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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from January 2012


Man on a Ledge
Rest assured that Man on a Ledge is truth in advertising; there really is a man on a ledge.  In fact that man gets on the ledge within two minutes of the movie and there he stays for most of it.  The fact that the title of the movie (which is also said out loud within the first 15 minutes in cheesey fashion) doesn't mislead or lie and prepares you for exactly what kind of movie you're about to see is sadly the best thing about this pathetic excuse for a film.

I don't like bad movies when they aren't aware that they're bad.  Not only does this movie not realize it's so bad, but I think the cast and crew thought it was good.  It features a script from a 58- year-old guy from Venezuela who hasn't done much that anyone knows about with his career and a director who's only done one film before this and it was a documentary.  How the hell did this movie even get made?!  It has plot holes so big you can drive a monster truck through them, it's confusing in its logic and almost impossible to believe at all.  It's impressive that a major Hollywood studio was tricked into making it, but what's an even better magic trick is how they convinced such an amazing pedigree of performers to be in it.

The film stars Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) who is someone that no one has been able to explain to me why he's famous yet.  The guy is like the state worker of Hollywood actors - he's not good at his job, but he's good enough to not get fired.  I have yet to see him impress me with anything and I look forward to the day that he does.  He's someone that should be in a movie this bad though.  What's shocking is that they convinced Ed Harris (The Hours, The Abyss), Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan, 15 Minutes) and Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, 40-Year-Old Virgin) to be in it and they are all performers who are good at their craft and respected among critics.  So....WTF guys?

The film is about an ex-cop who breaks out of prison just to plan a heist to prove his innocence; and yes that plan involves him standing on a ledge.  The plot isn't the worst things I've seen, in fact it would actually have made for a pretty funny comedic premise.  The issue is that it moves so fast while being too illogical.  Perhaps the rapid speed over crucial plot points is an attempt to usher the audience past them before they have a chance to put it together and see that it doesn't add up.  Maybe another motive for the quick-step is the try to stay ahead of the audience in its twists and turns, which it fails at doing - if you don't have the ending called half way through the movie, you're an idiot.

It's not that Man on a Ledge is boring that makes it so bad.  It will entertain the average person that just wants to pay for a ticket, sit in a seat and chomp popcorn while they watch pretty girls and tough guys for 90 minutes.  It's that it's executed so poorly with zero regard for logical storytelling and quality filmmaking that also suckered such wasted talent into its ranks that makes it so bad.  And trust me, it's bad.  At its worst parts, you'll with you were on that ledge so you could jump off.
Man on a Ledge  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+
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The Grey

Oscar-winner Liam Neeson adds a certain level of classiness to every film he's in.  Even when he's in something as silly and stupid as The A-Team or Clash of the Titans, he raises the quality up a little more.  That's why it's so hard to judge a movie that he's in that appears to be a shallow, tawdry, cliche action film.  Taken is a perfect example; if anyone else would have starred in that, it would have been another forgettable action film but he brought something special to it and made you walk away thinking you saw something more.  The Grey is no different.

Director Joe Carnahan is someone I want to do well in Hollywood.  Mostly because he's a local guy that was born and raised in Sacramento.  But the other reason is because I see a talented filmmaker under his films that always seem to hover around more than Hollywood drivel.  His former films are The A-Team and Smokin' Aces; both are good in their own unique ways.  The Grey is a total departure from his previous work in tone and structure.

The film follows a group of oil drill workers in Alaska flying home after a season of work.  Their plane goes down in the snowy wilderness and the survivors fight to reach safety as they're hunted by a pack of wolves.  That's the whole plot and its simplicity is one of the best things about it.  If you're expecting this to be about regular guys and how they all realize they're tougher than what they are and become action heroes, this isn't the movie for you.  This is about pure survival and it's scary.  However, it does become monotonous as well.  Not everyone makes it and the systematic feasting of the wolves eventually becomes predictable and repetitive.

The film was shot near a small town called Smithers in Canada, making it the most exciting thing that has ever and will ever happen there.  I mention this because the fact that it was filmed on location in the actual cold, in the actual snow with actual wolves is impressive and totally appreciated.  The isolation permiates every frame of the film and you actually feel cold while watching it.  I loved that aspect about The Grey!  Nothing about it feels like the old Hollywood standard action film and every actor in it gets my respect for spending a month or two in that mess.  The desperation you hear them scream some of their lines out wasn't acting, I'm sure.

