Gavin Grades The Movies


Fox once saw so much potential in Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy.  But when no one wanted to watch it, Fox pulled the trigger on it and canceled it in 2001.  Then a few years later it was released on DVD and the hardcore fans of the show (like me) bought it and finally had a way to show people what they missed.  The DVD sales were so high for that show that Fox reconsidered its decision to end the show, brought it back and it's been a money-grab ever since.  It took no one seeing it for everyone to love it.  Sadly, I think that's the same fate in store for Ted.

A movie about a little boy who wishes that his favorite teddy bear comes alive and remains his best friend forever is the stuff of the worst kind of children's movies.  It's the kind of plot that is literally the kind of thing you laugh out loud at and then feel bad for Eddie Murphy for starring in it.  But when you mention that it's all from the mind of Seth MacFarlane and it's an R-rated comedy, most people couldn't be back on board faster.

Not only is it painfully obvious from the opening minutes that this is from the mind of the man who made Family Guy, it keeps that same playful, offensive, random tone through the whole film.  If you love the bizarre flashbacks and fantasy scenes that play out in the show, then Ted won't let you down.  It's actually a ton more impressive to me that they did still do that considering how much more expensive it is to pull it off with live action.  And don't think for a second that because this is MacFarlane's first feature film that he kept the references somewhat grounded in popular culture; a bulk of the film centers around Ted and his human bestie, John's, obsession with the 1980 cinematic so-bad-it's-good turd Flash Gordon.  My wife didn't understand a single reference to the film but enjoyed it all the same.

Mark Wahlberg stars as John, a guy who is letting his friendship with Ted come between him and his adulthood and relationship with Mila Kunis.  Wahlberg is a fine actor and able to pull of comedy quite well, but don't expect a lot from any of the humans in the film.  The only actual person that provides enough funny to be note-worthy is Giovanni Ribsi (Avatar, Cold Mountain) who relishes playing creepy, slimey characters and does it so well even in a comedy like this.  

The real star of this film is MacFarlane's script.  The laughs come one-after-another and don't stop and get relentless at times.  You can tell that he is steeped in television expierence where you have to cram as much as you can into 22-minutes.  Here he has two hours to fill but makes you exhausted with how fast the comedy comes at you.  Unfortunately the plot is nothing new and nothing original.  The story is predictable and removed of any soul or emotion (despite what Kunis said in an interview you can hear below).  Because of that, the film offers cheap, cringe-worthy jokes and nothing more...but let's cut the crap, that's all you're looking for and really all you want.
Ted  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+

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Tower Heist

Director Brett Ratner is not known for comedy; he’s known more for action films like Red Dragon or X-Men 3.  Granted, the man did the Rush Hour series, but I’m not really sure if you can legally consider those movies comedies since they’re so unfunny.  But Tower Heist is a comedy compiled of a varsity team of laugh makers.  Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck (Oceans 11, Gone Baby Gone), Michael Pena (30 Minutes of Less, Crash), Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Independence Day) and Alan Alda (M*A*S*H, The Aviator) all star in this movie about the 1% stealing money from the 99%.  It’s funnier than Rush Hour but still not the great comedy it should be.

Tower Heist is a very timely plot.  The relevancy of a rich Bernie Madoff type stealing pensions and life savings from the people who work in his luxury Manhattan condo building he lives in is exactly the revenge story this country needs right now.  It’s fun to watch Alda get his vintage, Steve McQueen Ferari smashed by Still with a golf club.  It’s as if each strike is a victory for the Occupy Wall St. protestors.  In that respect, the film is a true success, but might have been better if it was handled as a thriller instead of a comedy.

Spicing up the comedic premises are some very talented actors.  Leading the charge is Murphy, who hasn’t actually appeared in a good movie since he was nominated for an Oscar in 2006’s Dreamgirls.  Him making bank off of the Shrek franchise, allowing him to go away for a while, is a very good thing.  He’s made a lot of very poor movie decisions and he saturated the market with Murphy.  Seeing him in Tower Heist though reminds us all of why he was one of the brightest shining stars in Hollywood once.  He crackles on the screen like Robin Williams did in his prime.  He pumps life into lines that otherwise would go insignificant, simply by being Eddie Murphy.  Of course he’s not breaking new ground or jockeying for accolades, but damnit, he’s really good.

Same can be said for the rest of the cast that do a fine job of supporting Murphy and allowing him to be the star.  Especially Stiller who has proven he can be the funny man but takes a backseat as the straight guy to Murphy’s wild card.  The only actor that gives Murphy a run for his money is Pena, who banks yet another winning comedic performance in his resume.  It’s almost getting to the point where I forget that he started and excelled at drama first.

I appreciate this film for what it is and what it attempted to do.  But sadly it falls short in quite a few ways.  The comedy stops around the beginning of the third act and the rest is allowed to be suspenseful action, albeit still fun.  The climax of the film though ventures into absurd when the entire success of their heist is dependent upon an absolutely impossible and stupid stunt.  I’m not sure if that was Ratner’s idea to show off how well he can use special FX or not, but it’s ineffective except in that it makes me laugh unintentionally.

Tower Heist is a fun movie that does no wrong.  Some of that is because heist films are always fun by default.  But allow Oceans 11 be an example of how it can be fun, funny and downright awesome by stylizing the look and tone and keeping us grounded in the plausible.  Go for the fun of it, stay for the Murphy but expect to get a little robbed of your expectations.
Tower Heist  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-

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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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30 Minutes or Less

Did you ever see someone line-up a hundred dominoes in a perfect design that looks like it will be so easy and awesome to knock them all over?  Then when they push the first one it might knock two or three over but then something goes wrong and it doesn't work?  That's 30 Minutes or Less.  All the dominoes were lined-up and gave the impression that this would be so awesome when easily knocked over, but something just went wrong with it. 30 Minutes or Less has a great team of comedic actors.  Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder, Your Highness), Oscar-nominated Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland), Aziz Ansari (NBC's Community, Funny People) and Nick Swardson (Grandma's Boy, Just Go With It) are the principal cast here and all of them are very funny.  Then you add director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and Ben Stiller as producer, you should be able to knock those dominoes over...1, 2, 3.  I don't know what happened but it was a disaster. First off, the tone of the movie was nowhere near the caliber that Fleiscer created with Zombieland.  I expected the same kind of music video intensity with great editing, bright colors and funny FX.  Instead, what 30 Minutes or Less offers is boring, uninteresting direction from a timid director that doesn't resemble the creative beast we got the first time around. We also get a lackluster performance from almost everyone involved.  It's pretty sad when the shining star in the comedic cast is Michael Pena (Crash, The Lincoln Lawyer), who is mostly known for his dramatic chops.  Just like he did in the highly underrated Observe and Report, Pena creates so much with such little screen time.  His crazed and slightly slow Mexican gangster, Chonga, is the best thing about the movie and delivers most of the laughs despite only being in 3 or so scenes. The concept for the film has the potential to be very funny, even though it bares an eerie similarity to a horrific case in Pennsylvania a year ago that ended with the poor guy, who had the bomb strapped around his neck, getting his head blown up.  Don't worry, 30 Minutes or Less has a much different ending although it's equally as unfunny. Eisenberg even gives a performance that is so forced and poorly crafted that it almost makes me think he got lucky with that Oscar nomination last year.  We'll see what the future holds for him, but I hope he's got a lot better up his sleeve.  But even if he had the flu through the entire production, I would still expect the other three to carry the film.  They've each made me laugh in other projects they've worked on but in this movie it seems as if they were forced to work together despite no one getting along.  It also doesn't help that all four of them play the exact same roles you've seen them play time and time and time again.  Really, Danny McBride?  You're a foul-mouthed hot head again?  How original. 30 Minutes or Less is such a disappointment and that's not even including the fact that it's a pitiful 83 minutes long.  Are you kidding me?  The last time a feature length movie was that short it was animated!  The film had all the ingredients but just failed to deliver...only with the movie, you don't get your money back. 30 Minutes or Less  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: D+
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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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Bridesmaids is being compared too and referred to as "the female version of The Hangover."  I can't think of a more insulting thing to say.  Yes, it's true that both are equally as funny as each other (I did not think The Hangover was the best comedy of the year and I gave it a B.)  Yes, both are about everything leading up to a wedding.  Yes, both are crude and filled with heavy profanity (Bridesmaids has worse curse words, by the way).  But outside of those characteristics, that's all those two movies share in common with each other.  It's insulting that a comedy written for, about and starring women can't stand on its own without being compared to any other male-driven comedy.  Bridesmaids is better than that and earns the respect that it should rightfully get. The film stars Kristen Wiig (SNL, Paul) and her real life best friend and co-writer Maya Ruldolph (SNL, Away We Go).  Wiig is the Maid of Honor at her best friend's wedding and falls short of living up to the glamour and party-planning princess Helen, played by Rose Byrne (Insidious, Get Him to The Greek).  Wiig's character is not only failing at that but also at life.  She has no money, no dignity, no house and no respect due to it being stripped away by her f***buddy, played by the wonderfully sleazy Jon Hamm (The Town, AMC's Madmen). The movie is produced by comedy phenom Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Funny People).  He is a Catch 22 in the truest sense of the word thought in that he will make your film have a soul that runs deeper than almost all other comedies out there but he will also make your movie run longer than any other comedy out there.  Bridesmaids is no different since it has a runtime of over two hours and 20-30 minutes of that is unneeded and tedious. Most comedies run into the problem of keeping the whole thing funny and they peter out in the final act. The Hangover did this and it made it go from a great movie to a good movie.  Bridesmaids does it as well but it's acceptable because it no longer tries to be funny and instead lets the drama sweep over it.  This might turn some viewers off, especially the men.  I found myself finding some of the non-comedy underwhelming and unrealistic, however I brought my friend Dave's wife, Mimi, to the screening and she told me that what Wiig's character goes through is very relatable to a lot of women.  It's this aspect of the film that makes me think that it will do better with women and could even become a cult hit among girlfriends and bridesmaids for years to come.  You'll come for The Hangover promise, you'll laugh your ass off at Melissa McCarthy (CBS' Mike and Molly) and you'll embrace the feminine tones...I'm guessing. Bridesmaids (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B
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Your Highness

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

Click below to hear the interview now:

 Natalie Portman

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

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