“Pixar Good”

When one says a Pixar film isn’t “Pixar good”, what do they mean?  Simply put, the film in question isn’t up to par with the caliber of films that Pixar has a reputation of putting out.  The thing with critics recently is that they feel the need to compare a film to the other films released by the same studio, director or series.  Does it make sense?  No.  Is it fair?  Absolutely not, but it is human nature so I don’t really fault anyone for jumping to that sort of analysis.  The same has been done with films by a certain director (Tarantino, Scorsese) or films within a series (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings).  To a much higher degree, the same can be said of Pixar and it’s this outright writing-off of a film because it doesn’t match up to its predecessors that bothers me.

Pixar’s animation resume is stellar having made 12 films before Brave with an average rating on Rottentomatoes of 90%.  The average rating on Metacritic, an arguably more telling rating system, is 83.  That’s a pretty incredible track record and it’s understandable that human nature would call for a comparison of a film with the other Pixar films.  It’s not fair, because Pixar films are so good.  What’s more, a Pixar film can be a great film in its own right, but still be on the low end of the Pixar list.  As seen below, Brave, with a 75% and 69, respectively, falls 11th out of the 13 Pixar films.  However, a 69 Metacritic score makes Brave tied for the 3rd highest-rated wide-release of 2011 and 26th out of 125 total films.

So, according to these numbers, is Brave “Pixar good”?  Not quite.  But then again, these numbers are based directly on critics who score the film with the mindset of comparing Brave to all of the other Pixar films.  It’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies and snakes eating themselves.  The scores and ratings of a film by critics who say that the film isn’t “Pixar good” will certainly reflect that very result.

But let’s forget about the Rottentomatoes and Metacritic scores.  What about the actual film deems it not up to par with other Pixar films?  The sheer look of the film, the landscape, the color and the cinematography are absolutely magnificent and on par with or better than most other Pixar films.  It’s humorous, adventurous and it’s cute, like other Pixar films.  It’s Celtic.  It’s beautiful.  It’s imaginative.  So what is it about Brave that bothers people?

I’ve heard it said that there’s no story, but what people really mean by that is that there is no Pixar formula.  That’s the formula that Pixar uses relentlessly in at least half of its films where someone is lost and most of the film is spent showing their journey back to what they are separated from.  It’s a basic formula that was lifted straight from The Brave Little Toaster (1987).  All of the Toy Story’s use that formula.  Finding Nemo is that formula personified and Monsters, Inc. is that formula turned inside-out.  Do you know which films DO NOT rely solely on that formula?  3 of the 5 highest rated Pixar films on Metacritic: The Incredibles, Wall-E and Ratatouille (Remy doesn’t want to get found).  Oh, and BraveBrave doesn’t use this formula.  Instead, it combines just a tiny bit of that Disney princess theme with a warrior/huntress/rebellious teenager flavor.  Wicked witches and magic spells are present.  There’s not an evil stepmother to overcome, but an actual loving, misunderstood mother who wants what’s best for her misunderstood daughter.

I’m afraid that there are no toy cowboys riding on remote control cars or little plastic army men repelling down staircases.  Trash heaps aren’t cities.  Cars don’t have mouths.  Free-hanging doors don’t lead to bedrooms.  Robots don’t fall in love nor do houses fly across the world with the help of hundreds of balloons.  There’s nothing wrong with the story.  It’s just not stuffed with crazy little filler nonsense that audiences have come to expect from Pixar films.  Audiences’ attentions aren’t held by the cheap suspense of whether or not the characters will find or get found.  Instead, they are bored with a simple, yet loving, story of the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter and their effort to understand each other.  And it’s for those very reasons that Brave is “Pixar good”.

A Genesis Found

A Genesis Found is a moody film with an underlying darkness and intensity that slowly crescendos along the way.  The film jumps back and forth between two parallel storylines separated by a span of 70 years and connected by blood.  The first takes place in 1938 in Moundville,Alabamaduring an excavation dig at the Indian mounds.  John Patton Jr., a young man working at the dig, stumbles across an incredible and mysterious find; the details of which are revealed to the audience bit by bit over time as the film journeys between the two stories.  The 1938 storyline has an aged and darker look to it that really gives it the feel of an older film and sets the mood for the dark and mystifying events that are unfolding.  Before his death, John Patton Jr. writes a book explaining his discovering an odd skeleton with an alien-like skull.  In this controversial book, Patton Jr. tells his story to the world; a story that would imply the existence of life on other planets and, perhaps, that the life on this planet began by those very aliens.

70 years later, the story of John Patton Jr. is still a mystery, but one that Bart, his grandson and documentary film maker, is determined to prove accurate.  He employs a film crew and an anthropology professor and manages to convince his cousin and anthropology student, Gardner, to join in his endeavor.  The team attempts to delve deeper into this mystery, find the skeleton and prove to the world the secret that his grandfather supposedly discovered is indeed true.

In 2010, A Genesis Found became the first feature film from Wonder Mill Films.  It was written and directed by Lee Fanning and stars Elliot Moon, Luke Weaver and Bennett Parker.

When a film makes good use of its surroundings, whether a beautiful city or an ancient landmark, it only adds to my enjoyment it; especially when those locations are recognizable.  A Genesis Found takes full advantage of its location; using the ancient Indian mounds of Moundville, Alabamaand the Black Warrior Riverfrequently throughout the film. Indeed, the mounds are almost another character of the film altogether as they serve as a continual backdrop of the story itself.  The film takes a realistic setting and brilliantly adds an element of science fiction and fantasy to it.  A Genesis Found is grounded in reality, but its fictional twist lies in the suspension of our beliefs; the possibility of something other-worldly going on.  Like the bending Black Warrior Riveritself, the A Genesis Found weaves back and forth over a 70 year gulf separating these two storylines, balancing and unfolding the over-arching story with great timing, yet by the end, there’s still a little bit of that mystery left over.  Much like The Nocturnal Third, the second Wonder Mill Films feature, A Genesis Found has an eerie feel to it that increases our anticipation as the film climaxes to its ending.  And after seeing both of the Wonder Mill Films’ features, I find my anticipation for the 3rd film increasing as well.

2012 Nashville Film Festival In Review

The Nashville Film Festival gets better every year.  It’s always a difficult task deciding which films to see and which to pass on because you just never know what’s going to hit big.  Granted, not every film is a 500 Days of Summer, the opener from 2009.  And thankfully, not every film is a The Deal, the utter catastrophe that opened the festival in 2008.  But every year there are several films at the Nashville Film Festival that end up being really good films and earning accolades throughout the rest of the year.  Here are a few of the better films that I was able to see at NaFF2012.

Qwerty is a pleasant and quirky little film about a girl and a guy who are both struggling through life and are only able to get through it with the help of each other.  It’s a fun movie with that far exceeds its meager and humble production value and the fact that it was shot in the beautiful city ofChicago only adds to its charm.

For the last few years, the best films have been the documentaries.  2011’s Buck and If A Tree Falls went on to accumulate a laundry list of awards throughout the rest of the year.  Likewise, this year there was a gauntlet of docs that show a lot of potential for increased success in the near future.

Last Call At the Oasis is a documentary about water.  It’s about the diminishing supply of water, the dangerous chemicals in water, the process of treating water and the growing idea of drinking bottled recycled water.  It’s a well-executed film with many expert opinions and sharp, clever graphic teaching aids, but it could benefit from narrowing its message down to a couple of the points listed above instead of trying to hit on all of them.  This is a documentary that we could see more of.  However, it really needs some editing work.

Love Free or Die is about Gene Robinson, the first openly gay ordained bishop in theEpiscopalianChurch.  It’s directed by Macky Alston and documents Gene, who becomes a sort of vehicle of change for theEpiscopalianChurch.  Gene Robinson, it turns out, was a fore-runner for so many other homosexual priests that are now allowed to be ordained, in theEpiscopalianChurch, as well as preside over gay weddings in states where they are legal.  The film documents specifically Gene’s shunning from the Lambeth conference and through the voting of this particular issue in theEpiscopalianChurch’s annual conference.

Affair of the Heart is an entertaining documentary about Rick Springfield, who still tours frequently to hefty crowds.  What makes the film so good is that it takes a few of his most avid fans, expands on their back stories and follows them as they jump from concert to concert throughout the country.  The film delves deep into their psyche; why Rick Springfield means so much to them and also the degree of obsession that many of them have.  The obsession is justified for some while others seem a little over-the-top.  Affair of the Heart was easily one of the most fun films I saw at the festival.La Comianeta documents the migrating of decommissioned school buses from theUnited States toGuatemala.  Those drivers that make the journey to and fro must endure serious danger of being killed by gangs or cartels along the way.  Once they arrive inGuatemala, the buses are fixed up, given a paint job and then used to take people to and from work.

Beauty is Embarrassing was easily my favorite film at the festival.  The film tells the story Wayne White, a very talented and creative artist who moved to East Tennessee from North Alabama at a very early age and eventually made his way up toManhattan and worked on the Pee Wee Herman show.  The film gives us insight into his childhood, his parents and his family.  Wayne White speaks with a vulgar hilarity, yet with a very kind-hearted Southern draw that makes him incredibly likeable.

The Nashville Film Festival is something that I increasingly look forward to every year and the free Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams given out to patrons was the proverbial cherry on top. Can’t wait until 2013!

Nashville New Releases – March 30, 2012

Mirror Mirror
Julia Roberts is coming off quite an alarming string of duds and that string may only be getting longer if Mirror Mirror, as self-aware as I’m sure it is, bombs like I think it will.  Roberts plays the evil queen to the virtual unknown, Lily Collins’ Snow White.  The trailer paints the film out as a silly take on the classic Snow White tale and especially cashes in on all of the dwarf jokes.  However, Mirror Mirror is not the only Snow White reboot coming out this spring.  Snow White and the Huntsman gets a June 1 release and it stars Kristen Stewart who essentially plays a warrior-like Snow White and Charlize Theron as the especially evil queen.  Of the 2 films, Mirror Mirror, by far, looks like the lamer of the two, but I imagine that it will bring in more of the little kids.  The Huntsman is sure to carryover the Twilight freaks.  I wouldn’t expect Mirror Mirror to still be playing in theatres by June 1, but if it were, then Huntsman would be sure to push it out for good.  At this very moment, Mirror Mirror has a 52% on Rottentomatoes.

It should also be noted that Mirror Mirror is not based on the 2003 Gregory MacGuire novel, Mirror Mirror, which is a disturbing and twisted take on the Snow White tale.  Casting for that movie might include Lars Von Trier as director, a young Shelly Duval as Snow White and a 90-year-old Tilda Swinton to play the evil queen.

Wrath of the Titans
Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans and if you need anymore information than that then you might just check out Rottentomatoes where you’ll find a 22% the day of its release.  The cast itself is strong and includes: Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson, but the film holds no anchor in this society’s pop culture.  It’s not relevant in the least, but the film itself will almost definitely rely on special effects, an aspect of film that will draw in a vast number of fanboys.

Look for both films to bomb and The Hunger Games to rule the Box Office for a second week in a row.

Check out theatre times for these new releases as well as other films currently playing in the Nashville area.

Craig’s Examiner Movie Page


This Weekend at the Belcourt – March 30-April 1

The Turin Horse is a 2011 Hungarian film directed by Bela Tarr and is a fictional take on the fate of the horse that was protected by Friedrich Nietzsche, which caused that illness which stuck with him until his death.  Another fascinating aspect of the film is that it was shot in only 30 takes.  The Turin Horse won the Grand Prix and the Berlin Film Festival as well as Official Selections at the Telluride,Toronto and New York Film Festivals.

Bullhead is a 2011Belgium film directed by Michael R. Roskam about a cattle farmer roped into dealing with a sketchy beef trader.  Bullhead was nominated for Best Foreign film at the 2012 Academy Awards.

 Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 Japanese documentary directed by David Gelb about the 85 year old, Jiro Ono, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest Sushi Chefs in the world.

Diary of A Country Priest – April 1 at 7:00 pm
This 1951 French film directed by Robert Bresson stars Claude Laydu and a priest struggling with keeping his own faith during a deathly illness while tending to the needs of his flock.  The film is based on the 1937 novel written by Georges Bernanos. Diary of A Country Priest won the Grand Prize at the Venice International Film Festival.

Army of Darkness – March 30 & 31 at midnight
Army of Darkness is the final film in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead trilogy, a series that goes from horrifyingly scary with The Evil Dead and eventually ending with the outright absurd comedy, Army of Darkness.  Bruce Campbell returns as the main character from the other films, Ash, and is now trapped in the Middle Ages battling claymation zombies and skeletons and must fulfill a quest in order to return to his present time.  What started out as a legit horror series, albeit with its own type of humor, ends with Army of Darkness going all in, lock, stock and smoking barrel with this slapstick medieval quest film that has virtually no ties to its preceding films save for the main character and his trust chainsaw.  Not to take away from Army of Darkness as a stand-alone film.  The film has its own band of trusted fans and has a strong presence in the world of cult films, hence the midnight showings.  When looking at Army of Darkness by itself, one can appreciate its humor and style, but when the 2 preceding films of the trilogy have such a strong standing, for some, it’s hard to do so.

A Trip to the Moon & The Extraordinary Voyage – March 31-April 2
A Trip to the Moon was made in 1902 by George Melies.  This weekend, the Belcourt will be showing the hand-colored version, which was found in 1993 and which took 11 years to restore.  It’s absolutely mind-blowing to consider that, just 7 years after the very first motion picture was made, Melies created a color, science fiction film about astronauts boarding a rocket to fly to the moon.  The Extraordinary Voyage documents this exhaustive and expensive restoration of A Trip to the Moon from its original production, rediscovery, restoration and the premiere of the revitalized film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.  The Extraordinary Voyage will be play following A Trip to the Moon.

Hugo – March 31 at 10:00 am
In keeping with the screening of A Trip to the Moon, Hugo will be playing this Saturday at 10:00 am as a part of the Saturday Kids Shows, which screens a movie appropriate for children every Saturday at 10:00 am through the month of May.  Hugo is directed by a legendary film director in his own right, Martin Scorsese, and is a fictional story surrounding the filmmaker, George Melies and his groundbreaking film, A Trip to the Moon.  Hugo won 5 Oscars at the 2012 Academy Awards including: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Art Direction and Visual Effects.  It’s a wonderful movie for all ages.


The Case for Best Picture – 2012

In an effort to keep myself from dying of boredom this Oscar week I have made a break down of each Best Picture nominee’s chances of actually winning Best Picture.  Each film has a section of those statistics that give it even the slightest chance of taking home the Oscar as well as statistics showing its chances of losing.  All of these assumptions are based on past Best Picture winners compared to the other Big 4 category nominations (Director, Editing, Screenplay & Actor) and the 5 Major Guilds (PGA, DGA, ACE, WGA & SAG).
 1) The Artist
Why It Will Win
– Must win either Director or any 2 of Editing, Original Screenplay and Actor.
– The Artist won the DGA, which has an 80% match to Best Picture. 
– Gladiator (2000) won Best Picture with just an Actor win and Director, Editing, Original Screenplay nominations.
 – Rebecca (1940) won Best Picture with only nominations for Director, Editing, Screenplay & 3 Acting noms; no wins…but that was Adapted Screenplay…
 – Won 41% of Precursor Best Pictures
How It Can Lose
– by losing Director, Editing, Actor and Original Screenplay but that still won’t shut it out completely.  It will just crack the door open for a Hugo or The Descendants upset, which won’t happen. 
2) The Descendants
How It Could Win
– Needs to win any 3 of Director, Editing, Screenplay & Actor, which is possible.
– Crash (2005) won Best Picture with Editing & Screenplay wins & a Director loss.
– Rebecca (1940) won Best Picture with only nominations for Director, Editing, Screenplay & 3 Acting noms; no wins.
– Won 22% of Precursor Best Pictures
Why It Will Lose
 – by losing any 2 of Director, Editing, Screenplay and Actor
3) Hugo
How It Could Win
– It must win Director to have a shot, but that would just constitute a split.  Winning Editing & Screenplay, however, would put things in its favor.
– Braveheart (1995) won Best Picture with a Director win & Editing, Screenplay nominations with no Acting nominations.
– Won 8% of Precursor Best Pictures
Why It Will Lose
– by losing Director & Adapted Screenplay
– No film has won Best Picture without winning PGA, DGA ACE or WGA      
4) Moneyball
How It Could Win     
– Needs to win Adapted Screenplay.  This would give it roughly a 1% chance.
– Driving Miss Daisy (1989) won Best Picture without a Director nomination, but won Adapted Screenplay with 3 Acting nominations and Editing.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without a Director nomination & a Screenplay win.
5) The Help
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning
Why It Will Lose
– No Film has ever won Best Picture without Director and Editing nomination
6) Midnight in Paris
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without Editing & Acting nominations.
– No film has ever won Best Picture by losing PGA, DGA & Editing
7) War Horse
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without a Director, Editing, Screenplay & Acting nomination.
8) The Tree of Life
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without an Editing, Screenplay & Acting nomination.
– No film has ever won Best Picture without PGA, DGA, ACE, WGA & SAG nominations.
9) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without a Director, Editing & Screenplay nomination.
– No film has ever won Best Picture without PGA, DGA, ACE, WGA & SAG nominations.
– Did not win a single precursor award of any kind
The Artist is going to win.  All of this is just to keep my interest until the show is over.  The following points should raise red flags during the show if they do or do not occur.  The right combination of the red flags below could derail the train that is, The Artist, so keep your eyes open for any of these tell-tale signs of Oscar chaos.  Perhaps this will help many of you maintain an interest during the show.
1) The Artist losing Director, Editing, Acting and Original Screenplay.
2) The Descendants winning any 3 of Director, Editing, Adapted Screenplay & Actor
3) Hugo winning Director, Editing & Adapted Screenplay
4) Moneyball winning Adapted Screenplay.

A Cinematic Valentine’s Tradition

My wife and I have had this Valentine’s Day tradition for the past 3 years where instead of going out to a fancy dinner, we stay home and watch movies.  (I know.  I’m a genius.)  Since Valentine’s Day usually falls within a couple of weeks of the Academy Awards and since we’re huge movie fans and obsessed with seeing as many of the Oscar-nominated films as possible, Valentine’s Day gives us a good excuse to stay in and watch a couple of the more obscure films nominated for Oscars each year. 
The tradition is still a relatively new one, but we’ve only been married 4 ½ years.  It all began in 2009 when we were busy packing up our townhouse for a move.  Most of the downstairs consisted of stacked boxes full of our stuff, ready to move.  We had been packing all evening and instead of going out, we decided to order Italian food in, light some candles, spread out a blanket, set up a picnic in our living room, Yada Yada Yada and watch what’s left on our list of nominated films.  Along with choosing to watch those films of little consequence, we inadvertently chose the films that were more of a depressing nature, and a tradition was born. Here is a run-down of how our Valentine’s Days have shaped up over our first few years of marriage. 
On the inaugural “Valentine’s Packing Picnic with Oscar” in 2009, we chose two films.  The first was the brutally stark and depressing, Frozen River, which stars Melissa Leo who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  If you like films about poor people doing bizarre things for the betterment of their family, including but not limited to smuggling a newborn baby in a car over a river that has frozen over, then this just might be the film for you.  It was a downer to say the least, but that didn’t put a damper on the romance of the evening.  Nay, I would say that it made it all the more fun. 
For our second film that evening we decided to watch Vicky Christina Barcelona, one of the better Woody Allen films from the first decade of the 21rst century and one that centers on a love triangle of sorts, but also with many beautiful shots of Spain.  Penelope Cruz was nominated for and won Best Supporting Actress.  The film also stars the great Javier Bardem and the not-so-great-but-Woody’s-obsession-at-the-time Scarlett Johansson.  There’s something about people sitting around, drinking wine, talking and making bad decisions that I thoroughly enjoy.  Valentine’s Day 2009 was a supporting performance kind of night and we all know how important performance is. 
For the 2nd annual “Oscar Valentine’s Movie and a Blanket”, we decided to do the very same thing, but this time in a different house.  We got our usual Italian and made up our usual picnic, and watched In the Loop, an Adapted Screenplay nominee from that year.  It’s a very smart, darkly funny satire about the relationship between American and British politics and stars Tony Soprano, the girl from My Girl and Gabe from The Office.  It’s a neat, light little film that keeps you laughing and keeps you on your toes, though on your toes, may not be where you’d like to end up.
In 2011, the 3rd Annual “Oscar Italia Movie-palooza”, we went back to the ways of Supporting Actress and watched the grim, independent film, Animal Kingdom, which is an Australian crime drama film about a family that sort of runs the crime in their area.  It’s a good film and stars the fighting teacher that married way up from Warrior and Jacki Weaver, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  It’s violent, sad and an all-around bummer of a film with a hint of Reverse Oedipus Complex; the key ingredients for a night of romance.
This year, the “Oscar Fest Movie Food Candle Magic Carpet Ride” will change course just a tad.  We will explore the far-away lands of the non-nominated films, though it could be argued that both films on the agenda deserved a nomination in certain categories.  The movie playlist this year consists of Contagion, the very depressing and unromantic disaster thriller directed by Stephen Soderbergh starring lots of famous people getting all sick and stuff followed by 50/50, a serious comedy starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt about just one person getting sick.  Here’s to hoping my chances are greater than 50/50.
Let’s be real, nobody likes to get out on Valentine’s Day and when I say “Nobody”, I mean me and hopefully my wife or else I’ve got a lot of making up to do.  If you already have a Valentine’s Day tradition of dressing up and going out into the cold night and waiting for a table, then consider shaking things up for once.  A change from the usual plan implies that some thought went into it.  Likewise, bringing home dinner and movies shows that you put forth some effort: 
If you’re just now realizing that it is Valentine’s Day, then I’ve got good news.  This really doesn’t take much thought or effort at all.  It just looks like it does.  And honestly, it’s the impression of thought and effort that you’re really going for anyways.
Enjoy the time together, enjoy the food, enjoy the films, but most importantly, enjoy the rewards that you will reap, my friends.  And…..ACTION!