Movie Review: “True Story”

Starring
Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee, Robert John Burke
Director
Rupert Goold

Jonah Hill and James Franco have shown off their dramatic chops in a variety of projects over the past five years, earning Oscar nominations along the way (Hill for “Moneyball” and Franco for “127 Hours”), but for some reason, it’s still difficult to imagine the pair starring together in a movie that isn’t a comedy. Perhaps it’s their association to Seth Rogen’s all-star group of friends, yet no matter how weird it might be to see them sharing the screen in a starkly serious drama like “True Story,” they do a commendable job with the material. The film is pretty standard fare that, considering the crazy-but-true nature of the story, deserved something a little more memorable than this, but it’s to no fault of the actors involved.

In late 2001, journalist Mike Finkel (Hill) was fired from his job at the New York Times when it was revealed that he fudged some of the facts in his latest feature about child slavery in West Africa. Around that same time, Oregon resident Chris Longo (Franco) was arrested for the murder of his wife and three kids after briefly hiding out in Mexico where he had been posing as Finkel. The reason? He was a fan of his work. When Mike learns about these strange events, he contacts Chris requesting to speak with him, who agrees to tell Mike his side of the story in exchange for writing lessons and the promise that nothing will be published until after the trial. For Mike, it’s a chance to redeem his career, but as he spends more time with Chris and becomes convinced that he may actually be innocent, he’s unwittingly pulled into Chris’ game.

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Movie Review: “22 Jump Street”

Starring
Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Peter Stormare
Directors
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

For a while, it seemed like everything that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller touched turned to gold, adapting difficult source material – from a children’s book (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), to a cheesy ‘80s cop drama (“21 Jump Street”), to a popular toy brand (“The LEGO Movie”) – into successful comedies with a flair for visual gags. But they haven’t had quite the same luck with sequels, as evidenced with their work on “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” (albeit only as writers and producers) and their latest film, “22 Jump Street.” Lord and Miller were reportedly so busy making “The LEGO Movie” that they didn’t have time to do script revisions on the buddy cop comedy, and that was a major oversight on their part, because “22 Jump Street” is a fitfully funny sequel that lacks the surprise factor of its predecessor.

After going undercover at their old high school to bust up a drug ring, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) have been assigned more grown-up police work, only to end up humiliating themselves and the department in the process. So instead, they’re shipped back to the Jump Street program (having moved to the Vietnamese church across the street, hence the address and title change) to “do exactly what [they] did the last time.” The only difference is that now they’re going undercover at the local city college to find the source of a new synthetic drug called WhyPhy (pronounced “Wi-Fi”) that resulted in the death of a student. But when Jenko becomes friends with the main suspect, football star and frat boy Zook (Wyatt Russell), his relationship with Schmidt becomes strained as they split up to investigate different leads, which threatens to derail the entire mission.

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Movie Review: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Starring
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Cristin Milioti
Director
Martin Scorsese

It’s been a while since Martin Scorsese’s last truly great film, but it’s good to see that the director hasn’t lost his touch, because “The Wolf of Wall Street” is another cinematic triumph that works almost like a companion piece, at least thematically, to earlier movies like “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” But while those crime films were about actual gangsters, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is about a different kind of criminal altogether: a Gordon Gekko-like stockbroker whose own greed and hard-partying lifestyle ultimately led to his downfall. The fact that it’s based on a true story only makes it that much more captivating to watch unfold, and between Leonardo DiCaprio’s brilliant lead performance and Terrence Winter’s excellent script, it’s without a doubt the funniest movie that Scorsese has ever directed.

The film opens in 1987 as go-getter Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) moves to New York City with his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) to pursue his dream of working on Wall Street. When the market crashes shortly after starting his new job at a big firm, however, Jordan accepts what appears to be a lowly position selling penny stocks at a strip-mall storefront. But he soon discovers that he can make big bucks selling desperate, blue-collar workers on the promise of instant riches, eventually leaving the company to open his own firm with friend and business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Before long, the newly dubbed Stratton Oakmont is selling those very same penny stocks to the wealthy, turning Jordan and his closest pals into millionaires virtually overnight. Living the high life with a gorgeous new wife (Margot Robbie), more money than he knows what to do with, and enough drugs to tranquilize an entire zoo, Jordan feels invincible – that is, until he catches wind that the FBI has launched an investigation into the firm (and him in particular) for stock market manipulation and other related crimes.

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Movie Review: “This Is the End”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Emma Watson
Director
Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

It makes sense that “This Is the End” turned out the way it did. If Seth Rogen is going to write a script about the Apocalypse, it’s not going to be subtle, nor should it be. (Come on, how boring would that be?) However, in his attempt to spread the wealth among his six leads, he loses sight of what would work best for the story, and in the process loses nearly all of the momentum he and co-writer Even Goldberg gained with an explosively funny first act.

Jay Baruchel (all of the name actors in this movie are playing themselves) flies to Los Angeles for a weekend of bonding with lifelong friend Seth Rogen. Seth asks Jay if he wants to go to a party at James Franco‘s house, but Jay isn’t crazy about Seth’s new friends, and just as he expected, he winds up bored and angry at Seth. When the two leave to get some cigarettes, the Rapture takes place before their eyes, with people being beamed up to heaven while hell is unleashed on earth. They get back to Franco’s house just before a giant hole swallows up everyone but Seth, Jay, James, Craig Robinson and Jonah Hill. Oh, and Danny McBride, who crashed the party and fell asleep in the bathtub.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2011 Fall TV Preview: What’s New for Fox

Monday

Terra Nova

(8 – 9 PM, Sept. 26)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), How I Met Your Mother / 2 Broke Girls (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), Gossip Girl (The CW)

Starring: Jason O’Mara, Stephen Lang, Shelley Conn, Andon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, Mido Hamada, Christine Adams, Allison Miller

Executive producers: Brannon Braga, Alex Graves, Rene Echevarria

What the network says: “In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in doubt, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past. When scientists at the FERMI Particle Accelerator unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.

The Shannon family joins the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first colony established in this beautiful yet forbidding land. Jim Shannon, a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family through this new world of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Shannon, is a trauma surgeon and the newest addition to Terra Nova’s medical team. Josh Shannon is their 17-year-old son who is angry to leave life as he knows it behind; upon arriving at the settlement, he finds himself instantly drawn to the beautiful and rule-breaking Skye. Maddy Shannon, Josh’s endearingly awkward 15-year-old sister, hopes Terra Nova will give her a new chance to reinvent herself. Although Elisabeth’s medical training secured the family a spot on the pilgrimage, a secret involving their five-year-old daughter, Zoe, soon endangers their place in this utopia.

Upon the Shannon’s arrival, they are introduced to Commander Nathan Taylor, the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement. Taylor, along with his right-hand man, Guzman, warn the travelers that while Terra Nova is a place of new opportunities and fresh beginnings, all is not as idyllic as it initially appears. Along with blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, the surrounding terrain is teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. There is also a splinter colony of renegades led by the battle-hardened Mira, who is vehemently opposed to Taylor and his leadership. Even more threatening than what lies outside the protective walls of the colony is the chilling possibility that something sinister is happening inside Terra Nova. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins.”

What we say: Critics began sharpening their knives when they heard that Fox was delaying the premiere of the series by several months in order to make sure everything was ready to roll without having to rush, but as a sci-fi geek, I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of the premise and the unrolling of the series’ mythology. Anyone concerned that the whole thing is little more than a bunch of haphazardly-thrown-together plot ideas covering up a bunch of big-budget CGI dinosaurs needn’t be worried. Not that there aren’t quite a few rampaging dinos on the premises, but there’s also a nice amount of family drama, intriguing characters brought to you by established sci-fi guys like O’Mara (ABC’s “Life on Mars”) and Lang (“Avatar”), and a mystery about this strange alternate-universe past the Shannons and their fellow colonists have found themselves in. Fox used to be really awful about letting sci-fi series catch their breath and find a groove, but with the way they’ve kept “Fringe” alive for the past few seasons, there’s a very real possibility that “Terra Nova” will have an opportunity to build a fanbase beyond just the gawkers who want to see dinosaurs.

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