Saturday, 28 May 2011

'The Hangover Part II' Review

'The Hangover Part II' (dir: Todd Phillips, 2011), Cert: 15

Success can be an unfortunate omen. After the wild and certainly unexpected success of Todd Phillips’ ‘The Hangover’ in 2009 (which became the highest grossing R rated comedy of all time), it’s was pretty clear Warner Brothers and co were going to force a sequel merely for further revenue. Well they have succeeded – this year, the Wolf Pack is heading to Thailand for Stu’s wedding and another night of unremembered mayhem. Oh boy.

 Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Alan (Zach Galifiankis) are heading to Thailand with Stu (Ed Helms) for his wedding. After the chaos of the group’s trip to Las Vegas, Stu hopes his marital location will bring them beauty rather than brawl, but after a beer on the beach, things turn ugly again and the group have to retrace their steps and recollect their memories of what happened the following evening.

 Now like the rest of the world, I adored ‘The Hangover’ – it was so original, painstakingly funny and a fantastic twist on standard narrative storytelling; it was much like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ without all the killing and a cast in sweatier clothing. The original is amongst the best comedies of recent times and it’s certain a modern favourite of mine, so it’s fair to say I was excited for the sequel, even if it was a bit of a cash-in. I suppose I should have entered the film with lower expectations because ‘Part II’ is bad, very bad.

 It seems as though Phillips is still high off of the acclaim for the predecessor and so thinks it’s acceptable to basically ‘copy and paste’ the sequel – well it’s not. 2011’s ‘one-too-many’ adventure is practically a carbon copy of the first picture; it plays out like a dull, recycled check list:

·         Another Kanye West song – check
·         Another car case – check
·         Another city montage - check
·         Another song from Stu – check
·         Another ‘unfortunate’ drug spiking - check
·         Another scene with Mr. Chou jumping out at the group – check
·         Another animal – check
·         Another nervous phone call to the females – check
·         Another cameo – check

And so on. Because of this, ‘The Hangover Part II’ is not a nice trip, nor a funny one. It’s more of a ‘Please drink responsibly’ than ‘Let’s cause intoxicated carnage’, and I can’t help but blame the studio heads and indeed Phillips for this mess. Considered he co-wrote the script, he knew exactly what he was doing; re-writing the same script with a mentality only for further success, and it will probably work – people in their thousands will flock to see the second caper over the weekend and fair enough, I can’t blame them, but one can only imagine they currently feel like I did; filled with excitement and wonder after the first, thinking “How are they going to top that!?” I hope for their sakes, they aren’t as miserable about it as I am.

 I left the cinema feeling like a mother giving ‘the talk’ to a naughty teenager; “I’m not angry that you and your friends got blindingly drunk and did the exact same thing that you did two years ago in Las Vegas with pretty much the same climax, I’m just really disappointed”.

Still from 'The Hangover Part II' (dir: Todd Phillips, 2011)

 However, I don’t think the movie is as bad as some have made it out to be. Typically Chris Tookey of The Daily Mail has made the wildest allegation of them all calling it ‘The worst sequel of all time’ – Well it’s not, far from it. In fact, although ‘Part II’ is dizzyingly poor, it’s still better than half the other rubbish we’ve had this year, and I’m sure many viewers will gain a second round of hilarity and pleasure from this sequel, unfortunately I did not.

 The cast work well with what they are given and play their roles just as well as before but due to the awful, expletive soaked script, they don’t have much to work with. Just because this film has the most uses of the ‘F’ and ‘C’ word in a 15 rated feature, doesn’t make it funny – it makes it rather childish in my books. Phillips needs to get his act together and start making good films again or I will lose faith in him entirely. His last picture, ‘Due Date’ was ghastly, and this one is certainly is not good enough, but it is better than that pile of waste.

 I don’t want this review to stop people seeing the film – that’s not my intention, but I do advise viewers to approach with caution and certainly low expectations. There’s no denying this picture was made to milk the cash from our wallets, but that doesn’t matter as long as audiences get some enjoyment and entertainment out of it. Even though I wasn’t a fan, I wouldn’t ask the cashier for a refund with this film and I am glad I’ve seen it. I still love the Wolf Pack, but the real one – when they had heart, comedy gold and most importantly, originality. Round two’s group felt like imposters in Bangkok and their drunken activities were sadly not to my taste. 

What happened In Vegas really should have stayed there. ‘The Hangover Part II’ is a sad and unfunny replica of its gloriously brilliant predecessor.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' Review

'Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides' (dir: Rob Marshall, 2011), Cert: 12A

We have gotten to a point where a lightning bolt striking a tree is enough to symbolise a Jerry Bruckheimer production – no name is needed, just a glowing tree. That’s pretty much how the latest instalment of Disney’s mega-franchise, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ begins. This time however there’s no Keira or Orlando, instead Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are joining Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush in the 3D swashbuckler. Also departing is director Gore Verbinski and ‘Chicago’ (2002) director Rob Marshall has stepped in. With all these changes, it’s hard to see ‘On Stranger Tides’ being similar to its predecessors, but after viewing, it’s very clear that it is, and for me that’s a very good thing.

 Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) travels to London to locate a pirate who has been impersonating him and giving false information. His foe Barbossa (Rush) is now working for the Navy after losing a limb and the Black Pearl. Sparrow is taken before the King and asked to locate ‘the Fountain of Youth’ – a body of water that can grant eternal youth and beauty before the Spanish do. Shortly after, Sparrow meets Angelica (Cruz); a beautiful and courageous woman who he one had a ‘relationship’ with. She organises a ship and the group set sail for the fountain but unbeknown to all, aboard the ship is someone who all pirates truly fear – Captain Blackbeard (McShane).

 Now before I get started, I am a big fan of the ‘Pirates’ pictures – yes I know they are corporate and only induce further revenue to the vile machine that is modern Disney but I don’t really care. Anyway, onto the review.

 As I mentioned earlier, ‘On Stranger Tides’ is hardly strange territory – in fact, it’s virtually identical apart from a few new faces and locations. The latest picture in the franchise operates in the way that we all know and love (or hate if you agree with virtually every broadsheet film critic); the formula consists of great gags from Sparrow, dazzling special effects and a monumental score from the incredible Hans Zimmer, but in places, there are slight differences. Firstly, there is an absence of romantic weight amongst the lead characters – there still is romance but that comes in the form of a very attractive Mermaid and an overly smitten and annoying young man. Rather than constantly checking up on the relationship progress between Elizabeth and Will, ‘On Stranger Tides’ spends a lot more time with Jack and Barbossa who are both in pursuit of the fountain, but for very different reasons.

 The narrative to the feature isn’t as well paced as desired – the first 30 minutes are fairly slow and the last 30 minutes fly by leaving the centre of the picture at the correct pace. This isn’t a criticism of the story, as I believe this picture has a decent tale to tell, but it is a little rough around the edges. However, this is made up for by the character development which is excellent; particularly in the case of Scrum played by the brilliant Stephen Graham and of course Jack Sparrow. Depp’s pirate protagonist has evolved and changed dramatically since his debut in 2003 but his changes have only been for the better and that’s why he is amongst the best and most recognisable characters of the 2000s.

Still from 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' (dir: Rob Marshall, 2011)

 Marshall’s direction is sure-footed and executed with great skill. I was a little concerned when hearing he had been named director 18 months ago, but he provides the goods. Marshall is very good at capturing human expression and elements which is evident here. The camera does a lot more than studying character though so don’t fret – you get all the ‘Pirates’ visuals you’re used to. The cinematography is breathtaking and when mixed with Zimmer’s score, it’s pretty difficult not to melt a bit inside. Bruckheimer tosses the bucks around too for some incredible CGI and set pieces, I don’t want to give anything away but on a visual front, you will not be disappointed, and you will never look at Mermaids in the same way again.
 The performances are all very strong, particularly from Depp and Rush as the bickering and downright brilliant Sparrow and Barbossa. They have been the best thing about this franchise ever since its inception and that certainly hasn’t changed. Cruz is also very good as Angelica; the beautiful pirate whose presents a tough facade but truthfully, her wounded heart needs healing, and McShane was brilliant as Blackbeard.  He was a great casting choice and found the perfect balance between scary and comedic. I’ve already mentioned Graham’s wonderful as Scrum but it’s great to see such a talented actor doing well because he truly deserves it. ‘This is England’ (2006) seemed like so long ago...

 So, if you like the ‘Pirates’ franchise, you will love the latest, however for those who are not fans, chances are number four isn’t going to change your mind. Disney and Bruckheimer have come up with a winning formula that keeps bringing audiences alike back for more rip-roaring adventures with Captain Jack Sparrow, and seeing as I love these movies, sign me up for round five.

Visually stunning, wonderfully performed and exquisitely directed.
Yo- Ho-Ho, and a Bottle of Rum.

By Chris Haydon

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

'Attack the Block' Review

'Attack the Block' (dir: Joe Cornish, 2011), Cert: 15

Joe Cornish (of ‘The Adam and Joe Show’ fame) has put down his radio microphone and moved from in front of the camera to behind it. The comedian has taken the director’s seat for his debut feature, ‘Attack the Block’; a Sci-Fi Comedy Horror picture which he has also written. Cornish has admitted that classic 80s cult pictures such as ‘Gremlins’ (1984) and ‘Predator’ (1987) were major influences on this movie – seeing as these are two of my favourite cult movies, it’s fair to say that I’ve been excited for this film for a while now. Well, I went to a preview screening early last week and here’s my prognosis on the ‘Kidults’ vs. The Aliens (better late than never right?)

 A teenage gang operating in the rough streets of South London unexpectedly encounter a conflict with an alien race from outer space. The gang’s leader Moses (John Boyega) decides the primary objective is to protect their council flat block from invasion. The gang and some unusual ‘friends’ such as Sam (Jodie Whittaker); a young woman who is a victim of the gang and Ron (Nick Frost); a layabout drug dealer, team up and prepare for the fight of their lives.

 Many have compared this picture to Edgar Wright’s fantastic ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2003); personally, the only reason why I can believe people are making this similarity is due to Wright producing the film and the words ‘From the Producers of Shaun of the Dead’ plastered on the posters. Yes, both films have man fighting off a foreign foe, yes, both are extremely funny, and yes, they both star Nick Frost – but realistically, zombies and blind gorilla-like aliens with aluminous green mouths aren’t that similar, and I really can’t imagine Simon Pegg spitting grime lyrics and saying ‘blud’ or ‘still’ every 43 seconds, can you?

 But enough of false comparisons, let’s examine ‘Attack the Block’ individually and find out why it is the best thing on at the cinema currently and why it’s probably the best British film of the year, no hard feelings Colin...
 Cornish’s debut is utterly side-splitting, visually engaging and at points, surprising scary. This film is clearly budgeted; the now deceased UK Film Council helped production and the assured hand of Film 4 only helps but it’s clear Cornish wasn’t trying to remake ‘The War of the Worlds’ for the current generation. In fact, what I believe Cornish was doing was presenting a comic image of what we as a nation believe to be threatening, and then juxtaposing it by the introduction of something unfamiliar – something alien. We all fear gang culture and street violence because of the media and the horribly nervous society we live amongst; you wouldn’t walk through Brixton or Hackney at 2am alone would you? Yet, the thought of an alien invasion sounds pretty cool, but in reality (or in the film’s reality at least), it would be terrifying. Comedy has always been so close to Horror; the link is undeniable, so why not exploit it? Wes Craven’s hugely popular ‘Scream’ franchise did, as did the later and indeed rubbish ‘Friday the 13thand ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ pictures did and Cornish has followed this successful pattern and has greatly achieved.

 The real success story however lies in the flawless script – admittedly the lingo might at first be troublesome to the untrained ear, but soon enough the ‘BRAP-ing’ and other gang catchphrases will wash over you and then the true comedy will begin. The script is littered with pop culture references that are actually funny, better yet, hilarious – there’s no joke about Facebook just so somebody in the audience can go “I use that! They said about something I use!” The references are relevant and embedded in movie cultures, If you are a film geek (like me), you will be frequently cackling at the silly jokes and puns. Whether it’s a joke about ‘Ghostbusters’ or video games like FIFA, the audience are always held by the huge quantity of laughs.

 As well as buckets of laughs, ‘Attack the Block’ presents gallons of action that is ferociously entertaining and bursts to life on screen. The bright whizzing colours of fireworks being launched at the aliens, the high octane chase sequence (on BMX bikes and a pizza delivery scooter, obviously) and a Super Soaker that isn’t 
spraying tap water are just a few features in the action-packed Sci-Fi romp.

Still from 'Attack the Block' (dir: Joe Cornish, 2011)
 The majority of the gang members were ‘Average Joes’; all unprofessional and inexperienced actors, and because of this, their performances seem dramatically realistic. If you took away the aliens, it would be hard to determine which members are acting as their character and which are just playing a scripted version of themselves. Boyega is fantastic as Moses; he has that beautiful blend of “bad man” syndrome sporting a tough exterior and a venomous vocabulary, and then a tortured soul with a damaged and broken past that shadows his existence. His performance is spectacular and I’m fairly sure we’ll be seeing him again soon, probably playing a “bad man” again though.

 The other boys also give great performances, particularly Alex Esmail who plays Pest; he provides the majority of the great jokes and looks rather funny too in his tasselled beanie hat. Luke Treadaway supplies a large amount of comedy too as the majorly ‘uncool’ Brewis; a Indie stoner whose desperate to be noticed by the gang, yet he fears them terribly. His introduction in the picture is absolutely hysterical and it’s certainly the hardest I’ve laughed at the flicks this year. Whittaker is wonderful as always; she lights up every scene she’s in and you really care for her character – Sam’s had a terrible encounter with the youths but she just can’t seem to escape them. Frost is very funny too but he is in extremely comfortable territory here – playing a lazy fat guy is like breathing to him but he provides the goods and indeed laughs.

‘Attack the Block’ is a cult film in a waiting room – give it three years and it will be spoken about like ‘Shaun of the Dead’, like ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Predator’ because this film has what so many films lack nowadays; charm. Cornish’s picture is filled to the brim with wit, gore and inner city dialect, but above all else, it never fails to charm the viewer, and this is why it will continue to succeed long after it leaves the big screen. Now I haven’t seen ‘Submarine’ yet which I’m told is the “best British film of the year”, but for me right now, ‘Attack the Block’ has pushed ‘The King’s Speech’ down a peg and snatched the throne and crown from Bertie.

 If you want an evening of pure entertainment with thrills, chills and spills, look no further than this picture. It’s the most enjoyable and riotous film I’ve seen in ages and I can’t wait to watch it again. Regardless if you’re a Sci-Fi fan, or if gang movies aren’t you thing – go see ‘Attack the Block’; you will have a whale of a time and will be supporting British cinema. Do it blud, still.

Wonderfully original, beautifully executed and above all else, stupendously British. This is entertainment.

By Chris Haydon