Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: May 27, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr follows Jamie Chung to Thailand, hoping to get married. Unfortunately, someone slips him roofies, which made him black out and spend a drunken night in Bangkok. Once he got out of that city, he headed over to China to become the new pot-bellied dragon warrior. After all, if a cartoon panda can do it, why can’t he? That didn’t stop him from spending another night in the hospital, and maybe a little time in a Bangkok jail. And then the real horror happened… Kevin saw The Tree of Life.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Take a listen as Kevin is joined in the Magical Studio in the Sky by Ike from The Mike & Ike Show (no relation to the candy).

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: R for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Jamie Chung and Ken Jeong

Directed by: Todd Phillips

What it’s about: I’m taking the lazy way out this week. Here’s my plot synopsis from The Hangover from two years ago with the plot changes noted in brackets: “Four friends take a road [plane] trip from L.A. to Vegas [Thailand] for one of their bachelor parties. After getting rip-roaring drunk and passing out, they wake up with the hangover of their lives. Not only have they lost their memories from the night before, they also lost the [soon-to-be brother-in-law of the] groom. They spend the next day trying to piece together what happened to them and discovering a load of surprises along the way.”

What I liked: As much of a colossal disappointment The Hangover: Part II is, there are some funny parts. Most of the laughs I got were from unexpected one-liners delivered by Ken Jeong and Zach Galifianakis. When this movie is funny, it does hit the nail on the head. But like Due Date – Todd Phillips’ other dark and smarmy follow-up to The Hangover – this sequel just doesn’t have enough heart to make it an enjoyable movie.

What I didn’t: I’m not so much offended by this movie as I am offended by the sheer lack of effort that has been put into it. The greatest sin a movie can commit is to simply retread another film, having a fall-back position of repetition rather than originality. On one hand, The Hangover: Part II makes this repetition part of its own meta-joke, but that only works for the first twenty minutes or so. By the end, I started to recognize some of the scenes, practically shot-by-shot from the original.

Watching this film reminded me of what it was like to have a great night out with friends and then try to recreate it a week, month or year later. Even by going to the same places, there’s an emptiness inside.

Finally, when the movie does decide to take the characters and the audience to new places, it almost always results in making it a lesser movie. The character of Stu (Ed Helms) was the glue that held the group together in the first film. He was the nice guy who was in a shitty situation. In this film, he’s just another asshole stuck in a shitty situation.

Who is gonna like this movie: College guys.

Grade: C-

Studio: DreamWorks

Rated: PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence

Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Lui and Gary Oldman

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh

What it’s about: Now that Po has become the Dragon Warrior, he must continue his kung fu training to learn his inner peace. However, there’s a new enemy on the horizon – and evil peacock (Gary Oldman), who plans to take over the land with a new explosive weapon that trumps kung fu. Po must battle this new enemy while he learns some tragic information about his own origins.

What I liked: I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the first Kung Fu Panda, especially since I was expecting it to be one of the worst films of 2008. With my love of the characters, I was cautiously optimistic about this sequel, and it blew me away again.

Unlike The Hangover: Part II, this movie gave us something more. We get a look into Po’s life and where he came from. We see him face some more struggles, not just with himself but with some of the other characters. And we get a fantastic new villain who rivals Ian McShane as the evil Tai Lung from the first film.

The animation is brilliant in this movie, achieving a fantastic balance of photorealistic CGI, traditional 2D models and some neat anime moments. The action is as good as any of the live-action films of late, and you can’t help but cheer for the characters as they fight their battles.

The same lighthearted nature keeps the movie fresh, and Jack Black continues to be subdued in his portrayal of Po. With a running time just north of 90 minutes, Kung Fu Panda is a great summer movie for kids and adults, and it left me definitely wanting more.

What I didn’t: The only stumbling block in this movie is that it suffers from the need to justify its own existence in the first act. While it has a fantastic opening sequence, as the first film had, getting the story off the ground is a bit rocky. We already know these characters, so the attempt to build them again doesn’t quite flow. But fortunately, within a reel or two, the movie hits the ground running and never stops.

Who is gonna like this movie: Kids, adults and general animation fans.

Grade: A-

Studio: Fox Searchlight

Rated: PG-13 for some thematic material

Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Joanna Going, Fiona Shaw and Jackson Hurst

Directed by: Terrence Malick

What it’s about: Nothing. And everything. But ultimately nothing.

What I liked: Like Michael Bay, even if you hate Terrence Malick as a filmmaker, you can be assured that his films are going to look great. And this one does.

Um… yeah… that’s about it.

What I didn’t: The Tree of Life is exactly what you’d expect it to be. If you watched the trailer and expect it to be a beautiful, thought-provoking look at life, the universe and everything, then I’m sure you’ll take that from the film. I, however, thought the trailer looked like one of the most pretentious pieces of crap I would likely see. And the film lived right down to this.

I know this movie isn’t about story, but rather it’s about art. It’s cinematic poetry aimed at touching something inside us, from thoughts about the origin of life and our place in the universe to how emotion and memory can live in the moment or change our lives. But knowing this didn’t stop me from rolling my eyes and checking my watch.

From the opening scene, which features a single light on the screen with a whispering voice, I knew this movie would be awful. It’s told as a patchwork of imagery, some of which looks pretty cool, sure. But when we return to the characters of a family that on the surface is happy but is filled with dysfunction and disappointment about the American dream, I hated all of them.

Malick opts for imagery over substance, making a pretty picture but amounting to nothing more than a Bob Ross painting for the cineplex filled with happy trees and nothing of any worth. Even worse, Malick doesn’t just stumble into cliche, but he dives into it, delivering a dumbed-down message to his audience. Scenes such as the mother holding her baby and pointing to the sky as she whispers “That’s where God lives,” or what I can only describe as a bizarre tantric yoga moment at the end, reek of Malick staring at the audience and daring them to be smart enough to take in his genius. I call shenanigans. A lot of cliche imagery does not a good movie make.

Sigh… were I at Cannes, I probably would have booed this pile of dino poop as well.

Who is gonna like this movie: The artsy fartsy cinephile crowd who drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon and espouses on the art within the art within the art.

Grade: F

Want to see what Kevin had to say about this week’s new releases? Check out his interview on FOX…

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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