Category: Film

Cars 2 Throttles Up The Action

It’s probably safe to say that the character of Mater was the most popular character in the first Cars film. Voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, the rusty and oblivious tow truck has been featured in a DVD short, a spin-off series of television shorts and a video game. It comes as no real surprise that Mater is the star of the latest Pixar film, Cars 2, even more so than Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen. In fact, this film marks a shift in storytelling for the venerable film studio. Typically Pixar has given us an emotionally compelling character journey wrapped in the guise of a children’s animated film. Kids could drink in the visual spectacle while adults enjoyed a multi-dimensional and emotionally satisfying story. This time Pixar has chosen to eschew all that in favor of a rather straightforward action adventure movie. In the hands of any other animation studio this would result in a derivative sequel lacking the heart of the original. This being Pixar, that isn’t a concern.

Lightning McQueen gets pulled into an international race ostensibly against the arrogant Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro) and decides to take along his best friend Mater. An obvious fish out of water, Mater fails to fit in with the jet-set lifestyle of sophisticated parties, but does manage to be mistaken for a cunning undercover spy and embroiled in a mission by Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer). Much like an automotive version of Inspector Clouseau, Mater fumbles his way through intrigue and life-threatening situations all without losing his hillbilly charm and ability to make us laugh. Thinking that his bumbling has cost him McQueen’s friendship, Mater enthusiastically embraces his new friends and new friends. Of course the central plot by the mysterious bad guy eventually includes McQueen which rallies Mater to save his best friend. There’s quite a bit more fun and adventure along the way and everyone from Radiator Springs eventually gets caught up in the action, but this is most definitely Mater’s time to shine.

Let’s face it, Pixar essentially set the storytelling bar to near-unachievable heights with WALL-E. UP and Toy Story 3 came very close to matching the little robot who could with their themes of growing old and growing up, respectively, but it would have been unrealistic to expect Cars 2 to sustain that type of momentum. Instead, John Lasseter and company chose a different track for our revisit with the denizens of Radiator Springs and gave us exactly what we wanted in sequel to a film whose main characters are various types of vehicles; faster pace, more action and more and varied anthropomorphic mechanoids. But don’t think this film is lacking in heartfelt moments. There is a touching tribute to Doc Hudson, voiced by the late Paul Newman in the original film, and an underlying theme of friendship underpinning the whole thing. Just don’t expect to need any excuses concerning having something stuck in your eye as the credits roll.

As a sequel and as a style of story this was an interesting and somewhat surprising choice for Pixar, but they pull it off with the quality filmmaking that they are now synonymous with. This is easily the best movie of the summer so far and one I highly recommend. One other fun treat is the Toy Story short shown before the film. We get to catch up briefly with some old friends before treated to a feature length visit with some other good friends. If that sounds like a great way to spend a couple of hours of your time, then Cars 2 should be your next cinematic experience.

Review: Green Lantern

Green Lantern is one of my top five favorite super-heroes, so I have been somewhat dreading the new live action film. I’ll go ahead and set your fears to rest by saying that this is a really good film and a fun one, too. However, I’m not entirely sure it is a really good Green Lantern film. My uncertainly lies with Ryan Reynolds. Other than looking somewhat like the character as drawn by the great Joe Staton, Reynolds just doesn’t seem very much like the Hal Jordan I’ve read about all these years. Don’t get me wrong, I think Reynolds is a fine actor. I’ve liked him since the sitcom Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place and I thought he was the strongest of the cast, including later addition Nathan Fillion (no offense meant to Mr. Fillion as he has certainly proven it was lack of good material at the time that prevented him from shining). But Reynolds never seems to take anything seriously in this film, as he is usually wont to do, and I just think that is wrong for the way that Hal Jordan has been portrayed in the comics. Jordan always seemed to me to be very focused, incredibly determined and, yes, somewhat of a hotshot. I understand adding more humor to him in order to broaden the appeal of the story, however it doesn’t fit. While Reynolds comedic physicality and timing are scarily superb, I think those skills were sometimes overused and distracting in what could have been a really fantastic film.

The other issue I have with the film is the use of Hector Hammond. Ultimately, Hammond turns out to be a MacGuffin of sorts as the true threat of the film is Parallax. In fact, I never really believed Hammond to be much of a threat and he really only seemed to serve as a way for Parallax to notice Hal Jordan. He essentially spends the entire movie being resentful of those he feels superior to, which tends to be everybody, and then after being tricked by Jordan he gets unceremoniously consumed by the entity he was unknowingly serving. A pretty ignominiously short shelf life for a character that is much more menacing and far more creepier in the comics. He seemed to be heading towards…something, but then his story just fizzled out and went away. For having evolved to the point where he could read minds, Hammond was duped rather flimsily. It might have worked better if they lead up to Hammond being the big bad in the next installment, but it is not to be.

Besides those two issues I did really enjoy the movie. Parallax was particularly well done as he was suitably scary, which is befitting the avatar of fear. Parallax was actually made less convoluted than he is in the comics and they even managed to explain the origin of the Green Lantern Corps in a non-confusing opening narration. Of course, for long time fans, seeing many familiar ring-slingers in action was possibly the coolest parts of the film. Sinestro, Kilowog and Tomar-Re, a personal favorite, all got speaking roles. To say that Mark Strong nailed Sinestro’s arrogance and guile would be a gross understatement. If there is any justice the films will be heading towards depicting the “Sinestro Corps War” stroyline in the second or third movie. Hannu, Boodika, Stel, Salakk and Medphyll are noticeable and there are a few others I’m certain I’ve seen before as well. Blake Lively does a great job as Carol Ferris and I think she would be spectacular as Star Sapphire, should the film producers take that route in subsequent movies. Lively and Reynolds did have good chemistry and that should work well in the future. Taika Waititi as Tom Kalmaku is also highly underused, but hopefully he will get more screen time next go round.

All in all, I would recommend this film, especially as one the whole family can watch. As a film focused on Green Lantern, I would have liked to have seen a few things done differently and Hal Jordan portrayed more like the comics, but it is still acceptable and I think an audience unfamiliar with the comics will be suitably entertained and drawn to check out the comic books. Of course there is a great hook for a sequel that plays out part way through the credits so be sure to stay for that. It isn’t the best super-hero movie this year, but it is a rollicking good summer film.

Hellacious Acres – John Glass Is Not Your Hero

John Glass wakes up in a desolate barn from a long cryogenic slumber, to be informed that not only has the planet been devastated by a third world war, but also reduced to little habitability by a subsequent alien invasion. He learns that in order to help reestablish a livable atmosphere for what’s left of humanity, he’ll have to go on a solitary mission to retrieve important codes dispersed throughout remote locations. Soon enough he’ll encounter more than he “bargained” for: aliens, crazy survivors, inadequate equipment, LOTS of walking and a pretty unhealthy dose of bad luck…

That’s the premise for the film Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass from Sombreself Films. Made on a budget of less than $9000, Hellacious Acres promises to honor the unsung heroes of war through a science-fiction lens filtered with dark and deadpan humor. Basically, this sounds like my kind of movie. The film will get its World Premiere at the Bloodfest Fantastique Festival on June 14th in St. Kilda in Australia. I really hope it hits the festival circuit shortly thereafter as I would like the chance to check it out. View the trailer and let us know what you think!