Sunday, June 29, 2008

WALL·E

WALL·E is an incredibly sweet film. That's "sweet" as in "Awwwww!" not as in "Dude, that movie was totally frickin' sweet! High five!" I thought I should make that clear. The first thing to do is to realize that the humans are the subplot. Sure, there's something about the future of humanity and some environmental themes, as well as a certain amount of "get outside and exercise", but that's all secondary to the real plot: a love story between two robots. WALL·E is a robot that's gone crazy from centuries of being alone, and he's turned into a romantic. When EVE shows up, it takes him awhile, but he wears down her programming and turns her into a romantic too. When he's let loose on people, he has the same effect on them.

That's why I don't care that much about whether the people are successful at the end of the movie (my guess is that they're not). The important thing is that they have a dream now. But the really important thing is that WALL·E and EVE are together. Awwwww!

Also, the "Presto" short before it might be my favorite Pixar short ever. It's very funny, and it successfully walks the line of having a trickster character (in this case, an adorable bunny) that plays pranks but stays likable and sympathetic.

Seagalogy: On Deadly Ground

My girlfriend and I have been reading Seagalogy, which is just a fantastic book. It sounds like a stunt, because who would really want to watch every Steven Seagal movie, let alone write a book about them? But it turns out that this isn't one of those "snark" books, possibly because that wold be too easy. No, it's an actual critical study, examining the themes that link together all of Seagal's movies.

The theory is that while it's more common to look at all of a director's movies, when you have an iconic actor like Seagal, you can consider his movies as a group. And it's true! Seagalogy starts with his early (great) movies like Above the Law and Hard to Kill, and points out that in the first few movies, a big deal is made out of how his characters traveled to Japan to learn aikido, but after that the movies just accept it and move on. There's also some great examination of which characters have Shadowy CIA Pasts, and the many ways that are found to have characters talk about how awesome Seagal is. It's a really great book, even if you don't care about Steven Seagal. I strongly recommend it. And I can't emphasize this enough: it's neither gratuitously mean nor slavishly fannish. The review of Seagal's band is insightful and sympathetic. And hilarious!

So, having read it, we naturally felt like we wanted to see some Steven Seagal movies. You know, now that we're fully versed in the man's ouevre. Unless that means "eggs".

On Deadly Ground

This is an extremely Seagally movie. It's the only one he directed himself, and it's actually one of the only two with explicit environmental themes. And he goes around in a silly fringed buckskin jacket blowing things up and humiliating Mike Starr in a bar scene suspiciously similar to the one in Billy Jack. It's a lot of fun in a weird way, because although I liked it, I never felt like I liked the main character. He's a big bully, if you ask me. And the end, where he tortures and kills Michael Caine, is pretty cold-blooded.

And then there's a four-minute Environmental Speech at the end. Apparently it was originally eleven minutes, and it is a crime against humanity that the original cut isn't available somewhere. It's pretty dull as it is, and that's why I didn't go see Al Gore's movie, which is pretty much the same thing except with Powerpoint. In my experience, Powerpoint very rarely improves things.

Monday, June 16, 2008

From the guys who brought you...

Step Brothers is being billed as "From the guys who brought you Talladega Nights." And Pineapple Express is being billed as "From the guys who brought you Superbad." My question is: Do they think we'll like them more if they're just "guys" instead of "writer/director/media moguls"?

Let's take the Step Brothers team first. It's got the same billed director (Adam McKay) and writers (Adam McKay and Will Ferrell) as Talladega Nights. But doesn't everyone just assume that 90% of that movie was improvised? I mean, for Anchorman, they had so much "unused footage" that they were able to just edit together a whole second movie. At this point, the movie-going public has decided how they feel about the unending barrage of Will Ferrell movies, and I don't think anyone really cares who the director is. The only question anyone has is "Is this another Stranger than Fiction, or is it more of the same stuff? They might as well just advertise it with the tagline "John C. Reilly has decided it's more lucrative being in movies like this than being a real actor!". Meanwhile, Pineapple Express does have the same writers as Superbad, but the director's new.

Really, it turns out that "The guys who brought you" both of the previous movies were part of the Judd Apatow Squad. He produced Talladega Nights, you know. And Anchorman. And 40 Year Old Virgin and Walk Hard. He's not exactly an outsider, you know? He's got three or four movies every year, and all the hipsters still think of him as "the guy who made Freaks and Geeks, which was cancelled tragically early." We're not talking about Joss Whedon here. Judd Apatow is so hot that he's got two ad campaigns for two movies simultaneously that brag about two different movies he made. His track record is so good that he can pick and choose what to play up. He can make Seth Rogen a matinee idol!

All I'm saying is that once your movies have made you billions and billions of dollars, maybe you're no longer "the guys".

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dog Day Afternoon

Hey, this really is a good movie! I'd always heard that it was, and I was quite pleased that it lived up to the claims. Al Pacino is really good as a bank robber who's out of his depth almost immediately. And John Cazale (Fredo from the Godfather movies -- did you know that he was only in five features and all five of them were nominated for Best Picture?) is great.

It's very much a movie of the 1970s, and I mean that in the best possible way. You don't see movies on this kind of film stock anymore, you know?

Oh, and this is one of many classic movies of the era that I mostly recognize from the Mad Magazine parody. It seems like an odd movie to show up in Mad, now that I think about it.

High School Musical

All right, let me explain. See, I've got these season tickets to the local theater's "Broadway in Seattle" series, largely so I could see Avenue Q (which was this week and was terrific) and Spring Awakening (which is next month and sounds like fun). The season tickets came with some shows that I wasn't specifically interested in but had some curiosity about. Last month, the play was High School Musical: the Touring Stage Show. And I didn't like it at all. In fact, we snuck out at intermission to go watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But I was still curious about High School Musical. I mean, it's hugely popular, so there must be a reason, right?

Well, I didn't actually enjoy it that much, but then I'm not the target audience. I did see a lot of things that made it better than the stage show. For example, the play skipped the opening scene where we learn that Troy and Gabriella can sing. That seems like a fairly important plot point, but they threw it away on stage. Basically, all the songs were better in the movie because they weren't all sung by the entire cast at the same time. I mean, they still weren't all that good, and I'm pretty sure the musical-within-the-movie is going to be terrible (it's called "Twinkle Towne", for one thing), but I could at least see why people would like this.

I do object strongly to the ending, in which the mean drama kids seem to completely repent their previous behavior and even get to sing along during the final song. That's ridiculous! During the big happy ending song, the bad guys are supposed to sit sullenly in the corner covered in pie. I know how these things go!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Harriet Craig

Very little happens in this movie. Almost nothing, in fact. Basically, Joan Crawford acts cruel and insane for an hour and a half until her husband finds out how much she's been lying about everything. Then he goes to Japan and the movie's over. i wasn't all that into it, but there are worse things in the world than watching Joan Crawford play a domineering wife.

This movie was produced by William Dozier before he did the "Batman" television series. I think that's kind of interesting.