Saturday, November 5, 2011

Is It That Bad: Cars 2

In 2006, Disney/Pixar released the film Cars, the second film in their roster to have an entirely non-human cast. The film was received with positive/mixed reception, scoring 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and 73/100 on MetaCritic, the lowest ratings that a Pixar film had received on either site. I was working in an electronics store when Cars hit DVD so I was able to watch it a few times and the film got the grow on me, so I purchased the DVD and invested about $30 into the franchise. Wasn't the absolute best Pixar film, but was still better than The Incredibles. Despite the lowest critical reception of the Pixar films, Disney kept pumping out Cars merchandise for years after the film's release, long before it was announced that there was a second film on the way.

On June 24, 2011, Cars 2 hit theatres and Imax, much to the delight of children and dread of haters of the first film everywhere. However, upon looking up reviews online and asking people on my friends list on Facebook, I was surprised how much negative feedback this film was getting. While the film was still a box office success, it was Pixar's worst reviewed film yet and is also their lowest grossing film in North America since A Bug's Life. So naturally, being a fan of the first film (my son also loves it) and being something of a glutton for punishment, I went out and rented Cars 2 the other night to answer the question: Is It That Bad?

I'm so glad they brought back Fillmore, with Lloyd Sherr replacing the late George Carlin.

The plot of Cars 2 starts out with secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) investigating supposed terrorist activity on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. He finds one of his agents has been crushed into a cube and sees the terrorists looking at something resembling a video camera. McMissile takes some pictures of it but when the terrorists spot him, he leads them on a chase throughout the rig and actually manages to kill some of them (wait, what?) before escaping. Cut to Radiator Springs, where Mater (voiced again by Larry The Cable Guy) is meeting up with his BFF Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) after McQueen is returning from winning his fourth Piston Cup. While on a date with Sally (Bonnie Hunt), McQueen sees a promo for a new World Grand Prix sponsored by a new alternative fuel company that he was invited to. When one of the racers, Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro), begins insulting McQueen on air, Mater calls the station and basically puts McQueen on the spot, so he accepts the invitation to the Grand Prix. However, the two paths cross at the Grand Prix and Mater is mistaken for the American operative that McMissile was supposed to meet up with in Tokyo and essentially, the fate of every car in the world is put in Mater's axles.

Francesco vs McQueen in Italy.

Visually, Cars 2 is right up there with Pixar's best work with great detail going into the environments and characters and many people who diss this movie will tell you that. However, what others are complaining about is the story and the characters (or more specifically, character) the film chooses to focus on. Honestly, I was not expecting a story quite of this caliber in Cars 2, considering how the first film was more like a fish-out-of-water where Mr. Hot Shot needed to learn what the more important things in life were (a premise not much different than the one shown in Thor). Here, it's basically a cross of James Bond & Mr. Bean with anthropomorphic vehicles and you know what? It's actually pretty fun. Kudos to Pixar with wanting to take this sequel in a different angle unlike the Toy Story series, where life changes seems to be the underlying theme of the first two films until it slaps you across the face in the third one (albeit Toy Story & Toy Story 2 remain my favorite Pixar films). In fact, there were some parts of Cars 2 that I thought were pretty intense for a kid's film, specifically the fact that they show cars being killed onscreen. At the same time, one of these somewhat on-screen kills was Bruce Campbell's character, which as we all know: killing off Bruce Campbell isn't in any way, shape or form cool.

The other big complaint that anyone who hated this movie has is that the film focuses too much on Mater. Most of the original cast of characters make return appearances in this one (except Doc Hudson), but they are basically cameos if nothing else, which is really too bad because I felt the first one didn't showcase some of the characters enough and I was hoping they'd fix some of that in this one, but no. Instead, they take a backseat to the new characters and Mater. Hell, even Lightning McQueen takes a bit of a backseat to his best friend. Does this bother me? Not as much as you'd think, really. First off, I don't have a problem with Larry The Cable Guy in this role, and I'm not one of those people who hate on him because it's cool to hate on him. He does far better as a voice actor than as a live action actor (anyone who's seen Delta Farce can confirm this) and I might even enjoy his work as Mater more than his standup bits, keyword being might. Also, let's think back to when the first Cars film came out for a minute. Who was the most popular character? Who was the one who had the kiddies in stitches and was the star of the animated short on the DVD? Yeah, Mater. Considering how much kids loved Mater, it only makes sense that they give him more screen time to appease the kids. Now, I'm not one of those lameasses who thinks that kid's movies can get away with fucking murder because they're kid's movies, but really, do you honestly think that Disney & Pixar wanted to aim this film equally to adults as they did kids? Let's not forget that Disney has a really nasty track record of killing their characters' parents. You know, the onscreen representation of their primary source of income? Of course they're more focused on keeping the kids happy, they already have your money. It's not like Mater doesn't learn anything by the end of the film either. Yeah, he realizes that he's a little out of control and tends to screw up...a lot. Yet, in the end, Mater is able to figure out who's behind this terrorist plot and, quite literally, almost gets himself killed to prove it. Yeah, the rusted tow truck has some serious balls by the end of the film.

