‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno’ Goes Down in a, You Know, Pleasurable Way

Zack and Miri Make a Porno movie poster

Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is the first movie he made which takes place outside of New Jersey. Instead, he takes us to Pittsburgh where we follow the exploits of the title characters who share an apartment and have been the best of friends since they were kids. When we first meet them, their lives are hanging by a thread as they are behind on all their bills, and soon after they lose their water and electricity. Both work at a Starbucks-like shop called Bean n’ Gone where they waste their lives away like those two guys from “Clerks. “Sound like anyone you know?

These two end up going to their high school reunion where Miri ends up connecting with her biggest crush, football hero Bobby Long (Brandon Routh), in the hopes of having a nice little fling. She has yet to find Bobby doesn’t “swing that way.” This soon becomes clear as we see Zack talking with Bobby’s boyfriend, Brandon (Justin Long, who is frackin’ hilarious), who reveals to Zack he is in fact an actor in gay porno films, the stuff Zack doesn’t quite fit the demographic for.

Later on, when both Zack and Miri are in very dire straits, Zack comes up with the idea of the two of them doing a porno. Miri is not quite up to the idea, but the way Zack sees it, porno is now so mainstream that even Paris Hilton (albeit unintentionally) did one and now hawks her own line of perfume to “tweens.” They end up committing to it despite one thing; they have never had sex with each other before. The way they saw it beforehand was they get along so great that they both believe sex will just get in the way of the friendship they have a la “When Harry Met Sally.” Of course, you can’t help but get the feeling Zack would love an opportunity to get up close and personal with Miri, you know?

There’s this line from “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones” which keeps floating around in my head of when Anakin meets up with Padme again and tells her how she has grown more beautiful since the last time they were together. To this, Padme replies, “Anakin, you’ll always be that little boy I remember from Tatooine.” I totally remember the audiences groaning after she said this, and the line kind of sums up the relationship between Zack and Miri, and we feel we have a pretty good idea of where their relationship will end up.

Zack is played Seth Rogen who, for a moment, appeared to be Smith’s new man crush since Ben Affleck was far too busy with his acting career at the time. Rogen is perfect as he handles the raunchy and profane material of the movie with the confidence of a pro, and at the same time he projects a sweet side to his character which really wins the audience over. Elizabeth Banks (“W.“) plays Miri who stays close to Zack throughout their hardships and spends nights with him in front of a trash can in which all their unpaid bills are burned to a crisp. The chemistry between these two is very good, and they play off of each other really well.

In addition, Smith has rounded out a great cast to keep the laughs going throughout this ode to porn. Some of his regulars show up here like Jason Mewes who plays Lester, a hopelessly dense individual who also yearns to be a porn star. Another is Jeff Anderson (the immortal Randal Graves from “Clerks”) who plays Deacon the cameraman. How he manages to get a movie out of all this insanity is beyond me.

Smith even goes out of his way to even cast actual porno stars as well. The most noticeable one is Katie Morgan who has been featured on some documentaries on HBO about her career (how I know this, I refuse to reveal). She is as perky here as she is in those interviews, and her cheerful presence here is kind of a surprise compared to other actresses in her line of work. Traci Lords co-stars as well, and she shows us an amazing new way to blow bubbles. A former porn actress herself, Lords has long since escaped adult entertainment and has dived into the bad taste escapades of John Waters to a delightful effect. Both of the actresses being in this movie should show just how mainstream porn is getting and of how much this scares conservative politicians to death.

But one of the truly scene stealing performances in this movie belongs to Craig Robinson who plays the producer of the porno, Delaney. Robinson is a big kick to watch here as he delivers his lines in a terrifically deadpan manner. At once disgusted at what he has been hired to do, Delaney suddenly becomes incredibly enthusiastic when he realizes he gets to do. He also has a pretty hilarious response to when he is asked to work “Black Friday,” and it serves as a reminder of how some people take things a little too literally.

Smith also has loads of fun skewering the porn films we know from our past but never really admit to ever having watched. Zack and Miri end up coming up with the title “Star Whores” for their porno, and this in reference to how so many of these pornos are typically named after Hollywood blockbusters. See if any of these remind you of anything (some of these I made up):

“Pulp Friction”

“Robocock”

“The Hard Knight”

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Boner” (Justin Long’s character could easily be cast in this one.)

Smith directs this movie to those who are more familiar with pornos than they would ever admit during a sales pitch. It’s also an ode to when he started as a filmmaker all those years ago with “Clerks.” Using a hockey stick as a boom mike holder? You can believe he utilized things like these to get his first movie done.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is not as consistently funny as some of Smith’s other movies like “Clerks” or “Dogma” among others. Like “Jersey Girl,” it follows a certain formula to where we pretty much know where the story is going to end up. At the same time, he gleefully skewers the formula by adding his own brand of raunchy humor. There was one moment I laughed so hard that I almost passed out, something which does not always happen if at all. I fell over, the color went out of my eyes for a second, and things got fuzzy. Yes, that’s how hard I was laughing. I refuse to spoil this particular moment for you, but I will say I will never look at cake frosting in the same way ever again.

Smith also makes clear the difference between having sex and making love, and this difference is made clear at a pivotal moment in the movie which changes everything for the characters. There’s the one nighter, and then there’s the sex which reveals true feelings and which proves to be more than extraordinary. I may not be an expert on the subject for reasons I will plead the fifth on, but I do know this much. Smith, after all these years, still gives us down to earth characters which shows how he has not come even close to forgetting where he came from.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” may not be the best movie of Kevin Smith’s career, but it definitely has its moments of utter hilarity. It also shows there is more to him than making movies in New Jersey. By making a break from his usual comic territory, we can and should expect him to go beyond his comfort zone for a good dose of naughty laughs filled with heart from here on out.

* * * out of * * * *

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‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’ – The Duo is Back for Some High Times

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot poster

2001’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was supposed to be the last installment of the View Askewniverse, but time has shown you cannot keep two stoners from New Jersey down. The duo would return in “Clerks II,” and now 13 years later following some serious drug problems and a near fatal heart attack, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith have come back to play their iconic characters in “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” which has the two up to the same shenanigans while finding new meaning in their lives. Like the average Kevin Smith film, it is imperfect but still a lot of fun. And unlike “Yoga Hosers,” you do not have to be stoned to enjoy it.

When “Reboot” begins, Jay and Silent Bob have been busted by the police for running an illegal marijuana operation in the old RST video store next to the Quick Stop. In court, they are represented by Brandon (Justin Long) who gets them acquitted upon convincing the judge (Craig Robinson) that the duo’s store was a temporary pop-up store designed to promote an upcoming movie. The case against them is dismissed which is a relief for them and me as I was not in the mood to watch a court movie. Things, however, take a sharp left turn when the same lawyer quickly switches sides and defends a representative of Saban Films which has optioned the comic book series “Bluntman and Chronic.” It turns out the two, when they were signing documents the lawyer said were necessary for representation purposes, inadvertently signed away their naming rights to Saban, and now they can no longer self-identify as Jay and Silent Bob ever again.

After meeting with Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee), Jay and Silent Bob discover Saban is planning a big budget reboot entitled “Bluntman v Chronic” which is being directed by… Well, you’ll see. Once again, our intrepid duo heads out to Hollywood in an effort to stop production in this reboot and reclaim their identities in the process.

Yes, the plot of “Reboot” is the same as “Strikes Back,” and even Smith has stated this new movie is “literally the same fucking movie all over again.” However, to dismiss this latest View Askew production as a lazy retread would be to miss the point. Smith is out to make fun of sequels, remakes and reboots, and he is not lost on the irony that “Reboot” is essentially all three of those things. What results is one of the most meta movies I have seen in some time as he threatens to be cleverer than he is, but it also results in a motion picture which kept me guessing as to what would happen next. Not all the jokes hit, but the ones which do had me laughing uncontrollably, and this includes one such moment which made me as light-headed as the “frosted” scene from “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”

As you can expect, there are a myriad of cameos to be found throughout “Reboot” as well as a ton of easter eggs. One key cameo comes early when Shannon Elizabeth returns as Justice (a.k.a. Boo Boo Kitty Fuck), Jay’s love interest from “Strike Back.” It turns out Jay did get an answer to his question of “will you fuck me when you get out” as Justice introduces him to their love child, Millennium “Milly” Faulken (Harley Quinn Smith). But because Jay and Justice have been estranged for years to where she has lied to Milly about his whereabouts, she encourages Jay not to reveal to Milly he is her father because, well, you know. Still, Milly finds a way to join him and Silent Bob on their journey to Hollywood.

The moment where Jay discovers he is a dad is what makes this particular View Askew movie stand out as he is forced to confront a new responsibility no one is easily prepared for. It also allows for Jason Mewes to show a vulnerability here we have not seen from previously, and this makes for an especially heartfelt story. In real life, Mewes has become a dad himself, and this among other things is what has kept him from an early death. Seriously, there is real emotion to be found here in “Reboot” even for those who are not Kevin Smith fans in the slightest.

As for the other cameos, not all of them have been spoiled by the trailer, so I will go over the ones you already know about. Chris Hemsworth, in a movie filled with priceless “Thor” puns, plays himself and reminds us of his inspired comic performance in the “Ghostbusters” reboot. Ralph Garman of “The Ralph Report” can rest assured that his cameo as Ted Underhill lasts a lot longer than 17 seconds, but it could have lasted even longer so we too could get his character’s credit card number. Matt Damon’s cameo is so infinitely priceless to where I refuse to ruin it for anyone and, unlike Jimmy Kimmel, I am glad Smith made time for him. You also have Fred Armisen, Rosario Dawson and Kevin’s wife Jennifer Schwalbach making small but very memorable appearances, and be sure to take a look at the name of Craig Robinson’s character as it is like something out of a 1970’s exploitation movie.

But the best cameo here comes from Ben Affleck who returns as “Chasing Amy’s” Holden McNeil. Both Affleck and Smith had been estranged for some time, but even Affleck knew he had to be a part of this flick as Smith was responsible for giving him some of his first leading roles in movies. Plus, Affleck helps to give “Reboot” an even bigger heart as he talks about how children are like our own reboots, and this solidifies the evolution Smith had in mind for the various characters he has created over the years. While “Clerks II” dealt with the responsibilities of being an adult, “Reboot” looks at what becoming a parent does to your overall identity to where everything else in your life becomes secondary. Smith covered this before in “Jersey Girl,” a movie which I think is better than people typically give it credit for, but here it takes on a deeper meaning as both he and Mewes have danced with the Grim Reaper and have come out the other side with infinitely changed perspectives.

When it comes to the cinema of Kevin Smith, his movies are either for you or they are not. I have been a big fan of his since “Clerks” which contained one of my most favorite pieces of dialogue ever (“This job would be great if it weren’t for the fucking customers”), and it is a true joy to see him revisit his View Askew Universe. While he may not be as gifted as Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg, Smith still knows how to give us a fun time, and he does just that with “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.” Even if you are not supposed to be here today, I would like to think this movie will find a way to cheer you up. And yes, be sure to stay through the end credits.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘3 From Hell’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

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The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

After watching “3 From Hell,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is Rob Zombie’s best film with “The Devil’s Rejects” being right behind it.  This might be an unpopular opinion, and I might be in the minority on this, but this is one hell of a movie, pun intended.   Even though the late Sid Haig is hardly in the movie because of his health issues at the time, it is an incredible ride from start-to-finish.  There is never a dull moment in this movie.  This is the kind of balls-to-the-wall and in-your-face horror film which is missing from today’s cinemas.  It is a shame the film did not get a wider release as there is a lot to like here.

3 From Hell” picks up right where “The Devil’s Rejects” left off, and it shows the aftermath of the big finale.  Someway, somehow, Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) have survived their shootout with the police.  However, they are in prison, which makes it quite difficult to unleash their unique brand of mayhem and chaos onto unsuspecting victims. Baby Firefly is still completely crazy and has little interest in trying to get out of prison.  She’s quite proud of what she has done behind bars and of how she has survived.  As a matter of fact, the three of them have quite a fan base now because of the news.

Otis Driftwood is able to escape out of prison thanks to the help of his half-brother Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake) who is new to this series of films.  However, he has worked with Rob Zombie in the past on “31” and “Halloween II.”  Even though he is no Captain Spaulding, he does a really good job of being a believable brother to Otis and a terrifying force.  Now that Otis and his brother are running around free, they need to find a way to reunite with Baby Firefly.  Without her, they are just not complete.  They write off Captain Spaulding as dying from lethal injection, which explains why he is not part of their team anymore.  Once the “3 From Hell” gang are back together again, things really get taken up a notch.  Sometimes their victims just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The violence is unrelenting, brutal and completely raw, and this is a compliment to the highest degree in a horror film.

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It is rare to see films like this made today, as I mentioned earlier.  This film is not politically correct, and it is not afraid to truly go for it without thinking twice or blinking. This is the unrated cut of the film, and it certainly holds nothing back with the violence or the nudity as well.  There is not a single moment in this film which is boring, lackluster or wasteful.  Rob Zombie takes a patient approach, but there is always something happening on screen that is capturing our attention as an audience.  At times, it plays like a horror western with some of the showdowns.  It’s also incredibly entertaining.

