TBT: Out Cold (2001)

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As the leaves continue their mass exodus from their branches, I’m reminded that my favorite season is just around the corner. Why winter? A couple of reasons. First of all winter seasonals are some of my favorite beers. Second, winter usually means snow, and snow usually means it’s time to go and hit the slopes. And of course you can’t have ski trips without the aprês ski — very few things go better together than a long day of shredding and then hitting the bar at the bottom of the mountain at the end. Then there’s the other clichés of course: hot chocolate, the turn of the New Year and all that that entails. The list goes on. To mark the occasion I figured we’d take a look at a snowboarding film I remember fondly from high school. I distinctly remember wearing this disc out, well beyond playability I watched it so many times. 

Today’s food for thought: Out Cold.

Getting awkwardly stuck in jacuzzis since: November 21, 2001

[DVD]

For those of a certain comedic persuasion, it doesn’t get much more nostalgic than when you think back on the first time you watched the Malloy brothers’ Out Cold, a low-budget, low-risk, bacchanalia-obsessed film about a group of snowboarders trying to save their rinky-dink ski town from being converted into a commercialized tourist trap.

While the film has all the hallmarks of a direct-to-DVD feature — which I’m fairly certain it was — it goes down like a swill of your favorite Rocky Mountain brew, its outrageous (and numerous) Zach Galifianakis-centered hijinks and small-town frolics producing that oh-so-warm-and-fuzzy feeling buddy comedies are so adept at. Trust me, if you haven’t ever seen the movie it’s not anything you can’t figure out using the above movie poster as a reference. Out Cold is about as silly as they come, but unlike other films of its ilk it has a surprising amount of staying power.

The uniformly memorable cast of characters goes a long way in cementing the film as one of the best in a bunch of very mediocre and unambitious slacker films; Jason London’s Rick Rambis heads up a crew of twentysomethings who have probably spent a little too much time at elevation, for all intents and purposes good kids who have allowed the combination of fresh mountain air and bong smoke dictate every major life decision they need to make — whether it’s properly honoring Bull Mountain resort founder Papa Muntz or figuring out how to tell your crush they’re the only one for you.

Aiding Rick in his inebriated misadventures are Anthony (Flex Alexander), Jenny (A.J. Cook), the endearingly brain-damaged Pig Pen (Derek Hamilton) and his only slightly-more-coherent brother Luke (Galifianakis in his break-out role), and the bar tender Lance (David Denman), who has severe self-esteem issues . . .

Of course there are a few stand-out supporting roles that add some flavor to this Raunch Sandwich: David Koechner plays town weirdo Stumpy, a guy more comfortable in shorts than in proper winter gear and with a penchant for going on rants (be careful what you wish for, Richard); Lee Majors shows up in a small but pivotal role as John Majors, the businessman who poses a threat to Bull Mountain’s stoner status quo; Swedish model Victoria Silvstedt blends nicely into the Alaskan scenery as Inga . . . and of course by ‘nicely’ I mean she sticks out so much it becomes comical. At nearly 6 feet tall and long, flowing blonde hair she is quite the woman. Too bad she’s only a weekend visitor, schtepdaughter to Mr. Majors. The resort, a family business, is now being run by Muntz’ bumbling son Teddy (Willie Garson). And then of course there’s Thomas Lennon being, well, Thomas Lennon.

It may seem odd to give this many people a nod in a movie this small, particularly when considering only a few of them — Galifianakis, Koechner, Hamilton and Denman — leave a lasting impression. Yet Out Cold lives and dies on the camaraderie of its cast; this is very much a festive occasion with more emphasis on penis jokes, practical jokes and even practical penis jokes than story. Sadly Out Cold can’t quite resist the urge to toss in a thoroughly sugar-coated romantic subplot involving Rick and his former gal, who just so happens to stop in at their watering hole one afternoon. Oh, and she also happens to be Majors’ daughter, Anna (Canadian beauty Caroline Dhavernas). What are the odds?

London and Dhavernas share about as much chemistry as Galifianakis shares with his polar bear friend in the early stages of the film. Unable to move on since being stood-up at the end of a week-long fling in Cancun, Rick finds himself pining after his long-lost love to the tune of some seriously overdone clichés that offer up the film’s lamest scenes. Apparently the romance is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Casablanca (though I’ll leave it up to you to determine how successfully that comes across for anyone who hasn’t seen this film). Barring this unnecessary frill, Out Cold does well by its decision to stick to the open slopes instead of heading into the trees where less-traveled narrative paths run the risk of potentially exhilarating or completely losing its audience.

Out Cold is as predictable as they come but the party atmosphere, conjured by a great cast, makes for a highly enjoyable and unexpectedly hilarious package.

Recommendation: One to watch in your early 20s, there’s no doubt about it. Make that late teens. There’s no nudity in this one folks, which is a little odd considering, once again, the party atmosphere. (For whatever reason these guys were aiming at the PG-13 rating. . . presumably to net a larger audience, but . .  eh.) Definitely a great one for early, stand-out comedic touches from the likes of Galifianakis, Koechner and Denman. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 89 mins.

TBTrivia: Very loosely based on Casablanca. It can be seen when Rick has the flashback of him and Anna, when Rick says, “Of all of the bars in all the ski towns in Alaska why did she have to pick this one?” (much like “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world . . .”), when Anna has Luke (Sam in Casablanca) play their song and Rick walks in, and finally in one of the closing scenes when Anna gets on the plane and Rick says, “We’ll always have Pedro O’Horny’s,” which is a direct reference to Humphrey Bogart’s famous, “We’ll always have Paris.”

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Photo credits: http://www.martiperarnau.com; http://www.alchetron.com 

The Martian

Release: Friday, October 2, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Drew Goddard 

Directed by: Ridley Scott

The Martian is made of the same cosmic stuff that turned Ridley Scott into a household name. His latest is an instant classic sci fi epic about mankind’s place in the bigger galactic picture. If Interstellar was a humbling experience insofar as it confirmed that yes, the universe is . . . big, The Martian makes it far more personal, stressing just how fragile we are in a place we don’t really belong.

While the scale of this journey doesn’t encompass quite as vast a distance — Mars is a mere 34 million miles away as opposed to the untold thousands of light years Matthew McConaughey et al covered in search of another Earth-like planet — The Martian mounts a fascinating and thoroughly convincing case arguing what could happen if we ever choose to visit our nearest planetary neighbor. Credit where credit is due, of course: Scott adapted his film from the 2011 Andy Weir novel of the same name, relying on strong, contemporary source material to tell a profoundly human story rather than resorting to centuries-old documents that threaten plagues and the end of civilization, or stories that are better left on paper.

I don’t know if it’s just the thrill of seeing a once-great director returning to form after a few unsuccessful (to say the least) outings, or whether The Martian is just this good, but October has all of a sudden become exciting. I’d like to think it’s a bit of both, the buzz intensifying in the looming shadow of this season’s scheduled releases. I know it’s fall, but love (for cinema) is in the air.

The Martian tells the inspiring story — one so polished it actually takes more effort to dismiss as entirely fictional — of American astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon, third in line behind Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and Russell Crowe’s Maximus in terms of greatest characters Scott’s had to work with) who becomes marooned on the Red Planet after a severe storm forces the crew of the Ares III to abandon their mission. Not realizing he is still alive after being struck violently with some debris and tossed from the launch site, the remaining crew — comprised of Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and cadets Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) — escape the planet’s wind-swept surface and prepare for the four-year journey back to Earth.

It’s Cast Away in space, only this island is capable of producing greater anxiety than any spit of land on Earth ever could. To make matters worse there’s no Wilson, but Damon’s Watney, despite an affinity for talking to himself via web cam, doesn’t strike you as the sort who always needs someone around to talk to, even in the face of protracted isolation. Instead of striking up a relationship with an inanimate object Watney sets about working his problem logically and with a sense of humor that’s almost unfathomable considering the circumstances. As a result, we get one of the year’s most uplifting movies, with Scott opting to take the detour around dourness by stranding his not-so-helpless protagonist in an endless sea of despair and self-pity, though no one would blame Scott if he had.

I’m sure conspiracy theorists have been having a field day with this film, suggesting the fact that there was some sort of clause in Scott’s contract stipulating the distinct tonal change; a precautionary measure taken to distinguish the plight of Mark Watney from that of Ellen Ripley and to ensure that no wormhole-traveling between films would result. In all likelihood, Scott’s adaptation is nothing more than a faithful adaptation of the source material, and if that’s the case then The Martian has jumped high up on my list of books I must soon read (a list that is embarrassingly short, I have to say). Even if this film will never actually tie into the Alien universe, it suggests that perhaps Scott feels most at home when he leaves ours behind.

The Martian focuses more heavily on the work of our fearless astronaut as he sets about trying to establish his food rations, quickly deducing that it will be impossible to make his supplies last for over 400 days. Putting his botanist background to good use, Watney begins growing a crop of potatoes in the confines of the protective HAB, MacGyvering a water filtration system out of literally thin air. Indeed, he’ll be getting more than his daily fiber intake over the next few years. (Hopefully he’ll have enough ketchup to last.) Periodically we cut back to Houston, where Jeff Daniels’ Teddy Sanders, the head honcho of NASA, Mission Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig), a NASA spokesperson, have little else to do besides look on and wonder firstly how the hell Watney has survived and secondly whether retrieving him is a viable option.

Sean Bean is also in as Mitch Henderson, whose supervision of the crew serves as a stark contrast to Sanders’ colder, more stern and conservative methods. And then of course there’s the brainiest of them all in astrodynamicist Rich Purnell (Donald Glover), who lends valuable insight into how best to safely retrieve Watney. These earthbound characters don’t fair quite as well in terms of allotted screen time but given what they have to work with, all deliver impressive work and each help lend gravity to the developments, if you’ll pardon the pun. (If you don’t, then . . . well, fine . . . I guess it’s over between us.) Long faces and variations on looking exasperated constitute the bulk of these performances, but that doesn’t mean Scott’s misjudged their talents by saddling them with less showy roles.

Even so, this is the Matt Damon show. He may have been better as something else in the past (what role hasn’t this guy tried on for size?) but right now I’m coming up short. A botanist and self-proclaimed space pirate, Watney is a breath of fresh air, his morale-boosting video diaries marking a totally unexpected departure tonally from what we might have expected out of a story about being the first man stranded on Mars. These entries not only manifest as glimpses into the science behind space exploration, but they help advance the narrative as the weeks and months go by, revealing a timeline marked by their ‘sol’ number.

Of course it’s not a complete review until I mention how exquisite the cinematography is. I feel obligated to talk about it this time because, as overwhelming as it often is — the Martian landscape looks a little like Monument Valley (it was actually filmed in Jordan and Hungary) but there’s enough free play in the digital composition to make it look entirely authentic — the visuals (brought to you by Dariusz Wolski) aren’t at the heart of the film. Bless you, Ridley, for you only recently released a film that epitomized style over substance. On that basis alone (the basis of avoiding repeating history), The Martian deserves praise. Still, given the sleek spacecrafts, high tech gizmos and Martian sunsets that bleed dark purple, this movie is as stylish as anything that’s been released this year. It’s a beautiful, sometimes haunting spectacle that reveres the alien world and offers endlessly entertaining and optimistic commentary on the future of our cosmic endeavors.

Recommendation: This isn’t the only place you’ll read the words ‘a return to form for Ridley Scott.’ Before actually knowing what this movie was like I was kind of iffy about seeing this, and I wouldn’t have expected to declare this a must-see. But that is what this has become, a must-see for fans of the director, a must-see for the ensemble cast, and a must-see for space nerds like myself who enjoy good stories set in the most atmospheric space imaginable — outer space itself. The Martian is a downright fun movie. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 141 mins. 

Quoted: “F**k you, Mars.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Release: Friday, March 7, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Getting to work with Wes Anderson on any given project just has to be an unforgettable experience. If he called, I honestly don’t know how one would be able to use the word ‘No’ during that conversation; that scheduling conflict better be worth it.

Whether just a weekend visitor or planning to rent out a room for the long term, an actor who steps foot inside the lobby of Wes Anderson’s creative space is never quite the same afterwards. Ideally, this is what happens anyway. The opportunity of getting to work alongside such a unique and self-assured director has been one a diverse collection of actors has already taken advantage of and benefitted from.

