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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from May 2011


The Hangover Part 2
Full disclosure, I am not a disciple of The Hangover.  I thought the first movie was funny and I gave it a "B."  I didn't think it was the funniest movie of all time or even of that year.  I thought the first act was great, then it got pretty good and the last third of the movie wasn't really that funny at all.  When I heard they were making a sequel I groaned.  When I watched the trailer I rolled my eyes.  After watching the entire movie, I could do nothing but sit there shaking my head at how truly awful it was. The Hangover Part 2 is the perfect example of what's wrong with Hollywood.  The original was a surprise hit and went on to be the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time.  Did it have more to say?  No.  Did there need to be a continuation of the characters?  Not particularly.  So why did this get made?  Pure greed.  Not only was this made ONLY to make money but it was done so arrogantly and lazy. It's one thing to give the people what they want, but it's another thing entirely to shovel the exact same story down their throats.  I was blown away by how much the trailer made it look like the sequel was going to be a rehashing of the first one but nothing could prepare me for how carbon copied it really is.  It's so bad that there are characters from the first one that are in the second one that have absolutely no logical reason for being there.  In case you don't know, the story is the exact same as the first one except now they're in Bangkok preparing for Stu's wedding, who's played by Ed Helms (NBC's The Office, Cedar Rapids).  He's joined by his friends played by Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha, who played Doug in the first one. You can draw a straight line between the two films for comparisons.  For instance, when they wake up from their party they no longer find a baby to care for but instead a monkey.  Stu didn't pull out his tooth but instead got a face tattoo.  I could go on and on with this but I don't want to put any spoilers in the review (although spoilers in a movie like this is a ridiculous notion since you know exactly what's coming next and who will do it).  Let's just say that there are so many that it's fairly sickening. That's not to say that The Hangover Part 2 isn't funny...of course it is.  Just like the first one, it's funny at first and then starts to lose its way as the movie goes on.  For this one the burn is far quicker because director Todd Phillips confused kicking the craziness and humor up a notch with simply making it darker, more serious and gross.  It makes you feel extremely unsettled.  In the first one, although it dealt with a kidnapping, drugs and wrongful marriage, the hijinks the boys get into are relatively frat boy-like behavior.  In this one it's disturbing and dangerous.  It's a lot harder to laugh it off and I could hear that reflected in a packed theater of rabid Hangover fans who sat silent for about 45 minutes of the film. Even Galifianakis, who single-handedly stole the show last time with his witty, improvised, quotable one-liners, was phoning it in.  It almost makes me judge everyone who worked on this movie as being void of integrity.  However, if I had a studio lobbing piles of cash at me to do the exact same movie I already did, I would find it impossible to turn down as well.  But the level of unoriginality that went into this movie is almost insulting as an audience member.  The fact that the studio and Phillips think so less of us that they could deliver this in hopes that we would eat the same exact meal and never notice we were is just sad. I'm sure The Hangover Part 2 will make tons of money all over again.  And I'm sure the studio will figure out a way to get everyone back for another one.  I can only hope the poster for the movie was taken after the cast saw how much the critics hated this movie and that they may have sullied their legacy.  But as far as I'm concerned, I'm officially hungover on The Hangover. The Hangover Part 2 (Rated R) Gavin Grade: D+
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Kung Fu Panda 2
In 2008, when Kung Fu Panda came out, I remember saying that it looked like one of the worst children's movies I ever saw.  It looked insulting to Asians, a mere merchandising vehicle, and annoy since it was just as we started to get over-saturated with Jack Black.  Despite many people telling me that it's good and that I would enjoy it, I have yet to sit down and watch it.  So I brought my co-host Katie's 7-year-old daughter with me to the screening so that she could fill me in on what I needed to know from the first one.  Since 7-year-olds can't really do a great job of recounting something like a movie from three years ago with great detail, I didn't learn too much; however that had no effect on the fact that I enjoyed its sequel immensely! Since I never saw the first one I can't tell you if this picks up where the last one left off.  What I can tell you is that it gets off to a relatively slow beginning.  There isn't anything particularly funny or action-packed until you're almost a third of the way into the film, which is about the original Kung Fu crew going to a far-off city to stop an evil peacock from destroying all of Asia.  But once the plot picks up and the adventure begins it's nothing but a fun, exciting ball that keeps building in size and speed. I know that the tradition for animated movies is to pad them with a ton of celebrity voices since doing voice work is easy, quick and it's a way to get big names to endorse your silly kid movie but this is an impressive pedigree!  Returning from the first besides Black is Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and the always funny David Cross (Men in Black II, HBO's Mr. Show).  The list gets even better with new characters for the sequel voiced by Gary Oldman (JFK, the Harry Potter series), Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD, Bloodsport) and Michelle Yeoh (Sunshine, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon).  These are all small, backseat performances compared to Black's but that's totally fine when you look at the subtly of the whole picture.  The only standout show-stealer is Gary Oldman who plays the villainous peacock named Lord Shen.  He rarely gives a bad performance, even when he's bad movies like Red Riding Hood, and has a never ending rolodex of character voices he can do to make you go "That was Gary Oldman?!?" when the credits roll. To me, the most impressive thing about this movie was how the action gave me goosebumps and the ending gave me tears.  This is probably the best animated film since Toy Story 3 and certainly the one with the most heart.  There are scenes in the movie where the action is so well executed and directed by comic book nerd Jennifer Yuh (Kung Fu Panda, Spawn) that you're delivered the same emotion you get from watching a great action sequence from an adult, live-action film.  Her use of slow motion as a homage to other kung fu films is not on-the-nose or pandering, it actually makes the scenes better.  In addition to that, it builds to an emotional climax that impressed me to the point where I hid a tear or two behind my 3D glasses. Kung Fu Panda 2 is so good that it makes me feel foolish that I ever said those things about the original.  I plan on watching the first one as soon as I can, but if I had to guess, Kung Fu Panda 2 has done what few movies, whether they're for kids or adults, can pull off...it's better than the original!  Plus it did it with the uphill battle of having Jack Black in it. Kung Fu Panda 2 (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: A-
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Everything Must Go
When I went to see this movie on a Saturday night, there were 8 other people in the theater besides me and my wife.  The other people were mostly made up of folks who were big fans of other Will Ferrel movies like Anchorman or The Other Guys.  You could just tell that they bought a ticket for Everything Must Go simply because they thought it was the latest Will Ferrel comedy about...well, who cares it's got Will Ferrel in it!  A more fitting title might have been Everyone Must Go because by the end of the movie, the theater crowd had been whittled down to four besides me and my wife, as they each got up in disappointed huffs and left the theater. Everything Must Go is a dramedy based on the short story by acclaimed American writer Raymond Carver.  My wife had read the short story Why Don't You Dance, for which it's based on, but said it's vastly over-bloated from that; as is the case when a short story is turned into a feature film.  The movie has no big stars in it besides Ferrel but you may recognize small parts played by Stephen Root (Office Space, No Country for Old Men), Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Michael Pena (Crash) or Glenn Howerton (FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).  Again though, all these parts are very small and this movie is owned by Ferrel. This is a tricky film to discuss because it has a lot to say and comes across as a very important character study.  The problem is that it's just freaking depressing!  It's essentially a 92 minute movie about an alcoholic slowly hitting his bottom over the course of a few days.  Sure there is a positive catharsis about it in that when his wife kicks him out of the house and throws all his stuff out on the lawn, he starts to sell it all and it's a physical manifestation of him shedding his old self.  The symbolism didn't get past me, which is a relief because it's really overt.  It's just uncomfortable to watch since it's so not funny and so not super sad, so it just leaves you in this emotional purgatory suspended in between the two. It also doesn't help that you don't feel bad for Ferrel's character.  You can watch it and muster sympathy that everything in his life comes crashing down in just a couple days but all the other characters in the film feel no sympathy for him since they think he's an assh*le.  And since they've known his character longer than you have, there's no other choice than to accept it.  The only person in the film that met him in the same amount of time as the audience is a young teenager that lives down the street, who's played wonderfully and subtly by Christopher Jordan Wallace, who's never been in anything before but is the son of Notorious B.I.G.! It's really not that Everything Must Go is a bad movie.  It's simple and tear-jerking at the end.  It offers a redemptive tone about not giving up, never looking back, changing your life and picking yourself up off the floor.  The problem is that it's not funny enough to be worth watching for that and the main character is too unlikable to champion.  It's more just like a snapshot of a few horrible, terrible days that leads to a jerk changing his life...but who wants to watch that? Everything Must Go (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C
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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
I gotta admit, I don't even remember how the hell the third Pirates movie ended.  It was so bad I think I've blocked it from my memory.  Was there a giant crab and upside-down sailboats?  I think I remember now and if memory serves me right it ended with them wrapping up the freakin' series!  But yet, here we are again. This time we are back in the Caribbean with our favorite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, which earned Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination.  Besides the return of Captain Barrbosa played by Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech, Shakespeare in Love), it's an entirely new cast of unfamiliar faces playing all new characters we've never seen or heard of before.  Found in these newbies are Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Blow) as a former lover of Sparrow's and Ian McShane (HBO's Deadwood, Kung Fu Panda) as the infamous Blackbeard.  All together they are searching for The Fountain of Youth. The plot is actually a lot more complex than that and there lies one of the biggest problems this series has had.  The first Pirates of the Caribbean was the king of the summer it came out.  It surpassed every expectation that people had and launched an entire generation of women who had a new sex symbol to obsess over.  But with each film, it got worse and worse.  More characters were added.  The stories got more convoluted and strange.  This became the progression of the series leading to a more and more disappointing outcome.  Yet because the original one was so good, we still await the latest installment and hope it's back to the way it was.  Well, it isn't.  In fact, if anything, it keeps up the tradition of being just as disappointing as the last or even more so. The director of the first three films has departed and left it in the hands of Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine), who does a fine job of not only keeping up the rich detail and gritty tone from the series but also adding in 3D to make some of the scenes more thrilling than they otherwise would be.  One such scene is the crew battling mermaids who are actually vicious man-eaters in this movie.  This was the climax of the movie for me since everything leading to it was a slow, lackluster build and everything after it was a confusing mess.  If the mermaid scene was a short film though, I would have enjoyed it. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly were smart to not be in this and I understand why Depp made Disney pay him GOBS of money to don the pirates rags one more time.  It's because the script is crap.  Characters are presented as important but aren't.  Motives for finding the Fountain of Youth are changed or forgotten.  The action is yawnable at best.  It's just not the Pirates we fell in love.  I hate to say it, but a pirates life is no longer for me. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: C-
