The Blitz

Happy Monday Popsters and welcome to the scorching Summer of 2012! Are you ready for another sweltering week of work and sweat?! Yeah, me neither.

The good news is, here in the states, we’ ve got a holiday just around the corner! Soon it will be time once again to grill some steaks, drink ourselves stupid and blow some shit up or, as we like to call it in Phoenix, AZ, Friday night!

We’ve got some fun stuff for you this week so, without further yada, yada, yada, let’s get this party started!

• Brave (2012)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ out of a possible 5

Pixar/ Disney

Directors: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson

So much has been written about the groundbreaking history of Pixar’s success throughout the years that a critical backlash was bound to come, sooner or later. No doubt the disappointing cash grab and extended toy commercial that was last year’s Cars 2 invited much of this derision and, sadly, it seems to have carried over a bit to the studio’s latest release, the beautiful and heartwarming Brave.

For the record, the critics, (and sometimes the public), and I haven’t always agreed on the Pixar flicks. As an example, I did not love Toy Story 3, (oh no, sacrilege!!), I found it unnecessary and felt they were rehashing a theme already covered- to much better effect- in Toy Story 2, (essentially extending the heartbreaking montage from 2 showing Jesse’s owner growing up and moving on to a 90 minute sequel for 3). I was also more than a little disturbed and offended by that would be “holocaust moment”, as the toys surrender to their fate on their way to the incinerator. If I had to pick a single moment when I fell out of love with the animation house that Steve built, that was it.

As for Cars 2, I did the one thing I NEVER would have expected I’d do at a Pixar movie, I walked out. The horrible and cloying misstep was just too painful to witness and felt like a complete betrayal of everything I’d come to expect from the people who brought us Finding Nemo, Up and The Incredibles.

Cars 2 was Pixar’s attempt, (and most likely the board of suits at Disney), to join the ranks of the abysmal franchises that are Shrek, Ice Age and Madagascar, (all of which I loath). It was filmmaking at it’s lowest common denominator and made the investors fat and happy but left the true fans befuddled and depressed.

Which brings us to Pixar/ Disney’s 13th feature film release, Brave, which, naysayers be damned, is a nice return to form for the animation giants.

Unlike many of the other reviews I’ve read, I’m not going to compare this film to any of the others in Pixar’s library, quite frankly I find those reviews incredibly lazy. I believe, as always, each film needs to be accepted on it’s own merits. “Is it as good as (fill in the blank)? Please. Enough. Get over it.

From the first frame of Brave you know this is a Pixar film, the quality is more than evident and, on their weakest day, their talents are head and shoulders above the wannabes at Dreamworks and Nickelodeon. Their attention to detail is, I believe, the secret to their massive success and Brave is no exception. After watching the trailer for the cringe inducing Madagascar 3, (which played immediately before Brave), it struck me that the Pixar films, (with the exception of Cars 2), don’t force laughs and most often have a depth of substance you won’t find in an animated film from any of the other studios currently producing the big titles.

One of the other things I’ve always admired about Pixar is that when it comes to casting the voice talent, unlike their competitors, they have never really been star f*ckers. They tend to simply hire the best actors for the job, instead of chasing “big box office names”. The star of Up? Ed Asner. The star of Finding Nemo? Albert Brooks. The Star of Ratatouille? Patton Oswalt.  Brave is no exception, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson and Kelly Macdonald are far from being blockbuster names and yet I can’t imagine a better cast. Just listening to Connolly deliver his lines with his thick, AUTHENTIC Scottish accent made me want to immediately find Mike Myers and waterboard him until he willingly admits his accent in Shrek was pure shite. 

I won’t give you a synopsis of Brave, for those that have read my previous reviews, (which, admittedly, I don’t really enjoy and don’t often do), you know that’s just how I roll. I’m not paid per word like so many of the other goofball critics out there so I’ve got no need or reason to take up space with that stuff here. I will tell you that the trailer for this film doesn’t really do it justice and I believe- in part- that may have something to do with the fear of giving too much away, this is one of those movies where the less you know going in, the more you’re sure to enjoy the ride. The trailer itself showcases the more broad moments of humor from the film, (which, oddly enough don’t feel nearly as broad in context), and really is only showing you scenes from the first reel of the flick.

