REVIEW: The Hangover

20 08 2016

When I started writing this site over 7 years ago, it was the summer of “The Hangover.” This comedy sensation that came out of nowhere spawned Facebook wall posts and bumper stickers (remember those?) by the dozen. Lines entered the cultural lexicon at an unprecedented rate. Amidst 2009’s pretty great lineup of studio and indie entertainment, this was a film you wanted to go back and see again.

Obviously, much has changed since then. The original sensation went onto inspire a blatant cash-grab carbon copy sequel, and when director Todd Phillips and the Wolfpack tried to change courses for a third film, no one seemed to care anymore. By that point, Bradley Cooper reemerged as an Oscar-caliber actor, Ed Helms got bumped up the big desk at TV’s “The Office,” and Zach Galifianakis’ career began to sputter out doing similar schtick. Todd Phillips has only just returned to the directors’ chair, and unsurprisingly, he’s doing a bit of a career pivot of his own a la Adam McKay.

But do all these transformations do anything to diminish the original? Does “The Hangover” deserve to sit on such a high pedestal? Have all the rip-offs and imitators it spawned tarnished the sheen? Or, perhaps a bigger personal question for me … is the film so great because it came out around my 17-year-old summer? (A recent article on The Ringer made a pretty compelling case for why that year seems to always stand out when polling people’s favorite summer movie season.)

I rewatched start to finish the film for the first time in several years; I specify because I watched five to ten minute snippets constantly for the year or two it dominated HBO airwaves. The short answer – yes, it still holds up. Years later, “The Hangover” is one of the few comedies that can generate chuckles and belly laughs from home.

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REVIEW: They Came Together

5 07 2014

They Came TogetherGenres naturally go through cycles, and right now, the romantic comedy is in a bit of a slump.  When I started writing this blog nearly five years ago, it was riding high with smash hits like “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth.”  If you look at the market now, there hasn’t really been a rom-com hit since 2011’s “Crazy Stupid Love,” largely because those kinds of movies just aren’t being made.

Why exactly they have gone out of fashion so dramatically is anyone’s guess.  It’s likely a combination of many factors, but two films point out some of the reasons why no one is rushing to finance “28 Dresses.”  Back in 2009, “(500) Days of Summer” took a revisionist angle on the genre, pointing out many romantic comedy conventions that needed to be reworked in order to be more in touch with the audience.

And now, in 2014, “They Came Together” marks the point where the genre’s hallmarks are so recognizable that they can be mercilessly sent up in an unrelenting satire.  David Wain, the great mind behind “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models,” dismantles the romantic comedy with confidence and pinpoint accuracy.

His script lays bare all the subtext that most of us blindly accept when we encounter a standard genre pic, pointing out everything from the stereotypes of the characters (clumsy girl, non-threateningly masculine guy) to the role of New York City (like another character).  “They Came Together” is at its best when Wain performs his point-by-point deconstruction of all the clichés that normally trap the genre, due largely in part to how wonderfully Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler can cut up while sending up the trademarks.

“They Came Together” winds up coming slightly undone, however, by the sophomoric silliness that fills the moments that aren’t so brutally self-aware.  Wain is usually quite clever with his comedy (the notable exception being “Wanderlust“), and here, he drops to the level of Seth MacFarlane in “Family Guy” or “Ted.”  It’s funny on occasion but wildly inconsistent overall with one joke bombing and the next hitting the sweet spot.  Thankfully, it never quite stoops to the level of the movies it lambasts, but Wain might have had one of the most spectacular spoofs of all time on his hands had he just stuck to the more high-minded humor.  B-2stars





REVIEW: The Hangover Part III

17 06 2013

Two summers ago, I expressed my frustration with the inertia of the “Hangover” franchise in my review for the carbon-copy sequel.  I wrote, “‘The Hangover Part II‘ is like breathing in airplane air.  Recycled, stale, but better than not having air to breathe at all.  In essence, it gives you exactly what you expected – and nothing more.”  Had I known yet another follow-up was in the pipelines, I would have begged the question, “Is it too much to ask for something different?”

In which case, I would never have been so unhappy to have a movie give me exactly what I asked of it.  “The Hangover Part III” is definitely not the same as its predecessors.  But lest we forget, change is not always good.  In this case, it’s just kind of depressing to see how fast and hard a comedic sensation can fall.  The series’ legacy will now likely be one of a studio that took a truly original concept, hackneyed it to the point of annoyance, and then besmirched its name entirely.

In fact, it’s hard to call “The Hangover Part III” much a comedy at all.  Sure, there’s the occasional clever quip, but the writers’ new plot structure forays the series into a new genre entirely.  It’s essentially a chase film, an action-thriller that squeezes out a laugh every once in a while.

The so-called “comedy” of this installment is lazy and, quite frankly, offensive.  The nuance of the original “Hangover” is long gone, replaced here by cheap gags that are above the most immature of middle schoolers.  All “The Hangover Part III” has to offer is homophobic humor, offering up gays as objects to be ridiculed.

