Two great ways to escape the heat and the blackouts (if the theater lights stay on!)
What are the odds?
Very, very good in New Providence!
This past week, while watching “Toy Story 4” and again while in a showing for “Booksmart”, the power went off. These were two totally different theaters, on opposite ends of the island, and on non-consecutive days.
For one, there was just a momentary loss of the audio (but not the video). And for the other, we all sat in the dark for nearly 10 minutes (twice), while only the exit lights glowed, and with the sounds of several UPS devices beeping incessantly.
But at least the theaters remained cool!
“Toy Story 4” (Rated A)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tim Allen, Christina Hendricks, Tony Hale
Genre: Animated Adventure/Comedy
That the previous film in the “Toy Story” franchise (“Toy Story 3” from 2010) left most people in tears felt not at all inappropriate for what was supposedly the final installment in this storied series.
But, of course, nothing ever seems to really end in the world of movies. Unless – and sometimes even if or because – you are a box-office flop, there’s always a sequel, prequel, remake, refresh, reboot, or parallel story or universe, somewhere in the works.
And so, even though “Toy Story 3” did seem to bring things to a natural conclusion, it’s not surprising that nine years later – and a full 24 years after the original “Toy Story” – we are here with a fourth installment.
Indeed, it’s been one of Pixar Animation Studios’ most valuable properties. “Toy Story 3” had been the highest-grossing animated film in history until Disney’s “Frozen” came along three years later. And it was only the third animated film (after “Beauty and the Beast” and “Up”) to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. So, the expectations are high for this series that set the standard for all computer animation, and which put Pixar on the map.
But in a summer jam-packed with sequels and reboots, and after nearly a decade, can “Toy Story 4” stand out? And is it still even relevant?
The answer is a simple – yes!
The familiar characters are all back: Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang embark on a road trip with Bonnie and a new toy named Forky. The adventurous journey turns into an unexpected reunion as Woody’s slight detour leads him to his long-lost friend Bo Peep. As Woody and Bo discuss the old days, they soon start to realize that they’re worlds apart when it comes to what they want from life as a toy.
Obviously, there is no straying from the formula that’s been in place from day one. But it works. And “Toy Story 4” is undoubtedly delightful from start to finish. It may not be the very best or even the second best in the franchise, but this is wholesome and fun entertainment for both kids and adults.
Its usual great sense of humor is bolstered by new additions voiced by “Key and Peele” stars Keegan-Michael Key and Oscar-winner Jordan Peele as a hilarious duo, Ducky and Bunny, respectively. Also new and notable, Christina Hendricks (TV’s “Mad Men” and “Good Girls”) as the creepy doll Gabby Gabby, and Keanu Reeves as stunt driver Duke Caboom.
But once again, the heart and soul of the whole production is Tom Hanks as Woody. Here, he’s teamed primarily and effectively with new “toy” Forky, voiced by Emmy-winner Tony Hale (TV’s “Veep” and “Arrested Development”).
Pixar also shows that it is still the king when it comes to computer animation. For all the praise-worthy vibrancy in color in “The Secret Life of Pets 2” earlier this month from rival Universal/Illumination, Pixar demonstrates the value of maturity. Its mastery of the artform is on full display here, coming down to nuances with even the shadows, and with “lighting” that would leave many live-action pictures drooling with envy.
“Toy Story 4” is like catching up with a beloved old friend you thought you’d never see again.
“Booksmart” (U.S. Rated R)
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jason Sudeikis, Diana Silvers
There’s been lots of buzz for the new coming-of-age comedy “Booksmart”.
Some have said it’s like 2007’s “Superbad”, starring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera – but with girls in the lead roles. The ladies are running the show behind the scenes as well, with a four-woman writing team, and actress Olivia Wilde directing.
Academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, TV’s “Last Man Standing”) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”) thought keeping their noses to the grindstone gave them a leg up on their high school peers. But on the eve of graduation, the best friends suddenly realize that they may have missed out on the special moments of their teenage years. Determined to make up for lost time, the girls decide to cram four years of not-to-be-missed fun into one night – a chaotic adventure that no amount of book smarts could prepare them for.
Replete with some clever moments and witty dialogue, the film is most enjoyable during the interactions between Dever and Feldstein. And with the latter being Jonah Hill’s little sister, the comparisons with Hill and Cera from “Superbad” are inevitable.
“Booksmart” does seem quite a bit more oversexed than “Superbad”, though. And with the mature content, themes and language, folks who are of similar ages to the characters portrayed here, might actually have a hard time even being allowed into some local theaters – if it were showing in wide release (it’s currently only at The Island House Cinema).
While “Booksmart” might not quite be able to live up to all of the surrounding hype, it is an amusing and entertaining flick, and a reflection of our times.
Correction: Last week’s column inadvertently listed the rating for “Rocketman” as having two stars. Rest assured, this film is far more than just “watchable”. “Rocketman” starring Taron Egerton as Elton John is good and rightly earned .
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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