Talking Movies

August 14, 2019

From the Archives: Surf’s Up

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives brings up a rather forgotten CGI animation starring the voice of Shia LaBeouf.

Teenage penguin Cody Maverick leaves home for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off in sunny Pen Gu Island where he falls for a pretty lifeguard and meets a mysterious hermit. Will Cody emulate his hero Big Z or will he learn there’s more to life than winning?

Yes, we’re back with bloody anthropomorphic animals again, although mercifully an early gag establishes that these particular penguins neither sing nor tap-dance… Young Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is eager to escape his preposterously boring life of fish-sorting (hilariously depicted) in Shiverpool, Antarctica. A childhood memory of legendary surfer Big Z sustains his dream of using his surfing prowess to escape to sunnier climes. Documentary film-makers follow his progress as a talent scout for slimy promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods) plucks Cody from obscurity to take place in the Surf-off that provides the film’s action climax. The documentary film-makers are of course voiced by directors Brannon and Buck (it’s so post-modern it gives me nosebleeds). Cody is voiced by LaBeouf as a variant of his Transformers persona, but that splendidly awkward turn loses a lot of its humour here as Cody seethes with resentment of his bullying older brother.

The presentation of the film as a rough-cut of an MTV style documentary is quite brilliant. There are many of those trademark editing flourishes and a number of great visual gags like SPEN (Sport Penguin Entertainment Network). This all underscores that there’s a genuine intelligence and wit behind this film that just didn’t quite translate into a great script. The CGI is startlingly good during many of the surfing sequences, helped by the hand-held look (so painstakingly rendered) which makes the peril of a wipe-out painfully suspenseful. But such style cannot disguise the short-comings of the writing. Jeff Bridges, as the reclusive surfing guru Geek who mentors Cody, could have done a hilarious reprise of his role as The Dude from The Big Lebowski, if someone had bothered to write the references. Jon Heder as Chicken Joe, a surfer dude chicken, is likewise saddled with a promising role featuring too few gags. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy star Zooey Deschanel is sadly underused as the love interest, quirky lifeguard Lani, which is an especial pity as she’s one of the very few actresses around with a distinctive enough voice for animated roles.

Ultimately you want to like this film a lot more than it actually deserves. Sure it meanders badly as Cody and Geek do their Luke/Yoda thing while building surfboards and there’s far too little development of the Cody/Lani romance. But it doesn’t have the smugness of the insultingly mediocre Simpsons Movie,and its moral that enjoying yourself is better than winning at all costs (like anti-social jock villain Tank Evans) is quite brilliant; especially given that most CGI animations with A-list voices endlessly promote the message that the most important thing in life is to just be yourself … if you’re pretty.

2/5

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July 19, 2015

Comic-Con 2015

Another year, another San Diego love-in of Hollywood’s brightest stars and all things comic-book and fandom-y, but what were the cinematic highlights of Comic-Con 2015? Here’s a teaser of my round-up for HeadStuff.org.

Suicide Squad

Fury writer/director David Ayer took to the stage to talk trash about Marvel, claiming DC had the better villains; and then backed it up with the first look at Suicide Squad. It’s kind of staggering that a film not scheduled for release until August 2016 could have such a polished trailer, down to the spine-tingling version of ‘I Started a Joke’. While the sheer size of the cast still worries, it looks like Ayer’s promise to deliver The Dirty Dozen with DC characters holds good. And for all Will Smith’s prominence as a perceptive but depressed Deadshot in the trailer, there are really only two characters that matter: Harley Quinn and her Puddin’. Margot Robbie appears an inspired choice for the first cinematic incarnation of Dr Quinzell, hitting notes of naivety, menace, playfulness, and sheer insanity. Jared Leto, who has received endless inane stick over the appearance of his Joker, also seems a perfect fit as the Harlequin of Hate. In full make-up his wiry frame makes him seem similar to the Joker as drawn by Dustin Nguyen, in close-up the much-debated steel teeth rock, and his sinister lines could actually be Batman dialogue; which is quite intriguing.

Click here for the full piece on HeadStuff.org, with X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, The Man from UNCLE, Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in the mix.

