Saturday, November 28, 2009


Those in The Middle Room have never seen Twilight, nor have we any intention of doing so.  It should come as little surprise to hear that we have no interest in its sequel, either.  While we consider ourselves open-minded when it comes to one's interpretation of vampire mythos, we draw the line at glitter.  Even if we were willing to watch Twilight, we could not do so - imagine the consequences if we liked it.  Too horrible to imagine.

But we have not gathered to mock New Moon, nor have we come to attack it.  We are here, in fact, to congratulate it.

New Moon had the largest opening day in the history of film, as well as the third largest opening weekend.  And it accomplished this, no less, in the fall, when attendance is supposed to be all but dead.  You can find more on the matter, along with an interview with Joseph Laycock, by clicking here.  Feel free to skip the parts that Joe isn't in.

While the producers are likely celebrating, we hope it's a bitter victory.  The two-hundred million New Moon has so far made is a pittance compared to the money Hollywood has lost over the years.

Not only did New Moon make absurd amounts of money, it did so without the help of its beloved target demographic.  And while the Twilight saga may be less than fine cinema, men have no cause to boast: no matter how idiotic New Moon may be, it seems unlikely it's any worse than this year's previous record holder, a guilty pleasure which needed little help from the fairer sex to make its millions.  Indeed, those of us in Cybertronian houses should not throw stones.

There are two lessons Hollywood should take from New Moon's performance.  The first is that the public's appetite for major movies is not limited to three months in summer and the week before Christmas.  The other is that, contrary to popular belief, half the population is female.

And that half, apparently, was eager to see a genre movie geared towards them.

Imagine how much they might have made if they'd made a GOOD movie for a female audience....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Movie Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

If has been a long time since we saw Chicken Run, but we thought of it while watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The similarities were, at best, superficial, but it offers context and a place to start.  At the very least, the setting and tone are in some ways alike.

Unlike Chicken Run, the main characters aren't herbivores: when Mr. Fox steals a chicken, he breaks its neck with a bite.  As you may have guessed, the theme isn't overly concerned with animal rights.  Rather, this is a picture about survival; particularly during an economic downturn.

Yes, this is an animated family film about the recession.

It's also a holiday movie, albeit an unusual type.  This seems to be a Thanksgiving movie, suggesting that elements of the holiday have survived the assault by Christmas.

This is a nuanced and complex picture.  The comedy is clever but subtle.  As such, we spent much of the film adjusting to the tone.  Repeat viewings will no doubt offer entirely new experiences, but the first was a bit underwhelming.  This isn't so much a flaw as a trade-off, one common enough in art-house pictures but almost unheard of in animated movies marketed to a family audience.

By and large, the cast is instantly recognizable.  In most cases, this is problematic, but the voice acting and direction are so good it's impossible to mind.  In fact, the casting here feels spot-on.

By design, the animation is less smooth than what we're used to in big budget stop motion.  It's as though the movie doesn't want you to forget that it was made with real materials and not with CG.  In the trailers this came off as odd, but in the movie it feels right.

The tone of this movie is startlingly consistent.  It is, for lack of a better word, offbeat and quirky.  It's also a touch darker than we'd anticipated.  This isn't to say it's more disturbing - overall, it's not - simply a bit more grown up in its portrayal of danger and tragedy.  The strongest scenes are those dealing with relationships, which come off as incredibly real.  One scene, in particular, between Mr. and Ms. Fox managed to outdo The Incredibles in exploring the marital problems of animated characters.

Should you see it?  Definitely.  But it's our opinion you should consider waiting for DVD, when you can watch it several times without having to spend $11 every time you want to start it again.  The animation is artistic and intriguing, but not awe-inspiring.  You will not lose much viewing it on a smaller screen.

In terms of rating, we will compare this to Coraline and award it three and a half stars, though it's possible repeat viewing will raise that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Crisis on Infinte Turtle Shells

It has been surmised that the world rests on the back of a turtle shell.  If so, then there may be other turtles than this and other worlds that rest upon their back.

Metaphorically speaking, this idea was explored in the recent made-for-TV movie, "Turtles Forever," in which three iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had to team up to protect the future of all universes, or at least those which contained mutant turtles.

Before the property shifts to Nickelodeon, 4-Kids Entertainment had an opportunity to bid the franchise farewell.  What they made was undeniably the best Turtles story to appear on film since the 1990 movie.  In fact, it may surpass even that.

The movie effectively concludes the animated series that has been running on Saturday mornings since 2003.  While we haven't watched religiously, we've likely seen more episodes than we've missed, at least from the first three seasons.  While there were several missteps, this version of the cartoon series got more right than wrong.  The writers somehow incorporated scores of aliens, inter-dimensional beings, super-science, and ancient mystical artifacts into a universe that sometimes made sense.

