Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why Jason Patric Should Be in Every Movie

By now Jason Patric has become just about one of my favourite actors. He started out in the 80s as a heartthrob of sorts and made his name in stuff like The Lost Boys. But in 1990 he proved just what an excellent actor he is in a film that got little recognition at the time called After Dark, My Sweet. In it he starred beside Bruce Dern (another inductee in this list) as a worn out drifter who gave up a career in boxing and looked like it was maybe a good idea as he always seemed to have taken maybe just one too many shots to the head.

Here Patric creates a perfect film noir hero: a guy who we don't quite know what to make of or to what extent we can trust. Is he good, is he bad, does he have ulterior motives or is he really just a burned out bum? Here, as with every subsequent great performance, Patric creates characters out of his presence, not his ability as an actor. He plays things internally, letting notes stew just below the surface. He's the kind of cool, collected man who could burst out at any moment as if he seems to be folding in on himself in order to contain his hidden rage.

It's no surprise then that Patric would go on to star in one of the coldest, most uncomfortable scenes in all of American film in Neil Labute's Your Friends and Neighbours. Watch as Patric looks on, telling his story, completely oblivious to the fact that what is conveying is truly horrifying. This is a man without a pulse and Patric creates him, once again, through presence and not showmanship. He's just there, cold, heartless, empty (note- this scene is at the heart of the film so if you don't want to spoil it, and you shouldn't since it's a masterpiece, don't watch this)

Patric played it tough and gritty and the police drama Narc but it was in another underrated gem, My Sister's Keeper that he changed his tune. Once again, he relied on his presence, but this time he was the emotional heart of a film and every scene he was in was a keeper. Rarely have American films presented dads as so honestly what they are: caring, understanding, rationale and supporting if even only from the background. Watch what Patric's presence does to the trailer alone:

Patric belongs to the film's best scene (which appears at the 1:53 mark). Look at how he takes the scene, not by making himself the center of it, but by reacting to it; knowing what it needs and giving it nothing more than that though the look of the eyes, the slant of the mouth, etc. These are roles that many actors would take and go over-the-top with, but not Patric who is an actor who understands the concept of restraint. He finds the truth in a scene and leaves it at that.

The Losers

The Losers is based on a comic book but it looks and feels more like an action movie. It’s big, loud, violent and dumb. God bless it. It recalls a time when action movies were allowed to be fun. Remember that? When they were just as much about personality as they were action, which The Losers has plenty of regardless? It has running, jumping, fighting, shooting, and, gasp, explosions that are created through the combination of gasoline, heat and oxygen, not a mouse and a keyboard. Remember that too? The Losers doesn’t go so far as to give rebirth to the classic days of the action hero, but it does manage to wrestle the genre away from the high tech, artificial flashes of light, sound and colour that have become a mainstay as of late and give it back to the characters who occupy it. Hey, it’s a start. The Losers are a group of skilled military men, employed by the CIA to, oh I donno, kill bad guys. But when a mission is botched by an evil insider who goes by the name of Max, the group pretends they are dead and set up shop in Bolivia where they hide away and live their new lives. The team is made up of leader Clay (Jeffery Dean Morgan), the tech guy Jensen (Chris Evans), the knife guy Roque (Idris Elba), the bomb guy Pooch (Columbus Short) and the marksman Cougar (Oscar Jaenada). The team are getting along and getting by but deep down Clay wants to find Max and take him out for blowing up 25 innocent kids with a missile that was meant for him and his team. Max, it might as well be stated, when he finally appears, is played by one-time heartthrob turned character actor Jason Patrick who manages the wonderful feat of creating a completely original villain just through the nature of his presence. A lesser actor would have flown way over-the-top in the same role but Patrick always keeps both feet on the ground. He’s so good at creating evil men that he takes the role one step further into comedy instead making him both A) the film’s most amusing character and B) all the more shocking when his violence suddenly erupts. Into the mix comes Aisha (Avatar’s Zoe Saladana) who hunts The Losers down in Boliva and is first mistaken for a foe so that, oh I donno, the film can justify setting a hotel room ablaze. Fair enough. Turns out Aisha has one concern: killing Max. Why she wants to is unknown to the group but hey, she’ll cop the tab and they get their names cleared. Sounds good. That’s the plot; the rest is all attitude. It’s kind of funny, kind of exciting, and all around, you know, kind of enjoyable in its glee for pulling out all of the stops for no better reason than to pull out all the stops. You’ve got to admire that. Action movies have been so mindless and hollow for so long that you’ve got to flag the ones with good senses about themselves. There’s a scene towards the end, during the big final shoot-out between Max and The Losers where a motorcycle becomes the prop at the centre of a wonderful action sequence. Many people who value their hearts and their minds will take issue with this. They’ll call it ridiculous. I don’t know, I call it kind of inspired because for one, there’s a certain danger, and therefore excitement, in ramping a motorbike off a high incline, second, motorbikes represent speed and speed somehow always translates into excitement and third, it’s something original. Good action movies take a certain degree of creativity to pull off successfully. The Losers has just enough of it to spare. Maybe that has something to do with the script, which was written by Peter Berg whose own The Rundown was another staple of silly action filmmaking of the highest order. Here, like there, Berg creates actual characters out of personality types which is then elevated into fruition by the actors, while director Sylvain White goes into hyper-stylist overdrive trying to make everything look as delicious and exciting as possible. Sure, it’s trash, but it’s good trash and you know what Pauline Kael said: if we can’t enjoy good trash, why bother going to the movies in the first place?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another List Announcement

