Movies: '21 Jump Street,' 'In Darkness' & 'Silent House'
Published 2:31 pm, Friday, March 16, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"21 JUMP STREET"
Reviving and re-inventing this 1987 action-comedy TV franchise seems to work as Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play recent, still-youthful-looking Police Academy graduates assigned to infiltrate and expose a high-school drug ring that produces a potentially lethal synthetic that has already claimed one life.
After botching a bike patrol arrest, these immature, former social adversaries are assigned to go undercover at a former church, located at 21 Jump Street, reporting to tough Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube). Brainy Schmidt (Hill) endured an emotionally painful adolescence, being bullied as a chubby, geeky outcast with an Eminem haircut, while brawny Jenko (Tatum) was a popular jock, although both missed their senior prom -- for different reasons. Acknowledging that they're older and wiser now, they're confident that they can utilize what they've learned to conquer the demons of those formative years and outwit today's teenagers. Not so fast!
Trying to bust the student body's gregarious, environmentalist, song-writing drug-dealer, Eric Molson (Dave Franco, James' younger brother), isn't quite that easy, nor is befriending fellow classmates and teachers. Science nerds rule these days, while athletes have lost their cool status. There's a complete role-reversal, as Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum enthusiastically play off each other with Hill doing the action and Tatum being traumatized, and both coping with the anxiety and angst of being teenagers again.
Loosely adapting the concept that launched Johnny Depp's career, it's formulaically scripted by Michael Bacall ("Project X") and co-directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who previously collaborated on the animated disaster-movie spoof, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." Depp does a cameo as Officer Tommy Hanson.
After his "Moneyball" Oscar nomination, Hill is hot -- and he spearheaded the updating of the concept created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell that ran for five seasons. Surprisingly, former Chippendales-style stripper Tatum ("The Vow," "Haywire") is really funny, proving his comedy chops.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "21 Jump Street" is a silly, slapstick 7, spoofing the series by playing it for laughs.
In 1943 during World War II, the Jews of Lvov (now Lviv in Ukraine, but then part of Poland) were under siege. Crammed into a ghetto, they're relentlessly hunted and brutally killed. A desperate group led by wealthy Ignacy and Pauline Chiger (Herbert Knaup, Maria Schrader) and their two young children and friends escape underground, where they're discovered by a contemptuous sewer inspector/petty thief, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz). Impulsively, Socha decides to accept money to keep them hidden, cramped into the dark recesses of the dank, rat-infested subterranean tunnels.
Along with the Chiger family, there's con man Mundek (Benno Furmann), who loves Klara (Agnieszka Grochowska), and Yanek (Marcin Bosak) who chooses his girlfriend Chaja (Julia Kijowska) over his wife and child.
Initially anti-Semitic, Socha's attitude changes, particularly when his Roman Catholic wife Wanda (Kinga Preis) points out that the Holy Mother and Jesus were Jewish. Risking not only his life but his family's, courageous, yet ambivalent Socha continues to deliver food and supplies, despite menacing threats from his friend Bortnik (Michael Zurawski), a Ukrainian Nazi officer, urging him to turn in Jews for monetary reward.
Inspired by Krystyna Chiger's memoir, "The Girl in the Green Sweater," with references to Martin Gilbert's "The Righteous" and Robert Marshall's "In the Sewers of Lvov," Canadian screenwriter David F. Shamoon takes dramatic license to fictionalize Socha's inner turmoil. (Historically, the real Socha's instinctive devotion to "my Jews" never wavered.) As a result, Shamoon's characters aren't prototypically virtuous heroes or simplistic villains. Dimly photographed by Jolanta Dylewska, there's dispassionate, documentary-like realism.
Half-Jewish director Agnieszka Holland ("Europa, Europa"), whose mother was active in the Polish Resistance, explains, "My goal was not to accuse or show as innocent any nation. I wanted to show how thin is the line between good and evil in the human soul."
In Polish, German, Yiddish and Ukrainian with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "In Darkness," is a harrowing, intense 9. Dedicated to the more than 6,000 Poles recognized by Israel as Righteous Gentiles, it's Schindler in the sewers.
Watching this continuous, single-take horror thriller could be part of a "Survivor" test. The husband-and-wife team of Charlie Kentis and Laura Lau, who made the shark-infested "Open Water" (2004), are determined to confuse and confound, beginning with the title -- because there's nothing silent about the creaking, groaning floorboards of the isolated lake house that's haunted by memories.
Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) spent summers there as a child and now she has returned to help her father John (Adam Trese) and Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) prepare it to be sold. We first glimpse troubled Sarah perched on rocks above the lake, wearing a miniskirt, white cotton camisole and flimsy cardigan sweater. After walking back to the dark, dilapidated house, she turns on a battery-powered lantern because the electricity is not connected. Sarah's obviously nervous and jittery, dodging cluttered, dust-covered furniture that looks ominous. Then there's a knock on the door as Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross), a mysterious playmate from the past, stops by on her bicycle. But Sarah doesn't remember Sophia and is relieved when she leaves -- until she realizes that something else is lurking and she's trapped in the locked house.
Meticulously choreographed by the directors and cinematographer Igor Martinovic in one continuous shot -- from scene to scene -- the real-time format quickly grows tedious. Inspired by Gustavo Hernandez' spooky Uruguayan film, "Las Casa Muda," Chris Kentis and Laura Lau utilize Alfred Hitchcock's popping flashbulbs from "Rear Window" and a cinematography trick from "Rope" to seamlessly disguise their edits, but there's still far too much foreshadowing.
Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene") is convincing as the confused, hysterical scream queen. But the same cannot be said for Adam Trese, who's far too young to be her father, and Eric Sheffer Stevens, who's too insincere and creepy to take seriously. And it doesn't help that the camera peers down her decolletage as much as they do.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Silent House" is a frightfully forced 4, since the gimmick dilutes, rather than enhances the premise.