Movie Review ~ Vacation

vacation_ver6

The Facts:

Synopsis: Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a road trip to “Walley World” in order to spice things up with his wife and reconnect with his sons.

Stars: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Beverly D’Angelo, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase

Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Like the memories of a long-ago family road trip, watching the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies have a special place in my mind.  I’ll never forget hearing my dad howl with laughter watching Chevy Chase strap a dead body to his car in the original Vacation from 1983.  I also remember my parents fumbling with the VCR remote to fast forward through some of the racier parts of 1985’s European Vacation.  And I can’t count how many memories are associated with the multiple annual viewings of 1989’s Christmas Vacation. Vegas Vacation from 1997?  Eh, I think I saw it on an airplane once…and I won’t even deign to watch the 2003 TV Movie Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.

So you have to understand that I approached this reboot/sequel of the Vacation franchise with a side eye glance and full on arched eyebrows.  While the franchise didn’t have a spotless track record I didn’t want another inferior sequel to sully the good times of the past.  Gradually, I started to come around once the casting came together and several funnier-than-they-should-have-been previews were released.  Still…what’s to say that all the funny bits weren’t crammed into the trailers just to get unsuspecting butts in seats?

Well, the summer Vacation of 2015 is a nice throwback to the one that started it all and while many of the funny bits were tipped off in early trailers, I’m pleased to report that most of these jokes are taken a step further in the finished product and it has a healthy amount of raucous material heretofore yet unseen.

Is the ride clear of bumps?  Oh goodness no.  Thankfully, the film is so packed with gags (and a few gag worthy moments) that these rough patches are cleared in time for a better joke to land.

Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms, We’re the Millers, another in a long line of actors that have played the character, something the film delightful acknowledges) is, like his dad, a hard-working family man that just wants to eek out the best kind of life for his wife and two sons.  Working as a pilot in a bargain airline, he looks forward to the family togetherness of a yearly summer cabin retreat.  This year is going to be different, though.  Noticing a lack of excitement in the same old routine and feeling nostalgic for his family trips, he ditches the cabin idea and invests in a tricked out rental car to carry his tribe to Walley World…the destination of the first film that paved the comedic way for all trips to come.

Rusty’s wife (Christina Applegate, a good straight-man, er, woman, to Helms’s dopey simpleton) wished for a Paris trip for two but goes along with her husband’s plans in hopes of reigniting a spark in their marriage.  Their sons are post-pubescent Skyler Gisondo (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), a hopeless romantic, and pre-pubescent Steele Stebbins, a foul-mouthed nightmare that lives to torture his older brother.  All three would rather be anywhere else than road-tripping it across the country with the good natured head of their family.

As in the original, the road to Walley World isn’t an easy one and the Griswolds encounter a host of comedic roadblocks along the way…from hazardous waste ponds to a drunken sorority charity event to a detour to meet up with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann, The Other Woman) and her bo-hunk husband (Chris Hemsworth, Cabin in the Woods, who gets the best visual joke with the most, um, girth).   There are nice nods to the first film that I won’t spoil here and while it starts to run out of steam near the finale the ride up to that point has been more memorable than you’d care to admit.

Ironically, the worst part of this new Vacation are the two holdovers from all of the previous films…Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo.  Popping up late in the game to offer some unnecessary words of wisdom, it’s a sequence that was included with the best of intentions but comes off as superfluous, especially considering that this film seeks to establish itself on its own four wheels.  It doesn’t help that Chase looks like he took one too many extra scoops of mashed potatoes and D’Angelo’s plastic surgeon went a little wild with the Botox.

Directors and co-writers John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) start things off with a laugh in a fun (if low-brow) credit sequence and keep things light, there’s no villain of the film and the only problems that pop up are of the Griswold’s own making.  Helms and Applegate are terrific comedians and don’t oversell the material – here’s hoping this Vacation is well received to get a holiday sequel on the books.

 

Movie Review ~ The Other Woman

other_woman_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: After discovering her boyfriend is married, Carly soon meets the wife he’s been cheating on. And when yet another affair is discovered, all three women team up to plot mutual revenge on the three-timing SOB.

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: In my review of the trailer for The Other Woman, I remarked that I felt the movie looked “like a mash-up of Outrageous Fortune and The First Wives Club” and that wasn’t too far off the mark. Actually, I’d add a few other girl power movies to that stew as well…titles like 9 to 5 and The Witches of Eastwick popped into my mind occasionally as this pretty flimsy but modestly entertaining film breezed by.

Probably destined to be added to the selections to consider at a Friday night martini slumber party for best girlfriends, The Other Woman brings nothing new to the landscape of female driven comedies. This is thanks in no small part to a hackneyed script from first timer Melissa K. Stack and slack direction from Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook). Both screenwriter and director let the film get away from them, with jokes that go on to long and a bizarre final dénouement that feels too heavy to rest of the shoulders of what had up until that point been a feather light revenge comedy.

What keeps the film afloat is a performance from Cameron Diaz that finds the actress at her most fresh, focused, and funny. Diaz is an actress that I have a love-hate relationship with…her film roles have always frustratingly reflected an actress that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed (The Counselor, What to Expect When You’re Expecting), but her talent clearly lies in comedy and her new film reflects a return to form that I welcomed with open arms. Decked out in svelte clothes that show off her just-past 40 bod and residing in the kind of glam NYC apartment that seems appropriate for a high powered attorney, Diaz brings her A game to what is a B- picture.

Second billed Leslie Mann (Rio, Rio 2) had something to prove to me: could she thrive in a film not directed by her husband (Judd Apatow…responsible for directing Mann in the heinous This is 40) and for the most part Mann keeps things on the up and up. I was worried at first that her voice was going to grate my eardrums like a block of cheese (it’s actually the awful Nicki Minaj, barely in the movie as Diaz’s annoying assistant that will make your ears bleed) but thankfully a brief adjustment period brought forth a ribald side to Mann that shows she can be ballsy without being Apatow-like crude. Even so, every now and then when a comedic bit would go on too long I couldn’t help but wonder if Apatow was on set that day.

Mann and Diaz are the wife and mistress of a businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Mama, Headhunters) that discover each other by accident. Unable to confront her husband or talk to any of their mutual friends about the infidelity, she turns to Diaz for a toned shoulder to cry on. Initially hesitant to buddy up with the wife of her flame, Diaz is soon won over by milquetoast Mann and in short order the ladies raid Diaz’s closet, braid each other’s hair, have at least two drunk scenes, and then find out hubby is cheating on both of them with a Hamptons beach bunny, played by the buxom swimsuit model Kate Upton that’s been blessed with a fine figure yet not one scintilla of acting promise. Somehow, the three jiltees team up to take down Mr. Cheater but by then the movie is half over and there’s barely time to throw in some last minute shenanigans about embezzlement, an afterthought of a romance for Diaz (the genial Taylor Kinney), and an extended trip to the Bahamas which seemed like an expensive excuse for Diaz, Mann, and Upton to work on their tans.

Then there’s that ending. Comeuppance is always the payoff in these films yet what Stack worked up and how Cassavetes filmed it makes it feel like it came from a different, darker film. It doesn’t help matters that Coster-Waldau plays these final moments like he’s auditioning for a Scorsese film and overall isn’t very good as the philandering husband, never finding the balance between charm and smarm.

With several continuity errors, equipment visible (I saw Diaz’s wireless mic pack twice), and messy overdubbing to remove swear words that would have brought the film to an R rating, the film feels a little choppy though it does manage to find some smooth waters for Diaz and Mann to sail in. There are certain movie theaters that let you bring drinks to your seat with you and The Other Woman is one where a daiquiri, martini, or Long Island ice tea would enhance the experience quite nicely. Not terrible, not great…it’s sophisticated and funny enough to get a slight recommendation from me.

Got something you think I should see?
Tweet me, or like me and I shall do my best to oblige!

Movie Review ~ Rio 2

rio_two_ver6

The Facts:

Synopsis: It’s a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids after they’re hurtled Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon.

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, will.i.am, Jemaine Clement, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Jamie Foxx, Andy Garcia, Rita Moreno, Bruno Mars, Kristin Chenoweth

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Rated: G

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m fighting against the grain and resisting the urge to heed the old adage that there comes a time to put away childish things. For me, that means not seeing every single animated film released in theaters. For a time, the market was on an even keel of producing one stellar film after another…until lesser studios took it upon themselves to insert themselves into the market, sullying it with cheap looking entries that shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as something coming from Pixar or Dreamworks Animation. See The Nut Job if you don’t believe me…or better yet, don’t.

I think we’re nudging into a new standard of animation and audiences are starting to convey that message with their money if you look at the diminishing returns on lackluster sequels (Monsters University) and the popularity of new specimens like The LEGO Movie. Also, you can’t just tack “in 3D” on to any old film because people don’t want to pay for something that won’t give them their money’s worth.

So where does that leave a sequel like Rio 2? A continuation of the story that started in 2011 right as the animation horizon was starting to shift, this is an overall workmanlike second chapter of a novel that wasn’t that original to begin with. It is, however, better than the first film and works a kind of magic that turns an entire cast of usually obnoxious performers into an appealing band of colorful characters by letting us only hear them, not see them.

It helped me in some small way to have watched the first Rio in the wee hours of the Saturday I caught an early morning screening of Rio 2. Picking up shortly after the first film ended, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, Now You See Me) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables) are still in Rio with their three growing chirpers living the laid-back life that only animated birds could make acceptable. Originally thought to be the last group of blue macaws, when Blu’s owner (Leslie Mann, This is 40) finds a flock of macaws on an Amazon research trip the family packs up for a vacation to meet more of their kind.

Meanwhile, the now flightless Shakespearian bad bird from the first film (Jemaine Clement, Men in Black III) toils away the day as a pier side show attraction. A chance glimpse of Blu and Co. on the wing to the Amazon boils his bad blood and before you can say “extraneous subplot #1” he breaks free of the chains that bind him, taking a mute anteater and operatic poisonous frog (Kristin Chenoweth, Hit and Run) in his pursuit of revenge.

What Blu and Jewel find in the depths of the Amazon will feel mighty familiar and truth be told the entire film suffers from the same lack of originality that plagued the first one. Still, something about the earnestness of the performances, the tuneful music (I enjoyed Chenoweth’s goofy aria about Poisonous Love), and the eye-popping visuals won me over more than I thought it ever would.

Though the film does delve into more blatant themes of conservationism (ala Ferngully: The Last Rainforest), the message isn’t delivered with any real agenda so it remains benign. Returning director Carlos Saldanha keeps things moving even though the film stretches past 100 minutes, further making my point that no animated film should keep you in the theater for over an hour and a half. If there is to be a Rio 3, let’s hope the filmmakers push things forward so this pleasant series doesn’t turn into a turkey.

Down From the Shelf ~ Rio

rio_ver3

The Facts:

Synopsis: When Blu, a domesticated macaw from small-town Minnesota, meets the fiercely independent Jewel, he takes off on an adventure to Rio de Janeiro with this bird of his dreams.

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, will.i.am, Jamie Foxx

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Rated: G

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: I had some homework to do where Rio was concerned. Though there was a time when I wouldn’t say no to the next animated film that came down the pike, back in 2011 when Rio was released I was at my limit for colorful films featuring talking animals going on grand adventures…in 3D no less. I took a (brief) stand against what I thought was the enemy…the cash grabbing studio machine that seemed to pick the central species by way of dart board.

With the sequel coming out and on my schedule of screenings I realized that I had to get cracking with watching the original adventure featuring a blue macaw that travels from chilly Minnesota to balmy Rio de Janeiro. Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, Now You See Me) is the last male of his species and he’s escorted by his caring owner (Leslie Mann, This is 40) to be mated with feisty female Jewel (Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises). Originally earning a PG for its mating conceit, rest assured this eventually got knocked back to the family friendly G it deserves.

For all the colorful scenes and pleasant musical numbers, Rio never really soars thanks to an also-ran plot filled with the standard baddies that aren’t so much out to hurt the birds as make a buck off of their beaks. Pursued not only by oafish swindlers that want to sell the birds to exotic pet stores but a puffy blow-hard bird (Jermaine Clement, Muppets Most Wanted) that comes off a little too much like Scar from The Lion King, Blu and Jewel team up with a host of other feathered friends and one dog to reunite with Blu’s owner…all during Rio’s annual Carnaval.

I get the feeling the movie probably played better on the big screen and with the addition of 3D to give some depth to the overwhelming amount of color and tropical city lushness on display. Longer than it has to be (does any animated movie need to be longer than 80 minutes?), there are occasional fun moments mostly tied to Sergio Mendes’s musical score and non-obnoxious performances from normally obnoxious talent like George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, will.i.am, & Jamie Foxx.

All in all, Rio is a harmless flight of fancy that has enough going on to distract the kids while the adults sitting through it may find themselves tapping their toes to the bossa nova beats. Not a must see, but not a total waste of time or effort.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Other Woman

other_woman

Synopsis: After realizing she is not her boyfriend’s primary lover, a woman teams up with his wife and plots mutual revenge.

Release Date: April 25, 2014

Thoughts: I blame only myself…just a few days ago I was talking with a friend and commenting how thankful I was that overrated rapper Nicki Minaj had yet to make the leap from video star to movie star.  Then I catch Minaj in the trailer for The Other Woman and realize that I probably cosmically jinxed myself.  It looks as though Minaj plays a supporting role in the revenge comedy, leaving the heavy lifting to Cameron Diaz (The Counselor, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and Leslie Mann (This is 40).  Coming off like a mash-up of Outrageous Fortune and The First Wives Club, The Other Woman doesn’t appear to be more than a standard “girls rule, boys drool” kinda affair and though I find Diaz and Mann and costar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Headhunters, Mama) to be intermittently enjoyable this isn’t one I’d put high on my list.

Movie Review ~ The Bling Ring

1

bling_ring_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

Stars: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Georgia Rock, Gavin Rossdale

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  As the daughter of one of Hollywood’s most successful directors of the 70’s, Sofia Coppola began her directing career with a hat trick  of smart and stylish films that felt like they had a true voice.  The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation (for which Coppola won an Oscar for her screenplay), and Marie Antoinette couldn’t have been more different in tone but it was evident they all came from the same creative force.  Stumbling with the troubled Somewhere, Coppola took her time in choosing her next project and what may have seemed like the right choice on paper winds up being a film that comes off as hollow and vacuous as the lives of the people it chronicles.

For a few days after seeing The Bling Ring I really thought about what Coppola was going after.  Maybe I was supposed to feel empty after watching the true life tale about privileged teens in Beverly Hills that are so bored and entitled they start to break into the homes of the rich and famous stars that line the Hollywood Hills.  Showing little remorse along the way, these thieves read up on the gossip blogs to see who will be out of town and then simply Google the address and get ready to line their pockets and backs with the luxurious clothing and jewelry they find within.

At a scant 90 minutes, the movie doesn’t exactly have a lot of ground to cover because the majority of the running length is just burglaries repeated over and over again.  To be fair, the movie starts with some nice Coppola touches of bright colors and interesting camera angles…but soon the material gets away from her and instead of positioning the arc of her film toward a certain intent she instead lets the movie run straight down the middle with very little creativity.

The lack of depth shown is frustrating but again…is that what the movie is all about?  The profound lack of worth and value started to upset my stomach after a while and had Coppola given the movie even the slightest bit of edge it could have nudged the experience into the wicked satire I think it could (and wants to ) be.

It’s hard to single out who the star of the film is.  I’d say it’s newcomer Katie Chang as the scheming ringleader of the group and while it becomes fuzzy at times whether Chang plays bland to perfection or if she’s just not in on the joke I was always interested to see what she’d do next.  Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, This Is The End) gets the best of the biting comedy bits but unfortunately still hasn’t mastered her American accent.  This makes most of her delivery funny but not the homerun Coppola probably intended.

No great cinematic fete/feast, The Bling Ring is the kind of meal that I’m sure many of the burgled starlets probably enjoy…light and forgettable with all the sauce and cheese on the side. 

 

The Silver Bullet ~ The Bling Ring

the-bling-ring-poster-trailerjpg-744x1000

Synopsis: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

Release Date:  June 14, 2013

Thoughts: Sofia Coppola had a nice hat trick of films in the last decade with The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation (with a screenplay that won her an Oscar) and Marie Antoinette.  Then she stumbled a bit with the jumbled Somewhere so it’s anyone’s guess where The Bling Ring will wind up.  I must admit the inspired by a true story angle piques my curiosity, especially because Coppola seems so observant when examining relationships between the notable and not quite noticed.  Emma Watson made a great post Harry Potter choice with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, let’s see if she continues knowing how to pick good projects.

Movie Review ~ This Is 40

1

this_is_forty

The Facts:

Synopsis: A look at the lives of Pete and Debbie a few years after the events of Knocked Up.

Stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Smigel, Charlene Yi, Albert Brooks, Chris O’Dowd

Director: Judd Apatow

Rated: R

Running Length: 134 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: A miserable cinematic mallet to the head, This Is 40 is the latest film from director/writer Apatow and is being billed as a “sort-of sequel” to his 2007 blockbuster Knocked Up.  Instead of continuing on the story of the mismatched couple that found themselves pregnant, Apatow has crafted a very long follow-up that focuses on the characters from the “B” storyline from the first film.  In Knocked Up, married couple Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) were interesting variations on the best friend characters…people that had problems of their own that didn’t always come to the rescue like they would in most films.

In This Is 40, Debbie and Pete are both approaching the big 4-0 within days of each other (at least I think they are close together, the timeline for the film seemed to be rewritten every half hour) and…stop me if you’ve heard this before…the female is taking getting older worse than the male!!!  I know, right?  Unheard of!  That’s just one of the many clichéd situations, jokes, dialogue, etc. that This Is 40 employs in its epically long 2 ¼ hours.

It’s clear that Rudd (Wanderlust, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Mann (ParaNorman) have good chemistry and, like Knocked Up, I totally bought them as a married couple.  I’m just convinced that these particular characters didn’t need another whole film to themselves to complete their arc.  What’s more, this film is LONGER than Knocked Up and doesn’t have the strong supporting players that film did to keep things moving.  Instead, the movie is laboriously carried by Rudd, Mann, and the actresses playing their daughters.  Did I mention that Mann is married to Apatow and their real-life children play the offspring of Mann/Rudd (clearly standing in for Apatow) in the film?  Basically you are paying money to see the Apatow family home movies.

Like Apatow’s previous directorial efforts (Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Funny People) the movie is nearly 90 minutes too long.  There is so much extraneous material here that Apatow has seemed to jump the Director’s Cut gun and just given us his preferred cut of the film now instead of later.  What’s more, Universal Studios let him do it!  There are characters and scenes that could be wholly excised and not harm anything integral to the story yet there they are consistently ruining any sort of momentum the film gets going.  I’d go out on a limb and say that every scene went on at least a minute too long.

When you have to say that Megan Fox is the best of the supporting players, you know you may be in trouble.  The truth is, Fox is quite good as an employee at Mann’s barely mentioned California boutique and she saves whatever scenes she’s a part of…even though many of the jokes come at her expense.  Brooks and Lithgow play Rudd and Mann’s loser fathers – both actors could play these characters in their sleep…and it looks like they are asleep most of the time.  (Interesting to note that the credits list more make-up artists for Brooks than Mann…yet he still looks like a sand dune with eyes)  Yi and O’Dowd are awful in their roles…McCarthy starts off fairly well in her glorified cameo until she and Apatow take the comedy to an out-of-control hyper-vulgar state that lost my attention almost immediately.

Vulgarity is really the lifeblood of this film and Apatow may have thought he was being real witty letting his actors use all the swear words in the book and their derivatives but it only shows how average his writing style is by not finding a better voice to give to his actors.  I’m absolutely no prude when it comes to potty mouth-edness but the amount of expletives that come from every person in the film (even the children) is exhausting and undercut any point they are trying to make while using them.

Mann and Rudd spend 98% of the movie bickering and when they aren’t bickering they’re drunk, or high, or having sex, or laughing at their own jokes.  By the time Mann blows up at Rudd for the 900th time, the audience is numb to the conversation and we just await their eventual reconciliation.  Even if Apatow gets in a few on-the-nose observations about married life, they wind up being overshadowed by a general feeling of misery that is absolutely toxic.

So, in summary, here’s what I learned from seeing This Is 40: Marriage is hard, raising kids isn’t easy, parents are crazy, getting old sucks, and young people have different musical tastes than older people. Cutting edge material, Mr. Apatow….cutting edge.  It’s hard to believe that the same guy that gave us the excellent and witty television show Freaks and Geeks has sunk to this sub-par level.  It’s one of the least entertaining and least funny films released in 2012.