Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Toy Story 3 - 2010

In 1995 Pixar launched the successful Toy Story franchise by unveiling the secret life of toys and their honorable duty to be there for the children they love.

For a toy there is nothing more important than being loved by a child, which was driven home in the 1999 sequel Toy Story 2, where a cowgirl toy named Jessie knew all too well the pain of being discarded by a child who had outgrown her need for toys.

With Toy Story 3, Andy and his toys are revisited and we see from the opening scenes how important the toys were to Andy during his childhood. They were, in fact, his best friends.

All too soon we realize how much time has passed from that first story that introduced us to Woody and Buzz. Andy's ready to go off to college; his need for toys has abated. Of the toys that remain, they sit in a Woody themed toy box alone and forgotten.

Andy's mother announces that since he's going to college (and thereby turn over his room to his little sister Molly), he has to decide what to do with his belongings. Do they go in the attic? Do they go with him to college? Or do they get thrown away?

Andy makes his choice, and the consequences of his actions land the toys on their way to be donated to daycare. At first the thought of being around children who would play with them thrills the group of neglected toys. But soon they learn that daycare isn't all it's cracked up to be, thanks to a new character named Lotso, a pink teddy bear who runs Sunnyside Daycare his way.

In true Toy Story style, our adventurous toys embark on rescue missions and daring escapes trying to get back to where they think they belong.

And, like the Toy Story movies that come before it, it does so with a powerfully emotional undertone that gets you *right there*.

I will shamelessly admit that I cried pretty much non-stop for the last 15-20 minutes of the movie. And the last five at least I was out-and-out sobbing. I sat next to my 18 year old son, my youngest, and understood all too well about time passing, children growing up and new phases of life that involve in many ways saying goodbye to your old ones.

That is the theme of this story, and screenwriter Michael Arndt, who earned his stripes winning an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, certainly brought it home. Not only did he stay true to the characters, but he wove a tale that in some spots were pretty suspenseful as well as emotionally gripping.

It answers what you're willing to do for friendship, the truest form of love.

Lee Unkrich co-directed such Pixar classics as Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., and on his solo outing he managed to keep that quality about Pixar films that make them so special - their heart.

And sure I teared up with Jessie talked about how her owner abandoned in her in Toy Story 2, and yeah... I still fight tears when Sully opens that closet door to see his Boo in Monsters, Inc. And who can keep it together when Dory tells Marlin she doesn't want to forget what home feels like?

But all that pales in comparison to what these filmmakers do to you in Toy Story 3. It comes in second only to Up, and even then it only loses by a smidge.

Call me silly, but movies that can make me weep like a newborn baby win my respect and my adoration.

That is the magic of movies.

That is the magic of Pixar.

And that is the magic of Toy Story 3.

Acting: 5
Writing: 5
Directing: 5
Overall: 5

Monday, November 8, 2010

Charmaggedon - 2010

Hal Sparks... the name may ring a bell, or you might recognize his face from his many talking head appearances courtesy of VH1. You might know Hal from his stint on The Daily Show, or maybe you knew him as the gay guy next door Michael Novotny in Showtime's Queer as Folk. Or perhaps you know him as the bubble-wrapped Lord of the Nerds Zoltan in Dude, Where's My Car.

But where you need to know Hal Sparks is as a stand-up comedian. Not just because he's hilarious, which he is... but because he's absolutely fearless. Check out a clip from his newest standup special Hal Sparks Charmageddon

There's no sacred cow he isn't willing to slay, and his laser focus misses nothing. From how we order on a menu to how we relate to each other, Hal cuts through each oxymoron with a machete sharp wit refined by years of experience.

By the tender age of 17 Hal had won the Funniest Teenager in Chicago contest, and by 18 he had moved to California to pursue stand-up comedy as a professional career. Hal has been working at his craft ever since, and can be seen regularly headlining in many sold out comedy clubs all over the country.

was filmed in Orange County, in front of a standing room only crowd. Hal brings his more adult oriented material to the stage, which includes such bits as "Sexting", "Inbreeding Insurance" and "Vagina Says".

It's not for the closed-minded or the faint of heart, but if you're willing to laugh (sometimes even at yourself), and if you've been waiting for a heavy metal comedian with a brain - you're ready for Charmageddon.

Also check out his debut comedy DVD "Escape from Halcatraz" - which you can also get from Amazon when available.

Follow Hal on Twitter or check out Hal's official website to learn more, even where you can go see him perform live.

Because you totally should.

Until then, check out Charmageddon.

Hal Sparks. He's hilarious. He's talented. He's fearless.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Megamind - 2010

Every now and then I run across the rare and random movie that, the entire duration I watch it, I think to myself the following:




This isn't because I don't like it and I'm bemoaning the money or the time I'll never get back.

It's because the premise is so original or smart that I wish I had been talented enough or smart enough to come up with it myself - and execute it as brilliantly.

Some examples:

Galaxy Quest
Monsters, Inc.

And now... Megamind.

It starts off with two alien babies being sent from their exploding planets to find a new home - and a new destiny - on Earth. Typical superhero stuff, only these two babies were meant to sort of be the yin to each other's yang pretty much from the time that they are born.

It's told from the point of view of the blue-hued Megamind, voiced by Will Ferrell. He learns pretty early on that if he's not good enough to be as good as Metro Man (Brad Pitt), then he'd be really good at being bad.

Thus a villain was born, albeit a rather hapless one. Along with his minion, named, uh, Minion (David Cross), he found his life's purpose. All was going along pretty much like clockwork until he finally succeeded at getting rid of the good guy.

Megamind makes the startling discovery that without a hero to fight his life has lost all its meaning. Even kidnapping his favorite target Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) doesn't hold the same appeal as it once did.

That is until their paths cross thanks to the fortuitous introduction of Bernard (Ben Stiller), and through this temporary window of normalcy he finds out what he really wants most.

With the help of Hal, the neer do well camera guy voiced by Jonah Hill, Megamind finds himself in a rather unusual predicament that tests his sense of his own destiny.

Megamind follows the trend of animated movies often outsmarting their live-action comedy counterparts. The screenplay, in addition to being a unique take on the whole superhero origin thing, is smart and very tightly written. This is especially impressive given it was screenwriters Alan Schoolcraft's and Brent Simons' first screenwriting credit.

Director Tom McGrath has a few more credits in the successful Madagascar franchise, but unlike Madagascar Megamind wasn't geared more to smaller children. It felt more like a gift for the older kids, including 40-somethings like myself. Character arcs took the place of slapstick, and no running joke was done for the sake of the joke itself. Any straggling questions left by the end of the movie were answered.

The music also Rocks. The movie features such bands as AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, George Thorogood and Guns N' Roses.

Yeah. I said Guns N' Roses.

I have a theory that animated movies have to work a little harder to be taken seriously... and in doing so either succeed brilliantly (Toy Story, Up, Shrek, etc) or fade away as "just another kids' movie". They've got more work to do to keep everyone in the audience rapt with attention, from the young to the old.

Megamind does this so well it makes it look effortless, which makes it a great movie for all ages.

Acting - 5
Writing - 5
Directing - 5
Overall - 5


Red - 2010

R.E.D. stands for "Retired - Extremely Dangerous", and it is the movie adaptation of a comic book. The plot centers around a retired group of CIA operatives who have to band together and fight against forces trying to kill them.

The movie starts with a rather brilliant shot describing in about a second the character of Frank Moses, played by the incomparable Bruce Willis. Bruce is at his best when he's a badass, and Moses is no exception.

The story starts simply enough, albeit kinda slow paced for an action movie. Moses leads a life built on a rather boring routine. One of those routines involve his regularly calling Sarah Moss, the lady in charge of his pension. Moss, played to perfection by "Weeds" star Mary-Louise Parker, sits in her cubicle, bored out of her skull wishing herself into other, exciting locations pinned up on the walls.

That is all about to change whether she likes it or not. (And it's clear she's gonna kinda like it.)

When Frank discovers that he has become a target for obliteration, he "rescues" Sarah from her hum-drum existence as they go on the run to figure out what is going on.

This involves rounding up the old gang. There's Joe (Morgan Freeman), an 80 year old nursing home resident living with stage four liver cancer. There's the LSD-tested-paranoid-weapon-happy Marvin, a role that John Malkovich sinks his teeth into with all his brilliantly weird glee. There's also Victoria, a beautiful but deadly assassin played by the brilliant Helen Mirren.

Sure, with this cast you'd expect more of a drama with Oscars in its eyes than an action movie based on a comic book. That's probably what makes this action movie even more fun. That it is based on retirees who many movies might be tempted to put into stereotypical boxes even more so.

The actors themselves wring every bit of joy they can out of these atypical characters, and the smart script treats them with the respect they so rightfully earn. You kinda just have to root for them no matter how nefariously they behave.

It's a movie where the good guys are bad, the bad guys are good and the balance of which threatens to tip with each explosion.

Have I mentioned there are a bunch of those?

The weakest part of the movie is the beginning, where the setup seems to trudge along a little more indulgently than the genre typically allows. Looking back I'm not sure where I would advise screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber to trim the fat, and God love em they didn't dally beyond those first few minutes that seemed to drag.

As soon as the first bullet was fired, it was right on pace thereafter.

Director Robert Schwentker paid great homage to the source material with a highly visual comic book/graphic novel approach in shots and editing. He and the Hoebers really drove home the "show but don't tell" theory behind filmmaking in often understated ways.

No, Red isn't likely to win any Oscars. But if you want a fun way to spend an evening watching things blow up and "old folks" kick ass - it might just be the movie for you.

Acting - 5
Writing - 4
Direction - 4
Overall - 4.3