Hot Tub Time Machine

© 2010 Ray Wong

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With a silly but catchy title, Hot Tub Time Machine is made in the same vein as last year's gross-out comedy hit The Hangover. It is as if a bunch of guys (they have to be guys) got together in a locked room and came out with both movies at the same time.

p1Three high school best friends have drifted apart in recent years. Adam (John Cusack) is an insurance salesman who went through relationships like he did beer. Nick (Craig Robinson) is an aspiring musician working at a dead-end job as a dog groomer. And Lou (Rob Corddry) is the "asshole" of the group who is also an alcoholic. When Lou is hospitalized for a suspected attempted suicide, Adam and Nick, with Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), try to cheer him up by suggesting a weekend trip to their old favorite ski resort.

p2They check into the hot tub room they had over 20 years ago, except the hot tub is now broken and everything is rundown. Later that evening, the hot tub is fixed by a mysterious repair man (Chevy Chase). After a night of partying at the hot tub, the guys find themselves transported back to Winterfest 1986 when the resort is still thriving. They also find themselves back in their old teen bodies (Jacob as a "possible" existence since he wasn't born yet in 1986), and reliving the same events they did so many years ago.

p3The repair man warns them that they can't change anything or the results could be disastrous. Jacob believes if they don't reenact everything as before, he would never be born. However, Adam, Nick and Lou do not want to relive their miserable lives again -- they want to do something different, since they are now "older and wiser," even at the risk of upsetting the universe. They also need to find a way back to the present.

p4John Cusack (2012) has gone from dramatic indie roles back to big budget Hollywood paychecks. I don't blame him, but I wonder if he's sacrificing his used-to-be halfway respectable career? He's back to his best shticks, though, playing hopeless boy-man with an emotional handicap. He feels at ease in the role (unlike when he's playing "heroes"), especially with is fellow boy-men. Craig Robinson (Zach and Miri Make a Porno) plays the lovable bear and married man so well that I'm afraid he's going to be forever typecast. Rob Corddry (W) has a ball (quite literally) playing the obnoxious, loud, sexual, inconsiderate "asshole" of the group of friends. Clark Duke (Kick-Ass) doesn't have a lot to do playing the fourth banana and the voice of reasons -- basically, the youngest of the cast member is playing the parent.

p5Sebastian Stan (Rachel Getting Married) plays it stereotypical as the bullying jock. Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick-Ass) has a relatively small role as young Adam's sexy girlfriend. Crispin Glover (Alice in Wonderland) channels his George McFly as a hapless bellhop -- it's good to see him back in his game. Chevy Chase (Stay Cool) is rather wasted in a cameo as the repair man. Lizzy Caplan (Crossing Over) is lovely and fun as Adam's would-be love interest, although it's disconcerting that she looks exactly the same in 1986 and 2010. And Collette Wolfe (17 Again) is loopy as Adam's slutty sister and Jacob's mother.

p6Written by Josh Heald (Harald & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), Sean Anders (She's Out of My League) and John Morris (She's Out of My League), the screenplay goes directly for the Hangover's audiences: basically teenage boys and those who like potty, smutty humor. And it works. Forget about logic: we're talking about a hot tub that is a time machine. Just chalk it up as some kind of divine intervention and move on, shall we? As a gross-out comedy, it works because it has everything in it: potty humor, sex, gay jokes, gratuitous nudity (both male and female), stupidity… all that jazz, some of which are cringe-worthy despite the fact that we've all been desensitized.

p7The writers go all out and leave nothing to the imagination. Subtlety really isn't a merit for a comedy like this, and the writers know that. Their plot is outrageous. Their dialogue is obnoxious. Their characters are morons (with hearts, of course). And it works. It's hilarious. It panders to the boys within us guys, and women who may enjoy such things (I presume, however, 90% of their target audiences are male).

p8Director Steve Pink (Accepted) infuses the film with great energy. There's almost an insanity throughout the movie, and the actors are encouraged to overact. The plot moves along in a breakneck pace, leaving us little room to ponder how preposterous it is. Pink also doesn't shy away from being gross, and trust me, there are plenty of grossness in this movie. But in context, it works beautifully. He's also done a good job recreating the 80s -- and it pains me to realize how ridiculous we looked and acted back then; although, of course, we didn't know it then.

