Friday, May 11, 2012

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

            I am the Adam, and I speak for the movies / The good, the bad, and the inbetween / Those that make me feel pure joy / Those that are just made to sell toys / The Lorax is based on the Dr. Seuss book / After watching, I doubt the writers even gave it a look / This is the team that made Despicable Me? / Is it all downhill with movie #3?
            OK, there’s no way I could keep that up for the entire review.  The Lorax is about Ted (Zac Efron), a boy who lives in a town made entirely of plastic.  He wants to impress his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift) by getting her a tree.  To do that, he has to listen to the Once-ler’s (Ed Helms) story about his mistakes and his encounter with The Lorax (Danny DeVito).
            I’m going to try to avoid talking about the adaptation decay that I felt took over my reviews for Green Lantern and Conan the Barbarian.  Instead, I’ll look at the movie from the standpoint of just a viewer.  A viewer who came into the Lorax hoping to find a tale of environmentalism that’s full of wit, charm, and a good message in the end.  I didn’t get it.
            Let’s start with the jokes.  They’re awful.  Most of them can be seen coming a mile away.  This is mixed in with jokes that might’ve been funny if every trailer hadn’t featured them.  The Once-ler trying to pin the blame on a bear?  It was funny the first time, but it’s dead by the time you watch the movie.  The running gags also generally start out unfunny, and never actually become anything more.  There’s fish that sing.  One of the bears is fat.  The villain is short.  Even the best writers would have trouble trying to make these “gags” work.
            And then we get to the movie’s awful flow.  One long scene has the Lorax putting the Once-ler’s bed in a river.  The scene does nothing for the movie, just adds an extra 5 minutes to the running time.  The Lorax’s personality in general is just not right.  Again, speaking as a viewer, the problem is that the Lorax, for most of the movie, is Danny DeVito.  He has DeVito’s brash personality, and he’s being played for pure comedy.  And then suddenly something happens that forces him to get serious.  Don’t get me wrong here, when he gets serious, DeVito is clearly giving a hell of a voice performance, and I applaud him for these moments.  But it’s some serious mood whiplash.  It’s a complete 180 from how he acts for most of the movie.  There’s also the fact that most of the real meat of the movie, which is the Once-ler chopping down the truffula trees, is crammed into a musical number.  This is the actual story, and it takes place over a trippy musical sequence.
            Oh, right, this is a musical.  Following the standard marketing for modern musicals, none of this was mentioned in the trailers.  I can see why.  The songs waver between forgettable and embarrassing.  And they seem to think that, as long as they’re singing, they can do as much pure exposition as they want.  After all, how else can you tell the viewer that the townspeople have to buy air then to have them sing, “We don’t have real air, we have to buy it”?  And showing that the filmmakers got the cast because their names looked good on the poster and not because they were right for the roles, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift don’t get to sing.  The former being in the High School Musical series, and the latter being a musician, you’d think they’d get at least one number.  Betty White does sing, though.  Well, less singing and more “Talking in a vague rhythm with the music”, but close enough.
            The one thing worth praising about this movie is its look.  Well, this is a look we saw Illumination had down with the much-better Horton Hears a Who (before the studio was officially formed) and Despicable Me.  But they’re still showing that they have an eye for imaginative character and environment design.
            There’s two explanations I can think of for The Lorax.  One is that Illumination is the one-hit-wonder I feared they would be, and will leave a legacy of Despicable Me and nothing else of note.  The other, and the one I find more likely, is that Universal has a death-grip on them now.  The movie feels like it had executives looming over their shoulders, inserting running gags, forced action sequences, and marketable characters.  What you end up with is a movie as manufactured as the town the characters live in.
            Instead of this, watch: Wall-E again.  Comedy.  Romance.  An environmental message.  Peter Gabriel’s fantastic song Down to Earth playing over the end credits.  It still remains one of Pixar’s finest hours.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Quick post: Chew sale

Looking for a comic that's absolutely different?  How about a cop story focused around people who have food-based powers?  Chew is about a detective who can trace the origins of anything he eats, be it food or, y'know, human fingers.  And it takes place in a world where chicken is banned after a particularly bad case of bird flu. 

It's weird, it's wild, and for the next 3 days, the digital comics are half-off on Comixology, with the first volume at a mere $4, subsequent volumes at $5 each, and individual issues for $1.  This is a fantastic chance to catch up on the comic, especially since it's being considered for a television series.  I don't normally do sales-watch stuff, but when an opportunity as good as this comes up, I can't help but tell people to go buy it.

5 superheroes (and 5 other comics) I'd love to see made into movies

Avengers has pretty much shown that even the most impossible comic book can be filmed.  So it’s time for my wishlist.  Here’s 5 superhero comics, along with 5 other comic books, that I’d love to see on the big screen.
Note: I’m not looking at what’s in development.  Thanks to how much these projects get stuck in development hell, unless it’s in the theater, I don’t believe it’s happening.  I’ve decided not to include comics that were filmed but weren’t filmed well.  For the record, I would love good versions of Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Fantastic Four, and A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  I am, however, including things that have been made as straight-to-DVD animated movies.
1. Justice League.  DC’s been really awful on this whole “comic book movie” thing, being both incredibly slow and making movies of varying quality.  If they ever got it together, though, having a Justice League movie would be incredible.  There were plans for one at some point before the last Writer’s Strike killed it.  I don’t particularly care whether it’s a series of movies leading up to it like they did with Avengers, or just one big damn movie, I just want it.
2. Wonder Woman.  Has there even been a female-focused superhero movie since Catwoman bombed?  Along with Elektra and Supergirl (yes, there was a Supergirl movie, which by all accounts, I am glad to have not seen), female supers haven’t had the best time.  I’m going for Wonder Woman on this for the simple fact that she’s probably the biggest name and the one that could be done best.  She has a strong origin, cool powers, and a decent rogues gallery of Greek and human villains to choose from.  Hell, just take the Gods and Mortals arc and you’ve basically got a movie.
3. Deadpool.  Even though I’m rather favorable towards X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I know that Weapon XI was hardly the Merc with a Mouth.  His often ridiculous humor has earned him a lot of fans, although he’s often at his best when it’s balanced.  Cable and Deadpool knew how to take his antics and juxtapose them with more serious themes.  Giving him a partner tends to not be a bad idea in general.  Alternately, a full-on, extremely bloody comedy might just be the right direction for him.
4. Martian Manhunter.  This is an odd choice because Manhunter tends to not get books to himself, and I’m not even sure he has a rogues gallery.  However, if it was done right, it could be an entirely fascinating movie.  I suggest anybody looking for my thought process looks to DC: The New Frontier, where his character is forced to learn his way around the 1960s, stuck in both the fear of the Russians and the Man from Mars.  He also got some entirely fantastic moments on the Justice League cartoon.  If the right team got together, it’d be gold.
5. Squirrel Girl/The Great Lakes Avengers.  Squirrel Girl debuted in a one-shot where she defeated Dr. Doom.  Her power is talking to squirrels.  She often shows up with the Great Lakes Avengers, which features Flatman (he’s flat…and constantly mistaken for Reed Richards), Doorman (he can teleport people through a wall), and the Grasshopper (a legacy hero where the running gag is that the dies quicker in each GLA series/one-shot).  It’s entirely fun and hilarious, and considering how much Marvel is loving lighter movies, it could be perfect.
6. Bone.  There was a Bone movie in production at one point, before Nickelodeon wanted kid actors and pop music, causing creator Jeff Smith to kill it.  As he explained, you wouldn’t put pop music on Lord of the Rings.  Bone might not be on that level, but it’s hard to deny that it is a fantasy epic, one that deserves a great movie.  Or, preferably, a trilogy of movies.
7. Preacher.  Preacher is the kind of comic that was going to be a TV series, but HBO decided it was too dark.  Something this crude, offensive, and line-crossing clearly deserves a movie.  The first few arcs are definitely arcs, but with a bit of editing in the process they could easily make a movie with room to spare for sequels.  And yes, we must bring up the discussed casting choices: Samuel L. Jackson as The Saint of Killers (the Saint is white, but I’m pretty sure nobody would care, since this one was suggested by fans) and Shia LaBeouf as Arseface.  I think it’d be his best role.
8. Transmetropolitan.  Warren Ellis’ more episodic storytelling style might work better as a TV series, but Transmetropolitan’s fully realized crapsack future could only be done as well as it is in the comics with a movie’s budget.  The comic’s main arc could probably be condensed down into a single movie, but it’s the details that are important here because it’s the details that make the book.
9. The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.  Life and Times may have been Don Rosa’s love letter to Carl Barks’ Scrooge McDuck work.  But standing on its own, it’s also one of the real all-ages masterpieces of comics.  It’s full of adventure and comedy, but is also plenty emotionally touching.  You know, like every fantastic Pixar movie.  I think you can see what I’m getting at here.
10. The Sandman.  Scripts for Sandman have come and gone.  Executives have taken perfectly good movies and turned them into something Neil Gaiman instantly vetoed.  A script for one of the Death spin-offs seems more likely to get made into a movie than this at this point.  But if a studio can do Avengers, I’m pretty sure Warner Bros can do Sandman.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Avengers

            The Avengers.  It’s the movie that’s been in the making since who-knows-when, but got kick-started in 2008 thanks to Iron Man.  It’s asked more out of movie viewers than before, asking them to see 5 mainly-unrelated movies beforehand to get the full experience.  And all the preparations could’ve been for naught had the final product stumbled.  It doesn’t.  Not for a moment.
            It’s well-paced.  Even with having to introduce several new characters (Maria Hill and Hawkeye/Clint Barton in particular, although the latter got a cameo in Thor) to the already sizable cast of heroes, the movie doesn’t drag.  It comes out of the gate running.  The heroes get introduced back one by one, giving the audience who may have missed the origin movies a nice taste of what the heroes are like without feeling like “Previously in the Marvel Universe”.  And the pacing is particular incredible in that there’s only a handful of action scenes.  It helps that these are big, long action scenes with plenty of “Holy crap!” moments.  But the movie does slow down to look at these heroes along the way.
            With Joss Whedon’s script (along with his direction), though, these moments shine just as much as the action.  The heroes are at each other’s throats for most of the time, without feeling like the whole movie is a bunch of heroes fighting on each other.  It has plenty of comedic moments without getting groan-worthy (I hate fish out of water stuff, and even though the opportunity was there for the still-recently-unfrozen Captain America, the few moments they have of it are actually cleverly done).  It flows.  It doesn’t feel like we’ve suddenly set aside the action for plot, we’re just getting a different degree of the movie.
            The action scenes themselves are phenomenal.  Again, it doesn’t forget to be witty along the way.  But it throws together special effects and big battles.  Each one clearly stands out.  The location, the contenders, the big moves that are done.  Everybody gets their own awesome moments.  Even Black Widow, who almost feels out of place as the pure normal of the group, but then does something that reminds you of why she’s there.  She’s not just “the chick”, she’s as much the big kickass action hero that everybody else in the group is.  Another stand-out is Hulk, who’s definitely been perfected in terms of CGI, mannerisms, and just general feel of him. And they manage to give his feeling of power right.  At one point, he tries to pick up Thor’s hammer and fails, and even though I know it’s a CGI “monster” trying to pick up a prop hammer, I felt like it was a powerful being completely confused about why this simple thing was so heavy.  I also particularly love his gorilla-like stance and grunting that he does at times.    I don’t remember this being done in Incredible Hulk (although I could just be forgetting), but it just works so well for the character.
Even though the acting isn’t necessarily the standout here, the performances work for the characters.  Mark Ruffalo, coming on for the first time as Bruce Banner, simply takes over the character from the instant he steps on screen.  He has the look, the mannerisms, the way of speaking that you’d expect of an intelligent scientist living under the constant fear that he’ll suddenly lash out and destroy everybody around him.  Robert Downey Jr. has pretty much been Tony Stark since the day he was cast (and possibly before then), and he’s not slacking here.  Chris Hemsworth continues to prove himself as the next action superstar. Even my less-than-great feelings towards Cap’s own movie have been turned around.  It seems like Chris Evans has gotten into the character more and feels more like the Cap I know and love.  Even when he’s being an absolute cheeseball at times, well, he’s Captain America.  He gets away with it.
            Apparently, Whedon was inspired by the silver age Avengers stories.  It shows, in a good way.  In the older comics, there was a lot of talking with only quick bouts of action.  Of course, instead of cheesy silver age dialogue, we get Whedon’s intelligent script-writing.  There’s also the basic concept of what happens.  No matter how big the threat, no matter how much in-fighting goes on, ultimately the heroes come out on top.  A lot of recent comics tend to be inspired by silver age in the lightness of the stories, but blur the line with gore and darker themes.  This movie succeeds where those failed, feeling wholly fun.  It lives to be entertaining, and it succeeds all the way. 
If you’re looking for THE superhero movie, this is it.  If you’re looking to see Whedon at his best in terms of writing and directing, this is it.  If you’re looking for the movie that will probably redefine the summer blockbuster for years to come, this is it.  I could go back and watch it again.  I probably will go back and watch it again.