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
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...
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
How much time has to go by before we forget that Justin Timberlake was once a pop star? Â Better question; how many movies does he have to star in for us to forget? Â In Time marks his second attempt at being a leading man since his turn in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. Â 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? Â 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. Â 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. Â I give Niccol credit in that he tried to make more than another mindless sci-fi action flick. Â It's really a statement about class warfare and socioeconomic policies. Â Pretty timely considering the current political climate in this country. Â But as current as it seems, it comes across as a script that was written years ago and was never updated. Â For instance, it's not clear why we would ever go back to using pay phones and old muscle cars in the future. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â By the time the movie has reached its exhaustingly excessive 109 minutes, you're just wishing it would end. Â 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 Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+
Horror icon, John Carpenter, brought us The Thing in 1982.Â 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!Â It was absolutely amazing to watch a man's head fall off his shoulders, sprout spider legs and eyes and then crawl away.Â 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.Â
I love prequels.Â I think it's really fun to watch what happened before the movie you already love.Â 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.Â That camp is what this film is all about but it's the exact same story.Â 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.Â 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).Â It makes me think of Ripley in the Alien franchise although she's far from the tough-as-nails that Sigourney Weaver trademarked!Â
I love the aspect of how isolating this film is.Â It takes place in Antarctica which is so cold and lonely that it might as well be space.Â 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.Â It makes it a very unique horror film that also comes with the joy of seeing great monster makeup and FX.Â Sadly, I saw ALL of that in the original and this one doesn't break any new ground.Â
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.Â I'm not against remakes either.Â If they're done well, I think they can potentially be better than the original.Â But I think prequels are way better and I especially don't appreciateÂ it whenÂ prequels don't want to call themselves remakes, which is exactly what The Thing did.Â
Is it scary?Â Not really.Â Is it cool?Â At times.Â 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.Â 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 ThingÂ (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C+
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.Â There's no argument over his influence and skills.Â But for some reason, he chooses horrible movies to do...at least in the last couple decades.Â 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, andÂ The Pink Panther remakes.Â Now he has The Big Year.Â So which pile will this be thrown on?Â Can it be on both?Â
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.Â Yeah.Â Competitive.Â 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.Â
AÂ film in the vein of Christopher Guest's classic Best in Show would have been amazing!Â A comedy lampooning the existence and the people that participate in a bird watching competition sounds awesome!Â Quickly it becomes apparent that that is not the direction they took.Â I probably shouldÂ have seen that coming since it was directed by David Frankel, who did Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada.Â He's very good at giving us comediesÂ that teeter back and forth between very funny and emotionally appealing.Â The Big Year tries as hard as it can to be more like those films but sadly never does.Â
See, when you enter into a Big Year, you are away from your family, your job, your life for a whole year.Â You miss outÂ on an awful lot and the movie partially focuses on that.Â It also focuses on the beauty of nature and the birds themselves.Â If you're saying so far allÂ that doesn't sound very funny...you're right.Â The movie isn't very funny; but that doesn't mean it's not good.Â But it doesn't do aÂ quality jobÂ at pulling you in any particular direction or making you feel a certain way.Â It just kind of exists.Â The characters don'tÂ make you feel for them completely or even pick a favorite in the contest.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â But overall to use the word "big" in the title of this film is false advertising.
The Big YearÂ (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: C
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.Â George Clooney is one of them.Â Sure I'm a little gay for the guy, but how can you not be?Â 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.Â 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.Â 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 andÂ it does nothing for the film.Â It not only has Clooney but Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler).Â With that kind of pedigree, you'd think there'd be thespiatic explosions all over the screen.Â There isn't.
That's not to say that the acting isn't well done though.Â 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.Â Once again, Ryan Gosling does a great job at showing us a very layered character.Â He's the cool and collected head of the political campaign that's put in two situations that lend itself to his undoing.Â One involves a tug-of-war between Hoffman and Giamatti and the other is cleaning up after Clooney.Â 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 aÂ deliberatly slow pace.Â It's not heart-pounding or edge-of-your-seat.Â It plays out more realistic than most political thrillers do.Â I appreciate that.Â But when it comes to how I want my movies, realism is appreciated but not throughly loved.Â 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.Â But it's still very dark, sinister and paints an ugly portrait of American politics...and that I like.
The Ides of MarchÂ (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B-
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. Â 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. Â He directed Date Night, Cheaper by the Dozen and Just Married. Â But he's also the guy that made the Night at the Museum movies which were shockingly funny and awesome! Â So does a higher budget and bigger FX make Levy a better director? Â 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. Â Seeing their names in the opening credits gave me hope that this wouldn't be rusty crap and I was right. Â The film is brightly colored and slickly put together. Â It's also edgy enough that it won't lose older teens but innocent enough that tweens will dig it too. Â The CGI FX are top notch and although they may not be as plentiful and bloated as Transformers, it's the subtlety Â that makes them seem so much more impressive. Â I also appreciate that not all the robots in the film are the work of Hollywood computers. Â 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. Â Not only does he have the energetic smart-ass down cold, but taps into his inner daddy issues convincingly well too. Â Oh yeah, this isn't just a popcorn-chomping action movie; there's a chance you may shed a tear or two. Â 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. Â The script, which was penned by John Gatins (Coach Carter, Hardballs), was highway robbery. Â You may feel yourself enjoying Real Steel to the fullest but get a vague sense that you've seen this before. Â That's because you have. Â It was called Rocky and it won Best Picture in 1976. Â I know you're thinking that it's easy to compare every boxing movie to Rocky. Â That's not what I'm talking about. Â Real Steel is SO MUCH like Rocky that I'm shocked it's legal. Â 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. Â And that's not all. Â The champion that he has to fight is a big, black, strong robot named Zeus. Â 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. Â Same story just switching the character's name from Roman to Greek. Â 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? Â 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. Â If you have seen Rocky, you'll still feel that way but you will have trouble getting past the blatant ripoff. Â That's why I have to give this film two grades. Â One, overlooking the copyright infringement, which many people (sadly) won't care about; and Two, taking that into consideration. Â Either way it's a fun, entertaining movie...because you've probably already seen it.
Real Steel Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B+ and D+
I sat at the screening for this movie next to friends of mine from Fox 40. Â At one point, I was nudged in the side by one of their elbows. Â I looked next to me and saw that I was being handed a tissue. Â I had no idea but I was crying so hard during 50/50 that I was sobbing, snorting and sniveling. Â 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). Â 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. Â 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. Â Yes, there is pot smoking. Â Yes, there is crude language. Â Yes, they try to get laid. Â 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. Â That's not to say that if you're a fan of Knocked Up or Superbad you'll be bored by this. Â 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. Â 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. Â I can't remember a movie in recent memory that made me laugh just as hard as it made me cry. Â 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. Â It's a true masterpiece of writing. Â 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;Â 50/50 is one of them though. Â That's not a spoiler, so don't worry. Â Although this film has some very heartbreaking moments, it's really a celebration of life. Â It's a film about cancer that doesn't spend its full 100 minutes making you feel like you're dying too. Â 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. Â I think 50/50 is good enough to be nominated for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. Â 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. Â I plan on seeing it again as soon as I can and this time I'll bring my own tissues.
50/50 Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A+
This movie has a title that would make almost anybody roll their eyes. Â It has a poster that would make everyone walk right past it in a video store...if video stores still existed. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â The damsel "in distress" is played by Katrina Bowden who's the goddess from NBC's 30 Rock and Sex Drive. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â Other films that have pulled that off are Behind the Mask and more famously, Shaun of the Dead. Â 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. Â 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. Â It does drag at parts and it's sadly not above a dick joke here and there. Â But overall it's a decent horror comedy that takes a tired concept and twists it just a bit. Â 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. Â That's the plot and it works. Â 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 Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B
Brad Pitt has made some great movies over the years. Â Se7en. Â Fight Club. Â Inglorious Basterds. Â 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. Â Moneyball is a new sort of role for him. Â 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. Â Refreshing for those of us who don't care for baseball at all. Â I personally find the sport boring and plodding, but Moneyball rarely is. Â 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. Â I expected the enthusiastic pop and crackle of a classic Sorkin script that chews through dialogue like a rabid dog attack. Â 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. Â 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). Â All of these performers are incredibly underutilized and not allowed to spread their wings as they all have in the past. Â 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. Â No more than Rocky or Field of Dreams. Â 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. Â Beane isn't portrayed a rational or a compromising man, but he's still very likable and noble. Â You find yourself routing him on when he's taking away power from Hoffman's head coach character or belittling Recruiting veterans. Â You want him to succeed in the worst way and you're not really sure why. Â That's one of the great aspects about Moneyball. Â 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. Â Is Moneyball better than those movies? Â No. Â 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-
What really needs to be said about this? Â It's The Lion King! Â It's the best Disney movie ever made (if you don't count Pixar films). Â 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. Â 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. Â Sure the amusement parks were always making money, but most people don't realize how close the film company was to being sold off. Â The Lion King was the most ambitious and emotional films they've made. Â And now it's back on the big screen and this time it's in 3D. Â 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. Â Some love it and some think it's the devil come to destroy cinema as we know it today. Â I'm somewhere in the middle. Â I don't mind it as long as it's not gratuitous and done well. Â 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. Â Now studios could charge people a premium cost for a ticket and make profit back tens times faster. Â 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. Â It means you put a print of a movie through a 3D conversion AFTER it was shot in 2D. Â 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. Â These looked terrible, caused migraines and had theater-goers screaming for refunds. Â However The Lion King's 3D conversion looks incredible. Â 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. Â There's a reason why it resonates so well with children and adults. Â That reason is that it's based on one of the most famous stories ever told...Hamlet. Â 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. Â That's brilliant and it always will be. Â The young prince. Â The mighty king for a father. Â The jealous uncle. Â The murder of brother against brother. Â It's all there in gorgeous color!
Plus how can you forget the music? Â The Lion King has one of the most impressive musical scores of all the Disney movies, which is no easy task. Â 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?" Â 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 Â (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A+
This movie opens on a black screen. Â You hear audio, people talking, casino noises, but you don't see anything. Â Then you hear someone start to cough. Â The second that happens, you're already put on edge for the movie about a disease that threatens to wipe out the planet. Â It's a brilliant way to open the movie. Â I smirked when I heard that and got scared at the same time. Â Sadly, that just might be the best part of Contagion.
Movies about diseases that end the world scare the s**t out of me! Â It's ten times scarier than a giant tidal wave or earthquakes or zombies or aliens. Â Diseases are real and they really do harness the power to kill everyone alive. Â Full disclosure, I was looking forward to this film and wanted it to be amazingly scary. Â I was so disappointed.
Director Stephen Soderbergh has his ups and downs but never would I call him a hack. Â He's always looking for ways to push the envelope of cinema or have fun with it. Â He's impressed critics and audiences with Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Oceans movies. Â 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. Â Where will Contagion fall? Â That seems to be debatable. Â 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. Â It's not short of A-list firepower at all. Â It has Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburn, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law to name just a few. Â All are fine actors that have given us great performances over the years. Â However, none of these actors play characters that are involved in any cohesive story together. Â 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. Â It's as if the movie itself got infected and just staggers around in a cold sweat hacking. Â All the things that make a movie about the end of the world entertaining are shown to us in Contagion with zero zest! Â 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. Â He loved it. Â He actually liked the fact that it was downplayed so much because he said it made it feel real. Â 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. Â That's what happened with Contagion.
Pulling off a movie with a huge cast of characters is not easy. Â There are only a few movies that have done it...but Soderbergh is a director that has done that successfully a lot! Â So what went wrong here? Â I can only imagine my diagnosis was correct...Contagion is sick.
Contagion Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C
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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â A colossal advertising mistake on the part of the studio. Â 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. Â It now appears that O'Connor has another misstep under his belt.
He tried so hard to go gritty with Warrior. Â 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. Â However it does it in a PG-13 filter which might be the biggest mistake made. Â These characters are deeply troubled, angry and come from backgrounds that would lend a filthy vocabulary to realism. Â Not only is that void from the film but so is BLOOD! Â Seriously?! Â You have one of the most violent sports on the planet and you don't show any blood?! Â 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? Â That's one of the aspects of what made Rocky so good; a film which this will get unfairly compared to this a lot. Â Don't believe the hype...it's FAR from Rocky. Â But at the end of Rocky we can see the abuse his body and face took. Â Christ, we even see Rocky's eyelid get sliced open in an attempt to keep the fight going! Â Make it realistic or don't make it at all.
The silver lining for Warrior is the acting. Â It stars Tom Hardy (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), Joel Edgerton (Star Wars prequels, Animal Kingdom) and Nick Nolte (Tropic Thunder, Cape Fear). Â Nolte gives us one of his best performances as their heavily damaged father fighting for his redemption in his sons' eyes. Â His performance is heart-breaking and tragic and exactly what Oscar nominations are made of. Â He would totally deserve the statue as of right now. Â Hardy and Edgerton give great performances too. Â Hardy has all the silent, steely resolve of a young Marlon Brando. Â 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. Â I appreciate that. Â The moves are real and the MMA cameos are plentiful. Â But that only impresses me so much. Â At the end of the day, you still need to tell a story that is told in a compelling way. Â Warrior doesn't really do that. Â The last 20 minutes of the movie is epic and exciting. Â It builds to a climax that makes it hard to maintain a dry eye or avoided goosebumps. Â But the first two hours (yes this movie is almost two-and-a-half hours long) is slow, choppy and plodding. Â I give credit to those that make it to the end; they're the real warriors...because they fought to stay awake.
Warrior Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-
Paul Rudd is usually a safe bet for a great film. Â There aren't too many he's done in his life that didn't turn out good, if not great. Â 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? Â 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. Â The story centers around three sisters dealing with their brother after he's released from prison. Â Their brother, Rudd, isn't really a criminal...he's just an idiot. Â He was thrown in jail for selling weed to a uniformed cop. Â That's how the movie starts. Â Not only is Rudd's character an idiot, but he's one of the most likable and lovable characters of the year. Â He means no harm in everything he does, yet harm is what seems to be left in his wake. Â 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. Â He's fantastic. Â Really everyone is. Â 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. Â 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. Â Rudd is a hippie from Long Island but their sisters' worlds exist as busy, artie hipsters living in Brooklyn. Â Worlds collide? Â I guess so but with annoying meets awful, you end up with awfully annoying. Â It limits the likable characters to just Rudd's and that's a problem when you're suppose to like everyone else as well. Â 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. Â 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 Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B-
Guillermo Del Toro is rapidly becoming a favorite filmmaker by both critics and fanboys alike. Â He's the genius director behind such incredible fantasy horror movies like Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone and Cronos. Â He's also the genius director behind such incredible comic book actions like Hellboy and Blade II. Â But sadly, he didn't direct Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
Del Toro produced this movie. Â That doesn't give it a death sentence at all. Â In fact, just the opposite. Â He's done that with cinematic awesomeness like The Orphanage and Biutiful. Â He's even gotten involved in animation movies like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind. Â But something went wrong with this film. Â 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. Â 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. Â Wow! Â Just typing that out makes it sound so much better than it actually is. Â It's far tamer from the gruesome premise seems to be. Â 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. Â 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. Â The shining star of the film is the daughter played by the young Bailee Madison. Â She carries this entire movie on her back with a fantastic performance. Â 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. Â She's undoubtedly the star of the film and looks legitimately terrified of the little beasties that are after her. Â What impressed me even more is that she had to act that way while looking at nothing since all the monsters were CGI. Â 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. Â The FX used for them are very, very well done. Â 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. Â 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. Â That decision might have been the fault of first-time director Troy Nixey. Â 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. Â I guess it should have been put through a little more work since it isn't scary. Â 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 Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
I went to see this screening with my buddy Dave. Â 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. Â This was when we were kids...and when there were video stores. Â 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. Â 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. Â If the comedy wasn't there or the horror wasn't there, then I wouldn't want to be there either. Â 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. Â 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. Â Now they're all brooding and in love. Â They all have tortured, sad stories and lack the visceral violence that made us flock to the cinemas for the blood that we craved. Â 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?!!? Â 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. Â The teenager is played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, The Beaver) and the vampire is Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Horrible Bosses). Â 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. Â 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. Â But as the years go on, both actors have really impressed me with bold movie choices and stellar performances. Â Fright Night continues that tradition for Farrell, who seems like he really enjoyed playing the vampire Jerry...yes, Jerry. Â (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. Â 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). Â 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. Â It was gory, scary, fun and hilarious. Â Fright Night starts off a little slow but builds to a wonderfully satisfying orgy of blood and comedy by the end. Â 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 Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
Why do you think some studio executives were sitting around and said to each other, "Do you remember Conan the Barbarian?" Â "The one from 1982 with Arnold Swarzenegger and James Earl Jones?" said the other. Â "Yeah. Â We should remake that," exclaimed the other. Â 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. Â 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. Â The new version is also more expensive, slicker, more violent and, of course, in 3D. Â 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. Â Conan is a barbarian...naturally...who gets involved with a woman in his quest to revenge his father's death. Â Although the film is written by four different people, it's the major reason why it didn't perform to quality. Â Even director Marcus Nispel attempted to polish this turd up as best he could. Â He's the guy that Hollywood seems to call on whenever they're in need of a bloody revamp of an old classic. Â 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. Â 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. Â In fact, in a summer that's been filled with subpar action films, this one ranks up there among the top half. Â 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. Â McGowan adds another devious diva to her resume in what is a vastly underrated caliber of performer. Â Not only is she beautiful, even when she has half her hairline shaved down, but seems to have so much fun in being bad. Â Her interaction with Lang's father-killing villain is fun but only in their nonverbal chemistry. Â 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. Â 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 Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C-
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. Â 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. Â It was exciting, had great make-up, a brilliant script, fun action and a moral message. Â So it seems strange and very risky to create a prequel 43 years later that explains how it all started. Â 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. Â You find out at the end that the planet turns out to be Earth and he traveled hundreds of years in the future. Â 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! Â 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. Â Simple facial expressions that he performs are touching one second and disturbingly menacing the next. Â 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. Â 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. Â The scenes that play out between them are done tastefully and tragically. Â 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. Â (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. Â 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. Â For me, his most impressive work is a scene when (spoiler alert) Caesar speaks for the first time. Â Again, if you know the series, you know they HAVE TO put an ape's first word in the film. Â So much hinges on that scene. Â It could easily be too ridiculous and ruin the whole movie, but it isn't. Â 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. Â This is a smart, quality science-fiction film that deserves the respect the original was given four decades ago. Â Maybe, dare I say, even a little more.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+
In 1981, Saturday morning cartoons were introduced to a 1958 comic strip called The Smurfs. Â It was quirky, weird, innocent and from Belgium. Â Despite all the people saying it would never work, it still did. Â In fact, The Smurfs ran as a cartoon on Saturday mornings for 8 more years and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandise. Â 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? Â 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. Â That does not mean that it will work every time. Â Especially when you ignore what made Transformers so successful and that was to make it appeal to the adults that loved it as kids. Â 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. Â In fact, I was embarrassed for them while watching it. Â Especially for Azaria who is one of the greatest comedic character actors out there right now. Â 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. Â This man hasn't made a good movie yet and seems to have the bargain bin DVD movie at Walmart down pretty good. Â He's the disaster that's given us films like Scooby Doo, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Big Momma's House. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â The best thingÂ The Smurfs has going for it is the infectious theme song they sing over and over and over again. Â 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
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. Â The guy has turned out fantastic comedic performances like he did on NBC's The Office or Anchorman or The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Â 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. Â 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). Â 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. Â 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. Â The premise is nothing new...little coming out of Hollywood is anymore; but that doesn't mean that it's not entertaining and touching. Â It manages to maintain a tone through the whole film that's very refreshing. Â 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. Â 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. Â Even as predictable and cheesy as some scenes (especially the ending) can get, it's those shockers that really kept my eyes from rolling. Â 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. Â However it's one of those movies that seems to come along rather often that is a universal crowd pleaser on almost all levels. Â It doesn't get graphic. Â It stays very sweet. Â It has the perfect amount of ha-has. Â It makes sure you don't leave unhappy. Â 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-
There's an old debate over whether or not it's better to be first or last in an audition. Â Some say you don't want to be first because the judges aren't even paying attention because they're just warming up. Â Some say you don't want to go last because the judges will be exhausted by the end. Â 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. Â But I wonder if that's because I enjoy comic book movies. Â Or perhaps its that I enjoy comic book movies that's the reason why I didn't love it. Â 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. Â In the last 70 years though, he's dropped off in popularity. Â 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. Â To catch you up to speed, those films have been The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and now Captain America. Â Luckily they've all been good films and have recouped that insane amount of money they've invested. Â (The Avengers comes out next summer and will feature all four characters.) Â 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. Â He's usually a great comedic, painfully attractive, charismatic performer but in this role he's as bland and dry as wall paper. Â He bred zero personality into the character and makes him rather impossible to like and root for. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â Huh?
