Monthly Archives: April 2012

My Most Anticipated Summer Movies: 2012 Edition

1. Moonrise Kingdom

Summer is supposedly blockbuster season, so maybe it doesn’t seem right to have a Wes Anderson movie on top. However, I have always held a special place in my heart for Anderson’s work ever since I first saw “The Royal Tenenbaums” in theaters when I was too young to understand references to Jacques Cousteau. Every once in a while, it’s nice to take a break from the loud explosions of the usual summer fare for something a little more character driven and down to earth. So far, the trailer has promised yellow font and a possibly deranged Bill Murray carrying an ax. I’m sold.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

This one just seems to go without saying. I get chills every time I watch this trailer, from the image of the football field blowing up, to Catwoman’s (Anne Hathaway) prophecy of doom. It might be hard to live up to Heath Ledger’s The Joker as a villain, but then again, that would be hard for any movie to do. Christopher Nolan has found a way to save the summer blockbuster. Here’s hoping the midnight showings aren’t sold out already.

3. The Campaign

This new political comedy does not have a poster or even a trailer yet. However, it really doesn’t need either. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis will play rivaling southern politicians. Jason Sudekis, Brian Cox, and Dan Aykroyd co-star. Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell of “Eastbound & Down” penned it. There is no way I am not seeing this.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man

It may be too soon for a “Spider-Man” reboot, as “Spider-Man 3″ graced theaters with its franchise-ruining abilities just five years ago. However, director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) has admirable ambitions for this project. It certainly helps that “The Amazing Spider-Man” plans to bring a Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) who is much more faithful to the Peter Parker of the original comic book. A Spider-Man who creates a web shooting device is a lot more intriguing than a Spider-Man standing on top of a roof yelling, “Go web, go!”

5. Prometheus

I fear that supporting “Prometheus” is in effect supporting the sequel/remake/prequel/reboot culture that currently runs Hollywood. However, this “Alien” prequel brings back Ridley Scott, who directed the original movie in 1979. He brought a slow, creeping suspense that is typically no longer allowed in movies nowadays. Here’s hoping he can return to that form, and influence all other filmmakers who want to make the next great science fiction movie.

Movie Review: Submarine

Okay, everyone. Time to put on a scarf, thick-frame glasses, and turn your record player on. That’s right, it’s time to get quirky.*

“Submarine” is a very Welsh film directed by someone who is distinctly English, with a distinctly English sense of humor. Funny, as it begins with a note from the narrator Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) notifying the American audience that there is indeed a difference between being English and being Welsh. This is not the last time Oliver Tate will try and screw with your head in the most deviously playful way possible.

Watching “Submarine” is akin to watching a British Wes Anderson movie. Depending on who you are, this can be taken as a compliment, an insult, or something else in between. The film is filled with jabs of irony and self-awareness, yet thanks to the ideological protagonist, it mostly veers away from being pretentious.

Oliver Tate’s story is set in 1986. 15-year-old Oliver is a blend of Max Fisher, Antoine Doinel, and Alex DeLarge, minus the violent tendencies of the latter. Oliver seems to be a crafted response to these teenage anti-heroes, and his voiceover is of someone who is not aware that he is in a movie, but wishes he could be in one. At one point, Oliver imagines a small moment being captured in a zoom-in on film and low and behold, we get the zoom-in. Richard Ayoade may be credited as the director, but Oliver Tate deserves some of that credit as well.

Oliver may be precocious, but he is also like any character you would find in “American Pie,” as his foremost goal is to lose his virginity. But Oliver, who is probably too young to be this particular, won’t take just any girl. Oliver sets his sights on a girl who is neither the most popular nor the prettiest girl in school. Jordana (Yasmin Paige), like Oliver, keeps to herself. But she stands out in her bright red jacket, a change from everyone else’s drab uniforms. The color red has a big significance throughout, and with just one movie, Ayoade has already found a way to manipulate the small details on screen for his own advantage.

On the inside, Oliver is a hopeless romantic. Meanwhile, Jordana despises anything romantic. Oliver will only take her to the most decrepit places in town. Their dates, captured by Erik Wilson’s hauntingly beautiful cinematography, involve chaos and destruction. In Oliver’s head, everything is going perfectly between them. That is, until tragedy strikes in Jordana’s life, and Oliver is not there for her. She finds this an unforgivable betrayal and dumps him. Yet, he cannot forget about her. Then, Oliver is posed with one of the biggest questions involving young love: will it matter when you’re 38-years-old? Let’s wait until we get to that age to find out.

What differs Oliver from the lead of most high school movies is that he has to deal with issues well beyond what is important to the typical teenager. While trying to maintain his own relationship with Jordana, Oliver also takes on responsibility for his parents’ crumbling marriage. His mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) is falling out of love with her husband Lloyd (Noah Taylor). Lloyd, given the look of a depressed 18th century philosopher by Taylor, is a man who seems content not reaching his full potential. He is a brilliant marine biologist (probably not coincidentally, he was also in “The Life Aquatic”) who excels in research, but mumbles in front of a crowd. He likes everything to be predictable, and he feels no shame in revealing gifts before they are unwrapped. Oliver’s mother, meanwhile, may be having an affair with her former lover Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine), who is an even cornier motivational speaker than Jim Cunningham of “Donnie Darko.” Purvis adds on to the comedic edge of “Submarine,” and makes the movie into a slightly altered version of a plausible reality.

“Submarine” has a deep affinity for the ocean. Maybe it’s a Welsh thing, as the rugged shoreline sure is scenic. The ocean, very adeptly, represents everything that “Submarine” is about. The one fact Oliver remembers that Lloyd taught him about the ocean is that it goes down six miles at its deepest point. Besides that, there is not much more that we can know for sure. It is also probably symbolic for the subconscious, but even my own knowledge only goes so far.

Someone will likely post this on their Tumblr.

The title of the movie comes from the idea that submarines operate at an ultrasound frequency above what humans can hear. One submarine can never know what the other one is planning or thinking. Oliver points this out. Yet, perhaps one of the biggest marks of immaturity is the constant need to contradict one’s self. In the memorable and darkly comic sequence in which Oliver imagines how everyone would react to his death, he believes he has it all down to a T. Maybe he does have it all right. Or perhaps, as he says himself, its better to be by yourself and think about how these things will happen then to actually experience them.

“Submarine” is really the story of Oliver coming out of his shell. The self-assured performances by Roberts and Paige give the movie the heart that it sometimes struggles to find. In a lesser movie, it would have been solely about him winning back Jordana and finding true love. But this is an above par Sundance entry that is about more than what is seen on screen. Here is a coming of age story where the character doesn’t even know if he came of age; all he knows is that he has grown older.

Here is a movie that is all kinds of sad and funny. It is never funny in the cliche, fall out of your seat sense, but rather in the satisfying sense that it has humorously captured a little trinket of life quite accurately. Alex Turner, better known as the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, is the movie’s Simon & Garfunkel: you feel like the songs could not exist without being a part of the movie, and vice versa. “Submarine” is one of the most aesthetically pleasing movies to come along in a while. It is like a cinematic museum composed of paintings and polaroids worth staring at for hours. While Oliver’s narration, which guides the story, can go all over the place and get out of hand at times, that is the way it should be. It is hard to say that any decision made by in the production wasn’t made for a reason.

While “Submarine” is rated R, I believe it is still suitable for any 15 or 16 year old to see. I probably shouldn’t be doling out advice to parents, but there is something wrong with how your kids have been brought up if they don’t swear words.

*If you feel the need to punch me in the face after reading the opening paragraph, then I would not blame you.

I have no definitive proof that the final images from “Submarine” (above) and the final images from “The 400 Blows” (below) are related, but I would be surprised if they weren’t.

Movie Review: The Last Picture Show

“You ain’t ever gonna amount to nothing.”

The first and last shots of “The Last Picture Show” are nearly identical. However, one is in reverse of the other. The movie marquee, once presenting the next showing, is now empty. After the last picture show has ended, there is not much left to do.

“The Last Picture Show” is such a vivid and knowledgeable portrayal of life in a small Texan town, that it would seem only to come from memory. Yet, director Peter Bogdanovich grew up in Kingston, New York, a place bearing no resemblance to rural Texas. He’s just that good of a filmmaker.

“The Last Picture Show” takes place in the fictional town of Anarene where football is king. This was long before “Friday Night Lights” ever came to be. Except here, none of the action takes place on the field, so glory is even harder to find.

From start to finish, “The Last Picture Show” is powered by the country tunes playing on everyone’s radios, primarily those of Hank Williams. In Anarene, which becomes a character itself, the greatest means of escape are the pool hall and the movie theater, especially that movie theater.

“The Last Picture Show” is a coming of age story in which the teenagers mature in a world that is not vibrant or cultured but instead rather bleak. Think the opposite of “American Graffiti.” As the film progresses, the culture diminishes more and more.

Instead of beginning with dialogue, “The Last Picture Show” starts off with the voices of disc jockeys and the music on the radio, perhaps the guiding voice of that generation. “The Last Picture Show” primarily follows the town’s star football players Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). Sonny is kind and sensitive and in a relationship with a girl he does not love (Sharon Taggart). Their relationship will not last long. Duane, meanwhile, is confident, handsome and popular. He is first introduced while dating the beautiful Jacy Farrow (Cybil Shepard), Anarene’s equivalent of a movie star; a goddess wearing a scarf. In this drab setting, she is a human oasis.

Everything is in order until trouble comes during Christmas. After a holiday party, Sonny befriends and later has an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), his football coach’s wife. Ruth is miserable and despises her husband, but says she married him as a way of angering her parents. At a time when Hollywood favored youth rebellion against those who raised them, “The Last Picture Show” actually ends up being about a sacred respect for one’s elders. After all, everyone feels a need to rebel at one point or another.

That is what makes this film such a unique coming of age story: it is as much about the adults coming of age as it is about the kids. Coming of age, after all, is the act of discovering how one is supposed to act at a given time in their life. This act can occur more than once during one’s life.

The boys all end up vying for the affection of Jacy. This will eventually lead to each of their downfalls in one form or another. “The Last Picture Show” is less a story as a whole as it is a mosaic of little stories that fall together into a vivid, haunting, yet beautiful, whole. A road trip to Mexico that happens entirely offscreen and a pool hall given to Sonny in an inheritance are just two of the many threads tied together to make a whole. These events don’t need to be seen to have an impact. Watching “The Last Picture Show” brought to mind “On the Waterfront” and the disenfranchised teen rebels of “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Like these movies, “The Last Picture Show” also has a strong emphasis on the little moments that are often ignored in everyday life, yet can’t be ignored in front of a camera. Moments like the one in which Ruth struggles to get her shirt over her head felt improvised, like the moment in “On the Waterfront” when Terry (Marlon Brando) fiddles with Edie’s (Eva Marie Saint) glove. There is something funny and tender about moments like these that make the characters feel vulnerable and achingly real.

In a way, “The Last Picture Show” is not about the loss of innocence leading into the Korean War, but rather about how that innocence was never there to begin with. In Anarene, there is no difference between public and private lives. Jacy and Sonny’s impulse marriage begins partly because Jacy is bored, and partly because she wants to be the talk of the town.

“The Last Picture Show” contains some outstanding work from multiple actors who would continue to make a great impact on cinema. Bridges creates slick, confident characters who you always want to follow, no matter how egotistical or lazy they may be (the lazy part refers to a different movie, of course). So many sides of each character are seen and at one point or another, everyone of them seems either emotional or emotionless. For example, the film’s most indelible scene comes during skinny-dipping at rich boy Bobby’s (Gary Brockette) house. As Jacy gets up in front of everyone to undress, her insecurity is seen in the way she clumsily undresses, and at that moment she becomes more than a spoiled, shallow beauty queen. It might have helped that this was actually Shepard’s first nude scene. No one ever feels like they are acting: they seem to feel so free and comfortable in the skin of their characters that they are simply just existing in their roles. That also comes from the screenplay written by Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry (who wrote the book that this film is based off of), which is so deeply invested in the local dialect. “The Last Picture Show” comes closer to achieving naturalism as most films ever will.

Despite the lack of culture in Anarene, the bits and pieces of cinema and music throughout aid in telling this story. Think about the clip of “Red River” shown in the theater. Bogdanovich chose it for a reason. Hank Williams’s “Why Don’t You Love Me” is a perfect sendoff song and it provides a melancholy epilogue about how hard it becomes to enjoy what we used to enjoy as we age. Not that the haunting last images needed to be explained, but the song certainly provides the right backdrop.

It would probably be hard to see something like “The Last Picture Show” get made nowadays. Bogdanovich has no shame ending without something uplifting to cling onto. However, that is what helps make the story feel so much more real, as it acknowledges that life doesn’t always end with a big, bright ribbon tied to it. Even the healing and uniting power of movies, which the boys depend on, can’t be relied on anymore, as the theater closes its doors. “The Last Picture Show” will remind you that sometimes closure is not the most rewarding way to end a movie.

Here’s an Idea Hollywood: A modern day update of “The Last Picture Show” about the closing of a small town video store. Boom. I expect to be paid now.

Why Hollywood Hates Your Stupid Suburb

Well, I guess everything nice can go a little bad, too.

While watching this past weekend’s excellent new “Mad Men” episode “Signal 30,” I realized something that I should have understood long ago: Hollywood loves to hate on suburbia. The offsprings of cities have come to represent boredom and loss of youth, amongst other things. They can be purgatory or hell, depending on how you look at it. Even when they do look nice, there is usually some joke behind it. In front of the camera,  a suburban town never looks like a purely good place to live.

Let’s start with this week’s “Mad Men” and go back and around. This episode found the spoiled heir Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) going slowly insane in his new home in Cos Cob, Connecticut where, according to his wife Trudy (Alison “#AnniesBoobs” Brie), there are no bakeries or Greenbergs. As a Connecticut resident, I assure you that there are in fact an abundance of Greenbergs.

So this is how people in Connecticut are supposed to dress?

The biggest objection one might have to a bunch of white people being miserable in the suburbs is that they probably have a nice enough car and a big enough house to keep them happy forever. It is entirely possible even for even the privileged to have emotions. By taking Pete, who has just moved out of New York City, and placing him in a bedroom community, “Mad Men” revealed that the reason people grow weary of small town life is because nothing happens. Some people need the adrenaline of big city life, and not a backyard with a pool.

Perhaps the most well-known recent example of suburban angst is “American Beauty.” Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is unhappy mainly because he has been rendered useless by both his family and his job. But he also seems to hate everything he owns, and these “things” are as useless to him as he is to everyone else. “American Beauty” does not suggest that every suburbanite is a miserable mess. The happiest and most together people in “American Beauty” is the gay couple. Perhaps that is because they have nothing hide, while everyone else seems to have so much to conceal. It is so easy to hide everything away behind a white picket fence. Filmmakers must think that city dwellers are less miserable because they are much more involved in the world they inhabit.

Even the portrayals of suburbia that seem positive are oozing with irony. The hilariously picture perfect Lumberton of “Blue Velvet” is just a front for violent perversion and creepy Roy Orbison impersonators. Same goes for the world of “Happiness,” where even the most stable family man can secretly be a child molester. In recent shows “Weeds” and “Cougar Town”* the orderly planned neighborhoods of Southern California and Florida are just made out of ticky tacky.


So maybe these examples aren’t saying that suburban life is totally terrible and you’re all spoiled rotten. The camera and the script are meant to capture hidden human truths, and a solid truth comes from the last line of “Some Like it Hot”: “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Everything that claims to be is just hiding some tragic flaws. Most suburbanites we see on the big and small screens are portrayed as prisoners: the men have been emasculated and the women have been tamed. Is this really what living in the country does to you, or is that just a part of getting old and having a family? That may be as difficult as asking whether the chicken, or the egg that needs you to pick them up at soccer practice, came first.

“Mad Men” did some good in making life outside of a metropolis seem half good: at least they acknowledged the fresh air and ample space. The most positive portrayals of the suburbs I have seen in film came from the eyes of teenagers living in very different eras: “American Graffiti” and “Dazed and Confused.” Maybe that is because teenagers are better at entertaining themselves. A life without commitment is definitely easiest. But then again, the 60s and 70s felt a lot more alive. There were still disc jockeys on the radio and small community theaters.

Big cities will always have that culture. Small towns are so prone to losing it. It is once that the uniqueness that makes us feel human has disappeared that suburban life becomes something negative. So Hollywood doesn’t necessarily hate your stupid suburb, it just hates how plain and monotonous small town America has seemed to become.

*Yes, I have seen “Cougar Town” and yes, it actually is not half bad.

I can’t get enough of this. There should be a spinoff sitcom called “Everybody Hates Pete.”

Levon Helm: 1940-2012

After a long battle with cancer, Levon Helm, drummer and singer for The Band, died today. He was 71.

The Band had all the right in the world to carry such a simple name, as quite simply there is no other band like them. Unfortunately, I know less of the inner workings of music than I do of television and film. But when I like music, I just get that inescapable feeling. Of the short playlist of songs the classic rock station I listened to growing up played over and over, “The Weight” is the only one I never tired of.

Imagine my surprise when I finally saw “Easy Rider” and heard this song playing as Hopper and Fonda rode choppers through the American West. Every time I heard that song soon after, I saw desserts and red rocky formations. I saw a chunk of America right there within its verses.

The Band were the main subject of another iconic movie: Martin Scorsese’s rock documentary “The Last Waltz,” which documented The Band’s last concert. Helm has been a huge part of both my film and music education.

We will never have a band quite like The Band again, nor a musician quite like Levon Helm.

Analog This: Ron Swanson Makes a Bobblehead of Himself

I suggest you put everything down now and watch.

No seriously, I know you are all busy. And I understand, that’s fine. You probably already have enough Kony 2012 videos to watch. But here is a video that might make you a better person, one where you will learn something you never thought you could.

Here is a video of Nick Offerman, better known to everyone else as Ron Swanson of “Parks and Recreation,” making a Ron Swanson bobblehead. Offerman, like the legendary mustached character he plays, is known for being something of a heathen when it comes to technology. Also, woodworking is a hobby of his.  He makes everything from canoes to chairs. It makes me wonder what I could accomplish if social media and the internet were never invented.

Top 5: Movies I will Watch to Completion Whenever They are on TV

You know that feeling. You’re cruising through the channels and suddenly, you come across a movie. Maybe the game is on in 10 minutes, or you’re just in commercial break from [insert reality show that everyone watches here] and it’s that one movie that you’ve seen so many times. You can recite every line to it and yet, you can watch it again and again. Even though it has been on for an hour, watching it to completion feels necessary. I would like to present with you now my list of movies that I will watch anytime I find them on TV. Some have been acknowledged as masterpieces. Others, meanwhile, may have you questioning my credibility. Read the complete list after the jump.

1. Goodfellas

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” “Goodfellas” has what is, in my humble opinion, the most flawless opening a movie has ever had. It is exciting, hilarious, and most importantly, captivating. It gives you enough information to get into the world, but not enough so you feel the need to find out more. Once you’ve started it, you’ll just want to keep watching. Even after seeing it so many times, watching the opening again re-invigorates the curiosity I felt the very first time I ever watched it. Good luck changing the channel now.

2. The Godfather (I & II)

The first two parts of the “Godfather” saga are over three hours a piece. With commercials, that puts both of them at close to five hours each. Once you’ve seen them, they are the kinds of movies you can pick up at any point and keep watching. AMC typically plays the first two movies every Thanksgiving, and “Arrested Development” marathons notwithstanding, I will always tune in.

3. The Big Lebowski

This spot nearly went to “Pulp Fiction,” until I realized that it was time to set limits on how often that movie could be discussed on this site. As “Lebowski” gets better on repeat viewings, it is fitting that I will always want to watch it on TV the whole way through. Like any great Coen Brothers movie, there is always more humor to be found in scenes that you never thought could ever be funny. And while I usually hate the way that networks censor movies, the infamous re-dubbing of “The Big Lebowski” is the stuff of unintentional comic genius. Unfortunately, I cannot find the footage online, but just picture the phrase “f**k a stranger in the ass!” being replaced with the supposedly much gentler “find a stranger in the Alps” and the weirdly fitting, if nonsensical ,”feed a stoner scrambled eggs.”

4. Anchorman

The collective viewing public has seen “Anchorman” enough times that it can recite the whole movie by heart. While it is not as funny as it was to me years ago, I will still drop what I am doing and watch “Anchorman” whenever TBS makes room for it in its busy Tyler Perry-packed schedule. I speak for the whole world when I say, that sequel cannot come soon enough.

5. 3 Ninjas

What has The Reel Deal come to? How do I begin with one of the AFI’s top 10 movies, and end with this throwaway family film from the 90s? It is hard to pinpoint one answer. Maybe because it brings back some very nice nostalgia. Or, perhaps it is still fun to shout “Rocky loves Emily!” repeatedly. While “3 Ninjas” contains plenty of the “nutshot,” perhaps the lowest point any comedy can sink to, there is something so infinitely watchable and hysterical about the break-in scene. I’ve laughed at it over and over again for nearly 20 years. When your film diet consists largely of foreign films, Martin Scorsese, and Charlie Kaufman, it is nice to have something like “3 Ninjas” to look back on, in order to keep your sanity and immaturity intact.

Editor’s Note: The 90s are underrated.

Analog This: Community, Pillow Fights, and Storytelling Algorithems

 The Changlourious Basterds.

Earlier this week, while reading a document for my English class, I realized something: studying theory can really suck, especially when words such as “interpellation” are used every other word. So I vow now, when discussing a comedic pop culture artifact* such as “Community,” I will do all I can to stay away from such language.

This seems necessary, especially when the story at hand is about how a pillow fight turns into war.
Last night’s episode of “Community,” entitled “Pillows and Blankets,” is a high note for a series that mainly consists of high notes. It did everything “Community” is known for doing right, and then some. Since its return from hiatus, “Community” has been on my mind lately. While maintaing the funny, the show has also delved into depths darker than any explored in its past. 
Troy and Abed, the inseparable best friends, get into a major fight once they are both faced with the prospect of becoming adults. The conflict escalated last week, as the two of them built separate blanket and pillow forts, and then declared war on one another. Such a silly subject strangely seemed so sad. That’s because they’re Troy and Abed, and they hosted the cheeriest fake talk show to ever exist.
But on to “Pillows and Blankets.” It is one of the series’s so called concept episodes. This episode, which was mainly based off of either either a History Channel special or a Ken Burns documentary, turned the pillow fight that broke out in last week’s episode (which was more a sendoff on “The Lord of the Rings”) into the Civil War. 
A few weeks ago, I discussed how I believed that “Community” was about the characters constantly trying to figure out their assigned roles. Even when out of typical sitcom form, every member of the study room seven acted exactly as they would have in a war. Public health major Annie took on a Clara Barton role, Jeff took on the role as mediator so he wouldn’t have to go to class, Britta acted as war journalist, and Pierce was doing everything he could to stay relevant. The episode, told partly in the slideshow form of the typical PBS documentary, doesn’t even have a single line of dialogue from Britta. However, she stole the show, with her terribly juxtaposed black and white photographs. When “Community” is imitating something, it is best at sticking to the form while throwing in very subtle jabs, such as the one that black and white does not necessarily make a photo good. Pierce’s pillow armor, which made him look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, was also a nice touch.
“Pillows and Blankets” also displayed a few hilarious quotes throughout that could have been real, such as “feathers without birds” and “pajamas without children.” They include maps, with each part being named after a person (even “North” is named after a guy who’s last name is North), and a series of ever ridiculous arrows, obstacles, and retreats. No other network sitcom puts this much devotion into the little details. 
All of the perfection is thanks to wunderkind perfectionist Dan Harmon. Harmon, has been in the headlines a lot lately. Unfortunately, it is for all of the wrong reasons. But after the fallout of his argument with Chevy Chase, Harmon proved himself to be as humble and self-aware as the show he created with the apology he wrote on his blog earlier this week. But more importantly, an excellent profile written on Harmon in Wired reveals perhaps the most important piece of information about the show. Harmon has been pop culture obsessed for pretty much his entire life. With all of the “Die Hard” and “Doctor Who” he has watched, Harmon studied basic story structure, and broke it down into eight easy steps:
This is what Harmon uses as the backbone for every episode of “Community.” When looking over it, I find this structure to be incredibly accurate. The best part about it is how flexible it is. Every form of story, from movies, to television shows, to books, to songs, to documentaries, are all connected by this structure. That is why “Community” can have an episode spoofing Civil War documentaries, another spoofing “Hearts of Darkness,” and another spoofing “Goodfellas,” and have each one come out so perfectly. Dan Harmon, I believe, is one of the seminal storytellers of our time.
*That’s right, “Community” is an artifact.

Analog This: The Trailer for Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom

No, I have not seen “The West Wing” yet. I also have not seen “Sports Night” or “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” The first two are on my to-watch list. However, I have seen “The Social Network,” and I still tune in to it every time it is on TV, and I know that Aaron Sorkin is a writer like no other. Sorkin is back, with an upcoming drama for HBO called “The Newsroom.” It looks like a Sorkin drama in every way, crackling with fast, whip-smart dialogue. And maybe it will bring HBO, the original purveyor of quality drama on cable, the new hit show that they have not had in years. The premiere is on June 24 and you can watch the trailer below. Let’s see how many episodes it takes for Jeff Daniels to scream, “I am mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”:

Movie Review: 21 Jump Street

If Hollywood wants to continue remaking movies, then remakes must declare themselves as being one. That helps in making “21 Jump Street,” a modern update of the TV series that made Johnny Depp a star, so good.

Early in the movie, when Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) is assigning mismatched officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) to a new job as undercover officers at a local high school, he notes that the people who make these assignments lack creativity and instead steal old ideas from the 80s. The studio was truly a good sport on this one.

“21 Jump Street” might as well have been called “Not Another Cop Comedy.” It is more “MacGruber” than “Starsky & Hutch,” with a hint of “Hot Fuzz.” “21 Jump Street” works because it knows all of the beats that a cop comedy should go through, yet it is funny and self-aware at each of them. Call it a post-modernist cop comedy, if you want to be all English major about it.

Schmidt and Jenko go back a long way. In high school, Schmidt was president of the juggling society and Jenko was a jock. Jenko frequently beat Schmidt up. However, they form a tight, unlikely bond at the end of high school and go into the police academy together. Schmidt is always the smart one and Jenko, well, he looks and acts like a cop. Or at least the kind you would see in a movie.

The duo find their lives as cops surprisingly dull; they mainly patrol a park while riding bikes and stop kids from feeding the ducks. The scene of them trying to stop a group of drug pushers shows just how many possible ways there are to make riding a bike funny.

Schmidt and Jenko prove to be hopelessly incompetent as cops. Because of their youthful looks, they are placed in a program that puts under cover cops in high schools, under the jurisdiction of the tough Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). It was Ice Cube’s performance here that made me remember what a good actor he can be, and almost made me totally forget those “Are We There Yet?” movies. But I digress. Anyone who watched the show will already know that 21 Jump Street refers to the abandoned church (not sure how it was in the show but here, they worship some kind of Korean Jesus) where all of the undercovers meet. Schmidt and Jenko are assigned to the same high school they once went to in order to bust the kingpin of a potentially deadly new drug. Jenko can’t wait to return, and Schmidt is quite afraid.

Schmidt and Jenko find out that this is nothing like the high school experience they had. Now, veganism and tolerance are popular. So Jenko has a particularly hard time fitting in, especially when he inadvertently commits a hate crime on his first day.

Schmidt, meanwhile, has a much easier time fitting in. He enrolls in a drama class and takes the part of Peter Pan in the school’s latest production. One of the funniest scenes in the entire movie comes during his audition. Soon enough, he gets in on the cool crowd by befriending Eric Molson (Dave Franco, who shows that talent runs in the family).

“21 Jump Street” is the kind of movie that has been done so many times before, and it knows that. And while the plot beats are pretty predictable, it is the way that the story and all of the jokes are done that makes it a winner. Everyone should know from the start that at least one of them will have a relationship with a student, and at least one of them will pursue a teacher. But what is funny about it the fact that the teacher (Ellie Kemper) is actually the pursuer and the fact that the relationship that forms between Schmidt and fellow drama student Molly (Brie Larson) is actually kind of sweet. I give credit to the stellar screenplay by Michael Bacall, a highly talented writer who is also responsible for “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Project X.” He has a good ear and eye for the way teenagers talk and act nowadays, the kind that most writers lack. With this movie and the past two mentioned, Bacall has made himself an indispensable comedy writer.

Usually, two directors working on one movie would seem like a bad thing, like the old saying of too many chefs in the kitchen. But Chris Miller and Phil Lord are a dynamic directing duo, and perhaps both of their sensibilities contribute to the very even balance between comedy, drama, and action throughout. Miller and Lord, with the combination of Bacall, hysterically play with audience expectations throughout. They will only blow something up when they feel like it. It is as if they are shouting “F**k You, Michael Bay!” in certain scenes.

“21 Jump Street” serves partially as a vehicle for Channing Tatum’s comedy career. Seriously, who ever thought Tatum could be this funny? This is the same actor who starred in the “Step Up” movies and was once a male stripper. As Tobias Funke might say, “this is ripe for parody!” Tatum is a standout because he is such a great team player, willing to mock his own appearance for laughs. I don’t know if I could ever see him doing standup, but I could definitely see him acting in more movies like this. Mark Maron could make a great WTF Podcast about him.

Perhaps to the shock of everyone, Tatum gives the movie its heart. Despite once being a jock and a bully, Jenko is sensitive and a loyal friend. Think of him as more Troy Barnes than Andrew Clarke.

Tatum and Hill play off each other well, and they gave me enough reason to want to see the sequel mentioned at the end that may have only been a joke. This is the rare occasion when I actually would not mind seeing a comedy get a sequel. That is, as long as they don’t “Austin Powers” it and make it exactly like the original. If there were to be a sequel, I would hope there would be more scenes with Offerman’s police chief, who is criminally underused here. I suspect that many of his original scenes had to be left out during editing.

I find much joy in the financial success that “21 Jump Street” has had at the box office, and by the end of next week, it will likely cross $100 million. On the one hand, this could drive studios to continue on the sequel/remake trend as an alternate for producing original ideas. Or, this will make them realize that what truly makes a good comedy (or a good movie, in general) is to take a lot of risks, and hire a good writer. “21 Jump Street” is not a short movie, and a large chunk of it involves Schmidt and Jenko going through the side effects of a drug over the course of one day. Yes, it becomes totally necessary that we see the disgusting way in which they try and expel the drug from their bodies. A stupid comedy with a few laughs will do well its opening weekend, break even, and then be totally forgotten about. One that is as funny as “21 Jump Street” will merit repeat viewings.