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Bridesmaids
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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Troll Hunter
This movie doesn't come out in theaters (if it comes out around Sacramento at all) until mid-June but you can get it on Comcast now.  That's what I did, but I'm sure it watches a hundred times better on the big screen. Troll Hunter is a modestly budgeted film from Norway that is done as a fake documentary.  It's about a group of college students that need to find a great story for them to shoot their student project on.  At first they think they're doing some investigative journalism into a local bear poacher but it quickly turns into a search for mythic beasts - trolls.  I know, I know...that sounds ridiculously stupid and some of you will continue to think that it is even if you watch it, but it's not that difficult to buy into the premise and have fun with it. Troll Hunter was made by an entirely Norwegian cast and crew so don't expect to see any familiar faces or even hear any familiar words; the entire movie has subtitles.  What I enjoyed about this film so much was that it was perfectly toned.  By that I mean it's done seriously and intensely as if these creatures are real and dangerous, however it knows it's a movie about trolls and stays just tongue & cheek enough to not be too serious.  That's not easy to do when you're a fake documentary that is intended to be thrilling but about a goofy premise.  Some movies do it well like Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and some do not, like The Last Exorcism. Troll Hunter features some scenes that are really funny but I can't tell if that's intended or just the nature of the mythology surrounding trolls.  Since this was made by Norwegians, I'm guessing it's all actual lore.  Me second guessing them would be like telling a Scotsman he's wrong about the Loch Ness Monster.  But what's great is that the comedy is peppered in with scenes that carry with them some real tension when you come to grip with the danger these creatures pose.  It also does a great job of skirting around a low budget by using existing landmarks as part of the story that make you totally buy the concept (no spoiler alerts but I'll never look at electrical lines the same way again). Troll Hunter is a fantastic and fun concept that executed with great results from a filmmaking team that shows lots of potential.  I can only hope that they put out another film as fun as this soon but someone will take a chance and give them a much higher budget. Troll Hunter (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B+
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Thor
You most likely have no idea who Kenneth Branagh is but you probably should if you like quality movies.  He's the director of Thor, the latest installment of the Marvel super franchise for The Avengers (due out next summer), which is about the God of Thunder who comes to Earth as a selfish Prince but leaves one of Earth's greatest heroes and protector. Now, if you know who Branagh is based on his prior work, you may think he's an odd choice to direct a superhero movie.  That's because, outside of being in Harry Potter and a few Woody Allen films, he's mostly known for being THE guy for bringing Shakespeare to Hollywood.  His greatest accomplishment is the 4 hour version of Hamlet that he starred in, directed and produced.  So is doing Thor a step down for him?  Not one bit.  The story of Thor is one right out of Shakespeare.  It involves a King, played by Anthony Hopkins, having a hard time convincing his wild son Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) that he's not fit to be the new King until he learns humility, patience and respect.  Sounds almost like the prequel to Hamlet, doesn't it? In case you haven't been brought up to speed yet by the closest comic book nerd in your life, Thor is part of a larger storyline called The Avengers.  It started in 2008 with Edward Norton's The Incredible Hulk, then continued with Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and will continue in a month with Captain America.  These films can be enjoyed on their own but they are also interconnected through mutual characters and hidden goodies throughout the film. I have to admit that I'm more excited about The Avengers story than I am about Thor and that staggered my enjoyment of Thor at first.  I was disappointed that there wasn't more about The Avengers in Thor but then I remembered that these character films MUST be able to stand alone as quality action movies, I was able to enjoy it much more. Thor is a bright and intriguing movie that successfully gets you to buy into the world of the Gods that Thor comes from and how he interacts with the humans on Earth, where he meets Natalie Portman's character.  It has above adequate character development and lots of very funny scenes.  Sadly though the action is few and rushed when you get it.  If you yawn from the lack of pulse in the climaxes of the film you will have missed them because they're so short.  I guess that was the trade-off with having Branagh direct it; you know you'll get a great looking, character driven film but you'll probably also get some pretty weak ass kicking.  Although this is a superhero movie, that didn't ruin it for me though.  It almost reminded me of the first Iron Man movie which had a similar problem with its action to character ratio.  But everyone loved Iron Man, as I'm sure everyone will love Thor.  I just wish the action would have brought the hammer down a little harder. Thor (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: B
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