Lovable dolls: The gang is back for the lively if unnecessary ‘Toy Story 4’.
TOY STORY 4 *** (100 minutes) G
Though Toy Story 3 brought things to a nice conclusion, Woody, Buzz, Bo-Peep and the rest of their polyvinyl chloride pals return in a satisfying, if by-the-numbers, adventure to please the tireless audience hunger for these beloved characters and honour the treasured Disney philosophy to never let the sun set on a franchise that makes $1 billion per film.
Shaking things up a bit, the gang are taken out on a road trip (a reliable, age-old sequel-driving device that goes back to the Road movies of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope) by their new owner Bonnie, and find trouble at a carnival.
The new member of the team, Forky – created by Bonnie out of a plastic spork – and Woody find themselves in the clutches of Gabby Gabby, an old-time doll who lives in an antique store with her loyal cadre of creepy hench-puppets.
Though ostensibly evil, all she really wants is to be owned by a child, but her malfunctioning voicebox makes her unappealing. With Woody’s voicebox, however, she might find a home.
So it’s a typical rescue scenario as Buzz, Bo-Peep – now living the glorious life of an Amazonian free agent (insert desired feminist subtext as desired) – and some very funny new characters, including a stuntman and two plush toys plucked from the prize wall of a shooting gallery, head into the shop.
To its credit, the film champions the Pixar tradition – at least from the films of its first decade – of rounding off the story arc of every character, which reflects the amount of development the multi-authored screenplay apparently underwent.
Featuring a decent handful of great laugh-out-loud moments, Toy Story 4 is certainly terrific family entertainment, though it doesn’t quite hit the emotional peaks delivered by Toy Story 3, which apparently still gives some kids nightmares. There’s nothing here as extreme as the furnace scene, for example.
As a side note, it’s worth pointing out that this is the directorial debut of Josh Cooley, a long-time Pixar artist. John Lasseter, who co-founded Pixar with Steve Jobs and directed the first two Toy Story films, was going to direct this but pulled out owing to other work commitments as head of Disney animation, a position he has since left. He now works as head of Skydance animation.
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL * (115 minutes) M
Absolutely awful, blatantly cynical attempt to revive the Men In Black franchise, which we were lead to believe closed, with some dignity and a splash of story-telling ingenuity, in 2012.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is at the helm of this travesty that, like the terrible Ocean’s 8 a year ago, painfully reminds us of how Hollywood’s lust for post-content cinema – where story and character take a distant second place to branding and force-fed marketing – produces multiplex fodder that are more like movie-shaped objects than actual movies.
The tinny plot involves Agent H (Hemsworth, with a light British accent) teaming up with new MIB recruit Agent M (Tessa Thompson), whose defining feature appears to be that she has no personality whatsoever.
Together they partake in several extremely lame fights with aliens, while Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson sit back in supporting roles, but even they can’t bring life to this turkey.
To illustrate just how lazy this film is, one scene sees Agent H fight two henchmen on a small pier. He knocks them unconscious and they fall in the water, where they presumably drown. Urgh! Why not just have them fall down on the pier, or on the ground? Why condemn anonymous henchmen to such a horrible death?
It’s no shock that the film isn’t clicking with audiences. One hopes this will signal to studios to be a tad more creative when trying to revive a franchise nobody really needs to hear from again.
TOLKIEN *** (112 minutes) M
Those expecting an out-and-out biopic about JRR Tolkien should be warned. Thankfully, this handsome period film looking at the early life of Lord of the Rings creator JRR Tolkien goes easy on how he came up with his literary fantasy – though it’s certainly there – to concentrate instead on his early life at school, his participation in World War One and his formative friendship with a circle of fellow students.
Well-directed with a close eye by journeyman Finnish director Dome Karukoski, the film looks handsome and offers a well-rounded look at the English class system while also providing insights into the inspirations behind Tolkien’s visions.
Performances throughout are solid, with Nicholas Hoult (Skins; Warm Bodies; Fury Road) terrific as the subdued Tolkien and Lily Collins doing good work as his love interest, further distancing herself from some of the crud she did early in her career.
Finely crafted, Tolkien is perfect fare for a discerning, mature audience.
WILD ROSE ***1/2 (100 minutes) M
The drive to realise a dream, and the tunnel vision it can cause, is captured with all its sweet spots, barbs and rough edges in Wild Rose, a musical drama that takes a well-worn formula and slaps it with a dose of social realism.
Freshly released from a Glasgow prison, but with a curfew-consious monitor firmly clipped to her ankle, country music-loving Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley from Chernobyl) seems more eager to resume her struggling singing career than to take heed of her neglected kids or her ever-forgiving mother (Julie Walters).
While toiling away as a cleaner she falls into the good graces of the wealthy, open-hearted Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), who sees such potential in Rose-Lynn’s talents she decides to become a benefactor.
With nibbles of interest from the music industry, it feels like Rose-Lynn’s dreams are slowly coming true – but at what cost? Self-absorbed and ego-driven, her much-touted passion for the truth starts tearing away from the ugly realities of her behaviour.
We all know, having being reminded by the latest version of A Star is Born, that dreaming big in the movies often exacts a price, and the one facing Rose-Lynn makes for a gutsy, touching drama.
To her credit, Buckley sang most of the songs in the film and puts in a performance so earthy and strong it lifts what could have been a formulaic yarn into an aspirational, cautionary tale.