Birdman (2014)

_AF_6405.CR2More than twenty years after Birdman 3 marked the end of his career as a superhero, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is still trying to rebuild his reputation as a serious actor. His latest and most drastic attempt involves staging an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” for which he will serve as writer, director and star. But while Riggan may be through with Birdman, Birdman isn’t quite through with him; as Riggan works to resolve conflicts with his esteemed co-star (Edward Norton), snooty New York Times critic Tabatha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) and his estranged, drug addict daughter (Emma Stone), the spectre of Birdman works to undermine his self-confidence and erode his resistance to a fourth movie.

There’s nothing quite like Birdman; whether it’s cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s hypnotic long shots, editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione’s seamless stitching together of scenes or writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s trans-narrative approach to storytelling, Birdman pushes boundaries until it defies categorisation altogether. As the camera follows Riggan in and around the theatre in what appears to be one uninterrupted take, with little distinction between on- and backstage drama, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. As such, when the film opens with our (reluctant) hero levitating a few feet off the floor, it’s not entirely clear what exactly you’re looking at. Is Riggan imagining these powers or is he genuinely manifesting telekinetic abilities?

These powers continue to develop throughout the movie, as Riggan uses them to move various items with his mind and eventually take to the skies in full-blown flight (as you’ll have likely seen in the trailer). It’s also possible that he used them to incapacitate one of his weaker actors — though it might just as easily have been simple sabotage or coincidence. Now in need of a replacement he hires Mike, one of his other cast-members’ other halves who just happens to be a renowned method actor himself. Keaton and Norton are terrific together, their rivalry compelling in its own right but further enhanced by their obvious onscreen chemistry. This is ultimately Keaton’s film, but when Mark gives Riggan a crash course in acting Norton owns the scene. The whole ensemble deserves mention, though, with Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts impressing as their respective girlfriends, and Zach Galifianakis displaying real gravitas as Riggan’s lawyer-producer best friend.

Birdman can be enjoyed as a bravura and increasingly bizarre black comedy, but it also holds up to a little more scrutiny. Like Riggan Thomson, Michael Keaton is best known for playing a superhero. The parallels don’t end there either, as both hung up their cowls in 1992 and since struggled to either redefine themselves or recapture their early success. It’s clear that Iñárritu has something to say on the subject of superhero movies — Norton and Stone are no strangers to the genre, while Iron Man and X-Men: First Class are referenced in conversation — but it’s difficult to be completely certain what his message might actually be. To call Birdman an attack on the genre or those who engage with it seems overly simplistic, but it’s certainly raises a few pertinent questions. Iñárritu also has something to say about acting in general, about fame and fortune, and about those whose job it is to criticise the performances of others.

Birdman isn’t going to appeal to everyone — it’s unashamedly enigmatic and esoteric — but those willing to engage with it ought to find something to ponder and puzzle over. Rather than being the closing statement that many would like it to be, however, Birdman is merely the start of a much larger conversation. This isn’t a conclusion; it’s a curiosity.

4-Stars

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The Hangover Part III (2013)

The Hangover Part IIIWhen he inadvertently decapitates a giraffe and causes a motorway pileup, Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) returns home to find his friends staging an intervention; Alan has been off his prescribed ADHD medication for months, and his beloved Wolfpack wish to drive him to a rehabilitation clinic in Arizona. On the way, however, they encounter mob leader Marshall (John Goodman), who kidnaps Doug (Justin Bartha) as collateral and orders Alan, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) to find Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) and return the millions of dollars worth of gold that was stolen from him. Read more of this post

The Muppets (2012)

Walter (Peter Linz), the Muppet brother of the coincidentally human Gary (Jason Segel), has struggled to find a place in the world, preferring instead to watch The Muppet Show re-runs at home with his live-in sibling. Invited to Los Angeles by Gary, who has booked the holiday to mark the ten year anniversary of his relationship with unorthodox school teacher Mary (Amy Adams), Walter is disappointed to find the official tour of the old Muppet Theatre all-but disbanded and the building itself in ruin. Overhearing a plot by tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to purchase the land harvest it for oil, Walter hijacks the romantic getaway in order to reunite the Muppets and save the theatre by way of a money raising telethon.

