Review: The Hangover Part III

Rarely do I dish out the single star for a film, usually I can find something someone might enjoy and so generously I add that second star. The Hangover Part III however is so badly written, so poorly acted, that I really struggle to find anything worth crowing about.

Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is off his medication and the wolf pack have staged an intervention. On their way to a rehabilitation facility Doug (Justin Bartha) is kidnapped by Marshall (John Goodman) who demands Phil (Bradley Copper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Allan track down Chow (Ken Jeong) and bring him to him.

It’s a plot that has potential, and it does exploit some interesting setups, unfortunately the script is unable to capitalize on any of it with most scenes failing to illicit much more than a giggle. What’s worse is most of those scenes are already in the trailer.

The Hangover was a surprise hit, it was well written, intelligent, and genuinely funny! The sequel might have been a carbon copy of the first and just a tad too crass, but it still had its moments and it was still funny. This third installment might have dispensed with the formula, but it replaced it with a generic action/comedy devoid of anything remotely interesting. It’s a movie where the poorly developed comic support characters of Alan and Chow become the main focus, and they simply cannot carry a narrative or remain funny in such large doses.

The writers have displayed incredibly poor judgement casting Alan and Chow as the central characters, it would actually have been funnier to simply talk about their exploits instead of showing it. Case in point, the opening scene of the film involving a Giraffe is done with such bad taste, but if you had walked in after that scene and heard only the reactions you would probably have found it hilarious.

Strangely also, the biggest laughs in the movie come after the credits have started rolling proving the original concept of the first film is still hilarious.

The original  Hangover was built on a great setup, intelligent writing, and hilarious secondary characters from the comedy minds of Galifianakis, and Jeong. However, Part III fails to understand why those characters worked dumping everything else in favor of over exploiting their value.

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Review: The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s adaption for the classic 1925 American Novel is close to being a great film, but it stumbles and trips over  the burden of the source material and Luhrmann’s own limited ability. Full of elegance and indulgence, it is a spectacle to behold, but it’s also gluttonous and bloated. You’ll leave with that feeling you ate too much, a great meal that left you regretting the size of the plate.

The Great Gatsby centers on Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner who has moved to New York to try his hand at finance. He is lured into a lavish world by his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, however Carraway soon learns that behind Gatsby’s rich lifestyle lies obsession, madness, and tragedy. I confess I have not read the book, so can’t comment on how well the novel has been adapted, but Luhrmann’s vision is one well suited to a lavish lifestyle, the film is otherwise horrible edited and forgettable.

There is a deep layer of subtext to just about everything in this film, at times it feels larger than life but it does center itself quite strongly in simple human terms. The ever present green light and repeating sounds give much of the drama an eery undertone, as if to underscore the tragedy. It’s at these times the film shines, complex, character driven, and engaging. Unfortunately the pace is erratic, and the editing jumps and shifts in such sharply distracting ways. It can at times feel like a really long music video where all the aforementioned depth gives way to sights and sounds void of meaning.

Leonardo Di Caprio is absolutely engaging as Gatsby, he runs the gamut of emotions in this film and simultaneously winning over the audience while also painting himself as truly human. Luhrmann’s frenetic style often strangles him, but he deserves mention. Unfortunately Tobey Maguire as Carraway is void of any personality or presence and is the same character he was in Spiderman. Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Deicki put in noble performances as Tom and Jordon, but Carey Mulligan is utterly forgettable as the leading lady Daisy. Despite Di Caprio’s best efforts she fails to match his passion with any kind of chemistry and for much of the film her face resembles a damsel in distress.

Their chemistry pretty much sums up the whole film, it’s just not convincing enough. For a story of such depth, with such wonderful dialogue, it’s all at times just a little boring. A great deal of this does come day to visuals too, it’s as bad at times as the Star Wars prequels. You can easily see a majority of the film is done with a green screen, and the digital effects stand out like a sore thumb. For a story that centers on human emotions, it often looks like a cartoon.

The Great Gatsby has its moments, true, it is an engaging story. However Luhrmann’s vision does just about everything it can to break you away from that wonderful story, and his cast doesn’t do much to compensate.

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Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

This isn’t so much a Crime Thriller as advertised, rather it’s more of a Father & Son story, and not in the sense of Finding Nemo. It is an intense character driven experience that will challenge your concepts of morality and justice. The Place Beyond the Pines goes to places mainstream movies just don’t, it deals with consequences.

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a Motorcyle stunt rider who has just learnt he is a Father. His son is a year old and the product of a fling with Romina (Eva Mendes). Faced with the choice of continuing to tour with his stunt show or quit and stay to do his fatherly duty, Luke makes a choice that will have far reaching consequences well into the future. That’s all I am going to say for the plot, because frankly it goes places you don’t see coming and you should be free to enjoy that without any spoiling it for you.

The journey through this story is as much a though provoking commentary on the nature of good and evil and the consequences of our decisions as it is a delicately balanced drama. It’s character driven, and that is the only reason the story works. Split into three acts that take the movie in different directions, you will be hooked from start to finish. My only criticism is that third act is too predictable and draws the film out just a little too much.

Director Derek Cianfrance deserves much credit for being able to balance such a complex and delicate film. It could easily have been an incomprehensible mess, but it’s all handled with such passion that even small moments are captivating. Special mention must be made of the high speed motorcycle scenes, they are great on the big screen. A shout out to Mike Patton also for a wonderfully eery and mood setting soundtrack.

There are notable performances from Ryan GoslingEva MendesBradely Cooper, and Ben Mendelsohn who are also joined by a number of named actors in a large ensemble cast. None of these people are wearing make-up, they on screen warts and all. For some of them who have previously sold their image publicly this difference is noticeable. It certainly does the movie justice however.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a challenging and intense movie, but it’s long and can be taxing if your just out for some entertainment. It’s well worth it my opinion however, sometimes we need these kinds of stories to give ourselves some perspective.

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Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The J.J. Abrams sequel to the 2009 reboot of Stark Trek is a non stop thrill ride, never letting up from its first minutes to its action packed climax. Where once it’s characters debated at length highly intellectual Scientific conundrums, these new incarnations shoot from the hip. This is a near perfect popcorn flick that anchors itself with great characters and a focus on the emotional journey.

 

Set shortly after the events of the previous film, we find Kirk, Spock, and his band of youthful misfits doing what they do best: Breaking every rule in the book. This time however, Kirk has to live with the consequences. Demoted and separated from his pointy ear friend, Kirk quickly find himself back in the spotlight when one of Starfleet’s own detonates a bomb in London, and commits mass murder at Starfleet headquarters. A vengeful Kirk having watched his Mentor gunned down takes command of the Enterprise again to hunt down the perpetrator.

It’s a typical Abrams mystery box, complete with the mandatory layers that are shed slowly through the course of the production. Fans of Trek, or at least those familiar with a certain 1982 film will have a pretty good idea quite early on in the film of where it’s all heading. It’s probably a tad too complex for my liking however, and at times the justification and motivations of all the machinations doesn’t quite add up, but they run with it with such vigor and determination that you’ll find it hard to have time to question anything.

That pretty much sums up the whole experience too, Abrams never gives you a chance to take it all in. It’s definitely suffering a little Attention Deficit Disorder and while that isn’t unwelcome it would have been nice to slow down and smell the roses a few times. You won’t notice the two hours passing by, but when the credits roll you’ll be weary!

If that’s all the film was, then it simply would not have been enough, but what makes this movie are the performances. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are once again marvelous as the central pair of Kirk and Spock, whileKarl Urban will make you think he had played Bones in the original version. Zoe Salanda and Simon Pegg also return, as does their quality, but the hero is Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. There are a few memorable Trek villains, and Cumberbatch’s performance will mean his will be remembered as one. The hollow eyes, and cold monotone voice bring a weight that Eric Bana’s performance in the first film didn’t.

Into Darkness was apparently not made for Trek fans, but there are a hell of a lot of Trek references in there. It’s essentially a combined remake of an episode from the classic television series and one of the original movies. It’s not as original as I had hoped, but there is enough originality in the twists, turns, and new direction for it not to feel like you’re covering old territory. I suspect however that those who are not fans of Star Trek are going to find a lot to enjoy, while fans will find this movie divisive in their opinions.

There is also the inevitable comparison the film draws between William Shater’s and Leonard Nemoy’s relationship as Kirk and Spock developed in the original series, and the new pairing of Pine and Quinto. It’s unfair because the new pair have not had nearly as much time to develop theirs, but they give it a red hot go and even if they never quite reach the potentially great heights, it is a great spectacle.

This is an action extravaganza not to be missed! It’s a non-stop thrill ride that will not fail to excite, but won’t set your world on fire. It will certainly give heart to the masses out there who are praying J.J. Abrams can resurrect Star Wars. Because if this film is anything to go by, that franchise is in safe hands.

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Review: Ironman 3

Remember when comic books were just for Nerds? Not anymore! The cinema has given a life to these once hand drawn heroes, and they command a serious amount of cash at the box office. Ironman 3 is the latest in a long line of movies from the Marvel comic book universe. It’s not even correct to say this is the third film, because technically it’s also a spin-off from the Avenger’s movie. But who cares right?

In the saturated superhero movie market Ironman stands alone as the more irreverent take on the genre. The first movie was a surprise hit in 2008 because of Robert Downey Juniors  take on Tony Stark and the films ability to weave the threads of the war on terror into its socially conscious plot. It was relevant,  fun, and for many people quite a refreshing take on the genre. Marvel unfortunately stumbled over a half baked sequel that had a woeful script, so does the third film bring any redemption?

