Connect with us
Ralph Breaks the Internet Ralph Breaks the Internet

Film

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Threatens Pixar’s Animation Dominance

Published

on

Ever since Disney bought Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, the family entertainment behemoth has lived a dual life when it comes to its computer-animated features. The more ambitious features were handled by Pixar, whereas the more traditional all-ages fare has remained in-house. Yet this simple dichotomy has become increasingly meaningless as Pixar’s once unshakeable quality has deteriorated and Disney’s own computer-animated films have acquired new relevance. Cars 2 and 3, Monsters University, Finding Dory, and The Good Dinosaur failed to capitalize on the nuances that made the first wave of Pixar films so great, just as the Disney-produced Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia, and Moana seemed to take over the torch of quality animation. Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet is further evidence of the corporation shifting its priorities. It’s a clever and charming sequel that surpasses the original, despite occasionally feeling like an infomercial for Disney’s intellectual property acquisitions.

The film opens to the stasis achieved at the end of the first movie. Wreck-It Ralph, (John C. Reilly) a nine-foot-tall havoc-maker, spends his days as a video game antagonist, but when the arcade closes at night he’s able to move about and socialize with other members of the arcade’s games, including Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), the pint-sized leader of a candy-themed racing game. Ralph is happy with his routine, but Vanellope is jonesing for something fresh; the sugar-coated racetracks she zooms down have grown old. Thinking he’ll create something new and exciting for her, Ralph paves a new track for her race, which unintentionally damages Vanellope’s game.

Thanks to a newly installed WIFI connection, Ralph and Vanellope are able to transport themselves to the vast playground of the internet in hopes of finding a replacement for her game before it’s junked. But a lot has changed in the last few decades, and the internet has replaced arcades like Ralph’s as the home for most major games. While searching for the replacement part, Vanellope finds a game called Slaughter Race, a Grand Theft Auto-style parody that so dark and dangerous that great white sharks inhabit its sewers, randomly popping out of manholes to devour frothing pit bulls. The new games dangerous adventures are far more appealing than the candy-coated racing she’s used to. As Ralph desperately tries to acquire the part to save Vanellope’s game, it’s not even clear if she wants to go back.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Wreck-It Ralph ingeniously fused the 8-bit animation of ‘80s arcade games with Disney’s more nuanced style, but Ralph Breaks the Internet surpasses it in ambition with its depiction of the internet as a global gathering place. Ralph and Vanellope interact with little blockheaded avatars of humans logging onto the internet. Spammy pop-ups are represented by obnoxious hucksters waving clickable signs that will whisk these avatars away from their intended sites to buggy timesucks. Bill Hader (strangely uncredited) is excellent as a helpful but misguided pop-up who introduces Ralph to shadier denizens of the dark web who can help him acquire the necessary spare part.

The Disneyfication of these aspects of culture has its pluses and minuses, but of course, we’d only see the pluses in a film produced by Disney.

When Ralph and Vanellope visit eBay to find the part, they walk in on a literal auction house, with millions of avatars bidding on random items. Ralph and Vanellope, not versed in the ways of the world, don’t understand the strategy behind auctions, and just start shouting out ever larger numbers, until they owe thousands of dollars for something worth a couple hundred at most.

The film’s internet design, while quite literal, also seems like the only logical way to convey such a large and unwieldy concept. The movie’s creators could have easily chosen to create some kind of Warcraft-like fantasy realm, but they picked the right approach by avoiding that kind of romanticism. Once thought of as a place of endless possibilities, anyone who spends much time browsing Facebook or Twitter knows just how limited the internet really is. The more conservative internet design also benefits the film in visual terms. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Many of the best computer-animated movies try to be as colorful and bombastic as possible, which ends up desensitizing the viewer. Instead, Ralph Breaks the Internet creates textures we haven’t seen before. Slaughter Race exists in a hyper-smoggy apocalyptic parody of Los Angeles that’s perpetually at dusk. We’ve seen live-action films attempt things like that, but no one with the limitless options of animation has tried it before. The film’s story doesn’t attempt to be revolutionary either, but it subtly tweaks the beats we’ve come to expect. The film’s external conflict is wrapped up surprisingly early, revealing a deeper, more internal conflict. There’s a villain, but it’s not at all what we might expect. These are small tweaks, yet they feel immense. John C. Reilly (a great actor) and Sarah Silverman (an undervalued actor of great talent) help convey the film’s emotional weight more effectively than many of the celebrities that anchor these big budget computer-animated films.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

As great and enjoyable as much of Ralph Breaks the Internet is, those who are wary of the role of corporations in our lives might have reason to pause before seeing the film. Disney has filled its fantasy version of the internet with many of the real tech giants that shape our society: Google, Amazon, eBay, YouTube. It says little about most of them, but we’re led to believe from all the smiling avatars that these are forces for good, and the eBay scenes read like an advertisement for the site. But things are more complicated when Vanellope happens to find Disney’s own part of the world wide web. These scenes, though fun, seem tailored to show off all the franchises Disney has purchased in recent years — Disney princess frolic with their Pixar cousins, while stormtroopers play security and Iron Man and Groot show off for adoring fans. The Disneyfication of these aspects of culture has its pluses and minuses, but of course, we’d only see the pluses in a film produced by Disney. The movie tries to have it both ways in a scene where all the Disney princess complain about the retrograde gender beliefs of their films, even though there’s a non-zero chance those same retrograde beliefs will be represented in whatever Disney princess film comes next.

As hard as it is to look past this weird corporate shilling, Ralph Breaks the Internet still manages to be a clever and moving sequel to the original. The movie builds on the original in subtle yet meaningful ways. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it does make it better.

Brian Marks is Sordid Cinema's Lead Film Critic. His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and Ampersand. He's a graduate of USC's master's program in Specialized Arts Journalism. You can find more of his writing at InPraiseofCinema.com. Best film experience: driving halfway across the the country for a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear." Totally worth it.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Film

‘Richard Jewell’ is Both For and Against Character Assassination

Published

on

Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.)

With Richard Jewell, director Clint Eastwood does two things at once: tell a compelling story of something that was all over the news about 25 years ago, and seek to make an incendiary political point meant to play to very specific modern-day resentments. Let’s just say the former objective is much more defensible than the latter. 

The film tells the story of a security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) in the Atlanta area who was working in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics when a bomb went off in the park. Jewell was first treated as a hero who rescued people during the bombing, but was later considered a suspect in the bombing by the FBI and named as such in the media. But Jewell, it turned out, was innocent, with domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph confessing to the crime years later. 

As depicted in Eastwood’s film, Richard Jewell bears more than a passing resemblance to Shawn Eckhardt, the character Hauser played two years ago in I, Tonya — a real-life creature of a sensational mid-’90s true crime case who hadn’t done much with his life, but has aspirations of something greater. In Jewell’s case, it’s thwarted dreams of becoming a cop, which haven’t kept him from worshiping and idealizing law enforcement. He’s also depicted as a man so simple-minded that he keeps doing things that made him look super-guilty, even though he isn’t.

Richard Jewell reporters

Richard Jewell takes us into how exactly the man came to be accused. The FBI, in the person of agent Jon Hamm, applied its vaunted profiling tactics — the ones you’ve seen lionized on such shows as Criminal Minds and Mindhunter — to the case, and came up with the wrong guy. 

Filmmaking-wise, what we have here is similar to most other late-period Eastwood films, and the pacing and storytelling aren’t the problem. The sequence right before the bombing, in particular, is especially harrowing and suspenseful.

While in the works for many years (Jonah Hill was at one point set to star as Jewell, and remains a producer), Richard Jewell itself was produced and completed uncommonly quickly, with production beginning in June, just six months before its release. Nevertheless, it creates a reasonable approximation of 1996 — The Macarena included! — and while seemingly the majority of studio movies these days are shot in Georgia, this one at least is actually set there.

The problem, however, is another decision the film makes. We see Hamm’s FBI agent leaking the existence of the investigation to media, specifically reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), after what’s essentially a seduction on her part. This is the film’s biggest misstep, which is in fact an act of pure character assassination against Scruggs, a real-life journalist (deceased) who is accused of horrible ethical breaches that she almost certainly never committed, including offering to sleep with sources in exchange for information. Beyond that, the character is played by Wilde as something resembling a cartoon witch. There are a lot of unique characters who exist in newsrooms, but this character isn’t one of them.

And despite what you may have read, the Richard Jewell makes the FBI look even worse than the media. It also shows Jewell, who spent his whole life wanting to be a cop, defending and making excuses for these unscrupulous agents who are falsely accusing him. The script also doesn’t really get the dynamic that takes place between media and the police/FBI quite right; in 95 percent of high-profile crime stories, the only major source is law enforcement, and media outlets just go with whatever the cops tell them. 

What the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did was report — accurately, at the time — that the FBI was looking at Jewell as a suspect. Yes, they should have done more due diligence, but they also didn’t make things up. Had Scruggs behaved the way she did in the film in real life, that would be worthy of condemnation. But she didn’t. 

Furthermore, yes, what happened to Richard Jewell was pretty terrible. But on the other hand, he was never arrested, he never did a day in jail or prison, and was cleared after about three months. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but…other wrongfully accused people have gone away for years and decades. Multiple movies this year, including Brian Banks and Just Mercy, have told the stories of such cases. 

Hauser is very good, and getting to be expert at this sort of role, although the performance ends with him delivering a long, articulate speech in which Jewell turns into essentially a different person.  Sam Rockwell, on something of a roll with Jojo Rabbit and Fosse/Verdon, is just fine as his lawyer. There’s also a performance by Kathy Bates, as Jewell’s mother, that’s been getting inexplicable praise — it’s more a regional affectation than a great performance. 

While Eastwood — the Obama invisible chair speech notwithstanding — is far from a down-the-line right-winger, the timing of this particular release is somewhat cynical. It’s clearly pitched right now in a way to exploit discontent with media misconduct and “fake news,” while also directly in line with that weird cultural tic in which cops are seen as beyond reproach, while the FBI is evil. 

Richard Jewell isn’t bad as a character study, but its agenda is a whole other story. 

Continue Reading

Film

‘Apollo 11’ Leads the Best Documentaries of 2019

Published

on

Best Documentaries of 2019

2019 was a generally strong year for documentaries, with many of the best ones sharing one or more of several elements: a focus on music, a resonance with the current moment, and the word “Apollo” in the title.

The Year’s Best Documentaries

Best Documentaries 2019

1. Apollo 11. Directed by Todd Douglas Miller, this documentary made masterful use of archival footage — much of it on 70mm film long not available to the public — to tell the story of the Apollo 11 mission on its 50th anniversary. It’s one of those films that’s nerve-wracking, even as everyone watching knows exactly how it all happened. The film opened in theaters, then showed on CNN, and then returned to theaters this month. 

Best Documentaries 2019

2. The Kingmaker. The Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield takes another look at the ridiculously wealthy, this time catching up with Imelda Marcos, the 90-year-old former first lady of The Philippines. For its first half hour, the film hints that it’s going to be a soft-focused look at a newsmaker of the past, before it takes a sudden turn into showing its subject as a monster who looted her own people of billions and was almost certainly complicit in horrific war crimes. The film played in theaters this fall and will debut on Showtime in early 2020. 

Best Documentaries 2019

3. Love, Antosha. The life of the beloved late actor Anton Yelchin, which ended in a freak accident in 2017, is celebrated with home movie footage, clips of his movies, and interviews with a star-studded array of his co-stars. It’s a sweet remembrance of a talent gone far too soon — while also telling the story, through both letters and interviews, of his relationship with the loving Russian immigrant parents he left behind. Now streaming from on-demand providers. 

Best Documentaries 2019

4. City of Joel. Director Jesse Sweet’s film is an astonishing work of anthropological filmmaking, as he looks at the tension and land disputes between a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who arrived in an upstate New York town, and their secular neighbors. The film, which played the Jewish film festival circuit and is now available on demand, is uncommonly evenhanded, letting both sides of the dispute have their say. 

Best Documentaries 2019

5. David Crosby: Remember My Name. There were many very strong music documentaries this year, but this film, directed by A.J. Eaton and produced and narrated by Cameron Crowe, was the best of them all. Crosby, knowing he’s in poor health and unlikely to live many more years, is uncommonly candid about his regrets, especially his many feuds with his famous musical collaborators. Now available on demand, it’s also the best film Crowe has been associated with in almost two decades.

Best Documentaries 2019

6. Cold Case Hammarskjöld. Mads Brügger’s documentary starts off by looking at the mysterious 1961 plane crash death of U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and then goes off in all sorts of crazy directions, including a supposed plot by South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s to infect people with AIDS. Not everything asserted here is true (most likely), but it’s all wildly intriguing. Now available on demand. 

Best Documentaries 2019

7. The Apollo. The year’s “other” Apollo documentary takes a look back at the history of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, a mecca of African-American culture for nearly a century. The film looks at how the theater has waxed and waned in importance over the years, while using a staged reading of Ta’Nehesi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” as a framing device. This one played at festivals and then debuted on HBO; it’s currently available on HBO’s streaming platform. 

Best Documentaries 2019

8. Horror Noire. Director Xavier Burgin’s documentary takes a look at the history of black horror films, using 2017’s Get Out as an inflection point to look back on decades of African-American representation — as well as ugly tropes — in the horror genre. The film had some big-screen showings before streaming on Shudder. 

Best Documentaries 2019
Tell Me Who I Am CR: Netflix

9. Tell Me Who I Am. Director Ed Perkins’ documentary about a pair of twins, and the family secrets one must tell the other, is very creepy and unsettling, but still essential. It debuted on Netflix, where it’s a perfect fit, and is still streaming there now. 

Best Documentaries 2019
** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITONS, MAY 29-30 ** FILE – In this June 29, 1986 file photo, Diego Maradona of Argentina, is lifted up as he holds the World Cup trophy after Argentina defeated West Germany 3-2 in the World Cup soccer final in the Atzeca Stadium, in Mexico City. (Ap Photo/Carlo Fumagalli, File)

10. Diego Maradona. This look at the 1980s soccer star, directed by Amy filmmaker Asif Kapadia, makes masterful use of archival footage to depict the rise of this one-of-a-kind athlete. The doc, which played on HBO this fall and is still streaming there now, is a must for the many Americans who have gotten into soccer for the first time in the last decade, and are unfamiliar with the stars and stories of the past. 

****

Honorable mention: Black Mother, The Human Factor, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Carmine Street Guitars, Mike Wallace is Here, Varda by Agnes, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, Screwball, American Factory, Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce,

Continue Reading

TIFF

‘Uncut Gems’ Sends Adam Sandler Through the Ringer

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a hectic, abrasive crime thriller that revels in its misery.

Published

on

Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo has crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness.

Evading debt collectors throughout New York City, Howard (Sandler) runs a jewelry shop in the Diamond District where he sells to many high-profile celebrities. When a new opal arrives at his shop from Ethiopia, he can’t help but show it off to Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett (who stars as himself in a fun role that never feels out-of-place), who becomes obsessed with the rock and borrows it with the hope of eventually convincing Howard to let him buy it. Of course, Howard has other plans, as the rock is allegedly worth a million dollars if sold at an auction in which he has already purchased a spot. When Garnett doesn’t return the stone, everything starts going horribly awry in Howard’s life as he juggles a failing marriage, his Jewish family ties, and keeping the loan sharks at bay.

Right out of the gate, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) hits the ground hard with a score that carries the cosmic and reverberating effects of the titular uncut gems. When Garnett stares into the opal, he sees exactly what Howard tells him he’s supposed to see: the universe. In that, Lopatin provides a sonic scape so expansive and yet violently singular in its aesthetic that it provides much of Uncut Gems with a mystical aura. Drenched in gritty camerawork that gets up close to show the blemishes of everyone, there’s no denying the film’s mean and potent intensity.

Where Uncut Gems often stumbles is in its narrative threads. While the Garnett storyline weaves in and out, providing a lot of fun as well as hectic tension, it’s a piece of stunt casting that works, while also highlighting one that very clearly doesn’t involve R&B singer The Weekend. Why he is in the movie is baffling, other than perhaps because he evokes a further sense that Howard is in a very upscale world — something we already know by his clientele, multiple properties, and the wealth he actually wears. The Weekend ends up as a weird diversion that can take viewers out of the experience, even if his presence does lead to a further escalation in problems for Howard.

That all being said, Uncut Gems also brings Adam Sandler back into the fold as an actor who can do more than the drivel he has churned out over the decades. More evocative of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love than The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler gives a comedic and sympathetic performance to a character for whom everything suddenly goes wrong. Living a manic, fast-paced lifestyle, Howard is impatient, aggressive, and greedy, but Sandler makes it possible to get on board with his plight at least partially (there is no way to be on his side completely). His vices are many, but the performance keeps him down to Earth even when it feels like everything is flying off the hinges.

There will likely be many that can’t get past how dirty this movie feels, as it treats many criminal activities as both simply the way things are and the way they always will be. Beyond that, however, the Safdie Brothers provide a nuanced look at Jewish culture, utilizing one of Hollywood’s most prolific Jewish actors, and treat it is as matter-of-fact. Uncut Gems is a frenetic crime film from a Jewish perspective and delivers on its promise of being a wild ride with a phenomenal Sandler performance. Just don’t expect there to be much hope present, as the Safdies revel in the misery as much as humanly possible, only using hope as a torture device to make the anguish all the more painful.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Continue Reading

Trending