Found this and in anticipation felt the need to share.
It is a bit disconcerting that the third movie in a row that I am writing about is a sequel. Has all creativity gone out of the Hollywood dream factory when it comes to summer movies? I know it is a business, and the costs now a days are out of control. We can usually depend on Pixar for something original, but they have Cars 2 coming out next month so that is off the table for the year. Ultimately I know there are some fresh projects and new ideas coming, but the frequency of the sequels and the remakes is getting me down a bit. Having said that, I can follow up with something a lot more pleasant. This is the best of the sequels that I have seen so far this year. Although there are some plot elements repeated from the first Kung Fu Panda, this new edition does exactly what a sequel ought to do. We revisit characters that we came to love, in a new story and expand on the components that made us fans to begin with. This movie does the opposite of Hangover 2, instead of remaking the same story, we get a new story that follows the trail of the original characters.
Since the first movie came out, I have caught some or all of it many times on the satellite. It was a gorgeous movie and done with a style that made it seem authentically Asian but still accessible to Western sensibilities. This sequel is equally beautiful in the art direction and animation. There are several spectacular sequences that make use of the colors and cultures of old China, or at least how we imagine it might have been. The scene where the Furious Five and Po, sneak through the town disguised as a Chinese Luck Dragon was witty and used some great perspectives to bring us into the action and to show it from a humorous perspective. While three animated films have been nominated for best picture over the last twenty years, none of their directors were included on the list of nominees for best work by a director. I don’t know that this movie is a worthy nominee in the general category, but I saw several things in the film that reminded me that this had to be put together by someone, and the director is the one that makes those artistic choices. I know their work is going to be evaluated in a different way, but they face the same difficulties and consequences that a live action director must deal with. So here are some props for Jennifer Yuh. I looked her up because I was unfamiliar with her as a director. This is her first feature, but not her first experience with Kung Fu Panda. She was the story artist for the first film, which helps explain the continuing look of the movie. If you see this film, be sure to sit through the credits, not because there is a teaser or stinger at the end, but because the background drawings are so beautiful, it would be a shame to miss them.
Since I am passing out the compliments, let me offer some to all of the talented actors that make the movie work as an emotional and dramatic piece of fiction. This is not just an action cartoon, there are some deep themes that touch on friendship, family and even some zen ideas. It takes creative effort to make drawings and paintings come to life as characters. Jack Black has been great in a lot of things but he has also been overexposed. I skipped the Gulliver movie last Christmas because if a trailer can’t make it look interesting for two and a half minutes, there is not much chance a movie that is two hours will be worth seeing. Black’s work here appears to be more subtle and contained than in some of the live action comedies he has done. I really liked his interplay in this movie with Angelina Jolie’s Tigress. It is an awkward friendship, but one that works for characters from such different paths.
The biggest kudos belong to character actor James Hong, a guy I have seen in movies forever. He looked old and wise in “Chinatown” back in 1974. Thirty-seven years later, he sounds the same. Here he is given a chance to do more than usual in the movies he has made. As the adopted father of Po, he is loving, and domineering and fearful in a very honest way. I love that animation can bring out dramatic emotions as well as the humorous. Voice work in the animation business has got to be carefully cast. Too many times, stars are put into roles because they bring a name with them but they are not right for the part. There are dozens of movies in which we lose investment in animated characters because the voices are bland or ill cast. Hong sounds like a father goose, and he has the weary but knowing voice that every father worried about his child would have. His biggest performance on screen may have been in “Big Trouble in Little China”, but his best acting role is in this movie. I hope there is a group out there that gives awards for animated voice work and they need to pay attention to the great work done here by James Hong.
This is at least the fourth animated film I have seen this year, and while it may not rise to the level of “Rango” as a movie, it does make the film world a better place to hang out. There is plenty of humor, action and a nice sense of pathos to hold most movie goers. There was a particularly sad moment in the movie involving Po being separated from his mother. There was a little girl behind us crying inconsolably over the events on screen. It took me back twenty years to the El Capitain Theater in November of 1991. We had taken our two little girls to see “Beauty and the Beast”, and Allison cried out loud and shouted at the screen when the townspeople are marching up to the castle to “kill the beast”. She was taken away by the experience just as the little girl yesterday was. I hope movies will always do that for the young and the young at heart. We want to be entertained of course and we certainly want to be dazzled. More than anything else though,we want to feel. Stories should move us in some way. I judge movies in large part on the emotional reaction I have from them. By that measuer Kung Fu Panda 2 is a success.
Anyone planning on seeing this movie should know that if you saw the first movie, you have already seen this story. It does not quite qualify as a shot for shot remake, but it is pretty close. The comparison between “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II” seems most appropriate. Same story, same characters, same general events, bigger production values and a little more pushing of the edges of the envelope. I looked forward to this film because the first Hangover was perfect. If you never saw the first film, then this one will be amazing for you. Having enjoyed the first move at least a dozen times, the second one here is entertaining, but it is not as memorably magnificent as it’s predecessor.
We already know the characters to start off with, so there are very few surprises about their reactions to the events that befall them. Phil will be overconfident that he can handle things and he will be wrong more often than not, Stu will be desperate and panicky at unpleasant memories as they come flooding back, and Alan will be clueless and inappropriate at the worst possible times. Since we can anticipate the reactions they are not fresh, and half the fun of the first movie was that we were learning new things about these guys on a regular basis. For example, in Stu’s story arch he suffocates under the demeaning thumb of his fiance in the first movie and then crawls out to be a new man at the end. Well, replace the horrible fiance from the first movie with the future father in law from his new fiance and you have the same story.
Alan was weird in a charming, sort of naive way in the first movie, here he is annoying in the same little boy mode. He starts off as a sympathetic character, but in the course of the movie we have more and more reason to dislike him. He still says and does funny things but the tone is darker and less friendly. In the end, a lot gets forgiven, but it is not quite as clear why in this go round. Phil is still a handsome prick, but a guy you would like to have as a friend simply because he is audacious and demanding. Without him as a catalyst, the other guys would wander in circles and the bachelor party really would be a short stack at IHOP.
As much as the Vegas version of the Hangover was a nightmare scenario for the wolfpack, Bangkok is a darker and more disturbing locale for this bad dream. Everything is a little more twisted and dangerous even though the event sequence seems to follow almost beat per beat the pattern of the first movie. We wake up in a hotel room, check. A wild animal is a part of the story, check. We discover another person is missing, check. In pusuit of that other person we cross paths with, gangsters, hookers, cops and Mr. Chou, check, check, check and check. It all works but not as brilliantly as it did the first time out. I have to admit, that the original Hangover grew on me with each subsequent viewing and I suspect that this version will be the same. There was just so much to take in that I missed things I know I will enjoy more the next time though. It is definitely something I will have to revisit to have a firmer sense of my feelings on the subject.
The first movie finished with a slideshow of pictures that reveals many of the blank spots in the story. This one repeats the trick. If it sounds like a bad idea to use the same rouse as in the first movie, wait until you see the pictures and how they are staged. You will get some of the biggest laughs from the film here, just as you did the first time. So the movie is a carbon copy, but still a very entertaining one with enough laughs and disgusting ideas to make you glad you saw it despite the headache you might have to live with.
Compare the teaser above with the one below. High anticipation.
Stick with it, there is something nice coming.
I’ve had a couple of people from my classes tell me that they watched the video review I posted on “Thor”, but they did not find time to read any of the other movie postings. So what I’m going to do for this entry is write a few comments and also post a video review so that both parts of my brain get a little exercise. I hope that will also encourage some of you to try both formats as you follow along. Maybe you can leave a comment about how you perceive the two media differently.
In 2003, I looked forward to the original pirates immensely. Other theme park movies had not worked but “Pirates” was going to be different. It was a natural adventure film, with a swashbuckling theme, backed by some supernatural influences. As a kid, the pirates ride at Disneyland had always been my favorite. I remember going in 1967, and my great grandmother being wheeled to the exit side of the line to wait for us and then helping her in and out of the gondola for the ride. She was in her 80’s at the time, but everyone wanted her to be part of the adventure. I was not disappointed one bit by the film version, which had a magnificent performance from Johnny Depp as the quirky lead character. This movie had surprises and also felt familiar. I know I saw it several more times in theaters and it was on my top five list for that year. When the film succeeded so well that two sequels were announced, I also had high hopes. As everyone already knows, the follow ups were not as endearing, charming or memorable as the first. There were some terrific sequences and characters. I think Davey Jones is an amazing synthesis of actor and CGI. The three way sword fight was ingeniously choreographed. At the end of Dead Man’s Chest, when Captain Barbosa is returned from the dead, although it made no sense, I felt a thrill in anticipation of the third movie. Both “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were bloated, at times incoherent, and ultimately mildly entertaining but letdowns. The story line was wrapped up and we had a Trilogy that did not feel organic but it did feel complete.
Here we are, five years after the last of the pirates movies and Captain Jack Sparrow is back for another episode. The character remains fun, but in “On Stranger Tides”, he is overwhelmed by a story that should take an hour and a half to tell but instead takes almost two and a half. Much of it is shot in the dark, which is probably needed to make the 3-D images pop more clearly. It has many of the same problems that the two sequels had, too many shifts in loyalties and uncertain rules for the supernatural elements. It often feels like it is being made up as we go along. That is not a bad thing if you are playing pirates but if you are making a movie, the structure of the story should drive the action rather than the other way around.
Don’t despair me hearties, there is still plenty to enjoy in this new adventure, but it is not the return to the sharp movie making found in the original film. The action is fine, there is a nice daylight chase though London on carriage tops that was reminiscent of a similar chase scene in “Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother” back in 1975. The murkiness of the settings undermines the sword duels in the first two thirds of the movie, but you do get a pretty good fight near the end of the film. Again, there are some clever escapes and humorous bits of by-play in the action sequences, but they are not set up as well as the theft of the English Ship in the original pirates, and they often make less logical sense than the sneaking around that dominated the third film. The Mermaid attack sequence is very nicely shot however, and it does have some of the charm that we got from the skeleton crew in “The Black Pearl”.
The three biggest assets besides Johnny Depp in the character he will always be referred to as in his obituary, are Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and once again Geoffrey Rush. A couple of years ago I saw “Nine” with Ms. Cruz, and well I had always thought she was beautiful, it was there that I saw how sexy she could be. She brings a lot of sex appeal to the film, but we need more by play and story focus on her and Captain Jack. Ian McShane, looks the part of Blackbeard like no one else, but he needs a little more development as well. There is an element of supernatural about him that is not really explained and seems to exist only to allow a couple of set pieces and a story element to work. Geoffrey Rush, basically can do no wrong. His character is still black-hearted, but now he has a vengeance story line that makes the last third of the picture work. Rush was great in “The King’s Speech” which won the academy award this year. I saw “Mystery Men” on the satellite a couple of days ago and he was great in it. I get the feeling, he is just damn good at what he does. In this movie, what he does is bring the story to life and make it a real pirate film rather than just a zombie, mermaid, action adventure.
I enjoyed the movie but I did not love it like I did the first film. I miss some of the characters that added charm in the original trilogy, not Will and Elizabeth, but the background pirates and soldiers. There was one character piece in this film that was not a featured player. One of the pirates plays and sings and his interaction with the mermaids adds to the fun in the movie. We needed sharper bits of humor like this from all of the players and a much tighter rein on the storytelling. This movie will do good business, and maybe they will follow through on the plot threads that set up more sequels. I can tell you though, no one will be sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for that to happen, and if it doesn’t, no one will really miss it.
This story scares me because it follows several recent experiences that made me feel like the movies might be trending down. The multiplex I usually go to has dropped 13 of their 30 screens. The theaters never seem to be packed. The time waiting in line at the concession stand is usually complicated orders and slow service rather than long lines. There are not a lot of movies that people are passionate about. And movies are on DVD/Blu-Ray, just weeks after they play in theaters. The narrow windows are another contributing factor. Heaven help us.
I will have to surrender my “mancard” for seeing this film. All you have to do is look at the poster and you know this movie was not made for any guy. This is clearly a chick flick, but one that has been danced up with sufficient raunchy humor that a man can see it with his date and not feel like a total sell out. Truth be told, my “man” status has been in doubt for years because I love musicals and thought “27 Dresses” was charming. This film meets the usual standards for a chick flick, but with some very funny twists along the way. I don’t know how it can be a complete girl film when one of the main pieces of humor is based on bathroom material that would mostly please an eight year old.
As I write this, I must say that I am probably something of a pig for the next comment, and I apologize. Maya Rudolph, who plays the bride to be in this movie,is not an attractive woman. She is interesting, but there is something about her that makes me want to get to the jokes quicker and spend less time in her company. Kristen Wiig, the star of the movie is not unattractive but she is definitely on the lesser side of the glamorous scale. While she might disagree with me on my assessment of Rudolph, I know she clearly sees herself in that “average not beautiful” mode because of the character she has written for herself. One of the things that sells this movie is that the people that populate it are for the most part, not “movie star” attractive, but average to less than average looking characters. The rest of us that fit into the same category are not going to be taken out of the film because the characters we are being asked to sympathize with are not so clearly better off that we sound like hypocrites for feeling their pain. Wiig’s character actually conveys this feeling really well when she is first introduced to the antagonist character, a beautiful women who seemingly takes over the role of maid of honor from her fellow bridesmaid. The jealous visual summary and the quivering, self loathing vocal inflection, suggest immediately that she resents this woman. While in the long run the resentment boils over and is later moderated, we are still never given any reason to feel dramatically different. She is beautiful, and will get away with so much reprehensible behavior because her good looks let her slip by. Except we in the audience get to continue hating her for her behavior and her looks.
This movie will be widely viewed as a female version of “The Hangover”. That is a pretty fair assessment, except the dude movie was plot driven and the chick flick is character driven. There are however a lot of parallels. For example, there is an oddball member of the wedding party, who is there because of a family connection rather than an organic friendship. Like in the guy film, this character ultimately helps reconcile plot points and relationships that get strained. Both characters are initially unappealing, but despite their weaknesses as human beings, they have a natural sweetness that overcomes all else. There is a trip to Vegas, but that is as far as I will go without spoiling some nice moments in the film. And, of course there are romantic moments for the ensemble characters that lead to happier moments than those with the original romantic partner of the character. I laughed at a lot of the jokes in this movie, but I did not have the same kind of gut wrenching laughter that I experienced in “The Hangover”. There are differences in what can be funny for men or women, and here the differences have to do with the realities of the circumstances rather than the outrageousness of events.
An actress appears in the movie and for the longest time I kept thinking to myself, wow, she sure looks like Jill Clayburgh. I am sure I’ve seen her somewhere else. I know Clayburgh is dead so this other woman must be someone else. In the credits, there it is, “Jill Clayburgh”. This has got to be her final film, and I did not hear any press about it or remember it being mentioned in her obits back in November. Having been a child of the 70s, she was an actress that I remember fondly and she was an important icon of the woman’s movement. It’s kind of nice she went out with a film so clearly driven by female sensibilities and she had a nice part as well. As usual, a movie that succeeds like this is supported by fantastic performers who are not the leads. The loutish bootie call buddy of Wiig’s character is handsome Jon Hamm. There is a girl that goes toe to toe with Wiig’s Annie in the jewelry store she works in, and she was great. The very familiar face of Richard Riehle shows up for a brief scene, but his voice and smile sell the idea planted by that scene really well.
My daughter is getting married in a month, her sister is the maid of honor, and I can tell you that there is plenty of tension going on that is mirrored in this movie. Anyone that has been close to the wedding preparations of someone close, will appreciate the humor and situations that pop up here. Some of the humor is painful, so be warned. I have a low tolerance for humor based on throwing up, because I am a sympathetic vomitter. There is one scene in “Stand By Me”, “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life”, “The 40 Year old Virgin” and now this, that I have to close my eyes for. Most everyone else was laughing, I was gagging. You may cringe at some of the awkward moments, but you will also recognize them as being based in the truth. I expect the wedding next month will go more smoothly than in this film, but there will certainly be pain and laughter along the way.