Sunday, March 02, 2014

86th Academy Award Predictions

Been a whole year since I last blogged, eh? Well, here it comes again. To recap: here are my top 10 favourite movies from this year:

1. Nebraska
2. American Hustle
3. Philomena
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Planes
6. Her
7. Rush
8. Frozen
9. Monsters University
10. Dallas Buyers Club

And now, onto the picks. You know how it works…Will win = AMPAS's ballot. Should win = my ballot.

Best Picture
Should Win: Nebraska
Will Win: 12 Years A Slave

As usual, we trim the fat by getting rid of anything not nominated for "Film Editing."  So we get rid of Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Her, and we choose one from what's left.  

Choosing Nebraska for its strong screenplay and performances by Dern and Squibb. It's a heartland road movie that speaks to the dreamer in all of us. Can it win? Not a chance. The smart money's on 12 Years A Slave which is the most significant and historically important of all the nominees. However, ye be strongly cautioned here…it's a tough sit for sure, and there are rumours going around that many "for your consideration" copies have gone un-viewed. That makes Gravity the dark horse. And wouldn't you know it? Producer's Guild voted them a tie, just to make this more difficult and piss me off!

Should Win: Alexander Payne
Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron

The Academy's bias toward 3D directors shows once again (as Ang Lee won last year) and Cuaron has BAFTA, DGA, and Globe power behind him, so lock this one up. As for me, my Alex Payne bias is showing, as I believe he should have won the damn thing for Sideways. Besides, I loved Nebraska and its short film feel. 

Should Win: Bruce Dern
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

The Globes make this category harder because of the drama/comedy split, which leaves us with DiCaprio and McConaughey. McConaughey also has BFCA and SAG weight but Chiwetel Ejiofor has the BAFTA on his side. Bruce Dern gets my vote as I thought he was hysterical in Nebraska and is the one who wants it most. But, I think the academy has backed off from giving it to the veterans...

Should Win: Judi Dench
Will Win: Cate Blanchett

Obviously, Cate Blanchett will win for her modernized spin on Blanche DuBois, and well-deserves it, so lock this one up too. Judi Dench has hardly won anything for Philomena and even lost the British Independent Film Award but I thought she really nailed it.

Writing, Original
Should Win: American Hustle
Will Win: Her

This category is a bit odd this year. Her has been sweeping the minor circuit awards and won the WGA and Globe, but American Hustle has the BAFTA and Satellite Awards. The writing branch of the Academy is a bit odd themselves, so Her will probably end up taking it home. Much as I'd like to see Spike Jonze win, I love a screenplay with a twist ending. But I had to get past all the (ugh) voiceover in American Hustle and almost chose Nebraska.

Writing, Adaptation
Should Win: Philomena
Will Win: 12 Years A Slave

Philomena had a BAFTA win, but 12 Years a Slave is the Best Picture front-runner. John Ridley would only be the second black writer to win.

Supporting Actor
Should Win: Jared Leto
Will Win: Jared Leto

Almost picked Michael Fassbender, simply because he is NOT campaigning for votes, and he was also damn good in that show. But, in the end it goes to Jared Leto in his comeback role.

Supporting Actress
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence

And another very interesting race. The Globes and BAFTA (and I) think Lawrence should win. SAG and BFCA disagree. I don't know…how long was Lupita Nyong'o actually on screen? Plus, Jennifer Lawrence has just won and is probably the hottest celebrity around right now, so I think this one has some legs.

Animated Feature Film
Should Win: Frozen
Will Win: Frozen

Fun fact: Walt Disney Animation Studios has never won this award. Seriously. I'm not kidding! They invented the genre and have never won. I admit I didn't do well on this category this year, having seen only two of the nominated films, so I have no choice but to vote for Frozen also. Should be a write-in vote for Planes given my top 10 this year, but I only pull that crap when none of the nominated films deserve to win. Plus, I am pulling for WDA given their snub for Wreck-it Ralph last year. Still burned about that one, you guys.

The rest:

Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty
Visual Effects: Gravity
Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
Cinematography: Gravity
Film Editing: Gravity
Original Score: Gravity
Original Song: "Let it Go" from Frozen
Makeup & Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Production Design: The Great Gatsby
Documentary Feature: The Act of Killing
Documentary Short Subject: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Animated Short Film: Get a Horse!
Live-Action Short Film: Aquel No Era Yo

Sunday, February 24, 2013

85th Academy Awards Predictions

Oscar night is a little over 5 hours away, which means that next week, all the good movies will be out of theatres and we'll be getting nothing but shit from now until the end of November. 

Last year, I was 19 for 24, one shy of my all-time record. As always, my "should win" pick is who I would be casting my vote for. My "will win" pick is who is actually going to take home the hardware.

Best Picture
Should win: Argo
Will win: Argo

As usual, we trim the fat by taking out the ones that weren't nominated for Film Editing (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, and Les Miserables) and we pick one from what's left.

Argo is the undisputed #1 on the awards circuit power rankings, after picking up the Globe as well as SAG, DGA, and PGA honours. And what can I say…I like a good underdog story. Not since Brokeback Mountain has a film won that much hardware and failed to win film's ultimate prize. But that year, the eventual winner Crash at least put up some kind of fight. Only concern (see below) is that Lincoln will have won two majors to Argo's one at this point in the show, so it's going to be interesting.

Should win: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Will win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

This category is just fucked beyond all measure. DGA winner Ben Affleck is missing, as is Kathryn Bigelow, as is Paul Thomas Anderson. Spielberg wins and then loses Best Picture minutes later, much like the 1998 Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan fiasco. My vote is for the first-time shoestring budget guy whose lead character was five years old. If that's not achievement in directing, I don't know what is.

Actress in a Leading Role
Should win: Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Big toss-up here. It seems that Lawrence and Chastain split the categories between comedy and drama. Chastain has NBR and Critics Choice power, while Lawrence has the SAG, and each won a Globe. Much as I liked Zero Dark Thirty as a movie, I found Chastain's performance a little bit dull. And I kind of knew that Lawrence would win after watching her for one minute in Silver Linings. It's not enough these days to play a strong female lead; apparently, the character has to be a little bat-shit crazy as well. My vote is for Wallis just to see her on stage because she's quite a brat. But watch out for Emmanuelle Riva, who is quietly inching her way up to the top of the power rankings with a BAFTA win...

Actor in a Leading Role
Should win: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

It doesn't look like anyone can take DDL down. He's got the Globe, BAFTA, and SAG behind him. Jackman, Cooper, and Phoenix would all be deserving winners, but Denzel Washington though? Really? Anyone can get wasted and stumble around on-screen for 2 hours, and overperform it all to shit like he did. Joaquin Phoenix's odd, funny, disconcerting, and demented performance gets my vote. 

Writing - Adapted Screenplay
Should win: Chris Terrio, Argo
Will win: Chris Terrio, Argo

I love this category this year. I had a hard time picking just one. Argo has WGA muscle behind it, Silver Linings Playbook has the BAFTA and NBR, and Lincoln's got Critics Choice. The smart money is still onLincoln though, because it's written by Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame so the Academy might play favourites. I guess we'll see. The Writers Guild is usually pretty clever about who's going to win the Oscar though, so that's who I'm going with.

Writing - Original Screenplay
Should win: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Will win: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

I know, right? Why would I vote against Tarantino when it looks like there's more than a sniff of a chance of him winning? I'm a sucker for Wes Anderson's writing, so what do you want me to say? Django wasn't even nominated by the Writers Guild which is a big red flag, so it's possible I'm going to get this one really wrong. I can't believe Flight is in here ahead of The Master. A lot of people are picking Zero Dark Thirty fresh off its WGA win, but Tarantino's backed by BAFTA, the Globes, and Critics Choice.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Should win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Will win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Anne Hathaway, don't you think? Yeah, there's not much of a conversation here...

Actor in a Supporting Role
Should win: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Will win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

I was actually surprised when the nominations came out, and Waltz was announced for his lazy retread of Hans Landa instead of DiCaprio. If we're going to see an upset, it's probably going to be here. Waltz has the Globe, BAFTA, and NBR, Jones has the SAG, and Hoffman has the Critics Choice and a pile of minor critics association awards. And Bobby Deniro could just come out of nowhere, who knows. But Waltz has won very recently and this award has tended to go to an elder statesman in the last little while.

Animated Feature Film
Should win: Wreck-It Ralph
Will win: Wreck-It Ralph

This is like "Sophie's Choice" for John Lasseter, especially since the race is really, really close this year.Brave has BAFTA and Globe weight behind it, but Ralph has the Critics' Choice, the PGA, the NBR, and the Annie. Wreck-It Ralph was like Toy Story for gamers, so it's possible that Walt Disney Animation Studios might have even out-Pixared their Emeryville cousins (this time.) After the disaster that wasCars 2, there was rampant speculation that Pixar had jumped the shark, so it would be nice to see them get back on the winner's podium. However, Rich Moore directed 71 episodes of Futurama (the bulk of the series) so I'm cheering for Ralph.

The rest:

Cinematography: Life of Pi
Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Documentary Short: Open Heart
Film Editing: Argo
Foreign Language Film: Amour
Makeup and Hairstyling: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Music - Original Score: Life of Pi
Music Original Song: Skyfall
Production Design: Les Miserables
Short Film - Animated: Paperman
Short Film - Live Action: Curfew
Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty
Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Monday, August 13, 2012

Let's Talk About Ideas

What is the most resilient parasite in the world?

A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?

An idea.

The smallest seed of an idea can grow. Once it is fully formed and has taken hold, it is impossible to eradicate. It may define you or destroy you. It may come to change everything about you.

Some people go through their entire lives never being inspired in that fashion. I'm fortunate enough to say that I've had two such ideas thus far.

The first was football. Now, this was a very unexpected shift. After all, here's this 135 lb. 16-year-old kid who has hardly ever played organized team sports and didn't have an ounce of athletic ability who thinks he's going to walk on to the high school football field for the first time and start in at least one game that season. I invested a lot of energy into that goal, spending nearly 2 hours a day six days a week in the gym between November 2000 and July 2001.

It exceeded every expectation. Not only did I start in one game, I started in seven, and five at outside linebacker no less. To this day, it remains one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. And to this day, I remain very heavily involved in football, as I enter my eighth year as an official and fourth at the CIS level.

Well, in December 2001, I had another idea which came to me in such a fashion, and was even more resilient than the first. This one provided me with some continuation after I was too old for cadets. It provided reasonable financial security. It provided me with a physical challenge which is something I had lacked since football. It would plug me into an entirely different social circle. There were nearly endless opportunities for advancement. And most of all, it was something to look forward to. Needless to say, I was quite motivated to make this one work. And since football was so wildly successful for me, I thought there was absolutely no way it could fail.

On August 13, 2002, it all came crashing down. I was turned down and there was nothing I could do about it. I had the next five years of my life (and potentially more) all mapped out, and all it took was one letter in the mail to make it all go up in smoke that afternoon. But more than that, it was the first real rejection I'd ever dealt with, and I realized that the old maxim "You can do anything you set your mind to!" is bullshit. 

It's all pretty much speculation after that, but I do wonder what might have been. There's one timeline where I was successful in that endeavour, and one where I was not, which is the one I currently travel on. I think about this all the time. There's no doubt that I would have stayed in university for at least the first year, but after that, who knows. I think there's no chance I would have entered immunology and infection, so who knows...I might have actually enjoyed university.

There's no chance I'd have ever started working at Molson, and therefore, no chance that I'd ever end up at Labatt. Career-wise…well, I'm thinking commercial pilot would have been very likely. Probably still would have moved back in with Binks and Gord if I was still in Edmonton. There's a chance that I would have started officiating football as the circumstances of how that started aren't really clear. And it goes on like that.

Of course, there's always the chance that it wouldn't have worked out at all, and I would have quit in a matter of months. But at least I'd leave with no excuses and no regrets. And I know that I could live with that.

Anyway, ten years later, here we are. Mostly, I can say that things have turned out alright since that day when things looked their absolute blackest, but I've always felt somewhat incomplete as a result. If, by some miracle, my peanut allergy became less serious or went away completely, I would do it all over again without hesitating. But, no matter what I'm feeling, I'll have to look at myself and honestly admit that I might as well start crying about cloudy days, for all the control I have over it.

August 13 is a day I regret. It's a memory I have to change. And that can only happen with another idea.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 Alberta Election: Top 10 Electoral Districts I'll Be Watching

10) Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock: This was the seat held by 9 term PC MLA Ken Kowalski. The Wildrose is running one of its more familiar names here, Link Byfield, former publisher of the Alberta Report magazine. Byfield is up against Westlock County deputy reeve Maureen Kubinec.

9) Lacombe-Ponoka: The PC Party had to scramble to put a candidate in here (Steve Christie) after Ray Prins, chairman of the infamous "No Work" Committee stepped down when the scandal broke. The voters here are a little bit pissed about it, and I don't blame them. Either Christie or Rod Fox for the Wildrose will win here.

8) Lethbridge-West: A strong four-horse race in Lethbridge-West has incumbent Greg Weadick against perennial Liberal candidate Bal Boora, long-time NDP staffer Shannon Phillips, and Wildrose's Kevin Kinahan. So far, it looks like Kinahan has the upper hand.

7) Calgary-Cross: Popular five-term MLA and Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Yvonne Fritz is engaged in a tight race with controversial Wildrose best-name-ever candidate Happy Mann. Mann landed himself in the headlines after it was learned he is facing two lawsuits for his part in a real estate development.  Also of note, Cross had a 27% voter turnout in the 2008 election.

6) Edmonton-Rutherford: PC Fred Horne won here in 2008 by 58 votes over Rick Miller for the Liberals. Horne and Miller are both back this time around, but are now accompanied by Michael Walters, who probably represents the Alberta Party's best chance at a seat. It's either that, or he'll split the Liberal vote, allowing Horne to cruise to an easy win.

5) Edmonton-Sherwood Park: An interesting race here: The PCs are running unpopular former Strathcona County Mayor Cathy Olesen, who allegedly won the nomination by a single vote. Also making another appearance is Independent Jim Ford, who finished in the last federal election with a formidable 14,000 votes. This may split the vote, leaving Garnett Genuis of the Wildrose to claim an upset win.

4) Calgary-Greenway: The new poster child for Alberta intolerance, Pastor Ron Leech, is running here. His comments about how he felt that "as a Caucasian I have an advantage" had a lot of people pissed off and may have damaged Wildrose's fortunes in Calgary. Previously, he had written an article for the Herald in 2004, stating "to affirm homosexuality is to distort the image of God, to insult the nature and being of God." Having said that, I don't believe he's down and out yet. Leech finished a strong second in Calgary-Montrose in 2008 as an independent, losing to Manmeet Bhullar of the PC's by 617 votes.

3) Edmonton-Meadowlark: The Liberal party is polling a distant fourth province-wide which could mean bad news for leader Raj Sherman. His strongest challenger here is former MLA Bob Maskell for the PCs. Wildrose candidate Rick Newcombe is no slouch either. To make it even more interesting, Sherman was first elected here in 2008 as a PC, before being booted from caucus.

2) Edmonton-Glenora: Everyone is watching this one, and all five parties believe their candidate can win. Minister of Culture and Community Services Heather Klimchuk is being challenged by former Liberal MLA Rick Miller, former NDP leader Ray Martin, former Edmonton mayoral challenger Don Koziak for the Wildrose, and former school board trustee/former Alberta Party interim leader Sue Huff.

1) Calgary-Elbow: The polls show that the Wildrose is leading in Premier Alison Redford's constituency, which would be a major embarrassment to the PCs. This hasn't happened since Don Getty was defeated by Percy Wickman in Edmonton-Whitemud. Needless to say, both parties will be pulling out all the stops to win this one. Redford is up against virtually unknown investment professional James Cole.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let's Talk About The Tree of Life...

(Caution: May contain spoilers and spoiler-like substances.)

You may or may not have heard of this one. Those of you who follow Cannes would have. It won the Palme D'Or this year, but the crowd reaction was that of loud boos and raucous cheers.

I have to admit, I didn't quite know what to make of this one. For the first half hour, nothing really happens. Then it goes into this sequence about the origins of the planet and evolution, and there's this bit with dinosaurs…it goes on and on and on and on, and I was fast-forwarding and thinking "Oh my God, this will never end!" The plot did get going eventually, and progressed nicely right up until about 45 minutes left, and then it virtually screeched to a halt again. I couldn't quite figure out what the kid's problem was anyway.

There are ties to the story of Job also that I couldn't quite get at first. Sure, the film is partly about the grieving process and why bad things happen to good people. This is brought together at the ending, when it seems that grace wins out over nature, but I think A Serious Man did a better job of navigating this theme. "Receive with simplicity everything which happens to you."

There's quite a bit of raw emotion in the screenplay. I kind of felt bad for the actors because the characters are virtually unplayable. Sean Penn has said so himself: "The screenplay is the most magnificent one that I've ever read but I couldn't find that same emotion on screen. [...] A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact."

From a technical standpoint, the cinematography is incredible. I haven't seen anything quite like it, except in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alexandre Desplat's score, although a bit high-brow, also brings it together nicely. And readers of my movie reviews know that screenplay, score, and cinematography are the three main ingredients to a good film. So, needless to say, I'm counting myself among those who enjoyed it. But, Terrance Malick also takes being poetic and preachy to a whole new level, so be forewarned.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vancouver Island Beer Championship

So three weeks ago, I visited Victoria, B.C. for four days and during that time, I tasted 61 different beers in pursuit of the very best that Vancouver Island had to offer in terms of local beer.

Keep in mind that this competition should be taken with a grain of salt for many reasons, including:

1) Some beers were tasted on site and others were tasted using market samples, and often in differing packages

2) Beers tasted were in different sample sizes, glasses, and temperatures.

3) Only beers good enough to be identified as finalists were revisited later

4) I don't normally taste very much craft beer, but I know what I like.

That said, here are the competitors:

Canoe Brewpub, Marina & Restaurant

Beaver Brown Ale

Red Canoe Lager

River Rock Bitter

Siren's Song Pale Ale

Summer Honey Wheat Ale

Driftwood Brewery

Crooked Coast Amber Ale

Driftwood Ale

Farmhand Ale

Fat Tug IPA

White Bark Ale

Gulf Islands Brewing

Salt Spring Island Heatherdale Ale

Lighthouse Brewing Company

Beacon IPA

Lighthouse Lager

Race Rocks Amber Ale

Riptide Pale Ale

Phillips Brewing Company

Amnesiac Double IPA

Blue Buck

Centennial IPA

HopCircle IPA

Hoperation Tripel Cross Belgian IPA

Instigator 2010 Doppelbock

Krypton Rye PA

Longboat Chocolate Porter

Raspberry Wheat

Service 1904

Skookum Cascadian Brown Ale

Slipstream Cream Ale

Wheatking Hefeweizen

Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub

Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale

Casked Nut Brown Ale

Discovery Ale

Extra Special Bitter

India Pale Ale

Jameson's Scottish Ale

Lion's Head Cascadia Dark Ale

Northwest Ale

Peach Hefeweizen

Summer Ale

Tsarist Imperial Stout


Appleton Brown Ale

Arctic Ale

Buckerfield's Extra Special Bitter

Extra IPA

Oatmeal Stout

Old Towne Lager

Pandora Pale Ale

Raspberry Ale

Riley's Scotch Ale


The Moon Under Water

Lunar Pale Ale

Moonlight Blonde Ale

Summer Ale

Tranquility IPA

Vancouver Island Brewing

Double Decker IPA

Hermann's Dark Lager

Honey Ale

Phoenix Lager

Piper's Pale Ale

Sea Dog Amber Ale

Spyhopper Honey Brown

Vancouver Islander

Fortunately, there was no beer in that list which was bad enough to be singled out as undrinkable, but there can only be one winner. Here are the finalists:

3rd Place:

Summer Ale - The Moon Under Water Brewpub

This one has only been out for a few weeks. I come never to expect greatness from a seasonal beer, but this one is different. You can never go wrong with Saaz hops, they have a place in any beer. It's a bit wheaty at first, but that goes away after the third or fourth sip. It's also just a little mouthcoating and the bitterness lingers a bit more than I would expect from something which is supposed to be a light beer. However, with a 4.2% ABV, you'd have no problem putting away 3 or 4 during the summer. The unfortunate bit about The Moon Under Water is that it's a bit out of the way and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the food and the beers are both good.

2nd Place:

Driftwood Ale - Driftwood Brewery

Driftwood is a place that's serious about its beer. It's a lot smaller in scale than its more established neighbours over at Vancouver Island Brewing and Phillips Brewing, and it seems they don't do as many tours either. But Kevin and Tim over there were nice enough to show us around, even though it looked like there was a lot going on at the time. Their flagship brand, Driftwood Ale, has a nice aroma of fruity hops and good quality bitterness that lingers slightly on aftertaste. Aside from that, it's fairly clean, clears quickly, and pretty dry. Something that's refreshing and easy to drink.

1st Place:

Farmhand Ale - Driftwood Brewery

Honestly, I've never had a bad Belgian ale. I'm convinced that the secret to this gem is good yeast. It reminded me of Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde at doesn't kick your ass, take your name, and get you drunk like La Fin Du Monde, but it is still a little stronger than most at 5.5% ABV. You'll get oranges/coriander and cloves/spice on the nose which might convince some of you amateurs that it's closer to Rickard's White or Hoegaarden. It's more grainy/more wheaty than those two and clears more quickly as well. Maybe a little heavy for the style, but I think it works for them. Very slightly drying on the finish. I think this one will satisfy the trendy beer drinker who enjoys all the weird fruit-infused shit that passes for craft beer these days, and the beer snob/Bavarian purist of 1516 at the same time. That means this one's a winner.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Let's Talk About Cars 2...

In just six days, we'll be treated to the twelfth feature film produced by the studio that makes critical and financial hit after hit. I'm talking, of course, about Pixar Animation Studios, and its latest work of art: Cars 2.

Last year, when I was doing my countdown of Pixar's feature films, I was asked if I could pick one from the library to watch, which one would I watch? Well, I chose Cars. I said it had a children's literature charm to it, despite not being terribly insightful and having braindead voice acting. However, I picked out a few more themes since then: the contrast of small town vs. big city values and some social commentary on transportation infrastructure, to name a couple. But, in short, I like it because it's fun.

I have some questions about what goes on in the Cars universe. Since many of the places in Cars resemble real settings (Peach Springs, AZ = Radiator Springs,) and the characters resemble real car models, my theory is that the characters live in a parallel dimension which is ruled by sentient machines. The machines control fully automated factories which produce the cars. How, then, are the insects portrayed as VW bugs, and why are there children? How do cars grow up? Why are the tractors and farm equipment portrayed as farm animals? These are the questions I ask myself as I lay awake at night.

Anyway, in my blog post last year, I speculated as to whether or not Pixar had jumped the shark, based on the success of Toy Story 3. Now, I have some reservations about the Cars 2:

1) In my review of Cars, I said "That Mater character really grated on my nerves by the end." Mater was around a little bit too much when I felt more of the focus needed to be on Doc and Sally, but he was still a supporting character. The way I read Cars 2, however, is that Mater is central to the plot, and it looks like Lightning is the supporting character. If this is true, it's going to drive me nuts. Your comic relief CANNOT be central to the plot and he cannot be one-dimensional. Otherwise, you end up with a Star Wars Episode One Jar Jar Binks disaster. Dan L. Whitney is the perfect voice for a backwater hick, but I have to question whether he has the range to carry a Pixar film. And while we're at it, let's talk about Owen Wilson, who was just as bad. I don't so much mind Lightning as a character, but it seemed like Owen was just going through the motions. Just listen to every time Lightning laughs; it sounds so forced. In fact, Mater actually carries Lightning through more than a few scenes. Granted, Owen was going through a serious bout of depression at the time...

2) I have to wonder if they made this film to renew all the merchandising licenses. I called Cars "Pixar's shill film," and even if you go into a Disney Store today, you'll see Cars shit everywhere. Literally, everywhere. And literally, shit! They sell Cars potty chairs and Cars diapers at the Superstore by my place. I'm dead serious. Do you see WALL-E diapers anywhere? No, you don't, even though in the grand scheme of the film, it kind of makes sense! Even Up has diddly dick for merchandise. (Granted, nobody wants to play with misanthropic old man action figures.) Cars merchandise had sales of $1 billion a mere 5 months after the film was released, so who can blame them for trying, right? They also need to promote a new theme park.

3) I think this movie panders to a small demographic. Cars was made five years ago, and its target audience was boys age 1-10. That means a sizeable chunk of Cars' original audience may be too old for this one. The Toy Story franchise was so successful because there were a lot of things to keep the adults into it, and the 3rd film also had nostalgic value for many. Cars, on the other hand, is a good movie to park your kids in front of to keep them busy for a couple of hours while you did something else. However, since the merchandise has managed to hold its own, that leads me to believe that the franchise has renewed its audience through DVD sales.

4) Doc Hudson is not in this one, and that's going to hurt this film more than you can imagine. Doc was the voice of reason who kept this film down to earth. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of over the top car jokes and a big race at the end with no emotion. Cars would have been an epic failure without him. I suppose Slinky was back for Toy Story 3 despite the noticeable difference in voice (Jim Varney vs. Blake Clark), so who knows.

5) John Lasseter was brought on as co-director very late in the game. This leads me to believe that this one suffered from the same quality issues that Toy Story 2 initially suffered from. I suppose that Toy Story 2 became infinitely better once Lasseter took over, but at the same time, Pixar could use the fresh blood. I think a lot of people thought that Lasseter was too complacent with Cars, and in some ways, it comes off as a pet project. And since Cars 2 was conceived by Lasseter when he was in Europe promoting the first Cars, this one could also have that pet project feel. Besides, the guy doesn't even need to direct anymore...he's the head of two animation studios. Why not hand it over to the next director in line?

6) The setting is one of the most appealing aspects of the film, and the real heart of the film is with the bygone town on Route 66. Radiator Springs will be mostly gone in Cars 2, as the settings include 3 different countries. So it's still very much a story of setting, but the focus will be more on the culture shock aspects. Who knows, they might find a way to make it work, but you certainly can't rest on the characters, like the Toy Story sequels did. Woody and Buzz have become timeless, classic characters. Lightning and Mater? They're more like flavours of the week.

So there you have it. The expectations for Cars 2 are very much dialled down, and I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Contrast that with Toy Story 3, where the expectations were sky high and were exceeded. Fortunately for the Pixar awards shelf, Dreamworks is putting forward Kung Fu Panda 2 and Warner Bros. is sending out Crappy Feet 2. Not exactly the best of efforts from either studio.

I'll be back with my review in a week or two.