Friday, March 23, 2012

Glen Keane Resigns from Disney

I was very surprised to hear tonight that Glen Keane, one of the great creative forces at Disney for the last 30-odd years (except for a brief freelance period in the 80s), resigned today. I'm very curious to see what he does next. I think Disney needs Keane a lot more than Keane needs Disney, and after some of the things I've heard he went through on Tangled, he must be pretty tired. I sincerely hope it isn't a health issue; I know he's had some health problems in the past, and I desperately don't want this to be a Steve Jobs type of situation where he resigns and then passes away.

Cartoon Brew has the text of Keane's resignation letter, which is typically optimistic and classy. If there's any animosity in the situation between him and the execs, he's not even hinting at it. He's always been something of a hero of mine; back when I was a kid, I wanted to be either a Muppeteer, an ILM artist, or a Disney animator. Keane and Andreas Deja were two of the people whose work I've been fascinated with ever since.

Good luck, Glen. I look forward to seeing what your next move is.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

TV Report

Some brief observations.

:: I watched the HBO Zone marathon of the entire first season of Game of Thrones on Sunday. I was going to write out this whole post about how I think it would be really interesting and explain a lot of his frankly idiotic duty-and-honor-before-self-preservation-or-common-sense attitude if it turned out that Ned Stark was a Targaryen loyalist all along, but then it all started to sound like so much fansturbation that I chucked it. So I'll just leave that out there. Wouldn't it be interesting if Ned Stark were part of the Targaryen loyalist conspiracy all along? Like, a separate part of it, protecting Jon from Robert, but he doesn't actually know that he can trust Varys because Varys is an integral part of the Daenerys arm of it. Anyway, silly fan theories ahoy!

:: Also, the disappointing season finale of Pretty Little Liars came and went. Nice tease, but I don't believe for a second Mona is A. I have a silly fan theory about that one, too. Pretty Little Liars has basically become like Lost for me, where I want to figure out the mystery. (And where I roll my eyes at the soapier, sillier parts.)

:: Castle has been... not very good this season. I just haven't been having fun with it at all. The teases about Beckett's mother's murder have been too obviously stuck in just to draw it out, and the will-they-or-won't-they is basically the same thing. The rest of the show has just been sort of there, and I'm drifting in and out as I watch it. Guys, if you're not going to be invested in the episodes, why should I be?

:: The season finale of Clone Wars was excellent, all four episodes of it. I never thought I'd ever find Asajj Ventriss remotely interesting, much less be invested in her story. I'm having a lot of trouble reconciling the number of Phantom Menace/anything prequel-related/Clone Wars/anything fun in life haters I see on Tumblr with the number of people who were excited about the return of Darth Maul on Tumblr...

:: Has anyone else been watching Life's Too Short? God damn, it's good. Another from the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant humiliation-is-comedy school, but I think it's hilarious and Warwick Davis cracks me up on it. I feel like it's a wonderful treat for being a fan of his nearly my entire life.

:: I just sort of let Cougar Town drift away from me. Oh, well. I'll live.

:: House of Lies has turned out to be a surprisingly strong show. I didn't really have any expectations about it except that I'll watch whatever Kristen Bell is in (and it's better than her last, I don't know, 3 or 5 movies...). It's slick, but there's a surprising amount of depth to some of the characters and what we learn about their personal relationships. Glynn Turman is always excellent, and this is the first time I've liked Don Cheadle in anything since he was on ER. Which I hated him on. Turning point for that show for me.

