Toy Story 4 (2019)

Director: Josh Cooley Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves

As Bonnie starts kindergarten, Woody tries his upmost to protect   new friend Forky, a spork toy handmade by Bonnie herself on her first day. As the gang sets off on a road trip, Woody’s task becomes harder until he finds himself lost in an unfamiliar town, racing to get back to the others before they leave him behind. On the way, he meets some new friends, new enemies, and some old familiar faces too.

While a fourth Toy Story film may not have been totally necessary or even highly desired by many fans, I cannot stress enough that this instalment is 100% worth a watch. The third film sort of ties up the over-arching storyline, but this one builds on it well and works well as a continuation of that plot. Basically, in case you were wondering about whether you should bother with this film or not: you should.

I found this one to be the funniest of all four Toy Story movies. Forky is hilarious and it’s great to see a slightly different type of toy and how they made him into a character. Buzz has the best lines, and while he’s not in the film as much as I’d like (it’s heavily weighted towards Woody), he pretty much makes every scene he’s in. Keanu Reeves also makes an appearance- well, his voice does- as new friend Duke Caboom, who also has some of the most hysterical moments. I think I laughed out loud along with the rest of the cinema probably a good dozen times.

As I mentioned, the movie is pretty heavily weighted towards Woody and the rest of the original gang aren’t in it too much. I would have liked to see more of Woody and Buzz’s friendship, which, ultimately, is kind of the whole concept of the Toy Story franchise. More of the originals- Rex, Slinky et al- would also have played to my deep-seated nostalgia. The new characters are great though, and they all come together at the end in a satisfying way. With the new faces, they all have substantial background stories which are woven in satisfactorily, so they fit in well and don’t feel like random additions to an already large set of characters. As for the plot itself, it’s a lovely adventure with moments of comedy, sadness, suspense, action as well as a couple of good jump scares (the antiques store is creeeeepy). It all flows at a good pace with pretty much no lulls, and it all wraps up well in the end with no plot holes that I can think of.

The million dollar question is: will there be a fifth Toy Story? My two cents would be that while it’s not necessary, I didn’t think this one was necessary either but I loved it nonetheless. If they do make another one I’m confident it’ll be brilliant, just like all the others. I feel like Toy Story never needs much plugging, but I would 100% recommend this as one of those films you’ll come out of just thinking “yes, that was great”.

5 stars

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Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Director: Nicholas Ray Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus

An angsty teenager moves to a new town and instantly gets himself caught up in trouble. With the added frustration of his dysfunctional parents, his desire for a fresh start doesn’t quite get off on the right foot.

Admittedly, this movie has been in my watch list for a while primarily because it was Tommy Wiseau’s acting inspiration for The Room. I don’t think my generation has quite the same cult fascination with James Dean as perhaps my parents and grandparents, but nonetheless his legacy lives on in a very 21st century way… Anyway, I was aware this movie is a “classic” but had very little knowledge about it before starting. I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would, as I often find serious dramas quite hard to sit through but the plot is fast-paced and launches straight into things. The first scene, set in a police station, is pretty intense but this helps to get a sense of the characters without spending loads of time building up. The three main characters have to explain themselves to the police, which is pretty obvious exposition but I found it was effective and gave me all the background I needed without taking too long.

Following this, we witness a series of classic teenage problems that translate well into a 21st century context, despite this film being made more than 60 years ago. Over-bearing parents, first day at school nerves, unrequited romance, general social awkwardness- we’ve all been there regardless of generation. The sense of “I know the feeling” makes the story seem authentic and creates a connection with the characters.

I did however find the final climax of the film a little over-the-top. It seemed to escalate very quickly and I’m not totally convinced the earlier scenes had effectively built up the characters in such a way as to make the ending seem natural- I felt it took quite a big leap and then the films ends quite suddenly. That said, the film does wrap things up, albeit quickly, and I felt it had a satisfactory ending.

This is a good film that everyone will be able to identify with (or at least everyone over the age of 15) and is definitely worth a watch. If nothing else, the 1950s fashions are great.

3.5 stars

The Favourite (2018)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, James Smith

Queen Anne is on the throne while her friend Lady Sarah, wife to the Prime Minister, runs the country behind the scenes. Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives from the countryside looking for work, and soon becomes a rival for Anne’s attentions.

As most Oscar films seem to be nowadays, this one ticks both boxes of weird and intense. This is not to say it’s not enjoyable though- much of the film is comedic, which helps to add to the absurdness of the situations that arise. It’s strange, but the fact that it’s funny makes it more accessible to wider audiences. Olivia Colman nails the eccentric and deluded Queen Anne, while Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz both play manipulative and conniving characters who have equal elements of heroic and despicable.

My surprise favourite character was Nicholas Hoult, who plays Harley, the Leader of the Opposition. I say surprise because I didn’t know he was even in it before I watched it, rather than surprise at his comedic ability. The first thing I saw him is was About a Boy, so we know he plays strange comedic parts well. As a side note, I also really enjoyed the history playing out in the background, with the war against the French and early 1700s Parliament.

The film is set in England in the early 1700s, so one of the things I enjoyed most about it was the costumes and sets (for which it has been nominated and Oscar). The women’s dresses are great to look at, while the men’s costumes are used to play a part in the story themselves as they are so ridiculous.

I liked this film more than I thought I would, as it’s intense and a bit psychological as the women go head to head, but the comedy throughout makes this bearable. It’s not suitable for children but I think it would reach wide audiences, so I would recommend giving it a go and seeing what you think afterwards. I don’t feel a particular desire to watch it again (at least not for several years) but I’m pleased I’ve seen it.

4 stars

Book vs Film: Jurassic Park

Book: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990)

Film: Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spielberg (1993)

While sitting by the pool and rattling through several books during my recent summer holiday, I was struck with an idea: instead of following my usual formula for film reviews, I thought it I might mix it up and compare with the original novel (providing I’ve actually read it, of course). One of those poolside reads was Jurassic Park, which I also happened to have watched about a week before starting on the book, so we can start our foray into my new feature Book vs Film here.

Both the novel and film are well-known and well-regarded, but most people are certainly more familiar with the the film. With classic moments such as finding out how the dinosaurs were created (i.e. wondering if it might actually be possible in real life), the t-rex appearing from behind the trees, and the velociraptors in the kitchen, the movie is a family action-adventure with many entertaining and downright suspenseful moments. The animatronics are truly impressive, plus is has a great John Williams soundtrack and a famous cast. It won Oscars in sound and special effects, and deservedly is considered a classic.

Meanwhile, although the book is an international bestseller, it’s probably fair to say a lot less people have read the book than watched the film. Well, I’d suggest they rectify that and get their hands on a copy asap, because I would argue the book is even better than the film. It looks like a long read, but the plot moves at a fast pace and is so compelling that you can race through it. There are so many more layers to the story, for example the secrecy behind the island, the process of creating the dinosaurs, and some additional characters who meet delightfully sticky ends. As with most books and their film adaptations, the book also fills in some gaps that the film has to miss out. The primary difference I noticed was that while the film is definitely family adventure, the book is less so and has a much darker tone, plus is a lot more graphic in it’s descriptions (not for the squeamish).

The book is the winner for me in this battle, although the film is of course a classic. The book brings quite a lot more to the plate, and I think if you read the book after you’ve sen the film you’ll have a lot of “ahhh!” moments as the book provides with quite a lot more detail of exactly what’s going on behind the scenes of the mysterious island.