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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Life is more than a highway - Seeing Cars 2

Posted on June 27, 2011 at 4:55 PM

There are few things that make me want to leave the hot, sweaty, chaise lounge, poolside with music-and-a-book comfort of a casual Sunday afternoon in pre-summer Myrtle Beach. I’m currently reading “The Sheriff of Ramadi: Navy SEALs and the winning of Al-Anbar” and I just know that at some point – God, let it be soon! Please! – that author and former SEAL operator, Dick Couch, is going to get past all of the logistical descriptions of troop strength and deployment considerations and base housing and tribal faction politics and blah-blah-BORING! and get to the part where the SEALs start kicking ass and busting doors! Sadly, that point is not 125 pages in...

So, what could possibly tear me away from the excitement which was that? A new Pixar movie. And that movie is...Cars 2!

Now, many people deride the first Cars as the worst movie in the Pixar canon, and I have to disagree. And even though I avoided seeing it theatrically because I thought it was going to just be about NASCAR – aka what I like to call, “That horrific waste of fossil fuels” – which I could care less about, of course, I should have known better than to doubt the Pixar-tists and their ability to weave an entertaining, heartfelt story from anything. And I’ll say that having watched it multiple times on Blu-ray, I am constantly noticing little details and touches that are sprinkled into the background. (Like the way that airplane contrails look like tire marks...) So, if you are of the mindset that Cars was a terrible movie, then I’m not sure we’re going to see eye-to-eye on this one either. However, this is such a different movie than the first one -- way more racing and action and intrigue and less of that touchey-feely interpersonal, self-discovery gunk -- disliking the first doesn’t preclude you from liking this one. So...

If you were to sum up the takeaway lessons from the first Cars, you could encapsulate it as "a movie about self-discovery and learning about yourself and what is really important in life." The underlying leitmotif (I know, right?! You totally didn’t see that word coming, did you?!) of Cars 2 would be “friends are important and you should always stick up for them and stand by them.” (Perhaps coming off my realization that my own friendship numbers have waned, this resonated particularly strongly.)

Oh, and the other theme: Big oil = bad.

While Wall-E had a definite, “We’re ruining our planet!” and, “Get up off your asses, you bunch of fatties!” message, it didn’t necessarily lay the blame on any singular group or organization. I mean, sure, Buy-n-Large should probably take a huge slice of the blame pie, but they weren’t painted as necessarily on-purposefully evil. Cars 2 ups the rhetoric to flat out corporate oil is greedy and evil and corrupt. I’d say they don’t say it in so many words, but they pretty much totally do. I’m sure that if you polled any youngsters leaving the film, “So, what’d you think of Cars 2? You want to grow up to work for a gas and oil producer?” you’d get a pretty vocal no and possibly even a popcorn to the face.

So, before I get into the film itself – and I’ll be VERY sensitive with dropping any spoilage. I think the movie was great fun, and I won’t drop any ruination here – I thought I’d share my very first impression which was: Going to the commercial theater is frickin’ expensive! Two adults and a child matinee price was $17.75. One popcorn and one soda another $10.50. That is more than an entire MONTH of Netflix-ing. And that’s in South Carolina! If this was LA or New York that probably would be closer to $50. So, the next time I grouse about Netflix pricing structure, please someone remind me what the alternative is.

We opted not to see the film in 3D because A) I don’t think Lauryn would have been down with wearing the glasses B) it was more money and C) until they start outfitting all of the theaters with Runco D-73d projectors, I just haven’t been impressed enough by the technology to put up with the viewing downsides. (Though, mark my words and mark them well! I WILL see Avatar 2 in 3D. Oh yes!) I was pleasantly surprised – shocked might be a better word – that the auditorium we saw the movie in handled the cinemascope film presentation the correct way...getting WIDER/bigger instead of the screen getting narrower/smaller. (It is a GIANT pet peeve of mine to pay the egregious sums demanded by the commercial theater only to get a worse presentation than what I can experience at home. Harumpf! Fortunately, this wasn’t the case.)

Figuring that Cars 2 was a pretty massive pre-summer film roll-out, I was expecting some awesome preview action to just wash over me and get me all excited and glimpsing into the 6-9 months from now future of my Netflix queue watching pleasure. But, no. I would describe the previews as lame, disappointing, and disappointingly lame. First, The Smurfs movie? Really? Who is this even for? Is it supposed to rekindle some nostalgia for the Smurfs? Are they trying to make a comeback? And, oh, Neil Patrick Harris... Buddy! Man! Come ON! You are WAY too cool for this. Like, you are one of the coolest actors around right now – Harold and Kumar, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along, How I Met Your Mother, singing and hosting at the Tonys – and I don’t care how engaged to or getting married to a dude you are, I STILL can’t believe you’re gay! And doing the Smurfs is going to burn up a TON of your cred. Your agent is a totally hot chick and you secretly nailed her and now she’s holding it over your head with your “boyfriend” isn’t she? That’s the only logical explanation. What a harpy! Then there was the Winnie the Pooh movie which just looks meh and then an ad for the Muppets which looks ooooooo-kay, but doesn’t seem to have any of the awesome star cameos (Steve Martin as the waiter, “Would you like to smell the bottlecap?” anyone?) that made the original Muppets movie so great. Blarg!

First up with the requisite Pixar short and if you’ve been wondering how Woody and Buzz and the gang have been getting along since they moved into Sunny Patch, well wonder no more! You get a small glimpse into their lives and see many of the old gang. While I didn’t think it this was great, it was nice to slip back into the Toy Story world for a bit and see some old friends.

(Wow...1000 words down and I haven’t even started in about the movie yet. Jeez, I AM long-winded!)

Cars 2 could very easily be called the more generic "Vehicles" instead because this features way more than just cars. There are jets and boats and trains and planes and trucks and helicopters and... The movie opens in Radiator Springs and the old gang is all there. (I know it’s totally stupid, and these characters aren’t real, but I hated the idea the McQueen and Sally didn’t get married and stay together.) The only character missing is Doc, who Pixar classily “retired” when Paul Newman passed away. (There is a nice tribute to him in the movie.) Fillmore is voiced in the same style by Lloyd Sherr, channeling the late George Carlin. The film jumps around the world as McQueen agrees to a series of races, competing against his new foil, an Italian open-wheeled F1 car, Francesco Bernoulli, skillfully voiced by John Turturro, in the newly created World Gran Prix. (Imagine the character played by Sacha Baron Cohen in Talledega Nights and you'll be in the ballpark.) They have some nice banter, and Bernoulli’s engine has that very cool, high-pitched, chasing the redline F1 whine that makes for some sweet audio during the races. The film jumps from Radiator Springs to Japan to Italy and finishing in Great Britain

While I was entertained – and visually, the movie is stunning eye-candy. There are scenes when they are panning over the Italian Riviera and the England cityscape where the images are so photorealistic you would be very hard pressed to tell that it wasn’t real footage. – the movie just doesn’t have the tugging-at-your-heart emotional impact of Toy Story 3 or Wall-E or even Up. It was fun to watch for sure, but didn’t have the emotional weight and gravitas of some of Pixar’s other masterpieces.

The backdrop to the racing – and the underlying Big Oil BAD! theme – is that Sir Miles Axlerod (who seems to have the billionaire bravado of Sir Richard Branson) had a near death experience and has converted himself into an electric vehicle and is now promoting a new clean burning entergy source called Allinol. The World Grand Prix is designed to showcase Allinol, where all cars will be required to use that as fuel and show us a viable way to  move away from horrible, dirty, planet destroying fossil fuel reliance.

The film is way more James Bond than NASCAR and spends a lot of time following Mater who finds himself wrapped up in some international intrigue. I was worried that Larry the Cable Guy’s shtick would get old, but he is balanced nicely by Michael Caine’s Finn McMissile (definitely inspired by and paying homage to Bond’s famous Aston Marin DB5) and Emily Mortimer’s sexy-sexy Holly Shiftwell. She shift’s very well indeed! While there is no Q-Branch, per se, they are very well represented by all of the gadgets and technology featured. Also, while this movie has a G rating, there is a lot – A LOT – of intense fighting and crashing and exploding and Gatling gun-ing and what not. Several cars are clearly “killed,” one is tortured, and there is a lot of intense action and characters in peril. (I've been reading a lot of those taglines under the ratings. You know, things like "teen smoking," "fantasy violence," and "naughty role-play." And let me tell you, "brief/partial" nudity in a PG-13 usually almost means "locker/shower room glimpse of some dude's butt." Consider yourself warned.) Lauryn took it all in stride, but use your own discretion.

Some great lines and background nods throughout; here’s some of my favorites...

•    Movie playing at the Radiator Springs drive-in, “The Incredimobiles.”

•    Mater says that he’s into towing and repairs and Finn, assuming that’s Mater is just relaying his cover story, says, “Of course. And I’m into import and export.” (That was James Bond’s cover…Universal Export.)

•    At another point Mater reiterates that he is just a tow truck and McMissile says, “Yes, like Ms. Shiftwell here spends her time designing apps for the iPhone.”

•    Mater at the sushi bar ("My condolences") and using the Japanese toilet.

•    A restaurant glimpsed in the background of Paris – which is clearly drawn in a Ratatouille style – is called Gastow’s, a nice nod to Gasteau’s from Rata.

•    A billboard at a race in England is advertising “Lassetire;” a play on writer, director and Pixar head-honcho, John Lasseter.

•    Watching Guido and Luigi in their home town of Italy…ah, che bellisima! A relative says of Guido and Luigi. “They often fought. Who was the best Ferrari. Who looked more like-a the Ferrari. And there were even some non-Ferrari arguments.”

•    Probably every awesome sportscar you can imagine – Lambos, Bugattis, Ferraris, etc. – is visible in the Italian Riviera crowd.

•    The evil henchman – a bunch of “lemons” -- drink Limoncello at their get together.

•    One female car gets flustered by the sexiness of the Italian open-wheel design says, “I’m gonna have to get some coolant!”

All in all not a bad movie. Not a great one – which is what we’ve all come to expect from Pixar – but certainly not a bad one.

After the movie I wanted Lauryn to pose with me for a pic in front of the Cars 2 poster so we could immortalize our day. All seemed to be fine until I scooped her up to hold for the picture, at which point she had a meltdown in front of the sign, and said there were to be no pictures this day. So, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Categories: June 2011, Movies, Reviews

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