Toy Story 4

Very few movies make me cry, and even then, it’s only been in the last decade or so that I ever truly start bawling while watching an emotional film. To date, the only one that has made me fully cry on multiple viewings is Toy Story 3. If my reaction while seeing Toy Story 4 is any indication, this one may soon share in that distinction

As you may recall, Toy Story 3 ended with Andy passing on his beloved toys to little Bonnie (the scene that triggered a thousand tears). The toys came to understand that their time with Andy was over. He was growing up, and no longer needed them like he once did, but they could be there for their new kid as faithfully as they were for their first.

The toys are adjusting to their new life playing with Bonnie, all except Woody. He hasn’t gonna used to not being the top toy in town and he’s desperate to find his purpose in the new toy room. He covertly accompanies Bonnie to her first day of kindergarten, which is not going very well. That is, until she (literally) makes a new friend, Forky. Woody makes it his mission to take care of Forky and make sure that he understands what it means to be a toy caring for a kid. Complications ensue on a family road trip.

I think it only took me about five minutes into the movie before I started getting teary. I was tempting to blame it on the spiciness of the orange chicken that I’d smuggled in, but ain’t nobody gonna buy that. It was a few things that got me. The first scene was a sad one for a beloved character, but I noticed a few other things. Toy Story 3 made me cry because I recognized how the toys represented growing up and lost childhood. Here I noticed how pure these beings are. They are made of nothing but love and goodness, and it’s apparent in their every action.

The next scene kinda suggested to me where the movie was ultimately going to go, and every subsequent scene confirmed it. It added so much more weight to everything that was going on. But what really made it pack such a powerful impact was Tom Hanks. He gets it. He’s always gotten this franchise. From him talking about doing the voice for children to him interacting with Woody at the premier, he gets it. He knows what this franchise means, and he knows that he’s the heart of it. I could hear the gravity of that in every word that Woody uttered. That’s why I was nearly in tears throughout the entire film, and that’s why I was ugly crying by the end of it. As I left the theater, all I wanted was to see Tom Hanks standing outside the auditorium so I could throw my arms around him and cry into his shoulder. Of course that didn’t happen, so I had to settle for crying a bit thru my Stardust reaction.

It wasn’t all emotion and tears. It was funny as heck too. I was so excited to meet Forky, voiced perfectly by Tony Hale. We’ve had a neurotic toy before in Rex, but Forky was next level. Everything he said was pure gold, and I would say I have a new favorite Pixar character, except that it might be a tie with another newcomer: Duke ,Kaboom voiced by the one and only Keanu Reeves. If there is a level of pure joy that is the exact opposite of ugly crying, that’s what I hit every time Duke spoke. But I darenot say any more because the less you expect from him the funnier he’ll be.

It’s funny though, only a very specific generation gets this emotional with Toy Story. The kids in the audience were all smiles and laughter. The few people I spotted older than me looked indifferent. But those of us who grew up with Andy, grew up with these toys, and see these toys as a representation of our childhood, oh yeah, we’re hit right in the feels. And it’s so beautiful

Toy Story 4 – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Late Night

I’ve read Mindy Kaling’s books, so I know she’s a great writer. Turns out, she’s great at writing screenplays as well (not that I ever had any doubts)

Emma Thompson stars as the host of a late night talk show. While she was once the queen of ratings, her show has stagnated over the last decade, and she’s now faced with the possibility of her reign coming to an end. In an attempt to shake things up and save her show, she hires Mindy Kaling to diversify her writers room that’s otherwise full of white dudes. Normally this is where I’d say hilarity ensues, and while it was in fact very funny, it feels kinda patronizing.

When you think of a comedy, you think of something silly and slapstick and superficial. Not always, and I don’t mean to negatively stereotype, but that’s usually where your brain goes first. Late Night has the weight of a drama. The characters are complex and fully realized. There’s some insightful social commentary. There’s tangible stakes in the plot, and I loved getting a peek behind the curtain of a world I’m fascinated by. And yes, funny as hell.

Emma was absolutely relishing the role that Mindy wrote for her. Part of me was heartbroken to see that because I recognize it’s the dearth of meaty roles for older women that make this one so precious. But the other part of me just loved seeing her in her element. So with that, once again I implore you, support female filmmakers! Go see this movie

Late Night – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Dead Don’t Die

Mooovies. *shuffle shuffle shuffle* Mooovies. *shuffle shuffle*
The zombies in this movie gravitate toward what they loved in life. And instead of saying “braaaains” they say that thing. The preceding was me as a zombie in this world.

All I knew going into this was Adam Driver and Bill Murray battling zombies. That’s all I needed. I actually rather liked not knowing anything about this film because it meant that I could discover it as it went along and experience the absurd sense of humor.

Just a warning, this isn’t a zombie movie for the mainstream audience. It’s slow paced and it’s weird. It’s not a thrilling 28 Days Later or a hilarious Zombieland. This is a movie for those who don’t want the usual undeads. Everything about the style of this movie are things that I don’t typically care for, but for some reason they really worked for me this time.

First of all, that slow pace. Normally, I’d be bored and falling asleep. But the film felt so bright, it kept me in it. And since I had zero clue of where it was going, the pace drew out my anticipation. I was jumping out of my seat to know what was coming next.

And what came next was usually very strange. So much happened that was completely unexpected. The dialog was absurd, the humor was often brilliantly meta, the action took turns I didn’t forsee. The slow feel actually made the film feel very carefully made, like every element was carefully curated with a purpose. In my case, that purpose was often laughter. But judging by the people sitting next to me who left the movie early, that wasn’t the result for everyone.

There were some great surprises in the cast as well. Driver and Murray anchored it beautifully (I especially loved Driver’s dry line delivery) but there were so many wonderful cameos. Again, don’t look them up. Just be tickled by who shows up undead (but maybe don’t let the undead tickle you).

The Dead Don’t Die – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Men in Black International

I decided to go all out in enjoying this screening. Scheduling had me going on Thur opening night. I was told there were special MIB dark cherry Icees with collectible cups (we won’t discuss where that black coloring returned as fluorescent turquoise) , but after I’d paid way too much for the drink, I found out they had no idea what I was talking about with the cups. (It’s still on your FB page, AMC!) But I’ve loved this franchise and I wanted this to be a fun outting. I don’t know that this movie ended up being quite worth all that, except maybe for one little detail. We’ll get to that

When Tessa Thompson’s character was a kid, she met an alien in her room who was eluding the men in black. Though the MIB neuralized her parents, they missed her. She’s then spent the next twenty years finding these guys who walk in shadow and move in silence to guard against extra terrestrial violance, hoping to become Agent M. Once she does get herself recruited, she’s given an assignment in London and talks her way into working with the top Man in Black, Agent H (Chris Hemsworth).

Again, I chose to go into this film with a spirit of fun. I was going to enjoy myself, and I did. However, the film felt mostly underwhelming. While Tessa and Chris still had the chemistry they cultivated in Thor: Ragnarok, this film didn’t feel like it fully tapped into that. It felt restrained (perhaps since it was lacking the Will Smith magic). Nothign was really bad, but little was getting me really excited. I also noticed that walking out of the theater felt anticlimactic without a big rap theme song playing over the credits (although the theater did hand me a pair of MIB sunnies as I left)

Despite the overall lackluster feel, there was one aspect that knocked it out of the park: the casting. The first absolutely INSPIRED choice was using World of Dance champions Les Twins as aliens. If you saw them on that show (or on the YouTubes) you know that their movement truly is otherworldly, so putting them in this role was perfect. I don’t even know how else to describe it.

However, the single best part of the film, which simultaneously earned a half a point on my rating, and the main reason to watch this film, Kumail Nanjiani as Pawny. Pawny is a pocket sized little alien who joins M and H on their journey, and he is the cutest and funniest little dude this side of the galaxy. The things that he says and the way that he says them made me laugh hysterically every time. Pawny is the X factor that elevates this film from “eh alright” to “yeah pretty good”. And now I want my own little chess piece alien to pledge his loyalty to me and follow me around. That’s my takeaway from this film.

Men in Black International – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Secret Life of Pets 2

I’ve been leaning in this direction lately, but this year in particular I’ve given myself permission to sit out the kiddie movies that aren’t affiliated with the house of mouse. This one stayed on the list tho. Partly because it was lucky enough to be released on a mostly sleepy weekend, but also because I am very much an animal lover. And it was clear to me that this movie was made by other animal lovers

The movie follows a variety of household pets that live in various apartments in the same complex, and shows what shenanigans they get into while the humans aren’t away. And of course, they’re all voiced by beloved celebrities.

I may not have found everything so laugh out funny like the little kids in the audience did, but I did certainly appreciate the humor. I saw some of my own cats and the other critters I’ve loved in those that were on screen. Adorable.

This is also one of those that really benefits from knowing who the voice cast was. I loved Dana Carvey as Pops, the older pup on wheels teaching the ways of the dog to the younguns, but the true star for me was Harrison Ford. Ford is known for being kinda gruff and curt (in a loveable manner) and that’s exactly what his dog Rooster was. I don’t think anyone else could have captured that character so effectively, and I loved every second he was on screen.

it’s a light and quick diversion at the movies, especially refreshing in the midst of all these overlong CGI action fests. Granted, in a couple weeks we’ll get to see what the Toys do when the people aren’t around, but for now, it’s nice to see what the pets do

The Secret Life of Pets 2 – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Dark Phoenix

As obsessive as I am with the MCU, it was the X-Men who were one of my first comic loves. Long before Hugh Jackman donned his first set of claws, I was watching cartoons and reading books and playing video games. I was floored when I first saw they were gonna appear on screen. I remember when the second one came out, it hinted at the Dark Phoenix storyline, and I remember someone explaining it to me and I got really excited. Then The Last Stand came out and went into the storyline and it was rather unsatisfying, nowhere near the impact that I’d come to expect from it. Now we’ve got another attempt at it, this time with our junior X-people

We’re back in the early 90’s, before that first X-Men film was released, and our young team goes out to space (like you do) to rescue some astronauts. Something happens to Jean that should have killed her, but instead imbues her with unimaginable power. Power that she can’t control. Power that hurts people. Uh oh.

Because I love this X-World so much, I was enjoying spending time there with this cast and characters. I loved the sequences and their personalities and everything that I’ve come to expect. But that’s all it was–expected. Yes it checked every box for what should go into an X-Movie, but it would check the box and then move on. There wasn’t anything new added in at all. The film was completely going thru the motions.

It’s especially frustrating because this was supposed to be a redemption for a beloved storyline and it didn’t get any better treatment. Also not getting good treatment was Jessica Chastain who came in as a mysterious baddie. She particularly got the brunt of hte bad writing and didn’t have anything that’s worthy of her caliber of actress. But otherwise I can’t so much say that the film was bad overall, just incredibly lazy

Dark Phoenix – \m/ \m/ \n

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

I was not looking forward to this one. I did enjoy the last iteration of Godzilla, as well as Kong: Skull Island (which I’d only heard days before was meant to be connected to this), but I had concerns. For one, I was sick of how often I’d seen the trailer, but mostly, there was nothing about this that excited me. Sure, the monsters would look cool, but would that be enough for me. Not so much.

Normally paragraph two is where I give the plot, but I don’t know that there really is one. Godzilla is back with a bunch of friends and foes across the globe, and he’s our only hope to save the planet or something. Vera Farmiga invented something, but she’s mad at Kyle Chandler. Millie Bobby Brown is getting into trouble while Bradley Whitford is being witty. Godzilla stomps Tokyo or some other interchangeable large city.

The monsters really did look amazing. I saw this on IMAX (not full size, but good enough) and my jaw was agape for the entire third act. It was so beautiful. Had this been a fifteen, even thirty minute short with some big slimy things pawing at each other, I’d have eaten it up. But you stretch it into a 2+ hour movie, I need more. Substance of some sort, more developed plot, more dimensional characters, some bit of protein amidst the creature carbs.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – \m/ \m/

Rocketman

A story. At the end of high school, a big arena opened in our home town for a minor league hockey team (which I still don’t understand) and big concerts. One of the first ones was Elton John. About a week before the show, a pair of tickets arrived for me in the mail. Apparently I had won some sort of contest? To this day, I still don’t have any memory of entering, but cool free concert tickets. Except at that point, all I knew about Elton was that he’d done the music for The Lion King and I knew “Tiny Dancer”. I’d recently seen Almost Famous for the first time, and fell in love with that song as a result, but it’d be a few years before I officially designated it as my favorite song (which it still is, but my ultimate version of it is Ben Folds’ cover).

I tried unsuccessfully to sell the tickets, but finally decided it’d be worth going to hear that song performed live. A friend who was not yet out to his parents decided to come with and sit in the nosebleed seats, giving up the baller seat he had with his parents, so he could fully enjoy the show. Cool.

Two other friends had gotten tickets too and were seated across the arena. “Tiny Dancer” was one of the first few songs that played, and I loved it. Shortly thereafter, I got a message from the other friends that they’d left for some reason. I don’t remember much else of the show cause I didn’t really know anything. The concert ends, lights come up, and it’s noisy as everyone is trying to get out and go home. My phone rings. It’s one of the friends who bailed. She’s asking me how the rest of the show was, and I’m having a hard time hearing her. Then this happened:
“Did he play Your Song?”
“Yeah he played my song. You were still here for it.”
“No did he play Your Song?”
“Yes, I told you, It was before you left”
“No, I mean Your Song”
“Yeah, my song. Tiny Dancer. You heard it”
“He has a song called Your Song. Did he play it?”
“Really? Oh I have no idea”

Over time, I’ve of course come to know and love Your Song and so many others of his songs, and I have nothing but love and respect for this man. When he announced the beginning of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour last year, I snatched up tickets for a show a few months back. This looked like it could be my last chance to see this man live, acutally knowing his music, and my final opportunity to hear my all time favorite song. I bawled so hard when Tiny Dancer started playing (I’m sure you can hear me sobbing in the video I took on my phone).

So now there’s a movie about the Rocketman himself, and it was something I was oh so very excited about. The film promised a fantasy element to it and I really wanted to know what that meant. Turns out, it means that this feels more like a Broadway musical than a movie (something I can absolutely get behind). While some songs are performed on stage, many of them are performed by characters “singing their feelings” (but not as cheesy as I made it sound). Sequences were staged and choreographed with a heightened reality to represent what was happening instead of literally showing it. I ate up every second. There was this sense of spectacle that you don’t get in a typical rock biopic, and it was befittting a man known for his theatrics.

Taron Egerton was perfect as Elton, as I expected when I first saw him KILL an Elton song as a singing gorilla. Part of the Broadway vibe meant we had new arrangements so Taron sang everything, in a way that made sense for the story. As soon as I hit my next payday, I am buying that soundtrack. And I’m sure singalong screenings are inevitable, so lemme know when they’re starting and then SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY

Besides Taron, I adored Jamie Bell as John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin. Bernie is as important to the music as Elton, and I enjoyed seeing his side of the story. His sympathetic bestie character stole my heart, and I lit up every time I saw him.

Inevitably, there’s gonna be comparisons to last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but I think that’s a bit unfair. They have different approaches, one being more traditional biopic (BoRap), the other being more artistic (RMan). Maybe not quite apples and oranges, but at least red delcious and granny smith. I will say that while I appreciate the artsy approach, I didn’t get a big Live Aid type sequence that made me feel like I need to keep running back to the theater. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few days I find myself reserving another ticket. I’ll def be doing that for the singalongs tho

Rocketman – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m

Booksmart

I got the first two movies of the long weekend in Chicago out of the way before I met up with my buddy, but I still had one left. After we met up and he defended (and passed yay!) I told him I was all his for the next day. If he wanted to have the sleep in to end all sleep ins, I would happily go to the movies in the morning and catch him later. “What movie?” he asked and long story short we met up in the afternoon to watch this together. It was quite fitting for the occasion.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are best friend overacheivers finishing up high school. They’ve kept their heads down for four years and gotten all their work done so they can get into good schools. Parties were for the other kids, the losers who’d never be anything. Until they find out that the losers all got into equally good schools. Was it really possible to enjoy the best of both worlds? The night before graduation would be their one chance to see if it was possible, to party like there was no tomorrow.

High school movies can be tough for me because I didn’t have the best social experience, and I identified oh so very hard with these straight edge gals. I loved that I finally felt represented in one of these type of teen comedies. That was actually only the beginning of what I loved.

I also loved how this was a raunchy teen comedy that wasn’t based around sex. Yes, that was part of it, but the basis was the friendship between our two leading ladies, whom I adored. Beanie caught my eye long ago, and I love that she’s been promoted from quirky bestie commanding the film. Although Billie Lourd in her surprise supporting role was the one who truly stole the film for me. Every time she appeared (which was always unexpected) she walked away with that scene.

The whole thing was just very smartly written. The humor was clever (even if some of the story got a tad absurd for my taste), it felt very grounded, the characters felt real. One thing I also appreciated was that it was highly LGBTQ friendly without making it “a thing”. Dever’s character just happened to like girls, and that was cool. It was an organic part of the story, but it was never a source of conflict. It’s just a part of who she was, as it should be.

It’s such a bummer that this didn’t get the box office love it deserved, but if the word of mouth is any indicator, it’ll grow to be a big hit over time as it’s discovered. Olivia Wilde did something fantastic with her directorial debut (side note: I love the role she found for her boo Jason Sudeikis ) and it absolutely earned its spot in the high school comedy lexicon

Booksmart – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Aladdin (2019)

If you know me at all, you know that the original 1992 animated Aladdin is my all time favorite movie. It’s not even a question. I can probably quote the entire film, I watch it every year on my birthday, I’ve seen it on Broadway, I chase Al at Disneyland, it’s my ultimate happy place. Obviously that means there was a lot riding on this remake for me, and I’ve never been so scared to see a film. All of the Disney remakes thus far have been beautiful in the moment, but quickly forgotten, rendering them unnecessary at best. But it could very easily be so much worse than that. I won’t go into all the fears I had, but as a result I went into the film with very tempered expectations.

I’d gone to the very first early AM Dolby screening that Friday while I was still in Chicago. I had just enough time to watch the movie then catch an uber to my buddy’s thesis defense. It started with Will Smith singing Arabian Nights, not the best singer, but it got the job done. I noticed some updated lyrics and a bit of the Broadway arrangement. We started moving into the first couple scenes when it hit me: this was working! Everything was going to be okay! I teared up out of relief and then allowed myself to just sit back and bask in the magic of it all.

Don’t get me wrong, it in no way holds a candle to the original, but there was a lot going for it that I enjoyed. For me, the biggest win was Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. Jas has always been my favorite princess by default (even though I really hate that I essentially pick her because I love her man), but Scott EARNED that title. I love that the Princess has always been strong independent woman who will not be tied down by any man, but this princess took it one step further. She didn’t ,just not wanna be a prize to be won, she wanted to be the freaking sultan and rule over the kingdom. YAASSS QUEEN! (SULTAN) She even had a new song (and its reprise) to prove exactly how powerful she could be AND there were some slight changes along the way that made her much more pivotal to the story. All the yes!

More yes: it looked gorgeous. The costumes, the sets, the Disney magic. All of it was stunning (and I really hope there’s a costume Oscar in this film’s future). We had some big Bollywood dancing (Aladdin could dance! Even if there were some stunt doubles involved).

Now about Will Smith as the Genie. He may have been the most controversial element going in. Few had faith in him, but I wasn’t actually too concerned. We all knew he’d never be Robin Williams, and he had the foresight to not try to go that route. Those first costume photos suggested to me that he’d be going the Broadway/James Monroe Iglehart route. He didn’t quite go there either. He was the Fresh Prince genie. It worked, but I felt like he played it a bit safe. They didn’t expand Friend Like Me like they could have (the Broadway upgrade is a literal showstopper–standing O midshow). Outside the songs tho, he certainly had the charisma and the presence to be the Genie. He may have been a little lackluster, but he didn’t drown.

Look there’s so much more I can talk about with this one. I’ve been talking about it non stop for the past week. Hell, I’ve been talking about it since it was announced. Again, everyone knows how much I love Aladdin so everyone knows I have an opinion here, and everyone knows I’m more than happy to give movie opinions on command. This will still never touch the original. Maybe it didn’t need to exist (except maybe to update a few problematic cultural issues). But I prolly would have been upset if this never got a shot at a live action redo. Anyways, all that is to get to my point that as a companion piece to the original, it’s a nice film. I thoroughly loved my visit to Agrabah, and it’s nice having another way to get there.

Aladdin – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/