Aquaman


Under the sea, a princess waits.

(2018) Superhero (Warner BrothersJason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park, Graham McTavish, Leigh Whannell, Julie Andrews (voice), Djimon Hounsou, (voice), John Rhys-Davies (voice), Andrew Crawford, Sophia Forrest, Natalia Safran. Directed by James Wan

 

It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has far out-stripped the DC Extended Universe for box office supremacy. There are a lot of reasons for that; regardless, the fact of the matter is that DC has a lot of catching up to do, and here’s where they start.

Arthur Curry (Momoa) a.k.a. Aquaman (although he is rarely referred to by that term) is the son of Polynesian lighthouse keeper (Morrison) and Atlanna (Kidman), a princess of Atlantis. Bullied as a young boy, he learns that due to his half-Atlantean lineage he can communicate with sea animals, control water and swim faster than a dolphin. He can also breathe underwater as well as on land. He is tutored by Vulko (Dafoe), an advisor to the king of Atlantis, Arthur soon becomes a kind of superhero, although he prefers very much to be left alone to drink beer and brood, mainly over the disappearance of his mother and his father’s sad faith that she will return to him someday.

However, the arrival of new princess Mera (Heard) tells Arthur of a power struggle going on in the deep. Orm (Wilson), his half-brother, has claimed the throne, although Arthur apparently has a better claim. Orm means to declare war on the surface dwellers and who could blame him, given all the pollution and damage we have inflicted on the oceans. Arthur and Mera will need to go on a quest to find Neptune’s trident, the most powerful weapon in Atlantis that has been lost for generations, if they are to challenge Orm and save the human race.

Wan is an accomplished director who has launched two major movie franchises – Saw and The Conjuring – and looks to give DC a badly needed infusion of fun. It’s no accident that Jason Momoa’s Aquaman resembles Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in many respects; the roguish demeanor, the royal bloodline, the affection for humans and the wisecracks; Wan’s no fool, and that lighter sort of superhero sells better in today’s market than the brooding, dark heroes of DC’s recent past.

Other than that, this is pretty standard superhero movie stuff; big battles, lavish special effects, the existence of the human race on the line. Aquaman is at its best, oddly enough, when Momoa’s charm is allowed to shine through; the big special effects are almost too busy with too much going on so that the end result is not eye candy but vertigo.

Heard delivers the best performance of her career as the agile Mera, and Kidman lends needed gravitas as Atlanna. There is also a subplot involving regular Aquaman nemesis Black Manta who is played by the underutilized Mateen, who is due a superhero character of his own one of these days. The wow factor is definitely here, but the movie is a little too long, a little too overwhelming. Still, where it shines, it really shines and Momoa is certainly an action star for the new decade.

REASONS TO SEE: Best DC film since Wonder Woman. Momoa was born to play a superhero.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets a little too artsy for its own good.
FAMILY VALUES: The special effects are on the busy side.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to director James Wan, the octopus playing drums during the duel between Orm and Arthur is Topo, Aquaman’s sidekick during the 50s and 60s. Wan figured that if Mad Max: Fury Road could have flame-throwing guitars, he could have an octo-drummer.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Now, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews, Metacritic: 55/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Waterworld
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Capital in the 21st Century

Hank and Asha


The movie fails to explore Asha's alcohol issues, alas.

The movie fails to explore Asha’s alcohol issues, alas.

(2013) Romance (FilmRise) Mahira Kakkar, Andrew Pastides, Brian Sloan, Ken Butler, Brian Patrick Murphy, Robyn Kerr, Jean-Baptiste Moreau, Samuel Beckwith, Margot Duff, Jiri Dular, Vaiva Katinaityte, Anna Tydlitatova, Bianca Butti. Directed by James E. Duff

In the 21st century courtship is changing. Once upon a time everything was done face to face. Long distance romance involved writing letters which took days to arrive. Yes, the dark ages of the 1980s when computers were just becoming prevalent in society we resorted to phone calls and letters, as well as actual dates. These days, our communication methods have changed as our technology as changed. Video calls, e-mails and social media have replaced earlier means of communication and thus courtship as well. We get to know each other in different ways than we once did.

Hank (Pastides) is a young man from North Carolina who moved to New York to pursue a career in film making. He managed to make a documentary about ballroom dancing that is making the rounds at festivals around the world, but his main income comes from being a production assistant on a reality show in which spoiled rich kids change their identities for a day. Mainly he sits in a van waiting for his walkie talky to summon him to fetch coffee or chauffeur cast or crew.

Asha (Kakkar) is a woman of Indian background who is studying film in Prague. She caught Hank’s documentary at a film festival there and was much taken by it. She had hoped that he would be present for a Q&A afterwards and was disappointed that he was not, so she decided to ask him a few questions anyway via video mail. She is very pleased to find out he’s a handsome young man and not, as she puts it, a crusty old documentarian which is what she assumed he was.

Hank responds in kind, answering her questions and asking a few of his own. Soon they are corresponding regularly and giving each other video tours of their apartments, of Asha’s film school and Hank’s “office” (the van he drives). They become friends, looking forward to their messages and becoming concerned when there are gaps in the other’s replies. The friendship begins to deepen as they start to make plans to meet in Paris, a place Asha has always wanted to visit. However, like most relationships, making it to Paris requires that a big dose of reality has to be addressed first.

I found the structure of the movie somewhat innovative – basically the movie consists of the exchanged video messages. At no point do the two ever converse directly with each other via video chat, which seems to be something Asha is reluctant to do after Hank suggests it early on. We find out why later on, but that does add a degree of difficulty to the movie in that it becomes something of a found footage romance. Keeping it interesting can be a challenge but the filmmakers actually manage to do that, engaging in a commentary on modern romance via technology along the way.

Hank and Asha make an engaging couple. They mesh well together and are exceedingly cute, not only physically. Asha has a sweet smile and her expression as she samples world famous Czech beer is absolutely precious – beer is most definitely an acquired taste, even excellent beer. There haven’t been many instances I’m aware of where someone tasted beer for the first time and exclaimed “Wow! That’s really delicious!”

For his part, Pastides is a charismatic presence. His face is very expressive and at times he’s required to express frustration, confusion, hurt and goofy charm and often does so wordlessly. He has a sequence that’s essentially a take-off on the Tom Cruise dance from Risky Business that is lovely, although it does go on a bit too long.

The problem with the movie is that it’s essentially an hour and a half of, if you’ll forgive the use of an industry term, meet cute. Montages of them travelling around their respective cities set to jangly indie rock is a bit cliche and a bit of a cheat as well, even though these are sequences supposedly created by Hank and Asha themselves. I found that they stop the movie in their tracks and forced me to grouse about indie film cliches until the movie resumed its conversational tone.

Another thing I would have liked to have seen is the two characters reveal a bit more about themselves. Of course, that might be a point the filmmakers are trying to get across – that modern technology puts up different kinds of walls, allowing us to show only our surface selves and nothing of who we truly are. And that’s a perfectly valid point, to be sure. Yes, Hank talks about his relationship with his parents and Asha has a brief moment where she feels like she doesn’t belong because she’s the only Indian student in the school and so she’s completely out of place but those are fleeting insights and are not really followed up upon. We never truly see Hank and Asha with any depth and quite frankly, the surface aspects of both of them are so engaging that I would have liked to get to know them better. Alas, that is the curse of modern life I suppose.

REASONS TO GO: The couple is utterly adorable. Nice commentary on modern romance.
REASONS TO STAY: Descends into the realm of too cute occasionally..
FAMILY VALUES:  Some mild language and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hank and Asha debuted at Slamdance in the dramatic film competition.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Same Time Next Year
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Skin I Live In

Gut


Jason Vail likes to watch.

Jason Vail likes to watch.

(2012) Horror (Gut Productions) Jason Vail, Nicholas Wilder, Sarah Schoofs, Kirstianna Mueller, Kaitlyn Mueller, Angie Bullaro, Ria Burns-Wilder, Leisa Haddad, Misty Gonzalez, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Karl Pfeiffer, Jordan Sariego, Christine Kadets, Deborah J. Atuk, J. Brett Rose, Heather Lattuca Ferrari, Frank Pelligra, Antonia Roman. Directed by Elias. 

There are things in our personality that we aren’t proud of. It might be a quick temper, or a tendency towards procrastination. Sometimes they are dark sides of our nature, something that we can’t share with anyone but a select few.

Tom (Vail) has a pretty decent life all things considered. He has a job albeit not a very good one, but his closest friend Dan (Wilder) works with him. The two have a shared love for horror flicks, the darker the better. But since Tom got married he and Dan have been drifting apart.

And why wouldn’t Tom start drifting away? His wife Lily (Schoofs) is amazing, very into sex and supportive. Their daughter Katie (the Mueller twins) loves her daddy very much. It’s a pretty good life, with a better one in their sights; Katie and Tom are thinking of moving away where they can get a better home and a better job for Tom. Besides, Dan has gotten a bit…clingy.

The two have lunch together nearly every day at a local diner. Not because the food is so great but Dan is sweet on Sally (Bullaro), a waitress there. Dan whines about Tom paying less attention to him and eventually Tom agrees to drop by and watch a video with him.

So one night Tom goes over to hang out with Dan in his apartment and Dan pulls out this DVD he’s purchased from the Internet and it’s freaking creepy. It’s a naked woman strapped to a table. Her cries are muffled.  A pair of hands in surgical gloves rubs up and down her torso before producing a wicked looking knife and cutting her open. Her cries slowly fade away as she bleeds out….after which those surgically gloved hands go inside her body, rooting away in an almost erotic, loving fashion.

So is the tape real? Both Tom and Dan seem to think it is. Tom is at first appalled and tells Dan not to order any more of those sorts of DVDs anymore. But despite his protests, Tom is secretly mesmerized by the images. And turned on by them. Sex with Lily has become less exciting and no matter what she does he finds himself unable to be stimulated unless he is thinking about those images.

As you can expect Dan gets more tapes of similar types and it is plain both men have become obsessed. Dan is missing work and Tom, well Tom and Lily are beginning to have problems. Even roughhousing with Katie is bringing images of blood on her bare torso to Tom’s mind. He can’t seem to get those images out of his head, even though he knows its wrong.

But as they inevitably do, things spiral out of control and both men begin to suspect that each of them may be the one taking these movies. Who is behind it? And what was Tom doing at the beginning of the film?

This is a disturbing psychological horror film. While there is some blood, there isn’t an overabundance of it. The theme is more about obsession with death than it is about actual death, and about the eroticism of horror.

