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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from May 2012


Men in Black 3
Can you believe it's been four years that Will Smith has even appeared in a movie.  It seemed like he took time off in his career to shove his annoying children down America's throat with a son so full of false swagger he had the balls to remake The Karate Kid and a daughter who made a song so abbrasive that it should be used as a car alarm.  But before Smith annoyed us with that, he annoyed us by becoming an A-list celebrity who no longer made good movies.  Depending on your taste in films and your standards for what constitutes quality entertainment, you could make a case that Men in Black 2 was his last good movie and that was a decade ago.  So should Will Smith be the only one happy that Tommy Lee Jones agreed to don the black suit again?  If you ask me, the answer is "no way" because it's excellent!

Directory Barry Sonnenfeld is a guy that has a unique style and the Men in Black series seems to be the only commercially successful outlet for it.  But the guy makes great looking films even when they turn out to be complete duds like RV or Big Trouble.  His films feel like Tim Burton movies but without all the cutting and trademarked moping.  Despite the lack of success, I still would put The Addams Family movies in my Top 100 Favorite Comedies.  If anyone else would have attempted to make the next installment of Men in Black, I'm certain it would have been awful since it is as much Sonnenfeld's as it is Smith's and Jones'.

Rule #1 in Hollywood generally is that if you're going to make a sequel, you don't mess with what made it successful.  Well Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones is a massive part of that success since, to those that appreciate subtle humor, his stoic persona is funnier than Smith at times; however in Men in Black 3 you will see very little of Jones at all.  A decision like that couldn't have panned out unless they got the homerun performance they did from Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, True Grit).

Brolin plays Jones' Agent K character but in 1969.  That's right, Sonnenfeld tried to double down on risk and make the next installment a time travel film as well.  Time Travel, as a genre, is the very definition of "Big Risk, Big Reward;" it can either give you fantastic science-fiction stories or some of the worst that just confuse and detract an audience.  I'm thrilled to say that Men in Black 3 is one of the more fantastic ones.  It knows that its target audience didn't come to think so they spell out as much zig-zagging time paradoxes as they have to so as not to lose them all while keeping the classic Men in Black silliness.

But back to Brolin.  As impressive as the special FX are and alien make-up (which Sonnenfeld mutes a little more in this thankfully), the most amazing thing to watch in the film is Brolin's performance.  He is so convincing as a younger Tommy Lee Jones that you completely lose sight that it's Brolin you're watching.  He did this once before in Oliver Stone's W where he did a flawless job portraying George W. Bush.  The man has a knack for vocal nuances and physical impersonation performance.

The other scene stealers are Bill Hader (SNL, Superbad), who is sadly only featured in one scene as a very famous '60s icon and Oscar-nominated Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Hugo).  Stuhlbarg plays an alien that is blessed and cursed with constantly seeing every possible outcome to every possible existence and he's amazing at it.  Just like he did in his performance for A Serious Man, he invokes a balanced mix of humor and sadness that makes every scene he's in fun to watch.

The most shocking thing about Men in Black 3, to me at least, was that it almost brought a tear to my eye at the end.  Again, a totally unneccessary risk that Sonnenfeld took but I'm thrilled that he did.  I not only forgot how funny Smith can be but also how well he can move an audience too.  (Need I remind you of the dog scene in I Am Legend?)  It was such a successful ending that it makes me hope the Men in Black series goes out on that pitch-perfect note, but then again I hope they don't if they can still make them this good.
Men in Black 3  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A-
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Battleship
Two years ago it was released online that Hollywood was planning on taking the classic Hasbro board game Battleship and turn it into a movie.  It was met with nothing but laughs and jeers at what a horrible film that would turn out to be.  It also launched rumors, some of which have been confirmed, that other classic board games like Ouija, Monopoly and Candyland are getting turned into movies to follow.  Everyone was expecting the worst from Battleship, there was no way it could live up to the awful hype.  I'm here to tell you that not only did it live up to it but it surpassed it.

Director Peter Berg has made some damn good films.  Very Bad Things, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom are all excellent and impressive feats considering that they're each three different genres that he tackled (literally in one case) flawlessly.  Granted he made Hancock, but for the most part Berg is known as someone who makes quality films.  Why he would ever lend his name to something so epically embarassing as Battleship is beyond me.

You may ask yourself why the movie about battleships warring in open water would ever be about aliens trying to destroy Earth.  That's a great question and I can't answer it for you.  The plot for Battleship is as bad as it gets.  It's the kind of scipt that you wouldn't believe if you hadn't seen with your own eyes.  It gets so bad that toward the end of the film the US Navy finds themselves out of battleships (yes, I know how silly that sounds) and their last resort is the USS Missiouri, which is a 70-year-old floating museum in Hawaii.  The survivng cast members must then get the entire ship in shape for killing off the aliens in less than three hours because that's when the world ends, but the catch is that none of the know how to operate the antique ship.  Their solution is...and I couldn't make this up if I tried...to find old veterans to help them run the ship and go to battle.  Yup.

Even more silly is that there is indeed a scene where the actors are looking at an electronic grid that has pictures of battleships on it and they're saying lines like, "B4" and "E2" in hopes to shoot missiles to hit the enemy.  It was so on-the-nose that I wanted to stand up in the theater and scream out to everyone, "How is no one else laughing at this?!"

The FX are as impressive, bloated and expensive as they come and Berg executes with the douchey precision of Michael Bay.  Battleship continues to double down on itself as a film with goofy story plots and the disgusting budget to back it all up.  Battleship will make plenty of money and I'm sure some people will even find it entertaining, but what it does to Peter Berg's reputation as a director is very difficult to repair.  This is one Battleship that should have been sunk before it got to this point.
Battleship  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: F
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What to Expect When You're Expecting

There is no better audience for a movie about having babies than a guy who just had one five weeks ago...except maybe a woman who just had one.  My son Connor has made me tear my hair out and battle headaches but it's totally worth it.  There were times when What to Expect When You're Expecting had the same effect on me, but it wasn't worth it.  If you can make a new father hate your movie about babies, then I cringe to think what it did for everyone else.

What to Expect When You're Expecting is from director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee) and two writers who really haven't done anything before and hopefully never will again.  How this group of misfits managed to put together a cast as A-list as they got is beyond me.  The film touts the likes of Cameron  Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks (Hunger Games, 40-Year-Old Virgin), Anna Kendrik (Up in the Air, 50/50), Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Tom Lennon (MTV's The State, I Love You, Man), and Rob Huebell (I Love You, Man, The Descendants).  But be warned; whenever you see a cast this large of recognizable faces and it's NOT directed by Quentin Tarantino or Oliver Stone, it's probably God-awful.

The key issue with What to Expect is that it's episodic in nature and therefore shallow.  It literally covers every single cliche you can think of that Hollywood has already covered in films about pregnancy and condensed them into one film.  It's so full of plots that it's busting at the seams and it views as uncomfortably as that sounds.  The film is a comedy but they do cover very serious subjects such as miscarriage, infertility and difficutly during births, but because it's a film that tries to be everything to everyone, those scenes are mere like footnotes and not given the time to treat them with respect.  It actually comes across as insulting to anyone who can relate to any of the dramatic moments that it's treated so casually.

I feel sorry for all the actors in the film.  None of them are weak and they give the best performances they could with such an awful script.  Each indivigual story would have made a fine feature length film on its own and it's a shame they didn't do that.  A series of films under the title What to Expect When You're Expecting would have been far more successful.  It would have paid respect to a book title that has become a generational tradition for couples preparing for parenthood.

There are some highlights such as any of the scenes with the Dads Group.  They are mostly funny and Chris Rock steals the scenes with some very quotable lines.  Ben Falcone (Bridesmaids), who is Oscar-nominated Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) real life husband, is also given a chance to have a breakout performance playing Banks' husband.  

