Friday, March 23, 2012

21 Jump Street

When it comes to old televisions shows and cartoons being made into feature films, I have mixed feelings. I found some adaptations to be quite enjoyable like The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart, The A-Team, Transformers; on the other hand, there were a few flops such as Dukes of Hazzard, The Flintstones, Land of the Lost, Miami Vice, Reno 911: Miami, Yogi Bear and Starsky and Hutch. This brings us to the latest adaptation, 21 Jump Street. While I was unfamiliar with the TV show, meaning I never watched it, the film’s trailer gave me high hopes.

IDMb explains 21 Jump Street’s premise: “A pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.” The concept may be the same as the TV show, but things were taken in a comedic direction for the film, which was, in my opinion, an excellent decision.

With an “R” rating, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had plenty of room to play around with Michael Bacall's and Jonah Hill’s script. Speaking of Hill, this guy has come a long way. This is the first film where his extreme weight loss was showcased, and I must say his transformation from his 40-Year-Old Virgin days to now is nothing less than amazing. I must admit that I haven’t seen Moneyball, where I hear Hill put in a great performance, but I can comfortably say that he has established himself as an A-list comedy star in this point of his career.

Joining Hill, who plays Schmidt in the film, was former male-dancer-turned-actor Channing Tatum. My feelings on Tatum vary with his roles and while I’ve been pleased with him in action and romantic movies in the past, I questioned his ability as a lead in a comedy. In 21 Jump Street, Tatum plays Jenko, a nod to the TV series’ Captain Richard Jenko (played by Frederic Forrest, and I must say he did a good job portraying a jock simpleton eager to learn and prove himself.

Both Hill and Tatum made me laugh throughout the film, and as opposite as they may be, they turned out to be quite the comedic duo. I had heard that Tatum originally turned down the role twice, but eventually took it at Hill’s urging. Clearly the latter knows the best man for the job, because it was a recipe that worked.

Dave Franco, who played synthetic drug distributor Eric Molson, is the younger brother of very successful actor James Franco and put in an impressive performance. With similar good looks and acting chops, don’t be surprised to see the younger Franco in more films moving forward.

With that said, I was disappointed that the film didn’t take advantage of some of the actors they had in supporting roles like IceCube, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper and Nick Offerman. All of these actors are extremely talented, but were used in bit roles; for example, Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, was in the film for just one scene. He made the most of his screen time though, delivering a funny line when he sends Schmidt and Jenko to their new assignment down on “37 Jump Street. Wait, that can’t be right.”

Speaking of bit roles, the filmmakers did give fans a little treat with cameos throughout featuring cast members from the TV show including Holly Robinson Peete (Officer Judy Hoffs), Peter DeLuise (Penhall) and the cherry on the top, Johnny Depp (Tom Hanson). I won’t give too much away, but I imagine fans of the series will be ecstatic with these scenes.

While 21 Jump Street was a comedy, it also had some decent action and the obligatory love story. It does a good job transporting the audience back to high school, though the actors in the film certainly aren't teenagers; nonetheless, I couldn’t help wonder what I would do different if I got a second chance at high school, a choice that is played out through the two main characters.

21 Jump Street isn’t going to win any Oscars, but it is a more than satisfactory comedy that walks a fine line between being too serious and over the top. Throw in some good performances and some raunchiness, and it’s my guess you’ll be leaving the theater with a smile, I know I did. 

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 80%

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Friday, March 16, 2012

John Carter

Since starting this movie blog in late 2011, we’ve reviewed a lot of great and not-so-great movies, but none that were considered blockbusters. With that said, Disney’s John Carter, which many consider 2012’s first blockbuster (it had an estimated $250,000,000 budget), was the obvious choice for our next review. Unfortunately, being deemed a blockbuster doesn’t always mean a good movie.

IMDb describes the film’s premise: “Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.”

The movie is based off Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1911 novel, A Princess of Mars, which featured John Carter as the protagonist. I can’t say I liked the film’s title, but then again, I’m not sure using the book’s title would have been much better; however, with Taylor Kitsch playing the lead role, I was excited. I’m sure female audiences were more than happy to see Kitsch prance around topless, but my excitement was based around the fact that he had portrayed Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (remember, I am a bit of a comic geek).

Kitsch’s physique is no doubt what made him ideal for the role, but he has decent acting chops as well. Combined, they make him a good hero and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taking similar roles in the future. Additionally, Kitsch had some big talent surrounding him, though I wasn’t impressed with how they were all utilized.

For instance, Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church were both in the film, but they both portrayed CGI alien characters. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it was them until the credits rolled. Had I known, I think I’d have appreciated their performances a bit more.

Bryan Cranston (who I absolutely love in AMC’s TV show Breaking Bad) and James Purefoy were also in the film, in human roles I might add, but I feel they were totally underutilized. Cranston was in the film for all of 8 minutes, and while he had some comic relief as a blonde-haired Civil War general, it left me wanting more. Likewise, Purefoy played Kantos Khan, a character that wasn’t fleshed out and essentially glossed over.

I will give casting credit for Dominic West as Sab Than and Ciaran Hinds as Tardos Mors. I think West makes an excellent villain, as he proved as Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone, and it’s no secret I’m a fan of Hinds. If you need evidence of Hinds’ ability, I recommend you check out my reviews on Tailor, Tinker, Solider, Spy and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Interestingly, both Hinds and the aforementioned Purefoy were in one of my favorite TV shows, HBO’s Rome, where they played Julius Caesar and Marc Antony respectively.

As a whole, the cast of John Carter was good, but even their performances and stardom couldn’t make this a hit. While I haven’t read Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, I can tell there was a good story there, the problem with putting it on the big screen, in my opinion, was time. Even with a runtime of 132 minutes, John Carter felt rushed. The story, characters, conflicts, etc. were introduced, but not necessarily established.

John Carter had a Cowboys vs. Aliens feel, though it took the cowboy to the alien’s world instead of the other way around. With that said, I thought they did a decent job of blending the two genres. While not the best I’ve ever seen, the special effects were pleasing, especially on the 3D screen where I saw it. John Cater had pieces in place to make a blockbuster, but its execution was flawed.

As I’ve said before, the reason for this was the muddying up of the waters. From the Civil War Era, to aliens on Mars, and back to turn-of-the-century London, plus alien races and conflicts, and it was all just too much. John Carter needed more time; in fact, breaking it up into two films wouldn’t have been a bad idea. That way, the story could have been explored in full, characters developed, and a franchise possibly established. Instead, things were rushed and dumbed down; for example, the civil war between Helium and Zodanga was basically boiled down to a war between team red and team blue.

Things moved too fast in John Carter for me to become invested. To be honest, it ended up being just like 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a big-budgeted “blockbuster” with a chiseled leading man fighting forces in a faraway land to become another faction's hero. With that said, I highly doubt John Carter will be able to pull in the $335 million that its counterpart did if for no other reason than it opened for just $30.2 million, second behind Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, which brought in $38.8 million in its second week of distribution (brining two-week total to $121.7 million). It’s hard to predict where it will go from there, but early indicators suggest the year’s first blockbuster may turn into one of 2012’s biggest flops.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 36%

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Act of Valor

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, which means I was hard pressed to find one I wanted to see when my buddy called me up to go Thursday night. Given we’re both approaching 30, I didn’t think it’d be right to see something like The Lorax or The Vow, so we chose the manly movie out there that neither of us had seen, Act of Valor.

I wasn’t thrilled to see this war movie despite a decent trailer. I guess I somehow got it in my head that the film, which was shot with active-military soldiers in lead roles, would turn out to be nothing but a propaganda film. Simply put, I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

According to IMDb, the film is about: “An elite team of Navy SEALs embark on a covert mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent.” While that’s certainly true, it’s set against the backdrop of global terror. The story wasn’t anything great, but it was entertaining and about what you’d expect from such a film.

