Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toy Story 3: My new favorite movie...

It would appear that movies made in 3D are no longer just a fad.  With the release of “Avatar”, both Hollywood and movie-goers started to understand that the technology really can enhance a movie (and make a ton of money).  I initially was skeptical of the 3D concept.  The first theatrical movie I had ever seen in that particular medium was “My Bloody Valentine 3D”.  The movie was a steaming pile of dung, but I couldn’t help but be amused by the 3D aspect of it all.  Since then I had seen a few more movies in 3D.  The idea grew on me and I couldn’t help but get engrossed in the environment of the stories I watched unfold.  3D is cool in its own right and then I saw a movie in 3D at the IMAX.  Talk about mind blowing.  If there is an ideal way to see a movie in 3D, it is at the IMAX.  The technology seems to get better with each movie.  I am astounded by this.  The worlds on screen seem to have legitimate dimensions and depth.  It is almost as if you are right there with the characters.  When I was a kid, I could never have dreamed that movies would be displayed this way.
I no longer scoff at a movie being released in 3D (except “Step Up 3D” which is a mistake, Hollywood).  I now welcome the concept of 3D entertainment and can’t wait to see what comes to the screen next.  However, for as much as I now love 3D movies, there is one complaint I must make.  Despite how cool 3D movies are, they tend to get a little blurry when there are tears in your eyes.
This weekend I was treated to the opportunity to see “Toy Story 3” at the IMAX in 3D.  I had anticipated this movie for months.  I was actually content with the prospect of seeing the film in 3D here in Green Bay.  However, when the chance to see the movie in both 3D and at the IMAX came about, I jumped to it like a frog jumping on whatever it is frogs jump on these days.  Anyone with a soul has waited 11 years for another “Toy Story” and this one was in 3D.  Freaking awesome.  The expectations were high and the 3D enhancement of the film was only going to make it better. 

Let’s take a moment to take this all into consideration.  Screw 3D.  It didn’t need to be there for me when seeing “Toy Story 3”.  When I gloss over my feelings about the film I realize that the 3D aspect of it had very little to do with how much I enjoyed it.   There were so many other elements that contributed to the movie being raised to my personal pedestal of one of the best movies I have ever seen.  In fact, I might even feel like it is the best of the best, but that will need some time to digest in the back of my mind.  Some of you are immediately going to think I am some 28 year old loon who loves children’s movies.  Well, those of you can go fuck yourselves because you don’t have hearts.
The “Toy Story” movies, or less specifically, the PIXAR movies, are not just children’s movies.  They have been much more.  They are works of cinematic art.  They are characters and emotions brought to life by computer rendered animation, spectacular voice-overs, and the best writing in Hollywood.  After spending 100 minutes watching “Toy Story 3” I came to the realization that PIXAR employees the most creative minds in the movie business.  They have not made one bad movie.  Go ahead.  Take a minute to think of one.  Still thinking?  Well, you’ll be doing that until sometime in the distant future when PIXAR shows that even they are human.  My point is that they are batting 1.000 and “Toy Story 3” was the proverbial grand slam.
How do I sum up my feelings specifically about “Toy Story 3”?  That is a good question.  First of all, as I sat in that theater, I confirmed my notion that the movie was not just some kids’ flick.  Majority of the audience consisted of adults that were not accompanied by children.  That included myself, Jason, Steve, and Ann (well, technically she is “with child”, but that doesn’t count).  The neat thing about this crowd of adults was the sense of enthusiasm that seemed to emanate from every seat.  You could just see how eager people were for the movie to start.  Most of the crowd was in their 20s which means that they were kids or teenagers when the first “Toy Story” came out.  We’ve all been through, or in some cases still are going through, the central concept of the movie which is “growing up”.  In a way, many of us were drawn to the film to recapture a bit of our childhoods that we never wanted to let go.  The movie brings you back to it and then kicks you in the stomach when you realize just how much you miss those days.
Universally speaking, the PIXAR films work on two levels.  They are cute and lively enough to keep the kids engaged, but are also written intelligently enough with wit, humor, and themes to get the grown-ups enjoying the movies as well.  It is safe to say that PIXAR has mastered its approach.  “Toy Story 3” is no exception from this pre-established rule.  In fact, it brings it to a whole new level.  The movie works those two approaches and then melds them so that the adults and kids are experiencing the same emotions.  There was a little boy sitting a row behind me that was laughing just hysterically when hijinks went down on the screen.  Any other movie and I might have been annoyed.  However, that was not the case here because I was wondering how many people might be getting annoyed by my laughing.  It wasn’t just laughing at some funny moments, but laughter of utter enjoyment that encompassed the theater.
I’m not going to go too much into the plot.  That may very well diminish some of the experience that comes with “Toy Story 3”.  In a nutshell though, I can tell you that the story revolves around Woody (Tom Hanks) and his band of toy friends being relocated to a day care center.  They get relocated to the day care because of a mix-up that occurs when their owner, Andy, is packing for college.  He is all grown up now and unfortunately doesn’t play with the toys like he did when he was just a boy.  The story plays out as the toys attempt to get back to Andy before he leaves for college.  I would love to go into further snippets of the plot, but it is one that you really need to experience for yourself.  It is all the more powerful if you view it without too much prior knowledge.  That way you can ride the emotional rollercoaster like the rest of us did.

I can tell you this.   You are probably going to cry.  Yes, even you, Mr. Manly Man.  If I were a betting man (I am) I would say that while the kids were wiping smiles from their faces, the adults were wiping tears from their eyes.  There are several powerful and poignant moments in this film.  I can think of three of them particularly.  What PIXAR does with a gaggle of animated toys is a feat that even the best directors have a hard time doing with live actors.  The movie makes you feel, even when you don’t want to.  Anyone who has ever lived through that period of time between childhood and adulthood is going to relate to what Andy and the toys are going through.
Yes, I am admitting to getting emotional.  I am not ashamed of it… well, I am not ashamed of it now.  I was glad to have those huge 3D glasses on my face while at the theater.   I am sure most of the men in that theater were glad for them as well.  This entire notion alone is enough for me to suggest the movie.
“Toy Story 3” was so much more than a tear joker though.  There are so many other aspects of the film that make it a cinematic juggernaut.  I’ll try to hit on a few of them before I wrap things up here.  If I don’t go over them I wouldn’t be doing the filmmakers any justice for what they accomplished.
It would be a crime for me to not immediately make note of how funny “Toy Story 3” is at times.  The kids are going to laugh along with the adults in the silly and physical moments, as they should.  However, the PIXAR award winning formula calls for some jokes that go over the kids’ heads.  They accomplish this like we have come to expect from their movies.  The most notable was the emergence of the Ken doll (voiced by Michael Keaton).  Ken is portrayed as a flamboyant fashionado who has a love at first sight moment upon meeting Barbie for the first time ever.  Veiled in Ken’s comedic behavior is the nearly obvious notion that he isn’t quite into women like you would expect him to be. 
I also would like to make note of my favorite addition to the characters in the “Toy Story” mythos.  When the toys get to the day care they are introduced to a whole slew of other play things.  One that stands out is named Big Baby.  He is what he sounds like, which is a baby doll.  More specifically he is one of those dolls that has the eyes that shut when in the laying down position.  However, this particular doll is weathered, dirty, marked up with crayons, and has a broken eye.  It is a hideous abomination, but is just a brilliant part of the movie.  It stands out because we’ve all seen that one toy that a kid hangs on to that is almost too disgustingly dirty and worn down to be true.  Big Baby has seen some hard times and shows it in the creepiest ways (yes, that is a tear drop tattoo under its broken eye).  You’ll enjoy the creepiness.

The most important performance in the film comes from Tom Hanks voicing Woody.  If there ever was a voice performance that should get consideration for an Oscar nomination, Hanks’ work in “Toy Story 3” is it.  Anybody who says that voiceover work isn’t real acting, hasn’t seen this movie.  He does not phone in his performance like other actors may have in animated sequels.  Tom Hanks brings the real deal and treats the role of Woody like any other role he has performed.  He puts forth a great balance of bumbling humor and genuine love in all of the lines he reads.  Woody is not a great character if he isn’t played by Tom Hanks.  The “Toy Story” movies are not great without Tom Hanks. 
Before I wrap things up, I need elaborate more on the 3D aspect of “Toy Story 3”.  I didn’t really hate it.  It was actually quite enjoyable.  Some movies add the 3D feature as a gimmick.  Those movies like to have things lunge out at the viewer or have aspects of the environment in the foreground obnoxiously.  That is not the case with “Toy Story 3”.  There are no flies or magic tree seeds to swat out of the way like in “Avatar”.  3D in this masterpiece is used to enhance the experience and give the movie some depth and dimension.  It looks wonderful and lifelike.  In fact, very few movies have ever looked better.  Who knows how great it would have looked if there weren’t all those pesky tears in my eyes.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

....and More.

Wouldn’t it be really creepy and strange if someone decided that they wanted to run their own grocery store out of a small warehouse?  Well, let’s say that it isn’t a small warehouse, but a large garage that happened to be attached to someone’s home.  That would make it officially strange, right?  That would have to be something a person would make up for a movie about a road trip through the South, right?  Wrong.  That shit exists just down the road from me.  I didn’t believe it until I saw it either.
                I first heard about Traci’s groceries and more a couple years back when Jarmos and I were holding a rummage sale at the duplex we rented on the west side of Green Bay.  The snaggle-toothed old woman from across the street had come over to browse through the DVDs I was selling.   She had come to the one we had the previous summer and bought up several box sets of TV shows I was never going to watch again.  Apparently her emotionally abusive husband didn’t get out much and the only thing that kept him from beating the shit out of her was if she had some DVDs to watch.  Okay, so she didn’t say he would beat her, but she implied he was a shut-in that hated the outside world.  I just assumed he slapped her around if she didn’t bring him a TV dinner at just the right temperature.  Also, his sanity was in question because he was apparently going to be giddy about the Mighty Ducks Trilogy his wife just bought from Jason.
                Any way, I make the mistake of saying more than a few words to the old lady.  She then thought we were friends or something.  I got extremely nervous and was expecting her to invite us over for dinner.  Maybe we could meet her 30 year old son who still lived at home and drove a shuttle van for the casino.  Yep.  I learned that much and still remember it.  I am thrilled that some of my precious brain power was wasted on that nonsense.  During the woman’s rambling, she became excited to ask me if I ever checked out the grocery stand over by Sears.  I had not seen such a stand nor did I have any idea where it would be since there was not a grocery stand in sight.  This was cleared up for me when the lady told me that it was in a grey garage across the street from the Sears on Military Ave.  Now, I probably wouldn’t notice it unless I was there on the first and third Saturdays of the month.  That was when Traci was out there selling the goods.
                I honestly didn’t care about this new information.  However, I had to listen to it if I ever wanted to sell those Scully and Mulder action figurines that were collecting dust on my desk for years.  Traci apparently got her hands on some grade A shit and sold it for less than grocery stores.  I made the mistake of questioning her legitimacy.  The old bag from across the street seemed to be offended by my skepticism.  Now, I wasn’t skeptical of the woman’s prices.  I was certain that they were very low.  I was wondering how legit the operation was.  It was very likely that a grocery truck was getting hijacked weekly by some crazed bitch who wanted to sell groceries out of her garage (but only twice a month on alternating Saturdays).   I smiled and sold those DVDs and action figures to the toothless wonder and then went about my business.
                I forgot about it until one day during my move from the duplex to my new apartment where I still reside.  I don’t remember who I was with, but I do recall driving by that garage on a Saturday when it was open.  Good lord, that crazy bitch across the street wasn’t making shit up.  There really was a grocery store run out of some strange woman’s garage.  Such a golden opportunity for mockery could not go to waste.  Jason and I immediately knew what needed to be done with confirmation that this place existed.  We had to get Amy in that store.  She would be the one to confirm just how shady it was.
                Just under a year later the crew and I were strolling about Green Bay waiting for Steve to get off of work on a Saturday afternoon.  It just so happened that Amy was in town and we suddenly had some free time on our hands.  Light bulbs turned on above our heads as Jason and I remembered that we wanted to get a classic “hmmm” from Amy about the mythical grocery story run out of a garage.  So, we went there.
                The garage doors were not open as they were the first time I had seen the place.  We had to go in the clear glass door on the side.  The glass door made it seem almost legit.  So did the stickers that said they accepted credit cards and food stamps.  How the hell does someone get the state to allow them to redeem food stamps from their garage?  That can’t be legal, can it?  It is no wonder why people were ripping off the state for day care funds.  There clearly are a lot of people working in Madison that half ass their jobs if something like food stamps can be redeemed out of someone’s garage.  Regardless, I was impressed that there were methods other than cash at Traci’s Groceries and More.  Hell, I was surprised she took cash and wasn’t about the bartering of goods and services.  I figured bartering was were the “More” came from in the name of the store.  
                Entering the store was like nothing I had ever seen.  A couple of tables were set up near the door as a check out counter.  There were boxes lined up behind it and a couple monitors displaying the security feed.  Yep, the woman was concerned that people were shadier than the idea of selling groceries out of a garage.  The merchandise itself was set on in narrow aisles on wire framed shelves.  There were also a few of those plastic framed shelves on the walls, just like the ones you would expect in a garage.  The back wall of the store actually had a couple coolers and a freezer.  To be honest, it didn’t feel like a garage.  It also didn’t feel like a store.  If you were to describe to me what a food storage area would look like in a nuclear bunker, I would propose this store was the perfect design for such a place.
                There were two prices for every item.  One for cash.  The other for credit.  Traci didn’t accept checks.  She wasn’t about to be trusting anybody like that.  Personally, I wasn’t about to be trusting her either.  I checked the expiration dates on everything I looked at in hopes of proving my theory that she was a dumpster diver that sold what she found in the garbage.  Nope.  It all appeared to be legit and still good.  The main reason I check was because I needed to purchase something.  There is no way you can walk into someone’s food bunker and not purchase something.  She was already watching us like a hawk on her video monitors.  If we walked out empty handed, we would have looked like we were thieving something from the crazy bitch.
                I am not just saying she was a crazy bitch because she sold groceries out of a garage.  I am saying this because she looked bat shit crazy.  If you have ever imagined a chain smoking redneck woman from the 80s, you have seen Traci.  To avoid being on an episode of COPS, I made sure to buy as all those large freezie pops.  I paid in cash, which afforded me the opportunity to see Traci did for change out of a small money pouch she had slung over her shoulder.  No, there was not a cash box or a cash register in her store.  I can only assume that she kept the money close and on her at all times just in case someone ever came in to rob her store.  Really shouldn’t make a difference because a robber would get the money either way, but to a bat shit crazy person it makes sense to not have a register that someone could ask be emptied.
                What also surprised me a bit was there was no scanner or price charts anywhere at the check-out station.  Traci didn’t have price tags on the food either.  How in the fuck she remembered the price of every single item is beyond me.  If she really did have the correct prices memorized couldn’t be confirmed either because I wasn’t even paying attention to whether or not I paid her the correct amount.  There was too much to process.  I needed to take in every detail to tell Steve later that afternoon.  Needless to say, Steve was a bit upset that he didn’t get to come with us to see the spectacle that was Traci’s Groceries and More.
                That was until this past Saturday when Steve and I met up for lunch.  We had a little extra time after we engulfed our Taco Bell quesadillas, so Steve proposed that we go check out the infamous grocery store in a garage.  So, we did just that.  When we drove across the street I became relieved when there was a parking spot open for us.  That was surprising on a nice spring afternoon when you’d expect all retail outlets to be bustling with activity.  I am not sure Steve really believed it was a store until we walked inside.  Steve was immediate drawn to the rack of movies.  He noted the two year old movies that Traci was trying to pass off as new releases.  I am not sure if he noticed the VHS tapes she was trying to sell.  If I had to guess, I would say that Traci was ten years behind the rest of us.  Steve bought a jar of peanuts and I bought some Keebler cookies. We got the hell out of there as fast as we could because we could feel Traci watching us like we were the shady ones in that garage.
                I am fairly certain I do not have a need to ever go back in that store/garage again.  Unless of course I can get a clear idea what the “More” refers to.