Cinepub


Documental: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey by Jamie

I never used to get on with Elmo. Like many people who watched old school Sesame Street I felt that he overshadowed some of the shows core classic characters and was generally pissed off with the little red monsters dominance over all aspects of the Street’s merchandising and marketing but I will admit that my impression of the character has softened recently mainly because of videos like this one:

What further helps to soften my image of my once most hated Muppet is the documentary I just watched, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, a film that covers the life and career of Kevin Clash, the man who would come to voice and perform the titular character. I shall not try to be spoilery in my review although it’s generally difficult to spoil a documentary unless it’s something like ‘Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father’. Anyway, on with the review.

Kevin Clash grew up in a relatively poor area in Baltimore and from a young age he found himself obsessed with puppets and puppetry. He used to sit glued to the television watching Captain Kangaroo and when, at age 9, Sesame Street came on the air that his obsession really took off and by age 10 he had built his first puppet out of his father’s best coat.

Kevin’s obsession grew and grew and he soon had a catalogue of eighty-five puppets and was performing shows in the local area, first for his mother’s day-care class and eventually schools. This led to him being teased by his fellow high school classmates but rather than be discouraged, he stuck at it, doing the thing that he loved no matter what anyone else said. He caught the eye of a local TV producer and soon got his first big break in the world of local television and the name calling soon turned to admiration and he was voted most likely to become a millionaire in his high school year book.

Kevin perfected his puppetry by mimicking the actions he saw on Sesame Street, learning to make a puppet move as though it were a real, living human being and he learnt to make the puppets themselves by watching as many specials by Jim Henson on the subject as he could. He finally got to meet one of his heroes, Kermit Love (Muppet building Master), on a school trip to New York and he helped the young man perfect his craft. It wasn’t long until Clash was attracting the attention of Henson himself and the rest is red felt covered history.

The film obviously goes into a lot more detail with regards to Clash’s life and career but I’ll leave the rest of that for you to discover for yourself. What I will say is that it a surprisingly inspirational and moving story for being about a man who performs a child-voiced Muppet. There were a number of occasions when I did feel tears welling up in my eyes, notably when discussing his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the discussion of Jim Henson’s death (including clips from Henson’s memorial which always makes me a bit weepy). It also makes you feel like a little kid again, especially when you see the kids meeting Elmo and largely just ignoring the fact that there is clearly a man standing behind, operating him. They just fixate on the puppet as if nothing else in the world matters and their faces light up and you get to share in that sense of wonder too.

It is seriously the perfect film to watch at the beginning of a New Year, an inspirational tale of a man who had a dream, stuck to it, achieved it and even managed to go on to continue the spirit of his hero. If I have any criticisms it’s that the film’s a little short at around one hour and fifteen minutes and there’s no mention of the TV show Dinosaurs which I loved… Although Clash did play the series most annoying aspect, Baby Sinclair. Despite these factors, I’m going to give this film five pints out of five just as it’s given me a new appreciation for Elmo and what he’s really all about.



Review: Toy Story 3 by Jamie

Right. This is a spoiler free review.

15 years ago, the first fully CGI animated film was released by Pixar. That film was, of course, Toy Story.. It introduced us to a cast of characters who, despite being made of plastic, had an emotional range equal or greater than many actors who have graced the silver screen. And far, far more emotional range than Keanu Reeves. It was a great film as was the second which came out in 1999. A good time was had by all.

Personally, I was 10 or 11 when the first Toy Story film came out. It’s hard to pin down exactly which because of the great difference in release dates between the UK and the US, especially with Pixar films and especially back then. Still even though I wasn’t exactly a little kid I still kind of grew up with the Toy Story films and, even though I’m always a little cautious with sequels, especially ones with the number three in the title, I was looking forward to Toy Story 3. So was my anticipation rewarded with the kind of joy akin to receiving a Castle Grayskull on Christmas Day or was my hope dashed to pieces like so many ruined LEGO creations?

The answer, of course, is rewarded. Toy Story 3 is seriously the best film to come out this year (Still haven’t seen Inception yet but even that will have to work hard to top this) and admittedly that’s not saying much given the turgid shit that this summer seems to have served us up so let me go one step further. Toy Story 3 is one of the best films this decade… Wait, that doesn’t work either what with this being the first year of the decade… Fuck it, Toy Story 3 is really, really good, alright.

