Thursday, June 26, 2014

22 Jump Street

Part of me feels like the best way to review 22 Jump Street might be to simply copy and paste my write-up from 21 Jump Street with minimal alteration. They're essentially the same movie, after all, and most of the comments still stand.  So, yes, you know by now that 22 Jump Street is good. You've heard it, you've seen it, your friends keep recommending you check it out.  Because yes, it is awesome and yes, it is cramp-up-your-side funny.  And yes, once again, what's perhaps most remarkable about it it is isn't that it's tremendously successful as comedy, but that it's one of those rare cases where blatant repetition benefits the final product.  If 21 Jump Street was already a weird case of film industry recycling cause gone right, 22 Jump Street takes the formula and purifies it into one of the most smartest pieces of meta-narrative in recent cinematic memory.  So, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) return, this time with even more consistent jokes.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mixtape: As If!

It's been a long time since I've thrown a mixtape up on here, so before we get to talking about 22 Jump Street, let's take a break and officially kick off summer with a 20 song playlist for those days when you're just feeling so completely Clueless.  Isn't it like totally classic?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Back in 2010, How to Train Your Dragon marked a sea change for Dreamworks animation.  Their dismal catalog of overly boxy characters and instantly dated pop cultural references found sudden new life in the form of a sweeping storybook fantasy with enough adventure, heart, and creature design to win over even the most cynical of adults.  The first film managed something sincere in its approach to character, and when we got to know young Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) we understood him not as a construct, but as a fleshed out figure. Here was someone struggling to find a place amid not only his people but his family, whose grows into a hero not simply because his outsider status granted him a different line of sight, but because he proves to be compassionate.  The bond between Hiccup and his dragon companion Toothless was perhaps as compelling for audiences as it was for the film's viking village, and as the curtains closed on a newly harmonious Berk it could have been easy money for the studio to turn around and cash in on the zany antics of kids with pet dragons.  That they didn't speaks to something special about the film, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 manages what so many animated sequels have not dared: it allows the characters to continue growing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Aliens, man. They're always invading. Each time they do we get to rethink global warfare, revamp the mechanized suits, unite with our enemies, and shoot shit up until we save what's left of our blown apart planet. With a little bit of vision, common people become heroes.  Usually it's because they crack the code that allows them to know exactly where to find that one thing, the one hub or queen or central nervous system that will destroy the conquering race with a single nuke.  It's a common enough sci-fi trope, and one Edge of Tomorrow doesn't shy away from.  On the outside, the stuff Edge is made from is as trite as it comes. Tom Cruise is William Cage, a military PR guy whose days recruiting for an alien war are brought swiftly to a close when he's thrown into the arena himself.  He's a coward, a klutz, and so out of his element he can't turn the safety off his arm cannons.  All the summer blockbuster elements fall in line: fish out of water, everyday heroes, alien warfare, a distant --but achievable-- goal, a hunt for a mysterious object.  Then, suddenly, Edge of Tomorrow goes rogue.      

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

Things I did during The Fault in Our Stars: I tried not to laugh at sobbing teenagers. I failed at trying not to laugh at sobbing teenagers. I peered back in the darkness to try and gauge how many teenagers were sobbing. I passed a packet of kleenex to my friend. Things I did not do during The Fault in Our Stars: Cry. Really, I didn't even come close to the possibility of crying, and since sitting and listening to all that muffled sniffling I've been thinking about why this thing just didn't work for me.

The film is adapted from John Green's young adult best seller, a relatively acclaimed piece of work that has found its share of success with book lovers.  Though I'll own up to not having read it (I tend not to run towards novels about dying kids) I know that John Green isn't Nicholas Sparks, that he's trying to reprogram a certain type of story and that everything from the prologue on in The Fault in Our Stars wants to prove that it's a subversion of sappy melodrama. When we meet 16-year old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), she tells us as much: that this time things are going to be raw, we're going to see the breathing tubes and understand last ditch romances aren't necessarily the stuff of hazy, soft-focus Hollywood.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


In the pantheon of Disney animated classics, 1959's Sleeping Beauty has long been my hands down favorite.  The film is a visual masterpiece of rich colors and detail that uses every inch of the screen to its advantage. In adapting a fairy tale about a comatose princess, too, Disney did it absolutely right: Aurora is pushed to stage left and developed only so that we understand she's a fanciful, rather rebellious child. She's the title character, but only so far as events revolve around her curse.  There, the story twists away from an attractive notion of what it means to be called a princess. Though Aurora is beautiful and charming, Maleficent becomes central in a way that most Disney villains often are not.  She is a terrifying force of nature who's forever watchful, forever fascinating, and who plays opposite not to Aurora, but to her three well-meaning fairy guardians. For me, the Disneyfied version of Sleeping Beauty is about that dynamic; it's a lady-driven ballet that suggests the true powers of the kingdom are held by these various women. As they attempt to tear apart or protect one another, girl-on-girl crime is cast into epic good vs. evil proportions.

Consequently, when Maleficent became the star of her own film, I braced myself for a Wicked-style transformation.  Giving the self-proclaimed 'Mistress of all evil' a "softer side" felt counter-intuitive, a new type of story dilution in the continued quest for cash money and reparations. To adapt the Sleeping Beauty mythos, though, is a wholly different task than stitching stupid special effect alterations to the already complete works of Carroll or Baum.  Fairy tales naturally evoke the process of -- as the film notes -- "telling and old tale anew," and to twist them is to follow a preexisting tradition of cultural retelling.  In the case of Maleficent, the results are somewhat surprising in that they're quite thought-provoking. Though the story does bend to echo aspects of a post-Frozen Disney, there's a darkness more authentic to the fairy tale genre, and one that manifests is intriguing ways.  
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