Six days and the mystery list will be upon us. I've read a few of the entries and let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, they are good. I think I can also safely tell you that it'll be big (at one entry a day it will more than likely consume this site for the better part of a month). Although I'm still keeping the topic under lock and key I can bait your appetite a little more by telling you what films could have been on the list but wern't because, well, if we let every film on the list it could probably go on forever (or at least two months). So, can you make a connection between these films and guess what the list is about or are you scratching your head even more now and waiting with baited breath to know just what the heck this thing is about? Last House on the Left The Birds Breathless Clerks Dawn of the Dead The Exorcist Fargo The Fugitive Citizen Kane Persona M*A*S*H Dances with Wolves Last Tango in Paris Magnolia Men in Black Dirty Harry Psycho Yojimbo Rosemary's Baby Harold and Maude The Breakfast Club Silence of the Lambs The Sixth Sense Who Framed Roger Rabbit Speed Suspiria There's Something About Mary Titanic Vertigo The Notebook The Wild Bunch Alright, put your thinking caps on.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A List Announcement

So if you read this space regularly you probably know that I'm compiling a list. The nature of the list and what it is counting down is a secret that will be revealed with the first entry. I can tell you this though: the first entry into the list will be posted in exactly one week, next Monday May 2, 2010. I can also tell you that one film will be revealed per day until the number one position is revealed. I can also tell you, as I have before, that this is a collaborative effort. Each entry will be accompanied with an explanation from a reputable blogger, each of whom will also be contributing to the voting process to decide what order the films in question should appear on the list. So even if you don't agree with what number a film is presented at, well, it's not just my opinion, it's the pooled opinion of the contributors so ya know, take that. Anyway, in order to get you excited I will reveal the list of people who will be contributing/voting in no particular order: Ricky @ Tartan Review Sebastian @ Detailed Criticisms Hal @ Forget the Popcorn M. Carter @ M. Carter @ The Movies ( Simon @ Four of Them Olive @ Movie News First Gringo @ He Shot Cryus Marc @ Go See Talk Wynter @ Cinema Scream Travis @ The Movie Encyclopedia Darren @ The MOvie Blog Caroline @ Let's Go to the Movies Chris @ Celluloid Moon Andrew @ Andrew at the Cinema Larry @ The Movie Snob Aiden @ Cut the Crap Movie Reviews Ditty @ Elizabethan Theatre Andy @ Fandango Groovers Ruth @ Flixchatter So there you go. Pass the week by checking out their blogs because they are all good ones and then tomorrow I'll reveal a little more. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thanks to Everyone