Hot Tub Time Machine is infantile, gross, and hilarious. If you want something deep and insightful (other than the obligatory "you can choose your path" message), look somewhere else. But if you're looking for a laugh-out-loud, mindless, no hold bar sex comedy that takes your mind off your problems for 100 minutes, you've got it. Bring your own hot tub.


Stars: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Sebastian Stan, Lyndsy Fonseca, Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase, Lizzy Caplan, Collette Wolfe
Director: Steve Pink
Writers: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris
Distributor: MGM
MPAA Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language
Running Time: 100 Minutes

Ratings:


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7


Total – 7.3 out of 10

Repo Men

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Maybe there should be a law in Hollywood, at least in the studio system, that authors can't adapt their own works into screenplays. Do you want a good reason? Here's Repo Men.

p1Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) are best buddies since childhood, in a futuristic world where medical advances have deemed organ transplant obsolete. As the world's population grows at an alarming pace and technologies are keeping people alive longer, people resort to expensive artificial organs to extend their lifespans. As adults, Remy and Jake are extremely good at their job, working for the "Union" as Repo Men: their job is to repossess these organs when the clients can't pay.

p2Lately, though, Remy is having second thoughts about what he does for a living, and his wife, Carol (Carice van Houten) is threatening to leave him and take away his son (Chandler Canterbury) if he doesn't change. Just when Remy is about to finish his last job so he can move to "sales," he gets seriously hurt. Reluctantly, Remy becomes a client with an artificial heart.

p3After his ordeals, Remy has a problem getting back to his job, and Carol finally leaves him. Jake's disappointed, too, and warns Remy that he will die if he can't work and pay for his heart. When the Union sends Repo Men after Remy to collect, he's on the run just like many of his previous clients. He finds refuge with a fellow runaway, Beth (Alice Braga), as they hide at the "nests." He must find a way to defeat the system and survive.

p4Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes) tries his best to be an action hero (albeit tragic). He's charming, dashing and agile. He's also a little too withdrawn and wooden, which is a surprise considering how good he was as Dr. Watson. Forest Whitaker (Our Family Wedding) has a secondary role as Jake, who loves his job and the adrenaline rush and can't understand Remy's desire to break up the team. Whitaker is adequate in the role but doesn't really do much -- he's basically repeating his performance in Panic Room.

p5Alice Braga (I Am Legend) is excellent, however, as Beth, the runaway who eventually becomes Remy's love interest. She's sultry, sexy, and complex. Very strong performance. Liv Schreiber (Wolverine), on the other hand, can play Remy's slimy, creepy, ruthless, soulless corporate boss with his eyes closed. I like Schreiber, but I wonder if he can do something else.

p6Carice van Houten (Valkyrie) has a brief role as Remy's bitter wife. Her performance is fine considering how shallow her character is -- I have no idea why she gives Remy such grieves; her character simply comes off as a bitch. Chandler Canterbury (Knowing) is perfect as the cute, loving child.

p7Adapted from his own novel, Eric Garcia (Matchstick Men), together with TV writer Garrett Lerner (House M.D.) concocted a screenplay with an interesting premise but ultimately regurgitated plots. I can just hear the pitch session now: it's Bladerunner meets Six Million Dollar Man meets Minority Report meets Vanilla Sky. If you enjoy any of those movies, you may get a kick out of Repo Men. Still, there's nothing unique or new about this; thus, it's very predictable. The dialogue is clich├ęd and contrived. The plot is manufactured from a cookie-cutter. The characters are by and large unsympathetic and flat, even though there's a pervasive sadness and resignation throughout the story. The ending is predictable and does not carry much emotional weight.

p8What is good about the film is the production. Under Miguel Sapochnik's (The Dreamer) direction, the production design has the look and feel of Bladerunner -- dark, gloomy, slick, and futuristic. Still, it feels regurgitated as well. The action is fast and furious, and there's a lot of blood and gore (graphic novel style). There is a scene near the climax that is surprisingly gory and sexy at the same time.

But GCI and production value do not a movie make. At the core, it's about story and characters. The problem with Repo Men is that we've seen this story many times, and without characters with whom we can really identify and sympathize, it's difficult for us to care. I think the Repo Men are going to want their money back on this one.

Stars: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, Liev Schreiber, Carice van Houten, Chandler Canterbury
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: Eric Garcia, Garrett Lerner (based on Garcia's novel "The Repossession Mambo")
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: R for strong, bloody violence, grisly images, language, nudity, sexuality
Running Time: 111 Minutes

Ratings:

Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 5
Editing – 7
Production – 8

Total – 6.5 out of 10

She's Out of My League

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Set Pittsburgh, PA, She's Out of My League is a gross-out romantic comedy that follows a familiar story arc of Knocked Up, or 40-Year-Old Virgin that I'm surprised Judd Apatow wasn't involved with this.

p1Kirk (Jay Baruchel) is an average, plain dude working for the TSA at the Pittsburgh International Airport. He's been trying to get back with his bitch of a girlfriend Marnie (Lindsay Sloane) for two years, even though his best friends Stainer (T.J. Miller), Jack (Mike Vogel) and Devon (Nate Torrence) despise her. Then comes along Molly (Alice Eve), a gorgeous blonde who hooks up with Kirk by chance. Kirk doesn't have any expectations, since Molly is obviously out of his league, but somehow, Molly is into him.

p2It turns out Molly has been dating pretty much the same handsome douche-bags and she wants someone different: someone safe. For various reasons, Molly feels at ease with Kirk, who makes her laugh and feel safe. Kirk, however, feels insanely inadequate around her -- Stainer convinces him that he's a 5 going out with a "hard 10" and there's no future for Molly and Kirk. But against all odds, Molly's falling for Kirk for real.

p3However, Kirk's family and his own insecurity are getting in his way. When Marnie finds out about Molly, she wants Kirk back. Meanwhile, Molly's fighter-pilot ex-boyfriend Cam (Geoff Stults) makes Kirk feel even worse about himself. Just when things are going strong, Kirk chickens out and bails on Molly, believing he will never be good enough for her.

p4Jay Baruhel (Knocked Up) is giving Michael Cera serious competition for playing the same kind of good-natured, average, awkward guys that beautiful girls seem to fall for. Call it Hollywood fantasy or wishful thinking or whatever, and thanks to filmmakers such as Apatow, that seems to be a new wave of revenge of the nerds, and they are getting the girls! Jay is the newest romantic hero who has graduated from being goofy, nerdy sidekicks. Baruchel is perfectly cast and he delivers.

p5Alice Eve (Crossing Over) is pretty and sexy (although not exactly out-there gorgeous). Most important, she seems genuine and sweet. Almost too perfect. Kirk's trio of best friends are played by T.J. Miller (Extract) as jokester Stainer, Mike Vogel (Blue Valentine) as pretty-boy Jack, and Nate Torrence (Get Smart) as married-man Devon. They fill the sidekick roles rather nicely, although I do feel Vogel is kind of miscast here -- he seems more like the guy Molly would be dating than one of Kirk's best friends.

p6Lindsay Sloane (The Accidental Husband) is a hoot as Kirk's ex. Kyle Bornheimer (Dynamite Swine) is nicely dim as Kirk's older brother, and Krysten Ritter (Glock) fills the role of Molly's bitchy girl pal perfectly.

p7Written by Sean Anders (Sex Drive) and John Morris (Sex Drive), the screenplay follows the familiar structure of gross-out sex comedies. The writers have a lot of experience with the genre and they deliver what we expect: crude potty humor, obscenity, uncomfortable situations, and bad behaviors. At the core, they also include good-natured characters for whom we could root -- and that's very important for the genre. Some of the jokes seem recycled and forced, however, and parts of the story feel irrelevant and drag on for too long. Not to mention the circumstances between Molly and Kirk are rather far-fetched. Anders and Morris do their best making the case for the two lovers, but the gap between them does seem rather outrageous to be believable.

p8Fortunately, the actors are good enough to make us care and suspend our disbelief. Baruchel and Eve have enough chemistry to make us, at least for a moment, think "yeah, it could happen." Much of it has to do with wishful thinking (more for the guys than the girls, I'm sure). I wonder if Anders and Morris are projecting their own fantasies -- their movies seem to have similar themes: average guys getting the hot girl.

Jim Field Smith (Where Have I Been All Your Life?) is dutiful in directing the film, hitting all the marks. He's no Judd Apatow, and sometimes there are two many talking heads. The editing is choppy at times. There's also nothing special about the production -- we've seen that show before. He's done everything right in that he's copied Judd Apatow's style perfectly. Kudos to Smith, however: the film does make my hometown look beautiful, almost exciting.

She's Out Of My League is definitely a comedy for the guys. It's wish-fulfillment, and the potty humor would please the 14-year-old boys within us. The by-the-book comedy delivers what's expected. It's certainly not out of our league if we'd simply lower our expectations.

Stars: Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Nate Torrence, Lindsay Sloane, Kyle Bornheimer, Jessica St. Clair, Krysten Ritter
Director: Jim Field Smith
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexual content
Running Time: 104 Minutes

Ratings:

Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 6.8 out of 10

The Ghost Writer

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Based on Robert Harris's novel, The Ghost Writer is a political thriller serving as a damning allegation for a certain real-life former politician and a specific US agency.

p1The story follows a nameless writer, The Ghost (Ewan McGregor), who is offered a lucrative opportunity to ghostwrite the memoirs of former British prime minster, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The writer is invited to Martha's Vineyard where Lang is holed up in the holiday home of his American publisher (James Belushi), so they can get to work to meet a short deadline.

p2Lang's former press aid and ghostwriter Mike McAra drowned when he apparently fell off the ferry. The day after the Ghost starts reworking McAra's manuscript, Lang gets sucked into a political firestorm when his former secretary, Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh), accuses him of war crimes -- particularly for illegally handing terrorists to the CIA for torture.

p3Soon, the Ghost suspects McAra's death wasn't accidental or a suicide, but foul play. While Lang and his team are in Washington, D.C. to deal with the scandal, the Ghost does some snooping around and finds that McAra has discovered inconsistent information about Lang, especially during his Cambridge years. As the Ghost digs deeper into the secrets, he starts to fear for his life.

p4Ewan McGregor (Amelia) serves the role well, of a writer who lets fortune tempt him and his own curiosity lead him on a dangerous path. McGregor is laid back, intelligent and charming. Somehow, though, McGregor seems to play characters with temperaments close to his own, so we seem to always get similar performances out of him. Pierce Brosnan (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) has a surprisingly brief role as the prime minister. Underneath the suave exterior, he shows a sinister, explosive, and creepy side.

p5Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) is appropriately prim and proper as Lang's assistant/mistress. Her character is interestingly one of the most sympathetic, even though she plays "the other woman." Olivia Williams (An Education) is marvelously reserved as the lonely, conflicted and neglected wife of a politician. James Belushi (Underdog) and Timothy Hutton (The Good Shepherd) are perfectly smarmy as the publisher and Lang's lawyer respectively.

p6Adapted from his own novel, Robert Harris (Enigma) works with director Roman Polanski (The Pianist) to give us a smart, intricate political thriller/mystery that is light on action but heavy on suspense. The script is extraordinary cerebral in that most of the action is in dialogue. It's more of a suspense than a thriller, however. As a mystery, though, the story lacks a real puzzle. Right from the start we kind of already know what is going on. Sure, there's a real-life counterpart. The rest of the plot revolves around the writer's sleuthing and getting himself in the hot seat. The character development is rather spotty. There's a lot of exposition during the first two acts. Only until the last act does the thrills pick up. The final twist and denouement are rather a letdown, even though the final scene was unexpected and thought-provoking.

p7While the plot is underwhelming, Roman Polanski did a great job in creating a great mood and look for the film. It reminds me very much of Woody Allen's Match Point. It's stylish, moody, and captures the desolate landscape of the eastern seaboard, which is itself a character. Gloomy and gray, one might mistake Martha's Vineyard as a British beach town. Polanski also has a great eye for details, and atmosphere, and suspense. Despite the lack of true mystery, he is able to give the film a great sense of impending dread, that we worry about the writer's life just as he does. The direction is taut, masterful and arresting.

p8It's just a shame that the story and central plot are not up to par. I'd like there to be more: more thrills, more mystery, more character, more story. Blame the writer.



Stars: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, James Belushi, Timothy Hutton
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Robert Harris, Roman Polanski (based on Robert Harris's novel)
Distributor: Summit
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, brief nudity, sexuality, violence and drug reference.
Running Time: 128 Minutes

Ratings:

Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7.1 out of 10