The movie is very starkly filmed. Possibly that’s because of the low budget but I think it might also be intentional. The feel is almost clinical in some ways, which makes the horror even more intense. Adding to that sterility is the flat performances of the actors who at times seem to lack any emotion. Is it a commentary on how numb our society has gotten? I like to think it is.

This is both social commentary and horror – the eroticism of death and the general desensitized populace that is modern Western society. The problem with horror films in 2013 is that they have a hard time competing with the real horrors that we see every day – gunmen opening fire on schools, whack jobs planting bombs at popular and prestigious events, planes full of gasoline being flown deliberately into buildings full of people, terrorists strapping bombs to their chest and setting them off on city buses. How is a vampire or a werewolf compete with that when there are monsters everywhere with human faces?

Gut actually explores that a little bit and modestly at that. I found it to be disturbing and provocative and, if you’ll pardon the pun, a cut above most horror films that are out there.

NOTE: Gut is being released on DVD on May 28. Click on the photo above to go to their home page and find out a little bit more about it, or to stream the movie from several online sources.

REASONS TO GO: Unnerving. Clinical view of horror makes it more intense.

REASONS TO STAY: A curious emotional flatness to nearly all the characters.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some gore, quite a bit of graphic nudity and sexuality and a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Played last year’s Orlando Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/6/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet; while not a lot of mainstream critics have seen this (and those who have didn’t like it much), the underground horror press has been raving about this one for some time.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Videodrome

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Pain & Gain

The Watch


 

The Watch

Ben Stiller finds another teen who thought Night at the Museum sucked.

(2012) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, Mel Rodriguez, Doug Jones, Erin Moriarty, Nicholas Braun, R. Lee Ermey, Joe Nunez, Liz Cackowski, Johnny Pemberton, Billy Crudup, Sharon Gee. Directed by Akiva Schaffer

 

There are things that define a neighborhood that we seem to have lost sight of for the most part in the 21st century. Neighborhoods were once places where neighbors looked out for one another; where we shared lives with those who lived around us. Those kinds of neighborhoods are becoming increasingly rare.

Not in Glenview, Ohio though and that’s why Evan (Stiller) loves it so much there. He and his wife Abby (DeWitt) emigrated from New York to escape the cold, impersonal big city life and find a place where they could raise their children the right way – not that they have any children quite yet but they’re working on it.

When a security guard (Nunez) is gruesomely murdered in the Costco that Evan is managing, that galvanizes Evan. He has already founded a running club and a Spanish club in his neighborhood; now it’s time for something a little more useful – a neighborhood watch. The police, in the person of Sgt. Bressman (Forte), are doing little to find the killer and in fact Bressman thinks Evan is a strong suspect.

However, his neighborhood is less enthusiastic – only three other guys show up to the meeting that he calls. Bob (Vaughn) is a contractor with an epic man-cave who sees the Watch as an opportunity to hang out with the guys and drink plenty of beer. Franklin (Hill) is a bit of a nutcase who failed the psychological tests in order to join the Glenview Police Department; he lives with his mom and longs for police-like action. Then there’s Jamarcus (Ayoade) who sees the Neighborhood Watch as a means to meet women. Not exactly the battalion of crime fighters Evan was looking for.

Still, they are at least willing to play along for the most part, although much of their crime work has beer involved, and much talk of male penises. Bob and Evan start to bond in an odd way; Evan confesses that the reason he and Abby haven’t been able to conceive a child is because he’s sterile; Bob expresses his frustration over his teenage daughter Chelsea’s (Moriarty) increasing infatuation for Jason (Braun), a super-arrogant teen with designs on just one thing – the thing most teenage boys have designs on.

In the meantime, their investigation is leading them to the killer – and that killer isn’t local. And by not local, I mean not of this earth. When their beloved Glenview looks to be ground zero for an alien invasion, can these four screw-ups suck it up and become earth’s last line of defense?

Veteran SNL director Schaffer has a script co-written by Seth Rogen to work from but this isn’t one of his better efforts. Mostly what the problem is here is the unevenness. The movie has some genuinely funny moments, but not of the sort that will leave you sore from laughter as the better comedies will. The sci-fi aspects are for the most part pretty cheesy; why does every alien have to have lime green goo dripping from them? Just saying.

In any case, the two don’t mix well. At times we have some pretty odd moments of a joke in the middle of a serious scene that cheapens the drama; at others, a more dramatic episode in the middle of some of the more really funny moments. The effect is to keep the audience off-balance and not in a good way.

Stiller, Hill, Ayoade and particularly Vaughn are some of the most talented comic actors on the planet and they actually perform pretty well here. Vaughn is memorable even though his shtick is pretty much the same one he usually uses – the loud and aggressive manly sort with a heart of gold – we see the latter most clearly in his relationship with his daughter which is, as most dad-teenage daughter relationships are is a bit on the love-hate side. However, the relationship is depicted here a bit simplistically.

And what’s the deal with all the phallic references? There are so many references to the male sex organ that you have to wonder if there’s some sort of fetish being played out here. Hey, I’m as proud of my equipment as the next guy but sheez, I don’t feel the need to mention it quite so often.

So what we have here is a sci-fi comedy with some talented people in it (and lest we forget, the very sexy DeWitt who has some nice moments here) and simply not living up to its own potential. As much as I like Vaughn, Stiller and company, I think that talent like theirs deserves more than just an onslaught of dick jokes to deliver. So do we.

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments. Vaughn is one of my favorite comic actors at the moment.  

REASONS TO STAY: Much of the humor feels forced. Serious and funny stuff don’t flow well, leading to some jarring moments.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of sexual content and a bit of sci-fi violence. The language is universally foul.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled Neighborhood Watch but the title was changed due to sensitivity over the Trayvon Martin shooting.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/30/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 15% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100. The reviews are uniformly negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Night at the Museum

COSTCO LOVERS: Evan is the manager at the Costco and the climax takes place there; as you might expect there are several jokes about bulk buying throughout the film.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Sympathy for Delicious

Ted


Ted

When W.C. Fields said never act with children or animals, he couldn’t possibly have had Ted in mind.

(2012) Comedy (Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Patrick Warburton, Jessica Barth, Laura Vandervoort, Sam J. Jones, Joel McHale, Matt Walsh, Norah Jones, Bill Smitrovich, Patrick Stewart (narrator), Tom Skerritt. Directed by Seth MacFarlane

 

Wishes can be tricky things. We may think we want something, but we rarely think through the consequences of actually getting it. We are so rarely prepared to get exactly what we want.

Young John Bennett is a lonely, outcast little boy in the suburbs of Boston. He’s so despised by the kids of his neighborhood that even the Jewish kids undergoing a beating from the other kids in the neighborhood don’t want him to join in. One Christmas he gets a Teddy Bear the size of a toddler, one who says “I love you” whenever you press the right button; well, the only button. John is enchanted. He loves his new friend – he just wishes that his new friend were real and would be his friend forever. Lo and behold, he gets his wish.

Of course, that takes the world by surprise. After all, who the hell gets their wishes to come true? Ted (MacFarlane) becomes a minor celebrity, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (and cracking him up). But much like all celebrity, it fades – ask Corey Feldman and soon life turns back to normal for the kid and his living teddy bear.

Flash forward to 2012. John (Wahlberg) is 35 now, still living with Ted but also living with Lori Collins (Kunis), his super-hottie of a girlfriend. She’s a VP at a marketing firm; he works the counter at a rental car agency (I’d love to find out the story of how the two hooked up, but it’s not in this movie). They’ve been going together for four years and she’s ready to move on to the next step but John is in no hurry. Besides, he’s still spending as much time doing weed and drinking beer with Ted.

This doesn’t sit well with Lori who wants more of a boyfriend than an ambition-challenged slacker with a teddy bear. She’s had to fend off the advances of her boss (McHale) and defend him to all and sundry and at last it’s time for Ted to go. Reluctantly, John tells his bear to go and although Ted isn’t happy about it, he makes the best of it, getting a job at the local grocery store and banging the attractive check-out clerk Tami-Lynn (Barth) on the produce pile in the back for kickers.

Still, even that doesn’t seem to motivate John to grow up, blowing off an important event for Lori to go party with their idol Sam J. Jones – Flash Gordon himself, playing himself – at Ted’s new apartment. That night goes terribly wrong and Lori and John split up. John realizes how much he loves Lori and Ted realizes he’s gone too far. They’ll both do whatever it takes to save the relationship, but there’s a creepy dad named Donnie (Ribisi) trying to get Ted for his son – and he’ll do anything it takes to get the living teddy bear all to himself.

MacFarlane is best-known for creating “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show” among others. His humor tends to push the boundaries of television and given the lack of broadcast standards here, he goes whole hog for some of the most disgusting humor imaginable. If you ever wondered what “Family Guy” would look like on HBO, ponder no more. He even pulls out references to characters from the show – Ted’s go at a posh British accent sounds uncannily like Stewie and he snorts at one point “What do I sound like, Peter Griffith?” Well, as a matter of fact, no.

Wahlberg is a master at portraying a basically nice guy at heart with rough edges. John isn’t a bad guy, really – he’s just immature. The trouble is, he’s 35 and his girlfriend has no desire to be with an adolescent. She, understandably wants a man – and if you look like Mila Kunis as Lori does, you pretty much get what you want. And Lori does, sorta.

And that’s the beauty of the movie. Yeah, the plot is kinda generic but MacFarlane goes about it in a pretty roundabout way. He pushes the humor way way way over the line without missing a beat, and throws in a ton of pop culture references. He throws in some characters that are kind of outside of the box, a good deal of affectionate ribbing in the general direction of Boston and voila! A summer movie that may cure the summer comedy doldrums. For those who are really missing a Judd Apatow film or one of the Hangover movies, here is the movie to go see.

REASONS TO GO: One of the funniest comedies thus far this year. MacFarlane milks every joke for all its worth.

REASONS TO STAY: May make some feel like they’ve spent two hours in the gutter.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of crude content (albeit very funny) as well as plenty of foul language, not to mention a fair amount of drug use and plenty of smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While a variety of teddy bears were used for stand-ins on-set, Ted’s movements were performed by MacFarlane as motion capture.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/9/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100. The reviews are kinda mixed but more towards the positive side.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harvey

TRASH TALK LOVERS: Few cities produce as many great trash talkers as Boston does and we get to see – and hear – some gems.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Big Stan

The Hangover Part II


The Hangover Part II

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.

(2011) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson, Mason Lee, Jamie Chung, Sasha Barrese, Gillian Vigman, Nick Casavetes, Yasmin Lee, Sondra Currie, Nirut Sirichanya. Directed by Todd Phillips

Nothing exceeds like excess, and what happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok. I imagine if you look hard enough, you can find a cliché to fit any situation – and if you can’t find one that works, just make one up.

Stu (Helms) is getting married to a beautiful Thai girl (Chung) whose father (Sirichanya) doesn’t really approve of Stu or of his dental profession. It is determined that the wedding will take place in Thailand at a lovely island resort. Of course, Stu’s buddies Doug (Bartha) and Phil (Cooper) are going to go, although Phil is grousing about the lack of a bachelor party. Considering what happened in Vegas for Doug’s celebration, it’s understandable why Stu is a bit leery.

However, Doug’s brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) has been putting intense pressure to be invited to the wedding, their exploits in Vegas being the highlight of his life. To keep the peace, the three of them venture into Alan’s room (“I’m a live-in son,” he tells them) at his parents’ house which is a shrine to forbidden Vegas memories where Stu reluctantly invites him and thus the Wolfpack is reunited.

Added to the mix is Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law Teddy (Lee), a prodigal 16-year-old about to graduate at Stanford in pre-med with an eye to becoming a surgeon, as well as a classically trained cellist. Alan takes an immediate dislike to the boy, considering him an interloper on Alan’s turf. Stu, still sulking over the lack of a bachelor party, proposes that the guys all head out to the beach for a single beer and a bonfire. There they all go, ready to cast one final toast to Stu’s freedom.

They wake up in a seedy hotel with no idea where they are, how they got there and what they did the night before. Alan’s head is shaved. Stu has a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face. All of them have raging headaches. And all that’s left of Teddy is a severed finger with his Stanford ring floating in a bowl of cold water. There is also a Capuchin monkey and Mr. Chow (Jeong), the neurotic Chinese gangster from the original The Hangover.

They have to find Teddy before the wedding – there’s no way that the doting father-in-law will ever allow the marriage to take place without the apple of his eye, Teddy. To go there, the Wolfpack must brave the seedy bars and strip joints of Bangkok, the palaces of power and a singing performance by Mike Tyson. That’s right, I said singing.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The sequel is essentially the first movie transplanted to Bangkok in the sweltering tropics. There are some different running jokes (we don’t see Jeong’s bare tush but we see full nudity of a bunch of Thai transvestites) but the song remains the same.

The main leads here – Cooper, Helms, Galifianakis and Jeong – are all pretty amiable and Cooper looks like a romantic lead in the making. Galifianakis looks like he has the most potential in the group. His timing is impeccable and he makes Alan into a somewhat disturbed individual but anything but a caricature. Helms, from “The Office,” also has his moments and the frenetic Jeong has some as well.

The problem here is that the producers took the safe route. There is little variation in the routine that made the first movie so enjoyable. The good news is that the original routine worked pretty damn well, and we haven’t had time to get tired of it yet. There are a lot of great set pieces and really funny jokes, mostly uttered by Galifianakis. In many ways it’s his movie and the others are just reacting to him.

There is some waste here too – Giamatti as a criminal boss lacks the bite of his work in Shoot ‘em Up and Tambor basically appears in only one scene. And this movie is crude. I’m talking crude enough to make the Farrelly Brothers wince and Judd Apatow murmur “Too far man, too far…” Certain mainstream critics have been criticizing the movie for it but c’mon, if you saw the first movie you have to know what was coming. Don’t write your review for the Tea Party bluenoses.

So does it deserve the huge box office numbers it’s been getting? Yes and no. Obviously, people are looking for the familiar in their multiplexes and certainly this will give the people what they want in that regard. I have no objection to the concept of a The Hangover Part III but I sure hope they put some kind of variation in the formula when they make that one.

REASONS TO GO: The movie is funny more often than it is not, which is an accomplishment these days. Helms, Cooper, Galifianakis and Jeong rock.

REASONS TO STAY: Pretty much the first movie done in Bangkok instead of Vegas,

FAMILY VALUES: Oh, the language. It could have been the sexual situations and nudity. Maybe it’s the violence, or the drug use. In any case, this got an R rating for a reason.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Former President Bill Clinton visited the set in Bangkok, leading to rumors that he was performing a cameo in the movie but this proved to be erroneous. Bradley Cooper stated on several talk shows that he actually expressed interest in doing a sequel to The A-Team if one was ever made.

HOME OR THEATER: It is not mandatory to see this in a theater, but you may want to so that you can understand the water cooler references afterwards.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Beer for My Horses


Beer for my Horses

Toby Keith and compadres contemplate the next Ford truck commercial.

(Roadside Attractions) Toby Keith, Rodney Carrington, Barry Corbin, Claire Forlani, Ted Nugent, Greg Serano, Tom Skerritt, Gina Gershon, Willie Nelson, Carlos Sanz. Directed by Michael Salomon

I’m not the target audience for this movie, not by a long stretch. I’m not a big lover of country music, although I do admire the relationship between the performers and their fans. However, my neck is not nearly red enough to really immerse myself in country culture.

Toby Keith doesn’t have that problem. His neck is as red as the American flag…the white and the blue probably appear elsewhere on his person too. He drives a Ford pickup. He sings songs about drinking and raising hell. Good ol’ boy? Goddamn, he’s a good ol’ MAN. If you shoot him with anything lower than a .45, the bullets just bounce off.

He plays Rack Racklin, a fun-loving Oklahoma sheriff whose girlfriend Cammie (Gershon) has just taken a powder. Don’t worry, though; his ex-girlfriend Annie (Forlani) is back in town and you can tell they’re destined to be together because she’s totally less bitchy than Cammie although their names rhyme, sort of.

Rack arrests Tito Garza (Serano), a Mexican drug kingpin who has been bringing in meth that is turning the little town into a crap factory. Tito’s brother (Sanz) doesn’t like that much, and kidnaps Annie so that he can trade her for his brother – after which he’ll shoot anything white that isn’t floating in a tequila bottle. Mexicans are ornery that way – just ask Toby Keith.

The sheriff (Skerritt) wants to play it cool but Rack isn’t taking no for an answer. He rounds up his best friend, Deputy Lonnie Feldman (Carrington) and the silent but deadly bowhunter Skunk (Nugent – yes, that Ted Nugent) to head down to Mexico and save the girl. And shoot some Mexicans. For a redneck, that’s a party.

Where do I start? Keith is amiable enough as the lead. Most of the first part of the movie is a light-hearted comedy, but it turns into Rambo about halfway through and more or less stays there until the last scene. The change isn’t particularly smooth and it feels like you’re driving a Ford F-150 with transmission problems on a dirt road with lots of potholes. Once the movie gets to Walking Tall, Keith seems a bit lost as the tough guy.

The comedy is just plain bad. Carrington is actually an excellent performer, but here he seems to have gone to the Hee Haw school of acting and his character of Lonnie seems to have come straight out of an episode of The Dukes of Hazard. I don’t think I even broke a smile at a single joke.

There are some pretty good actors in the movie but one gets the feeling that they took one look at the script, cashed the check as quickly as they could and phoned in their performances. There’s no energy and no life visible anywhere in the movie. It’s just a bunch of actors going through the motions or at least it appeared that way to me. Maybe it was just a bad day, but even Da Queen, normally much more generous to actors than I am, was begging me to turn off the movie.

Nope, I stuck through the whole thing and the strange thing is there really is a movie in here somewhere, just not this one. I think that given the right material, Keith could be a movie star the same as Tim McGraw is now. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right material for anyone. Except for maybe the Nuge. He only gets to say two words (for the record, the two are “Circus Jolly” at the end of the movie) and the rest of the time, he just shoots things with his bow, the riff from “Cat Scratch Fever” coming on every time he cocks his weapon. That’s pretty much how I’ve always imagined Ted Nugent to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Ummm…ummm…I’m thinking…no, that’s not it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Poor script, poor acting, and poor pacing…it’s just not all that good.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some crude language and humor, brief nudity and a little bit of drug content. Probably safe for most teens and mature kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in Oklahoma (and the Jackson County shoulder flashes for the deputies are authentic), the movie was actually filmed in New Mexico.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $666,045 on an unreported production budget; I think it’s safe to say the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Informant!

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell


I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Tucker Max has a laugh, probably at someone else's expense.

(Freestyle Releasing) Matt Czuchry, Jesse Bradford, Geoff Stults, Keri Lynn Pratt, Meagen Fay, Traci Lords, Marika Dominczyk. Directed by Bob Gosse

There is a rumor going around that men are pigs. I know, scandalous isn’t it? I mean, we’re just cute and cuddly and misunderstood. Really. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Oh crap. Along comes I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and man-blogger Tucker Max to feed into the image. Adapted from the bestselling book which is itself a collection of blogs that are purportedly actual incidents from Tucker’s life, the movie follows Tucker (Czuchry) as he shepherds his best pal Dan (Stults) through the bachelor party for Dan’s impending wedding. Dan’s fiancée Kristy (Pratt) doesn’t want her husband-to-be to go to the strip club 40 miles away on the eve of the wedding; there’s too much to be done. However, Tucker with the oily smoothness of a used car salesman, convinces Kristy that they plan to stay local.

Of course, he’s lying through his teeth, much to the shock of Dan (you think he’d know his friend by now, wouldn’t you). Along for the ride is Drew (Bradford), a perpetually pissed off sort whose girlfriend split on him (actually, he caught her giving oral sex to a rapper, but same difference no?) and whose chip takes up not only his shoulder but most of the backseat in the car.

The night takes on a surreal turn of drinking, debauchery and diarrhea. The guys hook up in a bar with a bachelorette party whom Tucker does his best to insult with every slut-whore-skank-type name in the book. Against all odds, Drew hooks up with a sweet but strong stripper named Lara (Dominczyk) and Tucker bails on the both of them (as we find out later, he had ulterior motives all along) leaving Dan to get beat up, arrested and potentially divorced before he even gets married.

Those who thought The Hangover was guy-centric and crude are going to think that film looks like a Disney movie next to this. Needless to say, the movie has been ripped apart by the critics, some calling it the worst movie of 2009, a few even going so far as to call it the worst movie ever made.

