Toy Story 4 – A Movie Review

Yesterday, I think you would have been justified to feel that Toy Story 4 is largely unnecessary.  After all, Toy Story 3 ended just about perfectly.

However, if you happened to watch the Toy Story Toons shorts, you know that Woody and the gang embarked upon a whole new set of adventures with young Bonnie.  These were five minute shorts, though, not a complete movie.  Could Disney and Pixar recreate the magic of the first three Toy Story movies after a nearly twenty-five year run?  Could they continue to hold our interest for two whole hours?

The answer is “yes.”  Most definitely.

Toy Story 4 is a fun, lighthearted adventure that wisely breaks convention with the first three films.

For example, there is no true villain in Toy Story 4, which I thought was really smart.  There are characters in opposition trying to achieve personal goals, but no one is truly “evil.”

Also, Toy Story 4 backed off of the emotional gut punches.  They tease a few of them, but then choose to play them for laughs.  Again, I found this decision very refreshing.

Adults will pick up on a story about finding purpose once you’ve raised your kids as well as the turmoil of finally living for yourself, but young children are unlikely to decipher all of that.  Kids will relate to the comforting power of toys, the way they help confront challenges, and how they ultimately serve as a coping mechanism when difficulty arrives.

Young and old will love new characters, especially Forky (perfectly voiced by Tony Hale).  Other new additions include Gabby Gabby played by Christina Hendricks, Ducky and Bunny given life by the hilarious Key and Peele, and an understated but lovable character called Duke Caboom, performed by Keanu Reeves.  (It’s taking every ounce of willpower not to go out and buy  a Duke Caboom toy right now.)  Annie Potts plays Bo Peep, who makes her triumphant return and is given a really cool, captivating story to explain her absence.

While Toy Story 4 didn’t have to be made, some very important developments occur that could open the door to future movies.  I’m not going to spoil anything, but I see great potential for some of these characters to spin off into their own adventures.  Perhaps not into the movies, but maybe through a certain streaming service arriving soon?

Toy Story 4 is a funny, enjoyable, appropriate movie for the entire family.  It’s not scary at all, there will be no tears, and you can look forward to some hearty laughs and charismatic new characters.

Like I said, Toy Story 4 didn’t have to be made, but I’m glad they made it.  I’ve enjoyed these characters for twenty-five years, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy them for twenty-five more.

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Avengers: Endgame – A Spoiler-Free Movie Review

I solemnly vow not to spoil any plot points or revelations for you in this movie review.  I will only say this: it was worth the wait.

Avengers: Endgame exceeded my expectations.  Though it’s very, very long, it moves quickly, and there’s virtually no wasted time.  Every single minute of this movie counts.  It’s a big finale to a very big story, which necessitates quite a bit of time.

Furthermore, it gives you exactly what you want–even if you don’t know what you want.  Every single Marvel movie has led to this moment.  That’s not an exaggeration.  We’ve stuck with Marvel for 10 years now, and they reward our loyalty heartily.

You’ve seen some of the science of this movie in the commercials, and yes, it’s a little hokey and doesn’t hold up to much inspection, but the quantum realm element isn’t what this movie is about.  This movie is all about character.  Every character gets their due.  Every character has a moment.  Every character.

Endgame will send you on a roller-coaster of emotions.  There are many moments you’ll want to cheer out loud.  There are times you’ll laugh your butt off.  But there are some heartbreaking moments as well–moments that will absolutely make you cry.  I imagine that comes as no surprise.

In the end, Endgame satisfied.  No, it more than satisfied.  It drew this 10 year journey to an end while opening up new possibilities.  I honestly could not be happier with the execution of this film.71dXHCpZAXL._SL1051_.jpg

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Shazam! – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a family-friendly entry to the cinematic DC universe, Shazam! is your ticket!  Lighthearted, funny, and full of positive messages, this film will appeal to kids and adults alike.

That being said, I didn’t think it was all that great.

Let me explain why.

First of all, I would like to say that Zachary Levi absolutely shined in Shazam!  Like Paul Rudd, there is something unarguably likable about this man, so he proved the perfect actor for the role.  Levi’s a big fella which made him more than capable of filling the hero’s boots, but he’s also got a playful side to him that allowed the audience to believe there’s a teenage boy  in there.

