Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Living Here in Alan Town

In the classic Murray Head song, there's the lyric "One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble." That's the basic plot of The Hangover Part II, in which the Wolfpack, in Thailand for Stu's (Ed Helms) wedding, wake up in Bangkok and can't remember anything that happened the night before. If you're thinking, "Isn't that basically the same exact plot as the first Hangover movie? How could that happen again?" then you're right. But if you like the characters and the movie's funny, then the plot's not exactly important. So let's move on, then, shall we?

Full disclosure: I'm not the world's biggest fan of the original Hangover. It had its moments, but to me, it's just not the instant classic it's been hyped up to be. This sequel is of similar quality. The novelty of the situation's gone, so the filmmakers have no choice but to ratchet up the raunch and take it to new extremes. Of course, that's after the guys wake up. For some odd reason, it takes a long time to get to that point. Why the filmmakers spend so much time establishing the film's premise this second time around I don't know, but it's a bummer.

To be sure, Hangover 2 has its moments too, but some of them you'll feel like you've seen before. There's a bit involving Stu and a stripper (again), and while you can predict what's going to happen a mile away, the payoff (if you can call it that) is both gross and hysterical. That scene is an exception; there's nothing quite as funny in the entire rest of the film. In fact, Hangover 2 has stretches where there aren't many laughs at all. Thankfully, Zach Galifianakis brings the awkward funny throughout the film. It's his lines that you'll be quoting all summer (that, or the lyrics to Stu's song — yes, that's another bit that carries over to the sequel).

So in the end, is The Hangover Part II worth seeing? It's less enjoyable than the first film, it's predictable, and Bangkok ... well, let's just say you won't want to travel there any time soon. But it's still funny at parts, and the Wolfpack is fun to hang with for two hours. So I'm giving The Hangover Part II a B–.


Monday, May 30, 2011

My Summer 2011 To-Do List

Last week, one of my Twitter pals published her summer to-do list, and I thought to myself, "Self, that's a great idea. Why didn't I think of that?" So, in the spirit of "Memorial Day is the first day of summer," here are some things I'd like to do before the weather turns cold, in no particular order:
  • Walk a whole lot. Specifically, around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, but anywhere I can get my legs moving is fine with me. And if, by the end of summer, the walk should turn into a jog, then all the better. (What? A guy can dream, can't he?)
  • Take a day off from work and totally disconnect. Better yet, spend that day relaxing by a pool or on a beach somewhere.
  • Read two books (including Tina Fey's Bossypants, which I've already started). Given the pace at which I read, this is what you'd call a "stretch goal."
  • Spend time on the Cape. I've lived in Boston for 14 years (18 if you include college). How is it that I've never gone any farther down the Cape than the airport?
  • Take a Codzilla ride around Boston Harbor.
  • Have a very happy birthday. (Hint: It's one week away!)
  • Take my niece on her first Duck Tour. (My nephews will have to wait till they're older.)
  • Find somewhere I can go swimming regularly. Invitations and suggestions are welcome.
  • Compete in a pancake eat-off at In a Pickle. No kidding.
  • Eat Dairy Queen in Michigan City, Ind., and in Boston.
  • Not get sunburned. Again, this may be a stretch goal, given how easily (and frequently) I burn.
  • Go to at least one game at Fenway. Right now I have no tickets to any games. I'm open to invitations.
  • Eat as much corn on the cob and drink as much lemonade as possible.
  • Drive up to New Hampshire to visit my old summer camp. This is something I've wanted to do for years but have never actually done.
  • Enjoy. It's just that simple.
What's on your summertime to-do list?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Livin' Aqua de Vida

You always hope it's great when beloved characters return to the big screen after an absence. Remember how good it felt to see Woody and Buzz again last summer in Toy Story 3? Well, when Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow — excuse me, Captain Jack Sparrow — reappears on screen at the start of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the first Pirates film in four years, you can't help but smile. His creation is so full of whimsy, style, and swagger, and while Depp's performances in the series have always been fun, the movies themselves have been hit and miss, with none able to recapture the delight of the first, The Curse of the Black Pearl.

So the good news right up front is that On Stranger Tides is more in line with At World's End, the third film, than it is with Dead Man's Chest. This latest film is less bloated, less filled with special effects (obvious ones, anyway, like characters with fish faces), and more fun and exciting than these films probably should be at this point. Credit, yes, Depp for another enjoyable performance, but also credit the creative team (led by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Rob Marshall, and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) for making the decision to streamline the story and excise distractions like Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann — but not Geoffrey Rush's still-fun Captain Barbossa.

In Stranger Tides, Captain Jack goes in search of the Fountain of Youth. Along the way, he reunites with Angelica (Penélope Cruz), his former lover and the daughter of the ruthless pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who forces Jack to join his crew. Also on the quest are the Spanish and British monarchies, with Barbossa heading up the latter's efforts. And yes, there are mermaids thrown in too.

Marshall shows a competency for directing a big film of this type, with one thrilling sword fight or chase after another. The action moves swiftly, and the film clocks in at a long but not overly-so two hours and 20 minutes. The screenplay isn't challenging, but it's not silly either, and Depp's now-routine schtick doesn't feel tired. In fact, with new characters to play off, and a new obstacle to surmount (i.e., his romantic feelings for Angelica), he gets some welcome brand-new material. Oh, and the film's in 3D too — and IMAX, if you wish, as I did. Those effects largely are there to add depth to the pictures, but there are some fun, though gratuitous, effects.

Still, it's the familiar elements that make Stranger Tides worth seeing: The chemistry between Depp and Rush, the rousing theme and score by Hans Zimmer, the gorgeous cinematography, rousing action scenes, the return of Keith Richards as Jack's father, and Johnny Depp's performance. Fork over your $10 and officially kick off your summer. Stranger Tides is a great time at the movies. It made me say, "Yo ho!" so I'm giving it a strong B.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Maid of Dishonor

Like going to a friend of your girlfriend's wedding, the movie Bridesmaids goes on too long and it's filled with all kinds of jokes that she may find funny, but at which you barely crack a smile. Produced by Judd Apatow and co-written by star Kristen Wiig, the film tells the story of Annie, a single woman whose luck only gets worse when her best friend from childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), gets engaged. Forced to deal with a motley group of fellow bridesmaids (including an ultracompetitive one who wants to be maid of honor), Annie finds herself and Lillian drifting apart. Chick flick? You betcha. And as noted, the film just goes on waaaaaay too long. Thankfully, this review will keep it short. I'm giving Bridesmaids a C–.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leave It to The Beaver

It would be tempting to see The Beaver and want to draw parallels between the film's plot and star Mel Gibson's last couple years. After all, the film tells the story of a man who reaches bottom and finds an unusual method of snapping out of it and reconnecting with friends and family. But that would be too easy ... and perhaps more importantly, I'll bet even Mel Gibson, crazy as he is, wouldn't go so far as to talk through a hand puppet. Yes, that's the plot here: Walter, a depressed husband and father (Gibson), finds a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and adopts it as his sole means of communicating with those around him. (Yes, really.)

Indeed, The Beaver tells a fascinating and sometimes amusing story. And for the first two-thirds of the film it's actually quite endearing. Gibson's tender performance is so good that you can forget about his troubled recent past. Jodie Foster, who also directed the film, Anton Yelchin, and Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence also turn in some nice work. But then, just as you've started to really sympathize with Walter, the film takes a bizarre turn that just about derails it. Will Walter ever be cured enough to rejoin society without the aid of the puppet? Will Gibson ever shake his own issues? Neither answer is clear. Let's just hope The Beaver is Gibson's first step toward recovery. It's a better-than-expected first step that I'm giving a B–.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lucky Man

The truth is, life is pretty good for me these days. I've got two young nephews and a niece who just turned 3 years old. I've been busy, I'm happy, and the weather is turning nicer. Oh, and last week at this time I was in Captiva Island, Florida, on another trip for work. Already this year I've been to Las Vegas and Key Biscayne for conferences. And this was the second time I've been to Captiva for this particular conference.

If you want to know what I learned at the conference in Captiva, then go check out my work blog. What I want to say here is that the trip reminded me of just how lucky I am ... to have a job I like, in an industry with such great people that I really enjoy spending time with ... smart people who are also very funny, who have tremendous passion for what they do, and who genuinely care about their customers and doing right by them. It's an industry that's fascinating and interesting, and on the cusp of technology and communication trends. All that, sure. But as I sat working by the pool, enjoying the sunny, 90-degree weather, and as I rode on a gorgeous sunset cruise ... as I posed for pictures with my colleagues, and as I made plans to see some of them again soon, I felt lucky that I have a job that affords me the opportunity to go on trips like these, with such fun people, where I can represent my employer and be productive, and also enjoy myself. It was a great trip. Perfect weather, engaging and provocative conference sessions, really nice accommodations, good food, great people, and well worth my time. No complaints from me, other than the fact that I had to go home after three days.

When things get a bit stressful or annoying, I just need to look back on my trip to Captiva and remind myself that yes, I'm a pretty lucky guy.


Monday, May 09, 2011

It's Mission In-Freakin'-Sanity

It's the rare film series that makes it to a fifth entry and still manages to entertain. And who'da thunk it that the Fast and Furious series would be a series that did both? Fast Five reunites original cast members Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and (the gorgeous) Jordana Brewster, and shifts the action to Rio, where the team schemes to pull off a heist involving the city's largest crime lord. New to the series is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, as an FBI agent hot on their trail. (No wonder Walker and Diesel's characters bring back other former F&F stars, including Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Tyrese Gibson, who both appeared in the second film).

Fast Five starts out with a bang, as the gang rescues Diesel's character, Dom, as he's bussed off to prison. It hardly slows down from there, with car chase after car chase, lots of running through the favelas, and plenty of gunplay. To call the whole thing a testosterone fest would be putting it mildly. In fact, given the film's location and the target audience, I'm surprised there's not more action that takes place at the beach, so we could see some scantily clad women. Oh well. But despite that, and an often silly screenplay and wooden acting, Fast Five keeps humming along in entertaining, fun fashion, and climaxes with an impossible and exciting chase through the streets of Rio that keeps you on the edge of your seat. If Fast Five is, in fact, the first "summer movie" of the year, then we're in for a very enjoyable season. I'm giving this film a B.

P.S. Be sure to stay through the end credits. Looks like there's going to be a sixth film sometime soon.