Posts Tagged ‘matt groening’



June 28, 2008

Futurama Movie: The Beast with a Billion Backs Review


Length: 89 min

Précis: Futurama movie number two of four is focused on the theme of love … examined through a plot about an inter-universe rift and a planet-sized tentacle monster.  Most importantly though, it’s funnier than the first Futurama film!

Review by Matt:

Good news everyone! Futurama, the animated sci-fi comedy show created by Matt Groening, continues its afterlife with the release of the second of four post-television movies: The Beast with a Billion Backs. The Futurama fan base is large and diverse, so some of you will inevitably dispute my assessment – but let me tell you: The Beast with a Billion Backs is much better than the first Futurama movie. To quote one high profile film scholar, Bender’s Big Score was a “weak, boring disappointment”. Inexplicably, Beast with a Billion Backs is just a whole lot cleverer and funnier. The difference between the two is like watching a bad Futurama episode (like, say, The Deep South or That’s Lobstertainment!) and watching a pretty good one (like, say, Godfellas or The Farnsworth Parabox). Who knows what changed in the well-populated Futurama team – but it was the right thing. Beast with a Billion Backs is like the good old days of Futurama again. The jokes come frequently, they’re a combo of slapstick, black, offbeat and witty, and it’s all couched in the kind of sci-fi action that tickles your nerd centre.

Hopefully viewers know the premise of this show already. The movie doesn’t take any time to bring outsiders up to speed. No help from me – read the premise of the show if you need some background. Beast isn’t as “fans only” as the first Futurama Movie though, and there are less in-jokes. You’re also fine to watch this movie without having seen Bender’s Big Score.  The Beast With a Billion Backs gets straight into it: within the first five seconds, space has ripped open leaving an inter-universal portal hovering above New New York (presumably this was caused by Bender’s careless time-hopping in the previous film). Terrified earthlings are beginning to grow exhausted from pointing at it and screaming. It’s the kind of parallel-universe premise that Futurama loves (I also love it). But, in case the title didn’t already alert you, you’ll soon realise that this second Futurama film is mainly a big riff on the topic of love and sex. Despite the hovering gash in their universe, our main characters are largely concerned with romance:  Fry is preoccupied with his new girlfriend’s fancy for polygamy and Kif and Amy are headed to Kif’s home world to take part in a swampy, otherworldly marriage ceremony.

Meanwhile, Professor Farnsworth – aided by arch-rival Professor Wernstrom and the super-powered head of Stephen Hawking – investigates the anomaly.  In a typical Futurama parody, scientific efforts are brushed aside by the brash American president (the delightfully cantankerous Nixon’s head) who launches an all out military assault on the parallel world.  “Hell of a thing to send a universe to certain doom… “, philosophises mission leader Zap Brannigan, “Fun though! Makes a man feel big!” Of course, incorrigible robot Bender also has a primary plot thread, as he plays with his fellow robots (including one of my favourites – the pompous soap-star, Calculon) searching for a mythical cult called “The League of Robots”. He’s in fairly good form in this film, irascible and amoral as ever.

That’s just the beginning really. Messing with the anomaly soon unleashes an almighty universe-altering adventure, featuring a tentacled Casanova, voiced by David Cross. I won’t go into detail, but it’s another one of those extravagant sci-fi ideas for which Futurama is well known. This one adds a little dash of philosophical weirdity too, which I quite enjoyed. Potentially it has a level of absurdity that might not gel with everyone. Me? I love the absurdity. It’s kind of a War of the Worlds meets Everybody Loves Raymond caper that allows the love/sex theme to take centre stage. As you’d expect, the background to the film is also bustling with neat, nerdish ideas and parodies of modern life.

But the only reason these traits actually shine is that they are housed in 90 minutes that mostly stays sharp and funny. For me, that’s where the previous movie lost it. Beast with a Billion Backs is not off-the-scale funny – not all the jokes hit home – but there are still enough winners to make it pretty enjoyable. My biggest struggle was with the film’s meandering plot. I think it might be hard to stretch the Futurama style over 90 minutes, and the plot sometimes clunks forward a bit awkwardly. After so many jokey sidetracks you might start to wish there was something sturdier at the core. But there’s the rub: which do you want? It’s difficult to pump out constant irreverent humour and still maintain intricate plotting and deep characters. So, hey, overall I’m satisfied.

I lamented in my last review that the Futurama movies could do better than Bender’s Big Score. Effort number two, The Beast with a Billion Backs is a decent step up. It’s at least made sure it’s delivered on its core promise: there are plenty of moments to make you laugh!

(Note: Add your favourite lines from Beast With a Billion Backs in the comments section)



August 11, 2007

The Simpsons Movie review

The Simpsons Movie

Matt: Four Stars
Four Stars

Length: 87min


See our family. And feel better about yours.
For years, lines have been drawn…and then colored in yellow.

Review by Matt:

Everyone knows that The Simpsons is genius. It’s permeated modern culture. It’s given us a consistently amusing spin on pretty much everything. And it’s coined so much innovative material that there’s countless 20 – 30 year olds who can respond to any situation with a Simpsons quote. Ever since Matt Groening first morphed his misanthropic rabbits into a dysfunctional television family, it’s been 15 years of post-modern, satirical joy for viewers the world over. Televised joy, that is. The Simpsons never ventured into the chancy world of cinema, where our cherished culture is so often devoured and regurgitated as some galling blockbuster rip-off. There have been so many television and comic book icons sullied by a journey to the big screen that there must have been a hoard of anxious Simpsons fans sweating about the release of The Simpsons Movie.

They can breathe easy and let out a Homer-esque woohoo! The creators of The Simpsons Movie – and it seems all the central creative minds were on board – have transported the show to the cinema with loving care. They would have had to, because the television Simpsons made plenty of fun of flimsy Hollywood cinema over the years – even of TV-to-blockbuster cinema. The film itself opens with a self‑reflective gag that chastises the audience for paying to see a television show at the cinema. Your money is well spent though, because this is The Simpsons on the big screen, as sharp, satirical and hilarious as ever.

So the film hasn’t deflated a cultural institution – phew. But is it anything more than a ninety-minute Simpsons episode? Well, no, not too much more. And what else should this film really have been anyway? The additional joys injected into the cinematic Simpsons are appropriate. Visually it looks grand on the widescreen – there’s some neat 3D animation, a thousand Simpsons characters to spot, and there’s even a surprise penis. Obviously, it’s also much longer than a single episode, so there’s room for more sumptuous gags. It’s also able to develop a movie-length plot. This meanders at first, but is pretty innovative. It is also erected to buttress ninety minutes of mischievous social satire, targeting everything: politics, religion, corporations, the media, and everyday people.

The story features an overzealous Environmental Protection Agency – sanctioned by an ignorant but impressionable President Schwarzenegger – suppressing an environmental hazard in Springfield with a shock-and-awe style blitzkrieg. This sets the Simpsons off on a town-saving adventure. They’re central of course because, as we’d expect, it was Homer that endangered the town to begin with (I also realised, as Springfield charged at him with torches and pitchforks, that this must have been Homer’s fifth or sixth town lynching over the years).

The plot bounces by lightly, leaving ample time for irreverent non-sequiturs and other comical flourishes. They’re great, and they really help maintain the film’s very cheery style of cynicism. It’s probably been a while since the television Simpsons has been this sharp-witted; you’d have to stick together four pretty high-quality episodes to match the film. I grinned or laughed through almost its whole length, with only a few shallow lulls. I probably wasn’t as touched by the film’s touching moments as I should have been – I think I just expect The Simpsons to remain ironic and amusing all of the time – but a dash of poignancy wasn’t out of place in the cinema-length format.

Admittedly, I’ve been inculcated by the enduring themes and icons of The Simpsons, so it’s difficult for me to imagine how a Simpsons virgin would view this film. But apart from missing the many in-references, and meeting characters who’ve been developed over 15 years of television rather than in the film, these viewers are sure to enjoy the bounty of laughs and, like anyone would, appreciate the bright social commentary. But wait, I can’t really guarantee that, can I? Who are you, strange outsider, that has never seen The Simpsons? Would you really be au fait with all the social commentary?

The Simpsons Movie won’t be remembered throughout history for being – as ‘the comic book guy’ would say – the “Best. Movie. Ever.” It is just another fantastic and funny piece of The Simpsons’ oeuvre bumped off the TV and into the cinema. As that, it’s a film that is almost impossible not to appreciate and enjoy. There’s not much on the television or in the cinema that you can say that about.