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Gavin Grades The Movies



Southpaw



When I went to the screening of Southpaw, I took my wife. On the way home, the movie Rocky came up in conversation, as you could imagine. My wife has seen Rocky once and she didn't really like it. I know, I've already played out how that would look to our families as justification for divorce. She enjoyed Southpaw more than I did and what was driving me crazy was that everything she liked about it was already done in Rocky but done better. Sure, Rocky has become played out and material for endless parody but it is the greatest Boxing movie of all time and possibly the greatest sports movie of all time too. So I have sympathy for anyone who tries to make a film about boxing because they're gonna cover a lot of the same ground that the greatest already did. That'll make your film look weak, no matter how well you do it.

Southpaw stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a world class professional boxer at the top of his career who gets kicked back down to the bottom after tragedy strikes his family. It's basically Cinderella Man but a lot more raw, emotional and untrue. Gyllenhaal puts in a performance that we've grown to expect from him now. He has clearly proven himself to be a top shelf performer and someone who is long overdue for an Oscar (the fact that he wasn't even nominated last year for Nightcrawler is a goddamn crime). Southpaw probably won't win anyone any awards but Gyllenhaal doesn't know that and turns in a gut-wrenching performance that feels as brutal and grievious as any one he's done so far in his career. Not to mention the fact that dude beefed up an extra 25 lbs. of muscle and got pretty damn good at pretending to box like a boxer.

Director Antoine Fuqua is one of the great action filmmakers working today. Sure, he's paid the bills with some pretty terrible films but those are mostly the fault of shotty screenplays and hack actors. But what Fuqua does so well is kick ass with action while never losing sight of drama. Training Day is still one of my favorite movies and last year's The Equalizer was one of the most shockingly excellent films of 2014. His directing in Southpaw is no different. He puts us squarely in the ring and, with the help of superb sound editing, makes us feel like we're not just throwing fists but getting hit as well. But that's easy compared to getting raw emotion out of your actors. The pivotal scene in which tragedy strikes Gyllenhaal's character stays in the moment a minute too long and makes you feel like you're a helpless bystander that should look away but simply can't.

The rest of the cast turns in performances that are good but not great. Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris, The Notebook), Forrest Whittaker (Panic Room, The Butler) and even 50 Cent are all decent enough to keep the film from getting too heavy resting on Gyllenhaal's shoulders. But the supporting player who steals every scene she's in is young Oona Laurence. She may not have many films to her resume but this New York-based 13-year-old already won a Tony Award and she might have thrown her hat in the ring for an Oscar nomination too. She is absolutely heartbreaking as the daughter of Gyllenhaal and McAdams who turns in adult-sized emotion in every scene.

The problem with Southpaw is that it's nothing new, like at all. It's incredibly predictable and cliche at this point. The other issue is that Fuqua brings us down so far and so hard with Gyllenhaal's fall from grace that it's excruciating to watch. It feels like sadness is over half the movie. I'm fine with that but if you're gonna bring me down that far, you have to bring me up even higher and over the same amount of time. That's not what happens. The scales are tipped in a way that's not favorable to the story. There's so much time spent showing how far our hero falls that when his inevitable return to the top comes, it goes too quickly and feels rushed, therefore feeling unsatisfying. Southpaw is fine and serves slightly more than what most expected from it. More importantly to some, it could be the greatest boxing film you've ever seen...if you don't like Rocky...but if that's the case, you've got terrible taste in movies anyway.

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Pixels



The dream of every young filmmaker is to get your stuff seen and hope someone thinks it's good enough that they hire you to make big-budget, fancy Hollywood feature films. In the case of Patrick Jean, I wonder if he regrets having that dream come true. Five years ago he made the short film Pixels, which was about old school '80s video game characters coming to life and destroying the planet. The whole thing was only two minutes long and was uploaded to YouTube but it became a viral sensation...at least in the nerd world. Among the people who saw that was Adam Sandler, who made Jean an offer to buy the story from him and let him (kinda) work on it as a producer for a feature film version. What we have is what I reviewed and it was terrible.

Besides Sandler, I'll bet Jean was pretty excited about the team assembled for the movie. Kevin James, Peter Dinklage (HBO's Game of Thrones, Death at a Funeral) and Josh Gad (Frozen, The Wedding Ringer) were cast as well as Chris Columbus coming on as a director. I mean, the guy was responsible for Home Alone, Harry Potter, and Mrs. Doubtfire. Plus, Seth Gordon came on as a Executive Producer. He's responsible for Horrible Bosses, ABC's The Goldbergs and one of the best documentaries of all time, The King of Kong (which is about the race to get the all-time high score in Donkey Kong). It's not exactly a dream team of Oscar winners but you could do a lot worse. However, with the exception of Gad, everyone was off their game with Pixels.

Sandler is a mystery to me. I'm not sure what blackmail he has over all of Hollywood but he still makes movies despite the fact that he hasn't made a good one in nine years and that's even being nice and saying Click was a good movie. Adam Sandler is so awful that he manages to spread his suck like a virus on otherwise talented people. Kevin James seemed funny enough until he buddied up with Sandler and then he made movies that make you feel bad for him. Dinklage is an award-winner for Christ's sake and he's virtually unwatchable in Pixels. His character is groan-inducing and makes you wonder what drug he was on while making this that would distort his reality so much it would make him think he was turning in a good performance.

The only saving grace is Josh Gad. The man is one of the funniest people working today, despite having one persona. He is the only reason why this can still be considered a comedy. There are scenes where his performance had me belly laughing until it was ruined by someone else in the movie opening their mouth. Everything else that goes for laughs falls flat if Gad isn't involved. The only other reason to possibly check out Pixels is because the action sequences are actually fun. Columbus does a decent job of making video game characters that don't register with anyone under the age of 18 still seem cool. If this stirs a resurgence in Defender, Pac-Man and Centipede that would be pretty cool. At least something positive would come out of this.

So as you can see, Pixels is a failure for the most part. Now imagine you're Patrick Jean. How does it feel to have this happen to something you worked so hard to create? I don't know. I guess he could be thrilled he got a decent pay day on something that turned out to suck or does he feel devastated that someone took his baby and turned it into a mess. Who knows? I feel bad for him. But if Pixels taught us anything it's that perhaps a 2-minute-long film doesn't have enough meat on it to be stretched out by another 88 minutes. Or maybe it's just that the Sandler virus continues its reign of terror of cineplexes everywhere without a cure in sight. Either way, it's a problem Hollywood needs to solve.

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Ant-Man



The road to the big screen was a very rocky one for Ant-Man. The original writer and director was Edgar Wright. For anyone who doesn't know Wright's work, he's the genius behind Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs.The World and The World's End. The man hasn't made a bad film yet and they all have a crisp, frenzied comedic pace so the idea of him helming a Marvel film made every fanboy embarrassed to stand up in front of a crowd for a bit. Everything was going well in development, or so we thought, until it was announced that Wright was leaving the project after her butted heads with Marvel. This was devastating but it got worse when his replacement was announced to be Peyton Reed. Besides inspired TV comedies early in his career like Mr. Show and The Weird Al Show, the man has made crap romantic comedy after crap romantic comedy, such as The Break-Up, Down with Love and Bring It On. I'm very pleased to say that, although Ant-Man isn't perfect, it's far better than most of us feared it would be.

When something stars Paul Rudd, it's a safe bet that it's going to be funny. Sure he might be in some bad movies from time to time but Rudd is consistently funny. That is no different in Ant-Man. He was a brilliant casting and to Rudd's credit he finds a way to be a different kind of smooth-talking, funny hero hunk than Chris Pratt's Starlord and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. What's even better than Rudd is the cast that surrounds him. Michael Douglas is back in his first big movie since his cancer scare and his presence on the screen reminds us of why we loved him to begin with. Corey Stoller (FX's The Strain, This Is Where I Leave You) is one of the scariest villains Marvel has had in a long time. Maybe not so much when he's Dr. Darren Cross, but more so when he dons the Yellowjacket suit. Evangeline Lilly (ABC's Lost, Real Steel) is great as the strongest female character they've had since Black Widow. But the scene-stealer is Michael Peña who makes me laugh with every line he delivers. His performance is a reminder that he can kill it in comedy just as well as he can kill it in dramas like Crash and End of the Watch.

The other collaborative star of the film is the writing team that put together this killer script. Wright still gets credit as one of the writers since the foundation for what we see was his story and script. Rudd even joined as one of the writers as well. Wright's writing partner on his original script was Joe Cornish who made the indie British sci-fi comedy Attack the Block that was quirky and smart and his collaboration with Wright really shines through. But the biggest contribution, and most shocking as well, was Adam McKay. He's the comedic guru behind Anchorman, The Other Guys, Step Brothers and Funny or Die. He's fantastic and bringing him in on a Marvel film was genius and paid off in spades. Ant-Man is actually more funny than it is thrilling. That will disappoint some who are looking for another comic book popcorn-chomper but it almost works more as a comedy than action.

One element to Ant-Man that will get overlooked a lot is the amazing musical score composed by Christophe Beck. The guy has done so much amazing work doing the music for films like Frozen, The Muppets and Pitch Perfect but this might be some of his finest work. Despite the fact that Ant-Man is set during modern times, the music is VERY throwback to the spy thrillers of the '60s. It's jazzy, fast and feels totally out-of-place for a comic book film...and that's why it's so perfect. See, after a slow-paced first half, the rest of the film turns into an Oceans 11-type heist. None of the characters are smooth James Bonds by any means but the story tries to be. Beck's soundtrack is this weird dichotomy between a goofball superhero's team of burglars and slick corporate takedown.

It's true that Ant-Man is slow at first and takes a while to ramp up but that's all somewhat necessary in an introduction film. Ant-Man is a character almost as obscure as The Guardians of the Galaxy and even more ridiculous. In order for the American public to buy into something as silly as Ant-Man, you have to have a lengthy build-up. Because of that, the movie feels plodding. It's also way more on-the-nose sliding into the Avengers world than any other first installment in the Marvel universe. That's not totally a bad thing and it fits the tone of the film. (Make sure you stay till the end of the credits since a very short but important scene sets up an important Civil War film, coming soon.) Ant-Man is fun, cute and will generally please audiences on a mainstream level but may dissapoint the Marvel die-hards that are looking for epic battles. Depending on which camp you fall into will determine your level of enjoyment.

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Minions



To be fair, I need to say that I've not yet seen either Despicable Me films. However, Minions is a prequel to those and one of the signs of a well done prequel is that you don't need to know anything about the others to enjoy it. Minions doesn't seem to have anything in it that is crucial information from the others. In fact, it's a backstory for secondary characters that people loved so much from the first one, that Illumination Studios decided the world needed an entire film about them. We didn't. The reason why secondary characters are so lovable is because they get just the right amount of screen time. Imagine if there was a whole show about Kramer from Seinfeld or a movie that was just about Bubba from Forrest Gump. Sometimes we want just a pinch of lovable characters because too much can put a bad taste in our mouths.

Minions is a bad movie but what's interesting about it is...I'm not exactly sure why. I've seen hundreds of movies as a critic and rarely am I stumped as to why a movie sucks. Usually you can point to bad directing, a lousy script or piss-poor acting but this is a kid's movie. Outside of Pixar, no one goes to see a movie made for children and expects to see Oscar-worthy cinema or prepares to have their souls quaked. I can usually look past movies like Home and The Smurfs and say, "Well, I'm not their target audience." But I brought my son to see Minions and he was even bored by it. But again, I'm not sure why.

One possibility is that Minions was a needless moneygrab by a studio trying to squeeze blood from a stone. I've heard good things about the first Despicable Me and I can understand a sequel to it. They even have a third on in the works. I get all that. But trying to branch off and make a whole movie about characters that are cute and funny to some and horribly irritating to others while also keeping the Despicable franchise going seems greedy and the movie comes off like that. It doesn't serve a purpose and feels phoned-in from the crude animation, stupid plot, jokes that don't seem to appeal to any generation and predictable like I've never seen a movie before. I guess all that falls on the shoulders of directors Pierre Coffin, who directed the other two Despicable Me films, and Kyle Balda (The Lorax).

The one thing that I'll give Coffin is that he does the voice of all the Minions. I know, I know...they all sound the same. Sure, but that's not what makes them impressive. Minionese, the language they speak, is actually not gibberish. It's a combination of several different languages that's written and performed impressively. I will say that doing an entire feature film about characters who don't speak English is ballsy but it's still too much. After about an hour, you're ready for them to take a backseat to some other characters, like they should, but they never do. That wouldn't have helped anyway because the other characters are equally annoying. Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm are the human stars and Hamm especially is impressively even more annoying that the Minions.

I understand that Minions has a built-in audience and I am not that guy. Perhaps my first exposure to them should have been in the first film where their screen time is limited to an adorable amount. That's giving this film the benefit of the doubt though. The truth is that this is a movie that wasn't thought out well, nor executed properly. It will make tons of money, which is probably all the studio cares about but it might be a Pyrrhic victory. You know what that is? It's when someone wins a battle but at such a cost that it's actually a defeat because they can't carry on. With Despicable Me 3 on the horizon, will Minions do so much damage to the franchise that no one will care or want to see it? Or maybe they'll just be too burned out on the characters by then. I predict that might happen.

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The Gallows



Backstory on this film is that the writing/directing team of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing are local boys from Fresno. I love supporting local artists wherever I can and I heard from the studio behind The Gallows as well as the guys' family members who reached out to me that they really wanted to do an interview. I was excited to help these guys out and I was proud of them (despite never meeting them) for making a feature film that was getting nationally released. I went into the screening of The Gallows excited, optimistic and really hopeful that I was about to see the birth of a brand new horror franchise and then be able to be part of the support system to shoot the film and local artists to stardom. Well, after I saw the film, I called the studio and canceled the interview; not to be mean but because I don't know what I could say to them when they asked me how I liked it because I didn't want to hurt their feelings...it's that bad.

Before you think that The Gallows is the first and last attempt Cluff and Lofing will ever have in Hollywood, I sincerely hope that isn't so. This film has a very interesting premise despite not being very original. Anyone who's ever done live theater has looked out into a dark empty audience or walked around the quiet backstage area and freaked themselves out. The Gallows plays on that premise that a high school theater is haunted by a vengeful ghoul that lives in the rafters. If that sounds like Phantom of the Opera without the music, you're right. What's not unoriginal is implausible and hackneyed. The film's villain is the spirit (yet it grew up to be an adult somehow) of a high school student who accidentally died during a production of the fake titular play. A few decades later, the school is doing the same play again because that's a totally believable thing a public school would do. Yes, this is where anyone that's even remotely thinking rolls their eyes.

As if all of that isn't bad enough, we've got another "found footage" disaster on our hands. I know this genre has been around since 1980 when Cannibal Holocaust invented it but when The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, that was when it became the genre that wouldn't die. There are some movies that have come out that have used this in very creative, very effective ways. But a massive majority of "found footage" films are total garbage and it makes me sad that The Gallows is one of the worst examples of it. Not only is it ludacrous why anyone would be filming what's happening in the film the entire time, it's not even done effectively or believably.

One of the crucial components of a "found footage" film is stellar improvisation acting from the cast. The Gallows features a team of young unknown actors (one of which is Kathy Lee Giffords' daughter) playing the high schoolers trapped in peril. To help them act naturally and feel more like classmates, the directors even had each of them play characters that share their real names. On their own and in other projects each of them might be somewhat decent but in The Gallows, they were all terrible. There was no chemistry between them, horrible dialogue that doesn't ring authentic for a second and acting so bad you'd expect to see it in an actual high school production.

Now see, there I go...I feel bad. I really am proud of Cluff and Lofing for actually accomplishing something that 99% of people never even get close to doing. The premise is spooky and interesting, despite being ridiculous and unlikely. The ending is predictable but still clever and cool. The scare jumps, which is all this movie has to lean on, are well placed for the most part. And they did a good job of making it PG-13 even though the MPAA gave this an R-rating for absolutely no freaking reason at all (so much so, I'm shocked they didn't challenge that rating considering there's no swearing, blood or nudity). I know this was their first try but it's really bad even for a first try. I'm willing to say they deserve another chance to learn from their mistakes. They seem to have traces of talent as filmmakers and I'm excited to see what they do next...or maybe that's just giving them a free pass cause they're local. Who knows.

Want to see an advanced screening of Pixels? Enter for your chance to win HERE!

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Interview: Kaitlyn Dias


Listen to the Wake Up Call talk to Kaitlyn Dias, the star of the new Disney Pixar movie Inside Out:


Here is Gavin's review for Inside Out:
Becoming a parent does crazy things to your brain. Things that you never thought about or, if you did, didn't care about on an emotional level suddenly become the thoughts that will knock the knees out from under you. One of those thoughts is growing up and I don't mean growing old. That's different. Growing up was always something that kids looked forward to and every new milestone was exciting. When you're a parent though, you look at each of those milestones as a small tragedy that you still are excited to celebrate. Watching your child slowly drift through each phase of childhood development makes every parent feel nostalgic for the days before it happened. The creators of Inside Out knew that and harnessed it into a film that not only works as a delightful celebration of the sadness that brings them but also a thrilling, colorful adventure that children will want to watch over and over again.

Yes, it's true that Pixar hasn't been the juggernaut it was since 2010's Toy Story 3, which I still say is the greatest children's film of all time. Cars 2 and Brave were both terrible and even though I loved Monsters University, it was panned by critics and didn't make a ton of money. Inside Out is not only a return to the creative genius we all grew to expect from Pixar but it's one of their best films they've ever made. Part of that reason is because they got Peter Doctor to direct it. He's the wizard behind Up and Monsters Inc. Both of those films carry with them, not just crowning achievements in films for children, but in films in general. Up showed how an entire life can be displayed in ten minutes without saying a word and Monsters Inc. still has one of the greatest endings in any movie ever. As good as both those films are, Inside Out is better.

The movie follows the five primary emotions that exist in all of our brains. Inside Out shows them as colorful, hilarious characters that have all been perfectly cast. Amy Poehler is Joy, Phyillis Smith (NBC's The Office, Bad Teacher) is Sadness, Lewis Black (Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Unaccompanied Minors) is Anger, Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins, Superbad) is Fear, and Mindy Kaling (NBC's The Office, The Five-Year Engagement) is Disgust. If you're a comedy nerd or a fan of quality sitcoms, you know all of these people already and realize what an absolute perfect casting all of them were.

What makes this go further than just seeing these wacky emotions interact is the plot, where the 11-year-old girl they exist inside of moves to a new city, has to make new friends, deal with stress from her parents' relationship at home all while she's starting to enter puberty. These changes lead to an adventure that kids will love but play out the emotional transition from child to teen that will tear the heart out of parents. Children won't understand why you're crying to see certain characters appear and then disappear and they may wonder why you're crying behind your 3D glasses but any parent who values the innocence their child possess or no longer has will see certain scenes play out and they will strike a memory that may break their hearts.

Even if you don't have kids, Inside Out will still attack your feels. Everyone had an imaginary friend or pretended a stick was something magical. We can all relate to middle school and how those were the years where happiness was no longer found at every minute but instead sadness started to creep in. Inside Out doesn't play this out to depress you but instead shows you why it's important to allow some sadness in your life because it's part of what makes memories and events so important. What's a real amazing accomplishment is that Doctor achieves all of this while also making a thrilling, funny adventure for kids. It's the same film that operates on two levels, each totally satisfying for adults and children.

I know I've made Inside Out seem like it's a rather heartbreaking film for anyone over the age of 21; it's not. I absolutely love the first ten minutes of Up but, let's face it, it's not something you want to subject yourself to over and over again. Inside Out is something you want to enjoy many times over. It's a masterpiece that will carry new meaning to its viewers every new decade they watch it. Instead of making you depressed, it forces you to recognize the majesty of youth and want to cling to it either in yourself or your kids as hard and as long as you can. It's a film that will be enjoyed for generations because it's meant to be absorbed differently for generations. I'm not sure what else you can expect and hope for out of a film outside of that.

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Ted 2



Seth MacFarlane said recently in a New York Times interview that he had a completely different plot for Ted 2 originally.  The first plot involved Ted and John driving a pot shipment across the country and hijinks would ensue.  Well, in 2013 an absolutely awful movie with Jennifer Aniston came out called We're the Millers and was basically the exact same plot.  MacFarlane then scrapped his Ted 2 plot and thought of something else.  Luckily, he was reading a book about the Civil War at the time and was inspired by the true story of Dred Scott.  See, Scott was a slave who sued to prove that he was a person and not property.  Only someone like MacFarlane could take such an inspiring, tragic and emotional true story and apply it to something as stupid as a teddy bear suing for the same reason.  Even though the plot we got sounds infinitely more interesting than his original one, it's proof that this sequel was a completely unnecessary Hollywood money grab that never needed to be made in the first place.

The one thing you need to give MacFarlane is that he knows what he finds funny and doesn't really give a damn what you find funny.  Luckily for most of us, we find funny what he finds funny; that's the reason why Ted was such a relatively critical and commercial success.  He made a story that was already ridiculous and added his own style of absurdity to it to make it a uniquely weird and wonderful comedy.  In Ted 2, he tries to do the same level of weirdness but it doesn't coexist with the plot as well as the first one.  The stakes are pretty high in Ted 2 and the lack of care and professionalism taken by all the main characters doesn't sit right, even in the context of the film.

Don't get me wrong; Ted 2 has some really, really funny moments.  You have to wait through long periods of agenda and statement-making drawing parallels to the civil rights fight going on today with gay and lesbian Americans though.  I appreciate that MacFarlane is trying to juggle a lot with this film but there are large stretches of time in the already two-hour-long movie where nothing funny happens at all.  It's like watching a boxing match where the fighters spend a majority of the time dancing around each other but you'll still watch it because just as you're zoning out there are really exciting blows.

None of this was the fault of stars Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, A Million Ways to Die in the West) or MacFarlane, who voices Ted as well.  Wahlberg and MacFarlane have the same level of chemistry as they did in the first one and it's just another reminder of how funny Wahlberg can be.  The problem simply falls on a script that doesn't shine as bright nor feel as fresh as the first one.  MacFarlane, as a director, probably knew this as well, which might explain why he lets the movie go on for an extra 20-30 minutes that should've been cut.  That also might be why MacFarlane uses so many cameos in the film, since cameos often perk up sleepy people up in an otherwise soggy screening.

I'm still a fan of MacFarlane and appreciate what he does.  I think what we're seeing with Ted 2 and his last film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, is that he's surrounded with a tad too many "yes" people who tell him everything he does it great.  Or even worse, he's surrounded by no one and relies only on his own ego to tell him he's great.  Either way, we're starting to see an artist of comedy grow tired in his own specific style.  I'm still hoping that's not true and want him to make something that changes the landscape like Family Guy did when it burst onto the scene 18 years ago (yeah...that should make you feel old).  Some could see Ted 2 as the beginning of the end but it has enough uppercuts and body blows that I'll still watch whatever fight he wants to put on.

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Inside Out



Becoming a parent does crazy things to your brain.  Things that you never thought about or, if you did, didn't care about on an emotional level suddenly become the thoughts that will knock the knees out from under you.  One of those thoughts is growing up and I don't mean growing old.  That's different.  Growing up was always something that kids looked forward to and every new milestone was exciting.  When you're a parent though, you look at each of those milestones as a small tragedy that you still are excited to celebrate.  Watching your child slowly drift through each phase of childhood development makes every parent feel nostalgic for the days before it happened.  The creators of Inside Out knew that and harnessed it into a film that not only works as a delightful celebration of the sadness that brings them but also a thrilling, colorful adventure that children will want to watch over and over again.

Yes, it's true that Pixar hasn't been the juggernaut it was since 2010's Toy Story 3, which I still say is the greatest children's film of all time.  Cars 2 and Brave were both terrible and even though I loved Monsters University, it was panned by critics and didn't make a ton of money.  Inside Out is not only a return to the creative genius we all grew to expect from Pixar but it's one of their best films they've ever made.  Part of that reason is because they got Peter Doctor to direct it.  He's the wizard behind Up and Monsters Inc.  Both of those films carry with them, not just crowning achievements in films for children, but in films in general.  Up showed how an entire life can be displayed in ten minutes without saying a word and Monsters Inc. still has one of the greatest endings in any movie ever.  As good as both those films are, Inside Out is better.

The movie follows the five primary emotions that exist in all of our brains.  Inside Out shows them as colorful, hilarious characters that have all been perfectly cast.  Amy Poehler is Joy, Phyillis Smith (NBC's The Office, Bad Teacher) is Sadness, Lewis Black (Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Unaccompanied Minors) is Anger, Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins, Superbad) is Fear, and Mindy Kaling (NBC's The Office, The Five-Year Engagement) is Disgust.  If you're a comedy nerd or a fan of quality sitcoms, you know all of these people already and realize what an absolute perfect casting all of them were.  

What makes this go further than just seeing these wacky emotions interact is the plot, where the 11-year-old girl they exist inside of moves to a new city, has to make new friends, deal with stress from her parents' relationship at home all while she's starting to enter puberty.  These changes lead to an adventure that kids will love but play out the emotional transition from child to teen that will tear the heart out of parents.  Children won't understand why you're crying to see certain characters appear and then disappear and they may wonder why you're crying behind your 3D glasses but any parent who values the innocence their child possess or no longer has will see certain scenes play out and they will strike a memory that may break their hearts.

Even if you don't have kids, Inside Out will still attack your feels.  Everyone had an imaginary friend or pretended a stick was something magical.  We can all relate to middle school and how those were the years where happiness was no longer found at every minute but instead sadness started to creep in.  Inside Out doesn't play this out to depress you but instead shows you why it's important to allow some sadness in your life because it's part of what makes memories and events so important.  What's a real amazing accomplishment is that Doctor achieves all of this while also making a thrilling, funny adventure for kids.  It's the same film that operates on two levels, each totally satisfying for adults and children.

I know I've made Inside Out seem like it's a rather heartbreaking film for anyone over the age of 21; it's not.  I absolutely love the first ten minutes of Up but, let's face it, it's not something you want to subject yourself to over and over again.  Inside Out is something you want to enjoy many times over.  It's a masterpiece that will carry new meaning to its viewers every new decade they watch it.  Instead of making you depressed, it forces you to recognize the majesty of youth and want to cling to it either in yourself or your kids as hard and as long as you can.  It's a film that will be enjoyed for generations because it's meant to be absorbed differently for generations.  I'm not sure what else you can expect and hope for out of a film outside of that.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl



There have only been a few movies in the last ten years or so that have made me cry.  Don't get me wrong; I'm not someone who doesn't cry often when watching a sad film.  What usually happens, however, is I'll get wet eyes and perhaps a single tear will roll down my cheek.  When I say that a movie made me cry, I mean ugly, sobbing cry.  Many tears.  A little snot.  Quivering chin and lip.  Ugly.  Me and Early and the Dying Girl made me do that and I was not expecting it at all.  I heard that it was the darling of Sundance and swept everyone off their feet but they were mostly talking about how funny it was, how real the characters feel and how its look is so fresh.  All that is true but it's also a suckerpunch to the feels that you won't soon forget.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon may only have a few television episodes of American Horror Story and Glee along with a lousy remake of The Town the Dreaded Sundown to his credit but he's worked as Assistant Director under some of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  (Listen to my interview with Jon Bernthal below to hear them listed)  Those jobs working with the masters are what prepared him to make Dying Girl a truly fresh vision.  Much like how Jason Reitman made Juno feel like something new and exciting back in 2007, Gomez-Rejon does it with this.  The dialogue is hilarious and real, the characters are fully fleshed out and the setting of Pittsburgh, PA is absolutely captured depressingly gorgeous.  He's someone to make note of because I believe we'll see a lot of him in the coming years.

We'll also see a lot of the entire young cast.  Thomas Mann (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Project X) is wonderful as Greg, a teenager who's mom forces him to spend time with a classmate who's diagnosed with leukemia.  The dying girl is Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke (Ouija, The Quiet Ones).  She impressively pulls off a character that balances the sadness of her mortality and the carefree joy of youth throughout the movie.  And Earl is played by RJ Cyler, who's never done anything before but you can't tell for a second.  (Listen to my interview with all three below)  He steals many scenes with a single line and has a natural way about his performance that feels like a security blanket.  All of them share a chemistry that's rare in films about teens; you get the sense that they all are real friends, which makes the film that much more hilarious and tragic.

Jesse Andrews wrote the script and it's based on his book.  He's the architect for what is one of the most accurate depictions of the selfishness, apathy and turmoil that comes with being a teenager since JD Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye.  The main character, Greg, is someone you drift in and out of identifying with, hating, laughing at, laughing with and sharing regret with all in the 105 minute running time, which does feel a little long toward the end.  Most of Dying Girl is funny, in fact; not just funny but one of the funniest films of the year.  And without feeling like it gives you whiplash, it effortlessly slides into one of the most tragic as well.  In the regards of crafting a true dramedy, it's a masterpiece.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl isn't heavy-handed and can still be considered a fun night at the movies.  It's a film that is a tribute to cinema and the teenage human spirit.  I'm not sure if it'll have the same effect on everyone that it had one me but when the final credits rolled, it made me want to rush home and hug my loved ones a little tighter.  It's easy to make a heartbreaker about an adorable kid who dies.  That's not what this does.  It is a movie that celebrates youth and everything that comes with it...the laughs, the friendships, the school politics, the weird parents and sometimes the loss.





Listen to Gavin's conversation with the cast of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl:
 


Listen to Gavin's conversation with actor Jon Bernthal:
 

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Dope



Sundance is a funny place.  I've never been but how I've heard it described by those who have is it's a lot of rich people and filmmakers mixing and mingling hoping to be there for when the "next big thing" pops.  There is an awful lot of "did you like that?" "Of course, I did...right?"  "Oh, absolutely!  Everyone loves it."  Certain films catch the word-of-mouth and get whispered loudly through the festival and onto the pages of entertainment websites and magazines.  Sometimes those movies are brilliant and go on to launch careers, win awards, create new genres and inspire a new legion of movie wizards.  Other times, they suck.  Just flat out, old fashioned suck.  Dope is one of those movies that sucks.

If you hop on Rotten Tomatoes, you'll see Dope sitting there with a 95% (at the time of writing this) and glowing reviews from top critics...almost all of which are white.  The reason I'm pointing their race out is because Dope is the kind of movie that feels so alien to so many white people that saying they didn't like it carries with it a fear of sounding racist.  It's not.  A film about teenagers living in the roughest parts of LA who get pulled into a world of drugs and crime is not something new nor is it something white people can't relate to.  Boyz in the Hood is a profoundly excellent film that was accessible to so many types of people.  Dope is a disjointed mess that can't seem to figure out if it's a comedy, a drama, a statement piece and certainly can't pull off all three.

Writer/Director Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar, Our Family Wedding) goes against the type of films he's made in his entire career and attempts to make a hip, young indie film that evokes filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Jared Hess, Noah Baumbach, Tarantino and even the Coen Brothers.  It's a noble attempt but a massive failure in that respect.  It starts as a fun, quirky, colorful film and then splinters off in so many different directions it loses the little momentum it builds.  That's just the directing; the writing is just as bad.  Dope is about three inner city teenagers who claim to be "nerds" and "geeks" but they're far from it; they're hipsters and that's only because they embrace "white interests."  It's actually too bad that Famuyiwa didn't make them true nerds because it would've made the story more interesting.

I don't think that movies need to have a moral purpose but Dope is one that wears one all over its face.  The end of the film features a completely out-of-place monologue by star Shameik Moore (Joyful Noise), breaking the fourth wall, and tries to make an important statement about race and how it relates to teens trying to go to college.  A film about just that would be great but doing that after we spend a punishing two hours watching him succeed by shirking guilt until he eventually sells drugs and blackmails a kingpin seems morally conflicted.  Moore is joined by friends played by Kiersey Clemons (Disney Channel's Austin & Ally) and Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Perfect Game) and the three seem to do the best they could with the confusing script that was provided but just end up getting in the way of the already scattered plot.

Once again, I need to point out that me "not getting it" has nothing to do with the fact that it's about a world I have no experience with.  Besides Boyz in the Hood, other films that have been about the same material like Menace II Society, Friday, Do the Right Thing, Training Day, Lean on Me, 187, Kids...all of these worked because they were accessible.  Dope was a noble try to be something funny, tragic and important told by a director who couldn't handle such a multi-tonal project.  What you're left with is a film that isn't funny, isn't tragic and if it's important, it's certainly lost in translation.

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