It does require somewhat of a suspension of disbelief to imagine a world in which the Muppets are out of fashion and long forgotten, particularly given the troupe’s recent runaway resurgence. Since the project was first announced, Disney’s marketing machine has been in overdrive as the brand began appearing everywhere from Children In Need to YouTube to your local cineplex courtesy of the requisite Orange Gold Spot. With a push for the Muppets to host the Oscars, and even an interview with Miss Piggy in The Sunday Times, the long-awaited movie ran the risk of missing its own bandwagon, and really had to deliver something special to justify the considerable hype.

Thankfully, Jason Segel’s script does just that, its alchemic mix of nostalgia and innovation ensuring that fans of the television show and extant franchise are duly honoured, while taking measures to charm newcomers and novices alike. The results are often laugh out loud funny as our heroes are forced to accept that the world has moved on and tastes have changed. From Kermit the Frog’s contact list of yesteryear’s celebrity (we’re looking at you, Molly Ringwald) to ’80s Robot’s reliance on a dial-up modem, the incongruity is played up to great effect. The film also has fun with certain well-worn cinematic shorthand, with montage and map travel both lampooned with a lovably self-aware wink to the audience.

As with his Dracula rock musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel shows a startling affinity for catchy show-tunes. Kick-starting proceedings with the delightfully upbeat Life’s a Happy Song, the wit and proficiency later exampled throughout subsequent hits Pictures in My Head and Man or Muppet will not only have you spouting half-remembered lyrics for weeks to come but living in wait of Segel’s next musical endeavour. The original music is complimented with a number of recycled hits that shall remain nameless so as not to spoil their impact, needless to say that a certain recent pop hit as interpreted by Camilla and the Chickens comes close to stealing the show.

Even onscreen, Segel (alongside Amy Adams and Peter Linz) cuts a likeable presence opposite the veritable institutions of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo. Their introduction is arguably the film’s biggest accomplishment, as the new characters and dynamics are established and we get to see the glowing effects of having a Muppet in your life. As the focus shifts, the trio is even missed, with their development and resolution having to contend with the film’s namesakes for screen time. Not that it’s not nice to have the Muppets back, the ensuing madness truly celebrating all that was great about the characters and franchise, but with a plot so slight it’s a shame that anyone had to lose out at all.

This is a problem, however, and unless you are willing to let the film slide on good will alone you are unlikely to be completely satisfied with the finished product. The careful balancing act of man and Muppet struggles to give each subplot its due; with so many supporting characters, it was always going to be a challenge doing each existing icon their due, even without adding new ones to the mix – however likeable they might be. The result is a movie which doesn’t quite hang together, a miss-mash of narrative threads and secondary characters that are rarely more than the sum of their parts.

With many of the skits involved in the marketing push proving so successful, and many of the gags in the film itself working so well, the film is often at its best during relatively standalone segments and self-contained sight-gags. As soon as director James Bobin attempts tie these segments together the movie starts to fall apart, the film’s punch compromised by a plot so cliché that you’re waiting for a send up that never comes. Although many of the characters are great fun and many of the ideas come together beautifully, there are moments that fall jarringly flat. Take the movie’s “celebrity cameos”: with many of Hollywood’s least funny contemporary performers cropping up in one way or another, the diversions from the already short-changed central relationships ultimately do more harm than good.

A hugely affable affair which confirms that the Muppets are back in a big way, The Muppets is an absolute joy from beginning to end. With Jason Segel gifting us with one of the most charming, witty and tongue in cheek scripts of the year so far, and a love and admiration for the franchise which goes beyond simple nostalgia, this is undoubtedly the comedy to beat in 2012. With one of the film’s key morals being that relevance is overrated, however, I just wish all involved hadn’t been so preoccupied with shoehorning in timely celebrity cameos.

If 2011 Were A Movie…

In recent years we have seen Hollywood tap a variety of different resources in its ongoing search for new ideas. Stopping just short of sticking its hand down the side of the sofa and rummaging for loose inspiration, Tinseltown has instead chosen to adapt everything from the usual books, video games and television shows, to websites, theme park rides and – I still can’t quite believe it –  even board games. So, why not an entire year?

If 2011 were a movie, aside from reflecting such recent events as The Royal Wedding, the London riots, the Eurozone crisis and those pandas arriving at Edinburgh zoo, it would also have to reflect the trends and tendencies prevalent in the films it has seen released during its tenure. As such, it would most likely be a remake of a foreign language prequel, a motion-capture throwback and a steamy tale of friends with benefits, with no strings attached.

If 2011 were a movie it would star Michael Fassbender as a man haunted by an unsuppressable Irish accent, Ryan Gosling as someone who can wear clothes really well, and Natalie Portman in the midst of what must amount to the most productive pregnancy ever. Stellan Skarsgård would play a man with a hidden agenda, Felicity Jones’ character would ultimately win your heart and Justin Timberlake would appear as a surprisingly capable actor.

If 2011 were a movie it would be set in Rio de Janeiro, where endangered birds come to mate, the fast are as fun as they are furious, and vampires routinely honeymoon.  At least, that is, until Michael Bay crashes a Transformer into it, forcing our heroes to set sale, on stranger tides, in search of the secret of the unicorn. On a Zeppelin. It would see McLovin slay some vampires, James Bond team up with Indiana Jones, and Queen Amidala wooed by a bunch of carrots and a period mix.

If 2011 were a movie it would be called 2011: The Movie – Part II Of The Rise Of The Planet of The Apes Of The Moon 3D (in 4romascope). It would have more punctuation than characters, more dimensions than punctuation, and in all likelihood be prefixed with Green. It would be a kid’s film by Martin Scorsese, a superhero movie by Michael Gondry, a live action movie by Brad Bird and an animated movie by Steven Spielberg.

If 2011 were a movie it wouldn’t be as good as the book, the original or the trailer for Sucker Punch made it out to be. It would miscast Liam Neeson, boast too much Nicolas Cage, and at some point feature a fat character shaving his head and shitting into her dress. Worst of all, however, New Year’s Eve would kill the finale. And it would be inexplicably steampunk.

More importantly, however, if 2011 were a movie I would pay to see it. I would marvel at its melancholy, gasp at its production values and laugh unabashedly at its failure to kill Bono. It would be surprisingly heartfelt for a summer blockbuster, unexpectedly jaw-dropping for a low budget Norwegian flick, as funny as the TV show, and a fitting conclusion to a much loved franchise.

If 2011 were a movie, 2012 would have a lot to live up to.

Fails of the Year – 2011

Forever wishing to give cinema the benefit of the doubt – especially as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo appear to be in such capable hands – I have decided to hold off on judging the year’s best films until I have had the opportunity to catch up on a few more. I feel no such responsibility with making similar conclusions regarding the year’s most unforgivable affronts to the medium of film, however, and with my predictions only proving partially accurate, a few glaring oversights coming back to bore me as the year drew on, here are the top ten movies that left me wishing I could have found my life’s driving passion in sport or music instead.

10. Apollo 18

While it is generally accepted that low-budget found-footage movies will delay the money shot until the last possible moment – when they know for sure how much money they have left to spend on it, no doubt – Apollo 18 takes this rule of thumb to the extreme. Divulging little more about its central trio than that they like barbeques and dislike accidentally rubbing jalapenio juice into their crotches, director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego ensures that by the end of our tenure aboard the titular space ship alongside our fellow astronauts we are wishing we could finish them off ourselves. There is a reason we’ve never gone back to the moon, and it appears to be because it was so damn boring the last time.

9. Take Me Home Tonight

What is it about the 80s that provokes such unwavering nostalgia? With Hollywood throwing back with films such as The Rocker and Hot Tub Time Machine, there appears to be a perfectly renewable audience for movies that channel boomboxes, Farrah hair and Back to the Future. Starring Topher Grace, a particularly desperate looking Anna Farris and – in a turn of events that will no doubt turn the world inside out – an overweight comic actor who is even more hateful than Jack Black and Zach Galifianakis combined, this movie is aimed exclusively at the type of person who longs to have been alive in the 80s, where they could “do it” on a trampoline and solve all of life’s problems by riding a giant metal ball into a swimming pool – the director, then.

8. Bad Teacher

Much has been made of the similarities between Bad Teacher and curmudgeonly classic Bad Santa. To me, however, any such comparisons end swiftly with the titular prefix. Where the latter was subversive, witty and oddly charming, Bad Teacher is a one dimensional, derivative and woefully crass exercise in Bad Filmmaking. Cameron Diaz’s Halsey is a bad teacher because she makes her pupils watch TV instead of read books, because she dresses inappropriately at the sponsored car wash and because she plans her next boob-job when she should be marking papers. Hilarious, huh?

7. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

I get it, fat people are funny. Three movies in, though, you might imagine that Regency Enterprise had something more to say – some flesh to add to the premise’s big bones and trademark fat suit. Interpreting this criticism as a categorical need for more fat people to laugh at, the studio has duly provided us with Brandon T. Jackson as the rapper son of Malcolm Turner’s cross-dressing undercover agent. Seriously, with some of the rubbish that has been accepted into Juilliard in recent years, I’m really failing to understand how it is still so prestigious? With Turner having now been in the role for over a decade – A DECADE! – we can only hope that this spells the end of Big Momma’s Franchise.

6. New Year’s Eve

Imagine every base-level romantic comedy you’ve seen in the last 10 years. Now imagine watching them all again, at once, without any of the pleasure – however guilty – and all of the bits that make you wish you could swallow your own face. With dire performances, a self-congratulatorally indulgent narrative and jokes that are almost (but importantly not even) hysterically unfunny, New Year’s Eve is to cinema what the ball drop is apparently to New Yorkers: a hollow and desperately sad piece of pig-ignorant Americana that you can feel actively sucking the splendour out of life, one cameo at a time.

5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

With Megan Fox ostracised for calling MICHAEL BAY a Nazi (Poland must be the only country he hasn’t blown up), and the film’s director echoing star Shia LaBeouf’s admission that the second film really was utter pants, it looked like Transformers: Dark of the Moon was on track to be at least watchable; a first for the franchise. Instead, it was business as usual at the pixel factory as the robots fight, the girl pouts and Sam Witwicky runs, runs as fast as he can lest he pause long enough to have to try on a new facial expression. With the trilogy finally – mercifully – over, perhaps now we can leave Bay to his career-long mid-life crisis and get on tempting our brains out of Autobot-induced hibernation. No, I can’t tell what’s going on in the picture either.

4. Green Lantern

Considering how much time I’ve spent banging on about the merits of silly superheroes (of which Hellboy is still by and far the best), the irony – or is it hypocrasy? – of my distaste for Green Lantern has certainly not gone unnoticed. For while it might forgo the tiresome “darker is better” mantra that has been redefining Hollywood ever since Christopher Nolan cleared his throat with Batman Begins, it is a movie completely lacking in any talent and/or workable humour to offset the story’s resounding hocum. All the talk of the emerald energy of willpower and yellow power of fear is frankly too much, and with appalling special effects to match the script my biggest fear is that Green Lantern might have played right into Nolan’s gritty hands.

3. Cowboys and Aliens

Renamed after Cowboys and Aliens and More Aliens and Convenient Phoenix Metaphors and Indians and Sam Rockwell and God and a Hummingbird performed poorly with test audiences, Cowboys and Aliens was one of the most obnoxious, humourlous and darn right ridiculous movies released his summer. Side-lining Harrison Ford (why? WHY?) in favour of Old Expressionless and Plot Point #4 (dutifully reprising her role from last year’s Tron: Legacy), John Favreau effectively made the anti-Iron Man: a comic book adaptation that took itself far too seriously. Ford is the best thing in Cowboys and Aliens by a good Kessel Run – and that’s coming from someone who really likes hummingbirds.

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Rather than confronting the issues harmonised by the planet’s critics, Rob Marshall’s apparent overhaul never makes it beneath the surface. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a pale imitation of a once great, and then at least competent, franchise; a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns in action. Shot largely in the dark and depriving Jack Sparrow of a sparring partner (wasting the character in the thankless role of straight man), this latest adaptation of the Disneyland attraction is anything but a roller-coaster ride, providing precisely zero swash for your buckle.

1. Sucker Punch

I forgive you for being enticed by the stylish and action-packed trailer. After all, I was right there with you. It made the film look sleek, layered and, above all, coherent. A squad of asylum inmates escape into an alternate reality, Alice in Wonderland style, and must fight an array of fantastical monsters for a series of items that will lead to their freedom in the real world – sound about right? Turns out, however, that these items were little more than a map from the next room, a lighter from a visiting suit’s pocket, a kitchen knife from their workplace, a key from around their orderly’s neck and a not-so-mysterious “sacrifice”. Not a steampunked zombie Nazi in sight.

Also worthy of mention: The Green Hornet, Red Riding Hood, 30: Minutes or Less, The Three MusketeersImmortals, AbductionColombiana, Conan the BarbarianProm, The Hangover: Part II, Horrible Bosses, Just Go With It.

Puss in Boots (2011)

Eager to right his past wrongs and reimburse the denizens of his home town, San Ricardo, after accidentally casting their savings over the side of a bridge, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) learns of the whereabouts of magic beans capable of leading him to the legendary Golden Goose. When he attempts to rob the items from the infamous Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), however, Puss runs afoul of Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), who subsequently leads him back to her lair so that he might be reunited with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), a dark figure from his past who was directly responsible for his banishment from the orphanage that they once attended together. Combining forces, they scheme to aqcuire the beans, ascend the beanstalk and kidnap the Golden Goose from the clutches of the terrifying Terror, providing Humpty’s treacherous ways really are behind him.

With the Shrek franchise having run its course (for now) and DreamWorks enjoying a new age in quality product (Madagascar 3 really does look fantastic), the studio revisits Puss in Boots under the watchful eye of Guillermo del Toro for an origin story with a delightfully Latino spin. Applying the brand’s subversive framework to another set of ripe old fairy-tales, director Chris Miller puts Antonio Banderas’ Chupacabra front and centre while crafting a narrative which takes in skyward castles, giant monsters and dancing duels. However, while Miller and star Banderas might have crafted a number of outstanding set pieces littered with delightful one-liners, the movie which attempts to hold it all together is a few golden eggs short of a two-ton omelette.

I laughed during Puss in Boots, I laughed harder than I have done since Shrek rediscovered its mojo in the ogre’s final outing; but, while the screenplay might be witty, the action exciting and the voice-work arresting, Puss in Boots is one of the most unrealised, half-baked and underdeveloped animations of the year. Scraping the bottom of a barrel which once contained such promising concepts as a talking donkey, a camp Pinochio and a lovelorn dragon, Puss in Boots is instead forced to settle for a nondescript couple who inexplicably raise hogs, an aged beanstalk climber who now grows beards and a talking egg which might just be the very embodiment of annoying (and creepy). Very few of these characters work alone, let alone as part of an ensemble, and the result is as far from the inspired and now classic alchemy of the original Shrek as its possible to get without casting singing chipmunks.

Let’s take Humpty, an American, clothed egg who once went to school with a class-full of Spanish children and a talking cat. He befriended Puss after the titular cat discovers Humpty’s eye for invention, and spend their childhood finding shapes in the clouds and stealing little boy blue’s lunch money. When Puss is rewarded for saving an old lady with a pair of boots and a hat, however, Humpty grows jealous and resorts to deceiving Puss into aiding and abetting the next time he’s running low on money.  Aside from the sheer ludicrousness of that set-up, it is a backstory which essentially halts the narrative and leaves you panicked every time another character’s gaze threatens to drift into the past.

