Toy Story 3 * * * *

Genre: Animation

Director: Lee Unkrich

Writer:  Michael Arndt, based on a story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

Voice Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris

Running Length: 98 minutes

Synopsis: Years have passed and Andy is now preparing to go to college. The few toys that remain – which include Woody (Tom Hanks), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen),  are naturally worried for their fates, but Woody reassures them that they will all live in the attic until the next generation comes along and plays with them. Unfortunately, a series of incidents occur that lead to the toys ending up at a daycare centre, which initially seems like a dream come true as there is no lack of children to play with the toys. However, the daycare centre is ruled with an iron fist by Lots-o’-Huggin’-Bear (Ned Beatty), and Andy’s toys soon realize they need to make their way back to their owner. Escaping the daycare centre, however, is not going to be an easy task…

Review:  It’s been 15 years since the first Toy Story enchanted audiences both young and old, and 11 years since Toy Story 2 upped the ante even further. I am very pleased to say that Toy Story 3 has managed to maintain the pedigree of the Toy Story franchise, and manages to (presumably) conclude the Toy Story movies on a level that other animation studios can only dream of. With an excellent mix of action, comedy, and pathos, coupled with great characterization, good visuals, and a compelling plot for both children and adults alike, it’s not hard to presume, even at this point, that Toy Story 3 will be the best summer film I’ll see this year. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that this is probably one of the best movies of the year, if not the best.

It’s a given nowadays that computer animated films will look very polished and highly detailed, and of course Pixar is no different in this aspect. The look of Toy Story 3 is of course improved over the previous two films, but when computer animated films are released with such frequency these days, it’s no longer as easy to impress. And of course there’s the issue of 3D, which seems to be the Holy Grail for movies released of late. I believe the cinema in which I had caught the preview was not calibrated properly for 3D, which resulted in a very distracting background “shimmer” that made viewing a very taxing and distracting experience. However, even if this is accounted for, the 3D implementation of Toy Story 3 is woefully inadequate, and there are extended moments in the film where nothing very 3D seems to be going on. This is perhaps the only true blemish I can find in Toy Story 3, and hence my recommendation is to save the money and just catch the film in “plain” 2D.

Like many of its Pixar predecessors, the aspect in which Toy Story 3 truly shines is story, story, story. Although children will be able to enjoy the movie on a basic level (note that some scenes may be a little too intense for the very young), much of the movie will only truly resonate with adult viewers. Many of the gags, especially those involving Ken and Barbie’s romantic endeavours, will definitely be better appreciated by the secondary audience. Also, the amazing depth of emotion that can be found in this animated film is not even usually achieved by a live-action film, and huge props must go to Pixar for having crafted such a masterful work. One of the best examples of this is near the film’s end, after all the action has come and gone, where Andy introduces each of his toys to a little girl. Much like the first 10 minutes of Up, this scene packs such a massive emotional wallop that it wouldn’t be surprising to find more than a few audience members with tears in their eyes as the credits roll.

Few movie franchises manage to deliver after a couple of sequels, and it’s great to see that whilst Toy Story 3 has pulled it off, the denouement does also seem to suggest that there won’t be another sequel somewhere down the road. It’s possibly the best send-off we can get for these familiar and well-loved characters, and the Toy Story trilogy will live on timelessly as all great movies do. If you pick one animated film to watch in 2010, make sure it’s Toy Story 3.

Rating:  * * * * (out of four stars)


The A-Team * * 1/2

Genre: Action

Director: Joe Carnahan

Writers:  Joe Carnahan, Brian Blom & Skip Woods

Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson

Running Length: 117 minutes

Synopsis: The A-Team serves as an “origins” movie for the TV series, explaining how the A-Team was formed. Viewers of the TV series know that the A-Team is an ex-military group of mercenaries, who were wrongly accused for a crime they didn’t commit. The movie explains how the four – uber intelligent leader Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), brute force B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), pretty boy Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper) and unhinged (but excellent) pilot “Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley). An elite military unit in Iraq, they are framed for stealing counterfeit US$100 engraving plates and are sent to prison. However, with the help of a CIA operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson), they escape and attempt to clear their names. Hot in pursuit is Lieutenant Sosa (Jessica Biel) and her military team, who also happens to be Faceman’s old flame, as well as another band of mercenaries led by Pike (Brian Bloom).

Review:  The A-Team follows the summer action blockbuster template to a T, which means an extremely thin plot, and an endless number of action sequences, peppered by humourous one liners, and a little bit of romance. In short, it serves to appeal to the teenaged boys as the main viewer demographic, who will undoubtedly enjoy the movie even if they have no idea this franchise had a previous life on the small screen. That’s not to say that older viewers and women won’t be able to enjoy the movie – there are enough references to the TV franchise (stay for the post-credits scene to catch a cameo of two of the TV alumni), just about the right mix of action and cheese to make this a relatively pleasant viewing experience. For the women (and some men), Bradley Cooper continues his streak (pun intended) of appearing bare-chested in the film, and for extended scenes to boot.

Most of the action sequences are pretty intense, but this is definitely not a movie which takes the laws of physics into consideration. They are, however, quite fun to watch even as your mind gradually shuts down from disuse as the minutes roll by (and thus the action sequences become increasingly entertaining). However, Joe Carnahan employs a Michael Bay-esque directorial style at times, which employs way too many quick cuts, to the point that some scenes look jittery and are utterly confusing (think Transformers).

Although both the plot and the cast play second fiddle to the action, the four lead actors actually pull off a pretty admirable job of aping the old TV characters. The most memorable one has to be Sharlto Copley (whose previous cinematic outing in District 9 proved pretty good as well), who is almost a carbon copy of Dwight Schulz’s performance (the original Mad Murdock).

The 2010 summer releases have been relatively disappointing to date, both for the testosterone and oestrogen parades, and fortunately The A-Team is a slight step up from the mediocre. Had the action been less frenetic and the plot a little more substantive, this would have been the first true summer blockbuster of the year; as it stands it’s a good 2-hour diversion (and possibly a guilty pleasure), but nothing more.

Rating:  * * ½ (out of four stars)