Toy Story 4


Viewed – 25 June 2019 Cinema

When toy cowboy ‘Woody’ (voiced by Tom Hanks) finds himself sidelined by new owner ‘Bonnie’ in favour of other toys, he finds new found purpose after Bonnie’s hand-made new toy ‘Forky’ goes missing at a carnival during a family road trip. At the same time Woody is reunited with his old flame, Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

I was looking forward to this. I’m a big fan of the other movies and couldn’t wait for the further adventures of Woody, Buzz and the gang. This time around we are introduced to a new villain, antique shop dwelling Doll ‘Gabby Gabby’ (Christina Hendricks). Yet despite initial promise with her brilliantly creepy Ventriloquist doll henchmen, she just failed to live up to her potential. The same could also be said for wasting the presence of such established characters as Jessie, T-Rex or even Buzz Lightyear (who is mostly demoted to a supporting role). Instead the movie focuses on Woody and Bo Peep which is at least different, even if Bo’s topical feminist symbolism was a bit too on the nose.

With that said, Forky is a welcome addition and gets all the best gags, and the movie looks as expected, stunning – the CGI animation often wowing this viewer. The caper at play here, if a little typical is still great fun too. The heart-strings get pulled firmly towards the end and the key characters are well written with at times real emotional depth. Overall though, this fails to be quite as sharp, clever or funny as what’s come before and the plot was not as engaging, Looking back, Toy Story 3 had everything come full circle. This however, whilst still worthwhile … didn’t have much more to say.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

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John Wick 3: Parabellum


Viewed – 15 May 2019. Cinema

Everyone’s out to kill John Wick (Keanu Reeves) following the events of the last movie and the former safe zone of The Continental has ex-communicated him. So a price is put on our favourite assassin and now it’s just a matter of survival.

Once any franchise reaches its third instalment you’d be forgiven for expecting the stakes to be raised and they certainly are here leading to several violent, immaculately choreographed and particularly brutal confrontations. This is certainly a visceral, pulse pounding experience yet this time around any plausibility and believability occasionally leap out the window in favour of increasingly thrilling, but at times ludicrous set pieces. The violence takes on a near cartoonish quality at times and when you consider scenes of public fights where the public don’t batter an eye lid or run away screaming, it’s clear the movie exists in its own version of reality, not unlike that scene in The Matrix with the woman in red.

So despite these obvious gripes, how come I still managed to get a real kick out of this? It’s edited and presented with such a visual sheen with so much energy and personality that coming away from this not entertained means you either hate action movies or are a bit dead inside. Smatterings of humour are a welcome addition, and memorable support from Lawrence Fishburne, Ian McShane and especially Halle Berry as a dog-loving fellow assassin still managed to make this sequel worthy despite it all feeling a bit deja at this stage. And no, I haven’t a clue what ‘Parabellum’ means.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

John Wick: Chapter 2


Viewed – 27 June 2017  Blu-ray

The first John Wick was one of my favourite movies of 2015; a stylish, frenetic yet simple tale of revenge and bullets with an iconic turn from the king of cool, Keanu Reeves as the most feared assassin in the world.  This follow-up begins almost immediately after the last movie with Wick visited by an old mobster associate who decides to cash in a ‘blood oath’ asking the ’trying once again to be retired’ assassin for one more job.  However with reluctance Wick is forced to pick up his gun and take on an army of henchmen that could just start a war. 

John Wick 2

This plays out similarly to Wick #1 with the killer’s reputation proceeding him wherever he goes, although this time its not about a vendetta but more about trying to survive following double cross after double cross.  It’s packed with uber-violent, stunningly choreographed fist fights, gun fights and showdowns; all filmed with no end of style and panache.  However with the revenge storyline replaced with all out action, I felt less invested in proceedings, especially with the movie feeling rather stretched out, with some unnecessary padding.  We learn a little more of the international scale of the organization Wick works for, and some colourful characters do pop up, including a return appearance from Ian McShane, a mute Ruby Rose and also a reunion of sorts with Keanu’s Matrix co-star Lawrence Fishburn.

If you go into this wanting the same level of style, violence and action as Wick #1 you’ll be fully satisfied.  However if like me you were hoping for any progression of characters or the world they inhabit; maybe you’ll need to wait for the inevitable Chapter 3.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Neon Demon


Viewed – 10 December 2016  Online-rental

I wasn’t the biggest fan of visionary director Nicolas Winding Refn’s last movie, Only God Forgives … a movie whilst stylistically impressive didn’t draw me in at all.  However I do consider the acclaimed Drive a bit of a cult classic.  So on a film-lover’s basis I’ll always give this guy a day in court.  This latest effort is sort of an amalgamation of influences but I suppose most closely resembles Black Swan, swapping the ballet scene for fashion.  Elle Fanning plays a young model newly arrived in Los Angeles and hoping to get discovered.  There she befriends makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and gets a gig working for agency executive Christina Hendricks.  However as her angelic natural beauty starts to catch the eye of several high profile photographers and designers, she attracts the jealously of fellow models.

neon-demon

This is a striking looking movie.  Refn’s eye for beautiful / macabre imagery is perfectly suited to the subject and we get a very artistic, at times freaky but always interesting ‘experience’ that clearly borrows from the likes of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and to a heavy extent Dario Argento … with clear nods to Suspiria.  Add to this an equally effective soundtrack with plenty of industrial-electronic beats enhancing the images.  The plot which is fairly simple goes to some very dark, surprising places and has a stand out turn from Fanning who continues to be an actress to watch.  One of my growing faves, Jena Malone is also very good (will she live down ‘that’ scene?).  We also get an appearance from Keanu Reeves as a creepy hotel manager.  A Winding Refn movie is not for everyone I’ll add … he goes to some pretty shocking extremes here and it all gets rather messed up towards the end, as his movies usually do – but here the twist is a little bonkers and left me feeling a bit pushed out of the experience, almost like Refn was trying to shock for sake of shock rather than concluding on something all that effective or convincing.

However as a bold observation of a very superficial industry where youth and beauty are used and thrown away easily – I still found this both disturbing and intriguing … but not quite the sum of its exceptional looking ‘parts’.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

John Wick


Viewed – 22 April 2015  Cinema

During the nineties I had a bit of an obsession with Hong Kong action movies, everything from Jackie Chan to the two-handed gun-play of John Woo.  Hollywood quickly followed up on this and the action genre became infused with the influence of far eastern cinema, spawning the likes of Face / Off and The Matrix trilogy.  There we come to Keanu Reeves, perhaps not the first person you may have thought of to deftly wield guns and kick ass considering he came from Bill & Ted, but this good looking and decidedly cool actor soon garnered a reputation as the go-to guy for such movies.

john-wick

He’s been fairly quiet for a while so this come-back vehicle seemed perfectly suited.  He plays the title character who following the death of his wife, lives out a peaceful existence with his sleek muscle car and pet dog.  However an unfortunate brush with a Russian gang causes a break in at his house, his car getting stolen and his dog to get killed.  Only thing is, the gang had no idea who they were messing with.

Perhaps an unintentional homage to classic movie franchise Death Wish albeit with ultra-stylish action that borrows (to an extent) from John Woo … this also feels like it’s own beast, and is carried well by Keanu on ice-cool form as a non-stop killing machine.  I sometimes think he’d have made a great Terminator.  Support comes in the shape of Willem Dafoe’s seasoned veteran as well as a sultry, sexy Adrianne Palicki.  On villainous duties is Michael Nyqvist (Ghost Protocol, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who proves a more than suitable if clichéd mobster.  The set-up is simplistic and the characters slight and under-developed … but for this kind of movie where action is king, we get several stylish, well-edited and gripping encounters, all with a little tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in.  I also loved the backdrop of the ‘agency’ that looked after Keanu and his kind (featuring a cameo by Ian McShane) … certainly an idea that could be further developed in sequels.

As the directing debut of former stunt co-coordinator Chad Stahelski, this shows promise for a new visionary in the action movie field.  Roll on the already announced John Wick 2.

Verdict:  4 /5