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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from June 2012


Magic Mike

Alright ladies (and gay men)...grab your singles and head to the movies because the Channing Tatum stripper movie is finally here.  What's it about?  Not important.  Is it any good?  Who cares?!  Does Channing Tatum take his clothes off?  Yes.  Most likely that's all you care about, but if you want to keep reading to find out the answer to those other two questions, here's the review for you.

A few years ago Channing Tatum and director Steven Soderbergh met at a party and started talking.  Somehow, Tatum's actual past where he dabbled in stripping came up in conversation and Soderbergh really wanted to turn that premise into a movie.  He didn't know what the plot would be or who would be in it with Tatum but goddamnit they were gonna make this film.  For any other project, not knowing stuff like that before launching a movie would be a telltale sign of box office poison, but not Magic Mike.  

The bottomline for a film like this is that all those things like a good script, a compelling plot and great actors are just details.  You'll get thousands of ladies to show up just because they want to see Tatum take his clothes off and dance.  The good news is that Soderbergh was in charge and he won't let this turn into a total mess.  He's a very skilled director and he's not afraid to take risks.  His win column has Ocean's 11, The Informant!, Traffic, Erin Brockovich but his loss column is equally full of duds like Solaris, Conatgion, Che, The Girlfriend Expierence.  But even when he falls on his face, I still give him credit for the risks that he takes on almost every film he does.

Some could say that Magic Mike is just as good as Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar-winning Boogie Nights.  I don't know about that and I think the only reason for that comparison is the nature of the film.  I don't think it's as good as Boogie Nights but it's way better than Showgirls, which is just as equal-of-a-comparison.  All three films have the exact same plot - young innocent gets pulled into the world of sex and eventually the world of fast money and fame leads to drugs, crime and drama.  That story is one of the most cliche plots in the book but Magic Mike starts it off better than most.

I know Tatum was the one that inspired the story (although none of it is true) but he is the key reason the film is good at all.  He's really developing into a performer that is a delight to watch on screen.  He won me over with his comedy chops in 21 Jump Street and he continues to impress me in that area.  He has developed a very natureal and likable improv-style charm to his delivery.  It also helps that the man can dance his ass off...and I'll even admit that it's an impressive ass at that.  (You see it in the first :30 of the film.)

The supporting cast is really impressive too.  The young, innocent that's corrupted by Magic Mike is played by Alex Pettyfer (Beastly, In Time) and the seductive villain is Matthew McConaughey, who relishes every second of his wild and crazed character, Dallas.  It's really fun to watch the cast act out and, dare I say, dance too.  The scenes of their performances succeed in its goal of turning the theater into a strip club and ladies will get up, scream and laugh with their friends.  

The problem is that it's not a very inspired story.  What starts off as a funny film about living fast and elaborately without a care for substance or a future turns into a dark, serious drama about surviving sinful temptations for the sake of your pride.  The problem with that is...who cares?!  The ladies that are there only want to see gorgeous men take their clothes off, which disapeers by the end of the film.  The poor sons-of-bitches like me that go because they have to, get suckered in by the fun and comedy in the first half only to get bored and confused by the tone at the end.  Not to mention a romance that's shoehorned in and pays off in one of the most unbelievable conclusions I've ever seen.

But here's the bottomline: it served its purpose.  The average cost of going to a male strip show is about $25 for a ticket, $30 for drinks and $30 for singles to shove in their g-string.  Will going to see Magic Mike live up to actually going to a real strip show?  No, but considering that you're saving $75 on an evening, it can still develop into a fun night with the ladies.
Magic Mike  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B-


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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
I think I'm starting to get to the point where I don't like movies based on books that I enjoy.  There seems to be a trend that no matter how good they are, they don't satisfy fully.  Take The Hunger Games for instance; now that was a well-done film.  But the passion, excitement and emotion that the book had seemed stripped away from the film.  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter never had any emotion or passion, but what it lacked in those departments it made up with in cleverness and ass-kickery.  The film seems to be void of most of that.

Director Timur Bekmambetov has given American audiences that shocking delight that was Wanted, but more impressively was the Russian award-winning vampire/zombie films of Night Watch and Day Watch.  Make no mistake that he's a talented filmmaker and Abraham Lincoln is no exception.  He does a decent job of crafting a 19th Century America considering his Russian heritage.  His keen eye for action is very fun to witness.  I think the problem was that he was given a crap script and a weak cast.

Relatively unknow Benjamin Walker (Flags of Our Fathers) dons the trademarked top hat and swings the axe as the titular character.  For all the flaws in the film, he does a fine job.  He gives the impression that he committed to the role and all the ridiculousness that went along with it.  He has a certain level of charm but can also throw a punch as well as any other action star.  I'm anxious to see what we have coming from him in the future.

The rest of the cast though shuffles through the film as if they're the undead.  The absolutely gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Thing) is at her worst taking  a page from Kristen Stewart's book on acting.  She's lifeless, uninspired and seems unsure about being in every frame of this film.  That type of performance is what you can expect from everyone else as well.  A real shame considering it's the type of silly story that a great cast would have had a ball performing.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not a total bust.  If the title makes you laugh and fills you with enough curiousity that you're willing to shell out the ten bucks to check it out; I assure you that you won't be dissapointed.  Don't go into expecting character development, unrushed storytelling or quality performances; but if you want to see our 16th President slice and dice his way through some vampires and expect nothing less than that hilarious premise without being funny...sink your teeth in.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C-
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Rock of Ages
There was a time when Musicals ruled the box office and award shows.  Singing in the Rain.  West Side Story.  The Sound of Music.  Caberet.  These were not only Hollywood gold as far as raking in the money but they also raked in the Oscars.  In recent years, the Musical has seemed to have hit a bunch of flat notes.  They don't come out that often and when they do, they're not very good.  Rock of Ages is here in all its '80s campy glory to continue the pattern of recent years.

Based on the Tony-nominated Broadway show, it takes place in 1987 at a ficticious rock club in LA during a time when Hair Metal was king and certain self righteous religious groups were trying to shut it down.  Great premise for a musical but unfortunately it's just filled with actual songs from the era that we've all heard a million times.  Juke Box Musicals are shows that feature all previously released songs as its musical score.  In other words, in my opinion, it's the laziest form of musical art.  

I'm not sure if I hated this movie because it was a bad film or because it's a bad musical.  I didn't see it on stage but I can't imagine it was very good.  In an age where every primetime hour of television is filled with singing reality competitions that feature pop/rock songs from the '70s and '80s, a show like this is as entertaining as those shows are; especially when you consider that it involved none of the clever re-imagining that Moulin Rogue did.  If you loved "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, for example, then you're in luck because you'll hear it just as it was when it was released in 1981.

To top it all off, the film is casted with actors that seem like they were cast on a dare.  Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Russel Brand and Tom Cruise round out the cast that sing like an average night at a celebrity karoke bar.  The only cast member that shines is Tom Cruise who plays the fictiously legendary rocker Stacey Jaxx.  Cruise seems like he revels in the freedom to act like an egotistical, sex addicticted alcoholic.  Shockingly, he also is a decent singer.  He's the best and only thing to watch in the film.

I want to give director Adam Shankman the benefit of the doubt of polishing a turd as best he could, but his resume of Hairspray, A Walk to Remember and Bedtime Stories says that I shouldn't.  Everything about the film screams cliche and dull.  Nothing about it works the way I'm sure it was intended to and the only scene that is actually really enjoyable is a totally random duet between Baldwin and Brand that feels more like an SNL skit than a number from a musical.  Shankman also made the mistake of casting Diego Boneta (Pretty Little Liars, 90210) and Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars, Footloose) as his leads.  These two have as much chemistry as a history class and can sing just as bad as the other non-professional singers, which makes them being cast as the leads a total mystery.

I imagine that if you're a fan of the musical, you'll enjoy this film.  Could someone who isn't a fan of the stage show love this movie?  I don't see how they could.  It's not half as fun as a film making fun and paying homage to the '80s should be.  The music is great but that's because it's all #1 hits that we already loved but loved when they were sang better by the bands that wrote them.  Rock of Ages is a film that will be forgotten, which is a shame that so many will never know how great Tom Cruise is in it.  You're better off plugging your iPod in and jamming out to your '80s playlist.
Rock of Ages  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+
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Moonrise Kingdom
One of the first "indie" directors I got into was Wes Anderson.  I saw Bottle Rocket in 1996 when I was 16-years-old and the tone and look of the film spoke to me.  It was funny, sensitive and unique.  I was so in love with it that I even joined an online fan club for it called "The Lawn Wranglers."  It turned me into an Anderson fan for life, however in recent years I grew less impressed with his work.  Perhaps it's because very little has changed about them since Bottle Rocket.  But you know what they say, "If it ain't broke...don't fix it."

Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson's 7th feature film and probably his best.  I know how steep of a statement that is; remember this is coming from a fan.  The Royal Tenebaums is probably in my Top 25 Favorite Films, or at least it was.  The film stars two 13-year-old total film fledglings named Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman who are two kids in love who decide the only way they can be together is to run away together.  Just like what Anderson did with actor Jason Swartzman (who's interviewed below), he introduces the cinematic world to these young newbies and makes them seem like they've been doing it forever.  

Both of them are fantastic.  They capture the same deadpan seriousness that Anderson has made a characteristic of all his young characters.  In fact, they seem to do it better than anyone else ever has.  They also operate around the stellar cast like they aren't some of the biggest and most notable people working in Hollywood - Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, etc.  They drift in and out of every scene with these heavy-hitters and still maintain the center of attention.

The entire cast is one of pure comedic excellence.  Everyone in it is fantastic and bring something different to their character.  That's totally a rare thing for a Wes Andersome film since all of his characters seem like they're all weird cousins of each other...even the animated ones.  The standard dialogue that doesn't seem to be natural or realistic is still there but there's more to it in Moonrise Kingdom.  It's refreshing to see that Anderson allowed them to have that freedom this time around and it paid off in spades.

Although Wes Anderson films have become less special to me the older I get, Moonrise Kingdom brought me back to the fold.  His films feel less unique now and more pretentious, precious and privileged, but this film has so much heart and sweetness to it, it's almost impossible to not enjoy.  It's rare that the Oscar race starts off in Summer, but I think I just heard the starting pistol.
Moonrise Kingdom  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A



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Prometheus

When I was 8-years-old, my parents were having a party and they sent me to bed.  I snuck out and watched TV and Alien was on.  I watched the whole thing from the beginning and couldn't peel my eyes off the screen.  It was the scariest thing I had ever seen up to that moment of my life and ever since then, I was really curious about the unanswered questions that movie posed.  Fast Forward 23 years and Prometheus was advertised as the prequel to Alien and I started drooling.  I wish I wouldn't have because this is not what I was hoping for.

Director Ridley Scott has returned to the genre that made him famous and territory that will seem eeirly familiar.  Promethues is not a true prequel in the sense that it has the same characters or plot points, but it is a film that explains what happens in 1979's Alien.  That being said, it's almost nothing like Alien and that disapointed me.  I was hopeing that Prometheus would capture the same claustraphobic, gritty, terror that made the first the subject of legend.  It's far from that.  Prometheus is a thinking man's sci-fi.  The horror that was in the Alien series has been stripped away and reduced down to only a few scenes.  That's fine but the tension and fear of more blood that was expected in between the scenes of carnage wasn't there.  Instead this is a film that is bold in its scope, impressively risky in its plot and utterly confusing in its execution.

Noomi Rapace (original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes 2) stars as an almost anti-Ripley character who is one of two scientists have that discovered that (brace yourself) there is no God.  As it turns out, we were created by an alien race and we've discovered a map to go visit them and that's just what we set out to do.  But once we get there, it's not as we hoped and things go horribly wrong.  The fact that it's a movie that deals with faith from such an unpopular opinion is impressive for a major studio to do.  The lack of protests amuse me since I assume it's because the plot is too intelligent for those that would protest to understand.

Joing Rapace in the cast is Idris Elba (Thor, NBC's The Office) and Charlize Theron, who is great but her role is completely pointless and feels like a studio note that got shoehorned in.  The scene-stealing star of Prometheus though is Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Inglorius Bastards).  He plays an android named David who is far from the horror of Ash from Alien or the heroic Bishop from Aliens.  David is the most human of them all in that he longs to be human but has all the creepy, disconnected ambiguity of hero or villain that makes him so much fun to watch. This will go down as one of Fassbender's best roles in a list that seems to be constantly trumping itself.

I wonder if I went into Prometheus with zero expectations I would have enjoyed it more.  I think it's a no-brainer to say that I would.  But the target audience for the film is not one that enjoys no-brainers.  This is one of the smartest and most challenging sci-fi movies ever made and for that it might be regarded highly as time goes on.  However, it seemed to fail to deliever on a level of expectations of horror and fright in a series that has yet to disapoint in either.

The studio told us critics to not write a review for this film until the weekend it came out despite seeing it weeks ago.  I'm glad they told us that becaue I needed that time to digest on how I felt about it.  If I watched this again, I probably would enjoy it more since I know what to expect.  But after a single viewing, I left disapointed and confused by a lot of scenes.  There are moments of brilliance and balls but then there are moments that feel like they were put into the film only because some moron from the studio thought it needed some sex or more violence.  But those pointless scenes just lead to loose ends in plot points that drag the whole message of the film down with it.  
Prometheus  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B

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Snow White and The Huntsman

Is there anyone out there that was excited by not one but two movies coming out less than two months apart from each other that both were re-imaginings of Snow White?  I sure wasn't.  The first one to come out was Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts that looked so bad, people were writing it off faster than critics who actually sat through it were.  But then there was this other one called Snow White and The Huntsman.  It was darker, more action, less whimsical but unfortunately it starred Kristen Stewart, which instantly turned a lot of people away.  I was one of them and I'm glad that I still went to see it.

The classic fairy tale is basically just a rough guideline for this film from director Rupert Sanders.  It's a very impressive first film for a guy that Hollywood knows very little about.  Not only did he impress with scrubbing all the happiness and color off the beloved Disney version we all know, but he assembled a way impressive cast too.  Don't be fooled, Kristen Stewart may have the most screen time but she's far from the star.  Under utlilizing her is the smartest move Sanders makes.  She says very little, slinks into the background and is completely forgettable as Snow White.  A great idea considering that I think she's one of the worst A-list actresses working today.  This movie belongs to everything and everyone but her.

Charlize Theron squeezes the enjoyment out of every single scene she's in with a huge smile on her face.  The Oscar-winner is a treat to see in most films anyway but in this she drips with the perfect mix of over-acting, menace and neurotic motivations.  The Evil Queen's drive in this version of Snow White is very pro-woman; she must devour the essences of young attractive girls to stay young and attractive herself because she knows that's the only true power in the world.  Whoa!  Deep!  Although all the feminist messages are dashed against the rocks when you realize she's told all this by The Magic Mirror, who's voiced by a man.  Instead of a great womanly plight, The Evil Queen feels more like a victim being taken advantage of.

As for the other part of the title, Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers) proves his chops as a leading man with staying power.  Although we don't see him until we're over a half out into the over two-hour-long film, he conquers every frame with the swagger of a 1980s Bruce Willis.  He plays the cliche action male lead who's tortured by his past but still has funny quips and kicks ass with impressive skill.  Even his unneccessary Scottish accent feels skilled.

But what about The Seven Dwarves, you may say.  Well, they're in this but not till we're an hour into the film; but once they're there, they're the best part of the movie.  They're not the lovable Dopey and company from the Disney film however.  These dwarves are surly killers who don't look huggable at all.  They're played by a who's-who's of British actors that include Ray Winstone (The Departed, Hugo), Ian McShane (HBO's Deadwood, Pirates of the Carribbean 4), Bob Hoskins (Hook, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Tobey Jones (the Harry Potter films, The Mist) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Paul).  They are the soul of the film and make it better instantly.  

The film has battle scenes, dirty castles, creepy villains and monsters.  After a while it does start to feel a bit Lord of the Rings-y and that might be a turn off for some people.  It starts off slow as hell and almost verges into boring, but take my word for it that it picks up.  The ending is rushed but fun and the FX are sublte where they have to be and big to make a point at times.  It's true that this ain't your Disney film but that's not such a bad thing.  Not every Snow White film needs songs, am I right?
Snow White and The Huntsman  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B

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