To everyone who responded to my last post about creating a mystery list, I thank you. The support has been wonderful and proof that the movie blogging community is made up of people who support each other and are connected through a love of film. With that though, I have to announce that there is no room left for any more participants. But please, still follow along, tell your friends, leave comments, argue, debate, prove us wrong, tell us how narrow-sighted we are, tell us how ignorant we were for leaving your favourite film off the list, whatever. And to all those who are following here, wondering just what the heck this thing could be and what it's all about, well, it's a secret, but I'll reveal a few details in the coming days, just to get you excited.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Big Things Just Over the Horizon

I'm creating a list. I'm not going to tell you what the list is about because then it wouldn't be a surprise. What I will tell you though is that I want you to participate. I have a list of bloggers who participated in the Desert Island DVD thing who I will be contacting but some of the people who I read regularly and who read me didn't participate in that and I'd like for them to participate in this if they are feeling up to it. The reason: if I create a list then it's just another list that I created. However, if a bunch of people vote on it and contribute to it then maybe it can hold some worth. So, if you're interested and weren't on that Desert Island mailing list, drop me a line at my e mail: and tell me that you are interested in participating and I'll e mail the details within the next couple days. Trust me, it will be fun and unique!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Revisiting The Wicker Man Remake (3.5 out of 5)

Considering the first paragraph of my review of Death at a Funeral, I thought I'd look back at a review I wrote for Neil Labute's remake of The Wicker Man a couple years ago.

The Wicker Man is not a very good film, but it’s an interesting experience. It is not engaging, not scary and not even all that entertaining or likable, however I’m giving it three and a half stars which, in some small way, translates into a recommendation. I recommend it because, as big a mess as it is, it’s also dark, angry, cynical and, pessimistic; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Hollywood has been playing it safe for so many years that it’s kind of uncanny that anyone would have the nerve to make this at all.

That anyone is Neil Labute who, outside of Todd Solandz, is probably the most unrelenting member of the new group of “auteur” filmmakers to emerge from the independent world in the 90’s. However, like many filmmakers before and after, Labute operates under a system that Solandz has thus far been able to escape: the “one for us, one for them” archetype. Thus, filmmakers make a film that the studios can sell, then giving them the freedom to then make the one that’s dear to their hearts. It can’t be stated as fact, but I have a sinking suspicion that if it were not for this system, Labute would not even be interested in poor remakes of cult horror films. However, to view the Wicker Man as the product of its specific maker, we begin to understand why Labute would be drawn to it.

When we first meet the cop Edward Malus (Nicholas Cage) he is involved in an arbitrary scene in which, after pulling over a mother and her daughter whose doll has blown out of the luggage strapped to the top of their car, the car is struck by a transport truck, trapping the two inside as they burn to death.

Miraculously unharmed, Edward, on his time off, receives a letter from a former fiancée who left him at the alter and is now living on a private remote island called Summersisle with her daughter who has gone missing. The letter asks Edward if he could journey to the island and help find her.

On the island Edward is not exactly welcomed. He is greeted by three women who hassle him, asking how he got there in the first place as you must be invited to enter. As Edward begins his search for the missing child he discovers that the island is run by a mysterious figure know as Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn), that men seem to be voiceless slaves and the possibly murderous women talk to Edward in that exasperating way people talk when they are never telling quite as much as they know.

The plot thickens as Edward discovers that the little girl may be his own child and may have been kidnapped by the cultish inhabitants of Summersisle in order to sacrifice her so that the coming year produces a good honey crop (Summersisle is a bee keeping colony after all). I doubt that I would be giving much away if I tell you that nothing is as it seems.

Watching the Wicker Man we get the sinking feeling that it is simply playing by the numbers: the opening sequences spin the wheels of a plot that Labute never fully seems to be engaged in. Instead we discern that he is using the film as a backdrop in which to deal with the fears and anxieties that he so brutally and hilariously tried to repress back in his 1997 debut film In the Company of Men. That film centered on a corporate slime ball named Chad who, feeling threatened by the inclusion of women into the office world, makes a bet with his friend to become romantically engaged with one and then crush her when she least expects it.

