Film David Stratton reviews 22 Jump Street and Galore
22 Jump Street (MA15+) Wide national release Frank (tbc) Limited release Galore (MA15+) Limited release
IN the midst of a season of unusually dumb, crude and witless Hollywood comedies, stands out as being rather better than the rest. This sequel to 21 Jump Street, which was a feature film spin-off from a 1980s television series, is smart enough to poke fun at itself and its charismatic leading actors, even if it can’t escape the limitations of gutter language that seems to be de rigueur for this sort of film these days. It’s also a film that acknowledges that some in the audience might not have seen the original, so it helpfully starts with a reprise of scenes from 21, including — curiously — a sequence that wasn’t in the earlier film and that seems to have been inspired by the famous lobster-cooking scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are undercover cops; in the first film they were sent to enrol as students in a high school to bust drug dealers. Here the plot is much the same except that the hapless pair are sent to college, where they still stand out as being far too old to be legitimate students. Schmidt is the (fairly) brainy one and Jenko is the sportsman, who soon finds himself in the football team and getting pally with chief suspect Zook (Wyatt Russell). Schmidt, meanwhile, starts getting up close and personal with pretty Maya (Amber Stevens), unaware that she’s the cherished daughter of an overprotective police captain, Dickson (Ice Cube).
While much of this is pretty standard stuff, it’s all easy to take thanks to the engaging performances from the two leads. The screenplay contains quite a few funny lines (including a priceless reference to Cate Blanchett), and the direction by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who also made The Lego Movie) is crisp and efficient. Hill and, especially, Tatum are really very good at this kind of broad, unsophisticated comedy and they extract more genuine laughs than you might suppose from the material.
Not to be missed are the end credits, which cheerfully predict future instalments of the franchise (in outer space, as a martial arts movie and so on), in one of which Jonah Hill is replaced by Seth Rogen — a problem with contracts, we’re jokingly advised.
a British-Irish co-production directed by Lenny Abrahamson, is a very strange film in which the title character, played by Michael Fassbender, wears a papier-mache head, with painted eyes, hair and mouth, for almost the entire film — in fact, if someone other than Fassbender had been playing the role you’d hardly be any the wiser. This is such an odd concept that it was fascinating to discover it’s based on a real character: Chris Sievey (who died in 2010), who was known as Frank Sidebottom and came from Manchester, wore just such a fake head when he starred in the Oh Blimey Big Band, and the film is dedicated to him. The screenplay is based on a story by Jon Ronson, who became a substitute keyboard player with the band, just as Domhnall Gleeson’s perplexed Jon does in the film.
There are differences, though. In the film, Frank is an American and the band goes by the unpronounceable name of Soronprfbs. Jon, who lives in the suburbs of a bleak seaside town and wants to write songs, is brought into the band by manager Don (Scoot McNairy) when the keyboard player tries to drown himself. The only explanation for Frank’s strange behaviour is that he’s mentally ill, which is the dark side of what is otherwise quite an amusing comedy about experimental musicians attempting to find an audience for something no one really wants. A long sequence takes place near an Irish lake, as the group — which also includes theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), percussionist Nana (Carla Azar) and grumpy French bass player Baraque (Francois Civil) — attempts to record an album, and the last part of the film unfolds at a festival in Texas.
There is no easy way to describe Frank — the film or the character — since Abrahamson is constantly shifting mood and perception to keep the audience guessing. While some scenes are funny in a dark kind of way (the discovery that Frank even wears his head while taking a
22 Jump Street shower), others are pretty bleak, and Abrahamson is skilful enough to juggle the mood from one to another without losing control of the material. In the end, it’s a sad movie; you come away feeling enormous sympathy for the eccentric Frank and his friends, but also for Jon, the perpetual loser. CANBERRA in sweltering summer, with sinister black smoke from approaching bushfires constantly seen above the trees and houses of the suburbs, is the original setting for an Australian film about teenagers and their problems. There is so much that is promising about this film that its deficiencies are all the more regrettable.
It’s the story of Billie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Laura (Lily Sullivan), both 17 and inseparable friends. Billie lives with her single mum, Carrie (Maya Stange), while Laura lives with her parents. Billie is the daring one, the one willing to experiment far more than her cautious friend; she’s sexually involved with Danny (Toby Wallace), and though not given much to guilt, she does feel bad because Danny is Laura’s boyfriend. The arrival of Isaac (Aliki Matangi), a troubled young protege of Carrie, adds to the sexual tension.
These bored kids attend wild parties, drink too much, use drugs, and head off on wild joyrides in stolen cars — it’s a recipe for disaster, and not surprisingly disaster duly arrives.
All of this might have provided the ingredients for a fine Aussie film, a sort of postmodern, inland Puberty Blues perhaps. Unfortunately writer-director Rhys Graham, who grew up in Canberra, has created characters who are utterly uninteresting, with horizons as limited as their vocabularies. Speaking of which, either the sound recording was not up to the mark or the diction of the actresses was woeful, because apart from the overused F-word, very little else that was said was decipherable; this was not only my problem, as others I spoke to also complained they couldn’t understand what was said. Compounding these problems was the incomprehensible decision of Graham and his director of photography, Stefan Duscio, to shoot most scenes in gigantic, claustrophobic close-ups, allowing little in the way of a wider context for the viewer. It’s annoyingly handheld, too, but that sort of phony documentary approach is, unfortunately, common these days, though there are signs the trend is coming to an end. This has to be counted one of the weaker local efforts seen so far this year.
Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum manage to keep
Laura (Lily Sullivan) and Billie (Ashleigh Cummings) in a scene from