucky Number Slevin”)

If, upon watching the driving, energetic, rat-a-tat-tat trailer for Todd Phillips’s “War Dogs,” you found yourself thinking, “Huh — looks kinda like “The Big Short, Jr.,” rest assured: You were neither (1) alone nor (2) wrong in that assessment.

Just as you wouldn’t (necessarily) have been alone or wrong had you drawn a line of comparison/inspiration/theoretical parentage between “The Big Short” — last year’s Oscar quintuple-nominee and Best Adapted Screenplay winner — and 2013’s Oscar quintuple-nominee “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Or between “Wolf” and “Goodfellas,” for that matter. (Or “Casino” and “Goodfellas.” Or “Blow” and “Goodfellas.” Or “Boogie Nights” and “Goodfellas.” Or 2009 internet-porn origin story “Middle Men” and “Goodfellas.” And on and on.)

The point: If “War Dogs” is “The Big Short, Jr.,” and “The Big Short” is “The Wolf of Wall Street, Jr.,” does that mean, by the transitive property or some-such, that “Dogs” is “The Wolf of Wall Street, Jr.-Jr.?”

Or, to a lesser extent, “Goodfellas Jr.-Jr.-Jr.?”

More to the point: Yes, kind of.

Even more to the point: That’s not altogether a bad thing.

Based on a jaw-dropping, eminently Google-able true story, “War Dogs” follows David Packouz (Teller), a restless Miami Beach masseur who reconnects with high school best friend/stoner pal (and small-time weapons dealer) Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and is summarily drawn in, at the ground-floor level, to the latter’s nascent get-absurdly-rich-reasonably-quickly venture: Capitalize on an early-2000s, post-Halliburton-scandal “trustbusting” atmosphere — in which federal arms contracts were suddenly opened up via online marketplace to virtually anyone who could fill the orders — by becoming go-between munitions suppliers to the United States government at the ripe old ages of 19 and 23. As Hill/Diveroli puts it: “This is the job. To do business with the people and places the U.S. government can’t do business with directly. It’s as simple as that.”

And, for a while, it is. Of course, what seems simple at first becomes less and less so (I mean, come on: Not to belabor this, but … you’ve seen “Goodfellas,” right?), stakes and price tags spiral upward, allegiances are tested and strained, and our dude-bro DoD diplomats find themselves in well over their heads.

The story is a dilly, and Phillips (who gave us the “Hangover” franchise, “Old School,” and “Road Trip”) handles it well. The presentation is largely slick, snappy, fun — the opening lags a bit, as it calls inevitably to mind other (aforementioned) films that are slicker and snappier — but once the yarn gets to unspooling in earnest, we clip along at a sprightly pace that both ramps up and relieves tension in appropriate and pleasing measures. The later portions of “War Dogs” hold a number of shocks, dumbfoundings, and flabbergasts, and Phillips sticks these critical landings admirably. (One is tempted to wonder — though the timelines probably don’t work out — whether seeing “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers’s” Adam McKay broaden his directorial purview and subsequently score with “The Big Short” made Phillips say, “I can do that.” Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome and ably-turned new leaf.)

The cast is watertight, as well. Hill, as Diveroli, cooks: He’s a hoot, dripping with charismatic, sleazy bravado and frequently emitting a curious (but effective and trademark-ish) high-pitched laugh, like air escaping a balloon, or a baked-out-of-his-mind comic book villain. Teller, tasked with the straight-man burden, is wholly believable, casually-but-adeptly comedic, and elicits much more sympathy than one would expect, for a character who says “bro” as much as he’s asked to. Ana de Armas is solid, Kevin Pollack charming, Bradley Cooper properly unsettling in a minimalist but intriguing cameo.

“War Dogs” will remind you strongly of films you’ve seen before — but they’re very good films, and there’s a strong enough combination of familiar structural/tonal elements, confidence in its own story and style, and harrowing ugly-truth-telling to keep things entertaining and eye-opening all the way through.

True Story

April 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Rupert Goold (debut)
Written by: Rupert Goold (debut)

As eclectic as an actor James Franco is – a career decision that doesn’t always translate into great final products – it’s nice to witness when the Oscar-nominated actor (“127 Hours”) is able to pull back the reigns a bit and create a character that isn’t developed from some kind of cinematic experiment gone wrong. In “True Story,” Franco has a fact-based narrative to reference when he portrays Christian Longo, an Oregon man who is arrested for murdering his wife and children. It’s a somber and often times aggravating turn by Franco, but one that proves the actor doesn’t have to make some sort of convoluted statement with every role he plays.

