MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Julie and Julia, The Hangover, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 500 Days of Summer and more…

Julie and Julia (Three Stars)
U. S.; Nora Ephron, 2009 (Sony)

In Julie and Julia, a perky and ambitious young Manhattan writer named Julie Powell, decides to cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s culinary bible “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in the space of a year — and write a blog about it, called Julie and Julia. Can she make it? Can she and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) eat it? Will Julie strike it rich by mining Julia and serving her up on a blog? Most importantly, is this a clicky enough movie subject, in a field where catastrophes, murders and sexual high jinks abound? Well, yes… as long as you have the right recipe and the right people. Especially Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, the movie’s Julia and Julie.Now, Nora Ephron has never really been a favorite writer-director of mine. Most of her modern bourgeois romantic comedies (whether Heartburn which she wrote, Sleepless in Seattle, which she directed, or You’ve Got Mail, which she wrote and directed) — strike me as a little smug, cutesy-chic and overly self-absorbed: love-and-sex comedies about people who have it good, but self-fixate far too much.

But I enjoyed Ephron’s latest, Julie and Julia, which is a comedy about love, sex and food — and success, which is the secret engine of many a bourgeois fantasy. The movie is based on Julie Powell’s book, Julie and Julia which is about Ms. Powell’s year spent in cooking all 524 recipes in Child’s epic cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and writing a blog about it. Ephron takes Julie’s story — the spicy tale of a gorgeous young Manhattanite, who has a perfect, understanding husband, Eric, and who figures out a way to get famous (and maybe, eventually rich) — and interweaves it with Julia Child’s own experiences as the 30-something wife of U. S. diplomatic employee Paul Child (Stanley Tucci, in a stellar job), stationed with him in Paris, who develops a passion for French food and cooking, and eventually gets famous and rich, writing about it, as well.

That’s the twin theme of these stories: how a writer with a good husband strikes it rich by cooking, eating and scribbling about it. The difference, of course, lies in the fact that Julia Child — along with her early collaborators Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louise Bertholle (Helen Carey), brought something wonderful to the world: a priceless collection of haute cuisine recipes that fed a multitude and inspired millions, including Julie Powell. Powell simply cooked the 524 recipes in 365 days and blogged, gabbed and whined about her daily routines — winding up with a book deal, and eventually a movie.

They’re not at all comparable figures, though the movie tends to play them that way — very well served by a brilliant impersonation by the always amazing Streep, and a very fetching one, by the always engaging Adams. These performances are almost as good as they could be, and so is Tucci’s — from that veteran of another cinematic banquet, big night.

Entertaining as the movie is, the comparison of Julia’s stimulating literary/political milieu (Child and Paul have to cope with the McCarthy era as well as the vagaries of diplomatic and culinary careers) and Julie’s more superficial ain’t-we-cute domain, are all on the side of Child. Late in the movie, when we hear that Julia C. herself has read the blog and apparently doesn’t like it, I wasn’t surprised. Why should she? What did Powell expect, from an old-fashioned liberal writer, working in the world of print and classical publishing, confronted with a do-it-yourself internet blog that makes a huge slumgullion of Julia’s recipes and Julie’s misadventures?

Julie and Julia is all about striking it rich by piggybacking on someone else’s fame and efforts — and if a less delightful actress than Adams had played Powell, I might have gotten much more annoyed with her. (By the way, couldn’t Julie have hunted Julia down and conferred with her earlier? After all, the woman was alive when the blog ran.)

Meryl Streep has performed so many acting miracles so regularly, that we probably shouldn’t be surprised at the way she slips into the persona of the very familiar, and distinctively throaty-voiced Mrs. Child. It’s a marvelous performance, full of zest and humor and honest goddam joie de vivre. As for Adams, she’s such an unfailing movie honeybunch that it doesn’t matter whether she’s nailed the real-life Julie Powell. The film Julie and Julia might have been better though, if Ephron had gone beyond the book and made her heroine a little more obviously selfish.)

Ephron’s movie has been very prettily designed by Marl Ricker, and warmly shot by Stephen Goldblatt, and Ephron has written and staged it with a playful elegance I didn’t see in, for example, Mixed Nuts or You’ve Got Mail (a botched remake and rethink of one of Hollywood’s greatest romantic comedies, The Shop Around the Corner). The show doesn’t have enough food, though it does have some amusing Cordon Bleu cooking school scenes, showcasing the impressively deft chef Streep.

