The Huntsman: Winter’s War

April 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt
Directed by:  Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (debut)
Written by:  Evan Spiliotopoulos (“Hercules”) and Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

I know for a fact that I saw 2012’s “Snow White and The Huntsman” on DVD, delivered to my mailbox by Netflix (!) and watched with all of the urgency I could muster (meaning it sat on the TV stand for months before I decided to just get it over with). Perhaps best known for featuring a dull “Twilight”-era Kristen Stewart (as Snow White) paired with slumming Thor Chris Hemsworth (as Eric, the Huntsman) to take on evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron in a vampy ham sandwich performance) and some fairly striking imagery featuring a liquidy golden mirror on the wall, the first adventure did well enough (I guess) to warrant this odd, Stewart-less prequel/sequel that isn’t afraid to outright steal from things that are popular with the kids these days, namely “Game of Thrones” and “Frozen.”

“The Hunstman: Winter’s War” opens years before the first film, with dastardly Ravenna taking control of a kingdom after killing the sitting king during a magically-charged chess match. Meanwhile, her kindly sister Freya (Emily Blunt) has fallen in love with a prince and given birth to a daughter. Tragedy strikes, however, and when it appears the prince has killed the girl, Freya’s latent ice-princess powers are activated, and in her rage and sadness she exiles herself to the frozen north to conjure up an ice castle of her own. Please, stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Anyway, Freya enslaves children in her kingdom, training them as Huntsmen and forbidding them to fall in love. Two of them grow up to be Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who, of course, fall in love. Freya loses her cool, however, and ices things up (sorry) by making Eric believe Sara has been killed. He runs for his life and goes on to have his adventures with Snow White in the first movie.

Several years later, Snow White (played by the back of a brunette’s head, since Stewart doesn’t return) sends her prince to tell Eric he has to get Ravenna’s mirror and destroy it, since it’s killing Snow White. Or something. So he and a couple of dwarves (Nick Frost and Rob Brydon) set off on a quest to get this done, and are helped along the way by a mysterious stranger who…screw it, it’s Sara. She was never dead. It was a trick!

After 45 minutes of unpacking the backstory and connective tissue, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” finally kicks into the story and…it’s just not that interesting, and the blatant cribbing from other medieval-ish media is supremely distracting as well. Chastain’s thankless character is essentially a less-vulgar version of Ygritte the Wildling in “Game of Thrones,” and all the shit with Blunt’s ice queen borders on “Frozen” plagiarism so much you can imagine Disney lawyers drafting a lawsuit as the film unfolds. Theron, in what amounts to a cameo appearance, seems to be the only one having any fun, which will be true for the audience as well.

The Hangover Part III

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover,” “The Hangover Part II”)
Written by: Todd Phillips (“Due Date”) and Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

In a classic episode of “The Simpsons,” the hyper-violent cartoon show enjoyed by Bart and Lisa Simpson, “Itchy & Scratchy,” has begun to fall in the ratings. In an effort to salvage the show, network executives hold a focus group and, based on the answers they receive from viewers, decide what the show needs is a new character to shake things up. And thus Poochie the rockin’ dog with attitude is born. The viewers, however, immediately hate Poochie and the show deteriorates even further. Desperate to stop the bleeding, the executives hastily kill Poochie off, crudely animating his return to his home planet, a journey that ultimately claims his life.

If only the creative team behind the series of “Hangover” films had taken Poochie’s crucifixion to heart, we would have been spared what Ken Jeong’s insufferable Leslie Chow becomes in “The Hangover Part III.”

After the first film in the series went on to become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, sequels were inevitable. When “The Hangover Part II” proved to be little more than a carbon-copy of the original, it was a huge letdown, especially since director Todd Phillips had a blank check with which to push the boundaries of his trademark brand of destruction-filled comedy. Phillips apparently listened to detractors, seeing as how “Part III” is nearly a complete departure from the first two in the series. And not in a good way.

“Part III” opens in a Thai prison in the middle of a riot. As the warden cuts his way through the crowd, it becomes evident that the melee was meant to mask prisoner Leslie Chow’s escape. Meanwhile, eternal man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) loses his father and devolves even further socially. In an effort to help Alan, his fellow members of the Wolfpack, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), agree to escort him to a treatment facility in Arizona. Along the way, though, the group is hijacked by criminal kingpin Marshall (John Goodman) who needs the Wolfpack to track down the man who stole $21 million in gold from him: Leslie Chow.

To say “The Hangover Part III” isn’t funny is a true statement, but for the first hour it really isn’t trying to be. The scenes with Goodman and Mike Epp’s returning “Black Doug” are seemingly ripped from any number of generic action thrillers, with Goodman playing his part so straight you have to wonder if he even realized this was supposed to be a comedy. On the flip side, Jeong’s Chow, having already worn out his welcome all the way back in the second film, becomes the center of attention (seriously, he might have more lines than either Cooper or Helms) and the focus of nearly every joke, each one landing with a dull thud. If only his home planet needed him, we’d all be better off.