I’m not gonna do one of my normal, long winded synopsises because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Everyone should see this film and they should see it knowing as little as possible about it. So I’ll just summarise a few things that everyone should probably already know. It’s a good few years after Toy Story 2 and Andy is 17 and is getting ready to leave for college. In the confusion of his packing, moving things to the attic and moving other things to the trash, his old toys get donated to a local daycare. They find life isn’t as awesome there as they might have hoped and so they decide to try and escape and make their way back to Andy.

There, synopsis over. Let’s get to the substance. There is so much going on in this film and yet it plays out in a beautifully simple way. It touches on themes of loyalty, love, friendship, family and learning to let go and it all seems as though Pixar where taking a massive risk taking the franchise in this direction. They could have done another film set when Andy is young and it all would have been very safe and familiar and I think the first idea for this film would have been like that with some kind of recall for Buzz Lightyear figures put into effect or something. Thankfully someone came up with this idea and thankfully Pixar doesn’t shy away from risks.

Perhaps first and foremost on the importance block is the fact that the film was funny. I mean really funny. There were scenes were the whole cinema was filled with raucous laughter, in particular a certain situation involving Mr. Potato Head and when Buzz is accidentally set to a Spanish mode (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, it was in the trailer.

Still, the character with the most consistently funny scenes is Ken (Michael Keaton) who I was surprised was actually in the film as much as he is. I remember seeing the clip of him and Barbie meeting in either a trailer or a preview clip online and thought that would be it, he would be there for that one joke. Thankfully he’s not and he is awesome. He is ridiculously camp, obsessed with fashion and just basically seems to have the kind of personality that a male toy from a girls toy line would probably have.

The villain of the piece shows up in the cuddly bear form of Lotso (Ned Beatty) a toy who certainly has some issues with abandonment. He is aided in his dominance of the Daycare by Big Baby, a baby doll who appears in one of the creepiest and bizarre moments of the films. I won’t give it away but I’ll just say it involves a swing and it is awesome.

Speaking of terrifying, Jesus fucking Christ, one of those creepy fucking cymbal monkeys is in here as well, his unblinking eye always watching for any escapees, his cymbals and horrible monkey screeches acting as an alarm. He also posses one of those rictus grins that those little bastards always have. Ugh, but still awesome.

Speaking even more of terrifying, there is a scene near the end that is actually pretty goddamn horrific considering the film is a U. But it is also this scene which has perhaps the second most heart-wrenching moment in the entire film, just watching the toys come together as a family and the way that they deal with what is about to happen to them. I have no shame in saying that I was crying at that moment and also genuinely scared for the characters.

The biggest heart-wrenching moment is, however, the ending. Seriously if you don’t cry during that scene then you are an inhuman monster, devoid of emotion, incapable of empathy and we should probably lock you away before we find a bunch of dead hookers buried under the patio in your garden. You sicken me.

Hmm, I don’t like this whole writing without spoilers thing. It constrains me too much. Still, you honestly just have to see this and I would hate myself if I ruined any of it for you.

Now, is there anything really that bad to say about the film? Well, not much actually. There is the occasional bit where the film seems to drag on a little but these moments are few and far between and quickly forgotten when things get going again. There’s also the feeling that some of the plots threads are recycled from the previous two films and the idea of a prison break style plot isn’t exactly massively original but it all seems easily forgivable given what the filmmakers do with everything they have at their disposal.

So to summarise, Toy Story 3 will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you nostalgic for your own childhood and your own toys. It has references to Jurassic Park, Cool Hand Luke and the original Toy Story with a cameo from Sid. Hell, it even has Timothy Dalton playing a thespian stuffed hedgehog.

Most importantly it is the ending to a great trilogy of films (Hopefully at least. The biggest mistake Pixar could make is deciding to green light a Toy Story 4), a trilogy 15 years in the making. For many of us that’s a substantial part of our lives, certainly over half of mine. We’ve travelled along way and for a long time with these characters, we’ve seen them lose their way and redeem themselves. We’ve seen them grow closer as friends and as a family. Finally we’ve seen the end of their story and, even though they are only toys, it’s one of the most emotional and human endings to any film series I have ever seen. Five pints out of five. Laterz.




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