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Crispin Glover

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Frat to the Future.


To get in the proper mood for Steve Pink’s ’80s throwback (in more ways than one) Hot Tub Time Machine after a long week at work, I made sure to sidle up to the bar just beforehand — conveniently located, at my “local” (Regal Gallery Place in DC’s Chinatown), just below the theater — and knock down a shot-and-pint (of Jamesons and Guinness respectively, of course.) And my best advice for those of you still thinking about testing these bubbling, lurid, time-traveling waters: Better make that a double.

My feelings about Hot Tub Time Machine are pretty close to how I came down on The Hangover last summer. It’s got some funny moments, sure, and I admire its throw-everything-and-see-what-sticks, Anchorman-y approach to humor. (This is vastly preferable to the “let’s make the audience better people in three acts” schtick that was in comedy vogue for awhile — See, for example, Anger Management.) It’s also sort of a kick to see John Cusack, after fighting it for decades, willingly slumming back to his Savage Steve Holland years, and, I’ll concede, the “I want my two dollars” joke made me smile.

At the same time, and maybe even more than The Hangover (which is no small feat), Hot Tub Time Machine feels like it was penned by and for the Bill “Sportsguy” Simmons nation. You could argue its casual misogyny, homophobia, and dumb raunchiness-for-the-sake-of-it is all part of the return-to-the-’80’s experience, but my guess is it’s really all about catering to the army of 21st century mooks that enlist under the Sportsguy’s standard. I mean, do you know the street value of that mountain? (As an aside, I actually think Simmons is a decent writer, and am crawling through his Book of Basketball at the moment. The problem isn’t his talent or his bball savvy, but his judgment and his (lack of) taste. Nor do I blame him for creating mook culture — he’s just one of its clearest expressions.)

More on the mookness of it all in a bit, but, first, the high-concept gist: Just like The Hangover, we have three friends (Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson) and a hanger-on (Clark Duke) trying to find themselves by taking a memorable, life-altering Lost Weekend — only this time, it’s in The Past. Adam (Cusack) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has his Second Life-addicted nephew (Duke) living in the basement. Nick (Robinson) is a once-promising singer who gave up his dreams for a girl and now spends his day as a personal trainer for dogs. (He touches poo. Ha. That’s funny. Poo.) And Lou (Corddry), the Galifianakis of the bunch, is a perennial loser who may or may not have recently tried to kill himself. (A wasted Corddry plunking out ’80’s power-chords on his dashboard is funny, and one of the many ways he often rises above the material here.)

So, because of Lou’s maybe-meltdown, this ungainly foursome head back to the ski resort idyll of their youth for some manly bonding. Problem is, the Great Recession has hit hard and the place has gone to hell — there’ll be no skiing the K-12 here. And, just when the weekend seems like a total wash, our heroes stumble into the hot tub in question and stumble out 24 years earlier, in the year of our lord 1986 — Adam is still with the “Great White Buffalo” he never should’ve dumped, Nick is still rocking the Kid-‘n’-Play-style hi-top, Lou is…well, still a loser, and Jacob the nephew shouldn’t even exist, and thus has a phasing-in-and-out, Marty McFly in Back to the Future II problem. (And speaking of the McFlys, Crispin “George McFly” Glover is skulking around too, as is Chevy Chase.) Fire up the day-glo and the hair metal, y’all, ’cause it’s time to partay like it’s the MTV era…

And so they do, meaning all the fashion faux-pas and Wang Chung-ish blasts from the past you might imagine from living in the Eighties. But, while there are still a few funny moments here and there, this Hot Tub loses steam and falls ever more flat the longer they spend in the Me Decade. I find legwarmers and Members Only jackets as ridiculous as the next guy, but there are only so many “lordy, the sartorial sense was terrible back then” jokes you can make over the course of two hours. And, other than that, the movie just meanders through its second half without much purpose, or even much sense. Cusack ingests enough shrooms to give the good doctor pause, and is playing Sixteen Candles kissy-face with Lizzy Caplan half an hour later.

And then there’re all the fratboyisms and mookish behavior. To be clear, I wasn’t offended by Hot Tub, per se. (Case in point: I put Jackass in my top 100 films of last decade.) And, to be sure, the sensibilities were different back then in Ronald Reagan’s America — just look at much of Police Academy or Revenge of the Nerds, or even the aforementioned Back to the Future, where, as @kellyoxford recently noted, George wins Marty’s future mom’s heart basically by stopping her from being date raped.

Still, by too often resorting in puerile shenanigans — look, Rob Corddry just got pee on his face! — and particularly in portraying every gal that comes along (Caplan aside) as a dim-witted sex toy, the movie just feels lazy, half-assed, and, well, mook. I don’t want to be the Billy Zabka of this tale, but, while I’m all for nostalgifying the ’80s for a few laughs, at some point, quite frankly, it’s time to grow up.

No Alice Aforethought.

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. And why this film was stinking rot, and so darn bad it stings… Sigh. Well, if you were going to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the box office numbers seem to indicate that you probably already have. Nonetheless, I’m sorry to report that — Mia Wasikowska, some of the art direction, and perhaps a scene or two notwithstanding — this Alice is a thoroughly woeful enterprise, and just an aggravatingly bad adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s world. If you hold any fondness for the book, trust me, you’ll leave Mad as Hell.

I say Lewis Carroll’s “world” because, as you probably already know, this is not a straight-up adaptation of (the often-combined) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. Rather, this movie takes up Alice’s tale as a teenager on the threshold of womanhood (Wasikowska), who, while weighing the pros-and-cons of betrothal to a rich, haughty, and very Burtonesque suitor (Leo Bill), finds herself Down the Rabbit Hole and back once again in, uh, “Underland.” So, in other words, at best this iteration of Alice already feels like reading somebody’s random Lewis Carroll fan-fiction on the Internets.

Worse, the fan in question seems to have really dug The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, to the point of just grifting liberally from Narnia to write this sequel-story. Now, Alice is basically a Pevensie-ish “Daughter of Eve” prophesied to free Won…uh, Underland from the tyranny of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Note the picture of Alice at the top of this post, brandishing the sword and armor on the battlefield(?), and standing next to Hathaway the White like she’s at Minas Tirith — Does that look anything like Alice in Wonderland to you?

So yeah, all the playful word games and off-kilter logic puzzles of Carroll’s book, and your usual Alice adaptations for that matter, have been thrown out the window here. Instead, we are left with…well, basically your average dumb summer movie. The Mad Hatter has become a major character, for seemingly no other reason than to accommodate the presence of Johnny Depp. We are told Alice is destined to slay the Jabberwocky early in the second reel, which means we spend the rest of the film just sitting around waiting for this prophesied shoe to drop. And — spoiler alert — when our heroine finally accomplishes the deed at the Big Battle and puts the dragon (and by extension the audience) out of its misery, she even gets to throw in a John McClane/Schwarzenegger one-liner. (“Off with your head!)

Put simply, this is just a blatantly stupid movie, and looking back on it, I can think of only one or two grace notes worth mentioning. As you might expect from most any Tim Burton production, the art direction is quite impressive at times (The 3-D, on the other hand, is muddy, and really doesn’t add anything to the experience.) So, for example, the design of the Red Queen’s soldiers is rather appealing, but these flourishes still aren’t really enough to keep things moving along. There’s one very brief scene involving frog and fish servants of the Red Queen that made it seem like the overall film would be much more fun and imaginative. And, while Wasikowska herself is actually quite solid throughout the movie, this Alice only manages to capture some of the real Wonderland magic in the Eat Me/Drink Me sequence early on.

Otherwise, tho’, hoo boy. While Tim Burton and the screenwriters clearly deserve the lion’s share of the blame for this fiasco, there’s more than enough Terrible to go around. (For his part, Depp is strange as usual, but is neither a plus nor a minus, really — Just don’t get me started on the breakdancing scene.) Somehow, someway, Crispin Glover, a.k.a. the one-eyed Knave of Hearts, seems like he’s overacting even when surrounded by talking dogs, rabbits, and pigs. But even he isn’t as lousy here as Anne Hathaway, who is high-school-production-bad. (I should know — I was in one.) As the White Queen, I couldn’t tell if Hathaway was trying to riff off of her Princess Diaries co-star Julie Andrews, or whether she was just totally lost amid the CGI, Natalie Portman-style. Either way, this isn’t a career highlight.

So, to sum up, Alice in Wonderland is pretty much just a travesty. (Or, to quote the lady of the hour: “Of all the silly nonsense, this is the stupidest tea party I’ve ever been to in all my life.“) One way or another, and just like Alice, Tim Burton has managed to accomplish an impossible thing here. He’s taken a beloved children’s classic that seemed very well-suited to his strengths, and somehow managed to suck all the magic out of it.

Prince of Thieves, Queen of Hearts.

In the trailer bin, Russell Crowe grunts, growls, and generally looks very Maximus-ish in the new trailer for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, also with William Hurt, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, Oscar Isaac, and Cate Blanchett (nee Sienna Miller) as Maid Marian. And two colorful new trailers for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland suggest Tim Burton might have gone pretty far afield from the original Lewis Carroll tome, and that Johnny Depp might get Willy Wonka-annoying here after awhile.

