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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from August 2013

The World's End (Rated: R)

When talking about this movie you'll hear the title Cornetto Trilogy thrown around a lot.  Yes, Cornetto is a brand of frozen ice cream but it's also how writer/director Edgar Wright chose to link his three films that all share the same cast.  In Shaun of the Dead, the Cornetto flavor referenced was strawberry to represent the gore, in Hot Fuzz it was original in its blue wrapper to represent the police and in The World's End it's mint-chocolate chip, where the green nods to aliens. Personally, I find this pretty stupid and don't understand why fanboys have latched onto this tiny detail the way that they have because these three films have so much more to offer.

I was nervous when I saw The World's End because another critic friend of mine saw it a month ago and said it was the worst in the trilogy.  When talking about the Cornetto Trilogy, using the word "worst" seems like an absolutely ridiculous thing to say since there is no such thing.  Trying to rank the movies in this cluster is like trying to pick which of your kids you like best; sure you can do it, but it's tough and you feel icky sorting them.  I'm pleased to say that The World's End is not the...er...worst in the series though.  It's not as good as the masterpiece that is Shaun of the Dead but it's marginally better than Hot Fuzz.

Once again Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Paul) and Nick Frost (Paul, Snow White and the Huntsman) star as the leaders of a group of childhood best friends who reunite in their hometown to do a 12 pub-long crawl reliving their teenage years.  Once there, they discover that their hometown has been taken over be creepy alien robots and they must save themselves and the town.  Sure, the premise is completely bonkers but Wright's style of direction is so manic and gorgeous that you accept virtually anything he lays in front of you.  That's made even better by the script that him and Pegg wrote together that once again stylizes a genre without ever mocking it.

Aside from the mastery that goes into that, the dialogue for this script is the most brilliant they've ever had.  The puns, the one-liners, the brilliant conversations that are smart and stupid at the same all comes at a runaway train pace that can only be described as a combination between Airplane! and Monty Python.  It's utterly amazing how fast everything happens and makes you NEED to see this over and over again to make sure you get everything you missed the first time.  It's one of the few movies I've seen where there are so many quotable lines that I can't remember any of them because they come so fast.  Not everyone will enjoy their sense of humor or understand it; such as an argument over pronouns or puns at the expense of obscure Shakespeare plays but damnit, when you get it...it's gold.

What's even more impressive than everything that's been covered so far is that Pegg and Frost are actually really good actors capable of so much more than funny lines.  Just like Shaun of the Dead, there are moments of genuine heartbreak and emotion.  Serious themes are addressed and never played down for laughs; they want you to take a second and feel bad for these characters.  Pegg plays such a pitiful loser in the film that you can't help but to love him and feel bad for him as his sorrow gets masked with more and more alcohol and false confidence.  It's a great character and his best in the Cornettor Trilogy.

The World's End is wacky and not for everyone.  Yes, it does end with friends having a drunken argument with an all-knowing super intelligence from the stars but it's one of the funniest scenes I've seen this year.  The guts it took to pull it off is staggering and the fact that they did with such flawlessness is even more amazing.  It may hiccup here and there and overall the plot will be too silly for some but The World's End will go down as a comedy cult classic, just like Shaun of the Dead did, and will take a place in the Top 10 lists of many movie fans.

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You're Next (Rated: R)

The journey that the horror film You're Next made is interesting.  This movie actually came out two years ago when it was released as part of the Toronto International Film Festival in their Midnight Madness category.  That's an area for horror films that really wouldn't be seen by important eyes normally so they get the spotlight that some of them deserve.  The movie was well received and a bidding war took place over which studio was going to get to own it.  Two long years later, Lionsgate won and now we all get to enjoy it and enjoy it, you will.

There are several subcategories for horror; you've got your spook story, your torture porn, your monster movie and this...the slasher film.  Probably the most famous slasher movie of all time is Halloween, where Michael Meyers chases Laurie Strode around the house with a knife for 40 minutes and it's very scary when you see it for the first time.  You're Next follows the exact same formula that Halloween and every other slasher film follows except it takes the lone surviving female, played here by the gorgeous Sharni Vinson (Step-Up 3D), and makes her a force of power and ass-kickery.  This instantly disarms the villains and makes them meek and almost victims themselves.  This is unique and original but has a side effect of no longer making the bad guys scary.  Part of what makes a horror film good is the scare factor and You're Next lacks in scares immensely, but I assure you that you won't miss it.

The film is simple; it's about a large, wealthy, estranged family that has a rare reunion to celebrate their parents' 35th anniversary at the family mansion in the woods.  Once everyone is there, the terror begins as three masked psychos start killing them one-by-one.  The family is rounded out by a cast of horror regulars that you may recognize but won't know their names.  The stand-out performers are Joe Swanberg (V/H/S), AJ Bowen (The House of the Devil) and Amy Seimetz (Tiny Furniture) who improv with each other in a truly hilarious way.  The squabbling between them as brothers and sister are very funny and some of the best parts of the film.  Don't expect much from the rest of the cast though since they're pretty bad at pretty much everything they attempt.

Even though this film isn't scary, it's still way gory.  Some very creative forms of murder were displayed here; one of which is with a blender and not in the way you're thinking.  I'm not sure if this was intentional from writer/director team Simon Barret and Adam Wingard (scenes in V/H/S and ABCs of Death), but there seems to be a message about guns in the film.  Most horror movies rely on the use of a gun as either a way to finally kill the monster or to intimidate the weak.  There is only one gun shown in the movie and it's never used and appears for only a minute.  All the rest of the carnage comes at the hands of other forms of weaponery and that slight display of creativity is something that I appreciate and didn't get past me.

Because You're Next seems to be getting good reviews and has a wide release, don't go expecting this to be stellar.  Remember that this is still the stuff of the Midnight Madness showcase, which is for B-horror films that mostly go straight to Netflix streaming or VOD.  Is You're Next better than most of what you've seen there?  Absolutely!  It's fun, gory, comical and unique...but that's only when compared to those other films which is like being the skinniest kid at fat camp.
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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Rated: PG-13)

It's interesting to see a movie based on a book that you're only halfway through reading.  It's like you get the best of both world.  You get to be one of the book snobs that says, "the book was so much better than the movie," and you also get to enjoy the ending as you expierence it for the first time.  This was what I got to go through for The Mortal Instruments.  My wife is obsessed with the book series more than she was obsessed with Twilight or Harry Potter.  She insisted I read them as well.  Since I drag ass on reading, the movie came out faster than I could finish it but I think that might be the best way to objectively view this film.

Ever since, Harry Potter was the massive cultural phenomonen that it was, movie studios have been in a fevered quest to find the next big hit in teen fiction.  Some times they hit a homerun like they did with Twilight and other times they fail miserably like Percy Jackson.  I'm sure all these books are good in their own right but sometimes they simply don't make good movies.  For instance, I'm a huge fan of The Hunger Games series but I wasn't crazy about the movie.  However Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a film series that far exceeds what the books have to offer yet makes little splash when they come out.  Where will The Mortal Instruments fall on the success scale?  It's too hard to tell but I hope it does well.

It stars Lily Colins (The Blind Side, Mirror, Mirror) as a teenage girl who gets swept into a secret world she never knew existed full of angels, demons, werewolves, vampires, warlocks, you name it.  It wouldn't be teen fiction if there wasn't a love tirangle and the main side of that triangle for Colins is played by Jamie Campbell Bower (the Twilight series, Sweeny Todd).  He's one of the good guys known as a Shadowhunter and it's his job to kill demons and vampires and werewolves but only if they get snotty.  The rest of the cast isn't worth much of note since the respectable performers they have in it like Lena Heady (HBO's Game of Thrones, The Purge) and Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes, Lincoln) are barely in the film and offer little.

For the most part, the casting is pretty good.  Colins and Bower exude sexual chemistry that's playful and seems legit and Bower also tows the difficult line of being the sexy male lead in a teen fiction film but doesn't come across douchey.  Perhaps part of that is that he's far from sexy and actually resembles a clothed alien in a wig.  But one choice seems to have ruined part of the expierence and that was casting Jonathan Rhys Meyers (HBO's The Tutors, Mission Impossible III) as the main villain, Valentine.  Everything about him seems wrong and forced from his costume to his over-acting.

I'm not sure why but teen fiction seems to be something that goes after female audiences but The Mortal instruments seems a little different.  From the moment the book picked up, I enjoyed the gothic world that it created.  Sure, there are elements that are lifted straight from Harry Potter and hints of many other "borrowed" stories along the way, but where it lacks in originality, it makes up for in excitement.  Out of all the first installments of all the films I've mentioned so far, this is the most action-packed. 

And if there is a major fault of The Mortal Instruments it's that.  The book isn't very long yet the two-hour-long movie moves at a pace that makes you think it's 1,000 pages.  If you know nothing about the book and see the movie, you will feel confused and lost for the first half of the film.  Fans of the books won't mind or even notice this but the pacing is a massive problem.  As an audience they expect you to accept, learn and remember an awful lot of information in a very short period of time.  The reason why they do this is so they can stretch out the action at the end in hopes to get males to jump on board.  It's an off-balance method but the end pretty much justfies the means.

Again, I didn't finish the book and I definetly didn't read any of the following ones.  According to my wife and other mega fans that were leaving the screening, a decision was made by the screenwriters to rewrite a massive part of the storyline between the two main characters that some may feel "ruins the movies."  I think that remains to be seen since we don't know how they'll work that out in future films (if there are future films).  But as of right now, this first installment of The Mortal Instruments is strong and fun but leaves plenty of room for improvement.  But don't worry, if history has taught us anything, the first movie is always the worst.
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The Butler (Rated: PG-13)

Every once in a while, a movie comes out that is not just entertaining but is also important.  A film that reflects a part of our history that is still so socially relevant that it makes us stop and think days after we've seen it, is hard to find.  Movies riddled with so much emotion it's impossible to not let it reach your soul and shed tears are few and far between.  Usually those movies are showered with Oscars, critical praise and word of mouth.  The Butler from director Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) is not one of those films; but it sure thinks it is.

The Butler is inspired by the true story about a black man named Cecil Gaines who worked in The White House as a butler from the Eisenhower to the Reagan administration; a time in our history that was the most revolutionary, especially for black people.  While Cecil, who grew up a poor cotton field hand who's father was murdered the same day his mother was raped, was working hard serving Presidents, he had one son fighting for equal rights with the Black Panthers and Freedom Riders and another fighting in Vietman.  Wow!  Hard to believe a story that good is true, right?  That's because it isn't.  "Inspired by a true story" doesn't have to mean any of it is actually true.  It's a very sneeky Hollywood trick that I think is revolting.  The real story is simply about a black man named Eugene Allen who served at The White House from 1952-1986.  All the rest of the details are Hollywood hogwash.

However, is The Butler still a good movie if you look past that it's fiction selling itself as fact?  Meh.  It almost is.  The movie is Lee Daniels' most accomplished film by far but that's not sayin much considering that his movies to date have been extremely underwelming.  The message in his films are noble and important but he gets so caught up on displaying the over-the-top misfortune of certain characters that it makes the whole thing into a farce.  A perfect example is, as I mentioned before, the fact that Cecil's father is killed the day his mother is raped.  Either one would be sad but Daniels feels the need to not only make the character suffer both but at the same time.  C'mon!  We get it.  The kid saw some roughness.

Even if you're willin to overlook the gratuitous sorrow in his films, The Butler rushes through every single emotional scene as if it's running a marathon at a sprinter's pace.  Not for a single moment are you allowed to sit and feel sad for these characters.  Even something as shattering as President Kennedy's assasination is breezed by with careless pacing.  It's a real shame because that particular moment is emotional and shown to us in a way we've never seen; how the first lady reacted when she came back to The White House, still covered in blood, and cried for days. Powerful stuff but you only get to enjoy it for about a minute before we're on to something else.  That's the theme for this hurried movie that feels like a two-hour-long trailer.

That issue of getting one thing really right and another really wrong is also found in the sets and make-up.  The sets and costumes for the film are excellent.  The attention to details as the decades move along is spectacular.  However the make-up used to transform each actor into the different Presidents and to age the principle actors are SNL-quality at best.  The rubber masks they wear are so awful they're distracting and ruin some of the best scenes.

Some things shine in The Butler though.  Stars Forest Wittaker (Panic Room, Platoon) and Oprah Winfrey are both so natural and pleasant to watch that they've earned Oscar nominations. The performance from David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Jack Reacher), who plays the oldest son, is also good enough to earn a nod from The Academy.  The dynamic between these three are excellent and makes me wish the movie focused just on them instead of trying to be some sloppy ripoff of Forrest Gump.

The worst thing about The Butler is that people will call it "great" and "important" and will be nominated for more that it deserves come Oscar season.  The subject nature of The Civil Rights Movement is the stuff of automatic respect in Hollywood.  That's why it's so upsetting to me when it's done poorly.  It's even worse when the film centers around a character who knowingly sticks his head in the sand about the issue for most of the movie.  Forrest Gump didn't get involved in what was going on around him but that's because it wasn't his choice.  Cecil Gaines chooses to not get involved and it makes me wonder what the true message of this movie really is.  Maybe a second viewing would clear that up but frankly, it's not good enough for that.
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Elysium (Rated: R)

Once upon a time, Sci-Fi movies were for adults.  They have since been watered down to PG and PG-13 ratings so they would appeal to more people and make more money.  Aside from watering down the violence and sex for the rating they also have been watering down the message and intelligence as well.  But films like Looper, Prometheus, The Bay and The Divide have started coming out with pushing the limits of both an R-rating and what lessons we take away from the theater.  If that resurgence in the R-rated Sci-Fi film with a brain had a leader, it would be director Neill Blomkamp who may have kicked it off with District 9 and is keeping the torch lit with Elysium.

When District 9 came out in 2009, I had no expectations for it at all.  It looked like a goofy mockumentary about aliens and I wasn't even sure if I was going to see it.  But after a roaring wave of positive remarks about it from critics and a Best Picture nod I did and it was my favorite movie of that year.  It was amazingly original, smart, important, exciting and made the audience do something I haven't heard in a while; clap and cheer in the middle of the film.  Needless to say, my expectations for Elysium were much, much different and that might have been its downfall.  When Orson Wells released Citizen Kane, it was so amazing that nothing he ever made after that was considered good because it didn't live up to the greatest film ever made.  Now, I'm not saying District 9 is the greatest film ever made but it is one of the greatest Sci-Fi ones.

Elysium takes place over a hundred years in the future where the meek have inherited Earth and made it meeker because it's now an overcrowded, diseased ghetto and the elite 1% live on a space station called Elysium that orbits the Earth, where it's beautiful but more importantly, healthy.  Nobody dies there because the technology exists to save you from whatever is wrong.  Matt Damon is the reluctant hero who embarks on a journey against his will to change all that and make the playing field equal.  That, my friends, is not-so-subtle social comentary; bold statements against classes, the haves and have-nots, equal healthcare, corrupt governments and Socialism.  Politically and Socially, this film is ripe and timely and, what I believe to be, a wonderful allagory for the war going on now in America.

As biting as the script is, it's not very original.  Damon is the exact same cliched role that used to be filled by Swarzenegger or Stallone in the '80s.  There's the random kid that melts the tough guy's heart.  There's evil villain in a suit that pulls the puppet strings.  There's the psychotic henchman that can't be stopped.  All the familiar sites and characters are here and that's disapointing only because it was in a film by Blomkamp.  If anyone else would have made this, all those things would have been easy to overlook but from him, i expected better.  However, that's not to say that his execution of cliches isn't stellar.  Jodie Foster is the evil puppet master and she's cold as ice.  I even appreciate the accent her character has from living for decades on Elysium.  But no one is more fun to watch than Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team), who's the unstoppable henchman.  This role is a massive departure from what he's played in the past and he's just as good at it.  He's rapidly becoming one of the best actors in Hollywood.

If you've never seen District 9, and there are lots of people who still haven't, then you'll love this film.  Aside from the fact that you have no frame of refrence for what Blomkamp is capable of, you'll enjoy it for the throwback to the Sci-Fi movie with balls.  But if you're like me and revere District 9, than Elysium stands as a slight disapointment for originality but still impresses in total package.  It may not have gotten clapping and cheering in the middle of the film but it did get an audible reaction and to pull that off in this jaded, movie-going world; that's impressive.

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We're the Millers (Rated: R)

The problem that most good comedies has is that they start off really good and kill it on every joke.  Then as the second act gets underway and a conflict is being established and escalated, the funny starts petering out and with the final act's resolution's the jokes become almost impossible to find.  That's the exact opposite problem with We're the Millers.  The peak of the funny is found in the middle of the movie where it lives the life of a mayfly; born, thrives, and dies all in an extremely short amount of time.

The film centers around Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses, The Campaign) who's a drug dealer from Denver who's sleazy boss, played by Ed Helms (the Hangover films), makes him pay off a debt by smuggling drugs over the Mexico border.  He thinks the best way to do this is to pose as a harmless family and gets the help of a stripper, played by Jennifer Aniston, a homeless girl, played by Emma Roberts (Scream 4, Hotel for Dogs) and a nerdy neighbor, played by British actor Will Poulter (The Chronicles of Narnia).  If that sounds like a ridiculously unbelievable plot, you've got a brain and you won't enjoy this.

For the most part, We're the Millers keeps a faint but present heartbeat with the jokes.  I had one belly laugh in the whole film and moderately chuckled at choice moments throughout.  The problem is the overall plot.  It's pretty stupid and hard to swallow.  On top of that, none of the characters are likable.  Of course they all start off as selfish, foul-mouthed ball-busters but they all predictably start to grow fond of each other and actually gel as a family.  What?!  Keep in mind that this is all while they're smuggling an RV filled with drugs into America.  I enjoy road comedies as much as the next guy but make me believe it could happen.

The biggest problem with We're the Millers is creative choices made by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball).  I'm sure he thouhght he was doing things that were really funny or effective but they are all neither.  Moments like Sudeikis looking at the camera and giving a nod when at no other time the fourth wall is broken, or a three-minute-long strip scene with 44-year-old Aniston brings the movie to a screeching halt but the guiltiest example is the outtakes at the end of the film.  

I enjoy seeing outtakes and they often help sweeten a comedy up so you leave the theater with a better feeling, but these were used for that purpose as a cheap ploy because they're fake.  Sure, they seem real and perhaps I'm jaded when it comes to cinematic truthfulness but don't buy it.  All of them seem as rehearsed and fabricated as the ones at the end of a Pixar movie, except even those seem more genuine.  Maybe I'm being too hard on We're the Millers but seeing an audience treated like they're stupid really turns my stomach.

Again, it's not all bad.  Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson on NBC's Parks and Recreation, and the always funny Kathryn Hahn (Anchorman, Step Brothers) save the soggy middle section from making the 109-minute runtime feel even longer than it already does but they can only do so much.  We're the Millers is a movie that disguises itself as a lilly-white comedy that all can enjoy but gets so bogged down in forced bawdiness, stupid scenes and predictable plot twists that it's as unlikable as the characters in it.  
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2 Guns (Rated: R)

There are some films that are based on comic books or graphic novels that most people have no idea.  Some of those movies are Road to Perdition, From Hell, Ghost World, Red, and most shockingly of all was the Oscar-winning A History of Violence.  Joing the ranks of those movies is 2 Guns, which is about two guys working undercover but neither of them know that until they're both framed for the same crime.  It seems like the stuff of mid-winter garbage that studios put out just to keep something in the theater but shockingly...this was good.


Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are two actors that have done spectacular things with their careers (ie: Glory, Training Day, Boogie Nights, The Fighter) and embarrassing things with their careers (ie: The Book of Eli, He Got Game, Max Payne, Shooter).  Yet, for some reason they add a familar sense of calm while watching something that says you'll get your money's worth, which is why they were cast in this.  Yes, they're both a little old for these type of shoot-em-ups but they can still pull it off despite starting to look like our dads.

2 Guns is as funny as it is exciting, maybe even more so.  The quips between Denzel and Marky Mark are great and it makes their scenes nostalgic for Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans in The Last Boyscout or Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapon films.  Unfortunately, they don't do every scene together and spend half the movie in seperate storylines and doing their own thing.  Those scenes get boring quickly but make you enjoy their reunions even more.

Director Baltasar Kormakur has nothing to his credit of note except for a great Icelandic thriller called The Deep.  Given the nature and tone of 2 Guns, I'm guessing the studio wanted the guy who used to handle these types of films who was Tony Scott, but he's dead now and I think Kormakur has proven that he's up to the challenge of filling those hit-or-miss shoes.  His approach is aggressive but controlled, kinda like watching an Oliver Stone movie when he's taking his meds.

If you go see this (which I expect not very many people to do) go with low expectations.  That seemed to highten my enjoyment of it much more.  It's a victim of poor advertising that didn't do a good job of spotlighting its strengths and instead focused on the cliche, douchey imagery that's worked in the past.  I mean, for God's sake, just look at that ridiculous poster!  But it's a good film for the purpose its existence is meant to serve and for a late-summer release, it's one of the better surprises.

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Masterchef's Bri Kozior

Listen to Gavin's interview with former Masterchef contestant Bri Kozior:
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