Monday, March 28, 2011

The Road: Sketched Commentary

The Road is one of those movies that is hard to do a review for. It's old enough that anyone who was thinking about seeing it has already seen it, but not old enough to review as a forgotten gem that people don't remember, and not indy enough that someone might have missed it coming out. So I've decided to do more of a discussion about it instead.

For anyone who still hasn't seen it and is wondering if he should, it's a pretty depressing post apocalyptic movie. It's good depressing, very suspenseful, and Viggo is great in it, so if you like end of the world movies, it's worth a viewing. You should probably leave now and go watch it as spoilers are ahead.

So for everyone else, wow, what a depressing movie huh? A mother left her son, there were cannibals, guys stealing clothes, dying forests, oh and cannibals. It's got a depressing beginning, a depressing middle, and a hopeful end. A lot of critics were faulting the story for having such a hopeful ending; not that anyone changed it from the book, it just gave a different mood from the rest of the movie, as though it didn't fit.

They've been running from cannibals, everyone is trying to kill them, the father is constantly trying to teach the kid not to trust anyone, then when Viggo finally dies at the end, along comes a nice family with kids and a dog to take care of his kid? What? How can that fit?

But I have a different theory. I think that the ending changes the context of the entire movie. Throughout the movie, the audience has been seeing the world through Viggo's eyes. It's a dark unforgiving place with people constantly trying to kill them. His wife left him and his kid, everyone is following them, everyone wants their food and supplies, and danger lurks around every corner.

But is that really how it was? Perhaps the father wasn't "the good guy" after all. Maybe if he had looked at the world as the child did, they wouldn't have gotten into so much trouble. Maybe no one was "following" them, maybe the group at the beginning wasn't a group of cannibals, maybe it was just a dog with a nice family outside the hatch, maybe the people who shot him in the leg with an arrow were just as scared as him and only wanted to defend their territory. The world is relative, and it's all how you view it.

The house with the hunters and the girls locked up in the basement was completely fucked up though.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Put on your fancy hat look out for the G-men, we're reviewing The Adjustment Bureau!
Hmmm, I like the idea and the sketch, not sure about the shading though.

Going into this, I didn't have high hopes. I'm getting pretty tired of the whole concept of "fate" and the plot of a character fighting against his fate only to prove it coming true. But honestly, I really dug The Adjustment Bureau. They had some interesting takes on the idea, the mood was fun and lighthearted, the dialogue was funny, and it had some nice door jumping sequences.

David Norris(Matt Damon) is an up and coming politician who's just lost an election. But meeting a crazy young woman, Elise(Emily Blunt) gives him the energy to give a great losing speech(It actually is a great speech, were he a real politician I would vote for him) and get back on the political wagon. He meets her again on the bus and begins to fall for her, when a group of men in suits (lead by John Slattery from Madmen) whisk him away to a secret room and explain he was only supposed to meet her once. They're falling in love isn't "part of the plan" you see. But David has feelings for her and some secret organization isn't about to stop him from seeing her! Over the course of the rest of the movie, David tries to get back with Elise while the men in suits try to stop him.

If you're tired of movies with fate like I am, I'll let you know you don't have to worry too much. They do find some interesting ways around it, which I'll discuss below, and it all seems pretty believable. For one thing, they don't fall into the same love story cliches of other rom coms. The "He's a straight arrow and she's a free spirit" trope? He has a wild side, he's actually known for partying too hard back in his frat days. The "oh they just met, but they fall madly in love" trope? The movie actually takes place over the course of 3-4 years, which I was delightfully surprised at, giving their romance time to blossom, and giving him some time to actually listen to the Bureau a couple of times. Why is he so fixated on her and why can't he just pick another girl? They explain that, which I'll discuss below, but if you don't want to be spoiled I'd suggest you just go check it out for yourself.

The writing and dialogue is a ton of fun to watch. Damon and Blunt have some great conversations together that actually feel like real chemistry, and hearing Slattery offhandedly talk about keeping the world together as if it was some boring desk job is entertaining and comical.

As you've no doubt seen in the previews, they can travel crazy distances through any door. They have a few fun sequences and it's done well, but mostly it's reminiscent of "Tom Cruise running" where I'd like to see "Jason Bourne beating the crap out of people", or even some Inception style acrobatics. And if you're wondering, no it's nothing compared to the door chase in Monsters Inc.

The style is cool, the dialogue is funny, pacing is nice, and it's got some great action sequences. It's not the best or most original movie, but it's a fun movie worth seeing nonetheless and I could easily watch it two more times. Recommended for a fun jaunt out.

