Captain America

With all of the superheros making it to the big screen these days, there seem to be just as many misses as there are hits. The challenge seems to be translating the fantastical element of the comic universe into real-world existence these characters have to endure in a live-action film — while still appealing to the hardcore fanbase — while reaching out to the casual moviegoer — all without making the film and its characters seem downright ridiculous. Nolan found notable success with Batman, Singer found some luck with the X-men, Favreau did admirably with Iron Man, and Raimi did a decent job with Spider-man (before they decided to scratch the whole thing and do a reboot). Some less successful attempts to bridge the fantasy and reality include Ang Lee’s Hulk (which I didn’t actually mind), Singer’s Superman (which suffered more from a skewed story arc than anything else) and Schumacher’s Batman films (rubber nipples). So where does Captain America fall in all this? Definitely one of the most successful attempts to date.

Captain America continues Marvel’s very successful approach of creating a cohesive cinematic world in which all its characters can live and interact with one another – culminating in the eagerly anticipated Avengers film next May.  With subtle nods to its other characters and intertwining story elements, fans who have seen the other Marvel films will feel like they’re on the inside track (even if you’re not an avid comic reader) and those who are only stopping in for the one film won’t feel left out. It’s like the zen balance of reaching the mass movie-going audience. Ultimately this film succeeds at establishing itself in reality because it succeeds as a period film set in WWII, which brings with it great costumes, sets, and overall ambiance. The film is filled with comedic relief, provides the required amount of action sequences, and most importantly characters with substance so the audience can feel invested. It should also be noted that each of these elements are balanced admirably so that it never feels too heavy-handed in any one area.

Neither Ackles or Krasinski made the cut, although both were considered. Apparently in early scripts Captain hunted demons and worked in a paper factory.

When the first names were tossed around for who would don the red, white, and blue, several well-known actors were suggested. Originally my vote was for Jensen Ackles, known best for his work on the show Supernatural. He had the wit they were looking for, the look, and genuinely I’d be interested in seeing him get some work outside the world of the CW. But sadly, due to scheduling conflicts, he was removed from the running. Meanwhile Marvel went a totally different direction by throwing out their original shortlist, and calling up Chris Evans, who already existed in the Marvel universe as Johnny Storm a.k.a. the Human Torch in Fantastic Four. (Don’t worry, they’re rebooting that too, so this continuity error will be remedied.) I thought Evans was the best part about Fantastic Four (he and Chiklis were perfectly cast in my opinion) but I was wary about him as Captain America. After seeing this film, my worries were put to rest.

The serum added volume to his body AND his hair. P.S. look for me this Halloween in my spot-on pre-serum Steve Rogers costume.

Evans embodies (pun intended?) everything the character needs. He exudes the likable, genuine and witty qualities of a scrawny but big-hearted guy placed in an artificially huge body. Even though his pre-super body is doubled in via CGI, the meshing of the two performances creates a believable character because Evans conveys those qualities so effortlessly. (It should also be noted that the CGI is so well done that it takes a conscious eye to notice the work.) Joss Whedon has some great character mixing to do between the do-good nobility of Steve Rogers with the smarminess of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in The Avengers. Should create quite the… *ahem* stark contrast. (Had to do it.)

Oh no! Megatron got the energon cube!

Other notable performances include Tommy Lee Jones as a military general (some great comedic moments here), Stanley Tucci as the scientist who creates the super-serum, and even Hugo Weaving as the key villain, Red Skull.  I have to admit, ever since The Matrix, Weaving has always carried an Agent Smith vibe into his other work, which made Lord of the Rings a bit weird for me. At least in Transformers he was just a voice actor. But in this role Weaving’s character found a different feel that gave him the villainous quality, without that cool, calculating calm of Smith.

Can you imagine the entire movie with this? If you're still having trouble, go watch the 1990 version. I'll wait here while you do..... See!

One of the greatest things about this film is that it actually single-handedly addresses the whining demands of the hardcore fans with a cold, hard dose of reality. This doesn’t spoil much, but if you really hate all spoilers, hop over this paragraph. For part of the film, the Captain is used for war propaganda, and tours with a USO show in a ridiculous costume that is a direct translation of the old spandex suit of yore. You watch that section and can practically hear the producers saying “See, that’s why you can’t do things exactly as they are in the comics – they don’t translate to real life in a non-humorous manner.” So kudos for the respectful nod and somewhat subtle education by the filmmaker.

The film is not flawless by any means. Although all the elements are balanced throughout the film, it does seem like the action and resolution of the crisis are a bit hasty and lackluster. In terms of the story arc, it’s a very slow build in the initial rising action (not uncommon with an origin story, and necessary for good character development) with sort of a plateau leading up to the climax and not so much a resolution as a quick setup for future Captain films. However, this doesn’t dilute the enjoyment of the film, it merely left me wanting a bit more. At the same time, I’m not sure how much one can watch of a guy running around punching people, dodging bullets/lasers, and occasionally throwing a shield without getting bored. So they at least avoided that pitfall.

Overall I would highly recommend Captain America as part of your summer movie-going experience. I won’t go as far to say it’s the best super hero film ever, but it definitely stands on par with the original Iron Man in terms of action blended with comic-relief. Also be sure to stay until the very end of the credits for a highly worthwhile bonus.

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X-Men: First Class

I am officially declaring it now – the summer movie season is upon us. Yes, some may say it kicked off during May with such big-name flicks as Thor or the ever floptacular Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but honestly, X-men: First Class truly starts off what one hopes will be a continuing trend of renewal and redemption for several major series.

I was a fan of the original X-men trilogy, although X3 seemed to wilt a little without the Singer touch. But Singer returns with a writing credit and a little production input, to bring us a revitalization to the X-men franchise. Singer gave appropriate nods to his original X-men series (including two cameos, one of which is worth the ticket purchase alone – no spoilers though) to keep them valid and intertwined with the new film, but left room to explore brand new territory. By setting the film against the Cuban missile crisis, it gives the film a unique real-world connection while adding that science fiction, super-powered flair we all love in a good superhero movie. In addition to the real-world environment, we get a much deeper understanding of who these characters are beyond their powers. We see what drives them, what their flaws are, why they made the choices of which we saw the results in the previous three films. It is a well-rounded story with a lot of heart and a heck of a lot of action.

Little known X-men History: Charles and Erik loved playing hide and seek. Given that Charles was a mind-reader, Erik always lost.

(For those familiar with the series, you may skip this paragraph.) For those who may not be familiar with the concept, First Class focuses on the initial formation of the X-men, a group of people with genetic mutations which manifest themselves in the form of super-human abilities. The film is a prequel of sorts to the X-men trilogy which was released in the 2000s. It focuses on the two key players in the battle for human/mutant coexistence – Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Professor X and Magneto. Charles has the ability to read and control minds, Erik the ability to control magnetism.  Focusing on their backgrounds we see glimpses of Erik’s childhood as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, contrasted with Charles’ wealthy upbringing in America. Charles focuses his energies on studying genetics and mutations, Erik is hellbent on revenge. Eventually their paths come together, and under the supervision of the government, they locate and recruit a group of young mutants with diverse powers in order to form a team to defeat Sebastian Shaw, a man who is manipulating the U.S. and Russian governments in an effort to start WWIII for his own diabolical purposes.

Now that everyone is caught up to speed on the premise, how does the film stack up?

Sylar developed the super-human ability to jump over sharks on water skis after telekinetically lobotimizing the Fonz.

In a way, I feel like this is exactly what I needed after enduring Heroes for four uneventful seasons. I will sidestep briefly to explain my disappointment with Heroes. This show started with an interesting premise – regular people who develop super-human abilities. The problem is, barring a few brief episodes in chapter 1 and a sort of side plot in season 3, these people spent most of their time avoiding using their powers. While everyone at home is on the edge of their seats waiting to catch a few minutes worth of super-powered effects buried amongst tangled and unnecessarily elaborate plot arcs in each 45-minute episode, you could practically hear the producers saying “Oh no, effects like that will be too expensive to produce. Avoid them at all cost!” They also got tangled up in attempting to rework their concept to address what they viewed as “fan feedback”, and ultimately ended up ruining all the things which gave the show substance. Heroes effectively “jumped the shark” shortly into season 2 and never really recovered.

Now, back to X-men.

Although we see a somewhat reluctance in some of the mutants to use their abilities, ultimately we see an embracing of their purpose. In addition, we get a chance to see not only practical applications of their abilities, but also what happens when these powers are unleashed. There are several awe-inspiring scenes with Erik as a child, one of which is an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the concentration camp scene from the original film. This film did for X-men what Star Wars: The Force Unleashed did for the Force of the Star Wars universe – showed what real people would do if they had these abilities in these situations, and they definitely wouldn’t hold back.

