Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reviews of "Like Crazy" and "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas"


Like Crazy (2011)
90 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +

Drake Doremus' small, handmade, from-the-heart "Like Crazy" has received quite the enthusiatic buzz, winning the dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Too bad it only halfway lives up to that critical acclaim, predominantly from the fresh-faced presence of Felicity Jones, whose lead performance won her the Special Jury Prize. Convincingly acted but cloying and annoying, "Like Crazy" is a story about first love and a long-distance relationship that just might drive you crazy. 

Studying at a Los Angeles university, Anna (Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) meet as classmates. She's an intelligent Brit who aspires to be a writer, he likes designing furniture, and they fall deeply in love (apparently). But the time comes after graduation for Anna to go back home to the U.K., which means having to wait two and a half months until seeing Jacob again. They can't even spend a week apart, they're so in love. Come morning, Anna decides to stay back in America, against all legal immigration laws, and overstays her student visa. Once her summer spent with Jacob comes to a teary-eyed end, Anna gets in trouble and is put back on a plane to England. The two try to keep in touch through text messages and awkward phone chats, but their schedules and time zones collide, as Anna joins the staff of a British fashion magazine and Jacob starts his own furniture business. When Jacob flies to London to see Anna, he feels like he's not part of her life anymore. So when he goes back home, he's hooking up with a pretty co-worker, Sam (Jennifer Lawrence), and Anna becomes involved with her hunky neighbor, Simon (Charlie Bewley), but even after looking through moment-in-time scrapbooks and sending "i-miss-you" texts, the two loons just can't shake that feeling that they're still in love like crazy. Big deal! Get over it! Move on with your life! 

Writer-director Doremus (2010's "Douchebag") and co-writer Ben York admirably tell their dramatic love story without tacking on water work-ready terminal illness or misunderstandings. Instead, they make a few missteps that lend to us caring less and less about whether Anna and Jacob will stay together. In fact, "Like Crazy" might've worked had the couple broken up, stopped pining, and stayed apart, tracking both of them in the happiness of new relationships. But no, we have to slog through Anna and Jacob's long, tough trip back into each other's arms. From the start, Jones and Yelchin share a giddy-in-love chemistry as they canoodle in bed and all over Santa Monica (insert long "endless summer" montage of bumper cars and lovey-dovey things), but it's never clear why these two supposedly smart kids are so enamored with one another. More scenes of emotional groundwork that would've defined who Anna and Jacob are as people seem to be missing from Doremus' shot list. There's not much to them beyond their relationship, which is reduced to sharing a palate for upscale whiskey, and Anna liking the dull, wooden writing chair Jacob makes for her. Whether or not it was the filmmakers' intent to want these kids to just move on, you do; they're still young. 

If anything, Jones establishes herself as a lovely, charming, and candid specimen. Yelchin is a charismatic actor, but as Jacob, he's very passive. Lawrence (who clicked with Yelchin in "The Beaver") portrays Sam as a cool, smart, fun young lady that Jacob would be silly to give up, but she's betrayed with limited screen time. The fact that no script was set, just heavily outlined, and the actors improvised their dialogue does give "Like Crazy" a raw immediacy. The scenes in Anna's flat, when she discovers something on Jacob's cell phone and anger is unleashed, feel very authentic, as do the times spent with Anna's cool, levelheaded parents (Oliver Muirhead and Alex Kingston). Even the gauzy, woozy cinematography has a heartbreaking melancholy. And there certainly is some pang of relatablity to this bittersweet study in puppy love of yearning and later forcing a feeling that is no longer there. But after the breakup and then their marriage and then another breakup, the characters' stop-and-start romance becomes aggravating to watch. 

Only heartsick teens that have never been in a relationship before will fall in crazy, stupid love with this Sundance indie favorite. In the trailer and over the film's ending credits, Stars' sad, mopey tune "Dead Hearts" suggests we've just witnessed a romance that matters, but really, it's just petty. 




A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)
90 min., rated R.
Grade: B

As Christmas songs, twinkle lights, and TV holiday specials are already upon us, why not join in on the cheer with "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas"? Whether or not a third "Harold & Kumar" movie—let alone one in 3-D—was high on your wish list, this cheerfully naughty, merrily rude third entry is kind of a blast. It's the most wonderful time of the year, but with utterances of "chode" and "queaf," Winter Wonder Weed, a Claymation penis, a prosthetic penis stuck to a cold pole "Christmas Story"-style, and the real Santa Claus (played by the real Richard Riehle) being shot out of the sky. Directed by first-timer Todd Strauss-Schulson and again written by John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" is less witty than 2004's "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" but less scattershot than "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay." 

After feeding their munchie fix with some White Castle burgers, and being jailed and escaping from Guantanamo Bay, the once-inseparable slacker-stoner duo Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have grown apart, at least for now. Harold is now a Wall Street big shot living the suburban life and trying to have a baby with his wife, Maria (Paula Garces), so he's put down his bong in case of infertility. Kumar, on the other hand, has failed a drug test into medical school and gets high all day, just like old times, but his girlfriend has just dumped him for being immature and messy, and reveals that she's pregnant. A mysterious package gets dropped on Kumar's apartment doorstep, addressed to Harold. Meanwhile, on Christmas Eve, Harold's intimidating, adamently traditional father-in-law (Danny Trejo) and Maria's extended Hispanic famiy are visiting, but the patriarch wants his twelve-foot Fraser Fir Christmas Tree to be decorated by Harold. Once the good buddies reunite, the package is unwrapped to find a blunt that burns down the tree, and Kumar helps Harold go on a desperate search for a new one before Maria and her relatives return home from mass. Their misadventures involve attending a virgin's house party and getting entangled with her father, a brutal, headline-hogging Ukranian gangster (Elias Koteas). 

Cho and Penn have already settled into these characters and continue their loose, bromantic chemistry. But after all these years, the initial outgrowing of their friendship feels necessary. Even a cute reference to "working in the White House" (like Penn taking a hiatus from acting to campaign for President Obama's administration) sneaks itself into the movie. The real high point is Neil Patrick Harris playing a debauched version of himself again, this time making his grand entrance as the toy-soldier centerpiece of a TV holiday-musical extravaganza. Since this is the first "Harold & Kumar" movie to have NPH since his coming-out, he has tons of wicked fun riffing on his "gay" image, complete with his significant other David Burtka being in on the joke. Danny Trejo, in cheesy Christmas sweaters, is also funny casting as Maria's adamently traditional father. 

In the amiable/prickly spirit of Terry Zwigoff's deliciously vulgar "Bad Santa," this "3D Christmas" shakes up those trumped-up, ultra-sentimental Christmas movies. There's a hilariously mean faux-infomercial of a "Wafflebot," the hot new item for under the tree; a clever claymation holiday-horror sequence that H and K hallucinate after ingesting some drug-infused egg nog; and a gleefully inappropriate bit where the baby daughter of Harold's lame friend (Thomas Lennon) inadvertently keeps getting high as a kite on weed, cocaine, and ecstasy. Even the use of 3-D (yes, 3-D, that cash-cow gimmick) is actually the best seen in a while, gimmicky and self-aware and it makes "'Avatar' look 'avatarded'." Ornaments, glass, egg yolk, and beer pong balls are flung at you, and pot smoke is repeatedly blown your way. The R-rated, politically incorrect outrageousness isn't anything shocking or new, but "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" is a jolly (bong) hit of festive decadence. Like the best Christmas movies, it's about the importance of tradition without losing sight of togetherness with friends and family…and a joint.

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