Archive for May, 2011

‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ bests the original

Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Po the panda from "Kung Fu Panda 2" Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) goes on an uncertain attack with his pals in “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

An unfortunate coincidence happens in DreamWorks’ “Kung Fu Panda 2” when the roly-poly panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) gets stuck on a conveyor belt that’s about to dump him into a fiery incinerator.

The scene begs comparison with a similar sequence in Pixar’s animated masterpiece “Toy Story 3” where Woody and the gang are nearly fried to the nubs in the same manner.

The “Toy Story 3” scene was as intense and heart-stopping as an animated feature can get.

The one in “Kung Fu Panda 2”? Just one in a series of cartoony, strobe-edited, 3-D action sequences in which you never seriously worry that the characters might actually be killed or critically injured.

Which, of course, they never are. Not really.

Nonetheless, “Kung Fu Panda 2” makes for an engaging, kid-safe adventure that’s visually superior to and quicker paced than its 2008 original box-office hit.

Po also gets to tangle with an impressively evil villain, a deadly and graceful peacock named Lord Shen (diabolically voiced by “Harry Potter” staple Gary Oldman).

Shen really disappoints his parents when he figures out how to convert the beautiful magic of fireworks into deadly weapons: cannons powered by gunpowder. (Read more…)

Sequel no equal to original ‘Hangover’

Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Zach Galifianakis, Mason Lee, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha in "The Hangover Part II" Alan (Zach Galifianakis), left, Teddy (Mason Lee), Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) examine embarrassing evidence in the comedy “The Hangover Part II.”

I’d normally recommend skipping most of “The Hangover Part II,” then coming in for the riotous closing credits, which offer the grossest and edgiest sight gags and provoke the best-earned laughs.

Trouble is, the closing credits won’t make sense without seeing the entire movie.

So, in a sense, “The Hangover Part II” is one big, drawn-out setup for a strobing punch line, mainly the adults-only photographs flashed over the ending credits.

“Part II” faithfully replicates the elements that made its 2009 original such a wonderfully shocking and daring adult comedy hit, and the biggest-grossing R-rated comedy in Hollywood history.

Paradoxically, by doing that, the sequel fails to replicate the chief element that made the first one so innovative; we had no idea what outrageous thing might happen next.

“The Hangover” followed no formula at all; “Part II” faithfully follows the same plot with the same lying, cheating, selfish characters, essentially trading in innovation for a proven box office formula. (This is a common malady for many sequels.)

So, we know that Phil (reprised by Bradley Cooper) will call a bride-to-be (here, a Thai native named Lauren, played by Jamie Chung), apologizing for screwing things up. (Read more…)

Suspense sorely lacking in ‘Pirates 4’

Saturday, May 21st, 2011
Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp and Ian McShane in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" Angelica (Penelope Cruz) watches as her father, the pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), bickers with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

You’d think adding carnivorous mermaids, zombified pirates, voodoo dolls, ships in magic bottles and the Fountain of Youth to a third “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel would make for one irresistible motion picture experience.

Nope.

It’s resistible.

For all its busy visuals and Hans Zimmer’s grandiloquent music constantly whipping and spurring our ears to attention, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” slogs along for 139 minutes without achieving a single moment of inspiration or suspense.

Not that “On Stranger Tides” lacks for entertainment. It’s a furious, nonstop action film laced with acts of disturbing violence (sharklike mermaids ripping a man to pieces in a dark crimson cloud tops the chart) and breathtaking stunts (clumsily utilizing obvious stunt doubles).

It also gives Johnny Depp his fourth opportunity to don the dowdy garb of the fey Captain Jack Sparrow, now trading comic barbs with a pirate queen named Angelica (Penelope Cruz).

“You walk like a girl,” Jack tells her.

“You should know!” she replies.

“On Stranger Tides” unceremoniously dumps franchise stars Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, whose non-pirate characters simply go missing in action here. (Read more…)

‘SNL’ star lights up screen in ‘Bridesmaids’

Thursday, May 12th, 2011
Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne in "Bridesmaids" Annie (Kristen Wiig), left, takes on her competition Helen (Rose Byrne) during a shower testimonial in “Bridesmaids.”

Judd Apatow comedies might be infamous for their gross-out humor involving vile bodily fluids, but they still connect with us because of the utter humanness of their characters, poor souls caught up in their outrageous plots.

“Bridesmaids” — an Apatow production directed by Paul Feig — produces frequent waves of hilarious vulgarity as it tells a sweet, endearing story about a woman suffering through a pre-mid-life crisis.

Annie, played by “Saturday Night Live” star Kristen Wiig, hears both her biological and chronological clocks ticking even louder when her lifelong best friend Lillian (“SNL” star Maya Rudolph) announces she’s getting married.

Annie’s cupcake business went bust during the economic collapse, and she now lives with her irritatingly supportive mother (the late Jill Clayburgh in her final screen appearance).

Annie’s romantic life has gone bust, too. She’s been reduced to casual encounters with a married sleaze (“Mad Men” star Jon Hamm) who treats Annie with all the affection of an office visitor.

Annie feels happy for Lillian, but realizes that now she’ll be alone. Really alone.

It doesn’t help that Lillian is marrying into a much higher tax bracket with Dougie (Tim Heidecker), and that a member of his social circle, Helen (Rose Byrne), decides that she should be Lillian’s new best friend and maid of honor. (Read more…)