The Grey is not without its problems.  It suffers from slowing down and making you start looking at your watch or wait for another wolf attack.  However it's a much more effective and deeper film than you're expecting.  It builds slowly and towards a climax that exists only in your head (this will makes sense when you see the ending of the film, which is the best and most emotional part).  Some will fully hate the fact that Carnahan did that, but as a fan of filmmaking and those that take risks with it, I loved it.  It makes me look forward to what our local boy has planned next and if I didn't know that Liam Neeson had Battleship the Movie on his plate next, I'd look be optimistic for him too.
The Grey  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B

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The Best and Worst Films of 2011

BEST FILMS OF 2011


10. Win Win - This was a small film that came out early in the year that really showed how great acting and storytelling can still make a movie shine even when there's no budget or advertising.
9. Midnight in Paris - I love Woody Allen films but when you make a film every year, you're gonna strike out.  This was his first home run in years.  It's not for everyone, but what Woody Allen movie is?  If you love literature, you can't NOT love this.
8. War Horse - Sure it's campy, cliche and predictable but it's also one of Speilberg's best shot films where every frame looks like art.
7. Drive - Ryan Gossling is winning me over as a fan and he has this badass, well-executed crime drama to thank for it.  (And being so damn charming in Crazy Stupid Love too.)  Sure this movie moves slow, but it makes you earn its entertainment.
6. The Muppets - Yeah I'm biased as a lifetime Muppet fan, but this really was one of the best films of the year.  Funny, sweet, touching...a perfect creation for us Muppet fans.  A labor of love (of Jason Segel's) that turns out this good should always be on this list.
5. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows pt. 2 - Shame on The Academy for snubbing this film series the way they did.  This was a perfect "goodbye" to some of the best characters we've ever had and it was handled with care and that is obvious on every frame.
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - One of the worst titles of the year but a flawless prequel.  This film could have been so silly and it wasn't.  Just the opposite, it was amazing, fun and contained one of the best performances that everyone forgot - Andy Serkis' Ceasar the Chimp.
3. 50/50 - It was so shameful that this didn't nab a Best Picture nod.  It's not easy for a film to measure equal parts tragedy and comedy.  It takes both to the extreme and never once dwells in either one.  An inspiring script that left me a puddle of tears...both from laughing and crying.
2. The Descendants - George Clooney is an American institution and this was his best performance yet.  The story was fun and heartbreaking that dealt with a serious story without being heavy-footed.  This would be the best film of the year it hadn't been for...
1. The Artist - For just being gutsy enough to make a black & white, stylized, silent, period film...it deserves to be on this list.  For being amazingly entertaining, sweet, sad, whimsical and authentic...it deserves to be #1.



WORST FILMS OF 2011


10. Suckerpunch - Simply for releasing a thrilling trailer that whipped up fanboys into a frenzy and then putting out a film that was staggeringly boring, it deserves to kick this list off.  It lowered director Zach Snyder's stock for showing us the same scene to us over and over again but with different monsters.  Snore!
9. 30 Minutes or Less - This was the final nail in the Danny McBride coffin for me.  I can only watch him play the exact same character so many times before I completely check out.  It had such great talent at its disposal and ended up with unfunny crap.
8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Yeah.  It's an Oscar nominated film but man did I hate it.  It's boring, slow, confusing, long and the extreme love it has by fans of the book makes me hate it more.  It lives up to every stereotype for British cinema and PBS specials combined.
7. The Change-Up - Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are both very funny and usually dazzle on screen.  This was an unoriginal plot that knew it wasn't funny and overcompensated by making it as crude as possible.  What a cash-grab!
6. The Smurfs - Raping my childhood isn't cool.  Doing it with George Lopez and Katy Perry is unforgivable.  News that they're making a sequel makes me hate it even more.
5. Just Go With It - Adam Sandler has made a very lucrative career making stupid, childish, unfunny crap.  They seem to be getting worse and this was the start of his worst year so far.  Luckily for this film there were four worse films...as hard as that it to believe.
4. New Years Eve - Valentines Day was the worst film of 2010 and Gary Marshall and his cast of whoever-was-around-for-filming tried to recapture that glory but fell short.  Mindless, multi-character drivel like this are insulting to people who pay good money to see them.
3. The Hangover 2 - This was an experiment to see if Americans are stupid enough to pay money and laugh at a movie they already saw.  Turns out that we are.  The carbon copy comedy's unoriginality wasn't shocking to me, but still kinda pissed me off.
2. Bucky Larson - I know it seems like I really hate comedian Nick Swardson, since he's in four of the worst films of the year, but I don't.  I actually really think he's funny.  He just makes really, really, really bad decisions when it comes to appearing in films.  This would have been the worst film of the year but he also appeared in...
1. Jack and Jill - This isn't the worst film of the year because Adam Sandler sucks as a comedian.  It's not because it's horribly unfunny.  Nor is it because it's insulting to anyone over the age of 10 to call it entertainment.  It's because he tricked Al Pacino into being in it which, at this point, is like pushing an old man down the stairs.
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2012 Oscar Nominations
You can hear Gavin's thoughts on the nominations here:


Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse


Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Actor
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Best Director
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Alexander Payne
Hugo, Martin Scorsese
The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Hugo, John Logan
The Ides of March, George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball, Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’ Connor and Peter Straughan

Best Original Screenplay
The Artist, Michael Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig
Margin Call, J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
A Separation, Asghar Farhadi Best

Animated Feature
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Rango
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Haywire
Unless you follow Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting, you've probably never heard of Gina Carano. She's a prominent Muay Thai boxer with an impressive 12-1-1 record. Long story short, this girl can kick some butt for real! Can she act though? Director Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, the Oceans movies) thought enough of her to cast her as the lead character Mallory in his latest action thriller Haywire.
If you've seen the trailer for Haywire, you might be like me and think that it looks exactly like The Bourne Identity if Matt Damon was a hot chick. That's pretty much what this movie is, except the character Mallory doesn't have amnesia and Gina Carano is a legitimate bad ass (not just an actor playing one). The fact that Gina comes from a MMA background, gives all of the fighting scenes in the movie (of which there are many), a very authentic feel. I wouldn't be surprised if some of her fellow cast members sustained injuries sharing scenes with her. Gina physically punishes her co-stars and also holds her own against them in the acting arena.
If Haywire was just a plotless fight fest, carried solely on Gina’s acting chops, I probably wouldn't be heaping praise on her debut performance. Fortunately for her, Haywire has an intriguing story line linking the action together, and also some cool scenes by a star studded cast: Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Bill Paxton just to name a few. Everyone gave good performances, particularly Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Inglorius Bastards) who is featured prominently in the trailer.
Haywire starts about 2/3rds of the way through the overall story. Most of this movie is a flashback bringing you up to speed to Mallory's current situation, with periodic flash-fowards to update the audience with the latest in her current predicament. Once the backstory is told, the movie finishes out to its conclusion in a linear fashion. This unique style of storytelling adds to the appeal of the movie.
Big name stars and intriguing story line aside, the main draw of this movie are the fight scenes. The combination of Steven Soderbergh's camera direction and Gina Carano's fluid grappling and striking techniques make every action sequence hit hard. What I really liked is that the fights weren't over choreographed with elaborate attacks or overly dramatic finishing moves. There were a few Jackie Chan-esque vaulting kicks, but for the most part what Gina does on screen is what she does in her MMA fights. I'm talking about Muay Thai kicks from the hip, Royce Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu leg lock submission moves, and good ole fashion pummeling of the face whilst straddling the chest. Booya!
This is a good movie; it isn't the greatest action thriller of all time, but it is definitely worth the price of admission. It also has all of the makings of an action franchise, after all, if they can make Taken 2 with Liam Neeson (seriously, they're making Taken 2), then you can expect Haywire 2 sometime in the near future. If they do decide to franchise Haywire, count on me to buy a ticket.
Haywire (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B
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The Artist
We all know the common stereotypes about French people, right?  One of those stereotypes is that they're cowards.  Well, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has some of the biggest balls I've ever seen publicly displayed and there's no way in hell anyone in Hollywood could EVER accuse that Frenchman of being a coward.  He did something that no one else was willing or even crazy enough to do....released a black and white, silent film in 2011.  Black and white is one thing; we've all seen American History X or Schindler's List and they're fantastic.  But SILENT?!  Could a jaded 21st Century audience really be entertained by something like that?  You bet your ass they can, and it's one of the best films of the year.

The Artist stars French comedian Jean Dujardin and Argentinian actress Berenice Bejo (A Knight's Tale) as two famous Hollywood actors in the 1920s and 1930s.  Dujardin is on his way down in fame and Bejo is on her way up.  But their paths cross and they never forget one another.  Yes, this is a love story but it's also more than that.  It's a story of friendship and compassion too.  In fact, their love is one of the byproducts of their relationship, but attraction and empathy are what really drives it along.  

