Movie Reviews: Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, and Avatar: the Last Airbender

The last three movies I’ve watched in the theater are children/family pictures.  The last few movies that I’ve actually enjoyed have been children/family pictures, usually of the animated variety.  The Pixar and Dreamworks animated features have had better writing and more enjoyable visuals that recently viewed live action blockbusters – I’m looking straight at you, Iron Man 2.   Plus, the In Theaters Now lineup right now is woefully thin.  You couldn’t get me in copter Hannibal, I’m not sure who in Knight and Day’s target demographic but I’ll guess it isn’t me, and the only Eclipse I want to watch is this.  Thus, you’re getting reviews of Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, and Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Toy Story 3

If you liked the previous two episodes of the adventures of Woody and Buzz, then you’ll love Toy Story 3.  You get the return of most of the beloved characters, including a newly voiced Slinky Dog.  More importantly, you get the always dependable Pixar film formula:  beautiful graphics, wit and heart, and surprising complimentary voice acting all serving to tell a great story.  Sure, the main story was a bit sappy, and sure the end’s curtain call just seems unnecessary, but there are surprises and joy in bounds with this movie.  One thing to note, I watched the movie in 2D so I can’t claim anything about the relative value of a 3D showing.

This is a solid 4 1/2 out of 5 for me.  I would nominate this film for Best Use of a Clown Toy soliloquy, Best Creative Tortilla Effects, Best Animated Feature, and Best Cameo By a Glow Worm.

Despicable Me

A solid turn by the Universal animation group, I have to admit walking into this film with low expectations.  Much of that was due to the trailer that I saw much too often with the redneck American family touring the inflated Great Pyramids to the dulcet tones of Lynard Skynard.  I hate Lynard Skynard.  If you love Lynard Skynard, I hate you too.

I digress.  The film is a tremendous amount of misanthropic fun.  The characters are constantly inflicting both psychological and cartoonishly physical pain on each other, and if you enjoy that kind of thing, this is a blast.  There’s a main story about the lead villian, Gru, learning to love, but that’s beside the point.  Gru’s minions, yellow pills with stubby appendages and goggled eyes, are walking punching bags, fun little cartoon humanoids that get punched, flicked, kicked, exploded, and launched into orbit, all for our summer movie watching delight.  I applaud the film makers for staying away from most non-Pixar animated film crutches, primarily bathroom humor.  This is a pretty good movie, even if the supporting voices don’t really get much to work with (all the funny lines go to Steve Carrell’s Gru, Jason Segal’s Vector, Elsie Fisher’s scene stealing baby, Agnes, and the minions).  Russell Brand, Kristin Wiig, Will Arnett, etc are all wasted.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5.  I would nominate this film for Best Use of a Freeze Ray at a Coffee Shop, Best Parallel Parking Job, Best Cookie Technical Direction, and Best Reading of a line containing the words “Fluffy Unicorn” Ever.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Oh, M. Night Shyamalan, how you’ve turned into a punchline of a director/writer/producer.  From “swing away,” tree-caused suicide, Ron Howard’s daughter in water, and a shitty village, we’ve come to this, a terrible live-action adaptation of a Nickelodeon cartoon.  If you must know, there are four nations who are each linked to one element (fire, water, air, earth: apparently they don’t care to unleash Captain Planet and have left out heart).  The evil Fire people, who appear to be of Indian descent, have killed all the Air people (Tibetans), enslaved the Earth people (Far East Asians), and fighting a war with the Water folk (a combination of Caucasians and Eskimos).  Those dastardly Fire people will stop at nothing to conquer the world, even trying to kill the Avatar, a superhuman Dalai lama who reincarnates to keep the world at balance.

The story is fine.  It’s what Shyamalan does to the story with his horrendously stiff writing and direction that makes “The Last Airbender” one of the longest 103 minute movies you’ll ever have to sit through.  Through  scene after scene  of stilted dialogue only used for forced plot exposition, Shyamalan has finally proven that he doesn’t know how to write dialogue anymore.  The characters don’t talk with one another, they talk at  the audience, much like tour bus operators.  Like most tour bus operators, you grow to hate the characters within the first five minutes.  I don’t understand why Shyamalan cast dynamic actors like Aasif Mandvi or Dev Patel only to have them read lines that are not salvageable.

Of course, this is an effects movie of action, so we can forgive the terrible, absolutely awful dialogue.  Some of the effects are pretty great, with the lead character’s actor, young Noah Ringer, performing some great looking martial arts.  Also, the CG was pretty good, with some impressive fire and water effects.  However, even the fight scenes were clumsily staged and paced.  The first major battle scene has absolutely no flow or logic.  A potentially great set piece where the Avatar is rescued by Dev Patel’s character has so little actual action that it makes no sense.  The bad guys don’t attack when they should, and they run away when most conquering victorious armies would not.  The bad guy leaders are horribly unskilled tactically and even practically – everyone know that you don’t leave a spirit killing mission until you’ve actually killed the spirit, right?

They leave the movie open for a sequel. I hope they make it. I just hope they don’t let Shyamalan participate.  Enough already.

Rating: 2 out of 5.  I would nominate this film for Worst Dialogue in a Motion Picture (the honorary Showgirls award), Best Creature that Looks Like a Blend of Falkor and My Neighbor Totoro, Worst Father Ever (Cliff Curtis/Fire Lord), and Worst Director/Writer/Producer In the World.

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