Gavin Grades The Movies

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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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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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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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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