Revisiting The Incredibles (2004)

the incredibles poster My folks came in for a visit this weekend and after watching a few of Lu’s favorite movies, my dad put on Pixar’s The Incredibles. After the difficulty I’ve had showing my daughter Wall-E and Cars, I thought this might be a lost cause, but she was into it, so we wound up watching the whole, nearly two hour movie. I’d seen this flick maybe once before when it came out in 2004 and have fond memories of playing the video game with my wife when we were newlyweds, but aside from that, only remembered the basics: after being retired by the government, a superhero comes out of retirement to face an evil guy on an island. He can’t handle it on his own, so his superpowered wife and kids come to help save the day.

The first thing to hit me while watching this movie is how freaking dark it is. The script gets into some really heavy areas like Mr. Incredible getting sued by a guy he saved who was trying to commit suicide. The deaths of dozens of other heroes at the hands of the movie’s villain as a way of testing his killer robot also get mentioned several times. These deaths or near-deaths might not hit as hard as Nemo’s mom in Finding Nemo or Carl’s wife in Up, but there are a heckuva lot more of them.

There’s also Elastigirl/Helen’s fear that her husband Mr. Incredible/Bob is cheating on her, something their kids, at least older daughter Violet, pick up on. As it turns out, Bob’s been playing hero for what he thinks is a super secret branch of the government trying to build some kind of powerful attack robot, but there’s definitely some romantic tension between him and go-between Mirage. Anyway, as it turns out, Mr. Incredible’s actually just one of a number of heroes brought in by the villain Syndrome to test his killer robots against. Each hero either defeats the robot, offering more data to build a better one, or gets killed in the process. When he’s got it right where he wants it, Syndrome wants to release it on a big city and then swoop in to save it, using a remote to shut it down and look like a hero.

All in all it’s a well put together film with strong family ties and various characters offering emotional relationships to form with the audience. You might not be the middle aged person wanting to relive the glory days, but maybe you’re the repressed youngster who wants to let lose or the teenager who wants to figure out the world or the one trying to hold the family together. Add in healthy doses of superhero fun — from the look at Edna’s costume-testing system to seeing each Incredible use their powers — and there’s a lot to love about this movie. As a long time James Bond fan, I also appreciated the many Bond villain nods that came from seeing Syndrome’s various villainous lairs.

And yet, I don’t know if I love The Incredibles. After watching with my wife and parents, they were totally into it and I was the one voice of dissent, noting the similarities to existing comic book teams, characters and stories. It was a silly discussion to kick off with non-comic fans because I couldn’t possibly make them understand where I’m coming from without laying down lots of evidence that they probably wouldn’t care about anyway. The best I could do was saying to my dad, “What would you think if another band put together a great pop record that actually borrowed a lot of hooks from The Beatles.” It’s not the best analogy and I’m probably confusing terminology, but it works to an extent.

The main problem I have with the film comes from the power sets and how they relate to the Fantastic Four. Sure, Mr. Incredible isn’t rocky, but otherwise he’s The Thing. They also swapped out Human Torch for the Flash, but the main aspect that bothers me comes with Violet’s powers. Sure, it makes sense that the shy teenager can turn invisible, but why does she also have force field powers? Those aren’t organically linked abilities, but were put together for the character Sue Storm by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It’s not like having super speed and the ability to vibrate through things because you can shake your molecules. Those both come from the ability to move quickly. Invisibility and force field projection aren’t related making Violet’s powers a direct lift from Invisible Woman/Girl.

To a lesser extent, you’ve also got elements of Watchmen in there as well with the government outlawing superheroes, a theme that had been played with throughout comic book history. I guess what bums me out about The Incredibles is that it could have been more original. Writer/director Brad Bird could have done a lot more to make a completely new story, but by compounding various elements that comic book fans are already familiar with, it kind of bogs things down. Sure, I’d compare any original superhero fiction to my internal library of comic knowledge, but this one hit off so many notes from things I’ve read and seen before that it can somehow overshadow the general feeling of fun that came from the film.

Incredibles poster 2At the moment, I’m feeling more positive about the movie. Seeing Mrs. Incredible use her stretch-y powers on screen was a real treat, the kind of thing I haven’t seen so much done with since the old school Plastic Man cartoon. I also really enjoyed how the Incredibles used their powers together. There’s a more seamless nature to the way husband and wife play off of one another’s abilities — which not only refers to their past as heroes, but also the bonds that form through marriage — while the kids need a little more coaching as they learn how to use their own abilities to stay alive. Combining powers has always been a favorite aspect of team comic books for me, so I enjoyed scenes where Mrs. Incredible turned into a boat and Dash kicked them towards shore at super speed or Violet made a ball and Dash ran them around hamster-style.

If I could just forget about all the comics I’ve read, I’d be fully in love with The Incredibles. Since that’s not happening without a head injury at this point, I guess I’ll remain on the fence with this one.

Rockin’ Flicks: Almost Famous (2000)

I’m not one of those dudes who had their lives changed by Almost Famous. I was friends with some of those guys in high school and in fact saw this movie over at one of their houses in high school. One friend fell in love with Kate Hudson after seeing the flick and another would incessantly sing Stillwater’s “Fever Dog.” Both were in my band. I dug the movie when I saw it, but it didn’t become a favorite.

If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the movie, it’s basically Cameron Crowe’s fictionalized memoir of touring with various bands in the 70s, but centered around a young kid named William and the fictional band Stillwater. The high schooler gets the attention of Rolling Stone who sends him on tour with the band who he becomes friends with even though his mentor Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) warns him against it and also falls for groupie–sorry “Band Aid”–Penny Lane, played by Hudson. It’s basically the story of a kid learning to go from fan to pro in an industry that’s showing him all its warts, no matter how much they wound him.

I actually had more fun spotting the supporting actors in the flick than watching it. I think that’s because I’ve seen and even lived this story a bit myself. Having been a comic book fan who worked in the thick of the comic book world at Wizard, I can really relate to what William goes through (minus the groupies) but comparing a film, even a great one, to my real life, the film’s not going to hold up. I get that it’s great and I love all the rock and roll stuff, because I’m a huge fan of music from that era, but it just doesn’t vibrate inside of me like it might have when I was younger.

Anyway, back to that star watching, here’s the ones I saw. You’ve got Jimmy Fallon playing the manager’s manager. I can’t remember if I knew who he was when the movie first played. The gone-too-soon Mitch Hedberg sits in on a manager poker game! Anna Paquin and Fairuza Balk (The Craft) play groupies. Jay Baruchel is a Led Zeppelin super-fan and even Nick Swardson has a moment as a wild David Bowie fan. Heck even Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet pops up as a hotel worker. I’m sure there’s plenty I missed. Plus, of course, one of my favorites Jason Lee plays an important part. It’s funny how similar the character is to Banky from Chasing Amy, but the guy they got to play the singing voice sounds embarrassingly like someone else. Oh, this was also the first movie I saw Zooey Deschanel in and didn’t even realize it!

I think had I bought the movie after I saw it and gave it a few more spins, I would have a lot closer relationship to it, but as it stands, I can appreciate it without falling in love with it. Though, I do adore the “Tiny Dancer” bit. Moments like that in real life are amazing and should be enjoyed both in the moment and later in life. I have incredibly fond ones of singing songs with my buddies back home and even the other week when the missus and I wound up singing “Summer Loving” from Grease, even though she had to sing most of the dude parts because I only know about half the words.

Quick Movie Review: Stealing Harvard (2002)

Yesterday to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day I put on my “Irish I Had A Beer” t-shirt, drank some beers, watched Stealing Harvard and made some awesome Reuben macaroni and cheese. Compared to the year I went to a funeral and the year I awkwardly sat with a coworker at a bar while everyone else was at Wizard World LA and then went home to watch Leprechaun In Space, it wasn’t too bad. Compared to some of the parties we’ve thrown in past years, not so great. Well, at least no funeral. Anyway, I wanted something fun to watch and have been wanting to check out Stealing Harvard for a while as I’m a big Jason Lee fan and was always curious about it. It didn’t blow me away, but I thought it was a pretty solid flick with a great cast.

Aside from Lee, Tom Green, Leslie Mann (one of my favorite actresses), Dennis Farina, Megan Mullalley, Chris Penn, John C. McGinley, Martin Starr and Bruce McCuloch who also co-wrote and directed the movie all appear. The idea is that Lee promised his niece that he’d pay for her college back when she was a kid and now she’s gotten into Harvard and needs about $30,000. Lee’s got the money, but doesn’t want to tell his girl Mann, because that was the magic number so they could get married and buy a house.

From there, Lee and Green go on a series of missions trying to get some green, mostly through poorly planned robberies. There’s a lot of moments where I wanted to yell “Just tell her the truth!” at the TV, but it doesn’t get to Meet The Parents levels of frustration (I can’t watch that movie or anything like it because I’m too busy cringing and getting angry). But, it doesn’t get that bad, so it’s fun. It’s also fun seeing people like Mullalley doing a different character and not being in that awful margarine commercial I’m inundated with on a daily basis. When I first saw her name after Mann’s I thought they might actually be sisters. They’re not and might not even be in a scene together actually, but I’d like to see them together.

Not a great movie, but different and silly enough to make me feel like I didn’t wasted the 80-some minutes it took to watch, so all in all a good experience. Oh, and if you’re not a Tom Green fan, he’s not as crazy as he was on his show, but more like his character in Road Trip.

What I’m Watching Part 2

2008-09-28
7:39:54 pm

One thing I recently realized is that there aren’t a whole lot of new shows coming out that I’m looking forward to. The new Christian Slater show looks pretty cool, so does Life on Mars, but they don’t start for a while. Mostly I’m excited for all the shows I dug last season to be back on.

THURSDAY

8:00-9:00

MY NAME IS EARL (NBC)

Earl started off the season with an hour long episode (just like The Office) and it was a good one. Earl ended up helping Seth Green, who, a few years ago was on the Make a Wish program. Earl stole the horse he was supposed to ride in a parade. Thinking Seth’s character had died, he tries to make it up to his mom, but she reveals that Seth is still alive. So, to cross Seth off his list, Seth asks if Earl will help him film his awesome action movie, to which Earl agrees and everyone in town does too. There’s a great scene where Randy (Ethan Suplee) does a number of different impressions, including a dead-on Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Great stuff. There’s a lot of fun, on the fly super low-budget filmmaking and Seth Green was fantastic as the excited filmmaker. There’s a pretty sad ending (which you can probably guess if you think about it, though I didn’t see it coming until about 2 seconds before). But man, what a great episode to a great show.

9:00-10:00

THE OFFICE (NBC)

The Office is probably my favorite comedy on right now and definitely up there in my all time favorites (though the original is up there as well). As far as I’m concerned they’re pretty much separate animals by now. If you’re a fan, check out the deleted scenes on the DVDs for even more interviews with your favorite background characters (mine is Creed). The season premier had a lot of excellent moments. Spoilers ahead. The through story is that corporate offered the branch that loses the most weight three extra vacation days, so everyone’s trying to loose weight in different ways. So, unlike most episodes, this one takes place over a month instead of a day or two. Also during this time, Pam’s in New York for the summer for art school and Angela (who got engaged to Andy and caught banging Dwight in the season finale last year) continually gives Andy trouble in planning the wedding (though he’s so in love with her that he doesn’t care) and pages Dwight for secret trysts in a room in the warehouse. And the final, fist pumping super-spoiler is that Jim asks Pam to meet him halfway at a rest stop for lunch and proposes to her. I get giddy when stuff like this happens, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season plays out.

SATURDAY

11:30-1:00

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC)

As I mentioned before, I missed the previous two SNL episodes, but I was in last night and got to check it out. Anna Faris hosted and Duffy was the musical guest. As can be expected there were a number of political sketches, but I was impressed with the debate sketch because it didn’t seem to lean too much one way or the other. I think my favorite sketch involved Anna Faris and Keenan Thompson in a rowboat. I would link to it on Hulu, but it’s not on there unfortunately. I will say that there is singing, which I always enjoy.

I picked up Duffy’s record soon after it came out based solely on her first single “Mercy” which has been played to death on the radio (which is why I don’t listen to the radio anymore). Her performance was kind of weird. Her singing and her band were right on, but she had these weird sorta doo wop dance moves that came off as kind of robotic. Not sure what the deal was, if she was nervous or something, but it reminded me of when I saw Black Sabbath on their first reunion tour and Ozzy would do the same three or four things on stage over and over again.

I think this has been a pretty good period for SNL. The last few years have seen a bit of a shift in the kind of comedy they’re going for (thanks in large part, I think to Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, Andy Sandberg and plenty of writers I don’t really know about), so I’m looking forward to seeing what else they’ve got planned this year.