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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from April 2013

Interview: Jason Mewes

Listen to the interview with actor / producer Jason Mewes (Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks):
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Pain and Gain
Director Michael Bay has a bad reputation.  He's infamous for being a douchbag, a bully, a hack and even an asshole.  His movies are despised by a large percentage of movie hounds because they're everything Hollywood has become in that they never care about substance and as long as things keep moving, blow up, show hot girls and have big A-list casts; people will show up and slap down money for it.  I won't deny any of that for a second but I'll fully admit that I still kind of like the guy.  But Pain and Gain is one of his worst.

The movie is based on the true story about three muclehead gym rats that get the idea to kidnap a rich client, torture him till he signs over all his money and then live the high life.  Things don't go according to plan and people end up dying.  The three murders are played by Mark Walburg, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Real Steel).  The rest of the cast some impressive talent in Tony Shaloub (Men in Black, Cars), Ed Harris (The Rock, Pollock) and Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine, Warm Bodies) but all that supporting talent isn't enough to over shaddow how base and shallow this film is.

They market it as a true story and even stop in a clever and funny way to remind you this is a true story but the truth is that it's what happened but not how.  This is a murder case where two people died and a third was tortured and the "heroes" of this film are serving out their sentences on death row.  These were not good guys and the families of the victims are suing the film for portraying them as fun-loving dudes.  Knowing that before seeing the film may have tainted my impression but I still think that would have lingered in my mind.  True quirky murder stories make for great films but they should never be made at the expense of the victims.  Fargo is a great example of how it can be done perfectly, which is why it won Best Picture.  Pain and Gain was made with zero reguard for anyone's actual feelings.

Johnson has been in a ton of movies and I'm not sure I've enjoyed any of them outside of The Other Guys and Get Smart...probably because he dies early on in each one.  I have nothing against him; he's a throwback to the 'roided-up leading men of the '80s that were larger than life, had limited acting range but looked good holding a gun.  Pain and Gain was the first time I've been really impressed with his acting skills though.  He plays a born again Jesus freak who still struggles with his demons and he plays him earnestly and still manages to be really funny.  Walburg on the other hand has worn out his welcome with me.  After seeing this I'm pretty sure his range consists of talking fast, yelling and being Mark Walburg.  This is some of the most base performing he's done with his career and it makes you realize that it's all been base for quite some time.

You know, Bay may be a douchebag who swung hard with Pain and Gain but struck out, but I still wouldn't write him off as a director.  I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Bad Boys films, The Rock, the first Transformers and even Armageddon.  But the man is no flawless genius and this proves it.  This was a film made to be slick and flashy but instead comes across cold, detached, unfeeling and mostly just stupid.  Maybe at his core that's what Michael Bay is really like, if you listen to the rumors that are out there.  Supposedly they're based on true stories too but told with zero reguard for the victim (him) so he should know how that feels.
Pain and Gaivn  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+
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Director Joseph Kosinski is a lucky man.  He came out of nowhere, complete obscurity; and for his first attempt at directing he was given the highly anticipated Tron: Legacy by Disney.  That was a success and had a decent budget.  For his second attempt, he teams up with Tom Cruise who helps produce and star in Oblivion with a budget considerably bigger than Tron.  Now it's easy to say right there that that makes him lucky but what trumps that is that Oblivion is based on a graph novel that HE wrote!  Only one other time has the author of a graphic novel been allowed to direct the film version of it and that was Frank Miller with Sin City and he didn't even really get to direct (giving him the credit was a nod from the real director, Robert Rodriguez).

Oblivion follows Cruise as he oversees and fixes the giant equipment that is used to suck all the water out of Earth after the last of the remaining humans have left to live in Saturn's moon after a war with aliens destroyed our home planet.  But as things become obvious from almost the opening credits, all is not what it appears to be.  Make no mistake that this is some heavy Science-Fiction and will alienate (no pun intended) some of you.  But those of us that enjoy a little Sci-Fi will feel right at home.

The reason for getting so comfy is Oblivion is because virtually nothing in this film is original.  You can tell that Kosinski is a fan of the genre because Oblivion steals or pays homage (depends on how generous you want to be) to several of Sci-Fi's greatest.  You'll quickly recognize themes or imagery that invoke 2001, Wall-E, Moon, The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Mad Max...the list can go on and on.  The fact that there are so many allusions makes me think that it is intentional but if you want to be harsh, you can scream at the screen that it's all hack material.

Regardless of how you feel, Oblivion is a gorgeous film.  Although there are FX in almost every shot, it doesn't feel like a film made entirely in a computer.  The scenes on Earth seem like actual locations that you vaguely recognize and what has destroyed them seems very logical.  When you add to that a marvelously composed score of synth pop, sharp details in design and some of the best audio FX I've heard in a while, it makes you realize this is a film that is to be expierenced.  (But maybe that was just because I saw it at the Esquire IMAX Theater...which I highly recommend.)

Be warned though that this is a film that doesn't come together until the final 20 minutes.  Prior to that it meanders and confuses with plot points that come up and are not explained nor logical.  However, when the final act begins it is and although the big "twist" you see coming for miles, it's satisfying and makes Oblivion a film that probably watches much better on a second viewing.

Cruise is great, which he usually is, and is a treat to see in Sci-Fi again.  Say what you will about him on a personal level, the guy is a consistent performer who is intense and present, although everything he's done, for the most part, has been the same role.  Morgan Freeman shows up in a small and silly role and Oscar-winner Melissa Leo gives a warmly sinister performance that is no surprise but easy to enjoy.

I fully plan on watching Oblivion again since it's a film I didn't really enjoy until it was almost over. Movies like that are fun for me because the ending is so good that a second viewing feels like I'm watching it for the first time.  The Usual Suspects was like that for me.  Now, Oblivion doesn't have an ending as shocking or goosebump-enducing as that but it's good enough to make me think and spark conversation afterward; and that's rare for movies now it seems.
Oblivion  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B
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Interview: Director Danny Boyle

Listen to Gavin's interview with director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later):
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Evil Dead
When I was 18-years-old, my best friend Joe told us about this horror movie he watched that scared the hell out of him and insisted that we all watch it.  So he got a copy, we assembled all our movie nerd friends and watched it at my dad's apartment.  The movie was the original 1981 Evil Dead starring Bruce Campbell (Spiderman, Burn Notice).  The movie was far from scary; hell, it wasn't even good but it was crazy and spastic and poorly funded but excellently shot and we had an absolute blast watching it.  Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, which is the third in the series, quickly clawed their way to the top of my favorite horror films.  So when I heard they were going to do a remake of it, I joined the legions of furious fanboys who cried for the heads of those responsible.

As it turns out, those responsible were the people behind the originals, namely Campbell and director Sam Raimi (Oz the Great and Powerful, the Spiderman series).  That lended a considerable amount of credence to the project.  What really sold me on it though was when I heard they weren't going to try to recapture the silly campiness but instead go balls-to-the-wall and make a legit horror film.  After that, the marketing for it sealed the deal; when I saw the disturbing trailer and a poster that made the boldest statement ever ("The most terrifying movie ever made!") I was saturated in interest.

This new reimagining of Evil Dead is an absolute masterpiece of horror.  What director Fede Alvarez did was amazing, which is way impressive considering it's his first feature film.  He managed to pay total homage to everything you hold dear about the originals and still manage to create a unique experience.  This is every bit its own film and deserves to be hailed as possibly the best horror film remake in history (Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes is a close #2 though).  

Make no mistake that this is a horror film that has the sole intention of scaring and disturbing you with an assault of relentless gore and macabre imagery.  Once this rollercoaster clears the first hill it doesn't stop for the remaining 70 minutes.  And every single bit from the originals that you loved so much is present and not even one of them feels cheesy or stupid.  It is the only kind of film that could've been made for fans by fans.  That's not to say people who have never seen the original can't enjoy it; you certainly can.  But be warned that this movie was made ONLY for people with strong stomachs and an affinity for the horror genre, which I can't imagine anyone who hasn't seen the originals is.

I do have to admit that some of the casting is a little weak and considering it's a cast of only five people, if one person sucks that's 20% of the cast.  But I'd imagine it was difficult to find young, attractive actors that would be willing to do the physical torture involved in shooting Evil Dead since everything is done without the use of computers, like true horror should be.  Taking over the lead role is a woman named Jane Levy (HBO's Shameless, ABC's Suburgatory) and she's pretty good.  At times she feels forced but considering the ridiculous over acting Bruce Campbell gave us, she seems subdued.

I couldn't recommend people see Evil Dead more. Well, let me clarify; I don't think that everyone should see it because it's probably the most graphic horror film to come out in the last five years (It had to be cut to earn an R-rating).  But if you're someone who likes to have bloody fun at the theater, where you're encouraged to scream at the screen and can find the fun in the violence?  Then Evil Dead is the orgasmic nut-punch you've been looking for...but try to watch the originals first.
Evil Dead  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A

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