The Hangover Part II (May Contain Spoilers)

It might not be one of the film releases I have personally been getting excited about, but The Hangover Part II has gotten a lot of people excited after the phenomenal success of the first film.

A couple of years after the events of The Hangover and that fateful night where everything went from bad to worse,  Phil, Doug and Alan are jetting off to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. However, despite Stu’s best efforts to keep his wedding and subdued bachelor party as memory loss-free as possible, The Wolfpack end up stranded in the middle of Bangkok with no memory of the night before – and while Doug is safely back at the resort this time, they have managed to lose Stu’s fiancées younger brother Teddy, the teenage golden boy of the family. Waking up to shaved heads, a dismembered finger, facial tattoos, a monkey in a denim jacket and less than 48 hours before Stu is due to be married, The Wolfpack have to gather their wits and retrace their steps all across the city of Bangkok in order to find their lost man and get everyone back to the wedding on time and, more importantly, in one piece!

There is a lot to be said for originality in comedy films like this, and the storyline for The Hangover Part II doesn’t have much in the way of originality. But that’s only speaking from the basic premise of the whole movie – basically, the exact same situation happens from the first film, but in a new city and with different situations. Because of that, a lot of what happens loses some of its impact as you know what to expect and can see where some situations are heading. When they all wake up in a hostel, you know there will be all kinds of things lying around that will end up being clues to the whereabouts of their lost member and what happened from the night before. But then, that’s the basic premise of the first film too, so it makes sense that a sequel would follow closely to a winning formula.

With all that being said, though, there is a lot of originality in the comedy and in particular Zack Galifianakis’ slightly demented character of Alan.  He may not be incredibly versatile, but this is one character he does painfully well, and ends up being the source of most of the re-quotable lines after the credits roll. Not to say that Bradley Cooper as Phil isn’t any source of comedy either – in fact, as with the last film, Cooper is a lot of what drives the action towards the comedy set-ups they find themselves in. Plus, his and Ed Helms’ reactions to getting repeatedly beaten over the head by trapist monks are pretty priceless as well.

What made The Hangover so great was how unpredictable it was in what could happen next, and while Part II loses some of that it still manages to retain some golden moments of unpredictability that mean you find yourself both laughing and cringing at the same time. For instance, the second that they all walk into a strip club in the dirtiest area of Bangkok you know they’re setting it up for a lady-boy joke – it’s Thailand, how can they not do that kind of joke? – but the brilliance of the scene comes from the execution of the lines. You know where they’re heading, but you still end up laughing all the same.

Part II originally had a few more cameo spots, but after Mel Gibson was turned down to be the tattoo artist, and Liam Neeson’s scenes for the same role had to be reshot while he was filming another film (ahem-Wrath of the Titans-ahem), Nick Cassavetes stepped in as a cameo for the reshoots. Having a lot more of Mr Chow in Part II was a bonus as well, and Mike Tyson’s appearance at the end (however brief it may be) will always be appreciated by fans of the first movie!

While it may not have the surprises of a tiger in the bathroom or a dentist pulling out his own tooth, The Hangover Part II does take everything that happened in the first film and goes a long way to one-upping itself, so if you enjoyed The Hangover then there is a lot you will get out of this film despite the fact that it lacks some of the originals spark.

The Hangover Part II gets a 6 out of 10 for being a little predictable and yet incredibly hysterical at the same time.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May Contain Spoilers)

Like many people who saw an early version of the film poster teaser for On Stranger Tides (the basic silver Jack Sparrow skull on a black background), I had a mix of contrasting feelings. At first, I was hit with the excitement of “Oh, YES! Another film about Pirates! This is going to be sweet!” And then the shocking memory of the two sequels subsequently crushed that thought and replaced it with “Oh, yeah, that’s right… I hope this one isn’t as shockingly mundane as the last two were…” It was a dubious mix of the two until it was announced that A) It would be in 3D (not initially grabbing me, but at least showing promise) and B) Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley would not be part of the cast, which clearly meant this Pirates instalment was starting over on a fresh slate.

The basic plot of On Stranger Tides is a little bit of a continuation from the last film, now meaning the Pirates franchise is more of a series of on-going films which are basically The Continuing Adventures of Jack Sparrow. On Stranger Tides sees Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) setting out to find the fabled Fountain of Youth, but along the way he encounters Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a mysterious woman and ruthless con artist from his past. Hijacking him and taking him aboard her ship, Jack soon realises he is on the Queen Anne’s Revenge – the ship of Angelica’s father, the dreaded Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who requires Jack to lead them both to the Fountain before anyone else can find it. At the same time Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is now a member of the King’s Navy, is hot on the heels of Jack Sparrow and seeks revenge on Blackbeard for reasons of his own.

