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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from May 2013

The Hangover 3

Full disclosure, I'm not a disciple of The Hangover.  Seems like that has become the standard for the modern comedy.  I understand it's one of the highest grossing comedies of all time, a massive cult hit and regarded as one of the greatest comedies of the last decade.  For my money, it's not and I never loved it to that extent.  I did enjoy it but then it quickly became a victim of its own success and the tower built on its foundation became too heavy to withstand the weight and it all came crashing down with the release of the second one.  It was one of the worst films of that year and defines what mistakes a sequel can make.  But it made gobs of money again so what does that mean...we get another.  Luckily, thankfully and mercifully though...this is the last one.

The 2009 original was a semi-relatable story about friends having a crazy night in Vegas and picking up the pieces the next day, which included finding their friend Doug.  The 2011 sequel had the EXACT SAME story but set in another country.  For this one, writer/director Todd Phillips (all the Hangover films, Due Date) realized he couldn't shovel the same crap down our throats yet again, so, to is credit, he created a new story.  I won't praise him too much for that since that's what you're suppose to do with a sequel.  This time it's more of a crime heist and can't even be considered a comedy since there are almost no laughs to be found.

Aside from a humorless story, he dramatically underuses two of the stars of the franchise; Ed Helms (NBC's The Office, Jeff, Who Lives at Home) and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The A-Team), who's even fresh off an Oscar nomination!  These two do NOTHING in the film and are nothing more than walking, talking set pieces that are there purely out of obligation.  The Hangover 3 is a film starring the third member of the Wolf Pack, Zack Galifianakis (The Campaign, Due Date).  Of course he's the funniest thing about all the films but making him the star is not where he belongs.  That would be the biggest mistake Phillips made had it not been for Ken Jeong (Role Models, Pain and Gain) making an unfortunate return.

Jeong is someone that I have never enjoyed in almost everything he's done.  The man is like a gnat in that he's everywhere and always annoying me.  His character in the Hangover series is Chow, a flamboyant gangster that over stayed his welcome after ten minutes of screen time in the first one.  When I saw that they included him yet again for the third I was turned off but when I discovered that he's basically the star of the film, I wanted to puke in my soup.  Yes, you heard me right...he's the STAR!  He shares just as much screen time as the Wolf Pack but has more lines than Helms and Cooper do combined.  This was the icing on the crap cake that was The Hangover 3.

It's not to say there aren't a few good moments in the film.  John Goodman appears as the villain and he's always entertaining to watch but not giving him anything funny to say or do was another mistake on the ever-growing list.  Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, Identity Thief) appears in a sweet cameo as she does now in all comedies that are released not learning that saturating the market is not ever a good thing.  But probably one of the best moments is a reunion with Carlos, the baby from the first one, who is played by the same kid.  It's a really sweet scene with Galifianakis until it just gets weird and unfunny.    

I think the track record of this trilogy and Todd Phillips' other attempts at writing/directing are starting to prove that the success of the first Hangover was a fluke.  What has revealed to be true is that Phillips is a guy who thinks he knows how to make a great comedy but actually doesn't.  His films stink of his ego and swagger which is even more off-putting than someone who crafts a film with a lack of confidence.  The only reason why The Hangover 3 should be celebrated is that it finally puts an end to our misery.
The Hangover 3  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D

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Star Trek: Into Darkness
In life, you're one of two people; a Star Trek or Star Wars person.  I fall firmly into the Star Wars category since it just appleaed to my child mind more growing up.  To date, I have only seen two Star Trek films and zero episodes of any of the show's variations.  However, director JJ Abrams (Super 8, ABC's Lost) has done something that I never thought anyone could do; he's made Star Trek movies that appeal to both Trekkies and those of us who've had sex.  What raises the stakes this second time around with him in the captain's chair is the news that he will also be taking over the Star Wars series for Disney in two years.  So this was like a small audition for what he'll do with a franchise I hold dear.

The Abrams Star Trek films are prequels and show what happened prior to the series starting.  According to my friend Dave, who is such a Trekkie he showed up in uniform to the screening, Into Darkness brings us up to the point where the TV show starts.  The story follows the crew of the USS Enterprise hunting a terrorist and avenging the death of a friend.  The thickness of the plot comes from who the mysterious terrorist is and what his motives are.  He's played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse), who has a name that already makes him sound like a Bond villain.  Make no mistake, he is at the top of a very long list of reasons to see this movies.  His performance is menacing, sympathetic and exciting.  Learn that name because you're gonna be hearing it a helluva lot after this.

