Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the hangover, part ii

I can’t remember what I thought of the first Hangover movie—I think it was something like “not worth the hype, but passable”—but this time I have the power of blog to remind me in case I draw a similar blank when The Hangover, Part III comes out (which it inevitably will.) So, future Fiona: DON’T GO OH GOD JUST STAY AT HOME AND CREATE YOUR OWN HANGOVER, I KNOW YOU DONT REALLY DRINK BUT START INSTEAD OF SEEING THIS.

Basically, Stu (Ed Helms, mopey) is getting married to Lauren (Jamie Chung, the only likeable person in the film, making up somewhat for Sucker Punch) in her parents’ home country of Thailand. Along for the wedding is Phil (Bradley Cooper, all alpha male, all arrogant, mostly annoying), Doug (Justin Bartha, again barely in it and probably offended at that fact), and, unfortunately, Alan (Zach Galifianakis, reprehensible in just about every way.) Despite Stu’s best hope for a single, quiet drink at the beach, the three original Hangoverers end up in a seedy hotel in Bangkok the next morning, missing their fourth guest: Lauren’s younger brother Teddy. When last time around they lost Doug, you were all, “Aw, poor guys,” this time all you can think is, “These are bad people and should feel bad. Seriously, twice?” And that’s the problem—it’s basically like someone gluing random pages of the Wikipedia entry for Bangkok to the novelisation of the last movie and submitting it as a new script as a joke. It doesn’t do anything new—just replaces tropes from the old movie (ie. baby) with slightly altered ones (ie. monkey that smokes).

I can barely come up with anything good about this movie. I basically forced my spouse into seeing it with me, and now I owe him. Even the audience behind us—a target-market-packed cinema full of teenage-to-middle-aged men—didn’t really laugh, or react. There was some stilted awkwardness as Zach made racist and inappropriate remarks that were probably surprising and new the first time (“wow, people really still talk like that? How awful being stuck with him”) now being tired and just rude and offensive (“why the fuck did they let this guy back in their lives?”) Maybe three jokes were funny, like when Alan says sadly to his new pal, “I wish monkeys could Skype.” But it’s not a comedy, even though it seems to be billed as one. It’s maybe a melodrama. It’s definitely not good.

The problem with The Hangover Part II is that all the action takes place in the past. So Stu wakes up with a tattoo on the side of his face. Remember the post-big-night-tattoo scene in Dude, Where’s My Car? when Ashton and Seann
’s characters scream, “Dude, what does mine say?” “Sweet, what about mine?” for like ten minutes? Yeah, don’t expect that level of funny, but go YouTube that and laugh like it’s 1999, then thank me later. We don’t experience the hilarity and boundless energy of the night before, but have to listen to Stu wailing about how his life is doomed (which it probably is, and rightfully so), Phil sighing and trying to fix things, and Alan being the most crass person in existence. It’s far too much like reading about your overly dramatic friends on your facebook wall, except you’re stuck listening for two hours instead of being able to open up a new tab and read Cracked.com.

There are gaping plot holes and underdeveloped scenes. Paul Giamatti turns up briefly and steals the scene with a buzzing, ominous terror. Animals are used in the movie, something I’m becoming much less cool with over time
—it is never necessary to put them in movies. As far as I can tell, everyone involved seems to be pretty cool in interviews/real life, but they are not cool in this. And despite my usual wailing about dicks in movies, there are dicks in this one—lots—but somehow the way they’re used rankles instead of pleases, not because of who they belong to, but that they seem to be making fun of those who own them. Or, you know, short version: transphobia isn’t cool, folks, and you can’t pretend it is.

In summary: Below Expectations, and may make you want to go and get smashed afterwards so that when you reflect upon it, all you can feel is a dull thrum of amnesia. Thailand is beautiful and, despite them trying to make Bangkok seem terrifying, is the only thing that you may go away feeling affection for. If you are desperate to watch a whiny pack of assholes on screen for hours, just tune into the AFL instead.
At least some of them get punched in the face.

Friday, May 20, 2011

insidious

One of the first things you’ll notice about Insidious is the DRAMATIC VIOLINS that accompany the title, where the word INSIDIOUS is in POINTED CAPITALS that are somewhat ON FIRE. It’s a melodramatic beginning but makes you think yes, I am in for some down-home scares in this film, and people will scream. And both of these things are true. But what this film also has is Australian comedians and terrible makeup and a ghost dancing a jig. It is both a scary movie and a parody of a scary movie, but not like Scary Movie or even like Scream, but like if the movie’s makers—Australians-behind-Saw Leigh Whannell and James Wan—were writing a genuinely scary script, stopped halfway through to watch some Comedy Central, then forgot what the first half of the script was about. Which, you know, I’ve been guilty of before in my writing, but that’s why I haven’t made any movies yet. Because I hear movies are hard to produce when all you have in your pockets is $3.80 and five hair ties.

Musician Renai (Rose Byrne) and schoolteacher Josh (Patrick Wilson) are a young and attractive couple moving into a new house with their three young children to try out a different scene after some nameless stress plagued them beforehand. The house is lovely and big, but has an attic, which really, people in horror movies should think twice before acquiring. After an accident in said attic leaves their son Dalton in a coma that doctors can’t explain, things in the house start to move, creepy voices are heard on the baby’s walkie-talkie, and then, there are ghosts.

There are some seat-jumping moments, with faces appearing one moment and gone the next, an atmospheric house full of doors and creaks, and a sound engineer who knew how to make you tense. But after the introduction of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker, two paranormal investigators who work for wise medium Elise (Lin Shaye), then whole film turned into a quirky comedy, where Elise works using gas masks and ridiculous contraptions that look like they were bought at Toys r Us’ baby section, and Tucker and Specs constantly bickering in the background. They were genuinely funny and the idea of comic relief at that time was welcomed, but it never really regained serious momentum afterwards. I stopped giving a crap whether anyone lived or died because it stopped being serious and dangerous, and I failed to be scared in any scene from then on because of that.

The ghosts themselves were chilling when they were just glimpses here and there, but then it wasn’t long until they became real, corporeal things and also lost their scariness because of that. One scene that actually started out amazing, with someone walking past Renai’s window then suddenly appearing in her room in a scream-inducing way, ended with the stringy hair and pancake makeup of the monster/ghost/demon completely removing me from the movie despite the fact he actually physically attacked Renai and I should have been legitimately scared for her. When you got close-up looks at the demons they all had too much makeup on and not enough RAWR I ARE DEMON, and that, coupled with the rollercoaster tone of the movie made it impossible to regain chills. The one creature they bothered to add special effects to—creepy fingers and the ability to climb walls—looked exactly like Darth Maul, thereby looking like a cosplayer who stumbled into the auditions on his way to a sci-fi convention.

One good thing: while the husband (it’s always the woman who sees the monsters and weeps, isn’t it? Jesus) doesn’t believe wifey that there are monsters in their house, when she says she wants to move he does it to make her happy. While there’s a few avenues they didn’t take (why doesn’t he suggest a therapist, too? I mean, we know the demons are real but he doesn’t at that point) it’s a relief that for once the non-scared partner just goes along with requests instead of insisting that the clearly upset partner suck it up. Still, his late nights at work are annoying. What a jerk.

In summary: Below Expectations. There are scares and you’ll scream and the guy sitting next to Chris jumped even at the end when I spent most of the movie rolling my eyes. Maybe you won’t be as cynical as me, but if you are, you’ll be let down by the bad guys being too physically present, too powdery of face (even in the part when it’s purposefully done, which was a confusing scene anyway) and not doing enough hiding behind curtains. Too much of a change from serious to ridiculous caused a rift in the character investment. Despite all this, it’s still better than Scream 4, so if you’re at the cinema and have to make the choice...go see Thor.

