Notes from the back row 

Fire up the hot tub

Hot Tub Time Machine. I admire a movie where the plot is summed up in the title. It subverts any highbrow expectations and lets us enjoy things for what they are - which in this case, is funny as hell.

Set in a ski town, Hot Tub Time Machine is about a group of middle-aged buddies on a weekend getaway to shake up their boring lives. They get wasted in the chalet hot tub and wake up in 1986 as their young selves. John Cusack stars but most of the comedy comes at the hands of Craig Robinson (Zack and Miri) and especially Rob Corddry (Semi-Pro) who takes things to Will Ferrell-esque levels and beyond (Profanity? Oh yeah. Nudity? Check. Accidentally fellating a dude? Maybe.)

Chock full of '80s references like Alf and a black Michael Jackson, Hot Tub Time Machine also includes Crispin Glover as a typical service-industry burnout bellman and Chevy Chase as the Hot Tub repairman who knows more than he lets on. Aside from a few lulls (Cusack's romance) the flick mostly hammers us with gross-out humour and genuine laughs as the four buddies rock out and party like it's 1986 while trying not to upset the space-time continuum. Director Steve Pink (screenwriter on High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank) lets his actors steal the show and Hot Tub Time Machine is well worth checking out. The cherry on top is Canadian actress Jessica Pare topless. Hot tubs rule.

So do dragons. How to Train Your Dragon - the latest 3D animation from Dreamworks, the studio that made Shrek and Kung-Fu Panda - also opens Friday. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is a smart kid who doesn't fit into the brute Viking society of his peers and parents. Luckily, after dragons attack his village and the men go off to wage war, the young outsider finds and tames a dragon and, you guessed it, becomes an unlikely hero while teaching us to believe in ourselves and never judge a book by its cover. Morals aside (and an Avatar/Pocahontas plotline) How to Train Your Dragon starts a bit rough, and the animated humans are nowhere near as well done as the dragons, but then the film settles into a romping good adventure with tons of high-flying action. The 3D flight sequences work so well they easily salvage the picture. Of course, last I heard, Whistler still doesn't have a 3D projector. Maybe someone should organize a bake sale - our kids are missing out up here.

If you are in the city then drop the kids off to watch dragons and check out Chloe, the latest from Canadian great Atom Egoyan (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter). It's a heavy, sex-laden flick about intimacy, fidelity and the lies we tell ourselves and the ones we love. Find out what happens when a wife hires a hooker to test her husband's fidelity.

The DVD of the week is Fantastic Mr. Fox, the superb claymation flick from Wes Anderson (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums) that speaks on family, cussing, and the wild animal in all of us. Fantastic Mr. Fox features an amazing voice cast and is still my vote for best film of last year. Also on DVD is The Blind Side, the football movie that won Sandra Bullock her Oscar just before her life went to shit and the whole world learned her overall-wearing husband cheated on her with what looks like a botched Marilyn Manson sex-change operation. Yikes! Poor Sandra. It almost makes me wish I could take back all the bad things I've said about her. Better fire up my hot tub.




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