What is great about the movie was the action, weapons and military realism. By using real Navy SEALs, the filmmakers managed to capture a realism that is usually lost when actors tackle military roles. The dialogue, movements, weapons, tactics, etc. screamed military, which proved more entertaining than I had anticipated.

Unfortunately, there was a cost to using real Navy SEALs, and that cost was the acting. Don’t get me wrong, when they were on duty and in the midst of fire, the “actors” did a tremendous job. They were soldiers, and it showed; consequently, it also showed in other scenes, namely when they’re socializing and chit chatting with one another. It wasn’t good acting to say the least and it showed at times, but the action soon painted over it.

In my opinion, that’s the appeal of Act of Valor. You’ve got real-life soldiers kicking ass on the big screen against terrorist. They’re professional, efficient and use top-of-the-line weaponry. In one part of the film, the team is being extracted by a pair of armored boats. The fight that ensues, which included an awe-inspiring amount of  gunfire, was nothing less than amazing. These moments were placed precisely at the right time, given the film a nice flow and balance.

Now, I’m a big fan of the Call of Duty video games and I while watching Act of Valor, I couldn’t help but think it was essentially Call of Duty: The Movie. The studio wouldn’t have even needed to change a thing and I bet it would have satisfied fans of the game; in addition, I imagine it’d make a hell of a lot more at the box office.

Interestingly, AlexVeadov, who portrayed the villain “Christo” in the movie, has numerous video games voicing credits to his name, including a plethora of video games. Ironically, Call of Duty: Finest Hour, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and Call of Duty: Black Ops are among those credits.

My point is, Call of Duty is the best military-action game out there, and Act of Valor is its counterpart. If you like war movies filled with soldiers, weapons, gunfire, explosions, etc., then you’re going to enjoy this film. There was room for improvement, but overall I left the theater both pleased and impressed.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 65%

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Project X

It’s no secret that party movies draw big crowds. Granted, those crowds usually consist of viewers in the 15-30 age range, but that’s still a pretty sizable market. Ever since I was a teen, I’ve been a fan of the party genre. I think it harkens back to American Pie and Can’t Hardly Wait, both of which I enjoyed at the time, so I continue to see party movies whenever they come out. That being said, I was incredibly impressed with the new “found-footage” film, Project X.

It’s very rare for me to mismanage my expectations, but that’s exactly what I did with this film. I wasn’t expecting much, just a mix of sex, drugs, alcohol and teens, and while that’s what I got, I wasn’t prepared for its flawless delivery and just how entertaining it proved to be. I dare say, Project X is the best party movie I’ve ever seen.

For those who may not know about Project X, I’ll let IMDb fill you in: “Three high school seniors throw a birthday party to make a name for themselves. As the night progresses, things spiral out of control as word of the party spreads.”

Pretty simple, right? Indeed it is, and that’s what made Project X so great, it was simplistic. The filmmakers didn’t convolute the film with unnecessary plot lines, dialogue, love stories, etc. Admittedly, there is a love story in the movie, but it is minimal and doesn’t dominate the storyline as it does in comedies like Can’t Hardly Wait and Superbad. The simplicity of the film, namely that a bunch of guys are looking to make a name for themselves while having a good time, is what makes it work.

When it comes to party movies, Superbad is one of the best. I liked that film a lot, but I came out liking Project X even better. The former had a great story and certainly delivered, albeit in a Hollywood fashion; conversely, Project X really had a low-key, realistic feel to it. Don’t get me wrong, there were some over-the-top scenes in the movie, but I swear I could see each and every one of them happening in real life exactly as they did on the big screen.

I was concerned the found-footage style wouldn’t work well with a party-themed movie since it would have been easy to make the audience queasy with a shaky camera, but that didn't turn out to be the case; in fact, it was shot beautifully. Had the film been shot in a more traditional style, like Superbad, it certainly wouldn’t have had the simplistic, low-key feel that I liked so much. For me, it's what defined the movie.

Not only was I surprised by the film’s awesomeness; I was a bit surprised that Todd Phillips served as the producer of this film. Obviously he has plenty of experience with party-like films under his belt including Old School, The Hangover and of course The Hangover Part II, but I was taken aback that such a big name was attached to, what was in my mind, a small and unassuming film.

While the movie had a big-name producer, the same can’t be said about the cast, which contributed to the low-key feel I’ve talked about. Project X features Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown portraying the three teen protagonists. Between them the three have TV, short-film, and feature film appearances, though none of them would be what I consider notable. Despite that, all three put in pleasing performances and endeared themselves to the audience. Often times I found myself rooting for the characters, while at other times I laughed, sympathized and cringed at their exploits.

Speaking of their adventures, that was the best part of the film. Watching things slowly slip out of their control, transforming a simple birthday party into a full-scale riot, was a treat. Body shots, stoned pets, creepy adults, hot chicks, a little person, ecstasy, drug dealers, foul language and sexual frustration are just a few of the things you’ll see throughout Project X. Oh, and one more thing, I don’t recall party films from my teenage years showing so much T & A. Lucky kids these days.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite scene, but beware; it may be a bit of a spoiler. The scene I’m talking about is when a neighbor comes over to break up the party. After negotiations fail and he threatens to call the cops, one of the party’s 12-year-old security guards took a stun gun to the neighbor, who fell like a bag of bricks. While that was a good enough laugh in and of itself, the fact that the neighbor suddenly rises up and coldcocks the 12-year-old kid is even better. I haven’t laughed that hard in quite some time.

According to, the movie had such a great opening weekend that Warner Bros.’ has green lit a sequel, with Michael Bacall, who also penned the upcoming 21 Jump Street with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, returning to write the script. The sequel will also be a found-footage movie, though it is unknown if any of the cast and crew will be returning.

Project X was incredibly entertaining, and it’s going to be a shame if they rush out a sequel just to squeeze the cash cow. It’s hard to have faith in a sequel, but hopefully Phillips learned his lesson from the Hangover Part II and doesn’t produce a cookie cutter copy. Anyway, it’s too soon to be talking about the sequel when the original is still in the theaters. If you’re looking for a good laugh and want to party it up, then go see Project X.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 88%

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Sunday, March 4, 2012


I know it’s not a new release at the moment and will likely leave theaters relatively soon, but I made it a point to go and see Chronicle this past weekend. Ever since I saw the teaser for this film, I was intrigued. As a fan of the super hero genre, I thought the film had potential, though I was afraid it was going to end up being some teen-angst movie. Lucky for me, that wasn’t the case; in fact, the movie turned out to be even better than I hoped.

For those you may not know of Chronicle, here’s how IMDbdescribes the premise: “Three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.”

The film is reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity in that it is filmed from the point of view of a video camera in the movie, also known as a found-footage film. In this case, it was a camera carried around by Andrew Detmer, brilliantly played by Dane DeHaan. This style of film has become quite popular lately, and Chronicle (an apt title considering their chronicling their uncanny experiences) did an excellent job in making it work.

Now I’ve seen a lot of movies involving superpowers, but very few have done as good a job as Chronicle in explaining and exploring those powers. Granted, you never learn what accounts for the powers in this film, aside from the fact that the characters touched a mysterious meteor, but watching them become familiar with their capabilities and exercise their power, which they liken to building a muscle, is both logical and entertaining. I also liked how all three were granted the same power, telekinesis, but learned how to use it in different ways to grant themselves invulnerability, flight, etc. It’d have been an easy copout to randomly give them all different powers, and I’m glad they didn’t take that route.

There was a lot I liked about Chronicle, but I think the thing I enjoyed the most was DeHann’s performance. Before this film, I had never heard of DeHann, though I later learned he played Timbo on True Blood and Jesse on the the HBO series In Treatment. He’s got a few other credits to his name, but playing the lead in Chronicle will no doubt prove his big break in feature films.

I mentioned before that I didn’t want the film to be dominated by teen-angst, so it’s kind of ironic that’s what made DeHann’s enactment to compelling. I liked Andrew in the film, so watching how outside influences, like a troubled family life, impacted how he used his power was both sad and engaging. A great character to say the least.

