CARS 2: The Film Babble Blog Review

CARS 2 (Dirs. John Lasseter & Brad Lewis, 2011)

CARS and it’s new sequel opening today, CARS 2, are the most commercial and formulaic films of all the Pixar productions. But that doesn’t mean that they suck – no, they are both fairly entertaining animated kids flicks. It’s just that this new entry in the franchise has a major problem that can be stated simply: too much Larry the Cable Guy.

Way too much.

As Tow Mater, the rusty redneck tow truck friend to Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen, Larry the Cable Guy (man, I hate typing that – he’ll be LCG from here on) has been promoted to the lead character here. LCG gets mistakenly caught up in a secret spy mission involving Michael Caine as a British agent Aston Martin model (obviously 007-ish), and his partner in espionage Emily Mortimer, also a sleek European car outfitted with snazzy gadgets.

Meanwhile, Wilson is competing with John Turturro as an arrogant Italian race car in the first World Grand Prix to determine the world’s fastest car. This takes us to the gorgeously rendered locations of Tokyo, Paris, and London which often distracts from the flimsy predictable plot. Eddie Izzard voices a army green SUV billionaire who’s promoting a green gasoline substitute fueling the vehicles in the Grand Prix.

So Caine and Mortimer with the scrappy help of LCG work to take down the bad guys trying to discredit the threat to traditional gasoline. If you can’t guess the identity of the mysterious villain way before it’s revealed then you’re probably not paying attention. Or Pixar has succeeded in dazzling you enough that you don’t care.

LCG was fine in small doses in the first CARS, but its a major malfunction to make Mater the central dominant character. His one note bucktoothed presence grated on me in every scene, and the tired premise of  his dumb luck reeks of comic desperation, which is very surprising in a Pixar film.

No Pixar palette should ever attempt to balance the likes of Michael Caine and Larry the Cable Guy (felt I should type it out this time).

As I said, CARS 2 isn’t awful, it’s just awfully average for a Pixar film. There are some fun sequences, but after the company’s heights of the last several years (RATATOUILLE, WALL-E, UP, TOY STORY 3) this sequel feels like treading water. And with its over abundance of country bumpkin crap via one of the unfunniest and irritating comedians of all time, it barely keeps afloat.

Oh yeah, there is a amusing TOY STORY short called “Hawaiian Vacation” before the movie so that’s a definite plus.

More later…

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MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: The Film Babble Blog Review

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen, 2011)

At first glance, Owen Wilson looks like an unlikely Woody Allen surrogate.

Yet in Allen’s best film since VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, it’s an inspired piece of casting that works. Wilson puts real effort into the character of Gil Pender, a Hollywood hack screenwriter who wants to give real writing a try, and finish that difficult novel he’s been tinkering with for months.

On vacation in France, Wilson’s fiancée (Rachel McAdams) accuses him of romanticizing the past – particularly Paris in the ’20s, an era he would most like to live in. Wilson clashes with McAdam’s conservative parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), and her friends including a wonderfully snobby Michael Sheen, so he takes off on a walk around the city taking in the sights.

At the chimes of midnight, an old timey car pulls up him, and the drunk passengers plead with him to get in. After some hesitation, he joins them.

Somehow this takes him back to, you guessed it (or saw the trailer), Paris in the ’20s. It’s a rollicking party of an era where everybody he meets is famous figure of the arts. At a party, with piano accompaniment by Cole Porter (Yves Heck) no less, he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill).

There’s also Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Marcial di Fonzo Bo as Pablo Picasso, and the best one of all: Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali.

Wilson meets a fetching model (Marion Cotillard) who he falls for on the spot. So every night back in the present, he makes the excuse to McAdams that he wants to go out on a walk, and goes back to hobnob with history. The predicament of choosing the past over the present becomes a sticky one, as there’s the possibility of another love in the form of Lea Seydoux as an antiques dealer “in the now.”

There’s a wonderful wit and whimsy to how Allen plays this all out. It’s his warmest film since, uh, I can’t remember when.

In other words, it’s the most satisfying Woody Allen film in ages.

Wilson’s delivery of Allen’s choice one-liners is infectious, and he quotes from the greats, such as Faulkner’s “The past is never dead, It’s not even past.” convincingly enough to make one forget the man-child of “Hall Pass” from earlier this year.

The film is at its most radiant when it’s in those sequences set in the past. In a neat little twist, Cotillard dreams of living in the 1890’s; turns out everybody has their dream era.

One personal thought is that I wish the Woodman would’ve filmed this in black and white. It’s not just because the opening montage of shots of Paris was strongly reminiscent of the opening of MANHATTAN, I feel like B & W would’ve brought out something more in the photography, the depictions of both present and 20’s Paris, and the performances of the people playing historical personalities.

As I said that’s just a personal quibble. I’m just an aficionado of the man’s B & W work so don’t mind me.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS isn’t gonna to make me rearrange my top 10 Woody Allen movies, but it’s a lovely lark that I predict even non-fans would enjoy. I think most people can relate wishing for a simpler more inspiring time to live in, and I think they’ll be greatly amused with this simple and inspiring story.

More later… 

HALL PASS: The Film Babble Blog Review

HALL PASS (Dirs. Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly, 2011)


At a preview screening of this film the audience in the packed theater cheered during the trailers when the cast of the upcoming THE HANGOVER PART II hit the screen.

I knew right then that this crowd was going to absolutely love what was ahead. And they did from start to finish of HALL PASS – they laughed loudly at every sex joke, masturbation joke, drug/alcohol joke, every single scatological shenanigan, every utterance of profanity, everything.

So much so that I missed a lot of dialogue, but, hey, I’m not complaining about that.

I more than got the gist that the premise – Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live) are long married yet still juvenile horndogs who are given a week off from their marriages by their wives Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Christina Applegate – was just another excuse for the Farrelly brothers to again bombard the populace with their brand of extremely cheap humor.

From OLD SCHOOL to the oeuvre of Judd Apatow, the boy-men-who-can’t-grow-up-genre has been so much better served.


There are a few laughs here and there – the familiar Law And Order sound effect greets the day 1-7 segment titles, and there are a fair amount of decent (though not laugh out loud funny) one-liners, but they are a rarity among the hundreds of groaners throughout.


There’s an odd mixture of a supporting cast: Stephen Merchant (who’s usually not far away from Ricky Gervais), J.B. Smoove, Joy Behar (!), Alyssa Milano, and most ridiculously Richard Jenkins as a too tan gold necklace sporting swinger who guides the 2 men in their quest to get laid while their wives are out of town.


Predictably Fischer and Applegate are themselves tempted by convenient suitors so the film tries to grow a heart in its last third, but by then I was so worn out by the tiresome cramming of foul gags into every scene that I really didn’t care how it turned out – who scored, who realized the supposed strength of their love, who got punked –none of it mattered to me.


But then, I may be in the minority because from what I witnessed at that screening, there’s no denying that it’s a crude crowd pleaser that will probably be a big hit.

To me, however, it just confirmed that the Farrelly brothers are still on my short list of my least favorite film makers.

More later…

More Or Wes Worthwhile

Peter (Adrien Brody) : He said the train is lost.
Jack (Jason Schwartzman) : How can a train be lost? It’s on rails.

Wes Anderson’s latest opus THE DARJEELING LIMITED starts playing today in my area as it has now entered its nationwide release. It opened in New York at the end of last month and a few other places after that but now film geeks from all markets can rejoice. I caught a sneak preview of it last night so here’s my review :

THE DARJEELING LIMITED (Dir. Wes Anderson, 2007) Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and a new addition to the Anderson reparatory company – Adrien Brody are brothers who haven’t seen each other in the year following their father’s death. In a plan initiated by Wilson they meet up to take a train ride in India to bond and take “a spiritual journey” – also suggested by Wilson. They lug a huge amount of luggage with them on this trip – of course we get the symbolism there – baggage, right? Along the way they fight, embrace, engage in odd enforced rituals, and wonder where the Hell they are really going and what they are going to achieve. It is easy to wonder that about the film as well but Anderson’s visual mastery is absorbing as usual, his soundtrack choices exquisite (including The Kinks and music from Satyajit Ray’s films), and the acting superb so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

It is hard though, maybe impossible to not think of Owen Wilson’s real-life suicide attempt when his character here had nearly killed himself by crashing his car on purpose and spends the film with his head wrapped in bandages. What makes it so difficult to separate the art from the non-fiction is his character is given practically no back story. In fact we are given so little to go on with just about everybody on the screen – Schwartzman is a published writer but of what type and is he respected or a hack? I can’t recall at all what Brody or Wilson’s occupations are and the info given on their parents is pretty vague too – their Mother (played by Anjelica Huston in a quiet but effective manner) became a reclusive Nun at some point but again we are given little motivation. They seem to have an unlimited amount of fundage to back their trip and to buy expensive trinkets so maybe their family was old money – who knows? These people don’t appear to have any life except what we see on the screen but maybe that’s the point.

Not fully thought out narrative threads and a pungent lack of pay-offs aside this is still a worthwhile night at the movies. Anderson may be treading water in some respects but it’s his own water and he stays afloat more than he sinks. The train of the films title winds down the tracks unconcerned with any existential meaning or the lack of it and that’s how moviegoers should be too when they get on board.

Postnote : I didn’t realize before seeing the film last night that the 13 min. prequel HOTEL CHEVALIER (reviewed on the post The Darjeeling Prequel – Now Playing On My iPod Nano 10/1/07) was going to be played before the main feature theatrically. It gave me the chance to re-evaluate the short and I admit I liked it a lot better on the big screen as opposed to my previous iPod postage stamp sized viewing. Go figure.

More later…

Keepin’ Cool With The AC Breeze & New Release DVDs

“Doing da ying and yang, da flip and flop, da hippy and hoppy (yodels) Yo da lay he hoo! I have today’s forecast.
(yells)
HOT!
– MR.SEÑOR LOVE DADDY (Samuel L. Jackson)
DO THE RIGHT THING (Dir. Spike Lee, 1989)

He said it! It was been unbearably hot this week so the best thing to do is to get the air cranking, tear open a few Netflix envelopes, and devour some DVDs. Here’s some I’ve seen lately and while for the most part they are a dire lot they did provide some diversion from the sweltering Summer sun. Let’s start with :

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (Dir. Shawn Levy, 2006) From the trailers I saw for this last Christmas (sorry Holiday season) it looked to me like yet another Ben Stiller as punching bag enterprise but this time aimed at kids with lots of CGI. Well, that’s pretty much what it is but it’s better than I expected with more than few really funny moments and a great supporting cast. Abundant back and forths (some improvised) between Stiller as a hapless failed inventor turned security guard and Robin Williams dominates the lively proceedings. Williams plays a life sized Teddy Roosevelt in battle mode mannequin, who as I’m sure you know if you’ve even glanced in the direction of this movie, comes to life with everything else in the museum at night. Not so life size are the miniatures cowboy Jebediah (Owen Wilson – uncredited for some odd reason) and Roman warrior Octavius (Steve Coogan) who make good with their bit parts – sorry for that lame ass pun. Wait – lame ass puns dominate this movie so I’ll leave that in.

Anyway Ricky Gervais somehow pulls off some amusing walk-throughs without having a single genuinely funny line while oldtimers Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs pull no punches (literally) but the real shining player here? 3 words – Dick. Van. Dyke. Nice to see the man atone for years of bland TV and forgettable cameos by sinking his teeth into his role as Stiller’s smooth retiring night guard mentor. Lots of critics have dumped on NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (it has a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and I agree with the consensus that the CGI doesn’t impress like it used to and that the humor may be way too broad at times but I still think it’s a decent family film. Even if that’s all that it is.

THE NUMBER 23 (Dir. Joel Schumacher, 2007) Sometimes I watch movies that I know are going to be horrible. It’s that I want to know just how and in how many ways they are horrible. I guess the genre here is psychological suspense though there’s nothing either psychological or suspenseful in this convoluted Jim Carrey vehicle. For the first 10 minutes or so Carrey is his usual glide through life wisecracking self until his wife (Virginia Madsen) gives him a book about the supposedly mystical number of the title. He of course becomes obsessed with 23 seeing it everywhere – in his birthday, address, social security #, etc. He cites examples (as does the opening credit sequence does to drive home the meaningless point) like “Ted Bundy was executed on the 23rd of January” * and even writes “9,11, 2001 – 9+11+2+1=23″ in pen on his arm. Before long he makes the connection to not only the saxophone (the saxophone has 23 keys!!!) playing detective of the book to some murdered girl and others who have had similar deadly numerical obsessions helping the movie make its red herring quota. Schumacher’s films all have an overly glossy look – something he perfected in the era of high impact rock videos and magazine ads – and this is no exception. Nothing resembling real life here. This time he tried to disguise the stylized emptiness with the contrived “depth” of a cultish pseudo-intellectual theory. Consider it an extremely dumbed down Pi (which cinematographer Mattthew Latique worked on too!). How many ways is this movie horrible? I’m think-ing of a number…

* Actually he wasn’t! Bundy was sent to the electric chair on January 24th, 1989. Ah-ha!

DISTURBIA (D.J. Caruso, 2007) So I feel old and unhip because it took until his hosting of Saturday Night Light earlier this year for me to take note of Shia Lebeouf. I mean the kid is apparently really hot these days – magazine covers, TRANSFORMERS, and he’s even going to be the son of Indiana Jones next Summer. Lebouf was called by Vanity Fair the next Tom Hanks (who was called the next Jimmy Stewart in the 80’s) has here what was billed as REAR WINDOW for a new generation. Uh, okay. Well, underneath the teen angst veneer the premise of Hitchcock’s classic is just a clothesline to hang cliche after cliche on. Under house arrest instead of being wheelchair bound Lebeouf out of boredom spies on his neighbors – mostly Sarah Roemer – the cliched perfect girl next door until his binoculars wander to the cliched suspicious activities of…oh you know the plot!

It’s not really so odd how it’s not that we can guess everything that happens way before it happens – it’s that it seems like the film makers knew we could guess them and still made no attempt to actually trigger true suspense. The house of the serial killer is one of those that only exists in the movies – so full of secret compartments, passageways, shrines, and a well lit sanitized freezer room – he must have gotten the Murder Maniac special at the local real estate office! I shouldn’t be so hard on this movie though – it’s just another PG-13 thriller throw-away for the weekend multiplex crowd. I’ll also admit though that Lebeouf is talented – he rises above this dreck at every unsurprising turn. Now let’s just see how he handles that bullwhip.

SOME RANDOM BABBLE :

Isn’t it funny how Eddie Murphy who reportedly walked out of the Academy Awards last March because he didn’t get the statue for DREAMGIRLS turned down the sequel to DADDY DAY CARE and actual Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. stepped in to play the same role in DADDY DAY CAMP? Isn’t that funny? Isn’t It?!!? Oh, nevermind.

Don’t ask me what’s funny about UNDERDOG – because I got nothing.

If they ever make one of those VH1 biopics about The Kids In The Hall they really ought get that guy who’s supposed to represent Verizon (or is it AT&T? Cingular?) in those damn Alltel commercials to play Dave Foley. I mean the guy – Scott Halberstadt – would nail it I bet.

The new celebrity-reality show The Two Coreys featuring the present day antics of former teen movie stars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim is airing now on A&E – The Arts & Entertainment Channel. This is definitely ironic because The Two Coreys is neither art nor entertainment. Discuss…

If it seems like the Coen Brothers are overdue for a movie and it sure does to me – their all too brief Buscemi bit in PARIS, JE T’AIME was such a tease – well, soon (November) we’ve got – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. It’s got Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Kelly McDonald, and Josh Brolin. Despite the fact it has been a while since the Coens have done a film based on their original screenplay this seems promising.

More later…