Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from June 2011

Cars 2
There is only one movie studio out there that is pitching a perfect game and that's Pixar.  All of their films have been huge financial hits and several have won Oscars.  All of them have over a 90% on RottenTomatoes.com...all of them except one - Cars.  So why would they select that one for a sequel?  The reason is simple, it's Disney's bread and butter for selling merchandise to boys.  So much so that Disneyland is building an entire land dedicated to Cars that opens next year.  So, I get it.  But the geniuses at Pixar know that in order to not sully their sterling reputation, they can't just make a sequel for the sake of marketing; they need to reinvent it.  They did not accomplish that with Cars 2 though. My issues with the Cars series really kind of shows my colors as a movie snob.  I enjoy ALL of the Pixar movies, but Cars is certainly my least favorite.  The reason why is because I consider it to be the least imaginative and original of their pedigree.  Every single one of the Pixar movies involve these fantastical characters that have crazy adventures.  But you buy into all of them as an audience member because even when they involve monsters, talking toys or talking fish, they still show how those fantasy characters exist in a real world.  They show how they interact with humans and make it believable.  Cars doesn't do that.  It's our world, but with zero humans and cars just exist without us.  It's weird and also kept me from really enjoying them.  That, and I hate NASCAR. But Cars 2, just like Toy Story 3, isn't simply a repackaging of the original in a crapfest-of-a-sequel.  They did a decent job of making it its own film with a totally new story.  In Cars 2, that story is a "spy thriller."  Clever, especially when you employee the magnificent Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, Inception) as one of the new characters - a super spy named Finn McMissile.  The action is great and thrilling at times no matter what your age is.  There's racing, but very little, which is totally fine with me.  The animation in the film is also one of the highlights.  It's worth the extra dough for 3D and the colors and clarity is better than any computer animated film I've ever seen. The problems started when I realized that Lightening McQueen, who's voiced by Owen Wilson, is not the star of this one.  Sadly, it's his dim-witted counter part, Tow Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy and the only funny thing he's ever done.  I enjoyed Larry the Cable Guy in Cars but he's like Russell Brand; he's great as a supporting character but annoying and trying as a lead. Cars 2 is not a bad movie.  It's good.  There are vast sequences that made me laugh out loud, mostly brought on by another new Italian character voiced by the awesome John Turturro (Big Lebowski, Transformers) in one of the best performances he's had in years.  It also has a heartwarming montage set to Weezer (my favorite band) doing a cover of The Cars...again with the cleverness!  I think the victim here is Pixar itself.  They have raised the bar so high with their films that we don't expect another animated movie for kids; we expect art.  Toy Story 3 was the best movie of 2010 and made adults weep buckets.  The first 10 minutes of Up was more of a sweeping romance than anything that came out in the last decade.  The final scene of Monsters Inc. is still one of the best, most emotional endings I've ever seen.  Cars 2, though, is just slightly above another animated movie for kids.  And that's kind of upsetting. Cars 2  (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: B
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Green Lantern
Every year I think it's the Summer of the Superhero!  A season where the cinemas are filled with a non-stop avalanche of superhero films.  This year seems to be even worse than last.  But they're cash cows, commanding the box office with the might the main characters possess.  The latest is Green Lantern, which stars Ryan Reynolds in his THIRD attempt at playing a superhero (first was in Blade III, second was in Wolverine).  Luckily, playing pilot Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern is more believable and enjoyable than any of his previous attempts. Reynolds is joined by the stunningly gorgeous Blake Lively (The Town, Gossip Girl), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes), Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education, Jarhead).  Stealing the show, by far, is Sarsgaard who plays villain Hector Hammond.  He is downright disturbing as the tortured genius that becomes more and more deformed as the film goes on and his screams of suffering cut right into my nerves like a knife.  He is almost flawless as a villain for a superhero film.  He's just over-the-top enough to be enjoyable but skilled enough to be menacing. The director of Green Lantern is Martin Campbell who has a background in several James Bond films as well as the last Mel Gibson action film, Edge of Darkness.  You can imagine that Green Lantern is quite a departure for him considering that most of it is very, very heavy in science fiction.  This isn't the realistic superhero film like The Dark Knight or even the realistic fun superhero film like Iron Man.  A lot of the movie takes place in space and there are more aliens in it than all of 2010's alien movies combined.  That doesn't mean it's not good, but it does mean it's not for everyone. I wonder if that's why every critic seems to be taking great pride and joy in crapping all over it.  I'm not afraid to say that Green Lantern is a good film.  I enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed Thor, maybe even slightly more.  It's bright, colorful and fun.  Sure it has a lousy script with cheesy dialogue that makes us wonder if it was scripted by the scribes of a made-for-TV movie, but overall it delivers. Another area that Green Lantern excels more than I thought it would is in the 3D FX.  A pleasant surprise considering the fact that if you pay over $10 for a single ticket, I want to see some fun 3D surprises.  Thor fell WAY flat in that department but Green Lantern is exciting and even gets you to sit back quickly in your seat from some of the FX. Don't get me wrong...Green Lantern isn't Oscar material or even spectacular filmmaking.  But is it fun?  Yup.  Will it excite you and make you laugh?  Yes.  Will you leave the theater feeling like you got your money's worth?  I did.  Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I had rock bottom expectations for it, but I feel bad there seems to be an unfounded vendetta among critics against Green Lantern. I can only hope that "by Green Lantern's light" it perseveres anyway. Green Lantern (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: B
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Super 8
I would imagine that working with (under the shadow of) Steven Speilberg is wonderful, intimidating and terrifying all a the same time.  That's what director JJ Abrams (Star Trek, ABC's Lost) did for Super 8 when he asked Steven Speilberg if he'd like to produce the film.  I couldn't be happier that he did that however it came at a cost. Possibly one of the most exciting movies of the summer, Super 8 is a nostalgic sci-fi thriller about how a group of kids in Ohio deal with a mysterious creature that is freed in their town when a train crashes.  Super simple story, but it's the way it was executed that made me so excited. It's not easy to be more than one genre.  You see disasters all the time among the ruins of dramatic-comedies.  Super 8 isn't a dramatic comedy though.  In fact, it chose an even more challenging path for itself that included categories like period piece, coming-of-age, science fiction, action, romance and drama.  Yikes!  That's a handful.  Abrams doesn't pull all of them off well but I give him credit for even trying. It's no spoiler alert that the train crash scene happens right at the end of the first act, but it's how the train scene goes that should drop the jaw of any unjaded theater goer.  I don't care how many bloated 3D pictures you pay for this summer; you won't see a better action sequence than that train crash.  The FX are done so masterfully and is performed so well by the kids that it deserves some sort of achievement award for it.  Perhaps Super 8 will secure itself an Oscar for Sound for that scene alone. The cast is full of no-name talents that you may or may not recognize, such as Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) and Elle Fanning (Dakota's sister).  The banter between the children though are one of the most enjoyable things about the film.  It reminds me of movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies or (the extremely underrated '80s film) The Explorers.  It's a time portal back to what it was like to be 13-years-old and in the throws of summer in a small town.  Your first love.  Your projects you would attempt with friends.  Even feelings of late summer sunsets that seemed to last forever and go on for light years are gorgeously captured in the film.  Oh yeah, and there's a blood-thirsty alien too!  Ha! It's easy to forget that Super 8 is an exciting sci-fi movie too while watching it.  The downside of the film comes from just that mix up though; it tries to accomplish too much.  Super 8 spreads itself a tad too thin and some of the more dramatic scenes fall flat and feel forced because they're not given time to develop.  Pitty when you consider that Super 8 is good enough to warrent a three hour film and that would have given it the time it needed to breath. Although the movie stinks of Speilberg and comes a little too close to E.T. for me to fall in love with it head-over-heels, Super 8 is still one of the best Summer movies so far and makes me look forward to the next Abrams/Speilberg collaboration with sweaty palms! Super 8 (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A-
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