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NOVEMBER 18TH, 2014

22 JUMP STREET // Remember that kid who got picked on in middle school? (I do, because I was one.) Now, remember how eventually they just owned the names that they were being called until it was no longer enjoyable for the other kids to make fun of them? Well, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord took a page out of that kid’s book by making their latest comedy “22 Jump Street” critic-proof. Making good on Ice Cube’s promise made at the end of “21 Jump Street,” Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) head to college in this latest installment. A new drug called WhyPhy (pronounced “wifi”) has lead to a death on campus and if you think this sounds reminiscent of the original premise, you are not alone, as every character returning from the original film makes this painfully clear. The directors are unabashed in poking fun at themselves and the fact that Hollywood loves sequelsl (“don’t they know it’s always worth the second time around”), that these two guys definitely do not belong in college (“you look 45 years old”), and that the premise is being repeated (“find the dealer, find the supplier… it’s exactly like last time”). But in all honesty, it is not exactly like last time.

In “21 Jump Street”, Jenko was the fish out of water, the former high school jock that does not fit in with the new version of popular kids; the eco-friendly nerds to which Schmidt was akin. This time, however, Jenko makes friends with the quarterback of the football team, Zook (Wyatt Russell), and, in the process, drives a wedge between himself and Schmidt, to which both relationships reach levels of almost homoeroticism. Schmidt eventually uses his newfound freedom to hook up with an art major named Maya (Amber Stevens), who later drops a huge comedic bombshell that has to be seen to be believed. Most of your favorite characters are back from the original, with Rob Riggle reprising his role as Mr. Walters, now in jail and without a penis, thanks to the finale of the first film and Nick Offerman back as Deputy Chief Hardy, delivering some of the film’s more meta lines. Some new faces include Peter Stormare offering up his best villain performance as a drug dealer nicknamed The Ghost and Jillian Bell providing one of the comedic highlights of the film as the college antagonist and Maya’s roommate, Mercedes, who tries her best to blow Schmidt’s cover with her pointed observations about his age. The epic fist fight between Mercedes and Schmidt is one for the ages.

Widely successful both times around, “22 Jump Street” can attribute most of its success to the duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who have a chemistry unmatched in recent comedy history. Complete opposites in so many ways, its their ability to commit to the outrageous roles that gives them the edge over previous comedy duos. With an outside-the-box screenplay from Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, “22 Jump Street” is a refreshing sequel that causes one to wonder why writers do not poke fun at Hollywood and themselves more often. Even the end credits sequence displays more creativity than most comedies exhibit in an entire run-time. Unfortunately, making fun of one’s self is probably only bankable for one film, so Miller and Lord will have to reach even further outside the box if they continue down this franchise because unlike the kids on the playground, critics will be relentless.

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IF I STAY // As similar as they are, “If I Stay” and “The Fault In Our Stars” are worlds apart. Of course they are both based of widely popular young adult novels, star two up-and-coming young actresses, and contain some life and death subject matter, but upon a closer look, one of these films rises above the other. “If I Stay” resonated more with me, striking all the right chords. The bar was even set higher for “If I Stay,” coming off the best trailer of the year, which was helped immensely by the song “Say Something” by A Great Big World. Leaving me an emotional wreck following just the trailer, I knew the film itself had a higher hill to climb. However, “If I Stay” accomplishes its goal in evoking strong emotional responses from the audience, while “The Fault In Our Stars” left me the only dry eye in a sea of crying young ladies.

Take this as a spoiler if you will, but the premise of “If I Stay” sees young cellist Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) involved in a car accident with her entire family. Hanging on between death and life, Mia must decide whether to wake herself up and continue her life, or forego the emotional baggage to come and move on to the next life. Whether its family members like her grandfather, played heartbreakingly by Stacy Keach, telling her its all right to let go in the emotional highlight of the film, or whether its her first real love, Adam (Jamie Blackley) and all their memories together keeping Mia from giving up, the decision is obviously not an easy one. And with blow after blow in the hospital, the scale eventually becomes completely unbalanced. Playing up the innocence of her character, Chloe Grace Moretz earns the emotional wherewithal needed for the audience to invest in the heart-wrenching situations. And even though this is based on Gayle Forman’s young adult novel, there is never any telling whether a happy ending can even exist in this vividly captured world.

Matching the popular music soundtrack of “The Fault In Our Stars,” the reason “If I Stay” impacts more is by weaving music into the narrative. Mia is a cellist and Adam is an aspiring rock star and music is more or less their life. That fact alone helps connect with the characters. This also draws out one of the huge flaws with “The Fault In Our Stars” in that the only thing Hazel and Gus are aspiring to be is alive for another day, living with cancer. For me, it was so hard to make a connection with them, being constantly reminded of their cancer, while Mia and Adam’s relationship was left much more open, letting us get to know them without constantly being reminded that Mia is in the throws of death. Also, Chloe and Jamie have so much more chemistry on screen than Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, with Jamie representing a much more relatable Prince Charming character. One would have imagined the film about teens dealing with love and cancer would have beat out the film about a young woman stuck in a sort of purgatory of memories and decisions, but “If I Stay” is across the board the better film. The only thing that would have made it perfect is if it would have actually contained the song “Say Something” that got me so invested in seeing the film in the first place.

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SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR // A decade ago, films like “Sin City” and “300” were revolutionary, delivering cinematic sequences straight from the pages of graphic novels with a style over substance monicker that made them thrilling to watch. Fast-forward ten years and those stylistic choices have been heavily explored, especially by “300” director Zack Snyder, whose films “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch” both pushed some visual boundaries. So when “300: Rise Of An Empire” and “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” were released this year, many people thought, “too little, too late,” as in, unless these films had a comprehensive revamping, displaying not just eye-popping imagery but high-end performances and richer, deeper narratives, who is still going to be anticipating these sequels. And with that, both of those films ended up being slightly watered down versions of their former selves. For the most part, the same creative people were involved, as Snyder executive produced “300: Rise Of An Empire” and Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller both returned to direct “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” and yet nothing new and exciting was produced, proving to be more of a lateral move rather than any forward momentum. There is nothing wrong with lateral moves, especially in the serial sense, but in an industry where audiences are constantly waiting for the bar to be raised, anything that stays the same feels redundant and misguided.

“Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” did benefit from having some extremely talented actors and actresses jump aboard, including Josh Brolin, who took over Clive Owen’s role, Dwight, from the original, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who garners his very own solo story, and, exactly like “300: Rise Of An Empire,” Eva Green graces us with her presence, turning even the worst written lines into a siren song of seduction, as I could watch her in just about anything. Not to mention small standout cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Juno Temple, among others. Beefing up their roles this time around, the returning cast is made up of Rosario Dawnson, whose S&M clad Gail pairs once again with Dwight, Mickey Rourke as Marv, the thick-skulled maniac who weaves his way into everyone’s story, and Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba continue their storyline from the original, this time with Alba taking on the more highlighted role. One has to wonder, however, if this film were made, say, five years ago, if people like Clive Owen or even Michael Clarke Duncan (may he rest in peace) would have reprised their roles rather than being recast. Regardless, the impressive cast in place does nail their exotic roles, fitting into this dark, monotone world quite nicely.

Brimming with fighting and sex, “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” embraces its R-Rating, at least pushing those boundaries by displaying enough nudity and violence to ride the line between blockbuster and pornography. Eva Green is naked more than she is clothed and even Jessica Alba enhances her seductive stage dancing this time around. All of these elements fit wonderfully into the world of noir, where the characters talk to the audience, telling their stories as they puff on their cigarettes or chug their alcohol. Sadly, those stories are no more creative then the last batch. In fact, this time around they are slightly more confusing, with certain deaths and entrances messing with the timeline set in place during the events of “Sin City”. Somehow none of this seems to matter, as “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” feels more like “the next chapter” rather than the complete revamp. Offering just enough new colors in a palate of black and grey to force some entertainment, had Rodriguez and Miller not stepped up their game in any regards, there really would have been zero reason to produce this sequel.

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THE WIND RISES // Marked to be Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, “The Wind Rises” delivers an animated feast of colors beyond any of his previous films including “Spirited Away” (2002) and “Howls Moving Castle” (2005). Delving more into the human condition rather than any imaginary worlds, as most of his previous films do, this also ends up being Miyazaki’s most straightforward film yet. Telling the story of a young boy named Jiro Horikoshi, who dreams of building airplanes, he eventually grows into a man who grapples with building planes for military purposes. Struggling with his designs as well as the new found love for a young woman named Nahoko Satomi, who has a terminal illness, Jiro ends up being one of Miyazaki’s most fleshed out characters to date. Miyazaki does not completely abandon his supernatural flair, however, with Jiro visiting with a long dead famous plane engineer in several dream sequences throughout the film.

Spanning decades and including some historical accuracy, “The Wind Rises” weaves in major events like the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, actual airplane designs from Mitsubishi from 1927-1932, and even Japan’s involvement in World War II. All of these events progress the storyline, becoming the driving force for emotional connections with the characters. Whether its Jiro’s continued conflicted nature over what planes he is building and what they are being used for, or how these events effect young Nahoko and cause her to remember Jiro throughout her life. With one of the most honest and memorable love stories between to characters, it will be said that Miyazaki’s writing held on strong for his entire characters, going out on one of his most intricate and expertly designed screenplays. Had the competition not been so stiff at the Academy Awards in 2014, with “Frozen” being the obvious frontrunner and eventually going on to win the Oscar, Miyazaki’s final film would have absolutely been next in line. Instead, it becomes the capstone to one of the most prolific careers in animation since Walt Disney. Inspiring, heart warming and heart breaking, if nothing else, “The Wind Rises” is absolutely stunning to look at.

New Releases
22 Jump Street
And So It Goes
Automata
If I Stay
Into the Storm
Ragnarok (2013) 2-denied2-small
Reclaim
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
The Wind Rises


TV Box Set

  • Maison Close: Season One
  • The Paradise: Season Two
  • Worricker: Salting the Battlefield
  • Worricker: Turks & Caicos
  • Young Justice: Invasion
Special Editions/Other Releases
  • 20,000 Days On Earth  2-denied2-small
  • Alive Inside (2014)  2-denied2-small
  • As the Light Goes Out
  • Brazilian Western
  • Collar
  • Copenhagen   
  • Everywhen
  • Final Entries
  • Free Bird
  • Freeload
  • The Good Life
  • Gravedigger
  • Housebound  2-denied2-small
  • In Bloom   2-denied2-small
  • It Happened One Night: Criterion
  • K2: Siren of the Himalayas   2-denied2-small
  • Knightmare
  • The Last Straw
  • My Last Day Without You
  • Next Year Jerusalem
  • Oh Christmas Tree!
  • Penance   2-denied2-small
  • The Postal Service: Everything Will Change
  • Raw Cut
  • Rise Of The Black Bat
  • A Summer’s Tale   2-denied2-small
  • The Third One
  • A Very Funny Christmas
  • Viva Viva
  • What Now? Remind Me
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