Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3 ****

What was your favorite toy as a kid? Where is it now? When was the last time you played with it?
These are questions one is almost forced to ask themselves upon exiting the theatre after you see Toy Story 3, a fantastic achievement in an already-legendary series of animated films. The film delves into the very existential nature of toys as they are- objects, not living things. Of course, in these films, it's not just children's imaginations- they really do come to life when the little tykes aren't around. But while at least a couple of scenes are very emotional and have reduced many a full-grown man to tears, the film brings Pixar's usual wit and humor to the mix to make this one of the best the studio has produced.
This film is set many years after the first two, when owner Andy is 17 and going off to college in a matter of days. He still clings to a few old toys despite never playing with them anymore. The only ones left are our heroes: Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, Rex, Hamm, Slinky, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, and three little green aliens. (His younger sister's old Barbie doll also comes along.) He cleans out his room and the toys get thrown in a trash bag bound for the attic. A misunderstanding sends them to Sunnyside Daycare center, which at first seems like a haven for unloved toys where they can be played with every day, but as they soon discover, the toddlers like to play rough and the other toys have their own rules about how the place runs. Woody gets separated from the rest of the group and has his own adventure involving a little girl bringing him home. Once they're reunited, the film turns into a brilliant child's version of a prison-escape adventure where the toys attempt to break out to get back to Andy's house. New characters are all over the place, but the highlight is Ken, Barbie's other half, who's obsessed with clothes and good looks. The theme of what happens to toys once their owners grow up was explored at some length in the second film, but it permeates every scene here and seriously asks the question, if they were to all just disappear, would anyone notice or really care?
Adults can listen for stars lending their voices to the many roles, including Michael Keaton as Ken, Whoopi Goldberg as an octopus, and Timothy Dalton as a porcupine doll who loves classical theatre.
The genius of the Pixar team never ceases to amaze me. Every frame is filled with detail so that you have to watch the movie several times to catch the many pop culture references, the ways that ordinary objects are used in unusual ways, and the simple beauty of the characters and the scenery. Everything looks great (In fact, I'd say the toys look too good. Shouldn't they be a little more beat up and rusty after not being played with for so long?), but it's the story and the characters that pull you in. The only real complaint I have is that Pixar is following suit in the 3-D craze. The three-dimensional effects are pretty subtle and only serve to add depth to a style of animation that already shows depth pretty well. Otherwise, it's perfect entertainment for children and adults alike. It may not be the best of the series, but I think it is just on par with the first two films. I'm glad to say that the most anticipated movie of the year is not only the best of the summer, but the best of the year by far. (Pixar's last film Up was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Could the toys be next?)
I would recommend this film to any and all kids and anyone else who is familiar with- and likes- the first two films.

You can watch the trailer here:

Also, arrive early and catch Pixar's newest short film, Day and Night. It's a weird, almost indescribable piece of art that's all about the differences between daytime and nighttime in the world. This proves that you don't need dialogue or even real characters to make a good movie.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Popcorn Pick 6-25-10

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz reunite for the action comedy Knight and Day, a rare original film in a summer filled with sequels and remakes. Cruise plays a secret agent (what else?) who becomes involved with an innocent woman when he separates from the CIA and they try to kill him. His character may very well be psychotic, based on his crazy stunts and inane babblings seen in the trailer. ("Nobody follow us or I kill myself and then her!") The more Diaz tries to escape, the deeper in she gets and the more she comes to trust him. It's no Mission: Impossible, sure, but it's sure to be funnier and with enough action to satisfy Cruise fans, who's been MIA for a while at the multiplex. The film co-stars Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) and Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Popcorn Pick 6-18-10

The wait is over. After eleven long years of agonizing waiting and listening for often-false rumors, Toy Story 3 has finally arrived in theaters. The third film in arguably the greatest animated movie franchise of all time seeks to bring back old fans who were kids when the first two came out (myself among them) and new fans who are still young enough to play with toys themselves. This film opens with the toys' owner Andy about to leave for college and deciding what to do with all his old playthings. The toys end up being donated to a daycare center where they are torn apart by toddlers on a daily basis. But they also meet several new toys as well who have a dark secret. The adventure comedy returns all of the toys we've come to know and love (yes, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are back as Woody and Buzz) and introduces many new colorful characters. As can be expected from Pixar, there are sure to be many exciting action scenes, jokes for both kids and adults, and surprise plot twists the whole way through. This film is set to be the biggest film of the summer. Here's hoping it stands up to its legendary first two films.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Popcorn Pick 6-11-10

This week, two new movies come out, and strangely enough (or perhaps not so strangely), they're both remakes of stuff from the 80's. With this probably-planned coincidence, I thought this a good time to do my first-ever double Popcorn Pick.
First up (alphabetically, anyway) is The A-Team, a big, loud action movie based on the classic TV show. Four soldiers are wrongly accused of a crime, break out of jail, and proceed to blow stuff up. The thin plot is structured around the four main characters and allows them to do crazy stuff with visual effects and guns. Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley (District 9) and UFC fighter 'Rampage' Jackson are the testosterone-filled good guys; the film co-stars Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen). Sure to be, if nothing else, an adrenaline-charged thrill ride.
The other, slightly more promising film this week is The Karate Kid. The 1984 film is well-loved all around the world, so remaking it is a very risky move for everyone involved. They seem to be doing the right thing by taking only the basic concept of the original and putting it in a whole new location with younger stars. A young boy moves to China with his mother and gets bullied mercilessly by the local kids. A mysterious maintenance man takes him under his wing and teaches him how to defend himself. Jackie Chan plays against type as the grandfatherly master to the kid, young Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness; yes, he's Will Smith's son). They replace "wax on, wax off" with "take off the jacket, put on the jacket," but the scenery is beautiful and the karate is all real. If anything, it probably improves on the cheese factor of the original, but honestly they're trying to stay as far away from comparisons as possible by creating an original film and not a remake per se.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Popcorn Pick 6-4-10

Give it a chance! Amidst four new releases, it looks like the weeks-old Shrek Forever After will still reign supreme at the box office. (The only new release of any caliber is Get Him to the Greek, which targets a very specific audience and probably won't be a big hit.) This, the last film in the Shrek franchise has the big green guy going through a midlife crisis. He's unsatisifed with his patriarchal role and signs a magical contract with the nefarious Rumpelstiltskin. This transports him to an alternate universe where Shrek was never born, Fiona is the head of an ogre resistance, and power-hungry Rumpelstiltskin is king. All the old favorites return (Donkey, Puss in Boots, Pinocchio, et al.) but there are many new characters as well. This may not bring back the spirit of the rude-n-crude first film, but is a definite improvement over the dismal third act. It's also the first film in the series to be in 3-D, so if you haven't hopped on that craze yet like the rest of the world, check it out.