There is no doubt that this movie will do well and find fans.  I would imagine that every new pair of parents would love to make this babysitter-worthy and make it a date night in hopes that they'll see something in the film that they can relate to.  Don't worry everyone who thinks that, you will...because it simply has everything and covers all possible scenarios.  Just remember that films that try to be everything to everyone quickly end up being watered-down films for no one.  The only thing that you should be expecting from this film is let down (and I don't mean in terms of breast feeding).
What to Expect When You're Expecting  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D

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The Avengers

When I was 8-years-old, I was staying with my grandmother in Central Pennsylvania and there was a little store that sold comic books not far from where she lived.  She took me there and I begged her to buy me one and she chose one called The Avengers and I was obsessed.  In fact, I was so obsessed that I stole money out of her purse, snuck back to the store when she took a nap and bought more issues.  That was 23 years ago and I never thought I'd see a movie version of that awesome comic superhero group, but here it is and it was totally worth the wait!

After five films and hundreds of millions of dollars, this is what we've been building toward.  Marvel Studios took a giant risk with bank rolling these movies before any of them had a proven success rate, all so they could create a film that no one ever thought could be made.  Something that combines Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk all together on one film fighting side-by-side.  Every person who even has the slightest interest in these films should be thrilled that they did take that risk because we're left with a film the likes of have never been seen before and not just because they accomplished the collossal task at hand, but also because it's a really freakin' well done movie!

First of all, you have to admire the level of continuity involved in maintaing 99% of the cast through all five films.  The one person left out was Edward Norton who plays The Hulk in 2008.  Due to Norton being a big baby, the ripped up clothes were donned by Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are Alright, Shutter Island).  I've never really been a fan of his because he plays Ruffalo in every movie, but he's adequite in The Avengers but the whole time you find yourself missing Norton's stellar chops.  The good news is that that is the only major flaw in this film.

With the acception that The Avengers starts off kinda cheesy, cliche and not very interesting, the remaining two-and-a-half hours go by faster than Iron Man zooming through the sky.  The moment that Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury character assembles all the superheros together, the film is esstentially one big action scene that never feels old or exhausting.  The entire thing builds toward a climax at the end that features an hour long sequence that made our theater cheer and the hairs on my arm stand at attention.  

Sure this has to do with the Grade A quality acting from the gang, especially Robert Downey Jr. who is the only Iron Man anyone ever wants to see.  Of course it has the best CGI FX that money can buy; so much so that you don't realize most of the time that you're looking at them.  Naturally, the storyline is fun, easy to follow and pays tribute to the comic book nerds while not geeking out too much that the normals can still play along.  I would say that none of this would be possible and the most credit deserves to go to director Joss Whedon!

Who?  Exactly.  This Whedon guy was well known by almost no one prior to this film.  Only some hardcore geeks knew him as the creator of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly shows.  Outside of that he was just another TV writer that was floating along in obscurity waiting for his big break.  Well, he sure as crap got it.  It's like a story about a nobody winning the lottery and then doing something really awesome with his millions instead of blowing all his money on nothing in a year.

Whedon commands every inch of this movie with skill and restraint.  That is no easy task when you consider the numbers of egos that had to come on board, the pressure from the all the Comic Con droolheads and the hot breath of studio execs breathing down his neck making sure this delicate egg that happened to have the accomplishments of five other films in it.  I can't imagine what his life was like in the last year, but he pulled it off gorgeously and created not only the best movie in the series of five character films, but has birthed one of the best comic book movies ever made.  The Avengers deserves to stand among the ranks of The Dark Knight, X-Men: First Class and 1978's Superman.  

Be warned though that you probably should see Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor before seeing this.  If you're gonns skip any of them, the one you can't afford to miss is Thor since that sets up the villain Loko, who's played again by a wonderfully theatrical and sinister Tom Hiddleston (Midnight in Paris, War Horse), and also the key element for the plot of The Avengers.  Although these are all seperate films they really should be viewed as a series just as interlocking as the Harry Potter films.  Even if you it means you have to wait to see The Avengers, watch them all first...but don't wait too long because The Avengers is a film that MUST be seen in a theater and MUST be seen in 3D.  

Alright The Dark Knight Rises...there's how high the new bar is set....your move.

The Avengers  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+


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