There are redeeming qualities though. Â 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. Â I also really enjoyed the risk that Johnston and Marvel took by releasing a summer blockbuster superhero PERIOD film. Â Almost the entire movie takes place in 1941...bold move. Â There's even a musical number in it. Â These are brave decisions that Johnston made and for that I appreciate it. Â The 3D is actually done pretty well too. Â 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. Â Iron Man set the bar so high though that we've fallen short of it ever since. Â That's the problem with all these films linking together; they all get compared to each other. Â 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-
Hold on one second. Â I'm still tearing up, let me wipe them away. Â 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! Â 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. Â This is the eighth installment of the most lucrative film series of all time, and it's also (tear) the last. Â Harry Potter blessed us with the first movie ten years ago and it's been part of our lives ever since. Â 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. Â The first one grossed over a billion dollars, so why have one billon dollar movie when you could have two? Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â In this final film, we get the performances from everyone that we've been longing to see. Â 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. Â However, for me, stealing the show is Alan Rickman (Dogma, Galaxy Quest), who plays Snape. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â Will they be smart enough to do it here? Â Do I think Deathly Hallows part 2 is good enough to earn Oscars on its own? Â Yes I do. Â 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? Â I believe that too. Â Now it's up to them. Â 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+
In Jennifer Aniston's career since Friends, she's been box office poison. Â Regardless of whether or not you like her or think she's any good acting, her films haven't done well at all. Â 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. Â That is until now.
So how did she overcome this streak. Â 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). Â 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. Â Now you may not know his name but he's already made some incredible films. Â 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. Â 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. Â You can tell by the outtakes that pepper the end credits. Â Even Aniston is very funny as the sexually harassing dentist, although she's clearly the weakest link. Â 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. Â 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. Â It sets up the characters in stilted dialogue and shows us the titular horrible bosses that are so horrible they come across as unbelievable. Â But luckily this doesn't last long and once we're in the throws of the film it gets very funny, very quickly. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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-
There is only one movie studio out there that isÂ pitching a perfect game and that's Pixar. Â All of their films have been huge financial hits and several have won Oscars. Â All of them have over a 90% on RottenTomatoes.com...all of them except one - Cars. Â So why would they select that one for a sequel? Â The reason is simple, it's Disney's bread and butter for selling merchandise to boys. Â So much so that Disneyland is building an entire land dedicated to Cars that opens next year. Â So, I get it. Â 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. Â 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. Â I enjoy ALL of the Pixar movies, but Cars is certainly my least favorite. Â The reason why is because I consider it to be the least imaginative and original of their pedigree. Â Every single one of the Pixar movies involve these fantastical characters that have crazy adventures. Â 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. Â They show how they interact with humans and make it believable. Â Cars doesn't do that. Â It's our world, but with zero humans and cars just exist without us. Â It's weird and also kept me from really enjoying them. Â 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. Â They did a decent job of making it its own film with a totally new story. Â In Cars 2, that story is a "spy thriller." Â 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. Â The action is great and thrilling at times no matter what your age is. Â There's racing, but very little, which is totally fine with me. Â The animation in the film is also one of the highlights. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â It's good. Â 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. Â It also has a heartwarming montage set to Weezer (my favorite band) doing a cover of The Cars...again with the cleverness! Â I think the victim here is Pixar itself. Â They have raised the bar so high with their films that we don't expect another animated movie for kids; we expect art. Â Toy Story 3 was the best movie of 2010 and made adults weep buckets. Â The first 10 minutes of Up was more of a sweeping romance than anything that came out in the last decade. Â The final scene of Monsters Inc. is still one of the best, most emotional endings I've ever seen. Â Cars 2, though, is just slightly above another animated movie for kids. Â And that's kind of upsetting.
Cars 2 Â (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: B
Every year I think it's the Summer of the Superhero! Â A season where the cinemas are filled with a non-stop avalanche of superhero films. Â This year seems to be even worse than last. Â But they're cash cows, commanding the box office with the might the main characters possess. Â 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). Â 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). Â Stealing the show, by far, is Sarsgaard who plays villain Hector Hammond. Â 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. Â He is almost flawless as a villain for a superhero film. Â 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. Â You can imagine that Green Lantern is quite a departure for him considering that most of it is very, very heavy in science fiction. Â This isn't the realistic superhero film like The Dark Knight or even the realistic fun superhero film like Iron Man. Â A lot of the movie takes place in space and there are more aliens in it than all of 2010's alien movies combined. Â 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. Â I'm not afraid to say that Green Lantern is a good film. Â I enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed Thor, maybe even slightly more. Â It's bright, colorful and fun. Â 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. Â A pleasant surprise considering the fact that if you pay over $10 for a single ticket, I want to see some fun 3D surprises. Â 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. Â But is it fun? Â Yup. Â Will it excite you and make you laugh? Â Yes. Â Will you leave the theater feeling like you got your money's worth? Â I did. Â 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
I would imagine that working with (under the shadow of) Steven Speilberg is wonderful, intimidating and terrifying all a the same time. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â You see disasters all the time among the ruins of dramatic-comedies. Â Super 8 isn't a dramatic comedy though. Â 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. Â Yikes! Â That's a handful. Â 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. Â 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. Â The FX are done so masterfully and is performed so well by the kids that it deserves some sort of achievement award for it. Â 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). Â The banter between the children though are one of the most enjoyable things about the film. Â It reminds me of movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies or (the extremely underrated '80s film) The Explorers. Â 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. Â Your first love. Â Your projects you would attempt with friends. Â Even feelings of late summer sunsets that seemed to last forever and go on for light years are gorgeously captured in the film. Â Oh yeah, and there's a blood-thirsty alien too! Â Ha!
It's easy to forget that Super 8 is an exciting sci-fi movie too while watching it. Â The downside of the film comes from just that mix up though; it tries to accomplish too much. Â 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. Â 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-
Full disclosure, I am not a disciple of The Hangover. Â I thought the first movie was funny and I gave it a "B." Â I didn't think it was the funniest movie of all time or even of that year. Â 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. Â When I heard they were making a sequel I groaned. Â When I watched the trailer I rolled my eyes. Â 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. Â The original was a surprise hit and went on to be the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Â Did it have more to say? Â No. Â Did there need to be a continuation of the characters? Â Not particularly. Â So why did this get made? Â Pure greed. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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). Â 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. Â For instance, when they wake up from their party they no longer find a baby to care for but instead a monkey. Â Stu didn't pull out his tooth but instead got a face tattoo. Â 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). Â 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. Â Just like the first one, it's funny at first and then starts to lose its way as the movie goes on. Â 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. Â It makes you feel extremely unsettled. Â 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. Â In this one it's disturbing and dangerous. Â 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. Â It almost makes me judge everyone who worked on this movie as being void of integrity. Â 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. Â But the level of unoriginality that went into this movie is almost insulting as an audience member. Â 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. Â And I'm sure the studio will figure out a way to get everyone back for another one. Â 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. Â But as far as I'm concerned, I'm officially hungover on The Hangover.
The Hangover Part 2 (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+
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. Â 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. Â Despite many people telling me that it's good and that I would enjoy it, I have yet to sit down and watch it. Â 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. Â 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. Â What I can tell you is that it gets off to a relatively slow beginning. Â 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. Â 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! Â 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). Â 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). Â 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. Â The only standout show-stealer is Gary Oldman who plays the villainous peacock named Lord Shen. Â 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. Â This is probably the best animated film since Toy Story 3 and certainly the one with the most heart. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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! Â Plus it did it with the uphill battle of having Jack Black in it.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A-
When I went to see this movie on a Saturday night, there were 8 other people in the theater besides me and my wife. Â The other people were mostly made up of folks who were big fans of other Will Ferrel movies like Anchorman or The Other Guys. Â 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! Â 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. Â 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. Â 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). Â 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. Â The problem is that it's just freaking depressing! Â It's essentially a 92 minute movie about an alcoholic slowly hitting his bottom over the course of a few days. Â 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. Â The symbolism didn't get past me, which is a relief because it's really overt. Â 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. Â 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. Â And since they've known his character longer than you have, there's no other choice than to accept it. Â 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. Â It's simple and tear-jerking at the end. Â It offers a redemptive tone about not giving up, never looking back, changing your life and picking yourself up off the floor. Â The problem is that it's not funny enough to be worth watching for that and the main character is too unlikable to champion. Â 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
I gotta admit, I don't even remember how the hell the third Pirates movie ended. Â It was so bad I think I've blocked it from my memory. Â Was there a giant crab and upside-down sailboats? Â I think I remember now and if memory serves me right it ended with them wrapping up the freakin' series! Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â The first Pirates of the Caribbean was the king of the summer it came out. Â It surpassed every expectation that people had and launched an entire generation of women who had a new sex symbol to obsess over. Â But with each film, it got worse and worse. Â More characters were added. Â The stories got more convoluted and strange. Â This became the progression of the series leading to a more and more disappointing outcome. Â Yet because the original one was so good, we still await the latest installment and hope it's back to the way it was. Â Well, it isn't. Â 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. Â One such scene is the crew battling mermaids who are actually vicious man-eaters in this movie. Â 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. Â 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. Â It's because the script is crap. Â Characters are presented as important but aren't. Â Motives for finding the Fountain of Youth are changed or forgotten. Â The action is yawnable at best. Â It's just not the Pirates we fell in love. Â 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-
Bridesmaids is being compared too and referred to as "the female version of The Hangover." Â I can't think of a more insulting thing to say. Â 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.) Â Yes, both are about everything leading up to a wedding. Â Yes, both are crude and filled with heavy profanity (Bridesmaids has worse curse words, by the way). Â But outside of those characteristics, that's all those two movies share in common with each other. Â 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. Â 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). Â 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). Â Wiig's character is not only failing at that but also at life. Â 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). Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â This might turn some viewers off, especially the men. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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
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. Â 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. Â It's about a group of college students that need to find a great story for them to shoot their student project on. Â 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. Â 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. Â What I enjoyed about this film so much was that it was perfectly toned. Â 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. Â That's not easy to do when you're a fake documentary that is intended to be thrilling but about a goofy premise. Â 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. Â Since this was made by Norwegians, I'm guessing it's all actual lore. Â Me second guessing them would be like telling a Scotsman he's wrong about the Loch Ness Monster. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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+
You most likely have no idea who Kenneth Branagh is but you probably should if you like quality movies. Â 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. Â 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. Â His greatest accomplishment is the 4 hour version of Hamlet that he starred in, directed and produced. Â So is doing Thor a step down for him? Â Not one bit. Â The story of Thor is one right out of Shakespeare. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â It has above adequate character development and lots of very funny scenes. Â Sadly though the action is few and rushed when you get it. Â If you yawn from the lack of pulse in the climaxes of the film you will have missed them because they're so short. Â 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. Â Although this is a superhero movie, that didn't ruin it for me though. Â It almost reminded me of the first Iron Man movie which had a similar problem with its action to character ratio. Â But everyone loved Iron Man, as I'm sure everyone will love Thor. Â I just wish the action would have brought the hammer down a little harder.
Thor (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B
Over the years, I've gotten a lot of crap for my love of the Scream movies. Â I was 15-years-old when the first one came out 15 years ago. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â But it also was worthy of creative respect on its own merit. Â 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. Â So you understand why it pains me to say this as a legit fan of the Scream movies; but Scream 4 sucked.Â 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. Â Of course it's chilling and exciting to hear voice actor Roger Jackson ask people what their favorite scary movie is again. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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+
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!!
Hold on. Â Wait. Â Gimme a second. Â 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. Â Hanna is a film filled with weird characters, weirder locations, dazzling visuals, amazing fight scenes, a pulse pounding soundtrack and great acting. Â I am a better person having seen this film. Â That being said, it's not for everyone. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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). Â They're also joined by Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean, Pride & Prejudice) who plays an eerie and flamboyant henchmen to Blanchett's villain. Â Characters like his are part of what make this movie so amazing. Â Everything is slightly off. Â 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. Â I know this sounds odd but it totally works. Â The locations and sets are just as different too. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â I will show it my friends in hopes that they take away from it as much enjoyment as I did. Â 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+
In 1981 a movie came out with Dudley Moore and John Geilgud about a spoiled rich British drunk and his butler called Arthur. Â The movie did very well, spawning two Oscar nominations and even a win for Geilgud. Â 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. Â 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. Â His fame train is quickly going up the mountain of success but I wish it would derail. Â 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. Â When he played smaller, supporting roles that were quirky and unlikable he was more in his element. Â 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. Â People had jobs, they were making money and there was this feeling that everyone could be a millionaire one day. Â 2011 is very different though and that kind of fiscal optimism doesn't seem to be prevalent anymore. Â 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. Â You find yourself thinking, "Why the hell do I care if anything works out for this guy? Â He's giving up billions in inheritance for some girl...f**k that! Â 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. Â 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. Â There wasn't one big belly laugh that brought the house down. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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-
Paul Giamatti has the face of a basset hound. His eyes match the droopiness in his cheeks, his hair is falling out, his belly extends and if you didn't know he was a successful and gifted actor, you'd think he was just another guy that life kicked around. So if I were to tell you that he was the star of, possibly, THE feel-good movie of 2011, it would be pretty hard to swallow...but it's true.
Win Win is a story of a desperate family sap who finds a way to con an old man, who's played by the wonderful and actually still living Burt Young (the Rocky series, HBO's The Sopranos), but it backfires when he has to take care of his grandson, who's played by a kid named Alex Shaffer in a spectacular film debut. Giamatti's wife is the wonderful Amy Ryan (NBC's The Office, Gone Baby Gone) and rounds out an absolutely perfect cast.
Every moment of this movie builds to something better and, although it's predictable in its formula, is an incredibly heartwarming story. Writer/Director Thomas McCarthy is also an actor. You'd recognize him in movies like 2012, the Meet the Parents series and Michael Clayton. He uses his experience as an actor to really get genuine performances out of his cast. Every word that they utter drips with sincerity and soul.
This isn't a sappy melodrama though. This is a rare and wonderful thing...a dramedy that is perfectly done. I've often said that it's very hard to pull off something that is a fantastic drama and a hilarious comedy at the same time. Most films find that by attempting to do both, they fail to excel at them too. Win Win is a shining example of how it's suppose to be accomplished.
The supporting characters played Jeffry Tambor (The Hangover, Paul) and Bobby Cannavale (FX's Louie, The Other Guys) are not just fluff. They each add some of the best humor to the film but each pump a little drama in as well. They're not two dimensional characters that are only there to make a joke and leave; they have drama and sadness in their lives as well which they need to express and solve.
Win Win dives into some heavy topics. Giamatti's character is rather unlikable when we first meet him because of what he does to this old man. The situation for him and his family seems to get worse and then better and then really bad until they build to a point where a Win Win ending seems impossible. Not only is it accomplished, but so is making it funny all the way through as well.
Win Win (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A+
For me, the best kinds of horror movies are the ones that burn disturbing images in my brain so that I'm still seeing them and reliving the scenes back throughout the day...and especially night. Â The image of Reagan sitting on the bed smiling after her face has been distorted and damaged in The Exorcist. Â The closet door swinging open for a split second to show what happens when you watch "the tape" in The Ring. Â The little girl waking up in the middle of the night to see some kind of lightly panting thing crouched on the edge of her bed looking at her in Martyrs. Â These were all lasting scenes for me from some of the best horror movies ever made. Â Insidious came so close and then blew it though.
The film stars Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Lakeview Terrace) and Rose Byrne (Get Him to The Greek, 28 Weeks Later) as the loving parents of three kids who move into a new house. Â Neither are any strangers to horror and both have been in some very scary movies, but in this they both put in luke warm performances.
Although Insidious starts off as a cookie cutter haunted house story, it's still one of the best cookie cutters I've seen. Â The first half of the movie is scary as hell even if you're blind...I would know since I closed my eyes during some of the more suspenseful scenes. Â The use of slight creaks on wooden floors, slight whispers down hallways and even perfect silence puts you right on the very edge of your seat. Â The atmosphere is thick with spookiness.
However, the film takes a sad turn down "What The Hell Ln." once a psychic is called in, played by Lin Shaye (Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber). Â From that point on the scary moments come fewer and the overt, FX-laden action takes over. Â That's not to say there aren't some great moments in the second half though, including some much needed levity. Â I don't want to go into some of my heavy critiques due to giving too much away, but let's just say that Darth Maul should have stayed in Star Wars.
The movie is produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), and written and directed by the two guys who gave us Saw. Â (Say what you will about how awful that series has gotten, the first two films are still really good.) Â Director James Wan has really proven himself to be a better caliber filmmaker than I gave him credit for. Â There are moments in Insidious where I felt like I was walking through a spook house at a carnival...and that's a good thing. Â He successfully creates a throwback to a certain stylized horror genre that was made famous in the '70s, almost like how Sam Raimi did with 2009'sÂ Drag Me to Hell.
Unfortunately the script isn't very original or conclusively satisfying, which is really too bad when you consider how powerfully spooky it begins. Â You'll definitely jump and be creeped out by Insidious, and if you leave with 25 minutes left to go you'll leave satisfied too.
Gavin Grade: B-
It's no secret that I'm vocal in my hatred of the spawn of celebrities getting into the film industry. Â It just seems as if they don't earn the celebrity that they have. Â But every once in a while there's one that comes along that is counter to my labels of "talentless and lucky" and an example of that is director Duncan Jones.
Jones is the son of singer David Bowe and really impressed me with his last movieÂ Moon. Â It was a one-man show that featured Sam Rockwell putting in the last two weeks of a three year contract mining minerals by himself on the moon. Â It was a sci-fi headtrip that was tense, sad and tragic. Â What was amazing though was that it was science fiction for people who don't really like science fiction. Â That's not an easy task to pull off, especially to do it well.
For his follow-up film he chose to do exactly that again and surpassed it in scope and story. Â This time, Jake Gyllenhaal is an Air Force pilot who wakes up to find himself in a secret military operation that involves reliving the same 8 minutes before a terrorist attack in Chicago in the body of someone else over and over again in an attempt to try and catch the killer. Â Can you wrap your brain around that?!
But what's most interesting to me is that he opens it up to be more than just a mindless action movie that, frankly, anyone from Bruce Willis to Jet Li could have pulled off. Â By the end of the film Jones has shifted the thesis of the movie to one of morality, forgiveness and hope. Â He also has the timeless theme of government overstepping their limit and stripping away rights for what they consider to be for the greater good. Â Think of it kind of like Groundhog Day but with an exploding train. Â Each time Gyllenhaal has to go back to solve a little more of the mystery, the story unfolds into more and more mystery.
What's really cool because what you think would be the exciting parts of the film, such as finding the bomb and finding the terrorist, pale in comparison to the real mystery of how The Source Code works and how he got in it. Â The only disappointment is that the scenes that do involve locating the bomb and confronting the terrorist are not executed as well as they should be. Â They lack a pulse and seem almost rushed with cheesy dialogue and luke warm performances. Â But when you make it to the end of the film and then look back on it, those scenes really aren't the point of the film. Â It's not an action movie. Â Source Code is science fiction drama that happens to have some cool explosions and jumps from a speeding train. Â The originality of the script, written by Ben Ripley, is what drives this movie to the level of awesomeness it gets. Â The twists and turns that shock and sadden are genuine and unpredictable, which seem to be the trend in Jones' movies. Â Makes me look forward to his next film with heavy anticipation.
The Source Code (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A-
Here's a quiz that has nothing to do with how good or bad Jane Eyre is, the film based on the classic novel most of us had to read in school by Charlotte Bronte. Â What's a worse movie watching experience? Â A: Theater full of teenagers. Â B: Â Theater full of ethnic stereotypes (you know what I mean). Â C: Â Theater full of old people. Â After seeing Jane Eyre I can confidently say that the answer is C. Â My theater was packed with the geriatric and if they weren't loudly snorting in through their nose every 15 seconds or trying to gnaw down their buttered popcorn, then they were loudly explaining the movie to each other. Â But I will try not to allow that to ruin my opinion of the film...I just had to vent.
Like all movies that are based on a book, you have to prepare yourself for a lean and trimmed representation of what the pages contained. Â Unfortunately for director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), Jane Eyre is a really long book. Â What they chose to chop was selective and calculated but it was also somewhat vital to character development. Â If you never read the book and expect the movie to make you love Jane as much as the readers do, you will be disappointed. Â But this should make English teachers happy who will easily be able to catch whether or not a student read the book or saw the movie...be warned!
The film has a great dreary look to it and I know it's easy to chalk up the overcast sky and pall of gloom as...well...England, but it actually fits the mood of the story very well. Â Of course after sitting through two hours of that kind of atmosphere, it doesn't make you feel romantic at all and instead makes you want to jump off a cliff.
The performances from star Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are Alright) and Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds, 300) are very good, especially from her. Â She displays the reserved joy and masked misery that Jane should, although the years of torment that leads to her stoic persona are cut from the film.
The problem with this adaptation is where they decided to take it. Â I never took Jane Eyre, the book, as a sweeping period romance but instead a gothic mystery that had romance in it. Â Nevertheless, a sweeping period romance is, indeed, where it ended up. Â I won't give anything away but scenes of spooky noises and terrifying night visions could have made the film much more entertaining to a broader audience, but instead they were cast aside to cater to middle-aged women seeking 19th century romance.
This isn't me just hating on the movie because it's simply not the book. Â I try to separate my feelings on the two. Â If you never read the book you will probably enjoy the film at a "take-it-or-leave-it" level. Â Dangerous though since if you did read the book, you will probably wish you did it again instead of see the film.
Jane Eyre (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-
For a solid year now movie nerds and fanboys have been drooling over the prospect of director Zach Snyder getting back in the business of kicking ass! Â For some reason the man that brought us 300, Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen most recently gave us the children's film Legends of the Guardian. Â What?! Â So it was a relief to most of us to see the trailer for Sucker Punch. Â Hot girls dressed in sexy outfits shooting guns and kicking ass in a fantasy film about escaping reality while escaping an insane asylum. Â I was hook-line-and-sinkered! Â Sadly though, Sucker Punch was a giant, disjointed mess.
The film stars Emily Browning (The Uninvited, Lemony Snickets) as a wrongfully imprisoned girl who sinks into a fantasy world with her friends played by (the long time Gavin crush...call me, Jena) Jena Malone (Contact, Into the Wild), Abbie Cornish (Limitless, Bright Star) and Vanessa Hudgens who you either know from Disney's High School Musical films or her naked pictures that leaked online.
Snyder's trademark "look" to the film exists through the entire thing and it dazzles like it always does. Â It's colorful, exciting and dramatic. Â The problem is that the story is a mixture of fanboy dribble and poor storytelling. Â That could be that this is the first Zach Snyder movie that isn't based on anything. Â All his other films were either a remake, adapted from graphic novels or a children's book. Â He came up with Sucker Punch all by himself and it shows that he's not ready to pen an original script.
It's hard to keep track of what the hell is even going on in the film. Â Reality gets blurred very quickly and I'm fine with that but you have to let us know what's happening in the actual reality or we don't care what happens to the characters in the non-reality. Â There are fantasies within fantasies here and it's not done cleverly like in Inception. Â Not only do you quickly get lost but you find yourself rolling your eyes at how repetitive the damn thing gets.
Sucker Punch turns into a roulette wheel of nerdy action sequences that start, unfold and end exactly the same way each time and none of it is cool or exciting to anyone over the age of 14. Â Zombie Nazis, fire-breathing dragons, faceless robots and enormous devil samurais are all in this movie in brainless and confusing fantasies that exist in the main characters head. Â But if she's a teenage girl why the hell is she thinking like a 14-year-old comic book nerd?
The best part of the film, besides the general look of it, is the performance that the villainous Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, Body of Lies) gives. Â He was fantastic in the film and makes me think that given enough time for his career to develop and put in the right movie, he could have Oscar-caliber chops...and I don't mean his name. Â But even his tour de force performance and my love for Jena Malone couldn't hold my interest for this film. Â Sorry Zach, but Sucker Punch was far from a knock out and just plain sucked.
Sucker Punch (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+
In an effort not to come across creepy, I try to bring friend's kids along when I go to screenings of movies intended for them since I have don't have any of my own. Â It also helps me get an idea how they enjoyed it. Â I did not do this for the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid which came out last year. Â I really enjoyed the first one and thought that, besides being very funny, it worked on multiple levels. Â The first being that it appealed to the 11 and Under crowd that was preparing to go into middle school; a time period of a kid's life that seems to get overlooked by Hollywood. Â The second being that it appealed to adults in that it truly conveyed what it was like to be a scared poopless kid going into the dreaded 6th grade. Â But because I didn't have a kid with me at the time, I didn't know if children would find the movie as entertaining as I did. Â This time around I brought Katie, my co-host's, 7-year-old daughter. Â She and I sat in a packed theater and laughed our asses off from beginning to end; good to know it's not just me.
Although we have a new director in David Bowers (Astro Boy), the same cast is all back. Â Such a relief too because beside the comedic brilliance of the parents who are played by Rachel Harris (The Hangover, Best in Show) and Steve Zahn (Sunshine Cleaning, Strange Wilderness), all the same kids are back too.
This time around the film doesn't focus on main character Greg, played by Zachary Gordon (National Treasure, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and his obsession to be popular in school. Â Now we have a more mature and timeless story about brothers getting along. Â His older high school brother Rodrick is played even better than the first one by Devon Bostick (Saw VI, Land of the Dead). Â These two are fantastic together in scenes that had the whole theater in a steady, rolling chuckle. Â Not to mention that the supporting child actors that fill out the rest of the film are all equally hilarious.
A common complaint I hear is that there aren't films for families to enjoy together anymore. Â I don't really agree with that considering the quality films that Pixar puts out. Â But when it comes to live action, nothing could be more true. Â But now we have the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series to enjoy together. Â The quirky tone of a family dealing with odd and familiar situations reminds me a lot of TV shows like Malcom in the Middle or The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Â It's even more impressive that the series is trending in a way that makes me think the films will get better and better. Â In a quagmire of rotten, over-the-top Disney Channel garbage, it's refreshing to see a live action children's film that this adult doesn't feel wimpy saying he loved it and looks forward to seeing it again.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A
What would happen if you got together with a bunch of your closest movie nerd friends to play the board game Scene It but turned it into a feature length film? Â The answer is you'd have the movie Paul.
This sci-fi comedy starring Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Star Trek) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and the voice of Seth Rogen is made for fanboys, by fanboys. Â That's because the plot of two nerds who find a real alien while touring America's alien attractions and helping him find his way home is full of references to classic (mostly) sci-fi movies. Â That might have been one of the best things about the movie. Â Sitting in a theater and playing along with Paul, trying to guess every quote that comes up is almost worth the price of admission itself. Â Not every single one is eased in there seamlessly, but all of them are funny as hell and worthy of a big belly laugh if you're a movie nerd like me.
But how is the actual movie, you say? Â Well, it's pretty good but not great. Â Sad since I was expecting so much more. Â When Pegg and Frost get together for a film, the results are usually golden. Â Now add in a cast like Kristen Wiig (SNL, Walk Hard), Jason Bateman (Juno, Dodgeball), Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Galaxy Quest) and many other cameos. Â That sets the bar pretty high and perhaps that was my fault for doing that.
My enjoyment of this film might have been dampened by my own ideals of its potential. Â I expected it to be just as good as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Â It's not. Â Not even close. Â That might be because the director of those two films, Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) didn't do Paul. Â Instead they got Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) to stand at the wheel. Â He did a fine job, but even he didn't raise to the level that Suberbad did. Â I think that's simply because this script lacks a constant personality. Â There are times when it's slapstick and dick jokes. Â Other times it's very heady and cerebral comedy. Â But there are times when it ventures into preachy material about religion (and I'm on the side of the point they're making) that comes across way out of place and shoehorned in.
Paul is a very funny movie and will satiate the avid movie lover with comedic quotes and references, but as far as your average audience member...the humor will seem a bit alien.
Paul (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B
GavinÂ talked toÂ British actor Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek) about his new movie Paul.
Imagine a perfect movie hybridÂ where every cliche you ever saw in a war film and every cliche you ever saw in a disaster film were combined into one super movie that contained them all. Â That movie would be called Battle: Los Angeles.
I wondered when the awesome trailer came out for this movie, why they were releasing in the winter wasteland, where studios dump their bad movies and not in the summer when these types of big budget blockbusters are seen. Â The answer is because the winter wasteland is where it belongs.
Battle: Los Angeles is essentially what Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan would be like if they were moderately entertaining alien movies. Â Los Angeles is just one of the many cities these aliens have invaded in an attempt to take over the world. Â Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Rabbit Hole) is the leader of a platoon of marines sent into Santa Monica to find civilians and get them out. Â He's joined by pop star Ne-Yo and Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar, Machete) , and they shoot and blast their way through the city to safety.
It's as simple as a story can be and I mean that in the strictest sense of the word. Â It's written with such military precision because screenwriter Christopher Bertolini (The General's Daughter) used to be a marine. Â However his experiences and attention to detail on accurate military jargon has made him overlook what makes a movie compelling...feeling. Â You feel nothing for these characters. Â And the scenes that do make an attempt to tug at your heartstrings are so melodramatic and silly that day time soap operas wouldn't air them.
However, director Jonathan Liebesman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Darkness Falls) does his best to give the movie a feeling of integrity despite the silly script. Â Practically the entire film is shot with handheld cameras and gives it a very "on-the-ground" feel. Â At first the sets seem really fake and a total Universal Studio's Backlot Tour but they do get more incredible as the film builds to the climax.
But, for me, the choice of aliens was a huge mistake. Â They are more mechanical than organic and that doesn't make me feel like they're as much of a threat or real for that matter. Â Last year's District 9 proved that even the silliest looking aliens could still show menace and emotion by being more organic. Â Battle: Los Angeles made me feel like they were fighting robots or terminators or something and never once did I buy into the fiction.
Battle: Los Angeles is shot in a way that makes it seem a lot more exciting than it really is. Â There are no thrills in it because the story didn't have any. Â But the cinematography makes it appear suspenseful and dangerous. Â Just make sure you avoid this film if Â you get motion sickness...or if you don't want to waste your money.
Battle: Los Angeles (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C-
Warner Brothers needs to find another franchise they can squeeze money out of since Harry Potter is ending and they were too stupid to nab the Twilight series. Â So what's the next best thing? Â Turn a childhood fairy tale into a 100 minute long feature film and add in sexy teenage love with horror for children and base it off a book that I sure hope was better than this awful script. Â Then you nab the crappy director of the first Twilight movie, Catherine Hardwicke, to direct it in hopes of giving the Hot Topic crowd more gothic romance t-shirts to buy. Â The fact that any studio would even trust Hardwicke with another movie after Twilight is beyond me. Â The good news for her though is the Red Riding Hood is at least a little better than Twilight, but just barely. Â She has a profound way of not being able to direct actors to produce a good performance. Â Casting actors who can't act is only a problem in some of them like new hunky dufuses that play the love interests of Red Riding Hood aka Valerie, Shiloh Fernandez (Dead Girl) and Max Irons (Dorian Gray). Â But she gets her hands on well accomplished actors like Gary Oldman (JFK, Dracula) and Julie Christie (Hamlet, Finding Neverland) and still gets stale, vapid, empty performances from them. Â Red Â Riding Hood is embarrassing to watch. Â There's nothing good in the film at all. Â That's not to say that the whole thing is a mess though. Â The imagery is pretty decent. Â Sure the sets look like something out of a made-for-TV movie but the shots of Valerie, played by Amanda Seyfried (Jennifer's Body, Mama Mia), walking through the snowy woods on her way to Grandmother's house with her long red riding cloak flowing behind her are pretty neat to see. Â Plus I enjoyed the Whodunit? approach to who the wolf is. Â That held my interest through the entire movie but that was the only thing that did. Â The zombie-like performances and cheesy dialogue was enough to make wish the wolf would pick off some of the key characters earlier in the movie. Â The romance in Red Riding Hood is as thin as the paper it was printed on. Â Never once do you find yourself caring about anyone in the movie, especially the young love triangle that feels as warm and authentic as an arraigned marriage. Â I'm not even sure who could really look at this movie and say it was a success. Â I would imagine that if you're a fan of the book, you'd be pissed it was ruined. Â If you never read the book , you'd just be bored out of your mind. Â And if you're a Twilight fan, a teenage girl, or both, you'd only feel like this was a cheap ripoff. Â And a cheap ripoff of Twilight is the stuff that crap is made of.
Red Riding Hood (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C-
Damn you, Take Me Home Tonight! Â This movie cost me $46! Â Not for the price of the movie or concessions (I get those for free...he he). Â But because this movie, that is set in 1987, inspired me to go home and start an '80s playlist on my iPod. Â I can't believe I didn't have one! Â That's because there is only about 40 minutes of this movie that doesn't have an awesome '80s song playing overtop or underneath it. Â That helps add to the emotion of the movie but it also made it feel rather forced and fraudulent too. Â You know that '80s party you get invited too and you show up and they have all the hits playing and everyone is popping their polos or spraying their bangs up? Â The movie feels like that. Â Not sure if that's a bad thing necessarily but it doesn't feel like a period piece, more like a fake college '80s party. Â Topher Grace (Spiderman 3) stars in this movie about a guy going to an epic post-college party to finally hook up with his high school crush, played by Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four, The Sorcerer's Apprentice). Â He's joined by his best friend played by Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) and the lovely and talented Anna Faris (Observe and Report). Â Take Me Home Tonight is basically 1998'sÂ Can't Hardly Wait for a different generation. Â However, where Can't Hardly Wait had stereotypes and cliches, at least it was authentic in the respect that it was filmed in the decade it was about. Â Take Me Home Tonight is not a bad film though. Â It's pretty funny but also does an adequate job of capturing what it feels like to be in your early 20s; out of college, lost in the world and not have a single friggin' idea of what you want to do with your life. Â That is an age and life struggle that seems to get overlooked by Hollywood a lot. Â I suppose that's because it's pretty depressing. Â But Take Me Home Tonight doesn't get bogged down in that due to a supporting cast like Chris Pratt (NBC's Parks and Recreation), Demitri Martin (Comedy Central's Important Things) and Michael Ian Black (Wet Hot American Summer). Â Demitri Martin really shines though! Â He's only in two scenes but is the winner of both. Â You'll recognize other faces in the film too in small cameos that go underutilized and end up being confusing as to why they're in it at all. Â Although the song Take Me Home Tonight is not actually used in the film, the soundtrack is great. Â The film is very self-aware of the music and featured it fairly well. Â Much like how the soundtrack to Forest Gump was a great musical encapsulation of the '60s and '70s, this film will do the same for the '80s. Â The soundtrack features 19 tracks and it looks like they have Volume 2 coming out soon. Â It also features dialogue from the movie, much like a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack might. Take Me Home Tonight is actually a lot more like the '80s than it realizes; just like the decade itself, it's fun, colorful and amusing but at its core is fake, empty and not very original.
Take Me Home Tonight (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C+
When the first Pirates of the Caribbean came out I read an interview with Johnny Depp and he said that he "wanted to do a movie his kids could watch for once." Â Seems like they've had quite the grip on him because he hasn't done many "adult" films since. Â Rango is by far his most childish, but since he put his trust in the hands of director Gore Verbinski (the Pirates films, The Ring) it still comes across very enjoyable for adults. Â Rango is a classic Western story that's been done and done again. Â The outsider comes to a new town, is mistaken for being braver than he is, pretends until real danger shows up, but in the end is actually as brave as he portrayed. Â Think of The Three Amigos but with only one Amigo and everyone is an animal. Â The cliche, uonoringal story is something that can be overlooked due to how original everything else is. Â This is a children's movie about talking animals that would only look more realistic if you used actual talking animals. Â I consider Verbinski a very talented director and was worried when I saw him doing an animated film fearing that his vision and signature look would get lost. Â Nope. Â Not one bit. Â Rango is every much a Gore Verbinski film as anything else he's done. Â Part of that is due to the animation being captured from the actual actors movements filming the scenes, just like the did for Avatar. Â Plus the decision to make the creatures dirty, wounded and jarringly realistic was risky and brilliant. Â That may prove to be too unnerving for some small kids - be warned. Â They are as far removed from the traditional Disney talking animals as I've ever seen. Â But that nod to realism works incredibly well for the film. Â The other aspect that makes the film so good is the choice of casting. Â The voice work of Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers), Abigail Bresslin (Zombieland), Ned Beatty (Toy Story 3), Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean 2) and Ray Winstone (The Departed) is superb! Â Everyone in the film committed to their part and treated it like they were performing for adults. Â You don't get the impression from any of the performances that they're pandering to kids. Â On a side note, they did pander to people like me as there is a reference to Hunter S. Thompson and his characters from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas...but me and one other guy were the only ones laughing our asses off at that. Â You won't hear me say this too often but Rango would have been better in 3D. Â I think animation is the only genre that really impresses in 3D and this world is so rich with color and action that it seemed like a waste to not offer an extra dimension. Â I hope that Johnny Depp considers Rango as much of a success as I do and will go back to making movies for grown-ups again. Â We miss him in R-rated craziness.
Rango (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: B+
10.Â The Kids Are Alright - I was late to the party on this one and only watched it a few weeks ago.Â In a year when most of the Oscar-nominated films were dark and gritty, it's nice to see a bright and colorful family dramedy.Â It's funny and touching and successfully shows the 21st Century family in all its timeless ways.
9.Â The Town - This was the shock of the year.Â Ben Affleck is a mediocre actor but is shaping up to be a superb director.Â This crime drama was a wet dream for the Boston native and deserves to stand among the great crime thrillers of all time.
8.Â Paranormal Activity 2 - To Hell with anyone who says this movie wasn't scary.Â It was not only scarier than the first one but more original too.Â It was successful in keeping the same formula we loved from the first one without feeling forced or raped by Hollywood.Â The fact that it was a prequel and sequel at the same time was brilliant.Â Simply for being a horror sequel that was better than the first makes it worthy of the list.
7.Â True Grit - The Coen Brothers almost never disapoint and this remake of the John Wayne movie was not acception.Â It was one of the best scripts of the year and was performed by some of the best ensemble work too.Â But the attention to detail is what widened my eyes.
6.Â 127 HoursÂ - I saw this film twice and enjoyed it even more the second time.Â People came to see this for the infamous arm-cutting scene but they stayed for the amazing soul it had.Â The climax of this movie was enough to bring tears to my eyes and is a perfect send-up to the human spirit.Â
5.Â Inception - Director Christopher Nolan will get his respect one day but in the meantime it's only his movies that do.Â It's rare that a movie astounds me with its special FX and this was one of them.Â The originality of not only the story but the 45 minute long action sequence was flooring.Â
4.Â Black Swan - Sure the story isn't all that creative, but boy was this movie intense. By the end of the film I felt like I was mentally assaulted by director Darren Aronofsky.Â Natalie Portman's performance is the stuff awards are made for and it's overall a film that commands multiple viewings.
3.Â The Fighter - The fact that I brought my wife to see this movie against her will and she ended up loving it so much that she saw it twice speaks to the level of achievement this movie has.Â Christian Bale has finally given the performance that award-givers simply can't ignore but the fact that he's surrounded by top shelf talent helps.Â One of the best sports movies that's not about sports ever!
2.Â The Social Network - A movie about the creation of Facebook shouldn't be interesting but director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin flexed their cinematic muscles and made this an opus.Â Creating an almost flawless film about the cruption of power and doing it despite doubts from everyone is a feat.
1.Â Toy Story 3 - Pixar is the only group that can take a final installment of a franchise for children and create a parable for so many adult themes.Â They over-performed their stellar record with this and made grown men cry (I do with every viewing).Â It's also one of the most impressive scripts of the year that was funny, tear-jerking and successful in taking a children franchise and morphing it into a prison break movie.
10. The Tooth Fairy - I understand that this movie is for children but that doesn't give a film the right to be this bad.Â The fact that Billy Crystal and Stephen Merchant (BBC's The Office)Â were suckered into doing this and putÂ their best foot forwardÂ but their talent didn't rubÂ off onÂ The Rock, proved that this movie was lost.
9.Â Clash of the Titans - If there was ever a movie that was in need of a big-budgeted remake, it's Clash of the Titans.Â But this was a mess.Â According to director Louis Leterrier, it was the studio's fault.Â But for being the first example of how 3D can be so bad it ruins a movie, it deserves to be on the list.
8.Â Dinner for SchmucksÂ - When you're a remake of an already funny movie, the hard part is done for you.Â So how to do you screw it up?Â I guess you have to really try at it.Â It's even worse when you have comedic pedigree like Steven Carrell, Paul Rudd and Zach Galifinakis.Â But if the first funny scene in your movie is 80 minutes in...you're a failure.
7.Â Cop Out - Holy God!Â Director Kevin Smith even said this movie was feces.Â Tracy Morgan did a subpar job performing with the corpse of Bruce Willis but Willis managed to infect his apathy virus into everything in the movie.
6.Â The Tourist - It's always a bad sign when the trailer forÂ a film doesn't talk about what the movie is about but instead just focuses on who is in it.Â Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie should have higher standards than this, but I have a feeling they just wanted a free vacation.
5. Jonah Hex - This film deserves to be considered one of the worst simply for potentially destroying the momentum the comic bookÂ genre has built up.Â Megan Fox is awful and we can't blame her for being her, but Josh Brolin and John Malkovic have both been nominated for Oscars!Â Come on, guys!Â Good thing no one cared about Jonah Hex before this.
4. Nightmare on Elm Street - I'm not such a movie snob that I roll my eyes at every remake that comes down the pike.Â In fact, I was very excited for this since the original one is great but a little outdated.Â This was a disaster though.Â A complete unscary, uninspired mess from beginning to end.
