Toy Story 4 review

For inSing

TOY STORY 4

Director: Josh Cooley
Cast : Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Joan Cusack, Madeleine McGraw, Keanu Reeves, June Squibb
Genre : Comedy/Animation/Family
Run Time : 1 h 40 mins
Opens : 20 June 2019
Rating : PG

            The denizens of Andy’s toy box are back, reuniting audiences with friends old and new in the fourth instalment of Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story film series.

At the end of Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and the other toys were given by Andy to a young girl named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). A few years later, Bonnie is starting kindergarten, and at orientation, she makes a new toy from arts and crafts: Forky (Tony Hale), who is comprised of a disposable spork, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, a popsicle stick and plasticine.

Forky becomes Bonnie’s favourite toy, but Woody and the other toys have a hard time dealing with Forky because formerly being a spork, this new existence has been unexpectedly thrust upon him. When Bonnie takes Woody, Buzz, Forky and other toys along with her on a road trip with her parents, Forky attempts to escape. While chasing after him, Woody discovers an antique store where the long-lost Bo Peep (Annie Potts) now lives. The antique store is also home to the doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her unsettling army of ventriloquist dummy henchmen. Woody must escape Gabby Gabby’s clutches and bring Forky back to Bonnie, as his unexpected reunion with Bo Peep upends his existence.

The Toy Story trilogy comes extremely close to perfection, and the announcement of a fourth film was met with understandable scepticism. We should’ve known that Pixar would deliver – while it may not have the richness and complexity that Toy Story 3 did, Toy Story 4 is an excellent addition to the series. Josh Cooley, who started out at Pixar as a storyboard artist on The Incredibles, helms a film that is funny, thrilling and moving. It’s a road trip movie that hits all the right notes.

Thematically, Toy Story 4 is about purpose, and what happens when purpose goes unfulfilled. The purpose of a children’s toy is to be played with, and multiple characters in the film long to be loved by their owners but have instead been neglected. This has been a running theme in the series, but Toy Story 4 emphasises it by re-introducing Bo Peep. Through the Forky character, the film explores what exactly it means to be a toy.

The animation is, as expected, technically polished. The film places familiar characters in unfamiliar environments, with the main new locations being the bright, inviting travelling fairground and the shadowy, dusty antique store. Key to making the fantastical premises of toys that come alive work is in establishing the world as believable and tactile, which is accomplished here. Great attention is paid to the geometry of the set-pieces, in which potential dangers and obstacles are highlighted before the characters attempt to navigate them.

Many of the voice actors from the previous films return. Once again, it’s Woody who drives the story, with Tom Hanks’ performances helping to further flesh the character out. Woody’s insecurities were the catalyst of the conflict in the first Toy Story film, as he felt threatened by Buzz’s entrance onto the scene. In this film, Woody’s insecurities manifest in his fear of becoming a ‘lost toy’, and he projects some of these feelings onto Forky. It’s a satisfying arc that makes sense for the character.

Bo Peep has been turned into a resourceful action heroine, not entirely unlike Rey from the Star Wars sequel trilogy – they even both wield a staff. Bo Peep was absent from the third film, with Annie Potts returning to voice her. Her relationship with Woody and his reaction to how she has changed play a big part in the plot of this film, and the film attempts to give both parties closure.

Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby is ostensibly the film’s antagonist, even if she’s not exactly a villain. There are superficial similarities between her and Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, the villain of Toy Story 3, but Gabby is a less interesting character. She still manages to be equally threatening and empathetic – the film’s horror movie-inspired sequences are entertaining but stop short of being legitimately traumatising.

Tony Hale charmingly captures the neuroses of Forky, who is caught in the throes of existential panic. The idea behind the character is a witty one, and the film manages to get more out of Forky than just the one joke that he’s a toy who’s freaking out because he was not meant to be a toy.

The duo of Key and Peele voice plush toys Ducky and Bunny and provide some of the biggest laughs in the film, with a standout sequence being their plan to acquire a set of keys from the elderly owner of the antique store. The movie uses them just enough, such that their presence doesn’t feel overly gimmicky.

Another standout character is Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). Reeves is enjoying a surge in popularity following the release of John Wick: Chapter 3, Always Be My Maybe and the announcement that he will be in the videogame Cyberpunk 2077. An Evel Knievel-type daredevil stuntman Duke seems to have come straight out of Robot Chicken. Reeves bring enthusiasm, gruffness and a hint of a Canadian accent to the part.

Director Cooley was 15 when the first Toy Story movie came out, and it’s remarkable that the series has maintained such consistently high quality across four instalments released over 24 years. Toy Story 4 offers up a beautifully realised adventure and engaging character dynamics, bringing more to the table than mere nostalgia. Yes, a fourth Toy Story film is not strictly necessary, but the film radiates such warmth and good heartedness that it’s useless to resist its embrace.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bad Santa 2

F*** Magazine

BAD SANTA 2
Director : Mark Waters
Cast : Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Ryan Hansen
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : R21 (Nudity and Coarse Language)

bad-santa-2-posterHo ho f***ing ho – everyone’s favourite chain-smoking, alcoholic, swearing, sex-addicted Santa is back. Willie Stokes (Thornton), a ne’er-do-well conman, thinks his days dressing up as Santa Claus with his accomplice Marcus Skidmore (Cox) playing the part of an elf are over. The duo used to rob department stores at Christmas, but after Marcus shot Willie eight times in in the back, it seemed unlikely that their partnership would resume. Years later, Marcus ropes Willie in to steal from the coffers of Regent (Hansen), the corrupt head of the charity Giving City. Regent’s wife Diane (Hendricks), who oversees the charity’s operations, catches Willie’s eye. Willie is forced to work alongside his estranged mother Sunny (Bates), a hardened criminal who has orchestrated the heist. The trio’s plans are disrupted by Thurman Merman’s (Kelly) arrival in Chicago. Willie won’t admit it, but he’s grown fond of the kid, whose father was imprisoned and whose mother died. As Willie spends Christmas with this peculiar ‘family’, the ruse is in danger of being uncovered.

bad-santa-2-billy-bob-thornton-and-brett-kelly

Bad Santa has become a cult comedy, an ode to bitter self-destructiveness that serves to counteract saccharine holiday fare. Bad Santa was shocking and irreverent, and suffice it to say, audiences are harder to get a rise out of 13 years later. The idea was first mooted around 2009, and Bad Santa 2 has finally come to fruition. Bad Santa 2 doesn’t try to top its predecessor in the offensiveness stakes: the language, political incorrectness and bawdiness are presented matter-of-factly. Director Mark Waters of Mean Girls fame replaces the first film’s director Terry Zwigoff. Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross’ screenplay is as salty as one would expect, with humour and dialogue that keeps in line with the first film’s tone. The overarching plot revolving around robbing the crooked leader of a charity gives the film enough structure for the jokes to be built on.

bad-santa-2-tony-cox-and-billy-bob-thornton

Willie Stokes has become a signature character for Thornton, and nobody quite plays surly like he does. While this is by no means a subtle movie, there’s a degree of nuance that Thornton brings to Willie that enriches the character. Things do get repetitive – there are only so many ways one can be belligerent. However, Thornton’s attempts to find the barely perceptible flicker of light deep within Willie’s blackened heart provide some surprisingly moving moments. It wouldn’t be Bad Santa without Cox’s double-crossing sidekick Marcus, and the two like each other even less than in the first film. It is generally funny, but again, the back-and-forth bickering can get tiresome.

bad-santa-2-billy-bob-thornton-and-kathy-bates

The big coup here is Bates. Many comedy sequels have used relatives played by big names to continue the story, with mixed results, but Bates is just what Bad Santa 2 needs. In meeting Willie’s mother, we see just why he’s so screwed up. Sunny’s term of endearment for her son is “s***stick”, and Bates works her way through the script’s myriad profanities with aplomb. She fully understands the cynical spirit of Bad Santa and is a hoot to watch. It’s fun to see Sunny pretending to be a kindly old lady, dressing as Mrs. Claus for the charity, and then swiftly reverting to her mouth-like-a-truck-driver self.

bad-santa-2-billy-bob-thornton-and-christina-hendricks

Unfortunately, Lauren Graham couldn’t return because she was busy with filming the Gilmore Girls revival for Netflix. Our leading lady here is Hendricks, whose patented mix of sweet and sexy is a fine complement to Thornton’s gruff curmudgeon tendencies. Of course, even given Willie’s multiple shortcomings, he’s just catnip to the ladies and Diane falls for him. It’s fun to see Kelly return as Thurman all these years later. While there are a great number of jokes at the expense of Thurman’s apparent mental difficulties, his naivete and sweetness and the effect he has on Willie give the film a semblance of a soul.

bad-santa-2-billy-bob-thornton-and-kathy-bates-2

A belated sequel to a popular comedy is a tricky proposition: in recent times, we’ve seen Anchorman 2 succeed, but Dumber and Dumber Too and Zoolander 2 fumble the landing. Bad Santa 2 takes another bite out of that acid-soaked candy cane, but there’s just enough character development from the first film. It is fun to see Willie, Marcus and Thurman return, with Bates’ brassy presence mixing things up.

Summary: As crude, mean and unapologetically funny as the first go-round, Bad Santa 2 avoids being merely more of the same thanks to Kathy Bates’ supporting turn.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Dark Places

For F*** Magazine

DARK PLACES

Director : Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Cast : Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult, Sterling Jerins, Corey Stoll, Tye Sheridan, Chloë Grace Moretz
Genre : Drama/Mystery
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 2 July 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Some Coarse Language and Drug Use)
Old wounds are reopened and dark corners of the past are illuminated in this gloomy mystery thriller. Libby Day (Theron as an adult, Jerins as a child) is the sole survivor of a horrific, possibly cult-related killing in the small town of Kinnakee, Kansas that claimed the lives of her mother and sister. She testifies against her brother Ben (Stoll as an adult, Sheridan as a child), who has spent the last 28 years in prison. Strapped for cash, Libby agrees to entertain the request of amateur detective Lyle Wirth (Hoult), a member of the “Kill Club”, a collective of true crime enthusiasts. Lyle believes that Ben was innocent and drawing Libby into his investigation, terrible secrets and painful memories are brought into the light.




            Dark Places is based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. Adapting the dense, plot-heavy book into a two hour film is a daunting task that writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner gamely tackles, but he ultimately lacks the finesse that David Fincher displayed with his adaptation of Gone Girl. The two works share certain similar themes, chief of which is the role that the mass media and public fascination plays in criminal cases. Libby is shown cynically living off the goodwill of charitable donations made out of pity, attempting to milk her own tragedy for personal gain not because she’s a terrible person, but just because it’s a relatively easy way to support herself. There is also some commentary on the so-called “Satanic Panic” that swept the United States in the 80s.


            The central case in the film, with its “small town with big secrets” intrigue, teenagers enacting dark rituals, the protagonist’s withdrawn older brother and his unstable much younger girlfriend ends up being not quite as interesting as it sounds. At the end of the day, even given the twists and turns and the emotional impact of it all, the plot feels like it might be something seen in a procedural television series like Cold Case or Without a Trace. The structure, which unfolds via lengthy flashbacks, is sometimes clumsily handled, especially during the tense climactic confrontation which feels like it has its momentum undercut.


            Charlize Theron brings a haunted, world-weary quality to Libby, calling upon her own personal childhood trauma to play the role. Like Libby, Theron grew up on a farm, and she witnessed her alcoholic father attack her mother, Theron’s mother shooting and killing her father in self-defence. Here, she is low-key and serious but one can’t help but feel she’s miscast. As good an actress as Theron is, she cannot fully pass for someone who grew up in the American Midwest, lacking the earthiness the character needs. Amy Adams, who was originally set to play Libby but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, seems like she would be a better choice. Christina Hendricks, who plays Libby’s mother Patty in the flashback sequences, is fine as a single mother at the end of her rope but her performance is ultimately somewhat unmemorable.


            Playing the earnest “kid detective” archetype, Nicholas Hoult is plenty likeable and Mad Max fans will get to see Furiosa and Nux reunite under some very unlikely circumstances. The younger actors are good but not great; they have to carry a considerable amount of emotional heft in the flashback sequences and the strain on them does show through. Chloë Grace Moretz, arguably the main star draw besides Theron, does have fun playing Diondra, a troubled, wayward “bad girl” who might or might not be pregnant with Ben’s child. Unfortunately, she does tend to go over the top, which is jarring even given that it’s not a subtle part.


            Dark Places is atmospheric and appropriately grim and its female protagonist is a multi-faceted character, but the end result is mostly mundane. Judging from the film posters and trailers, the main selling point here seems to be the association with Gone Girl, and while there are similarities, Dark Places is a far more straightforward affair and lacks the many gut-punching moments that made Gone Girl so spellbinding.
Summary: Dark Places is led by a capable but miscast Charlize Theron and ends up being a grim mystery thriller than doesn’t pack as many surprises as it promises to.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong