Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In Praise of all things Pixar

One of the frightening aspects of Netflix is that it allows us to rent a film we will probably hate, just to prove our deepest fears and give us something to Blog about.

This week, we rented "Madagascar".

What is it about DreamWorks that makes their animated features seem so...smarmy?

Whenever my family catches the latest Pixar release, we usually leave the theater feeling upbeat, entertained, and even a little thoughtful.

If we subject ourselves to fare from DreamWorks, we end up feeling let down, worn-out, and just a little bit used.

Why is this? How can two studios working with similar technology, with access to the same talent pool, come out with such completely different levels of quality?

I think it comes down to a question of Attitude.

With Pixar, it's always about the story.
With Dreamworks, it's always about the stars.

Compare the cast list of, say, "Finding Nemo" (Not Pixar's Best Film, but a good example of why The Director calls them the "No-Losers" Studio...) with the list from "Shark Tale" (One of the worst pieces of self-indulgent tripe I have ever vomited through.)

Finding Nemo: (Pixar)

MARLIN - Albert Brooks
DORY - Ellen DeGeneres
GILL - Willem Dafoe
NEMO - Alexander Gould
BRUCE - Barry Humphries
BLOAT - Brad Garrett
CRUSH - Andrew Stanton
SHELDON - Erik Per Sullivan
FISH SCHOOL - John Ratzenberger

Not exactly no-names...But we don't jump out of our seat and say, "Hey! That's Erik Per Sullivan doing that voice!" In the movie, he's just, "Sheldon."

Shark Tale: (DreamWorks)

OSCAR - Will Smith
LOLA - Angelina Jolie (Aaaaaargh!)
ANGIE - Renee Zellweger
LENNY - Jack Black
DON LINO - Robert De Nir0
LUCA - Martin Scorsese
Katie "Current" - Katie Couric (PLEASE! Just kill me now.)

See the difference? Pixar spends about three years, writing, boarding, & even pre-editing. Then, finally, they cast the voice actors to match the roles, famous or not.

Dreamworks grabs a bunch of snobbish, Hollywood elite and spends about a week throwing together a two-bit story line around whatever animal-manifestation of the stars' personae they can come up with. ("I know! I know! Let's make Robert De Niro a Mafia Shark!")

Then, to make it worse, they all appear with Katie Nut-Job on the Today show to say,"Hee-hee...look at us! We made a CARTOON! Isn't that just SOooooo Cute?"

Here's more evidence:

The Incredibles: (Best Pixar film...EVER.)

VIOLET PARR - Sarah Vowell
EDNA MODE - Brad Bird
UNDERMINER - John Ratzenberger

Until last night, my son didn't even know that Samuel L. Jackson played Frozone. That's how good the movie was.

Madagascar: (Uhhhh....DreamWorks)

ALEX THE LION - Ben Stiller
GLORIA THE HIPPO - Jada Pinkett-Smith
MELMAN THE GIRAFFE - David Schwimmer ( Ross Gellar)
MORT - Andy Richter
KING JULIEN - Sacha Baron Cohen
MAURICE - Cedric the Entertainer

Once again, the film just seems thrown together to give the actors, (not even the characters) something to do.

Oops, and there's Pinkett-Smith this time, again on the today show, with Katie slobbering all over her...
"Oh, Jada, (Tee-hee) You're just SO thin and beautiful...Was is Hard for you to play...(Chuckle, snort) a...a... a HIPPO?"

(The entire today crew breaks down in an orgiastic display of in-group back slapping.)

Which brings us around to the issue of promotion.

Pixar: Cute, clever set-up shorts of the Characters in the MOVIE.

Dreamworks: Shots of the STARS with Headphones on.

Yes. I GET it already, Will. You're in the studio, doing voice-over for a freakish looking fish, that they had to make look JUST LIKE YOU so I wouldn't miss the fact that you made a STINKIN" CARTOON!

OK, catch my breath. This was supposed to be about "Madagascar"

The Penguins were good. There. I said it...

...and I didn't even recognize the voices who played them.

Bottom line...
Pixar sets out above all to make Great Stories into Great Films.
Their goal is to entertain us.
DreamWorks sets out to give Will Smith and company a cute, new toy to play with.
Their goal is to entertain themselves.

Take note,
Bob Iger.

Please don't mess up the franchise.

Friday, February 17, 2006

More Filming Pics

If you would like to view a low-quality slideshow of the day's filming chronicled below, click here.

It's about a 1MB file so it'll take a minute or two.

I’d Like to Thank The Academy…

My son took the call. The message was a bit Cryptic. I knew we were due on location at 10:00 the next day and I already knew I was to play “A Crazy Old Guy Who Doesn’t Like It When Kid’s Throw Garbage in His Yard”.

But now, the Director was asking if we could bring along a five-gallon can of gasoline as well.


So while the Blond and the Whiner sat in a hot tub, The Hermit, The Director, and I grabbed the fuel and headed for House where we were to shoot for the day.

The film crew had been working on the pile of garbage in “my” front yard late into the night.

The main part of the house was occupied by transient college students, so my fellow “stars” and I cooled our heels in the porch for a few minutes.

The filming actually went quite well. The director got people on and off the set, into and through their shots in good order.

The Main Cameraman is an
experienced director in his own right.

The Future Film Student helped with storyboarding and continuity issues.

Then it was my turn

I really only had one significant line. I was to run out of the door, hit my mark and yell something like, “Hey you kids! Come back and get your crap!”

It was really more of a part for Johnny Depp, or Harrison Ford, but I work cheap.

We had some High Tech Special Effects where we tossed around a toaster attached to some monofilament line.

In the final scene of the day, we needed this part of the garbage pile to burst into flames.

Hence the gasoline.

It was so cold & windy, we couldn’t get a match to stay lit as we dropped it on the box. (more high-tech SFX)

Finally, after pouring about 12 gallons of gas on the pile, we managed to entice a puny, little 4-inch flame to erupt on the top of the box.

I sincerely hope the next few seconds make the outtake reel.

Picture the entire crew, cold & tired, huddling around this tiny spark.

“Oh, C'MON...” You hear us all say, ‘What do we have to do to start a fi…”

“FOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!” Says the garbage pile.

Three things happen next in rapid succession.

1. Shouts of “Holy Euphemism!” are heard throughout the soundtrack.
2. We are seen screaming like little girls, running around and trying to remember our positions so we can get it all on tape before the fire consumes the entire pile (and neighborhood).
3. The next-door neighbors promptly
call the police.

All in all, it was a good day.

For an on-going report on this project, refer to the Director's Blog.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Colonel Thespian

The rumors you haven't heard are true. The Colonel is heading out west to shoot a Pivotal Role in a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE.

By "West" we mean Bemidji, MN.

By "Major Motion Picture" we mean
The Boy's Senior Project at BSU.

By "Pivotal Role" we mean that the Colonel, acting as his own agent, had the following conversation with the Director...

"Dad, I have this small part available, where I need an old, really homely-looking guy."


Ahhh...type-cast once again.

Monday, February 06, 2006

That's More Than Just Wrong....

61 year old Rolling Stones should not be playing rock & roll any more than 61 year old Marx Brothers should be making movies.

We could call the Superbowl performance disgusting. We could call it contrived. We could call it poorly executed with a sound mix that would make Phil Spector stop and reload.

But I don’t think that would capture the essence of what we saw.

It was, instead, quite simply…Sad.

My son said it was like watching the four aging rockers actually DECAYING on stage. We kept waiting for body parts to fall off.

This is true. My Daughter noticed that she has the same clothes Mick was wearing hanging in her closet. Mick, the bare midriff thing is kinda icky. Stop it. Really.

I understand that Keith Richards is, in fact, clinically dead and was being controlled by remote devices. (Remember Hotblack Desatio?) This would explain the guitar work. My favorite part was when he went down on one knee and several roadies had to help him up.

Mick hasn’t deviated more than two notes from F below Middle C since “Goin’ to a Go-Go” back in the 80’s. His SuperBowl rendition of Satisfaction would not only have gotten him booted from an American Idol audition before the first line was finished, but also kicked out of every Karaoke bar in Japan.

Back in 1965, Mick Jagger said, “I’d rather be dead than playing Satisfaction when I’m 45.”

He missed it by about 16 years.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

14 Kids in an Old Church Van

Actually, it was 11 kids (or young people) and 3 adults (or fogies), and the van isn’t really that old.

But we piled in and headed down to the Superchic(k) / KJ-52 concert.

The night started with a couple of warm-up acts. The first was roadie with a guitar, whose name I forget. The second was a bit of a punk group called Eleventy-Seven. Even though their name sounded like something Bilbo would say at his birthday party, I liked them because for the last song they did “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramone’s. (c. 1977) I loudly sang along, drawing enough stares from the young fry to force an extended exile in the balcony.

Doogie makes a quick visit to Fogie Heaven

Seventh Day Slumber was pretty good, if you like that kind of thing, but then KJ-52 took the stage.

KJ-52 gets the crowd going.

Seriously, I don’t even LIKE Hip-Hop stuff, but he was great. He had the place rocking. Even the Geriatrics up top we’re doin’ the hand-wave junk.

I especially liked one of his lines from the “Mt Dew Song”….
“I like Homestar Runner...Best Web Site Ever…”

Confession: That was actually the only line I understood.

Shattered Assembly waits for Superchic(k) to take the stage.

Then the headliners came out. It was fun to think back on seeing Superchic(k) four years ago at the State Fair. They had shown up in a beat-up mini-bus, set up their own guitars & amps, and started to play.

Now, the roadies set out bottles of Aquafina, tuned all the instruments, & unveiled a few million dollars worth of equipment & lights.

What a difference 4 years can make.

They hit the stage with all the same energy they’ve always had, but with a more mature sound. Vocally, instrumentally, and lyrically, the band has grown.

Tricia & Melissa Rock the Encounter: Photo Credit: Lil' Penny

I spent a little time on the floor, went deaf, and joined The Blond back in the cheap seats.

Bottom Line: Superchic(k) Still Rocks.

The Stones, however, do not. I will end this post so I can move on to more fertile fodder…