Mini-Reviews: A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, In Time, Immortals
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.
A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas:
I like the idea of the Harold and Kumar series. I like the fact that a young Indian and young Korean man can be the leads in a series of mainstream Hollywood films that aren’t centered around the issue of ethnicity. I like that a studio looked at these guys and said, “Yes, we’ll fund a sequel in 3D for your characters.” I like the concept of a filthy off-color Christmas film, since Christmas is used far too often in film as an excuse to dive headfirst into gooey sentimentality. I like that in essence we have a modern-day Cheech and Chong. However, I don’t find the movies very funny– the idea in my head far exceeds the actual execution.
Since the last time we saw them, Harold (John Cho), now married to Maria (Paula Garces), has to deal with her father (Danny Trejo) over Christmas. Kumar (Kal Penn) is alone, having been dumped by his girlfriend and estranged from Harold for the last few years. When a mysterious package for Harold arrives on Kumar’s doorstep, and Kumar accidentally sets Harold’s father-in-law’s Christmas tree on fire, it leads to a series of misadventures that include lots of sex jokes and lots of drug use. Surprisingly, there isn’t much sex or violence for a film that advertised its abundance of sex and violence– there’s one still image of topless women and maybe two scenes of relatively tame bloody wounds. We do, however, get John Cho’s penis stuck to a pole a la A Christmas Story.
Cho and Penn are charming together, but the proceedings, as I felt with the previous installments, continue to feel forced into wackiness. My favorite scenes are quieter moments that just involve the pair getting high and talking, without the zany misadventures. These are unfortunately few and far-between. Amir Blumenfeld from CollegeHumor plays Kumar’s new best friend, and he gives potentially the most self-aware performance in the history of comedy– it’s impossible to convey how annoyingly satisfied Blumenfeld seems with his own performance. The writing doesn’t help him, nor does it help the always-reliable Tom Lennon, who here has nothing to do. The gentle ribbing it gives 3D doesn’t even work, as the payoff is the film acting as a massive advertisement for 3D television… though if you want to see Danny Trejo ejaculate towards the camera, this is the film for you. If you prefer Christmas films with laugh-out-loud humor, see Bad Santa instead– A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas unfortunately doesn’t come close to delivering on its potential.
In Time is one of those films that works beautifully on a conceptual level, but doesn’t work on any level past that. There are some very cool ideas and images in this new film by Gattaca creator (or as I call him, S1m0ne creator) Andrew Niccol, but these small successes are overshadowed by needlessly cold performances and a never-ending series of time puns that are not meant to be funny. It’s a TNT Film, the type of movie that when flipping through cable channels late at night you stumble upon, half-watch, and thoroughly enjoy. However, in theaters, it’s corny, disappointing, and predictable.
Justin Timberlake plays a poor man in a world where everyone stops aging at 25, and once you hit 25, you have a year to live unless you obtain more time. The rich are immortal, the poor live quite literally paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s an awesome premise on paper, but when you see people’s glowing arms and you get a scene of Timberlake hugging his mother played by Olivia Wilde, it’s often awkward when manifested before our eyes. He encounters a man (Matt Bomer) who has over a century that, after an act of kindness, gives it all to Timberlake. Timberlake moves to the rich district, where he encounters the richest man in the country, Phillippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) and his daughter (Amanda Seyfried). When the equivalent of a cop– a “timekeeper” (Cillian Murphy)– finds and tries to arrest Timberlake, he kidnaps Seyfried, and they turn into the future’s Bonnie and Clyde.
The script’s incessant repetition of units of time notwithstanding, the concept of manifesting the economic crisis with literal death replacing economic death is fascinating– the beginning of independence starting at age 25 is a savvy choice not only for the metaphor but for ensuring that your film is peppered with attractive young people. Unfortunately, the characters are not developed past the surface. Timberlake shows the potential and certainly has the screen presence to be a strong film actor, but he seems far more suited to playing the cool smooth-talking type, not the brooding silent type– in particular, one scene of sobbing does not work out well for the actor. Seyfried is gorgeous despite a truly atrocious wig, but she’s given nothing to do except show off her physical assets in an utterly gratuitous (but appreciated) strip poker scene. Kartheiser and Murphy try hamming it up, but the dialogue is so trite that the efforts are somewhat pointless. Unfortunately, the movie is a big-budget film with a SyFy Channel quality script, some miscastings, some poor effects, and all-around lack of cohesion. It’s a diverting mess, but a mess nevertheless.
Speaking of messes, Tarsem’s much-anticipated film Immortals has moments of such awesome visuals and terrific gory action that it pains me that the rest of the film is so nonsensical. As someone who loved his film The Fall and the mythology it created, he seemed the perfect man to deliver a tale of Greek gods. Not only does he begin the film Immortals by telling us that Greek gods are capable of dying (and he kills off, inexplicably, a couple of famous ones before the end credits), but he gives us a story so full of logic paradoxes that it never becomes engaging. The storytelling is slow, the actors are attractive but have nothing to say, and by the time we reach the spectacularly gory ending, it was too late: Immortals’ fate had been sealed.
King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is quite angry at the gods. He prayed for his family to be saved from illness, and like many prayers, it went unanswered. He then took the logical next step: hunt for a mythical bow and arrows that will release the Titans, who will destroy the gods– and probably the world, but hey, they should’ve answered the prayer, right? Hyperion goes around destroying temples, and comes to a holy city where Theseus (Henry Cavill) lives. He’s being trained by an old man (John Hurt) in combat, and he defeats a fellow trainee Lysander (Joseph Morgan). Lysander takes the logical next step following a defeat in class: becoming a traitor, turning to Hyperion who scars his face and smashes his genitalia in exchange for his services– smart exchange, man! After Theseus kills scores of Hyperion’s men in combat with nothing but a spear, Hyperion murders Theseus’ mother in front of him but leaves Hyperion alive– that makes sense! There, Theseus meets Phaedra (Freida Pinto), a virgin Oracle whose purity makes her able to see the future– so naturally, the first chance she gets, she disrobes and has sex with Theseus so she can’t see the future anymore.
Do you see where I’m going with this? It may seem like I’m playing up just how sudden these logic lapses fall into our laps… I’m not. I haven’t even gotten to the depiction of the gods, all of whom are played by very skinny young people. Zeus (Luke Evans), a dead ringer for Orlando Bloom, forbids anyone to interfere with the activities of the humans in god form, because it’s important for them to work things out using their own free will– yet it’s revealed he’s the old man who’s been training Theseus since birth, so I reckon the moral high ground Zeus is standing on is somewhat shaky. He means what he says though, because when one of Zeus’s sons interferes briefly and kills a few humans, Zeus murders him. In case you were wondering where any of this occurs in actual mythology, especially the deaths of many big-name gods in the final battle, it obviously isn’t; Tarsem has created his own universe of mythology totally separate from real Greek myth, yet using the same names and relationships between characters.
The acting ranges between bland (all of the gods) and hammy (Mickey Rourke). Henry Cavill is a charming and very handsome actor, who will obviously be a terrific Superman, but he’s given nothing to do here other than take his shirt off and act earnest. Same goes for Freida Pinto, who might be the most gorgeous woman on the planet; all she has to do is say things in an ethereal tone and move in unison with her Oracle guardians (wildly disappointing moment: the edit from when we sees Pinto’s face as she begins to disrobe to the obvious body double getting naked– Tarsem makes zero effort to create an illusion). The battle scenes are some of the goriest and craziest I’ve ever seen in a movie like this: when Ares hammers your head, it doesn’t crack, it explodes like a watermelon on a Gallagher stage. And we get a LOT of this gore. It’s extremely visceral and engaging on a visual level, but ultimately pointless, since the fights have no stakes due to one-note characters fighting in them. Tarsem used to be someone I anticipated doing new work because of his outstanding eye for visuals, and here, the cinematography and action sequences work really well… but between the storytelling here and the awful trailer for Mirror Mirror coming out next year, his legacy is looking very mortal indeed.