Bob Byington’s latest sparsely funny dark-comedy is a mannered step back from mainstream appeal. The Infinity Baby director follows a woman (Kaley Wheless, monotonous but arresting) who’s so dissatisfied with her marriage that she throws her life in the toilet by sleeping with a student. What follows is a quirky bureaucratic procedural from the POV of said sex offender that somewhat jumbles its satirical take on the monotony of punishment. At 74 minutes, it’s extremely slight and uses quirky “nomnipotent” narration from Nick Offerman to offer a sardonic birds-eye approach to storytelling. The characters’ apathy is reflected in Byington’s almost narcissistic touch, making his decidedly festival-circuit exclusive more niche than ever. (C+) Read More
Five years after The Lego Movie stormed theaters and unexpectedly blew back the hair of critics and moviegoers alike (only to be shut out of the Oscars animated film contest entirely), the world is a very different place. The White House is occupied by a hot Cheeto-colored p*ssy-grabber. White nationalists march the streets with tiki torches. The world’s climate is going haywire, meaning raging summers of fire and winters of blistering cold. Basic civility has sunk to dwell with Davey Jones locker. Everything is decidedly not awesome. Even the toys know so. Read More
Nick Offerman plays a hipster record shop owner/has-been musician/doting father to the talented and driven Sam (Kiersey Clemons in a vibrant coming out party of a performance) as the two start an unlikely band in Brett Haley’s lovely indie musical Hearts Beat Loud. The pair share wonderful screen chemistry – Offerman has never been better – while the movie itself transforms into a warm blast of dreams, acceptance, and growing pains that’s luminously riddled with maturity. This charmed musical crowdpleaser hits all the right notes, delivering a bucket of all-the-feels alongside some delightfully head-bobbing tuneage. (B+) Read More
A truly great comedy movie requires three things: pitch-perfect chemistry between its charismatic stars, a treasure trove of visual gags (preferably sans dongs, ball sacks, and/or fecal matter) and a waterfall of jokes that feel rightly organic; ad-libbed zingers that don’t come across like sweat-shop products whittled down by mouth-breathing jurors in some distant focus-lab. Overstuffed with these three golden characteristics, 22 Jump Street has all the makings of a comedy classic. A healthy improvement over the original, this higher budgeted follow-up chiefly takes on sequels and bromance in a deeply meta and surprisingly charming manner. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s saucy avenue for comedy is aptly winking and righteously unbarred, stirring up just the right amount of chagrin for the platitudes of (notoriously lame) studio sequels. In acknowledging the shortcomings of what their product could have been, Lord and Miller’s film is transcendent. It’s smart, funny and flowing with in-jokes for industry insiders and casual filmgoers as well. It’s a comedy for movie lovers by movie lovers and joke for joke, the funniest movie of the year. Further, it’s one that will likely remain in the “best of” comedy conversation for years to come.
The table is set with a playful “Previous on 21 One Jump Street” recap that doubles as an homage to the original Johnny Depp-lead television program while still providing a brief summation of the first film for people like me who haven’t seen it in a number of years. We reacquaint with odd couple cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) as they’re about to intercept a drug deal, or so they think. A hilariously off Mexican gangster impersonation follows and hijinks quickly sour with Schmidt receiving hickey by octopus and Jenko strung up from the heels.
Even though they majorly biff their first outing, these two flunky street cops soon find that the higher ups have them squarely in their sights. After the success of their first “mission”, the Mr. Money Bags on top are gambling even more on Schmidt and Jenko this time around. They’re dished out more money to throw around but expect an even greater degree of success. “You need to do things exactly as you did last time,” Nick Offerman‘s mustache of a Deputy Chief commands. The only way to achieve success after all is to play it safe. As the film pitches this very concept, the bastions of this artfully devious script do all they can to switch hit and deliver much meatier blow for it.
Screenwriters’ Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman‘s gumming is a devilishly obvious allusion to the studio system’s tight grip on franchising – whose “creativity” is more in tune with reproduction by assembly line than true originality – with third wall breaking so mightily pronounced that Hill and Tatum all but stare directly into the camera. But the irreverence of the entire cast and crew is deeply comic. Its seven layers of meta has sarcasm running so deep that their pot shots come fast and loose. Tatum essentially acknowledges how bottomed out White House Down was just as they later acknowledge how easy it would be to milk this franchise for all its worth. Also with a higher budget, we get things like Ice Cube‘s Ice Cube office. That’s right, Ice Cube has an office shaped like a cube of ice.
Schmidt and Jenko make their way to their next assignment, investigating a hybrid drug called WHYPHY (pronounced wifi and standing for Work Hard? Yes, Play Hard? Yes) at a local community college. While there, the two best buddies/partners begin to tear in different directions as Tatum and his bulbous throwing arm fall into the frat bro crowd, leaving Schmidt to find sentimental solace in gallons of ice cream and Friends re-runs and the artsy, fartsy community.
As far as ying and yang go, Hill’s wounded fay routine synchs perfectly with Tatum’s prom king duncemanship. As a college football announcer says (however not about their two characters) “They’re two peas in a pod.” Their comic timing is perfect as it their oddball dichotomy of character. Tatum’s cob-webbed thought process is blunted by Hill’s smart aleck ways and Lord and Miller find many opportunities to exploit their differences in hilarious and oft-kilter ways. Even if some of the laughs are expected, the amount of them will catch you off guard. It’s a non-stop flight of guffaws, a bullet train of side-splitters. Also, be sure to stick around for the credits which will likely have you rolling on the floor.
