Out in the UK This Week
22 Jump Street (Sony, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
Since the undercover cops went to high school first time out, this time they must go to college. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and boss writer Michael Bacall clearly know the Jump Street premise is exhausted. More obviously, they know they spunked their best jokes on the first film. So a good 50 per cent of 22 Jump Street is referential humour about franchise exhaustion, things never being quite so good the second time around, including the outro credits, which push this concept to beyond funny and then back again. The rest of it is jokes about the almost homosexual nature of the bromance between Channing Tatum’s dumb jock Jenko and Jonah Hill’s smart(ish) schlub Schmidt – when Jenko finds a football buddy he can chest-bump with till dawn. So, not funny? Not exactly – the jokes do keep coming and range from the “anals of football history” old chestnut to a sight gag about the guys being chased at speed past the Benjamin Hill School of Film Studies (Benny Hill, see?). However, however, likeable though it is, it never really rises above being a re-run lacking in inspiration, the mis/underuse of Ice Cube – their extremely abusive cop superior and one of the funniest things about 21 – pretty much saying it all.
Human Capital (Arrow, cert 15, DVD/digital)
A chilly and stylish Italian film but an interesting one, which starts with a cyclist being knocked off his bicycle by a speeding car, and then spends the next 110 minutes or so in languid whodunit mode. Languid because it’s not really about the cyclist and it’s not really a whodunit. Instead it’s a veiled attack on the very rich, told as the story of a ghastly, vastly rich family from whose ranks the hit-and-run killer will emerge. Actually, you could argue it’s not even about them, but about the recent financial collapse that hit the world, and how, according to what we see on display, it was caused by all the unfundable lifestyles, the fecklessness, fear of old-fashioned hard work and greed abroad in the world today, especially at the top of the economic pecking order. This is most obvious in the first of four interlinked stories, which follows local estate agent Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) as he tries to inveigle his way into the family, and finances of Chapter 2’s focus, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), the bimbo trophy wife trying to persuade her husband to finance a theatre restoration project, unaware that his short-selling deals are about to unravel spectacularly. Chapter 3 focuses on Dino’s daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli), the only decent and non-avaricious person in the drama. And in Chapter 4 things are wrapped up neatly, and a touch of Brazilian soap histrionics is injected – the tone throughout has been arthouse pantomime until now. Wait for the very end, a little intertitle card which not only fully explains the film’s title, but forces a re-assessment of exactly what it is we’ve just been watching. I’m being unhelpfully vague because I don’t want to ruin it.
Earth to Echo (E One, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD/download)
Someone has had the clever idea of rewriting one of Steven Spielberg’s most famous films. The one about youngsters on bikes finding a lost alien and befriending it. They call it Echo, ET being taken, and for the rest of the film they help it re-assemble its spaceship, Echo communicating with them through their smartphones. It does prove how robust ET is that it can be rewritten trope for trope and that it works entirely – and that it can be done as a handheld first-person pov, the conceit being that one of the gang is documenting the friends’ last summer together. But it’s all shot from a kid’s height, as ET is, and it’s got some beautifully observed moments showing us the world from their viewpoint – the few minutes they spend in a bar full of gargoyle drunks, for example. Director Dave Green, who made this unlikely success, surely for loose change but with bags of real emotion, must surely be on the way to big things.
The Purge: Anarchy (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/download)
I haven’t seen the first one, but know that this sequel has been widely praised as being the better than the first. The premise, I do know, remains the same – on one day a year America’s citizenry can do what they like and no law will apply, no justice will be sought. I also know that the first film was a low-budget job, set in a house, and was a home-invasion movie. This sequel, with more money, heads out onto the streets on the night of “The Purge”, where two couples, mother and daughter Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul, husband and wife Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, have been caught outside on the one night of the year you don’t want that to happen. Joining them is professional badass Frank Grillo, who doesn’t wear an eye patch – as Kurt Russell did in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, on which this is clearly modelled – but is handy with a gun. That’s it. They spend the night together, being monstered by 1980s-looking punkish thugs, learning how to use weapons and defend themselves. Its political message: if you’re right wing it’s that governments are definitely out to get you and shouldn’t be trusted; if you’re left wing it’s that they definitely have a role to play in the regulation of society. If message is what you’re after. File under guilty pleasure.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Fox, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD/download)
The first film of this series – plot: Viking boy finds dragon and learns to fly it – was a bit of a trudge but its flying sequences were so well done that they gave me pit-of-the-stomach swoops and drops. Someone seems to have missed the memo about those bits being the best bits, the saviour in fact, of the first film. Because this second has largely abandoned them, leaving us at the mercy of the Celtic whimsy, raised-eyebrow non-humour and surging Spielbergian strings that sat all over HTTYD1. And whereas the first was a simple coming-of-ager, this is more like an instalment of Lord of the Rings, all massed armies, “they shall not pass” dialogue and digressive side characters. Plot: Hiccup the Viking kid, now five years older, stumbles over a plot to control the world’s dragons – and hence the world – at the same time as discovering that his supposedly dead mother is anything but. Two plots? Symptomatic of what’s wrong with the film, with Cate Blanchett’s mother character a brake on the more dynamic “sometimes even the peace-loving must fight” strand. Also, what’s up with the animation? I haven’t seen foreground/background separation this obvious since Cary Grant was driving Grace Kelly along the Riviera. More drag than dragon.
Monty Python Live (Mostly) (Eagle Rock, cert E, Blu-ray/DVD)
A recording of the show at London’s O2, which was billed in all sorts of Sex Pistols-ish “only in it for the money” ways. And if you approach it with an arms-folded, OK-impress-me kind of way, as I did, you might be pleasantly surprised. In many ways it’s Eric Idle’s show – he seems to have been the most enthusiastic to get the gang back together (and with shows like Spamalot he’s been the most assiduous at milking the Python brand) – and he’s often in his alter-ego as a cheeky end-of-the-pier vaudevillian in boater and stripy blazer, heading song and dance numbers, pretending to hoof, full of energy. Which is more than you can say of John Cleese, croak-voiced, portly, world-weary, but even he warms up after a while. It’s essentially a bunch of the old sketches – kicking off with the Four Yorkshiremen – interspersed with footage from the TV show, which allows them to show missing Python Graham Chapman and gives old darlings Idle, Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam a breather. Add in the odd celebrity cameo, a bit of ad-libbing and corpsing by all concerned and it’s a pleasant reminder of a hugely influential comedy troupe – Footballing Philosophers (genius), Every Sperm Is Sacred (overdone), Crunchy Frog (disappointing), Argument Clinic (still brilliant), lots more. You will have your own list.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
The appeal of the fourth instalment of Michael Bay’s shoutathon in an echo chamber is as much of a mystery to me as the first three. Orson Welles, who was the voice of Unicron in the 1986 animated version (the one with the wacky cast list – including Eric Idle, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy), referred to it as being about “a big toy that attacks smaller toys”, finding a coherence and significance in the entire Transformers thing that eludes me. I suspect director Michael Bay and writer Ehren Kruger also find the success a mystery, and are aware of the franchise’s defects, because there’s evidence all over the film of things having been tinkered with, fixed, finessed, reworked, amped up and dialled down. So, no Shia LaBeouf, instead we have Mark Wahlberg as the key human. So, a female (Nicola Peltz) who does a little more than the cleavage work that Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Megan Fox did in the earlier films. So, a lot more actual story for the humans to get busy with – Wahlberg being a junkyard inventor who comes into possession of Optimus Prime without realising it, Stanley Tucci as the megacorp boss trying to use Transformer tech to become even more megarich, Kelsey Grammer as a government wonk after the weapons value in the Autobots, or was it the Decepticons? Bay goes large on Americana – Dodge Chargers and gas stations, old power stations and rocking chairs on porches – yet another attempt to demote the robots to second place. But the problem remains that this is a film about Transformers, robots who not only seem to have no consistent relationship to physics – so there really is nothing for us to get hold of in terms of following any of Bay’s “frame-fucking” (his phrase) action – but they’re so dull it’s deadly.
© Steve Morrissey 2014