May 2, 2014

Star Wars on Grafton Street

So, Domhnall Gleeson is playing a lead role in the new Stars Wars trilogy (He’s Luke Skywalker’s son. Just kidding, he’s not. He totally is), and, almost in his honour, this bank holiday weekend Stormtroopers will descend on Grafton Street…

Disney

It’s old news that George Lucas made his money from Star Wars by hanging onto the merchandising and sequel rights, which nobody at the studio cared about in the 1970s. Well, everybody cares now. And Disney in buying the rights to the Star Wars film franchise for a fantastic amount of money were never thinking they’d earn back that outlay with a new trilogy; especially not given that JJ Abrams, beloved though he is, has to win back the trust of a substantial chunk of the following after the disastrous prequels. No, they knew the return would come from merchandising.

So it begins… Disney Stores now for the first time have a Star Wars range available. Star Wars Stormtroopers will be at the Disney Store on Grafton Street this weekend for anyone with a burning desire to get taken into imperial custody, at least in a photo. The range of Star Wars products for all ages includes action figures, luggage bags, children’s dress-up, and a range of apparel, stationery and plushies. The new offerings (with prices ranging from €10 – €48) includes Saga Legends action figures (Mace Windu, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Shock Trooper, Super Battle Droid and R4-P17), extending light-sabres, Chewbacca plushies, Star Wars Stormtrooper t-shirts, and, my personal favourite, a Darth Vader voice changer helmet. (Want…) Fans will also have the opportunity to purchase exclusive 15 inch talking figurines (Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or Stormtroopers) for €30 at select stores and online. Visit www.disneystore.ie to see the full range.

Darth Vader Voice Changer Helmet

To celebrate the launch of this line, Disney Stores are tying in, via a major in-store, online and social media campaign, with #starwarsday, May the 4th, the global fan-driven celebration of all things Star Wars. Disney Store guests can enter a competition to win 12 collector cards based on A New Hope and an exclusive Star Wars pin. From 2nd– 4th May Disney Store guests can take part in ‘Ways of the Force’, providing children with the opportunity to learn some of the skills of the Jedi including how to use a light-sabre. All children of course already know how to make the sound of a light-sabre in action. Stormtroopers will be making appearances throughout the day at Disney Store on Grafton Street tomorrow between 9:00am and 6:00pm to meet fans. Even more Star Wars events are planned for later in the year to celebrate the launch of the much-anticipated animated series Star Wars Rebels, when further product lines will launch with the series premiere on Disney in the autumn.

And this is only the beginning. Right now someone somewhere is probably figuring out how best to render Domhnall Gleeson’s head as a soft toy.

September 8, 2010

Salvage Operation: Reign of Fire

2002’s failed blockbuster Reign of Fire is not a good film by any means, but it does contain at least one genuinely great idea which should be salvaged for posterity.

In a post-apocalyptic world caused by the accidental unleashing of dragons from underneath London Underground the world as we know it has ceased to exist. Christian Bale and some other survivors live in small pockets of human resistance to the fiery reign of the dragons. In one early scene we see Bale and another adult entertaining the surviving children of their group by re-enacting Star Wars. Bounding about a make-shift stage like giddy children themselves they make light-saber noises as they swing wooden swords, a wheezing sound between lines when playing Darth Vader, and the old hand up the sleeve trick for Luke losing his hand, before the children en masse gasp in shock and disbelief at the line “No Luke, am your father”.

It is a hilarious and great scene in an uninspired film, not least because its idea is so telling. In the event of an apocalypse with only youngish men being left as the elders of a community it’s highly unlikely anyone would be able to remember all of The Odyssey, The Divine Comedy, Hamlet or Great Expectations but it is entirely (and disturbingly) plausible that a bunch of twentysomethings would between them remember most, if not all, of the dialogue and scenes of the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s not entirely dissimilar to Hurley writing the screenplay for Empire Strikes Back in LOST when he’s stuck on the island in the 1970s. It’s also entirely likely that the children they entertained with their physical theatre re-enactment would indeed lap it up. And furthermore while the notion that, in the event of an apocalypse, all of Western civilization and culture would be erased save for George Lucas is on the surface deeply troubling, on second thought it’s not so bad. Lucas after all was so heavily indebted to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in his initial drafts of his saga that saving Star Wars would in fact mean saving classic story-structures and archetypal characters with mythical resonance beyond the surface nonsensicality. And with resonant stories the past wouldn’t be lost…

And so Reign of Fire may in fact have contained one truly great idea amidst a sea of CGI dragon-fire and shirtless Matthew McConaughey. Who’d a thunk it?

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