Unlike the last two sequels, On Stranger Tides felt like it was back to being an actual pirate-style adventure film like Curse of the Black Pearl was. Perhaps it’s because On Stranger Tides is more of a separate film from the others, or because it’s a new cast and a new storyline that goes back to focussing on pirate folklore (like Mermaids, or the way they tied in Voodoo dolls and Zombification together which is historically correct and did not go unnoticed by myself!), but On Stranger Tides definitely marked an improvement from the last two.

The few small problems I have about On Stranger Tides are more like echoes of what brought the last two down. The fact there were scenes in the middle that seemed to slow the pace of the film (even though it opened up the story for more exposition and development) like Jack and Barbossa’s daring escape from the Spanish camp meant the film teetered on the edge of dragging a bit, which lost a bit of the magic that made the first one so great. Also, the underlying story between Philip and Syrena the Mermaid was filled with holes – for one thing, how is it they suddenly know so much about each other when we haven’t seen them talk? And what exactly was meant to happen to them at the end when he’s been badly hurt and she drags him into the water? Since they both didn’t come into the story until about half-way through, it felt like they were mostly thrown in to fill the hole left by Will and Elizabeth’s token love story, like it was tacked on as an afterthought and stole focus from the main story.

I’ve also had my own problems with 3D films in the past, and I said to myself “if nothing good happens in 3D in this film, I’m swearing it off”. Luckily, there were two parts of the film which were really cool in 3D – but I won’t tell you what they were! Just let it be known if more films can do 3D like that, it would make them worth seeing.

Penelope Cruz was also surprisingly good in On Stranger Tides, as I was concerned about her ability to do an English speaking role.  But in the 30 second clip after the credits, with her sitting on the beach and finding the Jack Sparrow Voodoo doll, there is a definite hint that there could be a lead into another Pirates film, but also rounded off ambiguously enough to be left as it is (even though we all know they’re likely to keep making more).

Overall, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has all of the good, clean adventure fun that made the first so good, with none of the tripe or fat that dragged down the ensuing sequels. On Stranger Tides gets a solid (pieces of) 8 out of 10 for being an improvement to the series, but still not holding a candle to the first.

VersaEmerge @ The Joiners, 17/5/11

Mere minutes after the doors have opened and already a large crowd has gathered around the front of the stage at The Joiners on a bright Spring evening. Although the fact that not one of them is old enough to remember Thundercats being on TV and the PA is pumping out new age pop-rock-rap should be cause for concern. But tonight is no ordinary night – it is the first night of Floridian rockers VersaEmerge’s first ever headlining UK tour.

Kids Can't Fly start off the evening.

But first, opening up the night is the schoolboy ska-punk stylings of local boys Kids Can’t Fly. After the younger audience members at the front are done going crazy for them coming on stage, Kids Can’t Fly jump straight in with their fresh and funky mixture of punk-rock and duelling vocals with added Sax appeal, showcased by their songs Open Wide and Vicious Circle which both rock and bounce in equal measures. Kids Can’t Fly round off their set with the bouncy summer anthem The Summer and their big, catchier-than-H1N1 single She Called Shotgun which is currently making the rounds on rock music TV channels. By the end of their set, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kids Can’t Fly are higher up the bill after the crowd reaction they get, so hopefully we’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the future.

Southampton's Finest - Not Advised

After the room is plunged into darkness and In The Hall Of The Mountain King chimes through the PA, it can only mean that Southampton’s Pop-Punk prodigal sons are being heralded to the stage. The second their intro music ends, Not Advised plunge headfirst into I’ll Call You a Winner, straight away showing they are a force to be reckoned with. The A.R.K and Jane Says Left work wonders in getting the crowd to sing and chant along in time with the band before Not Advised decide to bust out brand new songs All I Need and the slower, brooding Good News for the first night of the tour. To close off their set, Not Advised go from zero to hardcore in no time with their anthemic single Right Now before finishing on crowd sing-along favourite The World’s Not Ready. If Not Advised are the future of home-grown pop-punk-rock, then the future is definitely bright!

The atmospheric, ethereal sounds of VersaEmerge coming to the stage, softly blending into Stranger, are broken only by rock-vixen Sierra Kusterbeck’s siren-like vocals building into the kind of punk-rock scream that could shatter the glass in your hand, to which the crowd go equally as mad as they take no breaks before playing Fire (Aim Your Arrows High).

Sierra and Blake kicking things off.

While it might be easy to compare VersaEmerge to other similar female-fronted rock outfits signed to the Fuelled By Ramen label (yes, we’re looking at you, Paramore…), Kusterbeck and Co. do a fantastic job of setting themselves firmly in a league of their own with their dark-tinged alt-rock style and the pure energy of a band hungry to make a name for themselves. While guitarist Blake Harnage bounces with energy during their set, Sierra stalks about the stage like a cat preying on a small furry creature its spotted and you can tell that there is something darker at work in VersaEmerge’s music tonight.

The point at which Sierra’s haunting vocals shine the most is after their older material, including fan favourite and breakthrough single Past Praying For, when she announces “This song is about someone… but they’ll never know”  and they blend into You’ll Never Know and Your Own Love.

Latest single Figure It Out works well in getting the crowd jumping and moving before they go into Mind Reader, but it’s their big hit single Fixed At Zero that brings down the house as they close their set to deafening cheers and screams from the feverish fans.

Kusterbeck lulls the crowd to a close

After only the slightest encouragement from the crowd, VersaEmerge grace the stage again for an encore of their hauntingly melodic Clocks from their EP, Sierra’s hypnotic vocals bringing the evening to a chilling close.

If this evenings show is anything to go by, VersaEmerge are indeed out to make a name for themselves – and if they’re able to keep delivering shows this memorable, then it’s hardly going to be challenge for them!

Hanna (May Contain Spoilers)

For the first time in a while, I’ve seen a film that I actually don’t have too much to say about. I know, it sounds crazy, right? I thought so too. Hanna first came across as a thriller film with some deeper ties when I first saw it advertised, and that’s exactly what I got. Plain and simple.

Hanna plays out a little bit like a modern day twist on Leon (if anyone hasn’t seen that film by this point, stop what you’re doing, put down that mug of tea and that Hobnob, and get yourself to a rental shop!) in the sense that it gets quite tense in places and revolves around a lot of killing and assassinations. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been raised by her father – slash – handler – slash – ex-CIA agent Erik (Eric Bana) in the snowy wilderness, where she has been trained to hunt and to kill in the most ruthless and efficient ways, effectively becoming the world’s most deceptively innocent assassin. Hanna has gone through all this training all for one mission – to kill their target Marissa (Cate Blanchett), the CIA authority responsible for the death of Hanna’s mother, and the operation that created her.

Hanna generally has a fair bit in it that is likeable. The way she discovers the world after being alone with her father for nearly 16 years is interesting, and you end up feeling like you’re watching someone discover everything for the first time and being old enough to work out what it is, almost like a Neanderthal discovering fire. Also, watching Saoirse in the action scenes is a far cry from when she was in The Lovely Bones and you realise how much training she must have gone through in order to really get into the role of Hanna.

Having said that, the storyline of Hanna was very straight forward and a majority of the film is explained in any synopsis you’re likely to read. Which I personally thought was a real shame, since it seemed like there was a lot of potential for Hanna to develop a lot more on discovering her humanity and morality, or development of who she actually is and what she was made for. But instead, there’s no unexpected twist at the end, no real finishing exposition and any big reveal about the program in the CIA that developed her is pretty much clued into every audience member in a way that isn’t too subtle before the third act.

It is a bit of a shame, as there could have been room for a much bigger development, or some sort of twist, since the film is already long enough for it. But as it stands, Hanna is a tense thriller film (if somewhat disappointingly tamed for its 12A rating) that does begin to show some heart by the end of the film. Hanna gets 6 out of 10 for being a decent action film, but loses out on more points for leaving a lot of potential behind.

LISTED Film Previews – May 2011

Yes, once again it’s the lead up to the big Summer of blockbuster movies, and you can already tell that production companies are gearing up for the big summer releases when the sequels start appearing more and more towards the Summer months. Having said that, a lot of them look quite interesting this year and I’ll more than likely end up at most of them. But until then, here are some previews for you lovely lot out there to have a gander at while I get comfy and watch my stories. SHHH, it’s about to start…

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (12A) (Dir. Rob Marshall)

Once again seeing Johnny Depp reprise his role as the iconic rum fiend Captain Jack Sparrow, On Stranger Tides is not so much a sequel but more of a continuation of a now on-going series. This time round, Cap’n Sparrow is on a search for the fabled Fountain of Youth, during which he crosses paths with a woman from his past (Penelope Cruz) and the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who takes over control of the Black Pearl. Personally, I’m not expecting too much that hasn’t already been done in the other films, and with Gore Verbinsky overboard from directing it might not have the spark that made the first Pirates so ground-breaking. But with Knightley and Bloom now dropped from the cast, Keith Richards returning again as Jack’s father and the inevitability of it being released in 3D, it might just be the Pirates that the previous two were so desperately trying to be. Released May 18th.

THE HANGOVER PART II (15) (Dir. Todd Phillips)

The Wolfpack is back for another outrageous series of events from the night before from hell. This time we see Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) travelling to Thailand to celebrate Stu’s wedding in Bangkok. But where there are celebrations, there are consequences. So when everyone wakes in a hotel room with memory loss, some shaved heads, facial tattoos and a monkey on the loose, they have to track down Stu’s fiancée’s brother by following clues from their night out leading them to a monastery, a tattoo parlour with a crazy artist, and all over half of Bangkok in the process. And if you thought that they got into some trouble in the first Hangover, then Part II is sure to top everything! As with the first film, The Hangover Part II is sure to be the breakout comedy hit of the year. Released May 27th.

PRIEST (15) (Dir. Scott Charles Stewart)

Set in an alternate world ravaged by centuries of war between humans and vampires, a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) lives in a dystopian walled-in city run by The Church. But when his niece is abducted by a roaming pack of vampires, Priest chooses to break his sacred vows to the Church and leaves the sanctuary of the city in order to find her, aided by a young band of warriors like himself. The overall feel of Priest comes across like a mixture of Underworld or Resident Evil with a bit of Terminator: Salvation. Whilst it seems like it might be lacking some depth in its story, Priest could make up for it with some promising (if overblown) 3D action sequences, so check it out if you’re into big ridiculous action films! Released May 11th.

HANNA (12A) (Dir. Joe Wright)

A 16-year-old girl (Saoirse Ronan), raised by her father (Eric Bana) to be the perfect assassin, is dispatched on a mission across Europe while also being tracked by a ruthless intelligence agency and facing questions about her existence and her humanity. Bear in mind this is less of an action film but more of a drama with serious undertones, go and see it if you ever enjoyed the film Leon. Released May 6th.

As published in Listed Magazine and on http://www.listedmagazine.com

Thor (May Contain Spoilers)

Since the ending clip from Iron Man 2, I’ve been massively anticipating the release of this film, not only as adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ big-time superheroes but also as a pre-cursor to The Avengers coming out next year.

Taking place over two different worlds, Thor sees the Norse God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) battle his way across both his homeland of Asgard against the Frost Giants, and then across Earth against a seemingly unstoppable force from Asgard, The Destroyer. Being the next in line for the throne of Asgard, Thor becomes cocky and disobedient and leads a fight against the Frost Giants. For his arrogance, his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes him to Earth and takes back the source of his power – his hammer Mjolnir. Stranded on Earth, Thor meets physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who takes him in. Back in Asgard Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken over the throne and plans to destroy other worlds, along with his older brother. Thor must learn what it takes to be a hero in order to stop Loki turning The Destroyer on Earth and everything he has grown to love.

When I was a younger, I loved reading about all the different Norse gods and their stories, and that’s partly why I was so excited for Thor coming out rather than Captain America later this year. The great part about this, from a story perspective, is that there’s no need for an “origin” story. He doesn’t become Thor; he just is Thor right from the start thus taking out the whole background story element. The CGI landscape for Asgard is just as huge and intricate as you would expect it to be, which adds a lot to the general visuals of the film. Also, it means the iconic Asgardian armour and helmets they wear don’t seem out of place at all, which was at one point a worry for the producers as they almost dropped the idea in favour of other costumes. As a flipside to this, it’s probably a good thing that not once is “thou art”, “havat thee” or “verily” used, as that would probably be too much for audiences to take seriously!

Obviously, there have to be certain differences from the source material – the Frost Giants for one are done pretty differently as they are normally pictured to be towering mountains of giants, but in Thor they’re more like a tribe of huge, tattooed warriors with control over ice. Both concepts work equally well for their medium, so one doesn’t really seem better than the other. One part Thor could have done without is the flashback to Odin putting the block on Mjolnir as it seemed like a useless point to reinforce by the end of the film, but having a not-so-Hollywood ending made up for it.

Kat Denning’s intern character was obviously put in to represent the young, hipster generation and probably should have grated on me more, but since I actually like Kat Dennings I found it hard to dislike her in Thor that much. Also, as many might agree, had no problems with Jeremy Renner making his first appearance as Hawkeye in the middle, even though he didn’t actually do very much. And yes, as with all Marvel films, there is a bit at the end worth staying for which ties in nicely to Captain America and perhaps even The Avengers.

Thor gets 8 out of 10 for being an epic action film with amazing landscapes and fantasy worlds, and even though it didn’t quite have the same initial impact Iron Man did, it definitely lived up to all my expectations.