Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Hangover

If you are looking for a steady stream of laughs, this movie has them.

A large portion of these are original and fresh. You might see similarities with the Peter Berg 1998 film Very Bad Things, but it is different enough to merit you watching them both. Berg's film was quite a bit darker, while Todd Phillips is going for light although far from innocent laughs. The settings are similar. A bachelor party that goes very wrong. The group of male characters in The Hangover might be a bit more likable and their dialogue better written and delivered. The misadventures are non-stop, and you will not be bored.
There are a steady supply of pretty random things that happen in this movie and each should keep you engaged. Some might be of the opinion that shock value is used to openly throughout the film, but I would disagree. Their quest makes sense, drives the story, and the acting pulls off slightly flawed characters that we can sympathize with as their challenges bring out cathartic reward. Good comedies are always driven by good characters, where each have their own purpose and add to the laughs be it as the originator of the laughs or the straight guy that absorbs and reacts. Where comedies often go wrong is when the most unbalanced character sticks out in the movie and detracts from the pace and purpose of the story. How many times have we asked, 'that movie was pretty good, but did that one guy really have to be so____' I like to refer to these characters as crutch characters that are often funny and gifted actors that directors too often rely on to bail a movie out of bad writing. Zach Galifianakis and director Phillips ride this tightrope perfectly. The brother in law character is not over-used. All of his quirks and interjections are well spaced and pulled off so naturally that we find ourselves anticipating his next line. John Belushi had this gift, and Zach could just be that kind of comedian if he chooses his roles intelligently. The rest of the characters are well cast and each offers their own piece to the story and experience their own self discovery in a believable, non over-the-top way.

I would not recommend this to everyone, as some may find it hard to get past some of the distasteful parts of the humour, but for friends like mine its a can't miss.


What's up with UP?

Well, the corner of your mouths for one. This is a movie that does a few things like make you laugh, tug on your heart strings, satisfy your eyes all while teaching you the lesson to sit back, slow down and enjoy what you have in life.
Often original stories like this just don't stand up to live action pictures. Instead they can only be realized effectively in this very open venue of animation and CGI. Its not that these Pixar creators can ignore acting, directing, casting and story, but they are afforded a little poetic licensing in starting with a blank slate and creating a whole world where typical constraints can be ignored or glossed over. What is however unique about this Pixar movie is because of the setting and story line it had to deal with live action challenges. It was set in a real world setting and dealt with the burdens and mysteries of human interactions and all of life's complexities.
I have to tell you when I saw the trailers I wasn't convinced that I was going to like a movie about an old man who escapes his life in a helium propelled house. It kind of sounded to ordinary and not what I've come accustomed to in the Pixar universe. I imagined that who I assumed was the main character would be a hard sell as an interesting lead. I asked myself, how was Pixar going to entertain me with this one, without the crutch of an imaginary world full of creative possibilities, like the sea, toy, bug or monster world. Well I think they accomplished this by initially relating us to the old man by telling a back story that made him a real boy of wonder that was lost in love, imagination and finally loss itself. Then after dealing with that we were thrust into the more comfortabme world of pixar in an adventure to an all-American quest for entertainment, heroism and the escape and human need for closure. And of course, like in life, when you finally get there its a little disappointing and you wonder why you longed so to get there.
So in retrospect, I can turn my initial scepticism around and instead wonder how exactly Up will capture children's attention as opposed to us hardened grown-ups. That's funny, I just called myself a grown-up. I did see this with my 9 and 5 year old, and although I am sure they were mildly entertained, it not like they have been talking up or carrying on about it. Given that I dropped $90 on this experience its a little bit of a downer.
To be fair though, this picture is truly an impressive accomplishment, and the story and supporting characters are interesting, real and likable. While I sat there in the dark of the theatre with my upgrade from goofy 3D glasses I thought that this might be the kind of movie I could just as easily take my parents to. So the selling point on that is that its a really accessible movie. Fun for all.
The visuals as always were amazing, however it saddened me part way through the movie that I was taking this 3D spectacle for advantage. I noticed kids taking there glasses off, as I think the typical literally in your face theatrics of arrows and objects flying off the screen where absent. Like everything else about Up it steered away from these cinematic crutches and stayed true to a real grown up story seen through the venue of animation.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Paolo Nutini - Sunny Side Up - 2009

Although I wasn't lucky enough to be around when people heard Dylan for the first time, I certainly know how they felt. Paolo Nutini a 22 year old Scotsman has truly stunned me. He describes his first album, recorded when he was 18, as naive and full of angst. He wanted to do something 'different' and 'organic' with his next project, and boy did he. I haven't heard anything this different in a long time. To be two discs into your career, and pulling off deep rooted, catchy music like this is truly staggering. You would think that 'Sunny Side Up' was preformed by a band with multiple singers, but this all comes from the same cat. I don't use cat loosely. because sometimes he sounds like a swinging cool cat from the ragtime era, dragging out one verse to the next, while other times his velvet tone reminds me more of Simply Red's Mick Hucknall.
The disc's mood and sounds range all over the map from eclectic to Louis Prima improv. Paolo calls it a random mish mash, and although I see his point I better describe it as well planned experimentalism. It really makes me wonder what he can follow this up with. Well, I need to stop over analyzing the craft and just enjoy the music.
To give you a taste, he has a song about a conflict with marijuana called 'Coming Up Easy' where he stunningly comes up with an introspective line like 'It was in love that I was created, and in love is how I hope I die.' And in 'Candy' a song about a fight with his girlfriend he modestly laments 'I'm a heartless man at worst, babe, and a helpless one at best.' This is mature stuff for a 22 year old to expose himself so. He writes an ode to his father called 'Simple Things', where he respectfully thanks him for defining the cool confidence of living simply.
This may not be for everyone as it is out there and not mainstream, but in uniqueness alone very satisfying.
Please give it a listen and tell me what you think.