Monday, June 12, 2006

Movie Reviews: X3, Over the Hedge, Cars

It's been a while since I blathered on about movies. Here's a braindump:

Possibly the best thing about X-Men: The Last Stand was that D and I went with Loren and Suzie, good friends whom we hadn't seen in a while. Loren called us, out of the blue, on the Saturday before Memorial Day and asked if we wanted to go (he knows of my affinity for the comical books). We'd been planning to see it on Monday, but this was a much better offer.

The movie itself wasn't quite up to snuff. I can understand how it pleased those who were just looking for a big, loud spectacle, or drooling Marvel fanboys who get excited at the mere mention of the name of their favorite character, but it just wasn't enough for me. Too many ideas, not enough done with any of them.

And is it just me, or were the digitally de-aged Xavier and Magneto in the opening scene deeply creepy to look at? It looked like an intern had gone crazy with the "smudge" tool in Photoshop. Boy ain't right.

The other good thing was that we saw a better movie on Monday instead: Over the Hedge, very loosely based on the comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis. I wasn't sure what to expect going into it, but was pleasantly surprised by the screenplay-- the story, albeit predictable, has some nice satirical elements, and every character gets his or her moment.

I'd also wager that most of the computer animators were huge action movie fans. The third-act finale is action-packed and completely satisfying, more so because it pays off a number of gags established earlier in the film that seem to be throwaway at the time. It definitely shows when filmmakers care about their story and their characters.

But sometimes, even with a good story, things just don't click for other reasons. We saw Cars this past weekend, and our friend Carol was quite distressed at the meager Saturday night crowd. For me, it was surprising how poorly the movie connected with me-- I wouldn't say it was a flop, but it's probably Pixar's weakest product so far. And more than any of their previous films, this one is clearly a product.

Maybe my lack of enthusiasm is because I'm not a typical American consumer: I don't depend on my choice of automobile for some kind of personal identity or affirmation, and I don't feel that I need to go into debt for a new vehicle every few years. The movie seems to take that kind of emotional bond as a given-- of course you'll love a talking car!-- but the fact that the filmmakers didn't even try to earn that emotion put me off for most of the film.

Also, the premise is the polar opposite of every other Pixar movie to date. They've always done movies set in the real world, with a single make-believe premise: toys that have their own lives when people aren't playing with them, real monsters that scare children at night, etc. But Cars turns that structure on its head, by positing a world where there are no people, only sentient vehicles (V'ger's homeworld?), and slapping real-world elements on top of that-- a familiar skin on an alien body. It didn't work for me, because why would a world with no humans have vehicles and accessories that are clearly designed for human use?

Yes, maybe I am a nitpicker. But there were just too many places where a joke was stretched too thin, where they were clearly fishing for a laugh, where there was no justification in the world of the movie for certain things. If you keep breaking the fourth wall, you can't expect to keep me engaged in the story, with my disbelief suspended. (The Shrek movies are also guilty of this, but they usually don't overdo it.) Not to mention that car racing is apparently even more boring than baseball.

All that said, I would still recommend the movie. It's charming in its own right, and even though it doesn't have the soul of Toy Story or The Incredibles, its heart is still in the right place. It just wasn't for me.

But if you go, do stay through the end credits-- my favorite part was the sequence at the drive-in. Hey, if you're going to feature inside jokes, why not go for the whole nine yards?

And I can only hope that next year's Transformers movie (being produced by Disney rival DreamWorks) will make some sly reference to Cars in their marketing. "Sure, your cars can talk, but can they... transform?"

Meanwhile, this is what I'm really looking forward to this summer:

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