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Gavin Grades The Movies



Anonymous

There have been some very good movies that were made over the years about Conspiracy Theories.  What they end up doing is taking the most believed or plausible explanation for the events under question and make a film committed to that.  Oliver Stone's masterpiece JFK is one of the best examples of it, but films like From Hell and All the President's Men are others.  Anonymous is a film like those in that it looks at the theory that William Shakespeare did not actually write anything, but was just a front for the real writer who had to stay in the shadows.  Unfortunately for Anonymous, this Conspiracy Theory is way too complex and doesn't hold water.

I'm not sure who this movie is made for.  You would probably be interested in seeing this if you really loved Shakespeare's work and/or British Royal history; but if you do, then you'll not enjoy all the blatant inaccuracies in order to establish its point.  But if you don't really enjoy Shakespeare and/or know very little about British Royal history, you'll probably really enjoy it; but let's be honest, you're not interested in seeing this in the first place.

Everything about the movie is top quality though.  This is by far director Roland Emmerich's best film.  He's the guy that is the Hollywood go-to for blowing up the world.  His legacy until now has been films like Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.  Prior to this, his crowning achievement was The Patriot with Mel Gibson but the look and scope of Anonymous dethrones that in the attention to costumes, prop details and using Emmerich's experience with CGI to recreate the landscapes of 16th Century England.

The acting is tops as well.  Usual goofball Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1, Notting Hill) is shockingly great in this darkly dramatic role as The Early of Oxford aka the true "William Shakespeare."  But he's joined by A-quality performances from Vanessa Redgrave (Cars 2, Mission: Impossible), David Thewlis (the Harry Potter series, The Big Lebowski) and Rafe Spall (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) who steals every scene he's in as William Shakespeare, who they portray as a showboating, blackmailing, drunken moron.  He's very funny to watch but this portrayal is one of vast inaccuracy, even within the context of the conspiracy.  And there is an example of the downfall of this film.

Any true fan of Shakespeare can sniff out the rewriting of historical events to make a puzzle piece fit where it doesn't and that sticks in your craw too much to fully enjoy the film.  The order of when plays were released is mixed up, Shakespeare's contemporaries are amazed at hearing things for the first time that they actually all did before he did, deaths of famous figures are jumbled about to make the story stick better, etc.  Not to mention the fact that the story itself is so hard to follow and keep all the characters straight that motives for massive plot points get lost at the fast pace of this 130 minute film.

In the end though the film stands as a wonderful send-up to Shakespeare's words...whoever wrote them.  Anonymous is beautifully framed in modern times by explaining to the audience that no matter  who actually wrote them (historians are 95% sure it actually was Shakespeare, by the way) that the words were so perfect and beautiful that they define what it means to be human.  And for that, I respect and liked this film.  The rest is history.
Anonymous  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B
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Paranormal Activity 3

Goddamnit!  The Paranormal Activity movies are some of the most fun and most scared you can have in a theater.  From the very first seconds of all these films, you’re put on edge.  Part of that is because you know what’s in store for you but the home movie, do-it-yourself aspect of the films give you this impression that you’re right there with these characters and you’re just as alone as they are.  They’re the kind of horror film that makes you want to be a horror director since they are the closest to duplicating the sensations you feel as you walk through a haunted house that I’ve ever experienced.

In the third (and hopefully final) installment, we find ourselves in 1988 at the beginning of the story to find out what happened to our lovely ladies from the first two films when they were younger.  Yes!  This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for in a trilogy, but sadly Paranormal Activity 3 made the fatal mistakes that any prequel runs the risk of doing.  If you’re gonna be the ballsy bastard that wants to take on a popular franchise and show us how it all began, those puzzle pieces need to line up perfectly for us.  I don’t want any air bubbles trapped in between since in the end that will make me ask more questions than feel the satisfaction of knowing the answers.  That’s a killer for a prequel.

Paranormal Activity 3 attempted to answer all the questions, and they did answer some, but its execution is confusing and doesn’t gel with the legacy we’ve come to know.  There are HUGE holes in the plot of this film and it makes me wonder how such glaring problems could have passed through the hands of so many people who made it.  I can’t tell you what they are without giving away some spoilers.  I also won’t because if you don’t remember the story up to this point, it won’t ruin the movie for you at all…in fact it might make it better.  Also, if you never saw the first two films, you’ll probably enjoy this more than if you were a massive fan of the first two.

