Monday, March 29, 2010

Remembering the 80's w/HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, and MORE!

Hey everyone, and Happy Passover to all of my fellow Jews. I'll be honest, Passover has never been one of my favorite holidays. The whole no-bread for eight days things really starts to get to me after a couple of days. It definitely doesn't mesh well with my already-picky eating habits, which definitely tend to be heavy on Passover's forbidden foods. At the least, you would think that Passover would be an excuse to eat healthy for a week, but no. We Jews, being the junk-food lovers that we are, have decided that the go-to kosher-for-Passover foods sold at grocery stores around the country are such non-healthy items as chocolate, potato chips, and more chocolate. Passover is a veritable chocolatepalooza. Why, I don't know. But one thing about Passover - there's a lot of Chocolate. All I know is, someone could make a decent chunk of change by packaging kosher-for-Passover prepackaged meals. Like chicken-salads or things like that. Although, I don't think it's in Jewish genetics to think of a salad as a meal. Luckily, I live in LA, where many eat nothing but salads. So on one hand, I'll be eating lots of salads this week. But there will probably be some chocolate in there as well. And matzoh-pizza, can't forget that. The old Passover standby of cooking-impaired single Jews everywhere. Because hey, I may not have much in the way of culinary skills, but hot damn can I microwave up some tasty matzoh-pizza.

Anyways, this year I'll be in LA for Passover (last year I was back in CT), so that, as usual, will be an adventure. Stay tuned as my brother and I venture out into the Jewish wilderness in search of the perfect Passover seder. Tonight, we hit up the Chai Center. Tomorrow, Temple Sinai. Over freeways and under the proverbial dunghill (sorry, inside joke) we shall go so that we may recite the story of our people leaving Egypt for the Holy Land. Matzoh shall be eaten, Manischevitz consumed, horseradish swallowed, karpas dipped, and well-shanked shankbones shall be, well, admired from afar. So bring it on, Passover - I've got matzoh, tomato sauce, and grated mozzarella cheese in my fridge. I'm ready for ya'.

- And on that note, some thoughts on a little movie that came out this past weekend about hot tubs and time machines. I think it's called ... "The Whirpool That Travelled Through Time."


- How can you not be at least slightly intrigued by a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine? If that title doesn't scream "potential for hilarity," I don't know what does. At the same time, after Snakes on a Plane, you've also got to be a little weary of the high-concept, ironically blunt movie titles. There's so-dumb-it's-actually-genius, and so-dumb-it's-just-really dumb. Luckily, Hot Tub Time Machine mostly lives up to the goofy promise of its title, delivering tons of laughs and lots of moments of jaw-dropping gross-out comedy, coupled with lots of fun call-backs to all things 80's. As a certified afficionado of all things cheesy and 80's, I was onboard from moment one, as Autograph's "Turn Up the Radio" kicked up over the opening titles. If you are the kind of person who would immediately recognize Autograph's "Turn Up the Radio," then you may want to run out and see this movie. As you can tell, yes, I am that kind of person.

Hot Tub Time Machine is basically a parody of time-travel movies (think Back to the Future), a parody of the 80's, and a comedy about a bunch of guys grappling with getting older, and looking to recapture the days of their wild youth (Old-School, The Hangover, etc.). The plot is simple enough - three forty-ish friends (and one twenty-ish hanger-on) go on a ski trip in order to relive their glory days. However, upon arriving to the once-rockin' resort, they realize that it's now deserted and dilapidated. The guys plan a night of hot-tubbin' debauchery so as to have at least one night of old-school craziness, but, as fate would have it, said hot-tub is in fact ... (wait for it) ... a hot tub time machine! The guys are transported back to the 80's, and find themselves in their younger bodies, back in the middle of a particularly memorable and life-changing ski trip from twenty-five years earlier. While the youngest of the bunch worries about ruining the space-time continuum (after all, he wants to ensure that he is still born), the rest of the guys go about livin' it up, rockin' out, and righting the wrongs of their old lives. And hilarity ensues ...

In some ways, Hot Tub Time Machine is as random and out-there as you'll get in a mainstream comedy. The movie goes about as far as any comedy has in terms of shock-value gags. And yes, that means that much of the humor is often standard gross-out comedy fare. It's okay though, because the cast is uber-talented and fantastically funny. To me, the two real stars of the movie are Craig Robinson and Rob Cordry. Robinson (perhaps best known as Daryl from The Office) is one of those guys whose facial expressions alone are often enough to crack you up. He's just a hilarious guy, and here, his comedic timing and delivery are spot-on. Every time Robinson shows up in a movie, he's always very funny, so it's nice to finally see him get a semi-starring role. Meanwhile, I've been a longtime fan of Rob Cordry, so it was pretty cool to finally see him get the spotlight as well. I mean, this is a guy who basically single-handedly made the TV show "The Winner" watchable. He's very funny, and he's on top of his game in Hot Tub, to the point where I'd say he steals the movie.

John Cusack is also really good here as well - in fact, having not seen John Cusack in a good movie, in ... almost a decade? ... this is the best he's been in a long, long time. He's a lot of fun here, and it's nice to see him in a funny part that plays off of his star-power in such an entertaining manner. Clark Duke also does a nice job as Cusack's younger nephew - he isn't given a ton to do, but he steps up when called upon.

The main cast is great, but I did think that some of the cameos and smaller roles fell a bit flat. The great Crispin Glover appears as a one-armed man who is also basically a one-joke character. It's a funny recurring joke, but it also seems somewhat of a waste of a great actor. Similarly, Chevy Chase shows up as the mystical keeper of the Hot Tub Time Machine. With Chase really getting his comedic mojo back lately on Community, it was sort of sad to see him back in a thankless cameo role that wasn't particularly funny. Lizzy Caplan from True Blood shows up as well as a 1980's-era love interest for John Cusack. I like her a lot in general, but her character here seemed pretty shallow, and her star-crossed romance with Cusack felt rushed. Look, I'm not expecting some awesome, well-developed romance in a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, but given that their relationship is a huge plot point, I would have liked more of a reason to care about their scenes together.

And I think that's where the movie somewhat breaks down in its second half. The movie doesn't seem content to just be a crazy, off-the-wall, and completely random comedy - which it does a nice job of at first. Instead, Hot Tub morphs into a much more by-the-numbers comedy with all sorts of more sitcom-y character moments. I mean, the movie is called Hot Tub Time Machine - I want insane humor and completely random comedy. And the movie delivers that in abundance. But ... the moments where it tries to elicit actual emotion from us, where it tries to tell a more conventional narrative ... well, those parts tend to feel rushed and ultimately fall a bit flat. I also thought the whole ending sequence was sort of lame. Without spoiling anything, the movie seemed to end on a somewhat clunky note, with some screwball time-travel shenanigans resulting in some semi-cheesy reveals.

Overall though, Hot Tub Time Machine had me laughing my ass off for much of its running time. Just the interplay between the four main actors alone was worth the price of admission - and that is in many ways a testament to guys like Craig Robinson and Rob Cordry. I loved the riffs on all things 80's - the movie made me want to do a little time-travelling myself, so I could spend some time wearing a jean jacket and fingerless gloves, and partying it up at a Poison concert (okay, so I've done that in the 00's, but still ...). Bottom line though is that a lot of the jokes were on the money, and many of the biggest gags were brilliantly-executed for maximum laugh-factor. The audience I saw this with - a packed house on opening night at the AMC Burbank, was roaring with laughter. I wouldn't quite call Hot Tub Time Machine a truly great comedy, but I'll say that I definitely got my money's worth in laughs.

My Grade: B+


- I wanted to love THE SIMPSONS from this week, in which The Simpsons family travels to Israel. But sadly, this episode mostly fell flat. I so wanted the Israeli tour guide character, voiced by none other than Sascha Baron Coen, to be hilarious. But aside from the general joke that he was really pushy, there wasn't much to him. Otherwise, the episode just had so much potential that was seemingly wasted. Especially once it devolved into a weird thing where Homer gets "Jerusalem Syndrome" and thinks he's the messiah. It's sad - some of my all-time favorite Simpsons episodes are the ones dealing with a.) religion, and b.) the relationship between Homer and Flanders. In the old days, a Simpsons ep in Israel, with Baron-Coen, with those themes taking center stage ... well, it prob would have been a classic. Now, the writing just couldn't quite pull it off. There were a handful of funny moments and sight gags, and we got a lot of random wackiness, but without any real heart or intelligence. Oy.

My Grade: B-

- Quick thoughts on Thursday's NBC comedies ... THE OFFICE was really funny. Nothing of super-high consequence, but Date-Mike Michael Scott, the random Japanese guy's story about his battles with the Yakuza, and Dwight's oddball love triangle added up to an episode rife with hilarity. And hey, it all took place at Jillian's at Universal Citywalk, which made me somewhat nostalgic for Jillian's in Boston. 30 ROCK was pretty great. Kenneth's random stories cracked me up, and all the Kabletown stuff was gold. I wasn't thrilled with the return of Jason Sudeki as Floyd though - not a huge fan of the character in general. Both PARKS and COMMUNITY felt slightly off this week after several weeks of awesomeness. Still two of my favorite comedies on TV though.

Alright, I'll be back with more soon. Happy Passover and ... l'chaim!

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