TOY STORY 4 (2019)

June 17, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Yes, it’s another instant classic from Pixar. No, we shouldn’t be surprised. Their track record is beyond compare. But I can’t help it. How the heck do they do it time after time, movie after movie? We have known (most of) the characters for 25 years now, and this fourth entry seems every bit as fresh and creative as the first one. We like these characters, and it doesn’t matter that they are animated. We laugh and cry and worry about them as if they are our friends.

Tom Hanks returns as our favorite cowboy Woody (yes, he still has a snake in his boot), and Tim Allen is back as Buzz Lightyear (still unable to grasp that he’s not a real space ranger). Also returning is Annie Potts as Bo Peep, now a strong, independent “lost” toy with excellent survival and scavenging skills. Some new toys and voices inject real pizazz to the adventures. Christina Hendricks charms as Gabby Gabby, a doll quite desperate for her own kid; Keanu Reeves shines as Duke Caboom, a showboating motorcycle stunt rider who may not be as daring as his big talk; and Tony Hale turns Forky into a lovable little cockeyed spork-toy. Also bringing fun and a new comedic element are the hilarious team of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as Bunny and Ducky, respectively.

The opening sequence takes place 9 years ago, and we see how Bo Peep became separated from the others, and how the toys transitioned to Bonnie and how Bonnie transitioned to Kindergarten, and how Forky transitioned from trash to toy. And fear not, the old favorite toys are all here: Wallace Shawn as Rex, Joan Cusack as Jessie (I expected a bigger role for her), Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger as Hamm, Blake Clark as Slinky Dog, and courtesy of archival recordings, two posthumous appearances by Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, and Bud Luckey as Chuckles the Clown.

With his first feature film as director, Josh Cooley follows up his screenplay for the brilliant INSIDE OUT with a touching and superbly funny film. The screenplay comes from Andrew Stanton (2 time Oscar winner, FINDING NEMO, WALL-E) and Stephany Folsom, while the original story credits are many, including John Lasseter in his last project with Pixar. Even though the film is Rated G, it should be noted that it’s a pretty complex story for youngsters, and the Charlie McCarthy dolls are kind of terrifying – at least to me and Forky. TOY STORY (1995), TOY STORY 2 (1998), TOY STORY 3 (2010) get the send-off they deserve, so “move your plush” and go see it! Randy Newman is back with a new song, as well as the familiar melody and lyrics from his Oscar nominated “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” … a friend indeed.

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EGG (2019)

January 17, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. In what would likely be more effective as a stage play than a film, director Marianna Palka (GOOD DICK, 2008) subjects us to first four, and then five adults, each participating in what is mostly a 90 minute exercise in passive-aggressive bickering. There are absolutely some moments of pure movie gold, and the premise is quite promising, but unfortunately the bulk of this movie experience is simply watching annoying people and listening to their irritating banter (courtesy of the first screenplay from Risa Mickenberg).

In defense, annoyance is the goal here. Former art school classmates Karen (Christina Hendricks) and Tina (Alysia Reiner) have arranged their first get-together in many years. Karen brings her wealthy snob husband Don (David Alan Basche, Ms. Reiner’s real life husband) to Tina’s bohemian loft which she shares with Wayne (Gbenga Akinnagbe). Karen is 8 months pregnant, Don is worried about his Cadillac in this neighborhood, Tina is a conceptual artist, and Wayne adamantly refuses to be defined by his work – of which he seems to have little.

Judging others seems to be the point of this little party, and as Karen calls giving birth “one of the most beautiful things in life”, she has to stop every 5 minutes to pee and eat, and repeat the cycle – all while being unable to sit comfortably. Riffing on how decisions are made on whether to become a parent, and how contemporary gender roles are defined, an abundance of societal commentary leads to a never-ending soft core argument. The bombshell hits when Tina announces she and Wayne are having a baby via a surrogate. Things get really interesting when Kiki (Anna Camp), the surrogate, joins the group.

The wheels go flying off when Kiki reveals she has been in a 5 year relationship with a married man, and that man’s wife is now pregnant with their 6th child. Kiki also talks about the 5 stages of womanhood … each seeming to be in service to man. The conventions of motherhood, and contrasts in suburbia vs. bohemian lifestyles are a central theme here, but none of these folks are the type from which we can draw any inspiration or insight. They are self-centered, insecure types with each trying to prove their high level of enlightenment to the others.

Mostly it’s 90 minutes of whiny women and whiny men, in what could have been a fascinating look at motherhood and the evolution of friendship between two women who chose different paths. There is a bitterness to the story and the characters, and uncomfortable discussions handled in such a way that the biting humor rarely hits its mark. Even the ending, which is totally believable, is unsatisfying given what we’ve been through with these characters.

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DRIVE

September 17, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. An art-house crime drama. That’s the best description I can come up with. Danish film auteur Nicolas Winding Refn takes the James Sallis novel and presents it like an art gallery opening … with operatic tendencies … and electronic music thumping straight out of the 80’s. Confused yet? My apologies, but I am trying to make the point that this one is different. No wonder it got such a strong reception at Cannes, where creativity has always been rewarded.

 Ryan Gosling stars as the nameless driver. He is a movie stunt driver by day and hired lead foot in his spare time. He partners with hustler Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) for the odd-jobs and they both dream of going straight by entering the racing world. To do that, they need a capital infusion from bad guy Albert Brooks. Yep, I said BAD GUY Albert Brooks. We all know Mr. Brooks as the wry comedian who makes us laugh at the world. However, trust me when I say he plays a really bad man. If you have seen Out of Sight, you have seen this side before. If not, you will be shocked.

 Gosling’s character is quite the loner, but he falls for his neighbor played by Carey Mulligan, who has a cute young son. Gosling’s dream of normal include not only racing, but also a domestic home life with these two. Small obstacle: Mulligan’s husband (Oscar Isaac) is getting out of prison in a week. When he arrives, Gosling agrees to help him square a debt with some bad guys. Things don’t go so well and Gosling’s dream of domestic bliss goes straight to Hades. Well, actually not all that straight.

As they tend to do, the bad guys (including Ron Perlman) run a double-cross and things get really messy. The middle 60% of this movie is as intense and thrilling as you could ever ask. Some terrific driving stunts as expected, but also some very nice “little” scenes as these most interesting characters try to make sense of many tattered loose ends. Refn’s camera work and lighting are very stylish, providing a noir look and the perfect feel.

 My mind was racing as I watched this oddly paced, minimal dialogue, intense story unfold. A few films flashed in my mind and I have decided there are elements of each: Bullitt (1968, Peter Yates), The Driver (1978 Walter Hill), Thief (1981 Michael Mann), To Live and Die in LA (1985 William Friedkin), and Heat (1995 Michael Mann). Additionally, Gosling’s character shares some traits with Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’. Now I am sure you are confused. How about one more: Gosling wears a jacket similar to Kurt Russell‘s Stuntman Mike in Death Proof, only this one has an embroidered scorpion and sure enough, we get the scorpion and frog story.

 Gosling gives a very solid strong, silent type leading man performance, and Mulligan has very little to do. Albert Brooks will probably get some well deserved attention at Oscar time. There are a couple of scenes that more and make this one worth seeing. One is the fantastic chase scene after the pawn shop robbery and the other is the most beautifully choreographed and violent elevator scene ever filmed, complete with mood lighting!

This one will be loved or hated by those that see it. Hard to imagine it falling in the gray area. If you are up for a twist on the traditional approach to crime dramas, and can handle some brutal violence, I would encourage you to check it out.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of any of the movies I listed above OR you want to see Albert Brooks’ Oscar worthy performance as one really bad man

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: anything described as an art house crime drama prompts an eye-rolling OR you think the hoodlum movie genre should have died off in the 70’s

watch the trailer: