If Judy Moody could see the crap that's been related so far this summer, there's no way she would think this has been anything but a bummer summer at the movies. Films I had high hopes for went more stale than the weeks-long news rotation on Anthony Weiner's cock picture scandal. And movies that I should have stayed away from but saw anyway had me feeling like an idiot for seeing. Yet there have been a few bight spots in the summer of our discontent and a few surprises I didn't see coming, so allow me to review the all the good, but mostly bad and disappointing movies for the summer so far.
False adverting at its best: While Wiig and Abrams had me going to repeat viewings, watching these sequels left a bitter taste in my mouth the first time. The Hangover Part II was a rehash of all the madness and fun which made the first movie a comedy classic, only now they boys wake up in Bangkok after another night where shit gets out of hand and Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms, now playing the groom-to-be), and Alan (Zack Galifianakis) lose another person - Stu's soon to be brother-in-law, Teddy (Mason Lee) within the madness of their wild night. Drug monkeys, a tranny hooker/stripper, silent monks, and a crime boss all make up the crazy shit the Wolfpack gets into, but the jokes turn stale and repetitive. Director Todd Phillips is in talks to make a final Hangover film, and it'll get the greenlight: Part II is now the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Please, Warner Bros: don't let there be a Part III. Kung Fu Panda 2 the sequel to 08's surprisingly funny and delightful animated homage to kung fu films and Chinese mythology in 2008 - didn't fair any better than the Wolfpack did. The continuing adventures of Po (Jack Black get another gig - fast!) and his pals, the Furious Five, consisting of Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen), much like The Hangover Part II, is a tired and un-inspiring sequel which gets very old very fast. Po and his friends must now square off with Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, back in reliable mode after his career-worst performance in Red Riding Hood) as he plans to use fireworks as a weapon of mass destruction to enslave China. Everything in Kung Fu Panda 2, up until the third act in which Po confronts his mysterious past and pulls off some truly amazing martial arts sequences that are worth the extra price of seeing this in 3D, is boring and less exciting. Rounding out the trio of sequels that have run out of gas is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth entry in the franchise, and hopefully the last. Don't get me wrong: its still devilish fun watching Johnny Depp reprise his role as the eccentric swashbuckler, but even his character is starting to show he may need a breather. This time, Jack hunts for the Fountain of Youth while trying to stay one step ahead of rival Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the infamously-feared pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane from TV's Deadwood) and her stunning daughter (Penelope Cruz, who did all her stunts while she was pregnant) who's trying to redeem her father's soul. Throw in zombies, man-eating mermaids, and other zany tricks Terry Rossio and Terry Elliot threw into the screenplay, and what we have is another non-stop action picture that goes down easy, but you forget everything the next day.
The Hangover Part II - ** stars out of ****
Kung Fu Panda 2 - ** stars out of ****
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - **1/2 stars out of ****
These were surprisingly good: Confession: I thought Marvel Studio's Thor, would be a disaster. The trailer looked lame, the lead actor, Chris Hermsworth, came off as a pretty boy who probably couldn't act, and director Kenneth Branagh was way in over his head. How wrong I was, and it made me learn to trust Marvel in the fact they know what they're doing. Thor is by no means, one of the best Marvel entries since Iron-Man or Spider Man 2, but the movie does toe the Marvel line of solid performances, dazzling visuals (the sequences of Thor's home of Asgard are marvelous), and engaging storytelling. Thor (Hermsworth) is banished to Earth after nearly starting a war with the Frost Giants, and begins to learn lessons in humility. What he doesn't know is that his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleson) set him up to attack the frost people, and has plans of unleashing a war between the two factions and destroying his home-world. Another confession: I was about the skip X-Men: First Class entirely. The last two installments, The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine left a bad taste in my mouth. So it surprised me that director Matthew Vaughn (the excellent Kick-Ass), along with his young cast: James McAvoy as Xavior, Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence, fresh off her Oscar-nominated performnace in Winter's Bone, as Raven (aka: the blue, shape-shifting Mystique), Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy (aka Beast), and the near endless list of characters who don't get enough screen tine to develop, all gave the prequel an exciting, kick-in-the-pants the series, and the parade of summer movies, desparately needed. The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis is the main focus of the plot: Sebastian Shaw (a diabolical Kevin Bacon) uses the rising tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets to install a new world order in which humanity falls on bended knee to the mutants. Charles and Erik, on opposite sides of the debate of their species, recruit mutants all over to stop Sebastian. The ride is long at 2 hrs and 15 minutes, but there's never a dull moment with the First Class, in my opinion, the best class since Bryan Singer directed the first X-Men movie.
Thor - *** stars out of ***
X-Men: First Class - ***1/2 stars out of ****