Thursday, June 26, 2014

22 Jump Street

Release Date: Jun 13, 2014
Runtime: 1 hr. 49 min. 
Director: Christopher Miller, Phil Lord 
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare, Nick Offerman.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it...or just do it again. That's the mentality, at least, in "22 Jump Street," the obligatory sequel to the big screen adaptation. Following the events of the first film, Jenko and Schmidt are back, this time infiltrating perps with a higher education. But if you've seen it before, you'll see it again, as "22" is not much different than being "21." Once again their friendship gets tested in more ways than none, with popularity and insecurities hanging feebly in the balance. And the plot, furthermore, is identically transcribed – same objective, same results in a slightly varied setting. That's not to say the sequel lacks in total creativity, as tongue-in-cheek humor still runs deftly through its veins. Nick Offerman returns effectively to reinstate the rules, acknowledging the obvious follow-up and bigger budget production. It's a clever gibe, if anything, to staving off a replica but not enough to even out the punchlines. Fortunately, Tatum and Hill are as solid as ever in their tag-team efforts of comic delivery. Their repartee is essential to manning this vehicle, which is further boosted by Ice Cube's rampant swearing. At any rate, though it may not be Lord and Miller's most original work to date, "22 Jump Street" gets kudos for somewhat staying consistent. If the hilarious end credits are a signifier of anything, there are limitless routes still left to explore.

Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Release Date: Jun 13, 2014
Runtime: 1 hr. 45 min. 
Director: Dean DeBlois 
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller, Djimon Hounsou, Cate Blanchett.

Over the years, DreamWorks has had its fair share of animated achievements, from a wise-cracking ogre to a masterful panda. But perhaps the most poignant of the group was a boy and his dragon, a heartfelt coming-of-age tale set in the world of Vikings. Now four years later, we return to the land called Berk, where the sky claims the backdrop for the next hightailing adventure. In "How to Train Your Dragon 2," the story broadens to new heights, highlighting the aerial versatility of soaring with dragons. It's a breathtaking experience that underscores the animation, while augmenting the personalities of each of the characters. Hiccup, voiced by Baruchel, is noticeably matured, alongside his faithful companion Toothless, the incomparable Night Fury. Beyond just friendship, their journey together has proven to be special, paralleling their progression, both, emotionally and physically. In a same way, the music by John Powell has beautifully evolved to accompany each spectacle and gamut of emotions. Funny and intelligent, some of the notable scenes happen inconspicuously, recessed in the background in lieu of what's happening in the foreground. As sequels usually go, it's hard to improve upon the first, but Deblois does a terrific job of crafting a memorable film. Touting an exceptional storyline and a charming array of characters, it's easy to see that "How to Train 2" is DreamWorks at its best. With another installment set for 2016, the expectations will be even higher the third time around.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Release Date: Jun 27, 2014 
Director: Bong Joon-Ho 
Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kang-Ho, Go Ah-Sung, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer

Since the year 2014, Earth has entered a perpetual ice age, leaving its last inhabitants confined aboard a moving bullet train. This is the "Snowpiercer," the last salvation of man, where class systems hinge on the cusp of revolution. Helmed by Bong Joon-Ho, the acclaimed director of "The Host," comes another visionary examination of human survival. Acting as an adaptation of the French graphic novel, "Le Transperceneige," the film is richly nestled in a post-apocalyptic world. The story begins at the apex of an imminent uprising, as it follows the coalition of the 'tail end' led by Chris Evans. Constrained by narrow passageways and darkly shadowed spaces, Bong moves with precision in establishing an inhospitable environment. Each scene is handsomely crafted with minimalistic flair, as it gradually transforms with every step of the train. The contrasts between the rich and the poor are startlingly accentuated, through depths of colors and shifts of light. On the contrary, the plot itself is not as artfully developed, as back stories are limited or mostly forgotten. This prevents an empathetic link to any of the survivors, leaving a wayward feeling of loss and incompletion. Still, a touch of humanity exists through spoken language barriers, as Kang-Ho and Evans struggle to work together. "Snowpiercer" is anything but a standard sci-fi feature, as it deals with the morals, repercussions, and politics behind human nature. While it has its flaws, the film is a reasonable take on the future, though hopefully not as bleak or entirely frigid.

Rating: 3½ stars

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Release Date: Jun 06, 2014
Runtime: 1 hr. 53 min.
Director: Doug Liman 
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson.

In a torrent of sequels and reboots, it's an oddity to find a standalone worth keenly pursuing, coupled with a Tom Cruise actioner that is different and inventive. But "Edge of Tomorrow" is an exhilarating joyride, and a bigger surprise than ever anticipated. Based on the Japanese light novel, "All You Need Is Kill," the story revolves around a war between the humans and an alien species called 'Mimics.' Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage, a timid, military spokesperson forced to partake in the invasion. After he dies quickly in his first bout of battle, he inexplicably reawakens the day before, again...and again. It's a concept reminiscent of countless movies past, with repeated calamities resulting in varying outcomes. But whereas repetition can typically be an undermining factor, Liman creates a sharp sci-fi thriller that's thoroughly engaging. Cruise gets credit for evolving his character, from being cowardly to fearless, as we've all come to know him. Each 'reset' is unique in its ramifications, oftentimes humorous and abrupt to offset the rhythm. The fast-paced nature is the strength of the film, as it reloads and maneuvers from one take to another. Emily Blunt gives a bad-ass performance in her first action role as the 'Angel of Verdun.' Her camaraderie with Cruise is enjoyable to watch, as they strategize against an enemy who seems impossible to defeat. Unfortunately, the ending falls short of a consummate win, neither effective nor impulsive as it could have been. But that set aside, "Edge of Tomorrow" is hands-down one of the most gratifying films of the summer, and exactly what makes Tom Cruise a bona fide action star.

Rating: 4 stars