Category Archives: Movies

Refresh, Not Reboot: Thoughts on Jurassic World

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When Zach and Gray, two brothers from Wisconsin, arrive to Jurassic World, they briefly check into their hotel room. They’re VIPs, there at the behest of their aunt Claire, and her assistant gives them something important—wristbands, to signal their VIP status.

Although the film never actually explores this, my mind immediately turned to Disney’s MagicBand system, a new way for offering a more personal experience at DisneyParks. Your MagicBand opens your hotel room, pays for your meals, and at some restaurants it can even inform the host that you’re the person walking up to the podium, and inform them where you’ve been seated for that particular meal.

It’s unlikely that the MagicBand system was operational enough during the production of Jurassic World for it to be integrated directly into the film, but it’s a perfect technology for understanding its strategy. The MagicBand system has a complicated relationship with control: by giving the park guest a greater ease of control over their experience—fewer keys, no need to carry cash, fast pass access, etc.—it also gives Disney the data necessarily to control the park as a whole. They know how you move between rides, they know what type of people spend in what patterns, and they can design the parks in ways that support this.

In the film itself, this is how Jurassic World tracks and controls its dinosaurs, but that particular comparison is a dead end. Instead, watching the film I was struck by how much it feels like the result of the filmmakers tapping into market research from people of my generation who grew up with Jurassic Park as a formative filmgoing experience. We are the “visitors” to Jurassic World, and Colin Trevorrow’s film never lets us forget it—there is no hiding the line drawn between theme park guests and moviegoers, and of the need to create “new attractions” because we’re just not satisfied with what we had before. It’s a toothless critique given that the effects-laden film in front of us fully gives into the evolution of blockbuster filmmaking, but it is nonetheless a potent one in how it works overtime to tell us not to get distracted by the shiny objects. It takes the things for which we are—purportedly—nostalgic, wraps them up in things that are shiny and new, and then systematically pushes us to wish they could just be back to normal again.

And, at least for me and much of the audience I saw it with, it worked like a charm.

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Trailer Teasers and Teaser Trailers: The Internet’s Jurassic World Problem

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 5.03.01 PMEarlier today, Vulture—mirroring a lot of other sites, as pictured—proclaimed that “The Jurassic World Teaser Trailer is here.”

It’s not.

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Come and Stream Your Songs?: The Jukebox Soundtrack in the YouTube/Spotify Era

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When this week’s final Billboard Hot 200 album chart is released, either the 51st installment of the Now That’s What I Call Music! series or Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the soundtrack to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, will be the best-selling album in the United States. If Awesome Mix Vol. 1 makes it to the summit, it will be the first soundtrack from a summer film to reach No. 1 since Mamma Mia! in 2008, and the first for a non-musical since Bad Boys II in 2003.

This would be a significant accomplishment with or without No. 1, particularly given the fact that the various songs that make up Awesome Mix Vol. 1 are readily available to stream on services like Spotify, or on YouTube. There is no single to drive sales of the album, as the film’s jukebox-style soundtrack relies entirely on songs from the 1970s. And while some Twitter conversation among colleagues made a connection back to K-tel—and we could think about Time Life as well—in regards to the album’s appeal to a nostalgia for music of this period, there’s also a wide audience of younger audiences who may not be familiar with some of the songs used in the film. But those audiences are often imagined as those who stream music on YouTube or Spotify, and who could simply create their own playlists featuring the songs from the film without needing to pay out for the album.

Given this, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack offers an interesting case study of how these platforms are being activated by labels like Hollywood Records, and how this jukebox soundtrack is being branded—if not “sold”—in spaces that won’t be counted by Billboard’s album chart.

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The Familiar Five: Reflections on a Summer Movie Marathon

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It was interesting to see how people responded to the notion of seeing five movies in theatres in a single day. My initial instinct was that it was madness, an opinion shared by many others; others thought it wasn’t a big deal, remembering Oscar marathons or film festivals where they sat in theatres for just as long if not longer. What everyone could agree on, however, is that it’s decidedly abnormal, which is why I jumped on the chance to attempt it once I realized it was temporally possible.

