Archive for March, 2010

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

Posted in Reviews on March 28, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

I think the last comedy I went to simply because of the name was “Dude, Where’s My Car?” But where “Dude” falls short, “Hot Tub Time Machine” prevails.

“Hot Tub Time Machine.” What a great name! It’s a hot tub, but it’s also a time machine. And when four good friends on the vacation from hell get together in a run-down, beat up hotel that was once the home of crazy partying and drunken (or stoned) sex and decide to get in and get drunk, they wake up the next morning twenty-four years in the past with a major hangover.

John Cusack (“Say Anything,” “High Fidelity”) plays the unlucky-in-love Adam. His two best friends are the former musician Nick (Craig Robinson, “The Office”) and crazy drug addict Lou (Rob Corddry, “The Daily Show”). When Lou ends up in the hospital after a near accidental suicide, Adam and Nick visit him in the hospital with an offer to take him to their old stomping grounds up in the mountains. Little do they know that within twenty-four hours they will be reliving their twenties, with all the mishaps and craziness that went with it.

The movie presents time travel as a way to have more sex, drugs, alcohol and money. Who wouldn’t go back in time to make a few bets on sports games? It worked in “Back to the Future Part II!” The main focus on the film is when our heroes decide not to change anything in the past until the hot tub is fixed. Chevy Chase (“National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Community”) plays the repairman for the tub, always giving a slight hint as to why the characters are there and how they can get back. They also make reference to the butterfly effect, where a single bug being squished could cause the end of the world… for example, a squirrel gets puked on and later shows up at a pivotal moment, changing history.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” is raunchy, vulgar and hilarious as well. It works as a coming-of-middle-age adventure and a funny comedy about friendship and living life to its fullest.

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Review: How to Train Your Dragon

Posted in Reviews on March 27, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

If you are going to see “How to Train Your Dragon,” see it in 3D. The movie really lends itself to the 3D effect. The locations and artistry in the film make for a flashy adventure that delighted the kid in me.

I did not see it in 3D because 3D usually gives me headaches. Now I wish I would’ve. DreamWorks’ latest animated feature takes place in a small Viking town populated with men and women who constantly engage in battle with dragons. We are introduced to the town by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, “She’s Out of My League”), a young boy with no build and no ability to fight dragons. But not until he captures the most elusive dragon of all does he begin to change everything. He names the dragon Toothless, and I’m pleased to report that Toothless doesn’t talk. Toothless has a damaged wing thanks to Hiccup’s lucky shot, so Hiccup, after deciding he can’t bring himself to kill the poor thing, decides to mend the wing and train the dragon in secret.

This film as well as last year’s “Battle for Terra” are very similar to “Avatar.” However while “Battle for Terra” comes off as a huge rip-off, “How to Train Your Dragon” just has similar themes. The comparison of the two is being debated on the internet, but I thought “How to Train Your Dragon” stands on its own and doesn’t try to reflect any other movie.

The visuals are very good in the film. This is a movie with lots to look at. The dragons are both scary and cute, the Vikings are very over-the-top warriors (with the town’s chief being voiced by “300’s” Gerard Butler) and even eat their roasted chickens in entirety as single servings on a stick.

The moral of the movie is good and will appeal to the young, the animation and 3D effects should please kids of all ages and parents should get a kick out of it too.

Review: Repo Men

Posted in Reviews on March 21, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* out of four stars

“Repo Men” needed a high speed chase with flying cars, a stunt where someone jumps from something onto a moving something else, more time in the stripper joint, a well-choreographed fist fight, someone blowing something up with a rocket launcher, a sex scene, more stuff blowing up, a techno-influenced musical score and a much more acceptable ending. This wouldn’t have made the story better, but it at least would’ve given us more to enjoy.

As the film progressed, I hated it more and more. Jude Law, who starred in the similar David Cronenberg film “eXistenZ,” plays Remy, a Repo Man for a large medical corporation which specializes in making artificial organs for a high price. Fail to pay and Remy and buddy Jake (Forest Whitaker, “Ghost Dog,” “The Last King of Scotland”) come to repossess the company’s product… by taking the organ out of them. “But this rarely ever happens,” lies evil corporate president Frank (Live Schreiber, “Defiance,” “Wolverine”) who takes pleasure in getting his merchandise back.

Something happens to Remy, an action so unsuspicious that when we learn the truth behind it we don’t understand why, nor do we get a satisfying explanation… but anyway, this something happens to Remy and he has to get an artificial heart. To answer your next question, yes, eventually Remy cannot pay for it and decides to run from the company.

This film is preposterous, and the fact I’m saying that means something. The film would be less preposterous if it were more preposterous. Let me explain. About halfway through the movie, it becomes very unbelievable. How, for example, could Remy survive such a huge blow to the head from a huge metal crane? How can someone cut themselves open and move an object around in their own bodies without passing out? And finally, is everyone in the corporation required to carry around a knife in their briefcase? The answer to these questions is stupid, and to top it off, it’s all the same answer.

The ending of the film couldn’t be more angering, but I won’t give it away. It attempts to be more surprising than it really is. It’s a stupid, disappointing ending that pranks the audience more than satisfies it. It’s a bad attempt to make sense of everything. It doesn’t work.

Where are my high-speed chase and rocket launchers? If we’re going to do the implausible, do it with more style. Then we’ll stop caring and enjoy the ride. In one word, to quote MAD Magazine, “Blecch!”

Review: The Bounty Hunter

Posted in Reviews on March 20, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

*1/2 out of four stars

“The Bounty Hunter” is the kind of film where you see the trailer with hopes that it’s good, but hesitation that it may be bad. If it’s good, you’ll laugh yourself silly. If not… well, you’ll be bored and disappointed that two fine actors couldn’t pull it off. I didn’t laugh once during “The Bounty Hunter.” I was disappointed.

My negative rating probably tells anyone interested that this isn’t worth it, and I probably don’t have to elaborate further. I will describe the plot, but I want you, the reader, to decide based on my rating whether you wish to go.

Gerard Butler (“P.S. I Love You,” “Law Abiding Citizen”) is a former cop turned bounty hunter who one day becomes the luckiest man in the world when he is assigned to bring in his ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston, “Friends,” “The Good Girl”). Milo (Butler) is ecstatic about this, and immediately sets out to track her. Meanwhile Nicole (Aniston) is a reporter hot on the trail of what could be a rocket blast of a story when a cop allegedly commits suicide. Nicole suspects something, and she’s dying to get to the truth. But when she ditches a hearing for assaulting an officer, she becomes a fugitive. Enter Milo.

As a couple, Aniston and Butler do not work. This is weird, because they are both good actors. It could be the script, which is very weak, or it could simply be the two don’t match. The problem is, the film wants us to believe they do. Chemistry is everything in a movie. If you don’t believe the characters’ reactions to each other, you’re not going to enjoy it.

The movie is part romantic-comedy, part action flick. It succeeds at neither. The humor and timing are off, the stunt sequences are too few and not very spectacular and the rest of the film, such as the supporting cast, is uninteresting and often annoying. There are certain characters in the film you feel like giving a swift punch in the face in hopes they’ll go away.

I’ll leave the rest of the film to your imagination. “The Bounty Hunter” is a weak film. It’s a good concept that looks good in the trailer, but it falls flat on its face.

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Posted in Reviews on March 19, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* *1/2 out of four

There is more malice, scrutiny, lying and selfishness in middle school than any other educational environment. Nobody wants to be in middle school, no one wants to remember middle school and no one, not a single soul, wants to go back. The problem with middle school is, everything matters and nothing is important. What you learn in middle school you take with you for the first two days of high school, then forget when you realize the world is bigger than you. I hated middle school. In “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” so do Greg and Rowley.

This film is Greg’s (Zachary Gordon) diary (excuse me, “journal”) about his first year in the sixth grade and the misadventures he and best pal Rowley (Robert Capron) go through in order to become cool and fit in with everyone else. Greg is an average kid who’s ready to skip school all together and fast-forward to the part where he becomes a celebrity. Greg’s problem is the same as every kid trying to be cool. He’s so obsessed with it that he becomes self-absorbed.

Meanwhile, Rowley seems content to follow his mother’s advice and “be himself.” And when this begins to work out for him, Greg becomes jealous and begins to work harder… failing every step of the way.

I knew a kid like Rowley in middle school. At the time, I sort of ignored him as he did me. He’s my best friend now. I don’t know anyone more awesome or more themselves. Rowley is so lost in his world and so oblivious to what people think of him that he becomes cool for being different. This doesn’t happen in middle school, but it does in high school.

Greg seems to forget that in order to become popular, you must have friends. Greg’s only friend is Rowley, until a self-centered attempt to be cool changes that. Now that his one friend is gone, Greg struggles to find acceptance in a place where acceptance is the hardest thing to find.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” will be great for elementary school kids eager to start middle school. It makes middle school look slightly harder and almost as juvenile as elementary. The world is an exaggerated image of what that period of life is really like. It’s a funny movie, but to an older audience it will feel inaccurate. This makes me believe that a younger audience won’t really like it a lot, but just a little. There were a lot of little kids in the theater when I went, and they seemed to enjoy it. All of them looked to be under 10.

The problem with this film is it doesn’t treat kids like adults. To kids, they are adults, and these things don’t just matter, they’re their life! Parents, there are two films made in the last thirty years that accurately portray this period of life. They are “The Sandlot” and “Stand By Me.” There is tobacco use in “The Sandlot.” This is because kids that age are likely to, against our warnings, try tobacco. There is foul language in “Stand By Me.” This is because kids that age are trying to figure out how to use it. Both films should be viewed by kids 12 and up, and if you are an adult and still haven’t seen them, they should be viewed by you as well. These are films that portray adolescence and hardship the way they should be treated: with dignity. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” looks like an adult’s version of a time he forgets. This may work for the young ones, but for the target audience, there’s better.

Review: Green Zone

Posted in Reviews on March 18, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

Someone on the news said that Americans aren’t going to many war movies anymore. Maybe it’s because we’re so sick of war, we’d rather be watching films about vampires. “Green Zone,” the new movie from “Bourne” director Paul Greengrass, is a war movie outraged at the war it’s portraying and the people who put us there. This is an action war film that wants so badly to send a message to not just the viewer, but to America as a whole.

The film takes place in Iraq and was filmed in Morocco, Spain and the UK. The locales are very convincing and effective. You really believe it’s Iraq. Matt Damon is Miller, a soldier in the US army in Baghdad in the year 2003, about the same time President George W. Bush announced the military forces in Iraq “have prevailed.” Miller is stuck leading a team into areas rumored to have WMDs, Weapons of Mass Destruction. The problem is, every place they inspect is empty and deserted. Miller suspects something about the intelligence, but can’t come up with a solution. So he goes to the source, and what he finds is an intricate web of deception and espionage, leading him to dead ends, loose ends and final action-packed end on the streets of Baghdad.

In 2007, I gave Paul Greengrass a “Best Director” Lauden Award (the annual awards I give every year… 2009 coming soon!) for his work on “The Bourne Ultimatum.” The work he does here is excellent as well. However it fails to show any versatility in his directing abilities. Excellent chases, cool gunfights and frantic shaky photography (love those hand-held cameras!) are becoming sort of staple with not just Greengrass, but with many other directors as well. It’s also now a very popular technique in more Straight-to-DVD titles these days. Guys, if something gets that popular, maybe it’s time for something new.

But let’s look at everything else. Brian Helgeland’s script, “inspired by” a book by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, is just a shade ticked off. In the film, Miller is constantly searching for an answer to who’s behind the contact codenamed “Magellan.” The film spends a little time speculating, but Helgeland’s script gives us a pretty good tip at the beginning. Matt Damon, who starred in all three Jason Bourne films (with Greengrass directing the latter two), one again gives a strong performance as the tough guy hero, but again, nothing new.

“Green Zone” looks great, is well-written and acted and never loses your interest. The message is clear and strong. But with Greengrass and Damon, we’ve been here before.

Review: The Crazies

Posted in Reviews on March 15, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * *1/2 out of four stars

The best part about “The Crazies” is that it feels like a modern George A. Romero film. This is good, because it is based on an older George A. Romero film of the same name. Long-time readers of HB have probably noticed the fact that I’m not usually the one who reviews horror films. This is not because I don’t like them, it’s because I feel fellow founder Shaun O’Donnell is more qualified to rate the genre, seeing as how he owns and has seen more horror films than I have. But with this film, I took interest. It completely satisfied.

The trailers make it appear to be just another zombie movie, like Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” only with more action and less intelligence. But the use of Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” in a montage of death and destruction made me curious. That song is one of my favorites, and any movie that uses it in the trailer must be worth a look.

It’s about a small Idaho town’s quick descent into a living hell, full of diseased residents who have lost all sense of reality and are now aggressive. In fact, the first to be infected, a local farmer, is so far gone that he walks onto a high school baseball diamond carrying a shotgun and threatens the town sheriff, who shoots him in the head. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, “Hitman”) is traumatized by the experience, but finds himself tending to a whole town of innocent folk, who seem to gradually become hostile.

David and his deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson, “Across the Universe”), inspect further and find a crashed plane in the local swamp, along with a dead pilot not far away. The town is quickly falling into madness, and the only conceivable conclusion is that the plane was carrying a contaminant and is infecting the city’s drinking water. Soon, David and Russell are hopping around town trying to find a solution… when the government gets involved and quarantines the whole city. That’s when David, Russell and David’s wife (Radha Mitchell, “Pitch Black”) escape from the government facility and begin running through a plagued city trying to escape with their lives.

Romero takes the executive producer credit and at the helm is Breck Eisner (“Sahara,” the upcoming “Flash Gordon” remake). Eisner proves himself as a filmmaker with this one. The film is not stylish to the point of nauseating, it’s graphic without showing too much and it moves at the perfect pace, never too slow and not incredibly fast.

Performances from all three leads are top-notch. Timothy Olyphant is always good in an action film as is Radha Mitchell. Joe Anderson almost steals the show as Russell, though I won’t reveal why. His performance is believable and memorable.

“The Crazies” is not raking in the cash, and won’t be in theaters much longer. I highly recommend you hurry to see it. It makes for one of the best horror films in a long, long time.