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'Hamlet 2' ain't Shakespeare, but it's funnier than the first

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Posted: Friday, January 23, 2009 10:00 pm

Hamlet 2

*** 1/2

2008, Andrew Fleming, U.S. R

First viewing

The screenplay is funny enough (and co-written by "South Park" producer/writer Pam Brady), but it's British comedian Steve Coogan's delightfully animated yet quietly miserable performance as a sad-sack drama teacher that really lends the film its charm.

Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a pitiful, broken man who teaches theater on a pro bono basis, roller-blades to work and snivels under the heel of his domineering wife (Catherine Keener).

Dana is not a happy man, but, encouraged by the local high school drama critic, he decides to chase his dream and write his own original dramatic work. His choice: "Hamlet 2," complete with a time travel plot device and an appearance by Jesus Christ.

There's something here to offend everyone (the "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" musical number had my eyebrows furrowed a bit), but at least it's an equal opportunity offender, and a consistently funny one, at that.

Die Hard

****

(Masterwork selection)

1988, John McTiernan, U.S., R

Repeat viewing

The perfect action movie. Often imitated ("'Die Hard' on a battleship! "'Die Hard' on a bus! "'Die Hard' in a phone booth!) but never equaled, this compact, tightly wound adventure yarn follows vacationing New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis, in the role that launched his career) as he takes on a gang of highly skilled German thieves in a Los Angeles skyscraper.

McTiernan makes expert use of this location, and since much of the film takes place in the building's narrow corridors, cramped ventilation ducts and elevator shafts, he is able to establish a great sense of claustrophobic fervor.

Also integral to the film's success is Alan Rickman's naturally charismatic performance as Hans Gruber, the educated and highly fashionable mastermind behind what would have actually been a really good heist - if not for that meddling cop.

My pick for the most insanely re-watchable movie ever made.

Beerfest

***

2006, Jay Chandrasekhar, U.S., R

First viewing


Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske star in "Beerfest." (Courtesy photo)

I've had an affinity for the Broken Lizard comedy troupe since I first saw their debut feature, "Super Troopers" (which, despite popular opinion, is actually intermittently hilarious even apart from the brilliantly assembled opening bit).

But this is the movie that managed to completely sell me on their infectiously goofy, crude, light-hearted brand of silliness. "Beerfest" represents the most basic elements of contemporary comedy compacted into (a slightly too long) 110 minutes of lowest-common-denominator moviemaking - and I honestly mean that in the best way possible.

There is nothing "worthwhile," per se, in this stupid little flick about a group of buddies who band together to show up zee Germans at an annual underground drinking contest.

But when I'm three sheets to wind after downing the better part of a case of Newcastle, it's exactly what I'm looking for.

Donnie Darko

***

2001, Richard Kelly, U.S. R

First viewing

Kelly's debut film has acquired a massive cult following over the past few years, largely thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal's breakthrough performance as a disaffected teenager who becomes unstuck in time.

But apart from the apparent siren call of young Gyllenhaal (I've never really understood his appeal), I'm not sure exactly what, if anything, countless angsty teens are finding in this incredibly dense, disorienting bit of intellectual abstraction.

It's certainly fun, in a heady, cerebral kind of way, but it often buckles under the weight of all the religious, political and literary symbolism that writer/director Kelly throws at the screen. Honestly, I'm not even sure if Kelly actually has anything of relevance to say here; he may just be having fun toying with the story's themes and symbols - which, as it turns out, is a cool little exercise.

Just don't mistake it for profundity. In any case, enjoy the film as a junior riff on "Slaughterhouse Five" and look to the director's follow-up, "Southland Tales," for a crazier but richer display of abstract insanity.

Empire of the Sun

*** 1/2

1987, Steven Spielberg, U.S. PG

First viewing

Not a "major" Spielberg work, but notable nonetheless, and definitely under-rated.

A very young Christian Bale stars as Jamie Graham, a privileged English boy living with his parents in China circa 1941. His family fails to properly anticipate the ensuing Japanese invasion, resulting in a chaotic exodus that leads to Jamie's separation from his parents.

He's left to fend for himself on the streets of Shanghai before being relocated to an internment camp, where he fosters a somewhat twisted friendship with a streetwise, Fagin-esque rat of human being named Basie (John Malkovich, in a wonderfully layered portrayal).

Their difficult-to-define relationship provides much of the film's character-based drama, but the best reason to see the movie is Spielberg's visual eye. This may not be one of his best films, but it's filled with some of the most striking images of his prolific career.

Hot Fuzz

*** 1/2

2007, Edgar Wright, U.K. R

Repeat viewing

Wright's follow-up to his hugely successful "Shaun of the Dead" may not be as immediately lovable as that film, but it's superior in a technical sense, and has the added benefit of getting better each time you see it.

Simon Pegg (soon to be seen as Scotty in the "Star Trek" re-launch) plays Nicholas Angel, an absolutely no-nonsense, by-the-book London police officer who is so good at his job that he makes his fellows coppers look bad. So they reassign him to Sandford, a quiet, picturesque little town where, of course, not everything is as it seems.

But even as suspicious deaths start occurring and the bodies start piling up en masse, the local cops are less than willing to believe Angel's "wild" hunches. The whole thing explodes in a shockingly gory orgy of violence, and the film functions equally as both a vaguely absurdist comedy and a well-staged action bloodbath.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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