Tag: jonah hill

Mid90s


Mid90s (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Nostalgic” is the word that is likely to sprout from viewers’ minds as they sit through Jonah Hill’s debut film “Mid90s.” Perhaps the work is even asking for it. The opening shots, for instance, are keen on showing clothing brands, toys, CDs, and video games that were popular at the time. Even the way the images are photographed, bathed in typical ‘90s graininess, are reminiscent of ‘90s independent cinema in which a sense of realism, one can argue, is a character in and of itself.

But these objects and stylistic flourishes are not what makes the film special. It is most surprising that the picture is peppered with tender moments that communicate paragraphs even when the characters in focus are, for the most part, silent. It is without question that these moments are earned; because we have an understanding of the people involved, there is no need for expository dialogue in order for the drama to be appreciated. And when words are used, they cut right to the point and there is nowhere to hide. Both the characters and viewers are confronted with an experience, possibly even exchanges that they may take with them for the rest of their lives.

It is curious in that the protagonist is a thirteen-year-old who simply wishes to belong, but a case can be made that he is not the most interesting character. Stevie is played with effervescence by Sunny Suljic; I was surprised to have found out that he already had several acting roles under his belt prior to this film because he excels in simply being in front of the camera. He is our conduit to a more interesting group of people—four older teens (Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin) who spend every day skateboarding, hanging out, smoking, drinking, and going to parties. Two of them have curious nicknames—Fuckshit and Fourth Grade—and the remaining are called by their birth names Ruben and Ray. Because of how they look, how they dress, how they speak, and how they act, we assume we know everything there is to know about them.

This is the point in which Hill’s screenplay shows its strength. When they hang out, we feel like we are hanging out with them because of the humor. Yes, some of the jokes they make are stupid—which is the point—but there is a rhythm in how the group dynamics change over time. A few banters are laugh-out-loud funny. Throughout the course of the picture’s eighty-minute running time, friendships—plural—evolve over time. It is not just Stevie befriending a group; it is Stevie getting to know each member of the group. Like Stevie, our opinion of each one changes naturally. Compare this to safe and commercialized movies aimed for children or teenagers that are required to have proclamations involving the importance of friendship following forced dramatic turns. The effortless chemistry among Stevie and his friends are far more convincing and real.

Curious, too, are confrontations that happen at home. Stevie’s mother (Katherine Waterston) is barely around but when she is, her presence gives the screen a jolt. We already know how she will react once she finds out who her son has been hanging out with. However, it is the brother, played by Lucas Hedges, who is perhaps most enigmatic. He is physically violent to his younger brother, yes, but we wonder immediately why he is this way. There is a conversation between brothers while playing video games that might explain why Ian feels the need to dominate. But perhaps not. The most fascinating of Stevie’s friends, Ray (Smith), who dreams of becoming a pro-skater, makes a case that environment does not define a person.

“Mid90s” is not everyone’s childhood. It is far from mine. It is without question, however, that there is value in it. Like many coming-of-age pictures that stand the test of time, it is first and foremost an examination of one person followed by material written so sharply, and with great empathy, that we find ourselves deeply invested in this person’s story. We want to know not only the protagonist but also his friends, his family, his home; the type of teenager, young adult, and mature person he might become. At one point, I thought it would be intriguing to revisit late-teen Stevie.

22 Jump Street


22 Jump Street (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Given that I felt lukewarm toward Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s “21 Jump Street,” the idea of yet another sequel—born from only a slightly above average reboot no less—did not exactly excite me. That is, until I saw the trailer for “22 Jump Street,” also directed by Lord and Miller, which showcases a level of self-awareness, an attitude that reflects my sentiment: “Another sequel? Is this really necessary?” I thought then that it just might work. Necessary it is not, but it does work.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) has botched up yet another operation. Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) has a solution: assigning the not-so-dynamic duo on a very similar case that they have managed to solve in the past, only this time they are going undercover as college students instead of high school students. A girl was found dead. It is believed that her passing was due to a drug called WHYPHY—similar to Ritalin during its early phases but has pernicious effects later on. Schmidt and Jenko must find the dealer which will then allow them to capture the supplier.

Although the picture is not riotously funny in every single scene, its constant willingness to go out of its way to look silly or stupid is so infectious, one cannot help but crack a smile through the attempts. However, when the most effective punchlines do come around eventually, they tickle the gut as a feather does to the foot.

A weakness I found in its predecessor is the unconvincing arc between Jenko and Schmidt. That is, how their rivalry evolved into a strong friendship. Here, since they start off having a strong bond already, the screenplay gets more of a chance to play around with that friendship. The “bro-mance” between the lead characters, though overplayed during the second half, are very funny.

Hill has a way of making Schmidt come across so needy and clingy at times that we relate to Jenko wanting to get to know other people who are more like himself: into football, working out, binge-drinking (Wyatt Russell). Tatum plays an oaf of a character but we love Jenko anyway because the jokes directed at or coming from him are good-natured and full of energy. He, too, is good-natured when it comes down to it and so it is impossible not to like him.

Thus, like classic partnerships, Schmidt and Jenko are opposites. We all know what they say about opposites and so the writers—Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman—must find fresh ways to make the idea amusing. Since Hill and Tatum’s styles of comedy are different—though not exactly opposites—the comedic situations tend to work more than a handful of times. I enjoyed that the actors seem game for anything—even making fun of their physiques as well as their past roles in other movies that are considered to be “unsuccessful.” (I enjoyed Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down.”)

It could have benefited from a stronger investigation or more sleuthing. The protagonists are supposed to be undercover cops after all. This shortcoming is also found in the first picture. The filmmakers wish to make the same movie and poke fun of it through a heightened sense of self-awareness—which is fine. But the approach proves to be a double-edged sword in that it is likely to have similar deficiencies unless the writers actively try to work around it. I suppose they are able to do this—at least to a degree—because such a limitation is less severe here.

“22 Jump Street” offers a good time including a little bit of sweetness. It targets many things—from the ritualistic stupidity of undergraduate life and all it has to offer to very close male friendships—but the material never results to being mean-spirited about any of them. Since we are experiencing a period of very cynical and pessimistic filmmaking, that specific quality is, in my eyes, an achievement worthy of praise.

The Wolf of Wall Street


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Black Monday sends Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) spinning back to square one. Having been hired in a Wall Street firm, he thought he had it made. And just like that—it appears as though his dream of making it rich has been squashed. But Jordan does not give up easily. He accepts a job working with penny stocks and it ends up being a success. Though his occupation involves taking money away of the investors, mostly people who do not have a lot of experience when it comes to stocks, an addiction needs to be fed and money is a great motivator. Soon, Jordan has his own company and he earns more than enough money than he knows what to do with.

Confession: I know next to nothing about stocks, investments, and Wall Street. Going into the film, I was not even aware that Jordan Belfort was a real person. Based on the subject’s memoir and adapted to the screen by Terence Winter, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an entertaining dark comedy that benefits most from high energy direction by Martin Scorsese and a powerhouse performance by DiCaprio. Still, it is about an hour too long.

The picture is at its strongest when it traces Belfort’s humble beginnings. Seeing him without the drugs, the mansion, the yacht, and the prostitutes reminds us that although he will turn into a most unprincipled scam artist eventually, there is a recognizable person there. Here is a young man who is tired of being poor and who has dared to dream big. He is only an arm’s length away from what he has always wanted and nothing—not even the basic idea of right and wrong—can stop him.

The FBI subplot, the investigation led by Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), takes too long to get into full gear. About an hour in, we see a glimpse of the FBI agent and then he is never seen again for what it feels like another hour. As a result, suspense does not build. In the meantime, repetitive images of excess parade the screen. While I admired the nice watches and jewelry, beautiful interiors of the house, the Ferrari, and the like, I began to wonder when the film was finally going to move forward. This is a strange Scorsese picture in that it is highly energetic but it is not efficient. There is a difference between providing specifics and being mired in them.

I found the supporting performances to be quite bland. With the exception of Jonah Hill as Belfort’s right-hand man and McConaughey as Belfort’s short-lived boss, everyone else either relies on a quirk to stand out or does not bother to be memorable at all. The members of the latter group appear, say some lines and are forgotten until they are once again required to speak. Is a statement being made? Are the exciting characters exciting only because they are up to their eyeballs on drugs? Or is it that the performances are not carefully modulated?

There are certainly some elements to be enjoyed in “The Wolf of Wall Street”—mainly a few scenes depicting excess and debauchery, seeing DiCaprio having a ball with his character—but the film lacks dramatic depth. It feels too much like a music video at times. With a running time of three hours, rising just a bit above mediocrity is inexcusable.

This is the End


This is the End (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Seth Rogen is ecstatic that Jay Baruchel is visiting L.A. for the weekend because the two of them have not seen each other for about a year. Though Seth knows that Jay is not that fond of Hollywood and its stereotypical lifestyle, he thinks that Jay’s opinion can be changed by allowing him to meet people who Seth thinks are pretty cool. What better way to socialize than to attend James Franco’s wild party. The fun screeches to a halt, however, when a massive earthquake shakes the city and kills the guests–some of whom are very familiar faces either on television or film.

“This is the End,” based on the screenplay as well as directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, heavily depends upon celebrity power in order to amuse. Though it is not consistently funny, losing its way somewhere in the middle, I found myself unable to contain my laughter when the jokes do work.

The picture’s most crucial limitation is the writers’ decision to allow its six central characters to stay in Franco’s house for too long. While the early scenes are effective because we are bombarded by one performer after another, the novelty wears off as the material gets deeper into the survival. Although part of it is amusing because Rogen, Baruchel, and their friends have no useful skill whatsoever (other than being funny), spending so much time in that nicely decorated home is no fun; there are plenty of dirty jokes and bro-mantic lines but the plot fails to move forward.

When it experiments, it shines. It can focused on the actors trying to survive another day but it just has to be creative. For instance, there are a few scenes that are very reminiscent of Frank Darabont’s “The Mist.” Despite being more comedic than suspenseful, I always feel uneasy whenever a character has ropes tied around his torso and goes toward a place where everybody knows, including himself, he should not be heading.

In addition, the last fifteen minutes feel fresh because the characters are finally given a chance to roam outside where anything can happen. The most successful comedies maintain an element of surprise–whether it be situational, within the dialogue, or through subtle character development. Here, the writing is not very deep–and does not need to be–and so, in a way, the amusement inspired by situations should be exaggerated even further. A good twenty to thirty minutes of the middle portion rests on its laurels.

I enjoyed that everyone is willing to poke fun of themselves. Jonah Hill giving himself a not-so-subtle pat on the back for being considered as a “serious actor” after having co-starred in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” is a laugh riot. Craig Robinson, meanwhile, capitalizes on his familiar nice-guy persona. I wished the screenwriters had given him a more dramatic angle to play with–again, an element of surprise–because he seems to be up for it. Still, no one tops Michael Cera in playing a cocaine-snorting firecracker. I want to see cokehead Cera starring in his own movie.

Ultimately, inconsistency prevents “This is the End” from becoming more than good entertainment. It will likely hold up on repeated viewings but keep the remote in hand in order to fast-forward through the slower, lumbering, less inspired digressions.

The Watch


The Watch (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Antonio Guzman (Joe Nunez), who recently gained American citizenship, is found dead at Costco with his skin missing. Evan (Ben Stiller), the manager of the store, is outraged by the death of his friend and vows to find his killer. During the intermission of a local football game, Evan announces that he wishes to from a neighborhood watch and everyone is welcome to join. As a team, they will keep an eye on suspicious activities in Glenview and keep their small town safe. Expecting many to turn up, only Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) decide to join Evan.

“The Watch,” written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, misses the mark not by a couple of inches but a few miles. What could have been an interesting commentary on the effects of an idyllic life in suburbia shaken suddenly is turned into an interminable would-be comedy show with jokes that a group of dirty-minded ten-year-olds can write.

It starts off promisingly. Evan narrates and talks about how he aims to gather friends of different ethnicities. I found it funny because it has a specific target that is being satirized: a white person living in suburbia who thinks that the world really is as simple as black and white. A lot of people out there believe that just because they have friends that either come or appear to be from different parts of the world, somehow they are immune from creating racist remarks or tolerating it. The picture seems to have a goal that it wishes to pursue other than to make the audience chuckle.

Unfortunately, its initial brilliance is shadowed by frat boy, man-child humor so bland that I found myself looking at the clock every three to five minutes and calculating the remaining minutes I had yet to sit through. At one point, I began to get extremely annoyed by Bob’s constant yelling as if he or everyone around him is deaf. Vaughn can be very funny but this script is clearly not right for him–or for anyone. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps the hypocrisy of his character is meant to be a criticism: a fun-loving, in-your-face guy who urinates in a can while inside a van is also an overly protective father especially when he sees a Facebook video of his teenage daughter making out in a closet with a random guy. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Bob, half the time, is played in a mousy way–maybe while participating in the neighborhood watch–but becomes Hulk-like when his daughter enters the equation?

Note that I have not mentioned the alien that murdered Antonio Guzman until now. That is because the special and visual effects look second-rate especially during the chase scenes. To hide this, heavy editing is utilized which actually makes the action less exciting. I would have preferred the aliens to look fake instead of sleek because the film is supposed to be a comedy. Why not allow the audience to laugh or poke fun of the bad makeup? I could have given it credit for being confident enough to have taken that risk.

Directed by Akiva Schaffer, “The Watch” is neither amusing as a comedy nor does it inspire a sense of wonder as a science fiction picture. So egregious as a sci-fi comedy hybrid that at times Jon Favreau’s sci-fi western “Cowboys & Aliens” flashed before my eyes. Saddest of all is seeing Billy Crudup’s talent go to waste as Evan’s creepy neighbor.

21 Jump Street


21 Jump Street (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

After graduating from a police academy, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), current best buds but former high school nerd and jock, respectively, thought their career would be as exciting as a fast-paced action movie. A bucket of cold water to the face, their first assignment turned out to be patrolling a public park, tedious and unchallenging until a possible drug bust that could give them a promotion. When the duo finally apprehended one of the drug-dealing bikers, Jenko had forgotten to read the perp’s Miranda rights. Due to their incompetence and immaturity, as a form of punishment, Schmidt and Jenko were assigned by their captain to infiltrate drug dealers in a high school and find their supplier. “21 Jump Street,” based on the screenplay by Michael Bacall, made me laugh, although not consistently, so there was no denying that the comedy was there. However, when the jokes were not the centerpiece and the film focused on the investigation involving the drug that killed one of the students (Johnny Simmons), there was a dearth of ingenuity in Schmidt and Jenko’s procedures. It seemed as though they only happened to stumble upon pieces of information which may or may not relate to their assignment. I got the sense that the writer, never the characters, was the one putting the pieces together. This was disappointing because we were eventually supposed to believe that Jenko and Schmidt were ready for real police work. I was far from convinced. If I was watching a comedy show, I would be ecstatic to be entertained by them. They were sarcastic in just the right moments but it was obvious that they were good-natured guys. But if I was a person who actually needed help or was a victim of a crime, I would be very worried that the job, delivering justice and the like, wouldn’t be performed expediently. Furthermore, Jenko and Schmidt’s relationship did not have an interesting arc. I liked that the writing was cursory in glancing through their sort-of rivalry when they were in high school. It wasn’t necessary that we got to see how much of an outcast Schmidt was nor did we have to see Jenko being the cool hunk. What I expected, however, was getting a real sense of the ugly details of their past once they returned to high school. I waited for good reasons why Schmidt and Jenko acted the way they did once they were, in a way, transported to their past. Instead, it relied too much on Schmidt wanting so desperately to be cool, pretty much becoming a lapdog of Eric (Dave Franco), the kid they were supposed to watch in suspicion that he was directly related to the source of the drug in question, and Jenko hanging out with the nerdy Chemistry guys. What the film lacked was not only a genuine connection between its protagonists but how that connection was challenged and transformed so that they could become better friends and, perhaps more importantly, reliable partners out in the field when things got really tough. The chase scenes in “21 Jump Street,” directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were enjoyable, at their best when they poked fun of other action flicks. While Hill and Tatum seemed game to banter and get into all sorts of physical humor, without the relatable pieces to support the punchlines, the picture was only mildly and inconsistently entertaining.

The Sitter


The Sitter (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Noah (Jonah Hill), a college dropout with nothing much to do except hang out, decided to babysit the three children of his mom’s friend (Erin Daniels) because he figured his mom (Jessica Hecht) could use a fun night out. Who knows? Being a single parent, she might even meet a man who could make her happy. The three youngsters, Slater (Max Records), Blithe (Landry Bender), and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) were, to say the least, a handful of troublemakers. It didn’t help that Noah was far from a responsible adult, accepting to pick up cocaine for his girlfriend (Ari Graynor) in exchange for sex in the middle of his babysitting. Written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, as “The Sitter” unfolded, the gnawing question of who it was aimed for could no longer be ignored. Even though it contained kids, it certainly wasn’t for children given their mean-spirited natures, especially Rodrigo’s predilection for putting homemade bombs in public restrooms. And yet it wasn’t for adults either. At least not those who preferred their comedy distilled of sentimentality. The screenplay couldn’t help but make Noah into a brother figure for the kids, so unconvincing that in select scenes where the mood was supposed to be serious, like when Noah confronted Slater of the young teen’s homosexuality and self-hatred, though a great topic of conversation in a mainstream lens, I was relatively unmoved because I couldn’t see past the hokum. Since the sensitive moments didn’t feel earned, I was offended that the film so willingly crossed the line. I wish that the writers acknowledged the reality that some people, even babysitters, are just not good with kids. They certainly wouldn’t change their deeply-rooted tendencies overnight. However, the picture did have one very funny scene that took place in a store. Blithe had a bodily accident in the car so Noah had to take her underwear shopping because she had no change of clothes. Observing from a couple of feet away, a Kid City employee (Alysia Joy Powell) had mistakenly believed that Noah was a pedophile and Noah’s nervous explanation about what he was doing in the little girls’ underwear section didn’t help the situation. Hill and Powell mirrored each other’s energy so strongly, their exchange had crackle and pop. I wish other confrontations between Noah and another character were just as effective. In contrast, the scenes between Noah and Karl (Sam Rockwell), a drug dealer, were so lackadaisical and nonsensical. At times it was downright offensive. Karl was supposed to be gay. His sexuality was strictly utilized as a source of comedy. If the drug dealer had been straight, he’d just be another unfunny, incompetent thug. Would it have been too much to ask for the writers to make their villain a little bit more interesting without relying solely on the character’s sexual orientation? To me, mean-spirited gay jokes are just as offensive as gay jokes that insidiously try to pass as progressive thinking. “The Sitter,” directed by David Gordon Green, needed a writing overhaul in order to make room for adventurous and funny moments that have range. There was no sense of adventure here, just a series of poorly executed sketches.

Moneyball


Moneyball (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the Oakland A’s general manager, was about to lose three of its most high-profile players to other teams. Instead of wallowing in pessimism, Beane decided that it was a great opportunity to reinvent the team and win games. Given that the Oakland A’s did not have the budget to pay players millions of dollars, Beane focused on statistics to form his new team. With the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate who majored in Economics, the duo challenged the system and figureheads set on thinking a certain way about baseball. Given that baseball is a sport that I never learned to love or be remotely interested in, I expected to be very confused when the characters in the film used baseball jargon to explain why certain decisions were practical or downright negligent. Surprisingly, I had no trouble catching on because the screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin was first and foremost a story of a man who was both passionate and tired of the sport. That contradiction in Beane was highlighted by Pitt so convincingly and so lovingly, there were times when I wanted to scream for the GM because no one seemed to understand what he was trying to achieve. With the exception of Brand, everyone was convinced that he was bitter about losing and had decided to sabotage the team. Since the material allowed us to construct an attachment to Beane, we are ineluctably reminded by our own experiences when we tried to make a difference or accomplish something unexpected, but everyone just seemed intent on getting in the way. With every losing battle against his peers (Philip Seymour Hoffman), we had a chance to see a glimpse of Beane’s younger years as a promising baseball sensation. One important conversation was when he had to choose between playing in Major Leagues versus accepting to go to school in Stanford. Obviously, he chose the former given the money involved. But it didn’t work out; he wasn’t the shining star that everyone predicted him to be. Slowly, the audience was given an increasingly complex and interesting portrait of the protagonist and why he was so driven to choose players that were considered out of their primes. Furthermore, the dialogue was easy on the ears because there was a consistent flow in the delivery of the lines. When the flow was interrupted by a silence or a character stopping mid-sentence in order to look at another character a certain way, dramatic beats were appropriately used to maintain dramatic momentum. However, there were about two or three scenes that felt out of place, notably Beane’s interactions with his daughter (Kerris Dorsey). While they shared a sweet chemistry, one was more than enough. Scenes like Beane serving ice cream to his daughter felt like an obvious montage of “Daddy Still Cares Even If He’s Busy at Work.” We knew he loved his daughter from their first scene together. We could see it in the way Beane looked at her while she played guitar in public. Directed by Bennett Miller, “Moneyball,” based on the nonfiction novel by Michael Lewis, was a well-made underdog story about the business side of baseball, yet that isn’t to suggest that it was without nifty surprises clandestine enough to appeal to our soft spots.

Get Him to the Greek


Get Him to the Greek (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) was a rock star at the peak of his career but the negative reviews of his most recent album called “African Child,” labeled as offensive and racist, forced him to retreat from the spotlight. Enter Aaron (Jonah Hill), an intern for a major record company, when he was assigned by his boss, the tough Sergio Roma (Sean Combs), to take Aldous from England and accompany him to the Los Angeles Greek Theatre for a comeback concert. This proved to be a difficult task because Aldous loved to party, do drugs, and deviate from the original plan. “Get Him to the Greek,” directed by Nicholas Stoller, was hilarious during its first thirty minutes. Celebrity cameos seemed to come from everywhere; I liked it best when I didn’t know what hit me and I was forced to think, “Did that just really happen?” Unfortunately, the rest of the picture failed to measure up. Although there was mayhem left and right, the chaos wasn’t interesting because it had the same type of humor all the way to the finish line. I didn’t mind that it was raunchy. I laughed at some scenes like when Aaron felt forced to become a drug mule at the airport. I understood that it wanted to poke fun of stars like Britney Spears with their intense relationship with the media and their fans. It also wanted to make fun of us for liking bad pop music reflected by Aldous’ ridiculous song lyrics. Eventually, I realized there was something missing. The picture had to draw a line between fun and serious issues. It had the capacity to change things up as Aaron was forced to be in increasingly uncompromising situations. A person recently plucked from an ordinary life, despite the glamour of the world of celebrity, would eventually question whether it was ethically and morally right for him to enable an artist struggling with an addiction. Toward the end, it attempted to tackle the issue but it felt forced because the journey that Aldous and Aaron took together wasn’t particularly meaningful. They shared some drugs and they eventually learned (or thought they learned) to be comfortable with each other to the point where they agreed to a threesome, but there was not one conversation when they connected as equals. It was always about Aaron catering to Aldous’ fragile ego and that wasn’t friendship. It didn’t even work as a story about a fan and the person he looked up to because moments after Aaron met Aldous, he was perfectly aware that the Aldous in his records didn’t reflect reality. He came to terms with it right away. “Get Him to the Greek” would have been a stronger film without the redemption arc involving the rock star supposedly overcoming his addiction. Because when it tried to be sensitive, it just didn’t feel genuine.

Cyrus


Cyrus (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

John (John C. Reilly) couldn’t move on from his divorce so his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) and her future husband (Matt Walsh) decided to drag him to a party where he could mingle and hopefully meet some single women. After a series of forced and awkward conversations, John met Molly (Marisa Tomei) and the two seemed like a good fit. Although she was very attractive, unlike most women at the party, she wasn’t difficult to approach and didn’t make John feel bad about himself whether it be his physical appearance–he described himself as “like Shrek”–or his job. She overlooked his many imperfections because she loved John’s honesty. However, their relationship came to screeching halt when John met Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s son, who was unnecessarily sarcastic and had a little bit of insanity in the eyes. Having an unhealthy close relationship with his mom, Cyrus’ plan was to drive John out of Molly’s life. Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, “Cyrus” would easily have been a disappointment in the wrong hands. What I loved most about it was it allowed the characters to act like people one could potentially meet at just about anywhere. They were conflicted in what they could offer to someone else, sometimes self-pitying, capable of making royal mistakes, and at times readily able to forgive or overlook certain actions. Even though the material was essentially a comedy, it tried to deal with serious issues in a respectful manner. For instance, we didn’t know who Cyrus really was for the majority of the picture. Despite his selfish actions, I might have disliked his actions but didn’t loathe him. It made me wonder whether his fear of being replaced was driven by another factor like a psychological trauma or a chemical imbalance. I saw John, Molly, and Cyrus’ relationship as three people in a canoe attempting to make it from one island to another, like a relationship in a state of critical transition. John and Molly were content in sitting in the canoe in silence. They had excellent chemistry, almost as if the current wanted them to reach the second island. But Cyrus, despite being twenty-one years of age, was essentially a kid. He talked as if he was years beyond his age but he hadn’t reached a certain level of maturity just yet. He craved attention and so he rocked the canoe with all his might, sometimes even found it gratifying to see the friction between his mother and her new beau. Is the canoe going to tip over? “Cyrus” was an interesting exercise of the dynamics of complicated relationships and the happiness that each character desperately wanted to grasp. It’s refreshing to watch understated comedies where its sense of humor was in the characters’ situations instead of the joke being pointed at themselves.

Megamind


Megamind (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Future supervillain Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell) and future superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt) were sent to Earth by their parents right before their home planet was engulfed by a black hole. The former grew up in a prison and the inmates taught him right from wrong–rather, wrong from right. His only friend was an adorable fish, equipped with wit and razor-sharp teeth, named Minion (David Cross). Grade school was horrible for him. He was often picked last for gym and his many attempts to impress his classmates always ended up horribly wrong. Over the years, he became bitter and developed a penchant for kidnapping Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey), a reporter, who had a crush on the superhero. But when Megamind, with a bit of blind luck, finally defeated Metro Man, he found his villainous role obsolete. Megamind’s big brain came up with a brilliant plan: He would construct a superhero (Jonah Hill). Would this little experiment backfire like all the others? Absolutely. “Megamind,” written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, was a kaleidoscope of colors aimed for the younger kids and double entendres for the adults. Its manic energy successfully tickled every sense as it referenced other superhero films and comic books. However, it would have been far stronger if it didn’t try so hard to be funny like the characters breaking into a dance for no reason. If might have sounded cute on paper but painfully awkward to watch and sit through. What I enjoyed most about “Megamind” was although it spoofed other superhero franchises, it had an identity on its own. The scenes were not simply driven by references. There was a defined story, interesting and amusing characters, and a specific perspective in which it remained loyal throughout so the allusions were secondary. It aslo had real moments of creativity. For instance, after Metro Man’s death, Megamind began to rely on his invention which had the ability to make him transform into any being. Due to certain circumstances, he chose to be Bernard (Ben Stiller), a geeky guy who worked in the newfangled Metro Man Museum. As Bernard, Megamind started to fall in love with Roxanne Ritchie. His identity crisis from a lack of a superhero to fight on a daily basis also worked on another level. He started to have a literal identity crisis as he switched from Megamind to Bernard which generated some of the best scenes when both had to appear in front of the girl. Our protagonist rationalized that the villain never end up with the girl so he had to be something else, preferably not blue. There was sadness in his situation and we rooted for him to find happiness. Directed by Tom McGrath, “Megamind” was a good animated film for the majority of the time. If it managed to dial down the cheese and pumped up the edge, it could have been special.

10 Items or Less


10 Items or Less (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Brad Silberling, “10 Items or Less” was about Morgan Freeman playing himself who wanted to research being a person who worked in a supermarket for his upcoming role. When his driver (Jonah Hill) did not pick up Freeman after a couple of hours like he was supposed to, Freeman bonded with a checkout girl (Paz Vega). This movie interested me from start to finish because the events and dialogue that we saw and heard felt real. There were times when I wondered if the actors veered off from the script because certain stutters and awkward pauses made the final cut. Even though I noticed such things, strangely enough, I didn’t find them distracting at all. The experience became that much more enjoyable because the filmmakers proved to me that they had confidence in their project. The picture had a nice balance between understated drama and perfect comedic timing. I thought it was hilarious when Freeman would delve into his techniques in terms of building a believable character in his films and how amazed he was when he stepped into Target and couldn’t believe how cheap everything was. I was touched during scenes where Freeman tried to give Vega’s character courage to face her fears, such as her upcoming job interview, and to convince her she was good enough and she needed not prove herself to anybody. Vega reminded me so much of Penélope Cruz not just because of the accent but the way she delivered certain lines with such intensity and passion. I loved how Vega’s character seemed tough at first and eventually she was able to open up character so we could relate to her thoughts, fears and insecurities. If I were to pick one best scene, it would have to be when Freeman and Vega talked to each other about ten things they loved and then things they hated about their lives. There was a certain honesty about it and the scene reminded me of the time when a friend and I did the exact same thing. I read a review saying that nothing happened in the film and there was no progression in the story. I couldn’t disagree more because since “10 Items of Less” was essentially a slice-of-life film, it really was more about how the characters evolved from the moment we met them until the moment we said goodbye to them. From my perspective, both characters grew in both significant and small ways so it was ultimately a rewarding experience. “10 Items or Less” may be simple but it was smart with the way it showcased the ordinariness of life–that the real value of living one’s life, whether one is a celebrity or just an ordinary Joe, is embedded in the moments in between.

The Invention of Lying


The Invention of Lying (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, “The Invention of Lying” took place in a world where no one could lie. Everybody told the truth no matter how painful it was and people learned to adapt to the sharp comments thrown at them. They were so stuck in the truth that life essentially became boring. Even “movies” were simply a man telling the audiences historical events. That is, until something in a screenwriter’s (Gervais) brain allowed him to lie after being fired from his job, told by a date (Jennifer Garner) that he was not good enough for her, and been kicked out of his apartment. It’s unfortunate that the second half of this movie did not quite hold up against the first half because I thought the first forty-five minutes was hilarious. Some people may not get it because the comments that the characters made to one another were mean, but the dry humor was exactly what I liked about it. The honest things that people told each other, one way of another, have occured in my head (and some I’ve successfully/shamelessly vocalized). The pacing quickly faltered when Gervais and Robinson injected some religious anectode about “a man in the sky.” It just did not work for me because they got stuck on that joke and the film became severly limited. It was the antithesis of the first half–the first few minutes felt like anything was possible, especially with cameos from Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, the movie did have its moments of brilliance such as the sensitive scene when Gervais told Hill that it was not a good idea to kill himself and the scenes involving Garner’s obsession with being someone who was financially successful and “genetically superior.” Even though her character was ridiculously shallow at first glance, I think it was the truth: a lot of people (including myself) have this idea our partner should be at an equal or better footing than us. Granted, after seeing this film, my position about what I want in a partner did not change but I thought it was nice that the movie pointed a finger to its audiences and tried to make fun of us. “The Invention of Lying” could have been so much better if the second half did not slow down its momentum but I still say it’s worth watching because it made me laugh and it was clever. I love the not-to-subtle product placements and it made me wonder how the C.E.O.s of products featured managed to agree to have thier products in the movie since the comments about the products were not exactly flattering.

How to Train Your Dragon


How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This enormously entertaining PG-rated children’s movie was about a small and skinny Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who had to capture a dragon and kill it so he could prove that he was a real Viking and make his father (Gerard Butler) proud. Well, he managed to accidentally capture one but he decided to train it instead because he saw a part of himself in the dragon’s eyes when it was scared and helpless. In general, what I love about most about children’s movies is their simplicity. But what I think makes a superior animated feature is how the movie can explore that simplicity and extract valuable lessons about life that even some adults haven’t quite grasped. I think “How to Train Your Dragon,” directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, managed to capture that essence so I was highly entertained. But I must warn others that this film was more about the story than the jokes. The humor was certainly there, especially the scenes that involved Hiccup and his rivals (America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig) fighting dragons, but the focus was on the bond between a boy and his pet dragon. I think it’s a great movie for children to watch because it’s highly energetic, colorful, and there were real moments of suspense (the impressive dragon nest scene and the final battle) and wonder. A main lesson that could be learned was acceptance: treating others with respect even though we don’t agree with their beliefs, putting our feet in someone else’s shoes in order to understand someone better, respecting animals and nature, and being comfortable with who we are even though we may not look or feel like the ideal at the moment. It’s funny because I think in some ways this was comparable to Tim Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Both movies ask us to jump into a world where pretty much anything could exist. However, “How to Train Your Dragon” was a superior experience because it did not sacrifice its storytelling and character development for the sake of visual complexity (which was very strong but it was secondary compared to everything else). Moreover, “How to Train Your Dragon” was consistently amusing while “Alice in Wonderland,” lest we forget was also a PG-rated movie, left me somewhat confused and frustrated with how it wasted its potential. In a nutshell, “How to Train Your Dragon” was inspired–inspired to entertain and to just tell a story that was simple but highly involving. In the end, it made me want to have a dragon as a pet so I could train it just like in those very addictive Pokémon games.