Category Archives: Review

Looper: Fun for a while, but fails to come full circle

courtesy of whatculture.com
courtesy of whatculture.com

So, Looper arrived in SA with a time delay of about 4 months. Time travel, it seems, is not an exact science and it took distributors a while to send this picture through time to Africa. Luckily the film makes up for the wait and shows that while inexact, time travel can still be freakin cool if done right.

Looper opens in Kansas 2044 and a summary, no-apologies gunshot to the chest. This film doesn’t faff around and gets straight into it. And for the first act it’s wonderful to watch as director Rian Johnson mixes exposition in a  fascinating future world with arresting cruelty and style. It really has a marvelous rhythm and is huge fun.

We have looper by profession, Joe, holding our hand and guiding us through this universe with a noirish sensibility. So Johnson first did high-school noir, and now follows it up with future-noir. The man likes it dark. Joe is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who teams up again with pal Johnson and does a very good job in one of the four big top movies he had out this year. He’s basically playing Bruce Willis here, as the two actors play the same character at different stages in time, and it’s great to see how JGL embodies the action veteran. His make-up for the part is awesome too and a true accomplishment by the make-up artists.

“I made a nose piece, an upper lip and lower lip, a vacuum foam plastic piece to pull back Joe’s (Gordon-Levitt’s) ears, a small hairpiece on the eyebrows to change Joe’s eyebrows and contact lenses to change Joe’s eye color,” artist Kazu Tsuji told MTV.com. That’s a lot of work, right, and unusual. Most people would’ve just said they are the same person and that’s all there is to it, okay? Gawd!

Anyway, I won’t explain all the minutiae of the central conceit here, it’s more fun learning as you go along. But what it comes down to is that young Joe has to kill his older self from the future, who’s conveniently sent back to him by his own employers (sort of, I think). But future-Joe, that’s Bruce (try to keep up), is wise to what’s coming and manages to escape.

It’s at this point that, unfortunately the movie slowly starts losing me. For a short while longer it’s fun and exhibits some sweet humour too. And then it falls apart. And it’s not Emily Blunt’s fault for once. I actually liked her tough girl on the range. It’s her kid that stretches suspension of disbelief to its limits. In an acknowledging nod to the great Terminator 2 (Blunt’s character is even called Sarah), we again have a child whose life is in danger from someone sent back from the future due to what he may do in his assailant’s time. It’s a little silly at this point, and the kid is also too intelligent and intolerably cutesy for my taste, clashing with the tone of the movie. It’s not just the little twerp, though, as the earlier balanced touch in action scenes is dispensed with in favour of a crude, heavy-handed shoot-em-up. Meh.

By the end I’ve kinda stopped caring all that much. And thank goodness, because the ending doesn’t really make that much sense to me. You can mind-fuck me all you want, but I’m not gonna fake an orgasm just because you think you’re being confusing and that’s enough. Plus, if they are saying what I think they’re saying, it ultimately turns into Back to the Future but crossing over into the dark side… hmmm. No thanks. (Actually, come to think of it, they’re not saying what I thought they were saying… but the implication is there, the implication dammit…)

The Wachowski’s offer us happy pills once more

A few nights ago Cloud Atlas blew my mind into smithereens as multitudinous as the stars. I’m still trying to collect my thoughts.

All I know is that, yes it may be a bit messy at times, but it’s a beautiful, glorious mess that you have to lose yourself in. I had this immense, exultant rush after seeing it, like I was on drugs. It’s a bold, ballsy drug by Tom and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, spanning six time periods from 1849 through to Neo Seoul, 2144 and further to 106 winters after “The Fall”. The Wachowski’s took care of the future periods while Tykwer directed the classical parts.

The source material, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, deserves a lot of credit as the ideas of interconnectedness and fate are all his. That’s one half of the puzzle. But committing it to the screen, the attempt alone and then the feat of executing it so well, deserves equal praise if not more. Because the different stories (up to a point) don’t feel all that original, but the sheer scope of it and how it all fits together, along with the actors’ performances, superb make-up and beautiful awe-inspiring visuals, really bring it home. It takes this monumental idea about life, everything, the eternal narrative of humankind, and gives it a physical form. That’s the big achievement, being able to present this idea the way they’ve done.

