We review this week’s new cinema releases, including 22 JUMP STREET and CHEAP THRILLS…
22 JUMP STREET (USA/15A/112mins)
Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Ice Cub, Peter Stormare, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Nick Offerman, The Lucas Brothers, Wyatt Russell, Jimmy Tatro.
THE PLOT: Our unlikely dynamic duo are going undercover once again, this time at a college where the latest drug sweeping the nation – WHYPHY (standing for Work Hard, Yes! Party Hard, Yes!) – seems to be stemming from. Pretending to be brothers, the dweebish Schmidt (Hill) and natural born quarterback Jenko (Tatum) soon realise why their sibling status raises eyebrows and chuckles. They are two very different guys, and being at college – where Jenko soon falls in with the football team and Schmidt in love with the bookish beauty Maya (Stevens) – the partners find they have less and less in common. Leading to the crushing realisation that it may be time for each of them to investigate other people…
THE VERDICT: Hill (who once again writes the script here with Michael Bacall, amongst others) and Tatum spend quite a bit of this knockabout, Animal House-esque sequel mocking the very notion of trying to repeat success. Having bagged the bad guys at the end of 2012’s surprise box-office hit adaptation of an old, largely-forgotten American sitcom (a sitcom famous largely because teen idol Johnny Depp bailed early to become a character actor), their yin-and-yang cop duo’s unit are giving a major financial boost. Tatum’s Jenko greets the idea of twice the money meaning twice the profits with the quip, “Yeah, like that’s going to happen”.
Well, there’s little doubt that 22 Jump Street will have a very healthy opening weekend, given the genuine affection held for that original outing, but it’s unlikely to generate quite the same amount of affection and laughs. Not that Hill, Tatum and the rest of the panto-happy cast don’t try to have some fun here, with character and plot twists that would make Scooby-Doo groan – it’s just that, well, the slapstick doesn’t always stick. The underlining story of a bromance going sour, as each begin to believe that the person who lifted them up is now dragging them down, is a smart move, but it never quite delivers the emotional pay-offs here.
Review by Paul Byrne
GRACE OF MONACO (France | USA | Belgium | Italy/PG/103mins)
Directed by Olivier Dahan. Starring Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langhella, Parker Posey
THE PLOT: Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) seems to have settled into her new life as Princess of Monaco, but when Alfred Hitchcock comes knocking at the palace doors with a new script, Grace has to decide where her loyalties lie. As she struggles with her choice, her husband Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) struggles with the French government.
THE VERDICT: Nicole Kidman is as breathy, breathless and vapid as you have heard. There was a time when she was an actress with range and strength, but all of this seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years, leaving her version of the iconic Grace Kelly bland and weak. Tim Roth does not fare much better as the constantly smoking Prince Rainier and Parker Posey is completely underused as Madge Tivey-Faucon, the head of the palace staff. Derek Jacobi, Frank Langhella and Roger Ashton-Griffiths turn up in the film as the three men who Grace turns to for help and advice.
There is little doubt that Grace Kelly led a fascinating life, but the decision to focus on this particular period in her life is perplexing to say the least. Screenwriter Arash Amel not only makes some questionable choices in terms of dialogue and locations, but the decision to have Grace go through a My Fair Lady type process to be found fit to be Princess is derivative and dull. In fact, dull is the best word to describe the entire screenplay.
As director, Olivier Dahan seems intent on making the film pretty but uninteresting Kidman’s breathy delivery soon begins to grate, and there are some scenes that are so painfully embarrassing to watch it is unclear how they ended up in the finished film. Monaco looks good though, and Kidman gets to wear some pretty dresses.
GRACE OF MONACO is rather akin to a decorative towel; pretty to look at but utterly useless. Kidman relies on her ticks and quirks to convey character, and fails, and the rest of the cast are either badly miscast or horribly underused. That said, the film is rather pretty to look at, so it’s not all bad… Just most of it.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE DIRTIES (Canada/16/103mins)
Directed by Matt Johnson. Starring Matt Johnson, Owen Williams
THE PLOT: Matt (Matt Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are high school friends who are shooting a film about the group that bully them at school, and generally make their lives difficult. While the film starts off as a comedy – hugely influenced by films that the two like – when a teacher pours cold water on the violent elements of the film and their reality, Matt decides that to make the film more realistic, they must seek revenge on The Dirties once and for all.
THE VERDICT: Championed by Kevin Smith, THE DIRTIES is a look at the world of high school bullying, told through the eyes of the victims. Using the device that Matt and Owen are filming their own movie allows the audience to be drawn into their world and see the switch in ideas and attitudes that happens between two friends.
Matt Johnson plays Matt, the more gung ho of the two friends. Right from the off it is obvious that Matt is a character highly influenced by cult movies and the high school shootings that have gone before. As time goes on, and Matt wonders about his state of mind, it is clear that this is a young man who has never really had an opinion that was not informed by or designed to be part of a movie. Matt hides behind movie quotes, even among his friends, so as not to appear vulnerable.
Owen Williams, as Owen, is the more ‘reasonable’ of the pair; he is influenced by his more vociferous friend, but as soon as he realises that Matt’s ideas are not just fantasy, he backs away from the project, trying to be more like a ‘normal’ high school student and focusing on girls.
THE DIRTIES is often remarkably funny as a film, but the vein of tragedy that runs through the film runs deep. It is obvious that these two characters can never see the pain and torment they are suffering coming to an end, and their idea for revenge – and to make their movie more ‘real’ – is one that is not only terrifying, but seemingly an easy next step for the pair. The film examines the nature of bullying, and the affect this has on the victims; in this case, turning the victims into more violent and dangerous bullies than those that picked on them in the first place.
THE DIRTIES is a well crafted story about victimhood and revenge, and the final shot is not only disturbing, but darkly upsetting. Matt Johnson has made an acutely observed film about the nature of adolescence and the importance of finding your own identity, as well as bullying and victimhood. While it is a strong piece of work, THE DIRTIES is also often uncomfortable and unsettling.
Review by Brogen Hayes
CHEAP THRILLS (USA/16/88mins)
Directed by E.L. Katz. Starring David Koechner, Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton
THE PLOT: After he loses his job, Craig (Pat Healy) goes for a drink before he goes home to face his wife. While at the bar, Craig runs into an old friend, Vince (Ethan Embry) who strikes up conversation with a scheming couple, who decide to pit the men against one another in a dangerous daredevil game.
THE VERDICT: CHEAP THRILLS feels incredibly familiar; the idea of pitting people against one another for money in a high stakes game of dares has been touched on many times, not least in Four Rooms and the Tales of the Unexpected story, Man From The South. In Cheap Thrills, however, the dares become increasingly disturbing, meaning the film is not one for the faint hearted.
Pat Healy does fine as Craig, a struggling family man who loses his job. Over the course of the film we see the character become more and more determined and desperate, as the financial situation he is in becomes increasingly clear to him. Ethan Embry seems to go on the opposite journey as Vince; he has no real motivation for wanting money, other than greed, and his bravado soon wears off, leaving him to claim that the bets are unfair. David Koechner plays a character as large as his most famous role – Champ Kind in the Anchorman franchise – but there is an element of sadism wrapped up in his playful persona. Sara Paxton makes Violet a detached woman, who seems to be content in observing destruction from the sidelines.
The story, written by Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo is actually rather simple; two men are pitted against one another for money, but it is in the character progression that the greatness of the story lies. We see Craig become increasingly unfeeling, Vince descend into panic and it becomes increasingly clear that Violet has more of a hand in proceedings than one might think at first. The dares become increasingly disturbing, and there are many stomach churning scenes where the ante is well and truly upped. This is not just violence however, it is the knowledge that Vince and Craig are allowing themselves to be destroyed by two rich, bored and sadistic people.
First time director E.L. Katz focuses more on relationships than the grotesque, which in turn allows the grotesque to be seen for what it truly is. The director shows that he is more than capable of allowing characters to shine, and allows tension and power to ebb and flow through the group.
CHEAP THRILLS is, at times, incredibly disgusting and graphic, but it is also a fascinating study of character and allows the audience to wonder what they would do if they were placed in the same situation. That said, the film is not for those with a weak stomach, as many of the dares are truly sickening.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FRUITVALE STATION (USA/15A/85mins)
Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
THE PLOT: On New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant II (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) are on the way home from celebrating the arrival of the New Year. While on a BART train, an altercation breaks out and, when the police arrive, Oscar ends up being shot. Fruitvale Station takes a look back at the final day in the life of a young man whose death sparked riots around the Bay Area.
THE VERDICT: Director Ryan Coogler was a film student at the time of Oscar Grant’s death, and it is clear that he was hugely affected by the death of this young man, and the fact that people on the train caught the shooting on camera. Showing this real footage at the start of the film is an interesting choice, as it establishes, then breaks the idea that FRUITVALE STATION is a documentary, and tells the audience how the film will eventually end up.
Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar as a flawed man who is trying to make his previous bad decisions right. He allows the audience to empathise with Oscar, by making him a real and rounded character. The same goes for Melonie Diaz as Oscar’s girlfriend Sophina, while Hollywood heavyweight Octavia Spencer brings some depth and weight to the proceedings.
The film follows Jordan as Oscar Grant, during the 24 hours before he is killed. Through Coogler’s script, it emerges that Grant is a young man who has made mistakes and is obviously at a turning point in his life. The trouble is that Oscar doesn’t do many remarkable things during this day; other than save a dog from traffic and throw away a considerable amount of marijuana. The rest of the day is filled with things like talking to his sister on the phone and planning a birthday party for his Mum. This gives us an insight into the man’s life, but since we already know the end to the story, it is often difficult to understand why we are watching the life of a doomed man.
Coogler’s direction often feels more like a reconstruction than a narrative film, and the question arises as to whether FRUITVALE STATION may have been better as a documentary. Those of us unfamiliar with the shooting and its aftermath could well find themselves strangely unaffected by a death that is foreshadowed in the opening moments of the film.
FRUITVALE STATION is the examination of the death of a young man who did nothing more than resist arrest. While it is obvious that Oscar Grant II’s death was wrongful and unjust, there is a deeper and more interesting story to be told by his friends and family, than this watered down and ultimately toothless narrative film that feels like a reality show gone bad.
Review by Brogen Hayes