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The second full trailer for Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglorious Basterds is out, and for those of you who remember my iffiness on the movie based on the extraordinarly levels of violence implied in the first trailer…well, this second full-length trailer looks much more like the kind of Tarantino movie I’d like to see. This new one focuses much, much more on the story and on Brad Pitt’s character than it does the violence. It doesn’t shy away from the violence angle — you can certainly tell that it’ll have plenty of grisly Nazi death scenes — but now we can see more of the story, which features, I believe, a secret mission to try to kill Hitler at a theater performance. The new trailer certainly makes Inglorious Basterds look more like it’ll have some fun in it and that it won’t simply be a torture-pornish-Nazi-murder-fest.

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — also known as the People What Give Out the Oscars — announced yesterday that effective next year, they’re expanding the number of Academy Award nominees for Best Picture from five to ten.  Said Oscar Big Kahuna Sid Ganis:  “After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year.  The final outcome, of course, will be the same – one Best Picture winner – but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009.”

I’m not sure how I feel about this development; recognizing more quality movies is very much A Good Thing, of course, but I’m wondering how this change will work out in practice.  Will it mean that we’ll get to see more of a diversity of the kinds of movies which get nominated for Best Picture — movies that surely won’t win because they’re just not the kind of film to which Hollywood wants to give its top prize, but still deserve some commendation?  And by that, of course, I specifically mean:  will we see more comedies nominated for Best Picture?  Or more big-budget (but well-done, of course) action movies?  If this rule had been in place last year, I think we can safely assume The Dark Knight would definitely have gotten the Best Picture nomination it deserved.  (Hell, if they’d expanded to ten, even Iron Man could possibly have slipped in there.)

And what about animated movies?  Are they still stuck in the three-nominee Best Animated Feature ghetto?  Let’s look at Up, which is already a mortal lock for a Best Animated Feature nomination, if not a victory:  can it get both nominations?  I think a great many critics would agree that Up will likely be one of the ten best movies of the year, and I’d wager more than a few will have it as the best.  So let’s say it does indeed get a Best Picture nomination — if it’s then ineligble for Best Animated (and please note that this is purely my speculation/concern right now; I have heard no information to indicate it’s true ) and loses Best Picture…and then something else wins Best Animated Feature…well, that just seems kind of wrong to me.  Up (or any future Pixar movie you care to imagine) would sort of end up screwed (for some very loose definition of “screwed”), and that would be a damn shame.

We’ll have to see how it shakes out, of course.  We still have more than six months before the Academy announces the first expanded batch of nominees.  But I’m sincerely hoping it allows for more diversity in what gets honored rather than simply doubling the number of pretentious piles of Oscar-bait we already get.

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Released twenty-five years and five versions after the original theatrical run, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: The Final Cut still feels almost incomplete to me somehow, as if it’s still missing something essential — but is that simply me imposing my knowledge of the filmmaker and the number of times he’s tweaked the film onto it?  It’s difficult to know for certain.  We’ve been told so many times that the film isn’t “done” that it’s almost hard to accept Scott’s assertion that this time, the movie is exactly what he’d intended from the start.

(Please note that unlike most of my reviews, the Spoiler Light is flashing now — but really, the movie’s been out for twenty-seven years, so it’s hard to imagine I’m really going to spoil anything at this point.  Still, you’ve been warned.)

One of the most significant alterations from the original version, of course, is the excision of Harrison Ford‘s atrocious narration (forced into the movie because the studio was afraid audience’s wouldn’t understand it), which undoubtedly improves the movie.  As bad as that narration was, however, I do think that without it, we get little insight into the character of professional “blade runner” Rick Deckard.  Ford plays Deckard as very reserved.  The emotion we see from him most frequently and strongly, actually, is fear:  Deckard gets thrashed regularly by the far faster and stronger replicants.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007)

(out of a possible five)

directed by Ridley Scott

screenplay by Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples

very loosely based on the short story “do androids dream of electric sheep?” by Philip K. Dick

starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah

A case could be made for saying Deckard is not, in fact, the protagonist of Blade Runner at all; rather, Roy Batty (the excellent Rutger Hauer) is.  This story isn’t Deckard’s, but Roy’s.  Roy is the one who wants something, the one who’s actively trying to attain a goal which means something to him personally:  he wants a longer life for him and his “family.”  Deckard doesn’t want anything, except perhaps for Rachael; even his hunt for the replicants is a job he’s ordered to do rather than something meaningful to him.  (Well, perhaps the hunt is meaningful, but we can’t tell because Scott doesn’t let us inside Deckard’s head at all.)  Deckard, while having far more screen time, acts much more as an antagonist for Roy than as the protagonist himself:  Deckard hunts down and murders Roy’s friends and keeps him from accomplishing his goal.  Roy, obsessed with what it means to be “good,” experiences growth and some acceptance of his fate, while Deckard doesn’t grow or change at all.  Deckard’s less a character than a plot contrivance.

And all of that could well be why Scott removed the narration.  Given only the brilliant visuals, the line between human and replicant becomes much, much fuzzier, which was surely one of Scott’s original intentions.  The humans are almost entirely emotion-free, with the exception of poor Sebastian (William Sanderson), whose medical condition equates him much more strongly with the replicants, anyway.  The replicants — Roy especially — act far more human than any of the humans in Blade Runner ever do.

Sean Young‘s performance as Rachael — a woman who finds out her entire life, all of her memories, were a complete lie — was subtle and done well; the problem, however, was that Young was too subtle in her mannerisms.  Emotion played on her face and hinted at the turmoil in her head, but she’s never given a scene where she can let that emotion truly show — and given that Deckard, with whom she shares the most scenes, is equally repressed… that combination doesn’t exactly make for emotional fireworks.  Or, honestly, much connection with the audience.  Even the one scene which generated any sort of interpersonal friction felt…well, mechanical.

Hauer’s performance as Roy, on the other hand, is filled with barely in-check danger and a sort of mad glee at what he’s capable of — while Roy wants extended life, he surely does not want to be human.  He and his fellow replicants are better than human and know it.  Hauer’s Roy sparkles with life:  his final scene with Ford, his rooftop monologue, incites far more of an emotion in the audience than any other scene in the movie.  Given my theory that Roy is the real protagonist of Blade Runner, I’d have liked to have seen Hauer in the movie far more than he actually was.

Precious little in this movie indicates it was made almost thirty years ago.  Apart from some of the imagined technology and the awful synthesizer-overload Vangelis score, Blade Runner holds up amazingly well.  The art direction and special effects — both of which were nominated for Oscars in 1983 — were and are stunning to behold.  The visual effects in this 2007 release were cleaned up but not substantially altered:  Scott could have gone the George Lucas route and redone many of the effects digitally, but these effects truly didn’t need to be redone, and I’m glad Scott resisted the temptation.  Few movies can truly be said to be “ahead of their time,” but Blade Runner damn sure was.  I have no statistics to back up this claim, but I’d wager Blade Runner has influenced the look and feel of more movies since its release than almost any other film during that time.

[1] And no, by the way, I don’t buy into the theory that Deckard himself is a replicant — while we’re given one substantial clue that indeed he is, Deckard-as-replicant makes almost no sense to me in the larger context of the story.  Yes, I know that Ridley Scott himself has said Deckard’s a replicant, but that doesn’t mean I believe him.

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downey-holmes-poster-fullI know many of you weren’t all that happy about the Sherlock Holmes trailer I posted a few weeks back, but dammit, I’m still looking forward to this movie. And now Empire Magazine has two new character posters [1] for Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. I’ve gotta say that the guys look pretty dapper, Law especially.

Click on through to Empire site to see the Law poster.

Sherlock Holmes comes out December 25, 2009.

[1] I like this trend of posters spotlighting particular characters and actors, but I’ll admit it’s feeling more than a little overdone at this point.

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Roland Emmerich, director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow,won’t rest until he’s virtually destroyed every significant landmark on Earth.  It would appear that Emmerich’s afraid that the premise of his new movie, 2012, is true: the world’s going to end on December 12, 2012. And since he’s running out of time to make overblown disaster movies, he’s going to go ahead demolish all of the recognizable buildings and cities and vistas left in one big special-effects-heavy swoop. The trailer below admittedly looks cool, especially if you’re into seeing familiar sights obliterated, but my early guess is this will be another one of his trademark “high on explosions, low on characterization or common sense” boomfests.

2012, starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt and bunches more, comes out on November 13.

(Trailer via

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xweavingFor those of you into such things — which is probably just about everyone reading this — The Hobbit director Guillermo del Toro has announced three cast members from the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be returning for the new prequels: Sir Ian McKellen will be back as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving will return as Elrond, and Andy Serkis will once again play Gollum.  No word yet on who will be playing Bilbo Baggins, though an announcement’s probably coming soonish.  I think we can safely assume it probably won’t be 78-year-old Sir Ian Holm, though.

The Hobbit, Part One and The Hobbit, Part Two:  The Hobbiting begin shooting in March, 2010 for a projected 2012 release.

ETA: My friend Amy A. asked if I had any guesses or preferences for who should play Bilbo.  I don’t immediately have either, but I’m opening it up to the floor:  who do you guys think should be Bilbo?  Should they just go with Elijah Wood with a different wig?

