"Cort and Fatboy" listener Kevin Rich commissioned this drawing as a wedding gift for his lovely new bride. Pencils and inks by yrs. truly; colors by the great Bill Mudron. Click to enlarge.
Movie review in the Wednesday, June 30 Oregonian....
The exposition-heavy story barely advances the relationships in Stephenie Meyer's vampire-romance saga, leaving the characters almost exactly where they were at the end of the last film, "New Moon." It's a movie that mostly seems to be about human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) talking about their engagement; talking about how to break the news to Bella's concerned dad (Billy Burke) about their engagement; talking with Edward's magazine-spread vampire "family" about their engagement; and worrying that hot werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) will be upset when he hears about their engagement.
There are decently staged action bits involving an army of "Newborn" vamps making their way to Forks on a revenge mission to kill Bella, but honestly, it feels like a subplot; "Eclipse" is mostly a film in which people share their stories and talk about their feelings and discuss things happening elsewhere.
To my thinking, that's a bit of a disappointment after the previous movie's campy, globe-trotting soap-opera loopiness, which introduced all kinds of surprising new stuff -- including werewolves, Lautner's six-pack, Bella screaming and jumping off cliffs, Dakota Fanning performing crazy psychic feats and Michael Sheen playing an ancient royal vampire like he'd waltzed in off the set of "Blackadder." By contrast, "Eclipse" can barely find its way out of Forks.
But "Eclipse" did make me realize one thing with absolute clarity: I'm now completely on Team Jacob.
Admittedly, my chromosomes make me a bit of an outsider to this series. But I'll take Lautner's wisecracking hot-blooded werewolf over the airless, museum-quality Bella/Edward romance any day. As my pal Becky (jokingly) put it mid-screening, "Jacob is the perfect boyfriend," and she's right -- yeah, Jake's a little stalky, but he always apologizes in the next scene, and he's ripped and does little craft projects and cracks wise and has good-looking friends and every once in a while he turns into an adorable giant dog who doesn't talk back. The fun thing about "Eclipse" is watching Lautner emerge as the Han Solo of this series, getting all the laughs and calling Edward and Bella on their preciousness.
The film is mostly solidly directed by David Slade, who has experience with vampires ("30 Days of Night") and much-older predators trying to romance young girls ("Hard Candy"). He isn't afraid to keep the camera locked on a human face, he's quite good at the action bits and he largely retains the humor and relatable performances that director Chris Weitz injected into "New Moon" while he was saving the franchise from its barely coherent first installment. (And Slade seldom makes the more-ambitious Weitz's mistakes -- which included that Bella-sits-in-one-place-for-four-months/changing-of-the-seasons shot and that laughable dream sequence in which Bella and Edward ran through the woods like a couple of dorks in earth-tones.)
Edward, in particular, makes more sense as a character than before, and there's a pretty great scene in "Eclipse" where he and Jacob have a man-to-man talk in a tent -- although, in keeping with this series' habit of getting two things right while getting one thing sort of wildly wrong, Bella is somehow sleeping through an entire loud conversation about her that's happening inches from her face.
Unfortunately, Slade is fighting a weak story -- which, again, feels stuck in a holding pattern before things go flesh-rippingly nuts in the fourth installment, "Breaking Dawn" (which will apparently be broken into two films). It's stagnant to the degree that screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg pads out the narrative with no fewer than three narrated costume-drama flashbacks.
"Eclipse" is in particular a big step backward for Bella as a character. She was getting assertive and weird in "New Moon," and "Eclipse" shoves her right back into blank Mary Sue mode. Poor Kristen Stewart returns to spending most of her time being discussed, praised and acted upon while saddled with boring dialogue like, "Wow, that's really pretty," which I believe she says roughly four times over the course of the movie. Bella must smell really nice, because I'm still not sure why everyone in town continues to upend their lives on her behalf.
And, as I wrote in my "New Moon" review last year: "Of course, there's also the deeper fundamental problem with the "Twilight" saga -- it's selling young girls a slickly packaged primal myth about being able to 'rescue' bad boys -- but I won't get into that." But if you're interested, Drew McWeeny gets into that and much more in a blistering attack on the psychosexual underpinnings of the movie series over at HitFix.
'The Twilight Saga: New Moon' (The Oregonian, Wednesday, June 30, 2010)
I'm unreasonably excited about this: Portland food cart Big-Ass Sandwiches has named one of its weekly specials after naughty instructional cartoon character Mr. Don't.
On their Twitter feed, proprietors Brian and Lisa Wood unveiled the "The Big-Ass Mr. Don't" recipe: homemade chicken-fried steak, fries and Brian's homemade country gravy.
The sandwich goes on sale Monday (June 28) for $8. It comes with a custom sandwich sticker I threw together for Brian and Lisa (pictured above), while supplies last.
Portland's 5th-annual "Can't Stop the Serenity" charity screenings happen this Saturday (June 26) at the Clinton St. Theater. They're mixing up the programming a bit this year -- adding screenings of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and the apparently not-bad fan-film "Browncoats: Redemption" to the usual showings of Joss Whedon's "Serenity."
Bill Mudron and I contributed a handful of signed-and-numbered prints -- from our "Serenity" comics "Take My Love" and "Augie, The Littlest Reaver" -- to the event's merchandise table and charity raffle.
Portland's 5th Annual "Can't Stop the Serenity" screenings (PDXBrowncoats.com)
During the Friday, June 25 "Cort & Fatboy" podcast, we talked "Knight & Day," "Micmacs," Superman's long walk, the impending "Mr. Don't" Big-Ass Sandwich, Saturday's "Can't Stop the Serenity" charity screenings in Portland, and much more.
Cort and Fatboy (Friday, June 25, 2010)
Movie review in the Wednesday, June 23 Oregonian....
This is going to sound like a backhanded compliment, but it's meant sincerely: "Knight and Day" is a pleasant little slice of adult-contemporary filmmaking. The Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz action-comedy is a smooth-grooves thriller for grown-ups -- a light, familiar story carried by underplayed direction and the chemistry of its leads.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn that director James Mangold ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma," "Cop Land") and writer Patrick O'Neill had the lighthearted 1963 Cary Grant thriller "Charade" in mind when they were sorting out their tone. "Knight and Day" starts with Roy (Cruise) and June (Diaz) meeting cute at the airport. A refreshingly long get-to-know-you conversation ensues on the plane. She's an improbably lonely woman who restores vintage automobiles, and she's headed to her sister's wedding. He's a hilariously level-headed superspy-gone-rogue, and he's capable of taking out every assassin planted in the airliner and then landing the plane himself.
Roy assures June that he's the good guy and that every mercenary, CIA spook and creepy assassin about to enter June's life is either misinformed or a liar. But can she trust him?
What distinguishes "Knight and Day" from the roughly 8 billion other movies about cute couples bonding on the run is its offbeat tone. It's as if the stars agreed ahead of time to do slightly peculiar variations on the schtick that made them famous.
This is especially true of Cruise, who plays Roy as a quietly barmy version of his "Mission: Impossible" character Ethan Hunt. At nearly 48 (!), Mr. Cruise is finally starting to show the slightest signs of wear around the edges, and I'd argue it makes him more interesting to watch. He makes a mature choice to underplay or throw away nearly every one of his lines in "Knight and Day"; this turns out to be extremely funny when he's doing stuff like flying 200 feet through the air to land on the hood of a moving car while still calmly reassuring June (in perfect emergency-service-worker cadence) that she's "doing great."
Cruise's throwaway approach is embraced by the filmmakers in other ways. Mangold stages action wittily and well -- the close-quarters fight on the airliner is cleanly staged, and there are some great physical car stunts in the film, a welcome relief after the CGI abuses of "The A-Team." But the director also generates honest laughs by scoring those action scenes with lightweight music and deliberately skipping or downplaying other action scenes entirely. This includes one very funny transitional device that Mangold employs repeatedly, in which Roy drugs June and she wakes up in one exotic locale after another. An entire James Bond film flashes hazily before June's eyes the first time this happens -- and it's hilarious while also lending a dreamlike quality to the whole adventure, which allows Diaz to work some surprised delight into her performance along with the terror, confusion and suspicion.
As with the "Karate Kid" remake, this is another summer movie I don't want to oversell. The story's deliberately slight -- a self-conscious, low-calorie goof -- and the movie loses a bit of its spark whenever Cruise and Diaz are separated for any length of time. But if you can settle into its odd, low-key groove, I think you'll find it's a light pop beverage that goes down easy during one of the lamest blockbuster summers in recent memory. I think my parents are really going to like it.
