Monday, April 21, 2008

Ollie Johnston

The animation world suffered a great loss this past week. The last of the nine old men is now gone.

"No school like the old school"

-Ollie Johnston
1912- 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Prom Night

I hesitate to call this remake an actual remake. It shares the same name of the 1980 original, but the similarities pretty much stop there. It took director, Nelson McCormick, to take a horror movie and strip even more plot away from it. At least the original Prom Night featured the stars being haunted by their own actions in the past. The new one replaced those demons by just another psychopath.

So quickly, the movie is about Donna Keppel (Brittany Snow), who's family was killed by an obsessed teacher. He was put away, and she went to live with relatives. Flash forward a few years and she's getting ready for her senior prom. She, her date, and her friends get a room at the hotel where the event is taking place, and the night takes off. There's only one small hitch in the event signifying the end of high school- the killer has conveniently escaped. With a freshly shaved face, and donning a new baseball cap, he shows up at the hotel to rekindle his obsession (which for some reason means murder).

Now this is a little different than I remember prom being. I mean the murders certainly seem familiar, but our prom wasn't nearly as fancy. The move progresses as Donna's friends go off and get murdered one by one. There's actually a surprisingly low body count in this movie, and I'm inclined to say that the almost 30 year version was more bloody. This is a first- a remake that was tamer than the original. And taking the location out of the school and placing it into a fancy hotel kind minimized the horror of it. There's something immediately terrifying about these things taking place in a school.

All the (and I hate to it this) charm that made the original one of my favorite slasher movies is completely lost here. The murders are all the same, and pretty much happen in the same room. The prom scenes themselves, as fancy as they are, are fairly stiff and bored (One scene during a fire alarm has one girl freak out more that she lost prom queen than anything else around her).

The movie was filled horror cliches that I would normally have sworn were intentional, if I didn't know better. The figure in the mirror was used a number of times, the jumping out of the closet was used several time, and the blood splattering on the wall was used even more. In fact, the hiding under the bed with the killer in the room was not only used, but used twice.

There's just not much to say about this movie. There wasn't anything that made it overtly bad- but there was nothing that made it good either. It's like it was made on auto pilot- with the occasional unnecessarily elaborate shot (the opening aerial sequence) and pointless scene (The killing of a bell-hop). It's not terrible or good, it's just nothing. I guess not even being worth forming an opinion about doesn't speak very highly of the movie.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Funny Games

This is Michael Haneke's shot for shot remake of his 1997 movie of the same name. The original was an absolutely disturbing thriller (it was #73 on my most thrilling list). And logically since the only change in this one is the performances, it should be the same. I really don't understand the purpose of him remaking his own movie so closely to the original. At least with Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake, it was clearly meant to be a homage to Hitchcock, but who is Haneke paying tribute to- himself?

It's been a while since I saw the original, but this one, of course, played just like it. On a second viewing, it's interesting because there opening scenes seem much more foreboding, knowing what comes later. The plot is fairly simple. Two deranged men take an upper class family hostage in their home as a part of a twisted game. As the movie progresses they become more and more sick, enjoying the game more and more.

Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, and Devon Gearhart star as the trapped family, and Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are their captors. It's a great cast, and I'm assuming this is the motivation behind the remake. Because of the moderate success of his later movie, Cache, Haneke probably figured if he Americanized Funny Games, it could reach a wider audience. Unfortunately I don't believe this one received a very wide release either.

The movie is thrilling and disturbing in a very Hitchcock-eque way. Very little is shown, and it's all about a steady rise in atmospheric tension. There's much more to this, though. Haneke is making a very stern comment on a culture of consumers of violence. These men are so desensitized to violence, that the only way for them to amuse themselves is to engage in it. Their moral outlook is so skewed that the only important thing to them, is that they all follow the rules laid out by this game.

There are a few parts that bug me. There are a few times when they acknowledge the camera. This works for the commentary of the movie, making a conscious effort to indict the audience as spectators to this crime. One part that really bothered me has to do with the characters actually controlling the playback of the movie itself. This seemed so ridiculously out of place.

The original is only a decade old, but appears to be much older. The remake captures that spirit and locks it down all over again. Both of these are a refreshing break from the terrible horror movies that litter the market today. I recently re-watched the original Prom Night in preparation for its remake, and as bad as the 1980 version was, I have no doubt it was a more well made movie than the new one. Movies like Funny Games are the reason I like thrillers. They make you feel dirty for watching them, and make you question your own values. It's like Haneke is looking right at us, saying that we're all responsible.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Uwe Boll

I figured I'd weigh in on this controversy surrounding Uwe Boll right now. For those of you who don't know Uwe Boll, he is the famed director that brought us such gems as House of the Dead, BloodRayne, Alone in the Dark, In the Name of the King, and the upcoming Postal. He is one of the most hated directors not only because of his movies, but his demeanor. He challenged three movie critics to a boxing match, and trounced all of them. In an interview he said that if a million people wanted him to quite making movies, he would. As a result, a petition is being circulated, and at least as of this point, around 100,000 people have signed it.

In a rebuttal interview, he called himself a genius (with much more colorful language, and started another petition for his supporters.

You can see his response here
and see the pro-Boll Petition
and the anti-Boll Petition

Personally, I hate his movies. But if he left, a giant void would be left in the media industry. He trashes Michael Bay and Eli Roth- who are both indeed awful, but they don't have the larger than life confrontational image that boll has. Sure we'd be left with Paul W.S. Anderson, the horrid director of Resident Evil and AvP 2, but I couldn't see him fighting his critics. Admit it, all you Uwe Boll haters, if he left, you would miss him/

Also, to his benefit, this is generating some extremely good publicity for Postal, which comes out in May. That movie is going to be so much more successful than it would have been otherwise. My hat's off to you Uwe.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Disney Essay

This is an essay I wrote several years ago, and felt it would fit in well on my site. Though some of my views have changed considerably since then, I feel this is still an important topic, and much of it still holds true. This is essentially about how Disney portrays both women and minorities in a negative light in their films. I'm focusing on animated films because these are blatantly targeted at children. Also, bare in mind that this essay was written before their merger with Pixar, which I have nothing but good things to say about. Finally, after this investigation, I discuss how they are able to get away with this and still manage to keep a family oriented image through their business practices.

Section I: Women

First, and most obvious is their portrayal of women. I have not seen a single Disney movie where the heroine was not a complete sexual object. Looking at modern movies, Jasmine, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, Belle, even Pocahontas; and old movies, Snow White, Cinderella, and others. All of them feature extreme hourglass figures with large breasts and tiny waists. Even the animals are portrayed as sex objects, with their long eyelashes, and flirtatious ways (see Bambi, Fantasia, and Lion King).

But what role do women full fill in Disney Movies? Um....completely helpless, and using sex to get whatever they want. The Little Mermaid, she shows a little defiance by disobeying her father. This is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately that goes to pot when she gives up her voice to grow legs to meet the prince. This leaves her with only one tool, her body. How about Jasmine? In one of the closing scenes she starts to seduce Jaffar to distract him. The only way for a woman to get something done is by using sexual appeal.

How about the helplessness? In Disney movies the women can only get so much done before they have to be rescued by their men. In Tarzan, Jane, a fairly strong women, always needed Tarzan to come to her aid. Or how about the Little Mermaid? In the end the prince had to come to Ariel's aid to fight the witch. This even extends into inanimate objects. In Beauty and the Beast, one of the villagers is tearing apart the duster, and the candle holder has to come to her aid, and sweeps her off her feet. Even Mulan, possibly the strongest female character ever in a Disney film, after almost single handedly winning a war, was expected to go home, and resume housewife duties. "She comes home with a sword, why couldn't she come home with a husband?" This is an example of pseudo-feminism.

Pseudo-feminism is typified in Beauty and the Beast. Belle, described as a strong independent woman (simply because she is shown reading a book), gets imprisoned by the Beast. He is horribly abusive, yet she always comes back to him. Later in the movie, in song she says how she can't believe she didn't see his sensitive side before. Maybe that was because he was beating her, and trying to kill her father. Is this giving the message to young girls that it is their responsibility to write of abusive men as having a temper? Is it their job to stand by them, and try to change them? You may not think so, but many little girls do feel that way. "If I were Belle, I would keep being sweet to him, and hope that he changes." That doesn't seem like a good way to nurture an independent woman.

How about the women who are portrayed as evil. Cruella Deville. the Octopus Witch, The witch in Snow White. The fact that I can only think of a few shows that there probably are not many. These evil women usually have power and this is not too often bestowed upon the female gender in animated movies. What is common among all these ladies? They are all not only un-attractive, but downright repulsive. Are girls supposed to associate attractiveness with virtue, and ugliness with sin? Whether they are supposed to or not, they are.
These movies are playing off what they know, and these are traditional stereotypes. They take those stereotypes, package them, and sell them back to children. We have the ability to look at this, and see that it's not how the world is, or should be, but unfortunately little children do not have that ability. They can't dissect the literacy behind the image. They simply see something that is immitatible, and right there in front of them. They see an image, and think it's how the world should be.

Section II: Minorities

Now that we have seen how Disney movies portray women, how do they portray "the other"- minorities. Most people in power in the entertainment industry are white, upper class, educated men. Many came from prominent backgrounds, and did not actually have much contact with different ethnicity. Therefor, they have to write based off of what they know, stereotypes, and this simply passes those beliefs onto impressionable children.

The most prominent minority in the United States (though it is now being rivaled) are African Americans. If we were to base their entire population off of Disney movies, what conclusion would we reach? I believe we would see them all as happy-go-lucky, jive talking, slurred speeched, animals who want to be white. In Dumbo the crows were obviously supposed to represent African Americans, in a not so subtle reference to Jim Crow. They were dressed like paupers, and had the most exaggeratedly slurred speech. The other animal most frequently associated with African Americans are monkeys. Look at the Jungle Book. There is a whole society of apes talking jive, listening to funk music, and wanting to be men. Interestingly the only "men" shown in that movie are whites who are conquering the jungle. I suppose this pales in comparison to the modern day Tarzan. How did they handle black people in Africa?- they completely left them out. There is not a single person of color in the movie. Instead there are many many apes. What kind of message does this give to a black child living in Africa- nothing short of white supremecy.

In the Lion King, the bad guys, the Hyenas, were all played by black actors, and they all project the urban ghetto image. In fact, one child was quoted as saying "Look, mom Hyenas," when he heard black children on the playground. This is proof that some children as a result will associate blacks with evil.

Mexicans are another prominent minority. They are portrayed in movies simply as one animal- the Chihuahua. Is that as creative as these writers could get? Just look at Lady and the Tramp, or Oliver and Company. The Chihuahua is a sex crazed miscreant. He's the one who tries to get in trouble, and when abused by the attractive dog, only gets hotter for her. Though I know few Mexicans, none of them fit this description, yet Disney movies would have youth thinking that it is an accurate representation of the entire population.

One minority seldom portrayed is Oriental. For many years the only representation that could come to mind would be the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. They were sneaky, cruel, and manipulative. Seeing as I might soon be having a Japanese roommate, I certainly hope this isn't accurate (and I am not terribly worried). Recently, however, an interesting study in the theory came out. Mulan presented a drastically different view. It showed a strong resilient woman. Unfortunately, she was rebelling against things in Chinese society that did not actually exist. The scenes where she was being evaluated by the matchmaker and being criticised for being "Too skinny, not able to bare good sons," just did not happen in that culture. Apparently the only way for the writers to create a strong woman was to make something up for her to rebel against.

Yet another minority inaccurately represented in Disney movies are Arabs. An entire case study could be done on Aladdin alone. From the controversial lyrics in the original opening song, to the portrayal of the market vendors. Lyricist Howard Ashman originally wrote "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face." This was later changed to "Where it's flat and immense, and the heat is intense," to avoid offending Arabs. They kept the line that followed, however, "it's barbaric, but hey, it's home." Apparently it was still considered politically correct to call the area barbaric. The vendors in the market were either portrayed as cruel, or sneaky. The narrator at the beginning kept trying to sell the viewer worthless goods. Later on, when Jasmine takes an apple from a cart to give to a hungry child, the vendor threatens to cut off her hand. In reality, the Muslim faith orders its followers to feed those who are less fortunate as much as possible. Only in Saudi Arabia, after 3 trials, and 3 convictions, is the hand removed. Disney would have you believe that it was standard practice among all regions for someone to chop the hand off a thief on the spot.

Finally, one minority that is often mis-portrayed over and over again are Native Americans. Way back in the animated version of Peter Pan, Indians were shown to dance with flailing arms, sit cross-legged without cracking a smile, and chant continuously. This is what defines an Indian in cartoons. They seldom speak, and simply grunt. The animated movie, Pocahontas made a lazy attempt at an accurate representation of Native Americans. Not only was it completely inaccurate, it was also demeaning. Pocahontas did not have a relationship with John Smith, she was little girl. Later on in life she married a man by the name of John Rolff. The movie depicts the confrontation between the Indians and the settlers as ending peacefully, instead of the slaughter of Native Americans it really was. With this movie, Disney is trying to re-write history into a more clean, friendly version. Unfortunately children are taking this as fact. One girl was quoted as saying "I liked Pocahontas, because it's a true story." Another one said, " really happened." Has there ever before been a company that has been able to re-write history, and succeed?

Section III: Business Practices

In this section I will discuss Disney's business practices. In the previous parts of the essay, I talked about how Disney misrepresents minorities, and how the movies give poor and inappropriate messages to young girls. How then, in light of these obvious representations, does Disney manage to keep its wholesome image? Disney polices its image more than any other company. Their incredibly aggressive legal department allows nobody to use their logos, names, trademarks, or anything else affiliated with Disney. An absurd example was when someone writing a book about Disney wanted to use a picture he took at Disney World. The picture was simply a piece of sky above the park, there was nothing to do with Disney even in the picture, and the company claimed that it infringed on copyrights. Nearly every book ever written about the company references required changes to prevent lawsuits from the company. This intense grip that Disney holds over their image prevents nearly all bad publicity from tarnishing their image.

As was previously mentioned, and is logically obvious, Disney targets youth in nearly all of its ventures. No other group is easier to influence. This is shown, of all places, on the school playgrounds. Children no longer play traditional games, such as hide and seek, tag, or even various sports. In the last decade, a trend started to arise of children playing the movies. Another phenomenon coinciding with this, was shown in a study of playgrounds around the world. No matter what country the study was conducted, the games were very similar. Regardless of the culture, nearly all play throughout the world was affiliated with these movies. This is a terrifying indication of how Disney has an influence over the youth of the world.

What does Disney have to gain from this global domination? Tremendous amounts of money, of course. The Disney corporation owns movie studios, distribution agencies, Television outlets, magazines, amusement parks, toy manufacturers, and stores. They produce a new movie. A Disney owned company distributes it, while Disney owned magazines give it a rave review. After a run in the theater, it is played in heavy rotation on the Disney Channel. Meanwhile massive amounts of merchandise are being made and sold at Disney owned stores, while a new ride is being built at Disney World. Even if a movie does bad in the theaters they market it heavily overseas and have a tremendous international box office return. Even after the movie does poorly, they flood the media with advertising for video releases and merchandise, so it gives the impression that it was a success. Children then want the toys. In this regard it is virtually impossible for Disney to release a movie that does not make a profit. Next time a Disney movie comes out, remember this from an inter-office memo sent out by Michael Eisner, "We are not here to educate, we are here to make money."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Ruins

I was kind a hoping this would be 2008's first unique and thrilling horror movie. Unfortunately it turned out to be pretty uninspiring. It fell into the same category as 30 Days of Night. It looked pretty good, but the acting and the story just made the movie fall apart.

This is the second outing of author Scott B. Smith. His first venture, A Simple Plan, garnered him an Oscar nomination. Now, his new screenplay also based off one of his books has created quite some anticipation. I can't say anything for the book, but if it's like the movie, it would be airport literature at best. The wonderful exploration into human nature that was A Simple Plan, is replaced by standard isolationist horror.

Jonathon Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, and Laura Ramsey star as a group of American tourists visiting Latin America. Throw in Joe Anderson as the obligatory European, and you get Turistas: the sequel. The only difference is that instead of organ harvesters killing off the tourists, it's killer vines. Yup, you heard me, killer vines.The five tourists of course try to go off the beaten path, and find an ancient Mayan temple to explore. Before long, a group of natives (at least I assume) heard them up to the top of the temple at gunpoint, and leave them there to the whims of the aforementioned vines.

This movie is not for the faint of heart. There are some rather graphic scenes including amputations, and the very invasive vines. These certainly aren't as bad as many other movies out there, but it's more the idea that makes you squeamish with this movie.

It's tough to judge the acting in a horror movie, because you never actually expect it to be very good. I mean how often do genuinely feel terror from watching one of these movies. Not very often. Add to this the generally over-elaborate and terribly written dialog, and horror movie actors tend to be reduced to vehicles for killings. This may be due to my desensitization from horror movies, but I didn't care what happened to these people. To her credit, though, Jenna Malone was the one exception. She handled her part pretty convincingly.

Don't bother with this movie. Even if (or maybe especially if) you like horror movies, you'll be let down by this. It, like a lot of movies lately, seemed to have some real potential, but resorted to shock value instead of really exploring what these things are, and who these people are.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

88 Minutes

88 Minutes had some serious potential. A real-time who-dunnit with Al Pacino in the lead. He was fine. He brought some depth to a character that could have ended up being terribly shallow. The rest of the movie, however, was simply poorly executed.

Dr. Jack Gramm (Pacino) a famous criminal psychologist is under the gun- literally and figuratively- on the execution day of a man he put behind bars. New evidence has arisen that the man may be innocent, not to mention a new murder with his MO. On top of Gramm's career being put in jeopardy, his life is being threatened. He receives an anonymous call informing him that he has 88 minutes left to live. Consequently, the movie from that point on is indeed 88 minutes. As if that isn't enough, evidence starts stacking up implicating him in these new murders. Definitely not Gramm's best day.

This premise has some real potential, but unfortunately it just didn't work. Maybe they were trying to cram too much in, with the real time gimmick, the threats on his life, the new murders, and the idea that the man on death row (Neal McDonough) may be orchestrating this from behind bars.

The other possibility may be that it got a little too absurd, with car bombs, unbelievable circumstantial evidence, and a legion of attractive students that seem to be caught up in this with him. It suffered the fate of another movie I thought had potential (and another one dealing with a number)- 8MM. It seemed like a cool idea, investigating the possible existence of snuff films. Unfortunately both of these movies got too caught up in the game they're creating, and lost sight of trying to make it believable.

Most of the movie plays like a genuine mystery, dropping clues that keep you trying to figure it out along with Gramm. Unfortunately, none of these really make a difference, and you can't possibly figure it out. And honestly, the answer left me unsatisfied and asking "huh?" Pacino is a badass as always, but manages to give his character twinges realism. You actually find yourself not really liking him, but understanding him.

Pacino commands everything he does, and this role isn't any different. If you like him, then see movie just for that. Don't expect too much, though, because the rest of the movie is fairly disappointing.


Friday, April 4, 2008


This was a surprisingly fun and interesting romp through Vegas. There's a special place in my heart for Vegas movies, and 21 takes a break from the Ocean's 11 excessiveness in favor of a low key and intellectual heist. The cast is okay- they're not great, but they get the job done. The directing is pretty standard, and the script is adequate. Somehow all of these manage to come together to form a rather original and enjoyable movie.

The movie is loosely (and I emphasize loosely) based on the book "Bringing Down the House" by Ben Mezrich, which is itself a true story. So when they say "inspired by true events," they mean the general concept actually happened, but none of the specifics did. 21 is about Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a brilliant M.I.T. math student trying to pay for school. He gets recruited by his professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) to join a sort of math team. The catch is that this team trains in card counting, and travels to Las Vegas on the weekends to make thousands of dollars. The promise of quick money draws Campbell in, and he quickly becomes an unofficial leader.

Things start to go bad, however, when Campbell lets a hacked together romantic plot between him and team member Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) affect his card-playing. This set-back reveals the true greed driven nature of Rosa. A rift forms between the two of them, and the team falls apart. In the midst of all of this, a legendary casino security officer (Laurence Fishburne), wrestling with being replaced by new technology, starts to sniff them out.

Finally a heist movie that glorifies brains and subtlety. These students try everything in their power to fly under the radar, and their only trail is the very fact that they succeed. Instead of complex plans, simple algorithms run these heists. The excesses they indulge in during their secret Vegas lives are what led to their downfall. The better they did, the more risky it was. It's this sort of feedback that leads to an interesting dynamic.

The problem was that none of the characters were likable. Not one. And the ending, which was completely removed from the book, adds an unnecessary bit of convolution that doesn't help, and just kind of fizzles out. The movie works pretty well overall, but some of the relationships (aside from the one behind Campbell and Rosa) don't sparkle, and the ending leaves a bad taste.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Horton Hears a Who!

Blue Sky's latest venture has proven to be one of their best ones. It's not perfect, but it is by far the best feature adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book. That doesn't say much when considering the abysmal Ron Howard Grinch adaptation, or the even worse Cat in the Hat with Mike Meyers. Despite the obvious challenges of taking a children's, rhyming, picture book into a feature length film, they manage to keep it entertaining the whole time, without losing sight of the book.

For those of you who never a child-hood, the classic story is as follows: Horton, the good natured Elephant discovers a tiny civilization on the head of a flower that only he can hear (on account of his massive ears). The head of the jungle decides to destroy the flower in an effort to prevent unrest and independent mindedness. Horton then has to struggle to save the denizens (The Whos) of the tiny world (Whoville) and convince the others that they actually exist.

The story is cute, but very simple. It's tough to stretch that into an hour and a half. Instead of falling into the repetitive trap of the previous attempts, they built much more into the characters. Much more background was prescribed to the residents of Whoville, including the mayor and his son. It even gives background on the history of the town itself.

The cast helped make this movie so good. Jim Carey (alum from The Grinch) plays the relatively subdued Horton. Steve Carrel lends his voice to the more outlandish Mayor, and the rest of the cast is filled out by Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Islah Fisher, and Jesse McCartney. Try naming all of those stars in one breath.

True to any Dr. Seuss book, this is filled with deep messages. There are undertones promoting free-thinking. The anti-communist message is pretty clear considering the book was written in 1954. On top of this there are some fairly obvious religious messages. Horton's argument that just because you can't see something, it doesn't mean it's no there, has been a pro-religion argument for years. None of these themes are veiled at all, so there is potential for some rather heavy and controversial texts. On the surface, though, it's still just fun.

The only part I didn't like was a few scenes done in a 2D anime style. These were done to show the mentality of Horton, acting like a ninja to save the Whos. The style didn't bother me, but the whole concept kind of did. Everything stayed very true to Dr. Seuss except for those parts. They were so far removed from the source material, that they took me out of the movie.

The movie includes some very cute observations about Dr. Seuss's style. The movie is peppered with his lyrical texts in just the appropriate places. It also includes self-aware gems like "Just because you put 'who' in front of it, it doesn't make it good!" Fun little lines like this make the movie immensely enjoyable. I'd watch it again.