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Gavin Grades The Movies

Posts from February 2014


Granted, I have not been keeping up with star Liam Neeson's career as closely as, I guess, I should have.  I remember regarding him as a very serious and accomplished actor for most of my life.  Maybe it was the Oscar win for Schindler's List or the underrated and heartfelt Love Actually.  I think I should stop doing that since all he seems to do now are action films that are either the same thing over and over again or really, really bad.  Non-Stop isn't bad.  It doesn't join the ranks of Battleship, The Next Three Days or Clash of the Titans, but it does belong with the incredibly forgettable films of his career where it seems like he's in a pickle and has to punch and shoot his way out of it.

Non-Stop is an action murder mystery that takes place on a plane.  Does that seem like a gimmick?  At first, absolutely, but the premise of a Federal Air Marshal trying to stop a clever killer on a plane as an elaborate hijacking is at least interesting.  What's really fun is that it feels like the 1974 classic Murder on the Orient Express.  There is a killer in a trapped vehicle and everyone is a suspect.  Whether it was intentional or not, I really enjoyed and appreciated that aspect of it even if it gets a little silly at the end.

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra is a name that you shouldn't recognize because he's made some pretty awful movies like House of Wax, Orphan and the other Liam Neeson shoot-em-up Unknown.  He does a relatively noble job making something out of almost nothing with some interesting choices to move the story along.  He also shows us some things we've never seen before but that's probably because they're too silly to have been thought up prior to this, such as an elaborate fight scene in an airplane bathroom.  I would've enjoyed the film a lot more if it wasn't as slick and over-produced as he made it considering the simplicity to which the great Sidney Lumet made Murder on the Orient Express.  

A team of co-stars was assembled for this that each have the capacity for stellar performances.  Anson Mount (AMC's Hell on Wheels), Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy (Argo, 12 Years a Slave) and Michelle Dockery (PBS's Downton Abbey, Hanna) are all wasted in roles that are as cliche and one-dimensional as you can get.  The worst case of this is Lupita Nyong'o, who's nominated and will probably win the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, in a role that has perhaps five whole minutes of combined screen time.  In a movie where everyone is a suspect, these types of characters need to be deep, complex, suspicious and challenging.  Sadly, in Non-Stop they are none of those.

I'm not a movie snob and I recognize that movies like this have their purpose in the culture of cinema.  They're fun and silly and meant to be enjoyed for the 90 minutes you're staring at it and then forgotten about.  What makes this one feel different is the motivation of the killer is deeply political and an important message.  Fine, but don't put something like that in a movie where a gun rises in slow motion off the ground as the plane loses altitude just long enough for our hero to grab it in mid-air and fire it.  Moments like that get an unintentional laugh from the audience.  Again though, that's fine in the right movie; but if it happens moments after a character says the most interesting and profound statement in the film, you've made a lapse in judgement.

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Growing up was challening at times for me because my parents had a strict rule with not allowing me to see R-rated films growing up.  I can't really think of a time this pissed me off more than when Robocop came out in 1987.  I was only 7-years-old, as were most of my friends, but their parents let them see it despite its gore and bad language.  What made my crew talking about it extra frustrating was that it had an extensive line of toys that came out supporting the film and everyone had them.  Everyone.  I did eventually get to see it when I was a teenager when friends of mine wanted to watch it for nostalgia.  I didn't love it and thought it was cheesey and silly but in that I saw the appeal for other people.  But a remake of Robocop that gets rid of the cheese and silliness is more ridiculous than a Robocop with it.

Brazilian director Jose Padilha is no slouch when it comes to action films.  His Elite Squad films, which got very little attention in the states, are really well done action films.  When I saw that he was being handed Robocop by Hollywood I was pretty excited.  A gritty hardcore action film about a half robot-half human police officer seemed like something he'd be able to do wonders with.  What I forgot was that Hollywood was involved and what they ended up doing was watering down his potential to a PG-13 level so this time around repsonsible parents like mine could bring their kids.  What they ended up doing was making it an action movie where lots of people die but in ways that make you think you're watching an old Spaghetti Western; shot, yell, fall, no blood.

The other change they made was to pump in a message and humanity.  Now, this is something that I typically love in cinema!  When Christopher Nolan did both to the Batman series, particulary in The Dark Knight, I thought it was what officially made that the greatest superhero movie of all time.  In Robocop it doesn't work though.  You have Samuel L. Jackson playing a Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck type lunatic who uses his show as propaganda for a corporation trying to bend US law and public opinion to allow these cyborg cops on the street.  You also have Gary Oldman playing the brilliant scientist who begrudgingly strips away Robocop's humanity and soul until he's nothing more than an organic robot.  Both of these concepts seem brilliant and obvious but they end up making everything tedious and rather dull.

What was lost in the film was that it's called Robocop.  That title is one of the silliest titles ever created.  The reason why we accepted that as the title of the original was because you got what you paid for; a man-robot shooting bad guys in Detroit.  What you end up seeing with this remake is attempted deepness that instead should have had a prentious title like The Loss of Self or At What Price.  Instead of a badass hero running around blasting holes in everything, you get a lot of people standing around debating the merits of what is happening and then seeing the emotional toll it takes on the characters.  I'll watch that movie but not when I'm expecting Robocop.

That's not to say there isn't action, of course there is; but it goes back to my original critique that it's watered down.  In fact, it's so watered down that some moments feel like you're watching CSI or some other carboncopy network cop show.  But what really helps the film are two great performances from star Joel Kinnaman (Safe House, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who's a face and name you don't recognize but when you're wearing a mask over your face over half the movie, you're not gonna get an A-lister and Michael Keaton who's the CEO bad guy.  What I loved about Keaton's performance is that he's likable and logical.  He's calm through the entire movie and that makes him scarier because it's a far more realistic villain for the time.

Will this version of Robocop have the same impact on society that the original did?  Not at all.  He looks cooler and I'm sure kids will buy a toy or two but it's not the same.  They tried to make the film for everyone and, just like with everything, when you try to make something appeal to everyone you end up making it appeal to no one.  Despite its FX and performances and everywhere it succeeds, Robocop just comes across feeling...well...robotic.

Gavin's Giveaway this week is Advanced Screening passes to see Non-Stop! CLICK HERE to enter to win!
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The Lego Movie

Traditionally, January and February are movie graveyards.  It is the place where you can find the ditches dug by movie studios for where they dump their films that they expect to be dead bodies.  The reason why is that half the country is snowed in, most of us are depressed with winter and typically no one goes out to the movies.  No film released in February has ever broken the coveted $100 million mark in its release and when you look over the list of the most lucrative movies to come out this month, the list of movies that are actually good is staggeringly slim.  Because The Lego Movie is released in 3D and is being highly recommended to see it in 3D coupled with the fact that it's one of the greatest children's movies ever made, I think we may have our first $100 million release.

You read that right, by the way.  I think The Lego Movie is one of the greatest children's movies ever made and I know how bold of a statement that is.  I stand by every word.  I have never enjoyed any of the efforts Lego has made to break into TV and video games.  I know they have their fan base and I know that some are very good.  I just never saw the appeal.  So when I saw the trailer for this film it was met with a massive eye roll.  I even sat down at a screening of it with a relative chip on my shoulder because I was thinking of something better I'd rather do, but after only 5 minutes of watching it, I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than go on that Lego journey.

The film has an all-star comedy cast that consists of Chris Pratt (NBC's Parks and Recreation, Her), Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect, The Hunger Games series), Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Blades of Glory), Nick Offerman (NBC's Parks and Recreation, Men Who Stare at Goats), Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, Horrible Bosses) oh yeah and Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell and Liam Neeson.  It's a huge cast and even has lots of cameo voices like Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Shaquille O'Neal.  All these people give great performances but that's not why you see it.

The Lego Movie is one of the most imaginative scripts to come out in years.  From the opening scene you pick up on the message that only adults will get.  There is a very apparent and bold statement about pop culture and the mainstream.  It's almost an anarchist theme that doing what everyone else is doing and fitting in is bad.  This is part of a much larger message that isn't revealed until the end in a series of scenes that is so powerful it made me cry.  What?!  Yeah.  Didn't expect that from a movie based on a toy.

Importance aside, it's one of the funniest screenplays to come out in a while.  It moves at the frenzied pace of a South Park episode and doesn't give you a chance to catch your breath from laughing out loud.  And those laughs come from both adults and kids and writer/director team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) made a noble and challenging effort to hit that bullseye.  Both their other films have been excellent so there was no need to think that The Lego Movie wouldn't be on par but it was so much better than anything else they've done.

What impressed me the most was the nature of how the film was made.  This was a stop-motion animated film made with the most elaborate Lego sets you've ever seen.  The 3D enhances this more than you can imagine and the way it's executed is nothing short of creative brilliance.  I would even go as far as to say that Miller and Lord need to be remembered for an Oscar next year for Best Animated Film.  The enjoyment level and level for which all your emotions can be extracted reminds of other children's films like The Princess Bride or Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  It's a movie that deserves to ranked among the finest made for children but specactular for all.

Gavin's Giveaway this week is THE LEGO MOVIE Run of Engagement Passes! CLICK HERE to enter to win!

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The Monuments Men

There was a time in my life where a movie like The Monuments Men wouldn't have done much for me because I didn't understand it.  The true story about a group of old and fat soldiers who were sent into Europe during World War II to protect and locate art stolen by the Nazis and destroyed by war seemed kinda meh.  But I went to Italy a few years ago and stood in front of the Statue of David and it changed me.  I looked at that statue for over an hour.  I moved around it.  I studied each curve and angle.  The fact that it was created from one solid piece of rock not only blew my mind but made me feel humble.  I wasn't someone who appreciated or understood the power of art until that moment and a movie like this is important for understanding why we still have it.

Not only does this movie star George Clooney but it was written and directed by him too.  I know that sounds impressive but it's not really a good thing.  See, there isn't a person alive that likes Clooney more than me...accept maybe himself; but his directing credits are pretty bland.  Leatherheads, The Ides of March, Good Night and Good Luck?  These movies didn't do much for me and the reason why is because of his directing.  His films are very slow and sluggish and he doesn't seem to have a good sense of narrative or excitement when he's behind the camera.  The Monuments Men is his best directoral effort but it still suffers from the same problem.

The cast, however, is one delivered from God.  If you said to me, "Gavin, what is your dream cast for...well...any type of movie?"  I would basically pick this one.  Besides Clooney, you also have Matt Damon, Bill F**kin' Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban (Best in Show, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and Jean Dujardin (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Artist).  The saddest part about this cast is that they weren't given much of a script to work with and you can tell.  That's not to say that their performances aren't great though.  Murray has a scene that feels shoehorned into the movie but you don't mind because it breaks your heart and is one of the best in the whole film.

The movie isn't heavy-hearted though despite some scenes of melodrama and tragedy.  Most of The Monuments Men is light and fun and feels like a mix of Ocean's 11 and Hogan's Heroes.  That might be part of the problem as well since it never really finds its tone.  However, the obligatory monologues about how important art is to culture and society and the gorgeous, romantic shots of 1940s Europe are enough to make you go.  The sweet and important true story is enough to make it worth the price.

Gavin's Giveaway this week is Dallas Buyers Club on Blu-Ray & DVD! CLICK HERE to enter to win!

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