Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Couples Retreat


Let’s make a list about “Couples Retreat.” Pros: The movie promotes marriage as a lifelong commitment, and it promotes Guitar Hero. Cons: This movie is entirely about sex.

How many dirty jokes and sexual implications does it take to ruin a good film? “Couples Retreat” proves that sex, even when not explicitly shown, can overstay its welcome. Familiar actors and an endearing plot make this overblown film more enjoyable for viewers if they can get past the sex.

Four couples struggling with their marriages fly to Eden Resort, a tropical paradise with lots of relationship-building activities thrown in. While Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are anxious to work their problems out, Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), Shane and his 20-year-old girlfriend Trudy, and Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) sign up thinking the couples’ activities are optional.

Reality hits, however, when they realize the couples program is not optional. This paradise may be closer to an abyss that will reveal, rather than solve, problems. Jason and Cynthia, who communicate through perfect slideshows, must learn to loosen up and to not hold each other to standards of perfection.

As Joey and Lucy begin to cheat on each other, they realize the joys of the world are not as enjoyable as a loving marriage. Trudy’s energy wares Shane down, and an unexpected visitor forces him to reconsider his past decisions. Lastly, Dave and Ronnie become dependent on each other. All the adventures lead up to a battle of the sexes, and a Guitar Hero battle between Dave and a resort employee.

“Couples Retreat” focuses on Dave and Ronnie in particular. While the other couples add plenty of comedy, their relationships don’t get enough screen time for the audience to care about the resolutions to their stories. Scenes with couples activities go by too fast for any chemistry or plot to develop. In the end, Dave and Ronnie’s reconciliation stands above those of the other couples as truly relatable, believable and enjoyable.

While Vaughn and Akerman make their characters real and honest, the rest of the cast becomes wasted talent, especially Jean Reno (“The Pink Panther” and “The Da Vinci Code”), who plays the mystic Marcel, the head of Eden Resort and a well-known “couples whisperer.” Reno’s scenes are pointless and do not take advantage of his potential to create any good laughs.

When Marcel appears, it feels like the film will take a Will Ferrell route or turn into a version of “Balls of Fury.” Marcel’s mystic approach to marriage feels fake, and scenes that show his resort employees fooling around and playing Guitar Hero don't help. Perhaps Marcel is meant to make the viewer laugh, but most of the time he doesn’t.

The constant sexual jokes do not add to the laughter either. Some jokes do amuse, but sexual references in front of kids and frequent scenes of women in their underwear warrant some question. Although the film’s one sex scene shows nothing explicit, a man’s naked backside appears, and one scene shows the couples practicing yoga positions that are clearly sexual.

How many of these scenes are really needed? There are other, cleaner ways to show a man is unfaithful to his wife – ways that are not nearly as raunchy and distasteful as the ones shown in “Couples Retreat.”

Does sex sell? Obviously writers Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”) think so. And we can’t forget the typical jokes like the little boy peeing in a home decor store’s display toilet.

“Couples Retreat” may be a comedy, but it disgusts just as often as it entertains. Director Peter Billingsly (You remember, that kid from “A Christmas Story”) has not done as well as he could have for his directorial debut.

Despite its cons (sex, sex, and more sex) “Couples Retreat” has its pros and still makes for a fun comedy, if viewers can get past the sexual content. The film’s small amount of genuine comedy and its ultimate message of lifelong commitment and loving relationships make it worth seeing — at least once it reaches the dollar theater. Plus, a little Guitar Hero makes even the worst movie more enjoyable.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Toy Story 3-D Review



Who can say anything bad about Pixar? The company consistently puts out amazing stories filled with incredible characters that always manage to captivate large audiences.

Toy Story, the first ever feature-length computer animated film, and Toy Story 2 are no exceptions, so it’s obvious that Pixar’s decision to re-release the two films in 3-D would only amplify the phenomenon. The colors, the creativity, the fun, and the fact that beloved toys have returned to reach beyond the screen and touch the viewer’s heart ... Oh, yes, the Toys are back in town! You’re never too old to have some fun with these characters.

After the 1995 release of Toy Story, fans waited four years for Pixar to release the sequel, but now they can watch the two films back to back for the price of one ticket (a bonus, especially for broke college students).

Toy Story follows Woody the cowboy’s fight to keep his spot as Andy’s favorite toy when Andy gets the latest and greatest Buzz Lightyear toy. In Toy Story 2, Woody finds out that he’s a collector’s item with a toy family he never knew about including Jessie the cowgirl, Bullseye the horse, and Stinky Pete the Prospector.

The successful films inspired two rides at the Disney Resort parks and a cartoon television series about Buzz Lightyear. Now, Toy Story 3-D will make new fans and reacquaint old friends before the release of Toy Story 3 on June 18, 2010. Before the movie begins, a new trailer for the third installment plays alongside a trailer for A Christmas Carol in 3-D. A 10-minute intermission between movies will also entertain audiences with its fun facts, trivia, and film shorts.

It’s always a delight to see classics revamped for the modern audience, but what happens when you take two films not made for 3-D and convert them to the new format? Unfortunately, you’re bound to get a result that could have been better had it only been made originally for 3-D. If only the angle of vision given to viewers would change just a few degrees in certain scenes and there were a way to make these 3-D versions fresh and exciting. Some viewers who don’t consider the big screen a major factor in the enjoyment of a film may prefer to stay at home and watch the DVDs.

As the opening credits jump out at viewers, they can only hope the rest of the films will feel just as real and as much a part of the room. The use of 3-D technology in the double feature does create a clear and crisp picture, and it brings extra life to the living toys. A few scenes shot from character’s points of view make the 3-D effect seem special, but for the majority of the films viewers can take their 3-D glasses off and see just fine. On the bright side, this makes it easier for audience members with weak vision to enjoy the movies.

Despite the defects, the 3-D does add something to the films, and this reviewer can’t get past the Pixar factor. 3-D or not, Pixar films are always able to display crisp animation, realistic characters (even if they are toys), and touching stories. These films will remind viewers of their own favorite childhood toys. In the eyes of a child and with a bit of imagination, toys in the real world can come alive, too.

At the core of these films, a child’s spirit comes to life and uplifts audience members. The films show that, like Woody, Buzz, and Jessie, everyone needs to feel loved. A talented voice cast helps convey the emotions that come with such friendships, rejections, and decisions. With Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Joan Cusack as Jessie, and Kelsey Grammer as the Prospector, the double feature makes for a delightful break from life’s complications. The only thing missing is a traditional Pixar short before each film.

Pixar fans will not want to miss this limited, two-week engagement of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3-D, which opens October 2.

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