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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Ten Word or Less Review: A mild case of sequelitis.

Pixar’s decision to return to its flagship Toy Story franchise for a third outing is a mixed blessing.  On one hand “Toy Story 3” is a well made comedic romp with all of Pixar’s trademark touches of class and warmth.  Buzz and Woody are icons of animation at this point and it’s nice to have another adventure with this lovingly mismatched duo.  On
the other hand “Toy Story 3” chugs along with a vibe of familiarity that’s just too familiar.  This adventure, as well made as it is, rehashes too many points and story beats from previous “Toy Story” outings, only finding its own reasons for existing towards the end.

A lot of years have passed since “Toy Story 2” and instead of freezing the characters in time, an effortless thing to achieve with CGI based stories, “TS3” creator’s have choosen to acknowledge this passing of the years.  Buzz and Woody’s owner Andy is now 18 and about to leave for college.  He’s cleaning out his room and a decision has to be made about his childhood playthings.  Andy throws Woody in his college bound box of stuff while Buzz and the gang are attic bound.  A series of mistakes and misadventures instead leads Buzz and company to Sunnyside, a daycare center presented as a retirement home for toys to be played with endlessly, day after day by loving children.  Buzz and the crew leap at the opportunity to be a childs plaything for years on end, but the daycare  toys leader, a cuddly, strawberry scented teddy bear named Lotso, dupes the group into becoming the toys of choice for destructive toddlers.  When Buzz and friends rebel Lotso imprisons them all, permanently part of the toddler toy collection.  Woody to the rescue.

The first hour of “Toy Story 3” hums along, coasting on a vibe of nostalgia.  This viewer found himself liking everything just fine for a while, but a flavor of indifference developed.  As okay as it was I realized I didn’t much care about how this particular Toy Story adventure ended.  “Toy Story 3” wasn’t pushing any boundaries or looking to achieve anything that had not already been done before in its previous outings.  The similarities between this and previous installments, especially 2 was much too abundant.  There’s the old timey toy who misguides our friends and turns out to be villainous.  There’s Woody on yet another quest to get back to Andy after an unplanned parting of the two.  There’s more gags and confusion about Buzz and his resetable identity.  For a studio which has created landmark achievements in the field of animation, routinely showing how groundbreaking CGI films can be, to
see them repeating themselves like this eventually began to feel like a letdown.  The film’s expressions of new ideas and events are too fleeting.

Towards the finale “TS3” begins to become its own movie.  It strikes a moment of deeply grave circumstance and winds down on a note of surprising maturity.  The film’s final message flies in the face of the attitudes which have helped make Pixar what it is today.  “TS3” tells its audience that putting toys away, or at least handing them down to other children, is a necessary part of growing up.  We can’t take them with us everywhere, forever.  That seems like an odd message to come from a bunch of people who clearly never put away their toys.  Their vast fortunes and creative alcolades have been driven by a deeply rooted love for the things which sparked their imaginations as a child.  To tell us all that we should put those things down and move on with life strikes this viewer as oddly contrary.  Kind of like a priest telling you to give up religion.

Pixar has a nearly flawless history and “Toy Story 3” is no great setback.  It’ll amuse kids and keep parents happy, but with more sequels on the way to past successes, “Cars 2”, “Monsters Inc. 2”, one is forced to wonder if Pixar’s days of pioneering originality are behind them.

Ten Word or Less Review: Mad Mel returns with mediocre movie.

A lot of people have forgotten that only 6 or 7 years ago Mel Gibson was one of the most bankable movie stars on the planet.  Before he became a director of bloody epics, and a Jew bashing, ass clown in general, Gibson was a name who could turn something as marginal and silly as “What Women Want” into a huge success.  His decision to return to acting in “Edge of Darkness” reminds us of what screen presence and gravitas he’s capable of.  Gibson has aged a lot in his years away from the camera and he’s taken the high road about aging.  His face has become a worn structure of deep lines and wrinkles and he makes no bones about it.  His has become a great face for cinema and the camera loves it.  But despite a strong performance for his return to the silver screen he’s surrounded by a movie with no reason to exist.  “Edge of Darkness” is a bland drama/thriller that doesn’t back up its star’s return.

In “Edge of Darkness” Gibson plays Detective Craven, a Boston cop looking forward to a visit from his long absent daughter.  She’s home for no more than a few minutes before she starts vomiting profusely, and as they’re leaving the house for the hospital, she’s gun downed on his front door step.  Believing the blast was meant for him, Craven begins an investigation which leads him into his daughter’s life, one which she kept secret from him.  Instead of the mundane existence she’d painted for him he finds a daughter who had become crusader, entrenched in a fight to expose wrong doings in a nuclear facility.  It’s a sound setup for a revenge thriller and it’s capably executed in the beginning, but “Darkness” finds no new ground to cover and quickly begins to feel rote.

Adapted from a lengthy BBC miniseries, the reshuffled story feels abbreviated and routine.  Most of the parts, besides Gibson’s, are underwritten and story instills no sense of importance or consequence.  It’s populated with everyday corporate sleaze bags up to no good and menacing government agents who kill without mercy.  And despite the thriller setup “Darkness” is more a turgid drama than anything else.  Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), can’t find any rhythm or beat to the proceedings.  The movie just plays as if no one knew what to add to the screenplay to make it work.  Campbell startles the audience from time to time with jolts of energy but they’re fleeting.  As soon as they pass the story settles back into the same funk with which it started.  Despite Gibson’s best efforts and great smatterings of dialog that poke out here and there, no strong dynamic ever materializes between himself and the material.  He’s a richly realized character wondering through the wasteland of tired plot.  Most of the other characters feel unimportant to the story.  Ray Winstone, incapable of blending into the background and being unnoticed, is the only other notable presence in the film and his part makes no dramatic sense.

“Edge of Darkness” may be a pointless as a movie but if it serves only one function, to remind us that Mel Gibson can kick ass when he’s not acting like a dip shit in real life, then that’s something.  Hopefully he’ll find better material to work with and make it a point to remind the world that though Mel may be mad, he’s still worth watching as a performer.

Daybreakers (2010) – In a marketplace riddled with moronic vampire stories around every corner “Daybreakers” takes a stab at something original and intelligent.  While the screenplay is lacking in character dynamics and the reach of the idea is just out of grasp, the strong conceit, a good cast, Ethan Hawke, William Dafoe and Sam Neill, and some flashy execution get this high concept horror effort over the finish line.  “Daybreakers” takes the idea of vampires ruling the world to an interesting place.  They not only have turned the world upside down in no time flat, ‘No Parking from 2 A.M. to 7 A.M. Violators Will Be Towed’, they’ve harvested all the remaining humans for blood and decimated the population in the process.  With blood running out the vampire population is turning on itself in all kinds of freaky ways.  The analogy is quite clear and the skill with its executed is not insubstantial.  Hawke and Dafoe are playing to their strengths here, the first a vampire hematologist struggling internally with the dire situation while the later chews the scenery as an ex-vampire who loves flashy cars and Elvis.  All in all it could’ve been better in several places, but for a mid-budget effort from a couple of newcomers, it’s not bad.

Vivre Sa Vie (1962) – Arty French Film Alert!  Jean Luc Goddard, director of many pain-in-the-ass classics, is slightly less of a pain with “Vivre Sa Vie”, AKA “My Life To Live.”  While it’s made with all the hallmark touches of the snotty, French contrarian, “Vivre” manages to feel less like a chore than his other work.  The story follows Nana, a pretty girl with a life not coming together as she hoped.  To pay the rent she slips into prostitution.  The movie unfurls its story in 12 chapters which give passing, sometimes only fleeting, glimpses into Nana’s life.  The movie is incredibly shot and constructed with the eye of an expert, but there’s not a lot of surface emotion running through things and Nana, played by the achingly pretty Anna Karina, feels intriguing at times, but always distant.  Her succumbing to prostitution comes with only a passing harshness, followed by that which the French excel in, feigned indifference.  There’s a lot on “Vivre’s” mind to be sure but no one but the most die hard of French movie enthusiast will really jump at this.  It looks stunning on Blu-Ray.