Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shrek: The Final Chapter, He says

Directed by Mike Mitchell

Starring: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas

Synopsis: Shrek is tricked into signing a pact with the smooth-talking deal maker, Rumpelstiltskin, who offers Shrek a day where everything will be as if his adventures had never happened.

If you’re a movie that actually plays up Pete Hammond and the fact that IS (hopefully) the last chapter in a series, you know that you can’t expect much. Shrek: The Final Chapter Forever After is exactly that sort of movie, but here’s the surprise, if you have your expectations lowered, this fourth Shrek movie is pretty fun. The story is a generic one that we have all seen many times, where Shrek cannot appreciate the apparent perfection that is his life with wife, kids, and goofy friends, and he wants to go back to his single days of being a scary ogre. And so begins what is Shrek’s last tale.

I will say that for the first half of the movie I kept on thinking how I would rather be watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox instead because it starts of the same way. Fiona’s parents about to sign over their kingdom to Rumpelstilskin, who specializes in making magical deals with people. As soon as the king and queen are about to sign, they get word Fiona has been rescued and don’t sign the contract. The next scene shows every day mundane routine of hanging out with the cute pooping babies, hanging out with his friends, and dealing with his fame. I’m going to cry boohoo here. It truly bothered me how whiny Shrek seemed; yes it’s annoying to take care of babies but being a good parent means powering through that. When Shrek becomes overtly irritated at his kids’ first birthday, Rumpelstilskin takes this opportunity to make a power play for the kingdom in this deal (didn’t you see this coming). Rumpel gives Shrek a day to be a manly scary ogre again for a day from his life in his past. In a sweet twist, we go to a world where Shrek never existed since the day he gave up was the day he was born, ogres are evil outlaws, Rumpel is king, and his friends do not know anything about him. As an end note, I do think its interesting how they tried to emulate How To Train Your Dragon-style flying scenes, but it does not do it justice the way the former movie did. Though just like with Dragon, this movie’s 3D use is very classy and well put together.

So like I said, this is It’s A Wonderful Life and the aforementioned Fantastic Mr. Fox put in a generic package. You can see Shrek trying to reconnect with his old friends in ridiculous ways, and it’s horribly annoying because you know he’s going to fail numerous times, then he will succeed, and he’ll have to move on to the next acquaintance.

But here is where I think that there is the genius of the film. By taking the characters back to zero, you can almost relive the magic of the original; the chemistry of donkey and Shrek is definitely the highlight of the movie. They have toned down the humor that’s filled with ridiculous pop culture references and adult inside jokes, which really helps the movie. The last half of the movie is what makes me think that this is a fitting end to the series. As Shrek is trying to connect with Fiona, you see the difficulty of this ogre trying to win her again, and without going into spoilers. the way he does win her over is one of great characters growth, and you can see how truly well he knows Fiona and cares for her. And fittingly the end credits of the movie are highlighted scenes from all the movies in the series. (Interesting that they don’t show Justin Timberlake’s character for the most part, just saying guys.)

Overall, this is a generic movie. I would say that it is way better than Shrek 3, but if I had to rank the series it’d be Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek The Final Chapter, and Shrek 3. I find it a fitting end to series that leaves it with a decent amount of dignity. I would not recommend it unless you want your kids to be quiet for a couple of hours but definitely it would make for a great rental.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop- He said

“Exit through the Gift Shop” is movie that isn’t quite a movie but much more. Depending on who you ask, it is either a film by the enigmatic street artist Banksy, or it’s a Charlie Kauffman-esque, meta commentary on the state of art and its culture. I must admit that the film was one of the most entertaining and inventive pieces of cinema I have had the pleasure of seeing. The fact that anyone that has ever cared about any form of art NEEDS to see this film.

The movie follows Thierry Guetta, the eccentric owner of a “vintage” clothing store in one of the hippest parts of LA. He has the most ridiculous moustache that I’ve seen in a long time. He constantly carries a camera around with him in order to capture all of life’s precious moments. This turns into a creative endeavor when he is introduced to street art by his cousin, Space Invader. When he returns home, he seeks out other street artists and starts to follow and communicate with some of the more famous ones in the scene, such as Shepard Fairey, for a supposed documentary about street art.

Eventually he meets Banksy, who is a famously reclusive street artist that has painted street art all over the world. Banksy decides that Thierry is more interesting of a subject for a movie than he was, so the movie becomes about the man, Thierry, trying to make a movie. It’s at this point that the movie becomes more about Thierry’s quest to become a street artist himself at the behest (and annoyance) of Banksy. This is partly due to the fact he had years of raw and unorganized footage from his time filming artists, and the fact that his documentary was incomprehensible. Starting from the creation of a sticker in his own image to the opening of his art show in LA, we see Thierry’s quick rise in fame

As a “documentary”, Exit through the Gift Shop is a well-paced with an entertaining story, as well as a good introduction to the new sort of art form that not many people know about. But the movie really works well as the commentary on art itself. Seeing as how there has been speculation, since the movie was released, that Banksy created all the works of art that were credited to Mr. Brainwash (MBW), aka Thierry. And Thierry just pretended to be MBW as a part of an elaborate years long prank. Whether you believe that theory or not is up to you.

This is the part of the movie that is brilliant to me; it spends the first half of the movie showing you street art, and then it bastardizes the movement in the last half. Thierry Guetta is not a person; he is a symbol about all the bull (shit) that goes into art and what happens when it goes wrong. Beginning with his first sticker, he creates nothing original. It is a picture of him holding a camera symbolizing the narcissistic tendencies of a lot of artists in all forms of media. In the events leading up to the opening show of his gallery, he buys an art house factory with hired guns photoshopping and helping with the creation of his art, and most of it, which is repetitive and horribly colored (and unless I’m missing something) says absolutely nothing. This is a great contrast to the works of Shepard Fairey and Banksy, who all have done something to speak about social equality and peace with their works. Instead Thierry makes Spock look like Madonna.

As the deadlines for his big show approaches, Thierry asks Fairey and Banksy for quotes to help hype up his show. He becomes one of those eccentrics that you see in the reality TV shows. He has no vision or creativity instead he chats with the TV crews instead of setting up his own gallery. He becomes a super famous artist, but has not had to establish a reputation, which is unorthodox even in the world of street art. One of the most cringe worthy moments was when all of these LA’ers were being interviewed about the exhibit, and they talked about the greatness that was MBW, and how he is innovative. These people obviously had no clue what they were talking about. It’s something that happens to all forms of art, you have the types are there to see and be seen.

For all of the ranting on my part, this movie actually brings about a lot of healthy discussion amongst people. Whether they believe that the whole movie is a prank, or that maybe the prank is that people believe the movie itself is a prank. Who knows? Banksy obviously knows the art of satire and social commentary. Even seen as a simple documentary about art gone wrong, it still is a hilarious and engaging story that won’t leave you bored.

Exit Through the Gift Shop- She said

Most of us modern people know the term “street art” by it’s more common and illegal term, graffiti. But there’s a whole underground culture of street artists, and some of them are making money, and LOTS of it. Now, from what I understand, like any form of art, you’re not suppose to get into it for the money. You enter into the world because you’re passionate about making art and/or making a statement (whatever that may be). In Exit through the Gift Shop, we meet “Banksy”, a legendary street artist from Britain, making a documentary of the man, Thierry Guetta, who was making a documentary about street artists.

Now the rumor surrounding this movie is that it’s a hoax, that maybe Guetta and Banksy are pulling a farce on the audience. No one really knows, and to be honest, I think it makes the movie more intriguing. Guetta is a quirky, cartoonish character who will drop whatever he’s doing if it means getting a good shot for his documentary. He is able to catch some of the most prominent street artists in action: Banksy, Invader, and Shepard Fairey. He records 1000s upon 1000s of hours of footage and dumps his tapes into random, unmarked boxes. Eventually, he tries to make a movie, but as Banksy puts it, “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before…” Banksy then plants idea in Guetta’s head to become a street artist, thus Mr. Brainwash is born.

Guetta puts together his first art show, and it’s huge. However, he didn’t have to “pay his dues” as most artists have. He gets Banksy to put a quote for his art show, and BAM, Guetta has upwards to 7,000 people the first day. He makes millions of dollars. Now, is his art good? One could argue he’s not really an artist. He blatantly takes ideas from other artists, like Warhol. Some say he finds inspiration; others say he’s rip off-wannabe.

At this point is where the question comes in…did Banksy and Guetta create “Mr. Brainwash” to prove a point about art? Was this an elaborate hoax to show how fake and superficial some artists could be, and how blind the masses are?

Or is it a true story? Did Guetta become inspired by the culture he followed for so long and discovered he had a natural gift? Was he just at the right place at the right time and knew the right people? Is he just a lucky guy?

None of these questions are answered, and that’s what makes this film so great. The debate that happens afterwards between members of the audience is why I loved this movie so much. I stayed talking with people for at least half an hour discussing the validity of Guetta, his art, and his sudden success.

Personally, I think it’s a hoax and a brilliant social commentary on art and the passion behind it. The movie is very entertaining and keeps the audience engaged throughout. The world street art that we’re able to scratch the surface of is inspiring and brilliant. The artists like Shepard and Invader do this because they love it and want to make a statement. Guetta…he seems to be in it for the money, which completely goes against the unwritten morals of this culture.

If the truth ever comes out and Banksy and Guetta has pulled one over on the world, I will be impressed. Banksy proves that he can delve in to the subconscious of a culture, create a mess of an artist, and come out clean and brilliant on the other end.