One last thing I heard about Cars 2 is that there really isn't a lesson to be learned in this film. Not true: the whole purpose of Cars 2 is to show that A) If you truly consider someone your friend, you won't throw away what friendship you have over something as trivial as a trophy and are willing to forgive them for their faults, and B) You don't have to be the biggest, strongest or smartest person in the world to be important or to make a difference.

Mater is in this movie a lot. Deal with it.

So is Cars 2 really that bad? Absolutely not. Is it the best sequel ever made? No. Is it my favorite sequel ever? No. Is it better than the first? No, but considering some of the other Disney sequels out there, Cars 2 is without a doubt one of the better ones. Upon watching these films, it really does seem like people hate on these movies if for no other reason than because Larry The Cable Guy voices the most popular character in the two films. Personally, I had a blast with Cars 2 and I will gladly purchase this DVD down the road. Hell, I'm even game for a third Cars film, or even the spin-off Planes coming in 2013. So yeah, as far as I'm concerned, haters of this film, namely Kyle Smith of The New York Post, can blow it out their exhaust pipes.

-The Cynic

P.S. Does anyone else out there think that this is a friggin' awesome picture?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dual Review: Jurassic Park: Dangerous Games 1 & 2

I'm a little behind because of the move and the almost five months it took to get the internet back, so I'm a little late with this one, hence why I'm reviewing two issues instead of one. I've had a couple people ask me what I think of IDW's latest romp in the Jurassic Park universe, Dangerous Games.

Plot: An undercover agent named Daniel Espinoza is trying to take a down a drug cartel from the inside and everything had been going fine until he's found out and taken to the cartel leader's private island. There's just one problem...said island is Isla Nublar aka Jurassic Park. The cartel's leader leaves Espinoza in the jungles with only a hunting knife and gives him 24 hours to survive before the leader's right hand man hunts down Espinoza for himself. Espinoza then witnesses a dinosaur attack and takes down a Parasaurolophus with his knife. Unfortunately, his would-be meal is interrupted by an Allosaurus coming to eat him, but when Espinoza trips on a log and is knocked out, a pack of Velociraptors come and kill the Allosaurus with someone announcing that they have a guest. He comes to in the Raptor's nest where there is a redheaded woman, Dr. Frances White, nursing his wounds and offering him food. She explains that she was hired to study how the dinosaurs behaved, and even grew quite attached to the Velociraptors with them imprinting on her as their mother. However, White was growing tired of how the men used brute force to handle the dinosaurs and when she approached Peter Ludlow about it, he basically went Chris Brown on her, so she uncaged her Raptors to stop him from hurting her. Ludlow pulls a gun and begins firing at the Raptors, one of the bullets grazing White's cheek and they escape into the jungle with White vowing never to live amongst humans again. Espinoza insists that he has a job to do and if he has to do it alone, so be it, but White says that she'll help but they need guidance first. They go to a boneyard and White hides as the fucking T-Rex steps out and eyes Espinoza. Taken aback by the Rex's size and intimidation, Espinoza freezes, so the T-Rex looses sight of him and walks off. White then explains that the T-Rex judges the souls of everyone on the island and needed to see if Espinoza was worth helping. Meanwhile, the leader's right hand man decides to start hunting down Espinoza early and White's pack of Velociraptors attack them. White runs in to help but is caught in a net, so Espinoza tries to cut her down only to find himself looking down the barrel if the right hand man's gun as the goon insists they begin the hunt.

My apologies for the wall-o-text there, but I did just have to sum up two issues of a five issue series. So...what do I think of it? Well...let's see...first off, I'm not too crazy about the fact that this story is on Isla Nublar and not Isla Sorna for I am in the crowd that considers the deleted scene from The Lost World where they explain the first island was destroyed canon, so unless Dangerous Games is a prequel to TLW, which it gives no indication that it is, then I'm not impressed. However, the argument can be made that the comics do not follow the film canon. Fine, then I'm not terribly impressed that Dangerous Games sticks a middle finger to the Topps comics from the mid-90s where the U.S. Military assumed control of Isla Nublar and was using it as a research facility. Another thing that sorta makes me scratch my head is that supposedly this drug cartel leader is paying off someone in the U.N. and that's how he was able to buy the island so easily. If the U.N. knew what was on the island and consider it a big enough deal that, I dunno, the fucking U.N. needs to be involved with it, wouldn't they be a TAD suspicious that it suddenly dropped off their radar of importance?

Another thing that I don't like is the Frances White character. Sure, my inner teen's tongue is wagging at her flowing red locks and super-heroine figure, but this lady is fucking insane. I mean, living with Velociraptors? Creatures that have been dead for how many millions of years that we have little to no idea how their brains worked, and she's just shacking up with them?! Let me remind everyone of something: the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are wild animals, creatures that operate on their own natural instinct, which at times, is really goddamned unpredictable! You know that film Grizzly Man? Here's the sequel: Raptor Woman, and I won't be the least bit surprised if they turn out to have the same ending. I think writer Erik Bear was watching Godzilla: The Series when he came up with this idea.

Now let's talk about that bit with the T-Rex. Another reason that goes to show you that White is either insane for a really stupid scientist. "She judges the souls of everyone on the island?" "Only the ones she deems worthy survive?" Really, folks? This is the angle they're going with? Yes, dinosaurs are fascinating and what was accomplished at Jurassic Park was nothing short of a scientific miracle, but let's not make them out to be things that they aren't! There's nothing magical or godly about the T-Rex, save for its size and power. The only reason why the Rex didn't chomp down on Espinoza is because he stood perfectly still while facing the T-Rex because he was in awe of it. Good for him, because the laws of Jurassic Park dictate that the T-Rex's sight was based on movement; freeze and you'll be okay, provided she doesn't smell you. If White really was hired to study the behavior of the dinosaurs on the island, either she just didn't get to the T-Rex before she ditched humanity or living alone with a pack of Dromaeosaurs has really screwed with her head.

There's two last things I want to discuss. 1) If this story takes place on Isla Nublar, why is there such an inconsistency with not only what dinosaurs were on the island going from the first film to this comic, but with how said dinosaurs actually look going from first film to this comic? I say this because in Dangerous Games, there are appearances from Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Pterosaurs (very faintly, but they're there), as well as a couple of dinosaurs that I have absolutely no idea what they hell they are due to their overabundance of feathers and odd color patterns. I know that the whole feathers thing goes with current paleontological theories, but if this is supposed to be on Isla Nublar, shouldn't the dinosaurs actually LOOK like they did in the film? There were no feathered dinosaurs in the first Jurassic Park, so what the hell are they doing here? Has so much time passed since the first film that the Velociraptors evolved feathers? Can such an evolutionary twist occur in 18 years or less (if this does turn out to be a prequel to The Lost World)? Furthermore, where in the blue hell did all these other dinosaurs come from? Did the drug cartel hire a team of geneticists so they could breed the other embryos in the lab so the goons would have something to shoot at? What in the fuck?!

Finally, the last thing that I want to talk...nononono, lemme rephrase that, the last thing I want to rant about (that's better) is the artwork. Just take a look at it. While it's not Redemption bad, although that's not hard, Dangerous Games still takes the same trend that most Jurassic Park comics do by having pretty good cover art but questionable interior art. This thing looks like a Jurassic Park anime, which is just as much fail as manga Wolverine. Not only did I keep thinking that one of the characters was gonna shout "OVER NINE THOUSAANNNNNNND" at any second, but the art has these weird proportion issues where the size of some of the dinosaurs will vary from panel to panel which certainly doesn't help with the fact that they look like shit to begin with.

The first time I read issues 1 & 2 of Dangerous Games, I thought it was okay, but then again it was like 7am and I hadn't gone to bed yet. Upon reading it again from an analytical point of view, I am thoroughly unimpressed with this story arc. As much as Jurassic Park: Dangerous Games has failed to wow me but has pissed me off instead, this comic still isn't as bad as Jurassic Park: Redemption. Thankfully, Dangerous Games hasn't raped my childhood and then spat on the quivering remains...yet. Here's hoping the next three issues turn it around, but something in the back of my head is telling me not to hold my breath.

-The Cynic

EDIT: Turns out that this comic takes place in 2012, 11 years after the events of the films, so yeah, this book can suck it. Also, I'm not reviewing the final three issues because they bring nothing new to the table. I wouldn't invest in this story unless you are a hardcore JP fan, and even then, I'd be having second thoughts...

Quick Blurb Review: X-Men: First Class

Hey, everyone! We finally have the internet back so the blog is back up and running and I'm here with a big one. Tonight, we're looking at X-Men: First Class, one of the most positively reviewed movies of the year...much to my surprise.

And with one flex of an eyebrow, you will forget all about the Wolverine movie...

Now, even though I did enjoy X-Men Origins: Wolverine for the performances from the cast, I'll admit it was not a great film and was aimed more at the "Hurr need more 'splosions" crowd. It was fun, but wasn't good for you either. However, since Wolverine drew in a tremendous box office intake, I was concerned that there would be more movies along the same vein, so when First Class was announced, I was a little skeptical. Once the film hit theatres and the feedback began to spread, I was surprised how positive said feedback was. Having seen the film now, I can see why it got the reception it did.

Badass: Noun, Awesome to an extreme level, thereby leveraging unquestionable authority. Example: Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr/Magneto.

The story of First Class follows Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr/Magneto in their polar opposite beginnings and how their lives manage to intertwine when Charles is recruited by Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) & the C.I.A. to catch a sleazy dictator mutant named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), the same man who killed Erik's mother in Poland during WWII. Together, they bond a friendship and recruit other mutants to assist them and the government in stopping World War III, although their conflicting beliefs begin to come between them.

While Wolverine had great performances, First Class matches that and then proceeds to do right what Wolverine didn't: be a good movie all around. I loved seeing the younger side of Xavier as quite a flirty charmer and James McAvoy really hits it home here. As mentioned earlier, Fassbender is totally badass as Magneto and to be honest, I wouldn't have minded if this film kept with the original idea of being X-Men Origins: Magneto so long as he was still in the title role. That being said, I don't think you can tell one character's origins without touching base on the other since they are so intertwined with each other, so I think the final product is the only way this film would've truly worked.

Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast. He's no Kelsey Grammar, but come on, those are some tough shoes to fill.

Along with Professor X, Magneto & Beast, other mutant appearances include (but aren't limited to) Raven Darkholme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz), Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Til) and Emma Frost (January Jones), who actually looks like Emma Frost instead of Tahyna Tozzi's representation in Wolverine. My knowledge of the entire X-Men universe is limited to what I've learned from the early 1990s cartoon and some of the video games, but I was really happy to see the characters that I did recognize. Each of the above mentioned characters actually have a purpose within the story and don't feel shoehorned in for the sake of having more mutants. Not that there were some characters that did feel like shoehorns. Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) seemed like they were just there to look mean and intimidating when I would've liked to have seen those characters developed a bit more (I didn't even know Riptide's name until I looked it up on IMDB). Instead, most of the villain focus goes to Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw, which don't get me wrong, it's great to see Kevin Bacon in a large and sinister role like this, but in hindsight, why not add some depth to the henchmen? Just a little?

Oh, I can't stay mad at you, Mr. Six Degrees Of Separation. You were just too awesome in this movie.

Honestly, this is one of those reviews that was hard for me to put together because I spent less time taking notes on what to discuss in the review and more time losing myself in the film, which is usually a good sign that I am really digging what I'm watching. X-Men: First Class is a great way to show that not all comic book movies are complete over-the-top spectacles. Not only does this movie retcon the Wolverine film by pretending that it didn't happen (although a certain cigar-toting mutant does make a three word cameo in this film, which was great) but First Class also comes off as a very adult film, giving little to no camp value and treating its source material very seriously. If you took the mutant powers out of this movie, you would still be left with a well worth viewing suspense thriller that'd keep your eyes glued to the screen. Because of this, I think X-Men: First Class was better than Thor (which, for the record, was better than Captain America) and is not only the best 2011 film I've seen this year nor is it merely one of the better comic films in recent time, but it's easily, in my opinion, one of the best comic book films ever made. If you enjoyed the first three X-Men films or didn't get a chance to see this film during its theatrical run, you must check out X-Men: First Class. Trust me when I say, "It's well worth it."

-The Cynic