Mini-Reviews: Midnight in Paris, The Hangover 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
In an attempt to give readers my feelings on films as I plug away on a number of writing assignments, I’ll provide mini-reviews to give my succinct opinion on films and to give me time to finish my other projects.
Midnight in Paris:
It’s been a while since I felt confident saying the best movie in theaters was a Woody Allen film, but here we are again. Before reading more of this review, know that unlike nearly every review you may read about this film, I won’t spoil anything. Don’t read any reviews, don’t watch extended trailers– don’t even look on IMDB. Go into this film blind, and let the joy and romance of Midnight in Paris catch you totally by surprise. This is the least cynical of Allen’s recent films by a landslide, and while his usual satiric undertones still hang around, this is first and foremost a heartwarmer, a delightful fantasy. Track this film down and see it immediately.
Owen Wilson is perfect as the Woody surrogate, Gil, a screenwriter who wants to be a novelist but is afraid his writing is no good. He’s visiting Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), and he’s forced to spend time with Paul (Michael Sheen), a pseudo-intellectual friend of Inez’s, and his wife. Gil wishes he could move to Paris and live like Hemingway, Picasso, the Fitzgeralds, and everyone else from his favorite era– the 1920s. Everyone thinks it’s silly. He takes a walk into Paris late one night, the clock strikes midnight, and…
… well, I’ll let you discover. This film approaches the same type of magic Woody captured in The Purple Rose of Cairo, where the impossible seems real and the fantasy speaks volumes about reality. The dialogue is pitch-perfect: both Woody’s grand poetry about the past and his scathing satire of pseudo-intellectuals are on point, per usual. Unlike several of Woody’s later films, the subject matter fits into the world Woody has created– it’s not a film that pretends that modern-day New Yorkers address Freud and Bergman every two seconds. The actors also give rich, sensitive, and hilarious performances: Wilson and Marion Cotillard (is she ever bad in a film?) as a seductive woman produce rich chemistry, and both Michael Sheen and Corey Stoll get laughs with nearly every line. Look, you readers know I’m biased towards Allen’s work: I believe him to be certainly the greatest comedic filmmaker of all time. This is a movie that will work for all audiences, adults and teens– it’s a lively, romantic Woody Allen date flick.
The Hangover Part 2:
The problem with The Hangover Part 2 isn’t that it’s repetitive. The problem is that it’s aggressively unfunny. The writers clearly believed that if they took the funniest traits of the three-dimensional characters from the first film– Phil is an asshole, Stu a panicky worrywart, Alan a socially challenged annoyance– and made those traits ten times more exaggerated, the film would be ten times funnier. Of course, the opposite is true. It’s an obnoxious, mean, interminable film that not only never made me laugh, it also didn’t make me smile even once. Truthfully, I almost left the theater after what seemed like forever when it had only been an hour or so. If you think that jokes about penises, transvestites sodomizing people, monkeys dealing drugs, the famous Vietnam execution photo being recreated, and Asian culture being disrespected are funny, then congratulations! You’ll love The Hangover Part 2, and you’re probably a bad person.
Okay, so you’re not necessarily a bad person. I’ve laughed at sick and demented things. I’ve laughed at movies with humor pertaining to racial stereotyping and/or culture desecration. We almost certainly all have. But twisted humor needs characters and a purpose in order to be actually funny. Instead we just have annoying idiotic cartoons without a sense of satire or wit. Why would they bring Alan on that trip when they see his insane behavior in America? Why would Stu be friends with Phil when he’s a useless unfunny dick who encourages covering up murders and other such felonies? Between Due Date and The Hangover Part 2, I take back the nice things I said about Todd Phillips and the good will I felt he’d built up with parts of Road Trip, parts of Old School, parts of Starsky and Hutch, and finally the first Hangover. This movie was so bad it makes me look back at his other films and see traces of mockery of the characters throughout. Where’s the heart? Where are the people we are supposed to care about?
The person I feel the worst for in this film is Ed Helms. In the first movie, he was a put-upon guy with an evil fiancee. Here, he has been given the direction to scream in a wildly overacting manner every two seconds of film. It makes Adam Sandler in Just Let Me Go look like a performance in a John Cassavetes film. No, I feel even worse for Ken Jeong, whose tiny penis is zoomed in on and handled by a monkey, and whose single dimension in the first film has zero impact here, instead making him look embarrassing. No, I feel even WORSE for Zach Galifianakis, who now has been made to look unwatchable in two straight films by Todd Phillips. I’m glad he’s getting paid, because if he keeps staying in big movies like this, he will burn out in the public’s eye faster than a candle submerged in gasoline. I felt glad for Justin Bartha, who had little to do, and Mason Lee, who played a teenager rebelling against his father and having fun. His is a real character, and a reminder that in a previous Hangover film, the characters were real too. What a shame.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:
I’ve never had less to say about a movie than I do with this fourth Pirates of the Caribbean installment. Here is a movie in which I can’t really identify anything shamelessly wrong, other than the fact that nothing is right. All of the ingredients you recognize from previous Captain Jack Sparrow moments you loved are there… except now, it’s become boring. It lacks the wit of the first film, and it certainly lacks the surprise that his character used to bring. It also added characters that should be interesting played by actors that are always interesting… but here, the characters are so broadly sketched that we don’t truly care, and they all inspire but a shrug. It’s not a blockbuster, nor is it a bust. It’s just… there.
There were brief moments that stood out, and none of them involved Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp at this point is clearly just collecting a check, and the teeth that the character used to have are now rubbed down to gums. He admits he loved a girl, he saves the day in a selfless manner, blah blah blah. Now the best moments come from hammy British actors over-enunciating to the point of hilarity. Richard Griffiths (a welcome sight in ANY film) plays a British lord who digs into every inflection with such gusto that I smiled the whole time. Geoffrey Rush continues to have a great deal of fun with Barbossa, who now has a peg leg and skin as flaky as Mike Myers’ Goldmember. And there’s a cameo by Dame Judi Dench which also warmed my heart. Griffiths and Dench within three minutes of each other made me think this film would think broad and epic, while maintaining the breezy wit found in the first and parts of the second installment. Instead, it’s merely something to stare at and not hate for two hours. Is it the script? The direction? The actors? At some point, someone should’ve asked, “Will people actually *like* this film, or just be indifferent?” It didn’t inspire the anger in me that the third film did, and it feels like it’s over quickly, so it has that going for it.
I’ll sum it up in the following way. I sat by a 4-year-old boy who was insanely excited for Pirates. He talked loudly through all the previews and the opening logos. Then, thirty seconds into the film, he yelled, “I think we’ve seen this before.” Kid, you ain’t joking.