Archive | May, 2011

The Hangover: Part II

31 May

Title: The Hangover: Part II
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Todd Phillips
Writers: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong and Todd Phillips, based on the characters by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Starring: 
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Jamie Chung, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Callen, Mason Lee
MPAA Rating: 
R, pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images
Runtime: 
102 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 
35%

 

I went to see The Hangover: Part II on Saturday, and I left the theater with mixed feelings, to say the least. But before I talk about this one, let me rewind things a couple years back, when on June 5th, 2009 The Hangover opened. Right now we know the impact that film had on 2009’s film year, but during that weekend it was just a $35 million budget R-rated comedy starring a Bradley Cooper that wasn’t one of Hollywood’s finest leading men like he is now, but was instead a guy known for supporting roles in stuff like Wedding Crashers and Failure to Launch and for his role in the TV series Alias, it also starred an Ed Helms that was known exclusively because of his work in The Office, and it starred a largely-unknown heavy-set guy with a weird last name and a thick beard.

That weekend that film would have to face off against Land of the Lost, a film that came with a loftier and flashier $100 million budget and the tremendous starpower of Will Ferrell. But we now know how it all turned out, not only was Land of the Lost a colossal disaster, making less than $70 million at the box office, but The Hangover grossed over $100 million in its first ten days in release thanks to great critical reception and terrific word of mouth despite the lack of starpower. And it set new records on the way to becoming the tenth highest grossing movie of the year, too. It ended its theatrical run with a worldwide gross of over $465 million, making it the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all-time, and the third highest grossing R-rated film of all-time behind just The Passion of the Christ and The Matrix Reloaded. Not to mention that it got Mr. Cooper the fame he deserved as one of Hollywood’s most reliable new leading men, it got Mr. Helms fame outside of television, and it made Zach Galifianakis’ last name one on everyone’s lips, establishing himself quickly and surely as one of the most hilarious guys around, and with good reason.

Now, personally, I, much like the rest of the world, fell in love with The Hangover, giving it a solid A grade and ranking it as my 17th favorite film of all 2009. So it’s fair to say I was desperately looking forward to see what the guys did now in their second go-round, with the added pressure of a hit to succeed and actually having fame and expectations attached to their names. And, honestly, the result was definitely far from impressive, and while I still liked The Hangover: Part II a fair bit and think it’s a solid comedy, I definitely consider it to be somewhat of a disappointment.

And the reason for my disappointment is that when The Hangover came to us in 2009 we all loved it because it was a no-holds-barred comedy that felt extremely fresh and original. And this time around director Todd Phillips trying too hard to recreate that level of success made a cookie-cutter copy of the first one, and made this one seem like a safe imitation of its predecessor, not really doing anything new to break from the formula imposed just two years ago. And yes, it’s a fantastic formula to follow because the first one was extremely good, but at least some sort of variations should have been added. This one is just more of the same, and has me thinking that Blu-Ray’s and DVD’s of the original The Hangover should now come with a sticker that say it’s a spoiler for the sequel, because everything is just the same. And I do realize they tried to do more “edgy” and “outrageous” things in this one, and they do, but they happen in a situation firmly established by the first one and, moreover, when those more risky things happened I actually felt as though the film was dabbling in a territory that I thought was a bit too dark and uncomfortable for this film to be in.

Seriously, I won’t spoil the moments in question for you here because that’s for you to watch and judge, but I really do think that when The Hangover: Part II tried to up the ante with the first one, which wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place had it been its own film from the beginning, it went to places that seemed too dark and weird at times for this film, and that took away that sense of joy the first one had so much of. Now, I realize this all seems like I’m dissing this sequel, when in reality the film itself is perfectly fine and I’m sure many people will enjoy it, it’s just that it’s nowhere as good or memorable as the first one, and I wanted for it so badly to meet my expectations.

