Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 exists as two movies – and ending and a beginning. Ignoring whether this film needed to be made after the arguable perfection of Toy Story 3 (hint: no), this fourth film seems to exist to try to extend the saga of the characters we love while also trying to start something wholly new

And it kind of works?

So little time is spent with the bulk of the returning cast that I can’t honestly say that this movie really serves to continue their story. What we get of them is delightful- this movie is overall funnier then the previous 3 which walked much closer to the funny/emotional line than the more straightforward humor here.

But, the bulk of the movie follows the story of Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her band of lost toys. Not seen since Toy Story 2, Bo has been reimagined as an almost ninja-like character that acts as a leader figure for the world of lost toys. Like Fagin without the evil. Her group joins the story to help Woody (Tom Hanks) protect Forky (Tony Hale) a new toy Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) makes from some trash. Really. The rest of the new characters in Bo’s “team” are really fun with Bunny & Ducky (Jordan Peele & Keegan-Michael Key) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) stealing nearly all of their scenes.

The theme of the movie – what is the purpose of a toy both to the people and the toys- is where the requisite Pixar gut-punch comes in. Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby is the crux of this story and I was, unsurprisingly, left in tears at the resolution with Pixar once again delivering a beautiful tale in a surprising way.

Where it doesn’t work so well is Pixar’s (possible?) attempt to spin the story into a new direction. Without spoiling anything I will say that any possible 5th film will look very different – besides being more unnecessary than this one was.

Toy Story 4 is a perfectly fine movie with a lot to like. But, narratively it feels forced. It doesn’t cheapen the emotional roller coaster of the 3rd film – it’s still nice to see these characters- but this movie didn’t need to be made as anything other than one of the many TV specials they’ve been doing lately. Is it a fun watch? Sure. Is it really great to see these characters in a new space? Yeah. But, if you really thought the series ended after the last film, I wouldn’t blame you and it’s probably fine. B-

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Aladdin

I did not want to like this movie

After seeing the initial images of Will Smith’s Genie I was deeply worried about what this would turn out to be. But, I was pleasantly surprised with how charming, (mostly) faithful and fun this new version of Aladdin was.

I mean…

There’s no point rehashing the story as nostalgia is the only reason this version even exists. If you have seen the original 1992 animated film (or the truly delightful Disney’s California Adventure live stage version) you know the deal. But, this iteration does change a few things

Mostly the story alterations and expansions make sense- this is slightly more adult than the original so we see a little more of Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott) develop a relationship for example. There is also a subplot surrounding new character Dalia (played by the hilarious and fully charming Nasim Pedrad ) which adds a lot to the film and expands Jasmine’s world.

However it’s the music that really needs to be discussed. Massoud and Scott are both adequate singers- with Scott really shining in Jasmine’s new songs (co written by Broadway and La La Land‘s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul with original Aladdin songwriter Alan Menken) and we all know that Will Smith is… fine. But there are several classic songs with very subtle lyric changes- changes that seem illogical AT BEST- which kept tripping me up. For example in the song “Prince Ali” the original lyric is “brush up your Sunday salaam” here it’s changed to Friday. All of the changes are really that minor to the point of not mattering so why do it at all? The exception being a few changes to “Friend like me” which are adjusted due to minor alterations to the story.

  • Also of note: The costumes in this film are GLORIOUS. Oh my god they are exquisite. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson is a genius.
  • Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is the weakest actor in the film with 2 modes: seething and shouting. Never once though did I feel any menace coming from the villain
  • Alan Tudyk’s Iago voice is basically just “cartoon parrot” which sort of kills some of the effectiveness of that character as a sub villain.

I’m still not sold on Disney’s re-imagining already perfect animated movies into live action (that said, weirdly excited for Lion King later this summer) and Will Smith will just make you miss Robin Williams that much more. But, this is a visually wonderful pretty all right movie that is more than worth a watch. B+

Hot Take: The Shape of Water

I can’t stop thinking about The Shape of Water

The newly crowned Best Picture of 2017 is by far the strangest movie I can remember winning that prize, but moreover I can’t think of a movie in the past that has been as well regardShape of watered and yet so…odd.

Called by some “an adult fairy tale” Guillermo del Toro’s film about a mute woman who falls in love with a literal sea monster (Doug Jones) is a really strange journey of a movie. All of the performances are stellar, it’s beautifully made and has all of the hallmarks of a good movie. Until the plot starts and it becomes this fantastical story about hard boiled eggs and inter-species love.

I genuinely don’t understand why this movie resonated the way it did. Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is interesting, and her line to Giles (Richard Jenkins) that the fish-man doesn’t know that she is incomplete is affecting enough. And Giles’ entire story as a closeted man in the 50s is heartbreaking- especially when juxtaposed with the main plot, but none of it really goes anywhere.

The film never really becomes more special or interesting than its core premise- and that premise is honestly not interesting so much as it’s weird. del Toro trades in the fantastical, and I can usually get into that fantasy world. And, the idea of a romance between beings from different worlds is not bothersome to me- I get that can be a commentary on identity and how love transcends barriers. It’s the fact that this fantastical story takes place in this otherwise wholly mundane universe that feels so jarring. And the fact that none of the other characters really questions it is really odd. If you were living in this world and your co-worker told you that she was having an emotional and sexual relationship with a fish man, you would have far more questions and concerns than these people ever express. It’s entirely “Ok, you do you” from these people which adds to the general wrongness of this movie.

All this is not even mentioning the completely useless and unnecessary spy subplot that fully goes nowhere.

Look, The Shape of Water

is a fine movie. It’s a great example of “Magical realism” breaking through to the mainstream, and if this film winning an Oscar is what it takes to make more niche and genre films gain wider regard then I guess it’s a win on a lot of levels.  But I just don’t understand why this was the one, why did this hit. What appealed to people, critics, and most confusingly Oscar voters – a group of people who rarely make decisions that are outside the box? I don’t get it.

Review: Trainwreck

Every so often a movie comes along that redefines a genre. A few years ago, Bridesmaids redefined the female-centered comedy and showed people that women can be just as funny as men while being raunchy. With Trainwreck comedian Amy Schumer tries to do the same thing to the romantic comedy by focusing on the comedy and letting the romance just happen.

trainwreck

I mean, she looks totally put together to me.

Trainwreck should be a romantic comedy by definition. It hits all the tropes and is in general pretty paint by numbers in its execution. But, what makes it special, and why it has been getting such great press, is that Schumer plays the movie so close to reality.

Romantic comedies have always been the world of women. But not just women, a very specific idea of women and what women want. It’s a rather antiquated viewpoint. Women in these movies are traditionally soft, demure, and so in want of a man that marriage is their primary motivating factor while the men are generally hard-drinking, womanizing, anti-love, overgrown children. In the 90s this formula changed somewhat to allow women to be more like the men giving us films that portray women as single-mindedly career focused until a man melts her heart. While entertaining in a formulaic way, neither of these attitudes were particularly progressive nor positive in their portrayal of women.

Trainwreck on the other hand is portrays both sexes as flawed and just looking to be happy. Writer/Star Amy Schumer takes her stand-up persona to the extreme as a woman who drinks to excess and sleeps around only to be surprised by the possibility of love with Bill Hader, a sports doctor who is the subject of an article she’s writing. The relationship is treated as a slow evolution as opposed to the typical meet-cute format that has become so tired. And, the relationship is not shown to “save” her or “fix” her in any way, simply as a thing that makes her happy.

It’s not a perfect movie though. It is very slow moving. Some of the humor seems forced if still funny. Schumer’s subplot with her father (Colin Quinn) is over long and doesn’t really add anything to either the movie or to the characters. In general I found the movie to be very thin- like a good idea that hadn’t been fleshed out enough.

That said, I think this movie does a lot of good for the genre.  Romcoms get a really bad rap for how they portray…everything. Trainwreck does a lot to try to show a modern relationship as relationships really are – confusing, messy, and a melding of two disparate people’s lives. And, while Schumer is not exactly a feminist hero, this is the first movie in this genre that doesn’t go to any extremes in its characterizations and ideas. Everyone is simply who they are and if the relationship works out, great, if not, that’s ok too. The plot of the movie doesn’t really force you to root for either outcome too strongly it only asks that you think everyone gets what they want. Which is why I think this movie is being lauded so highly as- despite its trappings- it’s not even a romantic comedy, it’s a comedy first. It also happens to feature a romance and that is the most refreshing part of this movie. B-

Depths of OnDemand: Hot Pursuit

Continuing our look at some of the worst of cinema in 2015  we have Hot Pursuit a movie that has no idea what it wants to be, which is fine because it also has no idea what it’s doing.

hot_pursuit

And now, fancy pageant walking!

See, Hot Pursuit is ostensibly a buddy road movie starring Reese Witherspoon as the bumbling by the book cop and Sofia Vergara as the witness she must protect. And, for a portion of the movie it plays out like you would expect. Then there is a turn and suddenly there is a far reaching conspiracy in which you don’t know who to trust! Neither aspect of the movie are particularly entertaining, but at around the halfway mark it goes from sort of non-offensive brainless to off the wall ridiculous.

This film is so ineptly made that every joke is forced, underlined, telegraphed, and lampshaded within an inch of its life. Nothing is given a chance to breathe or grow, and all lines are delivered by screaming. Vergara especially comes off poorly here given that she usually has pretty solid timing. Worse, Witherspoon is playing a pretty standard character for her and can’t manage to land a single joke.

The rest of the cast are non-events save only to mention Rob Kazinsky faking the worst southern accent ever while being shoved into a flirtation with Witherspoon that comes out of nowhere.

I have to give them credit for one thing, this is the type of movie where you would expect the easy joke to be slams against Latinos. Shockingly we get none of that as the largely Latino cast is treated pretty well (Ok, they’re gangsters and there is a quincenara but it’s not played for laughs). No, the easy joke they go for is lesbians. See, 2 women travelling around together must be lesbians. This joke is made and/or alluded to at least 3 times and is not even slightly funny for any of them.

I’m pretty sure this move was made to capitalize on Vergara’s Modern Family fame and launch her into movie stardom. This will 100% not do that. In fact, Vergara should fire whomever on her team found this for her and pay to have it stricken from her resume. Witherspoon is an actress that can come back from this kind of misstep, but Vergara is still building her credibility with the audience.

Hot Pursuit is a terrible movie. To be honest, there was no way it was going to be anything but awful. But, it’s not even enjoyably bad as everyone in it is taking it so seriously. It’s not worth watching, or frankly even thinking about. F

 

Depths of OnDemand: Let’s Be Cops

Every so often I am forced to watch some truly dreadful movies. I don’t know if the person inflicting these movies on me just enjoys watching me squirm or if there is some part of them that thinks maybe I’ll enjoy these slices of cinema that I am not usually predisposed to watching. Either way, I find it difficult to stop watching a movie once it’s begun so I usually end up seeing the garbage through to the end, knowing no good will come from it. This is the reason I even saw Let’s Be Cops.

To be clear Let’s Be Cops, while being almost aggressively terrible, is a movie I would

Let's_Be_Cops_poster

They just read the script

consider watching based solely on the cast. I already have a predisposition for TV actors jumping to Film (TV was and always will be my first love and I have a deeper “relationship” with those actors than the relatively larger stars of the cinema world) and I also have a deep and abiding love for the world of comedy (stand-up, sketch, improv, and the “alternative” performers thereof). Based solely on the cast list, this move should be firmly on my sweet spot. Add to that that the fact that I work in law enforcement in some capacity and I should be all in for this one.

But, then I saw a trailer. A trailer is supposed to be the advertisement that makes you want to see a movie, and if this was the best they could come up with to cut a trailer from, this movie must be terrible. Nothing worked and it felt like a sophomoric mess that should never have been made.

Seeing the movie, I can tell you that if nothing else that the advertising was accurate. Those trailer editors should be very proud of themselves.  This movie is a pile of hot garbage and keeps finding new depths to sink to. It’s stupid, ridiculous, racist, homophobic, spectacularly violent, and worst of all pointless. Not that all movies need to have a message, but this seems to take the stance that lying is bad, until it’s good but still it’s bad. Unless it lets you bang Nina Dobrev, then it’s fine. Speaking of, if this is why Dobrev left Vampire Diaries to “try new things in her career” or whatever, then she radically misjudged the cultural impact of this role.

The plot, such as it is, involves 2 friends who’s lives haven’t turned out the way they expected, who dress up like cops and then begin acting as if they were cops until they get involved in a cartoonishly insane arms dealing plot. I’m not kidding, this is what happens in this movie. Why, once they get the initial thrill of pretending to be cops, they don’t apply to be actual police officers and take us through a Police Academy retread I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t want the comparison to that far better movie. Whatever the reason, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. scream, mug, pratfall, and shot through this mess. Neither actor is engaging, or seemingly even interested in the film as a whole. Wayans, Jr. particularly seems like he just gave up on this movie about 20 minutes in.

I don’t have words for how bad this movie is. Especially when it becomes over long and boring. Then, even a last-minute, manic Keegan-Michael Key performance can salvage anything other than a bemused chuckle from the viewer who has been beaten down by this turd. F

Review: St. Vincent

One of the more difficult aspects of my love of reviewing media is realizing that sometimes, simply by the nature of what I choose to write about, that I will have to explain the plot of the thing I am talking about. Usually, this only leads me to wondering for a few minutes how to accomplish that without enraging the dreaded spoiler police. Then I am faced with a movie like St. Vincent and I am faced with a whole new conundrum, explaining the plot of a film that doesn’t even pretend to really have one.

stvincent

Like, I understand that they’re all stars (and the holy trinity aspect of the composition) but Lieberher really needs to be in this shot.

 St Vincent strives to be one of those “slice of life” movies, a movie that shows the audience a window into a person’s life over a period of time without really having any kind of plot per se. In this case we have Vincent (Bill Murray) bonding with new neighbor Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and how that friendship affects both of their lives. Vincent is a hard drinking, gambling, womanizing, general terrible person while Oliver is a 10-year-old kid. Everything about their friendship is wrong and shouldn’t work, but they (as often happen with these types of films) really impact each other’s lives in surprising ways.

Murray plays a man that you are supposed to hate. He is disgusting, conniving, and basically terrible. He plays the part so convincingly that you almost believe that he isn’t acting – the mark of a brilliant performance, believability. Murray has grown into a brilliant actor in the last 12 years. While his comedic talent has never been in doubt, 2003’s Lost in Translation really cemented him as force to be reckoned with in other genres. Lieberher is already a veteran actor at his young age but has the rare ability to act against powerhouses and not only hold his own but use his performance to add layers to his scene partner’s portrayal. These 2 together are magnetic, and their relationship is a joy to watch.

So good are their scenes that Melissa McCarthy, as Oliver’s mom, Naomi Watts, as Murray’s regular hooker, and Chris O’Dowd, as Oliver’s teacher, are given little to nothing to really do in this movie other than act as set pieces for the other two. As an aside, Watts’ character, Daka, is a Russian (or Russian-esque) character for no reason other than making an accomplished actress fake a terrible accent. Watts is already Australian, and there is no reason in the script that Daka needed to be Eastern European (Ukrainian maybe?) she could have just as easily been Australian for as much as her culture impacts her character.  Actors being forced to fake accents for no logical reason is a pet peeve of mine. The United States is a diverse place and people in all walks of life in all corners of the country have all sorts of accents. Unless there is a compelling script reason that the character must be from “country x” let them use their real voice.

ANYWAY

It’s hard to say anything bad about this movie. Yes, the pacing lags in spots and maybe it takes a little too long to make the point it tries to make. But, that doesn’t really run the enjoyment of the fantastic performances by Murray and Lieberher. A