But Julie and Julia couldn’t possibly have too much Streep or Adams. Single-handedly — or, rather, double-handedly — they make Julie and Julia, a picture which could have been a bland Me First bore, a tasty treat.


Departures (Four Stars)
Japan; Yojiro Takita, 2008 (EI Entertainment)

Death begets beauty in Departures a moving new film that teaches us, and its reluctant hero Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), all about the fine art of encoffination: the delicate ritual preparation of a corpse for cremation, a last rite performed with the utmost discretion and quiet showmanship in front of the assembled family and funeral guests, before the coffin is plunged into the flames.

It’s a curious subject, but director Takita handles it beautifully, and the film, which effortlessly mixes dark comedy and believably sentimental family drama, has won prize after prize — including ten Japanese Academy Awards (best film, best director, best actor and seven others), the Grand Prize at Montreal, and the American Oscar for best foreign language film.

You can see why. It’s the sort of picture that both more casual art house audiences and some cognoscenti often love. It makes you laugh and feel, without coercing your emotions. The hero of Departures, Daigo (played by Motoki, who first suggested the film) is both artist and nebbish: a young man fleeing a failed career as a mediocre classical cellist in a now defunct Tokyo symphony orchestra, to become, almost by accident, a professional encoffineer in his hometown of Yamagata, where he has settled in his late mother’s’ old café bar and home.

Encoffination, as we see, and as Daigo gradually learns it — under the expert tutelage of his world-wise boss, Ikuei Sasaki (played, in the film’s best performance, by Tsutomu Yamazaki, who, 46 years ago, was the screaming, embittered young kidnapper/killer in Kurosawa’s great 1963 crime thriller, High and Low) — is an amazing ensemble. It involves makeup and coiffure (painstakingly applied to bring the stilled faces back to life), costuming (to rearrange or redress the body’s clothes without exposing too much flesh and offending the audience), doctoring (to straighten the crooked and soften the rough), and, most of all, a sense of both drama and self-abnegation (to perform each task with such tact and care that the entire procedure becomes an exquisite ceremony of solace.).

Ironically, despite that goal of consolation, it’s a profession that inspires some revulsion in the average Japanese — and does here, in Daigo’s initially devoted-seeming young wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) — simply because its practicioners handle the dead. (The film, emotionally and artistically, is the almost polar opposite of Drag Me to Hell, which turns those fears into movie horror.) But Daigo, despite his own qualms — he’s shocked when he enters Sasaki’s shop and finds a row of coffins, believing the word departures in the employment meant earthly travels and not those of the afterlife — becomes an expert encoffineer, showing the talent Sasaki recognized almost instantly.

Along the way, Daigo tries to heal the splintered relationship with Mika, to reconcile with the father who abandoned his mother (and whom he hates), and to justify and repay the kindness of boss Sasaki and his also coffin-smart office assistant Kamimura (Kimiko Yo). The ways Takita and Koyama resolve all matters, and the encoffinations themselves, are somewhat predictable, but affecting anyway, though less in the subtle ways Ozu’s films move you than in the more populist vein of Keisuke Kinoshita (Twenty Four Eyes).

The Japanese are often great at rituals and decorative arts — as in origami, or as in the art of flower arranging, for which director Hiroshi “Woman in the Dunes” Teshigahara abandoned moviemaking for years, after his father (a painter, flower arranger and school head) died. And Departures, while not remarkably visually beautiful in the usual Japanese movie sense, does impress you and touch your heart . The theme, of course, is that the rituals are more for the living than the dead, and that we should show as much care and love when the people are alive. The cello music Daigo plays is often Bach, and it fits these Departures. (In Japanese, with English subtitles.)



Casablanca (Four Stars)
U.S.; Michael Curtiz, 1942 (Warner)

Play it again…and again. In a Warner brothers back lot Casablanca that hums with World War 2 intrigues, throbs with romance and occasionally explodes in violence, we watch one of the movies’ immortal affairs: the fiercely frustrated, tormented but sublime passion of gloomy cabaret owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart, in his most popular role) for Ilse (Ingrid Bergman, in hers), the emotionally torn woman he loves, who left him in Paris, but who now belongs to the idealistic underground leader Laszlo (Paul Henreid.) Around them swirl one of the great Hollywood supporting casts: Claude Rains as the suave and lecherous Vichy police head Renault, Conrad Veidt as the reptilian Nazi commander Strasser, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S. Z. Sakall, Marcel Dalio, Curt Bois, Leonid Kinskey, John Qualen, and of course that indefatigable piano man Sam (Dooley Wilson).

