21 Jump Street (Sony) – Who knew Channing Tatum was actually, you know, funny? In this knowing update / spoof of the eighties TV series (itself a kind of updating of “The Mod Squad”), Channing Tatum is the thick-headed athlete and popular high school kid and Jonah Hill the nerdy brain who bond years later when they both enroll at the police academy and have each other’s back when they go back to high school in an undercover operation.
The twist here is that, in less than a decade, the whole high school paradigm of cool has shifted beyond the ability of Tatum’s one-time big man on campus to fathom; bullying is decidedly uncool, ignorance is not bliss, and even the drug dealers are ecologically aware. Which makes the overweight, socially maladroit Hill the new hip kid in this tag team search for campus the drug pipeline.
It’s a lot funnier than it has any right to be. Did I mention that Ice Cube plays their commanding officer, an angry black officer who embraces his own stereotype? Or that the directors are Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose previous feature was the animated “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and are just as free with sight gags and throwaway jokes in their live-action filmmaking? And keep an eye out for the stars of the original TV series (including one pretty boy by the name of Johnny Depp who went on to a pretty good big screen career) in knowing cameos.
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For more releases, see Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and streaming video for June 26
Brad Pitt makes it look effortless in Moneyball (Sony), a drama about the business of baseball in the era of multi-million dollar payrolls based on the non-fiction bestseller by Michael Lewis.
Pitt plays Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, struggling to field a competitive team against organizations with much deeper pockets. His solution is to — with the help of unprepossessing Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a geeky numbers-cruncher whose radical ideas are dismissed by every other club in the league — completely throw out the conventional wisdom and apply a whole new set of metrics to measure player skills. It’s not sexy but it is remarkably effective.
This is a different kind of underdog sports movie, one where percentages and balance sheets and backroom trades are bigger drama than home runs and double plays. The film’s triumph is in turning that sports geek detail into the stuff that wins are made of.
Pitt’s conviction in the role of Beane, once a rookie player with potential that never developed into success, turns the volleys of negotiations over trades and verbal showdowns over his unconventional ideas into dazzling drama. Under Pitt’s easy-going performance of charm under pressure is a man putting his entire career on the line, and while he hides it under a cocky grin and boyish twinkle, we can feel the gravity of his position. Count on Pitt getting a nomination, as well as one for screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian.
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For more releases, see Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs and Blu-rays for January 10
Yes, this is late indeed. I got caught up in other (aka paying) gigs and end of the year assignments and let the blog slide. So here’s the better late than never home video highlights of the week. At MSN I review Ben Affleck’s sophomore directorial effort The Town (Warner) and the noisy and sloppy big screen version of the eighties TV action/caper series The A-Team (Fox) and I dig into The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle and Trouble in Mind (which have nothing in common beyond the distinction of being shot in Seattle) on my blog here. Here are a few of the other releases in a very big week of DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner own this 'Town'
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are The Other Guys (Sony), the NYPD desk jockeys who step up (at least in one case reluctantly) when the squad superstars (hilarious cameos by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) go out in a blaze of stupidity, in this parody of the maverick super-cop action movie. Ferrell favorite writer/director Adam McKay doesn’t hit the comic alchemy of Anchorman or Talladega Nights, but Wahlberg is terrific as the misguided maverick exasperated by his social misfit partner Ferrell. And for what it’s worth, it’s much funnier than the last Ferrell/McKay feature, Step Brothers. Features the original cut and an extended version (which runs about nine minutes longer), plus deleted/extended scenes and featurettes on the stunts and Michael Keaton’s second job. The Blu-ray packs in more deleted/extended scenes, “Line-O-Rama” ad-libs, comic featurettes and a “Mom-mentary” tracks featuring the mothers of director Adam McKay, co-writer Chris Henchy and star Will Ferrell. It’s funnier as an idea than an actual commentary track, but they have fun and they love their boys.
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