Couples Retreat

When a group of entertainers bond and have a good time working on projects together, it is easy to forget that sometimes the making of the movie was probably more fun for them than the watching of the movie is for the audience.  One of the earliest manifestations of this phenomenon was with the Rat Pack and the making of the original Ocean’s Eleven.  Frank and the boys were happy to make a caper movie in Vegas, where they could film during the day and still do shows at night.  From that point on, the movie-going audience has endured projects that served the interests of the group more than the people paying to see them on-screen.  Young Guns allowed the Brat Pack to play cowboys and indians; Mystery Men was the height of Ben Stiller’s influence; and Anchorman was Will Ferrell’s movie of excess.  That is not to say that these movies were completely bad or unenjoyable; just that they were more about the people making them than anything else.

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau avoided this for the most part after hitting it big in Swingers.  True, Made was a step back; but each has proven the ability to make good movies beyond the easy stuff.  Peter Billingsley has avoided the fate of many child actors and become a successful adult in Hollywood (albeit behind the camera).  He helped Vaughn and Favreau when they first came to Hollywood and the three have been friends ever since.  So it makes sense that if Vaughn and Favreau wanted to make a movie in the island that they would make their buddy the director as a way to bring him along.

Couples Retreat focuses on four friends that have different relationships.  Favreau is in an unhappy marriage with Kristin Davis and is waiting for their daughter to head to college before getting a divorce.  Faison Love (The Replacements) is a man newly divorced and trying to be a sugar daddy for a young 20-year-old.  Vaughn is married to Malin Akerman (The Proposal) and has a normal family.  Jason Bateman and Kirsten Bell are Type-A adults that are married and are worried about losing their marriage.  It is this fear that drives them to convince their friends to join them on an island-based couples retreat.  What follows is fairly predictable wrapped up in too neat of an ending.

What was disappointing to me was the amount of great casting between the leads and supporting characters that failed to produce a home-run hit.  Each actor had interesting individual moments, but nothing that could be threaded together for a fully satisfying movie.  I would have felt slightly cheated had I not used a free movie pass to see it in the afternoon.

My advice: Wait for cable; bypass DVD – there is a scene after all of the credits, if you make it that long…

The Great Movie Ride

When I first started this site, I planned on just reviewing movies in theaters and on DVD.  Over the past couple of years, I have expanded that vision to handle other categories.  Today is one of those days as I unveil the category of Theme Park Rides.  Similar to my reviews of area theaters, I will spotlight a theme park ride or show that I have experienced, even if it is no longer around.  So let’s start with one housed in the theme park built by Disney and focusing on the movies.

After my accident in 1989, my parents took me to Walt Disney World.  Luckily for me, Disney had just opened a new park called The Disney-MGM Studios.  As with everything, Disney had the idea of having guests walk through the gates and feel like they were in old-time Hollywood, with its “Main Street” ending with Grauman’s Chinese Theater (Side note: Disney really messed up that vibe with the freaking hat).  Housed within the theater was The Great Movie Ride (TGMR).

TGMR was built as an homage to movies through the decades.  After walking through a lobby featuring exhibits of real props, guests made their way through lines while watching trailers on a big screen (Footlights on Parade, The Searchers, Singing in the Rain, Casablanca, and Alien).  In a departure from other rides, Disney had 4 large trams loading at a time (2 sets of 2 trams); that allowed for over 100 guests to be handled in one session.  Each set of trams had a tour guide that interacted with the ride and guests.  With a recorded signal from Cecil B. DeMille, the trams were off.

Musicals are highlighted first with scenes from Busby Berkley, Signing in the Rain, and Mary Poppins.  We then find ourselves immersed in the world of film noir.  It is here that Disney departs normal ride formula and separates the two tram sets.  The first tram moves on to the next genre, while the second tram “breaks down” in the film noir section.  Suddenly gunfire opens up, a bank robber/gangster appears, and our tour guide runs away.  The bank robber takes over the tram and starts it moving again as we move into the Wild West.

The Wild West gives us John Wayne and Clint Eastwood; it also gives us a taste of what happened to the first tram.  Similar to the film noir scene, a cowboy bank robber hijacked the other tram after a gunfight.  Once we escape the gun fight, we enter the world of Sci-Fi, or more specifically, Alien.  As we ride through the Nostromo, a couple of surprises await each car.

Leaving Sci-Fi behind, we find ourselves in a temple with a large jewel.  The trams stop and our bank robber leaves to go claim the jewel.  After a flash, our original tour guide reappears to finish the ride.  We venture through the Well of Souls from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and encounter some monsters from the horror films of the 30s.  Iconic movie scenes help close out the ride.

Tarzan’s jungle is up first, reminding us that Johnny Weismuller is the definitive Tarzan.  Then Bogey reminds us of the pain of letting the one you love go.  A visit with Mickey shows us the “magic” of animation, which leads us to Munchkinland and The Wizard of Oz.  Here we get to be a part of the confrontation with the Wicked Witch and sing along while “following the yellow brick road.”

We end on my favorite part of the ride: the movie montage.  As the trams come to a stop, we are treated to a visual wonderland of great moments in movies.  To my knowledge the movie is on its third iteration, with the first still being my favorite.

My advice: You would be a fool to miss this ride — it truly defines what I love about movies and renews that love each and every time…

Julie and Julia

Prior to this past summer, a movie had to be a big “tentpole” picture to warrant the “midnight” movie treatment.  However, this summer saw the rise of midnight movies on Thursday nights almost every week.  So, on the week that everyone was rushing to see G.I. Joe at midnight, I was meeting up with Lisa, David, Daniel, and Heather to see…..

wait for it……

Julie and Julia

I know, you are shocked and amazed; you may even be asking yourself, “But Matt, surely this was sold out in advance if they were doing a midnight show?”  Well, I prefer to think of our outing as an almost exclusive premiere.

We get to the Festival Bay Carmike Cinema and find our theater.  Aside from 4 other people, we were all alone for the showing.  That was fine with me, as it meant that we would not have to deal with rude audience members.  So we settled in and started the movie.

Julie and Julia is the story of a woman who seemed at a loss as to what to do in life while all of her friends were becoming huge successes.  After a night of bemoaning her situation to her boyfriend, she turns a passing interest in cooking into a full-blown experiment of cooking for one year like Julia Child.  What follows is a deftly managed tale of two women trying to find a place in the world and making the most of opportunities.

What truly makes this movie is the casting.  Meryl Streep was wonderful as Mme. Child, with great support from Stanley Tucci as her husband.  Amy Adams allowed me to generate goodwill towards Julie, even though I wanted more of Julia’s story; besides, Julie was a brat in the movie.  While I would not classify this as a comedy, there were a number of comedic moments.

As the more faithful readers know, it is not just the movie I review, but the surrounding experience.  I enjoyed the company I had, which is a good thing considering what happened.  With about 30-45 minutes left, the film broke and came to a stop.  OK, no big deal, the projectionist will see this and fix it.  We waited about 5-10 minutes until we realized that no one was up there.  What followed was a 30-minute quest to find someone who worked in the theater.  After recruiting mall security, an employee was located and the movie was fixed.  As we began watching, I noticed an employee enter and stand off to the side.  I figured he was there to give us passes as we left the theater once the movie was over.


He actually came over to us and handed us passes and TALKED to us during a DIALOG-heavy movie.  But he was gone quickly.  Then the next issue hit.  The A/C was turned off well before the end of the movie, creating a very hot theater.  The next day, I found myself doing something I had not done before with regards to theaters – I sent an email to Carmike Cinemas outlining the issue.  To their credit, I was promptly sent two free passes to any movie.

Good job, Carmike.

My advice: See it if it is still playing – otherwise, definitely catch it on DVD….


I should know better by now….

Whenever Rich and I decide to meet up for a movie, the ones I pick end up being better than the ones he picks.  This is particularly true when I pick one movie and we change to his choice at the last minute.  This happened a couple of weeks ago when meeting at The Plaza Cinema Cafe for a cheap movie.  He decided he wanted to see Pandorum, admitted that it would be awful, and yet I still agreed to see it.

Imagine a spacecraft….drifting in space…..with the crew in hypersleep.  Something wakes them up and they realize things have gone horribly wrong.  If this sounds familiar, then you are correct.  I just described Alien from 1979, which also applies to this movie.  What follows is a convoluted mess that involves mind games and boogey men.  Even Dennis Quaid couldn’t save this movie…

My advice: Never let Rich pick movies, and skip this one completely…

Superman Batman – Public Enemies

Over the past year or so, I have been rather effusive with my praise for DC Comics and Warner Brothers for understanding how to make animated movies and keeping the quality up.  So here I am again with a review of yet another offering from the DC Animated Universe.

Our story is based on the popular graphic novel of the same name, which is really the first 5-8 issues of the Superman-Batman comic book series.  Lex Luthor is President and has turned public sentiment against those superheroes that “refuse” to swear an oath of loyalty to him…err….the US. A subplot deals with the approach of a huge kryptonite meteor.  What follows is a story with a good beginning, okay middle, and, sadly, poor ending.  My first warning sign was the running time of 67 minutes, just over the amount of time for two episodes of Justice League.  I liked where the story was going and then it was bam!!  In the final 15 minutes, everything that had been set up was completely resolved with little effort.  The last time I felt this dissatisfied with a DC movie was when I watched Superman:Doomsday.  Neither movie did anything to wow me…

I bought the Blu-Ray version, so I can not review the added features.  I watched this via the digital copy provided.

My advice:  Good enough to kill time, but do not expect the level of goodness that you get from Green Lantern: First Flight or Justice League: The New Frontier….