Review: Red

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The Pitch: C.I.A. vs. O.A.P.s.

The Review: There’s been a trend over the last twenty years or so of action movie stars getting increasingly elderly. Maybe it’s our ever increasing fondness for nostalgia, or perhaps the novelty of seeing old fogies with big guns appeals as much in theory as the opposite, extremely young end of the scale that Hit Girl and her friends occupy. But for whatever reason, action stars have kept making movies as they get older, and indeed movies are now taking this a step further and making action stars out of the bus pass generation.

Based on a Warren Ellis comic book, RED has compiled a cast list with varying familiarity with the action genre. Bruce Willis has the most extensive action CV, and although into his fifties is still deemed sufficiently cool to be leading man material. John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman both have history in this genre, but in both cases it’s less auspicious in the relative terms of their previous works. Crucially, while all of them can normally be relied on to deliver good work, none of them is a reliable mark of quality when it comes to bullets and explosions. They are all at least serviceable here, although Willis especially is little more than that.

But they are just the tip of an iceberg that’s made of acting quality so solid it would put a hole in your average battleship. Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss and even Ernest Borgnine, who was retired before I was in short trousers, all pop up, often far too briefly. Getting more screen time are Mary Louise Parker as Bruce’s love interest, wandering through wide-eyed and screaming, and a rather stoic Karl Urban as the man sent to track down and round up this bunch of geriatric gunslingers. The biggest stunt of the casting is Helen Mirren, who gets a very big gun and smiles sweetly as she twists most of the male cast around her little finger.

So what do you make out of a comic book and a bunch of willing actors of generally advancing years? Director Robert Schwentke, whose previous form peaked with the Jodie Foster snoozefest Flightplan, manages to make a serviceable and lightly enjoyable action movie, with the odd entertaining set piece and a few mildly smirk-worthy lines, but it never really gets into top gear. It is worth saying, though, that the action is at least clean and generally well handled, and avoids the camera fitting and shaking so prevalent in today’s action movies. It will take up an hour and a half of your time divertingly enough, but that’s also about how long it will last in your memory – and, given the age of the cast, it’s probably about how long it lasted in theirs as well.

Why see it at the cinema: Some solid, well handled action, a few decent laughs and an absolutely killer last scene which mixes both will all get benefit from a large screen and some company.

The Score: 7/10

IMAX Review: Toy Story 3D

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The Pitch: The Toy Box Redemption.

The Review: After the success of the first two Toy Story movies, there can be few people who’ve set foot in a cinema or DVD rental store in recent years who haven’t seen the originals of this series, especially if they have kids. Every one of those people, I’d be willing to wager, has their own Woody or Buzz, the toy that stands out from their childhood above all others. Apart from some teddy bears that were mine at a very early age, the toy I played with most in my childhood was my Optimus Prime, something I was still playing with when most of my contemporaries had moved out of the toy box and onto more grown up things. (I had stopped before most of them had girlfriends, in case you were wondering.) And I sat through the two Transformers movies chewing my nails; after being (spoiler alert) killed off in the animated movie from the Eighties, I lived with the same fear that my childhood favourite would meet an unpleasant end.

Which feels appropriate for the feelings going into this, the third and possibly final chapter in the saga, especially given how Pixar will happily take out a character (Nemo’s mum, Carl’s wife) if it serves the story. After dealing with workplace rivalry first time out and issues of loyalty and friendship last time, it’s obsolescence, old age and retirement that are the main themes here, coupled with a strong sense of moving on. Andy (John Morris) is getting ready for college, and that sense of packing up and having to move on will be familiar to anyone who’s ever moved, for any reason, and left loved ones behind. For the toys, the question is simple – what happens next?

So we get a classic narrative where the main protagonists get split up – Buzz and the rest of the gang play out the prison movie where the threat of danger is present every time the school bell rings, and Woody gets to explore the possibilities of what retirement could mean, while through it all continuing to cling to the belief that there’s still something to get from his relationship with Andy. The central cast of characters has been reduced to the core of the main cast from the first two movies (leading to the first poignant moment when you realise who’s no longer there); but there’s a whole host of new toys on offer, both in Buzz and Woody’s adventures. Standouts are Ned Beatty’s Lotso, the bear that smells of strawberries but who may be slightly bitter underneath, Timothy Dalton’s Mr Pricklepants, who is one of the few toys to fully understand the potential of the toys’ roles as actors for their children, and Michael Keaton’s Ken, who perfectly embodies the neuroses of being a girl’s toy trapped in a straight man toy’s body. (Well, mostly straight – his love of fashion would put Tyra Banks or Gok Wan to shame.)

To fully justify a third visit to the well, you feel that the movie needs to up its game in every area. There are a few, Randy Newman’s music being the most obvious example, where actually it’s only as good as the last couple and doesn’t really stretch. The comedy, while having plentiful highlights, is certainly no more than the equal of the last movie (although my favourite squidgy alien moments are all in this one now). So it’s the drama and the themes that take this to a new level – there’s a sense of genuine dread and jeopardy that increases through the course of the narrative that’s willing to take this Toy Story to darker places than the first two, and it’s all the more rewarding for that.

But to be compared as the equal of either of the first two movies is as impressive a yardstick as you could hope for. Pixar have set the bar higher than almost anyone around; this is certainly the equal of the second movie in the series, and as such is as fine a final outing as we could possibly have hoped for. Both the main cast and all of the new additions excel in their roles, and if you’ve ever cried at a movie before, prepare to cry in the last half hour of this one, although if anyone wants to learn how to do multiple endings to a trilogy, they should watch this and not The Lord Of The Rings. I do hope, though, that the short film with these characters that will play before Cars 2 notwithstanding, that the trilogy is left a trilogy, as this is a fitting end to the journey of Woody and Buzz.

(And speaking of short films, Pixar’s eleventh feature is the tenth to have a short film in front of it; Day and Night is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, a wonderful mix of 2D and 3D CGI and hand-drawn concepts, and is a pure delight, standing up to the other short films as strongly as the main feature does to its brothers.)

Why see it at the cinema: The showing I was at got a round of applause at the end. That’s only the third time I’ve ever seen (or heard) that at a showing I’ve been to. If that’s not a recommendation for the cinema, I don’t know what is.

Why see it in 3D: This is not an obviously showy 3D film, that’s not how Pixar do things. But the level of texture and detail do come across even better in 3D, and there don’t seem to be the darkness issues that have plagued some other 3D releases, due to the nature of the process.

Why see it on IMAX: The picture and sound quality are unsurpassed, and the love that Pixar put into every frame comes over on the big screen. The monkey mushroom cloud in the opening sequence looks so impressive, you’ll swear you can see every individual monkey.

The Score: 10/10

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