Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Stars: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase

Director: Steve Pink

Three 40-something friends and a nephew go on a lark to a ski resort that once figured meaningfully in the older men's lives--hop into a hot tub that's really some kind of energy vortex, and are magically transported back to 1986. There they will have to deal with the same screwballs and try to faithfully relive everything that happened to them back in the day, if they are to have any chance of making it back to 2010 as their unscathed older selves.

Adam (John Cusack) is dealing with the aftermath of his girlfriend moving out on him (and ripping off the TV too) . Lou (Rob Corddry) is an obnoxious drunk who may or may not have tried to commit suicide. Nick (Craig Robinson) is a failed musician who suspects his wife of cheating on him. And Jacob, (Clark Duke) Adam's nephew, is a nerdy video game addict.

None of their lives is spectacular, so it makes you wonder why they even want everything to come out the same and return to the present (except for a lot of the stuff they have to relive back here is pretty disgusting!) Why not roll the dice and see what happens? Instead, they attempt to follow through on the advice of the mysterious hot tub repairman, (Chevy Chase) who advises them that nothing from the past must be changed. The laughs in Hot Tub Time Machine stem from the screw-ups that occur as the four hapless dudes attempt to stick to the script. And what's on the agenda is wild women, boobs, casual sex, getting drunk, vomiting, and other fun stuff like that.

Adam must break up with his foxy eighties girlfriend, but the feelings he has for her are making it tough. (And for all his trouble, he gets stabbed just above the eye with a fork. Ha ha ho ho hoo hoo hee hee!) Lou must encounter a bully who messes up his face on multiple occasions--and allowing that to happen again is humiliating, not to mention painful. Nick is still dealing with the hurt caused by his unfaithful wife, plus the regret of having given up his music career. But here he has a chance to get his groove back. Twenty-something Jacob unexpectantly gets tapped to try to keep the others in line when the craziness gets out of hand--when he's not dealing with situations like meeting his party girl mom nine months before he is born and nervously admonishing her to lay off the drugs. A running gag involves Crispin Glover as a one armed bellboy, providing some further gross-out humor.

You may get the impression from all this that Hot Tub Time Machine has nothing serious to say.
But philosophical questions do arise, such as when you see someone in physical danger, and you know what's going to happen, do you stand idly by and allow it to occur for fear of changing a "predestined" reality? And what are the moral implications when one of our time travelers decides he doesn't want to go back, creating major repercussions for the future?

The question with Hot Tub Time Machine, I suppose, is how well do you handle verbal, sexual, bodily fluids and excretions gross-out that equals the level of that in Bruno? If you do that kind of GRODY TO THE MAX stuff without cringing, then you should be good to go. Some "totally tubular" eighties tunes are on the sound track--and that's something, at least, that Bruno didn't have.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Now showing at home: BROKEN EMBRACES (R)

Stars: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Jose Luis Gomez, Blanca Portillo, Tamar Novas, Ruben Ochandiano

Director: Pedro Almodovar

One morning film maker Mateo Blanco, (Lluis Homar) who lost his sight in an accident and now assumes only his alter-ego's persona of writer Harry Caine, learns that his old acquaintance, industrialist Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) has died. Blanco's muted reaction belies a world of repressed emotions--a world that he brings to the surface again when he recounts a tale of romance, intrigue, and betrayal to his young assistant, Diego (Tamar Novas).

Broken Embraces, the latest gem from Pedro Almodovar, (Volver, All About My Mother) alternates between flashback and present day mode, and tells the story of Blanco's star-crossed affair with the stunning Lena (Penelope Cruz). An aspiring actress, Lena is the mistress of the much older Martel when she lands a role in Blanco's movie. Martel senses that she may slip away from him, so he offers to produce the film, which gives him an illusory but renewed sense of control.

As Lena's attraction to director Blanco grows, a torrid romance develops, (And TORRID could only describe their bedroom scene together). As we will discover, the cuckolded Martel will resort to nearly any kind of treachery to maintain his tenuous grasp on the fiery beauty.

One subplot involves Martel's gay son, who, under the guise of making a documentary about the filming of the movie, spies upon Lena and provides evidence of her betrayal to his father. Ernesto Jr. (Ruben Ochandiano) also figures in the present day drama of Blanco's life, when he tries (for his own reasons) to enlist the one time noted film maker to create an expose film about his dad.

