Surprises Found in Hot Tub Time Machine

15-Jul-10 2:00 PM by
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I don't go to the movies very often these days, and I certainly wasn't going to make an exception for something called Hot Tub Time Machine. Science-fiction fan that I am, I thought this film looked more like the generic "aging hipsters acting like college brats" film that you'd more often find starring Will Ferrell. Imagine my surprise when the film actually got good reviews — including from Roger Ebert, who suggested it succeeds beyond any expectations suggested by the title. With its recent release on DVD, I decided to give it a shot.

After some introductions, the film sends four friends back to a ski valley they last visited as high school seniors. The nostalgic quartet is composed of John Cusack as down-on-his-luck (is there any other kind of John Cusack?) Adam, Craig Robinson (The Office's Darryl Philbin) as discouraged and whipped Nick Webber, Rob Corddry as alcoholic, sexaholic Lou, and Clark Duke as the sheltered Jacob. The four are an eclectic mix with different responses to and advice for every situation, ensuring each encounter they have is a lively one.

There is some genuine camaraderie among the four, as this film is more than a sexual romp (though it's certainly that as well). Each time traveller suffers from regret not only how things turned out twenty years ago, but also the pattern of life choices that have led them to be miserable in the present. Rather than have company for their misery, the former best friends have drifted apart, losing the support and dreams they had for themselves and each other as kids. Returned to 1986, they hope they can recapture that passion and bring it back with them, at the same time that they are forced to face the beginning of their downfall.

The option of avoidance is withdrawn by Chevy Chase, who plays a mysterious repairman who encourages the travellers to not change the timeline. Unlike Don Knotts in Pleasantville, Chase's purpose and motivations are unknown. The four men nonetheless vacillate between sticking to history and avoiding unpleasant situations, even though there is no motivation to listen to Chase or consequence for not doing so. The struggle between doing what they want versus what they're "supposed" to do gives the film some tension, even if it is superficial.

HTTM's temporal mechanics are also paper-thin, with an ending that wouldn't hold up to any fan versed in science fiction. Yet the film does not exist in a vacuum, with several devices that work quite well. For example, the paradox of the four running into their younger selves is eliminated when they discover that they have effectively "quantum leaped" into their 18-year-old bodies, appearing as adults to each other (and the audience) but as kids to the residents of 1986. At times the film reminded me of nothing of much as Back to the Future — a parallel made intentional through several references, not the least of which is a recurring character played by Crispin Glover, aka George McFly. Plus, any movie with an Apple II is okay by me.

HTTM is a film that I can recommend without reservation, but with caveats: some of the humor is very base and even disgusting, and you have to be in the right mood (or have sufficiently low standards) to enjoy or even tolerate it. The movie's actors and director obviously did not take themselves very seriously, and it's important that the audience do the same to maximize their enjoyment. I watched the unrated DVD version of the film; without having seen the theatrical release, I would guess the differences are in the quantity of female nudity.

Jake Gyllenhaal's Prince of Persia

27-May-10 11:27 AM by
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Tomorrow marks the debut of the film Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, based on a game franchise that originated on the Apple II. Disney's adaptation of the game is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Although Mr. Bruckheimer is commonly related with blockbuster action films, Mr. Gyllenhaal has a more diverse and interesting filmography.

His film debut was a bit part in the AFI's 86th funniest movie of all time, City Slickers, but most people first noticed Mr. Gyllenhaal in his leading roles in the historical tale of October Sky or the bizarre cult hit, Donnie Darko, in which his sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, played his sister. At one time, he was rumored to replace Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man when Mr. Maguire strained his back in Seabiscuit, leaving him unable to perform the stunts of the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Such a substitution would've put Mr. Gyllenhaal opposite his then-girlfriend, Kirsten Dunst. The resemblance between the two male actors was also a factor that led to them portraying siblings in the 2009 film Brothers. More notably, he is the surviving half of the leading pair from the controversial Brokeback Mountain, though his role in the action film The Day After Tomorrow, was apparently overlooked by Game Informer magazine when they noted that PoP was Mr. Gyllenhaal's first action movie.

An actor of such varying roles has certainly deserved to have made a name for itself. The only question is: which name is that?

What's your favorite Gyllenhaal film, and what are your expectations for Prince of Persia?

(Hat tip to ROFLrazzi)

Prince of Persia Pines for Passion

09-Nov-09 12:43 PM by
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It's not a new phenomenon for video games to be adapted to film, though it is rare that it's done well. Mortal Kombat is my favorite such effort, and even it was a fun popcorn movie of little substance. Yet such translations continue unabated.

The latest attempt to carry a game's success to the silver screen is the storied Prince of Persia, which dates back to an Apple II program originally released in 1989. The game enjoyed many ports and sequels, then lay dormant for some years. In 2003, the franchise was revived for a new generation of consoles with a trilogy of 3D action-adventure games, many of which bestowed the protagonist with power over the timestream. It's those elements that are behind the subtitle the star-studded film The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, and Alfred Moina star in this film, opening May 28, 2010. Here's the trailer:

After watching the trailer, I have a similar opinion of the film as I do with the majority of today's video games: it's not all about the graphics. The above trailer is absolutely gorgeous, and the action sequences look quite intricate — but, in a way, they also seem rather standard. Okay, so we have people running and jumping and climbing and fighting, and a princess and a street rat making snide yet flirty remarks at each other. Is this Aladdin? That film's "gimmick" was the genie, and PoPSoT's should be the titular sands of time. It's apparently a sparingly used plot device, as the trailer overlooks the consequences of this mystic artifact in favor of action that could be found in any number of other frenetic films.

I love Jordan Mechner's original Prince of Persia (also available via Xbox Live Arcade) and admire him for keeping the franchise alive across so many decades and media, and I appreciate that even this trailer acknowledges this property as his creation. As he said in Game Informer magazine:

With Prince of Persia, I've had the opportunity and the challenge of recreating the character and story anew, not just once but several times, since the first Apple II version 20 years ago… Each of these projects gave me the chance to work with a great creative team in a new medium — a triple opportunity that in my Apple II days I could have only dreamed of.

Mr. Mechner recently engaged in a more in-depth interview with ComingSoon.net:

I did the best I could on a side-scrolling Apple II to try to capture that kind of excitement, and running and jumping and really the first 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 was the immediate inspiration for the first "Prince of Persia" game. But I think the movie, as you've seen, goes very far beyond that. There's Parkour, there's sword fighting. It's pretty extreme.

I hope the latest adaptation of Mr. Mechner's prince is something he and his fans can all be proud of.

(Hat tip to Juiced.GS!)

Dancing with the Woz, Round 4.0

31-Mar-09 7:23 AM by
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Last night, Steve Wozniak appeared on Dancing with the Stars for his fourth performance. Since last week, I joined the official "Vote for Woz" Facebook group and was surprised to learn its members receive regular missives from the Woz himself. He really is as nice a guy as he seems: one lengthy message was asking his fans' forgiveness for not replying to each individual email he received. Apparently that is a typical practice for him, keeping him up until the wee hours of the morning, even when he needs to get up early for dance practice. He asked his fans to understand how the demands of the show may cause him to temporarily re-prioritize. I think we can afford you that one luxury, Woz.

Woz's last performance earned him and his partner the lowest scores the judges had given in three years — yet the popular vote brought him back for more. Declaring his intent to earn the fan's trust and prove the judges wrong, Woz vowed to work hard and surprise us all this week. Here is his resulting tango:

I thought Woz did a great job, but I was bit disappointed by the choreography: it seemed like his partner was doing all the sexy and challenging moves. As Carrie Ann said last week, has the novelty worn off? If you don't think so, then be sure to vote for Woz. Follow his progress on Twitter for more updates!

Dancing with the Woz, Round ///

24-Mar-09 9:50 AM by
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We've been watching Steve Wozniak on Dancing with the Stars here on Showbits, giving him more attention than we previously have to any other topic. It can't be helped — the man invented the Apple II computer, which set this blogger on a path that ultimately led to this very site. Having the opportunity to watch the industry's progenitor get fancy on the dance floor is an honor.

After debuting with a mediocre cha-cha, Woz returned last week and performed a more respectable quickstep, despite having a fractured foot. Last night, his third dance was compounded by a pulled hamstring that made an already challenging samba even more arduous. Here are the results of his third and potentially final performance:

I've already applauded Woz for his daring and demeanor, and I think the judges both were unnecessarily harsh and didn't take into account Woz's physical limitations. Nonetheless, based not on the scores but on the routine itself, even I have to admit this could be the end of Woz's dancing career.

But remember: it's all relative. To get this far, Woz has worked harder than most of us could, proving himself a better dancer than anyone I personally know. A regular dancer myself, I was once told: "As long as you're smiling, you're doing it right." I admire anyone who would willingly put himself through the physical and social trials Woz has and still come out grinning.

Dancing with the Woz, Round ][

17-Mar-09 11:19 AM by
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I blogged yesterday about Woz's Dancing with the Stars debut. Here's round two of his performance!

Could geekdom ask for a better representative?

Dancing with the Woz, Round 1

16-Mar-09 4:52 PM by
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As I've mentioned before, I don't watch Dancing with the Stars — yet the retrocomputing enthusiast in me has been eagerly awaiting the debut of this season and the star of the show, Steve Wozniak.

In my circle of cloistered friends, Steve "Woz" Wozniak is a household name. He invented the Apple II computer that revolutionized the personal computer industry and which many of us still use to this day. With games like Oregon Trail and accounting software such as VisiCalc, the Apple II put computers in more homes and offices than possibly any other computer.

Three decades later, Woz is getting his mainstream acknowledgement with an appearance on Dancing with the Stars. How brilliant of ABC to recognize that celebrity comes in more shapes and sizes than Hollywood allows! The season debuted last Monday, and Woz's performance and scores are captured below:

Though I agree that the actual choreography and performance may've been somewhat lackluster, I find Carrie Ann Inaba's observation the one worth keying in on: this was something new and fun for Woz, and he took advantage of it. Unlike the actors and athletes that often stock the Stars lineup, Woz's fame is not built on performance. For him to strut his stuff on the dance floor took a lot of work and courage. I'm not sure if that's worthy of the sort of promotion fans are encouraging — for better or worse, dance competitions are usually won by the person with the most talent, not who put the most effort in. But Woz has vowed to keep on dancing, despite a fractured foot, and I think his dedication to something so obviously outside his comfort zone is admirable. Take a look at his training, courtesy MacRumors:

The results of last week's round are to be announced tonight, at which time we'll learn if the show will continue to be Dancing with the Woz!

On the Road Again…

21-Jul-08 3:01 PM by
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As with this time last year, I'll be AFK for a few weeks as I enjoy a summer vacation in Missouri, then Washington and Missoula. I have some Showbits content queued for the next two weeks, so there will be something to read while I'm gone.

I didn't want to leave the site in a precarious position while away, so once I'm back and available to smooth out any bugs, I'll be upgrading Showbits to WordPress 2.6 (that being the software that powers this blog). If, while I'm under the hood, there are any additional features you'd like to see implemented, please let me know!

In the meantime, I may be blogging on my journeys for my day job, so if your interests are not just cinematic but also retrocomputic, surf on over.