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By Christopher Stipp

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Check out my new column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp

Toy Story 3 Footage Preview

toystory3_poster_8So, I was able to see the first 70 minutes of Toy Story 3 this week.

Watching the movie begin, hearing the reactions of the college students who literally grew up with this franchise, I was worried something wasn’t going to be right. That there was going to be something there on the screen I could no longer identify with a decade after Toy Story 2 debuted in the theaters. I was shocked that it’s been fifteen years since the first installment came out, the number 95 pasted on the runaway train in the opening sequence feeling like a tender callback to that time.

I was worried, fraught with nervousness that somehow I made the wrong choice in finding my old college ID from, ironically enough, a decade ago in order to gain admittance to a “Cliffhanger” screening that was only going to show 70 of, ostensibly, a 90 minute movie. As the film, played out, though, I found more and more to love about a series that always stood for something more than just a movie about some toys. These were indelible characters imbued with a humanity that so many animated films simply failed to replicate. Buzz and Woody were more than just playthings. They were individuals who had emotions like you or I, not giving a thought to the fact they are toys and aren’t humans at all.

Toy Story 3 makes you realize that this is alpha and omega of animated films because it makes you believe, with deceptive ease, that these machinations of a computer can truly move you. It was almost overwhelming when it hits you, that your friends were back in all their glory, never missing a beat.

Some have asked why see a movie all the way to the 70 minute mark only to be denied the 20+ minutes left in the film. I know it doesn’t make much sense but when you’ve waited for ten years to see these characters that will never age, and realizing they’ve actually matured in the time since Jesse and Bullseye joined the crew, consuming 3/4ths of the film means that there is still a 1/4 of the movie I still have yet to enjoy. I can savor the delight that was Michael Keaton’s Ken, a true scene stealer. I can anticipate that there is far more to enjoy about Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear. I know there will be a true moment of sadness still to come when Andy’s departure to college is finally dealt with. And I know that at least one of the characters, unfortunately, will stop speaking Spanish. (Such a fun part of this movie).

I wanted to be able and talk like a fan, not a critic, of a movie that I genuinely enjoy by not spoiling any of the nuances that this movie strives to give those who have been fans of these movies for so long. I want to be able and talk about all those things that really pull at your heart, to say exactly why Jeff Garlin was an inspired choice for Buttercup, but it’s not my place to spoil anyone’s fun who has been waiting for a decade to see them all together again. I think my purpose here is to be one person to say that everything you hope this movie is, it is. I can’t wait to buy the soundtrack, to feverishly anticipate buying the Blu-ray when it comes out, to taking my kids to see it a few times on the big screen. It’s just that good. There are enough callbacks to the previous films to make it a great time for those who’ve seen the last two, enough “adult” jokes to make it fun for those of us who are harangued into seeing shoddily make kids films from studios who don’t care about being in touch with every member of the audience, and certainly enough emotion in the way the movie makes you care about each and every one of these toys. Especially when a tortilla has to step in for Mr. Potato Head, classic.

The toys are definitely back and I cannot wait for June 18th. For me, and for my family. It’s hard not to spill about every little detail about what I saw but it was glorious, fantastic fun.

About the movie:

The creators of the beloved “Toy Story” films re-open the toy box and bring moviegoers back to the delightful world of Woody, Buzz and our favorite gang of toy characters in TOY STORY 3. Woody and Buzz had accepted that their owner Andy would grow up someday, but what happens when that day arrives? In the third installment, Andy is preparing to depart for college, leaving his loyal toys troubled about their uncertain future.

Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy - DVD Review

why-we-laugh-dvd-sWhen I was in my formative years as a youth I gravitated to comedians like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, eating up movies like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and, eventually, the whole Wayans clan in In Living Color. I never gave thought to the provenance of the black comedic experience in America. Either out of ignorance or sheer stupidity I never recognized the nuance of how comedy evolved within the black community and its rather tumultuous origins.

In the new Robert Townsend documentary, a film that played at Sundance last year to much acclaim, Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy is a powerful document to pour over and experience. In understanding how we ended up with Chris Rock, Townsend takes people on a journey that not only starts with minstrel shows and performers like Stepin Fetchit but the documentary excels in explaining the context of black performers who not only played roles that seem to sublimate the feelings of a people who were being marginalized but only appearing as fops, nitwits. The hideousness of blackface isn’t just written off as a practice that can be dismissed but, rather, comedians like Dick Gregory explain why performers did what they had to do and, in fact, some were being compensated well for their complicity.

It doesn’t make the practice any less vile but the documentary takes the viewer down a well-reasoned path of those things which people have enjoyed but may have never thought to ponder. The struggles that the black community had to overcome, the civil rights era sparking a nationwide fire that rankled many people’s conventions, was expressed in the comedy that was being produced on stage. Again, it was comedians like Dick Gregory who channeled that and trans-morphed it into something that sharp, funny, and piercing. As the modern touchstones of comedy that many in my demo would know right away, Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, it was Foxx and Cosby who would be the ones to not only transcend the racial barriers we had erected but were the ones to pull in the white audience into their collective experience. This documentary explains how it was more than just comedy to these performers. Some, as Townsend has said, only took the use of bad language and lacked the ability to incorporate social commentary but the movie is careful to pick apart these nuances in a way that shows each comedian for what they were able to accomplish.

The interviews with the performers could not have been more of a delight as you not only get professorial opinions on the impact these people had to a community needing some kind of release but you get men and women who are usually only known for their outrageous behavior to just slow down for a moment and be real. Realness doesn’t stop with explaining why white people responded so well to Bill Cosby as one of the more introspective moments comes when talking about what Dave Chappelle did when he walked away from millions upon millions. The documentary is worth the price alone for listening to an explanation that is thoughtful, considerate, and wholly honest with regard to its implications.

Where does black comedy go from here? If this documentary is to be believed it simply needs to keep doing what it has for over a century: be a voice to a community that needs to laugh. To make all of us laugh at a system that was once unjust and unwilling to accept the greatness that were these comedians who only happen, by function of birth, to be black.

Why We Laugh will be available on April 27th.

More about the DVD:

“Why We Laugh” tracks the evolution of black comedy from the character of Stepin Fetchit and minstrels in blackface to the politically tinged humor of Dick Gregory, and from the television success of Good Times and The Jeffersons to the big-screen accomplishments of stars such as Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg. The film also turns a perceptive eye on the controversial career decision of Dave Chappelle and the implications of corporate efforts to capitalize on the massive success of Russell Simmons’s Def Comedy Jam and Spike Lee’s The Original Kings of Comedy.

“‘Why We Laugh’ is a major historical contribution to American culture,” said Codeblack executive vice-president Quincy Newell. “This film is a tribute to the way one courageous person with a microphone can change history.”

Newell produced the documentary which he co-wrote with John Long. The film is based on the book “Black Comedians on Black Comedy: How African-Americans Taught Us to Laugh,” by Darryl J. Littleton. Codeblack’s Clanagan, Richard Foos, and Littleton. Codeblack’s Clanagan, Richard Foos, and Littleton are executive producers on the project.

Director Townsend has been at the forefront of black cinema for 30 years and received a Career Achievement Award from the American Black Film Festival in 2002.

The 10th Annual Phoenix Film Festival By Ray Schillaci

pff_logoFanfare please, for fun, excitement and a near technically flawless anniversary of PFF. Also, to the undaunted filmmakers who continue to provide a vision free of homogenized entertainment to a ravenously hungry public that is in desperate need of something more mature than CGI animals, flat comedies and pandering “movie-of-the-week” dramas that make their way to the big screen via inane studio deals. Now for the naysayers; yes, there were a few blips on the radar of technical difficulties, but compared to so many other film festivals PFF sparkled on their 10th anniversary.

The parties were an energetic blast with a celebration of 80’s bands and a delirious disco night. The seminars and workshops proved both entertaining and informative while the Kid’s Day gave a glimpse of the limelight to the wide-eyed 5-12 year-old set. Aside from the independent fare higher profile films also graced the screens. Remarkable and touching performances from Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn in the Arizona Premier of “Lovely, Still” played to packed houses. Audiences were also treated to George Gallo’s (Midnight Run, Bad Boys) “Middle Men” the new Joseph Fiennes drama “Against the Current” and the 2010 Sundance Selection “Mother and Child” with the impressive cast line up including Samuel L. Jackson. But the biggest enjoyable Easter egg to pop up was “Cyrus” starring John C Reilly, Marisa Tomie and Jonah Hill. I promised the studio no review until opening day. All I’ll say, you‘ll have to salivate while you wait!

Most independent brethren met with enthusiastic audiences and the hopes of getting seen in other markets. In my humble opinion; two stand outs delivered the goods with enjoyable performances and engaging stories that were executed in a very creative way. These films might not have won the accolades at the festival, but they certainly provided big laughs and a good time for all. Todd Berger’s “The Scenesters” takes a comic jab at “reality” shoots that is usually reserved for horror and succeeds tremendously while the co-creative team of “Hoodwinked” presented their brand of off-the-wall humor and applied it to a very funny road trip with “Jeffie Was Here”. Both films have the luck of an extremely talented cast and crew, but “Jeffie…” has a slight edge with a brilliantly comic timed performance by Peter Bedgood.

jeffie20was20here20posterIn “Jeffie Was Here” Bedgood plays Alan who has his hands full with a thankless low-paying professor job, an over-sexed teacher’s assistant, a long-suffering girlfriend, unrelenting writer’s block and a pending road trip that needs funding. Enter Jeffie, the last person one would ask to share the ride with. He’s part wannabe musician, guru, tree-hugger and general pest. But Alan has his reasons for accepting his application and the results are priceless. Bedgood brings a fine mix of frustration/sorrow/regret and hilarity that has not been seen since the early days of Jack Lemmon. There have been comparisons to Tom Hanks, but I believe Peter Bedgood as Alan gives a far more sympathetic/pathetic performance than he’s been credited for. Also, Bedgood’s chemistry works amazingly well with the other performers. He could have been the center of attention, but instead he plays with his fellow thespians so well that nearly everyone’s performance shines brighter.

