Gavin Grades The Movies

The Judge

Every Oscar season, which is September to December for anyone who doesn't know, I love to look and see what's getting buzz. I would say a conservative estimate on what gets nominated every year is 80% of the same old same old. Don't get me wrong; they're usually spectacular and the best films of the year. However you can smell an Oscar film from a mile away. The Judge is no different. It's filled with Oscar cliches and is essentially a paint-by-number to making a movie that The Academy often loves. Despite all that, there's a reason why that formula exists; it's effective.

The Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duval as a father/son team. Downey is the slick defense attorney who lives in the big city now. Duval is the grumpy old judge that still lives in the small Indiana town. They don't like each other due to a mysterious incident that reveals itself in pieces throughout the film. A sad thing brings them together and then another crushing event happens, in this case Duval's character is accused of killing someone he sentenced to prison with his car. Said event forces the two to stay together till it's resolved and in the process of doing so, they also resolve their differences. See, what I mean? It's a story you've seen many times before but those stories are usually good. This is no different.

The reason you see The Judge is not because it's going to be a Best Picture. You see The Judge because Downey and Duval are excellent. Both show a vulnerability that neither have before, especially Duval. The man is 83 and instead of hiding his age like everyone else does in Hollywood, he shines a spotlight on it and makes you weep at his frailty despite his stubbornness and will to carry on. Downey plays the same character he always does, which is just different degrees of Tony Stark-intensity, but it's such an enjoyable character that we can't look away. The difference here is that he has moments of big emotion that I can't remember him sharing with us in a very long time.

Director David Dobkin has made the best film of his career. The reason why that's not an impressive statement is because his career sucks. This guy hasn't made a good movie since 1998. Since then he's been wasting our time and disappointing us with movies like Fred Claus, Shanghai Knights, and The Change-Up. Yes, it's true he did Wedding Crashers but go back and watch it; it's not as funny as you remember. But that was in his past. Looking at his work on The Judge, it's not bad. You can tell he studied Oscar films and made a check-list because everything is there -- the sweeping shots of small town America, the smokey and dark courtrooms, grainy flashback footage, etc. It's not good but considering what he's done so far, it's his masterpiece.

Do I expect The Judge to win anything at this year's Academy Awards? No. Do I expect a nomination or two? Perhaps. Do I think it should win anything? Not really. Yes, it's true that I cried but I'm a softy who saw the movie when I was tired and since I became a father, anything that deals with family tension and resolution hits me right in the feels. I don't think anyone who isn't a critic who watches films with a skeptical eye will walk away from this feeling like they got jipped but you just might get it confused with a number of other movies that were about the same thing and done slightly better.

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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Sitting in my son's bedroom is a copy of the book this film is based on. Not only is it the same copy I loved and read hundreds of times as a kid but it's signed by the author Judith Viorst and made out to my son. I found this book hilarious as a child. The simple story of a boy named Alexander having just the worst day that gets more and more rotten until it ends is great and every kid and can relate to it. The book is only 32 pages long and I when I saw that Disney was turning it into a 90-minute live action feature, I knew it would be ugly. One thing that's to the advantage of movies that look terrible, horrible, no good and very bad before you see them, when it's slightly better than you think it makes it seem pretty great.

I probably should have seen at least some potential in the film since Miguel Arteta directed it. Alexander is actually a dramatic departure from the kind of comedy he's used to directing. He's done episodes of Freaks and Geeks, The Office, Nurst Jackie, Enlightened, and The Big C. He's also the guy behind Cedar Rapids and Youth in Revolt, two pretty underrated dark comedies. His brand is dark, twisted and very funny. The images you see in this and knowing it's a family comedy released by Disney made me think it was going to be made by hacks that do those type of films. You don't see a whole lot of Arteta's style in Alexander but just knowing he's behind the lens makes it a little better.

