Thursday, June 24, 2010

'Toy' Trilogy

Toy Story
Director: John Lasseter
Voice talent: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney
Released in theaters: 11/22/95
Viewed in theaters: 12/??/95

Oscar nominations:
Best Original Song - Randy Newman for "You've Got a Friend in Me" (Lost to Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas)
Best Music from a Comedy or Musical - Randy Newman (lost to Menken and Schwartz for Pocahontas)

Toy Story 2
Director: John Lasseter
Voice talent: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammar, Wayne Knight
Released: 11/24/99
Viewed in theaters: 12/04/99 and 12/25/99

Oscar nominations:
Best Song - Randy Newman for "When She Loved Me" (lost to Phil Collins for "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan)

Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich
Voice talent: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton
Released: 6/18/10
Viewed in theaters: 6/23/10

Future Oscar nominations: We all know this is gonna win Best Animated Picture. C'mon.

With the recently released Toy Story 3, I've decided to revisit the first two films and review them along with the third installment, a movie I'm been eagerly anticipating since last winter. It had been quite a few years since I've seen the first two, so it was a joy to re-watch them and it almost felt like I was watching them for the first time again. The computer animation has obviously gotten consistently better in the fifteen years since the first Toy Story was released, but that doesn't diminish the film one bit. The script (which was co-written by Buffy creator Joss Whedon) is still sharp and funny with heart and I can't imagine anyone else doing the voices for the already iconic characters of Woody and Buzz Lightyear than Hanks and Allen.

BTF: Best Toys Forever

In the first movie we're introduced to a slew of toy characters who belong to young Andy. Besides our cowboy sheriff and space ranger heroes, there's Mr. Potato Head (Rickles), a piggy bank (Ratzenberger), a neurotic plastic T-Rex (Shawn), a slinky dog (Varney), a remote control car, plastic green army soldiers, and Little Bo Peep (Potts) who belongs to Andy's little sister.

Woody has always been Andy's favorite toy, but once Buzz is given to the young boy at his birthday party as a surprise present from his mother, Woody knows his days are numbered. Not only has Buzz taken the coveted spot on the bed while Woody has been demoted to the toy chest, but Buzz is a more modern toy with lots of buttons and gadgets and even has a laser (although Woody will argue it's just a little light bulb) whereas the old-fashioned cowboy utters his favorite sayings with a pull string. Also, all of Andy's cowboy paraphernalia has been replaced with an outerspace theme.

With jealousy taking over, Woody tries to get Buzz stuck behind the desk so Andy can't find him, but ends up tossing him out the window. Feeling guilty, Woody tries to make it right, but both toys have now become lost and are now in the possession of Sid, the mean kid next door who likes to torture his toys by blowing them up or taking them apart and rebuilding them with different parts. The two feuding toys have to find a way to work together to return to their owner, but the clock is ticking because Andy and his family are moving the next day.

There's so many great moments, but my favorite part would have to be when Woody comes alive in front of Sid and he screams and runs into the house where his sister starts tormenting him with her doll.

In Toy Story 2 we have the same characters, but we're introduced to new ones. Woody discovers he's part of a collection called Woody's Roundup Gang that also includes his horse, Bull's Eye; Jessie, the cowgirl (Cusack); and Stinky Pete the prospector (Grammar). Mrs. Potato Head and Barbie are also new additions to the toy family. The plot of the second film is a bit more elaborate than the first and while I know toys coming to life isn't very realistic (okay, it's not realistic at all!), it seemed plausible within the context of the story. After Woody is mistakenly taken by a toy collector (Knight) at a yard sale, the other toys try to devise a plan to rescue him. This involves them making a long trek to Al's Toy Barn, driving a car to the airport, and Woody and Jessie escaping from an airplane that has just started to take off while Buzz is galloping right beside the plane on Bull's Eye. Don't get me wrong - Toy Story 2 is a great movie with a funny script and endearing new characters, but I preferred the simplicity of the first one.

I talk about a scene from Toy Story 2 that made me cry:

The latest installment of the franchise has Andy going off to college and he's not sure what he's going to do with his old toys, who haven't been played with in a long time. The toys are worried they're going to be thrown out, but they wouldn't mind being sent to the attic and brought back down when Andy has kids of his own.

There's a bit of a mix-up at the beginning (don't want to give too much away!) and the toys end up at Sunnyside Day Care, which at first seems like a nice retirement home for toys. There they meet new toys including Lot-so, a bear that smells like strawberries (Beatty); Ken (Keaton); a rubber octopus (Whoopi Goldberg); a baby doll; and Chatterbox phone (I remember those!) However, while the veteran toys are in the Butterfly Room where the older kids play and treat their toys with respect, the new recruits are placed in the Caterpillar Room aka Toy Hell. They're abused by screaming toddlers who smash them against the floor, paint on them, sit on them, etc. Woody manages to escape, but wants to find a way to help his friends get back to Andy too. He learns that the day care is like a prison and it's impossible to escape because the toys are kept in cages at night and there are lookouts at each post. It kind of reminded me of Watership Down for toys.

The tone is definitely darker than the previous two movies and there was one moment in the film that I was really afraid something horrible was going to happen to the toys and they seemed to have realized their fate and were all holding hands. Thank goodness I had a handkerchief in my purse because I needed it for pretty much the entire third act! I have yet to read/hear a review where nobody cried!

I was satisfied with the ending and I think Pixar did a great job of ending the Toy Story trilogy. (Of course, there could always be a fourth, but I don't know if they're going to continue with the franchise as I think they ended on a good note). While the first movie remains my favorite of the three, all of the movies are very solid and it's very rare when you see all three movies in a trilogy that are great. Usually, the first movie is good and the other two are just awful or don't measure up to the first one. (Pirates of the Caribbean, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man just to name a few).

I would definitely recommend watching the first two movies again to refresh your memory as there are some callbacks to them in Toy Story 3!

Oh and it amused me that there were many kids in the theater who weren't even born yet when the second movie came out! I feel very privileged to have seen all three in the theaters!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chamber - Made

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: The same people who were in the first movie, plus Jason Isaacs and Kenneth Branagh
Released: 11/15/02
Viewed in theaters: 11/16/02

My Harry Potter reviews continues with the second installment of Harry's adventures at Hogwarts! Chamber of Secrets is the second shortest novel (the first has the least amount of pages), but the longest movie, clocking in at about two hours and forty minutes. Now that's not counting the final chapter, which of course will be the longest since they're dividing it into two films and the other movies aren't that far behind in length. My reaction to this movie is about the same as the first one: loved it the first time I ever saw it; however, the next few times I viewed it, it grew tiresome and the magic was lost.

I'm not going to bother going over the plot since everyone already knows what happens in all the books, so it would be redundant. If you're one of the five people in the world who have never read/seen Harry Potter, well, I'm sure you're not reading this anyway!

Of the two Potter movies Columbus directed, I liked this one a little bit more, but that's not saying much. He should stick to his American comedies - I still love watching Adventures in Baby-Sitting and Home Alone, two movies I grew up with. One of the things I like better about CoS than SS is that we 've already been introduced to the (main) characters, so we can just jump into the story without all the introductions.

Though we are introduced to new characters: Dobby the House Elf (a character who I have always hated, even though .....SPOILER ALERT!.....I did perhaps shed one single tear when he died in the last book), who perhaps would have been more groundbreaking if The Two Tower's Gollum hadn't been featured that very same year; Branagh as Professor Lockhart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (but let's face it: the DADA teachers didn't get interesting until the third year, the first two are just filler); and Isaacs in a blond wig as Draco Malfoy's father. Oh, and there's Colin Creevy, but nobody cares about him since this is the only movie he was in as he seemed to be replaced by non-book character Nigel in the fourth movie. I'm sure they won't show his....SPOILER ALERT!.....death in the last movie. (Or they'll just have Nigel die).

Our three young actors seem to be more comfortable in front of the camera, but there are still some inconsistencies with their acting. They're still cute, of course, and Harry's and Ron's voices have both changed over the summer.  Daniel Radcliffe is much better this time around; Rupert Grint sometimes overdid it with the mugging faces, especially during the spider scene, but the one time when I believed him as scared was when he found out his sister was in the Chamber; and Emma Watson wasn't as snobby as she was in the first movie, but the scene in the Herbology class made me cringe because it sounded like she was reading her lines from a cue card.

Like I mentioned in my review of the first movie, I am a huge HeRmiONe shipper, so I loved the scene at the end when Hermione has returned from the hospital after being petrified for the last third of the movie and while she hugs Harry, she only shakes Ron's hand after a bit of an awkward pause. The H/Hr shippers seemed to think this meant that Hermione liked Harry better than Ron. Uh, no! I mean, it was so  obvious that Rowling was setting up Ron and Hermione to get together. And I would like to add, when I first saw the movie, everyone in my audience "aaw"-ed during that scene. What made it even funnier (and awesome) was that there was no reaction at all when she hugs Harry.

The ending of the movie made me roll my eyes just like the first one did. For some reason, the ending becomes a big Hagrid love-fest where all the students are cheering for him while in a mob and trying to touch his hands like young girls at a Jonas Brothers' concert.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Empire State of Mind

Sex and the City
Director: Michael Patrick King
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis
Released: 5/30/08

Sex and the City 2
Released: 5/27/10
Viewed in theaters: 5/28/10

Spoiler in the review!

