FlixChatter Review: TOY STORY 4 (2019)

When Pixar Animation Studios released the animated feature Toy Story on November 22, 1995, it probably could not have imagined in its wildest dreams that the animation studio would be acquired by Walt Disney Studios, and would be releasing its fourth Toy Story movie, Toy Story 4, after the first three films received universal acclaim from critics and fans alike and made close to 2 billion dollars in the worldwide box office. Fortunately for Pixar President Jim Morris, and Pixar Chief Creative Officer (and Minnesota native) Pete Docter, all of these things did come true, and the release of the last Toy Story film, Toy Story 4, could not have come at a more perfect time.

Pixar has become synonymous with genuinely heartfelt, often hilarious, high-quality animated entertainment. And Toy Story 4 delivers just that for the Disney-owned animation studio. It’s a sequel to the massively successful Toy Story 3 movie of 2010, following the adventures of Sheriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), among other toys who reside with their human child owners, and try to bring them as much joy and laughter as possible.

While we did not review any of the previous Toy Story movies here, back in 2016 blog owner Ruth Maramis did a weekend roundup after having just watched The Secret Life Of Pets and re-watched Toy Story 3, where she said she was “blown away by how good and emotionally-compelling it was. It’s definitely much more than just a fun, feel-good kids movie. The Toy Story trilogy still reign supreme as the best animated movies ever, it won’t be a hyperbole to call it Pixar’s masterpiece.” Well I have good news for you, Ruth! Toy Story is no longer a trilogy but rather a list of feature film series with four entries (and probably one of – if not the – best four animated feature film series) and its will most definitely NOT be a hyperbole to call the Toy Story franchise Pixar’s masterpiece. In fact, Toy Story 4 could be considered the crown jewel of the franchise because it manages to maintain its superb animation qualities and the emotional complexities of its predecessors, while adding a major element of humor to its repertoire.

Ducky & Bunny – voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele

By adding the strong comedic writing style of Rashida Jones, among other writers, Director Josh Cooley added new toy characters such as Ducky and Bunny (voiced respectively by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) to a freshen up the animated toys used in the franchise. These two – a duck named Ducky and a rabbit named Bunny – make friends with Buzz Lightyear after he finds himself as a prize in a carnival booth. They exist simply for being plush toy prizes, and not belonging to any child. They long for the chance to escape their monotonous existence on the wall of a carnival booth someday and get the shot at an exciting life, belonging to a child, and of being a part of a family of toys. These are just two of the new and exciting toys in Toy Story 4, but probably the most ordinary yet magical new toys is Forky (voiced by Tony Hale). Forky was created by new child Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw) when she goes to kindergarten for an orientation. Bonnie instantly falls in love with Forky and it is the only toy she can ever think of when she wants a friend. But Forky… well Forky is much interested in the simpler life, one where he is quite simply trash. He was made from trash, and feels most comfortable when in the trash can. In fact, Woody spends the majority of the first half of the movie trying to keep Forky from ditching Bonnie for a less exiting existence in the trash. But by doing so, Woody also finds meaning to his own existence and understands that not all toys are meant to belong to just one single child.

One of the most exiting toys that I’m sure will be talked about long after Toy Story 4 finishes its theatrical run is named Duke Caboom and he’s voiced by Keanu Reeves. Duke Caboom may just be a Canadian daredevil toy with a white outfit, a mustache, and a toy motorcycle. But Duke Caboom is also a major hero, where he risks everything just so the toys he just met could be saved.  You see, Duke suffers from low self-esteem due to believing that he let down his previous owner (a Canadian child), unable to do the stunts that his commercial ads had promised. His current state is that of being confined to the shelved as an antique, but his backstory is equally tragic. When Woody and Bo Peep (voice by Annie Potts) meet Duke in pinball machine inside the spooky antique shop, the daredevil openly pines for what he once lived and lost. He tells them “You have a kid? I had a kid. I let him down!” You see, he wasn’t able to perform the stunts that his TV commercial promised. But he is given the chance to redeem himself and boy does he ever. You could say that Duke Caboom is my favorite new toy to appear in Toy Story 4.

Keanu Reeves-voiced Duke Caboom

The main arc of the story also introduces us to a doll named Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks). While at first, Gabby Gabby and her henchmen at the antique store (a group called the Bensons, who are silent but sentient puppets) aren’t very friendly to Woody and Forky. We learn that there is a very good reason Gabby Gabby is interested in Woody and taking something that is very personal to him. But Gabby Gabby is a vintage 1950’s doll that doesn’t get almost any attention from children, and this is what motivates her to take her existence into her own hands and find the one child who will love her like she deserves. This helps Woody, Bo, Buzz and the whole gang to ultimately find their place in life, whether it’s with one child or one that helps other toys, sometimes lost toys, to find their owners. This is where Toy Story 4 succeeds. It doesn’t try to be overly sentimental in its approach to humanizing these animated toys, but rather it draws on the emotions we feel as human beings on a daily basis; the desire to belong, to be loved, to help others. I think this will be the legacy that the Toy Story franchise leaves its admirers – to accept others and treat others like you want to be treated.

Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks

There is a touching tribute at the end of the credits – to thank and acknowledge the passing of actor Don Rickles, who voiced Mr. Potato Head in the previous movies. Also stay in your seats after the credits for a special bit involving the Pixar Logo and Duke Caboom. I can’t tell you more but I promise you that you won’t regret it. Overall, Toy Story 4 succeeds where the other three Toy Story movies also succeeded, but it also builds upon the franchise with great humor and a great ending. Perhaps the Disney and Pixar bosses will try to make a fifth movie in this franchise (just take a look at what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise) but it would be beneficial for everyone if they just let Toy Story 4 be the movie that concludes the franchise. Maybe take some time and reflect on the Toy Story legacy, and what it brought adults and children alike in the past 24 years. Then take another one of Pixar’s troves of films (maybe Inside Out 2?) or just go with an original concept (what a novelty!) and hope that it turns into Disney and Pixar’s next animated perfection and makes them “a bajillion dollars” in the process. Because by this time, you would be foolish to ever doubt Pixar, wouldn’t you?


Have you seen TOY STORY 4? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: US (2019)

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Written & Directed By: Jordan Peele
Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes

Jordan Peele has done it again.  He has given us Us, a horror movie that can and will throw you into your favorite existential spiral. Have issues with interpersonal relationships? Peele can prod at that.  Worried about the government or science meddling in things above their scope and being all secretive about it?  Peele can poke at that. Do you agonize over the complexity of the self or the soul or whatever we’re calling our essence these days?  Peele can haunt. your. brain. With Us Peele has created a piece of horror that is funny, visceral, meditative, vicious, wholesome (seriously, the Wilson family has no business being so heart-melting), and clutch-at-your-movie-buddy scary.

Us follows the Wilsons, a perfect American family of four (think warm motherly glances and bad dad jokes), through the most horrific night of their collective lives. One day into what should have been an idyllic family vacation, the Wilsons are confronted by a family that looks exactly like their own. But this other family is faster, meaner, and has a grudge to settle. Violently.

This is a film full of mirror images and reflections. There is a running theme of the number 11:11 (including a bible verse, which, imho, is a superficial reference only used because of its two elevens and threatening tone); a huge amount of visual storytelling done through reflective surfaces; and multiple recurring motifs and actions. Us is a thoughtfully crafted script (Jordan Peele) and piece of visual art (Mike Gioulakis), which will keep your mind busy making connections from start to finish and beyond – when you’re not too busy giggling with terror.

This is Peele’s second collaboration with composer Michael Abels who has, once again, created a creepy, beautiful backdrop to the film. The score is percussive, orchestral, grungy, and will undoubtedly raise the tiny hairs on the back of your neck.

Because Us is about a battle between look-a-likes (if you have watched one trailer for this movie I am not telling you anything you don’t know), we get the delightful experience of watching each actor conquer two vastly different roles. Evan Alex (Jason Wilson/Pluto) oscillates between a sweet and socially awkward boy to something terrifying and bestial; Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora Wilson/Umbrae) pings from a baby-faced pre-teen to a psychopath who will give you the shivers; Winston Duke (Gabe Wilson/Abraham) morphs from a nerdy, lovable dad to a silent behemoth; and Lupita Nyong’o (Adelaide Wilson/Red) goes from worried mother to something else entirely.

Although the bulk of the movie revolves around the Wilsons, there is a delightful cameo by Elisabeth Moss (Handmaid’s Tale) and, weirdly, Tim Heidecker (of Tim and Eric notoriety).

Watching Us feels a lot like solving a puzzle box. Peele introduces a mystery, gives you the tools to successfully solve it, and then beneath that first mystery is a second and then a third and then a fourth mystery. We, as viewers, get to successfully figure out puzzle after puzzle, but there is another one waiting.

My movie-going buddy complained about the frequent use of humor in Us, which I feel compelled to mention only because I disagree so much. Peele very effectively uses humor to both cut and create tension, which takes a very particular kind of finesse. Let’s all agree that movies that subsist in one measly genre are boring and thank the many movie makers (Jordan Peele included) who dare to explore multiple genres at once.

See Us.  You will laugh and cringe and while both your brain and heart melt.

And look out for the subtle nod to Get Out! Everyone loves an Easter Egg.


Have you seen Jordan Peele’s ‘US’? Well, what did you think? 

Quick thoughts on Oscars 2018 & the winners

It’s almost 10 o’clock when I started writing this post so this is not gonna be a comprehensive post. I have a busy day ahead tomorrow as my department at work is having a musical chair moment moving a bunch of us to new cubicles. Plus there’s also a snowstorm coming tomorrow (gah I sure hope I can still go to that Wrinkle In Time screening!).

Around this time last year, as I was watching the Oscar ceremony, I was still making changes to my short film Hearts Want for the zillionth time. So as a first time filmmaker, this year I got quite emotional as I heard the speech of Best live action short winner (The Silent Child), and she did the sign language as her film is about a deaf child.

Here’s the trailer for that short if you haven’t seen it already:


No comment on the red carpet as I tuned in rather late and I generally don’t care for red carpet stuff anyway. But there are some great frocks out there, these are some of my faves…

Well, the ceremony was ok overall, I enjoyed the retro-styled BW intro. ‘Armie Hammer was born when a witch puts a curse on a Ken doll’ ha!

I quite enjoyed seeing clips of classic films being used throughout the ceremony too!

It’s the 90th year of the Academy Awards, I love the segment celebrating 90 years of timeless movies!

I gotta admit I teared up a bit watching that… and it certainly made me want to go to the movies!!

 

As for the winners…

They’re all VERY predictable. I posted my predictions on Friday. I got ALL of the acting winners right so there was zero suspense in that department. The film I was rooting for this year, The Shape of Water, ended up getting FOUR Oscars out of the 13 it was nominated for, including Best Director AND Best Picture!

– Glad to see Sam Rockwell won, even though I have yet to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. To have THREE actors nominated from a single film is quite something and two of them won!

Dunkirk won for Best Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, as well as Best Editing. Well deserved on all three!! Dunkirk was a moviegoing experience like no other and largely because of the sound AND the way it was edited.

– Yaassss on The Shape of Water winning Best Production Design… the amazing, meticulously-designed set pieces truly transports me to 1960s Cold War era.

Allison Janney pretty much won every award there is for Best Supporting Actress…

– The one category I was rooting for Phantom Thread to win DID win!

– The venerable James Ivory (who made all those Merchant-Ivory films!!) won Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me By Your Name. Now, I’m even more surprised that this is his first win! Wait, what??

– And the one nominee practically everyone was rooting for… I bet even first time female DP nominee Rachel Morrison herself was probably ok w/ Mr. Deakins winning!

This tweet sums it all…

The Shape Of Water swept me off my feet in so many ways, including its beautiful, melancholic, romantic theme… so yeah, no problem whatsoever with it winning Best Score! Congrats Alexandre Desplat!

– I have been Team Shape of Water all the way, which happens to be the last film I saw in 2017! It’s films that I connect with emotionally that I love and remember the most, and this film did that and more. It was pure movie magic filled with amazing creativity and imagination… and heart. I LOVE his speech too, about dreaming big and believing in his own vision.

– This is the year for Character Actors!! Gary Oldman is a consistently-fantastic performer, an actor’s actor, who I’m always stunned to learn he’d never won an Oscar! Well, he FINALLY won one!

– Now, for the FINAL award of the night, I gotta say it was a bit suspenseful … but also humorous seeing Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty back on the podium presenting the same category they messed up so spectacularly last year!

But hey, they didn’t bungle it this year and I’m thrilled to hear the name of the film I’ve been rooting for…

I truly think The Shape of Water deserved the Best Picture win!

You can see full winners list here.


Fave Moments

Every year the host always does something fun that was rather unexpected, such as Ellen handing out pizza, Kimmel bringing tourists to the ceremony. Well this year Kimmel kind of did something similar where gathered a team of Oscar presenters/nominees to hand out snacks to unsuspecting moviegoers watching Wrinkle In Time. That was fun!

I haven’t really caught on who Tiffany Haddish was until recently. I can see why she’s so beloved, she is a hoot! I’d be down to have them present the Oscars next year!

This has got to be my favorite Oscar musical performance in a long time… not only was it a powerful performance by Mary J. Blige but the lyrics was like an anthem for the representation/inclusion/equality movement we’re having now. What a mighty performance!

 

I love this trio from The Last Jedi! I hope this role isn’t just a one off for Kelly Marie Tran, she’s just a delightful woman and surely a good actress too if given a chance!

Well, speaking of which, I know someone who’d agree with me on that…

And THAT speech! I love Frances McDormand‘s defiant, feisty attitude and her powerful, inspiring speech of representation and inclusion.


If you’re like me and had no idea what she meant by ‘Inclusion Rider’ in her speech, well, she kindly explained backstage…

Bravo Frances!! And congrats!! I hope to see Three Billboards next weekend, hopefully!

Ok, THIS is just hilarious!! Thanks whoever captured this moment of del Toro double checking that he indeed won!!

 


Biggest surprises of the night…

… not exactly a welcome one it seems.

I didn’t know about Kobe’s sexual misconduct allegations, but still I find it odd that he’s now an Oscar winner. I mean, it took how long for people like Roger Deakins to finally got his?? And SO many talented filmmakers still has ZERO Oscars!

I think this category could very well be the biggest surprise of the night. I haven’t seen Get Out yet as I’m not a big fan of horror films, but now I’m really curious to see it! Definitely another historical moment for Jordan Peele, what a year for him for getting a trifecta nominations at the Oscars with Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay.

I’m quite surprised that Lady Bird won zilch! I thought it’d win at least the screenplay category for Greta Gerwig. Having just seen it this weekend, I thought it was excellent and well-written. I’m glad it lived up to the hype!


Anyway, here’s the tally:


So that’s it folks, I gotta go to bed at some point.

What are YOUR thoughts on Oscars this year?


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