Furthermore, the children acting in this film were wonderful, too, especially the two leads, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer.  These two young men were really fun to watch in action.  They also have a foster family other children, all of whom were distinct and entertaining in their own right.  The script and the actors did a nice job of keeping these young characters both charming and likable.

Lastly, I’ve got to rave about the costume.  When the still first came out, folks were bashing the Shazam costume.  Let me tell you — it looks great on film.  I think it may be my favorite super hero costume yet to grace the big screen.  It’s modern yet classic, streamlined yet flashy, warm yet very, very cool.  Much of the film takes place in the daylight, so you really get to see it in all its glory.  Whatever team created that costume should be proud.

However, I do have some issues with the film.

My biggest complaint is that you’ve already seen the best parts.  The didn’t save anything for the actual film — they gave you all the best stuff in the trailers.  The best lines, the best jokes, the best “wow” moments … you’ve seen them all already.  That really disappointed me.

Also, it took way too long for Zachary Levi to arrive.  The movie starts with a focus on the villain, and it’s a good twenty minutes before we even get to Shazam.  Once Levi appears things liven up quite a bit, but it took awhile to get there.

Finally, the resolution is pretty apparent early in the film.  You probably guessed this from the trailers, but the focus on family is a driving force of the plot.  This isn’t a bad thing–not at all–but it also didn’t offer much else.

In fact, that’s Shazam’s greatest misstep.  There are no goose-bump moments.  When Wonder Woman climbed out of that trench and charged the enemy — goose-bumps.  When Arthur Curry walked out of the waterfall in the Aquaman costume — goose-bumps.  When Superman and Batman stood toe to toe for the first time ever on film — many, many goose-bumps!  Shazam! didn’t have a moment like that.  Shazam’s journey in the film has been done hundreds of times before.

Of course, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this movie.  Shazam has always been aimed at kids.  What fourteen-year-old doesn’t fantasize about being a big, strong, independent adult?  I’m really excited to see what my students think of Shazam!  Will it appeal to their sensibilities more than mine?  We’ll see.  After all, the entire plot really revolves around two teenage boys along with their foster brothers and sisters.

If you’re looking for a fairly innocent family film, though, this could be for you.  There is a little bit of profanity, so be warned, and I’m told there is one violent moment that struck my friends as tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film.  Apparently, this occurred while I was in the bathroom.  I’d have no problem taking my ten-year-old to it, but I would probably keep my six-year-old out due to language and some scary monsters.

So while Zachary Levi is really fun to watch, and while there are some very funny moments, I’m afraid the best parts of Shazam! were already shown during the trailers.

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The New Joker Trailer Proved Me Wrong

Did you know they are making a standalone Joker movie?

Truthfully, when I first heard about this film, it sparked not one bit of interest from me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I believe the Joker is one of those characters that exists best on the fringes.  The less we know about him, the better.  The Dark Knight nailed his character by telling us virtually nothing about him.  To devote an entire movie to his origin, I thought, would weaken his character and provide too little content.

Secondly, I’m one of the few people who really enjoyed Jared Leto’s take on the Joker.  I’m not yet ready to cast that Joker aside in favor of this new one.  I appreciated Leto’s Joker because it was both classic and unique at the same time.  I’ve never encountered a Joker quite like that, yet his look struck me as comfortably familiar as well.  The contradictory interpretation suited Joker nicely.

Furthermore, I heard rumors that this Joker would not connect to any of the other DC movies and would, for all intents and purposes, be a standalone in an alternate reality.  Now listen, I’m a fan of the DC Multiverse.  I’ve often said that Warner Brothers needs to lean into this concept and really play up the Earth 1, Earth 2, etc. concept.  Fans would easily be able to grasp it.  However, the initial description of the movie didn’t sound like the Joker at all.  For example, they gave him a name, Arthur Fleck, and placed him in the 1980s.  Worst of all, it was said he would just be a failed comedian who loses his mind and dons the makeup.  No mention of Batman.  It’s been argued that Batman is the driving motivator of Joker’s mayhem, especially because it was partly Batman’s fault that the Joker fell into the vat of chemicals resulting in his madness.

All of these things deterred me from thinking I would like this movie.

And then, this morning, the first trailer dropped.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look …

I was wrong.

Totally.

Utterly.

Completely.

Wrong.

They are doing everything it takes to completely win over my interest, and that’s by giving me the totally unexpected.  I did not anticipate the unsettling tone regarding Fleck’s descent into madness.  And though I knew Joaquin Phoenix could act, I did not think he’d deliver such a disturbed character.  I could not predict changing the Joker’s “look,” though ever so subtly,  would render him even more terrifying.  They have captured something with Joker, something profoundly … creepy.

This trailer validates taking the film into a remote part of the DC Universe.  While you could argue the fact that this movie doesn’t even have to be the Joker, it could be any clown-based criminal, the fact that it is an iteration of the classic villain makes it all the more ominous.

After all, we know just how awful the Joker really is.  We know that this Fleck character is destined to become one of the most evil fictional villains in pop culture.  Watching him get beaten up and kicked by life time after time after time in the trailer’s short time span really strikes a nerve because we know that many of our mass murderers were similarly bullied in life.

Which leads me to my only real concern about Joker.  Because it’s so clearly detached from the other DC movies, I don’t mind the thorough exploration of his origin.  I actually think it’s totally appropriate to display every single life-altering tragedy that drives a man into criminal insanity in this context.  However, I am worried that they are going to make him sympathetic or even an anti-hero.  I don’t want to feel bad for the Joker, and I say this because he is so heinous.  Mind you, I’m generally not against villains being sympathetic.  But Joker?  No, we can never feel sad for the Joker.  (Of course, Joker has proven me wrong in every other facet, so it will probably do so again in this case as well.)

Joker seems to have tapped into something very special.  It’s unafraid, primal treatment of such a visceral character appears to be creating a film full of raw, unflinching emotion.  I know it certainly struck a nerve with me.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.

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Triple Frontier – A Movie Review

Triple Frontier is an action-packed film that kept me both anxious and very entertained.

The premise is that Oscar Isaac’s character is working as a security contractor who trains foreign armies and police.  He’s been after a particular drug lord for quite a while, but can never quite pin him down.  Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal play men who once belonged to Isaac’s unit, a band of brothers.  They are all retired from the military, and they are all down on their luck with little to show for their service.

Isaac’s character propositions them to help  him take down this drug lord by amassing intelligence regarding his stronghold.  They can each make a large sum of money doing so.  What is initially supposed to be a simple recon mission turns into a flat-out burglary.  From there, the unit must try to escape the drug lord’s men through the jungles of Columbia, through Peru, and over the Andes Mountains while carrying very, very large amounts of cash.

While Triple Frontier kept me on the edge of my seat throughout due to action and an ever-present danger, I also thought it said something provocative about soldiers who give everything to their country with nothing to show for it.  Who can blame these warriors for taking desperate actions to try to help their families, their friends, and even themselves?  The ethical dilemmas presented in this movie will make quite an impact, I assure you.

Furthermore, I found the locations beautiful and lush.  Most of the film was shot in Hawaii and Colombia, so these jungles and mountains are authentic.  The scope of the film is magnificent with some truly breathtaking scenes.

Best of all, though, was the cast.  I actually felt like these men had a bond between them.  Affleck, Hedlund, and Hunnam were fine, but Pascal and Isaac were the heart and soul of this movie.  Oscar Isaac gets better with every movie I see him in, and Triple Frontier is no exception.

Though very violent and laden with profanities, Triple Frontier kept me engaged and entertained from start to finish.  If you’re looking for an action movie with some authentic emotional beats, this one won’t disappoint.

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Velvet Buzzsaw – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a gloriously weird movie that’s a little funny, a little scary, a little tongue-in-cheek, and a little masterful, check out the Netflix original film called Velvet Buzzsaw.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, a prestigious art critic with the world at his feet.  He’s in love with Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton.  Josephina is trying to climb her way to the top of the art gallery industry as she works for Rene Russo’s Rhodora Haze.  Yes, these names are fantastic.

After her neighbor dies, Josephina discovers that the deceased had an apartment full of original art.  Morf declares the man a modern day master and urges Josephina to sell it through Haze’s gallery.

Soon, though, strange things begin to happen involving the departed’s art, and that’s when the scares begin.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a whole lot of things, but it’s also never just one thing.  Well, it is one thing — entertaining.  I have to be honest, this movie kept me engaged from start to finish.  It’s so strange that it’s flat-out unpredictable.  Is it good?  I thought so, but I wouldn’t dare to argue with someone who told me they didn’t like it.  You certainly have to be in the right mood for Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s definitely one of the more unique films that I’ve seen of late.

I will say this though, Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely disappeared in his role as Morf Vadewalt.  His performance alone made this film worth watching.  With incessant fidgeting, a biting sense of humor, an impeccably odd sense of fashion, and a mesmerizing speech cadence, Morf leaped off the screen.  Though there’s no hero in this movie, Morf is as close as we get (which is not very close).

I also loved seeing Rene Russo again.  Her character, Rhodora Haze, once belonged to a punk rock band called–you guessed it–Velvet Buzzsaw.  Russo got to really strut her stuff playing an entirely unlikable, manipulative, evil businesswoman who gets a thrill in taking no prisoners.

By the way, there are also very fun performances in this movie from John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs, and Natalia Dryer (from Stranger Things).

In the end, Velvet Buzzsaw seems to exist in a world that has existed for quite some time.  The characters all have history with one another, and other than some fleeting references, the movie is not overly concerned with catching you up.  Nor is the film terribly worried about explaining what the hell is going on.  Once the art starts killing people, it doesn’t follow any particular rules or adhere to any specific logic.  If you buy the dead artist’s work, sell his work, look at his work, or even find yourself near his work … your life is in grave danger.  Heck, sometime’s it’s not even his art that gets in on the act.   (Did anyone else love Hoboman?  He’s the real star of this movie.)

If you’re looking for some inimitable performances, a wondrously quirky plot, and a bizarrely good time, I totally recommend Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s got to be the best of what it is … I’m just still not sure what it is.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – A Movie Review

My kids and I loved the original Lego Movie, but none of us were super excited for the sequel.  I’m not really sure why, to be honest.  We realized yesterday that it may not be in the theaters much longer, so we made our way to the show to catch it before time ran out.

The verdict?

We all loved The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part even better than the original!

This is a streamlined, funny, easy to digest movie with some great one-liners, catchy music, and a message that personally touched my heart.

The most superficial morality lesson is to be true to yourself.  It reminds kids not to let anyone else determine one’s actions–do what you know is right and you’ll always come out on top.  However, there was also an underlining message about growing up.  I’m not sure either of my kids caught it because I tried to talk to them about it and they seemed at a loss.  Because the movie takes place five years later, Will Ferrell’s children from the original, Finn and Bianca, are now further along in age.  Though they both still love Legos, they are in very different places in terms of how they like to play with their Legos.  This is the driving force of the film’s plot, and I absolutely cherished it.  It meant so much to me because I see the same thing happening with my own children.  I see my ten-year-old try to play with my six-year-old, but it can get frustrating for big sister because, well, little sister is only six.  This chasm seems to have been too great for Finn and Bianca, and it’s driving Emmet, Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, MetalBeard, and Benny apart as a result.  Of course, the movie has a happy ending, and it struck a chord with me because my kids continue to play together despite their age differences.

Are you convinced yet?  Is that a little too introspective for you?  Well, rest easy, the movie is also flat-out hilarious.  There are pop culture references galore, especially if you love Will Arnet’s Batman.  Oh, the mom appears in this one too, and you’ll love the actress portraying her.  They even pull a great gag involving Lego bricks that every parent will instantly relate to.

Admittedly, the song Everything Is Awesome catapulted The Lego Movie into everyone’s consciousness last time around.  This second part hasn’t reached mainstream success in terms of music, but the tunes are great nonetheless.  Listen closely to all of the songs’ lyrics–I was rolling!

Again, I’m not sure why we weren’t jazzed to go see this.  Maybe the brand got a little diluted with The Lego Batman Movie quickly followed by The Lego Ninjago Movie?  Those two spin-offs definitely felt repetitious to me in terms of story and theme, but not to worry, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part breaks with those previous themes and creates something totally new.

If you and the kids haven’t seen The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part yet, I urge you to go check it out while it’s still in theaters.  You won’t be disappointed.

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