22 JUMP STREET (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Sexual Content, Drug Material, brief Nudity and some Violence

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel & Rodney Rothman

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Amber Stevens, Nick Offerman & Rob Riggle

If anybody claims that they knew 2012’s 21 JUMP STREET reboot would be as good as it was, then they’re lying to your face. That movie should have stank to high heavens and the concept sounded like the worst idea in theory. Then Chris Miller and Phil Lord entered and churned out a pretty decent action-comedy. 21 JUMP STREET, though fairly predictable and almost wearing out its welcome, was a big success. The last thing anyone expected was a sequel, but 22 JUMP STREET is now in theaters and it manages to one-up the first film in every possible way. The script relies on an extreme amount of meta-humor and a mighty clever plot that goes out of the way not to repeat certain scenarios from the last film (hence the obvious meta-humor aspect prevalent in every frame of the film). 22 JUMP STREET is a very funny and wholly entertaining sequel to an action-comedy based on a cheesy 80’s cop-drama (you don’t often see that description, do you?).

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After a bust gone wrong, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent back into the Jump Street undercover program. Since their age is starting to show, they have now been placed in college to find the supplier of a new deadly synthetic drug (exactly like the first time, as their police captain so eloquently states) and stamp it out before it spreads across the country. The pill-based drug “WHYPHY” is extremely hard to track down. While on their supposedly simple mission, Schmidt falls for an art major and Jenko blends into the hard-drinking football-playing frat boy lifestyle. These factors complicate the dim-witted duo’s mystery of discovering where the drug is coming from and the identity of who’s selling it.

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Everything is a lot funnier and more entertaining this time around. This is the most meta-humored movie I’ve ever seen. One of the opening scenes in the sergeant’s office should let you know right away what you’re in for, because he’s pretty much describing the unexpected success of the last movie (right down to box-office lingo) in briefing the partners of their new assignment. Ice Cube, who got annoying as the angry black man stereotype in the first film, is given a lot more room to garner some well-deserved laughs. A few of his scenes had me cracking up to the point of near tears.

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The comedic pairing between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum feels more natural here too. Jonah Hill is essentially still playing the straight-man that he played in the previous installment, though he does get some comedy gold here and there. Channing Tatum is absolutely the funniest person. The friendship between Hill and Tatum feels genuine, even if it does get strained from time to time. It’s a good pairing, though I wouldn’t necessarily pray to see 23 JUMP STREET in the future (lightning probably won’t strike three times with this idea). A much-welcomed Peter Stormare shows up as one of the antagonists and gets some memorable moments. Another stand-out is Jillian Bell as a disapproving roommate who comes off as a very unusual comedic character in a lot of odd ways. You really have to see her performance to fully appreciate how funny she is. Plenty of cameos abound as well.

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22 JUMP STREET has a fair share of problems. These mainly revolve around some predictable through-the-motions clichés that do pop up from time to time. The movie makes fun of itself with some ultra self-aware jabs at even containing these familiar buddy-cop tropes. It still can get a little irksome. Also for the first half, I felt as if the movie would wind up on the same decent-but-not-great level that I found 21 JUMP STREET to fit squarely in. Then one key moment (you’ll know if when you see it) happens and the movie catapulted into hysterically good territory. The second half of the film is where things really shine, although the former does have it’s fair share of good jokes. Once it hits the successful stride halfway through, it never lets up on the laughs.

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22 JUMP STREET, much like 21 JUMP STREET, is far better than it has any right to be. It’s a sequel to a comedic reboot of a silly 80’s TV series. Things work out entirely in the movie’s favor though. This is one hell of a funny action-comedy. The first half has some solid laughs, but takes a little while to get fully going. The second half is where things went onto being downright hilarious. The movie is very entertaining and I can definitely see myself watching it again sometime in the future. Also stick around for the brilliant end credits that send the film out on the highest (most meta) note possible!

Grade: B

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Adventure Action and some mild Rude Humor

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Directed by: Dean DeBlois

Written by: Dean DeBlois

(based on the book series HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON by Cressida Cowell)

Voices of: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou & Kit Harington

DreamWorks has been bringing impressive competition for Disney in computer-animated family entertainment. Out of their catalog of films, I would definitely say that HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is the best movie they’ve brought to the screen. Apparently, plenty of audiences and critics agree with me, because that first film has become acclaimed and made huge bank at the box office. It took four years for a sequel to hit theaters and was well worth the long wait to see this stellar sequel in the new animated series. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 manages to keep the level of high quality that the original had and bring to life a completely new chapter that’s unlike anything in the previous film. Usually animated sequels have an unfortunate habit of wearing out tropes that worked in the past, but DRAGON 2 takes some bold new turns. It’s a great adventure for the whole family.

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Five years have passed since dragons and Vikings have learned to live together. The village of Berk has become a wonderful ever-expanding place. With dragons being kept as pets and being rode in Quidditch-like games, everything seems to be working out perfectly. One-legged Hiccup and Toothless have taken to discovering nearby lands and expanding a map of what surrounds Berk. A chance encounter with a group of dragon hunters leads Hiccup to a familiar face from his past and brings the attention of vicious warlord Drago Bludvist.

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One of the twists that might have been genuinely (god forbid) surprising has been given away in nearly every piece of the marketing. This is just one of many ways that HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 expands the world of its predecessor and ups the stakes at every possible turn. The first film was excellent, but you could definitely tell it was a “kid’s movie” in the comical sense of humor that came through in nearly every scene. It’s a great follow-up, but DRAGON 2 made me forget I was watching “family entertainment” on multiple occasions. I don’t mean this in any sort of negative way, but I am saying that director/writer Dean DeBlois is more willing (or was allowed more room) to take risks this time around. He does and the emotional payoff to most of them resonates strongly. This is the first movie I’ve seen in 2014 where the theater burst into a round of applause when the end credits began to roll. It’s a terrifically exciting adventure that’s perfectly suitable for any age, despite heavier material thrown in here and there.

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Every memorable character returns from the first film and some get more screen time than others, but everybody is fleshed out. Two major new additions (one of which will not be specifically mentioned, even though the trailer gives it away) are also very well executed. The first film kind of followed the “secret friendship” formula of storytelling and there was no clear-cut antagonist (save for a massive dragon in the final third). DRAGON 2 introduces the intimidating Drago Bludvist and this is one of the best villains I’ve seen in an animated film for quite some time. He comes off as a little understated at first, but more the time spent on him, the more you understand what made him so cruel and why he’s such a lunatic. There was a good portion of the movie where I wanted Drago to die a horrible, painful as possible death because of how downright evil he comes off. That’s a very rare thing to see in a bad guy (especially in a computer animated “kid’s movie”).

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The visuals have gotten even better this time around and that’s saying a lot because they were really phenomenal parts of the first film. Everything is beautiful to look at and every landscape feels like a piece of art. The dragons themselves still come off as winged, scaly, fire-breathing pets and all the children in the theater seemed to love that aspect of it. Toothless is undeniably cute and I still wish that he was real, so I could ride him through the skies. There’s still quite a bit of comic relief thrown in and the story does go through some predictable motions (especially in the final act), but it’s an exciting ride that perfectly fits into this summer season saddled with a drought of family movies.

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I won’t say that HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is better than the first film, but I like them on equal ground for different reasons. This second installment is more mature, complex, and takes far more risks. It’s an awesome piece of family entertainment and shows that the series (third movie is already in the works) is blossoming into a maturity, kind of like the young central characters. Beautifully animated, surprisingly gripping, and braver than most of the family entertainment to come out in the last few years, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is a sequel that completely justifies it’s existence. It lives up to the first film and serves as a wonderful second chapter in a series that might go down as one of the best of its kind since the TOY STORY trilogy!

Grade: A

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Sequences of Intense Action and some Scary Images, and brief Mild Language

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Directed by: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois

Written by: Will Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

(based on the novel HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON by Cressida Cowell)

Voices of: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, David Tennant

With the sequel coming out in a matter of weeks, I figured it was time to watch the first HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. Based on the series of children’s novels, this animated fantasy film skyrocketed to becoming a huge success and currently lies within IMDB’s top 250 (no small feat for an animated feature that doesn’t involve the companies Pixar or Disney). DRAGON is the best animated film to come out of DreamWorks (with SHREK 2 as a close second). The story is enchanting. The humor is whimsical and enjoyable for all ages. The visuals can range from good to dazzling. This is a great family film and just a great movie overall.

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For those who don’t know the story, the film is set is in a Viking village on the island of Berk. This village is constantly under attack by dragons. These fire-breathing monsters run amok, steal food, and have been responsible for the deaths of quite a few Vikings (so we’re told, we never see any of these graphically go down as this is a children’s film). Hiccup is the misfit son of the village leader. While everybody in Berk is all brawn and no brains, Hiccup is skinny and constantly inventing new contraptions. He also longs to slay a dragon in order to make a name for himself. One night, Hiccup does take down a Night Fury (the most feared and mysterious type of dragon) with one of his inventions and nobody believes him. Instead of killing the dragon, Hiccup wound grounding it on a mountain. The Night Fury seems unable to properly fly away and Hiccup finds that he doesn’t have it in him to kill the beast. Hiccup and the Night Fury (named Toothless) form a relationship that could be doomed due to the Vikings’ fearful nature of dragons.

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The formula used in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON involves an awkward outsider keeping a secret under wraps from his judgmental peers. It isn’t completely new. It’s been seen in plenty of other stories, especially kid’s movies. What sets this film apart is how everything is executed. I never thought I’d see a movie that turned a dragon into a cute adorable creature that you wished existed so you could keep it as a pet. Color me surprised, because I want a pet Toothless of my own and I’m a grown-ass man who knows that dragons don’t exist. The visual style is a little shaky during moments, as if it wasn’t as fully rendered as it could be, but the movie looks gorgeous in other parts (especially in a couple of flight scenes with Hiccup riding on the back of Toothless).

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I thought the voice cast for the film, populated with a lot of well-known names, was impressive as well. Jay Baruchel isn’t necessarily what you would call a leading man, but he does have the voice for Hiccup and makes the character his own. Gerard Butler isn’t screaming “This is Sparta!” 300-style, but does play Hiccup’s quick-to-judge father and doing a fine job in the part. I did like the love interest played by (unfamiliar face for me) America Ferrera. As far as everybody else went, I could take or leave them. They weren’t too memorable or given much character development other than being detractors for Hiccup that gradually grow to accept him. It was pretty neat to see R-rated comedy regulars Christopher Mintz-Plass (McLovin from SUPERBAD and the well-endowed stoner in NEIGHBORS), Jonah Hill (also from SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP) and TJ Miller (who starred opposite Baruchel in SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE) in a kid’s movie.

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Though the initial set-up may seem pretty familiar in its general formula, I really enjoyed where the movie went in the daring conclusion and some twists sprinkled throughout. DreamWorks has a knack for going into brave places that Disney wouldn’t dare touch. It’s not that the studio is out-and-out aiming for an adult audience, but they are willing to take new risks and that’s something Disney hasn’t been willing to do for the last couple of decades. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON has a rousing and very exciting climax that had me glued to the screen and I’ll gladly sit through the film again multiple times in the future. I’m very much looking forward to the second installment to see where things go from here.

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HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is a wonderful film. It will entertain older viewers, while delighting children. Toothless is a dragon for the ages and I would consider him to be adorable. The story itself isn’t entirely unfamiliar, but it does take some risks and goes into territory that separates DreamWorks from Disney and Pixar films. The cast all fit their parts, even if a few members/characters didn’t make a huge impact on the story. It’s a movie that brims with creativity and has earned every bit of its reputation as one of the best family movies in the past 5 years. This is highly recommended, if you haven’t already seen it. If you have, then watch it again!

Grade: A

21 JUMP STREET (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content, Pervasive Language, Drug Material, Drug Material, Teen Drinking and some Violence

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET created by Patrick Hasburgh & Stephen J. Cannell)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle & Ice Cube

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have gone on record saying that their careers seem to based around making terrible-sounding ideas good. This is dead-on accurate considering that their other directorial work has included CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and THE LEGO MOVIE. The idea of making a film out of a cheesy 80’s cop-drama as a comedy (which easily could have tanked at the box office) sounded pretty dire on paper. With 21 JUMP STREET, the pair go headlong into hard R-rated humor and do a decent job with it.

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In their high school years, Morton Schmidt was an awkward nerd and Greg Jenko was a popular jock. They met again in the police academy and became fast friends, helping each other out in the areas where they struggled. Together they became police officers and took down a big drug dealer…but forgot to read him the Miranda rights. Due to their mistake, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves transferred to an undercover department located at 21 Jump Street. They must go back to high school incognito to take down a new synthetic drug and its creator. Times have changed since their days in grade school and so have the cliques. Of course, this leads to one cop getting too deep in his fake identity, while the other becomes a bit of an outcast taking his undercover work seriously.

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21 JUMP STREET is funny, quite funny during some scenes. It nails that part of the film right out of the gate, which is not an easy thing to do in comedy. For once, Jonah Hill is more of the straight-man to the surprisingly hilarious Channing Tatum. Ice Cube shows up in a supporting role and does the usual angry black man making mean faces routine. His character even points out that this is a stereotype, but it doesn’t make this running joke any better. The actors playing the high school students were convincing and looked the right age for the parts. For me, the biggest laughs came in Rob Riggle’s character of an obnoxious gym teacher.

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Most of the humor works in pretty cleverly addressing what a huge transition has gone between the generational gap. What used to be considered geeky or lame has found a trend in being the new cool thing. What used to be fantastic modern music is now considered oldies. The emphasis on how far out of their element Hill and Tatum are makes for some solid entertainment value.

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Besides being a comedy, the film nails some of the action movie parts too. There are shoot-outs and car chases. They all have an added comedic sense that works fairly well around them too. One high-speed chase on a freeway had me cracking up and was probably my favorite part of the entire film! This isn’t a movie content to just play with a few curse words getting the R-rating and some cheap laughs. 21 JUMP STREET revels in the hard R-rated comedic material. It gets pretty hilarious at points, but during others it feels like the jokes wear out their welcome a bit (e.g. a scene involving tripping out on drugs that’s revisited later on in the film). The plot is fairly predictable as well. We know exactly where things are going and what point they’ll end up at. It’s a matter of playing-by-the-numbers. The script hits all of the requisite beats for a buddy-cop film, but the comedy works in the 21 JUMP STREET’s overall favor and slightly sets it apart from similar movies.

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21 JUMP STREET is a buddy-cop comedy based on a cheesy 80’s drama that is clearly in on the joke. That’s pretty obvious when you take into consideration one phenomenal cameo (well worth the long wait to reveal it). Jonah Hill plays more of the serious character as opposed to most of the hilarity coming from Channing Tatum (who does a surprisingly great job). The film is familiar and some of the jokes miss their mark significantly. Taken as an outrageous romp, 21 JUMP STREET is a good time. You pretty much know if you’ll like this one as you’re walking into it.

Grade: B-

THIS IS THE END (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content throughout, brief Graphic Nudity, Pervasive Language, Drug Use and some Violence

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Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Written by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari & Jason Segel

For the nearly a decade, some of the best comedies have starred a recurring group of faces. THIS IS THE END gathers all of these actors, who have seen gone on to have sprawling careers, together for a satirical apocalyptic comedy in which they play exaggerated versions of themselves. Chock full of references to these actors’ past films, but never resorting to pop culture gags that would have made the film age horribly, THIS IS THE END is a hilarious star-studded comedy that revels in the R-rated material. The humor is full of bad taste and the crass sensibilities make it a delightfully irreverent time. This is a comedy unlike anything else done within the genre and (if it were even attempted another time) it’s unlikely that lightning could strike twice with the success of this formula.

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Jay Baruchel has flown into Los Angeles to reunite with Seth Rogen. Rogen knows that Jay is uncomfortable in the setting of LA and convinces him to go to a house-warming party at James Franco’s newly constructed home. The party is packed full of stars, sex, and drugs. It also happens to be the night that literally all hell breaks loose. Beams of light shoot down from the sky, riots begin, sinkholes form, and monsters roam the outside world. In order to stay alive, the six remaining surviving actors (Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride) barricade themselves in Franco’s pad, but soon find that the horror outside is nothing compared to tolerating each other in close quarters.

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Script-wise, THIS IS THE END feels like it isn’t so much a story, but is an elaborate feature-length skit. The characters are all stereotypes of how one might joke about how all celebrities act when they’re off the screen. The opening party sequence is where plenty of other familiar faces pop up. The funniest of which is most certainly Michael Cera, who plays himself in a way that skewers any preconceived notions of being a wimpy awkward nerd. Cera is only on-screen for a limited amount of time (much like a majority of faces in the first act), but he had me laughing the hardest. The chemistry between our six leads feels convincing enough to make things entertaining. Out of the leads, Danny McBride was my favorite and also leads to one of the best cameos I’ve ever seen.

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The fast and loose style of the plot leaves a lot of room for imaginative scenarios playing out. Some scenes are better than others. One scene involving Jonah Hill felt forced and wasn’t funny in the slightest. When things began to lose my interest, someone or something else captured it again. At nearly two hours, the film feels a little stretched, but it doesn’t detract from the fun being had. The effects are fantastic too. This is a comedy (of all things) that manages to nail the scope of spectacle better than a ton of other movies that were released in the summer movie season 2013. My biggest problem came in the final moments of the film. This is where some of the jokes in the entire film appear (e.g. the aforementioned cameo or the return of a certain character). How things actually concluded felt a little tired though. It was as if directors/writers Rogen & Goldberg were so busy going all-out on the humor overload they had worn themselves out when bringing everything to a close.

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THIS IS THE END isn’t going to be for everybody. It’s essentially one big long in-joke. The script is a loose narrative (to say the least) that allows for the cast members to go crazy in their exaggerated roles of themselves. It’s loaded with a lot of bad taste humor, foul language, over-the-top gore, and amazing effects. Despite the problems I had with the ending and some of the worn-out jokes, everything else is so well executed and hysterical that this warrants a recommendation. It might not be for those who haven’t seen any of the other films these actors have starred in. For fans of their previous work, THIS IS THE END is a blast!

Grade: B

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