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DVD Picks of the Week
5 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Total shit
Just Reviewed The Hangover: Part III and Epic-May 24th
Just Reviewed Star Trek: Into Darkness-May 16th
Just Reviewed The Great Gatsby-May 10th
Just Reviewed Iron Man 3-May 3rd
Just Reviewed The Big Wedding-April 26th
The wolfpack strikes back ***1/2
The first “Hangover” had an original setup, one great laugh after another, and was liked by pretty much everyone. “The Hangover Part II” was a carbon copy of the original, had about three laugh-out-loud moments, and was hated by pretty much everyone. Even if you’re in the minority that actually liked “Hangover II,” there’s no way anyone could possibly think it was better than the original. So how does “The Hangover Part III” fare compared to its predecessors? Is it as funny as the first film or is it as redundant as the second? It’s somewhere in the middle. The wolfpack’s final curtain never quite reaches the heights of the original comedic masterwork, but for some truly hilarious moments, you’ll be glad you saw it.
Zach Galifianakis carries much of the film as Alan, who has hit rock bottom. He’s gone off his medication, lost his father, and gained national attention for accidentally decapitating a giraffe. His family and friends are convinced that he needs to be in a rehabilitation facility. Alan agrees to go as long as Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) accompany him. Since this is the wolfpack, though, things don’t exactly go according to plan. They’re taken hostage by a gangster named Marshall, played by John Goodman, who is looking for Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow. Marshall gives the wolf pack three days to track Chow down or else Doug is going to get the ax.
After the second film did so well at the box office despite it’s lazy nature, Director Todd Phillips easily could have swindle his audience again with a rehashed plot. Luckily, he listened to the complaints of his fans and strived to breathe new life into this franchise. Along with co-screenwriter Craig Mazin, Phillips constructs a fresh story that leads to many unexpected surprises and laughs. The screenplay additionally thinks of clever ways to tie in events from the first two pictures and bring everything full circle. Granted, the characters never actually have a hangover in “Hangover III,” but who really cares?
For everything that works in “Hangover III,” however, there are some aspects that fall flat. John Goodman’s character is mostly humorless and feels better suited for a Martin Scorsese crime drama. The same can said be about the bad guys in “Identity Thief,” another film Mazin wrote. “Hangover III” brings back some fan favorites from the first film, like Heather Graham’s escort with a heart of gold, but she’s sadly underutilized. Cooper and Helms, meanwhile, often get lost in the shuffle while Galifianakis and Jeong steel the show. The final act in particular leaves you expecting a bombastic showdown of epic proportions. Instead, we get a pretty weak, disappointing anticlimax.
Despite its shortcomings, “The Hangover Part III” will leave its audience wondering what’s going to happen from beginning to end. Although there are some moments that go too far and other moments that don’t go far enough, there are still a lot of comedic setups that hit bullseyes. The hysterical final scene alone is well worth the price of admission. This is a flawed, but ultimately fitting, conclusion to the wolfpack saga with just enough new ideas and laughs. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line we’ll get a spinoff featuring Alan and Melissa McCarthy as a pawnshop owner he romances here. Now that’s a recipe for comedic gold.
Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, and Beyonce, together at last ***
If you grew up in the early nineties, you probably remember an animated feature from 20th Century Fox called “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” It was the environmentally conscious movie every 90s kid saw, and yet, nobody really liked. The film’s intentions might have been good, but even the youngest children seemed to find its blatant green message overly preachy. The fact that “FernGully” was lacking in any interesting characters or magic didn’t help. “Epic,” which was also coincidentally distributed by Fox, is a bit like “FernGully” if it had smarter, more imaginative filmmakers backing it. While it’s not a massive improvement, “Epic” is at least fun, energized, and subtle with its environmental themes.
Jason Sudeikis gives an unrecognizable voiceover performance as an absent-minded professor named Bomba. Convinced that an advanced society of little people is living in the forest near his house, Bomba spends almost every hour checking the security cameras he’s rigged outside. Everybody thinks that the doc is completely bonkers, including Mary Katherine, his teenage daughter voiced by Amanda Seyfried. It turns out there are in fact tiny people inhabiting the forest known as Leafmen. Their leader is a noble warrior named Ronin (Colin Farrell), who is sworn to protect the forest from the evil Boggans, creepy-crawly bug-like creatures. Mary Katherine is shrunk down to the size of a pushpin and gets caught up in the war between the feuding little societies. It’s up to her to protect a flower that will either bring green back to the forest or destroy it upon blooming.
On her journey, Mary Katherine encounters an overly confident Leafmen warrior named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who naturally acts as the love interest. Seyfried and Hutcherson have a nice chemistry, creating spunky, perfectly likable leads. The screenplay additionally takes the time to give them weight and develop a compelling romance. If there’s one qualm with these characters, it’s that they’re noticeably modeled after the leads from “Tangled.” Nod is the spitting image of Flynn Rider while Mary Katherine looks an awful lot like Rapunzel minus the golden locks of hair. That doesn’t make the characters bad, but it does feel kind of lazy on the animator’s behalf.
The supporting comedic relief is cute enough with Aziz Ansari as a slug, Chris O’Dowd as a snail, and Steven Tyler as a larger than life caterpillar. Beyonce Knowles does a respectable job as Tara, the wise ruler of the forest who is refreshingly a queen as apposed to a princess. The only character that’s kind of disappointing is Mandrake, the Boggan leader voiced by Christoph Waltz. Anyone that saw “Inglourious Basterds” knows that Waltz can play a great villain. Although he does his best here, Waltz isn’t given a ton to work with. Mandrake just isn’t very complex, humorous, or even menacing. To be fair, though, at least the bad guys in “Epic” aren’t humans that run an evil corporation.
From “Captain Planet” to “Avatar,” almost every environmental entertainment singles out the silly humans as one-dimensional villains. “Epic,” however, is courteous enough to leave human greed and corruption out of the equation. The whole environmental message is actually pretty tamed compared to other movies. At its heart, “Epic” is an action adventure that will make kids appreciate the earth without shoving morals down their throats.
While the little big universe of “Epic” isn’t up their with “The Secret World of Arrietty,” it is certainly a detailed and lively one. The aerial sequences are particularly exhilarating as the Leafmen soar over the trees via hummingbirds. Much of this can be attributed to the keen direction of Chris Wedge, who made the first “Ice Age.” Wedge and his team have produced a film with solid characters, a solid story, and solid animation. “Epic” is just an all around solid film. That’s more than can be said about most environmental pictures that are targeted at kids or adults.
To boldly blow up what no man has blown up before ****1/2
On paper, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” is one of those movies that should have crashed and burned. A reboot of a beloved franchise with younger, lesser-known actors stepping into the shoes of an iconic cast of characters. The fact that Abrams went on record stating that he was never a huge “Star Trek” fan didn’t bode well either. Against all odds, though, Abrams not only produced a great “Star Trek” picture, but quite possibly the best “Star Trek” ever made. That’s right, even better than “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Of course that’s a personal preference. A fair deal of Trekkies, or Trekkers to be politically correct, might argue that Abrams’ film betrayed the essence of the original “Star Trek” series. The film’s epic action sequences felt more like something you’d see in a “Star Wars” movie than in a “Star Trek” movie. Regardless, it’s hard to complain when the action set pieces were some of the most dazzling and intense of modern blockbusters. Plus, it’s not just the colorful eye candy that made Abrams’ “Star Trek” so outstanding, but also the rich collection of ideas, characters, and philosophies. Isn’t that what “Star Trek” has always been about? Just about everything that made Abrams’ film great is on display in it’s follow-up, “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”
Chris Pine continues to do an ideal job as James T. Kirk, who has learned much as captain of the USS Enterprise. The only thing Kirk has yet to learn is how to handle defeat. It doesn’t help that Zachary Quinto’s always-logical Mr. Spock undermines Kirk’s reckless tactics around every corner. Kirk and Spock are forced to put their differences aside when Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, a Starfleet agent gone bad, bombs a branch of the United Federation of Planets. It’s up to Kirk’s crew to track Harrison down and boldly blow stuff up in the process.
Like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy before them, Pine and Quinto share a heartfelt, funny, and intriguing dynamic that’s equal parts friendship and rivalry. Quinto in particular does a first-rate job at giving a lot of depth to a character that at times appears completely emotionless. Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin meanwhile persist to shine as the supporting characters we all know and love. There is a dull romance subplot and a couple news characters that are somewhat underdeveloped. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” more than makes for those minor shortcomings, however, with its villain. Cumberbatch is perfectly menacing and complex as John Harrison, who will play a key role in the destiny of our heroes. For all those that haven’t already read the spoilers online, I won’t ruin the big twist regarding this character. Lets just say he’s not an actor posing as a terrorist ala “Iron Man 3.”
Once again, Abrams has done for “Star Trek” what Christopher Nolan did for Batman and what various directors have done for James Bond in recent years. Creating a reboot that’s true to a franchise’s roots and presenting it in a fresh light. The chemistry between the actors is unparallel, the story is inventive, the stakes are high, the in-jokes will appeal to die-hard fans, and the action sets the standard for this summer movie season. If you loved Abrams’ first “Star Trek,” you’re going to love this one too. If you have issues with the direction Abrams has taken this franchise, then there’s an Internet forum for you to complain on.
On the heels of his success with “Star Trek,” Abrams is now set to direct “Star Wars: Episode VII.” If Abrams’ new “Star Wars” is half as good as these two “Star Trek” pictures, it will more than make up for George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line Disney will acquire the rights to “Star Trek” and Abrams will get to direct the ultimate fanboy crossover.
The great looking, but ultimately just okay, Gatsby **1/2
Even though “The Great Gatsby” has gotten the movie treatment several times in the past, no film adaptation has ever really stood out as the definitive version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel. Director Baz Luhrmann’s film is certainly the most visually arresting interpretation of “The Great Gatsby” ever produced. Catherine Martin, who previous worked with Luhrmann on “Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo + Juliet,” and “Australia,” deserves multiple Oscar nominations for her hyper sets and eye-popping costumes. As wonderful as Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” is to look at, the enchanting visuals are also ironically the movie’s downfall. In the midst of the art direction, costumes, and music, the story and characters that made Fitzgerald’s book a classic become a mere afterthought.
For all those who haven’t already read the novel, here’s the cliff's notes setup. Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway, a young man who travels to New York to be a stockbroker in the 1920s. In the vein of Ewan McGregor’s character in “Moulin Rouge,” the troubled Nick recounts his story by writing on a typewriter. He tells us all about his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Although Tom loves his wife, he is a possessive bully who has no moral qualms about sleeping with Isla Fisher’s Myrtle on the side. Nick prefers to just look the other way and not get involved in the affairs of others.
Living next door to Nick is the mysterious and wealthy Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who likes to throw the most extravagant parties New York as ever seen. There’s a notable extended party scene the looks like it was recycled from unused footage in “Moulin Rouge.” All that’s missing is Jim Broadbent singing “Because We Can.” Gatsby takes Nick under his wing and informs him that he once had an affair with Daisy before WWI hit. Gatsby is keen on winning Daisy back and returning to the good old days. Nick is roped into the center of this love triangle, which is destined to end in tragedy. That Baz Luhrmann, he certainly loves stories with sad endings.
The actors are all well suited with DiCaprio as the slick, overly confident Gatsby, Mulligan as the confused Daisy, and McGuire as the naive narrator. Too bad Luhrmann is more interested in directing the actors in the background than the actors in the foreground. This is a movie with far too much going on in almost every shot. Whether it’s a burlesque dancer or fireworks, there’s always something over-the-top going on in the backdrop to distract the audience from the narrative. There’s no doubt that Luhrmann can make big, spectacular movies. Somebody should tell Luhrmann, however, that sometimes less is more.
The most off-putting aspect of the film is the soundtrack, which works in contemporary hits from Jay Z, Beyonce, Fergie, and others. This brand of music is appropriate for an off-the-wall musical like “Moulin Rouge,” but Luhrmann’s modern music video approach just feels misplaced with this material. The only way this approach might have worked would be if Luhrmann had gone all out and made this a musical version of “The Great Gatsby.” Even then, however, there’s no guarantee these music choices would match the content.
Then there’s the 3D aspect. On one hand, it’s encouraging to see a non-action movie experiment with 3D effects. After all, there’s a lot more filmmakers can do with 3D than have Optimus Prime fly at the screen. Much like the movie’s other stylistic choices, though, the 3D doesn’t feel especially necessary. Unlike Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” or Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” Luhrmann never does anything intriguing with the 3D here. It’s just another needless accessory added onto an already overblown ball gown.
If you’re a high school English teacher looking to show a “The Great Gatsby” movie to your class, this one is still better than the bland Robert Redford version from 1974. Although Luhrmann’s film may be over produced, it will at least give audiences something pretty and energized to look at. If you want a version that captures the themes and intrigue of Fitzgerald’s novel, however, you’re probably going to have to wait a few more years for another director to tackle this material.
Tony Stark is going to reach...A BREAKING POINT ****
Along with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Iron Man 3” is one of the rare superhero threequels that doesn’t disappoint. While Jon Favreau remains an executive producer and co-star, he passes on the directorial duties to Shane Black of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Black maintains all the action, humor, and character development that made Faverau’s first two films so enjoyable, while also incorporating his own unique signature. His film continues to raise the stakes and pushes its characters to their critical limits. In addition, “Iron Man 3” makes some hilarious commentary on the media’s role in terrorism with several inspired twist. The result is the darkest of the “Iron Man” trilogy and, ironically, the funniest.
Robert Downey Jr. is stronger than ever as Tony Stark, who has reached his breaking point after the events that took place in “The Avengers.” Unable to sleep or confide in the ones he loves most, he engulfs himself in his work. Meanwhile, a bin Laden-like terrorist known as the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, is threatening the president of the United States. Kind of ironic Kingsley would go from playing Gandhi to playing the face terror. Having a death wish, Stark makes it publicly known that he doesn’t fear the Mandarin and is prepared to take him down. The Mandarin instantly targets Stark and his iron army, resulting in all out mechanical war.
After portraying this character in four movies, it feels pointless to sing Downey Jr. any more praise. He’s so convincing as this emotionally tortured, quick-witted, iconic hero that the audience doesn’t even care that we see more of Tony Stark than Iron Man this time around. Just as crucial to the film is Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, who in many respects saves the man she loves more than he saves her. There’s also the always-welcome bromance between Stark and Don Cheadle’s Rhodey, who has now dawned the alter ego of Iron Patriot aka War Machine. Even Jarvis, Stark’s artificial intelligence buddy voiced by Paul Bettany, develops into a really fun character this time around. All of these supporting players act as Stark’s backbone, preventing him from completely losing his sanity.
The film introduces a few new characters that are hit and miss, such as a little kid played by Ty Simpkins that befriends Stark. Typically whenever superheroes get a younger sidekick, it can be really charming or out of place. Here, it’s a little bit of both. To the kid’s credit, he does help Iron Man out of several jams and delivers a couple solid one-liners. Rebecca Hall is fine as a one-night stand from Stark’s past, but is somewhat underutilized. What “Iron Man 3” really excels in, though, is the villain department. Where the baddies in the first two films were pretty forgettable compared to the Joker or Bane, Tony Stark really meets his match here. In addition to Kingsley’s scene-stealing work, Guy Pearce is perfectly menacing as a scientist whose latest experiment appears promising on the outside but has catastrophic results.
If you’re looking for a summer movie as big and epic as “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3” might be a slight disappointment in your eyes. Don’t get me wrong; the film is still full of jaw-dropping special effects and action sequences, most notably a seamless airborne rescue. When stacked up against something as bombastic as the “The Avengers,” though, “Iron Man 3” actually comes off as much smaller. This actually works to the films advantage, however, providing a more intimate, personal character study of Tony Stark.
Although the post-credits scene states Tony Stark will return, there have been rumors that this will be the last time we see Robert Downey Jr. in the role. Lets hope that doesn’t mean Marvel may consider replacing Downey Jr. Iron Man isn’t like the Hulk, who has gone through three different actors in the Marvel movie cannon. Downey Jr. is Iron Man and it’s impossible to imagine another other actor in the role.
My big, but not very fat or Greek, wedding *1/2
Just about all the actors in “The Big Wedding” are severely typecast. Diane Keaton is a high-strung, divorced mother like in “Something’s Gotta Give,” Robert De Niro is the father of somebody getting married like in “Meet the Fockers,” Amanda Seyfried is a blushing bride like in “Mamma Mia,” Robin Williams is an eccentric minister like in “License to Wed,” Topher Grace is a deadpan, quick-witted nice guy like in “That ‘70s Show,” and Katherine Heigl is a needy single woman like in every movie she does. Even though the actors are in their comfort zones, not a single person feels natural in “The Big Wedding.” That’s probably because the film doesn’t understand its own characters or their motivations. Nobody behind the camera has any idea what they’re doing, resulting in one of the most awkward romantic comedies of recent memory.
Keaton and De Niro are a divorced couple that adopted a Columbian boy named Alejandro, who has grown up to be Ben Barnes. Now that Alejandro is marrying Seyfried’s Missy, his biological mother is coming to America for the wedding. The problem is that Alejandro’s devoutly Catholic mother doesn’t know that Keaton and De Niro have been broken up for years. For this ridiculous reason, Keaton and De Niro are forced to pretend that they’re still married, although De Niro is now with Susan Sarandon’s Bebe.
While this setup may be completely contrived and idiotic, there is potential for some very funny shenanigans. What’s truly shocking about “The Big Wedding” is that it never takes advantage of its premise. The whole fake marriage plot just sits there for a majority of the movie, never amounting to anything absurd, suspenseful, or funny. It’s like the filmmakers aren’t even trying to create comedic situations.
Here’s a prime example of why “The Big Wedding” doesn’t work. There’s one scene where Keaton and De Niro are getting read for bed, having a trivial conversation. In the next scene, they’re having sex. What prompted this action? Director/Writer Justin Zackham, who adapted this material from a French film, skips the build up and jumps right to the punch line. His script doesn’t take the time to develop any of its jokes, or characters for that matter. Because of this, the audience doesn’t buy a single relationship in this whole movie.
For the most part, “The Big Wedding” is reliant on bottom of the barrel gags to carry the story. Such gags include De Niro falling into a swimming pool, the family settling down to dinner as it starts to rain, and Robin Williams falling into a lake. Newsflash, seeing people get wet isn’t funny! “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has hirer standards than that. That fact that Zackham works in not one, but three, wet gags is an all-time low.
The poster makes “The Big Wedding” out to be a warm, family friendly comedy. The film is actually rated R for some profanity and brief nudity. The foul language is particularly unnecessary, coming off as a desperate attempt to make the lines sound funnier. There’s an especially unwarranted scene in which De Niro uses the C-word to describe Keaton. We’re honestly supposed to like this guy?
As poorly put together as “The Big Wedding” is, maybe it’s not entirely Zackham’s fault. Maybe the studio just brutally edited the film. That would explain why every character feels underdeveloped, key scenes appear to be missing, and why the running time is under 90 minutes. Whether it’s a failure on a script level or an editing level, one thing is for certain. The final product is a mess on every level.