March 23, 2012. Revisiting the Past. Movies Reviewed: Under African Skies, 21 Jump Street

Posted in 1980s, Action, Africa, Apartheid, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, High School, Music, Protest, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on March 24, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Spring is here, and, in Toronto that means it’s time to go back inside and sit in the dark. Wait — Huh…?

It’s festival season, starting right now! In quick succession, look out for Canadian Music Week Film Fest, CineFranco, the Images festival (of alternative, artist-driven media art), Hotdocs (the documentary festival), the Jewish Film Festival, Inside-out (the LGBT film festival), NXNE, and many, many more. It’s Images’ 25th anniversary and HotDoc’s 30th.

And speaking of looking back, this week I’m reviewing two movies: a documentary where musicians look back a quarter century to their past fumbles and triumphs; and an action/ comedy where two policemen are forced to revisit their own mistakes and triumphs of their high school days.

Under African Skies

Dir: Joe Berlinger

It’s 1985, and the famous American pop musician Paul Simon, who is intrigued by a song by the band the Boyoyo Boys, goes to Johannesburg to record an album alongside South African musicians. His record, Graceland, turns into a huge hit. 25 years later, and looking a bit hobbit-like but still a great musician, Paul Simon returns there to play a concert with the people he worked and toured with back then. Seems like a simple concert doc, right? No…

You see, in 1985, the Republic of South Africa is ruled under an ideology they called Apartheid. This meant 80% of the country – that is, anyone not classified as white – could not vote, were not citizens, could not intermarry or have sex with people from another group, and were kept physically separated from, and impoverished by, the ruling white minority. And the government responded to uprisings with increasingly violent attacks and persecution of non-white South Africans, driving the leaders into exile, like Oliver Tambo or imprisonment, like Nelson Mandela. In response to this, the banned African National Congress called for a massive international boycott of everything South African, including sports and entertainment.

This documentary takes place then and now, 25 years later. And it raises some very delicate questions. Should groups like Ladysmith Black Mombaza, Mistela, and others, some of whom were arrested or harassed by a racist government, also be boycotted by international audiences? Is it OK to use music not of your own making in the music you record, even if they receive credit? Or to record new lyrics over someone else’s music? Of course a lot of these points seem moot now — when everything is mixed with everything else, and sampled, overdubbed, or mashed up – but at the time, it was quite controversial.

Even more controversial was breaking the artists’ boycott. Ultimately, did Paul Simon’s music help or hinder the boycott’s intent?

The movie covers all sides, from the American and South African musicians involved, to members of the ANC, to exiled musicians, to anti-apartheid activists in Britain, the US and elsewhere – people like Harry Belafonte, Oliver Tambo’s son Dali Tambo, and And musicians like David Byrne, Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones.

Most interesting is the incredibly dynamic music and movement in the new and old concert footage of the many South African musicians like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the late Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masakela. Or as Harry Belafonte puts it in the movie: “the whole mishpokhe.”

Joe Berlinger (a great documentary maker who co-directed the Paradise Lost series, about a small town murder blamed on non-conforming teens) combines vintage footage, music videos, concert and studio clips, along with interviews with people not afraid to disagree.

Under African Skies looks at old wounds In a new way: placing the new South Africa’s emphasis of Truth and Reconciliation above all.

21 Jump Street

Dir: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) went to high school together. Schmidt was the brainy-but-bullied unattractive nerd who never had a girlfriend, while Jenko was the popular, dumb but handsome jock who found it hard to get passing grades. Later, they both end up as cops. They weren’t friends in high school – they traveled in different circles – but become partners, and friends, as police.

But after failing to read a biker gang their Miranda rights, they get assigned to a deep cover squad known as 21 Jump St. It’s their job to return to high school pretending to be students and brothers, bust a synthetic drug ring, and find the supplier. But so much has changed since they were students that they can no longer read the social codes. And after a name mix-up, the two find their roles reversed: Jenko hangs out with the science geeks, while Schmidt becomes the popular guy. Will they catch the bad guys without getting kicked out of school (and the police force)? And will they get to attend the high school prom?

OK, this movie has a whole lot of the red flags that tell me it’ll be a bad movie: it has two directors, it’s based on an old TV show, it has a number in its title, and it’s a buddy action/ comedy about cops.

That said, it actually wasn’t that bad – actually funny at times, and with like-able players. Ice Cube is a bad/funny police boss like out of a bad 80s TV show; and Dax Flame (the cameraman in Project X) is a chemistry geek; and others, like Brie Larson and Dave Franco. Some of the jokes are funny and the story is watchable, but the chase scenes are awful.

21 Jump Street is playing now, check your local listings, Under African Skies premiered at the Canadian Music Week Film Fest, which continues through this weekend, and includes interesting documentaries like “Kevin” the first doc by the Duplass brothers (Jeff Who Lives at Home)

And be sure to check out the amazingly renovated new Bloor Cinema showing documentaries every day. It’s just beautiful, with new seats, great sound, newly-papered walls, and something I’ve never seen before: a glass window in the lobby with a view of the entire theatre.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

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  1. […] Channing Tatum And 21 Jump StreetNorthern Arizona News – 21 Jump Street: I owe Jonah Hill an apologyMarch 23, 2012. Revisiting the Past. Movies Reviewed: Under African Skies, 21 Jump StreetloveClawOptions.DomainName='trendsurfer.org';loveClawOptions.LicenseKey='L8D-DQB-3GB';loveClawOptions.ButtonStyle=21;loveClawOptions.HeaderLabel='Facebook It:';loveClawOptions.SocialSite=3;loveClawOptions.ExitHTML='Thanks for Sharing!';loveClawOptions.API='wp2.20';loveClawOptions.ButtonLabels=['I love it','I hate it','Interesting','Shocking','I don't care']; […]


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