In the time that has passed since, we have seen the equality of women in the work force rise and the uncrowning of men as rulers of the working world. The Wicker Man shows us the next logical social progression: a society that has been taken over by women who have created their own laws to govern their own ways of life and are ultimately vengeful towards the men who have repressed them for all these years. Notice how the only man of power on Summersisle is Edward because he is a working professional: a police officer with a badge and a gun, constantly threatening to arrest the women for misbehavior under a law created by men to govern a man’s world. If In the Company of Men was an attack on the shallowness of corporate men in a dog eat dog world, The Wicker Man serves as a counter attack against feminism in a sexually liberated social setting. These women are like Chad in reverse.

What else is interesting is that Edward is allergic to bees. If we trace the bee’s mythology we understand that they were seen as feminine creatures. Homer in his work also thought of bees as wild, untamed creatures. The list of comparisons is endless. It might not be a stretch to believe that this is how Labute perceives militant feminists: as wild and untamed creatures that are willing to sacrifice any man for the betterment of themselves. It seems no small irony that the one man on Summersisle who has the ability to overpower the women is also fatally allergic to bee stings.

The problem is that if Labute’s metaphor makes sense, his film doesn’t. It seems to be operating under the framework of the 1973 Wicker Man, but the plot never becomes more than this; as if Lebute is just spinning the wheels while his interests lay elsewhere. The car crash scene at the beginning seems without purpose, even worse is Edward’s constant flashbacks to it. Characters appear and we don’t know who they are, Cage runs around the island yelling at women, and an ending ritual in which the inhabitants of the island dress up in animal costumes is so strange that we can never quite grasp whether or not Labute is making a horror film or a strange comedy.

The truth is that a lot of people who see the Wicker Man will hate it; it is sloppy, convoluted, and confusing. Yet to not see it might be a shame as it unflinchingly goes for the throat when most horror films seem to be stuck on autopilot. I’d rather a film fail interestingly than succeed without inspiration. I therefore could have hated the film too, but I wasn’t satisfied: why would a great filmmaker reduce himself to a by-the-numbers picture? I’m reminded of a quote from Labute’s great 2003 film The Shape of Things in which a character states that Picasso didn’t take a shit and call it art. He knew the difference and that’s what made him Picasso. I think Neil Labute knows the difference too.

Death at a Funeral (4.5 out of 5)

A reviewer should never be faced with the feeling that their review requires an apology and yet that’s just the sentiments I am faced with over my thoughts on Death at a Funeral. Nothing about this film should work: it’s a remake of a very very minor British film from 2007 that was directed by Frank Oz (the voice of Miss Piggy), it stars Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan, whose names aren’t exactly associated with measures of cinematic quality and it was directed by Neil Labute who is a brilliant director, writer and playwright, but who usually focuses on dark films (often comedies) and shallow, wounded people. This movie has paycheque written all over it.

But here’s the thing: it’s funny as hell. It not only surpasses the original despite being almost an exact remake, but keeps on going until its memory is completely out of sight. Here’s proof that Godard may have actually been on to something when he said that the best way to criticize a film is to make another one.

Here’s the situation. A man has died and it is the day of his funeral. His family is gathering at his home where Aaron (Rock) is hosting. The eldest son, Aaron is worried that his eulogy will not be sufficient especially under the close scrutiny of those who believe his writer brother Ryan (Lawrence) should be giving it. Also around for the proceedings is the boys’ mother, a cousin played by Avatar’s Zoe Saldana whose father hates her white boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden) and would prefer she ended up with Derek (Luke Wilson) who is there with family friend Norman (Morgan) who is in charge of looking after grumpy old wheelchair-bound Uncle Russell (Danny Glover stealing the show). Also around is Frank (Peter Dinklage, reprising his role from the original) as a man with secrets from the father’s past.

See how they all connect like that? So does Labute who, like a brilliant stagehand orchestrates the ongoing slapstick comedy that arises out of the situation like a master conductor. Although the film forges on at full comedic tilt at all times, with several different subplots taking place around the house within the same temporal space, Labute never loses focus amidst the chaos. We always know that Oscar is in the backyard, Frank is in the guest room, Uncle Russell is in the bathroom, etc, with all of the threads building to an equal pitch so that the film not only stays its course, but never loses its momentum either.

The idea behind the film is that of classic screwball comedy. A man just wants to get through the day with as little problems as possible only to have everything go wrong from the beginning. And that’s the essence of the film’s comedic approach: just one damned thing after the other. That’s appropriate. It’s always better when it feels like funny things are happening as opposed to people trying to be deliberately funny. So Labute and his cast take full measures in pushing this situation to the very brink of its comedic potential. There are things in this movie that are vulgar, tasteless and at least one that is just plain wrong, but oh boy are they all ever funny. There’s something about this cast in this situation under the guidance of such an assured filmmaker that everything just clicks. Sometimes films succeed just on the basis that they find that special cocktail of elements and personalities that just go off and magic is born. That happened last year with The Hangover. Here it is again.

Another interesting aesthetic device that Labute employs is that he films many of the scenes in close-ups. It’s as if he understands the actors are funnier than the actions and so therefore focuses on the actors performing them instead of the gags themselves. That makes sense. Labute makes films about people and how they interact and influence each other. Screwball is such a broad generic convention that it can speak for itself, but by keeping the distance between audience and actor an intimate one, we not only focus on the individual, allowing several quick moments of humanity and sweetness to sneak through, but the comedy is played off of the reaction as much as the act itself. Take the James Marsden character, who gets himself into a predicament too funny to even hint at. The situation is inherently hilarious but the mileage that Labute gets off of Marden’s face is invaluable. Anyone could have filmed this same bit (and Oz did) at a medium or long distance and we would have laughed for a moment and then been tired with it. By keeping us close, Labute keeps our interests vested.

And then the film works because of how completely shameless it is willing to be: how far it is willing to go for a laugh and how many it actually gets in the process because of the strange logic every joke follows. Like The Hangover, there is nothing redeemable about this film: it has nothing to say about death, life, society, race, sex, religion, anything. All it wants is to be funny and it succeeds. I used to think that Neil Labute was only good at making Neil Labute films but with this, Lakeview Terrace and The Wicker Man it turns out he can make good films about just about anything, no apology required.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Celebrity Connection: Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke is such a strange man that it's always surprising to rediscover just what a great actor he is. And once upon a time, he looked like something that could possible resemble a sex symbol. Today he looks like he's about two or three steps from ending up in the ICU (I always wake up expecting to see headlines that say Mickey Rourke: 1952-2010), but in the 80s he was a hot commodity. I was watching St. Elmo's Fire tonight which was also a staple of the 80s (like The Breakfast Club after graduation) and noticed something peculiar. Check it out:
Could Judd Nelson just be Mickey Rourke in disguise? You decide.

Why Bruce Dern Should be in Every Movie

A little context first. I was talking to the missus the other day and she said I should come up with more regular features on this site (like Celebrity Connections). I thought about it and then it hit me. I'd keep extending a piece I wrote last month about why Charles S. Dutton should be in every movie. It will be a regular adding to that short list of distinctive actors who make you perk up whenever they come on screen because no matter what, you know what's coming is going to be something good. I was watching Hal Ashby's emotionally effecting Vietnam tale Coming Home in which Jane Fonda plays a woman left behind as her husband (Dern) goes off to fight. She takes up a position as a volunteer nurse at a veteran hospital and there begins an affair with a wounded soldier played by Jon Voight. Although the film has little social relevance today it is still an effecting work because of the quality of the acting and the impact of the relationship between the two leads. Although the film is somewhat (maybe wrongly?) criticized for losing its course in the third act when Dern returns home after sustaining an injury, there is a scene within this time that I shall never forget. Dern, having been clearly effected by what he has witnessed in combat and by what his injury has done to his pride, finds out about the affair and erupts in anger over everything. A lot of actors play big scenes with big emotions. You can see them going into acting overdrive. They play bigger, they tremble, they raise their voice, they put the fruits of their entire craft on full display. Not Dern. His eruption is so pure and unexpected that it is almost hard to watch. He gives himself over to the scene entirely, cutting himself open and laying himself bare for the camera in the span of mere seconds. I've never seen anything quite like it before. It certainly may be the most honest and open scene Dern has ever played.
But now watch Dern play the goofy sidekick in Hitchcock's final film Family Plot
And now look at Dern as the ugly, emotionless villain of The Cowboys

