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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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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Guillermo Del Toro is rapidly becoming a favorite filmmaker by both critics and fanboys alike.  He's the genius director behind such incredible fantasy horror movies like Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone and Cronos.  He's also the genius director behind such incredible comic book actions like Hellboy and Blade II.  But sadly, he didn't direct Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Del Toro produced this movie.  That doesn't give it a death sentence at all.  In fact, just the opposite.  He's done that with cinematic awesomeness like The Orphanage and Biutiful.  He's even gotten involved in animation movies like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind.  But something went wrong with this film.  Don't Be Afraid of the Dark starts off as scary, then becomes creepy, and ends up being silly. It's really too bad because the film, which is based on a made-for-TV film from 1973, is a classic gothic creature-feature horror film.  It's about a family that moves into a gorgeous old mansion only to discover that it was already inhabited by another group...blood-thirsty little fiends that crave little children's body parts.  Wow!  Just typing that out makes it sound so much better than it actually is.  It's far tamer from the gruesome premise seems to be.  But it's not so much the plot running out of steam that makes this film so lackluster; it's also the performances. Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Tom Cruise's bedroom) and Guy Pearce (The King's Speech, Memento) are the couple who fight off the amassing goblins.  Both are fine actors and have performed well in the past, epecially Pearce; but in this they walk through the script like they both are in dress rehearsals.  The shining star of the film is the daughter played by the young Bailee Madison.  She carries this entire movie on her back with a fantastic performance.  She's also the little girl in Brothers and the only funny thing about the Adam Sandler movie Just Go With It. With Don't Be Afraid of the Dark she really gets a chance to show us what she's got though.  She's undoubtedly the star of the film and looks legitimately terrified of the little beasties that are after her.  What impressed me even more is that she had to act that way while looking at nothing since all the monsters were CGI.  Another disappointment since Del Toro is known for using mostly old school movie monster make-up and puppets. That undersells the quality of the creatures though.  The FX used for them are very, very well done.  They do look real and give you the heebie-jeebies in many of the scenes that prey on your fear of the dark and what's under the covers.  But just when you're thinking that they are a force to be scared of, they turn into some kind of comedic monsters you'd expect to see in Jim Henson's Labyrinth.  That decision might have been the fault of first-time director Troy Nixey.  I'm not going to say that he's in over his head though since the film stinks of gothic horror in that it boasts incredible sets and heavy atmosphere that invokes a 1920s Hammer Film feel. It's a big red flag that this movie was not going to live up to the A+ trailer that was released over a year ago because that's when the film was shot. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was filmed early in 2010 and went through lots and lots of post production work to make it presentable.  I guess it should have been put through a little more work since it isn't scary.  But maybe that's just truth in advertising - there really isn't any reason to be afraid of the dark in this film. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C
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Fright Night

I went to see this screening with my buddy Dave.  As we were driving there we were talking about how the original Fright Night from 1985 used to scare us when we would walk by it on the shelves at the video store.  This was when we were kids...and when there were video stores.  When I finally got around to watching the movie that had a poster that scared me so much, I was relieved and disappointed to find out that it was more of a comedy than a horror movie.  As I got older I grew to appreciate that they did both genres so well, but that made me nervous that a remake was going to be attempted.  If the comedy wasn't there or the horror wasn't there, then I wouldn't want to be there either.  Luckily for me, Fright Night from 2011 is something worth sinking your teeth into. See, in the '80s and '90s vampire movies were still made that were fun.  The Lost Boys, The Monster Squad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Love Bites, From Dusk Till Dawn, Blade...these were all movies about vampires that were a lot of fun to watch.  Now they're all brooding and in love.  They all have tortured, sad stories and lack the visceral violence that made us flock to the cinemas for the blood that we craved.  I mean, how pathetic is it now that the most popular and highest grossing vampire saga of all time features vampires with no fangs and no blood?!!?  Fright Night reclaims it all though and thank God it does! The new version follows the exact same plot of the first one, where a teenager thwarts the attempts of his vampire next door neighbor who tries to kill his whole block.  The teenager is played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, The Beaver) and the vampire is Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Horrible Bosses).  They're also joined by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Kickass) and a scene-stealing comedic juggernaut in David Tennant (Harry Potter 4, How to Train Your Dragon). Coling Farrell is rapidly becoming like Brad Pitt to me.  At first I hated them because I thought they were nothing but pretty faces in movies that have nothing to say because they lacked the talent to deliver good lines.  But as the years go on, both actors have really impressed me with bold movie choices and stellar performances.  Fright Night continues that tradition for Farrell, who seems like he really enjoyed playing the vampire Jerry...yes, Jerry.  (Fans of the original will also be tickled to see a cameo from Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas) who was the original Jerry.) Another surprisingly great performance is from Mintz-Plasse, also forever known as McLovin, who is doomed to play a high school student for the rest of his life.  He starts the film exactly as you'd expect but really impressed me with how he ended it. What made the whole experience fun was the tone that was set by director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Mr. Woodcock).  He incorporated some straight-up 3D gimmicks that you'd expect to see in a theme park attraction but made it work in the context of it all.  It was gory, scary, fun and hilarious.  Fright Night starts off a little slow but builds to a wonderfully satisfying orgy of blood and comedy by the end.  It also does something I'm sure it didn't set out to do; it sends out a message to the vampire movies we're saturated with today: A little more biting and a little less sucking! Fright Night  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B+
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Conan the Barbarian

Why do you think some studio executives were sitting around and said to each other, "Do you remember Conan the Barbarian?"  "The one from 1982 with Arnold Swarzenegger and James Earl Jones?" said the other.  "Yeah.  We should remake that," exclaimed the other.  I have no answer to that because the it wasn't good 29 years ago and it's not good now. The 2011 version doesn't star anyone of impressive stature like the original.  This time the titular character is played by Jason Momoa (Stargate: Atlantis, HBO's Game of Thrones) and he's joined by the go-to baddie Stephen Lang (Avatar, Gettysburg), the gorgeous Rose McGowan (Scream, Grindhouse) and fanboy favorite Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, Season of the Witch) in a small opening act role.  The new version is also more expensive, slicker, more violent and, of course, in 3D.  None of that helps make the film better than its campy predecessor. Both films are based on the comic book that not many are fans of and follows a similar plot.  Conan is a barbarian...naturally...who gets involved with a woman in his quest to revenge his father's death.  Although the film is written by four different people, it's the major reason why it didn't perform to quality.  Even director Marcus Nispel attempted to polish this turd up as best he could.  He's the guy that Hollywood seems to call on whenever they're in need of a bloody revamp of an old classic.  He's already had a noble attempt with a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a embarrassingly awful showing in his remake of Friday the 13th.  Although Nispel appeared to have been given gobs of money, elaborate sets, spectacular costumes and car-blanche on the violence, the script didn't allow for much of any kind of enjoyment. That's not to say that some of the action sequences aren't fine enough to chomp through on some popcorn.  In fact, in a summer that's been filled with subpar action films, this one ranks up there among the top half.  But a watered down script and a brainless, mumbling performance from its star is enough for you to be bored and impatient until someone gets massacred again. It's really too bad that Momoa is such a bad actor because everyone else gives a decent, campy performance that's right on par with what we've grown to expect from them.  McGowan adds another devious diva to her resume in what is a vastly underrated caliber of performer.  Not only is she beautiful, even when she has half her hairline shaved down, but seems to have so much fun in being bad.  Her interaction with Lang's father-killing villain is fun but only in their nonverbal chemistry.  Whenever they open their mouths to spew the terrible dialogue that was provided for them it's a letdown. Aside from some fun 3D effects (including the first 3D sex scene) and exciting, big-budget action, Conan the Barbarian is a disappointment even when you expect it to be disappointing.  Besides shelling out the $10 per ticket for the movie, it makes you feel even more foolish for leaving the theater missing the awful, incoherent acting of Swarzenegger...and that's a barbaric thought. Conan the Barbarian  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C-
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David Koechner Interview

Listen to Gavin's interview with actor David Koechner (Anchorman, The Office)... David Koechner Interview
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Joe Lo Truglio Interview

Listen to Gavin's interview with actor Joe Lo Truglio (Paul, Role Models, Superbad). Joe Lo Truglio
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Whether you want to admit it or not, the 1968 film Planet of the Apes is one of the top ten greatest science fiction movies of all time.  Sure there are lots of cheesy sequels and a par-at-best remake by Tim Burton, but there's something about that first movie that was so totally original.  It was exciting, had great make-up, a brilliant script, fun action and a moral message.  So it seems strange and very risky to create a prequel 43 years later that explains how it all started.  After seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I couldn't be happier that they did! For anyone who doesn't know the original, it stars Charlton Heston as an astronaut that gets sucked through a wormhole in space and ends up on a planet overrun by talking apes that have replaced humans as the dominant species.  You find out at the end that the planet turns out to be Earth and he traveled hundreds of years in the future.  I know I should have said "Spoiler Alert" there but you'll need to know that to enjoy this movie and for Christ's sake it came out four decades ago! This film, which stars James Franco (127 Hours, Milk) and the incredible physical acting of Andy Serkis, who was Gollom in Lord of the Rings and Kong in King Kong, is absolutely brilliant!  Serkis plays Caesar, who is a chimp raised by Franco, and although he has (almost) no dialogue, he dazzles and stuns as he brings the chimpanzee to life in, not just a realistic way, but a totally deep, complex character filled with different emotions.  Simple facial expressions that he performs are touching one second and disturbingly menacing the next.  Ironically, the FX are so good (they were done by the same team that did Avatar) that it makes Oscar-nominated Franco seem like a cardboard cutout. Besides how well the movie explains the sequence of events that leads up to the original film flawlessly, it does something else that I found unexpected and shocking...it made a movie about apes very human.  The catalyst for the story is Franco trying to cure Alzheimer's Disease, which his father who's played by John Lithgow (Dexter, Shrek) is inflicted with.  The scenes that play out between them are done tastefully and tragically.  Same goes for the scenes when Caesar the Chimp is being abused and tortured by his captives, one of which is played by Tom Felton who was Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series for the last ten years.  (Side note: His American accent makes him sound creepily like Steve Buscemi.) Besides Serkis, the real star of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is director Rupert Wyatt.  He came from complete obscurity and produced the best film of the summer, which makes me look forward to his next project with baited breath.  For me, his most impressive work is a scene when (spoiler alert) Caesar speaks for the first time.  Again, if you know the series, you know they HAVE TO put an ape's first word in the film.  So much hinges on that scene.  It could easily be too ridiculous and ruin the whole movie, but it isn't.  In fact, the scene is so furious, emotional and shot and edited just right that when it happens, it gives you goosebumps. Rise of the Planet of the Apes may have one of the worst movie titles of the summer, but don't let that fool you.  This is a smart, quality science-fiction film that deserves the respect the original was given four decades ago.  Maybe, dare I say, even a little more. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A+
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The Smurfs

In 1981, Saturday morning cartoons were introduced to a 1958 comic strip called The Smurfs.  It was quirky, weird, innocent and from Belgium.  Despite all the people saying it would never work, it still did.  In fact, The Smurfs ran as a cartoon on Saturday mornings for 8 more years and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandise.  So is it that crazy to think that a feature length, live-action movie based on the same characters would still work 22 years after the show was canceled?  The people at Columbia Pictures didn't think so, but good God were they wrong. Yes it's true that director Michael Bay took another '80s Saturday morning cartoon, Transformers, and created a juggernaut franchise.  That does not mean that it will work every time.  Especially when you ignore what made Transformers so successful and that was to make it appeal to the adults that loved it as kids.  The Smurfs is a PG-rated piece of dribble that insults the intelligence of adults who see it for nostalgia and bores the children that don't know it at all. Even talented performers like Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, The Birdcage) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) can't pump life into this.  In fact, I was embarrassed for them while watching it.  Especially for Azaria who is one of the greatest comedic character actors out there right now.  He gave his performance as the villainous wizard Gargamel the best he possibly could but it overshoots campy and just comes across desperate. The biggest problem comes from hiring Raja Gosnell to direct it.  This man hasn't made a good movie yet and seems to have the bargain bin DVD movie at Walmart down pretty good.  He's the disaster that's given us films like Scooby Doo, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Big Momma's House.  Congrats Mr. Gosnell, because you've added another travesty to your catalog of crap cinema. The Smurfs is a rotten script with bad voice acting from some very talented people.  Even people like the legendary Jonathan Winters (It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), Alan Cumming (X-Men 2), Fred Armisen (NBC's SNL, Anchorman) and Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Fright Night) couldn't help it.  It almost seems like an insult too that they had to perform besides George Lopez and Katy Perry...and yes, they both suck as much as you think they would. The jokes in the film are awful and too on-the-nose even for the 7-year-old I brought with me.  I suppose the writers thought it was edgy and funny to replace a swear word with the word "smurf" but after you hear it every 5 minutes or so, it just makes you think the movie is smurfing horrible.  The best thing The Smurfs has going for it is the infectious theme song they sing over and over and over again.  At least hearing that brought back to the surface some pleasant childhood memories...just too bad they were then sullied by this movie. The Smurfs (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: F
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Crazy Stupid Love

Whenever someone tells me that Steve Carrell is going to star in another movie I have to ask whether it's going to be a comedy or a drama.  The guy has turned out fantastic comedic performances like he did on NBC's The Office or Anchorman or The 40-Year-Old Virgin.  But he's capable of far more than a clown and he's shown that in movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life and...well, NBC's The Office.  He's one of the few actors out there right now that can make you laugh one second and cry the next and, if you're lucky, do both, all in the same scene. In Crazy Stupid Love he's supported by an utterly stellar cast that includes Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Blue Valentine), Julianne Moore (The Big Lebowski, The Kids Are Alright), Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinnie, The Wrestler) and Emma Stone (Zombieland, Easy A).  Everyone has impressed me in films prior to this one, but I can't help but to think that it was somehow Carrell that inspired everyone in this to meet the bar he set. The movie is one you've seen before.  It's about a middle-aged couple going through a divorce and how the man, who lost his zest for life and romance, gets it back after meeting a sexy suave stranger.  The premise is nothing new...little coming out of Hollywood is anymore; but that doesn't mean that it's not entertaining and touching.  It manages to maintain a tone through the whole film that's very refreshing.  There are some scenes that are extremely funny and a blast to watch, but if the movie got too sad and dark it would have put a damper on the comedy.  However it still has those scenes that might make you wipe a tear or two away since it's well-written enough that you care deeply for some of the characters. What makes it even more fun is that there are twists in the story that throw you curve balls and make sure you're not losing interest.  Even as predictable and cheesy as some scenes (especially the ending) can get, it's those shockers that really kept my eyes from rolling.  One particular twist is rather obvious, or at least was to me, if you're simply paying attention to some of the casting choices but that's all I'll say about that. Crazy Stupid Love isn't breaking any new ground and for that it gets docked a point.  However it's one of those movies that seems to come along rather often that is a universal crowd pleaser on almost all levels.  It doesn't get graphic.  It stays very sweet.  It has the perfect amount of ha-has.  It makes sure you don't leave unhappy.  It speaks to everyone on some level or another, even if it really doesn't have anything itself to say. Crazy Stupid Love (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A-
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Jenna Fischer Interview

Gavin spoke to Jenna Fischer (The Office) about her new movie "A Little Help." Jenna Fisher - Gavin Interview 7-22-11
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Captain America: The First Avenger

There's an old debate over whether or not it's better to be first or last in an audition.  Some say you don't want to be first because the judges aren't even paying attention because they're just warming up.  Some say you don't want to go last because the judges will be exhausted by the end.  Unfortunately for Captain America, it came last in the Summer of Superheroes and maybe I'm just exhausted. Now don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it.  But I wonder if that's because I enjoy comic book movies.  Or perhaps its that I enjoy comic book movies that's the reason why I didn't love it.  Either way, Captain America came across as a painfully average film in almost all ways. For those who don't know, Captain America was one of the first superheroes released in 1941 and was a super soldier who was created to help our boys kick Hitler's ass in World War II.  In the last 70 years though, he's dropped off in popularity.  The only reason why this film was made was because Captain America is part of the super group The Avengers, which Marvel Studios has invested over a $1 billion in films to gear up that movie.  To catch you up to speed, those films have been The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and now Captain America.  Luckily they've all been good films and have recouped that insane amount of money they've invested.  (The Avengers comes out next summer and will feature all four characters.)  Unfortunately for Captain America, his movie is the worst of the lot. Chris Evans (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Fantastic Four) was lucky enough to land the role of the Captain.  He's usually a great comedic, painfully attractive, charismatic performer but in this role he's as bland and dry as wall paper.  He bred zero personality into the character and makes him rather impossible to like and root for.  That, combined with an awful script that develops none of the characters with lines that drip with cheese, create a campy (which, I know, is expected with the nature of the character) and dull film.  It becomes what no superhero movie should ever be...boring. Director Joe Johnston, who's had his ups (Jumanji, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) and downs (The Wolfman, Hildalgo) makes an action movie with very little action in it.  Not only are there really only two action sequences in the film, but he blows through what could be many more with a pointlessly bizarre action montage of Captain America kicking Nazi ass.  Huh? There are redeeming qualities though.  For starters, Tommy Lee Jones gives one of his best comedic performances since Men in Black playing a character that is a lot like his Oscar-winning role in The Fugitive.  I also really enjoyed the risk that Johnston and Marvel took by releasing a summer blockbuster superhero PERIOD film.  Almost the entire movie takes place in 1941...bold move.  There's even a musical number in it.  These are brave decisions that Johnston made and for that I appreciate it.  The 3D is actually done pretty well too.  There was even a moment where I jumped when the trademark American shield got thrown and ricocheted right at my face! The truth of the matter is that Captain America is weakest of a very strong pedigree.  Iron Man set the bar so high though that we've fallen short of it ever since.  That's the problem with all these films linking together; they all get compared to each other.  Let's just hope that The Avengers next summer lives up the hype and is way better than The First Avenger. Captain America: The First Avenger (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: B-
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2

Hold on one second.  I'm still tearing up, let me wipe them away.  It's hard to write a review for the last Harry Potter movie objectively, especially since I'm sitting here wearing my "9 3/4" hat I got at the screening!  In a word though...Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 is PERFECT! I'm a huge Potter fan and let's be honest, you're not even considering seeing this if you're not.  This is the eighth installment of the most lucrative film series of all time, and it's also (tear) the last.  Harry Potter blessed us with the first movie ten years ago and it's been part of our lives ever since.  In the final installment, however, the s**t hits the fan and we're presented with the darkest, most dramatic, most tear-jerking, well-done film in the series. Splitting the Deathly Hallows book into two movies was brilliant on Warner Bros. part.  The first one grossed over a billion dollars, so why have one billon dollar movie when you could have two?  But not only was it done for greed, but it was also done to give the fans the proper send off they wanted and that the books deserved.  Director David Yates, who's done the last three films, reaches his zenith by pushing the limits of what a Potter fan can handle as far as adult content.  The film picks up exactly where the last one left off and within 40 minutes of the slightly over two hour runtime, the film is balls-to-the-wall action.  It's a nice change considering that Deathly Hallows part 1 dragged on (as it does in the book) to the point of exhaustion. What impressed me more than anything was the cast.  In this final film, we get the performances from everyone that we've been longing to see.  All the kids finally proved why they were cast in those roles to begin with and all three have moments in the film where they're given the spotlight to really prove they have dramatic chops.  However, for me, stealing the show is Alan Rickman (Dogma, Galaxy Quest), who plays Snape.  I won't give anything away to the Muggles who haven't read the book, but we find out his entire past in a montage that lasts an emotionally exhausting 6 minutes that doesn't leave a dry eye in the theater.  It makes me wonder if it's too early to whisper "Best Supporting Actor?" to anyone that would listen. That makes me wonder a final point about this.  When the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended, the Academy did the sensible thing and waited for it to conclude and then crapped Oscars all over it.  Will they be smart enough to do it here?  Do I think Deathly Hallows part 2 is good enough to earn Oscars on its own?  Yes I do.  But should it be symbolically showered with little gold men for the accomplishments the series achieved in taking a Chris Columbus (Home Alone) directed children's film all the way to the gory, action and tears soaked crescendo and earning the tens of billions of dollars along the way?  I believe that too.  Now it's up to them.  They should do the sensible thing and show their gratitude like the rest of us and say "Thanks for the last decade of our lives, Harry." Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A+
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Horrible Bosses

In Jennifer Aniston's career since Friends, she's been box office poison.  Regardless of whether or not you like her or think she's any good acting, her films haven't done well at all.  From Management to The Bounty Hunter to The Switch to the cream of the crap Just Go With It...she seems to be the common denominator in bad movies.  That is until now. So how did she overcome this streak.  Well, she was smart enough to star in a black comedy with Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis (NBC's SNL, Hall Pass) and the hilarious Charlie Day (FX's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Going the Distance).  That is a comedy dream team that anyone would be stupid to walk away from and they deliver on all angels. What makes the film even better is that it's directed by Seth Gordon.  Now you may not know his name but he's already made some incredible films.  The reason why he's probably unknown is because his former films are documentaries namely Freakonomics and the absolutely amazing film The King of Kong.  Plus he's one of the creative minds behind shows like The Office, Community and Parks and Recreation. Gordon did the correct thing to do with an ensemble cast like this; he allowed them to do whatever they wanted.  You can tell by the outtakes that pepper the end credits.  Even Aniston is very funny as the sexually harassing dentist, although she's clearly the weakest link.  The film is primarily Bateman, Sudeikis and Day doing a modern version of The Three Stooges as they bumble their way through a plot to kill each other's bosses.  If you think that's a straight-up ripoff of Strangers on a Train, don't worry because it's called out on it in the actual movie by Jamie Foxx's character...who has a name I can't repeat in this review. The first act of the film is clunky and weak.  It sets up the characters in stilted dialogue and shows us the titular horrible bosses that are so horrible they come across as unbelievable.  But luckily this doesn't last long and once we're in the throws of the film it gets very funny, very quickly.  Horrible Bosses also does something that most comedies have a very hard time doing and that is to stay funny all the way up until the end.  The way Hollywood comedies have been playing out is a really funny beginning, a good middle and a poor end. Horrible Bosses seems to be completely the other way around and it works very well for it. There's a chance black comedy isn't your cup of tea or that Aniston's rapey, foul language is too "un-Rachel" for you.  But if you heed the R rating and enjoy fast, improvised acting that also keeps you in a state of suspense, this is THE summer comedy for you since it's anything BUT horrible. Horrible Bosses (Rated R) Gavin Grade: A-
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Cars 2

There is only one movie studio out there that is pitching a perfect game and that's Pixar.  All of their films have been huge financial hits and several have won Oscars.  All of them have over a 90% on RottenTomatoes.com...all of them except one - Cars.  So why would they select that one for a sequel?  The reason is simple, it's Disney's bread and butter for selling merchandise to boys.  So much so that Disneyland is building an entire land dedicated to Cars that opens next year.  So, I get it.  But the geniuses at Pixar know that in order to not sully their sterling reputation, they can't just make a sequel for the sake of marketing; they need to reinvent it.  They did not accomplish that with Cars 2 though. My issues with the Cars series really kind of shows my colors as a movie snob.  I enjoy ALL of the Pixar movies, but Cars is certainly my least favorite.  The reason why is because I consider it to be the least imaginative and original of their pedigree.  Every single one of the Pixar movies involve these fantastical characters that have crazy adventures.  But you buy into all of them as an audience member because even when they involve monsters, talking toys or talking fish, they still show how those fantasy characters exist in a real world.  They show how they interact with humans and make it believable.  Cars doesn't do that.  It's our world, but with zero humans and cars just exist without us.  It's weird and also kept me from really enjoying them.  That, and I hate NASCAR. But Cars 2, just like Toy Story 3, isn't simply a repackaging of the original in a crapfest-of-a-sequel.  They did a decent job of making it its own film with a totally new story.  In Cars 2, that story is a "spy thriller."  Clever, especially when you employee the magnificent Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, Inception) as one of the new characters - a super spy named Finn McMissile.  The action is great and thrilling at times no matter what your age is.  There's racing, but very little, which is totally fine with me.  The animation in the film is also one of the highlights.  It's worth the extra dough for 3D and the colors and clarity is better than any computer animated film I've ever seen. The problems started when I realized that Lightening McQueen, who's voiced by Owen Wilson, is not the star of this one.  Sadly, it's his dim-witted counter part, Tow Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy and the only funny thing he's ever done.  I enjoyed Larry the Cable Guy in Cars but he's like Russell Brand; he's great as a supporting character but annoying and trying as a lead. Cars 2 is not a bad movie.  It's good.  There are vast sequences that made me laugh out loud, mostly brought on by another new Italian character voiced by the awesome John Turturro (Big Lebowski, Transformers) in one of the best performances he's had in years.  It also has a heartwarming montage set to Weezer (my favorite band) doing a cover of The Cars...again with the cleverness!  I think the victim here is Pixar itself.  They have raised the bar so high with their films that we don't expect another animated movie for kids; we expect art.  Toy Story 3 was the best movie of 2010 and made adults weep buckets.  The first 10 minutes of Up was more of a sweeping romance than anything that came out in the last decade.  The final scene of Monsters Inc. is still one of the best, most emotional endings I've ever seen.  Cars 2, though, is just slightly above another animated movie for kids.  And that's kind of upsetting. Cars 2  (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: B
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Green Lantern

Every year I think it's the Summer of the Superhero!  A season where the cinemas are filled with a non-stop avalanche of superhero films.  This year seems to be even worse than last.  But they're cash cows, commanding the box office with the might the main characters possess.  The latest is Green Lantern, which stars Ryan Reynolds in his THIRD attempt at playing a superhero (first was in Blade III, second was in Wolverine).  Luckily, playing pilot Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern is more believable and enjoyable than any of his previous attempts. Reynolds is joined by the stunningly gorgeous Blake Lively (The Town, Gossip Girl), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes), Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education, Jarhead).  Stealing the show, by far, is Sarsgaard who plays villain Hector Hammond.  He is downright disturbing as the tortured genius that becomes more and more deformed as the film goes on and his screams of suffering cut right into my nerves like a knife.  He is almost flawless as a villain for a superhero film.  He's just over-the-top enough to be enjoyable but skilled enough to be menacing. The director of Green Lantern is Martin Campbell who has a background in several James Bond films as well as the last Mel Gibson action film, Edge of Darkness.  You can imagine that Green Lantern is quite a departure for him considering that most of it is very, very heavy in science fiction.  This isn't the realistic superhero film like The Dark Knight or even the realistic fun superhero film like Iron Man.  A lot of the movie takes place in space and there are more aliens in it than all of 2010's alien movies combined.  That doesn't mean it's not good, but it does mean it's not for everyone. I wonder if that's why every critic seems to be taking great pride and joy in crapping all over it.  I'm not afraid to say that Green Lantern is a good film.  I enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed Thor, maybe even slightly more.  It's bright, colorful and fun.  Sure it has a lousy script with cheesy dialogue that makes us wonder if it was scripted by the scribes of a made-for-TV movie, but overall it delivers. Another area that Green Lantern excels more than I thought it would is in the 3D FX.  A pleasant surprise considering the fact that if you pay over $10 for a single ticket, I want to see some fun 3D surprises.  Thor fell WAY flat in that department but Green Lantern is exciting and even gets you to sit back quickly in your seat from some of the FX. Don't get me wrong...Green Lantern isn't Oscar material or even spectacular filmmaking.  But is it fun?  Yup.  Will it excite you and make you laugh?  Yes.  Will you leave the theater feeling like you got your money's worth?  I did.  Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I had rock bottom expectations for it, but I feel bad there seems to be an unfounded vendetta among critics against Green Lantern. I can only hope that "by Green Lantern's light" it perseveres anyway. Green Lantern (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: B
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Super 8

I would imagine that working with (under the shadow of) Steven Speilberg is wonderful, intimidating and terrifying all a the same time.  That's what director JJ Abrams (Star Trek, ABC's Lost) did for Super 8 when he asked Steven Speilberg if he'd like to produce the film.  I couldn't be happier that he did that however it came at a cost. Possibly one of the most exciting movies of the summer, Super 8 is a nostalgic sci-fi thriller about how a group of kids in Ohio deal with a mysterious creature that is freed in their town when a train crashes.  Super simple story, but it's the way it was executed that made me so excited. It's not easy to be more than one genre.  You see disasters all the time among the ruins of dramatic-comedies.  Super 8 isn't a dramatic comedy though.  In fact, it chose an even more challenging path for itself that included categories like period piece, coming-of-age, science fiction, action, romance and drama.  Yikes!  That's a handful.  Abrams doesn't pull all of them off well but I give him credit for even trying. It's no spoiler alert that the train crash scene happens right at the end of the first act, but it's how the train scene goes that should drop the jaw of any unjaded theater goer.  I don't care how many bloated 3D pictures you pay for this summer; you won't see a better action sequence than that train crash.  The FX are done so masterfully and is performed so well by the kids that it deserves some sort of achievement award for it.  Perhaps Super 8 will secure itself an Oscar for Sound for that scene alone. The cast is full of no-name talents that you may or may not recognize, such as Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) and Elle Fanning (Dakota's sister).  The banter between the children though are one of the most enjoyable things about the film.  It reminds me of movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies or (the extremely underrated '80s film) The Explorers.  It's a time portal back to what it was like to be 13-years-old and in the throws of summer in a small town.  Your first love.  Your projects you would attempt with friends.  Even feelings of late summer sunsets that seemed to last forever and go on for light years are gorgeously captured in the film.  Oh yeah, and there's a blood-thirsty alien too!  Ha! It's easy to forget that Super 8 is an exciting sci-fi movie too while watching it.  The downside of the film comes from just that mix up though; it tries to accomplish too much.  Super 8 spreads itself a tad too thin and some of the more dramatic scenes fall flat and feel forced because they're not given time to develop.  Pitty when you consider that Super 8 is good enough to warrent a three hour film and that would have given it the time it needed to breath. Although the movie stinks of Speilberg and comes a little too close to E.T. for me to fall in love with it head-over-heels, Super 8 is still one of the best Summer movies so far and makes me look forward to the next Abrams/Speilberg collaboration with sweaty palms! Super 8 (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A-
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The Hangover Part 2

Full disclosure, I am not a disciple of The Hangover.  I thought the first movie was funny and I gave it a "B."  I didn't think it was the funniest movie of all time or even of that year.  I thought the first act was great, then it got pretty good and the last third of the movie wasn't really that funny at all.  When I heard they were making a sequel I groaned.  When I watched the trailer I rolled my eyes.  After watching the entire movie, I could do nothing but sit there shaking my head at how truly awful it was. The Hangover Part 2 is the perfect example of what's wrong with Hollywood.  The original was a surprise hit and went on to be the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time.  Did it have more to say?  No.  Did there need to be a continuation of the characters?  Not particularly.  So why did this get made?  Pure greed.  Not only was this made ONLY to make money but it was done so arrogantly and lazy. It's one thing to give the people what they want, but it's another thing entirely to shovel the exact same story down their throats.  I was blown away by how much the trailer made it look like the sequel was going to be a rehashing of the first one but nothing could prepare me for how carbon copied it really is.  It's so bad that there are characters from the first one that are in the second one that have absolutely no logical reason for being there.  In case you don't know, the story is the exact same as the first one except now they're in Bangkok preparing for Stu's wedding, who's played by Ed Helms (NBC's The Office, Cedar Rapids).  He's joined by his friends played by Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha, who played Doug in the first one. You can draw a straight line between the two films for comparisons.  For instance, when they wake up from their party they no longer find a baby to care for but instead a monkey.  Stu didn't pull out his tooth but instead got a face tattoo.  I could go on and on with this but I don't want to put any spoilers in the review (although spoilers in a movie like this is a ridiculous notion since you know exactly what's coming next and who will do it).  Let's just say that there are so many that it's fairly sickening. That's not to say that The Hangover Part 2 isn't funny...of course it is.  Just like the first one, it's funny at first and then starts to lose its way as the movie goes on.  For this one the burn is far quicker because director Todd Phillips confused kicking the craziness and humor up a notch with simply making it darker, more serious and gross.  It makes you feel extremely unsettled.  In the first one, although it dealt with a kidnapping, drugs and wrongful marriage, the hijinks the boys get into are relatively frat boy-like behavior.  In this one it's disturbing and dangerous.  It's a lot harder to laugh it off and I could hear that reflected in a packed theater of rabid Hangover fans who sat silent for about 45 minutes of the film. Even Galifianakis, who single-handedly stole the show last time with his witty, improvised, quotable one-liners, was phoning it in.  It almost makes me judge everyone who worked on this movie as being void of integrity.  However, if I had a studio lobbing piles of cash at me to do the exact same movie I already did, I would find it impossible to turn down as well.  But the level of unoriginality that went into this movie is almost insulting as an audience member.  The fact that the studio and Phillips think so less of us that they could deliver this in hopes that we would eat the same exact meal and never notice we were is just sad. I'm sure The Hangover Part 2 will make tons of money all over again.  And I'm sure the studio will figure out a way to get everyone back for another one.  I can only hope the poster for the movie was taken after the cast saw how much the critics hated this movie and that they may have sullied their legacy.  But as far as I'm concerned, I'm officially hungover on The Hangover. The Hangover Part 2 (Rated R) Gavin Grade: D+
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Kung Fu Panda 2

In 2008, when Kung Fu Panda came out, I remember saying that it looked like one of the worst children's movies I ever saw.  It looked insulting to Asians, a mere merchandising vehicle, and annoy since it was just as we started to get over-saturated with Jack Black.  Despite many people telling me that it's good and that I would enjoy it, I have yet to sit down and watch it.  So I brought my co-host Katie's 7-year-old daughter with me to the screening so that she could fill me in on what I needed to know from the first one.  Since 7-year-olds can't really do a great job of recounting something like a movie from three years ago with great detail, I didn't learn too much; however that had no effect on the fact that I enjoyed its sequel immensely! Since I never saw the first one I can't tell you if this picks up where the last one left off.  What I can tell you is that it gets off to a relatively slow beginning.  There isn't anything particularly funny or action-packed until you're almost a third of the way into the film, which is about the original Kung Fu crew going to a far-off city to stop an evil peacock from destroying all of Asia.  But once the plot picks up and the adventure begins it's nothing but a fun, exciting ball that keeps building in size and speed. I know that the tradition for animated movies is to pad them with a ton of celebrity voices since doing voice work is easy, quick and it's a way to get big names to endorse your silly kid movie but this is an impressive pedigree!  Returning from the first besides Black is Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and the always funny David Cross (Men in Black II, HBO's Mr. Show).  The list gets even better with new characters for the sequel voiced by Gary Oldman (JFK, the Harry Potter series), Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD, Bloodsport) and Michelle Yeoh (Sunshine, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon).  These are all small, backseat performances compared to Black's but that's totally fine when you look at the subtly of the whole picture.  The only standout show-stealer is Gary Oldman who plays the villainous peacock named Lord Shen.  He rarely gives a bad performance, even when he's bad movies like Red Riding Hood, and has a never ending rolodex of character voices he can do to make you go "That was Gary Oldman?!?" when the credits roll. To me, the most impressive thing about this movie was how the action gave me goosebumps and the ending gave me tears.  This is probably the best animated film since Toy Story 3 and certainly the one with the most heart.  There are scenes in the movie where the action is so well executed and directed by comic book nerd Jennifer Yuh (Kung Fu Panda, Spawn) that you're delivered the same emotion you get from watching a great action sequence from an adult, live-action film.  Her use of slow motion as a homage to other kung fu films is not on-the-nose or pandering, it actually makes the scenes better.  In addition to that, it builds to an emotional climax that impressed me to the point where I hid a tear or two behind my 3D glasses. Kung Fu Panda 2 is so good that it makes me feel foolish that I ever said those things about the original.  I plan on watching the first one as soon as I can, but if I had to guess, Kung Fu Panda 2 has done what few movies, whether they're for kids or adults, can pull off...it's better than the original!  Plus it did it with the uphill battle of having Jack Black in it. Kung Fu Panda 2 (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: A-
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Everything Must Go

When I went to see this movie on a Saturday night, there were 8 other people in the theater besides me and my wife.  The other people were mostly made up of folks who were big fans of other Will Ferrel movies like Anchorman or The Other Guys.  You could just tell that they bought a ticket for Everything Must Go simply because they thought it was the latest Will Ferrel comedy about...well, who cares it's got Will Ferrel in it!  A more fitting title might have been Everyone Must Go because by the end of the movie, the theater crowd had been whittled down to four besides me and my wife, as they each got up in disappointed huffs and left the theater. Everything Must Go is a dramedy based on the short story by acclaimed American writer Raymond Carver.  My wife had read the short story Why Don't You Dance, for which it's based on, but said it's vastly over-bloated from that; as is the case when a short story is turned into a feature film.  The movie has no big stars in it besides Ferrel but you may recognize small parts played by Stephen Root (Office Space, No Country for Old Men), Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Michael Pena (Crash) or Glenn Howerton (FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).  Again though, all these parts are very small and this movie is owned by Ferrel. This is a tricky film to discuss because it has a lot to say and comes across as a very important character study.  The problem is that it's just freaking depressing!  It's essentially a 92 minute movie about an alcoholic slowly hitting his bottom over the course of a few days.  Sure there is a positive catharsis about it in that when his wife kicks him out of the house and throws all his stuff out on the lawn, he starts to sell it all and it's a physical manifestation of him shedding his old self.  The symbolism didn't get past me, which is a relief because it's really overt.  It's just uncomfortable to watch since it's so not funny and so not super sad, so it just leaves you in this emotional purgatory suspended in between the two. It also doesn't help that you don't feel bad for Ferrel's character.  You can watch it and muster sympathy that everything in his life comes crashing down in just a couple days but all the other characters in the film feel no sympathy for him since they think he's an assh*le.  And since they've known his character longer than you have, there's no other choice than to accept it.  The only person in the film that met him in the same amount of time as the audience is a young teenager that lives down the street, who's played wonderfully and subtly by Christopher Jordan Wallace, who's never been in anything before but is the son of Notorious B.I.G.! It's really not that Everything Must Go is a bad movie.  It's simple and tear-jerking at the end.  It offers a redemptive tone about not giving up, never looking back, changing your life and picking yourself up off the floor.  The problem is that it's not funny enough to be worth watching for that and the main character is too unlikable to champion.  It's more just like a snapshot of a few horrible, terrible days that leads to a jerk changing his life...but who wants to watch that? Everything Must Go (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C
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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I gotta admit, I don't even remember how the hell the third Pirates movie ended.  It was so bad I think I've blocked it from my memory.  Was there a giant crab and upside-down sailboats?  I think I remember now and if memory serves me right it ended with them wrapping up the freakin' series!  But yet, here we are again. This time we are back in the Caribbean with our favorite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, which earned Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination.  Besides the return of Captain Barrbosa played by Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech, Shakespeare in Love), it's an entirely new cast of unfamiliar faces playing all new characters we've never seen or heard of before.  Found in these newbies are Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Blow) as a former lover of Sparrow's and Ian McShane (HBO's Deadwood, Kung Fu Panda) as the infamous Blackbeard.  All together they are searching for The Fountain of Youth. The plot is actually a lot more complex than that and there lies one of the biggest problems this series has had.  The first Pirates of the Caribbean was the king of the summer it came out.  It surpassed every expectation that people had and launched an entire generation of women who had a new sex symbol to obsess over.  But with each film, it got worse and worse.  More characters were added.  The stories got more convoluted and strange.  This became the progression of the series leading to a more and more disappointing outcome.  Yet because the original one was so good, we still await the latest installment and hope it's back to the way it was.  Well, it isn't.  In fact, if anything, it keeps up the tradition of being just as disappointing as the last or even more so. The director of the first three films has departed and left it in the hands of Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine), who does a fine job of not only keeping up the rich detail and gritty tone from the series but also adding in 3D to make some of the scenes more thrilling than they otherwise would be.  One such scene is the crew battling mermaids who are actually vicious man-eaters in this movie.  This was the climax of the movie for me since everything leading to it was a slow, lackluster build and everything after it was a confusing mess.  If the mermaid scene was a short film though, I would have enjoyed it. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly were smart to not be in this and I understand why Depp made Disney pay him GOBS of money to don the pirates rags one more time.  It's because the script is crap.  Characters are presented as important but aren't.  Motives for finding the Fountain of Youth are changed or forgotten.  The action is yawnable at best.  It's just not the Pirates we fell in love.  I hate to say it, but a pirates life is no longer for me. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: C-
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Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids is being compared too and referred to as "the female version of The Hangover."  I can't think of a more insulting thing to say.  Yes, it's true that both are equally as funny as each other (I did not think The Hangover was the best comedy of the year and I gave it a B.)  Yes, both are about everything leading up to a wedding.  Yes, both are crude and filled with heavy profanity (Bridesmaids has worse curse words, by the way).  But outside of those characteristics, that's all those two movies share in common with each other.  It's insulting that a comedy written for, about and starring women can't stand on its own without being compared to any other male-driven comedy.  Bridesmaids is better than that and earns the respect that it should rightfully get. The film stars Kristen Wiig (SNL, Paul) and her real life best friend and co-writer Maya Ruldolph (SNL, Away We Go).  Wiig is the Maid of Honor at her best friend's wedding and falls short of living up to the glamour and party-planning princess Helen, played by Rose Byrne (Insidious, Get Him to The Greek).  Wiig's character is not only failing at that but also at life.  She has no money, no dignity, no house and no respect due to it being stripped away by her f***buddy, played by the wonderfully sleazy Jon Hamm (The Town, AMC's Madmen). The movie is produced by comedy phenom Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Funny People).  He is a Catch 22 in the truest sense of the word thought in that he will make your film have a soul that runs deeper than almost all other comedies out there but he will also make your movie run longer than any other comedy out there.  Bridesmaids is no different since it has a runtime of over two hours and 20-30 minutes of that is unneeded and tedious. Most comedies run into the problem of keeping the whole thing funny and they peter out in the final act. The Hangover did this and it made it go from a great movie to a good movie.  Bridesmaids does it as well but it's acceptable because it no longer tries to be funny and instead lets the drama sweep over it.  This might turn some viewers off, especially the men.  I found myself finding some of the non-comedy underwhelming and unrealistic, however I brought my friend Dave's wife, Mimi, to the screening and she told me that what Wiig's character goes through is very relatable to a lot of women.  It's this aspect of the film that makes me think that it will do better with women and could even become a cult hit among girlfriends and bridesmaids for years to come.  You'll come for The Hangover promise, you'll laugh your ass off at Melissa McCarthy (CBS' Mike and Molly) and you'll embrace the feminine tones...I'm guessing. Bridesmaids (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B
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Troll Hunter

This movie doesn't come out in theaters (if it comes out around Sacramento at all) until mid-June but you can get it on Comcast now.  That's what I did, but I'm sure it watches a hundred times better on the big screen. Troll Hunter is a modestly budgeted film from Norway that is done as a fake documentary.  It's about a group of college students that need to find a great story for them to shoot their student project on.  At first they think they're doing some investigative journalism into a local bear poacher but it quickly turns into a search for mythic beasts - trolls.  I know, I know...that sounds ridiculously stupid and some of you will continue to think that it is even if you watch it, but it's not that difficult to buy into the premise and have fun with it. Troll Hunter was made by an entirely Norwegian cast and crew so don't expect to see any familiar faces or even hear any familiar words; the entire movie has subtitles.  What I enjoyed about this film so much was that it was perfectly toned.  By that I mean it's done seriously and intensely as if these creatures are real and dangerous, however it knows it's a movie about trolls and stays just tongue & cheek enough to not be too serious.  That's not easy to do when you're a fake documentary that is intended to be thrilling but about a goofy premise.  Some movies do it well like Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and some do not, like The Last Exorcism. Troll Hunter features some scenes that are really funny but I can't tell if that's intended or just the nature of the mythology surrounding trolls.  Since this was made by Norwegians, I'm guessing it's all actual lore.  Me second guessing them would be like telling a Scotsman he's wrong about the Loch Ness Monster.  But what's great is that the comedy is peppered in with scenes that carry with them some real tension when you come to grip with the danger these creatures pose.  It also does a great job of skirting around a low budget by using existing landmarks as part of the story that make you totally buy the concept (no spoiler alerts but I'll never look at electrical lines the same way again). Troll Hunter is a fantastic and fun concept that executed with great results from a filmmaking team that shows lots of potential.  I can only hope that they put out another film as fun as this soon but someone will take a chance and give them a much higher budget. Troll Hunter (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B+
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Thor

You most likely have no idea who Kenneth Branagh is but you probably should if you like quality movies.  He's the director of Thor, the latest installment of the Marvel super franchise for The Avengers (due out next summer), which is about the God of Thunder who comes to Earth as a selfish Prince but leaves one of Earth's greatest heroes and protector. Now, if you know who Branagh is based on his prior work, you may think he's an odd choice to direct a superhero movie.  That's because, outside of being in Harry Potter and a few Woody Allen films, he's mostly known for being THE guy for bringing Shakespeare to Hollywood.  His greatest accomplishment is the 4 hour version of Hamlet that he starred in, directed and produced.  So is doing Thor a step down for him?  Not one bit.  The story of Thor is one right out of Shakespeare.  It involves a King, played by Anthony Hopkins, having a hard time convincing his wild son Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) that he's not fit to be the new King until he learns humility, patience and respect.  Sounds almost like the prequel to Hamlet, doesn't it? In case you haven't been brought up to speed yet by the closest comic book nerd in your life, Thor is part of a larger storyline called The Avengers.  It started in 2008 with Edward Norton's The Incredible Hulk, then continued with Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and will continue in a month with Captain America.  These films can be enjoyed on their own but they are also interconnected through mutual characters and hidden goodies throughout the film. I have to admit that I'm more excited about The Avengers story than I am about Thor and that staggered my enjoyment of Thor at first.  I was disappointed that there wasn't more about The Avengers in Thor but then I remembered that these character films MUST be able to stand alone as quality action movies, I was able to enjoy it much more. Thor is a bright and intriguing movie that successfully gets you to buy into the world of the Gods that Thor comes from and how he interacts with the humans on Earth, where he meets Natalie Portman's character.  It has above adequate character development and lots of very funny scenes.  Sadly though the action is few and rushed when you get it.  If you yawn from the lack of pulse in the climaxes of the film you will have missed them because they're so short.  I guess that was the trade-off with having Branagh direct it; you know you'll get a great looking, character driven film but you'll probably also get some pretty weak ass kicking.  Although this is a superhero movie, that didn't ruin it for me though.  It almost reminded me of the first Iron Man movie which had a similar problem with its action to character ratio.  But everyone loved Iron Man, as I'm sure everyone will love Thor.  I just wish the action would have brought the hammer down a little harder. Thor (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: B
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Scream 4

Over the years, I've gotten a lot of crap for my love of the Scream movies.  I was 15-years-old when the first one came out 15 years ago.  At the time, it rocked my socks but like many movies have a tendency to do, it very well could have been just that I was 15 and not that it was a good movie.  I mean, for God's sake, I loved Face/Off at that age too. But Scream has stood the test of time and is still considered one of the most important horror films ever made...and not just by me.  One reason is that it pumped new life (no pun intended) into the "slasher" genre of horror, which was destroyed in the '80s by over-saturation and watered down sequels.  But it also was worthy of creative respect on its own merit.  The fact that despite Drew Barrymore, who was a huge star, was the focus of the trailer and was on the poster, was still killed off in the first ten minutes was astonishing and set up for a film where a "anything could happen" tone existed. Sure the second and third Scream movies weren't as good, but that doesn't mean that they still weren't thoughtful, fun and interesting with what advancement in the on-going story they brought to the table.  So you understand why it pains me to say this as a legit fan of the Scream movies; but Scream 4 sucked. Absolutely nothing new, original or fun exists in this film that tries desperately to come up with a logical reason to continue the story. Sure it's fun to watch stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette reprise their roles.  Of course it's chilling and exciting to hear voice actor Roger Jackson ask people what their favorite scary movie is again.  But that quickly wears off and what you're left with is a pointless sequel filled with new and annoying young actors that are so losely tied to the original characters it makes you laugh that director Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street series, The Hills Have Eyes) would even make this film. The new cast consists of Emma Roberts (It's Kind of a Funny Story, Hotel for Dogs) is Sydney Prescott's cousin, who we've never heard of or seen till now, and Hayden Panettiere (NBCs Heroes, Remember the Titans) is her spunky best friend.  Of course they're joined by fellow high school classmates that get slaughtered one-by-one but this crop aren't charismatic, funny and sympathetic like the old crew.  I hope it's not that I'm getting older but this group comes across just plain annoying. Of course the film leads to a climactic Whodunit? but when the reveal comes it keeps the par of the rest of the movie and disappoints and confuses.  There's a part of the film where they mock the Saw films for not building characters for people to care about and Hollywood for just cranking out unoriginal horror remakes (many of which Craven has been involved with), but Scream 4 is just as guilty of both.  I for one am really happy that I have the original trilogy on DVD, because although I know exactly how they all end, it's a lot more exciting than trying to figure out how the new one did. Scream 4 (Rated R) Gavin Grade: D+
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Your Highness