3.Â Valentine's Day - It's a disgrace when there are so many stars in your movie that their combined net worth is more than 80% of Americans.Â This was a movie that was a disaster from the first scene to the last.Â It wasn't funny.Â It wasn't romantic.Â It wasn't anything but a tawdry attempt to make a cheap buck off a bad script by packing it with actorsÂ that wereÂ promised a few days of work and never have to leave L.A.Â Shame on you...everyone who made this!
2.Â Sex and the City 2 - Good try at making the worst movie of the year, girls.Â Sadly you fell short, but that's not due to lack of trying.Â This movie came so close to destroying the entire SATC legacy in one 130 minute swoop.Â When you take the main character (New York City) out of the story...you're off to a really bad start.
1.Â The Book of Eli - If this was an exciting action movie that was directed well I might be able to overlook the awful script.Â It wasn't.Â The fact that this movie was about Denzel Washington transporting The Bible across a post-apacalyptic wasteland by slashing and shooting and killing his way to safety is one of the most hypocritical plots of all time.Â And the fact that the directors threw in a twist at the end that they thought was just so clever, made it the worst movie of the year.Â Self importance that fails but doesn't recognize that failure is one of the saddest thing in the world.
Way before The Hangover, the desire to make movies about grown men who desperately cling to their youth in midlife crisis movies has been around. Â It's a genre of comedy that never seems to get boring, but it's also very easy to screw up and end up as a roulette wheel of d*ck and poop jokes. Â Is it possible to be the latter but still manage to be very funny and almost smart? Â Sure is, and it's called Hall Pass. Â The Farrelly Brothers had a huge hit with There's Something About Mary that revitalized Hollywood comedies in proving that R-rated comedies can be great and lucrative. Â But that was in 1998 and ever since then they've had failure after failure after failure. Â Hall Pass might be their first success since. Â It lacks the quirkiness that There's Something About Mary created and it's not as funny as Kingpin or Dumb and Dumber. Â But it's worthy of standing on its own as a great adult comedy of theirs. Â Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis (SNL, Going the Distance) are married buddies who's wives, played by Christina Applegate (Anchorman, Going the Distance) and Jenna Fisher (The Office, Walk Hard), give them a hall pass which is a week off of marriage. Â Sounds like every man's dream but it turns out to be harder than they think. Â The film gets off to a soggy start but quickly picks up the pace. Â What is shocking is the level of edginess it goes too. Â Much like There's Something About Mary or Me, Myself & Irene, the humor gets very adult and graphic but at a surprise. Â The initial shock of seeing Ben Stiller get his "frank and beans" stuck in his zipper was awesomely hilarious and certain scenes of Hall Pass carry the same shocking gross-out humor. Â Another victory is that it remains moderately funny throughout and doesn't fall victim to the awful final act that most of these comedies suffer, such as The Hangover. Â The biggest disappointment of the movie comes from a vastly underutilized supporting cast. Â The Farralleys have JB Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Stephen Merchant (The Office), and Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins (Let Me In, Eat Pray Love) and they give them nothing funny to do. Â The three of them are capable of carrying the movie themselves, as far as I'm concerned, but have nothing to work with in this. Â The only supporting character that rises to the level of Scene Stealer is comedian Derek Waters (Funnyordie.com's Drunk History, The Sarah Silverman Program). Â Although his character is the one that takes the movie into nonsense, it's still damn funny to watch. Â Be warned that Hall Pass is very adult and still not for everyone. Â If you like your humor to not involve senseless nudity, spraying feces or graphic profanity, then you might want to pass on Hall Pass. Â But if There's Something About Mary made Â you laugh as the limits of good taste were pushed, this will almost satisfy.
Hall Pass (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B
It's a hard question to answer and one that I've wondered for many years but how can an Adam Sandler movie possibly get any worse than they already are? Â Well, my answer has finally come - you add Jennifer Aniston. Â Now that's not to negate both of their entire careers. Â I think Aniston was great in Rock Star and even Sandler has done impressive acting in Reign Over Me and Punch Drunk Love. Â But their overall repertoire is terrible to the core. Â I think the last time Sandler made me laugh was when he did Billy Madison and I was 13-years-old and Aniston, well, she's never made me laugh. Â So, I gotta be honest that I expected nothing out of this movie before it even began, but I wasn't prepared for how awful it really was. Â Sandler is a successful plastic surgeon who pretends to be married to pick up hot women, assuming you are still buying him playing roles where a guy who looks like Sandler would ever get hot women. Â When he finally meets one (played by TV's Brooklyn Decker who adds nothing but hottness to the movie), a simple lie turns into a lot of them and he begs his assistant, who's played by Aniston, to play along with her kids and pretend to be his ex-wife. Â Trust me when I say that I don't need to give you a "Spoiler Alert" notice because every single aspect about the film is foreseeable by even the dimmest of audience members by at least a few miles away. Â Looking past the predictable, cliche plot, the rest of the film is like a check list for what you'd expect in a bad comedy. Â Is there a montage of a shopping spree over pop music? Â Check. Â Are there over-exaggerated prosthetic body parts and fake animals? Â Yup. Â How about a scene where Adam Sandler gets hit in the balls and sticks either his tongue out or crosses his eyes? Â How about he does both. Â I could go on like this for a very long time. Â However, there are two things that came out of this movie that can be put in a "Well at least that was good" column. Â The first is that Sandler traded his talentless muse of Rob Schneider (Waterboy, Deuce Bigalow) for the much funnier Nick Swardson (Blades of Steel, Grandma's Boy). Â He's not really that funny in this, but his presence alone gives certain scenes the potential to be so. Â The other is little 10-year-old Bailee Madison (Bridge to Terabithia, Brothers) who is probably the best thing about the movie. Â She's very funny and a talented little girl; I just feel bad for her that she had to be in this. Â I gotta be honest, I'm not the target audience for this film. Â The people around me were laughing throughout, while I sat like stone and stared at the screen like a puppy watching you shower. Â However, those same people couldn't have laughed harder during a trailer before the movie that showed Kevin James as a zoo keeper screaming at talking animals. Â Am I a comedy elitist? Â I hope not. Â But when it comes to movies like Just Go With It, where I can tell you exactly how it ends before the opening credits finish rolling, I guess I am. Â Because to me nothing is sadder than a movie that isn't funny but is so self assured that it is. Â Good thing for Adam Sandler there aren't many people like me in America because I'd say that sums him up as well.
Just Go With It Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: F
It's no secret that James Cameron (Avatar, Terminator 2) pisses me off. Â I think he's technically proficient but a lousy filmmaker when it comes to heart, soul and well...story and dialogue. Â He didn't direct this though; he was the Executive Producer. Â You can still tell that he got his tentacles on Sanctum though. Â The first act of this movie is so bad that it made me think I was watching Sharktopus vs. Giant Cave Squid or something on the Syfy Channel. Â The dialogue was just as bad as the acting. Â Shocking when you consider that one of the stars of Sanctum is Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, W.) who is a somewhat respected actor in Hollywood and has produced decent performances before. Â He shares the spotlight...or lack-there-of in this movie about a cave...with Richard Roxburgh who is WAY different than his most famous role as the pompous Duke in Moulin Rogue and his son, played by unknown Australian Rhys Wakefield. Â These three, as well as others, are trapped in a giant cave that has been flooded by a hurricane. Â This is essentially my worst nightmare shown to me in 3D...claustrophobia and drowning. Â Once the characters are awkwardly introduced to us, awful cliche backstories are laid out, and lines are embarrassingly recited; the rain finally starts to fall. Â Once this happens and the cave floods, the rest of the film is pretty good. Â It's suspenseful and full of palpable tension. Â It's possible that I'm more susceptible to it because it preys on my two biggest anxieties for death. Â But what really impressed me about the film is that Australian director Alister Grierson shot the whole thing in 3D and the end result is utterly spectacular. Â It might be one of the best films to utilize 3D I've ever seen. Â Plus it's refreshing to see a 3D film come out that's made for adults. Â Make no mistake that Sanctum is a tad brutal at times. Â One scene in particular was so graphic that it caused shrieking in the theater from some of the more faint-hearted viewers. Â However, just like it began, Sanctum ends with a thud. Â The finale of the film has "James Cameron" written all over it. Â The same cheeseball that came up with "I'm the king of the world" and the Avatar mineral "Unobtanium," probably also ruined an ending that could have been less Hollywood and more satisfying just to squelch any feelings of bleakness in an audience. Â Sanctum as a whole is a decent film that won't disappoint. Â It's a throwback to the natural disaster movies that show man vs. wild but it still feels like a James Cameron sandwich - the middle is good but the ends are boring and they stink. Â What makes the middle of the film good is the absence of what makes the beginning and end bad...dialogue.
Sanctum (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C-
To say that The Company Men is a movie that doesn't have a blatant agenda and message behind it is the same thing as saying a Michael Moore movie is fair and balanced. Â The drama with an all-star cast of Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper (American Beauty, The Muppets) and Kevin Costner is a clever disguise for a scathing expose on the downsizing of corporate America. Â I know, that sounds dry and boring. Â Why should we care about a bunch of overpaid, privileged white collar guys that get thrown out on their asses by a corporation while the CEO continues to swim in money? Â Because everyone in America knows someone like this. Â This movie pumps in the same veins as 2009's Up in the Air with George Clooney. Â It holds a magnifying glass on a few characters to show what it's like to be laid off in your forties and fifties with a mortgage and family to support. Â Sure it's not the life-or-death problems that they face in third world countries or the epic drama depicted in war films; but for our times, this is as bad as it can get for some. Â It's the middle class nightmare that weighs on all of our minds. Â But no matter how important and real the plot for The Company Men is, the emotion that comes out of it is just scratching the surface. Â A cast was put together for this that has enough Oscar and Oscar nominations between them to choke a donkey, but director/writer John Wells (E.R., The West Wing) failed to get an Oscar-worthy performance out of any of them. Â The film felt clunky at times and was in need of a good oiling. Â That's an issue with a movie that features lots of characters with lots of story arcs that intersect. Â It's hard to keep them all straight and it's even harder to go into enough depth for each one to make us care. Â The closest we get to attachment is with Affleck's family man character who struggles putting his ego aside when he has trouble landing another white collar job and may have to take a blue collar one from his brother-in-law, who's played by Costner. Â Although it's hard to feel like you're walking through this mid-life disaster with these people that still doesn't make it boring. Â The movie moves very well and draws you in just enough. Â It could be that it's something most of us can relate to on one level or another that makes it, at the very least, a good film. Â Tommy Lee Jones plays his usual melancholy character that feels empathy for those around him and does a good job of showing it through his droopy eyes and limited but pertinent lines. Â The Company Men rises above most so far this year and stands among one of the better dramas of 2011 but failed to meet my expectations. Â The film might have been improved, ironically since it's about downsizing, by eliminating a few of the characters and focused on the ones that remained more; concentrating the drama and not spreading it out. Â But I guess that would be against what the film stands for, huh?
The Company Men (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B
Why is it that Hollywood can't seem to get their crap in a pile and make a decent horror movie about devil possession? Â The more attempts they make that fall on their faces, the more it makes The Exorcist look even more impressive that it was pulled off so well. Â This attempt isÂ The Rite and it stars Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins opposite an unknown hunk Colin O'Donoghue (The Tudors) in a film from Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (1408). Â They even took the approach of tagging the beginning of this with a "Inspired by true events..." and hoped it would punch up the spookiness. Â It did but only in the respect that The Vatican really does have classes on exorcisms. Â That's about as spooky as this movie gets. Â The story is decent though; it follows a young man who's wrestling with his faith right before becoming a Priest. Â He's sent to Italy to watch real exorcisms in hopes that it would renew his belief in God. Â Pretty cool plot, right? Â It's just heartbreaking that nothing scary happens in the film. Â There are fleeing moments of creepiness but they're few and far from the stuff nightmares are made of. Â So disappointing! Â In all honesty, I wasn't expecting a lot from this in the first place. Â So in that respect, I kind of got more than I thought in a stellar performance from Hopkins. Â This might be him at his best since Silence of the Lambs. Â He pulls off stuff in this movie that is damn impressive for a senior citizen, and none of it appears to CGI or other special FX. Â Hopkins has a way of playing almost himself in every role but he recites the dialogue so fluently that it seems like improv instead of well rehearsed lines. Â It's a technique that kind of reminds me of the way Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, The Fly) used to perform...back when Jeff Goldblum used to perform. Â Of course with that much awesomeness laying around the set, you'd think his co-star would rise to the occasion. Â But shockingly, O'Donoghue loafs through the movie showing the same emotion that you'd imagine he would waiting at the DMV. Â If I were to pick one problem that The Rite has it would be its total lack of energy. Â This was a movie with a great actor performing better than ever in a film that has a decent core plot and it ended up being boring. Â Something I'd be willing to overlook if it got my blood pumping with some jumps and frights, but the only faith it restored in me was my faith that Hollywood hasn't and can't make a better possession movie than The Exorcist. Â Long may rein!
The Rite Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C
This is exactly the kind of movie that usually gets nominated for all the Oscars. Â It's a posh British film filled with foreign actors about a subject that's historical and obscure. Â The difference with The King's Speech is that this year it's actually great, whereas usually they're boring. Â This film, which stars Colin Firth (Love Actually, A Single Man) and Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shine), is the true story of King George VI and how he overcame his stammer so he could lead a nation during WWII. Â This is one of those rare movies that is both funny and moving at the same time. Â I've often said that pulling off a dramedy is not easy at all. Â When you make it a period picture it becomes even harder. Â But director Tom Hooper does it very well; impressive considering that his background prior to this was mostly made-for-TV films. Â Firth gives one of the finest performances from a leading actor of the year. Â He not only molds his voice into a mirror sound of what King George VI sounded like, but doesn't make his stammer comical or over-the-top at all. Â He also makes a character that is complex and interesting by showing us the ugly side of his temper and regal arrogance while also displaying his love for his family and vulnerability to his condition. Â That's all aided by a great performance from Rush as well. Â However, I'm not sure it's the role of his career since he's mostly playing himself and just happens to have an amazing script and part. Â Same thing goes for Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Alice in Wonderland), who plays Queen Elizabeth. Â She's far from disappointing but it's her giving us goodness from a script that offers greatness. Â That's not to say that this is entirely Firth's film though. Â He's so good because he's surrounded by those that are making him look so. Â Any other year, this would be the kind of film to easily walk away with the Oscar for Best Picture, but 2010 was such an amazing year for movies that, by comparison, this doesn't seem like it's up to par with the rest of the best. Â The film made me laugh, it made me tear up and it even gave me goosebumps a bit, but it just slightly lacked the powerful climax I was hoping for. Â When you have Â a movie that builds to one single moment, it better be spectacular. Â Sadly for The King's Speech it was not only historical with no wiggle room for Hollywood embellishment, but it also involved British royalty, who seem incapable of showing much emotion outside of anger. Â That doesn't diminish the greatness that this movie is, but it waters down the effectiveness that it could have had.
The King's Speech Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A-
Prior to this year, did anyone really know of The Green Hornet besides our grandparents that loved the old radio show? Â Not me. Â I vaguely knew what it was but often it got it confused with The Shadow. Â Because of that, this seems like a highly unnecessary relaunch of the pulp characters as a way for the movie studio to squeeze money out of a new franchise. Â So they hired Seth Rogen and shot it in 3D to make it seem fun for kids in hopes of doing just that. Â Frankly, I think they missed the mark. Â Through no fault of Rogen's, the movie was campy and rather dull. Â Now, I enjoy campiness in films but it has to be done right. Â I'll either laugh at you when you're campy by accident or laugh with you when you do it on purpose. Â I think The Green Hornet attempted to do campy on purpose but didn't take it far enough. Â Taiwanese actor Jay Chou makes his American debut as the Hornet's sidekick, Kato. Â He's actually pretty good. Â He has charisma, action chops and a pseudo knack for comedic timing. Â I mean he holds his own against Seth Rogen's improv, which is no easy task. Â He reminds me of a young Jackie Chan. Â Cameron Diaz appears as the only female in a meaningless character that offers very little substance to the film. Â One of the saddest aspects about The Green Hornet to me was the decision by Christoph Waltz, who's fresh off of winning an Oscar for Inglorious Basterds, to appear in this. Â His performance is so bad that it makes me think twice about hailing him as one of the best actors from Europe working right now. Â It almost seems like he realizes what a bad decision it was to be in The Green Hornet and doesn't even try to muster up a decent performance through the whole thing. Â However, he wasn't helped at all by a stupid script, which Rogen was responsible for. Â The good news about Rogen improvising so much in the film is that it cuts out most of the written screenplay. Â But what I don't get is why director Michel Gondry let this fail so badly and didn't put his classic stamp of personality on it. Â This is the guy that gave us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep! Â The creativity that he put into those two great movies are completely void from The Green Hornet. Â Although the problem with most comedic action films is that the comedy is lame but that's not the case here. Â The best thing about The Green Hornet is that it's funny...at times. Â What fights against it is everything else. Â The action is absurd, the story is moronic and the overall film falls short in virtually every area it was going for. Â Even with the gimmicky 3D effects found in the movie, it stings more than it satisfies and overall disappoints.
The Green Hornet Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C-
Oo! Â It's the dreaded (almost) NC-17 rated movie with Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Lars and the Real Girl) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island) that everyone talked about before it came out because of its graphic sex scenes. Â Yes, this movie does have sex scenes that flirt with graphic and they're very uncomfortable to watch, but if that's all you talk about from this movie, it's a damn shame. Â Blue Valentine follows a married couple from the time of them meeting and falling in love to the time of their marriage falling apart. Â That story couldn't possibly have been told more often, right? Â But what makes this one unique is how the stories overlap each other and are downright painful to watch. Â In fact, pain is what this movie is all about. Â I myself come from a broken home. Â My parents got divorced when I was 13 and anyone who has ever lived through a divorce, either as a child or spouse or both, will have a really hard time watching this. Â Some of the scenes are so realistic and so flawlessly portrayed that it made me cautious to keep watching. Â What's so impressive about these scenes though is the control over them. Â It would be easy to do a movie about a failing marriage that's full of black and white characters that just scream the whole time. Â Blue Valentine doesn't allow that to exist while it's under the careful command of director Derek Cianfrance, who mostly has a background in documentaries. Â That's obvious as you watch it because the whole film has handheld camera work and heavily improvised dialogue. Â In fact one scene that takes place on the Brooklyn Bridge was improvised so much that Gosling scared the crap out of the crew and Williams when he climbed over the edge of the bridge (where there was no safety net) and threatened to jump. Â It's one of the many scenes that is so uneasy to watch that it makes you want to shut it off. Â I'm not a big fan of Gosling or Williams, but they did a great job in this. Â Williams actually is the better of the two. Â Gosling's character doesn't change through the film since he's a husband that doesn't want to lose his family. Â Williams had to pull off someone who falls in love and falls out of it while filming and she does it with finesse. Â I felt that she loved and hated, both with passion, multiple times in the non-linear story. Â What prevents this film from breaking into the realm of greatness is mostly what makes it so good: the pain. Â Blue Valentine is a miserable movie and loves every second of it. Â It never once tries to be uplifting or beautiful or charming. Â It's not romantic. Â It's not sweet. Â It's a movie about a crumbling marriage where you feel every sting of heartbreak. Â But why would anyone want to watch that...especially more than once? Â I don't at least.
Blue Valentine Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
It's amazing that you can make a whole movie off of something that morning radio show hosts have been debating for decades. Â "If you caught your best friend's spouse cheating, would you tell your best friend?" Â That's the plot for the new movie from director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Angels and Demons) and stars Vince Vaughn, Kevin James (King of Queens, Hitch), Winona Ryder and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream). Â What's going to fight this movie from the beginning is a horrible ad campaign. Â The poster is lame and just shows Vaughn and James as if this is another cliche buddy comedy of Vaughn's, only replacing his friend John Favreau with Kevin James this time around. Â It seems like any Wedding Crashers or Old School in the trailer with the hip pop song playing while slapstick comedy displays him falling into plants. Â Yes, those scenes are all in it, but that's not the tone of the film. Â It's better than that. Â This is a dramedy that carries a decent soul with it. Â It's gonna rock audiences when they see Vaughn and James start to cry in scenes that aren't meant to be humorous at all. Â Sure you'll hear some chuckles from people who are too uncomfortable to accept the silence, but they're not funny scenes. Â Because of that I liked it more than I thought I would. Â But because of that most people won't. Â Your casual moviegoer will be disappointed that the laughs don't come often and when they do, they come cheaply. Â The comedy aspects of the film flat out annoyed me at times. Â Queen Latifah appears in a small part that is meant to drive people nutty with laughs but her character is boring, pointless and void of humor. Â On the flip side, Channing Tatum (Dear John, G.I. Joe) is great as the small but important role as the "other guy." Â In the future, I'd actually like to see him do more comedy because he's good at it. Â I think the meat and potatoes of this film comes from Ron Howard. Â He's a great director who'd tackled lots of genres, but this is the first dramedy he's done in a while; not since 1989's Parenthood. Â Just like Parenthood, this movie is real quality but not great. Â He gets the adult situations, real life drama and human interactions right but the comedy and humor mostly wrong. Â The good news is that this film carries with it some great performances from actors that I would have guessed weren't capable of giving them at all or at the very least anymore. Â I'm happily wrong there. Â But the real dilemma for The Dilemma is whether people will accept their disappointment for it not being a true comedy and then move on and live in the drama. Â I sure hope so.
The Dilemma Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-
I got forwarded an email from my mother that my aunt sent her. Â My mother's contribution was simply, "do you know anything about this movie?" Â It was in response to my 70-year-old aunt telling my mom that she was going to see Black Swan with a bunch of her friends that were part of the Philadelphia Ballet group she belongs too because they heard it was simply a movie about ballet staring Natalie Portman. Â Don't worry. Â I swiftly wrote back to my mom warning her that this was a Darren Aronofsky film. Â He's the man responsible for The Wrestler, Pi and the scariest, most disturbing movie I've ever seen, Requiem for a Dream. Â I also warned her that yes it's true that Black Swan is about ballet, in fact it might even be one of the best films about ballet; but it is also a deeply disturbing psychological horror. Â Naturally that makes the movie sound typical, plain and even a little silly. Â (It will actually sound even sillier when you hear people say that it chronicles Portman's character transforming into a swan.) Â Trust me though, that's a simplistic view of Black Swan and it's cheating the art that is this film. Â Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career and a sure thing for an Oscar as the frail and innocent ballerina, Nina. Â After getting the lead in Swan Lake, the movie slowly, and I mean slowly, spirals into terror and insanity. Â Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Family Guy) and Winona Ryder give great supporting performances but it's Portman's show. Â The only competition she has for the spotlight is the rarely seen anymore Barbara Hershey (The Right Stuff, The Natural), who plays Portman's overbearing, almost criminal, mother. Â But Portman is the star and shows so much control over her emotions that it astounds. Â She also goes through such a metamorphosis from sane and gentle to crazy and violent, that it seems eerily subtle at times. Â Be warned though, this is not a film for everybody. Â Some people got up and left the theater during my screening. Â One was during an incredibly graphic (hot) lesbian sex scene and the other was during a horrifically violent scene involving a nail file. Â And that's not even including the before mentioned change into fowl. Â But if you can get past all that, you're in for a finely crafted piece of art cinema. Â Makes sense that Aronofsky would do this after he did The Wrestler, since both are films about what is considered art by the performers who do it and how they torture their bodies to pull it off. Â His direction of the film is his finest work since Requiem for a Dream. Â The symbolism and use of iconic images is a little on the nose at times though. Â You don't have to be a film major to pick out that there is a reflection in the background of every single scene, Portman's character is always wearing white and Kunis' character is always wearing black, there are stuffed black swans every time there's a scene of attempted transition, etc.; but that's still fine with me. Â The real achievement of amazement for me was the cinematography. Â The cameras, most of which are handheld, moves like a dancer in the film. Â The scenes that involve the dancing itself are not observed from a far by a stationary shot. Â We're not meant to feel like the audience while watching this movie. Â We're suppose to be one of the dancers, feeling everything from an uncomfortably close perspective. Â That way when Nina slips into the abyss, it feels like we're sliding in with her.
Black Swan Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A
I hope that Christian Bale is already practicing his acceptance speech for winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Â Besides the fact that the infamous method actor sculpted himself into a 120 lbs crackhead for the movie (he's done that AND WORSE for movies before though), he also blends a perfect mix of sympathy, comedy and suffering into arguably the best performance of his career. Â He plays Dicky Eklund, the brother of famous boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward, who's played by Mark Wahlberg. Â Besides also being joined by the beautiful and extremely talented Amy Adams, you won't recognize another actor in this movie directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees). Â This is his finest work as well. Â Be warned, the film is very misleading. Â You know it's about a boxer and the film is called The Fighter, but it's not the cliche sports movie you've seen over and over again. Â I would say this might be the best Boxing movie since Rocky and, in some aspects, might even give it a run for its money. Â Yes, the Boxing parts of the movie feel like they could be interchangeable with any other Boxing movie to ever come out (although Russell really impressed me by switching his camera to a digital one for the fights to give it more of a Pay-Per-View look) however Boxing has very little to do with the movie. Â This really is a movie about a family dealing with addiction. Â Bale's character is addicted to crack. Â Wahlberg's character is addicted to his brother. Â And Alice the mother, who is played amazingly by Melissa Leo (Frozen River, Conviction) is addicted to the fame. Â Everyone in this, with the exception of Wahlberg, deserves a nomination. Â It drips with talent. Â And hats off to Russell for also casting many locals in key parts that make you shake your head wondering "where the hell did they find these people?" Â Well, they found them in Lowell, Mass, where it all took place. Â Russell even allowed Mickey's trainer, Mickey O'Keefe, play himself in the film. Â Everything feels more like a documentary with it's shining authenticity and handheld camera work. Â It's true that the movie reminds you of something you've seen before. Â It has the archetype of almost every sports film but it also has the archetype for every poor family struggling with drug addiction. Â But rarely are those stories told together with so much talent and attention to detail put into it. Â If you're looking for a sports movie, you'll get one eventually but you have to wait a while for it. Â If you're looking for a family drama, you'll get one right away but you'll have to appreciate the Boxing too. Â My wife had zero interest in seeing this with me but went just to make me happy. Â By the end of the film, we were both sitting in the darkened theater with tears in our eyes and a desire to see it again. Â In fact she liked it more than I did. Â The Fighter won't win Best Picture because there are too many other movies that are just slightly better, but it deserves to be considered one of the Top 10 films of the year without a doubt...and doesn't have to fight to get there.
The Fighter Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A+
Earlier in the year, when Let Me In came out, I asked in the review, "Should a movie that's a remake of another film be eligible for the Oscar for Best Picture?" Â It's a tough question to answer. Â Once again, that question needs to be asked and this time more seriously because True Grit is amazing! Â However, it's not really a remake as it is a different vision of the book. Â Full disclosure however, I'm a HUGE fan of the Coen Brothers. Â They're the writer/director/producing team behind movies like Raising Arizona, No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and my favorite of theirs and the best comedy of all-time (in my opinion) The Big Lebowski. Â What excited me the most about True Grit was Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges re-teaming with the Coens for the first time since The Big Lebowski and on the heels of winning Best Actor last year for Crazy Heart. Â The Coens are arguably the best filmmakers out there. Â Their films are shining examples of every aspect needed to make a movie. Â They've mastered suspense, comedy and drama all while making their films arty yet commercial. Â With True Grit, which is based on the novel by Charles Portis and was already made into a movie in 1969 that won John Wayne his only Oscar, they are just as impressive as ever. Â The Coens do everything perfectly but the one they excel at above the rest is writing a script. Â They wield dialogue like no other writer out there...yes, that means Quentin Tarantino too! Â And what's so incredible about Bridges performance in True Grit as "Rooster" Cogburn is that he manages to mumble and slur his way through the art of their words just enough that Â you can still appreciate what he's saying and still doing it justice. Â Amazing! Â Besides adding Matt Damon to their repertoire of Oscar-winners that work with them, the Coens added a 14-year-old unknown Hailee Steinfeld. Â She not only holds her own in scenes with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon under the instructions of The Coens (I couldn't be more jealous), but she's amazing at it too! Â Don't be surprised if she gets an Oscar nomination herself. Â Don't go into this movie expecting the big-balled, gunslinger action movie that Westerns notoriously are. Â The Coen's vision of True Grit is full of complex characters that are filled with grey and not black and white. Â There are no true villains in this, nor are there true heroes. Â The sense of the human condition is something that The Coens seem to know so well, they can evoke it into all the characters they create. Â That aspect of it may turn some of you away from the film. Â The lack of a true climax or big action might be unsettling, but just like the masterful No Country for Old Men, this movie will get better and better the more Â you watch it and make you think about it long after it's over.
True Grit Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A-
Face it! Â You thought it too. Â You could be the biggest fan of the Meet the Parents series in the world, but when you saw the title Little Fockers pop up on a trailer last summer, you totally thought "Jump the Shark!" Â You're totally right for thinking that; this truly is an unneeded sequel, as was the last one. Â The good news is that it's not that bad but it is keeping up with the downward progression the series is going. Â Little Fockers picks up the story a few years after Meet the Fockers and now we find Ben Stiller and Teri Polo (Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers) raising a pair of twins and living in Chicago. Â The plot is insultingly simple in that it draws all the characters together just to celebrate the twins' birthday. Â Then more of the same jokes that have warn out their welcome a long time ago continue. Â Robert DeNiro is back as the scary, overbearing patriarch of the family and him and Stiller continue their waltz of control and cliched jokes. Â Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman are back as well as The Fockers but are far less funny and have less screen time than they did in the last one. Â Jessica Alba actually gives a great performance as a prescription drug rep temptress that Stiller deals with. Â That's nice because it counters the downright pointless and stupid character that Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, National Treasure) plays. Â It's true that there are parts of the movie that made me laugh, yes even some of them were out loud, but the belly laughs and uncomfortable tension the original brought out are long gone. Â Perhaps that's because, by now, you can spot the jokes coming a mile away. Â Not to mention the fact that I've grown way tired of the jokes around the name "Focker;" I mean, "Godfocker?!" Â Are you kidding me?! Â Who's laughing at that? Â The lackluster quality might be because this film was really hard to pull off for the studio. Â None of the original creators are involved in it anymore. Â Jay Roach who was the director and writer of the first one is one of the producers of Little Fockers, but I'm sure that was more of a financial decision than an artistic one because none of this shows his flair. Â Instead the job of directing was handed over to Paul Weitz who gave us American Pie but also gave us The Vampire's Assistant, so take that for what it's worth. Â Not to mention the fact that this movie was in trouble when it had to be reshot after test audiences hated it and they paid Hoffman and Streisand gobs of money to appear in it after they said they didn't want too and try to make it funnier. Â Again, the good news is that they did. Â The film is funny but it's not what it used to be. Â The movie ends with a setup for another one, but for God's sake I hope it doesn't happen. Â The Meet the Parents movies are starting to act just like the characters that drive the story...overbearing, annoying and won't go away.
Little Fockers Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C
I often have said to friends, "If I could buy stock in a movie, I'd be rich." Â That's in reference to me being able to sniff out a hit film before it comes out. Â Never in a million years would I have expected that Disney would get all these people whipped into a frenzy over a sequel to an obscure 1982 movie that even they forgot about and abandoned. Â As I went into the theater, there were some people who were there with their kids who were super pumped for the film to begin but didn't even KNOW it was a sequel. Â Okay, so maybe Tron: Legacy is one of those sequels where you don't have to see the first one to really get into the second, just like Wall Street 2 was earlier this year. Â Nope, that's not the case at all. Â Not only does Tron not care if you saw the first one or even remember how it ended, they created a new story of what's happened since the end of the first and quickly recap at the opening of the film. Â Not all has been happy in Tron land and Kevin Flynn's son, who's played by Garrett Hedlund (Friday Night Lights, Four Brothers) is sent there to finally rescue his trapped father. Â Think of it as a mix between the sequel to Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz, and The Matrix. Â Everything you may or may not remember about the first one is a little different. Â The self-important religious and philosophical overtones in the script are as obvious as can be. Â However, a script was never what made Tron the minor success it was...it was the special effects, and brother there are plenty to go around this time too. Â In fact, what you loved about the first one only gets bigger and badder for Legacy. Â The Light Cycles are more amazing and realistic and the Disc Fights are faster and more intense. Â I'm still shocked this movie got a PG rating from the MPAA and not a PG-13. Â Even if your little kids can handle the violence, they'll be bored by not knowing what the hell is going on. Â What's the most fun to watch is Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges pull double duty and play himself in current times as the zen Creator, Flynn, and the Bridges of 1982 who didn't age and is the bad guy, CLU. Â Bridges is so much fun to watch in anything and that doesn't change here, although the technology that makes CLU ageless from 1982 is subpar at times and even jaunting to look at. Â Another scene stealer is the fabulous Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Twilight series) who isn't in the film long, but makes the most of it with every ticking second. Â I was actually amazed that Disney trusted the new launch of this potential franchise to a new director, Joseph Kosinski. Â He actually does a really good job at keeping the imagery from the original intact but taking up several levels though. Â That's not an easy task; to preserve the integrity of what made fanboys fall in love with it at first but also bring it into the 21st Century too seems full of pitfalls. Â Another notable feature of the film is the soundtrack that combines the classic score by Hans Zimmer and French freaky techno group, Daft Punk. Â It's amazing! Â However, the choice to put Daft Punk in the movie and then show them over and over again is awful. Â I think it's funny when there are musical cameos like that in movies, but after one quick shot, we get it; you don't need to bash us over the head with it. Â The more you do it, the worse it is. Â Overall I liked Tron: Legacy but I don't expect many people too. Â I was a fan of the first but I haven't seen it in a decade and I was lost through half of it. Â The action takes a backseat for a meaningless script that takes itself too seriously but Jeff Bridges owning it is enough to make you wait patiently for the action again.
Tron: Legacy Â (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: B
"You're as slow as molasses in January," is an actual line uttered through an awful and fleeting southern accent by actress Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns, 21) and not only does it drip with Velveeta, but it could be a general thought for the whole film. Â The Warrior's Way is a Kung Fu/Western from first time director Sngmoo Lee. Â Asian Cinema has always shared a kinship with the Western genre, but in the last year or so it seemed that over half of all the films coming out of Asia are either remakes of Westerns, take place in the American Old West or blend the two...much like The Warrior's Way did. Â That's not a complain; it's just an interesting observation. Â The story for this is that of a Samurai assassin that refuses to kill a baby for his clan and takes the baby and hides in an old west town in California. Â Not a bad story, but the promise of this film is action, action, action. Â The payoff is goofy, plodding and dull. Â Aside from Bosworth, Korean star Dong-gun Jan and Geoffry Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean, Munich) star in this mostly fantasy adventure that spends more time trying to show what a director can do with a Green Screen than what he can do with a story. Â Full disclosure though, I've never been much of a fan of Asian Cinema. Â I especially don't like it when Asian actors attempt to speak English in the films and it's told through an American filter. Â I personally believe that it slows everything down and makes the film more of a parody or mockery than anything else. Â I have several Asian movies in my collection at home but they're all subtitled since I think that's the only true way to get a quality performance out of the Asian actors. Â This was the case with The Warrior's Way and even when you surround Jan with decent actors who give it their all, especially Danny Huston (Wolverine, Children of Men) who never disappoints as a villain, it's still not the pace that can hold my attention and make me glad I'm still watching. Â However, I did take my friend Dave with me to see it. Â Dave is a big Anime fan and liked the film. Â He said the film screams Anime and even seems like still frames of animation at times that are more about the rich colors and imagery than they are about the story or dialogue. Â Okay. Â I can respect that. Â Makes more sense to know that as oppose to wondering why it seems to be raining lotus petals in the middle of the California desert through most of the more dramatic scenes. Â But even if you're going to be a fun, don't-take-it-too-seriously action film, I feel like there should be some actual action in it. Â Lee confused body count with action, Â Just because you can make a scene filled with killings doesn't make it exciting to see. Â When it comes down to it, this film is stylized for a certain audience and I just wasn't it. Â I'm also the same person who still can't figure out why Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon got the Oscars it did. Â One of the last lines of the movies, still covered in cheese and uttered through that same awful southern accent of Bosworth's, was, "Is this the end or just the beginning?" Â Ugh, as far as I'm concerned, I sure hope it's the end.
The Warrior's Way (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+
You may or may not remember hearing about this true story a few years ago.Â 127 Hours is about Aron Ralston, whoÂ was a young adventurer who was hiking in Utah and got his hand trapped between a canyon wall and a giant rock.Â He was trapped there for (you guessed it) 127 hours until he decided to save himself by cutting his ownÂ arm off with a dull, rusty pocket knife and hiked back out of the desert.Â That's not a spoiler alert because if you're going to see this movie, you pretty much know what's going to happen.Â In fact, if you don't know that I'm glad I told you because it's intense.Â I heard someone say that, "to say 127 Hours isn't about the arm cutting scene is like saying Jaws isn't about the shark."Â That's true but only to an extent.Â Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) takes us on a journey so harrowing and awful that the only reason why it's watchable is because you know Aron survived.Â Again, not a spoiler because it says in the opening credits the movie is based on his book.Â From the second the boulder crushes his hand and he realizes he's trapped in that canyon, it's nothing but a film about claustrophia and helplessness.Â But there are two elements of the film that prevent it from getting boring.Â One is Boyle's unique style of aggressive filmmaking.Â His films feel like what Oliver Stone's used too.Â However, in 127 Hours it does feel unnecessary at times to have such jumpy editing and trippy, out-of-focus shots.Â The other is star James Franco (Milk, Pinneapple Express)Â giving the best performance of his career so far.Â If The Academy overlooks him for Best Actor, the entire awards should be ashamed.Â Franco brings so much energy, humor and heartbreak to a one-man tour-de-force that you ARE trapped down there with him.Â But you're not gonna get through the movie without a little blood on you because you have to make it through the arm-cutting scene.Â I'm a fan of horror movies and have seen my share of gore, but this was different.Â Boyle's directing makesÂ that sceneÂ seem like a music video in the way that it's a solid 3-4 minutes that has odd angles, quick edits and strange music.Â It doesn't dwell on the gruesomeness but in a way that makes it more disturbing.Â But it's not just a splatter scene...it's art.Â Yes, this scene is almost impossible to watch but it's brimming with emotion.Â When I saw The Passion of The Christ by Mel Gibson, I cried during the crucifixtion scene.Â Not because I'm a Christian but because, as a fellow human being, it was so sad to know someone had to endure that much suffering.Â The arm-cutting scene in 127 Hours had the exact same effect on me and I wept while I cringed.Â The movie is about hope, not pain.Â It made me feel the way that Sean Penn's Into the Wild did, except this one is happier because Aron lived and Chris didn't.Â This film will make you appreciate your freedom, appreciate your family and appreciate your limbs.Â It's going to leave a stamp on your heart and soul, even if you want to get up and leave at some points.
127 Hours (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A
When The Princess and The Frog came out last year, there was a trailer for this movie before it and it almost appeared that Disney was going to keep this classic 2D animation of the classic fairytale musical stories going.Â You know, like The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and The Beast.Â I thought The Princess and The Frog was marvelous and just as worthy to stand among those other Disney classics.Â But then I saw that Tangled was going to be computer animated and...even worse...released in 3D!Â I wrote this film off as another crappy Disney movie that could've been released by any other studio before I even saw it.Â I was wrong.Â I enjoyed this movie SO MUCH more than I thought I would.Â First off, the computer animation is made to look (almost in tribute too) the 2D animation.Â Second, the 3D effects are fun but not too gimicky to make me think I'm in an amusement park.Â But most importantly, this is a classic Disney movie in every sense.Â It's a musical with great songs.Â It's fun and colorful.Â It has a hilarious script and is directed well by a team of guys who worked on Bolt, which was far from traditional Disney.Â It follows the formula for a successful Disney film to the finest point:Â a princess who'sÂ in trouble but is stillÂ tough, aÂ charming hero that doesn't like her at first, talking (or not talking) animal friends that steal the show with their human emotions, an evil villain that has one, clear goal, unlikely friends the two main characters meet along the way, love that comes from their shared expierence and songs, actionÂ and comedy to wrap it all up.Â Put it all in the pot, bring it to a slow boil and you've got a successful Disney film.Â Sure they're all the same but remember that the target audience is children; the more you can keep it familiar to them, the more they'll dig it.Â The whole thing is wonderfully acted by the shockingly good team of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi (ABC's Chuck), who can actually sing pretty well.Â There are times when you're watching Tangled that you forget that it's computer animated and, for me, that's what really won me over as a fan.Â I guess I just need to come to terms with the fact that the classic 2D animation might be dead.Â Although The Princess and The Frog was a critical success, it was considered a box office failure and I suppose that's because kids want to see 2D animation as much as adults want to see Black and White films.Â But as long as Disney still pays homage to the old school, I can learn to love the new school.
Tangled (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A-
Here it is! Â The moment we've all been waiting for! Â This marks the beginning of the end. Â Director David Yates, who's taken the helm of the last few Potter films, made an inspired decision during the production of this movie - he went toe-to-toe with the studio and refused to shoot it in 3D. Â Good for you, Yates! Â The Harry Potter movies don't need Hollywood's trendy gimmick-of-the-month to put asses in seats or rake in the dough. Â So why did you decided to split the last Harry Potter book into two films? Â Don't get me wrong; when the Deathly Hallows part 2 comes out and I can watch them back-to-back, I'll be thrilled that they did. Â But to release this as a singular movie doesn't do much for the illiterate portion of the Potter fans that never read the books. Â The movie follows JK Rowling's last novel to an exceptional detail and still comes in at over two hours...yet is one of the shortest Potter films. Â It follows Harry and the kids carrying on with the mission Dumbledore gave them before his death at the end of the last film. Â It also really pushes the limits of that PG-13 rating with some deeply emotional scenes, sexual imagery and violence like we haven't seen in the series yet. Â Yeah, you can tell that this is the last one and it's balls to the wall time! Â I did read the book and found the first half to be almost dull at times. Â Most of it seemed like it was spent trying to figure out how to kill Voldermort while hiding in the woods. Â I'm glad my memory isn't that great or Yates felt the same way I did because the first half of the Deathly Hallows movie is much more entertaining than I was expecting. Â It's funny, it's sad, it's thrilling and totally turns your crank for the next one (which comes out this summer). Â However, it's not complete and that's the problem with the film. Â You can't look at this like the other Potter movies or even part of a saga like Kill Bill or Back to the Future or Star Wars. Â Those are separate installments of a story that have a beginning, a middle and an end. Â Sure they are trending toward a larger story, but each have climaxes within themselves. Â The Deathly Hallows (the book) does as well...and holy crap is it ever a climax! Â But half of it doesn't. Â By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1 comes to an end, you're in tears and you're amped up for more, but you feel unsatisfied because you only got half a movie. Â It really is unfair to review this film at all. Â Everyone involved did a great job. Â Yates is continuing to see how dark and brilliant he can make a Harry Potter movie. Â The acting from everyone is top notch like it always is and the kids (who are now all adults) are giving the best performances yet. Â Even the familiar whimsical score was eerily absent from this film to let us know that this isn't the Harry Potter we were introduced to a decade ago. Â The only reason why this movie doesn't work as well as it should is ONLY because it's an incomplete story. Â So that's what I'm gonna give it...an I. Â I know that's a cop out but until The Deathly Hallows is REALLY complete, which happens in July, we'll just have to make do with this.
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows part 1 (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: I (but a B+ if I have to give it something)
All the advertisements for this movie boasted some of the most vague campaigning I've ever seen for a film. Â All we gather after watching a two and a half minute long trailer for this movie is that it stars Russel Crowe and Liam Neeson and it's about a woman in jail. Â The ironic part is that one of those three tidbits isn't even true. Â Liam Neeson is a one-scene cameo and almost his entire performance is shown in the trailer. Â The Next Three Days is the thriller from Hollywood Sweetheart and Clint Eastwood's BFF, Paul Haggis. Â Haggis started off as a writer in Hollywood and has moved on to directing. Â He's given us Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters of Iwo Jima, and the two last James Bond movies. Â With the exception of Crash, all are fine films. Â (And yes, I mean that! Â Crash was terrible and I'll fight ya over it!) Â The Next Three Days will be put on Haggis' lame pile. Â The film is about a regular guy who has his wife go to prison for murder. Â He believes she's innocent so he plans to break her out. Â I'll give Haggis credit that it's more original than it seems. Â I couldn't remember a movie in the last decade or so that was about breaking someone out of prison; most are about someone trying to break themselves out and it's a very different story if you're outside the walls. Â From the very beginning though this film is off the tracks. Â Everything in it is glazed over like you're watching the Cliff's Notes version of a good movie. Â Crowe's wife is played by the gorgeous Elizabeth Banks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, W.) is trying to prove that she's not just a pretty face that does comedy really well and deserves to be considered for more dramatic work. Â Besides those two main roles there are a slue of useless, underutilized characters that are played by pretty good actors; such as Olivia Wilde (Year One, Tron: Legacy), Brian Dennehy (Tommy Boy, Romeo + Juliet), RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), and Daniel Stern (City Slickers) just to name a few. Â They are shells of actual characters that have no backstory, no personality, no purpose and no fuel to keep the story going. Â That's not because they lack the screen time to make it work either because the same goes for Crowe and Banks. Â Everyone in this movie is replaceable with any character from any other thriller and it wouldn't change the story at all. Â And this is only half the problem; the other half is an excruciating first two acts. Â It's so slow and boring and doesn't seem to mind. Â There's no sense of an artful director at the helm that saw this iceberg coming and wanted to speed the ship up to get to the good part. Â And that really is the sad part; the last third of the movie is really good. Â The ending is exciting and suspenseful and deserves an audience, but I'm not sure who could stick around for it. Â The Next Three Days came across a lot like Crash to me; it's a movie that thought so highly of itself that it didn't want anyone to tell it how it could be improved. Â It was so sure it was a masterful movie that it didn't need a test screening or Hollywood dust-up. Â Shame too because it wouldn't have been a total wash because I'd tell them to keep the ending the way it is and reshoot everything else.
The Next Three Days (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C -
My wife had zero interest in seeing this movie. Â When I told her what it was about she literally said, "What's it about? Â A runaway train? Â Like in modern times? Â How many people are onboard, like 4? Â Boring!" Â Needless to say, she didn't go with me to see it and I brought my friend, Dan, along instead; someone who can appreciate a simplistic action movie like me. Â My wife was pretty wrong about it being boring though...although she was right about the people onboard...that number is actually zero. Â Unstoppable is directed by film veteran Tony Scott, who you probably don't know but I guarantee you know his resume. Â He's one of the godfathers of the modern day action movie. Â If it's simple, over budget and made only so you can chomp down on gobs of popcorn as a nervous reaction to the suspense, then Tony Scott is your man. Â He's given us over the years such films as Top Gun, Enemy of the State, Taking of Pelham 123 and the cult classic True Romance to name a few. Â He teams up again with his muse, Denzel Washington and new to the Scott family is Chris Pine (Star Trek, Bottleshock). Â Both are great and likable as the unlikely heroes that are archetypes of your typical action movie. Â One is young, one is old. Â One is a rookie, the other is a veteran. Â They don't like each other but they make a great team. Â One has a family problem he doesn't want to talk about, the other helps him with it. Â It's a formula that no one likes to deviate from too much because we all like it and it sells lots of tickets. Â It's also easy to write those characters into the "true story" that is Unstoppable. Â Don't get too excited because it's not "based on a true story" it's "inspired" by one. Â What it's actually based on was an unmanned train carrying toxic chemicals traveled 47 miles in 2001 in Ohio. Â But it wasn't a high action adventure and the train never went faster than 45 mph. Â The train in the movie though zips along at 80 mph, it's carrying explosive stuff on it and it's headed straight toward a series of populated towns in Central and Western Pennsylvania (close to where I grew up). Â Adding to the cast of characters is Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds, Rent, Grindhouse) as the helpful command center worker and Kevin Dunn (Transformers, Lost) as the evil corporate CEO. Â Tony Scott movies are really hit or miss with me. Â He has a style that is very obvious with his pointless zoom-ins, mega quick editing and seizure-inducing handheld shots. Â But for Unstoppable it works pretty well. Â Once you get past the first fifteen minutes of the movie the rest of the action is...well...unstoppable. Â It doesn't get boring for a split second, even though when you think about what you saw afterward, it really isn't a whole lot of anything happening. Â It's an action movie with 90% planning and 10% action but gives you the impression that it's 100% action. Â Not an easy thing to do as a director. Â Never once have I looked forward to seeing a Tony Scott movie, but rarely am I upset that I had to sit through one. Â Unstoppable doesn't break that streak, but it is one of his best I've seen in a while. Â However, spoiler alert, the title is false advertising.
Unstoppable Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B
That JJ Abrams has his hand in everything. Â The mega-Producer/Director has been affectionately adopted by the geek communes of the world for re-imagining Star Trek and giving us Cloverfield, but we also forget that he's the brains behind the show Felicity, that awful NBC show Undercovers and now...gasp...Morning Glory. Â Yeah. Â JJ Abrams is the Producer behind this cookie-cutter romantic comedy staring Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, State of Play), Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. Â The film is about an ambitious morning TV show producer who gets a shot at the big leagues in New York City and falls in love with Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Hard Candy) and tries to save a failing show. Â It's nothing new. Â Movies like this are meant to be harmless, fun, cute, colorful and happy; and that's exactly what this is. Â However, one thing it's not is creative or original. Â Shocking that it had hands on it by Abrams who usually delivers creative, if not original, material fairly consistently. Â Granted, he didn't write or direct this. Â That role fell to Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and Writer Aline Brosh McKenna (Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses). Â See the former movies that those two have created? Â It's no wonder they were selected to do Morning Glory. Â This is more of the same. Â It's predictable, Hollywood carbon copies. Â I know I sound like such a snob right now so I'll let you know that I don't mind that all the time. Â I think Hollywood needs to have the formulas down to continue to make their money. Â That's so they can fund the more original, edgy or risky projects that do get made. Â And I know that all those movies have their purpose. Â Everyone who left the theater after seeing 27 Dresses or Notting Hill felt happy and moderately entertained. Â That's exactly how you'll feel leaving the theater after this. Â It doesn't challenge you or make you feel any real emotion and that's okay, I guess. Â But that's not to say that you won't laugh. Â The movie does have some very funny scenes, especially for the "We're Making Everything Better" montage that comes in the middle of the film like it's plucked right out of the '80s. Â You also get one of the better performances from Harrison Ford in the last decade...of course, we only have a handful to compare too. Â The sublime Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, Jurassic Park) is in this as a totally underused character that doesn't give him a chance to dazzle like he used too. Â Why dust yourself off, Jeff, if you're not gonna give us something to talk about?! Â Diane Keaton surpriese and earns a lot of respect from me for playing a part that I didn't expect from her. Â She really lets her hair down and acts a fool in the film as the opposite to Ford's cranky news veteran. Â McAdams is adequate, as she always is, playing the same kind of part she always does. Â I hope she branches out into something more daring soon or she'll just morph into a likable (and bankable) version of Katherine Heigl. Â So what's the story, Morning Glory? Â It's basically this: If you're looking for a movie that will make you smile, make you laugh and not make you think that you got your money's worth because you get the vague impression you've seen this movie before...then Morning Glory is for you. Â It's essentially ordering the same thing off the menu every time; sure it's a little boring because you've had it so often, but at least you know it's not gross.
Morning Glory (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-
It's been about two years since my mom gave me this book for Christmas.Â She INSISTED that I would love it.Â "Really Mom?Â Because that seems to be a book about economics."Â But here's the thing, she couldn't have been more right!Â It's a fantastic book that was written by Journalist Stephen Dubner and Economist Steven Levitt that looks at every day questions that society has wondered and answers them in a purely unbiased way because it's only based on numbers and statistics.Â Still sounds kind of boring, doesn't it?Â It's not though; it's very lighthearted, funny and easy to understand.Â This movie captures the mood and tone of the book perfectly and it's done by incorporating five very talented documentary directors, Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp), Seth Gordon (The King of Kong), and Alex Gibney (Gonzo, Taxi to the Dark Side).Â All of the documentaries that these directors have made in the past are some of the best in the last decade and it's almost like Freakonomics was crafted by a dream all-star team of artists.Â The two authors host the movie and kick the whole film off with their happy-go-lucky, jovial banter.Â Although some of the topics covered are serious, it's never presented in a manner that is so dry that it bores you.Â Not to mention the fact that each chapter of the movie only lasts about 10-15 minutes and are polar opposites of each other.Â The film covers some of the topics such as cheating, does your first name affect your life's success, why is crime lower than it was in the '70s and can kids be bribed to do well in school.Â The movie is a mere Cliff's Notes version compared to the book (and book's sequel Super Freakonomics...which I hope gets a movie treatment too), but still a very fun and very informative piece of entertainment.Â By the numbers...this is a winner!
Freakonomics (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A
These 3D computer animated movies are a really risky gamble for consumers. Â You have a 50/50 shot at seeing something that's worth your money usually, but when the movie is in 3D and the ticket price could be as much as $15 a person, you damn well better deliver the goods or you're gonna have some really pissed off eyes behind the shaded specs in the theater. Â Megamind stars the voices of Will Ferrel, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, David Cross (Mr. Show, Arrested Development) and Jonah Hill. Â Yeah, Brad Pitt doesn't really fit in that comedic lineup but he holds his own considering that his role of the heroic Metro Man isn't meant to be all that funny. Â In fact the movie isn't really meant to be anyone's except for Ferrel who plays the titular Megamind, the dastardly villain. Â The movie is from the director who did Madagascar and the production team behind Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. Â The animation is okay and it's full of cheap 3D tricks that are usually reserved for a theme park, but what saves this movie is the fairly original story mixed with the comedic timing of Ferrel and Cross. Â To my knowledge, Will Ferrel hasn't done any voice work prior to this but I hope he makes another go of it because he's terrific at it. Â David Cross plays Minion, who is Megamind's henchman. Â Almost half the scenes in the film are done with those two as the subjects and the jokes are subtle and quick. Â The animation aids the comedy at times but also stifles it by being...well, animated. Â There are some animated movies that are so funny that I consider them some of the best comedies of the year they came out; such as the original Shrek, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Aladdin to name a few. Â But, and perhaps it's the lack of inner child in me, I can't ever enjoy a comedic cartoon as fully as I would if it was life action because of that. Â So in that respect, when an animated movie makes me laugh pretty hard, I feel it deserves the respect that its earned. Â However with Megamind, the scenes that don't involve those two are still fun, but just barely. Â Tina Fey is a very funny actress but she's given no funny scenes. Â Jonah Hill plays his usual fat doofus and stretches his thin threads of comedy to the breaking point. Â And Brad Pitt seems kind of out of place in this and rather luke warm in the role. Â The story is relatively good, playing off the lore of Superman and borrowing from other superhero stories. Â But it's nothing that will blow your socks off. Â Your kids will like it and you'll love half the film and like the other half. Â Let me know when Megamind the live action, PG-13 version comes out and I'm sure I'll fully love it then.
Megamind (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: B-
Horror movies rarely get better as a series goes on. Â In fact most series that start incredibe only get worse and eventually fall to ruin...I'm looking at you Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Â Even if a sequel to a horror film is just as scary, it's very rare that the sequel is a perfect companion to the first one and makes it even better. Â When I saw that Paranormal Activity was going to have a sequel come out EXACTLY one year after the first one, my thoughts went exactly to the disaster that was The Blair Witch Project 2. Â That was a perfect example of how Hollywood can take one of the all-time movie success stories that created legit terror on a shoestring budget and then raped the soul out of it. Â I'm absolutely thrilled to report that Paranormal Activity 2 avoided the awful conclusion that The Blair Witch Project suffered. Â This movie worked with what made the original a success and pumped it full of steroids. Â Sure, it's a little more spruced up and has some special effects but it still retains those key ingredients - surveillance cameras, unknown actors, limited cast, one location and heavy reliance on sound effects. Â Although the reason for the "I shot this myself" product feels less organic and believable than it did in the first one, I'm thrilled that they made that choice. Â What was refreshing to see was that the original director, Oren Peli, handed over the reigns to new director Tod Williams, who comes from directing documentaries. Â The other was hiring a perfect team of writers that made the film an amazing prequel AND sequel at the same time.Â But (and this really impressed me) you don't need to see the first one to fully enjoy the second one.Â In fact, you could then watch the first one and THAT would turn into a sequel.Â It introduced a whole new cast of characters to care about AND found a great way to bring back Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloan from the first one. Â Now, when it came to the first one it was amazingly creepy but somewhat light on the scares. Â The sequel skimps on the creepy and trades it for terror and monumental scares! Â If you're a fan of the original then you're prepared for a first act that burns slow and steady. Â However, the last twenty minutes of the sequel goes to places of horror that are beautiful when done right. Â For one, they added a dog and a baby and that preys on the two areas that most people consider pure innocence. Â Sure there were teenagers in the theater that were laughing as a nervous response but most of the parents were silent with anxious fright and I even heard some cry. Â The thought of helplessness in defending your baby is a primal fear that I can only imagine can paralyze even the strongest of audience members. Â TheÂ Paranormal Activity series reminds of a type of horror film that's rare and so wonderful to see. Â The kind that never relies on gore or monsters to create terror but instead invites you into a haunted house. Â You basically will spend 90 minutes watching a magic trick as the house becomes alive with sounds and tricks that scare you as much as they scare the actors. Â Yeah, this time around some of those tricks are CGI or other visual effects, but it still has the same feel of low budget, bare knuckled, drag out, goosebump-inducing, fun house horror. Â Don't bother getting popcorn for this one because it's just gonna end up on your lap and the lap of your neighbor.
Paranormal Activity 2 (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A
What do you hope to do when you're 80-years-old? Â I think most of us would be happy just being alive. Â Oscar-winning Director Clint Eastwood is 80 and seems to be getting younger and younger with each new movie he does. Â I was never really a big fan of Eastwood as an actor. Â Dirty Harry movies never did much for me. Â As a director, however, he's given us some of the best films of the last decade. Â I thought Million Dollar Baby and Flags of Our Fathers were incredible and powerful. Â But (and I know many disagree with me) he also gave us complete duds like Gran Torino and Invictus. Â Hereafter is his first dive into the paranormal but it's not scary at all. Â This could be a sequel to The Sixth Sense and Matt Damon is the little kid all grown up. Â He's the reluctant psychic that can commune with the dead. Â He has a gift but doesn't want to use it because it's too hurtful to his life. Â Sounds like a pretty cliched story, right? Â Well, what Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) tried to do to make it fresh is have two other stories that are totally unrelated to Damon's and have them crisscross a la Traffic or Babel. Â The other two stories involve a French journalist played by Cecile de France and a young British boy played by Frankie McLaren. Â Either of these stories would be interesting on their own but are told in such a boring, plodding way. Â The story of the French woman starts the movie and it's utterly amazing and enthralling. Â It takes place during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Â It's so incredible in the way it was filmed and really does a great job of showing how horrible that event was. Â The British boy's story also involves a true story and it is the terrorist bombing of the London subway in 2005. Â However, whenever Eastwood does a movie that features a child actor to carry a major role, it's a safe bet that it will be cast horribly. Â The reason why Gran Torino was so bad was because the two child actors he cast were unwatchable. Â McLaren isn't much better. Â I get the impression that he was cast because he was a twin and has the most pathetic, dopey look on his face that screams tragedy without saying a word. Â And if he was playing a mute in the film, that would be just fine, but he's not. Â I know it's cruel to single out a kid as the weakest link in a painfully average movie so I'll emphasis that it's not just him. Â The whole film lacked any kind of energy or pulse. Â I wish Matt Damon's psychic character could commune with this dead film to find out how to make it better. Â Even the moments that made me tear up only achieved half of the potential the story offered. Â The good news though is that doing these movies seems to keep Eastwood alive and well and we can keep hoping for another Million Dollar Baby.
Hereafter (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C
DC Comics is home to lots of well-known heroes of the world, such as Superman and Batman.Â They're also home to some lesser-known heroes such as the senior citizens in Red.Â The premise for this is what R.E.D. stands for - Retired and Extremely Dangerous.Â Pretty funny idea.Â The film stars Bruce Willis, who doesn't seem old enough to be retired from anything, as a former CIA agent trying to make his lonely life in the world after walking away.Â He pines away for a social security phone worker, played by Mary Louise Parker (Weeds) and because of that, inexplicably gets involved in a government contractor cover-up for a mission he had decades ago.Â Huh?Â Right, it's confusing and doesn't make an ounce of sense.Â So he kidnaps his long distance girlfriend and solicits for help from his other retirement home friends, played by the genius John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich, ConAir), Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption, Invictus), Helen Mirren (The Queen, State of Play) and Brian Cox (X-Men 2, Braveheart).Â The whole time he's being persued by bad guys Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings) and "hey!-it's-good-to-see-you-again" Richard Dreyfus (Jaws, What About Bob).Â This is an amazingly impressive cast!Â All of these people have done drama extremely well and have done comedy extremely well.Â I'm sure that's one reason why this illustrious cast signed on to do this film.Â Unfortunately, it falls flat...big time.Â Red does a horrible job of attempting to be a fun and light action film.Â It starts off right away with a whimsical score that you usually only hear on the worst sitcoms on TV.Â That sets the tone for the rest of the film which flies above any kind of logical plot without ever touching ground in a world that would help you understand what's going on.Â It's really too bad because the performances are pretty good.Â Malkovich gives one of the best comedic performances of his career as a crazed, ex-CIA agent that was a guinea pig for military testing.Â The action scenes are pretty great too, although you can tell they were watered down heavily to fit into a PG-13 violence guidelines.Â The issue is the ridiculous story, the idiotic involvement of Parker's character and how no one in the film seemed to notice that.Â I place the blame on director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife) for not picking up on that.Â But considering how bad his last movie was, I'd say he's not a "big picture" kinda guy.Â Red probably seemed like a great idea and an even better comic book; but on the big screen, even with a cast that would make most Academy members soil their pants, it's not very good.
Red (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+
I went with a big group of teachers to see this documentary about our broken education system and Iâm really glad that I did.Â We talked about the new documentary from Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) afterward for about 45 minutes.Â Apparently, in short, itâs a very simplistic view of education from someone who doesnât really understand it. Â He lays out points that he thinks are key problems or villains in the system andÂ some of those things the teachers agreed with but overall they were very opposed and sometimes offended.Â The painting of Unions as the devil and the key problem in education is dangerous.Â Unions are an issue and the problem in some areas, but they also do a lot of good.Â One of the teachers was accused of being a racist last year by a studentâs parents because she was failing.Â If the Union didnât step in and defend her, she wouldâve had to pay her legal fees by herself and probably wouldâve lost her job. Â Many of the teachers agreed that tenure is not helpful and leads to poor teaching in some, however they all said that itâs one of the only incentives to go into teaching.Â Itâs certainly not for the pay and they would be willing to get rid of the tenure if the pay was what they deserved (and comparable to almost all other professions that require that level of education and training.)Â Also many teachers in the theater (not just my group) scoffed at the line in the film about reaching tenure. Â âAll you have to do is breath for 3 years," is said by a Harlem education reformer named Geoffrey Canada. Â Maybe getting tenure was easy when Mr. Canada was younger but not now.Â Especially since, such as California, those teachers spend the first to seven years of their career not knowing if theyâll be cut due to budgets each year. Â They all agreed there is a problem, but Guggenheim's âsolutionâ seemed to be Charter Schools.Â Well, thatâs great but unrealistic.Â The reason why Charter Schools do so well (in some cases) is for such reasons as smaller class size, being able to evict poorly performing students and, in one of the stars of the film, Andreâs case, the school has the kids for 24 hours-a-day and control everything about them.Â The film also made it seem that going to a public school was the same as being sentenced to a life of doom.Â We took a quick poll with the group that was around us of how many went to public schools and about 95% of us did.Â We turned out okay.Â Is it because we worked hard? Â The film operates on the assumption that every child and their parents are like the ones featured in the film.Â They all are doe-eyed and eager to learn with concerned and active parents standing behind them.Â Thatâs the minority of kids.Â The film didnât touch on the fact that most American students simply donât WANT to work hard to achieve goals or gain an education.Â That was a common theme with all the teachers there.Â Solving each kidâs desire to learn like a Rubix Cube is a great idea on paper, but not when you have 50 kids per classroom and already have over-worked teachers that put in 10-12 hour days anyway. Â The ending of the film is moving and thereâs no denying that. Â You would have to be a husk to not tear up by the final act of the film. Â Guggenheim seems to care about the problem but is getting advice from the wrong people.Â The movie almost teeters on dangerous though.Â We have commercials playing on our station now of Meg Whitman encouraging people to see the film.Â Itâs scary to think that she could be Governor of this state and go forward thinking that that film is an accurate representation of how to fix the education problems. Â I could only hope that everyone else that sees it doesn't feel that way too.
Waiting for Superman (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: C+
This sounded like the worst movie EVER! Â Am I right?! Â Was anyone actually excited about a movie about freaking Facebook?! Â How shocking could it be? Â The dude gets unfriended in the end? Â Boy, could I have not been more wrong though. Â Who knew that the history of Facebook is so interesting? Â Mark Zuckerberg did, for one. Â He's the teenage genius that created the social network and is played very well by Jessie Eisenberg (Zombieland, Adventureland). Â This was exactly what he needed to get out from the shadow of Michael Cera and prove that he's not just a cheaper version of him but instead a serious actor that should be given his deserved attention. Â Another actor in this film that demands attention is *gulp, sigh* Justin Timberlake, and yes I mean THAT Justin Timberlake. Â Apparently, when he's not bringing sexy back, he's taking acting classes because he's great in this as the creator of Napster, Sean Parker, who becomes a perfect villain for this tale. Â But still, why is this interesting to anyone? Â Well, apparently there were two lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg and Facebook at the same time and out of those lawsuits came three very different stories of what actually happened, who did what and when. Â Getting more interesting, right? Â Now throw in the combination of two guys at the top of their craft to tell the story and you've got yourself a dream team. Â Director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) is one of the best directors out there now and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men) is not only one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood but also has his own frenzied pace of dialogue that never gets old or dusty. Â These guys put together such an amazing vehicle for which this story is allowed to rocket along at a two-hour runtime that seems to be 45 minutes, that it may be some of their best work...it definitely is for Sorkin. Â To top it all off, the score for the film is done by former Nine Inch Nails genius, Trent Reznor, who Fincher worked with before on Seven. Â He's made such a haunting and playful electronica musical score for this that the phrase "Oscar-winner Trent Reznor" seems like it should have always been how we referred to him. Â In fact, there's no reason why everyone I've mentioned above should be nominated for an Oscar for this film. Â On top of that, I'd say that The Social Network is the film to beat for Best Picture this year. Â Not too shabby for what started off as the most boring-sounding movie I ever heard. Â But really what it is is a version of Goodfellas for the 21st Century. Â It's a gang that no longer gets back at people by shoving an ice pick into the back of their heads but taking them to court for hundreds of millions of dollars. Â They don't rule the streets with an iron fist but rule cyberspace with geeky pompousness. Â No one in the movie is 100% bad and no one is 100% good. Â Zuckerberg is portrayed as someone who wages a war on privilege, apathy and wealth by creating something that all the ivy league sons of millionaires couldn't do...an original idea that only he could make. Â But once he makes the monster in his lab, it breaks out and runs amuck on the citizens of the town below. Â The question is will anyone want to actually pay to see a story about this nerd and his quest for respect? Â Well, if Facebook was a country, it would be the third most populated country on Earth. Â So, yeah, I'd imagine some people have interest in it.
The Social Network (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+
Here's an interesting question that I get different responses to from everyone I ask: Should a movie that's a remake be considered for the Oscar for Best Picture? Â I've thought about this for a while and I'll hold off on giving you my answer. Â The reason why I ask is because this film is a remake by Swedish filmmaker Thomas Alfredson. Â It was subtitled and called Let the Right One In and it was a masterpiece. Â It was overlooked by all those that are in a position to hand out accolades for films but grew to be one of the most respected horror movies of all time among critics. Â Let Me In is its American doppelganger and this time it's directed by Matt Reeves who literally amazed me with his first movie Cloverfield. Â When I heard they were even going to make this movie, I cringed at the idea. Â But when I saw that the cast was the heartbreaking Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and the intense-beyond-her-years Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass, (500) Days of Summer) as the young lovebirds I started to drink the Kool-Aid. Â I chugged it though when I saw Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins (Eat Pray Love, Burn After Reading) and the totally underrated Elias Koteas (Shutter Island, The Killer Inside Me) were rounding out the cast as the adults. Â The basic premise of the movie is about two kids falling in love but one is a vampire and one is a human. Â I know what you're thinking but trust me...this is NOTHING like Twilight. Â Think of this as Twilight without the bad acting, cheesy melodrama and, most importantly, for adults. Â It's difficult to classify this as a horror when it's so much more, but gruesome and bloody it certainly is. Â It's not scary and it won't make you jump though. Â It's as close to blurring the line between drama, horror and art as you can get. Â This is not for mass consumption; the great films rarely are. Â It's filled with symbolism, color-theming, subtle performances, and meaningful subtext...all the stuff that doesn't usually go over well with crowds. Â However, Reeves brings an almost fresh feel to the film. Â There are times when it's a shot-for-shot remake and other times where he put his own fingerprint on it and amused me. Â Sadly some material was taken out, I'm guessing because it was too confusing or shocking for American audiences. Â Too bad because it was a scene that made me go "What the f**k did I just see?!" Â (If you're really curious just rent the Swedish version. Â It's toward the end.) Â To answer my question I asked earlier, I think this should be considered for Best Picture. Â Not so much because of the accomplishments this film had on its own but how it could represent the first one as well. Â There is just enough in this version to make it it seem original but not enough for me to give it the A+ its predecessor earned. Â Hopefully though this version will draw enough people to make Hollywood know that there is an audience out there for smart, subtle, sad horror and it doesn't all have to be a sequel to Saw.
Let Me In (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A Click here to win free tickets to see Life as We Know It
Well, this might be one of the cheesiest titles for a sequel ever. Â I literally rolled my eyes when I saw that title come up at the end of the great trailer for this a few months ago. Â The good news is that it's a lot better than its namesake. Â This is a sequel to the 1987 Wall Street by Oliver Stone. Â The original is a classic film that properly captured what was going on in the '80s in the upper crust of society. Â It also gave us the villain, Gordon Gekko, that was played by Michael Douglas and remains his best performance to date (possibly only rivaled by his performance in Falling Down). Â The movie won him an Oscar and was nominated for several others. Â However, it's been 23 years since it shined a spotlight on the moral short-selling of America by the Wall Street elite. Â Which made me think, "Did this really NEED a sequel?" Â The answer to that is actually "yes" and "no." Â Yes because writer/director Oliver Stone (JFK, Any Given Sunday) felt that in the years since the first one that our financial system has actually become the super villain it never was when he thought it was bad in '87. Â He's right too and why he didn't need Gekko to be the bad guy in this since the system itself takes his place. Â But don't worry, the movie doesn't get too political although Gekko gets out of jail on the eve of 9/11 as creepy iconic foreshadowing, and the film takes place over the time period that straddles the Bush and Obama administrations, when the economy was at its worst and bailouts were being handed out like coffee at an AA meeting. Â It won't lose you in the politics but it will lose you in the maze of Capitalism. Â It's over the heads of most of us but not to the point that it's no longer entertaining. Â But it also didn't need a sequel because the two films can stand alone as their own separate movies. Â You don't need to see the first one to enjoy the second one, but it certainly helps in the enjoyment. Â (My friend Kirk didn't see the first one all the way through and still loved it.) Â Douglas is fantastic as Gordon again although he's not as devilish and this time he's joined by Shia LaBouf, Carey Mulligan (An Education, Public Enemies) and James Brolin (No Country for Old Men, W). Â The cast is strong and very impressive in their performances. Â Oliver Stone appears to try to go back to his roots with the more stylized directing that we grew to respect him for. Â The problem with the film is that it seems to have gone through too many focus groups. Â There appear to be two endings; the first one is great and ends the way I would've wanted it too and the second ends the way a Hollywood studio would prefer...sh*tty. Â Was the ending enough to ruin the film for me? Â Not at all but it did lower it's stock market share price.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B
This movie is real! Â Let me go back for a second. Â There is a good chance you never heard of Catfish, but it was made famous by winning over audiences at the Sundance Film Fest and having a totally engrossing (albeit misleading) movie trailer that made its rounds virally on the Internet. Â It's a documentary about three young, good-lookin' hipsters from New York City that document their friend's relationship he makes with a woman over Facebook. Â The movie is mostly fun and light-hearted until they discover one little detail about his Facebook girlfriend that stirs up debate over her legitimacy (this doesn't give anything away). Â They decide to drive to her house in Michigan to see her and confront her on the issue(s). Â That is when the film makes a slow and disturbing turn. Â I cannot and will not tell you anything more about the movie Â The three guys have had an uphill battle convincing people that Catfish is true. Â That's partially because of the reality TV world we live in and the fact that they happen to look like actors you'd see in any Judd Apatow comedy. Â I thought Catfish was a fake documentary, much like Cloverfield or Blair Witch Project, through 80% of the film. Â I started to question that notion toward the end and by the last ten minutes I was sure it was real. Â I couldn't stop running the ending of this movie through my mind though and when I got home I researched it more. Â The creators admit that they reshot some scenes after they were done filming. Â I'm fine with that because what they reshot isn't what really matters for the story. Â What matters is the last act of the film and there's no way they reshot that. Â I wish I could talk about what happens but I can't. Â The only thing I can say is that they may have captured documentation of what creepy and off-putting levels mental illness can take some people to. Â Catfish is a slow burn. Â Although it moves at a fast pace that's still pretty fun, it asks patience of you as an audience member. Â Even when the end starts to sink into you, it won't seem that intense. Â But if you think about what you just saw, it can saturate your marrow and you think about it every time you go online. Â If it comes out that the movie is indeed a fake, it will still be enjoyable and the boys will earn my respect for their trickery. Â But as it stands right now, Catfish is a real documentary about real people going through real events that is a cautionary tale about online use. Â It doesn't show you anybody you didn't already know existed, but actually seeing it makes you feel sad and perplexed. Â It might have done for Facebook what Psycho did for taking showers.
Catfish (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A-
I don't know why everyone craps all over Ben Affleck. Â I know he dated Jennifer Lopez and made some awful movies, but the guy is pretty talented. Â Especially after making The Town, where he joins the ranks of masters like Orson Wells in the respect that he Produced, Wrote, Stared in and Directed this film. Â Here's the kicker too - it's great! Â The Town was a movie that seemed like another rip off of Martin Scorsese's The Departed, but really it's a rip off of the 1995 crime drama Heat. Â Both films are about what happens when a criminal lets his guard down and falls in love. Â I revere Heat and consider it one of the best crime dramas of all time. Â It's better than The Town in some aspects. Â That being said though, there are some things that The Town did better too (gasp!) Â Both have stellar casts. Â Heat had Robert DeNiro and his partner in crime, Val Kilmer, being chased by cop, Al Pacino. Â The Town has Ben Affleck and his partner in crime played by Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) being chased by FBI agent, John Hamm (Mad Men, 30 Rock). Â Affleck writes a great sense of who these characters are and how they're a violent product of their crummy Boston environment. Â He crafts the dialogue well and it's always refreshing to hear him wield a Boston accent. Â The interplay between the characters is done well and suspenseful at times, although it's not nearly done as well as Heat did. Â But in The Town's defense, they achieved a near comparable level of quality in half the time that Heat did, which feels longer than the 3 hour run time it has. Â The one thing that The Town has over Heat though is the action sequences that are pretty epic in scope. Â The climax of the film is a shoot out in the bowels of Fenway Park, which I would imagine is a wet dream for anyone who loves Boston as much as they love crime. Â Affleck flexes his directoral muscle in this. Â His first attempt, Gone Baby Gone, was excellent but pulled back in the aggression of the scale. Â The Town doesn't pull punches and shows his skill as someone who's capable of capturing action scenes on film just as well as he captures human drama. Â If this is a sign of what is to come from Ben, I think we can almost forgive him for Gigli...and move on from The Summer of Benifer.
The Town (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A
Aristotle was not only one of the best philosophical minds of all time, but he was also a caddy bitch-of-a-critic. Â He invented a saying "Deus ex Machina," which is Latin for "god out of a machine." Â I know that seems odd to bring up in a review for a horror film, but it basically means a great story with a horrible ending. Â Aristotle HATED when he would spend the whole play getting deeply invested in the characters who find themselves in an impossibly entertaining and twisted plot just to have the whole freaking thing ruined by an ending (in his case) where a god would simply get lowered on the stage and fix everything. Â It's lazy writing. Â The Last Exorcism is just that! Â This film is fantastic at first! Â It is directed by newcomer Daniel Stamm in a mock documentary approach. Â The reason for the documentary is to follow the main character, a preacher played excellently by Patrick Fabian (Big Love), in his quest to show how exorcisms are fake and religion in general is pretty much a sham. Â It starts off very funny with some true laugh-out-loud moments. Â He then finds himself performing a fake exorcism over the body of young Nell, who's played by the new and lovely Ashley Bell. Â But we quickly learn that she might actually be possessed by a real demon. Â The movie goes from funny to really scary in two seconds flat, with a scene that's more creepy than shock. Â We see Bell bend and contort her body into awful and painful positions (these were real too since she has a background in ballet). Â With that sudden switch in to 5th gear fear, I was hooked as an audience member. Â The movie gets tense and spooky. Â More and more discoveries are made about the characters that makes us think that there's more going on than just a classic ghost story about the devil in an innocent girl. Â What started as a comedy, then bloomed into a horror actually starts rolling into a well-crafted mystery. Â Then, as if the writers had no idea how to end it, the whole thing comes crashing down in a climax that isn't scary, isn't logical, isn't creative or even entertaining. Â It's like eating a fantastic sandwich that has an aftertaste of old earwax - it's so bad it ruins the good parts. Â I believe that no ending would've been better than the ending they created. Â The good thing about this film though is that it continues to allow The Exorcist to rein supreme as the scariest film about possession of all time. Â What they did in that movie was taboo and broke down walls of taste and preconceived notions of what horror could be. The Last Exorcism impresses at first with it working within the PG-13 perimeters but then feels stifled by them. Â I understand that the mock documentary style of filmmaking is hard to squeeze an ending out of. Â People bitched about the endings of Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity andÂ Quarantine too. Â But those films understood the problem and came to the conclusion that less is more and perhaps the simpler solution is the better ending. Â I would agree with that and it would've helped this film. Â Now I don't want anyone to think that I don't want movies to have plots twists and turns in them. Â Just make sure that, as a writer, you don't get twisted up in your twists and you can still explain your way out. Â An ending is more important than the whole of the film and The Last Exorcism is a prime example of that.
The Last Exorcism Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C-
Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas, Hollow Man) is an Oscar-winning actress and rarely performs in films anymore. Â So what the hell would get someone like her to not only agree to appear in a tawdry remake of an already tawdry film from the '70s but be the star of it too?!!? Â Probably the same thing that got Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Dawn of the Dead), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future series, Clue), Jerry O'Connell (Jerry Maguire, Scream 2) and Richard Dreyfuss (W., Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who not only show up in the film but reprise his amazing role of Matt Hooper from Jaws, to agree to be in it! Â I'm still not really sure what that something was though. Â Could it be gobs of money that was thrown at them? Â Doubtful. Â Maybe the naked women that run 50-yards-deep in some scenes for the film? Â Eh, I think they're above that. Â Or was it the chance to work with skilled French horror director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) on something that was made to purely be a good time at the movies and nothing more? Â Probably that. Â Piranha 3D is a throwback to when horror films were full of cheap scares, lots of boobs and buckets of blood. Â If that's all you want to see, then you won't be disappointed one bit. Â If there isn't a frame of this film that doesn't have naked women, shredded flesh or both in it, then it's showing off with some kind of campy, overt 3D effect. Â What's enjoyable about the film though is the level of commitment the actors give the characters. Â They sink their teeth (no pun intended) into the roles and don't over-play them but don't make you feel like they're coasting through it either. Â It's almost like a comedy duo where the actors are the "straight guy" and the film itself is the "funny guy." Â They're in on the joke but know the joke would be over if they didn't make you almost believe they didn't know it was funny. Â The gory violence comes on quick and once it does, the screen runs red with so much carnage that I can't remember when a film last delivered a comparable level. Â The pinnacle of the Piranha 3D is when the thousands of fish feast on the hundreds of college Spring Breakers in an orgy of chaos that is so excessive in not only violence but also scale and performances by all the scantily clad extras, that you can't help but to laugh at the thought of how much fun it must have been to film. Â However, as delightfully awful as that scene is, the movie lacks something. Â When a film intentionally sets out to be a cult classic, it's very difficult for it to stick that landing with A+ precision. Â Although the film is meant to be stupid and silly, if there's nothing to make people want to see it again, you don't get a cult film...you get something stupid and silly. Â A cult classic has to be something that's so much fun to watch it keeps you coming back for more and compels you to show all your friends. Piranha 3D wasn't that, but it gave a fair attempt. Â But I have a feeling that it's going to lose even more "cult" quality when it moves to DVD and has to be viewed without the 3D gimmick. Â Because seeing a piranha devour a human penis and then burp it back up just isn't the same in 2D.
Piranha 3D Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B-
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a more fitting title than the team behind this film understands. Â I went to see this on the opening Saturday night at the 7:00 show and the theater was filled with 14 people. Â Could it be that America is so uninterested in originality and something they've never seen before that this movie will become a flop? Â I sure hope not. Â It's hard to describe this film to people who haven't seen it. Â You could say that it's a romantic comedy about hipsters in bands where the actors had to learn Kung Fu to film it. Â Another way could be what a video game about falling in love would look like. Â If any of that sounds slightly appealing to you, then don't walk...run to see this. Â Scott Pilgrim is an awkward, skinny guy in a band who falls in love with a girl. Â So naturally for a role like that the go-to guy is, of course, Michael Cera. Â The guy is still funny but I wonder how long he's gonna ride that "I'm Michael Cera playing Michael Cera" out. Â I also wonder what the perpetually-looking 15-year-old will look like when he's 50. Â Within the first 3 minutes of this movie, director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) takes you out of reality. Â It's not a sudden jump into the pool though; he eases you into it. Â Trust me, you need to dip your toes into his world first because otherwise people would get up and leave if we suddenly saw how bizarre it will get by the end. Â The "fantasy" that Wright takes us to is treating Scott Pilgrim's romance like a video game. Â And like any good video game it has to have levels and in this case it's defeating his new love, who's played by the stunningly gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard, Grindhouse), who has 7 Evil Exes. Â And yes, that even means that when Scott defeats them they turn into coins!! Â Everything about this movie is full throttle - the comedy, the action, the editing, the directing. Â It's hands-down one of the most aggressively creative movies I've seen in the last decade. Â It's based on the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley but brought to life with the attention to detail that 300 was. Â The only complaint with the film is that it does get a little long in some parts and feels like it forgets it's a comedy. Â But those moments don't last more than five or six minutes and we're right back to the bizarreness. Â It takes me back to my original point though - will this film be seen by the amount of people it deserves to be? Â If my screening is any indication, the answer is no. Â That's really too bad for Scott Pilgrim. Â I don't want to see The World win this battle.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A-
To be perfectly honest and up front, I don't like Julia Roberts. Â There! Â I said it! Â I know she's America's Sweetheart and everyone loves her, but I never found her to be a good actress and has coasted by all these years on her cuteness and her ability to get weepy on command. Â However, the reason why Eat Pray Love wasn't good has nothing to do with her shortcomings. Â This is the film version of the New York Times Bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert and it's her memoir about her life and this experience she had. Â It's gotta be hard for Gilbert to put up with criticism for this movie since the only thing to really not like about it is HER! Â This film is over two hours long and every single second of it is dedicated to her and how unhappy she is because of...well, I don't know. Â This woman has EVERYTHING and is still miserable. Â Ironically funny though since the reoccurring theme in the film is that Americans don't know how to enjoy pleasure and really let themselves go. Â The "problems" that Gilbert faces couldn't be more "American." Â She's selfish. Â She's rich. Â She's unfeeling. Â Does she learn anything by the end of the movie? Â Sure she does. Â After galavanting around the globe in paradise settings, not working, she damn well better or she should have her passport taken away and shoved down her throat. Â Do I care at all that she changes by the end though? Â Not one bit. Â She gets to spend an entire year of her life living in Italy eating her way to happiness, India praying her way to forgiveness and Bali where she loves her way back to health. Â Awe. Â Poor her! Â This book is insanely popular (my mother and brother are among the millions that love it) but I have NO IDEA why anyone would stomach this completely unlikable woman. Â The sad part is that the movie looks amazing, which is a shock since it was directed by Glee's Ryan Murphy. Â It also has some inspired and hypnotic performances by Billy Crudup (Big Fish, Watchmen), James Franco (Pineapple Express, Spiderman), and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). Â The best performance, however, comes from the amazing Richard Jenkins (Burn After Reading, Step Brothers) who should get Oscar notice once again for this. Â His scene is so gut-wrenching and sad, but when you compare his pain to hers it just makes you not like her even more! Â The movie reminded me an awful lot of Sophia Coppolla's Lost in Translation. Â It's a story about someone who has it all and is still not happy. Â Boo freaking hoo. Â If that's a feeling you can identify with then consider yourself lucky and piss off. Â I haven't read the book. Â Maybe it's a lot deeper when it's her pure thoughts written on a page. Â But when put on a movie screen, even when it's being crafted by great actors, it's just indulgent, petty, privileged and annoying. Â Maybe it's called Eat Pray Love because those are three things that are a lot more enjoyable than watching this film.
Eat Pray Love Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C
It's possible that you've never heard of this movie. Â Unless you're a movie nerd and read that they were making this for the past 5 months, you may not have see one ad for it. Â But The Expendables is an action movie written and directed by Sylvester Stallone and stars an all-star cast of anyone and everyone who has ever held a gun in a movie or ran away from an explosion in slow motion. Â Besides Stallone, it also stars Jason Statham (The Transporter, Snatch), Jet Li (Hero, Fearless), Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Masters of the Universe), Randy Couture (UFC fighter), Steve Austin (WWE wrestler), Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2, The Wrestler) and even Bruce Willis and our Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to acting in this. Â I know what you're thinking, but trust me...it's good! Â Most of this is attributed to the movie not taking itself too seriously. Â The plot is straight-to-DVD quality and within the first five minutes you see man get shot in half, which is the sign of a real action movie according to my friend Dan. Â But remember that Stallone is a decent writer and director. Â Many people forget that he's an Academy Award-nominated writer and directed most of the Rocky series too. Â He's not that great of an actor and he's pretty painful to look at since having all that plastic surgery, but he's a damn fine leader of this group of guns for hire...and boy do they have guns! Â Big guns. Â Big knives. Â Big cars. Â Big motorcycles. Â Big explosions. Â Big tattoos. Â The movie drips with so much testosterone that if you go into the theater with a vagina, you leave with balls. Â But things have changed a tiny bit since these guys kicked hell out of bad guys again...now they talk about their feelings and admit to going to therapy. Â It's a sign of the times and a pretty funny theme in the film. Â But don't let all those...feelings...fool you. Â This movie is full of everything that you'd want from this pedigree. Â The action sequences are so insane and violent that by the end of the movie you don't really know who's fighting who and why they're blowing up the stuff they're blowing up. Â All you know is that it's AWESOME and you don't want it to end. Â The Expendables has the capability to get on the fast track to being a cult classic. Â You can almost see the Expendables Drinking Game rules now: "1. Do a shot every time you see a cauliflower ear. Â 2. Â Drink your beer whenever someone dies. Â 3. Â Chug your beer whenever you see a tattoo." Â And I have a feeling that Stallone would be okay with that, if that's the film's destiny. Â That's one of the reasons why the movie is so enjoyable. Â It didn't go into this hoping to be Oscar-nominated or bring respect back to some dusty old action relics. Â He made it to have fun, kick ass and probably to overcompensate for a lot of small penises. Â But let's face it, those are the three reasons you're going to see it too.
The Expendables (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
I still remember where I was the first time I saw Anchorman. Â I went with my brother to an almost empty theater for a matinee show in Harrisburg, PA. Â As soon as the movie started it had me laughing intensely within two minutes. Â My brother and I, however, were the only people in the theater laughing at all, let alone at that veracity. Â Anchorman rocketed to the top 3 funniest movies I ever saw (joining the ranks of The Big Lebowski and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, if you were interested). Â Director/Writer Adam McKay and Will Ferrell tried to capture lightening in a bottle again with Talladega Nights a few years later and didn't come anywhere close. Â Since The Other Guys is the pair's newest attempt at hitting that Anchorman target, I wasn't expecting magic. Â After two minutes of the projector turning on though, it was clear that these two were back on their A Game. Â This "buddy cop" comedy pairs the nerd with the benched badass like we've seen many times before. Â Something about this though feels original, but I'm not sure why. Â One reason could be the casting of Mark Wahlberg, who reminds me again and again how funny he can be. Â The unlikely comedic duo of Wahlberg and Ferrell had me in stitches through 95% of this movie. Â They improv banter that consists of debates over who would win in a fight - a lion or a school of tuna. Â But Wahlberg brings a level of hero intensity that makes the over-the-top and VERY well done action sequences believable. Â Michael Keaton (Batman, Toy Story 3) makes an awesome return to comedy playing the typical angry police chief. Â Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson also make their duration of the film octane fueled and own the funniest scenes in the movie. Â Eva Mendes (Bad Lieutenant, Hitch) holds her own against Ferrell and even matches his skills in her scenes too. Â The Other Guys could've easily fallen into the same trash heap that Bruce Willis' Cop Out was but it felt different from the beginning. Â It tip-toed in reality and fantasy throughout the entire film, just like Anchorman did, and Â you rarely feel that it's pointless and unenjoyable. Â The film is full of scenes that make you chuckle long after the movie is over and lines that you'll quote for years. Â I'm sure it will get funnier and funnier the more times you watch it and actually impresses in the varsity-level directing that you would expect from an action film...not a comedy. Â Make sure you stay through the end credits not just because of the hidden scene at the end but also because of the social message McKay and Ferrell want you to leave with that they show through graphics that feel like a short documentary for Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men. Â It was refreshing and leaves you thinking as well. Â I don't know if The Other Guys will join the elite on my list of favorite comedies just yet. Â That's not the way favorite movies work. Â I need to see if it stands the test of time. Â I do think that it has the potential too and I personally can't wait to see it again.
The Other Guys (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A
Some time in Hollywood there must have been a gathering of Â talented comedic actors like Steve Carell (The Office, 40-Year-Old Virgin), Paul Rudd (Anchorman, I Love You, Man) and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Youth in Revolt) who came together to do a script reading for Dinner for Schmucks. Â But what's puzzling to me is that not even one of these guys got up and walked away from the table with any doubts that the script needed work or that it wasn't funny at all. Â They should have. Â Dinner for Schmucks is a remake of a French movie that achieved a level of cult status among fans of foreign cinema. Â The French version, I've been told, is very funny and a "must have" among great comedies. Â It must be a lot funnier in French because this American version is downright awful. Â Even gifted director Jay Roach, who brought us the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents series, didn't do anything to make this project funny. Â The premise of the movie is pretty good. Â An ambitious corporate executive is invited to a dinner that his career aspirations hinge on. Â The catch is he has to bring someone that is a complete moron so they can all laugh at that person and then compete to see who brought the most moronic. Â I personally think the idea of that sounds like a good time, but you're not suppose too. Â As an audience member, they're hoping that you have more moral fiber than most of us actually do and consider that premise disgusting and cruel. Â Biggest problem of the film is that Carell's "schmuck" character is SUCH an insufferable, clueless a**hole, you can't WAIT for him to eviscerated at the dinner. Â I didn't care that they were going to make fun of him since I watched him ruin Rudd's life in a series of very unfunny scenes for 90 minutes. Â If you think I'm giving anything away about the ending, I'm not. Â The movie is as predictable as a traffic light's progression from the opening scene to the end credits roll. Â The only funny scene in the whole movie is the actual dinner but by then you're so detached from the movie you just want to run from the theater. Â To explain where this movie goes wrong is almost an act of futility. Â It was just a lousy idea that was executed with total mediocrity, which is really sad since I was looking forward to seeing Steve Carell and Paul Rudd together in a movie again since their other two were some of the funniest films I've ever seen. Â (40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman if you're trying to figure out what those two are.) Â Carell is too unlikeable and unbelievable to be funny and Rudd is too serious and bland to be funny. Â Galifianakis isn't even funny playing a character that should steal the show. Â It's like the entire film, minus a few seconds of funny lines, is lost in a translation from French to English and ends up being a movie for schmucks instead. Â I'm still a fan of the cast and wish them better luck next time **cough cough Anchorman 2**
Dinner for Schmucks (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+
Jason Segel called up to chat it up about his new movie Despicable Me, but I used the opportunity to hijack the conversation and interrogate him on the Muppet movie.Â I got a release date and a little bit of information about the plot.Â We talked about other stuff too, but let's be honest...The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made is probably the greatest movie news ever made!
Click below to listen to the full interview.
jason segal interview
So far this year, 2010 has shaped up to be pretty awful for movies. Â There are two films though that have come out this summer that make all that suck totally worth it. Â Toy Story 3 is probably my favorite Pixar film and one of the best kid movies I've seen in 10 years. Â Inception isn't one of the best films I've seen in the last 10 years, but it's one of the best in the last 2 or 3. Â Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento) is starting to carve out a reputation for himself as one of the greatest in the new generation of filmmakers. Â Not only does he direct these incredible movies he has to his credit, but he writes them too. Â Inception is masterful and daring on so many levels that it makes me hope the Oscar race starts early with that. Â Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a tortured man who is hired by corporations to break into people's minds via their dreams to steal their most intimate secrets. Â The story picks up though when a Japanese businessman, played by the somewhat hard to understand but still impressive Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins, The Last Samurai), who wants him to plant an idea in someone's head via dreams instead of taking one out; a process called "inception." Â DiCaprio creates a team of experts to help him that consists of Joseph Gordon Levitt ((500) Days of Summer), Ellen Page (Juno), Thomas Hardy (Bronson) and Dileep Rao (Drag Me to Hell, Avatar). Â As the team goes deep, deep and then even deeper into their victim's head it creates a world that's like Oceans 11 meets The Matrix. Â But even a description like that undercuts the genius that is Inception. Â The plot is so intricate and complex it warrants a third or fourth watch and I would imagine it will get better with every view. Â Does the film move a little slow at times? Â Just briefly. Â Is it confusing? Â You bet your ass! Â In fact you'll spend the first 20 minutes going "what the hell is going on?" Â But I promise you that by the end of the film, you'll be on the edge of your seat till the final last seconds tick off the clock. Â It's not just that the movie has action visuals that are so dazzling, it conjures how you felt the first time you saw The Matrix that makes it so good. Â It's not just that Inception has one of the most original stories I've seen in a long time that makes me sing its praises. Â It's not just that I was amazed by the climatic 45-minute-long action-packed ending that makes me respect it so much. Â It's also the giant brass balls that Christopher Nolan has in releasing this in the middle of the summer, when most studios save their brainless, popcorn-crunching explosion parties for the drooling out of school kids, that rounds out my love for this. Â Inception is such a complex plot that he almost overestimates the intelligence of most audience members. Â The story moves fast and doesn't wait for you to catch up. Â Don't stop along the way and try to logic the science behind it. Â If you do, you're gonna find yourself five steps behind everyone else and lost in the fantasy. Â If you do that, you'll think the movie is good. Â If you just sit back and enjoy the ride, you'll think the movie's great. Â As for me, I can't wait to see this again...and again...and again. Â Thank you Christopher Nolan for still having faith in us to understand thoughtful stories and having the talent to deliver it in a PG-13 package that never feels watered down even in the July heat. Â You could be the new filmmaker of all our dreams.
Inception (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+
Every time a Twilight movie comes out, I have to go see it. Â My wife is a HUGE fan. Â So much so that she dragged me to see Eclipse while we were on our honeymoon...even after she already saw it. Â I'm not a fan. Â The first film came out and I thought it was such a poorly made pile of crap that I couldn't stand to watch it. Â However, just like with this third installment of the series, I had to see the second one too. Â The second, New Moon, was better and you could tell they were starting to right the wrongs they made with the first one. Â If Eclipse is an indication of how things are evolving in the series, then the last film should be great. Â The Twilight Saga is getting increasingly better. Â That's not because of the story, although that is strengthening as well; it's because the studio is finally putting some money, time and talent into it. Â It's apparent to me that the mistakes that were made when the first film was are being corrected, such as casting and who they choose to helm the project. Â Last time they added Grade A quality performers in the form of Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds, The Runaways) and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, 30 Rock). Â This time they replaced a nobody performer named Rachelle Lefevre, who played the villainous Victoria, with a much more recognizable and talented Bryce Dallas Howard (Spiderman 3, Lady in the Water). Â They also seem to be getting better and better directors. Â This time around they went with David Slade. Â Now Twilight is far from horror, but by bringing in a rising star of the genre, it gives the project some much needed fangs. Â Slade directed the gruesome vampire film 30 Days of Night, which wasn't a very good story but was directed very well. Â But what really blew my skirt up was Slade's film Hard Candy. Â It starred Ellen Page as a would-be victim of a pedophile who gets her revenge. Â I consider it one of the scariest horror films I've ever seen and it was all due to his manipulation of the actors and the look of the film. Â Did he bring that same talent to Eclipse? Â Well, not all of it but he did bring some. Â Eclipse does have a darker look and better acting though. Â That's a relief since it contains three fairly untalented actors. Â Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson aren't terrible, but they both could be much better. Â Kristen Stewart is one of the worst working actresses in Hollywood though. Â I have no idea why she is the "IT" girl right now, but thanks to David Slade...she's at least watchable. Â She used to have a stuttering way to her technique that was as irritating as a fork scraped across a plate to me. Â But in Eclipse, she didn't do it...not even once! Â Thank you David Slade! Â There are some things I didn't like. Â The movie builds toward what appears to be an epic battle scene that falls flat in its action. Â But scenes are in it that successfully and finally pull me into the melodrama of the love triangle that Bella is in. Â I find myself choosing a side and wanting her to pick it. Â That's what the point of the series is. Â Will she be with Edward or Jacob? Â Who knows, but it's getting more exciting and intense as it goes on. Â Let's just hope the improvements being made are going to continue that way. Â If they do, we're well on our way to a great finish.
Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B
Documentaries rarely do well at the box office. Â Sure there is the occasional Michael Moore movie orÂ March of the Penguins, but overall they go by unnoticed and slink away into DVD collections of movie nerds like me. Â It's a shame because I really enjoy them and I think they have a lot to say. Â It's refreshing when you see real stories with real people who have something unscripted and real to say. Â But what happens when the subject and stars of your documentary have nothing to say because they can't talk...yet. Â Babies is a French documentary by director Thomas Balmes that just might be able to take flight and be another documentary box office hit if word-of-mouth happens. Â Don't be scared by it though, there's not subtitles because there's no dialogue. Â I realize that I'm doing a horrible job at selling this movie right now for a majority of moviegoers, but how about I tell you what it's about and then you'll be hooked. Â The film follows a year and a half of four different babies from four very different parts of the world; Mongolia, Japan, San Francisco and Namibia. Â After watching ten minutes of the movie, you'd pretty much have to be a soulless assh*le to not fall in love with the stars of the movie. Â All four grow increasingly adorable and grow before your eyes. Â The feeling is one that is totally unique to any movie experience I've ever had. Â I found myself feeling much like a parent of these kids on a small scale. Â I know I wasn't alone either. Â I could hear sniffles from tears when we all heard them say their first words. Â The theater laughed at their amusing frustrations over simple tasks. Â And we all appalled when we watched them take their triumphant first steps. Â It was truly a unique experience to be part of as an audience member. Â The film is shot beautifully and Balmes made specific choices that separate it as not just a cheap heartstring-pulling picture but as art. Â Namely, he chose to have no narration which makes the film's short runtime of 85 minutes seem a lot longer. Â However, I'm glad he decided to do that so it didn't feel like a Discovery Channel special and more like an artistic expression. Â He also made the decision to exclude the babies' parents as much as possible. Â There are moments that may upset some people though. Â For instance, no babies were harmed in the filming of this movie (I'm guessing), but some cultures have very different ways of parenting. Â Some clearly have a more hands-off approach and less sanitary lifestyle. Â This might turn some people off and make it unenjoyable at times. Â I found it interesting given the vast differences that shine through at first but then give way to undeniable maternal similarities that show that continents and cultures can divide us but deep down we're all still human. Â I think it's brilliant to have this movie come out on Mother's Day Weekend and would be a perfect film for moms to see together. Â The bonds shown between mothers and their babies are touching beyond words. Â It also might be a perfect date movie for serious couples because if one is on the fence about starting a family, a simple viewing of Babies will make them craze a lineage faster than you can say "pacifier."
Babies (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A-
It's almost hard to believe it's been two years since Iron Man was released. Â It had a big budget, but it stared a relative has-been who didn't have any blockbusters going on named Robert Downey Jr. and was directed by John Favreau who was known as being a comedic character actor and the guy who directed Elf. Â Little did anybody guess that it would gross over $700 million world-wide, be the biggest movie of that year and shock audiences by making them remember how much fun a superhero movie could be. Â Now, it's two years later and they try to recreate that magic with Iron Man 2. Â They came real close, but missed. Â Here's the problem: it's JUST as good as the first one was, but it doesn't seem like it. Â The first one caught us all off guard when more than just comic book nerds were raving about it. Â Soon Soccer Moms, Grandparents, little kids and even women in their twenties were not only checking it out; but they were LOVING IT! Â So now the stakes are really raised because the expectations are sky-high for the same quality movie. Â Downey Jr. still wins the audience over with his charm, charisma and good looks as the suave Tony Stark. Â Gwyneth Paltrow returns as his sexy assistant, Pepper Pots. Â But besides that, the lead characters are all replaced with new faces. Â Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle (Crash, the Oceans movies) (who replaced Terrence Howard), Sam Rockwell (Moon, Choke) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, Sin City) show up, all of which have been nominated for awards. Â It might have been too many characters though. Â The problem with this film is that it's kind of sloppy. Â It starts off good, ends great and drags in the middle for about 45 minutes. Â That might be due to too many characters on too many storylines. Â Usually that can be enjoyed, especially when it's used in a world as rich and dense in detail as the one Marvel Comics created for us. Â However, the center of this story turns a fun-filled action movie into a wordy drama that caused a boredom so thick, I could feel it in the theater. Â However by the time the movie is over, the ending is so spectacular, you've forgotten how long and dry the wait was for it. Â What excites me the most is the return of Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg (New Adventures of Old Christine, Choke), and the introduction of Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Â Adding them introduces us to a story that drags the movie out, but are crucial to set up what will become a comic book epic film called The Avengers (due out in 2012). Â I won't give anything away, but know that there are SEVERAL hints dropped in the movie as to who will be in this film (stay till the end of the credits!!). Â I feel bad for Iron Man 2 even though it will make more money than most countries will make in their G.D.P. this year. Â The reason why is because there was no way it could have ever been as good as the original. Â That was a sucker punch of fun that no one saw coming. Â Now when we expect it, we're almost let down by how it didn't knock us out like it used too. Â But that's not to say that Iron Man 2 doesn't try its damnedest. Â It delivers a fun action movie that's bright, colorful, a little long and the perfect start to what seems like a summer of lackluster films. Â Let's just hope the high water mark doesn't come at the very beginning of the season with this.
Iron Man 2 (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B+Â Click below to hear the interview with Clark Gregg about Iron Man 2 and the forthcoming Avengers movieClark Gregg 5-7-10