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Rating Scale

So the other day when I wrote a one minute review of Next Day Air Andrew over at Encore commented that the movie sounded passable but he was surprised by the high rating which I allotted (3.5 out of 5). This inspired me to throw out some context. There is one fundamental rule that I believe when it comes to scoring films: it is pointless. I do it because it comes with the territory, but really, what does a rating out of four or five prove? It doesn't assess the worth of the film itself because it is based on the preference of the writer and reflects their experience of the film and not the film's overall worth, in which case you should scrap the rating and just read the review. That's what it is there for in the first place. It also doesn't assess the worth of a film in relation to other films because every rating is the rating solely of that film and not all films. It is possible to use other like films to justify a certain rating but when I give a five star rating to Up in the Air that by no means makes it the equal to The Godfather which would also get five stars. Up in the Air is a five star film in the world of corporate human comedies and The Godfather is a five star gangster movie. In no way do either of those five stars cross over in relation to one another and I don't even begin to know how they would begin to compare in the overall world of film. However if The Dark Knight is a five star movie then the other four Batman movies before Batman Begins are around 2-2.5s. Now, as for why I use five stars. It's because I like that extra star for indifference. Four stars doesn't really give you much wiggle room. However, in terms of thumbs up or thumbs down, five stars offers the 3-3.5 range which is basically the same (overall indifference) but 3 reflects the thumb tipping slightly in the down direction while the 3.5 reflects the thumb tipping slightly in the up direction. But again, we're beating a dead horse because, as proof right in the first paragraph, the meaning of these ratings exist solely in the mind of the reviewer (Andrew perceives 3.5 to be of greater worth than me and that's his right). To me good film criticism has, is and will always be about someone who writes about film sharing their experiences with those who like to read about film. As I've said elsewhere on this site, I read a review not to know if the movie is good or not (I can decide that on my own) but to see what reviewer X had to say about it. When I read Andrew's blog I care much more about who his personal favourite actors and actresses of the decade are and why he thinks so rather than what films he thinks I should be seeing because, knowing me, I'll probably see them regardless. With that said, in most cases, to reference Jean Renior once again, the reviewer is often more important than the film he or she is reviewing, which simply acts as a springboard or starting point from which that person can begin to share their personal thoughts, fears, anxieties, philosophies, emotional responses, etc. Film criticism, like all art, is fundamentally composed of two parts: the emotional and the intellectual. It's on one (or both) of these two levels that all great film (and art in general) moves us on. If a film doesn't stimulate a viewer's mind or move them to some emotional response then it has failed and this can only be expressed in the body of the review, not in the arbitrary number I put in brackets after the film's title.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

With The Hangover and now Hot Tub Time Machine comedies are once again vulgar for all the right reasons. The film is thus a wonderful throwback to the glory days of Harold Ramis and John Landis: films that were tasteless, but tastefully so because they believed in their comedy, followed it to the furthest extremes and, most importantly, didn’t let it fall outside of what could be acceptable as believable under the circumstances. There is nothing even remotely plausible about a hot tub that transports three men and one teenager back to the 80s, and yet, within the context of this film, it makes perfect sense as the actors play with the premise not into it. The hot tub is the maguffin that springboards into the laughs. That’s about the way it should be, for a macguffin, as Hitchcock teaches, is basically nothing important. So then the question left is: does the film work? Well, I suspect that it does insomuch as any movie about a hot tub time machine ever could. That’s the trick; the movie continues to succeed outside of its outlandish plot because it’s clever, funny and well acted by men who rarely ever even acknowledge that they are trapped inside a movie about hot tubs and time travel. Too often movies like this draw attention to the fact that they are about something zany and come off as lazy and uninspired. These guys aren’t in on the joke and in turn the proceeds feel instead like what would logically happen to these men in this situation. That’s comedy. It also helps that one of them, Adam, is played by John Cusack whose presence alone, in almost any movie, seems to make things a little nicer and a little brighter. Another, Nick, is played by Craig Robinson who you may know from The Office or as the deadpan scene stealer from Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Robinson is so good at delivering dialogue in such a flat, matter-of-fact manner that one gets to wondering whether or not a one-liner could ever be written that this man couldn’t make funny. It’s no surprise that he get’s the film’s biggest laugh (you’ll know it when you see it). Then there is Lou (Rob Corddry) who I guess by now can be considered to have the Zack Galafanakis role. You know the one: the token troublemaker. Lou is the guy who refuses to grow up, living life on the edge. “He’s an a-hole,” describes Nick. “But he’s our a-hole.” The fourth member of the group is Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clarke Duke) who is along for the ride and must ensure that the men stay their course in the past in order to avoid a butterfly effect. Do you really need to know more than that? Maybe it’s also of note that Crispin Glover shows up as a one-armed bell boy every once in a while when an extra laugh is needed. Chevy Chase also pops up here and there to play essentially the same character he’s been playing since Caddyshack. The movie was directed by Steve Pink who wrote the invaluable High Fidelity and then went on to make his directorial debut with Accepted, the unexpectedly insightful and amusing college comedy. Now, with Hot Tub Time Machine, he’s pulled the rug out and gone all the way into shameless comedy. Is it tasteless? Sure it is, but it’s also funny, clever, and Cusack especially brings a human quality to the entire thing. It’s by no means a major film, but like Accepted it takes a concept that sounds uninspiring on paper and makes it into something special instead of simply leaning on its gimmick premise. It’s not nearly as amusing as The Hangover, but I still laughed. How else is there to judge a comedy?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One Minute Review- Next Day Air

Next Day Air is the debut feature film from a music video director named Benny Boom. No joke. Generally guys with names like Benny Boom don't make boring movies and indeed Next Day Air is a hyper-kintisized version on that old fail safe genre of comedies parading around disguised as hard boiled thrillers. Someone has been reading up on their Elmore Leonard. It's a tried and true formula, and to be sure Next Day Air brings nothing new to it but hey, if it ain't broke, ya know? So what we are greeted to is a large cast of eclectic characters who all go about different business but will, in one way or another, connect by the end of the film. There's the ever stoned delivery guy who delivers a package full of high grade coke, not to the proper door but to that of the incompetent bank robbers who stole the security tapes instead of the loot ("get the safe" is mistaken for "get the tapes," you see) and need to make a getaway on foot after they discover that they locked the getaway car. Thus, the robbers want to sell the inheritance, the Mexicans who it belongs to want it back and the delivery guy just wants more weed. Although this whole enterprise is not plotted as tightly as say Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, it's in the same artistic vein as early Guy Ritchie capers, and all of the actors seem to have a good time with the material, especially the surprisingly restrained Mike Epps who steals some of the film's best lines. Minor, but not bad for a first timer.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

One Minute Review: It Might Get Loud

I have no idea how Fellini filmed the opening sequence of 8 1/2 where Guido flies above the beach, being tethered to Earth by no more than a string around his ankle that is being held by his producers. Sure, I could read a book on Fellini or look it up somewhere online, but I don't want to know because the more I know about it the more it feels like filmmaking and the less like magic. That's the feeling I got while watching It Might Get Loud, which strikes me as the kind of documentary that may be enjoyed more by people who care less about filmmaking and more about music. The film follows around three big name guitarists (Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge) as they recount how they started on the guitar, how they found their sound, what their first guitar was, their musical history and so on. Sometimes these memories are conveyed on their own and sometimes in the middle of a three-way jam session between each of the men. Guitar players will find the film interesting in that it shows their heroes breaking down their craft, but one is ultimately left wondering at the end just what the film was trying to achieve as it strikes an uneasy balance between deciding if it should be about the guitar itself of the men who have made their names playing it. In the end it kind of feels like something you'd watch on VH1 on a bored afternoon when you couldn't muster the ambition to do anything else. Note- In case the opening comment wasn't clear enough: I cannot play the guitar but am thoroughly fascinated by those who can do so well.