Are you one of those people that really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy but the lack of modern-day vernacular that included heaps of profanity and scenes of weed humor kept you from loving it? Well, you're in luck because Your Highness is pretty much that. And when I compare it to Lord of the Rings, I'm not overselling the scope of the film. There are epic battle scenes with mythic beasts that contain visual FX that are actually really well done. This was not a cheap movie. Director David Gordon Green has tried his luck at serious drama (Snow Angels) and stoner action comedy (Pineapple Express), so it seemed like he could handle stoner action epic in a serious way. The movie was written by star Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder, Land of the Lost) and he's joined by a pretty impressive cast that includes Oscar nominee James Franco (127 Hours, Milk), Oscar winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan, V for Vendetta) and Zooey Deschanel ((500) Days of Summer, Elf). Everyone involved in the film puts in decent performances but they've all done better. McBride carries a bulk of the comedy on his back and is only supported by bit characters, sight gags and Justin Theroux (American Psycho, The Ten) who plays the villain. However the film is lost in its identity. By the title, advertising and opening first act you get the impression that they wanted to shoehorn in lots of jokes about smoking weed but they changed their mind...and thank God they did. The weed scenes are amusing but completely unnecessary and illogical. I know I'm watching a movie about sword fights with five-headed snake creatures and warlocks but for some reason I found the scenes that involved getting stoned so unbelievably stupid. Overlooking that though, the rest of the movie is pretty damn funny. Note to parents though, this is an R-rated film for a reason. Don't take your little ones expecting this to be a slightly edgier Narnia. There is a prop in the film, which gets one of the biggest laughs, that is WAY inappropriate for kids. However, that edginess and easy sexual jokes that they commit too mixed with fantasy reminds me so much of a modern Mel Brooks film. Your Highness goes into realms of perverted chuckles that Brooks would never dare too, but the tone is still the same. It's lampooning a genre and dragging modern themes into it that make it very obvious that it never once takes itself seriously...and you shouldn't either. There's a really good chance that you won't like this movie. It covers too much to ever make it mass appeal. You have to enjoy medieval fantasy, drug humor, sex jokes, Danny McBride (not everyone does) and action sequences. That's not an easy pill to swallow. But if you do meet all those criteria, then I think Your Highness is going to be the pill that will satisfy you quite well. Your Highness (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B- Gavin actually got to interview Oscar-winner Natalie Porman!!

Click below to hear the interview now:

 Natalie Portman

Gavin got to interview Zooey Deschanel, one of the stars of Your Highness !

Listen to the interview here: Zooey Deschanel
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Hanna

Hold on.  Wait.  Gimme a second.  I'm still trying to catch my breath after seeing this action film from director Joe Wright, who brought us the Oscar-nominated Atonement and the studio f**k-up The Soloist, He has finally made his masterpiece! This is a rare type of film that hasn't been seen since the mid-90s when everyone was trying to copy the pulp flair of Quentin Tarantino.  Hanna is a film filled with weird characters, weirder locations, dazzling visuals, amazing fight scenes, a pulse pounding soundtrack and great acting.  I am a better person having seen this film.  That being said, it's not for everyone.  There will be haters out there who will think it's too weird or unnecessarily jumpy or perhaps even excessively violent, by only the hyper squeamish.  But don't let that detract you from seeing this. One of the most amazing accomplishments that Wright did was make a hardcore, grown-up aggressive action movie appear a lot more violent than it is.  It's rated only PG-13 and that's because he kept the swearing virtually out completely and used cut-aways to mask the gore, much like how Jaws is scarier by NOT seeing the shark. The cast contains Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones), Eric Bana (Munich, Funny People) and Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).  They're also joined by Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean, Pride & Prejudice) who plays an eerie and flamboyant henchmen to Blanchett's villain.  Characters like his are part of what make this movie so amazing.  Everything is slightly off.  Blanchett is an American CIA agent but is in cahoots with Hollander's track suit-wearing, whistling killer who's backed up by a duo of skinhead soccer hooligans.  I know this sounds odd but it totally works.  The locations and sets are just as different too.  You aren't sure where the hell the movie is even taking place for the first 25 minutes and three different locations. Wright is at the top of his game with not only the visuals but the execution of them.  There's a sequence that involves Bana walking through a crowded bus station and down into a subway platform that climaxes in an epic hand-to-hand brawl that is all done entirely in one take.  Most people won't notice or care about a seven-minute-long, one-shot scene but the scale of attempting to do something like that is incredibly impressive. The soundtrack is done by The Chemical Brothers and is probably one of the better ones to come out in a few years.  It's part of a growing trend of hiring industrial/electronica artists to score your movie (such as Daft Punk doing Tron: Legacy and Trent Reznor doing The Social Network) and I'm so glad it's catching steam.  Hanna's soundtrack is almost the perfect foot-stomper you want for an action film that is gritty and tense. This is a film that I will enjoy seeing in the theater again and will look forward to owning on blu-ray many months from now.  I will show it my friends in hopes that they take away from it as much enjoyment as I did.  It's a movie that covers all angles by making you laugh at the right places, drop your jaw at technical achievements and almost cheer out loud for characters you want to see championed. Hanna (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A+
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Arthur

In 1981 a movie came out with Dudley Moore and John Geilgud about a spoiled rich British drunk and his butler called Arthur.  The movie did very well, spawning two Oscar nominations and even a win for Geilgud.  Fast forward 30 years to find that Arthur is remade with Russell Brand (Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Helen Mirren (Red, The Queen) but only this time it won't play to such fanfare.  There's a number of reasons why that is though and it's not just because remakes usually suck and fall flat without offering us something new and exciting. The first is that Brand is a polarizing figure.  His fame train is quickly going up the mountain of success but I wish it would derail.  It's not that I don't like Brand or don't find him funny; he's just way too much to take in as a lead character.  When he played smaller, supporting roles that were quirky and unlikable he was more in his element.  But rooting for him to find love with Greta Gerwig's (Greenburg, House of the Devil) character in Arthur is off-putting to say the least. Another possible reason why Arthur doesn't work this time around is that in 1981, America was in great financial shape for the most part.  People had jobs, they were making money and there was this feeling that everyone could be a millionaire one day.  2011 is very different though and that kind of fiscal optimism doesn't seem to be prevalent anymore.  So sitting back in a theater you paid $10 per person to watch a movie about a guy that could buy the theater for himself just to have some popcorn is a little nauseating.  You find yourself thinking, "Why the hell do I care if anything works out for this guy?  He's giving up billions in inheritance for some girl...f**k that!  I'll give up my own kids for that right now." But mostly the reason why this remake of Arthur doesn't work is because it's not very funny.  During a packed screening of the film, the most I heard from the audience were light chuckles that rippled through like someone tossed a comedy pebble into a pond.  There wasn't one big belly laugh that brought the house down.  Mirren is amusing as she takes on the role that won Geilgud the Oscar, but since she already has one for her own it seems like she just puts in enough effort to make it fun but not funny. The best performances come from Jennifer Gardner (Juno, 13 Going on 30) and Luis Guzman (The Count of Monte Cristo, Boogie Nights) who are great comedic accents to the movie.  They each play characters that are out of their usual character wheelhouse and both put themselves out there for mocking in refreshing scenes that try their best to defibrillate the film back to life. Brand was also a producer of this movie and has said that he desperately wanted to remake it.  Since, outside of changing the sex of one of the characters, nothing new or original was done for this remake, I'd say that Brand remade it out of pure ego.  That is probably the umbrella for which all his other flaws are underneath and in Arthur it shows. Arthur (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: C-
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