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David Krumholtz

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2016 in Film.

Queso, usually I’d put a bunch of excuses in this opening paragraph about why this is going up so late, when the real question is: nearly ten months into 2017, why even do this Best of 2016 movie list at all? (Answer: I’m a completionist and it was bugging me.) But really the bigger issue here is: I missed a LOT of movies last year.

I missed Oscar contenders (Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge) and Oscar bait (Allied, Florence Foster Jenkins). I missed promising indies (Captain Fantastic, American Pastoral) and movies with cult-cachet (Swiss Army Man, High-Rise, Elle, Kubo and the Two Strings). I missed the big winter dogs (Passengers, Assassin’s Creed), the summer dogs (Independence Day: Resurgence, The Legend of Tarzan), and the just plain dogs (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Deepwater Horizon).

I missed some big tentpole remakes (Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, The Magnificent Seven, Pete’s Dragon.) I missed a bunch of unnecessary sequels (Now You See Me 2, Ride Along 2, London Has Fallen). I missed the maybe-better-than-you-expect B-movies (The Shallows), the high-rated Disney outings (Moana). I even missed a few movies I still really want to see (Silence, Toni Erdmann).

But of the ones I did see, I suppose these are my…

Top 25 Films of 2016
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/
2008/2009/2010/2011/2012/2013/2014/2015/The Oughts]

1. Moonlight: Damien Chazelle’s meet-cute May-December musical romance featured Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone at their…wait, one second. Er…Yeah, I know, a little late for that joke — Anyway, we’ll get to La La Land later on.

For now Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight was a perfectly-contained short story about a young boy forced to toughen up in a harsh and uncaring world, and a man trying to be brave enough to shed that lifetime’s worth of armor. I have some quibbles with the movie — the classical score can be occasionally cloying, and some of the characters — Naomie Harris’s junkie mom, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae’s saintly neighbors — occasionally felt too broadly drawn. But at a time when too many films feel swallowed by their own ambition, Moonlight told a powerful, personal, memorable, and resoundingly human story on a small and colorful canvas.

2. The Nice Guys: Not to bag on La La Land in every entry, but if you saw Ryan Gosling in one burgeoning (b)romance in the City of Angels in 2016, I hope it was this one. Harkening back to other LA neo-noirs like The Long Goodbye, Inherent Vice, and maybe even a smattering of Lebowski, Shane Black’s throwback buddy-cop misadventure was one of the smartest, funniest, and most purely enjoyable movie experiences of the year (even if I saw it on a plane.)

3. Captain America: Civil War: In his last installment, our hero took on the military-industrial complex that had made his beloved country more like Hydra than the New Deal America of his youth. In Civil War, Cap makes the case for free-thinking dissent as the proper form of democratic consent, and punches that billionaire war profiteering egomaniac Tony Stark a few times in the face to boot. (#TeamCap4life).

Clearly Cap is the hero we need right now, even if, in these Hail Hydra times, he’s not the one we deserve. Throw in that ripped-from-the-comics airline melee, Spidey-done-right, and Daniel Bruhl as the best and most nuanced Marvel villain to-date (until the 2017 list, at least), and you have another jewel in Marvel’s gauntlet. Go get ’em, Cap.

4. Green Room: Antifa, meet the Ain’t Rights. Like his first film Blue Ruin — do we have a Kieślowski color trilogy going here? — Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room portrays in naturalistic fashion a bad situation growing increasingly worse. It also provides a final stage for the late Anton Yelchin (meshing well with an ensemble that includes Alia Shawkat and Imogen Poots) and a rich opportunity for Patrick Stewart to play it real dark for once. Sadly, Green Room feels even more realistic now than it did last year, what with the return of Nazis marching in the streets. Tiki torch this, you rat bastids.

5. The Lobster: Since La La Land has been the Rosetta Stone of this list so far, let’s just say The Lobster is the meet-cute rom-com that movie is farthest from. I liked the first third-to-half of this movie, as sad-sack Colin Ferrell navigates the hotel of last opportunities with folks like Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly, more than I did the back-half, where he finds himself caught up in an anti-romantic resistance of sorts, living in the woods with Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, and a bunch of aloof ravers. (There’s also a section in the middle involving Farrell’s brother-turned-dog which I’d like to never think about again, thanks much.) Nonetheless, this weirdo, pitch-black satire about human coupling has moments that will stick in your craw, and makes the uncomfortable, misanthropic squirm-humor that propels (great) shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm seem positively Up-With-People.

6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople: In its own way, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is also the anti-Lobster — a funny, sweet, good-natured foray into the deep New Zealand woods with a gruff Sam Neill, getting ever less gruff as he lets orphan Julian Dennison under his skin. Throw in Rhys Darby for a touch of Conchords zaniness and you have a thoroughly pleasant afternoon hike.

7. Hell or High Water: It’s a credit to the overall experience of David McKenzie’s Hell or High Water that it’s this high on the list, even though there’s some seriously ham-fisted writing in this movie. The most obvious offender is the racist-sheriff-with-a-heart-of-gold, a character that might not have worked at all if it weren’t Jeff Bridges playing him. But the heavy-handedness starts in the very first shot of the movie, with the wall reading “3 TOURS IN IRAQ BUT NO BAILOUT FOR PEOPLE LIKE US.” Ok, ok, I get it.) Still, even if it’s occasionally just No Country for Old Men by way of The Dukes of Hazzard, it’s a crowd-pleasing movie alright, and its heart was in the right place.

8. Doctor Strange: Another quality Marvel outing that’s all the more impressive given how badly it could have turned out. Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t the most inspired choice to play Dr. Stephen Strange — he’s basically just doing his Sherlock with an American accent — but it’s great fun to have Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Tilda Swinton(!) along for the ride, as well as Mads Mikkelsen playing the heavy. (Obvious highlight: “Mister Doctor?” “It’s Strange.” “Maybe, who am I to judge?”) Now maybe they can find something for Rachel McAdams to do in the next one — she’s as wasted here as Natalie Portman in the first Thor.

9. The VVitch: “Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” And now we’re back to the woods being terrifying again. While the most memorable part of Robert Eggers’ The VVitch is its (kinda problematic) ending, I was also impressed with the way this movie puts you square in the 17th century, conveying the strangeness, isolation, and religious panic that must have come from living alone along the unexplored frontier. (Kinda what The Village aspired to do, but really, really didn’t.) Sure, it’s a slow-moving affair, but that’s likely how it would be, until Black Philip comes-a-callin’.

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: I thoroughly hated the original Cloverfield, but watched this on the strength of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman. Pretty good choice! To be fair, this is basically the War of the Worlds reel in Tim Robbins’ basement drawn out to feature length. Still, 1010 Cloverfield makes for a reasonably taut chamber piece for most of its run, as alliances shift among the three main characters who may or may not be waiting out the end of the world in Goodman’s well-stocked bunker. Can you guess how it ends? Probably, but at least you got to see some of old Walter Sobchak along the way.

11. Rogue One: A Star War Story: To be honest, if I’d only seen this movie once, it’d have been much higher on the list. At that opening night show, Rogue One felt like it delivered the visceral thrill of the original films in a much purer way than the prequels or The Force Awakens. Finally, Vader — a character who’s been bogged down by New Age-y family matters for close to 25 years now — was an unstoppable malevolent force again, like he was when I was a kid. Finally, the world of Star Wars developed more much-needed diversity, even as Ben Mendelsohn gets to be the sneering Imperial aristocrat he was born to play.

Speaking of Imperial aristocrats, he gets a lot of grief, but I really liked CGI-Peter Cushing, and, while I get the icky implications for the future, I still thought it was an appropriate homage to a guy who hunted the undead for so long. And, of course, the Death Star’s exhaust port got a brilliant retcon.

But then I watched Rogue One again a few months ago on DVD. And, exposed to the light of day, it’s hard to ignore the movie’s serious pacing and writing problems. Almost all of Felicity Jones’ suicide squad are one-note at best — Alan Tudyk’s quippy droid comes off the best by a large margin. It’s hard to tell what they were going with with Forest Whitaker’s character, but it feels like more than half of his arc got cut somewhere. And, while we’re not at Starkiller Base, doing-violence-to-basic-physics bad, so much of what happens doesn’t make any sense. (If they desperately want to stop the transmission of the plans, why don’t the Imperials just blow up their own radar tower?)

So, in short, Rogue One was a great nostalgia delivery device, but it doesn’t really hold up. Here’s hoping some of the other one-off installments have more intrinsic quality.

12. Arrival: I haven’t read Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” so can’t attest to how Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival holds up to the source material. As for the movie, it’s a heady First Contact story that shows a great deal of promise in its first half, before getting derailed by a silly bomb subplot involving Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mark O’Brien — how were these aliens meant to be surprised by a bomb? — and then spending the rest of the movie explaining what you’ve probably already figured out. Still, a good run up to that point.

Much was made of this being the blue state science-fiction movie we all needed after Election 2016. But given that Arrival ends up being more cerebral than smart, and that the basic message ends up being “acquiesce to the inevitable preordained tragedy in your future,” I don’t think that holds up in the way suggested.

13. Louder than Bombs: Joachim Trier’s Louder than Bombs very much has that indie-arthouse Squid and the Whale, broken family/coming-of-age-drama, I’m-watching-this-on-a-Saturday-on-the-IFC-channel feel about it, and not just ’cause Jesse Eisenberg is back for another round. But this story about a father (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons (Eisenberg, Devin Druid) coming to terms with the untimely death of their photojournalist matriarch (Isabelle Huppert) has a natural, melancholy, lived-in feel and some well-observed moments (and, let’s face it, it’s always great to see Tom Reagan again, with or without his hat.) Definitely comes by its Smiths B-sides title honestly.

14. Hail Caesar: With The Ladykillers being the exception that proves the rule, there are two types of Coen movies: the instantly great ones (most of them) and the ones that’ll grow on you if/when you see them again. For me, Hail Caesar was among the latter.

Set around a decade after Barton Fink burned down the Hotel Earle and disappeared from Hollywood, Caesar continues Fink‘s initial inquiries into the mid-century studio system, fellow-traveling screenwriters, and movies as the spiritual iconography of our time. Also has Channing Tatum dancing, Tilda Swinton playing twins, George Clooney mugging, and Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich doing their “Would that it were so simple” routine. Like I said, my initial reaction to it was around the level of The Man Who Wasn’t There — eh, ok — and like that one, I probably need to see it again.

15. The Birth of a Nation: Both the problem and the potential are right there in the name. The Birth of a Nation is wildly over-the-top and full-of-itself at times. It’s also too self-consciously designed as a star vehicle for its writer-director Nate Parker (who, it has to be said, must go alongside Polanski and Woody in the probable rapist scumbag in real life department.)

At the same time, I appreciated the scale of ambition here — the blatant eff-you to the racist-as-hell D.W. Griffith standard and the attempt to overturn a cultural legacy that’s treated Nat Turner (or Denmark Vesey or John Brown) as criminals rather than survivors who rose up against an American hellscape that we sanctioned here for far too long. If all the turning Nat Turner into a vengeful Christ figure here is laying it on extra-thick, maybe we needed an extreme corrective to get the message out. In that regard, Nation is striking the same vein as QT’s Django Unchained, with a better grip on history to boot.

16. Knight of Cups: So we’re getting to the part of the list where I’ll freely admit that some of these probably played better on my TV than they would’ve in the theater. I grew a bit bored by Tree of Life in its second hour and absolutely loathed To the Wonder from start-to-finish, perhaps because I was trapped in. (Loved The New World, tho.) But, watching Terence Malick’s equally languorous Knight of Cups at home felt like less of an imposition on my time, and I could just roll with its impressionistic beauty. Christian Bale takes long walks on the beach and wrestles with deep spiritual malaise about the meaning of life, his many romantic escapades, and (Malick, natch) the wisdom once bestowed to him by his father (Brian Dennehy)? Go with it, my man. It helps that, like its milieu, Knight of Cups looks like a million bucks, with a captivating, sensual sheen (provided by Emmanuel Lubezki) throughout.

17. The Neon Demon: Here, again, if I’d seen Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon at the multiplex, I think I’d just be waiting for this hyperbolic, cut-rate-Aronofsky madness to end. (Then again, I saw Only God Forgives on the small screen and lordy it did not help.) But for whatever reason, at home I could take Refn’s ludicrous, pulsing disco-club beautiful-people-are-vampires story for what it’s worth, and just enjoy the trippy visual stylings without being unduly burdened by plot, character, or the usual elements that make, y’know, a decent movie. Bronson and even Drive are far better, but this one’s oddly entertaining in its weirdo midnight movie Cat People sorta way.

18. Midnight Special: Speaking of midnight, Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special is another movie with great promise that kinda falls apart in the final act. In its opening moments, as Michael Shannon (also in Nichols’ Take Shelter) and Joel Edgerton cruise along at high speed with night-vision goggles on, the film immediately feels like an lost and underrated Stephen King short story, a sensation helped along by Sam Shepard and Bill Camp showing up as conflicted cult leaders and Adam Driver playing against type as a nerdy government agent. But as the Very Special Kid (Jaeden Lieberher) moves to the fore and we get to the Very Special Ending, Special loses its punch, and begins to feel less like an original sci-fi story and more like one of the many so-so ’80s Spielberg knockoffs these days, a la Super 8 or Stranger Things.

19. Lion: Lion is a true story about Saroo Brierly, a young Indian boy who accidentally left his village as a child and spends his days haunted by what he left behind. It is also well-made and perfectly cromulent Oscar bait, with solid performances all around, especially Dev Patel as the young man in question, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham as his supportive, if not totally understanding adoptive parents, and Divian Ladwa as his resentful adoptive brother.

Still, even if they’ve added a mid-movie romance with Rooney Mara to pad the running time (and which doesn’t contribute much to the film), we’re talking about a two hour movie here that basically builds up to a Google search. Lion was…fine, I suppose, and would probably appeal more to more sentimental types.

20. A Bigger Splash: A remake of La Piscine (which I haven’t seen), updated for modern times to incorporate the European refugee crisis and accommodate folks’ desire to hang out with Tilda Swinton, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash‘s main asset is Ralph Fiennes’ manic turn as an extroverted, cocaine-fueled record producer on Italian holiday. Fiennes has played against his usual clipped-and-distant type before, most notably in In Bruges, but he’s still a jolt of delirious energy throughout A Bigger Splash, which feels a bit like the first third of Sexy Beast before taking a turn — as I now know, like the original movie — in the late going. (It gets a bit long in the tooth after that.)

21. La La Land: City of Stars, why do you have to be so white? Alright, so La La Land — or, as Amy and I began calling it as soon as it was over, “white people shit.” To be fair to the film, I thought it got better as it went along — I was on the verge of walking out during the big frenetic “let’s put on a show!!” traffic jam-boree at the start — and Ryan Gosling and especially Emma Stone are both appealing enough, even if Gosling can’t dance without looking at his feet.

But the real issue here is: Why should I care? Stone wants to be a megastar? Gosling wants to open a jazz club (presumably so he can keep whitesplaining it to anyone who walks in)? Gosling is worried his fusion breakthrough with John Legend might make him a sellout? Honestly, who gives a shit? C’mon, people, it is — sorry, was — the year of our Lord 2016. This is like the poor King of England having a stutter all over again. Please come at me with real problems.

22. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: I never read the books (I know, I know, we’re a long way from The Leaky Cauldron days), and I’m not sure we need an all-new multiple-film foray into the expanded Potter universe. But a Harry Potter prequel spinoff set in 1920’s America? Now you’re speaking my language! (Also, not to give the ending away, but I think I’d prefer Colin Farrell as the multiple-movie nemesis rather than He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named-On-Account-Of-Spoilers.)

23. Don’t Breathe: Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe was one of those horror movies getting It Follows, Babadook, and VVitch-level hype in some corners, and I saw it after it had been rather intensely hyped. Given that, the second act twist didn’t particularly impress me, and I was expecting more memorable all around than just a reverse-Wait Until Dark. Still, it’s always good to see Stephen Lang getting his due — unless you’re watching Gods and Generals, in which case dear god why?

24. Star Trek Beyond: a.k.a. the one where Kirk’s big contribution to the endgame is popping wheelies on a motorcycle. Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella are both wasted behind the extensive make-up, but at least this third installment of nu-Trek sidestepped the stupid remix brain of Into Darkness and focused on telling a fun, small-bore TNG-ish adventure. Beyond isn’t classic Trek or anything, but it does lend credence to the theory that, in the reboot universe, it’s the odd ones that don’t suck.

25. Deadpool: Like I said for a few years now, I like to give the last spot to a genre movie that knows what it is and does it well. This year, that was Deadpool. I have no connection to the character and frankly find him kinda irritating — he’s a sophomoric Liefeldian (re: many pouches) knockoff of the DC’s funnier, more-meta Ambush Bug. And much like Ryan Reynold’s very similar comic hero in Blade: Trinity, he also “appears to have learned English from reading AICN talkbacks” (or Reddit, for the kids out there).

Still, Reynolds, director Tim Miller, and co. embraced the guy, pouches and all, and gave him a movie that suited the character. Besides, it was fun to actually have Colossus running around a X-Men movie for once — but not sure this will get me in the theater for Josh Brolin’s Cable.

MOST DISAPPOINTING:

Warcraft: Look, I know that you probably weren’t disappointed by Warcraft. But I sure was. Duncan Jones of Moon and Source Code bringing the game I’ve literally spent a year in to life? This could’ve been pretty good!

Except — and here was the big issue — Jones didn’t make a World of Warcraft movie, which would probably involve a bunch of D&D-like classes on a quest to level up and gain loot or somesuch. Instead, he made a movie of the original Warcraft, a.k.a. the RTS game from twenty years ago, which means…orcs bashing things for two hours. (And I don’t even recall a single “ready to serve!”) The story of the entire movie should’ve been a LotR-like prologue.

It also doesn’t help that, with the exception of Paula Patton and Team Preacher (Ruth Negga, Dominic Cooper), most of the human actors — I’m looking at you, Travis Fimmel and Ben Schnetzer — are 110-level charisma voids. By contrast, there are some good, fun actors among the orcs — Toby Kebbell, Clancy Brown — but they’ve been literally turned into cartoons. And Ben Foster, who can be fine in other things (Hell or High Water, for example) is operating on his own mad level of terrible here, like he method-trained for this by watching Jeremy Irons in D&D or Brando in Dr. Moreau. Just an all-around missed opportunity.

WHAT IS THIS I CAN’T EVEN:

Suicide Squad: Remember how I said Rogue One seemed like a disjointed mess the second time I saw it? That’s Suicide Squad right from jump street. The whole movie has that Tranktastic Four, “we rewrote this in the editing room” and “eh they’ll see it anyway” haphazardness to it. Margot Robbie acquits herself fine as Harley Quinn, I suppose, and this may be the most likable Jai Courtney has been in anything. But Will Smith is bored, Viola Davis seems ashamed to be there, Joel Kinnaman, as the-absence-of-Tom-Hardy, just plays his cop from The Killing, and Jared Leto is a completely egregious misfire as The Joker.

On top of everything else, the film is just ugly — everything looks like it got storyboarded by Ed Hardy, not the least the Clown Prince of Crime, who we know is damaged because…it says “Damaged” on his forehead. Trust me, this movie isn’t even fun bad — it’s just an amateurish disaster. In other words, exactly the type of movie you’d expect from executive producer Steve Mnuchin.

THE REST:

Worth On Demand-ing::

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: MARTHA!! Why am I (barely) recommending this deeply flawed sequel to (the even worse) Man of Steel? Well, mainly because of Batfleck and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred. Zack Snyder can’t seem to understand that Superman should not be a tortured, emo character — he’s more like Chris Evans’ Cap, boy-scout to the bone. But, yeah, Batman sure is — maybe they should write “damaged” on his head — and that stuff here works pretty well.

Don’t get me started on Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor — rein it in, Jesse — or Snyder’s absurd love for slow-motion bullet casings, or the truly awful ways Diane Lane is employed here. (I’m not just talking about the Stepbrothers-esque “Did we just become best friends?” part — Zack, get Martha Kent away from your creepy-ass Polaroids.) But still, y’know, Batman, Wonder Woman, there’s some stuff to like here.

Keanu: Keanu, about Key & Peele trying to get their cat back from some stone-cold gangsters (including Method Man) is…ok. To be honest, given its creative team, I expected something much funnier, but then again I saw it well after the hype machine had kicked in. A nice send-off to George Michael, if nothing else.

Loving: Jeff Nichols’ Loving tells an important story in a rather drab and by-the-numbers fashion — there was considerably more energy in his Midnight Special. Joel Edgerton basically mumbles his way through the movie and even Ruth Negga, such a spitfire in Preacher, is rendered inert here. But, y’know, it’s fine for what it is, no harm no foul.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising: Did you like the first Neighbors? Well, here’s more of the same, now with Chloe Grace Moretz, Selena Gomez, and Kiersey Clemons in the mix as well. Rose Byrne is the secret weapon of these movies, but give Zac Efron credit: he’s surprisingly game for anything.

Manchester by the Sea: Hey ma, look heah: we gawt moah white people praw-blems. I had this in the “don’t bother” section for awhile but eh, it’s competently made, I guess. The main problem here is Casey Affleck’s bitter janitor (an Oscar-winning performance?!) is so emotionally recessed that he doesn’t register — he just mopes his way through scene after scene. (Lucas Hedges gave us a more layered character here, I thought.) I really like Kenneth Lonergan’s other movies, but this one, like Inarritu’s 21 Grams (which is more fun, because it’s so much more pretentious), just assumes that misery is a substitute for character.

Don’t Bother:

Fences: My wife and I saw Dave Chappelle here in DC this past week, and his opening act was Donnell Rawlings, who you may remember from Chappelle Show or as Clay Davis’s chauffeur in the The Wire. Anyway, he basically summed up the problem with this movie in his act: “Denzel, it’s been two and a half hours! Get out of your backyard! Stop looking at the fence!” In other words, this is not really a movie of any kind. It’s a filmed play — which is fine, if it had any sort of energy. It does not — just go see the play.

Ghostbusters: I’m bummed about this one because every MRA asshole on the planet has been whining about an all-female reboot of Ghostbusters somehow ruins his childhood. (To which I say: First, obviously, grow the fuck up. Second, the original Ghostbusters is wildly overrated and wasn’t even one of the ten best fanboy movies of 1984, so develop some taste.) All of which is to say that I was rooting for Paul Feig’s reboot — but, alas, it’s just not very good. Kate McKinnon gets in a few zingers, and they make solid use of Chris Hemsworth, but Kristen Wiig is wasted as the straight woman, and too much of the movie feels like it’s being improvised on the fly, like one of those interminable 11:45am trial-run SNL sketches. I’m glad this Ghostbusters is out there so future fangirls have some role models to look up to, and because this movie’s sheer existence deeply angers many of the worst people in the world. But in the end, sadly, it’s just not all that funny.

Jackie: Yeah, sorry, I don’t understand the love for this one at all. I was bored, as was our entire party. JFK getting shot is not new information, so please find something more to say about it than “then Jackie came up with Camelot.” And maybe Natalie Portman nailed the accent to some extent — moah white people praw-blems — but you can see the Herculean striving throughout her performance, and it makes her Jackie seem weirdly graceless. This was just a ponderous film throughout, tho’ it was nice to see John Hurt give one final, brief curtain call.

Jason Bourne: Have you seen any of the other Bournes? Yeah, you’re good, then. This is basically a Gus Van Sant Psycho remake.

Money Monster: The ubiquitous, beat-for-beat trailer spoiled this movie several times over well before I saw it. And despite the impressive pedigree here — Jodie Foster, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Giancarlo Esposito, Dominic West — here’s no other part to the movie that you’re missing.

Snowden: I’m very sympathetic to Edward Snowden and his predicament. This dull, hagiographic Oliver Stone outing still misses the mark by a country mile. That being said, Rhys Ifans does a pretty good CIA sinister, Nicolas Cage is here as NICOLAS CAGE!, and it’s kind of a funny kick to see Zachary Quinto playing Glenn Greenwald. Still, you’re better off watching CitizenFour.

X-Men: Apocalypse: Weirdly lifeless for a number of reasons. First, this movie makes the Willem Dafoe-as-Green-Goblin mistake of casting a fun, engaging actor (Oscar Isaac) as the Big Bad, but then burying him so deep in make-up that his personality disappears. Second, a lot of the new X-Men here, like Sophie Turner/Sansa as Jean Grey and Tye Sheridan/Ready Player One as Cyclops, are more than a little on the stiff side, while some of the better actors from the last outing — Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters — aren’t given enough to do. (That’s especially true for Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, who gets one scene from a much better movie involving an attack on his family, and then just delivers exposition the rest of the time.) Third, maybe standards have changed, but this film looks really cheap for some reason. Bryan Singer delivered one of the best X-outings with X2, but this one’s only for completists.

Unseen: The 5th Wave, 13 Hours, Absolutely Fabulous, The Accountant, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Allegiant, Allied, American Pastoral, Assassin’s Creed, Bad Moms, Bad Santa 2, Barbershop: The Next Cut, Beauty and the Beast, Ben Hur, The BFG, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Blair Witch, Bridget Jones’s Baby, The Brothers Grimsby, Captain Fantastic, Central Intelligence, Collateral Beauty, The Conjuring 2, Criminal, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Deepwater Horizon, Demolition, Dirty Grandpa, Eddie the Eagle, The Edge of Seventeen, Elvis and Nixon, Eye in the Sky, Fifty Shades of Black, Finding Dory, Florence Foster Jenkins, Free State of Jones, The Girl on the Train, Gods of Egypt, Hacksaw Ridge, The Handmaiden, Hardcore Henry, Hidden Figures, High-Rise, A Hologram for the King, How to Be Single, The Huntsman Winter’s War, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Invitation, I Saw the Light, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Jane Got a Gun, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Legend of Tarzan, Live By Night, London Has Fallen, Love and Friendship, The Love Witch, The Magnificent Seven, Me Before You, Miss Sloane, Moana, A Monster Calls, Nocturnal Animals, Now You See Me 2, Office Christmas Party, Passengers, Paterson, Pete’s Dragon, Popstar, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Race, Ride Along 2, Sausage Party, The Shallows, Silence, Swiss Army Man, Sully, TNMT: Out of the Shadows, Toni Erdmann, War Dogs, Where to Invade Next, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Why Him?, Zoolander 2, Zootopia, pretty much anything else you can think of.

(The Rest of) 2017: It’s September, y’all already know what’s coming out over the next few months. And while if I’d done this list nine months ago The Last Jedi or Blade Runner 2049 would probably get the pole position here at the end, I have to say at this point I’m most excited about…


The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde, sing and cry, Valhalla, I am coming…

Bastard out of Tennessee.

“Much of the pic’s dialogue is in French or German, and subtitles will be used, though Pitt will speak English in his role as a Tennessee hillbilly who assembles a team of eight Jewish-American soldiers to take on the Nazis.Brad Pitt officially signs up for QT’s forthcoming WWII epic, Inglorious Bastards. Also in negotiations to join the project at the moment: Nastassja Kinski, Simon Pegg, David Krumholtz, and B.J. Novak.

Hmm…I dunno. I haven’t read the script, which I heard was floating around, and probably won’t before I see the movie. I’d like to think that this’ll be a return to the form of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown for Tarantino. But the Kill Bills and Death Proof were so loopy, bloated, and self-indulgent that I fear QT has entered George Lucas territory, meaning that he’s surrounded by sycophantic yes-men and has sadly disappeared up his own ass, never to emerge again. And casting his buddy, torture-porn director Eli Roth, first only increases my wariness that this’ll be yet another self-referential bric-a-brac homage to exploitation flicks of the past. Still, hope springs eternal.

Stepping Back for the Big Picture.

With a six-week lull between now and the next contest, during which I hope to spend more time focusing on Harold Ickes than on Harold Ickes (sorry, dissertation humor), now’s a good chance to buck Mark Penn and refocus on the macrotrends in the primary race right now:

For one, superdelegates are clearly trending towards Obama. “Among the 313 of 796 superdelegates who are members of Congress or governors, Clinton has commitments from 103 and Obama is backed by 96, according to lists supplied by the campaigns. Fifty-three of Obama’s endorsements have come since he won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, compared with 12 who have aligned with Clinton since then…[Since Ohio/Texas] the Illinois senator has won backing from nine superdelegates and Clinton one, according to the campaigns and interviews.” (Speaking of which, he picked up another one today in Wisconsin’s Melissa Schroeder. As you probably know, you can keep track of the supers over at DemConWatch.)

For another, whatever sound and fury Mark Penn tries to kick up about Pennsylvania and electability, it’s a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. In the most recent general election poll of the state, Obama still does better than Clinton against McCain there (although, thanks to all the recent negative press, McCain has moved ahead of both since this poll.) To his credit, Clinton supporter and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, off-message once again, today conceded Obama can take PA over McCain. (And in any case, as Michael Dukakis can tell you, past primary performance is often not a valid predictor of future outcomes.)

Otherwise, Obama is up in the daily trackers, although those tend to be volatile. Most importantly, obviously, Sen. Obama enjoys a sizable, if not insurmountable, lead in pledged delegates, votes, and states, so we’re in very good shape, despite what ever sad butchering of reality emanates from Camp Clinton these days. So keep your chin up, y’all. If you got money, donate. If you got time, phonebank, write your supers, and/or get the message out. Let’s press this thing home.

By the way, while looking for a good Penn-Microtrends link above, I found this NYT book review that begins with an anecdote about the TV show Numb3rs: “‘There’s no way the bad guys can win,’ my son assures me each time we watch the show together. ‘They can’t do the math, Dad.’” Truer words have never been spoken.

A Hard Walk’s Run.

Charles, Cash, Curtis, Dylan, Strummer…Given the glut of rock biopics and documentaries we’ve seen in recent years, it’s well past time that influential musical chameleon Dewey Cox got his due. Unfortunately, just as James Mangold’s Walk the Line felt too staid and conventional to capture the true appeal of the Man in Black, Jake Kasdan’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story — which I saw in the days before Christmas — never really gets inside the head of the Giant Midget. Sure, it covers most of the important facts about his life — the childhood tragedy, the struggle with smell-blindness, the breakout single, the dark f**king middle period, the LSD decade, the selling out. But, while John C. Reilly does what he can as Cox (and the resemblance is admittedly uncanny), I never felt while watching Walk Hard that Kasdan actually “got” the man or his music…or his monkey or giraffe, for that matter. Given his famous father and his earlier affiliation with Freaks & Geeks, Kasdan seemed like he would be the guy to do Cox justice, but this is sadly a missed opportunity. It’s just too bad Todd Haynes was busy with I’m Not There…Once again, nearly fifty years after the fact, Zimmerman will be walking-hard away with all Dewey’s laurels.

Kasdan’s take on Dewey’s story begins just before Cox’s final performance at the Lifetime Achievement Awards — You may remember Eddie Vedder’s memorable tribute speech, and the Jewel/Lyle Lovett/Jackson Browne/Ghostface Killa mash-up of “Walk Hard” got a lot of radio run over that summer — before flashing back to that defining moment in the White Indian’s life as a boy, the famous accidental cleaving-in-two of his prodigy brother. (“I’m cut in half pretty bad, Dewey.“) Rallying to his brother’s fallen musical standard, the teenage Dewey soon finds himself thrown out of the house, married young (to Edith, as played by SNL’s Kristen Wiig), and working as a busboy at a local black club, where he one day wows the crowd with a version of his early hit, “(Mama) You Got to Love Your Negro Man.” Soon thereafter, he lands a band and a record contract, and after the cutting of “Walk Hard,” the rest is history: Cox buys a monkey, lapses into a vicious drug habit, falls for his voluptuous backup singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), gets clean, lapses into another vicious drug habit…well, you know the rest.

Ok, ok, let’s go ahead and break the fourth wall. As a played-straight parody of the rock biopic genre, Walk Hard is admittedly uneven most of the time. But, it makes for a relatively amusing two hours if you’re in the mood for it. It’s nowhere near as funny as the original Airplane or Top Secret, but I’d say it holds its own with the Hot Shots flicks, and it’s miles above Scary Movie and its ilk. Yes, the film can be unfocused and scattershot (There’s even a decently funny recurring gag involving the kitchen sink.) A lot of the jokes seem like leftovers from the last Will Ferrell script, and, like Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America, Walk Hard occasionally follows the beats of its object of parody so closely that the movie loses its edge. Still, there are definitely some quality moments therein, from Tim Meadows trying not to seduce a naive Dewey into a marijuana habit to Cox meeting Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz, inspired casting) and the Fab Four (Surprisingly, Justin “Mac Guy” Long is far and away the funniest as George, while Jack Black’s Paul is woefully bad and Paul Rudd’s John is just…strange.)

At any rate, I’m not going to give all the jokes away here, suffice to say that Cox’s black-and-white Dylan period tickled my funny bone the most. Dewey does two Dylanesque ditties here: The first, “Royal Jelly”, is a gloriously inscrutable poetic epic a la “Desolation Row” (“Mailboxes drip like lampposts from the twisted birth canal of the coliseum, rimjob fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum, O say can you see ’em?“) [See it live.] The other, “Let Me Hold You (Little Man)“, is an un-PC The Times They Are A Changin’ screed directed at the injustice faced by all the, uh, little people. (“Let me hold you, midget man, pretend that you’re flying in space. Let me hold you, little man, so the dog will stop licking your face.“) High art it’s not, and I can’t recommend rushing out and seeing it or anything. But, for a few solid chuckles over the course of two hours, Dewey Cox and Walk Hard deliver the goods decently enough. Someday — perhaps soon, given that Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, and Drillbit Taylor are all due next year — the helium will probably leak out of the Judd Apatow comedy factory’s balloon. But Cox, thankfully enough, isn’t the canary in the coalmine just yet.

Quest for…Fire.

True love? Well, first things first. With hormones raging and graduation imminent, all the gaggle of adenoidal misfits at the heart of Superbad want to do is just get on the board. I caught Greg Mottola, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s ode to teenage fraternity and the exquisite misery of high school celibacy two weeks ago, as a follow-up to The Invasion. And, while I could see how it might not be everybody’s cup of tea (and assuredly plays better to the Y-chromosomed among us), I logged enough time as a nerdy, oversexed high schooler back in the day to dig the film considerably…or at least its first hour or so. I frankly never get tired of Arrested Development‘s Michael Cera — nobody does teenage awkward anxiety better — and newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse was a real find. But Superbad‘s two skewed peace officers — Rogen and SNL impressionist Bill Hader — reallly overstay their welcome. They should’ve been a one-sequence joke, but they linger on and on here, like the mortifying memory of a drunken mistake.

The story? It’s as old as the hills and as common as puberty. Basically, portly wiseass Seth (Jonah Hill of Knocked Up) and nebbishy dreamer Evan (Cera) are not only high school BFFs about to go their separate ways in college but interminably horny boys on the threshold of manhood. In fact, they’re willing to do just about anything to hasten their crossing of that threshold, sexually speaking, including procuring copious amounts of alcohol for an end-of-school party they’ve miraculously been invited to (thanks to some smoother-than-usual maneuvers by Seth in Home Ec one day.) But, their visions of easy, liquor-soaked seduction go awry when they discover their even nerdier partner-in-crime, Fogel (Mintz-Plasse), has inexplicably reinvented himself as a 25-year-old Hawaiian named “McLovin” on his fake I.D. And, when “McLovin” gets (inadvertently) apprehended by two local cops (Rogen, Hader) after a “bad buy,” Seth and Evan must attempt more drastic maneuvers to obtain the demon rum, or remain high school virgins for time immemorial…

So, yeah, in other words it’s Porkys, or Revenge of the Nerds, or any of a hundred other movies that center around quirky (male) adolescents frantically trying to get laid. But the play is the thing, and as an example of the genre Superbad is both pretty darn funny at times and altogether plausible, at least for its first few reels. In conversations both profane (types of porn, inadvertent erections) and profound (the tragedy of Orson Welles), Seth and Evan exhibit a wide-ranging, free-association friendship that feels honest and lived-in. In fact, that’s ultimately half the joke…the duo in Superbad constantly assert their heterosexuality as way of expressing their homosociality. (“P.S. I love you“, indeed.) Admittedly, the film does drag some as it goes along, particularly during all the interminable cop shenanigans (or when Seth voices — over and over again — his abject Freudian horror at menstrual blood.) But watching Cera squirm through another uncomfortable conversation — or seeing Fogel groovin’ in that swanky vest — makes Superbad feel like a funky, sweet throwback to those high-school days of yore.

The Ballad of Bobby.


Now that Dr. King is gone, there’s no one left but Bobby.” And, tragically, America would only have him for two more months. It’s hard to fault the sentiment behind Emilio Estevez’s Bobby, a humane, warm-hearted paean to the slain Senator, whose untimely end marked the final death rattle of hope for countless American liberals and progressives in the sixties. But, frankly, the film — while easy to sit through, to be sure — is also confused and overstuffed. It attempts to be Grand Hotel by way of RFK: Dozens of disconnected lives that intertwine one fateful night and that are ultimately bonded by their common humanity, as so eloquently articulated by Kennedy. But, however ambitious and meritorious its message and its patron saint, Bobby is a well-meaning muddle. The powerful stock footage and a few brief moments aside, a lot of the film just falls flat.

Due to its huge cast and multiplicity of stories, Bobby defies a full summation. Nevertheless, the film follows countless recognizable actors as they go about their lives at the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, the day before RFK was shot by disgruntled Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. Among them are elder statesmen (Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte), former A-listers turned B-listers (Emilio Estevez, Christian Slater), aging starlets (Sharon Stone, Demi Moore), TV standbys (Helen Hunt, David Krumholtz), likable character actors (William H. Macy, Freddy Rodriguez), strikingly attractive newcomers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Svetlana Metkina), and Frodo (playing, for all intent and purposes, Frodo.) Almost all of the performances are solid and likable (with the notable exception of Ashton Kutcher as a drug dealer — it’s unbelievable how a guy who’s made his living playing a stoner for years is so thoroughly implausible at it — he’s like a kid in a school play.) But there’s a lot of unnecessary overlap or what comes across as extraneous filler in these tales. Two separate stories (Wood and Lindsay Lohan’s quickie marriage, Shia La Boeuf and Brian Geraghty’s day off) cover basically the same ground about Vietnam. Hopkins, Belafonte, Moore, and Stone all talk about the indignities of growing old, while Stone, Macy, Moore, Estevez, Hunt, and Martin Sheen all lament failing marriages…but to what purpose? What, really, does all this have to do with RFK? I get it — it’s about shared humanity. But Bobby tries to do too much in the time given, and would’ve been more effective, I think, if it’d had been pared down some.

The most resonant parts of Bobby are the storylines involving Kennedy campaign workers (Joshua Jackson, Nick Cannon) and, most notably, the simmering racial tension among the kitchen staff (Freddy Rodriguez, Jacob Vargas, Lawrence Fishburne). The latter tale is particularly interesting — despite Slater being stuck as a cartoon “racist but a real person too” barely this side of Matt Dillon in Crash — since it highlights the concerns and aspirations of Latino immigrants, who are often completely neglected in movies dwelling on race in America (even in otherwise sterling shows like The Wire.) But, even here, it’s ultimately played too broadly: What we’re left with are “life is a blueberry cobbler” metaphors and monologues about King Arthur that’ll just make you wince. The problems with the movie can be summed up by the footage used of Bobby at the Ambassador Hotel — obviously powerful stuff. Unfortunately, it’s overlaid with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” which even without the obvious Graduate overtones is entirely too broad a pick — It detracts from rather than enhances the already potent archival footage.

Still, I don’t want to suggest that I’m completely hating on Bobby. For all its ham-handedness, I enjoyed the experience, and I sat there with a smile on my face through most of the film. And I do applaud Estevez’s obviously strong admiration for Senator Kennedy. I was recently on a date where discussion arose as to whether things would’ve been different if Bobby had lived. She thought not, or rather that it’d be impossible to tell. I’m more inclined to agree with Michael Sandel, who wrote that: “Had he lived, he might have set progressive politics on a new, more successful course. In the decades since his death, the Democratic Party has failed to recover the moral energy and bold public purpose to which RFK gave voice.” Regardless, as with Dr. King, we shouldn’t even have to ask this question. Both men who were continuing to grow and develop, Dr. King and Bobby were tragically ripped from us before their time, a back-to-back blow in an already miserable year that felled progressive ambition in America for decades. I have to think that our nation would be a brighter, happier, and more compassionate place in the years since if we could have continued to benefit from their leadership and counsel.

Since we cannot, we can only honor their examples and remember their words. In the end, Bobby could’ve been a much worse movie than it in fact is, and I still would give it credit for reminding us of Senator Kennedy’s essential creed: “But we can perhaps remember — even if only for a time –that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek — as we do — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

June 4th, 1968.

An all-star cast — including Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, David Krumholtz, Ashton Kutcher, Shia LaBoeuf, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, and Elijah Wood — pay their respects to Robert Kennedy’s last day in the new trailer for Bobby, written and directed by Emilio Estevez.

Nearscape.

Buffy and Angel fans, look to the stars: The trailer for Joss Whedon’s Serenity breaks online. I never watched the TV show, so I don’t really know what’s going on here, but I could see myself catching this, if for nothing else than for Chiwetel Ejiofor as the villain. Still, that “define interesting” exchange near the end, among others in this clip, just about sets my teeth on edge.

Death, Revenge, Love, and Slyders.

Some short thoughts on recent DVDs witnessed…

Dead Man: Many cinephiles whose opinions I trust have told me to check out Jim Jarmusch’s stuff, so I figured a good place to start would be this black-and-white western featuring Johnny Depp and a slew of my favorite character actors. Alas, I found Dead Man to be slow, scattershot, and for the most part uninvolving. Depp is William Blake, a fellow who is forced to flee the frontier town run by an industrialist strongman (the late, great Robert Mitchum) after an unfortunate love-triangle mix-up, and who, despite being unrelated to the English poet and mystic of the same name, nevertheless encounters enough shamanist mysticism in the wilderness to make even Oliver Stone blush. Blake’s tour guide on his increasingly bizarre escapades outside “civilization” is an Indian named Nobody (Gary Fisher), who speaks in riddle-like profundities (and, occasionally, passages from Blake) in the manner of filmed Native Americans since time immemorial.

Basically, I thought Dead Man was kinda goofy. It never established much of a rhythm or a narrative, and as an episodic travelogue, it’s hit and miss. Billy Bob Thornton as a lonely trapper and Alfred Molina as a priest peddling smallpox blankets probably make the most indelible impressions, but other quality actors (particularly John Hurt and Gabriel Byrne) needed more to do. Frankly, I just don’t think I got it. Why does long-winded, cold-blooded killer Michael Wincott sleep with a teddy bear? Why is frontiersman Iggy Pop dressed like a Willa Cather heroine? (Presumably, the answer for Jarmusch fans is “Why Not?” I suppose I could just as easily question David Lynch’s dwarves or the Coens’ similar non-sequiturs.) Perhaps I went in with abnormal expectations, but I found Dead Man‘s “funny” parts stiff and the “profound” parts stilted. I’ll definitely get around to the rest of Jarmusch’s oeuvre, but, sadly, this counts as a strike against him.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: Mike Hodges’ reinvention of Get Carter was also a disappointment. It strives mightily to be a somber, Unforgiven-like tale of unfulfilling revenge and redemption denied, but turns out instead as a slow, plodding affair that feels a bit like Eyes Wide Shut, in that a great director’s once-pioneering vision now sadly comes off as somewhat stale and antiquated.

The movie throws you in in media res, with pretty-boy n’er-do-well Davy Graham (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) dealing to and scamming the London glitterati while his brother Will (Owen) seems to have taken a page from Matt Foley and is now, literally, living in a van down by the river. Very shortly, horrible, droogie-like things are done to Davy by none other than Malcolm McDowell, resulting in the former’s suicide, and lean, mean wildman Will blows back into town to settle the score. The rest of the film consists of Owen slowly seething (to impressive effect) while his former mates and enemies cringe, cower, and — like us — await the inevitable denouement. It eventually happens, but lordy does it take awhile to get there. Jamie Foreman (soon to be Bill Sykes in Polanski’s Oliver Twist) deserves marks as the Graham boys’ flawed and frantic lieutenant, but otherwise there’s not much to go on here. If you want to see Hodges direct Owen, rent Croupier instead.

Love Actually: Oof, where do I start? Ok, I knew going in that this probably wasn’t going to be my cup of tea. But a good friend of mine had it sitting on his TV, he recommended it as “like Sliding Doors” (which, much like Next Stop Wonderland, was a romantic comedy that I really enjoyed), and it had a bunch of actors I like (Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and much of Team Hitchhikers: Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman, and Bill Nighy.) But, as many of you probably already know, Love Actually is, actually, godawful dreck, a schmaltzfest of grotesque proportions. I was complaining about the occasionally saccharine taste of In Good Company only yesterday, but Love Actually makes that film look like Requiem for a Dream.

The film follows multiple couples in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and is set in an alternate universe where no love goes unrequited (among the beautiful, of course), at least without a wink and a kiss. In fact, in this Fairie-England, where Hugh Grant (doing his pre-About a Boy faux-self-effacing schtick) is the new Prime Minister, it’s even considered somehow romantic to make an unabashed play at your best friend’s wife. Look, I know I’m a cynical sort, but my heart warms to certain well-made fare. But this…um, not so much. From a wholly implausible joint press conference (Billy Bob Thornton cameos as a prez who combines the worst of Clinton and Dubya), to Grant cavorting around 10 Downing Street a la Risky Business, to Liam Neeson constantly interacting-cute with his Padawan stepson, to Colin Firth venturing to 19th century Portugal, to the, um, musical numbers, this film all too often made me want to claw my eyes out. Most of the time, I was hoping I’d see more of Bill Nighy, the movie’s saving grace, as an aging rocker trying to make one, last improbable comeback with a sellout remix of The Troggs’ “Love is All Around.” But, by the end, even that storyline gets smothered in sugary sweetness. For the love, actually, of Pete, stay away from this lousy film.

Harold & Kumar go to White Castle: White Castle…hmmm, those are some fine little burgers, particularly in quantity. I haven’t had a 12-pack of Slyders in a dog’s age. In fact, I think there’s a Castle a couple of blocks over at 125th and 7th. Man, how awesome would that be right now? I…I, uh…oh yeah, Harold & Kumar, right. Yeah, that was pretty a funny movie.

Admittedly, Harold & Kumar is for the most part a check-your-brain-at-the-door kinda film. For all of its clever 21st century savvy about 80’s-movies racial tropes, H & K is still ultimately a lowest-common-denominator college comedy. Yet, while some of the vignettes definitely fall flat, I found Harold & Kumar just enough of a variation on the age-old After Hours road-trip formula to be really amusing. John Cho and Kal Penn are both charismatic and engaging as our wayward, famished, and thoroughly stoned protagonists, and Neil Patrick Harris earns special plaudits for showing up as himself (albeit more-than-slightly tweaked) and just going for it. All in all, I highly doubt H & K is everybody’s bag, but — despite the gross-out gags and retro thinking — it is at times a rather intelligent dumb movie.

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