“Cars” versus “The X-Men”

Promotional poster for 'Cars' starring Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, and Larry the Cable Guy.

Promotional poster for ‘Cars’ starring Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, and Larry the Cable Guy.

I did not realize Owen Wilson provided the voice of Lightning McQueen (the little race car that could) in “Cars” until about 1/3 of the way through the movie. I’ve watched the trailer a bajillion times and just never paid attention to his voice. What I think threw me off was that Wilson dropped his trademark twang accent. He sounded a bit more like his brother Luke, and for a few moments I wondered if Luke had done the voice rather than Owen.

The cast for “Cars” is surprisingly star-studded. Paul Newman did Doc Hudson (the “Hudson Hornet”). How many people caught the connection to his movie Winning, which I saw as a kid? Winning was everything to his character, Frank Capua, until he realized that winning races was causing him to lose his life.

Of course, Newmen went on to race cars off-screen. I wonder what he thought of the dialogue? Did he suggest changes?

The real Hudson Hornet actually did make a significant impact on racing in the early 1950s, but the brand was phased out in 1957. There were never that many Hornets manufactured. For good measure, here is a Popular Mechanics article about the Hudson Hornet.

Not that I’m a big race fan, mind you. I spent most of my days at auto racing extravaganzas in my care-free youth, back before there were monster trucks and well-publicized tractor pulls. We were thrilled just to see the demolition derbies and to not get hit in the face by dirt flying off the race track (it hurts when you’re a small kid, but I digress).

My brother and I would press our Mom to take us to the Go-Cart track so we could practice taking the curves like good race car drivers. Of course, the track operators didn’t want us to do that, so Rick would just come up behind me, catch his front wheel in my reel wheel, and force me to spin out. Older brothers can be such a pain.

I never pictured Bonnie Hunt as a Porsche, but I guess it works. Bonnie is a Pixar veteran who contributed her vocal talents to “A Bug’s Life” and “Monster’s Inc”, both of which movies were lampooned in the final credits (most of the people in the theater walked out before seeing these great scenes). John Ratzenberger, another Pixar veteran (many people may recall him best as insufferable know-it-all Cliff the Mailman from Cheers), lent his voice to Mack (as in Mack Truck). His comments in the end credits were kind of cute. The joke definitely works as many people in the audience were following the same line of thought.

Michael Keaton as Chuck Hicks (the “bad” race car) puts some pizzazz into an otherwise cardboard role. The movie is not really about the rivalry between Lightning McQueen and Chick Hicks, but rather is a coming-of-age tale for Lightning.

There were quite a few walk-on roles from both the racing world and entertainment (I’ll never see Jay Leno the same way again). But maybe the best out-of-person characterization was Tony Shalhoub’s Luigi. This guy is so versatile. I’ve never seen him play the same role twice. John Wayne could get away with that because he was so big on screen he had to just be himself, almost. But Shalhoub immerses himself in the characters he plays and he makes them bigger than his own personality. It’s a pity he didn’t get a larger role in the film, but maybe next time.

The plot was rather predictable. It was sort of “Doc Hollywood” meets “Days of Thunder”. Any standard western could have fulfilled the same function, really. What makes this movie stand out from other Pixar productions, in my opinion, is the incredible level of detail they put into every scene. The backgrounds are almost as much a character in the story as the cars. And, in fact, they even bring the details into the forefront in a couple of good scenes. I could almost like the desert after seeing this movie. Almost.

There’s not yet a whole lot of trivia about the movie at IMDB (not always the greatest source of information, but I link to it more than I used to). I recognized a few of the lines and jokes. For example, there’s an old George Carlin line (I forget the movie) where someone comes up to him and asks if he has seen something and he says, “The 60s were good to you, man”. Well, they turned that around in this movie.

The town looks like the little town in “Big Fish” — I forget the name of it, but I’m thinking of the town where everyone hung their shoes and walked barefoot. It was bypassed by highways. Still, there are several shots where you look down mainstreet and they almost exactly replicate similar shots in “Big Fish”. The life cycle of the town (I don’t want to give away too much) is very much like in “Big Fish”, too.

The auto designs, according to the trivia page, are all inspired by Detroit’s auto museum car models. But they remind me of those Techron Gas commercials that used to show up on American television several years ago. I kept expecting to see a product plug.

The relationship between Lightning and Doc reminded me of Marty McFly and Doc Brown in the “Back to the Future” movies, although there wasn’t that much similarity. I guess the way Owen says “Doc” just sounds a lot like the way Michael J. Fox says it. It could be I’m making that connection because of the “Doc Hollywood” subtext (Michael J. Fox starred in “Doc Hollywood”).

All in all it was a great movie, fun for a Sunday afternoon. Wish you could have been there. You’d have loved it. I may go see it again next weekend….

And on to “The X-Men”.

Promotional poster for 'X-Men: The Last Stand' starring  Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, and Rebecca Romijn.

Promotional poster for ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, and Rebecca Romijn.

I’ve read some unfavorable fan reactions to this movie on the Internet. I enjoyed it. I think it was the best of the three movies so far. And, no, they don’t kill off everyone. Technically, only one major character actually dies. You need to wait around for the end credits. And keep in mind that in comic book universes, death is more like a phase in a recycling technology. Marvel is especially good at killing off heroes and bringing them back.

Stan Lee needs to stop doing 3-second walk-ons and spend a little more time wallowing in his comic book characters’ universe. For example, if they ever film the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, it just won’t work without Stan trying to crash the wedding. So, more Stan in the Marvel movies. I don’t care if he can act or if they have to box him up between takes and put him back on life support. Use CGI or something.

The one moment that disappointed me was Magneto’s last line in the finale. Sorry. I just don’t think he would say something like that.

I wasn’t really familiar with the Phoenix character from the comics. She came along after I stopped reading comics, so I don’t know how true-to-life she was supposed to be. One thing I didn’t really appreciate about these movies is the way they’ve jumbled up the ages of the original X-Men. I kept wondering where the Beast was. I didn’t realize he was doing a stint on television as a psychotherapist (Kelsey Grammer played Hank McCoy, the Beast).

The original X-Men were, if I recall correctly, the Cyclops (Scott), Marvel Girl (Jean), The Beast, The Angel, and Ice-Man. Bobby, the Ice-Man, was the youngest kid in the group. I think Scott was the first mutant Professor X recruited (and they usually called him Professor X). I was disappointed when Hank transformed himself (by accident) into the furball beast, but it is a much cooler depiction than the original human form he had.

As far as the technical details go, the bridge scene was amazing. They did a stupendous job of portraying Magneto’s true power, in my opinion. He doesn’t really come across as that powerful in the first two movies. Fortunately, Sir Ian McKellen’s grasp of the character is superb. He has brought Magneto’s passion through all the cheesy scenes with thorough expertise. He is the perfect Magneto (except when he says that one line).

The lesson of the movie seems to be that mutants are human, too. Well, the underlying racial/ethnic subtext is certainly relevant to today’s world. Whole wars have been fought by people strictly because they don’t like each other’s groups. Wars are no longer fought for basic economic necessity (but I suppose they haven’t been for a very long time).

The metaphor that Americans should bring away from the “X-Men” films, and which has been entirely lost on today’s generation of Americans, is that we don’t need to be rounding up 12 million illegal immigrants and putting them on cattle cars.

That’s not democracy. That’s a holocaust.