The “found footage” approach to this one feels more forced than before, however directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman did incorporate one of the most suspenseful film techniques ever in a modified oscillating desk fan that might be the scariest character in the film.  I don’t blame Joost and Schulman for the movie’s shortcomings at all.  These were the two guys that brought us an equally scary but totally different movie called Catfish.  This was a documentary about predatory online delusions (listen to my interview with both of them at the bottom of this review) and being documentarians brought a fresh aspect to this mockumentary franchise.

Although I liked this one the least in the series, it’s far from disappointing in the scare-the-s**t-out-of-you trademark.  There are few horror movies that can build such palpable tension that it makes me shield my eyes from the screen like a kid, but these consistently do just that.  I just wish it kept me up at night by making me remember all the terrifying moments rather than keeping me up trying to figure out how the stories come together.

Paranormal Activity  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+


Click
here to listen to the interview with directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Review Coming Soon...


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The Rum Diary

Whenever a movie is mostly shot and then not released for a while, there's reason for concern.  The Rum Diary is a labor of love from star Johnny Depp.  It's based on the the novel by (my favorite author) Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the book as a young man, shelved it for decades and then sold it in 2000.  Depp is not only a huge fan of Thompson's but was one of his best friends toward the end of his life.  I appreciate the passion for wanting to make this movie, but shelving a book works and shelving a movie doesn't.

Depp met Thompson when he played him in another film based on one of his books called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is still one of my favorite comedies of all time and it was shot with pure venom by director Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Time Bandits).  The script and scope of the film captured the pure Gonzo craziness that Thompson wrote in as best as a movie could.  I've read The Rum Diary and I'm fully aware that the tone of the that and the tone of Fear and Loathing are polar twins, however it still didn't duplicate the attachment that Fear and Loathing had to its source.
One area of shortfall was in not allowing Gilliam to return as a director.  Instead Depp turned to Bruce Robinson, who hasn't made a film in 20 years and even the ones he has directed aren't very good.  The look of the movie is crisp and authentic to 1960, when it takes place, but it moves at an almost agonizing pace.  Some of that might be intentional, since this is about Thompson when he was a young man and first getting into journalism.  This is pre-drugs, pre-psychotic, pre-mania...you know the good ol' days when he was just a raging alcoholic. The writing style of the book is vastly different than anything else he wrote, so it makes sense that the movie would be too.  

But parts of the book are introspective and pitch dark.  One key scene involves a gang rape of a gorgeous and drunk female character played in the movie by the stunning Amber Heard (Zombieland, Drive Angry).  The brutality is described in the book because of how it makes the characters react and it's hard to get through but crucial.  This scene is watered over so gently in the film that it confuses anyone who hasn't read the book as to what is actually going on or why reactions are so strong afterward.  Mistakes like this abound in The Rum Diary.  It takes the potential of a deeply emotional and funny story and makes it stilted and disjointed.

That's not to say the film is a total wash.  It showcases a very impressive cast that features Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Battle: LA), Richard Jenkins (Let Me In, Hall Pass), Giovanni Ribisi (Cold Mountain, Avatar) and the best of the film, Michael Rispoli (Kick-Ass, Taking of the Pelham 123).  It also has one of the best production designer, costume designer and prop masters in a while.  Since it takes place in 1960 Puerto Rico, the attention to flawless time capsulated detail is of the same quality of AMC's Mad Men.

I still enjoyed this film because I will always love Thompson and the words he left behind.  He was an inspiration for me and it's nice to see his legacy kicked off and given respect in The Rum Diary.  But my same adoration is also the undoing for this film.  I'm sure even Johnny Depp shares my disappointment a little since I felt like I knew Thompson, where he really did.
The Rum Diary  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
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In Time

How much time has to go by before we forget that Justin Timberlake was once a pop star?  Better question; how many movies does he have to star in for us to forget?  In Time marks his second attempt at being a leading man since his turn in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits.  He impressed most people as the devilish Sean Parker in The Social Network, but is he good enough to shoulder the load of a entire film that dares to do more than just put asses in seats with a promise of pretty faces having sex, like his last film?  No, he is not. In Time is an ambitious sci-fi film from Andrew Niccol, who's written some very impressive movies like The Terminal, The Truman Show and Gattaca.  However, he's a far better writer than he is a director since attempts like Lord of War and S1mone fell quite flat. But In Time has a ridiculous premise where, in the future, time is our currency and we all stop aging at 23.  I give Niccol credit in that he tried to make more than another mindless sci-fi action flick.  It's really a statement about class warfare and socioeconomic policies.  Pretty timely considering the current political climate in this country.  But as current as it seems, it comes across as a script that was written years ago and was never updated.  For instance, it's not clear why we would ever go back to using pay phones and old muscle cars in the future.  But all the cleverness in the script gets lost in the stilted dialogue and piss-poor acting from Timberlake. Even gifted actors as Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, 28 Days Later) and Amanda Seyfried (HBO's Big Love, Mama Mia!) couldn't make this middle school dialogue seem like entertainment, so I guess it's not all Timberlake's fault but boy is he not ready for primetime. Aside from a bad script and a poor choice in a leading man, the movie isn't very exciting.  It's a great concept to make a futuristic Robin Hood, but it gets so lost when a bigger problem is presented as a by-product of stealing time from one of the wealthiest men in the country.  Not to mention that it would bog the movie down if they stopped to explain why that bigger problem would exist without going into an economics lesson on a scale that would make us all doze off. So it's needlessly complicated, then confusing with its plot and to top it all off, the action isn't nearly plentiful enough to make us entertained by any of it.  By the time the movie has reached its exhaustingly excessive 109 minutes, you're just wishing it would end.  Ironic since the whole movie is about time and always trying to get more because I wish I could buy my time back from the creators of In Time since I feel a bit robbed of it. In Time  (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: D+
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The Thing

Horror icon, John Carpenter, brought us The Thing in 1982.  It was one of the first horror movies I watched as a kid where I had my mind blown over what could be done with special FX makeup!  It was absolutely amazing to watch a man's head fall off his shoulders, sprout spider legs and eyes and then crawl away.  If you never saw the original and that sentence makes you think the exact opposite of "amazing," then this prequel to the 29-year-old original will do nothing for you because what made the original so amazing was the prequel's undoing.  I love prequels.  I think it's really fun to watch what happened before the movie you already love.  In the original they talk about the camp that discovers the alien that can shape-shift into any other living thing but you never see it.  That camp is what this film is all about but it's the exact same story.  There is almost no difference between the two, even in the choice of casting Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Animal Kingdom) as the hero because when dude sports a beard he looks EXACTLY like Kurt Russell, who was the hero in the original.  I did like that the true star of the film was a woman, who was played by the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Death Proof).  It makes me think of Ripley in the Alien franchise although she's far from the tough-as-nails that Sigourney Weaver trademarked!  I love the aspect of how isolating this film is.  It takes place in Antarctica which is so cold and lonely that it might as well be space.  Not only that, but I love the spookiness of untrust, where the killer could be lurking inside the skin of any one of the main characters.  It makes it a very unique horror film that also comes with the joy of seeing great monster makeup and FX.  Sadly, I saw ALL of that in the original and this one doesn't break any new ground.  It's almost like new director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (no, my cat didn't walk across my keyboard...that's his name) assumed that no one saw the first one and could get away with just remaking it.  I'm not against remakes either.  If they're done well, I think they can potentially be better than the original.  But I think prequels are way better and I especially don't appreciate it when prequels don't want to call themselves remakes, which is exactly what The Thing did.  Is it scary?  Not really.  Is it cool?  At times.  They disapointed me at times by using CGI to create some of the monster FX the original accomplished with old school make-up AND still looked faker than it did in 1982, but I give the studio credit in simply trying to make a monster movie again; something that sadly seems to have vanished from the lanscape.  But in a movie about a killer alien that can carbon copy itself into anything, I wish The Thing didn't carbon copy itself into the 1982 original. The Thing  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C+
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The Big Year

If you were to ask most comedians who their favorite comedians are, I would guess that Steve Martin would show up in the Top 10 for most of them.  There's no argument over his influence and skills.  But for some reason, he chooses horrible movies to do...at least in the last couple decades.  It doesn't make sense why the man that brought us The Jerk, The Three Amigos, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Parenthood has also brough us Cheaper By the Dozen 1 and 2, Bringing Down the House, and The Pink Panther remakes.  Now he has The Big Year.  So which pile will this be thrown on?  Can it be on both?  The Big Year has a great premise: it's a pseudo true story about a real event called The Big Year which is competitive bird watching.  Yeah.  Competitive.  Besides Martin, it also stars Owen Wilson and Jack Black...two actors that were also really funny once upon a time and have perhaps run their course.  A film in the vein of Christopher Guest's classic Best in Show would have been amazing!  A comedy lampooning the existence and the people that participate in a bird watching competition sounds awesome!  Quickly it becomes apparent that that is not the direction they took.  I probably should have seen that coming since it was directed by David Frankel, who did Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada.  He's very good at giving us comedies  that teeter back and forth between very funny and emotionally appealing.  The Big Year tries as hard as it can to be more like those films but sadly never does.  See, when you enter into a Big Year, you are away from your family, your job, your life for a whole year.  You miss out on an awful lot and the movie partially focuses on that.  It also focuses on the beauty of nature and the birds themselves.  If you're saying so far all that doesn't sound very funny...you're right.  The movie isn't very funny; but that doesn't mean it's not good.  But it doesn't do a quality job at pulling you in any particular direction or making you feel a certain way.  It just kind of exists.  The characters don't make you feel for them completely or even pick a favorite in the contest.  There are moments of great filmmaking but not enough to love the movie. The good news is that none of these usually annoying comedic actors are annoying in the film.  They don't branch out into new territory or take any risks with character choices but you get what you'd expect minus some fark and dick jokes from Jack Black.  In fact, he gives one of the better performances in the movie since the relationship with his dad, played by Brian Dennehy (Romeo + Juliet) is some of the near tear-jerking you expierence in the film.  But overall to use the word "big" in the title of this film is false advertising. The Big Year  (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: C
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The Ides of March

There are few actors out there that I will gladly sit and watch with a smile on my face regardless of how bad the movie is.  George Clooney is one of them.  Sure I'm a little gay for the guy, but how can you not be?  This new movie of his is not only starring him as a politician in the fight for the nomination but it was directed by him too.  The last time he did both it was for Michael Clayton and it got him an Oscar nomination for Directing and a win for Acting.  Sadly, this time around, it won't produce such accolades. Despite the fact that The Ides of March has one of the most impressive casts this year and it does nothing for the film.  It not only has Clooney but Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler).  With that kind of pedigree, you'd think there'd be thespiatic explosions all over the screen.  There isn't. That's not to say that the acting isn't well done though.  Everyone is natural and subtle but the script prevents them from displaying too much more than the cold Washington Insiders they are...that is except for Gosling.  Once again, Ryan Gosling does a great job at showing us a very layered character.  He's the cool and collected head of the political campaign that's put in two situations that lend itself to his undoing.  One involves a tug-of-war between Hoffman and Giamatti and the other is cleaning up after Clooney.  It's fun and unfortunate to watch Reynold's character become undone, but it's not enough to really get full entertainment out of it. The film moves at a deliberatly slow pace.  It's not heart-pounding or edge-of-your-seat.  It plays out more realistic than most political thrillers do.  I appreciate that.  But when it comes to how I want my movies, realism is appreciated but not throughly loved.  I would have enjoyed a few more twists and turns and a little more passion from the players would have pumped more life into the film.  But it's still very dark, sinister and paints an ugly portrait of American politics...and that I like. The Ides of March  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B-
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Real Steel

If you were to tell me that the generations-old children's game Rock 'Em Sock 'M Robots would be turned into a movie one day and that that movie would actually be fun to watch, I wouldn't believe you.  But here we are in 2011 and Hugh Jackman has teamed up with director Shawn Levy to create a fun, family movie about giant robots that beat on each other till they piss oil and it's very effective as entertainment...but there might be a sinister reason why. Shawn Levy is the director behind some truly awful films that make lots of money.  He directed Date Night, Cheaper by the Dozen and Just Married.  But he's also the guy that made the Night at the Museum movies which were shockingly funny and awesome!  So does a higher budget and bigger FX make Levy a better director?  Apparently so. It probably didn't hurt that he has two coaches in his corner named Steven Speilberg and Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future series) as two out of the WHOPPING 12 Producers on Real Steel.  Seeing their names in the opening credits gave me hope that this wouldn't be rusty crap and I was right.  The film is brightly colored and slickly put together.  It's also edgy enough that it won't lose older teens but innocent enough that tweens will dig it too.  The CGI FX are top notch and although they may not be as plentiful and bloated as Transformers, it's the subtlety  that makes them seem so much more impressive.  I also appreciate that not all the robots in the film are the work of Hollywood computers.  Yes, they went old school in some scenes and actually used giant puppets. One of the other biggest surprises of the film was in its childhood lead, the 12-year-old Dakota Goyo (Thor), who blew me away with his performance.  Not only does he have the energetic smart-ass down cold, but taps into his inner daddy issues convincingly well too.  Oh yeah, this isn't just a popcorn-chomping action movie; there's a chance you may shed a tear or two.  It depends on whether or not you buy into Jackman's completely unlikable lowlife father character deserving any of your sympathy by the end. But not so fast... There's one thing about Real Steel that needs to be said and that's because it might be downright illegal.  The script, which was penned by John Gatins (Coach Carter, Hardballs), was highway robbery.  You may feel yourself enjoying Real Steel to the fullest but get a vague sense that you've seen this before.  That's because you have.  It was called Rocky and it won Best Picture in 1976.  I know you're thinking that it's easy to compare every boxing movie to Rocky.  That's not what I'm talking about.  Real Steel is SO MUCH like Rocky that I'm shocked it's legal.  Aside from the family drama, Real Steel is about a small, junkie robot that no one believes in getting a shot at the title because of a publicity stunt.  And that's not all.  The champion that he has to fight is a big, black, strong robot named Zeus.  In case you forgot, in Rocky the small, junkie boxer gets a shot at the title against a big, black, strong champion named...wait for it...Apollo.  Same story just switching the character's name from Roman to Greek.  I won't spoil the ending for you, but let's just say that that's not where the stealing...er....I mean similarities run out. So what am I trying to say?  How about this - if you've never seen Rocky, you may think that Real Steel is a great, emotional, well-made family boxing movie that will win your heart.  If you have seen Rocky, you'll still feel that way but you will have trouble getting past the blatant ripoff.  That's why I have to give this film two grades.  One, overlooking the copyright infringement, which many people (sadly) won't care about; and Two, taking that into consideration.  Either way it's a fun, entertaining movie...because you've probably already seen it. Real Steel  (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: B+ and D+
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50/50

I sat at the screening for this movie next to friends of mine from Fox 40.  At one point, I was nudged in the side by one of their elbows.  I looked next to me and saw that I was being handed a tissue.  I had no idea but I was crying so hard during 50/50 that I was sobbing, snorting and sniveling.  Embarrassed, I took the tissue to wipe my face clean, although one minute later I was laughing my ass off and didn't need the tissue anymore. 50/50 is the work of director Jonathan Levine (HBO's How to Succeed in America) and writer Will Reiser (HBO's Da Ali G Show).  It's a semi-biographical script based on Reiser's actual battle with spinal cancer and how his best friend, Seth Rogen, helped him through it.  Seth Rogen stars alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Reiser's character and the two of them create one of the most emotional testaments to friendship that I've seen in over a decade. This is not your typical Seth Rogen movie.  Yes, there is pot smoking.  Yes, there is crude language.  Yes, they try to get laid.  But what sets this apart is that there is also a soul to this movie that is deeper and more revealing than any comedy that's come out in years.  That's not to say that if you're a fan of Knocked Up or Superbad you'll be bored by this.  Rogen still delivers the top shelf funny that we've come to expect from him in every nuanced cadence of his style. It's possible that I'm a little biased, since a friend of mine went through cancer when we were 19-years-old and some of the scenes in 50/50 hit a little too close to home.  But as painful and gut-wrenching as some of the scenes can get, there are scenes that celebrate life and make you split your sides from laughing right around the corner.  I can't remember a movie in recent memory that made me laugh just as hard as it made me cry.  It's a true accomplishment of the Dramedy genre. Reiser created a script that doesn't dwell in either one of the emotions long enough to bum you out or no longer realize how serious the subject matter is.  It's a true masterpiece of writing.  It's also helped along by a fantastic supporting cast that consists of Anna Kendrick (the Twilight Series, Up in the Air), Bryce Dallas Howard (the Twilight series, The Help), and Anjelica Huston (The Royal Tenebaums, Choke). It's rare that a movie can make me cry thinking about it days after I've seen it; 50/50 is one of them though.  That's not a spoiler, so don't worry.  Although this film has some very heartbreaking moments, it's really a celebration of life.  It's a film about cancer that doesn't spend its full 100 minutes making you feel like you're dying too.  It's a rally cry for anyone who feels like cashing in their chips to instead stand up, go outside and embrace friendship, family and love. It's also a film that SCREAMS for the Academy to take notice.  I think 50/50 is good enough to be nominated for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor.  I encourage you to go see it, no matter if you've enjoyed a Seth Rogen film in the past or not, because 50/50 is therapeutic in its execution and cathartic in its viewing.  I plan on seeing it again as soon as I can and this time I'll bring my own tissues. 50/50  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: A+
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Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

This movie has a title that would make almost anybody roll their eyes.  It has a poster that would make everyone walk right past it in a video store...if video stores still existed.  It's a horror movie about a group of college kids that go for a vacation in the West Virginia wilderness (like no college kids ever do) and have a bloody run-in with two hillbillies that are in a creepy old cabin in the middle of nowhere.  The only difference is that the two hillbillies are just trying to mind their own business and be helpful but the college kids think they're psycho killers so they try to kill them.  It's a clever little twist that makes Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a shockingly fun movie. Although most of the cast if padded with talentless, barely attractive wannabes, the three main characters are recognizable faces.  The damsel "in distress" is played by Katrina Bowden who's the goddess from NBC's 30 Rock and Sex Drive.  The real stars are Alan Tudyk (Death at a Funeral, Knocked Up) and Tyler Labine (CW's Reaper, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) who are really talented, really funny character actors that have yet to disappoint in a performance.  It's a good thing they're so good because they carry the movie on their shoulders alone. I gotta give credit where it's due though and that's to first-time director/writer Eli Craig.  I really appreciate movies that are horror films in the true sense of the word but flip the genre on its head to be funny and do it without making fun of it.  Other films that have pulled that off are Behind the Mask and more famously, Shaun of the Dead.  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil pokes fun at the slasher genre a little more than the other two but it still delivers on the gore.  Impressive for a movie that was made with a crazy, small budget. This isn't a laugh-a-minute movie that keeps you entertained the whole (pathetic) 88 minutes.  It does drag at parts and it's sadly not above a dick joke here and there.  But overall it's a decent horror comedy that takes a tired concept and twists it just a bit.  It's almost like Halloween if instead, Michael Myers was just a nice guy trying to help teenagers to help him take the mask off, which they see as a threat so they try to kill him.  That's the plot and it works.  Sure it's one long joke and yes it does get stretched thin, but it's nice to see someone at least taking a risk and creating something original in the horror genre for once. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B
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Moneyball

Brad Pitt has made some great movies over the years.  Se7en.  Fight Club.  Inglorious Basterds.  Snatch. He's delivered a top shelf performance in everything he's ever done and seems to almost relish in the fact that he's so good looking yet insists on playing roles covered in grime, blood or sleaze for the most part.  Moneyball is a new sort of role for him.  The true story of Billy Beane, the man who changed the game of baseball by recruiting based on stats and not money, might be the role that finally gets him an Oscar. Director Bennett Miller (Capote) created a character piece out of a baseball story and not the other way around.  Refreshing for those of us who don't care for baseball at all.  I personally find the sport boring and plodding, but Moneyball rarely is.  It gets a tad bogged down in details that most people don't understand at times but you're willing to overlook it because of the performance that Pitt gives in each scene. The film is scripted by Aaron Sorkin who just won and Oscar for The Social Network and was the creator of The West Wing.  I expected the enthusiastic pop and crackle of a classic Sorkin script that chews through dialogue like a rabid dog attack.  Sadly, I got a more run-of-the-mill Hollywood script that seems watered down and more realistic, which is less effective as a form of entertainment. Joining Pitt in the film is Jonah Hill (Superbad, Get Him to the Greek) who proves that he can do serious and sedated.  We also have minor roles from Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Doubt), Robin Wright Penn (Princess Bride, Forrest Gump) and Chris Pratt (NBC's Parks and Rec, Take Me Home Tonight).  All of these performers are incredibly underutilized and not allowed to spread their wings as they all have in the past.  Of course, some may look at that as a noble characteristic of the film and Miller as a director; that he was able to have this great cast but sparingly use them only as padding for a film that is undeniably Pitt's. Although this will be viewed as a Sports Movie by most, I'm not entirely sold on the fact that it is.  No more than Rocky or Field of Dreams.  The most touching scenes in the movie are between Pitt and his daughter in performances that feel like they were improvised or a candid conversation between a father and his actual daughter.  Beane isn't portrayed a rational or a compromising man, but he's still very likable and noble.  You find yourself routing him on when he's taking away power from Hoffman's head coach character or belittling Recruiting veterans.  You want him to succeed in the worst way and you're not really sure why.  That's one of the great aspects about Moneyball.  It's complex and wonderful and about baseball, which hasn't had a quality film made about it decades. Brad Pitt has done lots of great performances in his career that I think he should have won an Oscar for.  Is Moneyball better than those movies?  No.  But if he wins an Oscar for it, I'll be very pleased since it's a home run! Moneyball (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A-
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Lion King 3D

