JUMPJUMPJUMPJUMP with Speed Racer

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Adaptations are a funny business. Taking an original artifact, something that’s well loved and already has a fan base and then tweaking it in a way that makes it appeal to a broader audience. Too often the resulting re-translation will alienate those that love the original most. The is an almost indistinguishable line for those running the film industry, a line between a great adaptation and a cold dead husk of a what used to be beloved idea. Adaptations from animation to live action can be particularly difficult and are just terrible when done poorly; as was the case with The Last Air Bender. The difficulty is that you’re changing from a medium that doesn’t have to share the same physics or even social norms as real life and your trying to interpret it in a much harder lined reality. The beauty of Speed Racer is that it doesn’t try to be a live action movie, it’s true to the source, and, consequently, stars a cast made up of flesh and blood. I had the pleasure of re-watching this movie again, after reading Ryan Partlow’s review.

Speed Racer takes it’s story and characters from the 1960s anime of the same name. The story centers around the Racer family and their insatiable thirst for racing automobiles. Now, this is far closer to MarioKart than NASCAR, as far as automobile racing goes. When the Racer’s son, Speed, is given a chance to race under the banner of the mega corporation Royalton Industries he must decide weather to continue racing solely for his father’s small auto shop, or take it to the next level. When he learns the dirty secret of the racing industry, Speed is thrown into a highly stylized duel to the death on a number of eye popping racetracks.

There aren’t many movies out there that stick so close to their animated source materiel. The cartoon that this is based on had lots of races, lots of action and some goofy characters. This film has all of those, and rather than try to take a simple concept and “drama it up” for a live action release, it gives us what we least expect: a live action cartoon. The story is interesting, and it serves it’s purpose of propelling the hero into life threatening, breath taking races. Everything about this movie oozes classic anime tropes, from the dramatic hand motions to the bright colors of the surroundings. This movie is nothing if it isn’t vibrant. After watching this movie I felt like my eyes were restricting me from absorbing the colors that were bursting out of my TV. I had to mentally change the lense that I was watching the movie with. Looking at it as a cartoon made it far more enjoyable than trying to rationalize it as a live action movie.

While the film looked and sounded fantastic (something the Wachowskis are very good at) the editing of the film managed to keep the pace of the movie soaring, even with a longer than expected run time. The climax of the movie in particular was absolutely thrilling. It simultaneously pulled the the emotional strings of the story, and showed the end of the biggest race in the movie in such a flawless way that it was easily the best scene in the movie.

With a superb cast that managed to pull off a cartoon persona, good direction and of course the brightest visuals legally allowed on a screen (that last one is probably not true), the Wachowskis manage to give their full effort to something that a small group held dear, in an effort to introduce it to a larger group. And man, what a ride.

26 Movies That Made Me Laugh

My friend, Paul Boyne recently posted on his blog a list of his “25 Funniest Movie Scenes”. If you haven’t popped on over to Infinite Crescendo, I highly recommend it, if for nothing more than his fantastic lists. Anyway, that particular post gave me an itch to put together one of those newfangled “supercuts” where you take scenes from a bunch of different movies and cram them into a youtube video. So I did. While I can’t give a definite list of my 25 funniest scenes, I simply present to you: 26 Movies That Made Me Laugh.

 

The Thing (2011) The Thing Anthology Part III

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We are in a constant state of ever expanding cinematic universes. Successful standalone films are few and far between these days, once something is found to be profitable, it only makes sense to milk that cash cow dry, critics and fans be hanged! If it makes money, you continue to grow the franchise, it’s the way Hollywood has been working. So, it came as no real surprise that in 2011 we were “treated” to a prequel to a very successful (and my personal favorite) sci-fi horror film from the 80’s. The Thing  replicated the same title as the 1980s iteration; an oddly appropriate move given the nature of the monster in the series. The Thing (2011) is the third installment in this quasi-franchise. It started with The Thing From Another World  in 1951, was remade in 31 years later with The Thing (1982) and a prequel to that film leaves us with what is now somewhat of a period piece of a 1980s scientific expedition gone awry. Maybe in 30 more years we’ll get a proper sequel, but I hope not.

The Thing doesn’t pluck it’s story from thin air, but actually has a very appropriate starting point. In the 1982 version, the scientists stumble upon a destroyed Norwegian camp and one huge spaceship encased in the antarctic ice. The Thing (2011) tells the story of just what happened at that Norwegian camp. While we know the events are probably very similar to the horrors that unfolded in the original film, we didn’t know the exact details until this film came out. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is hired to aid the in the retrieval of an alien spaceship and life form that has been frozen for many millennia. To their horror, the life form is not only alive, but wanting to feed. In standard Thing fashion, it proceeds to eat and replicate the motley crew of scientists in the most horrific and gross ways possible. Paranoia and terror run rampant as the isolated group must attempt to sift the “thing” from the humans before it reaches the general population of the world.

While the plot is virtually indistinguishable from John Carpenter’s classic, they manage to throw in a few original ideas that work really well, and of course there are plenty of jump scenes. I especially liked the way they were able to distinguish the humans from the monster in this film. Without giving it away, it was completely different from the last film, but made complete sense in the scope of the universe. The acting was actually pretty top notch, Joel Edgerton in particular did a pretty great job as the American helicopter pilot, channeling Kurt Russell quite well while still managing to be his own character. It was spooky, it was fun but it wasn’t great. While The Thing (1982) was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, this iteration lacked the claustrophobia and grit that it took to really leave the audience unsettled. The CGI, in particular couldn’t compare to the practical effects used in the 80s in it’s ability to make me queasy. The atmosphere managed to be more comforting as well. The original film used the environment, the dark and the cramped base to make you feel utterly unsafe the whole movie. The base in this film seemed much larger, the weather tamer and the thing itself was far more tangible than it was when it attacked the American base. Instead of revealing it’s monster form only while transforming or going in for the kill, the monster would hunt in the form of a mass of flesh and bones, crawling around on all fours while it actively searched for other people to kill. What made John Carpenter’s Thing so frightening was how it would try to get away unless it was threatened. It would do anything to get away from prying eyes and transform into human form, then try to trick the others.

This was a fun prequel that took new approaches to the similar storyline presented 30 years prior. With a fresh new cast and take on the cinematic legend, The Thing (2011) managed to give some mild scares and some genuinely suspenseful moments. Where it falls short is in it’s presentation of the monster itself. What was an intangible horror is reduced to something that looks like it hopped out of the latest Men in Black movie; also the fact that it’s atmosphere was not the proper material you need to conduct the type of horror that made The Thing as truly horrific as it was.

Part 1 Part 2

 

 

I don’t thinkg it’s going to happen; Waking Ned Devine

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Cosmic irony is a very important comedic element in regards to film. One can’t help but laugh, despite how painful it may be to a character when something good is expected and something bad is given. For the most part, comedy relies on reversals of expectations. For instance, what would think that your entire life would just be starting had you won the lottery. The possibilities are completely endless, you’ve got a fortune at your hands and no one to tell you how to spend it. So, it would be truly ironic if, after having played the lottery your whole life, you died from the shock of finally winning it. And so goes the story of Waking Ned Divine.

In the small Irish town of Tully More there resides only 52 people. It’s a close knit community consisting of mostly older folk. Some of the residents play the lottery and dream of the riches it could bring them, among these are Jack O’Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) two lifelong friends that make it their business to find who in the town was the sole winner of the last lottery. The news papers have announced that the winner comes from Tully More, but none of the residence fess up. It isn’t until Jack makes a house call to his last suspect that he realizes the winner, one Ned Devine, has passed away from the shock of victory. The rest of the movie the two friends come up attempt to claim the prize money, fooling the representative from the National Lottery Association, a feat that will take the cooperation of all of Tully More.

Ned Devine is similar to the town of Tully More, in that it is quaint, kind and darkly humorous. Death is a strong theme in this film, obviously, but it’s displayed in a way, not lightly, but unflinching. We all die, there is no backing away from that fact, and the residents of Tully More make the best of a bad situation, which sometimes results in funny, albeit morbid situations. For instance, Jack and Michael attempt to change the expression on poor deceased Ned’s face, and in doing so knock out his dentures and are forced to comically put them back in. The characters are the backbone of the story. Within the small confines of the town are numerous stories, a few of which are explored in depth. Life, love and death fill the screen for a genuinely feel good movie with plenty of charm. The cast is superb, particularly the two old friends, they completely encompass the roles in a seamless transition from actor to character.

I had heard of Waking Ned Devine but had never taken the time to sit down and watch it. For whatever reason, I am often times reluctant to watch movies with small stories and small characters. The events are not world altering, they affect only a small group of people in Ireland. It’s not necessarily exciting or thrilling, but it is genuine and heart warming. I make the mistake of assuming something with a small story will have a small heart, whereas this is showed me quite the opposite.