(110 min., rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language) Grade: B
'Knight and Day' (The Oregonian, Wednesday, June 23, 2010)
Slightly different version of a movie review in the Friday, June 18 Oregonian....
In the year's least surprising news, "Toy Story 3" continues Pixar's near-perfect streak.
The studio's third outing with the motley crew of talking toys is ridiculously entertaining, tightly plotted, laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally true. It might even be the best in the series. It certainly has the biggest adventure and covers the most emotional territory.
Let's face it: The sheer indomitable high quality of Pixar movies is getting kind of silly at this point. (I'm starting to wonder if the studio made a supernatural pact in the '90s that created a secret "Dorian Gray" vault filled with the worst cartoons ever made.) Of course, the more complicated truth is that Pixar works harder and smarter than everyone else, and thoroughly cooks its stories before serving.
I got a tiny glimpse of Pixar's process back in 2003, when I interviewed Andrew Stanton and "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich while they were working together on "Finding Nemo." Stanton mentioned that "Toy Story 2" -- which was originally designed to go straight to video -- was "reconceived until the 11th hour" because the straight-to-video version, in his words, "sucked." He laughed and added: "We (ital) always (ital) think our stuff sucks. And then we're like, 'Well, then let's do it again, until it doesn't.... Maybe this time I can actually get it a little closer to the bull's-eye in the script form before we have to go and add a lot of people to the process."
I suspect "Toy Story 3" works as well as it does because Unkrich and his team were exactly this ruthless. The film feels fine-tuned within an inch of its life and yet somehow still manages to feel alive and funny and loose and inventive.
The movie's set about a decade after the first "Toy Story," Young Andy is now a teenager headed for college. His toys -- Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and most of the rest of the gang -- end up in a day-care center. At first, this seems like paradise; the toys will be loved by endlessly recycled crops of young children. But reality sets in after the toys end up in a room full of wild toddlers who use them as paintbrushes and pacifiers.
And it's here that "Toy Story 3" takes a turn into genius. It becomes a straight-up prison-camp escape picture -- modeled very consciously on classic films like "Stalag 17," "The Great Escape" and "Cool Hand Luke," right down to the music -- with the evil warden taking the form of a good-ol'-boy stuffed animal named Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (voiced to perfection by Ned Beatty). The day-care sandbox becomes "the box," the jungle gym becomes the guard tower, the whole nine.
I don't want to spoil the surprises that follow -- the movie really rewards knowing as little as possible going in -- but from that point on, "Toy Story 3" essentially has you in the palm of its hand. At times it gave me that same little frisson of joy I got from Pixar's best film, "The Incredibles," where I found myself grinning from ear-to-ear at the sheer inventiveness of the adventure set-pieces and the uses the film finds for its many characters. (The addition of Barbie and Ken to the cast is hilarious, as are the creative indignities heaped on Don Rickles' Mr. Potato Head. And when someone holds one toy's reset button down too long ... well, let's just say Antonio Banderas' Puss-In-Boots finally has some competition.)
Like classic Disney cartoons, the movie doesn't pull its punches or insult its audience -- the action-packed climax feels positively apocalyptic at times, and while the movie isn't maudlin, it also doesn't shy away from the melancholy of growing older and leaving your toys behind. There's one particular scene along those lines that filled the preview-screening theater with tiny sobs. In a nice way. This was followed shortly by applause.
And yes, there's a new Pixar short in front of the film, and yes, it's pretty fantastic. Titled "Day & Night," it's a conceptual piece about two characters whose bodies are transparent, filled with gorgeously animated landscapes that reflect their emotional states. It's a deceptively simple little movie about the power of appreciating different ideas and perspectives, and I've never seen anything quite like it.
As Stanton told me in 2003: "We started to recognize that equation -- that if something looked deceivingly simple, there was probably so much blood, sweat and tears behind it to make it look effortless." Both "Toy Story 3" and "Day & Night" reflect this uncompromising work ethic, and it's wonderful to finally have a 2010 summer blockbuster I can endorse without a single reservation.
(102 min., rated G) Grade: A
'Toy Story 3' (The Oregonian, Friday, June 18, 2010)