Monday, February 22, 2010

The Hangover


Directed by Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips' "The Hangover" was, without a doubt, the most succesful comedy of 2009 and can likely be called one of the most succesful of its entire genre, a movie subtype I'd refer to as frat or bro comedies, two terms that have likely already been coined and copyrighted (Please don't sue me!). Not only did pretty much every person between the ages of 15 and 35 see "The Hangover," it also garnered significant critical praise and, somewhat unexpectedly, won this year's Golden Globe for best comedy or musical. Although not a bad film, I didn't find myself as enthralled by Phillips morning after saga as I thought I would be.

Two groomsmen head off to Vegas with their soon to be married buddy and his eccentric, socially awkward brother for a night of carousing and mayhem. We only see the very beginning of the night's events before cutting immediately to the morning after where we find the two groomsmen and and the groom's brother waking up in their trashed hotel suite with no idea what happened the previous night. Worse still, they've lost the groom a day before his wedding. The three buddies set off to locate the whereabouts of their buddy and, perhaps more importantly, find out what the heck happened to them the previous night.

"The Hangover" has plenty of amusing bits and running gags, as well as one truly excellent cameo, that make the whole thing a pleasantly raucous if not completely groundbreaking experience. I rarely expect much more than a few hearty laughs from this type of fare but the critical praise for Phillips' film made me cautiously optimistic that this would be a comedic gem which, I'm sure you've already gathered by my tone, I don't think it is. Sure, it's often quite funny but it lapses into juvenile or facile humor too often and allows a few plainly unfunny bits to dampen the effect of its better parts. This isn't to say that it's completely low brow comedy, however. "The Hangover" is fairly well written, well acted, and for the most part stays away from fart and poop jokes that often populate comedies who are trying to appeal to the basest comedic tastes of filmgoers. Nevertheless I can't say that I understand the critical praise heaped on Philips' film since it isn't entirely succesful, in my humble and, albeit, sometimes grouchy opinion, in being what films like "The Hangover" are supposed to be -- undeniably and unfaillingly funny. This doesn't mean I expected "The Hangover" to have me laughing so hard my sides hurt and my eyes watered but I didn't expect to go through large chunks of the film without so much as a grin, which I did a few times at least.

A review of a film like "The Hangover," either positive or negative, is, easily called into question since what constitutes "funny" varies widely from one viewer to the next. Based on the critical reception "The Hangover" enjoyed, as well as its box office success, maybe I'm just one of the few who has a poor sense of humor and needs to lighten up. Those who know me may indeed feel this is the case. However, I think one's opinion of a film like "The Hangover" will always, in the end, be heavily dependent on personal taste since its a film that stakes its entire success on making its audience laugh. It's therefore unsurprising that some will laugh more than others.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Go Lucky


Directed my Mike Leigh

British director Mike Leigh's latest semi-improvised comedy is an unpretentious and utterly enjoyable little film that is elevated far above its light subject matter but absolutely splendid performances by Sallie Hawkins and support actor Eddie Marsan.

Poppy (Sallie Hawkins) is a thirty year old primary school teacher who lives in a shared flat with her best friend Zoe. Bubbly, carefree, and utterly unfazed by other's expectations for her, she's a breath of fresh air in an otherwise drab world. Poppy's blissful existence is interrupted by a particularly difficult and grumpy driving instructor (Eddie Marsan) who momentarily snaps Poppy back to the reality that the world isn't necessarily filled with others who, like her, skate through life with a smile and a wink.

Although Leigh's film isn't the deepest or most perceptive film he's ever made, it's still a joy to watch mostly, as already mentioned, due to the strong performances of Leigh's cast. Mike Leigh's semi-improvised efforts often depend, not surprisingly, on the excellence of his actors. In the case of "Happy Go Lucky" Leigh gets the most out of his cast, especially from Hawkins and the always excellent Eddie Marsan. Marsan, a career support player, is the type of actor who is so underrated he's almost overrated, sort of like John C. Reily before he started taking lead roles. Marsan truly is excellent, however, as Poppy's neurotic and troubled driving instructor, suffusing his scenes with Hawkins with a an often hilarious but always nervous and off kilter energy that seems to always be on the verge of leading to an ugly denouement which, in the end, it does. As good as Marsan is, it's Hawkins who steals the show and her performance as Poppy was perhaps the most widely heralded effort of 2008, so much so that she was awarded the Golden Globe for best female lead over Meryl Streep (who, despite a vastly inferior performance in "Mama Mia!" was probably expecting to win the award because, well, she's Meryl Streep). Hawkin's makes Poppy interesting and, most importantly, plausible despite all her quirks, an achievement that shouldn't be underestimated. I would venture to guess that it was a far more difficult task for Hawkins to play Poppy than it was for Kate Winslet, who won a Golden Globe for best performance in a drama the same year Hawkins won hers for her performance in "Happy-Go-Lucky", to play April Wheeler in the overwrought "Revolutionary Road." Nothing against Winslet, of course, who is a fine actress, but giving a character like Poppy who is shamelessly bubbly, good natured, free willed and wants to make everyone around her as happy as she is, the depth that she does is remarkable.

I rarely recommend films solely for the performances of its actors but I certainly have no reservations recommending "Happy-Go-Lucky" solely for the performances of Hawkins and Marsan.

Saturday, February 13, 2010



Directed by Takashi Miike

Prolific Japanese master of shock Takashi Miike's "Family," based on a manga I've admittedly never read (or heard of), is a woefully bad effort from an otherwise talented director.

Koichi Iwaki is the godfather of a Japanese Yakuza faction whose members keep getting whacked, kidnapped, and generally abused by rival gangs, leading to Iwaki finally putting his foot down and going out to get some revenge. That's the gist of the film right there and going into any added depth is really unecessary. You may think my attitude towards this review is flippant (it is) but wait until you see the film yourself before judging my apathy towards it (SO THERE!!!).

This is Miike at his worst. The "Family" may not be as gratuitously violent or plainly ugly in its content as other Miike films like "Ichi the Killer" or "Visitor Q" but at least those two movies were thought provoking (if a bit over the top). "Family" is a bore, a poorly made, B-rate piece of action shlock that shows off all of Miike's worst filmmaking excesses. The plot is only vaguely coherent and the whole thing looks like it was filmed on a camcorder with vaseline slathered over the lense. Miike has always been a prolific filmmaker which means his output has sometimes been more about quantity than quality. Indeed, for every "Audition" there have been scores of weaker releases and "Family" is certainly falls into the latter category. Amazingly (to me, at least) "Family" is one of Miike's better known works outside of Japan which I find truly baffling.