In this one it’s Stu’s turn to get married, so we see Mr. Helms being totally perfect at playing the guy who just wants to get married to this great girl he met after his horrible relationship broke off after that last disastrous weekend in Vegas, and wants to do it with no bachelor parties, no roofies, no Mike Tyson’s, just a plain normal wedding. But we obviously know that won’t be the case, and of course Vegas couldn’t be the locale because they had to draw the line as to just how much they could carbon-cope the first one, so the wedding has to be in Thailand because Stu’s in-law’s-to-be live there and want to throw the bride and groom (who the dad doesn’t really approve of) a traditional wedding there.

And while they obviously fail at their attempts to mimic the first one in order to recapture its freshness, this one responds with amping up the raunch factor which gets quite a few great jokes here and there and help make this one what it is. Not to mention that Ken Jeong gets a bigger role after breaking out big with the first film, which was good to see. But you can’t help but think that the guys behind this one just though that more of the same but with more money and more crazy locations and situations would mean more fun, and it really doesn’t, it just stays at “more of the same”. Fortunately, what we got in the first The Hangover was pretty exquisite, so the second servings we get here are still totally enjoyable, though less of a novelty great taste we had never had before like the first one was, but if they go for a third one (and the superb box office returns for this one’s first weekend would seem to indicate they will) then I suggest altering an ingredient or two in the recipe.

Grade: B

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Hobo With a Shotgun

30 May

Title: Hobo With a Shotgun
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jason Eisener
Writer: John Davies, from a story by himself, Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill
Starring: 
Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Robb Wells
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
86 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
74%

Much like Snakes on a Plane or last year’s Hot Tub Time Machine, Hobo With a Shotgun will probably be the year’s most self-explanatory movie title. Really, this is exactly the kind of film that you can decide if you want to see it or not basing the decision purely on whether the name of the film sounds like something you might want to check out. And that’s because Hobo With a Shotgun is precisely about a hobo with a shotgun, and it’s actually a pretty kickass sort of homage to those old exploitation films.

This one’s really right up my alley, so I guess I was predisposed to like it a fair bit. I mean, I’m not gonna say this is one of the top films of the year or say it deserves a grade in the A range from me, but I did really dug the whole look and feel of it, just this very grindhouse appeal (which is obvious considering this one came up from one of those wicked fake trailers attached to Grindhouse) and this relentless love for gore and blood and everything in between, it just made Hobo With a Shotgun deliciously easy for me to love because I like how crazy silly and cool this sort of stuff looks. Not to mention Rutger Hauer as the titular hobo is a joy to watch. You see, this hobo tries to start his life again by going into a new town, only to find out that the town he picked is a hellhole full of drugs and prostitution. And so he becomes a vigilante.

Everything here might feel super B-movie and campy and bloody, but that’s part of its appeal, our hobo even gets to fall in love with your typical prostitute with a heart of gold for chrissake. Everything is pure grindhouse gold. And this works because it doesn’t try to be all that much more than that, it knows it’s extremely over the top, and a true exercise in genre limitations, much like Rubber, the last film I had seen before this one. And even though Mr. Hauer is awesome as hell as the quiet and tough hobo and makes this one as cool as it is, this one suffers from exactly the same problem I found in Rubber, that it’s just way too long. And considering that this one, much like Rubber, doesn’t even clock in at an hour and a half that’s saying something. And that’s because these sort of premises come with a couple cool ideas to explore, but that won’t get you that far if you don’t have any sort of story to carry it through.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually kind of loved Hobo With a Shotgun, probably a tiny bit better than I did Rubber, but if there just would have been more of a plot to hold these insanely nifty scenes of cartoonish carnage then the outcome might have just been something spectacular instead of just pretty solid. This is very violent, and this is inherently silly and knows it, and I know it may not be for everybody, but when watching a movie just to let loose it’s all stuff I like to have fun watching, and this one actually executes it well. And yes, I have beef with the fact that this was just essentially a pretty cool idea that was stretched far beyond its limits to fit a feature-length film, but when the idea is “there’s a hobo and he has a shotgun and he’s gonna let bloody carnage loose on those who stand in his way” and it’s done by people who know how to make something as silly as that very well, then I’m completely sold on it.

So I see Hobo With a Shotgun as the type of film that could have failed so easily, but that it didn’t because it was well made and especially because it got in Mr. Hauer a star that’s so magnetic in this crazy role that you can’t help but just watch him go at with this sort of serious intensity that just completely makes this film feel real and all the more silly for how straight-faced he plays it. In fact, it’s precisely because Mr. Hauer feels so intense and serious in the role that the other stuff, which is twenty types of impossible and exaggerated, actually meshes in nicely with the film and doesn’t feel stupid but instead just feels perfectly over-the-top.

Last year’s Machete was the first film that spawned from one of Grindhouse‘s fake trailers, now it’s this one, and they’re both I’d say basically just as good. I mean, granted, they initially made it as a trailer for a reason, because it probably couldn’t sustain an entire movie on such a thin premise, but hey, at least they fill the gaps in with huge amounts of violence that just add to the rad little homage to a forgotten genre that filmmakers like Jason Eisener, who makes his feature-length debut here, are so eager to bring back to our screens. Now, I’m not saying we should be getting a film like this every month, but a couple times a year I really do find it extremely fun to indulge in a film with absolutely no pretensions, no subliminal messages hidden underneath the hyperbolic nature of it all, just pure caricaturesque violence that takes no prisoners and offers no apologies.

Grade: B

Rubber

28 May

Title: Rubber
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Quentin Dupieux
Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: 
Stephen Spinella, Roxanne Mesquida, Jack Plotnick, Haley Ramm, Wings Hauser, Ethan Cohn, Charley Koontz, Tara O’Brien
MPAA Rating: 
R, some violent images and language
Runtime: 
82 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 
68%

This is a film pretty much designed to split audiences between those who like it and those who hate and can’t comprehend the reason for its existence. And listen, I can understand both points of view, because Rubber really is one weird genre experiment and even at a short 82 minutes one could maybe make decent points about it being some 50 minutes too long. But I actually found myself appreciating the film, I’m not gonna go ahead and say it’s a film exercise worthy of awards or a legacy, but I did found myself thinking that the premise, though overplayed at times by writer-director Quentin Dupieux, did manage to create a very unique, and surprisingly decent, mix of horror and laughter.

Rubber really is a film that just goes ahead and tests your endurance for the absurd. I mean, it’s a movie about a serial killer tire. Just think about that and how crazy it is the sheer fact that they could squeeze a premise like that for an eighty minute feature film, it’s the definition of a film that you can only begin to enjoy by heading into it with the most open-minded approach you can muster. And to me just the fact that this film exists is reason for celebration, when you add to that the fact that it manages to exists with a considerable level of success you have to start examining whether it’s genius or just damn clever.

I personally considered the former, thinking it was a piece of genius work, but then I came back to my senses and declared it the latter. But considering your senses won’t come into play at all while you’re watching Rubber then it’s save to say you’ll think you’re watching unparalleled genius unspool in front of you. Because horror movies for the past few decades have been all about finding ways to scare us with things that we would find totally ordinary most of the time, but none of them have taken that concept this far. It’s about a tire, one that actually has a name (the credits tell us it’s Robert), and that goes killing people in a crazy sort of rampage. And the film makes the smart move of recognizing how insane it is and then adds a meta layer to itself in which it serves as some sort of commentary on film and which just adds to the insanity of what we’re watching.

And we get some very meta stuff at the beginning especially, we get Stephen Spinella’s character looking into the camera and telling us that in real life and films both, many things happen for no particular reason. Except he’s not really talking to us, we then find out, but instead to a crowd in front of him who’s about to watch a film that deals with what he just told us that some things happen for no particular reason. That crowd instead of watching the film display itself on a screen are all given binoculars which they’ll use to see the film take place right in front of them live. They will, of course, act as some sort of Greek chorus to us, commenting on the stuff at the same time as we watch it happen.

