2019 Summer Movie Review: Toy Story 4

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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.

10/10

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Movie Review: Coco

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Miguel and Héctor dance the night away in Coco, Disney/PIXAR’s latest film set during the Day of the Dead. (Source: IMDb)

PIXAR has created some of the most creative, the most wonderful, and the most original animated films of all-time. From the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, Up, and Inside Out, they offer just enough humor and heart for the entire family. Inside Out and Finding Dory have both found their mojo after the disappointments of Cars 2 and Monsters University. Not to mention The Good Dinosaur (PIXAR’s first ever box-office flop) leaving a sour taste in my mouth. Now–Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) returns to the director’s chair, along with a massive crew, to bring a gorgeous glimpse of the Land of the Dead in Coco.

Set in a small Mexican village, 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has dreams of becoming a gifted guitar player. However, his family has banned music of any kind for years. Inspired by late guitarist/classic movie star Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), he still wants to be just like him (“Seize your moment” was his famous catchphrase). One day, during the Day of the Dead parade, Miguel visits Ernesto’s tomb. He accidentally picks up his guitar, strums it, and begins to communicate with the dead. This leads him to the Land of the Dead, populated by walking skeletons. Along with his dog Dante (who is the only one from the Land of the Living who can see Miguel) and Héctor (Gael García Bernal), a skeleton joker, Miguel must find Ernesto before it’s too late.

For someone who loves the Spanish culture, I have never seen anything so alive (no pun intended)! With a talented voice cast with the likes of Edward James Olmos and comedian Gabriel Iglesias, Coco features everything I want it to be: humor, charm, twists and turns, beautiful music, flawless animation, and likable characters. It’s a delightful story of restoring one’s legacy. Easily one of PIXAR’s best!

4/4

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Belle (Emma Watson) gives her father (Kevin Kline) a hand in the latest remake of Beauty and the Beast. (Source: Digital Spy)

How can a fairy tale about a girl with Stockholm syndrome become an instant Disney animated classic? The 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast has memorable songs, characters, and gorgeous animation is more than enough reasons why generations of people watch it over and over again. Unlike Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, the recent remakes of Cinderella and The Jungle Book stick to their traditional Disney roots while modernizing it at the same time. The new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is certainly no exception.

Everybody knows the story. Belle (Emma Watson) is a booksmart, independent young woman living in the village of Villeneuve whose father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a brilliant artist and tinkerer. While walking into town, war veteran Gaston (Lee Evans) tries everything he can to marry Belle, in spite of his arrogance. One day, Maurice is kidnapped by the Beast (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey) and seeks refuge in a beautiful castle. Hearing the news, Belle flees to castle and encounters the staff—including Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack)—who have been transformed into various objects due to a spell that, if all the rose pedals fall, the Beast will forever be a Beast, and…you know the rest.

There has been controversy prior to the release of Beauty and the Beast concerning the portrayal of LeFou as a gay character. A movie theater in Alabama went as far as banning it altogether. While in Malaysia and Russia, the certification boards suggested young kids are not allowed to see the movie because of the “gay moment”. LeFou always had a thing for Gaston (not to mention the original having homosexual undertones as well). That said moment is very brief and does not hurt the quality of the film.

Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes) feels right at home here. He, along with screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflowers, the upcoming Wonder), keeps the tone the same as the original featuring gorgeous sets and costumes, Alan Menken’s beautiful music (providing the classic songs we know and love and new, original songs), and colorful visuals. While everyone remembers the iconic song “Beauty and the Beast”, my favorite has always been “Be Our Guest”. Before I had doubts whether the visuals would come across as creepy, but I am surprised how the entire movie turned out. This particular music number improves upon the original (it oozes with color)!

