Meet the New Kids (Toy Story 3, 2010)

Toy_Story_3_PosterWhile Pixar had pushed the Cars franchise at an aggressive rate, their other films had been allowed to remain largely untouched.  In spite of the second film’s success, it was not until 2010 that we saw the third installment of the Toy Story films.

This time, we find Andy getting ready for college.  When the toys are accidentally mistaken as trash, they decide to stow away in a box marked for the local daycare center.

Woody promises them it will be terrible, and shortly after they arrive, he tries to sneak out to return to Andy. However, on his way, he is found by young Bonnie, who brings him home.


The other toys are greeted by Losto (a stuff bear) and the other toys.  They sell our old friends on what a paradise the daycare is. But the truth is much darker. Lotso is pretty much the Godfather of the joint.  He runs the show and force new toys to be played with by the youngest kids in the daycare…regardless of whether these toys are meant for that age or not.

This is a pretty crazy story, but it works pretty well. Lotso is charming at first, but you learn he has turned dark from rejection.  Meanwhile, his henchman Ken is taken with Barbie. At first she is smitten, but when she discovers what Lotso does to the other toys, she rejects the cushy life Ken offers.

Meanwhile, Woody is also living a good life with Bonnie and her toys, but he wants to return to Andy…and when he finds out the truth about Lotso and the Daycare, he is determined to save the other toys.

The animation in this is pretty terrific and has come far.  Textures, vibrant colors, hair…everything looks great.  And this time around they have opted for a more stylized look to the human characters which is some much more pleasant to watch than the humans of the previous films.

As usual, there is a lot of heart to this film…it is a bit heavy as the toys contemplate death and complete destruction…but still, it really tugs at the heartstrings.

Again, the performances of the voice cast bring this to life in a way a lot of films fail.  Even the stunt casting never feels like a mere stunt.  The performances feel full of care, and everyone delivers.

Somehow, Pixar managed to keep the same quality in three films, avoiding the dreaded failure within the franchise that each announced film brought.  Toy Story three would have been a perfect cap off to the series, really.  You would have had a high quality trilogy.  It is full of love, humor and even grown up fears and emotion.  Toy Story 3 is a great continuation of the Toy Story Series.



Bring on the Bad Guys (Superman 2, 1980)

superman_2_posterSuperman the Movie and Superman II were filmed back to back, but director Richard Lester came in when there was friction between the Salkinds and Donner.  He threw out a lot of what Donner filmed and started over.  Remember Zod and his Cronies?  They are still floating through space in the Phantom Zone.  When Superman thwarts a terrorist plot by launching a bomb into space, they are set free and make their way to earth.

Superman 2 is often held up as a standard of great sequels and a great super-hero film.  Unfortunately, it is not.  The film has Superman (and Zod, Ursa and Non) developing random powers and weapons.  Their heat vision suddenly can be used as tractor beams, Superman’s logo can turn is a giant cellophane bag, they can shoot beams from their fingers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good points.  The Villains are frightening at times.  Terrance Stamp is menacing and arrogant, while Douglas plays Ursa with a disinterested flair.  She is slightly amused by earthlings, but she could never care, she lacks all compassion.

There is a story in which Lois and Clark must pose as newlyweds.  This leads to the reveal of Clark’s secret to Lois, which leads to them running off for romance.  Superman and Lois hide away in the Fortress of Solitude, completely unaware of the arrival of the Kryptonian criminals.  Superman realizes that to be with Lois, he must give up his power.  He consults with his Mother Lara (well, a hologram of her and she shows him a machine that will bath him in the light of a red sun and make him human.  You can see where this is going.  When Lois and Clark start to make their way home, Clark tries to defend Lois at a cafe.  A trucker beats the crap out of him.  This moment is actually really well handled, Reeve really sells Clark’s startling realization that he is no longer the strongest man alive.  But then Clark learns of Zod.

So, Superman’s human life is a short lived one.  Even though the Fortress was damaged and he was told the process was irreversible… Clark gets his powers back off screen.  This leads to a dramatic fight in the city.  You know, for all the criticism Man of Steel gets for it’s destruction, Superman II has Superman carelessly throwing the criminals through building, the character beating each other into the ground and so on.  There is little concern for the city.

One of the other good points is the duplicitous nature of Lex Luthor.  Towards the beginning he breaks out of prison and then runs off to the Fortress of Solitude.  He starts listening to the information from Lara…considering Lara can hold conversations with Superman, I am not sure why she cannot react to Lex.   Luthor helps the Kryptonians attempt to take over the world (they promise to give him Australia).  But when things look tough, he is quick to side with Superman (for Survival).

