The Hungover Games

If you haven’t read my reviews of the Hangover series — why are you here, first off? — I’ll summarize. I think that is the worst theatrically released trilogy in cinema history and apart from the Mike Tyson cameos they are completely lacking in humor from frame one to conclusion. I note this because The Hungover Games is a film spoofing both it, The Hunger Games, and a bunch of scenes from other movies. I’ll say this: I’ve seen worse.

Here’s the premise. Four dudes, named after the real names of the actors in the Hangover films — Bradley (Ross Nathan), Ed (Ben Begley), Zach (Herbert Russell), and Doug (John Livingston) — have a night of heavy partying and wake up in the future that just so happens to be a version of the Hunger Games in which the participants are all from various movie franchises. I can think of way worse premises. This one’s at least kind of creative. Doug is missing but is presumed to be in the competition, so Bradley, Ed, Zach, and “Katnip” (Rita Volk) team up to try to find him while also killing all of the other participants.

This premise allows the filmmakers to take pot-shots at how uncreative Hollywood is, let out their anger on individual characters or properties, and make a better Hangover movie than Todd Phillips did with a seemingly unlimited budget and access to relatively big stars. Now, that’s less a promotion of this film than it is a continued criticism of the Hangover movies. No, I won’t let it go. I gave those films 302 minutes of my life. They can take words upon words of criticism.

After the set-up, we get to basically watch an abbreviated version of The Hunger Games, just with all the characters swapped out for the likes of Thor, Ted, Django, and so on. I’m not sure why all these properties would still be kicking around in the very far future, but, then, perhaps it’s all a shared dream from the four leads, so it kind of works. Thinking too hard about this type of film is kind of like trying to eat water. There’s no point. Just drink it down.

Yes, that’s about as much of an analogy I could offer. It fits right in with the kind of high-minded thought that the script has to offer you. There is nothing of even remote intelligence here. It’s kind of creative, sure, but it’s not smart. You’re not going to have to think hard about all of the jokes, and many of them are reworkings of earlier, better spoof films. Still, it could be far worse. If you’ve already seen The Starving Games, you know it can be worse. This film carries with it an R rating and that at least means we get low-budget violence, profanity, and an occasional breast. So there’s that.

The cast is game. The filmmakers have found actors who resemble their Hangover counterparts, and I almost want to see what a straight Hangover film would look like if this team decided to do it. It couldn’t be any worse, right? Some of the jokes are moderately clever, mostly in the way that they subvert expectations. Many are predictable, sure, but there’s one every couple of minutes that will make you laugh not just because it’s written and delivered well, but because it’s completely opposite from what you expected.

The Hungover Games also contains a higher-than-expected level of cinematography, production design, and special effects. You aren’t taken out of the film because it looks cheap, which is something spoof movies can rarely claim. It’s very low budget, sure, but there’s at least some talent behind the camera making it look as good as possible. This is a throwaway direct-to-video film, but it’s nice to see that someone cared.

If you enjoy spoof movies and want to see a lowbrow sense of humor mixed in with a clever premise for a film, you can do a lot worse than The Hungover Games. I don’t recommend most people see it, but given the complete lack of quality in recent spoof films, this one is actually somehow better than a lot of the pack. It’s dumb and it’s only occasionally funny, but for what it is that makes it almost worth seeing. At least it’s not another Hangover movie. I don’t think I could handle one of those.


Mark Henry Can’t Represent America with His Current Theme Song

In the world of professional wrestling, there are good guys (babyfaces/faces) and bad guys (heels). It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. The fans are supposed to cheer for the faces, and likewise boo the heels. Heels cheat and often get disqualified, while the faces are noble people whom we’re supposed to believe are idols. There are rare exceptions, but for the most part, this is how it goes.

Mark Henry is an athlete who has been with the WWE for quite a long time, and during his tenure he’s done a lot. He’s had a couple of gimmicks, he’s been in a dominant stable, he had one of the biggest swerves in recent memories — even if it was predictable, it was played so well — and he has been both a heel and a face multiple times. Currently — for those not watching WWE right now, but for some reason still read articles about the company — he’s in a feud with a pair of Russians. The male, Rusev, is the in-ring athlete, while his mouthpiece is Lana, who cuts anti-America, pro-Russia promos on a weekly basis. They are heels. Henry is a face. It doesn’t take much intelligence to figure this out, even if you’ve never watched.

I’ve lost track of how much in the last eight years Mark Henry has been a babyface. It’s probably close to 50/50. I mention eight years because it was in 2006 that Henry debuted a new theme song, “Some Bodies Gonna Get It” by Three 6 Mafia. If my memory is correct, he was given this song when performing as a heel, and it fit perfectly. I mean, just read this line, which is repeated multiple times over the course of the song: “Beat ‘em up, beat ‘em up, break his neck, break his neck.” That’s half of the song’s chorus.

As someone we’re supposed to dislike, and someone who is billed as “The World’s Strongest Man” and someone who is sometimes an unstoppable wrecking ball in the ring, this fits. He is bringing with him values with which we’re not supposed to agree. He’s not a role model or an idol for the children; he’s a villain, someone to root against. That’s as a heel.

But as a face? How does this song work? He’s currently — and has been on and off for the last several years — someone we’re cheering for. He’s someone the kids are looking up to, someone who they see as a hero or a superstar. He’s the good guy. And he comes down to the ring with a song that constantly repeats “Beat ‘em up, beat ‘em up, break his neck, break his neck.” Those are values he’s instilling in our children. By continuing to use this theme song as a babyface, he’s telling children that beating people up and breaking their necks (aka killing them) is something for which you should strive.

Going back to the current feud he’s in, he’s supposed to be representing America. He was, in real life, someone who competed at the Olympic Games, representing America. He was a strongman champion. He held weightlifting records. These are all impressive real-world accomplishments. But right now, he’s representing an entire country, is being cheered, and is coming out to a theme song that advocates murder. Murder!

This is not okay. You don’t tell children — WWE is a PG product, after all, so that it can be a family affair — that killing people is good. You don’t let babyfaces come out to music that advocates murder. I mean, you probably shouldn’t even have heels with songs like that, but at least the children will boo them and not take these types of words to heart. But not babyfaces, and not babyfaces representing the home country! This is why America is the murder capitol of the world. Yes, I’m blaming the WWE for that.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?


Raw Review (September 15, 2014)

Spoilers follow for the September 15th episode of Raw.

A cold open to Raw has Paul Heyman introducing himself in the ring, as he’s apt to do. He says John Cena will come down, and then Brock Lesnar will come down — because if Lesnar wasn’t here, Heyman would be beaten up by Cena, so Cena said. Cena does come down. Heyman gives the stage over to the not-champ. Cena says he doesn’t see Lesnar. Cena and Heyman could cut an hour-long promo and it would be great. Cena says he’s here for a fight, whether that be against Heyman or Lesnar, because fighting a manager is a babyface thing to do, right?

Heyman says that we will get Cena vs. Lesnar here tonight. But then he starts to laugh. Heyman says Lesnar will be here, but not yet, as he takes a private plane, and it was delayed. Heyman tries to leave at this point, but Cena grabs him. If Lesnar isn’t here tonight, by halftime, Cena will destroy Heyman. Again, this is our babyface. Cena eventually puts Heyman in a headlock and they head backstage.

And then it’s time for Chris Jericho.

Chris Jericho vs. Kane

Before the match, we find out that Cena locked Heyman in a room backstage and had The Great Khali guard the room.

Honestly, I’m surprised that we didn’t actually write Jericho off after last week. He’s not doing anything right now anyway. But, hey, he will leave another hole in the roster, so I suppose it’s fine if he’s still here. He and Kane know how to work a good match. It’s not going to be the bout with the fastest pace, but it can still be exciting, if only because it’s two future HOFers going at it, even with Kane in his current … gimmick.

Kane dominates most of the match, and for the first time since the feud against Daniel Bryan looks relatively strong. Jericho, who leaves after Night of Champions (probably), should be jobbing to everyone this week.

We actually get an exposed turnbuckle in this match, which isn’t something we get much anymore, and is all kinds of awesome. The match has some really good near-falls, some good counters.

It’s unfortunate that the finish is a roll up, after Kane was tripped into the exposed turnbuckle. The match was pretty good, but the finish was lackluster. And Jericho shouldn’t be winning matches.

Match Rating: ***

Heyman is seen in the locker room trying to contact Lesnar, and getting no response. Ha.

Roman Reigns is interviewed backstage after the commercial break. He hypes his match against Seth Rollins tonight. He talks about punching Rollins in the face a whole bunch, which is totally not cool because clenched fists are supposed to be illegal.

Jack Swagger (with Zeb Colter) vs. Bo Dallas

So we’re wasting this match on the last Raw before a PPV, huh? That’s … something.

Another good match. Back and forth action, some good counters, it didn’t overstay its welcome, and none of the stupid pinning moves Dallas tried worked. A true finish has Swagger win with the Patriot Lock, thus maybe ending their feud. Or maybe they’ll get to do some more. Dallas and Colter haven’t really done too much promo-cutting with one another.

Match Rating: **1/2

Paige and Nikki Bella vs. Brie Bella and AJ Lee

The heels work over Brie for the entirety of the match. Well, it’s mostly Paige. Nikki tagged out right away, and the only other thing she did was knock out AJ so Brie couldn’t tag out. Smart tag team work from Nikki. Mediocre match.

Match Rating: **

Nikki attacks Brie after the match. Paige skips around inside the ring. AJ copies her by skipping around outside the ring and smiling. What a troll. It’s great.

Bray Wyatt gets some promo time after. That’s all I’ve got.

Big Show vs. Bray Wyatt (with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan)

Before the match, we get another Heyman segment. He tries to tell Khali that he has no cell reception in the room, so he needs to be outside. Khali stops Heyman, crushes his phone, and then throws him back in the room.

This is a slow match. I mean, did you expect otherwise? Big Show can do some impressive things but he’s not the greatest worker in the world, and Wyatt … hasn’t had a good singles match in quite a while. This one is not a good one. Too many rest holds, too much running from people whose running isn’t the greatest, and lots of … not much happening, really. It was kind of cool to see Wyatt try to do a move off the middle rope, but it didn’t result in anything.

The finish comes when the Wyatt Family attacks Big Show and gets Bray disqualified.

Match Rating: **

Big Show does a double chokeslam to Harper and Rowan after the match. That’s the first one of those that’s actually been successful in a good time.

The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso) and Sheamus vs. Cesaro, Goldust, and Stardust

Well, the Uso whose knee was injured is no longer nursing that injury, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Or selling longer than a week isn’t something that The Usos can do.

This is a good match, yet it’s missing something special. Perhaps it’s because, like the Wyatt Family, WWE has absolutely killed any momentum Gold/Stardust have after consistently losing to the Usos. Cesaro does some fun things, and the match is technically sound, but there’s very little genuine excitement until the very end, when everything gets chaotic.

The faces win after an Uso splash.

Match Rating: **1/2

It’s now past halftime, and Lesnar still isn’t here. But apparently “halftime” means something different for the WWE. An hour and forty five minutes into a three-hour show is more than halfway, but whatever.

Randy Orton is interviewed next. He’s asked why he attacked Chris Jericho. “Why wouldn’t I attack Chris Jericho?” Orton will hand Jericho the beating of his life. Okay. Does the punt write Jericho off TV?

We’re doing the Heyman/Lesnar/Cena thing next. So “halftime” means “two-thirds time.” Okay, WWE. Cena drags Heyman from the room to the ring. He tells Heyman to produce Brock Lesnar. He calls out Cena’s heelish behavior. Well, I’m glad that was addressed. Heyman says that if Cena can’t unleash the beast within, he’ll never beat Lesnar. Cena tries to walk away, but eventually Heyman gets under his skin and he pushes Heyman.

And then Brock Lesnar comes out. Because of course he does. Lesnar gets Heyman up and then they tease leaving a few times. Eventually, Lesnar gets in the ring and tosses Cena around for a second, looking just as strong as ever. But then Cena attacks Lesnar from behind and beats him down for a bit. Security eventually breaks it up.

Naomi vs. Cameron

Didn’t we end this, like, two months ago? Oh, wait, it’s Total Divas season, so it’s time to remind us that these two are on the roster.

This is painful. Cameron went for a pinfall with Naomi on her front, not back. And emphasized that the referee should have counted, drawing attention to her blunder. This is a slow match, one without any intrigue, and with very little excitement. It astounds me that Cameron gets Raw time but Eva Marie doesn’t.

Naomi wins with some sort of submission move that she didn’t even lock in before Cameron tapped.

Match Rating: *

The Miz and Damien Sandow vs. Dolph Ziggler and R-Truth

This was a lengthy and kind of fun match on Smackdown, so now we’re getting a rematch on Raw. This one is shorter, and the appeal has worn out. Or, it would if Cole and JBL didn’t keep messing up which one is Ziggler and which one is R-Truth, and Lawler seemed so incredibly confused by it all. That was funny. I don’t know if Lawler was acting or genuinely confused. It’s funny.

Ziggler and Truth win. Nobody cares, but they do.

Match Rating: **

Seth Rollins is interviewed next. He hypes the main event, Reigns, and himself. Like a good promo should. Except for when Rollins imitates Reigns and acts like an ape.

Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins

So, uh, that Mark Henry and Rusev thing is the real main event? Huh. That’s interesting.

Aren’t Reigns and Rollins supposed to have a match in less than a week? Why are we doing this now? Right. Because WWE booking. As has proven to be the case, Roman Reigns is not able to have a great one-on-one match. He’s just not good enough. Rollins has had several great matches, but this isn’t one of them. He tries, though, but Reigns just doesn’t have the ability to put on a great one. I mean, this one’s better than many of the one’s he’s been a part of — there’s some back-and-forth action, at least — but it’s just not that good. At least we get a couple of decent spots.

Reigns wins with a spear.

No, really. Clean win, absolutely no interference or controversy, nothing. Reigns just wins. So that means Ambrose has to be returning at Night of Champions, right?

Match Rating: **1/2

It’s odd to see Mark Henry’s “rallying of Americans” close the show. Something has to be going on, right? There’s a big surprise planned for the WWE Universe, yes?

I’ll leave that for now. Michael Cole is interviewing Henry in the ring. Henry talks about how hard it was to withdraw from the weightlifting competition in the mid ’90s. Eventually, Rusev and Lana come out. Rusev with a Russian flag, and Lana with a mic.

Lana does her anti-America thing, and then provides us with several facts. After that, the two brawl a bit. Rusev gets the upper hand and tries to put Henry in The Accolade. But Henry powers out. Henry then hits a slam and throws Rusev from the ring. His music plays, and Raw ends with Henry waving the flag in the ring. That’s it. No surprises, no returns, just that.

The Good: Jericho vs. Kane. Heyman/Cena promo.

The Bad: Naomi vs. Cameron.

Match of the Night: Chris Jericho vs. Kane.


Life of Crime

A kidnapping. A woman unsatisfied with her life is kidnapped by a couple of criminals. They want her husband to pay the ransom money; he’s off on vacation with his mistress, and has already sent in divorce papers. So we wait. What will come of this? Who will blink first? And why does one of the criminals seem to have a certain affection for the woman he kidnapped? Such is the premise of Life of Crime, which is a diversion of a film and nothing more. Try to remember much of it a day later and you’re going to struggle.

The woman in question is Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), currently married to Frank (Tim Robbins), who is having an affair with Melanie (Isla Fisher). The criminals are Ordell (Yasiin “Mos Def” Bey) and Louis John Hawkes). So, now you have the primary players. The film is based on an Elmore Leonard novel called The Switch, which couldn’t serve as the title to our film because Aniston, arguably the film’s biggest name, already starred in a film with that name. And that would just get confusing.

There’s a lot of talent on-screen in Life of Crime. Sometimes they’re wearing masks, but most of the time they’re just sitting around, waiting for something to happen. There’s a charm to the film at its outset when all we’re doing is being introduced to everyone. But by the time the kidnapping has taken place, that charm has been replaced with … nothing, actually. It hasn’t been replaced at all. It’s just been removed. And the plot is barely relevant, too. It’s just lots of sitting around and talking, waiting for one side to make a move.

One might think this would allow for a lot of dialogue to take place that would let us into the lives and souls of these characters — during which time we could possibly learn something about people — but that doesn’t happen. Superficial emotions and actions fill the film. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to dissect. People talk to fill the time and very little else. I suppose it’s supposed to entertain the audience but I can’t say that goal was accomplished.

I think part of the problem is the way that the film has been framed. We’re relatively intimate with everyone involved, so there’s no tension. We know that Ordell and Louis aren’t going to harm Mickey, and we know that Frank, while a cheater and not a great person, isn’t going to let Mickey die. So, we wonder, what’s the issue? Where’s the conflict? What sort of suspense can the film generate? When the dark comedy and charm wears off — and it does very early — can the plot or characters keep us engaged? They can’t.

It’s not through a lack of on-screen talent, though. Most of the actors are fine-good in their roles, with John Hawkes standing out the most, if only because he gets the most to do. That’s really what it comes down to. I mean, Will Forte and Mark Boone Jr. are also in the movie, but you don’t hear me talking about them — outside of this sentence — because their roles are almost pointless for most of the film. What does Jennifer Aniston do outside of being kidnapped and sitting on a bed? Not much. Just … nothing much happens in Life of Crime.

Maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe being a criminal is really boring — outside of a few select moments — and that’s what Life of Crime (note the title) is trying to illustrate. If that was a goal — and I’m stretching here it even consider it — then it succeeded. It also made for a relatively boring movie that nobody really has any reason to watch. So … congratulations? I guess? Is that something you should be proud to accomplish?

Life of Crime is a dull movie that only works if you think that it’s supposed to represent the mundanity that comes from working as a criminal. It involves a lot of waiting around, doing nothing but talking about little of importance. That is what we see in this movie. The actors were fine but were given little to do. It has a charming opening and there’s a bit of dark humor thrown in every now and then, but it doesn’t add up to anything beyond a minor distraction that you won’t remember in a day or two.


As Above, So Below

An allegorical thrill ride that manages to subvert many of the clichés and pratfalls of the found footage genre, As Above, So Below will probably remind a lot of people of The Descent or, well, The Cave, but it’s a smarter movie than both of those — especially The Cave — and it probably generates a greater sense of sustained suspense, too. This is a tense movie, even when not a whole lot is happening.

The setup is thus: Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a brilliant — two PhDs and one Master’s degree, along with a black belt attest to this — alchemy scholar who is continuing on her late father’s work by trying to find the fabled philosophers’ stone. After a clue is discovered in Iran, during which time she’s almost buried alive, she heads to France along with a documentary filmmaker named Benji (Edwin Hodge), because that’s where it’s believed the stone is hidden. The only problem? It’s some 300+ feet below the surface of the Earth. But we’re in Paris, and the Catacombs are here. Enlisting the help of a former friend, George (Ben Feldman), and a trio of local explorers (François Civil, Marion Lambert, and Ali Marhyar), we’re going to find that stone if it kills us!

And kill us it tries. Almost immediately, the Catacombs start playing tricks on our leads. A tunnel collapses, another one appears that isn’t on any maps, a long-lost friend has somehow survived two years underground, hallucinations are everywhere, claustrophobia begins to set in, equipment is lost, and, eventually, people start dying. The least important crew members die first, obviously.

Things don’t start going really wrong until the last half hour of the picture, because escalation is a thing and done right it provides a heart-pounding conclusion. And most of As Above, So Below does keep the heart rate at an above-resting pace. You’re never sure what’s going on in the Catacombs — references to the gates of Hell are made as the crew heads further and further down — and there are slight paranormal aspects that make you wonder what’s real and what isn’t — or what’s possible and what’s impossible.

I opened by claiming that As Above, So Below is an allegorical film, and you’ll see what I mean if you see it. It’s a way that the film can kind of hand-wave away some inconsistencies or gaps in logic, and I like the way it worked. It also provides for some initially silly-looking scenes near the end — ones that only really make sense if you think about the various … apparitions as allegorical and not literal. It makes the film better, and makes the ending feel less of an anti-climax.

As Above, So Below does a couple of things to separate itself from other found footage movies. The best decision its filmmakers made was to have a camera attached to each of the characters’ head flashlights, because it allows us to get a variety of perspective and not constantly wonder “why is he/she still holding the camera” — even if that thought does still occur, as Benji has a handheld camera for most of the film, too. The ending is also different from most found footage affairs, which might initially come as a disappointment but in thinking about it more is actually quite refreshing.

It’s easy to make comparisons between As Above, So Below and similar films like The Descent. I mean, this film has its lead character get covered in blood seemingly just to copy when The Descent did it. I wish I was kidding, but that’s what it looked like — and it took me out of the experience. There are differences, sure, but if you didn’t like The Descent, you’re probably not going to be much of a fan of this one, either.

As Above, So Below is a thrilling movie that keeps the heart rate up for the vast majority of its running time, which is something most horror/thriller films are unable to say. It’s got a constant stream of suspense, does enough to separate itself from other found footage movies, and offers more than a couple of surprises. It might remind some viewers too much of The Descent, but it’s a different movie and perhaps a smarter movie, too. I had lots of fun with it.