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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.