Thursday, June 19, 2014

22 Jump Street, Ivory Tower, Korengal, Elena, The Rover, The Sacrament, Dormant Beauty

22 Jump Street

Ivory Tower



The Rover

The Sacrament

Dormant Beauty

A poor movie year continues with a week in which "22 Jump Street" earns the only recommendation:

The sequel to the 2012 Jonah Hill-Channing Tatum undercover cop/buddy campus comedy scores a lot of big laughs with its well-drawn characters: Tatum's BMOC Jenko, Hill's perpetually overlooked Schmidt, a scowling Ice Cube (channeling Nipsey Russell in "Wildcats") as their captain, unimpressed with both but on the warpath when he learns Schmidt's been making it with his daughter, Maya (Amber Stevens). The script (credited to too many writers to list) adds a fresh and funny character in Mercedes (Jillian Bell), Maya's roommate, who always seems to be watching them when they wake up and has some great riffs on Schmidt's protestations that he really is 19. It works less well when it leaves Hill to ad-lib, as in a poetry slam that thuds onscreen; the improvisational skills he showed in "The Watch" require a partner such as Vince Vaughn. And a funny (and kinda hot) plot thread involving Jenko's bromance with Zook (Wyatt Russell), the quarterback who may be the drug dealer they're looking for, sours when Zook suddenly roars about girls (blech) and Jenko and Schmidt, caught snooping around a psych professor's office, pretend to be lovers (double blech). Tatum is a stunning man, in a way mere himbos aren't; there's a brain at work up there, and tremendous audience appeal. The sight of him in a "Sun's out, guns out" tank top and board shorts merited the price of admission for me. Then the shorts got wet. Then he poured talcum powder down the front of his football pants. I'm not sure I could duplicate the sound I emitted just then… Director Andrew Rossi's diffuse higher education documentary "Ivory Tower" asks what can be done about the cost of college, which has inflated faster than that of any other major good or service in the American economy (a Zimbabwean 1120% since I've been around). After taking mildly interesting but tangential detours to Deep Springs, Spelman, and (at excruciating length) Cooper Union, Rossi offers few if any answers… "Restrepo" documentarian Sebastian Junger returns to the scene of his Oscar nomination with "Korengal," essentially a compilation of B-side footage involving much less risk to the U.S. soldiers deployed in this mountainous Afghan terrain and more after-the-fact reminiscences. The material never bores, but for those of us who've seen one or a hundred war movies, it sheds little light… I hate to sound like the guy in the movie line in "Annie Hall," but the key word for Petra Costa's cinematic memory quilt "Elena" is "indulgent." Petra's sister Elena preceded her out of Brazil to New York with the same dream of becoming a film actress. But Elena suffered from undiagnosed depression and killed herself in her early twenties. Like a kindergarten collagist, Petra has pieced together letters, home movies, and re-enactments (washed out to give a tacky faux-verité look). By the time we left - over an hour in - more folks had walked out than stayed. Two elderly ladies held the door for us: "Are we just too old? Do you get it??"… "Animal Kingdom" director David Michôd's ""The Rover" blew out the budget on dust and left none behind for a script that makes any sort of sense. Guy Pearce, so attractive earlier this spring in "Breathe In," monotones his way through as a loner who finds purpose in this post-apocalyptic dystopia when four thieves steal his rattletrap of a car. He bypasses Jeeps, sedans and SUV's in a quixotic quest to recover it, joined halfway through by Robert Pattinson as the dim-bulb, left-for-dead brother of one of the thieves. Pattinson's straining manfully to earn post-"Twilight" screen cred, but the squirm-in-your-seat factor makes this one a must to miss - not to mention the incongruity of the safe house at which they finally arrive, an oasis of flora amid the sand and barbed wire… Gene Jones as the smiling, insidious "Father" is the best thing about Ti West's "The Sacrament," a mash-up of Jonestown and "The Blair Witch Project." Joe Swanberg (who should be spending his time directing terrific pictures like "Drinking Buddies") and AJ Bowen play a two-man Vice camera crew who fly into an unspecified country to visit "Eden Parish," the intentional community to which their colleague's sister (an aptly unnerving Amy Seimetz), just out of rehab, has devoted her life and all her worldly possessions. The first half of the movie - in which the men are met at the gates by armed guards, and a mute girl passes them a note reading "Please help us" - builds real tension, culminating in an interview of "Father" before his flock in which Swanberg, hoping to nail him, instead surrenders to his charisma. But in attempting to incorporate too many aspects of the Jonestown massacre within his single-day timeframe, West rushes the second half, and the tension drains. The movie's mass suicide by Flavor-Aid is something to see, but pales beside the desperate and horrific audio of the actual event: ... "Short Cuts" meets "You Don't Know Jack" (Kevorkian) in Marco Bellocchio's "Dormant Beauty." Four cross-cutting stories unfold while an Italian equivalent of the Terri Schiavo case engenders passionate protests on both sides: a senator (Toni Servillo of “The Great Beauty”) who pulled the plug on his beloved wife prepares to cast his vote on a euthanasia bill; his daughter begins dating the brother of a self-styled right-to-die activist; a devoutly Catholic actress (Isabelle Huppert) devotes her life to a vigil at the bedside of her comatose daughter, while her son fumes at her wasted talent and her husband sits by impotently; and a doctor insists on keeping a suicidal drug addict from jumping out the hospital window. A strange brew of soap-opera hysterics and staid, drawing-room lassitude yields ponderous longueurs throughout the two-hour runtime. “Dormant Beauty” says little new about the subject that consumes it, and does so slowly.

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