Elsewhere, the film’s ethnic slant is little justified and never tied into what came before, Humpty is chastised for believing in magic despite the fact that he is a sentient egg, Jack and Jill remain jarringly underdeveloped and the same gag in which Puss has his boots stolen is repeated approximately three million times. As a spin-off, it would have been nice if Puss in Boots had taken the time – any time – to honour what came before after; a pair of cat ears adorning the DreamWorks logo, a mention of the world beyond San Ricardo or a shared musical cue – anything. That the writers also missed a once-in-a-franchise excuse for a “chicken or the egg” gag only makes matters worse.

A funny, exciting and perfectly harmless romp, Puss in Boots unfortunately falls short of being anywhere near as good as the original Shrek movie it’s a bi-product of. Antonio Banteras’ Puss might still be a thing of beauty, but his first solo outing is a messy, uneven and disappointing affair. This Puss might have boots, but he almost certainly doesn’t have the legs to fill them.

Six Fads That Are Arguably Stunting Cinema

Going to the cinema can be a frustrating experience – not least because of the disproportionate number of mouth-breathing Cookie Dough munchers championing drivel, but also thanks to the shocking lack of choice on offer. How many times must my eyes be popped? Since when was randomness any substitute for jokes? Will Spider-Man ever get past the third instalment? I explore the six fads currently crippling cinema.

Having already chronicled the recent slew of dramatic doppelgängers – whereby cinematic doubles litter cinemas, often separated by mere months – I cannot quite shake the suspicion that the issue runs deeper than mere surface similarities between two or three films. I love cinema, and it hurts me to watch the same movies being regurgitated on a near-yearly basis. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

I try to maintain broad horizons and take in as large a variety of movies as is reasonably possible (from The Emperor’s New Groove to The Emperor’s New Clothes),  but having spent the last four years working for various plenty-screened multiplexes I have been faced with a growing number of facsimiles that are potentially threatening to the integrity of cinema. It has long been possible to read a number of fashions and fads into the celluloid of the times, but recently the choice and variety on offer in most cinemas is limited at best.

This year’s biggest releases read like a carbon copy check-list of every year thus far this decade. We have a wealth of superhero movies, a run of vampire films and an array of sex-comedies, each treading on the toes of whatever came before. On top of the genre staples there are also the usual regurgitations (who exactly was calling out for another Arthur film?), the ongoing search for a new Harry Potter (anyone ever remember I Am Number 4? No, I thought not) and the typical onslaught of sequels, prequels and English language adaptations (for which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, this is a record year). What follows is a trend by trend analysis of the creativity-zapping paths of least resistances characterising Hollywood today.

Part II: The Squeakquel

Cinematic sequels are hardly a recent phenomenon, dating back as they do to 1916’s Fall of a Nation, but with 27 sequels set to début this year alone (some constituting the fifth or even eighth instalment) they have become depressingly ubiquitous. While the tendency towards sequels can sometimes have little detriment on film quality – along with the often cited Godfather 2 and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, there are a great many other sequels of worth – the law of diminishing returns has claimed a great many more franchises than it has spared.

The problem is not only the lack of ideas by episode sixteen (I for one rather enjoyed Kingdom of the Crystal SkullFast Five and Scream 4), but the fact that sequels are often greenlit for their own sake as opposed to being the consequence of an ongoing saga in need of additional instalments to best tell its tale. As such we have seven Saw movies, ten Star Trek movies (pre-reboot) and a Land Before Time series that has lasted almost as long as the dinosaurs themselves. Nobody was begging for a second Cars movie, a Planet of the Apes prequel or a fifth Final Destination. As for Hoodwinked II: Hood vs. Evil – there was a Hoodwinked I??

Retcons, remakes and reimaginings.

