Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pixar's Midlife Crisis

A month and a year after my article denoting Pixar's claim to perfection and infallibility... the same article that said Dreamworks couldn't make a movie... (you can find it here) I am treated to a frightening prospect. Cars 2 is kind of lame... and yet Kung Fu Panda 2 is wonderful, joyous filmmaking.
That's Kung Fu Panda kicking Cars' ass...
What's the deal?!

It's not that I hated Cars 2... I whatever-ed Cars 2... I mehhh-ed Cars 2. I found myself caring less about Cars 2. A great deal of this, of course, came from the intense overexposure of Larry The Cable Guy...
Any Larry The Cable Guy is too much Larry The Cable Guy. This is the man who made a movie called Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector wherein Larry THE CABLE GUY doesn't play a Cable Guy... what??

Okay calm down.

At the start of the film, Luxo jumps on the "i" and for a brief moment I get excited. The image appears "Celebrating 25 Years" Yes! Sweet! I can do this. Then, Michael Caine!
Awesome. You make every movie better. Classic spy thriller. Ooooh, that could be wonderful.

But why did it have to be Cars? If you wanted to touch on this genre, just make a relatable kids film
while still including Michael Caine
that's completely original. I dunno, if I were Pixar I'd start thinking about having another one of those meetings where they plan out the next fifteen years of films... cause it's clear they didn't plan beyond that and they're suffering for ideas. It hurts to see, but we got lucky with Toy Story 3 and unlucky with Cars 2. Maybe Brave will be good (I truly hope so).

But then the fear sets in once again... Monsters University.
I may start weeping. If Pixar's regressed so far to think Cars 2 was actually a good idea, what are they gonna do to Monsters Inc? I looooove the original so much. I don't want to see it meddled with.

Here's my true fear. I'm afraid that Pixar has lost touch. I'm afraid that John Lasseter has suddenly been given the power to make whatever he wants but has lost the ability to fight for the best of himself. After so many years every artist goes through a slump and honestly he needs to step back and think about integrity of product because now Pixar films are being released and rereleased with the same brevity as the films of Disney's vault.
Many will call it good business, many more will call it a money grab.
But that's not the point.

If John (I'm calling him by his first name because he still holds a place of quality and respect in my heart) has become too blind to recognize the general outlook on the first Cars, which has been primarily negative by the same people who usually boast a solid love for every other Pixar flick, that he went ahead and made a second one...
and let's be honest, he made this flick selfishly because he loves real cars and wants to be around them all the time, so why not make another movie?
...then he could easily fall into a cycle of bad sequelization and meritless content.

Sure, the movie tried to have a message about big oil vs. new energy forms, but to be honest I still can't tell what that message is. Is it just that oil tycoons will never change and that we've gotta keep fighting no matter what? Cause that message was never really relayed.

And I'm not saying I need a message from a family film. Wall-E had enough message to carry Pixar the next five years. But I could use a little care when trying to introduce big arguments to kids. At least try to intelligently relay a message... "guys, corruption is one of those evils you will no doubt come in contact with at some point in your life. It's difficult to be the good guy in the face of corruption, but it can be done. Every time a person stands up against corruption and wins the world gets just a little better. But focus on the word AND in that sentence, because it doesn't always turn out that way. You have to pick your battles."

I don't want to say Pixar has become corrupt. That's not the place I'm coming from. I'm coming from a place of frustration because I know what these guys are capable of. And I'm scared. Because almost every year, since 1995 I've gone out to at least one movie...
a Pixar movie...
and found hope,
hope that entertainment can be smart and fun to every member of the family.
A Pixar film can bring imagination to a 4-year-old's mind
and joy to an 80-year-old's eyes.
It can unite families in conversation and give friends laughter. At the end of Toy Story 3 I'll admit I was in tears. At the beginning of Up I couldn't hold back either. It takes sheer will and love of the craft to attain such consistent reactions from people of all walks of life.

Perhaps they need new blood. After all, the energy comes from their ability to spontaneously partner together on new ideas... right? At least, that's what they're always saying in their documentaries. Perhaps, by bringing new people in with new ideas that can be shaped into beautiful works of celluloid poetry, Pixar can overcome the hurtles of this midlife crisis.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Green Lantern: Some Good, Some Bad

Definite Spoilers

I'll begin by saying, I was surprisingly and happily entertained by a great deal of this movie. It's amazing to finally see my favorite DC character brought to screen and so grandly at that. The writers really worked hard to find those great bits of the ring's powers that make me giddy...

I said they worked hard, I didn't say they always succeeded.
Oops, did I put that in there?
When I get right down to the crux of the thing the studio was likely the problem. Because I look at everything else and see it actually working:

Actors - Literally all fantastic!

FX - Gorgeous! Magnificent! When the ring is used and we see what Hal can do... That race track sequence had me giggling to high heaven. Those guns! Oh man I was happy. And Parallax was a great villain.

Direction - The action just worked. Perhaps there is some fault in the final editing but... who's to say who's at fault for that. I can easily see WB coming in and muddling with the project. And truly, that almost exact 2 hour run time is suspicious to say the least.

So what was the trouble?

Writing - I hate to say that what I saw on screen was a Camel...
But it's the truth. I could feel a different voice depending on what part of the movie I was watching, whether it be a specific writer or a final stamp saying just get on with it...

Specifically I'm referring to that scene when the two villains finally meet... and the scene that occurs during the credits. Neither of these bits were earned and that's where the negativity lies. Much of what occurs in the movie is not earned. It's a very general note, but that's really what bothered me the most. Whether it be a character hitting their ARC in exposition...
Or them seemingly not having an ARC at all...
Or in the event of poor Peter Sarsgaard (who worked his ass off mind you), a total confusion of what makes the ARC interesting...
very little in the story actually came from an honestly structured recognition of what these characters were feeling or why they did what they did or wanted to do. The end result left critics panning the thing when it really didn't deserve such a reaction.

Honestly I'm sad that there couldn't be a little more focus, but for my money I can still say I'd see a sequel (I didn't have to pay this time anyway). But here's my thought. If Warner Bros decides to release an extended edition with 20 minutes worth of film "added back in" I wouldn't be surprised... I wouldn't be surprised and I'd buy it on the spot. Because I think the greatest fear here was pacing. And I think that some very important things were cut because of this made up fear. So for my money I want those extra scenes, that arc that's missing. I want more. And I do want a sequel. I do I do I do.

If you disagree:
I understand. But I also feel like you should give the flick a chance. Don't walk in expecting to hate it. Walk in thinking, "Oh man, Green Lantern on the big screen!" Cause that's what it's all about. Am I right?

Definite Spoilers

Sunday, June 12, 2011

South Park Spews Shit And I've Never Been More Excited

Beware There Be Spoilers Within

Last Wednesday's Semi-season finale left my jaw on the floor. The lengths to which they went to show us how they felt were... extreme to say the least. But this is a moment I've been praying for for quite some time now. Trey and Matt are two of the smartest show runners alive.
Perhaps of all time.
So when they got to that final Randy and Sharon conversation I was floored. I mean, the implications are so exciting.
If South Park drops its "event of the week" mentality and adopts instead a new line of continuity... that would honestly be enough to make me call it "the greatest show of all time."

Granted, this is still just speculation... but it's something I can't stop thinking about. One continuous story. Full continuity, to me, makes any form of television instantly more watchable. My favorite shows have always been those that create season spanning plots... and often series spanning. And Trey and Matt are just the guys to make it happen. They're smart. They're funny. They've done everything from TV to Film to Theatre... they get entertainment from all its angles.

I know I'm rambling. But it's out of excitement. So give me a break on this one. This new setup leads to so many possibilities. Kyle and Cartman actually enjoying each other's company? Stan, outcast from his life? His parents divorced? The concept of aging has finally been established.
And I for one am excited to watch the boys finally grow up.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I've Seen The Tree Of Life And It's Made Me Crazy

2 days ago I tweeted: "Terrence Malick just kicked my ass... but I think I was due for a kicking. I lost my mind in that movie." I really wasn't joking. As I exited the theatre I felt myself overcome with emotion, thought, and an intense need to do more. It's possibly the strangest movie I've seen in (at least) the last five years. That's an exceptional feet... to garner such clout as the Palm d'Or whilst being as equally hated as it is loved by the population... it just proves that the film is special. The greatest works in history have naysayers. What's more impressive is no one will simply say it was okay. Either you love it or you hate it. And I totally understand both considerations, though I do fall in the Love category.
So how do I feel about The Tree Of Life? I think it was far more epic than I could have imagined from that incredible trailer. They managed to hide so much of the film from us up till screening day and I love that. I was surprised at the scope of the thing, the operatic themes, and ballet like qualities that only added more passion and existential potency. I was shocked and excited when a certain dead animal took screen and played a massive metaphor for the duality of life. It was honestly a mind-bomb. It only affected me awesomely.
That's the biblical version of the word: Awesome.
And that's incredible when you consider the film only contains about 40% actual human performance... the rest is beautiful creative energy. I cannot imagine what that screenplay must look like.

When Terrence Malick compares his movie to any other, he says he wanted it to feel like 2001: a space odyssey. And I see that. I get how he came from one to the other. But that's not quite the movie he made. The best comparison to a movie experience I can think of... the closest I've ever come to the feeling I walked out of that theatre with, literally sped home while thundering my palms against the wheel, and tried to change something in my life as immediately as I possibly could... the best comparison is Fantasia.

Genre: Balletic, Operatic, Symphonic, Existential Mind-Meld Drama.

Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class Farce

I've seen X-Men: First Class twice now. Not because I really had to revisit the movie so quickly after my initial view... in fact it was quite the opposite. As soon as I walked out of that first screening I dreaded the realization that, because I work in a movie theatre, I would have to go see it two more times for friends. But c'est la vie.

It's not that I hate the movie. There are certain elements that work perfectly.
When McAvoy and Fassbender are on screen it's almost too perfect. They're each so hypnotic in their abilities to hammer the script into their own purposes. And that script had to be hammered. One of the most obvious signs of a great actor is the ability to make clumsy dialogue sound interesting and real... and I could cite at least five times that McAvoy was forced to do this and still somehow came back with a charming variation on the words that at no time felt clumsy.

However, in other members of the cast it was clear as January they could not whittle through the wood.
She's really bad... she's really really bad.
Kevin Bacon still managed to bring fun to the screen and I enjoyed this Sebastian Shaw. It would be nice for him to have other goals. And in that early sequence where he brings young Erik to his room, I doubt I was the only person in the theatre who wondered why the boy didn't target his rage at the man who had actually wronged him considering there was all that metal around.

The inclusion of Havok was a massive misstep as well. The character has no purpose if he doesn't have Cyclops around. And the actor underperforms to the max. Actually, all of the side mutants (Havok, Darwin, Riptide {who?}, Angel Salvadore, Azazel)* all fell short of the mark. It's one thing to introduce new mutants. It's quite another to force them upon us, reiterate the same conversation fifteen times in hopes we think this means they care about something and then leave us without any arcs. They learned how to use their powers? Okay. Do I actually care? Nope. Nice work.
*For some reason, I was okay with Banshee.

And when I say they repeat that same conversation fifteen times I'm not exaggerating. I get it, it sucks to be different from other people. But that's really just because you're all a bunch of whiny kids who can't seem to come to grips with how cool your powers are. I think everyone would agree if they had a mutant power like any of these guys... somebody commenting on how weird they are really wouldn't even place in their mind. The point of X-Men is actually deeper because that conversation is not on the surface (maybe once or twice even is acceptable) until we have gotten to understand these characters motives... their history. Something we only truly get out of Magneto... and even then it could have been written more sensibly.

This isn't to say I don't like the movie. It was fine. If the next one has more Magneto/Xavier and builds on that I will probably enjoy it very much. But I'm still looking for a movie with balls like the first X-Men. It took the mutant argument and made it real, fleshed it out, made it interesting. Any time Ian or Patrick were talking something wonderful was being said. And the action was pretty damn well thought out. Lots of practical effects went into that movie and the movie succeeded for a million and a half of those reasons. X-2 was awesome as well. Even more so I'd say. We saw more of characters we loved and learned to better understand them. And at the end of X-2 we were given a promise...
a very specific promise. Then the third X-Men came along and destroyed every decibel of our hopes and dreams that that promise would every come to the screen. Then Wolverine was a joke.

So I guess I'm just glad this was better than those last two... but, honestly, that's not saying very much at all. From a wayward fan to a wayward producer, couldn't we just agree that since people are still coming out to these flicks it's okay to take more time and allow more interesting people onto the project? Start with plot and revamp it all with a writing team that proves they care. Cast some actors like McAvoy and Fassbender... people who know their way around a camera... who don't halfass their way through every line (I'm looking at January). These can be so great. And you're already putting the money into them, so why not be proud of the content as well?