"Hi, I'm Magneto. I'm a fictional character. Move on with your life and enjoy the movie."

The biggest critiques coming toward this film have to do with the consistency of the storyline with that of the comic history.  There are a few necessary deviations in age of characters or background stories in order to make a more concise story arc. The fan boys will be up in arms that every minute detail isn’t as it was in the original material. But the fact of the matter is this, just as with any lengthy series derived from a written text – Harry Potter (7 books), The Chronicles of Narnia (7 books), Lord of the Rings (technically 6 books) – some details must be skimmed, omitted, or adjusted in order to fit them into a 2-3 hour timeslot. Let’s face it the X-men story spans hundreds of comics over decades of writing, there’s no way you’re going to get every detail into a film. So if you’re going looking for 100% accuracy, prepare to nitpick your way out of enjoying the film.

My Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon: I was an extra in Election with Matthew Broderick --> who was in The Producers with Nathan Lane --> who was in The Birdcage with Robin Williams --> who was in Bicentennial Man with Oliver Platt --> who was in X-men: First Class with Kevin Bacon. Booya.

The actors, did an excellent job embodying their respective parts. McAvoy and Fassbender, lend their interpretation on the characters artfully personified by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, and provide a fantastic bridge between the two portrayals. Jennifer Lawrence, recently nominated for an Oscar for her role in Winter’s Bone, gives a notable performance as Mystique, adding some much welcome character development behind the eye-candy that was Rebecca Romaine in the original films. And of course, this film adds a link in everyone’s “6-Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, who gave a delightful performance as the villain.

Overall, this film was an absolutely enjoyable experience at the movies, and I sincerely look forward to the inevitable sequel that will most likely ensue. I’ve heard it described as X-men meets one of the old-school James Bond films, and I can agree with that assessment. The key is – this film is a good movie that just happens to be about super heroes, which isn’t always the case with Marvel and DCs cinematic outings. It’s definitely worth the time and money to soak in the scale on the big screen.

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Black Swan

When I first heard about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Some sites were billing it as a Science Fiction film, which it really isn’t. I mean, if I were to say there’s a new Science Fiction film starring Natalie Portman where she plays a ballerina, you start thinking “Oh no, it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey all over again!” (Which was essentially a ballet in space.) In all actuality, Black Swan is a thriller, just so you are prepared.

To sum up the story, Natalie Portman plays a studying ballet dancer, Nina, who embodies the devoted artist – constantly in pursuit of perfection. The ballet company she performs with is slated to mount the classic show Swan Lake. It has always been her dream to play the Swan Queen, a role which requires the dancer to embody both the innocent, pure white swan and the evil, seductive black swan. Nina is a natural for the part of the white swan, but her innocence and drive for perfection undermine her ability to portray its free-spirited and manipulative alter ego.

"My dressing room on 'That 70s Show' was SO much bigger than this."

In attempting to tap into her darker side, with some “guidance” by the director, Nina becomes drawn to Lily, a new dancer in the company played by Mila Kunis. Lily represents everything Nina is not – she is imperfect, impulsive, and without inhibitions. Their interaction is the catalyst which starts Nina on a path of self discovery and evolution.

This film is difficult to review in the spirit of preserving its intentional uncertainty. The use of sound, camera shots and plot loops was very disorienting but lent to the storyline, leaving the audience just as confused by what was happening to Nina as she was herself. It isn’t really until the end of the movie that you have a fairly clear idea of what exactly was going on.

The story heavily mirrors (pun intended?) the story of Swan Lake as a metaphor for Nina’s life and transformation as a dancer. This imagery is practically beaten over the audience’s head with the use of color coordinated costuming, loads of reflective surfaces, mirrored action between characters, and Nina literally seeing other people turn into evil doppelgangers of herself.

This pretty much mirrors the look my friend Steve had on his face throughout the whole 2nd half of the movie.

Black Swan is most definitely rated R for disturbing imagery, language, and sexual content. This is a film that will be harder for less-mature audiences to handle, as they will easily be lost in giggling and grossing out over the previously mentioned content. (As was the high school-aged group in the theatre we were in.)

Thankfully, this content is not needlessly gratuitous. I must admit, I had my reservations when some of the loudest buzz over this movie centered around a love scene between Portman and Kunis, but it’s adequately woven into the overall plot flow, and still uses clever photography to avoid any full-on nudity. The disturbing imagery is a little more jarring, so be aware, there will be some moments you cringe, but they effectively lend themselves to the storytelling.

