Review: The Haunted Strangler (1957)

Last night I checked out the terrific The Haunted Strangler, in which Boris Karloff plays a novelist (!) and social reformer who believes a man was wrongly executed for a series of strangulations twenty years prior. James Rankin connects the murders instead to a doctor who performed the autopsy on the condemned man and who was present at the burial. Naturally, his investigation takes him down a twisted path in which he more or less becomes the strangler himself.

At first, this seems like a typical low-budget Karloff horror movie, but in addition to his talents it has a couple of things going for it – one is the transformation from normal Mr. Rankin into the Strangler, and another is the major plot twist about three-fourths of the way into the movie. Seriously, did not see that coming. I clearly underestimated the depth of this plot.

Karloff doesn’t ham it up, slowly evolving from a calm, thoughtful chap into an unhinged obsessive, and he’s surrounded by capable actors (Elizabeth Allen, Anthony Dawson, Tim Turner). And there’s truly an old-school horror feel to the movie. It both looks and feels fearful.

755 – The Expendables 3 (**1/2)

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With The Expendables 3, you get exactly what you expect to get, as long as you’re expecting a exponentially cheesy throwback to 80s action movies that supercedes not only its two immediate predecessors in terms of one-dimensionality but also those of the earlier era. This is no Die Hard or Rambo; it’s more like an old Jeff Speakman or Wings Hauser movie, at least in terms of plot. There is that magnificent cast, however, so if you like seeing a lot of interesting actors in the same movie, this might be the one for you – even if most of the cast is pretty close to collecting Social Security. Well, if they needed to, anyway.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) takes his team to snag a high-profile arms dealer at the behest of the CIA (in the person of a Mr. Drummer, played by Harrison Ford). On the way, they break an old pal of Barney’s, Doc (Wesley Snipes), an original Expendable himself. But trouble awaits when they get to their destination and discover that – dun dun DUN – the mystery man is actually Barney’s old partner Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who Barney thought he’d killed years ago. Yeah, maybe he didn’t do that after all. Anyway, Stonebanks fights back, and one of Barney’s guys is wounded. They pull back, and Barney reasseses the situation. His solution – get rid of the current team (Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren) in favor of a younger, hungrier squad (including Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz, and Ronda Rousey) to avenge his wounded mate and take down his ex-partner. Because a third movie in a franchise full of old guys desperately needs a change in direction, you see.

Predictably, the new guys are a little eclectic (one’s a woman! one’s a hacker!) for old-school Barney, and just as predictably the old guard resents being let go. Ah, what the hell, let’s all go! So everyone goes to beat up Mel Gibson; even Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) shows up. Of course, Gibson being the super bad guy and all, he has an actual army awaiting them – I believe it was the Azerbaijan military. These guys, who apparently have nothing else to do but attack 10-15 in an abandoned hotel, have tanks, helicopters, RPGs, you name it. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the good guys sort of hold their own. I know, it’s a twist.

It’s a violent movie, but it’s rated PG-13. There are few curse words spoken. At least I think that was the case, because I was distracted by the family of four a row behind me, what with their toddler and four-year-old kid in tow who never shut up. Who takes little kids to The Expendables? These guys. Anyway. It’s almost a shame that this wasn’t R rated, because we could have had ourselves a relatively good movie. Blood and guts and veins in my teeth, that sort of movie. But no, this one got toned down so much that the writers had to rely on the actors, and come on. These guys aren’t actors so much as positionable action figures. There isn’t much witty repartee, either, although there are a few nods to earlier movies – catchphrases from Schwarzenegger and Stallone, for example. Or to Snipes’ personal life.

The Expendables 3 was not a terrible movie, and I appreciate that. Good job on the filmmakers for not stinking too much. But this probably is one that can wait for home video. That is, if parts 1 and 2 left you with so many unanswered questions.

The Expendables 3: **1/2

My Top 38 Robin Williams Movies

It’s 38 because that’s how many I saw/have seen. Can’t comment on t’others. Your mileage may vary! Heck, even for me these aren’t ironclad. Either way, the man made some terrific, memorable films.

1 The Fisher King (1991)
2 Awakenings (1990)
3 One Hour Photo (2002)
4 Insomnia (2002)
5 Aladdin (1992)
6 Good Will Hunting (1997)
7 Good Morning, Vietnam (1988)
8 Seize the Day (1986)
9 Dead Poets Society (1989)
10 Moscow on the Hudson (1983)
11 Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
12 Jumanji (1995)
13 Night at the Museum (2006)
14 Happy Feet (2006)
15 Robots (2005)
16 Dead Again (1991)
17 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989)
18 Nine Months (1995)
19 The World According to Garp (1982)
20 The Birdcage (1996)
21 Jakob the Liar (1999)
22 Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)
23 FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
24 Hook (1991)
25 To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)
26 Deconstructing Harry (1997)
27 Hamlet (1996)
28 AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
29 The Final Cut (2004)
30 The Night Listener (2006)
31 Being Human (1994)
32 The Best of Times (1986)
33 Cadillac Man (1990)
34 Popeye (1979)
35 The Survivors (1983)
36 Club Paradise (1986)
37 Toys (1992)
38 Can I Do It ‘Til I Need Glasses? (1977)

754 – Noah (***1/2)

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Despite a familiar story, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is dramatically compelling and visually staggering, featuring solid performances that are outdone by the special effects, particularly the excess of water. Even with a big budget, Aronofsky doesn’t ignore the importance of plot development and deftly avoids painting his characters as either Good or Bad.

The story begins with Noah (Russell Crowe) seeing his father Lamech (Martin Csokas) murdered by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Tubal-cain is a descendent of Cain, who killed his brother Abel and fled east; Noah is a direct descendent of Seth, also brother to Cain. Noah, unseen by Tubal-cain, escapes; he later marries Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and they have three boys: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Noah begins to have visions of the end of the world, and when he sees a flower grow where no seed could previously find purchase, he becomes convinced that his Creator (God is never mentioned in the movie) has decided to destroy Man but has chosen to spare Noah and his family – and the innocent creatures of nature. Thus the family, with orphan Ila (Emma Watson) in tow, joins forces with The Watchers – fallen angels turned to anthropomorphic rock – to build an ark to survive a deluge that will wipe out the rest of mankind.

But this is not merely a conflict of man versus the elements. Noah believes he’s been chosen to facilitate the extermination of all mankind, so he tells his family that after the storm, his sons are to bury him and Naameh and then kill themselves. Complicating this further is Ila, who forces Noah into a terrifying dilemma. Noah, in Aronofsky’s view, is by no means a hero. He is, however, quite human and prey to self-doubt and misinterpretation of his Creator’s wishes. Should all mankind be eradicated, allowing the plants and animals full domain over the planet?

The conflict is handled quite nimbly thanks to the usual strong portrayal by Crowe. Watson and Connelly offer strong support, Connelly particularly indomitable. Maybe having Tubal-cain as an additional antagonist was overkill, but what Aronofsky really focuses on is the family quarrels between Noah and Naameh, Noah and Ham, Noah and Shem, Noah and Ila, and Noah and himself. The family may survive the great flood, but their actions lead to some agonizing decisions and situations.

So Aronofsky chooses to use these internal conflicts as the impetus for the movie rather than go by the traditional Biblical story. That is, the story is more or less intact, but it’s often secondary to how Noah deals with his kin. This makes Noah not just a huge spectacle to wow even the least devout but also a deep psychological journey, similar to Aronofsky’s earlier works.

Noah: ***1/2

752 – Snowpiercer (***)

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Snowpiercer is about a train that circles the globe in a post-apocalyptic Earth in an infinite loop, carrying the last survivors of the human race. It’s a long, long train, stocked with all the comforts of life, but there’s much more than meets the eye. Well, if you’re looking at the train from the outside, anyway. Inside, a terrifying class system has erupted. The movie is classic visceral action, bloody and unbowed, brimming with excellent fight scenes and not-so-quiet desperation.

The human race is basically extinct because of an ill-fated idea (some 17 years before the events depicted in the film) to combat the effects of global warming by dispersing a special gas in the upper atmosphere. Rather than solve the planet’s environmental woes, the gas froze Earth, killing off all life – except those in the train, of course. Now the self-sustaining locomotive chugs onward past a bitterly cold landscape.

The train is run by Wilford (Ed Harris), a man who apparently had the foresight to built a metric ton of track all over the world. Many people paid a pretty penny to be passengers, and when the frost finally hit, many others were able to glom on for survival. Trouble is, those poor souls are kept in the rear car of the train, subsisting on gelatinous protein bars, in utter squalor. One of these souls is Curtis (Chris Evans), who carefully plans a coup against Wilford’s minions, who include Tilda Swinton as Mason, a liaison between the haves and the have-nots. Curtis’s best pal is Edgar (Jamie Bell), a punch-first Irishman with a lotta spunk to go with his brogue; others include the ancient Gilliam (John Hurt), who’s missing an arm and a leg, and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), mother to a precocious five year old.

Curtis’s plan is simple. Overpower the guards (the tail-section people outnumber them) and then use the skills of Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) to open each subsequent door, or gate. Each car in the train serves a different purpose – water supply, food supply, and so on. It’s a long journey, longer than you’d think walking the length of a train would be. And they better not mess up, either, lest a Wilford minion stick their arms out of windows into the frozen air – the easier to chop them off, you see. (That’s why so many are missing limbs.)

Where Snowpiercer excels is in its personalization of Curtis’s situation. We’re not in his head, but we can understand why he’s so driven, why he so desperately wants to get his fellow downtrodden to a better place, one where the food and water is plentiful. For the viewer, the excitement builds with each car – what’s behind door #4? Bad guys with machetes? Or maybe a nice garden?

I liked Snowpiercer because of Evans’ unflinching performance. He’s practically the opposite of Captain America here, so he’s fairly unrecognizable. His Curtis seems surprisingly strong for a guy who’s been eating Jell-O bars for 17 years, but still. The action is fast and furious, and the body count is high. You might well wonder, too, why the train has to perpetually be in motion. I don’t recall it bluntly stated in the film, but I guess the same mechanism that propels the train also sustains the life inside (i.e., clean air, electricity). So there’s that.

At times, the action is so frenetic that it’s tough to tell who’s smacking whom, whether it’s bad guy versus good guy or just discerning between two good guys. In low lighting, a lot of these fellas look the same.

What does it all mean? Perhaps the ending is a little too concrete or literal. You have all of these people on a huge, lumbering train that’s going nowhere as fast as possible, and the denouement may leave viewers a little empty, as if some existential point should have been made. But whatever the conclusion, the journey is an exciting blast of adrenaline.

Snowpiercer: ***

Waking Life (2001)

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Waking Life is an existential-philosophical, one-of-a-kind animated feature. It’s about a young man who wanders through a dream, unable to wake up, encountering multiple deep thinkers who pontificate about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

It’s directed by Richard Linklater, who is quite the auteur when it comes to off-beat movies, and it’s similar to the director’s later film A Scanner Darkly (2005). Waking Life is rotoscope animated, and the result is truly stunning. Often, the tone of a scene is matched by the animation style, which does vary from scene to scene, be it a stark, angular setting or a wobbly, unsettled conversation. It’s tough to overstate how technically exemplary this movie is; without the animation, perhaps, the film could seem unaccessible by those who dislike excessive talking in their films. Instead, the visual style complements the dialogue (often, monologue). Think of Waking Life as My Dinner with Andre, only with more characters and compelling art direction. This isn’t just two dudes discussing life over dinner; it’s practically an out-of-body experience for both the viewer and our protagonist.

Among those characters encountered in the movie are Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) from Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, activist Alex Jones, director Steven Soderbergh, Speed Levitch, actor Caveh Zahedi, composer Guy Forsyth, writer Kim Krizan, and Linklater himself. And did you know that in dreams, if you flip a light switch, nothing happens? That’s how you know you’re in a dream. Also, in dreams, our brains cannot accurately interpret digital numbers, so an alarm clock looks all weirdly disjointed. Sort of how we feel in a dream, I guess. Our protagonist, played by Wiley Wiggins, wakes up a few times from a dream, only to find he’s in another dream. Some serious Inception going on there. He’s experiencing lucid dreaming, where he can recognize faces and hold conversations at length and then remember it when he awakes, if that happens.

The discussions aren’t just about dreams, though; topics include language, existentialism itself, conditioning of the human species, the length of an instant, and reincarnation. Linklater and his cohorts have a way of orating that doesn’t come off as so much mumbo-jumbo, or as condescension, or as a lecture. Wondrous to behold, Waking Life is a pensive work of art.

Waking Life: ***1/2

Antiviral (2012)

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In the future, companies make bank by injecting people with the viruses contracted by their most revered super-celebrities, in a twisted effort to become closer to their idols. A tech at one of these companies also smuggles the fresh virii out of his building by injecting himself; trouble arises when the celebrity unexpectedly dies, leaving the staffer little time to learn what went wrong before he suffers the same fate.

Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) is that tech, Syd. He’s got a pretty sweet gig, selling the virii he harvests to pirates who then alternately inject people with the virus (for a nice price) and grow the equivalent of steaks – really! – with the pathogens for their customers’ dining pleasure. How does he do this? Volume! No, actually, what the company does is inject the virus into a machine that essentially copy protects the virus, making the virus proprietary. His company, the Lucas Clinic, is contracted to take blood from dying celeb Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), and Syd injects himself and quickly becomes disoriented, weak, and feverish. When Syd attempts to remove the copy protection by using his own machine, the console is destroyed.

It is a story that shines a bright, infected light on society’s devotion to all things celebrity. How far would a superfan go to be a part of a famous person’s life? Would they infect themselves with noncontagious herpes? Chew on a regrown kidney? You know something…I think they would, at least the more deranged and sociopathic fans. Such a connection is exponentially stronger than a simple autographed photo. You’ve not just been recognized by them; you are part of them.

The director is one Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, and the son has the same predilection for the macabre as the father. The obsession with celebrities, all too apparent in real life, is shown to be pretty normal in the film’s fictional universe, and yet the horror of playing with the fire of fast-spreading pathogens undercuts this seeming normalcy with an almost Jones’ Syd pretends to be just another hustler, but he’s really as demented as his customers (and clients). Jones plays Syd perfectly as a shady, somewhat-sullen man of little distinction; also noteworthy are Joe Pingue as Arvid (employee of the celebrity meat market), Wendy Crewson as the head of a rival pathogen company, and Malcolm McDowell, playing yet another doctor, this time with skin grafts from his favorite celebrity.

Antiviral is a horror mystery, with buckets of blood and oodles of intrigue. It’s a creepy allegory of man’s lust for fame of any kind, viewed through a prism of late-1980s Canadian horror. It’s a fine, engrossing film.

Antiviral: ***

Savages (2012)

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Two rich dope dealers run afoul of a Mexican cartel that wants to take over their business, and things really get kicked up a notch when the cartel kidnapped the dealers’ shared girlfriend. Savages offers an exciting premise and some excellent action, but it’s too often listlessly and unconvincingly acted to really hold one’s attention.

Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) have seen their little pot farm grown into a very lucrative business. Their not-a-third-wheel partner, O (Blake Lively) is a free spirit surfer girl who loves both of them, because that sort of thing happens in real life. And then one day the cartel from south of the border decided to horn in on their business, which exploits a particularly intense strain of the plant.

Representing the cartel, Lado (Benicio del Toro) and Esteban (Diego Catano) approach the, uh, mom-and-pop business with a proposal – join us, we get most of the profits, you get to live long and prosper, and so on. The boys are split about whether this is a good idea, as ex-soldier Chon wants to take the fight to the Mexicans and bookish Ben wants to maximize profits and minimize blood. While they dither on the offer, though, O is kidnapped by the cartel’s head honco, Elena (Salma Hayek).

This isn’t some A-Team-style action movies in which the good guys, a ragtag band of dudes with a lot of moxie and heart, take on an evil corporation of thugs. But it’s close. What follows isn’t really a precise plan or even a grunting, against-all-odds attack but rather a whimpering, half-assed rescue attempt that probably succeeds, if we’re being honest – even though O herself says in the first scene (in voice over) that she may very well be dead.

Taylor-Johnson, who’s grown up a tad since Kick-Ass, and Kitch are both pretty good, with neither playing a caricature more than a character. Lively’s O, although pretty and vivacious and such, seems half asleep by comparison.

Savages: **1/2

The Matador (2005)

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In The Matador, Pierce Brosnan plays a weary, boozy contract killer who just wants to be friends with Walter Mitty-like Greg Kinnear. Sounds like perfect casting, but the two leads don’t really mesh, and the movie plods along endlessly, halfheartedly throwing in a twist near the end that only slightly mitigates the dullness.

Julian Noble trots the globe, shooting, stabbing, and exploding those whom he’s paid to terminate. He’s not a likeable chap, this Julian. He likes his liquor strong and his girls young, if you know what I mean. After a job in Mexico City, Julian learns he may be on his way out of his amorphous organization; he then bumps into Danny Wright (Kinnear), a businessman who believes he’s just made a successful pitch to a local company. Julian comes off as kind of a rude jerk who may or not be telling the truth, but once he convinces (truthfully) Danny that he (Julian) is indeed a paid assassin, the two sort of become pals.

It’s a typical mismatched-buddies scenario – the loner and the married man, the odd duck and the straight arrow. Danny is married to Bean (Hope Davis), who becomes a little starstruck herself when she learns of Julian’s occupation. But what of Julian’s future? Will he soon be rubbed out by one of his own coworkers?

This seems like a role tailor made for Brosnan, kind of a down-on-his-luck James Bond, but for some reason the character is a nasty, tough-to-read creep. Is he sincere or a sociopath? Is he being funny or deadly serious? When he pulls the old messing-with-you trope once too often, you start to wonder what he’s all about – and you get no real satisfactory answers.

The twist is okay, but in even a decent thriller it would have been terrific. Here it’s just sort of there, as if the writers had realized they needed to tack on something a little off the beaten path and just kind of shoehorned it into the story. The Matador isn’t incomprehensible, it’s just maddeningly incoherent.

The Matador: **1/2

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

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The Devil Rides Out, also known as The Devil’s Bride (although there isn’t much riding, and the bride’s a minor character at best) is an above-average devil-worshipper movie, with the twist of the eminent Christopher Lee playing the good guy. It’s appropriately menacing and worthwhile.

Lee plays the Duc de Richleau (good name), who, along with Rex van Ryn (played by Leon Greene) is the ward of a certain Simon Aron (Patrick Mower). Rex and the Duc drop by Simon’s pad (it’s 1968, after all), only to discover that Simon’s throwing a party with 12 of his friends, all of whom seem a bit shady. One of the friends is Tanith Carlisle (Nike Arrighi), who catches ol’ Rex’s eye.

The Duc suspects that Simon has been recruited to join a Satan-worshipping cult (hence 13 at the party), and luckily for all of us, he knows a little of the black magic himself. So it’s a race to save the soul of Simon and of, naturally, Tanith from the evil clutches of the high priest, Mocata. Mocata is played by Charles Gray, who later would appear as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever and as The Criminologist in the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he has a truly nefarious glare that he makes frequent use of. Lee, of course, also played a Bond villain – in The Man with the Golden Gun. Nice coincidence.

There’s sacrifices, mutilation, possession, kidnapping, mind control, astral projection. Hey, for a lesser-known Hammer film, it’s a pretty impressive production. For the first half of the movie, at least one person steadfastly doesn’t believe in devil worshippers, but in the second half everyone’s cool with the idea. They’d even buy into time travel or midget giraffes dealing Ecstasy. Wacky and weird, just not zany.

The Devil Rides Out: ***

Here Comes the Devil (2012)

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Here Comes the Devil, despite an unwieldy title, is appropriately creepy and tense, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the plight of a couple that temporarily loses its two children while visiting Tijuana – only to find that the kids are now exhibiting some peculiar behavior.

Felix (Francisco Barreiro) and Sol (Laura Caro), after a day of sightseeing, allow their kids Adolfo and Sara to hike up a hill and do some exploring while their weary parents wait in a gas-station parking lot. The parents fall asleep, and when they awake it’s almost dark with no sign of the kids. The police are called, but because of the lack of light the search is put off until the morning. Felix and Sol blame each other and themselves and argue, suffering a sleepless night.

The next morning, though, good news: Adolfo and Sara have been found. They’re returned to their parents, but it soon becomes clear that the children have changed. They’re largely uncommunicative with their parents but have seemingly formed a stronger bond with each other. Around this time, Sol discovers some oddities about her daughter’s entry into puberty and becomes quite suspicious.

There’s a lot of atmosphere here and not an overwhelming amount of dialog (it’s in Spanish, with subtitles), both of which I consider pluses. What’s up with the kids? Is someone or something controlling them? Probably. Are they in danger? Very likely. Sol becomes more frantic with each revelation, and when she discovers someone who may have been on the hill with the children – she suspects molestation – she and Felix take matters into their own hands to resolve the issue. But do they have the right guy?

Caro, our protagonist, is aces high, and Barreiro is a fine match as the husband who just wants to put all of this madness behind them and be thankful his innocent children are back safe. Something’s sure amiss with Adolfo and Sara, but each step down the winding rabbit hole leads further into utter madness. It’s probably more serious than even molestation. Here Comes the Devil is just straight up frightening.

PS: I’ve seen this film compared favorably with Peter Weir’s 1975 classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, and I have to agree.

Here Comes the Devil: ***

751 – 22 Jump Street (***1/2)

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Yes! 22 Jump Street is even better than the original movie. Or the TV show, for that matter. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have terrific chemistry, perhaps the best in comic cop movies since some guys named Gibson and Glover (over and over) were roaming the streets of LA. The laughs come fast and furious and are generally not of a PG nature, although apparently that was of no concern to the family of four behind me in the theater.

Officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) are now enrolled in college, trying to nail down the source of a new designer drug (again) that’s overtaking the campus. They remain in their high-school guises from the first film, mismatched brothers. Their handler, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), is sort of glad to see the boys again, since their previous success resulted in a huge budget increase. Which he exploits to the hilt. (I wonder if he ever did get that shark tank.)

Anyway, Jenko and Schmidt try to find out where the new drug WHYPHY (“Work hard – why? Play hard – why?) is coming from. Their only lead is a photo of one student buying it from another, with one of the students later winding up dead. Jenko pals around with the jocks, which include possible suspects Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt’s son) and Rooster (Jimmy Tatro), while Schmidt falls into the boho scene, meeting cute with Maya (Amber Stevens), to whom he develops a kind of liking.

For those of us who thought that the title sounded pretty lame, well, it’s better than “21 Jump Street 2,” right? And of course, this film being as self-aware as a film can be, there’s a reason – Jump Street HQ is now located across the street from the old place, since the Koreans wanted their church back. Makes sense.

Much of the plot does indeed follow that of the first film, but as Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) tells them, the boys should handle this case the same way they handled the high-school one. It’s what the brass wants! But the taking-down-the-bad-guys plot is only window dressing for the real problem, the conflict between the partners as they discover that they’ve become more different than they were in “high school.” Is it possible that they’ll need to go their separate ways in order to finish this case? Will this be the last case? Well, no, that’s not likely. But the first one is possible. Remember, in 21 Jump Street, somehow Schmidt was the cool guy and Jenko was the schlub who had to hang out with the AV guys (who, naturally saved the day). This time, not so much – Jenko is a BMOC, what with the being strong and apparently immune to alcohol and such. Schmidt is now the one with some doubts about their partnership, and that’s the real story behind the story. He can’t follow in Jenko’s path, or even walk alongside him, because people like the jocks don’t want him around. And suddenly Jenko sees his partner as a hindrance, someone preventing him from his true calling – football player.

Much mirth is made of the similarities between the duo’s partnership and a full-blown emotional relationship. At one point they even visit a psych professor (well, it’s to get info about a patient who had taken WHYPHY, but still) and wind up revealing more of their feelings than they may have intended.

It’s hard to imagine better casting for the roles of Jenko and Schmidt. Tatum and Hill appear to have been working together for decades, honing an act to impeccable heights, so good is their banter. But the fun doesn’t stop with them – Ice Cube is a terror as a father and a cop, Rob Riggle and Dave Franco happily reprise their roles from 21 Jump Street (the movie), there’s another cameo of a veteran of the “old” TV show, and both Amber Stevens and Jillian Bell (playing Maya’s roommate) are killer good. Also on hand is the usually oily Peter Stormare as, surprise, the bad guy.

For whatever reason, I’m much more inclined to laugh out loud at a movie while at home than when I’m at the theater, but I couldn’t stop laughing (or giggling, possibly when Jenko and Schmidt inadvertently take some of the designer drug). The movie was that funny. 22 Jump Street is definitely as good as the first, and for my money it’s a step up.

22 Jump Street: ***1/2

The Hill (1965)

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The Hill is a brutal film to watch. It stars a (relatively) young Sean Connery as he attempts to avoid being typecast as James Bond and features recognizable British actors in support. It’s a psychological thriller set in a prison camp for court-martialed British soldiers, a rugged, terrifying camp run by a ruthless sergeant-major, played by Harry Andrews.

Connery is Joe Roberts, in the klink for slugging a superior officer after refusing to (re)enter the field of battle (his squad was hopelessly outnumered and outflanked; see also Paths of Glory). Roberts is tossed in a cell with fellow cons George Stevens (Alfred Lynch), Jacko King (Ossie Davis), Monty Bartlett (Roy Kinnear), and Jock McGrath (Jack Watson), who alternately resent and respect Roberts’ actions.

The hill of the title is a steep, sandy incline in the middle of the Sahara, where the camp’s located. Convicts are tasked with double-timing it up one side and down the other, carrying a loaded backpack and their kit, or duffel bag. And then back again. The hill is used as a way for RSM Wilson (Andrews) to break them, to make them into real soldiers again.

Trouble arises when Wilson’s second in command, Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry) badgers one of the convicts so relentlessly that the man dies, thus kicking the battle of wits between prisoner and gatekeeper to an entirely new level. And this is where we really begin to see the unvarnished war of man versus man, as Wilson and Williams strain to break not only Roberts but also his cellmates.

Connery is really fantastic as the strong-willed Roberts, and Wilson – who played plenty of authoritarian, stiff-backed British characters, is his equal. It’s good to see Connery in a movie that transcends his sex appeal and his association with a certain superspy. Filmed in stark black and white (as black and white tends to be), The Hill is near the apex of psychological war films.

The Hill: ***1/2

750 – The Odd Life of Timothy Green (***1/2)

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The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a beautiful, sweet story of a childless couple who reap the benefits – and unintended consequences – of wish fulfillment. It’s framed as a fantasy, but it is leavened with dollops of honesty, education, and wonder.

Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy (Jennifer Garner) Green have been trying, trying, trying to have a baby. Their fertility doctor informs them that despite all of their efforts, the couple simply cannot conceive. Devastated, Cindy wants them to accept the facts and just move on, but Jim cannot let go. His coping mechanism is for each of them to write some attribute that they believe their child would have had (based on themselves) on pieces of notepaper, put the papers into a wooden box, and bury the box in the backyard garden. This they do, and during a highly unusual thunderstorm that night, they discover an unusual young boy in their house, muddy and wet – and with leaves on his lower legs.

His name is Timothy, and he calls Jim and Cindy “Mom” and “Dad.” At first, Jim and Cindy believe young Timothy to be a runaway – but the leaves on his legs and the big hole in their garden lead them to suspect otherwise. And so, after so much time spent anxiously wishing for a baby of their own, the couple is now thrust full speed into the realm of parenthood. And I do mean full speed, for the very next morning various family members arrive for an outdoor party that apparently our two adults have forgotten all about.

Through Timothy, we meet the gang. Jim’s dad Big Jim (David Morse) is the sort of smug, arrogant guy that most people take an instant dislike to; conversely, Cindy’s Aunt Mel (Lois Smith) and Uncle Bub (M. Emmet Walsh) are the very picture of a lovely older couple. Then there’s Cindy’s sister Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her husband Franklin (Ron Livingston), who happens to be Jim’s boss at the local pencil-manufacturing plant. Brenda and Franklin famously natter on about their overachieving three-kid brood, something that consistently rankles Cindy.

Timothy’s effect on everyone around him is noticeable. Much like Pollyanna, the glad girl, Timothy seems to make everyone happy, even the cranky sorts like Big Jim. But yes, he is a bit of an oddity, and poor Jim and Cindy are torn between raising a so-called normal child and allowing Timothy to be himself. That does sound treacly, like an Afterschool Special. But somehow, it’s not. We don’t know where Timothy came from. We don’t know why he has leaves on his legs and what they may signify. Those things aren’t important to this story, because this is really a tale about not having all of the answers and doing the best anyway. In other words, it’s about making mistakes and learning from them.

The movie also provides such a great perspective on being a parent (and I say this as a non-parent); Jim and Cindy are bewildered, beset by the ghosts of parents past and present. They try too hard, as one might expect from new parents. Never is this more evident than when Timothy finds himself on the school’s soccer team (coached by rapper Common). Yes, they become soccer parents. And Timothy is not some savior who magically makes everything come out just grand. He knows who or what he is, but he is not infallible. In fact, there are many, many things he doesn’t know (for example, how to swim).

I really appreciated the ending. Yes, it’s sad and bittersweet, but it’s so packed with emotion that the effect is very powerful indeed. Garner and Dianne Wiest, who plays Cindy’s boss, are both excellent, and young CJ Adams (seen in the most recent Godzilla adaptation) is stunning.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green: ***1/2

Independent reviews, on account of I don't get paid.

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