Directed by first-time filmmaker and writer Rupert Goold, “True Story” follows the crime Christian committed in 2002. After he killed his family, he went on the run to Mexico where he used the alias Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), a name belonging to a New York Times writer who had recently been fired for some sloppy journalism. When Michael finds out Christian has been pretending to be him, he immediately wants to know more about the case and what drove Christian to such a heinous act in hopes of writing a book about the incident and the man behind it. During their meetings in prison, Christian, who never admits to the murders, begins to spin tales for Michael. It’s a friendship formed on manipulation as Michael allows himself to be taken under the spell of the charming convict. Without knowing where the truth lies, Michael is trapped in a frustrating game where he doesn’t have control of the situation.

While Goold’s script will have audiences in the dark for most of the film, it’s probably good to know as little as possible about the true-to-life case before watching “True Story” unravel piece by piece. Hill and Franco work seamlessly together, especially when they’re staring across the table from one another during prison scenes. What’s most interesting is how audiences will find themselves in the same position as Michael during most of the film. Is Christian someone that deserves to be heard or are his words that of a sociopath? Goold does a fantastic job of pushing and pulling the story between his two leads.

Where the film could’ve used a little more tightening is with the larger themes Goold obviously wanted to make come to the forefront. The content is present in the script, but it doesn’t come through in the third act. Goold is looking to say something more meaningful about the deceitfulness of man, but there’s little support. Maybe that’s where Franco should’ve been Franco and stepped in to say something profound. A wasted Felicity Jones attempts to do just that in her only contribution to the film, but it’s not nearly enough to tie everything together with much conviction.

Gabriel Iglesias – The Fluffy Movie

July 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Although his nickname “Fluffy” has defined him for years, stand-up comedian Gabriel Iglesias isn’t worried about losing his professional identity now that he has shed 100 pounds in an effort to combat his Type 2 diabetes. He’s more interested in staying alive.

“I’m more concerned about me being around than keeping an image,” Iglesias, 38, told me during an interview to promote his new film “The Fluffy Movie,” which hits theaters July 25. “I still got a ways to go. People keep asking, ‘What do we call you if you keep losing weight?’ I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. I’m lifting weights. Call me Buffy.’”

Aside from having to buy smaller Hawaiian shirts, Iglesias hasn’t changed much and is still one of the most popular stand-up comedians on the planet. During our interview, Iglesias talked about how “The Fluffy Movie” is the most personal stage performance he’s ever done and why he thinks dropping his nickname (and more denim shorts sizes) is critical to his future.

I’m a little disappointed you’re not wearing one of your famous Hawaiian shirts today.

Man, you know what? Those things are itchy. On stage, I’d rather rock a shirt with Transformers or something Marvel. I’ll wear a Hawaiian shirt if I’m doing something for TV or a movie. I own over 700 of those things. Chingos Hawaiian shirts!

You’ve done stand-up specials for TV before. How is “The Fluffy Movie” going to be different than what we’ve seen on Comedy Central?

I think all the other specials (2007’s “Hot and Fluffy,” 2009’s “I’m Not Fat … I’m Fluffy” and 2013’s “Aloha Fluffy”) have led up to this movie. Every time I put out a special, I put more and more personal stuff into it. This movie is going to be the icing on the cake. I’m telling people the story of how my mom and dad met and how I came to be. The material is super personal. I’m talking about my issues with Type 2 diabetes and the reason I had to start losing weight. I’m talking about having to eventually drop the “Fluffy” nickname. It could get to a point where I’m no longer a big dude. I’m talking about how my father showed up after 30 years of being gone. There’s a lot of emotion in this thing.

Was it therapeutic for you to reveal all these things?

It was extremely therapeutic because everyone thinks comics are happy. We’re not. We’re jaded. People think if you have money, it’ll fix the problems, but it creates different ones. As a comedian, especially one that works as much as I do, there is a lot of sacrifice. People don’t see that I’m away from my family 46 weeks out of the year. I miss all the birthdays and anniversaries and holidays. But getting on that stage is electric.

Does a film allow you to get a little more animated with the way you deliver your jokes?

Well, there are usually restrictions for my live shows. It’s adults only. I wanted the movie to be something everyone could enjoy. I wanted it to be family-friendly. So, no, I don’t cuss or anything like that. The only F-word in this movie is “fluffy.”

You’ve embraced that nickname for so long, but now it’s time to let go.

Yeah, this is probably going to be the last time you hear the name “Fluffy” in a title. I branded it so much that people are going to call me that no matter what. It’s in everything I’m in. If you Google the word “fluffy,” I’m the first thing that pops up. It’s me, dogs and rabbits.

People always joke about whether an overweight comedian can still be funny after they lose weight. What do you think about the idea you might lose it if you get skinny?

You know, people were saying the same thing about Jonah Hill and look what he did after he lost weight. He was nominated for two Oscars and he just had this movie “22 Jump Street” come out where he’s the lead over Channing Tatum! Can a big guy get small and still be successful? Hell yeah!

You come off as such a nice guy on stage. When, if ever, are you an asshole?

When I drink. If I’m drinking I can either be the nicest guy ever or I’m the guy you should leave alone. That’s my cross to bear. Drinking can bring out a dude that has some issues.

You were in the film “Magic Mike” back in 2012. Since the sequel is called “Magic Mike XXL,” can we assume you’ll be taking the stage alongside Channing Tatum?

It sounds like I’m going to be, right? Yeah, they’re going to make me twerk. If I twerk, I’m going to sell it hard.

Strippers and comedians both perform on a stage, so it should be an easy transition for you.

Yeah, one has a mic and one has a pole. We both put our hands around it and make the room go crazy.

22 Jump Street

June 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21 Jump Street,” “The LEGO Movie”)
Written by:  Michael Bacall (“21 Jump Street”), Oren Urizel (debut) and Rodney Rothman (“Grudge Match”)

At this point it is almost common knowledge that 2012’s big-screen version of “21 Jump Street” should not have worked at all. A comedic spin on a late-‘80s undercover teen crime drama starring a young Johnny Depp, the film starring the schlubby Jonah Hill and the beefcake-y Channing Tatum went on to become a hit with both audiences and critics. With success comes sequels, and when it comes to “22 Jump Street,” what is the approach? In the hands of Hollywood’s hottest directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the answer is a brilliant and hilarious deconstruction of just what a sequel is made of.

Unlike how “Muppets Most Wanted” earlier this year acknowledged the diminishing returns of sequels in an opening number that amounted to the cleverest thing in the whole movie, “22 Jump Street” merely flirts with breaking the fourth wall by camouflaging all of its talk on the nature of sequels in the trappings of another police assignment that happens to resemble their first adventure. This time around, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) must infiltrate a drug ring at a local college dealing “Whyphy,” a mix of Aderall and Ecstacy responsible for the death of a female student. Along the way, Schmidt and Jenko fall into patterns reminiscent of their first undercover assignment, only this time it’s happening in a college setting.

Much like Lord and Miller’s “The LEGO Movie,” the plot of “22 Jump Street” is merely a framework to hang metatextual jokes and references on. There are no real surprises to be had when it comes to figuring out who the drug dealer is this time around, especially when monologues from Ice Cube’s and Nick Offerman’s police captains basically spell out just how the plot and interpersonal conflicts between Hill and Tatum will unfold. The film is a near-masterpiece of subversion – earned by Lord’s and Miller’s box office pedigree – that would be impressive enough even if the movie wasn’t as funny as it is.

The laughs work on multiple levels, from the pure physical humor of Hill and Tatum, the dim frat-boy antics of Jenko’s new would-be soul mate Zook (Wyatt Russell), or the meta-humor maybe a third of the audience will laugh at, like a reference to red herrings or an over-cranked car chase taking place in front of the Benjamin Hill Film studies building.  Perhaps sensing there’s not much else to wring out of this premise, Lord and Miller button the end of the film up with dozens of clips of would-be sequels. While I’d be fine with this being the curtain call for the Jump Street gang, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see Hill and Tatum continue their adventures in culinary school or a prestigious dance academy.

The Wolf of Wall Street

December 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (“The Departed,” “Hugo”)
Written by: Terence Winter (“Get Rich or Die Tryin’”)

As Jordan Belfort, the so-called Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio asks the question we’re all thinking when it comes to the complicated maneuverings of Wall Street: “Was all this legal? Absolutely not!” 