It’s like clockwork with this guy. Each time he has a new offering there are more big names to point out in a cast that seems to continuously expand. In the case of his latest, the roster has swelled to very grand proportions indeed. Weekend visitors this time around include the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan and Léa Seydoux — all names that bear much recognition already but that also decided they could use some time away at the Wes Anderson school hotel of filmmaking in order to tap new potential.

Their career moves aren’t so much brave as they are smart. In 2014 the aforementioned names are to join the Wes Anderson fraternity — Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, among others all being potential role models for the newcomers to this wild and wacky world created by one of the most original filmmakers in the business today. By attracting this large of a cast, his new work seems to be bursting at the seams with potential to take his signature quirk to the highest level.

This year Anderson has whipped up The Grand Budapest Hotel, a rollercoaster ride of a friendship between hotel concierge M. Gustave H (Fiennes) and his lobby boy-in-training, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). Taking up the task of training the wet-behind-the-ears lad, Gustave proudly and confidently tours both Zero and the audience through the expansive and elegant enclaves of the hotel whilst explaining the proper etiquette that is expected of its staff. Gustave is something of a celebrity in the mountainous region of the Republic of Zubrowka, where his hotel is located, as he has been known to go to bed with several of his female guests — all of whom have been blonde.

His latest escapade with an elderly woman leaves Gustave embroiled in controversy when evidence of her mysterious death surfaces and doesn’t exactly cast him in a favorable light. As it turns out, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) was an incredibly wealthy individual with a number of possessions to give away. In a surprise move, she bequeathes a rare painting to Gustave for his kindness and care in her later years, and this is done to her surviving family’s great chagrin.

Embittered and angry sons Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling — which must be a Zubrowkan name for ‘Dracula’ or something because Willem Dafoe looks the part — plot Gustave’s demise in the ensuing chapters. Gustave and Zero bond over the years as they attempt to prove his innocence in the matter by traveling all over the ridiculous place just to get him an alibi. He has to consort with the mysterious Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) in order to do so and at the same time, avoid the increasing threat posed by Jopling and Dmitri. For his assistance and loyalty in this most trying time, Gustave promises to make young Zero his heir at the Grand Budapest, all in due course. . .of course.

Despite the film borrowing shamelessly elements from all other Anderson films — as all other Anderson films do of all other Anderson films — The Grand Budapest Hotel is decidedly one of the darker tales. It shares the same giddy levels of cartoonish action and physical comedy, and the writing is sharply written to the point of guaranteeing at least one painful laugh per half hour. It is even divided up into small chapters like other films are. It features heavy narration and a bevy of well-known actors in funny roles and outfits.

Upon reflection, the 2014 effort features a central story that’s generally bleaker than a lot of his other material has been. Though it is not completely lacking, there isn’t quite as much adoration or affection presented in the affairs ongoing. Even though we’re told about it, we don’t see Zero’s passionate love affair develop much with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan); there are more threats than laughs coming from Madame D’s family as the investigation continues into the death of a member of elite society; Gustave goes to prison for some time because he gets framed for the murder. When Zero’s backstory is given time to be explained, the film looks to be heading in the direction of full-on drama but thanks to the strength of the screenplay and the awareness of Anderson, we never quite go there.

Even when it is apparent that the fate of the hotel is anything but certain given the looming violence on the European horizon, this is through-and-through a Wes Anderson comedy-drama that banks on the same appeal his films have consistently displayed and been appreciated for over the last 20 years.

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4-0Recommendation: Although it doesn’t do much in the way of providing an argument as to why it should be considered his best, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a traditional Anderson dish with a European flare. Almost slapstick in delivering the laughs, the tale is quickly paced once it gets going, though first-time or on-the-fence viewers might find the first twenty minutes or so a bit tedious. Although, the Anderson tropes and the film’s slow opening may all be forgotten if one is a big enough fan of Ralph Fiennes. A stellar turn for the man in a role that contrasts considerably from his usual fare.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “You’re looking so well darling, you really are. I don’t know what sort of cream they put on you down at the morgue but, I want some.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com