Toy Story 4 (2019)

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.

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I Kill Giants (2018)

I had only read one review of this. It gave it 1 out 5 and called it a bloated mess that lacked any heart. That review is wrong and I shan’t link to it. This is lovely and the main character is one of the best I’ve seen all year. She’s not a likeable character to Sophia (a random English girl who has moved there), but when she’s responding to the bullies or the psychiatrist, you can’t help but root for her. Also incredibly funny. To the point where I will randomly insert her lines throughout this review.

“Do you think spitting on people is funny?”

“not haha funny but existentially yes”

I really really liked this film. It warmed my old cynical heart in a way that not enough films do. It reminded me of some of my favourite kids films of the last few years. It had the magic warm feeling that The BFG gave, the emotional depth of Pixar, the wit of The Lego Batman Movie, mixed with the darkness of A Monster Calls.

“The real problems are giants. Total dicks”

I should mention now that this film is VERY reminscient of A Monster Calls. If you saw that (and if you didn’t, wtf is wrong with you? It’s amazing) and liked it, you’ll like this. This is a film aimed at a younger audience, but it has enough heart and cleverness to it that it will stick with you even if you’re an adult.

“would you describe your job as worthless or utterly pointless?”

I suppose I should now mention the performances. Anybody who has read this for a while knows that I was a massive fan of Madison Wolfe’s performance in The Conjuring 2. I thought she was the best part in that movie, elevating the entire film. It’s the same here. In that film she elevated an ok film to a good one, in this she elevates a very good film to a great one. Someone less talented would have made her quirky character slightly annoying, yet she manages to give the character just enough vulnerability that even in her strongest moments you feel for her. The other performances are good, but overshadowed by her somewhat. Although it has to be said that Rory Jackson is great as Taylor too, she makes the character so hateful you relish seeing her get her comeuppance.

So in summary; see this film. It’s on netflix right now (if you’re in the UK at least) and is well worth your time, no matter what snooty reviewers say. It also gave me my favourite quote of the year.

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The Incredibles 2 (2018)

Fourteen years. Fourteen long years we waited for this. Cinema has changed, animation has changed, yet this film is set the day after the first one, so the characters haven’t changed. And I don’t care, this film was superb and I loved it.

The first one was Incredible, and this one was Incredible two (I’m so sorry). Everything about this film just works beautifully, the voice-work, the way it looks, the story, it all interacts with each other in the most wonderful way.

It picks up almost immediately after the first one ends, starting with a fight with the villain that turned up at the end of it. The action scene that that causes lets you know what kind of film it’s going to be: bombastic fun that looks INCREDIBLE (although let’s face it, with Pixar, you always KNOW it’s going to look great). The story is serviceable, it doesn’t come anywhere near the depth of Toy Story 3, or the heart of Finding Dory, but that doesn’t actually matter. You’re not sitting there thinking “well this story is pedestrian” because the way the film is done you don’t really care, you’re just sitting there amazed at what you see unveiling in front of you. It does what it needs to do, and it does it well. That’s not to say it’s a simple movie, it’s probably the only mass-market animated movie this year that has dealt with the themes this does. Themes of masculinity and feeling worthless because you’re not the one the family depends on, the emasculation that can cause.

There was a worry when the initial trailer came out that the film would focus too much on Jack-Jack, pushing him from background character to the main one, making him as insufferable as minions became. We really should have trusted Pixar more. They use him well, using him as an excuse for some amazing visual slapstick gags. More about the visuals; these films have their own visual style, it’s not just the animation. The architecture is a kind of future-past hybrid that just works beautifully and helps create a universe which is both retro and timeless.

Yes, the reveal of the villain is kind of obvious, but I’d rather a films twist was obvious than if it made no sense. And you don’t really sit there and analyze the story of this, you sit back and let it take over you. Pixar movies really are great, they’re the only studio for whom I eagerly look forward to almost anything (cars excluded) they do. Even the films which are thought of as bland, are only seen as such compared to the excellent standard they normally produce (seriously, give Brave a rewatch, it’s actually REALLY good). This is Pixar at their best, but if they make me wait fourteen years for another one, I will be pissed off.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

*whispers* I think I liked this more than Coco. Now, obviously, they’re two very different films. But when a Pixar film is one of the first films you see all year it can sometimes seem like the cinematic year has peaked already. Thank god for this film then, showing that there is hope. Well, I say “hope”, this film isn’t one that really gives you that. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness, yet conversely is also incredibly funny. This is not a pleasing film, but it is a satisfying one.

This is the kind of film you don’t really watch as a film, you experience it. There’s no happy ending, good deeds go punished and bad deeds are rewarded. This does affect the way you watch it at the cinema. There’s a certain point in the film where a major event happens (not spoiling it as you REALLY need to see this film) and it feels like this is what the film has been building to. It felt like a natural crescendo for the film, where even if it wasn’t the ending it would be very close to it. I saw people quickly finish their drinks and food in preparation, then the film continued for like another half hour. The enthusiasm and the mood in the room deflated like a…..well, like a balloon being deflated. Kind of annoying, but also kind of wonderful. That’s basically the point of life, isn’t it? That there are no definitive endings and sometimes all you have is more questions.

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This is one of about three scenes in the film which are in contention for best of the year

The story wouldn’t be much though if it didn’t have the right cast to play it out. The cast that’s put together for this is absolutely superb, it’s been well documented how good Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell are in this. But the supporting cast is great too. Caleb Landry Jones is smug enough so that even he’s right you still kind of want to punch him and throw him through a window. Lucas Hedges continues to show that his work in Manchester By The Sea wasn’t a one-off bit of luck. Just generally a great ensemble cast. But I do need to point out the leads. I’ve watched a lot of films with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in, so it should be difficult for me to lose myself in a film starring them. It should be really difficult for me to not think of them as Woody and Sam, and to start thinking of them as the characters they are. But they’re so damn good that you do get lost in their performances, you buy into their characters easily. There’s one scene in particular where Woody Harrelson’s character is in an argument with Frances McDormand’s when he suddenly coughs up blood onto her. The way the actors play it is perfect, they instantly switch gears from an emotionally intense scene to a different kind of intensity. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of acting, and a scene everybody should watch.

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“So how’s it all going in the nigger- torturing business, Dixon? “It’s ‘Persons of color’-torturing business, these days, if you want to know. And I didn’t torture nobody.”

I will admit I’ve struggled to write this review. It’s much easier to write reviews of bad films or films which could be improved. For this all you can say is “it’s really good”. Can’t point out problems, can’t point out weak links in it. I can’t even moan about it being underrepresented at awards shows. If it had M.Night directing it at least it would have had a twist ending where it turned out to be something to do with aliens. I mean, it would have been shit and ruined the film, but it would have given me something interesting to write about. Damn this film and it’s wonderful, brilliant greatness.

Coco (2017)

No words can do this justice, which does not bode well for me having to review this, it turns out I can’t just upload emotions to a blog and use them as a review. Which is a shame as this would be perfect for it. This film plays heavily on emotions, and very often. People talk about how Up is so emotional it’s basically torture, and it is, for the opening. Outside of that, it’s just standard Pixar (which is still about 80% better than everything else out there but still), this is consistent. At least the beautiful visuals will cheer you up, you can distract yourself from the existential crisis the film is giving you by just looking around the wonderful scenery, and then notice the oddly high amount of children in the Land Of The Dead and the implications of that……Jesus Christ.

The story? Now, as you may have guessed from previous reviews I’ve done, stories are key to me, and usually, kids films are more focused on catchy songs and bright colours than the story. But this is Pixar, and they are Gods, so the story here is intricate, in depth, and will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. You can tell a lot has gone into this story to make it work and it’s been made with a real love of film-making, and also of Mexico and it’s cultural traditions.

Not entirely sure how much this film will resonate with kids though. The themes it deals with are aimed very much at a particular audience, it deals not just with the importance of family, but also about legacy, and the fear of being forgotten. I’m not really sure “when I die will I be forgotten? Will everything I do be for nothing?” are massive issues for young children (apart from super depressed ones). Oh, and with a slight note of dementia as well.

There’s a surprise heel turn which doesn’t really come off as too much of a surprise. People who have seen a lot of films will kind of guess that one person turns out to be a bit of a dick, but what will truly surprise people is just how evil he turns out to be. He doesn’t just go “slightly evil”, he turns out to be truly despicable.

I did mention earlier how this film is incredibly emotional, and it is, but it is also life-affirming. Yes, you’ll cry your eyes out, but you’ll also feel uplifted by the whole thing, which is nice. What else is nice is that it used a mostly Latino cast, they didn’t just hire a lot of white people and get them to do a mildly racist accent. Animated films are becoming more progressive in terms of casting, they no longer seem to be sold based on the voice cast, which is a remarkable shift from years ago where entire advertising campaigns used to be based around who was doing the voices, now it’s more concepts and visuals, which is a great sign for the future.

So in summary: go see it at the cinema. This film deserves to be seen on the big screen. But then buy it on DVD/blu-ray as well, because it deserves to be seen multiple times.

Also read: This review of Coco courtesy of another site we know.

Also watch: Kubo And The Two Strings

 

Films Worth Seeing from 2015: The Serious ones

Dramas(ish)

Inside Out

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Yeah I’m putting this in the drama section; go fuck yourselves if you disagree. For every laugh out loud moment, which there are a few; Pixar’s latest masterpiece is littered with heartfelt and moving moments that will warm the cockles of your aging bitter heart and will make you cry. The idea behind it is amazing and while the plot it follows isn’t anything new, it’s execution is near flawless. I knew from the opening melody of the main theme Bundle of Joy (my pick for best original score of the year), that this film was going to be exactly what everyone wanted from a Pixar film, and it was.

Steve Jobs

steve-jobs-posterProbably the most intense and thrilling film of the year, and not one shot is fired and not one car is chased, it never goes beyond people just talking (and screaming). Set in three real-time acts spread across the 1970s-1990s, this film gets to the heart of Steve Jobs the man/the character (he was quite a dick it turns out), and the heart of what it means to be innovative and push the boundary of what technology can be for people. Thrilling, heartstopping, emotional, and surprisingly beautiful to look at, Steve Jobs is a breath of fresh airconditioned air for the Biopic genre…and the fact it made less that jObs is just depressing.

 

Youth

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Another funny but heartfelt film that is a meditation on fame, but even more so is about aging, love, and parenting. Directed by Italian autor Paolo Sorrentino, it’s led by a best in decades Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, as two friends at a Swiss retreat in the Alps trying to keep their lives going. Now this is a bit of a tricky film to talk about, as its light on plot and heavy on strange things happening and characters reacting to them. So just trust me that Youth is a beautiful film and the kind of bold artistic statement that makes you glad that the studio process still lets creatives work their magic on us.

Spotlight

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An in-depth investigative drama that follows the journalist team who uncovered the Child abuse coverups by the Catholic Church in the early 2000s; and it will piss you off for all the right reasons. I’m a sucker for a good investigation film, like Zodiac or All The Presidents Men, and this was no different. Though I don’t think it’s up there with Zodiac, this is still a very well written and compelling drama/thriller that step by step will take you through the disturbing looking glass. Led by a stellar cast of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and more, this film is a masterclass of restrained filmmaking and acting. With a topic as hot as this, Spotlight could have easily become an over-dramatic spotlight-S_070416_rgblifetime mess, but director Tom McCarthy made the wise choice of keeping everything restrained, realistic, and beautifully drab (never has a cast of A-listers looked so normal), all so the facts can speak for themselves, and they scream.

 

The End of the tour

film-sundance-end-of-the-tour-first-look-2b1b02c3b573cbe3Already talked about this in our 2015 Film Awards, where it was one of the films awarded with best picture, but I’ll talk briefly about it here. It’s a funny and heartfelt road movie that meditates on fame, creativity, and loneliness, through the indepth and witty conversations of its protagonists. Whether you know David Foster Wallace’s work or not, this is an accessible and great film.

Wild

WILD_movie_posterFollow a mesmerizing Reese Witherspoon on a thousand mile hike as she flashes back to the different traumatizing points in her life that led her to the hike. It’s a compelling character film of the purist nature, and with a combination of a great soundtrack, editing, and sound-editing, is the best film I have ever seen capture the feeling of fleeting thought.
But this is a bit of a divisive film it appears, depending completely on whether you like the main character, as she is not really a good person; and not in the love to hate them way, but in a realistic way. I did like her, or at least I was engaged by her, while my fellow Troubled Production’s producer did not, leading to me putting this as one of the best films of 2015, while he put it as one of his worst. (See his personal blog here).

99 Homes

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Michael Shannon is on terrifying form as a realtor looking to make money during the housing crises of 2010, and Andrew Garfield finally acts his age to heart-breaking effect, as a single father kicked-out of his home by Shannon, and taken under the corrupt realtor’s wing. Another film that finds it’s intensity in its emotions; this film grabs you by the throat and keeps you electrified as you watch a normal man grapple for his morality and his fall to ‘the darkside’ as it’s the only way to provide for his family.

 

 

Brooklyn

file_610952_brooklyn-poster-640x951The second Nick Hornby script on this list (the first was Wild), and it just shows you the versatility of his writing. In 1950’s an Irish immigrant moves to Brooklyn (go figure) where she finds love, life, and a future, but then finds herself torn between the life she wants in America and the life everyone else wants for her back in Ireland. Much more a classic Hollywood romance (in all the right ways) and less the love triangle bollocks the trailers made it look to be, this is really a beautiful film about striving to achieve your own happiness, and who you’re willing to hurt to keep it.