Just paying my respects.

It’s very occasional that I’ll hear about the death of a celebrity and be moved by it. It’s difficult to be too bummed about someone you’ve never met. Like the death of anyone, they have to touch your heart in some way, make you laugh or cry or whatever.

In the case of Roger Ebert, he taught me that you can review a movie and make that review your own. He’s the reason I write reviews.

Until then, the only reviews I ever saw were in the free Blockbuster magazines, which were the definitions of sycophancy. The popcorn reviewers were transparently being paid (I recognised this even as a twelve year old) to sell DVD rentals, not give an accurate assessment of the films or videogames displayed therein. I read them out of boredom.

My alternative was the TV Guide, and even then, the only reviews with any character were the ones where the reviewer hated the film, giving it one star (“Rotten”) or two, and I scoured them to get a sense of what actually pushed the reviewer’s buttons to force out something reasonably comical and entertaining.

Then along came Ebert.

Roger Ebert’s power as a reviewer was that he loved film. He loved it so much that when a studio tried to pull a swifty on him, he would make them pay. It was impressive that a reviewer could have that kind of power, to turn around to Hollywood itself and say, “yeah, I’m not buying it guys,” and people would listen. Every single one of his reviews was filled with that considered, intellectual slant wherein his own opinions of the film were counterbalanced by a lifetime of film studies and objective journalism that would allow him to assess films, not simply pass judgment on them.

I remember flicking through “Your Movie Sucks”, and landing on his review of Death To Smoochy (2002), the dark comedy by Danny De Vito about a disturbing criminal underbelly of kid’s shows. He proceeded to tear the film to pieces, explaining in detail why he hated it, and I laughed the entire time, agreeing with his points, despite the fact that Death To Smoochy is an unironic personal favourite of mine. Ultimately, I loved the film for the same reasons he hated it, and I was okay with that, because he was able to eloquently defend his position in a thoroughly entertaining and agreeable manner.

Since then I have striven to do the same in my own reviews, treating them more as analyses than personal opinion soap-boxes, and always bringing my film knowledge to the table rather than simply my inexplicable gut reactions. I have become a more critical thinker, more fair in my judgments, and more careful in what I like and what I don’t like, and I enjoy films as a medium now substantially more because of it.

That is the effect Roger Ebert had on my life, and hearing of his death brought me a sharp pang of remorse. He will be sorely missed, but the good news is, the damage is done. His star is on the Hollywood walk of fame and many now take film as an art form more seriously because of Mr. Ebert’s efforts.

R.I.P.

Bring it on, yes, good.

Nightface: looks strickly aimed at kids or just people who want to shut their brains off for a bit XD
Nightface: plus the animation is slick as heck
Slunk: yeah in the sense that I was slicking around in my own vomit

Okay, so I’ve been trying to figure out who these movies appeal to, exactly, and I think with the help of this trailer I’ve figured it out:

  • Fat people who like to eat food. All the food in this movie actually looks really delicious. Watching realistic burgers rain from the sky literally makes me hungry. Now imagine what that is going to do to an army of popcorn-munchers who know nothing about film, but love to be reminded of their favourite thing in the world, which is hamburgers and chocolate sauce at the snack bar. This movie would be DISNEYWORLD to them!
  • Stoners, who get high and then go watch a movie. What, you think they’d get caught? Wake up, dude, people have been sneaking into the cinemas stoned since the sixties. Disney had an unexpected hit with Fantasia because it was seizurifically colourful. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs now marches through its opponents who fall face down in the dust of Colourful Movies. My eyes felt like they were on fire twenty minutes in of the first one.
  • People with daddy issues. If you are a white kid who thinks life was tough because dad told you to get a job, this movie will be right up your alley. I was personally less accomodating to the film that boldly claimed to have “an emotional core” that consisted of a crying little wimp whose dad just wanted him to get a real job and stop pitching movie scripts to Sony Animation Pictures (or, as some have interpreted the events of film, to ‘create a floating food-machine in the sky’). It was a wise move, though, because this film made so much money it was ridiculous. They’re laughing all the way to the bank, so who am I to criticize their emotional cardboard cut-out of a movie!
  • Nerds. They go quite far out of their way in the first one to push the message in dialogue, “you look better as a nerd, Weathergirl, I think you’re hotter this way.” Sony Pictures Animation are making sure that nerds know, in the most patronising way possible, that they are loved.
  • People who are not me. I concede that this is a very large demographic, probably the biggest one ever from my perspective. What is it, like, six and a half billion now? More, I think? So this movie is virtually guaranteed to make money, due to sheer demographic size

Brought to my attention this morning by my friend James, this review encapsulates everything I’ve been arguing with my friends about for the past few days. If you think this guy is wrong then you think I’m wrong too. Thank you for someone in a position of getting their word heard for clearing some of this shit up.

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Though I doubt anyone in the world is as perfectly cloned from my idea of the ultimate comedian as Nathan Rabin.

WRECK-IT RALPH

"I’m gonna wreck it!"

Honey, it was wrecked when you bought it.

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Whoah, hey, put down your BFG 9000 there, Bionic Commando! I never said I didn’t enjoy it! And I didn’t mean to imply that it’s not to most non-Pixar CG movies what Ocarina Of Time is to Shaq Fu. But it still has more holes in its plot than swiss cheese and the naked, bare mechanics of emotional storytelling are rarely, if ever, quite this on-the-nose.

The result, if you’re wondering, is that I considered it an “average” movie. Not in the sense that it did everything in between good or bad, but rather, I actually had to average it out, because there are a lot of things I really love about this movie, and there are a lot of other things I really hate about it.

So let us call the Wrecking Crew and get to work.

I shall begin with what I liked about it, and what it did right.

This would include the emotional handling of the film. Ralph truly is a loveable character, and John C. Reilly managed to pull off a stand-out job of voicing him. His friendship with sidekick Vanellope felt earned, rather than forced, as does his transformation at the end of the film into a better person than the selfish oaf he began it as.

The videogame references did not overwhelm, nor did they grate, nor did they particularly fall flat. This feels like a world that is populated by average joes who are doing their job, and happen to be videogame characters. Ignoring the fact that Sonic was all over the posters for this movie only to appear as a walk-on PSA, possibly one of the greatest let-downs in the history of cinema, I found their inclusion of real videogame characters and sentiments to be highly enjoyable. In particular, I loved Niceland, the way the characters moved in understated but jerky movements, and the way the architecture of the building was a combination of three dimensional solidity and pixellated windowframes.

The music choices were a little more awkward - I cannot find it in my heart to ever forgive a “musical montage” in a film, which Wreck-It Ralph is guilty of around the midpoint of the film, and what the fuck was Skrillex doing there? - but overall, the animation side of this film was breathtaking. It is possibly one of the best- and coolest-looking films I have seen in a very long time, and I’m a little surprised that it was Disney, the same people behind the awful-looking Chicken Little, who brought us this visual treat. They have obviously stepped up their game and, unlike their Dreamworks, Sony Pictures and Blue Sky cousins, are probably on par with Pixar.

Every arc had its place and was independently entertaining. Even the *groan!* Love Interest was quite charming, this bizarre relationship between a tough-as-nails corps soldier and a Mario-like naïve, dorky repairman was not something I have seen before, and it didn’t feel like a cheat. It was fun to watch unfold.

Wreck-It was certainly an exciting movie, full of fun moments and crazy action, and no one can attest to being bored while watching Wreck-It Ralph. It is paced excellently, though this is to be expected as it runs on the usual Hollywood ‘beat sheet’ almost to the letter.

So those were the things I liked about Ralph, and I liked them a lot.

The main problem I have this movie is that its logic operates solely on “Because Plot”. It is a marvelously well-told story from an emotional point of view, and if that is all you’re after in a movie, you’re going to love it. But it is told terribly from a technical and writing point of view. There are consistently scenes where something happens for no logical reason, but only to establish some emotional connection between the characters, or push the movie into the next act, or problem, or emotional confrontation.

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AND IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME:

Major spoilers ahead.

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List of things that are brilliant about that scene from Ratatoille

I am exactly like the food critic from Ratatoille when it comes to reviewing films. In fact it’s kind of spooking me how much I am like this with animated movies.

Why did I just watch the CG Astroboy.

I am such a sucker for punishment.
That movie is BAD. Like, REALLY bad. Like, how-does-this-exist bad. And if you don’t believe me, you can watch the whole thing on youTube.

If you dare