June 30, 2012

21 Jump Street (2012)

MOVIES BASED ON OLD TV SHOWS are always a gamble. For every successful adaption like The Fugitive, there are countless misfires and failures: Bewitched, Wild Wild West, The Avengers (no, not that one; this one), and The Dukes of Hazzard, to name a few. The challenge is whether to bring something fresh and different to the property, or be faithful to the original.

Luckily, the filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) chose the former with 21 Jump Street, a radical and hilarious revival of the late ‘80s series about young undercover cops specializing in youth-related crimes. Here, two young policemen – nerdy Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and dumb jock Jenko (Channing Tatum) – are sent undercover as students at a local high school to bust a drug ring led by the charismatic and popular Eric (Dave Franco).

On the first day, Schmidt and Jenko accidentally get their undercover identities switched, sticking shy non-athlete Schmidt in the drama club and track team, and academically challenged Jenko in advanced chemistry. They soon find things have changed since their high school days: intellectualism, activism, and the environment are in, while bullying and mocking overachievers are out. And so begins a reversal of fortunes as Schmidt enjoys the immense popularity he never found in his high school days, while Jenko learns what it’s like to be ostracized and insulted by the “in” crowd.

But back to the funny, which 21 Jump Street delivers in spades. The riotous jokes come at a rapid pace – so quickly that you risk missing a gag because you’re still laughing at the previous one. (The two funniest scenes: Hill and Tatum trying unsuccessfully to make each other vomit after taking a drug, then later tripping on the same drug while trying to do various school activities.)

Hill and Tatum are one of the best odd-couple pairings in recent movie memory. And while Hill is funny as expected, the comedic skills of Channing Tatum are a revelation. Put this man in more comedies. After his emotionally stunted performance in The Vow, his turn in 21 Jump Street is a monumental redemption. Running closely behind in the laughs department is Ice Cube as Hill and Tatum’s hilariously profane police captain.

21 Jump Street also benefits from a supporting cast that knows comedy, including Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids) as an overzealous, hypersexual chemistry teacher and Rob Riggle as a crass gym coach. (Also watch for cameos by original Jump Streeters Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise, and Holly Robinson Peete.)

The laughs in 21 Jump Street take a back seat during the middle of the film to advance plot and character development, but they don’t stay dormant long. And that’s the beauty of Lord and Miller’s ability to balance hilarity with heart, profanity with personality. This is the funniest R-rated comedy since the original Hangover or Hill’s earlier hit, Superbad. See it now.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Nope. While hilarious, 21 Jump Street contains substantial drug use, brief nudity and sexual situations, and almost non-stop profanities. In addition, several people are shot (one person grossly loses his manhood), hit by cars, or blown up. Oh, and Tatum vomits on Hill. Don’t ask.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
My FilmMother and I watched 21 Jump Street together, and she laughed as much as I did. If your FilmMother’s cool with the R-rated aspects described above, I’d say this is definitely one you can share together.

"Ow, stop it – my nurple can't get any purpler!"

21 Jump Street
* Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
* Screenwriter: Michael Bacall
* Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Dax Flame, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper
* MPAA Rating: R

Rent 21 Jump Street from Netflix >>

June 23, 2012

Turkey Shoot (1982)

AFTER WATCHING FILMMAKER Mark Hartley’s fantastic documentary Not Quite Hollywood (about Australian exploitation films of the ‘70s and ‘80s), I came to one conclusion: I had to see Turkey Shoot.

In a near-future (“1995”) prison camp where inmates are set loose and hunted for sport, Turkey Shoot stars Olivia Hussey (Romeo & Juliet, Black Christmas) and Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter, The Stunt Man) as accused radicals who are sentenced to the camp and rely on each other to survive the conditions – and ultimately, survive the hunt as they become the “game” the camp’s leaders plan to track down and kill like wild animals.

Based on the scenes in Not Quite Hollywood, Turkey Shoot looked to be a ridiculously over-the-top flick filled with action, cartoonishly graphic violence, and ample amounts of gratuitous nudity. If only it were that awesome. The titular “turkey shoot” (hunting the prisoners for sport) doesn’t happen until 40 minutes in, and things are slow until then. Even during the shocking act of man hunting man, the action is lacking and the pursuits far from exciting.
Hussey doesn’t get to do much besides act like a damsel in distress (save for a few acts of savagery in the film’s climax) and Railsback is passable as the smirking antihero. But the most memorable character is Ritter – the bald, towering, sadistic guard played by Roger Ward. From the first time we meet Ritter, as he beats a woman prisoner half his size to death, we know he’ll show no mercy to anyone who doesn’t follow the rules of the camp.

Not Quite Hollywood made Turkey Shoot look like a balls-out, gratuitous, violent free-for-all worthy of Trashterpiece Theatre. But the frustrating reality is that it isn’t until the final minutes that Turkey Shoot brings the crazy, with people run over, cut in two by a bulldozer blade, getting their hands chopped off, and more – all in graphic, hanging close-ups that helped get the film cut by 10 minutes before it could be released in US theaters.

Turkey Shoot may have been shocking in 1982, but 30 years later it’s no more than a time capsule of its era…and a poorly stitched-together hybrid of prison camp exploitation and grindhouse violence.

