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.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Post (2018)

Image is property of DreamWorks Pictures, Universal and 20th Century Fox

The Post – Film Review

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons

Director: Steven Spielberg

Synopsis: When classified government documents concerning the Vietnam War end up in the hands of journalists for The Washington Post, they must decide whether to risk their careers and the paper’s legacy and publish these documents, whilst risking the wrath of the United States Government.

Review: There is something to be admired about those people who go above and beyond to try and report the facts in this crazy world we live in, especially at a time when journalists in this day and age find themselves under intense scrutiny. As so many people, especially certain world leaders, just dismiss stories about them that paint them in a negative light. Yet, the work these people do plays such a vital role in our society, and that cannot be ignored, especially when the work of journalists .

Indeed, the work of journalists has helped to break some pretty major stories like the enormous scandal that engulfed the Catholic Church, making films such as this and 2015’s Spotlight feel extremely relevant in today’s society. When some government secrets that reveal some shocking truths concerning the US Government and the Vietnam War fall into the hands of The New York Times, the US Government forbids them from running any further stories. When the same documents fall into the hands of The Washington Post, the editor Ben Bradlee debates with the paper’s first female owner Katharine Graham as to whether these documents should be published.

In much the same way that Spotlight was a very dialogue driven film, The Post follows in that manner. Therefore the screenplay has to be of a very high calibre, and that quality is ably provided by Spotlight’s scribe Josh Singer as well as Liz Hannah, marking her first foray into screenplay writing. Though the first half of the film delves into newspapers and business, it does mean that unless you’re extremely well versed in the worlds of newspapers, business, stocks and shares, then this could feel a little bit over-whelming. However, once we get to the small matter of whether the story should become front page news, is where it becomes very intriguing to watch.

Under the guidance of such a masterful director like Spielberg, the performances of everyone really shine. Yet in news that should not be surprising to anyone, the limelight belongs to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (more the former than the latter though). It is fascinating two of the biggest actors in the business, who had never worked together prior to this film, engage in some deep discussions about whether or not the decision is made to go to print. With this role banking her a 21st Oscar nomination, it’s little wonder that Streep is regarded as one of the finest women to ever grace the big screen, as no matter what the role is, she never fails to impress. Much like Streep, Hanks almost always impresses and as Ben Bradlee, the man who helped break the infamous Watergate scandal, he’s a man who is absolutely committed to telling the public what he feels they have the right to know.

Though the script doesn’t fully portray the important role that The New York Times played in the leaking of the documents, it does remind everyone that at such times when the press is under such fierce criticism, that this industry and indeed these people serve a role that needs to be respected. Otherwise politicians would try to  to sweep certain things under the rug. Though the film doesn’t carry the emotional sucker punch like Spotlight did, the key message about journalism integrity and the commitment to the truth retains its indispensable value to our society and our democracy.

Assured direction from Spielberg, and strong performances from Streep and Hanks ensure this trio of extraordinary talents provide a timely reminder of the power of the press and the fundamental aspects of a democracy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story 3 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Ned Beatty, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, John Morris

Director: Lee Unkrich

Synopsis: With Andy now grown up and heading off to college, having not been played with for several years, the toys face a tricky decision, whether to remain in the attic or move on to pastures new, or more specifically: Daycare.

Review: When you have made two films, the first of which redefined the genre of animated movies, and then you followed that up with another supremely well made and heartfelt sequel that built so successfully on the world that its predecessor established, that is quite the feat. Therefore, when you decide to complete the trilogy, let’s just say that you have an almighty task ahead of you to try and top what came before it. Leave it then to the animation powerhouses Pixar to complete their Toy-tastic trilogy in tremendous style!

Toy Story 2 had quite the superb intro scene, but here they somehow top it with an incredible action scene of sorts that immediately reminds the audience that there is no limit to the imagination when it comes to a child and the toys they have, whilst immediately hitting you in the feels with the “You Got a Friend in Me!” tune, arguably one of the finest songs ever written for a Pixar film. Though Pixar continues to make their films that work on both levels, it’s evident that this is a film that is geared towards those grew up with the first two movies, as they more than others will relate to the feeling of growing up and having that dilemma of what to do with the toys you once cherished more than anything else in your life. Yet as time progresses, that undying love, just slowly just fades away.

Blissfully unaware of what’s coming…

Indeed, this is the very situation Andy finds himself in, what with being off to college and all. Despite a last ditch effort to get attention, Woody and the gang realise that maybe now is the time to find a new life for themselves or risk never getting played with ever again. through a mixture of unfortunate events sees the gang end up at a children’s daycare. Their excitement at a new lease of life quickly turns to horror though as these kids have a VERY different take on the word playtime, and life with Andy is a distant memory now.

In Michael Arndt’s capable hands, the screenplay continues down the path that the first two films walked down. The characters continue to be well developed and compelling, including all of the gang you know and love with a couple of significant new additions. These being a Ken doll (voiced brilliantly by Michael Keaton) and Ned Beatty as Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (AKA Lotso) who is the leader if you will of the Daycare. Smell of strawberries he might, but he’s not as sweet as he comes across. The humour is also maintained throughout the film with a truly hilarious moment in which Buzz is once again convinced he’s a Space Ranger, except he’s gone a bit European! The dialogue is all vintage Pixar and it’s simply joyous to watch.

Though the first two movies had plenty of emotion in them, there’s a couple of scenes here that really pack the emotion in such quantities that if it does not generate an emotional reaction among the watching audience, in which they’re fighting back the tears, one would have to question whether they are indeed human. Pixar films are littered with such moments, but two in particular here, might just be the best of the best. With a superb ending that continues to pack that emotional weight and one that wraps up this trilogy in just about the best way possible. Trilogies tend to have the one film that trips them up, but when a trilogy comes along, with each film being about as close to perfect as it could, that is a rare feat, and kudos to Disney and Pixar for pulling it off.

It’s been quite the journey with Woody, Buzz and co, but as third films in trilogies go, this is one of those rare films that is as good, if not better than what preceded it. Another masterpiece from the brain boxes at Pixar.

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Image is property of Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story 2 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammar, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wayne Knight, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris

Directors: John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich

Synopsis: When a toy collector steals Woody, Buzz leads the gang on a mission to rescue their rootin’ tootin’ cowboy friend.

Review: Creating a sequel to anything that enjoyed incredible success is always an extremely tough act to follow, because well what you make is inevitably going to be judged on what preceded it. Sometimes though a sequel does improve upon its predecessor, but give that 1995’s Toy Story was in many ways revolutionary for the animation movie business,  that was always going to be a challenge for Pixar. Yet despite that enormous challenge, it is one they rose to and delivered another wonderfully animated, funny  and heartfelt story concerning Andy’s (and indeed everyone’s) favourite toys.

Instead of dealing with a new arrival among them, the toys are thrown into disarray when the leader of the gang Woody is pinched by a toy collector who happens to reunite Woody with some past associates of his. His toyknapper plans to sell Woody and co to a museum in Japan, which Woody greets with initial dismay. For Woody, who spent the majority of the first movie berating Buzz for his delusions of grandeur of not being a space ranger but simply a child’s play thing, now faces his own dilemma as to what a toy’s purpose is, and where does he really belong, given that Andy will not be a kid forever. While all this is going on, Buzz is taking the lead on a mission to find Woody and bring him back to Andy’s Room, with the help of a few of the other toys. Though it takes a bit of time to get going, once Woody is toy-knapped, it really picks up the pace.

“The force is with you young Lightyear, but you are not a Space Ranger yet!”

The original movie established these characters that audiences everywhere grew to love, not just the likes of Woody and Buzz, but all of the toys in Andy’s collection too. Impressive then, that there are a handful of new characters here as well that are so well developed and well realised, that it’s almost impossible not to love them too, namely Jessie the yodelling Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye, Woody’s trusted noble steed. The voice talent is truly of a very high order. On top of this, there’s a great villain, clearly inspired by everyone’s favourite Dark Lord, Darth Vader, this being the Evil Emperor Zurg, with a hilarious parody of an iconic Star Wars line thrown in for good measure. The story, much like its predecessor, is again a wonderful piece of work, much like its predecessor, it explores themes and ideas that will make an impact on anyone who has ever owned a toy in their lifetime, and if you’ve ever had to part company with said toy, it hits you where you live, kids and adults alike.

As well as the emotional tone, there is a great vibe of adventure and humour as we watch these toys go an exciting new adventure. An adventure where plenty of the toys really learn one or two things about themselves and also undertake some rather daring but hilarious ventures, like using traffic cones to cross a road, and mayhem ensues. As to be expected, there’s a handful of really good jokes aimed at the adults watching, in signature Pixar style. Initially, the studio planned for this to be a straight to video feature, but an eleventh hour decision meant that this thankfully got a cinematic release. It doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors lofty standards, but with that movie being one of the best animated films ever made, that was always going to be a tough act to follow. The studio reinforced their, at the time growing, reputation as a powerhouse of animated cinema, that would only continue to grow in the subsequent years.

Continuing on the path set by its predecessor, this superb sequel offers more well developed characters, tremendous voice animation, and a story with real emotional weight behind it.

 

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Toy Story (1995)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Toy Story – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris

Director: John Lasseter

Synopsis: Woody, a cowboy doll, is the leader of a group of toys that belong to a boy named Andy, but when a brand new Space toy called Buzz Lightyear arrives, and because a firm favourite of both Andy and the other toys, it creates a rift between the toys.

Review: Toys, we all played with them when we were kids, and chances are if you have had kids, or intend to, you will probably deal with toys all over again. And surely we have all wondered, what happened to our toys when we have left the room? Do they come alive and have thoughts of their own? Well if you have seen Toy Story, from the juggernauts of Disney and Pixar, chances are you might just have thought so at one point in your youth. This first collaboration between the two, with John Lasseter at the helm, was a match made in heaven, and while it was the first full length feature film to be fully computer animated, it has a claim to being the studio’s very best.

The story focuses on a group of toys, led by the jovial and upbeat Woody, who is the firm favourite of their owner Andy. This is until the arrival of the shiny and awesome Buzz Lightyear who becomes the centre of both Andy’s attention and the attention of all the other toys. Thus making Woody exceedingly jealous that he has been displaced as Andy’s favourite plaything. Even more so for poor Woody, is Buzz’s fixation that he’s not in fact a toy, but a Space Ranger charged with the protection of the Galaxy. It’s such a simple concept, but the story is outstanding with lots for kids to enjoy and plenty of adult references that will ensure watching parents get a good chuckle. What’s more, the voice acting is also first class.

Tom Hanks is sensational as the voice of Woody, providing calm and reason to the rest of the toys when they have an ever present fear of being replaced, whilst also showing authority over the other toys when he needs to. Tim Allen also is equally excellent as Buzz, Woody and Buzz are in many ways the polar opposites of toys, but this drives the movie on to the soaring heights that it does reach. The rest of the voice cast is also absolutely perfect from the somewhat aggressive Mr Potato Head, to the timid Rex.

The animation is also crisp, detailed and provides glorious viewing. Pixar set the benchmark for animated movies, and they’ve hit this mark, and then some time after time with lots of their feature films since Toy Story.  The debate as to the best Pixar film is one that in all probability many people have had, and it could be debated all day till the cows come home, but what is an indisputable fact, is Pixar’s maiden feature film revolutionised the genre of animated movies, etched itself into popular culture. It has themes of friendship and respect that we can all relate to, and is one of the best animated movies ever made.  To Infinity and Beyond, indeed.

In a word, perfect. From the voice acting, to the screenplay, to the animation, to the story. One for kids and adults to adore in equal measure, and deservedly so.

a

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Captain Phillips (2013)

All image rights belong to Columbia Pictures, Michael De Luca Productions, Scott Rudin Productions, Trigger Street Productions
Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Michael De Luca Productions, Scott Rudin Productions, Trigger Street Productions

Captain Phillips – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Michael Chernus, David Warshofsky

Director: Paul Greengrass

Synopsis: From the director of The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93, comes a factual account of the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009.  A group of Somali pirates board the Maersk Alabama and take Captain Richard Phillips hostage and demand a ransom while the US Navy pursues the pirates to rescue Captain Phillips.

Review: A nerve-wracking, suspenseful and riveting thrill ride. Right from the beginning of the film, the suspense immediately begins to build as Captain Phillips and his crew set out on their journey on their ship full of goods. As Phillips and his team set off, the perspective switches as we see the Somali pirates and what drives their malicious and cruel intentions. The fact that they must go out to these cargo ships and return to their superiors with hostages and or money, otherwise they will face dire consequences. This desperation is displayed emphatically by the leader of the Somali pirates Abduwali Muse, who is portrayed brilliantly by newcomer Barkhad Abdi in what is a fantastic debut big screen appearance. You see the dark desires that haunt him and the motives that force him to do what he has to do. You can see in his eyes his rage drives on the other pirates to carry out their evil intentions and that there is a point where there is no going back. It is either deliver the goods, or in this case hostage, or die.

From the minute the pirates begin their pursuit of the Maersk Alabama, your heart is immediately racing and you are kept on edge right throughout the pursuit as you watch it unfold on the screen. When the pirates board the ship, your heart still continues to pound as there is a constant fear that the pirates will at any given moment shoot one of the ship’s crew dead. For every action that is taken by both sides, there are consequences and these consequences can be fatal. You are kept on the edge of your seat throughout the raid. The suspense escalates even further when the pirates take Phillips hostage and threaten dire retribution against him unless they receive monetary gain. However, the final climax of the film sees the intense drama on screen go up another gear as the standoff between the pirates and the US Navy reaches an unbearable level. I could feel my heart pounding inside my chest as the climax was unfolding. Even after the film had reached its conclusion, my heart was racing.

Along with a great breakout performance from Abdi, Tom Hanks is on magnificent form here as the titular character. He is calm and collected when he appears to be facing certain death at the hands of the pirates. Yet at the same time, when he is put in this awful situation, he comes out fighting and shows the desire of a man determined to win his freedom and see his family again. While they are two very different characters, the two main men are both play out their roles exceptionally well. Yet the best is saved to last with one scene right towards the end of the film that leaves you completely taken aback by Hanks’ magnificent acting. This is a film that should at the very least land Hanks an Oscar nomination next year for his breath-taking performance and also maybe even land Greengrass a nomination for his outstanding directing.

This film is one of the most intense films that you will ever watch in your life. The two main men are brilliant in their roles. The action was incredibly intense and the score of the film was equally impressive. Great films sink their claws into you and ensure you are thinking about the film long after you have left the cinema. A thrilling adrenaline ride and this film is definitely has definitely sailed into one of the best films of the year so far.

Packed with terrific suspense, brilliant acting from Hanks and Abdi with masterful direction from Greengrass, a thriller that thrills in every sense of the word.

a