Archive for Toy Story

Not Films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2015 by dcairns

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I picked up two novels by William Trevor and one by Robert Holdstock from a bin outside a charity shop. I didn’t realize Trevor was the author of Felicia’s Journey, filmed by Atom Egoyan, swiftly forgotten by the world. But I liked the cut of his gibberish. Still haven’t read them, though. They are The Boarding House and The Love Department.

The Holdstock was Mythago Wood, and I just read that — terrific stuff. I’m onto the sequel, Lavondyss. These are technically fantasy novels, but Holdstock’s take on myth is an inventive and intelligent one, imagining mythical characters as being products/inhabitants of the Jungian collective unconscious, and simultaneously quite real and corporeal. He creates his own, quite convincing proto-myths, speculations about the kind of stories our Bronze Age ancestors told each other around the fire, stories which would later mutate into more familiar forms. The protagonists are normal people who get sucked into this semi-real world of mythic characters, like Alice into Wonderland but with scarier consequences. Literally fantastic.

I followed this with The Glister, a novel by the Scottish poet John Burnside, which my collaborator Paul Duane recommended. It’s set in a post-industrial wasteland rather like the Zone in Tarkovsky’s STALKER, but more realistically toxic and depressive. There’s also a serial killer and a teenage protagonist, but these “commercial” elements do not resolve in the expected ways. It reminded me oddly of Iain Banks’ Complicity, in the way it refuses to deal with its killer the way genre fiction is supposed to. Complicity infuriated me, but The Glister is quite something — the language and the philosophy are as striking as the pungent, carcinogenic atmosphere of the piece.

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The Knick, directed (and shot, and cut) by Steven Soderbergh, created and written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, is back for a second series. As good as ever, making it still the best thing I’ve seen from this gifted, quirky, sometimes erratic filmmaker. Clive Owen performing nose-jobs for heroin, the second black character with a detached retina in a Soderbergh show (see OUT OF SIGHT), a very nasty nun, and the use of the line “I brought you some hard-boiled eggs and nuts,” which is sure to delight all fans of Stan & Ollie and COUNTY HOSPITAL. In-jokes aren’t always to be applauded, but since I didn’t spot a single one in the first ten hours of this show, I’m quite willing to allow a burst of exuberance of this kind.

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We did watch an actual movie — CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, picked up from the library since we enjoyed the same team’s THE LEGO MOVIE (dirs. Phil Lord & Chris Miller). By chance, it takes place in exactly the same kind of hopeless, post-industrial seaside town as The Glister. Really good jokes: “I wanted to run away, but you can’t run away from your own feet,” says the hero after a mishap with spray-on shoes. It’s part of the New Breed, inaugurated by the first TOY STORY — when it goes emotional, it doesn’t feel the need to stop being funny. I wasn’t over-enamoured of the character design at first, but James Caan’s gruff dad character is masterful. The shape of the head puts me in mind of the Freudenstein Monster in Fulci’s THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, or of Isabelle Adjani’s weird child/lover in POSSESSION, but the moustache and monobrow raise it to a whole new level. Oddly, when he’s surprised and his eyebrow rises to reveal actual ocular equipment, dad just looks wrong.

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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.

The Furry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2009 by dcairns

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Wes Anderson’s FANTASTIC MR FOX is as good as they say. Not only a free-yet-faithful adaptation of the Roald Dahl source, but a very satisfying Wes Anderson film, with all the trademarks (dysfunctional extended families, flat compositions, “offbeat2 comedy, a created world at several removes from our own). And in fact it’s Anderson’s best film for some time. His irritating tendency to undermine any credible emotional development — seen at it’s worst in THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, where Bill Murray spends the whole film slowly engaging with his son, reaches an apparently genuine tragic crisis, then pisses it all away for the sake of a cheap joke — is suspended here, maybe because it’s a kids’ film.

I have to admit to some inconsistency here. When I saw the first TOY STORY, what I admired most about it was the way it delivered the emotional requirements of a dramatic story without stopping being funny. For instance, Buzz Lightyear’s traumatic realization that he is, after all, only a toy, is comedically undercut by the TV ad that’s responsible for the revelation. The toy Buzz is pictured jetting through the air, and a caption superimposed beneath reads “Does not fly.” This is both cruelly funny and oddly moving.

On the other hand TOY STORY II departed from this approach with the heartrending song “When She Needed Me,” which is totally serious and utterly affecting, no ironic underlay required. Both techniques are valid.

I think what had been bugging me in Anderson’s films is that they were, at base, always all about emotions, but the filmmaker seemed embarrassed by the idea of resolving emotional knots, committing himself to a view of the behaviour he presented, or allowing the characters to grow and face their difficulties (full disclosure: still haven’t seen THE DARJEELING LTD). The very real problem to be faced by the maker of comedy-drama being that characters are funny when they have blind spots and stubborn areas where they cannot adapt to circumstance — they insist on being themselves at the very times they should change. And that change, very welcome in a drama, kills the laughter. So there typically is a problem to solve — some comedies successfully do without any character arc, generating laughs from the inflexibility of a character, but such films must be about something other than emotions — there must be plot. And Anderson’s stories tend to be character-driven, so there’s a requirement to deliver some kind of redemptive change or realisation, but can that be made funny? Well, if it happens late enough in the story, maybe it doesn’t have to be funny…

George Clooney is a magnificent Mr Fox, capitalizing on that air of self-satisfaction that can be his undoing in buddy fluff like the OCEAN’S films. We expect George Clooney to be glad he’s George Clooney, anything less would be ungrateful and strange, but he has to modulate away from smugness. Here, Mr Fox’s total self-belief and amoral opportunism are the very character flaws that are addressed in the adventure, so Clooney’s casting is a triump, using to the full his skills as light comedian, even if he’s apparently present only as a voice (we know that’s really him under the fur, amid the stuffing, within the puppet armature, somewhere in there). And pairing him romantically with Meryl Streep is delightful, and the kind of thing which, sadly, might be deemed impossible in a live-action film.

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I love the way the long-shots make everything look like crap toys, too. Anderson’s Keatonesque flatness is finally used to serve up visual gags, as it always should’ve been, and his penchant for designing alternative universes is taken to a new extreme in a film where even the landscapes are unreal.

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If some of these stills have the quality of roadkill taxidermy, it’s because they lack the alchemy of animation and voice-work. The cast, featuring several of Anderson’s usual gang (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson) underplay in the usual Anderson manner, creating a feeling quite atypical to the world of the animated film, and it all works marvelously. And Michael Gambon, as the No. 1 villainous human, gets to apply his characterisation from THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER to a puppet seemingly modeled on Rupert Murdoch (with a wife who looks not unlike Camilla Parker-Bowles).

Now, since there’s no real way to type the finger-point, whistle and click-click which is Mr. Fox’s trademark, you’ll just have to use your imaginations.