Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Man on Film: Hot Tub Time Machine

If ever there were a title that screamed for a movie to be seen, it was that of Hot Tub Time Machine, the newest film directed by Steve Pink. Serving as the ultimate example of the high-concept film, it is a raunchy homage to the still pleasing if not mostly predictable fare that is the '80s teen/college comedy.

Hot Tub Time Machine also marks the multi-tiered return of John Cusack. On the one hand, the audience is treated to a return to the fore in a successful comedy. On the other, he is returning to the mountain--the site of what some (namely, Adam Tecumseh Schwitters) would argue is the place where he reached his highest point as an actor. While I tend to think Cusack's best work didn't happen until the late '80s, there is an element of getting to see the young Cusack we all know and love in that familiar element here that gives HTTM an otherwise unattainable nostalgic essence.

And it really is a return to form for Cusack. Having spent the past few years bouncing back and forth between forgettable films like The Martian Child, War, Inc., and The Ice Harvest, and bigger budget numerically-titled films that are mostly below him like 1408 and 2012, Cusack gives us hope that maybe this was just a lost ten years. Where War, Inc. failed to rekindle the tone successfully struck in the fantastic Grosse Pointe Blank, Hot Tub Time Machine goes back to the well of Cusack's past successes and comes up with a perfect marriage between the Better Off Dead-era Cusack audiences fell in love with (hetero-/platonic love here, reader) and the High Fidelity/Grosse Pointe Blank riddled-with-pathos. The film's success owes largely to the fact that it finally puts Cusack back in a role fit for him.

Well, that and the fact that it is often uproariously funny. The laugh-out-loud descriptor is certainly apropos in the instance of Hot Tub Time Machine. Not only does the ludicrous premise richly lend itself to successful situational comedy, but the film outside of the time-period humor is legitimately funny. The most successful lines (not to give away too much, but they are related to Stargate and assholes) work entirely outside of the premise of the '80s homage. Clark Duke and Craig Robinson both deliver in their complimentary roles. Rob Corddry is pitch-perfect as the dickish, self-absorbed friend.

Most importantly, the film is entirely aware of its own ridiculousness. The time travel element of the narrative isn't taken too seriously. The shout-outs to the 80s movies it owes to are great touches, but all along this film is entirely aware of how brilliantly-dumb the premise of the Hot Tub Time Machine is, which is what enables the film to work. And work it does.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Man on Film: Kick-Ass

With a name like Kick-Ass, any failure to deliver on the name could only be seen as an utter embarrassment, leaving the film open to countless barbs incorporating plays on the title. With that in mind, I've got the following to say.

Fucking Hell this movie was fun.

For starters, the action scenes were kinetic, well-choreographed, and underscored with good humor. The deaths (and there were many) were always awesome and mostly hilarious.

Everything with Hit-Girl (whose introduction is in the red-band trailer below) was golden. Nicolas Cage* was pitch-perfect as her father Damon "Big Daddy" Macready. Their adorable if not a bit deranged father/daughter relationship worked exceptionally well. Their joking relationship is sweet but superbly counter-balanced with their righteous ass-kicking.

*By the way, this marks the sixth straight live-action Nic Cage movie that I've seen in the theater. He catches a lot of flak from a lot of short-sighted people, but I really feel like this point needs to be made again: Cage is the shit. He does whatever he movies he wants--always giving his all--but he chooses his films because he wants to make them, not because they'll somehow further his career. He secured the rights to The Wicker Man to get that film made because he wanted to remake it. Go back and watch the original. Holy fuck is that a weird, orgy-soaked film. Bravo, Cage. Bravo. This all has meant that Nic Cage has spent the past few years making movies that appeal to him, which in this case do not necessarily equate to films that the typical Oscar-winning actor appears in. And this has been a surprising boon to the moviegoer.

As for Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Johnson channels the everyman--er, everyboy--well, seemingly embodying the younger self of David Eigenberg (Steve Brady from "Sex and the City"). This would seem to be a conscious decision as he is actually quite British as is evidenced by this interview:

Johnson's turn as Dave Lizewski is an endearing one and would tend to point towards a bright future. His friends Todd and Marty (played by Evan Peters and Michael Cera's best friend, Clark Duke) are the complimentary pieces necessary to provide comic relief vital to this film's success.

Across the board, Vaughn & Co. have crafted a laugh-out-loud action-comedy with a healthy love for the superhero genre but a self-aware wit with as good a heart as is possible in a movie that makes you laugh at people getting killed by a little girl. The film never drags, and there really isn't a weak link in the cast or the narrative.

