Film Review: Cars 2 (dir. by John Lasseter & Brad Lewis)

There was once a rumor that the major heads of Pixar – John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich (I don’t count Brad Bird because he came later) were afraid to let any of their staff take on directing any of their films. With such an illustrious track record, it’s understandable. Pixar has picked up quite a reputation as being one of the few production companies one can count on to have Supposedly, they felt that the quality wouldn’t be as great.

So, I’m certain that the Pixar Heads are eating their own pie when they realize how Cars 2 turned out. It’s a fun film that the kids will adore, but it really lacks the heart that many of the other Pixar films are known for. Mind you, I’m not blasting the movie and saying it should be avoided. Not at all. It’s just that this is more of a movie for the kids and less of one for the adults. I feel that’s the problem everyone’s having with it. This is a good thing. It reminds Pixar of what they need to do to keep winning Oscars, while still being entertaining for the kids. Hopefully, because one of the head honchos made a mistake, maybe the company may consider letting some of the new kids try a hand at it.

In short, the Kid in me loved Cars 2. The Adult in me felt “Well, at least the Kid enjoyed it.” It suffers from two problems – a great story that would have been better set in the world of The Incredibles and a forced moral to the story. This may be the first Pixar film since A Bug’s Life where I haven’t teared up, this coming from someone who couldn’t make it out of the first 15 minutes of Up without tissues.

Previously on Cars, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) won his very first Piston Cup after a pit stop in the small town of Radiator Springs, where he learned to slow down and relax. He also met up with Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who may not be the brightest spark plug in the engine, but means well and manages to help when he can. Now, we find that McQueen has earned a number of Piston Cups and is one of the best racers in the world. After returning to Radiator Springs, he finds himself greeted by Mater – who’s been anxiously waiting for his best friend. Mater, being who he is, can’t help but be a little overboard in his fun, which ends up getting McQueen involved in a brand new race that’s sponsored by a clean fuel magnate.

Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are also investigating what could be a dangerous situation. While meeting with one of their American contacts (a great cameo by Bruce Campbell), the contact passes on some special information to Mater. Mater, not realizing what he’s been tagged with, is mistaken for a spy by the duo and brought into the investigation. That’s basically what Cars 2 is. It’s “Mater becomes a Spy”, and for the most part it works, but only if you really like the character. Mater is finally given his time to shine and he pulls it off well. I myself don’t mind Larry the Cable Guy, so it’s okay for me. For the grown ups, it could be a Mater overload. The kids will eat it up. The parents may actually get a little annoyed at how clueless Mater can be at times.

I have to admit that both Michael Caine and John Tuturro (Francesco Bernoulli) were two of the strongest character voices in the film. Owen Wilson’s okay, but the story really is only about him in terms of his relationship to Mater. I really didn’t care too much about Lightning this time around. We know his story, he’s grown about as much as he can in my eyes. More or less, he’s playing second or third fiddle. Seeing Caine in this made me want to watch Harry Brown again, or The Fourth Protocol. The fact that he’s also playing an Aston Martin DB5 type Vehicle is a sweet touch for me. He ’s smooth with his lines and pulls off the British Agent role pretty well. Mortimer is also relaxed in her role. Tuturro’s Bernoulli is as over the top as he was in The Big Lebowski, and he was a treat here as McQueen’s main rival. He may have had more fun than the others working on this, from the way he sounds.

Visually, Cars 2 is as beautiful as the other Pixar films, but doesn’t really seem to break that much new ground. Toyko looks nice, Paris is perfect (right down to the Ratatouille reference, if you catch it) and Italy looks sweet, but we know Pixar can do that. The 3D, however is downright magical, and I’m one who honestly believes the medium is best served with Animated films rather than filmed ones. It’s not exactly How to Train Your Dragon, but it’s still good in it’s own right.

I mentioned earlier that the story could have been better set in the world of The Incredibles. It’s an interesting spy story (the reasoning behind why what’s happening was funny in the sense of cars and the like), but the idea that cars are actually doing all of this action kind of pulls away from the story. At least, the adult in me comes off with this thought. For kids, it’s cars doing cool stuff, and I doubt it’ll come across as boring. The other problem is that the moral of the story – accepting your friends for who they are, despite their quirks (because we all have them) – feels a little forced. It’s like someone concentrated so hard on trying to do it that when it does occur, you go..”Okay, I get it.”, But I didn’t walk away feeling anything. Ratatouille’s Remy had a passion for cooking, one so great that he even made the most wicked food critic believe that “Anyone Can Cook”. In Up, Carl Fredricksen learned to let go of what he was holding on to and found new adventures. Mater undergoes a change, but it isn’t quite a big or a substantial. Actually it doesn’t even last long. It’s just clean fun.

Overall, looking at Cars 2, it’s not the greatest Pixar film they’ve done – far, far from it, but it’s a kid’s film. It’s quite enjoyable, but it sacrifices heart for action, something that Kung Fu Panda 2 managed to hold onto this year. Your kids will love it and you’ll enjoy that they’ll love it, but just don’t bring any tissues. They’re not necessary. You really wont find your heartstrings pulled here too much.

Lisa And The Academy Agree To Disagree

The Oscar nominations were announced today and, for the most part, it’s pretty much what you would expect.  Below is the list of nominees.  If a nominee listed in bold print, that means they also appeared on my own personal list of nominations.

Best motion picture of the year

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

(The Academy and I agree on five of the ten nominees.  That’s actually more than I was expecting.)

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)
James Franco (127 Hours)

(The only real surprise here is Bardem.  I haven’t seen Biutiful but I’ve heard amazing things about it.)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Christian Bale (The Fighter)
John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
Jeremy Renner (The Town)
Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

(Yay for John Hawkes!  Some people are surprised that Andrew Garfield wasn’t nominated for The Social Network.  I’m disappointed he wasn’t nominated for Never Let Me Go.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

(I’m happy to see Lawrence and Portman recognized but I still so wish that the Academy had recongized Noomi Rapace and Katie Jarvis as well.  I knew it wouldn’t happen but still…)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech)
Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

(Weaver — Yay!) 

Achievement in directing

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
David O Russell (The Fighter)
Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

(The snubbing of Christopher Nolan for Inception is probably the closest thing to an outrage that the Oscars will produce this year.)

Adapted screenplay

127 Hours – Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 – Michael Arndt (screenplay); John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (story)
True Grit – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Original screenplay

Another Year – Mike Leigh
The Fighter – Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (screenplay); Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (story)
Inception – Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
The King’s Speech – David Seidler

Best animated feature film of the year

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

 (I haven’t seen The Illusionist yet but I’m looking forward to it because the previews look great, it’s based on a script by Jacques Tati, and I love all things French.  Still, I kinda wish that Despicable Me had been nominated just so Arleigh could see the minions at the Academy Awards.)

Best foreign language film of the year

Biutiful (Mexico)
Dogtooth (Greece)
In a Better World (Denmark)
Incendies (Canada)
Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) (Algeria)

Art direction

Alice in Wonderland – Robert Stromberg (production design), Karen O’Hara (set decoration)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – Stuart Craig (production design), Stephenie McMillan (set decoration)
Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas (production design), Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (set decoration)
The King’s Speech – Eve Stewart (production design), Judy Farr (set decoration)
True Grit – Jess Gonchor (production design), Nancy Haigh (set decoration) 

Achievement in cinematography

Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)
Wally Pfister (Inception)
Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech)
Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network)
Roger Deakins (True Grit) 

Achievement in costume design

Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland)
Antonella Cannarozzi (I Am Love)
Jenny Beavan (The King’s Speech)
Sandy Powell (The Tempest)
Mary Zophres (True Grit)

(That’s right, I ended up going 0 for 5 as far as Costume Design is concerned.  Which I guess goes to prove that I have better taste than the Academy.)

Best documentary feature

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz)
Gasland (Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs)
Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)
Waste Land (Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley)

 (If Banksy wins, I’ll be happy.  I have a feeling the award will go to Inside Job, however.  As a documentary, Inside Job reminded me a lot of Capt. Hindsight from the South Park Coon Vs. Coon And Friends trilogy.  Also, I’m a little bit surprised that Waiting for Superman wasn’t nominated.  I’m even more surprised that I actually saw enough feature documentaries last year to even have an opinion.  Also, interesting to note that Restrepo — a very nonpolitical look at military in the mid-east — was nominated while The Tillman Story, a much more heavy-handed and stridently political documentary was not.)

Best documentary short subject

Killing in the Name (Nominees to be determined)
Poster Girl (Nominees to be determined)
Strangers No More (Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon)
Sun Come Up (Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger)
The Warriors of Qiugang (Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon)

(It’s always interesting that nobody knows what these movies are about yet their producers always end up giving the longest speeches at the Oscars.  I’m hoping that Poster Girl wins because the actual producers have yet to be determined.  I imagine that means there might be some sort of legal action going on which means that, if it wins on Oscar night, there might be a big fight at the podium.  Plus, I like the title.  It makes me want to walk up to people I barely know, lean forward, and go, “Can I be your poster girl?”)

Achievement in film editing

Andrew Weisblum (Black Swan)
Pamela Martin (The Fighter)
Tariq Anwar (The King’s Speech)
Jon Harris (127 Hours)
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter (The Social Network) 

Achievement in makeup

Adrien Morot (Barney’s Version)
Edouard F Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng (The Way Back)
Rick Baker and Dave Elsey (The Wolfman)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score)

John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon)
Hans Zimmer (Inception)
Alexandre Desplat (The King’s Speech)
AR Rahman (127 Hours)
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song)

Coming Home (from Country Strong, music and lyrics by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey)
I See the Light (from Tangled, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater)
If I Rise (from 127 Hours, music by AR Rahman, lyrics by Dido and Rollo Armstrong)
We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3, music and lyrics by Randy Newman)

(I’ll just say it now — 4 nominations and I didn’t agree with a single one of them.  Seriously, they could have nominated up to 5 songs but instead of giving at least one nomination to Burlesque, they just nominated 4 songs.  What a load of crap.)

Best animated short film

Day & Night (Teddy Newton)
The Gruffalo (Jakob Schuh and Max Lang)
Let’s Pollute (Geefwee Boedoe)
The Lost Thing (Nick Batzias, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann)
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary) (Bastien Dubois)

(I’ve actually seen Day & Night since it was shown before Toy Story 3.  I thought it went on a little bit too long, to be honest.)

Best live action short film

The Confession (Tanel Toom)
The Crush (Michael Creagh)
God of Love (Luke Matheny)
Na Wewe (Ivan Goldschmidt)
Wish 143 (Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite) 

Achievement in sound editing

Inception (Richard King)
Toy Story 3 (Tom Myers and Michael Silvers)
Tron: Legacy (Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey)
Unstoppable (Mark P Stoeckinger)

Achievement in sound mixing

Inception (Lora Hirschberg, Gary A Rizzo and Ed Novick)
The King’s Speech (Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley)
Salt (Jeffrey J Haboush, Greg P Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin)
The Social Network (Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F Kurland)

 (I would have probably had more matches in the sound category if I actually knew the difference between sound editing and sound mixing.)

Achievement in visual effects

Alice in Wonderland (Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi)
Hereafter (Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell)
Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)
Iron Man 2 (Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick)

So there you go.  I went 50/50 on the Best Picture nominations and — well, it all pretty much went downhill from there, didn’t it?  Oh well.