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The Invisible Man (2020)
A solid, tense thriller.
Leigh Whannel has been operating within the horror genre for quite some time now. Primarily known as one of the co-creators of the Saw and Insidious franchises, he's also helmed underappreciated hits from the director's chair with Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) and Upgrade (2018). Prior to the release of his drastic reimagining of H.G Well's The Invisible Man (1897), I decided to watch the original Universal 1933 classic. It's a somewhat hokey, humorous film, but the effects (for the time) remain impressive. Whannel's modern day revamp follows Cecilia Kass (Moss) who decides to sever ties once and for all with her abusive partner, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohan). Not too long after, Griffin allegedly commits suicide. Believing herself to be truly free from his grasp, Cecilia soon starts to experience strange occurrences that hint towards an unsettling truth; that Adrian may, somehow, still be in pursuit. Nobody believes her, so Cecilia sets out to prove that her abusive ex is far from dead, even if it's at the cost of her own sanity.
Way back in 2016, Universal were actively working on revamping their Universal Monsters brand in the form of the Dark Universe. The Invisible Man was originally slated to be a part of this cinematic universe (a move no doubt crafted to compete with the thriving MCU), but once The Mummy (2017, the first film of the proposed Dark Universe) flopped, all plans were scrapped. It's a wonder, therefore, that Whannel's reimagining has even made it to completion. Fortunately, The Invisible Man is a solid and thoroughly engaging thriller. Elizabeth Moss delivers a great central performance, portraying a survivor of emotional/domestic abuse perfectly. A key strength of the film is how Whannel frames a scene; there are various shots that hint towards an unseen observer stalking Cecilia when she's left alone, and it's these shots that (although there isn't anything too substantial going on) convey an underlying menace and tension that elevates the paranoia present throughout the film. It is a frequently tense watch, especially once the true nature of the titular villain is revealed. Whannel doesn't use excessive gore or jump scares (something that littered his screenplays when writing for the Saw and Insidious franchises), and instead favours for moments of genuine suspense. Although the third act does overstay its welcome (a good 10 minutes could have been trimmed from the final cut), The Invisible Man is still a tight thriller that both improves upon and respects the original classic.
Good intentions, but messy overall.
On the Greek island of Mykonos, British billionaire and fashion retail extraordinaire Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan, in a role loosely inspired by Sir Philip Green) prepares to celebrate his 60th birthday. While preparations for a wild extravaganza commence, McCreadie is surveyed by Nick (David Mitchell), who has been tasked with writing his biography; a project that will hopefully salvage McCreadie's soiled reputation. Winterbottom's odd comedy is a satirical effort that examines the inequality present throughout the fashion industry. While it is evident that Greed is a film with a clear message to convey, it is somewhat frustrating to see it handled in such a clumsy manner. Greed tackles a myriad of themes, including wealth inequality, the refuge crisis and the superficial nature of reality television. Scattered throughout Winterbottom's screenplay are a wide range of characters, but very few of them actually feel fully realized. Coogan's McCreadie (an all-round unlikable man) doesn't even feel like a leading character in his own film, though Coogan makes do with the material he's given. David Mitchell is a welcome presence, for sure, and his portrayal of Nick, a mild-mannered, good man observing an otherwise seedy world within which he doesn't belong, results in one of the only likable characters in the film. Much of the comedy falls flat (save for a few chuckle-worthy one liners here and there), and the climactic scene takes a bizarrely brutal turn that feels tonally out of place with the rest of the picture. Greed certainly has good intentions, but the screenplay could have done with a few extra revisions to ensure a more cohesive structure. Mitchell is the standout here, but everything else is largely forgettable.
Military Wives (2019)
Uplifting and emotional.
Inspired by the real life Military Wives Choirs network (consisting of 75 choirs throughout the UK and overseas), Military Wives follows a group of women who're left behind on the home front while their partners serve in Afghanistan. Using the catharsis of music to help them cope with the absence of their partners, they found the very first military wives choir. Managed by Kate (Thomas) and Lisa (Horgan), two women who possess extremely conflicting personalities and objectives, the choir steadily acquires widespread media attention that will result in the formation of an influential movement. Cattaneo's film focuses on the kinship shared between these women, each of whom have their own burdens to bear in the face of such uncertain adversity. Much of the films strength comes from the sincerity of the performances, particularly leads Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan, who clash repeatedly throughout the film. Tunnard and Flynn's screenplay strikes a perfect balance in tone, too. It accomplishes a combination of both humour and tragedy (which is perhaps one of the most difficult dichotomies to nail in screenwriting) in a way that never feels superficial, and although it is clear to see the echoes of where it is all going to go, it's difficult not to become invested in the journey. Military Wives is a heartfelt film that is both uplifting and emotional, with standout performances and a truly brilliant final song that brings the whole piece together wonderfully.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Egger's second film is a sombre, haunting experience.
Arguably, the sophomore effort of any artist (whether they're a filmmaker, musician or author) stands as one of the most vital pieces of work in their career. There is no mistaking the importance of an impressive debut, but it's that 'difficult second album syndrome' that can make or break an artist. Any medium has their fair share of one hit wonders. Just look at Richard Kelly, the writer/director of Donnie Darko (2001). Robert Eggers arrived on the scene with a striking debut in the form of The Witch (2015); a terrifying, unnerving horror film that established him as one of the most innovative upcoming voices in horror cinema. Loosely influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's unfinished The Light-House, Egger's sophomore effort follows two lighthouse keepers, Ephraim Wilmslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe) who fight to maintain hold of their sanity once they're left stranded on a remote island. Shot in black and white with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1 to ensure a claustrophobic aesthetic, The Lighthouse is an absurd descent into insanity and a remarkably bizarre experience that is both nightmarish and oddly beautiful all at once.
Dafoe and Pattinson are on top form here; they're a fantastic duo and their unhinged performances carry the film entirely. Though Eggers choses not to fixate on character development, the power of the performances comes from the maddening depictions of desperation, lunacy and cold-blooded fury as the storm intensifies and the surreal hallucinations elevate in intensity. The Lighthouse isn't a film dedicated to telling a concrete storyline, either. Instead, it finds its own unique style of storytelling through haunting soundscapes and distorted visuals. At times, it all feels very Lynchian. Jarin Blaschke's cinematography is gorgeously sombre, and Valeriia Karaman makes a brief yet unsettling appearance as the alluring Mermaid who sparks both fear and arousal within the two leading men. Much of the film could be interpreted as one never-ending nightmare when factoring in the bleakness of its aesthetic, the claustrophobia of its aspect ratio and the eeriness of its atmosphere. It's hard not to be utterly transfixed by what Eggers has crafted here. The Lighthouse is all parts haunting, baffling, unsettling, intense and occasionally humorous. This is a sophomore effort is a fascinating and supremely memorable watch, cementing Egger's as one of the most interesting voices in contemporary cinema.