I will be forced to agree that the acting in the movie is generally unremarkable, but this is no worse than those all-men-suck movies like Sleeping With the Enemy or plays like “The Vagina Monologues.” I can understand where the feelings come from, because as a guy I hear endless streams of invective about how we’re all dogs and pigs and whatever low form of life women can use to describe us; we lie, we cheat, we’re lazy, we wouldn’t be anywhere without women who can get along quite nicely without us.

It’s tiresome, really. Yes, there are guys who are pigs, but there are women who are pigs as well. It takes all kinds. Women who complain about guys all the time are generally choosing the same kind of guy to go out with time after time, with predictable results. There are reasons for that kind of behavior I know and this isn’t meant to be a war between the sexes, I’m just saying that as a guy I get tired of hearing it.

Non-sequiturs aside, I found some of the humor funny and some of the situations did ring true. Guy talk can be raunchy, and we generally among ourselves speak pretty much non-stop about sex, getting sex, what kind of sex we’ve had, what kind of sex we want to have, and which girls are most likely to provide it (and which ones we wouldn’t have sex with if you put a gun to our one-track minds).

The ending was a bit unconvincing – I found it hard to believe that Tucker has an epiphany due to a violent case of the runs – but hell, he wrote the script so I suppose there must be something to it. Plainly Tucker is a jerk, not just to women but to his friends as well, a fact the movie takes great pains to point out.

To be honest, not everyone is going to like this movie. As a matter of fact, there is going to be a fairly serious percentage of people who are absolutely going to loathe this movie and everything it stands for. Some of them simply don’t get the sense of humor involved while others might well have a stick crammed up their poop chute in a most uncomfortable way.

Having heard how desperately bad and misogynistic this movie was, I was fully prepared to hate it and I actually wound up enjoying it, much to my surprise. This is most certainly an acquired taste, but if you think Howard Stern doesn’t go far enough, this is probably the movie for you.

WHY RENT THIS: The ultimate guy movie for guys who think Jackass is a hoot.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Simply put, this movie isn’t for everybody. Those offended by male toilet humor, misogyny and don’t get guys at all should stay away.

FAMILY VALUES: Where do you begin? Plenty of nudity and sex, lots of crude sexual humor, foul language of every sort, a guy poops his pants in a hotel lobby in living color, and there’s some violence. If you want to scar your kid for life, here’s the movie to take them to.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Tucker Max puts in a cameo appearance as the best man at Dan’s wedding, ironically enough.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: All About Steve

O’Horten


O'Horten

Odd Horten faces an uncertain future while his past stretches out behind him.

(Sony Classics) Baard Owe, Espen Skjonberg, Ghita Norby, Henny Moan, Bjorn Floberg, Per Jansen, Bjarte Hjelmeland. Directed by Bent Hamer

Some people like their life to be chaotic, preferring spontaneity and freedom. Others prefer their lives to be strictly ordered, ruled by an unbending schedule as inflexible as a train timetable.

Odd Horten (Owe) may have an unusual first name by our standards but in Norway it’s quite common. However, nothing else is common about Horten. He is a train engineer, driving trains on a run from Oslo to Bergen and back again. He is also a few days from his 67th birthday, the mandatory retirement age in Norway. Most know him by his ever-present pipe.

His last run takes him to the hotel of Mrs. Thogersen (Norby) where he normally stays overnight in Bergen. She seems to be sweet on him, but whatever relationship they have is not really expressed overtly. You get the feeling that there is something more than company on their minds.

His fellow engineers throw him a farewell party. Apparently what passes for wild times in the train engineer community of Norway is identifying trains by the sound of their horns, and saluting the man of honor with a “chugga chugga chugga chugga chooooo choooooo” cry. However, he gets locked out of the flat complex when he goes out to buy some pipe tobacco and winds up spending the night of a young boy whose window he climbed through. It’s a long story and not nearly as sinister as it sounds.

Odd’s life changes in, well, odd ways. His carefully ordered existence becomes infused with chaos and unanticipated complications. Odd, a man who would never think of setting foot on an airplane (he’s far too loyal to trains) goes to the airport to meet a man to sell his boat to, then changes his mind at the last minute. He goes to his favorite restaurant to have dinner and a beer, only to see the chef chased out of the restaurant by the police. He goes to his favorite tobacconists to buy supplies for his pipe only to discover that the tobacconist has passed away and his widow is running the store.

Strangest of all is his friendship that evolves with a man he meets in the street. The man, Trygve Sissener (Skjonberg), claims to be a retired diplomat and he takes Odd home for a drink. There, Odd finds a room full of African tribal weapons and a friendly but lethargic dog. Trygve claims he can drive while blindfolded and Odd decides to go along for the ride. It’s a ride that ends in an unexpected way.

What I like about this movie is that it doesn’t shout so much as it whispers, which as we all know is a much more effective attention-getter. Odd is a bit on the quirky side, but not in an American indie way but in the way of a man who has lived his wife in a certain way for decades and suddenly finds himself needing to fill his time. Odd has no family, no friends as such, only a career. When that is gone, he has nothing…but rather than lament or lie down and die, he decides to reinvent himself and not even consciously at that.

Another thing I like in the movie is the glimpses we get of everyday Norwegian life. It’s a way different environment than we’re used to in Florida, that’s for certain. The ice and cold order the way of living there in the same way the sunshine orders life here. In an environment like Norway, warmth and comfort are valued highly, and it shows in the movie. Even Odd Horten’s Spartan lifestyle reflects that Norwegian aesthetic. Watching the movie made me feel warm and comfortable inside, much like sitting by the fire on a cold winter night.

