Toy Story 4

After nine years since the last addition to the franchise, Pixar returns for a forth entry in the Toy Story series. Not a single “Toy Story” movie in the past led to any kind of disappointment, so it wasn’t surprising to discover that “Toy Story 4” was just as much of a delight as the previous three. Not only do Toy Story movies never disappoint, but neither do most Pixar movies in general. From Monsters Inc., to Finding Nemo and Wall-E, Pixar mixes humor and real life problems that makes for heartfelt and emotional roller coasters of films. This Pixar film in particular, does just that and ranks up there as one of the bests.

Now that Andy has grown up and moved on to college, Woody and the gang have settled in a new home with Bonnie, a little girl who’s creativity with toys has no end. When Bonnie nervously starts kindergarten, she uses that creative mind and makes Forky, a spork with googly eyes. He quickly becomes Bonnie’s new favorite toy, so it’s up to Woody to do as much as he can to keep Forky from losing himself in this new and confusing world. The movie focuses around a family vacation, that causes Woody and Forky to be departed form the rest of the toys, only to find incredible adventures along their way back to Bonnie.

From the opening, to the final shot, “Toy Story 4” elicits sheer joy with audiences, especially the younger viewers and the older ones who grew up alongside Woody and Buzz. It reminds viewers of the very first “Toy Story” and the witty humor of its dialogue. It’s also got the emotional aspects that came with the third in the franchise, though admittedly, the quantity of tears doesn’t quite rank up there as it did with the previous installment.

“Toy Story 4” hosts great voice performances from Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as usual, but also a surprise performance from “John Wick” action star; Keanu Reeves. Reeves voices Duke Kaboom, an action figure whose speciality is riding through hoops on a motorcycle. Tony Hale hilariously voices the show-stealer; Forky and comedy duo Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele voice two stuffed bears who have been waiting to be won as prizes at a carnival game.

The additions to the franchise are wonderful and make it unique enough to be different than the previous Toy Story films, while still keeping that heartfelt tone that comes with every Woody and Buzz adventure. It’s easily said that “Toy Story 4” is highly recommended for the whole family. Also, as a side note, nobody is too old for “Toy Story”.

Avengers: Endgame

After twenty something movies, non-stop action and superheroes doing superhero things, “Avengers: Endgame” concludes the saga, that is until the studios decide make more anyhow.

After the shocking events of Avengers: Infinity War, in which Thanos wiped out half of the human population, the remaining avengers team up, and attempt to undo Thanos’s inhumane actions. Together, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Window, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, War Machine, Nebula, Rocket, and Captain Marvel will attempt the impossible in order to bring peace back to a broken world.

It’s pretty difficult to discuss “Avengers: Endgame” without spoiling anything, that is unless you’ve been on the internet within the last week, in which case you may have been spoiled already. The movie is so huge, that it’s best to just go see it as soon as you can.

“Endgame” has that finality and climactic feel to it, like when you watch the final season of you’re favorite tv series. It’s wraps up characters’ plot lines, gives you some heartfelt goodbyes and of course, breaks you’re heart in many ways as well.

The actors preform well as these beloved characters, but that’s not news to you if you’ve seen the previous twenty films. Robert Downey Jr., in particular has done a spectacular job portraying Iron Man and his cocky humor and self-centeredness, while still portraying him as a human being with a big heart.

As with previous Marvel films, the humor is plentiful. “Ant-Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”, are among the funniest, while Avengers: Infinity War plays more on shock value. “Endgame” has a refreshing use of both. While, many scenes are played for laughs and light-heartedness, others attempt to make you nervous about the character they know you love.

The build up to the climax of “Avengers: Endgame” takes some time, and can even drag a certain points. However, if you’re a huge fan of this series, that won’t make much of a difference once the movies gets to the huge payoff. The climactic action sequence is one of the most thrilling scenes in years. If you go see “Avengers: Endgame” for one reason, that should be it.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

Pet Sematary

Every year we see a new Stephen King adaptation. This year, “Pet Sematary”was remade nearly 30 years after the first film and 36 years after King’s original novel was released. Some King adaptations are complete misses, while others become known as some of the best films ever made, much like “The Shining” and “Misery”. “Pet Sematary”, however seems to land somewhere in between.

