Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lars and The Real Girl

Year 4, Day 35 - 2/4/12 - Movie #1,035

BEFORE: It might seem like I'm taking a left turn here, but I simply cannot watch another animated feature - I'm putting kids' films on hold for the next month, but I will get back there.  It's time to concentrate on romance and relationships - I figure I'll get the oddball one out of the way first.

Linking from "Tangled", Ron Perlman was also in "Drive" with Ryan Gosling (last seen in "Remember the Titans"), who headlines here.

The TCM roadtrip travels to the U.K. for Day 4 - but I've seen "The Time Machine", "My Fair Lady" and "Scrooge" before, and I'm going to pass on "The Picture of Dorian Gray", "Gaslight" and "Mrs. Miniver".  Classics all - but there are 2 movies I want to record on Sunday, so that's my limit for the weekend.  I am so going to steal their idea for organizing films, though - I've got a bunch that are set in the U.K., and another block that's California-themed ("Down and Out in Beverly Hills", "Laurel Canyon", etc.)

THE PLOT: A delusional young guy strikes up an unconventional relationship with a doll he finds on the Internet.

AFTER: While we're on the topic of my childhood, I remember what it was like before I could talk to girls.  I made some clumsy moves to get their attention in junior high, but it wasn't until I got to college that I came even close to dating.  And then it took three years to go on a date where the other person also acknowledged that it was a date - the other girls just thought we were "hanging out", so the process was a mystery to me for a long time.

Socially awkward people come in all shapes and sizes, though - when I'm not working with animation geeks or attending a comic-con, I relax by playing on a trivia team.  Those circles represent three different flavors of nerds - and in a couple of those circles, I might even be inexplicably thought of as "the cool one".  They say if you're fat, you should hang out with fatter people to seem thin - so I guess I've sought out friends even nerdier than myself.

My boss recently handed out an award at a videogame event, and he told me the crowd was the nerdiest he'd seen - and like me, he's been to Comic-con, so that's saying something.  My co-worker noted that on the same night, she was home playing videogames - so who's more nerdy?  At least the geeks at the event were out being social, in their own way.

Lars is clearly a character unused to relating to other people - so he buys one of those realistic sex dolls (like a mannequin, only with something extra) but doesn't appear to use her for her intended purpose.  Instead he talks to her, gives her a backstory, takes her on dates and brings her to parties.  Instead of being creeped out, the whole town humors his delusion and treats the doll like a real person - because, hey, at least Lars is being social.

Lars has more issues than a newstand, but is he any crazier than someone who talks to their dog, or their plants?  Really, it's only when the plants talk back that you need to worry...  What about people who are delusional about their potential, or unaware of the effect their actions have on others?  Or someone who, say, runs for political office and doesn't think that scandal in his past will come to light?  What was that guy thinking?

After the set-up, there are some twists and turns I won't reveal here - but while this film is not flat-out entertaining, I bet it did well at festivals, because it's one of those darkish films that really makes you think, and I admire that.  Whether Lars is just practicing being with a fake girlfriend, or really believes the doll is real is sort of up to you - the film works either way, which is impressive.

Also starring Emily Mortimer (last seen in "The Ghost and the Darkness"), Paul Schneider (last seen in "Away We Go"), Kelli Garner (last seen in "The Aviator") and Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "Jumanji")

RATING: 6 out of 10 action figures

Friday, February 3, 2012


Year 4, Day 34 - 2/3/12 - Movie #1,034

BEFORE: Another Disney fairy-tale from recent years - and I'm betting on it being a love story, too, right?  Linking from "The Princess and the Frog", where voice actor Jim Cummings appeared as Ray - he also did a voice in "Titan A.E." with Ron Perlman (last seen in "Looney Tunes: Back in Action"), who appears again tonight.  It's not pretty, but it will work.

The TCM Road-Trip, Day 3: Today the trip finishes off Mexico ("Night of the Iguana" - pass), then moves on to Colorado for "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and "The Glenn Miller Story" (not sure I see the Colorado connection there...) before going WAY overseas to India.  Now we're getting somewhere!  I really should watch "Gandhi", and I will someday, but to record it tonight, I'd need a third DVR, so I've got to pass.  But I will pick up "A Passage to India", since I've seen so few of the Merchant-Ivory productions over the years.  And there's a movie coming up in 10 days that I want to pair it with.

THE PLOT: The magically long-haired Rapunzel has spent her entire life in a tower, but now that a runaway thief has stumbled upon her, she is about to discover the world for the first time.

AFTER: Like last night's film, this is an expanded version of a rather simple fairy-tale.  Rapunzel's locked in a tower, right.  But WHY is she there?  Again, I forgot to inquire further when I was a child, so Disney's added a proper back-story, borrowing a little from "Law & Order: SVU".  Due to some unique childbirth circumstances, her hair received the healing properties of a magic flower (work with me, here...) and so an evil sorceress (?) baby-napped her and raised her as her own child, using her hair's power to remain young.

Fast-forward 18 years to where Rapunzel is living the ultimate sheltered life, not permitted to leave her tower, into the large allegedly scary world that her demeaning mother figure is "protecting" her from.  And here I thought my Mom put the "mother" in "smother", because she wouldn't let me play organized sports as a kid.  Apparently this would have caused me to break my arm, or worse, my glasses...but I digress.

I thought it was very shrewd of Disney Corp. to try and appeal to both boys and girls, first by changing the name of the story ("Tangled" sounds rougher, more complicated), then locking in the girls with the princess' hopey-dreamy-wishey stuff, and adding the thieves and thugs and action sequences to rope in the boys.  It's almost like people over there know what they're doing.

The songs here are a little show-tuney, but they're not terrible.  There were some very clever rhymes, particularly in "Mother Knows Best" and "I've Got a Dream".

Any NITPICK POINTS would probably concern the ever-varying length of Rapunzel's hair - portable in some shots, but impossibly cumbersome in others - plus it functions in more ways than Indiana Jones' bullwhip.  But with Rapunzel sliding down from the tower on her own hair - correct me if my physics are wrong, but I don't see how she can function as both the pulley AND the rope at the same time, especially with no counterweight.

Starring the voices of Mandy Moore (last heard in "Racing Stripes"), Zachary Levi (last seen in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel"), Donna Murphy (last seen in "The Fountain"), with cameos from Jeffrey Tambor (last seen in "Meet Joe Black"), Brad Garrett (last heard in "A Bug's Life"), Paul F. Tompkins and M.C. Gainey.

RATING: 7 out of 10 Wanted posters

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Princess and the Frog

Year 4, Day 33 - 2/2/12 - Movie #1,033

BEFORE: Yes, February is the month of love and romance - but it also contains Mardi Gras.  Pure coincidence...or is it?   Linking from "Shrek Forever After" is simple since Eddie Murphy was also in "Dreamgirls" with Anika Noni Rose, who provide the voice of the titular princess tonight.

TCM's Oscar schedule, Day 2: I'm picking up "1776" this morning because I need a better copy - this will also test whether my DVR is willing to record off of TCM again.  If it isn't, I'm sure they'll run it again on July 4.  I've seen the film before, so it doesn't affect my count.  Then the tour moves on to Canada for 5 films, including "Johnny Belinda" and "The 49th Parallel", and then down to Mexico, for "The Wild Bunch" (seen it) and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (ditto).  So nothing to add to the list until tomorrow.

THE PLOT: A fairy tale set in Jazz Age-era New Orleans and centered on a young woman named Tiana and her fateful kiss with a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again.

AFTER: We all know the fairy tale, right?  A prince has been turned into a frog, and needs to be kissed by a princess to turn human again.  But WHY was he turned into a frog in the first place?  I think I forgot to ask questions like that when I was a kid.  But this film decides to answer the question, and I think it's important that it does.

A frog is lowly, humble - so maybe the prince needed to learn a lesson in humility.  (Sounds like a pitch meeting - go on...)  Then we add another layer to the story - someone needs the prince out of the way, so turning him into a frog gets rid of him, just seal him up in a jar.  Since this is set in New Orleans, whatever witch appeared in the original tale has been turned into a voodoo houngan.  Which means we can do all kinds of spooky voodoo stuff, and get the attention of the little boys as well as the princess-infatuated girls!

About that - I was afraid going in there would be all that dreamy Disney princess guck like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty displayed.  But nay nay, this is a new Disney heroine - not just the first Disney princess of color, but the first one with a real work ethic.  (Except maybe Snow White, didn't she clean the dwarves' house?  Or did she make her forest animal friends do it?)  So the new formula is: wish upon a star, but then work really hard, and your dreams will come true.  Yeah, that seems a little more realistic.

So there are teachable moments here - the prince learns a little humility, and Tiana learns that maybe there's more to life than focusing on her career.  Can these crazy mixed-up kids meet somewhere in the middle?

Tiana is also smart enough to know that making a deal with dark forces to get what you want rarely turns out well.  It's a lesson that Shrek (and, for that matter, Spider-Man a few years back) should have heeded.  It turns out that voodoo, like Rumpelstiltskin's contracts, have a lot of tricky rules, and a few loopholes.

The one character I couldn't get was Charlotte, Tiana's friend, who's a spoiled Southern belle who thinks that wanting things and deserving things are pretty much the same - yet she's generous when the plot needed her to be.  Well, which is it?  Is she an entitled brat, or not?  She doesn't work as a foil character for Tiana unless she's everything that Tiana is not.  But then, I suppose they wouldn't be friends?  Instead of being a complex character, she's just a confusing one.

NITPICK POINT: So every man, woman, amphibian and insect in the greater New Orleans area speaks Cajun and plays zydeco music?  Seems a little simplistic and also over-the-top.

NITPICK POINT #2: So Tiana tries to buy a building for her restaurant, but gets outbid.  So what?  She still has the money, right?  And there are other buildings in town?  So why is this such a stumbling block?  For someone who wants to stay true to her dream, she sure gives up on it easily.

NITPICK POINT #3: Every fairy-tale reader knows that it's not really midnight until the 12th bell rings, not the FIRST.   Sheesh.

Also starring the voices of Keith David (last seen in "Head of State"), Bruno Campos, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody and Jim Cummings (last heard in "The Jungle Book 2"), with cameos from Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard (last seen in "August Rush"), and John Goodman (also last heard in "The Jungle Book 2")

RATING: 6 out of 10 beignets

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shrek Forever After

Year 4, Day 32 - 2/1/12 - Movie #1,032

BEFORE: The voice of Antonio Banderas carries over from last night's "Puss in Boots" as I close out yet another franchise.  This film needs to be really great, however, to make up for the awful "Shrek the Third" (or, as they supposedly called it at the Dreamworks offices, "Drek the Turd").

But it's also a new month, and February has traditionally been devoted to films about love and romance.  Fortunately (and not-so-coincidentally), fairy tales usually fit right in with that, so I'll spend a few days in storybook land, then move on to other romantic endeavors.

It's also the start of TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" promotion, so I've got to keep an eye on what they're running, and choose films carefully - if I try to add too many to the list, I'll fill up my DVR, and my list will start making negative progress again.  This year they've arranged their Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated films by location, which I find both clever and interesting.  Day 1's films are set in Florida, like "The Yearling" (pass), "Key Largo" (pass) and "Some Like It Hot" (seen it) before moving to Pennsylvania for "Rocky" (seen it) and "The Philadelphia Story" (ditto).  Looks like I'm all clear on Day 1's program.  I did pick up a few other films this week, so the list remains at 265.

THE PLOT: Rumpelstiltskin tricks a mid-life crisis Shrek into allowing himself to be erased from existence and cast into a dark alternate timeline where Rumpel rules supreme.

AFTER:  That's right, it's a play on "It's a Wonderful Life", where the kingdom of Far, Far Away gets turned into Pottersville - er, Rumpeltown.  You can probably guess the lesson that Shrek learns from it all, that it always seems the grass is greener on the other side, and people/ogres always want what they can't have, without realizing how good their life actually is.

Just like "Shrek" put a spin on the classic fairy tale motifs, this film turns the Shrekian formula inside-out, forcing the audience to think back to the first film, and then putting a spin on that storyline.  This time Shrek didn't save Fiona from the dragon and rescue her from her curse, so what are the implications of that?  He's got to make friends (again) with Donkey, and try to win her heart (again).  Like Vezzini said, "Go back to the beginning!"

