Neil Patrick Harris

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.


Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010, Brandon Vietti)

Apparently, given the chance, comic book writers write screenplays just like comic books. Sitting through Under the Red Hood is not an unpleasant experience–Bruce Greenwood, voice alone, is the best Batman since Michael Keaton, animated or actual–but it’s got an atrocious plot structure.

First, the movie would be unintelligible for anyone who didn’t read Batman comics. Screenwriter Judd Winick (who also wrote some of the comics this movie’s based on) has an endless amount of costumed characters show up. It’s firmly set in the comic book world, which makes it fail as a filmic narrative.

Fail might be a little harsh. Red Hood doesn’t succeed, but it isn’t Winick’s fault. Besides Greenwood, most of the voice acting is terrible. Jensen Ackles, voicing a grownup, evil Robin, finally answers the question about Batman and Robin’s sexual relationship–I’m pretty sure Cyrano never sounded as amorous as Ackles does when talking to Greenwood’s Batman. I wonder if they recorded together.

Even worse is John Di Maggio’s Joker. The character’s written as a lunatic, but Di Maggio plays a vicious thug instead, presumably a Dark Knight influence.

Speaking of influences, there’s a nice little homage to the Adam West show and lots of the production design owes to the Tim Burton films. It’s a very good looking animated movie when the poorly illustrated characters aren’t running around.

If it had just been a bit better plotted, it would have been much better. Still, might be worth a viewing for Greenwood’s performance.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brandon Vietti; screenplay by Judd Winick, based on comic books by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, Winick and Doug Mahnke and on characters created by Bob Kane; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bruce W. Timm and Bobbie Page; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Jensen Ackles (Red Hood), John Di Maggio (The Joker), Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing), Jason Isaacs (Ra’s al Ghul), Wade Williams (Black Mask), Gary Cole (Commissioner Gordon), Kelly Hu (Ms. Li), Vincent Martella (Robin) and Jim Piddock (Alfred Pennyworth).


Starship Troopers (1997, Paul Verhoeven)

The only “real” pro-war movie I can think of is The Green Berets. But Starship Troopers is also pro-war, even if it’s, well, startlingly so. I mean, the scene where Casper Van Dien grins after getting his battlefield promotion, following a colleague’s horrific death, is a fine example.

What Verhoeven does here, in Starship Troopers, is directed the finest made “science fiction” film–and those quotations just generalize, meaning a film set in the future in space with spaceships–since 2001. Really. No one else has ever done as competent of space scenes since Kubrick. It’s stunning. Verhoeven’s no innovator here–he borrows liberally from 2001, the Star Wars movies (a little) and the Star Trek movies (a lot)–but he mixes them together into something astounding. I once called, without being familiar with the novel, Starship Troopers the sci-fi hit (i.e. the Star Wars) if the Nazis had won. And it is–not just in terms of setting (the gloriously fascist future), but in terms of its approach to narrative. Neumeier and Verhoeven do an amazing job with this film’s structure–it’s impossible not to cheer at the end and never to once question what one’s cheering.

Even the cardboard acting from “90210” and “Melrose Place” guest stars (Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards and Patrick Muldoon all appeared on those Shakespearian actor spawning grounds) is somehow perfect–Starship Troopers is certainly Verhoeven’s best film since Robocop and the most deceptively postmodern blockbuster film ever made.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Edward Neumeier, based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Caroline Ross; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Alan Marshall and Jon Davison; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Casper Van Dien (Johnny Rico), Dina Meyer (Dizzy Flores), Denise Richards (Carmen Ibanez), Jake Busey (Ace Levy), Neil Patrick Harris (Carl Jenkins), Clancy Brown (Sgt. Zim), Seth Gilliam (Sugar Watkins), Patrick Muldoon (Zander Barcalow), Michael Ironside (Jean Rasczak), Rue McClanahan (Biology Teacher), Marshall Bell (General Owen) and Brenda Strong (Captain Deladier).


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).


Justice League: The New Frontier (2008, Dave Bullock)

In terms of ambitiousness, Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier is in many ways as ambitious as a superhero comic book can get. Cooke tied DC Comics superheroes to the American political landscape of the 1950s and, while he didn’t have an absolute success, he did just fine, never losing the zeal (occasionally letting it go too far even). Now, as Warner Bros. has finally sunk low enough to do direct to video movies–some of these being animated superhero projects–a bunch of unambitious cartoon guys (and I say cartoon guys as a pejorative–I mean, the animation in The New Frontier is barely on the level of the “G.I. Joe” cartoons I saw as a kid) decided to adapt it. In doing so, shaving Cooke’s 400 plus page comic book down to seventy-five minutes, they haven’t just missed the point, they’ve also turned Cooke’s ambitious work into a low-rent Independence Day rip-off with superheroes. Maybe that element was always a little part of Cooke’s comic, but with the movie, it’s the most important part.

The problem with The New Frontier–and with the idea of it in the first place–is the medium. It doesn’t lend itself to a cartoon and the cartoon guys do nothing to make it excite the medium’s possibilities (like I said, it’s less ambitious than a “G.I. Joe” cartoon, so comparing it to Sleeping Beauty would just be silly). It’s only a cartoon because… well… it’s a toy commercial. There are New Frontier action figures and all of this hoopla is a toy commercial.

Oddly, it’s pretty watchable. Throughout three-quarters, it’s almost good. There’s a speed to it in the good parts and a car wreck quality in the bad parts. It’s offensive, for example, when they use the JFK speech at the end (the title comes from the speech). Cooke’s comic book was ambitious enough, even with a bad ending, it had the bedrock to print the speech. As the movie is an unambitious, trite flop, it’s stunningly inappropriate.

Of the voice actors, only Jeremy Sisto is actually good. Neil Patrick Harris and Miguel Ferrer come close. David Boreanaz is particularly awful. Lucy Lawless is a bad Wonder Woman and Kyle MacLachlan an ineffective Superman, but a lot of those problems have to do with Stan Berkowitz’s execrable script. And Keith David as the movie’s bad guy, a giant monster–a misfire going back to the comic book–is terrible too, but the whole thing is dreadfully handled, but in terms of visualization, dialogue and filmic conception. Berkowitz’s dialogue’s dumb and bad; Kevin Manthei’s music not fit for an elevator to Hell. Besides some of the female characters, all the artwork is bad (for whatever reason, only the female characters retain any of Cooke’s style).

I can’t stand cartoon storytelling–that lowest common denominator storytelling for the kid who can’t even read the TV Guide to see what’s on, but can still tell his mom he needs the action figures–so I can’t blame watching The New Frontier on anyone but myself (the short running time and, possibly, the knowledge I’d be writing about bad it turned out… didn’t expect how offensive the JFK use would come off though). I also didn’t expect to run out of synonyms for bad, but I did.

The funniest part comes at the end. Cooke, in the comic book, ripped the volunteers moment from Pearl Harbor and did it with superheroes in a sequence of still images and got the same effect. For some reason, with motion and audio, the clowns behind The New Frontier can’t get it right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Bullock; screenplay by Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke, based on the comic book by Cooke; edited by Elen Orson; music by Kevin Manthei; produced by Berkowitz, Cooke and Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring David Boreanaz (Hal Jordan/Green Lantern), Miguel Ferrer (J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter), Neil Patrick Harris (Barry Allen/The Flash), John Heard (Ace Morgan), Lucy Lawless (Wonder Woman), Kyle MacLachlan (Superman), Phil Morris (King Faraday), Kyra Sedgwick (Lois Lane), Brooke Shields (Carol Ferris), Jeremy Sisto (Batman) and Keith David (The Center).


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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