Thoughts from seeing Cars today (only the second time I’ve gone to the movies since Fiona was born — she was in daycare):

– Oh my god, the Ratatouille preview was awesome. Is that the sweet sound of PATTON OSWALT DOING COMEDY?! I can’t wait for Patton’s big film.

– The One Man Band short is mildly amusing, but forgettable compared to their earlier works.

– My god there are a lot of children in this theater.

– Disney once had a short cartoon about cars-as-people where an old junkyard is revisited by 50s teens and they soup up a rust bucket. The way the eyes and mouths work on these cars is pretty similar.

– The look of the film is mostly cartoonish. Here and there you see amazing super realistic digital effects (accurate reflections, atmospheric effects) but for the most part the lighting feels purposely “wrong” so everything looks like a cartoon. The Incredibles looked like little plastic/clay figures in real space — it was hyperreal but I guess talking cars are clearly fiction and the look was tailored to avoid realism.

– The film is clearly aimed at kids, with a few adult joke nods but not many. The Incredibles was total adult material while Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story series felt equally aimed at children and adults. I expected the film to work on multiple levels but it feels mostly like a very good children’s flick.

– The story is nice, but fairly simple and not particularly strong for a Pixar film. I know they spend 5-6 years working on scripts there and every Pixar film has been amazing. This is probably their weakest effort, but it’s still good. It just felt a bit weak for a Pixar project.

– I loved Tony Shalhoub and it was great to hear Paul Newman do another classic older hero role.

– I’m a car nut and I loved the little nods to car history but overall, I’d give it a 3 and a half out of 5 stars. Maybe it’s because I expect 5/5 movies from Pixar, which has always delivered.

AVIs worth downloading

I’ve enjoyed a bunch of movies/shows in the past couple weeks and figured I might as well share. I like to watch a lot of documentaries and I like small films that never play where I live that I have to remember to catch up with later.

I love watching behind-the-scenes movies on the craft of comedy (I loved Comedian a few years ago). The Comedians of Comedy (only available as a rental from Netflix but it’s also on Showtime now) and The Aristocrats were both great glimpses into the mind of comedians.

Murderball, Mad Hot Ballroom, and Rize followed the classic documentary formula of showing a world the viewer never knew, and following the subjects of the story through a competition. All had their strong points but if I had to choose one, I’d say Murderball was my favorite.

On the TV front, I have to eat my words and agree with Michael that The Office has reached a level the original series did. The last couple episodes have been fantastic and Steve Carrell is as unwatchable as David Brent was in season two of the BBC series. My other favorite TV show right now is My Name Is Earl. I love anything Jason Lee does, but I really think he’s hit a groove on this one. The stories aren’t always tight but every week but there’s always one moment that reaches the genius of something you might see on Arrested Development. And finally, Drawn Together on Comedy Central is really pushing the censorship limits. Every episode this season leaves me dying with laughter while at the same time horrified that they got the jokes onto TV.

Oscar baby

Thanks to various situations where I was stuck in an airplane, hotel room, or at the end of a sold-out movie ticket line, I seen four of the worst movies in recent memory. Mr. 3000, Shark Tale, Fat Albert, and Taxi were good representitives of all the complaints people have about stupid movies with a dumb premise that use every hackneyed plot point you’ve seen a hundred times before. Taxi was so bad I tried twice and couldn’t watch more than ten minutes of it. Pure dreck.

To balance out the cosmic karma, I’ve gone on a quest to see every movie that is up for a major academy award this year (a first for me). I’ve looked to the golden globes and early predictions to get up to speed, but after a long weekend binge, I’ve tackled the following:

I didn’t think Jamie Foxx had it in him, but he was great, though the story glossed over quite a bit and was fairly straightforward. I’m a longtime fan of Ray Charles (and have the boxsets to prove it) so I liked this film, though wouldn’t classify it as top five for the year.

Adam Sandler does a good job but the best work came from the girl playing Cristina. There were several amazing emotional scenes, but a few so-so other scenes kept this film from being really something.

Finding Neverland
Johnny Depp, as always, did well, and it was a nice little story but nothing to write home about. I don’t know why it’s on anyone’s list as a possible best picture, there was nothing wrong with it, but it just didn’t transcend the “good film” level to greatness.

Million Dollar Baby
Great stuff, and I could see this film rightfully landing in the Best Picture category.

Friday Night Lights
I don’t even like football but I loved this movie. It’s hard to place it against all other films that came out in 2004 (a sports performance isn’t always the best way to demonstrate good acting) but it was definitely the best football film I’ve seen.

Meh. I don’t see what all the fuss is about this film, is it all because Scorsese directed it? Sure it looks good, but the story bored me to tears. It glossed over all the records Hughes broke and his innovations while zooming in on how freaky-deaky he could be. I take back what I said about Finding Neverland — that movie should be in best picture lists and not this one.

My goal for the next couple weeks are to catch these films:
– Sideways
– Closer
– Hotel Rwanda
– Kinsey
– Lemony Snickets

I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to meet the Oscars goal early.

update: I’m plucking titles out of the second list and posting short reviews in the first list as I see them.

Every great movie ends with an awards ceremony

After four tries, I finally got to see Return of the King today. It seems living in a small town of 30k people that only has one cineplex showing the movie on a single screen makes for many sold out shows.

The showing I caught was turned up really loud and at several points I was terrified by the action. The first couple hours were scarier than any horror movie I’ve seen. I haven’t read the books, so I can’t remember the names of them (were they modors from azkiban or raelians from babbiton?), but those giant flying pterodactyl things with the guy from Scream riding them were really scary. Whenever they flew over the crowd I felt like an 8 year old wanting to bury my face in my hands and leave the theater, totally terrified.

It also struck me how epic the whole journey was and I wondered why I’ve never heard of Tolkien re-enactment groups, since the whole thing felt so Civil War-ish. A quick search on google reveals there actually is a Middle Earth Historical Reenactment Society and a House of Cardolan group that specializes in these sorts of things.

Gettin’ the Led out

I crapped on School of Rock when I saw the first trailer for it, but lately I’ve heard one postive review after another. Apparently it could have been the crappy film everyone’s seen a thousand times before, but Linklater pulled it out and let Jack Black run with it.

I just got back from seeing it, and although there were one or two cheesy parts that felt like every 80s movie ending I’d ever seen, the rest of the film was pure Tenacious D rocking with Jack Black (sadly, Kyle Gass was nowhere to be found). Basically it was like all of JB’s parts from High Fidelity mixed in with a bunch of kids and a cheesy plot, but somehow it all worked and was quite entertaining.

The Animatrix

The Animatrix finally came out on DVD on Tuesday and it also became available on Directv as a pay-per-view movie. I paid the $3.99 and Tivo’d it last night, which is faster than waiting for Amazon to deliver a DVD. I’ve seen two or three of the preview versions on the Animatrix site, but the full sized digital version viewed on a TV looks much better.

After watching the first half of it, I wonder why it wasn’t released before Matrix Reloaded opened in theaters. It includes some backstory on how everyone at Zion found out about the tunneling machines, and how the war with the machines first started the Matrix. Seems like the kind of thing fans would have scooped up before Reloaded, when enthusiasm ran high for the film. Now that it is out I’m sure Reloaded’s lukewarm reviews will greatly harm sales of Animatrix. Searching around online, I see that ripped copies of the complete animatrix DVD were available right around May 1st. It’s not like the disc wasn’t ready before Reloaded, it just wasn’t sold which I find really odd.

Matrix moves

I saw the Matrix Reloaded yesterday and my first impression was to agree wholeheartedly with this review that criticizes the plot and scenes from the point of view of an avid moviegoer. But more thorough searching revealed a pretty good positive review that judges the film on religious merits and it references everything from ancient christianity to buddism. I’ll have to wait until I’ve seen the third one to tell if the second was any good.

Oh yeah, if you haven’t seen it, stay through the credits, even though they are seemingly the longest ever, including each and every driver and caterer that was used in the making of the film — basically it was ten minutes of this. Friends told me there was a trailer to the third film at the end (which there was, and it was a good short look at it), but apparently that hasn’t gotten out as the packed house vacated less the 7 or 8 of us that stayed (preview stills from my phone: 1, 2, 3, 4).

update: Whoa, even in a fantasy world of sci-fi, featuring the most racially diverse cast I’ve seen in ages, you can be accused of stereotyping. While there have been cases where albino actors have been portrayed in a negative light, the guys in the matrix are clearly from a world of fantasy with no real-world equivalents (the studio claims they are vampires, but that’s a stretch). I wonder if there’s a Goatee Anti-Defamation Leauge, since pretty much every evil villian sports the cliche facial hair. Also, here’s the trailer for Matrix Revolutions in case you missed it.