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WALL-E is so good, I might have to pay to see it again on the big screen. (That very rarely happens.)

1. The first act of WALL-E is so photo-realistic (down to textures, tight depths of field, camera angles, slightly shaky zooming in and out and shadowing) the only thing that reminded me that I was watching CG effects was the cockroach. What an unbelievable technical achievement. Wow.
2. This is one of the best love stories in cinema history.
3. Somehow, the Pixar team managed to inject more human emotion, depth and life in a character that happens to be a) a complete computer graphics creation b) a robot, c) one without the capacity to speak or deliver any lines than any combination of writer, director and actor in Hollywood or elsewhere.
4. E.V.E. is pretty damn cool too.
5. This film is SOLID.

Even if you don’t like sci-fi, even if you don’t like CGI movies, even if you don’t know what WALL-E is, trust me on this: Grab a friend, your spouse, your kids, your parents – whomever – and go see it. It won’t change your life or anything, but there is no way you won’t fall in love with WALL-E, E.V.E. and even their little pet roach.

On my all time Top 10 as of this weekend.

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Come to think of it, let’s just call movie critics as a whole “morons.” How about this: Go see movies for yourselves, and make up your own minds as to whether or not they pushed the right buttons for you.

But back to the Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer: You may hear or read a lot of bad reviews about the film. Things being said will fall along the lines of…”Too cartoonish” or “too C.G.I.-looking,” or the most annoying yet “looks more like a video game than a movie.” Bleh.

Not to mention the fact that by catering its marketing to a VERY young audience, Speed Racer may not reach its audience and fail at the box office… which would be an awful shame, because it is actually a VERY good movie. You just have to a) completely embrace its style, b) leave your adult brain at home, c) embrace the insanely bold use of the medium, and d) understand the level to which this movie elevate the source material.

Yes, the movie looks like a video game in the sense that it looks nothing like our world. This may be one of the most colorful and purposely artificial movie you’ll ever see. The look of the film, with its unapologetic overdose of bright colors, its unbelievably blue skies and the very unique artificial look is part of its genius.

If you don’t like the look of movies like “Sin City,” “Moulin Rouge” or “300,” the visual style of Speed Racer may not be your cup of tea either. If, however, you can appreciate a unique visual style that successfully bridges the gap between the original source material and the movie adaptation, you can easily look at Speed Racer as an art film – which it so clearly is.

The movie is completely over the top in every possible way. As a matter of fact, I would go as far as to say that the film is completely ridiculous. From the laugh-outloud chimp kung fu fantasies to Racer X punching another driver in the face while both cars are performing insane side-flip maneuvers at 500 kph, the movie completely embraces its cartoonish high octane nature – which is precisely why it scores. The Wachowski brothers obviously didn’t hold back here – and actually went above and beyond what lesser writers & directors would have created. This movie is as far out there as it could possibly be, and it is refreshing as hell to see a movie so uncompromisingly edgy and full of child-like enthusiasm.

Surprisingly, Speed Racer is absolutely not a brainless visualfest. The script is surprisingly solid, and the actors absolutely kick ass. Just as Robert Downey Jr. elevates Ironman through his inspired portrayal of Tony Stark, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman infuse the movie with perfectly metered and stunning performances during key scenes late in the movie. These moments are absolutely priceless bits of movie-making and bring unexpected depth to an otherwise escapist underdog movie. Matthew Fox shines as Racer X, Emile Hirsch is completely believable and endearing as Speed Racer, and I must say that Christina Ricci is actually pretty hot as Trixie. The kid brother and the chimp are at occasionally annoying (probably not to an eight-year-old though), but overall, they made me laugh alot more than I care to admit.

The Brandbuilder blog isn’t a movie review site, so I’ll stop here… but I didn’t want the bonehead reviews I’ve read today to negatively influence any of you – my readers – when it comes to this movie. Speed Racer is actually a work of genius. Most people probably won’t get why or how, but then again, edgy doesn’t appeal to most people. The masses will most likely look at Speed Racer purely as an over-the-top cartoonish movie version of a bad 1980’s anime series, aimed at pleasing little kids… but it is on every level an entertaining art film that blends stunningly rendered visual effects, lots of action, superb casting, solid character development, impressive acting, some pretty funny stuff, a classic underdog story, kung fu and chimp humor to create a very unique package.

Mark my words: This flick is nothing short of a classic.

Even if you end up hating Speed Racer, you should go see it – chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Bonus: Check out this article about the film’s technical aspects in Wired.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Ironman. When it comes to superheroes, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Frank Miller’s work with Batman (The Dark Knight, for starters), Spidey, and the X-Men (mostly Wolverine). Ironman though… eh. He was kind of a secondary superhero in a lot of ways. Not much of a point. Billionaire genius builds metal rocket suit, fights crime for fun. Bleh.

But that changed when I saw the first trailer for the motion picture version – which finally came out this weekend. Score #1: Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Score #2: Letting fans/geeks make the movie. Score #3: A great set of trailers. (In sharp contrast with Indiana Jones 4, which so far has a horrendous trailer.)

Anyhoo. The trailer started getting excited about the movie, and I have been anticipating it ever since. I excitedely took the family to see it over the weekend, and… well… I was a bit nervous about it. It’s Ironman, after all. How good can it be? I bought my tickets with a mixture of excitement and apprehension: What if it sucked? What if even Robert Downey Jr. and director John Favreau couldn’t save a second-rate superhero in his first attempt at becoming a big screen success? (Remember Daredevil? Nuff said.)

But from the very opening scene (great editing), my fears evaporated into thin air. Ironman was rock solid, and yeah, Robert Downey Junior is without a doubt one of the coolest actors in Hollywood. Always has been. He shines so brightly as Tony Stark that he singlehandedly takes what could have been (should have been) an okay Marvel superhero flick into one of the best Marvel movie franchises to date. Don’t believe me? Check out these review snippets from Rotten Tomatoes:

“Robert Downey Jr. nails Iron Man. More apropros, change nails to welds. For it is Downey who most significantly raises the quality bar of ‘Iron Man’ to the classic level of fellow comic book heroes Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. Welcome, new franchise.”

“Move over, Superman. This lush, high-octane playboy never tasted so good. Iron Man has not only etched itself the mark of one of the best-reviewed films so far in 2008 but also one of the highest-rated superhero movies of all time.”

“Robert Downey Jr., full-swing back into his acting genius, is exceptional as Iron Man. Life for Tony Stark is cool, and you can almost image him doing the Charlie Chaplin waddle across his workshop.”

“This might be the most relevant superhero tale we have yet seen.”

“Robert Downey Jr. delivers a knockout performance that alone is worth the price of admission to watch.”

“It’s Robert Downey Jr., having triumphed over his substance abuse battle, who puts the pedal to the metal and scores the freshest new franchise going.”

“The best superhero movie since Spider-Man 2. Robert Downey Jr is the film’s best special effect.”

“Downey could have taken a tragic tack. But he has fun just figuring out how to make the armor suit work. His sarcasm and almost drunken Tony Curtis body language transform the scenes of Iron Man.”

“In the proficient hands of Jon Favreau, abetted by a magnificent performance by Robert Downey, Jr., not only does Iron Man pay off, but it raises the stakes for comic book movies to follow, as well as the entire summer film season.”

Yet here it is. The cold hard truth that Hollywood studio execs need to read and re-read and learn from:

“Dangerously dependant on Robert Downey Jr. for entertainment. He throws a one-man party during every scene. But when he’s off-screen, the film wilts. (Yes, even with Jeff Bridges’ anti-Dude.) Re-cast, it would only be a shade better than Daredevil.”

Sure, the cgi is impressive, but without the superb casting and directing of Downey, the movie would not have been worth the $10 admission. Something Marvel must have figured out over the last year, when they decided to completely recast the “Hulk” Franchise for the upcoming Hulk sequel (The Incredible Hulk). Not that there was anything wrong with Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, but casting Edward Norton in the role for the sequel is pure genius. Too bad the cg design couldn’t have been overhauled too.

Point: When first rate writers, actors and directors start lending their talents to movies based on comic book/graphic novels and take them seriously (as in “not just a mindless popcorn blockbuster cash cow) they raise the bar and wonderful things happen.

Spiderman 1 and 2.
300
Sin City.
And now Ironman.

Take my point and transpose it onto your brand or your agency’s work: Are you really taking your latest campaign as seriously as you should? Are you really hiring and developing the very best talent you can? Are you as passionate about getting it right and making a splash as you should be? Are you really the brand development geek you could be? Should be? The design geek you should be? The wordsmithing geek you ought to be? The first rate art director you once dreamed of being?

Even if you aren’t being paid like the A-list talent you hope to be, even if you don’t have the fancy title and the cool business card and the cool office, are you really working it like Robert Downey Jr.? Taking an average movie script based on a silly second rate comic book superhero and elevating it to something remarkable, lasting and cool?

Or are you letting the source material, the client, the market or even your paycheck justify an half-assed effort on your part?

Half-assed efforts like Daredevil, Elektra, The Incredible Hulk (1) and X-Men 3, may make money, but they only serve to hurt the Marvel franchise. It’s interesting to see how a studio, director, team of producers or a casting director can impact a brand so quickly: Botch a Marvel superhero movie, and the sum of its franchises starts slipping. Get one right, and the entire portfolio of Marvel franchises suddenly goes up in value. The same is true of Starbucks, Hyatt hotels, Volkswagen, Delta Airlines, or whatever brand or business you can think of: Every customer experience either erodes the value of your brand or elevates it.

Nobody gives a crap if you’ve worked for Miramax, Fox, Disney and Marvel if your projects have all been crap. Professionals rise to the top of their professions by taking even mediocre ideas, products, campaigns and projects, and elevating them to new heights. Period. Nobody is going to hand you a golden egg. They’re going to hand you a heaping pile of steaming crap, and it’s your job to turn it into a work of art. (And a lasting one at that.)

Some might call this alchemy. I call it my job. You call it your job. And that’s what sets some of you apart from the rest. You can actually do this: Turn crap into gold. And people around you know it. (If they don’t, what the hell are you waiting for? Show them!)

What you want to hear from your clients, bosses or audience EVERY SINGLE TIME you deliver a project is this: “I had no idea it would turn out this well.”

And their next breath should sound a lot like a “wow.”

Like many of you reading this blog, Robert Downey Jr. has always had the talent to rise to the very top of his profession. Unlike many of you, however, he didn’t always have the right mental attitude, the right focus, the right amount of professional fortitude to put his tremendous talent to good use. Yet here he is, cleaned up, ready to make up for lost time, making a hell of a comeback, and handing a movie studio (and pop culture) a hell of a gift in the process. If he can pull that kind of comeback, knowing what hell he crawled out of, so can you. Stop half-assing. Stop hiding behind your “company culture,” behind red tape, behind someone else’s crappy work or behind an obtuse boss or client. Just kick ass. Period.

Just

kick

ass.

And go see Ironman. You’ll have fun. Trust me.

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Three words: Incredible.

Don’t read about this movie. Don’t look for teasers or spoilers. Just go see it.

Does Cloverfield live up to the hype? Let me just say this: I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie, and some of the scenes just blew me away. As for the monster, you will see it in all its glory many times,so no worries. In many ways, the way that the movie doesn’t focus on the monster the way you would expect a Godzilla movie to… but still allows you to get your fill is one of its greatest achievements.

This is a hundred times better than a Godzilla movie, by the way. Seriously. From the monster to the characters to the way it is filmed to the way the camera seems to shy away from the brilliant special effects, you will feel like you are in the streets of New York City as it is being inexorably taken apart by a giant sea monster and the US military, and yes, your heart will pound pretty fast at times.

Unlike Snakes on a Plane – which was a case of killer marketing tied to a terrible waste of a movie – Cloverfield concludes months of very effective buzz-making by delivering on its promise. It was actually better than I expected.

So put down that old issue of Fast Company, turn off the TV, and check out local times here. Time for a dinner and a date to a good old monster movie. Good to see they still know how to make them. 😉

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I am always amazed when well-funded and intelligently managed militant organizations on either side of the political, religious, corporate or socioeconomic aisle attempt to thwart the success of a movie, song, book or work of art by giving it more free publicity than it could have ever hoped for… and by doing so, end up ensuring its success.

Where would Madonna be without the legion of pro-family boycotters banding against her? How many of us would have ever heard of the Chocolate Jesus without the noise made by the folks who were so offended by that otherwise insignificant piece of art that they had to tell all the world about it? It goes on and on and on.

The latest installment in the boycott-to-fame saga: The Catholic League vs. New Line’s The Golden Compass. Here is the CL’s official stance on the matter (from their website):

“New Line Cinema and Scholastic Entertainment have paired to produce ‘The Golden Compass,’ a children’s fantasy that is based on the first book of a trilogy by militant English atheist Philip Pullman. The trilogy, His Dark Materials, was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents. Each book becomes progressively more aggressive in its denigration of Christianity and promotion of atheism: The Subtle Knife is more provocative than The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass is the most in-your-face assault on Christian sensibilities of the three volumes.

“Atheism for kids. That is what Philip Pullman sells. It is his hope that ‘The Golden Compass,’ which stars Nicole Kidman and opens December 7, will entice parents to buy his trilogy as a Christmas gift. It is our hope that the film fails to meet box office expectations and that his books attract few buyers. We are doing much more than hoping—we are conducting a nationwide two-month protest of Pullman’s work and the film. To that end, we have prepared a booklet, ‘The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked,’ that tears the mask off the movie.

“It is not our position that the movie will strike Christian parents as troubling. Then why the protest? Even though the film is based on the least offensive of the three books, and even though it is clear that the producers are watering down the most despicable elements—so as to make money and not anger Christians—the fact remains that the movie is bait for the books. To be specific, if unsuspecting Christian parents take their children to see the movie, they may very well find it engaging and then buy Pullman’s books for Christmas. That’s the problem.

“We are fighting a deceitful stealth campaign on the part of the film’s producers. Our goal is to educate Christians so that they know exactly what the film’s pernicious agenda really is.”
Oh please.

Being that I am Catholic myself (hey, nobody’s perfect) I am being bombarded by some of my peers and local Catholic organizations with pro-Catholic/anti-Golden Compass propaganda every single day. That is all these people are talking about. I am getting emails, newsletters, petitions… Seriously. It’s getting old.

As if there weren’t enough other things that the Catholic League could be focusing its attention on – like war, famine, child abuse, corporate fraud, violence against women, poverty, out-of-control Sith lords, whatever the hell is going on with Michael Jackson’s nose… or the Devil, even. He’s still around, right? Causing all sorts of mischief and whatnot? Wouldn’t any of these things be worthier of the Catholic League’s energy and focus than New Line’s release of The Golden Compass?


You would think.

But I digress.

If the Catholic League is really bent on thwarting the success of The Golden Compass‘ release in the US, they are going about it in the worst possible way. Let me explain:

Before Bill Donohue and his army of politically charged minions (none of whom have seen the movie, by the way) decided to start this gi-normous publicity campaign for… err… against The Golden Compass, I wasn’t all that interested in the movie or the books. I figured “oh, this must be another C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia/Harry Potter/Eragon/Lord of the Rings derivative dealio. Whatever.”

I might have been convinced by the family unit to go spend $10 to see it on the big screen, but that would have been it.

Maybe.

But now, thanks to the Catholic League’s unavoidable barrage of warnings against the story’s allegedly venomous anti-Catholic message and pernicious atheist agenda, I have grown curious about not only the movie… but the books as well. I mean really. How dangerous can this fictional yarn be to stir militant Catholics so?

CL President Bill Donohue should feel pretty proud of himself: Thanks to the holy media blitzkrieg he has unleashed upon the United States population, I am now the proud owner of all three books in the trilogy, and have officially started reading The Golden Compass. (It’s actually pretty damn good, and not at all a children’s book – not in the sense that Harry Potter is a children’s book anyway.)

Apparently, I am not alone, as three other parents (accompanied by kids ages 6-15) were in my local B&N’s checkout line to buy at least one of the books this past Sunday when I was there.

I look forward to thumbing my nose at the picket lines protesting the movie at the local multiplex next week when I go see it.

(Please don’t excommunicate me! Pretty please?)

The result of the Catholic League’s brouhaha/boycott/bonehead campaign:

– More attention towards the movie’s release than a two-week volley of primetime TV ads and judiciously placed banner ads – all for free.
– More interest in the source material (the book) that the movie is based on.
– Most likely a significant boost in revenue for both the movie and books compared to a scenario in which the Catholic League had just kept its big clumsy mouth shut.
– And last but not least, a renewed personal interest in the very tasty Nicole Kidman.

(Yes Madam Kidman.)

For an organization so terrified of a series of books that (in its collective mind at least) criticizes the Catholic Church through a fictitious religious dictatorship that exists in an alternate dimension, I just can’t help but wonder if constantly pointing out to every human being within reach of a radio, TV or newspaper that the books’ depiction of that scheming, corrupt, evil theocracy is in fact a direct attack on the Vatican is a good idea. Seems to me that in terms of PR, this sort of strategy actually makes things worse. Not only does it establish a clear link between the fictitious Magisterium and the real Catholic Church, but also firmly cements this connection in western pop culture for the next century or two.

Doh!!!

I could be wrong, but a smarter course of action – if my goal were to try and distance the real Catholic Church’s image from the fictitious Magisterium’s evil ways – would have simply been to say something like: “The books are fiction. They are set in a fantasy world of alternate realities populated by magical creatures and talking bears. The Magisterium obviously has little in common with the Catholic Church or any Catholic institutions: We don’t torture children. Our priests don’t own pet monkeys. You aren’t likely to find Nicole Kidman lookalikes running any Catholic after-school programs. What else is there to say?”

Boycott fantasies aside, making a mountain out of a molehill does exactly that: It takes a tiny little molehill no one cared about and turns it into a mountain no one can miss.

If I were New Line Cinema, I would be writing Bill Donohue and his organization a big fat thank-you check for all the free publicity. (Well… not exactly free. The Catholic League’s 23-page anti-Gold Compass booklet is available for just $5. Hmmm…. The plot thickens.)

As for the rest of you, next time you find yourself wanting to boycott or protest a political speech, an art collection, the construction of a foreign-owned superstore in your backyard or the release of a controversial new product, give some serious thought to the effect that your protest is likely to have on the success of the thing you are speaking against.

Not always, but sometimes, quietly dismissing something works better than attracting a lot of undue attention to it.

… Unless of course, your real agenda has more to do with exploiting every possible media opportunity to raise money and recruit members than actually doing anything.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

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