What’s “Lava” Got to Do with It: Weighing In on the Great Film Twitter Debate
It’s hard to think of the last time one thing, one cultural event that wasn’t something really terrible or sad, simultaneously brought Film Twitter together and tore it apart. (Just kidding, Brandon Nowalk named at least five things that had a similar effect.) I’ve gotten pretty good at either being completely apathetic/indifferent to some, if not most of these debates, or at least keeping my opinion to myself. But this one, concerning the latest Pixar short film, seemed too amusing to not joke about having an opinion in the first place. It managed to engender some very, very vehement feelings, mostly vitriolic. There are certainly a bunch of people who, and I saw this with love and respect for these people, were incredibly smarmy and self-righteous in their defense of this short, but having not yet seen it, I couldn’t properly weigh in on the great Film Twitter debate that was on Lava. Read the rest of this entry »
Third Time’s a Charm: Review for Toy Story 3
15 years after the initial release of Pixar’s first animated film Toy Story, Pixar has finally released a second sequel to the beloved series. Openly aimed at the audience that grew up with the previous two films, Toy Story 3 blends nuanced storytelling, emotional wallops, and amazing visuals. This is probably Pixar’s strongest film since WALL-E and Finding Nemo and it proves as a worthy successor to Toy Story and Toy Story 2.
Andy, the owner of the beloved toys, has grown up with us. He’s 17 now and he‘s off to college, having neglected his toys for the past several years. Begging for attention, Woody and the gang have set up several various plans to get him to play with them again. But to no avail. The toys accidentally get donated to a daycare center, Sunnyside, a seemingly toy Utopia run by a large and jovial purple bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty). Lotso is not all hugs and happiness; he’s an evil dictator. It is up to Woody and the gang to escape from
The film has some of the best storytelling of any movie in the past 15 years. Michael Arndt, who also was nominated for an Academy Award for Little Miss Sunshine, wrote the screenplay, clearly aiming for the kids, or now teenagers, who grew up watching the previous films. Arndt is a strong storyteller, adding humor when needed, appealing to both adults and children (but not vulgar humor, which companies like DreamWorks are a bit notorious for), and true sadness and emotion. The elements in the film are very reminiscent to other styles. When Chuckles the Clown recounts the past of Lotso, he brings us and draws us into a vivid and imaginative flashback origin story, similar to scenes in film noir, like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Chatter Telephone acts like both a phone booth in a noir and as the voice over the line, as he helps Woody with security precautions. The voice, high, raspy, and sounding suspicious is extremely memorable and sounds like those secret agents or those unofficial allies from movies like Casablanca. And just like in a noir film, he gets beat up and tortured. Some of the angles and camera work within the film is also reminiscent of classic romance films.
The emotion is very potent within the film, as each scene rings true and special. Unlike most kiddie films, where they try to take every single opportunity to make you weep (unsuccessfully for the most part), Toy Story 3 very strategically places key emotional plot points within the film. So strategically and well done, the film has made several audiences members weep, including myself. You pause for a moment and think, AM I crying over toys? Yes, you are. These characters have grown to mean a lot to their audience and it’s not bad that one would cry during the film. Very much like another of my Pixar favorites, WALL-E, the fantastic emotion often comes in the facial expressions of the characters. While I’m not really a fan of Randy Newman’s music, he has transcended the art of scoring into a film and has added the extra emotion to each scene with the great score.
Speaking of great animation, it’s been 15 years since the first Toy Story! This one looks fantastic. It’s been a long time and the animation technique and detail has progressed almost exponentially in comparison. Every seam in Woody’s denim pants and every piece of fur in Lotso’s body is perfectly visible. The characters are also significantly more flexible than before, now able to do the tango! (Stay for the end credits for that). The film looks majestic in every way.
The introduction of new characters is really great. Barbie finds her Ken, and the two offer some of the funniest moments in the film Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton, is a vain, plastic, self indulgent henchman of Lotso, but falls immediately for Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson, the speaking and singing voice of The Little Mermaid). Both designed very much like the figures in real life, their movements are stiff, and rightly so. The articulation is perfect, in the way that their joints give very little articulation by themselves, but the personalities that the voices lend give the characters whole new animation. Lotso is the big patriarchal leader of Sunnyside, pulling strings when need be and positively evil. Wronged in the past, he takes his anger out by becoming a power hungry freak. Bonnie is a human little girl who finds Woody and she’s like a girl version of Andy; lovable, kind, and a welcome addition, She takes care of her toys and plays with them. That is what all the toys wanted. Fretful that Andy doesn’t love them anymore, Bonnie is just what they needed.
Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are back and they sound great as usual. Delivering lines just as perfectly as ever, the two make Woody and Buzz more real than we could ever ask. They’ve become iconic in their own way and it’s a great welcome back and a fond farewell to the two leads.
The film, though, rated G, and though aimed at the nostalgic group, was extremely dark. Filled with suspense and action throughout, the storyline was just too dark for 3 – 5 year olds. That, with the sad moments, would make younger kids bawl, undoubtedly. So, if you have any really young kids, I don’t recommend the film to you. However, if you kids have 8 and up, then that should be fine.
The film is a wonder of storytelling and animation. Emotionally sound and well made, Pixar proves that it is once again at the top of their game. This is one of Pixar’s best films and it’s one of the best films period to come out this year. The style and the characters grew up with us, so the nostalgia is well placed. This is an excellent film. I had very high expectations walking into the film, and after it driving me to tears three times, the film surpassed my expectations…to infinity and beyond!
The Best of Pixar
With the release of the 11th Pixar film, I thought it appropriate to rank the ten other films that Pixar has churned out. What’s different about Pixar compared to other animation studios? The animation itself, while certainly a new and amazing technique and medium, has little to do with what makes Pixar so amazing. What makes Pixar amazing is the fantastic stories they tell. Every film they’ve ever made appeals to both children and adults, but not in such a vulgar subversive was as, say, Shrek from DreamWorks Animation. All of their films have a very dark subtext and are layered smartly. This is what sets Pixar apart and ever since they debuted on the feature film scene in 1995 with the groundbreaking Toy Story, the mile-stick that every other animated film has been measured against. Pixar has broken box office records left, right, and center, including breaking the record for biggest opening weekend in the month of June, with Toy Story 3 taking in an astounding $110 million. So, let the ranking begin!
10. A Bug’s Life
Out of work circus performers are used to impress clan of native people’s fighting off enemies. Very much a thespian story of the importance of acting, and also the importance of being yourself, A Bug’s Life was never a very appealing film for me. After their success with Toy Story, I feel as if the screenwriters tried a bit too hard and only accomplished a very surface wary storyline, instead of the complex and layered plots they would eventually produce. Nonetheless, the film is still good, if not great. Grade: B
Certainly packed with an all star cast, the film that brought John Lasseter back to the director’s seat warmed hearts. It was set in a very familiar locale: Route 66. But what Cars had in warmth, it also had in corny jokes. This is not a problem, as it was a pleasure to see on the screen. The moral of the story is don’t let your ego get too big. It was Paul Newman’s final acting job before he passed away. Larry the Cable guy plays a very obvious comic relief character, Mater, a tow truck that seems to have come straight from Hill Billy Central. Delightful at times. Bonnie Hunt’s voice acting however is a bit bland. Grade: B+
