Both the characters and the tone have been updated as a new generation of Grizwolds hits the road for a raucous holiday, eliminating the darker edges for a sillier, ruder romp. After the four madcap Vacation movies from 1983 to 1997, the focus moves from Chevy Chase's patriarch Clark to his now-grown son Rusty. As with the earlier films, there are so many jokes flying at the screen that some are bound to make us laugh.
Ed Helms is the fifth actor in five films to play Rusty, and now he's got a family of his own. So he decides to give them a holiday to remember, retracing his childhood trip from Chicago to Wally World in California. His wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) isn't so sure about this, but gamely goes along with it, while their bickering teen sons James and Kevin (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) settle into the back seat for the long drive. Along the road, they stop at Debbie's old university and learn a few things about her wild reputation. They also visit Rusty's sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) in Texas, where she's married to a swaggering rancher (Chris Hemsworth). And they drop in on Rusty's parents (Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo). In between, every stop brings a new moment of crazed mayhem.
The script is set up as an homage to the original movie, playfully riffing on the structure and set-pieces. Here, the comedy highlights include a dodgy natural hot springs and a death-defying bit of white-water rafting. All of this is infused with a surprisingly warm family dynamic amid constant gags about excrement and genitalia. Miraculously, writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein never get cynical about the Grizwolds. Rusty and Debbie are still hot for each other, while James and Kevin's vicious rivalry only reveals how much they look out for each other. All four actors are solid, with terrific comical timing and likeable performances.
Continue reading: Vacation Review
This generational drama strains so hard to be serious that it's almost laughable. Its big themes are only superficially addressed, while the bloated nearly two and a half hour running time could easily have been cut down simply by eliminating all of the emotive close-ups of actors with tears welling in their eyes. In other words, while there are the bare bones of a decent movie in here, it's been badly compromised to turn it into Oscar bait.
At least it starts well, with a sequence centred on Hank (Robert Downey Jr), a slick Chicago lawyer with a precocious daughter (Emma Tremblay) and an angry trophy wife (Sarah Lancaster) who has had enough. Hank's cold-hearted ways are a legacy of his estranged relationship with his father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the no-nonsense judge in a small-town Indiana town. Then Hank is called home when his mother dies, comforting his brothers Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio), whose injured hand ended his baseball career, and Dale (Jeremy Strong), who is mentally challenged. He also rekindles his youthful romance with waitress Sam (Vera Farmiga). Then Joseph is arrested for murder, and Hank steps in to help inexperienced lawyer CP (Dax Shepard) defend him against the shark-like prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton).
There isn't a single subtle element in this film, as the script is carefully constructed to pull our sympathies back and forth even though both Hank and Joseph are deeply unlikeable grumps. Downey and Duvall are good enough actors to make them watchable, but director David Dobkin (The Change-up) hammers every sentimental scene home with far too much force. And the script is so simplistic that it chickens out before anything interesting happens. Even the court case lacks something compelling to draw the audience in. It certainly doesn't help that the characters are all deeply contrived. Just one example: there's a disability for each of the three brothers: physical, emotional and mental.
Continue reading: The Judge Review
David Dobkin's movie 'The Judge' is the opener at Toronto Film Festival - a slot not traditionally associated with high quality.
David Dobkin, the filmmaker best known for his classic comedy Wedding Crashers, brings an altogether different film to the Toronto Film Festival this week. His legal drama The Judge, starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall, opens this year's festival on Thursday (August 4, 2014).
"I hadn't had an opportunity to really dig in and do something like this in 20 years," Dobkin told the Canadian Press of his foray into drama. "There are a lot of intense scenes in the movie. You would think that comedies are more fun to work on and they're not always as fun as they come out. This movie was strangely cathartic."
Continue reading: Downey Jr And 'The Judge' Set To Open Toronto Film Festival
Hank Palmer is a ruthless but excellent lawyer, despised by many of his peers for his habit of representing often blatantly guilty criminals. One day mid-trial however, he receives a call from home informing him of his mother's recent death. Reluctantly, he ventures back to the town of Carlinville, Indiana where he grew up to convene with his family ahead of the funeral. As he expected, the greeting between himself and his father - the local Judge Joseph Palmer - is particularly frosty. As a young college graduate, Hank was desperate to leave the harsh and unfriendly grasp of his father but when the town's sheriff tells him that Joseph is now a murder suspect, he begins to feel a grudging obligation to cast their differences aside and help him protest his innocence.
Continue: The Judge - Trailer
We may sigh heavily at the thought of yet another fairy tale blockbuster, but the filmmakers and cast here demand a bit more attention. And sure enough, it's refreshingly smarter and funnier than we expect. There are still the problems of unnecessary 3D and far too many digital characters, but the restless pace and the witty performances make it a lot of fun to watch.
It's Jack and the Beanstalk with added action mayhem, as orphaned farmboy Jack (Hoult) sells his horse for a bag of supposedly magic beans. When one inadvertently gets wet, a massive beanstalk manages to propel Princess Isabelle (Tomlinson) into the realm of the giants, reawakening a legend that had died off centuries ago. So the King (McShane) enlists Jack to join a rescue team of guards (including McGregor, Marsan and Bremner) and Isabelle's intended, the shifty Roderick (Tucci). Up above the clouds, they encounter two-headed giant Fallon (Nighy) and his nasty horde. But rescuing Isabelle is only the first problem they face.
The freewheeling plot zips along without pausing for breath, encompassing massive set pieces and more gritty battles as well as small moments of drama and romance. Meanwhile, Jack and Isabelle cast lusty glances at each other, even when they're in physical peril. Director Singer brings out the energy of the characters to keep us involved, playing on the vertiginous angles of the settings while playfully deploying fairy tale imagery in the sets, costumes and landscapes. it's understandably why he decided to digitally create the giants rather than have actors play them, but this leaves a hole where the monsters should be. Aside from Nighy's more obviously performance-captured face, all of them look like dead-eyed cartoons, which essentially turns the film into a medieval Transformers movie.
Continue reading: Jack The Giant Slayer Review
While Dave (Bateman) has become a successful lawyer, complete with gorgeous wife Jamie (Mann) and three kids, his childhood friend Mitch (Reynolds) is living like a slacker with a string of random women. One night they wish they had each other's life and the next morning they wake up in each other's skin.
Of course, after the initial wackiness, Mitch is going to have to learn how to take Dave's responsibilities seriously, while Dave will need to discover how to relax and live a little. But how can they return to their own bodies?
Continue reading: The Change-up Review
Mitch and Dave were the best of friends when they were younger but over the years, they have slowly grown apart. After running into each other on a night out, both men are jealous of the other's lives. Mitch is single and lives on his own, with a number of beautiful women for his pleasure. Dave meanwhile, has a modest pay check from working at a high status law firm, a beautiful wife, Jamie and three adorable kids, whom Mitch likens to 'mini drug addicts'.
Continue: The Change-Up Trailer
One scene will stay with me for the next six Christmases. Vince Vaughn, playing Santa Claus' dishonest brother Fred, attends a support group for second-banana siblings. Frank Stallone is there, sheepishly admitting that his faith in brother Sylvester faded with each new Rocky movie. Roger Clinton explains how difficult it was being "the First Brother." Fred tries to get a word in edgewise but ends up shouting at Stephen Baldwin (who is great, though we also would have accepted Daniel or Billy in the part).
Fred Claus needed two or three more thinking-outside-the-box scenes like this to help it become more than what it actually is: a fragile premise stuffed with hollow Christmas jokes that would collapse in a holiday heap if not for Vaughn's demonstrated charms.
The disgruntled older brother of jolly old St. Nick (played with warmth and patience by Paul Giamatti) isn't a character so much as the Vaughn persona we've seen in Wedding Crashers, The Break-Up, Old School, and Swingers. Dan Fogelman's script imagines an excuse to get Fred to the North Pole -- he needs $50,000 to open a bar, but Santa refuses the loan unless Fred works a few shifts in the family toy factory. Once in the winter wonderland, Fred avoids his judgmental mother (Kathy Bates), coaches an elf (John Michael Higgins) on how to woo one of Santa's beautiful helpers (Elizabeth Banks), and makes life difficult for an efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) who is threatening to shut Santa's operation down.
Fred falters because director David Dobkin never definitively chooses between making a kid-friendly money maker or an edgy comedy aimed at our inner teenage boy. The PG rating suggests the former, with tall Vaughn looming over pint-sized co-stars and sleeping in undersized beds (too bad his buddy, Jon Favreau, already milked similar visuals with Will Ferrell in the superior Elf). But the concept of sibling rivalry, the outsourcing of elfin labor, and the need for an intervention will fly over the heads of young ones like Santa's sleigh above snow-covered rooftops on Christmas Eve. Ho, ho, oh well. Maybe next time.
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