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Is “The Hangover Part II” a “Good” Sequel?

Is “The Hangover Part II” a “Good” Sequel? (photo)

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What makes a good sequel?

Steven Zeitchik wrote an interesting piece earlier this week in The Los Angeles Times crediting the box office success of “The Hangover Part II” to its “lack of originality.” In essence, he says that the most successful comedy sequels are the ones that hew closest to their predecessors. His article begins, “The raised eyebrows started pretty much the moment the trailer hit the Web.” When the trailer for “The Hangover Part II” hit the Web at the beginning of April, I wrote the following in a post about the often dubious use of the phrase “Part 2″ in sequel titles:

“The trailer makes it look less like a continuation than a rehash. The location is different but the characters, narrative gimmick, and Ed Helms facial disfiguration gags are all the same. That could still make an interesting sequel if the finished film plays up the nightmarish, almost ‘Twilight Zone’-esque quality of these men’s lives. Will it acknowledge the fact that they seem almost karmically doomed to repeat the same awful misadventures over and over again? I kind of hope so.”

With the movie now in wide release, it’s clear that while my hopes were dashed, the trailer was an accurate depiction of the finished film. If it was inaccurate at all, it was in not fully representing just how faithful “The Hangover Part II” is to “The Hangover.” Contrary to what star Zach Galifianakis said in interviews prior to production about the sequel having “nothing to do with the bachelor party,” and that the scenario would involve the Wolf Pack getting “kind of kidnapped,” it absolutely does and they absolutely don’t. In fact, almost every single plot point from the first film appears in the second one: a forgotten night of debauchery, a friend missing, altercations with drug dealers, sex with prostitutes, incongruous animal sidekicks, and Mike Tyson.

Given the extreme degree to which it recycles elements of the first film, you could almost make the case for “The Hangover Part II” on the grounds that it is an experimental film. As I sit here writing, I’m actually having trouble thinking of elements from the first “Hangover” that don’t appear in the sequel; the only one jumping immediately to mind is the fact that Ed Helms’ character doesn’t fall for the hooker he sleeps with this time around. The following video mashup does a nice job of illustrating the similarities, by placing the aforementioned “Hangover Part II” trailer side-by-side with corresponding images from the first film.

As Zeitchik notes, most of the critical discourse around “The Hangover Part II” has focused around the borderline shocking degree to which it is just Mad Libs version of “Part I.” A quick scan of the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page reveals almost as much repetition as you’ll find in the film itself. “I can’t believe how precisely everything does happen again, except that what was fresh and surprising in Las Vegas turns rancid and predictable in Bangkok,” says Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal. “Trade out Las Vegas for Bangkok, a tiger for a monkey, a lactating hooker for a trannie stripper, a missing tooth for a face tattoo, and you’ve got Todd Phillips’s rote, dispiriting replica of his own surprise smash hit,” says Eric Hynes from The Village Voice. In his review, Richard Roeper proclaims that “rarely has a sequel been so lazy, obvious, such a flat out copy of the first film.”

The film certainly is a copy. But is it really that rare? “The Hangover Part II” reminded me of a lot of horror sequels, particularly long-running and heavily codified franchises like “Friday the 13th” or “Final Destination.” Genre connoisseurs come back to these movies time and time again for their faithful adherence to formula: Jason Voorhees will come back from the dead, he will wear his hockey mask, and he will kill people in incredibly violent and incredibly creative ways. True, there have been some variations, but most are cosmetic; flinging Jason into outer space so he can slaughter hotties there isn’t that much different than transplanting “The Hangover” from Vegas to Bangkok. When horror sequels stray too far from their core, they’re usually flops. See “Halloween III,” the only movie in the series that didn’t feature Michael Myers.

Why are there different standards for horror and comedy sequels? You can’t say that comedy is different from horror because jokes depend on surprise — so do horror films. We watch great comedies over and over, savoring the stars’ delivery, memorizing our favorite jokes. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve seen “Blazing Saddles” or “The Naked Gun.” Earlier this week I was laughing out loud at “Stripes” a film I’ve seen many times. Repetition and ritualization is part of the fun of great comedy. So what’s the problem with repeating and ritualizing it in the form of a movie like “The Hangover Part II?”

I agree: the fact that Phil, Stu, and Alan undergo the exact same misadventures is impossible and ridiculous. But it’s no more impossible or ridiculous than John McClane getting into three more days just as bad as his worst day ever in the first “Die Hard.” Isn’t it weird that terrorists love to attack the things in closest proximity to John McClane? Do we care? I certainly don’t; I just like seeing Bruce Willis badass it up.

What we’re talking about here is the fundamental nature of sequels. Should sequels be bold, original undertakings or should they provide the audience with more of what they liked in the first movie? Is a good sequel like or unlike the movie that spawned it? This, I think, is a matter of personal opinion and taste. Some people love “Evil Dead II” which is so similar to “The Evil Dead” that it’s almost a remake. Some people prefer “Army of Darkness” which transposes the series’ hero to medieval times and replaces most of the horror with Three Stooges-esque physical comedy.

“The Hangover” had a very clever premise and a unique comic mystery structure. You could argue that its uniqueness was what made it so successful. In that case, maybe the only true sequel to “The Hangover” is one as unique as the first film — say, the boys have another night out on the town but this time they get brutally murdered and it’s up to their girlfriends and wives to solve the crime. Or you might argue that what made “The Hangover” a hit was the particular chemistry of the actors — Bradley Cooper’s smarm, Ed Helms’ spoiled innocence, Galifianakis’ inspired idiocy. We loved spending time with those guys in that booze and pill-fueled fog. In that case, “The Hangover Part II” is the perfect sequel, since it reunites the entire cast and provides them a forum to do the things we enjoyed watching them do the first time around.

Do I think “The Hangover Part II” is a good movie? Not really. Do I think it’s a good sequel? After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that it is. It is not a great sequel on the level of “The Godfather Part II” or “The Empire Strikes Back” — sequels that truly continue the stories and expand the universes of their first films — but it is a satisfying one on its own terms. You might subjectively say that the jokes aren’t funny; I thought a lot of them were (I also appreciated the fact that the movie was a lot bleaker and sadder than the first “Hangover,” and probably as close as I’ll ever get to my dreams of “Twilight Zone”-y nightmarishness). No, it’s not an original comedic vision. But it delivers what it promises: more of the same. And since it’s already grossed almost $150 million in just one week of release, outstanding for an R-rated comedy, I think you can expect a lot more of the same in the future.

Did you like “The Hangover Part II?” Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter and Facebook!

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

ikea heights

IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Trailering: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

Trailering: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (photo)

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I’m of the opinion that Guy Pearce does not make nearly enough movies, especially not ones where he takes center stage. Since “The Proposition” in 2005, he’s mostly been seen in small supporting roles in movies like “Factory Girl,” “The Road,” “Animal Kingdom,” “The King’s Speech,” and “The Hurt Locker” (weirdly, this is the second time this has come up today on IFC.com). So I’m hoping he gets to take the lead in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” even if he’s still got to contend with ghosts and spirits and cute child actors at the same time.

The film is based on a classic 1973 TV movie, “the scariest TV production ever made” according to the remake’s writer and producer, Guillermo del Toro. Pearce plays the father of a little girl who starts to hear noises and voices coming from the basement of her family’s new old home; Katie Holmes also stars as Pearce’s new girlfriend. We already had one really good haunted house movie in 2011. I’m hoping for a second. Here’s the trailer:

Y’know I used to hear voices coming from the walls of my house saying stuff like “We want to play with you!” Just my neighbors. We have really thin walls and very friendly neighbors. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” opens on August 26.

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Sick of the Multiplex? Go to the Drive-In

Sick of the Multiplex?  Go to the Drive-In (photo)

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There have been a lot of articles in the press lately about bad projection and the overal poor viewing experience at multiplexes around the country. I still love going to the movies, but even I get fed up sometimes: dim movies, high prices, loud patrons on their cell phones. If you can relate, here is my suggestion:

Go to the drive-in.

Drive-in movie theaters are a legendary part of American popular culture, but for a lot of folks, that’s all they are: a legend, read about or seen in old movies but never actually experienced. Though just a fraction of the drive-ins from their heyday remain, there are still hundreds operating throughout the United States and every single one I’ve been to has been well worth the trip. And not just as a historical curiosity.

No question: drive-ins have their downsides. In northern climes, they’re only open during the summer and no matter where they’re located, they are always at the mercy of the weather. The picture and sound quality of the best drive-in can’t come close to the picture and sound quality of the best multiplex; the screens are usually old and the sound comes piped in through FM radio in your car stereo. But in the right setting on the right night (and with the right movies — I’d pass on “Tree of Life,” drive-in style), you can’t beat a cinematic evening under the stars. Here’s five reasons why.

1. Two Movies For Less Than The Price Of One

Last night at the Warwick Drive-In in Warwick, NY, I saw “The Hangover Part II” and “Bridesmaids” for $8. Eight bucks wouldn’t even get me one ticket at my local multiplex, where it would cost me $24 to take in the same double feature. Particularly in our current crummy economy, that is a great deal. You’re basically paying rental price for a theatrical experience on a gigantic screen that dwarfs the ones at my local theater, where something like half the auditoriums seat less than 50 people.

2. A Relaxed Attitude Toward Outside Food

Speaking of saving money, drive-ins are way less intense about customers bringing in outside food than your standard theater. They’ve got their own snack bar, of course, but you’re welcome to bring what you want (other than booze, understandably). And since nobody’s sitting two and a half inches to your left, you don’t have to worry about bugging them with your stinky takeout. In the mood for pizza and the movies? Go for it.

3. Your Obnoxious Neighbors Are Too Far Away To Bother You

Someone I follow on Facebook recently shared a horrifying story: instead of being disturbed by someone talking on their cell phone, they had to contend with a person in front of them watching something on their cell phone. Paid twelve bucks to see a movie, then watched something (for free) on their cell phone in the middle of the theater. There are plenty of jerks at the drive-in too, but you’re insulated from their bad behavior by your car and the sound muffling effects of the great outdoors. A properly spaced drive-in is actually a fairly private public viewing experience. The hassles are at an absolute minimum.

4. You Can’t Beat the Leg Room

No need to keep crossing your legs: space is your friend at the drive-in. You can move your car seat to your heart’s content. Feel like reclining? Do it up. And if you don’t like your car, you can always bring beach chairs or blankets and hang out in the grass.

5. Being Outside Makes Watching Movies Feel Like Exercise

Okay, maybe not. But if you’ve never tried it, there’s nothing quite like the serene pleasure of watching a movie outside as a cool breeze blows through your hair. It’s amazing. Just remember to pack some bug spray.

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