Archive for May, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

When you go see a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine you know you are not going to be seeing anything intellectual. You expect to see a silly film with hopefully a lot of laughs, and that is exactly what Hot Tub Time Machine provides you with. It never pretends to be something it’s not. Since I was fully prepared for ninety minutes of pure silliness, I found I rather enjoyed it.

There are no bad performances in the film, but the stand-out performance is from Rob Corddry as the suicidal and manic Lou. He is bitter and outrageous and his destructive tendencies tend to make it difficult for his friends to be around him. Rob Corddry plays Lou with a lot of energy and jumpiness, which makes the character seem even more unstable and unpredictable.

It was also nice to see John Cusack in a comedy that’s actually funny for once. His last few attempts at comedy, including the terrible Must Love Dogs were lacking in any humour.

The film revolves around four dysfuntional men. Three of these guys: Adam (Cusack), Lou, and Nick (Craig Robinson), were best mates in high school but have lost touch over the years, largely because they stopped liking each other. The fourth in the group is the teenage nephew of Adam, and is a geek who likes to spend all his time playing computer games, rather than doing anything remotely sociable. These four are brought together when Lou attempts to commit suicide and since he has no interested relatives, his old friends are called upon to help raise his spirits.

In order to cheer Lou up, they take him to a ski resort they used to go to in the 80s. When they arrive at the resort though, they find it is no longer the desirable place it used to be. The only upside to the place is that their room has a working hot tub. They surround the tub with copious amounts of alcohol, jump in, and start partying. Somehow, during the course of their partying, the hut tub takes them back in time and when they wake up the next day they realise they are back in the 1980s.

It is never made very clear what caused this time travel, but since it’s not a film that you are meant to take very seriously, you shouldn’t really care about this, and if you do, RELAX.

Crispin Glover’s role as the one armed bell boy provides the best laughs in the film. When the film goes back in time he is in possession of both of his arms, and the director plays with the viewer’s morbid curiousity as we hope to discover how he loses his arm. You know he’s going to lose the arm during the course of the film, but you have no idea how. There are numerous close shaves before the arm eventually comes off, and these near misses create the only real suspense in the film.

Overall I enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine. It kept me engaged and I didn’t find the time dragged at all. My only problem with the film was that I felt it could have been funnier. Although the jokes are flowing throughout, there are no real laugh-out-loud moments. It consistently makes you chuckle, but nothing more substantial. There were no surprises, and except for its ridiculous title, there is nothing very memorable about it.

Dir: Steve Pink

Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke

rating: 5

The Living Wake (2010)

Monday, May 24th, 2010

When anyone watches a movie they enter into a non-verbal contract with the director that states that as we place ourselves in their hands for the next two hours, we trust that they will not screw with us. That does not just cover that they won’t plant us back in the Middle Ages and then have someone make a phone call on an Iphone but also that they know what they are doing and will not film someone’s chin when they intend to be capturing a close up. If they do film a chin, that chin better be important in the third act. Director Sol Tryon in his debut film “The Living Wake,” breaks this contract.

“The Living Wake” covers the last day of self proclaimed genius K. Roth Binew (played by Michael O’Connell, also co-writer of the screenplay). He is diagnosed with a “vague and grave sickness.” On the plus side, the doctor is able to pinpoint to the second the moment Binew is going to die. Therefore, K. Roth sets out on his last day to pass out invitations to his final party, a living wake. He enlists his best and only friend, Mills Joaquin (Jesse Eisenberg) to take him around on a bike-powered rickshaw. The quirkiness only escalates from there. In an attempt to finally get the brief but powerful monologue his dad promised him, a monologue that would uncover all of life’s mysteries, he endures trials and tribulations, mostly of his own making. He concludes his day with a final performance at his living wake. On a makeshift stage, in an open field, Binew’s friends gather to witness his madness one last time.

Jesse Eisenberg, still doing his best Michael Cera impersonation (God bless him), does an adequate job being a dutiful and long suffering lackey. He is the reason this film is getting a release at all, as he is the only known name in the entire roster, and I guess they figured they could release the film on his recent success in Zombieland and Adventureland. Carter Little wrote the music, which was often overpowering, (Michael O’Connell has his hand in this as well), although I did enjoy their attempt at wit by placing the Westminister chimes throughout the score as if to show how time is slipping away from K. Roth Binew. Ha ha! So witty.