In lesser hands-(cough, Dreamworks, cough)- the “cute” factor of this story would have been dialed to eleven but, as is the case with nearly all of the Pixar movies, the filmmakers have done a nice job of keeping the whole thing smart and grounded. As an example; from what you’ve seen in the film clips, you’d expect Merida’s brothers, a trio of “wee red haired devils”, to steal the show with precocious over the top mugging and mischief but the directors have done a really nice job of keeping them in check and allow them just enough to keep your 5 year old engaged. That restraint is, in the end, what I think separates Pixar from their competitors.

Now, as for the 3D, skip it, actually avoid it at all costs! It’s common knowledge that 3D effects diminish light by up to 30 % and with Brave taking place largely in the dark woods and a dimly lit castle there are moments in the 3D version that are almost too dark to fully take in. The bottom line is, the artwork in this film is exceptional and you don’t need to watch it as if it were somewhere near the tip of your nose. There are some films I have enjoyed in 3D, (Hugo, Avatar, Tangled), this is definitely not one of them.

As always, the Pixar feature was proceeded by a short film, this time around it’s La Luna, which was actually nominated for a Best Animated Short at the Oscars earlier this year. I’m happy to report that nomination was more than warranted, in fact La Luna may actually be one of my all time favorites. It’s one of the few that feels like it could be expanded into a feature, (though I know it never will).  

Next up from Pixar is Monsters University, the sequel to Monsters Inc. From the trailer it looks like it might be fun but, still, I’m not going to lie, I have never been all that excited about seeing the words “Pixar” and “Sequel” in the same sentence. 

By the way, stay until the end of the credits for Brave, for what I believe is the first time, Pixar has added a stinger at the end that you will definitely want to see.

• The Pop Bitez PopCast for 6/25

It’s here! The first official PopCast for the summer of 2012! Prepare to be rocked! This week we’ve got new music from Smashing Pumpkins, Fiona Apple, Hot Chip and a lot of hot new indie bands you might not know yet but definitely should and will!

So, what are you waiting for? Tune in, Turn on and POP out!

• Disneyland’s Cars Land Opens

Speaking of Pixar’s Cars, (I didn’t hate the first one), Disneyland’s California Adventure in Anaheim opened their multi million dollar Cars Land last week which features FOUR new rides!

Depending on how you felt about the flick, (or more importantly I suppose, how your KIDS felt about it), this looks like it might be a lot of fun.

It’s clear they spared no expense and their attention to detail, as always, is impressive and inspired. 

Here’s a few vids that will give you a nice overview.

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• Transformers: The 3D Ride 

Well aware that their biggest competitors over in Anaheim were spending big bucks on several new attractions, Universal Studios Hollywood opened a new multi million dollar ride this week as well.

I’m not a big fan of the Transformers flicks but this still looks like a pretty cool ride.

Of course, if they had created an attraction called Megan Fox: The 3D Ride I would have been there yesterday. (Yeah, I know, but still…).

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• Let’s Pizza?

Given I’ve spent time living in both NYC and Chicago, the two biggest pizza hubs in the U.S., the prospect of a vending machine pizza is a dubious thought to say the least. That being said, compared to Pizza Hut, Dominos and Papa Johns, how bad could this pie really be? After all, they emphasize in this video the pizzas are never handled by “human hands”, which is comforting when you consider some of the folks you’ve seen behind the counters of your typical neighborhood pizza parlors. 

I’ll say this for them, they look pretty tasty in this video. As you might expect, I’m also a fan of their spokesmodel… though they might want to work on the dubbing a bit. 

Let’s Pizza is due in the states sometime this year.

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• Hughes the Force

There have literally been thousands of Star Wars fan films at this point, all of them in varying degrees of insanity and brilliance but this one has to be the best I’ve ever seen.

Hughes the Force asks the question: what would happen if the world of John Hughes suddenly collided with the universe of George Lucas? It’s essentially Weird Science with a slave Lea action figure, something I might add I tried several years ago, (my experiment however resulted only in a mound of melted plastic and a broken heart).

Make some time for this one, you’re going to love it!

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♠ Have a great week, stay cool, until next time Popsters, Cheers!- Scott

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