I’ve got a hangover of critics using the word ‘hangover’ in their reviews of The Hangover

If there’s one thing tired old film critics love, it’s film titles which have a descriptive word they can shoehorn into a poster-quotable summary of their thoughts.  We see it all the time, and it can usually be relied on gutter-press critics like Alex Zane in The Sun to fall back on this laziest of journalistic devices, eg: Win Win‘s a winner!”

Nice.  Granted, it’s maybe a little unfair to mock tabloids for use of utterly thankless puns when that is exactly what their entire existence is predicated on.  But every so often, a film comes along where the opportunity for lame linguistic play-on-words is too irresistible for even the upper echelons of movie criticism.

Case in point: The Hangover Part 2, a film which, by most consensus, is a bit shit, and has a 33% score at Rotten Tomatoes.  By good fortune, it’s also a sequel to a film for which the consensus was generally quite positive, allowing for some lovely hangover-based metaphors which definitely no one else thought of.

Eg:

Somebody must have roofied me. I left The Hangover Part II feeling dazed and abused, wondering how bad things happened to such a good comedy.

– Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Oh, what a headache-inducing, unapologetic money grab we have in “The Hangover Part II.”

– Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

For a movie about guys who can’t handle their liquor, The Hangover Part II can be pretty sobering…For all the talent Hangover II reassembles, our boys just can’t muster the hair of the dog that bit them the first time around.

– Scott Bowles, USA Today

I still have a hangover from The Hangover Part II.

– Mary Pols, Time Magazine

Your head hurts like hell, the whole thing feels horribly familiar, and it’s just not funny any more. Can this really be happening again?
We all enjoyed ourselves during that first movie. But now … well, the hangover has begun.

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Now, I get it.  I know there’s deadlines to meet, you have to see six billion terrible films every week and describing a film in relation to its title is an easy and readable little flourish.  But guys!  You’re better than that!  I know you are.  Some of the people listed above I read regularly, and I genuinely enjoy their filmic ramblings.  But when you say a film called The Hangover gives you a hangover, it seems like you just don’t care anymore.  When did you stop caring?  Was it before or after Season of the Witch?

Next week: I tackle the practice of critics using the phrase “beautifully realised”.

Review: ‘I’m Not There’ (2007)

Bob Dylan turned 70 this week.  It’s a testament to his continuing impact on the cultural landscape that people are getting excited about a pensioner’s birthday, or that a biopic was made in 2007 even while the old codger was still alive and making music.  I think I agree with the quote, featured on Wikipedia, from Luke Davies of The Monthly who calls I’m Not There a “beautiful failure of a film“.  It is a gorgeous, nuanced film, manifestly crafted with love and care, but ultimately it’s an experiment which doesn’t work.  It fails because it’s incoherent and jumbled, tripping up over its own conceit and unlikely to impress upon anyone not owning a lifetime membership to the Bob Dylan fanclub.

If you missed the concept from when it was released  in 2007, I’m Not There is Todd Haynes’ bold attempt to chronicle the wildly varied life of Dylan, the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter, folk hero and ‘people’s poet’.  Haynes’ quite thoughtful reasoning goes that since his subject has had such a colourful existence, particularly his early ‘golden’ sixties era, these contrasting personas should be portrayed with contrasting characters.  A straight biopic wouldn’t cut it.  So we have a Dylan in six different guises, played by six different actors, each with six different names.  Dylan is only named once, in the opening credits.

This serves to be a little confusing if, like me, you are not a disciple of the Church of Dylan. (Don’t get me wrong, I like him a lot, and own a couple of albums, but, y’know, he’s alright.)  We open on Dylan as a boy, depicted as a hobo-travellin’ African-American pre-pubescent boy named Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin, in one of the many gobsmackingly brilliant performances in this film); along the way we meet Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) as Dylan going electric, Jack Rollins (Christian Bale), the subject of a folk documentary, and perhaps most bafflingly, Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) as an actor playing Rollins, but also incorporating elements of Dylan’s life.

Are you following?  Because I had trouble, and I’m not someone who usually has trouble comprehending pretentious art film experiments.  The problem with such a boldly avant-garde approach to a real-life figure is I found myself constantly firing up Wikipedia to check facts.  Did Dylan really hang out with Allen Ginsburg, sympathise with JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, or become a born-again Christian preacher?  (As I discovered: yes; pretty much; sort of.)

Most baffling of all is Richard Gere as Billy the Kid, which without trusty Wikipedia informing me that Dylan once played Billy the Kid in a Sam Peckinpah film would have seemed a bizarre tangent.  Had I not had a user-generated online encyclopaedia at my beck and call, I would have been deeply bewildered by this seemingly irrelevant Wild West side story.  And learning the thought process behind its inclusion provided little further clarity.

With biopics, I always feel you should apply the ‘sequel test’.  A sign of a good sequel is one where you don’t need to have seen the original to understand, appreciate or enjoy it – and so a good biopic should not assume the story it is telling is one we’ve heard before.  Todd Haynes is a supremely talented filmmaker, but here his narrative skills fall down, with a movie analogous to poorly designed wedding cake, or a supermodel in a mudbath – a beautiful mess.

PS: I do realise that if this were a university essay, I would recieve a mark of zero for my numerous Wikipedia citations.  Sorry about that.  I’ll reference Britannica next time.

Trailer review: Horrible Bosses

Imagine the scene.  You’re a big Hollywood executive.  As you sit resplendent on your golden reclining office chair, face buried in a desk of cocaine that would make Scarface blush, you ponder quietly to yourself: what will make me more money?  You’re running out of ideas for sequels, comic book adaptations and remakes.  I mean, you’ve already run out of good films to remake, so you’re forced to remake crap ones (I’m talking about you here, unnecessary Conan the Barbarian remake).  And you’ve already rebooted Spiderman about six times this morning!  What other established, guaranteed, investor-pleasing markets are there?

Bingo!  Hating your boss.  That’s a surefire demo, right there. Everyone hates their boss, right?

Thus probably went the genesis for Horrible Bosses, the latest mega-blokey, high-concept, sex-heavy summer comedy coming to a multiplex near you.  In fairness, the trailer does provide a few chuckles, and they have assembled an impressive cast – alongside these-sorts-of-comedies staples Bateman, Sudeikis and Aniston, they have Kevin Spacey and an almost-unrecognisable Colin Farrell as two of the eponymous bosses, in some rather neat casting.  And they’ve got Bunk from The Wire!  OMFG!

But it’s hard to avoid the impossible feeling that this is another high concept pitch tied precariously together with some wacky set pieces (look! Jen is simulating oral sex with various bits of food which looks like willies!), the funniest of which are already seen in the trailer.  It doesn’t look that horrible, but do we really need all our funnies in the Todd Phillips mould?  Horrible Bosses is released July 8th.   Expect a sequel before Christmas.

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