Directed in full “Goodfellas”-mode by Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street” charts the true-life meteoric rise and fall of Belfort and his firm, Stratton Oakmont, during the ‘80s and ‘90s. With his best friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) at his side, Jordan runs a years-long scam involving selling penny stocks to unsuspecting average citizens at a heavy commission, knowing full well the shares are garbage from go-nowhere companies based out of garages and basements. As his personal wealth grows, Jordan slides falls further and further down a rabbit hole of drugs, prostitutes, sex, and even more drugs. When the firm finally grows large enough to warrant the attention of a straight-arrow FBI agent (Kyle Chandler), Jordan’s life begins to unravel.

At just under three hours long, “The Wolf of Wall Street” could have easily overstayed its welcome, but a fun script from Terence Winter and hilarious performances from DiCaprio and Hill keep things interesting. Winter, an HBO veteran who served as a writer on “The Sopranos” and creator of “Boardwalk Empire,” turns in another Tony Soprano/Nucky Thompson-style likeable anti-hero in Jordan that the audience can’t help but pull for in the early going—in spite of all the horrible things we see him do.

Scorsese slips into this filmmaking style—“Wolf” is basically a spiritual sequel to both “Goodfellas” and “Casino”–like it’s a well-worn shoe.  No one does it better, and with a game DiCaprio in front of the lens, there’s an awful lot to like about this film.

This is the End

June 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill
Directed by: Seth Rogen (debut) and Evan Goldberg (debut)
Written by: Seth Rogen (“Superbad”) and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”)

With the impending doom of the Mayan Apocalypse last year, Hollywood took a cue and started churning out apocalypse-themed movies. To the surprise of, well, nobody, we’re all still alive, yet the end of days films keep coming, with nearly a half-dozen in the past two years alone. Based off of a short film made in 2007, Seth Rogen (“Superbad”) makes his co-directorial debut with “This is the End,” a thriller/comedy where some of Hollywood’s funniest young actors get the opportunity to play themselves.

When Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League”) arrives in Los Angeles to visit Rogen, he reluctantly goes with him to a housewarming party at James Franco’s house. While at the party, events of biblical proportion unfold and Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride find themselves barricaded in the “127 Hours” star’s house. Friendships are tested and survival plans are initiated as the six actors try to stay alive.

Though the principal cast are playing themselves, they are exaggerated, fictitious versions. Hill, for example plays a overly nice people pleaser who is trying as hard as he can to get Baruchel to like him. Franco’s eccentricities are played up, especially with the design and set-up of his house. Just from a sheer laugh volume standpoint, McBride is probably the most successful of the bunch, something that is clearly by design. McBride nearly goes full Kenny Powers (his character on TV’s “Eastbound & Down”) as an insufferable and hilarious jerk and screenwriters Rogen and Evan Goldberg (and likely some well-executed improvisation) really highlight his fantastic ability to be a complete ass. Along with the main cast is an absurdly long list of cameos, almost all of which come from filmmaker Judd Apatow’s family tree. The best of these is a brief, but incredibly successful appearance by Michael Cera (“Superbad”), who spends every second of his screen time coked out of his mind.

Since the cast is a virtual six degrees of separation with Apatow, most of these actors have worked with each other in the past. The most noticeable are Rogen, Franco, McBride and Robinson who starred together in “Pineapple Express.” There is a certain ease in which these actors, all legitimate real-life friends, interact and play off of each other. Though there is a concern that things might become one giant inside joke, Rogen and company are able to keep the humor pretty broad for the most part. Still, there are plenty of cut-downs and references to lesser-received movies in the various actors’ careers that require a little bit of knowledge of their filmographies.

The laughs are relatively steady throughout the film, though there is a lull towards the middle and end. As more is revealed about what is actually happening, special effects come into play and the results are a bit mixed. While the CGI itself isn’t bad, the jokes that come from them don’t always hit their target. As the characters figure out what must be done to survive, the film begins to return to form a little bit. It does, however, play out more predictable than probably intended. It all builds up to a final scene that is incredibly bizarre and underwhelming.

Despite a pretty decent laugh ratio, the film as a whole feels a bit piecemeal. A few sections are oddly divided, edited and directed. As a meta-comedy, it’s successful and should give audiences fun looks at real life friends stuck in a life or death situation. The heartfelt parts of the story as well as the actual apocalyptic events, however, don’t work as well and feel a bit hollow.

Django Unchained

December 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”) takes a no-holds-barred approach to the topic of slavery in “Django Unchained,” a sharply-written, ultra-violent spectacle masked as a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone would be both proud and traumatized.

As a film about racism in America, it’s a welcomed punch to the gut unlike the seriously overrated Oscar-winning 2004 drama “Crash,” which also bashes you over the head with the subject matter, but with far less blood and entertainment value. When conveying slavery on the big screen, not many directors would have the backbone to present it as a savagely dark comedy and gun-blazing action flick. These topics are serious issues about our nation’s dark past. But what Tarantino is able to do here is monumental. By taking something as revolting as slavery and turning it on its head, he uncovers the ugliness of the era in a way we can all appreciate. It’s cynical, cartoonish and shocking at times, but Tarnantino knows how to get our attention and keep it till the last body is riddled with its fair share of bullets.

In “Django Unchained,” Academy Award-winning actor Jaime Foxx (“Ray”), in a title role that was actually written for Will Smith (who wussed out of the movie), stars as Django, a pre-Civil War slave who is given his freedom by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in exchange for helping him track down a trio of murderers. Once the job is complete and Django and Dr. Schultz have developed a kindly partnership, Django teams up with him to go on more bounties so he can make enough money to go buy back his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whatever slave owner has acquired her.

Upon their journey, Django and Dr. Schultz learn that Broomhilda has been purchased by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in a terrific supporting role that should garner him an Oscar nom), one of the most well-known slave owners in the American South who gets his kicks in watching able-bodied male slaves brutally fight each other to the death. Once infiltrated onto the plantation of Candieland by pretending to have an interest in buying one of Calvin’s fighters, Django and Dr. Schultz scheme a plan to save Broomhilda before Calvin’s house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) figures out what’s really happening.

While the film loses steam in the last half hour (and includes a ridiculously unfunny cameo by the always arrogant Tarantino), the exaggerated elements of the filmmaker’s narrative, dialogue and style remain much like they have been over the last 20 years. Sure, it’s not in the top tier of what he’s done in the past (“Kill Bill” is a lot more fun and “Pulp Fiction” will forever be his masterpiece), but Tarantino’s films are imaginative and unique. Until he stops serving that up – even if it is the form of a moronic group of Kl Klux Klan members – I’ll have a few scoops.

Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum – 21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new film “21 Jump Street,” based on the TV series that ran from 1987 to 1991 on Fox and launched the career of Johnny Depp, two immature, mediocre cops played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are assigned to pose as students in an undercover program to break up a high school drug ring.

Before the movie’s world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, I sat down with the cast and directors to talk about their experiences in high school, adapting a cult TV drama into an action comedy, and the inevitable fan backlash that comes with it.

First up were stars and executive producers Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

Were you fans of 21 Jump Street before doing the movie?

Channing Tatum: I was, yeah. I don’t think Jonah was old enough, but I watched it with my sister all the time.

Jonah Hill: I didn’t watch it the first time, no. I watched it all when I was adapting it.

Are you aware of a somewhat small backlash online that’s calling this “21 Jump Street” in name only, since it’s a comedy?

JH: Yeah, we’ve been crying about it every night. Uh, I find myself unable to work or get up in the morning–

CT: (Laughs)

Some of the comments are pretty brutal.

JH: Yeah, ’cause there’s seven nerds who watched the show the first time that, uh, yeah…its pretty hard, you know?

CT: What those guys don’t know is that the actual creator of the show basically gave (Jonah) the blessing. He was ecstatic about (him) coming in and re-doing this thing.

JH: Yeah, Stephen Cannell. We got to know him really well and he was really supportive of the show being turned into a film and having it be interpreted in a different way. There’s maybe 10 people in the world who care about this.

That’s probably a little high.

JH: Yeah, exactly. The movie’s awesome. That’s all we care about.

As you were writing, did you perfect the Stephen J. Cannell Paper throw?

JH: No, in one version of the script we had—he unfortunately passed away, Stephen. He was a great guy. We had him, at one point, doing it. He worked in the police station and we were gonna have him [mimes the paper toss over his head].

CT: Aww, that would have been awesome!

JH: Yeah, that would have been really cool.

Did you suspect there were any undercover cops in your high school?

CT: I don’t know. I actually know there was an undercover, sort of, in my 8th grade school. It was like an undercover sort of, like, gang-type thing.

A student?

CT: It was a student-student, not an older person playing a student. They were working in cahoots with the police or whatever. We had a bunch of gang stuff in Florida.

Any plans to keep going with a “Booker” spin-off?

JH: Uh, no.

CT: (Laughs)

There are fans of that, too.

CT: I actually didn’t see that one.

JH: I’m feeling like you represent this weird subculture of 12 people who give a shit.

I do have friends that were, surprisingly, yelling at me about this. I have to make sure they’re represented.

JH: Oh, well. You can leave if you want.

CT: (Laughs)

Don’t worry, I don’t feel the same way.

JH: Yeah. Oh, great.

I loved the movie.

JH: Yeah, the movie’s great, so…

21 Jump Street

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson
Directed by: Phil Lord (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”)
Written by: Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”)

Considering the handful of ’80s TV shows adapted into films over the last decade, it’s impossible not to dread the idea of “Manimal” or “Magnum P.I.” finding their way to the big screen anytime soon. Even as popular as the retro revival is today — from skinny jeans to the resurgence of 3D movies — there’s really no excuse for things like Michael Mann slummin’ with “Miami Vice” or the intentional ridiculousness of “The A-Team.” For obvious reasons, we’ll give Jessica Simpson wearing Daisy Dukes a pass for now.

Yet on the heels of these substandard movie versions comes the surprisingly clever and often funny “21 Jump Street,” an adaptation of the TV series that launched teen heartthrob Johnny Depp’s career in 1987. While the plot itself leaves much to be desired, screenwriter Michael Bacall (scribe of the overrated “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the duo behind the deliciously entertaining “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) use the kitschy nature of the crime show to their advantage by mocking its own drawbacks. More telling is their recognition that a “21 Jump Street” movie isn’t necessarily something fans of the series were begging Hollywood to make. With the pressure at a manageable level, the filmmakers toss all logic aside, don’t overdo the nostalgia, and simply have fun with it.

Starring hunky Channing Tatum (“The Vow”) and not so chunky Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) coming off his first Oscar nomination, “21 Jump Street” takes the procedural buddy cop setup and injects some much-needed energy into the tired formula. Assigned to go undercover as high school students to find the supplier of a new hip, hallucinatory drug students are dropping, rookie police officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) maneuver their way through the social network of a younger generation. It’s not just about popular kids and nerds anymore, as we learn when Schmidt points out a group of Asian girls hanging out before class dressed like punk manga comic book characters and asks, “What the hell are those?!”

Like Drew Barrymore in the 1999 rom-com “Never Been Kissed,” Hill and Tatum are forced to revisit their awkward teenage years (Jenko was a dumb jock; Schmidt was a wastoid) and do so with some sharp comedic timing. Neither will ever be able to pull off Peter DeLuise’s mullet, but the hilarious Hill and Tatum tandem is a good enough reason as any to ignore ’80s TV show-turned-movie history and (cue Holly Robinson) jump down on Jump Street.

Moneyball

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Bennett Miller (“Capote”)
Written by: Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”)

In a world of competitive sports where a power lifter can basically bench press a bulldozer by sticking a syringe his ass cheek, it’s getting harder to believe any athlete is performing on an even playing field nowadays. Even without the roids, there’s always a company out there manufacturing high tops that add six inches to a basketball player’s vertical leap or polyurethane bodysuits that give swimmers increased speed and make Michael Phelps whine. Whatever the case, having an unfair advantage seems to be America’s new favorite pastime.

When it comes to comparing championship teams with teams whose fans wear paper bags over their heads, however, it’s not all about whether 450-ft. homeruns are crushed off the bats of juicers. Sometimes it helps to have a few dollars stored away in the dugout. The idea that a team’s financial status can affect whether they succeed in their sport is examined in “Moneyball,” an exceptionally entertaining look at the true story behind Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and the unconventional route he takes in 2002 to transform his scrappy, penniless team into a competitive ball club. Call it “Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Richer.”

Based on the 2003 book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, the film follows Billy and his brainiac new assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) as they work to keep up with the intimidating payrolls of powerhouse teams like the New York Yankees by signing ball players considered undervalued by rarely-recognized analytical statistics.

If “Moneyball” sounds like a baseball movie for nerds, it is. There are no bottom of the 9th, bases loaded clichés and sports heroics. Instead, Academy Award-winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) dissect the game into an intriguing underdog story about one man’s belief in changing a good ol’ boy system he feels is outdated. Aficionados of the sport should admire the clubhouse access they get, especially during scenes where Billy builds his team as skillfully as a mathematician solving a proof. Pitt proves his big-league worth in this winning combination of thrilling drama and cynical dialogue.

Directed by Bennett Miller, whose previous film “Capote” won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar (he plays grumpy A’s manager Art Howe in this one), “Moneyball” is one of the best baseball movies ever made that’s actually not about baseball at all. With the way the game is played today, it’s nice to get something that feels so natural.

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