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TAKE TWO: Captain America: The First Avenger

26 Jul

Captain America: The First Avenger

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving

Director: Joe Johnston

Chris’ Take: The big concern for me going into this film was that it would merely be a stepping stone to The Avengers. Marvel Studios knew that it had a large fanbase that would show up to this film and they probably knew that regardless of its quality they would still make bank off the aforementioned super-project that is going to be released next year. While there was a fair amount of effort to tie in this film to the other Marvel projects, Captain America  was at least decent enough entertainment to leave the viewers salivating for more.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny and asthmatic young man who is desperate to join the U.S. Army and defend freedom and justice, but his conditions leave him marked as 4F despite several attempts to falsify his records. His determination attracts the attention of a scientist (Stanley Tucci) in an experimental branch of the U.S. Government, who is developing a serum to build super soldiers. Rogers jumps at the chance and is transformed into Captain America. His excitement is short-lived as he is instead used as a mascot for war bonds instead of fighting in the actual war. His powers are soon called upon when the looming threat of an underground group of Nazis, lead by the mysterious Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), harness the power of the gods and pose a greater threat than Hitler himself.

When trying to harness the power of the gods, you might want to up your SPF.

The Captain America  comics were a very blatant attempt at propaganda during war time. Looking back the comics seem hokey, and the outfit is certainly ludicrous by today’s standards. I was expecting them to almost completely update it and try to provide a grittier film. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of cheesiness, it fit well within the context of the film and brought a certain nostalgia for the old comics, while simultaneously updating it for this generation.

Chris Evans is a charismatic guy and is a perfect fit for Rogers. The script really developed his character and made him relatable and sympathetic before he even became Captain America. I think what bothered me about Marvel’s last endeavour, Thor, was that it was hard to relate to someone that was a god and had always been a god. Rogers’ earnestness and appreciation of his powers makes the audience want to root for him, and Evans never made his ambition seem anything less than genuine.

A lot of the other superhero films focus heavily on how much the main character kicks ass, and how the fate of the world rests completely on their shoulders. In the final battleCaptain America was certainly the only one that could defeat Red Skull personally, but  the film as a whole made it clear that he heavily relied on friends and his “team” to get him where he needed to be. I liked that aspect of the film, and in some ways it makes him seem that much more likeable as a character. It made him seem less egocentric than a lot of other superheroes. A lot of other Marvel films have some of those elements, but the characters only rely on friends when they actually need it, or it is almost too late for them to succeed on their own. Captain America plans on needing them, and works in conjunction with them, rather than seeming cocky by running in guns blazing on his own.

No, no....you're the man!

The action in the film was exciting, and while it was over-the-top at times, it felt more subdued than a lot of other recent action films. There was a scene involving a jailbreak that was particularly thrilling. Joe Johnston had shown glimpses of his ability to direct an action film, but he certainly was allowed a bigger budget for this one and you could tell he was just having fun with it.

While the film could’ve been better, and did feel a little rushed at the end, it certainly didn’t let me down. All the other heroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor), I’ve seen about as much of their course as I think I care to see outside of The Avengers. Captain America is the one character that I hope gets his own sequel once the major assembly is done. With as much money as that movie is probably going to make, I’m sure Marvel Studios will have some left over “change” to make it if they so desire. If they do, I’ll be there.

OVERALL: B+

Pac’s Take:  I was expecting to see a different film than the one Captain America: The First Avenger turned out to be.  Knowing the film was going to be set during World War II and given the footage I saw from trailers, I was expecting more of a gritty war movie than I was a comic book movie.  While at first I was disappointed by this curve ball and seeing this film play out in a completely different tone than what I anticipated, it quickly grew on me and I started to enjoy the ride.  The hokiness of some of the film certainly fit in with the agenda of the Captain America comics (the early ones at least), as well as the character’s purpose in the beginning of the film.  However, as Hydra emerged as a threat and Captain America’s role became more pivotal to the success of the war, the film did a great job of changing tone (which aided in keeping the pace) and keeping me invested in the story.

There were times where I noticed Chris Evan’s acting and delivery waiver, but I really have to hand it to him, Joe Johnston, and the screenwriters (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) for fully developing the Steve Rogers character and his relationships.  Chris touched on this, but the humanization of Steve Rogers really made the Captain America character more likeable.  Every sacrifice and effort Steve Rogers made for his friends and his country felt genuine because of this development and really made the film where it could have easily been broken.  The chemistry was most evident between Rogers and Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), and it was a joy to watch these two on-screen together. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, we will now commence stealing this scene.

 The fight scenes in this movie were captivating, and while we ultimately knew the fate of Captain America, his close relationships with the supporting cast created a great amount of suspense whenever they were in danger.  There was one particular death that I really didn’t see coming, ultimately making it one of the best scenes of the movie.  As for the fate of Rogers, though we all know he ends up frozen (this is no spoiler due to The Avengers and the foreshadowing in the first 5 minutes of the film) his self-sacrifice carried an emotional weight with the audience and felt like more than a stepping stone to The Avengers.  With as much time as they invested in the emotional humanization of Steve Rogers, I really hope they spend some time at the beginning of The Avengers focusing on Rogers’s adjustment to the 21st century and coming to grips with the mortality of now aged or deceased friends.  It would be a great waste to unravel all the work that was put into this film and ultimately diminish its quality.

I wonder if she still wants that dance...

 Many have dubbed Captain America: The First Avenger the best superhero movie of 2011, I’m a little reluctant to give it that title considering how much I enjoyed X-Men: First Class.  Still, it is a very good installment, certainly one of the best amongst The Avengers pre-films (it’s between Captain America and Iron Man for that crown).  Marvel did a great job closing out the “prequels” for The Avengers, and I’m really excited to see them all come together next year.

Overall: B+

 

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TAKE TWO: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

26 Jul

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes

Director: David Yates

Chris’ Take: Well, it’s been a long 10 years and if it hadn’t been for my brother I probably wouldn’t ever have watched more than the first film. We had a family tradition of seeing a movie on Thanksgiving Day and it was usually a family oriented movie, so in 2001 my parents dragged my brother and I, who were both about college age, to see the very kiddie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My younger sisters loved it and my brother and I were groaning, knowing that there were more mature films that we could’ve gone to. The next year, my brother being more benevolent than I was, took my sisters to the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I scoffed and went and watched one of the worst movies I have ever paid money to see in the theaters, Star Trek: Nemesis. My brother came and told me that the second film was “awesome” and definitely worth seeing. Against my instincts that told me my brother was playing a prank, I went and saw it later and was thoroughly impressed. I was not expecting the level of excitement or wonder that the film brought. I was hooked, and on Saturday, when I finally saw the last film I felt like I really was saying goodbye to people I had gotten to know really well over 10 years. Even if at times I thought they were hokey, cheesy, or just plain dumb, I had watched these characters grow and the final installment of the franchise was nothing short of impressive.

We find  Harry, Hermione and Ron right where we left them at the end of Part I. They are getting ready to stage an attempt to steal a Hocrux out of Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault in Gringott’s. Severus Snape has turned Hogwart’s into what looks like a program for the wizarding Hitler youth, and Voldemort is flaunting the power of his new found elder wand. Harry comes to grips with the fact that he must confront the dark wizard face-to-face in order for the wizarding war to end.

As some of you might remember from my review of the first part, I thought the pacing was rather slow. However, in retrospect it was the perfect set up for the fast-paced action of Part 2. Almost all the exposition and necessary character development occurred in Part I and built a rock solid foundation for two and a half hours of non-stop excitement. The viewer was able to just sit back and become completely engulfed in the wizardry and epic that ended the series.

Unless, of course, the viewer had never seen any of the previous films or read any of the books. In which case, they probably were completely engulfed in sleep...or confusion.

The care for the characters is really what made the action seem that much more intense. That was my gripe with Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I cared about none of the characters Michael Bay presented. It didn’t matter how eye-popping (or eye gouging) the action scenes were. The suspense really gets created through characters that you love being placed in danger. If not, it just becomes a mildly sick hope that they die. 

David Yates’ talents were under question for closing out the series, since many people claimed that the fifth and sixth Harry Potter films were arguably the weakest. I think after he proved that he could direct on an epic scale in this conclusion, he put any and all criticism to rest. Sure, he had a screenplay that was based on a fantastic book and he had an endless list of talented actors lined up at this beck and call, but taking all those elements and reigning them into a cohesive directorial piece that captures the wizarding fantasy world and doesn’t disappoint fans and critics is quite a challenge. He received high accolades from me for being able to pull it off.

The cinematography in the first part was stellar, there really was a tremendous depth to each shot, and this film was very similar in that regard. A fantasy world should not be shot close unless there is a specifically claustrophobic scene and Yates seemed aware of that. In each shot you weren’t just get a close up on the actors participating in the action or a simple line of dialogue, you could clearly see the world around them, and made it almost a character of its own.

It seems redundant for me to keep bringing up the fact that the lead actors in the series are really what made it what the series have the clout that it did. Say that someone who had the acting talents akin to Jake Lloyd, the cute but talent deprived Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, had gotten the role of Harry. The credibility of the series would’ve tanked, no matter how well the story was developed around him. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint were incredibly talented child (now adult) actors. Plus, they were surrounded by some seriously gifted people in supporting roles. While Ralph Fiennes would not have been at the top of my list of actors to play Voldemort back when his character first started playing prominently in the series, I can’t see anyone pulling it off like he did and really making his character three-dimensional.

And I don't just mean in the technical IMAX 3D sense.