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REVIEW: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

19 12 2012

The mumblecore movement is slowly gaining more notoriety as some of its key figures such as Greta Gerwig and the Duplass brothers (specifically Mark) are getting some traction as mainstream personalities.  They don’t seem to be bringing the genre that made them along for the ride, though.  Movies like “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” are a reminder that even with popular actors like Jason Segel and Ed Helms, this style of comedy is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before it hits its stride.

But if anyone is going to make that happen, it’s still going to be the Duplass brothers.  Though their latest film is a definite step down from the slyly clever “Cyrus,” it still brings quite a bit of good humor and heart to the table.  Some of the peculiar directions that “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” takes feel rather forced, particularly the storyline of Susan Sarandon’s matriarch Sharon and her secret admirer.

The Duplass brothers might be taking a few too many hints from films like “Napoleon Dynamite” or “Little Miss Sunshine,” movies so quirky that they feel set in a different universe despite having their feet firmly planted in reality.  Indeed, the protagonist Jeff, Jason Segel’s great stoner-philosopher (that plays like a mellowed-out version of his Sidney Fife from “I Love You Man”) feels like a little bit too much of a constructed character and not authentic in the slightest.  Ed Helms’ ultra-nebbish Pat is slightly better, but he’s so high-strung that it negates most of his ties to a grounded reality.

These outlandish characters make “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” funnier than “Cyrus” – there’s one scene in particular that had me in stitches – but at the cost of what makes mumblecore … well, mumblecore.  It’s disassociated from the humdrum reality that creates the humor (or lack of it) to create an artificial universe for its characters where the absurd is far more plausible.

As a result, it feels like a disingenuous entry into the subgenre.  That is, if you would even call it a subgenre flick since it straddles the line between mainstream and mumblecore comedy, never fully committing to either one.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: Cedar Rapids

22 06 2011

I don’t know if you have any romanticized notions about how bloggers watch movies outside of theaters, but let me dispel just about all of them right now.  Be it through Netflix, iTunes, Redbox, Blockbuster, or basic cable, watching movies is usually just us sitting in front of some sort of screen (and in rare cases, we can manage to net a friend or family member if the movie has wide appeal).  We generally just plop, watch, and write, sharing our opinions not verbally with the person we endured the movie with but digitally with people who read our site or happen to accidentally wind up here after Googling “did the kings speech win any oscars?”

This method of movie watching inevitably favors one genre and shorts another.  It’s easy to love a drama you watch at home because it’s hardly different than watching in the theater – that is, the audience is mostly silent for the duration of the movie.  It’s hard to love a comedy because you have no one’s reaction but your own to measure as audience laughter has a significant impact on how we perceive the humor of a movie.  Plus, no one really likes to laugh by themselves.

So when I come across a movie that can make me laugh while I’m curled up alone underneath my bed sheets, I rejoice!  Ladies and gentleman, “Cedar Rapids” is one of those movies.  Sure, it may be hopelessly pathetic and wallow in endless jokes of naïveté, but it’s actually funny!  I laughed!  A lot!  In bed!  Seriously, that doesn’t happen very often at all!

Ed Helms, best known as Andy Bernard from “The Office” and Stu from “The Hangover,” stars as Tim Lippe, the insular Wisconsin insurance salesman who gets a chance to go to the titular metropolis representing his company.  There, he is exposed to the dangers and pleasures of true urban living and meets an exciting cast of characters including the crude Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), mild-mannered Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), good-natured Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), and the prostitute with the heart of gold Bree (Alia Shawkat in the first role of its kind likely to be snubbed by the Oscars).  Tim is totally clueless the entire movie, never really leaving his tighty-whitie turtle shell of ignorance.  But even the cheap laughs work here, and my reactions ranged from chuckles to belly laughs.  So what are you waiting on, book a trip to “Cedar Rapids” and enjoy comedy that can illicit a verbal reaction from you in the comfort of your own home.  Humor me.  (It’s also alright to laugh at the pun.)  B+ / 





REVIEW: The Hangover Part II

31 05 2011

I’ve harped on Hollywood relentlessly for relying so heavily on formula to churn out movies, and this summer looks to be a barrage of cliches and banalities.  If, according to these criteria, any other movie this summer is worse than “The Hangover Part II,” I will be shocked.  From the opening scene, virtually identical to the first film’s, it’s clear that the sequel will cling to the exact same structure that made its predecessor a $277 million surprise smash.

From this point, there are two ways to react to the movie.  You can be disgusted by the writers’ lack of originality, scoffing at how it settles for being just a cheap imitation of the original.  You can sit there and wait for it to make even the slightest of departures from the formula – a wait that would be in vain.  It’s a carbon copy, an identical twin, you name it.

Or, as I would recommend, you can put aside this nagging concern, accept up front that you are going to be watching the same outline of a movie with slightly different jokes and situations, and just enjoy that you have another 100 minutes to spend with the Wolfpack.  I would have been content finding one-liners that I missed the first ten times in the original on HBO, but it’s kind of nice to get a scene change and a few new jokes.  It’s a sort of Faustian bargain for the viewer, but one ultimately worth making since putting Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis together in a room with a camera is guaranteed to generate some hard-core laughter.

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