So yes, you should go see it. And if you don't want to be spoiled, you can stop reading now. For everyone who's already seen it, or who isn't going to see it and doesn't care about it getting ruined, I'm going to discuss the idea of fate it has.

SPOILER WARNING: Discussing Fate

So basically, David's fighting against the plan because it's all part of the plan. Wha? Let me explain.

See, they all talk about, "The Plan" written by "The Chairman", but it's not one set plan, it's an ever changing plan. That's why they have the adjustment Bureau, to do little changes to make sure everything stays within the plan. So why is he so transfixed on this one girl? Because in an earlier plan(or several), they were supposed to be together. They were basically made for each other. But then the plan changed, so even though it's a new plan, they still feel like they're part of the old plan. Interesting, right? It sort of goes back to that notion that we're predisposed to like people because of something in our genes or childhood.

And being that it has a longer timeline, David actually listens to the guys upstairs and lets her go the first time they interact with him. Then when they get back together(after 3 years) and he leaves again because he doesn't want to mess up her future. The only reason he keeps coming back is because he feels it's right to be with her from some messed u part of a former plan. I find this more realistic than just meeting her, instantly falling in love with her, and then fighting at every turn for her.

Of course the one problem I have is that no one really tells him this is why he likes her, so he doesn't have any time to rebel against his own feelings that were possibly instigated by the Bureau itself at an earlier date, which I would have liked. It would have changed the movie into an existential crisis that questioned why you do the things you do and if you really have free will. But by itself, it still has some interesting ideas and is worth a viewing.


Prepare your anal probe and get all your geek references ready to go on a trip with Paul!

This time I tried coloring IN the lines.

Paul is very fun, and very funny. It's cute, but with a lot of swearing.

The movie starts out with Graeme(Simon Pegg) and Clive(Nick Frost) visiting from England to go to the San Diego ComicCon. They have a ton of fun, then decide to roadtrip across America to see all the Alien and UFO spots. It's not long before they have a close encounter(sorry) with Paul(voiced by Seth Rogen), a grey alien trying to get home, and decide to help him on his journey. They get into antics, and meet a staunch Christian girl(Kristen Wiig), while running from a federal agent(Jason Bateman) trying to bring Paul back in.

If you haven't already noticed, the cast completely targeted to the 20's-30's geek/nerd demographic. They finally have Simon Pegg and Nick Frost together again, Jason Bateman and Jefferey Tambor from Arrested Development, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader from SNL, Seth Rogen from every other movie, and even Sci-fi heavyweights like Steven Spielberg and Sigourney Weaver.

And if that doesn't tell you what kind of movie this is, the hundreds of references and inside jokes from other sci-fi films(or any adventure film from your childhood including a killer Jaws reference) will. This would actually make a great drinking game. Seriously, this movie was custom made for sci-fi nerds who grew up in the eighties. And it all works pretty well. The cast are all amazing and incredibly funny, and all the references are clever in a silly way.

Paul is a roadtrip story that reminds me of Bubble Boy more than anything else. It has a round protagonist trying to get from point A to point B, meeting a number of crazy characters along the way who all want to get a hold of him and somehow wind up at the huge finale. The story is fairly straight forward, but it was a fun ride with some nice little twists in the road.

Paul's cgi works pretty well and his animations are all pretty believable. Yes, it's Seth Rogen being Seth Rogen, and if you don't like Seth Rogen this probably won't change your mind, but he fits in an ironic sort of way in that you wouldn't expect an alien that looks like that to have a voice like this.

Overall it's a jolly science fiction romp that panders the hell out of itself to fans alike. I wouldn't say it's as genre bending as Pegg and Frost's other movies Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuss, and I wouldn't call it the new Ghostbusters, but it's a fun sci-fi movie that's good for at least 2 or 3 showings. Recommended for sci-fi nerds and lovers of an R rated comedy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Saddle yer turkeys and hang yer opossums 'cause we're reviewin' Rango!
How are people liking the sketchy coloring?

Fair warning: I am completely biased because I LOVE Chameleons. Easily my favorite animal and I think they can never appear in too many movies.

Rango was a ton of fun and very funny. It's a must see for any animation aficionados with some wonderful character acting and amazing sequences. I don't think I would say it was a perfect movie or my favorite, but it was a damn good story with great characters.

The movie starts out as our nameless hero is putting on a show for himself with himself as the lead (with heart wrenching supporting roles from a wind up fish and a decapitated barbie doll). Just as he suddenly has an epiphany that he needs conflict in his life, he gets thrown out of his cage, out of the car his family was traveling in and onto the dusty road. He meets an armadillo that acts as a kind of spiritual guide to send him on his journey to Dirt, and it's at this new western town that he meets a whole cavalcade of characters and starts to re-imagine himself as the badass hero he wants to be known only as...Rango. He gets into trouble with outlaws, becomes the new lawman in town, and lucks his way into a whole slew of western adventures in an effort to find the town's water.

See, they don't use money here, they use water. It's this and so many other little touches that show they really created an intricate, living breathing world. All the characters are unique; they have interesting clothing, different accents, and lovable quirks! If you're into animation at all, this is one you NEED to see, it's just that beautiful in a ridiculously detailed kind of way. All the other reviews emphasize how "ugly" everything is, but being a character designer, and being someone who loves creepy animal designs(see brother rabbit) I couldn't get enough of the characters! For me they were the perfect animal-human hybrids and the designs were a real throwback to crazy stylistic 2d animation.

Johnny Depp does a stellar job as the blank slate protagonist. He's silly, dramatic, and just plain fun. All the other actors have unique voices and they easily get lost in their characters. The humor is quirky and silly with enough double entendres stuffed in there to be enjoyable by adults as well as kids.

The story is fairly predicable; "oh, [that character] can't be bad...oh no [that character] is actually bad! Who would have seen that coming," but it is an entertaining ride throughout. There are some fantastic sequences including shootouts, cavern diving, and an amazing chase with hillbillies on bats with a hillbillized version of The Ride of the Valkyries. And it had a weird but great cameo from a well known western character!For some reason I thought it got a little too ridiculous when plants started to move, completely glossing over the fact that animals can not only walk and talk but also have tiny clothes and guns.

I do have to say one of the things I didn't like and something I look forward to in movies was the end credits. It was somewhere between full rendering and stylized cartoon with choppy animation. It felt like it was trying to have classy 2D animation showing the process or early designs like a Pixar or disney movie, but they were too lazy to hire 2D animators and just did a crappy stop-motion using the actual models. Not that this is going to stop anyone from seeing it or take away from the overall score, it's just a personal disappointment in a movie like this.

All in all Rango is a great animated movie for kids and adults alike. A must-see for prospective animators, and a should-see for everyone else. Also, Chameleons.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sketched Theatre: The Spidey Project!

I know this isn't a movie, but I just had to do a review of the amazing Spidey Project! It ran for only 2 shows on one night at the People's Improv Theatre, but it deserves all the glowing reviews it can get!
Tried something a little different for this post!

For those of you unaware of what the crap I'm talking about, there's been a backlash from the Julie Taymor Fiasco that is Spiderman: Turn off the Dark. Out of that backlash arose Justin Moran, interested in putting on a Spider-Man musical for zero dollars, in thirty days, with no injuries to staff(maybe someone got a paper-cut from the cardboard and the press is covering it up, who's to say), and open it one day before the 65 million dollar spiderjoke.

So what happened? They did it. With music, and actors, and two sold out shows(Oh and that other musical? Being pushed back for changes after losing their director). And what's more, it was amazing. It was spectacular! It was the ultimate spidey musical.

Ok, some would call it hokey and silly and ridiculous, but when you're making a musical about Spider-Man, those things should be expected. It wasn't just a musical, it was a theatrical experience. It was a show put on by fans, for fans. And the fans loved it. They laughed at every joke and cheered at every song! The music was wonderful and memorable, the jokes were funny, the plot was clever, all the actors were perfect(especially in multiple roles) and the choreography was marvelous.

It was an origins story of course. Writers Justin Moran and Jon Roufaeal focused more on the human aspect of Peter's life for most of the play. It started off innocently with the kids singing about midterms coming up and Flash Thompson asking out Gwen Stacey, the girl Peter has a crush on. Peter gets a job at the daily bugle where he meets Betty Brant, who's strangely infatuated with him, and J. Jonah Jameson, who's obnoxious to everyone. They send him on an assignment to take pictures of Dr. Spiderman's(read spiddermin and played by show visionary Justin Moran) lab. It's there that Peter meets the spider radiated from an old microwave that transforms him into the red and blue hero. They only get into the real spidey costume later in the show(they even went so far as to have him start out in a ninja turtle-esque eyehole mask and whine," Gah! Can you even sew spandex?!").

And it all worked! The plot is interesting and the pacing moves steadily. You really get a sense of Peter changing from a geeky nobody to a hero comfortable in his own wall-clinging shoes.

I have to admit, I'm a bit biased: I love minimalist theatre. My favorite show so far is The 39 steps that recently ended it's run off broadway. So seeing this was just chocolate sauce on already delicious blue and red ice-cream. I'm also biased because the main bad guy is revealed to be the Chameleon and damn if I don't love me some Chameleon!

Spider-Man picked up cars, swung from buildings, and beat up bad guys! Their minimal effects were brilliant. When Spidey made web hand gestures, moving between ladies who held up cardboard cutouts of buildings, the audience was in an uproar of cheering. The fight scenes were daring and well choreographed; one is reminded of 60's batman with sound effects instead of big visual words. And there's one big reveal by the Chameleon using multiple actors to simulate a flashback that's just too clever for words.

The actors were dressed in normal clothes save for a tie here or a mustache there. When they introduced villains(and they had no less than four heavy-hitters), most had just a T-shirt with an animal or a paper mache mask. Spider-Man himself, even when he was in "full" costume, only wore the top half of the Spidey suit with blue jeans and converse.

And it all worked. Why? Because they know how to act! They don't need costumes because they can get their characters along with dialogue and gestures. Flash is a smug jerk. Peter is a quirky but shy. Betty Brant is...well kind of aggressive towards Peter. And Jonah is a loud indignant sexist. "I hired one woman because that's how many I had to hire! You think I'm sexist? Damn right I am! In my day, a woman undressed you with her eyes, then you undressed her, and then you took her! Because that was expected!"

The music was fun and memorable, composed by Doug Katsaros and Adam Podd. It was jazzy enough to remind me of the Danny Elfman score, elegant and masterful enough to belong in a musical, and used just the right amount of synth for the old fashioned Spidey silliness. There's "Who is the Man?" introducing People's fascination with a masked man leaping from rooftops, and "I am a hero" in which Uncle Ben tells Peter how he's a hero with bills and checkbooks, and also the whole great power and great responsibility bit. The "Breaking News" segments, in which a news anchor(standing in front of a cardboard screen) are hilarious. He smiles as he introduce himself, then grimaces to tell the heart-gripping story. And of course there's "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" which is the show's key performance when Peter finally learns what he has to do with his powers.

My absolute favorite would have to be "When I look at you/villain song". Gwen tries to tell Peter that she loves him while Peter keeps having his spider sense go off! Electro, Scorpion and Rhino each try to rob a bank(the same bank presumably?) and just as they're about to monologue into their sad tale of woe, Spidey kicks them in the face! Oh, if only that would happen in comics.

This all leads up to a fantastic power hymn about wanting a hero like Spider-Man inside all of us, ingeniously entitled "I want Spider-Man inside of me." By the end of the show, in a standing ovation, the crowd was singing with the actors(also, #iwantspidermaninsideofme is now trending on twitter).

I do have to say they were able to get away with a number of things we'd crucify a major movie for trying to pull. Peter Parker getting bitten by spider radiated by an old microwave? A main character named Dr. Spiderman? Flash getting his own song about chipotle? Blasphemy in the hands of the studio, but campy silly genius in the hands of nerds. Why is this? Do we feel they have no right to mess with our myths? Is it passable when it's fan fiction but not when it's introduced as cannon? Would we be so lenient if Marvel had given them money and this was a major show?

I tell myself we all need to take our comics less seriously and that we need to open our minds up to knew ideas and stories. I feel that most nerds expect completely new and different stories told in exactly the same way with exactly the same characters. How do we expect to move forward if we keep going in a continuous loop? We're going to miss a lot of fun experiences if we're too picky. But then I'm reminded of a super villain fashion show with the titled character named "Swiss Miss".

Anyways, that's a discussion for a different day. This was not a contest to see who was correct in their interpretation of Spiderman or who was nerider than thou, it was an event to see if a good show could be put on without gobs of money, ridiculous costumes and choreography, in an actual(if not ridiculously short) amount of time, and Justin Moran and his colleagues did that in spades. The music was fantastic, the acting was incredible, the script was well written, clever and funny, and it was a nerd cultural experience the likes of which may not be seen for quite awhile. I would gladly pay actual money to see it again.

I understand this was a one shot deal, only to prove it could be done, but here are things I would like to see happen:

-footage of the show put on youtube so all can see its amazement
-music from the show become downloadable so I can listen to it over and over again
-a performance put on at comicon(it was only an hour, and would not that be the perfect venue?!)

If you would also like to see these things, please show your love to Justin and the rest of his group over at the SpideyProject blog, the facebook page, and the twitter account.

UPDATE: You can see videotaped version of the show here and download the music FOR FREE here