How Are We Alive (Toy Story 4, 2019)

Toy_Story_4_PosterHonestly, the Toy Story films are something rare.  Never feeling like a cash grab when you actually watch them, they stand together in a way other animated franchises rarely do….even from Pixar.

Each film finds some new approach to its characters, new and thoughtful hopes and fears. And this time it is no different.  Though, the big questions are…well bigger.

Before the story begins proper, the film addresses why we did not see Bo Peep in the third film.  Granted, Bo is mentioned in a moment of that film as having been given to a new home, but here we get an action packed opener set several years ago, when the toys were still Andy’s.  Unlike the previous two films, which showed us Andy’s imagination, this sequence is the toys trying to save another toy in danger of being lost in a storm. This sets Bo up as being a bit more action oriented, since in earlier films, she is never given a lot to do, other than be the presumed love interest of Woody.

Everyone is shocked to find Bo is being given away, as Molly (Andy’s little sister) no longer is interested her. Bo tells Woody it will be okay and then the film picks up present time, with young Bonnie terrified of her first day at Kindergarten.  Against everyone’s recommendations, Woody stows away with Bonnie. At school, she creates a little friend she nicknames Forky.  When Woody sees how much joy he brings Bonnie, he becomes convinced he must protect Forky at all costs.

When the family takes a road trip, Woody and Forky become separated, they run into several obstacles when trying to get back to the family.

And honestly, the film works most of the time.  What happens to lost toys? Well, here we see a whole tribe under the loose care of Bo Peep.  I liked this adventuresome Bo Peep who represents a possibility that has never occurred to Woody.

There are also a lot of fun new characters, such as Duke Caboom and Giggle McDimples.

The biggest problem of the film is its central conflict character. Gabby Gabby is set up right away as a dark character.  We eventually learn the reasons why, and unlike Lotso in part three, she is offered a redemptive arc. Unfortunately, it is so rushed that it makes things very problematic.  I was not sure initially if it bothered me…but how it plays out could have been done in such a better way.

However, largely, this film is very entertaining and many times managed to tug at my heart strings more than once.  I liked the characters and had a good time overall.  This is not a quartet of near perfect films due to a few issues with Toy Story 4, but it is a pretty solid set of films. Toy Story 4 could have used another pass, but it is a strongly entertaining film.

The Hunter or the Hunted Pt 12 (The Predator, 2018)

The_Predator_PosterShane Black, writer and director of the terrific films Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Nice Guys returns to the franchise he was part of at the very beginning. Black played Hawkins…who told terrible jokes to Sonny Landham’s Billy that he constantly had to explain and Billy only finds funny once.

Predators did not reignite the franchise, and so eight years later we have an attempt to reboot the series.  This film is firmly set in the continuity of the films Predator and Predator 2, with references and imagery to them, but not in a way that would be confusing to someone going in blind. It never acknowledges the third film, but it makes sense that nobody is aware of those events as they took place on another planet.

The film opens on Quinn McKenna, a military sniper with PTSD. He is on a mission when he comes into contact with a predator. The military tries to silence him by sending him to a military psychiatric hospital. There he meets a group of troubled soldiers. Meanwhile Dr. Casey Brackett is brought in to help study a captured Predator. She wants to speak with Quinn, so the prison bus is routed and they arrive as the Predator is breaking out and…well, okay…so the film is a bit all over the place in the beginning.

By this, I mean they introduce a ton of characters and that means it takes awhile to get to the meat.  But when all the threads come together, the film begins to pick up.  The finale is crazily packed with action and violence.

I like Black’s attempt to deal with human situations like Autism and mental illness.  Admittedly, at times the conditions of the soldiers can feel a bit more like they are jokes, but I still found myself liking the characters enough that when the carnage starts, I wanted them all to make it out alive.

The film has a pretty solid cast. I always like to see Thomas Jane pop up and Olivia Munn gets to be pretty badass and have more character than her role as Psylocke a couple years back in X-Men: Apocalypse.

The Predator tries to give the Predators a larger goal than simply hunting people, and it is not terrible. It is good enough to work anyways. While it is a bit slow on the start, it eventually becomes a fun action sci-fi movie.

It is too bad that the film is mired in a controversy that was brought about by Shane Black. He skipped over traditional casting and gave his friend a small role hitting on Munn. What nobody, including Munn, knew was that he was a convicted sex offender.  He had attempted to “entice” (legal term) his 14 year old cousin into a sexual relationship. Black knew his friend was an offender. Munn petitioned the studio to cut the scene, which they did. Munn faced little support in the beginning (with Black and the rest of the cast backing out of a press junkett, leaving Munn to be interviewed alone).

The cast has, since stepped up and Black apparently had been unaware of the seriousness of his friend’s situation and has apologized. He has said he is working with Munn privately to try and repair the damage.  Considering the film clearly left open for a sequel, I would like to see Olivia Munn return. Black really dropped the ball with his actions, as he did not at least make cast mates aware.

That said, I still really did enjoy the film, and in spite of flaws, it is certainly an entertaining entry to the franchise.

Why Ask Why? (Why Him, 2016)

why_him_posterWritten and Directed by Josh Hamburg (most notably the writer of all three Meet the Parents films) addresses a discussion a friend and I were having recently.  We were talking about films having familiar plots.  My take on this is that I do not generally care if a film has a plot point we “have seen before”. If it does it well?  I am not going to be annoyed by it.  There are only so many plots, and I cannot think of many films that told a tale that has previously unseen elements.  But there is a flip side to this.  A story that follows all the familiar points like a rigid map?  Rarely is it done well.

Which brings us to Why Him.  Like many comedies before it, we are treated to a tale of parents meeting their potential son-in-law and the resulting calamity.  Going in?  I wanted to like this film…almost desperately.  I mean, Bryan Cranston has proven himself as an actor almost always worth watching.  And both Megan Mullally and Keegan-Michael Key are gifted comedic performers.  James Franco is…well he plays some exaggerated form of James Franco in almost any film he is in…and this film is not much of a change there.

It feels like the film is trying very hard to seem unpredictable and edgy.  And yet it follows the rules of family conflict comedies so steadfastly that there is not doubt where the film is going to end.  You see it all coming from miles away.  There is no point where Why Him swerves right when you expected it to swerve left.

Are there times where I was amused?  I guess.  Were there any times where the movie surprised me…not a one.  This is not a smartly made dumb comedy.  This is an uninspired dumb comedy.

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