This movie, by the way, takes advantage of its source material, an 80’s TV show of the same name starring Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson (now Peete). Had it been released in an alternate universe as its own concept, audiences would think it’s ludicrous. The screenwriters adapting this material to the 21st century, Jonah Hill, Scott Pilgrim writer Michael Bacall, director Phil Lord and Puss in Boots director Christopher Miller perceive this as a hurdle that they cross beautifully.
A personal note about the subject of this movie. Like junior policemen Jenko, played by Channing Tatum and Schmidt, by Hill, I also belong to the class of 2005 (The blue and red all caps inter-titles also probably makes this the greatest American movie to ever reference Jean-Luc Godard. I’m half serious.). In this America, Jenko and Schmidt fall on opposite sides of the polarized jock/nerd dividing old high schools of reality and fiction. I’m not going to take this as a point against the movie, but I saw the tides turn in that year or ones before. I remember a jock (specifically the most coveted male student who had the face/abs/nipple piercings) telling me that he found it weird yet enjoyed that a goth, a Polish girl who listened to gangster music and me accidentally joined his pot circle. Despite being the voice of a generation, Eminem and the other aggressive angsty figures are replaced by dancey stuff.
I even suspect that our generation has something to do with it and yes I’m being cocky here. The elder classes held on to the binary but dissatisfied with these earlier models we took our different perspective and repressed resentments into making new moulds of chic in college and afterwards and I’m pretty sure the younger kids saw that and thought it was awesome. And now kids, or middle class kids at least, are sophisticated, dinnering in midtown restaurants, shopping for clothes that would have gotten me beat up seven years ago, impressing their teachers and being blase about doing so many kinds of drugs that I would run out of digits to count them, if I tried.
The movie deals with these cultural waves but in an extreme execution. After graduating high school and the police academy, becoming unlikely friends and bungling a drug bust, their Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) re-assigns our protagonists into the titular 21 Jump Street, a program where younger looking cops (including Rye Rye) return to high school and infiltrate juvenile crime.
Just like my unreliable old man observations about today’s youth, they return to an environment giving them clue after subtle clue. Despite of Jenko’s predictions, kids don’t carry their backpacks singe strap and the parking lot is populated by geeks, one group more colourful and uninhibited than the previous one. The nerds have become popular and the jocks are semi-awkward track kids. Jenko, the only jock left in the traditional sense, is the fading noble viking conquered by his intellectual superiors, some of whom work out just as much as he does. In a way, this main plot structure is a retelling of Rip van Winkle, already making this movie an American institution. I’m half serious.
Like my eclectic pot circle, a drug is the secret invisible force that unites and corrupts Jenko and Schmidt’s assigned school, Sagen High. This time it’s called HFS which is short for Holy Fucking Shit, a synthetic drug that lives up to its name (I’ve also been watching a lot of NatGeo lately, adding to my armchair knowledge of the misinformation about these designer drugs and complicates the movie’s dénouement but who cares). We see a student, Billiam Winningham (Johnny Simmons, who plays Young Neil in Scott Pilgrim) post a Youtube video of himself taking the drug and recording its four stages, the effects on young Billiam is exemplary physical comedy to both the policemen and to us until their new boss Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, playing cop again after Rampart) reveals that the kid has died of an overdose.
Their mission, as Dickson shouts in a mantra, is something like ‘infiltrate the dealers, find the suppliers,’ which should be easy if the two gun-toting, hand-to-hand fighting chaser cops didn’t dip into hilarious human error, including Schmidt’s friendship with yearbook committee member/dealer (Dave Franco) and the latter’s open relationship girlfriend Molly (Brie Larson). These forbidden partnerships ruins the dynamic between the two cops and the movie delicately plays with their own unlikely friendship, as both are haunted by the past and present power dynamics between them.
The rifts between Jenko and Schmidt cause some of the movies surprisingly unforced pathos. There’s something interesting about these supposed sentimental moments, that the camera constantly moves – or has the semblance of movement – in those sequences so we don’t lose that comedy-action momentum while showing the drama. Those sections, in other words, have a cartoony aesthetic that complement the comic-book effect on the hilarious drug phase scenes (Bacall and Miller’s animation CV’s help with this.
The other source of comedy is the protagonists’ one-upmanship, both causing a lot of falling gags, dick jokes, relentless montages and ‘I rule and you suck!’ barbs. Those methods of comedy shouldn’t work but they do, just because Hill, Tatum and the rest of the cast deliver their jokes with a straight face and Miller directs these scenes without telling his actors to overt and slowing down the jokes, which surprisingly and disappointingly happens too much in recent comedies. There are brilliant scenes with Ellie Kemper’s – who I’m always partial to – conflicting Mary Kay Letourneau lust towards Jenko (ironically because it’s Jenko as an undercover who’s forbidden to fraternize with students and teachers) and she just says opposing words and phrases given life by her delivery. Her character could have been a histrionic one but she makes it just kooky and makes you listen to how hilarious her conflict is.
Also in the cast are Rob Riggle, Jake M. Johnson, many more familiar young faces and Depp is in a surprising cameo. This brew of crudity didn’t necessarily make me love it unconditionally for the movie’s first half but it’s underplayed, straightforward approach refreshingly went down easily, and I dismissed any possible objection as the laughs kept coming. 4/5. Image via hollywood.com
An unnamed chameleon (Johnny Depp) finds fifteen minutes in a film to go from an emptied aquarium inside a car traveling a highway to a small town called Dirt, inhabited by other animals. Trying to blend in with these Westerners, the chameleon comes up with the persona of a mean, bar fighting man from somewhere more west and christens himself as Rango, getting his name from an alcohol bottle from Durango. He finds a love interest in Beans (Isla Fisher), the daughter of a dead bean farmer who’s had better days. Her provenance and femininity means that she’s both strong-willed and scrappy. She’d occasionally roll her eyes at Rango but she’s sometimes vulnerable and needs him.
Rango is about the visuals. We know that our hero is the perpetually domesticated one, unable to change his green coat no matter how many times he sheds his skin, which is ironic since he is a chameleon. We also know that the gamut of cowboys, gunslingers, ranch hands and Southern gentlemen of Dirt are anachronistically Western since they’re mostly grey and furry, their period clothing coated with the sand that might occasionally blow their way. The work in Rango’s scales of the scales of the other reptiles aren’t as intense like the work in How to Train your Dragon. The mammals sometimes look scarily realistic – you can feel the hair in their faces and all.
There are the other visual antics in the film’s mise-en-scene, lights, shadows, arid desert haze, textural rocks on the desert, a gigantic eye overlooking Rango’s posse as they cross through a system of underground burrows, infernal sunset light, Rango drawing on the sky (easily my favourite image of the film). The latter images aren’t oversold, but they are often references to other westerns/neo-westerns/movies set on deserts, the lack of originality is slightly frustrating. I also felt conflicted while watching the film, kicking myself for not seeing it in 3D but also thinking that the animation in itself effectively suggests dimension and depth.
The third conflict in my head, which quickly and surprisingly went away, started when I was seeing the featurettes for the film. The film is shot through ’emotional capturing,’ which is basically the cast in a studio acting the scenes out and there’s a camera involved or something. I always thought that I’d rather watch the actors on set than to see the animated product, a la Dogville. But then I liked watching the valleys where Rango and his posse are being chased. Or watching Depp personify this childlike, imaginative and naive protagonist, a role that would have been a bit old for him. Reminds me of Clooney in Fantastic Mr. Fox, where both can be goofier and funnier than their real, physical human bodies can allow. And hey, I’m actually liking a Depp performance. When was the last time that happened?
