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CARS 2 (2011)

>> Thursday, June 30, 2011

Did I hate Cars 2? Nope. Did I like it? About as much (if not slightly more) than the first one. My friend Luke brings up an interesting point about this film. While it's obvious this film exists to cash in on merchandising opportunities, the reason the Cars movies work is because we all believe our cars to be personified. There's almost nobody out there that doesn't refer to their car or a vehicle (especially the ones we love) as 'he' or 'she'. So what's better than seeing a film like Cars 2 and thinking to yourself "Hey, I bet my minivan does think that way!"

Does that mean Cars 2 is without its flaws? No, not at all. But it is watchable if you can get past the idea that for some reason cars with no hands can somehow make buildings, write newspaper articles and dare I say - make babies? Best leave that story for a time when Disney runs out of enough ideas to make a film literally titled The Birds and the Bees. These flaws were present in the first one as well. If you accepted it then, you'll accept it with the sequel.

In Cars 2, two main characters stray from home - Lightning McQueen (Midnight in Paris's Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). They leave Radiator Springs behind for the sites of the world in pursuit of first place at the World Grand Prix. Sure enough, in front of the big shots Mater embarrasses McQueen leaving McQueen to push Mater out of the way and move on to 'more important things'. That's when Mater runs into spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). The spies mistake Mater for one of the most gifted spies they've ever encountered. If Cars was McQueen's movie then Cars 2 is certainly Mater's.

Now, the Disney/Pixar execs will swear a couple of things when it comes to Cars 2 (Pixar's most unnecessary film to date). One is that this film was made solely for merchandising purposes (they'll say it was made to appease the fans' demands), and the other is that this is more of spy movie than a spoof of a spy movie. The merchandising is whatever - Cars 2 cost Disney $200 million to make. While it'll easily make that back in ticket sales, a movie made mainly for kids essentially sells out the second it's pitched anyways. If the studios thought kids would want to sport Black Swan gear, we would see the same - art or not. So for those of you hating on this film for that aspect of it, get over your high sense of self and tell me you didn't want an Optimus Prime action figure in the worst way when you were eight. As for the spy part of it, that's something I wanted to discuss.

It's the 21st century, a spy film made today will have some air of James Bond to it no matter what. It's what made Austin Powers successful, and it will make Cars 2 successful. The thing they have in common? They are both spoofs of spy movies in some ways. While Austin Powers is more candid about it, Cars 2 still borrows a lot from the spy genre and therefore becomes a spoof. But let me be clear, this isn't a bad thing. Here it's used as a tool to send Mater on a wacky adventure and provide some comic relief.

For the entertainment value alone, I am giving Cars 2 an open door. The day that I can't recommend a Pixar film will be a sad day indeed. This one came close though. But there are enough jokes, color and pretty things to look at that while the adult in us may struggle with it a bit, the kid in us (or car enthusiast in us) will love it.

*Stills courtesy of Disney/Pixar



>> Monday, June 27, 2011

Conan O'Brien can't stop. Nor, before and after this documentary - do I want him to. I recently watched Never Say Never, the Justin Bieber doc about his rise to stardom and his experience of preparing for a show at Madison Square Garden. While fascinating and undoubtedly interesting for a teen at the start of Bieber's career, what would a tour; a schedule; a fresh start and an obsession be like for someone who's been in the public eye for two decades? Someone who's suddenly forced into what seemed like an early retirement? The answer comes to us in the form of the funny, sensitive and oddly dark Conan O'Brien Can't Stop.

On January 22, 2010, O'Brien left his gig at The Tonight Show (and NBC) forever. While I don't need to go into the details it was after an invariable raping by NBC that highlighted their lack of commitment to a decision (put forth by them), as well as their utter talent for disorganization. I understand that there are two sides to this story, but as a longtime fan of O'Brien, I will (and always have) side with him. Can't Stop follows O'Brien after his departure from The Tonight Show and fills us in on just what happened in those six months he was contractually obligated to stay off of television.

Turns out, O'Brien did stay off the air waves. The stages of the US of A on the other hand, are fair play. O'Brien created the tour for one reason only - because he literally couldn't stop. He had become accustomed and addicted to entertaining crowds of people; to introducing them to surprise guest stars and celebrities. And unlike Charlie Sheen's recent bout of banter aimed at Hollywood execs, O'Brien does it with class and dignity - showing that while it was a difficult ordeal it's less about him and more about what he was doing for the people. Let's not forget that O'Brien snagged a healthy 45 million from NBC as part of his severance package. To my friend Rowan, that spells private island and a communication-less existence for the rest of days - a road O'Brien could have easily taken. The fact he didn't shows just how dedicated to his art he is and how much he truly loves what he does.

If there's a flaw in this film is that there's not enough about O'Brien's past and that it all seems a little rushed. While I find this part in O'Brien's life very intriguing, I did find myself wanting to see more about his life and his career. If anything (even though there's plenty of source material out there), I want to see a documentary more about The Late Night Battle - as it was called. Another time perhaps.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop is a wonderful little doc thought that easily snags an open door. It's honest, it's up front and it's funny as hell. A truly likable guy, I sincerely hope Conan O'Brien can't and doesn't stop until he literally has to.

*Stills courtesy of Pariah



>> Friday, June 24, 2011

It’s been a while since I walked into a movie without knowing too much about it. The last one that came close was Hobo With a Shotgun, and even then I still knew more about it than I did Midnight in Paris. All I knew was that this was a Woody Allen film starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. The other thing I knew was that I really enjoyed Vicky Cristina Barcelona, so I figured I would enjoy this latest addition to Allen’s repertoire. I’ve never been happier to walk into a film knowing so little as I was walking out of Midnight in Paris.

The trailer (which I only saw post-film in preparation for this review) states that ‘Paris after midnight is magic’, but doesn’t prepare you for exactly what type of magic you’re about to experience. It’s interesting, it’s exotic, it’s nostalgic and it’s surprising. I’ll tell you this though, IMDb states Midnight in Paris is a romantic comedy – it’s anything but. If anything, it’s more of a mystery, which I loved and embraced.

As usual, I’ll keep this review spoiler free – although in this case it’s more difficult then you think. Already this may sound a little unlike your typical Allen film and it’s a whole hell of a lot more optimistic. Even the choice to use Wilson as the lead proclaims exactly what type of mood Allen was in when he wrote this flick. Don’t get me wrong though – you’ll still end up with enough typical Woody-isms to make the most modest Allen fans happy.

Upon knowing I was about to see this film, I invited two of my friends along. One was my friend Dave (with whom I ventured into Vicky Cristina with) and the other was his girlfriend Wendy (of the new blog A Girl Named Wendy). Dave didn’t dig this newest Allen instalment for a reason still unknown to me. To be fair, there were time restraints and lengthy discussions could not ensue to further validate his thoughts. From what I gathered though, Dave may have disliked the film for the same reason Wendy and I enjoyed Midnight in Paris. That reason is one based on the slight and purposeful cheesiness of the film. There are moments in the movie (including the ending) where things seem too convenient or perfect or obvious. I’ve always enjoyed subtlety as much as any film lover but here I felt it was neither here nor there. It didn’t affect the film and in some cases made it that much more charming – unrelatable as it may be for those of us like Dave, who are looking to identify with the characters a little more.

Midnight in Paris easily scores an open door. A major theme in this film is one based around nostalgia – more specifically the idea that a person can feel out of their element in the year they occupy and wish only for a time machine. I’m one of those people. I constantly wish for second chances or the opportunity to see myself shine in a different decade. This is another reason I enjoyed Midnight in Paris. It’s rare these days for me to leave a movie feeling as if I learnt something and here I truly did.

