Sunday, May 31, 2009

10th Anniversary: The Matrix (Part 1)

10th Anniversary is a column where we talk about popular movies that are now 10 years old. Are they still popular? Culturally and artistically relevant? If they're franchises, have they retained their commercial viability?

We start out with a discussion about The Matrix with Tyler Foster and Nicholas Prescott. Look for more on The Matrix with other members of our writing staff.

Tyler Foster: saw The Matrix really recently, didn't you? You saw it when I had us watch it.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah, I think so. I saw parts of it here and there, but I think I watched the whole thing with you.
Tyler Foster: And you'd already seen the sequels.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah.
Tyler Foster: Was there a reason you didn't watch it when it came out, or during the height of its popularity?
Nicholas Prescott: I don't know...
Tyler Foster: I mean, nobody recommended it to you, or lent it to you or something?
Nicholas Prescott: Nah. I mean...1999 I think I was still in middle school, and it was before we had a DVD player.
Tyler Foster: Do you think the movie's still relevant?
Nicholas Prescott: Culture-wise?
Tyler Foster: Anything-wise.
Nicholas Prescott: Well, it's a pretty closed universe. The ideas are as old as old philosophy can get. But Zion and everything, it holds up just as well as any other sci-fi epic. The scene in the third movie where Neo goes inside the machine city and plugs in to fight Smith for the last time is amazing.
Tyler Foster: The first movie is pretty effective, especially in its pacing, and the acting is a little better than the other two, which becomes more portentous.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah. I have issues with the storyline not in terms of ideas, but execution. The relevance of choice and overbearing philosophical tones are a bit annoying at points.
Tyler Foster: Do you think the sequels damaged the reputation of the original, or do you think as time goes on it might be more accepted as a continuous story?
Nicholas Prescott: That's hard to say, since I saw it kinda backwards. Obviously, the first movie is the best.
Tyler Foster: I always felt that as much as people criticized them, they felt like part of a whole. The main problem with the series as three movies, a conceit that Hollywood invented, really, is that they actually have about 2½ movies to tell, and the last movie is considerably padded.
Nicholas Prescott: I feel Revolutions was the weakest, but maybe because I was just upset that Smith lost. I really liked Reloaded for its audacity.
Tyler Foster: What specifically about Reloaded did you think was audacious? The major thing about Reloaded for me is the scene with The Architect. Maybe people thought he was just babbling, but I mean, it's the one part of the series that's the thickest with information. Important information, too.
Nicholas Prescott: I feel it laid down a lot of groundwork for the universe. Not the beginning, not quite the end, but definitely the beginning of the end.
Tyler Foster: So, the universe prompted you to want to write about The Matrix video games?
Nicholas Prescott: Well, the reason I picked The Matrix was: 1) The Matrix Online is closing down, 2) I can't believe there are only 3 major titles for this series, and 3) It's probably not going to see any more iterations. It's pretty much a dead franchise, so short of seeing Neo in a fighting game, I doubt you'll ever see another Matrix game -- but why? It's not like Star Wars isn't going to continue making games indefinitely, or even the Lord of the Rings series.
Tyler Foster: That's a good point. It's kind of shocking to wonder: is The Matrix franchise dead only ten years later? As far as popular culture goes, this was a huge series, and now it seems like there isn't much more to it.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah. I went back to The Matrix site researching one of the story writers for MXO, and they have all these comics up. I never saw The Animatrix, but the comics are pretty intense. Many of them steal ideas from classic novels, but yeah...there won't be another comic, video game, movie, or whatever in the foreseeable future.
Tyler Foster: Well, while The Matrix provides a lot of details that would lend itself to comic books, animated stories and video games, do you think the universe is really cut out to be expanded? If the story of Neo is at the heart of it, that story gets resolved. Does that leave room for more Matrix or not?
Nicholas Prescott: Well, obviously the possibility of prequels is basically infinitely deep.
Tyler Foster: Right. Especially since The Architect says there were previous people prophecized to be The One that were forced to give up and restart Zion.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah. Just because Luke kills the Emperor didn't mean Star Wars didn't come up with more stories. As far as what I'd like to see in a Matrix game, it'd do pretty well in an open environment, so, maybe an open level map, if not an open world like GTA. I don't really know if you'd want to play as Neo.
Tyler Foster: Well, you could have it be mission based, so you have to complete each mission in a set amount of time, before your ship inside the real world has to move. I mean, if you have something like The Matrix, you're going to want to take advantage of the fact that you have two worlds to play in. That game Enter the Matrix seemed to have it designed so you only played levels in The Matrix, and all the "real world" stuff was the movie footage they recorded just for the game.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah, I liked those games but they wouldn't cut it this generation.
Tyler Foster: I think there's plenty action you could be doing in the real world, like escaping from the squid robots, and occasionally you'd probably have to dock at Zion, and your goal would be to take down like central Agent points, although you'd want to avoid the Agents because regular people aren't supposed to be good enough to defeat or escape from them.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah. Alternatively, you could also play as an application, a rogue application trying to help the humans --
Tyler Foster: No, wait: imagine if you wanted to be an agent, this would be a rare opportunity to make like an almost completely player vs. player MMORPG where the agents you're like trying to avoid might be other players. It could have starter levels where you would be only trying to avoid preprogrammed Agents, but then as the game progressed you could move to missions that would be completely PvP and no AI villains.
Nicholas Prescott: Yeah, although, as you said, you're in a situation where you can't deal with Agents, so instead there could be situations where you end up fighting other humans that are still asleep and think you're a thief or a criminal, or you're fighting the applications or something, but Agents would still need to be unbeatable. They are working on a game that is supposed to be a single player campaign where the enemies are humans, but it keeps getting put off.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Remake Watch 2009: Part 4

Well, that Alien remake is apparently actually an Alien prequel, according to Collider, which is easier to ignore. I can't get nearly as up in arms about a prequel. In the meantime, we'll refile the project as a "reboot". Which means I should also note the Predator reboot they're doing.

Remake Watch 2009:
5 film remakes announced
4 film remakes released
2 tv remakes released
2 reboots announced
2 reboots released

A "reboot" is defined by Remake Watch as a new attempt at a film series with new actors playing old characters (thus, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Race to Witch Mountain are excluded). Sequels to remakes (The Pink Panther 2, Halloween 2) are ignored.

Armond White and Pixar's Up

Armond White, NY Press film critic and constant source of debate, gave Pixar's Up a fairly negative review, and for the sake of debate, Tyler and Matthew decide to break down Armond's nitpicks on one of the year's most critically acclaimed films.

Note: Some spoilers for Up follow, so if you haven't already seen the movie, read at your own risk.

Matthew Lingo: Armond is f---ing horrible. He can't have a soul if he didn't like Up. At the very least, it’s possibly Pixar's funniest movie, which at least merits a recommendation.
Tyler Foster: Armond was pretty clear that he hated Pixar as a company, and wasn't limiting it to Up in any way, he thinks the studio is the death of animation and that their style is a horrible trend.
Matthew Lingo: ....why? Why does he think this?
Tyler Foster: Because he feels Pixar panders to moviegoers.
Matthew Lingo: What the f---, how can he say that, with the state of the rest of animated films right now? WALL-E's first half hour has no dialogue. That is not pandering. I think sometimes Armond just looks at what everyone else said and picks the opposite view.
Tyler Foster: Well, basically I think the gist of it is that he thinks Pixar takes an idea, and tricks the audience into thinking it's a much more elaborate idea than it is, so the audience sort of feels like they're dumb or lagging behind the idea, and then the movie gently brings the idea back around to its logical conclusion in a way that makes the audience feel like they've gotten smarter.
Matthew Lingo: Eh, that is a little silly to me. I don't think Pixar sets out to trick people.
Tyler Foster: Well, as a fan, of course you don’t think that.

Up’s uninteresting story of an old widower who attaches his home to helium balloons and floats off to Venezuela with an overeager kid in tow follows the same formula as the previous nine Pixar movies. This rote whimsy is as dispiriting as a production-line gas-guzzler. But artistic standards get trumped by a special feature: sentimentality.

Pixar’s price sticker includes enough saccharine emotion to distract some viewers from being more demanding; they don’t mind the blatant narrative manipulation of a sad old man and lonely little boy. They buy animation to extend their childhood like men who buy cars for phallic symbols.
Matthew Lingo: I see what he is saying, but I don't think it’s some bad thing. I mean, If I understand what he is saying correctly, my response would be it's more that Pixar’s movies occupy a weird middle place between conventional animated movies and what we as a culture associate with that style.
Tyler Foster: Or, actually, this might be the heart of Armond’s Pixar criticism right here:

Critics who forget that movies should be about people defend this reduction of human experience.
Matthew Lingo: It's not a reduction of the human experience.
Tyler Foster: When Up trivializes Carl and Russell’s loneliness —- treating it to the same Journey/Rescue/Return blueprint as Finding Nemo, Cars, WALL-E, .Monsters, Inc, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 1 and 2 -— the predictability becomes cloying. And the inevitable shift to anthropomorphism -— Carl and Russell float to South America, encountering a prehistoric bird and mysteriously “talking” dogs —- is very nearly depressing. Up drops its emotional elements for chase mechanics and precious comedy.This way, Pixar disgraces and delimits the animated film as a mushy, silly pop form.

After ripping-off Albert Lamorisse’s classic The Red Balloon, dispersing it into Carl’s thousands of colorful orbs, Pixar then literalizes the meaning of flight as a commercial icon: Up. Here, it’s simply the means to “adventures” and not an ecstatic elevation of individual identity.
Matthew Lingo: Ugh, he seems to presume that for flight to work as a metaphor it has to be a metaphor for what he specifically said it is.
Tyler Foster: Well, I mean, he's sort of right: the balloons themselves are almost like a MacGuffin, they don't mean anything to Carl. He used to sell them, which is why he has them, but the act of taking off is just Carl like escaping things coming down on him, like being labeled a public menace and the potential of being dragged to a nursing home. They aren't a personal statement about Carl in any way.
Matthew Lingo: So? At that point in the narrative, he's still an unhappy, bitter old man.
Tyler Foster: I'm just saying, that if that's what Armond needed, then he is theoretically correct that the movie does not offer what he wanted.

Pixarism defines the backward taste for animation. Refuting Chuck Jones’ insistence that he didn’t create his great Warner Bros. cartoon for children, Pixarism domesticates and homogenizes animation—as if to preserve family values. The only exceptions have been Brad Bird’s Pixar movies The Incredibles and Ratatouille — both sumptuously executed in Bird’s belief that animation should show “how things feel rather than are, indulging in the human aspect of being alive.”
Matthew Lingo: Well, Armond is being unfair if he brings in specific wants or demands.
Tyler Foster: Whoa, what kind of statement is that? I can’t go to a movie with expectations of what I’ll see? Armond didn't offer any specific meaning, he just wanted it to have meaning, and not just be means to an end. He just wanted it to mean something to Carl: something, anything. I'm not criticizing Up myself, I liked it, but I am trying to illustrate that even if Armond is crazy, at least he can articulate his stance in a way that makes sense, and may even occasionally be true. I guess you could say he's talking out of the smart end of his ass.
Matthew Lingo: Well, my reading of it from what you have sent is that Armond wanted Up to be something it isn’t, and he even compellingly explains why it wasn't that, but he seems to not acknowledge or consider the things that Up actually is, the ways it succeeds on its own terms.
Tyler Foster: What I see is Armond saying someone tying more than a thousand balloons to their house should be motivated by the character who does it and not by the plot, and I can see why he feels that Carl's escape from the city in his flying house is dictated by outside forces instead of something personal within Carl. Carl hitting that dude over the head and getting targeted as a public menace is an accident, not Carl deciding to bail on a world that doesn't want him and rigging the balloons in an act of specific defiance.
Matthew Lingo: Yes, but to me at least, one of the successes of the film is how it starts as just a way to escape going to the retirement home, but as the film goes on the escape and the house grow in meaning. I wonder if it was their intent to have the escape seem initially like a deus ex machina that wasn't motivated by character. I think perhaps at the end of the film he is the character that Armond wanted the movie to start with.

Tyler Foster: I agree, I guess. I was wondering if Armond would have had a different reaction if that late breaking discovery of what's in the Adventure Book had occurred at the beginning instead of the end.
Matthew Lingo: Perhaps. I mean I respect Armond and all, it’s just that I think Pixar has been on a steady path toward what Armond wants from a Pixar film.
Tyler Foster: Well, he seems to think Up is going in the wrong direction, that they have been closer before and this is not as good.
Matthew Lingo: Well, he seems to want...I don’t know, an art film with animation...
Tyler Foster: Yes, but right in there, though, that’s entirely his point. Why in the world would you hesitate at Armond wanting an animated art film?
Matthew Lingo: Well, art film isn't exactly what I meant. He seems to hold them to the standard of like, a Scorsese film or something.
Tyler Foster: Sure, but it doesn't matter. His point is that there should be no standard on what animation is and can be, and if people think Pixar is as clever as it's going to get, it sort of backhandedly hurts the art form. It’s sort of indirect. That’s where the flaw in his criticism lies, he's mad at Pixar for being popular, basically.
Matthew Lingo: Yeah. And I don't think Pixar is to blame, especially when they seem to be committed to increasing complexity and nuance as they go on. If anything, I would almost blame the other lazy studios, they are just letting Pixar monopolize everything as far as art and popularity go. If there were other studios giving Pixar a serious run for its money, then people might not just assume Pixar is the pinnacle and leave it at that. The frustration is none of the others really want to even try to do what Pixar does. Everyone else is still doing Monsters vs. Aliens and such, nothing that tries to advance what can be done in a popular animated film. That's the thing about Pixar that really sets them apart, they have always tried to convey that animation is a medium and not a genre, which is why it excites me that a Pixar movie has a miscarriage in it. They're showing that you can make an animated film and do these things. Yes, they still make concessions to younger viewers in ways but it doesn’t change that they’re making advances.
Tyler Foster: Of course, Armond also praises Teacher's Pet and Chicken Little which, regardless of their potential qualities, are likely not some magical reinvention of cinema.
Matthew Lingo: I suppose I would need to see Chicken Little but I just don't understand how it could be.
Do you think the world Armond envisions will ever happen? I mean, when it comes to, say, a Taxi Driver, there’s no real reason to spend the money and do it with computer animation.
Tyler Foster: Actually, i think it already has, I believe he mentions people's ignorance of films like Persepolis [although the Oscar nomination would suggest it’s less ignored than Armond implies].
Matthew Lingo: That's true. Waking Life is another good example. Waltz With Bashir.

Up is now playing in Disney Digital 3D and standard 2D theaters across the country. Forget what Roger Ebert says and see it in 3D, or at least forget what Armond White says, and see it at all.

Remake Watch 2009: Part 3

So, at ComingSoon they just posted an article about an upcoming remake of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, a 1985 comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Isn't the point -- er, financial motivation -- behind a remake that you have a brand name of sorts you can capitalize on and not have to market something new to audiences? Even though I'm pretty sure they sell this movie at Targets across the country for $5.00, it doesn't mean anyone's chomping at the bit to see the "franchise" continue or the "brand name" revitalized. At least people have heard of Dawn of the Dead and The Manchurian Candidate and would likely see a remake.

I'm glad we just don't care anymore. We'll pillage anything to avoid having to come up with a fresh idea. I feel like Girls Just Want to Have Fun was selected because Sarah Jessica Parker was in it. Just the fact that someone who is currently famous was in a movie is now grounds for remaking it. I'm sure they'll have a new Once Bitten going into production in no time.

I also forgot that the Footloose remake was probably announced this year, so I added it to the tally.

Remake Watch 2009:
8 film remakes announced
4 film remakes released
2 tv remakes released
2 reboots released

A "reboot" is defined by Remake Watch as a new attempt at a film series with new actors playing old characters (thus, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Race to Witch Mountain are excluded). Sequels to remakes (The Pink Panther 2, Halloween 2) are ignored.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

GOD DAMN IT FOX (Remake Watch Part 2)

CHUD has just posted an article about an Alien remake on the horizon (which is actually sourced from Bloody-Disgusting, but I'm going to credit CHUD because I read it there, and I like them better). Great. That means that Quadrilogy Blu-Ray box set I'm expecting at the end of 2009 will likely have some sort of promo information for some shitty remake. What terrible, stupid news.

Remake Watch 2009:
6 film remakes announced
4 film remakes released
2 tv remakes released
2 reboots released

A "reboot" is defined by Remake Watch as a new attempt at a film series with new actors playing old characters (thus, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Race to Witch Mountain are excluded). Sequels to remakes (The Pink Panther 2, Halloween 2) are ignored.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bad Lieutenant and Nicolas Cage

I think people don't understand the Bad Lieutenant trailer.

Maybe I'm wrong, but to me it seems clear. I mean, Herzog is not a hack. I get the sense he got saddled with some awful shitty cop script and responded by just making the silliest, weirdo movie he could.

"Shoot him again. His soul is still dancing." Not the kind of line you see in some shitty Righteous Kill of the week. The soul is breakdancing. There's ridiculous harmonica music. It doesn't make sense to me that Herzog would go from making some of the strongest films in his career to suddenly forgetting everything about how to make a good movie. To me it looks like great fun.

Someone also made a good point: in this weird way, Nicolas Cage has never really sold out.

Bear with me.

As much as he keeps popping up in "WTF?" movies, he has this consistently tried to work with interesting directors: the Pang Brothers, Proyas, LaBute, and now Herzog. The final products may have sucked but he's picking films by guys who have made really interesting movies; maybe he is just incredibly unlucky and all of the projects just end up being bad.

I really hope Cage can get a good role. I am tired of people hating him. He's one of my favorite actors. He is fearless and interesting in a way few actors are. I think that's why his bad movies flop so much. He always puts it all out there. I don't think you could accuse him of phoning it in.

"What are these f---ing iguanas doing on my coffee table?"

I don't know what to say.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans will be out in Belgium on December 2nd, 2009. Oh, you don't live in Belgium? Well, it opens the same day in France. No? On Argentina, it opens on December 10th. If you don't live in one of those three countries, no date has been set.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Thorn in the Heart

As anyone who knows me knows, I am a huge fan of Michel Gondry. So I'm just going to post this link to the ComingSoon article about his latest project, a documentary about members of his family.

In the meantime, I can't wait to hear more about The Green Hornet. It sounds like it's going to be certifiably insane. Summer 2010 can't get here fast enough.


James Cameron's Avatar isn't even here yet and I've already seen the future of 3D in movies. Just this morning I was wondering if it could be more than a gimmick, but of course, Pixar gets it right.

Up opens on Friday. See it in RealD 3D (note: I didn't enjoy seeing Monsters vs. Aliens in IMAX 3D, although I saw it at a "fake" IMAX theater, and I saw Up in RealD, so I'm vouching for that). Check out my DVDTalk review as well, right here.

Remake Watch 2009: Part 1

Flight of the Navigator and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are on the docket. I watched Flight as a kid, and I've been meaning to pop in the DVD I bought back in at least 2006, but I haven't. On the other hand, I've seen none of Buffy, be it the Kristy Swanson movie or the popular TV show (remake is based on the movie).

So far this year, they've announced remakes of Total Recall, The Neverending Story and Videodrome, off the top of my head. Certainly, there were more, so I'll edit this post as I remember.

Remake Watch 2009:
5 film remakes announced
4 film remakes released
2 tv remakes released
2 reboots released

A "reboot" is defined by Remake Watch as a new attempt at a film series with new actors playing old characters (thus, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Race to Witch Mountain are excluded). Sequels to remakes (The Pink Panther 2, Halloween 2) are ignored.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Bracelet of Bordeaux

A Girl Scout uses a magic bracelet to kill an old lady with a lawn mower, harass an ice cream man, and save some girl's ugly ass dog. Sounds good on paper, right?

My favorite part is when she uses the bracelet to become a Mexican gunfighter and makes a shopkeeper "dance".

The Bracelet of Bordeaux was just recently released on May 18th in select US theaters.

ETA: Please note that Monterey Media also brought us the horrendous abomination that is Gooby. If The Bracelet of Bordeaux wasn't enough horror for your eyes, turn your attention to this:

Gooby was already enacted upon theaters on April 17th, and is apparently coming to DVD soon to terrorize more people.

The Princess and the Frog

The trailer for Disney's upcoming 2-D animated film The Princess and the Frog arrived online within the last month or so. While it doesn't look bad, will it be good enough to engage audiences and save traditional animation?

Nathan Kerce: Is it possible for hand drawn animation to make a comeback?
Tyler Foster: Also, if The Princess and the Frog isn't a hit, is the entire future of hand-drawn animation going to hinge on it? I mean, it looks a little weird. Not in a bad way, but I'm not sure audiences are just going to run out and embrace it. I wouldn't have said the trailer looked like a hit movie, whether we were still making 2-D animated films or not.
Nathan Kerce: Yeah, the trailer kind of threw me off. The latter half with the quick clips seemed like Classic Disney and even got me pretty excited, but the first half felt like Home on the Range-level stuff. It was an awkward mix.
Tyler Foster: Did you see Enchanted? That seems like the smarter way to go, although it sort of short-changes the 2-D animation, in that it's only part of the film.
Nathan Kerce: I did see it. It's hard to judge, considering the plot was a parody on Disney Princesses, so the cartoon portion had too much from other movies for me to really enjoy it on a level above simple humor.
Tyler Foster: As much as I like traditional animation, and I do, I think the question is about finding a story that would somehow be better told with 2-D animation, and that seems like a hard thing to grasp...I mean, 3-D isn't just a technology, it makes the animation and world more dynamic.
Nathan Kerce: Yeah. Is 3D just another form of animation or is it the evolution of 2D?
Tyler Foster: But maybe this is backwards thinking, I mean I guess if I went about it the other way, I would be hard pressed to find anything about Toy Story or Monsters vs. Aliens that couldn't have been done with traditional animation. Maybe the questionable thing is that Disney's trying to kill two birds with one stone here: they're trying to resurrect like Classic Disney storytelling and traditional animation at the same time.

The Princess and the Frog opens November 25th in LA and NY, and goes wide on December 11th, 2009.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Michelin Man: The Movie

Recently, Michael Eisner's company announced that they would be bringing Bazooka Joe to the big screen, and I wondered if Hollywood has any perception of the future they're creating.

Check IMDb: there are movie versions of Stretch Armstrong, Battleship, Monopoly and Ouija Board in development, along with an updated take on Clue. Over time, they've also tried to make Slinky, Super Soaker and Hot Wheels into movies, and of course we've succeeded in gracing theaters with Bratz, Transformers, and the 1980's gem Mac and Me, which regardless of the blatant E.T. rip-off, was clearly a movie about McDonald's. Really?

The point of adapting an existing, established brand name is that you have a built-in audience, but what exactly is the audience for Bazooka Joe comics? How many people out there love Joe so much they'll leap at the chance to see a movie with his character? But more importantly, do we really want to look forward to a future where all we've got coming out is licensed properties? I mean, we're pretty much already there: seeing Star Trek a second time this weekend, they played the trailers for Land of the Lost, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra and Transformers: Rise of the Fallen. And these are at least properties with established fans, who are going to go see the movie adaptations in question. I can't imagine people lining up for Stretch Armstrong, and even if people would, I don't think I want to see it.

It's easy to complain about established franchises and the growing commercialization of Hollywood, but I wonder if people even think about what they're missing. Instead of a Beverly Hills Cop for the 21st century, we're probably going to end up with a literal new Beverly Hills Cop movie. Instead of any Die Hard-level action movies, we're going to have to a third Transformers or future X-Men prequels. Our generation won't get a Ghostbusters or a Back to the Future, we're just going to get more of what we've already had, whether that means sequels, reboots, or adaptations we don't want, like the unfortunate Bazooka Joe.

But I'd like to be wrong. Let's hope summer 2010 brings us a blockbuster of surprising scope and exhilarating invention, and that no part of the idea came off of the back of a bubble gum wrapper.