Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: You’re Next

They used the right "You're!"

Can the last half hour of a film make it good?

For the majority of it’s running time, the “new” film You’re Next is your run of the mill home invasion thriller of which we’ve gotten several lately. The previous one to see release this summer, The Purge, used a twist of being in the future. (The future, Conan?) And everyone gets to rape, murder and pillage for twelve hours a year. Kinda like Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

You’re Next, which set on the shelf for a couple of years before finally seeing release, also has it’s own “twist,” if you want to call it that. And I don’t want to belie its originality for those that want to walk in cold. The studio obviously is trying to keep it from the audience since the trailers did not indicate what it is. So I’ll give those of you who want to see it that way the opportunity to turn away now. Obviously I won’t go deep into spoiler territory. I never do. But it’s a courtesy for the super-anxious.  Just know that it is not a great film, but it is above average for the genre. If nothing else, it’s well made.

As I was saying, for the first hour or so, You’re Next is a pretty average horror thriller with lots of deaths, some convincing gore and a not too original premise. There are some narrative twists to be found, but none of them are all too unpredictable. Full disclosure, I am not typically the biggest fan of these kind of films, or the slasher films that they spawn from unless there’s something special about them. If they’re funny, original or somehow just plain well-made enough to separate themselves from the crowd. And You’re Next wasn’t it. Until the last half hour, when it turns into “Home Alone: The Reckoning.” Most of the characters are your typical spoiled, rich fops that filmmakers love to hate. Director Adam Wingard seems to delight in seeing them taken down and they are given every ounce of stupidity that can be wrung from them. But then there’s Erin.

With her Mary Elizabeth Winstead looks and her Crocodile Dundee accent (which is to say real and obvious), Sharni Vinson takes control of the film for it’s last third and that’s when it becomes interesting.

See, her character Erin didn’t grow up in a posh setting. She was raised in a survivalist camp in the Australian outback. And she knows how to rain down carnage just as well as the animal-masked assailants trying to force their way into the home of her boyfriend’s family. About the same time that her Carpenter-esque theme kicks in is when the film starts to make it’s impact. At that point it leaves the old jump scares behind and starts to truly be fun and encourages audience participation as she sets traps for the creeps trying to do her harm.

This is also when most of the film’s humor kicks in. It’s never hugely funny, but it does have a jet-black streak of humor that permeates here and there. It also takes advantage of the family acting like prats, especially indie director Joe Swanberg. Most of the characters are so dislikable that you almost cheer their demise. Not sure if this was on purpose. If they actually made you care about someone besides the protagonist, it might have been a more engaging film.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The World’s End

I'll drink to that. Or there.

There are a couple of things I know about The World’s End after seeing it last night immediately following watching Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with a friend of mine: Number one, it’s my least favorite of the Cornetto Trilogy at this moment. But that’s like being my least favorite kind of bacon. (This simile of course does not include so-called “turkey bacon” since that is most definitely NOT bacon any more than a “Beggin’ Strip” is.)

Secondly, I have no doubt that with future viewings I will enjoy it more and more. I can predict this thanks to the fact that it has happened with every other piece in Edgar Wright’s resume so far. I was foolishly only “in like” with Shaun of the Dead the first time I saw it, but over time I grew to love it, especially once I was finally able to see it on the big screen. And while I loved Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim right off the bat, their esteem has only grown in my eyes to the point that they are cultural touchstones for me; juggernauts of filmdom that wormed their way into my top movies list and firmly dumped their rumps there, refusing to move as though they’re staging a sit-in at a southern lunch counter.

I’d also like to say how glad I am, given there are two apocalypse-themed comedies out this summer, that they are both excellent. World’s End and This is the End would make a great double feature for some theater willing to do it.

Anyway, one of the most impressive things about the three films that comprise the Cornetto trilogy (or the “Blood and Ice Cream trilogy as I’ve heard it called in the states since we have Drumsticks instead) is how completely different the characters played by the ever-present Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are in all of them, as well as the other players who’ve managed to appear in multiple chapters. Pegg’s Gary “The Once and Future” King is a man-baby in perpetual arrested development, his life put on pause since the events of a pub-crawl on the night of his high school graduation. So much so that he still wears the same black trenchcoat and boots and still has the same mix-tape in his car that he was listening to the summer he turned 18. When he suddenly decides to put a plan in action that will utilize this nostalgia to return to their tiny (and apparently booze-soaked) hamlet of their youth, he finds out that not only can you not go home again, but it could kill you.

The sheer number of pubs per capita in Newtown Haven makes the “Golden Mile” that he wants to recreate so daunting: 12 pints, one night. It’s unclear if Gary thinks he’ll be able to move on after finally completing his quest, but it becomes all-consuming for him. Along with Pegg is a quartet of the UK’s finest. Most have appeared in Wright’s films before. Nick Frost of course has remained joined at Pegg’s hip for quite some time. Paddy Considine was one of the Andys in Hot Fuzz (he’s sadly lost the mustache here). Martin Freeman of Sherlock has had bit parts in the first two films. Joining them is Eddie Marsan who has been in a lot of things on the other side of the pond, but would probably be most recognized here for his appearances as Lestrad in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films.  Together they are brought together by the sheer force of Gary’s personality despite the fact that they’ve all grown apart and changed over the years, especially Frost’s Andy, now an angry, bitter man, with good reason.

Of course it wouldn’t be a part of the trilogy if things didn’t go completely off the rails, changing it from a low-key dramedy about five former friends reconnecting (along with some wry satire, especially about cultural homogenization) to a sci-fi romp that is tough to explain without spoiling some of the film’s surprises. Though if you’ve seen the trailers for the film, you have a pretty good idea what to expect. In many ways it echoes the type of body snatcher films that made the 50s so interesting.

Once the switch is flipped, once can see that Wright’s kept some of the bag of tricks he employed for Pilgrim. World’s End is not as flashy or stylized as that film, nor should it be. But the editing has improved over the previous chapters and he continues to visually impress. The great thing is that he doesn’t just make do with visuals though. In many ways, World’s End is the most emotionally complex film he’s made with some character beats that, in less deft hands, could be very jarring and possibly ruin the comedic aspects. It gets very dark, very quickly and not everything ends up OK. But it does stay funny throughout. All the way to the World’s End.

(Four damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

We named the DOG Blanc-Sec!

Usually I would not review a movie that has been out for three years, but since this is the first time it has been available in the US and it’s pretty darned entertaining, I figured I could champion it just the teeniest bit and not relegate it to a blurb in my “Movie Diary” series. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec, a film that was released in France in 2010 and is just now finding its way to the US courtesy of Shout Factory, finds French director Luc Besson firmly in the kind of mode he was in when he made The Fifth Element.

The introduction of the character is a distinct echo of the opening of that film, actually, both showing his take on turn of the century-style hijinx related to Egyptian archaeology. They both then descend into nutty, imaginative adventures with his distinct visual flair and a blasé attitude toward the believability of his effects as long as it looks… well, comic book-y, I think works as an adjective. This especially makes sense with Adele as, if Wikipedia can be believed since I’ve never actually heard of it before, the film is based on a popular series of French comics that started as almost a parody of the kind of TinTin adventure fiction that has been made in Europe since the 30s and 40s and slowly turned into the very thing it was poking fun at.

Besson has sort of struck me as the French equivalent Robert Rodriguez, going from action to family without ever completely having his style disappear. And moving from La Femme Nikita to Fifth Element to Taken to Adele Blanc-Sec actually supports that theory in my opinion. The good thing about Besson is he seems to have a magic ability to be old-fashioned in his filmmaking without ever seeming to be a throwback and to embrace the fantastic without sending people into mouth-foaming overdoses of whimsey. This is very much supposed to be a family adventure film and Besson goes gonzo with the fantastic elements involved relating to dinosaurs, mummies, turn of the century spiritualism and the creepy old guy that ties them all together. It may not have the Hollywood mega-tentpole budget of the Stephen Sommers Mummy films, for example, but it uses that to its advantage. He’s not trying to outdo Indiana Jones, though there’s certainly ties to that sort of old-fashioned adventure storytelling. He goes more for the fantastic and goofy. Many of the characters feature outrageous make-up jobs to make them look more like drawn characters and the digital effects, of which there are a surprising amount, match that aesthetic. I can’t help but wish this had been the approach taken to the filming of the TinTin movie instead of making them disturbing “realistic” cartoons.

I’ll say one thing for the French, for all their talk about culture, they do love their bodily fluid-based humor. This one includes a couple of noteworthy instances of evacuation-based yucks. It also contains some heart-felt moments, which never overwhelm the film with saccharine, and a thorough demonstration on why it’s important to wear the proper attire while playing tennis.

One of the big reasons to watch the film is Louise Bourgoin, playing the titular Adele with both aplomb and gusto. I’ve certainly never heard of her before this, but I’ll be looking out for her in the future. She really manages to invest Adele, a writer in aughties Paris, with the same sort of anarchic intellect and energy that made me enjoy Matt Smith as The Doctor. Adele is a classic comic book journalist, of the same ilk as the Lois Lane that would stomp unapologetically into a male-centric world based only on sheer bravado, talent and balls. I hear this is supposed to be the beginning of a proposed trilogy about the character. I’ll eagerly look forward to the future installments as it seems like a winking bit of post-modern Harryhausen in which fun is the main propellant.

One note about the soundtrack, I watched it in the original French track, but I did take a moment to listen to the English dub. In the bit I watched, most of the characters were talking with some of the blandest American accents I’ve ever heard. I guess they were forbidden from injecting any actual character into the dialogue. It was pretty awful. But most dubs are, so that shouldn’t be a terrible surprise. I shut it off after a couple of minutes. There’s supposed to be a director’s cut coming out in October, but I have no idea what the differences are.

(Three damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Kick Ass 2

Hi-it Girl, Hi-it Girl, jumpin' round like a rabid squirrel...

“Well, that was better than the comic, anyway.”

So said my friend Nate as we left Kick Ass 2. At this point I’m pretty sure Mark Millar’s business card should say, “Comics that make decent movies in the hands of people with better story sense.”

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his Superman Adventures run as much as anyone, but looked at against their comic counterparts, his original ideas adapted to film (Wanted and Kick Ass, at least) have been improvements over their source material.

Kick Ass 2 picks up a few years after the original film and, aside from a couple of unsatisfyingly thrown aside threads left over from the first movie, it provides a comparable experience. It could also test my ability to continue to write PG-13 reviews given what exists within its frames.

The first was a pretty clear case of the trappings of exploitation cinema being grafted onto an existing genre template, in this case the superhero film. Slapping the excesses of violence and other “extremes” onto a storyline that was clearly inspired by the highly familiar Spider-Man films resulted in a movie that was a fun counterpoint to the family-friendly violence of the Marvel films. What the name for it is, I don’t know, but since everything has to end in “-sploitation” (nazploitation, nunsploitation, blaxploitation) I think I’ll go with capesploitation. Admittedly I haven’t seen too many other American films outside this series that would fit into the subgenre except for James Gunn’s schizophrenically toned Taxi-driver meditation, Super. I’m sure some other folks could throw further examples at me.

With the original, it was really Hit Girl that made the movie. The purple-clad, uber-violent Mindy Macready has got to be my pick for one of the absolute most iconic, touchtone characters in film from the last ten years. (There’s a reason I have a British poster from the original release featuring her on my wall.) To some it was the sticking point that kept them from enjoying the movie. To me, Chloe Grace Moretz’s performance lifted the film to something special. Her relationship with Nic Cage’s “Big Daddy” (in full Adam West mode) basically stole the film right out from under the eponymous character who was, thankfully, more likable than Tobey Maguire and his glassy-eyed stare.

The sequel is smart enough to give equal time to Kick Ass and Hit Girl, following both of them as Dave (Aaron Johnson) tries to get back into the superhero game while Mindy does her best to leave it behind. Frankly, this film does a better job of explaining someone with a damaged psyche going into retirement than Dark Knight Rises. And make no mistake, while Hit Girl is shown as heroic, it makes no bones about the fact that she is damaged. Her attempts to integrate herself into high school society show that there’s little difference between the halls and the streets. It’s no wonder she wants no part of the “ordinary” experience as she goes from one extreme role model in Big Daddy to the another in the popular girls of her school. Compared to that clique, drug dealers are easy to figure out. I have to think it was purposeful that, while Grace actually looks to be the age of the character she’s playing, many of her classmates are cast to be the 20-somethings that regularly populate shows and movies set in high school and it just provides more contrast for this relationship. Is it going to be as shocking to see a 15-year old girl killing and maiming as it was when she was younger? No. Joss Whedon and all the “girl power” acolytes that have been slinging out the now well-established teen girl-as-badass archetype have taken care of that. But she continues to take the movie on her shoulders and for those that actually liked the character and didn’t simply like the first movie on the basis of shock value, it shouldn’t be an issue.

As it is, there’s still plenty of violence to be had, some dished out by Hit Girl and some of it from new characters.

Most of the new additions to the cast work well. For all his post-production whining, Jim Carrey’s Col. Stars and Stripes does a good job recreating some of the weird energy that Nic Cage brought to the first film, even if he doesn’t manage to be his equal. The new heroes and villains are all ridiculous and fun with varying degrees of success. Chritopher Mintz-Plasse is back as Chris D’Amico, making good on his threat at the end of the first film to come back, declaring himself the world’s first supervillain. The name he chooses is part of what threatens my family-friendly rating. Early on he abandons his Red Mist moniker and declares himself The Mother****er. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks. Surprisingly, John Leguizamo has a fairly major part in the film, grounding it in the early stages. This is somewhat important given the way it can’t seem to decide if it’s supposed to be taking place in the primary-colored comic book world or the “real world” that the characters talk about so much in the film.

And if there’s one problem I did have with Kick Ass 2 it is this. Sometimes it simply can’t decide what it is. It’s a blender full of ultraviolence, capes and teen comedy, but they also seem to be giving a half-assed effort to elevate the material with a message that can’t seem to quite get out; the old “violence begets violence” chestnut. This is at odds with how they present the other message of the film about regular people making a difference, however. As such, it’s confused about what the underlying theme is.

While I loved how the look of the first film seemed a direct response/send-up of Raimi’s Spider-Man (especially the original film) the second, while certainly striving to create a visual dynamic that matches the first, seems less interested in capturing that specific stylistic choice. I suppose that’s really what’s been lost with Matthew Vaughn being only a producer instead of coming back to direct this chapter. Vaughn simply was more interesting visually. One thing I can’t believe I haven’t seen before given how well it works is the use of word balloons as subtitles. On the plus side, the actions scenes, as they are, seem to be slightly improved and in terms of quality and inventiveness there are a couple of them that whooped the heck out of most stuff seen in this summer’s more expensive Wolverine film. I definitely found myself audibly expressing pain at how some of the characters meet their makers.

On this end the film is absolutely entertaining and I recommend that people who enjoyed the first one check it out. For those that found the first film repugnant or offensive, I can’t think of a single reason they would find the second redeeming. For me, it was well worth the trip.

(Three and a half damns given out of five.)

Kent’s Movie Diary- Mid-August rundown

8/17/13- First off, can I just say that when I die, I would be perfectly happy to be wrapped up like a mummy and hidden in the walls of the Alamo Drafthouse to be discovered someday by a future generation like King Tut. When I went to Kick Ass 2 on Friday night, I visited the refurbished Mainstreet Theater in downtown Kansas City which is under their management now and, wow, what a great movie house. It had the best sound I’ve ever heard and while it’s one of those “dine-in” theaters I never felt like it interrupted the film. (Oddly enough I saw the original Kick Ass in one of those types of theaters in Wichita and there were all kinds of interruptions and noise from the servers.) There were only a few trailers and the original “in theater” entertainment actually was something I was interested in, rather than a terrible batch of ads. I definitely will be going back, despite the fact that it’s an hour’s drive. At the moment I’m deciding if I’m going to try to make the trip to see the Cornetto Trilogy there this Thursday given I’ve just watched Hot Fuzz in the last two weeks and I’ll be watching Shaun of the Dead tomorrow. With the quality, I might go ahead. And since they put out a magazine that says what they’ll be playing in the next month, I’ve got all kinds of other movies I’m eager to see like Back to School, Battle Royale and one of my all-time favorites, Rushmore. (It’s a theme.) I am a capitalist at heart to be sure, but I can’t help but be mystified by the way most theaters are run. This is a theater run by movie lovers.

By the way, they showed a new Machete Kills trailer beforehand and, with proper respect to Dr. Banner, it appears crazy as a bag of cats. Looks like Mel Gibson is finally getting to play a remorseless bad guy after getting nixed from Hangover II.

