Deadpool 2

May 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

Breaking the 4th wall in a film is always a risk. I recall the late great critic Gene Siskel who said, “If you’re going to turn to that camera, you’d better have something to say.” Some actors can pull it off. Ryan Reynolds turns it into an artform in the sequel to “Deadpool”, the most raunchy of the Marvel superheroes. I liked the first film, even though at times it could be a little too jokey. Reynolds really wanted to redeem the “House of the Dead” reject-looking character from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. And he certainly did.

Now, he brings “Deadpool” into full-on parody mode in “Deadpool 2”. While there is a bit of a serious storyline, and some touching moments, “Deadpool 2” is an onslaught of in-jokes and making fun of not only the MCU, not only Deadpool himself, but even the actors–and, sometimes, other franchises.

The plot is fairly basic: Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is enjoying an anniversary date with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) when one of his targets barges in and murders her. Feeling guilty about allowing her death, Wilson tries to kill himself. But, if you recall, Deadpool can’t die by dismemberment. Instead, he reluctantly joins the X-Men in order to kind of redeem himself. They’re enlisted to help a young kid named Russell (Julian Dennison) who is becoming more unstable and could be a future villain. In fact, those worries are confirmed by a time-traveling anti-hero named Cable (Josh Brolin), who has come back to stop him. He lost his family because of Russell’s wrath. Russell can harness fire through his hands, lending to naming himself Firefist.

Cable wants to kill the boy, but Deadpool believes he can redeem him. While in his subconscious, Deadpool revisits Vanessa as sort of a window into his soul, to find his “heart” and save the kid.

In the meantime, we get a lot of jokes. Most of these are hit-or-miss, and when they hit, they hit big. This is basically a Zucker Brothers movie set in the Marvel universe. The film is extremely meta, and comes close to even parodying meta. But, it’s not quite that clever. Nor does it need to be. The college level humor works just fine.

Spending time watching “Deadpool 2” is a bit like spending 2 hours with a stand-up comedian. At times you will be laughing your head off; other times, you’ll want them to pump the brakes a bit. But, even at its most goofy moments, “Deadpool 2” still finds time to have some strength and depth in character. Reynolds may have found his real vocation with this role. He’s had a career before this franchise, but this has really defined him. And it’s served him well. Brolin is great as the comic “straight man”, the Dean Martin to his Jerry Lewis. They work well together, and Brolin has a knack for the grim-faced, hardboiled type.

It’s great entertainment if you’re ready for this kind of humor. You are definitely not getting anything real dramatic; and after “Avengers: Infinity War”, it comes as a much needed comic relief in the MCU.

Grab some chimichangas, fire up the EDM, sit back, and enjoy.

My rating: :D

Her

January 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

We live in a very interesting time when it comes to social interactions and relationships. With the advent of social networking through this Technological Age, it seems as though we can be impersonal and personal at the same time without it being a dichotomy or contradiction. In Spike Jonze’s “Her”, we are taken through a very personal journey for the characters that is as real for them as it can be for the viewers watching. It doesn’t try to stand alone as a statement of what technology is doing to us as people, however, nor does it make some kind of general social statement about humanity devolving in any kind of way.

It tells the story of a seemingly lonely guy named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who may seem detached but is able to successfully write love letters for clients at one of the most curious companies ever. It may be arbitrary but it certainly serves as a good purpose for the theme of the film. In some cases he’s known his clients so long he can actually come up with thoughts of theirs that they may not have even told him to put down in writing. He’s lauded for his efforts by a co-worker, Paul (Chris Pratt), and he seems to be happy with the job. But he has an emptiness in his life that we learn comes from the impending divorce from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), whom he’s known since childhood. Fragments of their relationship are spliced throughout the film, giving us a glimpse into their happiness, and demise. We’re not exactly sure what broke down between them, but it becomes more apparent as we get to know Theodore more. He is immersed in technology. He’s one of those guys who will always have the latest tech gadget–but instead of being introverted about technology, he seems to use it for social reasons. He logs into a one-night stand hotline to have phone sex with strangers (sort of like Chat Roulette) and has a rather amusing if over the top encounter with a random girl (voiced by Kristin Wiig). He is turned onto a new kind of AI operating system that grows in intellect the more you use it, and Theodore decides to invest in one, choosing a female voice that names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).

Her relationship with Theodore starts off more like Siri for iPhone but quickly develops into a more familiar one, and then a romantic one. Theodore is instantly hooked, but has some distractions…such as a first date with a girl his friend has set him up with (played a little too convincingly by Olivia Wilde). His friend Amy (Amy Adams) is in a relationship herself, married to a somewhat inauspicious guy, Charles (Matt Letscher) who is never afraid to criticize her even when she’s showing a film she made to Theodore. The date starts off well but goes awry and Theodore confides in Samantha, drawing them closer together.

This is where the film really becomes absorbing. Once they fully accept being in a relationship together, all of the parallels of what a relationship is are explored. He calls her his “girlfriend”, even to his soon to be ex-wife, who mocks his relationship and tells him he can only have a meaningful relationship with “his laptop”.

But things aren’t so rosy for Theodore and Samantha. There are jealousies, accusations, things that happen in a normal relationship, that begin to challenge their situation. It’s all very natural–but it’s all very synthetic at the same time. In a way, Theodore is Samantha, programmed to be a way that cannot change. But can he accept himself being alone, and not being lonely?

This sort of plot is not exactly wholly original. We’ve seen stories of Artificial Intelligence being used as characters in relationships. Spielberg’s “AI” and Andrew Niccol’s “S1m0ne” come to mind. But I like that Spike Jonze makes this a very intimate, personal story. One that you become so wrapped up in because you start to put yourself in Theodore’s place. And Johansson’s performance is so instantly appealing, you start to fall for her as well. Every jolt of something unpleasant between them is felt, and when you feel something is slipping away, you get that same feeling you would if you were going through the same thing with your significant other.

Even though it sounds a bit heavy, it’s emotional impact is embraceable, rather than something that weighs it down. It gives the film so much more depth by exploring the ups and downs of a serious relationship. In a way, it’s more powerful than some films about two actual human beings in a relationship. Never seeing Samantha allows our imaginations to conjure up what she’d look like, what her expressions were, and I didn’t necessarily actually picture Johansson a lot of times. There are some laugh out loud moments, too, such as when Theodore is stuck at a certain point in a video game he’s playing. The character he interacts with (voiced by Jonze) is very funny, if a bit obnoxious and rude.

The film is very satisfying, and I think it could pass as a date movie. Not a first date movie, though. That may be a little much…and a bit too revealing. It’s like going to a palm reading for couples on your first date. You want to have a little mystery.

But even watching alone, it can be greatly appreciated. The performances are very strong, and credible, and the journey is one that’s very sweet and endearing throughout. Try not to hit on any computers on your next visit to Fry’s, though. May be a little awkward.

My rating: :D

The World’s End

August 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Edgar Wright made quite a splash on the horror comedy scene with 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead”, one of the freshest films of the decade and one of my favorite horror comedies of all time–and one of the best zombie films of all time. He followed it up with the darker but still fun and entertaining “Hot Fuzz” in 2007. Now comes the third in what he calls the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”, “The World’s End”. The plot is quite simple: a bunch of boyhood friends gather together after over 20 years of being apart to try and conquer The Golden Mile, a 12 tavern pub crawl in one night. The man behind the plan is Gary King (Simon Pegg, always appealing, if a little over the top this time), and he is stuck in the past as he wants to recapture the glory days of youth and finish the pub crawl that they could not finish when they were teenagers.

His group of friends, however, have grown up and gone their separate ways. His closest friend, Andy (Nick Frost), has quit drinking and become a business man. His other friends, Pete (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Steven (Paddy Considine), have also matured into adults. Not all successful, but certainly past being pub crawlers. As for Gary, he hasn’t grown at all. Still has the same car from that night, and the same cassette tape that was playing when they drove there.

The pubs all belong to a town called Newton Haven, where they grew up. They haven’t been back since, nor have they cared to. In some ways, all of their skeletons were left there and they were more than happy to leave them–especially for Andy, who had a falling out with Gary one night that Gary thinks Andy should just get over.

Gary finds all of his buds and is able to convince them to come with him based on telling them a sob story about his Mum dying, and their fascination with him being able to persuade Andy to come along piques their interest. Once together, it’s off to the pubs. But something is different. Each pub is identical, sterile, and the people are different. They’re colder, and quiet. The ones that should remember Gary and the gang don’t seem to recognize them at all.

In the bathroom, Gary finds out what is going on just as the rest of his friends grow restless with the evening. Oliver had invited his sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Steven has had a crush on all these years, and Gary has tried to put moves on her as well. She leaves, disenchanting the others. Andy, who has been drinking water instead of beer, decides it’s time to go. But when they try to collect Gary, they are swarmed with kids resembling androids complete with blue blood and T-1000-like mobility. They’re convinced they’re surrounded by robots, but there’s actually a bigger plot going on. It’s an invasion. Flooding us with technology and brainwashing us with pseudo-pacification, the gang tries to escape being assimilated.

But Gary still wants to get to the World’s End, the last pub of the crawl. Through the chase sequences, we learn more about their relationships with each other and why there was a falling out. It’s almost like “The Big Chill” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. But Wright doesn’t completely rip off either film. He also merely touches on an apocalyptic story about the downfall of human civilization as we become more and more reliant on technology. It would have been a nice thing for him to really satirize, as it seemed to be leaning in that direction.

It’s still good fun, though; and if you’re a fan of either or both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, this won’t let you down. The performances are strong, the action sequences are exciting, and most of the film moves at a good pace. The only time the film lags is near the end. It’s almost as if Wright didn’t have a real tight grasp on how he wanted to end this one, so it is a bit anticlimactic. While some of this is used for comic effect, it almost starts a whole new story with only about 10 minutes to go in the film. The film’s last scene feels like it could be the first scene of the next film, should he want to make a sequel. Although, since this was part of a “trilogy”, I guess Wright would have to bend the rules.

This is an enjoyable film, but I think it’s the weakest of the three. It’s certainly ambitious and it has some great moments. There are some very funny scenes, and the characters are very likeable, especially Sam and Pete. But there’s something more that could’ve been done with the plot, I think, that would have put it even above “Shaun” and really made a criticism about modern life. Instead it’s nothing more than a heady pint. While that can be satisfying, it still leaves something to desire. Especially if it’s an India Pale Ale.

My rating: :-)

The Hangover Part III

May 31, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

The Wolfpack is back for one more adventure, and this time, the formula’s changed a bit. This was a relief after it felt a bit tired in “The Hangover Part II”, and it even felt a bit underused since they were in such an exotic place where they didn’t even speak the language. The arrogant Phil (Bradley Cooper), paranoid Stu (Ed Helms), quiet and completely unknown Doug (Justin Bartha), and the man of the hour Alan (Zach Galifianakis) have returned to fix a problem that was started by their old nemesis, Chow (Ken Jeong). Unbeknownst to them, Alan and Chow have actually been in contact, and that leads a gold smuggler named Marshall (John Goodman) to catch them on their way to taking Alan to a mental hospital in Arizona. Chow has broken out of prison in Bangkok and stolen gold from Marshall. The gang is told they have only 3 days to find Chow and bring him to Marshall. And guess who is the bait?

Doug. The one guy we never get to know in any of these movies. I suppose that it’s fitting, and probably on purpose, that they chose him again. So, it’s the remaining three of Phil, Stu, and Alan, to find Chow who has gone to Tijuana. The boys try to use their own medicine that had gotten them in trouble in the first place and drug Chow when they find him–but Chow is on to them.

Instead, Chow sets them up yet again and has them unknowingly break into Marshall’s mansion and steal more gold from him. Then, Chow leaves them there while he goes…back to Las Vegas. Now the gang has even less time and a less patient Marshall to work with.

So in this sequel, action drives the plot more than any other “Hangover” movie. I guess that works better, but it leaves less room for comedy. There are some big laughs, though, including one involving Alan in an intervention that echoes an actual episode of “Intervention”. In fact, most of the laughs belong to Alan, as this is primarily his and Chow’s movie. Alan’s always been the most enjoyable character, although I couldn’t care less for Chow. But the filmmakers get it right this time by giving Galifianakis the most screen time. And, they are smart not to clutter the film up with tired cameos and stupid in-jokes.

This felt the most like a real “film” of the three “Hangovers”, and it works the best. I would’ve liked to laugh more; but I was at least thoroughly entertained, and that’s more than I could say for the first sequel. The entire trilogy still leaves something to be desired, though. I always felt that the execution never lived up to the promise of the set-up. I always liked the premise of people waking up after a night that they don’t remember. But there were always conveniences and lazy pay-offs that I thought undermined the potential for a great action comedy series, which is really what this was. I think if the writers looked more at screenplays like “Lethal Weapon” and “48 Hrs.” instead of trying to be something like an adult “American Pie” or a less bleak “Very Bad Things”, the series would’ve been more of a success.

As it stands, however, I do think this is the brightest of the three films, because it focused on the right character this time. It is a funny movie, and at times it’s thrilling too. The most surprising thing, though, is that it even has a sweet moment halfway through where we are reacquainted with the baby “Carlos” from the second movie. He’s grown up a little bit; but he and Alan share a very good scene together, possibly the best in the whole movie. The resolution of the film is satisfying; and unlike the other two films, it ends right when it needs to. 

This isn’t a movie that will resonate but I did enjoy the ride while it lasted. I don’t need to go through it again; thankfully, it looks like that isn’t going to be offered anyway.

My rating: :-)

Ted

July 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Seth MacFarlane is currently the King of Comedy with successful shows like “Family Guy” and the spin-off “The Cleveland Show”. I don’t really understand it, but he’s become the new Mike Judge; and as such, has grown into the world of movies with his directorial debut “Ted”, which he also co-wrote and serves as the voice of the co-star, a talking teddy bear.

The other star is Mark Wahlberg, who does a fine duty as an actor by playing John, a guy who for 75% of the film, is basically talking to himself (until the magic of post production added the ‘Ted’ effects). I always give actors a lot more credit when they share the screen with special effects: Bob Hoskins in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and anyone talking to Smeagol in the “Lord of the Rings” films to name a few examples. Wahlberg is very good here, and very believable, as a character who just can’t grow up because he’s lived his entire life since 7 years old clinging to his teddy bear as his best friend.

But there’s a snag in his relationship because he’s in love with a woman whom he’s been with for 4 years, Lori (played by Mila Kunis), and she’s tired of Teddy’s antics and wants John to grow up and move on. Now, I’d like to pause here to stress that these two have been together for 4 years, and live together with this talking teddy bear. How any woman would want to stay with a guy that long, and live with him in this situation, is beyond me. And I really couldn’t buy their relationship because it was too distracting to keep thinking that on a daily basis, John is with this teddy bear, talking to it, playing with it, and smoking weed with it. Now, if this movie wasn’t based in reality and had more of a John Waters feel to it, I could buy it. I always have room for surreality. And I was trying my hardest to believe this story. But because MacFarlane chose to make Teddy real, and a small celebrity for a few years, we are to believe that this is the real world (specifically, Boston), and Teddy’s as real as any living character. It’s also uncomfortably cutesy at times, and strangely unromantic.

The only relationship that does work is Teddy and John, and as I said, I heavily credit Wahlberg for this. He has this unassuming genuine demeanor that instantly works when he does characters like this. Much like his enthusiastic weirdo in “I Heart Huckabees” or his infectious charismatic Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights”, he’s right at home with this character of John, the manchild who just can’t grow up. Teddy also works because MacFarlane commands the voice, and rings true. When Teddy talks, most of the time, we laugh. Not because we can’t believe he’s a talking teddy bear–but he does have a lot of funny things to say. Probably the best scene is the “name” scene between the two of them, when John rattles off white trash women names, and finally realizes that there may be a “Lynne” attached.

Another relationship that I was actually very intrigued by, but disappointed with, was a promising character named Donny (Giovanni Ribisi, who devours this role with utmost psychotic joy). Donny has had an unhealthy obsession with Teddy since learning about him when he was younger, and Teddy was a national phenomenon, appearing on shows like Johnny Carson. Donny now also has a son, and wants to steal Teddy to give to his son, because he wants his son to experience the friendship he never had with Teddy. Going back briefly to John Waters, this probably would have been the central narrative if it were directed by him.

But it is directed by MacFarlane, who insists on cramming his stories with as many 80’s references as he possibly can, to prove I guess that he really knows his 80’s, and while some of it’s cute (the “Airplane!” reference made me smile), it does get a little tiresome after a while. The one that worked the best, that also fit with the story’s plot, was “Flash Gordon”. That probably brought the biggest laughs of the whole movie. But then there were jokes that were far too explained, jokes that were obvious references that fell flat, and then jokes that just didn’t work at all. In a comedy that overall works, you can always forgive that. The brothers Zucker and brothers Farrelly are great examples of guys who made enough big laughs that you could forgive the groan-induced jokes. But i don’t think MacFarlane has mastered comedy the way that those guys did. I think he’s still searching for his true voice. He hides behind a lot of jokey material, and sometimes almost seems unsure of how to approach a joke, so he just throws a reference out to make people appreciate his knowledge. I wish he’d just go for it, rather than play down to his crowd and fans, and truly push the envelope.

As it stands, this film really doesn’t push new boundaries. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it is acceptably predictable. But something is really missing here, and I think it’s just that MacFarlane tries to play it both ways: a stoner comedy and a surrealistic comedy, and heartwarming buddy picture. Only half of it works, and the other half just falls flat.

I also didn’t really care for the narration by Patrick Stewart. Although I thought the choice was excellent, and some of the early narration is funny, he narrates with so much smirk in his voice, that it immediately kills the irony. If he’d played it straight, and given his usual strong but charmingly British execution, it would’ve been hilarious. But that would be too subtle for MacFarlane, I suppose.

I would say overall if you’re looking to get out of the heat for 2 hours and have a few laughs, this will not disappoint. But for me, I just found too many inconsistencies and not enough texture underneath that promising coat of fur.

My rating: :?

Men In Black 3

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I have a continuing dilemma whenever I see that there will be a  new MiB movie released. On the one hand, I have a lot of anticipation that it will be better than the last one that came out; and inevitably, when I see it, I’m always underwhelmed and disappointed that it wasn’t even as good as the last one that came out. Such is the case again with “Men in Black 3”, a movie with just enough ambition to make a smile-worthy film, but tries nothing new to re-invent itself or push its own limits. It goes through the motions and hopes we are pleased. This may work for some people who just want to get out of the house for a few hours and sit in a cool theatre on a hot day (as I call them, “get away” movies); but for me, at least with this franchise, I’m always wanting more. The jokes are predictable, the climax and resolution always seem to leave me empty–and in this case, kind of sour.

This film begins with a  bad guy named Boris “The Animal” (though it’s just “Boris” to you) who is locked up on the moon after being captured by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). He subsequently breaks out and goes back to earth with the intent to travel back in time, kill Agent K, and start an invasion with his cronies, an alien race known as the Boglodites. Agent K’s original capture of The Animal 40 years ago is legendary because he also installed what’s called the ArcNet, a protective shield that won’t allow the Boglodites into the earth’s atmosphere.

Agent K and J discover Boris’s time travel plot when they are checking out routine alien criminal activity, and when K disappears, J also finds himself in a rip in time that makes him crave chocolate milk, and he soon learns that he’s in an alternate present in which K was killed 40 years ago by Boris. J then has to go back in time to save Agent K to the 60’s.

I’m going to stop here and reveal that I’m instantly on edge whenever time travel is introduced to a plot as a device. It’s so incredibly contrived and overused and because there are so many possibilities and flaws, it winds up being ludicrous and unconvincing. It also usually leads to many, many plot holes. When I was reading about the production of this film, Will Smith had said they had tried everything to make sure that the film’s time travel rules were followed as best as they could. At the same time, the film’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld, admitted they did not have a definitive act 2 or 3 when production began. Well, it certainly showed.

J has to convince K about this plot of Boris (played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) going back in time, stopping K’s original arrest of Boris by killing K, and also killing  an alien named Griffin whose race created the ArcNet (Arcadian is the name of Griffin’s race, and Net is pretty easy to figure out) and gave it to K to begin with. Griffin (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is kind of like a cross between Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Robin Williams. He has one of the more memorable scenes when the three of them are in the infamous The Factory (although the Andy Warhol joke is a bit weak, I thought), when he goes on and on about possible futures, confounding Agent J. 

The best scenes in the film involve Agent J (always charismatically played by Will Smith) and the young Agent K (well imitated Jones by Josh Brolin–he has a knack for imitation). We finally see a softer side of Agent K, and find out he did at one point have a love interest, Agent O (played in the present tense by Emma Thompson). That plot is never really explored but it’s probably for the best as it would’ve been far too complicated to sort out in an alien comic action adventure movie.

As relieved as I was that it didn’t become a love story, I was also left unmoved by the main story involving the plot to save Agent K. I’ve enjoyed the two characters through their movies, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I really cared about them. And usually by the time the new movie comes out, the old one has evaporated from my mind. These are not inherently memorable films. While the chemistry is fine, and it’s fun to see some of the antics the MiB go through to catch the bad guys (bowling with an alien’s head, for example), it never really leads to anything that memorable. I also found the villain Boris to be a bit stale at best; and at worst, kind of irritating. You never really get a good read on what kind of personality he has. He’ll toss out a one-liner here or there that makes you think he’s hip; but then he’s stone faced or upset about being called “The Animal”. I also thought that the lack of “place” in the 60’s was a missed opportunity. I get that they can’t go “Austin Powers” on everybody, but what were aliens like 40 years ago compared to now? There could’ve been many possibilities for humor and even some adventure. There’s one flat joke about how the Neuralizer has evolved but that’s pretty much it.

Where the film ultimately fails, though, is the ending (how could you guess?). There’s a twist which I won’t give away–I will just say that it has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately doesn’t have its logic in the right place. Up until that point the film was digestible. Nothing great, but nothing bad. But the twist, with all of its intentions, just falls flat. And you don’t even have to think that hard about it. Almost immediately you will think, “Are they just throwing this in here for the sake of it?”

Sometimes I wish someone would just tell a screenwriter, “Look you don’t have to just throw a twist in there okay?” Just resolve the movie and move on. Sure, the film would still be less than a masterpiece. But it at least would be closer to that than an out of focus Polaroid, which is what “Men in Black 3” ultimately is.

My rating::?

Tower Heist

November 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Oh those heist movies. Cute little capers. I don’t think you can go too wrong when you involve Eddie Murphy in them; and even though this one is fairly standard with its typical implausabilities and somewhat thin characters, it is rather entertaining. I call movies like these “getaway movies”. Normally these come out in the summer or around the holidays. This one’s a little early. This would be a great movie to leave the Holiday family woes behind and just enjoy 2 hours of peace and a few laughs. But if you’d still like to get away for 2 hours of your real life (do you still have leaves to rake? that annoying cousin’s birthday party to attend?), then I’d still recommend seeing it.

Just to be clear, it’s not all that great. The concept is similar to “Oceans 11” (which is a better film): a group of charismatic people get together to pull of a robbery. In this case, it’s not elites, it’s average joes. Ben Stiller plays Josh, the building manager of The Tower, a luxurious hotel in New York City. He’s rather mild mannered and well liked by his employees that include Charlie (Casey Affleck), Dev’reaux (Michael Pena), and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). He’s also well liked by an extremely wealthy client, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who winds up being caught in a Ponzi scheme that winds up including all of them in his losses. The fraudulent money he threw around was used by Josh to put into their pensions, leaving them all with nothing. Lester (well played by Stephen Henderson), the doorman, attemps suicide, and it strikes a chord with Josh who wants to do the right thing and get their money back. The problem is, he takes out his angst on Shaw’s prized possession: a Ferrari 250. So now Shaw, who believes he will be found innocent, wants to charge Josh and that little incident also costs him his job. It also costs Charlie’s and Dev’reaux’s. Charlie’s upset because his wife is pregnant and he needs to work.

But Josh believes Shaw is guilty, and teams up with some oddfellows to rob Shaw of some misplaced money after a drunken evening with an FBI agent, Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), leads to her leaking information about a safe being in Shaw’s penthouse suite somewhere.

Josh enlists Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) who was recently evicted from the building because he’s broke and was fired from Merrill Lynch, and a guy he knows from crossing paths every morning (and his childhood, apparently), named Slide (played by Eddie Murphy).

So you have the ingredients for a fun little caper. Enough of it works to be enjoyable. I wish it wouldn’t have relied so much on the standard issue heist plot; but I suppose in the hands of someone like Brett Ratner, what can you really expect? The performances are all well done, but of course the stand out is Eddie Murphy. In recent years, I thought he should scale it back a bit and maybe take a supporting role in something to get back on his feet. Seeing him here, where he’s most comfortable being a fast-talking criminal who still can light up the screen, made me want to see more of him. He’s just underused for some reason.

This script was originally intended for an all black cast that included Murphy, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle in which a group of employees attempt to rob the Trump Plaza. In a way, I wish that would’ve been made instead of this. With some of the edgy comedians in it, perhaps Eddie Murphy would’ve still been lost in the shuffle; but you’ve got great supporting actors there. Not to say that Broderick and Stiller can’t hold their own–but their characters just don’t allow them to do much, either. And both actors play their characters completely straight; something I don’t think we’d see out of guys like Rock or Chappelle, or Tracy Morgan (another rumored star attached).

Some of the rewrites included screenwriter Ted Griffin, whose work I’ve always been impressed with (including “Ravenous”, “Best Laid Plans”, and of course, “Oceans 11”), and you can see some of his sharp wit and dialog fused in the script. With some of the characters, good dialog is necessary. Obviously, with Murphy, the guy could write his own and improv.

A lot of the climax is hard to believe, and I still think they missed an opportunity to make a Ferris/Ferrari joke somewhere seeing as how they cast Matthew Broderick who isn’t exactly Mr. Movie Star anymore (and that film is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year).

But again, this is not a very creative director at the helm. And so we’re left with a fairly garden variety film that is amusing enough to pass; but I think we could’ve been in for a lot more treats.

My rating: :-)

The Hangover 2

June 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

2009’s “The Hangover” was a sleeper summer hit comedy that continued the tradition of modern raunchy American comedy films, and had some hits and misses but enough hits for me to enjoy the film. But two years later, I remember very little of it–much in the way that the characters in the film didn’t remember the night before when they got themselves involved in all of their shenanigans.

But like them, I decided to go through it all over again, and I saw ”The Hangover 2″, a sequel that I’m not sure is so inferior as much as it is just a continuation of a mildly entertaining movie “series”. In this case, the “Wolfpack” that includes Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Doug (Justin Bartha), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), are heading to Thailand–a much more exotic and even more dangerous locale than the more familiar (and American) Las Vegas.

The plot is pretty simple, as in the first one: Stu is getting married in Thailand, his friends come, Alan is jealous of Stu’s future brother in law Teddy, and a few nights before the wedding, something happens. Stu, Phil, and Alan wake up in a dingy hotel room in Bangkok, and have no idea how they got there.

This actually has been the part of the premise that has intrigued me the most, for both films. I liked the “adventure” angle that took the plot forward. It was like a mystery. My only problem with the first one with that the payoff was a little weak. Maybe that was the point, but I remembered the funniest parts of the film were during the end credits because you saw all of the pictures from that lost night.

In this film, there are actually bigger laughs, especially coming from Galifianakis and the little monkey that was in the hotel room with them. But again, the payoff is weak, and some of the raising of the stakes are familiar enough by now that you know what’s going to happen; whereas in the first one, it really was hard to actually know how everything was going to unfold. But everything with the international intrigue and interpol and gangsters–we’ve seen this all in the first one; and although this brings it a little more over the top, the climax is still quite predictable.

This film does provide stronger characters, however. Stu is easily the most likeable, and because he’s the one caught up in this mess and the focal point, we are a little more invested in seeing things through and rooting for things to work out. In the first one, we had no idea who Doug was and only saw him in snippets. So while we did want to follow the journey, it was the journey over the characters that took precedence. In this, we’re familiar with the journey and the characters are a little more fleshed out that we like them enough that there’s a balance.

The film does try to be bigger than the first one even though it’s recycling the same plot, but I don’t think it went far enough. Kind of like in the first one, some of the ways they find out about the night before are actually a bit disappointing because they’re not very interesting. In this, though, there’s an expectation to see more exciting and shocking things; and with the exotic locale, I would have thought the language barrier would have played a large part. If you’re stuck in a foreign country, there are far more interesting and funny things that can happen than accidentally kidnapping a monk, for instance.

And like in the first one, this film doesn’t seem to know when to end.  There’s a decent finish, and it’s satisfying; but then, we still have to go through the wedding. I will maintain, we don’t care that much about the characters that we need to see the actual wedding. That part isn’t necessary; the story has been concluded. The end! But, not only are we having to sit through the wedding, we go through the reception, too, and the cameo at the end neither made me laugh nor interested me at all. It felt so tacked on, and a waste of time. Sure, this cameo performance probably gave this person some much needed cash, but why subject us to this? Have the person come in during the plot of the film so it doesn’t seem so forced and wasteful.

Overall, the film’s not a complete waste of time; but it’s also not, in my mind, a successful movie. It needed a bigger punch than it delivered and while the actors do their best with the material (that admittedly is handled a little better than the original), it just doesn’t have enough. In the first one, the premise was interesting and there was enough to make it a passable comedy. This one is just unnecessary enough to not give it a pass.

My rating: :?

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

I’m not always sure how to review a Terry Gilliam film. These days, I think it’s safe to say it’s an achievement for him to even get one made anymore. After projects coming together, then falling apart (“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, “Good Omens”), and with this one even being in question after the main star had died during production (do I even have to say his name?), the fact that this film is FINISHED can be given a thumb’s up, no? But this is the film critiquing business and I still have a job to do. Even though I’m not paid for it and nobody really reads these anyway. I still believe in myself. So there.

I’d have to start off by saying if you enjoy Gilliam’s earlier works, you will most likely enjoy this. If you’re not a fan, this won’t make you one. It keeps within the visual styles and narrative themes that he and his co-writer Charles McKeown have been making for decades now. In this film, the theme is self-indulgence and selfishness, and it’s presented in a typical, Gilliam way.

The “Imaginarium” is a world beyond a mirror that you can be taken to for a donation, as a traveling “circus” like stage moves about towns, seeking customers. Anton (played by Andrew Garfield) is the attractor. Valentina (Lily Cole) is the beautiful temptress to lure the men. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) merely sits on the stage in a zen-like way, waiting for those who want to come into his world.

It looks like a cheap parlor trick, but inside the Imaginarium is literally a fantasy world. In it, your wildest dreams come true. But there is a price. Actually, there is a choice. The devil, known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), is waiting in the Imaginarium to seduce you as well. As the plot continues you learn that the two of them are battling for souls, as part of a bet that Parnassus made with him long ago.

But Parnassus is not made out to be God, or god-like. He’s a simple man with simple pleasures and simple desires–and he’s an alcoholic. He is accompanied by a dwarf named Percy (Verne Troyer) who tries to keep him in line (“What would I do without you, Percy?” “Get a midget.”) but Parnassus is consumed with himself. He made a deal with the devil that if he doesn’t win, he loses his daughter to him. His daughter, nor Anton, know about this and Anton is in love with her.

The plot thickens when they encounter a hanging man that they bring back to life, who’s revealed as Tony (Heath Ledger, among others). They’re not sure where he’s come from but he bears strange markings on his head, and he’s dressed in a suit. Tony, meanwhile, cannot remember anything, not even his name. Parnassus gets a few tidbits from Mr. Nick (though they’re “enemies”, the two have a relationship) and Parnassus convinces Tony who he is and what he was doing (he was hosting a charity event). But Mr. Nick swears that Tony is “not his”, nor sent by him. Tony feels obligated to pay Parnassus back, so he joins their traveling show and woos women into coming into the mirror. This allows Parnassus to possibly win the bet and get his daughter back. He needs 5 souls.

But problems arise once Tony is sucked into the world himself. He transforms, becomes other manifestations of himself. He grows increasingly selfish about it, and is revealed to be somewhat of a bad person. It is in this world that brings other performances by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell into the film, as Tony. Each one delivered is a good one, and in some way resemble Ledger’s Tony. This is what saved the film. It would not have been finished without this happening. However, it makes perfect sense in the narrative for it to happen regardless. In fact it strengthens the theme because of how much Tony “changes”.

While I enjoyed the theme and the look of the film, it was actually the performances that I found the strongest element of it. Andrew Garfield is perfect as Anton; Waits is a pure delight to watch, and Ledger & Co. are all entertaining, especially Jude Law.

The film bears striking resemblances to earlier Gilliam works as well. I’m not sure if I’d call it a weakness, but it certainly doesn’t possess the uniqueness that some of his older work has. For instance, the “street” scenes with Parnassus are straight out of “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys”. The character of Tony is extremely reminiscent of Brad Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines. Parnassus himself reminds me of Baron Munchausen. Some of the disjointed and disorganized dialog and presentations in the Imaginarium are straight out of “Brazil”.

All of that being said, however, the film is fun to watch and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Its climax and ending are very satisfactory, and I left with a smile on my face.

I’m sure this is not the last film we see from Gilliam. But I hope his next venture isn’t as much of a hassle. I won’t hold my breath, though.

My rating: :-)

Funny People

August 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It’s evident that the last 5 or so years of American comedy cinema has been dominated by Judd Apatow. Apatow, a mere footnote in the 80’s and 90’s, producing failed comedy shows and dramadies like “Freaks & Geeks”, has become extremely prominent in the world of film, whereas his television career just came to a grinding halt. For him, that’s fine–for us, the audience, it’s been a great ride. I’ve enjoyed his films thoroughly, from “The 40 Year Old Virgin” to “Knocked Up” and “Superbad”, and although I’ve griped from time to time about the running times, the characters in the films and the talented actors he’s used far more than made up for the overlongness of the films.

Now Apatow brings us somewhat of his attempt at a masterpiece. This one has a “serious” plot. While we’re used to Adam Sandler movies being goofy and childish, he’s starting to pry into the world of dramatic roles, and though his success hasn’t been as great as Bill Murray’s or Jim Carrey’s, he’s still grown as an actor. In “Funny People”, Sandler plays George Simmons; a version of Sandler himself, and just as successful. But this version of Sandler is the sad clown–he has no wife, or kids. He has no friends. He is all alone in his mansion, and he jokes at one point at a comedy club: “Guys always tell me ‘Oh my wife’s great. She’s a great cook.’ Really? Well I have a great cook, who is an actual cook. ‘Oh my wife, she’s my best friend.’ Yeah? My cook’s a pretty good friend, too.”

But Simmons did have a love of his life once. Laura, played by Leslie Mann, is the estranged former flame who is now married with her own kids (played by Apatow’s real-life children), and has no interest in rekindling even a friendship with Simmons. Simmons then finds out he has a blood disease that could be fatal. He is put on radical medication that is only in its testing stage, but it’s his only shot at being cured. When he finds this out, he goes to a comedy club and is extremely down, but no one knows why. Enter Ira Wright (played by Seth Rogen) who is a struggling up-and-coming comedian who gigs at the Improv for only 5 minutes and works at a deli for “a living”; he meanwhile rooms with two more successful people–Leo (Jonah Hill), also a comedian; and Mark (played by Jason Schwartzman) who is an actor in a hit sitcom on NBC called “Yo! Teach!”, a horrible send up of what we usually get on the tube on a nightly basis (and yes, it’s on purpose that they made it that bad). Ira performs and impresses George, and he hires him as a writer for his newer material.

The two form a friendship and George helps Ira’s career as he allows Ira to also open for him at gigs as well as write jokes. George also tells Ira about his blood condition, and Ira is the only one who knows about it.

While this is the most complicated plot Apatow has worked with, he seemed to handle all of the different storylines well for the first two acts of the film. But by the third act, the movie seems to try and pull itself into two or three different directions, and by the time it finds its focus in the conclusion, we’re a bit lost on what the movie was actually about.

On the one hand, it’s about a friendship, mentor/student relationship between George and Ira. On the other hand, it’s about a lost love situation that George tries to rekindle and gets caught up in, when he shouldn’t. Then, there’s also a love interest for Ira as well, and a plot involving the fact that Ira was supposed to tell Leo that both of them were going to write for George, and Leo gets mad at Ira for not telling him. It’s evident that Apatow takes on too much for himself to handle, and unfortunately, the movie proves he’s not the stellar screenwriter he may think he is, or others may think. I’ve heard Oscar buzz already about this movie. If this film is nominated for best screenplay, I’m going to give up my dreams of ever becoming a screenwriter, because all would be lost!

It’s frustrating that this film falls apart in the end. I really wanted to like it. In some ways I really did. There are scenes I’d love to watch over and over again. Some of the cameo scenes are fantastic. But as a film, which clocks in at about 136 minutes, it just doesn’t work overall. And that’s a real shame because Apatow has shown a command behind the camera, and as a writer. I think he lost a little touch of reality in this one, and instead of getting “Guernica”, we get a finger painting.

I think he should not try so hard to make a masterpiece, and just let the next story flow naturally. And…seriously, he needs to watch the running times. Comedies should not be over two hours long. It’s just not right.

I’m not giving this a passing grade, but I do think it’s worth a viewing, on DVD or on cable. But I wouldn’t go out to the theatre, unless you want to spend half your afternoon there, and come away somewhat disappointed and confused on why such a wonderful first hour of a film turned into a mess.

My rating: :???:

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