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Ashley Z
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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from January 2014

That Awkward Moment

I like to consider myself a fairly weather-worn and seasoned movie fan.  You can throw any kind of Jennifer Lopez, Nicholas Sparks or twinklie vampire movie at me and, no matter how much it burns, I'll sit with it and see it out to the bitter end.  However, every once in a while there is a film that comes along that tests me so badly and catches me on the wrong night that I pull out my white rag, wave it high into the musty theater air and surrender the fight.  Yes, I'm talking about walking out of a movie before it ends because it's so bad.  My days without incident were probably in the high 300's until I saw That Awkward Moment and now I have to set it back to zero.

I left with probably fifteen minutes left in the movie but I can tell you what happened.  I'll bet all the guys realized their frienship was super important and they loved each other and then Zach Efron's character makes it up to Imogen Poots' (28 Weeks Later, Fright Night) character by getting people to go to one of her author seminars and they live happily ever after.  I'll bet you $1,000 I'm right and I swear to God I didn't see it.  You know why I'm so sure?  Because it's one of the most predictable, cliche, paint-by-number romantic comedies I've ever seen.

I won't even ding a rom-com that much for being completely unoriginal.  90% of them are unoriginal and the reason why is because the target demographic of 18-34-year-old women don't want it to be original because they want to see what they know they'll like...for some reason.  What set That Awkward Moment apart from other mediocre comedies is that it tries so hard to be something that it's not by such a long shot that it gets embarrassing for everyone involed.  

The movie stars Efron, Michael B. Jordan (Fruitville Station, Chronicle) and MIles Teller (21 & Over, Project X) as three early twenties, super successful professionals living in New York City that are the closest of best friends.  There is such a lack of chemistry between these three, however, that it's believable that they met for the first time on set on the first day of shooting.  You don't buy for a single second that these guys are friends and every exhausting second they're together feels contrived.  To make matters worse, first-time writer/director Tom Gormican allows these three douchebags to riff and improv with each other like they're Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill except they're not even on the same planet as those guys.  Swingers made it seem so easy to have a romantic comedy about guys in the dating world that was really funny but that was because it was filled with actors with real talent and skills in comedy.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, the icing on this crap cake is the decision to make it an R-rating and a fairly hard one at that.  This makes me wonder who the studio thinks this movie is made for because there's absolutely nothing that an adult with an IQ over 80 would find funny and it's way too bawdy for any responsible parent to feel comfortable allowing their 13-year-old to see it.  Maybe that was Gormican's attempt to be edgy but it's desperate and pathetic.

So with me pouring all this Haterade on it, why didn't this movie get an F?  There are two qualities that kept it from that infamous group.  The first is New York City which always makes for a gorgeous backdrop that forces itself to be a character in every movie it's feartured in.  The other is two or three scenes that feature recognizable character actor Josh Pais (Adventureland, Teeth) who offers up the only laughs in the whole film.  Actually, there is one more positive thing about That Awkward Moment; it's truth in advertising that with a title like that you know what you're gonna get...an awkward moment for when you realize you wasted your money.

Gavin's Giveaway this week is Bad Grandpa on Blu-Ray & DVD! CLICK HERE to enter to win!

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The Lone Survivor

Full disclosure, I'm a tad biased for this film.  My good friend Dave is the cousin-in-law of a girl named Cindy Axelson.  Cindy is the widow of Matt Axelson, who is one of the four soldiers this movie is based on.  By me saying she's the widow isn't a spoiler considering the title is The LONE Survivor.  I've met her a few times and she's a lovely woman who's insanely strong considering what she's been through.  For her sake, I hoped, as I sat in the theater before the movie began, that this was going to be a good film.  It's what is deserved considering what these guys went through.  When the movie ended and everyone wiped tears from their eyes and clapped, I was thrilled to say that it was one of the greatest war films ever made.

There is no doubt that director Peter Berg has total admiration for the military.  But when I saw that he was the one to take on this story I was very nervous.  Sure, he's done great movies like The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights and my guilty pleasure Very Bad Things; but he's also had horrendous bombs like Battleship, Hancock and The Rundown.  The former actor is kind of like a subdued Michael Bay with a slightly less raging ego.  His films have style and skill but also teeter on silly and can easily wobble off kilter.  The Lone Survivor was a passion project of his though and he also wrote the script based on the book by the lone survivor himself, Marcus Luttrell.  That attachment drips from every frame because this is Berg's finest film.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Luttrell and gives one of the most intense performances of his rather limited yet still impressive career.  He's joined by Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) and the every present but no one knows why Taylor Kitsch.  Kitsch is a good actor but he seems to be box office poison.  He starred in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Battleship and the epic failure John Carter.  Each was worse than the last but I'm happy that Berg gave him another chance in this because he plays the calm and collected commander very well.

