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On DVD/Blu-ray: CYMBELINE (2015) and HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (2015)

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CYMBELINE
(US - 2015)



Outside of Ralph Fiennes' powerful and little-seen 2011 directorial debut CORIOLANUS, I've never been a big fan of putting Shakespeare in a modern setting while keeping the actual text of the play. It almost always comes off as a gimmick whose novelty wears off by the 15-minute mark. Michael Almereyda's NYC-set HAMLET (2000) is usually cited as the best of its type, but other than Ethan Hawke doing the "To be or not to be..."soliloquy while browsing the aisles of a Blockbuster Video, do you remember anything about it? Almereyda and Hawke are back with a modern take on Cymbeline, a late Shakespeare romance first performed five years before Shakespeare's death. It's one of his least-known works, sporadically dragged out of storage but rarely studied and enjoyed by few other than the most ardent completists. There was a BBC television production of it in 1982, with Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, and Helen Mirren, but CYMBELINE marks the first big-screen take on the play, with Almereyda centering the action on the New York-based Briton Motorcycle Club, led by King Cymbeline (Ed Harris). Cymbeline has a lot on his plate with the Queen (Milla Jovovich), his power-crazed, status-obsessed second wife, who plans on shifting the balance of power in her favor by arranging the marriage of Cloten (Anton Yelchin), her son by her late first husband, to Imogen (FIFTY SHADES OF GREY's Dakota Johnson), Cymbeline's daughter. But Imogen is in love with another, the lower-class skateboarder Posthumus (Penn Badgley). After Posthumus is run out of the city by Cymbeline, he stays with his friend Philario (James Ransone), where he makes the acquaintance of the duplicitous Iachimo (Hawke). After listening to Posthumus talk of his love for the virginal Imogen and how she'll remain true to him until they can be together, Iachimo wagers that he can seduce her. When she rejects his advances, Iachimo hides in her room until she's asleep and falsifies evidence of a conquest that never took place. This sets off a chain reaction of misunderstandings and chaos involving the central players, along with Cymbeline's right-hand man Pisanio (John Leguizamo), banished nobleman Belarius (Delroy Lindo), the ghost of Posthumus' father Sicilius Leonatus (Bill Pullman), the Rome police force, led by the corrupt Caius Lucius (Vondie Curtis-Hall), plus a magical potion that makes its sleeping user appear dead, and Imogen disguising herself as a young man named "Fidele."



Even in its original form, with its scheming Queen, sleeping potion, Imogen disguised as a boy, and the appearance of a patriarchal poltergeist, Cymbeline probably felt like a stale, self-parodying retread from a coasting Bard in its day, and at no point does CYMBELINE work. Despite a detailed opening crawl that tries to explain what's going on, the film is almost impossible to follow and that isn't helped by the lugubrious pacing (this is one of the longest 98-minute movies you'll ever see). The Shakespeare-speech-in-a-modern-setting gets old in record time, especially with Johnson's absolutely dreadful performance as Imogen. She's terrible here, giving Shakespeare a Millennial, vocal-fry spin with a generous helping of can't even that was always sorely lacking in the cinematic takes of Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles. Johnson and Badgley get the most screen time, with top-billed Hawke turning up in a handful of scenes that amount to little more than an extended cameo. Jovovich's role is even smaller and Harris, in an ostensibly nice nod to his early breakthrough in George Romero's 1981 classic KNIGHTRIDERS, never looks or sounds comfortable. The direct-from-Shakespeare dialogue aside, another reason CYMBELINE doesn't work as a Shakespearean biker movie is because it feels like too much of a retread of the TV series SONS OF ANARCHY. During its run on FX, SONS creator Kurt Sutter made no secret of the Shakespearean themes running through the show and its characters, particularly Charlie Hunnam's Hamlet-like Jax and Katey Sagal's very Gertrude-inspired Gemma. So, for Almereyda to take a Shakespeare play, regardless of how obscure it might be, and work in a criminal motorcycle gang has to make you wonder what he was thinking. Had he heard of the show? Does he have basic cable, Hulu, or Netflix? What was Lionsgate thinking when they retitled the film ANARCHY and unveiled a trailer for it before yanking it and changing it back to CYMBELINE? The problem here is that Almereyda updates the setting but that's all he does. Fiennes made CORIOLANUS work by making its themes relevant to today's global political climate. By contrast, Almereyda has nothing to say about anything with CYMBELINE, so we're left with hacky plot bits like Iachimo taking a selfie with a sleeping, scantily-clad Imogen or Cloten getting on his laptop to do a Google search. (R, 98 mins)



HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2
(US - 2015)


Capitulating to the demands of no one, the painful HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 somehow arrived in the nation's multiplexes only to promptly tank, likely due to nobody even remembering the first one from way back in 2010. How did this even get in theaters in the first place?  Five years on, it seems like one of those belated sequels that would've gone straight-to-DVD, like all those later AMERICAN PIE spinoffs with only Eugene Levy still showing up to get paid and the spotlight given to a Seann William Scott lookalike as Stifler's cousin. Maybe it got into theaters because 3/4 of the original HOT TUB TIME MACHINE lineup is back, though it's not an understatement to say that John Cusack skipping out on this is the best career decision he's made in years (he apparently shot a cameo that didn't make the theatrical cut but turns up at the end of the unrated Blu-ray version). This time out, Lou (Rob Corddry), who's used the powers of time travel to become a rock god who invented the search engine "Lougle," gets shot in the balls by an unseen and vengeful assailant, prompting him, son Jacob (Clark Duke) and buddy Nick (Craig Robinson) to travel to an alternate timeline to find out who tries to kill him. In the future, they're also joined by Adam (Adam Scott), the son of Cusack's character. From the start, it's dick jokes, lazy '90s nostalgia, bodily functions, dick jokes, a grating Corddry mugging shamelessly, dick jokes, puking, gay sex jokes, dick jokes, a game show where Nick has to fuck Adam in the ass, dick jokes, a tired-looking Chevy Chase, dick jokes, Christian Slater as the game-show host, dick jokes, and dick jokes. None of the gags here are funny and maybe two even flirt with being semi-remotely amusing. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE  wasn't exactly on its way to the Criterion Collection, but it fell into the "dumb but fun" category. This, on the other hand, is as obnoxious and unfunny a comedy as you're likely to see. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2--"Un Film de Steve Pink," according to the credits--mistakes being loud and yelling "fuck" a lot for comedy and gives its flop-sweating stars--who have been funny in other things, like the original HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, for example--nothing to work with, and it's somehow even less entertaining than MORTDECAI, presumed to be the standard-bearer for terrible comedy in 2015. At least MORTDECAI had one legitimate laugh. That's one more than HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 offers. (R, 93 mins)




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