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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




REVIEW: The D Train

18 08 2015

The D Train posterThe D Train,” while technically and functionally a comedy, might be one of the more depressing movies ever made about high school.  Like Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s seething 2011 film “Young Adult,” the film takes place several decades after the diplomas get handed out.  Yet, all things considered, time stays relatively frozen.

For this rather cynical writer/director duo, Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, high school locks people into the parts they must play for the rest of their lives.  At 38, Jack Black’s Dan Landsman has not amassed any more esteem from his peers, who routinely ostracize him from their plans … after an alumni telethon of all things!

Determined to rewrite the script of his life, Dan hatches a half-brained plan to bring back a mildly famous alumni for his class’ twentieth reunion.  Yes, for them, the appearance of James Marsden’s Oliver Lawless (apparently not a stage name) in a Banana Boat commercial constitutes fame.  Dan even goes out to visit him in Los Angeles to formally recruit his appearance…

…and then a funny thing happened on the way to the reunion: the coarsely cool Oliver entices the happily wedded Dan into an evening of sexual intercourse. Everything up to this point felt like a compact cinematic narrative in its own right, fully satisfying and surprising.  Afterwards, though, “The D Train” really falls off the rails.

Jack Black layered queer undertones into his performance in “Bernie,” but he flops when playing it overtly. After his night with Oliver, he becomes single-sighted and uncomfortably unhinged. It becomes actually painful to watch how far his idiocy will extend to gain the favor of his new crush. Some of this awkwardness stems from the script, which treats homosexuality like some kind of pathology that takes over one’s system through exchanging fluids.

Marsden, on the other hand, delights in a role that does not exploit his dashing looks to turn him into a dreamboat. Oliver’s attractiveness, if anything, made him complacent to treat others like dirt.  Such a disposition does not fly in a place like Hollywood, although it still passes amongst high schoolers past and present.  B- / 2stars





REVIEW: Win Win

10 10 2012

It’s been well over a year since “Win Win” hit theaters, and I’ve somehow managed to avoid writing a review.  It was my favorite movie of 2011, and I’ve seen it no less than five times.  Why the wait?  I think I admire Thomas McCarthy mastery far too much to shame it with words that don’t accurately describe just how stirringly brilliant this movie is and how strongly it resonated with me.

I don’t even think it’s hyperbolic in the slightest to say that if Frank Capra were making movies today, they would look a whole lot like “Win Win.”  Light-hearted while tackling serious themes and always celebrating the decency of the average American, McCarthy captures all the buoyancy of the old classic comedies but doesn’t fall into a trap of idealistic naïveté.  The writer/director finally strikes gold after “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor” just barely missed the mark.  (He did co-write “Up” as well, which is as close to pitch-perfect emotionally as you can get.)  This movie, for my money, puts him in the highest echelon of modern humanist filmmakers alongside Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman.

McCarthy’s film, much like Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” is one distinctly of its time but also for all times.  “Win Win” shows how the specific money crunch resulting from the recession can cause us to commit immoral deeds, but it’s also a more general parable about weathering hard times by standing firm in our convictions.  The movie never feels like a morality play, though, because McCarthy never preaches.  He just tells a story by truthfully depicting human emotion and conscience.  That’s where the best drama always comes from, and the conflict that plays out is so compelling because we never doubt its authenticity.

Read the rest of this entry »