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) move from their Boston home to Maine with their two children; their daughter Ellie and their son Gage. They soon discover, thanks to their friendly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow), that there’s a dark and brooding burial ground for pets in the woods behind the house, often accompanied by mysterious children wearing mask who perform some sort of ritual. When the family cat dies, they bury him, which leads to some creepy zombie mayhem that befalls the cursed family’s lives.

The original 1989 movie was campy and had a low production value, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining. The new “Pet Sematary” is quite entertaining at certain points, but at others it drags through its predictability. From the beginning of the film, you can see where it’s going, whether or not you’ve seen the original or read the book. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the creepiness of the movie, but it makes it difficult to care about the outcome.

While the original wasn’t very scary, the remake ups the ante on the creep factor. It’s visually dark from start to finish, making the atmosphere incredibly eerie. Just like most horror movies these days, there’s plenty of jump scares to go around as well. These are used cheaply and can be cliché at moments, but they’re effective enough to make the film as scary as it should be.

The plot line surrounding Rachel is by far the creepiest part of the film. Since she was a child, she had been cursed by the fact that she accidentally killed her bed-ridden sister with a dumbwaiter. She’s constantly haunted by the sound of the dumbwaiter coming down and she often has shocking hallucinations.

It’s easy to tell that “Pet Sematary” is a great story, on top of the fact that it was written by one of the best working authors of spooky fiction. The film however, isn’t as great as the story itself, which is likely due to the direction and performances. However, if you’re in the mood for a fun, creepy movie, “Pet Sematary” should do just fine.

Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language

Us

Jordan Peele returns for his second feature length film after the massive success of the cultural phenomenon that was “Get Out”. The horror, mystery, thriller was a social commentary on racism. However, this time with “Us” Jordan Peele gives us a thought provoking message that’s suggests that the true enemy may be ourselves.

Lupita Nyong’o stars as both Adelaide and Red, Red being her evil self who shows up at her family’s beach house alongside doppelgängers of her husband, daughter and son. These doppelgängers are known as “the tethered”. They look just like them, but act and sound differently as they attempt to murder their human selves. “They won’t stop until they kill us or we kill them”, says Adelaide in an attempt to gather her frightened families nerves’ back to reality.

Peele’s direction is impeccable and is even more established than in “Get Out”. His visually style and tone is becoming more clear with the unique camera movements and haunting music. From the very first frame, you can tell you’re watching something special.

The standout performance comes from Nyong’o who previously won on Academy Award for her performance in “12 Years a Slave”. With “Us” it seems she may be in the running for another one. Her talents shine through portraying two identical characters so differently. She plays a caring mother who will stop at nothing for her children’s’ safety, to an insane and stone-faced killer. As the runtime goes, you begin to forget that any of these actors are portraying two versions of themselves.

In addition to Nyong’o though, the rest of the cast does a stellar job. Winston Duke plays her husband Gabe and his tethered self, Abraham. Duke is quite funny in most of the movie, acting as the much needed comic relief. “If you wanna get crazy, we can get crazy.”, he says as he walks towards the end of the driveway as he attempts to threatened the tethered, until he realizes they’re not exactly who he thought they were.

“Us” is marketed as a horror film, but there’s much more to the terror and blood that you see in the film. Yes, the break in sequences is beyond creepy, and the very concept of having a doppelgänger try to kill you is the stuff of nightmares. However, “Us” is also a mystery, a thriller, a comedy, and in many ways a family drama as well. It has much to offer in its two hour runtime, making it one of the best horror films of the decade.

Rated R for violence/terror, and language.

Captive State

In a near dystopian future, about ten years after their arrival, aliens have taken complete control of the government. Set in Chicago, “Captive State” explores the lives of the human beings being forced to live under their control.

Rafe (who has since been presumed dead) led an unsuccessful but meaningful uprising against the aliens with a group of people called the Phoenix. However, things start to change for Rafe’s younger brother Gabriel when William Mulligan (John Goodman), a Chicago police officer looks for information on Rafe.

“Captive State” isn’t the typical type of alien invasion film like “War of the Worlds”. Instead is focused on the humanistic portion of those stories much like in films like “District 9” and “Arrival”. However, it’s unfortunate that “Captive State” lacks the conference and flow that those films possess as there are often way too many plot lines occurring at once, making the film much more complicated than it needs to be.

There’s a great idea in the screenplay, but the amount of characters and plot lines over stay their welcome. The film attempts to act as a social commentary, but the message can be construed due to the abundance of unnecessary fluff thrown in the mix.

There isn’t as much screen time with the actual aliens as hoped, but when we do see them, they’re visually inventive to say the least, much like in the critically acclaimed “Cloverfield”. Similarly as well, there’s plenty of action and violence seen in the film. Those scenes can be fun to watch as well as being incredible tense.

“Captive State” seems to be successful in some of its aspects and not so successful in others. It’s entertaining but it’s not an easy film to get through and by the end of the movie, you’ll either be thoroughly satisfied or completely confused.

More than anything though, the film is meant to be very dark as it portrays the possible end of human life. It can be difficult to recommend these types of films for that very reason. If you’re looking for an easy, fun sci-fi thriller, this may not be it, but if your into though provoking movies, this might be your cup of tea.

Captain Marvel

The newest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe gives us another important step in the superhero genre, much like last year’s “Black Panther”. Representation in film is starting to expand and superhero movies are contributing to a large extent of it. “Captain Marvel” stars a lead female superhero, being the first in the Marvel Universe to do so. We do have female superheroes like Black Widow and Scarlet Witch, but this is the first time Marvel has given us a stand-alone film staring a female lead.

However, while “Captain Marvel” is very empowering, its plot and direction however are quite flawed. The movie goes very quickly to the point where it feels rushed. So much happens within the two hour runtime and it feels like we don’t have any breathing room in between to take it all in.

Brie Larson stars as the main lead, yet gives an underwhelming performance. She’s an incredible actress and gave an Oscar winning performance in the acclaimed drama “Room”, so her talent can’t be doubted, which draws conclusions to the performance being a result of the poorly-written character. Captain Marvel doesn’t show a lot of ranged emotion and seems cold and distant. Maybe that’s how she’s portrayed in the comics, but in the movie it makes it difficult to connect with her or the center of the plot.

The supporting cast is well stacked with talented performers as well. Samuel L, Jackson stars as a young Nick Fury, Jude Law plays Yon-Rogg, Annete Bennington plays Captain Marvel’s Air Force commander and Clark Greggs returns as his character from the tv series “Agents: of Shield”. However some of the relationships between these supporting characters just don’t work. The main friendship duo between Nick Fury and Captain Marvel is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the movie, but the interactions between the other characters seemed forced and a bit out of place.

Just like every other Marvel movie, “Captain Marvel” has plenty of humor throughout. The style of comedy that is present in these movies can be hit or miss with audiences. Odd are, if you enjoyed the humor in “Avengers: Infinity War” or any of the others for that matter, you’ll probably enjoy the same thing here.

“Captain Marvel” is a flawed movie, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. There’s plenty of action sequences and the film has its very empowering moments. It’s disappointing however, that with an important movie like this, it wasn’t as entertaining or well-made as “Black Panther” or “Avengers: Infinity War”.

Serenity

Serenity (2019)In Steven Knight’s “Serenity”, Matthew McConaughey plays a fisherman named Baker Dill on Plymouth Island who really has it out for this one tuna. He can’t catch this one fish, and as a viewer, you can’t help but wonder what this fish has done to piss him off so much. After he attempts to fight for his supposed revenge against this tuna, his ex-wife shows up with an odd request. If Baker Dill kills her current abusive husband, she will reward him with ten million dollars. But does Baker Dill have better ethics than that? Will he succumb to temptation?

Many of the questions you’ll have during the runtime, won’t really get answered. Instead, the movie decides to throw an out of place twist at you about halfway in. For obvious reasons, that twist won’t be spoiled here, but it’s important to keep in mind that the way “Serenity” turns out will be incredibly frustrating and confusing (but even somewhat laughable). This twist may have actually worked though if there was a better written screenplay and characters that didn’t seem so out of touch with the audience.

McConaughey does just alright as Baker Dill (and yes, that name is ridiculous) as far as McConaughey performances go. He’s a great actor and has delivered some truly transformative performances throughout his career, but in “Serenity” all you really see is Matthew McConaughey trying to angrily catch a fish and ponder his existence.

Anne Hathaway (one of the greatest working actresses today) plays Baker Dill’s ex-wife Karen, but even she delivers a so-so performance here. Clearly though, with the stellar cast at play here, the lack of talented acting comes from the poorly written characters. Baker Dill, Karen and Karen’s abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) say things that no human being on planet Earth would ever say, making the characters and plot completely unrelatable to the audience.

“Serenity” is a total mess from start to finish. The tone is all over the place, character’s motives seem to change without any signs, and the plot lines fade out through the director’s attempt at a very strange twist. Even from the opening shot, you can tell right off the bat that this movie thinks it’s something that it’s not. “Serenity” feels like it should be a philosophical think-piece, when really it feels like a high-school film project with some surprising camerawork.

However, I cannot completely say audiences shouldn’t venture out to see it. The film is so over the top, so ridiculous, and so poorly written, that at times it is more entertaining than it’s meant to be. When you see what happens at the end, your jaw may drop, but not for the right reason. You’ll experience frustration and confusion, sure, but you’ll also laugh. Bring a buddy.

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)Based on the novel of the same name, this James Baldwin adaptation directed by film genius Barry Jenkins focuses on a young African American woman (Tish) in Harlem who is pregnant with her first child, while the father (Fonny) is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. She and her supporting family scramble to prove his innocence before the baby is born. The film is a celebration of the importance of love and family, but also shows the dark side of humanity through its portrayals of racism and hatred.

Barry Jenkins is a fairly new filmmaker, but a talented one. He wrote and directed 2016’s Best Picture winner “Moonlight”, a story about a gay African American in Miami Florida, and his journey through self-discovery. Now, with “If Beale Street Could Talk”, he ups the game on emotion and powerhouse performances.

Jenkins has a distinct visual style to his films. He loves to use close up shots of a character looking directly into the camera, as if subtly communicating their emotions with the audience. His films are also very color-driven. Moonlight has tons of purple and blue shots, while “If Beale Street Could Talk” is riddled with shades of yellow and brown. His films are beautifully to look at, especially his latest feature.

Tish is played superbly by Kiki Layne, a promising newcomer to the industry. With her performance alongside Stephan James (Homecoming) as Fonny, this on screen couple is one of the most chemistry-driven and realistic depictions of true love in years. “If Beale Street Could Talk” will surely set these two excellent performances on the map for greater gigs to come.

The powerhouse performance here though is Regina King as Tish’s mother Sharon. King gives the audience her raw emotion that seems to get more intense scene by scene. The exception though, might be in a moment towards the beginning where family dynamics clash in a heated and gut-punching argument that ends up being the scene that stays in the mind for hours after viewing.

From start to finish, watching “If Beale Street Could Talk” is more of an emotional experience than anything else. The love and romance is so real, the cinematography brings the story to life, and the music wins you over, making the film one of the most beautiful romance films in recent years. 2018 was a pretty good year for romance with Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” making noise with mainstream audiences and “If Beale Street Could Talk” quietly coming through under the radar. As outstanding as both of these films are, it’s “Beale Street” that takes the cake in terms of bringing fictionalized love to life.

Rated R for language and some sexual content

Welcome to Marwen

Steve Carell in Welcome to Marwen (2018)Robert Zemeckis’s newest film focuses on the true story of Mark Hogancamp, a victim of a brutal attack who uses his own doll creations as a way to cope and help himself through recovery. Zemeckis is known best for directing the groundbreaking films; “Forrest Gump”, “Cast Away” and “Back to the Future”. However, with “Welcome to Marwen”, his directing talents don’t shine as bright as they do in his other films.

The film stars Steve Carell in both live action and animation. In his live action scenes, he’s Mark Hogancamp. In the animated scenes, he’s Cap’n Hogie, a miniaturized version of himself as a World War II soldier who fights for both his own life and for the women of Marwen; the fictional town his doll creations are set in. Throughout the whole film we see snippets of his personal life and the struggles that come with his recovery, and animated recreations of what Mark visualities as he takes pictures of his Marwen dolls.

The concept of “Welcome to Marwen” is pretty captivating. However, if you really want to understand what Mark went through, seeing the documentary on his life would most likely be much more informative. “Welcome to Marwen” attempts to add heart and humor to this story, and unfortunately much of it falls flat. There are clear positive intentions behind this screenplay (also written by Zemeckis), but the film never seems to be what it’s trying to be.

Steve Carell delivers a great performance as always. He is one of the most raged actors working today as shown from his silly, yet layered performance as Michael Scott in “The Office” to playing the deeply disturbed wrestling coach in “Foxcatcher”. Here, he delivers just as much range and is without a doubt, the best reason to watch “Welcome to Marwen”.

Other than Carell though, the film isn’t as worth the trip to the theater as you would think. The animation sequences seem oddly out of place (although it is clear what they were going for), the dialogue is often questionable, and we don’t get to see as much of the other vital supporting characters as we think we would. The film is an overall disappointment, which is surprising given the name of the lead actor and the reputation of the director. However, all that is important to know is that “Welcome to Marwen” isn’t the touching, biopic its markets itself to be.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)Currently available to stream on Netflix is the latest Coen Brothers’ dark comedy, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”. The movie is an anthology film that consist of six different stories, each taking place in the Old West where death and mayhem can ensue at moment and with any individual. That seems to be the central theme through these six stories; death. However, the Coen Brothers, being the brilliant filmmakers they are, are able to make that central theme comedic, thrilling, somber, enthralling, romantic, or even mysterious.

The first story is about a man named Buster Scruggs, an outlaw whose choices of killing and mayhem may come back to bite him. This one is only about ten minutes long, even though this story’s title is also the film’s. We then move on to a story about a robber who constantly finds himself getting hung by the neck, a story about an entertainer on the road who uses the misfortunes of another to make money, a gold digger who finds himself in a messy situation, a romance formed from the death of a relative, and a ride in a station wagon that is anything but what it seems.

Some stories are better told than others, some more fascinating than others. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is not consistent enough to be all that rewatchable. However, what the Coen Brothers never fail to do is entertain. Their unique form of storytelling, dialogue, direction, and their ability to make humor out of the darkest of things are what keeps this film together and allows for an entertaining experience on that first watch.

The movie stars Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Stephen Root, Clancy Brown, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson and many others. No actors are ever reused, so each story seems completely fresh after the previous one.

The Coen Brothers are best known for their work on their previous films “Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski”, “Inside Lewin Davis”, “A Serious Man”, and ‘No Country for Old Men”. The list does go on, but their resume is so packed, it would take up too much room here. Not all of their movies were as well done as these, but what they manage to do throughout their filmography is stimulate the mind in a philosophical sense. Their films may make you laugh (“The Big Lebowski”), disturb you (“No Country for Old Men”), or do both (“Fargo”). However what all of their films seem to do is make audiences reflect on a philosophical question that the film asks. This time, it does it six times in one film.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” goes up there with some of their better films. Whether it be because of the cast, the cinematography, the dialogue or the filmmakers’ brilliance, the film deserves to be seen at least once.

Rated R for some strong violence