I also think the other two super-powered characters, Matt Garetty and Steve Montgomery (played by Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan), were likeable in their own ways. The former portrayed a heartthrob loner while the latter was the popular guy in school. Combined with Andrew’s dark, loser persona, and the filmmakers covered a good spectrum of the various high school niches.

Speaking of the filmmakers, this marked Josh Trank’s directorial debut in motion pictures, while the young Max Landis (born August 3, 1985) did an excellent job with the screenplay. I imagine Landis spent many of hours daydreaming about having super powers in his youth, and if that’s the case, he did a good job putting his thoughts on paper.

The other highlight of the film was the special effects. I wasn’t expecting much given the film had a $12 million budget, but I was thoroughly impressed with what I saw. The scene where the characters were flying through the clouds was really cool, and when they were sitting atop a skyscraper, well let's just say it was so realistic it made me a little queasy. Throw in some tense action sequences and you have a recipe that totally capture's the audience’s attention.

I don’t know what else to say other than I was very pleased with Chronicle. Given all the special effects, I think this is one of those movies that prove more enjoyable in a theater than at home, but either way, I recommend checking it out. 

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 84%

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Thursday, March 1, 2012


I’m a big fan of Paul Rudd and believe him to be one of the funniest comedians in film. Anchorman, Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin and Wet Hot American Summer are all classics, not to mention his numerous uncredited and television roles (His recent performance on NBC’s Parks and Recreation was brilliant). I also enjoy Jennifer Aniston as an actress, who I think it one of the most beautiful in the business. With that said, I had high hopes for their new film, Wanderlust.

IMDb describes Wanderlust: “Rattled by sudden unemployment, a Manhattan couple surveys alternative living options, ultimately deciding to experiment with living on a rural commune where free love rules.”

I found the premise intriguing, but I must admit I was curious as to the film’s “R” rating. It seems most of Rudd’s and Aniston’s past comedies were either “PG” or “PG-13,” so I was anxious to see what would push it over the limit. What accounted for the 17+ rating? It was a combination of strong language, sexual situations and full-frontal male nudity. It’s funny, I remember when I was young, showing a woman’s chest was pushing the envelope, but in this day and age, it takes a man’s penis to make the audience cringe, be it in disgust, uneasiness, or out of pure humor.

I’d like to say that Wanderlust was great, but it wasn’t. I’d also like to say it was bad, but it wasn’t that either. Instead, it was one of those films that was comprised of both great and lackluster moments, so when you average it out, it was mediocre at best.

There were some really funny moments in Wanderlust, but there were also a lot of jokes and interactions that fell flat. Both Rudd and Aniston were guilty of having these scenes, but I was more impressed with the latter's overall performance. Aniston impressed me as “Linda,” who was a bit of a dreamer as opposed to her usual portrayal of either a sexual object or know it all.

As far as Rudd is concerned, he played the same character you’ve seen so many times before. Don’t get me wrong, I like Rudd, but he has a certain persona he adheres to, almost like a kind, innocent and charming priest. You’ve seen it in his past films, and you’ll see it here. In my opinion, it’s when Rudd puts a little twist on the character that distinguishes his performance, like his intense idiocracy in Anchorman; unfortunately, you won’t see such a twist in Wanderlust.

Aside from Aniston and Rudd, the supporting cast was rather conventional. Justin Theroux, who I understand to be Aniston’s real-life beau, makes an excellent antagonist as “Seth,” who passes as one of the good guys for awhile, and while his screen time was limited, veteran Alan Alda was amusing as “Carvin,” the founder of the commune. With that said, the real star was the Joe Lo Truglio, who played the nudist "Wayne." You’ll see a little more of Truglio than you’d like, but him chasing down a car in the dead of night with his dangle dangling, well, it’s pretty funny.

All in all, I would lump Wanderlust in the same category as Rudd’s past comedies like I Love You, Man, Dinner for Schmucks and Our IdiotBrother, films I consider to be decent, but far from good. If I were you, I’d wait to see it via either Redbox or Netflix.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 46%

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