Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Walt Disney Presents: This Review of Walt Disney's The Secret World of Arrietty Inside Walt Disney's El Capitan Theater

I've driven to Hollywood, through Hollywood at least a hundred times since getting my license ten years ago but it wasn't until this past Monday that I finally saw a movie inside of the famous El Capitan Theatre. The building has loads of history as a California landmark and draws you in with it's vintage facade. Aside from open-mouthed gasping at all the antiques and chocolate malts from the Disney Soda Fountain next door my favorite part about the whole nostalgic experience was the music played by the on-site organist. It reminded me of getting to Dodger Stadium early to listen to Nancy Bea play ragtime as I watched Nomar Garciaparra stretch near third base. You should know though that I enjoy organ music so much that: a.) I bought Nancy Bea's CD (now out of print?) from the Dodger Stadium top deck store, b.) listened to my dad's Organ Music Vinyl LP about thirty times as a kid, c.) downloaded the song The Happy Organ by Dave Baby Cortez because I heard a clip of it from an infomercial, and d.) love this song way too much.

The El Capitan is owned and operated by Disney so obviously everything is Disney related. The previews are all for Disney movies, the snacks are Disney themed, and the guy working the concessions was none other than Shaun Weiss, the fat kid from 1992's Mighty Ducks. Just before the movie begins the curtains raise and you get to watch as five different LiteBrite sprinkled backdrops reveal the projection screen.

We went on a Monday afternoon to watch The Secret World of Arrietty, an animated film from Japan based on the book The Borrowers. There were maybe ten people in the theater making that one of the few perks of working retail and having weekdays off. The plot is simple: Arrietty and her family are little people that live inside the walls of a house and borrow things to stay alive. Arrietty is spotted borrowing by a normal sized human boy named Shawn and since "beings" pose a threat to all little people, Arrietty and her family have to move.

Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett highlight the voice-over dubs on the American version. I am not a fan of English dubbing over Japanese animation. It annoys me when the speech is out of sync with how the mouths on the character are moving. This alone keeps me away from staying open-minded about most Anime shown in the United States. I'll read a million subtitles before I accept this tradition.

Arrietty's story is familiar but the animation is not. Again, I'm not an authority on Anime or Studio Ghibli films but the way they illustrate wide landscapes and action scenes made me feel like I had 3D glasses on. I've seen so much Pixar that I forgot how good something non-CGI can look. There's a short scene where Arrietty's father drops a rock to propel her upward that left me wondering how many weeks that took to animate. The following piece where Arrietty gets her first glimpse of the kitchen is simply amazing. Every landscape is met with great detail and color.

Ultimately, the film is for children. The writing is simple and it won't keep you as invested as most feature Disney animated films, but any adult who remembers watching The Littles on mid-Sunday afternoons will love looking at this and following Arrietty on her journey towards becoming a real borrower.


- Mike O.

When Much is Expected...

Recently I had the privilege of being invited to see the first project from the recently formed Manley productions. To Whom Much is Given is a documentary film, which chronicles eight weeks in the lives of a handful of troubled inner city students at New West Academy, a non-public school in south central Los Angeles which focuses on growing needs of special education.

Directed by up and coming filmmaker Cory Lutz, To Whom Much is Given takes the road of turning this feature in to an outlet for the kids being showcased such as former gang member Roderick. The decision to go this route doesn’t hurt the enjoyment of the film, but at times does tend to leave you with questions on other interesting subject matter in the film. New West Academy’s founder Dr. Andrew Manley is seen throughout the documentary but the audience is only given bits and pieces of his story. Watching Dr. Manley on screen drew comparisons to Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me, in his no nonsense attitude on dealing with kid’s behavioral problems. Of course I’d want to know more about a guy like that, how could the audience not? At the end we see the kids graduate but we aren’t informed of their post academy fate, only of one of the kids in the actual film. (note during the Q&A with director and founder we did learn a few of them and it was tragic)

The work done on this film by the Manley Productions crew is strong first outing for a rag tag bunch of fresh USC graduates. Most films like these have a skeleton budget, which sadly can often times reflect that fact. With the exception of a couple of built in text titles, this film doesn’t feel amateur or dialed in.

Ultimately To Whom Much is Given doesn’t take the most dangerous path, but it doesn’t take the safest path either. The film itself doesn’t take a side, it only tells an unbiased story through the eyes of a few kids society gave up on. Giving these kids an outlet succeeded to laying in an anti gang undertone to the film, but ultimately we aren’t left with post filming information. I enjoyed watching this film and was left with a lot of questions after it was over, but maybe that is what a good documentary should do, inform you just enough to where you want to know more.

