Archive for October, 2009


Black extras? In an animated film? In 1985? PROGESS.

Black extras? In an animated film? In 1985? PROGRESS.

The Care Bears Movie – (1985)

Director: Ama Selznick
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Jackie Burroughs, Billie Mae Richards
Screenplay by: Peter Sauder

I return from a surprisingly disappointing vacation and a three-day sickness a bitter, angry man, perturbed at the world for their utter enjoyment of life and health as I suffer through another daily grind of unfriendly coworkers and apathetic bosses. My rage seethes slowly and I wish they all could know the suffering that I felt.

But Lo! The Care Bears, with their ever-watchful eye over the suspecting public, have come to me upon their cloud-cars and rainbow-teleportation devices to teach me about sharing, caring, and, uh, bear-ing, softening my heart, and leaving me a cheerful, happier person. I am healthy, and now I only say “Fuck you” to myself instead of out-loud. This is how you defined progress in the 80s, people. Besides, their movie made $23 million, the highest grossing non-Disney movie at that time. Somehow, caring, love, and friendship is profitable. Now only if Facebook could figure out that formula…

NOSTALGIC LENS: Besides a number bears doing their belly thing, which is called the “Care Bear Stare” (WHAT?), I don’t remember too much about it. I do know that either this or the sequel have an incredibly good, sad ending theme, and that I had cried while listening to it (I was rather sensitive when I was young, shut up). As an aside: the modern Care Bears is a joke; while a decent enough show, it only has five characters – the original C-Bears numbered in the twenties. That’s when we had time to memorize that kind of thing.

DOES IT HOLD UP: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this. I was preparing myself to be bored by the excessive love/friendship preaching that’s notorious for these kinds of childhood fluff-balls. But then I remembered an incident about a year ago, while over a friend’s house. As a joke, he put on My Little Ponies, another show notorious for its cuteness. However, the villain, whose name escapes me and, sure, I could look it up, but we’re talking about MY LITTLE PONIES here, was actually a legit bad guy who seemed hell bent on a little more than stopping kids from hugging each other. He wanted to turn the Ponies into his personal killing army with black magic. Whoa.

And so, while The Care Bears Movie doesn’t exactly push into that intriguing realm of darkness, it does surprise with a somewhat engaging adventure story. Sure, it starts in the typical way: nice old man telling a cute story; delightful theme song with light, goofy antics, the Care Bears replying to some lonely, introverted orphans.

Some nifty stuff starts to happen, though; a magic book corrupts the all-around fuck-up Nicholas and turns him evil. Well, not evil, just uncaring; which spreads and causes the home of the Care Bears, Care-A-Lot, to fall apart. They try to send the orphans home but in the midst of the transport, shit goes wrong and they disappear.

Before I continue, I want to note a few things. Firstly, the Bears are a pretty competent unit that’s put together for such a mediocre and essentially worthless task. They seem to have a structure and clear-defined roles, and they work together rather well to do the most abstract thing in the universe; to make people care. But this goes beyond just being magically nice cuddly-toys. Their land and society EXISTS and THRIVES on caring. They do what they do to save themselves. Sure, it’s nice to learn a few lessons about love and friendship, but let’s not be naïve; they need to save their very existence. Believe me, if the only way to save America is to kiss babies eighty times a day, well, we’d be puckering up a lot.

With their world in danger (and, I guess, some kids to inspire), a ton of bears, lead by Tender Heart, go on a mission to find the missing orphans. On their quest, they enter the Forest of Feeling (yeah, this kind of name-thing continues throughout the picture), and while there’s really nothing exciting that happens, it still manages to drive some action forward, with the Bears or the orphans getting into some sort of trouble, and some of the Forest of Feeling-ers (Feeling-ites?) would arrive and save them. The entertaining value here is seeing the new characters and how they help the Bears, and yet, at the same time, seeing the Bears pull their own weight and do some saving themselves. There’s a really good balance here.

The exposition is bad, and the music isn’t too much better (although, there is something nice about the songs; they’re composed well, if lacking quality lyrics, singers, and instruments). But the action trade-offs in those two clips are quite nice, and might keep the parents from going too crazy.

… until the third act. The lameness, which was kept at bay for the most part, comes full force at the end, with Nicholas running around like an idiot trying to find random park junk for a spell. And he chases the orphans to the worse song ever written, ever. The trade-off in the action of the Bears and the Feeling Folks (that sounds creepy) is gone, and their powers become worthless when the orphans bitch about love and junk, winning over Nicholas’s heart. It’s disappointing, too, especially since you’d think the climax would contain the most badasseray, with some crazy magic spells, some evil beasts, maybe a dead Bear. Well, not so much the last point. But instead of a cuddly but aggressive fight, we’re left with the power of WORDS. In this case, words indeed do hurt– the person is pain just happens to be the viewer.

Also… “Aren’t parents great!?” This is an actual line in the movie.

IN A NUTSHELL: The storyteller is actually Nicholas all grown up. Bitch about that “spoiler” all you want—you weren’t going to see it anyway. I wouldn’t recommend it, either, if even for the nostalgic desire. The animation isn’t that great, the songs go from mediocre to downright horrid, the voice work likewise, and the story is barely competent. But it… works. IMDB has it at five stars, and, yeah, that’s about right. I admit, though, I found it more enjoyable than I expected, but I think it’s because I had really low expectations.

November 2nd: The Care Bears Movie 2: A New Generation
November 9th: The Secret of NIMH




Citizen Kane is to Pac-Man as Rosebud is to Wakka Wakka Wakka

Kane, after dying on Quick Man's stage for the 90th time.

Kane, after dying on Quick Man's stage for the 90th time.

The term “Citizen Kane of gaming” needs to be buried, along with “totes,” “staycation,” and “sparkling vampires”.

Not because it’s an exaggerated phrase, the Godwin equivalent of any Internet argument invoking Hitler or the Holocaust. That, I don’t mind. The problem is that it’s trite. What’s a famous movie that critics like? Citizen Kane. What do I like doing in my spare time? Gaming. How can I combine the two to create a delicious sandwich of my favorite pastime and art/intellectualism? Say X is the video game’s Citizen Kane.

Beyond sounding like a hipster’s failed attempt at MadLibs, the main issue is that it shows a somewhat obvious misunderstanding of a movie like Citizen Kane and, perhaps, movies in general. It was on the top of AFI’s greatest movie list, but is by no means the most important movie to define cinema. Birth of a Nation defined the epic. Metropolis might be the first sci-fi/dystopian vision. Safety Last could be the first high-concept comedy.

Seeking the “Citizen Kane” of games is a silly endeavor because you should be seeking not one but several video games that redefined the genre in some manner. There are plenty games that do this, even if the use the same basic mechanics or style.

Below is an example. First is the final scene of Citizen Kane, which uses deep focus as a “larger than life” visual motif.

Now, below is a video from Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game, a French film that– dare I say it– also used deep focus! In fact, this movie is pretty damn famous (outside the US) and, I believe, uses deep focus much more effectively, especially in relation to the overly-complex plot involving emotional portrayals and backstabbing and cheating and so-on (by the way– it’s not as melodramatic as it sounds; it’s actually pretty funny.)

I know that this makes me appear like some sort of hipster-film snob, but I’m not. Hell, I enjoyed Transformers!… when the robots were fighting. But I think the pursuit of a game that, as Destructoid’s Burch quotes, “[utilizes] a medium’s strength” is really nothing that you need to “find” so much as you have to explain in relation to the genre of video games as a whole. Citizen Kane’s reputation is not unlike many other films that have been released; On the Waterfront is a good example, and so is Chinatown. Nothing particular is unique about deep focus and good editing; hell, this is what films should have. And, as being a complex character study? I can’t count the number of good films focusing on one slightly-disturbed character.

As far as I’m concerned, Doom is a good contender is for such a title, in that it took the FPS and utilized it in a format that, at the time, was novel and seemed perfect for it. I personally wouldn’t argue it, but it’s a viable possibility. So is Goldeneye, Mario 64, Final Fantasy, and so on.

It’s telling that the Citizen Kane of gaming is being used; no one says “the Macbeth of gaming” or “the Mona Lisa of gaming” or “the The Death of a Salesman of gaming,” all of which are genre defining and game-changing in their own ways. Let’s be honest here– it’s not about genre-defining, since we have plenty of games that do– but it’s about games as art, as the game we’re “going to show to Ebert to convince him videogames are a legitimate art form”. There’s a pretty huge difference in games that utilize the medium to its most potent effect, and showing the world games can be art. The latter requires several games to do this, from the indie to the blockbuster to the foreign. It requires an avenue through which games can be studied and explored, returned to and debates, thought upon and analyzed. And while I truly admire sites like Destructoid trying to approach this issue, along with the active fanbase, I think that overall approach is flawed. I don’t want “a” game to showcase gaming as an artform. I want “lots” of games. I want the people, the fans, the game designers, and so on to explain their thinking and their flaws, the ins and outs, the interplay of gamer/game, the controversy (real controversy, not Sambo-watermelon crap), and nuances of gaming as a whole.

A critic would already “roll his eyes” at the debate of a single game that’s definitive of this.

The argument of Portal, Braid, Shadow of the Colossus, and Half-Life are starts. Hell, add in Pong, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Mario 64, Sonic 3/Sonic and Kunckles, Mortal Kombat and Metal Gear Solid. Even the defunct Dreamcast. Show how they started an idea, began a movement, instigated a social and cultural response, supported or subjugated a genre, and so on.

Stop looking for the Rosebud, people, and start looking at everything around it.



1 Comment


Screw the journey. This is when Atrayu becomes a MAN.

Screw the journey. This is when Atreyu becomes a MAN.

The NeverEnding Story – (1984)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, Tami Stronach, Alan Oppenheimer
Screenplay by: Wolfgang Petersen, Herman Weigel

It’s no secret that the drudgeries of work have instilled in us a sense of complacency and mundaneness that forces us to live paycheck to paycheck. The world around us applies an enormous amount of social pressures to consume the same products in their infinite variations to “keep up,” leaving us victims of our own greed. Those who claim to be immune to it have a lot of explaining to do as they pay fifty-plus bucks a month for their internet access to rant on message boards about the evils of corporate capitalism and the mind-numbing sense of commercialism it brings.

Office Space focuses solely on the white-collar insane boringness to a hilarious degree of scary accuracy that reflects Dilbert in many ways. Fight Club socialized the feeling into a raucous, violent form of escapism and revolution that spiraled way out of control. All the while, Petersen’s debut film, The NeverEnding Story, came and went with the typical 80s corporate gamut of sequels and TV-shows (and probably merchandise). And yet, this film is probably the most representative of the sense of losing one’s individuality and sense of the world and everything that it can offer, as well as everything one can bring to it. School and work, from childhood to the grave, seems poised to destroy our sense of creativity and freedom to explore our own minds, and this movie excellently shows this without nary a heavy-handed speech.

NOSTALGIC LENS: This is one of those films that I’ve watched in parts be hardly ever all the way through, so it’s difficult to remember what happened when. Because of which, I can’t say I enjoyed it too much. It seemed too weird to me; more like a random occurrence of events than a seamless story of creative proportions (a feeling now that I attribute to Pan’s Labyrinth. Seriously, that movie seems less of a genuine story than more of an excuse to showcase del Toro’s wacky imagination).

DOES IT HOLD UP: Petersen’s track record (Air Force One, Outbreak, Troy) beguiles the absolute sense of beauty and control that he brought to The NeverEnding Story. It’s a surprisingly clever and elaborate story of hopes and dreams, and while I sound corny saying that, I really mean it. Very few films can actually portray emotion and abstract feelings outside of the limitations of the actors and writing, but this movie does, and does very, very well.

Much of the credit has to go to cinematographer Jost Vacano, who frames each shot expertly and beautifully, capturing the large sense of both the real world and the imaginary world of Fantasia by relying on maintaining the focus on what’s absolutely important. I have to admit, a lot of the shots reminded me of something out of Kubrick, especially how the camera just lingers and lets the actors (or the mise-en-scene, aka the exact setting you see) tell the story. It’s so effective that it makes the on-the-nose dialogue work effectively, as the opening scene showcases between Bastian and his father at 2:20:

I spoke at length of childhood issues in my Jumanji review, and while the “kill ’em all” feeling in Jumanji is no where in this film, there is still a real “threat” (with the bullies) and an absolute sense of loneliness (no friends; hell, no teachers even bother to look for him) that defines Bastian. He lives in his own world, cut off after his mother’s death, of fantasies and dreams. His father tries to ground him into the realities of life, but being tossed in a trash can doesn’t exactly scream “realism is better!” When he steals a book from a strange bookkeeper/pedophile, he gets drawn into the trials and tribulations of our young hero, Atreyu, as he journeys to save Fantasia.

The world is a delight of whimsical characters; giant rock monsters and swamp turtles; bats and racing snails; three-headed and large-headed civilians, all seeking desperately to save Fantasia from the Nothing; an evil force seeking to destroy everything. Bastian follows Atreyu across deserts and through forests, oddly enough feeling every single thing the hero feels; his emotions are completely regulated to the characters of stories. But far be it from me to claim such emotions aren’t genuine; take a look at this absolutely gut-wrenching scene when Atreyu loses his horse Artax in the Swamp of Sadness:

I’ll admit that I teared up there. In fact, I teared up a lot during this movie (real tears, too, as opposed to those fake ones), a sentiment that caught me by surprise, especially with the slightly unrefined writing and choppy editing (a lot of the cuts needed to hold for one second longer before jumping to another angle). The writing, although awkward at times, worked especially well as a dramatization of how someone would write a children’s story; so the excess exposition is not so much of a burden than a broadcasted version of what your child’s reader might say (although, this doesn’t exactly excuse the father/Bastian exposition, but again, the well-shot execution makes up for it).

And while the fantasy-adventure sends Atreyu (and by proxy, Bastian) into some pretty exciting and exorbitant locales, the movie shifts into a whole ‘nother direction towards the end. At the real risk of a SPOILER, it becomes a giant meta-commentary of not only Bastian’s relation to Atreyu (where the reader becomes part of the story and actually effects it where the climax hits) but the audience itself, traveling along with Bastian and Atreyu during the entire trip. Through the Empress, the movie calls out the viewer’s real emotional connection to the characters, asking us to, in a way, not only accept the adventure before our eyes but to expand upon it; unlike Gmork, the servant of the darkness, who growls out the decimation of creative ingenuity to swallow up such ideas in the Nothing—the smoky force that turns innate daydreaming into soulless blankness. I doubt it’s any coincidence that “Gmork” sounds kinda like “Work.”

Perhaps the saddest moment is the end, when Bastian saves Fantasia by calling out a name for the Empress (FYI—it’s Moonchild, which is odd, since the film implies that Moonchild was the name of Bastian’s mother). A scene follows with propels Bastian to “re-imagine” Fantasia to his heart’s content; indeed, he restores Fantasia to his mind, riding Falkor and bringing back Artax, as well as harassing those bullies with the luck dragon. But remember—this is all in the realm of fantasy; no matter how satisfying this seems, it’s ultimately only wishful thinking. Bastian is still friendless, suffering, and sad, and perhaps in his reality he will, in time, over come that. But for now, we as an audience can’t help but let him have his moment.

Everything else… well, I suppose that’s another story.

IN A NUTSHELL: I commented audibly during this movie that this movie has HEART. More than any Pixar or early-Disney movie will ever hope to achieve. Part of the appeal is the fourth-wall line The NeverEnding Story carefully walks to bring the audience into the story and the “story of the story”. The creative world and wonderful characters only add to the sensation. I actually want to see the sequels to see what happens to Bastian; but in a way, I know that would ruin the full sense of what this film is trying to achieve. It’s choppy at parts, but wonderful none-the-less.

October 19th: VACATION
October 26th: The Care Bears Movie