About meMy name is Cal. I'm an independent filmmaker who runs the production company Expendable Films. You can check out my company's Vimeo page here: vimeo.com/expendablefilm
I've also made a list which details the movies I've made. You can check out my first feature, Unleashing the Demons, on Amazon Prime.
People may wonder why I pump so much time and effort into reviewing movies when it's doubtful many people even read my full reviews. With IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and other websites full of critics more knowledgeable and better read than me, why should you bother with my writing? Well, I leave you to answer that question for yourself. Perhaps my primitive sense of humour will factor into your enjoyment of my reviews. Or perhaps it's that I am merely a lover of movies and do not consider myself a critic. Critics trash fun movies but praise wildly overrated, boring movies. I just like having fun at the movies... And I assess a movie as a guy who loves movies and seeks a good time.
I do not receive any money or revenue for my writing, so I write this as a passion and as a hobby. I aim to simply provide a fair, balanced analysis and commentary of a movie I've seen.
Thus, people may think I at times go too easy on a movie. Well, that's because I look for the good in all movies, even bad ones. I want to recognise the effort that has gone into a movie, and be fair to the filmmaker's intentions. I want to break into the film industry and I wish to make movies, so all films deserve a fair trial in my mind. I'd hate it for people to give a film of mine a low rating for a few purely nitpicking reasons.
That is all.
My reviews cannot be copied or reposted in whole or part without my express permission!
I once came across someone hovering around the web who copied my reviews word for smegging word.
However, you can link my reviews on your lists and stuff. That's perfectly cool. As long as I get credit
That's all I have to say.
Oh, and I post my reviews on a few different websites, most notably MichaelDVD and Manly Movie. I did some writing for Digital Hippos briefly... But that site is run by a bunch of cunts, so I didn't remain as a staff member. I suggest you guys avoid that site, too.
You'll find my reviews scattered on other websites around the web, including The Critical Critics, Flixster, etc. Demand for my writing is actually rather high. I've even been quoted on Blu-ray covers.
Twitter feed: twitter.com/StrayButler91
YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/PvtCaboose91
Link to Manly Movie: www.manlymovie.net/
Facebook? Dream on, internet stalkers...
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Posted : 4 months, 1 week ago on 19 September 2020 12:21 (A review of Deep Blue Sea 3)
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After the truly awful Deep Blue Sea 2 in 2018, the prospect of another direct-to-video sequel to 1999's fun-as-hell shark flick Deep Blue Sea seemed about as exciting as a moist fart. Yet, even with a limited budget and no major stars, 2020's Deep Blue Sea 3 is a far better sequel than its immediate predecessor, and it's a more entertaining watch than anticipated. Written by Dirk Blackman (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) and directed by John Pogue (Quarantine 2: Terminal), this threequel continues the previous movie's dangling plot thread but emerges as more of a standalone story and attempts to recapture the spirit of the original picture, albeit with mixed results. Indeed, as fun as it mostly is, Deep Blue Sea 3 is not a slam-dunk by any stretch of the imagination, as it remains wholly pedestrian from a story and character standpoint.
Working on a tiny, abandoned island known as Little Happy, scientist Dr. Emma Collins (Tania Raymonde) leads a team of researchers to investigate the effects of climate change, hoping that her findings will help prevent an environmental disaster. Assisted by Eugene Shaw (Emerson Brooks) as well as techies Spinnaker (Alex Bhat) and Miya (Reina Aoi), Emma spends most of her days diving in a fish nursery, which is also home to a great white shark named Sally. But the team is put in danger following the arrival of Emma's ex-boyfriend, Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic), who reveals that three aggressive, genetically-engineered bull sharks have entered the area. Richard leads a team of mercenaries hired to recapture these bull sharks, but tensions run high as the teams distrust each other, exacerbating the already precarious situation.
Deep Blue Sea 3's story is tied to the two previous instalments and the characters directly reference the events of its predecessors, but you do not need knowledge of either film to follow the story here, and the dire Deep Blue Sea 2 is not required viewing. Without a doubt, the least successful aspect of Deep Blue Sea 3 is the violent friction between the human characters, with needlessly corny melodrama and some over-the-top villain characters. (Australian martial artist Bren Foster, in particular, hams it up to the extreme as one of the mercenaries.) The first Deep Blue Sea is gloriously free of such narrative nonsense, instead remaining focused on the fight for survival against the intelligent sharks, but Deep Blue Sea 3 also indulges in fisticuffs to further enhance the C-movie vibe. Furthermore, it almost goes without saying, but the characters are predominantly one-dimensional and the dialogue is tin-eared, leading to problematic pacing between the shark set-pieces. With a 100-minute runtime, this is a surprisingly beefy flick, and too much time is dedicated to romantic subplots that lead nowhere.
Director Pogue gleefully embraces the cheese to stage some ridiculously amusing death scenes, including a homage to the original film's most memorable death and a decapitation that left this reviewer howling with laughter. Pogue occasionally attempts suspenseful scenes, but lacks the panache to create genuine horror or terror - it's not a patch on the original Deep Blue Sea or something like 2016's The Shallows. Additionally, digital effects are not a strong suit of the Deep Blue Sea movies, and this remains true of Deep Blue Sea 3. Admittedly, the computer-generated sharks are better than expected and occasionally stand up to scrutiny, but the digital effects mostly lack polish and reek of the movie's direct-to-video origins. If there is a Deep Blue Sea 4, are animatronic sharks too much to ask for? Added to this, the limited budget is further reflected in the cramped setting (do not expect the lavish production design of the first Deep Blue Sea) and the lack of star power, though there are some possibly familiar faces in Nathaniel Buzolic (Hacksaw Ridge, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals), Tania Raymonde (Texas Chainsaw 3D, Lost), and Emerson Brooks (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Last Ship). Another drawback is the forgettable score by Mark Kilian, which is not a patch on Trevor Rabin's superb music from the original Deep Blue Sea. In short, Deep Blue Sea 3 often feels like a SyFy original, but with a little bit more talent than usual.
It is difficult to recommend Deep Blue Sea 3 to any serious cinephiles or film buffs accustomed to cinema from the likes of Scorsese or Spielberg - it's certainly no Jaws. But as far as C-grade, direct-to-video killer shark flicks go, this is a sufficiently entertaining sit for those in the proper mood. It's a smarter pick than the recent 47 Meters Down: Uncaged or the unwatchable Open Water 3: Cage Dive. Even though Deep Blue Sea 3 is not memorable (aside from some absurd kill scenes) or even especially good, it's a fun enough ride while it lasts despite its flaws and predictability.
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Posted : 4 months, 2 weeks ago on 12 September 2020 06:03 (A review of Blinded by the Light)
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Blinded by the Light is a feel-good triumph, an immensely entertaining and heartfelt coming-of-age story supported by an exceptional soundtrack filled with irresistible 1980s music. Directed by British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice), Blinded by the Light is based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor's 2007 memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N' Roll, which is a literary tribute to his hero, Bruce Springsteen. Like the book, this adaptation illustrates the universal themes of Springsteen's lyrics and ideas which transcend race and religion, and the screenplay uses his music to explore working-class life in England during the 1980s. Although it falls just short of perfection, Blinded by the Light is jam-packed with charm and heart, emerging as one of 2019's most underrated and underappreciated motion pictures. It's fun, funny, joyous and visually sumptuous, and it confidently stands up to repeat viewings.
In 1987, Muslim teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra) is stuck in the dead-end British town of Luton with his family, including devoutly traditional Pakistani migrant father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). Javed dreams of becoming a writer and attending university in Manchester, but he's constrained by his family's expectations, particularly after Malik loses his job and faces severe financial strain. At school, Javed meets another South Asian student named Roops (Aaron Phagura), who introduces him to the miracle of Bruce Springsteen music. Instantly, The Boss' songs speak to Javed in a way that nothing else has, with the lyrics encouraging him to take risks and follow his dreams. Javed's passion for Springsteen's music helps him find his voice to write poetry, which is also spurred on by his English teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), and a kindly elderly neighbour (David Hayman) who takes an interest in the teenager's literary works. Javed soon attracts the interest of a student activist, Eliza (Nell Williams), but Malik disapproves of his son's newfound liberation, instead forcing Javed to adopt traditional Pakistani values and career paths.
With a script by Chadha, Manzoor, and Bend It Like Beckham co-writer Paul Mayeda Berges, Blinded by the Light tackles a lot of narrative and thematic material during its two-hour duration. On top of Javed's spiritual awakening, the film delves into the tough British economy during Thatcher's reign (with job losses, high unemployment rates and industrial unrest), the era's political turmoil, racist attitudes, as well as the cultural expectations of Pakistani children like Javed. While the narrative beats are hardly new ideas in the realm of coming-of-age stories, especially the tension between Javed and his parents, it hardly matters when the execution is this confident and jubilant. Moreover, even though Blinded by the Light tugs on the heartstrings a few times in the third act, it does not feel mawkish or manipulative, which is a testament to Chadha's well-judged direction. Not everything works - the most egregious plot distraction involves Javed abruptly breaking up with Eliza, while the characters also overcome some plot obstacles a bit too conveniently - but there are no major shortcomings.
Although not a traditional movie musical, Blinded by the Light is peppered with flights of fancy which showcase Springsteen's music, and the resulting sequences are magical. During one especially rousing scene, a despondent Javed listens to Springsteen for the first time on his Walkman, and the lyrics appear on-screen around him to highlight the poeticism and relevance of The Boss' words. In another scene, Javed fearlessly sings an impromptu version of "Thunder Road" at an outdoor market, joined by Rob Brydon (a massive Springsteen fan in real life), to woo Eliza. Such sequences risk coming across as cornball or awkward, but they work thanks to Chadha's sincere handling of the material. Chadha's directional approach is low-key during the dramatic character moments, but she cuts loose with an electric sense of style when Springsteen tracks fill the speakers, though she's careful not to overdo these sequences. Blinded by the Light features twelve Springsteen songs, including several classic hits and a few rarities that fans of The Boss will cherish. The soundtrack even contains the previously unreleased song "I'll Stand by You," which was originally written for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone but ended up being shelved for nearly twenty years. Furthermore, the recreation of '80s-era England here is virtually effortless, from the distinctive fashion to the storefronts and vehicles, as well as the technology. Additionally, the production design feels astonishingly authentic and lived-in - and it was all achieved on a very modest $15 million budget.
Newcomer Kalra (making his film debut) is one hell of a find, creating a three-dimensional and thoroughly believable character with the role of Javed. There is not a single moment of artifice from Kalra throughout the movie - every line delivery is credible, and he conveys incredible emotional depth as he transforms from a timid teenager to a young adult, developing the confidence to come out of his shell and embrace his passion for writing. Meanwhile, as Malik, Kulvinder Ghir (Bend It Like Beckham) gives genuine gravitas and depth to what could've been a one-note role. It's the father-son relationship at the centre of Blinded by the Light which gives the movie its emotional grounding, ensuring that - despite the fantastical elements - the story is profoundly human. Also worth mentioning is funnyman Rob Brydon in a small but colourful role as the father of Javed's best friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman).
Although not an outright financial bomb, Blinded by the Light failed to light the box office on fire, which is a great injustice for a flick this insanely disarming. Much like Chadha's 2002 hit Bend It Like Beckham, this is a shameless crowd-pleaser with honest-to-goodness humanity and evocative themes which has several cultural talking points on its mind. The script cannot avoid clichés or familiar narrative beats, but it all gels, miraculously coming together to create something brilliant and narratively meaningful. Although somewhat cheesy at times, the material never feels phoney or false, which reflects the quality of the performances and the direction. Blinded by the Light is absolutely worth your time, and it would be a fantastic double feature with John Carney's similarly brilliant '80s-themed 2016 musical Sing Street.
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Posted : 4 months, 2 weeks ago on 9 September 2020 11:29 (A review of The Last Wave)
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Director Peter Weir's follow-up to the critically acclaimed Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1977's The Last Wave is a seminal motion picture from the Australian New Wave era of the '70s and '80s, during which Australian cinema saw a resurgence in worldwide popularity. Instead of a generic or simplistic apocalyptic drama, The Last Wave is steeped in Australia's Indigenous culture, with unique Dreamtime themes that are seldom represented in mainstream motion pictures. With a screenplay by Weir, Tony Morphett and Petru Popescu, this is a thematically intriguing and haunting mystery, buoyed by a top-notch cast and a consistently engaging, ethereal visual style.
A mysterious wild weather event hits Australia, bringing heavy rain and hail to both rural towns and metropolitan areas, and the Indigenous population are the only people able to recognise the significance of the abnormal weather conditions. After an altercation between a group of Aboriginal men outside a pub in Sydney, one of them mysteriously winds up dead, though the cause of death is inconclusive. A coronial inquest rules the death as a homicide, and the Aboriginal men involved are summarily accused of murder. With a trial date scheduled, the men receive legal representation in the form of white solicitor David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), a devoted family man with a loving wife (Olivia Hamnett) and two daughters. With the freak rainstorms persisting and black rain starting to fall, David is plagued by strange visions that he cannot explain, and he senses an inexplicable connection to one of the accused men, Chris (David Gulpilil). Through learning about Aboriginal culture, David begins to believe that his visions are premonitions of a coming apocalypse.
The central mystery driving The Last Wave is not a question of innocence; instead, the mystery is why the Aboriginal men committed the crime. The accused men remain tight-lipped throughout the judicial process, with Chris perpetually reluctant to tell David about the spiritual implications of either the death or the damaging rainstorms. David is a rational middle-class man with social skills and material wealth, yet he is suddenly confronted with a developing situation that is beyond his conventional understanding. Under Weir's careful direction, The Last Wave is not fast-paced or full of instant gratification; instead, it's all about the build-up and suspense, and is closer to a European arthouse film than a mainstream Hollywood thriller. Admittedly, however, Weir cannot quite stick the landing, as the climactic sequence in an underground Sydney tunnel system loses a bit of direction and seems slightly rushed. Nevertheless, this is a relatively minor misstep.
The Last Wave is elevated by the sumptuous, measured cinematography courtesy of industry veteran Russell Boyd, who previously filmed Picnic at Hanging Rock for Weir. Boyd and Weir embrace the opportunity to show off some eye-catching Sydney locations, though Adelaide also stood in for Sydney from time to time (David's house, for instance, is an Adelaide location). Weir's visualisations of David's surrealistic dreams are stunning, with a strong theme about the power of nature - in one especially memorable scene, David sees a modern Sydney street submerged in water, complete with vehicles, people and shopfronts. The sense of atmosphere throughout The Last Wave is enthralling, with heavy rain and powerful winds, and the movie further benefits from a hypnotic synthesiser score by Charles Wain (this was one of only two feature films he scored). Luckily, the meagre $800,000 budget scarcely limits the scope of the story, and, aside from a few fleeting instances of obvious, low-quality archival footage (see the final scene, for example), the movie does not feel cheap.
Another tremendous asset is the cast. Leading man Chamberlain emanates charisma and infuses the material with honest-to-goodness gravitas, while seasoned Indigenous actor Gulpilil (Storm Boy, Crocodile Dundee, Dark Age) is credible and disarming as an enigmatic tribal Aborigine. Admittedly, The Last Wave is not for all tastes due to its arthouse sensibilities as well as the deliberate ambiguousness of several plot points. Indeed, the ending leaves room open to interpretation, which might be maddening for viewers expecting a more mainstream thriller. However, for film buffs interested in genre-bending titles or Australian movies, this motion picture is worth your time. Beset with haunting imagery and powerful performances, The Last Wave is the type of surrealistic, atmospheric cinema that filmmakers often attempt but rarely get right.
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Posted : 6 months ago on 25 July 2020 06:52 (A review of Danger Close)
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Australian involvement in the Vietnam War is seldom covered in film and television, outside of the little-known 1979 film The Odd Angry Shot and the obscure 1987 miniseries Vietnam. Enter 2019's Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, a contemporary Australian production about the oft-studied titular battle from 1966. Under the careful directorial eye of Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Australia Day), Danger Close is a top-notch war film which is both intense and riveting, and it deserves to be viewed on the largest possible screen. Commendably, this is not a bargain-basement production that feels cheap or nasty; rather, it's a slick and proficiently produced feature which never appears budgetarily constrained. Although not able to reach the upper echelon of war movies, Danger Close presents an accurate, satisfying, and above all moving recreation of the historical battle.
In August of 1966, three Australian Army Delta Company platoons led by Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel) are dispatched to investigate a rubber tree plantation at Long Tan following a mortar attack on the 1st Australian Task Force base in South Vietnam. Commanded by Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp (Mojean Aria), with support from Sergeant Bob Buick (Luke Bracey), 11 Platoon comes under heavy fire from an entire battalion of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers, and struggle to hold the line with dwindling resources until reinforcements arrive. 12 Platoon, under the command of Second Lieutenant David Sabben (Sam Parsonson), as well as 10 Platoon, scramble to help their fellow soldiers. As the inexperienced Australian men engage in the fight of their lives, the skittish officers back at the base are wary of the risk of sending more reinforcements into Long Tan.
Controversies surround the Vietnam War as well as Australia's involvement, but Danger Close wisely eschews exploring the turbulent political situation; instead, the film simply concentrates on the Australian soldiers who faced impossible odds on the battlefield. This results in a refreshingly apolitical, boots-on-the-ground war picture devoid of narrative flab and sensationalism. Among the most commendable aspects of Danger Close is its accessibility, as even viewers unfamiliar with military operations and jargon will still be able to follow and become invested in the proceedings. Additionally, the movie provides sufficient context and build-up before the titular battle commences, establishing the characters (without relying on stereotypical flashbacks or hoary stories about wives/girlfriends back home) and even revealing that a concert was occurring on the afternoon of the battle. Admittedly, though, the screenplay does take dramatic liberties, some of which are detrimental. For instance, the portrayal of Second Lieutenant Sharp is unnecessarily antagonistic and ignorant, and an early heated exchange between Major Smith and Private Paul Large (Daniel Webber) seems gratuitous and overblown. There are a few too many dramatic scenes of soldiers defiantly standing up to their superiors, as well. However, these are minor shortcomings.
The production benefits from comprehensive research and an exhaustive attention to detail, which is reflected in the screenplay (credited to five writers, including Stuart Beattie) as well as the production values. Produced on a robust $24 million AUD budget, the illusion throughout Danger Close is compelling and convincing, from the era-specific period recreation to the spot-on costumes and firearms, in addition to the intense battle sequences beset with explosions and bullets zooming through the air. Stenders acquits himself admirably with the material, staging the shootouts with visual finesse and superlative intensity, aided by superb editing and slick cinematography, as well as exceptional sound design which puts you in the thick of the action alongside the Australian and New Zealand soldiers. (The sound design won an AACTA award.) The fighting throughout Danger Close is visceral and violent, and Stenders never shies away from showing bullet impacts or wounded soldiers. The use of practical effects and authentic jungle locations (with Queensland, Australia standing in for Vietnam) gives the production a gritty, realistic edge, while sparing use of subtle digital effects further augment the illusion. The CGI is occasionally obvious, especially when artillery is deployed (plus, the slow-motion POV shots following artillery shells through the air are a bit gratuitous), but it's not a deal-breaker. Danger Close also benefits from the score by Australian composer Caitlin Yeo (who specialises in documentaries and TV shows); the music is flavoursome and intense, and is never too intrusive. Even though there is a lot of fighting throughout Danger Close's two-hour runtime, it does not feel repetitive or boring.
