Friday, June 18, 2010

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich

Every Pixar film makes me nervous. The previews always make me worry that the film will finally be The One; the terrible one. Cars is the established black sheep of the family, followed by A Bug's Life, but those are both still very good films. Up until How to Train Your Dragon, Dreamworks would have killed to produce either of those films.

The point is that I'm always worried. I worried about Up all the way until I saw it. If regular Pixar films make me nervous, sequels practically give me breakdowns. It's on the principle of the matter. If Pixar are finally, truly going to trip, please, God, don't let it be with a cash-in sequel. I would lose respect for a company I have nothing but deep, deep love for.

So I was nervous about Toy Story 3. Was it going to live up to what's come before? Could it, is probably the bigger question. After eleven years, did the writers still have a feel for the same characters? Could they come up with a story that was worth telling all these years later? Fuck yes, as it turns out.

I'm not big on recaps, and all you need to know is that the story, much like 1 and 2, centers on Woody trying to get back to Andy. But this time, Andy's leaving for college in a matter of days, and Woody, along with the rest of the gang, have accidentally been donated to a kindercare center.

The majority of the film is very good, and would earn a very robust B+, but I want to focus on the last fifteen minutes. They are perfect. As a conclusion to the trilogy, you couldn't ask for anything more. It's impossible. Not only does the conclusion of this film end the movie in a satisfying way, it creates an emotional arc that started with the very first Toy Story. This film has made three separate movies work as a true trilogy, where your enjoyment of the first entry is increased with your knowledge of the end. I read a review earlier today which proclaimed "Bring on Toy Story 4!" This dumbass missed the whole point of the breathtaking film he just saw. I pray Pixar won't make such a thing. Certainly not while the current set remain in charge. It would break my heart, and that's not hyperbole. If you see this film, you'll understand why.

I spent the last ten minutes in a perpetual state of crying, because little moment after little moment hit me just right. I won't give any of it away, because the beauty of those last moments is in realising you knew what was going to happen the whole time, and that it's exactly what should occur. The film hits all the emotional bullseyes it wants, because it never once reaches for them. As with every Pixar film, and this is what they do so very right, there's no pandering. They aren't trying to sell you on this story, and they aren't dumbing it down for the kids. They make what they want to see, and it just so happens that the rest of us do, too.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The ArchAndroid

The ArchAndroid
Janelle Monáe

How do you rate an artist of ambition? It's a harder question than you think. As (forgive me) a critic, I find myself in a position of wanting to reward and encourage ambition, while needing to look at the product I'm holding in hand. I need to judge the music for what it is, not for what it represents.

If it were all about the intent, Janelle Monáe's debut would certainly earn an A+ for effort. The ArchAndroid is over an hour of music, spanning a large number of genres. There's high-wire funk, tight-grooved R&B, a pop ballad (The Carpenters with a drum machine, and, yes, it's just as awesome as that sounds), and then there's the latter third.

We're dealing with a compound album here, consisting of two separate bits. There's no relation, musically, between the first two thirds and the final third. The first bits are indebted to James Brown and George Clinton. The last third features an Of Montreal song. Not a song that sounds like Of Montreal, but an actual song written and recorded by Kevin Barnes, the man responsible for Of Montreal. I'm still trying to figure out what it's doing here. Briefly, I thought it was a mistake. If you're at all familiar with Of Montreal's queazy art-pop, that will give you a vague, slightly mistaken idea of how this album goes out.

Whether or not The ArchAndroid works is a good question. It certainly never fails to, but the album only takes off sporadically. "Come Alive (War of the Roses)," "Tightrope," "Cold War," and "Oh, Maker" are phenomenal. The rest of the album is consistent, and promises great things in the future. The reviews I'd read earlier of this album left me confused, as it didn't seem terribly genre-spanning, up until the change over into Suite III which marks the final third. There are two albums by two different artists here, or, at least, a single artist separated properly by a good twenty years. The music does me fine, but the ambition blows me away.