There are places in the film where the actors physically pause for the laughter as if they are playing before a live studio audience…but the laughter in my audience never came. It is very difficult to express why and/or how this film misses the mark and I think the difficulty in the explanation is part of the mark-missing in itself. Let me explain. The film wants to be over the top, both with its characters and their audacity and with the settings and situations they are placed in. However, it feels that Tryon is too timid and decides to play it safe. It’s not quite tongue-in-cheek and it’s not quite convincing me that these are real characters. The movie lies in some middle lukewarm ground where everything is simple and boring. There is a song that K. Roth Binew sings, his final hurrah as it were where he shucks off this mortal coil and says goodbye to his acquaintances. The event itself is big. The character, to Mr. O’Connell’s great credit, is played very big. The song, however, felt understated, underdeveloped and under whelming. Perhaps in a different director’s hands this would have been a cult house classic – certainly something I would enjoy. In fact, I feel this film is begging for an immediate remake. I would love to see this story with most of this cast in a capable director’s hands. Tryon seemed to have been watching “Rushmore” on an endless loop while making this film and I can see what he was going for. Honestly, he just lacked the confidence to be brazen, to really let K. Roth Binew loose, to let him be an utterly contemptible jerk and, perhaps, hated by the audience. That’s where he was written to be. That’s where O’Connell was playing him. Instead, Tryon pulled way back on the reins, too scared that his protagonist was not going to be adored and therefore landed in the queasy no-man’s land of apathy.

The gravest sin, and the one that finally pushed me completely out of the fanciful world this film was attempting to weave around me, came at the end of the film. I would say that this is a spoiler because there is a tissue-thin veil of doubt the film tries to throw over our eyes about the finality of K. Roth Binew’s life at the end of the day. And perhaps it is because of that shred of doubt that I was in such a quandary about what happened. In any case, if you care at all, don’t read further and know that I would recommend waiting until the re-imagining to watch this film.

K. Roth Binew dies. Shocker, I know, but he times it very well with the ending of that final “big hurrah” song I was describing earlier and lands in his coffin, standing up, arms folded across his chest (if only he could have been holding a lily). The problem is, Michael O’ Connell CAN NOT STOP MOVING! And it’s not a subtle, “Did I just see what I think I saw?” kind of thing. This was serious hand twitching, chest heaving, Adams apple moving going on here. It was to such a point that, when none of the mourners who were staring intently at him even mention it, I felt that they were either in some serious denial or that they had all gone mad. “Binew is going to get up at any minute now” I thought to myself. Then they nailed shut the coffin and Mills Joaquin takes him away. “He’s taking Binew to a secluded place where he can open the coffin” I thought to myself. Then Mills Joaquin places the coffin on a boat in a river and sets it ablaze. “Oh, so Mills Joaquin wasn’t in on the gag and K. Roth Binew will soon burst out of the flaming coffin and it will be funny” I thought to myself. Then the screen went black and the end credits started to roll. Then I finally realized that it was not the audience at the living wake who could or would not see the dead man moving, it was the director. And it was then that I decided that if the director, Sol Tryon, could not be bothered to care about his film, then neither could I.

Harry Brown (2010)

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

It’s always great to see an exciting director’s first film. To say, “Wow! Once that guy polishes up some of his story telling skills, he’s going to make some impressive works.” Harry Brown is Daniel Barber’s first feature length film and it knocks the wind out of you. From the opening scenes, shot on what looked like grainy home movie stock, or what it was trying to resemble, cell phone footage blown up way beyond what it should be, the tone is set for this visceral film. What we see when the movie starts is what looks like an initiation, a bunch of youth hanging out in an alleyway, smoking drugs and playing with guns. Cut to two guys on a motor bike, shaky-cam, film the ground, driving through a park, whooping and laughing uproariously, pass a mother pushing her child in a stroller, bike stops and doubles back, driver circles the mother, pulls out the gun from the opening scene and opens fire on the poor woman. What happens next still has me scratching my head wondering how they accomplished it. The sudden, senseless, intense and brutal violence, which becomes the signature for this film is established up front and a director who doesn’t stylize and doesn’t shy away from such harsh images emerges into the zeitgeist.

This film is two parts to me. The first part is the story, which is extremely pedestrian, and is raised just above the common by Michael Caine and his extraordinary talents. Set in modern day Britain, we follow one man’s journey through a chaotic world where teenage violence and debauchery runs rampant. When his best friend is killed, he becomes the vigilante he was always meant to be. As I sat there watching the film I was constantly thinking through the first half – “Oh, he’s got a military background. That means he can do something about all the stuff we’ve been seeing these hooligans pull. He only needs one thing to push him ove… Oh… his only friend is going to go confront the hooligans…Yeah…that’ll do it.” This was a paint-by-numbers vigilante film; they might as well have gotten the outline to Death Wish or The Brave One and just plugged in new names. The music by Martin Phipps and Ruth Barrett do it no favors either, foretelling what is about to occur so far in advance that any emotional shock or connection with the characters is often lost. Emily Mortimer is all but wasted in this film, not given much to do but push exposition through and give us a glimpse into the fractured legal system that allows such horrible actions as are happening on the streets and apartments complexes in this film to go unchecked. As I stated before, the only thing that saves this portion of the film is getting to watch Michael Caine be the guy who gives these ruffians what for. It reminded me so much of the films and roles he’d done when he was younger, it almost made me nostalgic. The only other actor I want to spotlight is Sean Harris who did an outstanding job being a drugged-out-of-his-mind creep. With the bare minimum that he was given he styled a character so menacing and fascinating, in the portion of the film he was in, he stole the show from Michael Caine.

The second part of the film for me is utterly astounding and makes my mouth water for what the director will do next. The way that Daniel Berber handled the color, the texture, the mannerisms and rough aggressiveness of the streets and the children they spawn was amazing. It really made me wish he had chosen a better project to put this talent to. I wonder what he would have done with Sin Nombre, Bully or even transplanting a City of God type tale into England. He could bring those kinds of storylines to brilliant life. I don’t want him to get pigeon-holed, but from what I saw here, I just want him to fan this flame a little more and see the skill that’s began shining to come to full fruition before he moves on. The cinematographer, Martin Ruhe, as well must be complimented for making such raw and gritty images look absolutely beautiful.

It must be said that the kind of actions of violence portrayed in this film are not over exaggerated. The police advisors for the film, it is mentioned in the notes for the movie, had far more shocking stories to tell. That said this film does not come down praising or condemning either one side or the other, as well it shouldn’t. If the intention of the film was to entertain, it did so very well. However, if the intention was to inform, to educate or to stir something in the hearts of its audience and make a difference, it missed completely. It is difficult to do so when your hero’s response to violence is more violence.

Julie and Julia (2009)

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

There is so much food on show in Julie and Julia, it really does leave you feeling incredibly hungry. From starters and main courses to desserts, everything looks utterly delicious and it’s easy to believe the actors gained many pounds whilst filming this, as they are constantly eating. This is very much a film about cooking, so if you don’t like good food, just don’t bother watching. However, if you do like a good meal and some kitchen action, you may find this film very appetising. Be sure to have some snacks nearby when you watch though as otherwise it may be too much to bear.

Julie and Julia is based on two true stories. It shows the stories of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), two women who made names for themselves through the art of cooking. Julia Child is a well known name in America as she the book ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ and appeared on Televison cooking shows. The film covers Julia’s life  from the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s, starting at the point when she moved to Paris with her husband Paul and discovered her love for cooking. The other story the film tells is the more modern day story of Julie Powell, a failed writer about to turn thirty who doesn’t know where her life is going. In a bid to find some purpose, Julie sets herself the difficult challenge of cooking her way through Julia Child’s massive cookbook and writes a blog about it.

Although the two stories are covering different time periods, they are very much interlinked and mirror each other. The two women are not at all like each other in temperament, but their lives follow similar paths. They both take up cooking to fill up time and find their own purpose and they both find cooking ultimately takes them to success.

Meryl Streep’s accent in the film is very bizarre. She is portraying an American woman, but she sounds like she’s attempting to sound either French or Polish. I can only imagine the odd accent is supposed to emphasise Julia Child’s eccentric nature and larger than life personality, but personally I found it a bit distracting. However, I did find her portrayal of Julia Child otherwise adorable. She’s a woman who seems unafraid of anything and she’s not afraid to show the world exactly who she is. She joins a cooking class which is solely occupied by men and she proves herself to be as fearless as any of them in the kitchen. She always seems happy, even under immense pressure and she never gives up.

Julie Powell is less likeable, which is surprising considering she’s being played by ‘nice girl next door’ type Amy Adams. Although Julie looks like a picture of innocence and sounds sweet as pie, she acts like a proper bitch sometimes, and you can’t help but wonder why her lovely husband puts up with it. She does acknowledge she has behaved badly though, so that helps soften the viewer’s feelings towards her and stops her from looking like a remorseless cow.

You can tell this is a Nora Ephron movie, as although I wouldn’t call the film a romance, the scenes between Julia Child are her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) are incredibly sweet and touching. It’s obvious the pair are besotted with one another, and Ephron makes it clear that without Paul, Julia’s success and happiness would not have been possible. Just as some of Ephron’s other movies such as Sleepless in Seattle and Michael make you believe in soul mates and fariytales, Paul and Julia’s relationship in this movie leaves you believing in true love.

Since this film is largely about cooking, i’ll sum it up using cooking terms. Julie and Julia is ‘light and fluffy, with a pleasant filling.’

rating: 5

Dir: Nora Ephron

Starring: Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci