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Deadpool 2 Is About The Problem With Fandom (Spoilers)

The first Deadpool was a parody of the superhero genre, and so is Deadpool 2 in a lot of ways. But watching the movie recently, I came away with the conclusion that this sequel is more about the superhero genre’s fans, lampooning us and our expectations going into these summer franchise flicks.

To explain this, I took to my trusty YouTube Channel Jon In Theory the other day and rambled into a microphone. It’s not the shortest video, but hopefully some of you will find it interesting. This is less of a review and more of a spoiler analysis from the perspective of someone a bit mixed on the film.

Go on…Deadpool 2 Is About The Problem With Fandom (Spoilers)

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Solo: a Star Wars Story – Review and Spoiler-Free Analysis

Going into Solo: a Star Wars Story, I had my own fair share of reservations due to production shakeups and even the very idea of this movie. Maybe you’ve heard this before: “No one asked for a Han Solo movie.” “Disney is ruining Star Wars.” “Jon Negroni’s YouTube channel is a disgrace.”

All of these points are valid, but for me, Solo happens to be a genuinely satisfying summer movie, and even one worth analyzing. In the video above, I give a spoiler-free review and analysis of the movie, spending most of my time discussing my personal baggage with Han as a character in the original trilogy, plus a lot of what you can expect overall from his adventurous origin story.

Go on…Solo: a Star Wars Story – Review and Spoiler-Free Analysis

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Isn’t Really A Remake Of A New Hope

force awakens

Every so often, a fan theory comes along to remind us how good fan theories can actually be when the work and time is put into them. Less than a year ago, EC Henry composed what I believe to be a masterful breakdown of The Force Awakens that (dare I say it) makes the movie just a little bit better.

Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens a remake of the original Star Wars (A New Hope)? I’ve always considered the movie to borrow voraciously from that original film, while also lifting plenty from the other two parts of the trilogy. But many reviewers like myself have talked ourselves breathless about how TFA features yet another “droid on the run” story with Death Stars, cantinas, and a modest chosen one.

But in EC Henry’s video essay below, the case is made that TFA is really a “creative remix” of the original trilogy, and there’s a strikingly good reason for this that might shed light on the future of the entire franchise. I’ll unpack the theory below (with some of my own observations), but here’s the quick 3-minute breakdown.

As EC Henry points out, nearly all of the similarities between TFA and A New Hope occur in the first act of both movies. BB-8’s story is parallel to R2D2’s, and we’re on a barren planet that slowly reveals our hero, Rey, who is reminiscent of Luke in some ways.

The Millennium Falcon departing Jakku, followed by meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, is where the first act in TFA ends (roughly), which mirrors the end of the first act in A New Hope, when Luke meets Han and departs Tatooine aboard the same ship. Henry also implies that Greedo and Han’s antagonism is mirrored with Han’s confrontation with the mercenaries aboard the freighter.

At this point, TFA’s second act starts to mirror the second half of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a monster-in-space encounter (Rathtars in place of the asteroid worm) followed by Han deciding to visit an old friend (Maz Kanata as a fill-in for Lando Calrissian). We also see Kylo contacting Snoke in the same way Vader contacts Palpatine.

To save for time, TFA converges the Luke/Dagobah subplot with the Cloud City subplot. Rey goes to a mysterious planet and learns more about her origins and destiny with Maz pulling double duty as a fill-in for Yoda. And just like in Empire, the villains show up to wreck things. Rey is defeated by Kylo Ren (a la Luke and Vader’s first fight) and is captured, similar to how Han is taken away by Boba Fett.

force awakens

From here, TFA mirrors the third act of Return of the Jedi. The Rebels/Resistance meet to discuss their rescue plan and discover “another Deathstar.” The story breaks in two with ground forces on Starkiller Base trying to break down the shields and Rogue Squadron attacking from space, just as the Battle of Endor had two fronts. There’s an epic lightsaber battle happening as the space assault reaches its climax, with the Jedi using fury to overwhelm the Sith (Rey slicing Kylo is quite similar to Luke taking down Vader).

As Henry also points out, there are exceptions to this where small elements of the original trilogy are mirrored throughout (the catwalk scene, for example), but there certainly seems to be a primary structure in place that combines all of the movies in a coherent way. But what’s the point? Why would Lucasfilm do a creative remix like this at all?

The expectations for TFA were always going to be astronomically high, so the strategy here makes some sense. Add all of the nostalgic fan service to TFA as a tribute in order to gain credibility for this new trilogy, so the next two movies can unfold in more creatively bold ways that aren’t enslaved to the source material. Put more simply: they started with a look at the past and ended with a strong look toward the future.

And in one strange way, TFA is basically the movie George Lucas intended to make in the 1970s. Rather than a trilogy, he envisioned the entire arc of Star Wars to be told in a single movie. TFA essentially fulfills that vision and authorial intent, so as someone who had a lot of problems with the film, I’m finding myself appreciating it more for what it manages to accomplish in light of what couldn’t have been done 40 years ago.

Did I miss anything? Add some of your own observations below. And if you like this essay, be sure to subscribe to EC Henry’s channel, and consider supporting him on Patreon for more great videos.


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For Now, Rey From ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Is Not A Great Character

rey

No one can deny that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a huge win for Lucasfilm and Disney. It delivered on years of cautious hype with a solid movie that made an egregious amount of money for the studio.

Fans loved it. The critics loved it. Even the harshest criticisms lobbed at the movie (like a plot eerily similar to previous Star Wars films) are typically considered nitpicks, not deal breakers.

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A lot of this has to do with how TFA pleased both fans of the old movies and fans of what could happen next. Han Solo had a substantial role, along with Chewbacca and Princess Leia. And future movies promise to expand Luke’s story even further. But TFA also unveiled the next generation of Star Wars, and rightly so. Topped off with one character in particular who seems to be on everyone’s mind when talking about their favorite character in the movie: Rey.

Well, who is Rey?

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A lot of the discussion around TFA, which I’ve taken part in quite a bit myself, centers around who Rey really is within the context of the Star Wars mythology. Most people are convinced she just has to be connected to someone we know, whether it be the Skywalkers, Solos, or even Jyn Erso from the upcoming anthology movie, Rogue One. For a lot of fans, it isn’t enough to speculate that she could be wholly new, and that’s mostly because TFA suggests many times through dialogue and specific story moments that this might not be the case. Specifically, Rey touches Luke’s lightsaber and immediately envisions the past and future places connected to the Skywalker relic, even hearing Obi-Wan address her by name.

These secrets are likely to be uncovered in next year’s sequel and beyond, so I want to get away from all the theories (aside from how obvious it seems to me that Supreme Leader Snoke is Ezra from Star Wars Rebels) and settle on just one question about Rey: is she really a great character?

She’s likable, obviously, and we can list off plenty of traits that make her fun and entertaining to watch. But is she a well-written character…or a boring one?

I suspect most people reading this believe the former. And that’s probably because it’s wrong to say Rey is boring. The film’s most thrilling moments certainly revolve around her and how she reacts to various problems around her. She starts off as an incredibly resourceful person and becomes increasingly competent over the course of the film, which is pretty common for a lot of exciting characters we like in all types of stories.

So before we go any further…

What makes a character “great” in the first place?

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Evaluating a character’s quality is definitely subjective, but we can choose acceptable criteria to make a case for why any given character is good or bad. The key is to weigh that criteria against the context of the movie. 007, for example, is supposed to be a character who undergoes very little character change (at least, before the Craig movies), even though we expect most of our protagonists to go on some sort of dramatic, life-changing journey, where the climax involves that character making a personal choice or discovery that wins the day.

For that reason, some people consider 007 to be a weak character who’s still pretty fun to watch, because the movie surrounding him focuses more on how thrilling it is to observe someone competent solving tough problems in an interesting way. Other prominent protagonists, like Bruce Wayne, are considered great characters because they do undergo great character change that connects with their backstory, the antagonist, and how it all comes together in the climax. It’s this cohesion in storytelling that makes for a compelling character, rather than a somewhat average one.

So it is for Rey, from TFA. She undergoes a character change, to be certain, but what holds her back from being a great character is the fact that her motivations, backstory, relationships, and climactic choice are scattered, poorly-defined, and often contradictory, as we’ll get into. Most of these problems are because of the storytelling, of course, not Ridley’s performance or, as it bears repeating:

Not being “boring” doesn’t make a character great.

rey

From the moment she’s introduced, it’s clear that Rey can take care of herself quite easily, and she’s naturally talented at a lot of relevant things that become natural obstacles as the movie goes on. It’s not boring because we enjoy watching a well-rounded character solve problems that reference their backstory, which TFA pulls off pretty early on. For example, she figures out how to fly the Millennium Falcon rather quickly and even fixes things Han Solo can’t, not just because the plot demands it, but because she’s spent her life scavenging old ships on Jakku and presumably knows how they work.

The same applies to a lot of skills Rey picks up over the movie. She becomes adept at using complicated Force moves without any training, and that includes the mind trick, resisting Kylo’s influence, and summoning the lightsaber out of the snow. In fact, there’s little reason to believe she’s actually observed anyone doing the things she learns how to do on her own. She’s just good at it because…she’s good at it.

And that’s not a bad thing. Not all by itself.

We can reason why she’s good at fighting, certainly, and how she manages to just barely defeat an injured Kylo Ren (even though she was losing for most of the fight). And like other movies with equally tough characters like Furiosa from Mad Max, the movie doesn’t spend time trying to explain why Rey is capable. You accept it because the main character of a movie should be unrealistically talented. It would be a bore, otherwise.

Why Rey is Rey.

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It’s probably safe to say that Rey is the way she is because Lawrence Kasdan wanted her to differ greatly from Luke Skywalker, a noticeably more whiny and doe-eyed character by comparison. In the original trilogy, Luke struggled a lot on his path to becoming a Jedi. In the first film, he only has one meaningful encounter with the Force, and it’s the climax of the movie. He famously turns off the targeting computer and finally trusts in the Force to destroy the Death Star. It’s a great moment because it’s the end result of a character journey that started with a simple fascination in something mysterious.

Kasdan went another route with Rey in order to shake things up, but I’m not sure if it’s quite as well thought out, as much as I appreciate the intent. Rey is an awesome role model for kids because she’s strong, bold, and unrestrained by outdated gender stereotypes (which the movie goes out of its way to address, perhaps for the sake of the audience).

She makes for a good audience surrogate, same as Luke, because she’s spent so much of her life away from the current events of the Star Wars universe, though the movie doesn’t treat her as a fish-out-of-water type who spends most of the movie discovering new things and asking questions.

Unfortunately, though, Rey is mostly a character of don’tsAs if the writers crafted her in a reactionary way, not a thoughtful one, obsessed with ensuring she wasn’t just another Luke, just another cliche, or just another helpless “chosen one” who relies on others until the very last moment. This isn’t a criticism, necessarily, but it can explain why some people walk away from her character feeling somewhat cold, even though they like the idea of Rey and what she truly represents for the future of Star Wars (someone different and full of potential).

But there’s another major problem.

Rey is too incomplete, and she shouldn’t be.

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It’s hard for me to admit this, but there’s not much substance to Rey’s journey as a scavenger turned would-be Padawan. Her character change amounts to the secrets of her past that prevent her from wanting to fully commit to adventure with newfound family. This would make for a great story if these secrets were at least somewhat teased to let us understand why Rey was abandoned, or why she’s so eager to reconnect with the people of her past, rather than feel the appropriate resentment for them.

Instead of these types of revelations, TFA relies on references from previous movies and hints of what’s to come in order to fill in the blanks, and Rey’s story gets somewhat lost in the shuffle of supporting characters and cameos, which is dangerous for your lead character. At no point do we understand why she has affection for her family because she never really talks about them, and the movie doesn’t either. It’s a hollow motivation, as a result, especially since Rey is supposed to be our eyes and ears throughout the movie, at least when Finn isn’t.

And all of this is hurt by the fact that we already have to make guesses for why Rey is a good person, too, because her circumstances suggest she shouldn’t be quite so righteous. The obvious answer seems to be that she does remember life before being dropped on Jakku, which is a life that might have been full of love and warmth that shaped her. We need that context to understand the character now, but it was set aside for franchise purposes, and we instead had to focus on the growing excellence of Rey in the present.

Again, it’s just fine for a lead character of any movie to be unrealistically exceptional. Harry Potter is a good example of this, but mostly because that story centers around Potter’s unwillingness to be noted as extraordinary, due to the pain of that fame being associated with the loss of his parents. Rey puts on a tough front, in comparison, and we never get that moment of vulnerability aside from flashbacks that briefly display a snapshot of how she was abandoned, with nothing close to an explanation or exploration of these ideas.

Back to Harry Potter, it was good for those books to not tell us everything all at once, but at least in that story, we understood the basics: Harry Potter is the boy who lived, famous for ending Voldemort’s rise to power. There’s nothing comparable to that in TFA, aside from the overt: the Force has awakened through Rey for unknown reasons.

Come on, not even short stories are that thin.

With Rey, we only know that she was abandoned as a child and is somehow a “Force” of nature. Characters briefly suggest that they know who she is or question who she is, but nothing is made of her place in the universe, which I think is a misguided plan. The filmmakers want us to endlessly speculate and come up with theories, but the end result is that none of these theories feel right. Because we have very little information to go on.

Rey will probably be a “great” character later. Maybe.

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This is probably enough for some fans, but not for me. I like Rey because of Daisy Ridley’s performance, her iconic look, and how different she seems. But I can’t say she’s a well-written character because there’s just too much lacking for the sake of teasing future movies. If it takes a sequel to change my mind on this, then that’s a tragedy of storytelling.

We didn’t need three movies to relate with Luke Skywalker or understand his motivations. Yes, he evolved over the trilogy, but in one movie, we were able to wrap our heads around his values and the stakes of this universe. There was already an ultimate antagonist tied to his journey, as well—a seemingly insurmountable danger that he needed to face one day. TFA holds back a lot of these details, like what the First Order really is and the relationship between Rey, the Resistance, the Republic, and so on.

The sad thing is that it only takes a basic shuffling of information to get Rey’s arc on the right track. Unlike Luke, Rey appears to have had a more isolated and less loving childhood, which is why she doesn’t trust easily in the first act, at least for a time. This entire character trait is eventually dropped as the movie brings her together with Finn, Han Solo, and Chewie, whom she forms quick bonds with (more on that, later).

Going even further, it’s strange that Kylo trying to probe her mind doesn’t seem to evoke true bitterness from her, even though it’s a clear violation of her independent personality. The movie instead sets up dramatic weight by killing off Han Solo right in front of her, which is undercut by her initial reaction to run away again (a smart move, nonetheless).

Rey is flawed, but the movie forgets that.

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I’m convinced that a movie can be great when the main character starts off capable and only gets better. But they need relevant character flaws to make the journey interesting and believable. Rey’s flaws are purely superficial and reactionary, saved only by a fluid performance from Ridley. She shows genuine fear during dangerous situations, and there’s clear self-doubt on her face as she gets to know the galaxy and eventually runs away from her destiny (the Force).

In short, she’s definitely reckless, and the odd thing is that movie rewards this flaw more often than it brings upon real consequences (like when she tries to help Han and accidentally frees the Rathtars, which ends up working better than her initial plan). When Rey acts before thinking, it almost always works out for her, save for when Kylo initially knocks her out in the ending forest scene, before she acts recklessly again and starts to fight him. And she uses this flaw to ultimately beat him, going after him without any meditation or introspection, just her own willingness to exude the Force.

The problem is that flaws like these only work when they run counter to a character’s key strengths. Otherwise, it feels like the character is unrealistically protected by the writers, when they should instead come off as vulnerable with room to grow. In the case of Rey’s recklessness, they’re one in the same because she benefits a lot from acting without thinking throughout the movie, so the climax doesn’t present any sort of personal challenge for her to grapple with. Fortunately, this isn’t the only major flaw we see with Rey. The other more prominent one is her loneliness.

Rey grew up alone and had to fight for everything she has, living day-to-day in a merciless existence. We like her because she’s still very human after all this, showing she has an innate righteousness, down to when she decides to help BB-8, rather than sell him off for food. But this pivotal moment (Rey choosing to help people) isn’t rounded out well by her flaw of feeling lonely and wanting to reconnect with her true family. It’s really only the beginning of an interesting character arc that the movie forgets about, or at the very least decides to put off until the sequel.

Specifically, she contradicts her flaw of loneliness constantly throughout the movie, because she’s quick to help others in lieu of remaining on Jakku to wait for her family. There’s a conflict, certainly, between the attachment she has for her new friends and the unseen family she sometimes references. There’s no “turning off the targeting computer” moment for Rey because she never really makes this choice in earnest. She’s captured and eventually tries to run away again, only to get hunted by Kylo before ultimately defeating him. There’s no personal challenge she has to overcome, aside from embracing the Force, which she had already done well before the battle with Kylo.

The main point, though, is that despite the fact that Rey has interesting, even intriguing character flaws, the movie fails to serve up a story that actually puts them to the test against the things she’s good at. There’s a kernel of a rounded out character here, where her independence should clash with her decision to rely on others, including the Force, but we see too much of the opposite occurring as well.

The fact is, Rey’s character doesn’t make much sense.

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It’s these exact contradictions that makes Rey seem less compelling than she should. Ditching the base instead of getting revenge for Han’s death lines up nicely with the Rey we met in the first act, who looks out for herself first and foremost. But the entire middle of the movie sets her up as someone who wants to help and make sacrifices, especially against her own interests, until an encounter with the lightsaber convinces her to run off yet again, because all of a sudden she wants no part of what’s happening…even though right before that, she pleads with Finn to help the Resistance, rather than flee.

If the movie was following an intelligent trajectory, then this would mean Rey’s final test would be to stand up to Kylo instead of running way, which the movie almost does, but actually too late. She and Finn flee into the forest, until Kylo finds them. Then Rey stands up to him, calling him a murderer for killing his own father. She tries to fight with a blaster, but Kylo stops her easily. Then she stands up to him again to save Finn, only this time using the Force.

This is the problem. The movie wants Rey to have the same “turn off the trajectory computer” moment that Luke Skywalker has in A New Hope, even though this character development doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. The only moment she hesitates to use the Force is when she touches Luke’s lightsaber, but it’s not established why she’d be averse to using the Force at all (only speculation). Then it “awakens” in her, and she uses it with full confidence and without hesitation. So her grabbing the lightsaber in the forest falls completely flat as a dramatic moment (just a “cool” one), and it’s a result of intertextual plotting instead of meaningful character writing.

Her victory over Kylo should have been a battle of willpower, because that is how their characters were set up over the course of the film, with Kylo having the training, but none of the mental discipline, while Rey has the exact opposite. She should have won by outsmarting him, because that would have been surprising and developed from previous learning. There’s even an entire scene that shows just how much more competent she is than him mentally, but the movie tries to posit that she wins simply because of a stronger connection the Force, which is an unnecessary and yes, boring, path to victory.

And all of this can be so easily fixed that it’s painful to point any of it out. For example, when Rey performs the mind trick on the stormtrooper, it would be far more dramatic and compelling if she sensed it might be wrong for her to do this, as someone who detests being controlled and manipulated might hate the idea of using the Force. That would certainly set up why she would hesitate to use it as a weapon at all, until finally accepting who she is in order to save Finn and eventually seek out Luke.

Instead, Rey jumps at the chance to use the Force to get inside someone’s head so she can escape, and it makes for weak character development and a missed opportunity based on what’s already present in the script. In fact, it’s really just confusing because there’s no mention of this ability throughout the movie to create context for how Rey knows what the mind trick even is. The movie simply has her fail two times and then get it exactly right (a running theme in the movie), though to the film’s credit, they masked this well by subverting the scene into something humorous.

Wrapping Up

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I don’t hate this movie, and I certainly don’t hate any these characters (some of them being far worse than Rey for similar reasons). But Rey is too cool a character concept for such a lopsided script.

Abrams has always been great at concepting characters that people like and want to get behind, but he’s often struggled at setting up believable paths for them to go on (see Lost). I have to believe that the fascination we have for Rey—especially concerning those final moments between her and Luke—have more to do with empty cliffhanger teasing and less to do with a natural evolution of a truly great character.

Is she a good character? I certainly think there’s room to suggest that based on the various positives noted above. And it’s off-base to call her a bad character simply for not being close to perfect. But the incomplete nature of her arc leads me to believe she’s inconsistent and incomplete at the moment, which is a travesty. I believe she should be more than great. She should and hopefully will be revolutionary.


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Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Retronalysis: ‘Dazed and Confused’ Ruined Teen Comedies in the Best Way Possible

dazed and confused

Before there was boyhood, Richard Linklater was dazed and confused, transplanting his own experiences as an angsty teenager growing up in 1976 onto the big screen.

So what works in Dazed in Confused has a lot more to do with Linklater himself than the admirable cast, as it was the 90s comedy that undermined all of the others that came after it (peaking at Can’t Hardly Wait and perhaps Not Another Teen Movie). Dazed dashed the plot heavy drama-fests of the 80s and replaced them with a heart even Breakfast Club would fist bump, cementing itself as one of the first true cult classics of its decade.

That’s not to say people were ready for this movie in 1993. Though it captures many of the typical aesthetics that accompanied teen comedies at the time, Dazed approached both the spiritual highs and lows of being a kid during that era, or any era if you grew up with a good taste in music and loved to wander around without a GPS.

The film centers around a group of seniors on their last day of high school; going to parties, pool halls, and overall just getting into trouble. The movie addresses the fact that while these many teenagers we see engage in obvious behavior (sex, drugs, and rock and roll), not much of what they say or do actually means anything.

dazed and confused

And most of them seem to honestly get that. It’s one of the most honest coming of age films of all time, if only for addressing just how empty adolescence can feel when you’re trying to reflect back on it, putting your hopes and wishes onto the relationships that were either forced by proximity or brought on by a mixture of hormones and chemical substances.

…if I ever say these were the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.

– Pink

Rather than place the weight of its characterization on massive set pieces, such as a sudden tragedy, failed romance, or name your trope, Dazed hedged its emotion on small moments of dialogue between relatable characters. Is it any wonder that a 90s stoner movie centered around 70s in-jokes strikes a chord with everyone else?

Amidst all of its disheartening observations on life is some fun, though. The humor of Dazed is competent enough to lend weight to its softer touches. Wooderson (played by a young Matthew McConaughey), is probably the film’s most humorous character, while also the most pathetic — being a guy in his 20s who still hangs out with high schoolers.

He’s also one of the few characters who doesn’t go through his own rite of passage (and for good reason). Throughout the film, we observe how each character either wins or loses based on some arbitrary contests that range from freshmen hazing to full-on brawls. Wooderson is the only character who sees through their prideful bragging. As a surrogate for Linklater himself, Wooderson understands how always wanting what’s next (more girls, leaving high school, etc.) is almost as unsatisfying as actually getting it.

Grade: A-

Everybody Wants Some, Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, opens in limited release this weekend. It’s set in Austin, Texas like Dazed, but this time focusing on college students in the early 80s. It will hit wide release on April 15th.


Thanks for reading this! You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

Retronalysis: Sacha Baron Cohen is the Only Great Thing About ‘Borat’

sacha baron cohen borat

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan as an important movie because of its popularity (as well as the length of that subtitle). Not that anything is wrong with being popular, it’s just tempting in hindsight to attribute the movie’s success more to controversy, rather than the movie being as funny as it is.

What originated as an afterthought to Cohen’s more popular character at the time, Ali G, “Borat” as a character found huge success on the big screen as an eccentric reporter who acts in character around real people. Most of what makes Borat funny is the give and take between Cohen and his real-time American costars, who think he really is an offensive man from Kazakhstan (much to that country’s disdain).

In 2006, it was still unpopular to satire perceived greatness of America (Newsroom wouldn’t upend this accepted belief for several years). Yet Borat struck a chord with audiences on both sides of the political spectrum for how accessible its jokes were without polarizing one side. Then again, you don’t have to be either conservative or liberal to think stuffing Pamela Anderson in a wedding sack is funny.

And that’s perhaps because the embarrassment of Americans on the street aspect of the film is joined by some more neutral observations of blue-collar folk. The fact that these people are sometimes polite to a fault when dealing with foreigners says just as much about America as what they get offended by.

sacha baron cohen borat

Cohen himself does some of his best work here, and just off the success of his character in one of Will Farrell’s best films, Talladega Nights. His performance and commitment to his persona is obviously impressive, but that’s not even mentioning the rapid-fire wit he brings to the movie, even during some of the staged scenes.

Because of this, I find it nearly impossible to peg the movie’s genius on any one thing. The jokes are hilarious, but in the least impressive way. Cohen is a smarter actor here than I think he gets credit for, but that might only be a result of how dumb everything is around him.

Without much of a plot to bring into the discussion, that just leaves the concept itself to decide whether or not Borat truly is one of the most essential comedies of the new millennium. Based on that criteria, I hesitate to make that assumption, especially considering how lackluster Cohen’s followups have been since. While it’s unfair to judge Borat on any of his other films, it’s still helpful to hold them up as proof that Borat isn’t quite the masterpiece we thought it would be ten years ago.

Grade: B

I won’t be catching Brothers Grimsby (or just Grimsby) this weekend, but we’ll no doubt cover the movie in this week’s podcast. Since The Dictator, I’ve all but given up on Cohen’s comedy, despite the fact that the man is one of the smartest comedians out there if you’re not judging this by his work alone.


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Snarcasm: Disney is Eating Pixar’s Lunch

disney pixar

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read.

This week’s Snarcasm will be a tad different and (dare I say it) a little more serious than usual. Rather than take down one of the worst articles on the Internet (which have been nothing but fan theories lately), I’m addressing some fear, uncertainty, and doubt crisscrossing the world of animation.

And it really needs to stop.

See, I’m all for criticizing Pixar when they deserve it (see Cars 2 and the third act of Brave). They’re not perfect, and we can all agree that mistakes were made in how they executed their latest feature, The Good Dinosaur.

But the groupthink has been reaching a bizarre consensus lately that ignores the triumph of Inside Out and yes, the underrated value offered by The Good Dinosaur. It seems that some people want  Pixar to be taken down a notch in the public eye because Disney Animation has been killing it lately with computer animated hits like TangledFrozen, and Big Hero 6.

disney pixar

Is that fair? Let’s dig in.

Germain Lussier at io9 writes:

Walt Disney Animation is Officially as Good as Pixar Now

Look, I know that the tagline for io9 is “Welcome to the Future,” but that doesn’t mean we can just skip ahead to a time period that doesn’t exist.

And I know that the last few movies made by Disney’s own animation studio have been big hits, but has anyone actually considered Big Hero 6 or Frozen to be better than Inside Out? Let’s read what Lussier has to say.

For several years, Pixar’s animated films made Pixar’s parent company, Disney, look good. And meanwhile, Disney’s own in-house animation studio was going through a rough patch—the company wasn’t making the kind of films people expected from Walt Disney’s namesake.

Lussier goes on to explain how most people don’t even realize that Pixar and Disney are separate entities. But a key thing he points out is that Pixar has long made their own movies outside of Disney’s control (even after Disney bought them).

just as Disney was releasing all those Pixar hits, Disney Animation—a branch of the company with one of the most amazing resumes in film history—was still releasing its own films. Films that usually, and unfortunately, were much less memorable.

These movies include decent but forgettable flicks, such as Meet the RobinsonsBoltThe Princess and the Frog, and other “nice tries.”

disney pixar

It took lots of time, effort, blood, sweat and tears—but with films like Frozen, Big Hero 6 and next month’s new film Zootopia, Walt Disney Animation Studios has finally done the impossible: It’s regained its former glory and can easily share the animation throne with Pixar.

First off, Zootopia hasn’t even come out yet. Lussier caught a screening and gave it high praise later in this article, but we have to just assume that his opinion will match everyone else’s. We’ll revisit this later.

But fine, let’s “welcome the future” and assume that Zootopia will be as good as the trailers make it look. Are FrozenBig Hero 6, and Zootopia enough to take this “animation throne?” And “easily” as he claims?

Lussier is at least half correct from a box office standpoint. Obviously, Frozen made tons of money well out of the reach of Pixar movies. But I hesitate to consider cold, hard cash other people have earned to be a reason for liking a movie.

And to be honest, I don’t even want to compare these movies because they’re so incredibly different. For one thing, Pixar movies are original, unique concept movies that make you fall in love with seemingly mundane yet lovable characters. Disney works to be more accessible with glossy characters and environments that are beautiful from the onset because they’re often derived from pre-existing stories. As a result they usually feel more like pretty art instead of affecting art.

