Friday, July 31, 2015

Ted 2 ★1/2

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    You know, it is truly amazing: "Ted 2," the newest film from director Seth MacFarlane and the much-anticipated sequel to the original lewd comedy, has made every necessary adjustment this time around to succeed invariably, yet ultimately failing to comprehend what it means to produce a picture of worth and substance.

    If anything, these so-called alterations (that being, choosing a plot with any sort of value and actually placing the title character in the spotlight) lend the opportunity for more vulgarity, claptrap, and comical situations that would only be found humorous if one has either poor taste in humor, or if one has never seen an episode of "Family Guy." (Several scenes in the film have obviously been recycled from the above-mentioned animated sitcom, including a rather revolting moment in the storage room of a sperm bank, and a scene in which our lovable stuffed protagonist sells his sexual services for cash.)

    What ever happened to comedies such as "City Slickers" or even Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein?"

    As far as the plot is concerned: Ted has reconciled with his long time "Thunder Buddy" in John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a recent divorcee, and has followed through on his proposal to longtime girlfriend Tami-Lynn. Everything is just peachy--that is--until the state of Massachusetts suddenly makes the determination that Ted is not an actual human being, but a miniature piece of property. In turn, Ted's marriage becomes void and our favorite trash-talking teddy bear must now defend himself in a civil rights case that alludes to the age-old debate of what it means to be human.

    It would seem that MacFarlane's greatest downfall is his lack of restraint when it comes to brainless amusement. With the mainstream success of the original "Ted," one could certainly expect an increase in this sort of material, as the director's artistic license now becomes virtually unstoppable. (This leads to a stark rise in popular culture references, albeit treated in a negative light, and a handful of celebrity cameos that arguably become the most entertaining moments in the entire picture.) I mean, the man even named our newest female lead Samantha L. Jackson just so that he could generate a five second bit relating the name to actor Samuel L. Jackson; this is not only a poor excuse for comedy but one of numerous pathetic attempts to give rise to laughter.

    Granted, much like the previous installment (in what is destined to become a trilogy), there are a number of issues touched upon here that genuinely have substance. (This is in reference to the central conflict regarding civil rights, an issue that will never diminish in universality, and an insinuation toward this nation's insatiable sexual appetite and the unadulterated indecency and troubling subject that is internet pornography.) Yet, much like the original picture, these issues are just passed over in an effort to poke fun; the utilization of satire in these instances becomes ineffective to say the least.

    When critiquing a film of this stature, however, one must certainly keep in mind the level of ambition attached to the project. The problem in this regard is that "Ted 2" has no intention other than providing audiences with enough stupidity to last a lifetime. One may ask: What do you expect? Well, I expect the picture to be entertaining; I expect it to be worth watching; I expect it to comment--at some length--on the human condition. But I guess some things are just too much to ask for.

Ted ★★

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    When viewing a motion picture such as "Ted," a vulgar and rather ostentatious live-action comedy that features a computer-generated walking and talking teddy bear as its principal lead, then one must surely adopt a psychoanalytical mindset, or what is more commonly known as an exercising of Freudian criticism. (This is simply a sophisticated way of saying that what one sees on-screen is nothing more than an extension of the director's personality, as each character, event, and any meaningful aspect of the film alludes to some inner workings of the auteur in question.) 

    For, in this particular instance, every minuscule quip infused in the crude dialogue heard on-screen comes solely from the disposition and thought process of one man: Seth MacFarlane. We sit back and watch as MacFarlane bombards us with his twenty-first century social commentary, which hits on several disparate subject matters, including Christianity, homosexuality, people of the Jewish faith, and a number of remarks that comment directly on our modern society's infatuation with anything sexual. Sure, there seems to be some insinuation toward male expectations and gender role classification, yet the film mostly consists of observational humor that is asinine, fatuous, vastly unimportant, and the majority of which I would deem to be considered "Couch Comedy."

    "Ted," believe it or not, is actually heart-warming and endearing at times, but these far and few between moments are ultimately hampered by a plot that is overly ambitious (this is in reference to the number of storylines posed, and its inability to cash in on at least one of these with any fervor) and by a cast that exudes mediocre talent. Let's be honest, both Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis are known for their roles as personality actors, and no amount of charisma on display from Wahlberg can distract from the unenthusiastic demeanor of Kunis. (Her performance here is quite uninspired.)     

    What is justifiably disappointing with regard to "Ted," however, is the unnecessary hindrance provided by the aforementioned muddled plot. The most important aspect of the entire production (that being the accomplishment of a suspension of disbelief, considering we have a self-aware stuffed animal fully functioning in present day Boston) is obtained somewhat easily, and yet, we are held back by a human relationship--that undoubtedly takes center stage--and by another subplot that can never fully deliver with its climactic energy. Ted could have certainly carried the weight of the film by his lonesome, and this unrealized notion led to his subordinates becoming salient, instead of the other way around. 

    There is a scene early in the production (where Kunis arrives at her daytime job) which can pretty much summarize the effort of the film altogether. It is fairly obvious that the coffee mug in which her character is holding is empty, as she exchanges the item from one hand to another, and while she sits it upon her workstation. 

    Now, although this may seem like an unwarranted discernment and even downright trivial, it tells me two things: that the picture is operating as if it were a sitcom, and that there was a total lack of effort in the department of authenticity. (Any liquid could have been used to lend more credibility to the scene.) But the simplistic act of not placing a beverage in a mug is not the point. The art of film-making must be treated and respected to the maximum degree, or else we'll be left with continuous motion on a suspended vinyl screen, with little to no value.  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird ★★★★

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    When it comes to the history of the cinema and to the source of a film's subject matter, adaptation has always been prevalent. It is due to this fact that numerous quality pictures have been simply overshadowed by their novel counterpart, and "To Kill a Mockingbird" is no exception. Harper Lee's autobiographical tale of racial injustice, class hostility--and a number of other topics essential to understanding human nature--was an immediate success, with both audiences and critics alike. It won a Pulitzer Prize for its rich narration and for its uncanny ability to warm our hearts, and it remains a hallmark of twentieth-century American literature. (This is not to mention the era in which the book was published, as many of the portrayed values of the American Deep South, set in the 1930s, were still relevant and widespread at that time; an almost unimaginable time, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

    With that being said, it is quite understandable for the film version of this particular book to be considered of lesser importance, yet this notion could not be more incorrect. For, what we have here is a picture that not only conveys the message of the 1960 novel with relative ease, but it captures, visually, one of the most fascinating and profound human interest stories to ever be told in the medium itself. Of course, the latter statement is not in reference to Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), our shining example of morality and resident racial equality advocate, nor is it referring to Tom Robinson, our victimized African-American male. At its core, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is concerned with one event, and one event only: That being, the loss of innocence of a little girl, at a time when children were routinely exposed to a non-sugarcoated existence.

    Maycomb, a fictional Alabama town and what can surely be considered a microcosm of the American South in the 1960s, is filled with a number of personalities and prejudices, as much as it is filled with dusty roads and white picket fences. We watch (from what seems to be a routine execution of the objective point of view) as the adults attend to their occupations and while the children indulge in adolescent imagination and child curiosity.

    The Finch family, consisting of Atticus, a stern man and loving father, Scout (Mary Badham), our guide to the events at hand, and brother Jem, are one of several families to be stricken with grief once Tom Robinson becomes charged with the rape of a man's teenage daughter. (This stems from the simplistic fact that Atticus is the only defense attorney that will even remotely consider taking the case and the fact that both Jem and Scout will become acquainted with the hatred and persecution of such dealings.) Robinson's trial, which ultimately takes center stage, will uncover the nature of this small and seemingly innocent Alabama community and will shatter the barrier between guiltlessness and adulthood.

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    If one is to critique this work of art in any sort of depth, then the wonderful performances of Gregory Peck and Mary Badham should inevitably become one of the topics of discussion. Peck is absolutely brilliant in his role as literary hero Atticus Finch, and he projects this strong and sincere disposition in one of the most genuine manners I have ever witnessed on the silver screen. (This is in addition to a number of dramatic moments in which Peck exudes the admirable qualities of Finch, even during long stretches of silence; it is truly a performance defined by this sense of quietness and emotional restraint, which is as powerful a technique as any when it comes to the arsenal of the actor.)

    As for Badham, she is pure, she is authentic and undeniably riveting. Child actors and actresses may not fully grasp the big picture when it comes to the material of the script, and in this particular instance, that may not be such a bad thing. Scout is surely the heart of our tale here, yet it is quite easy to dismiss her contribution to things once the story shifts to adult matters. Badham, the youngest actor to ever receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, keeps us engaged at times when we theoretically should be focused elsewhere. The ultimate goal of any actor is to re-create humanity in a sense, through the mannerisms and actions of their character; however, it is evident that Badham is simply a child being a child, and this makes for one of the most honest performances you will ever see in film.

    Nevertheless, one must give credit where credit is due with regard to the adaptation of this novel into a film. Sure, the source material is refined and undoubtedly first-rate, yet in order to make that transition from one medium to another, there must be top notch craftsmanship in numerous areas-- namely in cinematography, screenwriting, and direction. "To Kill a Mockingbird" excels in its execution of cinematographic techniques, especially when it comes to creating a sense of distance between our adult figures and the children. (There are several scenes in which this can be ascertained, as our adolescent characters are regularly at a different level of depth and positioning on-screen, and while they become hindered by physical barriers in the face of events that are impure, even if their eyes are still able to view the actions at hand.)

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    The writing of the script, taken on by Horton Foote who received an Academy Award for his contribution, is arguably the most difficult task when translating a book to the screen; in part because the latter medium is entirely limited as to the depth one can bestow to plot and character development. Foote certainly condenses the content of the novel to a tolerable amount, while never losing sight of what is most important: the coming of age of Scout. (Scenes and dialogue are crafted magnificently in an effort to communicate her innocence, and the unavoidable loss of such beauty through what takes place.) It is hard not to be lured into this realm, as Scout questions whether or not an individual is dead, with no real indication as to the meaning of the term (other than one being absent) and while she inexplicably turns back a mob and chooses to sit in the African-American section of the courthouse while Robinson's trial plays out.

    Yet, although Foote provides these opportunities, it is director Robert Mulligan who executes them with such care and skill, which is best encapsulated by a scene that simultaneously gives us our theme, while delicately capturing a heartfelt moment between a brother and sister, and a moment of reflection from our distanced adult.

    After being tucked in for the night, Scout begins to ask Jem questions pertaining to their mother, who died while she was too young to remember. The camera perfectly captures her face through the opening of her bedroom curtains (also known as an execution of foreground framing) as she exhales a frustrated sigh and as she begins to inquire about her past. The camera then brilliantly takes a subtle zoom out, and pans until it settles on the cloaked and isolated figure of Atticus on the front porch. This scene is genuinely one of the most beautiful and touching moments in the history of the cinema, as it portrays a point in time that captures the essence of what we deem to be human existence. To have never seen this picture in adulthood should truly be considered a sin.      

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It Happened One Night ★★★★

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    "It Happened One Night" is an ebullient 1934 cinematic masterpiece and one of the most historically significant films to ever be made with regard to its subsequent influence on the industry itself. The picture in question was not only defined by its social commentary and statements on conflicting classes and gender roles and behavior, but it essentially created a genre all of its own. (That being the screwball comedy, which carries many attributes: a stubborn and egocentric female lead, an ill-matched couple, a masked identity, along with an improbable plot that is centered around courtship and marriage. Or, as film critic Andrew Sarris once boldly put it, "a sex-comedy, without the sex.")

    Of course, this is not to mention the overwhelmingly favorable reception from critics (culminating in a full sweep of all five of the major Academy Awards for that year; the first and one of only three films to achieve the feat), its hand in birthing the quirky disposition of one of America's finest animated figures in Bugs Bunny, and the simple fact that a picture of this stature could never be made in today's cinema.

    Yet, what we truly have here is a film fueled by its symbolically infused dialogue and by numerous iconic scenes that echo its tour de force mentality. (The latter includes a scene in which our central female character hikes up her skirt to gain the attention of passing autoists, and a scene where a bus, filled with middle-class citizens, unexpectedly erupts into a rendition of Eddie Cantor's "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," even if it was a blatant ploy of Columbia Pictures to showcase a song recorded by their musical division.)

    It merely involves the journey of a pampered and naive heiress named Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), on her way back to her estranged husband, and her seemingly fateful meeting of a brash and arrogant journalist named Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who is desperate to cover her story. "One Night" is cheerful, subtly humorous, and ever engaging in its design, which can somewhat be accredited to the lighting of the picture, as its soft and diffused appearance gives the film a fairy tale-esque and rather angelic feeling, and while a plethora of moments (most notably one in which our characters begrudgingly spend the night in a heap of hay) are simply carried by the choice and direction of the lighting itself.

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    If anything is to be analyzed meticulously, however, it must be the contribution of the film's three biggest players (Gable, Colbert, and the world renowned director in Frank Capra). All three individuals got their start during the silent era of the 1920s, and, for the most part, none had produced any viable products up to this point. Sure, Capra had generated a handful of pictures worthy of attention and had worked with a number of "stars" (including Jack Holt and Barbara Stanwyck), but he had yet to direct a surefire classic; as for Gable and Colbert: Both actors had roughly the same humble beginnings when it comes to their acting careers, with more bit roles obtained than anything oozing with actual substance.      

    Gable is witty and utterly charismatic here, in a performance that defined his professional resumé. (In fact, it is my belief that the role of Peter Warne earned him the future part of Rhett Butler in the timeless Southern drama entitled "Gone with the Wind," considering the similar dynamic between the leading male and the egomaniacal and mollycoddled female lead. For, both Warne and Butler can be characterized by their non-sugarcoated outlook on life and how they bombard their other half with the ugly truth.) Colbert is equally brimming with exuberance, and certainly radiates that cherished look and soul of the early actresses of Hollywood, even if her frustration with the film (both pre-production and post) ultimately reared its head.

    At its core, "It Happened One Night" is concerned heavily with love's unpredictability, and more importantly, its imperfections. Here we have a story concerning two self-centered individuals, who have nothing in common, and yet, love finds a way. The symbolism of the "Walls of Jericho," which can pretty much be viewed as the personal barrier between two human beings, permeates throughout the film and helps to spur this theme to its prominence.

    Any lasting contemplation on this picture, however, should focus on Capra's decision with regard to the film's target audience, and the sophisticated treatment of the subject matter. If "One Night" had been targeted to any audience other than the middle-class, then its popularity and critical acclaim would surely have suffered, if for no other reason than because it was not relatable enough. (As Gable's character so brilliantly and symbolically puts it, "it is a simple story for simple people.")

    There is also no denying the time period in which the picture was released (designated as Pre-Code Hollywood), which consisted of other films that covered topics of promiscuity, infidelity, abortion, miscegenation, as well as the inclusion of over-the-top violence and illegal drug use. (Of course, this was before the unadulterated censorship of the Motion Picture Production Code, which spanned several decades, and which virtually erased anything that did not adhere to the rigorous stance of the Catholic Church doctrine.)

    "It Happened One Night" is classy in this regard and handles its material with refined taste, as opposed to the lowbrow subject matter of the aforementioned Pre-Code era. (Even if two particular scenes would have been considered risqué by the future diegesis dictatorship, in which Gable buttons up a blouse of Colbert in a subtly sexy manner, and a scene in which Colbert is practically bare backed.) It was a testament as to what could be accomplished without such undemanding, yet true to life material, and a model for any film that was set to be released in the wholesome and morally clean era to come. In twenty years, this picture's significance may not hold under the weight of today's younger generation, and that is certainly a comfortless notion.            

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Terminator Genisys ★★

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     The issue with "Terminator Genisys," a film that can surely be seen as a desperate attempt to breathe life into a franchise that has undoubtedly become stale, is its indecision with regard to choosing a theme. (An onus that can ultimately be placed on our director, Alan Taylor, the newest individual to take the reigns of a series of films that has been nothing more than a revolving door in recent years, especially when it comes to that particular position of creative talent.) 

    "Genisys" hints at several themes that can be deemed worthy of attention: There are suggestions of moral implication and social concern (this is in reference to man's unwarranted tampering with technology, and the disastrous ramifications of a world that is "plugged in" religiously), inklings toward a story immersed in the struggle for human dignity, and several clues that lead to the iconic theme that permeated throughout the script of "T2: Judgment Day." (The latter would be that of the value of human nature.) 

    We even have a character in Sarah Conner who is blatantly utilized to provide audiences with a statement on gender, as she routinely strives to prove her capabilities and while she belches out dialogue that would normally be attributed to a male leading role. Yet, it becomes evident that although these subjects are touched upon briefly, they are simply of lesser importance when compared to the computer-generated extravaganza that captures our attention. (Practical special effects have not only been forgotten in this particular instance, but they seem to have never existed in the minds of our resident production design crew.) 

    The signals are present, but they are never fully exerted to the point of inference. (It is highly unlikely that audiences will go home with thoughts of technological unease or any of the aforementioned content, as opposed to dwelling on the mindless soul of the film itself.)

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    This all leads to an uninspired story (our plot relies heavily on the foundation built by James Cameron, with the addition of a storyline that can only be viewed as muddled) and to a handful of scenes characterized by poor direction--and even worse--dreadful acting. Any attempt by Taylor to enliven the picture with some sense of captivation comes off as duplicated or unoriginal, as even the most entertaining scene in the entire film (in which a school bus somersaults through the air) harkens back to a moment in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight." It was not only performed better the first time around, but it certainly appeared more cinematic. 

    As far as the acting is concerned: If you have studied actors and actresses as long as I have, then the performances provided here should absolutely bring thoughts of compassion to your mind; they should bring forth feelings of sorrow--not only for the poor saps (editors) that had to sit in a darkened room, milling over the evenings dailies in a futile endeavor to choose the best takes of the day--but for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man who is destined to finish his career with below par supporting casts. 
    Jai Courtney, a young actor who has scored a few notable roles to date, obviously took the outside approach when committing to the character of Kyle Reese, as his brawny exterior overshadows any hint of conviction. His delivery of the dialogue and facial reactions are weak and feeble, which is quite a disappointment considering the extensiveness of his opportunities. (Dramatic moments come and go for Reese, with no accompanying enthusiasm from Courtney.) The young man makes Michael Biehn look like the Nicholson of his time. Emilia Clarke is Sarah Conner, the spirit of the "Terminator" franchise, and although she is similar to Linda Hamilton in appearance, she simply does not have the same range as an actress.

    Which brings us to Schwarzenegger, the original "Terminator" and an actor who has come a long way since the adolescent years of Austria. Arnold gives an adequate performance, considering the stark change in dialogue (one-liners seem to have been superseded by scientific technical jargon) and the surrounding talent, or lack thereof. Yet, with all of that being said, there is a lingering feeling of sadness when reminiscing over the veteran actor's golden years. Much like his character here, a T-800 who attempts to coax the audience into believing he is only "old, not obsolete," Schwarzenegger is clearly on thin ice when it comes to his ability to carry a franchise on his back. It would seem that our former Mr. Universe has finally met his match, and his name is Father Time.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Terminator 2: Judgment Day ★★★★

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    There are many notable similarities when it comes to James Cameron's "The Terminator" and its critically acclaimed sequel entitled "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." (The former being a film that is thoroughly infused with a mood of the grimmest proportions and the latter being widely considered Cameron's magnum opus.) 

    We have the introduction to our first preternatural visiter, which consists of an indirect-subjective close-up of a semi, followed by a lateral panning of the camera until this darkness enshrouded and mysterious figure is fixated upon; the external conflict of a futuristic and rather fiendish robotic assassin, who just so happens to utilize the vehicular equipment of LA's finest police department in an effort to stalk his prey; as well as the use of a plethora of stock characters (in this instance becoming the foster parents of the rambunctious young savior in John Conner and the same cynical psychologist that appeared in the original installment) to add a hint of credibility to our settings.    

    This is in addition to a routine execution of the low camera angle (which lends a subtle quality of dominance to our steel framed antagonists), a number of chase scenes characterized by a frenetic sense of energy, and a climactic and pulse-throbbing ending that takes place in the confines of an inner-city factory; all of which are attributes shared by the two pictures. Even our story here is practically the same: In the year 2029, during an all out brawl between man and machine (coined the "War of the Machines"), two individuals are sent back in time to alter, or to protect, the current state of events. 

    So what is it exactly that separates "Judgment Day" from its predecessor? (Beyond, of course, the increased presence of branding--even Subway and Pepsi make an appearance this time around--and the first clothed appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming complete with George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone," in which it becomes glaringly obvious that we are not indulging in the same somber experience provided by the first film.) 

    The answer is surely engraved in its emphasis of action and excitement (a bigger budget certainly provides more opportunities for spectacular explosions and downright eye-catching stunts--imagine a semi truck, albeit with no trailer, racing through traffic, ultimately driving head first off a concrete bridge) and in a theme and moral riddle that speaks to the director's hopeful and inquisitive mentality.

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    I mean, the ambition is clear. James Cameron expresses his distinct message throughout the context of the picture via dialogue between characters (this comes in the form of conversation between our youngest protagonist, John Conner, and the cold-blooded T-800, and includes attempts of the adolescent boy trying to teach the cyborg how to understand emotion, and how to be more human-like for that matter), as well as directly to the audience in a heartfelt concluding statement.

    The study of "what it means to be human" (or "the value of human nature") has been a topic of some concern for years in the genre of science fiction. Even Commander Data, an artificial intelligence being from the timeless "Star Trek" television series, continually examined what it meant to be more like his flesh bearing colleagues and religiously attempted to adopt that same cast of mind. "T2" not only touches on this subject matter in the most flattering of ways, but it unveils the purity and innocence of human emotion in a conclusion that can only be designated poignant in form. (There also seems to be some insinuation to humanity's ability to change its brutish instinct, as Sarah Conner elects not to kill in an intense moment of hatred, and while we become bombarded with messages that convey the idea of an uncertain future, with an opening for peace.)

    Despite what has been previously stated, however, it is the performances of Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton that carry this picture to masterpiece status (as asinine as that may seem); if for no other reason than for the difficulty of embracing their individual changes in character and still providing that warranted air of sincerity. Sarah Conner is courageous, strong, and assertive in disposition here, as opposed to the weak and frail nature of her previous showing, which seemed to be plagued by a heavy dosage of situational irony. Hamilton gives us a gut-wrenching performance, which certainly comes off as heartfelt in the end.          

    As for Schwarzenegger, there are moments where I want to cringe and then others where I simply give in to the charisma of the character. Let's face it: This is quite an arduous role for the action star, considering the fact that our Terminator has now become the reprogrammed hero and because now it is his sole responsibility to provide exposition to an already inexplicable plot. (Although the former is a strong suit for Schwarzenegger, the latter is not.)

    Now, it is true that most of the Terminator's dialogue comes in the form of memorable one-liners and lines that evoke a smidgen of humor, but in one particular instance--being our iconic climax and arguably the most important scene in the entire film--there is no room for error in Schwarzenegger's delivery. It is at this moment when our robotic counterpart must display some hint of emotion while not seeming too insincere. There is absolutely no justifiable argument as to how or why Schwarzenegger makes it work, but he does; that folks is the magic of the art of film.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Minions ★★1/2

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    What exactly is a minion? Of course, this is not to mull over the definition of the term (which would merely describe their chosen profession), but to ponder as to what these little creatures actually are. Take away their yellow exteriors and multi-lingual infused gibberish, and they are nothing more than a few pounds of oddly shaped build, whose ineptitude prevails over any hint of adroitness the majority of the time.

    Are they depraved and characterized by evil intentions? Well, not really. Although they do tend to serve the most despicable being that they can find, their personalities are quite harmless; a notion that can be seen numerous times throughout "Minions," the self-entitled Dreamworks production, and a perception best encapsulated by Bob--one of our three central protagonists--as he routinely latches on to his teddy bear and as he becomes emotionally distraught more often than not. Any attempt to answer these questions can be deemed futile, as well as any attempt to comprehend our nation's obsession with these miniature yellow oddballs.

    What we essentially have here is your typical run-of-the-mill children's animated expenditure, which can pretty much be summarized by a handful of attributes: This includes quirky humor (in this particular instance we have fart jokes, physical comedy, and a few jests of the sexual nature), a large dosage of implausibility, and a plot that is predictable and unbelievably dull. The film simply chronicles our strange little heroes' journey to finding a suitable leader in Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and, well, that's about it. (In fact, several of the above-mentioned qualities fall incredibly short of sufficient, as the picture suffers immeasurably from a flat sense of pacing and while the better portion of the humor misses its mark.)

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    Nevertheless, much of this so-called nonfulfillment can be ascribed to the voice acting of Bullock, whose performance is plagued by an enormous amount of unenthusiastic vigor. (This becomes even more pronounced considering she is one of the only speakers of the English language in the entire film.) The persona of Scarlet Overkill is completely dominated by rage and aggression--two distinct features of character that Bullock could under no circumstances conjure up, even if she tried. Our resident Hollywood sweetheart could never fit the role of a hardened criminal mastermind, and nor should she. It is times like these when the casting director should forgo the glamorous choice and opt for a utilitarian decision. 

    Let's be honest here: "Minions" is obviously a filler and an excuse to kill time before the inevitable release of "Despicable Me 3," in addition to being a product of a relentless and rather incessant display of branding and merchandising. (These little lackeys have made their way onto the front of an innumerable amount of products, not to mention their incalculable array of accompanying action figures and a promotional tie-in with McDonald's.) However, much like any fad, I'm sure their popularity will remain short-term.    

    When critiquing "Minions" only one question truly comes to mind: Did these secondary characters hold their own in a blockbuster feature film? The answer is a resounding no, and much of this can be attributed to a sheer lack of effort. For, in the picture's most vital scene, we are presented with a voice-over that claims "something was missing" from our beloved heroes' resolution; an ideal juncture to present us with some sort of message, or theme if you will. Of course, the phrase was used literally as opposed to figuratively, and we are simply left with an event that ties the picture to its original installments. Dreamworks had one shot to win over critics this year (and to dethrone Disney, the reigning Academy Award winner for Best-Animated Film), yet it would seem that failure was inescapable.   

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Inside Out ★★★★

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    Disney's Pixar bears quite a responsibility when it comes to the production of their timeless computer-generated filmsin part because they are solely responsible for the drastic re-visioning of the art of animation. (Hand-drawn animated pictures not only suffered greatly once this new and refreshing technology came into existence, but they were pretty much forced into becoming obsolete.)

    Yet, this somewhat overbearing sense of accountability can also be attributed to the quality of the films themselves, as Pixar has been known to generate some of the most charming and memorable stories to date. (We constantly find ourselves pining for more of the same, and this is exactly where our aforementioned responsibility rears its demanding head.) The screenwriters must produce a story as entertaining as the last, as well as more heartwarming, which, I'm sure, becomes burdensome at the very least.

    Take "Inside Out" for example, Pixar's newest indulgence and a film that is undoubtedly steeped in human emotion. It simply revolves around the life of a young girl, Riley, and her journey through several universal adolescent experiences, including well-known pre-teen behavior and being the "new kid" in an unfamiliar environment. However, it is what's beneath this rather straightforward exterior that warms the soul and continues to delight from days on in. With a lovable cast of characters and a delicate score (composed by Michael Giacchino) that is as emotive as the subject matter of the picture itself, "Inside Out" effortlessly becomes the best-animated picture of the year.

    The plot: Riley, an 11-year-old girl who was born and raised in Minnesota, is on the verge of an emotional breakdown; for, her father has obtained a new job in San Francisco, California, and this can only spell disaster for a child that is overly attached to their previous friends and surroundings. This triggers a monumental string of events as Riley's conscious (controlled by five distinct manifestations of emotionincluding Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger) struggles to accept the inevitability of such dealings. (That being, loneliness, dejection, et cetera.)

Image result for Inside out film stills Riley

    This is surely not to mention several conflicts that arise from sadness' spirit of inquiry, which ultimately results in the destruction of Riley's "Islands of Personality," along with Joy and Sadness becoming lost in the labyrinth that is long-term memory. From here, the film places much reliance on situational irony (every decision our characters make regrettably takes them further away from their goals), as the two seemingly polar opposite emotions try to find their way back to Riley headquarters. This perilous journey will see our protagonists through a handful of settings brimming with visual impact (there is Imagination Land, Dream Productions, and the ever bizarre Abstract Land) as they strive to bring our central character back to a state of contentment.

    What "Inside Out" does exceptionally wellbeyond the wonderful characterizations of the emotions (which ironically have a simple execution of character: dialogue and action) and the befitting decision to minimize physical humor, which is an obnoxious product of most children's animated picturesis amalgamate the two enriching storylines into one awe-inspiring adventure. It is important to note, of course, that the story of the emotions would have succeeded no matter what, as their motivations (to keep our adolescent female in a realm of happiness) and complications (anything that obstructs the accomplishment of the former) would have stayed relatively the same with regard to the external plot.

    Clearly, it is the surface story of Riley that makes this picture work; it is also the emphasis on a narrative that is true to life that brings this tale into coherence and provides a number of touching moments infused with sentimentality. It is quite relatable to any teenager undergoing this same sort of adaptationas well as a reminder of how adult decisions may affect our offspring. (Unfortunately, I am afraid that younger children may not grasp the strong points given here.)

    "Inside Out" is an outstanding example of human nature, which just so happens to be the theme of the CGI crafted tour de force. (Along with the notion that all feelings come with equal importance, and, to put it plainly, that it is OK to be sad and to warrant help from others.) Any film with a subject as genuine as this will most likely flourish, and Pixar has without a doubt created yet another bar-setting masterpiece.