Rango meets a few enemies, his bravado looks laughable. His feeble body also means that he’s agile. His earlier, circumstantial tests of bravery eventually gets him to meet the town’s reclusive mayor (Ned Beatty, playing an animated villain again). They mayor appoints him as the town’s sheriff. His main duty as sheriff is to protect the scarce amount of water in Dirt, a commodity also used as currency. Here we have the biggest flaw of the film, the plot. The town eventually gets disillusioned from Rango, town gets disillusioned from mayor, Rango tries to win town back by finding out how the mayor controls the water and taking that control away from him. The formulaic storyline makes me care less about the outcome, the visuals mostly seeming like window dressing. 3/5.
What I actually found in common with the ‘best’ performances I’ve seen in movies since my earlier, iffier list in July is that these actors who play their characters as either scary or scared. I thought that was gonna make my list repetitive but it’s a pretty general conflict within a character anyway. Also, as much I loved a few performances released this year, this list mainly focus on my self-education (Although I didn’t major nor specialize, I took film classes in college, I’m not one of those) about films from the beginning of ever (but really 1947) up to the past year, for which I make a space to include an FYC or two for performances this year. again, I also wanna be a contrarian and ‘instructive’ – the more obscure and diverse a performance is, the better.
The film complements Emily Watson’s well-praised debut performance as Bess McNeil with Skarsgard, who makes the pest performance of a ‘crippld’ man since Jimmy Stewart. He finds the balance of sincerity and good intention despite the manipulative nature of what he says, and this the centre of the misogyny that other bloggers have accused von Trier about in this film. Thing is, he airs his requests to Bess with neither overt meanness nor longing. His disability is also reflected before and after it literally sets him in the film’s plot. Let me explain. Skarsgard’s performance makes his character, Jan Nyman, very jaded and justly so. He treats the Bess’ Calvinist enclave with disgust but as an outsider, is aware that he cannot change it, letting everyone else do the moralizing. He tries to give Bess the redemption he deserves and doesn’t oversell it, showing us his awareness of the reality of his loss.
Liv Ullman, Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978)
It’s a hard task stealing the show from Ingrid Bergman, and we almost think it wouldn’t happen with the woman’s piano skills. Eventually this film becomes Ullman’s, playing Bergman’s daughter. I thought she was in her twenties when she took on this role, and her braids and glasses might have had something to do with that. But Ullmann in her forties captures the youthful vulnerability of someone well, half her age. A character who hasn’t learned how to be an adult because of her mother’s tampering and image of superiority. What follows is an unforgettable primal scream, revealing that anything a mother can do to love her child might be engendering the opposite message. The film ends with her trying to get her mother back, but in just as repetitive as she’s learned. Never had a peace-offering been so poisonous, as Ullmann carefully hides a rage that we can still see.
Ryan Reynolds, Buried (Rodrigo Cortes, 2010)
The success of this film has been partly attributed to Reynolds’ comic timing, which yes, adds a flexibility to the role in a horror/thriller film. Other critics have also talked about how he conveys Paul Conroy’s lack of intelligence, but lack of sunlight and mobility, I can assume, with take away 1 or 61 of anyone’s IQ points. However, he also exhibits a physicality, a difficult attribute to convey in a claustrophobic film.We follow his every little move, like trying to get a signal from a Blackberry set in Arabic or working flashlights. He also bring is the emotional heft the film needs, outstandingly connecting with the offscreen characters. And yes, I admit, a reason Reynolds is on this list is because he renders the best reading of the sentence ‘You stupid fucking cunt!’ in the history of cinema.
Any Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)
Supporting actress schmupporting actress – Amy Ryan takes the reins in this movie. Ryan’s character is faced by many hurdles, the missing daughter who probably hasn’t been fed by her captors (really the latter is fine), the good cops and the bad cops who are convinced she’s involved in the crime despite her unbreakable shell. She’s also intelligent enough to add levels of moral judgment about her character, saying things that she believes is right but making the words clear enough to question her. She gets the ending she wants and becomes a scary form of human being impervious to change even in times of almost complete disaster. I try my best not to be one of those bloggers who have grievances when it comes to the choices the Academy makes, and who am I to judge Tilda Swinton’s performance that I’ve yet to see. Nonetheless, Team Amy.
Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
Blankness hasn’t been this scary in a woman or in any character until this film arrived. We might also wanna thank Polanski in this aspect of her performance, but she looks capably fashionable even as she’s as we say mentally breaking through the seams. That and the raving beauty is humble enough to look plain in comparison the her sister (Yvonne Furneaux). Not only do we see the rabbit head inside her purse and the unkept conditions of her and her sister’s apartment after the latter’s vacation do the vacuous stares make sense. Her bravery’s also commendable as she takes on the dream rape scenes, as she approaches them not with tears but with defenselessness and startled reactions, conveying how her character struggles against her body. She portrays a young woman with grievances against societal pressures about her sister’s boyfriend and her own oblivious boyfriend, but sadly didn’t learn how to scream out.
I considered it a personal achievement to have finished watching the film the past year, since Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh puts heart in what could be a cold, detached and stern female protagonist in Black Narcissus. Powell and Pressburger are known for their magical Technicolor visuals in their films, but the most delightful image it has is watching Kerr light up when she reminisces, romanticizing the decaying past that she was happy and content with. There’s also a bit of pain in her eyes as the film transforms her from context a to b, with the knowledge that her life in the British Isles won’t be the same. She’s not, however, necessarily a helpless young female, as she considers herself a mother and leader to the other nuns in the Indian mission, specifically looking out for Sister Ruth, sincerely caring about hers and everyone else’s health. And she’s got a little sense of humour as well, brought on by Mr. Dean.
Tatsuya Nakadai, Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)
Hey look, another double role! But really the titular Kagemusha gets invaded by his alter ego, Shingen Takeda, the medieval Japanese war lord whose life is surprisingly more precarious than the lower class man who’s supposed to impersonate him. Nakadai evinces the haunted feeling of being followed by the ghost – only appearing once in a dream – of a supposedly great man, who’s also chagrined by the warlord’s son. He somehow convinces us of a closer connection between the two disparate characters, of the integrity that has to be preserved in the old ways that oppress Kagemusha. When the thief becomes the warlord, he doesn’t put a dumb show. He even shows warmth while bonding with the warlord’s grandson. The actor perfectly captures the composed, arrogant ways of a noble man and the dishevelled thief who he was in the film’s beginning and end.
Joan Allen, The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)
Ang Lee’s more subtle than other directors who have made films about the suburbs. It is then a gift to have Joan Allen’s as Elena in his film to keep the trajectory from quietness to histrionics more interesting, like the different movements of mood within a real person within two days’ time. To a pastor, she talks about her daughter Wendy’s (Christina Ricci) freedom with such adult control. Her performance has many great moments, like the what-the-eff moment when she smells a different ‘aftershave’ from Elena’s husband Ben (Kevin Kline) as she tries hard to calm herself and the absolute fury as she throws her husband’s car keys to Allison Janney, vindictively including themselves to a ‘key party’ – look it up, kids. This movie reintroduced and made me love someone revered as ‘the greatest American actress after Meryl.’
Johnny Depp, Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, 2000)
When you start talking about a film, writing ‘Remember when Johnny Depp was still good?’ It’s totally ok to do that. Anyway, Depp, obviously a superstar by the early 90’s, in this film is given not one but two supporting roles as Bon Bon and Lieutenant Victor, and arguably Victor is two roles in itself, the compassionate stud of Reinaldo Arenas’ (Javier Bardem) fantasy and the homophobic oppressor in the film’s reality. The two bit parts are symbolic of the opinion of homosexuality in Cuba – either as a counter-revolutionary sore or an underground movement to be preserved. Depp uses subservience and camp, and embracing his characters as mirror images of the conflict within Arenas himself as well as the latter’s conflicts against authority. I also couldn’t recognize who Bon Bon was until I took a good look at her for 13 seconds, a feat in itself for an actor who’s in costume for more than half his career.
Christian Bale , Laurel Canyon (Lisa Cholodenko, 2002)
I’m probably the only monstrous human beings who see flaws within Christian Bale’s acting, the way he gets angry and yells like a hound and all. He does that here in this movie too, mind you. It’s refreshing nonetheless, that he spends 99% of the film being his most ordinary. That, however, doesn’t mean he’s not interesting as we watch him effortlessly confess his desires to make love to his coworker/extramarital love interest with sadness and other emotions and nuances I can’t put into words. He approaches lust and therefore sin with such gentleness and no violence, creating a character contemplating the sorrow of limitations. One of the film’s plots cover his character temporarily staying with his music producer of a mother (Frances McDormand) and her rocker boyfriend-of-the-year (Alessandro Nivola), giving us the impression that he’s always had to be the adult in whatever household he’s in, and it consistently shows.
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Micthell, 2010)
I’ve already talked about how Nicole Kidman as Becca Corbett does everything in this film except dance and stab. I also remember about her performance is that she could have brought down her character’s meanness, and in a way she does. What she offers is a defence mechanism and even a wry intelligence to the conventional ways of sorrow, and instead her Becca is looking for an alternative, learning how to suffer and cope on her own, allowing herself to feel other emotions to heal. Like when she goes back to Manhattan and try to get her job back at Sotheby’s, even if we just see her we sense how big she feels with the city and with the happiness she’s had and missed. Or allowing herself to be close to Jason Willette (Miles Teller), treating him so close like a son or nephew, letting us feel the waters she’s treading.
I’ve seen the infamously hilarious water-bed scene in Edward Scissorhands in the 90’s, the rest of the film is just waiting. A decade later, the Box is showing Burton films. Yay!
Scissorhands. Willing suspension of disbelief. Opposites. Those two themes merging together. An old woman starts a fable about the origins of snow with Peg ‘Avon’ Boggs (Dianne Wiest), who gets turned away by all the housewives in her pastel painted 1950’s neighborhood. Remember when Burton films contained the vernacular? She turns to another house to for a prospective client, and I’m thinking, why would any real estate whatchamacallit build a suburban development at the foot of a haunted Gothic mansion? Not a hater here. I’m not sure how aware Burton and his team were of how implausible this is but Bo Welch’s set direction makes the juxtaposition of the old and the new jarring and noticeable.
Of course Burton makes sure that Peg’s just as weird as Edward (Johnny Depp), telling him that she can give him astringent for his scars. Now, we’re looking for Edward’s double, and Peg at this stage of the story is a decent candidate because she’s just as much of an outsider as he is, and inviting Edward home will highlight the tensions between her and the neighborhood. The rest of the film are comprised of either Edward being looked at or looking, but it’s more interesting is when both the observer and the subject are closer.
The rest of the film is the neighbors fawning over Edward and his talents that the audience knows and waits for him to do something and for the neighborhood to hate him, the characters thus bowing to the oldest story in the book. Instead of montage-y progression from love to hate, Burton lets Edward interact with the family and with the housewives, showing us humanity before and during hard times.
Let’s go back earlier where the camera moves through a miniature version of the neighborhood – I like it too, kids, don’t accuse me of snarking – at night, covered in snow to eventually show the mansion. Here the difference between the two areas are less striking. Edward has created something to remind himself and beloved Kim (Winona Ryder) that the two worlds can look the same, even if those two worlds, or the two of them, can’t be together.
Today is probably the last day to catch Edward Scissorhands at the Box at 4:15, 6:50 and 9:30.
Cut it, Javi. You’ve had bad hair for a role before.
Before Night Falls is playing at the Cinematheque at 9:30 tonight. Come because I probably on vacation and can’t.