In the de facto lead role of Major Smith, it is interesting to see Travis Fimmel (The Beast, Vikings) espouse his native Australian accent, and the resultant performance is unfailingly engaging. Fimmel is arguably the most high-profile actor in the cast (except maybe Richard Roxburgh or Luke Bracey), as the ensemble otherwise comprises of lesser-known Aussie talent. The lack of forced international star power is laudable, and the performers effectively hit their marks throughout. The movie also contains a welcome, larrikin sense of humour which makes the soldiers feel more real; one character even retorts "We're not here to fuck spiders!" in one scene. Furthermore, Australian Army advisors were present during every stage of the production; therefore, the battlefield tactics and firing positions ring true in every frame, giving the movie a stronger sense of authenticity.
As is almost customary for this type of true-life war picture, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan closes with a montage of images of the real men involved in the battle, paying poignant tribute to the soldiers and their sacrifices. Plus, it's all set to the (somewhat predictable) tune of "I Was Only 19" by Redgum. It is a wonder why it took so long for the Battle of Long Tan to receive the big-screen treatment since the skirmish is frequently covered in classrooms across Australia, but it's encouraging to report that this movie has finally happened and that it's actually worthwhile. Danger Close is worth your time and attention, and it will stand the test of time.
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Posted : 6 months, 1 week ago on 15 July 2020 03:30 (A review of Captain Marvel)
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Arriving twelve months after 2018's culturally significant Black Panther, Captain Marvel is the first instalment in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature a female lead. The obvious comparison in this respect is 2017's Wonder Woman, which verified the commercial and critical validity of female-led superhero movies after years of misfires (Elektra, Catwoman, Supergirl, and so on). Unfortunately, although it is reassuring to finally see a female-led MCU entry, this aspect alone is not enough to elevate Captain Marvel above the ordinary. In fact, the effort as a whole is below-average - it's certainly slick and full of colourful action, but it lacks the requisite stakes to make this story genuinely compelling. Furthermore, it lacks the thematic and narrative elegance of something like Wonder Woman, and the result feels like the worst kind of bland, commercial, assembly-line filmmaking.
Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), who is known as Vers, works as part of a Kree military squad on the planet Hala, answering to her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). The Kree are at war with the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifting extraterrestrials led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who are capable of impersonating humanoids. Following a conflict with the Skrulls, Carol is subjected to a mind probe which reveals scattered memories of a past life on Earth in which she was a pilot in the United States Air Force. Carol escapes but crash-lands on Earth in the mid-1990s, where she immediately attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). With the Skrulls arriving on Earth, Carol pairs up with Fury to stop a potentially world-ending alien invasion. In the process, Carol also learns more about the life she previously lived, reuniting with her former co-pilot and best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch).
With a script credited to directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind), as well as Geneva Robertson-Dworet, one of the fundamental issues facing Captain Marvel relates to the narrative. The opening act of the movie is borderline indecipherable, rushing frenetically through too much story material without any substance to supplement the visual pizzazz. As a result, even though the film benefits from a slick technical presentation that is customary for the MCU, it's impossible to feel genuinely involved in the proceedings. Moreover, whether it's a shortcoming of the editing or the screenplay, the film butchers the Kree/Skrull war, which is a significant storyline in the comics but receives insufficient development here. Worse, Captain Marvel should be about Carol trying to reconcile with having fragmented memories of a past life, and experiencing the disorientation of recognising places and people without knowing why she does. Upon arriving on Earth, investigating these memories should be Carol's primary motivation, taking precedence over the Skrull hunt. Alas, without this motivation, Carol's arc feels tragically underdeveloped. Admittedly, dealing with Carol's origin in flashback is a welcome formula change, but the audience should be allowed to spend more time in Carol's past life to get to know her. Alas, a lack of meaty background detail affects a viewer's ability to become emotionally invested in the protagonist or care when she's in danger.
At the end of the second act, Captain Marvel pulls a bait and switch with a twist that recontextualises the narrative. However, not everything adds up with the characters' previous behaviours, and it also means that the real villain is not revealed until the finale. The political metaphor of said finale is about as subtle as a shotgun; the villain is, essentially, the patriarchy holding Carol back from embracing her true power. Equally awful is a battle sequence set to the tune of "Just a Girl," to further underscore the dubious significance of a female superhero kicking arse on-screen. Indeed, Captain Marvel is too on-the-nose with political matters, with Carol being belittled by an obnoxious man on a motorcycle, and preachy themes about border control/refugees. Real-world allegories are a staple of Marvel Comics, but most of this material comes across as head-slappingly obvious and sanctimonious. Even the devout refusal to include a love interest for Carol is clearly a political decision.
There is no denying Larson's talent as an actress, with her breakout role in Room leading to an Academy Award, but she is grossly miscast as Carol Danvers. She lacks personality and spunk, and fails to make an adequate impression or convey requisite cinematic strength. One can certainly argue that her memory loss led to a personality wipe, but her renewed personality should begin to emerge through the film as she grows and develops. Unfortunately, this does not occur. Worse, there is no character arc for Carol. Throughout the movie, men consistently belittle her and hold her back, until she eventually removes an actual physical mechanism which suppresses her powers, and summarily becomes supercharged and invincible. But this version of a hero's journey literally amounts to Carol being right and perfect for her whole life, and the proceedings continually validating her righteousness. In other words, there are no flaws for her to overcome, nor does she actually learn anything, because Carol has no flaws - and, consequently, she does not feel human or relatable. Thus, Carol does not have a meaty motivation and never undergoes a meaningful arc. It's difficult to ignore the political implications of this character, since the writers appear reluctant to portray Carol as flawed in any way. One could argue that any number of weaknesses might feel clichéd or overdone, but, if executed with genuine sincerity, even the tritest of character weaknesses can translate to something meaningful and emotional. Anything would be more rewarding than this.
On the bright side, the 1990s nostalgia is appreciated, such as Carol crash-landing into a Blockbuster Video store, plus a painfully slow-loading CD-ROM drive and the mostly agreeable selection of era-specific songs. (Carol even wears a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt.) Also, the recreation of the 1990s is spot-on, from the vehicles to the fashions, and production values are state-of-the-art all-round. Another element which truly works is the original score by Pinar Toprak (TV's Krypton), which is flavoursome and unique as opposed to outright generic - there is even some retro synth. Unfortunately, no amount of CGI and nostalgia can compensate for the utter emptiness of the battle sequences, which are devoid of stakes because it's impossible to care about Carol and it's difficult to become invested in the Kree-Skrull war. Furthermore, watching the supercharged Carol defeat everybody without breaking a sweat is about as interesting as watching paint dry. Captain Marvel also lacks a sense of the exotic since every alien species on-screen speaks English. Hell, the Skrulls are often depicted as buffoonish, too, which undermines any sense of menace. Unsurprisingly, Mendelsohn is an acting standout - he is even allowed to embrace his native Australian accent while playing Talos, and he gives the material genuine gravitas.
The prequel angle of Captain Marvel facilitates some interesting possibilities; for instance, both Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace reprise their (now-deceased) roles from Guardians of the Galaxy. However, Pace's role of Ronan the Accuser is particularly emasculated and powerless, with his appearance amounting to nothing. This story also introduces a glaring timeline issue relating to the Tesseract, which is top-secret S.H.I.E.L.D. property but was apparently loaned out to a military scientist (played by Annette Bening). Meanwhile, the digital de-aging of Jackson is sublime, ably demonstrating that this technology has progressed to the point that such characters can take on a major role in future productions, which has innumerable possibilities. Jackson visibly enjoys playing a younger version of Fury, delivering a loose, humorous performance - he almost saves the movie. However, Jackson's athleticism is lacking, as he still moves with the limited agility of a man in his 70s. (Martin Scorsese's The Irishman encountered a similar issue.) The mystery of Fury's scarred eye is also addressed...and it is disappointing and underwhelming. It is also worth pointing out that the de-aging of Clark Gregg (in his first Marvel movie since 2012's The Avengers) is less effective, though the illusion still works to an extent.
Among the things that Captain Marvel does correctly, the opening tribute to the late Stan Lee is enough to bring a tear to your eye, and Stan's cameo in the film is one of his better appearances in the MCU. At the end of the day, however, Captain Marvel is one big misfire which sits right at the bottom of the Marvel canon, just below The Incredible Hulk and the two Ant-Man films. The narrative issues are a major problem, as well as the lack of a character arc - as a result, this superhero blockbuster entertaining in drips and drabs, but falls drastically short of the brilliance of Iron Man or The Avengers, or any number of other great MCU entries. Even though Larson's titular character is on-screen for two hours, she still remains an enigma when the end credits begin to appear, and she's never as endearing or as fun as Jackson's Nick Fury. Captain Marvel is a waste of potential, pure and simple.
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Posted : 7 months, 1 week ago on 20 June 2020 04:37 (A review of The War of the Worlds)
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The first cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells' renowned 1898 novel of the same name, The War of the Worlds endures as one of the most defining science-fiction films of the 1950s. Following in the shadow of The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide, but appearing before the likes of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, this ambitious 1953 production uses the premise of an alien attack to play on the Cold War-era paranoia about foreign invasion. There is no denying the historical or cultural significance of this original The War of the Worlds, with its groundbreaking special effects and a daring story about malevolent invaders which scared the living daylights out of audiences back in 1953. However, there is not much in the way of humanity or substance to this sci-fi thriller, which also appears noticeably dated in many respects.
When a flaming meteor from outer space crashes near a small town in California, scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is quickly drawn to the impact site, along with scores of tourists and curious locals. Deciding to pursue further examination of the meteor, Clayton soon meets beautiful librarian Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) who is excited to learn about his work. However, the meteor turns out to be one of several alien crafts that have landed around the Earth, from which powerful Martian war machines emerge to obliterate cities and eradicate humans. Although the American military is quick to act, invisible shields protect the war machines which are impervious to all of humanity's weaponry. As the Martians intensify their relentless assault, Clayton and Sylvia desperately endeavour to find a scientific way to defeat the invaders, turning to Clayton's colleagues at Pacific Tech for help.
Although sci-fi movies existed before The War of the Worlds, there had never been anything quite like this before. The screenplay by Barré Lyndon shoots down all notions of a benevolent alien race as the first characters to make contact with the Martians are summarily incinerated - the invaders are "cool and unsympathetic," in the words of H.G. Wells. Additionally, Lyndon's adaptation majorly deviates from Wells' original novel in several ways, but perhaps the most notable is the film's perspective on religion. For instance, a sympathetic pastor (Lewis Martin) plays a considerable role in the first act before dying as a martyr, and the conclusion strongly implies that divine intervention is what leads to the Martians' defeat. These religious overtones are not uncommon for the era but do not play as well in 2020, especially the abrupt ending that feels sudden and anticlimactic.
Directed by Byron Haskin on a modest $2 million budget, the scale of The War of the Worlds is genuinely extraordinary for the era. Especially considering the crude special effects technology of the early 1950s, the imagery of the flying Martian war machines destroying cities is undeniably remarkable. Captured by cinematographer George Barnes (The Greatest Show on Earth), The War of the Worlds was shot in gorgeous Three-Strip Technicolor, which creates a striking, vivid filmic image. Although the visual effects are dated by 2020 standards, the design of the Martian war machines is commendable, deliberately resembling manta rays, while the accompanying sound effects are highly inventive. However, the design of the actual Martians is much less successful, as they look downright silly and laughable. It is difficult to share Sylvia's terror when she comes face to face with one of the Martians, which is a major problem. Furthermore, there's an undeniable "stagey" feeling to large swaths of the film, since The War of the Worlds was primarily shot on studio sound stages and the actors frequently stood on sets in front of extensive matte paintings. Unfortunately, this creates an artificial aesthetic, though the artistry is still easy to appreciate.
More problematic about The War of the Worlds is the lack of humanity; the movie features dull, one-dimensional characters who feel more like archetypes than actual humans. Unsurprisingly for a 1950s sci-fi flick, the story mostly concentrates on scientists and military men, and there is no room amid the spectacle for any authentic character development. Additionally, the characters do not even carry any recognisable personality traits. Some of the dialogue is memorable, such as the proclamation of "Once they begin to move, no more news comes out of that area" which is referenced in the 2005 Steven Spielberg remake, but there's simply no solid emotional core to supplement the death and destruction. Consequently, it is difficult to become fully involved and invested in the proceedings. Nevertheless, the actors themselves are fine, with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson giving it their all despite playing glorified archetypes, but nobody deserves any awards.
The War of the Worlds still has ample merit, and there is no denying its ineffaceable influence on sci-fi cinema which remains apparent in the 21st Century. The special effects are impressive for the era, while the accompanying music by Leith Stevens is memorable and impactful - the main title theme is especially fantastic. Nevertheless, especially due to the film's often stilted disposition, this iteration of The War of the Worlds is virtually obsolete for today's audiences, and is only an essential watch for cinema or sci-fi enthusiasts. As blasphemous as it may sound to some, I greatly prefer Steven Spielberg's 2005 remake.
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Posted : 7 months, 1 week ago on 15 June 2020 03:02 (A review of Uncommon Valor)
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1983's Uncommon Valor is a real meat and potatoes action movie ingrained with macho themes of brotherhood, honour and heroism, plus a considerable side order of testosterone. Directed by Ted Kotcheff (Wake in Fright) and produced by the inimitable John Milius, this is a satisfying manly movie in every sense of the word; a live-action iteration of "Soldiers of Fortune" magazine, packed with guns, explosions, helicopters and plenty of attitude.
A decade after the United States pulled out of the Vietnam War, some 2500 American soldiers are still listed as "missing in action," and might still be imprisoned in Vietnam. Retired Marine Colonel Jason Rhodes (Gene Hackman) firmly believes that his son, Frank (Todd Allen), is still alive and being held at a POW camp in Laos after being listed as MIA. After years of searching and gathering information, Rhodes discovers a promising lead but receives no assistance from the U.S. government. Determined to bring Frank home safely, Rhodes secures financial backing from a wealthy oil businessman (Robert Stack) and assembles a team of Vietnam veterans who were a part of Frank's platoon. Joining the group is former Recon Marine Kevin Scott (Patrick Swayze), whose father is also MIA in Vietnam. Under Rhodes' leadership, the team begins extensive training for the dangerous operation before flying into Southeast Asia hoping to bring home their missing countrymen.
The notion of American prisoners of war still being held in Vietnam became a full-blown action subgenre in the 1980s, leading to the likes of Missing in Action, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and other minor action titles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, since this is an action movie first and foremost, the intricate political situation surrounding the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue is only briefly touched upon, and is not explored with any depth or significance. Furthermore, the Rhodes family angle is undercooked and cut down to the bare essentials. Hell, Rhodes' wife (Gail Strickland) only receives about a minute of screen-time in total. Indeed, the screenplay (credited to Joe Gayton, from a story by actor Wings Hauser) is more focused on the mission at hand, tracking Rhodes as he determinedly assembles his squad and begins training before they travel to Laos. It's pretty formulaic, but that's par for the course - and even though some clichés are apparent, the movie manages to circumvent other obvious genre tropes. Uncommon Valor delivers what matters the most in this genre: it's brisk and no-nonsense, without any distracting pretensions or subplots to weigh down the narrative.
Kotcheff, who was fresh off directing 1982's First Blood, shows a firm command of the movie, making the most of the generous (for the era) $11 million budget. Aside from the opening scene depicting a battle in Vietnam, the action is reserved for the third act when the squad heads into hostile territory, and it is worth the wait - the finale at the POW camp is genuinely exciting and well-crafted, with competent production values to boot. The set-pieces are captured with sturdy cinematography by Stephen H. Burum, who often collaborated with Francis Ford Coppola (he even shot Apocalypse Now) and became Brian De Palma's go-to director of photography. Uncommon Valor was produced before the digital filmmaking revolution; therefore, it's a showcase for practical effects, with several helicopters even featuring in the climax. There's a certain grit and charm to '80s action movies with real pyrotechnics, location shooting and sets, which makes this a hugely entertaining watch in the 21st Century. Plus, although the action sequences still exhibit '80s filmmaking sensibilities, the shootouts are more believable than a more standard-order goofy action film, and are not outright ridiculous. Uncommon Valor also features one of James Horner's earlier film scores, and it's characteristically rousing work by the late composer. There's genuine majesty to the music, ably driving the film and amplifying the sense of excitement during the action scenes. The film even closes with a cheesy but effective Ray Kennedy song called "Brothers in the Night," which is note-perfect for the end credits.
A men-on-a-mission movie of this ilk heavily relies on a memorable ensemble cast, and Uncommon Valor delivers in this respect. Veteran actor (and former real-life Marine) Hackman is great in anything, and he's a superb leader as Colonel Rhodes, bringing reliable gravitas to the role despite the movie's B-grade origins. The colourful ensemble also incorporates a demolitions expert (Reb Brown), a traumatised soldier who prefers stealth kills (Fred Ward), an ace pilot (Tim Thomerson), a token African-American soldier (Harold Sylvester), and a crazy but loyal machine gunner (Randall "Tex" Cobb). Cobb is a scene-stealer as the unhinged Sailor, and he's lovable in his craziness. Meanwhile, Swayze is surprisingly terrific as the by-the-book Marine Corporal, even though this was only his third feature-film appearance (this was a year before Red Dawn). The actors all hit their marks confidently, ensuring that we have a firm grasp of the characters before they carry out the dangerous mission in Laos.
There's more heart and emotion to Uncommon Valor than expected, and these qualities anchor the narrative - it's the most believable Vietnam POW/MIA movie from the 1980s. Aside from Rhodes being haunted by the absence of his son, it's also effective to see how the men are impacted by returning to military life after a decade of living as a civilian. A minor box office success in 1983, Uncommon Valor rapidly faded into obscurity, and is only remembered by avid genre fans. Those who enjoy this brand of macho '80s action film will get the most out of Uncommon Valor, as it's supremely entertaining, but everybody else need not apply.
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Posted : 9 months, 3 weeks ago on 4 April 2020 05:53 (A review of Police Squad!)
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Before The Naked Gun, there was the short-lived television show Police Squad! in 1982, which introduces the character of Detective Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) as well as the distinctive style of humour. Created by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, who were fresh off the success of 1980's Airplane!, this half-hour-long show hilariously spoofs police procedurals - more specifically, it's a parody of the forgotten 1950s TV show M Squad. In keeping with the other productions masterminded by the ZAZ trio, Police Squad! is jam-packed with so many gags that there's virtually always something on-screen to make you laugh. Unfortunately, only six (terrific) episodes were produced before Police Squad! was axed due to poor ratings. As Nielsen himself posits, the show did not succeed because it was ahead of its time - viewers need to actually pay attention to detect the humour, especially since the creators refused to include a laugh track.
In San Francisco, Frank Drebin is assigned to investigate violent crimes with the help of his boss, Captain Ed Hocken (Alan North), and lab technician Ted Olson (Ed Williams). The cases vary from homicides to kidnappings, while one episode also sees Frank going undercover to infiltrate a criminal gang that bribes boxers. Each episode features a special celebrity guest star, such as William Shatner and Florence Henderson, though they immediate get killed during the opening credits. Police Squad! is played relatively straight in terms of narrative, as there is some mystery and plot progression, while Frank follows leads and does actual police work...no matter how ridiculous some of the situations become. Indeed, although Police Squad! is not exactly immaculate from a writing perspective, it's more cohesive than most contemporary spoofs, which allows it to stand out.
Anybody familiar with Airplane!, Top Secret! or The Naked Gun should know what to expect from each episode of Police Squad!, as it adheres to the same template: countless sight gags and non-sequiturs which vary from the understated to the absurd. When Frank and Ed travel to Little Italy, for instance, famous Italian landmarks suddenly appear in the background, including the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In another scene, a shootout appears to occur across a great distance, but a wide shot soon reveals that the two gunmen are barely a metre apart. There are hilarious running gags throughout the series, too, such as the precinct's elevator stopping in ludicrous locations on each floor, or Frank hitting a number of objects that are equal to the episode number. Also, each episode ends with a faux freeze-frame, which spoofs that time-honoured TV tradition. Frank (and the rest of the city) even frequently consults an alleyway shoeshiner named Johnny the Snitch (William Duell), who has information on everything. The gags throughout Police Squad! are sometimes cheap and easy, but they still hit hard for the most part, and other scenes and jokes are seriously clever. Years later, I still laugh out loud several times per episode.
Police Squad! does not feature a laugh track and never winks at the audience, while the actors play the material earnestly. Due to this, the show's creators carefully selected directors without a comedic or sitcom background. Thus, episodes were helmed by directors from TV shows like Mission: Impossible, Charlie's Angels, Starsky and Hutch, and The Rockford Files, which makes Police Squad! feel more cinematic. Even the legendary Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) directed two episodes. It's all topped off with a pleasing jazz score by Ira Newborn, who went on to compose for the Naked Gun trilogy as well as several other classic flicks. Furthermore, the late Nielsen is note-perfect as Frank Drebin. He's an honest-to-goodness comedic gift, delivering every word with complete sincerity, and never seeming to be in on the joke. Williams, meanwhile, is the only actor aside from Nielsen who was carried over into the Naked Gun films, and he's a great find as Olson, the lab technician. Williams was actually a science teacher before Police Squad!, and this is his first real acting role.
Perhaps Police Squad!'s cancellation was fortuitous in the long run, especially since that the show eventually led to the Naked Gun film trilogy, and did not continue for long enough to run out of steam or grow stale. All six episodes are bottled lightning, and they remain both hilarious and entertaining in 2020. (However, I still wish there was at least a second season, given the creators' plans for celebrity cameos as well as including Gandhi wielding a machine gun in the opening credits.) Arguably, the debut episode is the best and most consistent of the season, which is likely because it's the only episode that was written and directed by the ZAZ trio. Not every gag lands in every episode, but the show is perpetually enjoyable thanks to the winning cast, and there are far more hits than misses. Police Squad! is an underrated gem.
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Posted : 10 months ago on 28 March 2020 03:20 (A review of The Haunting)
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The much-maligned remake of the classic 1963 film of the same name, 1999's The Haunting is a better flick than its reputation implies, thanks largely to a charismatic cast and exceptional set design. Scripted by David Self (Road to Perdition), the feature is based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House (which recently inspired a terrific Netflix series), and is actually more of a re-adaptation than a remake, since the production company could not obtain the remake rights for the 1963 film. Produced on an eye-watering $80 million budget, and with blockbuster extraordinaire Jan de Bont (Twister, Speed) at the helm, The Haunting is a visually striking horror movie, but it does not leave a lasting impression or get under your skin, which is a shame considering the talent and potential.
Dr. Jeffrey Marrow (Liam Neeson) intends to conduct an academic study on the nature of fear, and selects three participants under the pretence that the research relates to insomnia. Eleanor (Lili Taylor) is an insomniac who recently lost her mother and risks homelessness, and is one of the candidates chosen by Dr. Marrow for the experiment. Joining Eleanor is the adventurous Theodora (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the sarcastic young Luke (Owen Wilson), both of whom suffer from sleep disorders. Dr. Marrow, along with research assistants Mary (Alix Koromzay) and Todd (Todd Field), takes his subjects to the enormous gothic mansion known as Hill House, which was built in the 19th century on an isolated site in New England. Dr. Marrow intends to frighten the group by telling them about the house's disturbing history, but soon finds out that the mansion is really haunted by Hugh Crain (Charles Gunning) as well as the souls of several murdered children.
1963's The Haunting is celebrated for being a psychological horror film, as it never reveals any spirits or entities on-screen; it's a sublime demonstration of "less is more." However, this iteration of The Haunting mostly disregards psychological horror, instead relying on expensive special effects to create big set-pieces and show the entities inhabiting Hill House. Although this new approach is often perceived as a negative, merely duplicating the 1963 picture's style would likely feel too derivative. Furthermore, several of the scary moments receive innocuous explanations, which leaves you to wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you. The Haunting fares best throughout its first two acts, which are more restrained and contain numerous chilling moments, but it begins to lose its way as the proceedings build to an overblown climax. The digital effects by ILM are competent and serviceable, but do not always convincingly blend with the live-action material.
The real star of The Haunting is the extravagant production design by Eugenio Zanetti, which is a sight to behold, turning Hill House into a character of its own. The mansion's architecture is breathtaking, from the gothic statues to the windows, paintings and furniture - there is always something visually striking on-screen, and cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub (Universal Soldier, Independence Day) takes full advantage of the lavish sets. The sweeping exterior shots of a real mansion in England also serve to augment the sense of scope. Furthermore, the score by the late great Jerry Goldsmith is predictably magnificent, giving The Haunting some much-needed atmosphere and flavour. Meanwhile, in terms of the casting, Lili Taylor's character receives the most development, as the movie allows us to become acquainted with her before she sets foot in Hill House. (Luke and Theodora are not glimpsed until they arrive at the mansion.) Taylor is a talented performer, and she brings convincing depth to the role, always appearing committed to the material. Additionally, the always-reliable Neeson makes for a fine Dr. Marrow, while Zeta-Jones and Wilson are eminently watchable, even though neither of them step outside of their comfort zones.
In the grand pantheon of contemporary horror films, The Haunting is not among the worst, and it deserves a second chance. Although not exactly terrifying, it is entertaining and atmospheric, and it's low on mindless jump scares that have come to characterise the modern horror genre. It's a bit long in the tooth at just under two hours, and the climax is underwhelming, but some moments throughout the feature are creepy and thrilling, while the production design remains a visual marvel. In short, while not the classic it had the potential to be, the movie gets just enough right to ensure it's worth watching. Spurred on by the negative critical reception, The Haunting was nominated for five Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture, but it does not deserve such disdain.
