Toy Story 4 (G)
When the Disney organization puts its mind to it, they turn out magic—tons of magic. They have in this a bit of magic, humor, pathos, humanity and charm.
Tom Hanks as Cowboy Woody leads the cast, but Bo Peep (Annie Potts) runs him a close second. She is an aggressive, take-charge, sexy Bo whom Woody hankers after. But the story pivots on the misfortunes of the newest cast member, the conflicted Forky.
Made in kindergarten by Bonnie (Madeline McGraw), Forky is, in fact, a spork who considers himself trash. He spends early moments in the film trying desperately to throw himself into the nearest trash can, saying, “I’m not a TOY! I’m a SPORK!” Woody saves him for better things, but Forky has some perilous adventures to survive before he can settle down.
The audience I saw the film with (the theater was about a third full and mostly kids under 10) laughed at the right moments, and their parents were right with them. This is a very cleverly done, funny film. Bo Peep is almost an ardent feminist and easily takes over leadership of the gang of toys when Woody is someplace else. Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is his usual bumbling self, relying on his programmed buttons to tell him what to do or what to avoid.
Near the end of the film, Buzz’s messaging system overloads, and this is one of the many charmingly funny moments of the movie. Another very funny running gag is the character Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) who is proud of being the most-crashed doll in Canada. (He’s a motorcycle daredevil.) His battle cry is the over-confident cry: “Yes I CAN-ada!” No, he frequently CAN’T, but that doesn’t stop him from trying crazy stunts in order to save Buzz, Woody or another toy in trouble. Duke emerges as one of the great characters in the film.
The underlying plot of the movie is grounded in the fact that all the toys who are aware want a human owner. To say that “I have a girl” or “boy,” is to ascend to the top of the toy world.
Most of the toys don’t have that pleasure; they serve their owners well until their owners grow tired of them, leave them behind during a move or grow up and don’t think they need toys anymore.
The cast is star-studded: Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Keegan Michael Key and Kristen Schaal, among others, assume roles in this miracle of a film. I loved hearing the sound of kids really getting into the film and the sound of their parents, laughing with them. Yes, it’s funny, cute and moving, and it is also a love story from the first: love between Woody and Bo, love between parents and children, but most of all, love between children and their toys. Sometimes we forget how deep it can be.
This film is lush with scenery and fashion and LOTS of bullets (this is a Luc Besson feature, after all). Anna (Sasha Luss) is a professional model and assassin operating as a KGB agent to start with but not necessarily to end with. In an extremely convoluted plot, made even more difficult to follow by constant intrusions of the “3 Weeks Earlier,” “2 Weeks Later” notices that make any film hard to follow, Anna moves from street urchin selling trash in a Moscow market to a high-class model and then KGB assassin. Nice career path!
She has two male bosses: Luke Evans as Alex Tchenkov for the KGB and Cillian Murphy as Lenny Miller for the CIA. Anna plays both of them for all the sex she can get and, when they wear out or get other assignments, she turns to Maud, a lesbian urchin from Paris, played by Lena Abova in her first screen role. Maud is another model and how she fell for Anna is a mystery, only one of dozens in this extremely busy film.
Called “a blind key who can open many doors,” Anna proves to be just that, but she’s also a dead shot with a silenced pistol or martial arts. We learn this early on, in the first of several Besson-inspired mass murders by his heroine in a restaurant. She shoots, maims and incapacitates hordes of men who appear from nowhere with the express purpose of killing her but none of them succeed. When she’s done, more than 20 men have played their last role.
Helen Mirren (Olga) is wonderful as a crusty, Linda Hunt-type growling and obscene spy boss who puts in motion several of the plot turns that mark the film’s ending scenes. They include one of the most ridiculous scenes ever filmed. Taking place in a Paris park, the scene focuses on Alex, Lenny and Anna. Anna asks for her freedom—again—and both KGB and CIA seem to agree to let her go. As she walks away, Olga appears and shoots her several times. Suddenly, agents appear from behind every tree and bush in the park, all with weapons drawn. Alex and Lenny face off with pistols on each other and everybody stands around while wise members of the audience laugh and mutter “Besson” under their breath.
In one way, the film is successful because it is so comical and overdone. In another way, it fails because it is so comical and overdone! Take your pick. I rather enjoyed watching the exotic Luss, who has appeared with Besson as creative force in another energetic film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” so she knew what she was getting in for. Now you, too, have a bit of an idea!
Child’s Play-2 (R)
Lesson # 55 in how to sidetrack a career: Play a role far from your comfort zone and, in the end, make it degrading. The charmingly funny and offbeat Aubrey Plaza learns that painful lesson in the sequel to “Child’s Play” from 1988. She “stars” as Karen Barclay, a clerk selling Buddi dolls. There is soon to be a new Buddi—Buddi 2, as a matter of fact—both a clone of Chucky from the original film. Except that there is little original in this movie.
A disgruntled employee at the main factory that makes Buddi dolls removes all restraints from the cell running Buddi, allowing it to do anything it wants. Plaza’s son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), loves his new friend since he is new to town (but not new enough to prohibit Shane, played by David Lewis, from moving in on his mother). It is therefore no surprise when Shane is an early target of the vicious Chucky (he re-names himself to avoid confusion), and Shane is soon gone. Oddly enough, after we’ve seen his face get chopped into pieces, his skull appears in Andy’s living room, intact with a few cuts. Since this is only the first of many improbable or impossible events, we hardly even notice.
Chucky keeps asking Andy: “Are we having fun now?” to which the only possible answer from the audience should be a shouted “NO!” The director finds various, usually uncreative ways, to spray blood around the set and the film moves to its predictable end—only not soon enough. A thoroughly unenjoyable hour and a half. Skip it for, maybe, a crossword puzzle?