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Film Review

New films: McFarland USA, The DUFF, Hot Tub Time Machine 2

A moviebrief roundup of this week’s new films.

Two of this week’s new films are surprising in that they work despite being extremely formulaic and delivering absolutely no surprises. The third is awful.

McFarland, USA” is based on the true story of Jim White’s coaching career at McFarland High School, towards the Southern end of California’s central valley. Having had his troubles coaching in college, he takes the only job he can find in this small agricultural town. Once there he discovers that the students he encounters, most of whom are children of immigrant farm workers, have an extraordinary strength and stamina, often working in the fields before and after school and running between the locations. This film, that follows his creation of the school’s first cross country team, is like so many other inspirational films about teachers and coaches, and yet it works perfectly. Kevin Costner, who seems more relaxed than ever on screen, is solid as Coach White and his young co-stars are a pleasure to watch. Don’t worry if you feel like you’ve seen variations of this story countless time before, it’s still worthwhile.

Similarly, “The DUFF” could have come with a title like “She’s All Pretty in Plaid.” It’s the old standard story about the girl in high school who isn’t the conventionally prettiest or most popular, who has her caterpillar into butterfly moment as her true self is given a chance to shine. That it works as well as it does it because Mae Whitman is delightful as the DUFF – the “designated ugly fat friend” to her two cover girl best friends. My only concern is that projects like this, along with songs like Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (which I like), focusing on girls and young women who aren’t actually fat but who are identified as such might counter-productively reinforce rather than counteract unrealistic standards of female body image. But I’m probably over-thinking a simple and cute film (and song).

The third of this week’s new films does not fit the same formula or outcome. I know I watched “Hot Tub Time Machine” when it was originally released but I had very little recollection of it until I caught some of it again on cable last week. I look forward to the time that I will recall as little of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” This is the kind of film that makes Seth Rogan/James Franco collaborations seem highbrow. Most of the characters from the first movie have been living their lives over again, generally being more successful than the first time (using their insider future knowledge) – which apparently includes John Cusack successfully avoiding this sequel. Until, that is, they have to travel from their present to their future to figure out who traveled back from their future to their present to shoot Lou (Rob Corddry) in the crotch. Really. Watching it all play out will make you want to travel back in time and select a different movie.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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