Balloons and Buffoons: Reviews of ‘Up’ and ‘The Hangover’
I am a strong supporter of 3D technology being utilized in cinema. When done right, it can propel a movie to amazing heights. Take the Vincent Price horror classic House of Wax, for example. As a movie, it’s entertaining and well made, delivering as many tongue-in-cheek laughs as genuine thrills. But when I saw it in 3D, it was even more spectacular. I was fully immersed in the movie, as the technology added previously unseen depth and layers to the story. That being said, I would like to point out that not every movie uses 3D to its advantage. In the case of Up. I threw on the glasses and expected to live and breathe the scenery. The opposite effect happened. The movie looked dim, fuzzy and washed-out. It really irks me when producers promise a 3D experience in order to sell more tickets, but deliver anything but. So many times it’s been poorly handled and wrongly executed (e.g. Spy Kids 3) that 3D technology now has kind of a bad rep. From now on, filmmakers should only attempt 3D when they can actually deliver pleasing results.
Now, on to Up, the latest Pixar creation.We first meet the movie’s protagonist Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Ed Asner) when he’s a young boy. He dreams of one day becoming a world explorer and venturing to South America like his hero Charles Muntz. Carl then meets Ellie, a girl who shares that dream with him. They fall in love, get married and settle into a ramshackle house where they live a peaceful existence. Most of the beginning sequences are silent, except for a wonderful jazzy score by Michael Giacchino. The couple’s life story is communicated through an effective montage sequence. Eventually, Ellie becomes ill and dies of old age and Carl is left heartbroken. After these first 20 minutes, the rest of Up is downhill from there.
Carl gets cranky in his loneliness and hatches a plan to fly his house over to South America using helium fueled balloons so that he can feel alive again. A nosy Boy Scout named Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) ends up stowing along and the two become unlikely explorers together. That’s about it. I found this part of Up (the bulk of it) extremely boring and even somewhat unpleasant, despite the vibrantly colorful scenery. For a movie about a flying house, it sure had a lot of ground time. And the jokes and set-ups were unbelievably stupid. Do we really need talking mutts again? It’s as if Pete Docter and Bob Peterson (Up’s co-directors and co-screenwriters) set out to erase the emotionality and wonder of the movie’s terrific first act. The resolution is especially bad. It is an overly drawn out battle involving a surprise villain (voiced by Christopher Plummer) who’s after a rare bird that Carl and Russell are trying to protect. To say that the way the villain’s character is handled does the movie a disservice is an understatement. It made me wish that I had left the theater after those first twenty minutes. At least my enjoyment would have been preserved.
If you’ve seen Very Bad Things, Dude Where’s My Car, Superbad, What Happens in Vegas (where Zach Galifianakis plays pretty much the same character) or a host of others, then you’ve seen The Hangover. It follows three buddies (Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms) as they search for a missing groom (Justin Bartha) after a wild bachelor party in Las Vegas. While re-tracing their steps, the guys encounter a lost baby, an effeminate Chinese gangster, a couple of vengeful cops, a stripper with a heart of gold (Heather Graham, in a degrading comeback role) and even a Genesis-singing Mike Tyson.
The Hangover has some a few laughs but not nearly enough of them. The plot is just so tired and predictable. Every loose end is tied up lazily, without any real thought. One moment there will be a problem and then, two seconds later, it will be magically solved. I know it’s asking a lot of a raunchy comedy to have a fully developed story, but screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore could have at least tried for an ounce of fluidity or plausibility. Sometimes it’s funnier when the audience can actually relate to some of the situations. Or if it feels like planet earth.
Director Todd Phillips has made gross-out comedies with a frat boy mentality before (Road Trip, Old School), and now that The Hangover has grossed over $150 million domestically, he will no doubt make many more of them. Even though the movie is as fresh as a day-old loaf of bread, it has nonetheless struck a chord with audiences nonetheless. People must be happy to see a new comedic gang in town after years of a Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen monopoly.