21 Jump Street

Channing Tatum bullies Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

20 March

 

Lee Scratch Perry born, 1936

Today in 1936, Rainford Hugh Perry was born in Kendal, Jamaica. Often dubbed “Little Perry” in his early days in the music business in the 1950s, on account of his 4ft 11in (1.49m) height, Perry got his start selling records for Coxsone Dodd’s sound system, before taking charge of some production duties. A studio natural, and a master of falling out with people, Perry left Coxsone’s employ and started working for equally legendary reggae man Joe Gibbs, before falling out with him and starting his own label, Upsetter, in 1968. His first single, People Funny Boy (an attack on Gibbs) sold well, and was notable for its aural texture, its use of a crying baby over the intro and the presence of a slower rhythm than ska enthusiasts were used to. Perry had released the first international reggae hit. During the 1960s and 70s on his Upsetter label, and with his Upsetters house band (which included the Barrett brothers before they went off to join Bob Marley and the Wailers), Perry produced a phenomenal amount of sonically distinctive music, under his own name and those of other bands. In the 1970s he built the Black Ark studio, home of much of Jamaica’s dub music. A steadfast promoter of marijuana until he gave it up (“if you smoke ganja too much it can eat your brain cells”), he told GQ magazine that “my great grandmother was the high priestess and my godfather was Melchizedek, the highest priest that ever lived.” Present-day collaborators include the Mad Professor, Bill Laswell, the Beastie Boys, Moby and Danny Boyle.

 

 

 

21 Jump Street (2012, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

On the face of it a movie version of a 1980s TV series doesn’t sound like comedy gold but 21 Jump Street really is. Starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as the babyfaced cops sent undercover into a high school, the film sticks with the TV show’s basic premise. Then it adds a twist – Jenko (Tatum) was a buff dim bully at high school and the focus of his tormenting was Schmidt (Hill), “not so slim Shady” (a sample taunt). Though neither is keen, they are forced into going along with the incognito mission to bust a synthetic drugs ring by their angry black captain (Ice Cube). He opens his introductory speech to them with the words, “I know what you’re thinking… angry black captain. It ain’t nothing but a stupid stereotype…” before pushing that stereotype so far it becomes hysterically funny, Cube ending his fusillade of ire with a magisterial, “So suck a dick.” Grudgeful, the two cops believe the gig is beneath them – though they’re clearly incapable even of mastering the easiest of official duties – but are forced to comply, arriving at the school to find that all the pursuits that were dweebish in their day have now become cool. Who’s interested in the environment, or being sensitive? “Fuck you, Glee,” is Officer Jenko’s (Tatum) verdict on the cultural shift. This almost throwaway analysis of changing times (“I partied with Robert Downey Jr when he was fucked up and a lot of fun,” says Schmidt’s mother at one point) is one of the reasons why this film works so well. It adds another level of humour beyond the sensational one-liners trotted out by almost everyone in the cast. And on top of that there’s the physical comedy. Hill and Tatum’s drug-taking sequence, where they run through the various stages – giggling, tripping, super ability, super confidence, complete breakdown and sleep – is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years. So, yes, we knew Hill could do comedy. But it seems Channing Tatum can too.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Cameos by Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, stars of the original series
  • Lee Perry’s Police and Thieves on a great, eclectic soundtrack
  • Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill’s very funny script
  • Ice Cube gets the biggest laughs

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Conspiracy – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Side Effects

Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum in Side Effects

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

19 February

 

 

Damages for thalidomide children, 1968

On this day in 1968, the High Court in the UK presided over a settlement to 62 children born with deformities caused by the drug thalidomide. Thalidomide had been first marketed in 1957 in West Germany as a sedative and was later sold over the counter as a cure for morning sickness in pregnant women. Within months there was a huge increase in the number of babies born with missing and deformed limbs, deformed eyes, bowels, and hearts. Around 40% of these children died. The story repeated itself in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, Canada and other countries where it had been claimed that it “can be given with complete safety to pregnant women and nursing mothers without adverse effect on mother or child.” It was this claim for “complete safety” that would lead to a claim against The Distillers Company, who marketed the drug in Britain. The drug was never licensed for use in the USA, largely because one woman at the FDA, Frances Oldham Kelsey, refused to grant a licence without evidence of safety trials. In the UK the trial and compensation award largely hinged on whether Distillers had a duty of care to unborn children. English common law was silent on the issue. It was essentially down to the distinction between “fault” and “responsibility” – Distillers might not have knowingly done what they did but should they have taken responsibility. The out-of-court award negotiated on the steps of the High Court was made thanks in part to a campaign by The Sunday Times, but Distillers’ largesse came with the understanding that all allegations of negligence be withdrawn. Eventually, partly goaded by a share price suffering from negative publicity and a campaign against it in the USA, Distillers substantially increased their payment. Thalidomide is still in use today, as a cancer growth blocker.

 

 

 

Side Effects (2013, dir: Steven Soderbergh)

One of the fascinating things about watching Side Effects is trying to work out what sort of a film it is. It kicks off with a depressed Rooney Mara getting put on a series of SSRIs, happy pills, after a suicide attempt, by her doctor (Jude Law), who eventually gets her on to a new wonder drug, Ablixa. She goes home to her husband, just out of prison for insider trading, who is taken aback by the fact that she wants rampant sex with him, all of a sudden. The fact that the husband is played by Channing Tatum being an obvious sign that she really was depressed, because what woman wouldn’t normally want to … etc etc. But then things take a turn and the side effects of Ablixa start to exert themselves spectacularly. Mara winds up in prison for a crime that might have been caused by the pills she’s on. Somewhere round here the film starts to switch focus, from the patient to the doctor, who starts digging further into the case, uncovering as he goes a toxic Big Pharma advocate in the shape of Catherine Zeta-Jones (who seems to have decided that poisonous is what she’s best at as an actress). We’ve been diverted slyly into a whodunit, with Law as the not-entirely-righteous searcher for truth in a murky world controlled by mega corporations who spend vast budgets convincing the gullible they need what’s on offer. The slide into something much more recognisably 1940s continues with two further twists which won’t do anything for the promotion of women but do allow both Mara and Zeta-Jones to really let rip as actors, Mara in particular. It’s true that Side Effects has its faults – Law’s transformation from passive doctor to active investigator never quite stacks up. But as I said the real joy here is watching Soderbergh making the film change track as if it were a train running across a mammoth set of points. As for Scott Z Burns’s script, it deliberately invokes the 1940s femme fatale in an attempt to say something salient about the 21st century sense of entitlement – First World Problems, in other words.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A twisty dark thriller
  • Another great Rooney Mara performance
  • The associated spoof website for Ablixa
  • Thomas Newman’s jangly mood-setting score

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Side Effects – at Amazon