Saturday, July 10, 2010

Review: Toy Story 3 - Exit Through The Gift Shop

I'm aware I haven't written a movie review since the film festival, but in my defense, I haven't seen a good film since then. Many of the films from that festival are now playing in the Boston area (especially Kendall Square) if you want to revisit my IFF Boston roundups (Part 1 and Part 2). I highly highly recommend Cyrus, Winter's Bone and Micmacs if you have the chance. With serious rain in the forecast today, you could do worse than a double feature at the Somerville Theatre. I caught Toy Story 3 and Exit Through the Gift Shop this afternoon/evening.

To be honest, I was not impressed when I heard about the prospect of Toy Story 3. While the original Toy Story ranks up there with Pixar's best work, I've never warmed to Toy Story 2 like others have, and a 3rd reheating of the same lost/discarded toys escape story didn't do much for me. Trilogies are for Sci-Fi movies or the Shrek series that has no dignity/shame; Pixar should know better.

Imagine my surprise when the movie obliterated my expectations. While the plot outline is just as I expected (Toys are accidentally discarded and then donated to a Day Care facility from hell), there are significantly more profundities this time around that I did not expect. Gone (mostly) are the "WE NEED TO GET BACK TO ANDY!!" drumbeats. This time the toys are forced to come to grips with reality and whether it is better to be loved by a revolving cast of children or to sit in the attic of your original owner and subsist on memories. Of course there is a more prevalent antagonist in the form of the thuggish Lotso bear who runs the Day Care facility like a prison and has a checkered past. While the set-up is familiar, the final hour of the film is when Pixar shows what separates them from every other film studio doing this kind of thing. There is an exhilarating 30-minute escape scene that compares favorably with the best ones ever put to celluloid. The final 15 minutes are fraught with emotion and a tenderness that the other Toy Stories and other Pixar films for that matter have only hinted at culminating in a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. Did I neglect to mention how hilarious it is? Several new characters are introduced, the most notable of which is Ken, portrayed as a self-conscious nitwit with a weakness for fashion. The regular cast of characters also get plenty of laughs, especially when Mr. Potato Head loses his potato "head" and is forced to make do and Buzz Lightyear is reset into Spanish. Highly, highly recommended.

Documentaries are my favorite. They are simply about a story. No CGI, no acting. Just a story. The doesn't mean they aren't interesting/exciting. Most documentaries have more plot twists than an M. Night film; it's just that they don't really need dramatic music or a dream sequence to bring them to fruition. It wasn't until recently that I dug a little deeper and realized that documentaries about Art are some of my favorites. My Kid Could Paint That and Who the $%#@ is Jackson Pollock are two such examples, but one of my favorite films of all time is Orson Welles' F for Fake, which addresses the not-so-simple question of "What is art?".

Exit Through the Gift Shop starts as an innocuous story about street art and a man (Thierry Guetta) who obsessively documented its rise over the past ten years but ultimately becomes a modern retelling of Welles' classic film. To be frank, Thierry Guetta is at best an obnoxious fanboy and at worst a pathetic self-important fraud. Simply by happenstance he becomes drawn into the world of street art by his cousin (moniker: Space Invader) and somehow acquaints himself with and becomes accepted by many of the biggest names in street art, including Shepard Fairey and the one and only Banksy. They originally tolerate his eager camera because he is also a serviceable accomplice and knows the city well, but as time goes on they begin to enjoy his company. Street art is such a personal and solitary art form that being able to share it with someone becomes too tantalizing to resist and Thierry filled that role perfectly. It wasn't until he began creating his own street art that he went from harmless gnat to someone who threatened to destroy the artform. After using his trove of footage to make a terrible documentary about the art, Banksy suggests that he try his hand at the art himself. Taking this as a direct order from the most famous street artist that has ever lived, Thierry throws his entire life savings into literally buying his own art exhibit. He contracts artists to realize his ideas, and spends much of his time barking orders into a cellphone, conducting interviews with magazines or hitting up big name artists for a friendly quote to build hype.

It is during these last 30 minutes that the definition of art becomes ambiguous. Is Thierry an artist because he refinanced his house to hire other people to produce his ideas? Who has ownership of the art? The one who thought of it or the one who made it a reality? These scenes are not kind to Thierry, portraying him as a narcissistic, entitled boob who has no business doing what he is doing. While artists like Banksy spent years building a name for themselves, Mr. Brainwash (as Thierry calls himself) buys it. Of course, this should be hilarious, but the fact of the matter is, people fell for it. Thousands of people lined up to visit the opening of his Los Angeles show and more still visited during its 2-month run. Even more disappointing are the equally moronic art collectors who get into the act by snapping up his artwork to the tune of nearly one million dollars.  What began as the story of a zealous street art fan, by the end has evolved into a sad commentary on the nature of art and the importance of criticism, lest you be swept into every fad.

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