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Via Cinematical:  Way back before this site went on its unfortunate hiatus, I linked to a trailer for a “movie” called Shining — which was simply bits of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining re-edited so that it looked like a sweet family comedy-drama rather than the nightmare-inducing-in-impressionable-eleven-year-olds horror flick it really is. [1]

Somewhat unsurprisingly, that little project kicked off a slew of similar videos which are all over the YouTubes, reimagining classic and not-so-class movies in new ways.   URLesque has compiled ten of the best and put them all together for your viewing convenience.  I haven’t gotten to watch all of them yet, but I can tell you that the horror-fied take on When Harry Met Sally was pure brilliance.  Go check ‘em out and tell ‘em Moviegeekz sent ya.

[1] Why, no, of course I’m not talking about my eleven-year-old self there!  Why would you possibly imagine I’d be terrified by the sight of Scatman Crothers graphically taking an axe to the chest?

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button gives its audience many, many bits and pieces of information which never connect, never quite come together into anything resembling a cohesive whole; in fact, the entire notion of causation seems to be almost entirely absent from the movie.  Things happen, to be sure, but not for any reason.  In some movies I might suspect that very notion would be the entire point, but it’s not the case here; in fact, almost the opposite is true:  we’re told in an interesting (if almost entirely nonsensical from a story perspective) vignette that things happen because of the buildup of everything which happens before it.  Tiny events can have drastic consequences on seemingly unrelated situations — though the situations indeed are related if one digs deeply enough.  But that’s what we’re told; the movie shows us only the punchline without laying any groundwork.  (Compare this story, for instance, with those of Magnolia or Pulp Fiction, movies in which we truly do see how intertwined seemingly unrelated events and insignificant details can be.)

That lack of cohesion ultimately proves frustrating in a movie which is otherwise so well-made.  Most of the time, it’s difficult to watch a David Fincher movie without being aware of Fincher as director; he tends to have a very specific, stylized vision of what he wants to create in a movie, and his visual signature stands out clearly.  In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, however, Fincher seems content to let the story take the forefront; for most of the movie, Fincher-as-director is nearly invisible, as are the brilliant special effects.  I can’t recall another Oscar winner for Best Visual Effects which used those effects so subtly; here Fincher and his crew are trying to present the fantastic as utterly commonplace, and it works superbly.  Brad Pitt‘s titular character almost never looks as if he’s been created via digital effects.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

(out of a possible five)

directed by David Fincher

screenplay by Eric Roth

based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Taraji P. Henson

The film’s two leads, Oscar-nominated Pitt and not-Oscar-nominated-but-could-have-been Cate Blanchett both perform admirably, though in different ways:  Pitt had the more challenging role technically while Blanchett had the more difficult one emotionally.  Pitt plays Benjamin as a stoic, which worked well for the character and likely also made the stunning CGI effects needed to create his look at different ages easier to pull off; this performance was almost entirely done via his voice.  Blanchett had the showier role, having to show the changes in Daisy’s emotional state over almost sixty years of her life without the CGI assist Pitt received, and she played her part with her usual exemplary ability.  My problems with Daisy were much more with the screenplay than with Blanchett’s acting.

Sometimes it’s only possible to get a full grasp for just how good an actor really is by comparing the different sorts of characters they play, and that situation certainly applied here with Taraji P. Henson.  Her role as Queenie, Benjamin’s adopted mother, couldn’t be much farther from her prostitute-sorta-turned-singer in Hustle and Flow, and the Oscar nomination she received here for her fierce, proud, maternal turn was well deserved.  Most of the supporting cast was also excellent, notably Tilda Swinton; almost any movie can be made better by adding a dash of Swinton to it, and Benjamin Button was no exception.

The screenplay borrowed heavily from the Forrest Gump playbook on several levels, especially in terms of structure, though it wasn’t as well-tuned.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Eric Roth wrote both screenplays; he won an Oscar for Gump, so perhaps rightly assumed he’d done something right with that one and should return to the same well for Button…and that well brought him another Oscar nomination, though I suspect that nomination was more for the big picture than for the smaller details.   Several plot points made little sense to me, especially in the framing sequence as the story is revealed in flashback.  That framing sequence, in which a now-elderly Daisy lays dying in a New Orleans hospital, seems to want to use the impending arrival of Hurricane Katrina (what a spectacular and entirely unforeseen twist that was!) to add some sort of emotional heft to the movie, or to make a statement about…what?  I’m not sure.  Using Katrina feels cheap, honestly; it’s a storytelling crutch the movie didn’t earn, which is all the more shameful given that Benjamin Button was one of the first movies to be filmed in New Orleans after the hurricane nearly destroyed the city.

If the story itself had some infuriating details, the characters largely felt true, most particularly Benjamin himself.  Well, that’s not quite accurate: the characters seemed genuine enough if contained within their own silos, but not always as much when they had to interact with one another.  The fundamental relationship between Benjamin and Daisy, easily the most important in the movie, never felt quite right — again, each character seemed well-drawn on their own, but putting them together didn’t quite mesh.  While it’s easy to understand why Benjamin was initially enamored of and later so attracted to Daisy, what’s more difficult to understand is why she would have done the same for him.  I suppose her remark that he’s “odd” could certainly play a part in why she might find him interesting as children, but never once does she express any disbelief or revulsion or curiosity about his condition.  She doesn’t even question it.  The first time she makes a sexual overture to him, she’s 23 years old; chronologically he’s roughly the same age, but in the body of a 60-year-old.  And while I’m certainly not saying that young women are never attracted to older men, Daisy has seen Benjamin de-age by almost 20 years — shouldn’t that strike some sort of sour chord in her?  The actors play the scene with skill, but the notes sound off.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, while far from flawless, still managed to entertain and enthrall thanks to the tremendous skill of its director and cast:  the movie didn’t feel like its nearly three-hour running time, which is the mark of an engaging film.  If only Fincher could have pulled together or excised altogether some of those details which didn’t quite fit, Benjamin Button could have been counted among the best movies of 2008; as it is, it will have to be enough that it was one of the better movies of 2008 instead.

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Now it’s official: Finding Nemo and WALL-E director Andrew Stanton will be helming his first live-action movie, John Carter of Mars. The movie, based on the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, will be released under the Disney banner and not the Pixar banner, as was originally rumored/hypothesized, and will be hitting theatres sometime in 2012.

I’m both very excited and a little disappointed with this news. I have every confidence that the movie’s going to be amazing: Stanton’s already a two-time Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominee — and that’s not even counting the fact that Michael Chabon (one of my favorite novelists) worked on the screenplay, too. And I’m glad for Stanton in that he’s stretching himself and trying to do something different. It’s not often that animation directors cross over to live action or vice versa (though Mad Max director George Miller did so with impressive results with Happy Feet).

This means that my two favorite animation directors (combined, they were in charge of four of my top five Pixar movies) are working on live-action flicks instead. The Incredibles and The Iron Giant director Brad Bird is readying 1906 (also due in 2012) about the great San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires which nearly destroyed the city in — you’ll never believe this — 1906. It’s not as if I’m worried about Pixar’s output dropping in quality while those guys work on non-animated features. Up, for instance, was perfectly excellent without any input from either Bird nor Stanton (well, that’s not entirely true; both Bird and Stanton are senior executives at Pixar who surely have input into everything). But it does mean that we won’t see animated features from either of them until probably 2014 at the very earliest. I trust them both and will gladly rush out to go see both of their live-action movies. What little bit I’ve heard about each sounds like they have the potential to be fantastic. And again, kudos to both for trying new things.

But I’m already looking forward to both of them returning to animation someday.

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Finishing up my inadvertent Week of Pixar-Related Stuff:

disneypixar-upFor the second straight weekend, Up was the top movie at the box office in the United States Ummm, oops, scratch that…Up was the second-place movie at the box office in the U.S. this last weekend – its gross dropped only 35% from last weekend to this weekend. People, that’s absolutely spectacular, at least for most movies, and it’s still pretty impressive even by Pixar’s lofty standards (see chart below). For some perspective, industry pundits celebrated Star Trek’s 42% second-week dropoff as an example of excellent staying power, and this is…well, it’s seven better, isn’t it? (For further comparison, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian fell off 55% between the first and second weekends and X-Men Origins: Wolverine fell off 69%.)

The lesson to be learned here? Short movie titles lead to better audience retention numbers, of course.

Up has already grossed $137 million and is still going strong after weekend number two, meaning it’ll easily sail over the $200 million mark with a decent shot at $250 million by the time it’s done, which would put it in the upper echelons of Pixar’s top moneymakers (but well below Finding Nemo, their biggest hit to date). For more numberiffic comparison, here’s how the nine previous Pixar flicks did in their first two weekends and overall:

Flick First Two Weekends Total Domestic Gross Second-Week Dropoff
Up $137 million ??? -35.0%
WALL-E $127 million $223 million -48.5%
Ratatouille $109 million $206 million -38.3%
Cars $117 million $244 million -43.9%
The Incredibles $143 million $261 million -28.7%
Finding Nemo $144 million $339 million -33.7%
Monsters, Inc. $122 million $255 million -27.2%
Toy Story 2 $116 million $245 million -51.6%
A Bug’s Life $68 million $162 million -48.4%
Toy Story $64 million $191 million -30.8%
All statistics courtesy the amazingly useful

So, it’s official: Up is a blockbuster commercially and critically: an astonishing 98% fresh on and, honestly, probably already something of a lock for next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar (or at least a nomination; we do still have half the year left). That makes Pixar ten-for-ten, consistency which is almost mind-boggling. They’ll have to wind up with a swing-and-a-miss someday, of course, but this streak is one I’m hoping doesn’t end anytime soon.

Review: Up

Jun. 4th, 2009 07:50 pm
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I read a discussion of Up recently — I don’t remember where — which said that the movie was ultimately about acceptance of death, which is an awfully adult theme to find in a kids’ film. (Truth be told, of course: Pixar movies are family movies, not kids’ movies, and there’s a big difference.) I think that statement’s close, but not quite accurate: it’s more fair to say Up deals with the ability or inability to accept change in all its forms and learning to let go of the past, whether that past was one or seventy years ago. Up reminds us that when someone we love passes on — or even just passes out of our lives — life doesn’t end for those of us left behind. Up suggests we appreciate the little things in life and that those little things can be bigger than the biggest adventure.

And Up gives us these weighty messages wrapped up in the gaudy Mylar of thousands of helium-filled balloons.

disneypixar-upAs I discussed in my ranking of the ten Pixar movies to date, the “worst” (for some awfully lenient definition of “worst”) of their films don’t engage the emotions nearly as much as they engage the eyes. That fault most certainly does not plague Up – I have to admit that I cried while watching it, and I can’t remember if I’ve ever done that before.[1] Pixar started their career by finding the humanity in inhuman characters (toys, bugs, monsters, etc.), but in Carl Frederickson they’ve created quite possibly their most human character yet.

Director Pete Docter lays out all we need to know about Carl in the first ten minutes of the movie, covering sixty-odd years of his life during the opening sequences. His crankiness is given believability and meaning; grumpy though he may be, he doesn’t fit the simple Grumpy Old Man stereotype. Carl is not ill-tempered by nature but by circumstance, and it’s the circumstance of meeting Russell, his young opposite, which begins to bring him out of his emotional hole.

Russell couldn’t be much more Carl’s antithesis: young where Carl is old; optimistic and exuberant where Carl is withdrawn and cranky; brave and adventurous where Carl is shuttered. Even visually the difference is clear: Carl is almost a perfect square, Russell is almost a perfect egg. What the two have in common is something of a common history, and the bond which develops because of it, each affecting the other, ultimately provides much of Up’s lift.

Up (2009)
Grade: A
Directed By: Pete Docter Bob Peterson
Written By: Bob Peterson Pete Docter
Starring the voices of: Edward Asner Christopher Plummer Jordan Nagai John Ratzenberger
Studio: Disney/Pixar

I must talk for a minute about the dogs which feature so prominently in Up. To see just what an amazing feat of modeling and animation these dogs represent, what a leap in quality, please go back and watch the first Toy Story. Even at the time, watching Buster felt like a “they’re not quite there yet” moment in the middle of an otherwise technologically mind-blowing (again, for 1995) movie: his square, awkward build and clunky animation left plenty of room for improvement.

And improve they did. Each of the dogs here has not only a distinctive and well-rendered look, but a clear and well-animated personality as well. Dug was especially done well: his character model may be cartoonier than the other dogs’, but that more cartoony look allowed for more expressiveness, which the animators used to fantastic effect. His look also visually sets him apart from the other, more realistically-modeled dogs so that we never group him in with the “bad” dogs. Dug stands out as my favorite character in the movie: the fact that he always remains Just A Dog and never an especially “humanized” or anthropomorphized dog (even though he could speak) was one of Docter’s nicest touches.

[1] I cried during The Iron Giant, but that’s totally different since I saw it on DVD. Brad Bird lined up all of my emotional buttons and punched them all at once. The big meanie.

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Welcome to the first installment of yet another new ongoing series I just now thought up: Ten2One, which is, in all honesty, just a fancy handle for a fairly standard Top 10 list. To kick things off, in honor of the opening of Pixar’s tenth animated feature, Up, I present to you my ordering, from worst to first, of my favorite Pixar movies.

10. A Bug’s Life (1997)

While A Bug’s Life might be my least favorite Pixar movie, I want to note that I don’t at all think it’s bad. It’s still perfectly entertaining, and the leap in technology from Toy Story, their first film, to this, their second one, was immense – just look at that model bird in the big climax. But A Bug’s Life also featured their most annoying lead character, and most of the secondary cast, while funny, didn’t have any of the emotional connection that the great Pixar movies have. This one gets a solid B from me, which is still damn good for being in the bottom slot on this list.

9. Cars (2006)

pixar-cars-largeI know John Lasseter’s The Man at Pixar and all, but this labor of love from him was…underwhelming. Again, certainly not bad – and it’s held up surprisingly well to the several thousand of viewings of it I’ve endured thanks to my two daughters. But I think the fundamental problem with Cars was much the same as with A Bug’s Life: its lead character simply wasn’t compelling enough (Owen Wilson‘s voice just didn’t connect with me) and the supporting cast was colorful but not especially engaging (Paul Newman‘s Doc Hudson aside). Maybe that’s a problem which will get rectified in the sequel.

