The Hangover Part II

I never quite saw the lightning the first time around, but who could miss the rumbling thunder? The Hangover storm raged over the summer of 2009, becoming the highest-grossing live-action comedy of all time, and later winning a Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) Golden Globe. A sequel was apparently in the works before the first film was even released. Unfortunately, as we all know too well, lightning rarely strikes twice.

If a motion picture dictionary were to define the term ‘sequelitis,’ The Hangover Part II would be pictured alongside it. And that’s the least of the film’s problems. Perhaps I’m predisposed to loathe this sequel, and I will openly admit to that. While watching Part II, I remembered sitting in a History of Comedy class two years ago and the professor asked the students to list the five greatest comedies in film or television of all time. To my astonishment and complete disagreement, The Hangover swept the votes with nearly ¾ of the students naming it the funniest movie ever made. Say what?

Obviously I missed the boat. In my humble opinion, for every joke that the original Hangover hit spot-on, there was about ten that flopped. Audiences not digging Part I will certainly not have a change of heart with Part II. In fact, even if you enjoyed Part I, you will likely find yourself less satisfied this time out. The blueprint for this Hangover is nearly identical to the last. Expecting as much, I still found the movie to be a disappointment as a (keyword: funny) comedy.

Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married in Bangkok to his beautiful young bride, Lauren (Jamie Chung). The entire wedding party and guests are being flown out to a resort in Thailand, including Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha), and—regrettably for Stu—Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Phil convinces Stu to have one beer with the guys at a bonfire on the beach. One beer and some marshmallows later, fade to black. Phil, Stu, and Alan wake up in a dump hotel somewhere in Bangkok feeling foggy, looking disheveled, and presumably clueless. Alan’s head is bald. Stu has a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face. And a monkey is loose in the room.

What’s worse? A severed finger revealed to belong to Lauren’s sixteen-year-old little brother Teddy (Mason Lee) has emerged. The guys have no idea what happened, and Teddy is nowhere to be found. It has happened again. Panicked and desperate, the Wolfpack runs wild through the streets of Bangkok piecing together the previous evening’s wild events in order to find their young missing companion.

So… instead of Vegas we have Bangkok. A missing tooth is now a tattoo on the face. A tiger in the hotel has changed to a drug-dealing monkey. The baby has been replaced a by a silent monk in a wheelchair. Missing Doug is now missing Teddy. Stu’s female prostitute in Vegas has been exchanged for a transsexual prostitute. An annoying Asian mobster leaping out of the trunk of a car is now an annoying Asian mobster leaping out of a freezer. Sorry to spoil some of the events, but being that you’ve seen the first Hangover, you won’t be surprised by much of anything happening this time around. Hangover Part II simply does everything the first film does while lowering the bar on all counts. This one is darker and more twisted with absolutely nothing new to offer audiences. Shock has completely dominated over surprise this time, and for that very reason I found the film to be a near-total disaster.

That being said, keep in mind the 2009 original did little for me. While I did find a few good laughs, overall I wasn’t a fan. Sticking close to what worked before, the three principal characters remain. The writers don’t even let Bartha’s character in on the mayhem again this time around—and he’s not even the missing friend. He soberly awaits the return of his friends back at the resort. At least his addition could have given viewers a change of pace. Since no character other than Alan is humorous, which is again the case, the film relies on outrageous situational comedy. Unfortunately once again, most of the situations are violent and off-putting rather than clever and funny. Or maybe I just have no love for these characters and what they can never remember.

For those with Hangover love, Hangover II will probably be another winner even if you don’t find it as funny as the first (which I can almost guarantee). No one involved in the sequel likely had the mindset they were topping the first picture. I’m sure tears of dollars signs were running down their joy-filled faces as they signed the dotted line for another greenlight. The script is plagued with flat-lined jokes that continued to fall well below the least common denominator while remaining tightly within the formula of Part I.  If only the film would’ve been released in 3D… That way Alan could have leapt out of the screen and given me one of those marshmallows. Then I could wake up tomorrow morning without the slightest clue that I saw The Hangover Part II. Oh wait… who am I kidding? That would be straying too much from formula.

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Rating: 3.0/5 (2 votes cast)

Nanny Diaries

TND posterIt’s hard to put my finger on why I like The Nanny Diaries. There isn’t a single shootout, car wreck, or fist fight in the entire thing; not even one punch thrown to accent a dramatic moment. Not only that, but (male audience members be warned) this is very much a chick flick – be prepared for a lot of whining by several characters about how hard it is to be a woman.

I guess it boils down to two reasons: first, for all its fashion tips and feminism, Diaries is ultimately a movie about kids and family life, two areas that are just as important in the end to men as they are to women, whether we like it or not. And second, it is one of those few movies that succeeds in telling a very engaging story with nothing more than everyday life.

The lead, Annie Braddock (Scarlet Johansson) graduates from college with honors in business. Her mother, a nurse, has spent the last 22 years pulling extra shifts, in between raising Annie alone. (Just for the record, in the book, the protagonist, Nanny, or “Nan,” had a very involved father, who, being a teacher, was a key part of her life and a mentor in her career as a nanny.) She has done this to give Annie something better than what she had, and wants her to go on to an illustrious career in finance.

Annie’s first love is anthropology. Her mother’s reaction, of course, is “how are you going to make a living at that?” Grudgingly, Annie accepts an interview at the prestigious Goldman, Sachs firm, but gags when the interviewer asks her “who is Annie Braddock?” She suddenly realizes she doesn’t know. She rushes out of the interview and into Central Park, where she saves a child from being run over. The mother, Mrs. X (Laura Linny), breathlessly runs up and showers her with thanks. Annie introduces herself as “Annie” and Mrs. X blurts out “Did you say you were a nanny??” Annie immediately finds herself buried in the calling cards of moms from the Upper-East-Side of Manhattan, including Mrs. X.

Repulsed by the finance profession, Annie decides to adopt the persona of

The "ideal specimen of an Upper-East-Side female" pushing her son out of the way.

The "ideal specimen of an Upper-East-Side female" pushing her son out of the way.

an Upper-East-Side nanny for a summer and treat the experience as an anthropological case study. She narrates the rest of the movie as though dictating a field diary. She finds herself being wined and dined by moms all over Manhattan until she accepts the job with Mrs. X. She tells her mother she’s gotten a finance job and moves to the city.

Much like with a human trafficking syndicate however, once a Manhattan family has a nanny hooked, the sweet talk is over. As Annie arrives at the Xs’ Fifth Avenue apartment, expecting a fun, easy job, she suddenly finds herself stuffed into a bedroom that is more like a closet, and expected to learn to cook and work 24 hours, single handedly raising the X’s five-year-old son, Grayer (Nicholas Art). The first thing Grayer does on seeing her is kick her in the shin and scream “I hate you I want Bertie! (The last nanny).” Annie battles through the next several scenes, trying to find a way to Grayer’s heart, reminding herself that anthropologist “Margarette Mead didn’t run home every time she contracted malaria.”

Grayer soon becomes the least of Annie’s worries, however, as an Upper-East-Side Nanny must also serve as the punching bag for an Upper-East-Side mother’s anxiety, anguish and insecurity. Mrs. X loads Annie down with non-child-related errands to give herself time for shopping, and vents her pain over Mr. X’s infidelity on her. In one scene, she barges into Annie’s room holding a negligee, and demands “This is not mine so it must be yours, right? Right??”

Annie observes “Male monogamy remains an elusive … practice throughout the world. In many Bedouin tribes, powerful men are encouraged to take multiple wives. In contemporary France, mistresses are de rigour and quietly tolerated. But for the women of the Upper-East-Side, adultery is pathologically ignored.”

It takes a while for the audience to meet Mr. X (Paul Giamatti), who the authors of the book describe as a common example of an Upper-East-Side Male, who is “bashing his brains out on Wall Street, so that his wife can have thousand dollar curtains … but he’s missing out on what he has … a wife who craves his attention, and a son who thinks he hung the moon.”

"Nanny" is singing to Grayer in French when he drops the "L" bomb.

"Nanny" is singing to Grayer in French when he drops the "L" bomb.

With the strife between his parents, Grayer transfers his affection to his Nanny. In a pivotal scene (above), Annie narrates that “three little words made it a thousand times harder to leave” the job she has learned to hate.

One darkly comic scene was eerily reminiscent of my experience at a “Bar Bench Conference,” where lawyers and judges are “allowed” to voice their grievances against each other. Of course, with things going back to normal the next day, you can probably guess how much the lawyers had to say. Likewise, Mrs. X takes Annie to a Mother-Nanny Conflict Resolution meeting, where Annie joins a collection of third-world women standing against the wall who know better than to say anything.

"Nanny" assists the tyrant queen in her chamber.

"Nanny" assists the tyrant queen in her chamber.

Laura Linny has a glare that can truly freeze the blood. After awhile, Annie starts jumping in fear every time Mrs. X comes around a corner. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is when Grayer gets upset and runs straight past his open-armed mother, throwing his arms around Annie. Mrs. X is starring daggers at Annie while Annie frantically begs Grayer “Go to your mom! Go to your mom!”

Having also read the book, I know that it just begged to be put on the screen. Believe it or not, director Robert Pulcini asked the authors of the book if he could make a movie out of it a year before the book was even published. I’d have to say the changes that he made to it are for the better. He starts it off with a fantasy sequence of Annie wandering through the museum of natural history looking at dioramas that depict child-rearing customs from all over the world – coming eventually to dioramas of Manhattan life, where they have “the most prosperous, but idiosyncratic social structure in the world.” In the book, Nan was a veteran nanny, explaining the field to the reader. As she is, Annie is more of the audience’s character, discovering the world of the Upper-East-Side the same time we are. Pulcini also flavors the soundtrack a bit with a few throwbacks to Mary Poppins, and plays jungle sounds and tribal drums over several scenes to emphasize the bizarreness of the rituals Annie encounters.

Johansson plays the role well, involving the audience in her reactions to this bizarre world, and entertaining us with her native New Yorker acting. Giamatti is creepy and devilish as Mr. X, and for a child actor, Art is very impressive. The rest of the cast also does a great job. Pulcini definitely paints a bleak picture of our world, but illustrates a number of excellent points, including that being rich doesn’t guarantee any happiness. Unfortunately, after doing such a great job with the darkness, he feels the need to force in a text-book happy ending in the last five minutes of the movie.

Overall, The Nanny Diaries is an excellent film about an unusual and very thought-provoking subject. And despite the fact that it’s a chick flick, I have to admit it is genuinely touching.


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Rating: 2.5/5 (2 votes cast)

John Adams

It’s all about the teeth.

Aside from the brilliant acting, spectacular setpieces, and sweeping epic scale of HBO’s John Adams, it’s the teeth that stand out more than anything.  To wit: as people age, so do their teeth, and in days long gone when toothpaste and mouthwash were as common as combustion engines and power tools, the older one got, the worse his teeth looked.  But in too many historical movies, be they epics or simple homespun character tales, nary a yellowed bit of enamel is to be found.  Be it Braveheart, A Knight’s Tale, The Passion of the Christ, or even post-apocalyptic movies like Terminator Salvation and Waterworld, nothing destroys the carefully crafted immersive quality of a film like gleaming pearly whites.

In John Adams, teeth are just one of a host of details used to create the most realistic representation of a historical time period I have seen since the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.  Teeth are dirty, stained, and deteriorate over time, and this adds a level of realism rarely seen in movies today.  Every bit of early America is meticulously recreated onscreen in this masterwork of cinematography, and each scene is held together by the strength of Paul Giamatti’s acting as he portrays one of the most important figures in American history:  our second president himself, Mr. John Adams.

John and Abigail Adams, played by Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.

The miniseries opens with Adams being asked to, of all things, represent a group of British soldiers who had fired into a crowd of unruly colonists.  Opening with this event, as opposed to other defining moments in Adams’ life or early political career, is a stroke of brilliance as it sets the tone for the rest of the eight-hour show:  this is not the John Adams we are used to reading about in textbooks.  This, we soon find out, is the real John Adams–the one who struggled with personal doubts, continually strove to prove himself, argued with his wife and dear friend Abigail, had severe fallings-out with his children, and fought tooth and nail to hold the fragile democracy together that he was so instrumental in creating.

Throughout the course of the series we are presented with an array of events that not only shaped the course of our nation, but affected Adams on a very personal level.  In the early days of the continental congress we see Adams bicker with delegates over the very idea of proposing independence, and we begin to realize that the picture of our early days is not nearly as rosy as we may have been led to believe by our schoolbooks.  The declaration of independence, written mostly by Adams’ friend Thomas Jefferson, was not signed in a neat little ceremony with all the representatives of the colonies gathered happily together in Philadelphia.  We see the revolutionary war through the eyes of soldiers and commoners who fought hard and bled harder.  A bitterly real plague of smallpox, from which Adams’ family is not immune, cripples New England.  In the years following the revolution we see Adams muddle along as a diplomat to France and the Netherlands, striving so hard to represent his country while not becoming mired in the pleasantries and ceremonies which, in his view, only hampered real diplomacy.  We see his lonely days as Washington’s vice president, his bitter term as president, and finally his waning years at his Peacefield home in Massachusetts.

David Morse, grateful that he got to keep his real teeth for the role.

But the sheer scope of this movie would be nothing without characters big enough to fill it, and John Adams fulfills this in spades.  George Washington, played impeccably by David Morse, was a real man with real struggles and doubts, not the cherry-tree-chopping saint most of us have read about since childhood.  Benjamin Franklin, far from the kite-flying inventor we have come to know, was a diplomat through and through–loathe to take sides even in the heady days of our revolution, and indulging far too much in the pleasures afforded him as an ambassador to France.  We also see, played with exquisite realism, other figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, Benjamin Rush, and other founders of our nation who are as brilliant and thoughtful and scheming and conniving as any politician today.

Through it all, though, is Adams’ rock.  His anchor.  His light in times of trouble.  His wife, Abigail, who struggles through years of separation from her husband while he is overseas in France, and not only raises their children on her own but stays fiercely devoted to her husband.  Such a character requires an actress who is not only brilliant and strong, but able to display these traits without losing an ounce of her femininity–a bra-burning militant she most certainly was not.  Laura Linney rises to the challenge of portraying one of America’s foremost females with dignity and grace, and in doing so presents one of the most astounding portrayals of a historical figure I have ever seen.

Contemplating the consequences of declaring independence.

John Adams is a force, to be sure, but much of the movie consists of long scenes of protracted dialog–often about political matters or national affairs.  The jumps between time periods are also a bit startling:  one moment John Adams is being elected, and the next he is arriving at the construction site of the white house, with nothing to indicate the passage of years other than grayer hair and tattered clothes.  Much of the actual family drama is merely hinted at, and the conflict with Adams and his youngest son draws to an unfortunate conclusion without ever really being built up enough in the meantime.

Still, this miniseries will stand among the great historical epics, and the way in which it brings a sense of realism to our founding fathers is so powerful it should be mandatory viewing in any social studies classroom.  In a scene near the end, Adams is presented with a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Incensed, he tells the artist it is terrible, as such a picturesque scene never took place.

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