ARRY POTTAH?!? In the meantime, I’ve been watching lots of stuff at home. I’m making my way through a number of series at the moment. First off, I decided that over the next month I was going to rewatch all the Harry Potter movies. I’ve watched the two Deathly Hallows films a handful of times since they were released, but I haven’t watched the first six since I first got my set. They vary in quality, but it’s surprising how well they’re able to match the novels in terms of the way they mature over the course of the eight films. Starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Chris Columbus’ films are definitely the most kid-friendly of the octet. They’re also the most generic. Perhaps that’s partly because he’s an American trying to do something that’s so darned British. The question is, is that a bad thing? I actually found a decent amount of things to enjoy in the second, especially with the end. And I’ll be getting to that one next. But Sorcerer’s Stone, for all one should be impressed by how it managed to set up these films and what turned out to be fantastic casting of the kids, is definitely the hardest for me to get through. There are times I found my interest wandering off in danger of getting completely lost. As good of actors as they all ended up being in the end, the kids make Macaulay Culkin look like Lawrence Olivier in the first one. I was thinking back to how long it had been since these films started and even though I didn’t know anything about the books (keep in mind, I was heavily outside their original demographic), I saw the first one in the theater based on some positive reviews. And I found it to be a fun kids’ movie, but little else. I didn’t even realize the second one was coming out until we got it to show at the campus when I was with the Union Program Council Films Committee at Kansas State. (I actually made a banner for that one with original art of Harry that I wish I could have grabbed after it was used as I was really pleased with it.) It isn’t until just now that I realized I saw all of the films in their original theatrical run, even though I didn’t really get invested until late in the game. Not sure how that happened. I didn’t read the novels until around the time Half-Blood Prince came out because my then fiance was spoiling them for me and I figured I’d better get it over with before it was all ruined. And like the movies, I found they really took off starting with the third entry.

I have to admit, there are things that were carried through the books that I was sad to see disappear from the movies. Aside from the Deathly Hallows Part II, I don’t really remember seeing any of the house ghosts after the second one. And I loved Nearly Headless Nick. What a waste of John Cleese to not have him in more of the movies.

Another series I started on was the Next Generation Star Trek films. The blu ray set was onWhere no man has gone before. sale on Amazon for $20 so I decided, why not? I was never a fan of the Next Generation series (Kirk 4 Life) but I’d never even seen the last couple and figured it was time for me to finally have an informed opinion. Starting with Generations, I’m doing just that. I saw Generations (aka Star Trek 7) in the theater since it was a continuation of the original cast films and I remember thinking it was alright, considering I didn’t know anything about the Next Gen cast at the time. Watching it now for the first time since it was on VHS, I can say that I was probably giving it too much credit. As awesome as Shatner is, he’s not given the best send off. And the fact that Picard’s ultimate fantasy is a houseful of Dickensian moppets… Just ugh. Oh yeah, and when he has all of time and space to return to if he leaves the Nexus, he decides to come back at a time when it’s incredibly dangerous and last minute instead of going back to nip things in the bud ahead of time so he can save everyone and make sure to end things without bloodshed. Yeah, I know, it’s a movie. The sad thing is, there’s the makings of some good stuff in here. Malcom McDowell has shown he’s capable of being a fantastic villain. The idea of a guy trying to get back into heaven by destroying the lives of millions has some great dramatic irony to it. The destruction of the Enterprise D is actually a pretty decent action sequence and I really like the way they were still using miniatures at the time. But it feels squandered. That’s Berman and Braga for you. There’s a reason Enterprise was a mediocre series until they went hands off in the third season.

How dare you, Ogami Itto!?On the other side of the fence, the most surprising thing about the Lone Wolf and Cub series is how consistent they are. Here I just finished the next to last film (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons) and it’s still entertaining and still has invention taking place. The action scenes don’t seem played out. While the first two and the fourth are my favorites so far, I would feel comfortable recommending any of them. (It may help that I’ve spaced them out so I haven’t watched them all back-to-back.) I understand the last has a different director than the first five, so we’ll have to see if it manages to close out well. This particular chapter has some moments that are pretty tough to swallow as a Westerner. It’s hard to believe that they have the gonads to let the hero decapitate a little girl. Of course the fact that the extremely young girl gives a kill order on Ogami Itto makes it a little easier to take. He could be stopping a future female equivalent to King Joffery, after all. But it’s one of those samurai movies where pretty much everyone dies. It’s a real shame that the picture quality on this set just seems to get worse and worse. The films are smeared, blurry, digitized and all sorts of horrible things. If I hadn’t gotten it cheap I’d feel ripped off. I can only recommend the set from Animeigo if you find it on sale. I love the movies, but the transfers are pretty hard to swallow. They’re even worse than the Ghostbusters blu ray.

Speaking of samurai movies, what’s up with that Criterion Zatoichi set? Super excited about it, but with one caveat. It looks like they’re moving away from separate DVD and blu rays to doing combo packs, which I kind of hate. You’ve seen my short rant about that pet peeve if you follow my postings. I honestly can’t understand why they would do this just inThe Blind Samurai time for this behemoth that won’t fit on people’s shelves. Given Criterion’s customer base of extreme cinephiles and/or young people picking up newer indie films, who are they going to continue putting out the DVDs for? As long as they continue to put things out in blu ray sized cases, I guess it’s just “added value” that I’ll never use so I can’t complain too much as the prices seem to be staying the same. From what I’ve read, the 25 of 26 film set (what happened to the last one?) is going to be a freakin’ 27 disc set when both are combined. This indicates that there will be multiple films on each disc. Usually this would worry me, but Criterion has earned the benefit of the doubt. I’ll have to see if I can put aside the money to pick this up the next time Barnes and Noble is having their 50% off sale. But even at full retail price, $180 is actually really good for that many films in one package at the kind of quality Criterion is known for. If only THEY put out Lone Wolf and Cub. It’s a series I would definitely double-dip for if it was done right.

8/18/13- The new Muppet Movie blu ray is pretty good. While The Muppets has the best live-action transfer in my entire movie collection (seriously), The Muppet Movie is far from an ideal source considering its age and the pedigree of being a comedy with optical effects. Given that, the new transfer is exactly what you would expect; grainy in some spots, fantastic in others and altogether far better than the subpar pan n’ scan transfer from the old DVD. The movie itself holds up well. While children will look at 90% of the celebrity cameos and say, “huh?”, most of them are just playing parts so while they won’t get a kick out of Madeline Kahn just due to who she was, they’ll think she’s got a funny voice. And Mel Brooks’ appearance as the evil doctor is so wacko that it still kills. “It’ll be a hot time in de ol’ skull tonight!” I’m thinking about taking it with me to my parents’ place and seeing if my nephews (and niece) what to watch it.

It’s really odd to think of the Muppet films as a series for me because they almost seem more like actors that are starring in films. Up until The Muppets there really wasn’t an attempt at establishing any kind of continuity and they’re so completely different in subject matter that the only thing that they have in common is the simple fact that they have Muppets in them. Plus, they were made by different companies through the years as the brand changed hands and they went through some God awful times. Thank God most of their awful stuff was on TV with only Muppets From Space being completely worthless as a theatrical release. Seriously? Who’s idea was it to actually explain what Gonzo was! He’s a weirdo, that’s the whole point! Oh well.

Movie Diary- 8/9/13

New player enters the game!8/2/13- Watched the second part of the Evangelion “rebuild” last night. It’s too bad I have no idea what’s going on, because it’s actually pretty damn cool in places. I described Pacific Rim as Evangelion with Star Wars overtones. I also maybe should have specified, “without all the psuedo-theological hokum and a plot that a sane person can follow.” What is awesome is that while the first one was just a compressed version of the TV series, this one was pretty divergent in a lot of ways. First off, Mari is an awesome addition to the cast. When the Mark 02 goes feral, it’s pretty damn impressive and the way they use color for her (especially after giving her that weird meet cute with Shinji) is just jarring and badass. Not only that, but the existing characters are actually more likable. Shinji doesn’t come across as such a whining wimp and doesn’t sit around crying the way he had so often in the show. Asuka (who has bizarrely had her name changed so that even the European characters seem to have Japanese surnames) is even more of a sociopath, but she’s given a bit of depth along with it and goals for her future. And the ending is just a whole bunch of “WTF.” If you liked the original series, you will either hate this for not being exactly the same or love it because it’s finally telling a new story. Hopefully it won’t end with as complete a narrative f@ck you as the show and the previous “End of Evangelion” movie did.

8/5/13- I have a rant about animation coming that I wrote at work and forgot to send to myself. In the meantime, I’ve watched a couple of movies with Spence and his girlfriend Allie. Brave being the main one. Which is still great. The thing’s hilarious and I don’t get why people just decided to take a big dook on it, because I think it’s really well made.

I got into a discussion about the glut of CGI animated films with my friend Jared. It turned into a gripe session of the current state of animation in general. I feel like the “dooming of 2D” is basically a self-fulfilling prophecy that was caused by the animation industry and Hollywood itself. If you look at recent history, the last big hand-drawn hit was probably Lilo and Stitch. Home on the Range crashed and burned because nobody liked it and Princess and the Frog did reasonably well. Certainly well enough to justify continuing the practice of making hand-drawn features. What’s really frustrating is that Frozen, the next feature from Disney, started out as hand-drawn but because of the success of Tangled, a film I actually really enjoyed in part because it aped 2D so well thanks to the handiwork of Glenn Keane, was switched over to yet another 3D feature and apparently the Diz has laid off nearly all their 2D animators.

It’s a sad day indeed given when John Lassetter took over the Mouse’s animation department, including the newly integrated Pixar, it sounded like they were going to actively pursue 2D animation again, in the spirit of the studio’s long history. I have no problem with 3D animation when it makes sense for the story. Pixar has done a good job of picking projects that seem to lend themselves to the particular look of CGI, for the most part. Wreck It Ralph made absolute sense to do in 3D because it was about computer-generated characters. But why aren’t these studios making movies based upon which medium is simply going to be better for the story being told? It’s not like making a film in CG guarantees it to be a hit. I mean, criminy, look at all the movies that have either failed to make a dent at the box office, if you’re speaking generously (or bombed if you aren’t.) Turbo is only the most recent example of one of them underperforming.

I find it very sad that Hollywood has convinced itself this is meaningless and that 2D is dead for no reason. At this point only France and Japan seem to be actively involved in creating hand-drawn films and I find it sad that the country which pioneered the animated film (and perfected the animated short through Warner Bros. and MGM) simply doesn’t care anymore.

At least we still get a stop-motion film or two a year, even if they’re falling into a pattern of nearly all having to be Burtonesque macabre comedies. (This coming from someone that enjoys that kind of thing.) I will take a pure CG movie any day over a mo-cap feature though.

Most of these Zemmeckis-pioneered features are mediocre at best and the visuals rarely have wowed me. As much as I enjoyed TinTin, and I do enjoy it a lot (more each time I watch it, actually) I am continually bothered by the awful decision to do it as a mo-cap feature with what is, frankly, some pretty grotesque design. Herge’s characters are pretty universally beloved throughout Europe and much of the non-American world, so why not actually make the characters look like they do in the comics? Or even just bite the bullet and film it as a live-action feature? Because instead it is a charmless and puzzling visual mish-mash that is simply unappealing. The look of the film really pleased noone that I’ve spoken to, with the distraction of the character design hampering the things that work really well like the imaginative set-pieces, a fine script by the cream of the creative crop currently in Britain’s TV and film industry and the best chase scene Spielberg has directed since Raiders. But that’s the problem with motion capture, period. I simply don’t know who it’s supposed to appeal to. The only film I can think of that really worked with it was Monster House. (This of course is not counting the stupendous work by Andy Serkis and the artists behind Gollum and other such instances of incorporating CG characters into live-action film, but rather a self-decribed “animated film.”) But the characters in Monster House were stylized so that they were more appealing and didn’t fall into the uncanny valley trap quite as hard. And even then, the motion capture seemed worthless because a good animator can do a better job of conveying emotion than some dots glued to a person’s face. There’s really very little reason to hire an actor when an animator is already doing the job of an actor if they’re any good.

Is it neat that Speilberg tried a different medium? Absolutely. With directors like Wes Anderson, Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton jumping from live action to animation and vice versa, it’s an exciting time for creative freedom in film. These folks are taking advantage in the blurred lines of filmmaking and picking up the reigns from the likes of Frank Tashlin to try to take advantage of the best avenue for them to tell their stories. It’s just a shame that one of them is completely closed off now. I’ve loved every one of Bird’s features, for example. He managed to keep the Mission: Impossible franchise from squandering the goodwill JJ Abrams presented it with and his Pixar films, especially The Incredibles, are not just some of the best animated films of the last 20 years, but a couple of the best films of the last two decades period. But I could not see The Iron Giant being what it is were it live-action or computer animated beyond what was used initially. (Speaking of which, why isn’t that on blu ray yet? Can Warners still not figure out that it’s a hugely popular cult film that could be sold on the basis of Bird’s megahits?)

Really the main disturbing trend is that animation in its various forms, especially CG, is more in demand than ever thanks to increasing special effects and more films flooding the market then ever, yet prospects for animation seem so bleak. Effects houses have publically been failing because they are not rewarded for a job well done in many cases (even when they win an Oscar.) Animators have become the pariahs of Hollywood. While art and “geek culture” proceeds to dominate the box office and the pop culture consciousness, the actual creators of the art in cinemas are being pushed around as though the work can be done by any schmuck off the street with the right software. This isn’t the case in every instance to be certain, but as a whole it seems like outsourcing and undercutting are the rules of the day. Perhaps they always have been. Rocky and Bullwinkle were animated (if you can call it that) in Mexico to cut costs and that was in the 60s. But for some reason it just seems worse now. Maybe it always seems worse now than in the past. It is human nature to paint the most dire portrait of the present. After all, I suppose at least as an audience we’re getting more content than ever and we’re no longer in the dark ages of the late 70s and early 80s.

Kent’s Movie Diary: 7/31/13

7/31/13- One cool thing so far about Spence being homeless, we’ve been watching movies and we’re getting into a bit of a groove with it. Last night we started with a Netflix documentary, American Grindhouse, which I’d seen but it had been awhile, as I wanted something quick and he seemed to be in a  documentary-type mood. It’s pretty paper-thin as documentaries about movies can often be, but as before it makes me want to actually see a lot of these films, be they culturally relevant or just crazy. I also noticed just how many old exploitation films have had bands named after them. Or at the very least, songs. The real reason to watch it is John Landis, who is both incredibly funny, and also striking of an odd balance between not being a dick, but without giving way to bullshit when describing some of the films and how truly awful they are. Somehow he can degrade a film but not go out of his way to be just plain mean.

After that, I put in 21 Jump Street as he’d never seen it and he seemed to feel exactly like I did about the film before I had actually seen it. The movie is the biggest example of cinematic alchemy I can think of, taking a terrible actor (Channing Tatum), an unlikable comedian (Jonah Hill) and a tired premise (a remake of a TV show that was pretty lame, even if I like Stephen J. Cannell) all on at the same time. And yet, because of a fantastically funny screenplay by Michael Bacall of Scott Pilgrim fame and the fact that Tatum turns out to be far, far, FAR more talented at comedy than he is at drama or action (plus some great and rather out-there work from the comedians in supporting roles) it is actually really, really freakin’ funny. Almost shockingly so. I’m surprised I haven’t’ heard more about this film since it came out because I thought its legend would grow like Anchorman and it would be continually quoted online. Maybe it is and I know the wrong people. I don’t know what the hell they’re thinking making a sequel because I don’t think lightning will strike twice, but hey. Good luck to ’em. If they do something half as funny as the drug freak-out it will be worth being made. Spence thought it was hilarious, so I managed to gain some street cred with him.

Here comes the Fuzz!8/1/13- Since I’ve had the last couple of days off, I’ve watched a couple more movies with Spence. He decided to put in Jurassic Park. I’m starting to develop a theory based on my blu rays. Most 80s titles look like crap. It’s pretty obvious. Especially the comedies and anything with special effects. Everything was shot soft, for one thing. It’s like everyone was trying to make their movie look like softcore porn. And it’s often pretty grainy. My God, the Ghostbusters transfer alone is abysmal enough to prove my point. Today, most movies look pretty amazing out of the gate. But there’s this transition period in the 90s where things don’t look as bad as 80s movies, but they still don’t look pristine, either. Men in Black was that way. Jurassic Park is another. (I just got Independence Day as I haven’t watched it in forever and had a hankering. I bet it’s the same way as well.) I don’t know the reason. I’m not technical and what I know about filmstock would fit on my pinkie. Just something I’ve noticed. Today I threw in one of my all time favorite movies for the next-to-last Yocum Thursday: Hot Fuzz. My personal favorite of the three films of Edgar Wright’s (all of which I love dearly), it was once again nice to show a flick to an appreciative audience. I feel like I should make a notch in my TV stand for every film I get someone to buy after showing it to them. (John, if you’re reading this, I ordered Forbidden Planet today, so you got one over on me, too. It was on sale for $7.50, so how could I resist?) Every time I watch Hot Fuzz, it manages to find a new way to surprise me because of how deeply layered some of the callbacks are. Sure, some of them pay off right away, but some of them are really “blink and miss.” The script is simply fantastic. I have seen some people dismiss it simply because it’s not Shaun of the Dead and I feel sorry for them, because it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of filmmaking, one that I appreciate more every time I watch it. I can’t wait for The World’s End. And as my local Regal Theater is not participating in the “Cornetto Trilogy” screening, much to my chagrin, I will just have to watch them with some friends in the comfort of my own home. Tonight after he gets off work and I’ve had a beer or two, I think I’ll sit him down with Safety Not Guaranteed and see how well it plays for him. I’m expecting good things.