Queen & Slim (2019)
A striking debut.
After a fairly unremarkable Tinder date, Slim (Kaluuya) and Queen (Smith) are ordered by a police officer to pull over after a minor traffic infraction while driving home. Following what was evidently a racial profiling incident, things suddenly take a turn for the worst when the officer draws his gun on Slim. In an act of self-defence, he shoots and kills the officer. Once the officers death is swiftly brought to the widespread attention of the media, Queen and Slim become fugitives from the law and a manhunt ensues for their arrest. On the run and forced to abandon their respective lives, they embark on a journey to begin anew elsewhere, unsure of whom to place their trust in along the way. Described by producer Andrew Coles as 'a love letter to the Black community', Queen & Slim is a striking directorial debut from Melina Matsoukas, driven by two stunningly earnest performances by Kaluuya and Smith.
Matsoukas (known primarily for her work as a music video director) directs with confidence and careful attention to detail. Never does Matsoukas shy away from depicting the heavy subject matter addressed in Waithe's masterfully executed screenplay with unflinching realism. Queen & Slim is a film designed to create a dialogue; it tackles racism and police brutality in a way that reflects America's current socio-political climate. A key strength of the film is the strained dynamic between its two Bonnie & Clyde-esque leads. Initially, both Queen and Slim aren't much of compatible match, but as the film progresses and tensions of their journey gradually increase, a genuine love begins to develop between them amidst the heat of their plight. Kaluuya (who has become one of today's most versatile actors since gaining recognition for his role in Jordan Peele's fantastic Get Out) and Smith (in her first feature film role) are absolutely terrific together, and the slow weaving of their blossoming romance is sincere yet largely dominated by a looming sense of hopelessness. Both characters are ultimately flawed, emotionally complex and perfectly realised. Waithe's screenplay is sharp, completely absorbing, and has something crucial to convey in its storytelling. Queen & Slim is a remarkably bold debut by two talented filmmakers. It's powerful, raw, and perhaps most importantly, a painfully relevant exploration of trauma, brutality and love.
Vibrant and fun.
Based upon Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield (1850), this latest adaptation starring Dev Patel as the titular lead chronicles Copperfield's erratic life from rags to riches. Set during Victorian-era England, The Personal History of David Copperfield commences with his idyllic childhood living on a beach in an overturned boat through to early adulthood after a somewhat turbulent string of events. Being a fan of Dicken's works (as well as having written and starred in the 2012 TV film Armando's Tale Of Charles Dickens), Iannucci appeared to be an appropriate choice to adapt Dicken's 600+ page behemoth for the screen. Along with co-writer and regular collaborator Simon Blackwell, Iannucci found himself drawn towards the comedy featured within the novel. Dev Patel shines as David Copperfield, and he's joined by a magnificent ensemble cast comprised of some of Britain's finest. Peter Capaldi (a previous collaborator of Iannucci's, most notably known for his work on The Thick Of It) features as the scheming Mr. Micawber, and Hugh Laurie delivers a wonderfully mad performance as Mr. Dick; a frantic, paranoid man plagued with what seems to be a loose form of schizophrenia. Tilda Swinton is another fantastic addition as Betsy Trotwood, and Ben Whishaw's performance as the seedy Uriah Heep lends a slightly more antagonistic presence to a storyline largely lacking such a component. It is evident both Iannucci and Blackwell are fans of the source material they're adapting, as The Personal History of David Copperfield is a vibrant, charming piece of work that is irresistibly fun. Driven by a wonderful cast and a fast-paced storyline spanning many years, it is a film made with affection that is an absolute joy to watch.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Another great film from Waititi.
Set against the backdrop of WWII, ten-year-old Johannes Betzler (Davis) navigates his way through Nazi Germany accompanied by his imaginary friend Hitler (Waititi), albeit a more goofy, childish incarnation of the notorious tyrant. Aspiring to become one of Hitler's most trusted Nazi's, Johannes commences his first day at a Hitler Youth training camp with giddy optimism. Johannes is certain of his path towards becoming a full-fledged Nazi, until he learns his mother, Rosie (Johansson), is hiding a Jewish girl upstairs. Rosie's reservations and disapproval towards the war are a well-kept secret, confined within the walls of the Betzler household. Johannes is immediately suspicious of Elsa Korr (McKenzie), but rather than immediately turn her into the Gestapo, he chooses to learn about the people he's been indoctrinated into believing are the enemy. Given the subject matter it selects to satirise, Jojo Rabbit may have been a recipe for disaster in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. Fortunately, Waititi works wonders with the source material (Caging Skies by Christine Leunens) and produces a film that is both hilarious and tragic.
Waititi employs a brilliant line up for Jojo Rabbit. Davis and McKenzie are terrific as an aspiring Nazi/on the run Jew duo who's worlds are forced to collide in the midst of war, and Waititi's hilarious interpretation of the tyrannical leader is a performance very few could accomplish. Johansson's portrayal as a desperate single-mother operating in a society she's secretly opposed to whilst striving to do the right thing results in one of the more nuanced performances of her career, and Stephen Merchant's cameo as a Gestapo agent fuses both light humour with towering intimidation during one of the films tenser scenes. A fundamental strength of Waititi's screenplay is how it accomplishes the balance between comedy and tragedy. Jojo Rabbit has moments of gleeful silliness accompanied with clever, off-beat dialogue, but Waititi masterfully incorpates several gut punch moments that certainly hit hard during the films more sombre moments. For a Nazi-satire flick, it's surprisingly heartfelt. Perhaps most importantly, it never undermines the severe casualties brought about during Hitler's vile dictatorship. Waititi knows when to poke fun and when to tackle the material seriously. Jojo Rabbit is another great film from the New Zealand filmmaker and is absolutely worth watching; it's quirky, sincere and at times, strikingly real.
Capturing a full length feature in one continuous shot is a rare artistic technique utilised by filmmakers, with very few films in existence eligible to boast such a technical accomplishment. For his epic World War I film, Sam Mendes (director of Skyfall) and cinematographer Rodger Deakins employed long takes and swooping camera shots in order to project the illusion of a single continuous shot. While it's not a cinematic technique serviceable for every feature film, it most certainly compliments a project with the scale of 1917. On April 2nd, 1917, two soldiers, Schofield (MacKay) and Blake (Chapman), are instructed to deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment that will subsequently terminate an attack that would result in the deaths of 1,600 men. In an ultimate race against time, Schofield and Blake courageously venture behind enemy lines to accomplish their mission, encountering many perilous obstacles along the way.
1917 is a staggering accomplishment. Utilizing the one continuous shot illusion, Mendes and Deakin's craft an epic, mesmerising journey into the heart of war, carried by an outstanding central performance by MacKay. Deakin's cinematography is fantastic and utterly immersive, complimented tremendously by Thomas Newman's brilliant score. It's a continuously riveting descent into treacherous territory. Factoring in the gritty authenticity of the set design captured by the one shot illusion, much of 1917 feels almost documentary-esque in it's sense of realism. Up there with Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Dunkirk (2017), 1917 is a must-see war effort that is breath-taking in scope and emotionally exhausting in its resolution.
In retrospect, all the signs for impending disaster were there. Way back in 2012, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, along with his original story treatments for Episodes VII, VIII and IX. In April, 2014, Disney erased much of the original Star Wars canon (now to be consumed under the 'Legends' banner) to make way for their new timeline of canonical storylines to accommodate their brand new cinematic releases. This, of course, was the first strike for many, with large parts of the fandom rightfully miffed about this erasure. The Force Awakens (2015), the first instalment of the sequel trilogy, broke records upon release, scoring a mighty box office return of $2.068b. I enjoyed The Force Awakens very much, and at the time overlooked how it was basically an updated version of A New Hope (1977). Despite this, J.J Abrams set up plenty of interesting plot threads that could have moved the trilogy into new and exciting territory. Two years later, Rian Johnson takes the reigns with The Last Jedi, ultimately regarded as the most polarising Star Wars film to date. While The Last Jedi does have several good things going for it, it was a largely disappointing instalment only made worse by Mark Hamill's negative remarks concerning Johnson's treatment of his character, Luke Skywalker. Perhaps what didn't help either was Johnson's complete rewriting of what Abrams had planned, opting to instead "subvert fan expectations" and, in the process, muck up the whole flow of the trilogy with his questionable creative decisions. And now, The Rise of Skywalker is upon us. Strap yourselves in folks, you're in for a wild one.
God bless J.J Abrams for trying, right? Originally, Colin Trevorrow was scheduled to direct Episode IX, but was ultimately let go from the project due to 'creative differences'. It took Trevorrow getting the boot to pave the way for Abrams to return and complete the trilogy he started, but how to you go about concluding a trilogy you'd thoughtfully outlined from the beginning after another filmmaker took what you wrote and scrapped it all to pave way for his own vision? With The Rise of Skywalker, it is clear to see Abrams is desperately trying to return to the plot threads he introduced in The Force Awakens, dismissing many of Johnson's previously established ideas in the process. What goes around comes around, I guess. It's no secret that The Rise of Skywalker was a hard nut to crack due to the heavily publicised reshoots and rewrites. After enduring the final cut, it's difficult not to view TROS as a painfully botched effort. It breaks my heart to report Abrams has (despite his best efforts, I'm sure) delivered an absolute calamity that reeks of blatant unoriginality and will no doubt test the patience of the most ardent Star Wars fan.
First, a few positive notes; the cinematography remains fantastic and there are some stunning visuals to be found here, and John William's score is once again wonderful. Sadly, my optimism ceases here. Short, I know, but so was my patience watching this mess. All of the problems to be found within TROS lie within its disjointed storytelling. One of the biggest problems is the lack of character development. Rey (Ridley), Finn (Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) remain underdeveloped, one-dimensional heroes who haven't undergone memorable arcs since the trilogy began. Kylo Ren (Driver) was never much of an interesting villain, either. Ren's arc is essentially Darth Vader's all over again, only his rise to evil ultimately comes down to a psychotic temper tantrum spiralling out of control as opposed to Vader's tragic submission to the dark side. As for the return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), his reprise marks the very definition of 'creatively bankrupt'. By bringing back one the saga's biggest villains, Abram's ends up undermining the whole climatic confrontation between Luke, Vader and Palpatine in Return of the Jedi (1983). To make matters worse, he practically remakes it, as if the original ending wasn't definitive enough. Terrio and Abrams have crafted a script here that is plagued with plot holes, character inconsistencies, annoying humour and recycled ideas from previous instalments, therefore offering nothing new whatsoever. Even the action fails to captivate.
Perhaps The Rise of Skywalker was always unsalvageable. Perhaps J.J Abram's isn't capable of making blockbuster cinema without relying on nostalgia or recycled plotlines. Perhaps Lucas never should have sold Lucasfilm to Disney. It's difficult not to wonder where George Lucas would have taken the sequel trilogy. In an interview with James Cameron, Lucas explained his vision would have further explored midichlorians and a microscopic universe. Sadly, all we're left with is a lobotomised trilogy of retold stories of the saga's past and a fandom divided. Disney's trilogy very much feels like a p**sing match between Abrams and Johnson; both directors had their own vision for the franchise, resulting in a scrambled mess with no clear direction. Creatively speaking, it's damn right offensive. The Rise of Skywalker is frustrating, soulless, boring and, worst of all, utterly pointless.
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
Another fun voyage within the world of Jumanji.
When Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) was released, I made the conscientious choice to take a miss. In my eyes, the original Jumanji (1995) is an untouchable classic, with no reboot or sequel necessary. Recently this year, however, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and found myself pleasantly surprised. While incomparable to the original, it was a perfectly fun film in its own right with a likable cast and enough enjoyable set pieces to keep the adventure moving. With Jumanji: The Next Level, the adventure continues with Johnson, Gillan, Black and Hart reprising their roles once again. Three years have passed since the events that transpired in Welcome to the Jungle, and Spencer (Alex Wolff) misses the world of Jumanji as he grows ever more dissatisfied with his own reality. After he returns to the world of the game, his friends seek out to rescue him in order to confront him as to why he felt the need to return. Much to their surprise, the rules of Jumanji have changed due to faults with the system, resulting in some hilarious body swap blunders along the way.
