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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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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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Joe Lo Truglio Interview

Listen to Gavin's interview with actor Joe Lo Truglio (Paul, Role Models, Superbad). Joe Lo Truglio
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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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Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Whether you want to admit it or not, the 1968 film Planet of the Apes is one of the top ten greatest science fiction movies of all time.  Sure there are lots of cheesy sequels and a par-at-best remake by Tim Burton, but there's something about that first movie that was so totally original.  It was exciting, had great make-up, a brilliant script, fun action and a moral message.  So it seems strange and very risky to create a prequel 43 years later that explains how it all started.  After seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I couldn't be happier that they did! For anyone who doesn't know the original, it stars Charlton Heston as an astronaut that gets sucked through a wormhole in space and ends up on a planet overrun by talking apes that have replaced humans as the dominant species.  You find out at the end that the planet turns out to be Earth and he traveled hundreds of years in the future.  I know I should have said "Spoiler Alert" there but you'll need to know that to enjoy this movie and for Christ's sake it came out four decades ago! This film, which stars James Franco (127 Hours, Milk) and the incredible physical acting of Andy Serkis, who was Gollom in Lord of the Rings and Kong in King Kong, is absolutely brilliant!  Serkis plays Caesar, who is a chimp raised by Franco, and although he has (almost) no dialogue, he dazzles and stuns as he brings the chimpanzee to life in, not just a realistic way, but a totally deep, complex character filled with different emotions.  Simple facial expressions that he performs are touching one second and disturbingly menacing the next.  Ironically, the FX are so good (they were done by the same team that did Avatar) that it makes Oscar-nominated Franco seem like a cardboard cutout. Besides how well the movie explains the sequence of events that leads up to the original film flawlessly, it does something else that I found unexpected and shocking...it made a movie about apes very human.  The catalyst for the story is Franco trying to cure Alzheimer's Disease, which his father who's played by John Lithgow (Dexter, Shrek) is inflicted with.  The scenes that play out between them are done tastefully and tragically.  Same goes for the scenes when Caesar the Chimp is being abused and tortured by his captives, one of which is played by Tom Felton who was Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series for the last ten years.  (Side note: His American accent makes him sound creepily like Steve Buscemi.) Besides Serkis, the real star of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is director Rupert Wyatt.  He came from complete obscurity and produced the best film of the summer, which makes me look forward to his next project with baited breath.  For me, his most impressive work is a scene when (spoiler alert) Caesar speaks for the first time.  Again, if you know the series, you know they HAVE TO put an ape's first word in the film.  So much hinges on that scene.  It could easily be too ridiculous and ruin the whole movie, but it isn't.  In fact, the scene is so furious, emotional and shot and edited just right that when it happens, it gives you goosebumps. Rise of the Planet of the Apes may have one of the worst movie titles of the summer, but don't let that fool you.  This is a smart, quality science-fiction film that deserves the respect the original was given four decades ago.  Maybe, dare I say, even a little more. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rated PG-13) Gavin Grade: A+
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The Smurfs
In 1981, Saturday morning cartoons were introduced to a 1958 comic strip called The Smurfs.  It was quirky, weird, innocent and from Belgium.  Despite all the people saying it would never work, it still did.  In fact, The Smurfs ran as a cartoon on Saturday mornings for 8 more years and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandise.  So is it that crazy to think that a feature length, live-action movie based on the same characters would still work 22 years after the show was canceled?  The people at Columbia Pictures didn't think so, but good God were they wrong. Yes it's true that director Michael Bay took another '80s Saturday morning cartoon, Transformers, and created a juggernaut franchise.  That does not mean that it will work every time.  Especially when you ignore what made Transformers so successful and that was to make it appeal to the adults that loved it as kids.  The Smurfs is a PG-rated piece of dribble that insults the intelligence of adults who see it for nostalgia and bores the children that don't know it at all. Even talented performers like Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, The Birdcage) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) can't pump life into this.  In fact, I was embarrassed for them while watching it.  Especially for Azaria who is one of the greatest comedic character actors out there right now.  He gave his performance as the villainous wizard Gargamel the best he possibly could but it overshoots campy and just comes across desperate. The biggest problem comes from hiring Raja Gosnell to direct it.  This man hasn't made a good movie yet and seems to have the bargain bin DVD movie at Walmart down pretty good.  He's the disaster that's given us films like Scooby Doo, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Big Momma's House.  Congrats Mr. Gosnell, because you've added another travesty to your catalog of crap cinema. The Smurfs is a rotten script with bad voice acting from some very talented people.  Even people like the legendary Jonathan Winters (It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), Alan Cumming (X-Men 2), Fred Armisen (NBC's SNL, Anchorman) and Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Fright Night) couldn't help it.  It almost seems like an insult too that they had to perform besides George Lopez and Katy Perry...and yes, they both suck as much as you think they would. The jokes in the film are awful and too on-the-nose even for the 7-year-old I brought with me.  I suppose the writers thought it was edgy and funny to replace a swear word with the word "smurf" but after you hear it every 5 minutes or so, it just makes you think the movie is smurfing horrible.  The best thing The Smurfs has going for it is the infectious theme song they sing over and over and over again.  At least hearing that brought back to the surface some pleasant childhood memories...just too bad they were then sullied by this movie. The Smurfs (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: F
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