3 out of 5

Personal note, hadn't been back to USC since my time there, still the same campus is like a stripper, pretty on the outside confusing on the inside.

- David N.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Drive-thru Anarchy

Sunday evening, lunch time. I'm on my way back from celebrating Dr. Pepper Sunday (the one day of the week when I allow myself to consume soda) when I remember I need to grab cash for the week ahead. I've got enough time and this Wells Fargo happens to be the best Wells Fargo in the world since the parking lot is massive and it's never crowded. Not on Fridays, not on the first of the month. It is an island to itself, a fiscal oasis.

Leisurely, I advance to the drive-thru ATM. Here's where it gets tricky. There are two drive-thru ATM boxes with one car at each station. I pull up and into the center just behind both of them. Because there is ample room and absolutely no lines that would dictate you having to commit to either lane, I patiently wait centered in the middle. A reasonable decision that would be self-evident to anyone pulling up behind me.

Unless you are this asshole:

Even though I arrived first and should have first pick of the stations, the guy behind me decides to swerve in crooked and ignore the line queue I have created. I understand the need to want to commit to a line because it may seem more orderly, but in the case of a spacious drive-thru ATM it creates anarchy.

Now before you take my fiance's side (who disagrees with my stance in this matter and refuses to marry me unless I change my position) I want you to ask yourself this question: How can you predict which car has the old person in it? You know, the one who thinks they're at Burger King and can be overheard trying to order a Whopper Jr. with extra pickles. The answer is that you can't predict anything because all you can see is a shadow of hair through a back windshield. That's the purpose of the queue, first come first served. If the guy on the left finishes first, then you go left. If the one on the right finishes first, go right.

Confused, I gesture over to the guy with arms fully extended. Now it's clear; a Larry David-like situation is about to occur. The guy who swerved in front and picked a lane got to the ATM before me and I got forced to the right, stuck for ten minutes behind Ms. Daisy who couldn't figure out why her AARP membership card wasn't accepted.

Weigh in on this great debate in the comments section below. So long!

John Carter of Burbank

Last night Disney treated a select few to an early screening of its latest feature film John Carter. For the benefit of those without WIKIpedia, John Carter is based on the Edgar Rice Burros character, which has been around since 1912. After so many incarnations in comics and a few movies that never came to be, this is John Carter’s first appearance on the big screen.

But you’ve already seen this story.

Some did it very well; I’m talking to you Daniel Day Lewis. While some didn’t do it justice, I’m talking to you James Cameron. The story is in fact one of the earliest versions of the cliché: Man travels to foreign land, sheds skin, becomes one of the people of said land and finds unlikely love in that land.

Even though in many ways it’s the original version of that tale, John Carter could have been a victim of cliché. Instead Andrew Stanton, the Pixar visionary behind great stories like Toy Story and Finding Nemo reminded the audience that something becomes cliché because it’s originally worth repeating over and over again.

John Carter won’t take you on a lot of twist and turns story wise, however the plot remains solid without surrendering to the action. We get a great John Carter in former Gambit Taylor Kitsch and another super animated performance from Boondock Saint Willem Dafoe. Each important role in the film could have been a lesson for writers on how to give characters voice.

The visual of transforming Utah into Mars, creatures and all is the skeletal support of this film. Without drowning the viewer in dry red everything, Mars becomes a believable world on the brink of death. CG characters are so true to the actors and material, personally Dafoe is now my favorite Martian. Kitsch on screen superpowers make me believe this is what we’re all like when we become superman and get superpowers by going to an alien planet. Well choreographed action with complementary score, seems basic but still manages to go beyond film 101.

Bottom line, to all the skeptics like myself, relax this is John Carter of Mars.

Overall I give the movie a 4 out of 5 but the true importance of John Carter is to our current age of cinema. Beginning with the dark tone of Batman Begins, then that moment where we saw the first Watchmen trailer and now seeing a movie that some fans have waited more than twenty years for. John Carter solidifies this age of cinema as the age of the movie we thought we’d never get to see.

Thank you to L.A Times, and Geoff Boucher for hosting these events, it’s probably a lot of fun for you guys, but it can’t be easy. Hats off to you! Though I will not pay to read it online for $5.

- David N.