[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 9 – Toy Story of Terror (2013)

 

Director: Angus MacLane

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Carl Weathers, Stephen Tobolowsky, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Timothy Dalton, Kristen Schaal

Screenplay: Angus MacLane

22 mins. Rated TV-G.

 

I wanted to take time tonight to talk about the Halloween Special. It’s a classic element to any franchise, big screen or small. So in 2013, Disney and Pixar released Toy Story of Terror, and today, we’re going to talk about it.

The toys are on a road trip with Bonnie and her mother when they stop to spend a night at an eerie motel just off the road. When Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles, Zookeeper, The Wool Cap) suddenly goes missing, its up to Woody (Tom Hanks, The DaVinci Code, The Circle), Buzz (Tim Allen, Crazy on the Outside, TV’s Home Improvement), Jessie (Joan Cusack, Working Girl, Snatched) and their new friend Combat Carl (Carl Weathers, Predator, American Warships) to find Potato Head and escape while they still can!

Toy Story of Terror tends to follow a very similar story to all the other Toy Story films. Someone is missing or kidnapped, and the other toys go get them. There isn’t a lot to this and you have to wonder how this keeps happening, but Toy Story of Terror introduces a few fun new characters to keep things lively enough. I really like seeing some of the newer toys from the third installment who didn’t get much time to shine get further developed here, and I really enjoyed Combat Carl.

The flaws? As I said before, it isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. The hotel manager Ron (Stephen Tobolowsky, Memento, TV’s Californication) comes off perhaps a little too creepy as well, especially with how he plays into the story. A little too predictable as well.

Overall, this is only 22 minutes, so if you get roped into it by your little one, Toy Story of Terror isn’t a half-bad way to waste a half-hour. It was fun and nicely paced.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay: James Gunn

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

 

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is now available on home video and streaming platforms, and this film was universally liked but not universally loved. I took another look at it to see how I really felt.

Set a few months after the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers) and the team find themselves on the run from the Sovereigns when they come across a being known as Ego (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) who announces that he is Peter’s father and has been looking for him. Peter takes off with Ego and brings along Drax (Dave Bautista, Spectre, Enter the Warriors Gate) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Live by Night), leaving Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, Furious 7, Riddick)  to fix the ship and keep an eye on their prisoner, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus, The Circle) who is very much alive. While Peter learns much of his heritage from Ego, there is something strangely perfect looming over their time on the living planet while Rocket and Groot are hunted down by the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger, The Belko Experiment). With the team split up, they soon learn that they are at their strongest when they stick together in this sequel helmed by James Gunn (Movie 43, Super).

Is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 an improvement over the original? No, but does it have to be? No. I’m tired of these comparisons that say that a sequel or follow-up is not successful unless it surpasses the original. It doesn’t have to. But there are some things that are better. First off, I think the film’s coverage of its secondary characters is better. We get a much better look at Yondu that’s more than the somewhat one-dimensional character we had in the original. Michael Rooker is a masterful and often forgotten character actor and he absolutely shines here.

I also think the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is the best one in his entire filmography, which, at this point, is a pretty impressive feat. James Gunn’s choice to overload the end credits with five mid and post-credit scenes is brilliant and it adds to the insanity. I think overall, Gunn’s choice to embrace the flavor of what he brought to the screen is the winning element of the Guardians of the Galaxy series. You probably saw the music video for Inferno, the Guardians theme, recently, and I love that this kind of marketing and viral social meeting presence is available to fans.

I also felt that the relationship between Star-Lord and Ego is an interesting and complex one. Chris Pratt said in an interview that this film helped him to get over the death of his own father. Theirs is the driving force of the film and everything feeds off it. In fact, this is a film about fathers and the families we create, whether by blood or not (oh, and the de-aging of the devilishly handsome Kurt Russell is pretty impressive).

Things that altogether weren’t as good as they should have been? Really, it’s a small list, but I wish Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Oldboy, Hacker’s Game) could’ve done more. I think we will see more of Mantis later, but I felt like she was underused. I also was never a big fan of the Nebula/Gamora dynamic and I hope more relevance comes to this when Infinity War hits. Then there’s the loss of Nathan Fillion’s terrific cameo. I wish there had been a place to squeeze him in, but the film is rather bloated. Maybe that’s it. There’s so much going on that the film feels a little bloated. Yeah, that’s it.

“I am Groot.” -Groot

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a fine film and a fine addition to the MCU. I love these characters and treasure further adventures with all of them. The soundtrack is subtle and important and stays with you long after the film ends (I’m still humming it). Yeah, it’s just a damn fun time at the movies and in that respect, it’s a beautiful experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

 

 

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[Early Review] Detroit (2017)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie

Screenplay: Mark Boal

143 mins. Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.

 

Folks, I just saw Detroit the other night, and I have to talk about it.

Detroit is the newest film from acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and her frequent screenwriter Mark Boal. It offers snapshots into the Detroit Riots of 1967, specifically the events that took place at the Algiers Motel over the course of a very dangerous and bloody evening. Security Guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Circle) simply attempts to offer coffee to his fellow armed forces, but he is quickly forced into a situation where he does not know the right call to make, or if he is even able to make it. Racially-charged officer Philip Krauss (The Revenant, War Machine) finds himself taking multiple people hostage at the Algiers Motel, including singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith, Earth to Echo, Let It Shine), whose night quickly turns from dream to nightmare.

While the events of the Detroit riots are known to this writer, I wasn’t particularly aware of the Algiers Motel incident until just recently, and Kathryn Bigelow expertly handles the story in a respectful but unforgiving manner. This is not an easy movie to watch, but I found myself unable to look away when I was exposed to the atrocities committed. At the screening I attended, an elderly African American woman frequently sobbed during the disturbing altercations between the white cops and their hostages.

John Boyega’s turn as Dismukes is amazing, and the way his character handles the situation with careful attention is shocking and difficult to witness. His scenes with Poulter are definitely powerful, as Poulter steals the screen with every scene. But it is Algee Smith, who plays Larry, who has the most compelling story of the film. The heartbreaking and nuanced performance Smith gives is unforgettable and should garner him some attention come award season.

I cannot say anything bad about the performances in this movie, and I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t recognize the great work from Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), John Krasinski (TV’s The Office, 13 Hours), and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War, All the Way) in supporting roles. The film is just that good. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, even with the lengthy runtime.

The only true flaw in the film is the reliance on shaky-cam cinematography, something that Bigelow has notably used in her most recent films, and it does tend to distract at times here. Overall, this isn’t a film-killing amount of shaky, but it does detract.

Detroit is in many ways like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, also released this year, in that it chooses to take a major event and boil it down to the characters, the people, that lived it. This isn’t grandiose filmmaking but personal storytelling. Bigelow’s film shows heroes and villains on both sides of the racially poignant film. Detroit is indeed a film you need to see, but it isn’t one you will necessarily want to see again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Director: Bill Condon

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra MacDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson

Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos

129 mins. Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

 

It’s a tale as old as time but now Disney has turned it into a twice-told tale, but is it any good the second time around?

Belle (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Circle) is a bookworm and inventor living with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda, Dean) in the small village of Villeneuve. Belle deals daily with the advances of the slimy and arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, The Fate of the Furious) and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad, Frozen, A Dog’s Purpose) as well as the looks from the townspeople who find the young woman rather odd. When Maurice is lost in the woods, he comes across a castle inhabited by a terrible Beast (Dan Stevens, TV’s Downton Abbey, Colossal) who trades Maurice for Belle. Then, Belle and the Beast find themselves falling for one another in the best adaptation of an animated Buffalo-Human Romance film ever to grace the silver screen.

But how about the actual film?

Well, in the world of adaptations, I found that this 2017 iteration from director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes) has some improvements on the original and some elements that didn’t work. Mostly, though, it’s the same film. And in a lot of ways, that lessens it. There are very few liberties taken here, and overall it gives the film a very tame feeling which never really drew me in.

Let’s start with what works. The amount of respect given to the French location of the film is strong. Most of the accents work and even little touches like French subtitles in the end credits give flair. There’s also a sense of theatricality to the film due to Condon’s decision to treat this like a tale you’ve seen before. I highly suggest watching the film with the overture as it harkens back to the classic tale from decades back. I thought the treatment of Disney’s first gay character LeFou was respectful. I thought the tightening up of plot points in the prince’s age and in his ability to read (a major change to the character from the 1991 film) work well here. I also really liked a lot of the personalities and performances from the various living pieces of furniture, most notably Lumiere (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, American Pastoral), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan, TV’s Vicious, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility, Bridget Jones’s Baby). I am very thankful, however, that the director decided to cut the character known as Monsieur Toilette, played by Stephen Merchant, who would have been, you guessed it, a toilet.

And of course, the film looks gorgeous. There are a number of images I’d love to have on my wall from this film. Everything here looks astounding with a tremendous attention to detail.

Now, the issues with the film are glaring. I thought “Be Our Guest” was grossly over-animated and looked terrible. I felt like the film’s forcefulness to sticking to the source material made the film feel like it was dragging on forever. The musical numbers felt very autotuned and unrealistic and none of them really enhanced the original pieces. The issues amount to very simply not improving the original. This film is essentially a shot-for-shot remake in a lot of ways, and we’ve seen how that works out a number of times, most notably with Psycho and The Omen. It never seems to work, and it only reminds you how superior the original is.

Overall, I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast much more than I thought I would. Disney continues to create enjoyable experience rehashing old tales. The biggest problem with Beauty and the Beast is that I don’t see why anyone would choose to watch it again if they have the original film to go to. It just feels forgettable for all of its 129 minutes. There’s just a better version already out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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