Archive for the ‘Cartoons’ Category

superbeasto_dvd.preview

Now here’s a strange duck:  A hard-R horror-comedy adult cartoon feature from musician/director Rob Zombie, featuring the usual voice suspects and a couple surprise voices. The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto is a filthy, funny, deranged mess of a kitchen sink of a movie that will please a certain kind of person, ideally in a certain state of mind (if you get me), and will turn off the straight-laced. For my part, I’m just glad that something like this exists – it’s comfortable knowing that there’s a place in the world for adult animation, even if it’s not exactly my flavor.

The story, as much as I can collect it all in one column, goes a little something like this: El Superbeasto (voiced by comedian and co-writer Tom Papa) is an insanely horny luchador – somewhere between Santo and Dirk Diggler – who is the big cheese in the titular Haunted World, a geek-dream dimension where zombies and werewolves and strippers coexist in constant hysteria. As soon as El Superbeasto falls for the town’s alpha-stripper, Velvet Von Black (voiced by Rosario Dawson!), she is abducted by the misleadingly named Doctor Satan (voiced by Paul Giamatti!) and his long-suffering gorilla henchman. El Superbeasto is aided in his rescue attempt by his younger sister, Suzi X (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her hopelessly infatuated robot sidekick (Brian Posehn.) At the end of the day, this is all about high school: Doctor Satan was the school nerd, in love with the head cheerleader (Suzi X) and constantly tormented by the school bully (El Superbeasto.) Doctor Satan will have his revenge, and hump it too!

El Superbeasto is fairly described as Heavy Metal meets Ren & Stimpy (the design, pace, and much of the voicework is heavily indebted to John Kricfalusi’s surreal/absurd classic series.) It’s also probably fairly described as Rob Zombie’s most fun movie, even his best. I’m on record as saying that I root for Rob Zombie’s cinematic endeavors – he loves a lot of the same things I love (rock n’ roll, old horror movies, pretty girls, badass character actors, monsters, and mayhem) and he brings a competitive energy and enthusiasm to the horror genre – but his movies have thus far turned out unnecessarily unpleasant, even sadistic, in finished form. (Haven’t seen his Halloween 2, but that goes back to the old cliché about not wanting to put my hand back on the hot stove that burned me once before.)

El Superbeasto, thankfully, plays out differently. It has its excesses – who am I kidding? It’s ALL excess!  But there’s a sense of gleeful anarchy and a swinging swagger that permeates the whole thing and makes it never less than watchable. For me, there were two elements to elevate it:

1)      The voice work by the unconventionally wonderful movie stars Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson is unconventionally wonderful. If I didn’t see from the credits that they’d be featured, I might never have guessed. Is there such a thing as Method voice acting? Giamatti and Rosario are completely and unrecognizably committed to their wackadoo characters, and the results are weird and funny, truly superior voice acting.

2)      The movie features several original songs by Hard N’ Phirm, the comedy team of Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman. The songs are by far the funniest part of the movie – they’re exactly the right tone and vibe and they smartly comment on the action and the more blatantly exploitative parts of the story. It makes certain scenes that might have been creepy to watch hilariously creepy. I’ve seen these guys do their thing before live and they’re great – it was a fun surprise to enjoy their contributions here.

So whatever it says about me, I watched the whole damn thing. I probably wouldn’t watch it again but I’m happy to have watched it once. It’s crazy in its own very specific way and I can respect that. However: If you’re the kind of person who is offended by cartoon boobs or cartoon sex, be forewarned. Stay away. It’s understandable, but you won’t want to see what happens here. As for the rest of you maniacs? Eat, drink, and be merry.

@jonnyabomb

Originally written on October 10th, 2009.

 

 

Waltz With Bashir is an astonishing piece of work – it’s a dreamy reconstruction of one man’s recollection of his experiences in the Israeli military during the Lebanon War in the early 1980s.  The director, Ari Folman, wrote for the original Israeli incarnation of the TV show “In Treatment” and that background in pop psychology shows – this is a searching and introspective story.  It’s not entirely fictional, but it’s certainly not a documentary either.  The harsh world in wartime and the realm of dreams swirl together and co-mingle.

Necessarily then, Waltz With Bashir is an animated movie.  The choice is crucial to the movie’s effect:  It’s colorful and mesmerizing and upsetting.  It is NOT rotoscoped.  All of the animation is meticulously choreographed and depicted, under the art direction of David Polonsky with contributions from, among others, two artists whose work I adore, the brothers Tomer Hanuka and Asaf Hanuka.  (If you’ve picked up a newspaper or a magazine in the past decade, you know their work.)  On a visual basis alone, Waltz With Bashir is a necessity.  Combined with the emotionally conflicted and self-exploratory storytelling method which Folman employs, Waltz With Bashir is a film unlike any other.  It’s not an exaggeration to pronounce that I have very rarely seen a medium so well matched to its message.

I can’t exactly say that I loved this movie – it left me feeling more than a little anguished and sad.  But it is very clearly a work of cinematic art that has made some valuable observations about the real world, and as such, I sincerely recommend that it be seen by as many people as possible as soon as possible.  See it with your deepest friend.

@jonnyabomb

 

 

It’s been a strong year for mainstream animated movies. Toy Story 3, How To Train Your Dragon, Tangled, and Megamind all range from good to great, with varying degrees of inventiveness and warm humor. Despicable Me is no exception.

It’s true that Despicable Me’s story of an evil genius whose heart grows in size is also one told by Megamind. [Read my review!] It doesn’t have to be a competition, and I like both, but especially writing this after having seen both, it’s hard not to mentally link the two. Despicable Me had the advantage of getting to theaters earlier on the calendar, but the two are distinct enough that there’s room for both, and any similarities that the two share are ingratiating.

For one thing, the sensibility and the voice cast of both movies is completely dominated by the comedy boom of the last ten years, for which we can thank comedy masterminds such as Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Watch this:

Despicable Me features the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Ken Jeong, Mindy Kaling, Jemaine Clement, Rob Huebel, and Danny McBride (among others).

By contrast, Megamind features Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Justin Theroux, and Ben Stiller. Not much of a contrast! Most of these people have worked together in all kinds of permutations over the last several years – not that I’m complaining one bit, mind you.

The ubiquitous Hans Zimmer is also present as composer on the scores of both movies – again, not a problem for me because I like what he does. And it plays out differently, primarily because Zimmer is joined by hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams. It’s a nice change-up from the usual orchestral thunderings in movies of this kind: Pharrell adds a jaunty playfulness to the sound of Despicable Me that makes it just different enough to be interesting. [Here’s the main theme.]

Another main difference comes from the sensibilities of the two vocal stars: Whereas the villainous Megamind initially has a lot in common with the mock-arrogance of many of Will Ferrell’s characters, Steve Carell’s Gru is a little sadder and lonelier. It helps that he looks not unlike the Danny DeVito version of the Penguin. Gru is more efficient and effective than most of Steve Carell’s more clueless characters (Michael Scott from The Office, Brick Tamland from Anchorman), and in fact he’s got a better shot than most supervillains do at achieving his villainous goals – in this case, stealing the moon. But there’s something missing. He has a mad-scientist sidekick (Russell Brand, surprisingly decent at playing a character other than himself) and an army of yellow rubbery Minions (kind of the Smurfs to Gru’s Gargamel, and by far the most memorable scene-stealers of the movie), but there’s a younger, nastier supervillain (Vector, voiced by Jason Segel) trying to steal his thunder, and Gru is losing his top-dog status. The moon heist is to be his last great grab at the supervillain gold, but the lack of an emotional connection to humanity – he has flashbacks to failed attempts at impressing his mother, voiced by none other than Julie Andrews – somehow seems to be sapping his mojo.

In a bid to derail Vector’s competing schemes, Gru comes up with the idea to adopt three orphan girls, so that he can teach them how to sneak into Vector’s lair, under the guise of selling Girl Scout cookies, so that they can help to steal the younger villain’s secrets. Instead, they steal Gru’s heart. Sorry, did that sound corny? It doesn’t play that way, although it occasionally comes close, and of course having three young girls involved in a war between two evil masterminds does necessarily reduce some of Despicable Me’s more manic possibilities. This isn’t a movie for adults, it’s not meant to have the anarchy of a Wile E. Coyote/ Roadrunner cartoon – it’s a family movie, and understanding that makes it easier to get into the portions of the story where sentiment gnaws at the edges. But the kid characters are more scrappy and likable than most (someone’s been taking notes from Pixar) and when all else fails, Steve Carell’s surprisingly-undistracting silly-accented vocal performance and the sponge-y, skittery Minions liven up the movie with an unusual, off-kilter sense of humor.

In a year that had its share of A’s, it’s popular to dismiss the B-plus’s. But Despicable Me is a whole lot of fun, and when it comes time for you to watch a kid’s movie, if it’s possible you could do better, it’s also possible that you can do plenty worse. If more movies worked as hard to be entertaining (and succeeded as often) as Despicable Me does, then the overall movie landscape would be a much better place.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

20120826-160048.jpg

The latest issue of Playboy has a fascinating interview with Richard Dawkins, a man whose anti-religious position I struggle to agree with entirely, while at the same time finding his crusade to restore the primacy of science absolutely necessary. It’s a compelling read. Also of note is the foreword from the magazine’s publisher, Hugh Hefner, who comes out strong in favor of gay marriage. It’s not a statement he had to make, and probably not a snap decision considering the business he could lose. It’s a typically bold and socially progressive assertion from a man who is frequently underestimated.

Yes, I read Playboy for the articles. They’re great. I look at the pictures too. So there.

Anyway, while I was nosing around in there, I saw an advertisement for HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST & REBEL, a 2010 documentary which I reviewed elsewhere on the internet. I revisited my review and, since it echoes what I was just saying about Hefner’s admirable social conscience, found it interesting enough to repost. Hopefully you’ll agree.

The very first person you hear from in the thorough and informative documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist & Rebel is the gloriously creepy Gene Simmons of KISS. Gene kicks things off by maintaining that any American male alive “would give his left nut to be Hugh Hefner.”

I object to this statement, if not the sentiment behind it. Personally, I’d consider giving up many things to have a life like Hugh Hefner’s, but certainly not my left nut. If I did that, then I’d have to repeatedly present only half the story to an endless parade of beautiful blond women. You know they’d have questions. I feel like I’d get really tired of going over it. And besides, who would want my left nut in the first place, besides me (obviously) and an endless parade of beautiful blond women? Who exactly is brokering that trade? “Okay, you can have Hugh Hefner’s life, but I want THAT for my mantelpiece.” See what I mean? This is a cliché that never made much sense to me.

Anyway, I’m starting off with a little humor because generally speaking, that’s what this otherwise-thorough documentary lacks. Outside of the occasional philosophy offered by Gene Simmons, who is at least as horrifying as he is humorous, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist & Rebel is generally a sober look at a life that has seen its fair share of comedy. I understand and respect the intention: Hugh Hefner is a man whose significant accomplishments are often dismissed or criticized or lampooned, and he deserves to be recognized more seriously. It’s just that at over two hours of running time, it’s possible that this could have been a little more of a party.

But if it has to err on the side of dryness, then at least Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist & Rebel is comprehensive in its cataloguing of the very real positive changes in American society to which Hugh Hefner has been a contributor. Of course, how you respond to that perspective depends on which side of the matter you support; Hugh Hefner’s life’s work has always been controversial.

Playboy Magazine is his primary legacy, and it is the one thing with which his name will always find association. As a red-blooded American male, I admit that I’m one of those who appreciate Hefner for Playboy.

I adore and respect women, and I do feel like I share many feminist beliefs, but I certainly don’t relate to the feminists who are quoted here, particularly Susan Brownmiller, who comes off as no fun at all. It can be argued that Playboy idealizes women, but I don’t believe it objectifies women, certainly not any more than professional sports objectifies men. And does Playboy idealize women that much more than movies and television do? In my opinion, you have to know when a fight is appropriate. If something is hateful, you fight it. If something is [arguably] in bad taste, you calm down and just avoid what offends you. It seems to me that you can absolutely love and respect women without despising Playboy, but somehow the two perspectives have historically always been in debate.

To its credit, this documentary gives plenty of voice to the dissenting opinion, although obviously its intent is to bolster Hefner’s historical, humanitarian, and socially-conscious profile. This much, at least, is very difficult to argue: Hefner was an early advocate of civil rights, and gave voice to blacklisted authors when no other outlet was open to them. For all of the feminist attacks on him in the 1970s, he supported abortion rights quite literally, with his pocketbook. He crusaded against the hypocrisy and the hatefulness of the religious right. He paid the legal fees of several unjustly imprisoned people who were unattended by mainstream media, and even managed to help see them freed. This is a man who has used his vast success to stand behind his beliefs, where so many other entrepreneurs seem contented to simply add to their wealth.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist & Rebel is an extensive, chronological, methodical chronicle of these and other events. It does a laudable job of explaining the merits of Hefner’s progressive role in society, and it always suggests the darker undercurrents of the story, even if it doesn’t dwell on any of them for too long. Hefner fans, Hefner detractors, and those who don’t even know the name will all find plenty of detailed education here, although of course the informed viewer might quibble over omissions. The truth is that two hours isn’t enough time to fully address this subject and all of the ensuing complications.

Personally, I would have been interested in hearing more about Hefner’s championing of cartoonists. An amateur cartoonist himself, Hefner always made this underrated art form a key component of Playboy’s identity, but outside of a small segment on magazine mainstay Gahan Wilson, there aren’t any cartoonists to be found. Hefner is also a jazz fan and a collector and a huge movie fan, as the Jack Pierce Mummy head in the opening credits suggests, and more of all of that would have livened up this documentary.

I also would have been interested to hear some discussion about what has happened since – surely those who condemn Playboy as pornography are not aware of what else is out there. Playboy, to my eyes, is quite innocent, a light R rating compared to the triple-X imagery that is now just a mouse-click away. Also, it would have been nice to hear about Playboy’s effect on younger generations. The only person interviewed here under the age of fifty is Jenny McCarthy, and she seems concerned with other topics these days.

Lastly, the documentary’s style is a fairly monotonous cavalcade of talking heads, archival footage, and still photographs – in a scene late in the movie you see footage of Hefner out and about in a nightclub, and it registers that this has generally been a static viewing experience.

But again, all of those are relatively small nits to pick when a documentary is so admirable in its goals and so effective in achieving them. Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist & Rebel is not the definitive word on its complicated subject, but it is one of the better attempts at capturing him in all his complicated selves. It leaves you wanting to learn more, which by definition makes it a successful documentary.

Want to argue? Start here: @jonnyabomb

   

 

Kung Fu Panda 2 contains at least one landmark:  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen acupuncture performed in a kids movie.  It doesn’t last long, but it’s specific and eccentric enough to be noteworthy.

More importantly, this is a good sequel.  It expands on a few of the story threads established in the first movie, rather than contentedly repeating what we’ve already seen (a trap which –blasphemy—even the Toy Story movies occasionally fall into).  I’m not sure I love the scene late in the movie that plays as subtle as a Mike Tyson dance routine, the plot for the inevitable second sequel tattooed boldly on the side of its face, but everything else about Kung Fu Panda 2 was generally understated and solid, an effective companion piece to its predecessor.

Whereas the first Kung Fu Panda charted the unlikely rise of Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) from dumpling cook and village punchline to kung fu champion and village hero, this one concerns itself with the reasons why the humongous Po has a father who is much, much smaller, and a bird. That means a slightly expanded role for the eternally under-used James Hong, so it’s good news around my house.

However, it’s true that Po’s quest for his anthropological origins means reduced screen time for Po’s teammates, Dustin Hoffman’s Master Shifu and every member of The Furious Five who isn’t voiced by Angelina Jolie.  All of these characters were a major part of the first Kung Fu Panda, but Hoffman in particular is hardly even in the movie this time around. Only Tigress (Angelina’s character) shares Po’s existential angst, so she’s the one who gets the front-and-center co-starring role. But as I theorized earlier, Kung Fu Panda 3 is already a foregone conclusion, so weep not for any of these characters.

Another fair criticism is that Gary Oldman, as the evil albino Lord Shen, is second only to Christopher Walken as the actor most frequently cast in a villainous role, but to me it worked because his character is a peacock. There’s an excellent disconnect in the effect of a pretty pretty peacock speaking in the angry, threatening tones of Gary Oldman’s best bad-guy voice, and the animation is particularly virtuosic and colorful in all of these scenes.

And that animation simply must be mentioned and underlined: The Kung Fu Panda movies conjure up a loving focus on period detail and a phenomenal coupling of color and motion. I also deeply appreciated how director Jennifer Yuh decided to “shoot” all the flashback sequences in a more stylized, less “realistic,” old-fashioned 2-D animation style that is reminiscent of medieval Chinese art styles.  As a major enthusiast of hand-drawn animation, this was rewarding.  As a turn-my-brain-off moviegoer, I still found it inspired.

The brilliant animation carries Kung Fu Panda 2 through. This series, despite its obvious strengths at well-choreographed fat jokes and fizzy kung fu action, has a slight tendency to sag under the weight of sentiment, but its pace and style and energy manage to keep things moving before any one moment gets too soggy.

And really, it’s impossible not to warm to a movie that loves its welcome habit of casting live-action martial arts stars as cuddly cartoon animals. While Jackie Chan (Monkey) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (Crocodile) will never be classified as the most verbally dextrous voice actors, Michelle Yeoh gives a truly warm and captivating voice performance, which is even more fun once you see what animal character she plays.

Please be advised: Some of the later action scenes in Kung Fu Panda 2 are surprisingly intense and even a little scary.  My niece, who is nearly four, turned to me during one such scene and whispered “Why did you TAKE me to this movie?”  I couldn’t resist the truth: “Because you’ve been asking me to for almost a year”, but then of course I had no problem with her clambering into my arms.  Older kids should have no such hesitations though. This one isn’t as funny as the first, and both fall short of feeling quite like classics, but still, this is a very easy movie to love.

 

The Metropolitan Museum Of Art is running a great film series this month called Pixar Revisited, where they will be screening pretty much the entire catalogue of the much-loved, industry-revolutionizing animation house.  

Wall-E, maybe my favorite Pixar movie to date, is screening tomorrow, Friday, at 4:30pm, and then again on Saturday July 9th at 8pm.  Here’s most of what I wrote about Wall-E, way back in 2008

 

 

Wall-E is the new computer-generated film from Pixar, which opened big over the weekend. I don’t often go to see science fiction movies or kids’ movies, because I am sadly not a kid anymore and don’t have kids of my own yet, and in the case of science fiction, to me, those are, more often than not, pretty derivative of what has come before, when the genre definition seems to demand original, innovative thinking.

Not in this case.

Here’s what the movie is about:

Wall-E (not to be confused with the rapper of the very-similar name) is a small robot whose every day is spent performing garbage disposal functions on a future Earth which is so over-run with trash as to be unlivable. He seems to have developed human-like emotions, and is a bit of a softy, as he putters around the vast junk graveyards he plays the musical Hello Dolly on his in-deck tape player, on loop. It is unavoidable to not that Wall-E looks exactly like a little-person version of Johnny-Five from Short Circuit, but he does have a personality of his own, and for better or worse, does not have Fisher Stevens as a sidekick.

No, Wall-E’s only living companion is a cockroach, which follows him around everywhere, scittering all over the place curiously. And let it be said that this here is the purest example of the talent of the guys at Pixar, because they have taken the one breed of Earth creature left unexploited by children’s animation (because no one likes a cockroach), and have made it completely likable. I wonder if Raid sales will drop temporarily on account of this movie.

Anyway, one day a space probe lands, disrupting Wall-E’s normal routine, and out of it arrives EVE, a lady robot. (EVE is also not to be confused with the rapper of the same name, however similar in temperament she may be. Come to think of it though, a hip-hop West Side Story does seem to be an inevitability that I might pay to see.) Wall-E immediately falls in love with EVE, who looks like a Tokyo parking meter but again is convincingly enlivened by the Pixar treatment. Wall-E tries repeatedly to get EVE’s attention, but she is on Earth on a mission, the details of which she is unwilling or unable to share. Stuff ensues.

 

All I ever ask of a movie is that it show me something I haven’t seen before. If that’s too tall an order, I’d happily settle for being shown something I have seen before, only in a new way. Wall-E delivers several sights and sounds that feel absolutely new. It depicts a tangible and convincing future Earth. The few pop-culture references it does make are clever and entertaining, and not remotely as violence-provokingly obvious as in, for example, the Shrek movies.

I like the love story angle too. I like the way it captures crazy love – the way us guys sometimes fall for the girl who may not be a realistic get, or even particularly safe for our continued wellbeing if we did get her, and the way that you girls occasionally warm to those of us guys who may not have it all going on in terms of hygiene or smarts, but are genuine and loyal and will eventually win you over if you let us stick around for long enough. It’s a sweet portrayal, but not the kind of sweet that makes a hardass sumbitch like me want to punch himself in the jaw for an hour and change. The movie earns its sweetness.

Also, this is, overall, a relatively persuasive depiction of the future. It’s at least the most thoroughly-thought-out science fiction since Children of Men, in my opinion. There are a lot of subversive ideas here, especially for a Disney movie, about where we could end up if we keep heading in certain directions. It’s interesting and commendable and not all that much for kids.

But that’s why you need the space robots.

The movie has its few and far-between storytelling flaws, but overall it’s the kind of movie I most like to see and hope to one day soon get made – a story that is first and foremost entertainment, but also has a brain in its head.  Wall-E has it all.

 

 

Rango is fun, very quirky, and imaginative, although after a while it starts to feel like every one of its 107 minutes.  But I can never speak too poorly of an animated movie about lizards that finds room for cameos from Hunter S. Thompson and Clint Eastwood.

It’s a bizarre mélange of blatant influences and homages, from A Fistful Of Dollars to Shane to The Magnificent Seven to Chinatown to Raising Arizona (which my three-year-old niece picked up on – “This is like that movie with the babies!” – coolest kid in America, bar none.)  Basically it’s Blazing Saddles played out with animated animals (right down to the farts), as Johnny Depp’s insulated chameleon character gets lost in the desert, comes across a town starved for water, and somehow ends up with a job as their sheriff.

Obviously for a huge movie nerd like me, with an impressionable young niece in danger of becoming a huge movie nerd, this is a treasure trove.  The character designs are particularly distinct and creative, even by the high standards of modern animated movies, and the whole project is produced at the highest standards, notably the smart, reference-heavy score by Hans Zimmer, and the hazy desert look of the “photography”, which was done in consultation with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins.  I also really appreciated the simple fact that Rango didn’t force us to slap on those 3D glasses.  It’s 2-Dimensional and proudly so.  We’re not fans of that 3D malarkey around here, so it was good for us.

What I didn’t like was having to explain away all the deaths and innuendo and references to things like balls and prostate cancer.  Seriously.  This movie isn’t exactly for kids.  At least it has the sense to speed up during those parts, so that none of the truly adult moments last too long.

As always, however, I have random questions.  First and foremost:

Why does Johnny Depp do such a good American accent in movies while having such a weird accent in real life?

Also: I definitely had some issues while watching the lady lizard character, voiced by Isla Fisher in a frequently pitch-perfect Holly Hunter imitation.  For one thing, it looks like an artist’s rendering of what would happen if Tyra Banks mated with Jar-Jar Binks.  (Somewhere, some nerd is already working on that little fan-fiction.)  But really, it comes down to one thing:

Why does the cartoon lizard need to have A-cups, please?