Also figuring in the rich tapestry plot of Broken Embraces is Blanco's agent and former production assistant, Judit, (Blanca Portillo) who is Diego's mother. She was around when the love triangle was heating up. Keep your eye on her, as she will come out of left field near the end to drop some bombshell revelations that will fill in the blanks about all that transpired back then.
There is much to recommend about Broken Embraces: Intriguing plot, fine acting, Penelope Cruz's bare breasts, and a sound track by Alberto Iglesias that further establishes the mysterious Hitchcock-esque feel of the movie. (If you're too young to be real familiar with Alfred Hitchcock, think Brian De Palma.) Oh, and there are great lines like: "Everything has already happened to me--all that's left is to enjoy life."

In Spanish with subtitles.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Stars: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen
Director: Philip Noyce

Continuing my search for sweeping, romantic, political thrillers in the vein of Beyond Rangoon and The Year of Living Dangerously, (see January, 2010 review) I've hit upon The Quiet American--from the Graham Greene novel ( a remake of the 1958 film). Michael Caine (in a role that garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor) is Thomas Fowler--a foreign correspondent for the London Times--residing in Saigon in 1952 during The French-Indochina war. (Remember the French...the ones America COULD have learned from in Vietnam, but didn't?)

The middle-aged Fowler, whose wife is back home, lives with an exotic young mistress named Phuong ( Do Thi Hai Yen). When American economic aid worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) arrives upon the scene, he is immediately smitten by Phuong, and doesn't hide it from Fowler, whom he has befriended. Ah, yes...a guy moving in on another man's girl. Without digressing too much: Guys are notorious for such behavior, and they have no shame or qualms about horning in on a friend's territory. (Yes, I've done it--and have had it done to me.) When a dude goes "GA- GA" for some woman, (not LADY Ga Ga) all bets are off. He becomes a cross-eyed, tongue lolling out of his head mutt, disregarding all previous loyalties or considerations.

Fowler (and this is where Caine shines) reacts primarily to Pyle's intrusion with sarcasm rather than belligerence--it fits in with his detachment from the political turmoil that rages around them--with the Communists, the French, and now the CIA beginning its meddling. Pyle has youth and bachelorhood on his side, and he lures Phuong away. But the unassuming Pyle isn't what he's so conscientiously made himself out to be, and that spells danger for him when the truth is revealed following a deadly bombing in Saigon.

There are catalysts in all of our lives--a pivotal point that everything hinges upon, and we are forced to make a momentous decision. We see the transformation in Fowler when he says: "Sooner or later one has to take sides if one is to remain human."

The Quiet American--a love triangle, a murder mystery, and a war epic rolled into one--excels in many ways. From the bewitching sound track by Craig Armstrong, to deftly capturing the feel of time and place. The Quiet American will draw you into another world--and that's what the best movies do. And I wasn't surprised to see the brilliant Sydney Pollack's stamp (as Executive Producer) on this one. I don't go looking for films that Pollack has had a hand in...they always seem to find me.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Now playing at home: THE INVENTION OF LYING (PG-13)

Stars: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Louis C. K.

Director: Ricky Gervais

Jennifer Garner looks more like a man than Hilary Swank does. That's a snarky remark, but it's the truth. Imagine a world where lying doesn't exist, and everyone just blurts out--uncensored--whatever is in their head at the moment. As you might expect, this makes for some hilarious dialogue throughout The Invention of Lying--a romantic comedy co-written, and directed by Ricky Gervais (creator of the original BBC series, The Office.)

On the one hand, everyone knows exactly where he or she stands with everyone else. On the other, everyone is incredibly gullible and naive, believing whatever anyone else tells them.
But when the computers are down at the bank, perennial loser Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) stumbles upon the ability to tell an untruth. As a result, he walks out of there with a goodly amount more than what he actually has in his account. Mark uses his newfound ability to hoodwink people (it's so easy) to create a life of fame and fortune for himself. But will he be able to win over Anna, (Jennifer Garner) the woman he's fallen for--even though she tells him he's chubby, snub nosed, and not in her league?

In a fascinating subplot, Mark tells his mother on her deathbed some stuff about "The Man In The Sky," and the wonderful place she'll be going when she crosses over, just to ease her fears. But it gets picked up by the media, and he soon becomes the world's most revered guru, with everyone believing he speaks to--and relays messages from--The Man In The Sky. It's a gentle poke at some organized religions, (and their spokespersons) whose followers by and large accept whatever dogma is fed to them.

Despite all the pointed remarks that are flying this way and that, The Invention of Lying is an ultimately sweet movie with a heart, and a conscience--augmented by a sound track from Tim Atack that is so lilting it feels like it could have been lifted right out of Ozzie and Harriet.

The Invention of Lying will cause you to re-examine the way we live in a world where everything--whether it be to keep from hurting someone, or to manipulate and take advantage--is based upon shading, or totally blotting out the truth. And despite her rather masculine looking facial features, Jennifer Garner is an attractive woman and a fairly decent actress. No lie.


Monday, March 8, 2010


On the Oscar presentations:

George Clooney looked like the most humorless man in America Sunday night in an Academy Awards show that had an overall lackluster and dispirited feel to it. The camera repeatedly focused on Clooney sitting in the audience, as co-host Alec Baldwin mocked the actor's sourpuss expression. Baldwin seemed to be goofing on Clooney's film, The Men Who Stare At Goats, but Clooney appeared to be seriously pissed. George could have easily diffused the awkwardness if he'd given just one smile or made a silly face, but he preferred to look like a jerk. Hey George, could knowing that Jeff Bridges was going to win the Oscar be THAT much of a downer for someone who otherwise has everything?

Then there was the perennial lowlight of the broadcast, (for me) and that's when the actors are being interviewed beforehand and are asked, 'WHO are you wearing?" The women (and some of the men) rattle off some French or Italian designer's name that most viewers don't know from Pepe le Pew! Great way to connect with the average Joe and all those people out there who don't even have a JOB!

"Uh, WHO are you wearing, DAHLING?"
"Oh, I'm wearing TIGER WOODS...doesn't he look MAHVELOUS draped all over me?"

The highlight of the show, of course, was Jeff Bridges' joyous acceptance speech for his well deserved Best Actor Oscar.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

WHITEOUT (R) (Now playing at home where you won't gross-out the other theater patrons by letting a big one rip)

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Tom Skerrit, Gabriel Macht, Alex O'Loughlin, Columbus Short

Director: Dominic Sena

In 1957, a Russian cargo plane crashes near the south pole because the crazy dudes on board, fueled by booze and ulterior motives, start shooting at each other. How dumb is that? That's the FIRST thing in Whiteout that stretches the bounds of believability like Kirstie Alley trying to squeeze into a size 2 spandex body suit.

Anyway, this sets the table for the current day investigation of the first murder in Antarctica, a task which falls upon the shoulders of U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, who is based at a south pole scientific research station. Stetko is played by Kate Beckinsale, and that's the second (and most glaring) thing in Whiteout that sticks out like a sore bum. Realistically, U.S. marshals are not going to be as young, alluring, and wispy as Ms. Beckinsale. They'd be more like the grizzled Mary Steenburgen--who plays a deputy marshal in Did You Hear About The Morgans? But I suppose Steenburgen wasn't available for this role because she was off playing that other lawperson--and besides, it would have elicited groans from the audience if Steenburgen had replaced Beckinsale in that gratuitous shower scene early in the movie. I thought Kate was terrific in Snow Angels, but here--and maybe because she KNOWS she is terribly miscast--she mails her performance in.

Anyhoo, in three days the sun will set for six months, and the base will be locked down for the duration. Stetko, who wants to get out of that God forsaken place by then, has a short window to solve the mystery. To complicate things, there's a (obviously cranky) pick-axe wielding madman on the loose. Never fear, it will all lead back to those drunken Russians who were too stupid to know that if they shot up their plane and the pilots too, it would probably go down. Frozen bodies are found, and fans of C. S. I. will enjoy it when the avuncular Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerritt) starts poking and cutting. You weirdos may dig it even more when he slices off a couple of Stetko's fingers due to severe frostbite.

Whiteout has the makings of a decent thriller--with mystery, suspense, and intriguing milieu-- and IF you can get past the egregious miscasting of Kate Beckinsale as a U.S. marshal--you may enjoy it.

But that's a big IF.


Monday, March 1, 2010


5 male and 5 female actors (living) I would go to see, even if their movie SUCKS!


Favorites: The Magus, Alfie, Blame It On Rio, Sleuth, Dressed To Kill

Favorites: Groundhog Day, Scrooged, Lost In Translation, Zombieland

Favorites: The People vs Larry Flynt, Transsiberian, Zombieland

Favorites: Heaven Can Wait, Shampoo, Love Affair, Bulworth

Favorites: 50 First Dates, Mr. Deeds, Reign Over Me, Funny People


Favorites: Mumford, Yes Man, Gigantic, 500 Days of Summer

Favorites: Big, The Doctor, Showtime series: Weeds

Favorites: Black Widow, Whore, HBO mini-series: Empire Falls

Favorites: Boys Don't Cry, Broken Flowers, The Brown Bunny, HBO series: Big Love

Favorites: Jerry Maguire, Rise: Blood Hunter, (okay, not really a favorite, but she gets nekkid!) TV series: Ally McBeal