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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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