Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Review: Hangover 3

I went into The Hangover 3 with high hopes … even though part of me knew better. Comedy trilogies, in my open lose steam with each version. The first is always the funniest. The second is still funny but doesn’t quite have the magic of the first and the third? Well, the third is always the least funny of the bunch. This is exactly what happened with the Hangover series.

This is a departure from the first two in that there is no major blackout involved. They know what is going on the entire time. Long story short … when Alan’s (Zach Galifianakis) father dies, he goes off of his meds and is in dire need of an intervention. So the Wolf Pack reunites: Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha). The group is responsible for taking Alan to the rehab facility in Arizona.

But, a funny thing happens on the way to the facility. They run into Marshall (John Goodman) and Black Doug (Mike Epps). Apparently the Wolf Packs hijinx from the first two films ended up with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) stealing $21 million in gold bars from Marshall … and he wants his gold back. Since Alan has been writing to Chow throughout his stay in a Bangkok prison, Marshall determines that The Wolf Pack are his best bet for tracking Chow down and retrieving his gold.

They start in Tijuana and, of course, end up in Vegas where the Wold Pack saga comes to a close.
I had some chuckles but I don’t think I had any real laugh out loud moments. Unfortunately, Hangover 3 suffers from trailer-it is – when all the best parts show up in the trailer. You knew the funniest moments were coming a mile away. I would have loved to see a cameo from Mike Tyson, we do get a scene with Heather Graham but it wasn’t all that funny. What was funny were the scenes with Alan and his lady love Cassie (Melissa McCarthy) but then again, the best part of that scene was featured in the trailer too.

I have to say, I’ve never been a huge Bradley Cooper fan but he was definitely bringing the hotness here. Is it wrong to say that I would have loved to see him shirtless? Nevertheless, the end of the Wolf Pack saga was a satisfying one. I just wish it had been a funnier journey.

In the previous Hangover movies, the best outtakes were shown during the credits. While you don’t get outtakes here, there is one great scene that probably had the only real laugh out loud moment (okay there was ONE).

Monday, May 20, 2013

American Idol Reboot

The Dawg is already gone, Ms. Mariah needs more than tight
dresses to stay at the judges table. Ryan - aint goin' nowhere.
Nicki? We all know she's already gone. Keith Urban, the only
one I would want to see again next season.
I've been watching American Idol since the beginning. I have to admit, the past few years have been a challenge - lackluster contestants (with Adam Lambert being an exception and probably Philip Philips) and a parade of 'celebrity' judges who have not earned their large paychecks. With the lowest ratings in the show's history for this past season, Idol producers need to take note. Do something different. Do something completely different.

So what happened?

I get it. A lot of reality shows thrive on tension and drama ... but American Idol isn't one of those shows. The immature conflicts between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey was painful to watch. So guess what? A lot of people opted not to. Take a look at The Voice which has benefitted from the great and positive chemstry between judges (and a note to Voice producers, keep this foursome!).

Out of the four, the only one I could possibly see coming back would be Keith Urban. Randy has already bowed out. Nicki Minaj has ticked so many people off that she won't be back and really, I know she's 'Mariah' but I don't think she needs to be back either. The best judge isn't even a judge, it's Jimmy Iovine. He knows what he's talking about and gives targeted feedback.

Then there are the contestants. It ended well, (love me some Candice) but getting there was at times painful. Zonette? Really? Some of the people that made it to the live shows had me questioning the judges' train of thought.


Go back to basics. When Idol started, no one knew who Simon Cowell or Randy Jackson were. I'm pretty sure they didn't break the bank to get Paula Abdul. Yet, it became the #1 show. AI made Simon and Randy stars and revived Paula's career.

Find several industry-insiders who can provide some Jimmy Iovine-style credibility and personality and put them at the judges table. Add a star that is past their heyday, but who has some knowledge and put them at the table. Yes, this would be a Paula Abdul-like role, but don't look for the next Paula Abdul.

Save the Drama for your Mama. And truth be told, your mama probably doesn't want to hear all that mess either. Have judges that actually get along.

Enough of the Judges Already! American Idol is at its best when it operates as a singing competition. In other words, make it about the contestants again and less about the judges. Find contestants that the audience can root for. We should be tuning in each week to see what the singers are going to sing not which diva is going to act the bigger fool.

Current Theme Weeks: After this season when the contestants relieved their painful ignorance of archaic, little known acts like The Beatles, I propose losing the decade-based themes. Instead go with different kinds of themes: Best Break-Up Songs, Diva Week, Acoustic/A Capella Week, Best High School Song.

If Idol wants to dominate the ratings again, they will have to do more than a little tweaking.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

Weather wise it hasn’t even really started to heat up yet, but the Summer Movie Season is underway. This week’s major release was the second in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek series, Star Trek: Into Darkness. I enjoyed it but I expected it to be pretty good (just not great).

Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) is still a renegade, ignoring orders and doing things his way. The problem, at least in the beginning is that Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is still, well, Spock – logical, pragmatic and unable to tell a lie. So after Kirk goes against order and saves Spock’s life, Spock gets him in trouble for it! Of course, there are bigger problems afoot when John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) shows up with quite an explosive entry. In fact, his actions threaten to start a war between the Federation and the Klingons. Never fear, the faithful Enterprise crew is here: Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Checkov (Anton Yelchin), and Sulu (John Cho).

The performances were good – especially Pine and Quinto who have an easy chemistry with each other – and Cumberbatch who has the intensity necessary of an action movie villian. However, this movie was all about the effects and the action. It starts at the beginning and never lets up. This is a good thing; however, a little more attention to the plot and the story would have made a good thing a whole lot better.

I saw this in 3-D and it was worth it. This is the kind of movie that needs to be in 3-D. It isn’t gimmicky but essential to this kind of movie. I will tell you this upfront, don’t bother staying though the credits. There is no teaser or aster-the-credits extra scene. So when the credits roll, so can you.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

 I haven’t seen Les Miserables and, despite the great reviews, I don’t know if I ever will. You see, some 20+ years ago, I was forced to read about Jean Valjean and Cosette and the whole very sad, very miserable crew and I hated every minute of it. I hated it so much that decades later I can’t even bear the thought of a cinematic version. It was the exact opposite with The Great Gatsby. I read it in high school and I loved it. I enjoyed the adaptation with Robert Redford (Gatsby), Mia Farrow (Daisy) and Sam Waterson (Nick). I couldn’t wait to see this one.

For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. Leonardo DiCaprio did a great job of capturing Jay Gatsby’s determination and hopeless hopefulness. Normally, I’m not a huge Tobey McGuire fan but he did a solid job of capturing the role of the trying-to-be-objective narrator, Nick Carraway. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, five years earlier, a penniless Gatsby met Daisy Buchanan and fell head-over-heels with the beautiful young privileged girl. He went off to war and made Daisy (Carey Mulligan) promise that she’d wait.

Daisy, however, broke that promise and married Tom (Joel Edgerton) a boorish, philandering man who, like her, came from old money. If she would have waited, Gatsby would have come back. It was always his plan. In the years he was away, he earned millions, enough wealth, he thought, to earn Daisy’s heart.

With Tom’s constant cheating, Daisy seemed like she might be ready for what Gatsby had to offer but as Nick warned his friend, "You can’t recreate the past."

As I said, I really enjoyed DiCaprio as Gatsby the hopeful dreamer who, you could tell, wasn’t afraid to be ruthless to get what he wanted. Like his character in Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio (and the character of Gatsby) have mastered the art of reinvention. Edgerton's Tom also proved to be a formidable challenger for Daisy’s heart.

Now, the movie opens and closes in a snowy asylum where Nick pins The Great Gatsby as part of his therapy. What? Hey, kids, if you want to bypass the book and just use the film instead, know that this little artistic license did not happen in the novel. I didn’t understand why Nick, for one, would end up in an asylum and, two, why the book would have to be written there. Couldn’t it just be a memoir based on an important and pivotal time in his life?

Then there is the matter of Daisy. I thought Carey Mulligan was good but I left wondering if someone else could have been better in that role. Mulligan was good but not great. Director/co-writer Luhrmann gave Daisy a lot more depth than she had in the book. As she was written by Fitzgerald, Daisy just wasn't the kind of woman who would ever be capable of the kind of love that Gatsby demands … and never was. Part of the tragedy is that the past Gatsby so desperately wanted to create was never there.

Yet this is a Baz Luhrmann spectacle and he brings on the dazzling visuals. The infamous parties Gatsby is known for as well as the speakeasies and mansions give him a colorful playground to romp and play in. The soundtrack, has more than a nod to executive producer Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. It is a mash-up of rap and current songs with a 20’s feel. Jay-z, Beyonce, and Will-I-Am are featured. There is even a 20’s version of Amy  Winehouse classic Back to Black.

Gatsby is a kinetic visual spectacle with a few really strong performances. We saw it in 2-D, if I could have done it again, I’d do the 3-D version.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 appears to be the last in the Iron Man trilogy. If so, the movie went out with a bang, lots of bangs. Out of the three, I have to say I think the first one is the best but 3 makes a very valiant effort to usurp that first one. It says a lot that I saw the movie twice over the weekend.

Iron Man 3 takes place after The Avengers. As a result of going through the wormhole in that film, the Tony Stark in this film is scarred. He can’t sleep and he’s having panic attacks. His solution? Throw himself into his work. He ends up with over 40 Iron Man suits that respond to his beck and call.

He’ll need all of those suits to combat the latest terrorist threat, The Mandarin (played deliciously by Ben Kingsley and not to be confused with the delicious little oranges usually in a light syrup). Working for The Mandarin is Aldrich Killian (played by a slightly bulked up Guy Pearce), a scientist that Stark blew off at a party over a decade before.

The Mandarin is wreaking havoc through a series of televised terrorist events. It is first up to the Iron Patriot (a red, white and blue Iron Man worn by Don Cheadle) to vanquish him. Adding to the mix is the head of Stark Industries and Stark’s significant other, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow – who could use a few sandwiches with cheese and extra mayo) and her new head of security, Iron Man’s best friend and former bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau).

Lovers of action will love Iron Man 3 which has some seriously intense and long action sequences. Yet, Robert Downey Jr. has always brought the fun and comedy to the series and he definitely does not disappoint here. Some of his best lines are exchanged with Harley (Ty Simpkins) a young boy he meets along the way to saving the world.

If I had a problem with the movie it was the nature of the villain. The Mandarin’s warriors have the ability to regenerate limbs and survive just about anything. Yet, to me, it was never clear what could actually kill them and what made some of them blow up. Was it intentional? Was it accidental? It was never made clear.
However, the villains did turn into a freaky red-orange color and the fact that they could blow up made for a lot of cool explosions and ratcheted up the action feature a few notches.

The film ‘ended’ the trilogy satisfactorily. It seemed like a fitting conclusion - so much so that a 4th Iron Man would seem a little disingenuous. Of course stay until the very, very end for a funny little after the credits sequence.