May 27, 2011

Viewing Log #8

The Hangover: Part II (Todd Phillips, 2011). Well, it's better than the first one, but that's not saying a whole lot in my book. The original formula is replicated here almost verbatim, the events transpiring a few years later and shuffled over from Las Vegas to Bangkok; The Wolfpack aims to celebrate the impending marriage of one of their members and agree to one beachside beverage on the eve's eve. Flash forward to morning, and their whereabouts are unknown, bodily alteration(s) have been experienced, untold substances have been consumed, and a chain smoking monkey now tags along. This time, the tone is more assured, the jokes are better, and the actors wring that much more from their respective character personalities (I'm calling it here: within three years, we'll be seeing Zach Galifianakis' own Alan movie). Best of all, the lynchpin twist xeroxed from the first movie - where is their missing friend? - isn't so transparent as to be called in the first fifteen minutes. It still doesn't tickle my funny bone that much, but the first film's unchecked homophobia is nicely countered here - maybe every wild party boy has a deep-seeded inner queer - and it's hard to rag on any film that wittily shout outs to the birth place of yours truly, Allentown. [Rating: B-]

Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011). In essence: great character, great actress, good movie. The label is Apatow but the trademark raunch plays second, maybe third fiddle to a thoughtful examination of personality conflict, easily the most substantive and irony-free yet in this line of comedies (okay, maybe not more than Superbad). Kristen Wiig is Annie, a middle class woman seemingly cursed to be single (says the movie, it's really all in her head), suddenly thrown in the spotlight as her best friend's Maid of Honor, a role coveted by another close friend with more than a little money and social status to throw around for extravagant presents and wedding favors. If most comedies of this breed are extroverted, this one looks inward, and it's actually when the dial goes to eleven (read: food poisoning scene) that Bridesmaids works the least. Wiig's performance will join the many great comedic thespians to have gone unnoticed at the end of the year. Paul Feig - directing regular on The Office and numerous other series - does his best to leave the stage to the performers, but one imagines that a little more visual spark is all that's keeping this one from greatness. [Rating: B]

The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981). Nearly thirty years of subsequent horror offerings haven't dimmed the impact of Sam Raimi's feature debut, the ne plus ultra of the Kids Stuck In the Woods genre. The film commits entirely to both the terrible and the hilarious, the result an awe-inspiring genre tightrope walk in which barely restrained laughter punctuates the inevitable one-by-one possession of our protagonists - college kids spending a getaway weekend at a rented-out shithole in the middle of nowhere - by the demonic spirits unwittingly released from their ancient slumber and now assaulting them from all sides. Scraped-together low budgetry rarely feels as artful even if there's little in the way of subtext going on here, although one can easily read the film as a loving ode to splatterfests of past. Bruce Campbell's starmaking turn invites both cheers and pity, but it's Raimi's keen eye (and ear) for audiovisual intoxication - best exemplified by some of the most absurdly, wonderfully protracted death scenes of all time - that makes this creeper a home run. [Rating: A-]

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010). Leave it to cinema's greatest living spirit to give the 3D format its first legitimately artistic live action implementation (admittedly, considering Avatar live action is generous at times). Having been granted special permission from the French minister of culture to film inside Chauvet Cave - site to the oldest known human paintings, dating back some 30,000 years, discovered in 1994 and now forbidden to all but a few researchers - the German director thought the format appropriate for capturing the contours of the cave (that's a bingo!), elements embraced by the prehistoric artists in their depictions of themselves and animals on the astonishingly well-preserved walls. Ultimately, the film is as much about its subjects as its own making. Confined to specially installed, two-foot wide walkways and granted only 24 hours of time inside the cave over six days, Herzog and his crew of three rarely have enough room to get out of the shot; all the better to experience the time travel-like mystique of the cave with them. Pontificating all manner of anthropological significance at least as much as he spends lingering on the beautiful Chauvet images, Herzog suggests that this site might be the birthplace of the human soul. It may not be the masterpiece I'd hoped for, but we're lucky to have it. [Rating: B+]


  1. The Allentown parody is the funniest thing in a film with few laughs. I disagree with you about it being better than the original; it's a remake of the first movie with far fewer laughs and an even more questionable all-White, straight male gaze (the Asian stereotypes are rampant). It did make me want my own stuffed drug dealer monkey toy, though. And I'll get one if it's the last thing I do.

    Fuck you, Werner Herzog! And Wim Wenders too! I wanted to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but it's in THREE D! (So is Wenders' movie, but I never liked him anyway.) There's no 2D version either. 3D is as useful to me as tits on a bull. I haven't been able to perceive it since 1985.

    Evil Dead? I was never crazy about that movie. I LOVE Evil Dead II which, unlike the Hangover II is a remake that's actually better than the original. And I love Bruce Campbell, especially in Bubba Ho-Tep.

  2. When I've searched for "Cave", Google has turned up 2D and 3D versions, at least they did some time ago. Of course I opted for the 3D, but I understand your case certainly. I hope one day the formats can be one and the same, the extra dimension requiring glasses, the traditional not, and no loss of quality between the two whatsoever. It's coming.

  3. Anonymous10:23 PM

    The Hangover 2 was just the same story recycled and made even more crude. Yes, it was good and funny, but not better. Hangover was a pretty genius comedy even though it's raunchy (remember it got a Best Picture nomination!) Nonetheless, the audience at Carmike 16 laughed their asses off at "Allentown."

    And I disagree with your B rating for Bridesmaids. Maybe I'm biased, being female and all, but that was my favorite movie of the year, one of my favorites of all time. Bridesmaids broke the record for highest-earning R rated female comedy, dethroning Sex and the City. It's a guy movie with a bunch of chicks.