Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Movie Round-Up: Monsters University and Much Ado About Nothing

As you know, I go see a lot of movies. I've only met a handful of people that like movies even a teensy bit as much as me. I saw some movies this weekend. I will now talk about them. This is:


I know that this movie has been out for a while, but I have a reason for why I didn't see it earlier:  I have a general policy for prequels--they are unnecessary and can hurt rather than help movie franchises.  You need only look as far as the Star Wars prequels to get an idea of how terribly these things can go.  RedLetterMedia does an awesome breakdown of not just the failures of the prequels as movies, but their failures in relation with the rest of the series.  And even the X-Men prequels, hit and miss as they've been, have wound up messing up the continuity of the series pretty severely.

Needless to say, when it was announced the Monsters, Inc. was getting a prequel...I was not exactly enthused.  If I can be blunt, it down right pissed me off.  All of the advertisements for the film completely baffled me.  The direction they chose to take, the story they chose to tell...their reasoning didn't make any sense.

The prequel is about a young Mike Wazowski.  From childhood, he has had one dream:  he wants to grow up to be the greatest Scarer in all the land.  To do so, he studies hard, which eventually pays off in him getting accepted to his dream school, Monsters University, where he chooses to major in Scaring.

And that's the entire movie.  The entire movie is Mike Wazowski's struggle to become top Scarer, going so far as the join the Scare Games on campus to try to prove he's the best there is.

Now, do you want to guess what problem I have?

WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!!!  We know Mike and Sully eventually become friends.  We know that they both get to work for Monsters, Inc.  And, the worst thing, we know that Mike DOESN'T become a Scarer.  He's not a Scarer in Monsters, Inc.  In fact, he's pretty small potatoes considering he mostly just changes out Sully's Scream Containment Tubes.  He's constantly shunned by the world at large.  The running joke in Monsters, Inc. is that he keeps getting obstructions plastered over his face, even when he's technically getting awards and praise:  the corporate logo, bar codes, advertisements.  And they continue that joke (or I guess... retroactively originate that joke, since this takes place before the other one...?) in Monsters University.

This movie is very much Wazowski's movie, whereas the other one was very much Sully's movie.  And I appreciate that.  However, it ruins basically any tension you might have because, regardless of what happens, you know that he's not going to succeed.  Somehow, regardless of what happens in this film, he will NOT be a Scarer at Monsters, Inc.  He will simply be an assistant to Sully.

So that's my major complaint with the plot: like almost all prequels, this one is pointless.  However, upon thinking about the film's worldbuilding and the stuff they establish in both this movie and the original, I got to thinking about the world at large and what this film means in relation to its predecessor/sequel.

Bear with me here.  With what follows, I'm well aware that you could say I'm overanalyzing things and that these are "just children's movies" okay?  But hear me out.

In Monsters, Inc. we learn that the world is powered by the screams of children--a clever way to introduce to the audience a spin on the old trope that monsters scare kids--which we all know that.  But why?  Because it provides them with energy for electricity and power.  Because of that, we don't have any problem with them being the protagonists of the film.  They're not evil, it's just their job. 

However, we also learn by the end of that film that they were all operating under a dangerous and truly malicious misconception that had been perpetuated by the higher ups in the corporation.  They discover that the idea that children's touch is toxic was just a scare tactic by their corporate leaders the children.  AND they learned that while children's screams were powerful, children's laughter was even more so.  It provided a nice moral to kids:  even if doing bad things can benefit you, doing nice things for others instead will always mean things are better for everyone.

This movie turns the clock back.  An entire university is dedicated to the perpetuation of gathering energy based on the suffering of others.  And unlike in the previous film, which made the actions somewhat forgivable because we thought there was no other way to gather energy, in this film, we KNOW there is, making the whole thing very uncomfortable when you give it some thought.  Every success they have, they are continuing to perpetuate a harmful culture that is disreputed by the end of the original film.

In addition, all of the training and work that both monsters put in is rendered completely moot because you know they'll shift their industry by the end of Monsters, Inc.  In a way, this kind of works, as Mike Wazowski will eventually become a success; however, it will be in a completely different thing than what he has always dreamed of, and it will be after he's spent years studying theory and mechanics that are completely obsolete by the end of the original film.

Again, it makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience when everything that happens in the prequel is proven false in the following film.  It takes away from the tension.


I liked this movie.  Quite a bit.

I know, I know.  I just spent a shit ton of words ripping this movie a new one, but Pixar is damned good at telling a story.  And while I dislike prequels, and I did spend large portions of this movie wondering what the point of it all was, I don't think you'll regret seeing it.  Let me put it this way: Pixar is aware of Mike Wazowski's situation in Monster's, Inc., and they certainly paint an interesting and unexpected way for him to get there.

That doesn't fix all of my complaints, and I certainly don't like this movie as much as the original, but I was very pleasantly surprised with this film.  I enjoyed it WAY more than I thought I would, and I actually recommend seeing it.  Sure, you know where the story will end up, but the way it gets there is just surprising enough to make the trip worth it anyway.

(By the way, I wonder how copyright law and trademarking works in this world.  I mean, I assumed that Monsters University and Monsters, Inc. were affiliated, but the film doesn't imply that they are.  They seem to be two separate things that both use not only the same name, i.e. "Monsters," but also the same logo--the letter M with an eyeball in it.  If that's the case, could one sue the other for using their logo illegally despite not being affiliated?  Or is Monsters University a subsidiary of Monsters, Inc like DeVry University is a subsidiary of DeVry, Inc?  DeVry University is a for-profit university, and those things are shady at best, and pretty goddamned horrible at worst, so does that mean that Monsters University is also a for-profit school?  Because that opens up a whole new can of worms.)

The second film that my wife and I went to see this weekend is Joss Whedon's foray into modern Shakespearean adaption, Much Ado About Nothing.

The schtick behind this film is that Joss Whedon took the original Shakespearean dialogue and placed the entire play in a modern setting.  People use cellphones, wear business suits, etc., but while speaking like Elizabethan characters.  This isn't the first time this has been done:  Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet have both had this treatment in the past.  But those are both tragedies.  This is the first time I can think of that one of Shakespeare's comedies has been adapted in such a way?  How is it?

Really frickin' good.  This is a nice, tiny little film.  It all takes place in the same house in the same yard.  It's filmed in artsy black and white, and the score, composed by Joss Whedon, is nice and simple.  He doesn't get too grandiose with it, and it plays very very well.  The acting is fantastic, and the casting is very, very well done.  It's sort of a who's-who of smaller actors from other roles, but they all play their parts fantastically.

The highlight of the film, not surprisingly, is Nathan Fillion as an inept police chief.  His scenes alone are worth the price of admission, but I also really enjoyed Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick.

There are a few issues with the film.  For one, a few scenes feel out of place in the modern setting because they rely on gender roles and politics that are waaaaaay out of date at this point.  However, those moments aren't horribly egregious, and the actor's portrayals are pretty good to sell you on them as long you as keep in mind that this is an adaption of Shakespeare.

I say to see this one.  I really really enjoyed it, and I very much want to support these smaller films by Joss Whedon so that he isn't roped into simply making The Avengers until he dies.  I'm still holding out for a Dr. Horrible 2, Mr. Whedon.

Anyway, that's all for me. Did you see any of these movies? If so, what did you think? Did you see anything else? Share in the comments.