CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY
“Smart” down pat
In this big screen version of the 60’s
television classic Get Smart, Steve Carell is
battling a weight problem, career stagnation,
not-so-secret feelings for his hot partner and KAOS’
plans for world domination ... and loving it.
After CONTROL’s headquarters are ransacked,
compromised secret agents around the world are
chewed-up like mini donuts at Rochesterfest. The
agency’s Chief (Alan Arkin) has little choice but to
promote mousey analyst Maxwell Smart to the rank of
field agent. With the capable Agent 99 (Anne
Hathaway), he’s charged
not just with the formidable task of saving the day,
but of doing justice to the original Mel Brooks
series, as well.
Carell does both in this
film filled with gadgets, laughs, and plenty of
nostalgic nods for the boomers — the shoe phone is
back as are catch phrase like “Missed it by that
much” — though familiarity with the original series
is not a prerequisite.
and sharp casting turn what otherwise might be
dismissed as just another spy spoof (an Our Man Flint,
English or Austin Powers) into what is literally
the film of the century.
The film of the
Would you believe an incredibly fun way
to spend a summer evening?
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY
for the Royale with Cheese’
Peabody is above fetching a newspaper. Writing for
one, yes, but fetching? Never. The
university-educated canine is an accomplished
inventor, musician, chiropractor, scientist ... he’s
even adopted a boy, Sherman. But what impressed me
most about the smug spaniel is how well he speaks
In fact, everyone in the
animated revisit to the 1960’s classic Jay Ward
cartoon spoke flawless Czech. Shermen, his friend
Penny, and all of the historical characters they
visit including Marie Antoinette who says, and I am
not making this up, “Let them eat kolache.”
Here in the Czech Republic, where I am validating
my own pedigree this week, the dubbed film
Mr. Peabody and Sherman is titled
Dobrodružství pana Peabodyho a Shermana.
(Thank you cut and paste!)
us, Czechs love the movies and their movie-going
experience is not unlike ours. Admission is
comparable. I paid 199 CZK ($10) to watch the duo
prance through time in their WABAC machine in digital
3D. The theater was clean, comfortable, and sat about
350. Concessions were primarily popcorn and soft
drinks but at about only half the price. It is also
common to choose your theater seat from a chart when
you buy your ticket.
middle-school daughter of a couple with whom I shared
a restaurant table told me she and her friends love
watching movies with American subtitles to help learn
our language. (Why not? All the Italian I know came
from watching The Godfather.)
I screened this one commando — no subtitles — and
my Czech is not very good so I had to rely on the
visual gags. The animation was crisp in this
DreamWorks release, but I expected more from the
co-director of The Lion King.
I counted four butt jokes, five if you count Peabody
refusing to sniff one.
is thin (think Peabody and Sherman’s
Excellent Adventure); essentially
Sherman gets into trouble trying to impress a girl
and Peabody has to go “way back” to rescue them in
overdone scenarios: The Trojan Horse, ancient Egypt,
da Vinci painting Mona Lisa, etc...
Three past big-release adaptations of Jay Ward
classics flopped (2000’s The Adventures
of Rocky & Bullwinkle, 1997’s
George of the Jungle, and 1997’s
Dudley Do-Right) and I am
not sure we need a WABAC to know this one is headed.
The film’s preceded by a charming short called
Skoro doma (The English
version is titled Almost Home
and the alien captain is voiced by Steve Martin).
All things considered (my reaction to the visuals
and the number of chuckles I heard from the audience
who knew the language) I give this Czech version
three dumplings, I mean ...
21 and 22 Jump Street
CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY
I don’t want to say I watched a lot of TV as
a kid, but when I read bedtime stories to my own
kids, they all started, “Once upon a time, there were
three little girls who went to the police academy.”
So, yea, television is part of our collective pop
No surprise then that
when they’re stumped for new ideas for the big
screen, Hollywood looks to the little one. Among the
best have been The Untouchables
and The Fugitive. The
worst: Lost in Space.
Somewhere in between is 21 Jump
Street, the new comedy starring Channing Tatum and a
svelte Jonah Hill.
This R-rated buddy-comedy
finds the two newly-minted cops each assigned very
hazardous duties. Not. But a revival of the Jump
Street program sends the youthful pair back to high
school, undercover, to bust a dangerous synthetic
There’re some predictable laughs.
The two were polar opposites in school — Hill was,
surprise, nerdy and Tatum, no way, was a jock. Since
then, they’ve joined forces to cover each other’s
blind spots in order to survive the academy à la
Rebecca De Mornay and Mary Gross in Feds.
lot has since changed with regards to what’s cool and
the tables quickly turn. Hill is now popular and
Tatum lands in AP Chem. Not for long. In too deep
they get into a fight and are expelled then
consequently kicked off the force. They’re then
recruited by a student to watch his back just in time
for the big deal to go down.
Tatum is great
here, but the “Slim Shady” Hill is not nearly as
funny as the old “Biggie” Hill. Johnny Depp, who got
his start on the series, makes a great cameo as an
undercover DEA agent though Rochester moviegoers will
hoot louder for Lourdes graduate Johnny Pemberton
who’s one of Hill’s smart clique.
Unfortunately, 21 Jump Street
doesn’t seem to know if it’s a serious play on the
franchise like Mission: Impossible,
or a spot-on spoof like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s
Starsky & Hutch.
It’s not without laughs and won’t be without
a sequel (Richard Grieco, stand by) but neither is it
a spectacular treatment worthy of the iconic series.
22 Jump Street:
It wasn’t a particularly
great TV show in 1987 and was only mildly
entertaining in its 2012 big screen treatment.
But it must have made some money because the
geezers are back. This time moving across the street
to a more elaborate abandoned church with the address
22 Jump Street.
Long in the tooth
now, this time undercover cops Jonah Hill and
Channing Tatum infiltrate a college where the
geriatric gags get, pardon me, “old” after a while.
”Seriously, we’re college students,” Hill
assures a co-ed.
“But you look like my
“It’s the hormones in the
Hill is still the nerd and
Channing the jock (subtract the designer drug,
expletives and campus debauchery and you have
essentially the premise of last year’s Monsters University).
Lots of the humor comes from them trying to
fit-in which comes-off as labored and played-out.
(The genre archetype, 1986’s Back to School,
garnered laughs precisely because Rodney Dangerfield
did not try to fit in. A suggestion, I’m just sayin’.)
They never quite do fit-in, but they have a
mission nonetheless: put a stop to “The Ghost,” a
kingpin with a toehold at the campus where a new drug
has caused at least one death.
investigating, Hill canoodles with a student who
unbeknownst to him is the daughter of his ornery
boss, Ice Cube (uh-oh!). But the girl’s needy
roommate (Jillian Bell who steals the show) is even
Tatum (“I’m the first person in
my family to pretend to go to college”), meanwhile,
befriends the football team’s quarterback and like
David Arquette in another (better) back to school
film Never Been Kissed is tempted to keep the
charade going to see his athletic dream become a
No one tries harder
than Jonah Hill to earn laughs and though he is
frequently successful, the film suffers from a
limited palette of stereotype scenarios like an epic
Spring Break, a predicable human sexuality class and
a slam poetry reading. The latter, funny as it is
here, paled to Mike Myers’ recital of virtually the
same stanza in, So I Married an Axe Murderer.
couple of fun cameos including Lourdes grad Johnny
Pemberton but most of the original laughs come during
the end credits when subsequent sequels are unveiled.
Trouble with the Curve
CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY
Cinematically speaking, Clint
Eastwood is a national treasure. But with a legacy
second to none, some might say of late he’s been
typecast and relegated to grizzled and crusty roles,
a la Burgess Meredith.
Hardly so. The two-time Oscar winner (three, if
you count the one he SHOULD have earned for
Gran Torino) is merely mining his golden
years for the nuance that gives Torino’s Walt
Kowalski or Gus Lobel, the aging baseball scout in
the new sports drama Trouble with the Curve, depth.
“A man’s got to know his limitations,” Eastwood’s
Harry Callahan famously said and here the actor seems
to be dealing with them. In Curve, widower Gus Lobel
is losing his sight. Though the younger scouts have
switched to computer stats, Gus still puts his faith
in eyeballing a player’s stance and grip. For him,
that means his career coming to an ignoble end is
about the only thing he can see clearly.
takes to the road to scout a high school wunderkind
to prove he can still carry his weight. Meanwhile
back in the cubicles, Lobel’s daughter Mickey (Amy
Adams), overworked and underappreciated at her law
firm, is feeling guilty about not being closer to her
father. Theirs is a fractured relationship, but
nothing that baseball can’t fix. Together,
reluctantly at first then by necessity, they
reconstitute that which was once between them.
Contrived ending and all, it works.
raised curmudgeoness to high art. Adams always has
pleasant screen presence and the plot even manages to
extract a decent performance from John Goodman. The
surprise for me was Justin Timberlake, who plays a
pitcher Eastwood originally scouted but has since
washed-out. Now both men are competing for the same
first round draft pick with Timberlake also angling
At times, this one
actually moves at the pace of a baseball game, but
it’s always engaging and to me was reminiscent of
both last year’s Moneyball
(Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill) and The Color of Money,
Martin Scorsese’s 1986 sequel to The Hustler that
starred Paul Newman as an aging pool shark who sold
salad dressing on the side.
great performances and genuine sentiment,
Trouble with the Curve might
not be a grand slam, but it’s definitely a deep fly
to center field that’s going, going, it could be ...
CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY
Baseball has a
special place in American culture and consequently in
some of our most popular films, for instance, Robert
Natural, or Kevin Costner’s
Often the sport is merely a backdrop —
The Bad News
Bears were, after all, a rag-tag group
of misfits pulling together to fight improbable odds.
In WWII uniforms they could be The Dirty Dozen.
But sometimes a baseball film is just a baseball
film; like Brad Pitt’s Moneyball, the biopic of Oakland
A’s radical general manager Billy Beane, who was
tasked with running a major league baseball team on a
When three of his star
players are poached by the deep-pocketed New York
Yankees, Beane has an epiphany. With a Yale
number-cruncher (Jonah Hill) he sets-out to mine
affordable undervalued players to replace the
expensive ones; essentially weighing sexy stats lower
than one key trait: on-base percentages. Bucking the
old guard – obstinate scouts and team’s manager
(Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman) – he
assembles a bargain team who go on to set a record
for the longest winning streak in baseball history.
Director Bennett Miller and writers Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian
(Schindler's List) did a
little odds-beating themselves. They delivered an
entertaining, probably Oscar-bound, dramatization of
— and I am typing this in disbelief myself —
Credit Sorkin, no doubt,
who demystified all things Zuckerberg in last year’s
The Social Network. Seriously, it takes some pretty
good writing to weave jargon like ‘shell scripts’ and
‘OBPs’ into a story line without marginalizing the
A lot of it might
otherwise be dry were it not for the outstanding
cast. Jonah Hill does an admirable job in one of his
first non-comedic roles and Philip Seymour Hoffman is
always a joy, even if we only have a small dose of
This one’s all Brad Pitt and his Beane, a mash-up of a thoughtful Yogi Berra and
compassionate Gordon Gekko, is definitely the kind of
underdog story that classic films are made of.
Still, it’s far from the year’s best and I had a
hard time watching this without picturing Andy
Griffith’s Salvage 1 (“if we use glue sticks and
duct tape instead of titanium and o-rings, we can get
to the moon for only about $60,000!”). That’s not
bad, It’s just what was on my mind as Beane scrounged
a roster from essentially other teams’ rummage sales.
Even if it’s not a shot to the center-field
bleachers, it’s definitely a solid double and that’s
something that Beane himself would find more
CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY
Racism has never
been quarantined to the south and nothing better
demonstrates its metastasis than Jackie Robinson’s
life. Robinson, as many know, was an accomplished
athlete. At UCLA he excelled in track, basketball and
football as well as the sport in which he would be
immortalized by breaking through its color barrier:
isn’t the first telling of the desegregation of
America’s Pastime. Robinson played himself in the
1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story.
But this one’s frankness paints a harsher and
consequently more realistic picture of the larger
struggle for equality that the athlete represented.
Harrison Ford (in one of his better performances)
stars as Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, on the
prowl for someone that will both appeal to the
growing number of African American fans and help
bring his beleaguered team a pennant. He takes a
chance on the notoriously spirited Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) primarily because of his experience playing
on integrated teams but cautions him not to fight
back against the predictable resistance. “Do you want
a player afraid to fight back?” he famously asks
Rickey who replies “I want a ballplayer with the guts
not to fight back!”
Easier said than done.
Acceptance comes slowly and usually because of
economics. On a team trip, for example, an attendant
filling the massive bus tank refuses him the use of a
bathroom. “Stop the pump, we’ll buy our 99 gallons
somewhere else” he declares; the gas jockey relents,
“ahhh, go ahead.” And manager Leo Durocher cuts to
the chase nipping in the bud any team incohesion,
“we’re playing for money, winning is the only thing
that matters.” Rickey too explains the only color he
cares about is green before later admitting he fought
hard for Jackie because “there was something unfair
about the game I love.”
Some aren’t so easily
swayed. One of the harshest yet most necessary
moments in the film has the Philadelphia Phillies
manager (Alan Tudyk) relentlessly haranguing Robinson
from the dugout using the vilest language. After a
generation of bowdlerization, for moviegoers this is
patently shocking until we realize how ubiquitous was
language like this in Robinson’s time; then we are
frozen in disbelief that this was ever tolerated.
Through it all, Jackie Robinson stands resolute.
“If they knew
you,” Robinson’s wife Rachel tells him at his lowest
point, “they would be ashamed.”
This one transcends baseball.