Film Review: Holy Rollers

Holy Rollers boasts a very amusing-sounding premise: young Hasidic Jews are recruited to become international drug smugglers.  Rather than a comedy-of-errors style tone, the film is more earnest, and is all the better for it.

Sam Gold is a young man living with his family in Brooklyn. He is studying to become a rabbi and awaiting an arranged marriage, fulfilling his family’s wishes. Josef, a friend and neighbour, offers Sam the chance to make some extra money by transporting medicine. Sam takes this opportunity, and becomes a drug mule for dealer Jackie. Sam’s traditional values are tested as he descends into the murky underworld…

Based on actual events that took place in 1998, Holy Rollers concentrates on the involvement of Sam, a young and naive Hasidic Jew. Sam is a perfectly placed protagonist from the outset of the film. He is depicted as less traditional than his family and best friend Leon, yet he is still in the midst of the community unlike the corrupt Josef. Thus, Sam strikes the balance between being open and receptive enough to the new world he is introduced to, and holding certain moral values that dictate the extent he will participate in this new world.

Holy Rollers features a great script by Antonio Macia. The characters are well developed and always believable. Moreover, Sam’s relationship with Rachel appears particularly authentic. Despite frequently viewing the action through Sam’s eyes, there is some disparity in this case between how Sam views the situation and the actuality as seen by the audience. While most will be able to identify with Sam, his misguidance is also apparent. The film effectively balances portrayals of the characters, offering natural shades of grey.

Although the film takes a contemplative tone, there is humour to be found. This comedy is often manifested through Sam’s ignorance or his mannerisms. It works well to lighten the tone of the sometimes grim world that is depicted in Holy Rollers.

Jesse Eisenberg is competent as ever as Sam. Eisenberg is wholly convincing as the protagonist, bringing his renowned awkwardness to the role. Justin Bartha is excellent as Josef, playing the money-hungry but charming rascal with some aplomb. Ari Graynor is also good as Rachel; it is easy to see why Sam would be attracted to her.

Kevin Asch’s direction is good. The film moves at an appropriate pace, dwelling when necessary and propelling the action on. The club scenes are incredibly effective at placing the viewer in the mindset of Sam. The music is overbearing and the flashing lights are too much at times, giving the audience an indication of Sam’s unfamiliarity with such surroundings.

Holy Rollers is conscientious, but at the same time never overbearing. The combination of drama with comedy asides works well; viewers should have few complaints.

Film Review: The Hangover Part II

After the enormous and unexpected success of The Hangover, it seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel. Although some sequels rival the original in terms of quality, sadly this is not the case with The Hangover Part II.

Stu, Phil, Alan and Doug travel to Thailand for Stu’s upcoming wedding to Lauren. Stu is not keen on having a bachelor’s party, but the guys convince him to have one drink on the beach. When Stu, Phil and Alan wake up the next morning they cannot remember a thing. Moreover, Lauren’s little brother Teddy is missing…

The Hangover Part II follows the exact same formula as its predecessor. It is practically identical, except for the fact that it is set in Thailand for most of the duration. As such, the film offers no surprises; it is incredibly lazy story telling. It lacks the fresh ideas that made the original film so entertaining.

The only aspect of innovation to be found is the pushing of boundaries. Those who thought the first film was debauched will be even less impressed with this effort. In attempting to go one bigger, director and co-writer Todd Phillips includes material that may be offensive to some.

There are some good humorous moments, but these are not enough to sustain the entire film. In re-treading the same steps as The Hangover, Part II makes the aspects that were funny in the 2009 film appear tired and unoriginal. Moreover, elements that worked well in the first film have been pushed too far in this sequel. Alan was a genuinely funny character; an oddball who stole a lot of the scenes in the 2009 film. In realising the character was a hit, Phillips, Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong have amplified the character’s more unusual traits. Rather than making Alan more comedic, this has the opposite effect; his childlikeness grows annoying quickly.

Performances in The Hangover Part II are fine. Ed Helms is energetic as Stu; at times the actor seems desperate to make scenes funnier than they actually are. Bradley Cooper is again attractive but of dubious morals as Phil. Zach Galifianakis is a good comedy actor, but is hampered by the writing. Similar to the 2009 film, Justin Bartha has a small role as Doug. It seems a shame to sideline this character; perhaps his inclusion in Bangkok would have added a new and interesting dimension to the fold. Ken Jeong’s over-the-top Mr Chow is hit and miss.

The Hangover Part II will probably be a success because fans of the first film will flock to see it. Many will surely be disappointed however, as the film is more Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 than The Godfather: Part II.

Film Review: The Rebound

In all honesty, a Catherine Zeta Jones romantic comedy is not the most enticing of prospects. Even Michael Douglas might agree with this sentiment. The Rebound, nevertheless, is surprisingly funny and an enjoyable watch.

Following the break up of her marriage, Sandy and her two children move to Manhattan for a fresh start. Struggling to cope with her new life as a single mother, Sandy enlists the help of Aram to help look after her kids. Aram, a graduate unable to make a vocational choice, bonds with Sandy, despite their age gap…

The Rebound works well as a romantic comedy, for the most part. Writer and director Bart Freundlich steers the film competently. The Rebound has good momentum; the film never feels like it is dragging. Mixing innuendo and physical comedy, the humour is mostly on point. A few of the jokes are a bit hackneyed, but most of the comedy is bright and amusing.

With the proliferation of the term ‘cougar’ in common vernacular, The Rebound has arrived at an apt time with its depiction of a younger man/older woman relationship. Like the show Cougar Town, this theme is often played for laughs, although the emotional implications are also dwelled upon. Although The Rebound does sometimes drift into the realm of cliché, its highlighting of the issues of such a relationship does ground the film in reality. When Sandy first meets Aram’s family as his boss, Freundlich flips perspectives somewhat so potential worries for Aram are raised. Scenes like this help to develop Aram’s character, so he is far more than just a toy boy.

The only real let down of The Rebound is its ending. Despite a careful build up to the relationship between Sandy and Aram, the ending seems rushed. It also feels a little contrived; perhaps further exploration in the final scenes would have made for a more satisfactory conclusion.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is appropriately cast as Sandy; she looks the right age and it is easy to see why Aram would be attracted to her. Justin Bartha is believable as the younger man. Although his appearance is youthful, Aram is a bit of an old soul. Nonetheless, the real stars are Kelly Gould and Andrew Cherry, who play Sandy’s children Sadie and Frank Jr. Both these young actors give good performances, and are responsible for a significant proportion of the humour.

Although The Rebound is somewhat reliant on clichéd humour and predictable outcomes, it is still an entertaining movie for rom-com fans.

The Rebound is available on DVD from 7th February 2011.