Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Movie Journal #4

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 10:10 AM

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
  • Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
22 Jump Street (2014; dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) — It may not be as awesome as The Lego Movie, but 22 Jump Street proves that Lord/Miller is the best comic filmmaking team since Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Which isn’t to say that it’s a triumphant laugh fest from beginning to end — the winking meta-commentary about 22 Jump’s paint-by-numbers sequel status and the homoerotic subtext of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s partnership are two running jokes that needed a time out or two. But there are very few dead spots in this omnivorous parody machine: Lord and Miller have never built a world safe from their nonstop barrage of goofs, gags, and random chuckles. Some of the best bits involve “The University of the Internet,” a bunch of girls trudging home behind Hill whenever he takes the walk of shame back to his dorm, anything involving the Lucas Brothers, the dance routine/fight scene on the beach, and everything Jillian Bell says and does. The greatest joke of all involves Tatum, Hill, Ice Cube, and a mix-up that’s obvious in retrospect but so surprising at first that Tatum’s ebullient reaction to and celebration of it deserves to go on as long as it wants. Grade: B+

Dawn of the Planet Of The Apes (2014; dir. Matt Reeves) — For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out whether Dawn’s shot of an angry ape on horseback firing a semiautomatic rifle into the air is awesome, cheesy, or some combination of the two. I’m no closer to an answer now than I was when I saw it the first time, and I’m similarly conflicted about the whole film. This dystopian blockbuster is the second installment in a potentially long string of exciting yet mournful Rhesus pieces about the conflict between the great apes and those damn dirty humans, but it’s less creative in nearly every way than its 2011 predecessor, a fast-paced account of science gone mad and primates gone wild. Dawn opens and closes with an extreme close-up of an ape leader’s eyes, and the film is about how those eyes will take in and adapt to what they see. It’s also about taking sides; the apes want to be left alone, but the incursion of a band of humans in search of electric power bodes ill for all involved; we know what we do to animals, ecosystems, and resources. With Caesar (Andy Serkis), the franchise has found a great hero, and this time they set him up with a great villain named Koba (Toby Kebbell), an ape scarred by medical testing who’s allotted two scenes of primal wickedness. Grade: B+

Eva Green
  • Eva Green
300: Rise of An Empire (2014; dir. Noam Murro) — “Sequelize It” is the rallying cry for midsummer movie season, but for some reason this early March release reappeared at my local multiplex for a discount-priced one-week run. Why not throw a couple of bucks its way? After all, Armond White, The National Review’s noted practitioner of informed critical dissent, named it one of the best films of the year so far. And, gosh, White is probably right. Zack Snyder’s bloody, influential 2006 celebration of swordplay and six-pack abs is alluded to throughout Rise of An Empire, which explores the clash between the Greek and Persian fleets that began around the same time as King Leonidas’ last stand at the Hot Gates. As history, it might be bunk. But as a violent, dynamic, slo-motion battle pageant, it revitalizes all the old images and symbols — flesh, steel, moon, ocean, fire — for maximum emotional and visual impact. Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey is the stern Spartan queen who narrates the events, but she’s not the baddest gal in the film. That would be Artemisia (Eva Green), a deadeye Lady Vengeance in a spiked corset who inspires pity and terror and probably an involuntary chubby or two. Grade: A-

Chistophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps
  • Chistophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps
Stranger By The Lake (2013; dir. Alain Guiraudie) — As Dawn and Rise of the Planet of the Apes both know, paradise — which in this film is a rocky cruising beach studded with gay men who lounge around in the nude and wander off into the woods for a quick tryst every now and then — never lasts very long. Twenty minutes in, something happens that jeopardizes not only young Franck’s (Pierre Deladonchamps) infatuation with a Keith Hernandez-type Adonis named Michel (Christophe Paou), but also the privacy and sanctity of this idyllic retreat. It’s a solid, low-key set up, and Guiraudie wrings much tension from the sight of an abandoned car. After a while, the erotic encounters in the woods start to feel as though they’re part of some indefinable ritual sacrifice yet to come. There’s plenty left unsaid throughout that builds suspense, too. Something’s missing here, though, and the clinical distance pervading everything but Franck and Michel’s first sex scene may have something to do with it. Grade: B+

Deliverance (1972; dir. John Boorman) — This horrifying action-movie emasculation always forces me to ask myself whether I have spent my life learning the wrong things. Why wasn’t I getting buff and learning how to fish with a bow and arrow instead of reading books, watching movies, and avoiding manual labor of all kinds? Was that the right call? Would it matter if someone held a shotgun to my cheek and told me I had a pretty mouth? Anyway, it’s almost as if Burt Reynolds’ mischievous gung-ho survivalist and ad hoc tour guide wants something awful to happen on this particular male-bonding wilderness outing; he gets his wish after Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Ed (a seldom-better Jon Voight) run across a pair of mountain men straight out of True Detective’s Carcosa cult. After the famous “squeal like a pig” scene — which, like the rest of the film, occurs against a backdrop of numbing and oppressive environmental splendor — guilt, fear, shame, and anger course through each character’s veins like the river that threatens to shatter them on the rocks and wash them all away. William Burroughs was right about America: The evil is there waiting. Grade: A

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