Toy Story 3 (with added D)

The final (probably) installation in PIXAR‘s initial franchise closes the lid on the adventures of Buzz and Woody.

Toy Story 3

“The claaaaaaaw!”

I’m assuming anyone reading this is familiar with the first two films and therefore the characters. Some have vanished over time – Andy is after all now 17 years old and about to go to college. He has to choose what to do with his toys – throw them, chuck them in the attic or donate them to a day care centre.

And thus the adventure begins. As usual, Woody is the leader and knows the situation – but the others don’t believe him. This plot line is getting a little thin. You’d have thought the rest of the group would have figured out that he’s on the ball by now.

Visually, the film’s superb. It also has a decent story which really picks up towards the end with some scenes that are really tense as the toys face near certain doom. By tense, I mean near-horrific. Seriously, it’ll scare the youngest kids.

There are some nice harks back to the original film and the cast are on form as ever. John Lasseter has been replaced as director by Lee Unkrich who edited the previous two instalments and he’s done an admirable job.

Still, given the choice, I’d recommend Shrek Forever After over this. Cartoons are meant to be funny and the big green ogre’s final shout has far more laughs than TS3.

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Kids ‘n stuff

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

This may end up being a fairly emotional post, but hopefully will help drive home something that means a lot to me.

As most of you know, I recently had a career change and moved into teaching. There were a few reasons for this. Partly due to the recession, partly that as I was a Scottish resident I could do the course for free. A huge part was getting the chance to teach several Vietnamese kids how to use computers when I was here (I’m back overseas!) in 2006.

The other thing is that I really love kids. Not in a Gary Glitter way, not in the slightest. I just think they’re the best thing in the world. I don’t have any of my own yet and that’s my hugest regret in life so far. I’ve enjoyed so many pleasures, seen so many things, soaked up some amazing experiences – and yet the one thing I want more than anything else I haven’t quite got round to yet.

So I guess part of the reason I want to work with children is that I don’t have my own. Yet.

However, I’ve been talking to a lot of teachers from all over and I’ve had mixed reports about men working with kids. In the UK, Canada and Oz there’s a huge demand for male primary school teachers (which is a qualification I’m eying up – I teach secondary at the moment).

The US, however, is very anti male primary teachers. I was talking to an American secondary teacher and he told me that it’s very hard for a man to get a job in the primary sector. Why? Because any man who wants to be around small children in a paedophile, obviously.

This viewpoint sickens me.

I also suffer it. If I’m in a supermarket and I see a small child sat on the back of a trolley, I always want to wave and make silly faces until they smile. If the parents see me doing this and I’m stood there with another woman – girlfriend, friend, whatever – they’re generally nice about it. If I’m by myself then I get a nasty stare and the child is whisked off as if my only thought it to steal it and abuse it.

I reckon we can only blame the tabloids, but this attitude really makes me feel awful. When I was in Burma, a family walked me and another chap from the hostel home when we got lost. Along the way, the mother handed me her child to hold. The baby was maybe 3-4 months old and she was happy to just pass her to a stranger who found her gorgeous.

That wouldn’t happen back home.

The difference? No tabloid madness in Burma. No assumption that people are evil (except the Burmese government). Just a general feeling of good human nature.

What a grin!
How happy does *he* look?

Happily, there are other people who are as trustworthy as I am. In fact pretty much everyone is, let’s be honest. One of them is Michael Brosowski who founded the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Hanoi which most of you know I do a bit of work for as and when I can.

Last weekend I had the chance to pop up to Long Bien and play a bit of football with the kids, who were then presented with a trophy for winning the under 14’s league. A great achievement from a rag-tag bunch, many of whom have spent time living on the streets.

The other thing is that even the smallest of them will happily “attach” themselves to a new member of the group and play around. I was in goal for one team of older kids, but I’d made a new friend who was about 10. He mimicked my (awful) skills, and I started showing off doing pull-ups on the crossbar during flurries of play. He couldn’t reach so I helped him up and we just mucked around.

It was great fun, but – again – imagine anyone letting a complete stranger do this with their kids back in the UK. I mean *horror* I actually touched him. Even as a registered teacher in the UK, if you touch a child you can be in trouble. This included hugging upset children in a primary environment – woe betide you if you do so without witnesses. Insane.

That’s not to say that Vietnam doesn’t have its share of scum who will take advantage of children. Blue Dragon has rescued several from brothels both here and in China. Add that to the sweatshop labour that some endure after they’re kidnapped or tricked away from their parents.

I just played catchup on Michael’s blog and there’s some good reading there from the last few weeks. I do urge you to pop over and flick through his posts from early June. Children as young as 11 rescued from sweatshops, three generations of one family finally given ID papers so they can receive education and healthcare, legal aid for some kids who are really off the rails… and more.

His blog’s located at http://vietnamstreets.blogspot.com/

Children are the single most important resource any country has. They need to be treated well, educated well, brought up well. They’re the future of this planet and whatever happens over the coming decade, centuries and millennia is in their hands.

However, if we don’t take care of them then we’re screwed.

Blue Dragon is just one charity in one country, but it does a hell of a job. I’ve worked with these kids on and off for over four years now and I’d do anything for them.  All I’m doing now is asking you to check out the web page, see what you can afford and drop them a few quid. Dollars. Whatever. They have dozens of projects on the go at once, and all of them will make good use of that cash.

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Karate Kid

Another 80’s remake, another triumph.

The Karate Kid

“Everything… is kung fu.”

Forget Daniel. Forget “wax on, wax off”. Don’t forget Pat Morita as Mr Miyagi (because he was awesome). Welcome Jaden Smith to the canon of incredibly gifted young actors.

This is the perfect “reimagining” of a film that so many of us remember from the 1980’s. What was past is past. The basic premise has bee taken, tweaked, mildly parodied and built on. The cast as superb (this is the best Jackie Chan film in 15 years and certainly his best acting in as long) and the story is a well-crafted take on the original.

Jackie Chan has spent the last 10 years or so trying to recapture his youth when he was, without a doubt, one of the most athletic martial arts stars of all time. However, over the last 10 years or so he’s pumped out comedies and incredibly poor action films using wirework and CGI. The Tuxedo was a complete nadir in his career and should have been buried at the ideas stage. The Karate Kid makes up for this. Instead of pretending not to be old, Chan’s character is based very much on being old.

Jaden Smith, also, is gobsmackingly good. OK, so he comes from good stock. Say what you like about him but his father, Will Smith, can act. And sing. And dance. Jaden’s got the good genes. He’s dedicated, hard-working, emotional, emotive and ridiculously talented. For a child that age to be performing as well as he is both athletically and artistically is, frankly, amazing.

OK, the story. Dre (Jaden) and his mother (Tariji P. Henson) move to Beijing in search of work. Dre finds a girl and a lot of trouble from local bullies. Who happen to know kung fu (note – not karate, this is China!). After one particularly severe beating, Mr Han (Chan) comes to his rescue and agrees to train him in preparation for a tournament.

The plotline is very similar to the 1980’s version, but is definitely up to date. The bad guys are as mean and malicious as the original, but there are some subtle changes. Fans of Morita’s classic will enjoy the hints while not feeling cheated by what could have been a simple remake. Simple things like “cobra” instead of “crane” made it for me. And the fly/chopsticks scene was hilarious.

Watching in a Vietnamese cinema with a crowd who were applauding the competitors in the final competition was a very surreal experience, but it worked well. The simple fact was that the audience were utterly involved in the film. I almost joined them in cheering Dre on in the final.

Do not miss this film. Smith is a revelation. Chan has finally found a niche that suits his post-action star age band. The story is well told. The fight scenes are superb. The side plots are emotional and not overdone.

I loved The A-Team but this is a very different 80’s remake. Hannibal’s company make for silliness. This is just a great story, very well told.

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A-Team review

The A-Team
The A-Team

Big, brash and silly this is a great update of a classic bit of TV trash.

The A-Team

“He’s trying to fly that tank”

Remakes and updates are dangerous territory. There’s the risk of destroying fond memories or of throwing money at a project that simply doesn’t match up to the original. A-Team manages to be a great modern version of something which, when I went back to watch it recently, was really rather crap.

With the special effects being done by WETA and several other houses, you know this is going to be just chock full of graphics, stunts and over-the-top silliness. It certainly doesn’t disappoint. Any of you who care about the laws of physics would be well recommended to take a “suspend belief” pill before settling into your seat.

The film very much acts as a “how it all began” story, sticking fairly well to the original premise. One major difference, though, is that people do get shot and killed – something that never seemed to happen in the TV series. Hannibal (Liam Neeson) is the head honcho with all the ideas, Quinton Jackson is a huge, mohawked BA Baracus, Bradley Cooper woos the ladies as Faceman and Sharlto Copley is a suitably bonkers “howling mad” Murdock.

Jackson, in honesty, is a little clunky and hard to understand at the start of the film. I’m guessing he’s an ex-wrestler or something and making a break into films due to his bulk. The rest of the cast are pretty much spot on. The banter between them is also sharp and got quite a few laughs from the Vietnamese crowd (and myself).

For some reason it still felt a little over-long and segmented, but perhaps that was down to me being ridiculously tired when I watched it. It’s definitely over-the-top, has some utterly stupid stunts (even moreso than The Losers, which is saying something) and almost certainly will lead to a sequel.

Dare I hope for as good an update for Airwolf?

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