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Gavin Grades The Movies



Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paranormal Activity  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+


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


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The Rum Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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



IronE Singleton plays T-Dawg on AMC's The Walking Dead. 


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The Big Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the opening sequence of this crime drama, Ryan Gosling is introduced as a getaway driver for two faceless thugs stealing money from some unknown destination.  The scene builds to what will be an inevitable chase scene between them and the cops.  Tension mounts as a creeping Cat & Mouse game plays out with them slowly trying to sneak down the streets of LA without being spotted.  Surely, this car chase scene is gonna be epic and kick this movie off in full throttle.  But no.  It never comes.  In fact, the sequence involves slow driving, methodical evasion moves and an  anticlimactic getaway.  Never once is any of it boring though.  And this sets the tone of Drive. Drive is a gritty crime movie that takes place in LA but we're not sure when due to a misleading soundtrack choice of heart-pounding synth pop and cliche costume choices.  These were deliberate choice by director Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed the brilliant Bronson in 2008, which introduced the world to Tom Hardy (Warrior, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises).  I'm sure he also had a call in the promotion of this film that uses hot pink '80s style font for all the advertising and credits.  Coupled with the heavy female soundtrack and Gosling's adorable manboy face, you'd expect this to be a film about crime that's made for women.  A warning to all lovers of The Notebook, this is not the Ryan you're expecting. Drive is one of the most violent movies I've ever seen.  Sure there are movies like Saving Private Ryan or Nightmare on Elm Street that are officially more violent, but Drive is filled with unexpected brutality.  This is NOT a film for the slight of heart.  Some of the scenes generated audible gasps from the audience and people turned away from the screen.  In some cases, people got up and left the theater.  Yes, some of this violence is gratuitous but never once does it not fit the tone of the film.  It's all done for a reason and in some cases even meant to be playful. The entire cast is brilliant.  It also features Carey Mulligan (An Education), Ron Pearlman (Hellboy), Bryan Cranston (AMC's Breaking Bad) and comedian Albert Brooks (Mother, Finding Nemo) as an Oscar-caliber villain.  He is a perfect baddie and nobody would EVER have guessed that.  It's that kind of risky choices that makes Drive and Refn's vision that deserves top notice from people. All that being said, this is not a movie for mass audiences.  It has a pace that is slow and deliberate.  The film takes itself more seriously than it deserves but that can be overlooked.  Gosling's character, who is only listed in the credits as "Driver," is mysterious and a man of few words.  He says very little and Refn allows moments of the film to go on in complete silence for agonizing amounts of time.  However, after a full viewing, I'm sure those pregnant pauses are far more important and justified on a second enjoyment. There are few movies that, after I see them, I look forward to seeing again as soon as possible; Drive is one of them though.  It's not a classic story of a criminal with a heart of gold.  It's a story of a criminal who tries to do the right thing after falling in love, but displays acts of violence that suggests an almost psychotic and homicidal maniac past.  Gosling does a stellar job showing that without ever saying a word.  But again, don't go into Drive with any pretense.  It's not Fast and the Furious filled with amazing car chase scenes!  It's not The Notebook filled with passionate love scenes.  It's brutal, weird and inspired!  It's one of those movies that makes you think you just saw something important...even if you're not 100% sure what you just saw. Drive  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: A
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Lion King 3D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1988, a movie came out starring Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) and Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop) called Vice Versa.  It was a cheeseball family comedy about a father and son that both touch a magic skull at the same time and end up switching bodies.  I loved it when I first saw it, but I was also 8-years-old.  In 2011, a movie came out starring Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses, Juno) and Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, The Proposal) called The Change-Up.  It's a raunchy adult comedy about two best friends that pee in a magic fountain at the same time and end up switching bodies.  I probably would have loved this more when I was 8-years-old too. I personally admire both Bateman and Reynolds.  They're not only very attractive guys, but they have stellar comedic timing and are fun to watch in movies, even if they play almost the same character in most of them.  And I won't take away their noble, if not also failing, attempt to make this movie as funny as they could. Sadly the fault of failure falls on the shoulders of the writers, who were the guys behind The Hangover movies and director David Dobkin who has Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus and Shanghai Noon to his credit.  Perhaps they consider it a feather in their cap that they feature the first movie with a CGI baby's assh**e and the gorgeous Leslie Mann (Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin) topless for the first time.  But as far as quality filmmaking goes, they should be ashamed.  It's further proof to me that I was right in that The Hangover was a fluke comedy that was given more credit than it deserved and was far funnier than the writers were capable of doing. For starters, almost every joke in The Change-Up is visible from a football field away.  Nothing is surprising and therefore isn't very funny.  I chuckled a few times, here and there, but when you have Bateman and Reynolds at your disposal...you better make my belly shake.  Second, it's one of the most unoriginal concepts I've seen in a very long time...rivaled possibly by The Hangover Part II.  If you're gonna rip off 90% of your plot from a film from the '80s, don't insult some of us and just make it a remake.  And my biggest problem with the movie was that the characters were wildly undefined.  If I switched bodies with my best friend from childhood, I would NEVER EVER put his children at danger, try to bang his wife and ruin his entire career.  That's precisely what happens in The Change-Up.  It's not funny to watch because you don't get the impression that these two guys care about each other in the slightest!  That's a crucial point for the story to work.  To top it all off, the movie tries to be a Judd Apatow film in that it starts to be important and pretends to have something to say about what's really important in life but all of that comes across forced, despite a great performance from Mann. The Change-Up tries to be a little bit of everything to everyone and ends up being not very funny and full of holes and flops.  The good news is that it won't hurt Bateman or Reynolds in their reputation for knocking comedy out of the park; the bad news is it makes Vice Versa look like a masterpiece to me again. The Change-Up  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: D
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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

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

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

Every audience of this film will be filled with people who love the idea of it...at first.  Then, I believe, people will leave telling others how much fun this movie is and word will spread.  Then others, who thought the premise of the film about cowboys battling aliens is completely stupid, will check it out and some...not all...but some will agree with how good it is. My wife attended this premier with me although she was positive it was going to be stupid.  I assured it couldn't be crap because it stars Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig  (the new James Bond, Defiance), was directed by John Favearu (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) and was produced by Steven Speilberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.  That's a blue ribbon pedigree right there.  Then I noticed during the opening credits that it was written by nine different people and I felt even more assured.  That many hands on a movie is either going to create quality or disaster, but I had faith that some of those top shelf Hollywood royalty wouldn't attach their names to crap.  I was right. Cowboys and Aliens is one of the most fun and well done films of the summer.  It's executed with precision because wavering slightly off target would have ruined it.  Harrison Ford, who plays one of his best roles since Han Solo, yells out the line "This is ridiculous" during a scene of exposition and although we all agree with him, that's as far as the movie goes to acknowledge it.  It's like a master comedian telling you a joke with a straight face.  The movie doesn't even give you as much as a wink to the premise being silly.  Everyone in the movie commits to the roles and plays it off as seriously as they could.  I loved that about it.  If it was done slightly campy or silly it would have felt like a totally different film and it wouldn't have satisfied what I was looking for.  I wanted True Grit and Independence Day to become one movie, although I don't smoke weed so a thought like that never crossed my mind until it was presented to me. The "cowboy" part of the film is done with such great detail that it would stand up to most great westerns.  The "alien" part of the film (although they're never called "aliens" since it's 1873...they're called "demons") is also done with splendid detail that it offers the thrills comparable to most great sci-fi films.  That is a very hard circus trick to pull off and I say they did it. Not everyone will agree with me however.  Cowboys and Aliens is going to be very polarizing for a lot of people.  Upon leaving this movie, I can say with confidence that you'll either love it or hate it; there will be no one left in between.  But there will be some haters that get converted to believers by exciting action, great performances, and even some shockingly touching scenes...just like my wife did.  For the rest of them, it's safe to say that if you think a movie titled Cowboys and Aliens sounds stupid and not intriguing in the slightest, you're better off staying home because that's exactly what you get...but hot damn is it fun. Cowboys and Aliens (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A
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