Tim Grierson on the Smart, Sexy Romantic Drama “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.

SAW, Shawnee Smith, 2004. ph: Greg Gayne/©Lionsgate/courtesy Everett Collection

Saw's Death Traps

The Creepiest Death Traps From the Saw Movies

See Jigsaw's creepiest traps.

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The deathtraps featured in the Saw movies are basically what would happen if Rube Goldberg and Hellraiser had a demon hell child. Jigsaw (and his assistants) build devices of such staggering complexity that it’s a wonder what they could actually accomplish if they used their skills for good instead of for ironic punishment.

Before you catch the Saw movie marathon on IFC, check out the most creepiest traps from each movie which, of course, are very NSFW unless you work for Jigsaw.

1. The Reverse Bear Trap, Saw

The Reverse Bear Trap was the most visually distinctive contraption of the original movie and set the macabre template for the rest of the series. A large metal machine is connected to the victim’s face. If they fail the test, powerful motors will open their jaw to a truly fatal degree. It basically takes all of our dental surgery fears to a horrifying new level.

2. The Razor Box, Saw II

The Razor Box presents a serious dilemma: A poisoned victim sees a clear box containing an antidote. But if they reach in to grab it, razors cut into their arms. Just a few seconds of examination would have revealed the trap’s key on top of the box. It turns out that when you’re locked in a filthy pit of death traps by a lunatic, the most obvious solution completely goes out the window.

3. Amanda’s Test, Saw III

Amanda survives the Reverse Bear Trap from the first movie and goes on to work with Jigsaw. (And you thought your job interview was bad.) Unfortunately it turns out that most people building death traps don’t actually want their victims to survive. When Amanda shoots someone rather than releasing them from a shotgun collar, Jigsaw explains that that was Amanda’s test. Just after manipulating his other apprentice into shooting her in the neck.

4. See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Saw IV

Two men wake up wearing collars chained to a winding cylinder. One has his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth, so they’re not really in a condition to take a calm look at the situation. The result is a perfectly brutal tragedy of miscommunication and mutilation.

5. The Fatal Five Teamwork Traps, Saw V

Five victims face a series of traps which can be non-lethally solved with the power of teamwork. (Jigsaw could’ve had a great side career as a corporate trainer.) Unfortunately for the five (then four, then three…) they compete with and kill each other until the final test, where they have to sacrifice a total of ten pints of blood to escape. With only two people left, it doesn’t go well.

6. Breathing Room, Saw VI

A health insurance executive and his company’s heavy-smoker janitor are locked into crushing vices connected to breathing masks. The more they breathe, the tighter the vices close, until only one survives. We’ll be honest; we love this because someone specifically built it so that the “breathing room” pun isn’t the most painful aspect.

7. The Love Triangle, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

The many Saw sequels meant that Jigsaw and his cohorts had to get even more creative to keep their deathtraps fresh. The Love Triangle took things into the outside world by sticking three actual bodies in a mall display full of actual saws. How did Jigsaw install a murder machine and three actual living humans in a public display booth without being caught? And where is Batman when you need him? Jigsaw is really approaching Joker territory here.

Ghostbusters II 1920

Ghostbusters Sitcom

See What Ghostbusters Would Look Like As an ’80s Sitcom

See what happens when Ghostbusters meets Charles in Charge.

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Have you ever wondered what Ghostbusters would be like if it was a little more like Bosom Buddies? Check out our video that reimagines the Ivan Reitman comedy classic as a 1980s sitcom straight out of the Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains playbook. Ghostbusters with a peppy ’80s theme song is guaranteed to make you feel good.

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Gigi Does It Ep6

Get Freaky With Gigi

5 Ways Gigi Can Help You Become a Better Lover

Gigi limbers up for love tonight at 10:30 PT/ET.

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Coming down off this weekend’s Pixy Stix sugar high? Well, rather than raid your grandkids’ candy sacks for some stray Charleston Chews, tune in to tonight’s all new Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT for enough sweet sass to send you into a diabetic coma. But before you fire up the ol’ Life Alert, here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode that will also improve your moves in the boudoir.

1. Relive your crazy Halloween.

Sure, you’ve already rung in All Hallows’ Eve with some petty vandalism and your best Taylor Swift getup. But it’s never too late to break out the spooky ghoul costume and do like Gigi and put that TP in the trees to good, practical use.

2. Try something new in the bedroom.

Every healthy relationship ought to include some variety in the intimacy department, which is why it’s always smart to brush up on what those wild kids are doing in the bedroom these days. (If you’re confused with any of the terms, consult your male nurse.)

3. Limber up.

Physical therapists advise against sitting or lying down for extended periods of time, so take a moment to stretch out those quads and hammies with Gigi – regardless of how many “good legs” you have.

4. Browse the Web with a friend.

Surfing the ‘net with a pal can be fun. Just watch out for those nasty pop-up ads.

5. Watch the video that is too hot for Facebook.

Deemed “Too Hot for Facebook,” this Gigi clip removes the bleeps and blurs for a raw, NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.

Ghostbusters 2

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Take the Ultimate Ghostbusters Fan Quiz

Catch the Ghostbusters movies November 30th on IFC.

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Photo credit: Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, nothing beats kicking back with an airing of the Ghostbusters movies on IFC to help remind you that you ain’t afraid of no ghosts. But do you know what adult film star makes a cameo in the first film? Or what beloved actor Slimer is based on? Prove your might as the ultimate Ghostbusters fan by taking our movie quiz below.


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