Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Film Review: VACATION

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures.  All rights reserved.

            Going to the movies should be a comforting experience.  An air-conditioned, dark room with a flickering light flying above you.  A comfy seat to sit in with popcorn in your lap & a drink in the cup holder to your right.  The horny teenagers seated in front of you not caring if you see them about to go at it.
            But what if the experience isn’t satisfying?  What if the movie projected by the light from above is a dud?  What if the movie is a remake/reboot/sequel/shameless cash grab of a funny 30 year old movie?  What if the jokes…weren’t funny?!?!
            Budget airline pilot Rusty Griswald (Helms) wants to take his family on a GREAT vacation.  Instead of going to the cabin like they’ve done every year, Rusty plans to relive the trip of a lifetime from childhood: Walley World.  Renting a car & dragging his wife Debbie (Applegate) and their two boys along for the ride in a goofy rental car.  Along the way, they have detours at Deb’s sorority, Rusty’s sister's ranch and Four Corners National Park.  And not a single moment is enjoyable, funny or touching.
            If you’ve been alive & own a television the past three weeks, you’ve been seeing ads for VACATION.  One in particular features a throwback to the scene in the 1983 original where Christie Brinkley drives alongside the Griswold station wagon in a red convertible & flirts with Clark that led to a fascinating & humorous subplot.  Today, it’s still a red convertible but the young lady is a random blonde & the scene ends with her running head on into a semi truck.  That scene is the perfect representation of everything wrong with this movie and the reboot/remake culture in the film industry in general.  Writers/first-time directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein have such reverence for the original that they know exactly how to hit the nostalgia chords in its fans by making specific references.  But the references add nothing to the very weak story.
            VACATION is not about the Griswold family trying to enjoy a road trip vacation.  The movie centers on the boring relationship of Rusty & Debbie.  The family goes from set piece to set piece but the story always centers on Debbie complaining about how her life & marriage has gone limp and leaves the boys as two of the many forgettable side characters.  And the only people more bored than Debbie with their marriage are the paying customers in the movie theatre.  Daley & Goldstein, after all the references to the original, don’t understand what made the original beloved: a family’s ability to bond over the trials & tribulations of a road trip family vacation.  Instead, we get Debbie whining in private to the oblivious Rusty.  Good times!
            How do you make Leslie Mann unfunny?  How do Chevy Chase & Beverly D’Angelo appear in a movie together & not make me chuckle?  I’ve laughed at Christina Applegate in the past.  I’ve howled at Ed Helms too.  So much comedic talent like Charlie Day, Ron Livingston & Keegan-Michael Key in supporting roles are wasted as none of their characters or any character for that matter are the least bit funny or interesting.  All blame for this movie’s failure lies at the feet of Daley & Goldstein as writers.  A majority of the humor is of the sophomoric variety with scenes involving puking, swimming in raw sewage and the misunderstanding of sex terms.  They set out to make an ‘R’-rated movie but didn’t use the rating to its full potential.  All they did was add expletives to childish PG-13 situations to appease the 10 & 13-year-olds next to me.  The Estate of John Hughes should have sued for making a movie this juvenile with his baby.

            VACATION is a lifeless, joyless exercise in stupid: Stupid characters, stupid situations, and stupid “humor” for stupid ticket buyers.  I’m waiting for the day when an audience will revolt against a movie that insults their intelligence.  VACATION should have been a movie for those who saw the original on cable at age 7 in 1986 and has his first night out in a while with his wife w/o the kids.  Instead, the movie was made for his kids.  And the movie is too stupid for its target audience.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I do not own the above photo.  Copyright Skydance Productions.  All Rights Reserved.

            I’ve been attending preview screenings for almost four years now in Pittsburgh.  I’ve seen some wonderful things in that time.  At my first screening, the audience sang along to “The Rainbow Connection” during THE MUPPETS.  I saw a middle aged guy freak out after being told he had to leave a screening of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMEN.  I’ve also witnessed some bizarre & depressing things, especially lately.  I’ve seen 250+ people leave in dead silence after THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.  I’ve listened to people laugh their asses off during THE OTHER WOMAN.  But Monday night, my screening of TERMINATOR GENISYS featured the most mind-boggling thing I’ve witnessed at one of these: a vast majority of the audience gave the biggest applause I’ve heard at one of these screenings.  I knew three people in the audience who didn’t cheer: Barb Vancheri of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, my wife and myself.
            TERMINATOR GENISYS, the fifth in a series of films based on the characters created in 1984 by James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd, features yet another attempt to bilk the public of its hard earned money telling the story of how John Connor (Jason Clarke) is supposed to save mankind with the help of his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) & her guardian Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney).  This time around Alan Taylor of THOR: THE DARK WORLD fame is in the director’s chair with a script co-written by the writer of LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, ALEXANDER and SHUTTER ISLAND Laeta Kalogridis and the writer/director of DRIVE ANGRY 3D Patrick Lussier.  The only credit I will give them is bringing back Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800.  He is the lone pure bright spot of the $155 million proceedings.
            What the three veteran filmmakers have created here is less an intriguing story furthering the legend of John Connor and more of a reboot that contains more fan service than original thought. (If you do not want any of the callbacks spoiled, skip to the next paragraph)  Throughout the 126 minute runtime, there are numerous references to the slightest details from the previous movies that add nothing to the story that is being told in this movie.  For instance, the T-1000 makes an appearance as an Asian police officer, I assume to give the appearance of racial diversity in the movies.  He gets two boring action scenes then disappears.  So much for that.  Numerous shots from the previous movies are replicated from the first two installments.  But the big tip off to the nostalgia factor this movie wanted to create was with Miles Dyson.  Miles Dyson, originally played by Joe Morton, is the CEO of Cyberdyne and was responsible for the technology that creates Skynet.  Dyson, not played by Morton, appears in two scenes that allow him to play no part in moving the plot forward before never being mentioned again.  The guy seated next to my wife would have been really helpful for this paragraph since he alerted his girlfriend to every single reference to the previous movies quite loudly during the movie.
            TERMINATOR GENISYS feels like an attempt to do what 2009’s STAR TREK did: reinvigorate the franchise while twisting the mythology of the series.  But GENISYS failed miserably because Kalogridis & Lussier wrote a hesitant (and childish) screenplay.  J.J. Abrams & crew didn’t hold back by going big, going bold &, most importantly, going quickly by changing a major piece of Star Trek canon in the opening five minutes.  GENISYS, on the other hand, spends about 15 minutes pretty much recapping the entire John Connor/Kyle Reese War against Skynet and their machines for us in one the movie’s many short & meaningless action pieces.  When Reese is sent into the past to protect Sarah Connor, a simple, silly action occurs that causes a ripple effect throughout time and canon.  This action creates numerous convoluted deviations from the original canon and a “twist” so absurd & infuriating that I’d swear it was written for a movie in 2001 after the success of THE SIXTH SENSE.  Additionally, the “twist” unintentionally rips off a major plot point from one of its own predecessors.  This turn of events and the anticipation of what other absurd ideas Taylor, Kalogridis & Lussier could pull out of the asses while high off of them prevented me from being bored to death.  In a way, yes, the movie was fleetingly “so bad, it’s good” but not nearly enough for any sort of recommendation.  I do recommend, however, running out of the theatre once the credits start rolling.  Otherwise, you will be treated to one of the worst post-credit scenes, rivaling the scene at the end of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND.
            TERMINATOR GENISYS is the most expensive piece of fan fiction ever created.  Fan fiction created by nine year olds who have only seen the first two TERMINATOR movies as aired on FXX with its tame dialogue, action scenes and lack of any real excitement.  It’s a little comforting seeing Arnold on screen again.  I just hope he (and the preview audience I saw it with) make (and see) better movies.  I won’t be holding my breath.  Just my applause.