Monday, June 22, 2009


Well, it looks like Shaun of the Dead might not be the only notable zombie comedy movie we get this decade.

Trailer courtesy of Apple and Columbia Pictures.
Woody Harrelson playing a character named "Tallahassee" and kicking zombie ass, alongside a cowardly Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone? That's awesome enough by itself, but Bill Murray as a zombie!? That's like a cherry on top of a really good ice cream sundae. As usual, when a trailer hits for something like this, I'm not sure how it'll turn out, but Zombieland already sounds like a scary good time.
Here's a better guess of the story from William Goss of Cinematical:
The tone of at least the trailer (I could see the narration carrying over to
the film) strikes me as something like Shaun of the Dead crossed with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I for one don't think that
intersection's a bad place to be.
Not a bad place at all. I also just noticed that it's coming out in October. Maybe just in time for Halloween? I know I'd watch this over the next shock-driven Saw flick any day.
On one last note for the day, God bless Bill Murray. First he comes back to do Ghostbusters 3, and now he's doing this. I just want to give him a high five from the moon right now.

*Sigh* God damn it, Michael Bay.

Reviews have started rolling in for the new Transformers film this week.

Having very limited funds and almost no interest in Transformers in general, I'm very much on the fence about seeing this movie. The kind of stuff I've been hearing about it, though, has not been too promising so far.
What's especially off-putting about this sequel to the 2007 blockbuster special effects rodeo is the fact that, according to Devin Faraci of, Orci, Kurtzman and Bay seem to be taking lessons from the Jerry Bruckheimer School of Racial Sensitivity when creating new robots for the film. Needless to say, Faraci wasn't pleased with what he saw:

These new robots, who begin the film conjoined as a shitty old ice cream truck
but who soon get upgraded into Chevy concept cars, seem to be the most extreme
racial caricatures seen in a movie in decades. The Twins have a simian
appearance, with wide faces and huge ears. One of them (full disclosure: I am
not sure which is which, namewise. This isn't a problem limited to just these
robots in Transformers 2 as I couldn't tell most robots apart, except for Optimus Prime and Bumblebee) has a gold bucktooth. They have a
'playful' back and forth relationship, which includes them talking in some sort
of modern day rap-age jive, calling each other 'bitch-ass' or 'punk,' talking
with an exaggerated, crunked-up 'street' accent. They appear to be stoned all
the time. And they can't read; when asked to translate some ancient Cybertronian
language they sheepishly admit they 'don't do much readin'.' To be fair, only
Prime can read this language, but even the completely idiotic mini-bot (and
Italian stereotype) Wheelie can at least recognize what the writing is. The
Twins are completely illiterate, it seems. I was actually surprised that the
film didn't find a way to make them wear a Transformers version of baggy pants.

Gold teeth, wide eyes and big lips. Christ. I can practically smell the outrage bubbling up. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and

These two floating autobots, pictured above, are the alleged racist caricatures in question.

I suppose it's not really noticeable when they're on screen and in motion, but when you look at these two images for a while it becomes apparent that certain features are exaggerated in a certain way. That being said, I have doubts that Bay was legitimately thinking in stereotypes when he created them. Bay has made some bad movies, but that doesn't make him a bad person. Seeing him try to cover his ass by pinning it on the voice actors doing the characters, however, is a little unnerving:

Bay was eager to give all the credit for the Twins to Tom Kenny, the (white)
voice actor. 'When you work with voice actors, especially with the twins, they
did a lot of improv for their parts. We liked their improv and, from there, we
would animate to their stuff. When you're doing character animation and you're
building the character, it's not like an actor where you shoot the scene and
you've got it and you move on. With animation, you get the dialogue and then
some animation and then a bit more of the dialogue and you keep going back and
forth and it just builds until you have the shot you want.'

(For the
record, Bay mentions a second voice actor while IMDB lists Kenny as the voice of
both bots)

Later in the article, Bay mentions something about how he created the robots as a way to market the movie better to teenagers and college students. Faraci believes him, and I'm inclined to agree, but since this is the year 2009 and not 1964, I can't imagine why Bay would think this is a good idea. I'm aware that a lot of the humor in this and Bay's other works (especially The Island and Bad Boys II) caters to the lowest common denominator in a ham-fisted attempt to make as much money at release as possible, but I'd never thought he would go this far, even unknowingly.

What's even more worrisome about this, aside from the potential race-related backlash, is the fact that these characters seem very one-dimensional on the surface. When a story is poorly written or doesn't contain a whole lot of character development, a lot of minor or even secondary characters tend to be personified by either archetypes or stereotypes. If this is an indicator of the kind of stuff they are introducing in this new film to the Transformers franchise, that could be troublesome. I guess I shouldn't expect a whole lot of character development from a movie based around an 80s cartoon that was designed to sell toys, but still, it's pretty bad.

One thing Faraci may be overreacting about a little, though, is the "Italian stereotype" take that Kurtzman and Bay took with Wheeler. Here's a clip of what to expect, from, Paramount Pictures, and Youtube:

Speaking as an Italian-American, I'm not so offended that Wheeler sounds like a bad Frank Sinatra impression but that this whole sequence, as a Youtube commenter put it, "Looks like a potty-mouth version of something you'd see on the Disney Channel."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

So I finally saw Up last weekend

Pixar’s grown up a bit since they did Toy Story back in 1995.

With their first few movies, especially Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, John Lasseter and crew seemed to be just making movies for kids, mostly preoccupied with the task of selling the potential of all-CGI animated movies to an industry that was skeptical at the time, including Disney. Now, since they obviously no longer have to prove themselves, Pixar not only makes movies that kids can enjoy, but movies that adults can relate to as well. Films such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille and WALL-E are definite proof of this, providing us with stories of characters that are well developed and likeable dealing with extraordinary situations amidst colorful, almost photo-realistic backgrounds and relatable, strong themes.

Up, Pixar’s newest creation, written and directed by Pixar veterans Pete Docter and Bob Peterson and produced by WALL-E director Andrew Stanton, is no exception.

The protagonist is a short, square-headed and largely subdued 78 year old man named Carl Fredericksen (Ed Asner). He spent most of his younger years married to his life-loving, adventure hungry childhood sweetheart Ellie (Elie Docter). Ellie and Carl had amazing dreams of traveling to the jungles of South America and having all kinds of adventures. Unfortunately, life and its pitfalls get in the way, and Ellie passes away before she gets the chance to leave the town they grew up in, leaving poor Carl alone in a world that is constantly changing.

Determined to carry on in her spirit, the now elderly Carl comes up with a plan to honor her memory. He attaches thousands of balloons to his house, transforming it into a makeshift airship of sorts, and sets a course for Paradise Falls, where he plans to live out the rest of his days. What he doesn’t count on, however, is a young wilderness explorer stowaway named Russell (newcomer Jordan Nagai), who inadvertently tags on for the adventure. Carl isn’t too keen on Russell at first, but after getting to know him they form a bond, one that transcends generations. From that point on, a series of unexpected distractions, including an endangered bird named Kevin and a crazed and disgraced adventurer named Charles Mintz (Christopher Plummer), provide Carl and Russell with plenty of adventure. Possibly more than they can handle, at least at first.

Here, Carl and Ellie share a lovely afternoon together. Still courtesy of the Swiss site, and of Pixar/Disney. You can view more stills there.

As is the case with all of Pixar’s movies, the effort and development time put in to the animation and visual effects is astounding. It’s easy to see that their animation staff really has a thing for texture mapping. Carl’s suit looks and moves like fabric. The water looks and splashes like actual water. The pill bottles on Carl’s nightstand are translucent, and you can actually see all the pills inside them. The setting and backgrounds are also simply breathtaking. Modeled after the sights of actual South American waterfalls and rainforests, each scene is truly a testament to the great amount of attention that the animators at Pixar pay to detail.

Also worth noting is the terriffic musical score done by composer Michael Giacchino. This track here stands among the best in the whole film.

Visual style, however, isn’t all this movie has. Considering the subject matter, this can be seen as an especially brave movie for Pixar to make, especially since it’s marketed as a family movie. It is admirable how the movie deals with subjects ranging from growing old, dealing with personal loss, and not running away from your problems in an entirely true-to-life and responsible way without talking down to the kids in the audience, and letting these themes influence the story and plot without making them too obvious or bogging down other aspects of the film. Some could argue that themes like that are hard for kids to pick up on, but this story seems to make them understandable enough.

And man, what an incredible story it is. The first ten minutes are so painful to watch, only because of how somber and brutally honest they are, but it’s worth watching the rest of the film to get to the extremely uplifting conclusion.

Carl and Russell face down a stone sculpture in the heart of the South American jungle in this piece of concept art done by animator Lou Romano. You can see some more fun concept art at his blog here.

Of course, the characters help move things along nicely. One thing that’s really respectable about the way Pixar casts their movies is that they always choose people who really have their hearts invested in the roles they’re picked for. It almost never sounds like any of them are phoning it in, or providing star power as a crutch for the movie to lean on. It’s not my intention to bash Dreamworks, but in Pixar’s movies, it always seems like the voice actors are, well, acting more. For example, when Tim Allen voices Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies, he really sounds like Buzz Lightyear. He really gets into the role. Meanwhile, Eddie Murphy voices Donkey in the Shrek movies, and he does a fairly entertaining performance, but for the most part he just sounds like Eddie Murphy the donkey.

The voice actors in this movie, despite not being extremely huge names, show a lot of dedication, which is something a lot of people have come to expect from the cast of a Pixar movie. Ed Asner takes the concept of a quiet and reserved fellow turned lovable curmudgeon and really runs with it. Nagai’s Russell makes the perfect, energetic and upbeat counterpoint to Carl’s grouchiness, and the bond they create later between them is made extra special because of this.

The most memorable characters, by far, have to be two supporting characters. The first one is Dug (Bob Petersen), a golden retriever who wears a collar that can convert his thoughts into words, and Kevin, the endangered bird. Dug has such great chemistry with the two main characters, and spouts lines that make great comic relief for everyone, especially dog owners in the audience (“I hid under your porch because I love you!” This line is even better in context). Kevin, on the other hand, has some very lively mannerisms. It’s easy to tell that the animators had fun with him.

Pictured here from left to right: Kevin, Russell, Dug, and Carl. Still courtesy of Pixar/Disney.

With the successful reputation that Pixar has, it seems almost shocking that Disney’s corporate execs and wall street aficionados alike were worried about the film’s marketability. While I’m not sure how many action figures and lunchboxes the film will sell, I can say with confidence that it is a film that adults will love, and kids will remember even when they become adults themselves. It’s a little too early to say where this one ranks among Disney/Pixar’s movies, but it is definitely in my top three.