Cars 2


Cars 2

Tow Mater and Lightning McQueen, together again.

(2011) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Brent Musburger, Joe Mantegna, Thomas Kretschmann, Peter Jacobson, Bonnie Hunt, Darrell Waltrip, Franco Nero, Tony Shalhoub, Jeff Garlin, Bruce Campbell, Sig Hansen, Vanessa Redgrave, John Ratzenberger, Cheech Marin, Paul Dooley. Directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis

Pixar has become a brand name in the same way Lexus and Rolex are. It has become a symbol of prestige, the very best in their industry. Of course, no human institution can operate at peak ability every time out.

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) makes a triumphant return home after winning his fourth Piston Cup, marking him as one of the all-time NASCAR greats. He is happy to hang out with his best friend Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and his girlfriend Sally (Hunt) when he receives word that a former oil billionaire gone alternative fuel-happy, Sir Miles Axelrod (Izzard) is putting together a World Grand Prix, a series of three races around the world (two of them in Europe, one in Asia – none in North America which seemed to be bending a bit backwards not to make this one as overly American as the first Cars) showcasing his new alternative fuel Alinol.

Lightning is a bit reluctant to go but after smug, arrogant Formula 1 racer Francesco Bernoulli (Turturro) – a clever reference to the principle of fluid dynamics which is part of what makes the modern automobile engine work – insults Lightning, its game on.

In the meantime, British spy Finn McMissile (Caine) discovers a plot led by the renegade scientist Professor Zundapp (Kretschmann) to ignite the Alinol fuel with a burst of microwaves, leading the public to believe that the fuel is unsafe and forcing them to buy their crude oil – the professor and his group happen to own the world’s largest fuel reserve.

The overall leader of the plot is unknown but an American agent has a photo of him. Finn and his compatriot, inexperienced tech agent Holly Shiftwell (Mortimer) are supposed to pick up the film at the party for the World Grand Prix, but the agent is spotted and in desperation, attaches the film to Mater, who has been embarrassing Lightning with his ignorant antics. Mistaking Mater for the spy, Finn and Holly team up with Mater who must discover who’s behind the plot (which turn out to be a consortium of lemons, cars like Pacers, Yugos and Gremlins, all of which have been written off as bad cars), a mission that becomes more urgent when it is revealed that Lightning is the next target for destruction.

By now, most people are well-aware that this may well be the weakest movie in the Pixar filmography. In terms of storyline, this is certainly true – the plot is quite a bit of fluff, disposable and not particularly original. When compared to such work as Up, Wall-E and Toy Story, it certainly doesn’t hold up well.

However from an entertainment point of view, it isn’t a bad choice for a summer afternoon. The movie has a breakneck pace that keeps it from being boring at any given time. Like all Pixar films, it is a work of outstanding visual achievement – the details of the world are absolutely amazing, and often clever. Keep an eye out for a number of Pixar in-jokes, from director John Lasseter’s name appearing in a clever way on the London speedway track to the name of a movie at the local Radiator Springs drive-in resembling that of a Pixar classic. There are also nice little cultural references, such as Sig Hansen of “Deadliest Catch” fame voicing a Cars-world version of the F.V. Northwestern, the vessel that Sig captains both on the show and in real life.

Whereas the original Cars tried to re-create a 50s Route 66 American Southwest vibe, this is a full-on 1960s British spy caper feel. Everything from the supercool Finn McMissile to the gadgets to the music makes those of us old enough to remember them (or those willing to have checked them out on Netflix or cable TV) the spy movies of Caine, James Bond or James Coburn, among others. There are homages to these films scattered throughout, sometimes subtly and occasionally not so much.

This is a movie which is more about entertaining the audience than it is about blowing them out of their seats. It isn’t a bad thing to be entertained; it’s just that the bar has been set so high by previous Pixar films that it’s almost impossible for any movie to measure up. I suppose it’s not a bad thing for a film company to be victims of their own high standards – and this movie certainly is. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just not a great movie and I guess that’s enough to upset some people in the critical community. I can recommend it without a second thought, just don’t go in expecting too much other than mindless good fun and you’ll enjoy it purely on that level.

REASONS TO GO: Your kids will want to see it. Visually delightful.

REASONS TO STAY: Not on par with Pixar’s other films. Mostly fluffy, could easily have been a direct-to-cable film from a story standpoint.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfect for family viewing, as you’d expect.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Luigi visits Lightning to visit his Uncle Topolino. Topolino is the Italian name of Mickey Mouse.

HOME OR THEATER: This is going to seem sacrilegious, but I think it’s going to look just as great at home as it does in a movie theater.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: La Mission

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Paul


Paul

Paul still hasn't gotten the concept of the Finger perfected just yet.

(2011) Sci-Fi Comedy (Universal) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons. Directed by Greg Mottola

There is a truism about being careful what you wish for. This is particularly true if you’re a science fiction geek on a road trip to America and are driving past Area 51.

That’s what British sci-fi geeks Graeme Willie (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are doing. They start off at San Diego’s legendary Comic Con (and for those who haven’t been there, it is heaven on earth for the fanboy contingent, a bucket list kind of event) where they meet noted sci-fi author and cult figure Adam Shadowchild (Tambor) who pooh-poohs Clive’s aspirations of being a writer and Graeme’s abilities as an artist. Then it’s into a rented RV and off to see America!

A not-particularly-comfortable encounter with a couple of rednecks (Koechner, Plemons) and a kindly diner waitress (J. Lynch) sends the Brits at warp speed down the Alien Highway where they are overtaken by a sedan which crashes in front of their eyes. When they investigate the wreck to make sure the driver’s okay, they discover to their shock that the driver is an illegal alien – and I’m not talking the sort that George Lopez jokes about. No, this is a little green man, who goes by the name of Paul (Rogen), named after the dog who he landed on with his spacecraft in the opening of the film. Clive promptly faints.

Paul begs Graeme for help, knowing he is being chased by one of those mysterious government agents – Agent Zoil (Bateman) to be exact. Paul needs to get to a particular location so that he can meet up with a rescue ship that will take him home. Graeme being a kindly sort agrees.

What ensues is a road trip odyssey that takes the boys to an American backwater of UFO myth and legend, running into ambitious but ignorant agents (Hader, Lo Truglio), a shoot first, ask questions later Bible-carryin’ shotgun-totin’ Fundamentalist (J.C. Lynch) and his naïve but misguided daughter (Wiig) whose belief system is thrown into disarray by the presence of Paul. When she realizes that all her previously held notions is wrong, she starts cursing up a storm and gets right to drinking, drugging and fornicating. My kind of girl.

Mottola has previously directed comedy gems Superbad and Adventureland. This continues his winning streak, giving us a comedy that is solidly funny throughout, dropping in-jokes about science fiction films and fandom in general like mustard on a hot dog. While some of those insider asides are subtle enough to keep fanboys smug and arrogant, the majority are obvious enough that any moviegoer who has seen at least a few sci-fi movies will get the majority of them.

Pegg and Frost, who established their reputation in such films as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, are perhaps the best comic duo working today. Their easy rapport helps give Paul its heart and charm, making the two sci-fi geekoids believable without poking fun at the species with undue cruelty which fanboy films often do.

There are loads of cameos and terrific supporting actors here, including Bergen as the grown up version of a girl whose life is forever altered by the crash landing of a space vehicle, and Weaver as the brass-balled head of a mysterious covert government agency. Both Lynches  – Jane and John Carroll – inhabit their roles nicely, with Jane moving a little outside her normal persona as a heart of gold diner waitress with a soft spot for geeks, and John Carroll, nearly unrecognizable as the hellbent pursuer of the geeks who kidnapped his daughter.

As said daughter, Wiig has a role that could easily have been played over-the-top and for parody (and in the hands of a lesser actress – and director – probably would have) but instead, she delivers a subtle and nuanced performance as a woman whose universe is completely shaken up; if she’s a little batty at first it’s completely understandable and so she becomes a sympathetic figure rather than a ridiculous one.

Rogen has gotten some heat from critics for his performance as Paul, which is essentially a motion capture alien who sounds like Seth Rogen. Rogen’s shtick is a little jarring at times, but in defense of the guy you have to remember that Paul has been stuck on this planet for more than 40 years, plenty of time to acclimatize. I thought Rogen gave the movie plenty of character and while whether he has been over-exposed is a matter of opinion, I think he does a fine job here.

Fanboys are going to love the movie a lot more than the average moviegoer and quite frankly, Pegg and Frost have yet to produce much more than a cult following here in the States, nor is Paul likely to generate one. Still, there’s enough here to make it worth your while to check out, particularly if you have a great deal of love for science fiction and its mad, devoted followers. Sci-fi geeks, this is your movie and these are your people!

REASONS TO GO: Laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Lots of sci-fi nerd in-jokes. Pegg and Frost one of the premiere comedy teams working today.

REASONS TO STAY: Hit and miss on some of the humor. May be too fanboy-centric to appeal to a wider audience.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is plenty foul, particularly in Ruth’s case. There is also some drug use and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: John Carroll Lynch who plays Moses Buggs is only ten years older than Kirsten Wiig, who plays his daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: I think the movie theater experience is indicated here.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Babel