‘Cars 2′ Review: An Entertaining Ride With a Spy Twist

Cars 2 - Pixar

As Cars 2 rolls off the Pixar assembly line today, many questions will inevitably come to bear for prospective moviegoers. Is it another hit in the animation shop’s string of consecutive wins? Does it best the original Cars, a film that famously sits at the bottom of many “Best of Pixar” lists? Does it hit all the emotional beats like Up and Toy Story 3 did, making one cry like a baby in the process? Was it made just to cash in on the insanely popular Cars merchandise?

These are all valid questions to ask, for sure, when deciding whether or not to view Pixar’s latest offering. But before I even attempt to answer those questions, how about this one: Is it simply entertaining? The answer is Ka-Chow!

The sequel pits Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) in another big race, this time trading the domestic glitz of the Piston Cup for the international extravagance of the World Grand Prix. He’s been challenged by cocky (and hilarious) Formula 1 racecar, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), to said competition that will span the scenic destinations of Tokyo, Rome and Paris. Never one to back down from provocation, McQueen accepts and leaves behind the familiar settings of Radiator Springs with best friend Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and his pit crew in tow.

It’s at this point that the sequel deviates from the first film’s formula. While Cars focused primarily on McQueen, transforming him from arrogant, egocentric hotshot to caring, altruistic compadre, the sequel gives Tow Mater his own chance at the spotlight. Mater, with his ever-present naivety, finds himself in the middle of an international espionage mission led by spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine). When the jolly tow truck is tasked with investigating the mysterious theft of a high tech device, the result is a high-octane caper that ultimately intertwines McQueen’s big race subplot.

With Cars 2, Pixar aimed for a more simplistic approach, checking its trademark emotional tricks at the door. In their stead is a ton of action, sight gags and more action, all of which come fast and furious from the get-go. The opening sequence in particular makes it apparent that director John Lasseter created this spy tale with James Bond movies in mind.

The one constant in both films, aside from the amazing picture-perfect graphics, is McQueen and Mater’s friendship. The story of Cars 2 ultimately relies on the simple message of being true to one’s self, presented in a simplistic way that kids can easily digest. Of course, this message is a recurring theme in Pixar’s films, Cars 2 just uses a different approach to get there.

As is customary with Pixar films, the voice talent is impeccable. Joining Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Turturro and Caine are most of the original cast including Emily Mortimer, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Eddie Izzard, Bonnie Hunt, Bruce Campbell and, of course, Pixar perennial voice actor John Ratzenberger. The late Paul Newman’s absence as the voice of Doc Hudson is address early, but is made up for by the addition of the venerable Caine to the cast.

Overall, I had more fun watching the sequel than the first movie as it packed itself to the brim with entertainment value. The visuals, the sound and the blown out adventure never allow the Cars 2 to get stuck in second gear like Cars did in its second act. It was an unexpected discovery that Mater was promoted to leading man car status, but it just works this time around.

Ultimately, Cars 2 is best watched by ignoring Pixar’s previous body of work because it’s just a different movie. It would certainly pale in a direct comparison to The Incredibles, a film that deftly mixed action and drama and is, in my opinion, Pixar’s best film to date. And, of course, films like Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo and Wall-E are examples of the incredible innovation Pixar is capable of. Cars 2 doesn’t present anything new or intangible like all of those films did, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable.

And I’m sure that it was a no-brainer from Disney’s standpoint to release this film and cash in on all the toys, lunchboxes, pajamas and other merchandise that have been a fixture in the kid circuit since the first film debuted in 2006. You’d hope that such a decision didn’t get in the way of any creative direction, but I’m sure the fact that whole aisles at Toys-R-Us are dedicated to the franchise had something to do with Pixar’s decision to make the first sequel that didn’t start with the two words “toy” and “story.”

Pound for pound, does Cars 2 rank above some of Pixar’s best projects? No, it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable time to be had at the movies. In fact, it’s a 200 miles-per-hour thrill ride that’s a ton of good fun. And if that’s not enough to sell you, the fact that it’s preluded by the excellent Toy Story Toons: Hawaii Vacation short should.

Cars 2
Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, John Turturro, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard
Directed by: John Lasseter
Screenplay: Ben Queen (Story: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis, Dan Fogelman)
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios
Release Date: June 24, 2011

7.5 / 10

‘Entourage’ Final Season Poster Revealed

Just one month separates us from the premiere of Entourage’s final season and we now have a look at the poster for the last hurrah from Vinny Chase and the gang.

EW debuted this poster, which shows E, Ari, Vince, Turtle and Drama looking over the Los Angeles skyline, all presumably ready to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.  Unlike posters from seasons past, this one has no tagline other than “The Final Season.” And it seems like Ari and Vince are sharing a laugh, while the rest of the crew are staring off into space. Of course, trying to decipher their body language and facial expressions (or lack thereof given that you can see their faces) is a futile exercise, but one is left to do such things while we wait this last month.

Just what will happen in these final eight episodes is still a mystery, but many loyal fans have stuck through it all and just want to see these guys get a fitting send off… until the rumored movie makes its way to the big screen.

Entourage Season 8 premiers on July 24 at 10:30PM on HBO.

Entourage Season 8 Premiere Poster

‘The Real Housewives of New York City’ Episode 4.12 Review: Sixteen And Skip the Sweet

Tonight’s episode of The Real Housewives of New York City provided for yet another boring episode for the second week in a row. Things just have not been as exciting since the ladies left Morocco. One would think that the three parties that were featured in tonight’s episode would have provided for plenty of drama, but there really was no drama to be had.

Viewers watched LuAnn help pick out her daughter’s modest sweet 16 dress and plan a simple party out of love whereas Ramona was planning her daughter’s sweet 16 which turned into a party for her daughter and for her. Ramona did invite 80 of her own friends and brought cases upon cases of her wine with her… because she couldn’t bare to be sober and with her closest family for just a few hours of one of the most memorable nights of her daughter’s life. What a shame. Watching Ramona’s daughter go to Kelly for help in getting Ramona’s friends away from the party was so sad. The poor girl could not have her own night even at her own birthday party.

But before the sweet 16 parties, Jill had a face lift filling (which we were informed takes place about every five months… which is every five months too much) and a chat with her sister, Lisa and Sonja about Sonja’s financial struggles. Being that Jill’s sister is an attorney, it made sense for Jill to reach out to Sonja the way that she did. And Sonja did not seem to have a guard up at all. She was very open to discussion and open to absorbing all of the information that Jill’s sister had for her, so that was refreshing to see. Sonja was vulnerable and seemed ready to drop the front and face her problems without shame. Jill’s sister was coming from a genuinely resourceful and caring place and Sonja reacted the same way which was nice. And after all of that, LuAnn threw Jill a surprise birthday party. Though it is unclear who was the real center of attention at the party, the late attendees (Kelly, I’m talking to you) or LuAnn, who sang an original song just for Jill. I’m sure Jill loved that. LuAnn just won’t give up with the singing, will she? Who told her she could sing anyway?

Cindy really did not get any screen time. Alex and Simon barely got screen time, what with following the couple to a hypnotist to help Simon stop smoking. This is perhaps the only story line with weight (especially with the recent cigarette warning label news) but it only got a few minutes on the air. There were really no other stories tonight worth discussing, there was nothing that will have Housewives fans chattering about all day long tomorrow by the water cooler. Tonight’s episode did not “skip the sweet” as the episode title tried to imply. In fact, that’s all it was. There was sugar but no spice. So to many fans, this may have been a fun filler episode, but next week had better bring the drama that we all know and enjoy watching!

Watch The Real Housewives of New York City Thursdays at 10/9c on Bravo.

*Photo Credit: Heidi Gutman/Bravo

Russell Crowe & Julia Ormond Join Cast of Superman ‘Man of Steel’

russell crowe man of steelRemember when Marlon Brando played Jor-El in Superman? Prior to its 1978 release, Brando was the biggest name on the bill (not to mention his prima donna act) even though you could count the minutes Brando appeared on one hand. Russell Crowe (Gladiator) will get that same distinction for Zack Snyder’s upcoming filmSuperman: Man of Steel and will play Kal-El/Superman’s biological father Jor-El. The casting of Julia Ormond (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) as Lara Kal-El’s biological mother was also announced Thursday.

Wait, I can hear it now: “Are you not Kal-El!”

Crowe and Ormond will join Henry Cavill (The Tudors, Immortals) as Clark Kent/Superman, Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) as General Zod, Amy Adams (Doubt) as Lois Lane, Kevin Costner (The Untouchables) and Diane Lane (The Perfect Storm) as Jonathan and Martha Kent and Antje Traue (Pandorum) as Zod’s right hand woman Faora.

It’s interesting that the more well-known actors are playing the supporting parent roles in the film where the principle characters are being played by the lesser-known, up and comers. This is as interesting a cast as we’ve seen in super hero movie casting; now let’s just hope the script and production is as good as the cast.

‘The Real World’ Returns to San Diego For Season 26

Watch out Gaslamp District, MTV’s The Real World is coming back to your area.

MTV has announced that the reality show will mark it 26th Season by returning to the beautiful city of San Diego, home of Seaworld, Petco Park and, of course, Comic-Con International.

I haven’t personally watched the show in about ten years, but I imagine the premise is still the same: culturally diverse young adults get submerged in a compressed situation where the conflicts are aplenty and alcohol flows like chocolate in Willy Wonka’s factory.

The last time the show took on San Diego was in its 14th season, one which brought actress Jamie Chung to the limelight (Chung recently was seen in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, though she also been in a number of films including Grown Ups).

With 25 iterations under its belt, The Real World has been to just about every major metropolitan city or area including multiple trips to New York, Las Angeles and Las Vegas. The new season airs later this year.

Emma Stone Offered Lead in ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

There are few books that are as timeless as Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice as the main character Elizabeth Bennet deals with manners, education, marriage in 19th-century England, independence, individuality and on and on, but let’s be real. She didn’t have to deal with zombies.

pride prejudice zombiesemma stone zombies

Seth Grahame-Smith upped the ante in his 2009 parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, where his version of Elizabeth Bennet must deal all of the above AND a deadly virus that turns the dead into zombies, and it became a New York Times bestseller. Now it’s being adapted into a feature film and Easy A star Emma Stone (Amazing Spider-Man) has been offered the lead role of Elizabeth. Why wouldn’t Stone want to star in this film? She’ll be uniting zombie nation and Jane Austen readers under one roof. Just imagine the conversations when the theater lets out. Imagine the cosplay when this film hits theaters!

If she does take the role, this won’t be the first time that Stone has to square off with the walking dead. She starred in hit-comedy film, Zombieland (2009) which became the highest grossing zombie film in history. Could Stone be gold for the dead once again?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a Lionsgate film directed by Craig Gillespie (United States of Tara, Lars and the Real Girl) and is being produced by Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch, Richard Kelly, Sean McKittrick and Tedd Hamm.

‘Watchmen’ Scribe Alex Tse to Write Reboot of ‘The Crow’ Starring Bradley Cooper

alex tseDoes anyone remember The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005)? Didn’t think so. The same could be said about The Crow: Salvation (2000) and yes, The Crow: City of Angels (1996). Hollow. Soul-less. All Ultimately forgettable. So plans have gone forward with a reboot of The Crow franchise, put forth by Relativity Media, one that creator James O’Barr can be proud of.

Juan Carlos Frenadillo (28 Weeks Later) is going to direct and Bradley Cooper (Limitless, The Hangover) is going to star as Eric Draven and Alex Tse (Watchmen) has been chosen to write the screenplay that will see Draven rise from the dead to punish those who murdered his wife. It should be interesting to see if Tse tries to do something drastic to make it contemporary, or places it in a different time period. Whatever he does, it had better be different and worthy of making a remake in the first place unless he wants to feel the angst of angry goths. No pressure at all, Alex.

Often overlooked in conversations of quality comic book to film adaptations is 1994 revenge flick, The Crow. The original starred the late Brandon Lee and soon became a quintessential film in any goth’s movie library. The sequels however, lost any impact the original made, mostly going straight to video, err um, DVD for you kids out there.

‘The Voice’ Episode 1.10 Review: The Semi-Final Results

The semi-finals results show of The Voice opened up with a spectacular performance of George Michael’s “Faith” by the eight finalists of the season. For half of the artists on stage, this was their last night on the stage while still competing for the big prize… and most of the results were just as we all expected them to be.

Because the competition has dwindled down, viewers were not subjected to a somewhat draining two hour broadcast last night which was wonderful. NBC knows how to give the viewers what they want in just the right amount of time with no dead air. Go NBC!

So after reading a heartfelt poem to his remaining team members, one artist was eliminated and the other headed to the finals first on Cee Lo’s team. Vicci Martinez and Nakia were in the ring as Cee Lo’s votes were announced 49 points vs. 51 points out of 100 points. Cee Lo’s reasoning behind the scoring added up to his conflict with hearing Martinez’s performance earlier in the week. That can ruin a performance. But America heard her just fine and their votes added onto Cee Lo’s votes meant that Vicci Martinez was the first artist to head to the final round! Really, after her performance this week, there wasn’t a doubt that she wouldn’t make it this. Though no explanation was given as to how America’s votes translated into points, so perhaps host, Carson Daly will be more articulate come finals. One can only hope.

“Javier, I had to see you go into the finals.” – Coach, Adam Levine

Adam Levine and Gym Class Heroes gave an “unplanned” performance of their new song, “Stereo Hearts” during rehearsals, which was a great treat for Levine’s final two artists… especially for Casey Weston who had no chance against Javier Colon at making it into the finals. Levine’s score for Colon hit 65, so Weston’s score only reached 35. Levine did not hesitate to “play the game” and make sure that Colon advanced to the next round. As a more mature and experienced artist, more than ready for his time in the music business, Levine’s scores and America’s votes placed Colon in the final four. This was just how we all knew the results would be from the very beginning. Could the night get any more predictable and satisfying? Well, yeah.

The most emotional act by a coach came from Blake Shelton as footage was shown of him taking his team to Ohio on a private jet for a meet and greet and concert. Shelton catered to his fans just as much as he did to his final two artists without hesitation. He gave both Dia Frampton and Xenia electric guitars as well as their own meet and greet with country singer, Brad Paisley. But it didn’t end there! During his concert for his fans, he invited Frampton and Xenia on stage to sing his hit, “Honey Bee” which was an experience these ladies will never forget. That is a prize within itself, so both of these ladies came out winners even though one was eliminated after their return from Ohio.

In a shocking move, Shelton’s scores totaled to 50/50! Due to Shelton’s scoring, this was the first elimination in the semi-finals where the votes solely depended on America’s votes. And America did not disappoint, putting Dia Frampton through to the final round! On the other hand, there was Christina Aguilera who also gave a 50/50 scoring due to not wanting to compare apples and oranges. So America was also the sole decision maker in moving on one artist to the finals for Team Christina… and this may have actually been one of the only shocking moments of the night. America’s votes revealed Beverly McClellan to be the artist from Team Christina moving onto the next round. It is unclear as to what the future holds for Frenchie’s music career… as she was almost ready to give up before this competition began. So hopefully this is not the end for her. Even with Frenchie gone though, the final four are quite a spectacular bunch of artists, so the final performance show next week should be quite a show!

Viewers were treated to a performance of the new single “Bright Lights, Bigger City” by Cee Lo last night and will be treated to original songs and duets between the final four and their coaches next week. Perhaps these original songs are the potential first singles for the winner’s debut album? One can only anticipate. The V Room, which we saw once or twice last night, seemed to be transformed into the Sprint Room. This was too much ad placement for my taste… but it’s better than watching the artists hopping around in Sprint music video commercials, so I will stop complaining. Carson Daly has yet to give an exact number of the millions of votes cast, so hopefully we will get a number in the finale. Does anybody else care about the number of votes? Last night’s results show was a very satisfying results show and has proven to craft some very talented artists that America loves. All of the final four contestants have gained quite an incredible experience here, but who are you rooting for to win?

Watch the final performance show of The Voice this Tuesday at 9/8c and the season finale this Wednesday night at 8/7c on NBC.

*Photo Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

‘Suits’ Pilot Review – Great Cast Chemistry, Not So Great Writing

Suits - USA Network - Pilot

Over the course of any given television season, there are good pilots (Game of Thrones), bad pilots (The Cape), the so-so pilots (Hawaii Five-0), and the pilots that just frustrate you because you can see their potential in the middle of all the chaos that’s on the screen. Suits belongs in that latter category.

Suits stars Patrick J. Adams (Lost) as Mike Ross, a college dropout with a photographic memory and stoner who makes money by helping law students cheat on their New York State bar exams. But he’s THE ROGUE WITH A HEART OF GOLD. How do we know he’s THE ROGUE WITH A HEART OF GOLD? Well, the money he makes is to help pay for his grandmother’s stay at a local nursing home, who are threatening to kick her out if he doesn’t pay $25,000 in fees. His buddy Trevor (Tom Lipinski) is a big-time pot dealer who lures Mike into his racket with the promise of more money. (One of the more ludicrous points made in the pilot episode is that pot dealing, as compared to cocaine or heroin, is one of the most dangerous lines of illegal work.)

During a drug deal gone wrong, and with cops chasing after him, a suit-clad Mike stumbles upon an interview to be hot shot attorney’s Harvey Spector (Gabriel Macht, The Spirit) associate. Now Harvey is supposed to be THE BEST LAWYER IN NEW YORK. How do we know he’s THE BEST LAWYER IN NEW YORK? Other people say he’s the best closer ever, including his boss Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres, Firefly). We see him browbeat a dickish client and win over a standoffish bar waitress but other than those examples, we have to take everyone else’s word for it. (He also cares about winning, not about people, which means he ultimately cares about people.)

Mike is called in to be interviewed by Harvey when bags of pot fall out of his briefcase. Instead of doing what everyone else in his position would do, which is to either kick Mike out or to call the police, Harvey continues on with the interview. Mike admits to his current line of work, and his photographic memory, but that doesn’t deter Harvey, who agrees to take Mike on as his associate as long as they lie about him going to Harvard Law School. (You see, Harvey hates all of the other, more qualified applicants.)

All of that happens in the first twenty-five minutes, getting the convoluted premise out of the way so that the rest of the ninety minute pilot is focused on the procedural aspect of the show: a pro bono case involving some rich douche who sexually harasses women who work for him and then fires those who don’t heed to his advances.

Some lip service is paid to a lawyer named Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman, Samantha Who?), who’s the ball-busting head of all associates at the firm, who’ll be on Mike’s case for the rest of the season, while we’re also introduced to Harvey’s smart-mouth assistant Donna (Sarah Rafferty, Brothers and Sisters) and a television-ready feminist paralegal named Rachel (Meghan Markle, CSI: Miami).

At some point, the pro bono case looks like it might not be a winner but is ultimately won, not by awesome lawyering as we’ve been prepared to except. Instead, it’s won in the same fashion Dr. House ultimately cures ailments: a third party says a word or phrase that has nothing to do with the case at hand but it pricks Harvey’s ears up and he has an epiphany. (“Convulsion Begets Convulsion” should be the firm’s motto.)

Oh, and Mike walks away from his pot dealing pal without repercussions.

Now with all that said, there is a good show in the middle of all that convulsion. It’s what makes Suits so frustrating. The chemistry between Adams and Macht is good, even electric in some scenes, and Torres is great in everything she’s ever done. But the writing fails them. The dialogue is trite, the situations are meh when not unbelievable. And the pilot’s pacing is a huge hindrance, with dead space in the middle of two person scenes that tries to pass off as moments of contemplation –- which are obviously trying to copy scenes from the show’s dramatic and better counterpart Mad Men. (A man who is the best of his profession? Another trying to pass himself off as someone he isn’t? Slick New York-made suits? When is this show NOT trying to be the lighthearted Mad Men?)

And it is because of the winning performers, I’ll be checking in every once in a while on the show, to see if it eventually overcomes its problems. Most of me really hopes it does. Some of me thinks it will. That’s how much potential I saw in this episode.

Suits debuts on Thursday, June 23 at 10pm Eastern/9pm Central on USA Network with a 90-minute pilot and will continue to air on Thursdays at 10pm Eastern/9pm Central throughout summer.

Starring: Patrick J. Adams, Gabriel Macht, Meghan Markle, Gina Torres and Rick Hoffman
Network: USA
Premiere Date: June 23, 2011
Rating: 5.0/10

Interview: Larry the Cable Guy Sings and Talks Role as Mater in ‘Cars 2′

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Larry the Cable Guy, the voice of Mater in Cars 2. Personally, this is one of the most jovial interviews I’ve ever done. Before we started, Larry was delivering a Broadway worthy singing performance at the Disney office. So in the interview we had him sing both “Jingle Bells” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”

In this interview, Larry discusses how he draws on his relationship to his children to bring emotion to Mater.

Key Points to check out:
0:50 – The Cable Guy discusses Storyboards and not knowing how important his role would be in the sequel
2:06 – Larry discusses working with Director John Lasseter in the booth
3:12 – Being a Franchise Player
4:05 – Larry sings Jingle Bells
4:25 – The Mater Remix to “Some Enchanted Evening

Check out the interview below: