Superhero fans will find it packs a decent punch.
reviewed by Mark Burns
A boozing uber-bruiser shambles up to his heroic calling in this fun spin on the superhero tale.
Hancock (Will Smith: I Am Legend) is an amoral do-gooder, a temperamental lush whose reckless heroics have the tendency to demolish Los Angeles’ cityscape. Consequently, Angelinos are spitting venom at their so-called protector. He seems doomed to remain the city’s lesser evil. That is, until Hancock’s path crosses with goody-two-shoes publicist Ray (Jason Bateman: Juno). Ever the optimist, Ray hatches a scheme to awaken the hero’s nobler spirit and polish his image. Hancock grudgingly plays along, discovering his forgotten past in the process of realizing his true potential.
This hero is unique amid this summer’s bumper crop of superhero cinema, his character and myth being the only fresh invention among them. A pluot amid the conventional fruits, you might say. It can be risky, nudging an unestablished, comedic superhero concept over the ledge. My Super Ex-Girlfriend fell flat, right beside The Mystery Men. But Hancock manages to fly pretty well.
Even the best superhero flicks tend to the formulaic, with smirking fanboy tributes, cheesy one-liners, clichéd characters and story hemmed by often-corny pulp lore. At its best, Hancock is refreshing for its independence. Screenwriter Vincent Ngo tinkers with a few what-ifs and emerges with a pretty original take on the genre.
Hints of other sources can be discovered: Hancock reminds a little of Superman after he was exposed to Richard Pryor’s kryptonite-lite; the context of disastrous civic consequence smacks of amusing reality check via The Incredibles; emerging lore is shaded with a darkening twist, dramatic smudging perhaps inspired by M. Night Shyamalan’s moody gem Unbreakable. Yet borrowing is light, never approaching the pratfall of rip-off.
Story is steady enough as Ray tries to shepherd the unloved hero unto adoration and higher purpose. Comedy, action and drama interplay nicely. But redemption comes suddenly, and complexities born of a fairly predictable plot twist don’t get sorted out cleanly. New and interesting dramatic angles are raised but not explored. The shift in tone is stark; the climax lacks for brighter counterpoints to float it out of the brutal. Still, the plot manages to hold center just enough to carry interest through to the end.
Director Peter Berg (The Kingdom) may let his attention wander from the story, but the action and special effects are first-rate. All the requisite feats of super-strength are present, tweaked with creative twists and comic touches.
Laughs succeed especially well in the first half. The interplay of cool heroics and their presumed real-world consequences provide sharp comedic tension between Hancock and the city of Los Angeles. His devil-may-care attitude and antipathy toward the very prattling public he serves makes for an amusing break from superhero tradition. A couple scenes lack snap and one running gag cramps up, but for the most part the humor is good fun.
Hancock isn’t spectacular, but it’s good, original fun. Superhero flick fans will find it packs a decent punch.
Good Action-Comedy • PG-13 • 92 mins.
© Warner Bros. Pictures
The day after a raucus bachelor party, Phil, Alan and Stu find themselves handcuffed together at the police station.
Sure to tickle the funny bones of those who appreciate raucous comedy.
reviewed by Jonathan Parker
Four male friends go on a bachelor party trip that they’ll never forget and wake up the next morning wondering what happened in this bawdy and quite funny movie. Although far from being for everyone, Director Todd Phillips’ (Old School; Road Trip) surprise-filled buddy movie is sure to tickle the funny bones of those who appreciate raucous comedy.
Groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha) is taken to Las Vegas by his three pals for a bachelor party two nights before his wedding day. His friends include fat and odd brother-in-law-to-be Alan (Zach Galifianakis), spineless dentist Stu (Ed Helms) and charming wolf Phil (Bradley Cooper). But it’s not the bachelor party on which this movie focuses. It’s the next day, i.e. the hangover. Indeed, when our mates wake up, not only have they trashed their room beyond recognition, they have lost the groom-to-be. So begins a backtracking trail of trying to find Doug while discovering the out-ofcontrol things they did the night before.
Working its way backwards is the film’s best trick, and quite an ingenious one at that. In the beginning, it’s hard not to be disappointed in what feels like a clichéd traditional set-up. The crazy bachelor party is turf that has been trod by countless TV shows and movies. But everything changes when we refreshingly skip right to the next day. Through this device, we see the truly crazy surprises as they’re revealed to the main characters.
Plus, these characters are better than most. The usual buddy comedy would have the actors predictably play out the very different kooky personalities of four seemingly unique individuals. Here, the characters are more real than that; only Galifianakis, as the way-out-there fat friend, comes off as totally fictional though still funny. The sympathetic interaction among the three wayward friends gives the wackiness an odd sort of pathos. These guys aren’t just jerks blowing their way through Vegas. They actually care for each other and are concerned for their missing friend. As a result they act in believably funny ways.
Despite this intelligence, don’t be fooled. If you are not one for raunchy male buddy comedy (including full-frontal male nudity), then you should not see this to sample the genre. This one is for connoisseurs only a whole lot of them.
Good comedy • R • 98 mins.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
© Warner Bros. Pictures
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The real story is Harry Potter and the Emerging Hormones.
reviewed by Jonathan Parker
Harry Potter and chums continue to grow up and continue to ward off evil in the intriguing if not somewhat confusing sixth installment of the wildly popular series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Director David Yates’ (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) movie is more interesting when it focuses on the young wizards behaving like the teens they are, rather than on the dark plot of Harry’s destiny. Indeed, this could have been called Harry Potter and the Emerging Hormones.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and best friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are finally acting their age. They are becoming attracted to their fellow students (some familiar, some new), and they are acting on these instincts. Plus, they start ingesting some potent potables (some magical, some not). Turns out they are typical teens after all. Meanwhile, Harry and master wizard Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) pursue evil Lord Voldemort and his horrific minions … to mixed results.
Let me confess that although I’ve seen all of the Harry Potter movies, I have read none of the books. That said, as I watched this movie, I forgot why the heck we are supposed to care about Harry’s travails. If Voldemort is such all-consuming evil (we get to meet him as a young wizard here) and Potter is “the chosen one,” then shouldn’t everything in the good wizards’ powers be devoted to stopping this potentially world-ending thing? It seems a lonely and overwhelming job for one bespectacled young fellow and his bearded headmaster. For that matter, for one little school. This is big: like Star Wars big or Lord of the Rings big. Where are the armies? Yet it’s all up to Potter, who seems to focus on it only half the time. I mean if they care only so much, why should I?
Nonetheless, we are invested in these likeable characters. When Ron is kissing a girl or Harry is acting like a drunken teen, we take a tickled joy. And it’s fun to try to figure out which of the teachers is good, which is bad and what’s their angle. Plus, give the Potter series bonus points for hiring top actors in the roles of the teachers: Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn here.
If you’re a Potter fan, this is an above-average offering. If you’re not, this one will probably just confuse you further. And a warning: despite the PG rating, this has some awfully scary stuff for young kids.
Good adventure • PG • 153 mins.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Grab your nearest portkey for this one. The wizarding wunderkind enters his blue period in this capable adaptation.
reviewed by Mark Burns
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) skulks through summer break following a rough fourth year at Hogwarts. Cut off from the magical world, he’s left in the dark about evil wizard Voldemort’s uprising until an attack thrusts him back into the thick of things. The magical world proves not so welcome a place anymore, as Harry is rejected as an agitator, avoided by his mentor and addled by troubling dreams. Even Hogwarts is a tainted haven, as the Ministry of Magic foists itself upon the school through prissy menace Ms. Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, Freedom Writers), the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. So does the fifth year become a quest to loose the ministry’s girdle and follow troubling visions in a personal quest to check Voldemort’s rise.
Book five brought adolescent moodiness to bear on Harry’s character, and the film follows suit in its approach. The ambience is decidedly glum, keeping with the darkening story, and Harry broods the loner’s path for a time as Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) try to crack his shell and restore the team dynamic. There is less attitudinal rage than in the book, however, blunting J. K. Rowling’s thrust of angst.
Blunted angst cheats the film a bit. At its heart, this story is a classic British schoolboy rebellion tale. Or else it wants to be. The Ministry, in the role of villainous big-brother government, evidences its omnipresent eye and tries to take over the school so it may program Hogwarts’ youth for public order. Bristling youth take umbrage and rebel in underground gatherings and open defiance.
It’s an angle rich with potential, and director David Yates seems tempted to play with this core. One or two dystopian touches hint at where his own imagination is leading, and he crafts fine scenes in the vein of fighting the power while staying true to the lighter tone of the children’s book series. But he isn’t quite bold enough to assume Rowling’s authorial intent and give the theme full rein, and the film seems oddly constricted by its effort.
As is usual for the Potter films, filmmakers have had to chip at the story with liberal abridgement to contain it to feature length. This time it’s the tabloid retaliation against skewed news that is nixed. Umbridge’s takeover and Harry’s underground dark arts classes remain. For the most part the cuts work, but in places missing bridges in the plot leave obvious voids in the storytelling, making for some choppy progression. Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire was more successful at smoothing its condensed story. Cuts in this film are most unfortunate at the climax in the Department of Mysteries, where some of the book’s most creative scenes are dropped for the sake of a simpler finish. (Those hoping to see a baby’s head on a death eater’s body will be saddened.)
Visually, the film is very similar to Newell’s Goblet. Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban still stands out as the series’ best. It was crafted with that vintage pulp aesthetic that mirrored the story so well and created a film thick with mood. This one continues the return to clean-cut blockbuster cinematics, relying on characters, effects and artful setwork for mood and ambience. The film does not disappoint in this, as deft art direction and colorful acting continues to bring the magical to life while offering plenty of fresh ambience that is uniquely appropriate to this darker story.
Yates does succeed in ushering Harry Potter into a darker phase while keeping the tale light and friendly enough for the book series’ young fans to enjoy the ride. The action is well executed, and touches of wit make welcome, effective relief from the story’s overcast mood.
In the end, this is still primarily a series for the kids. As such it is fine work, and plenty entertaining for adult fans as well. Grab your nearest portkey for this one.
Good fantasy • PG-13 • 138 mins.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
This movie is less a breath of fresh air and more a stench of hackneyed comic book genre convention.
reviewed by Jonathan Parker
A dark hero takes on a creepy pale-faced killer of a villain. Long-haired and bug-eyed eccentrics sing a cheesy song of love. No, it’s not The Dark Knight nor is it Mamma Mia, it’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the creature-filled and action-packed but ultimately disappointing sequel in writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth) irreverent comic book-inspired series.
Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is a demon from the underworld who is quite literally the son of Satan. He now works for the U.S. government with other odd creatures including girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), who ignites herself with fire, and brainy Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who is mostly fish. They fight against all supernatural threats to America. The latest threat involves a vengeful elfin prince (Luke Goss), who seeks the pieces of a crown, which when pieced together summon a golden army of giant warriors. This prince wants to wipe out the human race and reclaim the earth for non-humankind. He’ll have to get through Hellboy and friends first, who are also fighting the pangs of love. (Hellboy and Sapien sing a Barry Manilow song drunk at one point.)
Del Toro uses this movie as a showcase for his latest wacky and creepy creatures. Indeed, we are inundated by the things: there is a giant beanstalk that fights; there is a Chewbacca-styled best buddy of the prince with a cannonball on a chain for a right hand; there is a creature that is ectoplasmatic smoke consuming an old-timey aquamarine-like suit. Then there is the “troll market,” an overpopulated world of disgruntled freaks the likes of which we haven’t seen since the bar in which Han Solo shot Greedo. Indeed, if inventively thought-up creatures are your thing, than this is for you.
Unfortunately, we need some movie with these creatures, and this is where Hellboy II fails. The story is mostly Lord of the Rings-inspired cliché. Our hero’s abrasive and irreverent attitude grows weary with far too many smart-alecky catch phrases. The action is enticing, but seems to be given to us in large doses as a way to distract us from the fact that there isn’t much going on here.
Unlike the first Hellboy film, this movie is less a breath of fresh air and more a stench of hackneyed comic book genre convention. Del Toro can seem the genius when he blends his creative creature creepiness with some inventive storytelling. In Hellboy II there’s plenty of the former but not much of the latter.
Fair action fantasy • PG-13 • 120 mins.