2019 Summer Movie Review: Toy Story 4

toy-story-4-wp

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

2019 Summer Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter Three – Parabellum

john-wick-3-ew.jpg

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is running out of time in the masterful third film in the beloved cult action franchise. (Source: Entertainment Weekly)

John Wick didn’t become a big box-office hit when it hit theaters in 2014. However, it didn’t stop people from loving it for Keanu Reeves’ terrific performance as the titular hitman getting vengeance on a group of Russian gangsters after they killed his dog. With its straightforward premise, the thrilling action set pieces, and the surprising amount of dark humor, director Chad Stahelski and the crew thought it would be a great idea to have John Wick go on more adventures. The superior sequel contained much more action and visual wonder to carry through. The third film–subtitled Parabellum–showcases what audiences expect from the franchise, and shattering expectations to give another violent and badass ride against time.

In the previous film, John Wick (Reeves) is stripped from his services as an assassin for killing a member of the High Table. Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental Hotel, declares “excommunicado”. It means a $14 million bounty is put on his head, so anyone can gun him down. John runs through the mean streets of NYC, and meets a ballet instructor, known as “The Director” (Anjelica Huston), who helps him to go to Casablanca to clear his name. Along with colleague Sofia (Halle Berry) and her two German shepherds, John must run against the clock before it’s too late.

Stahelski’s direction has become more confident with each entry in this awesome franchise. Yet again, he and cinematographer Dan Laustsen (who also worked on Chapter Two) do a fantastic job capturing the over-the-top action set pieces (that are just as brutal and bone-crunching as before) and the abstract beauty with its massive scale. Hearing the guns going off is music to my ears. The final showdown at the hotel is one of the best action sequences of all-time.

Reeves, yet again, proves he can play a vulnerable anti-hero who can kick anyone’s ass if they get too close. This movie gives more insight to John’s mysterious past (explaining it will ruin the experience for everybody). Like with the previous two films, he does his own incredible stunts. There’s one scene where he takes down a group of assassins while riding on a horse that is nothing short of amazing! The supporting cast also has their shining moments; Laurence Fishburne provides enough suave energy as the Bowery King and McShane is as awesome as always. Berry, whose career has been going downhill for years, makes a surprisingly resonant role as the colleague who helps John in the middle of the stifling desert.

John Wick: Chapter Three – Parabellum will make audiences leave the theater smiling and wanting more. It has recently been announced a fourth film will come out in two years. Look forward to seeing more high-octane adventures from the badass hitman.

10/10

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter Two

john-wick-2.jpg

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns in the sequel to 2014’s modest box-office hit. (Source: IMDb)

This movie is right! John Wick is not very good at retiring.

2014’s John Wick is one of the best action films so far this decade. However, it’s a shame a lot of people didn’t see it in theaters. Stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski sits in the director’s chair to give a stylish portrayal of the criminal underworld of New York City. With some amazing action set-pieces, badass dialogue, and a sense of humanity. And Keanu Reeves knows what he does best while in a black suit. With the movie ending on a cliffhanger, I could not be more excited for the sequel.

If any of you were upset about the dog dying in the first film, don’t worry; no dogs are harmed in John Wick: Chapter Two. I know it’s a spoiler, but I don’t care.

After that wonderful opening action scene in the warehouse, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still grieving over his dead wife (Bridget Moynahan, in flashbacks). With a new dog living with him in his beautiful home, he’s trying to forget about the past all over again. One day, he gets a visit from Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who forces John to return to the Continental (where everybody knows their name) to perform a task of assassinating Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). John reluctantly accepts, and goes all the way to Rome. He slowly begins to realize that Santino, his mute bodyguard Ares (Ruby Rose), and his men are after him. Eventually, John seeks the help of Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, having a little Matrix reunion).

John Wick: Chapter Two improves upon its predecessor with its no-BS approach to the action-thriller genre. With Stahelski back as director, he brings so much gothic style through its straightforward narrative and stunning visuals. Compared to its predecessor, there is a surprising amount of dry humor scattered throughout. In one early scene, John gives his damaged Ford Mustang to Aurelio (John Leguizamo) saying it will be ready by “Christmas…2030”.

The action sequences almost feel like a dance; the choreography is expertly handled and the tension is at an all-time high. Nothing is more awesome than seeing John shoot-‘em-up in the catacombs of Rome. In a time where cheesy horror films and over-the-top, CGI-fueled action flicks are the norm, John Wick: Chapter Two breaks that spell.

4/4

Movie Review: John Wick

john-wick-2014.jpg

In John Wick, the titular assassin thinks he’s back. (Source: IMDb)

Ah—revenge never felt so good!

After the death of his wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is living a lonely life with a beagle. While pumping gas in his Mustang, one of the members of a Russian mob, led by Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), wants to make an offer on the car. But–Wick refuses. Later that night, the mob breaks into his house and steals his car. Ridden with anger and more grief than before, Wick’s past of being an assassin begins to creep up on him. What does he do? Hit the streets of New York City to get his revenge, of course!

After a modest performance in theaters back in 2014, John Wick is slowly beginning to earn its cult status. It’s a shame people shied away from Keanu Reeves shoot it up in a black suit driving a Ford Mustang among other vehicles. This proves that the action genre can be more than just your typical action genre. Stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch sit in the director’s chair to give a noir-ish portrayal of NYC’s mob underworld. Featuring a gifted cast including Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Willem Dafoe, expertly-edited, wall-to-wall action (not to mention the best nightclub shootout sequence since Collateral), a deadpan sense of humor, and kick-ass dialogue, John Wick is what action thrillers are all about! Cannot wait for the sequel!

4/4