The series will always be something that is easily watched again and again. Some might start making the argument that this should be nominated for Best Picture, but I am still not convinced that these films contain the caliber and depth that I think warrant that. These films more deserve to be filed under a “favorite films” list as opposed to “best films” list. They were certainly all quality films, except for the first one, and I could easily make an argument that this was the best in the series.

OVERALL: A

Pac’s Take:  My journey through the Harry Potter  series also came to fruition through reluctance.  My younger brother was really into the books and encouraged me to start watching the movies as he collected them on DVD.  While the films entertained me during some of the more boring nights of my summers home from college, I was never that invested in the series.  Then, when I finally got around to seeing movies three through five I became a fan.  It is no coincidence that this was the same time in the series that one of my favorite actors, Gary Oldman, played a pivotal role as Sirius Black.  Once Oldman’s involvement ended my interest wavered again, but by this time I was too invested in the series not to see it through.

Though Gary Oldman's star power does have it limits

 Like Chris, I was not satisfied with the pacing of part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I do have to agree that it was necessary for the success of this film.  Part two picks up right where part one left off, as if they were one movie seamlessly making a scene change.  However, as a single movie they cannot work because the pace and tone of the second movie severely contrasts the first.  This was the Harry Potter movie I came to see, two and a half hours of action. 

Since Chris compared this film to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment.  I think David Yates could have learned something from the last hour of Michael Bay’s film.

Product placement?

 SPOILER ALERT:  While I certainly was much more invested in the wizards of the Harry Potter universe much more than I was Sam Witwicky and the Target car of the Autobots, at least during Transformers I felt like they were challenged.  For what was supposed to be an epic battle to end all battles, all the fights were too brief and lacking of suspense.  There’s nothing David Yates (director) and Steve Cloves (screenwriter) can do about J.K. Rowling’s inability to kill major players (though she didn’t seem to have a problem doing this before), but they could have at least made it seem like they were threatened.  While the final battle between Harry and Voldemort is evident of this, the prime example would be the death of Bellatrix Lestrange.  Considering how prominent and menacing she was throughout the final chapters of this series, she met her demise far to easily. (END SPOILER ALERT)

Regardless of this films flaws it still was a major success both financially and as a piece of entertainment/art.  I do find it possible that the Academy will reward the creators’ and players’ work for this series (just as they did with Lord of the Rings), though I don’t think it is necessarily justified.  It’s hard to rank Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two amongst the other films, but I do consider it to be top-tier. 

It may have ranked as the best if they would have not wasted five minutes of my life with the pointless epilogue.

Overall: A-

TAKE TWO: Horrible Bosses

22 Jul

Horrible Bosses

Rated: R

Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey

Director: Seth Gordon

Chris’ Take: Summer comedies are hit or miss most of the time. This summer has been primarily composed of some serious misses. We’ve gotten The Hangover 2, which while decent was far below expectations, Bad Teacher which had a lot of potential but floundered it in the final 10 minutes, and The Zookeeper…which at 15% on RT requires no explanation. I felt like I was wandering in a desert of poor comedy until I stumbled across the oasis that is Horrible Bosses.

Most people, at one point or another, have dealt with a horrible boss and made off-handed comments about “killing” them. The film Horrible Bosses takes this premise and runs with it. Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) are close friends and each are dealing with a uniquely terrible boss. Nick’s boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey), is a twisted man who leads Nick on by promising promotions that he never intends to give and tricking him into drinking at work. Kurt’s boss, Bobby (Colin Farrell), is a crazy cocaine addict who fires people he doesn’t like or who creep him out. Dale’s boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), sexually harasses him while he is trying to remain faithful to his fiance. When all three bosses cross the line, the friends plot to kill each others’ boss and move on with their lives.

A great buddy comedy, even if it is a dark one, relies heavily on the chemistry between its leads, and Horrible Bosses came out in spades. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day provided great complements to each other, which is nice to see  because each of them have been floundering around in low caliber comedies recently, trying to make a stand without any support. Bateman never plays an out and out funny character, he is at his best when he can play the deadpan straight man to someone else’s zaniness.

Of course, there is one exception...Pepper Brooks.

Sudeikis’ comedy usually gets lost in a poor script, which he was able to overcome this time, and Charlie Day…

He was pretty much right at home.

Right below the stellar lead cast was a strong foundation of supporting characters. Kevin Spacey played the smart and cruel boss perfectly, giving the audience plenty of reason to make him the out-and-out bad guy in the story. Jennifer Aniston definitely let her more vulgar side show, and came out being funnier in this than anything she’s been in…ever. Colin Farrell was my personal favorite out of the three, because he plays the eccentric superbly. Outside of these three, there was another pleasant supporting actor, Jamie Foxx, who plays the man they hire to give them advice. I don’t normally like Jamie Foxx, but he was hilarious in this cameo and had several scene stealing lines.

The premise for the film is obviously preposterous, but I like how Seth Gordon and the writers made sure to not go completely dark with it. They ensured that each lead explored other options for coping with their bosses and reasons why they couldn’t just quit. While reaching the decision to kill their bosses is still outlandish, it was  at least nice to have a little nod towards intelligence.

There are few films where I think that should’ve had more time. Most of the films that are coming out these days could leave a good half hour of their films on the cutting room floor. Horrible Bosses comes in at 98 minutes, which is decent for a comedy, but it seemed to go by so quick and there were so many great characters that I felt each of them could’ve been fleshed out a little bit more. While Spacey plays a great role, he kind of hogged screen time from Farrell and Aniston, who were playing equally humorous parts in the story.

So, if you’ve been waiting for a comedy to catch your fancy this summer, and you enjoy yours a little on the dark side, this is the film you’ve been waiting for. The laughs come from start to finish and you will get wrapped up in the great chemistry and misadventures of these eccentric, yet relatable characters.

OVERALL: A-

Pac’s Take:  Horrible bosses excels because of a good script and a great cast.  If you look at some of the great comedies of recent times you’ll probably notice there is a trend, it takes more than one star taking the spotlight to make good comedy, or any good film for that matter, but I think Hollywood is just now starting to realize this.  Ensembles like Old School, Anchorman, andThe Hangover perpetuate this belief; and Horrible Bosses is the next great comedy in a growing list of shared star power.  As Chris stated, the three leads worked well with one another and the chemistry and reality of their friendship connected the audience with their plight.  The supporting cast: Spacey, Farrell, Aniston, and Foxx were excellent as well, though they probably all could have benefited from more screen time.

As evidenced from Farrell's end credit outtakes

 Chris also touched on how well the script covered its bases by forcing its characters into this situation.  Though it’s a comedy, it would have been a distraction to think that these characters resorted to murder when they simply could have quit.  It was a joy to watch their plans spiral out of control and it never felt unnatural as the three leads bumbled through their situation.  I was pessimistic that Charlie Day was going to skate into this film on the success of his role in It’s Alway Sunny in Philadelphia and disappoint his fans (which admittedly, I am not one).  However, I owe credit where it is due because he really shined in this film; and though it was scripted to be this way, he delivered most of the trio’s laughs. 

Finally, it was a joy to see Jennifer Aniston in this role.  There is no doubt that Jennifer Aniston is a talented actress but she’s made her career starring in mindless, boring romantic comedies.  To see her shed that skin (and some clothing) to play the sexually harassing boss of Charlie Day was a refreshing change of pace from her typical fare.  Odds are she’ll return to the same cookie cutter roles she previously occupied, but here’s to hoping this is the start of something new.

According to tabloids, playing crazy isn't much of a stretch for Aniston

The competition this season is not great by any means, leaving Horrible Bosses as a stand out comedy in a weak summer line up. 

OVERALL: A-

TAKE TWO: Green Lantern

23 Jun

Green Lantern

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong

Director: Martin Campbell

Chris’ Take: Green Lantern is the latest film to delve into the superhero genre, whose returns seem to be diminishing with every reboot and reimagining, especially when it comes to some of the lesser known heroes. While Green Lantern is one of the most intricate of comic book series, and is popular among comic book fans, it never really gained appeal outside of that, and Warner Bros. did their best to bring it to that wider audience.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a hot shot pilot whose father died flying test planes when he was younger. When an alien life form crash lands on earth and hands him a mysterious green ring and lantern, his life is turned upside down. He is whisked away to the planet Oa and is inducted into the Green Lantern Corps, a group of intergalactic peace keepers, who inform him that the ring allows the wearer anything that they can imagine and that the ring chooses someone without fear to carry it. Hal is placed as protector of Earth and soon has to deal with the rising threat of Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a professor who was infected by yellow energy found in the crashed aliens’ body, and also the greatest threat the entire galaxy has ever faced, Parallax, a mysterious lifeform that preys on fear.

Kind of like Fox News.

The writers certainly tried to cram as much as they could in the two hours or so that the movie ran. They tried to squeeze as much mythology and background about the Green Lantern Corps and the rest of the galaxy as possible in before actually being able to tell the story of Hal Jordan. Then, with what time they had left, they tried to build an extra villain into the story to occupy some time before Hal had to fight off Parallax and save the world. The structure felt very uneven and it seemed like there were gaps of time that were unaccounted for which made for a flimsy story when it could have been enriched.

Going into the film, I thought that the previews made the CGI look distracting, and while there times when it seemed overbearing, once  you enter the world of Green Lantern, it is much more acceptable. While the graphics for the film were stunning,  I thought that the extent of the ring’s power wasn’t portrayed to its full potential. Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) is an accomplished action director, and while he shot the scenes with visual flair, he failed to live up to the expectations that I had for him. With Goldeneye he had a knack for using over-the-top action sequences to entertain an audience, and Green Lantern seemed like a great opportunity for him to return to that and get away with it a bit more, but he seemed to rush each action scene as opposed to taking his time and putting his excessive budget to good use.

