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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ten Word or Less Review: Since when does Pixar aspire to be Dreamworks?

The making of Cars 2 surprised no one.  Cars, though wildly unimpressive when compared to Pixar’s string of accomplishments, stood tall as one of the studios’ more resounding financial success stories.  Three years after its release Cars toys still sold briskly off the shelves of retail giants.  So because the kiddies couldn’t get enough of anthropomorphic automobiles at playtime Pixar assuredly charged ahead with something they don’t lightly do, a money mandated sequel.

A sequel didn’t have to be inherently vile.  In hindsight, there’s a nugget of a great idea buried in Cars 2.  Instead of putting our automobile characters in a familiar situation which would harken back to the prosaic first film, Pixar founder and Cars director John Lasseter would open up the universe these autos live in.  We would not be confined to a race track and a small, off highway town where nothing happened.  Cars 2 would envision the entire planet as a place built by and for automobiles.  And even better, we’d jump into spy movie homage territory, full of dazzling action and Pixar’s playful reinvention of old scenarios.  But something went wildly wrong.  It was just one thing.  The thing that has sadly turned into the linchpin of the entire Cars universe.  Mater.

In Cars 2 we find Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson) relishing in an unparalleled run of success.  He’s a champion, he’s saved a town from oblivion, has a good relationship with a nice girl, he’s got it all!  He’s also got a rube best friend.  McQueen’s friendship with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) seems like sympathetic obligation on McQueen’s part.  Every other weekend, in between winning racing championships, McQueen has to go back to Radiator Springs to enjoy a round of cow tipping with his redneck chum.  This relationship makes no sense.  Do you really think Dale Jr. would go home on the weekend to shoot beer cans and watch wrestling with a simpleton cousin?  This fundamental flaw in the story, a successful race car driver going out of his way to hang out with his IQ deprived, hillbilly friend, destroys the credibility of the story before it has even started.  And things only spiral downward from here.  Mater gets McQueen wrapped up in an international race competition because he can’t shut up.  On top of that, Mater gets confused for being an American spy, so now Cars 2 is using what feels like a prototypical, asinine Adam Sandler plot to get around.  But the pedantic plot isn’t the worst thing.

Cars 2 fails so horribly because it’s rooted squarely around Mater. Imagine a Star Wars movie starring only Jar Jar Binks, there sort of is one, and you’re almost where Cars 2 decides to go.  A well-intentioned, good natured, nincompoop, Mater becomes the center of Cars 2 and the entire movie becomes unbearable because of it.  Mater is the kind of character intended as small dose comedy relief, not the central focus of his own movie.  Before you can say “Get’er done”, clueless Mater has shanghaied every scene and you’re stuck going on an adventure with a one dimensional, unfunny idgit.  The spy part of the story would work like gang busters, the first scene of the movie is very promising, but none of it matters much because Mater is the crutch the movie chooses to hang itself on.  Cars 2 follows the misguided logic that because Mater is stupid, and supposedly funny for the wee ones, we will willingly sympathize with him.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  When Lightening McQueen gets angry at Mater for ruining a race it’s completely justified.  Mater’s clueless antics cost McQueen an important event and McQueen has every right to be pissed.  But the movie insists that McQueen eventually feel bad for beating up on Mater.  And though Mater is clearly a clueless imbecile, the well-worn, super smart British spy cars (Michael Caine & Emily Mortimer) never catch on.  Who are we supposed to root for in a movie where everyone is so painfully dumb and emotionally backward?  It becomes painful after a while.


It’s these juvenile, sitcom level , un-Pixar story devises which make Cars 2 such an endurance test.  If there was the slightest bit of intelligence on the behalf of a single character, something Pixar specializes in, everyone in Cars 2 would drive as far away from Mater as possible and never turn around. But the kids like Mater, they want the toys, so we’re forced to deal with him.  Cars 2 never lets up with its Mater centric antics and by the time it’s done you have no choice but to pray that Mater voice Larry the Cable Guy gets throat cancer.  It may be the only thing to keep this hopelessly unfunny character away.
If the Dreamworks logo sat atop this production no one would have thought twice about the outcome, but this is Pixar.  It may be just another harmless, dunder headed kids movie on one level, but this is the studio which spent the last 15 years redefining what an animated movie can be.  For them to indulge in cheap, crass, money driven kiddie entertainment feels wrong on too many levels.  I hope the backlash against this movie has been heard loud and clear and a decision resulting in garbage like this is never made again.



