Safety Not Guaranteed: a journalist and two interns head off to investigate a classified ad about a man who’s about to go time-travelling. Inoffensive Indie soundtrack, check. Strong indie cast, check. Mumble-core indie dialogue, check. Welcome to 2012’s feel-good quirky, low-key, shoe-gazing, Sundance-bait movie of the year. The director (Colin Trevorrow) puts a big bet on you fawning over Aubrey Plaza and finding her hilarious & irresistible: she’s in most scenes/shots and feels like the absolute focus – I personally don’t dig her that much, which pulled the film down a little for me. There’s also a fairly substantial side story with college ex-girlfriend, which is obviously filler, and I would have preferred to have spent more time with the funnier characters (like Karan Soni riffing off Napoleon Dynamite). But hey, the director went on to do Jurassic World, and a Star Wars film so he probably knows more than me! The acting’s good, script’s funny, characters are well-drawn, but the film itself feels like it’s trying three or four different half-assed angles (comedy, conspiracy, heartbreak…) and not sticking to one in particular. It would have been good if the ending had been explored further too. Although greatness isn’t guaranteed, this is actually way better than I thought it would be, for an entire film based on a single picture as old as the internet. It’s got highs, lows, and is a bit deeper and more engaging than most indie films – showing that quirky can still be funny and entertaining.
Toy Story 3: (3D) Follows the usual suspects on another adventure as their beloved owner Andy grows up and heads for college. Because main cast were developed so well in the first two films TS3 is more about the storyline, which isn’t anything new as we’ve seen the whole “adventures in the big wide world” (done better) twice before. It’s also unexpectedly far, far darker than the first two, with 100% more doom & death scenes – and characters, like the unsettling Big Baby. Although dark themes are brought up the universal ones like rejection, growing up, friendship, loss, old vs new etc are all still present and keep the film’s appeal very broad. Where TS3 stands out is that it really tugs on the ol’ heartstrings; I cried happy tears at Buzz’s change and Mr Tortilla head, yet was close to sad tears several times. Newman’s score is terribly safe, but the way it manipulates your feelings is nothing short of amazing. Although it’s easy to take for granted in Pixar films you can’t overlook the broad array of such well-drawn characters (in both sense) backed with superb voice-acting performances – Mr Pricklepants, voiced by Timothy Dalton, was the standout for me – but everyone is great. The 3D element was outstanding – unlike most films that have a flat background and several objects ‘popping out’ TS3-3D shows full-natural depth to give the impression that you are really watching the action. When Toy Story debuted (in 1995!) as the first full-length CGI movie nobody could have predicted that it would have such an enormous influence on cinema & animation, and kick off one of the best trilogies ever – say what you want, but the Toy Story series stands up to everything else out there. It’s a great way to cap off the tale of a bunch of random plastic toys that have captured the imaginations of children and adults alike.
Note: The token Pixar short ‘Day & Night’ was rubbish!
Wall-E: (Blu Ray) a lonely ‘bot and his roach, set out to clean polluted earth – which lands him on a wacky space adventure. Due to the lack of dialogue it relies on two things to engage the audience; the personification of Wall-E and descriptive music. It’s not totally dialogue free as there are talking humans and the bleeps / robo noises are used masterfully to convey basic language. The mid-section’s a happy-go-lucky robo-screwball, with slapstick and visual gags everywhere. Unfortunately, the story is pretty predictable and lacks the adult layer that makes the best animated films (like Finding Nemo) stand out. It’s also quite preachy and so critical about humans, fatness, our capitalist way of life, and the corporation that Al Gore could have co-written it. The broken robot uprising was a poor rip off of the broken toys in Toy Story. The sound throughout is pretty good but the picture’s two tales: brilliant in space but dull and cloudy on earth. Don’t get me wrong, I did like this, but it’s nowhere near as good as the aforementioned Pixar titles.