Archive for June, 2010

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Hot Tub Time Machine

June 24, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Everyone has seen the raunchy teen comedies (from Superbad to Not Another Teen Movie) and they normally aren’t all that great.  Everyone has seen the loser grown-up (Will Ferrell) who sits around making fart jokes and being a train wreck of a person.  This is a combination of those two films.  What happens when three best friends (and a nephew) go back to the ski resort where the three friends had some of their greatest moments.  Sure, it has a lot of stupid humor in it, but it has a fair amount of heart (however misguided it is).

As I’ve alluded to, three friends, Adam, Nick and Lou, return to Kodiak Mountain (along with Jacob, Adam’s nephew) after Lou almost kills himself.  They are trying to bring Lou out of his funk and they hope that this will end up curing him.  Unfortunately, the resort isn’t quite as they remember it.  The place has fallen apart and no one visits there anymore.  The only slight saving grace is a hot tub which turns into a time machine.  They end up back in 1986, in their old bodies, except for Jacob who is just Jacob.  They realize that everything might change in the future if they change the past, so they start out trying to avoid making any change, no matter how slight. That plan falls apart as none of them are particularly happy with where they are now (with the possible exception of Jacob who is living in Adam’s basement).  They have to figure out how to get back to their future and they end up changing a lot which all works out, surprisingly, for the better.

The performances are all pretty solid.  John Cusack is an actor you really can never go wrong with, and in this role, he does a good job.  He seems to play similar characters fairly often, someone who is down and out in many ways, but he can do so either dramatically or in a comedy like this one.  It is a little raunchier than you’d expect from a film with Cusack in it, but he works really well in the role of Adam.  Craig Robinson plays Nick and he is one of those up and coming comedians that is still new enough not to be boring when he does some of his same mannerisms over and over again.  His humor in this film is less subtle than that of Cusack, but not purely gross out humor.  The gross out humor is provided expertly by Rob Corddry, of Daily Show fame, he has a knack for playing that over the top extremely intense character.  It lends itself to some humor, and while he has a lot of the jokes, they don’t seem as funny as the jokes that Robinson and Cusack have.  Clark Duke plays Jacob, and he does a decent job.  He comes across as very nerdy, but overall isn’t all that funny in the film.  He is more of a character to be poked fun at than to make any of the jokes.  He has a chance or two, but we really don’t get to see how good a comedian he could be.  Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, and Chevy Chase round out the notable cast members.  Caplan plays her typical free spirited type of character and Chevy Chase makes a cameo appearance as the hot tub repair man.  Chase has a couple of decent lines, and Caplan brings some poignancy to some scenes.  But Glover is the one who really puts on a good performance as Phil, the bellhop at the resort.  He sometimes seems like a complete and utter dick, and other times he becomes unbearably sweet.  But he does a good job with him performance.

Visually Steve Pink does little with this film to set it apart from other raunchy comedies.  It has a nice eighties feel to it, but there isn’t anything special about how this film is shot.  What does make this film pop is the eighties sound track pumping in the background.  It matches the film extremely well, and I love 80’s music so hearing Motley Crue blaring behind them is just great.  Josh Heald and Sean Anders do a good idea with the story, reliving part of your life might not be the most original thing, but they kept the jokes coming throughout the whole film and there were really no lulls, which is important for this type of comedy.

This is a comedy that I would recommend checking out.  Sure, it is somewhat raunchy and perverse at some points, but overall the combination of the humor and the bit of heart that it shows works pretty well.  It mainly is worth watching for Craig Robinson and John Cusack who really steal the show, and if the subtler humor isn’t your thing, Coddry provides a whole lot of physical and raunchy humor.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: C+

Overall Grade: B

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Repulsion

June 17, 2010

Repulsion

Roman Polanski, known now for being a messed up dude as much as a director, is actually very brilliant and creates a setting of horror that isn’t anything like you see today.  This is much more psychological then modern horror films which rely on jumps and gore to make an impact.  There is only one real jump scene in this film and you do jump when it happens, but otherwise the setting and atmosphere that is created is just off enough to make you feel uncomfortable while watching it.

The story is of an innocent girl, Carole, lives with her sister.  She has lived a repressed existence, but she seems to be functioning fairly well and just innocent with her views of the world.  She has a boyfriend who is more into her than she is him, and her sister has a married lover whom Carole is repulsed by.  When Carole’s sister, Helen, leaves for a few days on vacation, Carole’s reality starts to crumble around her.  Carole falls apart, quitting her job, and hiding herself in the apartment.  All of her troubles are compounded when she receives an abusive phone call from her sister’s lovers wife.  She imagines everything going wrong, people coming after her and removing her innocence.  When Michael, her boyfriend, becomes worried about her and breaks into the apartment, Carole believes that all her horrors are going to come true and kills him.  She does the same later with the landlord when he comes to collect the rent.

Normally I’d go to the actors next and explain what performances were good and which were bad, but besides Carole, Catherine Deneuve, the rest of the actors and actresses see only limited screen time.  So the next real thing to talk about is Polanski and his work creating this film.  It isn’t a typical horror film, but he creates bits and pieces that are just disturbing to watch.  There is a rabbit which Carole is supposed to cook when her sister leaves, but instead it is left on a plate, out in the apartment, and we see it decay as time passes, mirroring the decay of Carole’s mind.  She imagines a crack in the wall growing and eventually the whole wall crumbling.  It is hard to explain the effect that Carole’s decent has on the viewer, but compared to many psychological  horror films, Polanski does an amazing job filming it.

Another thing to consider about this film is the fact that with only one character on the screen most of the time there is very limited use of dialog.  Now most films often explain everything that is going on, especially common in horror films, and it is rare to have characters in silence.  Wall-E is the one film that I think does this brilliantly as well, limitings its dialog.  Whereas Wall-E shows love through the actions of the character extremely well, Polanski uses the silence to show off the decay of Carole.

This isn’t a film that translates extremely well to a contemporary audience, but it is a really well made film for it’s time and Deneuve’s performance is one of the best I’ve seen in a horror film.  Now people expect a slasher like A Nightmare on Elm Street or gore like in Hostel or a combination of both.  Subtle horror films are a thing of the past, but if you can get past the slower pace of the film, Repulsion is really an interesting and creepy experience.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B+

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Zombieland

June 16, 2010

Zombieland

This film is really the American version of Shaun of the Dead.  I know that some people will not like that, but a zombie comedy film, it is hard not to make comparisons between the two films.  They are both good in their own ways, but Zombieland has the standard to live up to, whereas Shaun of the Dead didn’t.

The story follows Columbus, a loner college student who has managed to survive the zombie apocalypse and is now fighting his way back to Columbus, Ohio.  Columbus isn’t his real name, it is where he is from originally, but no one goes by their real names.  He is one of few who have survived in the world of zombies because of being fairly anal about a list of rules.  The first rule is cardio because, as Columbus puts it, the first to go were the fatties.  They continue on with beware of bathrooms and always doubletap.  He meets up with Tallahassee, man without a care in the world who seems to basically love taking out zombies.  A contender for the zombie killer of the week.  Together they set out across the country where they run into Wichita and Little Rock, two girls who have been conning their way across the country, trying to relive a happy memory of Little Rock’s of an amusement park.  They steal Tallahassee’s vehicle and their weapons and take off.  Columbus and Tallahassee track them down and they all go off to Los Angeles together and Columbus falls for Wichita.

When it comes down to it, there isn’t a ton of a story to this film, it really is more about the characters and how to survive a zombie apocalypse than anything.  The performances are pretty good.  Jesse Eisenberg plays his typical role of the kind of nice guy who doesn’t have much of any motivation of cares.  It is a very predictable role for him, but one that he fills in well.  The star stealing performance is by Woody Harrelson who is Tallahassee.  Someone who can take out zombies with the flair that he does has to be a favorite character from the film.  Harrelson is someone who does a bunch of odd films, but really can play a wide variety of roles.  Emma Stone, from Superbad, and Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, fill out the other two main characters.  The rest of the talent doesn’t show up all that much because besides these four we only meet one or two other humans and they don’t last long.  Stone and Breslin both do solid jobs in their roles, but the zombie violence and the focus on Columbus in this film really don’t give them as much to work with.  The other performance that people love is the cameo by Bill Murray (albeit a short lived one).  He delivers one of the better lines in the film as well and he is playing Bill Murray in the film.

Visually this film has some great zombie killings.  They range from the pretty normal (shooting them) to the completely absurd (dropping a piano on top of them).  Ruben Fleischer does a good job with this film and what he is given.  He gets good performances and he keeps the action moving along nicely.  The amount he has to work with in terms of story, which is really just the vehicle for zombie killing.  I think that is the biggest difference between Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.  Shaun of the Dead creates more of a story and focuses on an almost more sophisticated (or maybe off the wall subtler type of humor) whereas Zombieland is pretty straight forward with it’s humor and focus more on the action.

This is definitely a good film and is a funny film in its own rights.  I personally prefer Shaun of the Dead just for the type of humor that it is, but the fact that there is a Zombieland 2 in the works is a good thing.  If they get the whole cast to return, I’ll likely check it out in theaters.  Definitely a very funny film.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A-

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show

June 7, 2010

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The most warped, off the wall, absurd musical that you will ever see.  Not recognized for being a great musical, this jumps into the world of cult classic films unlike any other film out there.  It abounds with audience participation and there are weekly midnight showings all across the country for the fans of the film where they dress up, bring props, and can quote the film line for line.

The story surrounds Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, two star crossed lovers who after a friends wedding take off into the country side by car when it becomes and dark and stormy night their car, predictably, breaks down and they go to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.  They quickly realize that everything is not quite right when Riff Raff, the hunch backed handyman opens up the door and Dr. Frank-N-Furter is having a party.  Things quickly become worse as Brad and Janet (damnette Janet) end up becoming two of the party guests.  The plot then twists even further into the realm of the absurd (and trust me, my synopsis might make it seem slightly normal, but it isn’t) as Dr. Frank-N-Furter takes his guests up to his laboratory to unveil his newest creation, Rocky.  Rocky comes to life and if at all possible, it becomes even more absurd.  You have to realize that if you see this with other people, everything I’ve written is littered with lines that take it two or three steps past awkward that the audience is shouting out at the screen.

