Toy Story 4 (2019): A Powerful Exploration of Purpose and Relationship

Image result for toy story 4 poster

    “Toy Story 4” was a great film that I didn’t think was probable. This was a series that had ended pretty definitively at the end of “Toy Story 3” so I wasn’t sure what else they were going to do. I’m happy to say I was surprised. This is a film that is powerful and explores identity, mortality, purpose. The main cast are the heart of the show and at this point it is easily one of my favorite films of the year. If you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this one out.

The film was directed by Josh Cooley and written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton.

The story follows Woody and his friends on a road trip after Bonnie has created a new toy name Forky who believes himself to be trash. Woody mentors him but soon finds himself questioning what he’s known when he runs into Bo Peep who is a now a living the life of a “lost toy.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Pixar does such a great job building off each of their latest films. This is simply a stunningly animated movie that has more realistic looking people, the detail of fur on animals and tons of different surfaces that make-up the many toys. I hope Pixar continues to thrive and brings us more of this amazing art. Every few films introduce something new worth exploring. After this my wife and I went to the Pixar exhibit and got to see the science behind it first hand. If it is ever in your area, check it out.

The Characters – The strongest part of most Pixar films are the characters. This film is no exception. The support characters have the least to do so it is hard to call their story good but it is still fun. This film is truly about the new characters, Bo Peep and Woody.

Gabby Gabby – Gabby Gabby is the antagonist of the film. She is a doll who wants to be loved but thinks because her voice box is broken she will never be loved. Because of this she kidnaps Forky to get Woody’s voicebox. They clash through the film with her eventually winning in her aims to get the voice box, only to be tossed aside. She is is a complex antagonist in that you can see where her drive is coming from and that she doesn’t destroy others the way Stinky Pete, Sid or Lotso does in the original Trilogy. She comes around to love and respect Woody because of what he does for her and becomes friends with Forky. Christina Hendricks gives so much depth to this role and she is easily the best antagonist in any “Toy Story” film, and that is because she shows that there is more a broken toy can become. Her final act is leaving Woody and Bo to care for a lost girl at the carnival.

Bo Peep – Bo is a toy who has found independence in the lost toy life and is loving it. She spends her time helping other toys found enjoyement from being played and though she misses her toy family from before she lives what she has become. She has a role beyond being there for a kid and it is in this role that Woody is given the choice for his own future.

Forky – Forky is the toy Bonnie creates when she is alone at Kindergarten. It is a powerful moment and Forky is born with an existential crisis. For much of the film he is trying to return to the trash, since that was what he was made from. Woody is the one who convinces him that he has a purpose to live (as well as Gabby Gabby) and from here he accepts his place as Bonnie’s favorite toy. The process is devastating and his arc is like a newborn learning to think and reason. We’ve never witnessed the birth of sentience in a toy until this film within the “Toy Story Franchise.”

Woody – Woody’s arc this film is learning to find purpose beyond devotion to a kid. The beginning of this is when Bonnie no longer cares to play with him, which kicks things off and ends with the finding of Bo Peep and joining her with the carnival, knowing that there they can help other toys find kids. His arc is a gut punch though as it is after Buzz comes back to rescue him that he says good-bye and passes on his sheriff star to Jessie who had become the Sheriff for Bonnie when she played. It was neat and a great releasing of his ego on Woody’s part. Tom Hanks once again adds so many layers to this wonderful character.

Identity and Purpose – The main theme running through the story is that of identity and purpose. What this is for most toy’s is the devotion of a kid. This is what helps make Forky no longer seek death and is what drives Woody through the story up to this point. It isn’t until he meets Po that he sees that she is bringing joy to those who are lost or don’t have toys. Woody finds purpose in this and in his love for her. It is powerful and over the course of the film is set up really well. We get the flashback of when she leaves, Woody being left in the closet and the birth of Forky who Woody than mentors. This exploration of identity and purpose is really the core of the story and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Support Characters – The support characters are alright. Woody’s friends get some good comedy, but we never see them grow. Buzz, who has the most screen time among them is the same character at the beginning as he is at the end. The same goes for Jessie. She is still the same Jessie the film began with as she was always a leader. Key and Peele play a comedic duo Ducky and Bunny. There are others as well who work on a comedic level, but it is hard to call what they have arcs. For this reason the supporting cast is only okay.