A little late for a scare, but here it is!: The American Scream

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Observing an individuals interaction with their hobby is one of the most transparent windows into the type of person they are. It doesn’t particularly matter what type of hobby they have, should you find yourself in a position to witness the process of someone laboring at something they love to do, you’re going to get to know them a little bit better. This could apply to anything from building model airplanes to playing in a city softball league. The principles remain the same. There are countless documentaries that follow enthusiastic hobbyists in their pursuit of perfection towards odd practices, but one that was recently recommended to me was especially interesting, and equally fun. It was an opportunity to watch varying levels of Do-It-Yourselfers in action slaving away at making haunted mazes for trick-or-treaters each year.

 

The American Scream follows three families as they prepare for Halloween. Each of these families has an annual tradition of setting up incredibly elaborate haunted mazes in their backyard and homes. The first family we see shows an obsessed father that works as a software engineer by day and spends the majority of his spare time designing props and scenes for the upcoming holiday. His family helps him and for the most part enjoys the hobby, but it’s not without it’s toll. Next we see a grown father son duo that are kind hearted, albeit slightly odd. Their approach to scaring is not nearly as professional as the first family, but they eagerly piece together props with instructions they’ve found on the internet. Finally we meet a man that, along with the help of his children, chooses quantity over quality for his maze, building props out of just about anything he can get his hands on. We observe these three families as the days count down to Halloween. We observe them as they interact with their passion, and it’s a blast.

 

The film itself is fairly generic for a documentary. Switching between interviews and fly-on -the-wall style shots, we get to both observe the creation of the mazes in action and hear the families discuss the emotional implications that these mazes represent. But the real fun comes towards the end of the film when the three mazes open up for one night. The entire neighborhood comes out to try the three mazes, and the creators reap the fruits of their labor by basking in the screams of their community.

 

The entire “haunting” culture is interesting. What is often viewed as weird on the surface can be linked to more “normal” human traits. The fascination can certainly come off as macabre, but it’s not without it’s charm, and that charm lies solely in the individuals that choose to put their strength and effort into a passion project like this. One thing that was brought up was the communal aspect of Halloween. Thanksgiving and Christmas are more family holidays, whereas Halloween is about the community. Behind the makeup and the blood lies a surprisingly warm tale of human kindness.

Locked in a Room With “12 Angry Men”

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For a movie to be interesting it doesn’t need to have big explosions and impressive set pieces. Sometimes those things help and sometimes it muddles up an otherwise simple, but interesting story. When you take a small idea and execute it precisely it tends to heat up the scrutiny on all those involved with the film. In a smaller scope you naturally focus far more attention on the acting ability in front of the camera, the cinematic aspect of the film becomes much harder to maintain fascination with an audience. However, when a film with a small number of scenes and no action is pulled off with an expert story and an incredibly talented cast, it can almost certainly become more impressive than even the biggest of blockbusters. In the classic film 12 Angry Men, this is exactly what happens. Almost the entire movie takes place in one room in one big scene, and yet I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.

As the title suggests 12 Angry Men focuses on a group of a dozen men, these men don’t know each other, they’re jurors who are there to judge a murder trial. The trial in question regards an 18 year old man who is accused of stabbing his father to death. The way the law is set up means that should the jury find the young man guilty, he will be sentenced to death, no other option is available to him. As the jurors head to the room in which the rest of the film takes place, it becomes apparent that this is almost an open and shut case. When called for a vote there is only one man who votes not guilty. What starts out as an excersize in 11 men attempting to correct one man, turns into a slow war, where juror number 8 (Henry Fonda) attempts to deconstruct the case and clarify a few things that stuck out to him. The room slowly begins to boil as tempers flare on the hottest day of the year, as these 12 men are confined to the room until they can come to a unanimous decision.

The film relies almost entirely on dialogue, and every actor involved knocks it out of the park. It’s as thrilling as any courtroom drama and as suspenseful as any thriller. Juror number 8 begins the film as the only one that seems to realize the gravity of the situation. He starts out wanting to just talk about the case that most have just assumed to be another case of passionate murder in the inner city. The 12 men represent a verity of people groups and personalities, all of whom have opinions on the case at hand.

From a technical standpoint, the film excels in it’s use of camera angels and tone. The movie starts out with camera angles and distances that make the room they enter quite big and roomy. As the story progresses and tempers start to rise and the temperature gets worse, the camera squeezes in close and closer, making the whole visual experience feel claustrophobic, a fitting emotional reaction for how the plot plays out. This movie really is a classic for good reason, it’s a near perfect drama. As the judge monotonously describes how the young man will be put to death if he is found guilty, you can hear the boredom in his voice. The case is about someone that no one cares about, but someone that deserves a fair chance, and juror number 8 intends to give it to him.

Patrolling the night with “Boy Wonder”

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    Just like a good sports movie, everyone loves to root for the underdog. In the same way, I am always on the lookout for independent films that have the power to transcend their own subcategory and get a deserved spot in the limelight alongside blockbuster counterparts. Thanks to Netflix and other streaming services it has become far easier to access numerous films that would have been otherwise unavailable to me. Often times, the lack of budget is glaringly apparent. The lack of funds seeps through the cracks of the project, manifesting itself in one of a thousand different outlets. But that’s the name of the game. As much as I would love to sit down, watch a low budget independent film and have it absolutely blow me away (not a far fetched hope) often times you have to take the good with the bad. With no studio influence, independent filmmakers are free to explore their voice and their craft as they see fit.

    Boy Wonder is just such a film. Michael Morrissey presents a Batman-esque tale of a boy that takes a horrific event from his past and uses his anger as fuel to bring a brutal type of vigilante justice to his neighborhood. As a young boy, Sean Donovan sat in the back seat of his mothers car and watched as she was killed by a carjacker. Now in High School, Sean aces his tests, avoids most social interactions and spends most of his spare time at the local police station. As a new detective begins her job at the same station, she becomes interested in Sean’s story and the case surrounding his mother’s murder. As the film progresses we learn more and more about Sean’s past and the relationship he has with his father. Intermingled with the dramatic elements are scenes of brutal street justice in which he observes people hurting others and stopping it at all costs.

    The movie has flaws, to put it lightly. Some of the acting is stale, the dialogue is far more expository than is necessary. At times it seems like we’re being forced to relate to some of the minor characters when it is neither necessary nor wanted. That being said, Caleb Steinmeyer portrays a truly interesting character in Sean Donovan. It’s an extremely similar backstory with the Batman mythos, but with a financially poor protagonist that has less control and discipline. The story is dark and brutal, almost to a fault, but it presents an interesting set of circumstances with a surprisingly strong leading man. The film itself is shot beautifully, often times giving off the sense that it was much more than an independent, low budget film.

Gravity

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    Life is precious, but it has a terrible survival record. Life is also difficult. Be it attempting to survive on almost no resources in the vacuum of space or driving to work on a weekday morning in rural Ohio. It’s not the severity of the danger or the devastation of the circumstances that test the merits of humanity, it’s how those circumstances are dealt with. Alfonso Cuarón uses imagery that is both awe-inspiringly beautiful while simultaneously gut wrenching and horrifying to focus on the trial of a particular human being. This human has dealt with other, arguably more trying, emotional circumstances in her life, but that’s not what we’re going to watch. What we’re going to watch is a woman attempt to re-enter Earth with all the odds against her. We’re going to watch a woman be pitted against the cruelty and indifference of the celestial elements and come to grips with what it means to fight for survival.

    Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first trip to space. While she is having a less than ideal time, she’s comforted by the nonchalant musings of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) as he enjoys his final space walk before retiring. As they near the finish of the mission, their ship is destroyed by space debris, leaving the two stranded in space with limited means in which to travel. Realizing they must make a trek to the International Space Station in hopes of finding an escape pod. Kowalski, being the senior astronaut keeps a pretty level head throughout, while Stone must dig deep to find courage she never thought herself capable of. George Clooney puts in an ideal performance for his role, but it’s not about him. This movie is about Ryan Stone, particularly how she handles the situations that are presented before her as well as the events of her past.

    Gravity is nothing short of gorgeous. If you find the movie boring, if you don’t like the acting, if you think the premise is far fetched (in my opinion it is none of these things), you have to at least admit to the fact that it is, perhaps, the most visually awe-inspiring space film ever made, providing a greater understanding of the vastness of space in comparison to a single astronaut. The images of space and the views of earth contrasted against the miniscule bodies of the actors involved easily gets the point across that they’re in a dangerous, but incredible surrounding. Watching two actors, Bullock in particular, attempt to survive against all odds is thrilling. Alfonso Cuarón keeps the premise on the edge of believability providing an inspiring look at bravery in the face of the most intimidating surroundings. The dialogue, which is crucial to the success of the film, is both emotionally charged and concise. We don’t get flash backs or long exposition on each of the characters history, we get to watch two people fight with everything they have to live. Arguably, Clooney plays the part a little too casually. Iit worked well. But what does it mean to live? That is one of the questions brought up, primarily through the use of breath taking visuals, that the director asks the audience. Sure, Ryan might survive the ordeal, but if she does, what difference would it make, ultimately, in her life? It’s much more difficult to live than it is to survive.

    Alfonso Cuarón uses some of the best imagery I’ve ever seen in a film, some of which I have no desire to give away in case you haven’t seen the film. It’s not all just pretty pictures, he stages the scenes so we’re drawn completely into the emotional depth of his vision. Using the screen as his canvas, pictures are painted before our eyes displaying both the safety and seclusion as well as the danger and savageness of both space and life. Gravity is a wonderful film, using a near perfect mix of sound, visual and emotional stimulation to present something that is far more than a physical tale of survival. Space is the great unknown, it is where you look to gain perspective on just how small we are. In the same way, Cuarón attempts to give that perspective to his characters. He wants them to know that living and surviving are two entirely different things, one is a passive action, while the other is a brutal and unforgiving fight.

Revisiting the Patriarch: The Muppet Movie

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The Muppet empire was created by a group of incredibly ambitious dreamers that strove to perfect the art of puppeteering, making it something far more than an easy, cheap go-to children’s entertainment option. Jim Henson, known for being an avid perfectionist, was the mastermind behind the ordeal, and it’s thanks to him that some of my all time favorite movies have been made. The Muppets themselves have had a fantastic career in the film industry over the past few decades, most recently with their comeback hit The Muppets. The Muppets was a fun and lovingly crafted piece of work that pays tribute to the origins of the group, but it lacked two major components that can never truly be replaced; Frank Oz and Jim Henson.

The Muppet Movie was the beginning of the road for the motley crew of fabric puppets. Like quite a few movies I’ve watched recently, the overall tone is very self-aware. We quickly realize that we, the audience, are watching the screening of a film that tells the story of how the Muppets ended up in Hollywood (approximately). We’re introduced to Kermit as he sings and plays his banjo in the swamp. He’s accidentally discovered by a lost Hollywood agent who convinces him to audition for a movie role. Kermit then embarks on a cross-country adventure that gives a back story to the majority of the cast of the much beloved Muppet Show. Although filled to the brim with musical numbers and cameos, the movie really shined in it’s masterful use of the puppets that run the show.

As I mentioned before, Jim Henson was a perfectionist. He had a vision and he wanted to make sure that his vision was accomplished exactly as his mind saw it. So, when we watch the opening musical number that shows Kermit sitting on a log in a swamp playing his banjo and singing we think very little of what it took to accomplish a feat like that at the time. In truth, the scene took five days to film. Jim Henson was submerged under the water in a small metal container with an air hose and a monitor so he could watch his actions with the puppet. While watching it today may not have the same aw-inspiring effect he originally intended, this was the first time a hand puppet had performed on screen with its entire body showing. The intention of the film, aside from making people smile with fun music bits, corny puns and tons of guest appearances, was to wow the audience with what could be done with puppets. Little things were huge successes, particularly the scene where Kermit rides his bike down the street. It’s not a close up shot, it’s not cutting off his legs with the shot, it’s showing him riding down the street in full view. The ingenuity and creativity of Jim Henson is seen in full force in their first ever feature film.

Some might argue with my opinion that the pacing of the film is a bit slow thanks mostly to some less that incredible songs. Visually and technically it is a masterpiece, and most of the music in the movie is fun and engaging in the way it draws the audience closer to the story and the characters. However, some of the songs seemed a little out of place an unnecessary, proving to detract from the overall pace of the movie. It’s a very small gripe in comparison to the whole. The Muppet Movie has, and always will be able to impress me. It’s the original, the beginning to one of the most beloved media empires in our history, an empire headed up by a felt frog.

The Little Mermaid is on Blu-Ray!

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My favorite Disney Princess movie has made it’s way on Blu-Ray this month and I was fortunate enough to receive a copy for my birthday! A review would be all too redundant since it was released before I was born and has been loved by viewers ever since. However, to celebrate this occasion I’ll redirect you to a discussion on the beloved film by Paul Boyne and myself on our joint blog “Gaffer Macguffin’s Movie House”. Recently, Paul watched every single Disney Animation film made, which gave us the chance to talk about a couple of them. The Little Mermaid played a pivotal roll in bringing about what is known as the Disney Renaissance. Head to the discussion here!