Pixar’s Toy Story 3, or if it makes any difference Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3, adds little but minutes to the previous sequel, and for a computer-animated children’s film it adds quite a lot of those, somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and five. In specific, the new 3-D adds little (but four dollars of admission) to the prevailing depth of field and openness of space. And the plot premise of the toys’ boy going off to college, under orders from Mom to consign his childish things to either the attic or the trash, adds little to the torturous themes of change, aging, loss, death, that accrued from the prior premise of his going off to summer camp. Oh, the introduction of a Ken doll, a head of hair like a cowpat, at a hellish day-care center (“No one appreciates clothes here, Barbie”), adds some homo jokes suitable for the whole family, and the reprogramming of Buzz Lightyear to Spanish-language mode adds a benign Latin stereotype, but the de rigueur exhausting and exasperating finale (into the jaws of the landfill!) puts the capper on the general feeling of prolongation. Adding much more than the entire sum of the feature film is an abstract six-minute short subject beforehand depicting a battle of egos between a couple of two-dimensional ghosties through whose bloblike contours we see contrasting 3-D images of the differing delights of daytime and nighttime, a battle that ends in wishy-washy rapprochement but that rages with great imagination till then. The name of this, directed by Teddy Newton, is fittingly Day and Night, not to be confused with....
Knight and Day, a bibulous burlesque of the espionage thriller, wherein the video-game action, the hail of bullets, the blossoms of fire, the flurry of fists, pose no threat to the impervious superspy, protected by the patron saint of stuntmen, free to behave like a total sociopath, a textbook charming one for sure, but unfeeling, unconcerned, detached, absent. Tom Cruise, playing to the crowd instead of to his “romantic” interest, seeks to regain his former stature by acting as if he were twenty-two again, blissfully ignorant of mortality. And admittedly his congenital incapacity to pass as a normal human being is no handicap in the present circumstances. Cameron Diaz, said romantic interest, appears to have been cast more for name recognition than chemistry. That, and the bluest eyes on God’s green earth. The paraded beautiful people, beautiful places (Salzburg, Seville, a South Seas isle), and beautiful photography all combine to sustain an unabashed shallowness in which no mental midget need fear getting his ankles wet. The director, James Mangold, has heretofore worked at the relative depths of Cop Land, Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line, and 3:10 to Yuma, among others. Figure the difference for yourself. Knees at least, wouldn’t you think?
Jonah Hex, animator Jimmy Hayward’s live-action adaptation of a DC Comics superhero series from the Seventies, comes across as an imitation spaghetti Western translated back into vernacular American, a mac-and-cheese Western, let’s call it, or a Beefaroni Western, revolving around a supernatural bounty hunter (Josh Brolin) who as a result of his own near-death experience can talk to corpses, carries a pair of swivel-action Gatling guns strapped to his horse named Horse, bears a hideous burn scar on his face that twists his mouth into a permanent snarl (the prying camera keeps trying to peer into the holes in his flesh), and rides the vengeance trail after the man who gave it to him, a Johnny Reb diehard (John Malkovich, an unferocious figure of sidelong gazes and parted lips) armed with a futuristic WMD. All of this will satisfy no one’s hankering for a Western, or even a spaghetti Western. It can only serve to measure the genre’s further advance into decadence.
Father of My Children, a quality piece of work by writer and director Mia Hansen-Love, is a film à clef concerned with the suicide of a risk-taking French film producer modelled on Humbert Balsan. The opening credits sequence transports us hocus-pocus to the streets of Paris by means of fragrantly atmospheric shots free of postcard landmarks, backed by a twangy, toe-tappy musical accompaniment — “Egyptian Reggae” by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers — that goes well with the initial round of tourism if not with the ensuing somber drama. We are thrust straightaway into the flow of life, eavesdroppers, voyeurs on a harried shaggy-haired wheeler and dealer (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) juggling two mobile phones on the sidewalk and in the car, one for family, one for business (“No stars, we shoot in Tajikistan”), seemingly maintaining equanimity even when arrested for speeding on his way home, riding out the ceaseless waves of an overbudget film in Sweden whose director is either a “great artist” or a “psychopath,” a visiting film crew of South Koreans, a promised family vacation to Ravenna (further atmospheric tourism), and a mob of clamoring creditors.
It is a film of equal halves, the first half focussed exclusively on the producer, and the second, less focussed half, after he has taken what we refer to as the easy way out, split evenly between his widow (Chiara Caselli, a strangely aging but still girlish face) and the eldest of three daughters (Alice de Lencquesaing, the lead actor’s daughter in real life, one would presume). The backdrop of the cinémonde gives it automatically a certain cachet, but apart from a couple of visits to the screening room and to the set in Sweden it could just as well have to do with an investment firm or a construction outfit: the crisis is financial, not artistic, and not inherently very involving, very tangible, very graspable. The film never looks less than impeccable, however, with its crisp, cool, pale color and cozy yet discreet camerawork. Fabled French taste seeps into every particular of the treatment, understated, unstressed, fluid, just a tad tepid.
New venue for movies (well, DVDs): the Three Penny Cinema, offering as of the first week in July throwback repertory programming on Friday and Saturday nights in the conference room of your very own San Diego Reader. (Check the movie listings in the paper for details.) This spartan sanctum sanctorum, when not occupied by an actual conference, is my weekly first choice as a place of peace and quiet in which to proofread my stuff on deadline, preferable for my purposes to the file-filled archive room simply because it contains tables and chairs, but untested as a temple of art. My involvement, I should say for the sake of full disclosure, is limited to interested bystander. Will anyone come?