Hercules (PG-13)

9 Stars

I cried.

Go ahead. Laugh it up.

Greek minstrels sang tales of his twelve labors. Roman historians like Tacitus and Plutarch inked record of his deeds.

Most recently he was the protagonist of the 1997 Disney animated feature. Which is good, but on the lower end of the classic spectrum.

The demi-god makes a cameo in Homer’s Odyssey, for Pete’s sake!

My point being: We’re due for another dose.

This weekend Hercules lost in the box office to Lucy, despite a superior score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lucy pulled in almost $44M, earning back its $40M budget. It’s now at 58%, certifiably rotten and deservedly so. My displeasure with Lucy’s deceptive trailer has increased considerably since reviewing it.

Starkly contrasting the experience with Hercules, which made only $30M and cost $100M. It now clings to ‘Fresh’ status with 62%.

Based on a Radical Comics series “Hercules” by Steve Moore, director Brett Ratner offers a revisionist take on the classic tale.

A recent trend in PG-13 is to parade the rating throughout. Two summer blockbusters are guilty of this: Godzilla and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. DotPotA is particularly at fault for feeling like a franchise vehicle.

IMDB and Rotten ‘Matoes should include another statistic: Number of submissions to the ratings board.

Hercules has admirably high stakes. If one’s looking, there are moments you can pinpoint when the footage is cut to ‘earn’ the stamp of approval. Either way, I’m nearly certain this one pushes the limit. The battles feel real and characters die on-screen.

In order to acquire a PG-13 rating, one of the criteria limits the number of ‘F-Bombs’. If the curse word is uttered more than once, the movie can’t be released with anything less than an ‘R.’

Like last year’s All is Lost, Hercules puts its one ‘fuck’ to good use.

Perusing various reviews, one quickly recognizes the vitriol toward Ratner. One critical reviewer mentions how the director, ‘nearly ruined Hannibal Lector and the X-Men.’

Hannibal, really? Who cares?

In regards to the X-Men, we can agree he made mistakes.

I don’t believe his goal was to lessen their integrity, and try to avoid schlepping hurt feelings between franchises.

Speaking of which, I’d much prefer a sequel to Hercules in exchange for the next Apes flick.

Fans of that series need to settle down. The Apes movies are cool, okay? Can we please move on?


What really makes Herc shine is the casting.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is perfect for the role.

In Roman mosaics Hercules’s image is shown tanned bronze for symbolic reasons. The same goes for the Etruscans who cast his deeds onto bronze mirrors.

Therefore Dwayne’s skin tone is appropriately dark – on a symbolic level, no less.

Plus he’s an excellent actor. He’s charismatic and lovable. Some might associate him with the ‘good guy’ role, when he’s nailed it as the antagonist twice: In Doom as the corrupted honorable leader, and in Get Smart as a charming double agent.

More importantly, he’s prolific.

Most importantly, he never mails it in.

For that we thank him. Good on ya D.J.

The value of Ratner’s version is bolstered largely by the supporting cast.

Ingrid Bolso Berdal is a Norwegian actress and plays the orphaned Amazon, Atalanta.

Her badass bow-slinging performance is worthy of esteem. Warrior women are always physical roles, and I think directors hesitate to craft intricate female fight sequences.

The majority of the credit’s due to Ingrid’s acting, however. Not many could pull off Atalanta, and most wouldn’t be brave enough to take it in the first place.

Especially considering the two-piece armor she wears in every scene.

Before quibbling, someone should compare the percentages of bare skin between Ingrid and Dwayne. I can almost guarantee he’s more naked.

To the point: Hopefully Ingrid pops up more often.

The movie opens and closes with Ian McShane doing voiceover as Amphiaraus. You might recognize him from the HBO series Deadwood, in which he plays one of the greatest sympathetic villains ever. Or his more recent role in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman.

McShane’s terrific regardless, and his character is reminiscent of Vitruvius, the unreliable prophet (voiced by Morgan Freeman) in The Lego Movie.

Rufus Sewell plays Autolycus, and delivers a performance in which he must navigate some clichés. He’s a tremendous actor, because he quietly softens their impact.

You may recognize him as the lead role in a great movie: John Murdoch from 1998’s Dark City.