Ryan Reynolds did a formidable job as Hal Jordan, bringing a little bit of humor to the role as well. Peter Sarsgaard really let his freak flag fly as Hector Hammond, and it was enjoyable to watch him finally completely let loose, but he was in the movie less than I anticipated. They didn’t introduce him until 30 minutes into the film, and then when it came time for him to realize his superhuman powers he hardly got to use them before he had to make way for the even bigger villain, making his role seem unnecessary. Blake Lively, while I praised her work in The Town  last fall, I have to say  that they probably put a cardboard cutout of an attractive woman in there and there would’ve been the same amount of sincerity to the love story between her and Hal.

"Oh Hal, I like love you and stuff." "Get off me, woman."

 All in all it wasn’t as bad as I was led to believe going into it, and maybe that’s why I was able to sit back and enjoy it a little bit more. It certainly is not among any of the greatest superhero films, it is distinctly average in just about every aspect, but I wouldn’t call it “bad” either. If anything, it left me hoping to see more of this series to see if they can move on from back story to make a richer story, which they set up extremely well by already making Sinestro (Mark Strong) a developed character, and handing him a yellow ring. I think since I was more interested in seeing the conflict between Sinestro and Hal develop, I will be more interested in Green Lantern 2 (already greenlighted) than I was in watching this film.

OVERALL: C+/B-

Pac’s Take:  D.C. comics doesn’t bring their comics to the big screen nearly as much as Marvel does, and as a fan of their work more so than Marvel, I’m always excited to see a new film.  This is the first time in the history of cinema where we’ve had the technological capability to bring the Green Lantern to live-action movies and as a first effort, it wasn’t terrible.  The biggest concern that I had coming into the film was that the focus on the visual effects would hinder the development of the story of Hal Jordan becoming the Green Lantern.  I don’t think that I was wrong about that this assumption either, while there were times that the film impressed me with its story development, I often felt cheated by its lack of depth.  Hal Jordan didnt’ seem to be any different from many other superheros we’ve seen hit theaters recently, but his comic book character is one of the more complex.

As Chris mentioned above, I took issue with some of the time gaps, suggesting there may have been some very important scenes left on the cutting room floor.  For instance, there was one scene where Hal, as the Green Lantern, showed up at Oa coincidentally at the perfect time to talk Sinestro down (I won’t go into further detail).  More importantly, the movie suggested a friendship between Hammond and Hal Jordan, as well as a love triangle between them and Carol Ferris (Lively), but the relationships were never explained beyond a passing hello between the characters.  For the general public who is not a fan of the comic, these relationships are foreign and needed to be developed better, I actually thought the film could have benefited from 15 more minutes and this was most likely a case of the studio trying to keep the run time under 2 hours.

In the first scene of the film I was a little put off by the graphics, but once actual human actors were introduced the film began to feel more grounded and my concerns were put to rest.

Like gingers, animated lifeforms have no soul.

Ryan Reynolds did a fine job as Hal Jordan, however his face and character may be oversaturating the superhero market because at times I had a hard time seeing the character and not the actor.  Peter Sarsgaard was definitely the most entertaining to watch on-screen and it is a shame that Hector Hammond didn’t get more screen time.  While Chris’s least favorite casting decision may have been Blake Lively, I was extremely distracted by the casting of Tim Robbins as Senator Hammond.  There’s not enough movie magic in the world to make me believe that Tim Robbins (52) could be the father of Peter Sarsgard (40).  While this disparity in age may work in an episode of Teen Mom, the disgruntled father-son relationship between the two did not work.

This seems like as good a time as any for a paternity test

On a final note, the fanboy in me was geeking out to see Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller.  For those of you unfamiliar with the character (potential future spoiler alert), Amanda Waller is a major villain in the D.C. universe and becomes the leader of both the Suicide Squad and Checkmate  (as the White Queen).  Hopefully we’ll see her in future installments of the Green Lantern and possibly in other D.C. franchises.

OVERALL: C-

TAKE TWO: The Art of Getting By

16 Jun

The Art of Getting By

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood

Director: Gavin Wiesin

Chris’ Take: Maybe I would’ve enjoyed this film more in high school, or if I had just gotten to college, because to anyone outside of that age range, the film will probably seem like drivel.

George (Freddie Highmore) is a high school slacker. He does the minimum to get by in school because he feels like it is insignificant in the broader scope of the world, since everyone is going to die anyway. When Sally (Emma Roberts) , a popular girl, befriends him, he begins to fall in love and it starts to challenge everything he thinks he knows about the world.

I’m going to start off by pointing out the major flaw in the film, the protagonist. I found him incredibly off-putting, especially in the first five minutes of the film. While he wasn’t supposed to be someone that you thought had it all together, he should at least be sympathetic. George thinks he knows everything, much like a lot of high school seniors do, but what bothered me about it is that they played him like he was the only one who dealt with those kind of issues.

People die...and that's like deep and stuff.

His close mindedness to the idea that anyone could possibly be as insightful, or as deep as he is, made it really difficult to sympathize with him. So, when he digs himself into a deep hole, I found it hard to feel bad for him, because he deserved to be there, and I found myself thinking, “Man, it’s about time it caught up with this arrogant little prick.”

Anyway, that is not to say there weren’t some moments in the film of genuine emotional honesty that were touching, but they were very brief and couldn’t add up to much of anything as a whole. Also, when those moments did come, they were more like nostalgic moments of high school love, rather than having anything poignant to say about love itself. The script really felt like it was written by a high school senior, who thought that they had things figured out, when really there was so much more to learn that will come in time.

The cinematography was the best part of the film. There was one scene in a club, where I thought the camera work was nearly perfect, conveying George’s sense of being lost in the crowd while the effect of alcohol sets in. The claustrophobic feeling portrayed with the close in camera really came across. Other scenes were well framed and beautiful, but the sad part is that they were almost always partially obstructed by the protagonist that I was hoping to forget about.

Gavin Wiesen, the writer and director, definitely had ambition with this project, but it fell far short of what he was trying to accomplish because his characters were too young for the film to have any sort of significance, or to not seem like anything but overconfident high school seniors who think that they are the smartest people in the world. An Education, did a much better job developing characters and making them believable and sympathetic with a very similar story.

I’m glad that we got to see this movie for free, because I think I would’ve come away even more upset than I was if I had paid for an evening ticket. The only thing more perplexing than the obnoxious protagonist, was trying to figure out what the heck Alicia Silverstone was doing in this movie.

Rumor has it, they picked her up off the side of the road.

OVERALL: C-

Pac’s Take: We’ve seen this type of protagonist many times throughout film history, especially over the past 30 years or so.  A high school student, typically male, who has a sense of entitlement and arrogance that makes him sort of, well, a prick.  Ferris Bueller, Donnie Darko, Joel Goodsen (Risky Business), Max Fischer (Rushmore), Zack Siler (She’s All That), Charlie Bartlett, they’re just a few among many who have fit this mold.  The fundamental difference between these characters and George Zinavoy, the protagonist of The Art of Getting By, is that despite this behavior they are charismatic and likeable making the viewer sympathize with their plight.  This is the fundamental flaw of this film, you truly do not care what happens to George.  It is disappointing to say because there were glimpses and moments where I felt sorry for him.  The events that he encounters in his relationship with Sally (Emma Roberts) and his home are tragic for a boy his age, and having experienced some of those moments in my own life, I wanted to feel bad for him.  Then he opens up his mouth and I just wanted to punch him instead.  The writer’s attempt to try and make this kid cool because of his high intellect, his devil may care attitude, his meta-cognitive reflection, and his over-sized coat ultimately make him unlikable.

He's preparing for his homeless years after high school

At first I just wanted to believe that I was simply too old for this movie, and that I am not the intended demographic for a film like this.  However, this is also unacceptable to me because we should not promote this type of behavior to the current generation of high school students.

The second biggest issue I had with The Art of Getting By was that it took place in New York.  I love New York, I’m from New York (though I’ve lived in Virginia Beach the majority of my life), but it infuriates me to see these 16-18 year old children frolicking around the city like they are invincible; it further feeds into this entitlement that makes them so unlikeable.  There was a scene in the film (after the scene that Chris referenced above that he liked so much) where George goes out into the street after having one too many drinks, pukes, and passes out on the curb.  What ends up being hours later, Sally finally leaves the club and wakes George up, unscathed.  This would absolutely not happen in New York.  George would be beaten up, robbed of his stupid coat, pissed on, and arrested.  Not to mention one of George’s new friends is emancipated and lives in New York by herself in an uptown loft, and every time Sally is on-screen in a restaurant or bar she’s holding an alcoholic beverage.  Throw in the film’s wardrobe, the soundtrack, and the aspiring artist subplot and I’m left with one conclusion – this movie was trying way too hard to be hip.

Yes, the final touches of his masterpiece include burning it with a cigarette butt.

I agree that there are some things The Art of Getting By accomplished well.  As Chris mentioned the cinematography had its moments, and I think thematically the film had a story to tell, unfortunately it just told it in an obnoxious way.  I thought a lot there were some quality actors in this film whose performances were wasted, especially by the adult cast.  If you’re at all interested in seeing this film, save your money and rent Charlie Bartlett instead, it is a much better version of the same film; even if it does star Kat Dennings.

Overall: D-

TAKE TWO: X-Men: First Class

7 Jun

X-Men: First Class

Rated: PG-13

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Chris’ Take: Well, I finally got one right this year. After most of my most anticipated films that have come and passed were abysmal disappointments, X-Men: First Class paid off in droves and revived a dying and increasingly soul-less franchise.

The plot is fairly simple, chronicling the start of the X-Men and establishing the tragic friendship between Charles Xavier  (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensher (Michael Fassbender) during the heart of the Cold War. The fact that the writers brought in some historical context to the start of the heroes, and while it may have off put some die hard fans of the comics, made for an intriguing story. I have read the first several X-Men comics, and found this version to be far more interesting than the humble beginnings of the actual comics (even though I did enjoy them growing up).

While I was hoping for something comparable to the first two films in the series, I was also hoping for something fresh, and director Matthew Vaughn brought that while working in conjunction with producer Bryan Singer. There is a lot of action in the film, but it is far more subdued than the recent outlandish antics of the latest two X-Men films, and as several other critics have pointed out, contained a strong dose of 60’s James Bond coursing through its veins.

One drop of Sean Connery's blood immediately makes you 10 times cooler and more attractive to the opposite sex.

One of the difficulties of comic book movies is that unless you have strong acting talent, it will end up looking more like a cartoon than a film to be taken seriously. X-Men: First Class picked a super cast, especially Fassbender and McAvoy. Kevin Bacon started out great as supervillain Sebastian Shaw in the beginning, but seemed to fade into being a static character by the end. I thought the rest of the young cast did a decent enough job portraying their characters with a wide eyed outlook on life that slowly devolves as the horrors of the world are revealed to them in ways they probably never expected. There was never a point in the film where I was bored, except for the few scenes where Mystique and Hank McCoy (Beast) were caught up in an awkward and unnecessary romance.

It also didn't help that Beast looked more like the monkey boy from Jumanji than the Beast from the comics.

Matthew Vaughn did a great job balancing out the action and humor while remaining true to the characters, creating the perfect mix for a summer blockbuster. The tone and lighting for the film were much brighter than all of the previous films, which was a welcome change to the idea of the “gritty and dark reboot” that is popular around Hollywood. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the darker superhero films, but this one was a refreshing breather from that before launching back into The Amazing Spider-man, Man of Steel, and The Dark Knight Rises.

All in all, the film did not disappoint from the lofty expectations I had for it, and I may even be convinced to attend a repeat viewing. Knowing that the X-Men  franchise still has some juice, it will make it even more disappointing if the next Wolverine film resumes the tone that the last one did. I hope that Vaughn and Singer decide to keep up with this storyline because I am thoroughly enjoying the ride so far.

OVERALL: A-

Pac’s Take:  The discussion Chris and I had coming out of the theater after seeing X-Men: First Class was whether or not this was the best X-Men film to date.  Though Chris argued that this was comparable to X2, it may have fallen just short of that mark, I had a hard time remembering anything from X2 beyond the opening scene with Nightcrawler in the White House.  Though X-Men: First Class is still fresh in my memory, I believe it will have a much more lasting appeal than any other X-Men film, making it the best of the franchise.  Chris mentioned a few points that support my opinion, with the contrast in tone to many other superhero franchise currently circulating, coupled with the cold war period, this film is unique to not only the other X-Men films, but also the current trend.

Though the casting decisions may have contributed to the modest (comparatively) tracking the film garnered over the opening weekend, it allowed for a deeper immersion in the story, and stronger character development.  This doesn’t really buck the trend, cast a relatively unknown as the hero while having a familiar face with strong billing as the villain.  Not to say certain performances didn’t stand out, while McAvoy was exceptional, and no one performance really fell through the cracks, Michael Fassbender stole the show.  One of the reason’s I was so looking forward to this film was because I wasn’t really familiar with Fassbender and wanted to see his talents in anticipation for next year’s Prometheus

There are just too many puns to choose from.

 Kevin Bacon’s turn as Sebastian Shaw was beyond what I expected from a villain as well.  While Heath Ledger may have set the bar for villains as The Joker, if you look past him to almost any other supervillain, Bacon excels.  Take for example, another highly acclaimed Marvel film – Spiderman 2.  Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock become fused with the mechanical tentacles and is for the most part “programmed” to be evil; what Bacon, Matthew Vaughn, and the writing team did here with Sebastian Shaw was develop a strong character and motive in the first act of the film, then allowing him to wreak havoc for the rest.  As for the humans, Oliver Platt served his purpose but his talents may have been wasted in his role, and Rose Byrne stole my attention every time she was on-screen, she was stunning and embraced the look of the era perfectly.  (Byrne is having a hell of a year – Insidious, Bridesmaids, and X-Men – we’ll probably be seeing a lot more of her in the future).

X-Men: First Class should ultimately fall in the ranks and conversation of best superhero movie alongside The Dark Knight, Superman: The Movie and Superman II, X2, Iron Man and Spiderman 2.  Time will tell its ultimate rank but this and Thor have set the bar high for Green Lantern and Captain America as far as 2011 is concerned.  X-Men: First Class is a must see for both longtime fans of the franchise and new viewers alike.

OVERALL: A

TAKE TWO: The Hangover Part II

2 Jun

The Hangover Part II

Rated: R

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Cheong

Director: Todd Phillips

Chris’ Take:  I have to say that my expectations for this film were low even before I started reading the early reviews, and honestly, I think that helped. Plus, Pac and I went to a new movie theater near us that served alcohol…that probably helped more.

Beer! Making dumb comedies funnier since 1932.

The Wolfpack reunites in this sequel to the R-Rated comedy smash of 2009,  this time for Stu’s (Ed Helms) wedding in Thailand. Trying not to repeat the mistakes of the past, the gang simply has a one beer bachelor party down on the beach with Stu’s fiance’s younger brother, Teddy, but then wake up in a deserted hotel room in downtown Bangkok and Teddy is nowhere to be found. They now have to put all the pieces from the night before back together, so they can find him and make it back in time for Stu’s wedding.

A lot of critics came out and said that the film is beat for beat like the first one, and while the “formula” (even Todd Phillips calls it that) is very similar, I thought there was just enough disparity to make it at least an entertaining, albeit almost completely forgettable (no pun intended), experience.

As a whole, this really felt like Todd Phillips buying some time before making a completely different film for a third installment; kind of anticipating the demand for them. The jokes were mainly situational in nature, as opposed to the wittier dialogue in the first one. Phillips seemed to rely heavily on sight gags and somebody making a silly face while simply describing the ludicrous scene unfolding before them.

The highlight of the film is Galifianakis, who returns to his usual comedic form as Alan, and his character is what really keeps people entertained. Whether it is staring awkwardly, or his insecurity about his idiocy, he steals the scene. Unfortunately, after about the first forty-five minutes of the movie, he kind of fades into the background and only pops his head up in befuddlement occasionally, like he was expecting to be in a different movie.

While the plot is ridiculous in and of itself, and felt incredibly contrived just to get back to the same storyline, for this kind of film it isn’t really important. We all know where it is going to end up and that it will eventually have a happy ending. However, these people never really seem to grasp the depth of the consequences for their debauchery, which seems even more implausible than the actual plot. They just roll from one problem to the next, laugh and forget about all the traumatic events that just occurred, and keep moving like they never happened.

The film really isn’t that bad, or at least it wasn’t after my lowered expectations (and higher beer intake). Will it be a film that people remember? Probably not. If they saw it, I’m sure there are images that are forever engrained in their head, but the context and dialogue around them will be hazy; kind of like an actual hangover.

If that was Todd Phillips' intention, maybe this is just a misunderstood work of art.

OVERALL: B-

Pac’s Take:   Just because The Hangover part II was on my ten most anticipated films of the summer as well as my most anticipated films of 2011 doesn’t mean that I thought this was going to be a great movie.  Like Chris, my expectations for the movie were modest, though probably slightly higher, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first film and knew come its release I’d be in the mood for a follow up.

After a few pitchers I was set to watch the debauchery unfold as Alan, Stu, and Phil headed to Thailand to repeat the antics of the first film, hopefully in more grandiose fashion.  I was not disappointed.  Despite the film following the same formula as the first film, as Chris, Todd Phillips, Cracked.com and virtually every other opinionated voice pointed out, the formula worked the first time around as well as for the sequel.  While following the formula may have made some antics in the film more predictable and thus less funny due to a decreased shock value, it was apparent that Phillips was aware of this and threw in a few (albeit disgusting) shocks to fill those voids (no pun intended).  At times this did feel a little cheap, but I think for the most part it was handled well considering the circumstances.

I’m on record on this site stating that I supported the dismissal of Mel Gibson from this film and I was excited when I heard he was to be replaced by Liam Neeson.  Unfortunately, Neeson did not appear in the film either, and the lack of cameos actually hindered the film.  After viewing the scene which was supposed to feature Gibson, then Neeson, I would like to retract my previous stance and am disappointed Mel Gibson did not appear as Stu’s tattoo artist.  Normally, the featuring of celebrity cameos comes off as a cheap stunt that inhibit’s a movie’s progress in quality, pacing, and plot, but the presence of Mike Tyson and Heather Graham among others provided the original with memorable moments that the follow-up is sorely lacking.

 

Wiley Whiplash also dropped out due to scheduling conflicts

 

I mostly agree with Chris’s assessment of the film, and in the interest of our readers, do not feel the need to be redundant.  However, there is one aspect of the film that Chris briefly touched on that still has me irritated.  It is absurd that these characters can get themselves into these tumultuous situations without any real consequence.  It is difficult to go into specific detail without providing any spoilers so I will simply leave it as this (those of you who have seen the film will most likely understand).

Overall I give The Hangover part II a B- as well.