Friday, May 6, 2011

paul

There really aren’t enough movies about aliens coming to earth that aren’t nightmarish scenarios, like everything bar Hollywood getting destroyed in Battle: Los Angeles, or Keanu Reeves having to be emotional in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Of course, all the nice-alien ones are all comedies, because it’s tricky to take seriously, right? And hey, I’m no scientist—for all I know, electricity is still made by catching lightning with your kites—but my opinion is that it’s a bit self-absorbed to think that we’re the only living critters on this great expanse called the Universe. And I’ll always be happy thinking that any close encounters would be more likely to produce laughs than terror.

In Paul, nerdy British pals Graeme and Clive (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, stretching their abilities) take off on a UFO-themed road trip across America, hiring an RV and stopping at all the premier sites—the Black Mailbox, Area 51, Roswell, and so on. Despite their open minds, it still comes as a bit of a surprise when they happen upon Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen, so casually he possibly recorded his voice sitting in a beanbag in front of his tv), a green, big-headed alien driving poorly and at speed to get away from the people who are trying to kill him—and who is aiming to get back home. With his car smashed, Paul hitches a ride with our heroes, and they belt away from agent Zoil (Jason Bateman, coolly terrifying) and his bumbling subordinates, Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio, respectively), and even manage to pick up a pretty lady when they rent RV space from religious zealot Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and then kind of kidnap her.

As a proud owner of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz on DVD, I did a little dance when I heard about Paul. Comedies are something I’m shamelessly and vocally thrilled about watching and I was sad that I missed its opening weekend by being overseas. (I know, I know. You feel terrible for me, don’t you?) I finally made it on the weekend, prepared and happy, but honestly—I was disappointed. It wasn’t as consistently funny as their other films, and getting from point A to B did occasionally cause the movie to suffer from dead time. The addition of certain people for the sake of cameos—Jane Lynch’s waitress for one—seemed to serve no other purpose than to have everyone in the audience hiss “Glee!” at each other. Graeme and Clive make some dick moves, like crashing into people’s cars and kidnapping an unconscious woman; they also didn’t have much of a background to work with apart from Clive being an aspiring author and Graeme drawing pictures. What are their home lives like? Are they in the US because they’re skipping child support or murder charges back in England? Despite being infatuated with Pegg and Frost personally, I couldn’t quite bring myself to get attached to them in Paul. Moments of tension arise, like when Clive confesses the reasons behind his anger to Paul, but then everything is defused and the movie goes back to its slow burn.

Of course it is a comedy, and they are talented writers, so I’d be wrong to imply there weren’t some pretty great laughs in Paul. While Seth Rogen’s weed-soaked slacker schtick is a bit tired, Paul himself is such an amicable dude you’re invested in seeing him return home. The realisation of the extent of Paul’s fame—the reason he looks like all the alien pictures around is because they look like him—is good fun, including an amusing phone call conversation with a certain famous director. Ruth’s turnaround from hardcore Christian to wide-eyed believer involves her getting up to all the things she missed before, including cursing at everyone in sight. And like in their other movies, Pegg and Frost do inspire a kind of cosy, comforting hilarity because they’re such everyday flawed and entertaining people who keep getting into comedic scrapes that happen to get caught on camera. Discovering who Paul’s nemesis The Big Guy is, and the final scenes of the movie, are both clich├ęd and unpredictable, cheesy and perfect. And as Clive, Frost, who can sometimes in these movies be that kind of pain in the arse friend that’s good for an occasional laugh but you wouldn’t actually want to introduce to that attractive potential spouse, steps up and makes the two heroes finally on par when it comes to likeability. Wouldn’t mind seeing Nick Frost be the one who gets the girl for once, though.

In summary: go in with less fangirl hope than I did, and it would Meet or possibly Exceed Expectations, but as it stands, it’s Below Expectations. That still makes it a good movie, because I was aiming high, but it can be slow in points. While I can’t fault Greg Mottola’s directing, I can’t help but wonder if usual Pegg/Frost cohort Edgar Wright would have added that hyperactive excitement and extra edge that those boys deserve. Extra points go to Frost’s long hair, but points are taken off for Pegg’s. And one star extra for making an alien movie—because, frankly, there should be more, and now I’m compelled to go have a Mac and Me/Explorers movie night and sigh theatrically about my childhood.