June 26, 2015

Podcast Episode 62: INSIDE OUT Is Beautiful, Animated Melancholy

As promised, here's the second podcast of the week, just under the wire.

Pixar's latest animated masterpiece is Inside Out, the story of an eleven year old girl named Riley and all the personified emotions that live within her head(quarters).  Pete Doctor has crafted a virtual wonderland of both sharp wit and deep pathos, filled with amazing visual gags, clever wordplay and vital philosophy. It is a marvelous bit of writing on pretty much every level, from the characters to the story to the world building to the themes.  It's also a remarkably mature script, laying out every detail clearly and distinctly without ever managing to talk down to the audience.  You also have to admire any children's film whose central message is telling kids that sometimes it's okay to be sad.  That the movie can manage to effectively convey that message while also being completely hilarious is all the more impressive.

This is another one of those podcast episodes that I'm particularly proud of, as Jamie, Jeff and I spend the majority of the running time analyzing not just what's happening on screen, but why it's happening.  Inside Out is basically the anti-Jurassic World: theme and character are just as important as the story here and the film is practically begging you to leave the theater talking about this stuff, while also listing off your favorite parts of Riley's mind world.  I'm an Abstract Thought guy myself, although Dream Productions is a close second.  We also talk about our favorite Pixar films and I take a brief diversion to analyze why Paul Feig's movies don't appeal to me as much as they probably should.

As always, be sure to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, SoundCloud or some other app I haven't heard of yet.

Next Week: Terminator: Salvation and Big Game!

June 23, 2015

Podcast Episode 61: TERMINATOR 3 And The Rise Of Dat Funky Man

Due to some scheduling issues and our own loquacious natures, this week we're releasing two different podcasts.  Here's round one, in which we drag Jeff kicking and screaming into the Cameron-less world of Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines.  For me and Bart, it was our first proper revisit of the film in many years, and while a few key sequences totally hold up (namely the end and the infamous crane chase) we learn that most of the film was probably better left in our rose-tinted memory banks.  The Terminatrix is boring, the effects somehow look shittier than T2, and Nick Stahl is a poor replacement for Eddie Furlong.  Considering that I don't particularly love Eddie Furlong, that's really saying something.  Yet whenever Stahl is on screen with Arnold and Claire Danes, you almost forget that he's in the room.  Not exactly what you want out of the leader of the human resistance.

Ah well.  On the bright side, we expose Jeff to the best part of the movie that was actually cut from the movie, the infamous "Sargeant Candy" scene.  We all agree that Terminator 3 might have been saved if it had more openly embraced its sillier side, like the part where the Terminatrix has inflatible breasts, or the bit when Arnold hits her in the face with a urinal.  More of that please.  On the plus side, we did discover the timeless classic "Dat Funky Man," a.k.a. the song that plays over the gas station scene which was apparently written by director Jonathan Mostow.  I'm particularly fond of the lyric "Wabba wabba wabba!"  I think that about sums up the entire experience of watching this movie.

On a technical note, we're still working out the audio kinks when it comes to recording these things with remote participants using Skype.  This episode doesn't sound bad, but it's not up to my usual high standards from an audio engineering standpoint.  Suffice it to say, I'm working on it.

As always, be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and/or SoundCloud!

Later This Week: Pixar's brilliant Inside Out!

June 17, 2015

Podcast Episode 60: We Root For The Dinosaurs In JURASSIC WORLD

Well that went about as well as expected.

What is there to say about Jurassic World?  It is a film which is at best problematic, and at worst complete garbage.  But then again, it's not as if The Lost World and Jurassic Park III really left a high bar to clear.  We all have fond memories of Spielberg's original and with good reason.  It's not only a fun and visceral piece of popcorn entertainment, but it's also a film that's brimming with great performances, compelling characters and sharp opinions on the scientific process and its sometimes dodgy relationship with morality and commerce.  It is, simply put, an all timer.

Jurassic World is none of those things.  Sure, you've got some fun set pieces and lots of crazy dinosaur action that, taken on its own, mostly works.  And it's fun to see what an actual working version of a dinosaur theme park would look like, even if some of it seems pretty half-baked.  I'm looking at you, nifty transparent gyro-ball car that is inexplicably autonomous with no safety measures.  (Seriously, how is that thing allowed to travel into restricted areas and why doesn't it automatically return to the gate when the ride is shut down?)  Then again, the idea of raptors being trained as some sort of military spec-ops unit is exactly my kind of ridiculous.  At one point someone compares them drones.  Seriously.

The main problem is that, while the dinosaurs all look great (though I wish they'd employed some more practical effects) the human characters and their relationships are all very poorly rendered.  Whether it's the two kids with their dramatically inert divorce backstory who exist solely as MacGuffins to be rescued, Irrfan Khan's well-meaning but oblivious benefactor or Vincent D'Onofrio's goateed asshole whose villainy is as ill-defined as his occasional southern accent, none of these characters ever gain any emotional traction.  The only characters who are able to provoke any kind of strong reaction are Chris Pratt's Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire.  Unfortunately that reaction is one of abject hatred and disdain.  Both are boring and two-dimensional on their own, but when paired together they threaten to single-handedly destroy the entire film.  Director Colin Trevorrow aims for this sort of old school, screwball comedy vibe that is executed in such a tone-deaf manner that it actually left me hoping against hope that both of the protagonists would end up devoured by the Indominus Rex, a genetic hybrid dinosaur whose abilities vary wildly (and are promptly forgotten) whenever the script seems to have backed itself into a corner. They might as well have named it Conveniensaurus Rex.

I mean sure, I guess you could "turn your brain off" and just enjoy the dino-mayhem and Jake Johnson's delicious snark.  But all Transformers movies to the contrary, I'd like to think that audiences are better than this.  We should demand higher standards from our blockbusters.  Truly great movies have characters you LOVE and root for, not just empty spectacle that trades on nostalgia and cheap sentiment.  The fact that Jurassic World had the biggest opening weekend of all time IN THE WORLD is more than a little bit depressing.  Maybe there will be a tremendous drop-off in second week grosses, but I kind of doubt it.  My social media feeds are full of people who loved this movie and most critics seem willing to shrug it off on the basis of, "It could be worse."  But I'd rather watch a movie like Tomorrowland which has a point of view and fucks up the execution, or Jupiter Ascending which attempts grandiose world building and sinks under the weight of it's own confusing bureaucracy.  Those movies at least have something to say.  Jurassic World is a snake oil salesman, selling you some slick packaging filled with actual cinematic poison.

Expect a sequel to be announced later this week.

Bart and Jamie join me on the podcast this week where we break down Jurassic World's numeous flaws and also revisit that timeless classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  Jamie discovers that the Terminator timeline/continuity is even more fucked up than any of us ever realized.

Next Week: Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (!) and Pixar's Inside Out

June 09, 2015

Podcast Episode 59: TERMINATOR Is The Ultimate B-Movie

Like a giant bowl of sugar cereal, the Terminator franchise is deeply flawed yet also a complete delight.  Each of these movies has their issues: the original has almost no plot, the T2 is saddled with human awkwardness generator Eddie Furlong, the T3 suffers from a profound lack of Linda Hamilton and Terminator: Salvation is far too dour for its own good.  And yet, I love them.  I love them all.  (Okay, Salvation really tests the limits of my affection.)  So while, yes, the marketing for the upcoming Terminator: Genisys has been complete dogshit, I still find myself excited at the prospect of more time travelling killer cyborg adventures.  Because while the series has been in freefall for over a decade, at its core this is a franchise whose very premise allows it to be completely stripped down and reinvented at any given moment.  I will always hold out hope that Terminator will be awesome.

In the lead up to the release of Terminator: Genisys, we'll be revisiting all four of the previous films week by week starting this week with James Cameron's original B-movie masterpiece.  In truth, this is the movie with which I am probably the least familiar, as I did not see it in its entirety until much later in life and, before last week, I think I'd only seen it once all the way through.  Why this wasn't in constant rotation on TV when I was a kid, I will never know.  But it's good to revisit these things periodically, to give yourself the chance to marvel at Stan Winston's mindblowing work creating practical Terminator effects or to remind yourself that yes, that IS Bill Paxton playing a street punk with blue spiky hair.

I'm really looking forward to the next few weeks of podcasting.  I'm particularly excited for the chance to extol the virtues of T3: Rise Of The Machines, which is sneakily kind of wonderful.  As always, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud!

Next Week: Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Jurassic World

June 02, 2015

Podcast Episode 58: TOMORROWLAND Is A Monorail Ride To Nowhere

Well Brad Bird, you had a pretty great run.

I had such high hopes for Tomorrowland.  Bird is a filmmaker whose work I completely adore.  Ghost Protocol is easily the strongest entry in the entire Mission: Impossible franchise and the one-two punch of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles is frankly staggering.  The idea of that particular director crafting a live-action adventure tale steeped in the sort of retro-futurism intimated at in those two animated titans was enough to make me dizzy.  Sadly, the most dizzying thing in Tomorrowland is the script, which seems to spin in endless circles before collapsing in on itself and going precisely nowhere.  Sure the movie looks great and Bird can build one hell of an action set piece, but in the end it's all just sound and fury, signifying nothing.

What's most frustrating is that you can see the seeds of a better movie trapped in there somewhere.  I would have much rather watched a movie about George Clooney's character growing up in Tomorrowland amidst all these great dreamers and inventions.  I think Bird could have still told the kind of story he was aiming for and it almost certainly would have had a stronger chance of presenting an actual vision of hope for the future, as opposed to just talking about it with all the finesse of an exploding jetpack.  It's a damn shame.

This week's podcast is a short one, but perhaps that's more to your liking?  I don't know.  Personally I'm a fan of longer content because I never listen to a whole podcast in one sitting anyway, but I might be in the minority there.  Anyway, Jeff calls in from the wilderness of Colorado to lament what a lost opportunity this movie ultimately turned out to be, while Jamie and I argue about Tomorrowland's recruiting protocols.  In the end, we all sort of wish we'd seen Mad Max: Fury Road again instead.

Next Week: We begin our complete Terminator Rewatch with James Cameron's original Terminator.

May 19, 2015

Podcast Episode 57: What A Lovely Day For MAD MAX FURY ROAD!

What a lovely day indeed!

I don't even know where to start with Mad Max: Fury Road except to say that I wish every blockbuster was so richly detailed, visceral and exciting.  This is pure, uncut, balls-to-the-wall cinema and it is unlike anything else you have ever seen.  Director George Miller has crafted a career best film, which is really saying something considering the career in question.  Seriously, the man is 70 years old (!) and he's crafted the type of film that looks like it was made by an energetic 28 year old and is also better than anything currently being made by such young and hungry filmmakers.

I could go on and on about the incomparable action sequences, the strong pacing and the rich, nuanced performances, but there's something else about Fury Road that sets it apart from every other modern blockbuster and it's the thing that elevates the film from being great to being an outright masterpiece.  That thing is minimalism.  There is an economy of story here to which more films should aspire.  Make no mistake, Miller has created a uniquely detailed world and has considered every possible detail and eventuality.  That crazy guy you've seen in the trailer with the flame-throwing guitar?  His fucking name is The Doof Warrior.  He may not have any dialogue and he may have only a minimal interaction with the story, but The Doof Warrior has a long character history as devised by Miller.  And yet, none of it is on screen.  It's left largely open to interpretation.  This is literally true of every character, vehicle and location in the film.  Everything has been mapped out and connected in Miller's head but he only reveals the absolute bare minimum of information needed to propel the story forward.

By eschewing long expository monologues or overly complex explanations, Miller allows the audience to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.  He makes you work for it.  Go see this movie with a group of friends and I guarantee you will all walk out of the theater not only with a dozen questions, but also with a dozen different answers to each of those questions.  And yet, the film is in no way unsatisfying; you're left wanting more, but in the best way possible.  Fury Road is a film that spurs long and fascinating conversations, whether it be about large scale thematic elements or something as small as "What about those guys on the stilts?"  At the end of the day, there's no greater compliment I can pay a film.

My only regret is that we only got a chance to see the film once before we recorded this week's podcast.  More than any film in recent memory, Fury Road will unquestionably reward repeat viewings.  I could watch it ten times and discover something new every time.  It's going to take me years to fully unpack this movie.  But there's also value in what you come away with after the first show.  Bart, Jamie, Jeff and I all do our best to wrap our heads around this mind-bending film as well as its three predecessors.  We pick our favorite vehicles, we give ourselves warrior wasteland names, and we talk about that one time that George Miller almost made a Justice League movie.

As always, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Soundcoud!

Next Week: Brad Bird's Tomorrowland!

May 15, 2015

Asa Butterfield Is Probably Your New Spider-Man

According to the fine folks at Latino Review, Sony and Marvel are currently negotiating with young Asa Butterfield to take up the web-slinging mantle as the next Spider-Man.  The webhead is set to appear in a limited fashion in Captain America: Civil War, which is filming in Atlanta as you're reading this, so I suspect that we'll get an official press release any day now.  Spidey won't be alone, as the film will also feature the entire team of New Avengers as seen at the end of Age Of Ultron, along with Hawkeye, Agent 13, Ant-Man, Black Panther and whoever the hell Martin Freeman is playing.

There was a short list of young actors circulating a few weeks back and aside from Liam James, star of The Way Way Back, Butterfield was pretty much my top choice.  While Ender's Game was at best a mediocre adaptation of the book, Butterfield's work is top notch.  He adeptly portrayed Ender's peculiar mix of strategic genius, ruthless efficiency and emotional pathos, all of which will come in handy for playing nerdy-boy-genius-turned-superhero Peter Parker.  Mostly I'm just excited to have a Peter Parker that doesn't look like a 30 year old pretending to be in high school.

I've been meaning to rewatch Martin Scorcese's Hugo for months now, but despite a few long flights I still haven't gotten around to it.  Maybe this news will finally get me off my ass.