What really needs to be said about this?  It's The Lion King!  It's the best Disney movie ever made (if you don't count Pixar films).  I know that's an arguable point but when you ask most lovers of cinema what their favorite Disney film of all time is, it's usually The Lion King.  And now you can enjoy it all over again. It came out in 1994 and was part of the rebirth of the Walt Disney film company.  Sure the amusement parks were always making money, but most people don't realize how close the film company was to being sold off.  The Lion King was the most ambitious and emotional films they've made.  And now it's back on the big screen and this time it's in 3D.  What's so amazing is that Disney took a print of a movie that's 17-years-old and put it through a 3D conversion that didn't look like garbage. See, 3D is a controversial thing among film lovers.  Some love it and some think it's the devil come to destroy cinema as we know it today.  I'm somewhere in the middle.  I don't mind it as long as it's not gratuitous and done well.  Hollywood was losing money hand over fist and needed something to come along that pumped some life back into it and 3D technology was that thing.  Now studios could charge people a premium cost for a ticket and make profit back tens times faster.  However, if you're gonna charge me almost twice as much for a movie ticket, you damn well better give me almost twice-as-nice value. 3D Conversions is a four-letter word among us movie maniacs.  It means you put a print of a movie through a 3D conversion AFTER it was shot in 2D.  The two examples of this blowing up in its face and the high-water mark of 3D gauging was 2010's Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland.  These looked terrible, caused migraines and had theater-goers screaming for refunds.  However The Lion King's 3D conversion looks incredible.  It makes the movie look like it was just illustrated and was made to jump off the screen. Not to mention the fact that The Lion King is a film worthy of enjoying on the big screen again.  There's a reason why it resonates so well with children and adults.  That reason is that it's based on one of the most famous stories ever told...Hamlet.  Sure there's no "To Be or Not To Be" scene in which young Simba contemplates the pros and cons of committing suicide, but it's the Cliff's Notes version as told to children.  That's brilliant and it always will be.  The young prince.  The mighty king for a father.  The jealous uncle.  The murder of brother against brother.  It's all there in gorgeous color! Plus how can you forget the music?  The Lion King has one of the most impressive musical scores of all the Disney movies, which is no easy task.  How can you avoid getting goosebumps at the final thunderous THUMP at the end of "The Circle of Life" opening sequence or not bop your head to "Hakuna Matata?"  I would hope that seeing it again on the big screen would inspire you to sing out loud with your favorite song, shed tears at the stampede scene, and introduce a whole new generation to the film that literally makes you celebrate being alive. The Lion King 3D  (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: A+
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Contagion

This movie opens on a black screen.  You hear audio, people talking, casino noises, but you don't see anything.  Then you hear someone start to cough.  The second that happens, you're already put on edge for the movie about a disease that threatens to wipe out the planet.  It's a brilliant way to open the movie.  I smirked when I heard that and got scared at the same time.  Sadly, that just might be the best part of Contagion. Movies about diseases that end the world scare the s**t out of me!  It's ten times scarier than a giant tidal wave or earthquakes or zombies or aliens.  Diseases are real and they really do harness the power to kill everyone alive.  Full disclosure, I was looking forward to this film and wanted it to be amazingly scary.  I was so disappointed. Director Stephen Soderbergh has his ups and downs but never would I call him a hack.  He's always looking for ways to push the envelope of cinema or have fun with it.  He's impressed critics and audiences with Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Oceans movies.  He's won over only the critics with movies like The Informant! and The Girlfriend Experience. And he's disappointed both audiences and critics with movies like Solaris and Che Part 1 & 2.  Where will Contagion fall?  That seems to be debatable.  I'm gonna play it safe though and say it's something that only critics will enjoy but not the rest. Contagion is an example of how too many characters on too many story lines can ruin a film.  It's not short of A-list firepower at all.  It has Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburn, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law to name just a few.  All are fine actors that have given us great performances over the years.  However, none of these actors play characters that are involved in any cohesive story together.  They all are like supporting characters for a movie that has no lead. Not only does it not have a lead, it has no pulse.  It's as if the movie itself got infected and just staggers around in a cold sweat hacking.  All the things that make a movie about the end of the world entertaining are shown to us in Contagion with zero zest!  Mass panic, a race for a cure, tracking down the disease's origin; these are all in the film but shown to you in a way that makes you not care and certainly not chomp down on popcorn. My friend Dave went with me to see it.  He loved it.  He actually liked the fact that it was downplayed so much because he said it made it feel real.  I suppose it does; but with a film of this nature, I don't want it to feel so real that I am bored by it.  That's what happened with Contagion. Pulling off a movie with a huge cast of characters is not easy.  There are only a few movies that have done it...but Soderbergh is a director that has done that successfully a lot!  So what went wrong here?  I can only imagine my diagnosis was correct...Contagion is sick. Contagion  (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: C
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Warrior

If you haven't seen this movie by the time it came out in theaters to the public, you weren't paying attention for a free advanced screening.  The studio putting out this family drama that deals with Mixed Martial Arts fighting, played it so often for so many people that they came across desperate and needy.  They needed it to have a huge fan base before it even came out because MMA fighting is so niche that unless there was a buzz about it, only those fans would see it.  It built up that buzz but I'm not sure why. The trailer for this film gives away 95% of the movie so if you didn't see it, you're ahead of the game.  A colossal advertising mistake on the part of the studio.  Another mistake in the advertising for Warrior was promoting that director Gavin O'Connor was the same guy responsible for Miracle, the 2004 movie about one of the most exciting sporting events ever (the US Olympic Hockey team beating the Russians) that was done with the quality of a made-for-TV movie; a true disastrous cinematic misstep.  It now appears that O'Connor has another misstep under his belt. He tried so hard to go gritty with Warrior.  It's dimly lit, it's filled with seedy locations and about a sport that's still a little taboo in the mainstream of America.  However it does it in a PG-13 filter which might be the biggest mistake made.  These characters are deeply troubled, angry and come from backgrounds that would lend a filthy vocabulary to realism.  Not only is that void from the film but so is BLOOD!  Seriously?!  You have one of the most violent sports on the planet and you don't show any blood?!  How are we suppose to feel the gravity of each epic battle these guys fight in the octagon if, at the end of it, they barely have a bruise?  That's one of the aspects of what made Rocky so good; a film which this will get unfairly compared to this a lot.  Don't believe the hype...it's FAR from Rocky.  But at the end of Rocky we can see the abuse his body and face took.  Christ, we even see Rocky's eyelid get sliced open in an attempt to keep the fight going!  Make it realistic or don't make it at all. The silver lining for Warrior is the acting.  It stars Tom Hardy (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), Joel Edgerton (Star Wars prequels, Animal Kingdom) and Nick Nolte (Tropic Thunder, Cape Fear).  Nolte gives us one of his best performances as their heavily damaged father fighting for his redemption in his sons' eyes.  His performance is heart-breaking and tragic and exactly what Oscar nominations are made of.  He would totally deserve the statue as of right now.  Hardy and Edgerton give great performances too.  Hardy has all the silent, steely resolve of a young Marlon Brando.  Sadly the script doesn't give either a decent shot at having a moment that shows it off. Sure there is an impressive level of attention that was paid to the sport and getting techniques just right.  I appreciate that.  The moves are real and the MMA cameos are plentiful.  But that only impresses me so much.  At the end of the day, you still need to tell a story that is told in a compelling way.  Warrior doesn't really do that.  The last 20 minutes of the movie is epic and exciting.  It builds to a climax that makes it hard to maintain a dry eye or avoided goosebumps.  But the first two hours (yes this movie is almost two-and-a-half hours long) is slow, choppy and plodding.  I give credit to those that make it to the end; they're the real warriors...because they fought to stay awake. Warrior  (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: B-
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Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd is usually a safe bet for a great film.  There aren't too many he's done in his life that didn't turn out good, if not great.  Then you have him star with comedic staples like Elizabeth Banks (40-Year-Old Virgin, Role Models), Zooey Deschnael (Your Highness, (500) Days of Summer), Rashida Jones (I Love You, Man, NBC's The Office) and Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder, Hamlet 2) and it should be a comedic slam dunk, right?  Well, Our Idiot Brother wasn't because it wasn't a comedy. Director Jesse Peretz (The Ex) assembled an impressive indie comedy cast only to pull out a dramedy.  The story centers around three sisters dealing with their brother after he's released from prison.  Their brother, Rudd, isn't really a criminal...he's just an idiot.  He was thrown in jail for selling weed to a uniformed cop.  That's how the movie starts.  Not only is Rudd's character an idiot, but he's one of the most likable and lovable characters of the year.  He means no harm in everything he does, yet harm is what seems to be left in his wake.  His family's life gets turned upside-down by his arrival but it's through this that self reflection follows. Rudd is at the top of his game.  He's fantastic.  Really everyone is.  The enemy of success for this is a mix of poor direction and a lackluster script from a first time writing team that half of which was made up of Peretz's wife.  The entire film is executed with an energy that seemed like everyone smoked weed during the whole production because it lacks energy completely. Another turn off for the film was that it's about two cultures of people that I personally get annoyed with quickly - hippies and hipsters.  Rudd is a hippie from Long Island but their sisters' worlds exist as busy, artie hipsters living in Brooklyn.  Worlds collide?  I guess so but with annoying meets awful, you end up with awfully annoying.  It limits the likable characters to just Rudd's and that's a problem when you're suppose to like everyone else as well.  So unless you have stellar jokes to carry you through the entire film, which Our Idiot Brother doesn't have, you're left with a plodding dramedy about mostly selfish, whiny, crap characters. Our Idiot Brother is worth seeing but merely as a rental.  Maybe it would have been better if there was a little bit more idiot in it instead of the idiot turning out to be the only character that is worthy of an audience's adoration. Our Idiot Brother  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B-
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