The Hangover Part III

ImageI’m not sure what critics were expecting to see when they went to see The Hangover Part III, but clearly they didn’t see it. Words like ‘deplorable,’ ‘tasteless,’ ‘unfunny,’ and ‘indecent’ have been used to describe the film, not to mention the all too repeated yet inevitable phrase ‘what happened in Vegas, should have stayed in Vegas.’ I, on the other hand, must profoundly disagree with this vastly baffling majority. The Hangover Part III is a fitting final chapter that is far from ‘tasteless,’ and in fact even expresses some rather poignant truths about friendship.

The Hangover Part III wisely turns its back on the “what happened last night?” premise, and freshens things up with a new conflict, although it still involves looking for Doug. This time the Wolfpack assembles for an intervention for Allen (Zack Galifianakis) following the sudden death of his father (Jeffery Tambor) and a terribly public mishap with a giraffe. While enroute to a mental rehabilitation facility, Allen, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) are abducted by mobster, Marshall (John Goodman). Marshall orders Phil, Stu, and Allen to track down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) who stole $21 million in gold from him or he’ll kill Doug. It seems oddly hypocritical that series like the Harry Potter films are allowed to break with formula and get significantly darker over time, yet when a film like The Hangover Part III does the same, there is an uproar. Nonetheless, this new direction allows the characters more room to breathe as they commence an enjoyable manhunt that takes them to California, to Tiajuana, and of course, to Vegas!

Various nods to the previous two films are sprinkled throughout in enjoyable ways and even the Marshall character is fittingly introduced. Jeong’s role is substantially larger in this installment, and while his presence felt far too forced and substantial in the second film, he shines in Part III. It is true that there are not as many laughs in The Hangover Part III as there were in the original, but it also has a different tone where laughs are sacrificed for occasional moments of intensity. Nonetheless, the film is still a comedy, and the laughs that happen are strong and surpass the lazy unoriginal ones from Part II. In fact, this film minimizes its references to Part II to such a degree that this film could be considered Part II, and Part II could be a sort of appendix or something.

The argument for whether Part III (or Part II) was necessary is a larger issue that does not only apply to this set of films but to all part II’s and part III’s. Thus, on the merits of what is presented, The Hangover Part III is a successful and entertaining film. It devises a reasonable premise, offers a clever plot-twist or two, and even provides some insight on friendship. The latter part is perhaps the film’s least successful endeavor, as it pounds the audience over the head with various versions of Trent Reznor’s song “Hurt;” however, a scene towards the end utilizing that song does have a ring of truth to it.

Director Todd Phillips listened to his critics and detractors after Part II and gave them exactly what they wanted in Part III, yet his new vision is not being embraced. While the franchise has seemingly run out of steam, and a Hangover Part IV is incredibly unlikely and ill-advised, Part III is a perfectly good send off to these characters that deserves to be seen even if the “hang” is “over.” B

The Hangover Part III is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. While there is no stinger after the credits, definitely make sure you stick around for about a minute after the credits begin rolling.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

ImageIt is fair to say that J. J. Abrams is a man who has found quite a bit of success within the entertainment industry.  In fact, his name likely appears on the top of a very, very short list of encouraging up-and-coming writers, producers, directors, and creators.  While few milestones are left for him to achieve, Star Trek Into Darkness does happen to represent his first responsibility as director of a sequel and a high-profile one at that.  Since it is no secret that Abrams will be helming the most highly anticipated set of sequels of all time in terms of the upcoming Star Wars episodes; Star Trek Into Darkness has a little more riding on it than usual.  Fortunately, Abrams and company have done it again, in that Star Trek Into Darkness is nothing short of spectacular!

After a four year wait, the crew of the Enterprise is back on the big screen.  Into Darkness hits the ground running with a wild, stylish opening segment that reminds us that hot-shot Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) doesn’t play by anybody else’s rules.  However, this time his cavalier philosophy finally catches up with him.  Kirk’s chance at redemption comes at the cost of an attack on star fleet by a mysterious mad-man by the name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Harrision’s attack and subsequent retreat to hostile space leads Kirk and crew on an inter-galactic man-hunt that tests their strength, courage, and relationships. 

The film looks very good and while heavy on special effects, they do not overwhelm the movie.  Abrams shot much of this film on the lot in Paramount Studios, but he was able to use realistic staging quite often, resulting in action scenes where the actors actually were able to interact with the environment and be immersed in the reality of it.  A clear example of this is a fantastic fight scene near the end of the film that takes place on top of multiple levitating barges.  The actors filmed this scene on actual moving platforms, which aid in creating a very intense tone for a pivotal scene. 

A major strength of Abrams’s first Star Trek was the expert casting, and that remains so in Into Darkness.  All of the iconic roles are filled with performers who understand how to balance the legacy of their characters’ reputations with the modern turn necessary to freshen up the franchise.  Especially excellent is Zachary Quinto who plays a more sensitive Spock, while still preserving the stone-cold-logical element that all fans have embraced for nearly fifty years.  While inside tongue-in-cheek references are aplenty, non-trekies will be none-the-wiser and will not feel like they are missing something.  Nonetheless, Abrams does not let the notoriously passionate fans down and creates another film that will certainly have devotees reeling, laughing, and gasping at several carefully nuanced touches; study up on your Klingon!   

Star Trek Into Darkness is far simpler in story and scope than its predecessor, which may disappoint those looking for twists and turns that fans of Abrams have come to expect from his work on television shows like Lost and Fringe.   While straightforward and uncomplicated in terms of plot, it is a lot of fun.  The pacing is swift, the action is great, and the all of the humor works.  Star Trek Into Darkness substantiates the latest voyages of the Starship Enterprise, which will surely live long and inevitably pro$per!  A-

Star Trek Into Darkness is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.  While it was apparently not shot in 3-D, it was shot in IMAX, and the 3-D conversion is top notch and not disappointing.  See it in 2-D or 3-D, but definitely see it on an IMAX or Xtreme screen.

The Great Gatsby

ImageMay 10th, 2013 marked the highly anticipated release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. This film marks the fourth time F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glitzy classic has seen the big-screen treatment. It seems that in an almost poetic piece of truth, filmmakers have been reaching for their own ‘elusive green light’ in that no one has been able to cinematically capture the full power and prestige of the classic novel. It’s unusual for a book to be adapted to film every 25 years or so, but that is precisely what has happened. Alan Ladd played the mysterious Jay Gatsby in 1949, Robert Redford in 1974, Toby Stephens in the deplorable A&E TV movie in 2000, and now Leonardo Dicaprio steps into that legendary yellow car’s driver’s seat. Is the fourth time a charm?

It’s the roaring 20s in America and in the midst of America’s strongest economic boom in history, Nick Caraway (Toby Maguire) puts his writing career on hold and leaves the Midwest for the magic of New York as a bond salesman. Caraway becomes fascinated with his mysterious neighbor (Gatsby) as rumors about the man and his wealth circulate all around him. Nick is drawn into Gatsby’s lavish world and through him, the audience is presented Fitzgerald’s cautionary fable of excess, greed, and moral decay that lies beneath the surface of social luxury.

Fourth time a charm? The answer to this question is a complex one. The appeal to this film rests in the impeccable casting of Dicaprio as Gatsby and the choice of such a distinctive director in Luhrmann. Luhrmann and Dicaprio have, of course, successfully updated a classic once before with 1996’s Romeo + Juliet. While The People’s Critic was not that impressed with that film, it can be admired for its style and individuality. The Great Gatsby does not disappoint in terms of its style, which is no surprise given Luhrmann’s reputation.

The film chooses to introduce Caraway slightly differently from the novel, and in that commits its first mistake. The tone of the film is altered right from the start, and Caraway’s character is strangely identified as a flawed and beaten down man; he is introduced as a man clinging to sanity. Fans of the book will also be incredibly disappointed in some glaringly missing elements from the film’s final act. These changes result in a sacrifice of some major complexities within a major character’s past. Nonetheless, the middle section of the film is faithful to the novel and develops very well.

The cast is rounded out nicely with Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Joel Edgerton as her husband Tom. Isla Fisher plays Tom’s mistress Myrtle and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki plays the vapid vamp, Jordan Baker. Luhrmann is guilty of rushing the pace a bit too much when it comes to developing these characters, but this is likely because he knows the story swings on the hinge of Gatsby and Caraway’s relationship. Unfortunately the pacing does affect the film’s effectiveness. This and some astonishingly poor editing reduces the film’s overall impact. Consequently, Maguire effectively sets up awe and majesty for the appearance of Dicaprio, although the anticipated reveal of his character is not quite as satisfying as it should be.

The Great Gatsby is a story of mood. A successful adaptation must transcend regurgitation of plotpoints and allow the viewer to feel and experience the raw nature of desire and time’s fleeting nature. It is here that Luhrmann does succeed. The major victory for this film is in its capturing of the essence of the novel, the time, and the message. Bold choices from contemporary music, effective use of slow motion, and inventive camera placement make the movie exciting and at times, well…Great. I do, however, question the decision for executive producer Jay-Z to use four songs by himself or Beyonce in a film that so urgently attacks bravado, audacity, and arrogance. The Great Gatsby is the best adaptation of Fitzgerald’s material, and Dicaprio adds another iconic role to his ever impressive career. While the film is not perfect and will certainly provide some disappointments for fans of the book, the film does stand on its own as a determined, flashy, show-piece of entertainment. B

The Great Gatsby is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes. It is released in 3D, but it offers nothing by artificiality. Learn a lesson from the film and enjoy it in modest 2D.

Mud

ImageWhile some movies that Matthew McConaughey is in are great, few movies are great because Matthew McConaughey is in them.  Now, that may seem like a cheap shot (and it is), but it should be overlooked because Mud represents his best film and performance since 2002’s Frailty

Mud is a slice of Americana.  Two young Arkansas boys, Ellis and Neckbone, happen upon a runaway convict hiding out on a deserted island in the Mississippi.  McConaughey plays the convict known only as “Mud.”  He is charming and mysterious, and as his story begins to come into focus, the boys are swayed to help him fix up a broken down boat so he can meet up with his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and escape down the river to freedom.  Now if this sounds slightly familiar, perhaps you’re thinking of another slice of Americana where two boys try to help a social outcast find his family and escape captivity by traversing the Mississippi River: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The parallels between Mud and Finn are actually quite numerous, most notably that both examine the trials of a young boy’s integrity.  Whether or not director and writer Jeff Nichols is intentionally invoking Finn, he has nevertheless created a fine companion to the 1885 novel. 

The success of Mud lies in the hands of McConaughey and relative newcomer Tye Sheridan, who plays Ellis.  As the unlikely relationship forms between them, Nichols is able to weave in significant observations about fatherhood, childhood, love, and respect.  Protection is a recurring motif that truly sits at the heart of the film.   In fact, known for taking his shirt off, it is ironic that in Mud, McConaughey’s shirt remains on as a symbolic form of protection.  Consequently, it is actually quite significant when it is ceremoniously and inevitably removed. 

Mud is certainly no technical achievement and will no doubt be lost in the shuffle as the flashy summer blockbusters start releasing, but it is a strong resonating film full of the kind of tension, drama, humor, and realism Mark Twain would be proud of.  A-

Mud is rated PG-13, and has a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes. 

Iron Man 3

ImageI remember being a child reading Marvel comic books by the dozens.  I’m going to get a little nostalgic now, so if you’re just interested in a review of the film, move on to the next paragraph.  I’d go to comic books stores weekly to get my favorite issues and become immersed in the stories and the artwork.  The static images were vibrant in my mind, and occasionally as I imagined the action between the comic panels, I’d ponder how glorious it would be to see my favorite heroes come to life.  It seemed like a pipe dream, but now it seems that the day has actually come.  Iron Man 3 represents the eighth spectacular achievement in the Avengers vein by Marvel studios as they revolutionize the concept of the film franchise.  The cinematic universe that Marvel studios has created achieves a detailed serial nature usually reserved for complex television dramas.  The success of these films is often attributed to their effects and unyielding action.  Nevertheless, the greatest titles, Iron Man 3 being one of them, deserve their status because of clever writing and character development.

Iron Man 3 finally finds the suited up superhero, Tony Stark pitted against his greatest nemesis, The Mandarin.  While Iron Man’s battle with The Mandarin in the comics dates back to 1964, The Mandarin’s role in Iron Man’s cinematic adventures has only been hinted at in the previous two films.  Thanks to clever and creative writing from director Shane Black and screenwriter Drew Pearce as well as a superb performance by the great Ben Kingsley, The Mandarin was well worth the wait…and that’s all I’ll say.

For the sake of keeping Iron Man 3’s impact in tact, plot should be discussed minimally.  What can be said is that a new terrorist, The Mandarin is violently attacking America in order to expose what he believes is a hypocritical and offensive ideology shared by the American people.  At one point, Stark mentions that he “sounds like a Baptist minister,” suggesting perhaps that he’s using “crisis” as a way to force decision, a controversial Baptist philosophy.  It gets personal when Stark’s head of security, Happy Hogan (played again by Iron Man 1 & 2 director, Jon Favreau) is seriously injured in one of The Mandarin’s attacks.  There is much more to the story including a minor flashback to 1999 where Stark is just hitting his stride.  It is there that he meets bourgeoning scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and “botanist” Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), and again…that’s all I’ll say.

Iron Man 3 is a very smartly made film, and while it still addresses comic book staple themes like good/evil, identity, revenge, and freedom, an emergent theme can also be extracted from it – learning from mistakes.   Film series usually start to run out of steam by the third part, with few exceptions.  A third film in a series tends to be darker and excessive in regards to whatever made the first two work be it action, villains, or some sort of familiar formula.  Iron Man 3 learns from others’ mistakes and avoids them.  In fact, it can be said that this film acts as a “how-to” manual on freshening up conventions.  In scenes where the hero is captured by henchmen who are normally silent and sinister, Shane Black and Drew Pearce devise witty and even humorous dialogue that makes those scenes enjoyable.  At one point, Iron Man must team up with a child, a move that often results in schmaltzy sentimentality, yet in the hands of Black and Pearce it works.  By the end of Iron Man 3, it is clear that these film makers are thinking quite a few moves ahead and have no intention of letting the audience down at any point.  The film has fun with Stark’s Iron Man identity being public knowledge and various nods to The Avengers add another level of substance and self-referential fun.  Robert Downey Jr. has certainly found a home in his role as Stark/Iron Man.  This installment is his best as he tactfully and authentically balances humor, intensity, and sentimentality without ever missing a beat.

Other favorites are back as well including Rhodey (Don Cheadle) formally War Machine, now dubbed the Iron Patriot and Stark’s reliable CFO/lover Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  The other star of this film is the Iron Man suit itself.  JARVIS and the suit have made some exciting and enjoyable upgrades that are quite central to the evolution of the story.  Iron Man 3 is another excellent entry into an ever-blooming genre of film.  It is entertaining, gratifying, and most of all – clever. A

Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.  It should be seen in 2D rather than 3D as nothing is gained from the 3D transfer.  Also, as with every Marvel film, stay through the credits!