Oscar Preview 2014 – Best Visual Effects

By D.G. McCabe

As an avid fan of “boom boom, smash smash,” I’ve always had a soft spot for the visual effects category.  Here’s a preview:

1. Gravity

Let’s see.  Visual Effects Society Award – check.  Most visually stunning film of the year – check.  Probably going to sweep some other technical awards – probably check.  I think we have our winner here.

2. Iron Man 3

Superhero films tend to do well in the visual effects category, and Iron Man 3 was quite a marvel (pun intended) to behold.  The final sequence of the film had a lot going on but didn’t suffer from motion blur, for example.  Another fine effort from the special effects team at Marvel Studios.

3. Star Trek: Into Darkness

I found the effects in this one to be a bit busy at times, but stunning nonetheless.  It certainly has higher grade special effects than the old, 60’s TV series.  No actors painted turquoise with antennae on their heads in this one!

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Great dragon!  But one great dragon does not an Oscar winner make, despite the pedigree of the studio behind said dragon.

5. The Lone Ranger

No I didn’t see this one.  No I don’t know anyone who did.  No I don’t have any plans on seeing it.  All I have to say is for as much money as they dumped into this turkey, it BETTER have some decent special effects!

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Brave (2012) and Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Brave (2012)

Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, & Steve Purcell (USA)

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow (USA)

We have two great desires that we can never achieve – to change the past and to guarantee the future.  But what if you had the opportunity to do one or the other?

Two of this summer’s films address these dilemmas.  The films couldn’t have less in common otherwise, so it probably makes sense to address them one at a time.

Brave (2012) is Pixar’s latest offering. As a movie, it is certainly on par with The Incredibles (2004) and Cars (2006), but not quite as good as Pixar’s best (Toy Story 1-3 (1995, 1999, 2010), Finding Nemo (2003), Wall-E (2008), Up (2009)).  The plot centers around the impending arranged marriage of a Scottish princess, Merida (Kelly MacDonald).  Merida, who wishes nothing more than to avoid this fate, chances upon a forest dwelling witch (Julie Walters).  The witch gives Merida a spell which would stop the marriage, but the unintended consequences of said spell are shocking and horrifying (well maybe not horrifying, this is Pixar after all).

Much like the characters in W. W. Jacobs’ classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” Merida doesn’t consider the full scope of the consequences of using dark magic to try and change her fate.  While her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is stubborn, she is not entirely unreasonable. It is possible that Merida could have reasoned with her to avoid the marriage instead of trusting her fate to a random witch in the forest.

In Safety Not Guarenteed (2012), a team of reporters (Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, & Karan Soni) tracks down a loner named Kenneth who claims to be building a time machine (Mark Duplass).  While one of the reporters tries to re-ignite a long lost romance (Johnson’s character, Jeff), Plaza’s character, Darius, befriends the loner.  The movie could go one of two ways, either Kenneth is mentally ill or a genius, and I’m not going to give away the ending.  His efforts to create a time machine, however, are nicely woven into a film where the two other protagonists are either trying to re-live their past or, in Darius’ case, emotionally damaged by it.

As anyone knows from the Back to the Future films (1985, 1989, 1990), time travel is not something to be taken on lightly.  While Darius may want to change her past, she risks unleashing unintended and dangerous consequences (she is warned of this by Kenneth and “trained” to handle it).  As this and Jeff’s brief foray into his past romance seems to suggest, it may not be all fun and games even if Kenneth is legitimately a genius building a time machine and not just some nut.

In the end, changing the past or guaranteeing the future is folly.  If you want to spend your $10 of summer movie money wisely though, either of these films are worth escaping the heat wave for.  Then you can think about some of their overarching themes afterwards over some cold drinks at the beach.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part Two: Failed Blockbusters

We, the American public, are in an unhealthy relationship with the Hollywood Blockbuster.  As a crazed songstress who enjoys getting drunk and thrown out of baseball games in her spare time might put it…actually no. I’m not going there.

A great blockbuster has the ability to entertain us again and again like no other genre of film.  The best ones are mainstays of our movie collections – the ones that we upgrade from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to Digital.  The worst ones, well that’s another story.  They often make lame excuses for their transgressions, but we keep coming back.  Here are some of them…

But baby, I give you what you need

e.g. Transformers (2007), Armageddon (1998), Independence Day (1996)

Sometimes we just want to turn our brains off and watch things explode.  The more explosions the better.  If recognizable buildings are destroyed (Independence Day), fantastic.  Or if the explosions are caused by giant robots trying to kill each other (Transformers), that’s pretty great.  Also if the explosions are caused by asteroids (Armageddon), asteroids are fun right?  Boom!!!!!!!

Is there anything wrong with our insatiable desire for explosions?  I don’t know.  Even if we secretly wish the human protagonist would get stomped by Megatron, we keep coming back for more.

But baby it was so great the first time

e.g. Star Wars Episode I (1999), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997),  The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Godfather Part III (1990)

Remember those blockbusters I mentioned in the intro?  The ones you absolutely love and can’t get enough of? Well sometimes the sequels don’t pan out so well.

Whether it is caused by misguided megalomania (Episode I), a director who’s just trying to make a quick buck (The Lost World), or failure to understand what made the original movie so popular (Matrix Reloaded), sequels often fall short of the glory of the first film. This seems to be especially the case when a lot of time has passed between films (Crystal Skull and Godfather 3).  But that’s okay, if they make a third one it’ll be better, right?

But baby you love this, don’t you remember?

e.g. Transformers 2 (2009), The Matrix Revolutions (2003),Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007)

Wrong!  We know it’s going to be bad because the first movie was bad (Transformers), the second movie was bad (Matrix Revolutions), or the second movie was lackluster (Pirates of the Caribbean 3).  But we really hope it’s better.  It’s gotta be better, right?

It won’t be, but we want to see what happens next, and, when we are inevitably disappointed we want to commiserate with everyone and complain about how bad that third movie was.  In a perverse way, I think we like these movies more – we can endlessly pick apart how we could have done a better job.  After all, movie lovers probably spend more hours picking apart disappointing films than praising great ones.

But baby, I’ve changed

e.g. Transformers 3 (2011), The Incredible Hulk (2003), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Sometimes the sequels will have a cast change (Hulk), a promise from the director that this time it’ll be better (Transformers 3), or a more promising storyline (Fantastic Four 2).  But alas, we’re fooled again.  We’re pretty sad at this point but…

Enough!

e.g. Speed 2 (1997), Godzilla (1998), Batman and Robin (1997), Gigli (2003)

Oh you may entice us with basically the same storyline, but on a boat! (Speed 2)  You may woo us with promises of iconic monsters! (Godzilla) You may even try to slake our endless lust for celebrity couples (Gigli) or the promise of endless snow and ice puns (Batman and Robin)!  But this ends now!  I’m not paying $8 to see that and I don’t care what you say!

Epilogue

At the end of the day, the blockbuster is an easy genre to churn out summer after summer, but a difficult one to master.  I really don’t regret a couple hours away from air conditioning in the summer to enjoy some popcorn though.  I like being in on the conversation when those movies misfire.  And I like to make fun of these movies on DVD later.  Not every blockbuster is going to be Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), or The Dark Knight (2008).  And I’m actually okay with that.

Next Time: Part 3: Genre Cliches

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe