John Carter

March 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collings, Mark Strong
Directed by: Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E,” “Finding Nemo”)
Written by: Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”) and Mark Andrews (debut) and Michael Chabon (“Spider-Man 2”)

Science fiction seems like such a modern art form, perhaps because it routinely deals with concepts we see as being on the horizon; things we see as staples of the future. It’s all about robots and spaceships and aliens, all things we hope to one day perfect or discover. Maybe that’s why it seems odd that Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, was writing science fiction novels 100 years ago. He started with “A Princess of Mars,” featuring interplanetary hero John Carter.

Directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”), “John Carter” adapts several of Burroughs’ novels to tell the tale of Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a Confederate Civil War veteran on the hunt for gold in Arizona. After dodging both a conscription effort at the hands of Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) and an Apache attack, Carter finds himself transported to the planet Mars after clutching a strange amulet and uttering an even stranger word: Barsoom. Carter’s other-worldliness grants him fantastic abilities on the Red Planet, making him a sought-after warrior in the clashes between Mars’ warring races. After rescuing a princess (Lynn Collins), Carter chooses his allegiance, taking on villains Sab Than (Dominic West) and Matai Shang (Mark Strong), in a battle for the ultimate fate of Mars.

“John Carter” has several significant hurdles on its path toward blockbuster status, not the least of which is the century of blockbusters that have been influenced by its source material, causing “Carter” to come across as a faded copy of countless other science fiction stories. Outsider who acquires amazing powers after venturing to another planet? Sounds like “Superman.” Or how about the outsider who becomes part of a native tribe of really tall aliens? Looks and sounds an awful lot like “Avatar” to me. And that coliseum in the middle of a desert full of screaming aliens watching a human fight giant creatures to the death? It looks like a deleted scene from “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.” Add that to the dense mythology the film doles out, featuring goofy sci-fi names like Zodanga, Jasoom, and, uh, Helium, and casual audiences might think they’ve stumbled into a cheapo SyFy Channel knock-off that somehow made its way into a theater.

Thankfully, though, the spectacle ends up muscling away the pulpier elements of the story. Gorgeous steampunk airships glide through the air like gear-driven dragonflies en route to massive walking cities. Giant, green-skined Tharks seem as real as the human actors they stand next to. And Kitsch, best known for his role on NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” doesn’t bother with nuance and instead just plays the tough guy when it comes to his portrayal of John Carter. Its probably no coincidence that Carter’s costuming and skill with a sword evoke images He-Man. He’s a sci fi/fantasy action figure punching and slicing his way through hordes or marauding Martians. It’s an epic nearly a century in the making, and Stanton has set the table for more grand adventures to come.

Toy Story 3

June 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles
Directed by: Lee Unkrich (“Finding Nemo”)
Written by: Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), John Lasseter (“Toy Story 2”), Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”), Lee Unkrich (debut)

It’s difficult enough for some live-action films to express human emotion through human characters without sometimes crossing the line into melodramatic territory. Who knew 15 years ago it would be Pixar Animation Studios that would create a trilogy of films that would clearly defined the term “unconditional love” and convey it through a computer-generated boy and his plush, pull-string toy?

While the original classic “Toy Story” from 1995 was an exciting, nonstop adventure featuring a cast of uniquely-imagined characters, it was “Toy Story 2” that truly illustrated the intrinsic connection children and toys share with one another. In “Toy Story 3,” the significance of these relationships has come full circle in a sentimental and clever, but also dark and profound narrative undoubtedly worthy of being a part of Pixar’s growing distinction as the best animation house ever built.

With screenwriting duties going to Academy Award winner Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), it’s evident Pixar – while a majority of its fan base are kids and families – isn’t simply playing for empty laughs. There is some seriousness in “Toy Story 3” from the very beginning.

It would have been easy enough to pick up from the same happy-go-lucky tone the last movie ended on, but instead Arndt and director Lee Unkrich take a realistic approach to the time passed. Andy (John Morris) is no longer the little boy who would play in his room for hours with the assortment of toys we’ve all grown to love. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and most of the original toys are still present (others have met their fate by way of yard sales and spring cleaning), but at the age of 17, Andy hasn’t played with them in years.

Now, the toys long for the attention they used to receive when Andy was an imaginative grade-schooler. They also worry about what will become of them once Andy leaves for college. What will life in the attic be like once they’re placed in storage? Will any of them be given away or worse, tossed into the garbage?

When Andy’s toys are accidentally placed onto the curb for trash pick-up and subsequently donated to a local day care center, Buzz and the gang try to make the best of it although Woody is insistent about finding their way back home. But when a group of second-hand toys led by the a strawberry-scented teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) welcome them with open, fluffy arms and explain that “no owners means no heartbreak” the daycare’s newest residents are sold on the idea.

Playtime, however, doesn’t turn out to be what was expected. Lotso and his crew, including Ken (Michael Keaton), an octopus toy named Stretch (Whoopie Goldberg), and a lazy-eyed baby doll, run the daycare like a prison. While Woody is able to escape, he ends up in a whole new situation when he is found outside the day care center and taken home by Molly (Beatrice Miller), a shy little girl with her own collection of huggable toys, including Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), a thespian hedgehog.

Created with any number of prison-break movies in mind, Pixar takes “Toy Story 3” and gives it enough visual flash and flat-out hilarious moments that rival anything the animation studio has ever done. The film’s success, however, doesn’t end at the flawless character rendering and production value. There is an innovative spirit to it that is rare for any animated film to generate. From moments of pure delight and chilling anxiety to one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes in recent memory, “Toy Story 3” wraps up the franchise in masterful fashion and once again proves Pixar is on a level all its own.

WALL-E

June 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: (voices of) Ben Burtt, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger
Directed by: Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”)
Written by: Andrew Stanton (“Monsters Inc.”)

Every time you think Pixar Animations couldn’t possibly top themselves, they find a way to astonish in the most creative and heartwarming ways.

While the animation company hasn’t turned everything it has touched into gold (there’s a couple of solid bronze medals in the bunch), there’s no denying they’re leading the pack in making the most imaginative animated films since Disney’s days of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”

In “WALL-E,” Pixar’s newest venture into the great beyond, we journey to the 28th century where humans no longer inhabit the Earth and small robots are left to clean up the mess that now covers the globe. Over the years, these small robots known as Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class (WALL-E for short) haven’t been maintained and only one has lasted this long to gather up all the debris he can during the day. WALL-E goes about his day working to stack trash into small, neat cubes and spends the rest of his time exploring in the rubble with his little cockroach friend and stockpiling treasures he finds in for her personal collection (think how curious Ariel was in “The Little Mermaid” when she found dinglehoppers. That’s how WALL-E becomes when he discovers something he never knew existed). He becomes especially intrigued when he uncovers a tiny plant growing amongst the garbage, so he scoops it up in an old boot, and adds it to his possessions.

The life he has always led changes, however, when a spaceship lands on Earth and a sophisticated robot known as a probe (she introduces herself to WALL-E as Eve) is sent to the planet to survey the grounds. Swept off his rusty tracks by Eve, WALL-E wants nothing more than to be with her and show her everything he has found while working for the past 500 years. He also wants to know what it is like to hold someone’s hand, something he has always wondered about since he watched a copy of “Hello Dolly” he found in the landfill.

The adventure blasts off into space when WALL-E stows away on Eve’s ship after she find his plant and is programmed to store it away, go into lock down, and return home. Her home is on the Axiom, a mothership where a community of chubby, lazy humans lives and awaits a time when they can re-colonize Earth once it is habitable.

A beautiful love story between two robots, “WALL-E” is as charming as it is a groundbreaking animated feature. Minimalistic in its delivery of dialogue (before the humans enter the picture, the most you can expect is a few blips and bleeps) and awe-inspiring in its technique, it’s the best animated film of the year. It won’t be surprising if it stays that way for the second half of the year.