As a final note, Hercules ends with one of the best credits sequences released this year. It’s noteworthy because it’s brilliantly animated, and contributes to the narrative.

If you haven’t seen Ratner’s revisionist take, I’d suggest catching it in IMAX 3D. People love to hate on the new movie-going experience.

It’s bigger. From a technical standpoint it’s better.

Try not worry about the price to visual improvement ratio when you can be enjoying the film.

All in all, in a summer sea of PG-13, Hercules is a cut above the rest.

With its riveting story, a strong cast of diverse characters and plenty of fighting to go around, something’s bound to catch your eye.

Lucy (R)

6 Stars

Six stars is rare.

Categorically, it’s ‘just barely worthwhile’; a timid thumbs-up.

Anything less I can’t recommend.

This particular rating syncs up with the Rotten Tomatoes score at 60%. Which is, coincidentally, the lowest possible for the ‘certifiably fresh’ stamp.

So the question becomes: What’s the value of a review teetering on indifference? Let me explain.

The main problem involves the trailer. Almost all of the good moments are spoiled.

It’s been mentioned before, but I’m sick and tired of seeing previews that ruin the movie. This day marks the official beginning to a lifelong campaign against misleading trailers.

If you saw the preview and hopes are high, don’t catch this one in the theater. Give it a few months or a couple years before tackling Lucy. Try to let your memory of the footage fade before renting it.

After all, it’s only ninety minutes. You’re not losing much; even if you hate it.

If you’re planning on a future rental or catching it on the big screen anyway, you may wish to stop reading now. There are potential spoilers below.

The trailer isn’t the only problem.

An expectation is The Bourne Limitless with a female protagonist. The story doesn’t allow Scarlett Johansson to develop a particularly memorable character. Her acting is strong as always, but it doesn’t fit the tone of such weak storytelling.

The premise is similar to the Bourne films in terms of being an international action-thriller. A similar plot device to Lucy’s CP4 is utilized in 2011’s Limitless. The main character, played by Bradley Cooper, takes a drug that allows him to unlock a higher percentage of brain capacity.

But the viewer never feels ‘swept up’ like one associates with watching those comparable works.

Unfortunately, Lucy attempts to accomplish similar goals, but ends up falling short.

For example, all of the combat is spoiled in the trailer. There are no elaborate fight sequences. There’s a solid car chase, in which Lucy drives against traffic. As effectively shot, choreographed and edited as it is, it’s still illogical.

The editing is disjointed and the story is riddled with plot holes. Lucy leans further toward fantasy, rather than science fiction.

Style abounds throughout, but not in a positive way. Much like the ticking digital clock in the TV show 24, title cards with percentages are utilized as dramatic transitions. All in all, they add nothing to the story and serve as only a further distraction.

Quite a bit of wildlife footage is interspersed, presumably to build tension and create a more elaborate experience. But it just comes off as cheesy.

I truly wonder why such a prolific writer/director as Luc Besson would include the cheetah chasing down the gazelle as Lucy’s captured. This is a pinnacle of heavy-handed metaphor. The enormity of the cliché seems almost purposeful.

The montages of various wild animals engaging in intercourse and giving birth are hollow moments devoid of value.

Besson’s use of time lapse and montage is clunky and distracting; not to mention it feels cheap. Montages, time lapses and original animated interstitials are in vogue. Such films as Noah and 22 Jump Street make productive use of them.

Lucy does not.

The animation of the CP4 molecules spreading throughout her nervous system is momentarily interesting, but eventually drags on. The footage is later revisited, much to the viewer’s misfortune.

The narrative voice is unfocused. It opens with Johansson speaking her thoughts through voiceover. They’re not real-time thoughts, more like generalized notions about the beginning of mankind. This transitions sharply into Lucy snapping out of a daydream.

This disparity is heightened by the introduction of Morgan Freeman’s voiceover regarding the evolution of the brain and human potential. Later it transitions back to Lucy’s real-time thoughts, so the nature of the narrative voice remains unclear.

During the film’s introduction, the missing link is featured on-screen. The part’s played by an actor in discomforting make-up and is featured several times throughout the movie.

Its too bad Besson didn’t speak to Andy Serkis, who crafted a simian army using stop motion technology for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis could probably create one missing link without removing his bathrobe.

