Movie Reviews – April 2012

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21 Jump Street
Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 03.16
If directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller deserve commendation for their adaptation of the ’80s television show that transformed Johnny Depp into a star (sorry Richard Grieco), it’s for the surprising twist on the film’s total self-awareness of falling into Hollywood’s lack of originality trap. The directing duo rely heavily on the theory of, “If you can’t make fun of yourself, who can you make fun of?” which works terrifically for the film’s tone, but, at times, is pushed too hard and almost tips the clever cup completely over. Luckily, it ultimately falls back on its foundation. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star as former high school jock/geek rivals who eventually find themselves partnered together as friends portraying brothers in an undercover police program recycled from the ’80s. Their mission is to infiltrate a local high school and locate the supplier of the new drug HFS (Holy Fucking Shit) that’s taking the students by storm before it spreads to other campuses. While only seven years have passed, the two quickly learn the politics of the teenage social structure have changed dramatically and adolescent life is much different (i.e. liberal-minded and accepting) than it used to be. Hill (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and Tatum restore the quirkiness of vintage buddy cop action/comedies as they slide across car hoods chasing perps wearing Peter Pan tights and skinny jeans (apparently both are hard to run in). While it seems revisions to earlier television shows and movies are being produced at an assembly line’s pace, Lord and Miller take a chance by poking not only fun at the campy source material, but at themselves as well, and the end result is a hysterical comedy that’s not afraid of using excessive force in the filth department. –Jimmy Martin

Chico & Rita
Luma Films
In Theaters: 04.06
Every so often, an unfamiliar animation studio reminds adults that feature-length cartoons don’t always have to have farting elephants or vomiting tap dancing squirrels. Sure, the bright colors and musical numbers attract hordes of children, but the power of animation can still grasp the interest of older generations with the right content and appeal. The directing trio of Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba have offered a exquisitely crafted love story that tracks the rise and fall of two Cuban artists. Chico, a pianist, and Rita, a singer, combine their talents to produce notable music, but the typical troubles life carries forcefully separate their bond and jeopardize their careers’ and personal futures. While the story utilizes some boilerplate circumstances to carry the narrative, which makes its final act quite foreseeable, there’s no denying the gorgeous animation flowing across the screen with abstract vibrancy. There’s another element of admiration in Bebo Valdés’ diverse original score that glides throughout the entire film, making you want to either get up and dance with its pulsating tempo or slide into a leather chair, scotch in hand and lounge about as the soothing rhythm brings you to a state of ultimate tranquility. Chico and Rita is a simple romantic tale complete with heartbreak, career comebacks and striking realism that carries the ability to make adults believe in the impact of animation once again. –Jimmy Martin

The Hunger Games
Lionsgate
In Theaters: 03.23
Sometimes, a film distribution company is only as powerful as its most popular franchise. Warner Bros. just wrapped up Harry Potter, Summit Entertainment is still oozing out the remainder of the Twilight series but it’s Lionsgate who’s launching the next “big” series with Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel series, The Hunger Games. Set in a post-Apocalyptic world, a newly formed country is divided into 12 districts wherein each region is required to hold a lottery each year to select one male and one female, ages 12 to 18, to represent their land and compete in a fight to the death. Rather than witnessing her younger sister’s certain demise after she’s chosen to contend, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for the battle. Along with her District 12 male counterpart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the two lower-class citizens are tossed into a life of luxury before they must utilize every survival skill as they compete for the enjoyment of viewers nationwide. Gary Ross grabs the reigns of this brutal concept and refuses to soften the blow, which is quite an accomplishment with a PG-13 rating. The filmmaking style, including the gritty and shaky camerawork, only adds to the raw nature that amplifies the realistic environment of this vicious future. From the supportive roles to the leads, the entire cast delivers exceptional performances. Lawrence is an actress with nothing but a well-deserved future ahead of her as she commands the film with a controlling presence, and Hutcherson, while slipping with earlier projects this year, proves much can be accomplished with a gifted actor’s director leading the charge. Ross paints an eerie portrait of where the future of television programming and government conspiracies could be heading. –Jimmy Martin

Project X
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 03.02
Since screening Nima Nourizadeh’s found-footage party flick that follows three high school nobodies who decide to throw an insane house party for the sake of popularity, multiple real-life copycat parties have been thrown with over $100,000 in damages and the death of one teenager. This was my initial worry about this poor excuse for cinema. Nourizadeh’s irresponsible film has the ability to influence impressionable young viewers with the idea that they can get away with anything no matter the circumstances. Not only are his protagonists racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic, they learn absolutely nothing from their reckless actions. In fact, one father is almost proud of his son’s irresponsibility. When one of your biggest gags involves stuffing a little person into an oven, there’s a major problem. At least the Jackass franchise had the common decency to post a disclaimer before their stupidity appeared on screen. To make the situation even more unbearable, the three lead actors are absolutely appalling. Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown are as amateur and one-note as they come, so maybe they deserve to star in an atrocity such as this. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fill of wild house parties. However, my teenage shindigs never concluded with assaulting complaining adults (who were initially cooperative with the idea of a party) with stun guns and destroying their property. I guess you can call me old-fashioned. This is the type of film where everyone involved, even the gentlemen on set supplying the catering, should be popped with a newspaper and told, “No!” Maybe I’m getting older, but not only would I call the cops on these destructive bigots, I’d pat myself on the back for doing so … twice. With that said, the only Project Xs that should be allowed to exist star Ferris Bueller and monkey pilots. Give yourself two points if you understand that reference. –Jimmy Martin

The Raid: Redemption
Sony Pictures Classics
In Theaters: 04.13
The plot for The Raid: Redemption is as simple as they come, and that’s all it needs to be. Rama (Iko Uwais) is the newest member of an Indonesian SWAT team. They have been given an order to overtake a 30-story building complex owned by a legendary gangster, Tama (Ray Sahetapy) that also happens to house the city’s worst criminals. With hundreds of henchmen prepared to die for their supplier and shady backroom deals that put fellow officers’ loyalties into question, Rama is about to put his policing skills to the ultimate test. Director Gareth Evans serves up one of the most slick, skillfully choreographed, viciously brutal, non-stop action movies of the past decade! Uwais is Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li all mashed up into one single bundle of badass. To watch the unknown star mercilessly kick, punch, stab and shoot one guy after another is a thing of absolutely bloody beauty. Evans takes martial arts movies to the next level of intensity, which makes your heart pound frantically. From one guy being stabbed in the neck with a jagged fluorescent light bulb, to another being impaled with a serrated door frame, The Raid: Redemption is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in the genre and one can only hope followers will use the film’s inventiveness as a starting point for progression. –Jimmy Martin