The movie has an odd sense of humor that reflects not only the lead character but the director. Hamer has movies like Factotum and Kitchen Stories to his credit and while both are very different films than this, they share a certain air that I would label gentle fun. Hamer wisely lets his characters drive the film and Owe runs away with the movie. He is quiet and contemplative, keeping his emotions very close to the chest, but it is in his actions where you see where his heart lies. It’s a rock solid performance, one that makes this movie a memorable one.

Odd Horten is a man who never took chances in his life but as the movie ends he is taking plenty of them. It is a movie about personal growth and it is done in subtle and ultimately satisfying ways. There are no bells, no whistles and no fireworks – it’s just a man finding his way in a cold world – literally. It is the quiet, unassuming nature of the movie that ultimately makes it as satisfying as it is and worth seeing.

WHY RENT THIS: This quirky movie looks at aging and retirement with a gentle sense of humor. Owe is interesting to watch and the movie gives us an insight into Norwegian life.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The gentle pacing may be too slow and unremarkable to audiences used to Hollywood films.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief nudity but nothing that should discourage you from allowing teens to watch this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Owe’s film career stretches back to the Carl Theodor Dreyer film Gertrud and a 1961 Danish film Jetpiloter.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Seven Pounds

I Served the King of England


I Served the King of England

Julia Jentsch prepares to lick Ivan Bartev clean.

(Sony Classics) Ivan Barnev, Julia Jentsch, Oldrich Kaiser, Martin Huba, Marian Labuda, Milan Lasica, Jaromir Dulava, Tonya Graves. Directed by Jiri Menzel

It is part of the human condition to want more than what we have. Some of us have absolutely no idea how to get it while others have detailed plans on how to attain what we want. Still others will do absolutely anything to get it.

Jan Dite (Kaiser) has been released from a Czech prison (he was set free after serving only 14 years and 9 months of a 15 year sentence) and has been repatriated to a place near the border with the expectation that he will flee over it. However, Dite finds himself a small pub that has been abandoned and decides to restore it and open it for business.

As a young man (Barnev), he had been something of a con artist who amuses himself by scattering coins on the ground and watching wealthy men bend down to pick them up. He dreams of being a millionaire and becomes taken by a vision of a grand hotel in prewar Prague, bull of tuxedo-wearing, white gloved waiters, crystal chandeliers and enough snootiness to put the House of Lords to shame.

He gets a job in one as a waiter and becomes the protégé of the headwaiter (Huba) of the restaurant who is the essence of impeccable service, manners and haughtiness. When asked the secret to his demeanor, he replies “I served the King of England.” It’s the only appearance the King of England makes in the film.

Barnev moves from hotel to hotel, each more prestigious than the last, learning everything that he can so that one day he might own a hotel of his own. He may be small in stature (a running gag through the movie) but that doesn’t diminish his ability to be in control of any situation that comes his way. He also has a taste for beautiful women that he exercises as often as he can.

That is, until the Nazis occupy Czechoslovakia and then, pragmatist that he is, supports the Nazi regime in order to further his ambitions. He even marries a fervent German teacher who forces him to prove his Aryan lineage before she’ll consent to wed him and bear purebred Aryan babies. The marriage is short-lived, however as she is killed trying to retrieve a box of valuable rare stamps she had looted from Jewish homes while she was working in Russia. Dite finds her body and gently removes the box; no sense in wealth going to waste.

And it doesn’t. Dite uses the money from the sale of the stamps to buy one of the magnificent hotels he was formally employed by and becomes a millionaire – until the communists throw him in jail as they did with all the millionaires. As Dite says in voiceover narration at the onset of the film, it is always his luck to find bad luck.

Director Menzel is a veteran of the Czech film industry, having directed the much-revered 1967 Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains. He suffuses an odd mix of style here, making a kind of silent slapstick screwball softcore sex comedy of manners. The movie was the most popular Czech release of 2007 mainly because Menzel knows what two things are most dear to the Czech man’s heart – beautiful naked women and beer, and there’s a cornucopia of both here.

Barnev moves through the movie with an expression of smug insolence much like a naughty boy who knows he can get away with murder because he isn’t going to get caught and even if he is, he certainly won’t be punished. He is a major component as to why the movie works; while the scenes alternate with Kaiser playing the older version of him narrating the tale and preparing his pub, it is Barnev who captures the attention.

Menzel understand what makes a comedy effective. He examines some of the baser aspects of human nature and allows us to see those flaws in ourselves and shake our heads and laugh ruefully at them. There are some broad slapstick moments to be sure, but there is also a good deal of subtle, gentle humor that is actually quite refreshing. There is a good blend of laughter and pathos; Menzel is wise enough to understand the proper measurements of each to make a compelling brew.

WHY RENT THIS: A gentle sense of humor about class, ambition and lust in pre-war Europe allows us, like all good comedies, to laugh at these elements in ourselves.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This may be a little too low-key for some who prefer the comedies broad and raunchy, although there is plenty of the latter. It is also subtitled, which turns off some viewers.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of nudity and sexuality in the movie, but much of it is done in a humorous manner; shouldn’t be too offensive although I’d think twice before letting the kids watch this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The name “dite” in Czech means “child.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Push