Casablanca, which expertly melds several key ’40s Hollywood modes and genres of the era (drama, comedy, noir, spy thriller, love story) was written by the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip) and Howard Koch and directed by that sometimes underrated master, Michael Curtiz. A big hit in its day and also a multiple Oscar winner, the movie has never stopped pleasing and rousing audiences — who always cheer when rains’ Renault snaps “Round up the usual suspects!” and always respond to its wily blend of tough guy sarcasm and idealistic romance, embodied by Bogart’s Rick. It’s one of the inarguable triumphs of the Hollywood Studio system, of Warner Brothers and their Hungarian emigre workhorse Curtiz, and of those two seemingly mismatched but ultimately perfect lovers Bogey and Bergman.

Extras: Introduction by Lauren Bacall; Commentaries by Roger Ebert and Rudy Behlmer; Documentaries, Featurettes, Additional scenes and outtakes; Bugs Bunny Cartoon Carrotblanca; Casablanca TV episode; Casablanca radio production with Bogart and Bergman.



Harry Potter Years 1-6 (Three and a Half Stars)

The Harry Potter series started a little overblown and saccharine, and then, as Harry and his buddies and Hogwort classmates aged and learned more wizardry and witchery, it got progressively darker and more visually and dramatically ambitious. Now, with the latest extrey (see below) it’s practically an adult art film series, as much as a gathering place for literate, fantasy-loving kids. This six film set charts the young wizard’s progress, in one of the producing and publishing phenomenons of our time. Unlike many box-office monoliths, it’s worth a look. (All films are U.S.-U.K. productions)

Includes: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Chris Columbus, 2001) Two and a Half Stars. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus, 2002) Two and a Half Stars. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron, 2004). Three and a Half Stars. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, 2005). Three and a Half Stars. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (David Yates, 2007). Three Stars.

Composite Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, John Cleese, Fiona Shaw, Kenneth Branagh, Warwick Davis, Julie Walters, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Christie, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Brendan Gleeson, Shirley Henderson, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton. Richard Griffiths.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Three Stars)
U. S.; David Yates, 2009 (Warner)

From the moment, right near the start of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when we see three dark, murderous Death Eaters swooping across London, wreaking CGI havoc on the foggy city below, right up to this new movie’s hellish climax, with teen wiz Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) observing and his wizardly mentor Prof. Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) fighting in a lake of fire filled with deadly, squirmy creatures, the new Harry Potter movie drenches us in a mix of horrific fantasy and teen romance/sexuality that’s a world away from the series’ sugary magical school days 2001 kickoff, the Chris Columbus-directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Back then, Potter and Company stirred and slurped up a confectionary fantasy that, despite the picture’s high-prestige British adult supporting cast, wasn’t so far, in style and mood, from ’60s Mary Poppins-era Walt Disney — and closer in feeling, to the gung ho kids’ adventure of an early Star Wars.

Now the series has gone dark and arty. (More than a few have compared it to Star Wars’ somber sequel The Empire Strikes Back.) The supporting adults are juicier and more theatrical, the villains increasingly threatening and stylishly devilish (here, Alan Rickman, as the snobbish, over-lordly menace Prof. Severus Snape, surges to the fore).

And its still youthful heroes and heroine (the pensive Radcliffe as Harry, the increasingly photogenic Emma Watson as right hand lass Hermione Granger, and the brawnier Rupert Grint as sporty sidekick Ron Weasley) are taller, more filled-out, more teen-idolish and more preoccupied with affairs of the heart and glands, as well as with the dark side horrors and potential cataclysms that rightly preoccupy Harry as a dutiful young Chosen One.

The story has grown and ripened, and so have the young protagonists, over the seven volumes of author J. K. Rowling’s fabulously popular series — and they have in the movies as well. I still prefer the middle two films, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell, to the first two, by Home Alone’s Chris Columbus, and the latest two by BBC helmer David Yates. In a way, Half-Blood Prince strikes me as a bit too dark, arty and creepy — while the Columbus opening episodes were too blithe and bouncy. (Yes, I know, the kids are growing up. Life gets darker, meaner. It’s all relative.)

The arcs of all the stories though, have stayed pretty much the same, with Harry and his chums again encountering British boarding school crises, while evil forces gather around Harry, and final battles must be waged. Here, in addition, Harry and friends must adjusting to specifically teen romantic problems, while Harry and Dumbledore investigate the dark past and hold off the increasingly awful and awesome assaults of the off-screen dark Lord Voldemort’s onscreen torpedoes — including Snape, Helena Bonham Carter as the demonically sexy and ferocious Bellatrix Lestrange, and Tom Felton as sullen student baddie Draco Malfoy.

The Rowling series blends several British classic youth-reader literary staples, the school romance and the horror fantasy, with unusual fullness and detail. The movies, mostly scripted by Steve Kloves — who once gave us, as writer-director, that delightful adult romantic drama The Fabulous Baker Boys — are as faithful to the Rowley novels as David O. Selznick always tried to be to his adapted books. The films compress the novels’ large spans of events, and give us as many characters as they can — often played by the cream of Britain’s older British thespian talent, like Rickman, Carter and Maggie Smith.

Here, Michael Gambon pretty much steals the acting honors, along with a dithering new Professor of Potions, Horace Slughorn, played with his usual priceless distraction by Jim Broadbent. But there are also sharp turns for Rickman, Carter, Smith (as the magisterial Minerva McGonagall), and, very briefly, Robbie Coltrane as stout fella Hagrid. These older stars tend to have a field day in their parts, while the younger Potterites — including Harry, Hermione and Ron — are less flavorsome, even if, as here, they happen to be in the throes of youthful desire.

Gambon and Broadbent are the treasures here. Gambon, a superb actor whom most of us first may reckoned an acting genius in either Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover, or in Dennis Potter’s BBC masterpiece The Singing Detective, has a gravity, penetrating eye and sonorous authority that make him equally effective as villain or not-exactly-hero — and he was a perfect bad aristo-heavy/victim in Robert Altman’s Agatha Christie-meets-La Regle du Jeu mystery, Gosford Park.

Here, he’s a fatherly magician of the first order (phoenix or otherwise). And Broadbent, whose watery eyes, shameful half-grin and beefsteak face give him a wonderful dissipated-uncle look, grounds the whole movie in earthy Brit reality, from his first scenes on. Bravo to both of them, and to the producers for casting them.

About the younger actors, I’m not as enthusiastic. They’re good, never great, and perhaps it’s wrong to expect them to be. They are, after all, intended as conduits for the emotions and dreams of the huge youth audiences the movies intend to rally. At that, they’re still fine, if not always dandy.

The movie’s sheer darkness, and its refusal to talk down to its vast audience, are what makes the Potter series increasingly interesting — one of the few franchise movie series, that has tended to get better and more ambitious and difficult as it has gone along. The later Potter movies, like this one, tend to give us more of the qualities of the books. They’re more literary and theatrical, and, though they still rely on heavy displays of special effects and CGI prowess, this one tends to flaunt them less, kissing off the showpiece Quidditch match in a way that the earlier moves wouldn’t have.

Obviously, a huge franchise movie like one of these Harry Potters, is playing by different rules, and in a different arena, than the art films it may sometimes recall. Yet it’s nice to see that the producers of the films of such titanic bestsellers, aimed initially at children, feel a compulsion, along with supplying the requisite catalogue of cinematic and hormonal wonders, to make their movies deeper, smarter, classier. Harry Potter movies are not at the top of my must-see list, but its also good to be able to sit through them without wondering why adult needs and desires aren’t being serviced with such lavishness. Here, they are. At their best, the movie and its series remain magical, for all of us.


The 500 Days of Summer (Three Stars)
U. S.; Marc Webb, 2009 (Fox Searchlight)

Five hundred days, arranged in anti-chronological, skip-along-and-skip-back order, which tell the often witty story of a dubiously romantic, greeting card writer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s obsessed with the church scene in The Graduated, (Elaine! Ben!) and his dream girl Summer (Zooey Deschanel), who says she’s not up for anything serious, and unfortunately means it.

