21 Jump Street Friends kept telling me my assumptions were wrong, and this remake of a 1980s teen action soap I hardly watched as a kid is not only good but something pretty special. Over and over, I shook my head in stubborn disbelief. Like the after-school-special moralizing of the original, however, this 21 Jump Street had something to learn me, because the action-comedy reworking by co-star/producer Jonah Hill, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and on-fire screenwriter Michael Bacall is among a handful of films in my life that have ever made me laugh so hard for so long. The key is its central conceit: A former nerd (Hill) and high-school jock (Channing Tatum, displaying jaw-dropping comedic chops), now bumbling cops, are assigned to go undercover as high-school students to stop a drug ring. Due to a mix-up (the pair are "tripping major ballsack" at a crucial time), their assumed identities get switched, so Tatum's beefcake is made to sit through "app Chemistry" classes while Hill must find his inner bro. Between its keen observations (bullies aren't cool anymore; eco-sensitivity is), outrageous set pieces and dialogue that feels utterly fresh, this reboot has improbably soared toward the top of my best-of-the-year list. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes
The 39 Steps: Criterion Collection On the heels of his breakout smash, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and only a few years before he would drop the proverbial mic on Britain and head stateside, Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps reached for greatness and actually exceeded it. From Mr. Memory to the bullet in the Bible, the missing finger to the first-ever MacGuffin, viewing Hitchcock's adaptation of the novel by author John Buchan, whose work appealed to the director for its "understatement of highly dramatic ideas," as he told Francois Truffaut, is like watching the cosmos form – you know why things happen the way they do, but it's hard to fathom how. Luckily, this masterpiece has been re-released by Criterion on Blu-ray, boasting a new restoration, a monaural soundtrack and enough extras, including a new visual essay, to almost reverse-engineer your way through the film. That doesn't mean you or I could do what Hitch did in 1935, but it's fun to pretend. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, documentary, interviews, radio broadcast
Bullhead The debut feature of writer-director Michael Roskam, Bullhead has all the marks of a first feature – convoluted plotting, an inability to navigate silence – but contains such a white-hot flame at its center in the form of tortured protagonist Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) that it's easy to understand its nomination last year for Best Foreign Film. Schoenaerts prepared for the role by turning himself into a Hulk of sorts, but the way his physicality informs his performance as a cattle farmer hooked on the growth hormones meant for his herd demonstrates the film's somewhat successful commitment to making something more substantial than another Raging Bull knockoff. Jacky smolders with rage, and I would've loved to spend more of the film's long running time exploring the childhood trauma that inspired the beast within than the politics of the Flemish beef industry, but with a distinctive look, thanks to cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, and a suspenseful personal narrative, it seems greedy to ask for more. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, interviews, featurette, short film
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