Saturday, October 24, 2009

Couples Retreat

"We have found a great group rate."

As expected, predictable, typical Hollywood ending, but yet still entertaining. The best laughs were NOT in the trailer which was good, and it was fun, but it's still your typical romantic comedy. In short there is nothing new here.

The plot of Couples Retreat is not exactly groundbreaking, but it does deliver some nice laughs. Four couples, all of them in a rut of some kind, decide to attend a week long retreat in a tropical paradise. As you might expect things don't go entirely according to plan. In some cases relationships are brought to the breaking point instead of being mended. Can these relationships be salvaged? Is there ever any doubt? If you have seen even one romantic comedy in the last 30 years, you already know the answer.

Now, I wouldn't call this a bad movie, but it wasn't groundbreaking either. Vince Vaughn (Dave) is what you might call a character actor, he tends to play that over the top comic relief type guy in most movies, and this one is no exception. Though I would point out that he is a little less energetic in this one than he has been in other movies, which I found a welcome change. The remainder of the cast delivered a pretty serviceable performance, at least for this kind of movie. Jon Favreau (Joey) was especially fun to watch, I believe this is the first time he has paired up with Vaughn since Swingers, and they played off each other quite well. Malin Ã…kerman was quite convincing as the well meaning wife (Ronnie) of Vaughn. Jason Bateman (Jason) and Kristen Bell (Cynthia) delivered good laughs as the obsessively prepared couple on the verge of divorce and Kristen Davis (Lucy) was clearly having fun as the promiscuous, long suffering wife of Favreau.

As I've pointed out already, this is your typical romantic comedy, in the end everyone goes home happy. Now I have no problem with the genre as a whole, but it is somewhat discouraging that Hollywood is continuing to perpetuate the illusion that couples can always work things out. Come on guys, you are systematically damaging and entire generation of people out there - give us a small measure of reality once in a while. Anyway I actually did quite enjoy this movie, despite the cliche ending. The laughs were both numerous and varied, and the trailer did not spoil the best ones. The acting was pretty good and the ending wasn't completely sappy. However, I can't shake the feeling that the whole thing fell rather flat in the delivery. On the whole the movie didn't leave me completely satisfied, it lacked that small spark of greatness; which is a shame because it had great potential. The pacing was good, I was never bored, but overall Couples Retreat rather blends in to every other RomCom out there.

Not great, but not terrible either. My advice: wait for the DVD or catch a showing on cable. Don't spend the time or money seeing it in the theater. In all honesty I think the inevitable directors cut might deliver a more well rounded and entertaining product.

Final Verdict on Couples Retreat:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

It’s gonna be biblical.”

While I enjoyed Law Abiding Citizen it wasn’t quite the typical revenge piece I was expecting, and was (unsurprisingly) capped with a Hollywood ending. Clyde’s rampage extends beyond the traditional payback scenario and, I think, a little to far into the realm of a psychotic killer. RT currently has this movie sitting at 15%, now I think perhaps that is a little harsh. Sure it’s not Oscar worthy, but when Gamer gets a better average than this, I have to start asking some questions.

Law Abiding Citizen begins with the character of Clyde Shelton (Butler), an apparently everyday guy living a normal life with his wife and daughter. Shortly thereafter, Clyde and his family are the victims of a particularly brutal home invasion, during which both his wife and daughter are murdered. We quickly skip ahead to the trail where, thanks to district attorney Nick Rice (Foxx), one of the murderers is receiving a reduced sentence of three years in exchange for his testimony. Obviously this news does not sit too well with our protagonist. This concludes the set up for the movie, which was thankfully quite short, and 10 years later we get right into the action. Clyde is out for revenge, not just on those who killed his family, but also on those in the justice department; a system that Clyde believes is broken, corrupt and beyond redemption.

Let me point out that I quite enjoy F. Gary Gray’s movies; I loved The Negotiator, I quite enjoyed The Italian Job, and I even saw some merits in A Man Apart. Gray is a surprisingly good director considering his background in rap videos and the atrociously bad Friday. This movie, I believe, is another win for Gray. It is also somewhat typical of his directorial style. If we consider The Negotiator and A Man Apart to be indicative of Gray’s direction, this movie shares a similar flare; sticking to that dark, gritty, real world feel.

I have pointed out previously that I count myself a fan of Gerard Butler, so it will come as no surprise that I liked his part in this movie. Butler is becoming a really strong almost A list actor; he appears to be getting more and more top billed roles of late. Butler is rather close to my heart being born in the same small town in Scotland, but I would also argue that he is just an all round good actor. He has that rare ability to play both sides of the coin. In this movie, and even in 300, Butler portrays a very gritty, dark and dramatic character. In movies such as Rocknrolla and The Ugly Truth he portrays very light hearted comic roles with just as much conviction. As much as I am a fan of Butler, I also have to admit to having an irrational dislike for Jamie Foxx. There's nothing specific about him that illicits that feeling, thus the reason I call it an irrational dislike. I think it was Collateral that sealed his fate in my mind, I mean come on the taxi driver defeats the world class assassin – nonsense!! Anyway, I thought he did a pretty good job in this one, perhaps this is my own bias speaking here, but I don’t think he has much range as an actor. He has that Keanu Reeves wooden feel, and he always seems to play the same part (not that there is anything wrong with character actors, but I don’t get the sense he does it intentionally).

As to the rest of the case, there was some really nice talent crammed into the supporting roles here. First and foremost is Colm Meaney as Detective Dunnigan. I just love seeing Colm Meaney on the big screen again, he’s an example of a terrific character actor, he always plays a tough as nails, rough around the edges kind of guy (even Chief O’Brien had a dark side as seen in DS9). Bruce McGill also has a nice role in this one. He’s one of those actors that pops up all over, usually in supporting roles. Quite often you see him in as one of the token military advisors. Never the less he’s a good actor and brings a great presence to the screen (not unlike Barry Henley). Others to watch for include Lesley Bibb as D.A. Sarah Lowell and Michael Irby as Detective Garza. You should recognize Bibb from her cameo in Iron Man and Irby will be familiar to those who watched The Unit on CBS. All told I felt the casting was pretty good throughout.

While the movie gets things right by moving things along at a good pace, some of the actions taken by Clyde, in my opinion,  stretch the patience of the audience. Initially he is a very sympathetic character, his family are brutally murdered and he wants justice. I have to admit I am a sucker for a good revenge story, ever since my first viewing of Death Wish I have been hooked on that particular sub genre. I’m also rather fond of Frank Castle so Law Abiding Citizen seemed to really fit the bill for me. Things change about half way into the movie though, when Clyde starts to pursue those in the justice system. Anyone remotely connected to the case is a target in Clyde’s plot, even Rice’s legal team. Personally I think that the writers erode any sympathy the audience has with regard to Clyde when innocent people start getting targeted. The reason why people rooted for Paul Kersey and Frank Castle is because they punished the guilty and they sought justice (granted it was a brutal and some would say barbaric sense of justice, but justice none the less). When Clyde goes beyond that, he breaks the ‘rules’ associated with revenge. Personally I think that was a mistake, and the movie suffers a little because of it. My feeling was that, as we entered the third act, I didn’t know who to root for anymore. Jamie Foxx’s character was still in the wrong for cutting the deal in the first place (the movie sets him up as the ‘bad guy’ from the start), but our protagonist (Butler) has gone so far as to become a villain himself. When there are no heroes, no good guys, who are we (the audience) supposed to connect with. I think what they were trying to do was flip it, turn Clyde from victim to villain and turn Rice from villain to victim. A nice idea, but I think they failed to really pull it off.

After all that though, this does still fit into that niche of revenge movie that I love so much. So I was entertained and I did enjoy it. It is, however, not a great movie. It’s no Death Wish, that was and is a classic so nothing else can come close. Neither is it so clear cut as The Punisher (I know people had issues with the Tom Jane version and even I had to admit the recent War Zone movie had problems). The Punisher, as the name suggests, punishes the guilty. He does not, ever, take an innocent life. while you can argue the moral implications of vigilantism for eternity, there’s no denying that it makes for a hell of a plot device. Law Abiding Citizen tries to be it’s own animal by defying some of those ‘revenge movie’ staples, but ends up falling short and leaving the audience with a rather flat Hollywood ending where the good guys prevail, yet again.

So should you see this one? If you catch a showing on FX sometime, or if you can snag it via streaming on Netflix then sure take a look. I wouldn’t be inclined to make a special trip to the theatre for it though, nor would I rush out to buy the DVD.

Final Verdict on Law Abiding Citizen:

Saturday, October 3, 2009


“What do you think, zombie kill of the week?”

Zombieland may in fact be the best zombie movie ever. Guts, gore, laughs, violence, this movie has it all in spades. Even the venerable Rotten Tomatoes has a rating of 89% at the time of writing.

Now down to business. There’s no monotonous 20 minutes set up for Zombieland, when the movie begins everyone is already a mindless flesh eating automaton. Our tour of the newly zombie infested United States is conducted by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who is attempting to get back to Columbus, Ohio to find his parents (whom he hopes are still alive). Along the way he explains the ‘rules’ of survival in Zombieland, such as rule number 2: The double tap (always make sure they are dead). At various points in the movie we are treated to a few of these choice rules, which add a little comic flavor. During his travels Columbus encounters veteran zombie hunter Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and sibling survivors Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and they all team up in the interest of survival.

Woody Harrelson is terrific in this role, his character has a twisted and dark sense of humor which fits well alongside the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. Jesse Eisenberg turns in another hum drum performance though, if you saw Adventureland then you’ll recognize both the actor and the character – in that there appears to be no difference between the two. Emma Stone, if nothing else, is nice to look at for 40 plus minutes. As far as I’m concerned she is still an unproven actress, but with the looks alone she’s off to a good start (at least by the Megan Fox standard of acting). Kudos to Abigail Breslin, typically the ‘kid’ character in these kind of movies is both tiresome and irritating, not so in Zombieland. I rather enjoyed the fact that they bounce some jokes off of her based on her age (for example, not knowing who Bill Murray is). Oh, and yes, as you are likely already aware from the atrocious internet spoilers, Bill Murray has a cameo in this movie, and he’s great (really its Bill Murray, how could he not be great).

The director sticks to the typical zombie staples, established in classics like Evil Dead. This is not a criticism of the movie, because genre flicks like this should stick to those accepted norms. The blood splatter, the excessive violence, the hot chick and the reluctant hero. All classics, and all perfectly acceptable attributes of a good zombie flick.

For what it is, I really can’t pick out to many faults with this movie, it makes the wise decision of sticking to the 90 minute mark. Movies like this can’t run for 2 hours, it just doesn’t work. The cast were all good and worked well together. It was certainly a good move paring up the rather bland Eisenberg with the totally over the top Harrelson, it balances out beautifully.

Overall, fun movie, great zombie flick and worth the price of a ticket. Go see it.

Final Verdict on Zombieland