I cannot imagine a better cast! Emma Watson has come a long way from her years of playing Hermione Granger in the beloved Harry Potter series. Here, she is the perfect actress to play Belle! While her singing is not out-of-this-world amazing (but not entirely awful), she breathes a lot of life into her performance. This movie gives more of a backstory of where she has come from. She knows a lot about books. She could easily get lost in the castle’s massive library. Stevens brings a lot of life in Beast (especially through the motion capture). He cannot be anywhere without her, particularly in one scene where he sings his heart out about his affections for her (“Evermore”—one of the movie’s original songs). McGregor and McKellen provide a lot of laughs, while Lee Evans and Josh Gad steal the show.

Beauty and the Beast has strong messages about what is on the inside rather than the outside. Families will certainly have a ball (no pun intended) laughing and being blown away by the looks of the movie. This is what magic is made of.

3/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Finding Dory

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Dory (long time, no see) gets help from an octopus in Finding Dory

Finding Nemo is certainly one of PIXAR’s best. I will never forget the very first time seeing it in theaters back in 2003. Being blown away by the gorgeous underwater scenery, the loveable characters and their designs, I would go back to revisit it on my VCR (before putting the VHS tape away in the attic) or on television. And loving it more with each viewing. Everybody has been desperately waiting for a sequel featuring Dory. Thirteen years later, it finally swims to the silver screen.

Is it worth the wait? You betcha!

We follow our favorite Blue Tang fish (Ellen DeGeneres) with short-term memory loss who has remembered being separated from her parents—Jenny and Charlie—(Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) when she was very young. Along with the clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolance; replacing Alexander Gould), she sets out on an adventure to find them. Dory goes a little too far out in the open sea, which leads her to be captured and brought to the Marine Life Institute in California. While there, she makes companions with a camouflaged red octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill)—which ranks among PIXAR’s best sidekicks. Together, they try to swim closer to her family while encountering some other animals along the way including two sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West), a near-sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) and some of the cutest baby otters I’ve ever seen.

The means of having a disability is a tough subject to explore in the film world. When a movie gets it right, it gets it right! This is the case with both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. Not only is it funny, it also has its heart in the right place (*ahem* The Good Dinosaur). There are some genuinely heart-wrenching moments, but it hardly comes as close as last year’s Inside Out or even its predecessor when it comes to the emotional appeal. Nevertheless, this is one beautifully animated and provides a message both kids and adults will appreciate. One question to ask is what would Dory do? Go see for yourself.

3.5/4

2016 Summer Movie Preview: June

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day; meeting with families and having a good barbecue. Like every summer, it is off to a good start. I have finished my second year of college almost a month ago. I am about to have one busy schedule. The month of June has a lot of movies to look forward to including one that looks completely bizarre yet I am dying to see something original. Here are my thoughts on what has yet to come out this month.

June 3

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – Michael Bay returns to produce the sequel to the 2014 hit film. Taking Jonathan Liebesman’s place as director is Dave Green (Earth to Echo). I am neither a TMNT fan nor have I seen the television show from the 1990s. Its predecessor looked, more or less, like a Transformers wannabe (not to mention Shredder looking more like a Decepticon). Like I said before two years ago, I would rather eat a whole pizza than wasting two hours of my life.

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Me Before You – Hyped up to be the summer’s biggest romance, Me Before You sounds like your typical tearjerker. A man who is paralyzed from a motorcycle accident falls in love with a woman. This might be the only time they will ever spend time together. From the trailer alone, it just oozes with sap. Who knows? Maybe this will come as a surprise. For now, I’ll just wait for to rent from Redbox. It’s great to see Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter) in it though.

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Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Andy Samberg can be really funny. He was one of SNL’s biggest standouts. Along with his Lonely Island co-members, he makes some really funny-as-hell songs (e.g. “Jizzed in My Pants”). But, this satire of the pop music industry doesn’t look funny at all. I can’t get the image of seeing a CGI baby playing the drums out of my head. I wouldn’t be surprised if this succeeds or fails in the box office.

June 10

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The Conjuring 2 The Conjuring was a breath of fresh air. James Wan brings the creepy atmosphere into the real-life story of the Warrens (played to perfection by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating a haunting in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Any cheap scares? Not in that case.

Now, the Warrens go across the Atlantic Ocean to investigate a poltergeist in Enfield, England. It became the most famous case in paranormal history. I’m glad to hear early positive reception about the movie. I’m ready to have shivers sent down my spine and getting scared once again.

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Now You See Me 2 – I have never seen the first film. And I have zero interest seeing either of them. I prefer seeing practical magic tricks rather than rendered through CGI. The story of four illusionists pulling off a heist sounds ridiculous to the core. No, thank you!

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Warcraft – I am shocked to hear a lot of negative reception Warcraft received so far. Evem Alonso Duralde of TheWrap.com said, “Think Battlefield Earth without the verve, or the unintentional comedy” (ouch!). As a non-gamer like myself, the previews for this movie (based on the game Warcraft: Humans and Orcs) had the feeling of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (which are my all-time favorite movies). From what I’ve heard, a lot of video game movies of the past sucked big time (except Prince of Persia, which I thought it was okay). Given the fact it’s directed by Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), I seriously want it to be good.

June 17

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Finding Dory – Ah, yes! The long-awaited sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo is finally hitting the silver screen! It looks like PIXAR is back in the mix of things after last year’s masterpiece Inside Out. This looks like another emotional roller coaster ride. I can’t wait for this as well as some others by PIXAR. I’m hoping a teaser for Coco will be attached with Finding Dory.

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Central Intelligence – As much as I love Dwayne Johnson and dislike Kevin Hart, I don’t know how I feel about this movie. There are some jokes in the preview that made me laugh, but others feel stale. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry about Dwayne Johnson in the fat suit.

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Clown – I understand how many people are truly terrified of clowns. I am not one of them. Seeing Eli Roth listed as one of the producers in the red band preview before The Witch back in February, this definitely looks like an Eli Roth movie, fair and square. Originally a fake horror trailer, Roth and its director Jon Watts extend the idea of a mythical clown suit that won’t come off once somebody puts in on. It actually sounds fascinating. It might pull off well.

June 24

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Independence Day: Resurgence – Twenty years ago, everyone fought a group of aliens trying to take over the Earth while on the verge of extinction. Not surprisingly, the aliens are back with a vengeance. Independence Day was the biggest box-office hit of 1996 and redefined the disaster genre. Roland Emmerich is returning to the director’s chair as well most of the original stars such as Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, Bill Pullman. And also some newcomers including Liam Hemsworth. As much as I enjoyed the first film, this looks like it will just as fun. It’s a shame Will Smith is not in the sequel.

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Free State of Jones – Matthew McConaughey is one of my favorite actors. Free State of Jones looks like this will be another great performance to add in his repertoire. This brings the true story of a Mississippi farmer leading a rebellion against the Confederacy during America’s bloodiest war to life under the direction of Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games). This looks brutal as it is gorgeous.

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Swiss Army Man (in select theaters; expanding nationwide July 1) – Not only is this is my most anticipated movie of the summer, it’s also my most anticipated movie of the entire year! During its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a lot of people started walking out within the first twenty minutes of the movie. Perhaps they were not ready for a movie featuring a bizarre story following a castaway using a flatulent corpse as a survival tool (compared to a swiss army knife) including using it as a jet ski with the farts to be propelled forward. As a result, it became the festival’s most controversial film ever.

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are two of the best actors working today. They are about to be in a movie unlike anything they have ever been in before. Writing the screenplay in the Sundance lab, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who are dubbed as “The Daniels”) put a lot of deep thought about farts. A24 is on a role here! I’ll be surprised if this movie gets a lot of attention from the Academy, even though this is one of those movies that a lot of people might walk out of. But, I think Adam Chitwood of the Collider said it best: “In a world filled with reboots, remakes, franchises, sequels, ‘interconnected universe’ movies, and even predictable dramas, it’s refreshing—almost overwhelmingly so—to see something so different.”

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The Neon Demon – Another movie I am mixed with. Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives) creates this bizarre tale of modern-day fashion in Los Angeles. Elle Fanning has come a long way. This might be her most mature role yet. As gorgeous as this movie looks, I have a feeling this will turn to be garbage.

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The Shallows – This will make people think twice about going swimming into the ocean once again. Fresh from directing last year’s solid thriller Run All Night, Jaume Collet-Serra directs its main star Blake Lively struggling to survive on a rock close to shore while a great white shark circles around her. Of course, the shark is computer-generated, but it looks so real it’s scary. I’m thrilled to see this!

Recap:

Most Anticipated: The Conjuring 2, Finding Dory, Free State of Jones, The Shallows, Swiss Army Man, Warcraft

Least Anticipated: Now You See Me 2, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

I hope you enjoyed reading on what my thoughts are on several movies for the month of June. Tell me in the comments below on what your most anticipated movies are. Stay tuned for a movie preview for the month of July at the end of this month. Take care.

Movie Review: The Jungle Book

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Mowgli (Neel Sethi) gets some business from King Louie (Christopher Walken) in Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book.

It has been years since I have seen the 1967 Disney animated classic The Jungle Book (and its forgetful 2003 sequel). I remember watching the VHS tape all the time as a kid, and would be amused by the characters and the catchy music numbers including the famous “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”. A live-action remake might be tricky back in the day.

Now, in 2016, anything would be possible with Disney remaking pretty much every classic animated film into live-action. Last year’s Cinderella was a breath of fresh air (compared to the two disasters known as Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent); Kenneth Branagh brought the classic Disney tale back to pure life while adding more than enough changes to stand on its own. The Jungle Book brings the unique imagination of director Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man, Chef) and the sharp narrative by Justin Marks.

Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling, Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is an orphan living in the heart of the jungle. Since he was an infant, he was raised by a family of wolves, led by Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). His guardian Bagheera, a black panther (Ben Kingsley, who is perfect for the role), teaches him the ways of the wolfpack. A gathering is disrupted by the snarling tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who threatens Mowgli about not being allowed in the jungle.

Along with Bagheera, he embarks on a long journey of self-discovery while encountering some other animals along his path including Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), Kaa the slithering snake (Scarlett Johansson), and King Louie the orangutan (Christopher Walken).

One of the biggest surprises in The Jungle Book is how Favreau makes the CGI look seamless—from the animals to the landscapes to the imaginative sets. Even though it’s undeniably darker than the original, this is a gorgeous film from start to finish. As someone who grew up with the original film, I couldn’t help but smile during Baloo’s “Bear Necessities” and King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You”. With a great cast and whole wind of emotions, this surpasses the original on every level. Elba’s Shere Khan is the best villain so far this year.

4/4

Movie Review: Zootopia

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Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is on the case in Disney’s latest animated classic “Zootopia”

For the past six years of being a movie buff, I have seen a lot of movies that surprised the hell out of me. Zootopia, the latest animated film from Disney, is no exception. With a plot that might sound like a corporate sellout, it actually dodges that aspects to give everything for kids and adults alike.

Since she was a kid, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has the dream of becoming the first rabbit to join the Zootopia Police Department, led by Chief Bogo–a bull (Idris Elba). She proves that she can do anything, not just live and work on her parents’ (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) farm. She graduates from police academy and enters Zootopia, a metropolis where animals–both big and small–live and flourish. There are also owned-businesses, advertising, vehicles, a lion mayor (J.K. Simmons) and laws.

Judy is having a rough time fitting into this new lifestyle. She learns about a case involving civilians unexpectedly disappearing. Along with a fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), she jumps on the case while encountering some furry situations along the way including a stop at a DMV run by sloths (one of the funniest scenes in the movie).

We live in a modern, industrialized society where prejudice has occurred since the Civil War. No matter what color our skin is or what ethnicity we belong to, we are meant to be created equal. That’s the brilliance of Zootopia. Despite being predator and prey, Nick and Judy begin to overcome their prejudices towards one another to work together.

While tackling the serious issue of stereotypes, Zootopia has a perfect blend of humor, mystery, suspense, and pure emotion. It pokes fun at pop culture. I walked out of the theater with a huge smile on my face. Kudos to the movie adding a nod to The Godfather.

4/4