Archive for Pixar

The Booster

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 20, 2012 by dcairns

So, I’m now an employee of Edinburgh International Film Festival — it seems I’ll be doing some writing for the catalogue, and I’ve viewed a hundred or so films submitted to the fest. Submissions editors see a lot of junk, but we also see some really good stuff. The assumption might be that the really hot ticket films are ones a festival has to pursue, not ones submitted on spec by filmmakers hungry for exposure, but in fact submissions are often where the next hot-ticket indies are discovered. I saw some very good stuff — none of which I can discuss at present.

This means that anything I say about the Festival from now on can be seen in a slightly different light — I’m no longer just a fan of the thing. Still, I hope I can maintain a degree of integrity and independence if I review anything during Festival time, but I might have to be careful of that — a policy of accentuate the positive, whereby I write honestly about films I like and leave out the others, might be best. Unless I get really cross about something, in which case I’ll still bite my tongue until after it’s screened to the public.

But with Chris Fujiwara in charge, I’m really not sure there’s much to worry about.

This year’s opening film is William Friedkin’s second collaboration (after the creepy BUG) with playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts — KILLER JOE. Friedkin is expected to attend, which ought to be interesting to say the least.

The retrospective, the thing which ties a festival together in my view (and which was sadly missed last year), is about Shinji Somai, about whom I know NOTHING — so I’m very excited.

Chris Fujiwara:  “Shinji Somai is one of the most personal and original Japanese filmmakers, and a master whose work has been almost completely neglected outsideJapan. Just over ten years after his passing, I believe the time is right for Somai. Audiences and critics will be amazed by what they discover in this body of work, which I’m delighted to bring to theUK.”

And the closing film is delightfully apt, given Pixar’s long friendly realtionship with Edinburgh, and given the Scottish subject of their new movie –

Toy Story 3

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 7, 2010 by dcairns

Contains mild spoilers and, in an attempt to avoid more mild spoilers, treats the reader as if they’ve seen the film and know what I’m talking about. See the film!

I never know whether to review modern films or not. They’re a part, albeit a small part, of my film-viewing experience, and therefor theoretically grist to the mill of Shadowplay. Too much of current releases would erode what’s individual about this place, I feel, but there’s little danger of me seeing enough modern films for that to happen. Unless you think even one a month is too many?

TOY STORY 3 seemed to me just as good as its predecessors, which I like a whole bunch — I can’t really see any aesthetic standard by which the best modern CGI toons can be considered much inferior to their Golden Age predecessors from the Disney stable. But I’m not an animator, of course. (I’ve dabbled, but so half-heartedly I’d be ashamed to enumerate my experiences.) It’s pretty unusual for a series to spin to three installments without losing quality, and perhaps the fact that this edition feels very much like a final chapter is part of the secret: they’ve thrown everything at it, on the assumption that they might not be doing this again.

The humans are still the only weak point: remember how clunky Andy and his Mom are in the first film? And the Toy Collector in II was grossly overdetailed and unpleasant. Andy is now a teenager (seeing him and his sister and dog age in approximately real time between films is one of the strange pleasures afforded by the films’ long schedules) and rather a bland figure, like a junior Ken doll himself, although to compensate there’s a very nicely observed little girl.

I was entertained but not blown away for the film’s first half, but once the toys get separated and we meet a new batch of characters, things brightened up. For one thing, I could appreciate how insanely off-base this article in the Independent newspaper is, which was diverting. The movie actually has a rich and affectionately observed range of female characters, and the jokes about Ken seeming a bit gay are pretty far from homophobic. For one thing, Ken (spoiler alert) turns from villain to hero, his love of fashion unchanged. He’s not gay, anyway, just unconventional, a male who doesn’t conform to gender expectations, and the film says that’s OK.

I don’t really think the toys have sexuality anyway, as we know it. They draw their consciousness from human kids, is the way I see it, so they have a child’s idea of relationships and can form into couples, like Mr and Mrs Potato Head or, in a Han-and-Leia twist, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie. But we know what Ken and Barbie look like naked, and conventional sex doesn’t look to be on the cards for them. (That said, the heartrending “When She Loved Me,” in TOY STORY 2 is the most moving same-sex expression of love you’re likely to find in a kids’ film.)

(But it really needs the image track in order to fully rip your heart out.)

The most striking thing for me in this one was the very dark, very distressing scene of group jeopardy at the city dump, where the heroes find themselves on a conveyor belt towards incineration. This gives us one of the great conflicted-response gags I’ve always enjoyed in this series (see also: Buzz’s discovery that he’s a toy in part 1: heartbreaking AND cruelly hilarious). The line “I can see daylight!” delivers just the right kind of laugh-before-the-storm. The apocalyptic, indeed positively holocaustic threat our plastic pals face next seems to me the closest scrape with convincing extinction a cartoon character has faced since Bambi’s mom. Does the film earn such strong stuff? It’s hard to summon up a cogent argument in the face of something so powerful, either for or against — I found it powerful and deeply distressing, and very moving, taking the series’ ongoing theme of the value of friendship all the way to the end of the line…

Interestingly, there were no screams and tears from the little kids attending, which one might have expected. My theory to account for this is that kids are fundamentally selfish, so the things that upset them in movies are not those which menace the characters, but those which seem to menace THEM — Cruella DeVille coming out of the screen to take their puppies away, for instance. Despite the immersive, 3D nature of TOY STORY 3, the kind of empathic response evoked by the furnace of doom scene are inherently more upsetting to adults, who not only care more about the characters, they get the reference.

Excelsior!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2009 by dcairns

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UP is a blast. One of the pleasing things about David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s excellent blog is their enthusiasm for animation, which often gets overlooked by cinephiles, even those who enjoy it. We are living in a somewhat corporate, imaginatively stunted, morally vacant and narratively challenged era of Hollywood cinema, it often seems, but a genuine Golden Age of animated features, with Pixar at the forefront. I think Dreamworks and the other studios are only just beginning to make good animated films, but John Lassiter and his cohorts keep raising the bar.

You probably don’t need to be told to go and see this one, unless you’ve been missing out on a lot of the best mainstream cinema since TOY STORY. And you can read all about the film’s best ideas and sequences elsewhere, so I don’t feel the need to get into a big analysis, much as I loved the film. I’m kind of the cult-weird-obscure guy, I think, and should probably be writing about Russ Meyer’s UP! instead. But I was sufficiently moved and entertained that I do want to sing the movie’s praises just a little.

That opening montage of Carl Fredricksen’s life with Ellie has been justly praised for its visual beauty and emotional power — only Pixar movies seem to have this ability to open an entire audience’s tear ducts in three minutes from a standing start. TOY STORY II does this, supremely, in its “When She Needed Me,” song-montage. I’d been facially soaked by that one at the cinema, and so I had half an eye on Fiona when we watched it at home together. “Aw naw,” she moaned as the song started — this was going to be the boring song bit, it seemed — I looked at the screen, and when I looked back at Fiona an instant later she looked as if someone had just flung a mug of salty water in her face. It’s THAT devastating.

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Of course, a lot of the impact of that song — which (1) taps into our buried nostalgic feelings about beloved childhood toys, emotion which was so strong when we were very small, and which, it seems, never really goes away; and (2) smuggles in a same-sex love theme in a way prejudiced tiny minds of parents will probably never even spot — is down to Randy Newman’s achingly sentimental song, and similarly in UP the score by Michael Giacchino is mercilessly effective, knotting our heartstrings and lumping our throats.

And the movie has just begun, we still have the fat kid, and flying to South America, and the giant bird, Kevin, and the talking dogs, best of all. Animation has been doing talking dogs for close to eighty years, but this seems like the first effort to do dogs that talk the way dogs would talk if dogs could talk. “*I* was hiding under your porch because *I* love you!” is Fiona’s favourite line, and probably mine.

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(Side-note: although we own a cat, Fiona and I do like dogs. In fact, Fiona proposes that somebody needs to correct the negative impression of Siamese cats given by LADY AND THE TRAMP’s “We Are Siamese” number. Real Siamese have a doggy silliness that you never see in films. Tasha, our own puss, runs to see us when we come in, climbs up high and eagerly sniffs out heads.)

Christopher Plummer’s having a good week, what with this and THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR PARNASSUS. Here, he’s Charles Muntz, explorer, the second of the movie’s two bad-ass septo-going-on-octogenarians, Ed Asner being the first. Muntz seems to embody our modern suspicion of the great white hunter figure who inspired so many children’s fantasies of yore. Muntz is set in his imperialist ways, and his rigidity is what makes Asner’s Fredricksen finally bend. Fredricken’s mission, to uproot and then plant his house at Paradise Falls, a Conan Doyle-style Lost World, exemplifies a popular screenwriting trope, whereby the protagonist actually has the wrong goal for the first two acts.

UP follows a lot of popular Hollywood storytelling concepts, with characters mirroring each other (Dug the dog has a similar emotional need to Russell the kid) and growing (ugh) but avoids becoming mechanistic, which seems the potential downside of over-relying on screenwriting books. As my producer friend Nigel Smith put it, the makers seem to be trying to fit the free, loose, “baggy” style of story Miyazaki excels in, into an American tight structure, without disfiguring either one. They pretty much succeed.

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A note on the 3D — it doesn’t seem to have been high on directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson’s list of priorities, or perhaps their goal was to make it as unobtrusive as possible. Ironic, since Roger Ebert just wrote an amusingly curmudgeonly piece about the failings of the process, how you can’t ever forget you’re watching a 3D film. In UP, I did. Doubly ironic, since although Ed Asner provides the voice for Carl Fredricksen, Roger Ebert has unquestionably furnished the face. I was expecting the movie to use 3D for vertiginous effect, but although the high-angle perspectives are spectacular, and the daredevil leaping from floating house to airship is thrilling, I never got sweaty-palmed and scared, because the action is too hectic to promote that kind of anxiety. As Harold Lloyd new well, you need to slow the pace down for that.

Other critics have questioned how Carl goes from creaky, aching old man to action hero, swinging on hosepipes like a senior Tarzan. But it is, after all, a cartoon. And a cartoon with a touching faith in the rejuvenating power of adventure. And said power is a real phenomenon, albeit one gigantically exaggerated here for dramatic effect. I was more concerned by the way little Russell gains the power to shimmy up the hosepipe, merely by being sufficiently motivated. Hollywood is big on motivation, and indeed it can be a wondrous thing. But I always resented, as a kid, movies that suggested you can do anything if prodded hard enough by necessity. Harold Lloyd again, become a football star overnight by sheer determination in THE FRESHMAN. It’s untrue. I was certainly motivated to do well at sports, because I was forced to play them and I didn’t like looking like a clown. But no matter what the motivation, I was never any good. Such motivation only causes improvement over time, with application, and there’s still a natural limit to what each of us can achieve. In between sports lessons I stayed well away from the playing field, so I never improved. Then — oh happy day! — I developed a knee complaint, and never did sport again.

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So Russell’s sudden athleticism is as exaggerated as Carl’s, and possibly more misleading to young viewers, who may wonder why they can’t become athletic just by trying terribly hard. But I’m really nitpicking here — because it gets boring just to rave about something being, you know, FUN.

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