Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cars 2: How Pixar Sold Out

Remember when I compared the wizards at Pixar Animation Studios to the English alternative rock band Radiohead? Remember when I said that neither group could do much wrong? I want to take back my orginal statements. Not for the Oxfort quintet, mind you. Their streak remains a perfect 8 for 8 with The King of Limbs, but that's for another time. I'm talking, sadly, about Pixar. Yeah, i'm shocked i'm writing this, too.

You see, the studio reached an all-time personal best with Toy Story 3, a brilliant, masterful and deeply bittersweet sendoff to Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead, Jesse, and all the rest of Andy's toys that magically come to life whilst Andy is away. The mixture of comedy, breathtaking animation, and the pains of growing up and moving past the days of childhood and care-free innoncence crafted the studio's best movie since 2004's The Incredibles, their second straight Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and their sixth Oscar win for Best Animated Feature. Cut to one year later, and Pixar released Cars 2, the studio's first attempt to make another franchise off of a popular previous release that isn't Toy Story.Before I go further on this review, allow me to talk about why the 2006 flick, Cars, got a sequel to begin with. Simply put, money.

I know, I know: every last movie from Pixar made big money at the box office, so why this one? Unlike previous works underlining more mature themes such as suburban/marriage life (The Incredibles) and dealing with abandonment issues (Toy Story 2), Cars was an ode to the American love affair of the automobile and to the romanticism of Route 66. The story didn't go any deeper than Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) learning to slow down, enjoy what was in front of him and learn a valuable lesson in respecting and valuing tradition instead of going through life as an ego-driven jock, the animation was glossy and as stylistic as any Pixar movie and the voice casting was once again spectacular, in particular, Larry the Cable Guy as Mater, the rusty tow truck/comic relief of the film and the late Paul Newman as Doc Hudson, in the actor's final role before retiring one year later, then passing on in 2008. The movie hit all the right buttons with the family demographic and Pixar didn't shame itself by resorting to bad slapstick gags to get easy laughs.

In short: it was a piece of nostalgia for the older generation and it didn't scare the tykes or had any deep-meaning message other than the one I just mentioned above. For Pixar, it was a shiny, non-offensive, package that gave tribute to a slice-of-life romanticism of 1950's American culture blended with today's obsession with motorsports, and it just happened to make the Cars brand sell big with younger kids and their families, so logic dictated that there be a sequel that gives the audience more of what they liked the first time.

And that, as the Bard would say, lies the rub: Cars 2 doesn't try to evolve the characters or go beyond the message of be true to yourself and never forget who your friends are. Hell, Cars 2 lacks the Pixar touch of reeling in its audience with emotional storytelling and allowing the sometimes harsh realities of life to enter through. How do I know this? Because ever last Pixar film had some level of deep thought and or meaning into their movies!

Take what writer/director Andrew Stanton said about the theme of WALL-E was as an example:
Well, what really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that's not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say—that irrational love defeats the world's programming. You've got these two robots that are trying to go above their basest directives, literally their programming, to experience love.
 Another example is co-writer/director Peter Docter and what his movie, Up, was about to him:
"We've described it as a 'coming of old age' story," he said. "It's really like an unfinished love story, is kind of the way we're talking about it. This wonderful romance this guy had with his wife and she passes away and it's the unfinished business of dealing with that. The little kid [also has things he] needs to deal with ... and so the two of them end up really needing each other and helping to finish each other's business."
Those two movies I highlighted had something deeper than just their bizarre, almost vague premises that their respective trailers let show for audiences. Cars 2 doesn't even try to expand on an emotional level, or even a most of the characters. The director of the movie, John Lasseter, admitted as much.
When I was travelling around the world doing interviews for Cars I just had the characters on the brain. I kept looking out thinking, ‘What would Mater do in this situation, you know?’
I could imagine him driving around on the wrong side of the road in the UK, going around in big, giant travelling circles in Paris, on the autobahn in Germany, dealing with the motor scooters in Italy, trying to figure out road signs in Japan...
Yes, the sequel is mostly about Mater. Sure, there's a sub-plot about McQueen racing in the World Grand Prix, a race that spans three continents from Tokyo to Italy, but it's all about Mater and how he's in an adventure of his own, as master spy Finn McMissile (Sir Michael Cane) and his partner Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) convinced his knowledge of "lemon" vehicles (cars that are defective after they are purchased) makes him a spy himself, convince him in helping British Intelligence track down and stopping a master mind from raising oil profits by making a new type of fuel McQueen is helping to promote look defective. Yep, the plot is thin, the character deveopment is even thinner, but hey, the animation and the visuals are still as sleek and easy on the eyes as ever! Seriously, this is the kind of product i'd expect from Dreamworks Animation or Blue Sky Animation, not from the studio who gave us the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bad Boys II: The Worst Film Of the Last Decade

