Toy Story 4 (2019)

Director: Josh Cooley

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom

100 mins. Rated G.

IMDb Top 250: #132 (as of 7/9/2019)

 

We didn’t need a Toy Story 4. That’s what I kept saying. We just didn’t need it. Toy Story 3 was a great ending to a solid trilogy and we didn’t need to muddy the waters with another installment almost destined to be terrible. We trusted Pixar not to ruin this one, and our trust in them was worth it.

It’s been two years since Andy gave his toys over to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw, American Sniper, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and departed for college, and the toys have been on a great many adventures since then. Andy’s favorite toy Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks, Cast Away, The Post) is struggling, though, as he has been seemingly forgotten by Bonnie when playtime occurs, but he remains vigilant in his duties to protect her, so when she becomes nervous at kindergarten orientation and makes a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale, Batman Ninja, TV’s Arrested Development), out of some trash and crafting supplies, Woody takes it upon himself to teach Forky how to be the best toy he can be. During this time, Bonnie and her family are on a vacation in the RV, and at one of the stops, Woody spots a lamp at an antique store that he believes may belong to Bo Peep (Annie Potts, Ghostbusters, TV’s Young Sheldon), a toy that one belonged to Andy’s sister, one that he cared for very deeply. Woody and Forky also come across the menacing Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks, Ginger & Rosa, TV’s Good Girls), a defective antique toy who wants Woody’s voice box for her own. Now, Woody must return Forky to Bonnie without getting caught by Gabby Gabby, and he is also forced to confront his own wants in the process.

Let’s cover the purpose of Toy Story 4, because if there was one criticism in just about any fan’s mind as they enter the theater, it’s the question of WHY? Why Toy Story 4? Well, I will say this. I think Toy Story 4 is the second-best film in the series behind the third film. That being said, I think Toy Story 4’s ending is so much better than the third film. It leaves up in a very satisfying place and works very well in questioning everything that came before. It’s a film that looks at the toys we have and asks a lot of questions.

This is very much Woody’s story, and he goes on it mostly without the help of the other toys, encountering lots of new characters in the process. While Toy Story 3 is the ending of the story in relation to Andy, Toy Story 4 takes a good hard look at Woody, a toy that has always been in service of his human, but he is confronted with the very real idea that he may not be Bonnie’s favorite toy. His character arc, especially in relation to Forky’s existential crisis of self, is very well-layered and something I’ve always wanted more out of.

The new characters are so wonderful as well. Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, TV’s Friends from College) and Jordan Peele (Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, TV’s The Twilight Zone) appear together as Ducky and Bunny, two sentient toys made sown-together at the hands, and they are an absolute delight. Key and Peele use the classic comedic timing and chemistry that they’ve been known for to make this the funniest of the Toy Story movies. They had me in stitches, never once ruining the scene by trying to hard.

Then, there’s Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum), a Canadian daredevil toy with a motorcycle capable of performing incredible stunts, or at least, that’s what the commercials had said. I love all the character Reeves packed into such a limited screen time. He worked tirelessly on embodying his character with the director, and it shows in the work. His is a similar character to the one that Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen, El Camino Christmas, TV’s Home Improvement) was in the first film: a toy that is coming to terms with its limits. He is broken on the inside because he was never able to meet the expectations of his commercial.

The only real flaw I had with Toy Story 4 is that I believe that Gabby Gabby is probably the worst villain of the entire franchise. It sounds like I may be in the minority on this one, but I’m going to speak my reasons and let them stand. I never found Gabby Gabby as a villain to be very menacing. Yes, she’s a little creepy and her henchmen ventriloquist dummies are certainly frightening and strange enough, but I never really saw her as villainous in the way that I saw, say, Lotso from Toy Story 3. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like she was antagonistic but never villainous.

Toy Story 4 also feels, at times, like a big game of I Spy. The antique store, where a good portion of the film is set, is chock full of Easter Eggs and references to other Pixar films, to Toy Story films, and to other pop culturally iconic movies, most notably The Shining, which has always had a somewhat odd connection to the Toy Story franchise. Then, there’s voice cameos galore, many of which I didn’t catch until someone told me about them after the film ended. It’s just a celebration of so much magic that Disney and Pixar can craft.

Toy Story 4 is the perfect true finale to the franchise, one I hope they actually keep to, and I absolutely adored this movie. It’s the ending that feels most earned, not just throughout this installment, but through the entire series. It’s a powerful finale that will drive many to tears, this writer included. I really enjoyed it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Us (2019)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

116 mins. Rated R for violence/terror, and language.

 

I’m glad I took some time to decompress after Us. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Us, from writer/director Jordan Peele (Get Out), is the story of the Wilson family who, while on their family vacation to Santa Cruz, are beset upon by a family of four red-clad attackers who look exactly like them. The matriarch of the Wilson family, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) learns from her doppelganger Red that the doubles are here to “untether” themselves from the Wilsons, and now Adelaide and husband Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther) must protect their family and friends from the growing number of murderous doppelgangers bent on killing them.

It would appear that Jordan Peele is not a one-hit wonder when it comes to his horror films. The man has a keen visual sense and the ability to tell an intelligent story. He, like Quentin Tarantino before him, was baptized and raised by film, and it shows in both Get Out and especially Us. He uses symbols and themes so intricately that Us becomes infinitely more enjoyable upon a second or even a third viewing.

If there are problems with Us, it mostly boils down to two factors in the story. First, there’s a lot of cool mythology building in the film, but the story does have moments where it becomes clear what is happening even if the mythology is not revealed yet. Doppelganger stories sometimes have certain tropes that need to be ticked off, and Us is not exempt from all of them. Secondly, with the mythology and world-building, there are some things that feel like they either aren’t fleshed out enough or don’t make as much sense the more you read into them. There are explanations, but some don’t appear in the film, and if you try to peel away the layers, you might ruin the experience, so just watch it without trying to understand it all, the film will do the heavy lifting for you.

Lupita Nyong’o proves her abilities here are just as strong as any other genre. The way she plays both Adelaide and Red are so unique and different. Adelaide is a woman who has grown up being terrified of an experience she had in Santa Cruz as a child, and so she almost isn’t surprised when these doppelgangers show up to start wreaking havoc upon them. It’s like she’s prepared for something, anything, horrible to happen, and it appears to be a blessing that she did. Red, though, hasn’t used her voice in so long that it appears that she is struggling to use correct speech patterns, her vocal cords straining due to not being flexed in a long time.

Winston Duke is also tremendous as both Gabe and the doppelganger Abraham. Gabe is seemingly nonviolent outside of his wit and the way he acts. On the flipside, it seems like Abraham only knows violence and anger, and it’s interesting to see the way Gabe tries to work around a solution.

Also like Tarantino, Peele has a terrific sense of music, and he uses it to great effect here, giving the film both catchy tunes to exude the fun of the horror, while also staging his serious sequences with more disturbing and unsettling music. His use of I Got 5 On It (he added it to the finished film after it performed with audiences in the trailer) is absolutely incredible.

Us is quite the powerhouse second feature for Jordan Peele, and while I think Get Out might be the better film, Us is my personal preference and the one I will probably go back to more often. Us is Peele swinging for the fences, and he takes a lot of risks that pay off quite well. It’s just a damn fun time at the movies and is one of the best horror films of the year.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, click here.

Candyman Reboot Inspired by Toxic Fandom

Jordan Peele is an incredibly exciting filmmaker and storyteller who has hit the ground running with horror films Get Out and Us, and up next, he seems to have his heart set on producing the reboot to Candyman, a fantastic horror character made famous by Tony Todd in the 90s. With his production company Monkeypaw, Peels has also bring forth series like the new incarnation of The Twilight Zone and the coming-soon Lovecraft Country. Monkeypaw’s Creative Director Ian Cooper recently spoke of the concept for the new Candyman being centered on toxic fandom.

If you haven’t heard the term, it’s one that has been a hot topic of conversation among the film community as of late, with trolls attacking films like The Last Jedi or shows like Game of Thrones for not giving the audience exactly what they want.

Cooper was quoted as saying:

“I think what we’re trying to do with ‘Candyman’ is both be mischievous in how we address the relationship to the first film but also be very satisfying.”

This quote came from an interesting discussion on fandom and the problem of toxicity, so it will be interesting to see exactly where the new Candyman goes.

What’s great about this property is that it is perfect for the reboot treatment. While the characters and franchise are regarded quite well among horror fans, the term classic hasn’t been really applied to them. It feels like a franchise you wouldn’t have to be afraid to play around with and try something new, and it seems from both Peele’s previous comments and Cooper’s new ones that there is a complex take on where to go with this new installment, one that has been cloaked in mystery and some confusion. I’m ecstatic to see that Peele and Cooper seem to know exactly what they want to do with this property.

So what do you think? Have you experienced toxic fandom? Are you excited to see this new take on the Candyman franchise and mythos? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

Candyman returns on June 12, 2020.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Jordan Peele’s Candyman Casts Aquaman Villain

According to Variety, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is in talks to star in the rebooted Candyman from Producer Jordan Peele. Nothing has been officially confirmed, but the Aquaman actor has experience with Peele from the upcoming Us, which hits theaters in March.

The film, a “spiritual sequel” to the original 1992 film, is set to release in 2020. The 1992 film starred Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, followed a graduate student who discovers the Candyman legend while writing a thesis.

Nothing in the report states explicitly if Abdul-Mateen will be taking over the role of the Candyman from Todd or perhaps be cast alongside him as a principal lead. Nia DaCosta is set to direct.

I only recently saw the original Candyman, but I really enjoyed the story and would like to see it more further explored in a present-day setting, and with Jordan Peele set to produce, that only excited me more coming off his recent Oscar nomination for producing BlacKkKlansman.

I know Abdul-Mateen from his turn as the villainous Manta in last year’s Aquaman, and I liked what he did with the character. Overall, if Peele liked him enough from Us to try to court him for Candyman, that only spells good signs for this one.

So what do you think? Does this casting make you more excited for Candyman to return? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Director: Spike Lee

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace

Screenplay: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Wilmott, Spike Lee

135 mins. Rated R for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing violent material and some sexual references.

 

BlacKkKlansman kind of snuck up on me. I had no idea this film was coming out. I didn’t even know Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Rodney King) was working on a major project. This film just kind of appeared one day. It’s one of those films that you almost can’t believe is based on a true story. This one more so than most. I had a feeling it would be an interesting film when I finally did hear about it. The shocking thing was just how damn good it was.

The film is the so-crazy-you-won’t-believe-it true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, Monster, TV’s Ballers), the first black officer in Colorado Springs. Moving from a lowly records position to an undercover assignment, Ron ends up posing as a white supremacist. Using a “white” voice on the phone speaking with members of the KKK and another detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, TV’s Girls), posing as white Ron in public, he works his way up to the top of the KKK, eventually speaking to and sharing a room with David Duke (Topher Grace, Delirium, TV’s That ’70s Show), the Grand Wizard of the Klan. Now, Ron and Flip find themselves in an interesting and dangerous arena and must do all they can to expose the local chapter of the Klan before something unthinkable happens.

I read somewhere that when Jordan Peele told Spike Lee about the project that Spike didn’t really believe it, and to be fair, it’s a hard story to believe. When Lee finally signed on, he had several important elements he wanted to infuse in the story: he wanted to heighten some of the more comedic parts of this larger-than-life story, and he wanted to make his film as relevant as possible to the current political climate. If that was his focus, he was damn successful.

There are some historical inaccuracies in the film, namely that Stallworth apparently never used a “white” voice and it was just his own. The time the film is set was slightly adjusted as well. I don’t think less on the experience because I feel like these and other changes heightened the cinematic experience and impact of the story. True stories are never 100% true even if we try real hard.

John David Washington is flat-out revelatory as Stallworth. He disappeared into the role and the two became one. I completely forgot I was watching a movie, I was so engrossed. Partnered up with Driver in a supporting role and it just melded so perfectly, but I have to mention Topher Grace’s performance. This is not something that I ever pegged him for, but his smarmy attitude and sinister calmness was haunting and strange.

When Lee decided to infuse his story with even more relevancy than it had, he found a profound connection with our current political atmosphere, one that isn’t wholly new, but it is wholly unique to the director. There are references and lines, both major and minor, that firmly plant this story in present day, even though the film is set decades ago. There is a scene where two characters cast doubt that America will ever have a white supremacist for a President and it’s almost as if both performers looked directly at the camera and audience, pausing for desired effect. It’s unsettling with a dose of comedic.

What I can tell you is that Lee’s film starts with a bang, a long speech by Alec Baldwin as the incredibly racist and hateful Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard. It also ends with a bang, one I won’t ruin for you, but I can say that when this film came to a conclusion, my jaw was hanging. I was so incredibly shocked by the ending that Lee chose to put to the film, and I think it is powerful, disturbing, and the perfect ending for this film.

Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is unlike almost any film I’ve seen this or any year, and it stands as one of my favorites. It seems to fire on all cylinders, and even though the first act takes a few minutes before it really kicks into high gear, I’m merely nitpicking an incredible experience, one that I hope you’re ready for. This is maybe one of the most important films of this year or any other. See this movie.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

104 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.

 

Early in 2017, first-time director Jordan Peele released Get Out, a very well-received horror-thriller about race in present-day America. The film has been hotly discussed since February, and now that we are near the nominations for the Academy Awards, I thought it would be fun to look at one of the more interesting frontrunners for the big award.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) is a talented African-American man about to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time at their secluded homestead in the country. On the surface, Dean (Bradley Whitford, Megan Leavey, TV’s The West Wing) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener, Capote, The Croods) seem nice enough, but as the weekend goes on, Chris begins noticing strange behavior surrounding the Armitage parents and their odd houseguests. Soon, Chris uncovers exactly what’s going on, but is it too late to save himself?

Okay, so even if the rest of Get Out was terrible (thankfully that is not the case), the film would still be noted for its incredibly well-written screenplay, also from Peele. The nuances and symbolism that Peele employs almost endlessly are so perfectly-placed into the story’s framework so that none of the film feels forced as you peel back the layers.

Beyond all that, the performances are amazing and Peele proves himself to be an incredible first-time director well-worth the recognition he’s been given. From his pitch-perfect storytelling to the great work, particularly from Kaluuya, Allison Williams (College Musical, TV’s Girls) and Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Death Note). From most of the info coming out of the set, Peele created a great atmosphere on set, having a lot of fun with his cast and crew, and it shines through into the finished product.

Peele’s not afraid to take what he loves about a genre and roll with it. The opening of the film is very reminiscent of the single-shot opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The film is so packed with detail and content that there is even a class being taught at the University of California about the film’s impact.

Get Out is a film that only gets better with multiple viewings. I’ve now seen it many times and I’ve found something new each and every time. This is a film for fans of horror and newcomers to the genre. It’s made with care and dedication from a surprisingly strong first-time director. I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele comes up with next.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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