This is a film I highly recommend. I can’t wait to go back and watch the original “Toy Story Trilogy” again and see just how far Pixar has come in their animation and really storytelling too. If you are a fan of the other films, chances are you won’t be disappointed by this one. So far it is easily one of my favorite films of the year and I can’t wait to see what else Pixar creates and the future stories they tell.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Circle (2017): Just Watch “Black Mirror” Instead

      “The Circle” is an unfocused mess full of hack characters and no discernible theme. I hear the book is good so just read the book. I’ll go into why I went from disliking to hating this film in a moment because there is quite a lot to unload on this film, but the biggest parts are that lack of theme, half-formed characters and with all of that, failure to go full ham. If you are going to be cheesy you should bank on it and in doing so create your own form of malformed beauty.

  The film was directed by James Ponsoldt who was also one of the producers, written by Dave Eggers who also wrote the book and produced by Anthony Bregman and Gary Goetzman.

    The story involves Mae (Emma Watson) getting a job at The Circle (A facebookish tech. company) thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan). She soon finds it is not the paradise it seems to be when the public sharing among the circle and constant call for interaction begins to unfold leading to dark consequences.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Concept – The concept is a lot like a “Black Mirror” episode. What happens when social media becomes a society and you are under pressure to reveal your life and what you are doing at all times? I like this concept but this isn’t the focus or the theme of the film, even though the trailers seem to set it up that way.

The Cinematography – The cinematography looks great, there are great uses of shadow and holograms to really illustrate the future. You can tell the director put a lot of love into this film…

The Cons: Hack Characters – Dave Eggars wrote the book, but apparently can’t write screenplays. None of these characters feel fully fleshed out. Mae the main character is almost set up to have a rise to power only to become a reformer…but the reasons with that don’t feel all that explored.

   She has an off the grid ex who is the “hero” of the film, which in turn shuts down her becoming a professional within her own life. He also gets harassed for his antler art? What the hell. He is a paranoid guy in the woods whose paranoia ends up being justified but we never get to know him. He is an idealized version of the off the grid blue collar hero. What the ever living hell…He’s not a character and they turn him into a martyr when people stalk him on a new program and he drives off a bridge. We are told they do things together or did things together, but we never see it. It is all tell and now show. Again, he’s an idea not a character.

Her best friend Annie is rising in the company and disappears. I wanted to see her rise and fall arc. But she is barely around…Same Ty Lafitte…John Boyega’s character who is fighting the Circle and invented another giant tech. media company…and finally Hanks’s Eamon, one of the founders whose agenda is never known and who is only around as a vague threat. These aren’t characters, these are concepts in a terrible script.

Social Media and Tech. Paranoia – We are told to fear tech. (her parents telling her not to trust the Circle and her ex being off the Grid) and we see how it turns her and Annie into monsters at times…but that is also contradicted with the ending. This is a vague theme that exists but doesn’t go anywhere and is never fully explored.

A Missed Corruption Arc – This is a hackneyed script in a hammy story…so knowing this, they should have just made Mae a villain. Her life is public, make her a Trump figure who can lampoon people she talks too and win by being horrible…since we see her do this a few times till “noble” ex gets the axe. I wanted her to take out the owners and gain control of the company. That would have made this film a beautiful disaster that is “So bad it’s good.” Sadly this potential is missed. They should have embraced tech and information as power that corrupts…what a waste.

Lack of any Theme – There is no core theme. There is a vague sense of distrusting smart phones and social media…but Mae makes everything public in the end to take out The Circle’s founders. So, what was the ever living point of this film? If you don’t have a purpose, why were you made? The sad thing is the author of the book was the screenwriter…A writer should know the themes they intend to explore.

