Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from August 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Guillermo Del Toro is rapidly becoming a favorite filmmaker by both critics and fanboys alike.  He's the genius director behind such incredible fantasy horror movies like Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone and Cronos.  He's also the genius director behind such incredible comic book actions like Hellboy and Blade II.  But sadly, he didn't direct Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Del Toro produced this movie.  That doesn't give it a death sentence at all.  In fact, just the opposite.  He's done that with cinematic awesomeness like The Orphanage and Biutiful.  He's even gotten involved in animation movies like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind.  But something went wrong with this film.  Don't Be Afraid of the Dark starts off as scary, then becomes creepy, and ends up being silly. It's really too bad because the film, which is based on a made-for-TV film from 1973, is a classic gothic creature-feature horror film.  It's about a family that moves into a gorgeous old mansion only to discover that it was already inhabited by another group...blood-thirsty little fiends that crave little children's body parts.  Wow!  Just typing that out makes it sound so much better than it actually is.  It's far tamer from the gruesome premise seems to be.  But it's not so much the plot running out of steam that makes this film so lackluster; it's also the performances. Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Tom Cruise's bedroom) and Guy Pearce (The King's Speech, Memento) are the couple who fight off the amassing goblins.  Both are fine actors and have performed well in the past, epecially Pearce; but in this they walk through the script like they both are in dress rehearsals.  The shining star of the film is the daughter played by the young Bailee Madison.  She carries this entire movie on her back with a fantastic performance.  She's also the little girl in Brothers and the only funny thing about the Adam Sandler movie Just Go With It. With Don't Be Afraid of the Dark she really gets a chance to show us what she's got though.  She's undoubtedly the star of the film and looks legitimately terrified of the little beasties that are after her.  What impressed me even more is that she had to act that way while looking at nothing since all the monsters were CGI.  Another disappointment since Del Toro is known for using mostly old school movie monster make-up and puppets. That undersells the quality of the creatures though.  The FX used for them are very, very well done.  They do look real and give you the heebie-jeebies in many of the scenes that prey on your fear of the dark and what's under the covers.  But just when you're thinking that they are a force to be scared of, they turn into some kind of comedic monsters you'd expect to see in Jim Henson's Labyrinth.  That decision might have been the fault of first-time director Troy Nixey.  I'm not going to say that he's in over his head though since the film stinks of gothic horror in that it boasts incredible sets and heavy atmosphere that invokes a 1920s Hammer Film feel. It's a big red flag that this movie was not going to live up to the A+ trailer that was released over a year ago because that's when the film was shot. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was filmed early in 2010 and went through lots and lots of post production work to make it presentable.  I guess it should have been put through a little more work since it isn't scary.  But maybe that's just truth in advertising - there really isn't any reason to be afraid of the dark in this film. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C
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Fright Night
I went to see this screening with my buddy Dave.  As we were driving there we were talking about how the original Fright Night from 1985 used to scare us when we would walk by it on the shelves at the video store.  This was when we were kids...and when there were video stores.  When I finally got around to watching the movie that had a poster that scared me so much, I was relieved and disappointed to find out that it was more of a comedy than a horror movie.  As I got older I grew to appreciate that they did both genres so well, but that made me nervous that a remake was going to be attempted.  If the comedy wasn't there or the horror wasn't there, then I wouldn't want to be there either.  Luckily for me, Fright Night from 2011 is something worth sinking your teeth into. See, in the '80s and '90s vampire movies were still made that were fun.  The Lost Boys, The Monster Squad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Love Bites, From Dusk Till Dawn, Blade...these were all movies about vampires that were a lot of fun to watch.  Now they're all brooding and in love.  They all have tortured, sad stories and lack the visceral violence that made us flock to the cinemas for the blood that we craved.  I mean, how pathetic is it now that the most popular and highest grossing vampire saga of all time features vampires with no fangs and no blood?!!?  Fright Night reclaims it all though and thank God it does! The new version follows the exact same plot of the first one, where a teenager thwarts the attempts of his vampire next door neighbor who tries to kill his whole block.  The teenager is played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, The Beaver) and the vampire is Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Horrible Bosses).  They're also joined by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Kickass) and a scene-stealing comedic juggernaut in David Tennant (Harry Potter 4, How to Train Your Dragon). Coling Farrell is rapidly becoming like Brad Pitt to me.  At first I hated them because I thought they were nothing but pretty faces in movies that have nothing to say because they lacked the talent to deliver good lines.  But as the years go on, both actors have really impressed me with bold movie choices and stellar performances.  Fright Night continues that tradition for Farrell, who seems like he really enjoyed playing the vampire Jerry...yes, Jerry.  (Fans of the original will also be tickled to see a cameo from Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas) who was the original Jerry.) Another surprisingly great performance is from Mintz-Plasse, also forever known as McLovin, who is doomed to play a high school student for the rest of his life.  He starts the film exactly as you'd expect but really impressed me with how he ended it. What made the whole experience fun was the tone that was set by director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Mr. Woodcock).  He incorporated some straight-up 3D gimmicks that you'd expect to see in a theme park attraction but made it work in the context of it all.  It was gory, scary, fun and hilarious.  Fright Night starts off a little slow but builds to a wonderfully satisfying orgy of blood and comedy by the end.  It also does something I'm sure it didn't set out to do; it sends out a message to the vampire movies we're saturated with today: A little more biting and a little less sucking! Fright Night  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B+
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Conan the Barbarian
Why do you think some studio executives were sitting around and said to each other, "Do you remember Conan the Barbarian?"  "The one from 1982 with Arnold Swarzenegger and James Earl Jones?" said the other.  "Yeah.  We should remake that," exclaimed the other.  I have no answer to that because the it wasn't good 29 years ago and it's not good now. The 2011 version doesn't star anyone of impressive stature like the original.  This time the titular character is played by Jason Momoa (Stargate: Atlantis, HBO's Game of Thrones) and he's joined by the go-to baddie Stephen Lang (Avatar, Gettysburg), the gorgeous Rose McGowan (Scream, Grindhouse) and fanboy favorite Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, Season of the Witch) in a small opening act role.  The new version is also more expensive, slicker, more violent and, of course, in 3D.  None of that helps make the film better than its campy predecessor. Both films are based on the comic book that not many are fans of and follows a similar plot.  Conan is a barbarian...naturally...who gets involved with a woman in his quest to revenge his father's death.  Although the film is written by four different people, it's the major reason why it didn't perform to quality.  Even director Marcus Nispel attempted to polish this turd up as best he could.  He's the guy that Hollywood seems to call on whenever they're in need of a bloody revamp of an old classic.  He's already had a noble attempt with a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a embarrassingly awful showing in his remake of Friday the 13th.  Although Nispel appeared to have been given gobs of money, elaborate sets, spectacular costumes and car-blanche on the violence, the script didn't allow for much of any kind of enjoyment. That's not to say that some of the action sequences aren't fine enough to chomp through on some popcorn.  In fact, in a summer that's been filled with subpar action films, this one ranks up there among the top half.  But a watered down script and a brainless, mumbling performance from its star is enough for you to be bored and impatient until someone gets massacred again. It's really too bad that Momoa is such a bad actor because everyone else gives a decent, campy performance that's right on par with what we've grown to expect from them.  McGowan adds another devious diva to her resume in what is a vastly underrated caliber of performer.  Not only is she beautiful, even when she has half her hairline shaved down, but seems to have so much fun in being bad.  Her interaction with Lang's father-killing villain is fun but only in their nonverbal chemistry.  Whenever they open their mouths to spew the terrible dialogue that was provided for them it's a letdown. Aside from some fun 3D effects (including the first 3D sex scene) and exciting, big-budget action, Conan the Barbarian is a disappointment even when you expect it to be disappointing.  Besides shelling out the $10 per ticket for the movie, it makes you feel even more foolish for leaving the theater missing the awful, incoherent acting of Swarzenegger...and that's a barbaric thought. Conan the Barbarian  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C-
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David Koechner Interview
Listen to Gavin's interview with actor David Koechner (Anchorman, The Office)... David Koechner Interview
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