Third Time’s a Charm: Review for Toy Story 3

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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!

Grade: A+

The Problems with 3D Movies/Toy Story 3D Double Feature Review

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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+

3D: A

Questions for Death: “The Final Destination” in 3D Review

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The Final Destination 3D Review

Instead of my typical review, I will present questions concerning the new horror film The Final Destination in 3D. It’s about people trying to cheat death and trying to find creative ways to kill twetysomething bimbos. Without further ado, here are my questions:

  1. Why is each character so incredibly underdeveloped or even undeveloped?
  2. Why is the plotting as thin as rice paper?
  3. Why does each character us the word “vision” as if it were some very articulate and powerful or meaningful sentence?
  4. Why is it necessary for each main character to be shirtless?
  5. Why do people keep leaving dangerous and flammable liquids out? In certain careers, can’t you be severely disciplined for being so careless?
  6. Why did they have to have such a graphic sex scene…and in 3D?
  7. How is it that in supernatural horror films, the car always manages to lock itself and the person inside can never unlock it?
  8. Why, when Hunt (Nick Zano) got sucked in by the pool drain, didn’t he slip out of his swim trunks? What’s a little embarrassment for a life saved?
  9. Why didn’t anyone notice he was trapped under water?
  10.  Why wasn’t there a life guard?
  11. Why did that kid pray him with a water gun knowing Hunt was carrying his iPhone?
  12. Why didn’t Hunt grab the kid’s ear and bring him to his guardian to complain?
  13. Why didn’t the ambulance look out? Wasn’t he near a hospital slow zone anyway?
  14. How did the two, Nick (Bobby Campo) and George (Mykelti Williamson), know what room that guy was in?
  15. Why, when leaving the old man there, did the nurse leave the water one?
  16. Did no one realize that the hallway was flooding? Really?!
  17. Did one hear the yells of the elderly man?
  18. When at the mall, did Lori (Shantel VanSanten) not tie her shoes?
  19. When she gets her shoe stuck in the escalator, why didn’t she slip out of her shoes?
  20. Why do the construction workers leave all those liquids and flammable things unprotected?
  21. Does a large fan really have the power to push such a heavy cart with liters and gallons of paint, and thinner, and primer, and God know what other huge cans?
  22. Would someone really leave a nail gun loaded?
  23.   Could a small ember fly for 20 seconds and ignite such a huge fire?
  24. Could glasses cause a fire on sand simply form sun magnification?
  25.  Could that fire really go unnoticed throughout the mall?
  26. Why are the visual effects and 3D effects so hokey?

The Final Question: Is this really the Final Destination?

Grade: D

Torture Worn: Review for “Saw V”

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Putting moral messages is a messy and dangerous job. You want to make your point but you don’t want to rub it in your audiences’ faces. Subtlety is an art. However just because your message is subtle doesn’t mean it ends being a good movie. Witness: The Most Violent Morality Tale! It’s Saw! The first Saw was actually a good movie with exceptional writing. And then they decided to make it a franchise and it all went downhill from there. Saw IIwas a disappointing film unsurprisingly. Saw III was actually pretty good. Not great but better. Then I lost all hope in humanity with Saw IV. What idiot executive let this film through the system? While at least the first one was actually a story, the rest were simply excuses for torture and voyeurism. And now we have Saw V. The story takes place right after the last film, (which really takes place during Saw III) bringing back Inspector Straum and Jigsaw’s OTHER protegé right from that dingy warehouse. Suspicions are thrown around, there are plenty of flashback scenes, and for some random reason, there are five sets of traps for these other people who don’t really have anything to do with the film. The movie is violent with brutal traps and unremorseful with its graphic agenda. It is certainly better than Saw IV, but still awful to watch. The films are simply becoming excuses to exhibit torture and voyeurism and that is not a good thing at all.

Grade: D

Love’s Labour’s Lost: Review for “Quantum of Solace”

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It’s kind of strange, but global warming is affecting everything. Even TV shows and movies. One day you have David Schwimmer freaking Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) out on 30 Rock and the next day you have James Bond chasing down a villain who runs a conservation company called Greene Planet. But global warming is not the only thing about this latest 007 flick. After his great love, Vesper Lynd (the sexy Eva Green, The Dreamers), betrayed him (?), he’s left a cold, hard man who, although he denies it to his boss, M (the great Judi Dench), is bent on revenge. He’s joined by a strong female of sorts, Camille (Olga Kurylenko, Hitman), who is after an evil general who killed her family. In a way, Craig not only lets James Bond bleed and not put a Band-Aid on the wound, he’s become a much meaner 007. I’m hoping that he’s a little softer in the next film. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly‘s Mathieu Amalric plays a bad guy who is part of an organization called QUANTUM, the same guys who killed Ms. Lynd. This film tries a little too hard, probably because of all the expectations they have come to receive for the first direct sequel in the James Bond series. The beginning action sequence showcases this need for attention; it feels as if it’s trying to create the exact same tension as the Construction scene in Casino Royale. Which is doesn’t; nothing can top that scene; it remains one of the most heart pounding and exciting action sequences of the 21st century. And then the action just kind of piles onto each other, with two more fight scenes that don’t really get that adrenaline flowing. David Arnold comes back for his fifth James Bond film and he “scores”! His use of music makes each scene more intensified, and his use of the “City of Lovers” track from Casino Royale is particularly devastating in some scenes. Jeffery Wright (W.) plays Felix Leiter, a cool agent. I must admit, last time, I was iffy about him playing the role, but seeing CR maybe a second time makes me happy he’s playing Bond’s cool ally. MK12, the company who made the main title designs for Stranger Than Fiction, makes an unlasting impression upon this film. I was expecting, after knowing that the girls were going to be back in the titles, it would be back to sultry, sexy titles. Instead, we’re given James Bond brooding with a gun in the desert. Marc Forster, director of the aforementioned Stranger and Finding Neverland, directs his first 007 movie. It’s not exactly a bad choice. He’s a great director; he did an amazing job on The Kite Runner. I don’t think however, he made a great Bond film. Craig was great, unsurprisingly, but the storyline felt to quickly churned out. Fun, but certainly not as much fun as Casino Royale.    

Grade: B-