(Side note: I have a separate post brewing about that difference between these two “lower tier” Pixar movies and all the ones above it; I hope to get that written sometime this week.)

8. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

And now we enter the solid A-minus-and-up range with the movie which has bumped farthest down the list simply because all the films released after it have been better. And that “emotional connection” thing I mentioned was missing from numbers nine and ten above? Yeah, totally present here. There’s more pure emotion in the closing shot of Sully than in those last two flicks put together. (Pixar Show-Off Shot: Sully’s fur, especially when blowing in the wind and covered in snow.)

7. Toy Story 2 (1999)

In many ways, probably a superior film to the original Toy Story, but this list is rating my favorite Pixar movies, not necessarily the best, and that’s a small but important distinction to make. Story goes that Toy Story 2 was supposed to be a straight-to-video release (banging out straight-to-video sequels was pretty much standard practice with Disney’s animated features then), but when Disney realized just how good it was, they had Pixar finish it up for theatrical release instead. And good thing, too: it went on to gross $245 million, making it the third-highest-grossing film of ‘99.

6. Up (2009)

My full review’s coming very soon, but for now I’ll say that Up is the first animated movie since The Iron Giant to make me cry. (Yes, I know that’s more knocks against my Jason Statham-like Tough Guy image.)

5. Ratatouille (2007)

One of the things I absolutely adore about this movie – even aside from the gorgeous renderings of Paris and the celebrations of both cooking and eating – is the fact that lead characters are so flawed. Remy is petty, obstinate, defensive and rash; Linguini is weak (to begin with, anyway), cowardly, willing to take credit not due him, and equally rash. Yet together, they manage to lift themselves above their “humblest beginnings” (so says the critic Anton Ego) to incredible successes – and they lift Ratatouille up, too.

4. Toy Story (1995)

toy-story1I first discovered Pixar in 1992 when I saw their short film “Knick Knack” as part of an animation festival in Tampa. I immediately fell in love with the company — while they certainly weren’t the first company to produce computer-generated animation, they were far and away the best I’d seen yet — and I desperately looked forward to seeing more work from them. Then two years later, I heard they were producing a feature-length animated film to be released by Disney. I saw Toy Story the weekend it opened in theaters — a tradition I’ve continued to follow with all nine of their subsequent releases — and loved it even more than I’d been expecting to. The technology obviously doesn’t hold up as well as one might hope, but hey, it’s fifteen years old; that’s lifetimes in terms of software development. The story craft was already there, though, and (here’s a little secret for you) that’s just as important to me as the actual animation. (Toy Story also sparked some of my earliest love for Joss Whedon, before I even knew who the hell he was!)

3. WALL-E (2008)

WALL-E has to be one of the most engaging, sympathetic leads in any movie in recent history; the fact that director Andrew Stanton and his crew managed to convey those qualities with such limited dialogue really is amazing. Yes, OK, fine — the environmental message can come across a little preachy. Or a lot preachy. But it’s a good message, so it doesn’t much bother me, especially in the service of such an excellent movie.

2. Finding Nemo (2003)

One of the most finely-tuned scripts of any movie I’ve seen, animated or otherwise. Not a scene or line feels wasted to me: the Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay director Stanton received for this movie was very well justified. Nemo features one of the strongest supporting casts of any of the Pixar flicks, and the interplay between Ellen DeGeneres‘ Dory and Albert Brooks‘ Marlin still makes me laugh (and care) every time I watch it. Unsurprisingly, the bit about the overprotective father learning to let go gets to me, too. (Also, Nemo was the first of four Pixar movies to date to take home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.)

1. The Incredibles (2004)

incrediblesHonestly? The Incredibles is my favorite movie, period. Here’s the thing: when I first saw the teaser trailer for this one before Finding Nemo and found out what it was about and who was behind it, my mind was already blown. It’s Pixar? And superheroes? And it’s written and directed by Brad Bird, the genius behind The Iron Giant, my favorite non-Pixar animated movie? My expectations were so high that I was convinced there was no way this movie could possibly live up to them.

But it did. To make a bad Pixar joke: if my expectations were infinite, then The Incredibles went to infinity and beyond. The characters are richly nuanced and believable, the animation and design are stunning, the script respected its audience’s intelligence, the heroic action scenes are, well, incredible…honestly, The Incredibles is pretty much my platonic ideal of a movie. I sincerely hope they never make a sequel, because I don’t think it could do the original justice.

Of course, Pixar’s blown away my expectations before…

allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

I have a quandary to work through and just under three months to do so. Well, truthfully, I have more time than that, but the jist is this: Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds comes out on August 21, and I have to decide if I want to go see it or not.

I’m a little surprised that I find myself in this predicament; I’ve seen every one of Tarantino’s films (with the recent exception of Death Proof) and I’ve enjoyed all of them. Even Jackie Brown. I’m in awe of his ear for dialogue, the performances he’s able to get out of his actors and his ability to synthesize wildly disparate elements from his wide range of influences into something uniquely his own. Reservoir Dogs? Excellent. Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2? Loved ‘em both. Pulp Fiction? Brilliant.

But all of the early marketing I’ve seen for Inglourious Basterds, in which a small troop of Jewish-American soliders in World War II try to strike fear into the Germans brutally killing Nazis, implies a very high level of violence — even high by Tarantino’s standards. The posters, while graphically very striking, are also more than a bit disturbing: various implements of brutality shown in heavily desaturated colors…except for the dark red of the blood splattered on everything. The trailer certainly plays up the ultra-violence angle as well.

I should note that I don’t have the tolerance for extraordinary violence in movies that I used to. I’ll usually be fine with a certain level of stylized violence in my movies, as long as the bloodletting isn’t the entire point: I could handle the almost cartoony level of limb-chopping and blood-spurting in Kill Bill, for instance, but I have absolutely zero desire to ever sit through any of the recent “torture porn”-style horror flicks. One of my best friends when I was a teenager was a diehard devoteé of Fangoria magazine and made me sit through countless gore-filled horror flicks, and I just never was able to gain any real kind of appreciation for them. And I seem to be becoming even less appreciative of excessive amounts of blood in movies as I approach forty.

Now, though, I’ve started reading early reviews of Inglourious Basterds after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival that indicate that it’s…well, that it’s far more talky than reviewers had expected. Early buzz is that it’s dialogue- and actor-driven with a fairly limited amount of action. Dialogue- and actor-drive Tarantino? That I very much can get behind — but I’m still not sure about the amount and kinds of brutality implied by the film’s marketing. I realize that hyping the violence angle is far, far more likely to draw in viewers than hyping the quality of the dialogue — especially of the demographic most likely to want to see a Tarantino movie. But as someone who feels like I should have this movie marketed to me, I’m more than a little turned off by all of the blood. And isn’t misrepresenting the movie, if it is indeed as talky and less action-y as it now sounds, an awfully dangerous (if time-honored) marketing strategy?

Do any of you have any thoughts here? Anyone have any sort of early opinion one way or the other?

allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

And now, presenting the trailer for one of my most heavily-anticipated movies of this winter: Sherlock Holmes. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law as Watson, and Rachel McAdams as…er, some scantily-clad woman. And directed by Guy Ritchie, who’s way overdue for making a good movie again. Cannot wait for this one. Enjoy!

ETA: So apparently, I’m about the only person actively looking forward to this one. I’ll admit that I could be overly optimistic; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time and likely not the last. But it’s Robert Downey Jr., whom I love, and Guy Ritchie, who I have been known to love on occassion. It looks like fun. No, it’s not going to have much at all to do with the Doyle novels past the basic premise and characters, but they’re not pretending it does. Well, I’ll go see it and let all of you Doubting Watsons if you should bother or not, how’s that? :)
allizon: (Art)
Maybe this is only an issue for those of us who are all ADD, maybe not, but:  

When you're thinking about/planning/even vaguely considering a Big Project, one which can't possibly be done in a week or do you get started on something Big?  How do you know where/at what point to dive in -- how much planning or prep work is enough?  How do you measure your progress?  Or maintain your enthusiasm for the project and not let it just all...drift away?

I'm very curious here.  I want to do something Big but can't seem to keep my focus on any one project long enough, so I wonder if I'm just Doin It Wrong.  Help?

ETA:  So I successfully completed National Novel Writing Month -- I did just over 53,000 words in 30 days.  That was Big, right?  But it also had a very small window attached to it, and an external deadline (of a sort).  So I can sprint toward Big, but I think the kinds of Big Projects I'm vaguely thinking of here aren't so much sprints as marathons.  I clearly need marathon planning/training.  :)

ETA 2:  As I was responding to various comments below, a link to this post about discipline on Zen Habits popped up for me in Twitter.  Thanks, Universe!
allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

Now this is what I want out of a summer blockbuster. Star Trek delivered all of the action, all of the spectacle, all of the emotion, all of the characterization I could have asked for and then some. [1] I found myself immersed in the world, in the stunning visual design and the engaging characters, in a way I’ve never been before with any of the previous Trek films or TV shows. Star Trek truly managed to do something new with these characters and ideas that have been around for forty years: make me care about them.

