I threw all my plans out the window when I got a very cool package in the mail from a cool PR person! As a result, you’ll have to wait to find out more of my favorite 2020 film experiences and instead dive into my all-time favorite body swap stories from TV, animation, movies and comics!
I was pretty excited about Couples Retreat when I first heard about it. The cast is killer. I’m a big fan of Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman and putting them all together seems like it would be comedy gold. Plus there’s plenty of eye candy in the ladies (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis). I don’t mean to sound like a total pig, I’m just not familiar with them beyond Watchmen, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and hating Sex in the City. I didn’t know anything about Faizon Love or his partner in the movie.
In the end it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. There were definitely funny parts with each person doing their shtick (Bateman’s the neurotic, Vaughn talks fast and Favreau plays a jerk again). I did like that Vaughn actually comes off as a pretty good guy as opposed to say his character in Old School. But there were a few things that kind of put me out of the movie. It definitely feels like a bunch of friends wanted to make a movie together with beautiful women in an exotic locale.
Another problem comes from the fact that, with the exception for Favreau and Davis, none of the couples seem to be appropriately matched age-wise. Vaughn and Ackerman have been together for eight years and I just barely buy it. Even worse is Bell who may never not look like a high school detective whose show I never watched.
The plot also seems to be a little all over the place. They go to a resort that’s supposed to be a regular resort but then turns out to be a full-on couples place, which everyone but Bateman and Bell are bummed about as they were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place (I thought they were actually playing a trick on the others who seem to have more problems than them). The relationship trouble all flies, but then there’s this whole thing with a party island and everyone going there and a really ripped yoga instructor (that did have me laughing). Anyway, it was a fun enough movie, but didn’t have a quickness that I wanted from it.
Interestingly enough, this documentary following a series of stand-up comics headed up by Vaughn did offer the snappiness I wanted from Couples Retreat. The comics are Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst and Sebastian Maniscalco and they’re all pretty great. Instead of showing full sets, we get snippets of their acts as they travel through 30 cities. We also get walk-ons from Vaughn, Justin Long, Dwight Yoakam, Favreau and Couples Retreat director (and Ralphie from A Christmas Story) Peter Billingsley.
Aside from showcasing a great group of comedians the movie does a few other things that I really appreciated and bumped it up from being just a great stand-up movie. First off, one of the guys makes a really interesting point about stand-up nowadays: guys headlining tours like they are were getting huge and starring in sitcoms in the 80s and 90s, but now they’re struggling to survive (one of the guys was a waiter leading up to the tour). I also think it’s cool to see how positive Vaughn is throughout the movie. Sure he’s got his quick, biting sense of humor, but he’s also really supportive of the guys after they have a lousy set. It’s also fun to see him geek at different times.
But what really elevates the movie is how it deals with Hurricane Katrina, which hit while they were touring. In fact, they had to change a few venues because of it and donated the proceeds from those shows. They also went to a camp ground acting as a shelter some of the displaced people. I give the director and editor kudos for portraying this honestly, with the guys not really wanting to do it and then going and enjoying the experience. It’s just more honest that way. Good stuff all around.
Fred Claus wasn’t a great movie. I give Director David Dobkin, who also directed star Vince Vaughn in one of my favorite movies Wedding Crashers, a lot of credit for trying to bring some grown-up elements to your basic Santa Claus story (someone wants to stop Christmas and while it looks like the villain will succeed, in the end good wins over reformable evil). But, in the end, without Vaughn, I don’t think this would have been much of a movie. He basically plays the same character he did in Crashers, which is pretty much the same character he plays in everything. That’s not a complaint mind you. Vince Vaughn is like AC/DC records, I don’t care if they keep doing the same thing over and over again because I generally like the end product. I will say that there were lines seemingly lifted right from Crashers. I didn’t make any notes, but I feel like there are a lot of lines borrowed/re-used from Vaugn and Owen Wilson’s opening with the couple who are getting a divorce. Anyway, the plot revolves around two brothers, Nick (Paul Giamatti) and Fred (Vaughn) Claus. Nick’s generosity makes him a saint somehow (though God is never mentioned oddly enough) and when you become a saint your parents, immediate family and spouse all become immortal (huh?). So, while Nick’s making toys at the North Pole, Fred is a repo man who wants to start his own business, but he needs some start-up money that he asks his brother for. In exchange for the cash, Nick says Fred has to come to the North Pole and work in the naughty/nice department. MEANWHILE, there’s an efficiency expert sent from some kind of holiday executive board (as far as I know this is never actually explained, but this bad guy says his organization is getting rid of the Easter Bunny among other holiday changes). The bad guy is played by Kevin Spacey. Spacey does all kinds of things to sabotage Santa, which means he’ll get shut down and operations will be moved to the South Pole. While he’s there, Vaughn tries to get the elves and other folks to loosen up and have fun.
Everyone does a good job in their roles. John Michael Higgins and Ludacris play elves, while Elizabeth Banks plays a more human-sized character (again, this isn’t really explained as far as I caught). I kept comparing this movie to Elf, which is my favorite Christmas movie to come out in a decade. It’s got similar themes with the real world and Santa’s one interacting, relationships being built, nearly destroyed and then rebuilt and lots of funny moments, but Fred Claus just doesn’t get it’s emotional hooks in me like Elf does. There are really fun moments like when Vaughn gets the elves dancing and an early one in which Vaughn gets chased by a bunch of Salvation Army Santas for panhandling in a Santa hat without authorization. I think what threw me off most was that the tone kept shifting between a family movie and a more adult one. Heck, my two favorite moments speak to that. The dancing is very kid-friendly and fun while the Santa fight is a bit more mean spirited. Elf seemed to balance those varying elements majestically, while Fred keeps shifting quickly and obviously back and forth, pulling you out of the story. There’s also an underlying darkness that Vaughn brings that I’m not sure was intended (when he’s framed for doing bad things and gets tricked by Spacey into disliking his brother even more, he looks like he’s riding the Horse instead of just feeling betrayed).
So, I wouldn’t really recommend Fred Claus to you unless you’re a Vince Vaughn completist (and if you are you’ve probably already seen it) because of the strange tone shifts. Instead, go watch Elf or White Christmas, it’s an oldie but a goody.
So, the wife had to work on Saturday. Bummer for her, good for my movie watching. I got to flipping through my DVD binder (hey, gotta conserve space, right?) and I got to the O’s. We were flipping through channels the night before and caught the beginning of Old School, the part where Luke Wilson comes home early and his wife has some people over for a little group sex (can I say that?). The way they edited it to cut out all the boobs was pretty funny. So, that made me want to watch it again. After that I still had a little time so I popped on Office Space.
Back in college I watched Old School a lot. I was actually in a fraternity at the time called Alpha Sigma Phi. Before you start making rash judgments (hey, I made the same ones before I met these guys) this isn’t the kind of fraternity you see on TV in movies (like Old School) or hear about on the news. Anyway, a large group of us went to see Old School when it came out and it quickly worked its way into my life. I had actually forgotten how many of the little things I say come from this flick. (“Good talk, see you out there” “earmuffs” just to name two.)
The other thing that surprised me about Old School is how many guys in it have kind of blown up. The dude who plays Spanish is on Reaper and one of the dudes is on Big Bang Theory (a great show if you haven’t seen it). There’s more, but I’ve forgotten them. It’s been a few days.
I’ve seen most (maybe all) of the Frat Pack movies since this one and I’ve got to say, only Wedding Crashers comes close to Old School. There’s just something about the combination of Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn that lights up the screen with comedy fireworks. Add in director Todd Phillips and you’ve got comedy gold. I’m hoping the oft-rumored sequel goes through.
When it came out, the comedy landscape wasn’t looking too good. We’d weathered the storm of bad teen comedies, bad spoof flicks and studio-churned lameo comedy and Old School was our gift. I’d like to think it paved the way for Judd Apatow and his crew as well, which is awesome cause I can’t freaking wait for Pineapple Express to come out.
So, like I said, after I peeped Old School I moved on to Office Space which is great for anyone whose ever had a job. You can’t watch it without being reminded of SOMEONE you work with. Yeah, you know it’s true, unless you’re the person yourself. Anyway, it’s nice to watch someone break out of the corporate mold and have some fun even if it involves crime. It’s like a funny Wanted (the comic) without all the unnecessary violence and sexual assault.
Office Space is another one of those movies with a slew of catch phrases and tag lines. The first time I saw it I actually came in 15 minutes late and just though he decided to not go to work (instead of the hypnosis thing from the guy who used to be on Whose Line is It Anyway). It was still good even missing the beginning. Oh, I also liked Jen Aniston, even though she’s basically playing the same part she’s been playing since Leprechaun (and on into Friends). And finally, Diedrich Bader, who I just interviewed for ToyFare #135 (he’s the voice of Batman in the upcoming Brave and the Bold, which looks rad) rocks the house as Lawrence the neighbor who’d do two chicks if he was given a million bucks. Go Lawrence.
Well, I think that about wraps up my ramblings on the subjects. Thanks for paying attention.