Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Over my election hangover

After all the angst over the election results, I needed to get the hell away from the TV and escape the world for a few hours. No drugs, though Iowa is a haven for crystal meth production. (Sudafed is a behind-the-counter drug in Iowa because of this. There's a future blog entry.) No, I caught a matinee showing of "Ray."

All I knew about Ray Charles was his music, which got me through many dark early mornings in my bakery manager days. 'Night Time is the Right Time' is one of my favorite songs ever. (Now I know why Margie Hendricks sounded so angry when she yelled "BABY!" during the song's chorus.) As it should, the movie focuses largely on the music, portraying Charles innovatively combining gospel with R&B; a choice that wasn't popular with all African-Americans of the time. When he had a song that called for something bigger, such as "Georgia on My Mind," he brought in an orchestra. (The recording is a goose-bump-inducing scene in the film.) And by the 70s, when he wanted to acknowledge his country musical roots, he made a country album, despite the protestations of his record label. It's a great story.

Charles was more of an icon to me than a person, so I was eager to learn something about the man. I've read a few reviews that criticize "Ray" for making its subject out to be a hero, but I thought plenty of Charles's flaws were presented on screen. His infidelity, his heroin addiction, and his cold approach to business that alienated friends and mentors were all part of the story. (Maybe if more of his mistresses had been shown, these critics would've been satisfied.)

And I don'’t know if Jamie Foxx should win the Best Actor Oscar, but he's definitely in the conversation. I would think a nomination is a lock. (And he should get a supporting nod for "Collateral" too.) This guy used to dress like a woman on "In Living Color," and now he might be the A-list black actor. I want his agent.

Since I was already at the theater, I couldn't resist sneaking into "The Incredibles." Too many kids in the room for my liking, but I sat in the back, above the fray, so they didn’'t annoy me too much. (Quick parenting thought: if I shelled out $40 to take my family to the movies, and my brats were wandering the aisles on an ADD trip instead of watching the screen, I'd be pissed.)

I figured I'd enjoy this one, though, since my love of comic books put me squarely in the target audience. But I was happy to see "The Incredibles" raise the bar for superhero movies past the level previously set by the Spider-Man and X-Men flicks. (And the bar should've been raised higher because so much more can be done in animation than live action.) It celebrated and tweaked the conventions of the genre (costumes, secret identities, arch-villains, etc.), but also created some memorable characters. I actually enjoyed the quieter stuff more than the giant action sequences, though animating a husband and wife arguing almost seems like a waste of the technology. The storytelling took its time with adult concerns like being stuck in a job you hate and living an unfulfilling life. This probably drove the kids crazy, but made things more interesting to the adults.

Another nice touch was the voice talent serving the characters rather than draw attention to a celebrity doing cartoons. Rather than build a character around, say, Will Smith, the filmmakers picked voices that fit their creations. Sarah Vowell, for instance, isn't even an actor; she's a writer. But her odd, nasal voice was perfect for the shy, awkward daughter.

Traditional 2-D animation's apparent death makes me sad (though I know it'll make a comeback) but if the Pixar continues to create fluid characters with exaggerated, "cartoonish" features, rather than the creepy, plastic mannequins seen in the "Shrek" flicks (and the upcoming "The Polar Express"), then maybe I'll get over it.

(Added bonus to "The Incredibles"? The "Star Wars: Episode III" trailer. I'm such a sucker. As soon as I saw the Lucasfilm logo, I became the wide-eyed kid again. This could be as loud, soulless, and stilted as the other "Star Wars" prequels, but I have hope since we'll see Darth Vader. To me, this has been the only reason to see these new films in the first place: seeing how one of the great villains of my lifetime came to be. My fingers are crossed.)