Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Toy Story 3

I don't know what Freud would make of the fact that two out of the three films reviewed on these pages are aimed at 6-year-olds. Freud can go and fuck himself anyway.

Before we begin I have to report an assault. This being the school holidays and Bargain Tuesday, the cinema was unusually busy. Happily we had got to our seats early enough, but within a few minutes the rush began. A small boy attempted to squeeze past me to get to the seats further up our row. Wouldn't you think I'd just bloody well stand up and let him through? My failure to do so caused him to lose balance, and so in an attempt to steady himself before his head hit the seat in front of him he pushed out a hand straight into my groin.

Still, at least HE didn't fall over.

And so to the film, the third in the series but the first for 11 years. Interestingly, the screenplay writers have chosen to acknowledge this passing of time and so we arrive (via a western-style, roof-of-a-train duel between Woody and Mr Potato Head) a few days prior to Andy's departure for college. John Morris, who was 10 at the time of the original Toy Story, again provides the voice of Andy, who must decide what to do with his old toy collection before he leaves. He can take them with him (a curious option since I can't imagine anyone turning up for their first day at University with a box full of plastic cowboys, space rangers and evil Dr Pork Chop piggy banks), he can leave them in the attic at his mum's house, or he can throw them in the bin. Or the trash.

This taxing dilemma takes the film into prison break-out territory, and our heroes end up in what seems like an idyllic day care centre. However things are not quite what they seem there. At this point we meet the show-stealing Lotso, voiced by Ned Beatty. He's a cuddly bear who's had his mind twisted by a bad experience with a previous owner. An Anakin Skywalker for the Pixar Generation. Lotso rules the roost and is not a bear you can trust, not like that nice Fozzy I grew up with. When Woody and the gang find this out they must launch a desperate bid to escape to the relative safety of Andy's mum's attic.

Comedy highlights include Ken and Barbie's on-off relationship, and the running joke of Mrs Potato Head's eye seeing independently of her head. For reasons too complex to go into here (no, really) Buzz develops a 'Spanish mode' which although arguably xenophobic and milked just a little too much, is undeniably amusing. Laugh out loud moments are not that plentiful (indeed some of the best come in the added material accompanying the closing credits so stay in your seat), but there are more than enough chuckles along the way to keep the adults interested and to entertain the kids.

Toy Story 3 has more emotional depth than can reasonably be expected of a children's animation. The notion of one's childhood finally passing by forever will resonate with many of the adults who see this film. Those who really allow themselves to buy into the surprisingly moving storyline might want to equip themselves with some hankies, especially those young adults who were small children at the time of the original's release in 1995.

You just hope that the people behind the series will be able to resist the temptation of a pointless pot-of-gold fourth installment somewhere down the track. It's a fine end to the saga, and should be left well enough alone now.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Inception: an event that is a beginning. A first part or stage of subsequent events.

Well that's one way of defining it, but it hardly prepares you for the mind-bending, logic-defying silliness of Christopher Nolan's journey into the subconscious. Nolan is the man behind Memento, a film which, it turned out, was about a man who had short term memory loss which somehow led to the entire thing being played out from back to front. Mercifully, Nolan also does Batman movies.

I have had some silly dreams in my time. I once dreamed (dreamt?) that Diego Maradona and Michael Jackson were the same person. I still can't explain what use the moonwalk is to a footballer, but I am sure Diego would have found a use for Michael's glittery glove. Anyway my point is that dreams, or at least mine, tend to be a hotch-potch of snippets of reality which invariably make no sense whatsoever. I'm dreaming now if I think I can go to bed tonight and have a sensible, coherent dream that I will be able to make sense of in the morning.

This is something which Nolan fails to recognise with Inception. The main protagonist is the terribly named Dom Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) who has somehow landed a job as a dream thief. Using new technology, sedatives and other such arse-wash, Cobb can enter another person's dream and steal just about any information he can find there. Again it is difficult to see what value he would find in my Maradona-Michael Jackson dream, but in his reality (or at least one of them) dreams unfold in a more straightforward manner.

Cobb is challenged to carry out the inception, that is to actually plant an idea in someone's head without that person knowing that it has been planted there. To fake inspiration, as the film would have it. To do this he assembles a team of dream dabblers including the sedative guy, and a suspiciously attractive young architect. Not just any suspiciously attractive young architect, mind. An architect who constructs the settings for dreams, whether they belong to her or not.

The team embark on their mission, to convince the son of a business tycoon (played by Pete Postlethwaite, who hasn't looked this ill since Brassed Off) to bring down his father's empire. Why would he want to do that when he is about to inherit it? Well, he wouldn't, which just makes the job of making him think it was his own idea all the more difficult.

It is at this point where the dreams get out of control. We're into the realms of dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams now, and the whole thing has more layers than Ashley and Cheryl's wedding cake. Fiendishly, each dream level runs at a different speed so that five minutes in one dream could take an hour in another and so on. Just as well, as Nolan takes the last hour of the film to lead us to the denouement.

Spurring Cobb on throughout is the romantic thought of getting back to reality with his wife and two children. The only problem is that his wife died some time ago, something of which he seems to be reminded in whichever dream he happens to pop up in. Yet being told that someone is dead in Inception means very little because it's all a dream. Or is it? I'm buggered if I know actually.

An attempt at this kind of deep thinking is to be applauded, though it's a little depressing to note that originality now necessarily involves a film drowning in it's complexity. Inception is in real danger of convincing it's audience that it doesn't actually know where it is going or care how it is going to get there. Just believe, will you? Maybe.

Another complaint is that the film could have done without it's nod-to-the-matrix style special effects, all of which thinly disguise the fact that Nolan is trying to distract the people who would otherwise be getting frustrated at the fact that they don't get it. Or that they do get it and it just doesn't work for them.

Rather like dreams themselves, the success or failure of Inception is very much open to interpretation.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Shrek Ever After

The fourth and hopefully final installment of the animated ogre's tale walks on very little new ground.  All routes seem to have been explored in the previous three films, so we end up taking a trip back to where it all started.  And having to go through what we already went through again........if you see what I mean.

Shrek's fed up with his perfect life.  Yes he's got an ogress wife with the voice of Cameron Diaz, aswell as three perfect ogre children, but he is just so ordinary now.  He wants to go back to a time when he was special, when people feared his roar, or fled screaming from his very presence.  Of course the trouble with getting what you want in life is that it causes more problems than it fixes.  Thus our hero is taken all the way back to a time where Diaz's Fiona doesn't know or want to know him, where the kids don't exist and where even donkey (voiced again by a still singing Eddie Murphy) finds it hard to believe that the two could be best friends.  And don't even get him started on the notion that he has children who are a mix between him and his fire-breathing dragon wife.

Leading Shrek back to this alternate reality is the demented wizard-cum-dwarf Rumpelstiltzkin.  For reasons that I might have missed in Shrek 3, Rumpelstiltzkin has the power to grant Shrek his wish, and so a deal is struck between the two.  Shrek gives up one day of his life in return for one day of genuine ogredom.  He's genuinely scary again, and he no longer has to suffer the indignity of having tour buses full of sightseers drive past his home.  The only thing is that the day he happened to give up was the day he was born.  And so he was never born.  Complicated?  The kids won't think so, will they?

And so begins Shrek's quest to win back Fiona (for it is only true love's kiss which will break the curse that Shrek's new/old life becomes).  Hence we have been here before, back to the days when Shrek released the then Princess Fiona from the tower of her incarceration.  The fact that she is now a warrior Queen busy rallying the ogre troops for battles ahead is not making Shrek's job any easier.  Nor is Puss In Boots, reprised by Antonio Banderas but suffering from something of a weight problem.  No longer the flashing blade of old, Puss is a fat housecat who is massaged twice a day and seems to sleep for the rest of it. 

Dreamwork's ultimate motivation here seems to have been to knock out a 3-D movie while the going is good in that particular market.  I chose the conventional, 2-D route for my experience, but it may be that adorning uncomfortable eye-wear could enhance yours.  The scenes which are designed for the 3-D audience are stupefyingly obvious.  Having seen the 3-D show in Forida recently I already feel like I kind of know what I would have got if I had gone the other way and donned the specs.  I don't feel like I missed out on anything.

The dancing ogres and witches will entertain your young well enough, as will the few belly laughs you get from Banderas, but this is not a film that you or they will remember all that fondly.  It's at least one Shrek too many, which is almost certainly the reason that the screenwriters chose to go down the alternate reality route in the first place.  If you don't expect Finding Nemo and you don't take it too seriously, this a perfectly enjoyable but not life-changing way for the family to spend 93 minutes.