Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Here is our first ever podcast, a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2! Spoiler Alert!

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, and click the link below to listen in your browser or download (faster option).

HP_DH2_cast (runtime 22:38)

Music for this podcast curtesy of The Aliens “Magic Man” from their 2009 album, Luna.

Review: Horrible Bosses

Summer 2011 is turning out to be a fantastic summer for comedies– despite the presence of the second Hangover film. Horrible Bosses is a very funny film, and that success is largely due to the easy camaraderie between lead actors Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis. The cast is the crux to making a dark comedy work, and this trio hit a home run.

The movie revolves around one of America’s favorite pastimes, fantasizing about the death of your boss. Now I’m sure we’ve all been there, even in just a passing day dream, like Jason Bateman’s character in the movie, of grabbing our boss by the tie, dragging him across the floor, and throwing them out a high window. Right? Right. (To my boss, if you’re reading, NOT YOU.) Well what if your boss truly was a horrible person, and their death might even help just more than yourself? (Again, to my boss, NOT YOU.) In the film, what starts as a hypothetical undertaking quickly turns real, with Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) deciding that their bosses really deserve death.

Nick’s boss is played by the amazing Kevin Spacey, who shines in his role as the psychotic and egotistical Dave Harken. While he has always been a terrible boss, what sets Nick over the edge is being lied to about a promotion, while Harken gives it to himself and calls it ‘motivating.’ He also refused to let him leave early when his grandmother was dying. Dale’s frustration over his boss’s (Jennifer Aniston) sexual harassment finally crescendos when she threatens to show disingenuous pictures to his fiancé. When Kurt’s boss, Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland) suddenly passes away, his son Bobby (Colin Ferrell), described as a ‘weaselly scion,’ takes over. To make matters worse, Bobby is also an amoral cokehead who only wants to use his father’s company to squeeze out as much money has he can as quickly as possible (presumably to spend it all on hookers, drugs, and martial arts lessons).

All three of the bosses are played with wicked zeal, and Spacey is especially fear-inducing as Harken. I would really like to single out Aniston, though, who gives her best film performance in 5 or 10 years as Dale’s sexually aggressive knows-no-boundaries boss. Aniston has been starring in commercially successful yet awful films, and this is a nice change of pace for an actress with great comedic chops.

In watching this film, I couldn’t help but be struck by the idea that this is what The Hangover 2 could have been. It’s a similar situation in that a trio of characters try to navigate an escalating horrible situation, but with more charm, wit, and originality than Todd Philips’ sequel could muster. It’s almost a shame they didn’t just buy the script when they had the chance. But I’m glad they didn’t, because I love this film so much.

I love dark comedies, and Horrible Bosses is one of the best in recent memory, and the second ‘don’t miss’ comedy of the summer. It’s the kind of film with a lot of raunchy humor, but what makes the film funny is not the shock value, it’s the delivery and the earnestness of the characters. The leads are lovable screw-ups, not unlike Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. You want them to succeed in spite of their mission, because you want things to get better for them. Ultimately, of course, the film shows that it isn’t always possible to work in an ideal environment, even if you like your job.

Review: The Tree of Life

I’ve thought about this movie a lot since seeing it last Saturday. I’m still not sure how to put into words exactly how I feel about it. But love it or hate it, this film does give audiences something interesting and new to ponder. This fact, is what I’m certain of.

But before I get started, there is something else that also has me somewhat bewildered, and it has nothing to do with wheeling through space-time. It’s the varied reactions of audiences around the globe to this movie, and whether or not people are justified in being so pissed off over a film that they even demand their money back.

Honestly, if this movie upset that many people then there has to be something remarkable about it. I don’t know what that is, I think it varies from person to person. The funny thing is people are getting upset, not because of the story (it can’t be, because people are leaving 15 minutes in, and in a two and a half hour movie that’s not long enough to know where a good film is headed). They’re getting upset because the film is challenging them to view a story in an unconventional way.

This film, if you haven’t heard already, is “nonnarrative,” an art housey way of saying that is doesn’t have a beginning, middle, climax, and denouement. I understand that with movie ticket prices as high as they are today, people are bound to be upset at forking over $10 (or more) per person for a dud…but I’m not sure theaters should be held accountable for the varying tastes of movie audiences. Buyer beware, right? Plus, shouldn’t it be the goal of filmmakers to challenge audiences with new ways to view movies? Less we be bombarded with the same old formula?

On that note, I want to return to the crux of everyone’s scorn or equal admiration for this film. It’s true, there are some points that make absolutely no sense in terms of story cohesion, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. This is probably because I understood what I was getting into before I even stepped into the theater (Lesson 1 to take away: this film isn’t for everyone. Read up on it!) The film begins with a couple learning about the death of one of their sons. There’s little dialogue, just a series of beautifully edited shots, that demonstrate the family’s grief in the present, and then the film jumps back to when the children were younger. And then it jumps to space and dinosaurs. And then back to the family. And then we kind of get an ending, but it’s an unsatisfying one.

We only learn which of the children dies (there are three sons) at the very end, and even then it’s not always so clear. The film is occupied more with showing the dynamics of a father and his sometimes frightening relationship with his children. And of course, how the children are affected by their father’s inconsistent methods of parenting. We never know how the child dies (well, the adult, he’s 19 when he dies), and we never see him as a grown man. But there is an ethereal heaven-limbo scene that I suppose ties up some loose ends, but I’m sure most of it was lost on me.

I could write volumes on this movie. About how truly gorgeous it is, and my admiration for Malick’s directing style, and the cinematography. Notice how I’m only commenting on the technical aspects of the film. I believe the visual spectacle alone is worth the price of admission, but that’s just me. Ryan even goes so far as to compare this film with the latest Transformers. It’s a highly orgiastic feast for the eyes (albeit for different reasons) that’s best appreciated in the moment of viewing it. I wouldn’t try piecing together anything until you’ve left the theater. Just let the film wash over you, and sort out the details with your companion over a cup of coffee later. You’ll be less exasperated, and less likely to leave the theater in a huff.

But that’s just my humble opinion.

You can view the trailer here-and be the judge! Does it work as a standalone, or are you compelled to see how far down the rabbit hole Malick can take you?

Review: Midnight in Paris

I must admit at the outset that I am not a Woody Allen aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. Midnight in Paris is only the third Allen-directed film I’ve seen to date (and one of those is Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and yes I know that many of his films are on Netflix Instant). And really we only saw it because the reviews have been quite positive, and at 9:45 PM after a long day at work is not the time to walk into a Tree of Life screening (Jill’s review of that tomorrow!).

Midnight in Paris is a wonderful and delightful film, even for people who may be wary of Allen’s usual schtick. Owen Wilson’s turn as Gil Pender is just so charming and affable that his performance gives the overall film an air of relaxation and ease. The film follows Gil’s discovery of Paris while vacationing with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her wealthy, conservative parents. Framing the entire film around Gil’s sense of excitement and curiosity allows the audience to feel as though they are on vacation with him, becoming immersed in his newfound love for the City of Lights.

After a loving musical montage exploring modern Parisian streets, the first act of the film largely centers around Gil and Inez sightseeing with her friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife. Paul, best described in the film as “the pedantic one” comments as an authority on everything they do, even though he seems to have only a superficial, if confident, knowledge on any topic. “If I’m not mistaken,” he seems to preface every statement with, culminating in an attempt to correct a tour guide about the life of Rodin. To Gil’s misfortune Inez is quite taken with Paul and his blubbering, and reveals that she previously had feelings for him.

Having had enough of Paul at a wine tasting, Gil forgoes dancing or more sightseeing for a walk through the streets of Paris. Here is where the film takes its most interesting turn. Sitting on a stoop around midnight, Gil is picked up in an old-fashioned car, and whisked away to the 1920s, where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston, and Allison Pill) , Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and eventually others (Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali is a particular delight).

The performances really seal the fun to be had amongst these giants, and Tom Hiddleston may end up being the breakout actor from this summer. Allison Pill, one of the most delightful actresses from our beloved Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is convincing as Zelda Fitzgerald. I would watch a full film based around these two. The writing for Corey Stoll’s Hemingway is amazing, and I have no idea if they are his words or Allen’s, but they seem to fit (I may have a better idea soon).

The film becomes a close and fantastical examination of nostalgia, and more to the feeling of being born in the wrong time period (which I myself have felt from time to time). Through Gil’s interaction with these figures of artistic history, the Lost Generation, he (and we) come to discover more about ourselves in the present. This is an especially pertinent release for this nostalgia-filled summer, consumed with toy-based movie franchises, super hero period pieces, and new films masquerading under the masks of classics from decades before. Nostalgia here is the mark of a romantic, and the film ponders whether a true romantic like Gil can be happy in a relationship with a cerebral non-romantic like Inez or Paul.

Midnight in Paris is the perfect aperitif to any of the “popcorn” films, a delightful stroll through days gone by, while still offering morsels to ponder over long after the viewing.

Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I want to start out by saying that this film defies any true sense of good or bad. I am writing this about an hour or so after leaving the theater, and my mind has still not settled from the assault that this movie is. If this movie is anything, it’s 95% pure Michael Bay.

Just as background, unlike a lot of other tentpole films this summer, I don’t have any strong connection to this franchise whatsoever. I don’t think I owned more than one or two of the toys as a kid (Ghostbusters, comic superheroes and Ninja Turtles dominated), and I don’t really ever remember watching the cartoon, either. So there really isn’t any sense of nostalgia here. I think the first film is a ton of fun, and a great story of ‘a boy and his car,’ while the second film is a colossal mess, and worse yet, laden with terrible attempts at humor.

As the third film in the franchise, the terribly-named Dark of the Moon dials everything up to maximum volume, except for the non-white stereotypes, which are largely absent (although a bunch of white ethnicities get the Bay humor treatment this time around). The key to the success of the first film was that story I alluded to earlier. The second and third films have an excess of plot, but neither has much story to tie it all together.

The second film, Revenge of the Fallen, suffered from being too convoluted. Thankfully, the third film’s plots are easier to follow, but the film never clearly lays out what any of the objectives are. We don’t even know what exactly the characters are attempting to accomplish, except on a scene-to-scene basis. This also saps the film of any sense of urgency, because we don’t know who is supposed to be doing what, and when. Or why.

The film meanders around for the first hour, with really only the latter hour and a half (yes, this is a two and a half hour plus film based on an 80s toy franchise) really trying to build anything. If Michael Bay was a worse director, I would assume that this was some kind of editing issue, but he is such a craftsman I can only believe this bizarre structure is a choice on his part.

Exacerbating all of these issues are the lack of characters in this film. Shia LeBeouf is actually pretty great as Sam Witwicky, and I really liked the opening plot of him trying to find a regular job after saving the world (twice). Other than that the only real characters in the film are the wonderful Bumblebee (pictured above, and the heart of the franchise) and Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Otherwise, everyone else is more or less an archetype either serving the purpose of plot or because they are from the first film. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley does a very serviceable job as Sam’s new girlfriend, and not giving her much to do enhanced her performance, I’m sure. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene in which the camera is locked on her for what feels like 5 minutes, and she just has a blank expression while things explode around her. It’s pretty awesome.

The attempts at humor are pervasive throughout the film, except for the over the top third (fourth? fifth?) act. The best line in the film is easily the random, “I don’t care about your exotic milk, Jerry. I just want some respect.” Said to Ken Joeng’s character, in what amounts to a strange cameo type appearance. Patrick Dempsey also does a good job with his role, and the always great Alan Tudyk plays Dutch, a hilariously awesome effeminate Germain spy/computer hacker.

And that’s the weird thing about this franchise. Despite the bizarre plotting, leaps of logic, lack of characters (I still can’t tell some of the robots apart), and high volume, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It’s extremely long run time didn’t even deter me. I was completely transfixed by the entire film.

This is a spectacle movie, and on that it absolutely delivers. I saw it in 3D IMAX, and holy crap! Not only was the sound and visuals stunning, but the 3D presentation was bright and well thought out. Bay definitely altered his kinetic shooting style for 3D, and it shows. This film had the most satisfying action sequences of the entire franchise, totally negating my biggest pet peeve with the two prior films.

In fact, this film is gorgeously shot from top to bottom, and Bay’s directing skills should never be called into question. Jeff Cannata of Totally Rad Show said it best in their review, “[Michael Bay] shoots his women like cars and his cars like women.” These were the most impressive special effects I’ve seen in quite a long time, and the first since The Matrix where I asked myself “how did they do that??

ANYWAY, I think you probably already know what you’re getting into with this movie, and if you want to see it, this is not one to miss in the theater. In 3D!

Review: Bad Teacher

I had high hopes for this film, one because Justin Timberlake stars, and two because Jason Segel stars. They have been consistently funny in every film I’ve seen them in (as few as that may be) and they manage fairly good performances here as well. What’s unfortunate is that aside from the great gags seen in the trailer (the truely priceless argument Segel has with one of his students about LeBron James and Michael Jordon), this film falls desperately flat on jokes for the remaining hour and 20 minutes.

The story itself is workable, and in the beginning we see a narcissistic teacher, Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz), quit her job so she can forever mooch off of her rich fiance. Her fiance catches on to her gold-digging ways and dumps her to the curb. So, back she goes to teaching in order to procure money for a boob job she thinks she needs to attract the money she wants. She could care less about the kids, and substitutes movies for a more substantial syllabus. It’s not until she realizes she can get a bonus for the highest test scores that she starts to buckle down and actually teach.

Diaz’s character comes off as a crude, hard, yet completely savvy individual perfectly capable of getting what she wants, and succeeding with little consequence. Perhaps that’s what makes this film special, and why so many other critics* are having problems accepting her character. For instance, in one plot line of the film, Elizabeth’s actions get another nosy teacher fired. There were other people suspicious about Elizabeth’s role in the firing, but she gets away with it anyway. And what’s more, Elizabeth returns the following school year in a better position then she started.

The lack of consequence, and Elizabeth’s caustic personality make her somewhat unlikeable but I’m confused by the comparisons being made between this film and others like it such as Bad Santa and Bad News Bears, both featuring an equally caustic Billy Bob Thornton. For some reason because Thornton plays the lovable loser, we as an audience can get past the growl in his voice. Apparently this doesn’t work for women.

I’m not saying Elizabeth is likable, but I don’t really care. In fact, I think it’s awesome that Elizabeth’s attitude doesn’t change because she finally got a job she’s good at and likes, or she has a man that likes her because she saw the error of her ways and changed into a “nice” person. I’m glad she’s a little rough around the edges at the end of the movie. She may not have much of a character arch, but it just seems real, and less like an after school special. What’s important is that at the end of the movie we see that she is on the road to toning down the aggressive aspects of her nature not by getting rid of anything, but by channeling it into a more appropriate endeavor.

While the film lagged a little in substance, I liked Elizabeth as a character that wasn’t nice, but who also advanced beyond being a bitch. I’m curious to see more female characters like her in the future. Seriously.

* Roger Ebert, Josh Tyler (Cinemablend), Owen Gleiberman (EW) To these critics I say-it’s completely possible for people to watch unlikable characters and love every minute of it. Just look at Mad Men. It’s the only argument I need.

Review: Green Lantern

Oh boy. This is a tough one for me to review, because I am such a huge fan of the character. Personally, I enjoyed this movie but I think that’s mostly because it’s a reasonably competent representation of the character I love and the comic books I already have a lot of affection for, and not because it was a good movie.

And I don’t think I am being too harsh on the film because I’m a fan, either. I look at comic films as something for me to enjoy as a fan, but also as a way to introduce a character to the non-comic reading public in a fun and exciting way. And in a summer full of comic book movies, Green Lantern does little to stand out.

On a technical level, the film was made very well. The effects were great, the acting was serviceable (with standouts being Mark Strong and Peter Sarsgaard), and the mythology was treated well. I even dug the all-CGI story. The biggest problem this film has, and the one that holds it back from being truly great is the writing. The story somehow manages to be both convoluted and bland. I wouldn’t relish the task of trying to introduce a giant mythology in one film, but I certainly wouldn’t want to do it in two scenes that last a total of five minutes! As a result, the audience is given a ton of information, and little reason to care about it. Like Attack of the Clones as opposed to A New Hope.

Green Lantern tries to capture the magic of Superman: The Movie, to the point where I’m pretty sure James Newton Howard uses a similar chord progression for the few notes of theme we get, and the fact that Hal Jordan’s superhero debut is in the form of saving his love interest from a falling helicopter. However, it also tries to be as humor-filled and fun as Iron Man, attempting to let Ryan Reynolds be sarcastic and irresponsible so as to capture what we all loved in Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. But this doesn’t work either, because the writing isn’t strong enough and Reynolds just isn’t on RDJ’s level yet. As a result the dialog is clunky, and at times feels like it was written by a middle schooler.

The film also has a lack of focus in what it shows us, and that is where it most clearly does not take the correct lessons from Superman and Iron Man. Both of those films (and other great origin stories) focus entirely on their main character. All plot points flow from that point. This is their movie and no one else’s. Green Lantern tries to have a deep supporting cast, but the characters are merely window dressing. I never would have learned their names if I didn’t already know them. Things in this movie happen so fast that even the characters don’t have time to react!

I think the reason for this may lie in the fact that this film has four (credited) screenwriters. And it shows. When I say this film has a lack of focus, what I mean is that this Green Lantern film was assembled from scenes culled from a movie twice as long and was clumsily cut to fit the running time the studio told them they needed. I could write a whole second post on how they should have structured this film, but I’ll spare you. As a result, this movie has no idea what kind of story it wants to try and tell. So it tries all of them. The film never gives us any sense of place or person. Who the characters are or where they are standing is of little importance. They’ll be gone in 30 seconds anyway.

I assume that most of you who really wanted to see this film already have. If you haven’t, save your money. This film isn’t so much a failure as a disappointment for what could have been.

Review: Super 8

The formula for the ‘perfect’ summer blockbuster, as set by the films of the mid-70s, is a combination of exciting action and an emotionally resonant story. The original blockbuster, Jaws, is a perfect example of that, and so are Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2, and Inception. JJ Abrams’ extended Spielberg tribute, Super 8, attempts to join that pantheon. How well it succeeds in that endeavor largely depends on whether or not you find the emotional story resonant.

While many critics are hung up hunting for specific Spielberg references, I think Super 8 is going for a stylistic homage by mimicking the feeling Spielberg’s early work evokes in audiences. Watching the early films of Spielberg, one cannot help but be filled with a sense of wonder and awe, whether in the Map Room in Tanis or Devil’s Tower. I don’t think that Abrams is necessarily doing shot-for-shot remakes of specific Spielberg scenes, but rather invoking the overall sense of childlike adventure that Spielberg has delivered to audiences time and time again.

Super 8 depicts Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), and Joe’s movie making friends, including Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), whom Joe crushes on, and their encounter with a mysterious train crash and the train’s contents. Parallel storylines also depict an extraterrestrial wrecking havoc on the small town of Lillian, Ohio,  and Joe’s dad (Kyle Chandler), the local deputy, investigating the military activity that results. By the end of the film, of course, all three plotlines come together for the big emotional finale.

Abrams clearly grew up with Spielberg, and seeks to combine his own love of ‘mystery boxes’ and Spielberg’s use of science fiction elements to tell stories about parental relationships. Super 8 is definitely the bridging of these two interests, and although the film isn’t 100% successful in terms of melding together it’s two foci, it’s still a joy of a movie, and a fun ride. I haven’t felt this good walking out of a movie in a while.

I think the mystery element is solid, and the slow reveal of the alien mostly works, perhaps in spite of the creature design, which looks like a cross between the Cloverfield monster and the Abrams’ directed Star Trek movie, making it look more familiar than it should.* The movie unfortunately also contains a large info-dump scene, in which the entire history of the alien is explained to the audience. Ultimately, what makes it work so well is playing into the ‘sympathetic creature’ trope that is intertwined with the monster movie genre. This definitely makes it pay off more than Close Encounters, where the aliens are merely there to resolve the plot, rather than having a story themselves.

Maybe what allowed me to connect to the emotions in the story is that I seem to be more susceptible to catharsis than most people. I enjoy the feeling of characters having some kind of emotional satisfaction at the end of a film, not so much as a Joycean epiphany, necessarily, but a new understanding of themselves and the world. That being said, I teared up at the ending of this movie, in the same way that several Pixar films, Field of Dreams and The Darjeeling Limited do.

What I liked about the ending was the realization that the entire movie was about understanding. In the third act of the film, as Joe and his friends attempt to rescue Alice, Joe and the alien have a close encounter that results in them sharing a psychic bond. While we never get the alien’s thoughts, it is clear that Joe and the alien come to understand each other. Likewise, so do Joe and his father. It’s not that the emotions of the characters are different, there are no huge shifts in how they all feel about each other, but they have come to understand the other’s point of view. And this is the key to the movie: understanding. It’s not that Joe suddenly realizes his father has been a great dad (he’s not), but he and his father come to understand each other as people, in the same way Joe understand’s the alien’s feelings about his time on Earth, and the urgency he feels to leave.

Overall, Super 8 is a lovely film, and so far one of my favorite movies of the year.

*I suddenly realized here that part of what makes Jaws so brilliant as a monster movie is that everyone more or less knows what a shark looks like.

Review: X-Men: First Class

It’s amazing to me that the first X-Men film came out over 10 years ago. It’s truly a landmark film, one that garnered both popular and critical acclaim, and really set off this current superhero/comic book movie trend. As a fan of the genre, it will always hold a special place in my heart. While that film may now feel a little dated or muted, considering our comic book movies have gotten bigger and brighter in the past 11 years, it is still a great introduction to the franchise and brimming with possibilities. X-Men: First Class echoes this sentiment, though the film has it’s share of problems.

While Wolverine is the most popular X-character, and the first film trilogy focuses on him, the most interesting relationship in those films is that of Professor Xavier and Magneto. Brought to life in the first three films by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, their friendship-turned-rivalry has always been a part of X-Men lore. I don’t think I’ve ever read the comic book telling of this relationship, so I was excited to see a film take on the backstory of these beloved characters. I think setting the film up to show their relationship was a fantastic idea, and was originally the purpose behind the proposed (and horribly titled) X-Men Origins: Magneto spinoff. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do an amazing job with their performances, using Stewart and McKellan’s takes to inform, but not dominate their idea of the younger versions of these characters. During preproduction this was combined with an idea for a spinoff film focusing on the younger mutants.
Now I am not such a comic book fan hard charger that I am going to complain that this character lineup isn’t the “real” first class, because all of those characters have appeared in other films. The X-Men character pool is so deep that if you’re going to make one film, you’re not going to want to waste time with anything less than the most popular characters, right? I think they made some of the right choices, and picked characters old and new to form a great first class.
And this is what X-Men: First Class is: a mash-up of these two threads, with mixed results. I want to say that overall, I really enjoyed this film, and for a fifth movie in a franchise, it’s quite excellent (only Harry Potter and James Bond come to mind as having great fifth installments). As I mentioned, this is two movies rolled into one, and while I enjoyed both threads equally, the film suffers from having to focus on both.
The first thread, of course, is the Xavier-Magneto dynamic, and their quest to stop Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from inciting a nuclear war between the US and USSR. Bacon is an inspired choice for Shaw, and thankfully the film leaves some of the weirder elements of the Hellfire Club in the pages of the comics. We see Xavier at college, using his knowledge of genetics and his psychic abilities to pick up coeds, and Magneto after Auschwitz, hunting down former Nazis.
The second thread involves Xavier and CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert recruiting and training the first young mutants, and helping them to master their powers and personalities. My favorite parts of the other films usually involve the student mutants, and this one is no exception. The recruitment and training montages are delightful, but left me wanting more. I also like this film’s take on mutant powers: There is no denying that powers are part of who you are, and some powers you need to learn to focus and control, and some just come naturally, and you must learn to accept either your physical looks or just your very nature.
Other notable things for me: I very much enjoyed Rose Byrne as MacTaggert, and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, but Caleb Landry Jones steals every scene he’s in as Banshee. On the flipside, I really didn’t care for January Jones’ performance, which feels flat.
All of these things are wonderful in their own right, and Michael Vaugn’s direction is quite capable, though not as stylish as his work on Stardust or Kick-Ass. However, Everything in this film feels rushed, and here is where the character portrayals suffer. Xavier and Magneto go from strangers to friends to enemies in what feels like a couple hours, when a relationship of this depth should feel like years. There simply isn’t enough time in the film to set up where the characters end up.
Overall, I really enjoyed it, and it’s easily the most fun of the X-Men films to date. Were I to rank it, I’d put it about even with the first film, but behind X2, still the best entry in the series.

Hangover Part II: Going Through the Motions

The Hangover Part II is an enjoyable movie, sometimes, and mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do: make a lot of money based on how much people love the first one. However, by any other measure, The Hangover Part II is a colossal failure.

While I was disappointed by the decision Todd Philips made in reusing the first movie’s plot, that alone wouldn’t have made me dislike this film. Sure, it uses some of the same shots and plot points as the first one, but this is probably to be expected with a comedy sequel, and I would have forgiven that, had this been as enjoyable a film.

However, I found The Hangover Part II to be pretty unbearable. Basically everything charming and fun about the first one is gone. While the backdrop of Bangkok lends itself to this kind of film, (and the backdrops are one of the few good things about this film) Hangover Part II takes a dark turn and doesn’t look back. While the first film featured hijinks, pranks, and misunderstandings, everyone in this film knows what the stakes are and how dangerous the situation has become. And yet, there are even less consequences this time around.

One factor that made the first film so great was being able to sit in the audience and imagine the scenarios happening to me. I could almost imagine a night in Las Vegas going so seriously out of control and having to deal with everything the next day. However, it is hard to imagine that happening to the same group of people again, especially since everything here has a heightened sense of surrealism. It was, as Dan Trachtenberg of The Totally Rad Show put it, “predictably unpredictable.”

Further annoyances include the extreme lack of female characters who are more than just warm bodies to fill up the frame. I don’t believe there is a woman in this film with more than four or five lines of dialogue. Even our beloved bros have stepped down from fully-realized characters to one-note caricatures.

All of these things might have been excusable if the film were funny. I think there are only a few funny moments in the film, both very early on, before they even get to Bangkok. The rest of the film plays out more like an action film with occasional attempts at humor, but most of those are more enjoyable than this.

The film has one insightful moment, when Alan (Zach Galifianakis) explores the deep recesses of his mind to try and retrieve memories of where the wolf pack was the night before. While we are in Alan’s memories, we see the three “best friends,” drinking, drugging, whoring, and causing mayhem…all as children. This is the epitome of what The Hangover franchise is: the prolonged adolescence of adult men. And for whatever reason, Part II seems to abandon the fun, replacing it with dark, twisted imagery that’s just an inexplicable hodgepodge.

The Hangover III has been greenlighted. I can only hope that the filmmakers forget the green lining their pockets and return this series where it belongs-as the unforgettable underdog that wowed and delighted audiences and critics alike.