MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: Vacation

Only one test is necessary to judge a comedy—does it make you laugh?—and by the conditions of that test, the Warner Home Video release, Vacation, is a success. The slapstick, character humor and absurdist punctuations are plentiful, are linked by a coherent narrative, and are supported by a generally benign premise. There is hardly anything that is alienating about the 2015 feature, and plenty that is amusing. The one problem is that the film is a direct sequel to the original National Lampoon’s Vacation. That 1983 film, feeding a hunger for more movies like Animal House and more films from Saturday Night Live cast members, was a blockbuster, and this Vacation cannot possibly achieve the memories of humor (not necessarily the real humor, just the nostalgic memory for it—the movie itself even makes a direct meta-joke about that) the previous film represents.

Ed Helms stars as a commercial pilot who wants to take his family on a similar vacation to the one—depicted in the earlier film—he went on as a child. Christina Applegate plays his wife, and Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo have an extended cameo when the family stops off at the grandparents’ house. They have two sons, and one of the film’s consistently funny gags is that the younger son utterly dominates the older one, like a Chihuahua terrorizing a shepherd. They go on their trip, disastrous incidents occur, and they bond a little tiny bit from the experience.

The movie has also been issued as a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD, with more special features, which is the only real reason to consider it, although the best feature, 12 minutes of fully amusing deleted scenes, appears on both.  If the picture quality is a little sharper on the BD, and the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is a little stronger, that hardly matters.  There is an audio track that describes the action (“Rusty drives as everyone else sleeps.  He looks out his window to see a smoking hot blonde driving a red convertible in the next lane.  She smiles at him flirtatiously.  Rusty points to himself quizzically.  She seductively waves.  He waves back, then playfully points to his wedding ring.  She shrugs, then continues flirting.  Rusty nods with her.  She blows a kiss.  He catches it, then gives a salute.  She keeps flirting.  Rusty smiles bashfully.  He looks away as she changes lanes to the left.  She moves into oncoming traffic, and a huge semi-truck demolishes her.”), alternate French and Spanish audio tracks, optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, and a 2-minute tourism plug for the state of Georgia, where the film was shot.  In addition to that, the BD has Portuguese audio and subtitles tracks, a 2-minute blooper reel with a couple of choice moments, and 28 minutes of promotional featurettes that include a lot of Chase and D’Angelo.

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott