Table 19

Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass

Directed by: Jeffrey Blitz

This is awkward for me because Table 19, a “dramatic” comedy written by the inimitable Duplass brothers about being low-priority wedding guests seated at the least desirable table at the reception, belongs at a rejects table of its own. Awkward because I want to like all Duplass-related films always but now I’m faced with the prospect of hating one.

Objectively their new, jointly penned blah-medy is a real misfire. It’s directed by Jeffrey Blitz, most notable for his contributions to latter seasons of The Office, which might have something to do with Table 19 having no personality whatsoever resembling anything Duplass-y. To their credit, the filmmakers assemble quite the impressive team of funny people —  Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Wyatt Russell and June Squibb — and then, somewhat counterintuitively, they set about finding ways to make every one of them as unfunny as possible.

Eloise (Kendrick) was going to be the maid of honor at her “oldest” friend’s wedding but after being unceremoniously dumped via text message by Teddy (Russell), who happens to be the best man, she’s become persona non grata. She decides to attend anyway, finding her place at the dreaded back table, a table so far removed from the action “you can smell the bathroom.” Having been intimately involved in the planning of the reception, Eloise knows what being relegated to this table means. It means you are either a liability or you just suck. At being a person.

She shares this inside information with the other guests at the table, a decidedly oddball collection: There’s the Kepps (Robinson and Kudrow), a boring couple who run a diner together; Walter (Merchant), a weirdo who may or may not have just come straight from prison; Renzo (Revolori), a horny teen who can’t help but take terrible advice from his mother; and Jo (Squibb), a retired pot-smoking nanny. While none of them seem to have legitimate connections with the happy couple, only for the recently scorned does becoming a potential distraction seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Table 19 skulks about the banquet hall looking for something interesting to talk about, but finds precious little. The Duplass brothers have staked their reputations on an unusual ability to create something of substance out of what at first appears to be nothing. A film shot largely in a banquet hall tends to stretch the term ‘cinematic’ but then that’s the Duplass’ forte. What their screenplay doesn’t do is take risks. There’s nothing revelatory about any of the character’s backstories and Kendrick’s chemistry with Russell is the kind of bad that we just don’t need to talk about. Plus the comedy is incessantly forced — uncertain and ineffectual at the best of times. The whole thing plays out like a father-of-the-bride toast that goes to some awkwardly inappropriate places, remains unfunny for the majority and that ultimately drags on for too long.

Recommendation: Utterly forgettable farcical comedy forgets to pack the comedy. There’s good reason you probably have not heard of Table 19; it’s the movie no one invited into their area cineplexes. (Now, if you’re wondering where my Kong review is, blame it on three consecutively sold-out screenings for the delay. I hope to have one up sometime in the next decade.)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “Hello my god. Hi, I’m Renzo. I have achieved puberty and I am in a rock band.”

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Masterminds

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Release: Friday, September 30, 2016 

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Bowman; Hubbel Palmer; Emily Spivey

Directed by: Jared Hess

Masterminds didn’t need to be masterfully made to be effective, but a little discipline could have gone a long way.

Directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre), the film is a comedic dramatization of the October 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery that took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. The story made national headlines when an employee made off with $17.3 million from the bank’s vault, making it at the time the second-largest cash heist in American history, second only to a Jacksonville, Florida incident seven months prior in which the same bank lost $18.8 million to the driver of an armored vehicle transporting the cash. Not a great year for Loomis Fargo, admittedly.

The details of the heist seem ripe for the tabloids, or even a solid comedic outing. Hess adopts the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction angle by going balls-out on the zaniness and slapstick elements, employing star Zach Galifianakis‘ trademark gooberisms to often irritating effect. Masterminds is a film stuck on one setting and it never demonstrates aspirations to become something more . . . not even important, but watchable. A collaborative screenplay is only ever interested in puerile jokes, making fun of “simple Southern folk” and accommodating Galifianakis and his weirdness.

David Scott Ghantt (Galifianakis) is the focus of this southern-fried farce. He’s a loyal employee of his local bank although quite the simpleton. He has a crush on a girl he works with, a Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) who suddenly quits her job because it sucks, basically. She falls in with a rough crowd and cozies up to the bad news Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), who has this idea to take that branch for all it’s worth. Good thing Kelly happens to know someone on the inside that she can manipulate/seduce into pulling it all off.

