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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

Oh, those evil doppelgängers, and their wonderful place in horror lore. See: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twin Peaks, The Thing—and now Jordan Peele’s extremely creepy Get Out follow-up, Us.

I ask you: What could be creepier than your double trying to slash your neck? Peele knows that it’s the ultimate nightmare—and Us plays upon it with chilling glee.

The film starts with a quote about America having many miles of tunnels underneath its surface; there’s then a quick flashback shot of a videotape of 1984 sci-fi film C.H.U.D. next to a VCR. A TV plays an advertisement for Hands Across America, and you already have all sorts of subtext before anything even really happens.

With a series in which a young girl (Madison Curry) in the same 1980s flashback drifts away from her father at a beach amusement park and finds herself in a darkened hall of mirrors, Peele immediately makes it clear that he’s not playing around with this movie: Prepared to be scared, disturbed and uncomfortable in a good way.

The film then jumps to the present day, where Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) are taking their children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), to the beach. It’s the same beach we saw in the flashback—and much to her chagrin, Adelaide was that young girl who ventured into that hall of mirrors. She’s not happy about revisiting the Santa Cruz pier, but the husband and kids really want to, so she takes one for the team.

The family excursion quickly becomes the worst vacation ever, as another family shows up, at night, standing in their driveway. A quick examination of the intruders reveals what the commercials for this movie have already told you: The family in the driveway is a mirror image of the stunned family inside the house. However, they aren’t coming over to borrow the lawn mower. They intend to kill everybody.

Once again, this vacation sucks.

Us has a larger scope than I was expecting; it qualifies as one of the better apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen. There’s no question that writer-director Peele has been gobbling up zombie, slasher and isolation movies his entire life, and their influences play a significant part in his vision. The movie is a mind-bender, but it’s also an efficient, bare-knuckle horror-thriller. In short, it’s the whole package as far as horror movies go.

Nyong’o, whose doppelgänger’s name is Red, gets a chance to play two meaty roles here—and she’s all over them. While Adelaide is a strong-willed mom for whom we can’t help but cheer, Red is a croaky monster (the only doppelganger that speaks) who comes with an unexpected level of pathetic sadness. She reveals plenty about why she and her evil-twin pals are doing what they do.

Peele fans know that the man—on top of being able to scare the piss out of you—can make you laugh as well. Us is often as funny as it is scary. Duke is a crack-up as the dad who can’t quite get it right while he’s trying to protect his family. In a masterstroke of casting, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! scores as Gabe’s smug friend. He’s the wiseass husband of Kitty (Elisabeth Moss). Moss does things in this movie that will always qualify as some of her best work.

When asked who they are, Red the doppelgänger leader replies: “We are Americans.” Us might be scary and funny, but it is also an unforgiving condemnation of American missteps, past and present. The movie is a lot of fun, but it’s also heavy.

Peele has a revamp of The Twilight Zone coming to CBS All Access soon, and Us plays like a nice primer for more twisty mischief to come. As for his movies, Peele is on one hell of a roll.

Us is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Jordan Peele, the comedic performer from TV’s Key and Peele and the adorable/funny cat movie Keanu, delivers a huge cinematic surprise with Get Out, a twisted, darkly satirical horror film that pulls no punches when it comes to race relations and dating.

Peele has cited Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives as inspirations for this journey to the dark side of his creative soul. Those films’ influences are detectable; you could also throw in a pinch of Rosemary’s Baby and a side of Being John Malkovich.

Two of the hardest things to accomplish with a movie are making people laugh, and getting them legitimately scared. Get Out manages to do both throughout its running time. Peele takes taboo subjects and stereotypes, and doesn’t let his pen get restricted by a fear of offending anybody. This is an appropriately evil, scabrous movie.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young African-American man, is a little nervous. He’s going to visit the parents of Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), his white girlfriend. Allison is relaxed about the trip, but Chris is a little on the anxious side.

Upon their arrival at her family’s large estate, Rose’s parents like Chris. They really, really like Chris. Actually, parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) like Chris at a level that is a bit unsettling. Chris shrugs it off at first, as does Allison, but strange things start happening.

For starters, Walter and Georgina (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel), two black people employed by the Armitages, have personalities that are a little off. They have vacant stares; they are overly polite; and Georgina can cry projectile tears while smiling and carrying on a conversation. Something is definitely wrong with them.

Chris smokes, and Missy doesn’t like that. When he gets up to sneak a cigarette in the middle of the night, Missy offers to hypnotize him. Chris is reluctant, but eventually finds himself under Missy’s anti-smoking spell. Or does the spell cover more than just smoking? I won’t give too much away other than to say Missy and Dean are not what they seem, and this movie will put a lot of people off of using hypnosis as a means of quitting smoking.

Kaluuya (Sicario) delivers a performance that should put him on the map for a long time to come. The role requires him to go to many extremes, utilizing both his comic timing and his ability to appear paralyzed with fear. His big scene with Missy is an acting powerhouse, with Keener setting the pace. It’s going to go down as one of the movie year’s most memorable scenes.

Williams absolutely nails her part. The movie simply wouldn’t work if Williams delivered one wrong note with her work. What she does here is a deft class on how to act in a horror movie. She will knock you on your ass.

Providing solid, pure comic relief, Lil Rel Howery is the perfect goofball as Rod, Chris’s TSA friend who thinks his buddy has been sold into sex slavery.

Stephen Root has a couple of memorable scenes playing a blind man, something he did so memorably in O Brother, Where Art Thou? His character is among the horde of people who show up for a family gathering. Also in attendance: Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield), another oddly behaved black man who really hates it when you take his picture.

Whether it’s trying to make you laugh, make you squirm or just plain freak you out, Get Out is a victory on all the horror and comedy fronts. Peele demonstrates a keen sense of what is scary and funny, and has also made one of the better-looking horror films in recent years. It should be pointed out: This is his first movie as a director. When it comes to daring, risk-taking directing debuts, Peele is toward the top of the list.

This is one of those times where a groundbreaking piece of work just comes out of nowhere and bedazzles. Don’t miss Get Out.

Get Out is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After ending their TV show after five seasons, Key and Peele have come to the big screen with Keanu, a lively kidnapped-cat comedy with a high body count.

Part John Wick and part Adventures in Babysitting, the film gives us Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Clarence and Rell, a couple of wimpy guys trying to get a beloved kitten back from some hard-core gangsters. In order to do so, they masquerade as Shark Tank and Tectonic, two badasses from Allentown who will end your life if you don’t give them their cat back.

The whole mess starts when the cat escapes from a drug den after two killers (also played by Key and Peele) murder his owner. The cat winds up at the doorstep of newly dumped Rell, who gloms on to him as his feline savior. The cat is then kidnapped and winds up back in the hands of gangsters, requiring Rell and Clarence to swing into action.

The title character is, of course, the cat, who has to be the cutest kitten anybody has ever put in a movie. Clad in a doo-rag and jewelry, the multiple cats recruited for the part make this film an absolute necessity for cat-lovers, even if you hate Key and Peele. The felines steal every scene they are in.

The movie isn’t the most original piece of work: Fish-out-of-water scenarios are a dime a dozen, and much of the humor (Clarence’s obsession with George Michael, Rell’s trouble with women) is based on stuff we’ve seen before.

That said, Key and Peele have a knack for taking familiar scenarios and playing them out to nutty, funny extremes. For example: One of Clarence’s gangsta associates, after a long George Michael-listening session, gets a “George Michael is OG” tattoo on his torso. It’s funnier than it sounds.

One of the great things about their comedy is a seemingly innocent slant—followed by large doses of nastiness. Not to give too much away, but the film has a rather shocking amount of violence, and it’s quite surprising giving how innocuous it seems at times. This is by no means a complaint; the film’s best moments are its most shocking ones.

Method Man contributes nicely as Cheddar, the criminal who has Keanu and is relatively unwilling to give him up without significant, murderous favors in return. Jason Mitchell, following up his fine work in Straight Outta Compton, gets big laughs as Bud, one of Cheddar’s henchmen. Tiffany Haddish scores points as Hi-C, perhaps the most badass person in the movie. Her violent tendencies really come to life during a cameo by a famous comedic actress.

Will Forte shows up as Rell’s next-door neighbor and pot dealer. Again, the film is treading well-worn territory here, with Forte’s character playing a white guy trying to be black. Credit Forte with making some old shtick pretty funny in this movie.

Key and Peele have been kicking around in supporting film roles over the past decade or so, but this is the first time they’ve really been able to take the spotlight on the big screen. While Keanu is not a rousing success, they definitely show promise as a big screen duo.

In John Wick, Keanu Reeves infiltrated the Russian mob after somebody messed with his dog. In Keanu, Key and Peele infiltrate a drug ring to save a cat. The short lesson here is that you don’t mess with a man’s pet.

As good as Key and Peele are in this film, the real stars are Keanu and the cats that played him. Also, huge props to the cat-wrangler and whoever else managed to pull the performances out of these particular kitties. You’ll really believe a kitten can evade rapid gunfire after Keanu.

Keanu is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews