Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"The Hangover Part II"

The Hangover Part II - Directed by Todd Phillips, written by Phillips, Craig Mazin, and Scot Armstrong, starring Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ken Jeong - Rated R

They can keep making the same plot over and over again as long as it stays funny.

After the surprise success of the R-rated The Hangover two years ago, it became apparent that a sequel would happen. As with all sequels there was the fear that the filmmakers would rest on their laurels and phone in a bland, money-grabbing sequel. Thankfully, they focused on one-upping every aspect of the first film and while The Hangover Part II certainly isn’t original, it is very funny and manages to put Allen, Stu, and Phil through even crazier situations than the last time.

The Hangover Part II is nearly a carbon copy of the first film. It is about the same cast of characters and the same situation they were in the last time. This time Stu (Ed Helms) is the one getting married and it’s his soon to be brother-in-law who goes missing, but this time they are in Bangkok, Thailand. The setting is everything this time around (Bangkok is referred to as a character itself multiple times) as Bangkok is renowned for its ridiculous level of debauchery.

Normally if a sequel completely copies a previous storyline it would be awful, but this is a series about guys who party so hard they forget everything and lose a member of the group. To expect a sequel to drastically change that formula is a bit ridiculous. A comedy like this can only be faulted if it simply isn’t funny. Who is really watching this film and expecting some original, surprising plot? If that is what you expect, you should skip it. If you’re looking for laughs, it’s hard to imagine that you will end up disappointed.

The first film exceeded expectations because of a great cast. Ed Helms takes the reins of this one and the film is better off for it. He has perfected the art of the freak out and it is hilarious every time he shrieks in dismay. Bradley Cooper does a fine job as the calm member of the group as he tries to keep everyone on task. And fan favorite Zach Galifianakis keeps the man-child shtick of the first film going strong. Perhaps the film relies on Galifianakis’s appearance for laughs a bit too much, but the guy just looks funny. His appearance when he first wakes up is fantastic. Did we see that in the first one, though? Yes, but it’s still funny somehow.

The supporting cast should please most audiences as well. There are a few cameos and Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) returns. Personally, I’m a bit tired of seeing Jeong (the guy seems to be in every comedic TV show and movie these days) so Chow’s appearance didn’t do much for me. The rest of the audience seemed to really dig him, though. One cast member who has to be getting a bit angry is Justin Bartha, the missing guy from the first film. You would think that he would be part of the gang this time around yet he still has to sit on the sidelines. There’s always hope for the inevitable third film, though.

The comedy of The Hangover Part II cannot be described in too much detail because no one wants anything spoiled (especially comedy) and most of the stuff that happens in the film is not fit for publication. This is a dirty movie, make no mistake about it. It’s a film filled with drug use, violence, and graphic nudity. As stated above, this film is all about going bigger. Take everything from the first film and give it a shot in the arm and you are left with The Hangover Part II.

This is not a flawless comedy, however. At times, it tries a bit too hard to be crazy. The inclusion of a cigarette smoking, drug-dealing monkey was humorous at first but quickly became too silly. A monkey does allow for some funny dialogue (people yelling about monkeys always makes me laugh), but there was no need to make the monkey some kind of unofficial fourth member of the group.

The Hangover Part II isn’t a comedy masterpiece, but it is very funny. The unavoidable question is, “Is it funnier than the first one?” It’s too early to tell on that one. Fresh out of the theater you may find it much funnier than the first, but it needs to sink in a bit before you start comparing the hilarity of both films. The fact that it’s hard to tell says something, though. It says that this is a worthy sequel. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but as long as you’re laughing, who cares?

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Ken Jeong, please leave the series. I was sick of Mr. Chow by the end of the first film, but I understand that he had to make an appearance here because of how popular he's become. It looked like they had done something brilliant with him, though. He wakes up and gets ready to tell the guys what happened only to die before he can start the story. It was hilarious and unexpected...until it turned out he was still alive. Why didn't they leave him dead?

I loved how apparently Allen sees the world through the eyes of a child… it makes sense.

Mike Tyson was kind of silly at the end. But some people will enjoy his appearance.

Nick Cassavettes? What’s the point of that? I understand they needed a replacement for Gibson's replacement (Liam Neeson), but Nick Cassavettes? How many people are going to see him and think, "Cool, the director of Alpha Dog has a cameo!"?

All issues with Gibson aside, I think he would've worked out great in the cameo. Oddly enough, he has had a cameo before in which he had a lot of tattoos and piercings in Father's Day.

The Allentown song was great. Once again, yes it's just like the first film because Stu has to make up a song, but I thought it was funny.

“They shot the monkey!” I can't help but laugh at that line.

I dug the little health care dig: "Eight stitches and it only cost six dollars, how is that possible?”

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Directed by Rob Marshall, written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, and Geoffrey Rush - Rated PG-13

Mermaids with fangs? (Shaking head...)

Captain Jack Sparrow is back and this time he’s not weighed down by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom; this time Captain Jack is the star, for better or worse. On Stranger Tides attempts to be a simpler tale than the last two Pirates sequels but ends up being just as busy, twice as goofy, and half as entertaining.

Tides has Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in his comfort zone) searching for the Fountain of Youth. Even though this film has left out Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, Jack still has plenty of cohorts…and enemies. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is the main familiar face. New to the series are Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane). And thrown in for good measure are some voodoo zombies, a clergyman, a Spanish armada, and mermaids. They all tie together somehow but the point is that it is all a bit too much.

The clergyman and the mermaids are the biggest problem with the film. It’s as if the screenwriters started writing the script without two young lovers in it then chickened out and added a couple of replacement characters for Will and Elizabeth, so any chance of the film being much different from the others went out the window. What’s worse is that these two new additions are much less compelling than Will and Elizabeth. The film would be much better off without them.

Tides would also benefit from the exclusion of the mermaids in general. The Pirates series has always had some goofy supernatural elements to it, but having multiple scenes in which grown men shudder in fear at the thought of mermaids was just too stupid. Not to mention the mermaids themselves which turn out to be…vampires? Vampires with some kind of whips? It’s never really explained just what they are and who cares anyway? They should’ve never been in the film to begin with.

Including Blackbeard and Angelica in Tides was more than enough new blood for the series. Blackbeard even brings in the added supernatural element of voodoo, which is another reason why the mermaids were unnecessary. Instead, the bloated script doesn’t have enough time to really explain anything about Blackbeard and his voodoo tendencies or just what is so magical about his sword or his ship. Ian McShane does what he can with the character, but at times even he looked confused about who or what he was. With that historic character and the casting, the addition of Blackbeard turned out to be a huge disappointment. The film focuses on all the wrong things.

The movie isn’t without its fun, though. Depp is still entertaining as Jack Sparrow. Since this is his fourth time playing the pirate there are no surprises here, but if you’ve enjoyed him before you’ll enjoy him again. Rush is as great as ever as Barbossa, though the film woefully misuses him. The movie would’ve been much better if the entire film had been about Sparrow and Barbossa teaming up. It’s been done in the series before, but so what? Depp and Rush are much more entertaining onscreen together than some no-name, whiny clergyman and a nearly mute mermaid.

The look of the film is one of the brighter points. This is a big budget movie and you can see the money on the screen, which is always a good thing. As far as the action goes, it’s serviceable but nothing too memorable. The 3-D, aside from a few sword pointing moments, was pointless and not at all worth the extra money.

On Stranger Tides is an overlong, goofy mess that could’ve used some serious rewriting and editing. It’s not a complete disaster or anything, but it is definitely a missed opportunity to reinvent the series overall. Many people had been disappointed with the sequels, with some going so far as to skip the third one because the plot had become so convoluted. (I enjoyed the sequels, though I can understand the problems some had with them.) Tides is certainly easier to follow than those films, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically better. The story is simple but there are too many players. The new Pirates film isn’t a colossal waste of time, but it definitely isn’t as fun as it should be. A film featuring Jack Sparrow cannot afford to be this dull and bloated. You won’t be sorry if you just wait to rent this one.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

That stuff with Richard Griffiths as King George was almost unbearable.

Why make Barbossa part of the British Navy? Geoffrey Rush has the greatest pirate laugh and they relegate him to the straight man role of the film. Let the guy be the over the top pirate he was meant to be.

Stephen Graham had a few funny moments as one of the new comic-relief pirates.

Was it just me or did it seem like it took forever for Jack Sparrow to finally end up on a boat. A movie with "Pirates" in the title should stick to the ocean as much as possible.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Priest - Directed by Scott Charles Stewart, written by Cory Goodman, starring Paul Bettany, Maggie Q, Karl Urban, and Christopher Plummer - Rated PG-13

Too much Dredd, not enough Blade Runner.

Here’s the easiest way to describe Priest: it’s like the disappointing, crappy second movie in a trilogy that doesn’t exist. That makes this film doubly maddening. Not only is it just plain weak, overall, but it also had potential to be a very entertaining franchise. The problem with Priest is that what happened before this film begins and what could happen in a subsequent film is much more interesting that what we get to see.

Priest is a hybrid of sorts. It takes place in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi world in which vampires and humans have always existed and have been at constant war. A Church-sponsored elite group of warriors called Priests have eradicated the vampire threat and now humans are free to live in Blade Runner-like cities of misery. Outside the cities, however, is a Judge Dredd-like wasteland that is populated with Old West style settlers and “reservations” of vampires. So this movie has a few Blade Runner visuals in a Judge Dredd plot. For those of that have seen Dredd, you know that no amount of visual wonder can save that kind of garbage. (More on the plot similarities of Dredd in the spoiler section.)

Vampires, dystopia, Old West, warrior-priests…Priest is just a bit too busy to decide what it wants to be and that is ultimately its downfall. The strange combo of sci-fi and western isn’t new; it just isn’t handled well here (to see it handled well, please watch “Firefly”). Sure, there are some interesting contradictions like candle-lit prairie homes, record players, old-timey train depots juxtaposed with high powered guns, futuristic bombs, and super-fast motorcycles. That stuff gives the film a certain style, but it never really melds together in a natural way.

The film almost gets by on its visuals alone, but the action was handled so haphazardly that this film cannot even be recommended as a mindless action film. There are a few awesome moments, sure, but the standard fight scenes are edited in such a way that it is hard to tell what is happening. There’s a lot of jumping and then something ends up dead. The 3-D isn’t a saving grace, either. In fact, the only time the effect works well is when there is an overhead establishing shot. Other than that, it almost seemed as if the movie was in 2-D.

Priest’s greatest fault is that the filmmakers present plenty of possible themes but never provide enough material to back any of them up. There could be more to the idea of vampires being treated like Native Americans by being placed in reservations, but vampires are never really treated as sympathetically as Native Americans are. Speaking of that, wouldn’t it be much more interesting if the vampires were a bit more humanized? Sure, it’s nice that the vampires aren’t sparkling pretty boys for a change, but when an entire race is being treated this way shouldn’t there be room for questions like, “Is there a way to co-exist?” This is one of those rare films where the villain actually makes the most sense (much more on that in spoilers). There are more examples of potential deep questions, but the point is that this film starts to ask them, then gets bored and decides to throw in a slow motion action scene instead.

A good performance could save a film like Priest but even though the cast is impressive, the characters are not. They are all one-note to say the least. Paul Bettany is in his comfort zone playing the tortured soul…who is also a badass (he has got to be the most unlikely action star working today). Karl Urban has a fun moment pretending to conduct an orchestra as vampires terrorize a town but he is literally credited as “Black Hat.” No room for character development there. Maggie Q gets the film’s most badass moment but little else. And Cam Gigandet just looks out of place completely.

There are not many redeeming qualities to Priest. It’s only ninety minutes long but still feels over two hours, there are no compelling characters, it squanders any chance of being thought-provoking, and the action is sub-par. But there are decent moments and most of the visuals (mainly the city) are impressive. No need to check this out in the theatres (a little late at this point anyway), but it’s worth a rental. Just don’t get your hopes up.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Okay, so vampires are not humans that have been transformed into vampires. They are a species unto themselves. Cool, fine with me. Here's my problem: Karl Urban's character represents the first truly human/vampire crossbreed who has supernatural powers and can walk around in the sun; how is he not better than the miserable city-dwelling human population? Sure, humans are better than those base vampires, which are nothing more than snarling wolf-like creatures, but humans damn sure aren't better than Urban's crossbreed. I know this is a common theme, the debate on whether or not vampirism is better than humanity (see Interview with the Vampire, among others), but this is different in that the world has never seen a real hybrid. The point of all this is that the film should have entertained this possibility. It would have been much more compelling. Let's not let the bad guy win just to be different, let's let the bad guy win because he's right.

As for the Judge Dredd stuff, just think about it: an elite, powerful warrior forced to leave his protective city for a wasteland filled with danger only to have to do battle with his former partner. The basic outline is identical...minus the appearance of Rob Schneider, of course. Oh, and the film's basic plot is very close to The Searchers, as well.

So the priests are like the Jedi of Christ? It’s never really explained if they are supernatural or not, even though there is that animated expository intro. Or maybe I just missed it. Anyway, I didn't understand what made them so special.

Stephen Moyer (Bill from "True Blood") gets killed by vampires…funny

More topics that could've been explored: soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which Bettany and Q obviously suffer from.

-Vampires as Native Americans. They're on reservations, but they are treated as the bad guys here...that theme doesn't make sense because the Indians were certainly not history's bad guys.

-The role of religion in society. Sure, crosses are all over the place, but the ramifications of a Church-controlled world are left by the wayside.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Thor - Directed by Kenneth Branaugh, written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne, starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, and Stellan Skarsgard - Rated PG-13

"How dare you threaten the son of Odin with such a puny weapon?" (Cue taser sound.)

The deluge of comic book movies has begun with Thor, a surprisingly entertaining film from director Kenneth Branaugh. Branaugh, known for his work with Shakespearean material, may seem like an odd choice for a “summer” action movie. But it turns out that a serious director can really elevate the lighter fare of the comic book world.

Thor is definitely lighter; it has to be. In the world of outlandish characters Thor stands alone as the only superhero who is also a bona fide god. Thor, son of Odin, lives in Asgard, one of nine “realms” in the universe and home of the Norse gods. Not to spoil anything, but Thor causes Odin one problem too many in Asgard and is banished to Earth. Of course, the problems in Asgard lead to problems on Earth, so this film operates almost evenly between two very different worlds. On one hand you have Asgard, shiny and futuristic yet still stuck in Viking lore as the characters still wield swords and ride horses (it’s an amusing contradiction). Then there is Earth, where scientists, played by Stellan Skarsgaard and Natalie Portman, are just scratching the surface of travelling between realms.

As much as Asgard is a contradiction of itself, Thor is still a stranger fit for Earth and that leads to the majority of the comedy of the film. Fish out of water jokes are always slightly amusing, but this gimmick is funnier than usual because Thor is such a loud, arrogant character…even for a god. He shows disdain for every human he comes across and shows complete disgust when they attempt to give him medical attention. But it’s all relatively harmless behavior and he becomes easier for everyone to deal with soon enough. Also, if you’ve been watching “Conan” lately, you’ll have to stop yourself from imagining the parody of Thor that’s been on the show the past week. That’s not part of the filmmakers’ plan or anything, but it still provides a few laughs for those in the know.

Thor mainly works because of its characters and the actors portraying them. Chris Hemsworth is impressive as Thor and should be a bigger name in the coming years. Anthony Hopkins gets to ham it up and growl his lines at people in an amusing way as Odin. Tom Hiddleston does a fine, angst-filled job in a Commodus-type role as Loki. Idris Elba looks freakish and has one of the film’s awesome moments as Heimdall. And Rene Russo shows up which is notable only because she hasn’t been in a movie for years. You may have noticed I haven’t written a word about any of the actors portraying human characters. They all do a fine job; it’s just that their characters pale in comparison to the gods, which is the way it should be.

Decent acting and a bit of comedy are fine, but Thor is still part action movie. The action is handled quite well and at times it can even be borderline jaw-dropping. Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is a pretty amazing cinematic weapon. He has to do without it for most of the film, but when Thor has the hammer, you know you’re going to see some great action. The 3-D isn’t bad, either. If the film had taken place completely on Earth, the 3-D might have seemed pointless. But during action scenes in other worlds, it added quite a bit. Also, the extra dimension adds a taste of realism to the CG-heavy realms.

The story of Thor is a bit busy, but the themes of becoming an adult and the bond between father and son still resonate. There’s nothing overly special about the script, but it is certainly a step above many comic book movies. The script attempts to create an emotional attachment to the characters rather than just give reasons for stuff to blow up. Stuff still blows up (The Destroyer causes plenty of glorious mayhem), but it’s all tied together nicely.

Finally, Director Branaugh keeps it all intact and with a sense of style. The action scenes are easy to follow and the camera seems to always be moving, but not in a busy, over-the-top way. His choice to frame most scenes in a skewed angle is odd, but that element did give the film its own look and that’s always important when dealing with the Marvel universe since it’s all the Marvel films are connected in some way.

Thor may not end up being the biggest comic book movie this year, but it will most likely go down as one of the best. If this film is any indication, we’re in for a very entertaining summer.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

The Avengers connections are getting tough to keep track of. Of course there's a scene after the credits. If you didn't check it out, it ties Captain America to a few characters and Nick Fury shows up. It also shows that Loki is alive and on Earth. But still, it seems like at the end of all of this everyone will need notes to understand everything.

I liked the nod to Tony Stark when the Destroyer showed up.

How badass was it when Thor basically used himself as a bullet shoot that giant frost creature through the head?

I dug the running gag of Thor getting hit by a car.

The Stan Lee cameo (as the redneck who tears off the bed of his truck trying to pry out Mjolnir) was my favorite yet.

Seriously, Conan O’Brien almost ruined the movie for me. I kept hearing that high-pitched voice during every action scene...

This film marks one of the few times in movie history where it makes sense for a character to scream at the sky because we know someone is actually listening. Still hard to take scenes like that too seriously, though.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Fast Five"

Fast Five - Directed by Justin Lin, written by Chris Morgan, starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Dwayne Johnson - Rated PG-13

Bring on five more...?

The Fast/Furious franchise is one of the most unlikely properties to still be up and running…and stronger than ever. The first one was fun in an idiotic, Point Break with cars kind of way. The second one was just sort of there. The third was a failed attempt to reboot the series in Tokyo. The fourth one worked in a nostalgic sense because it reunited the original cast. What is the point of a fifth movie? And once there’s a fifth film, isn’t a series entering parody territory? Not necessarily.

Fast Five works because the series has changed into this hybrid of a car movie and a heist movie a la Ocean’s 11. That may seem like a bad fit or even a goofy one, but it ends up being plenty of fun. Part of that is the cast, which consists of pretty much every character from past films (save the ones that died), but the bigger part is the ambition of the film. Who would have thought that one of the most over the top, entertaining action movies in recent memory would be Fast Five?

All surprise aside, Fast Five delivers exactly what its audience wants. First off, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are back, along with Jordana Brewster. Those familiar faces instantly make you recall the first film, which most fans consider to be the best. The addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson should be enough to excite the action fan in you if you’re not a fan of the original cast.

The story of Fast Five plays out in Rio. Dom, Brian, and Mia are on the lam after busting Dom out of federal custody. While in Brazil, they figure if they steal enough money from the local drug czar then they can disappear forever. To steal all of the money the trio needs the help of pretty much everyone they’ve ever dealt with before. Since the gang is so high profile, the FBI has sent in their heavy hitter, Hobbs (Johnson), to bring them all in.

Fast Five is all about going bigger. The film begins with a ridiculous action set piece and never lets up. Vehicles slam into speeding trains. Super-expensive cars fly out of said train only to then drive right off a cliff. That vague description only covers the first twenty minutes or so. Fast Five is nothing if not relentless, in a good way. The movie, though clocking in a bit long at two plus hours, manages to move at a brisk pace, never slowing down long enough for you to start questioning the logic of anything happening onscreen.

Logic doesn’t apply to this film. That’s not a problem. If the film had been filled with CG action scenes, it would have been a harder pill to swallow. But thankfully, Fast Five keeps most of its action practical…or at least it looks practical and that’s all that matters. In a movie about cars, you want to see real cars in the middle of real stunts. Fast Five certainly delivers on that point.

The non-automobile action is decent, as well. A major draw for this film was the showdown between the two hulking bald dudes: Johnson and Diesel. Johnson dwarfs Diesel and makes him look like a child, by the way. It’s still a pretty good matchup and their fight scenes play out like something out of a Godzilla movie.

Dwayne Johnson is a perfect fit for a movie like this. He gets to tell people what to do, stare people down, wear Under Armor, and sweat profusely, all while sporting a massive goatee. In other words, he gets to play The Rock…with a goatee. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a little something wrong with that Southern accent he threw in a few times, but it’s forgivable. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare so well. Paul Walker is still the weak link of the series. He’s okay in the action scenes, but when he has to play a person with emotions or a personality he fails more often than not. Diesel holds most of the film together with his odd…charisma? But the guy still mumbles most of his lines and looks painfully awkward in the lighthearted scenes. Fortunately, the rest of the cast handles the comedic relief. Some of it is a bit lowbrow (literally toilet humor at one point), but it’s all in good fun.

It’s a bit odd to claim enjoyment for a film with a “five” in the title, but you shouldn’t judge a movie by its title. Sure, this movie looks like a Dodge commercial at times, but isn’t product placement warranted in a car movie? Are the two leads mediocre? Yeah, but they have developed some odd kind of chemistry that works. Should you ask any of these questions about Fast Five? Nope. Check it out for a crazy good time.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

How many people were killed in that vault sequence? Sure, they went to a lot of trouble to show everyone getting out of the way just in time, but there must have been scores of innocent people who were killed...and all for the greed of Vin Diesel and his cronies.

It's a good thing Brazil has all those superfast, cool cop cars…

The whole movie is a bit ridiculous, but the most unrealistic aspect: Vin Diesel kicking The Rock's ass. C'mon! (That last word is in italics to show that it should read as if Gob Bluth is saying it.)

One thing that put on the positive side for the last Fast movie was the fact that they killed off Michelle Rodriguez, whose character annoyed me to no end. Then, in an after credits sequence, it's revealed that she's actually still alive somehow...

...I instantly dislike the next one now.