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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from October 2013


Ender's Game (Rated:PG-13)


Going to see a movie based on a book is always risky because it's almost never as good.  It becomes even riskier when that book is a world famous classic and regarded as one of best (if not the best) in its genre.  However, there is no risk higher than seeing such a film with rabid fans of that book and have been looking forward to seeing it for 20 years.  That's what I did when I brought my friend Matt and his friend Shane with me to see it on the Esquire IMAX screen.  As we walked into the theater I said a small prayer in my head that the film would be, not just good, but excellent; otherwise those two would burn that place to the ground.  As you may have noticed, the Esquire IMAX is still standing because my prayer was answered.

Ender's Game is book written by Orson Scott Card in 1985 and is widely accepted as one of the best science-fiction novels ever written and one of the only of that genre taught in high schools and heavily suggested reading for Marines.  You can see its influence in teen fiction still such as the Harry Potter series.  It's about how a young boy has such a natural gift for military tactics that he's put through training to command the entire International Fleet against an alien foe.  The story is easily applied to any era and is way before its time in technology.

The film version was written and directed by Gavin Hood.  That's a huge gamble because after he made the disaster X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I would have considered him one of the most overrated directors in Hollywood.  However, the South African made this his passion project and it shows.  The film is executed wonderfully.  Everything from the casting to spectacular FX to a goosebump-inducing score is well conceived and inspired.  The casting of Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas) was as true find considering the depth and pain the character Ender must go through and Butterfield knocks it out of the park.  Unfortunately the rest of his child cast, including Oscar-nominee Hailey Steinfeld (True Grit) is subpar.

As far as the adults go, Harrison Ford leads them in one of the best performances he's had in years (sadly).  His "friend or foe" persona is well performed and is one of the many components to making the real point of the film stand out...empathy.  The film opens with a popular quote from the book that states "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that moment I also love him" and it's in that line that the soul of the story exists.  I won't spoil anything for you but what becomes a gut-wrenching turn for Ender is executed extremely well.

For its entire 28 years of existence, Ender's Game was considered unfilmable.  Many have tried and failed and the story seemed to be sentenced to die in Hollywood "Development Hel"l but somehow Hood pulled it off.  The movie isn't perfect but it's far greater than those of us who knew nothing about it expected and, more importantly, quenched the thirst of those like Matt and Shane who waited decades to see the battles in the pages come to life.  I hope it inspires more people to read the book but it's good enough to make those who consider a movie an adequite substitute for the text walk away with a sense of what the real story is about and why it's important to take in; now, more than ever.



Gavin's Giveaway this week is Shrek The Musical on Blu-Ray & DVD - CLICK HERE to enter to win!

 

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Interview with Wednesday Mourning

Listen to Gavin's interview with Wednesday Mourning from the Science Channel's Oddities: San Francisco:
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The Counselor (Rated: R)


Making a gormet apple pie isn't easy; we all know that.  But if I gave you freshly picked apples, all the organic ingredients to make a stunning crust, instructions to make it and Chef Gordon Ramsey to keep you on track by calling you a "stupid donkey," you'd think it would be pretty hard to screw up, right?  The Counselor is a movie starring Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Inglorious Basterds), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), Pennolpe Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt in a movie written by novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) and directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien), you'd think THAT would be an apple pie pretty hard to screw up, right?  Somehow it happened.

The Counselor is a film about a very successful lawyer who gets involved with some shady ex-client friends who decide to fund a large drug shipment from Mexico to Chicago.  Somewhere along the way things go horribly, horribly wrong...in both plot and execution of the plot.  It's the kind of story that I usually really enjoy.  It has violence, smart dialogue, interesting characters, sex and plot twists.  From a very early point in the film, however, you can feel that something is off with this. The pieces aren't lining up and you find yourself straining to keep up with the story and figure out what everyone's basic motives are.  I'm not one that lacks the skills to keep up with a complex plot but this was beyond complex; it was sloppy.

Some of that might be because this is McCarthy's first attempt at writing a screenplay and he's basing it off of his own novel.  If No Country for Old Men taught us anything it's that an adaptation of his book by a skilled screenplay writer can create a great movie.  That was one of the greatest movies of the decade.  This will be remembered as almost the exact opposite.  Of course there are worse films out there but this was like a juiced baseball player who always hits home runs stepping up the plate and striking out.

It's a real shame because there are moments of this that really shine.  Fassbender conveys absolute dread and shamful anguish.  Bardem is a wonderfully charismatic douchebag that provides much of the comedic relief.  Even Cruz and Diaz are fun to watch as polar opposites of the cliche female character spectrum.  There's just something about the movie as a whole that's a complete dud.  Even as things are happening that make you feel like the film is getting back on track, there's a scene that's shoved into the story that doesn't make sense and it makes you spend the next fifteen minutes thinking, "what the hell was that about?"

It's true that I might being too hard on The Conselor.  For it to share the same Gavin Grade as We're the Millers seems unfair because it's more noble than a shallow comedic snorefest.  But it's the fact that it has as A-list a cast directed by as A-list a director as Hollywood allows that makes the missteps, bad choices, and sloppiness unforgivable.  If you pay to see anything from any one of these people, you should expect quality at this point in their careers and instead, with this, you see some of the worst.

Gavin's Giveaway this week is "The Conjuring" on Blu-Ray & DVD: CLICK HERE to Enter to Win!
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Carrie (Rated: R)


There aren't many horror movies about women, for women.  It's true that most horror movies feature women as the star but virtually all of them are victims being followed and tormented by some hulking beast.  Even the films where the women are the monster, such as The Exorcist, it's still an innocent little flower that is in need of help.  Carrie is different.  When Stephen King wrote it in 1974 and the movie came out two years later, it was something no one had seen before.  It was a horror movie for women about women.  That's the reason why this remake seemed like a good idea because as good as the original is, a female director could really tap into what makes this such a haunting tale for women and explode the horror on the screen in ways we've never seen.  Sadly, that didn't happen.

I'm not a horror purist; I don't think that nothing can ever be remade.  It's true, some horror movies are great for what they are but they're dated and could stand a dusting off.  Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead was ballsy as hell to attempt a remake but they pulled it off in spades.  Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes was one of the best remakes I think I've seen considering that the original of that feels hokey now.  But if you're gonna remake a classic horror film you better have a damn good reason for doing it.  This remake of Carrie did and it totally makes sense why it should have been remade.

Modernizing the story not only made sense but was insanely appropriate right now.  Bullying is a huge buzz topic and the rise of the Internet has made it so much easier.  All of that is covered in Carrie, such as the infamous "tampon scene" in this 2013 version is video taped on a cell phone and then uploaded to YouTube to make the humiliation so much bigger than it ever could have been in 1976.  But simply remolding the story slightly to fit the times can't be all you do.  You have to raise the stakes in the carnage, the horror, the performances; you should remake Carrie to be the disturbing statement of religious fanatacism as well as blind vengence that it was always meant to be.  That was entirely missed in this failed recreation.

I had hopes that director Kimberly Peirce was going to hit a homerun with this.  She's no slouch and known for her gritty films like Stop-Loss and Boys Don't Cry.  She's not afraid of making a film that shines a light on parts of our culture that are ugly and hard to swallow.  So why didn't she with Carrie?  Brian De Palma (Scarface, Mission: Impossible) is a great director and his 1976 version is intense and unflinching; but he's a dude.  Surely, a woman would be able to tell this story about a mother and her daughter much better.  Right?  Or does having that expectation make me a bit of a sexist?

Regardless, Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In) are both wonderful actresses but neither come anywhere close to that eeriy magic that Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek had  37-years-ago.  What is a horrific story about what happens when you push a girl with magic powers too far is reduced to really sad story about what happsn when you push a girl with magic powers too far.  Yes, Carrie is a sad story but all that sadness is suppose to be washed away when the telekenisis hits the fan.  I remember looking forward to those a-holes in Carrie's school getting what was coming to them but when it comes you feel sorry that her rage punishes everyone, even those that treated her kindly.  Some of that is changed for this version and it takes away a large part of the terror.  If you want to see this wonderful story done correctly, rent the original on Netflix and watch it with the lights off.
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Gravity (Rated: PG-13)


Every year movies come out and jockey for which will take home the coveted Best Picture category at the Oscars.  Most years it comes down to a top two and it adds to the suspense of which will win.  Other years it could be anyone's game and those are really exciting to watch for Oscar nerds like me.  This year's Academy Awards will be one of the most boring on record.  I not only feel sorry for every single movie that comes out trying to win Best Picture, but I feel bad for all movies that have that in common with each other for years to come.  The reason why is that Gravity is so good that it will obviously win Best Picture (and yes, that's without seeing the other films yet) but it will also be what future films get compared to for quite a while.

The last time we saw Alfonso Cuaron behind the camera it was in 2006 with Children of Men, a movie that didn't get the respect it deserved at the time but has gone on to be one of the more respected films of that genre.  Despite his limited filmography, he's a director that people anxiously await a project from because he is probably the best of the magicmakers of Hollywood.  Sure, there are great directors out there that make amazing pictures but Cuaron does things with cameras that you have not seen before and makes you wonder how he did it.  That has never been more true than it is for Gravity.

The movie is simple; George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are the victims of a horrible accident in space and try to save themselves after their space shuttle is destroyed.  That's it.  It's a cast of two people (unless you consider Ed Harris who is only the voice of Houston control).  Even if you think that's boring you have to admit that you're interested to see how they make this a 90-minute-long feature film.  Not only do they easily fill that time, but you're begging for it to be longer.

This is one of the very rare films that is made a million times better by seeing it in 3D, and I'd imagine IMAX will only increase the expierence further.  You witness camera trickery that makes even the most jaded of film nerds say, "how the f**k did they do that?!"  It starts with a 25-minute-long take that is not only jaw-dropping, but gorgeous as well.  After it's over you think that it can't possibly get any better than that but it does...SO much better.  If you can respect and appreciate any element of filmmaking it is impossible to not be in total astonishment at what is happening in front of you.

Can you still enjoy Gravity if you're not a film buff?  Absolutely.  Bullock, who I am not a fan of at all, gives the performance of her career in a script that seems emotionally detached for the first half but makes you so inspired by the end that you spend the last ten minutes with a tear that hangs out on your lower eyelid and doesn't fall until the final seconds all aided by a musical score that would give goosebumps to the dead.  It's also the only film expierence I've had in recent memory that simulates a ride.  By the time the film is over, your body will be sore from your muscles tensing and anxiety rushing through your nerves.

Usually when it comes to movies, if someone disagrees with me I'm fine with that.  However, Gravity is a masterpiece that is so amazing on every level that I hate people who hate it.  As I left the screening there were some yahoos telling the studio representative how much they disliked it.  I don't know what the hell they wanted?  Aliens?  A love story?  A bad guy?  Whatever it was, they didn't get it and I'm fine with that because Gravity exists and it will forever.  It's one of the few films that I wanted to watch again the second it was over.  Perhaps this could be the ONLY reason someone should by a 3D TV just so you can continue to enjoy it when it comes out on blu-ray.
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Interview with Bloodline's Matt Thompson

Listen to Gavin's interview with the director and star of the new horror film Bloodline, Sacramento's own Matt Thompson:
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