Most importantly, Kick-Ass lives up to its name.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Fletch Won by Gregory McDonald

Years ago, I read and loved Gregory McDonald's Fletch, the first book written in what was ultimately an eleven-book series of mystery novels. This was, of course, also the book that the 1985 Chevy Chase eponymous star-vehicle was adapted from. It should go without saying that I would not have read the novel if I were not a big fan of the film, but when I read the novel I was surprised to find it much darker and edgier than its filmic counterpart.

McDonald's Irwin M. Fletcher was a self-serving bastard who was holed up in a beach apartment with a sixteen-year-old who ends up overdosing. While still every bit the quick-on-his-feet smart ass Chase portrays him as, the Fletch on paper isn't running around in goofy disguises.

Of the remaining Fletch novels, the one that stuck out to me the most has had my interest piqued for more than a decade. This novel is Fletch Won, and its rights have been kicking around since Mallrats came out, when Kevin Smith bought the rights with the intention of it being a Jason Lee star-vehicle. Since Smith's involvement ended, the project fell into the hands of "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence and now sits on Steve Pink's perspective to-do list (more on him later this week). Each person who has been attached to the film has shared the same feelings: They badly wanted to make this film.

Having finally read the book, that desire is entirely understandable. As an origin story, it would allow its director and studio a chance at a new franchise. As source material, it is great.

The story begins with a young Irwin Fletcher being chided at work for his smart-ass approach to obituary and headline writing before getting re-assigned to the society pages. When the subject of his first story turns up murdered in the parking ramp outside of the newspaper, Fletch finds himself sitting on top of a murder, only the story gets re-appropriated to a lazy veteran reporter with a vicious mean streak.

As Fletch balances this story with a piece requiring him to go undercover to expose a prostitution ring and his impending nuptials, nearly everything that can go wrong does. And then some. Along the way, Fletch somehow keeps his bearing about him and manages to out-maneuver the wrathful senior reporter at every turn while dodging all of the stray bullets that cross his path. More importantly that path is completely entertaining and engaging.

McDonald knows how to craft a taut mystery novel with a healthy dose of humor and an expert level of unpredictability. Moreover, his style makes for an effortless read, and an easy, unpredictable page-turner makes for an ideal change-of-pace after reading momentum-killing dreck like Girl in Landscape.

All that being said, it is nearly impossible to read the book without this song playing on a loop somewhere in your subconscious.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Man on Film: The Ghost Writer

Having been a great director through the decade in which political paranoia films reigned supreme, I suppose it only makes sense that Roman Polanski's newest film The Ghost Writer embodies everything that was great about that genre. In ways reminiscent of Alan J. Pakula and Sydney Pollack at their finest, The Ghost Writer is a deliberately paced, slow burn of a film in which our protagonist (deftly played by Ewan McGregor) finds himself taking over the role of ghost-writing [auto-]biographer of a Tony Blair-like figure whose transgressions while in office are coming back to bite him.

His predecessor turned up dead on a beach mere days prior to his taking the assignment. As the circumstances surrounding the previous shadow-biographer's death begin to look more and more suspicious, The Ghost begins look into Prime Minister Adam Lang's (Pierce Brosnan) past. With conspiracy, misdirection, and subterfuge running rampant through the film, Polanski successfully keeps his audience on edge throughout the film, enthralling all from beginning to end.

In short, The Ghost Writer was a great political thriller harkening back its compelling 1970s cousins Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and All the President's Men. To be in that company speaks to the quality of this film, and I assure you, it's top-notch.

So if you're looking for one of the best political thrillers in years, look no further than The Ghost Writer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem

So I am waaaaayy behind on these entries (try six books)...

Anyway, a little while back I read this book having heard good things about Jonathan Lethem. It is a post-apocalyptic novel in which largely ineffectual characters settle on a foreign planet with the primary character being 14-year-old Pella Marsh. If none of that sounded good, it is because it wasn't.

Now the back of the book sold Girl in Landscape as a "genre-bending, mind-expanding tale of sexual perversity on a new frontier." Look elsewhere, brave reader, because there is little in the way of what that promises. The prose is tedious, the narrative is surprisingly unimaginative and entirely dull, and the characters lack any qualities that would give cause to care.

I would commit more words to this, but what is the point?

Coming soon: more posts.
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