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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from August 2012

Casey Affleck Interview

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The Campaign
It wasnt that long ago that Zach Galifinakis was a name only known in the world of comedy nerds.  For all the flaws that dwell within The Hangover, the best thing to come out of it was introducing the mainstream to his comedic genius.  Will Ferrell on the other hand is a comedic genius on the other end of the spectrum; he's been exposed for almost 15 years now and he's run his course with some (I'm not in that group).  Will people enjoy these two paired together?  To make it even harder, will people like it set in the world of political elections released at a time when they feel exhausted by the real one going on?  I hope they do because The Campaign is worth a watch.

Director Jay Roach is fairly respected in the world of comedy.  He's not as assured to deliver a homerun as say Judd Apatow (debatable) but not as disasterous as The Farrely Brother.  Roach's run on the Meet the Parents and Austin Powers series has proven his chops as far as I'm concerned but his recent direction on the true life political dramedy Game Change for HBO made me excited to see what he could do with The Campaign, which has far more of a political agenda than you'd think.

Comedy aside, this is a political film.  It has an agenda and does a fantastic job of getting it across.  Aside from Roach and Ferrell, the entire production team has made films that express their politics in the most entertaining ways before.  The Other Guys was a great example of testing the waters.  It was a very funny movie but the plot was ripped from the headlines and if you stuck around for the end credits, you were treated to very blunt and painful political facts about corporations and their involvement with our democracy.  The Campaign takes on even more and its target is campaign finance and how corporations buy and sell candidates on both sides.

Have no fear; The Campaign is still very funny.  Not every joke sticks the landing and whenever there's a scene that doesn't, it's very obvious.  Nothing is sadder than comedy thinking it's funnier than it actually is, but that's not generally the case here.  Ferrell and Galifinakis are fantatsic together as political opponents and make every scene that features both of them (and there's quite a few) a joy to watch.  It's the scenes where they're not together that seem to drag on.  But for all its shortcomings, any film that boldly features a grown man punching a baby in the face in slow motion and makes it funny as hell, is worth the price of admission!

One of the best things about the film was crafting two characters that are as unlikable as they are likable.  You find yourself hating and being annoyed by both of them but still routing them on.  Never once do you have a favorite and you feel bad for both as they get manipulated by the corporate devils that dig in their talons.  Who wins?  You have to watch to find out and I promise you that the slow moments are worth sitting through for the moral at the end of the film which feels a little bit like seeing a Michael Moore documentary...galvanizing.
The Campaign  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B
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Total Recall
When I was 10-years-old, I went over to my friend Josh Swayer's house.  This was when I lived in a fairly blue-collar part of Philadelphia, so most of the adults in the area were a little hazy on what was appropriate for kids and what wasn't.  Anyway, Total Recall with Arnold Swartzenegger had just come out on tape and Josh's dad got a copy and allowed us to watch it with him.  It was too violent and his method for censoring the famous tri-boobed girl was to shout, "LOOK AWAY" after it had been on the screen for a second...and seered into my memory forever.  The original was campy, stupid, fun and a complete disservice to the book by Philip Dick.  This new version is none of the above.

Colin Farrell is one of those actors that has won me over as a fan.  He joins the ranks of Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Leonardo DiCaprio; guys who started off with tawdry roles as beefcake just to put female asses in seats but have since chosen challenging roles in aggressive, gritty films where they excell masterfully.  Unfortunately Total Recall is not one of Farrell's best.  He puts forth littler effort into making us perk up.  The same goes for his co-star, Jessica Biel.  However, his other steamy co-star, Kate Beckinsale, is excellent.  This is one of her best roles and she seems like she really enjoys playing a ruthless baddie.

Sadly there are two other notables appearing in the film that are horrendously under used.  Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcom in the Middle) and Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead, Pirates of the Carribbean 2) are in this as well but they might as well not be.  Such a shame since they are both fantastic actors and have always dazzled in everything they've done.  Cranston is the villain and Nighy is the leader of the revolution.  You'd think both could be key characters but no.  Such a waste.

Make no mistake that the SFX are spectular.  Easily, 85% of the film was created in a computer and that's okay by me at this point.  There are some sequences that are incredible such as a flying car chase (yet another Hollywood movie promising us flying cars) and a suspense-filled scene through sideways elevator shafts.  Aside from the occational fun, there's not much substance to the film even though it follows the book a lot closer than the 1990 version.  The ending is the best part even though it also is a missed oppurtunity.  Total Recall is entertaining for the seconds that tick by while you watch it but the titular irony sets in when you realize it's completely forgettable.
Total Recall  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C+
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The Watch

The original title of this movie was Neighborhood Watch.  After Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman while he was on a neighborhood watch in Florida, the studio decided it would be in bad taste to release it with that title.  They thought it would be smart to distance themselves from such a senseless tragedy.  I wish they would have decided not to release the whole thing because instead they just made another senseless tragedy with such a horrible film.

On paper, The Watch should be a slam dunk as a comedy film.  It stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill.  It was also written by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg who both penned Superbad and Pinneapple Express.  But The Watch is a bad film on an epic level.  And the fault might be from director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) who is part of Andy Samburg's comedy musical group, The Lonely Island.  That is a comedy project that seems to be very popular but I have never once understood anything they've done and maybe I need to add The Watch to that list.

The plot is silly; a group of concerned citizens take to the streets to keep their suburb safe and instead find out the Earth is being invaded by aliens and it's up to them to save the world.  Why them?  Who the hell knows.  That is the exact same plot of an indie British film called Attack the Block that came out last year and was pretty good.  The Watch is such a bad movie that it ruins Attack the Block as well somehow.

Make no mistake, the first fifteen minutes are really funny.  Stiller proves that he's still got it and why films like Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball and Zoolander.  Hill has moments of funny but I think I'd much rather him continue to pursue more serious roles since his fat must have been where he kept his funny.  And Vaughn is amusing but his fast-talking, slickness is tired and was novel when we first saw it in 1997's Swingers.  Joining the cast is Richard Ayoade (Submarine), who is as unknown as they come for a film like this.  It feels like he was the winner of a radio contest where he got to star in a comedy with these guys.  I'm all for an unknown being placed in a top shelf comedy line-up, but he doesn't belong and he sticks out like a sore thumb.  It's a total mystery as to why he's in it.

Easily one of the worst films from the three leads in a very long time, perhaps of all time.  It becomes painful to watch by the end of the film since they rely so heavily on the R-rating to be "edgy" and instead just look foolish and no different than someone lighting their farts.  The script isn't clever, the acting isn't funny and the overall film is as alien to comedy as the ones in the film.
The Watch  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D

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