The Hangover Part II, Kung Fu Panda 2, Meek’s Cutoff, and more
Two big sequels have arrived; neither matches the original. You’d do well to check out Meek’s Cutoff, a small film about pioneers heading west.
These are the films I’ve reviewed this week:
The Hangover Part II 2 ½ stars
Kung Fu Panda 2 3 stars
Meek’s Cutoff 4 stars
Kaboom 3 stars
Into Eternity 4 stars
Kibatsu Cinema ---
THE HANGOVER PART II: The question is asked two or three times in this sequel. How could the same thing be happening again? Almost exactly the same thing. A bachelor party, a groggy wake up next morning and a search for (a) what had gone on and (b) a character who got lost during a wild night. Last time it all went down in Las Vegas, this time in Bangkok, Thailand.
From a business standpoint, the answer is simple. The first film made close to half a billion dollars. There’s more to be made so watch for some startling numbers for this new one after the weekend. But while the original was clever, inventive and one of the funniest films ever made, this one, in trying to match it, feels belabored and heavy-handed.
Even the cast members don’t look like they’re having much fun. Stu, the dentist, (Ed Helms) is the one getting married this time. Bradley Cooper, as his best friend, and Zach Galifianakis, as his weird and erratic brother-in-law, repeat their roles but their personalities now are much more unpleasant. Only Ken Jeong seems to be truly enjoying himself. He’s dialed up his Mr. Chow, the gangster into a full-on Fred Lee impression.
Laughs are intermittent as quite a few of the jokes fall flat and the film fails to hit the giddy heights of the first one. Its key efforts to bring on the chuckles involve turning up the gross factor, or the bizarre (like Thailand’s ladyboy scene) and the culturally insensitive (a noisy visit to a Buddhist monastery). The antics of a drug-courier monkey don’t add much but do allow one character to set the humor benchmark with this line: “When a monkey nibbles on a penis, it’s funny in any language.” For some, maybe. (5th Avenue, International Village, Dunbar, Oakridge, Rio on Broadway and many suburban theatres) 2 1/2 out of 5
KUNG FU PANDA 2: My six-year-old grandson had it this way. He said he likes this sequel better than the original because it has much more action. If that’s your sole criterion, you’ll give it high marks too. There are chases and flying sequences and big battles beautifully rendered in both sparkling animation and 3D that’s worthwhile for a change. The images have depth and clarity and, better yet, the filmmakers acknowledge the gimmick side of 3D. It’s fun when they throw or shove things towards us or pull us in. What’s missing though, and my grandson forgot, is the story that made the original so charming.
In ancient China, Po, a chubby kid (actually a panda, voiced by Jack Black) struggled to prove himself at a school for kung fu warriors. It’s a universal theme for boys trying to find their place in the world. In this second film, he’s searching for his roots (remember, he’s an orphan) but that’s not as well-developed and doesn’t carry the same emotional weight. Also, he’s older now, a teenager perhaps, and not as cute anymore. He’s a dragon warrior who thinks pretty highly of himself. He has become Jack Black. Enter Gary Oldman, as a peacock, intent on defeating the kung fu warriors and taking over China. His got giant cannons which fill the screen with destruction and pyrotechnics. Po and his pals (voiced by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and others) fight back within some truly spectacular animated sequences. (Fifth Avenue, Scotiabank, Oakridge, Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
MEEK’S CUTOFF: I wasn’t a big fan of Kelly Reichardt’s last film, Wendy and Lucy. That story, about a woman searching for her lost dog, was too slow and minimalist for me. This new film is also slow in many spots but there’s so much going on, often unspoken, that it gives you far more to think about. You can even see the whole thing, set in 1845, as an allegory of more recent events, although the film downplays that sub-text.
Meek (played by Bruce Greenwood) is a frontiersman leading a group of settlers west, to a potential Eden in Oregon. He has convinced three families to split their covered wagons away from the main column because he claims to know a shortcut. Some, led by Michelle Williams as one of the wives, grow increasingly skeptical as they trudge through nothing but desert and their water runs low. Meek refuses to admit they’re lost. “We’re just finding ourselves,” he claims.
It’s a revisionist western considering Manifest Destiny from a feminist point of view. There’s a stronger focus than usual on the women. They work, do a lot of knitting and are shut out of the discussions where the men make the decisions. After Meek describes how he thinks women differ from men, Williams wonders how the western migration would work if women led it. She also asks if Meek is deranged or just evil when he captures an Indian and with wild tales of alleged atrocities advocates killing him. The film is strong on moral issues delivered with excellent acting and beautifully photographed with a painterly eye. (International Village) 4 out of 5
KABOOM: Gregg Araki has a cult following among gays and some of the more hip movie goers. I found the one film of his that I had seen, The Doom Generation, too angry and shrill, but this one is outright fun because it is so playful and nutty. Thomas Dekker plays Smith, a college student who has the hots for his roommate (named Thor) but being bisexual sleeps with his friend Stella (Haley Bennett) who also sleeps with a woman who may be a witch. Of course, he has another woman he sleeps with, a blonde named London, which picks him up in a washroom at a party with a very direct suggestion.
That’s just the sexual scene the film sets, openness being the central characteristic. There’s a story too and it’s a loopy one. Smith ingests a drug-spiked cookie, meets another woman at a party (she promptly throws up on his shoes) and later sees her in a series of hallucinations in which she’s attacked by three men wearing animal masks. Frat boys? Demons? Nothing much is clear or definite. One bit of news turns up and he’s already heard it in a dream. A computer message from “a friend” says “Beware. They’re watching.” A missing father and a secret apocalyptic society may or may not be involved. Or it could all be an illusion. Araki shuts the story down most dramatically as soon as he reveals what may be the answer. Before that, it’s all color, hip music, lots of nudity and a speedy trip through a mysterious and crazy story. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5
INTO ETERNITY: A very effective essay on one of the main problems of nuclear power. Meltdowns are rare but nuclear waste is accumulating constantly. It’ll stay radioactive for 100,000 years. This documentary from Denmark looks at a “solution” in Finland. A private company is building a massive “burial chamber deep in the bowels of the earth”. It’s a multi-tunnel storage depot for 1000s of tons of spent uranium. We get a full explanation illustrated with drawings, charts and film footage.
But who knows what life on earth will be like far in the future, or even just five or ten thousand years from now? Will the chamber be secure forever and how can we warn future generations never to dig there? What kind of signs do you post and in what language? This film asks those questions and more of company and government. The novelty is that the film is shaped like a warning message to future miners that “you should not come here. You should turn around and go back”. It’s like science fiction, but real. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
KIBATSU CINEMA: The Pacific Cinematheque has got a weekend series about an eccentric strain of Japanese film called “Kibatsu” which itself mean unconventional. In Doman Seman, slackers and yakuza battle witches. Live from Toyko is a documentary about the independent music scene. I’m looking forward to House, an unhinged haunted house movie made in 1977 but only brought to North America last year. It became a minor sensation on a college and festival tour.
Several teenage girls visit an aunt in the country and a strange, surreal plot takes hold. Magic cats, a dangerous piano, murderous appliances and even killer pillows figure in the general, psychedelic looniness.
I’ve seen one of the films, Paprika, an animated tale told in hyper-speed and vivid colors about a machine that enables therapists to enter their patients’ dreams. When it’s stolen, a head-tripping hunt is on for a terrorist.
Go to http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/ to find out more.
NOTE: All photos were supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.