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Movie Reviews: Jumper, Step Up 2 the Streets

GO DEFINITELY, MAYBE Sandwiched somewhere between the American Spirit commercials and the Clinton campaigning that make up Definitely, Maybe is a surprisingly rewarding romantic comedy. Imagine, really old-school Woody Allen starring that shit-eating smirker from Van Wilder, Ryan Reynolds. If this isn't exactly Annie Hall or Manhattan, the mere fact that it aspires to those heights is worth a celebration of some kind. The film is told almost entirely in flashback, as adman Will (Reynolds) recounts for his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) the story of how he met his now ex-wife and Maya's mother - who might be either his Wisconsin college girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), the Xerox girl in Bill Clinton's '92 New York campaign HQ (Isla Fisher) or the would-be writer (Rachel Weisz) shacked up with a cranky prof (Kevin Kline). Over the course of a couple of hours, Will and these three bright, beautiful women keep crossing paths - as lovers, as disappointments, as what-coulda-beens, as what-might-bes. Writer-director Adam Brooks, whose French Kiss screenplay was as tony and old-fashioned a romance as Hollywood's made in 20 years, grounds the movie in the up-and-down everyday. As sweet and silly as the film can get, ultimately it just shrugs and says, "Do your best, expect the worst, and you'll muddle through." Which seems awfully ... revolutionary? (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

ISKA'S JOURNEY Our art houses are surely not lacking for imports about children eking out tenuous existences amid decaying, postindustrial landscapes. None of which is to say that Iska's Journey, the third feature by Hungarian director Csaba Bollok, is anything but sincere in its style and choice of subject matter. The film, which follows close-cropped 12-year-old Iska (non-pro Maria Varga) as she navigates the lower rungs of her homeland's economic ladder, functions effectively as a critique of the poverty infecting contemporary Hungary. And the project's back story - Bollok literally picked then-8-year-old Varga out of a Southern Carpathian slag heap and spent four years working with her before making the film (and adopting her and her co-star/younger sister, Rozalia) - is certainly compelling. Unfortunately, the movie itself is only intermittently gripping. Like Perry Ogden's 2006 Pavee Lackeen (which was set within Ireland's "traveler" community), Iska's Journeyis conceived as a docudrama observing real people within variably fictionalized scenarios. (The hand-held camerawork has a muscular, Dardennes-ish quality.) The early scenes, which focus on Iska's troubled family, feel authentic, but an exchange in a confession booth strikes a discordant note - the introduction of an underlying structure. Subsequent episodes in an overrun, understaffed youth shelter score some damning points, but they also feel like pit stops en route to a predetermined destination. Anyone paying the slightest attention will know precisely where Iska is going to end up, and while Bollok's rage at a culture of negligence is commendable, the inexorability of his heroine's journey suggests cinematic roads already taken. (Grande 4-Plex) (Adam Nayman)

 
JUMPER Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a mighty high school bully. Able to leap through tall buildings in a single bound. Look up in the sky: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... Anakin Skywalker? Wait, make that David Rice, a pimply-faced Ann Arbor teen (played first by Max Thieriot and eventually by Hayden Christensen) who discovers he has the ability to "teleport" himself anywhere in the world just by, you know, clicking his heels together three times and saying, "There’s no place like Rome" (or London, Tokyo, Cairo, et al.). So, David leaves home, robs a few banks (fret not, he leaves IOUs behind) and grows up to become a preening Manhattan bourgeois — Bruce Wayne minus the existential angst and social conscience — who refers to the teleportationally challenged as "chumps" and who uses his powers for no purpose other than to live his life like an American Express commercial. (When he sees Katrina-like flood victims on TV, he doesn't think, "I'll save them." Instead, he thinks, "There must be a really wicked swell somewhere in the world right now," grabs his surfboard and heads for Fiji.) Well, he does find some time to woo his former high school sweetheart (Rachel Bilson, who's even more wooden than Christensen) and pulverize the blockhead who used to kick snow in his face on the playground, but only after a morning spent sipping tea atop the Sphinx. And yet, Jumper wants you to root for this guy as he finds his privileged existence endangered by the grizzled jumper-hunter Dr. Van Helsing — no, wait, make that Mace Windu — no, I mean, Roland — who's played by a snow-white-'fro'd Samuel L. Jackson and who's on hand mainly to snarl lines like "I hate jumpers" and "Only God should have that power." Around the halfway point, Jamie Bell shows up to breathe some life into things as a wormhole-leaping artful dodger. But if you're wondering just how it is that the jumpers do what they do, or why Roland and his fellow "Paladins" are so eager to snuff the jumpers out ... well, for that you'll have to tune into our next episode, because as Jumper nears the 90-minute mark, it becomes clear that director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and his trio of high-profile screenwriters (including David S. Goyer, who wrote the superb Batman Begins) intend to leave those questions — and the fates of the major characters — hanging. Which at least lends Jumper a touch of novelty value: It's a feature-length teaser for a never-to-be sci-fi franchise. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

 

THE KILLING OF JOHN LENNON A nonjudgmental re-creation of 25-year-old Mark David Chapman's 1980 assassination of the peacenik pop star - from three months prior to the act to his subsequent incarceration - director Andrew Piddington's fastidiously researched, dubiously suspenseful character portrait is unable to salvage a lick of hindsight from the tragedy beyond "murderous narcissists are people too." (He's a victim of our celebrity-fixated culture? Oh, shut up.) In The Killing of John Lennon, Piddington traces Chapman's exact steps - filming at the Dakota and everywhere else the killer went leading up to the big day - and uses only Chapman's documented utterances and prison-diary narration, flaunting this strict authenticity as if readying a defense against cries of exploitation. If Piddington's baffling sincerity occasionally trumps his flashy optical effects, it's only because star Jonas Ball is so credibly complicated as the Salinger-obsessed killer, even while gazing eerily into the camera or repeating himself in front of a mirror. Chapman's a Travis Bickle for tabloid junkies, and the onscreen titles that mark his countdown till the titular act are a damning clue into the film's tasteless sensationalism. Considering that Chapter 27 - starring Jared Leto as Chapman - is due out in March, it's hard not to think about the trio of made-for-TV Amy Fisher biopics that aired within weeks of one another in the early '90s. Who is the audience here, besides depraved Beatles completists? (Sunset 5) (Aaron Hillis)

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NATIONAL LAMPOON PRESENTS ELEC­TRIC APRICOT: QUEST FOR FESTEROO Musician Les Claypool's directorial debut is a lot like an album from his old group Primus: generally loopy and amusing, but not nearly inspired enough to fill its running time. Claypool plays Lapland "Lapdog" Miclovik, the drummer of jam band Electric Apricot, who are hoping for an invitation to Festeroo, the nation's leading progressive-music festival and a natural home for the group's spacy psychedelic rock, with its painfully long instrumental interludes and granola lyrics. Conceived as a mockumentary, Electric Apricot is lamest when it attacks familiar musical targets - one of the band members has a controlling, Yoko-like Asian girlfriend - but, after 20 years in the industry, Claypool (who also wrote the script) demonstrates an affinity for the hopeless dreamers and permanently marginal acts forever trying to break through to a larger audience. The film's heavily improvised dialogue and deadpan humor don't achieve anything funny that 150,000 other mockumentaries haven't already covered, but Claypool's sharp putdowns of fame-seeking "band therapists" and brownnosing studio technicians have a freshness that suggests they've sprung directly from unpleasant personal memories. Still, Electric Apricot's kid-gloves satire of the jam-rock scene will undoubtedly get a warm reception from the genial, lovey-dovey crowd being spoofed. The better version of this movie would have dared to ruffle their flannel a little. (Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)

GO STEP UP 2 THE STREETS So it's back to Baltimore, inner city of choice for the charmingly dispossessed, and if you're not fussed about dialogue that barely resembles human speech, this energetic sequel to the lucrative Step Up sizzles with firm young flesh street-dancing its way to romance and upward mobility. The back story is pretty much glued on: Two attractively muscled - and, I'm just sayin', bewilderingly white - fish out of water (a vibrant Briana Evigan and Robert Hoffman) meet cute, find themselves misunderstood by The Man and start their own outcast crew in the hallowed tradition of Fame. Directed in humongous close-up by former dancer Jon M. Chu, Step Up 2 the Streets is suavely choreographed by Jamal Sims, Nadine "Hi Hat" Ruffin and Dave Scott. But the pawprint of co-producer Adam Shankman, who never saw a potently racial theme he couldn't cleanse into a PSA for rainbow harmony, hangs heavy over the movie. Like Shankman's Hairspray, Step Up 2 plays the colorblind class card for all it's worth, which, if nothing else, provides an excuse for banishing the brown of skin to the corps de ballet while the paleface leads, visited occasionally by the equally white break-dancing star Channing Tatum, hog the foreground. That said, the acid test was my hip-hop-crazy child, whose body vibrated through each and every dance number. Eat your heart out, Hannah Montana. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

 

GO THE YEAR MY PARENTS WENT ON VACATION A brutal crackdown on left-wing dissidents by Brazil's new military dictatorship hardly registers in a country preoccupied with the 1970 World Cup championship. Before 12-year-old Mauro's radical parents go into hiding, they hastily arrange for their son to stay with his estranged grandfather in another city. Unbeknownst to them, the old man has died, and Mauro (Michel Joelsas) finds himself alone in an alien environment where people speak an indecipherable language called Yiddish. With a shared passion for all things Pelé, Mauro slowly makes friends in the ethnically diverse neighborhood and develops a bond with the old man next door. Warmly engaging, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation benefits from its understated approach (it suggests rather than spells out the political turmoil gripping the country), and the way its overall light, comedic tone never mitigates the drama of the central story. Director Cao Hamburger draws effortlessly convincing performances from newcomers Joelsas and the adorable Daniela Piepszyk, a tiny sprite of a girl who never stops moving and who rules the neighborhood gang of boys. (Music Hall; One Colorado; Town Center 5) (Jean Oppenheimer)


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