DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on the Smart, Sexy Romantic Drama “28 Hotel Rooms”

28-hotel-rooms

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Every year, the Sundance Film Festival serves as a launching pad and seal of approval for worthy indie fare, and this January’s festival was no different, introducing the world to films like “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The Sessions,” “Sleepwalk With Me” and “Safety Not Guaranteed.” But sometimes, great movies fall through the cracks, and one of this year’s festival’s very best offerings is about ready to arrive in theaters. (It’s already available On Demand and through iTunes.) It’s a beautiful romantic drama called “28 Hotel Rooms.” When I saw it in January, I was pretty sure I loved it. Watching the film again recently, I’m convinced.

The plot of the movie, which is the feature debut of writer-director Matt Ross, is right there in the title. A rising-star novelist (Chris Messina) and a married accountant (Marin Ireland) hook up one night, having passionate sex in a hotel room. It would seem like a one-time thing — he lives in New York and she lives in Seattle — but they run into each other at another hotel later and decide to continue the affair. Thus begins a series of 28 hotel encounters that trace the arc of their unlikely relationship.

With a running time of just 82 minutes — and that includes five minutes of end credits — “28 Hotel Rooms” has several narrative quirks that add to its compelling design. For starters, we only see these characters in their encounters with each other in the different hotel rooms. We never see her husband, nor know his name, and we also have little idea about his girlfriend that he has in New York. We don’t even know the main characters’ names. The film’s habit of withholding information extends to where the characters are when they’re having their affairs, how long it’s been since their previous encounter, and also how long precisely their affair runs. “28 Hotel Rooms” exists entirely in what the characters might consider their parallel reality: a world of high-end hotels where they can escape their real lives and enjoy these brief, sexually-charged flings. Everything outside the hotel rooms is a mystery, a separate zone that’s off limits to each other and to us in the audience.

The film’s construction may remind some of “Same Time, Next Year,” a 1970s play turned into a movie that featured two married individuals who have a standing annual date to carry on their affair in a small California resort. But unlike that work, “28 Hotel Rooms” isn’t interested in making its characters be representatives of America’s shifting social values. Rather, Ross just wants to focus on these two individuals and their bond, examining how their clandestine relationship affects each of them over time.

Of the two actors, Messina is the better known: He was the supportive husband to Amy Adams in “Julie & Julia,” and he’s appeared on TV shows as different as “Damages” and “The Mindy Project.” Here, he plays a man who isn’t your typical one-night-stand sort of guy. From the beginning, you get the sense that he feels something for this married woman, even though she’s a bit withholding about what goes on in her life. (And because we never see them away from the hotels, we have to take the few clues we get into their worlds at face value.) Messina’s counterpart, Ireland, isn’t quite as high-profile, although she was a part of the “Mildred Pierce” miniseries and appeared on “Homeland.” (This summer, she played the daughter of Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in “Hope Springs,” a nice piece of casting because Ireland bears a slight resemblance to Streep, particularly her sad, smiling eyes.) Ireland’s “28 Hotel Rooms” character is less emotionally available than he is. That’s in part because she’s married, but over time we begin to understand that it goes beyond that: She’s simply a distant person, although she’s incredibly warm and loving at the same time. In lesser hands, “28 Hotel Rooms” would be a schematic study of opposites — he’s an artist, she’s a businesswoman; he’s impulsive, she’s practical — but Ross and his cast love these characters too much to look at them as types.

Last year, we got not one but two Hollywood romantic comedies about unconventional no-strings-attached relationships: sex without the tedium of being boyfriend and girlfriend. “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits” both tried to flaunt their modern twist on typical boy-meets-girl love stories — it was meant to seem “sexy” and “naughty” — but they ended up as traditional in their attitudes as a Kate Hudson rom-com. The characters in “28 Hotel Rooms” travel down a somewhat similar path — their early encounters are filled with nudity and sexual banter, while their later meet-ups often consist of emotional, substantial conversations with their clothes on — but there’s a nuance to the story’s arc that makes its trajectory far from predictable. And it’s also an incredibly sexy film, not just because of the nudity but because of the intelligent, grownup construction of these two characters. He and she are smart, articulate, sophisticated people, and they have a warm rapport that feels genuine to the way couples actually behave, even if this particular relationship is far from normal. “28 Hotel Rooms” never judges its characters because of their affair, and in this way it’s actually nervier than those other recent movies, in which there really weren’t any emotional stakes.

When I saw “28 Hotel Rooms” back in January, I was quite taken by its structure, its performances and the subtle way in which it explores how all relationships begin with such passion but then must evolve if they’re going to last. Revisiting the film, I felt the same way, but I was surprised by another reaction: I had missed these people — not the actors, per see, but these two characters. Without realizing it, they had stayed in my mind for months, and I relished the opportunity to relive their hotel adventures. They make each other laugh, and they make each other cry, and they might not survive if they tried to end the charade and admit to their significant others that they’re in love. But I found myself rooting for them all over again, even though, as a married man myself, I probably shouldn’t be supporting such behavior. But I think that’s ultimately one of this film’s great strengths: It takes an adulterous relationship seriously enough that its contours become indistinguishable from any other romantic relationship. Musician Lou Reed once sang, “It always comes to this/It’s all downhill after the first kiss,” and it’s important to remember that he was in the midst of a long-term relationship when he wrote this lyric in an otherwise happy love song. All couples, no matter how contented they are, are always trying to keep a spark alive. In a sense, all relationships are their own self-contained mystery, unknowable to the outside world. With “28 Hotel Rooms,” we get a chance to peek inside one of them, and damn if it doesn’t speak to so many of our own.

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Optimus Prime in TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, from Paramount Pictures.

Rotten Apples

10 Rotten Movie Franchises That Need to Stop

Catch the "Too Rotten to Miss" movie Scary Movie 2 tonight at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

We live in the age of the blockbuster movie franchise. If you want a green-light, you better have tights, a light saber and decades worth of backstory and fan love to build on. And while we love some of these franchises, some just keep getting new entries despite horrible reviews, audience indifference and an utter lack of care from even the people making them.

With IFC and Rotten Tomatoes celebrating “too rotten to miss” movies like Scary Movie 2 this month, we thought it high time to point out just a few franchises than should be retired to the bottom of your Netflix queue. Here are 10 “rotten” movies franchise that need to just go away, please.

10. Transformers

Transformers
Dreamworks Pictures

Hollywood execs, we get it. You grew up in the ’80s, and now you want to produce everything you loved as a child, only make it a lot worse. Here’s the thing: while a show like Stranger Things took all the tropes and style of ’80s movies, and created something new, lingerie commercial director Michael Bay went the opposite way, taking a title and basic concept, and creating a pile of garbage made out of robot parts.

If poop jokes mixed with racism, misogyny and incoherent fight scenes are your thing, this is the franchise for you. If you have even the slightest respect for character or basic story logic, you have to admit this franchise has been awful from frame one. Yes, we were alive in the ’80s, but some things are best left in the past. Unfortunately, with a sixth movie, a Bumblebee spin-off and a proposed G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover movie in the works, this franchise will probably outlive us all.


9. Scary Movie

Scary Movie
Dimension Films

True, its been a couple of years since we’ve been subjected to one of these, but you know that Jamie Kennedy or the Epic Movie guys are sitting in a writers room somewhere, pitching jokes on how to merge The Purge with a fart joke. This franchise started out in a mediocre place, a Wayans family knockoff of better movies like Airplane, and things went downhill from there. You shouldn’t be able to spin five movies out of a few Scream jokes and a Carmen Electra cameo.


8. Alvin and the Chipmunks

Alvin and the Chipmunks
20th Century Fox

Designed to appeal to kids who love ’50s novelty albums and pun-y titles, the Chipmunk franchise feels like it was made by a prop comic from the Uncanny Valley. Full of rapping CGI rodents, and a paycheck cashing Jason Lee, 20th Century Fox has somehow made over a billion dollars off a series of diminishing “Squeakquels.” We do secretly sort of hope these movies keep getting made, just so David Cross keeps getting forced to star in them.


7. X-Men

X-Men Oscar Isaac
20th Century Fox

If we can all be honest with ourselves, these movies have been a mixed bag for the past decade. (Even the foul-mouthed spin-off Deadpool made fun of how self-serious the franchise has become.) In an ever expanding quest to turn the series into a dumbed-down version of the moody mutants’ ’90s cartoon, the stories have gotten paper-thin, the performances phoned in and the monster makeup just this side of Grimace cosplay. (We’re looking at you, X-Men: Apocalypse.)

Do we really need to see Hugh Jackman’s take on Wolverine for the ninth time? There is only so much steamed chicken and protein powder this man can eat before this franchise legitimately becomes a form of torture. Fox Studios, there are enough superheroes on the big screen right now. Maybe let this one go, and a decade from now Marvel can reclaim it and make some good movies again.


6. Tarzan

Tarzan
Warner Bros.

There have been over 200 projects starring Tarzan since pictures started motioning at the turn of the last century. 200! This vaguely racist story of a white man taming the, ahem, Dark Continent, has been told ad nauseam. We know Hollywood loves to keep beating iconic characters into the ground, and Tarzan probably has near universal name recognition, but that doesn’t mean that anyone wants to, you know, go and watch a movie about the guy, no matter how ripped Alexander Skarsgard’s abs are.


5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Tarzan
Paramount Pictures

These “heroes in a half shell” were a stretch for movie stardom back at the peak of their popularity, but thanks to some ingenious work by The Jim Henson Company, and Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap,” they were able to have a moment during the early ’90s.

Now, decades later, Michael Bay’s desperate desire to ruin all of our childhoods has found its way to these pizza loving turtles with ‘tude. The CGI monstrosities that have resulted can barely be called movies. Like the Transformers franchise, but with more creepy scenes of an anthropomorphic turtle hitting on Megan Fox, these movies are a nail in the coffin of ’80s nostalgia, and need to be put to bed before Bay starts sniffing around the Thundercats.


4. Now You See Me

Now You See Me
Summit Entertainment

Magic tricks are impressive when you see them performed live. The fun is in wondering how they could possibly do that. When you watch a bunch of Christopher Nolan castoffs performing CGI tricks created in post production, the only thing you’re left wondering is what the point even was.

This is perhaps the strangest movie franchise to come along in awhile, a collection of genres tropes quilted together by a cavalcade of filmdom’s best supporting actors. Take a bit of Ocean’s Eleven, and a touch of The Prestige. Add a pinch of Morgan Freeman and James Franco’s brother, and cross your fingers that audiences will be dumb enough to line up for a sequel to that movie they didn’t totally hate when they saw it on an airplane that time.


3. God’s Not Dead

Pure Flix Entertainment
Pure Flix Entertainment

The Christian movie genre has blown-up over the last decade. God’s Not Dead, and its sequel, were beneficiaries of this expanding audience, raking in tens of millions of dollars at the box office. But, despite connecting with an audience, all is not well in God’s Not Dead-land.

These insipid movies, that never met a straw man they didn’t hate, tell laughable stories about the evils of college campuses and the ACLU, full of cartoonish villains whose sole purpose in life is to crush good Christian souls. With a “who’s who” of “Remember Them??” in the cast, including TV’s Superman Dean Cain and TV’s Hercules Kevin Sorbo, these movies are as poorly produced as the message they’re espousing. God may not be dead, but the careers of the filmmakers behind these movies should be.


2. Bridget Jones

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

It’s been more than a decade since the last Bridget Jones movie was foisted on us, and in that time young Bridget has remained the same self-involved, unrealistically clumsy mess. With pacing that makes each movie feel 10 hours long, sub-par slapstick and an unlikeable lead, the Bridget Jones trilogy too often feels like Sex and the City without the sex or the city.

Just because the book series your franchise is based on churns out another entry doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get the gang back together. Well, some of the gang, considering Hugh Grant wisely let Dr. McDreamy himself Patrick Dempsey fill in for him this go around. Remember when Renee Zellweger was an acclaimed, Oscar-winning actress? Yeah, that was a long time ago…


1. Avatar

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Seriously, is anyone really excited for the four sequels that James Cameron has promised us to this box office breaking blockbuster from 2009? Yes, at the time the 3D wonderland of CGI planets and tail sex was a revelation, making us overlook the fact that we were watching a hokey Dances With Wolves knockoff starring an actor with the approximate charisma of a broken toaster. But over the last few years, Avatar has slipped from the public consciousness. When’s the last time you popped in your Blu-ray of it, or saw someone cosplaying a Na’vi, or even mentioned it in casual conversation? If Cameron were making one sequel, okay, but four? FOUR? Maybe it’s best to just remember Avatar for what it was — a blue-hued fluke, and move on.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” flick Scary Movie 2 this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Grub Club

How “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken” Nails Foodie Culture

Watch "Juan Likes Rice & Chicken" anytime on IFC.com, Apple TV and the IFC app.

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We’ve all seen those delicious food documentaries that turn dinner into porn one slow motion shot at a time. Well, the boys behind Documentary Now! have too, and this week they’ve aimed their eye for spot-on homage at foodie docs with their latest episode, “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken.”

Here are a few of the ways “Juan,” which you can watch now on IFC.com, Apple TV and the IFC app, nails the absurdity of those Instagramming hipsters who treat food like fine art.

Foodies Will Go Anywhere for a Trendy Restaurant…Even Up a Mountain

“Juan” knows that foodies will hit up the latest hot restaurant, even if they have to march miles through the jungle without any water just for a taste of Three Michelin star-awarded chicken. And what if Juan doesn’t catch the bird and decides fate has determined there will be no chicken on the menu that day? Well, if you’re anything like the food chasing freaks that populate “Juan,” you muster a smile and tell yourself it was all worth it, as long as one Facebook friend is jealous of your trip.

They Obsess Over Celebrity Chefs

Juan Cast

Chefs used to be anonymous. They were the faceless folks back in the kitchen, doing the grunt work so you could enjoy a nice meal with friends and family. Nowadays, they are the Beyoncés of cuisine, attracting fans from around the world, dropping new restaurants like pop stars drop albums, and showing up on cooking shows more than pinches of salt. The monosyllabic Juan of “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” is no different, despite the fact that he hasn’t left his jungle hideaway for decades. Once you start making waves in the food world, there’s no turning back. If you don’t come to the fame, the fame comes to you.

Comfort Foods Become High Cuisine

Juan Rice

Hot dogs. Dumplings. Donuts. Croissants. Croissant Donuts. Foodies love nothing more than discovering a new twist on a comfort food favorite. Except this common, everyday food isn’t like how mom made — it’s prepared by acclaimed chefs and often requires a second mortgage to taste. Juan’s cuisine couldn’t be simpler — a cup of coffee, a banana sliced in half, rice with a bit of butter and (on most days) chicken. But thanks to endorsements from chef David Chang and food critic Jonathan Gold, food geeks can’t wait to taste Juan’s take on a dish they could easily whip up at home.

Every Bite Is a Sensual Experience

Juan Rice

There is nothing a good food documentarian loves more than the slow motion shot. A fire exploding from a BBQ pit. Hands running through a barrel of coffee beans. Dew dripping from freshly picked parsley or a hand running through rice. “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” knows that the trick to making foodies care about the seemingly bland items being prepared is to film them in slow motion. All of a sudden, a pile of nuts becomes a delight for the senses.

Offbeat Cooking Methods? Foodies Love ‘Em

Juan Cannon

It’s not enough to grill some chicken. Much like a famous Portlandia sketch, foodies want to know if it’s local, and will go to the ends of the Earth to find out. We want to believe that the best way to prepare chicken is to wrestle the bird to the ground, and if it bests us, it gets to live for another day. That’s why foodies flock to Juan, with his extensive list of “dos and don’ts” when it comes to food preparation. Of course you should shoot raw chicken through an air cannon. Why haven’t we thought of that???

A Foodie’s Dark Secret? They Love Bad Food

Diego Fun Restaurant

Here’s another secret of foodie culture that “Juan” understands: We secretly love crap food. Sure, we’ll trudge miles off course for the supposedly perfect chicken Juan prepares, but we also love to sneak away to Fuddruckers, or Juan’s son Diego’s “Fun Restaurant,” where you can write on the menu and have Skittles on your chicken. Now that’s worth Snapchatting!

Watch Documentary Now!’s take on foodie culture now on IFC.com, Apple TV and the IFC app
.

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Scary Movie 2 cast

Wrong Wayans

10 Rotten Wayans Brothers Movies

Catch the Certified Rotten comedy Scary Movie 2 Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Dimension Films/Everett Collection

There was a time, not so long ago, that the Wayans family was synonymous with hilariously biting satire. With movies like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and the classic sketch series In Living Color, the Wayans clan dominated culturally relevant comedy. But on the heels of those early successes, the Wayans began pumping out comedies filled cheap jokes and lazy spoofs that failed to match the incisive, message-driven works that the family produced in the late-’80s and early-’90s. Still, while all the movies on the list below are “Certified Rotten,” some are more dire than others.

Before you catch Scary Movie 2 on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, here are 10 movies that show the Wayans at their most (and slightly less) “rotten.”

1. A Low Down Dirty Shame (Tomatometer: 0%)

Surprisingly, the lowest rated Wayans movie on Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t contain a single Scream mask or CGI-faced toddler. Instead, it’s a poorly executed action-comedy written, directed by and starring Wayans elder Keenen Ivory. A far cry from his earlier acclaimed work, A Low Down Dirty Shame is a forgettable collection of mediocre stunts and jokes that can’t sustain itself either as an action or a comedy movie — and “forgettable” is the death knell for purveyors of outrageousness.


2. Fifty Shades of Black (7%)

The most recent entry in the Wayans’ oeuvre, Fifty Shades of Black is a spoof of a book whose parodies were exhausted five years ago. Rather than search for a new comedic angle to the novel’s corny BDSM meets Twilight fan fiction story, star Marlon Wayans (who also co-wrote and co-produced the movie) opts for the surface-level sight gags that always seem to anchor his family’s projects. Overuse of slapstick violence? Check. Cheap jokes at the expense of obese individuals? Check. A Kim Kardashian joke? Check and mate. Fifty Shades of Black isn’t so much a movie as it is an extended trailer from a different Wayans movie.


3. A Haunted House (10%) and A Haunted House 2 (8%)

Returning to the horror-comedy well for a double-dose of eye rolls and heavy sighs, writer-producer-star Marlon Wayans peddles the very same jokes that hit their middling apex with the first Scary Movie. From unseen poltergeists to dead-eyed dolls, Marlon proves there’s no overused horror trope that he can’t scream at and hit with a breakaway chair. But seeing as how both A Haunted House movies made substantial profits based on rock-bottom production costs, there will always be a market for lazy, easily recognizable parodies.


4. Little Man (12%)

For anyone who was dying to see Marlon Wayans’ face rotoscoped onto a horny toddler, your prayers were answered in 2006 with Little Man. A comprehensive argument against the advancement of CGI, the Marlon-baby hybrid sexually harasses woman and screams in homophobic panic when Shawn joins him in a bubble bath for a farting contest. (We wish we were kidding.) And you’ll never guess how Little Man reacts when he’s given a rectal thermometer! Wait, maybe you could.


5. Mo’ Money (13%)

After the world witnessed what the Wayans were capable of in recent years, this loose adaptation of an In Living Color sketch seems downright quaint and watchable. Written by Damon (who stars alongside Marlon), 1992’s Mo’ Money contains an actual plot with actual characters who have believable motivations — which is a huge departure from the family’s later work — but it still fails to maintain much interest. Gay jokes and broad impressions of mental disorders abound while the two brothers commit credit card fraud and grand larceny. In other words, it’s not the Wayans’ worst movie.


6. Blankman (13%)

To the Wayans’ credit, they were trying their hand at the “average person fights crime as a superhero” movie years before the genre was played out with Kick-Ass, Super, Mystery Men, et al. (Not that this 1994 film is very good, but at least they were exploring relatively new territory.) Blankman stars and was written by Damon, who plays a nerdy, effeminate repairman who takes on the crime world with homemade gadgetry and undiagnosed autism. There are a few decent laughs in the movie, and the concept isn’t wholly terrible, but the 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is definitely earned.


7. Scary Movie 2 (15%)

The second and final entry in the Scary Movie franchise to involve a Wayans, the sequel to the hit horror spoof features a surprisingly high amount of comedy talent (Chris Elliott, David Cross and Andy Richter also appear) and contains parody set pieces that were still effective in the early years of the Wayans spoof factory. Keenen Ivory directs while Shawn and Marlon write and star, and the whole affair manages to coast on the appeal of its predecessor. While we didn’t realize it then, Scary Movie 2 represents a more refined Wayans work.


8. White Chicks (15%)

Look, we’re not made of stone. The sight of Shawn and Marlon as white women elicits a snicker or two, and the stars mumbling through a Vanessa Carlton singalong is a solid gag. But the movie itself never rises above the level of “men in drag” cliches like falsie fumbling and keeping clueless male suitors at bay. Once again serving as director and co-writer, Keenen Ivory reins in his younger brothers’ performances and penchant for gross-out gags, maintaining a storyline that can serve as a tangible plot. It ain’t Tootsie, but it ain’t Norbit either.


9. Dance Flick (18%)

Written by a quintet of Wayans (including nephews Craig and Damien Dante), this 2009 dance spoof has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to source material. Critically panned — but not to the degree of other Wayans parodies — the movie features New Girl’s Damon Wayans, Jr. as the trainer to hopeless prancer Shoshana Bush and has more than a few laughs. (Call us morbid, but a real-life baby peeking through the slots of a closed school locker makes us chuckle.)


10. Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (29%)

Winning over both audiences and more than a few critics, Don’t Be a Menace kicked off the slew of wordy spoofs we’ve all come to regret. But in 1996, Shawn and Marlon’s rapid-fire references hadn’t yet overstayed their welcome and kept viewers entertained. Skewering John Singleton, the Hughes Brothers and the urban dramas of the time, the movie succeeds in eking out comedy from the stark subject matter it chooses to parody. How well the movie has aged is debatable, but to the Wayans’ credit: They know a reliably profitable formula when they see one.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Wayans spoof Scary Movie 2 this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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