Ironman 3 is a throwback to the kind of action movies we saw in the nineties updated to suit the present. I was half expecting to see Jerry Bruckheimer’s name attached as Producer, but instead when I saw Shane Black Director or Predator and Lethal Weapon so it all made sense. It’s a film for those who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, with just enough charisma and a few surprises to keep the rest of us happy.

Remember that movie Team America: World Police? Well Ironman 3 is exactly the kind of movie that movie was having a go at. In all these kinds of movies there is some kind of amazing new technology that basically lets the bad guys (or good) do whatever they need to do to get to the next plot point, while also setting everything up for some crazy action sequences. You know, screw logic! The movie moves too fast for you to notice that most of it doesn’t make much sense, but at least the film makers aren’t out to totally insult us.

Perhaps the best part of this film is Ben Kingsley as the enigmatic Mandarin. A mysterious Osama Bin-Laden style character that is not only genuinely interesting, but certainly the most surprising villain in any superhero movie. His much needed sub-plot and Robert Downey Jr. give this movie the class the second installment lacked. There is no doubt Robert Downey Jr. owns this character, his own past more than fits the tone and style of Tony Stark. This time out Stark is forced to deal with a kind of post traumatic stress disorder after the events in The Avenger’s (I’m told originally it was meant to be alcoholism but Marvel made them cut that sub plot entirely). I think hero’s are at their best when they’re struggling with their inner demons, and the contradictions of Stark make him a very memorable character.

Much of the films 130 minute running time is taken up with crazy over the top action sequences, none of which really stand out. If you can get past the ridiculous nature of what’s going on, it’s a popcorn thrill ride that is sure to excite audiences but it won’t leave you wanting more. Ironman 3 is at it’s best when it is original, surprising and challenging it’s characters. If there was just a little more of that, and a little less of a relentless mindless action and completely unbelievable science fiction it would have been more than just two hours of fun.

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Catching Fire Teaser Trailer

The Hunger Games is probably one of the more enjoyable teen movies, and despite it’s teen focus I enjoyed it quite a lot.

The books are an easy read, but they deal with very adult themes and they have a lot of very interesting concepts. It is for this reason I am interested in the second film.

Here is the Catching Fire Teaser Trailer:

With Jennifer Lawrence now an Academy Award winning actress, and the addition of some more heavy hitting actors, I suspect Catching Fire is going to be a little more adult.

What say you? Keen or not?

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Review: Oblivion

Oblivion is about as close to hard Science Fiction as a blockbuster Hollywood film has been since Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Drawing inspiration from a vast array of stories and movies from the genre, Oblivion is ultimately a mash-up of just about every science fiction trope you can find. It’s a sleek and sexy production, complete with the amazing visual and audio style of its Director Joseph Kosinski who made his debut with Tron: Legacy. It drives its story with a complex mystery that is engaging and thought provoking, but it struggles to find room for its characters.

Set around 2070 the story focuses on Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are all that remains of humanity on Earth after it was devastated by Nuclear war against an Alien race dubbed the Scavengers or Scavs. They repair drones, automated killing machines that protect giant energy production facilities against what remains of the Scavs on Earth. These facilities are producing energy to send what remains of humanity currently residing in a giant space station orbiting Earth to Titan (one of Jupiter’s Moons). However, when Jack finds Julia (Olga Kurylenko) among the wreckage of a crashed space craft, he questions everything he knows about the war and his purpose.

It’s not a simple story, and the film knows it. It spends an awful lot of time on exposition that I would have preferred wasn’t so spoon fed. The structure of the story is episodic, in that every 20 minutes or so of its two hour plus running time you are drip fed another piece of information. It’s not a bad way to tell a story of this kind, but as you hurtle towards the end the twists and turns start to dry up as the writer clearly ran out of ideas. It’s a shame, because a number of the revelations are quite enjoyable, detailed, and thoughtful. It would have been best perhaps to simplify the entire narrative a little more to just these few, discard the rest, and give a little more breathing space to the characters.

The film does waste its actors, with the likes of Melissa leo and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles that are so paper thin in depth that they may as well not have been there. Olga too is completely wasted, seemingly there for eye candy and to look worried from time to time. Cruise and Riseborough on the other hand do get enough time to develop themselves, and they make a decent job of it. You forget it’s Tom Cruise pretty quickly (which is high praise for him) and Riseborough does her best to cement the emotional core of the film. The ground work was laid, but the Director seemingly didn’t want to delve too deep into any of the characters.

Oblivion is just a cut above your standard Hollywood action film as it strives to tell an intelligent story, albeit with its emphasis on entertainment rather than anything deep and meaningful. There are a lot of heady concepts that could have created a compelling and challenging narrative, but the film steers clear of them. It stumbles towards the end, and ultimately leaves a trail of plot holes and head scratching moments. I think most audiences will enjoy what this has to offer, even if it’s just to marvel at its scope and marvelous visuals.

 

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