Over the last ten years, i've watched some truly terrible and hideous movies that, somehow, found their way to movie screens. Take the repugnant and cliched My Sister's Keeper, for example. Director Nick Cassavettes took an already heartless and disgusting premise - a family with a terminally-ill daughter conceive another child for the sole purpose of using said child as a one-stop organ shop for Sofia's (Sofia Vassilieva playing the elder daughter) needs - and turned it into an over-dramatic ethical/courtroom/family drama of a mother at war with her youngest daughter, Anna (Abagail Breslin, fire your agent) that threatens to destroy the rest of the family and that demands that you cry, damnit, cry! The only thing it did was make me pray to the movie gods that this tedious melodrama would end.

Another movie, Good Luck Chuck, a rom-com that churns out the same recycled sex gags we've seen in better and funnier films like The 40 Year-Old Virgin and American Pie, but goes one step further: it's premise of a dentist (a never unfunnier Dane Cook) who's cursed with getting laid but never being able to find true love, whist the other partner is, hearkening back to the stereotype that all men want is sex; and women, a relationship and children. The filmmakers go about beating this same drum in mean-spirited ways, from Charlie being raped by his receptionist, to him putting the curse to the test on a grotesque, obese woman, this bad sex comedy never once reaches your funny bone.

How about Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, a sequel to the 1999 movie, Charlie's Angels, which was stunningly lazy in its execution, lame in its action scenes, and filled to the brim with bad writing and terrible acting by everyone involved, including Demi Moore, who we all thought would be her triumphant return to the silver screen. Never had a sequel looked this lazy and joyless.

And what else can I say about the entirety of the The Twilight Saga that I already haven't said before?

These movies are, again, just ghastly and unpleasant films in general. I haven't even mentioned the other bad features, like Men In Black IIPirates of the Caribbean: At World's EndFreddy Got Fingered,Battlefield EarthThe HappeningLittle FockersThe Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, etc. None of the movies i've mentioned hold a candle to Michael Bay's Bad Boys II, the most unpleasant, mean-spirited, vile, and degrading piece of filmmaking i've seen in quite sometime. Before I get on with this review, allow me to take you back a decade and four year ago.

The year was 1998, and Bay made it big with the sci-fi/disaster flick, Armageddon, grossing over $553 million worldwide. Despite the film recieving a drubbing by the critics, many of them saying his blockbuster feature was filled with many plot holes, a ridiculous premise, underdeveloped characters that would barely be considered one-dimnensonal, and staging overlong, loud and bombastic action scenes for the sake of stretching out the film's 150 minute-runtime, his success at the domestic and international box office signated to Bay that all of his detractors could go fuck themselves: in his mind,  the audience didn't really care about story, character developement or a plot that's logical or has continuity. To him, all that mattered was that he give what his audience wants: carnage and destruction - quick cuts, overlong and head-pummeling action scenes, shit blowing up, stuff about stoping the enemy in the name of freedom, and hot pieces of ass that serve as fan service and to be in love with our main protagonist. 

Little did we know, Bay's style of direction (which can be equated to a 12 year-old riddled with ADHD) was just the beginning. Throught his career, he would go on an almost inturrped streak of blockbuster hits, Bad Boys II  being part of that collection. Now, onto my review, and to do so, i'm going to paraphrase one of my favorite movie critics, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, because it really does sum of this.....thing, in a nutshell (and, mind you, this is what he actually wrote about this paticular film):"Bad Boys 2 has everything: everything loud, dumb, violent, racist, sexist and homophobic director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer can think of puking up onscreen." There is not a single moment in this film's 2 hour, 22 minutes that isn't ugly, that doesn't make you wish you were watching a better, more enjoyable action film.

Our "protagonists" are two Miami police detectives, Mike Lowrey and Marcus Barnett, who are once agian played by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, respectively. I used "protagonists" in quotation marks because these two are, arguably, some of the worst on-screen heroes to come along in ages. The pair open fire in street corners, filled with innocent civilians, to adminsiter their brand of "justice" onto the criminal underworld in South Beach (and, by justice, I mean Will Smith takes out a semi-automatic rifle from the comaprtment of his Ferrari and starts pumping shells into one of the drug dealers trying to escape - not a joke, this actually happens in one of the movie's laundry list of action scenes!); they cause obscene amounts of damage on the freeways of Miami, because it's not a good day at the office (or an action movie, apparently) without getting into a reckless car chase that could serverly injure other drivers and/or pedestrians, and endanger the lives and careeres of those working with the pair. This goes for Mike especially, because his trigger-happy personality constantly ends up putting himself and Marcus in danger. Hell, even Marcus himself admits his partner's shoot-first, ask questions never mentality early in a scene: "He's crazy! He has emotional anger issue problems! He goes to bed early for this sh*t, just to wake up to pop one in a motherfu**er!"  

Seriously, it's a miracle that the Captain of the department (Joe Pantoliano) doesn't strip the pair of their guns and badges and have them kicked off the force for their reckless behavior! In fact, Pantoliano spends about most of his screentime bitching to the Terrible Two about how their latest stunts have landed his character in hot water with higher-ups in the Miami Poliece Department. "I've got so much brass up my a** that I can play the Star Spangled Banner," he yells to the pair at one point during the film. If that's the case, Captain, then why don't you take the logical course of action and have them fired on the spot!? Oh right, I forgot: there wouldn't be a movie if this happned, and, to quote Matthew Buck of That Guy With The, "because the plot says so!"

Speaking of, the "plot" of this movie is almost razor thin and it takes forever to get it going, amidst all the endless shootouts, car chases and "wacky" comedic segments (i'll get to those later): a Cuban drug lord (Jordi MollĂ , in what can only be described as a fourth-rate impersonation of Pacino's iconic role as Tony Montana in Brian De Palma's Scarface) is smuggling hordes of ecstacy from his homeland of Cuba to the shores of Miami, where he's on the verge of becoming the drug kingpin of South Beach. He does this by selling it at nightclubs, which is owned by the Russian mob (yes, the Russian mob cliche is used in this movie). In order to take full control of the drugs and the money, he takes out his partners....key members in the Russian mob, a scene shown in loving, graphic detail as Marcus and Mike infiltrate the home of the Cuban druglord. To quote General Maximus, "Are you not entertained?"

This would have been a standard shoot-em-up action film, if Bay hadn't filled his movie with endless action scenes to pad out the movie's length and actually explored the character dynamics of the two partners. Oh, wait! He does, but in the worst, most offensive and tasteless ways ever concieved, passed off as "comedy". The first scene clocks in about 30 minutes in, where Mike and Marcus find a tape and have to go to an electronics store to watch the footage for clues. What they get is a woman getting fucked in the backseat of a car, the audio and video being transferred to every TV screen in the store. Are you laughing yet? The pair go to the back end of the store and share a buddy-cop moment, as Marcus talks about how hiim getting shot in the ass (yes, that really happens in the film's opening sequence)  and how he isn't able to get an erection because of the incident. By the laws of comic contrivance, that very room they cops are in just happens to have a digital camcorder playing back every word that's being uttered, to the horror of the customers at the store. If you've guessed the punchline to this "joke", then congratulations, you've spotted a cheap and tasteless pratfall the filmmakers use to get the audience to laugh hysterically! To cap off this mean-spirited and homophobic gag, an African-American woman complains to the manager about what she, and her children have seen: "IN FRONT OF MY BABIES, YOU GOT PORNO AND HOMO SHOWS UP IN HERE? WHAT KIND OF FREAK-A** STORE IS THIS? MMmm, and you two motha' f***s need Jesus! Cover your ears baby." 

This is the level of humor you can expect from this steaming turd, and believe me - that's not the worst of it all. There's worse. 

I stated earlier that Bay likes using his female characters as little more than eye candy and fan service for the mostly-male deographic who watch his movies. Apparently, dead females can't escape Bay's glorious and masterful objectifacation of the female anatomy. Mike and Marcus infiltrate a hospital where they think the drugs are being smuggled. The pair find out that Johnny Tapia, the Cuban druglord, is using corpses to smuggle the ecstacy into the country. The pair find the drugs, but not before they get a look of a recently deceased woman with large breasts. What happens next is obvious: Mike leers at her breasts, with Marcus making this comment (and i'm paraphrasing here), "this bitch has some big ol' titties!" Yes, Michael Bay, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are actually going there: objectifying a dead woman's corpse. Funny, right? But wait, this gets better: Marcus, disgusted by the sight of dead bodies and Mike pulling out the organs in one of said dead bodies, accidenally opens the bag of ecstacy, and by the power of contrivance, two of those pills end up in a drinking glass. If you've guessed that Marcus accentally ingests the drugs unknowingly, then contratulations, you've spotted another painfully obvious gag that fails to hit the funny bone later on!  Apparently, no one on the set knows the meaning of the term, showing respect for the dead.

An hour in (this thing runs for almost 2 1/2 hours and already i'm pleading that this fucking thing ends with some mercy) and you've thought there's no way Bay and the crew can scrape the bottom of the barrel even more, that they've (finally) tapped out......if only that were so. This.......i'm not even goign to try and explain what happens when Marcus and Mike grill a 15 year-old boy trying to ask out Marcus' daughter on a date, because this has to be seen in order to be believed. Ladies and gentlemen.....the "Reggie" Scene.

Trust me when I say, this has to be the most painful and exahusting review i've ever had to write, becasue there are so many crimes committed in this one movie alone, that i'm skipping over other tasteless and crude scenes that rightfully deserve my scorn and yours as well. Here's a list of the other "hilarious" scenes that happen in the soul-crushing film:

  • Dead corpses fall out of a moving van, which Marcus and Mike run over....many times.
  • Tapia, pissed off that the two cops infiltrated his home and put his little girl in danger, shoots one of his lakeys in the head in public. Tapia's mother sees this and asks what happened, with his degenerate son lying to hher, claming that he shot himself in the head.
  • Marcus watching two rats fucking. Literally. It's shown thrice, thrusting away.
  • The final car chase in which the Bad Boys, along with a squad named Alpha 7, enter Cuba, start firing on Tapia's men, rescue Marcus's sister (Gabrielle Union) who's acted as a mole to bring down the Cuban druglord, fire on Cuban soldiers, and race to the U.S. Naval base on Guantanamo Bay, going through a shanty town and destroying the shacks in the process. Not a joke, this actually happens.
This is what Michael Bay thinks his audience wants to see, and you know what: He was right! Really.Bad Boys II grossed $46 million opening weeked, was the no.1 movie in North Amercia, and went on to a finish of almost $140 million domestically. This exercise in lowest-common denominator excess made big money at the box office, and now, there's word that Bay wants to make another sequel, Bad Boys III, in the near future. This cynical, hateful, uncarring, loud, long, racist, sexist, homophobic and degrading sack of dogshit was loved by its audience, because Michael Bay knew what they wanted and gave it to them, and then some. If this is what passes as entertainment, then it truly does speak to how effortlessly it takes to entertain the American public. Hell, a James Cameron wannabe hack could do it, it could be the worst movie of the last decade and it very well could be a frontrunner for one of the all-time worst films of the century! Wait, it's already been done, and i've just finished talking about it. Congratulations, Michael Bay. You've done it. 

Monday, June 11, 2012


I really haven't a whole lot to say about this video, mostly because i'm stunned it came out of the mouth of a fourteen year-old kid with a radio show. this.

Yes, 14 year-old Caiden Cowger really just did say that President Obama was trying to turn kids gay.

I'll try and process this tomorrow.