Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Directed by Steve Pink. It's no insight to consider that this screenplay was pitched and sold solely on its title and there's no question that it delivers exactly what it promises. It was smart for the mayor of Hollywood or whoever it was to appoint John Cusack to be in this movie because that somehow made it seem more like a real movie than it if it had been one of those kids from the Disney Channel, or like C. Thomas Howell.

The film's co-writer, Sean Anders, also wrote this year's "She's Out of My League" and 2008's "Sex Drive," which was written off as a trashy teen sex comedy despite it being an exceptionally good trashy teen sex comedy. Director Steve Pink co-wrote Cusack a couple of very good vehicles "High Fidelity" (2000) and Grosse Point Blank (1997).

It's really not worth getting into what the movie is about because, whatever you think it's about can't be too far off, and who cares anyway. You know the story; a bunch of guys are unhappy with their lives and -- amid hilarity -- a time travel experience shows them that it's up to them to control their respective situation. There's a lot of "what are we gonna do?" but surprisingly little "how can we make sure he doesn't break the window before that other guy slips on the ice?" Meaning that as time travel movies go, this one is definitely the lightest you will ever see on the metaphysics. They jump into 1987, they jump out. No games.

A time travel movie is bound to make a handful of anachronistic little errors in the music or references it uses and "Hot Tub Time Machine" is no exception, though I'd say this film's biggest mistake is believing actor Rob Corddry (who figures in this heavily as "Lou") is a lot more charming than he is.

I don't have anything against Corddry per se, he's just in a little over his head here, particularly to support the musical montage featured in the end credits here. This movie's greatest strength is knowing its place, and suicidal, redemption-finding Lou definitely does not have that light quirkiness you tend to find in the sort of character featured in a Crazy One-Joke Credits Montage.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Directed by Spike Jonze. I was genuinely affected by the opening 20 minutes of this movie, when it is not like a high budget "H.R. Pufnstuf." I imagine some folks saw it the other way around, but by 40 minutes into this I found myself wishing the land of the Wild Things was more like that movie where Denise Richards and Neve Campbell run around in cutoffs.

The problem is simple: because this is based on an arguably perfect story of only 350-words there isn't a hell of a lot for these CGI puppets to do that won't over-complicate things. In the original tale a boy named Max uses his imagination to get out of his head because he needs a break. Eventually he calms down, reassured that his expressions are normal and healthy, and his home is a safe place. In this film, director Spike Jonze makes Max's revelation more elaborate, ultimately having Max identify with both the joys and pressures associated with leading a family. The wild things represent people in his real life -- including himself -- and are dealing with metaphors for the developmental stages and struggles he and his family are working through at home.

Max spends many days with the wild things as their king, adapts their social structure, and experiences various successes and failures as their leader. Ultimately he is forced to identify with how much his mother's life sucks as a single mother. He goes home.

It all seems kind of unnecessary. For kids this is dark and boring. For grown-ups the additional issues are as an excuse to fill things out. Coming soon, a long-awaited feature-length adaptation of "Green Eggs and Ham" that's really an allegory about the consequences of mass-consumption of genetically modified foods.