Friday, April 20, 2012

"21 Jump Street" Has Some Charm

Three Stars 

“21 Jump Street” is an affectionate satire loosely based on the vintage television police drama and about teenagers in general. This version of “21 Jump Street” plays it for laughs. The film starts in 2005, where Schmidt (Jonah Hill) is a nerdy teenager who gets tongue tied while asking a girl to the prom. He gets laughed at and called a nerd by Jenko (Channing Tatum), who is a jock. Fast forward a few years, and they are both in the police academy. Jenko still isn’t a good student, and barely graduates. Schmidt decides to help him and the two become unlikely friends. The two cops screw up and are quickly reassigned to 21 Jump Street, a division of cops who look young and go undercover in the local high schools. They have to take down a dealer who is supplying the kids with a new kind of drug.

When they arrive at the high school, they are shocked to find teens are not as they remembered. Caring about the environment is cool and comic books are in fashion. Jenko blames the TV show “Glee” and Schmidt observes he went to high school in the wrong era. The humor lies in the fact that the two guys take their assignment overboard. Jenko takes AP chemistry and makes friends with the nerds. Schmidt gets to be in the school play. The captain (Ice Cube) tells them he better not find them supplying alcohol to minors. They throw a party anyway.

Going back to high school gives Schmidt and Jenko an opportunity to relive their high school days. Schmidt becomes a better student. Jenko gets to ask a cute 18 year old girl (Brie Larson) to the prom. They both get to switch their high school roles as Jenko becomes a nerd in AP chemistry and Schmidt gets to go to parties. As they are adults now, they can look at high school without being immature about it. When Jenko overhears Schmidt ask a girl to the prom, he simply is happy for his partner. 

Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who are known for directing the animated kid’s picture, “Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs,” they play the idea of cops going undercover as teenagers for laughs. Members of the original cast make cameos, including Johnny Depp.  The film has the mandatory car chase scenes and sight gags.  “21 Jump Street” is a sweeter film then I expected it to be because it plays to the idea of these undercover cops being friends, and the idea that if you get tongue tied when asking the girl to the prom the first time you’re a high school student, maybe you can ask a girl the second time around. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have good chemistry. The script, co-written by Hill, generally has a lot of fun with the premise and is affectionate about the old TV show. That makes the film all the more likable.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Professors Battle It Out in "Footnote"

Four Stars

You know, if I wasn’t a film critic, I might be a professor. I know a lot about literature, as well as film. I can go to grad school and become a doctor of literature. I can see professors trying to top each other. You know, who has more degrees? It’s like in “The Big Bang Theory”, where they pile on Howard for not having a doctorate like the rest of his professor friends. I can see some truth in that. In the comedy/drama, “Footnote”, the Israeli film that was the nominee for best foreign picture at the Oscars this year, it's about a father and son who both happen to be professors. Through the use of some creative graphics, we learn about them both. Eliezer (Shlomo Bra-Aba) is a bitter old man, who had been passed up for the Israel Prize, a prize given to scholars, time and time again. He’s clearly a man who can’t look at the big picture. The fact he has a successful son who followed in his footsteps and a marriage that has lasted, he doesn’t seem to care about. All he cares about is the fact that his research is the best, and he is better than everyone. That includes his son, Uriel (Lior Ashenazi). Uriel isn’t a bad guy. He has his own wife and kids. However, he seems to lack backbone, and doesn’t confront people well including his work obsessed father. The trouble starts when Eliezer is told he will get the Israel prize. This is a confirmation of his life’s work. However, Uriel is soon informed that there was a mix up. He is supposed to get the prize. Not his father.
 Instead of using this as revenge against his jerk of a dad, he decides that he will give up his award for his father. That’s a good son, if I ever heard of one. All this leads to ethical dilemmas, and the writer/ director Joseph Cedar does an excellent job of showing this. They clash, often. However, these two professors are steeped deep in their research as they try to dissect the Talmud. The Talmud is a Jewish text, and many scholars have tried to make sense of it. Eliezer has spent his entire career trying to make sense of it. We see many scenes in this film of rooms with books; close up of pages and piles of papers. I can think of when I was in college, and I would go to the professor’s office to discuss the ‘C’ on the paper I handed in and being interested in the books on their shelves and the papers piled on their desk. This film gives a really good feel of professor’s life.
 I suppose this may sound boring to a mass audience. Who wants to see two professors fight over who is going to win an award for research concerning a really old piece of text? However, this isn’t about a fight. This is about a son who tries to do the right thing for his father, and really gets nothing in return. Again, who wants to see that?  That being said, this film is about relationships (something I needed after sitting through “The Hunger Games”). It’s about relationships between father and son, relationships between work and personal life and the relationship between researchers. The music is also very good throughout his movie, and sets the mood.
 However, the film does come down on the side of how the relationship with your son is more important than you’re most important work, and when the end of the film comes, I think Eliezer starts to realize that. All you have to do is look at the expression on his face. I liked this film because it shows that when people are really wrapped up in their work, it can overtake another important aspect of their life. That important aspect is the personal part of your life. Eliezer is so wrapped up in being the smartest and the best; it’s at the expense of his son. Uriel talks about what a great teacher Eliezer is, but its Eliezer who needs to be taught something that you can’t find in a textbook.