Gnomeo & Juliet
2010 was a pretty good year for animated movies. Of course, Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon were fantastic, and I wrote before about liking Tangled quite a bit. Heck, even the latest Shrek offering was decent. And then Jason's interest in movies has been growing steadily, and we had a bunch of theater gift cards left over from Christmas, so we decided to take a chance on Gnomeo & Juliet.
Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, this gnomish take on Shakespeare's classic tale of star-crossed lovers failed to measure up to the high bar set by last year's animated hits.
I had my suspicions going in, of course. I mean, a tragedy ending in a double suicide doesn't seem like the most fertile ground for a family cartoon, does it? But then, animation studios have been doing a great job with creating more honest, engaging children's fare lately, well-written stories with fully realized characters. Maybe this one would follow that same path, I thought. And then I heard Kenneth Turan's review on NPR's Morning Edition, in which he called it "playful, inventive, and endearing," and "the pleasantest surprise of the season." With that kind of praise, I let myself be talked into overcoming my initial reservations.
Having seen it for myself, I have to wonder whether Mr. Turan and I actually saw the same movie. The writing was completely formulaic and dull, replete with your wise-cracking sidekicks and pop music montages. The performances were forgettable. The humor was tired, and there was no real sense of emotional engagement. In short, there really wasn't anything to lift this above the level of, say, Shark Tale or one of the middle Shrek movies.
Leaving the theater afterwards, I had this image of a bunch of clueless studio execs sitting around saying things like, "Our focus studies showed that parents appreciate pop culture references," and "You know what would be hilarious? Let's give this one character a bunch of malapropisms for no reason. And then he'll be voiced by Michael Caine!"
Now, look, I don't have anything against these ideas, per se, but if you must put in pop culture references, could you at least put in some fresh ones? There must be hundreds of movies at this point that have used the Matrix bullet-time gimmick or the American Beauty rose petals or thrown in an "I wish I could quit you" for no reason. Maybe that was OK the first year after those movies came out, but it's just not topical anymore. Nobody cares anymore.
The really tragic thing about this movie is that there was actually some evidence that somebody involved actually did know something about filmcraft, because there was one scene that had some genuine emotional content. (Tellingly, there was no dialogue at all in that part.) But even that didn't really work in the context of the film as a whole, being almost a throwaway scene that ended up just feeling incongruous with all the silliness in the rest of the movie.
Of course, there's always the chance I'm just being snobby. Most of the other families coming out of the theater with us talked about how good and cute it was. They seemed pretty happy on their ticket purchase. Maybe they really did like it; maybe they just liked having a chance to get out of the house with the kids. I don't know. But in an era where Pixar is repeatedly proving that you can make animated movies that are both entertaining and emotionally complex, I just can't recommend a movie like Gnomeo & Juliet.
Viewed: 2/19/2011 | Released: 2/11/2011 | Score: D+
This is from the wedding Juliette and I attended back in October, a couple of close friends from our college days. Each table had a different theme taken from a story that was meaningful to the couple. Ours was "Rivendell," which I imagine most of my readers will recognize from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. As you can see, it all came together beautifully.
Looking over the shots I got that day made me think it would be a lot of fun to shoot weddings. Stressful, but fun.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 800. Post-processing in Aperture 3: slight curve for highlight recovery and constrast.
A Kid On Christmas
This is what Jason looked like on Christmas morning while his Nana pushed him around the kitchen on his new tricycle. You may draw your own conclusions.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX lens, and Vivitar DF-383 flash (in Gary Fong Lightsphere). Aperture-priority exposure mode, TTL flash mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/60, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: flash WB preset; curves to bring up exposure and add contrast.
Sometimes Jason falls asleep when we're driving somewhere. This can be problematic because if it's before his nap then he most likely won't take one later. Even if he's already had a nap, he still usually wakes up grumpy. So, if he hasn't woken up by the time we've reached our destination and we're not pressed for time, sometimes we just sit around, try not to make any noise, and wait for him to wake up on his own. This can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to over an hour.
As you can see, this eventually leads to me getting bored.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/8, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 800. No post-processing.
Thoughts for improvement: Well, it's neither particularly interesting nor well-composed, so there's a lot of room for improvement as an image. But it does work pretty well as an example of the way I see and think, which is why I picked it.
The first pass I took when editing this photo I used a much tighter crop, focusing just on the poster in the center. That was what had initially caught my eye, the poster, and the way the woman's hands and head were framed by the windows across the street. The common wisdom is that composition is as much about what you leave out as what you include, hence the tight crop. Still, something about that framing didn't work quite right for me--it just seemed incomplete. When I added back most of the original image, it struck me that not only did I like the couch, the vases, and the additional buildings in the reflection, but I also liked including myself. I like the idea of making the photographer's relationship with the image explicit.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/4, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: cropped to 4x5; curves for highlight recovery and contrast.
Thoughts for improvement: The only thing that's bugging me about this one is the way that the neon sign's pull-cord intersects the wine glass on the poster.
He Plays Harmonica, Too
I mentioned Boone in Friday's post. As you can see, he was quite a character up-close. Turned out that he was pretty good with that harmonica, as well. I wonder what he's up to right now.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens, in aperture-priority exposure mode. Aperture f/1.4, shutter 1/1000 sec (0 EV), ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curves for highlight recovery; levels to darken blacks and brighten midtones; dodged over the subject; burned over the background.
Thoughts for improvement: I would have liked to be half a step back so as not to clip the brim of his hat off. Also, this probably would have been better stopped down to f/1.8 or f/2.
My Latest at Life As A Human: The Popculturist Falls to Pieces
Ever since my son was born, I’ve been increasingly drawn to the cultural elements of my own childhood. I find myself renting old Disney movies or picking up books I haven’t read in decades. I’m sure that same impulse, whatever it is, is what’s driving my latest obsession: Patsy Cline.
Just before I got back to my car on my last photowalk, I heard the sound of a ukulele coming from across the street. I stopped and turned, and saw this guy waiting for the bus. (Oddly, this was actually the second ukulele player I ran into that morning, but that's another story.) He saw me raise the camera to my eye and struck a pose, then shouted something as I started to leave.
We yelled at each other across the street for a minute, but the traffic was just too loud, so I ran across. Turned out that he was trying to give me his email address to send him the photo. I introduced myself. He said his name was Boone, and he told me about his ukulele, which he said he found in a dumpster and fixed up himself. I took a few closer shots, then we shook hands and parted ways.
I sent him the photos the next day, but I never heard back from him.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/8, shutter 1/400 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: cropped; exposure +1; levels to brighten highlights and midtones.
Thoughts for improvement: This shot was taken from really far away, so I ended up having to crop out a lot, which, combined with the fact that I underexposed due to being in a hurry, meant a lot of extra noise and softness. I would have liked more contrast and sharpness.
(Excuse the pun. I couldn't help myself.)
Toward the end of my photowalk a couple of weeks ago I passed by a fast-food restaurant. Peeking in through the window, I was struck by the way the light wrapped around this guy--it almost looked like a painting.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/8, shutter 1/400 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: straightened and cropped; curves for exposure adjustment and contrast.
Thoughts for improvement: The outside of the building may be a little hot--I can't quite make up my mind about that. I'm also not sure whether a horizontal crop might work better.
My Turn Next
I mentioned this on Monday, but Jason really loved that bus. He kept trying to climb in during the middle of other kids' rides, and even after I made him quit doing that, he still hung around and peeked in the window.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 800. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curves for highlight recovery and contrast.
Thoughts for improvement: I'm pretty happy with this one, actually.