Fun facts:
• Based on cast interviews from Not Quite Hollywood and its own DVD commentary, Turkey Shoot was a nightmare production. There were major cuts in both the budget and the shooting schedule, and the cast was put at risk many times (allegedly, some were shot at using real bullets for authenticity).
• Composer Brian May (not the Queen guitarist) created Turkey Shoot’s synth-heavy soundtrack. He also created a soundtrack a year earlier for another brutal, futuristic Aussie export: The Road Warrior.)

aka Escape 2000, Blood Camp Thatcher.

Is it suitable for your kids?
No. Way. People are beaten to death, burned alive, dismembered, shot, run over and, in one deliciously cheesy scene, a head is splattered via an explosive arrowhead. There are also copious amounts of male and female nudity, and continuous profanities.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Unless she’s fan of grindhouse, exploitation, or cult films, I’d say no.

Hey! That was my last JujyFruit– give it back!
Turkey Shoot
* Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
* Screenwriter: Jon George, Neill Hicks
* Stars: Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig, Lynda Stoner, Roger Ward
* MPAA Rating: R


June 16, 2012

Pokemon: The First Movie (1999)

IT FINALLY HAPPENED. You see it happen to other kids, but you think, “It’ll never happen to my son.” But it did.
Dash discovered Pokemon.
For years, he’s been obsessed with all things Kirby, and still is. But earlier this year, somebody, somewhere – some enabler at his school – introduced him to the world of Pokemon and all it encompasses. And boy, it encompasses a lot.
Forget that the world of Pokemon has dozens, nay hundreds of characters to remember, each possessing unique powers and strengths – the Pokemon also battle each other at the behest of their human “trainers” (mostly tweens and teenagers), sometimes resulting in the winner’s trainer acquiring the defeated Pokemon from the losing trainer. Their never-ending mantra (“Gotta catch ‘em all!”) is so important that the main trainer, whose Pokemon includes the popular and adorable Pikachu, is actually named Ash Ketchum (get it?).
So it was only a matter of time till we tracked down the elusive, out-of-print* Pokemon: The First Movie, which chronicles the rise of Mewtwo, a genetically enhanced Pokemon cloned by scientists from the DNA of Mew, the rarest and most powerful of all Pokemon. Unfortunately, Mewtwo resents his existence as a scientific experiment with no true birth or purpose. Under the guise of a major Pokemon tournament, he lures the most powerful Pokemon and their trainers to his remote island, where he plans to destroy them all with his own army of Pokemon clones.
Don’t dismiss watching Pokemon: The First Movie just because you’re afraid you’ll be lost in a sea of Pokemon rules, strengths, weaknesses, and powers. The film actually puts plot and action first, probably in an attempt to reach a broader audience and not have parents scratching their heads or checking their watches. In short, you don’t have to know how to play the game to enjoy the movie.                                
Mewtwo is a surprisingly deep and dark character for the often bright yet occasionally violent world of Pokemon. He uses his psychic powers for everything from communication to devastation to personal assaults (think Carrie meets Darth Vader). And his ongoing internal dialogue about his existence and purpose in life brings up some heavy philosophical questions that we may ask ourselves from time to time.
I actually found myself compelled to find out how in the world the “good” Pokemon – led by Ash, Pikachu, and a handful of other Pokemon and trainers – were going to defeat Mewtwo and his Pokemon clones. Plus, the whole “invitation to mysterious island to compete in battle” has a nice Enter The Dragon vibe that, as a major fan of that Bruce Lee classic, I can truly appreciate.
In a terse but entertaining 75 minutes, Pokemon: The First Movie gives us a menacing foe with more depth and internal conflict than many live-action movie villains, as well as positive messages on the importance of friendship, the pointlessness of fighting (which some say goes against the whole premise of Pokemon), and the belief that teamwork and loyalty are the true ways to live your life. Then there’s the ending that, while a bit deus ex machina, might have you shedding a tear if you’re not careful.
Fun facts:
  • For Pokemon: The Movie’s theatrical release, select theaters gave away exclusive Pokemon trading cards to ticketholders.
  • The film’s soundtrack, featuring a who’s-who of late ‘90s pop music (Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, 98 Degrees, N*Sync, Aaron Carter) reached #8 on the Billboard Top 200 in 1999.

What did Dash and Jack-Jack think? 
Since Dash is a more fervent follower of Pokemon than Jack-Jack, I expected him to have a more vested interest in the movie, and he did. He said it was “really good,” and I think I caught him getting emotionally involved during the ending. Jack-Jack could not be reached for comment (he was too tired to form an opinion).

Is it suitable for your kids? 
Pokemon: The First Movie is rated G, but there are a few scenes to consider when it comes to very young viewers: Mewtwo uses his psychic powers to blow up the lab where he was created, and it’s implied the scientists who created him are killed; some of the Pokemon battles, as well as the actions of Mewtwo, may be too intense for preschoolers and younger (explosions, electrocutions, biting, slapping, punching); and there is the apparent death of a major character.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it? 
While she may not seek out Pokemon: The First Movie, she might actually get caught up in it (based on the reasons above) if she gives it a chance.
It’s like looking in a mirror, only…not.

Pokemon: The First Movie 
* Directors: Kunihiko Yuyama, Michael Haigney 
* Screenwriter: Takeshi Shudo 
* Stars: Veronica Taylor, Philip Bartlett, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Madeleine Blaustein, Ikue Ohtani, Ted Lewis, Michael Haigney, Jimmy Zoppi, Kayzie Rogers 
* MPAA Rating: G

* We found Pokemon: The First Movie in our local library system. If you’d rather not buy a used copy or pay a lot for a new one, try your library first. Sometimes they don’t realize the value or rarity of what they have.


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