Sunday, June 26, 2011


Pixar is generally thought to be the best animation studio in the world (if not, then one of, at least); especially in the past few years, we’ve seen some of the most innovative, emotional, and groundbreaking films ever offered to the medium (Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up).  Despite their amazing track record, Cars was always the weakest link in Pixar’s chain according to both fans and critics.  But what Cars lacked in positive reviews it made up for in dollar signs; Cars was (and still is) one of Disney’s biggest moneymakers ever in merchandising sales, earning the company billions of dollars in revenue.  Knowing this, a sequel was inevitable, especially seeing as some of the recent films (like Up and WALL-E) were hard to make into toys, games, and bed sheets. 

Cars 2 (and the Cars franchise in general) would be much better suited for a direct-to-DVD series.  Despite pretty scenery, great animation, and Pixar’s usual level of care and detail placed into each frame, it just fails to generate that “Pixar” feel.  The story follows Lightning McQueen, a bright red racecar hot off winning some cup from the first film, and his friend Tow Mater, a rusty tow truck hillbilly voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy. They end up having to go on another adventure together, this time around the world, for a big race against Francesco Bernoulli, a cocky Italian F1.  All the while Mater gets himself thrown into a spy conspiracy involving cars against electric engines and eventually has to save his friend with the help of two secret agents, Finn McMissle (voiced by Michael Caine) and his partner Holly Shiftwell.

The script is juvenile, with many gags relying on Mater acting childish (lots of really flat fart jokes). Get ready for some lame car puns too (the worst being “Big Bentley,” the Cars version of London’s Big Ben); they are just as eye-rollingly awful as Mr. Freeze’s ice puns from Batman and Robin (“Hey everybody, CHILL!”).  The spy plot involving the electric car conspiracy is your basic Saturday morning cartoon type of script, not at all like the tight, funny, clever story we saw in last year’s Toy Story 3.  At least in terms of Pixar products, this is at the bottom of the heap.

The most unforgivable sin that Cars 2 commits is that [I think] this movie sends the wrong message to kids.  Throughout the entire movie Mater can’t fit into other cultures, but instead of trying to learn the ways of others, by the end of the movie he “learns” that other people should deal with him and change the way they are.  This moral would be fine if Mater wasn’t a complete jackass throughout the entire movie, causing his best friend to lose an important race and demanding more “pistachio ice cream” while at Tokyo (despite the chef’s multiple attempts to tell him it’s Wasabi, an extremely spicy sauce).  I know much of Mater’s stupidity is meant for comedy, and I realize that it’s that hillbilly attitude that makes this particular character popular, but he could still have learned to be courteous, polite, or at least accepting of other cultures.  His attitude is distinctly “American” in that he thinks the world should amend to what he wants to do, and the movie does nothing to challenge that – a shame considering Pixar is known for bringing up often difficult subject matter into children’s films.  What could have been an interesting added layer to the movie, how the rest of the world sees Americans and American culture, is flipped upside down. Even the cars from the other countries are just displayed as stereotypical caricatures.

Although the action and animation was handled well, this movie won’t do much for adult audiences.  There are probably worse kids’ movies out there, and I’m sure that little ones will love it, but Cars 2 is an obvious cash-grab for the studio.  It’s a shame that Pixar did not craft a sequel that reached the heights of its other franchise, Toy Story.  Hopefully with a Monster’s Inc. prequel on the way, the animation team will learn from their mistakes and in the future will keep churning out flicks with the high quality we’ve come to expect from Pixar.

Rating: C-

Friday, June 17, 2011

Green Lantern MOVIE REVIEW

It sure has been one long night after attending the midnight premiere of Green Lantern.  Besides the problems I faced including a dead car battery and having close-up seats, I don’t think I could’ve been in a better environment to watch this movie (lots of nerds, lots of Green t-shirts, and even two cosplayers).  Even though I am a fan of superheroes, I have to say my knowledge of Green Lantern is limited.  Not knowing much of anything about his comic book origins, if the movie adaptation pisses all over the set mythos I wouldn’t know.  I do feel however, in today’s never-ending stream of comic book heroes brought to film, it’s not the worst of the bunch.

Green Lantern follows Hal Jordan (played by rising star and pretty boy Ryan Reynolds), a fighter pilot who was “chosen” as the replacement for a member of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic peace-keeping organization made up of creatures found all over the universe.  Upon doing so he must learn to conquer all fear and face the Corp’s enemy named Parallax, who will use the yellow energy of fear to eventually destroy the Earth and all the Green Lantern members.  Throw in a love interest (Blake Lively) and a foil/antagonist for Hal, Hector Hammond (played by the always great Peter Sarsgard), and you have your typical big budget superhero action flick; a by-the-numbers, save the day, learn your lesson, get the girl, become a man hero’s journey.

This film definitely played it safe; unlike The Dark Knight or even the original X-Men it does not reinvent the genre in any way.  That being said, I do think it is fun for what it is – a popcorn movie.  The film is shot professionally and the writing, as typical as it is, works in a comic book comfort food kind of way.  In the same way that slasher horror pictures rely on familiarity to please audiences, I think Green Lantern does the same.  If you’re not already a fan of these types of movies it might seem like a pointless and meaningless entry into a tired phase of action films, but I think most people willing to see a man in a green suit fly around for a couple of hours will have fun.

In a special effects-driven blockbuster like this, bad CGI can totally destroy any action setpiece.  Luckily I thought the effects were overall really good.  The “Lantern” creatures, the Parallax monster, and the space stuff all looked believable enough to me.  I do think that they should’ve kept Hal Jordan’s suit more along the lines of a “normal” costume (in this it’s more of an organic material made from energy, or something).  Sometimes it was painfully obvious that Jordan’s head was digitally plastered on his body using a green screen, but for the most part I thought it worked (it does sound appropriate that the screen be green though).  I especially loved that some of the facial effects, such as those on Hal Hammond, Abin Sur (the alien who last bore Hal’s ring), and Sinestro (the pointy eared leader of the Corps. played by Mark Strong) were done with practical make up effects just to add some reality to their performance (at least I think they were practical, if they weren’t that was some damn good CGI).

At times it’s cheesy, at times the special effects can be a distracting sensory-overload, and at times the story can seem basic, but I think it has enough of its own charm that it’s not a painful experience (unlike the superhero bottom-of-the-barrels like Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, and Elektra to name a few). I personally find myself coming back to these movies again and again, and this film, although it’s not truly inventive or mind-blowing, should satiate the people like me who just want to “check out” for two hours and watch Joe Schmo transform into a superhero.  It may not be everyone’s fancy, heck it may not be most people’s fancies, but Green Lantern is my kind of mind-numbing action.

Rating : B-

Friday, June 10, 2011


With Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams as writer/director and Steven Spielberg producing, I was a more than a little excited to see Super 8.  I could not wait to see what would [likely] be a flashback to the good old days of Spielberg blockbusters, infused with the twisty, mysterious style of Abrams.  Unfortunately, this was not the magical, wonderful experience I was anticipating, and instead was been-there done-that cookie cutter sci-fi.  The story follows a group of kids as they try to shoot a zombie movie on a cheap Super 8 camera (hence the title), but a nearby train derails during one of their shoots and lets out a monster. 

What I thought was supposed to be the big “hook” of the movie was that the kids find a clue (or clues) on the developed film they shot and have to piece together the mystery of what the creature is and what it was doing on the train.  Alas, the intriguing premise (or what I had assumed was the premise) is not even important or used in any sort of clever way; the kids’ film isn’t even developed until ¾ into the movie, and even then it does not show anything of value.  This movie really does not do anything we haven’t seen before.  Another “hook” was that we would for the first time see a Goonies type of film fused with sci-fi, but the script and characters in The Goonies were much richer and more thought out. Even the creature, hyped endlessly through marketing and throughout the actual movie, had an uninspired design!  Overall the picture was not the mysterious, awe-inspiring love note to Spielberg it set out to be, it was just too much of the same stuff we’ve seen a billion times over.

I did not completely hate the movie; I did think the actors were all good in their roles (however bad their parts were).  Among the kids, the performance that stood out to me was Elle Fanning, who after watching this film, I believe would’ve been a great choice for The Hunger Games’ Katniss.  The first quarter of the film was handled promisingly; the train crash was genuinely exciting and there were some great set-ups (if only there was some payoff for those set-ups).  There were so many directions this film could have taken; the end result is disappointingly forgettable.  I hate to hate Super 8 too; walking into the theater I was honestly expecting it to be an ‘A’ movie.  To me, this is probably going to be the biggest disappointment of the year.  A film with the logos for both Amblin Entertainment and Bad Robot appearing at the beginning should not be as lackluster as this.

Rating: C+

Thursday, June 9, 2011

X-Men: First Class MOVIE REVIEW

This summer is a busy one for superhero movies and I have to admit, X-Men: First Class was probably the one I was least excited for.  Coming off of two quite terrible entries into the series (the lacking X-Men 3: The Last Stand and the totally insipid X-Men Origins: Wolverine), I had lost all enthusiasm for a fifth movie.  However, with Matthew Vaughn (fresh off of another superhero adaptation, Kick-Ass) in the director’s chair and a cast chock full of great actors, this prequel works marvelously and could be the best X-Men film yet.  The story follows Professor X (played by James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) as they befriend one another and form what will become Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the 60’s, only to turn against one another later on.
What makes First Class among the better superhero flicks recently is its amazing cast.  McAvoy and Fassbender completely own their roles, and however farfetched the on-screen action may get, those guys have a way of grounding the film in reality; you will believe without doubt that a man can lift a submarine out of the water using only his mind and an extended hand.  Also starring as a part of a mutant love triangle between the two is Jennifer Lawrence (recent Academy-Award nominee for Winter’s Bone and future Katniss in The Hunger Games) who plays the blue shape shifter Mystique, not entirely sure which side she belongs to (the MLK humans-mutants peace side or the Malcolm X “mutant power” side).  Playing the villain Sebastian Shaw is Kevin Bacon, who actually speaks German in this film - and well!  Other notables include Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, Insidious), Oliver Platt (West Wing) and January Jones (Mad Men). 
The biggest problem I had with the film was that it simply had too many characters.  There’s one scene where all the mutants are gathered in a room and are giving nicknames to each other; watching this it’s clear the writers had difficulty trying to fit individual character introductions throughout the script, and this scene feels strange and forced.  There are quite a few mutants we don’t get to know well enough, and some of their powers are kind of lame (one kid, Banshee, flies using some weird sonar thing that I couldn’t buy into).  Even Kevin Bacon, who does a great job with the material, does not seem as big a threat in the film as he really should.
It was interesting how the movie tied in with historical events (the Holocaust and Cuban missile crisis in this case) and the 60’s vibe brought on a certain tone that harkens to old James Bond flicks.  The special effects were also handled really well.  Aside from Beast’s mouth not operating in complete conjunction with his words, I have no real complaints.  Also, the costumes were not garish or unrealistic (as opposed to this year’s Thor) and were kept to a minimum.  Overall, X-Men: First Class is a juggernaut of entertainment.  Though I do have to say the trailer for this movie gives many of the biggest moments away, so avoid it if you can.

Rating: B
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...