Thursday, December 24, 2009

"The Hangover" is a Mixed Bag

As the saying goes, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas". This saying has become somewhat of a cliche. After watching "The Hangover", I would say this film is a bit of cliche as well. It's a story about three guys who take their soon to be married best friend to Las Vegas for a bachelor party for the ages. Sounds familiar. This bachelor party for the ages is meant to be an overnight party, not soon to be forgotten. But as the blood alcohol levels rise, naturally, their inhibitions, and eventually, their memory, dissapate.

The film stars Bradley Cooper ("Wedding Crashers"), Ed Helms (formally of John Stewart's "The Daily Show") and Zack Galifianakis as the three groomsmen who take their best friend Doug (Justin Bartha) to Las Vegas for his bachelor party. The morning after, the three groomsmen awake to pounding hangovers, their rented Vegas penthouse recked, and sans a groom. They quickly begin retracing their steps, picking up clues from wherever, and whoever they can. Along the way, they meet a prostitute (played by Heather Graham) a maniacal Asian business man (Ken Jeong), and a tiger belonging to boxing champ Mike Tyson, who makes a cameo. Hilarity ensues, and the three men endure being, among other things, beaten, mauled, tasered and arrested. One of the men, in his drunken haze, even has a quickie Vegas marriage.

There are some great things about this film, and some not so great things. We'll start with the bad. First of all, I think, while the details in the story are funny, the over all story is a little tired. We've all seen the buddy comedies in which one guy plays the pretty boy, one the uptight professional, and one the dimwit. Secondly, there's usually one character in these movies, be it a major or minor actor, that just sucks all the fun out of the film. This film certainly doesn't disappoint there either.

Now for the good news. Each of the main actors perform there respective roles very well. If you've seen any other films with these actors, you may say that they've been typecast. Bradley Cooper played the pretty boy jerk in "The Wedding Crashers". His character in this film is similar, but the difference is, in this film, he's a well meaning jerk. As I said earlier, the over all story of a bachelor party in Vegas is an old one. But this one relies on the hilarious details as the three groomsmen work backwards, retracing their steps in order to find their missing groom. I also find it interesting (not necessarily good or bad) that the main character is one that we really don't see at all, but the film is all about them in some respect.

This is a funny film. For those of you who know me, you know that I love stupid humor. Fart jokes especially crack me up everytime. "The Hangover" certainly delivers on both fronts. Finally, on one hand, the story is a bit stale, but there's enough originality that keeps the viewer watching a laughing. I'd recommend this movie, but not for the squeamish.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

'Tis the Season for an Excellent Holiday Film

As I was contemplating the next film I was going to write about, it donned on me that I have yet to write about any holiday films. There are so many great ones to choose from. You can't go wrong with the many incarnations of the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol". One of my favorite versions is the 1984 version starring George C. Scott. But that's not the film I want to discuss. One of my favorites is the 1942 film "Holiday Inn" starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. As I mentioned in one of my earlier entries, I'm a sucker for a musical. But it also has to have a great story behind it. This film certainly does not disappoint on either front.

Crosby and Astaire star, naturally, as show-biz partners, Astaire as the hoofer and Crosby as the crooner. Starring with them are two women, one being a sweet, albeit naive singer and dancer named Linda (played by Marjorie Reynolds), and the other being a somewhat of a femme-fatale, Lila, played by Virgina Dale. In the beginning, Lila and Crosby's character, Jim Hardy, are an item. But Astaire's Ted Hanover has made no secret of stealing Lila away to begin a separate career. With this news, Hardy decides that it's time to take himself out of the limelight. He buys a rundown old farmhouse in the Connecticut countryside, with the intention of turning it into an inn. But not just any inn. He decides that he only wants to open 15 days a year, on every holiday.

Eventually, sweet naive Linda is out of work, and comes to Jim's inn seeking work. As the months ensue, love blossoms between Jim and Linda. But all of this is about to be upset. Ted comes to the inn as well, after being dumped by his wife to be, Lila. He too sees Linda, and so begins the love triangle.

The film is set against a beautiful background, showing very well the changing New England seasons. Equally excellent is the Irving Berlin score. He wrote a song for every holiday, even the minor ones, such as Washington and Lincoln's birthdays. We are also introduced to the classic Irving Berlin tune "White Christmas" which would later, in 1954 have a movie made based off of it (another equally excellent film, starring Crosby and Danny Kaye). In addition to Crosby and Astaire playing their respective roles as dancer and singer, both men show their excellent comedic skills as well. The two leading ladies show excellent comedic prowess throughout the film as well. Finally, there are several supporting players throughout the film. The group's comically unsure, and somewhat inept manager, Danny, played by Walter Abel, and the headstrong, matronly cook at the inn, Mamie, played by Louse Beavers.

This is my go to film for the Christmas holiday. It's not a Christmas film, per se, but it has enough of that amazing holiday cheer. Plus, it's just a feel-good movie in general.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Angels and Demons" Has its Demons, but Overall is a Good Movie

A couple of years ago, I read Dan Brown's novel,"Davinci Code". This was a book that, as the cliche says, was hard to put down. When the movie came out, I was excited, especially since one of our finest actors, Tom Hanks was cast as the novel's hero, Professor and symbologist Robert Langdon. But when I saw the film adaptation of the novel, I came away disappointed. This has often happened, and not just me. This time was different. I have not read Brown's "Angels and Demons", a fact that, as I was renting the film, I started to regret. I'd heard all of the rumblings, saying that the film left out a huge portion of the novel, or there were parts of the film that had nothing to do with the plot of the novel. Of course, not having read the novel, I can't say. What I can say is that I enjoyed this film much more than the adaptation of "Davinci Code".

The film re-introduces Harvard professor Robert Langdon, a well-known and highly touted symbologist. As the film opens, the pope has just died. While this may seem innocuous, or just a part of life, the cardinals expect fowl play. When the top four candidates to take over the papacy are kidnapped as a part of a terrorist act against the Vatican, Professor Langdon is called upon to help solve the mystery of the missing cardinals, as well as the supposed innocent death of the pope. Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer round out the main cast.

As I watched it, I found that the film certainly had its high, as well as it low points. The first high point of the film is the pairing of director Ron Howard with the film's star Tom Hanks. These two, while huge stars in their own rights, are a huge force when paired together. I can only imagine that Hanks does not need much direction in order to do what he does. And Ron Howard knows that. They've worked together in several excellent films (i.e. Apollo 13, The Davinci Code). Secondly, the role of the young priest, played by Scottish actor Ewan McGregor is an intrical part of the film. He has shown his acting range through several films. We saw him play a dual role in director Michael Bay's "The Island", the first as a cloned version of someone in the outside world, and then of the man himself. The first man spoke with McGregor's natural Scottish brogue, and his clone spoke with a flawless American accent. Finally, the antagonist of the film, played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, and known in the film only as the assassin, plays his role of antagonist very, very well. He'll make your skin crawl.

While the acting in the film is excellent, the story in the film was good, but it was somewhat conviluted. There are several stories within this film. If you could pick one, you could certainly either write a novel or make a film with that one underlying idea. In this film, there are several stories that would never otherwise co-exist together. The underlying religious story is palpable, but not to a point that you're overwhelmed with it. But when you throw in an act of terrorism, and a murder, you get lost within the mix.

This was a good movie. It was well casted and had good special effects. But the old addage of the film never being as good as the book is probably true. Having never read the book, I can't say. What I can say is that if you read the book, you probably shouldn't see the movie. Now, after seeing this film, I am inclined to read the book. Call it an underlying curiosity.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Up" Continues Studio's Tradition for Excellent Family Films

Pixar studios has an excellent reputation for high quality family films. "Toy Story" broke new ground in 1995 with the studio's now trademark style of computer generated animation. They continued with "Finding Nemo" in 2003, another groundbreaking film in that it took place nearly all under the surface of the ocean, something that had never been done before, at least not to such a huge and life-like scale. The year 2004 saw "The Incredibles" a film by Corvallis High School alum Brad Bird. This film garnered the Academy Award for the best animated feature the following year. Pixar's latest film "Up" is another excellent addition to these exceptional films.

In the film, Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Ed Asner) is a elderly man who has recently lost his wife Ellie. Carl is perfectly content to stay in home, or if he's feeling pent up, he gets his coat and hat, unlocks the multiple locks on his door, and walks the few feet to the chair on his porch. Everything is changing around Carl. His beloved wife has recently died, he has no other family or friends, and the city he has lived in is now, in an attempt to keep up with the times, is trying to force him out of his beloved home in order to make way for a mall.

He and his wife had made plans years ago to travel to South America. When she passes, he all but abandons those plans, until one day. After a disagreement with the city, he's forced to go live an a retirement home, but he has no plans of actually going. Carl, a long time balloon salesman, rigs his house with thousands of balloons and begins his journey to South America. But he soon discovers that he's brought more with him than his home and memories of his life with Ellie. As he sails over the countryside, he gets an unsuspecting knock at the door. As he opens the door, he finds Russell (voiced by 9 year old Jordan Nagai) a wilderness scout who is determined to earn his final badge by assisting an elderly person.

Carl and Russell form an unlikely friendship as they embark on an adventure, albeit an inadvertant one. While scaling clifts and walking through jungles in an attempt to re-locate his home, Carl and Russell encounter an endangered bird, a talking dog, and a maniacal collector and aviator (whom once, we later find out, was one of Carl's childhood idols) who wants nothing more than to capture the bird in order to give him credibiliy again.

This film was excellent. The scenery throughout the film was beautiful. And the film has plenty of Pixar's stunningly seemless life-like animation. To animate a film like this, every small detail, down to the wind in the character's hair has to be perfect. These films make you forget you're watching an animated film. All of these films have something in common. There's always a character in them that undergo some kind of transformation. In this film, the relationship with a young child transforms a closed off old man into a caring male figure for a young man who has very little male influence in his life. There are many touching moments in the film. Most of them come in the process of young Russell trying to break through Carl's tough shell, which he eventually does.

If you've never seen Pixar film, go out and rent this one. They make great films, and this one ranks up there with some of the best.