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Review: Toy Story 3, The Twilight Saga- Eclipse, Marmaduke & Me and Orson Welles

By December 30, 2010November 24th, 2011No Comments

For those read­ers tuned into these things, clear evid­ence emerged this week of the ‘end of days’ and our impend­ing anni­hil­a­tion – cul­tur­ally at least.

Simply put, Twilight: Eclipse is play­ing around three times as many ses­sions in Wellington cinemas this school hol­i­days as Toy Story 3, des­pite the lat­ter being demon­strably super­i­or fare in every con­ceiv­able way. It was pretty depress­ing to check the papers last week to see that TS3 was only get­ting one Embassy ses­sion (in the mat­inée ghetto) as opposed to Eclipse’s four. It’s enough to make one wish for a friendly wall to bang one’s head upon.

Toy Story 3 posterIs Toy Story 3 that good? Yes, it is. In fact, I would ven­ture the slightly dan­ger­ous opin­ion that if there’s a film in the Film Festival this year as good as Toy Story 3 then I will be very, very surprised.

The last couple of Pixar films reviewed in these pages have been gently chided for fall­ing away in the third act – fail­ing to main­tain their geni­us right through to the end. No such prob­lems occur with TS3. It stays on course, con­tinu­ing to illu­min­ate char­ac­ter and action with deft, sur­pris­ing and eer­ily appro­pri­ate plot turns.

Fifteen years on from the first Toy Story and Andy (the kid own­er of cow­boy Woody and space­man Buzz as well as the rest of the gang) is about to leave home and go to col­lege. Woody (Tom Hanks) is sure that they will go along for the ride des­pite the fact they haven’t been taken out of the toy­box for ages. No one else shares his con­fid­ence and are wor­ried that the attic or worse, the dump, beckons.

In actu­al fact, due to a per­fectly under­stand­able mis­un­der­stand­ing, they end up being recycled to the Sunnyside day care centre which is ruled by a strawberry-smelling, south­ern accen­ted, des­pot­ic purple teddy bear called Lotso (Ned Beatty). Lotso runs Sunnyside like a pris­on camp (in fact at one point I was fully expect­ing him to say “What we have here is a fail­ure to com­mu­nic­ate” as he dooms our her­oes to anoth­er night in The Cooler) and it’s up to Woody to come up with a plan to bring the gang home.

Toy Story 3 is thrill­ing, funny, wise, sen­ti­ment­al and all-but fault­less – a per­fect addi­tion to one of the greatest achieve­ments in com­mer­cial cinema. I saw it in a superbly crisp 3D ver­sion but it will enthrall you in any format you choose.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse posterEarlier in his career, dir­ect­or David Slade made anoth­er film about an unwise rela­tion­ship between a young girl and a much older man so he would seem to be the per­fect choice to man­age that most water-treading of fran­chises – The Twilight Saga. But while Hard Candy was a tense, lean, eye­brow and hair-raising exam­in­a­tion of a see-sawing power struggle between two strong char­ac­ters, Eclipse (as usu­al) takes two hours to move the plot for­ward about two inches.

It’s not Slade’s fault. He works hard to gen­er­ate some atmo­sphere, and there’s a wicked little pre-credit sequence that holds out some hope that a bet­ter film will emerge, but the script by Melissa Rosenberg sucks all the life out of the char­ac­ters as if they were vic­tims of vam­pires themselves.

What hap­pens in the two hours you’ll spend yawn­ing in the dark? Bella (Kristen Stewart) agrees to marry Edward (Robert Pattinson) so they can shag – he’s old-fashioned that way. Victoria (anoth­er vam­pire, played by Ron Howard’s daugh­ter Bryce Dallas Howard) raises an army of “new borns” so she can avenge the death of her boy­friend way back in the first film. And were­wolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) thinks he can win Bella back by wan­der­ing around with no shirt on. Which nearly works.

That’s it. And I can’t bear the news that the next film (Breaking Dawn) is going to actu­ally be two films – even slowerrrrrr – and will be dir­ec­ted by Bill Condon who made Dreamgirls. So, even less action and even more sim­per­ing. Cool.

Marmaduke posterIt’s the school hol­i­days and the weath­er is foul so take the 7–12 year olds to Marmaduke (after you’ve taken them to Toy Story, of course). A talk­ing anim­al film (and you know what a suck­er I am for those) fea­tur­ing Owen Wilson as the voice of the giant great dane, it kept the kids I was with happy most of the time. There’s plenty of fall­ing into water, fart­ing and break­ing things to keep the little ones from fid­get­ing – adults will be check­ing their watches.

Me and Orson Welles posterRichard Linklater was once one of the most vis­ion­ary and exper­i­ment­al dir­ect­ors work­ing in American film. In 1991, Slacker changed the face of … I’m try­ing to work out what it exactly changed the face of but take my word for it, it did. Waking Life, Before Sunrise , A Scanner Darkly were all uniquely invent­ive in one way or anoth­er. So, it’s a bit of a sur­prise to see his name on a con­ser­vat­ive little pic­ture, shot in the Isle of Man (pre­tend­ing to be late 1930s New York), about a minor epis­ode in the life of geni­us Orson Welles.

High School Musical’s heart-throb Zac Efron plays a stage-struck school­boy who talks him­self into a small part in the Mercury Theatre’s ground­break­ing Julius Caesar. There he learns about a life in the theatre from the lit­er­ally mer­cur­i­al Welles (a splen­did imper­son­a­tion by Christian McKay), pro­du­cer John Houseman (Eddie Marsan) and oth­er Mercury stal­warts George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin) and Joseph Cotten (James Tupper). But he learns the most from beau­ti­ful and ambi­tious sec­ret­ary Claire Danes, des­pite her eyes being on a much big­ger prize.

Me and Orson Welles is mod­est and respect­able – but Linklater should be giv­ing us much more.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 7 July, 2010.