Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine is a mid-life crisis movie. Three friends and a nephew go on a ski excursion when Lou attempts suicide to cheer him up. The dilapidated resort town of their youthful conquests is deserted and run down. As the situation degenerates into a train wreck situation, they find the hot tub in the backyard (where they just found a dead racoon) miraculously fixed. As they drink their way into oblivion the tub swirls them back into the 1980s in their youthful forms though they look young to everyone else.


There were some humorous moments but it’s pretty much a trailer movie, you know where if you see the trailer you saw the movie. The retro 80s fashion was definitely fun to see (and the women looked hot in their hair-spray and heavy mascara) but there wasn’t enough tension or comedic vehicles to carry the film through. It needed some kind of twist. Title was awesome, that’s without question.

Kick Ass

Kick Ass definitely blew me away (but not all in a good way). It takes the classic story of a nerd transforming himself into a super hero and deconstructs it in a modern, information technology-driven society where reality and real life can be blurred by personas created online. Our hero, to be known as “Kick Ass”, is a normal teenager geek that gets it in him to become a comic book super hero. The transformation begins by ordering a super hero outfit that consists of a diving suit and setting up a MySpace page to handle super hero assignments.


Of course, being a nerd, he’s totally unprepared physically and mentally so his first mission ends with him getting stabbed and beaten unconscious. As a result, his bone structure is fortified with plates and he becomes desensitized to pain. In order to hide embarrassment from being found in a super hero outfit, he corroborates a story with the paramedic that he was found naked. This leads to rumors at school that he is gay. The gorgeous girl he has a crush on takes an interest in him once she “finds out” he’s gay and makes him her bff.


Instead of giving up on the super hero idea, now that he has a high tolerance for pain and a taste of the exciting, crime fighting lifestyle, he clumsily forays back into the super hero business. This almost gets him killed and brings him into contact with real avengers (a father and daughter team) who are not afraid to kill villains.


That’s the setup. Any more would spoil it.


Call me old-fashioned but seeing a little girl cuss like a sailor while slicing mafia gangsters up in cold blood really disturbs me. The trailers, by necessity I suppose, really gloss this over. Artistically, it’s a bold move for the director to be faithful to the graphic novel’s depiction of it. However, with all comic book adaptations you have the problem of translating that into the big screen format. As a cross between a novel and comic book, readers are engaged in graphic novels so much that they fill in the blanks or “scenes between the scenes” and embellishing the artist’s rendition with their imagination. Drawings no matter how masterly executed have a way of softening violence and sex while emphasizing other aspects so when you do a literal depiction on screen, it comes across a lot stronger. The execution was well done though the characters needed a little more depth to me. Luckily the Nicolas Cage and ChloĆ« Moretz (to a certain extent Aaron Johnson) brought that depth with them.


To me it was a cross between Super Bad and Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight, awesome depending on your qualms.

The Hangover

The Hangover is a must see comedy. Four guys throwing a bachelor party in Vegas wake up with a massive hangover, no recollection of what happened, and lose the groom. The opening scene alone was priceless. The movie had all the stock cliches of a Vegas movie but the chemistry of the actors and the story of piecing together a wild night on the town backwards based on clues like tattered receipts and missing teeth put a fresh spin on it. There wasn’t a single dull moment and I ended up re-watching quite a few scenes to get another laugh.
Phil is a laid back partier type that can only see the positive side even in the most desperate situation. The brother-in-law is missing a few marbles and adds to some uneasy situational comedy and pulls off some classic lines. Stu is a dentist in a really nasty relationship. He’s a straight arrow type until he unleashes his wild-side with the fateful drink.
I can’t begin to describe how this movie just works without ruining it for you but all the preposterous twists and turns come off and the lines are priceless. The thing I loved about the movie was how the actors fit their characters so well that their performances seemed effortless. Don’t take my word for it, just have a look for yourself.

Twilight

In any literature class they teach you the importance of establishing conflict. Conflict is what drives a plot and makes it interesting. The problem is that in the 21st century it’s hard to define conflict. Morality is a lot more loose and hard to define. Even in super-hero movies, the line between good and bad is often blurred. Who would watch the Dark Knight if the Joker and Batman worked things out by talking? You’d have to be very good with the dialogue.


That’s why these vampire romances sort of add a nice dimension of conflict. You’re madly in love with someone you really want to eat and literally suck dry. Although I had my doubts about jumping on the band wagon watching Twilight but after the opening scene of the daughter moving away to a new town complete with sad 1960s rock music, I knew it would be good, though not in a conventional way.


In a word, the movie wins massively with casting to prop up a cliched and vacuous plot. You have to suspend your belief significantly when you see the Cullens (a vampire family) introduced in the movie, pale white goth-looking teens who look like vampires from a mile away keeping to themselves in a small town and nowhere to be seen when there’s sunlight. Of course Bella, the new girl, takes no time in figuring out that Edward and his family are vampires (though the entire town is oblivious for years).


What drives the movie is Bella’s romance with Edward because both the actors do such a great job at portraying an uneasy teenage love affair that you’re willing to forget the flimsy plot and sappy vows of eternal love.


Having said that, a lot of these vampire romances just leaves your head scratching. This is somehting that Twilight has in common with Vampire Diaries. Just to name a few:


  • Your boyfriend is pale white and brooding with strange colored eyes
  • He has zero social skills and is only interested in you
  • Said boyfriend may sometimes be hovering over you at night watching you sleep
  • Shows up at your house or in front of you at the oddest of moments
  • Not to mention he would really like to eat you
  • Prone to mood swings and other inexplicable behavior because they need to do or avoid “vampire type stuff”
  • Just the general notion that these are men who are a couple hundred years old preying on teenage girls

Any artistic achievement of this genre probably began and ended with the original Dracula, but the themes introduced will always be universal and it seems to combine well with teenage angst.

Remembering the Artist Known As Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s death was definitely an unexpected shocker. Even though his life has long degraded into a media circus of scandal and freakish behavior, his final demise ironically allowed us to see the man behind the mask for his true artistry and talent. Michael Jackson created the MTV era. He was the first artist to offer the most complete package of visuals and artistry: gorgeous good looks, innovative dance moves, off the hook melodies, and a sweet voice not to mention creating the whole music video phenomenon with “Thriller”. Overnight people were wearing Michael Jackson jackets and moonwalking in school hallways.


What seemed like a picture perfect transition from child prodigy, to teen heart throb, to super stardom turned into a personal tragedy of excesses. Once he hit his thirties his eccentricities seemed to catch up with him whether it was his frequently changing physical appearances or strange lifestyle. He was no longer the shockingly handsome, wildly talented yet painfully shy young man but a middle-aged freak trapped in a missed childhood coasting on a cocktail of drugs.


Yet the world was fascinated with Michael more as a train wreck as the years went by. Still, the strange thing is that when you look at all his recent work after his death, you can’t help but be touched by the fact that he was and still is a super star in the truest sense of the word. Listening back to his hits I can’t help but be amazed by the breadth of songs he created from classic dance numbers, rock heavy songs to current R&B flavored tracks. His lyrics are poignant and vocal abilities highly under-appreciated for the breadth of expression that it possessed.


When you look at other superstars from the same generation such as Prince and Madonna who’ve managed to keep aging as much at bay without wrecking their looks or health you can’t help but wish that Michael could have taken a similar path instead of ruining himself. Still, there’s no arguing that despite all that passed he was one of the most gentle and sensitive superstars of this era and that nobody including himself could have saved him from his fragility.


It’s the sadness of humanity that some people can be given everything and yet be killed by the temptation of excesses. Now that he’s gone we can separate the myth and listen to his songs for artistry and the messages he left for the world. Rest in peace Michael.

Ali

I really can’t say much for this film other than the fact that it was an excellent vehicle for Will Smith to make a major breakthrough as an actor and to be taken seriously for his talents. His physical transformation in itself is an awe-inspiring feat. However, the film itself leaves much to be desired. You can’t capture the man and the myth that is Muhammad Ali in two hours, no matter how dramatically rich his life may be. Life is messy and complex, it just doesn’t make a good film in most cases.


Maybe Will Smith did too good a job impersonating Ali but most of his lines were delivered without really connecting. He also seems to suddenly evolve into a womanizer or suddenly convert to Islam, it was hard to feel what Ali was going through that made him what he was. I honestly couldn’t view this film in one sitting and sort of went through it piecemeal.


Ali

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a Woody Allen film from his Scarlett Johansson phase. Two American girls visit Barcelona. Vicky is a practical girl engaged to a successful businessman and finishing her masters degree in Catalan identity. Cristina is aspiring visual artist that just finished filming a short that will get her no where. In Barcelona they meet a flamboyant, mysterious Spanish painter with a disastrous and dysfunctional relationship with his ex-wife. Cristina takes an instant liking to the painter while Vicky tries to protect Cristina in vain only to fall for the painter herself. Cristina gets drawn into the dysfunctional relationship until everything simply comes apart.


The chemistry of this film is just amazing. Javier does such a masterful turn as a sexually-charged middle-aged artist who’s a magnet for women trouble. Of course, the show stealer of this film is the Academy Award winning performance from Penelope Cruz who does such a wonderful job as Javier’s mentally unstable ex-wife. Her Spanish tirades delivered with just the right mix of malice and ferocity in her eyes, the way she smiles without smiling while delivering slurs and extreme volatility is really amazing and well worth the price of admission.


It’s a funny and engaging film from beginning to end. Barcelona is an excellent backdrop full of rich scenery and the sonic backdrop of Spanish guitars makes it all the more exquisite. The film is rich with themes about relationships and the nature of love.


Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Slumdog Millionaire

The film opens in an Indian interrogation room. Jamal who’s on the verge of becoming an instant millionaire is being tortured by the police on the suspicion of cheating the popular TV show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”. “How can a slumdog like you know the answers?” asks the inspector to which he spits out blood and simply says, “I knew all the answers.”


It’s a riveting movie that takes you through the life of Jamal, his older brother and an orphan girl who becomes the object of Jamal’s lifelong quest and love. Every question has a dramatic back story connected to Jamal’s life of hardships coming up in the slums, losing his parents to muslim-hindi riots, growing up on wits alone. Life on the streets eventually consume his older brother as an up-and-coming gangster while the orphan girl becomes a kept woman to a prominent gang leader.


Jamal instead becomes a tea boy servicing an offshore call center.


The beauty of this film is the heart-wrenching story of life in the slums of Mumbai. It’s a world of child prostitutes and street children blinded by gangsters to be pimped out as singing beggars. Jamal rises above it all, untouched and pure, still in love with the girl of his childhood. It was a thoroughly amazing movie without a minute of boredom and a happy but bittersweet ending.


Slumdog Millionaire

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the story of a man born old and aging backwards, living a peculiar life of hardship that gradually blossoms into success and youth but also loss of his loves. One thing that stands out is the amazing computer graphics for their under-stated effects on the story (mainly allowing the actors to age backwards in a realistic way).


The story is loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald so it’s more or less just the plot idea that makes it into this adaptation. The acting performances by both Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were excellent and low key. I found it a bit odd that the mind of a man born old would age chronologically and I think that took a lot away from the story (and this is a large departure from the short story as well), however the film makes you think about the reality of aging and its unavoidable place in humanity. I think the film could have benefitted for more torment and inner conflict on the difficulties of growing old backwards.


Although it’s a wonderful film I don’t really think it quite deserves the slew of Oscar nominations it’s garnered. I can only question the quality of films in recent years.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Step Up 2: The Streets

A girl from the streets with attitude problems and troubles at home gets one shot at making things good by enrolling in a prestigious arts academy on the strength of her potential as a dancer. The school’s most popular hunk and scion of the sponsoring family takes an interest in the girl as the girl gets pulled away from her streets “family” and frictions mount as they feel she “sold out”. The girl’s need to escape from the suffocating school atmosphere resonates with other students in the school who have never really rebelled against anything and together they take on the street dancers with a team of their own.


It’s one of those movies you’ve seen over and over again, usually geared towards teens. Same themes and plots, yet I loved this movie. Maybe it’s because they stuck to the formula but all the elements were there, the typical conflicts, attractive cast, and excellent dance sequences. The acting was solid too.


If you don’t like the genre, you probably wont like the movie but I really enjoyed it.


Adam Sevani was probably the best supporting actor in this film as the token “nerd” who happens to be a super bad dancer.



Step Up 2: The Streets