Archive – WRECK-IT RALPH: Shrek, but better. Shrek-It Ralph.

WARNING: This is a post from my high school blog. I cannot vouch for its quality but I wanted to give people an idea of how my writing has developed over the years. Yes, I’m padding my site.

WRECK-IT RALPH
 
2012
Dir. Rich Moore
Wr. Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee
Prod. Clark Spencer
Str. John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer
I’m not a huge fan of animated movies. It’s not that I can’t appreciate them, but I tend to find myself getting bored midway through, after the initial rush of exposure to the world and the style wears off. And rewatching them a second time? Forget it. The one exception of this rule so far is The Lego Movie. But, I will say firmly, that Wreck-It Ralph is one of the best animated movies to come out of late.
Especially in this Pixar drought, it’s wonderful to see an animated movie that so confidently builds its universe and its characters to such a satisfying degree. The story is one we’ve seen before, sure, but it’s in a place that’s never been imagined on screen before: the hidden world of videogame characters, all coexisting in a rinse-repeat lifestyle, in and between their arcade cabinets.
I won’t go too in-depth with this review, because I think it’s a clever movie that merely needs to be seen and enjoyed to really understand why it’s so good.
In essence, our main character Ralph is the archetypal soft-hearted monster. Voiced by a lovable John C. Reilly, we can already expect walking in just how he is going to change. But that’s more than okay, because the movie manages to do it in a fun, engaging way. Ralph eventually embraces who he is, and becomes accepted by others, but he does so with trouble, it doesn’t just happen because someone told him to accept himself. He learns and subsequently demonstrates his inner changing through his actions, including a chilling attempt at self-sacrifice. It doesn’t mess with the formula here, but it’s like when Mom makes the store bought brownie mix- you know there’s an exact outcome, but somehow it’s better when she does it. The formula is followed with passion, and the characters’ arcs are made to be convincing.
That using-the-recipe-with-passion is employed in many core elements of the movie, but what ensures the its freshness is the dedication to world-building. Each character serves a function and allows us to understand the way this 8-bit world works. We have Ralph, the “villian” of his game, and the “hero,” Fix-It Felix. The breaking of the roles works because we first understand their pre-determined meaning in the context of the world. Felix is the guy you play as in a videogame, and Ralph is the guy you try to kill or get rid of.
The world also has many nuances to its conception, some of which, to be honest, can get overwhelming trying to remember. Rules about what the videogame characters can and cannot do are a little unclear at moments. But it’s only a show of the dedication put into crafting it.
Speaking of videogame characters, there are many guest appearances from famous real-life gaming icons. Bowser, Robotnik, Sonic, Ryu, and Q-Bert all get a little moment to show. They are fun gags and by now means detract from the movie. And if they weren’t there, it wouldn’t detract either, which is how it should be, the story is about Ralph after all.
Watch it! It is a nice surprise, and deserves your attention. There are some clear similarities to Shrek, but I would go so far as to say that Wreck-It Ralph is a more clever, emotional experience. It doesn’t have the darker, grungier feel that Shrek does, but it definitely has much to offer in terms of developing the medium of animation in film. Check it out!
Thank you for reading this short, babbly review of Wreck-It Ralph.

Archive – HOT FUZZ: Also the name of my teddy bear.

WARNING: This is a post from my high school blog. I cannot vouch for its quality but I wanted to give people an idea of how my writing has developed over the years. Yes, I’m padding my site.

HOT FUZZ
hot_fuzz.jpg
 
2007
Dir. Edgar Wright
Wr. Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Prod. Tim Bevan, Nira Park, Eric Fellner
Str. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent
 
I was always so ashamed that I hadn’t seen this movie. It’s from Edgar Wright, who made one of my favorites, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. As you may know, this movie is the second in the “Cornetto Trilogy,” a series of films with the same writing, directing, starring team as this. 

The film follows Pegg as an ace police officer in London who is transferred to a small village in the country, where there would appear to be no crime at all. That’s where he meets his new partner played by a charmingly dull Frost, and his chief inspector played by a goofy, convicted Jim Broadbent. Soon enough, Pegg starts to notice the town has something criminally sinister going on under the surface, and he tries to rally the police force to actually do something about it in a series of hilarious crimes and investigations.

I suppose the only way to get into this movie is to start with saying that it is a rare, unique, and refreshing action comedy. The first thing you’ll notice when watching it is how much life Wright breathes into every shot, and every transition between shots. He’s sort of famous for his extremely clever editing tricks and cuts, and this movie is entirely supportive of that claim. I have to give credit to the YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting, whose video on Edgar Wright really helped me appreciate what Wright does with visual comedy. I’ll provide the link below, but what he points out is that cinematography and editing have gone out of use in most comedies. They seem to just rely on the dialogue and story to carry the movie without employing any true filmmaking techniques. Watch the video.

What’s even more pleasing is that the script, written by Wright and Pegg, is as good if not better than any comedy you will find these days. The quips and insults thrown from character to character are inimitably British in nature, but they have the giddy naivete of an American comedy to blend. The best moments come from the constant mocking of Pegg’s character, Nicholas Angel, or as the town calls him, “Angle.” Each character supporting character is centered around a single gag, but Wright and company go to great lengths to make sure that with each character, there are layers to their respective quirks. In a fun scene, David Bradley plays a mumbly old farmer, who can only be understood by a mumbly police man, who in turn can only be understood by Nick Frost’s character. It’s a cute play on the convention of “the guy you can’t understand” joke, and it doesn’t dwell too long before moving onto the next development. 

The centerpiece of the movie, of course, is the chemistry in the pairing of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Any moment they are on screen together, there is electricity. Every beat between them feels organic, and extremely, extremely funny. It’s Pegg’s cynicism and curtness against Frost’s positivity and chubby puppy-ness that makes the screen crackle every time. What’s more is, even in other movies, when they are playing different characters, their chemistry remains intact, albeit in a new form. It’s a special pairing in film, and I wish we had more acting duos as charming and talented as these two. 

Lastly, we can’t go without mentioning how awesome the action is in this movie. It’s not a supplement to the comedy. The action sequences in this movie, while inherently silly (I’m thinking of a car chase involving a swan), rival those of any other mid-sized budget action movie starring Mark Wahlberg. There are ridiculously fun shootouts that are well shot and choreographed, and they go beyond just being hilarious to look at. 

I’ll part with this suggestion, watch Hot Fuzz any time of the day, with anyone, and anywhere, there’s something for everyone. A fun story and characters, including a hilarious turn from Timothy Dalton as a nefarious grocery store manager, all go to make the movie just what any comedy or action is looking for. 

Thanks for reading this succinctly one-sided review of Hot Fuzz.

Archive – REALITY BITES: So does this movie, sort of…

WARNING: This is a post from my high school blog. I cannot vouch for its quality but I wanted to give people an idea of how my writing has developed over the years. Yes, I’m padding my site.

REALITY BITES
 
Realitybitesposter
1994
Dir. Ben Stiller
Wr. Helen Childress
Prod. Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg
Str. Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller
The poster for this movie, as you can see above, markets itself with three key words- “Comedy,” “love,” and “the 90’s.” Only one of those terms sufficiently describes this movie.
It’s the 90’s.
What’s intrinsically funny about that is the fact that one of the few things this movie does right is critique the popular culture of the 90’s themselves, while also being a a clear part of it. There’s Ethan Hawke with his bad boy locks and mustache. We have a stammering, awkward Ben Stiller on screen, and sitting in the director’s chair for the first time. The movie exudes the time period, which is totally fine, but we need to focus now on those other two words: “comedy,” and “love.”
I’m all for toned down comedy in place of other flavors and tones, but let’s be honest – this movie just isn’t particularly comedic. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of healthy chuckle moments, but they don’t leave a lasting impression. The one truly funny moment I can remember is when we first meet Ben Stiller, and he has a sculpted bust thing of Dr. Zeus from Planet of the Apes, which proceeds to get smashed by Winona Ryder. Even then, physical comedy is great but when you have a comedic talent like Stiller both acting and directing, you expect more.
So the movie sacrifices laughs for what it would like to think is a serious story. And it is a serious story, as Ryder’s character goes around taping her and her friends lives to make a documentary about people their age. This is a compelling concept, and it is used in cool ways by Stiller, as we see sections of that documentary through grainy video footage spliced into the rest of the movie. It’s fun to see the characters trying to explain themselves. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be much of a conflict other than “Which boy do I choose?” It’s framed around a troublesome time in the characters’ lives as they try to find meaning and purpose, but unfortunately those issues seem to fall to the wayside in favor of a Stiller vs. Hawke cockfight.
It’s for this fault that my favorite moment in the movie is when the “finding your purpose” story and the “lovey love” story actually intertwine in an interesting way. Stiller’s character is a ladder-climber in the entertainment industry, while Hawke is a deadbeat guitarist-singer with too much time on his hands. The two both want to be with Ryder’s character. The moment occurs when Ryder runs away from the two of them, and they both have a fight/discussion about literally her fate and the nature of each of their relationships to her. It’s a poignant scene that makes neither of them the bad guy, and makes Hawke’s character grow in particular.
SPOILER:
She ends up with Ethan Hawke. It’s not too surprising for the most of the movie, except in the midst of the aforementioned scene, when you question who is the best for Ryder’s character. Which brings me to my last bit of analysis: Winona Ryder.
I’ve been talking a lot about the men in this movie without really discusing the protagonist, Lelaina. Ryder goes back and forth in making Lelaina both a likeable, sympathetic person with an outright insane person. Some of the things she does, like the ways she quits her job and pays her telephone bill, seem to be extreme and not realistic in an otherwise pretty straight movie. I like this dimension added to a character, but it also doesn’t have to be so extreme. The best moments with Ryder are when we see her interact with her friends and family. The opening dinner scene with her parents and step parents shines in particular, as we see her struggle to be a relevant member of society while also crumbling under the weight of her parents’ baggage.
I also want to revisit Ethan Hawke. In Reality Bites he bears the face of a Backstreet Boy, ready to receive my fist. He looks so obnoxious. And I hate the way he kisses. It’s like watching a Burger King commercial.
I can only recommend Reality Bites if you want to see some good actors bounce off each other well, or if you want to see Ben Stiller in his first directing role. But I would recommend even more his next movie, The Cable Guy, with Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick. It’s a tighter movie, and more satirical, which is Stiller’s strongsuit.
Thank you for reading this wishy-washy analysis of Reality Bites.

Archive – THE ABYSS: Taking a “dive” into James Cameron’s E.T.

WARNING: This is a post from my high school blog. I cannot vouch for its quality but I wanted to give people an idea of how my writing has developed over the years. Yes, I’m padding my site.
THE ABYSS

 

1989
Dir. James Cameron
Wr. James Cameron
Prod. Gale Anne Hurd
Str. Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn

Okay, so I watched The Abyss today. It was on HBO GO, and I’m an admitted fan of James Cameron, so I said, “Yeah! Let’s do it.”

The movie follows the perils of the workers on a deep-sea oil rig when the Navy commandeers it to salvage a mysteriously-sunk US submarine. What they find is a form of “non-terrestrial intelligence” that look like jellyfish.

First of all, the movie is instantly confusable with the Michael Crichton novel Sphere, and its Barry Levinson-directed adaptation. The novel came before Abyss, but the movie came after. Chicken-and-egg. Then we get tied up in the comparisons to E.T. Anyway, this movie still manages to feel unique and special, for two reasons: James Cameron, and Industrial Light and Magic.

If you thought The Terminator and Aliens were ambitious, James Cameron went a little nuts with his third film, upping the budget and scale to immense heights. Being one of the largest film shoots of its time, the hardships of the cast and crew rival those of the characters themselves. They shot for hours on end, under 40 feet of water. 40% of the movie was done in this way. Cameron is known for his ceaseless pushing of the impossible. We’ve seen it done since The Abyss, with Titanic and Avatar (the two highest-grossing movies ever- coincidence?). He’s also known for his iron-fisted directing style, which doesn’t jive with every actor’s sensibilities. Ed Harris, playing one of our protagonists, refuses to talk about his grueling experiences on this set.

But then, at the end of the day, we’re given the final product. And man, you’ve gotta hand it to old Jimmy. The movie is great. It moves along through its 2+ hours at a steady, but never too fast pace. We are treated to peaks of intensity in the best ways, like when a crane from the ocean’s surface plummets down toward the oil rig, as our characters brace for the expected impact. It gets closer, closer, and then- BAM it lands right next to the station. Cameron not only knows how to frame an edge-of-your-seat sequence like this, but he also knows how to follow it up with something that circumvents your expectations. Soon after the crane lands, and all seems fine, it begins to slide down an underwater cliff, pulling the station with it.

I can’t really say that the writing or even the story is that compelling. There are some nice character beats here and there, but what one really comes for is the grand yet claustrophobic atmosphere Cameron is going for. We’re placed in the vast depths of the sea bed, where beings from another world are floating about, but at the same time our characters are trapped in a glorified tin can with few resources. It’s a sign of good direction when the audience can feel distinct layers through one singular narrative, much less one that is wrapped up in a massive multi-million dollar product like The Abyss is.

Those millions of dollars went to good use with ILM, or Industrial Light and Magic, which is the company responsible for most of the amazing special effects in today’s cinema. I can’t speak too much to the technical wizz-wam that goes on there, but the results speak for themselves. The special effects in this film make you second-guess the year in which it was made. 1989?? It’s nuts. While you can clearly see which shots are FX shots, they are composited and presented so beautifully that you can’t help but let it slide. This baby won the Oscar for special effects. Need I say more?

And yes, I think the Oscars, particularly the technical categories, still hold merit beyond being a popularity contest. But that’s another post, another day. Another frame. (Ha, the title!)

Before we finish, I wanna give a shout out to Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn. They obviously went through some tough s**t to get this movie made, and they make the otherwise flat dialogue work on screen. Like I said before, there are a few character moments that work, and they work surprisingly well. Harris and Mastrantonio play a couple on the brink (or aftermath?) of a divorce, and seeing them shoved together at the bottom of the ocean to sort things out is engaging. Biehn on the other hand, is criminally underused. His character is bananas, and its awesome the way he convinces us of his insanity. He plays a Navy SEAL who falls ill to high pressure nervous syndrome, and proceeds to DO EVERYTHING WRONG. He becomes a human antagonist amongst all the natural chaos happening around, determined to nuke the jellyfish aliens. Biehn commands the screen with a sweaty, mustachioed physicality that makes you afraid of what crap he’ll pull next. It’s a shame he doesn’t get as much screen time as others, but then, you understand that the film’s larger story needed him out of the way.

Sorry, wrapping up now. There are a lot of other things that I’d like to talk about, but in essence, The Abyss is a great film for a Saturday night with friends. It would couple nicely with a DiGiorno pizza and some comfy chairs. If you’re interested in seeing Cameron’s intermediary work, before Titanic and after Aliens, you really ought to check this out, and even True Lies, which is probably his most unique and bizarre movie to date.

Thank you for reading this overly long, sort-of review of The Abyss.

Danny W.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJyRF0Fzl9Y