Ten Word or Less Review: Mahna mahna!

I had an idea to write a VERY long review for The Muppets but I don’t see much point in doing so.  The Muppets is a cute adventure vehicle for Jim Henson’s iconic creations.  Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of the gang are all here tugging at your heart and nostalgia strings.  If you’ve been pining away for a new Muppet experience then you finally have something worth seeing.  It would pretty easy to pick on it and take issue with this and that element of it, I think this is a far from perfect Muppet movie, but to do so almost feels mean spirited.  It’s been made with the best of intentions, maintains the spirit of Muppet tradition, and the world at large once again seems appreciative of Kermit and his felt friends.  I’ll be content and let Behemoth swallow my qualms about The Muppets, say thanks for an okay time and give a heartfelt Mahna Mahna to everyone.


Catfish (2010) – Is it a documentary or not?  That’s a question that hangs all over Catfish.  By most appearances it would seem like it has to be faked.  This documentation of a NY photographer who discovers that everything may not be square about the child prodigy painting his photographs has some probability issues which quickly led to claims that it’s a faux documentary, an accusation the filmmakers wouldn’t admit to or deny.  Even if it is all staged, the movie has a lot of interesting elements that warrant discussion.  It shows an audience how much can be accomplished in cinema with, what is for many, everyday technology.  This film has been made possible because of facebook, cell phones, hand held digital cameras, google maps, GPS, etc.  The technologically impaired may need tech subtitles to grasp what they’re looking at.  It is also an interesting look into the ease with which social media can be misused.  If you’ve ever told a lie over facebook and enjoyed the ramifications which rippled out because of it the people of Catfish will open your eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.  But if these factors don’t intrigue you then Catfish is just a small curiosity.  Despite the interesting subject and unique form of it, it’s a pretty minimal drama without a great deal of payoff.


Gambit (1966) – An almost lost gem of the 60’s con/thief/heist/people stealing stuff genre.  If charming efforts like Charade, To Catch A Thief or the original Pink Panther are your style then Gambit is a winner.  Michael Caine plays a wanna be cat burglar who recruits Shirley McClain in his attempt to swindle an Arab billionaire out of his most prized possession.  He has a fool proof plan that would work to perfection, if only everyone did as exactly as he thinks they should.  The movie is a great example of a breezy, light weight genre that few people get right, or even try, in this day and age.  Look for a Coen Brother scripted remake to appear next year starring Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz.  If it’s half as good as this I’ll flip.  Gambit is only available via streaming on Amazon or to order directly from Universal Studios.



Fast Five (2011) – Ridiculous, homoerotic silliness.  I think this may be the first time I’ve ever jumped into a franchsie 5 movies into its existence.  Not that that matters much.  The Furious franchise usual suspects run around in cars one more time to increasingly comical results.  I suspect the goofy nature of this series has been in place since the beginning but things are positively Loony Tunes for entry number five.  A bus flips over a car and doesn’t damage the car or the people in the bus.  Diesel and Walker drive a sports car off a 300 ft. cliff, land in the water with a Wile E. Coyote inspired splash and are better off than the coyote ever was.  The same duo use two muscle cars to drag a 3 ton safe through the streets of Rio De Janeiro.  They crash it into anything that can’t move and a few things that can but not a soul is injured, much less killed.  And then there’s The Rock.  If no actor has ever accurately portrayed roid rage on celluloid, it’s been done now.  Ripped and glistening as if he’s about to explode from all the HGH pulsating through his veins, The Rock rams through every scene like a pissed off linebacker sacking a helpless quarterback.  And putting Rock and Diesel in the same frame at the same time provides no end of hilarity.  Not since the Barbarian Brothers have two actors accounted for so much on screen testosterone.  I’m surprised the cameras didn’t explode filming the two of them.  As they gaze intensely at each other you’re left to ponder what’s going through their mind, “How much can you bench?” or “When can we turn off the camera and bench press each other?”



Ten Word or Less Review – Evil Santa movie doesn’t live up to hype.

What a damn disappointment.  Rare Exports has one of the greatest setups ever.  Your basic ‘scientists dig up something horrible out of the ice’ routine except it isn’t a demon or monster or acid crapping alien.  IT’S A FUCKING MURDEROUS SANTA CLAUS!  This Finnish flick introduces a mythology of Santa, not as a Coke swilling, rosy cheeked, happy bastard bringing rocking horses and baby dolls to good little boys and girls, but a sadistic tormentor of kids who boils and flays the little ones who don’t do right by Mommy and Daddy.  Sadly, a great concept is all it is.

The movie has this great hook to work with, as well as  a nice look about it and some credible performances, but it stubbornly refuses to go anywhere exciting or devious.  At a scant 80+ minutes the venture feels like nothing more than a prolonged first act which hums in a neutral space from which it has no desire to shift from.  A few creepy moments come to pass but the movie never hits the accelerator.  After a while the appreciative simmer of tension that’s established slowly downshifts into outright boredom.  In an incredible let down Santa Claus Monster never really appears.  Who we think is our evil Santa, a naked, gnarly looking Finnish man with a ratty beard, is actually one of his many elves.  Exports sets what must be a dubious record for the most elderly, naked Finnish men put to film.  Santa, some kind of unseen, horned behemoth, stays locked away on ice for the duration, never to be seen or do anything.  It’s a colossal blunder of storytelling.  Rare Exports builds and builds and then slowly but surely disappoints until its idiotic climax officially ruins the entire endeavour.  The last embers of hope that something astonishing might transpire fade away in a fury of dumbness.

I would remake this movie in a heartbeat, use it’s first 30 minutes and then abandon the rest in favor of the kind of movie the idea is deserving of.  One where evil Santa actually shows up, actually does in the naughty and the nice alike and actually makes it a hellish Christmas for everyone involved.  This film though has no such ambition.  Merry frickin’ Christmas.

Every Halloween you should make an effort to see a horror film or two that has until then missed you. This year I saw a trifecta of 80’s efforts.  Maybe next year I’ll try some stuff from the 70’s.

Scanners (1981) – Some movies get by on the power of just one scene.  The right scene in the right place can make the audience forget whatever drudgery happened before or happens after.  In the case of David Cronenberg’s Scanners, an exploding head at the movie’s beginning mask the fact that Scanners is mostly a bore to sit through.  One of Cronenberg’s first success stories as a director, Scanners is about a bunch of actors, sorry, Scanners, starring at each other really hard.  By starring at people really hard they can manipulate, harm or even kill them.  The plot’s not very interesting and the dialogue, also by Cronenberg, has all the finesse of tapping on a tin drum for 90 minutes.  Cronenberg has made many interesting movies but he can be distant, alienating and emotionless and Scanners has all of these in abundance.  The casting also leaves a lot to be desired. Little known Canadian thespian Stephen Lack is the lead and he seems to have been cast because he can stare.  He can’t emote for his life but he sure can stare.  He’s the Oliver of staring.  Unfortunately when he’s not staring he’s prozaic.  All of this really doesn’t matter because Scanners is all about that exploding head.



The Howling (1981) – Joe Dante made a splash in 1984 with his delightfully mean spirited Christmas classic Gremlins.  The film that got him on the map though was 1981’s The Howling.  From the glorious age of ambitious physical effects, Howling features all kinds of gruesome werewolf transformations that helped to define special effects of the era.  The more I revisit this stuff the more I wish some filmmakers would bring it back and give CGI a break.  These are some amazing accomplishments and appreciators of early 80’s horror efforts will love it.  The snag is that you have to sit through and hour of tepid melodrama before you get to any of the cool shit.  The Howling is 60 minutes of silly build up capped off by 30 minutes of what the audience really wants.  Once the werewolves make their presence known and start terrorizing the rest of the cast everything is hunky dory.  But that first hour is a chore.



Night of the Comet (1984) – An unbearable piece of 80’s sci-fi/horror garbage.  A comet passes the Earth and everyone not locked away in a steel room is turned to red dust.  Thank goodness our heroine was having sex with her scumbag projectionist boyfriend in a sleeping bag on the floor of the projection room when it zoomed by.  For reasons unexplained a few people are turned to zombies instead of dust.  Projector floozy and her sister survive and proceed to have idiotic hijinxs such as firing uzi’s on cars and performing fashion shows in abandoned malls.  It’s hard to tolerate a fashion montage under any circumstance but here it’s mind blowing.  The whole world is dead, so let’s try on clothes!  It’s the kind of clueless movie only a special kind of moron could make in the 1980’s.  Why anyone gives this a pass based on nostalgia or camp factor is something I cannot comprehend.