*Stills courtesy of Gravier Productions



>> Sunday, June 19, 2011

Two years ago if you asked me the difference between the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, I would have been perplexed. Now that 2011 is well into its blockbuster season, I can definitely tell you - one makes for a better movie. While it ended up being just okay, The Green Hornet fell disappointingly short - at least compared to what I thought it could be. Green Lantern on the other hand, does a good job of coming a whole lot closer to getting it right.

Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and Blake Lively (Accepted) plays his love interest. Following a creed introduced by his father a number when he was a child, Hal is fixated on the idea that in order to survive and succeed in the world you need to be fearless. As it turns out, in order to be chosen by the Green Lantern Corps. one must be fearless. Enter a purple alien and one hell of an adventure for Hal.

With Green Lantern, all the ‘right’ elements are introduced to the viewer. You have the character arc of a likable enough guy, the pretty girl, excellent special effects, an imposing villain and an established fan base. Where I believe Green Lantern goes wrong is how those elements are put together and executed; case in point – the story arc. At just under two hours I was left feeling like there was still something missing. The story seemed to move too quickly; there was a point in the film where Hal confronts the leaders of the Green Lantern Corps. Despite being about a jillion years older than the human species alone – the leaders listen to Hal’s ideas and seem to learn something from them. Apparently evolution of the mind stops after 10, 000 years or so.

The other thing I felt disappointed with was the lack of ad-lib humour (or humour in general) from Reynolds. Now, I don’t know if this was the doing of the producers making sure that the script was left as close to the original as possible, or if Reynolds was just being lame. But part of what I discussed felt missing was also due to the emptiness of Reynolds’ charisma. By the end of the movie you’re left feeling that anybody with abs of steel could have played this role as if un-owned by Reynolds. Looks like Captain America may be the only hope left this summer as a possible candidate for beating out the awesomeness of X-Men: First Class.

Despite all this though, as aforementioned, I still enjoyed Green Lantern and its efforts enough to give it an open door as an entertaining piece of cinema and a great popcorn movie. It’s unlikely you’ll leave the theatre hating this movie or feeling cheated out of your hard-earned dollar. It’s just as likely though that you won’t remember this as being the summer of Green Lantern.

*Stills courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios


SUPER 8 (2011)

>> Saturday, June 11, 2011

There's a movie that exists out there right now called Son of Rambow, as well as one called Be Kind Rewind. What do these movies have in common with writer and director J.J. Abrams' latest flick? All three are about something that's very close to heart for me - making movies. Does that make them all self-referential and arrogant? Surprisingly, no. It makes them films about something we all have in common - the love and nostalgia for our childhood innocence, beliefs and above all, imagination.

What Super 8 has been incredibly good at since the teaser debuted in Spring of 2010 has been keeping it's plot, it's themes and it's creature a secret. If this were a Michael Bay film trailer (which I thanked God every second it wasn't), you would have been privy to seeing the beast and the destruction it caused - thinking it was 90% of the film. Super 8 is not so much about the mysterious creature causing all the ruckus as it's about the imagination of the kids involved, the good of a child's heart and the intentions of a kid who just really, really wants to make a movie - an idea that's undoubtedly something Abrams is close to.

As I was leaving the cinema I heard a lot of people saying they were disappointed with this movie and didn't like it. I believe those same people by the way, probably left Transformers 2 proclaiming it was the best film they've ever seen. If you didn't like Super 8, I truly believe you were either in the wrong mind frame to see it or you just simply had a bad childhood. There's absolutely no reason to hate on this film, I wouldn't discount this being one of the better films of the summer. For those of you too focused on banging the chick you went to see this with, understand that this may be one of those movies you may have to see again to fully understand the symbolism contained within Super 8. It's not the black and white, easy to understand picture it appears to be, and I wouldn't have expected less from the man who created Lost.

Does all this mean that I think Super 8 is a perfect film? No. It has it's little problems here and there, mainly being that it drags in some places and seems to contain a few cliché moments. But, Star Trek had it's problems as well and we can't forget about producer Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, can we? But, even with all Abrams has accomplished as a writer/director, I still feel he's newer to the scene and may need to do a little more leg work before we get a career-defining film out of him. While his movies are still a grade above a lot of the shit we see out in theatres today, I still feel that magical something missing from his work. That something may be another decade's worth of experience.

Regardless, Super 8 gets a wide open door. It has something a lot of movies lately lack - heart. While I wasn't around to see E.T. in theatres when it was released in 1982, I imagine a lot of people would have felt the same way leaving that film. Like E.T. though, I believe Super 8 will eventually gain momentum and the same kind of cult status. While it's more difficult in a generation where kids are spoiled and would rather shoot aliens than understand them, more films like Super 8 may be a solution. I will say though, I'm glad a movie called Super 8 was (thankfully) not in 3D.

*Stills courtesy of Amblin Entertainment



>> Wednesday, June 8, 2011

After seeing the first four X-Men films over the past decade, I think the biggest surprise for me when watching First Class was that it was actually quite good. While the other films were always 'just okay', thankfully this fifth installment proves that this series is finally learning from it's mistakes and First Class is the first X-Men I've seen that has very little wrong with it - this includes the casting choices and the performances by almost every actor present.

Charles Xavior (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) become friends while on the hunt for the same enemy, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw plays a man with the same goal Magneto will have in later movies - one bent on the idea of exterminating the human race. That is to say, all non-mutants of course. Amongst the two are several newly discovered mutants, including (but not limited to) Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Emma Frost (January Jones). We also get two relatively surprising but hilarious cameos from Rebecca Romijn and Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman.

First Class not only steps up in special effects and style, but we end up with a wonderful mixture of humour, action and drama. Even more surprising, is that in his younger days Professor X was a bit of a player - all the while Magneto was nothing but drama, drama, drama. As a person who never read the comic books, I can't comment on whether or not First Class takes the cake for being faithful to the source material. But I'll say it certainly had a nice amount of references to the previous films and I can only hope that any future X-Men films follows the pattern of this installment. Mainly, that story isn't sacrificed for action and effects.

The other really neat thing about this film is that it's not in 3D! Now I don't have a hate on for 3D, in fact it can be downright enjoyable at times. If anything I'm a bigger fan of the super HD digital picture quality. What I realized with First Class though, is that it really doesn't make a lick of difference either way as far as entertainment goes. That's occurred to me before, but this one sealed the deal on the fact that I won't be seeing 3D nearly as much as I used too. Not only that, the lack of 3D in this case only further enforces why First Class is so well done.

X-Men: First Class gets an open door, and is definitely the best X-Men of the bunch. This is not only the best of the rest, but gains a spot for me up there with the best superhero movies of all time, including Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight. I hope that along with Wolverine coming out next year, First Class gets a sequel - which I'm sure it will. I'm certainly not done seeing McAvoy and Fassbender in these rolls, and look forward to seeing how the rest of the story and characters tie in as well.

*Stills courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox



>> Wednesday, June 1, 2011


If you've seen the trailer for this Jim Carrey vehicle, you're probably well aware that while this could be a family-friendly comedy it'll undoubtedly be a mess. I can only hope this is some sort of trade off for Carrey and that perhaps in order to do a better film, the studio made him do this.

The trailer portrays Carrey as Mr. Popper, a man who's not close to his family and has problems committing to spending time with them instead of work. That is, until his crazy uncle (or father or some shit like that) sends him a box of penguins from Antarctica. If the alliterative title doesn't make your eyes roll, the synopsis should. I don't know how or why this film got made (another children's book was the basis, by the way), but it will probably and unfortunately make a lot of money. As my friend Rowan said as we caught ourselves watching the trailer - "I wish I would have thought of it".

For those of you who actually want to go out and support Popper's, the film opens June 17th. For those of you who are taking your kids to the theatre to treat them, wait for Cars 2 on June 24th. For those of you simply going to Popper's Penguins to see some cute penguins dance around and fall down, most (if not all) of them are CGI. Even then, the studio probably killed and studied a real penguin to get the CG version to look more like the real thing. Okay, maybe not. But you know what? Just don't see it.


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