The Incredibles

I emerged from the theatre cheering after seeing The Incredibles for the first time.   I loved it.  It was the most openly fun I’d had during a Pixar film thus far and it remains one of my personal favorites.  It’s always a joy to watch and when I think of Pixar, this is one of the first ones that springs to the forefront of my mind.

However, with this rewatch, I found it surprisingly difficult to articulate why I enjoy it so much.  What is it, exactly, that makes The Incredibles so . . .  well . . . incredible?

From the jump, story and tone strike just the right balance between quiet, wild, imaginative, witty, sweet, and speculative. I could break down elaborate, nitty-gritty examples of why this movie is so effective (Michael Giacchino‘s score, the style and art direction, homage v. originality, etc.) but, truthfully?  This film demonstrates an unusually solid example of “movie magic”; when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (for me, at least).   A lot of that comes down to the team behind it; if Pete Docter is my favorite Pixar director, then Brad Bird comes in at a very close second.  I’ve been a fan of his style since I first saw The Iron Giant (oh, how I love that film, too).  In Bird’s films, I most appreciate the dialogue, pace, and – like with Docter – the ambition.  There are blurred moral lines here.  We may not sympathize with the villains, but we understand them.  While their decisions and reactions to their circumstances may be wrong, the points they make are very often sound. 

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Monsters, Inc.

*Contains Spoilers*

Pete Docter may be my favorite of the Pixar directors.  He helmed some of my favorite of the studio’s stable: Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out.  Watching Monsters, Inc., I am reminded how much worldbuilding it requires, right from the jump.   I would argue that it remains one of Pixar’s most imaginative movies to date.  It does not take place in our world – let alone a bedroom or sunny backyard – but rather delves into a parallel dimension, populated by wildly outlandish characters.  The characters dip into our world frequently, but the landscape virtually encompasses the entire globe.  That is an immense undertaking, and a huge risk.  That said, Pixar’s success with its first three films laid the groundwork for them being able to present something so “out-there,” and, thus, continue with even more radical ideas in the future.  After all, Pixar was launched on a wild, unprecedented venture, so it’s not exactly surprising.

What was surprising, however – apart from the dynamic worldbuilding and physical comedy (we’ll come back to that) – was the depth of the movie’s theme.  Of course, at four films into the studio’s collection, depicting deep themes was clearly their M.O., weaving these subjects delicately so it reaches audiences emotionally,  regardless of age, but not coming off as preachy.   And, like with A Bug’s Life, the message struck me a lot harder and a lot more powerfully as an adult.   As Sully summarizes during the film’s conclusion:

“…laughter is ten times more powerful than screams…”

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A Bug’s Life

* contains spoilers *

Even though A Bug’s Life is the second movie in the Pixar filmography, this is my first post for “Watch-It Wednesdays,” my weekly movie night with friends. Going into this film, I remembered it fondly. I never did see it in cinemas, even though I had loved the trailer (still do, this one too).

However, I was put off by public reception and by my own rather less than fond reaction to Dreamworks’ ANTZ. I will try not to compare the two films in this review as they really aren’t anything alike (aside from featuring insect characters) and they offer radically different viewing experiences. To this day, though, I prefer A Bug’s Life.

According to the Disney Wiki: “The film is loosely inspired by the fable ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ and the classic film The Seven Samurai, it is the second Pixar movie and tells the story of an outcast inventor ant named Flik, who recruits a group of circus bugs he mistakes for warriors when his colony is threatened by a group of grasshoppers.”

Back in 1998, I remember a general consensus of disappointment with this film as a follow-up to Pixar’s first feature, but I find that, the further away we get from initial release, the better A Bug’s Life holds up.

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Watch-It Wednesdays

For the past several years, a highlight of my week is what my friends and I call “Watch-It Wednesdays.”  The name has changed a few times (i.e. “Marathon Mondays”) but the idea has stayed the same; myself and a group of friends gather together to watch a movie (or a couple episodes of a television series).  Considering how busy our lives get, this weekly staple provides a chance to stay connected with friends and partake in some good old-fashioned fun.  Call it an exercise in self-care.  This also has brought some remarkable new titles into my life; most recently, the anime film, your name.  Though I’m super late to that bandwagon, I’ll probably have to write a post about that pretty soon.  It was well worth the hype!

In any event, I’m going to start blogging about the films we watch each week.  We’ve gone through quite  a few themes and collections (Doctor Who, Veronica Mars, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Firefly…) but now we’re beginning the journey through the films of Pixar Animation Studios, moving chronologically.  So, last week we began with Toy Story and this week we watched A Bug’s Life.  In both cases, it’s remarkable how well the story, characters, and animation hold up…and I shall elaborate in the separate reviews to come.

First up: A Bug’s Life!


Awesome Con & West Chester Film Festival

I was planning on going to Awesome Con 2018, anyway, but this year is set to be even more exceptional. Star Wipe Films is headlining the Horror, Action, Sci-Fi Block with our short film, Apocalypse Rock!
But what is Apocalypse Rock about?