StarTrek-Crew1-main_FullI truly loved the fact that, unlike other recent reboots and reimaginings which simply restarted their stories from scratch, Star Trek managed to explain its own revised continuity as part of the story itself — admittedly, the world of Trek is much more suited to such meta-shenanigans than other series. Director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were able to utterly reset our expectations of this world and these characters while still letting the previous stories stand. And wow, do they up the stakes in a big way; there’s one event in partiular in this newly-reimagined universe that would have seemed unthinkable in the original series. When they say “everything you know is wrong”…well, it’s still hyperbole, perhaps, but it’s not as far from the truth as you might think.

Not Exactly Spoilery But Certainly Geeky Digression: I read a comment on a well-known science fiction author’s site today from a commenter who was pissed off because, he said, the new movie threw out all of the previous continuity, rendering moot all of the stories we’ve experienced before. I took away the exact opposite idea: to me, the new movie said “everything you’ve already seen still happened, but now this is happening, too.” But maybe it was a little bit easier for me to take that particular bit of continuity shuffle from all of my years of reading comic books, where this sort of thing is far from a novel idea, especially for readers of DC Comics and/or Grant Morrison.


One of the things I never quite understood about the original Enterprise crew was exactly why this crew was supposed to be special. Yes, Kirk and Spock in particular were compelling characters-cum-icons — there’s a reason they’re still part of the pop culture landscape after forty years — but to me the original Trek always felt like “Kirk and Spock and Those Other Guys (Oh, and the Woman, Too).” (This isn’t a point I’m interested in arguing — it’s just my relatively uninformed opinion as someone who was never much into Trek.) But in this movie, Abrams and company show that each of these people is indeed special in his or her own way and adds his or her own special brand of brilliance and ultra-competence to the crew. Abrams gives each of the main crew a chance to show off their various skills, and it works spectacularly. I felt like I was watching these characters for themselves and not for their (not-even-assigned-yet) Five Year Mission.

Star Trek (2009)

four stars (out of a possible five)

directed by J.J. Abrams

wrtten by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman

starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood and Eric Bana

And speaking of the characters, the casting in this new movie is almost perfect, especially given the fact that none of these characters is exactly as you remember them from before incarnations. The worst possible decision would have been for Chris Pine to have attempted to ape William Shatner; except for one (I’m sure very conscious) moment toward the end of the movie, he utterly avoids any Shatnerisms. But he brings the core essence of Kirk — the complete self-conifdence, the lusty roving eye, the anti-authoritarian streak — and makes this new James T. Kirk a compelling, if different, character in his own right. Zachary Quinto‘s Spock is much more at war with his dual nature than his predecessor, though he’s certainly the actor who looks the most like his character’s previous portrayer. I especially enjoyed Anton Yelchin‘s Chekov and Simon Pegg‘s Scotty, both of whom were primarily played for laughs. (It worked, too — Star Trek was quite a bit funnier than I expected it to be.)

Not Exactly Spoilery But Certainly Geeky Digression: I found it notable that while most of the secondary characters never had their full names mentioned on the show — usually that information got revealed in after-the-show sources like movies or novels or role-playing games — every one of the main Enterprise crew gets his or her full name dropped at some point in the new movie. Just another little touch I liked.

Yes, the science is wonky and didn’t make much sense. I truly didn’t care — some people like science fiction for the science, but I’m more into the fiction part. And the fiction in this movie worked fantastically for me. I was sad when the movie ended and came out of the theater already looking forward to the inevtiable sequel.

[1] This opinion was not colored by the fact that I’d just seen the craptastic Spider-Man 3 twelve hours before.

allizon: (Default)
Introducing the newest playable character class in Diablo III:  the Archivist.  :)
allizon: (Default)

President Obama, unsurprisingly, wants higher educational standards for the U.S... y'know, more like what we've already got here in Massachusetts:

In calling for tougher test standards, he highlighted progress in Massachusetts: "The solution to low test scores is not lower standards – it’s tougher, clearer standards. Standards like those in Massachusetts, where 8th graders are now tying for first – first – in the world in science."

Yes, this is one of the biggest reasons we moved to Boston.  For all of the snow, all of the traffic, all of the higher taxes... our kids will get good educations in this state, which is something I couldn't say with any degree of confidence a year ago.
allizon: (Default)
Hey, look! is now live!

Yes, there's not much there yet.  It's just a teaser site, and I hope it teases you into really really wanting to buy The Beatles: Rock Band (yes, that's the offiical title).  For a little more info, you can also read our press release.
allizon: (Create yourself!)
Today's wonderful snippet of National Novel Writing Month Goodness:

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, Charlotte, I realize this bit of dialogue really makes absolutely no sense within the context of what's gone on so far in the story. Would you like to change topics of conversation?"

"That's probably for the best, yeah."

They walked a little bit farther in silence while the author thought of something else for them to talk about.

Current word count: 33,454.


allizon: (Default)

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