Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Hangover

By this point you have probably heard all of your little buddies talking about how great The Hangover is.  Shit, fully half of their stunted conversation is most likely quotes from the movie.  You smile and nod and act like you know exactly what they’re talking about, but you don’t, and inside, that makes you feel woefully inadequate.  You rationalize not seeing the movie by telling yourself that you’ve already heard all the funny parts anyway, and that Chad, Brad, and Clancy, have hyped it up so much that you won’t find it nearly as funny as if you had gone in cold.  (I know this latter emotion well.  I was afflicted by it the first time I saw Anchorman.  There was a point where everyone I knew had seen it, and subsequently told me it was the funniest movie ever.  When I saw it I had expectations that could not possibly have been met by any film created by humans, and was understandably a bit let down by the entire experience.  One week in January 2006, I happened to go visit a friend in Reno, Nevada during the worst snowstorm in some time—according to some accounts it was the worst since 1986, other’s claimed it was the most snow they had seen since 1916.  Somehow, two bands worth of fellow Seattlites also managed to get snowed in with us during the final leg of their tour.  With nothing to do, and nowhere in particular to go, a dozen smelly people camped out in a living room and watched and rewatched movies.  One film we screened every time someone else came around was Anchorman.  And from that experience, a deep appreciation of content and artistry was borne.)

The premise of The Hangover isn’t anything original.  Three friends and an awkward future brother in law (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, and Zach Galifianakis—who I’ve been told I look like, and I can’t tell if that was meant as a compliment or a slight) go to Vegas for a bachelor party.  Mischief and tomfoolery ensue. 

This isn’t Bachelor Party, though I certainly could have stomached a cameo by Adrian Zmed or Tawny Kitaen.  This isn’t Bachelor Party 2, or even Ninja Bachelor Party.  Two things set this movie apart from its predecessors.  One, we don’t see any of the wacky misadventures.  None of the participants remember a single thing from the previous night, and we piece together the puzzle alongside of them.  This is not the first time that this device has been used, but it is employed here to great effect.  By the end we feel like we’re one of them, we feel like we’re along for the ride.  It is an interesting way to create an emotional investment in the audience, and it works very well.

The second thing that distinguishes The Hangover from other Vegas films, and from other bachelor party films, is the level of depravity that the characters sink to.  It is truly impressive the depths they dive to.  I simultaneously want to hang out with these men, and weep for humanity that they exist.  Sure, we know the uptight dentist with the shitty girlfriend is going to get married to a hooker, but it is more than that, so much more.  Watching Mike Tyson air drum to Phil Collins is worth the price of admission.

I know your friends are wrong most of the time.  Let’s be honest here, they’re idiots that you only hang out with so you can feel smart, and feel good about the choices you’ve made in your life.  But this time they do happen to be right, The Hangover is really fucking funny.  You like Old School, you like Role Models, you’re not really that much smarter than your friends.  You’ll like it to, promise.  So, sneak away on your day off and see a matinee.  You won’t regret it, and your boys will never have to know that you waited so long. 

And don’t worry, despite what you think, they didn’t ruin all of the good parts for you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

Let me get this out of the way.  I don’t like Shrek, nor do I endorse any of the subsequent films, musical stage productions, or whatever capitalistic ventures created unbeknownst to me in order to flog one more shiny nickel out of that already overtaxed film franchise.  Shrek was boring, derivative, and predictable, and I have spent fully too much of my life defending my stance to the world at large, who view me as something between Idi Amin and Jeffery Dahmer.  Either way, I still eat people.

Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest 3-D offering from DreamWorks, suffers from a similar predicament.  Perkiness personified, Reese Witherspoon, voices Susan Murphy, who is about to marry dreamboat known as Paul Rudd, who plays a self-centered, low-level newsman with delusions of grandeur.  Of course we see what a tool he is, why can’t Susan?  It’s just oh so frustrating.  She deserves so much better.  Luckily for Susan, moments before the nuptials go down, a meteorite hits her.  This of course turns her giant.

After a brief, Godzilla-ish rampage, she is subdued by a super secret government agency that is so super secret simply mentioning its name is a federal offense.  For fifty years they have worked to keep the existence of monsters under wraps and out of the public eye.  General W.R. Monger, voiced by Keifer Sutherland, heads the clandestine agency.  While I’m happy that the wayward spawn of Donald Sutherland is finding work these days, he is really just rehashing the role he played on an episode of “The Simpsons” in 2006.  He was a colonel then, so I guess it is different.

Once Susan is captured, and rechristened Ginormica, she meets all sorts of wacky monsters voiced by various celebrities who are wacky and hot at the moment, like Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, and Rainn Wilson.  While I enjoy most of these people in other capacities, here, they all get annoying in their own special way.

Aliens show up and of course the only way to defeat them is to employ the monsters.  This is where we’re supposed to learn that just because someone looks different from us, doesn’t mean that they are bad, or completely useless.  I don’t know if you would have been able to get that point from the movie, it’s pretty subtle.

This movie is trying way way way too hard to be the kid’s movie that adults also like.  Movies like this are too precious for their own good.  Steven Colbert as the president sounds like a good idea, right?  That is until he whips out a synthesizer and plays “Axel F,” betters known as the theme from Beverly Hills Cop by my boy Harold Faltermeyer, to welcome the aliens to earth.  Really?  I’d try to blow us up too.  How about an Al Gore, global warming, An Inconvenient Truth reference?  Check.

Monsters vs. Aliens thinks that it is really clever, but it is forced and tiresome.

This is one of those movies with like seven credited writers, and lord knows how many scrip doctors and ghostwriters hiding out behind the scenes.  It feels like every single person involved had their own favorite few lines and tried to cram them all together with the rest.  The result is understandably a mishmash.  We wind up with a hackneyed story without any real focus, and flat, boring characters.  We learn all the appropriate heavy-handed lessons about believing in ourselves, learning the value of people who value us, and what true friendship is.

Like usual, if you’re into this sort of movie, you’re much better off skipping Monsters vs. Aliens, and watching whatever new offering Pixar brings to the table.