Tuesday, December 14, 2004

McDonald's Pathetic Commercial

Recently, there has been a McDonalds commercial airing which I find miserable and pathetic. The commercial starts off with a a hummed jingle. It continues with some shmoe guy with a go-tee telling his girlfriend that he is going to McDonalds and she says to order for her, because he apparently knows what she wants. Well, according to his voice-over, no he does not. And orders everything on the dollar menu. He gets back and pulls each item out until she takes the one she wants. He then retorts that he knows her better than anyone else.

What makes this commercial so poor? It's not in the concept, but in the execution.

First, the jingle bookmarks the beginning and end. It's not hummed in a special way, but just hummed. Kindof bla. Now, commercials are edited in several different ways and in some ways the jingle serves as bookends to the commercial. on the shorter edits, the jingle comes quickly, and becomes overused, thus becoming cheesy.

Now let's focus on the visuals. I feel the director was trying to do something cool and stylish, but in the end managed to ruin the McDs experience. It's a washed-out, grainy style with no bright colors. Hm, I'm not sure if that's how McDs would like to be known to consumers, as dreary and grey. It's important to be sexy and appeal to the public, but if you cannot come up with a reason other than 'because it's cool' you need to do some rethinking on your visual design.

Another poor visual design they try to get away with is the hand-held camera effect, or what I like to call 'shakey-cam'. I have often criticized against using this effect. If you don't have a reason to use it, don't use it. If you do use it, make it look like you're not doing it. Subtlety is key here. Over doing it will dilute its effect, and, wow, did this shister director ever use it too much. Not only does it seem like we're on a boat, but it is a fake movement, moving back and forth along the same axis. Cheese-ball.

Finally, the acting. Our director didn't tell this man how to act. He says everything with a fake half-smile, his delivery is lame, and his gesture to buy all of the dollar menu, fake. That gesture didn't look like he spontaneously got this ingenious idea to buy the whole dollar menu, but rather a flimsy, over-practiced gesture. You see, the trick to acting is not to act. Make it look like you've just come up with the solution just then and there. This wasn't done in any of the acting, so the characters seem banal. If you have the budget, get professional actors.

With all this pretentiousness, this commercial becomes diluted and a poor representation of the McDonald's campaign of "I'm lovin' it". I'm not lovin' it. I'm hatin' it. But yet, they continue to use it again and again. I've seen this commercial aired often, having been cut up many different ways. Sometimes with the girlfriend present, sometimes without, and sometimes without the actor requesting the whole menu. It helps get rid of the bad acting, but it makes the message very, very lame.

McD must have payed hamesomely for it if they are trying to squeeze every ounce out of their poor investment, but yet the commercial screams 'extra-value meal'. Hehe, they must've gotten it off some studio's dollar menu. So now you see why it's better to go with a moderately-priced director with design foundations, such as myself.

This makes me wonder. A company of McDonald's magnitude surely can do better, but alas, they chose not to. Has the level of acceptability dropped to an all time low, or is just McDonald's lack of descent employees?

Friday, November 19, 2004

CRITIQUE: The Incredibles and Children's Animated Features

The Incredibles, directed by Brad Bird, his second after The Iron Giant. Although it's Disney's film, it's amazing how much Pixar got away with. If you don't know, Pixar and Disney don't like each other. Disney, the grandfather of animated features, has gone stale. Their formulas no longer work, and it's time for a new boss. That boss is Pixar, which, someday will become as stale as Disney, but until then, we will enjoy their films.

The movie is wonderful. Why? From the ground up it was planned to be well and the rest of the pieces fall into place (unlike Hollywood these days). The script, is well written. Three act stucture that works, likeable characters with flaws, character's actions have consequences, and a nice and tidy plot.

The biggest applause I give is how Pixar did NOT create a kiddy focused film, but rather created something that was layered for kids and adults. Let me try to explain why I feel this is a better approach for this. Children's movies and shows these days tend to have a perfectly-moral main character. The bad guys are evil without any ambivilance or reasoning to their badness. What this does to most people after a certain age, is create a fantasy world of perfection. In other words, boring. Now let's think about if we start adding hints of morally challenging concepts into a script. It becomes more adult themed, but when a child watches it, there are lots they don't understand, but enough that they'll love the action, the characters, and the funny one-liners that they do understand. Later, when they mature, they'll go back to these movies they loved as a kid and they'll get even more out of them as an adult. The result? Movies with longevity and a wider audience.

Then from script, we go into the visuals. These visuals were well thought out. There are many articles on the humanizing comfort theory, most noteably, roboticist Masahiro Mori. In short, the theory is that the closer robots look like human, without being human, it starts to look eerie, and we get uncomfortable. Pixar did their homework and designed characters that looked like comic strip humans, which worked out wonderfully.

I would like to point out that this is the exact OPPOSITE as a forthcoming movie, The Polar Express, directed by Robert Zemeckis. While they are falsely touting it as a major animation acheivement, they are trying to make it lifelike as possible. The risk? It may look fake and cheesy, which is starting to surface in some reviews. I'm unsure why Zemeckis went this route, especially since he barely captured any of the numerous facial gestures and emotions from the actors. He could have easily gone real-life with blue-screened sets, a la Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Problem with Disney, as said by Pixar:
(from http://www.harrymccracken.com/messagecenter/index.cgi?noframes;read=555)

The next speaker was Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of Finding Nemo--a thoroughly engaging guy who gave a talk on his work and the Pixar way in general. He showed some amusing voice-casting tests in which the studio did new animation to existing soundtracks with actors they were considering using (Al Pacino as Hopper in A Bug's Life and Billy Crystal as Buzz Lightyear, for instance), and outlined five rules that the company developed when creating Toy Story:

1) No Songs
2) No "I Want" Moment
3) No Happy Village
4) No Love Story
5) No Villain

Stanton mentioned that at one point, Disney brought in a famous lyricist (apparently Tim Rice) as a consultant on the project, and he recommended that the studio add songs, an "I Want Moment," a happy village, a love story, and a villain.

Another Pixar rule: "Like your main character." By way of example, Stanton showed some early Toy Story storyboards and soundtracks in which Woody *wasn't* likable at all. In the end, the character had some of the imperfect character traits the unpleasant Woody had shown, but they were no longer dominant.

I'll go on to add that Disney is such a heartless, no-integrity, shallow bunch of executives, because in their contract with Pixar, they state that Pixar gets first bid for any projects that Disney wants to do. SInce DIsney owns the rights to Toy Story, Disney said to Pixar, "Hey, make Toy Story 3 by 2005, and Toy Story 4 by 2006?" Pixar declined, because there's no way any studio can do great work in two years. Disney says, "Ok, then, we're going to make it somewhere else without you." DIsney is now forming their own 3D studio, after shutting down their old 2D studio and firing gobs of fantastic artists, which they'll never be able to get back.

Disney's blindness towards good plot and mental-challenging concepts will produce short-lived features, such as Toy Story 3. It's a very executive thing to do, get the money now, and dilute the integrity of the franchise.

Diluting the franchise is something that Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fought valiently against (see article here), whereas Berkeley Breathed succumbed to the mountains of cash, thus diluting and ending Bloom County. But I must say, Bloom County is cool, and may someday have a revival.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

CRITIQUE: I (Heart) Huckabees

(Warning: Some small spoliers)
Overall, the movie was good.

It's a movie with a basic plot, but shrouds itself in existential philosophy. At times, it's hard to understand, but the characters themselves are attempting to figure things out, which helps viewers not use so much of their brain power.

It's about a man, Albert, who is trying to figure his failing life back together. He hires a firm and they help him out. He ends up winning in the end.

But what the writers do that is so interesting, is that the plot is shrouded in Albert's trying to analyze his existence, through unusual means. And through unusual characters. In addition, the plot is cyclic, stepping into a deeper exploration of choas versus order.

It's deep, but there's good characters in it. And written very well. At one point, I thought they were getting into Albert's antagonist, Brad, too much. But when thinking about the idea behind the movie, they had to show it in order to get to Albert's conclusion and understanding of what was happening to him.

Seemingly chaotic, everything had a point in this movie.

What would have made it better? I think a better way to show that Albert was figuring things out on his own, by watching Brad's life fall apart. Too much attention on Brad may have not carried my sympathy for Albert all the way to the end.

But overall, a good movie. Recommended.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

CRITIQUE: The Cat in the Hat

Yes, I know it's old, but I just saw it on HBO.

This movie was a total letdown.

But the thing about it was that it could have been saved-- but with a lot of changes.

To start, the director could have been a little more controlling of Mike Myers performances to get him to stay consistant with the tones and mood changes in the movie. It felt as if Mike had the reins, and was bouncing off the walls. It lost focus. I think this happens sometimes with green directors and 'funny' actors.

Another aspect was, of course, the writing. The plot was too cheap. The boy/boyfriend conflict was not real at all. It felt contrived. And absolutely get rid of the toilet humor. Not only was it unsuitable for such Dr. Seuss integrity, but it seemed, well, forced. Oh, and is it really that hard to get the cat to rhyme?

In my over-analytical opinion, the REAL conflict was the kids with the cat in the hat. That should have been the plot center, not some Disney rule about tangible villains (Disney and other studios like to always have silly 'rules' in their scripts, such as villains in their kiddy movies. See Toy Story to debunk these rules!).

Here's how to save the plot: The boy was a an unruly boy, and the girl was a obsessive perfectionist. Good. Conflict between them makes these characters interesting. The mother is too busy to pay attention to the kids. A good setup.

Get rid of the boyfriend, unless he's used as a device to keep the mother occupied and looking the other way. Nothing more.

Use the mysterious crate as the ultimate opposing conflict for the end. I liked how the crate took over the house, but it should have been utilized throughout the script. Have the cat taking things out there, that just escalates the problems for both the children. One thing would be more unrley than the boy, so the boy starts to see that he needs to restrain the cat, therefore learning that he needs to restrain himself.

The girl, should right away feel a little snubbed by not being invited to her friend's birthday party. In the movie, it came a little late. Bring it in right away. That way she would reasonably be more apt to get with the cat to be jumping around on the couch and breaking rules, effectively loosening her up a bit.

Then the crate takes off, because the cat and the children are preoccupied with the Thing One and Thing Two. THat way, the crate represents the ultimate peril, which is too destroy everything to the point of no return. The kids then struggle to find how to get things back to normal before the mother's party. They also struggle with the cat wanting to be unruly, but in the kids combine their skills to restrain the cat and solve the riddle of the crate.

This improves the script, because now you don't need to have the kids going outside the house, which to me felt too disjuncting from the indoor problems.

I liked the babysitter falling asleep and staying asleep. It was ridiculous, but blatently so, which set a good tone. Too bad the tone was not well followed through the rest of the script.

Oh, and the fish was a little too whiney. He should have been the voice of reason, which stated the way things are in the real world, but isn't followed in this world.

Overall, don't see this movie. Someday, someone will come along and make a Cat in the Hat movie that will impress even the late Dr. Seuss. Then go see THAT movie.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

Applause for John Stewart

I like to raise awareness on people who take big chances to raise awareness on critical issues.

As most of you probably already know, John Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" is a smart man that likes to ridicule the absurdity of American politics.

Well, recently he was badmouthing a National CNN show, "Crossfire", so he decided it would be best if he went and told them that, to their faces, on their show.

Talk about guts!

For a show that's based on harsh opinions and arguing with people, the hosts took offense to the opinions of John Stewart. Seems they can dish it out, but can't take it themselves.

I recommend watching the footage using a high-speed connection. It is worth seeing someone like John, who has much to lose, taking a big chance to make a FANTASTIC point regarding today's media circus. Brilliant.



P.s. If you have extra time, the footage that comes after John's bit is Courage the puppet Dog interviewing people in the post-debate "Spin Alley" (John mentions this in the clip). Courage is very crass, but poignantly funny. I laughed out loud.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Mission Statement

The purpose of this blog is to critique cinema, animation, ads, software, devices, food, people, God, and beer.
All posts must have something very specific to say, rather than just "I luv LOTR!!!". I encourage unique perspectives, especially ones that might go against the mainstream.

Mostly, it'll be about cinema.

If you want to be a blogger, email me.