Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Jeffrey Tambor, Paul Giamatti, Jamie Chung, Nick Cassavettes

Director: Todd Phillips

Writer(s): Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

Original Score: Christophe Beck

Running Time: 102 Mins.

It’s very rare for a sequel to outdo its original, Toy Story 2, Aliens and most prolifically The Godfather: Part 2 are always touted as bettering their first entries. The latter of which Todd Phillips has acknowledged as a benchmark to measure up to in sequel terms with his comedy surprise smash hit of two summer’s back, The Hangover. Let’s face it there was likely a hint of wry sarcasm in that comment however it doesn’t forgive the director/writer for churning out a film that is less a sequel and more a premature remake, switching the debauched Las Vegas for somewhere even more grimy, Bangkok. Yes this allows for the “bigger is better” mantra that is often applied in the “rules of sequels” handbook but the sheer laziness of plotting does have a tendency to irk.

So, much like last time around (too much so) there is an impending wedding, this time it is Stu’s (Helms) and the guys set about having a quiet bachelor brunch, this then moves to a quiet drink on the beach followed by the blackout and the titular hangover. This, as last time, leaves Stu, Phill (Cooper) and Alan (Galifianakis) traipsing around Bangkok in search of answers and the bride-to-be’s lost brother. Yes some characters are switched fr the purpose of not being a total remake, as are plot elements but having a monkey rather than a Tiger and a an elderly monk rather than a baby won’t fool anyone with half a brain cell. These guys have a formula that worked, wonderfully, and have no intention of veering too far from it. Though this leads me to comedy sequels in general, they aren’t that abundant and as Will Ferrell will testify with Anchorman or Ben Stiller with Zoolander, raising the cash is hard especially if the sequel idea is different from the premise that garnered the originals box office buck. The  Hangover: Part 2 was a no-brainer really, the idea of men piecing together a wild night of drunken antics in other locales is ripe for sequel ideas, that plot thrust alone providing opportunity but actual points that leave no surprise are more of an issue.

Thankfully now I have cleared up the lack of ambition in terms of plot I can get to the important bits, the laughs. So where plot hits the same beats so to does the laugh quota (almost), it lacks a couple of that films better set pieces (the casino, the chapel) but makes way for some hilarious (and inevitable) episodes with ladyboys and a monastery, though not at once, that would just be wrong! Alan’s screen time is bumped up more and we learn more about him and despite going through the (plot) motions what a sequel allows time for is to appreciate these very well written comedy characters, the wolf pack is back and make the most of their second adventure to build on friendships in a non-cheesey way but still sincere. Doug in particular gets to be more than two-dimensions of characterisation, and if Phill is still just the sleazy-womanizer he does it well enough that it doesn’t really matter.

Filling out the cast is Mr. Chow, also in an expanded role, providing enough laughs to make his return a welcome one, less so if Justin Bartha, the guy is great at comedy yet he simply sits on the sidelines when his involvement in the nights machinations would have been welcome and added a new dimension and something a little fresher to something that will quickly become stale if yet another identikit film is wrought from the exact same premise.  Also Teddy is a forgettable cipher to set the wheels in motion, not really given anything more to do than act out his “prodigal son” role, the much vaunted role of the tattoo artist who was once meant to be Mel Gibson then Liam Neeson is simply there for exposition and Paul Giamatti pops up for a needless subplot that mirrors that of Chow in the original, such a shame given the man’s comedy credentials.

As with the original the film is well shot and photographed for a comedy, grounded in a real world of grime and smut it is lit more like a thriller than a comedy, befitting of the seedy and smutty jokes, talking of which nothing is deemed sacred. As expected the comedy depths are mined, in the best possible way of course, these men have no taste (again in the best possible way) meaning that the aforementioned ladyboys turn up for the biggest laughs, the monkey smokes and that’s just the start of it! So overall The Hangover: Part 2 does as a comedy should, a good one at that, gives us characters we love and a constant flow of jokes, some of which are chuckles with other (and more often) full-blown belly laughs…really could have done without Mike Tyson and his very much unfunny ballad!

VERDICT

The Hangover: Part 2 is more remake than sequel, sticking excruciatingly close to its forebear. Thank god then that it is very nearly just as funny, even without the surprise and originality of the first, some testament to how well written The Wolfpack are.

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth, Robert John Burke

Director: Neil Burger

Writer(s): Leslie Dixon, Alan Glynn (novel)

Cinematography: Jo Willems

Original Score: Paul Leonard Morgan, Nico Muhly

Running Time: 104 Mins.

Bradley Cooper hs been quietly chipping away in an attempt to prove himself leading-man material, following bit parts in the likes of Wedding Crashers and Failure to Launch he has balanced massive hit (The Hangover) with disappointing (at least financially) flop with The A-Team. So here he comes again, with another hammer blow to explode onto the scene well and truly taking a starring role (he’s never off-screen) and holding a film with very little help and I am pleased to say he does so with aplomb, it is Cooper who makes Limitless worth a watch…it’s just a shame that it cannot be any more than just that.

Director Neil Burger previously directed Ed Norton in The Painted Veil and The Illusionist, both very good but both (oddly) underwhelming, and good or enjoyable as they are neither will stick with you beyond the closing credits. The same can be said of Limitless, I am struggling to put my finger on why and don’t like to criticize an undeniably entertaining film too much, that would seem to do all involved a discredit, however there is just “something” lacking, all the more odd given the dynamic central turn and the potentially thought-provoking subject matter…what would you do if you could “access” all of your brain-power?

That is what happens upon a bedraggled looking Eddie Morra (Cooper) randomly comes across his ex-wifes brother, a drug dealer and all-round dodgy character, needless to say having been given a mysterious pill Morra becomes addicted to the effects it has, he finishes a novel that was previously causing writer’s block and eventually plays the stock market to make himself millions, all the while aiding/outsmarting Robert De Niro’s Van Loon. It’s hardly a complex plot but using the source material The Dark Fields (novel written by Glynn) to good effect Dixon has crafted an engaging script that, for it’s running time, will keep you wondering where the film will go next.

As i said before this is ultimately Cooper’s film, he moves from twitchy and scruffy, to smooth businessman to smart senator with ease making subtle shifts in gear to leave us in no doubt he is the same guy throughout albeit with a touch more intelligence and confidence, not many would have managed such a role as well, no show-boating just believable, likeable and funny in equal measure. De Niro provides his usual “phone it in” character piece to gain his name above the title and Cornish and Friel are game enough as the women in Morra’s life, alas they are given next to nothing to do being the strong-willed girlfriend and basil-expostion respectfully.

Having considered carefully I would surmise that Limitless just isn’t “enough” of anything to be memorable or worth returning too, yes Cooper is great as Morra but you wouldn’t want to go through more than one sitting of him as we see where he came from, where he’s been and where he’s going…there’s nothing left. I would suggest that had it had more thrilling set-pieces (nudging it deeper into thriller rather than drama territory) or more convincing elements of threat (again making it more gripping), or even a more involved (in the plot) support of colourful characters there would be an element beyond just, well, the limits the film has imposed upon itself.

Yes the visuals pop and fizz, jump zooms, experimental camera angles, so on and so forth, but in context this amounts to little more than flash on the surface, something which would have been more beneficial married with an underlying exciting strain.

VERDICT

Limitless achieves two things, firstly that Cooper can carry a film, and two it is entertaining for 104 minutes, but beyond that there is nothing which is sad given a premise that was Limitless as the film’s title.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quinton Jackson, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson

Director: Joe Carnahan

Writer(s): Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom

Cinematography: Mauro Fiore

Original Score: Alan Silvestri

Running Time: 117 Mins.

Striking that balance between homage and remake/reinterpretation/reimagining is always a tricky task to properly undertake and be successful in especially, it would seem, where cherished TV series are concerned that were both a fine example of being a product of their time and therefore rendering an out and out remake rather hard to do without seeming like some kind of spoof. Something which has led to various takes in various guises, Stiller’s Starsky and Hutch was essentially a spoof, the Charlies Angel’s films were simply used as a template to fit the (then) hot top of “girl power”, while Miami Vice saw itself become a ultra gritty cop drama/thriller the bore little relation to its origin bar the character’s names. It is through this mish mash of attempts that has likely left an adaptation of The A-Team bouncing from pillar to post in an effort to find the right way to tackle the material which is now both very 80’s and very cheesy, though it goes without saying that these come hand in hand!

Hooray then, and huge congrats to the producing Scott brother’s who saw fit to give Joe Carnahan the gig, a director who can do humour married with action in the best macho way possible (Smokin’ Aces) whilst also having the heft to actually coerce a great performance from an excellent cast (Narc), he provides some, shall we say, bang for your buck. All of which bodes well for The A-Team that we can now finally see in action up on the big screen where it has always belonged given the rather promising prologue that the TV series offered, which went a little something like this … “In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… The A-Team“.

Fast forward to the present day and little has changed bar the year, and inevitably the war, thankfully we are saved from a fully fledged origin story which sees how the team got together and this is hilarious reaccounted for in the pre credits sequence. So intro’s out the way and it’s off to work the team go to try to clear their names whilst recovering the obligatory macguffin (in this case some minting plates). Obviously plot is of little relevance for it is simply an excuse to hang several, of the years best I might add, set pieces onto, it is just a shame the best was so stupidly spoilt in the teaser trailer no less, not that this robs the film of any of its spectaculary OTT stunts, aided rather substantially by some great CGI that while never really to be mistaken for factual events stay firmly on the side of spectacle rather than shoddy as is often the case in big budget actioners.

Though The A-Team’s action set pieces are not what makes it such a joy, rather it is the casting of the core foursome that makes this a must-see film, each of the actors capturing what made them great characters in the first place while adding a new and fresh spin on them that makes each individual more than mere imitation. Each different enough to be considered an entity in their own right while leaving enough for old fans to hark back too, quite some g=feat in characters as iconic as they are, so while Cooper, Neeson and Jackson succeed admirably it is Copley as “Howling Mad” Murdock who is the clear star, proving his turn in District 9 was no fluke, the man is a genius of character acting and a burgeoning film-star to boot. The chemistry between the team is superbly written matching performance suitably, and creating real banter, something which the film really could have lived or died on.

On the downside, which is quite easily overlooked in favour of positives, is a weak villain (best left unnamed for fear of plot spoilers) and a rather ham-fisted attempt at a token female role by Jessica Biel in an apparent attempt at counteracting all the testosterone, sadly it doesn’t work as she does little more than follow around two steps behind the villains and heroes whilst looking, admittedly, pretty and engaging in some ex-based banter with Face (Cooper). Alas such minor quibbles cannot scupper what is ultimately the perfect summer blockbuster.

VERDICT

Yes it is shallow, and there isn’t much in the way of characterisation, but what The A-Team does have is bags of spectacle, fun and great chemistry between it’s leads, and let’s be honest it was never a film designed to achieve the former attributes, a success all round then and possibly the summers best all out actioner.

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Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha

Director: Todd Phillips

Writer(s): Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

Original Score: Christophe Beck

Running Time: 100 Mins.

Todd Phillips is a director long been doing the comedy circuit, yet it is only now, with the release of The Hangover, that he is getting the plaudits he so clearly deserves in ranking nicely alongside the Judd Apatow’s of the comedy world. Having previously made Old School, Road Trip and Starsky and Hutch which were, incidentally, all hugely under-rated and overlooked in favour of more populist choices i.e. American Pie, and Anchorman.

Phillips had a minor blip however with 2007’s remake of the british comedy School For Scoundrels, decidedly un-funny and equally poorly recieved Phillips seemed forever to remain in the doldrums, until he teamed up with writers Lucas and Moore whose roster includes Four Christmas’s and Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, not quite the comedic dream team then but low and behold they might have just put out the comedy of the year…alongside I, Love You Man.

This comparison is no mere coincidence as both comedies share the current theme for very blatant “bromance”, it is in this concept that comedy gold is being constantly mined, as the writers and directors can see a heart in their characters amongst all the, very funny, rude crude jokes. This is by no means a new thing but something which seemed to get lost alot during the 90’s where smut simply became a concept through and through.

So, onto The Hangover, which cleverly drops the usual stag night in Vegas in favour of exploring the titular hangover on the morning after the night before, avoiding the usual and all too often used cheap jokes of the stag night comedy (see Very Bad Things…or don’t) The Hangover follows three friends (Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis) as they try to piece together what happened on said stag night, the catch is they have no recollection of anything due to being accidentally drugged with Rufalin aka roofies (the date rape drug)

To reveal what the guys discover upon waking up, and through the course of the day, would be to rob the film of its out and out hilarity though I think the test of a true comedy is to be able to watch it twice and find it equally, if not more funny, and The Hangover on both counts succeeded, with honours! It is the largely unknown Galifianakis who is bound to be most loved, exhibiting the kind of stupid(but hilarious)  innocence that Steve Carrell did as Brick in Anchorman, and I wouldn’t mind betting his career more than equals Carrell’s successes for sheer likeability.

But it is, as with I, Love You Man, the relationship between the guys that make The Hangover such a joy, it’s as if your watching your friends suffer the hangover from hell and not actors, of course it helps that they are all relative unknowns so the stigma that comes with the usual suspects like Vince Vaughan and Will ferrell and aren’t present. Cooper, who I would predict very big things for (he has just been cast in The A Team remake), is a cocky teacher who wouldn’t think twice about stealing from students to fund his trip, yet somehow you empathise with him, hell you want to be his friend making Alan’s (Galifianakis) attempts at doing just that even more touching, in the funniest possible way of course. 

If there are criticisms to be levelled they would have to be at the support who really struggle to live up to the standards delivered by the core triumvate! Heather Graham barely registers in the tart-with a heart role and Mike Tyson’s presence, although sniggersome, jars and I was simply left wondering “why?”, and as a sub-plot involving gangsters entered the fray I began to think we were headed for the dreaded latter third comedic slump. But in a Rin Man spoof the funnies just continued to get bigger, The Hangover well adn truly passed the comedic litmus test, with flying colours!     

VERDICT

Funny, throughout, from start to finish, if that isn’t an A* comedic endorsement I don’t know what is, but there is heart and whole lot of bromance to be found in The Hangover which nudges it to the top of the Summer film pile, showing that you really dont need giant robots or superheroes to make a great film!

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Don’t you love it when the plan to put The A-Team on the big screen comes together – and it’s coming together quite nicely, as a matter of fact, with the news that Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper are in talks to star in the Joe Carnahan-directed adaptation of the ‘80s TV show about four resourceful Army vets on the run for a crime they didn’t commit.

As has been rumoured for a while, Cooper – who became a star this weekend with the success of The Hangover – will play Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck, the group’s ladies’ man, and the role originated by Dirk Benedict.

But it’s Neeson’s involvement, as the A-Team’s leader, Col. John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, that’s got us all kinds of excited. The role, originally played by George Peppard of course, has been linked with all manner of A-listers over the years, including George Clooney and Mel Gibson, but Neeson is spot-on.

As Taken showed, he can still kick ass and take names, even at the age of 57, and he should bring gravitas to the project. Given that Carnahan is apparently keen to excise any camp, jokey aspects from the movie, Neeson’s presence is a step in the right direction. He’s Qui-Gon effin’ Jinn, for God’s sake…

There’s no word yet on who Carnahan will cast as the two remaining members of The A-Team, the African-American tough guy B.A Baracus (first played by some guy named Mr. T) and the batshit insane pilot, ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock (the legendary Dwight Schultz), but with production set to begin in August in Vancouver, I’d imagine that we’ll hear some news sooner rather than later.

Fox is stumping up the cash for this one, which is also produced, oddly enough, by Tony and Ridley Scott. The movie’s set for release on June 11, 2010. 

Casting rumours about The Hangover leading man Bradley Cooper have gone into overdrive, with both The Green Lantern and now the role of Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck in The A-Team movie being tipped for the actor. Said rumours have led to journalists going rogue at the junket for Todd Phillips’ comedy, held at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas this weekend, to try to lock down the rumours.

IESB, those cunning devils, managed to get confirmation of a sort when they asked Cooper if he was excited to be playing Face.

He answered: “That’s out already!?” And following some laughter and excitement, he continued, “Wow. Yeah…it’s Joe Carnahan’s. It’s very interesting. It’ll be cool. It will be cool [to] see what…He’ll make a great movie out of it.”

Cooper’s answer seems to intimate that he is at least in talks for the role, originally played by seventies TV favourite Dirk Benedict. Other casting forecasts have been pitying the fool  Common, who looks set to wear the heavy gold chains of B.A. Baracus.

With Smokin’ Aces director Joe Carnahan at the helm and Ridley Scott overseeing as producer, The A-Team looks to be explosive stuff. And with a slated release date of June 11, 2010, we should be able to expect official announcements any day now.Head over to IESB.com for more on this story.

So good choice? Bad choice? Thoughts people? I’ve been a fan of Cooper’s since his hilarious turn in Wedding Crashers and it looks like The Hangover is giving him the break he’s long deserved.