With their tongues planted deeply in cheek, Lord and Miller bring the same slapstick routine that defined The Lego Movie to this more adult adventure and it’s nothing short of a riot-fest to watch them peel back the many layers of this joke onion. But licking your way to the creamy center, one might be surprised to find some real heart buried amongst the awkward and yet sweet relationship between Hill and Tatum. While their matching at first looked like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, in 22 Jump Street, they really are two peas in one hell of a funny pod.
“The Lego Movie”
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Starring Chris Pratt, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie
Animation, Action, Comedy
Dripping with commercial appeal and name brand recognition, The Lego Movie could have easily joined the ranks of previous toy-turned-tale blockbusters. With the likes of Transformers and Battleship, studios have established a shady history of leaning on bankable properties to churn out flimsy showcases that add up to little more than an audio assault and visual fireworks, a cheap attempt to capitalize on audience familiarity and earn a quick buck. While those movies sifted our childlike glee through a filter of blue-toned, sensory bombardment, attempting to twist our arms in hopes of nostalgic forgiveness and financial reward, The Lego Movie goes the completely opposite route and awards those hankering to see their favorite childhood toys onscreen with a gleefully told story of epic Lego magnitude. Irreverent and hyper-self-aware, this adaptation takes everything we loved about the buildable blocks and seamlessly weaves it into a startlingly awesome and fully engaging narrative about creativity, imagination and encouragement, resulting in the best animated movie since 2010’s Toy Story 3.
At the center of the Legoverse, lovable goof Chris Pratt voices Emett, a run-of-the-mill construction worker figure who tries his darnedest to assimilate with the uber-chipper Lego society marching in perfect formation around him. In Emett’s city, uniformity is the bee’s knees. Everyone loves the same song (“Everything is Awesome”), watches the same TV show (“Where Are My Pants?”) and has the same water cooler conversations day in and day out.
It’s a society structured around structure, a sociopolitical climate that’s laid out with instruction booklets (*wink*) and enforced with hive mind mentality. And no matter how hard Emett tries to fit in, he’s just so extraordinarily ordinary that people hardly remember his face (well that may be the result of everyone’s face being composed of same shade of iconic yellow, plastered with a smile and bulbous black eyes.) So when Emett stumbles upon a coveted brick and is mistakenly identified as “The Special”, he goes along with it. He allows new ally Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) to believe that he’s a world class master builder because it’s the first time anyone has ever recognized potential in him.
Behind the scenes, President Business (a perfectly wacky Will Ferrell) secretly runs the show, cunningly steering the fate of the city’s inhabitants, hell bent on a maniacal scheme to unleash the ghastly Kragle, a weapon so devastating that it will forever glue the world into its proper place With Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) at his every beck and call, Business is out to destroy creativity as well as Emmet, the supposed harbinger of prophecy, and his fellowship of master builders.
Backed by enough voice cameos to keep you wracking your brain and a solid heap of characters pulled in from nearly every imaginable franchise, Lego is overflowing with talent. You’ll find the likes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day as an 80’s astronaut, Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett as Batman, Will Forte, Jonah Hill, Nick Offerman, Cobie Smulders, Channing Tatum, Jake Johnson and even Morgan Freeman‘s sultry tenor all giving rock solid voice performances that aid the laughing stock The Lego Movie becomes.
With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative minds behind the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the recently rebooted and well-received 21 Jump Street, at the helm, the project has just as much focus placed on the comedy as the storyline and stylish animation. Accordingly, the jokes fly a mile a minute.
But beneath it all is a genuine heartbeat. Emett’s journey is a common hero’s quest but his goofy antics and self-sacrificing ways provide an emotional basis for our ongoing investment in his arc. Driving home a message that everyone’s special may be a little pear-shaped in the age of the Great Recession but there’s something intentionally ironic behind all the hackneyed encouragement. Maybe The Lego Movie would like to tell us we’re all special but that’s a message that only lingers on the surface. Beneath that, Lord and Miller reach out and say “We know that’s not true, but that’s still cool.”
The film is loaded with irreverent, double entendre moments like this, a self-aware meta angle that makes the experience just as much rewarding for adults as it is for kids. The screenwriting duo even take potshots at the lesser regarded Lego properties to great comic effect. Rarely taking a break from tongue-in-cheek mockery of Business, who for all intents is a place holding satire of the very company footing the bill for this movie, their voice is strangely misaligned with the lousy money-grubbing staples of the industry. They preach thinking outside the box while the inevitable accompanying merchandise will deal in exactly this kind of box-set salesmanship. Just eat up that irony.
Going back to the kids, those sugar-stuffed Ritalinites are sure to just eat this up as the partially CGI, partially stop-motion visual style is mind-boggling enough to make even a surly old man’s jaw drop much less a wide-eyed youngster. Cross the delectable ratio of genuine belly laughs with the crafty visual palette and Miller and Lord deserve a hearty pat on the back. Congratulations guys, you’ve made the best animated film in years.
Coming from someone who has never seen 21 Jump Street, the new red band trailer for its sequel 22 Jump Street kind of makes me want to watch it. Starting off with a very self-aware speech by their captain, played by Nick Offerman, which winks at the audience, as if to say, “We know comedy sequels are a little ridiculous,” the trailer explains the arbitrary reason for the new title. This time they have to infiltrate a college, instead of a high school, but the premise is more-or-less the same as the first.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are set to return, accompanied by Ice Cube, to relive their glory days and search out a drug dealer of sorts. The intriguing thing about the perspective these films take is looking at the college or high school film genre, through the eye of someone older. It serves as a deconstruction that we take part in, as people who have been through those institutions and know that their Hollywood representations are mostly bullshit. A fish out of water story, mixed with action, mixed with a meta-genre commentary, will hopefully make this an enjoyable sequel, as long as they don’t fall into the Hangover trap.
22 Jump Street is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller and stars Channing Tatum, Nick Offerman, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube. It hits theaters on June 13, 2014