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

Movie Review: Inferno

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Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) go through the corridors in Ron Howard’s Inferno (Source: IMDb)

Dan Brown is never shy of facing controversy. Not only has his fourth book—The Da Vinci Code—been criticized for its portrayal of Christianity, but also he has been accused of plagiarism by Lewis Perdue. As a result, the 2006 film adaptation got banned in several countries including Egypt and India. The sequel, Angels and Demons, is no different.

I always love a good mystery. That’s what I got in both of these movies. Director Ron Howard has directed two of the most ambitious movies of his entire career. Inferno, the latest Dan Brown adventure, is certainly no exception.

Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back. This time, he wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with amnesia. He keeps seeing visions of hell, and later teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). They learn about billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), his lecture on Earth’s overpopulation, and how his virus—based on Dante’s Inferno—will serve as his resolution. They begin to race against time through Europe to end the catastrophe while a security company—led by Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi)—is after them.

Sadly, Inferno is the weakest of Robert Langdon adventures, but it’s nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be. It has several bumps in the road. While Hans Zimmer’s score keeps the suspense going, it does lack the powerful choir from the previous two films. It had a rough start with the choppy editing. Once the mystery comes into play, I became invested in what is going on. It’s hard to deny Tom Hanks’ presence as Langdon; he plays out as if he knows his studies. Like his performance in Sully, he’s the smartest man in the room.

Filmed on location in Florence, Venice and Istanbul, there are times in which Inferno feels like a travelogue than an actual film. Its love of history connecting with the mystery fascinates me. There is something in David Koepp’s screenplay that rubs me the wrong way (spoiling it would be truly unnecessary). Thanks to Ron Howard’s direction and the camerawork by Salvatore Totino, Inferno still has the thrills, twists and turns that made the two predecessors so enjoyable.

2.5/4

Movie Review: Sully

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Sully (Tom Hanks) begins to wonder what would have happened on the Hudson River in Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic (Source: ScreenCrush)

Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood are two of the best people working in Hollywood. It’s hard not to get star-struck about them collaborating for the first time to give the audience one of the greatest survival stories ever. Hanks is known for playing characters who are involved in extreme situations. Movies such as Cast Away and Captain Phillips definitely showcase his talents. And Eastwood has been behind the director’s chair (as well as casting himself in half his movies) since the 1970s. 2014’s American Sniper is a wonderful tribute to one of the deadliest snipers in military history. His account of the Miracle on the Hudson won over a packed-house last night with an exceptional character study about a man doing more than just his job.

January 15, 2009. It seems like your ordinary day in New York City. Until US Airways flight 1549, piloted by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), lands in the Hudson River after a flock of Canadian geese strikes both engines, causing them to fail. The amazing fact? All of 150 passengers and crew survive. With Sully claimed a hero, he is haunted by visions on what would have happened if he failed to save the passengers. He and Skiles face the consequences prior to their hearing with the NTSB.

Sully was more than just a regular guy doing his job. With his hair dyed white, Hanks immerses into the role with subtle heroism. Containing hints of how he became a pilot, the audience learns how he went into the airline business. It proves why he’s one of the most gifted actors working today. As Skiles, Eckhart provides the film’s humor. Combining edge-of-your-seat tension (filmed with IMAX cameras; thanks to Tom Stern’s cinematography) with old-fashioned storytelling, Sully is one powerhouse of a movie!

3.5/4

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies

Jim Donavon (Tom Hanks) is on a mission to defend a Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies"

Jim Donavon (Tom Hanks) is on a mission to defend a Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”

In the 1950s, the Cold War is in full swing. It wasn’t a war of battling with armed forces. It was of fear. Fear of a nuclear war between American and the Soviet Union. Schools around America did bomb drills after watching an educational video called Duck & Cover. In case of an atomic bomb, the school children must get under their desks for safety when a bright flash appears. This happens in one of the early scenes in Steven Spielberg’s latest, Bridge of Spies, which is not just about the fear of nuclear war. It’s about the espionage during these cold times.

The movie opens up with a remarkable 10-minute sequence (with very little dialogue) involving KGB agent Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) finding a secret message at a Brooklyn park bench while painting a picture of the bridge. After he settles in his apartment, the FBI arrests him for being a Soviet spy.

Meanwhile, James Donavon (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer living with his loving wife Mary (Amy Ryan) and three children, is assigned to defend Abel in court by his boss Thomas Watters (Alan Alda). As Lt. Francis Gray Powers (Austin Stowell) and graduate student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) get detained, Donavon must travel to East Berlin (breathtaking cinematography by Janusz Kaminski) to exchange them for Abel.

Spielberg and Tom Hanks are two of the best people working in Hollywood today. They collaborated with each other with Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific. They return to deliver yet another home run. Collaborating with screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen, Spielberg makes an exceptionally old-fashioned Cold War thriller that ranks among some of his best work.

With Donavon, performed brilliantly by Hanks, going on his mission to negotiate Abel builds tension through Thomas Newman’s astounding score and the brilliant dialogue (be prepared for a lot of it) as opposed to the overblown action scenes as everyone is used to seeing in movies nowadays. We all heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”. That explains why Donavon is such a likable hero; bringing “justice for all” through his charm, sarcastic sense of humor, and straight-up enthusiasm with his bond with Abel. The two-and-a-half hours go by like a breeze. One of the year’s best.

4/4

My Most Anticipated Movies for 2015

Happy New Year, everybody. I hope you made your resolutions. Last year has been a strong year for movies. There were many great surprises and some great disappointments. I hope 2015 will have movies that will meet and exceed audience’s expectations like last year. With that said, here is my list of the ten most anticipated movies for this year.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Child 44 (April 17), Crimson Peak (October 16), Far From the Madding Crowd (May 1), The Good Dinosaur (November 25), The Hateful Eight (December 25), In the Heart of the Sea (December 11), Inside Out (June 19), Jupiter Ascending (February 6), The Last Five Years (February 13), Pan (July 24), Paper Towns (June 5), True Story (April 10)

10. Ant-Man (in theaters July 17; directed by Peyton Reed; starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell, and Corey Stoll) – Before seeing footage for this, I haven’t heard a lot about Ant-Man. Paul Rudd is one of the funniest comedians working today. It’s interesting to see him in something unlike his other work. I have a feeling this would be pretty good. The effects reminded me Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

9. The Fantastic Four (in theaters August 7; directed by Josh Trank; starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell) – Even though a trailer has yet to be released, it’s about time for a reboot after that awful 2005 version starring Chris Evans and Jessica Alba. Gotta love that cast.

8. The Walk (in theaters October 2; directed by Robert Zemeckis; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon) – I’m glad Zemeckis returned to live-action in 2012 with Flight. This movie tells the true story of Philippe Petit attempting to cross the World Trade Center on a high wire. I think the movie would look quite something in 3D. With Gordon-Levitt becoming one of my favorite actors, I have high hopes for this.

7. The Untitled Cold War Film (a.k.a. St. James Place) (in theaters October 16; directed by Steven Spielberg; starring Tom Hanks) – Following  American lawyer James Donovan recruited by the CIA to help rescue a pilot from being detained in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Steven Spielberg is my favorite filmmaker, and Tom Hanks is my favorite actor. I smell Oscar bait.

6. Tomorrowland (in theaters May 22; directed by Brad Bird; starring George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson) – Given that Brad Bird directed the best film in the Mission: Impossible series – Ghost Protocol – I think the movie looks amazing. Again, the cast is great!

5. Mad Max: Fury Road (in theaters May 15; directed by George Miller; starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, and Rosie Huntington-Whitely) – I haven’t seen any of the Mad Max films. This movie looks absolutely insane and over-the-top fun. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron can do no wrong. The action looks breathtaking!

4. Jurassic World (in theaters June 12; directed by Colin Treverrow; starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer, and Vincent D’Onofrio) – Jurassic Park is one of my all-time favorite films. It made me feel like a kid seeing something unlike anything I’ve seen before. This movie looks as tense as the first film was. I cannot wait to see Chris Pratt capture his charm and dinosaurs chasing him while riding his motorcycle.

3. Spectre (in theaters November 7; directed by Sam Mendes; starring Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, and Dave Bautista) – I love James Bond. I love the cast. I loved the last film. I CANNOT WAIT!

2. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (in theaters December 18; directed by J.J. Abrams; starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, and Max von Sydow) – Why am I looking forward to this? Because It’s STAR WARS!!!!!

1. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (directed by Joss Whedon; starring Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, and Scarlett Johansson) – Do I need to explain?? I loved the first Avengers, and I hope this will have the humor, the phenomenal action, and the awesomeness that made the first film a hit. I want May 1st to come quicker!

I hope you enjoyed my picks. Leave comments on what movie you are looking forward to see this year. Stay tuned for my lists of the best and worst movies of 2014 in the middle of January. Take care!

“Forrest Gump”: A Search For One Man’s Destiny

Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump"

Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump”

"Run, Forrest! Run!"

“Run, Forrest! Run!”

One summer night in 2007, I never knew movies can have the power to providing meaning. I thought movies could only allow people to be entertained. I began flipping through channels on my television. Then, I proved myself wrong when I had come across Tom Hanks sitting on a bench talking to strangers about his spiritual journey. The movie was Forrest Gump, which immediately introduced to the world of movies. I knew I wanted to watch it again and again after watching it for the first time. After watching it dozens of times, I would always learn something new. Whether it has to do with American history or life lessons.

