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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises
In 2008, Iron Man came out in May and blew the socks off of everyone.  People stormed out of the theater screaming, "That was freaking awesome!"  There was no doubt in anyone's mind that it was going to absolutely be the film of the summer and one of the top 20 of the year.  But then in July, The Dark Knight came out.  Aside from the mystique of seeing the late Heath Ledger in one of his last roles, it did more than blow the socks off of everyone...it blew their feet off too.  It became THE summer film and some could even argue the film of the year.  Fast-Forward to 2012 and The Avengers came out in May and blew all our socks off.  Surely, nothing could top that.  Well, my appologies Mr. Tony Stark because you've been bested again by Mr. Bruce Wayne and this time there's no doubt that The Dark Knight Rises is THE film to beat so far for movie of the year.

It's easy to pigeon-hole superhero films.  For decades the genre was considered tawdry and for children.  In recent years it's been proven to not only be completely entertaining for all generations but also the most lucrative of all film genres to date.  Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) has elevated the genre even higher with his Batman trilogy and that new level is off top shelf pedigree that deserves Oscar wins.  Sure, The Dark Knight won several awards but except for posthomusly giving one to the late Ledger for his genius portrayal of The Joker, the film only won a few technical awards.  It should have been nomniated for Best Picture and Best Director but the Academy was a little too snobby to make that happen.  The Dark Knight Rises is too good to ignore and Oscar voters need to take notice.

I promise I won't give any spoilers but lord knows I want to.  Read on with no worries however because I understand how sensitive some of you are.  The film takes place 8 years after the events in The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne is a recluse and Batman is becoming an outlawed distant memory.  Gotham is safe until Bane shows up with his mercenary army to cripple the city and the only one who can unite the city to take itself back is Batman.  That couldn't be a more scrubbed-down version of the story since screenwriter David Goyer has outdone himself with twists, passion and intensity.

The entire cast is back for another round and this time they add Tom Hardy (Inception, Warrior), Marion Cotillard (Inception, Midnight in Paris), Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer, Inception).  Each of them are amazing and easily match the quality that the rest of the amazing cast has perfected in the previous two films.  Speaking of which, this is Michael Caine's best performance in the series as Bruce Wayne's forever-faithful butler, Alfred.  It's hard to say which one of the new four takes home Best in Show but it might be a tie between Hathaway and Hardy who play Catwoman (although she's never called that in the film) and Bane.  Both are villains but have been drastically re-imagined for the series...and for the best.

It's a shame that Hardy is playing Bane, a hulking character that needs a mask to survive, because that mask covers 75% of his face and takes away his best qualities in his acting.  However, the performance he delivers using simply his eyes is nothing short of impressive, although it's so subtle I doubt most of you will pick up on it.  He is a true advesary for Batman and you feel every ounce of the suffering he inflicts on those in the film.  

The scope of The Dark Knight Rises is nothing short of an epic.  And I don't mean an epic as in a casual term that is tossed around for something "kinda cool."  I mean it was an epic in that it's on the same playing field as Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Gladiator...it is the very execution the gold Oscar statue was made for.  There are scenes in the film that transcend a superhero movies more than any other of the genre has even come close with.  It evokes the legitimacy that is deserved for the genre.  

The title of the film leads way to more than just a marketing tool.  The word "rise" becomes very important in the film.  Composer Hans Zimmer's haunting and powerful score is accented this time with a chant that isn't english and present in most of the film.  When you figure out what it means, you see it pop up as symbolism several times in the final act.  The act of "rising" has something to do with Batman but it applies more to the citizens of Gotham.  The overtones of the Occupy Wall Street movement, class warfare and isolating apathy for your fellow neighbor are all present in the script and shine as if they were highlighted.  The meaning of "rising" is carried all the way to the final shot of the film that is still giving me goosebumps.  

Sure there are flaws here and there in the film but all get overshadowed into pitch blackness by the power of the film, which is excentuated by watching it on an IMAX screen.  (This is the first feature film worth seeing on an IMAX since over half the movie was actually shot on IMAX film and cameras and will take your breath away.)  There are times when it's justified to cry, to get chills, to burst into appaulse and that's because Christopher Nolan has made the greatest superhero film of all time and the perfect conclusion to a groundbreaking trilogy.  Good luck to the poor bastard that will be put in charge of re-imaging the Batman characters again one day.  It's hard to improve upon something so perfect.
The Dark Knight Rises  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+ (higher if I could)
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The Amazing Spider-man
Spider-man came out in 2002 and it was awesome.  Director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell) and Tobey Maguire created a superhero film that was unlike anything people had seen before.  It was bright, colorful, effervescent and above all...fun.  Now, because Hollywood thinks we can't remember anything past last summer, we have the same movie all over again.  The only difference this time around is the cast and the tone.  Can making the same movie a little darker and more serious be something that we don't want to bite but end up loving the taste of?  Not hardly and I think I wanna spit my bite out.

Director Marc Webb is a relatively untested filmmaker.  He's expierenced in music videos and even a few episodes of TV shows but his feature film resume is short, but great.  He directed the sleeper hit (500) Days of Summer, which was one of the best romantic comedies since Annie Hall.  It wasn't just a great script that made that movie, it was Webb's unique style on it.  He was playful, aggressive and cute with his technique.  None of that exists in The Amazing Spider-man and it's a huge letdown.

The new Peter Parker is Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) and he's fantastic.  He is far better than Maguire and brings a legit sense of tragedy to the character.  Although I didn't like the direction they took Peter Parker in this, Garfield does it with soul.  Instead of the outcast nerd, this Parker is more like a hipster who everyone is friends with.  The rest of the cast excells as well especially having Martin Sheen and Denis Leary join the cast as iconic and new (more authentic) characters from the comic.  

The FX are of course much better but just because it's been ten years and technology has advanced.  In the 2002 film, the second Spider-man took to the slinging it turned into a cartoon that flew through the brightly colored streets of New York.  In Webb's, the slinging is more disjointed and happens in the dark of night.  The villain is a character called Lizard and the action sequences between him and Spidey are far more impressive than anything we've seen in the franchise so far.

The problems with the film is that it's boring as hell.  The 136-minute-long film feels like it's over three hours and is compounded by 80% of the 3D FX being annoying and not enhancing.  The Amazing Spider-man should have taken a page from the playbook the creators of The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton took.  They were unhapy with the Ang Lee 2003 Hulk film so only five years later they wanted to try again.  What they did so well was sum the entire backstory of Bruce Banner and how he became Hulk in the opening credits.  As if they were saying, "Okay audience...there you go.  Everyone caught up?  Now let's get one with a new story."  The Amazing Spider-man didn't do that.  Instead of ushering us to the fun part we showed up for, Webb spends an agonzing 45 minutes rehashing the exact same backstory we not only know but saw ten years ago.  C'mon guys!  That was a fatal mistake and one that movie doesn't recover from it.

The Amazing Spider-man is definetly better than Spider-man 3, but not better than Spider-man or Spider-man 2.  The film feels pointless and an insult to audiences that have finally warmed up to superhero films just to have this sloppy second, re-heated meal served back to them.  That being said, The Amazing Spider-man does have two groups that it's perfect for: children under 10 who didn't see the first one and people with short-term memory loss.  So if you're an 8-year-old with memory loss, I think I just watched your new favorite movie.
The Amazing Spider-man  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C
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Fox once saw so much potential in Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy.  But when no one wanted to watch it, Fox pulled the trigger on it and canceled it in 2001.  Then a few years later it was released on DVD and the hardcore fans of the show (like me) bought it and finally had a way to show people what they missed.  The DVD sales were so high for that show that Fox reconsidered its decision to end the show, brought it back and it's been a money-grab ever since.  It took no one seeing it for everyone to love it.  Sadly, I think that's the same fate in store for Ted.

A movie about a little boy who wishes that his favorite teddy bear comes alive and remains his best friend forever is the stuff of the worst kind of children's movies.  It's the kind of plot that is literally the kind of thing you laugh out loud at and then feel bad for Eddie Murphy for starring in it.  But when you mention that it's all from the mind of Seth MacFarlane and it's an R-rated comedy, most people couldn't be back on board faster.

Not only is it painfully obvious from the opening minutes that this is from the mind of the man who made Family Guy, it keeps that same playful, offensive, random tone through the whole film.  If you love the bizarre flashbacks and fantasy scenes that play out in the show, then Ted won't let you down.  It's actually a ton more impressive to me that they did still do that considering how much more expensive it is to pull it off with live action.  And don't think for a second that because this is MacFarlane's first feature film that he kept the references somewhat grounded in popular culture; a bulk of the film centers around Ted and his human bestie, John's, obsession with the 1980 cinematic so-bad-it's-good turd Flash Gordon.  My wife didn't understand a single reference to the film but enjoyed it all the same.

Mark Wahlberg stars as John, a guy who is letting his friendship with Ted come between him and his adulthood and relationship with Mila Kunis.  Wahlberg is a fine actor and able to pull of comedy quite well, but don't expect a lot from any of the humans in the film.  The only actual person that provides enough funny to be note-worthy is Giovanni Ribsi (Avatar, Cold Mountain) who relishes playing creepy, slimey characters and does it so well even in a comedy like this.  

The real star of this film is MacFarlane's script.  The laughs come one-after-another and don't stop and get relentless at times.  You can tell that he is steeped in television expierence where you have to cram as much as you can into 22-minutes.  Here he has two hours to fill but makes you exhausted with how fast the comedy comes at you.  Unfortunately the plot is nothing new and nothing original.  The story is predictable and removed of any soul or emotion (despite what Kunis said in an interview you can hear below).  Because of that, the film offers cheap, cringe-worthy jokes and nothing more...but let's cut the crap, that's all you're looking for and really all you want.
Ted  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+

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