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Entries in Jonah Hill (11)

Friday
Jul272012

The Watch

The idea of a comedy centered on a neighborhood watch group isn’t a bad one. Some wild and unpredictable things can happen in a small town on a quiet night, but a premise alone is not enough to sustain a film. Despite a mostly likable cast of actors, this week’s newest film, The Watch, is hopelessly unfunny. It struggles to gain even the slightest bit of momentum, a strange problem in a movie that amps up the unpredictability by throwing invading aliens hell bent on destroying Earth into the mix. The film is only 98 minutes long, but it feels at least double that. It’s a waste of time and talent, both in front of and behind the camera (at least in terms of writing) and it’s sure to be one of the lamest and flattest comedies of the year.

Evan (Ben Stiller) is a nice guy. He’s active in his community and forms a number of groups to better it. He’s also the general manager of the local Costco, a job not many people would find fulfilling, but one that he adores with all his heart. He’s ever the optimist and loves those around him, but one night, his overnight security guard is murdered. Determined to get to the bottom of it, he forms a neighborhood watch with local thrill seekers Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). They quickly discover that the murderer isn’t human, however, and that an alien race has landed on their planet that intends to wipe them out. Despite the danger, the men vow to stop that from happening.

The Watch does some things you expect and some things you don’t, but it does nearly all of them wrong. For example, in the film, Jonah Hill plays a toughened wanna-be cop, one that has no problem eyeing people down and whipping out his switchblade. He charges headfirst into battle unafraid of the consequences. This goes against our created perception of who this person is as an actor, but the problem is Hill can’t pull this type of roll off. He’s at his best when he’s vulnerable, nerdy and outspoken, not acting like he’s tougher than tough. Vaughn, on the other hand, essentially plays himself. He’s still obnoxious, crude and loud (does he really need to yell every line?) and he overpowers everyone else in the film, especially poor Richard Ayoade, who is given hardly a line to speak at all for the first half of the film and is mostly relegated to sitting their prettily while the rest of the cast plays off each other. Vaughn’s shtick has become tiresome, wearing out its welcome sometime around when the credits for Wedding Crashers ended. He hasn’t had a hit (or even a decent movie) in at least six years and there’s a reason for that. The man needs to switch things up a bit.

Vaughn needed to go against typecast and Hill needed to remain the same. This is just one example of the film having the right idea, but then ignoring it and doing the exact opposite. It correctly puts the group into some precarious situations, but it telegraphs them so far in advance that they’re hardly a surprise when they finally roll around. One of these scenes revolves around a new neighbor who acts suspiciously and may or may not be an alien, but his mannerisms are so sexual that what’s really going on in his basement is obvious. The late movie twist is similarly transparent, but it’s not its predictability that’s the problem; it’s that a certain character’s actions and motivations are called into question once it happens. There’s no real reason behind any of what happens. It just coasts along straining for jokes, never really grabbing any, and then it ends.

But it doesn’t end before a giant action scene so reminiscent of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens that I’m a little surprised it didn’t reference it. The only thing that separates this alien action scene from others is where the aliens’ weak spot is (I’ll give you one guess), but such immaturity is not inherently funny. After watching this dreck, you’d be surprised if anyone involved in its making has even heard the word “funny.” I’m so vehemently against this brain killing film that I have no qualms telling you to skip it, though the product placement is so egregious, it probably won’t matter. In what amounts to essentially a cinematic fellation of the wholesale store, Costco could have conceivably covered the film’s entire budget. It will most likely be a success, but nevertheless, comedies like this are not okay. Lazy, dull and stupid only begin to describe it. Most real life neighborhood watches are uneventful and boring, but it’s hard to imagine any are more boring than sitting through The Watch.

The Watch receives 0.5/5

Friday
Mar162012

21 Jump Street

A great comedy is hard to come by. A great film adaptation, be it of a book, graphic novel, video game or television show, is even harder to find. To find one that is both an adaptation and flat out hilarious seems impossible, but this week’s 21 Jump Street reminds us that both are possible. It takes a largely forgotten show from the late 80s/early 90s and reinvigorates it with style. It deviates from the drama of the original show, spicing things up with over-the-top humor and action cliché spoofing. Much like Bridesmaids last year, it probably won’t make many definitive December awards lists, but it should go down as one of funniest genre exercises of the year.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) used to be a nerd. He dressed like Eminem (complete with dyed bleach blonde hair), wore braces and had no chance of getting the pretty girl in high school. Jock and fellow schoolmate, Jenko (Channing Tatum) was the exact opposite. He was a popular, good looking sports star that was loved by the ladies. Flash forward a few years and they’re both trying to become cops in the Metropolitan City Police Department. Schmidt isn’t the athletic type and Jenko isn’t brainy, so the two join forces to help each other in their weaker departments. After graduating, they become best friends and are assigned to the Jump Street division, where they go undercover posing as high school kids to find whoever is supplying a new synthetic drug called HFS before it spreads to other areas.

This new film adaptation may not sound like a funny movie, but it most certainly is. Laughs come flying from every direction in 21 Jump Street, with only the occasional lull to bring it down. It’s a buddy cop comedy, action film, parody and self-parody all in one. It specifically makes jokes at the expense of its own existence, commenting on how Hollywood is recycling old ideas hoping no one notices. It embraces old action stereotypes only to mercilessly skewer them moments later, like a late movie bit regarding explosions. For all its zaniness, the writing is sharp, a pitch perfect parody of police procedurals, undercover investigations, and typical teenage behavior. The kids in this movie, for instance, are environmentally aware and study during their free time. The normal pyramid of popularity is flipped upside down, the athletes seen as conformists and the nerds as technical and scientific wizards, able to work together with Jenko as he employs them to tap suspected drug runner Eric’s (Dave Franco) phone.

21 Jump Street is good, smart, vulgar fun. It has more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory (including Bridesmaids). Much of that is due to the pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the latter of which has done so little in his career to impress, it would be easy to write him off here as a poor casting decision, but Tatum is spot on. His action movies may be bland and his parts as a romantic lead unconvincing, but his comedic timing is near perfect. Who knew? The only faults that come with his character are purely of the screenwriting variety, which forces him to develop a feeling of jealousy towards Schmidt for now becoming the popular one while he’s seen as the nerd, a status he’s certainly not used to. When he overhears Schmidt talking down about him, presumably for the purpose of the case, his feelings are hurt, a ridiculous and meaningless narrative progression. These dramatics don’t work and serve only to distract from what is otherwise a very funny movie.

A couple other problems drag 21 Jump Street down as well, including an awkward romance that blossoms between Schmidt and high school student, Molly (Brie Larson). Although it doesn’t go too far (at least not until the very end of the film), he’s a cop and she’s likely underage. It’s uncomfortable and unnecessary, but it’s a small oversight in an otherwise hilarious movie. Fans of the original show have every right to be skeptical of the film’s new comedic direction, but this is one of those few times where those skepticisms can be put to rest with relative ease. It’s not the most faithful adaptation in the world, but 21 Jump Street simply works.

21 Jump Street receives 4/5

Friday
Sep232011

Moneyball

A couple weeks ago, we were treated to Warrior, a sports drama that broke the mold of a typical sports drama and became something more. Hot on its heels is this week’s Moneyball, a movie that, similarly, hopes to break new ground in the genre by focusing more on what goes on behind the scenes rather than on the field. It’s written by Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter of last year’s best picture, The Social Network, directed by Bennett Miller, director of Capote, framed by Wally Pfister, cinematographer of The Dark Knight, and it features a terrific cast of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Its resume is second to none and although it’s a technically sound film, it nevertheless tells an inconsequential story, one that will likely have people asking when it’s over: that’s it?

Moneyball tells the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager for the Oakland Athletics, when he attempted to wrangle up a championship team despite a tiny budget during the 2002 baseball season. To do so, he enlisted the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an Ivy League graduate who explained to him that the owners of Major League Baseball teams are trying to buy players when they should be buying wins. He believes there are undervalued players out there that are overlooked because of trivial matters like body type or play style. He thinks, despite a lack of money, they can find 25 men worthy of calling themselves a ball club.

Moneyball can be viewed a number of different ways, though none of them are particularly interesting. One way can be as a traditional sports story about defying expectations—after all, this ragtag group of players ended up setting the record for most consecutive wins in a single season—but defying expectations meant making it to the playoffs, where the team lost in the first round, making a movie adaptation about them questionable. Another way would be as a story about a man who changed the way the game was played, or, more specifically, how managers recruited players, but that’s a tidbit that is interesting as a footnote in a sports book, not as a full length feature film. You could also see it as a film about a man overcoming his emotional struggles, but even that proves to be uninteresting because his struggle stems solely from baseball. They don’t come from a meaningful outside factor like in the aforementioned Warrior; they come from not winning games, which is hardly a struggle at all.

The best sports dramas aren’t about the sport, they’re about something else. Remember the Titans, for example, was about a social divide brought on from racism. The Express similarly dealt with race relations, chronicling the story of the first African American Heisman Trophy winner, an accomplishment that meant more than the sport itself. Moneyball is simply about baseball, that’s it. While not necessarily a bad thing, its insignificance can’t help but show through when compared to other films in the genre.

There needed to be a reason to care about Billy and his team, but none is ever presented. He’s a divorcé, a situation ripe for emotional turmoil, but only one scene exists between him and his ex-wife and, as far as the viewer can tell, their post-marriage relationship is fine. He too has a good relationship with his daughter, shown through scenes that prove to be the only gripping moments away from baseball. In his family life, nothing seems to be eating away at him. The film tries to create a connection between his desperate need for success by tying it in with flashbacks from his failed professional career, seemingly wanting to make up for the fact that he never lived up to expectations as a player, but again, it’s not fleshed out enough and the connection gradually diminishes until there’s nothing left.

Moneyball is a baseball lover’s movie. If you don’t know what an RBI is or are uninterested in the player trading process or don’t care about the likelihood of a player getting a hit based on the pitches he swings at, this movie may not be for you. Because the process used to recruit the players is based on an old algorithm, there is a lot of statistical talk, which many will find dry and boring. I played baseball as a kid and watch it today, so I found it somewhat interesting, but these talks are as deep as this movie gets, which is a problem considering its pretentiousness in thinking it is so much more. It’s still worth seeing because of the great performances, top notch cinematography and gripping dialogue, but it’s simply too shallow to make an impression.

Moneyball receives 2.5/5

Friday
Nov052010

Megamind

DreamWorks Animation is one of the most hit-and-miss production studios in Hollywood. When you sit down for one of their movies, you never know whether you’re going to get garbage or quality. Sometimes you’ll get a fun, funny, smart adventure like Shrek or Monsters vs. Aliens and other times you’ll get a vapid, deadening nothing of a film like Bee Movie or Madagascar. Their last effort, How to Train Your Dragon, was more like the former. It was their best and most mature film to date and it had many critics believing that Pixar now had some serious competition in DreamWorks. Those critics may be changing their tune after Megamind.

The movie begins as an homage to (or a rip-off of—I can’t decide which) Superman: The Movie. Megamind’s (Will Ferrell) planet is crumbling and his parents have decided to blast him off towards Earth before they all perish. However, a family on a neighboring planet has done the same thing with their child, a kid who will grow up to be known as Metro Man (Brad Pitt). To Megamind, it seemed like he was always destined for evil. Whereas Metro Man landed at the front steps of a wealthy, classy family, he landed in the middle of the Metro City jail and learned how to be bad. Now he has a rivalry with Metro Man and is determined to defeat him no matter what.

Megamind is a more comedic version of Superman in animated form. It makes no effort to hide the fact that it’s borrowing liberally from that storied franchise, complete with the beautiful Lois Lane like reporter named Roxanne (Tina Fey), who has been kidnapped by Megamind more times than she can count. They even make Metro Man a Christ-like figure, a comparison made subtly in Superman, but harshly brought forward here by giving him the ability to walk on water.

Oddly enough, this is the stuff that works best. The spoof aspect of superhero tropes and traditions is well thought out and quite funny. The knowing references to the witty banter that occurs between a hero and his arch-nemesis during battle are clever, but there’s simply not enough of it.

What the rest of the film resorts to are worn down slapstick gags and idiotic one-liners that I imagine will appeal mostly to the younger ones in the audience. The voice talent is wasted with this silly material and they do little to make the experience worthwhile, with the exception of one particularly funny bit where Will Ferrell mimics Marlon Brando. The rest of the time, he’s mispronouncing words for no apparent reason and raising his voice so we are aware that it is indeed him.

In fact, the funniest parts of the movie are the sight gags, like an Obama-esque poster of Megamind as he rules over the city that says “No You Can’t” and a quick nod towards the original Donkey Kong game, which is a testament to the talented animators at DreamWorks. The problem with this movie is not the animation. It’s the lack of creativity and bland writing. That was the case for many of DreamWorks Animation's previous movies. Such is the case with Megamind.

Compared to How to Train Your Dragon or pretty much any Pixar movie, Megamind is weak. Whereas those movies reached out to the adults, this one is for the kids. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how few choices there are for children at the movies these days, it’s also what keeps it from reaching its full potential. The basic messages about good and evil and learning from your mistakes are noble, but they offer nothing adults don’t already know. Although I don’t judge movies on whether or not they’ll work for their intended audience, I suspect Megamind will, but it didn’t for me.

Megamind receives 1.5/5

Friday
Jun252010

Cyrus

Film is ever changing. There’s no doubt about that. If it’s not Avatar leading the 3D movement, it’s something else shaping how we make and view movies. Cyrus is the latest example of what some would call a “mumblecore” film, a relatively new genre that employs a low budget, no name actors and improvised scripts. Other examples include Baghead and last year’s overrated Humpday, both of which, coincidentally, the director of this film was involved in. Starring in the latter and directing the former, Mark Duplass has once again stepped behind the camera with his brother Jay Duplass and churned out another awkward, misguided, unfunny movie.

John C. Reilly plays John, a lonely, desperate man who has been divorced from his wife Jamie, played by Catherine Keener, for seven years. Despite this, they remain friends and she acts as his confidante. One night, she pressures him into heading out to a party with her where he meets a host of women, none of whom seem very interested. That is until he meets Molly, played by Marisa Tomei. He instantly falls for her, but soon finds out that she has a 21 year old son still living with her. His name is Cyrus, played by Jonah Hill, and although he acts courteous, John suspects Cyrus may not want him in their home.

The pairing of John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei is the most unbelievable hookup since Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, and I say that not only because their physical appearances are on two different plains, but because I can’t see any woman finding a shred of affection for Reilly’s character. They first bump into each other as he’s urinating in the bushes outside, stumbling over his words in a drunken stupor and instead of taking interest in her, he rushes inside when he hears his favorite song playing and makes an idiot of himself. Next thing you know, they’re in bed together post-sex. Nothing about the set-up came close to resembling any type of reality because if women were attracted to drunken men acting like morons, I’d have prospects lining up around the block.

So it’s a stretch. I suppose that’s ok. The bulk of the movie is spent with Cyrus and as long as that worked, it would be easy to look past the weak opening. But it doesn’t. The reason is that the titular character is handled so haphazardly you never truly get a feel for what he’s thinking. He clearly resents John for infiltrating his household and threatening to tear his mother away from him and he uses humiliation tactics to prove his point, but there’s an odd sexual tension bubbling underneath. Is he upset because he’s losing his mother or because he can’t, as he puts it, love her the way John can?

It’s worrisome to say the least, but his quirks don’t end there. At times, Cyrus is voyeuristic and watches John and his mother as they walk through the door and make their way to the couch about to partake in some sexual activity. At others, he seems to have homicidal tendencies, appearing behind John at night with a knife and a cold blank stare. There’s something unsettling about Cyrus, deliberate or not, that keeps this movie from leaving the ground.

But then out of nowhere it reverses tones and concludes on an upbeat, happy-go-lucky sequence where the previous tension and hatred dissolves faster than an antacid in water, which didn't fit the sometimes dark and uncomfortable hour and 20 minutes preceding it.

Cyrus simply isn’t very good narratively, but it fails from a technical standpoint as well. It's shot like an amateur home video, full of camera zooms and intentional poor framing, which worked against its intended purpose. Instead of drawing me in through what the directors hoped was a more realistic documentary-esque feel, it became a distraction and pushed me away.

That those are only the beginning of my criticisms shows how hackneyed this poor excuse for a film is. Although categorized by some as “mumblecore,” I would argue it contradicts too many of that genre’s defining features to be considered such. But you can call it what you want. Cyrus is a mess either way.

Cyrus receives 1.5/5