8. Monster’s, Inc.
A wonderfully successful film about the scariest things hiding under your bed, the voice acting from John Goodman and Billy Crystal is fantastic. A very lovable story about what it means to monsters when they scare little kids, the film had true heart and the little girl in the film Boo, is one of the cutest things to ever set foot on screen. The film transcends what it means to confront your fears, it even jumps a whole other level. It remains cute, but it shows the beauty of friendship, and, after all, laughter. A great film! Grade: B+
This was probably the hardest of the Pixar films to sell to kids. Oh, cooking. In comparison, the other films had much more relatable subject matters. Yay, monsters! (Monsters, Inc.) Yay, fast cars! (Cars) Yay, talking toys! (Toy Story/Toy Story 2) But a cooking rat? The great thing is they pulled it off! The combined great story telling, relatable scenarios for kids and gorgeous visuals makes for an awesome film. Oh, yeah, and food! (I never knew good bread was in the crust.) The cute little rat, Remy, made cooking more enjoyable than it had been for kids in years. Also, this was one of their funniest films. Grade: A-
The film starts off really, really depressing, and how can one get kids over that when an important character dies in the first 15 minutes? Well, there’s nowhere to go but Up. Pete Doctor helms this picture with a sweet story and a big scale. The innocence and sweetness pulls this together and it becomes one of the most wonderful pictures ever. The scale of the film is enormous, traveling all the way to South America. But the important part is that it shows you how to find adventure right in your own back yard. Grade: A-
5. Toy Story 2
One of the very few sequels to match its predecessor in quality, the film packs emotion where it needs it and lots of humor. The visuals blaze on the screen and it’s a thrill ride for all. Luckily, however, it’s not as scary. The introduction of the new character Jessie, voiced by Joan Cusack, is welcome as a worthy adversary to both Buzz and Woody. My favorite part remains the montage that Jessie sings, the montage about her past. Sarah McLachlan sings a flawless rendition of “When She Loved Me” by Randy Newman and it brings a tear t one’s eye very easily. Grade: A
4. The Incredibles
As action packed as a mainstream super hero movie, this film is a gem by showing the family structure of a rather super family. Very funny and insightful, first time Pixar director Brad Bird ran the film and it came out fresh and satisfying. All the old clichés are there, but they’re newer, fresher, and more brilliant with the top notch writing and great voice acting. Its snappy score by Academy Award winner Michael Giachinno (who won for Up) is very reminiscent of John Barry. Fantastic and fun! Grade: A
3. Finding Nemo
Going to the Blue Planet has said to have been a pretty easy task, or at least that’s what the animators of Finding Nemo say. But, the gorgeous landscapes and emotion that the fish (yeah, fish) emulate is the best part about the movie. Certainly Ellen DeGeneres deserves props for her awesome voice acting as Dory, the fish with short term memory loss. Nemo remains the highest grossing G-rated film of all time, not counting inflation where Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey takes the crown). A very emotional story about a clownfish whose son is kidnapped and his quest to find him, the notes are all perfectly orchestrated. Check out the credits for Robbie William’s recording of the Bobby Darin classic “Beyond the Sea”. A very beautiful tale of love and family. Grade: A+
Another very hard film for Pixar to sell to kids, WALL-E is the story of a clunky robot who falls in love with a gorgeous new robot. Or, it’s a story of mankind redeeming themselves from years of waste. Or, it’s the story of a man who takes control of his life, his ship, and becomes the captain he was meant to be. All these intertwining stories culminate in a fantastic finale, and together, they are part of one whole beautiful story. Why was this hard to sell? There were barely 30 pages of dialogue. It was all up to the animators and sound designers (including Academy Award winner Ben Burtt, the voice of R2-D2 and sound designer of the Star Wars saga) to show the emotion and represent what was going through the characters’ minds. WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load lifter, Earth class) is a tubby and stout little robot who likes collecting things he finds whilst working. He likes musicals, especially Hello, Dolly! And he the essential underdog and hopeless romantic. The want and the sadness and the happiness that WALL-E feels is shown in his binocular eyes, as the lenses fill with star shine. It’s one of the biggest accomplishments in film and one of the most moving things I have ever seen in a movie. Grade: A++
1. Toy Story
In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios and Disney released a tale of jealousy, greed, and revenge specifically aimed at children. It was violent, loud, and fright filled It was also the first fully computer animated feature film. However the elements of greed, jealousy, and revenge are under the surface of a story that’s about friendship redemption, and dependence, but even so, it’s an important thing to note. Tom Hanks voices Woody, a toy that is put in his place when his place as Andy’s favorite toy is jeopardized with the arrival of a new toy. This new toy, Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, is a space ranger with all sorts of gadgets on his plastic body. Light as the surface of this film may be, the story behind it is incredibly intriguing. Disney ordered a rewrite of the original script because Woody was such a mean and unlikable character. This movie is about how far people will go to be in the spotlight and how far they’ll go to get that security of knowing they’re the best. Incredible visuals, even today, 15 years after its release in theaters, it looks amazing. It’s been an enduring classic and even appears on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest films ever made. John Lasseter does a spectacular job as director. An exciting and totally delightful film, Toy Story defies expectations, to infinity and beyond! Grade: A+++
The Top 3
The Problems with 3D Movies/Toy Story 3D Double Feature Review
The visceral thrill of a film is very important when concerning actions, thrillers, horror movies, westerns, etc. Almost any genre, you will find that visceral experience like no other. Whether it be head turning in The Exorcist, mind blowing like in The Dark Knight, a whirling feeling only experienced when running like in Casino Royale, that visceral thrill can make or break a movie. In terms of critics and box office. And that is where producers do their worst. They have the strange need to think to themselves “That would look great in 3-D, wouldn’t it?” Well, movies seldom ever do. They’re a ridiculous gimmick that comes back every twenty or thirty years. It was popular in the 1950s with horror movies, utilizing the new technology in Creature from the Black Lagoon, House of Wax, and Thirteen Ghosts. It came back in the 1970s and ‘80s again, with horror movies, but this time, a cut below the rest. Friday the 13th Part 3-D. Amityville 3-D. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (had one 3D sequence that was about 10 minutes long).
And it’s come back yet again, only to make horror movies worse than before, to make animated films too kiddy, and to make mainstream action films seem, if possible, dumber. It’s been used in very recent releases. As recent as say, I don’t know, two weeks ago. Pixar Animation Studios released Up in 3D, about which Pixar head John Lasseter said: “3D is a fun toy but is essentially useless.” He is right. It can, however, be used in a very good way. With films like Monsters vs. Aliens, My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Final Destination 3D, and countless other being released in digital 3D, Pixar is actually doing something right.
The classic animated film Toy Story and its equally fantastic sequel was released a s a double feature recently to get audiences ready for the 3-D release of Toy Story 3, due out in June 2010. How did they do? Well, exceptionally well they did.
You should know the story already, if not be able to quote the entire film (which the monks behind us were doing…for both films), but let’s recap. In the first film, released in 1995, Woody (two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks) is the presiding toy over Andy’s many “child’s play things” and when Andy gets a new space action figure called Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) he gets jealous. Very jealous. Jealous enough to plot against him. The two end up at a masochistic kid’s house and have to work together to survive. The original storyline was so dislikable that Disney didn’t even want to produce it. Thank goodness they rewrote the script.
In the second film, Woody’s arm gets ripped a little, and when mistaken as a sale item in a tag sale, is toy napped by a greedy toy store owner named Carl. It turns out Woody is part of a huge franchise along with a trusty horse, a cowgirl named Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the Prospector (Kelsey Grammar).
The 3D was surprisingly well used. Instead of the recent animated releases making the 3D jump out as far in front of your face as possible, the 3D was used to accentuate characters features, to deep the darkness, and to make the depth of scenery look more realistic. And I’m proud to say the succeeded. However, at what cost? Because there isn’t really anything new to view in the film, it’s best to see if you’re fond of memories from your childhood and haven’t seen it since it was released nearly 15 years ago. The glasses add to the cost of the ticket, so I ended up paying $12.75. If you already have the DVDs, however, stay home and enjoy it on your own big screen. Certainly classic films and wonderful plotline. Sarah McLachlan’s performance of the Oscar nominated song “When Somebody Loved Me” is as heart breaking as ever.
Three dimensions that are used efficiently and not gimmicky. Two awesome movies. One good time. And one heck of an expensive ticket.
Toy Story: A+
Toy Story 2: A+
It has been extremely hectic lately and I am so sorry, Faithful Readers, that I have not posted in a long time. So, I will just write what I have seen and provide a capsule review of each.
The John Patrick Shanley translates to the screen well mostly because of its stellar cast. Meryl Streep as the suspicious Mother Superior, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a priest accused of inappropriate behavior with a young boy, and the charming Amy Adams as the young novice who brought the “case” to Streep. Shanley’s direction is fine and the play itself is mesmerizing, leaving you at the end only with Doubt. Grade: A-
Mickey Rourke is back! An emotionally heart wrenching film about an aging wrestler and what would be his comeback appearance and his attempts to bond with his daughter. A fantastic film and having thought about, I think the Oscar should have gone to Rourke and not Penn. The performances are so raw (kudos to Marisa Tomei as Randy’s stripper love interest and Evan Rachel Wood as his daughter) that it’s not as if we are watching a movie, but a documentary about a falling star. More like plummeting. Grade: A
Oh, how the meek will inherit the earth. Unless the realists get to them first. A positively brilliant Mike Leigh film starring an irrepressibly optimistic school teacher named Poppy. Poppy has her bike stolen. Poppy is happy nevertheless. She decides she needs to learn how to drive and gets an instructor that is her polar opposite. Hilarity and heart warmth ensue. An extremely fantastic performance from Sally Hawkins, whom the Academy did not even nominate. She deserved to win. Odd ball and featuring one of the best performances of the year (2008, at least). If I had been the instructor, I would have pushed her out of the car. Grade: A-
An absolutely decadent cast (John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Uma Thurman) with an incredibly sumptuous plot. The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) calls on her partner, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich), to seduce the young daughter of her cousin, Madame de Volanges (Swoosie Kurtz), in order to have revenge on a former lover, the man to whom young Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) is promised in marriage. At first, Valmont refuses her proposition: he wants to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is spending time at his aunt’s house while her husband is abroad. With beautiful costumes and directing, a top notch cast, and an incredible director, Stephen Frears, this is one heck of a film. Grade: A+
Three short horror films from three Asian directors. What do they add up to? One hell of a terrifying ride! Dumplings, directed by Fruit Chan (what an ironic name! Hong Kong) is about a woman who starts to eat mysterious dumplings to restore her youth. The secret ingredient will make you more than nauseous. Cut, directed by Park Chan-wook (South Korea), is about a horror film director taken hostage by a berserk film extra. Effectively scary. Last but not least is Box, directed by Takashi Miike (Japan, famous for Ichi the Killer and Audition), a very enigmatic film about a woman hanuted in her dreams by the ghost of her sister, whom she murdered when they were little out of jealousy. While a little confusing, it is ultimately a very suspenseful film. Overall, the trios are great and do what they are meant to do: Scare the bejesus out of you! Dumplings: A Cut: B Box: B+ Overall: A-
Dangerous Liaisons for the Gossip Girl generation! Essentially the same plot of the classic film, if for more explicit language and sex. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe play the conniving characters, while the young virgin is played by Selma Blair and the virtuous girl played by Reese Witherspoon (both would be back together for Legally Blond). With adults, the story is erotic and sexy and classy, but with teens in a prep school-it’s just really icky! Really awkward and uncomfortable as well as gross. The acting is average and the overall point of the story is made less meaningful when you add teenagers to the equation. Grade: C-
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Overlong story of a man who ages backwards, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 20 page short story. Bloated in running time: 2 hours and 47 minutes. Brad Pitt is rather bland as Button not to mention that his Louisiana accent is a thin as paper. The CGI, while excellent, felt excessive at times for the character of Button. Cate Blanchette is excellent as Daisy, Ben’s love interest. The movie is constantly interrupted by scenes in a hospital (it is told to a young woman’s mother, Daisy, as a journal Ben left for her) which wouldn’t be as annoying if they were less frequent. The math of aging backwards isn’t quite right either. Ben ages very rapidly during the first 90 minutes and when he hits Brad Pitt age, he seems to slow down. Daisy as a woman also doesn’t age rapidly enough. When she’s twenty to when she is 45 she looks virtually the same, albeit the hair color fades a little. It isn’t until the final half hour or so does she really age. David Fincher is great as director. Good, but not great, film. Grade: B
Pixar’s tenth feature film about an old curmudgeon heading to South America with a young boy is very good. Though, I think it is Pixar’s most blatantly preachy film they have released so far. The animation is stunning as usual, but the story itself feels as if its message is being shoved in your face. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic film. The character of Russell just bursts with exuberance. I particularly enjoyed the short film preceded by Up, called Partly Cloudy, about rain clouds who create babies and other cure animals for storks. One certain cloud, a little rain one, ends up creating the most dangerous things and the poor stork who ends up having to take them away ends up with man an injury. Extremely cute and heart warming, it may be the highlight if you don’t like Up. Partly Cloudy: A+ Up: B+