A clever romantic comedy which pleases the eye, tickles the mind, but doesn’t exactly warm the heart. How could it, when co-writer Scott Neustadter (who, along with co-writer Michael H. Weber, committed The Pink Panther 2) admits in the credits that the movie is a partial act of revenge for a failed relationship of long ago? Gordon-Levitt is a good Benjamin-style putz (if I were him, I’d stock to greeting cards), and Deschanel comes across as more sensible than femme-fatale-ish — which Neustadter undoubtedly realizes. This is another middle class young adult romantic comedy, with a yen for Manhattan, but it’s sharper than most, and as Tom’s buddies, Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler are swell.

By the way, this review was written as a partial act of revenge for a failed relationship of long ago. Or maybe it wasn’t. At any rate: Here’s to you. Mrs. Robinson.


Extract (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Mike Judge, 2009 (Miramax)

Mike Judge’s Office Space was an oddball little comedy gem about the American workplace — so dry and laid back and keen-eyed that it survived an initial commercial flop to become a video cult hit. Judge’s new workplace comedy Extract, which has one of the weirdest titles I can remember (it’s set in a vanilla flavor extract bottling plant), probably won’t attract a cult. But it does dispense a fair amount of laughs, more of which come from character (and skilled acting) than scatology, sexual excess or fart gags. And that’s despite the fact that Judge’s ticket to fame was Beavis and Butthead.

Jason Bateman plays a likeable shmo of a capitalist named Joel, an amiable factory-owner and creator of the flavor extract, who’s trying to sell his plant, while coping with disgruntled or uneasy workers (and at least one who had one ball blown off in a floor accident), a sexually bottled-up wife (Kristen Wiig as Suzie), his pothead-bartender best friend Dean’s cannabis philosophy and dubious advice (Ben Affleck), a witless lothario pool cleaner who seduces Suzie at Joel’s own behest (Dustin Milligan as Brad), a sexy, sexy pathological thief (Mila Kunis as Cindy) — and a neighbor (David Koechner as Nathan) who drives him crazy with his endless, drawling, slow-as-molasses-extract attempts at neighborliness. Nathan, by the way, is almost a great comic character, and he’s the source of one of the year’s darker pratfall jokes.

A lot of the pieces of Extract are quite good, the mood is both mellow and acerbic. And the ensemble is unusually right on; the cast includes JK Simmons as Joel’s right hand man Brian, who calls all the male employees Dincus, and Gene Simmons, (no relation, I think) as the ferocious celebrity lawyer Joe Adler. There’s also a fantastic bong scene with Bateman and Affleck.

Still, the movie, good as its sections can be, doesn’t jell or connect in the way, say, a classic screwballer would. The romantic subplot doesn’t click either, despite a slick set-up. But Judge and Company did make me laugh a little, which was something.


The Brothers Bloom (Three Stars)
U. S.; Rian Johnson, 2009 (Summit Entertainment)

Antic and luscious-looking, this conman comedy might seem a weird follow-up to writer-director Rian Johnson’s Hammetesque teen noir Brick. But it has bounce, and it suggests that Johnson is one of those moviemakers, more common in the ’60s and ’70s, who isn’t totally commercially driven, but wants to create or preserve a domain of artistry, youthful brio and movie allusions in a contrary world. Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody are the con artist brothers, Rachel Weisz is their partner in crime, con Ricky Jay narrates, and the supporting cast includes Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane. A bit Wes Anderson-ish; it’s not important, but it’s fun.


All About Steve (One and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Phil Traill, 2009 20th Century Fox)

On the other hand, All About Steve is mostly as laughless and annoying as its title, and that unfortunately goes also for its main character, Mary Horowitz (played by star Sandra Bullock). Mary is a Sacramento newspaper crossword puzzle crafter who develops a mad crush on a likable, good-looking TV news cameraman named Steve (Bradley Cooper, the stud-guru of The Hangover), loses her job when she does a crossword titled All About Steve composed of nothing but Steve references, and then pursues the cameraman relentlessly through the West, to an improbable mine cave in endangering lovable deaf children, where she becomes an outlandish heroine.

Almost nothing in this movie makes sense, beginning with the notion that Bullock’s Mary, the sometime knockout we see here is a wallflower, even granted her signature high shiny red boots. And would Steve would run away from her first-date assaults on his manhood faster than consummation? Would Mary really get fired for her cute little crossword love-poem? (Where are the editors in Sacramento?) Would she really get deliberately ditched by a bus driver when she paid her fare? What fuels her sudden obsessive cutesy-psycho Fatal Attraction odyssey? What about that lame Ace in the Hole cave-in rip-off? What about….The list is endless

All About Steve is not only mirthless. It’s one of the most predictable-yet-illogical movies around, despite the cast and the would-be sharp packaging by American-born, British-raised director Phil Traill. As mentioned, Thomas Haden Church reliably supplies some laughs as Hartman Hughes, Steve’s on-camera newshound teammate (This is Hartman Hughes, reporting from the Edge), and so does Ken Jeong (also of The Hangover) as the team’s producer/third member. But they aren’t enough. Our condolences to Ms. Bullock, who also produced this cliché-dump. Find a good crossword instead.


A Perfect Getaway (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.; David Twohy, 2009 (Universal)

Here, we’re back to murders and sexual high jinks, but not unengaging. On a remote paradisiacal island, sharp newlyweds Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich), helicopter their way into the mountains and distant beaches, and eventually meet two other couples — the surly Kale and girlish-sexy Cleo (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton) and the ever-smiling Nick and uninhibited Gina (Keile Sanchez). It looks like fun, except that we’ve also learned that another newlywed couple has been killed in the area, possibly by a murderous twosome who may have stolen their identities.

Which couple, if any, did the dirty deeds? A Perfect Getaway, written and directed by David Twohy, of the Chronicles of Riddick, has some bloody adventures, big surprises and double-reverse Agatha Christie-style twists in store, and it wouldn’t be fair to reveal or hint at any of them. Overall, the movie is an okay job. The very reliable Steve Zahn, playing a movie scriptwriter, gets, as we might expect, a nice mix of nervous nerdiness and recklessness; all the other characters charm and unsettle us by turns.

The action at the end is over the top, but that’s a common failing of many contemporary thrillers. In this case, you should have fun trying to guess what’s happening and why, and who’s doing what to who. Just remember, if you get lost on the island, what Strother Martin said so cogently in Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”


The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (One and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Neil Brennan, 2009

Will Ferrell may be working too hard, selling too hard. This particular producer-chore for George Bush’s walking nightmare and doppleganger, is awful, awful. The usually funny Jeremy Piven, trying misguidedly to follow in the footsteps of Used Cars’ Kurt Russell, stars as a super car dealer gun-for-hire named Don Ready, nicknamed The Goods, and hired to save James Brolin’s closeted, ailing dealership from the predatory clutches of the bank and his competitors.

A lot of good actors and comedians are sunk in this — not only the miscast Piven, but Ving Rhames, Ed Helms, Jordana Spiro and Charles Napier (playing the kind of guy, who might show up at a town hall political meeting with an Uzi) and Ferrell himself, who does a skydiving scene with a non-existent parachute. That pretty much sums up the movie too, which is a clunker of clunkers. Trust me.


The Hangover (Unrated 2 Disc Edition and others) (Three Stars)
U. S.; Todd Phillips, 2009 (Warner)

Recipe for a Hangover: Four male buddies — or actually, three buddies and a hanger-on who desperately wants to be one of the bunch — take off for Las Vegas and one last bachelor bash, driving a 1969 Mercedes borrowed from the bride’s dad (Jeffrey Tambor). Reading right to left, they’re Phil, the studly but married English teacher (Brad Cooper), Stu the nerdy dentist (Ed Helms of The Office), Alan the slobby and somewhat wacked out brother-in-law-to-be (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug, the very tolerant, very likable groom (Justin Bertha).

Shake and mix well. Once in Vegas, our fun-loving quartet check into a deluxe hotel villa suite and begin their night of revelry with a toast up on the roof, with knockout libations that have been, unfortunately, secretly spiked with what one of them thinks is Ecstasy, but is actually the date-rape drug.

The next morning , three of them wake up in the suite, hung over and unable to remember a single thing that happened after they imbibed the drink and drug. Here’s what they see: the apartment wrecked, booze on the furniture, a baby in a bassinet, one of dentist Stu’s front teeth missing, the Mercedes gone, pizza on the sofa, a mattress speared on the pole outside, a live tiger in their bathroom. And, oh yeah, the groom mysteriously missing, with barely hours for the guys to find and deliver him to the wedding and his beaming bride. Pretty soon they’ll see Doug’s mattress speared on a roof pole and they’ll run into the cops whose squad car they stole, the gay Chinese gangster whose blackjack loot they accidentally glommed, the friendly stripper/hooker named Jade (Heather Graham) whom Stu married last night at The Best Little Chapel, Black Doug, and Mike Tyson, who happens to own the tiger.

