Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cars 2

(PG) ★★

Director: John Lasseter & Brad Lewis.

Cast: (voices) Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro.

Cool cars never look back at the explosion.

IT'S finally happened. Pixar's mythical run of great films is over.

Adding insult to injury is that it's come with a sequel that no one really wanted except the merchandise money counters - Cars is generally regarded as a good film, but certainly the runt of the Pixar litter.

It's hard to know where to start with this movie. It's a sequel to Cars in as much as it's set in the same alternate reality (ie. a world of inhabited entirely by vehicles) and the main characters return in varying amounts.

That's where the similarity ends. Cars 2 is a James Bond homage that focuses on first film sidekick Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) as the accidental secret agent in an environmentally fuelled tale of espionage, set against the backdrop of a tri-series car race that promotes a type of bio-diesel.


Meanwhile, some of the emotional themes fly in the face of the first film, in which NASCAR upstart Lightning McQueen is forced to slow his life down and adapt to the pace of rural life so as not to upset anyone (and learn some lessons about humility). Here the message is be yourself no matter what and don't change for anybody, even if you're being an ignorant laughing stock who's upsetting people (although there are some other lessons along the way but this is the main one).

Like an automobile, Cars 2 is cold and emotionless. It's also sadly humourless, unless your idea of a hilarious joke is "Japanese toilets are different to Western toilets" or wanting to see how far the film-makers can push the "cars do wacky human things" envelope.

With no heart to it, we're left with a so-so spy movie that bizarrely stars cars, in particular Mater. A decent sidekick and comic relief character in the first film, he becomes almost painful to endure as a lead, although the film does improve as he eventually comes into his own.

As you would expect with Pixar, Cars 2 looks spectacular, and there are some interesting ideas, such as the environmental theme and elements of the espionage parody, plus the ending is strong.

But overall it feels like three different movies welded together or - worst of all - that Pixar is running out of ideas. Even the pre-film short is a return visit from the Toy Story team (albeit a welcome comeback).

However, the presence of Woody and Buzz just serves to remind you of how good Pixar sequels can be, and how disappointing this one is.

Monday, 20 June 2011

BlogalongaBond: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.



Her: I want those two hours of my life back.

Me: That bad?

Her Oh yeah. So bad.

Me: Was it George? Are you just pining for Sean?

Her: No, it was nothing to do with George. He did a good job with what he had to work with. Unfortunately, what he had to work with was a steaming plate of poo. And he had to eat it.

Me: That's a horrible mental image.

Her: I know, but that movie was bad. It was a total stinking plate of poo.

Me: Oh come on, there must have been something you liked about it.

Her: That car race/chase was pretty cool. And I thought some of the fights were better. Lazenby really threw himself into those - I think you can tell he was a better fighter than Connery.

Me: Well, Lazenby would probably beat Connery in a fight, but I really disliked a lot of the early fight scenes. I thought the Bond movies had evolved past the point of speeding up footage and editing it choppily to make it look more action-packed, but obviously not.

Her: Well, either way, I've got to say - and I hate to admit this because you'll probably put it on the bloody internet - but I had no idea what the plot was and what was going on. I mean, why was Bond following Tracy around? Why was she wandering off into the water? Why did her dad want to pay Bond to marry her? And what was Bond doing for the whole film? I mean, what was the bloody point of it all?

"Has anyone found the bloody point of all this?"
Me: It did feel like the film started part-way through something and never told us explicitly what it was. As far as I can work out, Bond was keeping an eye on the suicidal/crazy Tracy in the hopes of ingratiating himself with her dad so that he would spill what he knew about Blofeld, who Bond had been trying to catch since the end of You Only Live Twice. At least I think that's what was going on.

Her: Well, I didn't get that. It was nonsensical.

Me: Yeah I don't think the script fit together very well at the start. And while that is a big problem with the film, I think the biggest problem was that it didn't feel like a Bond film. They make an effort, particularly in the rubbish opening titles, to reference the previous films, then the film-makers turn OHMSS into a quasi-reboot for the new guy. It took 90 minutes before it started to feel like a 007 adventure. I mean, the final 30 minutes are really good, but it was as if they got to the end and realised they'd forgotten they were making a Bond film and crammed all the action and Bond-ness into the final act with a ski pursuit, an avalanche, a car race, and a toboggan duel.

Her: Yeah, it's very un-Bond. I mean, what the hell was the go with that "falling in love" montage in the middle of the film? I nearly puked in my popcorn. And since when does Bond get married? That's not Bond!

Me: Agreed. His previous womanising seemed fine because he didn't have a girlfriend, but by having him fall for Tracy then go and shag a chalet of shielas just makes him a cheating bastard.

Her: Mind you, I didn't think much of Tracy... or any of Blofeld's mind-controlled hussies. Once again, the Bond girls were a disappointment.

Me: Another disappointing aspect was that they seemed to be "hazing the new guy".

Her: What do you mean?

Me: Well, I think the costume department were picking on Lazenby a lot. Connery got all these awesome outfits and he always looked great. Lazenby gets some really shabby suits, a pale blue ski suit, lots of frills, and a kilt. A freaking kilt! And the script made him act kind of gay for a bit. There's nothing wrong with being gay but that's not Bond! He's a real man's man... wait, that sounds gay too....

Her: If they were really hazing Lazenby that would have made him dress as a woman.

Me: That would have clinched it. I'm surprised they didn't.

"Well, I'm not wearing any underwear. What about you ladies?"

Her: Poor George. I liked him, but he really got dumped with a rough deal here. I would have liked to have seen him do a more traditional-style Bond film.

Me: I thought he lacked charisma. That's the one thing Bond really needs, but Lazenby didn't have it.

Her: Whatever you think about George, you have to agree at least he was better than the new Blofeld.

Me: True. Telly Savalas was way too smug and nowhere near malevolent enough.

Her: And where did his scar go? And his accent? Wait a minute - they should have recognised each other from having met during You Only Live Once... but I guess they both look different in this one... but they're supposed to be the same guy... holy crap... I think my brain is about to explode.

Me: There's a really cool fan theory that James Bond isn't so much a person but a position in MI6 - hence the different-looking Bonds over the years. And I guess Blofeld could be the same - he's just a different Number One who takes on Blofeld's name and mantle.

Her: Stop talking. My brain hurts.

Me: Okay. But did you know this is actually a really highly regarded Bond film?

Her: What? How? Why? That was rubbish - the worst one so far by a long way.

Me: I don't think it's a total waste of time, but it does feel like they've tried to get away from the over-the-top nature of the previous films and have gone too far the other way, replacing the over-the-top-ness with bland-ness.

Her: My popcorn was more interesting.


BlogalongaBond will return in Diamonds Are Forever.