Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Drive Angry and Paul: Exceptions to the rule.

I get accused sometimes of sounding like a broken record. People say I bitch too much about my 2 major pet peeves in cinema right now, CGI and third person shaky cam. This is true, but in my defense, it’s because almost every movie I go see contains copious amounts of both. It seems no one does practical effects any more, and if they do, they can’t hold the damn camera still long enough to see them. I went to see Season of the Witch a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t write a review. Why? Because aside from a great performance by Ron Pearlman (who should have gotten top billing as it really is his movie), it would have been the old “bad CGI and needless shaky cam” rant again. In the last two days, however, I have seen a couple of movies that do something rare, commendable, and exciting. They use these two overdone trappings of new millennium Hollywood well. Yes folks, I’m about to say something good about a bouncing camera and a digitally created character. Yes, I’m fine. If you do that “he must be sick” hand to the forehead routine, I’ll bite it off. Oh, and both of these flicks I’m going to talk about get two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check ‘em out.

First I went to see Paul. No, it’s not horror, but I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It wasn’t quite as good as Shaun of the Dead (then again 95% of movies aren’t) or Hot Fuzz, but it was an enjoyable comedy with enough classic sci-fi references to keep the geeks happy. Before anyone gets offended, I have a right to use “geek” for the same reason black people can use the “N” word and gay people get to use the “F” word. I are one. Basically I’d call this a grown up ET. It’s a more mainstream oriented movie than Shaun or Fuzz, but it is funny, which is more than I can say for 80% of the comedies I’ve seen in the last few years. The actual character of Paul, the alien that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost find, is quite possibly the most fully realized digitally created character in movie history. Yeah, Avatar, blah blah blah. I haven’t seen Avatar and have no desire to, so for the purposes of this discussion it doesn’t exist. Besides, this wasn’t motion captured, it was animated. The creature actually looks like he belongs in the shot with the actors. The small folds of the skin, the way the shading on the character always perfectly matched the lighting of the shot, and the emotion and, for lack of a better word, humanity that they manage to infuse this CGI character with is incredible. He looked so natural that it was easy to forget for a moment that he was animated and just accept him as part of the scene. Paul has proved to me that great CGI is possible. Unless you’re making a Syfy original, you have no excuse for bad CGI ever again guys.

Today I finally caught up with Drive Angry. I saw it in glorious, mind blowing, no glasses required 2D! Honestly, I saw nothing that seemed like it would have been better in 3D and maybe without the extra 5 bucks added on to the ticket this wouldn’t have tanked so bad at the box office. Hollywood, trust me on this one, use 3D sparingly. If it only happens now and then, people will pay fifteen bucks for a ticket because it’s an event. If every other movie is 3D, it’s not a novelty any more, and therefore not worth the extra cost. It’s a shame too, because this is a downright fun flick. Watching Grindhouse and Machete was a fun throwback to 70’s horror and action flicks, but it felt like a tribute rather than the genuine article. Like a cover song. There were times watching Drive Angry, however, that the advances in film technology itself is the only way you could tell it wasn’t some lost classic from 1978. The characters were WAY over the top and spouted non stop one liners. The vintage muscle cars were beautiful. The whole “Satan cult” angle definitely had that late 70’s early 80’s “satanic panic” era feel. From the revenge road trip plot to the Meatloaf sound alike playing over the final scene, this was big, bloody, loud, sleazy retro goodness. Gratuitous nudity? Check. Gratuitous violence? Check. Gratuitous Tom Atkins? Check. The acting is good, especially from Willian Fichtner. We even get a mid-coital shootout. C'mon, how often do you get to see that? My only problem with this flick? Three or four really bad CGI shots. Yes, I know I’m bitching about the same old thing again, but it really did stick out like a sore thumb. Leah brought up the point that those shots may have looked better in 3D. True, I can’t really say, but I highly doubt it.

Another strength of this flick is the great car chases. This is where the actual good use of 3rd person shaky cam comes in. Defenders of 3rd person shaky cam say that it is used to give the audience a feel of the franticness of a situation. I don’t know about you, but if my vision in the heat of a stressful moment looked the way these scenes are usually filmed, it would probably mean my neck was broken. Seriously, most action sequences these days look like that were shot by a bobble head doll. If the camera is playing the role of the omniscient eye, IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE FOR IT TO SHAKE. In Drive Angry, the shots from the outside of the cars are generally kept pretty steady. The camera only shakes when the action is taking place inside a moving car. There is a fight scene in an RV that is speeding and weaving through traffic. The camera jumps and sways all over the place just like you would in an RV bouncing all over the road. It makes sense. Shots of Nicholas Cage driving from outside his car are steady. Shots from inside the car when he isn’t driving crazy are steady. When the car starts ping-ponging at high speed around the road, the shots from inside the car shake. THAT MAKES SENSE! If the viewer was there, their vision would actually look like that. This is the type of situation where third person shaky cam adds to the realism of a scene rather than taking the viewer out with over stylized crap.

There it is. Hell froze over for a moment. I praised the use of CGI in one flick and 3rd person shaky cam in another. You see folks, from now on if you hear me carrying on my crusade against the twin evils of modern cinema, know that I’m not just blindly condemning these things across the board. They can be done well, and when they are, I will point that out just as quickly. Besides, nothing can be all bad all the time, right? What? Twilight? Nickelback? Jersey Shore? Ok, fine. I stand corrected.

1 comment:

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