Of course, the performances have to also be credited to the talents of director Todd Edwards who does double duty as Jeffie. Edwards’s direction at times is ingeniously daffy. From Alan’s living quarters to a tough man contest at a child’s birthday party in the barrio, it’s oddball humor that comes out of left field and hits a homerun with its audience. “Jeffie…” is not a throw-it-all-on-the-wall comedy and see what sticks. It’s a well calculated mature piece that has some adults acting like the children they have inside of them. I also have to mention Edwards’s very capable soundtrack that had me humming long after the movie was over.

Aside from Peter Bedgood other notables are Alexis Rabin as Amanda in a wonderful heartfelt performance and an all too brief comic burst from Vanessa Ragland. Ragland’s eccentric Chastity (the teacher’s assistant) reminds one of a young Shirley MacLaine with a touch of Sandra Bernhard. She manages to be abrasive and engaging all at once. Speaking of abrasive, Cristine Rose (NBC’s Heroes) delivers a wonderful comic turn as Alan’s mother.

still07-bedgood-jeffiewashereThen there is the character of the title, Jeffie. Director, Todd Edwards plays him with glee; annoying, scheming with a dash of bizarre innocence that keeps us guessing what is next on his agenda or does he even have one. If I had one criticism it would be the lack of an edge on the character of Jeffie’s part. If there was the slightest bit of danger that he exuded, the film could have set it itself up as a classic. After all, Jeffie holds all the cards. But perhaps the filmmakers did not want to take that chance with the possibility of alienating some of their audience. As it stands; “Jeffie…” has mass appeal.

“Jeffie Was Here” provides unusual situations with laughs and a thought-provoking, satisfying ending that hearkens back to the comedies of the 70s and early 80s. At that time writers/directors like Paul Mazursky and Paul Bartel were not just looking for basic toilet humor, they demanded the audience to think as well as laugh. Writers Todd Edwards and Peter Bedgood accomplish that right mix of pathos and fun delivering a road trip that one looks forward to taking again.

Word-of-mouth was already making its way through the festival with nearly every screening of “The Scenesters” providing packed houses. Smart, smug and clever as hell Todd Berger takes the unusual route of creating a very funny comedy by way of crime scene footage. What successful horror films have been able to accomplish on a micro-budget under the guise of “found footage” (Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity), Berger traverses the unstable route of comedy and creates a funky free-for-all of comic twists and turns.

cu_knife003_scenestersartFrom the very beginning we are treated to a couple of low budget filmmakers seeking out their break and accidently discovering a new way of making money and possibly getting creative in the long run if they manage to manipulate their subject matter as crime scene videographers. Director Todd Berger and Producer Jeff Grace play the indomitable duo with all the fixings of a great comedy team. The chemistry is hilarious and lends a goofiness that is unwelcome in the serious public servant world making the film funnier than we expected. Berger uses a courtroom as his device to tell the story where he is challenged by notable guest stars Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) as the D.A. and director John Landis as a judge. How bizarre is that?

With all the comical vignettes strung together through the courtroom one would think the film would leave the audience with a disjointed feeling. But Berger accomplishes a seamless story that more than satisfies the viewer. The acting is all too real and the situations regarding the search for a serial killer are quirky and at times uncomfortably funny. In fact, big laughs are found in this wacky take on surveillance tapes, news reports and documentary footage almost having you lose track of who’s doing what to who and how.

Accompanying all the hilarity is a righteous soundtrack which makes one wonder, how the heck did these guys afford it. But nothing seems to have stopped director Berger and his cast and crew, not even budget constraints. These filmmakers are as undaunted as the characters they play. They obviously went to some very creative means to get what they wanted and deliver a film that has their ingenious mark on it. This is not a standard comedy; instead it’s a hip look into a new comic mind that has something to say and prove. I encourage everyone to take the challenge and enjoy the show.

Comments:

One Response to “Trailer Park: TOY STORY 3, WHY WE LAUGH: BLACK COMEDIANS ON BLACK COMEDY, & The Phoenix Film Festival”

  1. Ray Schillaci Says:

    After reading your review on Toy Story 3 I got a Woody for anticipation. Damn you, Stipp!

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