20 July, 2010

Surfin' Multiplex: Glass 2/3rds Full: Toy Story 3D & Twilight: Eclipse

Summer 'tis the season of blockbusters,
and all through the multiplexes, few pictures they show.
With limited choice,
poor moviegoers have nowhere else to go.
4 pictures on 20 screens,
the distributors invidious,
supporting multiple formats
even more insidious.
The distributors' terms
strictly for the birds.
Studios pumping out sequels,
this month, two thirds.
Alternative cinema
the money won't pull.
The glass may be 3D,
but it's only half full.

Toy Story 3 (IMAX 3D)

The least surprising thing about Toy Story 3, is that Pixar have done it again. This is as much down to their usual painstaking attention to detail, as to them taking their time between instalments to come up with a story and script that justifies another big screen outing for Woody and Buzz. Here the predicament comes from toy owner Andy, having grown up and now preparing to go to college, what will the fate of his loyal toys now be: the attic, or donated to day-care?

All the familiar tropes are here, fear of loss, obsolescence and abandonment, given enough of a remix not to feel stale, but only just. Once again, they comically milk the collective cultural consciousness, through vintage product placement, to perfection. Barbie gets to meet Ken, the cuddliest of toys turn out to be less than cuddly, and perilous obstacles are navigated to a heart warming conclusion. It's full of invention and the kind of storytelling where no detail is insignificant. There was a moment that I felt deeply manipulated whilst tearing up, but then the payoff (which I twigged about 5 seconds before the rest of the audience) had me laughing like a train. (without giving anything away here, a moment of WTF! quickly become, "well, of course.")

As much as I enjoyed TS3D, I really hope they stop here. I could see the plot of the next one being that the toys have to make sure that Andy procreates so they have his offspring to play with. See matchmaking, courtship, and interference with a contraception regimen making that untenable scenario ("What will we do?" "They're anatomically correct!" "I'm gonna have nightmares about this"). Hopefully, instead, they'll leave us with the nice sense of closure they've so lovingly crafted.

[A short side bar on the 3D, which I saw in IMAX projection. It is probably the best 3D ever achieved. It is smooth and continuous in its vistas, there are few moments when you see a "gap" between a layer of foreground and background, by this I mean the jump that shows you that only a certain number of flat planes are being employed as in old or cheap or retrofitted 3D. However, this means you don't notice the 3D so much, which makes it sadly superfluous, despite it being a crowning achievement of the form.

To add to this there are cinematic moments, when there is a shift of focus in the depth of field, what this means, is that certain things, closer or farther are in better focus, whilst the rest goes soft or fuzzy. The focus may shift within the same shot, and it is an editorial or directorial device to direct the audiences attention. This is antithetical to the whole notion of 3D naturalism. Those of us with 20/20 vision, or not looking through binoculars or a viewfinder, do not perceive reality in an out of focus haze for objects near or far. Of course our eyes do employ focus, but our brains put it together as one in-focus picture.]

The Twilight Saga 3: Eclipse

Another slice of more of the same, unusually not such a bad thing. I'm lucky this week, lightning striking twice as it were. The 3rd Twilight movie is just fine, if you liked the first two. Though not wowed by the series, I've found them basic, if not compelling entertainment. It starts where the last one left off, and this has the great advantage that all the setting up has been done in the other two films, leaving them to get on with just moving the story forward in this one, so a lot less moping and telling us about the way vampires work in the Twilight universe.

The plot, such as it is, is wafer thin and could be boiled down to a sentence or two, but it moves along efficiently enough. The emotional triangle developed in the first two films gets ping ponged around whilst everyone else gets on with building to a confrontation with various bad vampires. There is a bit of the characteristic strutting around of the werewolves (Team Jacob, ripped torsos shirtless '80s Calvin Klein ads) trying to out-pretty the vampires (Team Edward, Ziggy era glamsters wearing standard issue high fashion fetish goth), and one scene feels like it could go all Brokeback on us, if it weren't for the presence of the fetching, though inert Bella).

It alternates thuddingly schematically between little bits of action or plot and scenes in which characters offer useful advice, or suddenly feel the need to fill in their own backstory in a way that illustrates part of Bella's dilemma, teaching her valuable lessons along the way. It's like one of those afterschool specials, "So you're a troubled teen thinking of pressuring your undead boyfriend into turning you into a vampire."

I found the main character, Bella, a lot easier to warm to here, as she is much more active in determining her own fate than she has been up to now, and it is her actualization that is the real core of the story here. She does get stuck with an unholy turd of a speech at the end in which she defines the uniqueness of her universally shared adolescent angst by saying she never felt "normal". If she'd said that in the first two films, I would have just wanted to slap her, or waterboard her, or whatever works with teenagers these days, and doesn't leave any marks, but now I forgive her. Bella and her shiny vampire friends have entertained me well this time, and I may be able to leave that bag full of oranges at home when I see the next chapter. You may look back at the end and feel that not much has happened save defeating some of the villains and making a couple of decisions, they don't end up a million miles from where they started. I guess that should make the next one even zippier.



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