Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 - 2015

"Hot Tub Time Machine 2" - 2015
Dir. by Steve Pink - 1 hr. 33 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

You know how, when you get a second album by a band you really liked, and only this time there's a new singer or a new guitarist, how that usually means trouble?  That.  Or like when your favorite basketball team suddenly trades away their borderline all-star who made everyone around him better, you know you're going to be in for a long season?  That, also.  In the world of "Hot Tub Time Machine 2," the key missing element would be John Cusack, who was also the only decent actor among the cast.  So when you remove the one guy who can act, and bring back everyone else...

What's left.

This time around, success is not enough for Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke).  Lou goes off the deep end (or just continues his trajectory, more accurately), and ends up getting shot in the dick (yes, really) at his own party.  Since Lou has possession of the hot tub of extraordinary powers, all three hop in to try and head off Lou's impending assassination.  As it turns out, they end up ten years in the future, because they go where they're needed to be, not where they want to be. 

First off, the positives.  There are some funny bits here; it's not that the cast isn't funny, it's that they can't act.  So the dialogue is good, the timing is good, even some of the comedic premises and performances are good.  In particularly, I was laughing at a game show called "Choozy Doozy," a scene at an urgent care clinic, and there are good lines all the way through.  Adam Scott was funny in his role as John Cusack's straight-laced son.  This is far from the worst movie I've ever seen.  While I wasn't happy with it overall, there were parts I enjoyed, and it didn't drag too badly.

Three guesses which one the audience chooses...

But the first movie was unusual, partly because it felt a little more honest, which was partly due to building it around Cusack, who has the ability to make you think there's more going on than there is actually going on.  Even though the first installment was a "R-rated comedy," which has become a genre of it's own, seeing an unusual face like Cusack's involved lent credibility to the whole affair, suggesting that film was going to be a bit more than swearing, nudity, and copious irresponsible behavior.  Minus that, the sequel has to rely on the one-note asshole Lou and the wooden Nick as it's leads.  This does not work nearly as well.  Corddry at least seems committed to the role, Craig Robinson seems barely awake for much of the time.  I'm not exactly mad at anyone involved with the film; get your cash when it's on the table.

The second big issue I have is that the premise of the movie is unrelatable.  It's entirely believeable that people have regrets, and would gladly take a mulligan on some of their earlier behavior.  This time around, the characters actually debate trying again because they think they can do better than being worth $2.6 billion (Lou), and then have to prevent the least likable character from getting murdered.  Even Lou doesn't seem to care about preventing his own death; it's only the fact that he starts "flickering" when he goes off trail that keeps him sort of on-point.  So if they don't care and I don't care, who cares?

"Webber Strut"

After the first film, my working theory was that the characters were all doomed to failure because none of them could get anything right the first time, and that would ultimately catch up to all of them.  I guess I was right.  But all in all, this feels like when they killed off Vin Diesel's character in "xXx" because he didn't want to do a sequel, and then we got a shitty sequel that starred Ice Cube in such terrible shape he wore the equivalent of a parka for the entire film.  If Vin wanted to do another "xXx" film, I feel like it would happen in short order, but we'd all like to forget about that half-assed sequel.  If John Cusack ever wants to get involved with the "Hot Tub" series again, I'd be on board instantly.  Until then, no more awful half-measures, please.

1.5 / 5 - Streaming

Monday, January 11, 2016

Spectre - 2015

"Spectre" - 2015
Dir. by Sam Mendes - 2 hrs. 28 min.

Official Trailer;

by Clayton Hollifield

Put simply, I've never seen a (non-George Lazenby) Bond film that was so bad that I gave up on the series.  Even the ones that weren't great were still passable; I got a late start on the series with Pierce Brosnan, and "passable" is the single most apt word to describe his Bond films.  As for the Daniel Craig films, they seem to alternate between awesome and pretty good.  Since "Skyfall" was awesome, that means "Spectre" is...

"Spectre" finds Bond (Daniel Craig) wallowing in the aftermath of "Skyfall," having been handed what amounts to a secret mission.  Bond infiltrates an assassin's guild meeting, is found out, and then ends up promising to protect a lovely young lady, Dr. Swann (Lea Seydoux), from that same assassin's guild.  At the same time, Bond has been suspended over his actions in the last film, and the double-oh program is trying to fend off a hostile takeover from other British intelligence agencies.

The first thing that keeps taking me by surprise is that the "down" films of the cycle follow immediately in the footsteps of the previous, awesomer film.  It might not kill the Bond folks to include a friendly reminder that you might want to throw "Skyfall" in ye old laserdisc player to brush up on where things stand before you wander into "Spectre."  But at the same time, the opening sequence of "Spectre," set during a Dio de los Muertos celebration in Mexico City, is compelling, thrilling, and a lot of other adjectives that mean you're going to grip the shit out of your armrest for about ten minutes there.  Are there other, quality action sequences in "Spectre?"  Sure, but the opening sequence is easily the best of them.

Visuals, bro!

From one viewpoint, it might feel like the film blows it's load in that first sequence.  In terms of straight up action, maybe.  It ends up feeling like the film isn't supposed to be entirely about action, though.  Things are more complicated than that, although it's difficult to make brooding about one's life choices as thrilling as blowing things up.  And this film is a bit of a thinker.  This might be the first Bond film (at least that I can remember, and I'm far from an archivist on this matter) where he has to deal with someone who not only understands very clearly who and what Bond is, but also has turned her back on that life by deliberate action.  The relationship between Bond and Dr. Swann might be par for the course for Bond, but she also forces him to examine himself and what he does.  Bond, at the core, is a man of action, not of pensive thought, but whether or not that self-examination will lead to hesitation at key moments is a big question here.

This is where fighting on a train will get you.

As far as villains go, well, I'll watch Christoph Waltz all day long.  And Dave Bautista has a great turn as the mostly-mute Hinx.  The two, although they don't really work with one another (like, they're not a duo or anything) present diametrically-opposed problems for Bond.  Blofeld (Waltz) is all brains, sadism, and self-delusion; Hinx is enormous and likes to physically fight people.  He's pretty good at it, too.  The larger (evil) plot is somewhat interesting; it has to do with data collection and sharing.  The great news is that "Spectre" seems to have a better, more even approach to technology than did "Skyfall."  And also, the "good guys" don't come off like grumpy old farts about these things this time around.  Instead, some of the bad guys get to embody why there's a bit of a backlash (the arrogance of youth, having a poor understanding of the larger situation) against having things dictated to you by twenty-somethings.  In "Spectre," it's the difference between trying to find a place for technology in the world, and viewing technology as a sacred inevitability. 

So I think the big point I'd make about "Spectre" is that this is by no means a bad film.  Also, you should watch "Skyfall" sometime in the week preceding seeing "Spectre."  But this is more of a movie about ideology with action elements than something that's constructed solely as an action film with compelling plot points.  So, muich like "Quantum of Solace," "Spectre" comes off as a bit muted, a bit more cerebral, and these are things that people might not necessarily be asking for out of their Bond films.  But if you're open to those things, this is a solid (but not top-notch) addition to the series.

Sam Smith - "Writing's on the Wall" - live on the Graham Norton Show

3 / 5 - Theatre