There are a lot of new rules concerning the way magic works, and Rumpelstiltskin comes off like a shady lawyer, crossed with the devil and his love for temptation and signing things.  I don't know if kids really found the finer points of contract law to be entertaining - but Rumpel was at least as interesting as Humpty Dumpty was last night.

So, yeah, I was well entertained by this one.  I know the first "Shrek" inside and out, since we watched it so many times on our honeymoon (the cruise ship ran it constantly) - so it was nice to see a darker spin on the fairy-tale land.  Throw in some clever references to "The Wizard of Oz", "The Untouchables", and even "Deliverance, and I'm a happy camper.

Also starring the voices of Mike Myers (last seen in "54"), Cameron Diaz (last seen in "Knight and Day"), Eddie Murphy (last seen in "I Spy"), with cameos from Julie Andrews, John Cleese (last heard in "Planet 51"), Jon Hamm (last seen in "The Town"), Jane Lynch (last seen in "Julie & Julia"), Craig Robinson (last seen in "Fanboys"), Kathy Griffin, Kristen Schaal (last seen in "Cirque du Freak"), Meredith Vieira, Ryan Seacrest, Larry King (last heard in "Bee Movie") and Regis Philbin.

RATING: 7 out of 10 mud angels

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Puss in Boots

Year 4, Day 31 - 1/31/12 - Movie #1,031

BEFORE: Steve Martin in a film about the search for a diamond - really, the next logical film to watch would have been "The Pink Panther" remake, but I don't have a copy.  I'm still boycotting that franchise, because I didn't think a remake was necessary.

So, I'm wrapping up January with another cat film - I didn't have a copy of this when I watched the other cat films.  And it's not on cable yet, or released on DVD - so how am I watching it?  Well, one thing's for sure, I'm definitely NOT borrowing an Academy screener from someone I know who left it lying around.  Because those screeners are for the express use of Academy members' judging, and any other purpose would be wrong.  So, there you go, there must be some other explanation...

Linking from "Looney Tunes", Joan Cusack was in a bunch of movies ("High Fidelity", "Grosse Pointe Blank", "Say Anything") with her brother, John Cusack, who was in "Pushing Tin" with Billy Bob Thornton (last seen in "Primary Colors").

THE PLOT: A story about the events leading up to the sword-fighting cat's meeting with Shrek and his friends.

AFTER: A vast improvement over the films of the last few nights, particularly in the animation with regards to sword fights and dance sequences.  Ah, yes, you will believe that cats can dance.  In boots.

The backstory of Puss in Boots concerns his history with Humpty Dumpty - they were raised together in an orphanage, got in trouble together, and planned the big heist, the one from the "Jack and the Beanstalk" story.  Yes, they scrambled a bunch of different fairy tales together here, but that's what people have come to expect from the "Shrek" franchise.  Fortunately they only cross the streams here in ways that make sense.

I appreciated the backstory, and the middle heist sequences worked for me, but the ending sort of devolved into random chaos, and that's where the film sort of lost me.  In order to add a twist the story sort of had to jettison everything that had gone before, and that was all the stuff that I thought I was enjoying.

Also starring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek (last seen in "Cirque du Freak"), Zach Galifianakis (last seen in "Dinner for Schmucks"), and Amy Sedaris (last heard in "Chicken Little").

RATING: 7 out of 10 shots of leche

Monday, January 30, 2012

Looney Tunes: Back in Action

Year 4, Day 30 - 1/30/12 - Movie #1,030

BEFORE: Brendan Fraser carries over from "Furry Vengeance" as I wind down the month of talking animals.  Wabbits, er, rabbits and ducks and pigs all count, right?

THE PLOT: The Looney Tunes search for a man's missing father and the mythical Blue Monkey diamond.

AFTER: I suppose if I suffered through "Space Jam" I should at least give them a chance to revive the franchise.  They kept trying to make another "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" but I suspect that was like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

Bugs and Daffy are the stars here, and Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian and the Tasmanian Devil fit nicely into roles as villains, secretly working for the Acme Corporation.  If they're so powerful, how come they can't make any road-runner catching devices that work right?  Plus there are plenty of cameos from the lesser characters in the WB canon, like Beaky Buzzard, Nasty Canasta and the Three Bears.

Also for the adults, there are a lot of in-jokes about movie-making, and the hyper-self awareness wherein the characters know they are cartoons, and take advantage of that fact.  The studio executives complain that you can't just keep blowing Daffy Duck up again and again, and later in the film that exact situation comes up.  Fraser plays a stuntman who doubled for Brendan Fraser in "The Mummy", due of course to their incredible resemblance.

But unfortunately there's a lot that doesn't make sense, especially the evil plan of the head of the Acme Corp.  That, and a lot of other things, come from a place so far out in left field that it made me wonder how they got into the game at all.  Overall, this film tried to appeal to children and adults by being a combination of action, comedy, animation and intrigue, and ended up mostly incoherent.

So it's another split decision tonight -

Also starring Steve Martin (last seen in "Mixed Nuts"), Jenna Elfman (last seen in "Grosse Pointe Blank"), Joan Cusack (last seen in "Sixteen Candles"), Timothy Dalton (last seen in "The Tourist"), Heather Locklear (last seen in "The First Wives Club"), with cameos from Bill Goldberg, Ron Perlman (last seen in "The Last Supper"), Robert Picardo, racer Jeff Gordon, Michael Jordan, and Peter Graves.  Voices by Joe Alaskey, Jeff Bennett, Billy West, June Foray, and three people I've met: Eric Goldberg, Stan Freberg and Will Ryan.

RATING: 5 out of 10 jet-packs

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Furry Vengeance

Year 4, Day 29 - 1/29/12 - Movie #1,029

BEFORE: This looks like it's going to be a low-rent retread of "Yogi Bear", if that's even possible.

Linking from "Open Season 3", Crispin Glover was also in "Epic Movie" with Kevin McDonald, who was in "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" with Brendan Fraser (last seen in "Inkheart") in an uncredited cameo - that counts if I say it does.

Plus, this is the fifth movie in a row to prominently feature a bear as a character.

THE PLOT: A real estate developer's new housing subdivision faces a unique group of protesters, local woodland creatures who don't want their homes disturbed.

AFTER: How do I hate this film without taking sides against the animals?  I love animals, both the indoor ones and the outdoor ones, the cute ones and the tasty ones.  If that makes me a hypocrite, then most humans are hypocrites as well, but at least I'm aware of it.

And I've got no love for shady real-estate developers, or shady people in general - people like that might make me actually prefer the company of animals over humans.  But even more than that, I hate slapstick as a form of entertainment.

I don't second-guess other people's choices - if you (or your kids) like seeing people getting sprayed in the face by skunks, or defecated on by birds, more power to you.  This film is right up your alley - but I have a right to demand more cerebral entertainment.

I also maintain that we need forests, and maintaining a diverse biosphere is probably a good idea, so we need forest animals as well.  (At least, that's what Ranger Rick magazines told me as a kid)  But it would be great to see people putting housing developments on hold because they truly care about the many different species that would be affected, not because they get inconvenienced, and then roughed up by those animals.

SO the only reason this scores anything higher than a "1" is because the right message is there - pointing out the hypocrisy of people who tear down forests just to build houses on ironically-named streets like Elm and Maple should be a valid enterprise.  Or highlighting the typical acts of companies that adopt green policies just for the sake of good publicity.  However, the film didn't get there in any way that I found entertaining.

What a shame, it aimed really low, and still underperformed.  Really, isn't this just "A Christmas Carol" crossed with "When Animals Attack"?  There was a Super Bowl commercial last year where a man swerves to avoid a beaver in the road, and months later the beaver returns the favor by blocking the road with a tree to save him when the bridge is out - that 30-second commercial was more entertaining than this 90-minute film.

Also starring Brooke Shields (last seen in "Freaked"), Matt Prokop, Ken Jeong (last seen in "Knocked Up"), Angela Kinsey, with cameos from Patrice O'Neal (last seen in "Head of State"), Jim Norton, Wallace Shawn (last heard in "Teacher's Pet"), Billy Bush, and "The Daily Show"s Samantha Bee and Rob Riggle (last seen in "The Other Guys").

RATING: 3 out of 10 tranq darts