SXSW Film Festival Day 4: '21 Jump Street'

I know this sounds crazy, but 21 Jump Street could end up being the best comedy of the year. Really.

21 Jump Street

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, Brie Larson, Dave Franco
US Release Date: 2012-03-16

All right, readers. It's confession time. Before I get into my latest coverage of SXSW, I have a secret I need to share. I would prefer to keep it to myself, as I have for a few years now, but I feel it's necessary to reveal for the purposes of this article. If any of you stop reading and click over to Faith's unbiased (and, let's be honest, probably better) coverage, I completely understand. Wow. This isn't easy. I've only told a few close friends, and they were less than understanding. Okay. Here goes nothing:

I am a Channing Tatum fan.

That's right. That Channing Tatum. The Channing Tatum affectionately labeled C Tates, The Chan Man, and my personal favorite, Chan Tates. To many, Chan Tates' career began with Step Up, Step Up 2: The Streets, or Dear John. He's played the heartthrob ever since, including quite successfully this very year in the critically panned but financially fine V-Day hit, The Vow.

I have not seen The Vow, but only because it would've been far too depressing to go see the "date movie of the year" without a lovely lady sitting next to me (yes, I'm straight -- so my fandom has nothing to do with C Tates' physicality, but it may be the source of my loneliness). I have seen G.I. Joe, the aforementioned Dear John, and Haywire, in which Chan Chan was the sole highlight.

So when I read The Channing would be gracing The Paramount theater with his tween-attracting presence for the premiere of his first 100 percent comedic performance (no, She's the Man does not count), you better believe I was first in line. Okay, I was sixth. Seriously, those teenyboppers are crazy for the C Tates. They were screaming at every black SUV that pulled up, perhaps perfecting their pitch for when C.T. did show up because they just know if they scream loud enough he will propose to them on the spot.

At least he showed up in style. Both Mr. Tatum and costar Jonah Hill entered the Paramount dressed as bicycle cops - shorts, black bike gloves, and beer in hand. At first, it felt a little too publicity-friendly for me. I mean come on. It's the world premiere of your movie. I know it's about cops posing as high school students, but couldn't you guys at least throw on your prom tuxes?

Then the movie began, and everything started to make sense. 21 Jump Street is nothing more than a vehicle for nonstop laughter. The film doesn't want to be anything else. It earns its R-rating with pride, but doesn't rely on gross-out gags, shocking nudity, or an overuse of F-bombs to get the job done. Even without the post-screening Q&A (which featured an on-fire Jonah Hill joking about how their first choice for Chan Man's part was Ryan "Baby Goose" Gosling), it's easy to tell the film is a labor of love for its cast and crew.

None of this is to say the film fails during its requisite dramatic moments. It doesn't. It's just not as concerned with them, and rightly so. Screenwriter Michael Bacall and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (all of whom were In the crowd watching the film) waste no time getting to the jokes. Anything extraneous to the humor, plot, or character development (yes, the latter two do matter here) seems to have been tossed aside in favor of more one-liners, slapstick, and oddball visuals, usually brought on by drugs or alcohol.

This 21 Jump Street isn't trying to be the original TV show. Why would it? The only reason the show comes up in conversation is because of Johnny Depp. No one is putting it on a pedestal.

Instead, the film pays due homage to its ancestor in the best way it can -- by poking fun at its absurd premise whenever possible. Plenty of people comment on how old Channing looks. Ron Swanson, er, I mean Nick Offerman, messes up the line inserted simply to drop the title. Plenty of references are made to how much high school has changed even in the few years since our characters were really attending classes.

This actually proves to be one of the film's great strengths. It's depiction of how class dynamics have altered since the TV show's run on primetime are actually quite relevant. They're also endearing. Instead of letting Chan Tates be the cliched popular kid again, the film sets up hipsters/earth-lovers/P.C. liberals as the new show runners. It's a fantastic, subtle update that's played for plenty of laughs along the way.

21 Jump Street is simply a great time at the movies, and it's constructed with the love and energy necessary to pull off a feat of pure exuberance. Tates, who's never really worked in comedy before, senses the tone and throws himself into the role with gusto. It's a fantastic turn that's matched by Jonah Hill, who's come a long way since Superbad. I'm not talking about his recent Oscar nomination either. He's matured as a comedian. His timing is better. His voice fluctuates between quiet mockery and panicked screams (before I remember him as just being loud).

Plus, he had the wisdom to cast C Tates without ever meeting him. During the Q&A, he said he saw Tatum's performance in the little known indie A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and thought "that guy can do anything". I don't know if even I would go that far, but he was absolutely right about Channing's ability to do comedy (and his performance in that movie -- check it out).

Now, I'm not going to start the Oscar campaign or anything. Hell, 21 Jump Street wasn't even the best film of the Fest. Here's what I will report, though. The crowd absolutely loved it. There was loud, raucous laughter throughout. So much so, in fact, I missed a lot of dialogue because the crowd drowned it out. The movie also received the first standing ovation I've seen this year.

At the end of the night, Hill was asked about the possibility of a sequel. He said everyone on stage would love to do it, but, like all Hollywood wannabe franchises, it basically comes down to how the film performs at the box office. Based on what I saw in the Paramount Monday night, I don't see any worries there. Just don't try to replace my Chan Tates.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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