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Toy Story 3 (2010)
The Circle of Life as portrayed by toys
Brilliant. Simply Brilliant. I don't know how Pixar keeps doing it but by all means they should keep it up. This is now the third time Pixar has brought tears to my eyes (along with Toy Story 2 and Up) which is amazing when you consider that we're talking about toys here - or are we?.
That of course is what makes Toy Story 3 so amazing. To an adult, this is more than just an animated action picture about pieces of plastic. The toys and their adventures come to symbolize the journey that all us take through life. Toy Story 1 is about childhood, where everything is magical, fun and sometimes a little scary. Toy Story 2 is about growing up and becoming an adult, discarding the trappings of childhood and figuring out who we really are. Toy Story 3 is about the end of life, letting go and passing on what you have learned to the next generation.
I think it is no exaggeration to say that we are in a Golden Age for animated movies unlike any before. Here's hoping that the genius of the wizards of Pixar continues to be passed on to the next round of artists, animators and story writers.
Wanna be American Graffiti
An OKish movie that tries really hard to be an indie version of American Graffiti but ends up more of a collection of far-fetched, unrelated, uninteresting scenes.
Start with the plot, or lack thereof. Bored rich kids go looking for some fun in the city and chase after a band called Where's Fluffy. That's pretty open ended and that's OK as long as the characters or situations are interesting. N&N gives us fairly run of the mill characters. Michael Cera is Nick which is to say Nick is Michael Cera, i.e. the same nervous self effacing character he plays in every movie. Opposite Nick is Nora, who is a character with no character traits whatsoever. To be fair, the writers don't give them much to work with. There are no universal truths discovered here and the romance comes across as forced. It has to be since we're only talking one night. I guess because N&N both like the same music that's supposed to be enough for us to buy into them making a love connection.
The supporting characters aren't handled much better. Nora spends too much of the movie looking for and worrying about her drunk friend. Eventually the movie runs out of uses for the friend and she passes out. Oh no, what to do! How convenient that Team Uber Gay comes to the Rescue to whisk her away safely. Nick's old girlfriend is really nasty which means she's due for some comeuppance but when it finally comes, it's nothing more interesting than leaving her on the side of the road.
Because so little happens you unfortunately find yourself being overly critical of what does happen. Like, since when did clubs get so lax about letting underage kids in? Where's all the alcohol coming from? Why would a rich owner give the keys to his recording studio to his minor child? And where are all these kids' parents anyway? Do they really allow them to roam the city all night unsupervised?
The good in the movie for me is Michael Cera. He's reminds me of what a teenage Woody Allen would have been like. Yes, it's the same character he plays in every movie but he plays it so well. He's like an old comfortable sweater. Alexis Dziena was OK too. At least she had a defined character to work with. Kat Dennings: I'm not getting it. I find her voice annoying and her acting wooden. Her range of expressions are all variations on looking pouty.
mediocre at best
Certainly not the worst comedy I've ever seen, but there's more misses than hits here. Even though there aren't a lot of laughs, Porky's contains a couple iconic scenes (shower scene, PeeWee running naked down the road) that keep this one from being a true stinker. Tolerable after a few beers.
Unfortunately, most of the jokes are old and stale or obvious with too long of a set-up. "Mike Hunt" may have been hilarious in 1953, but not in 1981 and certainly not today. The opening scene where the boys are naked waiting to get laid and a black guy jumps out with a knife seems to go on forever and the joke is spoiled before you even get to see it. We already know what's going to happen because they tell us and sure enough, that's exactly what happens. The film makers are violating some basic rules of comedy here.
And even the much lauded scene where the two gym teachers have sex scene is likewise ruined. Gee, I wonder why they call her Lassie? Why might that be? Now having said that, a young and enthusiastic Kim Catrall saves that scene from being completely dreary.
And what's the deal with the characters laughing like hyenas all over the place? There's nothing worse than someone trying to tell you a joke who can't spit it out because they're laughing so hard. Funny for them, not for you. Watching this movie, it's pretty clear that the people involved were having the time of their lives. Unfortunately that doesn't necessarily translate to a good time for the audience.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Bland but beautiful
I've seen The Dark Crystal twice now. Once when I was a kid and now as an adult. I remember being frightened by the essence draining scene as a kid but except for that not much to do with the film ever stuck in my mind.
With a more critical adult eye, the problems with this film are sadly obvious. Start right off the bat with about three minutes of exposition droning on and on about the crystal, the Skeksis and the Mystics. This is a movie, not a book. Show me, don't tell me.
The color palette seems borrowed from Star Trek The Motion Picture: bland pastels and khakis as far as the eye can see except for the bad guys who are all black from top to bottom so as to be indistinct and muddy looking. That being said, a lot of effort went into making the landscape seem alien and in that area the film makers succeeded greatly.
The story is strictly by the numbers. Small but doughty innocent must take the ring to Mount Doom to get rid of Sauron, no wait, I mean he must take the crystal shard to the evil castle to get rid of the Skeksis. Along the way he meets strange and wonderful, sometimes dangerous creatures and also picks up a sidekick. Been there. Done that.
Character development is non-existent, although that is fairly common in this genre. The main characters are particularly dull and without nuance. The bad guys are all bad and nearly indistinguishable. The counterpart good guys have zero personality. With little to no information about character backgrounds, there's no real motivations here and as such it's just plain hard to care about anybody. Again this isn't a fatal flaw, it's just too bad that the guy who created Kermit, Miss Piggy and Big Bird couldn't be bothered with injecting some actual character traits into his characters.
I must say that the puppetry in this movie is simply amazing - the best I've ever seen. That's both the movie's saving grace and its fatal flaw. While the puppeteers certainly push the envelope, it's painfully obvious that the envelope is ultimately too constricting. Simply put: the limitations on what one can do with puppets get in the way making the movie work in a believable fashion. The classic problem with any puppet is its hands. Puppet hands can't pick up, grasp or manipulate anything in a realistic way. And that's too bad because it detracts from what actions are possible for the characters. The screen writer and director must always work around this limitation. The most obvious example of this is the big evil insect creatures. Their pincers seem clumsy and fake, not menacing like they should. Still, I must admit that great strides were made to overcome these problems, but in the end I don't think the film makers succeeded in overcoming enough.
And that leads to my last issue. Seeing the movie again, it's obvious that The Dark Crystal didn't age too well. What may have been pretty neat special effects and cool puppet tricks back in 1982 are decidedly ho-hum now in this age of CGI wonders. I'm left wondering why one would bother to expend so much effort to make a puppet world look real. It's akin to trying to breed the fastest horse for transportation in an age when even the cheapest automobile will always be faster. I admire the effort spent, I just question the wisdom of it.