In recent years, one can count on at least one awesome blockbuster per summer: whatever Pixar releases. There's no denying that Ratatouille, Wall-E, and UP are a grand slam. Toy Story 3 is probably not quite in that rarefied league, but that's primarily just because, as a sequel, it doesn't have the advantage of total originality (it's not bringing us a world and characters we haven't seen before). This doesn't mean it isn't creative and smart (it is), but just that it lacks a little of the joy of discovery one gets from the films listed earlier. While it's a little discouraging to see Pixar turning to sequels--and I'm particularly discouraged by the idea of a Cars sequel, as Cars, to my mind, is the only sub-par Pixar film--the head honchos claim they will ONLY do sequels when they feel like it's truly in service of characters and new stories, never strictly for cash. And so far, with the Toy Story series, I'm willing to believe them. Here we get, as always with Pixar, a film full of wonderfully crisp, clear, exciting action scenes (how often can that be said of live-action action films?) as well as a touching story about the end of childhood (just try not to cry in the film's final ten or so minutes, you heartless monsters!). And the new additions to the voice cast are top-notch: Michael Keaton is very funny as the Ken doll and Ned Beatty makes a great "villain" as Lotso Huggin' Bear (along with the ultra-creepy Big Baby!). If there's anything to complain about here, it's the unecessary 3D. I guess audiences expect 3D right now, but you don't have to give it to them, Pixar! Trust your art without the gimmicks!
Aside from Toy Story 3, the summer blockbusters this season continue to be humdrum (and so far I'm boycotting Knight and Day, based largely on the insipid title! as well as Grown Ups, dubbed by snarky critics as "The Big Chill for morons"). But there's been some strong stuff flying under the radar in the arthouse, such as Solitary Man, featuring an excellent lead performance by Michael Douglas as Ben, a car dealer who, fearing he's on the verge of a heart attack, spends six years recklessly squandering his business and family life while engaging in a series of affairs with younger (much, much younger) women. A quirkier film than this would make Ben a loveable grump, but the generally sharp script here doesn't ask us to like him (indeed, much of his behavior is fairly despicable), but instead to find the humanity beneath the surface. Director/screenwriter Brian Koppelman surrounds Douglas with a fully-realized world of smart women who nonetheless fall victim to Ben's manipulations (we get Jenna Fischer--oh, how attractive I find her!--as his daughter; Mary Louise Parker--ditto!--as his girlfriend; and Imogen Poots--who IS this and when can I see more of her!--as Parker's daughter). And, for good measure, the film offers a couple of sly supporting turns by Douglas' long-time buddy Danny Devito (who gets the film's funniest line as he explains why working in a college diner broke him of his desire for young women) and Jesse Eisenberg. Not a perfect film, and maybe sometimes a little unsure of its tone, but a happy break from the multiplex! Recommended.