Monthly Archives: June 2019

Fork in the Road

The toys are back, looking for love, meaning and life beyond the bedroom closet

nullToy Story 4
Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele
Directed by Josh Cooley
G

The Toy Story movies, you know, were always about more than toys.

They drilled deep into emotions that resonated on multiple levels with parents as well as kids—about friendship and loyalty, the importance of imagination and play, and the deep, long-lasting bonds that children can (and do) have with playthings that moms and dads don’t always fathom.

And now, nearly 25 years after the original Toy Story in 1995, the toys have come to a fork in the road.

 

Make that a spork, actually—a brand-new character, Forky, around which this new installment of the celebrated Disney-Pixar franchise crafts its fabulous, fanciful kaleidoscope of a tale.

TOY STORY 4At the beginning of Toy Story 4, things aren’t looking so good for Woody, the original plastic cowboy (voiced as always by Tom Hanks). You might remember that, at the end of the previous film, he and his fellow playthings were given by their previous owner, the college-bound Andy, to a new kid, a little girl named Bonnie.

But now Woody is gathering dust bunnies in Bonnie’s closet. She rarely plays with him anymore, and his sheriff’s star has been pinned on cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack). And Bonnie’s new favorite toy is a crude craft project—Forky—she’s made using bits and pieces of classroom flotsam and jetsam from her kindergarten wastebasket. He’s a plastic spork with gangly pipe-cleaner arms, glued-on googly eyes, broken-off popsicle-stick feet and a mouth made with a dab of modeling clay.

Bonnie adores Forky (voiced by Veep’s Tony Hale), but Forky is oblivious,; he doesn’t even know he’s a toy. He doesn’t know much of anything—he’s only been around for one day, and the only word, or concept, he knows at first is “trash.” Forky thinks he is trash, and he keeps trying to return to his roots, flinging himself into any nearby garbage bin or trash can. Trash is his world.

And all of that is before the movie really kicks into gear—when Bonnie and her family, and her toys, go on a road trip. That’s when Forky eventually makes his break for freedom, Woody sets off to find him, and the setting expands to a carnival, an antique store, colorful new characters and a rousing, rollicking adventure.

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Bo Peep introduces Woody to Boom Caboom.

Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is a cherubic (but creepy) 1950s doll missing more than one thing that Woody has—and she’ll do almost anything to get it, with the help of her crew of silent-sentinel ventriloquist dummies. Woody reunites with the shepherd Bo Peep (Annie Potts), now a “Lost Doll” whose porcelain shell has been hardened even more by life on the “outside.” (“You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen,” she tells Woody. “Some kids play rougher than others.”). Peep introduces Woody to Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), an angst-riddled motorcycle daredevil. A pair of carnival-prize plushies (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), Ducky and Bunny, become essential to the plot, and audience favorites.

Gung-ho astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) gets in on the action, but the rest of the old Toy Story crew—Rex the timid dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton)—is pretty much on the sidelines; a line here, a scene there. The real story in Toy Story 4 spins around Forky, and the journey of maturity and self-discovery for Woody to which it leads.

Just as the original Toy Story was never just about toys, Toy Story 4 isn’t just about the new toy made from a spork. First-time feature director Josh Cooley (whose previous experience was mainly with Pixar shorts) steps up to the plate and absolutely delivers (from a script with some 10 sets of handprints on it)—this is another franchise triumph of meta, existential cleverness, pop-culture Easter eggs, high-spirited humor, swelling, sweeping emotions and Disney-Pixar’s typical stratospheric standards of animation excellence. It’s about lost toys that find their purpose, bittersweet partings, happy reunions, and how—as the old saying goes—one person’s trash can, indeed, become someone else’s treasure. It’s about how toys need love, not just batteries.

Toy Story 4 is everything you want in a Toy Story movie, and more—rich with detail, full of fun and adventure, spiced with excitement, peril and bits of darkness, comfortingly familiar and yet—once again—pushing its story into a new direction and expanding its characters and its scope.

It’s about growth, closure, choices, endings and beginnings, friends old and new, family, empathy and understanding, all wrapped up in the eternal mystery of nothing less than life and existence itself.

If a spork, made from bits and pieces from a waste basket, can become a beloved toy…if an inanimate object can be loved, maybe even come to life, just because someone gives it a name, and loves it… Well, anything is possible—maybe even a Toy Story 5.

Where next? To infinity and beyond, of course!

In theaters June 21, 2019

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Paint It Black

Hemsworth & Thompson Stranded in Messy, Meandering New MIB Relaunch

1233076 - MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL

Men in Black: International
Starring Chris Hemsworth & Tessa Thompson
Directed by F. Gary Gray
PG-13

Those pesky aliens.

They keep plotting, keep invading, keep marauding, keep scheming, keep sneaking around the cosmos—and keep the Men in Black in business.

This is the fourth in the Men in Black action-comedy franchise, which began back in 1997 with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as a pair of dapper-cool partners in a super-secret organization that monitored extraterrestrial activity on Earth. Smith, fresh off his TV success as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Jones, an Oscar-winning actor for The Fugitive, went on to star in two MIB sequels.

But they’re not in Men in Black: International, which signals a fresh start for the sci-fi series with new stars and a nod toward gender parity.

Chris Hemsworth stars as H, a top agent in MIB’s London branch. A dashing, devastatingly handsome doofus, he’s certainly got a few cocky strains of James Bond somewhere in his DNA—when he beds a seductive space-alien vixen, for instance, so that they both may get something they want.

Tessa Thompson plays Molly, who comes aboard MIB—as Agent M—after an early-childhood close encounter with a cute-and-cuddly space alien left her insatiably curious about the wonders of the universe.

MIB Intl_2Hemsworth, of course, is best known for playing Thor, in his own spinoff Marvel movies as well as alongside The Avengers. Pop culture fans will connect that he and Thompson aligned previously in Thor: Ragnarok (she played the Norse battle goddess Valkyrie) and in Avengers: Endgame. (Just in case you need a reminder, there’s a whimsical Thor reference, when H needs a quick assist in a fight scene.)

Hemsworth and Thompson synch into a nice, easygoing synergy as MIB partners; he’s always had some fine comedic chops, and she’s a rising star from her roles in Westworld, two Creed movies and Selma. But director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Law Abiding Citizen, The Fate of the Furious) doesn’t give them much fodder for their chemistry to spark. The movie skips along, from London to Paris to Naples and Marrakesh, without much of a reason—other than to justify the “International” in its title, I suppose.

The sets scream backlot and green-screen projections, and the plot is a knot of messy shoestrings of barely connected ideas about a mole in MIB, a sinister cosmic force called the Hive, and an uber-destructive whatzit coveted by a couple of breakdancing alien assassins (played by French performance artists Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, identical twins who won, as an act called Les Twins, season one of NBC’s World of Dance in 2017).

Emma Thompson (Finalized)

Emma Thompson

Liam Neeson is High T, the head of MIB’s London branch, and Emma Thompson reprises her role from 2012’s MIB 3 as Agent O, the head of the agency’s American division. Rebecca Ferguson plays Riza, a sadistic alien arms dealer—with an extra set of arms.

But a little computer-animated alien character, the pocket-sized Pawney (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), steals the show. He gets the best lines and the snappiest jokes, and the movie’s energy surges whenever he’s on the screen.

Mostly, though, MIB: International strands its cast and its franchise with a script that feels stale and cookie-cutter, underwhelming F/X, a messy, meandering plot and a shortage of the crisp, feisty zip and zing that made the original movie so much gosh-darn fun.

MIB Intl Kamal

Kumail Nanjiani provides the voice of Pawny

There are homages and in-jokes pointing to the franchise’s past, aliens of every shape and size, and lots of shiny, E.T.-zapping guns and weaponry. When Neeson’s character notes the “intergalactic refugees seeking protection on Earth,” it’s difficult to dismiss the connection to real-world refugees. And the vehicles! One car is an arsenal of hidden defensive hardware; subway trains transform into sleek, interdimensional trams; H and M soar around on a jet cycle that, with the push of a button, leaps into hyperspace.

And speaking of leaping, there’s the issue of a woman breaking the glass ceiling and eagerly jumping into a legion of men—the Men in Black. It only took, what, 22 years? Early in her recruitment process, Molly (Tessa Thompson) asks O (Emma Thompson) why they aren’t called Women in Black.

“Don’t start,” O cuts her off. “I’ve had the conversation.” In other words, the MIB patriarchy is solid, established, entrenched—and it is what it is. It’s a man’s world, a boy’s club—and a film franchise that’s already earned some $1.65 billion with “Men” in the title.

But Tessa Thompson enthusiastically makes her “M” mark.

In the end, she’s in the driver’s seat, quite literally—proving M can not only pilot H’s car, but that Thompson can also take control of Hemworth’s summer-blockbuster movie.

“I’m smart, I’m motivated and I look good in black,” M says. Yep, she sure is and she certainly does, especially in a movie that needs all the drive she can give it.

In theaters Friday, June 14, 2019