The true story is about a 2009 mission in Afghanistan where four Navy Seals were trapped by the Taliban and fought harder than anyone can imagine to stay alive.  The survival story of Luttrell is so emotional that the jaded side of me believed it was mostly made up so Hollywood can push the perfect story on us but it's all true and it's even supported by photos of the actual people at the end of the film.  I won't give anything away but it's easy to think this is pro-America propaganda that makes you despise all the people of Afghanistan but you'll see that that's not the case and that some of those people are more amazing and braver than most Americans.  The story makes you cheer for humanity, not hate it.  Because of that, you can sense that this is a war film that can be taken in by even those who are passionately anti-war.

The Lone Survivor is two-hours-long and goes by at the blink of an eye.  Once the action starts, it doesn't stop for a single second which makes the intensity even more powerful.  It's a situation that seems impossible to get through as a viewer which makes you unable to fathom how the actual soldiers felt.  I know that Berg flew Cindy out for the premiere and she's seen the film.  How she was able to watch it is something I'll never be able to comprehend but for the rest of us it should be essential viewing.  If you support our involvement over there, it makes you respect the men and women who fight no matter what and understand why they do.  If you don't support our involvement there, it has the exact same effect.  A very impressive accomplishment and not something that many war films have pulled off.

Gavin's Giveaway this week is Elysium on DVD! CLICK HERE to enter to win!
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Director Spike Jonze has his legion of fans and they are precious and passionate.  He is the King of the Quirk having crafted films like Being John Malkovic, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are.  Despite the fact that he's only done 4 films in his entire 14-year-old career, they are each so unique that when he releases a new one people rightfully take notice.  It also doesn't hurt that he's responsible for some of the greatest music videos of all time for groups like The Beastie Boys, Weezer and Fatboy Slim.  It's been my expierence that you either love something he's done or absolutely hate it and that's why Her is so perplexing because I don't feel either way about it.

The film follows Joaquin Phoenix back from his blackhole performance art he pulled off a few years ago as a man going through a divorce and falling in love...with his computer, voiced by Scarlette Johansson.  No, this isn't Siri; the movie takes place in the future and this is an Operating System or O.S. that is far more advanced than anything we have today.  It learns fast, it feels emotion and helps you with everything you need.  I know this sounds weird but you accept it from the very first minutes of dialogue between the two.  It's actually pretty amusing and funny.

What the film is really about though is love and the complications that come with it as you journey through a relationship.  Phoenix is in the final stages of his marriage and the new stages with his OS at the same time.  Jonze, who wrote Her as well, has a lot to say about the subject matter and almost all of it is profound.  There are moments and monologues that bring you to tears because it hits you right in the feels and you think, "yeah, I remember feeling that way" or "that's the way I feel right now."  It's poetic and beautiful...but it's mostly about his computer.

That's where I have a hard time sinking my teeth in because it's almost like Jonze wasn't satisfied with just making a movie explaining the thoughts he has on love and its complications.  That's been done to death and I don't blame him for thinking outside the box as he almost always does.  However, making it a weird story about a guy in love with his computer and how almost everyone around him accepts that as relatively normal is what makes Phoenix's character an arm's legnth away from the audience at all times.  It's hard to fully emerse yourself in a character that seems so unrelatable at times.

Absolutely none of that is to the discredit of Phoenix or Johansson, for that matter.  Both deliver spot-on performances that emote saddness and joy without ever using the physical tools that most actors have at their disposal.  It's impressive in the way that actors who perform against CGI characters do but in Her it seems more genuine because it's not a monster, it's a cell phone-looking thing.  Amy Adams and Rooney Mara (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) also give performances of note, although Adams' character seems shoe horned in for the sake of having a real person Phoenix can talk to so the story feel more legit.

LIke almost all of Jonze's movies, you have to sit with Her for a few days after seeing it.  When the final seconds pass by you find yourself sitting in the theater thinking that you just watched something so deep that you have to love it but the more you think about it the more you think it's just like any other love story that you've seen a thousand times but here it's got a pinch of quirk added to it because...well....because why the hell not?  If that sounds like it might be your cup of tea, then have at it and I hope you decide you like it after you're done thinking about it a few days after it ends.  At the very least it'll make you want to talk to Siri more.

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