What happened? Where is Doug? What about the impending nuptials with Tracy (Sasha Barrese)? And who the hell is Black Doug? (Since he’s played by Mike Epps, we at least know he’ll get some laughs too.) Despite myself, I’ve got to admit this is a terrific premise, at least for exactly the kind of raunchy, male-bonding comedy that usually plays to knuckleheads, but occasionally delivers the goods. (The last one I remember that worked this well was Wedding Crashers, with Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Rachel McAdams, and a dirty-minded cameo by Will Ferrell. (The memory of that last will help you forgive him for Land of the Lost, below.)

The Hangover is an example of a movie genre I often hate: the Daffy, Goofy Sex-Crazed Guys comedy (an 80s mainstay) — a picture in which we’re privy to the horny, boozy, pants-dropping antics of a gang of guys out for a smashed-but-keep-going, party-till-you-drop high time: a lewd-minded crew that often includes the stud, the nerd, the slob/weirdo and the nice guy/author surrogate (or variations thereof).

There have been hundreds of movies like this, and most of them stink. But this one works.

Why? Director Todd Phillips, who has made at least one funny male-bonding comedy, Road Trip — as well as some others (Old School, Starsky and Hutch) that I’d rather forget — has a real flair for this wild and crazy guy bunch kind of situation. There’s a knowing edge to his handling of this very familiar stuff, the progressive revelations of their crazy misbehavior — that humanizes the story. Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who were guilty of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Four Christmases (Take them back, guys) have dreamed up lots of funny bits, most of which work. But they’ve also given the whole thing a neat structure that makes the story far more interesting.

Instead of showing us the wild night as it happens, one blitzed catastrophe after another, they turn the whole show into a film-noir-in-reverse detective story, where the three guys left behind have to piece everything together, and suffer while they recall what irresponsible clowns they were.

This device makes the story more entertaining, funnier and also less offensive (than usual), since the guys are paying for their misdeeds after indulging in them, and since we don’t see the orgies that got them in Dutch until a rapid-fire lewd end-credits sequence of the photos that recorded their blacked-out blowout. The movie suggests that there is such a thing as a morning after, and that they are consequences to every orgy. Besides, it is always funnier to recall this kind of stuff afterwards, sober. Did I ever tell you about the night one of my friends walked out in the middle of W. Gilman street, stark naked and chugging a bottle of Aqua Velva, and two police cars pulled up around him? Or the time somebody’s girlfriend started a water fight inside our apartment house that lasted for an hour and ended up waterlogging the kitchen? Then there was that drunken night time trip to the zoo…. (The joke is: You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.)

Finally, the element that really makes The Hangover is the cast. The three leads are perfect buddy clown adventurers. Bradley Cooper’s Phil recalls every ultra-glib ladies man and take charge guy you’ve ever met. Ed Helms, as the defanged dentist Stu, is a dream of an angst-ridden straight man and guilty hen-pecked nerd, with a classic worried shockeroo look that suggests Harold Lloyd crossed with Charles Grodin. Zach Galifianakis (Dave the Bear in the lousy What Happens in Vegas) makes such a funny oddball out, like early fat-demonic Jim Belushi crossed with a delusional touch of Don Knotts, that he even manages to survive one too many peeks at his buttocks. And Justin Bertha is a terrific likable nice guy — and a hell of a sport too, since he has to miss most of the action.

The rest of the cast is good, especially Rachael Harris as the girlfriend from hell, Heather Graham as the hooker form heaven, Epps as B. D., and Ted Cheong as the kind of gay Chinese gangster you don’t want to meet in a Turkish bath. Even Mike Tyson makes you laugh.

I’ve knocked off a half star here for the cop car and blackjack scenes, and the sometimes mushy ending, none of which makes the wicked comic sense of the rest of the movie. But, audiences for this type of show will get everything they want, while audiences who normally wouldn’t go near a picture like this will get more than they bargained for. I’m usually not fond of movies partly inspired by TV commercials. But this is one case where we’re lucky that what happened in Vegas, uh, didn’t stay there.

– Michael Wilmington
December 8, 2009

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon