Tag Archives: Kal Penn

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

From the title A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas sounds like a TV special, not a 3D movie extravaganza and director Strauss-Schulson feels the need to prove it every four minutes or so. Harold & Kumar often has pointless (if occasionally amazing) 3D set-pieces but they eventually stop.

They stop after writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg find their footing. There’s a big concept to Harold & Kumar this time and it shows why one of these movies should never, ever have a big concept.

But Hurwitz and Schlossberg, during all that problematic plotting, still come up with some hilarious jokes. For the first fifteen minutes, though, many of those jokes fall flat.

The returning love interests make the movie drag. Danneel Harris is incompetent (because she has nothing to do) but Paula Garcés just isn’t funny. She’s got Danny Trejo as her dad, which is hilarious, and she brings nothing to it.

Staying with the acting, Amir Blumenfeld and Tom Lennon are lacking as the new sidekicks. Blumenfeld’s just flat but Lennon misses a bunch of jokes. He brings no edge to it.

Elsewhere in the supporting cast, Elias Koteas is great (but he’s in the wrong movie) and Neil Patrick Harris is, unfortunately, showing his exhaustion.

John Cho and Kal Penn are still both great and they sell the movie’s buddy franchise comedy message.

Oddly, Harold & Kumar not really a Christmas movie, even though it advertises itself as such.

But who cares? It’s hilarious enough of the time.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson; written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Eric Kissack; music by William Ross; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Greg Shapiro; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Cho (Harold), Kal Penn (Kumar), Tom Lennon (Todd), Danny Trejo (Mr. Perez), Amir Blumenfeld (Adrian), Paula Garcés (Maria), Elias Koteas (Mary’s dad), Danneel Harris (Vanessa), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), David Krumholtz (Goldstein) and Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris.


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Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg)

As far as sequels go, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (huh, Guantanamo isn’t in Apple’s dictionary) is superior to the first. It’s far more absurd and the characters have comfortably become a modern comedy duo. Their adventures are modernized comedy bits, which work due to the movie’s absence of realistic pretense, but where Harold & Kumar is different is in its willingness to discuss race in America.

The humor generally falls into four categories. Kal Penn as a brainless male, getting high, race and the American identity. Even though Harold & Kumar cops out a little when it comes to Bush and his responsibility for American xenophobia, maybe portraying him as a drunk stoner with father issues is more effective (it certainly is in the comedic sense). The script nicely works the comedy into convenient vignettes, a grandiose road movie on a limited budget.

As writers, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg run their characters through a bunch of funny situations, work in flashbacks and dream sequences to great effect (Harold & Kumar is, in the best possible way, something of a live action “Family Guy”), but their directing skills are nil. There’s almost no visual tone to the movie and the effects sequences are atrocious. I suppose they can sit the camera down and let action play in front of it well enough, but their composition makes the movie feel like a direct-to-video teen comedy.

What elevates the movie from that confusion are Penn and John Cho. This time, Penn’s got a love interest, Danneel Harris (big shock, that one’s not in Apple’s dictionary either) and it really helps the movie. Harris is likable, if bereft of dramatic ability, and Penn makes up for anything she’s not bringing to her scenes. Cho’s good as the straight man, but thinking about it after seeing it, it’s sort of surprising just how little he’s got to do in the story. Sight gags mostly.

The rest of the supporting cast varies. Rob Corddry’s funny because of his dialogue, but he can’t actually act. The whole time, I wondered what it’d be like if they’d gotten Domenick Lombardozzi from “The Wire” for the role. It would have worked a lot better. Roger Bart’s weak. Neil Patrick Harris is, no shock, real funny. Hurwitz and Schlossberg write some of the movie’s better material for Harris scenes.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is something more than a cheap diversion, due to that racial humor; it’s a good ice cream. And Hurwitz and Schlossberg are much better at the best pop culture references than anyone else. They really get them into the script naturally.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Jeff Freeman; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Tony Fanning; produced by Greg Shapiro and Nathan Kahane; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Kal Penn (Kumar), John Cho (Harold), Rob Corddry (Ron Fox), Roger Bart (Dr. Beecher), David Krumholtz (Goldstein), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), Jack Conley (Deputy Frye), Paula Garcés (Maria), Danneel Harris (Vanessa), Eric Winter (Colton) and Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris).


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Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004, Danny Leiner), the uncut version

I’m trying to imagine Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle with different leads and I’m coming up empty. The movie works because of John Cho and Kal Penn. With the exception of the absolutely horrible direction by Danny Leiner and the terrible editing–so incompetent I actually need to mention the guy’s name, Jeff Betancourt, because the terrible rhythm of his cuts wounded my retina, Harold & Kumar is a fine way to spend eighty odd minutes. It’s funny and the performances are good and the story never gets stupid–except maybe Ryan Reynolds’s cameo and just his part; it’s kind of like American Pie in its geniality.

Kal Penn gets to do the wacky thing for most of the movie and even though he’s visibly an extremely capable actor, it’s a good choice. John Cho is easier to identify with, positioned as the traditional underdog from the start. It’s actually when the two of them are together in quiet moments, Harold & Kumar starts to lose steam, because their friendship’s unbelievable.

As far as the comedic writing goes–it’s wildly uneven in parts. A long section with a puss-encrusted mechanic serves no purpose, neither does Cho’s CG dream–though the punchline is funny. Cho doesn’t get to be funny–it’s not his role in the movies, doesn’t follow the rules the movie’s established for itself, so when they try, it fails and is boring. Penn’s so much better at it (and his daydream sequence is hilarious).

The supporting cast is all good. David Krumholtz plays a stoned wastoid, which might have been fun but he’s certainly not taxing himself. Neil Patrick Harris plays Neil Patrick Harris and he’s funny. New comedy standard Fred Willard shows up for a bit and he’s funny. It’s all very well-cast (with the exception of Reynolds obviously).

Though the opening’s direction is an abomination (Leiner gets better after forty minutes, stopping with his idiotic fast forwarding, undoubtedly an appalling side effect of digital editing), Harold & Kumar was, from the start, not what I was expecting. Maybe I was expecting that terrible style or whatever, but once it established itself as a comedy about a guy wanting to meet a girl, it was fine. Like American Pie or whatever.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Leiner; written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Bruce Douglas Johnson; edited by Jeff Betancourt; music by David Kitay; production designer, Steve Rosenzweig; produced by Greg Shapiro and Nathan Kahane; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring John Cho (Harold Lee), Kal Penn (Kumar Patel), Paula Garcès (Maria), Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris), David Krumholtz (Goldstein), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), Christopher Meloni (Freakshow) and Fred Willard (Dr. Willoughby).


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Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer)

My expectations for Superman Returns were incredibly high (especially since everything Bryan Singer’s done since The Usual Suspects with the exception of the “House” pilot has been dreck). Three stars. I don’t bother putting star ratings on The Stop Button, since whenever I see them in reviews, I look at them and then at not the review. Also, the New York Times doesn’t do it. Watching the previews for Superman Returns, I realized Singer wasn’t just making a sequel to the originals, he was structurally remaking the first Superman. That prediction proves true, but it’s not a bad thing. The first Superman film has a fine structure and it isn’t as though Returns was ever going to be as good as the first film. For moments during the film, it seemed like Superman Returns might get up to that three star level. The film runs two and a half hours, so there’s a lot of time for it to make up for early faults. During the first hour and a half, Singer cuts between Superman and company and Lex Luthor and company, which doesn’t work particularly well and there are major dips because of the pacing–and it takes a long time for Superman and Luthor to seem like they’re in the same film. The Luthor scenes have a comical, winking with the audience feel, while the rest doesn’t.

On an episode of “Boston Legal,” there was a line about winning a case in the closing testimony–going on and on and on until you’ve won the jury over. Singer implements that practice in Superman Returns. It doesn’t exactly have multiple endings–in fact, it doesn’t really have one–but he goes on and on until he’s gotten the film to where he can let it go. Singer obviously loves the film he’s made and there’s a lot to love about Superman Returns. While it never achieves the wonderment of the original film, the flying scenes in this film are breathtaking. Green screen special effects and computer compositing have finally gotten to good spot. But that ending trouble, it isn’t something inherent in the film, it’s all because of Singer’s structuring. Superman Returns has some great scenes, but whenever–with one exception I’ll get to–Singer deviates from that appropriated Superman structure, the film gets long.

As for the cast… Brandon Routh is fine. He’s good as Clark Kent and fine as Superman. Here’s the problem. Not enough Superman–and when there is Superman, Singer doesn’t let Routh do much. I wonder if there was a trust factor involved–I’m sure Singer wasn’t willing to let Routh end his career. Kate Bosworth is adequate as Lois Lane, but Superman Returns reconfigures her character so much, she’s not really Lois Lane anymore. She’s been domesticated. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane never had long hair because she would have thought it too much of a fuss. Bosworth looks like she spends as much time combing hers as Marcia Brady. James Marsden plays Lois Lane’s fiancé, one of Superman Returns’s best innovations, and he’s actually really good. His action scenes are the exception I talked about before, where he shows human heroism, which nicely offsets the guy who can lift continents. I’d only seen Marsden in X-Men and thought he was the pits, but he gives the second best performance in Superman Returns. The first is Parker Posey. She’s great (she’s also been on “Boston Legal,” though not in the episode I was talking about). Kevin Spacey occasionally has fun as Lex Luthor, but he never embraces it like Gene Hackman did. I kept waiting for him to do it and it kept seeming like he would, but it never gets there. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, but not worth name-checking.

While my fiancée has no interest in ever seeing Superman Returns again–as she told me in no uncertain terms–I’m curious how a rewatch might affect the experience. I imagine it would have a positive effect, but I’m not sure how much (no matter how many times I watch it, for example, John Ottman’s score will never get better). For this entire post, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to lambaste Singer’s Ripley into the lava shot, which might have been all right, if the music weren’t so overbearing, but I’m having trouble–but now I think it’s the music’s fault. The music stops working at a certain point in the film. It stops relying on the John Williams score and it starts to sound cheap. Leaving the Williams score behind is a bad idea, given Superman Returns’s agreement with the audience is solely based on the images the score conjures and breaking that agreement is what gets Superman Returns into the most trouble. And the little kid. The little kid gets real annoying.

While the film didn’t earn the three I wanted, it did get two and a half, which isn’t bad–even with all the problems, it’s still Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, based on a story by Singer, Dougherty and Harris, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Elliot Graham and John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Singer, Jon Peters and Gilbert Adler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), James Marsden (Richard White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Kal Penn (Stanford) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | SUPERMAN.