Unfortunately, there were some poor decisions, including a generic knock-off of the Justice League, a tedious season spent in the future, and one of most obnoxious androids to ever appear animated.  None of the above intruded on the movie, however it did retain another faux-paus from the series.

New viewers may be confused why the modern Shredder is portrayed as a small, pink alien squid.  They will not realize that they've been spared the horrors of the digital Shredder, the spirit Shredder, and the Dragon Shredder.

Fundamentally, the movie is a comedy, juxtaposing the modern team with their less serious 80's equivalents.  It is, of course, zany, but not appreciably more so than the famous "Justice Guild" episode of Justice League.  Does this feel somewhat derivative of that?  Of course.  Is this a problem?  Not in the least.

The highpoint of the movie occurs later, when the aforementioned teams meet a third group of turtles.  If all worlds are built atop the shell of a turtle, it reasons that the multiverse could be controlled by the one who overthrows the progenitor of all other turtles.

Well, that makes sense in comic-logic, which seems to be what they're using.  This is, indeed, Crisis on Infinite Earths, down to the white border that erases all.  Again, derivative, but not in a bad way.  Because, if Shredder wants to combat the originals, that means an opportunity to see them animated.

And we were not disappointed.  Black and white, sadistic, and ready to kill, the designs which appeared in Eastman and Laird's original comic have, after 25 years, finally been put on a screen.  That they shared screen time with their goofy, pizza-eating relatives, as well as the modern, Timm-influenced team, was icing on the cake.

Or, if you prefer, cheese on the pie.  Either way, this was an inspired celebration of the heroes in a half-shell.  If you've ever been a fan of the Turtles and you missed Turtles Forever this weekend, make a point of tracking it down.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Christmas Specials You Haven't Been Watching, Part 1: The Muppets Family Christmas

Every year we hear someone utter the phrase, "Christmas starts earlier every year," a little earlier.  This year, we began hearing people complain about the appearance of decorations even before Halloween.  Should this trend continue, we expect the whining will start even before stores start selling holiday merchandise in August.

In order to keep up with consumer demand, The Middle Room is starting a new series on Christmas specials.  Rather than astound you with descriptions of those specials you already watch five times in December, we thought we would instead consider exceptional specials you've never seen or, perhaps, haven't seen in a long time.

Sure, we love "It's Christmas, Charlie Brown" and "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" as much as the next conglomerate of geeks, but there are benefits to exploring less traveled paths.

The first installment will not be the only time we discuss the Muppets in this series, but we consider it the best of the Muppet specials.  Occurring in the home of Fozzie's mother, A Muppet Family Christmas is fundamentally the essence of whimsy and joy condensed into a hour-long television special.

Like Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths, A Muppet Family Christmas is a massive crossover event, incorporating the casts of The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock.  As any geek knows, the success of any crossover is primarily a factor of how well the characters are portrayed.  Despite the massive cast, the integrity of the characters is consistently maintained.  The attention to detail is as stunning as the special is clever.

From Sprocket and Rowlf's untranslated discussion to the brilliantly arranged medley at the end, this is a work of astonishing care.  But the high point of the special is a showdown of sorts between the Swedish Chef and Big Bird that plays out precisely the way it should.

Various versions of this special have been made available on DVD, though you'll be hard pressed to find one that hasn't been truncated due to copyright issues.  Fortunately, there exists a solution.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Going Green

And so it begins.

Last month, we drew your attention to our government's preemptive attack on the lunar surface and the dangers that entailed.  The findings of that action have now come to light.

There is water, it seems, buried beneath the moon's cold surface.

Next, we suspect, the scientists and politicians will seek to exploit this discovery.  Already, stage one is in discussion: the construction of a permanent moon base.

But that is only the start.  It is only a matter of time, we fear, before the terraforming of the moon's surface begins.  Giant domes will soon be constructed, in which we'll use the newly found water to start growing crops in the lunar soil.

Before long, the tranquility of the moon will be interrupted with the viral green plantation of Earth.  When this occurs, the unique environmental conditions of the moon will be lost, buried beneath our alien plants.  Eventually, the moon will be but a mirror of the ball it orbits, losing all individuality and distinguishing features in the spreading sea of our biological pollution.

As environmentalists, we cannot permit this.  The nul-ecosystem of the lunar surface has remained in balance for million of years, cared for and protected by the sublunarean Moon Men dwelling deep beneath the ground.  To introduce living, growing things into this rich environment will destroy what makes it special.

It will also likely further enrage the Moon Men, who have shown remarkable restraint in the wake of last month's attack.