Tag: 2010

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Yeah, yeah, I still saw it despite various less-than-laudatory reviews. I had to know for myself! And whaddya know, Hot Tub Time Machine, while not exactly living up to its invigorating title, is generally pretty funny. The story concerns former best friends Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Lou (Rob Corddry), who have drifted apart as they’ve reached the humdrum of middle age, and Adam’s shut-in slacker nephew Jacob (Clark Duke).

After the alcoholic Lou appears to attempt suicide, they all come together at a dilapidated ski lodge, once a happenin’ teen hangout in the 80’s, where the older friends had their best times as teens. When they settle into their room’s adjacent hot tub, they find themselves magically transported back to 1986, to a pivotal night for each of the four men. With the older dudes back in their 80’s bodies, they go about the business of reliving better, sexier times, while Jacob tries to keep them from messing up the space-time continuum and preventing him from being conceived.

Hmm. There are some mixed feelings happening here. I think I’ll break it down into a “Things I Liked” and “Things I Didn’t Like” assortment.

Things I liked:
The cast is of course, swell, and there are some good performances here. Rob Corddry always devotes himself 100% to any role, which I applaud, and I liked his portrayal of the raucous, rough-edged Lou, even though at times it was a little too much. Craig Robinson is fun, putting in a sort of spacey, easily-rattled persona, and I loved the idea of him being a former rock star. Clark Duke is awesome, and I loved seeing him with a decent-sized role. He has a wonderful low-key, likable humor about him and he’s probably my favorite part of the film, along with Lizzy Caplan’s ever-adorable appearance. Crispin Glover is hilarious in this movie, and I really dug the running gag about violent arm dismemberment (morbid as that sounds).

Ok so to be honest I laughed quite a bit at this movie. The script has some pretty good one-liners and goofy jokes. There are a lot of digs at the 80’s that I enjoyed, and there are one or two cool references to comedies of the period. I liked the stereotypical, anti-Communist frat boy villains and the bad hair and antiquated technology. These things are funny because they’re true (but of course in an exaggerated fashion). The premise is ridiculous, obviously, but I do enjoy things about time travel in general, so I was cool with it.

Things I didn’t like:
Even though John Cusack isn’t as awful as I’d been led to believe, he does indeed appear to just be going through the paces. I love the man and he’s definitely done his share of mediocre films, but it’s always sad to see him falter when I know he can do well with almost any kind of material. His popularity arose from goofy 80’s comedies, so his casting should have been perfect, but he seems to have lost the necessary skills. Then again, he is playing a sort of boring, jaded character so I guess his performance is apt. In other casting news, there’s not enough Lizzy Caplan here. She is so great, people, why is she not in everything? Gee whiz.

While I do enjoy the premise, the story is all over the place. There’s all this talk about how they lost their friendship and how their lives have become screwed up ever since, but it’s not really elaborated and most of the film focuses on their individual problems instead of their issues as a group. Together, these guys are quite fun to watch, but separately I didn’t especially care about them. The script would have done much better to keep the story centered on their relationship to one another and how they deal with their situation as a team.

Also, there are too many weird jokes about homosexuality, and the ending is strange. It sort of made me sad because (SPOILER ALERT), it just means that these guys have had 20 years’ worth of great experiences that they can’t remember.

So Hot Tub Time Machine basically breaks even, because while it is certainly flawed and often uninspired, I can’t deny that I laughed out loud multiple times and I really like the cast and wacky premise. While I don’t regret seeing it, I’d much rather watch goofy comedies that are actually from the 80’s. Oh wait has it been a few days since I’ve seen Better Off Dead? Well that needs to be rectified!


Movie Review: Greenberg (2010)

I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly on the Noah Baumbach train, but I do sort of ride behind it out of curiosity of what it will do next (I’m not sure what kind of metaphor I just invented). His newest feature Greenberg sees the after-effects of a mid-life nervous breakdown and throws in some haphazard romance and awkward reunions. Florence (Greta Gerwig) is the mild-mannered assistant to the wealthy Greenberg family, who head out to Vietnam for an extended vacation. Her boss’s carpenter brother Roger (Ben Stiller), recently released from a mental hospital, comes to stay for the summer and finds himself calling on Florence multiple times for help with driving and caring for the family dog.