This film has one absurdly iconic character and role that comes out of it.  Tim Curry, a solid actor in his own right, plays everyone’s favorite transsexual transvestite from Transylvania.   Curry will never be known for another role simply because of the swagger and absurdity that he puts into his performance while prancing around in a corset, fishnets, and high  heels.  Susan Sarandon, known for many other roles including her Oscar winning performance in Dead Man Walking, plays one of the other two leads as Janet Weiss.  Even though it is an absurd film and not something you’d generally think of Sarandon for, she does a good job playing a fairly innocent character in this film.  Barry Bostwick,  the mayor on Spin City, plays her finance Brad Majors, who is ridiculed, by the audience, for being more of a chicken and innocent than Janet is.  Richard O’Brien, the writer of the stage play, takes on the role of Riff Raff who is a lovably abused handyman at the hands of Doctor Frank-N-Furter (and when I say lovably, I mean as much as any character could be loved).  The final performance that I will mention (as there really isn’t a bad one in the whole film) is that of Meat Loaf, mainly because he is Meat Loaf and he is in this absurd film.  He only has a limited part (and only one song), but it leads to a wonderful chase around the laboratory with Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

Jim Sharman, who adapted the stage play for the screen and directed the film, does a great job on this film.  It is very absurd and he creates the absurd and fake futuristic (at times) setting in the castle and at other times blends it with the style of an old cluttered house.  He gets good performances from the actors, and with a story as absurd as what it is, he squeezes everything out of it.

This film won’t ever be considered a great film, and rightfully so.  The story is too absurd, the acting, while good for the film, isn’t the greatest acting, and the direction, while again fitting the film, doesn’t take direction and film to another level.  This film is meant to be watched with a group of people (probably shouting at the screen) and the whole event that surrounds a showing of the film is what makes it so incredibly special.

Entertainment Grade: A

Critical Grade: B-

Overall Grade: B+

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Adventureland

June 3, 2010

Adventureland

This film gets the unfortunate labeling a teen comedy.  In a world of films like Superbad being the standard, the subtle humor and drama blended together don’t match up the to raunchy expectations for this film.

Set in the summer of 1987, the story is about James Brennan, a college graduate who’s father has lost his job because of alcoholism.  Gone are Brennan’s plans for a Europe trip that summer with a college buddy, and fading is the likelihood that he’ll be able to go to grad school.  He takes a summer job at an amusement park, Adventureland, where he spends the rest of his summer.  The story then delves into some funny moments, but it is really about the development of Brennan’s character along with the relationships he develops with Em, Lisa P, Mike Connell, and Joel.

Jesse Eisenberg stars in this film as Brennan.  He and Michael Cera have this awkward sweet boy persona that shows up in every film that they do.  His  work since then in an action comedy Zombieland even has that same feel.   You feel sorry for the kid because he doesn’t have it all together and that is the type of role that Eisenberg is made for playing, the slightly awkward college kid.  Kristen Stewart stars opposite of him as Em, a somewhat out of control and messed up coworker of his.  She has a very bleak outlook on life and is almost overly dramatic but still less overly dramatic than in Twilight.  Bill Hader, Matt Bush, and Martin Starr provide most of the comedy in this film.  Hader is just absurd and Bush provides much of the physical comedy in this film.  Starr has a bigger role as his character, Joel, becomes a good friend of Brennan throughout the film.  He has a lot of great lines in the film many of them very sarcastic and intelligent.  A subtle type of humor that films of this alleged genre aren’t supposed to have.  Margarita Levieva plays the girl, Lisa P, who everyone wants to go out with.  A beauty who seems like the girl next door.  Levieva is a good actress and in this role she doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but she plays her character very well.  Ryan Reynolds is probably the biggest name (well, maybe Stewart if you are a 14 year old girl) in this film.  He plays the guy who is too cool for his own good.  He has swagger and talks about everything amazing that he has done earlier in his life even though he just repairs the rides when they break down now.  He is supposed to rub you the wrong way, and he does a very good job of it.

This film does a good job of creating the eighties.  With the greatest hits of the eighties playing in the background and the poor style choices of the eighties on full display, this film just seems right.  Greg Mottola, the director of Superbad which is why the two are so closely compared, does a good job with this film.  He takes it on in a different way (and he wrote this one as well as directed it).  This isn’t the romp/last party before college.  This is after college, this is when real life is about to set in.  Even with grad school in Brennan’s future, he has to be more serious.  And Mottola does a good job of creating this more subtle teen-angst (or college-angst as the case may be) comedy.

I understand why many people didn’t like it.  I’m thankful I didn’t see it in theaters and had heard some about it before going to see it.  If I had been expecting to see Superbad after college, I would have been very disappointed.  But knowing what type of film it was, I enjoyed it a lot.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B+