Sex, Leins & Videotape #53. Paignton film critic Tom Leins investigates this week’s strangest DVD releases.
With a deliriously stupid title, and a heroically idiotic cast, Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM/20th Century Fox) succeeds where so many gross-out comedies have failed in recent years -by providing genuine moments of hilarity and a surprisingly propulsive plot. The movie follows the exploits of a group of best friends who have become jaded with their staid adult lives, and yearn to inject some excitement into their dull routines. In a bid to recapture the excitement of their youth, jilted Adam (John Cusack), downtrodden Nick (Craig Robinson), booze-fiend Lou (Rob Corddry) and Adam’s geeky nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) head to Kodiak Valley, the ski resort that rocked their world as horny teenagers. Unfortunately for them, Kodiak Valley has seen better days, and the once happening party town now looks as worn-out as they feel.
Improbably enough, their trip down memory lane takes an all-too-literal turn when they take the plunge in a malfunctioning hot tub time machine that sends them back to 1986. But do they dare mess with the past in their quest for juvenile hedonism? Hell yeah! Although John Cusack is the only genuine household name in the movie, the supporting cast all do sterling work, particularly Rob Corddry who delivers a brilliantly manic performance as incorrigible party animal Lou. There are even neat cameos from 80s icon Chevy Chase and the reliably odd Crispin Glover. Hot Tub Time Machine isn’t just the funniest comedy of the year so far, it’s also the best movie about time travel since Back To The Future. It’s time to get wet, and go wild!
Considering the glut of documentaries on the likes of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, The Doors have seemingly been given short shrift by film-makers over the years -with only Oliver Stone’s much-maligned biopic ever seeing the light of day. When You’re Strange (Universal/IndiVision) attempts to re-dress the balance, and cult filmmaker Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede, Living In Oblivion) offers a convincing depiction of the band’s off-kilter charms. Essentially a patchwork quilt of found-footage, glued together by a mellifluous voice-over courtesy of Hollywood hipster Johnny Depp, When You’re Strange blends notorious rumours and surprising facts to largely engaging effect.
At just 85 minutes in length, When You’re Strange is a lithe, snake-hipped film, rather than a fat, bloated excuse for a documentary, and whilst it may feel slight compared to Martin Scorsese’s epic Dylan documentary No Direction Home, it offers a compulsive overview of The Doors’ memorably intense career. Although it doesn’t really seek to examine what made the Lizard King tick -preferring to let you draw your own conclusions -When You’re Strange is quirky and absorbing throughout. Hardcore Doors fans may find the unremarkable narrative content slightly underwhelming, but the rare footage is gloriously hypnotic and well worth the price of admission.
Set in the late 1970s, Lymelife (Network) witnesses a suburban family in crisis through the eyes of geeky teenager Scott (Rory Culkin). More comfortable with his Star Wars toys than with his peers, Scott develops an overwhelming crush on girl-next-door Adrianna (Emma Roberts). Meanwhile, Adrianna’s eccentric deer-hunting father loses his job after contracting brain-wasting Lyme’s disease from a tic. Whilst he numbs his suffering smoking pot in the basement, his wife Melissa (Cynthia Nixon) is busy getting frisky with Alec Baldwin’s charming real estate tycoon, who also happens to be Scott’s father. Inevitably, their tangled lives collide, and everyone’s dark secrets come tumbling out.
Crammed with quirky, well-observed details and delightfully awkward scenes, Lymelife probes similar territory to The Ice Storm, and anyone with an appetite for sex in the suburbs will find plenty to enjoy here. Interestingly, Rory Culkin’s older brother Kieran actually stars as his brother here too -a hard-as-nails soldier keen to protect his long-suffering sibling from neighbourhood bullies. Anyone familiar with Alec Baldwin’s rib-tickling turn in 30 Rock might be disappointed by his subdued demeanour in Lymelife, but his unexpectedly serious turn reflects the film’s uneven mix of drama and black comedy. A good film, but not the great film you sense it could have been with a slightly lighter touch.
The kitchen-sink drama and the gangster movie may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but the two distinct genres collide in Down Terrace (Metrodome), the critically acclaimed directorial debut by TV director Ben Wheatley, whose previous credits include Modern Toss and Ideal. The film follows the exploits of a low-rent gangster family in Brighton whose hoodlum empire came close to crumbling before they wriggled off the hook. Hell-bent on finding the snitch who landed them in hot water, amiable Dad Bill (Robert Hill) and irrational son Karl (Robin Hill, also the movie’s co-writer) scrutinise their array of dodgy acquaintances, and make their increasingly violent feelings known.
After a deceptively slow start, Down Terrace gathers momentum as the sly narrative takes hold, and the chemistry between the cast (Robert Hill and Robin Hill are real-life father and son) elevates the film above aimless criminal whimsy. Down Terrace is undoubtedly an acquired taste – and very far-removed from most British gangster movies -but it is genuinely unusual and offers an intriguing glimpse at a promising filmmaking double-act. Quirky stuff.