CVIndependent

Wed12112019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Toy Story 3 seemed like a definitive end to the story of Woody (the voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and company. That movie was, in a word, perfect in the way it tied up the story of Andy and his lifelong toy companions.

I’m someone who thought Toy Story 3 should’ve been the final chapter in the franchise. And I’m now someone who is fine with one more chapter, thanks to the totally satisfying Toy Story 4.

Pixar and director Josh Cooley (making his feature directorial debut with the studio’s most-precious franchise) chose to mess with perfection and extend the story of Woody and friends. The results are less than perfect, but still very worthy of Toy Story lore; this is a welcome breath of fresh air in a summer movie season that thus far has been a series of big franchise stink bombs (Godzilla: King of the Monsters; Men in Black: International; Dark Phoenix).

After a recap in which Andy appears, the action goes to the home of Bonnie, the little girl Andy handed his toys over to at the end of Toy Story 3. Bonnie is gearing up for kindergarten and is a little freaked out, so Woody jumps into her backpack as moral support.

Woody witnesses Bonnie creating what will be a fantastic new character for the franchise in Forky (Tony Hale), crafted out of a plastic spork, pipe cleaners and Play-Doh. Woody immediately sees the importance of this new toy friend, and has himself some new missions: Make sure Forky accepts his new role as a toy instead of trash, and help Bonnie adjust to the rigors of kindergarten.

Bonnie’s day at kindergarten was only an orientation session, and her parents decide to take her on that ever-familiar movie trope: the road trip—in the family RV, no less. The family gets diverted, and the toys wind up getting themselves into trouble at an antique shop inhabited by Gabby Gabby, a deceptively adorable talking doll (Christina Hendricks). Gabby, of course, seems friendly at first (just like Ned Beatty’s purple bear in Toy Story 3), but she has evil intentions regarding a part of Woody’s anatomy—and she has an army of ventriloquist dummies to carry out her plans. Toy Story 4 ends up being as scary as it is funny when the action involves the dummy army. Damn, they are creepy!

Along with Forky and Gabby Gabby, other newcomers include Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) and, most spectacularly, stunt motorcycle-rider Duke Caboom, voiced by cinematic darling Keanu Reeves. Caboom, obviously modeled after Evel Knievel, is having his own existential crisis—low self-esteem, due to his prior child owner not being impressed with his jumping abilities.

Woody’s sweetheart, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), gets a prominent role in the new adventure. Sadly, the budding romance between Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Buzz that we saw in Toy Story 3 is not further explored. In fact, Jessie and Buzz are relegated mostly to background duty.

It’s not surprising that Toy Story 4 is the most visually impressive of the films. The folks at Pixar have had nearly a decade to hone their skills since the last chapter, so the likes of Woody, Buzz and Jessie have a new, refined beauty.

The ending of Toy Story 4 will again have fans and critics proclaiming that this must be the end for the franchise. The film certainly feels like a closing chapter, but we all said that about the last movie. The premise is still ripe for spinoffs (a Duke Caboom movie!), prequels—whatever. Heck, maybe Disney will do a live-action remake of the original, since that seems to be the trend.

Toy Story 4 is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The first Ghostbusters was a magnificent movie miracle.

Some of the greatest comedy actors of the time (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and Dan Aykroyd) joined forces under the guidance of a hot director (Ivan Reitman, coming off Stripes and Meatballs) to merge horror, science fiction, comedy and big-budget special effects. They balanced these elements perfectly—and turned out a classic.

I was not expecting anything near the brilliance or originality of the 1984 original from Paul Feig’s reboot/remake/whatever-you-want-to-call-it entry into a movie franchise that has remained dormant since the miserable 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters 2. Considering the cast that Feig assembled—Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones—I did expect to have a good time.

That didn’t happen. I was bored … super bored. I laughed a total of 2 1/2 times at the new Ghostbusters, and I did not laugh once due to anything the headliners did. It’s as if Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat) figured, “Hey, I have these stars and a big budget for special effects. I don’t really need a funny script, do I? These stars can just stand in front of a camera and be funny, right?”

Perhaps they can, but that didn’t happen this time out: Ghostbusters is a stale facsimile of the original. If you watched those lousy preview trailers and worried that the franchise was creatively bankrupt, know that the stupid jokes in that trailer (“That’s gonna leave a mark!”) are about the best laughs the film has to offer. I found myself really annoyed with the haters who judged this movie by those lousy trailers before they saw the completed project. Sadly, I have now joined that camp: I really hated this movie.

The normally reliable Wiig, as the “sensible scientist,” basically stands around looking lost. Comedic firecracker McCarthy, as the trailblazer scientist of the group, bumbles her way through the role with a smile but no material. My current favorite Saturday Night Live star, Kate McKinnon, is the brainy yet eccentric science wizard; she’s allowed to mug like a crack addict on an New York City subway full of inebriated, unarmed billionaires. Leslie Jones, as the street-smart member with no science chops, seems to equate volume with humor. She’s just loud.

After a promising start featuring Zach Woods (Silicon Valley), Ed Begley Jr. and a haunted house, the plot switches to a geek (Neil Casey) looking to cause a ghost apocalypse in Manhattan. He’s planting traps around the city that attract paranormal activity, perhaps because he’s lonely. The new Ghostbusters then band together to conquer the geek and save the city.

The ghosts are dull, fluorescent things bolstered slightly by some decent 3-D effects, if you should choose the more-expensive viewing route. The folks putting together some of the 3-D action did a pretty good job: There are moments where stuff seems to be coming out of the movie frame and suspending in the air in front of you. Those moments won’t make you laugh, but they might wake you up a little.

Andy Garcia as the mayor made me laugh … once. Begley as a paranormal enthusiast made me laugh … once. Chris Hemsworth as a brain-dead receptionist almost made me laugh once, but it was more like a chortle. That’s it for the laugh count.

Aykroyd, Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver all make useless, remarkably lame cameos. Ramis also makes an appearance in one of the movie’s few inspired moments.

To say this film is a disappointment would be an understatement. So far, this summer has blown it with Spielberg, Superman, Batman, Independence Day aliens and now the Ghostbusters. Will Suicide Squad return some dignity to DC? Will Star Trek Beyond give the summer the big-budget fun boost it needs?

Let’s hope the movies get a lot better when it gets cold outside. Let’s also hope that the people steering this franchise have a much funnier script in their hands before they make any further adventures involving proton packs.

Ghostbusters is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews