I don’t care about this movie. I don’t care that it’s missing one of the main voice actors to him sadly passing on. I don’t care that it seems like a cash-grab. And I don’t care that it kind of overrides the perfect ending of Toy Story 3. I don’t care about any of this, because I fucking loved this movie. I loved this movie from the opening scene, a flashback to between Toy Story 2 and 3 that makes a nice change of pace for these films, normally they end with you crying, this film starts with it. From the moment this film opens it grabs you by the heart and never lets go, culminating in what I believe is one of the great closers of all time when it comes to movie series. The others felt like potentially they could have ended the series, this feels like it has to, there’s no way to continue it in a satisfactory way.
I did think that of the third film at the time, but looking back that was possibly a bit naive to assume that just because Andy (and the audience) held Woody in high esteem, that Bonnie would too. I’ve seen some weird reviews of this film calling Bonnie a bitch because she doesn’t play with Woody, which is strange because, you know, she’s a child, and children sometimes get bored of certain toys. I think that’s why it’s weird when people call Sid from the first movie a psychopath because he mutilated toys, forgetting that just because we know they’re alive, doesn’t mean he does. If Pixar made a movie called Lettuce, about sentient salad, would that mean the people in the film who ate it are evil? No, they’re just hungry.
They’re not the only weird reviews, I’ve also seen some really weird reviews saying things like “I didn’t like it”. Which is unfathomable to me. If you liked the first 3 (i.e. are you a human?), then you’ll like this one too. It’s not wildly different, but it’s also not the same. It’s the kind of film only Pixar would make. It plays with expectations brilliantly, setting up expected villains only to pull the rug away from their villainess. Before that, they do seem genuinely creepy and it made me think I really want a Pixar horror film.
Onto the best thing about this film: it looks SUPERB. You kind of forget it’s animated after a while, there are so many things going in the background, nothing exciting, but it really helps build the fact that this is reality. The performances are good, but most of the actors have been playing these characters for decades, so that’s to be expected. The new ones hold their weight too. Keanu Reeves slots into this universe brilliantly, as do Key And Peele. Christina Hendricks is one of the best additions though, not as comedic as the other two but responsible for a lot of the emotional depth this film has. The true new MVP though? Tony Hale, in the wrong hands this character would be annoying as hell. If you gave this role to a comedy actor known best for madcap fast-speaking (Kevin Hart, Jim Carrey etc) then it would have been too much, it wouldn’t have seemed real. Hale plays him with just the right vulnerability, but also the comedic chops to make repeated suicide attempts in a kids movie socially acceptable
So in summary, go see this film, in fact I’m disappointed you haven’t already. Yeah it’s almost 2 hours long, but it really doesn’t feel like it, it flies by.
A good reviewer stays unbiased throughout, I am not a good reviewer so I’m going to say from the outset that this film earned a place in the “good films of 2019” end of year blog based solely on how great the first two films were, the fact that the trailer for this featured John Wick riding a horse, and for having Anjelica Huston in it. This film would have had to fuck up badly for me to dislike it. I’m so glad it didn’t. This carries on the tradition of John Wick films being the new standard-bearer for action films. No longer are they just “dumb fun”, and really, anybody who calls the John Wick franchise dumb really has no idea what they’re talking about. This is a great story about redemption and consequences, a story which runs through at least 4 films. Actually now I’ll mention one of my 3 issues with this film: it doesn’t work as a standalone film I don’t think. It sets up the next one too much so when it’s over you don’t really feel narratively satisfied. It’s the cinematic equivalent of really good tomato soup, yes it’s good as a starter, but it’s just not enough. Second problem: the action scenes. Now don’t get me wrong, they are FANTASTIC in terms of the scenes themselves, the choreography and lighting lead to them being some the best fight scenes you’ll ever see, it’s just…..well I don’t think all of them are necessary. There’s some which go on a bit too long and just seem to be an excuse to HAVE a fight scene, the fight scenes lead the movie rather than the other way around. The third issue: the main villain isn’t that interesting, kind of. The main physical threat anyway, doesn’t really have enough to do. Asia Kate Dillons character is kind of the big bad villain, orchestrating everything, and they’re fantastic, I just feel it’s a bit too late in the franchise to introduce a character like that. Side note: the John Wick franchise has now featured one non-binary actor, and a genderfluid one, and done so without even mentioning it or making it the character-defining trait, they’ve just put them in there and let them be amazing (Ruby Rose is still one of the highlights of John Wick 2, and Dillon is a definite performance highlight of this one).
