28 October 2009

Squanderland

University and employment suck a little, not unlike the only two new films I've had time to see since the last post. On the plus side, I now have the new computer sorted, pending a couple of minor technical bugbears, so can now blog a bit more regularly again. As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion on here- others are available. So here goes with Couples Retreat and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.
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Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is about an average teen called Darren Shan, whose life changes after he and his best friend Steve go to a freak show and run afoul of Crepsley, a performer who is also a vampire. Crepsley's spider bites Steve, forcing Darren to make a deal with Crepsley to save his friend's life. Thus Darren becomes a vampire and joins the Cirque du Freak, incurring the wrath of an opposing caste who are looking to end a hundred-year truce and start a war between vampires. Yep, it's yet another vampire film and that's where it falls down.

The film centres on Darren, Crepsley and their conflict with the Vampanese, the type of vampire that kills their prey rather than just taking whatever non-life-threatening amount of blood they need to survive. But elsewhere in the film, there's a creepy gangster with the power to resurrect dead people, a bloke with two stomachs, and a bearded lady played by Salma Hayek. All of these are more interesting ideas than the umpteenth reinvention of vampires, and it's lost in the pea soup that is Cirque du Freak. John C. Reilly plays Crepsley, and he's reliable enough as an actor that he carries every scene he's in. The trouble is that our intrepid hero is played by newcomer Chris Massoglia, an actor so leaden that he brings everything else down. It's not entirely his bad- the film's pretty terribly edited, and given the timing of its release, you have to wonder if it was rushed out in time for Halloween. It takes ages to get going, and then once it does, approximately not much happens. The last minute appendage of the Vampire's Assistant subtitle suggests they're planning sequels, but that most likely won't happen now that the film has bombed on its opening weekend at the American box office.

The film is being marketed and reviewed as "Twilight for teenage boys", and whatever my feelings on That Franchise, it's a shame that the potential for this has been squandered in order to appeal to an apparently ready-made audience. I didn't hate the film, it just massively disappointed me. Reilly makes a valiant effort and there is one really good joke in the middle of it, but the poor pacing and Disney-brand moral message at the end make the film thoroughly unremarkable. Cirque du Freak doesn't suck, but it lacks bite, and that's as much wordplay as I can be bothered to think up for a film so forgettable.

On the other hand, we have Couples Retreat, a comedy largely aimed at people who've ever wanted to watch Vince Vaughn present Wish You Were Here. Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell are considering divorce because of their seeming inability to conceive. They decide to book a couples' skill-building holiday at a tropical paradise called Eden. They drag three other couples along with them, promising that they can enjoy the sun and surf instead of the rigorous couples therapy. Instead, they're told by an officious Peter Serafinowicz that all eight of them have to partake in the whole programme as well as all the fun activities. Hilarious romantic hijinks ensue. And yes, Bateman and Bell's characters do have names, as do Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, but that doesn't really matter, seeing as how plot is secondary to these actors going off and filming on an island somewhere in the Mediterranean.

See, the film I just described would seem to be about couples realising they have issues in their relationships and having to work hard to sort those out. The couples bicker and fight, contrary to their idyllic surroundings. And yet the only picture I could find to illustrate this was the above holiday snap of a publicity picture. That's what it is- Vince Vaughn decided to go on holiday with some other actors, and now you're paying for it in multiplexes. The script is utterly devoid of laughs, so I urge you not to go and finance their holiday. It's a real shame to see the likes of Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell and Jon Favreau in this though- all three are decent comedy actors, and should really have known better. All acquit themselves rather well, but I still don't like Vince Vaughn, I'm afraid. There's really little more to say except that the amount of product placement in this is distractingly huge. Everyone make sure they go to Appleby's after the film, and then write about it on Facebook on your Apple Mac before you go and play Guitar Hero. Powerpoint. Will anyone be watching this in just twenty years time? It's going to be hideously dated in about two years.

Couples Retreat has about as much entertainment value as a tourist brochure, and it's a shameful exercise for certain comedy actors who really should've put their artistic integrity before the temptation of being paid to spend time on an island paradise. I don't begrudge anyone who has the money to go and do that, just please don't give the world your holiday videos to sit through afterwards. Probably the worst thing any of the main cast (except Vince Vaughn) has ever been in.
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I'm off to see Fish Tank shortly, and I hear that's a really good film, so looking forward to that. Other than that, still need to see Fantastic Mr. Fox, 9 and Saw VI. Expect any one of those four in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you've seen either Couples Retreat or Cirque du Freak, please comment on this post and let me know what you thought- always like a bit of discussion and feedback.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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