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June 19, 2010

Review: Toy Story 3

No matter what you're age, you probably enjoy Disney/Pixar films. The best part is, you never have to be embarrassed for saying that, because everyone enjoys them. I get the feeling that previous generations weren't so into animated films when they were in their 20s, but our generation grew up with these films. It's hard to deny that there is something else going on there. Some factor that goes beyond cute childish characters or simply story lines. These films have the ability to make adults cry and children flush with laughter and excitement. However, in years past, we've never seen a successful animated franchise. But "Toy Story" has become a trilogy that defines our generation.

The original film came out in 1995, when those of us in our 20s were children. Also being the first major motion picture by Pixar Animation Studios, it changed how animated films were made, and along with the technology came stories that viewers of all ages could enjoy. 1999 was the year of "Toy Story 2," which was a great addition to the story of Woody, Buzz and all the rest. Part of the plot of that movie was asking the question, "what will Andy do with his toys when he goes off to college?" Well, "Toy Story 3" came along to answer that question, and just in time for many of us who saw the original to either be entering, still in, or just leaving college.

So here's what happens. Andy's mom tells him to separate his room into what's going with him to college, what's going in the attic and what's getting thrown away. We find that Andy hasn't played with his beloved toys in years, but they still keep trying to be there for him. The saddest moment is when you realize that only the core characters in previous films are still there, because Andy has already gotten rid of his other toys. All that's left is Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Hamm, Rex, Slinky and the little alien dudes from the claw machine. It's clear Andy is a very different kind of teenager, and he's always kept a place in his heart for these toys. However, through a mix-up they get grouped together with toys that Molly gave their mom to donate to Sunnyside Day-Care. At first, the toys are relieved to be in a place where they'll always be wanted by children who will play with them. An older toy, Lotso (the lots o' hugging bear) assures them that they'll never get thrown out or ignored, and they can't get their hearts broken if they don't have an owner. Most are ready to move on, but Woody refuses to give up on Andy and manages escape. But the toys soon learn that Sunnyside is not the paradise they were told, and find themselves missing Andy more than ever and in need of rescue. But what will become of them as Andy is ready to move on?

The movie is an adventure, but what Toy Story film hasn't been? I always find myself shaking my head and saying, "Wow, these toys have the absolute worst luck. Everything is always so difficult for them." And that's always been the heart of these films. These toys refuse to give up on their owner or let him down. Woody has been a hero to every child who sees these movies, and every adult that grew up with him. He is the friend that will never ever let you down. As with any animated film of the past few years, there are enough jokes aimed at older audiences to keep everyone laughing. The dramatic situations in "Toy Story 3" rival that of any other dramatic film, particularly in scenes where you feel it could be the end for this bunch of play-things. It's heart-warming how much they go through to get back to Andy, even though it's likely he'll never play with them again. The greatest thing is that they chose to end this film in a logical and plausible way (as plausible as talking and feeling toys could be) and when looking at the entire trilogy, the story comes completely full circle. There's no need for specifics in this review, because if you're a fan of "Toy Story" or any Pixar film, you already know you're going to enjoy this.

"Let's go see how much we're going for on eBay."


June 16, 2010

Pick of the Week: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - 2007

The road for any music legend is a long and rocky one. There are ups and downs both in career and personal life. Temptations of women and drugs conflicting with the burdens of fame. This is all chronicled in the fictional and satirical story of Dewey Cox, as he embodies the rock star persona in the most ridiculous and hilarious way.

John C. Reilly ("Boogie Nights," "Step Brothers") stars as Dewey Cox, and yes, many subtle jokes are made about his last name. At a young age, Dewey is involved in a terrible accident that results in his brother's death. Using music as an outlet, Dewey leaves home as a teenager to pursue a career in music. With a growing family, Dewey soon becomes a big star with a slew of number one hits. Troubles of life on the road lead him down a self-destructive path of drugs and infidelity, straining his friendships, family life and his inner-demons.

Okay, that paragraph really made this sound like a serious movie, but in no way is it serious. The film serves strongly as a parody to the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line,"as well as the Ray Charles biopic, "Ray." Both are fantastic, Oscar-winning films, and you absolutely must see them both before watching "Walk Hard," otherwise you won't get most of the jokes and references. John C. Reilly does his own singing in the film, which audiences know he's capable of, as proved by his Oscar nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 2003's adaptation of hit Broadway musical "Chicago." I also just realized that Reilly received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for "Walk Hard," which is a bit surprising.

The film was co-written by Judd Apatow, whose helped bring about nearly every hit comedy in the last five years or so, including "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Pineapple Express" and nearly every great Will Ferrel movie. There are countless cameos in the film by "Saturday Night Live" cast members and alumni (most notably Kristen Wiig as Dewey's wife and Tim Meadows as his drummer), and several actors from hit series "The Office" (Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam, is Dewey's backup singer and love interest). Musicians and musical styles parodied in the film include Elvis Presley (played by Jack White of the White Stripes), Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, The Big Bopper, The Beatles (definitely the funniest scene of the movie, as it features comic greats Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman and Justin Long), and of course, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles.

I will say that this film is sometimes stupid, but it's always clever and funny. It's one of the few movies I've seen multiple times and can still laugh out loud when watching it by myself. It's worth it for a great laugh, but beware the director's cut, which clocks it at just over two hours. Oh, and if you have a problem with seeing a man's penis (more than once), then be careful. You've been warned.


June 4, 2010

Pick of the Week: Chasing Amy

I've decided to start doing a pick of the week. Just a random movie I feel like talking about that week. Hopefully I keep up with it every week, but we'll see.

Chasing Amy - 1997

Written and directed by Kevin Smith as what he calls the third part of his "New Jersey Trilogy." Smith, who's always had a soft spot for his holy land of New Jersey, centers around his cast of re-occurring characters and references to characters and events never seen (specifically the death of Julie Dwyer in the YMCA pool, mentioned in all three films). His first film, 1994's "Clerks," became a cult classic thanks to its low-budget black and white filming, but also its use of believable characters (in some less than believable situations) and sex humor. Oh, and in-depth conversations about Star Wars. He reuses these methods in 1995's "Mallrats," which had a bigger budget, more characters and less appeal to the masses. He may have been trying to hard to make a comedy that he went over the top. However, it succeeded in being memorable and solidifying the characters and the atmosphere in which his films are set. "Chasing Amy" came along as Smith's most personal story, brought in many ways from his own relationship with the female lead.

The story centers around Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck, who believe it or not got his start in Smith's films) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee, who you may know best from NBC's "My Name is Earl"). They are two old friends who write and animate a popular comic book called "Blunt Man and Chronic," which parodies Batman and Robin and is based off the infamous Jay and Silent Bob, who exist in the reality of Smith's universe, of course. Forget the fact that Affleck's character in "Mallrats" is mentioned once, or that all three lead actors (Affleck, Lee and Joey Lauren Adams) are all in "Mallrats" as different characters than this film. They also all know and speak of characters from "Clerks." Anyway, Adams' character, Alyssa Jones, is a fellow comic creator who has a connection with Holden. But when Holden starts to have a "thing" for Alyssa, he finds out that she's a lesbian. WHAT A TWIST! So, despite Banky's feelings, Holden and Alyssa become good friends and their relationship eventually escalates to a romantic one. Tension grows between Holden and Banky, while Alyssa gets flack from her fellow lesbian community. It all really hits the fan when Holden confronts Alyssa with dark tales of her sexual history, which involve more than just women from Manhattan, and in some cases more than just one guy at a time.

I've always felt this story was so interesting and unique. When I was younger and first became a fan of Smith's films and his intertwining universe of characters and stories, I saw this as a very basic plot. I would explain it to others as, "A guy falls in love with a lesbian. It's really funny." But that's not the point of the film. It took some growing up, and reading Smith's description of the film and his personal story to get the real message across. This film is about relationships, and how to deal with your lover's past. The underlining theme here is that it doesn't matter (to an extent) what someone did before they met you. They've chosen you now and that has to be good enough. You can't expect someone to apologize for the things they did before they ever knew you existed. It had nothing to do with you. There are also several instances where Smith so accurately shows certain rationalizations men make because of our insecure minds. Wanting to know every detail, not because we want to but because we feel a need to. Needing to feel like we're a woman's first experience with something. And of course, men's jealously and trust issues toward the opposite sex and how we always feel the need to fix everything even when it's not broken. I think it took a lot of guts for Smith to write a film that not only put himself down, but his entire gender, because he knows deep down that it's all true.

I have a feeling the gay community would be slightly offended at Alyssa's ability to decide to date a man instead of women, or the idea that "secret" parts of her sexual history involve men, while the parts she most proud of are her many experiences with women, which Holden has no problem with, by the way. He's only upset about all the dudes. I would view her "switch" as unrealistic if I didn't actually know someone who has dated both genders and refuses to refer to herself as bisexual, because what do labels prove anyway? Smith also takes a deep look at the politics within the gay community, as his black gay comic writer Hooper X (posing as a tough, masculine racist towards whites to sell comics) expresses his frustrations with the social fixation on lesbians being "cute," while gay men are viewed as disgusting. Alyssa's friends basically ostracize her for dating a man, showing a very "us vs. them" mentality amongst homosexuals, despite a message in the film that tells us "the heart wants what it wants." These are his observations of the community, but although these might be a stereotype, who's to say it isn't accurate of some?

Overall, if you can get over the (at times) lack-luster acting, and especially Ben Affleck's awful facial hair, you can really see the messages in this film. Holden's solution to this whole debacle is a perfect example of men trying to fix things and the horrible rationale we have. What seems like sort of an epilogue drags out a bit too long, but this is truly one of those films you can laugh at, and possibly cry. Real characters and emotions, and all the more powerful that Smith cast his then girlfriend in the lead, exposing his insecurities on screen. If your a fan of Smith's work, do yourself a favor and see this.

"I finally had something personal to say."