Smaller films for Oscar weekend: McFarland, The DUFF, Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Not many films debut on the weekend of the Oscars. This year we get a high school comedy, an inspirational sports story and a sequel to a crude farce. But check out The Wrecking Crew. It’s been in legal-rights purgatory for years and taken a long time to return here.
Here’s the list …
The Wrecking Crew: 3 ½ stars
McFarland: 2 ½
The DUFF: 2 ½
Hot Tub Time Machine 2: 1 ½
THE WRECKING CREW: I noticed it a long time ago. A lot of the record albums I had from the 1960s had the same musicians on it: names like Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Tommy Tedesco, Joe Osborne and Carol Kaye kept re-appearing. Check out any Mamas and Papas LP, Bridge Over Troubled Water, or some Righteous Brothers. On hundreds of others they got no credit, early Beach Boys, Byrds or Herb Alpert hits for instance. They were a loose group of Los Angeles session musicians who could play pretty well anything a producer asked for and provided the backbone core of hit after hit. Frank Sinatra’s first-ever #1 record had them on it. Hal Blaine played on six records of the year in a row.
This documentary by Tedesco’s son Denny tells a remarkable history. He’s got stories from them and from big names like Brian Wilson, Cher, Jimmy Webb and many others, including Glen Campbell— a busy session guitarist back then who has an Oscar nomination for a song this year.
The film is chock full of trivia. How Nancy Sinatra came to record "These Boots are Made for Walkin'" and how Carol Kaye improvised the bass intro. Who The Mar-Kets really were and who backed up The Chipmunks. Also sad tales as in how Hal Blaine ended up “wiped out” and working as a security guard.
Dozens of music and film clips make for great nostalgia but also delayed the film for seven years. It took Tedesco that long to secure the rights though he started showing it at festivals (including Vancouver’s) back in 2008. Good fun for fans of both music and that era in pop culture’s past. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½
MCFARLAND: It’s been just three weeks since we got Kevin Costner wrestling with the intricacies of U.S. race relations in Black of White. Now watch him explore cultural and class issues as a man consigned to live among Latinos in California. Sport is the medium. He’s a high school P.E. teacher hired on in the town of McFarland, north of Bakersfield, where the students aren’t much into academics or football. The good kids spend their early mornings helping their parents harvest vegetables in the fields. Others ride around in low-riders looking menacing. Kevin, his wife (Maria Bello) and their two daughters are outsiders. Even Mexican food is alien to them.
We watch them gradually warm up their surroundings in this nice family film by Niki Caro. She tosses in mild versions of her past successes (the emotionalism of Whale Rider and the grit of North Country), keys on the positives and tells the true story of the teacher who coached his uninterested students, including a troubled one played by Carlos Pratts, into a winning team of cross country runners. It’s formula stuff but well-told and made palatable by a sincere performance by Costner. An inevitable clash with the low-riders is under-played and this remains a feel-good Disney film. (International Village and suburban theatres). 2 ½ out of 5
THE DUFF: Just as most children’s films have the same theme—the importance of family—high school films generally have one message: ignore the crowd, be yourself. It’s worth repeating now and then because there’s a new audience each time for which it’s fresh. This version, from a young adult novel by Kody Keplinger, is no better or worse than the others, quite lively and yet easy to take. It also has two sparkling performances.
Bella Thorne is a fine class bitch, icy cool and condescending. Mae Whitman is the likeable nonconformist who learns she’s a DUFF, a Designated Ugly Fat Friend, whose role is to make the two girlfriends she hangs out with look better. She dumps them, takes advice from a boy-next-door on how to fix her image and pursues a heartthrob boy only to learn some unsurprising life lessons. Naturally, it all climaxes at a prom and in a clumsy sequence includes an embarrassing video that goes viral. That’s a misstep but generally the film is good at showing how reputations come out of nowhere but affect the victim anyway. It’s for teens. With Allison Janney as mother and an unusually-restrained Ken Jeong as a sympathetic teacher. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2: I didn’t much like the first one but it became a cult hit and lauded by people I think are pretty intelligent, so I decided to give this second one a chance. Nope, no revision. It’s even worse; the jokes are cruder and come at you relentlessly. There are so many that some of them do feel funny or it may be you only find them that way because you’ve become inured and more accepting. No B.C. filming locations (Fernie and Vancouver in the first outing) this time. It all happens in New Orleans although you see almost nothing of that city.
What you do get is the same bunch of dunderheads (Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke) on another time trip. In typical style they go the wrong way. Rob, as the loud and crass internet mogul, Lou, is shot in the part of the anatomy so often joked about in these films. His pals fire up the hot tub to take him back to before the shot, but head 10 years into the future. John Cusack wisely sat this one out but Adam Scott is there as his character’s son, about to get married, high on drugs and humiliated. The happenings and jokes are not only crude but cheap and obvious. They could work if there was anything clever in the imagined future. There’s only one thing: a fleet of driverless smart cars ready to help (or oppose) when they feel it’s needed. I hope somebody is already writing a screenplay about them. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 1½ out of 5