The rest of those reasons on the list are also stellar.  The cast is all the same as the first one and features Chris Pine (This Means War, Bottleshock), Zachary Quinto (NBC's Heroes, FX's American Horror Story), and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) just to name a few.  Everyone in the film carries their weight but the relationship between Kirk and Spock is explored deeply and even moves the least of the Trekkies among us.  That could only have been achieved with a script that fires on all cylinders.  Not for a second does the tone stay long enough to over stay its welcome.  

Into Darkness is almost two-and-a-half hours long and feels as long as an episode of the TV show.  The action begins from the opening scene and is simply relentless after that.  Now, some movies that jam that much action into a film usually do it as a crutch to make up for a weak script and shallow characters.  That is not the case with Into Darkness.  This is a rich story that's less complicated than the first Abram's Star Trek and twice as enjoyable.  Everything about it equals entertainment and none of it lags at all.

Of course there is the JJ Abram's trademark lens flares that fly across the screen with dazziling color and distract every single time.  There's also brief moments of eye rolling with blatant pandering to Trekkie fans.  There's also moments of melodrama that I can't get into without major spoilers that feel slightly tired and on-the-nose.  But all these hiccups are minor at best and never once distract or derail from the awesomeness that is Into Darkness.  I recommend seeing it on an IMAX screen like the Esquire downtown since it's a movie-going expiereince that a home theater will never reproduce.  More refreshing than seeing a great film like this though is the knowledge that it's obvious that the Star Wars franchise is in good hands.
Star Trek: Into Darkness  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+
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The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitsgerald is a book that I didn't appreciate when I had to read it in high school.  I didn't read it again in college when I had it assigned and still got a respectable "B" on the paper.  I didn't really appreciate how amazing it is until I met my wife.  She's a high school English teacher with a degree in English.  She's reads hundreds of books and The Great Gatsby is her favorite of them all; her passion through conversations we've had about it has infected me and made the book one of my favorites as well.  Excitement was high for seeing the latest attempt to make this into a feature film and after it was over our emotions were unexpected but disapointed wasn't one of them.

Director Baz Luhrmann kicked his career off with a bang with 1992's Strictly Ballroom.  No one saw it back then but when he made Romeo + Juliet in '96, everyone was so impressed with his aggressive, modern take on the classic by Shakespeare, that they went back to see Ballroom and were equally as blown away.  Then he made Moulin Rogue which was a combination of the two previous films and it instantly became a cult classic and a commanding film.  But the elusive Luhrmann must be sensitive to criticism since his next film, Australia, was a box office and critical failure in every way.  That was five years ago and since then he's done nothing but short art films that no one sees.  The Great Gatsby is his hopeful big comeback but you can tell while watching it that he's gun shy.

If there's one thing that can be said about the film it's that it has a flawless cast.  Leonardo DiCaprio is Gatsby, Tobey Maguire is Nick, Carey Mulligan (Drive, An Education) is looking as gorgeous as ever as Daisy and Joel Egerton (Warrior, The Thing) is totally hatable as Tom.  Everyone showed up to the set to play ball and they all do.  It's also not the subject material that the script is based on that holds the film back either.  One of the most enjoyable things about it is that the narration is taken right from the pages of the book and Fitzgerald's poetry is read very well by Maguire.  It's Luhrmann who holds this film back.

When Luhrmann creates a scene that is beautiful chaos and a party that visually can cause seizures, he's at his best. When there are scenes where simply dialogue must be given without all the frenzy to distract, he really seems to suffer in Gatsby.  The film is 143 minutes long and it feels every second of it, which surprised me.  It's not like The Great Gatsby is full of action but it's also not a slow book either.  Luhrmann's pacing once the exaggerated celebrations are over slows down to a sluggish crawl.  Hopefully you're into the story and characters enough by then that you stay with it.

Another choice that Luhrmann made that seems to be what everyone is talking about is Hip Hop being used in the soundtrack.  I can assure you that it's not gratuitous and I think it suits the film perfectly.  These characters were filthy rich, some of them criminal, people that threw extravagant parties attended by thousands of people at indescribally giant mansions in the 1920s.  If that's not a perfect parable for the Hip Hop culture, I don't know what is.  It feels completely rational to use that music and sparingly is exactly how it's used.

The Great Gatsby is a film about the heart of the American Dream; how it's corrupt and a lie and appreciating the beauty in that.  There have been many attempts to make it into a movie but I think this is the only one that captures the true feelings of living that culture at that time as well as the core emotions you feel when reading the book.  It's not perfect but I think that's understandable since making it flawless would be impossible.  Fans of the book will notice some of their favorite parts missing but that's to be expected for any book-to-film translation.  It's a project that was handled with passion and precision by a director who may not have been ready to get back behind the wheel of that by yellow car just yet.
The Great Gatsby  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B+
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Iron Man 3
It's perfect that the man who is Iron Man in the Iron Man movies is Robert Downey Jr.  I can't think of anyone more symbolic to play a playboy who's the son of someone famous who's ego and arrogance get dimished after an incident that makes him humbled and realizing he's capable of doing more.  It's like he was destined to play the role considering that's the exact the same story of Downey's life.  And now, if rumors are true that we're faced with the final Iron Man film, it's suiting that it goes out with the best of the series.

When I heard that John Favreau (Swingers, Rudy) was stepping down as Director, I was pretty concerned.  I was even more so when I found out he was replaced by Shane Black.  He's a guy who's been a fixture in Hollywood for a while but as a screenwriter, most notably as the guy who wrote the Lethal Weapon movies.  But aside from Iron Man 3, he only directed one other film and that was the 2005 movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (also starring Robert Downey Jr.).  It's a really underated and awesome film but it was stripped down, low budget and mostly a character piece masked as an action.  Would Black be able to translate his inexpierence and character driven style to a major Summer blockbuster like this?  Boy, did he ever!

Some people who go see Iron Man 3 will be disapointed in the lack of action.  There are really only two scenes and one barely features Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit; in fact most of the film lacks him in the suit.  But what's excellent about the film is that it is very much a character-driven story.  Lots of time is spent developing the relationship between Stark and his wife, Pepper Potts, played by the always irritating Gwyneth Paltrow.  He also allows the film to get fairly dark, exploring how what happened in last summer's The Avengers, has caused Stark to dwell in anxiety, panic attacks and depression.  But just as soon as the film feels it's a little too dark, Black gets us right back out of it with some of the trademark Downey Jr. wit that rattles off the screen like a machine gun.

But my favorite part of the film is what they decided to do with the villain known as The Mandarin.  Now anyone who even vaguely knows the Iron Man comics knows that this is THE bad guy for him.  He's essentially The Joker to Batman.  He has a rich mythology attached to him and a specific biography.  He's played chillingly by Sir Ben Kingsley (Ghandi, Sexy Beast) in one of the best performances of his career.  I can't say too much about this without ruining a major plot point but let's just say they take the character of The Mandarin in a dramatic new direction that is absolutely brilliant.  It was bold and ballsy to do that considering how hard fanboys can be on accuracy and I can say that it's one of the reasons why this is the best in the series.

All this praise isn't to say the movie isn't without flaws.  There's a sequence involving a little boy that feels incredibly out of place and pointless.  It seems as if some Hollywood Producer got his meddling mits on the film and said, "it's good but it either needs a cute kid or a dog or both."  Not that the scenes aren't entertaining and funny but it drags on too long and starts to make the 130 minutes feel a lot longer.  The lack of action and seeing Tony in the Iron Man suit is also a slight sticking point.  I appreciate what they did but that doesn't excuse the fact that when people show up for Iron Man 3 it's not unresonable to expect that they see a lot of Iron Man in it!

The film is everywhere including the Esquire IMAX Theater downtown and, despite the absence of lots of action, the climax is as epic as anything you've seen in the series and the 3D makes it even better.  It's also the funniest of the three movies, which is no easy feat to hang your helmet on.  I hope to see what Black could do with another Iron Man film but to be perfectly honest, if the rumors are true, this is a perfect way to end the franchise.
Iron Man 3  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A

Listen to Gavin's interview with actor William Sadler (Shawshank Redemption, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who plays the President in Iron Man 3:
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