What they watch, of course, is the tire, or Robert as you may want to call him. And it really is fascinating at first to watch that tire just trying to get “up” trying to roll itself, and then discovering that it has the power to sort of telepathically make certain things explode. Things here obviously have no cohesive narrative, which is actually fine because the second Mr. Dupieux let us know in that first shot that sometimes things just happen for no reason he totally left the field wide open for crazy stuff to happen and for him to be able to go by unaccounted for any of it. It’s a cheap schtick in some ways because then it can do whatever he pleases without providing any explanation, but it’s also a smart one because you really can’t make a movie about a tire that kills people by explaining everything because you’d lose the audience quite fast. We don’t really even get to know why or how it kills people, it just happens and we have to along with it.

Everything that happens after we see the tire “wake up” is crazy, it starts killing small stuff and then making its way into our typical motel in which we’ll meet our typical horror movie woman about to get in some dangerous situation. And even though the narrative structure here sucks, the end product is so crazy and fun that I just couldn’t help but love Rubber, and even though I sustain that this would have probably worked much better as a half hour short, I still think that it was a fun hour and twenty minutes. Full of imperfections, that’s for sure, but who cares, we’re watching a movie about a serial killing tire, the second we agreed to that we threw out the window our rights to complain about implausibilities.

Seriously, if people tell you bad things about Rubber, and they’ll probably have good arguments for it, don’t really trust them and go see for yourself. Don’t even trust yourself if you read the plot line and think it’s just way too stupid for you, just go see the actual film and even if you don’t end up loving the end result my guess is that you’ll leave the film thinking about it and thinking about how interesting it was and how awesome it was that, even if you didn’t like it, a movie like this actually exists.

Grade: B

The High Cost of Living

28 May

Title: The High Cost of Living
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Deborah Chow
Writer: Deborah Chow
Starring: 
Zach Braff, Isabelle Blais, Patrick Labbé, Julian Lo
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
92 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
50%

The High Cost of Living is far from the best film I have seen this year, though it’s still quite good, but it’s one I feel quite lucky to have seen. That’s because this is a small film, one that I’m sure won’t get to be seen by as many people as it should, and the fact that I got to watch it is something I truly appreciate. Because for as many faults as this film may have had, and it had a few, I consider it to be a spectacular debut for writer-director Deborah Chow, who here directs some truly heart-wrenching performances and scenes, made all that much better because of her script, which was just beautifully articulated and that dictated the pace of this film in a phenomenal way.

Zach Braff stars in this one, and he’s obviously best known for his work in the dearly missed TV comedy Scrubs, a role which lasted nine years and that got him three Golden Globe nominations as well as one Emmy nomination, and as J.D. he got a huge amount of fans that knew just how hilarious he could be. However, if you’ve seen 2004’s Garden State, which he wrote, directed and starred in (and which was my second favorite film of that year), you know just how great the guy can be when given more serious material, and how much he can wear his heart on his sleeve and appear vulnerable in the greatest of ways. So it says a lot about the script of Ms. Chow that she could have gotten him for her feature debut, as well as her fellow Canadian Isabelle Blais, an actress who had a role in The Barbarian Invasions, the amazing film that won Canada the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The film is set in Montreal, a city that is shot beautifully in a way that gives The High Cost of Living a mood that really serves to captivate us and that makes it so wonderfully stylized. And the story it tells is an unusual one, made to seem plausible just because it’s so exquisitely written and acted. You see, Mr. Braff plays Henry, an American living in Montreal who for some reason, though clearly a smart young man who probably could have done all right for himself, has chosen the path of becoming a prescription drug dealer. And then one night as he’s leaving a bar while drunk, he goes the wrong way on a street and hits a pregnant woman and then flees from the scene, leaving here there.

And this is when the situation really gets quite interesting, and when the talents of Ms. Chow and her actors really show. Because, you see, the woman Henry ran over, Nathalie, lost her baby in the crash, and her workaholic husband offers no support to her in such a tragic situation. And Henry’s conscience starts eating away at him, so he decides he should track Nathalie down and see how she’s doing, but he starts developing feelings towards her, so a confession about what he did becomes hard. This is very tricky territory to go into, and even though it’s not necessarily handled to perfection it is still handled commendably well by a director making her debut, as she crafts a perfect observation of really complex human emotions, one that feels remarkably real in its urgency, though not as much when it tries to balance out the romance in it.