Tom Harper runs a radio station. By himself. At the end of the world. Surviving alone in an emergency radio station, he broadcasts rock and roll fueled show every day, hoping that someone out there might hear him.

This will be the first trip to Awesome Con to others on the Star Wipe team, so I’m stoked to be our guide. Showcasing Apocalypse Rock at this convention will definitely ‘level up’ the experience.
Apocalypse Rock will screen on Friday, March 30th, in the block starting at 5pm-6:30pm in Rm 101 – Screening Room. If you’re in the Washington DC area, come and see the film – and the Star Wipe Films team!

2018 Reel

In addition to publishing Resistance Rising, I’m approaching my two-year anniversary with DUO Media Productions and Star Wipe Films and I wanted to showcase some of the great work we’ve been producing, and of which I get to contribute. It really is a blast to work with such a fantastic team.

Work included (in order of appearance):

  • Sophia – 72 Hour Film Fest Film (Star Wipe Films)
  • Choices – a short film
  • “After the Fact” : 2015 Gala Video for the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes 
  • Game of CAD, Promo for SOLIDWORKS World – Winner of Gold TIVA Peer Award
  • DUO Pop: Montgomery Parks – Behind the scenes of DUO Media Productions
  • World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day Promo
  • Genre Wars: Resistance Rising – web series
  • DUO Pop: TIVA Peer Awards – Testimonial from DUO Media’s team
  • MCS Pro: Success Stories
  • Montgomery Parks, It’s All Here! Commercial Series
  • Dance For Change: UHS Dance Company
  • SOLIDWORKS Promotional Series
  • Sally Pacholok – Independent Feature Film
  • SOLIDWORKS Draftsight Training Videos
  • Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story – Independent Feature Film
  • Collective Church Promo
  • The Great American Wheat Harvest – Documentary Feature Film
  • School Of Creative And Performing Arts (SOCAPA) Virtual Tour
  • SOCAPA Actor Reel: “French Kiss”
  • The Stranger – Independent Short Film

More on DUO Media Productions and Star Wipe Films

 

New Harry Potter Pop! Vinyl Figures in March

Graphic Policy

The latest series of Harry Potter Pop! figures are here! Funko has announced the next series that will be out in March.

The new series introduces new looks and additional fan-favorite characters to the assortment, including Harry Potter in his Triwizard Tournament uniform, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in their Yule Ball garb, Dobby the house-elf with a freeing sock, Harry’s godfather Sirius Black, quirky Ravenclaw Luna Lovegood, Harry’s arch-rival Draco Malfoy, a soul-sucking Dementor, and Albus Dumbledore.

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“We Did It, Marshmallows!”

veronica-mars-movie-poster

I have been a fan of Veronica Mars since 2006, when it moved from UPN to the CW to launch its third season.  I’d noticed the occasional TV ad for it and became genuinely intrigued by the concept of a snarky, female Private Eye, balancing espionage and freshman year of college.  Veronica struck me as a capable protagonist, sturdy in her lead role and fit to carry a show.  I was still settling into my junior year of college at the time, so I was slightly distracted, but I made time for TV that Tuesday night and when Kristen Bell’s voice kicked in with her opening narration, I stuck around.

Here it is: first day of college.  What do you say, Veronica? New school, fresh start…how about you try not to piss anyone off this time around?

ImageI wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but I watched the whole season and when it ended, I realized that somewhere along the line, I became hooked and felt the stirrings of fan-outrage over its cancellation.  The biggest disappointment was that the network left the story open-ended and inconclusive, characters and their arcs floating around in limbo.  One could argue that it gave the audience the chance to interpret the ending upon personal preference, but that was not likely the series’ intention.  And it showed.

veronica-mars-58-veronica-mars-series-tvTo calm the growing sense of withdrawal, I rented the first two seasons.  Imagine my astonishment at how much more there was to Veronica’s story; how much better those first two seasons were. Baffled, I couldn’t understand why the show had not gained more attention from the start.  And even season three –– while sub-par compared to its two predecessors –– suffered poor ratings largely due to its Tuesday night time slot, airing against American Idol and House.   This was 2006, when House was one of the hottest shows on all of television, following Idol, which had not yet grown to be old news. 

I’ve remained a fan in the intermediate years, with the help of reruns on various networks, but I felt very much like I was part of a small group; none of my friends had even watched the series, there wasn’t a lot of buzz online, and I couldn’t find reruns anywhere.  I eventually purchased the series on DVD and heard the rumors about a feature film, but I didn’t expect to see it happen.

Yet here we are, in 2014, eighteen days and counting until the feature film is released to the public; a film that got made by cracking every Kickstarter record on the books.  The phrase, “look out, Veronica Mars!” is cropping up on fundraising campaigns all over the place now.  The fanbase got the film made and everyone, including Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell and all the cast and crew are gobsmacked that there was a response so large.

And why?  What makes Veronica Mars worth +$5.7 million?  What is making 270 theaters release the film on the same day that it will be available to buy or rent online?

Is it the story?  The series launches with the introduction of one sixteen-year-old Veronica, daughter of Keith Mars, Sheriff of Neptune, California until the murder of Veronica’s best friend Lily Kane changes everything.  Keith wrongfully accuses Lily’s father of the murder and doing so leads him to lose his job and become the town pariah and Veronica, the school outcast.  Veronica’s mother walks out on the family, leaving Keith to reinvent himself as a Private Detective and Veronica to hold her head high among her classmates.  She goes to the end of the school-year party to prove that she is unaffected by her peers’ treatment…but she wakes up the next morning to realize that she has been drugged and raped.

And that’s just the pilot.

An overly dramatic premise?  Undeniably.  But it’s the smarts of how the story was presented that makes it work.  Flashback is used to great effect, without being overdone and while there is a lot of exposition conveyed in the show, there could have been considerably more, but the writing expects its audience to be sharp enough to keep up and willing to play along, to accept the modern, noir-like tone.  The focus of the pilot and the season at large, really, is centered on the relationships and characters.  The story does dwell on the past, but always in a way that is relevant to the present; how they’ve dealt with the upheaval around them and the new patterns that they have formed in the disaster’s wake.  Most significant here, is the long-established relationship between Veronica and Keith.  Through it all, they have remained very close; Veronica has become his protege and they will protect one another, whatever the cost.  Simultaneously, the new friendship Veronica forms with Wallace Fennel in the first few episodes becomes another anchor point of the series; soon, Wallace is her best friend and closest ally, through thick and thin.

Veronica herself is a firecracker, but she is also a teenager and the series never forgets that; nor does it beat the audience over the head with reminders, either.  Veronica, too, is a great modern-day heroine.  She’s sassy, tough and almost always able to hold her own against her many foes.  At the same time, she wrestles with serious character flaws.  She’s vindictive, headstrong and manipulative, and the people around often struggle to keep her in check.

When arguments happen, when lines are crossed, problems don’t just vanish into the mysterious void between episodes.  Stories are entwined and while, yes, it does have the structure of episodic television –– including the one, big case per season –– it is, after all, a mystery show with a contemporary Nancy Drew at the center.  In fact, it’s my personal opinion that Veronica may be the closest thing we have ever see to a female interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth; Wallace and Mac are, in essence, two variations on Dr. Watson to Veronica’s Holmes (and, for the record, I’d love to be wrong about that and see a female Holmes someday).

“Respect the business model, Veronica. I do the gadgets. You do the actual espionage.”(Mac, Nevermind The Buttocks)

Veronica even slips into the cold-hearted aspects of Holmes’ personality upon occasion, with Wallace or Keith being the ones to pull her back to reality.  She often takes them for granted and, more than once, they call her on that.

“You been paying any attention lately? I just learned my whole life is a lie… I’ve always been a shoulder you could lean on. You’ve given me no time, no sympathy.  Nothing.”
(Wallace, Blast From The Past)

I could, very easily, go further about why I admire the series, expand on its uniqueness and –– eventually –– sum up to a simple explanation of “it’s just cool!” but the significance of this film is far bigger than the series itself, or even the cinematic continuation of it.  This whole endeavor is the latest mile-marker on the digital frontier; never before has a US Hollywood Studio released a film in theaters and at home at the same time.  It’s entirely possible that this will not be the last project to be produced and released in this way; but, again, apart from the simple fact that the show deserves this big break, why is Warner Bro.s willing to take the risk?  How was such an achievement even possible?

Because it was possible; the reality is that the goal of Veronica Mars was actually within reach.  Even at $2 million, the film could have gotten made.  Sure, the extra $2+ million helped, but because of the setting, genre, time frame and the enthusiasm of those behind the project, it was 100% do-able.  The fans out there scrambling for other beloved shows to get picked up again, but for them, a budget this size is just not realistic.  Veronica, however, was within the realm of possibility and, rather than sit by, Rob Thomas and his team took a chance and it paid off.  The time was right and this could, quite literally, be the starting point of a new branch of film and funding.

Me and Veronica

And still, in spite of my saying all that, I can’t help myself from adding that there really is something special about Veronica Mars.  It doesn’t overreach and it doesn’t try to over- or under-estimate itself.  It was “simple” done right.  Veronica’s Neptune was a world I so enjoyed getting to know, as enthralling for me as Hogwarts or Gotham City.  The film’s existence and upcoming release is a well-deserved accomplishment for the creative team.  Whatever the outcome of the film’s quality, whether it warrants an Oscar or a Razzie, it got made and has changed the way the industry views crowdfunding.  It’s one for the history books: Rob Thomas didn’t give up on his characters, the cast got behind it and the fandom spoke.

“We did it, Marshmallows!”


Veronica Mars, opens in the US on March 14th in select theaters.