Masterminds is aggressively unfunny. Having absolutely no faith that the sheer absurdity of the actual circumstances will do much of the work for them, the filmmakers overcompensate, aiming for the lowest common denominator as loud farts, sweaty redneck culture and Wiig’s cleavage become major talking points. Galifianakis tries his best to make us empathize with David but he can’t. And he doesn’t get much help from the rest of the ensemble, as Wiig looks bored, Owen Wilson is still just Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis and Kate McKinnon lay two distinctly rotten eggs — the former playing the world’s worst hitman and the latter David’s psychotic country bumpkin fiancée. (If you somehow make it through the film’s opening 10 minutes or so, you might as well stay. McKinnon features prominently here and she’s the worst part of the film.)

You’d think with Wilson’s casting there’d be an element of Bottle Rocket to proceedings in this heist film, but sadly that film with made-up characters feels more authentic than this one based upon real individuals. What we have here are caricatures who shout dumb things, make weird noises and enthusiastically check off items from a master list presumably titled ‘Things Everyone Who Has Never Lived There Hates About the South.’ The movie doesn’t mean to offend but it does when the whole thing is just so inept.

Recommendation: Offensively low joke-to-laugh ratios can be found in Masterminds, an ill-advisedly goofy recreation of a bizarre real-world bank heist. If you have love for any of the actors in this movie, I have to say you should try and keep that love going by outright skipping this turkey. A deep-fried, southern turkey covered in about as many stereotypes as you can think of. Zach Galifianakis is only as good as the material he works with, so here I have to say he’s actually pretty awful.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “Katie Candy Cane . . . is she a stripper?”

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

'Neighbors 2' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 20, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Nicholas Stoller; Andrew Jay Cohen; Brendan O’Brien; Evan Goldberg; Seth Rogen

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have the worst luck when it comes to suburban living. Last time they were fighting tooth and nail to keep their sanity when a hard-partying fraternity, led by a half-naked Zac Efron, moved in next door. Now, they’re struggling to make sure their house gets sold to another couple when they see an even rowdier group of youngin’s moving in to the former frat house, only this time it’s a sorority established by the perennially annoying Chloë Grace Moretz.

In the annals of pointless comedies, Nicholas Stoller’s follow-up ranks pretty high up there. It’s a film ostensibly designed to tear down the infrastructure portrayed in almost every motion picture that doesn’t “get” what it means to be a part of Greek life. In fairness, the sisterhood has never seemed more legitimate than it does here — despite the fact Moretz’ spoiled brat Shelby has created this group out of her disillusionment during rush week for Phi Lambda. (Oh mah gawd, we can’t smoke weed? Lol, wut?) Stereotypes are not only broken down but trampled upon with the frenzied weight of a summertime bacchanalia.

That’s the only thing truly refreshing about Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising — an awareness that sororities do indeed get a bad rap in movies and for that matter, in the minds of anyone who never found themselves within a thousand feet of the nearest function. Meanwhile, somewhere in the background the Radners are trying to graduate to the next phase of responsible adulthood. But that’s less important than the half-baked rhetoric that college kids can be more mature than their beer-and-jizz-stained attire suggests.

Consider the first impressions Shelby and her friends, Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), have when they enter a frat party one night: there’s a distinctly “rapey vibe” about the place. They’re so disgusted by what seems to be the accepted norm here and everywhere that they start up their own fledgling sisterhood, and wouldn’t you know it, their house is right next door to a couple of nagging thirtysomethings.

And here come the contradictions: Shelby and company are mature enough to recognize a sexist party when they see one, yet they have absolutely no respect for the community around them, especially when their immediate neighbors are scarcely more than a decade older than they are. Shelby’s a daddy’s girl but sees Mac as an anally retentive old man, and she can’t think of Kelly as anything other than a “mom.” Worse, the Radners are far from the most uptight parents you’ll come across. In fact part of the comedy stems from their recklessness (why they don’t separate the adult toys from their child’s playthings is a mystery to me).

It has to be this way, of course, otherwise Neighbors 2 would be a few mean-spirited pranks short of “a good time.” The story lifts the visual and slapstick gags from the previous outing and plops them down here with middling success. The exploding air bag is back as are the slow-motion dramatizations of people smacking into large, stationary objects. Some of it is actually pretty funny but more often than not this is a film that feels tired and uninspired. Bratty behavior dominates while the film’s attempt at thoughtful meditation on growing up feels like a cheap plastic label that a child could easily tear off.

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Recommendation: Nicholas Stoller was funnier the first time he visited this material. There’s really not enough there to justify two Neighbors movies, but this is the day and age we live in, isn’t it? I think the only thing I can recommend this movie on is its willingness to subvert stereotypes here and there, even though these attempts are mostly undone by a series of contradictory actions and strands of character “development.” And why in the hell are there five writers credited here? 

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “I’m a human woman! I need to watch this!”

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Frank

Release: Friday, September 5, 2014 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Jon Ronson; Peter Straughan

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Any film that strives to turn Domhnall Gleeson into a thoroughly unlikable character is one I’m uncomfortable watching. Frank is just such a film.

Focusing on an aspiring musician who stumbles upon an eccentric pop band with an unpronounceable name (they call themselves The Soronprfbs), this oddball comedy does its best to distance itself from an audience looking to make connections with key characters. Its best is more than enough.

After witnessing a drowning at a local beach, Jon (Gleeson) finds himself being ushered into the band. They have a show to play that night and they need his help filling in on keyboards as that was in fact their keyboardist trying to drown himself. Excited for the opportunity, he shows up for a bizarre display of nonconformist musicianship, the heir apparent to a suicidal keyboardist — what a great guy.

Jon initially assumes his role in the band would be that of a temporary hired-gun. His involvement soon extends to filling in on a more permanent basis as The Soronprfbs seclude themselves in an isolated cabin in the Irish countryside to record a full album. Jon bemoans the fact no one told him this would be more than a weekend gig, citing he has to return to work as soon as possible. His kidnappers don’t much care though, for they have a lot of work to do. Seemingly this is now his job, trying to find a way to fit in amongst a crew of ragtags who themselves don’t fit in elsewhere.

There’s the dude who first offers Jon the chance to play, Don (Scoot McNairy). His determination to become someone he’s not is simultaneously driving him mad. We’ve got the non-English speaking Baraque (François Civil) and Nana (Carla Azar), who don’t do much beyond moping about and remaining wary about Jon’s presence. Then, chief among the antagonists — I’m sure none of these people are meant to be perceived that way but let’s just say these are some talented actors here — is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, a nutcase who takes an instant dislike to Jon and makes life in the band a living nightmare for him. Her role is akin to that of someone you come across in your early grade school years who constantly picks on you, but all along the bullying is that person’s way of saying they dig your vibe.

Unfortunately the only person’s vibe I can really dig in this oppressively odd film is Michael Fassbender and his papier-mâché head/mask. As Frank, Fassbender is simultaneously the leader of The Soronprfbs and the stand-out acting talent. He’s empathetic given the obviousness and severity of his mental condition. He’ll never remove the head/mask, a fact that yields all sorts of questions ranging from his ability to function in social settings to his general hygiene. Answers to a few of these are admittedly provided with a compelling, brutal honesty when Jon is able to convince the band to make an appearance at the SXSW festival, where he hopes their efforts to represent a very . . . different . . . music experience will finally provide them an audience willing to reciprocate their uniqueness. It’s an undertaking that does not at all go according to plan.

Despite few of the members being likable on any level, it’s clear there are sides to be taken in this awkward, personal tug-of-war. Jon’s main purpose is to become the wedge between Frank and the rest of the band. Amidst the hostility and intolerance that defines The Soronprfbs’ dysfunction there exists this competition to be ‘the next Frank.’ It’s a mentality that explains Clara’s treatment of Jon — she doesn’t believe he has any talent or originality whatsoever and is trying too hard to be like Frank; a mentality that also sums up the fates of other members who have stepped out of the band.

Abrahamson’s fourth directorial effort manifests as a sincere reflection of mental illness but sadly this is a production difficult to enjoy or even sympathize with. An hour-and-a-half featuring people arguing and making something akin to music. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Recommendation: If kinky films are what you dig, then maybe Frank will be something you might enjoy. With disagreeable characters, languid pacing and a band that makes no sense, it is a difficult one to recommend to anyone else. Even though the characters are largely detestable, my bigger issue is that it combined that with a theme of social anxiety that didn’t really work. Plus the film feels so much longer than 95 minutes would suggest. I was prepared for a different kind of watch, but maybe not one this repellent. It’s almost as if the film was actively trying not to be enjoyable.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “Stale beer. Fat f**ked, smoked out. Cowpoked. Sequined mountain ladies. I love your wall. Put your arms around me. Fiddly digits, itchy britches. I love you all.”

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While We’re Young

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Release: Friday, March 27, 2015

[Theater]

Written by:  Noah Baumbach

Directed by: Noah Baumbach 

As the tagline suggests, life never gets old but can the same be said for aggressively hipster, disingenuous characters and convoluted stories?

Noah Baumbach is a director I should have written off already. What I’ve been able to gather through only two films (this and 2013’s Frances Ha) is that he’s all about some hipster shit. From what I understand, his back catalog has this tendency to be a bit off-putting. If he weren’t such a brilliant writer with observations so keen on actually making me think people really can reinvent themselves from the inside out — that’s much cornier now that I say it out loud (let’s face it: most movies fail to change us in any way that’s discernible) — I probably would have given up.

Baumbach’s talent for plucking characters and situations from reality and surrounding them in a cinematic environment is on display in While We’re Young. So is his penchant for working with difficult-to-like personalities. I have to get over that. I really do. It’s either that, or I don’t have to. I could go on eager to embrace only that which makes me comfortable and engages on all levels, pretending that the world exists for my sensitivities. I’m an idealist and it kind of sucks. That goes far beyond selecting what films appeal to me and what do not. I’m a little like Ben Stiller’s documentarian Josh who demands purity and absolute truth in the films he makes. (Me, lacking his film-making ambition.)

Currently he’s in the middle of a big project and is having great difficulty keeping it going. Josh has strung together a rather paltry career as a documentary filmmaker and now he finds himself, along with wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), in the throes of middle-age as the New York couple are seeing friends all around them growing up with their own children, an experience that Josh and Cornelia have longed to share in but haven’t been able to due to infertility. That’s something of a private matter, so where does this concern us, exactly? While We’re Young begins as an evaluation of a couple finding a surprising amount of joy in their childless adult lives, but Baumbach has grander aspirations than suggesting all people who have kids eventually lose themselves to parenting duties.

Josh finishes up another of his lectures at the local college and comes across a young couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who take an immediate interest in his approach to film. They insist he and Cornelia join them for dinner. Quickly Josh and Cornelia become infatuated with the way these twentysomethings seem to be “so engaged” in everything and anything around them. They have youth on their side, sure, but soon it’s an entire lifestyle that convinces the documentarian and his producer wife they’ve been hanging out with the wrong people for awhile now.

It’s a matter of time and a few awkward scenes before they are miming Jamie and Darby’s nonchalance, shedding everything about themselves save for their few well-earned wrinkles and grey hairs. Stiller looks less silly in a pair of thick-framed glasses and a fedora than Watts does taking up hip-hop dance classes with Darby, unable to disengage the twerk wherever she is for the remainder of the film. (I’ve never been able to describe Watts as a particularly convincing actress and here she really hit some alarm buttons.)

The foursome’s lives are further intertwined when Josh, who has always preferred working by himself, eventually caves and allows Jamie to help steer his long-struggling documentary in the right direction. ‘Right’ is an extremely subjective term, as it becomes clear Jamie is more in it for being able to work his way up the ladder of prestige and success, while Josh merely wants to put out a good story, an important one. Granted, when you listen to him explain his ambition, don’t blame yourself for struggling to stay awake. I certainly don’t. While We’re Young frustratingly finds success in sending up the generational gap that exists between our principal actors while simultaneously detaching us from them with an overindulgence of technical talk about the medium of documentary film and Josh’s convoluted ideas.

As such, a final showdown (that shouldn’t really feel like a final showdown) that occurs between the idealist and opportunist behind the scenes of an award ceremony where Cornelia’s successful father (Charles Grodin) is accepting the top prize for documentary filmmaking, comes across forced and a tad goofy given all the dramatic set-up. Cornelia’s father has been at the center of Jamie’s attention for sometime. Is this why he has been interested in Josh’s work this whole time? It really doesn’t matter; we’ve tuned out for the most part and are awaiting this mid-life crisis to end.

So as I was saying, is it all the hipsters’ fault for While We’re Young not striking a match and lighting the cinematic world on fire? Of course . . . not. It’s a film that astutely observes the pains of life in its many forms — in this case, the advantages and pitfalls of aging and of youth, and how the process of discovery often is more important than the results we find in the end. But the film is unfocused and yes, okay, is made longer by characters that are tough to identify with. The latter is rendered harder to ignore when the former is the larger issue.

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2-5Recommendation: These characters and these lifestyles and these interests are certainly not my cup of tea. Maybe I’m not qualified to write a recommendation for this thing, but I did find a lot to like here. There are a number of excellently crafted and funny scenes but these feel scattershot and overwhelmed by a sea of mediocre ones. Stiller and Watts make a convincing couple, with emphasis on the former. Driver and Seyfried are excellent at the hipster thing. And Baumbach excels at nailing some truths here. It’s a decent outing, give it a go if you’re a fan of his previous work.

Rated: R

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “I remember when this song was just considered bad . . .”

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Get Hard

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Release: Friday, March 27, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Etan Cohen; Jay Martel; Ian Roberts

Directed by: Etan Cohen

It speaks to the talents of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart that Get Hard gets funny at all. This is easily one of the most racist and homophobic movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of reviewing.

I’d like to clear the air right away: I have a fairly high tolerance for low-brow humor and I’ve been a loyal fan of Ferrell’s for sometime, and despite the motor-mouth on Hart he occasionally has my sides splitting open from laughter. But this is a difficult one to enjoy, especially because while it begs for the mind to be shut off completely, it ironically opens the mind up to all kinds of disturbing thoughts — such as: how insecure is this Etan Cohen guy? And where did the ‘h’ in Etan go, anyway? If he enjoys poking fun at this many different subsects of society I feel it is well within my rights to go out of my way to be petty about the spelling of his name.

I doubt very much Mr. Cohen is reading this review but if he is, I invite him to enjoy the rest of this rant. I’d like your job. I’ve never directed so much as a short film before but your ineptitude at guiding what might have been — and this is being probably too generous here — a clever concept through to the end is some kind of fail I’d be comfortable with putting a hashtag in front of. #failhard.

So, before I blow a gasket, let’s talk plot, shall we? This film has potential in Will Ferrell playing James King, a wealthy and privileged white dude who’s made it big pocketing money from various American investors as a hedge fund manager at Wealthrop Fund Corporation — a legitimate businessman in several senses of the word. What he is not, however, is prepared to get raped in the San Quentin penitentiary after being arrested on embezzlement charges that come out of nowhere. First of all, let’s just assume that the act of forcible penetration by a man unto another man is the worst case scenario when one goes to the slammer. There may, in fact, be things to fear more but I don’t want to go there. The film establishes that where King is going is nothing less than a hell hole, so we accept that, yeah he’s going to need some prepping. He enlists at random the help of his car washer, humble little Darnell (Hart), whom King presumes has done time and has some wisdom to impart.

Get Hard, when not endeavoring to be as offensive as possible, sets up some pretty amusing sequences — one of the better ones being a running visual gag as Darnell converts King’s mansion into a makeshift prison wherein he’ll toughen King’s candy-ass up by overhauling his social, physical and psychological prowess. His wine room is made into a jail cell, his live-in staff (all of which are Mexican) become his prison inmates and there’s even a prison riot simulation. There are moments away from the mansion where Ferrell and Hart manage to serve up some laughs before the script (penned by no fewer than three writers) slaps the smile right off your face thanks to the temptation to push crudeness three steps too far.

Hart and Ferrell with little effort form a dynamic that’s simultaneously mildly entertaining and painful to endure. Get Hard relies on the oh-so-clever countdown clock (30 days before prison, 25 days, etc.) as a lazy excuse to establish time frames, a way to express the bond that forms between what were once strangers distanced by socioeconomic status. Oh, and skin color. As the first day of prison rapidly approaches the duo goes from James and Darnell to ‘Mayo and Chocolate.’

If you think my greatest annoyance with all of this is Cohen’s fascination with segregating people rather than unifying them — I won’t deny films have been doing this for as long as the industry has been around but few actually make use of racism/homophobia as a plot device — then let’s turn the spotlight on the quality of the acting. Ferrell and Hart aren’t worth mentioning as both are playing versions of themselves. Ferrell may need to find a new gig soon, though as it’s clear he is reaching for characters with a kind of maturity to them that just feels awkward. But to find Craig T. Nelson trying to make his character work, King’s father-in-law-to-be and higher-up in the firm is disheartening. He’s terrible. So is Alison Brie, the whiny, gold-digging prissy fiancée of James King. Paul Ben-Victor miscalculates his role as the one who does the trigger-pulling and actual threat-making as something that will help his career last.

While there are moments that are genuinely funny Get Hard is offensive on so many levels it’s difficult to comprehend. I didn’t even tap into the brutality of the gay jokes but that’s a segment that really doesn’t need addressing. Come to think of it, I’ve already spent too much time talking about this one as it is.

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1-0Recommendation: For the most part unfunny and downright offensive for the sake of seeing where the boundaries may be pushed in 2015, Get Hard may not be the lowest point in either Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart’s careers, but it’d be a crime to call the movie worth your time.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “One, two, three, December, Christmas, baked potato. . .”

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

Spare Parts

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Release: Friday, January 16, 2015 (limited) 

[Theater]

Written by: Elissa Matsueda

Directed by: Sean McNamara

Well-intentioned but also thoroughly cliched, Sean McNamara’s strict adherence to the inspirational Wired.com article ‘La Vida Robot’ still manages to surprise with an atypical performance from George Lopez.

Lopez plays Fredi Cameron, a substitute teacher whose inexperience with the troubled Carl Hayden Community High student body is predicted to eventually overwhelm him. A grilling interview with the principal (Jamie Lee Curtis) suggests he should take his engineering mind elsewhere. His character is actually an amalgamation of real-life instructors Fredi “Ledge” Lajvardi and Allen Cameron and is a personality that meshes well with Lopez’s kind eyes and warm smile.

Mr. Cameron decides to tough it out and soon discovers a group of students with some unique talent, the likes of which are doomed to be overlooked in favor of the statistical probability their undocumented status in the States will lead them down a dead-end road. There’s Oscar (Carlos PenaVega), a senior with aspirations of joining the Armed Forces after school and whose confidence masks his deep-seated fear of being deported; Lorenzo (José Julián), a 16-year-old with a penchant for getting into trouble on the streets but more importantly a mind for building and designing things; Cristian (David Del Rio), a genuinely good kid whose youth belies one of the sharpest minds in the community, possibly in the greater Phoenix area and whose home life has him living in a small shed off to the side of the house; and Luis (Oscar Gutierrez), a quiet and unconfident young man undoubtedly conscientious of his physical size and self-assessed lack of practical skills.

The foursome rally around an extremely amiable Lopez even as he’s somewhat reluctant to invest his own time in the school’s robotics club. He sees the kids desperately need some direction, but it’s not until he’s finally won the support of a cute colleague (Marisa Tomei), who believes the students don’t need any more misleading, that Mr. Cameron realizes his passion for engineering can actually marry with his desire to help others. The robotics club sets their sights on the underwater robotics competition hosted at the University of California, Santa Barbara where they will have to pit their $800 robot, built out of PVC piping and nicknamed ‘Stinky,’ against teams with arguably more talent, confidence and community support and most assuredly more financial aid.

The end result of said competition is a foregone conclusion since there’s now a film based on the story, but in getting there the journey really has to be seen to be believed. Spare Parts falls back on trope after trope but it’s not doing this to intentionally harm anyone’s image, least of all those of the student subjects. If anything — and here’s a more cynical way of considering the production — this is a career-booster for the Californian talk show host who has made a habit of providing ridiculous faces and fluff commentary on his show Lopez Tonight. Here he is putting in substantive work and it is appreciated. The actors portraying the students leave a stronger impression than Lopez, though and are the real stars of the show. Convincingly portraying the utter despair and turmoil that their individual situations have thrust them into, these relatively undiscovered actors will hopefully pick up some more work later on down the road.

Richard Wong’s gritty and saturated color palette tends to flick the dirt and grime of the Phoenix area in our faces with an effectiveness that might overshadow any other element present here. This world looks and feels real; intimate and often dimly-lit settings emphasize serious overtones that are otherwise frustratingly undermined by cringe-inducing dialogue and contrived plot development.

Spare Parts manages to sustain its enthusiastic spirit and reverence for not only Joshua Davis’ excellent in-depth examination but the team itself. It is a joy to see a visual interpretation of an extraordinary chapter in this Phoenix-based school, a school that has since gone on to receive global recognition for its technical achievements. However, that’s nothing compared to what these trials and tribulations have done for young Oscar, Lorenzo, Cristian and Luis. How do you not applaud these kids.

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3-0Recommendation: An uplifting family drama through-and-through it’s difficult not to root for Spare Parts. It’s full of heart but also filled with a lot of things that could have been done much better to limit the eye-roll factor. And why, again, does Marisa Tomei have to be relegated to such a restricted role? Ugh. I’m getting tired of this; she’s better than this! Or, maybe not? Cliched or not, this is a story that does deserve to be watched. I give it one-and-a-half Roger Ebert thumbs up (one of my thumbs is like, turned sideways . . . or something).

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “They’re not adults, they’re kids. Every day in a hundred ways they are told they are worthless. . .”

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 

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Josh Heald

Directed by: Steve Pink

I, along with six other brave souls, ended up in a theater that was playing a film titled Hot Tub Time Machine 2 because apparently the original had that kind of effect on me. I’m now doubting all kinds of things about myself.

Steve Pink picks up where he left off in 2010 with a superfluous sequel to a comedy that many have deemed rather silly to begin with, and I’m in no position to argue against that. We’ve lost John Cusack in the transition, though. But what’s this — Adam Scott is in as an utterly useless replacement character? I suppose it’s fitting, as the boys in this slightly outrageous misadventure soon discover that going further into the future doesn’t always mean things improve. They do quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

With the end results of their traveling back in time in Hot Tub Time Machine rendering Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) much wealthier, superior versions of themselves — particularly Lou after the advent of his “Lougle” conglomeration — we are introduced to the same characters who are now much less likable. Corddry steps up the obnoxious a notch or two, resulting in his being blasted in the crotch with a shotgun by some agitated partygoer. As he begins to die in the most humiliating of fashions, his time-traveling pals come up with a plan to save him. They’ll use the hot tub to once again go back in time to prevent quite possibly the most unnatural castration ever.

Instead of going back to the past, the buffoons wind up jettisoning themselves ten years into the future, and things have changed seemingly in favor of young Jacob, who now is the proud owner of a ballin’ crib and has a hottie for a wife. She’s only one in a parade of beautiful women who serve as scenery/distractions from the fact that these guys just aren’t as funny this time around. Of course, saving Lou/Lou’s penis isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds and the narrative diverts into territory that is neither useful nor effective. I saw this film a matter of hours ago and am struggling to recall anything significant about minutes 20 through 90.

I do recall a steady decline into boredom, however. Adam Scott plays Cusack’s son, Adam Jr., but what the hell happened in that gene pool, exactly? A character devoid of dimension, most notably in the humor department, and a stiff at that — he is getting married very soon, as he repeats over and again, and he can’t afford to party like an animal as the others wish to — Adam Jr. represents a new low in a decidedly low-brow franchise. A brief flash of Community‘s Gillian Jacobs as his bride-to-be only compounds that problem.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2, when not falling flat with misfirings of all colors, shapes and sizes (and flavors) takes some rather dark turns and oversteps boundaries, making light of suicidal acts well past the point of mockery. I’m actually not sure if making fun of suicide is that bright of an idea to begin with. You might not believe me after all this, but the film isn’t exactly all for nothing; there still remains the camaraderie between the threesome. We experience the commitment Nick and Lou have to their friendships during a ridiculous and smirk-inducing game show sequence circa mid-movie.

Oh, but wait — didn’t something similar happen five years ago? Yes, yes it did. But repeating old jokes isn’t that offensive when compared to the new stabs at funny mostly failing. Pink’s follow-up asks some interesting questions about how we might govern our present-tense lives if we had any inkling of what today’s actions will lead to later, but the more interesting question really is how can a somewhat reliable formula produce such a different result? If you are bothered enough to try and answer that for yourselves, go ahead and see this. Personally, I’d rather get my own . . . ah, never mind. I won’t go there.

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1-5Recommendation: Neither funny nor that fun to spend time with, the gang has fallen on hard times indeed. What worked for the original was a sense of nostalgia for the ’80s (if you get nostalgic for that sort of thing). But for those who are fans of good comedy, seeing this one through just may make you nostalgic for the good old days of a John Cusack-led bubbly-tub bacchanalia.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 long mins.

Quoted: “. . . that smells like hatred.”

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

A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce)

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Release: Friday, October 4, 2013

[Redbox]

If ever you wanted to test the limits of your moviegoing patience and goodwill, rent a little flick by the name of Adult Children of Divorce, or A.C.O.D. for short.

A nail biter, a fist-clencher, an intensely palm-sweating experience for all of the wrong reasons, first-time director Stu Zicherman’s romantic comedy is the most unromantic comedy this reviewer has seen in ages. So why the nail biting, fist-clenching, etcetera? Though not an exhaustive list, these are the physical reactions a viewer is likely to have while enduring a film like this. (See also: head-bashing, eyeball-gouging, and the immediate chugging of rubbing alcohol to induce permanent blindness.)

Phew. Well, after flushing the system of those reactions, I have to concede that A.C.O.D. is not quite that despicable. But it’s not a good film, not by any stretch. It strands a talented cast in a story that is exasperatingly dull, one that misses its potential like the Titanic missed its final destination. The snail’s pace and amateur plot development together result in some of the longest 87 minutes you’re likely to experience, at least while watching a comedy.

Let’s back up a little bit before I go into a full-fledged rant. The premise is about a grown man, Carter (played by Adam Scott) whose parents have been divorced for most of his life and haven’t so much as spoken for the majority of that time. When his younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) drops the news of his upcoming wedding to his “super hot girlfriend,” Carter’s horrified to learn that Trey wants their now-remarried parents to attend the wedding. That sounds awkward enough, but the nature of Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara)’s separation has rubbed salt into the wound. And thus, the movie being the most unromantic romantic-comedy created in years. A family dynamic that’s this dysfunctional begs the question as to who decided this would fit the description of a rom-com.

Making matters worse, Carter learns one day that a family friend who is also a psychotherapist (Jane Lynch) has been studying people like him for years, tracking the rippling effects a divorce has on the children of separated parents. He’s unwittingly become a caricature in Dr. Judith’s book, titled ‘Children of Divorce.’ Though Carter wants to believe he only shares physical traits of those who raised him, the doc thinks there’s something lurking underneath the surface that makes him more like his parents than he’d care to admit. So she approaches him for a follow-up, a sequel to her highly successful book. She’ll call it ‘Adult Children of Divorce,’ with the intent being. . .well, that much isn’t so clear. The movie falls down on its knees in this department, providing the greatest flaw in the design.

Not only does the movie not take advantage of what appears to be, on paper anyway, a poignant statement on the nature of love and commitment in modern society, the damn thing’s not funny. Save for the odd guffaw caused by good old Richard Jenkins, everyone else in this film suffers from over-dramatization (Amy Poehler’s bitchy sorority alum Sondra, who is also Hugh’s latest wife, being the worst offender — seriously, can we please go back to the days of SNL, where she was actually funny. . .and live in that time?) and limited character development.

There’s a goldmine that Zicherman fails to tap into here. One cannot deny the appeal of the film’s title. It has real potential, although a comedic approach to the matter is questionable in the first place. With the divorce rate — as it pertains to the United States — hovering at or around 50%, a statement on the alarming rate at which the phrase ‘for as long as you both shall live’ is being cast aside- in present-day marriages should make for a really great movie. Channelling my inner Arnold Schwarzenegger here: negative.

Despite a select few moments in which Jenkins and O’Hara try their hardest to pull a rabbit out of the hat with regards to this conceit-, the vast majority of the story is bogged down in footage that would seem more useful in B-roll takes. Adult children of divorce is apparently a ‘real’ concept, as the end credits introduces the viewer to people involved in the making of the film who describe themselves as such; it’s a shame we can’t really care by the time they introduce themselves.

A.C.O.D.

2-0Recommendation: This is a frustratingly mediocre product that begins with promise and steadily declines over the course of less than 90 minutes — and to reiterate, the film feels more like a two-hour affair than something that registers just shy of a standard full-length feature. Performances all around aren’t that memorable. If you are a die-hard Richard Jenkins fan, you might check this out but that is the most positive recommendation I can really give the film. Otherwise, it’s a squandering of potential in any other way.

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “You know, the thing about Portuguese whores is some are born in Portugal, some are born in Africa. It’s a real mix.”

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

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