CineFile: Reviews of Australian film ‘Tracks’ and ’22 Jump Street’

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return to find form in 'Jump Street', while Mia Wasikowska leaves everything behind in 'Tracks'...

An Australian woman decides to comb her country on foot

Well my faithful, patient readers, I’m sorry to say it has happened again. I’ve neglected you. Put you to the side like the Sunday newspaper I rarely read but still faithfully buy, as if by osmosis I’ll manage to become up on all current events (does anybody else do this?).

But I’m back and I have seen a few movies, a couple of which I’d like to talk about here.

The Australian film Tracks, directed by John Curran and starring the extremely talented Mia Wasikowska, opened here in Victoria this past Friday, well before the movie’s USA opening in September. This is a rare treat for us Canadians and should rightfully make you feel like we have one up on our powerful neighbours. It’s like winning Olympic hockey all over again.

Except what we end up with unfortunately falls a little short of gold. But it’s probably equal to a silver, and that ain’t bad. You know what you’re going to get heading into the film, because you’ve likely seen the trailer and know that it’s about a young Aussie woman who decides she wants to walk across the country with only a few camels and her trusty Labrador. Not the most hospitable of environments, you realize early her trip will be fraught with hardship and danger.

And that’s the movie. It has a story and a commitment to telling that story and it does so rather well. Like other “walking movies” such as The Way Back (2010) or that other Australian movie Walkabout (1971) it’s a journey movie, with a Point A to Point B plot and the inevitable emotional payoff at the end.

If you think that sounds like a good time at the cinema, the movie will deliver.

It’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Mandy Walker (yes, I know, oh the irony) and the film really takes its time showing you the process of this young woman getting ready, learning to train camels, getting together her equipment, saying goodbye to friends and family who are unsure if they will see her again. It handles having a fairly unlikeable protagonist well, never feeling judgemental or in awe of her. She doesn’t like people all that much and just wants to be alone. Fine for her, but hard if you are in her life. That can be a hard character to centre a film around, but they succeed here.

The only thing which holds it back is its own commitment to handling everything with an even keel. While at some times the steady plot and devotion to the story works well, overall it does result in an occasionally dull film and one which I found did not linger in one’s mind. A nice, occasionally captivating watch, to be certain, ends up feeling disposable once the credits have rolled. Unlike the classic Walkabout, there are few directorial flourishes here to chew on, nothing to really draw you in to her mindset or make a character of the terrain she is tackling.

It’s a film you watch, rather than feel.

I say this with a heavy heart, however, with no intention of picking on the film. I liked it a great deal and lament it didn’t have that extra something to really sink into.

For something completely different, and to it seems everyone’s surprise, 22 Jump Street, the sequel to the surprisingly fresh and funny 21 Jump Street, in turn a reboot of the 1980s TV show with Johnny Depp, is once again surprisingly fresh and funny.

In retrospect this probably should have been expected, seeing as the team behind it, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are the hottest properties on the market in Hollywood right now, coming off the success of (a sentence I still can’t believe I’m saying) one of the best films of the year so far, The Lego Movie. With that movie they managed to make a product-inspired cash-grab into the vibrant, thrilling, enjoyable pop masterpiece that it is, so it should be no surprise they can also make a great sequel of a reboot.

22 Jump Street is exactly what you’d expect based on the original, but the very fact that it doesn’t disappoint is a success in itself. And the way it manages this is a lot of fun, taking the post-modern, self-aware, wink wink, spirit of the beginning parts of 21 Jump Street and making them more integral to the whole thing.

From the start it declares itself as an unneccesary sequel, spawned from the surprise-to-everyone success of the first installment and likely to rehash the same formula in order to play it safe. Post-modern humour can be used as a false front for a lack of real ideas, and even here it does occasionally seem cheap, but with so much undeserved credibility and unearned ego in our cinemas these days, it is a welcome relief to have a film not take itself so damn seriously.

That it manages this while still coming up with enough fresh humour and self-awareness to make the whole endeavour a lot of fun, makes the movie. The charisma and chemistry of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum helps, with Hill’s Oscar nomination-fuelled sensitivity and Tatum’s big lug of a teddy bear routine still able to seem endearing. In some ways, the humour is some of the most relevant of recent comedies, with the young-ish actors and filmmakers able to tap into our disjointed modern culture and expose and celebrate it all at the same time. I felt hipper just for watching it, and the university-aged crowd I was with seemed equally enthusiastic.

It seems a shame to be celebrating such an unoriginal concept, but it truly is the success of the film that it can work with that concept and elevate it to something more than it should be, not a new masterpiece of modern cinema, but something unique and respectable in its own, mad scientist way.

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