Thursday, April 18, 2013

R + J = UGH

Romeo + Juliet
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Rudd, Jesse Bradford
Released: November 1, 1996

Oscar nominations:
Best Art Direction-Set Direction (lost to The English Patient)

Spoilers for a 500 year old story! 

I first saw this movie in the theaters when I was a teenager. I went with my friend who I had been talking to on the phone (a landline, not a cellphone, mind you - ah, 1996!) and she asked me if I had seen this movie and when I said no, she said, "OMG, we must see this now!" It was her third time seeing it and God knows if she saw it anymore times after that! I really don't remember what my reaction to the film was. I remembered being intrigued by the little twist where Romeo takes the poison because he thinks Juliet is dead, but just after he took it, she wakes up and takes his hand. I have never read the William Shakespeare play, but it doesn't exactly happen like that, right?  But I can't remember if I liked the film or hated it....honestly, I think I was just indifferent to it. This film was made for teenagers in mind so maybe because I was one the first time I saw it, I didn't have as strong of a reaction as when I saw it the second time 17 years later. (And by the way, this film is now as old as Claire Danes was when she filmed it). Maybe my teenaged brain was able to accept it and enjoy it and because this movie does have some odd nostalgia factor for me, I do like it for that, but rewatching this movie, I thought it was pretty terrible and I hated most of it.

Even though this movie takes place in "modern" times, there was really no need to update this movie as aren't every movie about a forbidden romance between two people an updated version of "Romeo and Juliet?" And there's a million movies that follow that format I could name, with Titanic, starring Romeo himself, being one of them.

Postlethwaite = MVP of R+ J
If you recall Moulin Rouge!, the film Baz Luhrman is best known for (cuz it sure ain't Australia!), that movie moves in a fast, frenzied, chaotic pace. R+J is the same way but it's almost more obnoxious because it's based on a William Shakespeare play. There are many quick cuts (because, mind you, this movie was made for teenagers and they don't have a long attention span so you need to keep everything moving, moving, moving!)  It is updated to a modern take but the actors still speak in Shakespearean dialogue. Everything rhymes and it doesn't sound natural. It almost sounds like a parody. The only person who I could buy speaking in this dialogue and who really brought it was Pete Postlethwaite who plays the priest. He was by far the most interesting character and my favorite one. I enjoyed how his choir sang their own rendition of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Speaking of the music, that was a very big part of this movie. The soundtrack was really popular back in the day (I didn't own it, but I did have a compilation CD with "Kissing You" by Des'ree on it). I have a funny story to share about one of the songs: I listen to this podcast called Redemption Cast which covers each episode of the TV series, Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off with David Boreanaz. (Their podcast of Buffy is called Potential Cast - it's very good; if you're a fan of Buffy, I highly recommend it). Anyway, on Redemption Cast they (there are four or five people who discuss it) were trying to come up with a theme song within the first few episodes. On one episode, this guy chooses a song called "Angel" by Gavin Friday which is featured in R+J. The guy is singing with a high-pitched voiced saying, "Aaaaan-geelllll, hooooolld ooonnn toooo meeee." It's really hard to describe without listening to it, so I highly recommend that you Youtube or Spotify the song and just listen to the first 30 seconds and you'll understand why everyone on the podcast and myself were cracking up so much when this song was played as a potential theme song for the podcast. (They went with the theme song to Angel for their theme song and just wrote their own lyrics for it if anyone cares....I kinda wish they had stuck with the awful "Angel" song!)

I should probably mention by now that Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play our star-crossed lovers. If Leo had lived during Shakespearen times when male actors played both male and female parts, he could have easily played Juliet too as there is a bit of a feminine quality to him in this movie. Even though he is almost five years older than Claire Danes, he looks like he is five years younger than her and Claire looks her seventeen years, so yes, I am saying he does look twelve in this movie! Romeo and Juliet move pretty quickly as they meet, fall in love, and get married the next day. A little ridiculous if you ask me. I did think the scene where they first see each other through the glass of the aquarium was pretty cute when they were smiling at each other. It was cute puppy dog love, but I did not buy them falling in love that quickly. Yeah, yeah, I know they're Romeo and Juliet, but give me a break. I guess you cannot accuse me of being a romantic at heart! I thought it was really creepy when Juliet plans to fake her suicide the day before she is suppose to marry Paris and before she goes to bed, says to her mother, "Farewell - God knows when when we should meet again."  If someone ever said that to me, it would send a bit of a warning bell!

I already mentioned Pete Postlethwaite as being one of the supporting actors in this movie, but there's also the totally random and odd choice of actors who play the parents. As Mr. and Mrs. Capulet (Juliet's parents) is Paul Sorvino and Diane Venora (perhaps she was chosen because her last name is an anagram of "Verona?") As Mr. and Mrs. Montague (Romeo's parents) is Brian Dennehy and Christina Pickles, best known for playing Monica's and Ross's mother on Friends. Then you have John Leguizamo as Tybalt, the leader of the Capulet gang; Jamie Kennedy as Sampson, the leader of the Montague gang (and for the record, the Capulet gang looked tougher as the Montague gang was compromised of a lot of sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts); Lost's Harold Perrineau as Romeo's flamboyant best friend, Mercutio (the slow-mo of Leo's angry face when he's driving his car after Mercutio dies lends for a comically hilarious scene);  Paul Rudd as Paris, the guy Juliet is supposed to marry; and Bring It On's Jesse Bradford as Balthasar who tells Romeo that Juliet has died. (I guess he didn't get the memo that she wasn't really dead!)

The movie starts with its own little trailer as the beginning is a news report of what happened to the young lovers and gives a little synopsis of what happened to them. So really, you only need to watch the first two minutes of this movie and you've seen it all!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cartoon Network

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Director: Robert Zmeckis
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy
Voice Talent: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner
Released: June 22, 1988

Oscar nominations:
Best Sound Effects Editing (won)
Best Visual Effects (won)
Best Editing (won)
Best Art Direction - Set Direction (lost to Dangerous Liaisons)
Best Cinematography (lost to Mississippi Burning)
Best Sound (lost to Bird) <----- What is that???

I remember seeing this movie with my family when I was in elementary school and I was probably bored with the parts that didn't have any cartoon characters (there are a few scenes) and I remember being terrified by Christohper Lloyd's villain, Judge Doom at the end of the movie.

I didn't like this movie as a kid and I still don't like it now nearly 25 years later with my first rewatch. I can appreciate what this movie did with combining real people and scenes with animation as it paved the way for....Space Jam....and other movies, I'm sure. Snide remark aside, it was pretty amazing seeing how they incorporated the two worlds and the mending of real world and animation holds up pretty well after all this time even though there were a few scenes where it looked a little fake.

I really hate the character of Roger Rabbit. He is really, really annoying. I think he has ADD or something. Bob Hoskins should thank his lucky stars that Roger Rabbit is not real and he didn't have to actually act with an insane, hyper animated rabbit, though I'm sure Charles Fleischer was in the room so he probably had to listen to that irritating voice. And let's be honest, I think Jessica Rabbit is the standout star from this movie. She was obviously drawn by a man. Her proportions would give Barbie body image problems! I was really surprised when they were listing the cast at the end of the movie and I didn't see Kathleen Turner's name since she voices one of the most popular characters in the movie and is a bigger name than Charles Fleischer, but when I looked it up on IMDb, she was listed as uncredited on that.

Another thing I can appreciate about this movie now that I couldn't appreciate as a kid was the licensing to get both Disney and Warner Brothers characters in the same movie. There's a scene where Eddie (the character played by Bob Hoskins) goes to Toon Town (a place I would never want to looked more scary and disturbing than warm and inviting) and he falls off a building and Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are next to him with parachutes. They're both kind of douches, Mickey and Bugs. There's also another scene where both Donald Duck and Daffy Duck are playing dueling pianos at the club where Jessica Rabbit sings and get into a huge fight. It's Donald who is more vicious....funny, I always thought it would be Daffy who would be the meaner one. While at the same club, there are animated penguin waiters and Eddie asks one for scotch on the rocks and says, "And when I say rocks, I mean ice!" When he gets his drink, it's filled with small rocks. Obviously, that was a joke that totally went over my head when I was a kid, but it did get a smile out of me from rewatching it.

Roger is being framed for murdering the owner of Toon Town and Eddie is the detective who's investigating it. Roger thought his wife, Jessica, was having an affair with the murdered man which is why he is the number one suspect. The movie is set in the 1940s so it has a very film noir style to it.

As I mentioned earlier, Christopher Lloyd plays the evil Judge Doom who has come up with his own concoction of how to kill unruly toons....a vat of chemicals he calls The Dip (You think an eraser would do the trick!) This disturbed me greatly watching it as a kid, and it still did on rewatch. Obviously I know cartoons aren't real (and yes, even as a dumb kid, I knew that back then too!), but in the world of this movie, they are real, so when Judge Doom grabs an unsuspecting shoe and drops it into The Dip, it's a bit unnerving. And I felt bad for the other shoe that was a pair to this one! I'm glad it was just some random animated thing they "killed" and not a beloved animated figure like Dumbo, who has a small cameo at the beginning of the movie. (I don't think Dumbo could fit in the vat anyway...but you get what I mean). And it wasn't just shoes that were animated.... pretty much everything in this movie that is animated has a face and can move around. The cartoon gun Eddie picks up right before he enters Toon Town didn't have a face, but the bullets did! They have little faces. That was a little....odd.

Judge Doom has henchmen who are animated wolves, which is weird that animated characters would help some guy kill other animated characters and if Judge Doom hates cartoons so much, why are his only "friends" animated?

We learn that Eddie has a backstory where his brother was killed by a Toon...and it turns out the Toon that killed him was Judge Doom. That's right, Judge Doom is actually a cartoon, but when he is revealed to be a toon, it is still Christopher Lloyd, but with just crazy animated eyes. That's not a cartoon!  He scared me because  had  these really creepy, crazy cartoon eyes that were red and white swirls.

This movie is based on a book called "Who Censored Roger Rabbit". I can't imagine reading a book where humans and animated characters interact....that seems like it would be best done with film...which is probably why the movie is more well known than the book. I didn't know it was based on a book until quite recently.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Insert Coin

Wreck-It Ralph
Director: Rich Moore
Voice Talent: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk
Released: November 2, 2012

Oscar nominations:
Best Animated Movie (lost to Brave)

This movie and Brave were the only movies nominated for the animated feature Oscar I saw and while I liked both, I would have voted for Wreck-It Ralph to win. Even though I'm not a video game aficionado, I thought this was a cute and enjoyable movie. The only games I remember playing at the arcade are Pac Man, Super Mario Bros., and any race car game where I always managed to crash within a matter of seconds. I used to frequent the arcade at West Ridge Mall (Topeka, KS - holla!), but I cannot remember what it was called.  

Like in the world of Toy Story where the toys come to life after humans have left the room, these are characters in video games that come to life after the arcade closes. Not only do they live inside their arcade machine, but they live within the world of their game. Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the villain of his '80s game, Fix-It Felix Jr. He's a big guy who goes on a rampage and smashes the windows and bricks of the Niceland Apartments until Fix-It Felix Jr. comes along with his magic hammer and makes everything as good as new again. Felix (voiced by 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer) and the other residents of Niceland live in the penthouse of the apartment while Ralph lives nearby at the dump. The characters can interact within other video game worlds and and they travel through the power cords and get to them through the Central Gaming Station. Once the arcade opens, they must be back in their own game ready to be played. 

Ralph has been going to a support group called Bad Anon where he and other villains of video games get together (at the Pac-Man game since it is hosted by one of the little ghosts that chase Pac-Man around) and discuss their feelings on being the villain of their games. Besides the Pac-Man villain, I only recognized the dragon from Super Mario Bros. and there were a lot of characters in that scene. Ralph reveals his feelings about how under appreciated he feels in his game and that he wasn't even invited to the 30th anniversary celebration of his own game (and Pac Man was!) He gets into an argument with the other characters from his game and one of them tells him when he gets his own medal (because Felix is always rewarded with a medal at the end of the game while Ralph is tossed off the building), he can live in the penthouse with everyone else. Ralph takes this seriously and sets off to find his own medal. This takes him to a modern first-person shooter type of game called Hero's Duty where he meets a Lara Croft-like character named Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) who has my favorite line in the movie: "Armageddon and Doomsday just had a baby....and it is ugly!" The object of this game is to kill a bunch of bugs...and there are a lot of bugs. Through a mix up he ends up in a girly race car game called Sugar Rush. And if that game had really existed when I was younger, I would have so been all over that! There he meets and develops a friendship (an antagonizing one at times!) with Vaneloppe Von Schweetz, a character who has a glitch and is therefore forbidden to be picked by a gamer to play. She is voiced by Sarah Silverman who most people usually don't associate with animated children's films! King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudky) is the ruler of the land of Sugar Rush and is the villain of the film. There is a reason why he is making sure Vaneloppe never participates in the races, but telling would be spoiling! 

Sugar Rush! 

There are a few huh moments like why in a racing game there would be branches that disappear when you step on them and why you would need vines to get out of quicksand. They work for the the use of the characters, but as somebody playing the actual game, they don't make any sense. While Ralph is in Sugar Rush, Calhoun and Felix go in there together to get him out because if Ralph doesn't get back to his game, it will be defected and will be shut down forever. Lots of action in this film, just like you would find in a video game. I loved the ending credits where they pay homage to classic video game graphics.