When “3 From Hell” was over, I had a huge smile on my face.  I realized I had witnessed something special and something which doesn’t find its way to your local theater with the proper marketing.  This is why it was given a special release through Fathom Events. A lot of people have complained about the film being a rehash of “The Devil’s Rejects,” but quite frankly I don’t see it.  With Rob Zombie, he doesn’t make films where things are black and white.  At times, innocent people die on screen. We find ourselves rooting for evil people who are doing evil things.  It is because they are entertaining, funny and totally unlike anything else in a horror movie.

Rob Zombie is a true horror fan, and it shows in the way the film was shot.  It had that grindhouse feel to it.  I loved the look of the film, and I especially loved the performances in the film.  At times, I felt like Sheri Moon Zombie was stealing the show with her antics on screen.  In other moments, I enjoyed the easy-going yet incredibly scary performance by Bill Moseley.  Richard Brake is just as off the wall as well with his performance.  If I had to pick one performance that really stood out, it would have to be Sheri Moon Zombie, though.  Granted, she is given a lot to work with on screen, but she’s more than up to the task of handling it all with relative ease. It’s hitting all the right notes.  I loved every single second of this flick.

* * * * out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “3 From Hell” is being released on a two-disc Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Combo Pack from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.  It comes with both the R-rated and unrated versions of the film, but the unrated version can only be viewed on the Blu-Ray. The film has a running time of 115 minutes.  For the rated version, it is rated R for strong sadistic violence, language throughout, sexual content and drug use.

Audio Info:  The English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track is out of this world! It is exactly what I wanted out of this film.  It truly adds to the screams of terror when the violence is happening on screen.  It’s great during the scenes which feature some great songs as well. There are also subtitles in English and Spanish.

Video Info: The film looks outstanding on a 1080p High Definition 16×9 (1.85:1) presentation.  It is able to have an old-school grindhouse look to it, as I mentioned in my review, without sacrificing the picture quality which is sharp and top-notch.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Rob Zombie:  If you have ever heard an interview with Rob Zombie, you know what an intelligent and thoughtful filmmaker and individual he is.  He takes you through the entire filmmaking process and is never boring.  This is a commentary track which I highly recommend you listen to after watching the film on its own.

To Hell and Back: The Making of 3 From Hell (4-Part Documentary) (01:34:00):  This is almost as long as the film itself!  This is the kind of special feature I wish more filmmakers would add to Blu-rays. It shows on-set footage, behind-the-scenes interviews, and tons of knowledge on anything and everything you would ever want to know about this movie.  This is a top notch, A+ special feature.  I’m really glad they took the time to show us how this movie came together. Rob Zombie is as laid back as they come and very open to ideas from his actors.  Even though he is the writer/director, he only puts his foot down when it comes to notes from the studio trying to change his vision or tell him what to do on his films.

Should You Buy It?

HELL YES!!!  As soon as you have finished reading this review, you owe it to yourself to buy this movie as soon as possible.  This is my favorite horror movie of 2019, and it is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in probably a decade.   Now don’t get me wrong: I love what Jordan Peele is doing with films like “Get Out” and “Us”.  However, this is, as director Kevin Smith called it, “Horror Heaven.”  If you like your horror films bloody, twisted, funny, unhinged, crazy and totally unfiltered, this is the movie for you.  The audio and the visuals are top notch as well as the special features.  Lionsgate did a tremendous job with this Blu-ray release, and I can’t recommend it enough!

 

‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is Fun, But Also a Bit Stale

Zombieland Double Tap poster

For the record, I have seen the original “Zombieland” although it took being on cable one morning for me to watch it. In the midst of an endless sea of zombie movies and television shows, here was one which had a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse, and it proved to be endlessly entertaining throughout. While everything and everybody could have been easily upstaged by Bill Murray’s howlingly funny cameo where he is at his self-effacing best, it had a game cast of actors who reveled in the fun you could tell they were having during its making.

Now it is 10 years later, and we finally have the long-awaited sequel “Zombieland: Double Tap” (nice title). The cast now comes with at least one Oscar nomination under their belts, Reuben Fleischer is riding high after the commercial success of “Venom,” and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have freed themselves from the “Deadpool” franchise long enough to pen this one. What results is definitely fun, but it also lacks the freshness of its predecessor, and everyone seems to be trying a little too hard to be funny and clever this time around. Plus, the sight of a zombie’s head getting bashed does not have the same visceral thrill it used to have.

When we catch up with our intrepid band of heroes, they are laying waste to the latest zombie horde as they make their way towards a government building which these days has had one too many unwelcome guests – The White House. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has long since become a hardened survivor, and the many nights he spends with Wichita (Emma Stone) in the Lincoln Bedroom has him seriously thinking about marriage. As for Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), he treats everyday in there like it is Christmas while Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) continually resents him for treating her like she is still a little girl. Things come to a head when Wichita and Little Rock suddenly become tired of life in the Oval Office and hit the road to find some new sights. After some hesitation, Columbus and Tallahassee do the same.

For a moment, I figured “Zombieland: Double Tap” would take place entirely in The White House and that the filmmakers would take great pleasure in ridiculing the terrible state of American politics. But since “Zombieland” took place largely on the west side of America, it only makes sense we find these characters traveling through various locales on the east coast which include, yes, Graceland. Like in any zombie movie, home is where you find it as no one can afford to stay in the same place for very long.

Seriously, these movies thrive on their inspired cast of actors. Woody Harrelson, who can play just about any role at this point in his career, looks to be having the time of his life as Tallahassee as we watch him channel Elvis Presley more often than not, and he makes his undying hatred of pacifism and minivans especially palpable. Eisenberg and Stone play off of each other wonderfully as they constantly try to prove who is more sarcastic than the other. As for Breslin, it has been fascinating to watch her grow up onscreen, and her yearning to look for other people her age in this apocalyptic world gives her character more room to grow than the others.

Still, there is a constant feeling of “been there, done that” which permeates these proceedings. Sometimes filmmakers can get away with doing the same thing one more time, but other times they fall victim to staying in their comfort zone to where things get stale very quickly. With “Zombieland: Double Tap,” it is an example of half and half as there is still much fun to be had, but what was once fresh now feels far past its expiration date. Plus, seeing these characters continually try to be cleverer than the other gets exasperating rather quickly.

