Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

Year: 2010
Director: Lee Unkrich
Voice cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Blake Clark, Michael Keaton

How many threequels can you think of that is just as good as the first two or better? Some might say Return Of The King, but I can only think of Die Hard With A Vengeance surpassing its predecessors. Other than that, most threequels perform below par and are remembered as nothing more than an opportunity to cash in on the original's popularity.

So you gotta ask yourself: after 11 years, is a third Toy Story a good idea? I am glad to answer yes to this question. It's so relieving to note that after all these years, Woody, Buzz and gang are still as entertaining as ever.

As most of you know, Toy Story revolves around a bunch of toys owned by a young boy named Andy. Through thick and thin, these toys look out for one another as they face the many obstacles thrown in their path, like bad neighbors, other selfish toys and the threat of either being discarded or destroyed.

In this instalment, Andy is now 17 years old and way past the age where he would usually play with his favourite toys. In fact, it's been years since he's picked up Woody, Buzz and the others for a round of fun. Now that he's going off to college, Andy's mother persuades him to decide what to do with them.

Andy ultimately decides to take Woody with him to college and put the rest of them in the attic. But then his mum accidentally disposes of them in a trash bag. Woody manages to reunite with them as the gang gets themselves transported to Sunnyside Daycare, a place where many little children spend time playing with toys. It is here that the gang meet Lotso the Lots-O' Huggin' Bear, leader of the other toys at Sunnyside. He shows the gang the supposedly great place Sunnyside is, where they will be played with five days a week, and the gang, preferring this over spending their lifetime in Andy's attic as forgotten playthings, decide to stay.

Woody however, still loyal to Andy, refuses to join them and chooses to go back to Andy. He gets out but doesn't quite make it home. Elsewhere, Buzz and company realize that Sunnyside isn't such a great place as the children assigned to play with them are toddlers who abuse and manhandle toys. Even worse, they discover that Lotso isn't the kind and generous toy he initially makes himself out to be.

So again, after 11 years, is Toy Story 3 a good idea? Now that I have seen this, I understand. It has taken Pixar this long to come up with a story that will be good enough to make into a film. If this had been rushed, like most threequels are, it would have been below expectations. This instalment is not only top notch entertainment, but it also ends the trilogy perfectly. And I do mean perfectly.

I have to admit, this film is a lot darker than the original two, and the jokes are slightly less memorable than say, Woody and Buzz's hilarious banter in the first film or the movie references in the second one. But it still works because it gives a lot of room for the toys to execute some well made drama that will endear you to them
as you get to the end. And what an ending it is. I really felt like shedding a tear or two in the final minutes, and I hadn't felt that way since seeing Jessie the cowgirl's backstory on being abandoned in Toy Story 2. It's just brilliant.

I need to make a special mention of Ken and Barbie, who make their appearance here very worthwhile indeed. Ken in particular, voiced by Michael Keaton, stands out as the fashion obsessed toy who has to choose between Barbie and his less honorable friends working for Lotso.

My advice to you is: if you've seen and enjoyed the first two Toy Story films, you HAVE to see this. You have to bring yourself to a theater now and see it.

This may be the last time I'll say this, so here goes: To infinity, and beyond! (4.5/5)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Adam Green
Cast: Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, Emma Bell

Frozen is a horror thriller that asks a question: what would you do if you're stuck on a chairlift high up in the air with nowhere to go?

Joe, Dan and Parker are three friends who go skiing together at Mount Holliston. Everything goes well until they decide to take one last trip up the mountain as the chairlift operator prepares to call it a night. After some haggling, the trio manage to convince the guy to let them go up.

And that's when things go horribly wrong.

Thanks to some miscommunication amongst the operators, they shut down the chairlift while the trio are still on it. The three kids, initially thinking that the lift malfunctioned, only realize their predicament when the lights are turned off. And since the place is only opened on weekends, they are now stuck there for the next five days, in the cold, high above the ground and nowhere to go.

And the usual reactions come forth. Panic. Bickering. Bravado without thinking things through. It leads to very bad things, and unfortunately for these three kids, that's not the worst of it. There are wolves below.

Director Adam Green also wrote the script, and he does a splendid job in depicting a situation which is quite plausible in the real world. Some of you may think that there are plenty of ways to get out of a situation like this, but to his credit, Green makes it believable that there are very few things to think of doing when you're trapped, and how fear plays a huge part in making your next most likely ill-fated move. Green also writes great dialogue for the three kids to throw at one another throughout the film, thereby making it feel as if they have really known each other a long time. Besides, it only makes sense that character development has to occur in between the mishaps, so Green had to provide the audience with something, and he does.

I remember seeing Shawn Ashmore in The Ruins, a film quite similar to this, and I felt that he performs better here. His character Joe is the sensible one, and he successfully grounds the story. This is well contrasted by Kevin Zegers as Dan, who is a bit more assertive. Emma Bell, who plays Dan's girlfriend Parker, is decent enough in her role. Her acting is slightly inconsistent and she doesn't cry very convincingly, but redeems herself towards the end.

There are a couple of flaws here and there, like the overused plot of stupid kids always getting themselves in a fix the same way every time, and some of the character developments mentioned earlier carrying on a bit longer than it ought to, but overall I liked this film. The tense moments of this movie are certainly the best parts, and quite memorable too. It says a lot when some of the audience who saw Frozen at the Sundance Film Festival reportedly threw up, fainted or left the theater in fear.

Go see this, there's a good chance you'll be scared even if you don't ski. (4/5)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The A-Team

Year: 2010
Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney, Brian Bloom

In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.

Cue theme song.

And that's how the popular 80s hit TV show The A-Team begins each episode. It was an action series with cartoon type violence that featured the late George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz and Mr. T as a ragtag group of soldiers for hire. And now, like Miami Vice, Get Smart and a whole load of other TV shows, it gets remade.

The updated version begins with how the team, Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), Lt. Faceman Peck (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) and H.M. Murdock (Sharlto Copley) came together and then were sent to Iraq during the Gulf War.
At the end of the war, Hannibal gets word from CIA agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) about U.S. money printing plates being shipped out of Iraq by Saddam loyalists. Hannibal makes an agreement with his superior, General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) to retrieve the plates off the record.

So The A-Team spring into action and successfully recover the plates, but before they can give it to the General, he is killed by Black Forest operatives led by Pike (Brian Bloom), who subsequently takes the plates. The official military officer in charge of the plates, Captain Sosa (Jessica Biel) holds Hannibal and his men responsible for the incident, since there is no one left to verify Hannibal's orders. The four men are sentenced to prison.

But all is not lost. Hannibal is determined to free his men and clear their names. With a little help from Lynch, he succeeds in breaking out, freeing his team and find Pike. However, they're in for a few surprises.

Director Joe Carnahan, who also wrote the screenplay, has done an admirable job here. From my memory, the TV series was a lot of fun to watch. Unlike most TV shows today, The A-Team didn't rely on plot twists, violence or a large set of characters doing crazy things. It was just clean, campy fun thanks to the great camaraderie between the four main characters. With Peppard's charisma, Benedict's charm, Schultz's zaniness and Mr. T's tough guy attitude, the show was a hit. And I'm glad to inform you that Carnahan has brought that same chemistry here. He retains the teamwork reminiscent of the series and the humour that comes along with it. That being said, the film is one fun ride that never stops. There's plenty of action, carnage and explosions to be had, with a bit more violence than the series, but it's still PG though.

Neeson is no George Peppard, but he brings just the right amount of screen presence to portray team leader Hannibal, the cigar chomping man with a plan. He is well supported by Cooper as Face, who has really come a long way and is finally believable as an action hero. This is the kind of character he should play more often. District 9's Sharlto Copley is spot on as the crazy Murdock, from the look right down to the mannerisms, and provides much of the laughs here. Jackson isn't quite like Mr. T though, and he doesn't have enough acting experience to be a really convincing B.A. Baracus, but as far as being a muscleman that kicks ass, he lives up to it just fine.

The only thing I have a problem with is Biel, who was probably chosen just to provide eye candy and sexual tension for Face. I think they could have either picked a better actress or make her character a male. I know I would have.

You will see a lot of action sequences, some of which are quite over the top, like the flying tank sequence. But trust me, it's so much fun you won't be bothered by the lack of logic in them. Besides, who watches action films for logic anyway?

I am relieved that I had fun with this film, because this year's summer movies haven't been really satisfying till now. Go see this, and wait till after the end credits for a couple of cameos. (4/5)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Gran Torino

Year: 2008
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her

I'm taking a short detour from reviewing current films this week to talk about a film I didn't get a chance to watch at the cinema, but managed to catch recently on cable.

Gran Torino tells the story of Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran who has recently been widowed. He's a cranky old man who doesn't get along with his children and grandchildren, who in turn don't seem to understand him. The local priest, Father Janovich, tries to get through to the old man but isn't quite successful.

One day, a family of Hmong immigrants move into the house next to Walt's. Walt immediately takes a disliking to them, being continuously unhappy that more foreigners are moving into his neighborhood. Things start off badly when Thao, the son of the family tries to steal Walt's 1972 Gran Torino car at the behest of his troublemaking cousin and his gang, and subsequently fails. Later, Walt finds the gang harassing Thao and his family outside their home and takes action, despite harboring ill feelings towards them.

That act of kindness sparks the beginning of a relationship of sorts between Walt and his new neighbors, particularly Thao and his streetwise sister Sue. Although sceptical at first, Walt slowly warms up to the two kids and teaches Thao a thing or two, such as fixing things, talking to people and gaining confidence.

However, Thao's cousin and his gang will not leave things alone, and matters take an ugly turn when they take their misdeeds up a notch and make it personal.

Gran Torino came out in the same year Clint Eastwood released his film Changeling, and I have to say the former is a much better film. It's a pity that not only did Gran Torino not make it to Malaysian cinemas, it was also snubbed at the Oscars that year. For me, Changeling was overdramatic, overdone and a bit forced. Here, Eastwood takes a simple story and makes it his own. His story, which centres on Walt's friendship with Thao, is reminiscent of Pixar's Up, except that the latter is a lighthearted affair. In Gran Torino, despite the many hilarious situations Walt and Thao encounter in their relationship, it is ultimately shadowed by dark problems within their society.

Eastwood does a magnificent job being director, actor and even contributing his vocals for the closing theme. At 80 years old, Eastwood proves he still has the chops to don many hats and still be a force to be reckoned with. When as Walt, he points a rifle at the gang and snarls "Get off my lawn!", if you were one of them, you'll know he means business. And yet, Eastwood still has the wisdom to acknowledge that he isn't the action hero he used to be, judging by the way this film ends. It's a bit sad, but it still managed to put a smile on my face. The supporting cast isn't much to speak of, but they provide enough chemistry with Eastwood to make it work.

All in all, a classic film about friendship, respect and understanding. Recommended. (4/5)


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