Even though I probably won’t give this one an overwhelming positive grade I have to repeat myself and say that I still think of myself as extremely lucky to have gotten to see this one, because stories like the one we get here don’t come around all that often, one in which a writer-director doesn’t hesitate to come up with a truly awful situation in which to put her characters into and isn’t afraid to just lay back and watch them deal with it. I mean, really, imagine being in either of their shoes. Henry tries to do everything to find out if she and the baby made it alive, slowly being eaten away by his conscience. And then you have Nathalie, neglected by her husband and, what’s worse, her doctor says it’ll be a few weeks before they can schedule a surgery to get the dead fetus out of her. That of course means that she has to go weeks with people thinking she’s pregnant when she isn’t, and it also means that when Henry finally sees her he assumes everything went relatively okay and neither her or the baby were harmed in the accident. Imagine being him, thinking that his foolishness at least didn’t do anyone harm and then finding out just how much it did.

There are a couple of tiny flaws in the structure of it all to me, but everyone involved in the making of this film really just wanted to pay attention to the drama of the story. We start thinking about Henry, is he doing the right thing trying to make for something so unforgivable? Because the whole film plays off the idea of when and if he’s going to tell Nathalie the truth, and every time he seems to be close to telling her she drops something huge on him that stops him from doing it.

The characters have problems, obviously, the relationship that starts developing with Nathalie and Henry, especially when the romantic undertones start coming up, seems too implausible for us to really lose ourselves in it. But it’s Mr. Braff’s and Ms. Blais’ abilities that make it much more than it should be, he makes a character that would be so easy to hate one that we can actually sympathize with and together they make the most of what they get. And even though this isn’t a perfect debut for Ms. Chow, it’s still one that shows some incredible qualities from her considering this is her first effort, and you can count me very much in for whatever she decides to do next.

Grade: B

Priest

25 May

Title: Priest
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Scott Stewart
Writer: Cory Goodman, based on the graphic novels by Min-Woo Hyung
Starring: 
Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Plummer, Brad Dourif, Alan Dale
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language
Runtime: 
87 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
17%

Priest looks quite cool, but that’s really just about the only nice thing I can say about it. I mean, genuinely, there’s nothing else going on for this movie other than its highly-stylized aesthetic, and while that part of it is admittedly kind of cool to watch it’s not enough to really make this one any sort of stand-out, and considering that the actual plot is just a big incoherent mess that pretty much tried to make a creepy version of a Blader Runner-ish film and ended up massively failing by only delivering cliché after cliché, then you can count me as a big detractor of Priest, yet another film that wastes the talents of the terrific Paul Bettany.

Because Mr. Bettany really is a fine actor, you look at the stuff he’s done in A Beautiful Mind or Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and you just know the guy is capable of doing very special work. Hell, even in more commercial fare like A Knight’s Tale or Wimbledon the guy has managed to excel, but here we have him in Priest, and he gets nothing decent to work with, thus the uninspiring result. And for all the praise I can give to Mr. Bettany, he should also be told upon for not learning from his mistakes. After all, Priest is directed by Scott Stewart, the same guy who directed Mr. Bettany in last year’s only slightly better Legion (which I gave a C to). In my review for Legion I noted that Mr. Bettany was quite okay in it, and certainly the strongest asset of that particular film, but if that wasn’t that much of a compliment then it’s even less of one now, because Priest is pretty much a waste of your time and money.

And by the way, haven’t you noticed that ever since starring in 2006’s adaptation of The Da Vinci Code (a pretty crappy film spawning from an even worse book) as the self-flagellating albino Opus Dei member Silas Mr. Bettany has been sort of typecast into very weird religion-related roles? I mean, he’s the titular Priest in this one and he played an archangel in Legion, and I’m guessing that there’ll be more coming, which is a pity considering how talented we know the man is when given proper material.

But anyways, let’s focus on Priest here. It focuses on a war in this alternate world in which vampires have existed for ages and the humans live in walled cities owned by the Church to defend themselves against possible vampire attacks. Mr. Bettany plays this warrior priest who has his niece kidnapped from him by vampires and starts on a revenge adventure to hunt down the vampires and get his niece back. And for a very little while here, this actually works. Because it starts off kind of cool because of the novelty of the costumes worn by these guys and because the special effects are probably the only thing that was given an ounce of thought in this film and they make it seem as though we’re in for a kickass thrill ride. But we’re really not, the novelty effect dries off quickly enough and we’ll realize that we’re in for a pretty bad film.

It’s just a mess. That’s probably the best word to describe Priest, mess, because it just tries to roll on full steam with allusions to westerns and church rebellions and martial arts and the style of the Korean graphic novels it’s based on, and it just throws this all out there without ever making it mesh together nicely, or at all even, and this film about church-loving ninjas living in an apocalyptic world not even Twilight fans could love falls flat on its face to never get back up again.

I am not, however, gonna give this film a failing grade. That’s partly because of two actors here, one is Mr. Bettany who, like in Legion, is far and out the best thing about Priest and makes some of the horribly dull and stupid dialogue here at least bearable, and the other is Maggie Q, who’s pretty good here as a warrior priestess, though if you really want to see her kickass in material far stronger than this then I suggest you go watch her TV series, Nikita, which just wrapped up its first season on the CW. And it’s also partly because I appreciated the look this film had, as cinematographer Don Burgess (Oscar-nominated for his work on Forrest Gump) crafted some striking exterior shots that gave this film a pretty good atmosphere to work around.

The thing is that Priest never really work around it, as the plot was unbelievably thin, the dialogue pretty dumb and the action scenes though stylized awesome did nothing to add to the overall quality of the film. Yes, vampires and religion and apocalyptic visions of the world have been all the rage in movies for the past few years, but it doesn’t mean that if you mix them all up you’ll automatically get something out of it, you have to actually make it something decent at the very least. And it seems audiences are getting that, as the film has barely surpassed its $60 million budget since its release and likely won’t gather that much more as audiences are jumping ship to better quality or at least better known summer tentpoles, which is good because that means that a sequel to this one, which was set up at the end of the film, will probably never come to fruition.

Grade: C-

Bridesmaids

25 May

Title: Bridesmaids
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Paul Feig
Writers: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo
Starring: 
Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendy McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Jill Clayburgh, Matt Lucas, Jon Hamm
MPAA Rating: 
R, some strong sexuality and language throughout
Runtime: 
125 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
89%

Bridesmaids is, without a doubt, the funniest movie I’ve seen all year. A lot is being made about it being the first real R-rated comedy for women, and it just may be, look at the cast and you’ll see some of the funniest women working today, and yes, women will, I’d imagine, definitely dig this on more than they have the most recent R-rated laughfests which have been unashamedly targeted at men, but that’s not to say us men won’t love every second of this film. Because we absolutely will, one that’s produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Paul Feig (who with Mr. Apatow created the classic TV show Freaks and Geeks), but that’s written by the exquisite Kristen Wiig with Annie Mumolo and that puts funny women in the forefront, and boy was that a long time coming.

It’s with good reason that a lot is being made out of Bridesmaids finally giving female comedians a shot, and the success it has had so far, both critically and commercially, will hopefully get this trend to continue, maybe even to the point in which we may get an R-rated comedy that’s also directed by a woman. Because Bridesmaids I already consider to be somewhat of a contemporary comedy classic. I knew I would like it because I’m a huge fan of Ms. Wiig from Saturday Night Live and because the women she recruited to star alongside her in the film are all just as awesome, but that it was this good I just wasn’t expecting, and if this weekend’s The Hangover Part II doesn’t live up to its hype then that’s just fine, because we already have our incredible summer comedy right here.

Ms. Wiig is the MVP of the immensely talented SNL cast, she’s the one getting nominated for Emmy’s for her work there and it’s for a reason, she’s just hugely likable and even more talented, and Bridesmaids shows that she’s an actress that should be getting offered leading roles in comedies by the dozen. Other than Tina Fey she’s probably the funniest woman in showbiz right now, and she has co-written a film so full of her impeccable style of mischievous comedy and crafted for herself a role so perfect for her that you can’t watch Bridesmaids and not be amazed by her talents.

And I love that this is a film about women, because people have long thought and said that R-rated comedies are definitely a males-only sort of thing, but here these women prove that it’s really not. We thought it was because the more racy subjects were definitely things for men, the crass humor or the fart jokes, but we mostly thought that it was because R-rated comedies dealt quite a lot with anxieties men had about women, and obviously women would never really get this point of view as successfully as men could. But then came Bridesmaids, and proved to all of us that women are just as adept about writing and presenting vulgarity, just as good at being openly funny with sex and drinks and, most importantly, every bit has as insecure as men. If Judd Apatow changed how men in comedies are perceived in the last decade, he may just have helped Ms. Wiig to do the same for women with this one.

If you’ve seen the trailer for Bridesmaids or the clips shown by the ladies as they made the promotional rounds then you’ll know the film has a scene in a plane when all the ladies are together. And the time we spend on the plane is what sets the tone for the rest of the movie, not only is everything that happens in the plane sensationally hilarious, but it also serves to show us the dynamic that will develop between these ladies throughout the film, and it helps to really win us over. We have already met the characters prior to the plane ride to Vegas for the bachelorette party, and we know that they all have very different personalities that are bound to be used to create insanely funny situations, and that’s even more true because they don’t know each other, just there because they’re all independently friends with the bride-to-be, Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph, another SNL vet.

But what’s best about Bridesmaids is that Ms. Wiig and Ms. Mumolo haven’t taken the easy way out and given us a collection of fairly predictable but still inherently funny incidents, instead they have devised a screenplay with such a sharp wit that it doesn’t play like that. Yes, the film is packed to the seams with moments that will have you laughing like crazy, but they don’t feel like they have been crafted separately, thought only to make us laugh, but rather they also serve a story, one that’s phenomenal and that will have you connecting to this group of ladies and not only laughing with them.

And this group of ladies, I’ll say it again, is truly a joy to watch. Ms. Wiig plays Annie, Lillian’s best friend and the one chosen to be maid of honor, and she’s perfect at playing this woman who’s suffering from failures both in her professional life, as her small business failed and now has to work at a job she hates, and in her personal life, as her boyfriend left her and now Annie is in a sex-only relationship with Ted who’s an asshole she hates and yet goes to get affection from. Ted, by the way, is played by the incomparable Jon Hamm, who continues to show that when he’s not rocking out the suits in Mad Men he can be extremely funny.

I urge you to see Bridesmaids, I know the posters and the title and the fact that every single character is a female will probably have a part of the male audience thinking that it’s probably more targeted to their girlfriends than to them, but trust me when I say that’s not true. This is just like any other Judd Apatow comedy, and one of the best ones at that, but this one for once gives female characters dimension, and shows us that they can be just as obscene and witty and funny as their male counterparts. I guarantee you that you’ll be laughing hard and often when you go see Bridesmaids, and you’ll enjoy how much heart this film has as well, because this film in the end is about the friendships that form between these women, and they’re portrayed by a terrific cast that have more than proven that women should be leading comedies just as much as men do.

Grade: A-

The Other Woman

23 May

Title: The Other Woman
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Don Roos
Writer: Don Roos, based on the novel by Ayelet Waldman
Starring: 
Natalie Portman, Lisa Kudrow, Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan, Lauren Ambrose
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content and language
Runtime: 
119 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 
38%

This is the fourth 2011 film starring Natalie Portman I have seen after No Strings Attached, Your Highness and Thor, and considering I have rated none of those in the C-range (I gave them a B+, B- and A-, respectively) I think it should be said that Ms. Portman’s having a very good follow-up year to her tremendous 2010 which saw her pick up the Best Actress Oscar for her sublime performance in Black Swan, which was my favorite film of the year. The Other Woman continues that trend, as it’s one solid little film that has Ms. Portman batting four-for-four in 2011 with Hesher being her fifth and final release in this year which I’ve still to watch.

None of those films get her to give a performance like the one she gave as Nina Sayers in Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece, but that’s because the role and the film didn’t require such a powerhouse showing from Ms. Portman, and she’s given the performances perfect for the films. In No Strings Attached, a surprisingly good romantic comedy, she’s super funny and cute acting from a pretty cool script by Liz Meriwether, and she’s just what the film needed. In Your Highness it’s the same, that’s the least impressive film of hers this year, but it’s cool to see that Ms. Portman can play a lazy stoner comedy and be totally game for the ridiculous situations she’s put on. Because her 2011 will be remembered as the year in which she showed he definitely had some range, I mean, a racy rom-com alongside Ashton Kutcher, a stoner comedy set in medieval times from the guy that directed Pineapple Express, and playing the romantic interest to a norse god in a superhero blockbuster. She’s done it all this year.

And she continues that trend of picking different roles this year with The Other Woman, in which she plays Emilia, a woman who just lost her newborn daughter with husband Jack, and is now seen trying to connect with his son form his previous marriage, as well as cope with Carolyn, Jack’s jealous ex-wife. And if I liked the film as much as I did, it’s essentially because of Ms. Portman, who delivers a pretty fantastic performance as Emilia that just elevates this film to heights that wouldn’t have been possible had it been left to rely only on Don Roos, who as a director leaves much to be desired and who as a writer, adapting from Ayelet Waldman’s bestselling novel, gives us a script too choked up with melodramatic moments and that leaves it with little breathing space to be anything more than that.

This really is a showcase of Ms. Portman’s skills as an actress, I mean she gets a lot of beefy scenes here, and comes through every single time, really letting us feel Emilia’s pain. And that is especially true in one stand-out scene with Lauren Ambrose, and in the ones she shares with Lisa Kudrow, who plays the ex-wife Carolyn and who’s the next best thing about this film, they are the ones that keep this film going on, and I think that if they had gotten a better director to guide them through it all then the result would have been that much better.

Not to say that everything other than the direction in The Other Woman is just great, because there are obviously other things that don’t work, but in a more free environment I just think Ms. Portman’s performance would’ve been allowed to shine that much more. But, let’s keep on showering the woman with praise for a bit here, because she really is splendid. We get to see how her relationship with Jack started via flashbacks, and get to see how fragile a marriage can turn after such a painful event as losing as child (though, of course, if you want to see a better portrayal of that then go watch last year’s terrific Rabbit Hole), and we get to see Emilia having a huge amount of trouble trying to bond with Jack’s son, and Carolyn angry at having to see the woman that broke up her marriage. And Ms. Portman does a tremendous job to show all of this, it’s not often that a movie’s main character is “the other woman”, much less one with such complex circumstances as Emilia, but Mr. Portman tackles the challenge of playing her head-on, and she delivers in heaps and bounds.

The direction by Mr. Roos however, like I said, ends up limiting this film quite a lot. And that’s not because he took this film to a wrong place, but because it seemed as though he was unsure about which place he wanted to take it to in the first place. Ms. Portman shows here that she’s dynamite at portraying these really difficult sort of emotions, but Mr. Roos for some reason just opts to show them in a way that feels too simple to feel real, and he takes away from her performance by doing so, not to mention that he seemingly never decides on the overall tone he wants the film to have, and it all feels decidedly unbalanced because of that.

There are some terrific scenes in The Other Woman, which is no surprise considering the source material is a fine novel, and the actors here are truly good at playing these scenes, and they all seem like really accurate observations of society nowadays, but for some reason it seems as though these observations have just been meshed together in a way that’s not cohesive at all, which obviously takes away from the end result considerably. And that’s what hurt this movie in the end, that at times it seemed to make little to no sense at all, taking us through complex roads it had no intention of following up on. But, hey, at least it did so with great acting, and that’s really what the film is all about, and because of that I’ll give it a good grade, because I did like it just fine, just interpret my disses to the film here as frustration about how much better it could have potentially been.

Grade: B