This film also continues the BRILLIANT world building of the first two. It’s part of why I love these films, there’s so much that goes unsaid about the universe but is just implied and shown, it really sets it up as a universe which actually exists, and also means you have to be paying attention to everything. You actively engage with the films because you have to, you can’t just sit back and dip and out.
So in summary, yeah this film is great. But it could also be the film in the series where the cracks start showing, it all depends on where they go next, I can’t wait.
So this week the teaser trailer for John Wick: Chapter 2 dropped, with the full trailer being released tomorrow at New York Comic-Con. Usually I hate the idea of trailers for trailers, but I think I finally get their purpose. They’re basically a “heads up”, a “keep your eyes out for later this week”, and I know for certain that I’ll be searching for the trailer on Sunday. It helps that I really love the title for some reason, it’s both ordinary and superb at the same time. The original had a real sense of being part of a wider universe. There were a lot of moments in it which set up that this world wasn’t just for the benefit of the main characters, you got the feeling that everything continued to exist even once the camera stopped rolling. I remember coming out of that and wondering whether it was a comic book adaptation, it genuinely felt like one, but a good one.
I will admit I went into this with low expectations, I’ve never really rated Keanu Reeves that consistent, he’s had flashes of brilliance but I would never think “I’m really looking forward to the new Keanu Reeves movie” I went in basically expecting a dumb but fun action movie. Whilst it is fun it is definitely something more than that. The films starts off with his wife dying, now most films would have her killed by a dickbag (not a literal one), and then the hero has to go through and avenge her death. But this? This has her die of an unspecified disease, but before she dies she arranges for him to get a puppy to help him cope with her death. The villains in this KILL THE DOG! Most films don’t do that, even Kick-Ass 2 which was ultra violent had the lead villain balk at the idea of killing a dog (in the movie anyway), so the fact that it’s that which kicks off the story is a brave piece of storytelling, and it’s effective. He doesn’t even spend the film chasing the guys who did it, he gets his retaliation in then has to deal with the person’s father who’s the head of a crime family. The entire story is not generic revenge, it’s about dealing with the consequences of your actions, the second half of the film is basically what a lesser film would put in the sequel.
But it’s not just the story it’s telling, it’s the way it’s told that is effective too. It looks beautiful, yes it’s quite dark in terms of lighting, but it’s not in a bleak way, it uses bright lights often to create the contrast between light and dark, it’s like an extremely toned down neon noir film. The choreography is superb as well, I do love a good fight scene in films, but only when done a certain way (I’m quite picky). I hate the fight scenes where every single punch/kick etc is accompanied by a cut, where the scenes cuts away just on the impact. It can be effective tool to use, but when it’s used with every single impact it just makes the scene disorientating, particularly when you change the focal point with the cuts so your eyes are constantly wandering (although Mad Max: Fury Road did this superbly where even when they changed angles they kept the action almost dead centre). This film does cut on impact occasionally but it also lingers long enough for the punches to have an impact. Both the colour and the choreography can be showcased best in this scene.
The film is even more impressive when you realise it’s a directorial debut for both directors. Previously they’d done mostly stunk work and assistant directing (it was actually their stunt work on The Matrix which led to Keanu Reeves suggesting them directing this), but they definitely step up to the plate here and knock it out the park. Utilising visual techniques from anime films, choreography (particularly in regards to “gun fu”) from Honk Kong cinema, mixed with an almost old-school Western movie vibe (to the point where if I had to put this in a genre I’d say “Neon Western”) combine to make something truly exciting even on mute. Even the character’s costume has a good look to it, it’s kind of “priestly gangster” and works well for the character. Basically I can’t oversell this film enough, it’s superb and you should see it.
The Drop. Another film I saw with low expectations which ended up being a personal favourite. Tom Hardy is superb and the storytelling is brilliant.
With Everybody Wants Some, Linklater’s latest film just out in America this week we thought now is a good enough time as any to take a look at the versatile work of one of the greatest directors from this modern era. An auteur who should be uttered in the same breath as Wes Anderson, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Paul Thomas Anderson, but isn’t…admittedly it would be a long breath. Having gotten his start in the late 80s/90s, over the last almost three decades and almost twenty films, Linklater has touched upon almost every genre, outside straight horror and action, and I’m here to celebrate just a few of his best and most varied works.
Dazed and Confused (1993): Stoner comedy
After his bizarre montage of a film Slacker brought Linklater into the conversation, this is the film that made him. A much more straight forward stoner comedy that follows an eclectic group of high schoolers on the first night of Summer in the mid-70s, as they drive around drinking and smoking pot, just looking for a good place to smoke pot and drink. Now on the surface this is a par for the course teen comedy, but as Linklater is now known for, his writing brings startling insight and a nuance to its fun characters and setting, alone elevating it to a complex character piece. But it’s the quieter moments in between the partying, when the haze clears and the characters look off into the distance and can’t help but worry about what comes next, that if these really will be the best years of their life, that really stay with you.
Those moments don’t last long, and are usually answered with a shrug, but that the film admits that the party will end, so you better enjoy it, puts it high above almost any other stoner film. Oh and it also launched the careers of Ben Affleck, Mathew Mcconaughey, as well as a butt tone of other recognisable faces, so it’s got that going for it too.
A Scanner Darkly (2006): Animated Sci-Fi thriller
Richard Linklater and animated dystopian science-fiction; not a combination even the stoners from Dazed and Confused would think of, let alone guess it would be one of the highlights of the genre; but this list is titled thus for a reason. Adapted from Phillip K Dicks novel, it depicts a group of drug addicts, formed of Robert Downy Jr, Woody Harrelson, and led by undercover cop Keanu Reeves in a totalitarian America, where the only thing they have more of than drugs is cameras: Big Brother is always watching. Linklater sticks very close to the text, adapting the films dark themes of drug abuse just as effectively as its constant bursts of dark and surreal humour. But what really makes this film something else, is that its rotoscoped (animation done over live-action footage), a style that not only makes it timeless, but adds a toxic physicality to the labyrinth of confusion and paranoia the story revels in; capturing imagery from the material like no live-action film ever could.
Me and Orson Welles (2008): Period drama comedy
A 30’s set period dramedy, a love letter to the stage (which clearly inspires Linklater’s writing, though ironically he didn’t write this), and a personal favourite of mine: I find this film is unfairly overlooked as a Zac Effron vehicle (who fits the period like an old glove), as at the time he was in the heights of his High School Musical fame. But in actuality it’s a genuine showcase of his talents, as it is a delightfully charming and fascinating film that looks at the friendship between a young man with theatre dreams and a pre-Citizen Cane Orson Welles, as he and his famous Mercury troop put on their career making performance of Shakespear’s Julius Caesar.
Filled to the brim with recognizable faces, buckets of wit, and a stage full of heart and break; it’s Christian McKay’s portrayal of the man himself that makes this film tick. As uncanny as he is entertaining, this is the definitive portrayal of Orson Welles; painted with depth and care, he is equally the brash genius and timid artist; and his friendship with Effron dives surprisingly deep into the methodology of acting, and are need to transform and disconnect from ourselves.
Boyhood (2014): Coming of age drama
Filmed over twelve years, from May 2002 to October 2013 (almost my own exact adolescence), using the same cast, Boyhood follows a boy and his broken family through his life, on their journeys to adulthood and everything else.
I’m not sure I can call it Linklater’s best film, but it’s definitely his magnum-opus (so far), and defines his sensitive and nuanced style.
Though in saying that, the first time I saw it in the cinema, I only liked it fine. It was fine. It wasn’t until I saw it again at home, on the small screen with my family, that I realized how special it was; and I recommend everyone else to watch it in much the same way. As though the film is huge in scope, it’s tiny in scale, making a more intimate, personal viewing much more effective.
Because this film gets it, it gets growing up, getting older, changing. And not just for a kid, but for everyone and anyone, from the boy, to his sister, to their parents. Everyone is always changing; for better, for worse, and in ways they can’t quite understand, and Linklater captures it beautifully not by focusing on the mile stones of life (school, sex, ext) but the moments in-between, the smaller things that haphazardly drift from your memory but build who you become.
This film isn’t for everyone, its long, and its talky (like most of his films), and there arn’t many clear goals or messages to take from it. But it’s a film that truly sculpted time, the time over which it was filmed and its run length, and is a near three hour shot of condensed life.
Though these are more or less my favorites of Linklater’s (Before Sunset would round the list off nicely), but just to emphasise further how versatile his work has been, here’s a full list of all of his films. And yes, he really did direct School of Rock.