It's certainly easier on the eyes than that Keifer Sutherland movie.

I have to say, the film is artistically well done. I’m very interested to find out what technique(s) they used to create the independent mirror-image effects, as there are some fairly intricate moments where the camera would literally have to be looking at itself in the mirror, but it’s never seen. The storyline is solid, and the discomfort caused throughout the film is intentional and adds to the overall dark ambiance.

I’d recommend this to the over-17 film loving crowd, although I think you’d be fine to wait for it on DVD. The theatrical presentation doesn’t really add to the spectacle. Overall, it’s a solid film, with some excellent performances, specifically Portman’s, and a well-put-together cinematic vision on the part of the director. This will definitely be one to watch for in the upcoming awards season.

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Tron Legacy

Greetings once again, Walking Taco readers!

I’ve been MIA for a bit, but as a newlywed, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for spending less time at my computer, and more time with my wife.

Speaking of spending time with my wife, we made it out to the theatre for the first time in a while to see the new film Tron Legacy. Now, once upon a time, I saw the original Tron, and I remember at the time thinking it was cool, and edgy, and all the effects were so ahead of their time. (which they were) But nowadays, Tron holds on to the hearts of the masses through the sheer willpower of nostalgia. It’s similar to how fans approached the Star Wars prequels. They loved the originals, so why wouldn’t it be 10 times better with new visual effects, right?

Quick summary – Sam Flynn, son of Kevin Flynn, a game designer from the 80s, is inactive CEO of Encom, a Microsoft-esque company his father started before his sudden disappearance. After 20 years of being out of his life, a friend of his father’s receives a page. Sam goes to the arcade his father used to run, discovers a hidden room and running workstation, and inadvertently inserts himself into “the Grid”, a digital world his father created. Once here he meets his father, discovers a plot by a program his father created called “CLU” and strikes out with his father to escape the Grid and stop CLU from carrying out his evil plan.

To quote Will Smith "I have got to get me one of these!"

Tron Legacy was, to be frank, a visual effects feast. Similar to how thrilled I was in Superman Returns to see Superman moving in a freeform fashion instead of laying on a bluescreen table and leaning left and right, it was thrilling to see light cycles and disc battles using today’s cutting-edge CGI technology. These scenes were the first to be presented to the fans over a year ago, and really, they’re probably the coolest elements to the film. Alas, they are also the shortest scenes of the film. I would say in the over 2-hour runtime, you see maybe 5 minutes of disc battles, and 8 minutes of light cycles. Oh, there are plenty of other CGI effects, including the entire world of the Grid, but those two sequences are what fans of the original came to see, and they deliver in a way only nostalgia-fueled reminiscing can fully enjoy.

Jeff's evil twin-brother - Faux Bridges

There is, of course, one other major CGI element, and that is the young version of Jeff Bridges. The makers of Tron Legacy decided that to make a 20-year younger Jeff Bridges, they’d use the same motion capture technology used to make Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen look younger for X3. Problem is, it looked creepy then, and it looked creepy now. Long ago, people at Pixar realized that trying to make CG people look 100% real was very off-putting to audiences. There are so many imperfections to human expression that to attempt to recreate it in a computer almost always resulted in an indescribably unnatural effect. So, Pixar steered clear and went with the more cartoony humans we know and love.

I do have to say that I’m okay with this concept when the technology is used to create CLU, the avatar version of Flynn, because he exists solely in a computer world, and could therefore look artificial. However, when they try to pass it off for the few real world scenes, it’s eerie, and discomforting to watch. I appreciate that they tried, and didn’t just use a lot of back shots and cleverly concealed faces, but maybe casting a younger actor to play Flynn in those few flashback scenes would have been a better bet. They also used this technique for Bruce Boxleitner to create the younger version of Tron, who makes a few appearances via flashback, but it was far less noticeable in these scenes.

Outside of the effects, this movie is fairly lackluster. The acting is passable, but never really reaches any sort of noteworthy performance. Perhaps the closest would be Olivia Wilde as Quorra, who has to have an almost child-like, artificiality to her, and she does this well. Martin Sheen takes a break from his overly dramatic roles to do a mean David Bowie impression as Castor, Beau Garrett gets her first notable role playing some spandex-clad eye candy as Gem.

The plot of the film is clearly aimed at fans of the original, relying on a lot of “wink wink” allusions to the first film in order to garner full enjoyment. It was predictable at times, and I found I had little emotional investment in the film, primarily because the characters lacked any emotional investment. After not seeing his father for the 20 most developmental years of his life, Sam and Kevin see each other and it’s merely a “haven’t seen you in a while *tear*… so, yeah, how about we get out of here?” moment. They circle the father-son relationship concept but never really delve too deeply into it. Kevin Flynn has the personality of a burned out druggie, ending most sentences with the colloquialism “man” to make sure the audience never forgets that he last left Earth in the 80s and was clearly a product of the 60s and 70s. Most of the other characters were artificial beings, so their lack of humanity is somewhat excusable.

You'd have to be "daft" to not enjoy this soundtrack!

The last note I have to make is in regards to the soundtrack, which is expertly executed by Daft Punk. Interestingly, this is the element of the film getting some of the most buzz. I can’t say that I’d want to listen to this Soundtrack much outside of the film, but as a part of the whole, it’s perfect. Plus their outfits are pretty much made to cameo in this film – which they do – so, bonus there.

Sort of a quick side note, we saw the film in 3D due to lack of other time options, and the film opened with a disclaimer saying many of the scenes are presented in 2D because that’s how they were intended. I applaud Disney for the bold choice, however some scenes, such as the light cycles and many of the scenes in the Grid offered some very cool 3D effects, but the shift between 2D and 3D scenes was occasionally jarring, and not always justified. I could buy using 2D for the real world, and 3D for the Grid, sort of ala Wizard of Oz and its use of color, but not all of the Grid was in 3D, and sometimes it was just shots of a character standing there that got the upconvert, which made for a very disorienting moment. I leave it to you to decide if 3D is worth the extra money for you or not.

To sum up, Tron Legacy is an exciting return visit to the world of Tron, with a much needed update to the visual effects. The story is relatively flat, but serves to move us from one visual sequence to the next, and the acting is what it is for the confines of the story. For those that haven’t seen the original Tron, there’s a convenient bit of exposition at the beginning to catch you up, so you won’t be lost. (My wife hadn’t seen the original and still enjoyed the film.) I would say I enjoyed seeing the film, and would recommend seeing it in the theatres for the spectacle, just don’t expect Oscar-worthy film-making (outside of the CGI effects).

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Inception

It’s my last post as a non-married man! Which also means I’ll be off enjoying some sun and the beaches of California, so I’ll be taking a break from movies for a bit, but I couldn’t think of a better film to leave off with than Inception.

When it comes to film, there are films which succeed at being acknowledged works of art (2001 a Space Odyssey), and films which succeed at being entertaining (Bubble Boy – That movie cracks me up.). Occasionally you find films which succeed in both regards. Inception is one of these films.

Christopher Nolan (director of Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) comes off of the worldwide success of The Dark Knight, not with another Batman film, but by returning to his roots with the keep-em-guessing twist and turns thriller where the audience literally has trouble keeping track of what’s up and what’s down, but has a heck of a time enjoying the ride.

LEO!

The film follows Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mercenary thief, who can is hired to acquire something extremely valuable for his clients – secrets. He does so by entering a shared dream state with the target, and then proceeds to utilize the context of dreams to pursue his objective, and literally steal the information from their own mind.

On his latest job, he runs into some trouble with a particularly resourceful target, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who entraps Cobb into doing a job for him with the promise of a new life. Saito enlists Cobb to do something many believe to be impossible – plant an idea within the dream of a target in order to affect their conscious decisions, a.k.a. Inception.

Cobb recruits a team of dream specialists – Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) his right-hand man, Eames (Tom Hardy) the Forger, Yusuf (Dileep Rao) a specialist in sleeping drugs, and Ariadne (Ellen Page) the builder. Each specialist has a particular role within the inception plot, and to give any more information in how it plays out would be to ruin the very mind-bending twists and turns of Nolan’s cleverly executed film.

As with so many of Nolan’s works, Inception relies heavily on exposition, much of which is carried out through the introduction of Ellen Page’s character to the team. She’s a fresh-faced college kid looking for all the answers, and her questions provide much-needed answers for the audience as they get on board with the premise. However once the audience becomes familiar with the concepts, Nolan hits the gas and it’s an action-packed ride to the finish.

Was Inception without its weaknesses? No. The ending, for one, draws a strong line and lands firmly on the side of artistic, leaving many theater-goers with a twinge of dissatisfaction. You can see where the director was going, but you kind of wish he’d just played to the masses and gone with a more satisfying conclusion. Don’t want to say any more about it, when you see it, you’ll understand.

I’m a fan of soundtracks, and Hans Zimmer has done his fair share of scores I enjoy. He and Nolan have had a good partnership going for a while now, so his involvement on Inception should come as no surprise. The music is extremely similar to that of Dark Knight, and the deep blaring horns start to get a bit excessive after a while. There’s a brilliant parody of this on YouTube combining Dora the Explorer and Inception, and the blaring horns get called out. Pretty priceless.

You have to wonder if there was a pool going as to how many times these guys would hurl during filming.

The visuals are amazing in this film. Nolan clearly had a vision that exceeded what’s been done before. The film had a Matrix-esque quality to its originality of visual effects. But at the same time, many of the visuals are presented in Ariadne’s first venture into the dream world, where she begins to play with being able to manipulate the dreamscape. After that, the concept of being able to manipulate the dreams to extreme effect seems to get lost. It’s like the fact that anything and everything can happen in dreams is swept to the side in order to provide a more efficient plot device. I wanted Nolan to do more to push the envelope. He shakes things up, and connects some interesting ideas, but he could have gone farther.

The performances were excellent. Nolan rounded out his cast with several familiar faces to his films – Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow – Batman Begins) plays Robert Fischer and Michael Caine (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) plays DiCaprio’s father. I’m always a fan of Ken Watanbe’s work, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really finding himself a good breadth to his work. Plenty of rumors are flying as to his potential as the Riddler in Nolan’s next Batman film. One has to mention Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) and really, Ellen Page finds yet another chance to flex her acting muscles in another genre.

This film was witty, it was intriguing, it kept me guessing and kept me interested throughout. It was 2.5 hours long and I barely noticed, which is always a good sign. It finds a nice balance between the artsy and entertaining, giving itself some substance without getting too tied up in the pursuit of cinematic art. Most of all, this film is original. Something we see far too little of these days. Nolan may find inspiration from older classic films, but the execution on top of this core is purely Nolan.

I’d recommend seeing this one on the big screen, although the IMAX wasn’t anything to stand up and shout about. So maybe save the few bucks and see it on a regular screen.

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Despicable Me

About a year ago I came across the first teaser trailer for a film called Despicable Me. It was a computer animated film, made by a studio other than Pixar, so that’s always hit or miss. Some non-Pixar films I enjoy – Monsters vs. Aliens – some I could have called the rest of my life complete without having seen – Ice Age 2.

Now I realize that I am not the target audience for the majority of these films. Pixar has spoiled the world by creating films which universally resonate between all age groups. An 80-year old man could walk out of the film Up pining for his departed wife, while an 8-year old boy could walk out quoting his favorite lines from the character Dug. While I’ve yet to find a non-Pixar film which hits me on this kind of emotional level, I have at least found a couple which amuse and entertain.

So when the first teaser for Despicable Me came out, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. To be fair, it was a teaser in the finest sense of the world, giving little to no information about the plot, just a quick flash of some words, some music and a slew of famous names who would be providing voice overs. (Which also tends to be a bad sign. If you have to sell your animated film by the fact that Julie Andrews is playing a bit part… not generally a sign of confidence.) But as subsequent trailers came out, more details became available, and my interest level was at least somewhat stoked.

Then came the infamous “fluffy” trailer which came out this past spring. This is, of course, the trailer where we see the main character, Gru, and his girls at the amusement park. They step up to one of those shoot-down-the-object games in order to win the smallest of the girls a large stuffed unicorn. When the carnival game bests them, Gru uses his own device, destroys the booth, and the little girl is handed her unicorn. She then utters the line which overloaded the cuteness-radar of my fiance, and therefore locked in my plans to see this film – “It’s so FLUFFY!!!”

"Light bulb!"

So about the film. Despicable Me is about the world’s number-one super-villain, a large man with a heavy accent and pointy nose named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell). Gru is a villain in every since of the word, from popping the balloons of children, to cutting in line at Starbucks, and driving a vehicle which emits copious amounts of greenhouse gases, not to mention an army of loyal minions. All is going well until suddenly another contender enters the competition for number-one villain, a character by the name of Vector (voiced by Jason Segel). In an effort to reclaim his title as number-one villain, Gru concocts a plan to steal, what else, the moon. This plan becomes more complicated when three orphan girls come into his life. Now Gru has to balance the demands of being a villain with the new-found responsibilities of being a parent.

The line sure to boost the adoption rate - "It's so FLUFFY!!!"

Ironically, my favorite part of the trailer sums up this film – “It’s so FLUFFY!!!” This film is a lot like cotton candy. It’s filled with fun-colored fluff which is enjoyable, but ultimately the substance is a bit lacking. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this film. I laughed almost throughout the movie, and it did have a pretty solid core to its plot. It just lacked that emotionally gut-wrenching essence that tends to exist in a Pixar film. Whereas Toy Story 3 gave me pause to reflect on my own life and find deeper connections to the characters and story, Despicable Me gave me some time to laugh and forget about the world for an hour and a half of simple entertainment – a valid purpose as well.

I don’t want to downplay that this film does have an emotional and moral plot line. That’s all good. There is something a bit saddening in that probably 75% of the funny moments are captured in the trailer. But that’s the state of our world today. Trailers give away all the funny moments and when you get to the theatre you end up watching the trailer with 10-minutes of filler between each joke. Despicable Me still proves to be entertaining, and adds some good moments on top of those presented in the trailer. Plus, it throws in a few zingers only adults will pick up on, so keep an eye out for those.

Random Untrue Fact: Every minion has a dollar sign tattoo somewhere on his body.

The minions steal a bit of the limelight of the film,  much like the penguins of the film Madagascar. They provide much of the humor which resonates with smaller children, and the part of all adults that wants an excuse to laugh at silly sounds and goofy antics. In a lot of ways they remind me of the Rabbid characters from the “Rayman Raving Rabbids” series. They were a nice addition to the film, and since they’ve already greenlit both a sequel to the film, and a spin-off for the minions. The question will be if they can stand up on their own without something of substance to back them up.

I heartily endorse seeing this film. It won’t tug very hard at your heart strings, but you will be entertained, you will laugh, and you may want to run out and adopt the smallest child that can utter the phrase “It’s so FLUFFY!!!” as soon as the lights come up. Also, stick around through the first part of the credits, especially if you’re seeing it in 3D. The minions come out and play with the 3D effect. We saw it in 2D, so this wasn’t quite as amusing, but I still don’t feel it would have been necessary to spend the extra money to walk out of the theatre with my depth-perception temporarily altered. But that’s just me.

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Is Anybody There?

Here it is, venture number one into the world of Walking Taco film reviews. I will try not to disappoint.

From time to time there are smaller films, usually produced in a foreign market, that just capture my interest with a trailer. I find myself inexplicably drawn toward them, and when I find them at the local video store, I end up picking up a copy to see if all the mental hype I gave the film was worth it after all. This was one of those films.

Is Anybody There? stars the indomitably pouty-sounding Michael Caine as an aging magician who has recently been admitted to a retirement home to begin the slow descent into senility. While there, he’s befriended by a boy whose family runs the home, played by Bill Milner, only notably recognized for his role in the film Son of Rambow, but who does a fine job playing opposite of an Oscar Winner. The only other actor of notoriety is Rosemary Harris, who plays a bit part as one of the retirement residents, but is most well-known for her portrayal of Aunt May in the Spider-man movies.

I wanted to like this movie. All the reviews herald Caine’s performance as one of the best of his career. (Mind you we should all realize that reviews must be taken with a grain of salt… says the guy writing a review on a film review website.) I did think Caine did well with the role, so at least I can see why all the positive press focused around that. But the film itself seemed to lose a lot of the uplifting heart that shows up in the trailer. The fun seems to bleed away to be replaced with a much more bleak view in the pursuit of some form of an authentic realism.

Michael Caine and Bill Milner seem to ponder - wasn't this supposed to be some kind of unlikely-buddy film?

Instead of cherishing the brilliant moments of watching an elderly magician taking a socially awkward boy under his wing to bring him out of his shell, we’re focused on the depressing instability and grim ending we all face in our lives all of which gets more and more rushed by the end of the film. (No spoiler there, the film is about old people who go to a retirement home to die. That’s presented in the opening minutes of the film.)

Like I said, I wanted to like this film, and ultimately I enjoyed the performances, but thought the film focused too much on the down side of things to really leave the audience with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. If this one comes up on TV (doubt it will) or you feel like taking in a few good performances through your Netflix, give it a shot, but otherwise check out Caine in Inception when it comes out, and call yourself good.

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