Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Toy Story 4 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Jordan Peele, Keegan Michael Key, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks

Director: Josh Cooley

Synopsis: When Bonnie brings a new toy named Forky home, the new toy is unsure of himself and when he gets lost in an amusement park, Woody and the gang set out to save their friend.

Review: “So long, partner” as those words were uttered by everyone’s favourite rootin’ tootin’ cowboy Woody at the end of Toy Story 3, it was the perfect ending to a near perfect trilogy, or so we thought. Amid the waterworks that many audiences likely experienced at the time, we were led to believe it was the final bow for Woody and the gang. Yet those folks at Pixar clearly had other ideas, and while the news of a fourth film was greeted with initial scepticism, Pixar once again proved that they still have that magic touch.

In the years since Toy Story 3, Woody has very much fallen down the pecking order among the gang, with new owner Bonnie preferring to fill her playtime with the other toys. This is until Bonnie makes a new toy out of a fork, and appropriately dubs him “Forky.” It doesn’t take long for this little utensil becomes Bonnie’s most valued possession and so Woody takes it upon himself to look after him and teach Forky what it means to be a toy. Though matters are complicated when Forky gets lost in an amusement park, and Woody decides to go after him in an attempt to bring him back to Bonnie.

With each of the previous three films, they all developed the narrative in a significant manner. New, and memorable toys were introduced, and the toys themselves were put in emotionally investing predicaments, situations where the audience could relate to the dilemmas these toys were going through. This time around, though it is a it’s a story that does merit being told, it’s doesn’t quite feel as well developed as its predecessors, nor as emotionally charged as the three films that came before it. Though once again, Woody is very much at the centre of this new adventure, as is a very different Bo Peep, who makes a welcome return to the franchise.

Though Bo’s return is a welcome one, Woody’s old gang of toys such as Buzz, Jessie, Ham, Slinky and the Potato Heads are given very little to do and so they are frustratingly sidelined. However, this gives Woody and Bo a chance to rekindle an old friendship, whilst letting a new crop of toys to take centre stage. Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, bring the hilarity you would expect from them as a fluffy duck and bunny respectively. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves lends his charm and talents to the super cool Duke Caboom, a toy who’s clearly not shy of charisma or confidence, and who loves to strike a pose. It’s these three new additions that give the film bulk of the laughs, with Key and Peele’s comedy background definitely coming to the fore.

To follow in the wake of what Pixar achieved all those years ago, was always going to be a tall order. Though the themes that have been at the heart of this franchise from the very first time we met Woody and the gang all those years ago remain very much present in this new adventure. There are elements of this story that feel a little underdeveloped, and consequently they don’t quite recapture those glorious highs of the first trilogy. Going back to this franchise could have backfired, but as they so often do, Pixar reached for the sky to give those who grew up with these toys another worthwhile, immaculately animated film that earns its place in the Toy Story toy-box.

It doesn’t pack the emotional punch of its predecessors, but with a story worth telling and a delightful mix of old and new characters alike, you’ll be glad to go to Infinity and Beyond with these guys all over again.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Us (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Monkeypaw Productions and Blumhouse Pictures

Us – Film Review

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss

Director: Jordan Peele

Synopsis: As they relax during a summer vacation, a family’s holiday quickly turns to a nightmare when they receive some unwelcome, and very familiar, looking guests at their home…

Review: For someone who made their name for many years as one half of a very successful comedy duo, Jordan Peele’s career has gone in quite a different direction in recent years. As he has made the transition from comedy, to film-maker pretty seamlessly. After the success of the unnerving and furiously relevant Get Out, which bagged him a much deserved Oscar, Peele is back to terrify audiences once again.

At the centre of this new nightmare is Adelaide (Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Duke), and their two kids Zora (Joseph) and Jason (Alex), setting off for a vacation to their summer home. All appears to be going swimmingly with the family enjoying themselves. Not long after arriving however, the holiday goes a bit awry, when some visitors arrive unannounced. It quickly dawns on them that these people, who bear something of a close resemblance to themselves, have got some sinister motivations. Thus a deeply unnerving ordeal lies in wait, and the family find themselves in a fierce battle to stay alive, a battle literally against themselves.

Like with Get Out, there is a vast amount of subtext and deeper meanings to Peele’s screenplay that are definitely intended to mess with your mind. It’s not quite as politically charged as his previous film, but nevertheless Peele isn’t afraid to get across some dark and disturbing symbolism. He shines a light on humanity, and the human condition, which can be open to a lot of different interpretations, chief among them being is humanity its own worst enemy? This is far more than your typical home invasion film, and Peele’s direction in these intense dramatic scenes is masterful. Even with the haunting score from Michael Abels and Mike Gioulakis’s ominous cinematography, it’s proof if needed that you can make anything scary if you want to. You will never look at red overalls and scissors in the same way ever again.

To be asked play two very different versions of yourself cannot be an easy task for any actor, but it’s a task that every member of this family rises to in spectacular, and haunting fashion. Lupita Nyong’o has proven herself in the past to be a fantastic actress, but here she gives maybe the performance of her career as both she and her doppelganger counterpart are the leaders of their families. After his hilarious turn in Black Panther, Winston Duke is on hand to provide the comedy, and he does so brilliantly. When adding comedy into a horror story, it can be extremely problematic as it can negate the horror elements of the story, but Peele’s background in comedy ensures that the film stays on track.

Despite a mere two films under his belt as a director, Peele has in the last couple of years gone from strength to strength. It’s one thing to make your first film to be eerie, enthralling, extremely well layered and thought provoking in terms of its themes. Yet to follow that up with another equally thematically deep and haunting film is a resounding testament to Peele’s remarkable talents as a writer and a director. Get Out was by no means a fluke, and now audiences, especially fans of the horror genre (and their doppelgangers) have a new name to hail as a horror film-making force to be reckoned with.

 Brilliantly tense performance(s) across the board, especially from Nyong’o, Peele further enhances his reputation as a horror maestro with a suspenseful and thought-provoking sophomore feature.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Image is property of Legendary and Focus Features

BlacKkKlansman – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Suspecting that the Klu Klux Klan is planning an attack, black undercover police officer Ron Stallworth infiltrates the KKK and establishes contact, whilst another officer (Driver) poses as Stallworth when they meet face-to-face…

Review: It is scary to think that a film set in the 1960s could be a reflection of 21st century USA. Yet, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was exactly that, as it spoke volumes about the horrendous treatment of black people at the hands of police officers, something that is still horrifyingly relevant in 21st century USA. It is therefore all the more shocking that another filmmaker has come along, with another film (also based on true events) that also starkly reminds us just how racism and bigotry is startlingly prevalent in modern US society. Enter director Spike Lee, a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

The setting this time is 1979, as Ron Stallworth (Washington) joins the Colorado Springs Police and is soon appointed to become an undercover officer. When he finds a leaflet for the local KKK organisation, he bravely establishes contact over the phone and almost instantaneously strikes up a connection. To maintain the ruse another officer, Flip Zimmerman, assumes Stallworth’s identity whenever the organisation meets up whilst the actual Ron works behind the scenes, looking for any indication as to what the organisation could be planning.

To think that this is based on real life events is just completely astonishing for one thing. But also, to think that such acts of blatant racism and bigotry are still prevalent is equally nauseating, given that the very idea of one race being superior to the other, is to put it bluntly, absolute bullshit. Washington is superb in this lead role, clearly showing the talent that runs in his family. He portrays Stallworth as a guy who is intelligent and immediately likeable and you watch in anxiety as he goes about this extremely risky endeavour. As after a few exchanges, it comes across pretty quickly that, the members of the KKK are deeply unpleasant people and the risk of this operation going sour is very high right from the very first meeting.

Though having said that, there are moments of humour throughout which in such a heavy film, could be a huge risk, yet it all flows pretty seamlessly.  Lee chooses to tell this story in a manner that emphatically pulls no punches whatsoever, though there are some moments in which the pacing does suffer. Subtlety in such a heavy hitting story like this would not have been a wise decision, and thankfully Lee doesn’t choose to go down this route. There are of course two sides to this story as the story focuses on the Black Panther Party, and there are some intriguing moments in which the two movements are essentially shown side by side. While some stylistic choices are inspired, others are a little bit perplexing.

Spike Lee is a man who has not been afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the current White House incumbent and his inability to make a stand in the face of hate and division. And with this movie, and in particular the closing credits scene that utilises real life footage of the horrific events in Charlottesville last year. It is extremely thought-provoking and deeply moving imagery that will stir up the emotions. This bigotry and hate is something that should have been long since consigned to the history books. Yet unfortunately the famous saying “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” rings true now more than ever. Lee’s message is furious, it is loud, and it is crystal clear.

To think how relevant a film like this is, is frightening but the well balanced script, combined with excellent performances from Washington and Driver, make this an essential piece of cinema for this day and age.