I saw four movies back-to-back in January of 2011, the first time I had attempted such a marathon, so this was not entirely unprecedented. However, this felt like a different experience, and not just because I was adding a fifth movie to the equation. Adding a fifth movie was indeed a challenge, necessitating more scheduling juggling to get the timing to work and forcing an earlier morning, meaning that I’d more likely be sleep deprived. However, it also depends on where the movie marathon is taking place, both in terms of cost and nearby amenities. My previous marathon took place at a theatre with discounted Tuesday tickets and nearby fast food for lunch; this marathon took place at Madison’s AMC 18 Fitchburg, which also has inexpensive matinees but is isolated to the point I had to walk fifteen minutes beyond where a bus was able to take me.

There’s an argument to be made that all this preparation—the Large Popcorn bag you keep refilling halfway because you know you’ll eat it all if they give it to you, the two orders of overpriced chicken tenders constituting meals, the snuck-in water bottle you refill in the water fountains, the Ziploc bag of ginger cookies, the brief bit of fresh air to keep sane—overpowers the movies themselves, already at risk of seeming lost as you jump from film-to-film, genre-to-genre over the course of the day. At the same time, though, there’s something nice about losing yourself to the movies for a day, rather than watching a movie distracted by what I’d been doing before or what I need to do after. I may have been tired by the time I reached my fourth and fifth movies, but I was also squarely in the moviegoing mindset.

My particular moviegoing mindset is also particularly tuned to marathons. I’m not someone who has incredibly strong responses to movies: I like seeing movies, and I like discussing movies, but you’ll rarely see me take a hard stance on whether I liked or disliked a particular film. This is not to say that I’m not critical of films (I can’t shut that off), but rather that I’m more likely to treat their consumption as a sort of cultural participation rather than evaluation. Seeing five movies in one day is the natural progression of losing an hour watching trailers on Apple.com, jumping from genre to genre in order to get a big-picture view of the cinematic landscape.

Admittedly, it’s a big-picture view of the big picture landscape, focused mainly on films with wide distribution, big marketing budgets, and big box office goals. That’s where my filmgoing tends to focus itself, both because it’s the kind of movie experience I grew up on and because it’s the type of movie I find most easy to participate with (not to mention the easiest films to find in multiplexes with cheap matinees). It’s also the type of experience that tends to play well in marathons, a lack of subtlety better opening up space to place the films within different cultural or industrial conversations.

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The Simpsons Movie and The Brevity of Spider Pig

I could write a full review of The Simpsons Movie, which I took in yesterday afternoon, but I’m going to link you over to The Elder’s review over at McNutt Against the Music. Essentially, we both agreed: the film was derivative in almost every way, and yet was really quite funny, entertaining and worth the money. At this point in time the film’s impact is limited by the level to which the series has run potential storylines into the ground; there was nothing fresh to be found, no character stone left unturned. In the end, however, they milked every last drop of humour they could out of America’s favourite family, and the result was an engaging motion picture.

And engage it did: the film garnered a staggering $72 Million opening weekend. The Elder argued that this wasn’t too surprising, but analysts were much more modest with their predictions. The Simpsons are one of those properties where its current fan base is young, its largest fan base is in limbo between childhood and adulthood, and it’s kind of impossible to know how the demographics will turn out. Either way, they turned out, and Fox is laughing all the way to the bank.

One thing I do want to say about the film is how impressed I am by one segment in particular: Spider Pig. This was a big hit in trailers and commercials, and the internet has embraced it fully. I, at worst, wasn’t convinced: it seemed like just a lame gag. However, it is handled effortlessly in the film. When the writers conceived the idea, it was likely just a bit piece, and that is how it stayed.

YouTube – “Spider Pig”

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Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling has yet to write a perfect novel. While she still has a chance with next week’s release of Deathly Hallows, she has yet to craft a literary masterpiece that lacks a single plot hole, inconsistency or highly illogical subplot regarding a textbook. And so it is that the directors taking on the task of adapting these books need to keep in mind that the text placed in front of them is, well, perhaps a little bit flawed.

David Yates, I feel, is the first to look at one of these stories as a recipe, not a rule book. While even Alfonso Cuaron developed a fantasy film rich with wonder and sorcery, although in his own unique style, Yates is the perfect director for embracing the series’ turn for the darker and more mature in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He sticks to the basic ingredients, but presents them in a more traditional, not fantastical, fashion. The result is a film that feels perhaps less stunning as Cuaron’s film, but at the same time feels more grounded in a reality, as opposed to a fantasy world.

This is all a very good leap forward for the series, but Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg have one distinct problem: The Order of the Phoenix is, of course, not a perfect novel. Rowling’s characters more stumble into early adulthood as opposed to grow naturally into it, and the novel’s greatest flaw (The transition into its climax) rears its ugly head. Yates manages to fix some of the book’s problems, but he can’t fix that final one.

The result is a film that, much like the book, signals a change. Order, as a book, featured some strong writing and some brilliant scenesetting from Rowling; similarly, Yates delivers some stunning imagery and a strong sense of thematic timing for a TV director. The problem is that, even as the technical or other elements improve, Order is still an awkward story that will never be perfect. And that, inevitably, makes Order a good, but not great, piece of filmmaking.

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Duelling Reviews: The Critical Divide on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Reviewers across the world will be sinking their teeth into Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix over the next few days, but don’t let the early Rotten Tomatoes score [EDIT: It was at about 90% when this was written, and has fallen below 70% as of Monday Evening] fool you: this film will likely end up dividing critics more than any other in the series. Why? Well, the reviews are going to fall into two camps:

Those who embrace the film’s anti-authoritarian, traditional film plot, and those who wanted to see more whimsical Quidditch matches and other such magic.

On the side of the more traditional film plot, we’ve got a few reviewers who are actually labeling the film the best yet:

Time’s Richard Corliss:

Another mystery–whether a new director (David Yates) and scriptwriter (Michael Goldenberg) can build on the intelligent urgency of the past two Potter films–is cleared up in the first few minutes as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) performs some impromptu magic to save an ugly Muggle. The confrontation is swift, vivid, scary and, to the audience, assuring: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be a good one. Perhaps the best in the series, it turns out. The tone and palette are darker, the characters more desperate and more determined. Playtime is over; childhood is a distant memory or just a dream. For Harry and his friends, it’s time to grow up and fight Voldemort or surrender to him.

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Where Can You Watch Pixar’s Lifted? Only in Theatres…and on iTunes!

[EDIT: As Leland has pointed out, Lifted can now be purchased in the iTunes store for those interested in viewing it again and again for the low, low price of $2. But he’s also correct to point out that seeing it in theatres is a whole different experience. Thanks for the heads up, Leland!]

Over the past few days after the release of Ratatouille, people have been stumbling across Cultural Learnings’ review of the short film, Lifted, that appears before the new Disney-Pixar release in theatres. It seems, based on the amount of people searching for a way to see the short film, that people want to watch it again. Well, I’ve got some bad news for you: Disney and Pixar are not going to be letting you do that online any time soon.

Why? Well, because they want you to go see ‘Ratatouille’ again, of course! If it was available online, that’s one less reason for people to bother heading to theatres to see their new animated film, so of course they’re going to be militant about keeping the short under wraps. They even deleted a short clip of the short from the AWN Oscars Preview that had been up in February when the short was nominated for an Oscar.

So, if you want to see it again soon, I suggest heading to your local theatre to check out Ratatouille for a 2nd time. However, if you’re patient, I think that you’ll get a chance to download the short film from iTunes within the next week or so. Last year’s One Man Band, screening in front of Cars, was released to the service about a week after that film’s release. So, perhaps the end of the week will bring you the fix you’re looking for.

Until then, all we can do is wait and hope that an abuctor-in-training doesn’t get us killed in our sleep before we get a chance to watch this hilarious little film again.

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The Ten Reasons You Should See Disney-Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’

I saw ‘Ratatouille’ two weeks ago in a Special Sneak Preview, and I loved the film. And, well, I think other people should see it too. This is not a perfect film: its problems are small, but they are in fact there and this cannot be ignored. However, they are far outweighed by those qualities that raise this film experience to a different level than last year’s Cars. These qualities are those that make Ratatouille stand out for kids, adults, and all moviegoers. They might not stand out for every single critic, or for every single person who goes to see it: but I believe that they make this a film worth watching.

Over the past two weeks I have covered the first nine of these reasons, and with this feature I present the 10th and final one. For those who are not yet convinced as to whether this film is worth the time of you or your family, I can only say that the theatre in which I saw this film ran the gamut from toddlers to seniors. This is a film for everyone, and it’s a film you should see for the following ten reasons.

10. The Story

What makes Ratatouille so special is that its story covers so many bases without feeling overstuffed: Remy’s storyline deals with identity and finding one’s passion, Linguini has to learn to grow a backbone, and the commercialization of good food even gets its nose into the picture. While the themes and settings of the story are perhaps Pixar’s most unique yet, the heart at their centre is classic Pixar.

9. The Total Package (Wall-E and Lifted)

Now, this was technically just Wall-E in my initial piece, but I had to make a change to fit something in below. What the Wall-E teaser trailer and short film ‘Lifted’ bring to Ratatouille is a sense of both the future of Pixar and the value that Pixar brings to their films. For adults, seeing that Wall-E trailer gives you a glimpse at the conceptually unique film Pixar has coming next year. And, for kids and adults, Lifted is a comic gem that will get you ready for the main course.

8. The Music

I said a lot of positive things about Michael Giacchino’s work on this film, and reviewers are coming in with the same feelings. From the Chicago Tribune:

To “Ratatouille” Giacchino contributes the most delightful musical score of the year. His delicate, nimble flute theme for Remy (like Jean-Pierre Rampal on uppers) captures the hectic pace of a rat’s life, and there’s a genuinely rhapsodic swell of feeling in the way the orchestral music augments the rooftop view from Linguini’s tiny apartment, as seen through the eyes of Remy.

7. The Supporting Voice Cast

From unknowns to legendary film stars, what Ratatouille perhaps does best is maintain a sense of character within its, well, characters. These are not celebrities voicing people and rats, but instead people who are becoming these characters and giving them depth and interesting developments. Peter O’Toole is especially fantastic.

6. Paris

This film is as much of a love letter to Paris as it is to food itself. With breathtaking beauty, Pixar has created a stunning vista that stretches for miles which portrays Paris as a beautiful city; however, they go further. The sidestreets and alleyways are full of life, imagination, colour, and when Remy travels through this city there is a sense of discovery and wonder unseen in even previous Pixar films.

5. The Comedy

Some critics are claiming that this film isn’t funny, and I think they need to get in touch with people who know what comedy is. Comedy doesn’t have to be puns, or fart jokes, or even verbal. The comedy within Ratatouille is sly for adults, physical for the kids, and fast-paced even when the dialogue is not. While the film is not a laugh riot, with great precision it milks laughs out at key points to serve its story.

4. The Food

Buy snacks when you go to see Ratatouille, and make them as gourmet as possible. Your stomach will start rumbling watching this movie, and the preparation that went into this food is rather stunning. I’m pretty sure that Pixar’s animators will view cooking as easy compared to cooking it up on computers.

3. The Critical Moral

This is a change from my initial list, but I wish to change this for a reason: as more negative reviews (not unjustly) come in, my first fears have come true. The film has a moral message delivered by food critic Anton Ego that challenges the current state of criticism, and some reviewers are getting all uppity about it. I think they should watch the movie again and reconsider, but that moral is well-stated, brilliantly read by Peter O’Toole, and something to make you think after leaving the theatre. I won’t spoil it, per se, but I think it makes a strong coda for the film and is certainly a reason for adults to see this film.

2. Patton Oswalt / “Remy”

A lovable rat? It doesn’t seem possible, but Patton Oswalt gives Remy just enough rat-like qualities while creating an insanely likable lead character. You can’t possibly not root for Remy in this story, and Oswalt’s passion for all things food bleeds through his shiny blue fur to create an intriguing mix of rodent and chef extraordinaire.

And, without further adieu, the #1 Reason to see Ratatouille is…

1. Brad Bird

There is not enough space within ten reasons to address all of the amazing technical animation work, the wonderful layouts and backgrounds, the glorious sound effects and all of that other stuff. So, as we usually do, we like to attribute a film’s quality to its director, the person in charge of the project. Doing so for Ratatouille feels almost more natural: Brad Bird (The one on the left, for the unaware) is a fantastic director (“The Iron Giant”, “The Incredibles”) and this is a fantastic film. However, Brad Bird deserves simultaneously only partial credit for conceiving this film, and entire credit for getting it into the shape it is in now. And that struggle, without a doubt, makes the work of Brad Bird (All of it) the #1 reason to see ‘Ratatouille’.

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