Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the villain of an arcade game called “Fix-It Felix Jr.” whose sole purpose was to destroy a building only for Felix (Jack McBrayer) to restore, was aware of how lucky he was to be a part something that had endured for almost thirty years. However, he was tired of not being appreciated by his colleagues, treated as a bad guy even when their game was not being played. When the arcade closed for the night and everyone celebrated the day’s success, he was often left on his own, with no companion except for a comfortable tree stump located on a pile of bricks. Ralph concluded that if he could get his hands on a medal, like Felix after a successful mission, everyone would finally realize his worth. Based on the screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, while it was apparent that “Wreck-It Ralph” had fun alluding to a buffet of games, from “Pac-Man” to “Q*bert,” it didn’t rely on the coolness of retro as a crutch to not construct and develop a legitimate story that we could remain interested in as it unraveled. Most of the flashier cameos were appropriately placed in the beginning to help us orient into a universe where video game characters could cross onto different game worlds and interact. The most visually striking sections in the film took place in a station where all sorts of creations, from pudgy-cute to bizarre concoction of monstrosities, passed by one another like they were on a rush to go somewhere. Perhaps they were. They had only so little time until they had to return to their respective games. Its energetic creativity mixed with a sense of community brought to mind Peter Docter, David Silverman, and Lee Unkrich’s “Monsters, Inc.” It was possible to appreciate the hustle and bustle of the background without forcing away our attention from what was happening in the foreground. The two worlds visited by Ralph were both visually outstanding. “Hero’s Duty” consisted of forebodingly dark and angular environment, with men in bulky metallic suits eradicating ugly giant bugs using massive guns. On the other hand, “Sugar Rush” was all about the mouthwatering confections of various colors, textures, and sizes. Ruled by King Candy (Alan Tudyk), it was a place of sticky pink happiness but it wasn’t without its secrets. The contrast between the two gaming worlds was impressive, hinting at the animators’ sheer technical range, but I was less thrilled in the fact that most of the time was spent in candy land. It offered a handful of very funny bits involving Felix and Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the commander of alien exterminators, acclimating to a picturesque but dangerous environs. I laughed myself silly when they fell into Nesquik sand and attempted to get out. Unfortunately, the scenes between Ralph and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a pariah in what was supposed to be a happy place for car racing, weren’t especially touching nor consistently amusing. The jokes during their interactions were often corny, almost infantile. There were moments when I grew bored of their exchanges. Also, when a pop song begins to play to get an emotion out of us, it is most often a sign of weakness. Why not use silence as an alternative to force us to consider what we are feeling instead of feeding us a specific emotion? Such a technique was utilized here and, admittedly, I cringed at the false note. While done only once, it felt manipulative enough to take me out of the moment. Despite its shortcomings, “Wreck-It Ralph,” directed by Rich Moore, was still very good work in that it oozed potential even until the very last frame. It just needed more of that potential to be substantiated.
Post Grad (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Directed by Vicky Jenson and written by Kelly Fremon, Alexis Bledel stars as Ryden Malby, a recent college graduate who planned out her entire future well before high school. (Which isn’t really a stretch from her very lovable character Rory Gilmore on “Gilmore Girls.”) Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned when she found herself being unable to get a job because of the fierce competition in the job market. This movie had the potential to be really good because of its modern way of approaching one of the most common questions of recent college graduates: Will I be able to immediately get a job after college? I thought the first twenty minutes was strong because it dealt with that particular issue head-on. It may not be incredibly realistic but at least it tried to be relevant. However, the deeper we got into the picture, the movie suffered because of bad writing and the material easily succumbed to eyeroll-worthy typicalities. Ryden had to choose between her kind-of boyfriend (Zach Gilford) who was torn between law school and music and the exotic guy next door (Rodrigo Santoro) who seemed to have his life together, deal with her eccentric and sometimes funny family (Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett), and question where her future was heading. All those distractions certainly did not distract me from the fact that the writer ran out of creative and meaningful ideas to really tackle the issue of unemployment after college. I liked the movie best when it focused on Bledel’s struggle in trying to define her career and encountering her rival (Catherine Reitman) from time to time. It’s a classic case of having emotional intelligence (Ryden) versus lacking one (her rival); it was so frustrating to me because the elements of making a smart movie were there but the writers didn’t take full advantage of putting them together in an insightful manner. I felt insulted that the film threw clichés right at me. I couldn’t care less about the kinda-sorta boyfriend and the sexy guy next door because if I wanted to watch a movie about that, I’d probably go see a film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. I couldn’t care less about the family either because their side stories didn’t add up to anything. The performances were mediocre at best but I didn’t mind much because I was more concerned about how it was going to approach the main issue. For a character who was supposed to be prepared to face the world (with enthusiasm to spare), the movie felt unprepared to discuss the real issues. The writer and director should’ve assumed that smart people would see this film. Maybe then they would’ve challenged themselves not only to challenge us but also inspire.
Role Models (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I thought I would enjoy this comedy a lot more because my friends highly recommended it. Directed by David Wain, “Role Models” stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as two energy drink salesmen who go to various school to preach that drugs are bad. I liked the humor of the first half more than the second half because the former deals with Rudd’s frustration with his brainless job. His perception of the world contrasts with Scott because Scott actually enjoys his job. When Rudd finally lost it after his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) dumps him after he made a spontaneous (if not ill-timed) wedding proposal, the two are sent to a mentoring center (jail was the alternative) which was led by the fantastically scary, on-the-edge ex-convict played by Jane Lynch. I also liked the dynamics between Rudd and Christopher Mintz-Plasse because the two of them have this inner geekiness that made me smile; while Scott and Bobb’e J. Thompson share a crude sense of humor that made me laugh out loud. What didn’t work for me was the whole thing about the medieval battles that pervaded the second half. I was bored out of my mind because I felt like Rudd and Scott were pushed aside instead of staying on the foreground and do what they do best: providing the audiences jokes that are witty and dirty (sometimes both at the same time). Instead of staying rude and crude, it somewhat took the safer route toward the end. I almost wished that it didn’t have a heart and embraced the dark comedy genre instead. At least that way, the film wouldn’t feel as though it was holding back in order to achieve some commercial success. It’s a shame because it does have funny material and enthusiastic actors but it didn’t quite push through in order to get to the next level. I say only see it if one has nothing better to do.