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: War Dogs

16 08 2016

War DogsIt takes about an hour into Todd Phillips’ “War Dogs” to realize the true colors of the film’s subjects. As they discuss a deal to arm Afghani soldiers with millions of bullets, top Army officials look across their table.

On the left is a man who possesses an everyman-style swagger, a sharp knack for business and a reservoir of nobility should he choose to tap into it. On his right is a man who seems to have little in the way of conscience or prudence, a cunning manipulator who cares little for the body count left in his wake so long as his bank account grows. And then beneath these pictures of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney sit their respective counterparts in the film, actors Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli.

“War Dogs” is the Bush-Cheney partnership reimagined as a buddy comedy of hapless warmongering and reckless profit hunting. If ever there were an indication that the military-industrial complex had officially jumped the shark, it would be this story during this war. As a way to offset accusations of cronyism, the Pentagon set up an online database that allowed all contractors access to military deals. While industry giants still nabbed the biggest deals, Efraim’s business strategy stems from picking up the crumbs – “like a rat,” in his own words.

Phillips along with co-writers Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic would have us believe that the company Efraim lures David into partnering with him, AEY Inc., is the equivalent of the geniuses of “The Big Short” who spotted the leak in the mortgage market. (The film certainly features gratuitous grafts from Adam McKay’s stylistic masterstrokes to make the parallels, too – down to the freeze-frames and quotation-fronted chapter divisions.) But while Phillips may have that film on the brain, the dark heart of “War Dogs” bears a far greater resemblance to another film about fools who wrecked the economic futures of hard-working people.

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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: Project X

26 11 2012

2012 will likely go down in the history books as the year when filmmakers really experimented with just how far they could stretch the found footage format.  With “Project X,” director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips decided to give it a go with the party film genre, essentially giving the reckless destruction of “The Hangover” a slight “Risky Business” twist.  And making sure everyone with a red Solo cup is decidedly below the legal drinking age.

To a small extent, the experiment worked.  I still think all these films should adhere to the “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield” model of restricting the point-of-view to the first person, only allowing us to view the events through that single camera lens.  It just feels like a bit of a cop-out when the film cuts to other cameras.  If you are going to exploit this hip new format, adhere to some simple rules.

Even at a mercifully short 88 minutes, the film feels too long.  Some of the hijinks of the party are entertaining, but the shots of scantily clad hotties get old quickly.  It also doesn’t help that the characters that actually have real development are largely unsympathetic to the point where you kind of want them to get in trouble.  (Well, I’ll give “Project X” that I did feel for Thomas, the lanky, dorky good-hearted protagonist – but mainly because I found quite a bit of myself in him.)

You start rooting for more destruction of property rather than cringe at the thought if this scenario playing out in your high school days.  It’s like how you secretly were rooting for the Joker in “The Dark Knight” because you wanted to see what kind of trouble he would cause next.  But such unfettered desires, which the filmmakers accurately predicted, lead the party’s shenanigans to quickly move from the improbable to the implausible to downright absurd.  (That hasn’t stopped several teens from dying and getting arrested in an attempt to imitate them though … yikes).  Their focus is to just get crazier and crazier, and they achieve it.  However, it comes at the expense of laughter, which is scarce in “Project X.”  C





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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Random Factoid #566

26 05 2011

With “The Hangover Part II” now in theaters, I thought it would be as good a time as ever to revisit some slightly old news from the series’ director, Todd Phillips.  In an interview with Elvis Mitchell of Movieline, he had this to say about the unrated edition of the original film:

“Warner Bros., they’ll make your movie; your movie does well, and they want to create an unrated version, which is entirely against DGA rules because it’s not your cut. And they can’t call it the ‘Director’s Cut’ — they’ll call it ‘Unrated’ or some ridiculous term. Really all it is, is about seven minutes of footage that you cut out of the movie for a reason.”

I certainly loved hearing someone in the biz back up my opinions as stated in Random Factoid #11:

“I hate watching unrated cuts of movies.  I always want to see the theatrical cut because after seeing ‘Bruno,’ I found out that anything can get an R-rating.  The director could include practically whatever he wanted, but there is a reason that he did not include it in the version that the masses go see.  So I figure that the rated version, while tamer, is probably what the director wanted you to see.”

And when I watched the unrated cut of “Date Night” last August, as reported in Random Factoid #386, I felt much of what Phillips described:

“I have a feeling that the word ‘3D’ is headed the way of the word ‘unrated.’  About a decade ago, ‘unrated’ was something fairly unique.  Now it has become a marketing gimmick to make a little extra profit off some unsuspecting consumers.  See the correlation?

Why did I decided to give this extended edition, basically a tamer way of saying unrated, a whirl?  The theatrical cut of ‘Date Night’ was so short that I wanted to see more.  And more I got.  Not sure if it was worth the 13 minutes of my sleep, but I still enjoyed some of the extra bits.”

His cameo in "The Hangover."

There’s a rhyme and reason for what directors do.  Pacing and timing is incredibly important, lessons I’ve learned from acting on stage, watching the play I wrote get directed, and from seeing plenty of movies where the two concepts are handled terribly wrong.  Especially in comedy, where timing is everything, the director has to establish the rhythm of the movie.

The material for unrated cuts belong in deleted scenes; if this were so, the viewer could still appreciate the humor without disrupting the structure of the film itself.  As much as a director may like something, it sometimes doesn’t work in the grand scheme of things.  I had to learn this lesson in the production of my play as several of my favorite dialogue snippets got axed.  But you do it because you care about how the work functions as a whole, not in one special moment, and Phillips seems to care about preserving the integrity of the whole.  Warner Bros. should respect the wishes of someone in the business who actually has such interests in mind.