Pain and Gain: A group of dim bodybuilders kidnap and extort some rich folks. This basically takes a bizarre true-crime story and gives it the Michael Bay treatment (boob job, botox, facelift etc). If there ever was a director with an unsympathetically “In-Yer-Face!” style, it would be Mr Bay. Every female in this is a big-titted supermodel, there’s scenes in strip-clubs where the camera just stares at topless strippers (I felt bad for not tipping), there’s a raft of un-PC/racist jokes, there’s midgets, supercar fascination, drugs, pumped up bodies, dildos / sex toys, dick and homo jokes, and generally everything is over-styalised, and turned up way past 11. In fact; Rebel Wilson’s token crude material is probably the least offensive thing in this. The direction is equally aggressive; resembling high-end music-videos with vibrant colours, rapid cuts, loud music, a superficial glaze, and plenty on-screen stamps/graphics reminding you of what you should be thinking. And having this much character narration is just plain-old sloppy for a director that’s been around as long as Bay. Despite all of the unlikable elements coming from behind the lens, at least he chose some of the most sympathetic and charismatic actors to front the movie: Wahlberg, The Rock, Anthony Mackie… however, these guys are playing cold-blooded, pre-emptive killers, who are picking on hard-working, self-made targets – hard to empathise with. On the upside, there a lot of laughs to be had in this, although they’re mostly at the expense of someone. There’s a fascinating story buried somewhere in this film, but you have to look so far behind all of the bullshit surface that it’s almost impossible to pick out – would have been much better as a less sensational, properly-handled movie.
Hangover Part III (aka The Hangover 3): The wolfpack are reunited (again), and end up going on a road trip that takes a wrong turn (again). For what started out as a really good original film, this series has taken a rapid nosedive into sub-mediocrity. It doesn’t feel like a ‘Hangover’ movie: there’s no blackout, no fun, no shocks, no unorthodox situations, no Mike Tyson – the only attempt to tie it in is some forced nostalgia; inserting shots from previous films. The cast are OK, but all look like they’d all rather be elsewhere – and the rent-a-John–Goodman cameo is such uninspired casting. I don’t understand how someone managed to spend $103M on a film with no real stunts, or heavy CGI. The first film worked because it was equally shocking and funny, the second film was OK because it was mostly shocking; this one feels empty in both tanks – timid story, and simply not funny enough to be a comedy. Ken Jong does something ridiculous; Zach Galifianakis says something silly/inappropriate; Ed Helms screams in bemusement; and Bradley Cooper stands around looking broody – repeat x100. Sadly, this feels more like a bunch of contractual obligations than a film.
Hangover Review (7.5/10)
Hangover Part II Review (6.5/10)
Community (Season 1): after being disbarred a hot-shot lawyer finds himself at Greendale community college, and befriended by a study group of high-level social stereotypes. First off, it’s a great bunch of characters, and this show would be nothing without solid characters. They’re well-drawn, with a range of strengths & flaws, and most impressively, almost every pairing of the 7 mains have a unique relationship which is explored in at least one episode, or hinted at through the season. Troy and Abed’s bromance in particular is great to watch, and although 7 is a weird number, it works well and means there’s lots of material. Expanding the cast further are a great ensemble of supporting characters that keep re-appearing: Dean Pelton being one of the best, but not to forget Starburns, Vaugn, and Senor Chan. After the cast, the biggest strength is the comedy writing; which heaps on loads of dry, fast, witty, sharp lines: because of this, the 20 minute episodes are short, punchy and fun to watch – barring Jack Black’s appearance – and most importantly, they’re very moreish. The only main downside that limits my enjoyment is the continual, heavy, explicit use of parody / meta / tropes / genre clichés that one character in particular (a pop-culture nerd with hints of aspergers) continually explains – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but every time it distances you by shouting “you’re watching a TV”. Abed’s role as a meta bridge and observational/explanatory character is a bizarre one, but he handles it like a boss. The ‘parody‘ element is a strength and a weakness. Best episodes are Goodfellas Chicken Fingers and Paintball (action hero movie) episodes – but they are the least original, and blatant borderline cheesy movie/genre rip-offs! For the amount of raw talent and comedy potential in the cast, and despite being funny, Season 1 does feel soft, polished and a little too safe – but above all else, it shows that the show has major potential.
Party Down (Season 1): 10 episodes – follows a dysfunctional catering team of failed/upcoming Hollywood actors and writers. With most episodes having the team cater for a bizarre sub-set of society – pensioner dating / gangsters / porn awards ceremony – there’s plenty of material to work with. Every character serves a purpose; two of the team (Scott/Caplan) provide most of the drama – and there are some moments that really sneak up on you – whereas the rest serve up the laughs in abundance; everyone’s perfectly pitched with their own style of humour. Crucially, the writers have done a fantastic job of creating a well-written, fast-flowing, smart script, packed with wit that’s both genuinely funny and awkward in equal measures. Technically, there’s no frills, fads, or tricks which gives the show an air of plausibility that most comedies lack. The only real downside is that it’s not instantly lovable, and probably best enjoyed on your own – it’s quite dry, some of the subtle running gags take a while to pick out, and it takes an episode or two to properly tune in. Overall, I’ve gone from being unconvinced a few months back, to watching the entire season in 3 days. Party Down’s a bit of a TV gem, and with a movie being green-lighted, it’s clearly winning enough people over in the longer term!
The Hangover Part II: Take my review of the first film – change mentions of ‘Vegas to Bangkok and it’s a job well done! Realising that the one-man wolf pack and Leslie Chow (the only two that pull off ‘funny’) were the best things about The Hangover, these two characters get even more screen time and gags than before. Once again, the humour is very Lad / Frat friendly and doesn’t appeal to everyone. Not much else to say other than it’s even more crass and offensive than the first, and seemed to have longer periods where nothing amazingly funny was happening. It’s good, but definitely more of an expansion pack than a new addition. Kudos to the people responsible for taking Hangovers for from a low-budget comedy to the biggest comedy of all time in 2 films!