One of the things this sequel really has going for it is new blood. Zoey Deutch, so fetching in “Everybody Wants Some,” is a scene-stealer as the infinitely dumb Madison. Sure, this character is a dumb blonde cliché, but Deutch is a hoot throughout as she makes Madison so adorably stupid to where I kept waiting for her to sing “Cause I’m a Blonde” at the drop of a hat. We watch a lot of movies like these waiting for dumb blondes to die a most horrible death, but Deutch gives us more than enough reason to see Madison live one more day and then die on another.

There is also the always excellent Rosario Dawson who shows up as Nevada, a fellow survivor who, like Tallahassee has quite the thing for Elvis. She and Harrelson have quite the chemistry together as they talk about their love for “the king,” and it is a shame she is not in the movie more. However, when she does reappear, it is at the perfect moment.

And there is no forgetting Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch who play… Well, just watch the movie to find out.

Fleischer does what he can to keep things rolling, and he gives us one great zombie attack sequence which lasts several minutes and looks like it was done in one shot. This sequel is never boring, but it still feels lacking in one way or another. Even when the main characters ban together to attack an amazingly large horde of zombies which threaten Babylon, an oasis of peace which is just asking to be laid waste to especially when you take into account it has a no guns policy, the climax is never as thrilling as it wants to be.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” is not a bad movie, but it is also not particularly memorable. Whether or not the fans of the original enjoy it, I do not think it will have the same staying power. Everybody here looks ever so happy to be reunited, and the fun is definitely on display, but that same amount of fun does not quite translate fully over to the audience. In the end, things could have been much worse, but this sequel is still a near-miss for me.

By the way, be sure to stay through the end credits as there is a couple of post-credit scenes which are funnier than anything else in this sequel. Trust me, it is worth waiting to go to the bathroom until after the lights come up.

* * ½ out of * * * *

‘The Cotton Club Encore’ Gives This Movie The Version it Deserves

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For years, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 film “The Cotton Club” was upstaged by its behind the scenes drama which included the cold-blooded murder of one of its financiers, Roy Radin. With Coppola teaming up again with producer Robert Evans and writer Mario Puzo, audiences must have been expecting another “Godfather” movie, but what they got was something quite different. Despite some good reviews, the movie proved to be a commercial failure, and far more time has spent documenting all of what went into its nightmarish making to where I am truly surprised Eleanor Coppola has never given us a documentary on it like she did with “Apocalypse Now.”

Now it is 35 years later, and Coppola has given us another version entitled “The Cotton Club Encore.” This version came about after he discovered an old Betamax video copy of his original cut which ran 25 minutes longer. From there, Coppola spent $500,000 of his own money to restore this film, and in the process he added 24 minutes and deleted 13 minutes to give us this new cut which just arrived in select theaters. For the record, I have not seen the original 1984 version, but after watching “The Cotton Club Encore,” I am certain I do not even need to bother as this cut is outstanding and absolutely exhilarating to take in. What seemed deeply flawed in the past now seems almost perfect.

In essence, “The Cotton Club” is about two men trying to navigate the hurdles life keeps throwing at them. One is cornet player Dixie Dwyer (played by Richard Gere) who arrives back in Harlem to see his family which includes his mother Tish (Gwen Verdon in an inspired piece of casting) and his brother Vincent (Nicolas Cage) who looks to be all too enthusiastic about becoming a mobster. After saving the life of gangland kingpin Dutch Schultz (James Remar), Dixie finds himself getting involved in the criminal element which, despite his better judgment, succeeds in elevating his career as a musician to a whole new level. In the process, however, he does make the mistake of falling in love with Dutch’s girlfriend, Vera Cicero (Diane Lane). Suffice to say, romances like these come with bloody endings rather than happy ones.

The other main man in this story is Delbert “Sandman” Williams (Gregory Hines) who, along with his brother Clayton “Clay” Williams (Maurice Hines, Gregory’s brother), get hired to perform at The Cotton Club, a jazz club located in Harlem which featured a roster of black (or African American if you will) performers who sang and danced their hearts out. While there, Delbert becomes infatuated with a singer named Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee) to where he cannot wait to sweep her off her feet. But it doesn’t take long for the cracks to show in his personal and professional life as he gets constantly berated by club management which is intent on reminding him where his place is, and he later makes a decision which threatens to tear him and his brother apart forever.

The Cotton Club was a real club in New York which was open from 1923 to 1940, and while it did feature mostly black performers, no one of color could patronize it and the clientele was white. This irony ended up lasting all the way up this film’s making as the financiers, worried the long running time, gave Coppola the following notes:

“Film’s too long. Too many black stories. Too much tap dancing. Too many musical numbers.”

Coppola by then was so burned out emotionally from the movie’s production that he acquiesced to the financiers and cut down many of the African-American related scenes to where the focus was more on the gangsters and the Gere/Lane love story. No wonder he sounds so weary when talking today about the changes he made and of how regretful he was about compromising his vision. It also serves as a sad statement of how things in show business did not change much as, even in the 1980’s, African-Americans were still getting the short end of the stick.

With “The Cotton Club Encore,” Coppola has restored much of the African-American storyline, and this is really where the movie is at its best. Seeing these actors and singers perform their hearts out is endlessly thrilling as is the director’s success in transporting us back to the bygone era of the 1930’s. Coppola really does take us back in time to where I felt like I lived through this era which brought with it great music, good and bad times, violence and, among other things, a stock market crash. Heaven forbid we ever go through anything like that crash again, huh?

One of the big treats of all though is watching Gregory Hines and his brother Maurice dance the night away. Both are extraordinary tap dancers, and the love they had for performing is on display throughout as they make their moves look like a piece of cake. Seeing Gregory here serves as a strong reminder of what an incredibly talented and gifted artist he was, and it is also especially bittersweet as he has long since left the land of the living. He was only 57 years old when he passed away after a battle with liver cancer, and he is still missed.

Indeed, this bittersweet feeling threatened to overwhelm me at times as “The Cotton Club Encore” features a number of actors who have since died like Bob Hoskins who portrays the ruthless club owner Owney Madden, and Fred Gwynne as his right-hand man, Frenchy Demange. The scene these two actors have together following a hostage situation is classic, and is another reminder of the talent we have lost over the years.

Another tremendous performance to be found in “The Cotton Club” comes from Lonette McKee, an actress I first became familiar with in “Brewster’s Millions.” With this new cut, Coppola has gone out of his way to restore her showstopping number of “Stormy Weather,” and watching her belt it out left me speechless. She doesn’t just sing the song, she lives through it, and it is an emotionally draining moment I still think about. It is one thing for a singer to hit all the right notes, and it is another to really perform it to where you are giving the most vulnerable performance imaginable, and McKee pulls this off beautifully.