When it came out twenty years ago on this day, some people didn’t necessarily cared for its sentimental message. However, a lot of people loved it so much it became the most successful film of 1994, and ended up taking home six Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Everybody knows the story. Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks, in a performance of a lifetime), a man sitting on a bench in Savannah, Georgia. When strangers sit next to him, he begins to ponder about his past. He’s a person with an I.Q. of 75 who learns about life from his mother (Sally Field). She expects him to have “the same opportunities as everyone else”. On his first day of school, Forrest sits next to a girl named Jenny (Robin Wright) on the bus. Jenny asks, “Are you stupid or something?” Forrest says, “Mama says, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.'” They begin forming a bond (“We was like peas and carrots”); Jenny teaches him to run away from the bullies. When he becomes an adult, he becomes a part of many historic events including the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.

Robert Zemeckis captures this journey with a lot of heart and passion when Forrest is finding his true destiny. In one scene, Forrest asks ‘mama’ what his destiny is. She leaves it all to him to find it for himself. “Life is a like a box of chocolates,” says Mama. “You never what you’re going to get.” She uses it as a metaphor of how everyone has no idea where their future would lead to. We learn that he really wants to marry his childhood sweetheart, but he comes across plenty of encounters. He went to the University of Alabama to receive a scholarship from head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. After college, he goes into the military and befriends Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), a man with a passion for shrimp. He makes a pact with Bubba to be a part of a shrimping business. Bubba tells him there are tons of ways to cook shrimp.

However, in Vietnam, Forrest is saving his troop in combat after it rained for months. When he saves Bubba, he dies and leaves it all to Forrest to start the business without him. Who else would

"I must of drank me about fifteen Dr. Peppers."

“I must of drank me about fifteen Dr. Peppers.”

be a part of the shrimping business other than Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise)? He felt cheated that Forrest rescued him rather than dying with honor. Because of this, he had a destiny to die in Vietnam like his ancestors “who fought and died in every single American war”. This causes Lt. Dan to have his legs amputated. This is where CGI comes in handy for Zemeckis. He captures the CGI as if you don’t even recognize it at all. During one of the film’s funniest scenes in which Forrest tells JFK he has to pee, it looks he is actually talking to him. I digress.

When he makes his shrimping boat, Forrest accepts Lt. Dan as his first mate. Later, he acknowledges Forrest for saving his life in Vietnam. Without him, Lt. Dan would be helpless.

After winning a Medal of Honor for saving his troop, Forrest becomes an influence to people. When he’s a guest on The Dick Cavett Show, alongside John Lennon, he talks about his experience being a part of the All-American ping-pong team in China. His discussion inspires Lennon to write his famous solo hit, Imagine.

Forrest: “In the land of China, people hardly got nothing at all.”
Lennon: “No possessions?”
Forrest: “And in China, they never go to church.”
Lennon: “No religion, too?”
Dick Cavett: “Hard to imagine”
Lennon: “Well it’s easy if you try, Dick.”

"Sometimes, I guess there just aren't enough rocks."

“Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

While on his life-long journey (becoming rich and famous), he always thinks about living a terrific life with Jenny. It shows flashbacks of her living the American dream, which leads her to becoming a drug addict and a part of the “hippies”. She has a destiny of “flying far; far far away” from all of the crap she had to endure as a child, especially when she always gets sexually abused by his father. There is this sense of “flight” that becomes symbolic throughout the film. Zemeckis opens up the movie with a white feather floating in the breeze with Alan Silvestri’s masterful score playing in the background. The feather lands on Forrest’s sneaker, and he puts it in his copy of his favorite children’s book Curious George. The feather blowing in the wind represents the way Forrest goes through his life journey. The iconic image shows up again at the end. This time, emphasizing that Forrest is at the right place at the right time. He married Jenny who would later die from an unknown disease (assumingly from HIV/AIDS). Forrest places his grave underneath the tree where they like to hang out at (symbolizing the innocence of life). He leaves her grave after explaining how his life has been. Suddenly, birds fly overhead notifying Jenny has found her destiny.

Not only did this movie made me appreciate movies but it made me appreciate Tom Hanks as an actor. I think no one else can play Forrest better than Hanks himself. He leads a phenomenal cast as a role so natural that it seems like I am watching a real person with the low I.Q. albeit big heart seeing history right from his own eyes. Whenever he’s funny, I laugh. Whenever he’s sad, I choke up. Whenever he rescues people, I root for him. I love his enthusiasm that he brings to the screen. This is what makes his performance unforgettable. This movie will be with me until I die.