Friday, 23 July 2010

Toy Story 3

Andy's all grown up and about to go to college; his loyal toys are long forgotten and neglected. But a mix-up results in them almost being thrown out and destroyed before they save themselves by ending up a donation box for Sunnyside Nursery, where they'll be played with forever. Woody, though, is adamant on returning to Andy and leaves Buzz and the crew at the nursery. However, they soon realise Sunnyside is less of a paradise and more of a prison and resolve to escape. Can they make it past the evil toys at Sunnyside? Will Woody return to save the day? And can they save themselves from being destroyed forever?

As you may have realised from my review of Shrek Forever After, I'm not a big fan of the animation genre. The last Pixar film I'd seen before this was, in fact, Toy Story 2, which was an almighty 11 years ago. I'm aware I've missed some 'classic' Pixar films but I'd chosen not to see those, they never appealed to me. However, Toy Story 3 is the exception that proves the rule. I've grown up with Toy Story and Toy Story 2, they were a part of my childhood and so, before the child inside me dies once and for all, I felt I had to see Toy Story 3. After all, it would be wrong not to after the happy memories I had of it. Coming out of it, I was justified in my decision, and after the Shrek debacle, this may have saved animation as a genre in my life and may even have reignited my dormant relationship with Pixar.

Toy Story 3 is a perfect ending to a perfect 3 films, it's the only franchise I can think of which hasn't had a low point from start to finish: The Godfather films fell down at The Godfather 3, The Saw franchise only really had Saw 1, Star Wars got ruined with the prequels. Perhaps only the current Batman franchise can match Toy Story's victory in consistency, but that's to be judged when that third film is finally released. Indeed, this is a series of films which was consistently strong throughout, though, that was no sure thing. In an alternate universe, we would have seen a version of Toy Story 3 two years ago where Buzz began malfunctioning and was shipped off to Taiwan. This version of Toy Story fits the continuity of the franchise and provides a fitting conclusion to the stories of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys we've all come to know and love.

Firstly, the graphics are impeccable. This is the most picture perfect animation I can remember seeing; I know I said the graphics in Shrek were good and were the only commendable thing in the film, but this just wipes the floor with Shrek. It's proven Pixar have been and currently are the real kings of animation, and probably will be for some time yet. It almost makes me wonder what I've been missing in Wall-E and and Monsters, Inc. The 3D was good throughout, but to be honest, it was about standard to what we can now expect. It was merely just 'there', nothing truly stood out as impressive. Secondly, the story was well thought out. It was, actually, a really rather serious affair, with the toys in peril almost throughout. The new characters were well designed, appropriate and integrated well to the story. Thirdly, this is a film that will appeal to everyone. The toys and the overall story will entertain the kids, but the darkness of the story will grab the adult audience; the underlying themes of growing old and becoming obsolete. It's almost have grown old along with Andy and are ready to retire, having become smarter yet weary. Their first day at daycare prompts them to have an "I'm getting too old for this shit" moment and the acceptance of their fate at one point near the end is so touching and delicately done, it will move any man close to tears, it's just so adult.

Overall, I firmly believe this is the second Pixar film in a row aimed squarely at adults. The kids who grew up with Toy Story and Toy Story 2, myself included, have waited 11 years for an ending and, thus, have grown up. What Pixar delivers in Toy Story 3 is a thoroughly pleasing conclusion to all those adult fans, as well as a charming and funny film for the youngsters, staying true to their majority audience. Toy Story 3 is best summed up as being something like Schindler's Toybox. It's THAT moving and THAT serious and THAT engaging. It's funny and charming and smart to boot. To put it simply, it's the perfect final chapter for the almighty Toy Story.

Rating: ****

Friday, 16 July 2010


Dom Cobb is a master of 'Extraction', the illegal art of stealing ideas from people's dreams via shared dreaming but he finds himself on the run from the law for a crime he didn't commit. However, he is given the opportunity to be pardoned of his crime and the chance to see his children again if he can perform 'Inception', the planting of an idea in someone else's head. So, he, along with his team of an 'architect', a point man, a 'forger', a chemist and a 'tourist', enters the dreams of a young businessman to try and plant in his head an idea which could change him forever. But can they pull it off, with the businessman's subconscious acting against them, as well as something deeply manifested in Cobb's subconscious acting independently...

It takes a hell of an imagination to ever conceive a film like this, let alone actually create it. Therefore, this success of this film rests squarely on the shoulders of two people. One of those people is Christopher Nolan, but this time it's not Nolan the director, it's Nolan the writer. True, Nolan directs the piece well and keeps everything together, but it's the intricacy of the plot and the various elements which keep everything so closely bound together which shine through here. The film is so well written, and to be completely honest it had to be, or else the whole thing would have fallen apart. The second person is Wally Pfister, Director of Photography. The visuals in this film are nothing short of stunning and, although it's true CGI comes into play an awful lot in this film, the film is still visually engaging and beautifully shot throughout.

Leonardo DiCaprio. There's not a lot to say about him anymore, he finally came of age in The Departed and excelled himself in Shutter Island earlier this year and yet in this, he's delivered his most competent and certainly his most consistent performance to date. He carries the film from start to finish, along with a good Juno-esque performance from Ellen Page. Marion Cotillard almost steals the show as Cobb's deceased wife Mal as she manifests herself in Cobb's dreams without his control. When Mal is evil and takes over Cobb's dreams, Cotillard carries it off brilliantly. When Mal is fondly remembered and embraced in Cobb's dreams, Cotillard barely pulls through. A good ensemble throughout the rest of the film, with Tom Hardy adding the comic relief in places and Cillian Murphy the victim of the 'Inception'; here's two young actors who are rapidly building on two already impressive acting resumes.

The two and a half hours the film takes is absolutely justified when, in all honestly, this film could have taken at least another two and a half. It's one of the few times I can remember in a film when the exposition was both carefully selective and necessary. It doesn't fully explain everything, but just enough for you to understand the concept of shared dreaming and 'Inception'/'Extraction'. It certainly makes the most of the two and a half hours it has though, as there is something happening all the time. There's most definitely no fat to be trimmed from that lengthy amount of time; miss a single moment, you'll lose something vital in plot or character. It keeps you gripped though, no worries there. Whether it's plot, character, dialogue or visual, there's always something on screen which will justify its inclusion in that two and a half hours and will keep you entertained. It certainly doesn't feel like two and a half hours, and by the end, wherein you're given an apt ending which you can see coming half way through the film, you'll wonder where the time went.

Overall, this film is a masterpiece, and I'm not afraid to use that word. It's visually stunning, complex yet simple, self explanatory, engaging and thrilling. It's a thriller, mystery, action, comedy, sci-fi and romance flick all rolled into one. Honestly, we should have known something like this was coming years ago when Nolan made Memento nearly 10 years ago. Nolan is continuously toying with the concept of time and reality through his films, and here he does it with great aplomb. When a film has so much going on, you could so easily get lost at any point. You never do. And if by chance you do get lost, then that only serves to give you an excuse to watch this excellent film again and again and again. Believe me, you'll want to.

Rating: *****

This review was included as part of UU Blog's Film Club, go check it out!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Shrek Forever After

Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are living an idyllic family life with their three children, but Shrek misses the days he was feared and soon goes weary of the repetitive days of looking after the children and not having any time for himself. So when Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) offers him a chance to be his old self for a day, Shrek jumps at the chance, but things are never that easy, and soon Shrek finds he's changed history; Far Far Away lies in different hands and his friends, and more importantly Fiona, have no idea who he is. Can he save the day, the kingdom, and himself?

I'll start this review off with a small preface: I have never before seen a Shrek film, nor have I watched an animated film since Toy Story 2 way back in 1999. It's a genre that's never really grabbed me as 'must-see' and on this evidence, I was not wrong in thinking this.

From what I understand, Shrek and Shrek 2 were supposedly fantastic, offering something for both children and adults and delivering an engaging story which was entertaining and enthralling. This was far from that. There were very few laughs in this one, and even as someone who isn't a Shrek fan, I could see that this was no more than a nostalgia trip in order to finally wrap up the franchise. There was the occasional pun which adults will find a laugh at, and a couple of visual jokes which the adults will get, but other than that, it's a rather large let-down. The only good thing about this film? The 3D. The graphics were fantastic, and the use of 3D was somewhat gratuitous but it worked, more so than in Alice in Wonderland or, dare I say, Avatar.

Even for children, I can't see how they're going to like this. Throughout, there was a very serious tone with the threat of Shrek disappearing forever and him placing the kingdom into the hands of Rumpelstiltskin (who was probably the best 'character' in the film) so that the ogres have to rise up and take back the kingdom, all whilst Shrek has to get his friends to rediscover who he is, Fiona to realise he is her true love in order to have 'True Love's Kiss' again and break her curse again and to break his contract with Rumpelstiltskin. Saying it all back, it's actually quite complicated, how is a child supposed to follow all these different plot elements?! Shrek 4 is nowhere near a simple film, and although there were a few laughs for them, even the children surrounding me in the cinema didn't seem too entertained by the film in general.

Overall, I came in being promised a magic fantasy film that wasn't just for kids and that I was a fool for not having seen the previous 3 films. I came out feeling I was absolutely justified in my 9 year embargo of the Shrek franchise, very bored and very disappointed, even by the low standards I'd set for the films beforehand. Even if the first two films really ARE as good as everyone says they are, I'm not going to watch them now. This film gets 1 star for the 3D and the graphics, and another half a star for being the last Shrek film ever. No longer must we suffer through this horrific ogre of a franchise.

Rating: *1/2