:: Put Parks & Recreation on all the hiatuses you want, I'm still not watching Community.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Another wayward son comes home and is flooded by his past family regrets and secrets story. This is my problem with a lot of Australian movies: "What you're watching is SO MEANINGFUL!" "Yeah, but what does it mean?" "SO MEANINGFUL!" It doesn't generate any interesting emotions and comes across then as cold and functional. Kate is beautiful, though. **

Not really as funny or as scary as it thinks it is, but it's a surprisingly fun, silly-but-genuine movie about an alien invasion in London. It has a firm grasp of who its characters are, and doesn't compromise them as we follow a street gang through Bonfire night as they fend off attacking aliens and, I guess, find a sense of community. It sort of tries to do a Shaun of the Dead (same producers), but this is like Joe Dante to Simon Pegg's Steven Spielberg, back when those comparisons would have been favorable. John Boyega is especially good as the gang leader. Just a solid skiffy action flick. ***1/2 Dig the creatures themselves; they remind me of the Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures in Bone.

Fast-paced and surprisingly short (let's face it) retread of Final Destination. I'll got to bat for Final Destination; I still think it's one of the best horror films of the last 20 years, since it's actually scary and not just idiotic... This one is more of the same, but still with my darling Ali Larter. The deaths in this one are much more...gooey. **1/2

One of the most rivetingly bizarre movies I have ever seen. First off, the title's a puzzler, because it basically has nothing to do with Abel Ferrara's masterpiece Bad Lieutenant. But this movie...this is Herzog at his most strange and intense. Nicolas Cage is dialed up to about a 23 on a scale of 1 to 11 here as a dirty New Orleans cop with a hooker girlfriend who takes a lot of cocaine to relieve his back pain. Drug deals, rape, frame-ups, surprisingly good performance by Xzibit, etc. It doesn't matter. This movie's not, really, about it's plot, but about the way it unfolds that plot. It's not even really a character piece, either, as much as it's just about watching Nicolas Cage, speaking as though he's had a stroke, act his way through a movie that gets more and more intense and crazy. **** just for the conviction of the whole damn enterprise.

This is exactly the action flick I wanted it to be. It takes ERB's A Princess of Mars, combines some stuff from The Gods of Mars, and creates a romance adventure in the tradition of Star Wars. It has that big, pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue that sounds ridiculous but somehow matches the tone perfectly. There were one or two things I could've liked better (Taylor Kitsch, as Carter, is a fairly limited actor but doesn't pull you out of it), but there was nothing that I didn't like. I'm not even being uncritical here, because frankly, I expected it to be cute or "Well, at least they tried." I didn't expect to love it. Glad to see there's still a pure adventure film out there somewhere. Great casting otherwise (so nice to finally see Lynn Collins get a big lead again; it's been so long since she charmed me in The Merchant of Venice playing a character I tend to despise), and fantastic special effects. I adored Woola, the dog-like calot who follows John Carter everywhere. I have to say, I'm disappointed we'll never get a sequel, and the marketing person needs to be fired, but at least we got one absolutely terrific movie. If I could get one adventure like this every year, I would be utterly happy. ****

A little heavy on the cynicism, but otherwise another nice installment of the DC Animated films. I wonder how much of this was handled before the reboot was planned. I know the script is credited to the late Dwayne McDuffie, I'm just curious if the way it sort of forces you to accept Cyborg as a member of the Justice League was a decision made before or after they decided Cyborg would be a founding member in the reboot. That seems to be a major reason for this movie existing. He adds some nice lightness to the movie, though. ***

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Simpsons

Well, I started my Simpsons rewatch. I don't have much to say about the first season, honestly. It's a shakedown. It's clumsy in places, but there's a genuine heart and sense of character behind it. The animation gets better after this one. So, yeah, it's not a perfect season, and there's not much hinting at the greatness to come, but here are my reactions.

1. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (my rating: 3 out of 5)
As far as I can remember off the top of my head, this is just about the only Simpsons Christmas episode that I like. I tend to really hate their Christmas episodes. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it is a nice Christmas special and balances out its cynicism with some earned emotions. It's also a nice episode for introducing the characters; they can get away with some of the voiceover stuff because it's Marge's Christmas letter, for example.

2. Bart the Genius (2/5)
I've never been a fan of this one. Maybe because this came on when I was in junior high, and I knew too many little assholes like the ones in the genius school. That "hardy-har-har" joke is pretty brutal, though. I just like the bits about the way Bart and Homer's relationship changes when Bart pretends he's a genius. There's a genuine kernel of emotion there that's pretty universal. And it did give us the word "kwjyibo."

3. Homer's Odyssey (3/5)
It's okay. I'm surprised how packed with plot it is given the state of today's episodes, which are so thin. Very character-driven, which I like.

4. There's No Disgrace Like Home (1/5)
Everyone seems kind of out of character in this one, and Dr. Marvin Monroe is just grating.

5. Bart the General (2/5)
Mostly what I remember about this episode is the Patton music and that it was actually a mini-controversy in 1990 that a primetime TV show (and a cartoon at that) would say "family jewels." The episode itself actually anticipates that and makes a joke out of it. Now, 20 years later, Family Guy is on in afternoon syndication. Things change. The episode itself is merely okay. I think this is one of the only times where Nelson seems like a credible bully.

6. Moaning Lisa (2/5)
This one always bothers me. I was sad all the time as a kid. Lisa not knowing why she's sad is just a little irritating to someone like me, who has an imbalance and a short fuse. Maybe this episode is why she's always been the hardest Simpson for me to warm up to. I always dug Bleeding Gums Murphy, though. I think it's amazing that they got away with a jazz club called "The Jazz Hole" after "family jewels" was considered risque.

7. The Call of the Simpsons (3/5)
I always thought this one was cute. I think it's cartoonier than they'd been going for so far, and more rooted in situation than in character, so I look at it as something of a fun little break. I love Albert Brooks, too. "Have you ever known a siren to be good?"

8. The Telltale Head (1/5)
Pretty predictable, even without 20 years on it. Lizzie McGuire ripped this one off..

9. Life on the Fast Lane (3/5)
The first of many tests Homer and Marge's marriage will go through. This is the kind of emotional realism the show can really reach at its best, and I really appreciate that. We're not just watching a cartoon, we're watching emotionally believable characters, and seeing Marge undergo a moral dilemma--considering cheating on Homer with a charming French bowling instructor (itself a hilarious concept)--is compelling. Albert Brooks is funny as Jacques. The end of this episode is one of my favorites.

10. Homer's Night Out (1/5)
Despite my using an image from this episode as the frontispiece up there, I've never cared for it. It seemed dated to me even at the age of 13, and it seems much more so now in the digital age. It's ridiculous to me that this picture of a guy dancing with a clothed burlesque dancer would ever get around that quickly or really be that much of an embarrassing scandal. Maybe I'm just a deviant. I also think they repeated this same thing in season 8 with "Bart After Dark," another episode I don't like at all.

11. The Crepes of Wrath (5/5)
In my humble-yet-vocal opinion, the first truly good episode of The Simpsons. It has a strong grasp of its characters, but is still sympathetic to them (there are episodes where I end up truly hating Bart, but not here). It has a premise that gets broad as it goes on, but not in a way that abandons the story for jokes. And it has some neat animation flourishes, particularly Bart riding through famous French paintings when he's in the French countryside. This is the first one where I think everything works more or less perfectly.

12. Krusty Gets Busted (4/5)
The first of many times Bart will save Krusty, this time from a robbery charge. And the first of many... oh so many appearances of Sideshow Bob. I always used to look forward to him, and at some point that changed... I'll discover that when I get there. But this is a good episode and a good introduction to Krusty. Weird that they had him as one of the mob leaders in "The Telltale Head" without establishing who he was first.

13. Some Enchanted Evening (2/5)
You can't hold a lot of this episode against it, seeing as how parts had to be re-animated because it looked so bad and the balance doesn't hold. So-so concept, so-so execution, inauspicious way to end the first season. I like all the stuff with Homer and Marge's date, though; it's very sweet and reminds me of my parents (who at the time of airing had been divorced for less than a year).

Like I said, not much to say. Looking forward to some real meat, but by this point I think the show really knows who its characters are.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Song of the Week: "Hunger"

I've had this going through my head for a while, I guess mostly because Becca was doing Transformers: The Movie on her cult movie screencaps tumblr. When they made the animated Transformers movie in 1986--still one of my favorite movies from the era, no matter how dopey it is at times--they were apparently under the delusion that they were making Heavy Metal and gave it a similar soundtrack to that film. Somehow, it totally works. This is one of the first cassettes I ever bought with money I earned--around the same time I also bought Then & Now...the Best of the Monkees and Dare to Be Stupid. I listened to this one until it wore out. I'm not sure why it's specifically this track by Spectre General that's been getting my mental space this week, but here it is.

80s Revisited: Twins

Twins (1988)
Directed by Ivan Reitman; written by William Davies & William Osborne and Timothy Harris & Herschel Weingrod; produced by Ivan Reitman

Remember how big a hit this flick was? It had a huge marketing campaign just based on the popularity of the two actors and the cutesiness of the concept; even at 12 this thing seemed like one big in-joke to me, yet at 12 I also thought it was a cute, funny movie. I remember my dad loved it. I don't think I've actually seen it since I was 12, but I must have seen it a few times, because I was surprised how much of it I remembered.

You know the concept: there's a genetic experiment to create this amazing paragon of humanity, but the leftover genetic material creates a fraternal twin, and ha ha, it's Danny DeVito and he's short. (So is Arnold Schwarzenegger, but we won't get into that.) I had honestly always assumed this whole thing was written as a vehicle specifically for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, but apparently they were looking to work together and it was either this or Suburban Commando, which just makes me picture a weird alternate universe where Twins was made starring Hulk Hogan and Christopher Lloyd (which apparently it nearly was). I can't imagine that movie being a hit at all, can you? Even with Ivan Reitman directing it and the same light approach.

This is one of those movies that sort of typifies the feel-good approach to 80s comedies. It's not necessarily a family movie (not with a lot of the plot elements at play here), but it's not a movie that a family couldn't go see and enjoy. I wonder if the same could ever be true now. Can there still be light, family-friendly comedies that involve corporate espionage and a killer who murders anyone who sees his face? It seems like that kind of an element would be so dark now that it wouldn't even end up in a comedy about family. They'd have to win a baseball game to save an orphanage or something, instead.

And what about that corporate espionage plot? This is a movie about one twin's search for his brother, and their search together for their mother, and Arnold falling in love for the first time. Does it really need to be padded out with a corporate espionage/hired killer subplot? Probably not anymore than Three Men and a Baby needed to be padded out with the drug dealer plot. What the hell, 80s? And we also didn't need, I think, the bit about how DeVito and Arnold can find each other with, I guess, their magical twin powers or whatever.

This is a surprisingly not-very-good movie. It's very much of its time, and the core conceit is amusing for a minute and then not very funny thereafter. A lot of it skates by on the charm of the leads; Arnold is actually pretty good in this. I tend to forget why Arnold was ever as popular as he was, but back in this time period, he was charming enough onscreen and better at hiding the creepy bits of his personality in public; you wanted to like the guy, no matter how many Red Heats and Raw Deals he made. He's good here at making you believe he could ever be a guy who is naively afraid of girls instead of openly groping them. And Danny DeVito really carries this whole flick. Arnold is a bit more like a plot device, but Danny DeVito here gives a funnier, more layered performance as a three-dimensional person than this movie probably deserves. You end up caring about what happens to him, which is the one thing this fluffy movie precisely pulls off.

Of course, it also colors my perception that I just don't like Ivan Reitman. That guy got lucky with Ghostbusters and Stripes and then turned into a super-hack. And while this may not be hackery on the level of Dave or Six Days, Seven Nights, it is commercially designed to be a product. And I guess it worked. But seeing it again now, I was pleased by the surprising depth of Danny DeVito's performance--this guy never gets the credit he deserves for his acting. But don't otherwise feel like you would miss out on anything not having seen it. Unless you want a superb example of the weightlessness of 1980s comedy.