The first SATC movie is better than its sequel, but I would recommend the HBO series over the movies. The first movie stays true to the TV show and feels like a two and a half hour special. New York serves as a strong background, there's plenty of sex scenes (although our main protagonist seems to be too busy with shopping, writing, redecorating her apartment, and attending fashion shows to get any action), and an abundance of designer clothes, shoes, and handbags. Also, the four characters get their own storylines: Carrie is going to be married to Big in a lavish ceremony at the New York Public Library (perfect place for a writer!) in an intricate Vivienne Westwood gown. Samantha has been flying back and forth between New York and L.A. where she's managing Smith Jerrod, her actor boyfriend of five years (a LONG time for Samantha Jones to be with one person!) and is having second thoughts about their relationship. Miranda and Steve separate after Steve tells her he cheated on her and Charlotte, with the weakest plot line, is pregnant and is afraid to run in fear of she'll hurt the baby. I guess they had to give her something to do.

Of course the main story revolves around Carrie and her dream wedding to Big (aka John Preston). Everything is set: they have the dress, the location, the invitations have been set out, they have a big rehearsal dinner, etc. Of course Big decides to bail on the big day - like right when the wedding is supposed to start! Unsurprisingly, this pisses off Carrie a great deal and she ends up smacking Big with her bouquet of flowers while wearing her princess wedding gown. Now I never saw this movie in the theaters so I have no idea what everyone else's reaction to it was and I'm not sure if it was supposed to be intentionally funny or not, but I laughed. I thought it was really funny, though I guess what had happened to Carrie wasn't. The cast of How I Met Your Mother re-created the scene for EW.

Now obviously we know Carrie and Big reconcile and do get married, but do you know how Big asks for forgiveness? By copying and pasting a bunch of love letters written by famous men from history and e-mailing them to her! Like that's romantic! I mean, he could have at least attempted to write (write, not type) his OWN letter to her and send it to her via post mail. That would at least have shown a little bit of an effort on his part, you know?

There's plenty of throw away scenes that should have stayed in the editing room like when they attend the fashion show or when they're modeling Carrie's clothes when she's cleaning out her closet, but they're part of the fun and fashion that is Sex and the City.

I saw the sequel with my friend Cameron (hi, Cameron, if you are reading this!) and it was a full audience and probably 99.9% of the audience was female. After the movie ended, I joked that they should have renamed the sequel Fashion and the Desert because Samantha is the only character in the movie who has sex (of course - it is Samantha after all) and the majority of the movie takes place in Abu Dhabi (New York is only featured in about the first half hour). The fashion in this one seems to be a hit miss: you either love it or hate it. The fashion was a lot better in the first movie; there were some pretty fugly clothes in the sequel.

Carrie is the only one who is given a story line and it involves her meeting Aidan (who I've always preferred to over Big) when she's in the U.A.E. and they...wait for it...kiss for, like, five seconds. Oh no! Ripped with guilt, she's not sure if she should tell Big, who she's been having marital problems with lately (he bought her a Plasm TV for their anniversary and she got pissed). The other characters are shoved aside for barely-there sides stories. Charlotte is worried that her husband might be eyeing their new younger and bra-less Irish nanny, Miranda is tired of her misogynist boss and quits her job, and Samantha is going through menopause and has to spend her vacation in the scalding heat without her pills and creams.

Thank goodness for Samantha; she is by far the best part of the movie. Without her the film wouldn't have a life. She has the best zingers and the funniest scenes involves her, although I'm sure if she had done and said those things in Abu Dhabi, she (along with her friends) would have been stoned in real life, but since SATC isn't exactly reality-based (and because that's not the tone they're known for), they manage to leave the country with barely a slap on their wrist.

There's still plenty of fun in the sequel ( Liza Minelli singing Single Ladies is an added bonus), but it doesn't measure up to the first movie, which doesn't measure up to the HBO series. However, if they do make a third movie, you can bet I'll be seeing it!

Friday, June 4, 2010

I say 'Sorcerer', you say 'Philosopher'

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith
Released: 11/16/01
Viewed in theaters: 11/22/01

Oscar nominations:
Best Art Direction - Set Decoration (lost to Moulin Rouge!)
Best Costume Design (lost to Moulin Rouge!)
Best Original Score - John Williams (lost to Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Since the final Harry Potter movie is coming out later this year, I thought I would go back and revisit the previous six films, so expect to see more HP reviews within the coming months.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm a huge Harry Potter fan - I love the books. The movies, I'm not too crazy about. In fact, there have only been two Potter movies (so far!) that I've really liked and you'll find out which ones those are when I review them. It's not like I'm one of those hardcore Potterheads who freak out about the Gryffindors and Slytherins being in a class together when it was clearly stated in the books that they did NOT share that class (well, I'm not like that anymore!), but the movies definitely don't hold a candle to the books. 

Ironically, I started reading the books in the summer of '01 because I knew the first movie was coming out that fall and wanted to see it, so I bought the first four books to prepare for it. Well, that and the fact that the books had become a worldwide phenomena by then. 

With The Lord of the Rings, it's completely the opposite for me: I love the films, but it took me forever to read the books because I found them so dull. Of course, what I think helped with that was that they made the movies back to back many years after the books were published and Peter Jackson directed all of them. I always wondered how the Harry Potter films would have been different if they had all been filmed after the last book was published and if they all had one director. Of course that would mean Harry, Ron, and Hermione would all be played by different actors and I can't imagine anyone other than Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson playing them (even though it drives me crazy that Hermione has blonde hair - um, Hermione is NOT blonde! Geeze, can't they dye Emma's hair?!)

As cute as they are, the three young actors (I call them Team RED) are pretty terrible in this. Their reactions to certain situations, their delivery of lines, etc., just terrible. (The way Emma says "THAT'S what's under the door. THAT'S what the dog is guarding" or whatever she says; the over-exaggerated expressions Rupert gives; the passive way Daniel says "I'm a wizard?" like he's saying "It's raining outside?"). I can forgive them, though. After all, they were only around eleven and this was their first movie for all of them.
                                             Ickle Harry and Ron
I'm a huge Ron/Hermione (HeRmiONe!) shipper so I absolutely love the scene where they meet on the train for the first time. It is just so adorable. I love when Hermione tells Ron in her snooty voice, "You have dirt on your nose, did you know?" and the way Ron gives Harry a look that says "who IS that chick?" And to think they would eventually end up together, awwwwwwwww!

I've only seen the first movie maybe four or five times and I tend to like it less with each viewing. The first time I saw it, I really liked it, despite its flaws. The second time, I still liked it, but not as much as the first time. The other times, I was pretty much bored with it because it lacked (excuse the pun) magic. I can read the first book over and over again and still love it, but I don't think I'll need to see the first movie ever again.

I remember thinking how exciting and cool the Quidditich scene was the first (and perhaps second time) I saw it, but now it just bores the ever-living snot out of me. It goes on WAY too long and it's so stupid when Harry surfs on the broom at the end. No. Just no.

Here is another scene that I find a bit ridiculous:

If you are one of the five people left on this earth that has never read about or watched Harry's adventures, I would advise you to read the books, then watch the movies if you choose to do so. Don't bother watching the movies if you're not going to read the books.

Stayed tuned for my review of Chamber of Secrets!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Watch with tissues handy!

Hachiko: A Dog's Story
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Richard Gere and Joan Allen


This movie (which did not have a theatrical release) should only be viewed in private if you are embarrassed about other people seeing you cry, because you will bawl your eyes out while watching this.  If you don't, then your heart is made of stone. It's based on a true story that took place in Japan in the 1920s, but for this version they had it take place in a small American town during the '90s. I remember reading or hearing about the story, so I was somewhat familiar with it.

During its transfer to a new home, an Akita puppy's cage is knocked over at a train station and the dog escapes. Now if I had moved and somebody had lost my pet, I would be pissed, but that doesn't seem to be an issue in this movie as nobody claims the dog as their own, which is a little surprising because this is a pure-bred dog. And totally adorable!

Gere plays Parker, a college music professor who discovers the puppy (or does the dog discover him?) at the train station and takes him home with him thinking he'll put up fliers the next day and eventually the owner will call and claim the dog. Allen plays his wife and is not thrilled about having a dog in the house and tells her husband they are not keeping it, so he better hope the dog finds a home soon. She has a change of mind and heart after nobody claims the dog and she sees how the dog and Parker are bonding.

Parker names the dog Hachi because it means "to bring good fortune" in Japanese and the puppy goes from little and cute to a gorgeous adult dog with an air of nobility. Every morning Parker walks to the train station to get to work and he lives in a small enough town that Hachi can walk with him, then return home after Parker leaves. Everyone in town knows Hachi and greet him with a pat on the head (or, in the butcher's case, a piece of meat). Everyday at five o'clock, Hachi is always at the train station waiting loyally for his master to come home and greet him.

One day Parker has a fatal heart attack while at work and Hachi is waiting for him for hours with a forlorn expression on his face until Parker's son--in-law comes to get him. This is about the time in the film where I start crying and my tears didn't let up until the end. Hachi keeps waiting for his master for the next ten years and becomes the town's pet as they feed him whenever they see him.  IT IS SO SAD!