Update: But does he know the street value of that mountain? It’s The Hangover meets Back to the Future as John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke travel back to 1986 in a Hot Tub Time Machine, also with Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, and Chevy Chase. Um, yeah.

Mandela and the Madhouses.

As with the other day, I can’t seem to make Quicktime happy at my workstation here. Nonetheless, it appears Matt Damon has gone from exposing his conjoined twin’s involvement in the WMD fiasco to ending apartheid in the new trailer for Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Busy fella.

Also in today’s trailer bin, two second looks at worlds gone mad: Mia Wasikowska finds Through the Looking Glass is still crazy after all these years in trailer #2 for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, also with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Crispin Glover, Timothy Spall, and Christopher Lee. To be honest, it looks a little too Burton-y to me, if such a thing is possible for a property like Alice.

And Leonardo di Caprio is still losing his cool on The Island in trailer #2 for Martin Scorsese’s recently kicked-to-2010 Shutter Island, also featuring Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley, and the eminent Max Von Sydow. Eh, this looks better than most January fare.

Next Stop Wonderland(s).

In the trailer bin of late:

  • She’s given up, stop: Mia Wasikowska, a.k.a. Alice, takes a tumble down the rabbit hole anew in our first look at Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, also with Johnny Depp (frontlined a bit much here), Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Christopher Lee, Alan Rickman, Matt Lucas, Crispin Glover, Noah Taylor, and Timothy Spall. (Looks like a good start, although clearly there is still much CGI-rendering to do.)

  • In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where naturally Gary Oldman is up to no good, a Mad Maxish Denzel Washington may be carrying the secret to something-or-other in the trailer for the Hughes Brothers’ The Book of Eli, also with Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour, and Michael Gambon. (It’s good to see the Hughes, of From Hell and the underrated Menace II Society, back behind the camera. But I’m betting this’ll seem a bit been-there-done-that, coming so soon after John Hillcoat’s The Road.)

  • Kate Beckinsale uncovers something deadly, dark, and dangerous in the furthest reaches of Antarctica in the straight-to-video-ish trailer for Dominic Sena’s Whiteout, also with Gabriel Macht and Tom Skerritt. (It looks like The Thing, with shower scenes. Beckinsale is probably one of my bigger movie star crushes, but lordy, the woman needs a new agent.)

    And, as Comic-Con 2009 is just kicking off:

  • Pushing Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, Peter Jackson talks The Hobbit and Tintin. (Apparently, the script for The Hobbit is three weeks away, and four or five of the 13 dwarves have been front-lined. Spielberg has finished a first cut of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and The Lovely Bones comes out Dec. 11, with a trailer Aug. 6.)

  • Jonah Hex gets a poster that is sadly devoid of Malkovich. (For what is here, the scar looks decent enough, Megan Fox in anything gives me pause (but I guess she’s a hot ticket after the Transformers sequel made so much bank), and the lettering looks a bit futuristic for the property…unless they’re going post-Crisis Hex.

  • TRON 2.0, a.k.a. TR2N, is now called the much-more-boring TRON LEGACY. But, hey, at least they’re not abusing the colon…yet. (More TRON news, of sorts, in the post below, and, since the weekend is young, undoubtedly more Comic-Con news to come.) Update: The TR2N footage that premiered last Comic-Con is now — finally — up in glorious Quicktime.

  • Down the Rabbit Hole.

    “There is the usual Burton-esque ghoulishness (Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, whose favorite retort is ‘Off with their heads,’ has a moat filled with bobbing noggins), but Zanuck assures most kids can handle it. ‘The book itself is pretty dark,’ he notes. ‘This is for little people and people who read it when they were little 50 years ago.’

    USA Today obtains some stills from Tim Burton’s forthcoming adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, including some unsettling shots of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway as the Mad Hatter, Red Queen, and White Queen respectively. Also in the cast: Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Christopher Lee as the Jabberwock, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit, Noah Taylor as the March Hare, Matt Lucas as the Tweedle twins, Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, and Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat.

    Nine Walkers…Again.

    Coraline: Salvation? Post-apocalyptic puppet Elijah Wood finds himself fronting another crucially important nonagonal fellowship in the new trailer for Shane Acker’s 9, produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov and also starring Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover, and John C. Reilly. Hmm…definitely maybe.

    Drawn into Grendel’s Den.


    I am the ripper, the terror, the slasher. I am the teeth in the darkness! The talons in the night! My name is strength! And lust! And power! I AM BEOWULF!” Well, ok then. If Zack Snyder’s 300 last spring only whetted your appetite for cartoonish sword-and-sandal epics featuring hyperstylized gore and naked men bellowing, you’re in luck. For now arises Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf, a rousing 3-D mo-capped glimpse into the future of filmmaking and the ancient past of storytelling. To be honest, it’s harder than usual for me to judge Beowulf on its own terms, since this was my first feature-length IMAX-3D experience (notwithstanding documentaries like Aliens of the Deep), so I can’t say if it’d have the same effect at your regular 2D cineplex. But, in three dimensions, Beowulf is pretty darned impressive, what with arrows, swords, and viking viscera flying in all directions…We’ve come a long way from Captain Eo. And, while the film is basically a pretty standard three-act summer action movie, I’ll give it points for daring to be both more bloody and more downbeat than your average animated fare. If you see one movie this Thanksgiving holiday, see No Country for Old Men…but, if you’re in the mood for it, Beowulf is well worth a look-see as well.

    In late 5th century Scandinavia, as rumors of a new god, Christ Jesus, leak out of lands to the South, the Danes under the dissolute King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his lovely Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) are just looking to have a good time. This they proceed to do in the manner of ancient peoples and Ren Faires immemorial, with ribald songs and lusty wenches, meat straight off the bone, and more mead than you can shake a spear at. But interrupting these hearty proceedings is an uninvited guest, an oozing, decaying nearby troll known as Grendel (Crispin Glover), who proceeds to wreck the mead hall, tear Danes limb from limb, and otherwise bring the party down. Seeking respite from Grendel’s gory visitations, King Hrothgar and his people need a Hero. They find one in the traveling Geat warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone), who arrives via ship with his loyal lieutenant Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson) and a band of battle-tested scoundrels, all seeking honor and glory. Beowulf is tough, Beowulf is fearless, Beowulf is…a bit of a braggart, as deduced by one of the local noblemen (John Malkovich). But that’s beside the point, as, having enlisted under Hrothgar’s standard, mighty Beowulf must now confront the demon Grendel whether he likes it or not…as well as his more powerful, more alluring mother (Angelina Jolie), who has certain feminine wiles in her arsenal that our Hero may find harder to resist.

    If you read, or were forced to read, Beowulf back in school days, you’ll quickly find that screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary have changed the story considerably — They’ve made it bawdier, they’ve completely rewritten the second and third acts, and they’ve emphasized the human fallibility of the characters rather than their epic heroism. (While I’m sure this is anathema to many, none of this bothered me very much, as I’ve actually never read Beowulf before…sad, I know.) Still, for what’s here, Beowulf works decently well, although a Faustian bargain is made at one point that doesn’t seem nearly as tragic and horrible as it’s made out to be. (Sure, regrets he’s had a few, but Beowulf seems to do pretty well by the deal, and you could argue he’s only undone once it is inadvertently broken, rather than as a consequence of consummating it in the first place.)

    All that being said, in most eyes Beowulf is less likely to be judged for its capturing the nuances of the ancient poem than it is for its motion-capture, and here’s it’s going to be up to one’s personal aesthetics. Some reviewers are completely creeped out by the effect, but it didn’t bother me much at all. (The 3-D assuredly helped.) Sure, there were a few establishing shots — the viking ship, horses crossing a bridge — that screamed World of Warcraft cutscene, and the men, with their chiseled features and facial hair, still look more realistic than the women, whose faces often lack as much definition. But, all in all, I was rather impressed by the quality of the animation. And, besides, it’s animation — it was more important to me that Beowulf and Grendel seem part of the same world than that Beowulf looked exactly like someone I’d see at the deli. (And if this is what it takes to see Ray Winstone and Brendan Gleeson as the two leads in a buddy picture, so be it, although it still might be more fun to see them face off in a Sexy Beast II.)

    So, yes, Beowulf is more a cartoonish action flick (see below) than a somber and faithful retelling of the epic poem. But, as far as cartoonish action flicks go, I thought it was pretty entertaining. (And if you have an IMAX 3-D theater near you, it’s pretty much a must-see.) And, while admittedly it may achieve nothing close to the heights of the original poem, I still admired the general sense of dread and melancholy at work through much of Beowulf. Even the greatest heroes in our canon, it seems, often have a failing for beauty and proud words.

    Update: If you’re a first-time visitor arriving via The House Next Door today, welcome! (And, happy thanksgiving.) This way to the site’s front page, and down the hall on your left is the movie review archive. And, sorry, the turkey isn’t ready yet (unless you mean Southland Tales.)

    The ghost of ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face.

    In case you missed it or were otherwise dissuaded by the lousy format last time, the teaser for Todd Haynes’ off-kilter Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There is now officially online, along with a new red-band trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ stab at Beowulf. Definitely catching the former, probably seeing the latter.

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