I’m here to tell you things are just getting better. Last week, I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Disney Animation’s latest film, Zootopia.It’s the best film Disney Animation has made in 20 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely hope that Lussier is right about this because that’s great news for everyone. But watch what happens next.

Not only is it a film worthy of Pixar, it’s light years ahead of Pixar’s most recent movie, The Good Dinosaur.

Frequent readers know that I completely, absolutely disagree, considering The Good Dinosaur was my second favorite film of 2015 and one of the few films I gave an A+ last year. And while plenty of people agree with Lussier’s sentiment, many also find The Good Dinosaur to be an underrated gem like I do.

disney pixar

And then he says this about Zootopia:

Now, is it as good as Pixar at its best? Inside Out or Toy Story good? No, probably not.

Wait, let me get this straight. Disney Animation’s best film in 20 years isn’t as good as one of Pixar’s most recent movies?

Do you see why I chose this article for Snarcasm? It’s obviously well written, and Lussier is a very smart person. But for whatever reason, people are making grand conclusions about the quality of Pixar based on very slim arguments. If the best Disney animation movie isn’t even better than Inside Out, then how can you even argue that the studio itself is “just as good?”

Lussier seems to be basing his argument on the fact that he thinks The Good Dinosaur sucks, but that’s just one movie. And he’s also saying that the pinnacle of Disney isn’t as good as the best of the Pixar movies. So why say they are easily just as good?

I guess it frustrates me because Inside Out proved so well that Pixar hasn’t slipped the way so many people claimed they would over the last few years. And now we’re already hearing the narrative that Disney Animation is getting better while they’re getting worse, and it’s just bonkers.

And yet even with all that, there are other factors in play here too. Disney Animation and Pixar now create films in the same way, and share creative resources, so the two balancing out makes sense.

Pixar movies and Disney Animation movies aren’t even remotely similar. Can you honestly say that Frozen and Tangled are legitimately made like Pixar movies? These are fairy tales that are built up on source material. Wreck-It Ralph comes closer, but it also relies on a huge list of existing entities to make its video game world come to life. And Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel Comic of all things.

disney pixar

Well, loosely.

Meanwhile, Pixar creates entire worlds. They make you feel for rats, monsters, and even the very idea of emotions. Their creativity is absolutely unmatched when they’re at their best. Even The Good Dinosaur pushes animation itself in ways Disney has barely touched (aside from Big Hero 6) with effects shots and photorealistic landscapes that actually contribute to the narrative.

They may be in the same sport, but Disney and Pixar are in two very different ballparks.

Plus Pixar’s films were so successful in the past, Pixar’s begun to make more and more sequels (Monsters University recently, plus Finding Dory, Cars 3, Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2 coming soon)

Just keep in mind that Pixar has only made one lackluster sequel. We still don’t know if they can pull off another Toy Story 2, but I’d bet money that Incredibles and Finding Nemo are worthy of the challenge. Lussier sort of points this out as well and even makes the case that Disney is also making sequels for its popular movies with Frozen 2.

But none of that changes this basic fact: From a time when Pixar was ruling everything and Disney Animation Studios was making Treasure Planet and Home on the Range, things have once again aligned. Disney has not only gotten back to the high bar of quality set by Pixar, but that of its namesake, too.

I agree that Disney is back on track when it comes to recapturing its former glory, and Pixar’s own John Lasseter is a key reason why this is happening (Lussier also points this out). But the idea that Disney is somehow on the same level because they’ve made a few good movies in a row is a gut reaction, not a careful analysis. Pixar consistently makes superb, excellent movies, while Disney Animation makes good, sometimes great movies.

disney pixar

And if you don’t agree, then just try to tell me which current Disney movie even comes close to matching Toy StoryIncredibles, Finding NemoUp, and now Inside Out. Because not even Lussier could seem to do that.

One of these days I need to put together a full analysis on The Good Dinosaur and why I consider it to be vastly better than it gets credit for. While I’m not worried about Pixar’s foreseeable future because of the box office failure of that movie, it hurts to know that a movie with so much effort put into it is being considered worse than movies that are, at their core, deceptively generic.

At any rate, I’ll be seeing Zootopia for myself at a screening next week, and despite everything we just talked about, I couldn’t be more excited. Isn’t it great to know that both Disney and Pixar are putting their best efforts into animation right now?

Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

 

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