Along with the four primary cast members (including new additions Danny DeVito & Danny Glover), Jake Kasdan also returns as director and, this time, co-writer. While there isn't a whole lot of difference between Welcome to the Jungle and The Next Level, I wouldn't exactly call that a bad thing. Just like its predecessor, this third chapter in the Jumanji-verse is another fun voyage with plenty of exciting set pieces, witty humour and just enough heart to ensure the whole affair doesn't ring hollow. The ensemble cast (accompanied this time by Awkwafina) remain a great fit and maintain their strong chemistry shared from their preceding outing, as do their younger counterparts who we begin and end the film with. The films antagonist, Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann), is, while serviceable enough, the films weakest element. While it doesn't stand out as one of this years most memorable films, Jumanji: The Next Level is still perfectly enjoyable escapism that is worth a watch if you enjoyed 2017's reboot/sequel.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
Doctor Sleep is a great film for fans of both King and Kubrick.
Although considered a timeless horror classic by both critics and audiences alike, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) remains famously loathed by Stephen King to this day. Despite the authors widely recognised disappointment with Kubrick's interpretation of his novel, the film has stood the test of time as one of horror cinema's greatest achievements. In 2013, King released a follow-up novel, Doctor Sleep, which provides the basis for Flanagan's latest King adaptation (his second following 2017's Gerald's Game) starring McGregor as a middle-aged Danny Torrance, still haunted by the traumatic events that took place at the malevolent Overlook Hotel decades ago. While regularly attending AA meetings, Danny secures a job at a hospice where he comforts dying patients with a little help from his supernatural abilities, soon acquiring the title of Doctor Sleep as a result of his unorthodox methods. Meanwhile, a group of quasi-immortals operating under the moniker True Knot seek to drain the steam from within supernaturally gifted children who 'shine', just like Danny, in order to retain their youth.
Enter Mike Flanagan (Oculus (2011), The Haunting of Hill House (2018)) who was burdened with the insurmountable task of not only crafting an adaptation that King himself would be proud of, but also a sequel that would impress fans of Kubrick's acclaimed original. Flanagan, who stands as one of modern horror's most prominent writer/directors right now, strikes a perfect balance with Doctor Sleep. It is a film that establishes itself as a completely different beast to Kubrick's film, while also drawing just enough influence from what's come before to please die-hard fans of what Kubrick established with his own vision. Ewan McGregor is well cast as a damaged Danny Torrance, but it's Rebecca Ferguson's captivating performance as Rose the Hat, the enigmatic leader of the True Knot, that steals the show. Fuelled with malevolence, Ferguson's deranged antagonist serves as one of Doctor Sleep's most exciting performances, and she's an absolute joy to watch. Kyliegh Curran also turns in a solid performance as Abra, a gifted young girl who shares a telepathic connection with Danny.
As is often the case with Flanagan's work, jump scares are practically non-existent. Instead, Flanagan focuses on atmosphere and tension to elevate the sequences of terror. During a grueling sequence that displays the True Knot's ability to drain children of their shine, Flanagan chooses not to hold back from depicting a scenario that will undoubtedly unease the most hardened of viewers. Stylistically speaking, Flanagan often channels Kubrick's visionary flairs to replicate certain shots that pay homage to the original film. Although both films are totally different from one another, Doctor Sleep serves as a terrific companion piece to the 1980 classic that fans of both Kubrick and King can appreciate. It's certainly an exciting journey with instances of some amazing cinematography (a sequence involving Rose scouring the night sky is a particularly captivating, dream-like moment), and Flanagan's screenplay is brilliantly paced, completely engrossing, and never dull. Doctor Sleep stands as the best Stephen King adaptation to be released this year, and one of the better horror efforts, too. Simply put, Doctor Sleep truly shines.
Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
A welcome surprise.
Late sequels are always risky business. Ten years off the heels of one of the most successful horror/comedy flicks of the 2000's, the long awaited arrival of Zombieland: Double Tap was always going to be something of a gamble. Humour has certainly changed in the ten years since Zombieland's release in 2009, and zombies, for the most part anyway, appear to have run their course within pop culture. Just look at The Walking Dead's (2010-) dwindling viewing figures for one example of viewers losing interest in undead entertainment. Picking up ten years after the original film, Columbus (Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Harrelson), Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been fighting off zombie hordes for ten years and have found their own private haven within the abandoned White House. With dynamics continuously shifting between the group, their loyalty is subsequently put to the test amidst the discovery of a new breed of evolved zombie.
Walking out of Zombieland: Double Tap, I was pleasantly surprised. As is the case with the original film, the chemistry shared between the four primary cast members stands as one of the films strongest elements, but it's newcomer Zoey Deutch who steals the show as Madison, a ditzy blonde somehow still surviving in zombieland. Deutch brings most of the laughs (often at her own characters expense), and integrates effectively enough amongst the rest of the cast. You'd be forgiven for believing her character would grow annoying fast, but she proves to be the most welcome addition out of all the new characters brought into the fold. What's also relatively commendable is the fact that Fleischer has remembered how to direct a feature film after his misguided efforts on Venom (2018). Just like its predecessor, Double Tap serves up a healthy dosage of gory headshots and ravenous undead action, but there's still nothing here to rival the levels of excessive blood and guts present within a Romero or Fulci zombie film. When it comes to the narrative itself, it doesn't come across as though ten years have passed for the characters themselves. Judging by their actions and interactions with one another, it feels like a year or so has passed rather than a whole decade, resulting in a first act that can come across as a little jarring once the central plot kicks into gear. Still, the film does what it has to do to get the plot moving, even if it doesn't feel as organic as it could be. Nevertheless, Zombieland: Double Tap is another fun effort that stands shoulder to shoulder with its acclaimed predecessor; a rare accomplishment for a late sequel.
A beautiful film centered around brotherhood.
Héctor is a troubled kid. Isolated, introverted and yet fiercely intuitive, he finds himself sentenced to a juvenile detention centre after a string of criminal offences. Twenty-odd attempted escapes later and Héctor is introduced to a rescue dog in need of training. Across an unspecified amount of time, Héctor forms a strong bond with this dog and names him Sheep. Their friendship is abruptly cut short once Héctor learns Sheep has been adopted, and that his job of training him has reached completion. Devested by the loss, he flees from the detention centre and reunites with his brother Ismael (Sánchez) and ailing grandmother Cuca (Cordón) on a spontaneous road trip to locate his estranged companion. What follows is an extraordinarily beautiful film about brotherhood and reconnecting with your past while facing up to life's impending challenges. Seventeen packs two fantastic central performances by relative unknowns Biel Montoro and Nacho Sánchez. Both actors share wonderful chemistry together and their dysfunctional yet discreetly compassionate relationship is at the very heart of the film, driving it forward with bittersweet tenderness and occasional moments of casual humour. Arévalo and Sánchez craft a wonderful screenplay that feels genuinely human and relatable in its approach to sibling dynamics and family ties while not succumbing to overly sentimental territory. Seventeen is a remarkable piece of work that deserves much more recognition. It stands as one of 2019's most heart-warming films and is currently available on Netflix.
A complete waste of time.
After a fairly savage bar brawl, bartender Will (Hammer) retrieves a phone from the wreckage of the scene and takes it home. It isn't long before he begins receiving disturbing content and ambiguous messages from unknown contacts, sending him spiralling into an unhealthy obsession that tears his life apart from the inside. Following this decent if slightly unremarkable set up, writer/director Anvari's sophomore effort spirals into nonsensical garbage. Based on Nathan Ballingrud's novella The Visible Filth, Wounds is the very definition of a film that is all tease and no pay off. Every character introduced to us is unlikable, which is a shame given the talent involved. Hammer, Beetz and Dakota Johnson (appearing as Will's dead behind the eyes girlfriend Carrie) make do with what they've got, but in the end no performance is remotely captivating. It felt as though production began without a completed script, as character motivations are often unclear and practically nothing regarding the supernatural disturbances are explained. Dull, uninspired and badly paced, Wounds is a monumental waste of time with a sickeningly unsatisfying conclusion.
A decent horror gem.
Channelling influences from The Omen (1976) and Brightburn (2019), this new Netflix horror follows Eli (Shotwell), a young boy suffering from a rare disease that forbids him from stepping outside. Desperate for a cure, his parents (Reilly & Max Martini) take him to a remote medical facility led by the allusive Dr. Isabelle Horn (Taylor). While undergoing a series of experimental treatments, Eli begins to unravel the facilities shady secrets with a little help from local girl Haley (Sadie Sink). Eli isn't exactly the most original horror film out there, but it's a fun enough watch with plenty of intrigue and a satisfying (if not completely mental) twist ending. It isn't perhaps as chilling as the screenwriters would have liked and can become a little repetitive at times, but what keeps Eli afloat is the mysterious nature of the facilities past as well as the solid performances. Although it doesn't exactly bring anything new to the genre, Eli is a decent little horror gem with a great third act that packs plenty of sequel potential.
Send in the clowns.
One of the best aspects about DC's iconic Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker, is the ambiguity of his origins. Alan Moore's phenomenal graphic novel The Killing Joke (1988) provides us with one of the many possible origins for the character, but even Moore's renowned interpretation isn't considered to be the definitive backstory. Making his debut in Batman #1 in 1940, The Joker remains one of the most recognisable villains in the history of comics. Each appearance of The Joker, from The Dark Knight Returns (1986) to The Killing Joke, to Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Series Earth (1989) to Batman R.I.P (2008), and many, many more, stands as a uniquely different portrayal of the character, while still maintaining the core essence of his psychotic persona. Todd Philips' stand-alone origin story Joker is no exception. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a party clown pursuing a career (unsuccessfully) as a stand up comedian in Gotham City. He lives in a rundown apartment with his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), and suffers from a condition which causes him to laugh uncontrollably in inappropriate situations. Disregarded by society, Arthur slowly spirals into a life of crime, paving the way for the creation of his maniacal alter-ego, Joker.
When it was announced Warner Bros. Pictures were developing a stand-alone Joker film, I was one of the many sceptics who claimed (with absolute confidence) that such an idea was unnecessary. Heath Ledger delivered an outstanding performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), and his portrayal has been long regarded as the highwater mark for those daring enough to adopt the role. Jared Leto's odd, over-the-top portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime wasn't embraced by neither fans nor critics in 2016's terrible Suicide Squad, which led many to believe the Joker role had become untouchable since Ledger's critically acclaimed portrayal. However, in Joker, Joaquin Phoenix delivers an Oscar worthy performance as the titular character. Phoenix embodies the role perfectly; his performance doesn't mimic Ledgers (and rightfully steers clear of all Leto's shortcomings), and instead crafts a whole new take on the character while still maintaining the core essence of what makes The Joker so renowned. Phoenix brings a damaged realness to the role and embraces the sinister undercurrents of Fleck's mentally disturbed psyche. At times, he's downright unnerving. On occasion, I was reminded of Matt Dillon's performance as Jack in Lars von Trier's serial killer epic The House That Jack Built (2018). Both Arthur and Jack are mentally disturbed loners who harbour sinister urges, but what distinguishes Arthur Fleck from Trier's Jack (who, by all accounts, is a killer who isn't fumbling for validation in his crimes) is how he finds justification for enacting his own immoral sense of justice onto a society that has wrongfully disregarded him. It is important to note that you aren't coerced into rooting for Arthur as he descends further into madness. By no means is Joker portrayed as an antihero; you sympathise with him when the film begins, but this sympathy is short-lived once Fleck ultimately falls victim to his own heinous choices. From his maniacal laugh to his off-kilter, deranged mannerisms, Phoenix delivers a masterclass performance that would certainly make Ledger proud.
Make no mistake, Joker is not what you've come to expect from the modern day comic book film. Philips and Silver have crafted a script that is grounded in reality and, at its core, it is a focused, psychological character study that trades in CGI spectacle (something that largely dominates comic book blockbusters these days) for mean-spirited, gritty nihilism. It's brilliantly constructed and certainly benefits from repeat viewings, as there is much of the film that is left open to interpretation. Hildur Guðnadóttir provides the film with a terrific score; it's brooding and eerily atmospheric, and stands as one of the best film scores of recent memory. It is a film dripping with atmosphere and tension that gradually elevates towards a finale that embraces the anarchy that Joker is known for. Joker has certainly garnered its fair share of controversy on the road towards its highly anticipated release, largely due to its violence and perceived influence it may inflict on audiences. While the film certainly has its violent moments, the violence never once overshadows the central narrative, nor is it as violent as the detractors would have you believe. What Joker ultimately serves as is a cautionary tale, while shining a light on how corruption can manifest within society.
Joker is everything one could want from a Joker origin story. Dark, tense and fiercely gripping, it stands as one of the all time great Joker stories with a career best performance from Phoenix at the heart of it all. Destined to become a celebrated classic, Joker is this years must see film.
It Chapter Two (2019)
It doesn't float. It sinks.
I've never read Stephen King's It, nor have I seen the 1990 two part miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise. I was, however, very impressed with Muschietti's 2017 remake, which was revealed to be the first chapter of a duology during its closing credits. It's no wonder Muschietti has opted to follow the same route as the miniseries; King's epic novel is practically impossible to adapt into one feature length effort, given how much story is packed into its whopping 1,138 pages. Taking place twenty-seven years after Chapter One, the Loser's Club are called back to Derry once it becomes apparent that Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has awakened to feast on the next generation of Derry's children. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), who never left Derry, calls his old friends back so they can fulfil the promise they all made twenty-seven years ago: to kill Pennywise once and for all should he ever return.
High expectations were set following Chapter One. With Muschietti back on board as well as Dauberman and Skarsgård, all was looking promising for Chapter Two to be a worthy companion to its predecessor. One of the highest praises sung about this film is its casting, and rightfully so. Chastain, McAvoy, Hader are excellent choices to play the older incarnations of their respective characters. Everybody looks the part and it strikes as wholly believable that these are the same characters we followed back in Chapter One. Unexpectedly, Bill Hader (primarily a comedy actor) steals the show as the adult Ritchie. Bill Skarsgård also delivers another fantastic performance as Pennywise, although his role isn't as prominent this time around, which is a real shame. There has also been much discussion about the films lengthy runtime; clocking in at just ten minutes shy of three hours, this is a long horror film which, unfortunately, results in some serious pacing issues.
Many of the film's problems are present during the painfully dull second act. It is here where Dauberman's script falls into repetitive territory, leading to unimaginative scares and boring, drawn out sequences that slam the film to a grinding halt. Most of the time, there's just too much going on with little by way of plot progression. In a novel, you of course have all the time in the world (as King clearly demonstrates), but in a film you don't get that luxury. Chapter One was paced very well, the plot moved swiftly, and it was an engaging experience overall. Chapter Two, on the other hand, doesn't share this quality.
Troubling the film also is an overabundance of CGI. Excessive CGI in a horror film never upholds well, and given how many of the most remarkable practical effects ever put to screen can be found in the realms of classic horror, it astounds me as to why filmmakers still endorse it to the lengths they do. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark suffered from this exact same problem. Much of the CGI on show here looks pretty distracting at times, and I couldn't help but wonder what some sequences would have looked like if brought to life via practical effects. Facing the struggles of repetition, just about every sequence during the second act ends with a lazy jump scare or the emergence of an average CGI creation. It's hardly effective, and it gets boring staggeringly quick. There are a handful of noteworthy sequences to be found here, though. One of the most effective of the bunch happens early on, including the Losers Club reuniting in a Chinese restaurant where an admittingly haunting scene plays out including fortune cookies and a tragic reveal. But what's largely frustrating about the scenes that actually work is how the insertion of comedy often downgrades these moments of genuine terror. Dauberman (for some unknown reason) injects quite a few punchlines and gags throughout the film, and just like the excessive CGI, this is annoyingly distracting and pointless.
It Chapter Two is a crushingly disappointing sequel that doesn't live up to its superior predecessor. Excellent casting, good cinematography and a pretty enjoyable final confrontation between Pennywise and the Loser's Club aside, this is a film that could have greatly benefited from a few more cuts. Entire scenes and characters could be removed from the final cut, and the absence of these unnecessary additions wouldn't at all affect the overall narrative whatsoever. Chapter Two is a clumsy, bloated experience with moments of greatness, but unfortunately, this is a film that sinks rather than floats.
High on charm, light on scares.
Produced by Guillermo del Toro and based upon the popular short story collections written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark centers around a group of young teens in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania in 1968, who discover an old leather bound book of short horror tales. What initially begins as an intriguing find soon becomes a nightmare as stories begin to manifest on the pages right before their eyes. Written in blood by an invisible entity, each new story transforms individual members of the group into ill-fated protagonists, leaving Stella (Colletti), an ametuer writer and horror fanatic, to uncover the books dark secrets before her own fatal story is written.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an enjoyable enough horror tale with a likable cast and a few fun set pieces, but the problem here is that, despite its title, it's staggeringly light on actual scares. Rather than a chilling horror anthology in the same vein as Trick R Treat (2007), Scary Stories feels more like a teen centric incarnation of Goosebumps (2015). There are a few noteworthy sequences to be found here. Harold (the poster star) is a sinister villain and his sequence is fairly chilling and packs a pretty grim finale, but everything that follows this sequence is far too tame to warrant being labelled as a 'scary story'. Most every story featured in the film aren't particularly interesting when looked at in isolation, but they're serviceable enough within the context of the overarching narrative. The introduction of a fully CGI villain in the third act feels far too cartoonish to be taken seriously, therefore removing any tension or menace that could have been achieved. As for the finale, everything is resolved suddenly and lacks all the terror a good horror finale needs, making for a dull, underwhelming ending. One thing the film gets truly right, however, is bringing Gammell's haunting illustrations from the books to life. Overall, it's fun enough for a one time watch but hardly a memorable horror affair.
A gleefully savage creature feature.
One of the most underappreciated sub-genres out there is undoubtedly the creature feature. I'm often always sold on a film should they include sharks, crocodiles or other monstrous creatures with an appetite for us humans. Films like Eaten Alive (1976), Lake Placid (1999), and Rogue (2007) are all guilty pleasures of mine, so Alexandre Aja's new alligator infested picture effortlessly grabbed my attention once its trailer dropped. When a category 5 hurricane devastates Florida, Haley Keller (Scodelario) ignores all evacuation instructions to search for her estranged father who is unresponsive during the hurricane. She finds her father injured and unconscious in the crawl space of their Coral Lake home. As Haley works on rescuing her father, she learns that a monstrous alligator has been swept into the crawl space as a result of the torrential flooding. With Haley and her father trapped in the crawl space with the predator as the water gradually begins to rise, it becomes a desperate game of survival against both nature and beast.
Like most creature features, Crawl is an enormously fun film and one of the stronger efforts in Aja's filmography. Both Scodelario and Pepper are two likable leads and their estranged relationship is portrayed effectively, making it easy to root for them both as the disaster amplifies. Clocking in at a brisk 87 minutes, Crawl is a tense and sometimes brutal story of survival. One of the biggest factors that can fail a creature feature is poor CGI. Thankfully, the alligators here look pretty great. Never once did any of the effects here look poorly rendered or embarrassingly amateur (see 2007's Lake Placid 2 for some of the worst crocodile CGI to ever disgrace a movie), and the level of practical effects on display here result in a pretty engrossing ride. There are of course a handful of characters introduced purely for the sake of being alligator fodder, resulting in some savagely entertaining kills inbetween the various efforts of the protagonists to escape their devastated home amidst alligator infested waters. As expected within this sub-genre, there are moments in which you certainly have to suspend disbelief during some of the attacks. The films ending is also rather abrupt and could have perhaps benefited from an additional scene to provide some satisfying closure. Nevertheless, Crawl is a widely entertaining film from beginning to end and ranks as one of the best creature features in recent memory.
Much ado about nothing.
DiCaprio and Pitt collaborate with Tarantino once again for the directors ninth (and supposedly penultimate) feature film as writer/director. Set in 1969 Hollywood, the film follows fading actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his loyal stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) as they navigate their way through the absurdities of Hollywood life. Inbetween their exploits we follow Sharon Tate (Robbie), who gleefully indulges in all the fun and glamour that Tinseltown has to offer. I'm a big Tarantino fan, so naturally my expectations for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood were high. What a shame it is then to report his ninth feature is an uneven, average affair that doesn't live up to the brilliance of his previous efforts.
Both DiCaprio and Pitt make for a great pairing, and they both carry the film even throughout its most sluggish moments. Margot Robbie is sadly wasted in the film as Tarantino gives her practically nothing of worth to work with, resulting in what feels more like an over glorified cameo as opposed to a legitimate role worth playing. Narratively speaking, the film is uneven and at times tedious to sit through. Tarantino is known for his engaging storylines, intriguing characters and sharp dialogue, but none of that is to be found here. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood doesn't really have a cohesive storyline, emphasized largely by the elimination of chapter breakdowns, a storytelling technique Tarantino is widely known for. At its core, it's a celebration of Hollywood moviemaking during the sixties and an exploration into the relationships between actors and their stunt doubles. While there are a handful of noteworthy scenes to be found here, they aren't enough to save the film from being a pretty average affair. Technically speaking the film is very well made and contains great shot composition along with a solid soundtrack. Unfortunately, there just aren't many ideas on display worthy of hanging a feature film on, making for a disappointing outing from one of the modern masters of cinema. If this is indeed Tarantino's penultimate effort, hopefully his swansong will return to the quality of his previous works.
A run of the mill tearjerker that offers nothing new.
Based on the book of the same name by Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain follows aspiring Formula 1 race car driver Denny Swift (Ventimiglia) and his Labrador Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner) as they together navigate their way through the hardships of life. Costner narrates the film from beginning to end as the narrative is primarily told through Enzo's perspective. Although it was indeed a smart move by the filmmakers to have the lovable Lab at the forefront of the film, that's all this run of the mill tearjerker has going for it. Spanning the course of their many years together, there are several instances in which the narrative moves far too quickly. Much of the first act relies heavily on exposition overload and there is a heavy abundance of telling rather than showing. Given the fact that the film moves at such a fast pace, there isn't much time at all for the characters to be well developed. They feel painfully one dimensional and I never once felt an emotional connection to any of them. Bomback's screenplay is an absolute mess and suffers heavily from a case of not knowing exactly what kind of story it wants to tell. What the film feels like is a sequence of events that may work perfectly fine in isolation, but when pieced together the end result is a rushed narrative with dull, undeveloped characters and plotlines that have been executed far more efficiently in better films. Ventimiglia and Seyfried are serviceable enough, but Costner is the real star here. He narrates wonderfully and were it not for him, my assessment of this film may have been a little harsher. Still, The Art of Racing in the Rain offers nothing new at all, and while I've no doubt that the book may in fact be brilliant, this film adaptation is a forgettable affair that packs one of the silliest endings I've ever seen in a film. But hey, at least the Labrador is adorable.
Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Just like Annabelle: Creation, ACH is a fun flick that's perfectly enjoyable for what it is.
In this third stand-alone adventure featuring the supernaturally possessed doll Annabelle (who by this point has become a modern horror icon for both her notorious reputation both on-screen and off), the malevolent terror that surrounds her moves to the household of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). With the Warren's absent for the night, their daughter Judy (Grace) is left under the supervision of babysitter Mary Ellen (Iseman) and her best friend Daniela (Sarife), who tags along despite no invitation. Their intended quiet night in is ruined when Daniela begins snooping around the Warren's basement, where various haunted artefacts utilized in ritualistic practices are contained, including Annabelle herself. Daniela unknowingly unleashes a malevolent presence upon the house by releasing Annabelle from her locked glass cabinet, leading to a frightful night in which the girls must contain the unleashed evil once more.
Screenwriter Gary Dauberman makes his directorial debut with Annabelle Comes Home, having penned the previous two instalments in the Annabelle series as well as The Nun (2018) and The Curse of Llorona (2019). Dauberman makes a solid effort behind the camera here and crafts some genuinely creepy sequences, yet there are times where moments of suspense are squandered in exchange for clichéd, basic jump scares (there's no shortage of screaming faces popping up from out of the darkness to give you a good old easy startle), but amidst these annoyances Dauberman orchestrates some well executed chills that make up for the pitfalls. Wilson and Farmiga reprising their roles as the Warrens (albeit only for a little while) was a positive, and once again their shared chemistry remains one of the strongest elements of this whole franchise. Although the storyline runs fairly thin, it's never boring. Dauberman's screenplay feels more like an adult orientated Goosebumps adventure at times, but that's no bad thing. There's nothing new or groundbreakingly innovative to be found here, but it is a simple yet effective film that's perfectly enjoyable for what it is.
A lovely tribute to one of the worlds most influential bands.
Struggling musician Jack Malik (Patel) is growing increasingly tired of perusing his dreams of becoming a famous singer-songwriter. Despite his best efforts and undeniable talent, Jack's dreams of stardom stray further and further away from him as time passes by. With the ongoing encouragement provided by his childhood friend (and manager) Ellie (James), Jack strives to achieve his dreams in spite of falling short every time. When an unexplainable global blackout occurs, Jack is struck by a bus and wakes up in a drastically changed world; a world in which nobody except him remembers The Beatles. With one of the most influential bands mysteriously erased from existence, Jack takes it upon himself to reintroduce the world to the music of The Beatles, taking credit for their work and skyrocketing to fame in the process.
Yesterday is a charming celebration of The Beatles' music. This collaboration between Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle proves to be a matchmade in heaven that begs the question as to why their creative minds have never joined forces until now. Richard Curtis produces another fantastic script packed with charm and wit, and both Patel and Lily share great chemistry together. They're a fiercely likable duo, and like all of his previous works, Curtis understands how to write excellent romance that's wholeheartedly believable and human. Patels' renditions of classic Beatles songs are pretty great, too. For many, recreating such iconic tracks would be an intensely daunting task, but Patel manages to pull it off. What the film also does so brilliantly is explore the ignorance of genius. Everyone knows the colossal impact The Beatles had on music, and both Curtis and Boyle take great joy in poking fun at how their songs and concepts would be received by the disillusioned youth of today. 'It's not as good as Coldplay,' retorts one of Jacks friends, following a heartfelt cover of 'Yesterday'.
Curtis and Boyle's first (and hopefully not last) collaboration serves as a fitting tribute to one of the most influential bands in the world. Heartfelt and thoroughly charming, Yesterday is a must see even for those who don't necessarily have an attachment to The Beatles or their music.
Underwhelming, with glimpses of genius buried beneath self-indulgence.
Expectations were sky-high for Ari Aster's sophomore effort following his absolutely horrifying debut Hereditary (2018). Aster's debut feature is a truly unsettling watch and was my favourite film of last year by a country mile. For me, Aster cemented himself as a director to watch out for, and Hereditary easily ranks as one of the greatest horror films of the last ten years. I've been looking forward to Midsommar ever since its announcement. Pitched as a hallucinogenic folk-horror nightmare largely influenced by the brilliant The Wicker Man (1973), Midsommar ultimately serves as a twisted break-up movie. After suffering a traumatising loss, Dani (Pugh) embarks on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian (Reynor) and his friends to participate in a midsummer celebration festival that occurs only once every ninety years. As friendly as the brightly clad villagers appear, Dani soon discovers that a sinister nature is concealed behind the ritualistic practices that take place during the festival. With her anxieties amplifying and tensions steadily intensifying within the group, it becomes apparent that the villagers have their own ulterior motives that prove to be inescapable once the festivities begin.
Midsommar is a very interesting, if not precariously muddled, sophomore effort from Aster. From a technical standpoint, it's a remarkable accomplishment. Aster's shot composition is flawless and Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography is outstanding throughout. Visually, it's a beautiful looking film to behold with an illuminous aesthetic fused with infrequent bursts of ghastly, bloody imagery. Florence Pugh is great as Dani, and very much like Toni Collette's performance in Hereditary, Pugh drives the whole thing forward through the emotional sincerity of her performance. With that said, I found Midsommar to be largely underwhelming on the whole with a startling lack of frights.
Clocking in at two and a half hours, it can at times feel like quite a sluggish viewing experience (particularly due to the slow burn approach of Aster's storytelling), and the film would have perhaps fared better if it were thirty to forty minutes shorter. Aster's script contains an assortment of twisted ideas, some of which work rather well (mostly during the films first half), whereas others come across as distractingly ludicrous (not to mention unintentionally hilarious). Unfortunately, Midsommar never quite lives up to the excellence of its first act, in which Aster sets the stage brilliantly for another unsettling nightmare in the same vein as Hereditary, but Midsommar is no such nightmare. It doesn't even come close. Once the third act of the film begins to unfold, Aster plunges into total self-indulgence. The most disappointing aspect about Midsommar lies within its storytelling. Despite its solid concept, it is far too long and frustratingly silly at times, and although Pugh's performance is emotionally engaging, the storyline (that is stretched way too thin) is not. I never felt entirely invested in the plot, which is a startling far cry from the emotional torment and unrelenting terror I felt throughout Hereditary.
Midsommar is bound to divide audiences. It is a film designed to provoke reaction. Even though the films flaws are aplenty, I cannot in good conscience call this a bad film, for there are still moments of genius to commend and technical aspects that are brilliantly crafted. Aster is undeniably a very talented filmmaker, but Midsommar is an underwhelming effort that ultimately fails to tell an engaging story, and most crucially, it never once unsettled or disturbed me.
Toy Story 4 (2019)
A wonderful surprise.
When it comes to beloved franchises, very rarely do fourth instalments stick the landing, let alone deserve an existence. Occasionally, some break free from the mould of disappointment and successfully win the hearts of audiences. Suffice it to say, the announcement of a fourth Toy Story made me incredibly anxious. Toy Story 3 (2010) concluded the trilogy perfectly, and I was adamant that a fourth chapter would taint the franchises excellent track record. Two years have passed since Andy donated his beloved toys to Bonnie. Although all appears well, Woody (Hanks) struggles to find his place in a world without Andy, and often mistakes Bonnie's name for Andy's under moments of pressure. A crucial aspect of Woody's pride were his talents for leadership and authority, but those days are far behind him. On Bonnie's first day of Kindergarten, she constructs a makeshift toy named Forky (Tony Hale) out of a spork, googly eyes and broken sticks. Much to Woody's surprise, Forky is magically brought to life, only to plunge immediately into an existential crisis, resulting in Woody striving to teach him the great significance of what it means to be a toy.
Within minutes of Toy Story 4 I was completely swept away, and all my apprehensions about the film were vanquished. Pixar have made stunning leaps and bounds with their animation, and this is without a doubt the most beautiful looking film of their repertoire to date. This heart-warming fourth chapter doesn't just focus on the humorous existential woes of a spork, but also reintroduces Bo Peep (Potts) into the fold, who was given away by Andy's little sister nine years ago. Bo was never a fan favourite, but Toy Story 4 makes sure to rectify this by reinventing the once one dimensional character entirely by finally awarding her with character depth. The dynamic shared between Woody and Bo is one of the films greatest strengths, because this time their relationship is something much more substantial than what we've seen so far in the previous films, and it's absolutely wonderful to watch. There are plenty of new introductions, too. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are hilarious as Ducky and Bunny, two plushie carnival prizes waiting to be won by a potential owner. They're witty and absolutely bonkers, effortlessly stealing every scene they're in. Keanu Reeves features as Canadian stunt-man Duke Caboom, although his role is fairly minimal. I had my concerns about Forky heading into this film, fearing that he would be overbearingly annoying, but thankfully, Forky is an oddly charming addition to the franchise.
Elements of horror have been largely absent from the Toy Story franchise ever since Sid's cannibalised toys wreaked havoc across the nightmare child's back garden in the 1995 original film. Folsom and Stanton's script reintroduces aspects of horror to the series in the form of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a 1950's doll who isn't as friendly as she appears on the surface, as well as her creepy ventriloquist dummy henchmen. Much of the film takes place in an antique store, which allows for some effective moments of Goosebumps level chills.
At the very heart of the film is the universal theme of belonging. The Toy Story franchise has always spoken to both children and adults, and Toy Story 4 is no exception. It's a truly heart-warming and entertaining film that delivers a beautiful conclusion to the series, and I was relieved that Pixar managed to pull it off in the way that they did.