The movie’s other main story of an illicit love affair had me worried for a bit as this tale has been told countless times on stage and screen to where we feel like we know how it will go. Regardless, it still proves to be enthralling in its own way. While it is easily upstaged by the African-American story, it is still fun to see Richard Gere and Diane Lane mix up as they prove to have a palpable chemistry which they would build on years later when they starred in Adrian Lyne’s “Unfaithful.” While it is a little weird to hear Gere’s Bronx accent at first, he quickly reminds us why he is such a magnetic leading man, and he proves to be quite the coronet player as well.

The only real problem I had with “The Cotton Club,” and this is probably the case with either version, is there are too many plot threads which meander, some of which fail to reach a fulfilling conclusion. Despite his efforts, Coppola is unable to manage these various threads to where everything fits into a cohesive whole. At times, it almost made me wish he cut more out of this version as things might have flowed better as a result. And yes, there is that fake head (you will know it when you see it) which proves to be as fake as the baby in “American Sniper.” Perhaps some CGI magic could have helped with it.

Still, when all is said and done, “The Cotton Club Encore” proves to be a stunning achievement as Coppola has finally given this film the version it truly deserves. While he may have come onto this project as a hired hand at first, it is clear to me he really fell in love with the subject matter and took joy in recreating a historical period which deserves far more than a passing glance.

It has been a big year for Coppola as he has announced plans to make his dream project “Megalopolis” a cinematic reality, and he also gave us another version of one of his classics with “Apocalypse Now: Final Cut.” With “The Cotton Club Encore,” he has righted the wrongs he made in the past, and he can now pat himself on the back instead of moan over the mistakes he made over 30 years ago. More importantly, this movie is no longer upstaged by its production stories and can now be appreciated on its own terms.

Relax Francis, you did great!

* * * * out of * * * *

William Lustig, Robert Forster and Company on the Making of ‘Vigilante’

Vigilante movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: It was a shock to learn of Robert Forster’s death on October 11, 2019 after a battle with brain cancer. He was 78 years old. I remain in awe of his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” for which he deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as he was able to convey so much while doing so little. Having bumped into him once at New Beverly Cinema, I can also confirm he could not have been a nicer guy.

The following article is about a screening which took place at New Beverly Cinema back in 2010 in which Forster was one of the main guests, and I present here in his memory. RIP Robert.

Filmmaker William Lustig appeared at the Grindhouse Film Festival at New Beverly Cinema to talk about his 1983 “Death Wish” exploitation knock off, “Vigilante.” Joining Lustig for this Q&A were some of the film’s stars: Robert Forster, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Frank Pesce. For these four men, the evening was full of laughs and great memories as they discussed the making of this movie which was shot in what they called the “real New York” with blue collar workers and all.

The print of “Vigilante” being shown was from Lustig’s own collection and was over twenty years old. The color was pretty faded which the director apologized for. While they could have shown a digital copy of it instead, he was quick to remark, “The great thing about going to the Grindhouse is the prints, warts and all.”

Forster said he got cast thanks to Pesce and Lustig who remembered him from another movie Lustig made called “Alligator.” The role of factory worker Eddie Marino was originally given to Tony Musante who later turned it down by saying he did not want to work with “those guys.” Forster said the three guys onstage with him did more for his career than anybody, and he also got four or five film roles from Pesce alone as well as a set of golf clubs which he still uses.

Forster also had a very positive overview regarding his career as an actor:

“I never ever worried about the jobs I didn’t do. Every single movie I’ve done has been instructive to me in its own way.”

Pesce said he was also responsible for getting Williamson cast in “Vigilante,” but Williamson saw it a bit differently:

“I don’t remember how I got involved and I don’t give a damn!”

Suffice to say, Williamson was the coolest guy in the theater on this evening.

Pesce also gleefully told one story about the scene between him and Williamson where he was chasing him and they get separated by a chain link fence. Between takes, Pesce asked Lustig, “Should I spit through the fence at Fred?” “Do what you want to do,” Lustig replied.

So Pesce did what his instincts told him to do, the director yelled cut, and afterwards Williamson went up to Lustig and told him point blank, “Cut the spit.” Williamson’s reasoning in saying this to the director was very blunt:

“You don’t do that to a brother!”

Lustig also got Williamson to talk about some of the ad libs he came up with on set like when he was asked what he thought about capital punishment:

“Do you think anyone really misses Ted Bundy?”

Pesce also remarked how the scene with the guy in the wheelchair he pushed over was actually an homage to a similar one with Richard Widmark in “Kiss of Death.”

“Vigilante” may not be great cinema, but watching it with an audience was highly entertaining and we were lucky enough to have Lustig, Forster, Pesce and Williamson on hand to talk about it. Lustig summed it up best:

“There always seems to be a need for retribution movies.”

 

 

‘Parasite’ May Be the Cinematic Masterpiece of 2019

Parasite movie poster

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” is a movie I would definitely screen as a double feature with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifting.” Both of them deal with characters on the low end of the economic totem pole who resort to deceitful ways in order to survive in an especially harsh and unforgiving world. But while they start as one type of movie, they eventually take a very sharp left turn to give audiences something unexpected and deeply disturbing. Also, they each won Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in different years, and this should give you a clear idea of just how incredibly brilliant these movies are.

The story opens up in a shabby semi-basement apartment where the Kim family resides and struggles to survive. Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) are unemployed, and along with their children, son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam), they work low-paying jobs which include putting together pizza boxes for a local company. The area around them is squalid to say the least, and they can never rid themselves of the stench of urine and vomit coming through their window even as they struggle to take advantage of their neighbor’s Wi-Fi. When an exterminator arrives to fumigate the area, Ki-taek encourages his wife to leave the window open so they can get the apartment fumigated for free as it threatens to be overtaken by unwanted insects.

But then one day, the family is visited by Ki-woo’s friend, Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon), who is currently a university student. While there, he encourages Ki-woo to take over his job as an English tutor for Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), daughter of the wealthy Park family. Ki-woo is initially hesitant as he does not have a degree, but Min encourages him to fake it. With the help of Ki-jung, he is given forged documents which look quite real, and he is off to the Park household for his interview.

“Parasite” is insidiously clever in showing how different the Parks’ living arrangements are from the Kims’. Upon arriving at their glamorous household, he is made to go through a door which opens with a very ominous sound as it sounds like the rest of the world has been shut out to keep anyone from squatting on such valuable territory. It is a modern building and the kind you pass by on the road where sarcastically tell yourself, “yeah, I can afford that.”

From there, the movie turns into a wickedly black comedy as Ki-woo wins over Mrs. Park who watches him tutor her daughter ever so confidently as he encourages her to keep a check on her pulse during exams. When he learns the Parks have an artistically inclined son who is in need of an art teacher, Ki-woo tells her he knows just the person. That person is, of course, his sister Ki-jung, but the siblings have their act together to where they will not reveal their true identities, and it is hilarious to watch how infinitely prepared they are before they ring the doorbell.

It is also sublime to see how Ki-woo and Ki-jung win the trust of this wealthy family as they come up with clever ways of getting their parents hired as a driver and a housekeeper. Of course, this involves getting some longtime employees fired, and the ways they accomplish this are brilliant. Suffice to say, there is now more than one use for a packet of hot sauce.

When the Parks go away on a weekend camping trip, the Kim family spends this time in the lavish home, and they revel in drinking their expensive alcohol as they comment on how gullible rich people can be. I have to admit I found much joy to be taken in this family infiltrating the land of the rich as there is a perverse pleasure of seeing people acquire this lifestyle by fooling others. Boon Joon-ho invites us to share in this giddy deceit, and then he pulls out the rug from under you.

During their inebriated celebration, the Kim family suddenly hears the doorbell ring, and they are greeted by the housekeeper they got fired, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), who begs to be let inside as she has to retrieve something from down in the basement. I cannot give anything away from here, but everything goes to hell in a handbasket as secrets are revealed, and the characters will do anything to keep them from being discovered. By that, I mean anything.

I am not overly familiar with Bong Joon-ho’s work which includes “Okja,” “The Host” and “Mother.” I have, however, seen his English-language debut “Snowpiercer” which involves its characters going from the lower-class cars of a train to the ones where the elite reside in comfort, and like that one, “Parasite” observes the vast divide between the haves and have-nots which continues to grow in this day and age. Even after the Kim family has successfully deceived the Parks, they wonder if they can ever truly belong in the realm of the wealthy. Ki-woo even asks Park Da-hye if he could really exist in this society, and she simply shrugs.

I love how Joon-ho gets us to delight in the Kim family’s deception as we too deep down would love to worm our way into a level of society which tantalizes us with the possibility of joining even though we never can. But therein lies the trap as he makes us see there are consequences for such conniving actions, and you can be sure that blood will be spilt. Whether or not the Park family belongs to the 1% remains to be seen, but perhaps you should treat this movie as though they do.

From start to finish, I was deeply enthralled with “Parasite” to where I never once took my eyes off the screen. While the jarring twists and turns the movie takes may throw some audience members off, they all make perfect sense and enhance the feelings of tremendous guilt we are forced to endure as these characters suffer great consequences, some of which are worse than death.

The acting all around is superb, and there is not a weak performance to be found here. Song Kang-ho is especially effective as a man who is afflicted by a certain smell he cannot shake, and it is the kind the rich associate with poor people. We see this wear away at his soul as the Park family comments on it without realizing where exactly this smell comes from, it is almost no surprise to see him snap when he does.

My hat is also off to Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam as they make their characters seem so infinitely clever to where you have to be in awe of their talents. Seeing them worm their way into the lives of the Parks ever so easily and calmly is an utter delight as we can only wish to be as clever as they are in this instance, and they keep this act up to almost to the last minute.

Seriously, “Parasite” may very well be the cinematic masterpiece of 2019 as there are only a few other movies from this past year which come close to reaching this level of brilliance. For those of you with an irrational fear of subtitles, I advise you to put those fears to the side as the most adventurous of filmgoers would do themselves a disservice to miss out on seeing this one on the big screen.

One other thing, Min-hyuk gives the family a large rock which is supposed to bring them wealth, and Ki-woo has several scenes in which he describes the rock as being “metaphorical.” This rock, however, proves to be nowhere as metaphorical as the Indian/Native American hats a couple of characters wear towards the movie’s end. Watch the movie and you will see what I mean.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Annabelle Comes Home’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

Annabelle Comes Home Blu Ray cover

The following is written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

Annabelle Comes Home” is the third film in the “Annabelle” franchise.  I would rank it as the second best in the series.  My order goes like this: “Annabelle: Creation,” “Annabelle Comes Home,” and “Annabelle.”  When you throw “The Conjuring” universe into it, it can be a little bit more difficult to rank them.  Because of this, I am going to keep it strictly to the “Annabelle” films when ranking them. “Annabelle: Creation” was a prequel, but this one is a sequel to the original “Annabelle” film. Ed and Lorraine Warren take the Annabelle doll home after the destruction she caused in the first film.  They have a room where they keep all of the evil things locked away.  However, Annabelle is so malevolent, a priest comes by the house twice a month to bless the doll.

When Ed and Lorraine Warren go away on business, they need someone to babysit their daughter Judy, played perfectly by Mckenna Grace.  The terror and fear she expresses on her face and throughout the film is simply off the charts.  Judy has a hard time making friends because people think her parents are strange and a little off-kilter because of their profession.  They are Demonologists.  If you are new to this franchise, Ed and Lorraine Warren are real.  As a matter of fact, Lorraine recently passed away, unfortunately.  They are played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, and since the two of them have been playing the couple for so long, their chemistry and timing is just about flawless.

 

Sadly, they only show up at the start of the film, and they don’t reappear until the end of it.  When they are on screen, the film is really taken up a notch.  There is good news, though, and it is those two terrific actresses Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife who play the babysitter, Mary Ellen, and her best friend Daniela.  When you throw in Grace, you have three young leads who carry the movie throughout its running time.  There is also a love interest named Bob (Michael Cimino) with great comedic timing and a running gag about his name.  They are the ones stuck dealing with Annabelle when she gets released from her glass case.

Annabelle Comes Home photo

Now, a lot of people have a problem with films which have jump scares.  There are a few jump scares in this flick, but they are really built up by the suspense and pacing which is set by director Gary Dauberman.  This is his first time behind the camera as a director, and he shows a sure hand in setting the mood.  The set design is also terrific along with the costume design, as the 1970’s look is spot-on throughout the film.  It is easy to see they spent a lot of time working on getting the little details right as it shows in the final product.  Dauberman has also written “It: Chapter 2,” “Annabelle,” “Annabelle: Creation,” and he was one of the writers on the first “It” in 2017. He knows the horror genre, and he knows the “Annabelle” franchise.  He also wrote this film based off a story he created with James Wan.

When all is said and done, this is an entertaining ride.  It starts with the acting, first and foremost, as mentioned.  If the young actors are not up to the task of showing terror and making the audience believe, the film is going to fail.  It falls on their shoulders, as they are put in charge of leading the way when Wilson and Farmiga disappear for a good chunk of the film.  They carry the movie on their shoulders, and they do not disappoint in the least.  They raise the level of the film with their acting.  Casting is so important in a film like this.