Besson is hit-or-miss. His early career hits include Leon: The Professional, The Transporter and The Fifth Element, and more recently Taken. These are all great movies, each in their own way.

There’s a through line to his pictures, though. They aggressively toe the boundary between fantasy and reality, asking a lot from the viewer in order to suspend disbelief.

Take Leon: The Professional for example. Gary Oldman plays Stansfield one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. His drug of choice is less potent than CP4, but it’s still a ‘fantasy intoxicant.’

The point being: Lucy would be a lot easier to accept if I was still a teenager.

All things considered, it’s a good movie that isn’t great.

It’s ironic Lucy went out the same way as ‘Samantha’ (from Her).

Hopefully they’ve successfully avoided Skynet (from The Terminator) now governed by Arnim Zola (from Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and joined the torch-bearing digital people (from Tron: Legacy) in the cyberspace community.

Unfortunately I’m one of the few people who haven’t seen Transcendence, so I can’t include Johnny Depp’s character in that reference.

Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13)

9 Stars

If you see one flick all summer then look no further.

It’s not only the best of the season, Edge of Tomorrow is the top release so far this year. It’s still playing in some theaters so catch it before it completely leaves the big screen.

Whether you’re a film buff or just the occasional theatergoer, you’ll love this science fiction thriller. It’s riveting, smart, inventive and fun.

With a massive budget, a strong supporting cast of knowns and unknowns, and top-notch special effects; the cinematic experience doesn’t get any better.

But it’s the story you’ll dig most. EoT is similar to last year’s Ender’s Game by offering an original take on extraterrestrial invasion. The ‘mimics’ are organic, menacing and wildly compelling.

To pile on top, the plot fiddles with time travel in the smartest way.

Let’s discuss discouraging numbers.

Edge of Tomorrow pulled $28 million for third place in the box office opening weekend, behind Maleficent in 2nd place, and The Fault in Our Stars which made $48M.

According to budgetary estimates on IMDB, TFIOS cost $12M to produce, and EoT cost $178M. So far EoT grossed almost $95M, but still tails behind its wretched usurper (TFIOS) at nearly $120M.

EoT is making up for it overseas, but the statistics speak for themselves: American moviegoers reward bad dromantic quirkedies over well-crafted science fiction.

This disappoints me.

Anyway, back to the film.

A common criticism regards the title. I’ve heard four separate voices speak out about it. But there’s a trend: Nobody ever suggests a better one, or explains why it’s poor.

It’s certainly better than the title of the novel the screenplay’s adapted from, “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

Perhaps ‘Precipice of Yesterday’ is better? ‘Threshold of Today’ is definitely a downgrade.

Now. If the argument regards the title’s inadequacy in capturing the attention of the American viewing audience, I’m listening. It’s got to be more than just, “Edge of Tomorrow is a bad title.”

Tom Cruise never gets enough credit. He stars (as two different characters named ‘Jack,’ ironically) in two great movies from last year, Oblivion and Jack Reacher. He’s acted in at least fifteen fantastic films (and no, this doesn’t include Jerry Maguire) most of which he’s the leading role.

Quick T.C. top five: Rain Man (1988), Magnolia (1999), Minority Report (2002), Risky Business (1983) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

He’s one of our finest, most accomplished actors working today. You can add yet another fantastic film to the list and consider him adequately credited.

Emily Blunt’s acting is perfect, but we don’t get enough combat out of her.

Although she’s often wielding an awesome futuristic sword, she doesn’t dispatch many mimics with it. Probably due to the unfortunate PG-13 rating.

There’s a shot of Blunt as she gets up out of a yoga pose. As enjoyable as it is, it happens three or four times and it’s one too many.

Another undesirable moment occurs when Nance (played by Charlotte Riley) uses the phrase, “Could I trouble you for a glass of shut the hell up?”

It’s a jarring cliché and her phrasing’s not realistic. She’d choose a stronger curse word.

As irksome as it is, one can argue it’s a nod to the Nursing Home Orderly played by Ben Stiller in Happy Gilmore. This interpretation’s a stretch, but it’s preferable.

All in all, these are small scratches on a fresh finish; unworthy of dwelling upon.

What’s worthy of dwell is the ending. (Beware, a spoiler follows.)

Something doesn’t add up. According to screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie the filmmakers only solidified the ending while shooting was underway. Some of the backlash responds to the ‘happiness’ of the movie’s conclusion.

I’m more concerned with the pre-established rules of the fictive universe, and how the time reset could work in such a way on the mimics’ final day. There’s no precedent to suggest the time interval would increase upon the aliens’ destruction.

Again, this is neither here nor there.

Whichever way you slice it, Edge of Tomorrow is terrific.

I can’t wait for Edge of the Day After Tomorrow, where the mimics rise again and develop flight capabilities. Let’s get Blunt in jet-propelled boots, and give her a second sword, just in case.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (PG-13)

9 Stars

Wouldn’t it be best to change the team name to X-Humans?

I’m kidding, of course.

Want to know what isn’t hysterical?

A ‘loose canon.’

The exact origin of the nautical phrase is uncertain. It’s presumably sailor jargon for a canon breaking free of the rigging keeping it stationary. Imagine one hundred pounds of cast iron rolling about a storm beaten ship deck.

The phrase is overused. But one can understand this reviewer’s hesitation, when associating the live-action depiction of Wolverine with a loose canon.

Ever since Cyclops’s cinematic demise, the clawed crusader’s gone a little soft.

Jackman’s Wolverine is much less of an antihero. He’s more compassionate, no longer a recluse. And wouldn’t you know it – he stars in this film, too.

Despite the saccharine portrayal, I’ll take plenty more sequels with Hugh at the helm, because Days of Future Past is excellent.

What sets the X-Men apart from other comic creations is time travel, success through crafty teamwork and mutant segregation. This movie tackles the entire thematic trio with vigor.

First some notes on the acting, directing and writing. Then the fighting. And finally, a gloriously thought-provoking takeaway.

Before any of that, a warning to spoiler-sensitive readers. Cease your literary digestion and devour DOFP before it vacates the big screen.

James Marsden is excellent as Cyclops in X-Men (2000), and fourteen years later proves he’s still got it.

By the by, after all this talk of ‘getting the gang back together,’ it’s a bit underwhelming with only one scene featuring Cyclops, Rogue or Jean Grey.

All’s forgiven, because DOFP’s greatest achievement is the creation of a ‘narrative reset.’ The denouement (the falling action after the climax) indicates the button’s been depressed, removing any narrative restrictions set by the previous films.

There are too many characters to mention but for hints toward each player’s prominence, check the theatrical poster (not pictured). The relative size of the character’s image to screen time ratio looks exactly to scale.

Ellen Page returns for a particularly great performance as Kitty Pryde. Her only previous appearance is from The Last Stand back in 2006, making her unique amongst the supporting players.

Another reliable favorite from the earlier films, Shawn Ashmore, delivers as Iceman. He’s easy to love and fights quite a bit, too.

Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Mystique and doesn’t disappoint. The blue beauty engages in some serious hand-to-hand combat, and it’s consistently thrilling.

She’s an enormous talent. My sister groans every time the young actress’s name is uttered. However, if pressed, even my sister will agree J-Law’s a dynamite thespian.

Perhaps she doesn’t usurp her last performance in American Hustle. But Mystique is one of the more difficult roles. She must remain on the villainous side of morality while conveying a pitiable sense of decency.

There’s a nod to Rebecca Romijn in the movie, as well as a reference I can’t quite figure out. In Shanghai Noon, Owen Wilson quotes James Brown in saying, “I don’t know karate, but I do know ka-razy.”

So when Wolverine says it, I assume it’s a nod to Shanghai Noon. Perhaps others disagree?

Michael Fassbender plays young Magneto, and delivers a fitting performance as one of our best actors working today.

A major personal criticism of earlier X-Men films is the underwhelming action. There are always fight scenes, but oftentimes they’re brief and never elaborate enough. For example, consider the action involving Banshee in First Class, the most recent film from 2011.

To be clearer, consider the two major fights involving Beast. In First Class, Nicholas Hoult doesn’t throw a single punch on-screen during the final brawl on the Cuban beach. Whether or not Hoult lands a blow, his battlefield presence pales in comparison to Kelsey Grammer’s ferocity at Alcatraz in The Last Stand.

DOFP opens with a spectacular fight sequence. Really, it’s one of the best superhero battles ever. But it’s brief, and trumps all other physical conflicts (in terms of quality) occurring later on.

The sentinels are superbly rendered, and the teamwork dynamic is explored throughout various altercations between mutants and robots. Sending Colossus falling through warp holes (in order to achieve maximum velocity) is genius.

My sole request from the X-Men franchise remains the same: A further exploration of collaborative battle tactics. Engage the audience with higher stakes, alternative bits of terrain, contrasting settings, differing elevations, complex character pairings, elaborate face-offs; more tense and intricate ‘continuous action’ sequences that last for minutes, rather than seconds.

Good examples of what I refer to are found in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but without the teamwork dynamic.)

What’s absent is ultimately inconsequential. I want a final fight scene, one in which the X-Men collaborate to triumph over the ultimate villain. One in which they don’t all die.

I never receive my bejeweled battle, but in retrospect, am pleased with the filmmakers’ decision. Everybody loves a superhero movie that doesn’t fit the mold.

Besides, I’ll trade anything for the narrative reset.

When Magneto informs Charles (James McAvoy) of a misunderstanding (pertaining to J.F.K.’s assassination) a hearty stroke of laughter pierces the canopy of suspended disbelief.

Apparently a fellow moviegoer buys into the whole story leading up, but JFK being assassinated for his mutation is just too silly to remain silent.

That, my friends, is a person looking for a place to laugh.

‘Because everybody’s thinking it, right?’

No, you scoundrel!

Moving right along; Beast’s serum is tough to swallow, but other than the lackluster fighting and Professor X’s whining, here’s my final criticism.

Magneto’s mutation allows him to manipulate metal. This doesn’t include an ability to remotely control or reprogram computerized machinery. Therefore, the process by which he gains their support would be much more complicated than simply imbuing the sentinels with metallic cables.

That’s a major inconsistency, and like the serum, I’m sure it’s necessary to tie up loose narrative threads. For my tastes, it’s not quite tidy enough.

By the way, superhero movies are constantly berated for being male-oriented entertainment.

In DOFP there is one scene involving nudity, and it’s Wolverine from behind.

I’m not complaining.

When the political correctors start to cry out for a more ‘accepting’ team moniker, I’ll remind them of this previous gender imbalance.

How’s that for conclusive?

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)

8 Stars

If anything, marvel at the xylophone in the score.

Because Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is merely ‘great enough.’

This is a movie for those who like the first. It’s conceivably enjoyable for the uninitiated, but I don’t advise it.

The film opens with credits akin to Edge of Tomorrow; a smattering of newscasters and politicians reporting on the spreading influence.

The visual images are grafted onto an international map in which an infection travels like a web. The dreaded lines arc from to dot to dot, like the mice in The Rescuers hopping a seagull from New York to New Orleans. Coincidentally enough, much of Dawn is shot in the same Louisiana city.

And I’m not sure if the rest of you know, but they’re letting broads into the screenwriting business now. This is the second movie I’ve seen lately with a female screenwriter (Amanda Silver). The other, Jane Goldman, is credited as a writer on X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Look fellas, if we don’t do something, pretty soon the Hollywood sign’ll be painted pink!

Anyway. The difficult thing about science fiction is the viewer’s required to buy in. Whatever universe the filmmakers create, no matter how fantastic, the world must follow the rhythms of reality.

If genetically evolved apes fight their way free of society’s clutches, the battle will be considerably more horrific than what occurs in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

I don’t delight in dismembered limbs, but the lack of realistic action creates an inescapable awareness. One can’t help but realize the humans are ethereally cushioned from agony.

I like the first movie, but I didn’t love it like some people. The main problem is the rating. PG-13 movies are usually four-quadrant films: Enjoyable by men, women, the young and the old. Thereby maximizing profit.

So although the Dawn is better than the Rise, I’m not all that excited about Planet of the Apes.

It works because it’s quality filmmaking. The camerawork is excellent. There are several long takes, including one on top of a tank. The lens does two complete turns for a double panorama shot on a set full of teeming apes.

I’m not sure if they’re extras or just CGI, because the effects are strong. Ironically enough, the only time I noticed a slip is when an ape is carrying a human, and the flailing legs are clearly animated.

Plus, the writing’s strong…for PG-13.

The dichotomies drawn between apes and humanity are well-crafted. Each individual character (be it simian or homo sapiens) is well-rounded, independently recognizable and compellingly motivated.

The stakes are high, the settings are elaborate and all the right themes are explored.

The climax leads me to believe this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Planet of the Apes. Perhaps there’s even a plan for quadrilogy.

But who knows if we’ll still be interested after number three?

Be that as it may, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is great. That’s all.

Catch it in the theater if you’ve got an interest. You’ll like it.

Just don’t wait for anything after the credits. Apart from a quote that says the production supported 15,000 jobs (which isn’t the clearest statistic) there’s just more ape noise.

And you’ll get plenty of that along the way.

22 Jump Street (R)

10 Stars

In the cinematic vernacular, there isn’t a term for a complete narrative comprised of two parts.

The best online suggestions include duology (my personal favorite), diptych and dyad.

An official word is necessary for the purposes of film discussion. There are a lot of Terminator spinoffs but the first two movies (directed by James Cameron) can be referenced as one entity.

The initial pair of Back to the Futures and Godfathers can also be discussed as duologies.

To provide a different and confounding example, Ace Ventura is one of the funniest comedies of all time. One couldn’t possibly differentiate between Pet Detective and When Nature Calls because they’re equally hilarious. But the plot threads of the two yarns don’t interweave into one gilded narrative lanyard.

My long-winded point is: When we give ‘duology’ the communal stamp of approval, let’s nail down the difference between a ‘series’ (the Ace Ventura’s) and a ‘collection’ (the Godfather‘s).

In the history of the laugh genre, the top three follow-ups are Rush Hour 2, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.

But 22 Jump Street is the best comedic sequel of all time.

And it’s all about balance.

No fooling. Yin, yang and all that.

Out of three big summer comedies, this buys the pie. (‘Takes the cake’ implies self-indulgent thievery.)

Since The Hangover franchise pumped out dastardly sequels, a fatigue has developed amongst the American audience. Most moviegoers (including yours truly) can’t tolerate recycled narratives.

This movie does a twisted inversion of exactly that. So the self-referential jokes are palpable.

Two sets of twins make appearances and that just begins the list of ‘2’ jokes.

There’s quite a bit to admire here. The trailer doesn’t spoil any of the actual plot. Sure, Jonah Hill gets a mouthful of squid-ink but it occurs early on.

Neighbors releases earlier this summer, and several hearty laughs (specifically ‘the airbag scene’) are spoiled because of the trailer. A Million Ways to Die in the West spoils most of the quality jokes via previews.

Other filmmakers can learn something from the marketing department’s careful use of footage.

Call-backs are a basic comedic staple. So thorough is 22’s self-awareness that cutaways, bits of scenery, metaphorical discussions of production difficulties and the early credits sequence are dedicated to calling-back.

A quick digression regarding the credits sequence. It’s a montage combining original scenes, animation, cover art and comments on the state of brand endorsement and merchandising. It’s both a critical jab at the film industry and a salute to modern cinema. There are multiple cameos from actors like Seth Rogen, who never appear in the movie until this lengthy sequence.

This is where the filmmakers go ‘above and beyond.’ Any form of credits sequence is a gift to the viewer, and although they’re becoming more prevalent, there’s a reason most movies lack an Easter Egg: Unnecessary work. Oftentimes they’re merely add-ons and don’t contribute much to the overall experience.

But this one’s different. In a way, it signifies the filmmakers’ understanding of the industry. And it puts a satisfying cap on the comedic series.

It calls attention to all future forms of potential revenue through Jump Street spin-offs, thereby implying an end to the franchise.

It’s probably best the collection remain a fantastic duology.

Each time the plot encounters a cinematic cliché; it’s referenced by the characters mid-scene and oftentimes recapitulated through call-backs. For instance Nick Offerman returns as Deputy Chief Hardy and lectures the protagonists about repeating narratives.

Schmidt and Jenko ingest Rice Krispy treats lined with ‘Wyfy,’ the newest intoxicant amongst college students.

The use of split screen in this movie is amazing, and the side-by-side depiction of a ‘good trip’ versus a ‘bad trip’ is right on the money, and hilarious.

A similar scene takes place in A Million Ways to Die in the West, but is far inferior.

The creative editing alone is worthy of applause.

A couple notes on the acting.

Ice Cube’s rock-solid. He plays Captain Dickson and delivers a hilarious performance as a supporting player.

Jonah Hill is a talented individual. He’s credited as a contributor to the writing, stars as Schmidt and is a driving force behind the film’s production. Hill appears earlier this year in The Lego Movie as the voice of Lego Green Lantern.

22 Jump Street comes from the guys who made The Lego Movie. So it’s no surprise that Lego Superman, voiced by Channing Tatum, banters with Green Lantern.

This choice along with the credits sequence (and the reveal from The Lego Movie) exemplifies sharp writing. These creative ideas are wildly admirable. We can use more compassionate filmmaking like this.

Tatum co-leads alongside Hill as Jenko, the more physically capable of the duo. That Channing fellow is one of our finest movie stars working today. In the past year he cameos in Don Jon and This is the End, and plays a leading role in Side Effects. He campaigns for the role of Gambit in the X-Men franchise, and eventually lands it.

Now he’s Gambit in the next feature, and starring in his own film. I can’t wait for both.

There’s action, hilarious car chase antics and plenty of satire to go around.

22 Jump Street proves to be more than just a satisfying sequel.

The only question remains:

Will Dumb & Dumber To be better?

The French Connection (R)

9 Stars

If you mention The French Connection around men over forty, they’ll tell you how good it is.

This movie directed by William Friedkin (and based on the book by Robin Moore) has fallen into obscurity.

We’ve all heard of it. But how many of us have actually seen it?

It holds up strong!

Starring Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a brash alcoholic but passionate police officer. Roy Scheider received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Buddy Russo, his more reserved partner. Their characters are based on real-life detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso.

The French Connection was nominated for eight academy awards in 1972 and won five, including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing.

The movie dives right in, with Popeye in a Santa suit, and the rare ‘chase on foot’ through the streets of Marseille. The French part of The French Connection ends rather quickly because the setting soon transitions to Brooklyn for the remainder of the picture.

Let’s talk chase scenes.

The F.C.’s got three: Two on-foot, and one via automotive that podiums amongst the top car chases in cinematic history.

Did Hackman’s character introduce the cop cliché of commandeering a vehicle?

As for the other hunt on foot, it’s a passive chase in which both parties are co-aware.

No matter the manner of pursuit, Friedkin fires on all cylinders.

[Quick sidebar: Top seven car chases, in no particular order. The French Connection, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Drive, The Blues Brothers, The Matrix Reloaded, Jack Reacher and Children of Men.]

While attending the Turner Classic Movie Festival, I saw William Friedkin speak, and can happily report he’s a cordial, sharp-witted and poignant interviewee. He seems like a really good dude.

Amongst a number of others, his top films include The Exorcist from 1973 and Arbitrage from 2012.

Anyway, The French Connection is a riveting thrill ride that utilizes a number of stylistic shooting techniques.

The car-dismantling scene will have you on the edge of your seat.

There are relatively few weaknesses. Specifically a sprinkling of clunky ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) and a train conductor loses consciousness in an unrealistic fashion. Other than that, the loose threads are minimal.

Some plot points require post-viewing research. The ending’s a bit puzzling. And Popeye’s character utilizes a psychological interrogation tactic that will have you scratching your head.

While he berates Willy with questions, he interrogates the man about, “the last time he picked his feet in Poughkeepsie,” in order to cause confusion. According to Friedkin, its inclusion is due to the real-life interrogation technique developed by Eddie Egan.

Some of the stylistic camera techniques are rather innovative. Like the excellent use of ‘silent dialogue.’

At one point, Popeye’s staking out a restaurant. The cameraman is seated at the table with the two men he’s tailing. While Popeye clearly freezes outside, dumping out his presumably cold coffee, the camera slowly zooms in on him.

It’s an enchanting effect; creating ponderous distance between the audible and visual aspects of the film.

Popeye’s relationship with his stool pigeon is unexpected, compelling and fun. It’s an intriguing plot device in which to illustrate our protagonist’s scruples.

All in all, The French Connection is a fantastic flick.

It’s on the shorter end of the spectrum.

It’s poignant, innovative and gripping,

It’s Gene Hackman at his best.

You’ll devour it!