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Mon06172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is the third trip to Camp Firewood after the original film (Wet Hot American Summer) and the Netflix prequel series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), and it’s the least-funny of the three.

It’s still one of the funniest things you will find on television.

Most of the group is back again for the eight-episode series, by writer-director David Wain and writer Michael Showalter. At the end of the original movie, the camp counselors (including Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Janeane Garofalo) promised to reunite 10 years later to see how things turned out. Here, they do just that, with their reunion threatened by an evil Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and George H.W. Bush (Michael Ian Black, in what has to be the worst and most hilarious George Bush impersonation ever). The two presidents want to nuke the place for nonsensical reasons.

Cooper, a superstar actor now, had to drop out (though he’s replaced in a very funny way by Adam Scott), while Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, manages to return as rebel Andy. This time out, Andy is sporting grunge long hair, and it often looks like he is inserted into group shots in post-production, probably because Rudd couldn’t stick around for the whole shoot. Wain finds ways to make this obvious and, yes, very funny.

There are a lot of early ’90s references. Wain is the king of wiseass humor, and this might be the most wiseass effort of them all. The humor involves a young Reagan taking spherical shits; Ken Marino’s Victor and his still pathetic virginity; and a psycho nanny played by series newcomer Alyssa Milano. Elizabeth Banks spends most of the show in a separate storyline. A moment in which a door is slammed on her hand made me laugh harder than I have all year.

This series seems like a final chapter, with everything winding up in one of those clever ’90s twist endings. However, I hope they continue to get the band together for years to come. The world needs the continuing saga of Camp Firewood.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Horror fans have had a good year: It Follows, We Are Still Here, Bone Tomahawk and Ash vs Evil Dead were all fine entries into the genre.

While director Michael Dougherty’s Krampus isn’t quite up to the level of the aforementioned films, it does do the Christmas-horror genre proud in many ways.

This sucker has a seriously grim attitude that it sticks with until the very end. There will be no happy Christmas message in the land of Krampus, so don’t take this one in if you are looking to get into the holiday spirit. It’s more of a film for somebody who pisses and moans when the Christmas decorations show up at Macy’s before Halloween.

Max (Emjay Anthony) still believes in Christmas and Santa Claus, and he takes a lot of crap from family members as a result. When a bunch of relatives come to his house for Christmas, his cousins taunt him while his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) deal with an annoying aunt and uncle (David Koechner and Allison Tolman). Throw evil Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) into the mix, and Max’s family is in for one lousy yuletide season.

With only his grandmother (Krista Stadler) supporting his Christmas beliefs, Max tears up his letter to Santa and denounces the whole Christmas thing. That’s a bad move, because that torn-up letter goes straight to Krampus the Christmas demon, who is more than happy to screw up Christmas for everybody.

The skies go gray; snow falls in dangerous amounts; and the street on which Max lives gets a visit from sinister Krampus. OK, he’s only sort of sinister; he’s about as sinister as a PG-13 rating will allow. Damn these PG-13 rated horror films! If Krampus has a problem, it’s that the demon can never be too nasty or too scary. Dougherty proves he can get some decent scares with minimal gore, although I could imagine an unrated version featuring some blood spurts. Also, despite the PG-13 rating, the kids in the film are not safe. In fact, the kids have a really, really, really bad time.

Working with a fairly small budget, Dougherty relies mostly on practical effects for Krampus and his nasty little helpers. Save for some impressive-looking CGI featuring Krampus leaping upon rooftops, the monsters are often animatronic or people in costumes—and they look pretty good, all things considered.

This one is classified as a horror-comedy. It’s no laugh riot, but it does benefit from the presence of comedy vets Scott, Koechner and Collette, who get sporadic giggles among the scares. It’s great to have solid actors and actresses around, especially when they have to handle both humor and horror. However, it’s actually Conchata Ferrell who gets the bigger laughs.

Perhaps this film could’ve benefited from a few less attempts at humor, and more of an emphasis on the horror. I wanted this movie to be as nasty as possible, and I feel like it pulled a few punches in favor of humor. If you are going to include humor, it needs to be consistently dark and funny. The laughs in Krampus are mild, at best.

I’ll still mildly recommend Krampus; its bleak ending and overall commitment to sinister things puts it over the top. Dougherty already has a cult hit holiday film to his credit with Trick r’ Treat (2007). Thanks to Krampus, he shall hitherto be known as the Holiday Horror Film Guy.

Krampus is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The primary charm and main reason for the existence of Hot Tub Time Machine was seeing John Cusack running around in the 1980s again. The secondary charm came from the antics of Rob Corddry as Lou, the suicidal heavy-metal fan who had to deal with the bullies in his past. The film was the first to really highlight Corddry’s talents—and he kicked some ass.

Now comes Hot Tub Time Machine 2, sans Cusack, and with Corddry taking the lead. Alas, the movie sort of stinks—but I’m not putting all of the blame on Corddry.

This is the king of unnecessary movie sequels. First off, without Cusack’s Adam, you are missing the main reason for the franchise’s existence. He was glue that held it all together, and without him, Corddry and his cohorts—Craig Robinson as Nick, and Clark Duke as Jacob—just run around like mad, with no sense of purpose.

The film starts in the present, with Lou living the rich life because he stole the idea for the Internet; Nick’s living it up because he’s stealing everybody’s songs (most notably those of Lisa Loeb). Lou winds up taking a shotgun to the dick; as things turn out, this wound isn’t very funny. To save Lou’s life, Nick and Jacob jump into the hot tub again (after an awkward moment with a frazzled Chevy Chase) in an effort to travel into the past to save Lou’s life. They wind up accidentally going into the future—where things make little sense.

There’s a lot of nonsense about parallel universes, along with attempts to do clever twists on time travel. None of it works. Who cares about time travel? Go to whatever time, and give the audience funny jokes. The first Hot Tub movie didn’t satisfy sci-fi geeks; it satisfied 1980s film comedy geeks—people who loved Better Off Dead and Say Anything.

Instead of Adam, we get Adam Jr.—yes, Adam’s son in the future, played by the ever-reliable Adam Scott. Scott has the film’s best jokes, including a hallucinatory drug experience and an unfortunate game-show situation. However, he shows up deep into a movie with no real sense of direction, so he’s fighting a losing battle.

Corddry gets some laughs here and there, but his jokes are mostly desperate. The same can be said for Robinson, who gets laughs early on—but those laughs wear thin by the 17th repetition of the same joke. Duke doesn’t handle the graduation from fourth-banana to third-banana very well.

This film has no business being on the big screen. If you don’t have the dough to bring a major star back, but you still want to do make a mediocre, cash-in sequel, go ahead—but send the results straight to Netflix. This is not a major motion-picture event. It’s a Thursday-night, “OK, What the hell, I got nuthin’ to do, so I’ll watch this piece of shit for a laugh or two” event.

When the closing credits are 10 times funnier than anything in the main movie, you have a serious problem. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 should mark the end of a franchise—and it should be the last time somebody tries to make a sequel of a John Cusack movie without John Cusack.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The dream world and reality blend beautifully in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the latest from director/star Ben Stiller.

Stiller uses the short story by James Thurber—about a man prone to elaborate daydreams—as a springboard to something altogether new, and surprisingly intimate. This is essentially a $90 million art film that maintains a nice, indie sensibility to go along with moments of grand spectacle.

Stiller, in one of his best performances, plays the title character, an introverted man who handles photo negatives for Life magazine. After a vivid daydream in which he saves a cat from a building moments before it explodes, he wanders into Life’s lobby—and finds out the magazine will be going online-only. (This actually happened a while back in the real world. Life has been publishing only occasional special issues for years, and doesn’t even exist as its own full website anymore).

In other words, Walter, in the digital age, is quickly becoming an unnecessary entity at his job. To add insult to injury, he’s getting harassed by Ted (a sinisterly funny Adam Scott), the super-douche tasked with transitioning the magazine to its online format. Ted mocks him in front of fellow employees and throws paper clips as Walter daydreams about co-worker Cheryl (a sweetly charming Kristen Wiig). Walter imagines epic, crazily staged battles with Ted, including one in which they blast out of the side of the office building—all while battling over a Stretch Armstrong doll.

Crisis looms when a negative from star photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), the negative meant for the magazine’s final cover, goes missing. Walter, with help from Cheryl, springs into action on a quest to find the negative; the journey leads him through Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan and the Himalayas. Along the way, he reignites former passions (like skateboarding and hiking)—and those daydreams become more and more unnecessary.

This movie qualifies as a nice love letter to Kristen Wiig, who represents possibly the coolest onscreen love interest on 2013. Her Cheryl has a nice accessibility to go along with her beauty and humor; it’s no wonder Walter has a crush. Stiller and Wiig have genuine chemistry, and Wiig’s performance here has none of her more zany comic tendencies.

Penn is downright incredible in his one scene, and Patton Oswalt shines as an eHarmony consultant who is so friendly that he could only be found in a movie. Shirley MacLaine (who will be at the McCallum Theatre later this month) is mighty convincing as Walter’s mom—no easy feat, considering most of us are acutely aware that Stiller’s mom is Anne Meara.

There’s nothing forced in Stiller’s depiction of Walter, and nothing jarring about the transition as he comes out of his shell. When we find out some of the reasons Walter lapsed into a life of daydreaming rather than dream fulfillment, Walter becomes a complete character rather than the fleeting representation from Thurber’s story.

Stiller’s performance varies between subtle and extremes, with most of those extremes happening in the daydreams. In the quieter moments, this is the sort of well-modulated performance that ranks with his work in The Royal Tenenbaums and Flirting With Disaster. He’s also a pretty good skateboarder; that’s really him riding at quite high speeds down a mountain road in Iceland.

Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh deserves major kudos for his stunning work here. Also notable is the soundtrack, with a roster of artists like David Bowie, Of Monsters and Men, and Arcade Fire; it truly bolsters the viewing experience.

The message Stiller is delivering is obvious: Many of our daydreams can be just a hop, skip and skateboard away from being realities. With its simple message elegantly and majestically portrayed, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of 2013’s best movies.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews