Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (***)

Posted on August 4th, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

So, this movie is hilarious. Mynagirl and I had a rare, footloose vacation day and indulged ourselves by attending a business-afternoon screening, attended by us and a handful of 18-22 year olds. We, and they, laughed out loud throughout the whole thing. Mind you, there are some parts that are slower and stupider than other parts, but overall this is a smart and funny film wrapped up in the guise of a stoner buddy flick.

The basic storyline follows two post-graduate, pre-maturity roommates named Harold and Kumar as they spend a weekend getting stoned, getting the munchies, and embarking on a Quixotian quest for some White Castle hamburgers. For those unfamiliar, White Castle sells tiny little square hamburgers served with diced onions on top. One (if one is me) typically eats 4-6 of these little burgers (referred to colloquially as “sliders”, because they’re small, greasy, and tasty and slide right down the gulliver) at a sitting, along with 2-3 orders of fries.

The Harold in Harold & Kumar is a Korean, twenty-something, junior investment banker. He’s smart, hard-working, and shy and likes following the rules, at least as he sees him. For instance, at one point Kumar throws the correct change into a tollbooth, but the signal does not turn green and the boys are out of change. Kumar proposes just driving off. Harold says no way, because it’s his car and he doesn’t like breaking the rules. The funny part is that while Harold is declaring his conformity, he’s also rolling a joint.

Kumar, on the other hand, is a super-smart, Indian party-boy who aced his MCATs, but purposely throws his med school admission interviews so that he can simply get high and live off of money from his dad. Kumar floats through life looking for a good time, and looking to ensure that Harold loosens his white collar over the weekend and gets back in touch with his inner stoner.

Now, at this point you might think that Harold & Kumar is simply an updated Cheech & Chong movie, but it’s not. This film, while a stoner comedy on the surface, also provides witty commentary about the lives of young, first-generation Americans who live in limbo between the gratefully hardworking ethos of their parents and the soft, slacker pace of the lives of young Americans in general. Harold and Kumar are both smarter than your average bear, and pot-smoking notwithstanding, are on track to becoming upstanding pillars of society…eventually. Their adventures in this film represent a sort of last, wild bachelor party prior to their betrothal to maturity and good citizenship.

The film has a couple of low-brow moments that I could live without, but overall it is laugh-out-loud funny throughout. John Cho (Harold) and Kal Penn (Kumar) both do excellent work embodying the conflicting facets of their characters, and I expect big things will come to both of these actors as a result of their performances here.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (***)

Posted on August 1st, 2004 in Movie Reviews by mynagirl

It’s hard for me to know how I’d like this movie, or any of Shyamalan’s movies, if I hadn’t first seen The Sixth Sense. You’ll have to bear with me as I preface my comments for The Village with a few about Sixth Sense and the rest of Shyamalan’s oeuvre. I was so irritated with that movie right up until the ending that brought the whole story together that I then became an instant fan of this director, willing to give him so much leeway in any story, to let him lead me where he wanted. I gave Unbreakable that same kind of “okay, where are you taking me today” wide-eyed wonder, and I ended up liking that one, too, even though it is oddly paced and weird in its own way. I liked Signs, too. I know a lot of people objected to a member of an advanced, space-traveling alien race being able to be trapped in a kitchen pantry, but a modern army paratrooper would be similarly trapped if caught without any of his conventional weapons. See? Sixth Sense was so brilliant I’ve just been willing to go along with whatever else has come out from the director since. And I know that’s so many people’s big beef with Shyamalan, that his first movie was brilliant, and that either (a) the other movies don’t live up to the first shining promise of Sixth Sense, or (b) Shyamalan’s got the movie going public hoodwinked with his emperor-wears-no-clothes Hollywood cachet. And it is hard to judge what I’d think of his other movies if it hadn’t been for his first one, and The Village is no exception.

It’s also hard to discuss this movie without discussing plot spoilers, and I’m going to break a normal rule here and talk a little bit about plot. So:

*************PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD****************

The movie, like all Shyamalan films, makes repeated use of color. Unlike previous works, however, it’s more than just a thematic element. In The Village, the residents of an early 1800’s hamlet lead a semi-idyllic life of self-contained sustenance. They farm, school and raise children, and marry one another within a few square mile area surrounded by woods. The villagers and their houses are swathed in drab colors; anything bright red is hidden or forbidden. At nighttime, the men of the village stand guard at the perimeter of the village land near the woods in ochre yellow cloaks, warding off an unseen (and, in the beginning of the movie, very nebulous) menace. Village residents are not allowed into the woods, and residents of the woods are clearly not friendly toward the villagers. Red is forbidden because it attracts the menace from the woods

As the movie progresses, the central conflict becomes a need for one of the characters to travel through the forboding woods to “the towns” on the other side, something that the elders took an oath they would never do when they founded the village. The acting is quite good here; Bryce Dallas Howard