Pixar Love for the Spielblog

23 06 2010

Spielbloggees, the time has come. The Steven Spielblog infiltration has begun.

Lee Unkrich, director of the magnificent TOY STORY 3, has read my review of his movie (thanks to Twitch,) and dug it – so much so, that he Tweeted it out to his 83,780 Twitter followers!

I am not even playin’, yo: http://twitter.com/leeunkrich

See? At the bottom, then, again, above that. Two tweets! That's huge! Right?!

OK, so how does this work? Does Twitter send me a check? Or do I invoice Twitter? Anyone?




21 06 2010

Had to get your attention somehow, right?

Every year it’s the same. The good people of Los Angeles work to make all the movies you see – all the awful movies, even some of the good ones too. And then, Pixar – ohhh, Pixar – up on high in their Emeryville California fortress, they catapult a shimmering golden hunk of cinema down SoCal way, and make literally every single person in LA feel like an asshole. They mop the floor! And not just with other ‘children’s/animated’ films, but with the rest of the year’s so-called major releases. Yes, Pixar movies are richer and funnier than anything else out there. Is it that time of the year again to hear every single working critic rehash that exact line? Pixar has been so good for so long now, (an 11-0 record, and that’s not counting their uniformly superb short subjects,) it’s time to start asking some hard questions: is it possible these geeks hold the key to some mystical knowledge the entirety of the LA film industry doesn’t possess? Is it the air in Emeryville? Is it the weed? Or perhaps, Pixar has just sold their collective souls to Mephistopheles, Prince of Darkness!

I like my series' finales like I like my coffee: DARK.

Really, it seems much more likely that the iconoclastic dicks at Pixar have done the opposite, and held fast to their souls – which would explain why they take their time to develop quality projects, proving themselves unafraid of bold visions, refusing to follow fickle pop trends, and producing films marked by a meticulousness that covers design and storytelling. Even when adhering to the requirements of the summer season, putting out a sequel instead of an original piece, these bastards break the mold. TOY STORY 3, directed by head bastard Lee Unkrich, isn’t just up to par with its predecessors, it’s even better than they are. Now, I’m sorry, didn’t anyone tell Pixar they could phone it in on #3? Or do they not even have phones up in Emeryville? Damn hippies.

TOY STORY 3 does what a good sequel must: it updates and outdoes the previous films’ state of the art (particularly in Imax 3D – I mean, holy trucknuts,) it delivers what the audience expects from the franchise but keeps it surprising beat for beat, and it stays true to established, beloved characters while adding new ones that instantly prove themselves worthy of the series. In addition to the almost complete returning cast (RIP Jim Varney,) newcomers Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin, and Kristen Schaal all get winning moments. But Michael Keaton as a metrosexual ‘Ken’ doll and Ned Beatty as strawberry-scented teddybear ‘Lotso’ contribute the best voice work of all. There’s just not a miscast role or mishandled moment in the whole film. Extend that out to the entire series, if you’d like. I will.

Just wait 'til you see that bear in 3D, man... Change. Your. Life.

What’s most wonderful about TOY STORY 3, though, and what sets it apart from the rest of the series, is how it approaches the character of Andy, the kid who was given Buzz Lightyear for his seventh birthday back when nobody had ever heard of Pixar in 1995. Andy’s always been a sweet kid, a kid worth the loyalty of Woody, Buzz and the gang, but beyond that, he’s been, well, a kid. As we catch up to him in part three, however, Andy’s leaving home for college, and his choice of what to do with his toys – bring them, store them in the attic, or trash them – frames the story. The film’s insight into Andy proves its best asset, because unlike parts one and two, the toys in this final chapter have a complex relationship with their owner, and their journey is not about simply getting back to him at all costs. It’s about the question of where a toy’s place in the world is – where it has value, and when. That the end of childhood is the jumping off point for this series capstone makes it not only the darkest of the three, but the most rewarding, at least for a former kid. If you are one, you will more or less love this movie. If you are currently a kid, you can look forward to this movie getting even better as you age with it. Apart from that, you’ve got nothing to look forward to… Sorry. Also there’s no Easter Bunny.

With young, handsome Andy heading off to college, can SEXTOY STORY be far off? Don't act like it didn't cross your mind, sicko!

Though back in ‘95, Pixar’s first digital world was truly something new, the classic TOY STORY trilogy has proven far more than a novelty. Strip away the humor, the breathless plotting, the awesome technology, and the power of these films is undiminished. Here’s a saga that addresses the timeless interplay of the trivial and the significant. The smallest actions of a boy and his single mother set off huge, physical adventures in an unseen world; if these films have a formula, that’s close to it. And it’s a formula in perfect sync with the reason a tale about the secret lives of inanimate objects is enticing to us in the first place: just as owners alter their possessions, possessions can affect their owners. Though almost all of it’s disposable, what we own often gains value for us in ways that far exceed monetary worth. What’s small can be huge. The epic TOY STORY 3 is proof of that.


AMC Universal City, Los Angeles

Sunday June 20th, 5:55pm showing

Sorry, you just missed SPLICE.

16 06 2010

Not only has it been a long spell since the last Spielblog entry, but today’s recommendation comes for a film that, by the time you read this, will probably already be out of your local theater. Insult to injury! I can only shoulder some of the blame, though. Vincenzo Natali’s SPLICE, a weird and entertaining film, will soon be just another celluloid corpse littering the early summer box-office highway; it’ll be given the bum’s rush out of multiplexes nationwide to make way for remakes and sequels, all the A-TEAMS and KARATE KIDS and TOY STORIES and TWILIGHTS we require. An original movie like this, really, has no place in the summer release season. Was it wishful thinking on the part of its distributors? Or just corporate daftness?

… Either way, y’all just missed SPLICE. Sorry.

You spliced it, you bought it.

The good news is, if you’re scrolling through Fandango now and cursing the Spielblog for late action (this is the Spielblog’s Katrina!) just take a deep breath and hold it six weeks, because SPLICE will be hitting the home market soon enough, and it’s worth seeking out. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star as married genetic engineers Clive and Elsa, who create a new unstable life-form, and attempt to raise ‘it’ as a ‘she.’ Hilarity and havoc ensue, as ‘Dren,’ as she/it is called, rebels against her parents like any good adolescent… Unlike most adolescents, however, Dren comes equipped with a venom-tipped tail, and enormous flesh-wings. And when your poisonous flying teenager tells you she’s sleeping over at Jeremy’s tonight – really, what are you gonna do?

When I discovered that director Natali, whose CUBE is a rightfully revered cult hit, spent the better part of the last decade developing SPLICE, I’ll admit it made this rather earnest creature feature seem somewhat less impressive. I mean, it took the guy all the Bush years to make one monster movie? You’d think he could have created a real genetic mutant organism in that time… But the gestation period for SPLICE, I learned, had far less to do with Natali’s commitment to the project than with the state of the industry he courted. It shouldn’t be surprising that gathering funds for SPLICE was no picnic, and even with support from Mexi-mensch Guillermo Del Toro, producer Don Murphy, and Joel Silver, it took years to find production money, and then distribution. Hollywood had all the motivation in the world to hurry MARMADUKE into existence, but SPLICE had to slog through years of ‘no’s before getting a ‘yes.’ (Of note, the project was originally brought to Fox, only to have Fox attorneys turn around and accuse Natali of plagiarizing Dren’s design from James Cameron’s AVATAR – a claim only one of Murdoch’s henchmen could make with a straight face.) All the more frustrating, then, that when SPLICE did finally make it out of the Hollywood birth canal,  it was handed such an abysmal release date. Again, I can only shoulder so much blame for your having missed it…

How can you say no to that face?

In many ways this is a small film, but it plays with big ideas – so much nicer than the alternative, no? Natali’s script is clever and well-paced, with a few sharp switchbacks, and it’s set in approximately three locations – leading me to believe that the vast majority of the film’s budget went into Dren it/her-self. The investment pays off: from larval stage to pupa to whatever-the-fuck she ultimately morphs into, Dren’s a first-rate monster, the blockbuster-quality center to an otherwise indie-scale film.

But top shelf special effects have failed to enliven plenty of films bigger than this, and what makes SPLICE unique as summer fare is that it builds crises out of characters, instead of just sticking characters in crisis. It’s our mad scientists’ increasingly poor decisions that move this plot, and Clive and Elsa’s personal flaws play straight into the pervasive, cheeky humor of the film. Brody and Polley’s young Frankensteins are the sort of nerds who wear that term as a badge of honor; they’re oversexed, Anime-loving drips who blast the boombox while playing god, and ignore the implications of their Promethean folly. Promethean folly, I say! Fittingly, the bric-a-brac filling Clive and Elsa’s home is just what you’d expect from a perpetual adolescent with income enough to buy limited edition Japanese action figures. Think Doctor Moreau by way of Sunset Junction.

Yes, that’s meant to sound horrible, but don’t fear: for anyone who’s ever wished death to hipsters, SPLICE is for you.

Your Spielblog Guarantee: SPLICE will make you laugh more than GROWN UPS.


Mann’s Chinese Six, Hollywood

Monday June 7, 9:30pm showing