Tuesday, November 30, 2010


DreamWorks's animated features have had the slowest time improving themselves (at least for my tastes). For all we know, this is as good as its going to get (and I hope I'm wrong). Five years ago, DreamWorks Animation was typified by dazzling computer animation and amazing effects, and voice-acting by the top-grossing actors of the day. While this is still the norm, they also relied on terribly transparent stories, rehashing pop-culture references and clichés (I still have a hard time appreciating the Shrek movies). In the last few years, their movies have improved slightly, with stories that, while not totally perfect, do not rely heavily on pop-cultural references or expose the actors behind the microphone.

Megamind is a good movie, but not a great movie. Its pretty forgettable and is likely to become dated as the years go by. But for the time being, it is a pretty enjoyable one. The story follows the evolution of the "bad guy" (another trend following Despicable Me??). In an obvious lift from Superman, Megamind (as an infant) is sent away from his doomed planet for survival on Earth. Unfortunately, the exact same thing occurs with a more human-looking child with super-powers. While the "human" baby is settled with a wealthy couple and lifelong public adoration, the blue alien lands in a Prison for the Criminally Gifted, and grows up with a twisted morale and is led to believe that he is destined to be super-villain. Flash forward to the present, Megamind is the arch nemesis of Metro Man, well known for their elaborate battles throughout Metro City ("Metrocity" as Megamind wrongly says it). When Megamind finally succeeds in killing his arch-nemesis, it seems like the clouds are finally parting for him. So what next?

The story has some socialist overtones to it, particularly in regards to public relations to large figures. If anything, there can be comparisons drawn between 2008 Presidential Election and the fictional reactions of the main characters. It seems like parallels can be drawn between Megamind and John McCain, while the same can be said for Metro Man and President Barack Obama. This isn't meant to be a political critique (I'm the last person to do that), but the point of it is that, with all the recent criticism of President Obama, it seems like he was rooted for the wrong reasons earlier.
In Megamind, the good guy gets to grow up in the lap of luxury, looking all perfect, while the bad guy grows up in a prison, with no proper role models. Megamind is brushed aside for his alien-appearance and loose morals, but turns out in the end to be just as human and good-natured as we see most heroes. Now Metro Man is loved all around (with a Jesus reference thrown in there), but his outward persona masks some sad flaws, as this "great" hero is just as human as any of us.
However, the story has a plot that could have gone in any direction, and the writers chose one of those alternate routes. It certainly helps that there's a sense of unpredictability to the story. I mean, what does the bad guy finally achieve when his sole ambition has been to kill the hero and take over a single city? For a movie built on clichés, it does a good job of mocking clichés.

One of my biggest problems with this movie is the design. The characters look generally boring, and I find their expressions to be limited. I have had this problem before, but I believe this movie could have benefitted from a little more stylization. The designers could have moved away from the mild DC look, which works better when drawn, not rigged in CGI. And the color design (which is a problem with nearly all Dreamworks films) still has that fast-food in the summer look to it. If the movie were better designed, the story probably could have benefitted from that.

There are too many destruction scenes with too much debris, but I guess that's to be expected is a superhero movie (I think I'm just very anal in that area). I still have that problem with big-budgeted movies: their shots and compositions are all over the place, and are too fast-paced.

One of the movie's hallmarks appears to be the use of popular music. Dreamworks always seems to be willing to pay handsomely for the biggest pop music hits, and that's no exception here. Megamind and his crew seem to have a preference for AC/DC and other hard rock gems. There's a very humorous scene in which Megamind's sidekick, Minion, keeps accidentally playing Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You" when trying to turn off the AC/DC track. And there's a nice Michael Jackson tribute at the end, complete with the song "Bad." Is this all a good thing?

Don't get me wrong. I love hearing hard rock and heavy metal in an animated film. I just wish they didn't always go for the hit songs.

The voice acting is too flat for me. Will Ferrell is a good actor, but as a voice artist, it doesn't always work. His performance as Megamind is too friendly throughout, and at the beginning, it kind of gives away that the character is likely to change. The same can be said for Jonah Hill's performance, although it works to the story's advantage. As for the rest of the cast, there's still that sense that they are just talking into a microphone, and not putting a fully formed performance into the characters.

My opinion in the end? Like I said before, its a good movie, but I don't see it being timeless. This is a very expensive B movie. If I have to chart this on a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 6.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Artist Personas: Rock Musicians

During my last year at Pratt, I took a class that dealt with the ways artists are portrayed in fiction. Looking back, I wish I had taken the class a little more seriously, because it might have prepared me better for after school. In school, we never studied the psychology of artists, and as such we have the same attitude about our heroes as others do.

Its the old story of the intense creative types determined to prove their brilliance to the world. The following entry might be the first of many for me to cover this. I am starting with something that has been on my mind for sometime now: the personalities of rock musicians.

It has become more and more obvious to me recently that those who play music professionally are likely to have to a particular personality. A sort of crazy personality. Sometimes a narcissistic personality. It is a personality that starts off as idealistic, but eventually it is a very confrontational and opinionated sort. There are countless musicians who fit this profile.

Before, I just assumed it was an overtly social personality, very unlike my own. Until recently, in my lifetime of listening to music, I never thought about the personalities of the artists I was listening to. But after working with and encountering rock musicians personally, I now have a better realization of these personalities. It has slightly affected my listening habits in a way, as I might get repelled by a brash personality, and want to hear something else.

Recently, I because a late-blooming Rush fan. I have been slightly fond of Rush for a long time, but not a real fan. Its only in the last couple of years that I suddenly became more and more fascinated by Rush's music and history. Earlier this year, a documentary entitled Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage was released. Along with documenting the band's career, it also interviews several celebrated musicians who were inspired by Rush. The interviewed personalities of the band differ drastically in many ways compared to their admirers. Band members Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart appear for the most part to be very casual and introverted. Their admirers on the other hand (such as members of Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against the Machine) are extremely extroverted, over-opinionated, and blunt in their regards to music and the band. I don't know if its the difference between talking about yourself and talking about your idols, but the members of Rush strike me as anomalies in hard rock music, especially Neil Peart.

Neil Peart borders slightly on the persona of the tortured poet persona, but not totally there.

These types are equally extroverted, but can quiet themselves down when they feel really creative. You'll find that a lot of people who are exceedingly creative have qualities that put other people off. They can be crazy, brooding, reclusive, intense, self-centered, or anything else on an endless list. That's not to say some are friendly and personable, as I am confidently sure there are.

At the moment, I am reading No Certainty Attached, a biography of Steven Kilbey. Kilbey is the lead singer/songwriter and bass player of the The Church, an Australian alternative band (although Kilbey is British-born). They are best known in American for their song "Under the Milky Way", but I have become a fan of their other works, which are quite prolific. So far, Kilbey seems to downplay a mysterious persona that he has come to be mistaken for, and opened up about his own egotism, musical idealism, and occasionally extroverted nature. The book was written by Robert Lurie, who admits that as a great fan of the Church, he was a little unnerved by the realization that his heroes are just as human and vulnerable as he is. Kilbey admits the same thing about meeting his idols.

Some artists play the illusion of someone they admire. This isn't just in the case of professional musicians, but even artists in other mediums (animators especially). It is believed if someone made it one way, then another can make it that same path, which is not always the case. You'll end up wasting a lot of time wondering why nothing works.

You'll notice something about the personal lives of those who become really famous. The people who become really famous are those whose qualities make others doubt them early on. A prime example is John Lennon in his youth: I doubt anyone expected him to be as famous as he eventually became, and he had a pretty checkered reputation when he was young. This is not something you can copy, and its certainly not something to wish to have. That's almost like wishing you were clinically depressed.

I could be wrong in some of these instances, but so far I believe I am right. There are more psychological profiles to associate with artists. If I left anything out, I will be sure to come to them at some other point.