Another sign it wasn't going to be total crap was placing Steve Carrell as the patriarch of the family. There are very few things he's done that were terrible. The man is wildly talented and might even win an Oscar this year for Foxcatcher. He's not the star of the film but he's in it enough to make you laugh even when his dialogue is stupid or the scene is ridiculous. The rest of the cast is decent as well with Jennifer Garner, Kerris Dorsey (who was great in Moneyball), Dylan Minnette (who was also great in Let Me In and Prisoners) and newcomer Ed Oxenbould as Alexander. Oxenbould was an interesting choice because he's oddly shaped, has off-putting long hair and a prominent lisp but wrangles sympathy as the forgotten middle child.

You have to know when a children's book is being turned into a movie that they're going to change the story but what was changed was too much. The entire concept of what made the book amazing is lost. In fact, it's changed so much that it makes the title confusing. The plot for the film is Alexander, who seems to have bad luck every day, makes a wish on his birthday that his family would feel his bad luck for just one day. What happens after that is his family has the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and Alexander has everything work out in his favor. I'm not saying it's not effective but it's confusingly different from the book.

Here's the bottom line with a movie like this; it's harmless. Not everything made for children needs to be Frozen or Toy Story 3. It's possible to have a disposable family comedy that serves its purpose by making you chuckle and keeping your kids entertained for an hour-and-a-half. By Arteta doing his best with a controlling studio and a weird script, you end up with a film that's actually not terrible, horrible, no good or very bad at all.

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Gone Girl

When David Fincher releases another movie, everyone should take notice. The man has made so many incredible films with very few misfires (but there have been some). Hard to believe that it's been four years since The Social Network came out and killed it at the Oscars. Yes, it's true that he made the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since then but let's all pretend that never happened. Fincher has a style and tone that is unmistakable and impressively hard to duplicate. When I heard he was doing another novel adaptation (this is his fifth), I began to think that it was a little cliche but I think this might be one of his best yet.

Gone Girl is based on a book by Gillian Flynn who also adapted the screenplay. In the past, authors who write screenplays based on their own books often turn out awful, stilted and boring. That is the case for the first 15 minutes of Gone Girl but after that it transitions into very a impressive script that, with the help of Fincher, moves at a calm but brisk pace that makes the near 3-hour running time go by fast. It's also a story that is much better the less that you know. I'll refrain from saying anything about the plot and instead tell you to watch the trailer I posted above since it does a great job of staying ambiguous.

One thing that impressed me the most with Gone Girl was Fincer's casting decisions. For starters he has Tyler Perry as a slick lawyer. Perry is excellent and I'm shocked to say that. The man has over saturated the market with his stupid Medea character and slathers his name on so many awful sitcoms I forget that he is a great performer when he's not made up to look like a clown. Another unlikely casting is with Neil Patrick Harris as a creepy billionaire. Harris, as well, plays the character amazingly well and makes you forget that he's a comedic actor primarily. Even more risky than against-type casting is casting unknowns as big parts. Carrie Coon (HBO's The Leftovers) and Kim Dickens (FX's Son's of Anarchy, The Blind Side) are fantastic playing major parts despite not being recognizable performers. But even more shocking is casting Rosamund Pike (The World's End, Jack Reacher) as the lead! She will be an unknown no longer after this and may have even won herself an Oscar.

None of that is to slight the craft of Fincher though. The man tells a Hitchcock-ian tale as well as Hitchcock could have. Suspense is built making the movie frightening at times when there's no need for it to be at all. In addition to that is a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again. This one might be even better than their score for The Social Network. Fincher's signature haze to his shots adds to the dreamscape that is the story of Gone Girl which is very much grounded in modern reality yet still feels fantasy because it's so nuts.

We have a long, long way to go before the year comes to a close. Between now and then there are many films coming out that show massive promise. The Academy is a fickle bunch who tend to only remember and praise whatever they last saw. That being said, Gone Girl has the gut-punch power to stay with you for a while. I'm not saying that it's going to win Best Picture but I will say that it raised the bar and started the race.

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The Equalizer

When I was ten-years-old, my parents made me watch Glory with them when it came out on VHS.  The rated-R movie was way too much for my tiny brain; I still have the image of a man's head being blown up by a cannonball seared into my memory.  However, it was the first time I ever cried from a movie and it was almost entirely because of Denzel Washington's performance.  The scene where he's being whipped and sheds a single tear while never looking away from Matthew Broderick is so powerful that it won him the Oscar.  Ever since then, he's ruled the box office as a powerhouse who not only puts asses in seats but churns out quality performances too.  Never has that been more true than The Equalizer.

This film, by all accounts, is nothing more than cliche revenge action that you've seen many, many times over.  The super normal, mysterious guy has a history that involves kicking ass and killing fools but that was then and this is now but something happens and he just has to rain ass kickings down on the masses.  Yes, that's what it's about (it's based on an old TV show) and yes, it's cliche.  However, Washington makes the character so much broader than what are the paper-thin heroes we're used to seeing.  With a single look of stone he shoots one of his many victims, he conveys so much history and turmoil within the character and I don't think any other actor could have pulled that off.

Of course it takes a talented directed to realize that and allow that actor to do it.  That director is Antoine Fuqua, who previously worked with and won Washington an Oscar on Training Day.  Fuqua is back in fine form after a stumble with Shooter and Olympus Has Fallen.  He's a very talented guy that is pigeon-holed into action films that have zero to offer.  Perhaps one reason why he takes them is because he knows he can make something out of them if Hollywood stays out of his way and he's given the right people to work with.  Not only does he help Washington dazzle as his tortured and reluctant hero but also with Marton Csokas (Noah, Amazing Spiderman 2) who is amazingly villainous as a Russian mobster.  He looks like an evil Kevin Spacey but he's way more brutal than anything Spacey has done.

One thing you expect to see in almost every action film is the hero to be in trouble; if we don't see him/her struggle then we feel like the journey isn't really worth watching.  Washington's character is never, ever struggling, scared or even hurrying.  He's essentially Michael Myers in Halloween but as a good guy.  He's a cold-hearted killer that is in control of everything at all times.  It's unique because this isn't a bad thing and you enjoy the film more because of it.  There's a brief scene where we get the only insight into his past where he sees political friends of his, played by Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Oblivion) and Bill Pullman (Independence Day, While You Were Sleeping).  Leo's character says, "He didn't come here for help; he came for permission."  Great line but it shows all the cards to the audience and you feel like you can sit back and stop worrying.

If there's anything unenjoyable about The Equalizer it's that it's too long.  The damn thing ends like three times.  The other is a staggering underuse of Chloe Grace Moretz (Carrie, Kick-Ass).  These are minor violations,  however, and the bulk of this film is stellar.  It's a feel-good action revenge that goes down as smooth as chilled scotch because it's gory, violent, funny and charming.  Those are attributes that ONLY Denzel Washington can bring to a movie.  They're only qualities you can expect from a guy who can make the most unlikable people lovable and still manage to make me believe that he can kick some ass well into his AARP eligibilty.

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This is Where I Leave You

Director Shawn Levy is pretty amazing.  I don't mean he's amazing as in "he's an amazing director;" I mean he's amazing in that he can have a film with a really impressive cast and somehow make a terrible movie. If you go through his career, it's made up of wonderfully talented people like Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Tina Fey, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Hugh Jackman and manages to make some of the worst films in each of their careers.  This is Where I Leave You features another impressive cast and ruins it with that Shawn Levy curse.

Part of its failure isn't his fault.  This is Where I Leave You has a script based on a book that is a story we've seen a million times.  It's about a disfunctional family that has to come together for the funeral of the person who held them all together and they're not allowed to leave until they sort all their drama out.  This has been done amazingly well and it's been done awfully bad.  This is Where I Leave You is somewhere in the middle of those poles and I'm not sure if it could be done better than what we ended up with.

Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses, Bad Words) stars with Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver (Girls), Corey Stoll (FX's The Strain, Midnight in Paris), Rose Byrne (Insidious, Bridesmaids), and Kathryne Hahn (Anchorman, Bad Words).  It's an awesome cast that pulls off the disfunctional love very well.  Fey is the weak link in this as she takes a turn at some heavy drama.  As much as I love her, she can't fool anyone with her faux crying.  Tina, you can sound like you're crying all you want but if we don't see some eye sweat, we're onto you.  It's hard to say who the strongest link is but I think that award might go to Adam Driver who plays the black sheep so well that you can't not love him no matter how much you hate him.

If that sounds like a lot of characters, you're right.  That's the biggest problem with the film is that there are too many people and each person has their own subplot that has to be arced and wrapped up at the end.  This makes everything feel tedious and really drawn out.  The movie is just 100 minutes but it feels like a three-hour epic by the time it's done.  That takes us back to Shawn Levy not knowing when to say when.  It also comes from a guy who wrote the screenplay based on his own book.  I've never had the dream of adapting my book into a script but I'd imagine I would have a hard time cutting characters and stories, which is exactly what happened.

This is Where I Leave You is a harmless R-rated family dramedy that is generally enjoyed by most people on a date or middle age women looking for a night with girlfriends.  If that's what you want, this should go down relatively nicely.  But if you're looking for something original, well-formed, and swiftly paced...this isn't for you.  Yes, you will laugh.  Yes, you will cry.  Yes, you will look at your watch to see how long you've been sitting there.  And yes, you'll chuckle at the unintentional comedy of Tina Fey pretending to cry.  

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For those of you who may not remember the '90s, it was a rebirth in cinema.  Before YouTube, digital cameras and iMovie made it possible for anyone to make a quality film, there was another time when filmmaking was plucked out of the hands of the elite and rocked by a handful of nobodies who made films for almost no money that spawned an entire genre.  Guys like Edward Burns, Quentin Tarantino, Bryan Singer, Gus Van Sant and Kevin Smith were kings.  Smith was one of the most notorious because his films cost the least, he made every aspect of them himself and he mostly cast his friends as the lead roles.  He gained a reputation for being an amazing filmmaker with comedic talent that was sure to be cherished.  That, however, was in the '90s and it's been 15 years since he's made a good movie and Tusk isn't quite breaking that losing streak.

There's part of me that doesn't want to tell you what Tusk is about because you'll instantly judge it for being the kind of nonsensical crap that should appear on the Syfy Channel or Netfilx streaming.  On the other hand, I feel like you must know what it's about just so you're prepared.  It's a simple, cliche story about a guy who gets captured by a crazy sadist in the wilderness and tortured as he's turned into a human hybrid of a walrus.  Yeah.  I know that sounds stupid and it is.  But to understand the film's journey is to respect it a little bit more.  See, Smith has a podcast and on one of the episodes he was joking about a movie with this plot and talks the entire film out in a humorously improvised monologue.  That episode was so popular that his fans demanded he make that movie and, sure enough, he did.

Tusk stars Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers, Drag Me to Hell), Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense, A.I.) and Michael Parks (Kill Bill, From Dusk Till Dawn).  There's also a surprise A-list, Oscar-nominated actor who turns in one of the funniest performances of his career but I don't want to give it away because that would be rotten of me.  The one thing I love the most about Tusk is that all these actors believed in Smith's vision and commit to the script with ironclad conviction.  Long is forcing it at the beginning but once he becomes a victim, his agony is believed and his screams are pretty terrible.  Parks, as well, is always spectacular to watch as his natural flow of dialogue seems so easy.  His performance as the lunatic villain is downright joyful.

The problem with Tusk is, of course, Kevin Smith.  Smith and Quentin Tarantino have had similar careers.  They both came out of nowhere, were instantly hailed as saviors of cinema, given zero restrictions on their visions, amassed colossal egos and made successful films.  The difference is that Tarantino has true talent and Smith does not.  Yes, Kevin Smith has seen a lot of films but Tarantino is a student of the medium.  Tarantino doesn't just watch a movie and love it; he studies it and discects why it's amazing.  Smith doesn't have that discipline and it shows.  Tusk has moments of absolute greatness with scenes that are hilarious, others that are gruesome and some that are mesmorizing.  He also has scenes that meander, bore, confuse and ruin enjoyment you've had in the film.  Smith being his own editor is a horrible idea.

Can I recommend Tusk to you?  No I can't despite the grade I gave it.  Tusk is a movie that will be enjoyed by a very, very select group of fans of horror and/or Smith.  Anyone else, outside of that, who sees this will be repulsed, frustrated or angered by it.  However, as a fan of movies I have to admire what Tusk stands for.  Here you have a movie that was created out of a goofy conversation that probably involved weed, was financed through grassroot fundraising, made with zero compromises and is about something that mainstream Hollywood would never touch with a ten foot walrus tusk.  Yet, despite all its hurdles and challenges, here it is for all to see forever; no matter how bad it gets at points, you have to admire that.

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The Expendables 3

I have to be honest, I gave this movie an advantage by accident.  See, I showed up for it a half hour early because I had the wrong start time.  I hate waiting so I walked over to Applebee's, sat at the bar and had a drink.  Well, that turned into three or four drinks and before I knew it, I was drunk.  I staggered over to the theater, bought a popcorn that was too big for me and plopped down for the movie.  When you think about it though, that's a perfect metaphor for The Expendables franchise; you know it's not good for you but you just can't stop yourself from enjoying it.  Sure, you may not feel too well when it's all done but you'll have a pretty good time while you're in it.

This film series that prides itself on being nothing but mindless shoot-em-ups is now in its third installment and it's more of the same.  The only difference is that along with the returning cast members of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Swarzenegger, Jason Statham (Transporter, Snatch), and Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Masters of the Universe) are joined by a lot of new faces.  The old timers that were added are inspired and brilliant; we have Wesley Snipes (the Blade trilogy, To Wong Foo), Kelsey Grammar (X-Men 2, Fraiser), Antonio Banderas (Desperado, the Shrek films), Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson.

All these A-listers showing up in the series for the first time is excellent and elevates the film to a new level.  Banderas especially is hilarious as an out-of-work mercenary who is thrilled that he's just part of a team again.  His character is stupid and silly but Banderas' commitment to it is pretty awesome.  I also love seeing Gibson in a film again.  I know he's an a-hole in real life but the man is a talented actor and even more talented director; I hate that Hollywood has turned its back on him.  He's the villain in The Expendables 3 and he seems like he hasn't missed a beat during his hiatis.  Like all the characters in this series, it's cliche and paper-thin but Gibson plays it perfectly.

Where the movie is pretty off-putting is the painfully obvious addition of new, younger characters.  I don't mind it when a film franchise is reset with new characters.  If you're a huge fan of the series it's exciting to know that a new team will carry the torch onward.  The first problem with these new characters is that they're played by Kellan Lutz (the Twilight series), Glen Powell (The Dark Knight Rises), professional boxer Victor Ortiz and super sexy MMA fighter Ronda Rousey.  You might be thinking to yourself, "WTF?"  Yeah, that's exactly right.  If these are the people that Stallone has invested his retirement fund in, he's in trouble.  The other problem with it is that, even if they were good actors, which they're not, that's not what makes The Expendables fun.  You watch these movies to see an all-star cast of ghosts of action film past dust off their fists, do some deep stretches and get back out there doing things you thought you'd never see them do again.  Without that, it's just another sh**ty action movie.

It's common that people get disgusted by a franchise that feels like it's squeezing blood from a Stallone...I mean stone.  This film doesn't feel like it yet.  In fact, I think it's the best in the series but that's like being the skinniest kid at Fat Camp.  They're bad films that are fun to watch.  Again, that's why it's appropriate that I watched this with a brain falsely wired on alcohol, salt, sugar and fat.  When I sobered up halfway through, I did feel a little gross enjoying the film as much as I did.  But if you're considering going to see The Expendables 3, you know exactly what you're getting into and you know whether or not you want to see way before you read this sentence.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

One of the most annoying things that dwells in the gloomy cellar-bedrooms of nerd culture are the members among the group that demand that things be done "realistically" or made "dark" or "hardcore" versions of stuff that is absolutely ridiculous.  All of those are real words I've heard used by people when describing their expectations for this film version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The title alone is stupid and silly.  The characters are the stuff you're suppose to love when you're 10-years-old.  So now that you're a 28-year-old that is sitting behind a keyboard getting ready to crap all over a movie because it "didn't get as real as it should have;" you're pathetic and you need to get a grip.  That being said, this is a pretty bad movie but not for any of those reasons.

I was a child of the '80s and like every boy since that decade, I went through a period of time where I was obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I never read the comic series but I watched the show, had the toys, played the video games and pretended to be them (my character of choice was Donatello because every kid could easily get their hands on a broomstick and look legit).  As I grew older, I also grew out of my interest in the heroes in a halfshell because there's no depth to them and you're not suppose to love them as an adult outside of nostalgia.  They're not X-Men that are analogies for racism and hatred in our society.  They're not Batman in that they're characters layered with deep angst.  They're stupid, silly, funny, ninja reptiles.  That much is pulled off successfully in this film but that's about it.

Directory Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battlefield Los Angeles) isn't a bad director; he's just a guy cruising for a big payday over making something with merit.  His first film was Darkness Falls which was a pretty cool horror film with an original concept.  Everything he's done since then has been vapid and poorly executed.  Ninja Turtles is no exception and teaming up with Michael Bay (Transformers, Bad Boys) as an Executive Producer didn't help.  Every frame of this movie stinks of Bay's influence and by the time it's over it feels like a Michael Bay movie with its over-the-top action sequences and bloated CGI FX.

Despite taking almost an hour to get to a major action sequence, it's well worth the wait.  The most notable is a fight involving Hummers and a truck falling down the side of a snowy mountain (EXACTLY like what Bay did in Bad Boys 2) that is filled with so many "WTF" moments it almost trumps the level of fun you have while watching it.  This sequence starts a non-stop action orgy till the end credits roll and I enjoyed every second of it for being the eye-candy it's meant to be.  Is it worth sitting through two acts of a boring and pithy movie to get to it?  I think it is but you might disagree.

Despite the CGI in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being quality and fairly realistic looking, it feels like you're watching a cartoon.  The reason why the 1990 version, directed by Steve Barron, was so much better was that all of it felt organic.  Jim Henson Studios made 100 lbs. rubber suits that actors had to wear and still perform martial arts moves in and that was amazing to see!  What we have here is something that we've seen a hundred times over and done better in most examples.  This should have been made to rekindle nostalgia in us oldheads and launch a whole new generation of fans (which it might do -- all the kids in the audience seemed to love it), but what it did instead was come across like a money-grab and plundering of something that many of us remember fondly.  If you want to whore out my childhood, I'm actually fine with that; but at least make me believe you have good intentions for doing it.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has moments of fun but when it's all over I just felt used, dirty and covered in ooze.

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Into the Storm

There was a time when diaster movies ruled the cineplexes.  I can remember being in high school and going to the movies with my best friends ready to watch some random city get destroyed by some random thing.  Volcanoes, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires, floods, typhoons, plagues, asteriods, whatever!  You name it, we saw it destroy stuff.  I loved those movies because they had cool special FX, identitcal plots and always equaled a good time.  It seems like the drought of disaster porn in recent years is due to an even bigger natural disaster than all those things combined -- the box office profit margin.  After a viewing of Into the Storm, we now know why.

The reason why those other films were so enjoyable was because we could see A-list stars running from cutting-edge technology in CGI FX.  Well now every film has cutting-edge technology in CGI FX and A-listers are too busy earning their money in far less grueling roles.  What we're left with is a movie like Into the Storm that is filled with no A-listers, a horrible plot, cliche everything and FX that you can see on network television (and in some cases better).  In fact, the only difference between Into the Storm and Sharknado, as far as quality is concerned, is a bigger budget and sharks.

The only faces you might recognize is Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Laurie on AMC's The Walking Dead, and the very funny Matt Walsh (The Hangover, Ted) in a role that's not funny, nor meant to be, which makes me think he only took the part for the money.  The rest of the cast is rounded out by a spinning wheel of actors you'd expect in made-for-TV movies and none of which are any good.  The plot is stupid and simple and consists of a few people trying to survive a freak weather condition that causes several tornadoes to wreak havoc on a midwest town.  

I remember when Twister came out and everyone mocked the ending where Bill Pullman and Helen Hunt (speaking of which...where the hell has she been?) survived an F5 tornado by holding on to a leather belt strapped to a pipe.  There is laughable nonsense in Into the Storm that makes that seem like a plausible experiment on Mythbusters.  But stuff like that I can easily overlook just like I did when I was a kid.  Suspension of disbelief is in the marrow of disaster films.  No government would ever send an oil crew to space to blow up an asteriod.  Rubber truck tires would never spin in hot lava.  And ice wouldn't chase two people down hallways when freezing NYC.  Into the Storm is no different in its "c'mon" moments but that's not what makes it bad.

Director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) made a poorly done "found footage" movie that's got as much story as it has talent; that's to say not very much.  Never for a second do you care about any of these characters which makes their fate irrelevant to you as an audience member.  There are a few moments of excitement but even those are horribly executed and over too quickly.  You get the impression that at some point this script featured a plot that these tornadoes were actual monster aliens who came to earth to harvest humans and the SyFy Channel passed on it so they took all that crap out and just released it in theaters instead.  This is made-for-TV garbage that is trying to trick you into spending $10 to see it instead of watching it for free on your couch while you drink yourself to sleep because you had a fight with your girlfriend.  Go on YouTube and watch real tornado found footage instead -- it's free and features better acting and plot.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Hollywood is never really known for taking risks, and that's relatively understandable because they peddle in money, not in art.  One thing that nobody saw coming was for Marvel and Disney to take a massive risk on a film franchise that spanned nine movies and grossed billions of dollars.  As of now, the Avengers universe has performed extremely well in both critical reviews and box office gold.  So why would they want to roll the dice on five characters that no one had ever heard of in a wacky, silly space adventure with zero name recognition from even the most passionate comic book fans?  That's a good question, but whatever the reason was, I'm thrilled that they did.

I've gotten into arguments with comic nerds who say things like, "I've been reading the Guardians of the Galaxy series since I was a little kid" because no they haven't!  No one has heard of these characters, and the few that have were never into them because there was almost nothing to get into.  Lots of randoms have been members of the Guardians, but the five awesome characters we see in this movie--played by Chris Pratt (NBC's Parks and Rec, Zero Dark Thirty), Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Crash), professional wrestler Dave Bautista (Riddick) and the voices of Bradly Cooper and Vin Diesel--were created all the way back in 2008.  Ironically (or not so ironically), this was the year that the Marvel master plan started with The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man.

Another risky choice that Marvel/Disney made was casting A-list actors in bit parts and voices for CGI characters, and the live actors you see are unfamiliar and unconventional choices.  It's even more impressive when you realize they also chose James Gunn as the director whose prior films, Slither and Super, have been dark comedies that have amassed a cult fan base at best.  The fact that Gunn has never commanded a film with a budget of more than a few million and that he has never really used massive computer FX is never obvious for a single second in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Gunn has created a fun, colorful, exciting space adventure that is so masterful it makes you feel like you did when you saw Star Wars and Indiana Jones for the first time.  Yes, I know that's a bold statement, but if you put yourself in a 10-year-old's brain while watching it, you can't help but have your mind blown with witty dialogue, big explosions, and interesting characters.

Pulling off a movie this impressive would've been amazing enough, but for anyone educated in the vast Marvel movie world, it's kind of jaw-dropping.  Anyone with enough curiousity to read up and learn comic lore can see how the puzzle of (what is now) six different film franchises are fitting together in one massive story--the scope of which has never been seen in film before and probably won't again (good luck with what you're trying, DC).  Characters that used to be reserved for random teases at the end of the credits are now getting more screen time, such as Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, True Grit) as super villain Thanos.  This is the first time we see Brolin as the purple-faced tyrant, and it makes you salivate for him to be the main baddie in The Avengers 3.

Everyone in Guardians of the Galaxy pulls their weight:  from a screenplay with hilarious dialogue, to Gunn's inspired vision, and to an amazing cast that makes it all come to life.  One of the most shocking things was Bastista's performance.  I don't ever expect much from professional wrestlers who try acting, but he's hilarious!  I would say that he's the breakout performence, but there's no such thing in this film.  Everyone shares the same amount of screen time, and everyone takes turn stealing the movie.  Guardians of the Galaxy may have landed on Earth as mysterious and unfamiliar, but it's gonna make its mark, and we'll never forget it now.

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