Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hangover Part II review: Did I experience deja vu?

I guess you can call it an interesting, if not, ballsy experiment: what if, instead of attempting to top the sequel of the most successful R-rated comedy of all-time with more laughs and cleverness, we just remake the first film and set it in a more exotic location? That's basically what The Hangover Part II is like. Is it exactly the same as the first one? Not necessarily, but goddamn... it is close.

Now Todd Phillips made a point in his interviews that The Hangover was never really about plot and there's an element of truth to that. But there are some scenes where the jokes are literally carbon copies of the jokes that were in the first Hangover. They set the movie in an intriguing, unpredictable location like Bangkok, Thailand and yet almost everything about the film is predictable. That would be perfectly fine if the jokes along the way were funny, but they miss way more often than they hit. Zach Galifiankis's character, Alan... stole the first Hangover. In this film, nobody steals any scenes. In this film, you start to realize that the other main characters (played by Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) aren't really that funny. The stuff that happens to them is funny (sometimes), but they are boring characters. Boring characters don't really carry over well into two films.

The plot of the film is identical to the plot of the first film which, once again, isn't the problem. Stu is getting married to a beautiful Thai woman and he invites his friends to the wedding, which is in Thailand. Stu's future father-in-law doesn't like Stu very much, but everything else about the wedding seems to be promising for him. Two nights before the wedding, the "Wolfpack" along with Stu's future brother-in-law (who is only 16) decide to just have one drink together. Just one drink! And that's where everything goes wrong and they lose Stu's brother-in-law. See, up until that point, the movie actually does just fine. After the first film, it's nice to see the gang back together again and there are quite a few enjoyable moments but once the film goes to Bangkok, it becomes incredibly formulaic, uninspired, and lazy. Don't get me wrong, some of the revelations are fairly funny. By some, I mean like two of them. But they're cheap jokes, too cheap. And when you start to enjoy the monkey more than any of the human characters, you know the film is in trouble.

Speaking of unenjoyable human characters, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is back! Apparently, Alan and Mr. Chow remained friends since the first rendezvous and Alan calls him up so that they can party in Bangkok together. Mr. Chow is so annoying in this film that he instantly takes the film down a notch whenever he's on screen. With him, you get some "clever" quotes such as "Holla! City of squala!" and it just makes you roll your eyes. Unfortunately, his character is pretty crucial for the gang as he is the only one that can help them find Stu's missing brother-in-law.

The film could have been saved by Paul Giamatti if they had used him more, but he is only in two scenes! It was actually really cool to see Giamatti play a bad guy because you find out that he could be pretty convincing. It would've been nice to see him be a bad guy for a longer amount of time, but they decide Mr. Chow deserves more screen time than the Academy Award nominee. That makes a lot of sense.

Also, remember when Mel Gibson was supposed to be the tattoo artist in the film but was replaced due to some members of the cast disapproving of his cameo appearance? Well, even though Nick Cassavetes does a good enough job instead, a cameo appearance by Mel Gibson in the middle of the film probably would've helped. You only get one cameo appearance in this film and it's by Mike Tyson once again and while it's nice to see him in the movie, his appearance just demonstrates just how uninspired the film is.

And I think we deserve more than that... or do we? Why is that this summer's big tentpoles, so far have been so subpar? Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hangover Part II just feel like a bunch of actors and crew members doing the bare minimum so that they can get their paycheck and leave. Todd Phillips may not care whether or not the plots to his films work, but why waste your time making the exact same film you made two years ago? Why not add something more substantial to the sequel instead of making it adequate enough for it to do huge numbers in the box office? And you know that's going to be the case for this film. The Hangover Part II will make huge bucks in the box office; everyone involved in making this film will go home happy. The people who lose are the people who actually pay money to watch it. It's a shame.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, May 23, 2011

CANNES results

Best Picture, the The Palme d’Or winner: Terrence Malick, “The Tree Of Life
The Grand Prix: (tie): Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn - “Drive
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist
Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst, “Melancholia
Best Screenplay Joseph Cedar, “Footnote
The Jury Prize: Maïwenn, “Poliss
Camera d’Or: Pablo Giorgelli, “Las Acacias
Short Film Palme d’Or: Maryna Vroda, “Cross-Country

Un Certain Regard Prize: (tie) “Arirang” by Kim Ki-duk; “Stopped on Track” by Andreas Dresen
Special Jury Prize: “Elena,” Andrei Zvyagintsev
Best Director: Mohammad Rasoulof, “Au Revoir

FIPRESCI Prize (Competition): “Le Havre,” Aki Kaurismäki
FIPRESCI Prize (Un Certain Regard): “The Minister,” Pierre Schoeller
FIPRESCI Prize (Critics’ Week): “Take Shelter,” Jeff Nichols

Prize of the Ecumenical Jury: “This Must Be the Place,” Paolo Sorrentino
Special Mentions: “Le Havre,” Aki Kaurismäki; “Where Do We Go Now?,” Nadine Labaki
Queer Palme: “Skoonheid,” Oliver Hermanus

Very interesting stuff. Tree of Life wins the Palme!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides review

As far as blockbuster films are concerned, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is about as average as it gets. It's never particularly thrilling or engaging, a bunch of new characters are introduced that you never really care about, Captain Jack Sparrow is now the center of attention and his antics get tiresome after the first hour or so. There aren't any strong supporting characters to balance out his sideshow act and so what we have, really, is a film where Johnny Depp acts goofy for two hours and twenty minutes.

So a shitload of people are after the Fountain of Youth: Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane), the English, and the Spaniards. Blackbeard had his prophecy told to him, that he will be stabbed to death by a one-legged man (or something like that), Blackbeard thinks that finding the Fountain of Youth will prevent that prophecy from coming true. Jack Sparrow winds up being on Blackbeard's ship thanks to being drugged by Blackbeard's daughter, and Captain Jack's former lover Angelica (played by Penelope Cruz). Angelica mainly exists so that Jack Sparrow can have someone to flirt with while this whole "plot" thing is going on. Geoffrey Rush is back as Captain Hector Barbossa who has joined the English Navy as they embark on an expedition to the Fountain of Youth. Throughout the course of all this, you find out that in order for Fountain of Youth to work you need a couple of chalices and a mermaid's tear. This gives us an opportunity to see some hot naked mermaids who apparently double as vampires. Their method of seduction is to take you to the bottom of the ocean, have rough sex with you, and then they eat you. That's my version of it anyway.

The plot is fairly ridiculous and unfortunately the action in the movie does not do enough to make you forget about it. Even though there are some wonderfully staged set pieces and the first twenty minutes or so are pretty fun, it's all very, very standard with really nothing too big at stake. Seriously, this film contains some of the most boringly shot swordfighting scenes that I've seen in recent memory. The confrontation between Blackbeard's men and Barbossa's immediately comes to mind. You also have this little love story between a clergyman and a mermaid that... you know what, it's best just to leave it alone. It's just not very engaging or interesting.

It's not a terrible movie, it's not the worst film ever made. I've read a few reviews that attempt to label this film as such and it's complete hyperbole. The problem with this film is that unlike Pirates 2 or 3 (which are enormously flawed films themselves), it does not have that "epic" feel. The saving grace of the previous Pirates sequels were that they at least tried to top the previous film with more groundbreaking special effects. Nothing in this film, special effects-wise, will blow your mind and the actions scenes are just so mediocre.

I said before that Johnny Depp's act gets tiring after the first hour or so, but I must say, his performance is the only thing that keeps the film from being completely boring. Penelope Cruz, a talented actress, is nothing more than eyecandy. Ian McShane, a brilliant and powerful actor, is so mishandled as Blackbeard. He could have been an awesome villain, but he's never particularly threatening. When you compare him to what Jack Sparrow's done in previous Pirates films, he doesn't really seem all that terrible. At least, not as terrible as other corrupt pirates portrayed in the other films.

There are a few charming moments and the movie does start off well enough, but once they get to the Fountain of Youth is when it stops being fun. They've been talking about making a Pirates 5 and a Pirates 6 in the future but if Pirates 4 is any indication, they may want to quit while they're already behind.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What's happening in Cannes, Ken?

Well, I'm not in France although if I was ever invited, I'd love to go. However, I can let you in on the biggest stories coming out of the film festival...

- Woody Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris has gotten some pretty favorable reviews coming out of Cannes. It's not considered a classic, but most people are responding to it positively. So, that puts "late Woody Allen" at a 1 good film per 3 year ratio. Match Point (2005), Vicki Cristina Barcelona (2008), and now Midnight in Paris (2011)... quite a change from his remarkable run of great films from Annie Hall to Crimes and Misdemeanors.

- Most of the other films from the big guns have been getting decidedly mixed reviews:

- Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" has been getting really strong reviews all around and could be the favorite to win the Palme:

- The silent film (yes, silent film) "The Artist" has also been getting some praise:

- Renown Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's film "Le Havre" has also been getting some good notices:

- Oh, and Lars von Trier has since been banned from appearing in any future Cannes Film Festivals because he jokingly called himself a nazi (not many people liked the joke).

- Nicolas Windin Refn's "Drive" has officially gotten on my radar as some of the images and clips I've seen look pretty damn good. It hasn't been screened at Cannes yet. 1 2

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Bridesmaids" isn't just funny, it's the best film of the year (so far)

Now mind you, when I proclaim a film released in early May to be the best film of the year, it doesn't hold much stock. Bridesmaids isn't perfect, but its flaws can be easily ignored by a very sharp, witty script co-written by Kristen Wiig (who was the main star of the film), some very strong performances from all the leading ladies, and a movie that balances the gross-out scenes with the heartfelt scenes with relative ease. People often liken this to a female "Hangover" and the comparisons are apt; however, I think "Bridesmaids" has a bit more heart and staying power. The hilarity of The Hangover (and its flaw) is that much of its humor derives from the unexpected. The first time you watch it, you completely are surprised; second time, you are not as surprised, but you still can't believe what you're seeing; but by the tenth time, the laughs aren't as big.

There's more to "Bridesmaids" than just shocking and unexpected humor. There's plenty of silly scatological humor in the film (especially the scene in the bridal shop which could rival any grossout scene that's out there), but a lot of the humor is character-based and the heart of the film comes from lead character Annie (Kristen Wiig), her relationships with her friends, with guys, and with herself. I've gotten pretty sick of Kristen Wiig and her schtick on Saturday Night Live. Her recurring characters revolve around the same, repeated joke and it's mind-boggling to me why they keep recycling her characters over and over again on the show. But, in minor roles from Knocked Up and Adventureland, she has proven herself to be a capable and rewarding actress. She easily is up to the task of the lead role of "Bridesmaids" and Maya Rudolph helps her out big time (Maya, I think, was perhaps one of the best female cast members from SNL). So it's heartwarming to see Kristen Wiig's talent fully realized in this film. Her zaniness is balanced out by her down-to-earth demeanor and she's very easily watchable on screen which makes the film very easy to get through.

...And that is good because the film, much like other Apatow productions, have the tendency to "stay in the bit" for a bit too long. You can tell Apatow loves watching his characters talk (whether or not he's had a hand in writing them or not) and knowing Paul Feig from his Freaks and Geeks days, you can tell he enjoys it too. So we have a lot of cases of characters just sort of breezing their way through a scene, taking their time, making the jokes, and letting things develop from there. This makes a 95-100 minute film flesh out to a 125 minute film which is unfortunately the case with too many Apatow movies and they are ultimately the biggest flaw. And yet, the films do such a good job with characterization and they are able to fit a surprising amount of laughs into the two hour plus timeframe that it's easily forgivable. However, it's undeniable that Bridesmaids could work just as well if it were twenty minutes shorter. Comic indulgence can wear off quite fast.

There are an abundance of memorable scenes in this film, however, and instead of going over them and spoiling the jokes for you, I'd much rather let you see for yourself. Comedy, ultimately, is subjective. It surprises me that the amount of Apatow detractors grows with each movie and for awhile there, their voices started to make sense when films like Get Him to the Greek and Funny People fell a little flat. Bridesmaids proves however that the Apatow stamp indeed has staying power and that he, along with Paul Feig and co-writer/star Kristen Wiig, deserved to be watched as their careers continue to grow and expand. Of course not everyone will love this film, not everyone will think of this film as highly as me or other actual critics.

I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the rest of the supporting cast. Wendi Mc-Lendon Covey, from Reno 911 did a great job as well as Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Jon Hamm, and Melissa McCarthy who practically steals the show with her bold, powerhouse comedic performance. She's just as crazy as Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover, but more aggressive and there is one scene where her character attempts to cheer up Annie and it really brought some unexpected depth to her character. I applaud the writers for having that scene in the film as I was just expecting her to be the go-to goofball/one-liner machine.

If you can go into "Bridesmaids" with reasonable expectations, I think you will be able to enjoy yourself easily. Yes, judging by the tv commercials and the trailers, Bridesmaids smells like your average chick flick. But trust me, coming from a 23-year-old man, it's not. It puts films like "Something Borrowed" to absolute shame. This is the standard all "chick flicks" should follow. Furthermore, I hate that I have to defend myself for loving this film. Comedy doesn't have to be gender specific or race specific, it just has to be funny. If you, as a guy, feel you're too "macho" to see this movie, do yourself a favor and grow a pair. It's a comedy, for fuck's sake, and a good one.. Plus, it's the perfect date movie. It's a movie that your date is going to love and you'll love it too. I feel no shame for loving this movie, I do feel ashamed of myself for feeling the need to defend myself but here we are. Nevermind all that though. Bridesmaids is great comedy that raises the standards for all other female-centric films and though I doubt we'll have many films like this in the near future, we can at least enjoy this film while the euphoric feeling lasts.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Upcoming 2011 Film: Descendents

The Descendents, an Alexander Payne film (Sideways) starring George Clooney is coming out in December and Fox Searchlight is starting to do a bit of viral marketing for the film already.

It's basically a short clip of George Clooney running to a house, asking that question "Who is he?" It's really not much to go by, but considering this is Payne's first film since 2004, we'll take what we can get.

Here's a synopsis:

"From Alexander Payne, the creator of the Oscar-winning SIDEWAYS, set in Hawaii, THE DESCENDANTS is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney) an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thor review

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg

As a whole, Thor is a competent film. It's fairly entertaining throughout its two hour running time and newcomer Chris Hemsworth gives a very solid job playing Thor. He's surprisingly watchable in what could be a fairly bland role. Unfortunately, there is a lot of blandness in this film and the odd blend of fantasy and realism (the transtitions from Asgard to Earth) are a bit jarring and they aren't very well-balanced. You will have super-serious "medieval" drama going on in Asgard and then cut to Earth and, look, Thor is a fish out of water! And we watch as the very forced relationship between he and Jane (Portman) develops (or doesn't develop). There are way too many flaws in this film, but luckily the action as well as the dynamic between Loki and Thor keeps the film from dipping into disaster territory.

So Thor is about to be promoted king when his father deems him unfit for the throne because of his brash, war-hungry attitude. He gets banished to Earth, his father relinquishes his powers and his trusty hammer gets banished to Earth as well. Thor winds up in Earth, a scientist named Jane (along with her team) discovers him and they have many questions. Jane immediately takes an interest in him because he's tall, muscular, handsome... and he just might have come from another planet. There are so many questions she has to ask him!

Unfortunately, the relationship between Jane and Thor does not develop naturally at all and of all the romantic interests in superhero films, this is perhaps the most contrived. It's a shame too because there is a very interesting story to tell here. You have Jane, the mortal scientist whose world is shaken by Thor's appearance. But, it never really goes there. The chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hemsorth isn't terrible, they do the best they can with the material they've been given, it's just very underwritten. Perhaps it could be further explored in a second film, but you can't judge a film by what'll happen in the next film. That's why I hate films like these; films that bank on the fact that there'll be a sequel. It's not that they have to wrap everything up by the end of the film, it's just they touch on some interesting plot points and they just don't really go anywhere.

The medieval part of the film is probably the best written and most focused part and even though the plot points are a bit predictable, it all pretty much works. With a superhero film, it goes without saying that you should check your brain at the door. You should try to suspend belief as much as possible. That's what this film is pretty much like. So, if you can do that, you're generally going to have a good time, but man this film does really have a lot of flaws and they're quite apparent from the get go. From the film's ham-handed first act to the interesting fish-out-of-water storyline which gets a bit tired by the third act, it really tries your patience. But if you can stomach its flaws, you're gonna have a pretty good time. Overall though, this film should've been a lot better than it was for a big tentpole superhero action film and on that basis, I can't quite recommend this film.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, May 9, 2011

Oh yeah, Cannes

I could've sworn I blogged about Cannes but clearly I haven't.

Main competition
Notables are films by Refn, Malick, Von Trier, and Almodovar. Also look out for Julia Leigh's film Sleeping Beauty and Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Un Certain Regard

Out of Competition

Overall, some pretty interesting films out of this lot. The festival is starting in a few days and I'll keep you posted as to what's going on if anything worthwhile happens.

Other than that, expect a Thor review tonight or tomorrow.