Archive for June, 2010

21
Jun
10

I’m Not Lovin’ It When an Adaptation Comes Together. ‘The A-Team’

They stayed true to shit blowin’ up…

Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Charlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, and Gerald McRaney. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Based on the TV series, “The A-Team.”

“In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.”

So goes another piece of my childhood: “The A-Team.” Let’s set the Wayback Machine once again for the Eighties and all it encumbered. In a decade that started after the official end of the Vietnam War there came the idea of the anti-hero on television: the guy you shouldn’t root for but you do because he’s out to become the hero. It probably started with Sergio Leone’s “man with no name” trilogy (especially “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) and continued with such fare as the “Billy Jack” series, “Walking Tall,” “First Blood,” “Death Wish,” and “Mad Max” (and its follow-up “The Road Warrior”). In these the antagonist became a victim before becoming the hero; the man whom acts out cathartic feelings of the collective.

Whatever becomes popular in film will seep into television and the anti-hero was no exception. “Knight Rider” gave us a cop (Michael Long, for the trivia inclined) who became injured in the line of duty only to return to fight crime as a lone crusader with the help of a rich benefactor, plastic surgery, and a talking car named K.I.T.T. Or there was Stringfellow Hawk (Jan Michael Vincent), a lone man hired to run a top secret helicopter called Airwolf while the powers that be tried to help him get his half-brother back. And then one of my favorites, “The Equalizer,” about a former British secret agent named Jack McCall who moves to New York City and makes it his job to help out the less fortunate to “pay” for whatever atrocities he committed in his life.

Out of this pool came “The A-Team”: a group of miscreant Vietnam War commandos operating as Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Southern California. There was Colonel Hannibal Smith (George Peppard), the grizzled, cigar-chomping “man with the plan.” Lieutenant Templeton “Face” Peck (Dirk Benedict), the ladies man and improv actor. Bosco “B.A.” Barracus (Mr. T), the brute force/muscle man of the group with a bad attitude. And finally H.M “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) the weapons/inventions madman. All of them had their quirks and lest we not forget their catchphrases: Hannibal’s “I love it when a plan comes together,” and Mr. T’s “I pity the fool.” It was all big, dumb fun with two-dimensional characters (at best) and when your other choices are the Duke Boys in their Dodge Charger, Magnum cruising Hawaii in his Ferrari, or anything else I’ve mentioned, it’s all par for the course.

Got all that? There will be a quiz later.

Joe Carnahan’s adaptation of the TV series feels a half-hearted, as if the cheese was picked off of the pizza and what we are seriously having for dinner is cardboard with sauce on it. To his credit the characters felt more fleshed-out than the TV series, and the actors who play the roles get them right for the most part (props to Charlto Copley’s take on Murdock), but still… something feels missing.

The action kicks off with Hannibal, bound to a chair by two Mexican thugs who took a wad of cash off of him before letting the Doberman dogs try to rip him to pieces. The guys leave, he gets free, the dogs go after him, they run away, he lights a cigar and sneers. Yep, badass.

Meanwhile some distance away “Face” (Cooper) is in a bathrobe inside a series of rubber tires while a guy places a noose around his neck and someone else gets gasoline to set him on fire. He slept with a General’s wife, the General is getting his revenge, and he’s waiting for Hannibal to show up.

Incidentally Barracus (Jackson) is not too far away, just having gotten out of prison he goes to reclaim his van (a modified version of the TV one) and is heading into Mexico when he almost -literally- runs into Hannibal who forces him at gunpoint to help pickup Face.

Sometime later they are at a medical hospital to pick up Murdock (Copley) who pretends to be a doctor and stitches a lightning bolt on B.A.’s arm and sets Face on fire. Hannibal picks him up because he’s a qualified chopper pilot.

Fast-forward 8 years and 80 missions later. CIA Agent Lynch (Wilson) confronts Hannibal with a mission: retrieve some stolen U.S. currency plates from Iraqis who want to start their own printing press. General Morrison (McRaney) asks Hannibal not to take on the mission because it’s currently being seen to by Blackforest Ops lead by Brock Pike (Brian Bloom). Enter Charisa Sosa (Biel), the standard former-love-interest-turned-bitch to Face. She knows that by telling Face not to do the mission that he’ll do it. And they do. And things go badly.

Morrison is killed which leads to the group being dishonorably discharged and sent to various federal pens. Lynch helps Hannibal break out and he rounds up the rest of the team, from Face living a posh lifestyle (he has a tanning bed) to B.A. Finding peace within himself and adapting a way of non-violence to Murdock being Murdock at another medical hospital. The team is now out to find who killed Morrison, why they were setup, and what happened to the plates.

And that, my friends, is all the setup you need.

Overall, I wish the movie had been more fun. It’s not necessarily the “cheese factor” but it could’ve used a bit of that. Neeson is a great actor and granted the man plays most every role with a deal of conviction, but the Hannibal of the series never had that conviction or if he had it was momentary. Cooper does a good job as being Face but he’s also starting his career for the most part and there aren’t a lot of other parts to compare him to. Jackson as B.A. Barracus lacks the “dumbness” or brute mentality that Mr. T had in the series. Charlto Copley, however, nails Murdock and is a great role for him following last year’s “District 9.”

I had a lot of hopes for this movie coming from the director of “Narc,” and “Smokin’ Aces” and was let down. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare (can anyone given the source material) but had wanted something more; something less placid and surface-level. There are general moments that are funny but for the most part its played as if everyone knows what’s going on all the time which is something that the audience should not see or know. Also there were not enough moments of things going horribly wrong -the movie and its characters keep running as if nothing just happened. We need the ups and downs in order to root for them.

WATCH FOR: Director Joe Carnahan as the liaison at the Mexican medical hospital. Also stay after the end credits to see Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict doing cameos.

My grade: C (re-evaluated)

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

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09
Jun
10

“Dog” Couldn’t Help This ‘Bounty Hunter’

Building a (contrived/convoluted) mystery…

Starring Gerard Butler, Jennifer Aniston, Christine Baransky, and Dorian Missick. Directed by Andy Tennant

I imagine that in Hollywood there’s a real-life IMF (Impossible Missions Force). No, they don’t quell rebellions or sneak defectors out of countries; they’re job is to take implausible ideas that make no sense whatsoever, get a half-baked script, assign A-list (sometimes B) talent to the project, flood it with money and market the hell out of it. This highly-skilled covert Studio ops group are responsible for such things as making John Wayne look like a Mongol and Charlton Heston like a Mexican, greenlighting the career of M. Night Shyamalan, letting Arnold Schwarzenegger become pregnant in a movie, convincing us that Dane Cook is funny, and making action stars (like Ewan McGregor and Gerard Butler) into romantic leads. I think a conspiracy is afoot.

The movie opens and we’re introduced to Nicole Hurley (Aniston) and Milo Boyd (Butler). Milo’s sky-blue Cutlass is on fire from the trunk. He pulls over and stops, running to the back. Opening the trunk lid Nicole is waving a flare, kicks him in the groin, and runs out into a field. Milo immediately follows chase and tackles her the the ground. We find out that they are ex-husband and wife.

Then, we’re treated to see what happened in the twenty-four hours before that occurred. Enter Milo Boyd, alcoholic bounty hunter on a job. His target: a guy in an Uncle Sam costume on stilts. What Milo doesn’t know is that he’s being tracked by Dwight (Joel Garland), son of a bookie to whom Milo is $11,000 in the red. After a chase through a building and a float accidentally being set on fire, Milo captures his man but is taken in by police as well. He’s bailed out by his friend Bobby (Missick) who tells him that he should get over the divorce from his wife and not drink his life away.

Enter journalist/reporter Nicole Hurley, the only hot female on staff for her paper. Lovelorn loser Stewart (Jason Sudeikis) had a makeout session with her once at an office Christmas party when she was four sheets to the wind and thinks that they have something. She’s late for a court hearing because of a “traffic accident” (she side-swiped a police horse). When info on the suicide of a NYPD officer calls her to a location and time, she doesn’t show up at all. A bench warrant is issued for her arrest…

Which is convenient because the warrant is for $50,000. Sid (Jeff Garlin) promises Milo $5,000 if he can arrest his ex-wife and haul her to jail, which Milo is more than happy to do. Milo contacts his ex-mother-in-law Kitty (Baranski) who tips him off to the fact that she may be at the track. He intercepts her there and tries bringing her in.

Complications arise with the fact that Jimmy, the guy she was going to meet who had info on the police suicide, is kidnapped by a police officer/thug named Earl Mahler (Peter Greene) who is trying to keep everything a secret. Earl goes after Milo and Nicole to kill them both, keeping Jimmy locked in a closet at a tattoo parlor.

A few chuckles ensue as Milo and Nicole hate each other but have to keep each other alive as they avoid Dwight and Ray (sent by Irene, the bookie), Earl Mahler, and Stewart. Needless to say, plot problems and holes abound.

Sometimes I find myself asking, “Where did this movie go wrong?” and you can see from a distance the scene or point in time that everything went south. This is a movie in which you ask yourself, “Did anything in here go right?” Maybe I’m trying to hold a romantic comedy to a certain bar, but it’s the same bar I use for everything else. A movie should have a sense of accountability, not shrug it’s shoulder and be let off with a warning because it’s a rom-com.

That being said the main problem with this film is the story and its presentation. Both suck. The story was aiming to be like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” but lacked the cool satire or even characters (or actors) that had chemistry with one another. Getting a $50,000 bench warrant for side-swiping an NYPD horse? Isn’t that extreme? Maybe it’s because of the cost of living… In a scene where an SUV is trying to push Milo’s Cutlass off the road, the SUV flips even though a) there’s no reason for it to flip and b) the guy who is driving it can fire a weapon and drive at the same time in an enclosed space, which takes some doing. I’m just saying…

And the characters were dumb a lot of times. Milo talks a good game a good chunk of the time but he’s no Duane Chapman (and this is from a guy who isn’t a fan). On a technical level he makes some bone-headed mistakes. Nicole does her fair share, too; in one scene they’re trying to avoid being killed by the police officer/thug/assassin and she’s walking on a concrete floor with high-heeled shoes. Smart.

This was the type of movie that a more-skilled director, like Guy Ritchie perhaps, could’ve done something with. Characters seemed to spout out lines that they didn’t feel comfortable in saying. Every time a plot point occurred I was looking for some guy on the far left or right to be pointing at a white sign that would say “This is what should be happening now.” It was so shoddily half-baked I almost expected a boom mic to fall into view at any moment. The shoot-out scene I mentioned above was so short and anti-climatic I wondered why they bothered having it at all.

A good bit of the problem (and what you really wanna know about) is the real question: do Aniston and Butler work well together? Well, “Gone With the Wind” it ain’t. Butler is a character actor and does well doing just that: portraying a character. Aniston plays Aniston playing whatever. These two worlds are like oil and water. For the first two-thirds of the film both of them barely look at another, as if they were forced to be on some blind date and a camera crew is taping them. After Aniston has a cry she’s “magically” into Butler and the rest runs fairly smoothly.

One final stake in the heart of this review is the music. The soundtrack pieces were okay and enjoyable; the incidental score seemed to “force” a feeling so much that a blind person could tell what was going on. “Are they creeping around in a dangerous place? ‘Cause that’s what the music sounds like.”

Final thoughts? I could not even recommend this over watching “Dog, the Bounty Hunter.”

My grade: C-

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

09
Jun
10

‘Bourne’ Dons Camo for the ‘Green Zone’

Mission Accomplished?

Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, and Yigal Naor. Directed by Paul Greengrass

Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass team up once again for what some would call ‘Bourne 4.’ (‘The Bourne Conspiracy’ maybe?) It’s not a ‘Bourne’ film per se but if the ‘Bourne’ series and ‘The Hurt Locker’ had it a kid, this would be it. That’s not entirely a bad thing.

Damon is Roy Miller, leader of the 85th Division whose job is to search for WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction). It’s 2003 and the U.S. has just began its war with Iraq. We’re bombing the country on a daily basis and have cut off the water and electricity, which isn’t making things any easier.

On an intensive mission into a hotspot, Damon and his company close-in on an abandoned factory to find… nothing. Returning to base he tries questioning some of the higher ups about the intel and the fact that every place his company is sent to is complete bunk; there are positively no signs that WMDs were ever there or manufactured there. The ranking Officers quickly shut him up, stating that the intel comes from a reliable source. Before heading to Al Monsour CIA official Martin Brown (Gleeson) tells him that yes, the intel is bunk and if he wants to do the right thing to give him a call.

Enter Special Intelligence official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear). He’s heading up the group who plans to put an Iraqi exile in control of the Iraqi government now that Saddam has went into hiding. He’s also the guy responsible for informing the President that there were WMDs. Brown points out that in order to keep the country from going into civil war they need to put in place an Iraqi who has ties to the people, not a guy who has been in exile for 30 years. Poundstone doesn’t want to hear any of it and continues on.

Add to the mix Washington Post columnist Lawrie Dayne (Ryan). Poundstone is her source for information in regards to a character named “Magellan,” who is the one providing the intelligence on the Iraqi WMD sites. Dayne wants to speak with Magellan to confirm her stories and Poundstone claims that it’s out of his hands; Magellan is tightly locked-up. Dayne points out that as the guy overlooking Special Intelligence he should have access to Magellan; Poundstone doesn’t give an answer.

The Al Monsour site is being dug up and Miller is pissed. He knows that there’s nothing to find. When an altercation with an Iraqi named “Freddy” (Abdalla) leads him to follow a suggestion, Miller nearly comes face-to-face with the enemy: General Al Rawi (Naor), Saddam’s righ-hand man. It appears that several of the leaders of the Iraqi Army made a pledge to hold off from attacking the Americans until an agreement/contract could be made. Miller comes in on the tail-end of that deal and a firefight causes Al Rawi to go into hiding. Miller takes Freddy along as an interpreter so he can get the infamous “Jack of Clubs” (Rawi’s picture is on a deck of Iraqi leader playing cards).

After a prisoner Miller took hostage is taken from him, Miller goes to Brown who helps him devise a plan to get to a guy who can help him get to Rawi. They both believe that Rawi in control of Iraq will help bring peace. Dayne meets Miller and agrees with him that the WMD site info is complete B.S. and she makes mention of Magellan? Who is he? Poundstone finds out that Miller took a notebook from the prisoner he took and gave it to the CIA. That notebook contains the information on Al Rawi safehouses. It’s only a matter of time before Rawi is killed and if Miller’s going to save him, he’s going to have to act quickly.

This film is a spy film/political thriller with Army people. Damon isn’t so much ‘Bourne’ as he is a guy who actually cares and says, “Hey, what a minute! What’s going on here?” He’s not as smart as Bourne but he’s smart and agile enough, which are qualities he needs if being The Guy Who Gets Into a Conspiracy Against Those Higher Than His Paygrade. You know the scenario: guy finds something wrong. The Powers That Be try ignoring him at first but he gets under someone’s skin and people around him are killed left and right while the hunt is on for him, and he’s trying to get the piece of evidence that will blow the lid off everything.

This formula works for the film and provides interesting parameters. That is, the ones around him can’t really be killed because they all work for the same organization. Aside from that, it’s an action-adventure conspiracy movie that will have you guessing what will happen until the end.

And that may not work for a lot of people. I’m a fan of the “thinking movie,” and for those wanting emotional attachment to characters, you’re not going to find it here. The characters work but aren’t too deep because they are serving the story which acts as a fiction “What if this is the reason behind the war in Iraq?” I repeat: it’s fictional. Those wanting the hard, intensive grittiness of “The Hurt Locker” won’t find it here; no one stops to assess the damage done.

Gleeson is interesting as a CIA official and pulls off a non-descript accent fairly well. Kinnear works as the Special Intelligence official who leads us into the war but he could have been a little more evil. Amy Ryan is limited to being a third-wheel in it all, but works. And Damon has solidified his ability to be a “thinking” action star.

As I said, I liked it. Some films you walk out and while you like them, they’re popcorn; digest and move on. I would seriously consider seeing this film a second time because it’s more about the story being told than the sum of the characters in it. And yes, Greengrass breaks out the Shaky-Cam but after a while it becomes acceptable because there is a hint of truth to the story going on. A hint. Again, it’s a fictional “What If?” scenario that doesn’t stop until you know what happened and while not the hard-hitting piece that “Hurt Locker” or ones like it are, it doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

My grade: B+

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

09
Jun
10

“Alice in Wonderland’s” Queen Trumps the Mad Hatter

Parable or allegory?

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

NOTE: I watched this in Disney Digital 3-D.

I’ve never been a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan. I know the gist of the story: girl follows a white rabbit into a hole and enters a strange land inhabited by the translucent Cheshire Cat, the insane Mad Hatter, befuddled twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, March Hare, blue hookah-smoking Absolem the caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts with the signature phrase: “Off with their heads!” That’s as much as I remember.

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about Alice’s adventures and whether or not it was really kid story material. Granted the initial novel was written over a hundred years ago, and yes times have changed, but what was the story about? The current consensus is that it’s a weird tale of a girl running into even weirder characters, moving from event to event. Tim Burton saw this challenge and decided to give his own spin and story structure to Carroll’s famous characters.

When this tale begins, Alice is four years old and confesses to her father that she’s been having a weird dream filled with these various characters. Her father reassures her that even though she may be mad/bonkers/off of her head, some of the best are a little mad.

It’s now fifteen years later and Alice’s father has recently passed. Alice (Wasikowska) is now nineteen years of age and being taken by her mother (unknowingly) to an engagement party. Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is a red-headed Lord with digestive problems who plans to propose to Alice. Everyone at the party knows that he plans on asking for her hand in marriage at the gazebo. Hamish has title and money and in interest of those times, Alice would be a fool not to accept. Her only other option is to wait and end up like her Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), a woman physically in account but mentally in her own world, forever waiting for her prince to come. Standing at the gazebo, Hamish on his knees proposing, Alice is emotionally overwhelmed and runs away, chasing after the white rabbit and falling into a hole.

After getting past the “cake makes you bigger, potion makes you smalle” debacle, Alice enters Wonderland and finds a weird wasteland that unfolds. She’s escorted by the chubby, dimwitted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas) and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to Absolem, a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. The White Rabbit swears that she’s the correct Alice and Absolem replies that she’s not quite Alice yet. The Oraculum,” a scroll detailing the chronological history of all events regarding Alice, is produced and Alice is foretold to be the one who will save Underland by slaying the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s dragon.

Meanwhile, we meet the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), a small tyrant with a giant, heart-shaped head of red that has a moat filled with the heads of the beheaded including her husband, the former King. The Knave (Crispin Glover) is her right-hand man. He’s incredibly tall with a scar across his face and a heart-shaped eye patch that changes from black to red. After retrieving the Oraculum, he commissions a bloodhound named Bayard (voiced by Timothy Spall) to find Alice. Alice must evade the Knave and slay the Jabberwocky, along the way befriending the Mad Hatter (Depp), March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse), and Mallymkun the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor). She must also get the Vorpal Sword and conquer the dragon, Jabberwocky.

But the real question is: does it live up to the hype?

If not for the fact that this is based on books whose characters have permeated pop culture history (“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, anyone), probably not. If not for the fact that Johnny Depp is in it, probably not. If not for the fact that Tim Burton directed it, probably not. If one were to take out any of these three crucial elements, the film would’ve suffered. All three, and no one would have bothered to go see it.

Which brings me to say that as it lays, “Alice in Wonderland” is a good movie. Not great, but good enough. There’s a solid structure to the story going on which plays as either a parable or an allegory; you be the judge. The characters Alice meets in Underland are abstract caricatures of those back in the real world and just like the real world, Underland is forcing Alice to grow up; no more living life on her own terms of what she does or doesn’t want to do.

As noted in the title, the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) really sets this movie moreso than Depp. Depp is an interestingly complex Mad Hatter, sure enough, but this film really rests on the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and in that department, Carter delivers. The Queen is more of a brat than a bitch per se which makes sense in Alice’s world.

On a filmmaking level this movie probably harkens more to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” There is a level of kid-friendliness to it, mixed with Burton’s grasp of visual desolation, but underneath it all is a heroine who needs to come to bat in order to save the world/grow up. On a visual level it’s not “Avatar” nor is it meant to be, but Burton does a well-enough job mixing live action green-screen technology and CG characters.

One problem I had with the film was The White Queen (Hathaway). Imagine if Arwen from “Lord of the Rings” danced around prim and proper and was shot with a creme-colored filter. I have heard that the White Queen was supposed to be as mad as the Red Queen but not show it, and that’s acceptable, but the character just didn’t work for me; she seemed to belong more to Middle Earth.

The other problem I had with the film was in the final act, and there are two: first, the Mad Hatter is supposed to do a dance better than anyone else. He does a funky jig (infused with some hip hop music) that just looks too goofy for any seriousness. Then again, I might be taking it too seriously. The second problem is that attention is diverted from Alice trying to slay the dragon to the battle between the White and Red Queen’s armies. This was unneeded, seeing as the movie was about Alice learning to grow up and take responsibility as opposed to two sides waiting eternally for some prophetic day when both will battle for sole control of wherever.

One final note: my favorite character was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). Great, cool character that was well done.

TRIVIA: Christopher Lee does the voice of the Jabberwocky. And for those who didn’t know, Lewis Carroll wrote that, too.

My grade: B

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

07
Jun
10

Male Bonding and the ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’

Just whisper “great white buffalo…”

Starring John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke. Directed by Steve Pink

Crispin Glover: more hilarious than advertised.

It was bound to happen. Forget portals, wormholes, telephone boxes, DeLoreans, watches, or even an intricately-designed machine. All this crew needed was a “special” hot tub and a can of a Russian energy drink called Chernobylee. I honestly would have no clue as to what method Hollywood will use for time-travel next…

Adam (Cusack), Nick (Robinson) and Lou (Corddry) have been friends since high school. In the past twenty years, life has gone downhill for each. Adam is a workaholic whose wife just left him. His nephew Jacob (Duke) spends time living in the basement playing Second Life, where he’s currently doing prison time waiting for a court hearing. Nick gave up his dreams of music to marry his wife and now works at a vet clinic called ‘Sup Dawgs where he does anything from dog-walking to cleaning out an animals bowels. He also finds that his wife is cheating on him with a guy named Steve. Lou is a career alcoholic prone to suicidal attempts, the most current landing him in the hospital after closing his car in his garage and running the engine while drinking to death, singing “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue. Nick and Adam meet at the hospital where they take Lou home. They come to the conclusion that the one good part of their existence happened twenty years earlier at a ski lodge during the 1986 Winterfest. So, they pack up and go to the lodge.

Time is not as forgiving as memories and the small town the ski lodge is in looks to be the victim of recession. Once at the lodge the realize the bellhop Phil (Glover) is missing an arm, one of the staircases has been destroyed, etc. On the bright side they get the same room they rented twenty years earlier with a hot tub. After a night of serious drinking and bonding they wake to find themselves…

In 1986. Adam, Nick, and Lou look exactly as they did in that year (sorta like “Quantum Leap”) while Jacob, not being born yet, looks like himself. The unknowing time-travelers freak-out about the fact that they have their one glory weekend back. Do they do what they want to do? Can they remember what they did in the first place? Jacob brings up the “butterfly effect” theory which states that they have to do EXACTLY the same things as not to mess-up the space-time continuum. Adam has to endure his eye being stuck with a plastic utensil by a girlfriend he’s breaking up with, Nick must go up on stage and sing with his band, and Lou has to get his ass kicked by a member of the ski patrol. The events get even more mysterious when the hot tub repairman (Chevy Chase) seems to know what’s going on (kinda like Don Knotts in “Pleasantville”) and Jacob “phases” in and out (sort of like “Back to the Future”). If that wasn’t enough head ski patrol leader Blaine (Sebastian Stan) is convinced that the group is infiltrating the sky lodge for the Russians. Partying, sex, drugs, and hair-metal music keep things rolling as the group go from event to event and each person must come out of their shell and find out who they really are.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” may be one of the better mid-life crisis movies out there and one to be deep without being too deep. Yeah, there’s the piss-and-vinegar juvenilism of people in their early 20’s, but that’s only partly what it’s about. It’s about how we become who we are and the ever-immortal question of “knowing what you know now, would you go back and change anything?” I have several of those instances that I won’t talk about here…

As I noted earlier, Crispin Glover is one of the funniest characters in the film. When the group travels back in time he still has both arms and every scene has Glover almost losing his arm for one reason of the other (using a chainsaw to make an ice sculpture, getting it trapped in the elevator doorway).

Is it worth it? In a “weekend afternoon, got time to kill what’s on cable?” sorta way, yes. I liked it and it wasn’t as bad as the trailers made it out to be. It’s a comedy with a degree of heart and some substance.

My grade: B-

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

07
Jun
10

A Medical Credit Crunch and Its “Repo Men”

I wonder what they charge for a spleen.

Starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Based on the book “The Repossession Mambo” by Eric Garcia

Some movies really do sound like good ideas. In our current economic situation, and with passing of the healthcare bill, and with previous mentions of a “medical FICA” score, a movie like “Repo Men” seems to have more than a grain of truth to it. What would happen if in the future you could buy a new heart/liver/lung/etc.? What would then happen of you ran behind on your payments and repo men actually came to take away said organ? And what happens if a repo man himself had these things happen to him?

Such is the premise for “Repo Men,” the latest and (not so) greatest sci-fi movie since “Surrogates” (itself based on a graphic novel). Here’s the thing: the premise is good, but the execution… not so much. Imagine “Blade Runner” without the noir or “Brazil” without Gilliam’s humor or ambition. Someone once stated that science fiction was supposed to be dramatic elements with a hint of techno-do. The problem here is that the technology, and the premise, are far more interesting than the dramatic elements.

The movie begins with Remy (Law) in someone’s apartment. The guy gets home with a hot blond woman, they start getting hot and heavy, and that’s when Remy introduces himself. Using his stun gun he disables both of them then quickly suits up to do some quick surgery to remove one of the guy’s organs. He claims that it’s “just a job.”

Which is what he continues telling himself, reiterating it over a few beers with buddy Jake (Whitaker). Remy narrates the fact that if you run behind on your car or house payments, the bank takes them but if you run behind on organ payments, that’s his job. The company he works for gets people to sign up for a new, state-of-the-art organ at 19% interest and if you fall behind… well, Remy and Jake are two of the best at knocking on your door and collecting.

Problems ensue with the fact that Remy’s wife Carol (Carice van Houten) isn’t too thrilled with her husband’s job and wants him to go into sales. Remy has a problem with this because it means that his pay will be cut in half and Jake doesn’t want to lose his best friend/partner who he’s known since 4th grade when he kicked Remy’s ass on the school playground. During an outdoor cookout Jake pulls a job in front of Remy’s house, collecting a kidney from a guy taking a cab ride, and Carol is quickly upset and takes their son Peter away. Remy decides to talk with his boss and take a sales job, but does one last “pink slip.”

He awakes in the hospital. Apparently the defibrillator he used to “shock” the heart of a musician with money problems short-circuited and knocked Remy out. Now he lays in a hospital bed with a new artificial, top-of-the-line heart. He doesn’t want it but the longer it stays in the more he grows accustomed to it. Jake and him hit the streets again to collect on some pink slips and he has… problems. He can’t do it. Going from collector to potential collectee client is not what he had in mind and his attitude towards it all changes. He falls behind on payments and leaves it all behind to become like those he hunted.

Meeting and saving Beth (Braga) he finds that she’s opposite of him: her heart is real but the rest of her body is made from replacement parts from other companies and countries. Meanwhile, back at the company ranch, their boss Frank (Schreiber) gives Jake the assignment of finding Remy and collecting his heart. Jake at first refuses but after breaking in and threatening Frank, he has no choice. The movie goes into action as Remy and Beth evade Jake while trying to find a way to get their accounts closed.

What a statement on the credit industry, if not a slightly muddled one. There are several problems with the film which are not just limited to the fact that it comes after a same-themed movie called “Repo! A Genetic Opera.” While I have not seen the “genetic opera” I can say that while the premise for both is intriguing, there’s a squeamish factor to the two; namely, opening someone’s skin and pulling out an organ, Not my idea of a fun time and I squirmed every time I saw it in the theatre (and yes, I know the organs and blood are all fake… it’s just the thought of it happening).

The main problem: structure. The beginning narration leads to a feeling that the character is ruminating on his job and that maybe there’s a social statement involved. Maybe. I’m all about sci-fi social statements (see: “District 9”). And “Repo Men” could’ve a wake-up slap in the face for the modern moviegoer in the same vein as “Fight Club” was a wake-up call against commercialism. It could’ve been. Instead, director Miguel Sapochnik gives up that idea once Remy is on the run and opts instead for action sequences which, while degrading the concept of it all, actually improves the movie because the beginning is so… muddled.

Which brings me to another point: without the core concept of organ repossession, I wouldn’t have made it through the first 30 minutes. I could’ve really cared less about Remy and Jake because their characters do exactly what you think they would do and there’s nothing really interesting about them. After Remy goes “off the reserve” he becomes interesting, but that takes a while. Forest Whitaker as Jake is okay and let’s face it: doesn’t Whitaker play the same “best friend” he’s always played? I’m not a big fan of Schreiber and in this one he looks like he’s cashing a check. He may have been.

There’s one last thing: there’s a difference between homage and building a movie based off of scenes one loves from other science fiction movies. “Blade Runner” was a big influence on this (as noted in the overhead blimps advertising, etc.). There are a few others the movie harkens back to but I can’t think of them except to say that the end was seemingly “stolen” from “Brazil” (director’s cut). If you’ve seen it and you watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

This is the type of movie that ends up relegated to cable where those who watch it will go, “It’s not bad.” It wasn’t overly great either but if you find yourself stuck in a snowstorm and it’s the only thing on, at least enjoy the concept.

My grade: C

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

07
Jun
10

Movie Review: The Wolfman

Werewolves of 19th century London, ahhh-oooooo…..

Starring Benecio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. Directed by Joe Johnston

If I were thirteen years old, this would be the awesomest werewolf movie ever made. But, I’m not and it isn’t.

The time and place: late nineteenth century England. Gwen Conliffe (Blunt) is writing a letter to her brother-in-law, Lawrence Talbot (del Toro). Her husband Ben, Lawrence’s brother, was mauled by something in the forest late one night. The police aren’t sure who or what did it and the speculation (this being post-Jack the Ripper) is that it was some sort of madman. However, giant claw marks and the fact that only half his body were recovered from a ditch suggest a “werewolf.” With no real leads and the fact that you just can’t get a “werewolf” lineup down at the station it’s all just hearsay and rumor, but everyone is pretty sure it was a werewolf.

Lawrence arrives at his boyhood home, a giant castle that he was initially sent away from. He was sent abroad to New York City and studied theater, his last production being “Hamlet.” With the murder of his brother shrouded in mystery, he plans on getting to the bottom of what really happened. He’s greeted by his father Sir John (Hopkins), a man who he doesn’t so much despise as feels detached from. Sir John has a dog as well as a servant named Singh (Art Malik). We find out later that he sent Lawrence to an asylum for a year before sending him abroad to America. If my own father did that to me I would never speak to him again.

Upon meeting Gwen again we realize the two have something between them. Yes, she’s his sister-in-law currently living on his creepy father’s residence but they have feelings for each other, or else why did she bother writing him? Not really sure on that one, but now is not the time to question story or plot.

Lawrence finds that his brother was a liaison between the gypsies and the townspeople. He heads to the camp to find out more info when suddenly it’s attacked by a fierce, malevolent creature (or, a werewolf). Shots are fired, people run around, there’s a lot of bloodletting and amputees… Going into the fog-filled forest Lawrence is attacked but saved by the main gypsy woman who knows that he’ll eventually become a werewolf. Maybe she took the Hippocratic Oath…

He’s sent back home and wakes up days later after having some intense CG-filled dreams (and one that questions how his mother had died). He had some claw marks left on his neck but other than that, he checks out alright. His father has shifty eyes and a smile that seem not to make any sense, or at least gives the idea that there’s more to what’s going on than he’s letting on.

Scotland Yard Investigator Abberline (Weaving) comes to question Lawrence but doesn’t get that much more info. It’s not so much that he suspects Lawrence but seeing as how the rest of the town despises Sir John and consider his family cursed Abberline just wants the facts.

To hit the fast-forward button and save you some cash, Lawrence is in fact a werewolf who was bitten by his father. Lawrence goes to get revenge, a giant melee ensues, the father is killed, and Gwen puts a silver bullet through his heart. The end.

This is the type of movie you show to others and say, “See? This is where Hollywood went wrong.” Having watched so many movies within 10 minutes I know where most movies go off the track. The problem with “The Wolfman,” is that, like “Transformers 2,” you’re not sure that it was on the track to begin with. Hell, after 10 minutes I wanted to go home and pop Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” into my Blu-ray player and watch that. But, I digress.

Where did this movie go wrong? I think part of it lies in the fact that -supposedly- it was staying close to the original source material. Unfortunately movies made in 1941 are not movies made in 2010. Secondly, for a film taking place in England Hopkins, Blunt, and del Toro do NOT have any type of accent. In fact, del Toro -painfully- delivers an accent that sounds so ambiguously straight-forward that NO person talks that way. Third, Hopkins looks as if he’s channeling the spirit of Montgomery Burns (“The Simpsons”) in the way that he’s eyes constantly shift (or maybe that’s him making sure that the producers are signing his paychecks). Last, there’s a love scene so stilted I could almost hear George Lucas say, “See? The scene from ‘Episode 3′ was better than THAT!” Honestly, I can’t remember what point in the movie I stopped caring about what was going on but it just made it THAT much longer…

Blame the horrible writing (was it a direct translation?) Blame del Tor’s accent. Blame Hopkins’ character. Blame the CG effects and plastic prop-looking set design. Hell, just blame Joe Johnston.

I cannot recommend this movie. While not horrible, I wouldn’t bother watching it on cable or even as an in-flight movie. I wouldn’t even recommend downloading it illegally.

My grade: D