Identity Thief

February 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

Though Kirsten Wiig might have been the star and creative force behind the smash hit “Bridesmaids,” perhaps nobody benefited more from the films success than actress Melissa McCarthy. Not only did she have the entire country talking about how funny she was, but she rode that level of acclaim and popularity to heights like hosting “Saturday Night Live,” winning an Emmy for her work on “Mike and Molly,” and even being nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Bridesmaids.” Like many before her, McCarthy’s status now gives her the chance to jump from scene-stealer to leading lady. She starts that venture off in the new comedy “Identity Thief.”

When Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) notices that his identity has been stolen, he must travel to another state to catch the person who is using bank accounts. His trip leads him to Diana (McCarthy), a long-time criminal who uses illegal schemes to excessively spend other people’s money. When Sandy and Diana’s safety is threatened by a crime boss Diana scams, they must travel cross country together before trouble finds them both.

With the television show “Arrested Development,” Bateman proved himself to be one of the best straight-man comedic actors around. His seemingly normal character surrounded by complete chaos served as a perfect springboard for others to play off of him. What made Bateman so great, however, was his ability to find laughs himself through reactions and subtle humor. Unfortunately, Bateman’s post “Arrested” career has him stuck in a similar role to the Michael Bluth character he played on the show. Like his characters in “Horrible Bosses,” “The Switch,” and “Extract,” Bateman once again plays an uptight, seemingly normal man who can’t catch a break. In “Identity Thief,” most of Bateman’s purpose is to stand back and let McCarthy do her thing. Because of this, he does not get to showcase the comedic talent he possesses. It’s unfortunate to see a talented actor fall the victim to typecasting, but Bateman can’t seem to shake this particular persona.

In her first post-“Bridesmaids” leading role, McCarthy whiffs in the humor department, though it isn’t entirely her fault. Flat out, the biggest issue is that director Seth Gordon banks on the most of the humor in the film coming from the audience finding McCarthy unconditionally funny. Time and time again throughout “Identity Thief,” the audience is expected to laugh at the barrage of unfunny scenes and situations simply because it is McCarthy doing it. Simply put, it is putting faith that audiences find her inherently funny. It’s the same thing that happens with Will Ferrell. Someone pitches “Will Ferrell as a figure skater” or “Will Ferrell as a 70’s basketball player.” They skimp on quality, bank on people to find laughs because they find everything that Will Ferrell does funny, and end up with massive duds like “Blades of Glory” or “Semi-Pro.” There are more than a few scenes in “Identity Thief” that dig for cheap, lazy laughs rooted in a woman of McCarthy’s size doing physical acts or acting over the top.

Of course, the main reason why the comedy in “Identity Thief” fails is because of screenwriter Craig Mazin, who penned “The Hangover Part II” and the last two movies of the “Scary Movie” franchise. It’s hard to tell what the goal of the film is, but whatever pieces that are attempted fall short. The film doesn’t evoke the mismatched chemistry and build the complex and humorous relationships that road-trip comedies typically have. This also includes the few scenes of raunchy, gross-out comedy. The films few amusing moments come from clear improvisation from its two leads. There is a tonal shift towards the end of the film that features some attempts at dramatic moments that don’t fit. Even though the scenes don’t work in the context of the film, McCarthy is able to show her emotional range as an actress and proves that if perhaps given better material, she can really shine in a role that calls for humor and dramatic chops.

One of the more interesting storylines to follow with “Identity Thief” will be if McCarthy can prove herself to be a big box-office draw as a lead actress. Perhaps there are enough people who do find her funny in any situation and will devotedly show up at the box office for her latest films. While her time as a burgeoning lead comedy star is off to an inauspicious start, one wonders what she can do if she’s not forced to be the female version of Kevin James.

The Hangover Part II

May 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”), Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”), Todd Phillips (“Due Date”)
 
Trying to top the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time probably would’ve been a difficult task for director Todd Phillips to accomplish no matter what angle he took with the anticipate sequel “The Hangover Part II,” but at least he could have done something with the least bit of imagination.
 
Instead, Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”) and Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”) have taken the blueprint of the original “Hangover” from 2009, moved the story from Las Vegas to Thailand, and hoped no one in the audience would know it was the same exact movie just with fewer reason to laugh.

Back for a second round of full-frontal male nudity and man-child humor are Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha), four best friends who take a little trip out of the country for Stu’s wedding. Stu’s fiancée Lauren (Jamie Chung) asks the boys to hang out with her little brother Teddy (Mason Lee) so he won’t feel left out.

Flash forward to the following morning and Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up in a seedy Bangkok motel. While Doug is safe and sound back at their hotel ready for the wedding, it’s Teddy who has gone missing. Searching for clues, which include a drug-dealing monkey, a severed finger, and Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) naked on the floor, the wolf pack must find Teddy before the city claims him as its own.

Lazily written and with more of a mean streak than the original, “The Hangover Part II” will indulge fans who are fine with the same jokes and set-ups of the first movie. It’s a shame Phillips and screenwriters didn’t take advantage of the free reign to outdo themselves and their first outing. But when a script is filled with punchlines you already know, there’s not much to look forward to except a few special moments with Galifianakis and his shaven head.