‘Couples Retreat’ review

couplefsarVince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, and Jason Bateman star in ‘Couples Retreat’, a film that “teaches us” that if your marriage is headed for trouble, go to a beautiful resort and argue alot. Then you’ll magically realize, as if you were in a movie, that you love each other! ‘Couples Retreat’ obviously doesn’t have much of a plot (or point) to it, often times in the movie it feels like entire scenes were constructed and put in the movie just for one joke. Example: As a part of one of the “exercises”, the couples must strip to their underwear and stare at each other. But one guy doesn’t have underwear! Oh, how funny yet subtle!

The set-up for the film is that 4 couples, all of them close friends (except for one 20-year old woman), each with their own assorted problems, all go together to a beautiful resort, to bond. What they don’t realize is that they must attend therapy as couples, and the therapy entails some weird stuff. (i.e., swim with sharks)

It’s annoying just how uncreative the film is. Don’t know how to make an audience laugh? Bring in a guy with a funny accent and a Speedo, that’ll make us all laugh! Running out of ideas? Have a Guitar Hero duel! (product placement at its very worst) Occasionally in the film there are scenes of the couples doing yoga with an instructor, which is supposed to make us laugh. Wow, a man is showing another man how to do yoga, how awkward and socially unacceptable! The film reduces a man in a Speedo to a constant punchline. I’m pretty shocked this got a PG-13, there’s some very R-rated jokes here.

There is a bit to enjoy in “Couples Retreat”. Vince Vaughn & Jon Favreau have good chemistry together, something they’ve demonstrated in “Swingers” and even the terrible “Four Christmases”. The dialogue with Vince Vaughn’s children is hilarious, and a running joke with a toilet is crude and stupid, but hilarious. ‘Couples Retreat’ is directed by Peter Billingsley, young Ralphie from the classic “A Christmas Story”. It kind of sucks to say that this movie lacks personality, given the talent at hand.

Basically, although there’s some funny bits in “Couples Retreat”, it’s mostly stupid and uninspired. D

‘Zombieland’ review

zombieland1
Zombie movies rock.

Starting a review with an immature statement like that may just be because of my young age, or because of how much fun ‘Zombieland’ is. Consider how many memorable moments they pack into 75 minutes. ‘Zombieland’ is a lot of fun, just think of it as a buddy comedy with two guys that couldn’t be more different, but the catch is that they’re dodging flesh-eating, organ-vomiting zombies. That’s basically all that ‘Zombieland’ is, although they eventually team up with a woman and her young sister and make way to Los Angeles.

Before I say anything else, I must tell you that ‘Zombieland’ has one of the best cameos ever. EVER. It’s not so much the celebrity that makes it funny (although he is hilarious), but the circumstances of it and what happens to him. Before your friend ruins it for you, you have to see it for yourself.

Woody Harrelson, as a 40-something, shotgun-toting redneck and Jesse Eisenberg as a neurotic teenager form an unlikely pair, that team up in a world over-run by – you guessed it, zombies. Eisenberg, as the film progresses, presents us rules by which to survive – i.e., Check the back seat of a car, don’t be a hero, etc. However, it’s not scary at all – somewhat surprising given the title. It focuses on action, and has a pretty awesome ending where the characters use rides in a theme park as weapons.

‘Zombieland’ is a memorable comedy packed with action, over-the-top gore, and an awesome cameo. It’s not life-changing, but is stupid entertainment at it’s finest. B+

‘Paranormal Activity’ review

The caption doesn't lie - don't see it alone.

The caption doesn't lie - don't see it alone.

Horror movies have died. With remakes of sub-par 1980′s slasher movies cranked out seemingly every week, each stupider and less frightening as they go on. For the most part, to go to a horror film today is a cruel and unnecessary punishment. ‘Paranormal Activity’, however, is not from the Hollywood system. It wasn’t commissioned by some studio head. It has no stars, or names you’ve heard of, or faces you’ve ever seen. It was made for $15,000. It’s actually 3 years old, undiscovered until Steven Spielberg saw a rough cut and brought it to the attention of Paramount Pictures.

The film is presented as salvaged footage from a video camera, owned by a couple named Katie and Micah. Katie feels as if there’s something otherworldly going on in their house, so Micah buys a video camera to record what goes on while they sleep. The film spans 3 weeks of the footage, building to a truly unforgettable ending that puts this movie up there with the horror classics. ‘Exorcist’, ‘Halloween’, you name it, this can hold its own and is even scarier than some.

A noteworthy thing the director Oren Peli does here: Make you feel at ease in the first 30 minutes or so, but at the same time making you realize that the longer the film goes on the more unbearable the tension will get. The actors, Katie and Micah, are not going to win any Oscars for this, but they maintain the illusion that this is real footage, a big responsibility considering they are in every frame of this film. By the way – there is no blood or gore in this film at all. Suspense rather than decapitated heads pays off in a horror film.

Long story short: This is not just another ‘Haunting in Connecticut’ or ‘Prom Night’: This is one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had. You begin to care about these people, to want them to survive. Unlike so many horror movies where instead of hoping the people survive, you guess which one will die first. (For the record, the one with the ego always dies first.) ‘Paranormal Activity’ isn’t a movie, it’s an experience. And one of the best this year. A

Note: After making $8 million in 40 cities worldwide, it has gotten a wide release. So there is justice in Hollywood after all.

‘Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs’ review

cloudy-with-a-chance‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ is perhaps the anti-thesis to ‘Where the Wild Things Are’: it plays it safe, doesn’t expand on any artistic boundary, and just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Yes, it has the same amount of half-hearted giggles as just about any recent family film, yes it has the same insecure, self-doubting, but likable characters as just about any recent family film. Basically it has no personality, and although there’s some good moments it’s just way too bland to set itself apart from recent films.

It’s yet another “believe in yourself and others will believe in you” family film. Okay Hollywood, family movies with a moral is great, I’m all for it, but reinstating the same message in every single film this year (Fame, Monsters vs. Aliens, Paul Blart, etc) is annoying and shows a lack of creativity.

On the other hand, the plot to ‘Cloudy’ is rather interesting. If the title (or the hundreds of commercials everyday) hasn’t helped you catch on, the film is about an inventor, Flint Lockwood, who makes a machine that converts water into food. Somehow, he expands it to encompass weather surrounding his small town, and soon raining pizza and cheeseburgers is a regular thing on the nightly weather channel. But soon the machine spins out of control, putting everyone on Earth in danger. Also, Flint develops a crush on a local reporter, Sam.

This is a gorgeous film, no doubt about it. The bright colors and beautiful (if virtual) vistas will win over little kids everywhere. One major gripe I have with this film: The lead voice actor, Bill Hader. He’s from Saturday Night Live, and it’s hard not to be distracted. He sounds over-enthusiastic to the point of sarcasm. However unintentional it might be, it’s really distracting. However, Anna Faris, Andy Samberg, and even Mr. T all voice various characters.

‘Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs’ is mildly funny, and decent entertainment, and looks great, but go through the last 5 years and you can find several animated films matching that exact description. I want more variety in childrens films, or at least more memorable ones. This will be long forgotten, that is until the inevitable sequel. C-

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ early review

where-the-wild-things-areChildrens movies come and go every week, each more and more alike, each more and more seemingly cranked out for the sole purpose of money. ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ is perhaps the most unique, beautiful, and easily one of the best children’s films I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of it is that it was extrapolated from a 9-sentence picture book. Perhaps its the fact that it mixes almost every possible sort of visual effect (people in suits, CGI, puppets) to create one of the most fully realized fantasy worlds since ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Make no mistake. This is not to be missed.

It follows the basic plot of the 9-sentence source material, the classic 1963 children’s story. A little boy named Max causes trouble and is sent to his room, but he runs away and encounters a whole new world of creatures called simply – the Wild Things, who crown him their king. The movie obviously must expand on this and does – with several characters with distinct personalities, backstories, and troubles. These are not the two-dimensional sidekicks of ‘Madagascar’.

The highlight of the film is watching the ‘Wild Things’ come to life. They look so real, so incredibly realistic in physics and yet whimsical in design. You never think to yourself how they brought it to life, you never think what actor is voicing that creature. (Although with Forest Whitaker, James Gandolfini & Paul Dano it obviously brings an excellent voice cast together.) Max Records, the young boy portraying the main character, Max, is excellent. The entire film rests on his shoulders, and he delivers.

Director Spike Jonze realizes the film with a whimsy and passion that few other, if any other directors could possibly do. And the sets, my god! Although the vast majority of it was filmed in an Australian soundstage, you’d never guess it. When the characters are in a huge, vast desert, you don’t doubt it for a second. When they’re in a fort with hundreds of stories towering above their head, you believe it. What a feat.

It’s hard exactly to describe in words what ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is. A modern classic? Maybe. Masterpiece? Pushing it a bit. But what it is, really, is a huge step forward in filmmaking, just by taking a step back and making it just a beautiful film. Not a commercial film, not a film that will please all, most likely a film that will divide audiences. But a divisive film is better than a bland one. Don’t miss this one. A

‘Toy Story 1 & 2: 3-D Double Feature’ review

toy-story‘Toy Story 1 & 2: 3-D Double Feature’ brings two of the best childrens movies ever made into theaters together, but as the title states, updates them by adding 3-D. Simply put, this one of the best experiences you’ll have in a movie theater this year. I personally find it somewhat incredible that they could take movies I’ve seen countless, countless times and found a way to make them seem fresh and new. The 3-D effects make the big effects really pop out, and also make you notice little things you’ve never seen before. Used merely as a gimmick most of the time, recently 3-D has become a new tool to immersive you in the film, rather than making you say “Look at that car flying towards us!!”

I will not review the merits of the films, nor rehash the plot of the films. They are well-known, they are classic, they have not been altered for this re-release. Reviewing them would be somewhat redundant, since I’ve been watching them since I was two. The point of reviewing this is to tell you that this is great entertainment, and there is no better time to see these films, in a whole new way no less. A