There are American actors in The Artist, like John Goodman, James Cromwell (Babe, W.) and Malcom McDowell (Halloween, A Clockwork Orange),  but it's Duardin and Bejo's film.  Considering that it's a silent movie, I'm not sure it would be possible to find two American mainstream actors who could pull off a wordless performance.  (Maybe Andy Serkis who makes a habit out of it.)  They are both charming, sweet, gripping and exude sunshine in every single frame of this movie.  Even when the plots takes us to its darkest moments, it's still a pure delight to watch.

Hazanavicius also shares most of the credit as well when you consider that he made every second of The Artist feel like it was pulled from a time capsule buried in 1929.  It's magical to see it and impossible to not smile when watching it.  Yes, it's true that being void of dialogue tests your attention span.  It's interesting that we've been conditioned so much that I did notice myself drifting off during the middle of the film a bit and you get the thought of "can I really sit through 90 minutes of this" when the film starts.  But you can and you'll love that you did, especially for the ending that not only climaxes perfectly but even has a twist ending too.  

Another spotlight has to be directed on Ludovic Bource who composed all the music in the film.  When a movie is silent, the music is just as much of a lead character as anyone featured on the screen.  Because of that, Bource is a shoe-in for the Oscar for Best Original Score.  That's just one of the Oscars that The Artist deserves to win.  I think Hazanavicius should take one for Directing and I can't think of another film this year that deserves Best Picture more.  Normally a film that's a black and white AND silent would seem like Oscar pandering and the typical artsy-fartsy crap that Americanse roll their eyes at; but trust me that it's far from pretentious at all!  I understand that "black and white" and "silent" sound so scary and boring but there isn't anything unenjoyable about The Artist and it's one of the few films this year that I can't wait to see again.
The Artist  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+

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Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
I'm not stupid.  Not only do I follow complicated movies well, I also have a high tolerance for slow moving films too.  I also understand that Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a wildly popular novel by John Le Carre and it really is the esstential "Spy" story.  I won't discount its popularity one bit and assume that the book is fanstastic and an utter joy to read.  This movie, however, was torture to get through and one of the worst I've seen in recent memory.

Gary Oldman (JFK, the Harry Potter films) is one of the best actors working today.  He's a virtual chameleon that changes everything from his voice to posture to facial expressions to suit whichever character he's playing at the time.  In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he plays George Smiley who is an aged Mi6 agent who's put in charge of a secret operation to find a spy within the British organization.  Among the suspects are a Who's Who of top shelf British talent; we have Tobey Jones (the Harry Potter series, The Mist), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, The Green Lantern), Tom Hardy (Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises), John Hurt (the Harry Potter series, The Immortals) and coming off his Best Actor Oscar win is Colin Firth (The King's Speech, Love Actually).  With a cast like this, you should be able to hit a home run without opening your eyes.  But they struck out...BIG.

Everyone in this film is stuck in second gear.  It's as if they're all trying to keep pace with each other, but the overall speed of the film is one of sluggishness.  It's every stereotype you've ever had about British cinema being too dry, too dull, too slow,too boring, too...well...British.  It's a spy thriller without ANY thrills at all.  It's as exciting to watch as anything on PBS in the middle of the day.  It's as if Masterpiece Theater got ahold of a potentially exciting story about catching a mole within a spy organization and sprinkled their usual dusty ingredients over it so it's as dry as unbuttered toast.  

And that's only half of why it's as bad as it is.  Again, I like to think that I can pride myself on keeping up with complicated pictures.  Hell, the Coen Brothers don't bother slowing down a plot or explaining anything and I consider their films some of the best ever made.  But Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is so hard to follow it makes it absolutely impossible to enjoy.  You spend so much time trying to figure out who's who and what the hell their talking about that the fine details of the plot, like who's the spy and why are they spying, is totally lost on the audience.  It's twice as frustrating when you consider that the film moves so slowly and you STILL can't keep it all straight.  

Perhaps I can blame it on the fact that director Tomas Alfredson is Swedish.  I know that seems racist but follow me here.  His other film was Let the Right One In, which was a superb horror film that was remade for American audiences (Let Me In) and is sublime, touching and horrifying.  It is also in Swedish.  Maybe taking Afredson out of his native land and language caused a situation that made Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy go so far off the tracks.  The only thing they got right was the absolutely flawless attention to detail in the sets, costumes and props to match its late '70s era.  But when that's all you can say positively about a film, it's not hard to figure out where the mole is and I'm pretty sure it's the director.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D-

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