2019 Summer Movie Review: Toy Story 4


Woody (Tom Hanks) catches up with an old friend (Annie Potts) in Toy Story 4. (Source: Washington Post)

In 1995, John Lasseter made history by bringing the first ever feature-length computer-animated film Toy Story. It followed a group of toys coming to life whenever humans aren’t around, and they help each other in the most perilous of situations. It became a monster box-office success, Disney/PIXAR decided to make a sequel. Toy Story 2 featured a much bigger adventures that went into new heights. No one knew the toys would make a comeback ten years later with Toy Story 3, where things got more emotional and intense. When it was announced there is going to be Toy Story 4, everyone (including myself) got nervous. If the previous film ended on a pitch-perfect note, how would the series go on? Director/co-writer Josh Cooley (who worked as one of the screenwriters for Inside Out) steps into use his bag of tricks. The results are nothing short of surprising.

A year after Andy has left for college, the toys have a great owner in Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles, via audio archives, and Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and the rest of the toy gang go on a road trip with Bonnie and her parents before heading for kindergarten. At her orientation, Bonnie makes a new toy made out of a spork called Forky (Tony Hale), although he sees himself as trash instead of a toy. Woody embarks on a mission to save her new toy. Along the way, he encounters Bo Peep (Annie Potts) at an antique shop, who helps him make his way back to Bonnie and the toys.

This movie really shows how much the animation has evolved since the first film. It opens up with Woody and the toys trying to save a toy in the rain. Notice the water droplets dripping on the toys. It’s clear the animation is more photo-realistic and a lot more breath-taking this time around. Every single shot is like a painting come to life. 

Of course, you see a lot of familiar faces (and voices) as well as some likeable newcomers. Toy Story 4 is centered more on Woody than the previous entries. It continues to contain the wonderful message about always being there for one another (either toys or human owners). Before, Woody’s relationship with Bo Peep was more flirtatious. Here, they have matured over the years. I’m so glad Bo Peep has a much more fascinating empowered character arc. 

The side characters are a ton of fun to watch. Forky would have easily been one that would have been straight-up annoying. But–it’s hard not to feel bad for him, despite finding hilarious ways of escaping. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are a hoot as Ducky and Bunny, two carnival prize toys who want to be “The Chosen Ones”. The scene-stealer, however, is Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil toy with a tragic backstory, who is just as sophisticated as The Stig from Top Gear. I mean, is there anything Reeves cannot do?

For all of the parents out there, Toy Story 4 might be too dark and upsetting for younger children. The appearances of vintage pull-string doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her ventriloquist dummies are intimidating. For those who have followed the series since the beginning, expect a handful of emotional moments. I sense this will be the end of a beloved saga, but it does, once again, end on a high note.


2019 Summer Movie Review: The Dead Don’t Die


Three officers (Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Adam Driver) all have a feeling there’s something not right in a small town in Jim Jarmusch’s horror-comedy The Dead Don’t Die. (Source: IndieWire)

Jim Jarmusch is one of the most unique filmmakers of all-time. He has been writing and directing movies since the 1980s. Since his 1984 debut Stranger than Paradise, his films have showcased a dry sense of humor and subtle storytelling. His anthology film Night on Earth and his most recent masterpiece Paterson are among his best. The Dead Don’t Die, his latest film, is not the first time where Jarmusch uses horror-movie creatures (the two main characters in Only Lovers Left Alive happen to be vampires). With this movie having a massive ensemble featuring collaborators of Jarmusch’s earlier work as well as newcomers, it tends to have a message about climate change. Unfortunately, the movie hardly does anything to it.

Set in the small town of Centerville (population: 738), strange things begin to occur. A radio station has reported a “polar fracking”, causing the Earth to come off its axis. The sun is staying up longer than usual. Cell phones and watches stop working. Pets are mysteriously disappearing and reappearing as vicious. At night, people are being eaten alive. Chief Officer Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), and Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) begin to investigate. Peterson quickly comes to the conclusion reanimated corpses are coming out of their graves late at night. They all go around town talking to the locals and prepare for battle.

I appreciate a good deadpan comedy and a good zombie movie, and some amusing references to classic horror films, from Psycho to Night of the Living Dead. Jarmusch does show his love for the genre; adding some elegant touches. For instance, when the zombies are killed, they produce dust instead of blood and gore (like everyone is used to seeing). However, they hardly make up for the deadening dullness Jarmusch brings to his nonsensical writing and tedious directing.

Driver and Murray are both the masters of deadpan humor. Their chemistry is the only decent quality in this movie. In an early scene, they are both in the police cruiser. Sturgill Simpson’s country anthem “The Dead Don’t Die” (a song I hope gets nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar) is playing on the radio. Cliff is wondering why it sounds so familiar. “Well, because it’s the theme song,” Peterson says, sensing they are breaking the fourth wall. Then, it’s all downhill after the opening scene.

Containing an ensemble featuring the likes of Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, RZA, Selena Gomez, Iggy Pop among others, everyone is about as soulless as the movie itself. There are plenty of unnecessary subplots (particularly one set at a juvenile detention center) that don’t go anywhere. Even on a low-budget, the visuals look cheap. There’s a moment where Gomez’s Zoe, a hipster from Ohio, introduces herself while bidding farewell, and computer-generated sparkles explode behind her (I don’t know what the hell that was all about). Probably the weirdest part of all is Swinton’s performance as Zelda Winston, a Scottish funeral director obsessed with the samurai, with a fate so ridiculous it will infuriate moviegoers. Every single human character is about as soulless as the zombies. The Dead Don’t Die is a wasted opportunity.