Watching Cloud Atlas recalled another divisive pop culture phenomenon of the previous decade. Cloud Atlas feels like the movie the creators of Lost would’ve made in their prime. And much like Lost, some of the storylines/flashbacks don’t completely hold up, but the overall result (at least for a lot of seasons where Lost is concerned) is still incredibly satisfying.

Certainly everything does not hold up. For example, I could’ve done without seeing Hugo Weaving as a burly nurse or Halle Berry running around San Francisco as a jive journalist on the trace of something big. And Tom Hanks’ cockney gangster will go down as one of the most ridiculous career choices of his or any of his peers’ career. But then that error is brief, thankfully, and Hanks more than makes up for it in two other powerful performances as the deceitful, unsavoury Doctor Goose and tribesman of the future, Zachry. Each actor plays on average about five or six characters, after all, so they can afford the odd slip-up.

Hanks’ gangster Dermot Hoggins can also be forgiven, because his hot-headedness triggers one of the more unusual plot strands for a film where almost nothing seems out of place. Jim Broadbent is Timothy Cavendish, the publisher of Hoggins’ autobiography. And once the book turns out to be a hit, Hoggins sends his cronies to collect more money that he thinks he’s now owed. This sends Cavendish fleeing into the arms of his brother who, after having had enough of bailing him out, tricks him into booking into an old age home. Here begins a humorous jailbreak plot involving Cavendish and a few other geriatric “inmates” that is completely incongruous in its comedy and levity, but which just works remarkably well. Broadbent is excellent, his face wrung constantly into a crazed look of confusion and dismay. The actor then also balances out this foolish role by turning out a solid performance as the cruel composer Vyvyan Ayrs to boot.

Other stand-outs are Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae and James D’Arcy, who put in great performances all over but especially in the Neo Seoul storyline, another one of the best with some terrific action packed in.

So, it moves quickly and it can be confusing – they even invented a new dialect for the future which is at times quite hard to follow but which should also be saluted – but what ties it all together is the unifying theme of freedom. The movie depicts how our striving for liberty never lessens as new obstacles appear and old ones re-emerge. And simultaneously the film (and book, I suppose) frees up its characters in space and time by letting all the stories flow into each other. Cuts between scenes based in different time-periods are made frequently and flippantly to blur their distinctions. This feels like several movies, but the directors force us to view it as one which just happens to be told over a vast expanse of time. On a whole new cinematic level, space and time are illusions that limit storytelling no more. It might not be your bag of chips, but if you go in for that kind of thing, it’ll free your mind for a little while…

Plus it’s got Hugh Grant looking like this.

The top ten movies of the last ten years! imo

A highly subjective list, but let’s go…

Road to Perdition (2002)

A moody, brooding mobster movie trying really hard to find something worthy of salvation in its characters. It’s a beautiful look at the 30’s period and father and son relationships, with gorgeous cinematography too.

 

Gangs of New York (2002)

Marty Scorsese’s epic history lesson. I don’t even know how accurate it is, but it’s a gripping look at the cinematic staple that is New York while the Civil War is going on in the background. And it has one of the best Daniel Day-Lewis performances as Bill the Butcher.

 

Lost in Translation (2003)

A beautiful depiction of two wandering, weary souls finding each other, doubly disorienting because of the warped Tokyo setting. It’s an unlikely pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson that works out perfectly.

 

No Country for Old Men (2007)

This movie! Once the credits start rolling, you’re glued to your seat, stunned. Not quite sure what just happened. It has one of the best villains in Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem. It’s total nihilism with the only decent guy to hold on to, with a faltering grip, being Tommy Lee Jones’ Ed Tom Bell. Brilliant in its hopelessness.

 

The Hurt Locker (2008)

A great take on the war movie. Jeremy Renner’s Sergeant James isn’t fighting anyone’s war and the movie doesn’t advocate one way or the other. It’s all about the danger rush and it’s one hell of a thrill-ride. Plus, y’know, Kathryn Bigelow.

 

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

I doubt you’ll find this one in many top 10 lists. But it’s a great story of unrequited love told in the most original, creative and fun way in a while. It’s also a loud critique on romantic comedies and their delusions.

 

Funny People (2009)

One of the best comedies to come out in years! It’s genuinely funny, but finds its comedy in really dark and honest subject matter. Oh and it humanises Adam Sandler in a poignant look at life, wasted opportunities and the inability to change.

 

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Rollicking. But really stylish and clever. It quite literally changed history.

 

Inception (2010)

Monumental entertainment. Forget Batman, this is Nolan’s best movie. It’s one of those movies that started with a mysterious viral campaign and rode the hype-wave all the way to the bank, deservingly so. Its pure escapism embodies what cinema is all about.

 

Never Let Me Go (2010)

A stunning allegory about the meaning of life. And pretty much in the end it tells us it means nothing. Getting there is heart-wrenching and oddly life-affirming. Garfield, Mulligan and Knightley will melt your heart in an undercover sci-fi that moves me like no other.

WHAT DID I MISS?

Inglourious Basterds – bad spelling, great movie

Django Unchained, the much-anticipated upcoming Quentin Tarantino movie starring Jamie Foxx as a rescued slave out for revenge, will only hit our screens early next year a couple of months after its Christmas Day US release.

And to quell your nervous excited energy until then, may I suggest revisiting his previous film, Inglourious Basterds. It’s possibly his greatest work to date, much of the reason behind the Django-hype and simultaneously a very tough act for Django to follow.

Basterds, if you didn’t already know, tells the WWII story of a gang of all-Jewish soldiers dropped into Nazi-occupied France on a secret mission to kill German soldiers under the command of Brad Pitt’s Lt Aldo Raine. On the surface, the premise is as simple as that and it sounds quite silly. But then this is damn fine entertainment with also a lot more than what meets the eye.

CONTAINS SPOILERS

The movie is grand for manifold factors. But aim a pistol at my nuts and I’d have to say it’s a fine study in tension and doubly great for this unexpected aspect as QT plays against type by downplaying the violence. There’s constantly the promise of cruelty, but until the end we only experience violence, albeit raw and graphic and chilling, in quick jarring bursts. Toward the end of the movie, in fact, the greatest show of violence is first seen in an onscreen film screening of Nation’s Pride, a Nazi movie about the exploits of a celebrated war hero who in staccato fashion mows down the allied enemy. It’s almost as if QT is trying to say something by keeping his trademark one step removed from the audience, until the violence in the Nazi film merges with his own in a ferocious climax.

So that tension I was talking about. Apart from the whole film building up towards the dramatic finish, there are microcosms as the tension is captured in three stand-out scenes.

The first is the opening scene where Colonel Hans Landa visits the home of Frenchman LaPadite who is harbouring Jewish neighbours. The encounter is brimming with suspense as one of the movie’s outright stars, Christoph Waltz, is unveiled. Waltz delights with his borderline psychotic colonel Landa who could at any moment let rip. He gives a performance so commanding, terrifyingly faux congenial yet likeable and endlessly fascinating, that they might as well have carved out ‘OSCAR’ on his forehead. He completely fills the screen when on it and deservedly got the gold statuette from the Academy to prove it. The tension is such that even drinking a glass of milk has something discomfiting about it. And you constantly fear for the vulnerable, outnumbered Frenchman and his beautiful daughters.

One of the Jewish stowaways, Shosanna Dreyfus, manages to escape and later there is a reunion between Landa and herself, delivering the second stand-out scene. This is played brilliantly by Mélanie Laurent and Waltz, as he gives nothing away of what’s going to transpire and she only hints at her anxiety by obliquely tensing up. Only at the very end does her cool facade break down completely after a rare moment of forgetfulness on Landa’s part, filling you with deep compassion for her character.

Before I get to the last scene, let me just also say this. QT gets terrific performances from his actors and can save or create careers. Case in point – John Travolta, shortlived, but still. And Basterds is no different. Apart from Waltz, there is a fantastic international cast with Laurent, Daniel Brühl and Diane Kruger all doing sterling work. But alongside Waltz, the true showpony is Brad Pitt. His Aldo Raine is Pitt like you’ve never seen him before in what has to be my favourite role for him ever. He plays it with a boyish charm and also embodies the film’s overall relish and glee, hamming it up just enough with his drawl, his smirk and his little homespun sayings to be the movie’s centre of fun.

‘Bonjourno.’

The last outstanding scene, and the best, occurs in a basement tavern where a secret meeting has been set up between the Basterds and their mole, Bridget von Hammersmark, played by Kruger. This scene just has it all. They’re already a little uneasy about it all feeling ripe for ambush, when the three Basterds descend the steps in Nazi uniform to be saluted over-zealously by the German soldiers they find below. The waitress drops the tray, there’s a clattering and breaking of glasses, and we cut to the Basterds paused awkwardly on the steps, startled by this greeting.

But they push on and join von Hammersmark where they start discussing details for their grand plan, Operation Kino, until a drunken soldier, Wilhelm, has the impudence to make a nuisance of himself around supposedly superior officers. As Michael Fassbender’s British Lieutenant reprimands him in German (obviously), the stunned soldier stares back vacantly and then starts commenting on his peculiar accent. The jig is up! Fassbender’s colleagues quickly step in to dispose of Wilhelm with aggressive threats to all his friends to keep an eye on him. Crisis averted? Maybe, but then all of a sudden a hereto unseen Nazi soldier is revealed to be sitting in the corner. It’s almost laughable how the scene keeps escalating with this latest trump card played by the director. As the record player scratches with the music finished, like the fun has run out, the major (played to lingering perfection by August Diehl) approaches and starts interrogating Fassbender’s Hicox. And after barely accepting his explanation, he decides to join them for a game of Celebrity, where they place cards on their foreheads and have to guess the famous figure’s name written on it. It’s all Diehl here as he proceeds to guess his figure, King Kong, with a majestic, controlled display of acting. The scene simmers throughout and shortly after a drink of whisky and a brief standoff it finally explodes in one brisk elimination of almost everyone involved. Damn good stuff.

Anyway… it’s a propagandistic movie about propaganda, about how the propaganda pictures of the Nazis were at the forefront of the war effort and how ultimately the movies could’ve been used to end the war. It’s a celebration of what’s possible with the movies, as QT’s own escapist plot of killing Hitler illustrates, but it’s also a condemnation of how movies can distort reality and affect people. Therefore QT also plays on the idea of the Western genre having demonised Native Americans and includes King Kong to show how cinema romanticised slavery. Significantly, Aldo Raine is part Apache and the crushing blow to the Nazis in a way, the spark that lights the fuse, is dealt by a black projectionist during a film screening. There’s also a chronic preoccupation with nicknames mixed in, of how one is perceived and how legends are built up.

And finally: language, language, language. This film flits between German, English and French and even some Italian like it’s nobody’s business. Apart from loving it for its linguistic richness, which is beautiful in and of itself but also lends authenticity, language is cleverly used as a plot device. QT shows he isn’t just trying to be arty for the hell of it. Inglourious Basterds is a deep hard look at the influence of art and culture on us all. And it’s great storytelling, with the music also deserving a special mention, and ample fun. We should let this movie move us and be very thankful for that. Good luck, Django.

The Five-Year Engagement… but I can’t forget Sarah Marshall

The Five-Year Engagement sees director Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel teaming up for the second time after the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And subconsciously I found myself making comparisons all the way through. It’s almost impossible not to, as again Segel is in a similar doting romantic mode, with generous helpings of his naked ass thrown in too.

It has Sarah Marshall’s spirit, but this sophomore collaboration feels more grown-up. Where Sarah Marshall was about a relationship falling apart and moving on, Engagement looks at what it takes, the stupid things that are done, to keep two people together. After the movie starts with Tom proposing to Violet, played by Emily Blunt, we see him make a huge sacrifice by giving up his career as a chef and following Violet to the University of Michigan to let her go after her dreams. And you can just hear the patrons of the cinema talking among themselves… “she’s so selfish… i know!” But seriously, she’s pretty bitchy about the whole thing.

In Michigan there are no fancy restaurants and instead Tom loses his way professionally in a sandwich shop where he remains unchallenged and unfulfilled. Where Peter in Sarah Marshall was going nowhere, Segel revisits that man-child state that he’s so fascinated with, only this time Tom regresses due to being deeply unhappy.  And oh does he waste away spectacularly. He eventually resigns himself completely to the Michigan country way of life to great comedic effect. This transformation into a bearded, large poncho-sweater wearing outdoorsman is probably the highlight of the film.

Segel’s once again surrounded himself with great comedy actors everywhere you look. Forming part of his Michigan tribe are Brian Posehn as Tarquin and the scene-stealing Chris Parnell as stay-at-home dad who knits, Bill. Emily Blunt meanwhile has Mindy Kalling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park as university colleagues. Rhys Ifans never dissapoints either.

Then there’s great support from Chris Pratt, who proves to be very funny as best friend Alex and, minus her questionable British accent, forms a great partnership with Alison Brie’s Suzie as the pair who effortlessly and unintentionally achieve what the lead characters are having such a hard time with.

As for the leads, Segel is great – dry and subtle, but also able to go large when he needs to – but I have a real problem with Emily Blunt. She’s fine, but I just can’t get over the fact that she has progressed so much higher than her station which really ought to be solid supporting roles like the one of Emily in The Devil Wears Prada which she’s famous for. I don’t always believe in the relationship, at least not when it’s going well, no matter how hard they try to convince you with their meet scene at a New Year’s party. Segel has joked in the past that he has tricked everyone by making them believe he has any talent, but I think it’s in fact Ms Blunt who has done exactly that.

But despite my personal issues with Emily Blunt, she didn’t ruin the picture. And her character is just idiotic enough to make my feelings toward her work out for the best. Pacing is another issue, as it does feel rather long and threatens to almost take the five years in the title literally. But there can be no rush to let the situation develop, that’s understandable, and along the way there’s some great humour, set-pieces and finely observed stuff in there. And many grandparents passing away, just to temper it all and position it toward the serious and real. The deaths also serve to create nice urgency and also allude to the decay and deterioration of their relationship.

It’s a nice script that does well on screen with several great elements just missing out on coming together seamlessly and forming a whole of true quality like Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s every bit as enjoyable though with a pleasing, neat ending that’ll still have you believing in love, just love of a more rational hue.

Raising Arizona. It raises expectations for all comedy after it.

Let’s just all take a minute and think about how great Raising Arizona is. Now we all know the Coens love a good farce to offset all their more serious work, and on the face of it, this one’s so completely and utterly silly that it might just be dismissed as a pet project. You’re almost embarrassed to watch it with anyone but yourself.

But Raising Arizona is outstanding comedy. It’s complete Loony Toon, white trash, boisterous fun that at times careens all over the place. And this unmitigated spirit makes it a joy to watch. That, and there is fine acting to be found. Nicholas Cage gives a big, big, like towering performance as the little guy, H.I, pulling off some of the finest physical comedy you’ll see in colour. And Holly Hunter – how can you not fall in love with Holly Hunter? – gives a manic and fiery performance as his wife Ed. Short for Edwina. There’s also great support from Coen-regular John Goodman and William Forsythe as the outlaw friends of H.I’s from prison.

OK, so the set-up is done in a cute, brisk prologue in the first ten minutes. H.I is a repeat offender who keeps going back to jail. And every time he runs into Ed, the officer tasked with taking his mugshot. They eventually fall in love and H.I quits crime to start a life with her. Slowly they start thinking about having a child of their own to share all of life’s beauty with, only to find that Ed can’t have children and because of H.I’s criminal record, they can’t adopt either. Then the Arizona quintuplets are born to Nathan and Florence Arizona, and H.I and Ed decide that’s “more than they can handle”. They decide to kidnap a child for themselves, and that’s Raising Arizona, which sets the scene for all hell to be raised. In Arizona. I love that the title appears and the movie effectively begins only after ten minutes with a flourish, I do.

There’s great comedy throughout. And the point of it almost is to mock the thought of child rearing perhaps, saying maybe that there’s nothing to be shared with a child apart from buffoonery and cruelty. Those in the movie, furthermore, who have kids don’t seem worthy of them. And then there’s the complicating issue that H.I and Ed’s love will probably not survive without a child.

Anyway, that might all be too deep. There’s a sweet love story in there, but the movie really comes down to two scenes for me. Two of the best scenes in comedy.

The one about halfway in sees H.I, helpless to his own nature, holding up another convenience store. A marvelous chase ensues through the street and people’s backyards and houses, ending up in a supermarket shoot-out. There is a controlled chaos in this scene, with guns firing and pratfalling all linked by some beautiful inter-cut tracking shots that make the scene soar to its conclusion. And all the time there’s the famous wailing of the Raising Arizona theme. Just superbly scripted and mapped out. And freakin’ impossible to resist.

The second is at the natural confrontation between the ferocious bounty hunter Leonard Smalls, who shoots bunny rabbits and lizards for fun (played terrific, by the way, by Randall “Tex” Cobb), and H.I. This is arguably an even better scene as it incorporates great violence that is somehow made to look harmless. It has such a perfect tempo and a sort of calm to it, rendering it more like a laugh-out-loud armwrestle than a joust. And it’s sumptuously shot… just look back to how little Ed moves into the fight without being harmed to snatch Nathan Jr and is then pursued by Smalls through the bank and out the back. Everything about it, the timing especially but particularly Cage, is brilliant. And there’s the tattoo reveal as well.

And then the movie ends with a really pleasing symmetry. From fire and returning to fire. From the earth, and returning to the earth. And the madness, that was briefly unleashed, is returned to Pandora’s box. It truly is a classic. Watch it alone, so you can laugh unabashed.

Ted keeps R-rated comedy from being, erm, ded.

Seth MacFarlane’s Ted is exactly what you’d expect. A tedious documentary about motivational speaking…

JUST KIDDING!

In his first feature, MacFarlane sticks to what he knows and basically delivers one big live-action Family Guy episode, just without any of the Family Guy characters. The one cartoonish element he keeps is Ted himself, a Christmas present that magically comes to life to provide young John with his only friend. The toy becomes a national sensation but after a while his fame results in him becoming jaded and Teddy grows up into a foul-mouthed, layabout adult. And his friendship with John is also keeping the now going-nowhere 30-something (played by Mark Wahlberg) from reaching his full potential.

As a character, Ted is fully realised. The CGI blends in extremely well and that the character works is a testament to the director’s eminent skill of switching between the absurd and everyday until you don’t know which is which anymore. Voiced by MacFarlane, Ted is hilarious and filthy and so much fun. He gets all the best jokes since he’s the most obvious one to mine laughs from, but Wahlberg is good too, comfortable in this kind of less demanding role where he can just be a regular guy. Without trying too hard as in The Other Guys, he shows that he is actually understatedly funny. Mila Kunis, who plays his girlfriend, Lori, is unfortunately just plot fodder to put pressure on the Ted-John friendship, and she’s grossly underused for someone with her charm. There’s also a sort of unsettling turn from Giovanni Ribisi, which turns to hilarious in the final act as he carries out a dance routine that you won’t be able to look away from, among other things. Also Joel McHale does the job as the sleazy boss trying to steal away Lori from right under John’s nose. Oh, and there’s a terrific cameo by Norah Jones. I would never have guessed she’d be up for that!

MacFarlane really does have a gift for comedy. I mean there’s a lot of inappropriate race stuff and drug humour and all the puerile material that made us fall in love with Family Guy in high school and university. But he has a sharp eye and mixes it up like a pro. There’s a lot of clever stuff too, or at least what you’d call alternative and less one-liney. Unexpected. He can do offbeat as well as the sudden zingers. Like John and Ted’s Flash Gordon obsession, which is great, and the one about a co-worker who might or might not be gay, which is just in the background but genius in a way. Or the Tom Skerritt joke that runs through till the end. Oh, and the trademark violence, which is bewildering but still funny.

Anyway, it’s not just random jokes picked by manatees either. To some extent we are made to care about what happens to John and Ted’s relationship, and if MacFarlane can drop some of the silliness and actually be brave enough to write a more “real” screenplay, something that takes itself just slightly more seriously, he could find himself being a neat complement to Judd Apatow or someone like that. Ted though, as silly as it is, deserves to be rewatched several times, and after none of the myriad jokes elicit more than half-assed chuckles anymore, it’ll still be a pretty pleasant experience all the same.

The Hunger Games: Scrumptious treat that doesn’t quite hit the spot

Wow, so much has been made of this movie already, what is there left to say? I mean, a movie that opens worldwide and in South Africa like this one did doesn’t really need to care about what people have to say about it anyway. And in this case, if the movie makers behind the Hunger Games were to ignore the reviews and reactions and simply run the numbers they’d reach the right conclusion anyway.

It really is an excellent, entertaining blockbuster. But not in the vapid way that we get with so many other ‘busters. The movie operates in a frightening world of inequality and class segregation where the privileged, by virtue of having won the war between the two factions, make generation upon generation of the unfortunate losers’ children battle it out for survival for their entertainment. And to keep them in their place (as ‘penance’, to quote the book). It’s a world that seems frighteningly familiar as well, despite the garish fashion of this new world, which adds a lot of weight to proceedings. The idea of power resting in the hands of a greedy few, who will do whatever it takes to hold on to it, never stops being a fascinating one. And to that end Donald Sutherland’s president Snow, overseeing the games like a puppet master, provides gripping sinister cutaways in between coverage of the games, serving as a reminder of the political importance of the event. Apart from the scary politics, the movie also darkly parodies 21st century concepts of entertainment very effectively.

So that is what the movie does exceedingly well, creating this abjectly perverse universe and giving everything an unsettling tinge. Like the ‘reaping’, for example, where ‘tributes’ from Katniss’ district are selected, which is so dispassionate and morose, it’s chilling. The opening act of the movie on the whole is especially on the money. The wonderfully talented Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen  and her sister in their austere surroundings provide great chemistry, if you can call it that. Their brief scenes together really set up the whole movie so well, providing the emotional centre and purpose for Katniss’ character. None of the other relationships really compare, but then that’s the point. This world doesn’t really have a lot of them. Even Katniss and Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta never really make a believable couple, but then that isn’t the function of their relationship either. What it does is supply titillating  intrigue, as you never know to what extent they’re just playing the game. There’s some nice pathos for Peeta, however, as he’s probably playing it a little less than Katniss. But, as we see, he will do what he has to in order to survive, like everyone else.

Where the movie falls short is with the action. You can never quite shake the feeling that you’re watching a kids’ movie, deeply disturbing, but still made with way too much consideration for kids. And money. And don’t bloody tell me the kids were the primary target market anyway because of the books. Don’t sell me that trash. I don’t care… so the South African Film and Publication board, who wanted a 16 rating, can rest easy. Most of the disturbing elements will go over the little scamps’ heads. Anyway, this movie could’ve been great, truly exceptional, if director Gary Ross could’ve gone all the way in bringing home the horrors of this battle royale. Forgive me for my inner boy coming out, but I wanted to see much, much (much) more blood. As it is, too much impact is lost. The games-section is still a very watchable psychological battle, and there is a scene involving bees that feels as if the movie was for once really pushing its 13 rating, but I left the cinema longing for the Game of Thrones or Quentin Tarantino version. The conclusion to the games is also rushed and sloppy and pandering, disgusting really, but you get over it.

It’s a very interesting movie, very interesting. Lawrence is great. Stanley Tucci is a treat as always. And Woody Harrelson’s hair catches the eye whenever it gets screen time. It’s a little great really, but it just makes me hate those in power, those who can only think about money, so much.

Tom Cruise is alright in my book.

So Tom Cruise might be a weirdo, and I’ll even avoid a movie that he’s headlining if I have nothing else to go by, BUT that certainly isn’t to say the man hasn’t done his bit for cinema in years gone by. This topic came up recently at a social gathering where the general thesis was that there isn’t really that much of his worth giving a shot. Well, not true. Not counting the Mission Impossible franchise, which is pretty fun, and his very funny cameo in Tropic Thunder, here are five Cruise gems in chronological order that’ll make you jump up on your couch…

You ready?

Risky Business

Vintage Cruise. It don’t get any more iconic than him dancing in his underpants… also, there’s the adventure of the parents not being home and everything going a little pear-shaped with a hooker. It’s not soft, and a lot of fun.

Rain Man

Beautiful, touching piece where he plays alongside his card-counting autistic brother Dustin Hoffman. This’ll break the hardest of hearts.

Born on the Fourth of July

Really powerful drama about a Vietnam war vet from Oliver Stone.

Jerry Maguire

If you can’t love this movie about a sports agent that goes it alone, you’re dead inside and might as well be dead to me too… I mean, it had me at… whatever the first line was.

Minority Report

Underrated Spielberg colab based on a Philip K Dick short story. Intriguing and thought-provoking, sci-fi at its best.

Awesome 21 Jump Street is awesome

Well I said I had a good feeling about this one and I wasn’t let down. I kind of wish I hadn’t watched the trailer, although there wouldn’t then have been that good feeling, but having seen the trailer the first twenty minutes or so of the movie is pretty much just that in extended form. We quickly get a glimpse of Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) at high school struggling academically and socially respectively, followed by them both somehow ending up at police academy (even though it would appear a strange choice for Schmidt, but let’s say he has a prevailing sense of justice needing to be done). Then by some act of destiny they form a symbiotic friendship to pull each other through. And it even feels like a trailer, it’s all just laying the foundation for the real movie to start, the annoying set-up that is necessary but largely skimmed over, the greens before dessert. What it also does is establish the movie in a universe where logic isn’t too important and never comes at the expense of comedy.

Picture: hollywood.com
Best of friends, right? But how can you expect to be popular if you're trying to pull of the Slim Shady look? Picture: hollywood.com

Anyway, after a foolish mix-up with an arrest, the two agents are reassigned to the 21 Jump Street programme, where officers are used to infiltrate schools and such to solve youth-related crime. And it just so happens that there’s a new drug on the market that the young ones are really taking to, but which holds great danger for their well-being. So our two youthful looking cops get another shot at high school and almost immediately the movie picks up. For a start, Schmidt’s interaction with his parents is priceless. He almost immediately reverts back to a petulant teen and is great fun to watch. There’s also a picture of him on the wall that is no more than a throwaway gag, but which is hilarious.

And Channing Tatum isn’t far behind. His Jenko is just as enjoyable to follow, as the once streetwise high schooler is thrown back into a world that has shifted beyond recognition and where all the rules are now different. This soon dawns on him as they show up for their first day of school in a very effective scene that includes a cool little nod to hipsters, which I loved personally.

Now while I knew that Hill would be good and pretty much went to see it on the strength of his name alone, Tatum really surprises with his composed comedic abilities. The guy is actually really funny. So it would seem that he took a lot more from that tiny part in The Dilemma than anyone could’ve guessed. I might even go see The Vow now and show the guy some support.

Picture: pajiba.com
Just because you're trying to bring down a drug ring doesn't mean you shouldn't look sharp. Picture: pajiba.com

What also makes Jump Street work is that we’re given enough to care about the characters. It’s the simplest of formulas, but if it works it works. Schmidt and Jenko are confronted with past insecurities like only high school can bring out and their friendship is compromised by high school politics and there’s all the high school “drama” that keeps on compelling people to watch pretty much anything with teens on TV. (The fact that they’re undercover cops is largely forgotten by the audience and the leads themselves, which makes it so much fun and adds to why we like them, but watch out for when Schmidt’s cover is almost blown by a family friend!)  Credit to the actors for pulling off this more demanding aspect of their characters. Hill, that’s Oscar nominated Hill to me and you, is especially good at making it impossible not to like him as he tentatively engages with Brie Larson’s Molly in what is an affecting romance.

As if to reassure everyone in the audience that the comedy fraternity believe in this project, there’s a flurry of support from greats such as the always impeccable Chris Parnell, Nick Offerman in a delicious little scene as the chief, the very talented Rob Riddle, who just manages to stay on the right side of annoying, and a personal favourite of mine, Jake M Johnson, as the principal. There’s also the lovely Ellie Kemper who’s grossly under-used as the lustful Chemistry teacher but still very funny whenever she gets the chance. And, of course, the lovable Dave Franco who is always on form and very watchable no matter what you’re looking for. Also, Ice Cube sort of emulates P Diddy’s character in Get Him To The Greek with similar aplomb and, I almost forgot, there’s a very special, completely unexpected and cleverly executed cameo toward the end. But don’t bother looking for it, you won’t see it coming.

And clever really sums it up for me. It doesn’t reinvent the playbook or anything, but for what it is, 21 Jump Street is very clever. It’s always got its tongue lodged deep in its cheek, making fun of itself and the YouTube generation of teens in a very cool and satisfying manner. And even though I wasn’t LOLing at every single joke, I enjoyed it immensely throughout because there’s some really good comedy to be found – a scene in the bathroom in particular stands out and it’s not the usual gross-out fare, and also the Peter Pan play just has this one very neat, maybe silly, touch in which Schmidt evades Jenko. The house party and the freeway chase scenes work extremely well too in their entirety and are fantastically fun.

Yes, there’s some unnecessary childish stuff too, but then I’m not complaining too much. And the movie does kind of unravel toward the end with a boundless energy of someone on drugs that is probably over the top, but the stuff in the middle between the boring intro and ultra-stimulating outro is gold and I left with a wide smile on my face. It wasn’t quite Superbad 2, but I hope to see Jonah Hill in plenty more bromances and I would definitely come back for the inevitable sequel.