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.

watch the trailer:


JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM (2019)

May 16, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Worlds are colliding! No, no … not in the way of “The Avengers” movies, but it’s kind of hard not to smile when Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne share a scene (or two) in a mini-reunion of THE MATRIX. Mr. Reeves and director Chad Stahelski are back for a third time, and somehow they manage to raise the bar yet again on the fight sequences. And let’s face it, the fighting and action are why so many are drawn to this franchise. This latest entry runs 2 hours and 10 minutes, and almost every bit is a frantic chase scene or violent fight … or both.

The film picks up mere moments after JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 ended. If you recall, John had killed a member of the High Table inside the Continental Hotel, an unforgivable break in the treasured rules. Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the hotel, has given his friend a one hour head start prior to issuing the “excommunicado”. It’s that order (and the $14 million bounty) that sends every assassin on the planet on Wick’s trail.

No need to wait for the good stuff … the film’s first two fight sequences are extraordinary feats of stunt coordination, and consume the first 15-20 minutes. Here is what John Wick (and we viewers) are in for: Guns (many kinds), lots of knives, a hatchet, swords, a book, enough broken glass to fill a recycle center, horses, motorcycles, cars, every martial art known to man, highly trained dogs, a public library, a museum/collectibles display, a stable, and a ballet theatre complete with dancers. There is even a current NBA player, 7’3” Boban Marjonovic, who battles John Wick and ultimately learns books can be used for something other than reading.

John Wick’s background is revealed, and his general level of tiredness reaches exhaustion, which actually adds an element to a character who is quite efficient with his conversation. There are a few people who are called on to help Wick, in particular we have Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, Anjelica Huston as the Ballet Director, and Halle Berry as Sophia, a former assassin who now runs the Continental Hotel in Morocco. See, even an underworld crime syndicate promotes from within. The segment with Sophia is one of the most fun, and it’s not because of Ms. Berry. Rather her beautiful and highly-trained dogs are scene stealers who are devastating in their commitment to carry out orders.

Other characters of interest include Asia Kate Dillon (“Billions”) as the Adjudicator, one who enjoys doling out punishment; Mark Dacascos (Wo Fat in “Hawaii 5-0) as Zero, the ultimate Wick fanboy who wants nothing more than to be the one who kills him; Jerome Flynn (“Game of Thrones”) as Berrada, the senior official who doesn’t negotiate fairly; Said Taghmaoui as The Elder from the High Table, who listens to Wick’s proposal. Other supporting roles are filled admirably by Robin Lord Taylor, Jason Mantzoukas and Susan Blommaert.  Of course, some of the most fun occurs again at The Continental Hotel as Reeves’ Wick interacts with Lance Reddick and Ian McShane.

From the department of “Give ‘em what they want”, the film has a very similar look, feel and tone to the first two, but director Stahelski (a standout stunt coordinator) and writers Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Mark Abrams keep it fresh with new characters, new props and some terrific set design. The early model computers are contrasted with the high tech gadgetry of the Continental, and with a body count likely higher than the first two films combined, this entry can best be described as brutally entertaining … is that even a thing?  The violence is vivid and excessive and non-stop, and if that’s not your style, you should at least know that the title is taken from the Latin “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – If you want peace, prepare for war.

watch the trailer:

 


DEEP WEB (2015, doc)

May 28, 2015

deep web Greetings again from the darkness. Even those of us who consistently obey the law have a general idea of how criminals work: robbing banks, stealing cars, kidnapping people, even hacking websites for personal information. Additionally, the vast majority of us have at least a rudimentary understanding of how the internet works, and the steps we take to increase security. Documentarian Alex Winter combines these two topics as he takes us inside the deep web … specifically Silk Road on the Darknet.

The Surface Web vs The Deep Web – the film exposes what most of us have very little knowledge of. The simple explanation is that the “surface web” is what we use on a daily basis: Facebook postings photos of our latest meal and YouTube video sensations showing cats fighting their mirrored reflection. The Deep Web is what lies beneath. This is the (mostly) untraceable technology where the underground marketplace site known as Silk Road exists. To be clear, most of the ongoings on the deep web are legitimate and in good faith – used frequently by journalists. However, the other side is how it obtained the nickname “ebay for Heroin”.  Yep, untraceable transactions for illegal drugs definitely happened (and still do). It turns out that Bitcoin is the ideal underground currency for this commerce, as it can be as untraceable as the drug orders.

You might recognize the name of director Alex Winter as half of the classic movie duo in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). Mr. Winter released a documentary a couple years ago entitled Downloaded, where he explored the rise and fall of Napster and the effects of downloaded music. This current topic is much more dangerous and secretive, and he wisely brings along his old buddy Keanu Reeves as the narrator. Winter’s approach here is initially a bit confusing, as the focus seems uncertain – is it a tell all about the deep web, or is it a profile of Silk Road, or is it an analysis of the arrest and subsequent trial of possible Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht?

Most of the attention goes to Ulbricht, better known as the Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR), a pseudonym snatched from the classic movie The Princess Bride. Is/Was Ulbricht the DPR? Winter is content to leave that mystery unsolved, but the real story here is how the government put the case together against Ulbricht – fabricating charges (later dropped), circumstantial evidence, and a probable breach of privacy.

The general belief is that we should have a free and open and secure internet, though most of us never stop to think what a ludicrous demand that really is. It’s the lack of privacy and ease of breach on the surface web that led to the development of the deep web – an anonymous and mostly secure environment. At least it was until the government went hard after Silk Road. Shutting down the non-violent drug transactions justified the law enforcement and political attention that the drug wars along the border never have. Is this a good thing? Is Ulbricht the DPR? Does it matter that after his arrest, his void was quickly filled by other opportunists? Do you believe you are secure on the web? Winter presents an exceptional amount of information that deserves even more discussion and explanation. That alone makes it time well spent.

watch the trailer: