This movie doesn't come out in theaters (if it comes out around Sacramento at all) until mid-June but you can get it on Comcast now. Â That's what I did, but I'm sure it watches a hundred times better on the big screen.
Troll Hunter is a modestly budgeted film from Norway that is done as a fake documentary. Â It's about a group of college students that need to find a great story for them to shoot their student project on. Â At first they think they're doing some investigative journalism into a local bear poacher but it quickly turns into a search for mythic beasts - trolls. Â I know, I know...that sounds ridiculously stupid and some of you will continue to think that it is even if you watch it, but it's not that difficult to buy into the premise and have fun with it.
Troll Hunter was made by an entirely Norwegian cast and crew so don't expect to see any familiar faces or even hear any familiar words; the entire movie has subtitles. Â What I enjoyed about this film so much was that it was perfectly toned. Â By that I mean it's done seriously and intensely as if these creatures are real and dangerous, however it knows it's a movie about trolls and stays just tongue & cheek enough to not be too serious. Â That's not easy to do when you're a fake documentary that is intended to be thrilling but about a goofy premise. Â Some movies do it well like Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and some do not, like The Last Exorcism.
Troll Hunter features some scenes that are really funny but I can't tell if that's intended or just the nature of the mythology surrounding trolls. Â Since this was made by Norwegians, I'm guessing it's all actual lore. Â Me second guessing them would be like telling a Scotsman he's wrong about the Loch Ness Monster. Â But what's great is that the comedy is peppered in with scenes that carry with them some real tension when you come to grip with the danger these creatures pose. Â It also does a great job of skirting around a low budget by using existing landmarks as part of the story that make you totally buy the concept (no spoiler alerts but I'll never look at electrical lines the same way again).
Troll Hunter is a fantastic and fun concept that executed with great results from a filmmaking team that shows lots of potential. Â I can only hope that they put out another film as fun as this soon but someone will take a chance and give them a much higher budget.
Troll Hunter (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
It's been about two years since my mom gave me this book for Christmas.Â She INSISTED that I would love it.Â "Really Mom?Â Because that seems to be a book about economics."Â But here's the thing, she couldn't have been more right!Â It's a fantastic book that was written by Journalist Stephen Dubner and Economist Steven Levitt that looks at every day questions that society has wondered and answers them in a purely unbiased way because it's only based on numbers and statistics.Â Still sounds kind of boring, doesn't it?Â It's not though; it's very lighthearted, funny and easy to understand.Â This movie captures the mood and tone of the book perfectly and it's done by incorporating five very talented documentary directors, Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp), Seth Gordon (The King of Kong), and Alex Gibney (Gonzo, Taxi to the Dark Side).Â All of the documentaries that these directors have made in the past are some of the best in the last decade and it's almost like Freakonomics was crafted by a dream all-star team of artists.Â The two authors host the movie and kick the whole film off with their happy-go-lucky, jovial banter.Â Although some of the topics covered are serious, it's never presented in a manner that is so dry that it bores you.Â Not to mention the fact that each chapter of the movie only lasts about 10-15 minutes and are polar opposites of each other.Â The film covers some of the topics such as cheating, does your first name affect your life's success, why is crime lower than it was in the '70s and can kids be bribed to do well in school.Â The movie is a mere Cliff's Notes version compared to the book (and book's sequel Super Freakonomics...which I hope gets a movie treatment too), but still a very fun and very informative piece of entertainment.Â By the numbers...this is a winner!
Freakonomics (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A
I went with a big group of teachers to see this documentary about our broken education system and Iâm really glad that I did.Â We talked about the new documentary from Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) afterward for about 45 minutes.Â Apparently, in short, itâs a very simplistic view of education from someone who doesnât really understand it. Â He lays out points that he thinks are key problems or villains in the system andÂ some of those things the teachers agreed with but overall they were very opposed and sometimes offended.Â The painting of Unions as the devil and the key problem in education is dangerous.Â Unions are an issue and the problem in some areas, but they also do a lot of good.Â One of the teachers was accused of being a racist last year by a studentâs parents because she was failing.Â If the Union didnât step in and defend her, she wouldâve had to pay her legal fees by herself and probably wouldâve lost her job. Â Many of the teachers agreed that tenure is not helpful and leads to poor teaching in some, however they all said that itâs one of the only incentives to go into teaching.Â Itâs certainly not for the pay and they would be willing to get rid of the tenure if the pay was what they deserved (and comparable to almost all other professions that require that level of education and training.)Â Also many teachers in the theater (not just my group) scoffed at the line in the film about reaching tenure. Â âAll you have to do is breath for 3 years," is said by a Harlem education reformer named Geoffrey Canada. Â Maybe getting tenure was easy when Mr. Canada was younger but not now.Â Especially since, such as California, those teachers spend the first to seven years of their career not knowing if theyâll be cut due to budgets each year. Â They all agreed there is a problem, but Guggenheim's âsolutionâ seemed to be Charter Schools.Â Well, thatâs great but unrealistic.Â The reason why Charter Schools do so well (in some cases) is for such reasons as smaller class size, being able to evict poorly performing students and, in one of the stars of the film, Andreâs case, the school has the kids for 24 hours-a-day and control everything about them.Â The film also made it seem that going to a public school was the same as being sentenced to a life of doom.Â We took a quick poll with the group that was around us of how many went to public schools and about 95% of us did.Â We turned out okay.Â Is it because we worked hard? Â The film operates on the assumption that every child and their parents are like the ones featured in the film.Â They all are doe-eyed and eager to learn with concerned and active parents standing behind them.Â Thatâs the minority of kids.Â The film didnât touch on the fact that most American students simply donât WANT to work hard to achieve goals or gain an education.Â That was a common theme with all the teachers there.Â Solving each kidâs desire to learn like a Rubix Cube is a great idea on paper, but not when you have 50 kids per classroom and already have over-worked teachers that put in 10-12 hour days anyway. Â The ending of the film is moving and thereâs no denying that. Â You would have to be a husk to not tear up by the final act of the film. Â Guggenheim seems to care about the problem but is getting advice from the wrong people.Â The movie almost teeters on dangerous though.Â We have commercials playing on our station now of Meg Whitman encouraging people to see the film.Â Itâs scary to think that she could be Governor of this state and go forward thinking that that film is an accurate representation of how to fix the education problems. Â I could only hope that everyone else that sees it doesn't feel that way too.
Waiting for Superman (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: C+
This movie is real! Â Let me go back for a second. Â There is a good chance you never heard of Catfish, but it was made famous by winning over audiences at the Sundance Film Fest and having a totally engrossing (albeit misleading) movie trailer that made its rounds virally on the Internet. Â It's a documentary about three young, good-lookin' hipsters from New York City that document their friend's relationship he makes with a woman over Facebook. Â The movie is mostly fun and light-hearted until they discover one little detail about his Facebook girlfriend that stirs up debate over her legitimacy (this doesn't give anything away). Â They decide to drive to her house in Michigan to see her and confront her on the issue(s). Â That is when the film makes a slow and disturbing turn. Â I cannot and will not tell you anything more about the movie Â The three guys have had an uphill battle convincing people that Catfish is true. Â That's partially because of the reality TV world we live in and the fact that they happen to look like actors you'd see in any Judd Apatow comedy. Â I thought Catfish was a fake documentary, much like Cloverfield or Blair Witch Project, through 80% of the film. Â I started to question that notion toward the end and by the last ten minutes I was sure it was real. Â I couldn't stop running the ending of this movie through my mind though and when I got home I researched it more. Â The creators admit that they reshot some scenes after they were done filming. Â I'm fine with that because what they reshot isn't what really matters for the story. Â What matters is the last act of the film and there's no way they reshot that. Â I wish I could talk about what happens but I can't. Â The only thing I can say is that they may have captured documentation of what creepy and off-putting levels mental illness can take some people to. Â Catfish is a slow burn. Â Although it moves at a fast pace that's still pretty fun, it asks patience of you as an audience member. Â Even when the end starts to sink into you, it won't seem that intense. Â But if you think about what you just saw, it can saturate your marrow and you think about it every time you go online. Â If it comes out that the movie is indeed a fake, it will still be enjoyable and the boys will earn my respect for their trickery. Â But as it stands right now, Catfish is a real documentary about real people going through real events that is a cautionary tale about online use. Â It doesn't show you anybody you didn't already know existed, but actually seeing it makes you feel sad and perplexed. Â It might have done for Facebook what Psycho did for taking showers.
Catfish (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A-
Documentaries rarely do well at the box office. Â Sure there is the occasional Michael Moore movie orÂ March of the Penguins, but overall they go by unnoticed and slink away into DVD collections of movie nerds like me. Â It's a shame because I really enjoy them and I think they have a lot to say. Â It's refreshing when you see real stories with real people who have something unscripted and real to say. Â But what happens when the subject and stars of your documentary have nothing to say because they can't talk...yet. Â Babies is a French documentary by director Thomas Balmes that just might be able to take flight and be another documentary box office hit if word-of-mouth happens. Â Don't be scared by it though, there's not subtitles because there's no dialogue. Â I realize that I'm doing a horrible job at selling this movie right now for a majority of moviegoers, but how about I tell you what it's about and then you'll be hooked. Â The film follows a year and a half of four different babies from four very different parts of the world; Mongolia, Japan, San Francisco and Namibia. Â After watching ten minutes of the movie, you'd pretty much have to be a soulless assh*le to not fall in love with the stars of the movie. Â All four grow increasingly adorable and grow before your eyes. Â The feeling is one that is totally unique to any movie experience I've ever had. Â I found myself feeling much like a parent of these kids on a small scale. Â I know I wasn't alone either. Â I could hear sniffles from tears when we all heard them say their first words. Â The theater laughed at their amusing frustrations over simple tasks. Â And we all appalled when we watched them take their triumphant first steps. Â It was truly a unique experience to be part of as an audience member. Â The film is shot beautifully and Balmes made specific choices that separate it as not just a cheap heartstring-pulling picture but as art. Â Namely, he chose to have no narration which makes the film's short runtime of 85 minutes seem a lot longer. Â However, I'm glad he decided to do that so it didn't feel like a Discovery Channel special and more like an artistic expression. Â He also made the decision to exclude the babies' parents as much as possible. Â There are moments that may upset some people though. Â For instance, no babies were harmed in the filming of this movie (I'm guessing), but some cultures have very different ways of parenting. Â Some clearly have a more hands-off approach and less sanitary lifestyle. Â This might turn some people off and make it unenjoyable at times. Â I found it interesting given the vast differences that shine through at first but then give way to undeniable maternal similarities that show that continents and cultures can divide us but deep down we're all still human. Â I think it's brilliant to have this movie come out on Mother's Day Weekend and would be a perfect film for moms to see together. Â The bonds shown between mothers and their babies are touching beyond words. Â It also might be a perfect date movie for serious couples because if one is on the fence about starting a family, a simple viewing of Babies will make them craze a lineage faster than you can say "pacifier."
Babies (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A-
It's difficult to review a Michael Moore movie because it's hard to separate the film from the message. Â Most people who write a review on his movies end up dissecting what they agree or disagree with what he's trying to say. Â But that's not what a movie reviewer should do. Â What we should do is judge the movie based on how well it was executed as a piece of cinema, as a documentary. Â That's what I plan on doing. Â It is interesting to me that one of the harshest criticisms of Moore is that his movies are biased. Â Well, of course they are...they're documentaries. Â ALL documentaries are biased. Â They all start with a thesis or a opinion and then the movie sets out to prove it true. Â In "Capitalism," Moore's thesis is that Capitalism is a corrupt and evil system that has replaced Democracy in our country and devastate many for the gains of a few. Â I happen to agree with that, but as a reviewer I'll refrain on diving into my thoughts and how they differ from his on the matter. Â Moore is one of the best documentary filmmakers of all time. Â His movies are refreshing, edgy, revolutionary, funny, heartbreaking but above all...entertaining. Â He uses archival footage from How To films, propaganda movies, news reels and more to create this fast-moving, brightly colored world of examples of how things were (for the good or bad). Â As in all his films, he has his sarcastic at times, somber at others and always monotonous voice to narrate us through it. Â He does however cast himself as a more visible player in "Capitalism" than he has in past, such as "Fahrenheit 9/11." Â But it moves too slow and it's too long. Â At over 2 hours, it's exhausting after a while trying to keep up on such a complex and confusing subject. Â Most of us, including me and HIM, don't understand the concepts of what made Wall Street collapse or why financial de-regulation happened or even what the hell a derivative is!!!! Â So to try and cram all that into a movie is really a jagged pill to swallow. Â But besides that aspect, it's still very good. Â Moore is great at telling stories; he lets things get really sad but then is sure to pick you up with something funny. Â He makes sure you get angry over what he claims is wrongdoing, but then inspires you to do something about it. Â In fact the last 15 minutes of the movie, which is nothing but a Call to Arms, will give anyone goosebumps on the arms and inspirational tears in the eyes, unless you're rich. Â The only problem is that I hope you're brain isn't fried by the time you get there. Â I do have to say that it bothers me that most people who hate Michael Moore just because they've been told too by radio pundits, cable blowhards or politicians. Â Most of these people have never and will never see one of his films. Â I do firmly believe that if they did form an educated opinion about him by doing that, they'd change their tune once they find out that his movies are not only entertaining, but they're made for us little people...well, and for him so he can make money too.
Capitalism: A Love Story
Gavin Grade: B
Tyson (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
It's a widely accepted theory that Mike Tyson is one of two or three greatest boxers to ever live.Â I remember being a kid and watching him fight on TV and thinking that he was unstoppable.Â Of course as I and Tyson got older I found out that not only was he stoppable, but he stopped himself.Â I became less and less of a fan of his.Â But what this documentary, by director James Tobak, did was show exactly what it would be like if you were a trusted friend of Mike Tyson's and he invited you into his home and told you his life story as honestly as he could.Â I guess in a lot of ways, that's what a true documentary is suppose to be.Â But this movie doesn't cover one man's life really but covers one man talking about his life.Â Tyson, who doesn't stop talking through the entire film, doesn't spare us any major milestone.Â He talks about growing up in Brooklyn as a little criminal, his climb to fame, his scandalous marriage, his horrible money management, and even why he bit off Holyfield's ear during a fight.Â He talks about his rape conviction, to which he still insists that he's innocent of and does a good job of convincing you of that.Â Even though he was found guilty, it makes you wonder why a guy who's being so honest that he would admit to his STDs he's caught, would still lie about committing a crime he already served jailtime for.Â What was one of the most insightful moments was watching him talk about his first coach, Cus D'Amato.Â This is a man who saved him from the ghetto and a life of crime and was the only father he ever had.Â Tyson breaks down and cries while talking about him and you get the feeling that you're watching a rare sight of a dangerous wild animal be tender to its young.Â You feel for Tyson at the same you feel uneasy around him.Â The movie isn't made for fans nor does it attempt to make you a fan.Â It just is what it is...and so is Tyson.Â It's a portrait of a complex, scary, frightened and insecure man who shares in his own words every win and every loss...and what happened inside the ring as well.Â It's sad, tragic, scary and inspiring, which mirrors the man himself I feel after watching it.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A+
I am not a fan of Hair Metal.Â Musically, I could care less about this band from the '80s named Anvil.Â In fact, I was only 4-years-old when they reached the brief height of success.Â But now it's 2009 and this Canadian band is STILL playing music and STILL trying to make it even though 30 years have gone by.Â This movie is about that journey.Â But as it turns out, it's about much more than music.Â The documentary is a better version (which is no easy task) of the 2000 documentary "American Movie" but it's failed musicians this time and not failed movie makers.Â It's directed by Sacha Gervasi, who fought to get the movie made since he is and still has been a loyal Anvil fan all these years.Â I would think that the urge to make this movie and throw yourself in front of the camera and become part of the story (a la Michael Moore) would be overwhelming, but Gervasi doesn't do that.Â In fact that is part of the reason why it's such a charming film.Â That type of subjective filmmaking would've made the core of the film seem less authentic and that is the human relationships that the two main characters have with each other and their families.Â Lead Singer, "Lips" Kudlow and Drummer, Robb Reiner (not the Director/Actor) are more than bandmates, they're lifelong friends that share a bond that most brothers don't even have.Â It honestly made me miss my best friend (who lives on the East Coast) even more than I already did.Â Through the strength of their friendship and the impressive and moving love of their families the band is able to go on.Â Because of that soulful impression they make on the audience, you find yourself routing for these guys even if you think their music is crap.Â "Anvil" is one of those rare movies that is hilarious, heartbreaking and triumphrant but even more importantly...real.Â It's the perfect movie for anyone who's still chasing the American Dream...which is ironic because they're Canadian.
Earth (Rated G)
Gavin Grade: B-
This is the first film in what is going to be a series of eco-themed movies from a new studio called Disney: Nature.Â The next one is called "Ocean" and it comes out next year on...you guessed it, Earth Day.Â I wanted to see this movie since the first time I saw the moving trailer for it, but it was disappointing that the trailer was far better.Â Disney teamed up with the BBC to make this film, but the BBC had basically already filmed most of it.Â In fact, you may have already seen it on TV under the name "Planet Earth."Â Now, that shouldn't take anything away from this considering that it's one of the most beautifully shot pieces of film I've seen in maybe a decade.Â The Time-Lapse photography is jaw-dropping in the way that it captures entire seasons as it shows everything from plants growing to entire landscapes changing.Â The craft that went into the use of High-Speed cameras to capture the Slow Motion shots of such things as a cheetah hunting, are stunning and gorgeous!Â But that leads me to the first problem, don't let the "G Rating" fool you; this is not a film for the whole family.Â An alternate title of this may by "Adorable Baby Animals Get Eaten for 90 Minutes."Â And since so much of the film follows families of animals, this makes parts of it really hard to watch with kids...or my 20-something year-old girlfriend for that matter.Â The other flaw with it is that it's kind of boring.Â Yes there are thrilling sequences of narrow escapes (or almost-escapes), amazing scenery that you would never see if these directors didn't show it to you and incredible stories of nature, but it doesn't move very well.Â James Earl Jones narrates it (of course) and at times he almost sounds bored.Â However it is an important movie to see.Â It doesn't get preachy about global warming, pollution or over-crowding at all.Â But it stands as a monument that this planet is punishing and rewarding; and that life is bigger and more connected than you can imagine.