Although many sequels are undoubtedly commissioned to capitalise on the fiscal benefits of our essential laziness and brand loyalty, at some point the costs of constantly ramping up the excitement/action/breasts will outweigh the benefits. Luckily, there still remains an attractive alternative to dreaming up new ideas: the reboot. I understand why it happens – hell, I can even quote a couple of worthwhile films which were themselves reboots – but that doesn’t help curb the suspicion that this is one of the most dangerous avenues of moviemaking.

Rather than simply recasting the roles and renewing their focus on character and plot, many studios are instead deciding to start from scratch, effectively scrapping everything that came before, making a mockery of any time, money or fanboyism wasted on that world. While this is true of just about every horror movie released before the turn of the century (and many after), it is particularly common for superheroes to drop everything in a hurry to return to square one. The Hulk will have effectively started over three times by the release of The AvengersThe Punisher has already managed his hat-trick, while Spider-man barely lasted five years before being unceremoniously rebooted. Surely it would make more sense to follow James BondDoctor Who and 90s Batman‘s example, continuing the narrative regardless of cast and crew changes?

Adapt or die.

It is not just existing films which prove an irresistible counter to originality in the Hollywood hills, as literally anything can form the basis for a box-office busting cinema franchise, with novels, games and even boardgames and theme park rides offering inspiration for willing film studios. As Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Nicholas Sparks and the Brothers Grimm find themselves relentlessly tapped for stories (of varying quality…), JK Rowling and J R Tolkein have unwittingly spawned two of the most lucrative and influential film franchises in history.

As such we have an onslaught of doppelgängers invading cinemas as rival studios abuse the Polyjuice potion in search of a hit. Over recent years a number of grandiose sword and sandal epics have trudged through auditoriums in search of an heir to these literary thrones, because let’s face it: what audiences really need is another vampire movie. Novelists have aptly risen to the challenge too, as The Golden Compass, Eragon, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire Assistant, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and the aforementioned I Am Number 4 duly auction themselves off to the highest bidder.

Eye-popping, wallet-emptying 3D.

As a recovering 3D apologist, I diligently dropped my jaw at Avatar and championed Thor 3D over Thor 2D. Over the past couple of, however, I have found it increasingly difficult to defend the medium following a slew of sub-par conversion jobs which suffered the 30% colour loss caused by the tinted glasses without benefiting from the visual splendour the effect makes possible. Following the success of Avatar – and the genuine awesomeness of films such as DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon – many studios made the mistake of pinning the responsibility on 3D alone.

The last few years have played host to films such as The Final Destination, The Last Airbender, Clash of the Titans, Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (not a comment on the latter film’s quality), each poorly converted into 3D during post production. Even films filmed in the medium are often sequels, the previous instalments hardly calling for an extra dimensional make-over.

The witless comedy.

I understand that it’s about time the romantic comedy is modified to appeal to both sides of the gender divide, but of late the longstanding tradition of wit and even jokes have been unceremoniously relegated to the realm of science fiction and fantasy. Where the comedy genre was once home to the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Leslie Nielsen, Jim Carrey, Hugh Grant and the Monty Python team, modern comedy can generally be divided into three, equally uninspiring camps: the Judd Apatow bromance, the sex comedy and the Spoof Comedy Movie.

I have never been a particularly enthusiastic comedy buff, but lately I have been even less tempted to watch the genre’s latest offerings. Either Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis or Will Ferrell (or now Melissa McCarthy) will greet me with some quirkily random slab of nonsense, a former That 70s Show star will land a fuck-buddy or one member of the Wayan family will try (and fail) to lampoon everything that moves.

Darker is better.

It is this fad above all others which has become the bane of my life, often appearing as it does in tandem with the inevitable reboot. The last few years have been plagued with announcements of long-running franchises facing reincarnation as part of a relentless drive to rob cinemas of anything light and fluffy. Arguably started by the Nolanisation of Batman, this trend has devoured just about every superhero franchise going: Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Hulk (Ang Lee’s was better) have each fallen victim to the disdain shown towards anything that doesn’t growl or lurk in the shadows.

It’s also worth noting that this is pushing the boundaries of the 12A rating beyond breaking point. Whether it is The Dark Knight‘s pathalogical moral paradigms or Harry Potter’s suffering at the hands of Voldemort, it’s increasingly difficult to work out what differentiates the lower certificates, opening more and more productions up to the limited attention spans of the younger generation. Aside from this, there is a relative dearth in variety when it comes to your superhero affiliations. Only Marvel seem to be above the rampant pursuit of realism (Green Lantern probably did more harm than good) – their lighthearted and unashamedly fun approach to characters such as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America do at least allow the heroes to laugh as often as they growl broodily from the shadows.

While there will always be alternatives to such general dross on show, at your local independent cinema or film festival, there is no reason for studios to play to the lowest common denominator with such careless abandon. Why should we be forced to live in a world where Amanda Seyfried spends her life sending or receiving letters, Jack Black plays Jack Black and Batman Begins Again Because We’ve Run Out Of Ideas 2 3D?

The Hangover: Part II (2011)


Life has gone back to normal for Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Since their Vegas misadventure, Phil has had a kid, Stu is set to re-marry and Alan is back living with his parents. Invited out to Thailand for the wedding, the friends (and Alan) reunite for a quiet drink on the beach with Stu’s prospective brother in law, Teddy. One fastforward later, our heroes awake in a trashed Bangkok apparently with no memory of the night before. With ties to a nearby monastery, a tattoo parlour and a gangster-run strip joint, the trio must once again retrace their steps if they are going to find Teddy, get back in time for the wedding and put another hangover behind them.

Before we get underway, there is one small matter we should probably address first, lest anyone imagine I’ve started throwing out popcorn pieces to anything that makes me laugh (though, in the world of comedy, is that really an invalid measure of quality?), namely that The Hangover: Part II isn’t as good as the celebrated original. It just isn’t.

The problems are many, with the extent to which the original has entered the public consciousness following its considerable success exacerbating the loss of originality that inevitably comes with filming a sequel, overburdening The Hangover: Part II with a stifling sense of deja-vu. The need to outdo their previous effort is evident from the off, with the original structure intact it is impossible not to draw comparisons, with every plot point and set piece having a comparative parallel. While this is milked for humour – often to pant-wetting effect – it renders the movie strangely redundant. Lost in a foreign city and robbed of all memory of the night before, Bradley Cooper’s assurances that “you know the drill” bestow proceedings with a repetitiveness far beyond the franchise’s two instalment.

The film never escapes its predecessor’s shadow as the filmmakers resurrect anything and everything that might have made the original work. As Chow, Mike Tyson and the obligatory tryst with the law are shoehorned in, the sequel never really finds an identity of its own. While the 2008 original enjoyed an easy escalation that tempered its contrivances with a hysterical air of disbelief, Part II has a forced air of a studio eager to duplicate the box office success of another film. As a result, the movie goes on one machination too long, the creative strain to keep our heroes in Bangkok jarringly close to the surface. For me, however, it was the pushing of Alan that came nearest to derailing the entire film, with Zach Galifianakis’ intervening success granting him a (painfully) larger role and instantly compromising my enjoyment of the film at large. Needless to say, the other characters apprehension at taking Alan along was shared tenfold.

The Hangover: Part II was no Due Date (read: disaster), however, and I found myself drowning in a constant state of hysterics. I spent entire scenes gasping for breath as Phil and Stu watched their lives spiral out of control, struggling to account for how it might have happened again. From the hotel room revelations to the carefully planted plot resolution, the film managed to wrangle new laughter from the same jokes, all the while increasing the scale and extent of the carnage. I am no fan of comedy – after “the sports movie” it is probably my least favourite genre, prone as it is to being about as funny as algebra – but The Hangover franchise continues to prove an exception to the rule. As the credits roll and the assorted photos from the night before flash up on screen, it is impossible to dwell on mere deja vu.

Too much Alan, a monkey that can’t die soon enough and crippling lack of originality may rob The Hangover: Part II of greatness, but there is enough wit, innovation and incredulity to save this first sequel from feeling like a hangover in itself.