One of the big problems is the film has a Superkiss that robs Lois of her memories of who Superman is…and he also goes back to the cafe to humiliate the trucker.  This is not Superman.  And his character is tarnished for a joke.  Superman II does not hold up, and is actually a weaker film than it’s predecessor.  And more recent Super-hero films are vastly superior.

Young Superman(Superman the Movie, 1978)

Superman_Movie_PosterRichard Donner’s Superman is often presented as a more upbeat and hopeful film than more recent Superhero efforts.  And, in a lot of ways, it is a brighter view overall.  Donner opens the film with life on Krypton.  His version of Krypton has influenced countless versions of Superman.  It became a ruling vision.  And I get it…it is a society and world at it’s end.  But the severely antiseptic frozen tundra look is actually unpleasant and does not really speak of an advanced society.  Jor-El is introduced presiding over the trial of General Zod and his army.  Well, him, Ursa and Non.  Not really an army.  What stands out was that in the middle of this trial, Zod tries to convince Jor-El to join him.  And then they are zapped by a giant reflective record sleeve.  Then, they never appear in the rest of the film.

Jor-El declare the planet is soon to die and is mocked by his fellow scientists who make him commit to staying on the planet.  We all know the story, found by the Kents, young Kal El is raised as a typical Kansas kid.  These moments are great.  They show the thought the Kents have tried to install in their son.    Clark’s struggle to not use his powers for only his gain is evident.  Clark wants to be the football star and get dates with cheerleaders.  But he also knows it would be a cheat to use his powers to succeed in that fashion.  And when Pa Kent dies?  Glenn Ford is barely on screen for any meaningful amount of time…and yet it is a real gut punch.

The Fortress of Solitude used to be a giant cave with a giant door.  Now it is a spiky crystal building with no doors.  Here he learns from holograms of his father.  When he enters the world, he is ready to be Superman.  One of the things Donner did right is that he fills the film with Superman…an it is Superman saving people over and over again.  Sure, he stops crime as well, but saving people is his main gig.

Lois Lane is shown as a tough reporter (who cannot spell) who has little notice of new Reporter Clark Kent, but then swoons when Superman appears on the screen.  This is not a negative, for one thing, she still follows her instincts when Superman shows up for an interview, clearly smitten with her.  Kidder and Reeve have terrific chemistry in the film and Lois is fun and daring.

We are introduced to Lex Luthor via his bumbling lackey Otis.  Ned Beatty is entertaining, though a bit over the top in his mindlessness.  Hackman’s Luthor is a change from the comics of the time.  He is still brilliant, but instead of super armor, he is simply a criminal mastermind.  It is a bit over the top, but Hackman makes it work.  The third spoke in the wheel is Valerie Perrine’s Miss Tessmacher.  I am unsure exactly what her purpose is.  I mean, Perrine is undeniably sexy in the role and appears in a variety of revealing outfits.  But she seems distant for a girlfriend, and yet a lot of what she does is lounge around.  She does play the role of “distraction”in part of Luthor’s plan.  Oh, and that plan…

Luthor is planning to make a land grab…this becomes a running thing for him in the movies.  He plans to blow California off the map and sell land.  I do not see how this really would be an effective plan.  Seriously, the guy who stole two missiles from the army and used them to blow up a sizeable chunk of land is going to be able to own and sell land?

Superman is a pretty fun movie with a really impressive cast.  The weakest moment is the weird “Superman spins the earth to Fix Things.  This was actually meant for the sequel, which Donner was already filming alongside this film.  But the studio wanted him to use it to give this a big bang of an ending.

But all in all, Superman the Movie is a fun film for kids of all ages.


Camping Trips Are Bad For Ya’ (Deliverance, 1972)

deliveranceHeads up.  A bit “spoilerific”.

The first thing that stood out as the film began was that it looks and feels like it was made in the seventies. And it’s not just the presence of young Burt Reynolds. The cinematography screams early seventies. So does the audio. There is a certain muted quality to the audio of those films predating the surround sound era.

None of this is bad, and I am not stating these things as actual criticisms of the film, or even setbacks. Granted, the HD treatment helps it to not look as faded. The colors are a bit fresher than they most likely would have looked on video.

Deliverance also reflects the fears of it’s time. Fear of environmental catastrophes, and how modern man could survive them. Destruction of natural environments by humanity’s hands. Certainly, such fears and concerns remain with us, in some different fashions, but with us none the less. This is mostly embodied in the somewhat rough friendship of Ed (Jon Voight) and Lewis (Burt Reynolds). They appear to be long time friends, who have gone on similar outings in the past. Lewis is a self styled “survivalist” who thrives in the wilderness and is critical of the modern world. Ed, on the other hand, is a happy family man, with a comfortable life and job. It’s unclear in the film how they met or how it came to be that they take these trips, we only know this is not the first one due to Lewis asking Ed why he goes on these trips.

Along with them are two guys clearly from Ed’s world, Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Drew (Ronny Cox).  Both salesmen out for an exciting weekend of canoeing down a river. Drew is apparently a musician of some degree, early on seen always wearing a guitar.

When the friends stop for gas, we get a scene that seems to both have a sense of joy and an atmosphere of danger. No matter how hard they try, no one seems to say anything right to the mountain folk. But Drew connects with a young boy through music. The boy appears to be autistic, or at least dealing with some kind of mental disability. He is not social until Drew starts playing guitar. Without blinking, the kid starts to play his banjo back. As the music kicks in full gear, the young boy comes alive, smiling and looking excited. His father dancing in the background, all is good. But the minute they stop, the boy rigidly turns his head and stays motionless, staring into space as Drew tries to shake his hand.

At first, while on the river, all seems normal. In fact, that sense of foreboding fades. It’s the next day when things begin to take their dark turn. Ed keeps catching glimpses of people in the distance between trees. Eventually, in a truly harrowing sequence, he discovers this was not his imagination. Tying Ed to a tree, two mountain men torment and humiliate Bobby. This culminates in one of the mountain men raping Bobby. You know, there has been much more graphic sequences put on film than this. But Ned Beatty’s performance creates incredible empathy for his character. Your heart breaks for him with every whimper and squeal. Ed is saved from such horrific indignities when Lewis and Drew come back looking for them. Drew dispatches one of the hicks with an arrow, and the other runs away.

The four men then argue over what to do. Of course, they choose to try and cover the death up. Drew is the most troubled by this, feeling the right thing to do is bring the body back and explain everything to the authorities. This is a tension filled moment, and Ronny Cox’s Drew is sympathetic…but then, Bobby’s desire to literally bury his shame is very understandable. He wants to hide what’s happened to him, a wholly human desire.

This sets off a chain of events as they try to get down river to their cars and away from this mountain forever. In their panic, they end up with one boat destroyed and the loss of Drew in the rapids. Lewis is wounded and it is left up to Ed to protect them. Earlier in the film we had foreshadowing in a sequence showing Ed trying to shoot a deer with Lewis’ bow and arrow set and failing. Now, believing they are being hunted by the other hillbilly, Ed must take the bow and arrows and track the mountain man. For Ed this is a clear struggle to overcome his fear and limitations. And what seems straight forward and simple becomes on of the films most tense moments.

When they finally do make it to their cars, they concoct a story to explain how they lost Drew and Lewis was wounded. Things begin to unravel, as the film portrays the police of the area far more competently than one might expect. They know that the story doesn’t add up, and they start to cause mistrust between Ed and Bobby. It’s clear, even as the police let them go, the local sheriff (portrayed rather ominously by Deliverance author James Dickey) knows that something bad went down.

Director John Boorman’s direction is terrific, making the scenery as important as the characters in it. Reynolds, who was not a proven commodity at the time, is terrific as the hunter who desires to leave society, while Voight makes a genuine everyman who is forced to survive in primitive fashion. And the performances by Beatty and Cox (both of who I tend to associate most with later roles-specifically Otis in the Superman films and Dick Jones from Robocop-where Cox was deliciously evil) are standout, heartfelt ones.

The HD DVD contained a four part documentary that was fascinating, especially as it delved into the relationship of author Dickey to the director, cast and crew of the film. The interviews bring back the director and all the primary actors (as well as Dickey’s son) and hearing them discuss the film so much later gives it a more interesting perspective. The one problem with documentaries for newer films on DVD is that the creators are to close to the work. They are far more willing to look at an earlier work with a fairer and more critical eye. That’s what tends to benefit some of the films that are twenty or thirty years old just getting the special edition treatment.

All in all, Deliverance is as strong as it ever was, in spite of the times being more graphic in our movies, this film still keeps you enthralled.

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