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Posted : 11 months, 1 week ago on 19 February 2020 03:04 (A review of Toy Story 4)
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Back in 2010, Pixar Studios defied the odds to deliver the excellent Toy Story 3, a long-delayed sequel which closed the Toy Story series on a fitting, cathartic, pitch-perfect note. Arriving nine years later, 2019's Toy Story 4 sees Pixar defying the odds once again, producing a third sequel that confidently avoids tarnishing Toy Story's esteemed legacy. With newcomer Josh Cooley at the helm, this fourth Toy Story feature does not attempt to retcon the earlier films, or extend the brand awkwardly or unnaturally - instead, it assuredly justifies its existence by exploring fertile narrative and thematic ground. Recapturing the spirit of its predecessors, Toy Story 4 is immense fun, delivering all the requisite comedy, adventure, joy, and whimsy that has characterised this franchise since the beginning.
This sequel picks up two years after Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of Andy's toys were donated to young Bonnie (Madeline McGraw). However, Bonnie has started neglecting Woody; she ignores him during playtime, and puts his sheriff badge on Jessie (Joan Cusack) instead. Still determined to protect Bonnie, Woody sneaks along for her kindergarten orientation where she creates a new plaything out of a spork: the neurotic, googly-eyed Forky (Tony Hale). Bonnie loves Forky, but he instantly experiences an existential crisis, believing that he is garbage as opposed to an actual toy. Woody serves as Forky's around-the-clock guardian, an undertaking that gets more complicated when Bonnie's family goes on a road trip. Getting lost after Forky dives out of the RV, Woody and his new pal find themselves at an antique store where they encounter a talking doll, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). As Buzz and the other toys search for their friends, Woody is held captive by Gabby Gabby, who intends to rejuvenate herself by stealing his voice box. The adventure reunites Woody with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her sheep, who now live as nomad adventurers without a child owner.
Perhaps inevitably, Toy Story 4 plays out with a different tone to the preceding films. It's still Toy Story with the same brand of scenarios, but it deals with fresh themes and ideas, and subsequently feels like somewhat of a standalone movie even though it does tie off a loose plot thread from Toy Story 3. Indeed, an opening prologue details Bo Peep's initial departure from the group, with Woody forced to choose between the woman he loves and Andy's bedroom, which sets up the main thrust of this story. (The intervening years with Bo are briskly covered in the Disney+ exclusive short movie, Lamp Life.) Once the story hits the road with Bonnie's family, Toy Story 4 splits up the principal toys, with screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom labouring to include everybody in some capacity. Woody's story is easily the meatiest while Buzz's subplot is less involving, as he searches for his "inner voice" in the form of his pre-recorded Space Ranger voice messages. Buzz has less to do here compared to the previous movies, while the script also sidelines the rest of the returning characters, which is a bit disappointing.
Toy Story 4 is not an all-out sobfest like Toy Story 3, but the finale does tug on the heartstrings, and those who grew up with these flicks will find the ending indescribably affecting. Toy Story 3 saw the toys coming to terms with mortality and time, but this fourth movie involves the main characters dealing with self-actualisation. This theme is primarily explored in Woody's arc, as he ponders his true purpose and struggles to remain a leader/guardian. Unwanted by Bonnie, the cowboy desperately clings to his longstanding role in the group, with his increasingly meaningless existence now solely consumed with safeguarding Bonnie's happiness. Woody takes the initiative with the arrival of Forky, frantically trying to maintain order and prevent the spork from committing suicide. Furthermore, Gabby Gabby is a more layered villain than expected; instead of an outright sinister antagonist, Gabby Gabby adds welcome poignancy to the story and contributes to Woody's character growth. However, as ever, even though there are deeper themes at play, Toy Story 4 does not skimp on the laughs - the writing is witty and razor-sharp, making this one of 2019's most effective comedies. Indeed, like many of Pixar's movies, Toy Story 4 is hugely entertaining, but there is also more to the feature than just humour and adventure. Likewise, the narrative does incorporate familiar story beats, but the sophisticated and confident execution prevents the movie from feeling perfunctory or formulaic.
The improvements in Pixar's animation techniques since 1995 are all over the screen, but Toy Story 4 also takes things a step further. In addition to the animation looking more detailed than ever, the cinematography and lighting are particularly exceptional, as the animators deliberately simulate the look of specific camera lenses from shot to shot, down to anamorphic/spherical distortion, careful focus, and even grain/noise. Furthermore, as usual, Pixar gets ample mileage from creating perilous set-pieces in everyday locations with banal things - the antique store, for instance, is the stage for a rescue mission, and the toys face great risk in the form of a cat. The franchise's long-time composer, Randy Newman, also returns for this instalment, cooking up a flavoursome soundtrack that's wholly in keeping with his melodic contributions to the original trilogy. Newman even contributes a new original song, "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away," which received an Oscar nomination.
Without a doubt, it's the supporting cast who steal the show in Toy Story 4. Sure, the returning cast is magnificent from top to bottom, as the performers immaculately slip back into their respective roles, but the new characters deliver the lion's share of the laughs. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are roll-on-the-ground hilarious as a snarky pair of stuffed carnival animals, while the always-reliable Keanu Reeves brings terrific oomph and enthusiasm as overeager Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom. Tony Hale is another comedic standout as Forky, giving the timid utensil a legitimate personality and easily earning big laughs. Out of the main cast, Hanks does most of the heavy lifting in terms of drama, and his effortless gravitas elevates the material. Plus, Toy Story 4 sees the return of Annie Potts as Bo, who ably handles a more prominent role in this story. Moreover, Bo's character evolution is intriguing, with the formally soft-spoken love interest becoming a self-assured, self-sufficient action heroine, and Potts convincingly sells the characterisation. Hanks and Potts' interplay is a constant joy, as well, infusing the picture with genuine heart. Admittedly, the movie does miss hitting darker notes in the Woody/Bo relationship, particularly in regards to their philosophical differences, but this is a negligible misstep.
At first glance, this basic plot could have been turned into another Toy Story television special or Disney+ original. However, there is weight and significance to Toy Story 4's narrative, which sparkles with the same adventurous spirit as its predecessors while finding interesting new places for the characters to go. Even though this is more or less a victory lap sequel, it's miraculous how fresh the film feels, and it does not carry the commercial/cash-in vibe of other Pixar sequels. In fact, while Toy Story 4 still primarily targets a young audience, this instalment is actually more relatable for adults, as it's a story about coping with loss and change. Toy Story 3 felt like the perfect conclusion to a perfect trilogy, but this fourth film is a worthwhile and welcome epilogue. Hilarious, visually stunning, exciting, swiftly-paced, and emotional, Toy Story 4 is further proof that, even with a few misfires under the studio's belt, it's foolish to underestimate Pixar. Be sure to stick around for additional material during the end credits.
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