22 Jump Street (2014)

22 Jump StreetReleased: June 13, 2014. Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube. Runtime: 112 min.

After seeing 21 Jump Street, a reboot of an 80s cop show featuring Johnny Depp, about seven times – it’s safe to say that I was quite excited for 22 Jump Street. Blending enough old and enough new to keep everyone satisfied, this is a great sequel, a satisfying film and just a great time at the movies. This starts out with Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) going undercover at a local college to disrupt the widespread distribution of a new drug called WHYPHY. This stands for Work Hard, Yes; Play Hard, Yes. It gives users the ability to become super focused for four hours – perhaps to help them study – and then they party hard.

Like the first one, they are tasked with finding the dealer and then finding the supplier. There are constant jokes that this investigation is exactly the same thing as the last one. They just have to do the same thing to bust the case wide open, and this cleverly sets our expectations from the get-go. Sometimes the exact same thing bit gets a bit tiresome by the cast mentioning it a bit too much, but it’s all very meta and it has the same clever, self-aware humour that the original possessed. And it also has some funny jokes about sequels this time around. It’s a great formula, too, because the first one was such a success because no one expected that much from it – but directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller jumped on the map (after dabbling with animation, first with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and then The LEGO Movie earlier this year) and surprised everyone.

The film finds a great pace and comedic momentum to match that of the first. However, the sub-plots are a bit off. Jenko and Schmidt have a role reversal this time around, and a funny, textbook “bromance” is put in place, and it even has little aspects that mirror romantic movies, and it changes this to a bro-mantic movie. Anyway, about the sub-plots. In the first film, when Jenko was being left out of things, and Schmidt was in the heart of the investigation, the film still managed to make both partners’ different social groups have great chemistry with each other and get a few good laughs. This time, Schmidt’s social group, the more artsy poetic types, are mildly funny, but there’s not as much of a focus on them this time around. Instead, the focus is more on the social group that Jenko begins to hang out with: the dumb jocks, featuring a boring Wyatt Russell portraying a guy named Zook. There’s a big bromance focus between Jenko and him, and the character’s just not that great. This sub-plot doesn’t get a ton of laughs, and it makes the film have unfortunate derivative stretches, where Lord and Miller show that the only type of film they shouldn’t direct is a football movie.

Another minor issue: There’s a tiring joke where people still comment on how old Hill and Tatum’s characters look. It’s funny when a pair of twins comment that Hill and Tatum have “crow’s feet,” because the twins actually look young. But when the actress whose schtick is saying that Hill looks like he’s 30 in a lot of different, sometimes funny one-liners, looks to be in her late-20’s herself, it just doesn’t have the same believable effect. In fact, the actress, Jillian Bell, is also thirty years old in real life, the same age as Hill’s character. That part of the humour just doesn’t work. There’s only one other occasion where my suspension of disbelief was stretched. It’s easier to forgive in dumb comedies, but with smart ones like this one, I can’t let it slide as easily.

Don’t get me wrong, the film still truly works. It has dynamite stretches of hilarity, and a great comedic momentum. Hill and Tatum also have a stunning chemistry. It’s also enjoyable that Ice Cube gets deeper into the story, instead of being a bit too sidelined like the first one. The actor’s intense shtick works for the character, a lot more so than it did for his character in Ride Along. I loved this film because it let me leave satisfied, and it’s even greater to know that there are enough movie ideas to make this last longer than the Marvel franchise.

Score: 85/100

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The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego MovieReleased: February 7, 2014. Directed by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman. Runtime: 100 min.

“The LEGO Movie” isn’t just a great animated film, it’s filled with humour and satirical jabs at corporate America, namely the leader of the lego world being called President Business; the fact that if you’re on TV, people are going to listen to you; and coffee being priced at $37 for the public (here’s looking at you and your overpriced coffee, Starbuck’s). It’s a clever take on totalitarianism, a sort-of dictatorship where a leader has full control over a part of society. President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) takes control by giving good citizens tacos, distracting citizens by a TV show called “Where’s my pants?” after he says “Non-behaving citizens will be put to sleep!” If that show wouldn’t be distracting, I don’t know what would be. He also keeps the people satisfied by a catchy song that literally plays on every radio station called “Everything is Awesome.”

How did the tyrannical President Business get into power, you might ask? In another realm of the LEGO universe (where he is known as Lord Business), he stole a super weapon called the Kragl from the master of all master builders, Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), which grants him ultimate power. Before Business is able to take it, V speaks of a prophecy – a master builder who finds the piece of Resistance will come along and be the most talented, most brilliant and most important person ever and challenge Business’ plans to glue the universe together.

The person who fills this prophecy is not one that you might expect. He, Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a completely ordinary LEGO minifigure that looks like all the rest of the LEGOs, and he becomes the one to fill this prophecy completely by accident. There’s a charm about it because it’s so unexpected that the one will be so ordinary, making this feel like a subtle underdog story, at least to me. It boasts a message that everyone is special in their own way, even if you don’t think so at first. To all the master builders of the universe, this guy looks totally useless; mostly because he’s a victim of conformity in the realm Pres Business rules. Emmet’s favourite song is “Everything is Awesome,” his favourite TV show is “Where’s my pants?” and he follows instructions because he wants tacos. Building instructions helps Emmet, and otherwise, he doesn’t know what to do without them. (The difference between him and other master builders is funny because it’s hard for original thinkers to follow instructions, it seems).

Business is a clever ruler because by giving these people instructions, he doesn’t let them have a solitary original thought. He needs everything to be in tip-top-shape, and he asks for perfection at every turn, not letting anyone build anything that they want. I think a main message of the film is imagination, something the President doesn’t believe in, at all.

Since master builders can build something out of nothing, I think this film urges children all over the world to use their imagination and create cool LEGO structures, and use their imagination in other parts of life. To build something out of nothing, and it says that everyone can be a master builder if they want to be. I think there’s sheer brilliance in the idea that this world looks like it could be derived from the minds of children, but I don’t think the story would be as smart. The settings are just stunning and creative, and some might particularly like the animation used in the smoke, explosions and water. It’s a whole world made of LEGO, and it’s incredibly detailed (the great animation is thanks to Animal Logic) This film is, of course, also nice advertisement for the LEGO product, but it is a lot more layered than just a big toy advertisement like the “G.I. Joe” flicks or the blockbuster franchise “Transformers”.

The humour will keep both children and adults entertained, because writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have such referential and clever senses of humour. They reference things from “The Terminator” to “Clash of the Titans” to “The Godfather”, and one of the realm’s names is a clever play on the world in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise (Middle Zealand – a mash of Middle Earth and New Zealand, the filming location of those films). There are a lot of big laughs in this, and some spectacular action sequences, where teamwork is used; making this sort-of like the superhero teamwork movie many anticipate. I enjoyed this as much as I wanted to enjoy “The Avengers.” With the film’s humour, Lord and Miller are experienced to entertain both children and adults, by tackling animated movies (the two “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” films) and R-rated action comedies (“21 Jump Street”). The real charm about the Lord/Miller pair is that they keep surprising us with films that could be decent, but turn out to be pretty extraordinary; and this is no different. One character they created I was amused by is Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), who plays to the Good Cop/Bad Cop strategy used by interrogators. He has a bit of a split personality, you can say, but I’ll let you watch that hilarity unfold for yourselves.

The other characters are great because they are great presences. Emmet is a relateable hero because he is so average, and his love interest Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is great because they are so alike in ways. Other characters on the lovable LEGO save the world team include a crazed pirate called Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), an all-too positive cat with a unicorn horn called UniKitty (Alison Brie), 1970s Space Guy named Ben (Charlie Day) and the hilarious caped orphan himself, Batman (Will Arnett)! There are many other classic characters at the meeting of the Master Builders (ones from the DC Universe, among a lot of others), and they’re great cameos – but nothing more, really. It’s good because if they were more, the film would be too crowded. There’s enough characters and hilarity to keep the film moving at a brisk pace.

Score96/100

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsReleased: September 18, 2009. Directed by: Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Starring: Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell. Runtime: 90 min.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is, I’ll admit, much better than I thought it would be. I had no interest in seeing it when it was initially released, because it sounded a bit too silly for my tastes. But then I realized the guys who are behind this movie, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directed one of my favourite action comedies of the last few years, “21 Jump Street.”

So, I thought I’d give it a shot since it was playing on television. And, if I get the chance to see the sequel, I can – because now I’ve seen the original. The premise is simple, adapted from an apparently beloved children’s story written by Judi Barrett. I’m not sure if it’s a good adaptation or not, but the basic ‘I wanna be something!’ character arc is present.

The main character, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), has been inventing unsucessful, but sorta awesome, things all of his life – and that’s his dream, to be a revered inventor. His father (James Caan) disapproves of the choice, as he doesn’t understand his son as well as his late wife did.

He finally gets his shot with a machine that turns water into any kind-of food that you desire. He manages to inadvertantly launch his machine into rain clouds, after a run-in with the law, and it rains cheeseburgers. This puts the island below the ‘A’ of Atlantic Ocean on the map; even though the town was previously known for its sardines, until everyone realized they are gross. The mayor of the  town (voiced by Bruce Campbell) sees this as an opportunity to make Swallow Falls a real tourist hot spot; so he aggressively urges Flint to make it rain three meals a day. The news reporter, Sam Sparks (Anna Farris) who is in town, becomes a weather girl and takes advantage of this weather phenomenon.

While the delicious food makes the townspeople happy, the excessive use of the machine can dangerously mutate the food, but the shady mayor ignores Flint’s pleas to make it stop; by telling him the whole town loves him. As expected, chaos ensues – on the day when spaghetti and meatballs are the main course.

The premise is effectively simple, and allows really colourful scenery to happen. I like the animation a lot, even though the character design for Flint makes him look like an odd type of bird. The character design for the acrobatic police officer Earl Devereaux is truly clever. He is voiced by Mr. T, and he has a T-shaped bald spot. Bill Hader, Anna Faris and even James Caan aren’t particularly memorable. It’s a good thing that Mr. T, Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris and the purposefully irrtating Andy Samberg are there, because they balance out the voicework and make it better. Neil Patrick Harris plays the role of a scene-stealing monkey named Steve, who can speak through the invention of Flint’s. This film is silly and fun for the kids, and there’s enough clever humour to keep older folk mildly entertained.

Score70/100