Sunday, November 9, 2014

Big Hero 6 isn't just for kids


Everyone, by now, is familiar with the Pixar name and the high quality animated movies that studio produces, from the original Toy Story to WALL-E. Pixar has become known for the length of time they take to develop a story or nurture a script before even rendering a single pixel of information. They do have the occasional stumble (Cars 2), and are facing some backlash after announcing a fourth Toy Story movie, but for the most part they put out the best of the best in CG animated films.

Disney's CG animation arm has not been as successful, at least as far as critics are concerned. Most of their animated films are geared more towards the younger crowd … who will want all of the merchandise that goes along with the movie … and scripts usually are too juvenile for adults to bear. But, since Disney has folded Pixar into the company (complete with Pixar's John Lasseter heading up the animation unit), their CG films have grown up. Their Secret of the Wings was a pretty solid effort considering it was a direct-to-video film with limited theatrical release, and that also seemed to be a test run for the studios best (and most popular) CG animated film yet, Frozen. And now Disney has released a new CG animated film with the curious title of Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6 tells the story of Hiro and his older brother Tadashi (who live in the mash-up city of San Fransokyo). Both are scientific geniuses, and while the older Tadashi has made something of himself, the teenaged Hiro spends time gambling in (illegal) robot fights. Knowing he can't stop Hiro from going, Tadashi offers to give him a ride to the next fight but ends up taking him to the institute he attends. A new world opens up before Hiro's eyes, and before long he is creating a new type of robot to present for consideration for admission into the institute.

The robots are a success, a "shady" businessman offers to buy them from Hiro but he is convinced it is better to accept the invitation to join the institute. After leaving the competition, the building bursts into flames, Tadashi runs in to save his professor, but an explosion spells the worst for anyone left inside the building. Depression takes over Hiro's life, but his brother's invention Baymax, a personal medical robot, Tadashi's friends and a mysterious supervillain who seems to have replicated Hiro's microbots give Hiro a new purpose in life – find out who stole his invention and killed his brother.

This really is some heady stuff for something that could be looked down upon as just a kids' movie. There certainly is more than enough colorful scenery and laugh-out-loud humor (courtesy of Baymax) for the kids, but the idea of death, revenge, retribution and sacrifice will keep adults heavily invested in the story and the characters. Tadashi's funeral scenes are very reminiscent of the wordless life story of the characters in Pixar's Up, and it will definitely leave you with some very moist eyes. Even though these characters are animated, you feel real human emotion from the "performances" that just tug on your heart.

Another scene near the end of the movie, the one involving selfless sacrifice, not only had tears rolling down my face but had the children behind me having complete emotional meltdowns. That certainly demonstrates the power of the characters to make you believe in them, and the power of the writing to fully engage you in those characters' fates. The only real weak link in the story is the villain, who comes out of nowhere and wears a kabuki mask for no other reason than associating it with the city in which they live. The final battle between Hiro and his friends (the Big Hero 6 of the title, a name they give themselves as they become real superheroes through science) is action-packed and made even more impressive with the stunning use of 3D.

Of course, the real star of the movie is Baymax, a big marshmallow of a robot that is designed to attend to anyone's medical needs, from a slight rash to emotional heartbreak. Baymax is designed to be non-threatening, hence the squishy inflatable look, kind of like a Christmas lawn decoration come to life, but he's equipped with everything one would need for medical assistance. To help fight the villain though, Hiro has to alter Baymax's programming to make him a badass fighting machine, which sometimes confuses the robot, but once Hiro pulls the disk containing the medical programming, Baymax changes into something morally questionable. It certainly is a bold move on the filmmakers' part to take what and who should be the film's good guys and turn them to the dark side, especially in a film with children as its main demographic. But by the end of the movie, you will be wanting your own Baymax.

For some reason, I find myself getting drowsy during CG animated films maybe because of the over-stimulation of the colors or the movement, or maybe even the 3D, but Big Hero 6 had me fully engaged for the entire running time. If you think cartoons are just for kids, then have your attitude readjusted by Big Hero 6. As an added bonus, the animated short Feast precedes the film, a story about the life of a cute pooch (and his owner) as they go from bachelorhood to romance and break-up, all told through the dog's eyes (and appetite). It's a charming film that has as much, if not more, heart packed into its short running time than most live action, feature length films can muster. Together, these films are a real treat for all ages.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Vote for issues, not people


There is an election coming and if there's one thing the Republican party is counting on, it's that you won't vote. Voter apathy is the best tool Republicans have to win this mid-term election. It's been hammered home that even though this is "just a mid-term," it is a crucial election. The Republicans only need a few seats in the Senate to have complete control of Congress. Do you really want Mitch McConnell, the person who stated six years ago that his one mission in life was to make President Obama a one-term president, running the show?

And Democrats, what the #@!$% is wrong with you, running away from President Obama? Can we stop allowing the RNC and Fox News to constantly bombard voters with total misinformation and outright lies about the President's administration and accomplishments? A couple of weeks ago, they were blaming the President for high gas prices. Now that prices are at their lowest in four years, they're putting in voters' minds that low gas prices are bad for the economy! For the record, the President has no control over gas prices (and he's golfed and vacationed much less than Bush).

But we apparently live in a Bizarro World that is completely controlled by Fox News. They keep telling people what a terrible president Obama has been to their viewers who are so mind-numbed by the constant barrage of propaganda that they can't be bothered to look at any other source of information which provides actual facts. Because of this, we now have Democrat candidates who refuse to be associated with Obama, from turning down offers to have him campaign for them, to refusing to say whether or not they voted for him.

We live in a world now where gas prices have tumbled, the economy is growing extremely well, the stock market closed at an all-time high this week, unemployment has dropped from 10.3% to 5.9%, the Affordable Care Act is working ... I mean, what in any of this makes people run FROM Obama? Oh, that's right, no one who watches Fox News hears any of this. They're too busy now focused on the ebola epidemic that is sweeping across the country. Except that it isn't. One person has died in the United States from ebola, and that person didn't contract it here. The handful of people who did contract it on US soil ... are alive and recovered! But now we have politicians who repeat the GOP scripted "I'm not a scientist" when asked about climate change who are suddenly trained medical experts when it comes to dealing with ebola (not to mention that Republican men seem to also be trained gynecologists). If you haven't heard, Rand Paul is an ophthalmologist, so I would take anything he says about ebola with a grain of salt. And, people of Maine, IT'S NOT AIRBORNE! If Kaci Hickox wants to go for a bike ride, you're not going to catch it as she pedals on by.

So, yes, Republicans are either counting on you not voting because it's a mid-term, or because you don't like the President or a particular candidate in your own party. They are counting on the stupid vote. They don't want informed voters at the polls. They really don't want minority voters there either judging by the way they've tried in many states to limit voting rights (and let's thank the Supreme Court for helping make that possible by striking down the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as no longer relevant!). A low-information voter is the Republicans' best friend.

It has really bothered me lately to see that some people who say they are total liberals have decided to vote with the Republican party in this mid-term simply because of the gridlock over the past six years. Seriously? Do you realize which party has caused the gridlock? Can you not see the progress the President has made IN SPITE OF the Republican party? At this point, you're playing completely into their plans by believing that giving them all the power will fix things. How will giving even more tax breaks to corporations and the extremely wealthy fix things? How will completely taking away women's rights to make decision with their medical professionals fix things? How will allowing even more money into political campaigns fix things? How will making guns even easier to obtain fix things? How will cutting school budgets (and transitioning teaching from science based facts to religion-based theory) fix things??? Is this really the party you want to help put in control of this country?

Let's look at just a few of the things that Congressional Republicans have voted AGAINST:
  • Voting rights
  • Paycheck fairness
  • Ending outsourcing tax breaks
  • The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014
  • The Violence Against Women Act
  • An amendment to extend equal benefits to active duty service members and veterans in legal same sex marriages
  • Minimum Wage increase
  • Campaign finance transparency
  • The Buffett Rule (a minimum tax on millionaires)
  • The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
  • U.N. treaty to protect the equal rights of the disabled
  • The Affordable Care Act
  • Gun control legislation
  • Infrastructure funding
  • Confirmation of a Surgeon General (under pressure from the NRA!)
The Republicans changed the rules of voting in Congress to make everything have to pass by a 60 vote "majority" because that was the only way they could block things from happening. Now, Mitch McConnell says that when he's the new Speaker of the House, the first thing he's going to do is change the rules back to a 51 vote majority and repeal the Affordable Care Act. He's boldly telling HIS constituents, the ones who are benefiting most from Obamacare, that he's going to take that away from them ... and they're still planning to vote for him! Because the other person has been painted as being Obama's twin (and because he loves coal). Seriously.

When it comes to voting, you can't look at the person and say, "I don't like that person so I'm not voting for them." You have to look a the party's platform and ask yourself if you agree or disagree with that. Taxes are always a sticking point for voters. No one wants to be taxed. But no one seems to understand how states are run. They don't just print money and hand it out to people. Taxes pay government employees, taxes fix schools and roads, taxes keep your fire and police departments running. You cut taxes, that make up in the decrease in funding has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is usually deep cuts to various programs voters rely on. And when those things are cut, the voters complain.

Kansas voters happily put Sam Brownback in the governor's mansion because he promised to give everyone massive tax cuts. And now the state is virtually bankrupt because there is not enough money coming in to keep things running. And somehow, Brownback is almost assured to win the election come Tuesday. Same thing in Florida. Rick Scott has done nothing but profit handsomely from the sleazy things he's done while in office, yet he's tied with his Democrat opponent and could very well be re-elected. Huh? In Maryland, the Republicans are painting Democratic candidate Anthony Brown as nothing but a tax loving politician and his opponent as the state's tax breaking savior. If Maryland elects Larry Hogan, we're all but assured to become the new Kansas. Hogan is known to have deep Tea Party ties, so we can expect attempts to curtail Obamacare and possibly repeal the state's marriage equality law. The legislature, thankfully, will still be predominantly Democrat, so the chance of those things happening right away are slim, but if Republicans do gain control, we will become Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin and Florida.

So, if you haven't voted yet, all I'm asking is that you vote SMART. Look at the issues, look at the party as a whole, look at where things are going now, look at how a party has voted on crucial issues and if an individual simply votes along party lines or actually has a singular voice on some matters. It's not a popularity contest, it's an entire population you put at risk by note voting or just voting because you think it's going to fix the gridlock in Washington. If that's you're thinking, then you are the voter the Republicans are counting on. And if you don't vote, then you absolutely don't get to complain about anything.