Also, Dauberman proves here he should be put in charge of more horror films as a writer and director. He knows how to use silence to his advantage, and he also truly cares about his characters as well.  There is a reason why Annabelle returns. Without giving too much away, many times characters in horror films make poor decisions.  When you find out why Annabelle is unleashed here, you understand it’s for an emotional reason which makes sense.  It is not just a plot device to get her to be part of the film.   I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought I would with this third installment in this franchise.

* * * out of * * * *

______________________________________________________________________________

Blu-Ray Info: “Annabelle Comes Home” is released on a two-disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It also comes with a digital copy as well.  The film has a running time of 106 minutes.  It is rated R for horror violence and terror, although I felt as though it could have been PG-13 as the horror violence is rather tame.

Audio Info: The audio on the film is Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: French 5.1 (Dubbed in Quebec), and Dolby Digital: Spanish 5.1. Subtitles are in English, Spanish, and French.  The film sounds great, and the tension is built up perfectly by the eerie soundtrack without it banging you over the head.

Video Info: The video format is 1080p High Definition 16×9, 2.4:1.  The picture is crystal clear, sharp, and very vivid.  It looks great on Blu-Ray.

Special Features:

Behind the Scenes: The Ferryman/Demon (05:18), The Bloody Bride (02:57), and The Werewolf (03:07):  These are characters which show up throughout the film.  On this special feature, we get to meet the actors who portrayed them and see what they went through in order to get properly prepped with make-up, effects and costumes.  It leaves the audience wondering if any of these characters will be turned into films, which is something the director hints at on these special features. Dauberman and Wan discuss what they were thinking when coming up with the characters together and how the behind-the-scenes team made them into a reality.

The Artifact Room and the Occult (05:07):  This focuses on the infamous artifact room that is in the Warren’s house.  They wanted to add some new artifacts they were not able to introduce in other films, according to Wan.  There are some very cool pieces and Easter eggs they added to the room.

The Light and The Love (04:26):  They talk about the love between Ed and Lorraine, which really is the heart and soul of the film.  While the scares are great and the stories are terrifying, it is Ed and Lorraine who really stand out.  These are two-dimensional human beings played by Wilson and Farmiga, and you can tell they have a lot of love for the real Ed and Lorraine Warren. The chemistry and connection they share on screen is hard to ignore.  There is an element of fun which is really needed in these films without being too cheesy. They talk about how they love being able to play the scary scenes along with the family drama as well.  It’s a good balance.

Seven Deleted Scenes (11:28):  Seven deleted scenes are added here, including an alternate ending.  I thought the running time of the film was just right, and the filmmakers hit all of the right notes.  Most of the deleted scenes are just more time spent with the characters which is fine, but it is not really necessary in the big picture of the film. However, there is one particular scene where Mary Ellen opens up about a near-death experience that is very powerful and should have been used in the film.  The alternate ending is nowhere near as good as the one in the film, so I’m glad they didn’t use it. The alternate ending is very clichéd and predictable.

 

Should You Buy It?

If you are a fan of “The Conjuring” universe or the “Annabelle” films, you will be happy to know they are still churning out quality movies with great performances and effective scares.  If you take away “The Nun” and “The Curse of La Llorona,” you have three really good movies (“The Conjuring,” “The Conjuring 2” and “Annabelle: Creation”) and two good ones in (“Annabelle” and “Annabelle Comes Home”). I was close to putting “Annabelle Comes Home” in the really good category, but it just misses the mark.  However, it is still a good film and one worth adding to your collection if you own the good movies.  I own five out of the seven films.  There are special features and an alternate ending, but I wish they had gone into more depth with the special features. A commentary track would have been great as well. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, which is always the case with Warner Brothers on their new release films.  This is a day-one purchase for hardcore fans of the franchise or the universe, however you wish to describe it.

‘The Hangover Part III’ is Infinitely Depressing When it Should Be Funny

The Hangover Part III movie poster

The Hangover Part III” is a serious disappointment. I am not even sure it is meant to be comedy considering how dark and depressing the material is. After the spirited debauchery of the previous two films, and I have no problem defending the second, director Todd Phillips and company try to do something different instead of giving us the same old thing which is commendable, but what we get is a far too serious action movie, and not a very good one at either. While the previous two films were a lot of fun, this one is dark and largely depressing, and the laughs are few and far in between. What the hell went wrong here?

The movie starts with Alan (Zach Galifianakis) on a downward spiral as he ends up buying a giraffe for no reason other than he can, and it ends up getting accidentally decapitated while he drives it home. The stress of this crazy incident ends up leading Alan’s father, Sid (Jeffrey Tambor), to have a fatal heart attack, and at the funeral it is revealed that Alan has been off of his medication for a long time. This brings the “Wolfpack” of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) back together as they stage an intervention and encourage Alan to go to a rehab facility in Arizona to get help. Alan agrees to go, but only if the Wolfpack will go with him.

But while on their drive to Arizona, they are captured and kidnapped by Black Doug (Mike Epps, reprising his role from the first film) and his boss, drug kingpin Marshall (John Goodman). It turns out Alan’s old friend Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) has stolen $21 million in gold from Marshall, and he wants it back. Chow, at the movie’s start, has just escaped from prison and Alan, against his better judgment, has stayed in touch with him despite all the bad things he put him, Phil and Stu through. As a result, Marshall holds onto Doug and orders the three of them to find Chow and bring him back to him. If they fail to do so, he will kill Doug. Great setup for a comedy, huh?

The great thing about the two previous “Hangover” movies was how we were every bit as intrigued as the characters were in finding out what happened to them the night before, and we shared in their discoveries with a great, delirious glee. With this third movie, you get the sense none of them want to be dealing with anymore of these shenanigans and, as a result, neither do we. All the fun has gone out the window, and what we are left with is a dreary road movie which Phillips and his co-writer Craig Mazin were under the mistaken impression they could mine comedy out of.

One major mistake made in “The Hangover Part III” is the filmmakers give certain minor characters from the previous films get far too much screen time this time around. This is especially the case with Chow who we first see escaping a dark and grimy prison at the movie’s start. In small doses, Chow is a riot to watch and Jeong is a very gifted comedy actor, but this time the character overstays his welcome and quickly becomes an unlikable prick with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. There is nothing more to Chow than him raising hell, getting high on cocaine and deceiving everyone around him whether they are friend or foe, and he comes across as a needless irritation in this sequel. Just try to laugh when Chow smothers a cocaine-fed rooster to death, I dare you.

Galifianakis also gets more screen time in this one as Alan, and this proves to be another major mistake. As funny as he can be when given the right material, his shtick as Alan has now worn out its welcome. Even when he has moments of genuine sweetness, they are wrecked by the character’s obliviousness to proper human etiquette. When “The Hangover” first came out, Galifianakis came across as one of the more original comedic actors we had seen in a long time. How sad it is to see his talents squandered in his tepid reprisal of his most famous characters thus far.

As for Cooper and Helms, they just seem to be going through the motions here as their characters have little in the way of growth or depth. Cooper hit a career high with his brilliant performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” and an even bigger one with his remake of “A Star is Born,” and Helms has been endlessly hilarious in “The Office” and various other projects. But “The Hangover Part III” proves to be a big waste of their time and talents, and you get the feeling after a while they really don’t want to be in this sequel at all.

Was there anything funny going on in “The Hangover Part III” at all? Yeah, there were a few chuckles here and there. Comedic powerhouse Melissa McCarthy shows up in a cameo as pawn shop owner Cassie, and her scenes with Galifianakis succeeded in putting a smile on my face during a movie I found myself mostly frowning at. It is also great to see Heather Graham back as Jade, Stu’s escort-wife, and it allows Alan to have a sweet reunion with the baby he befriended in the first film. There is also a post-credits sequence which has the Wolfpack up to no good again, and it makes you believe Phillips and company would have been better off recycling the same old story for another movie like they did with “The Hangover Part II.”

I saw “The Hangover Part III” at an early morning screening where there were about five or six other people in the audience. I think I heard them laugh only once or twice. I shudder to think of what a sold out audience would have sounded like during this movie. There was a lot of talent involved in the making of this eagerly awaited sequel, but what we ended up with instead is an epic fail of a comedy. Seriously, few things in this life are more infinitely depressing than a comedy which does not make you laugh much, if at all.

By the way, the next time you are thinking of having a character sing Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt” at a karaoke bar for comedic effect, don’t.

* out of * * * *

 

‘The Hangover’ is Still a Blast to Watch

The Hangover movie poster

The best way for me to describe “The Hangover” is that it is wicked funny. Not once are the filmmakers ever afraid to break any particular taboos, and its setup is ingenious. While part of me wishes that I got to see it before the hype machine exploded and went into overdrive, this movie proved to be one of the best times I had at a theater back in 2009.

“The Hangover” stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Justin Bartha as a group of guys who are on their way to spend a fun filled weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. The groom, Doug Billings (Justin Bartha), is only a couple of days from becoming a married man, and his close friends and soon-to-be brother in law Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) take him out on the town to show him the time of his life while he is still a free man. They celebrate this moment together on the top of Caesar’s Palace where they are staying for the night with a couple shots of Jägermeister, toasting to an evening they will never forget. But it is no surprise that they do, and they have to retrace their steps in order to escape the craziness of their sudden situation.

Todd Phillips, who previously directed Will Ferrell to the Streakers Hall of Fame in “Old School,” uses “The Hangover” to continue his exploration of the lives of men who just cannot seem to grow up. Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) is a schoolteacher, a married man and a father, and yet he seems the most eager of the four guys to live life to the max, free of all obligations. Stu Price (Ed Helms) treats this as an opportunity to escape his girlfriend of several years, who can never stand to have him kiss her I might add, and trick her into believing he is actually going to wine country in Napa County. For Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis), this is just another place where he can be his usual socially maladjusted self as he is the man child character who easily creeps people out regardless of whether or not he realizes it.

By putting us in the vantage point of Phil, Stu and Alan, “The Hangover” turns into an unpredictable comedy as we go along with these three men and discover what shenanigans they ended up getting themselves Looking back, I am not sure how much these events would stand up to logical scrutiny, but this movie is so much fun, WHO CARES?! It is not like we are watching a “Saw” movie for crying out loud! What I love about “The Hangover” is how it keeps building up from one utterly bizarre situation to another, and just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do.

I refuse to spend this review ruining the best parts of the movie for you, so let us just get to the talent involved. Bradley Cooper got a great opportunity to shed his bully image which he perfected in such movies as “Wedding Crashers.” Well actually, he did not permanently shed it here as his character gets people to do things they would not otherwise do under normal circumstances. But his role here in “The Hangover” succeeded in breaking him out of his typecasting dilemma of being the snobbish bully as he gives this movie its coolest character.

Ed Helms has appeared on the American version of “The Office” and was a correspondent “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. As Stu Price, he gives us this movie its resident wimpy nerd character, a common stereotype in comedies. Indeed, any actor in this role could just get away with simply playing the character as a pussy-whipped bitch with the shy and awkward smiles, letting the glasses define them on the surface to where they are easily identifiable, and wearing tidy clothes in the most inappropriate of venues. The fact Helms never stoops to playing all these behaviors and appearances makes his performance come off really well. We have a good idea from the start of where Stu will end up by the movie’s end, but Helms takes him from being a wimp to a stronger man in a very believable way, and he makes Stu ever so endearing as a result.

Hey wait a second… Let’s talk about the sexiest character in “The Hangover.” She is an escort and exotic dancer named Jade, and she is played by irresistible Heather Graham. It has now been a many years since she burned herself into our collective consciousness as Rollergirl in “Boogie Nights,” and I was thrilled to see her here. No one should forget what a great actress she is, and many projects she has appeared in over the years have squandered her talent. The Hangover” shows she has not lost an ounce of her talent and never will. After all these years, she is still an actress who deserves your attention.

As Alan Garner, Zach Galifianakis gives us someone whose sanity seems to be quite questionable, and what he says about himself hints at just how screwed up he really is. You can only guess at what kind of character he really is, and the rub there is what you say about him could end up saying more about you. Alan Garner turns out to be one of the more unpredictable characters in movies to where you almost live in fear of what he might do next, and this is even if he has you laughing your ass off throughout. The way he bonds with these guys is anything but healthy.

In addition, “The Hangover” features some great cameos throughout. Seeing Mike Tyson rock out to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” is a comic highlight. I also loved Jeffrey Tambour who is always a deadpan delight in everything he does, and as Alan’s father, Sid Garner, he personifies the knowledge of how what goes on in Vegas really needs to stay there, seriously. And Ken Jeong, very memorable as a doctor in “Knocked Up,” is a gas as crime boss Mr. Chow.

“The Hangover” is not politically correct to put it mildly, but in the end, this is just a movie you should sit back and have fun watching. Years after its release, it is still a blast to take in.

* * * ½ out of * * * *