Monday, June 28, 2010

"Toy Story 3" review

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Property The Daily Gamecock

For every second of its runtime, “Toy Story 3” elicits a feeling of reunion with a group of friends from another era to reminisce on a bygone era. That era may be childhood, but Pixar’s latest triumph stirs to the core a sense of youthful imagination. It awakens in the spectator a desire to make-believe, to wholly surrender to the realms of the imagination.
When the animation titan launched its near-perfect feature film resume with “Toy Story” in 1995, it felt — even to the eyes of a very youthful viewer — like a revolution, a stunning creative achievement that was destined to push animation into a new plateau.

While the studio and its core creative personnel have moved on to projects arguably more audacious and more complex — “Wall-E,” “The Incredibles,” “Up” — they remain, with each film, committed to the wide-eyed possibilities of the world and unfailingly devoted to how animation can capture new sights.

“Toy Story 3” then succeeds almost because of all the movies that have come since it, and strikes repeated gold for the deft simplicity of its story, the kind of universality that can connect audiences of all demographics. It’s not to imagine toy-owner Andy, now 17 and on his way to college, as a stand-in for the franchise’s original creators having moved on from their original creation, they nonetheless return with added maturity and experience for one more round of playtime.

With returning voice acting from Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack, the oddball gang of toys are accidentally donated to a daycare center where the utopian promise of never-ending playtime is not quite what it seems. Expanding the story to the daycare center gives animators the opportunity to devise rich environments and create at least a dozen fantastic new toys, featuring the voice work of such talent as Michael Keaton and Ned Beatty. Every richly-colored, sumptuously-designed shot feels melded with palpable care.

The screenplay comes courtesy of Oscar winner Michael Arndt, of “Little Miss Sunshine,” and it’s not hard to see why Arndt was a perfect choice — his gift for writing offbeat communities displaced in new environments comes through clearly as he continually cuts to the core of each character.

“Toy Story 3” packs plenty of humor, drawing on the traits and conventions established in the previous two films and nudging them slightly in new directions through both dialogue and physical interaction.

And yet, for all its bursting creativity, its manic blend of fish-out-of-water and “great escape” jailbreak genres, it’s the unexpected emotion that gives the film its power. More than just a serviceable rehash of character humor and familiar situations, “Toy Story 3” creeps in its themes of maturity and of growing up with such surprising and effective swiftness.
It is an absolute triumph of both an individual film and a sequel because it enhances and expands the story and landscape of its franchise in honest directions. As a coda to one of the most imaginative trilogies of the last twenty years from one of the best group of producers and directors working today, it’s a magnificent and emotionally satisfying masterpiece.

In its final moments, it becomes clear that no matter how old we may get, we can always rely on Pixar to give us that “one more play” we all long for, and remind us that being a kid doesn’t end just because we grow up.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A-Team review

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Property The Daily Gamecock

“The A-Team” is everything wrong about the summer blockbuster: a movie so determined to shove you back in your seat over and over, it uses characters and storytelling as sidesteps to get the spectator to the next explosion. A movie so manic in its direction it’s like visual alphabet soup — signs and elements lumped together on celluloid, begging to make sense of things.

Yet “The A-Team” is also everything right about the summer blockbuster — a movie that all but forces you to turn your brain off for nearly two hours, shredding physics books and logic while remaining thoroughly tongue-in-cheek about the proceedings.
Yes, there’s nothing louder or dumber in theaters than director Joe Carnahan’s (“Smokin’ Aces”) version of the ‘80s television show, now centered around a set of contemporary concerns — the movie begins with an interrogation scene and features a shady Arab businessman.

There are tanks all but freefalling, characters repelling down skyscrapers, helicopters catching people in midair, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle detonations — of which one character remarks, “it looks just like ‘Call of Duty’” (what better way to sum up how this film is so reliant on the interactive presentations of modern warfare?) — and after a while it becomes a little too much to bear.

The screenplay, co-written by Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods, tries to anchor the film around the members of the A-Team, including “District 9’s” Sharlto Copley, “The Hangover’s” Bradley Cooper and Oscar-nominee Liam Neeson, who play over-the-top with mostly good results. They don’t generate much chemistry and seem to only tangentially care about each other, but as individuals they all pack serviceably campy performances.
“The A-Team” is sheer excess. It’s cinema without plausibility or point, with barely enough coherence to justify itself. While that might sound like sheer derision, it’s not. There may not be anything particularly remarkable about Carnahan’s film, but it is a tailor-made fit to its core audience: action film junkies who get high off of ludicrously staged set pieces.
Director Carnahan tries to layer so much sound on top of so much editing — close-ups and bullets and things that fly and go boom all get jumbled up under sounds of yelps, one-liners, explosions, vehicle noise and orchestral scoring. Even for a Hollywood summer film, it’s a cacophony, shamelessly stretching the limits of visual and aural intake.

While many will no doubt find the film repellant — and rightfully so, for it creates an arena of violence, a free-for-all of sectioned-off absurdity with barely any connection to present anxieties — there will also be an equal number who happily succumb to the stupor of the action.

“The A-Team” is far from subtle and canyons away from intelligent, but it does entertain and satisfy in its own beguiling way. It is mass spectacle, an empty exercise that parades set pieces of global locales and macho mayhem, content to never give a moment’s thought to the wreckage it trails in its wake.