The disgruntled and self-obsessed Roger hasn’t been in LA for years, and begrudgingly makes the rounds with old friends from the days when he was a fledgling rock star about to make it big with bandmates Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and Eric (Mark Duplass). He and Florence begin a tepid affair, with the former often resorting to emotional abuse and the latter seeing a fractured soul to care for. He also writes a lot of strongly-worded letters to various companies that tick him off.

Like a lot of Baumbach’s films, this is a movie that explores the more despicable aspects of white middle-class people dissatisfied with their lives. It’s his thing, I get it, and while in entries like Kicking and Screaming and Margot at the Wedding I found it more grating than entertaining, I have to say Greenberg works fairly well because it’s genuinely funny. The dialogue-heavy script is believable and varied, with a number of good jokes and honest conversation.

Stiller gives an enjoyable performance as the ever-complaining Roger, who oscillates between self-doubt and overwhelming narcissism with impressive frequency. I also liked the supporting performances from Rhys Ifans, who’s always so great, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who sported rad glasses and co-wrote the script. But really, it’s Greta Gerwig who makes this film. She’s incredibly natural in her delivery and has a solid realness about her. Her character is a likable pushover with a confused approach to love and a need to feel needed. I know it’s cliche, but Gerwig really does light up the screen whenever she’s in a scene, and I just loved her contribution.

For all its advantages in comedy and cast members, Greenberg suffers for its decidedly unlikable central figure and tiresome pacing. I understand this is more of a conversationy, character study type of film, but the beginning sets up a lot of characters and possible plots, most of which are forgotten or just go nowhere. I found it frustrating to be given certain expectations early on, only to be led in narrative circles as the film progressed. It’s not great, but I found it more enjoyable than most of the other Baumbach movies I’ve seen.


Movie Review: Shutter Island (2010)

I’ll be honest, I’m not very up on the Scorsese experience. I’ve only seen After Hours and Taxi Driver, and while I enjoyed both, I really don’t have a sense of his trademarks or exactly what makes him such a Big Deal. Shutter Island looked pretty cool though, so why not just see that? Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a Federal Marshall assigned to investigate a missing person case at Ashecliff, a hospital for the criminally insane located on a rocky island. Teddy is accompanied by his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), and together the two explore the hospital’s facilities and interview the director Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his staff, all of whom are clearly hiding something (or things). While finding the missing patient Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) is outwardly Teddy’s mission, he also seeks to uncover Ashecliff’s conspiracies and illegal medical practices, as well as search for a criminal from his past. During his investigations, he is plagued by memories of his dead wife (Michelle Williams), which seem to ride the line between dream and hallucination.

I have to admit I have never understood what makes Leonardo DiCaprio special as a leading man. I find him uninteresting and bland, to be honest, and just not strong enough to carry an emotionally taut film like Shutter Island. He isn’t bad at all, just not very dynamic. The fact that he’s surrounded by better actors like Ruffalo and Kingsley just makes it worse, as I continued to wish they’d be onscreen more often. He is playing a layered and well-developed character, but I just didn’t buy into his performance, and I think I would have been more engaged by the film had the role been taken by a more compelling actor.

The pacing and atmosphere in Shutter Island lend it an effective eeriness and gradually-developing anxiety. As the story progresses, the viewers are forced to question more and more what is placed before them, giving them a growing paranoia that echoes Teddy’s own. The dark and muted color palette and aggressive score grasp hold of the audience and refuse to let go, while the over-saturated and psychedelic dream imagery serves as stark and confusing contrast to the real-life events. The line between dream and reality becomes more blurred as we are called to re-think what we know about the characters, especially Teddy as a presumably reliable narrator-type protagonist.

Of course, the ending is what makes this film, and it is a pretty cool twist (though not especially mind-blowing). At first I found it to be purposefully quite ambiguous, but the more I thought back to events of the film the more I appreciated the decision to end it in that way as different elements fit together. It’s a decent story with a good twist, but Scorsese’s handling of the visuals and movement of the plot elevate it to an intense thriller and noir homage, while I still found DiCaprio’s performance detrimentally lackluster.