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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SAVE YOURSELF from “Horns”

2 08 2015

HornsLast summer, a friend of mine posted a cringe-worthy Huffington Post article on my wall that was titled “8 Movies From The Last 15 Years That Are Super Overrated.”  How on earth this piece managed to secure publication on a website of that caliber is beyond me since it included such memorable phrases as, “The problem with 2011’s ‘The Descendants‘ is that it sucked.”  Beyond being a terribly constructed and redundant sentence, it is also clearly NOT film criticism.

I try to avoid poor writing and potshots in my own reviews (although sometimes the devil on my shoulder manages to win).  But wow, I sure am tempted to pull out some low blow for Alexandre Aja’s “Horns,” one of the most wretched movies I have watched in quite some time.  So rather than drop to the level of that piece, I just decided to revive an old column … “Save Yourself!”

I can understand why Daniel Radcliffe and his management team might have thought this film seemed like a good idea on paper.  What better way to shed the squeaky clean image of The Boy Who Lived than to play someone who literally sprouts horns and basically functions as a Satanic figure?  “Horns” is basically his equivalent of Miley Cyrus twerking on Robin Thicke at the VMAs, though turns in “Kill Your Darlings” and “What If” accomplish the goal far better by just letting Radcliffe play convincing, real people.

Aja essentially lets Radcliffe off the leash in the role of Ig Parrish, letting him play the entire movie at the energy level the actor rapped “Alphabet Aerobics” on “The Tonight Show.”  After being falsely accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend, Ig’s horns serve as a supernatural blessing (or curse) to divine the real killer because – get this – the protuberances force people to spill all the skeletons from their closets.  Every moment feels so incredibly over the top and overblown, be it for comedy or for violence.  Actually, come to think of it, the violence even becomes perversely (and appallingly) comic in its heightened proportions.

“Horns” is not like a film in the vein of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell,” where the ambiguity and ambivalence leave an exhilarating void for the viewer to supply their own reaction.  It’s just an indecisive tonal scramble, not sure whether it wants to be an all-out festival of gory horror or a black comedy.  Aja does neither effectively, and the film becomes a brutal slog to endure.  It’s not even overdone to the point of “so bad it’s good.”  This is just pain bad.  D1star





REVIEW: At Any Price

26 08 2013

If a movie makes you feel anger, it has to be effective on some level.  The ability to generate some kind of feeling in the viewer means the movie is communicating something right.

In the case of “At Any Price,” it’s easy to get angry because Ramin Bahrani’s script, co-written with Hallie Newton, is a well-plotted story that takes a look at flawed people on their worst behavior.  Though the film takes place in the American heartland, far away from the excesses of Wall Street, thematic similarities to films like “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage” make for a shocking testament to how just how pervasive a strain of reckless greed is running through our country.

Dennis Quaid’s Dean Ripple may deal with seeds rather than financial derivatives, but the ethical dilemmas he’s faced with at the farm differ remarkably little from the ones that must be dealt with at the stock market.  Dean can cheat and get ahead of his competitors, who seem to be beating him at every turn, or play an honest game for better or for worse.  He ultimately drags his son Henry into his moral mire, though not without plenty of Midwestern soap opera-style family conflict.

Bahrani’s allegory is quite clever, but it’s a bit overloaded and overwrought.  It never ceases to amaze me how subtlety always seems in such scant quantities in film, and Bahrani’s heavy-handed direction manages to essentially cancel out the nuances of the script.  “At Any Price” did manage to make me feel emotionally empty as justice remains miscarried, but at what cost?  For Bahrani, that pit in my stomach came at the expense of the story’s quiet power.  B-2stars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 30, 2010)

30 07 2010

I had always been interested in seeing “Boogie Nights.”  And for those of you who happen to know the film’s subject matter, no, it’s not because I wanted to see certain things.  Released in 1997, the movie features plenty of today’s stars long before they had the luster and prestige their names bear now.  Five members of the ensemble have since been nominated for Oscars, and an actor who wasn’t even given top billing has even won an Oscar.

In an effort to see some of Julianne Moore’s finest roles, I decided it was time to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s Academy Award-nominated second feature.  The movie was her breakout, earning her notices from everyone, including the first of her four Oscar nominations.  But it’s not just to feature her that “Boogie Nights” is my “F.I.L.M. of the Week;” the entire ensemble shines in a true work of artistry by Anderson.

I can’t dance around the topic any longer – this is a movie about the adult entertainment industry, in Los Angeles during the ’70s and ’80s.  Director Jack Horner is looking for an actor to build an empire around, someone who can do more than just look good.  He finds just that in Eddie Adams, a young nightclub employee with talents that Horner seeks.  Changing his name to Dirk Diggler, Horner’s discovery becomes the star he always dreamed of.

But the bigger Diggler’s star becomes, the closer he moves towards becoming a supernova.  His fame has made him violently angry and cocky.  He has also spiraled into severe drug abuse and addiction.  Soon enough, he finds that his greatest asset for his job doesn’t function the way he wants.  Diggler slowly drops towards rock bottom, and thanks to a strong performance by Mark Wahlberg, it’s a gripping journey to watch.  See, the stories of fame in the adult film industry are no different than any other entertainment industry.

As I said earlier, there is quite the ensemble at work here, including John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, and William H. Macy as members of Diggler’s posse.  It’s quite fun to see them in their younger years, just getting started in Hollywood.  He was leagues away from stardom at the time, but a definite standout is Philip Seymour Hoffman as a crew member infatuated with Diggler.  He plays an unsettling character, and it’s nailed with the precision we now regularly associate with Hoffman.

The women are great, too.  Heather Graham, who most people don’t take seriously, is seriously brilliant as Rollergirl, an actress who does all her movies wearing rollerskates.  Anderson wrote the character with great depth, exploring her insecurities and weaknesses.  Graham goes there with him, truly shocking us not only by how good she is but how far she is willing to take her character.  And then there’s Julianne Moore, who entered mainstream consciousness for her portrayal of Amber Waves.  She acts as a mother figure to Diggler, yet at the same time, she finds herself very attracted to him.  Moore can play both objectives well, but she’s at her best when they clash.

In only his second movie, Paul Thomas Anderson handles “Boogie Nights” with the precision of a Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, sharing the former’s knack for great camerawork and the latter’s ability to select great music.  Now that I’ve seen this, I have to wonder why I like his later movies so much less.