  I don’t recommend this garbage. This was a film that could have been “So Bad it’s Good,” if it had been comfortable in tech. and information as corrupting influences of power theme, or it could have gone full revolution and had Boyega, Gillan and Watson team up early to take on the Founders. That’d be asking too much of this film though. This is a film that doesn’t know what it wants and doesn’t have any real characters, jut half formed ideas in a broken mess. Seriously, save your money and watch “Black Mirror,” you’ll get well focused themes of technology fears that have a clear focus in theme and character. This film is one of the worst I’ve watched in quite some time.

Final Score: 3 / 10

The Green Mile (1999): How One Man Can Change Things

The Green Mile

“The Green Mile” was a very long, but great film. It is another film based off a book that I now plan on reading, given that the books tend to give us more details of characters and events. For this reason, the length was in favor of “The Green Mile” even if I found it a bit much near the end. I’ll get into the why in the assessment.

“The Green Mile” is adapted from the book by the same name written by Stephen King and was directed by Frank Darabont, who was also one of the producers and wrote the screenplay. The other producer was David Valdes.

The story is the tale of Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Grear as older recounting events, Tom Hanks as the man living the events) who recounts why he was affected so powerfully by an old musical on the television. It is here we learn that he was a prison officer in charge of death row inmates and the supernatural events with a man named John Coffey who is accused of the rape and murder of two girls. The time period is that of the great depression. From here the truth of what happened is revealed as well as the nature of John Coffey and later Paul Edgecomb as the story progresses.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Setting – The setting in the senior home where he walks up to an old abandoned shack in the hills and in the past when he’s in the prison, as well as setting it during the Great Depression add a sense of feeling trapped that pervades the film and characters. Which works given the themes and stories that get explored.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is glorious. From old Paul talking while it is raining, to all the times the prison goes dark and the mist surrounding the hills. So many scenes are beautiful shots worthy of being framed or pictures. David Tattersall was clearly the right guy.

The Characters – There really aren’t any 2-Dimensional characters, unless said character are psychopaths. For this reason it was great spending so much time with them all since everyone gave great performances.

Brutus Howell – David Morse plays the guard who is the teddy bear of the group. He enjoys joking with the inmates on death row and it takes Paul to pull him out of it sometimes. His heart is in the right place and when John does the miracle and heals Paul, as well as the Resurrection of the mouse Mr. Jingles. He was my favorite of the minor characters without a doubt, since he was one of the few who actually held Percy Wetmore (who had the political connections) for his wrongdoings in the prison.

Jan Edgecomb – Is Paul’s wife and is the other who believes the miracles of John Coffey when Paul tells her of them. She also makes John some cornbread that he shares with Mr. Jingles and Mr. Jingles guardian who is also a prisoner, Eduard “Del” Delacroix. Her role is smaller but Bonnie Hunt does a great job.

Eduard “Del” Delacroix – Michael Jeter plays my other favorite minor character, as he is a slightly mad inmate who adopts Mr. Jingles, who is a highly intelligent mouse. He is one of the kinder inmates and genuinely feels guilt at the end for the crimes we do not hear about. For this reason he’s a character with a lot of depth as we see him make friends with the guards and Mr. Jingles and his torture (in the beginning and when he is put on the electric chair) by Percy. His death is brutal as the sponge is not put on his head so he is cooked before he dies. His death would be the saddest if not for what comes later.

Dean Stanton – Barry Pepper was perfect for this role and it was good to see him in a film that wasn’t “Battlefield Earth.” He is one of the youngest of the guards and we see him learning the ropes and also building a relationship with John and Del too. He weeps at John’s death and we see how much John has changed him through his kindness and miracles.

Warden Moores – The Warden is played by James Cromwell, and he’s Cromwell the guy is great in everything he’s in. In this he plays a guy who gives in to Percy because he’s afraid of the State coming down on his Prison. He’s also fearful because his wife is dying and has Brain Cancer. It takes him trusting Paul and John at the end for John to take away the the infection and heal her. You can tell that he was changed by it and probably has second thoughts about the crime Coffey is accused.

John Coffey – Michael Clarke Duncan won best supporting actor for a reason. His character is an immortal who has strong emotional intelligence but his intellect isn’t all that great and he sees things simple as far as wanting to take away another’s pain or destroy someone for causing pain. He is on death row for the murder and rape of two girls which was done by another character (Wild Bill) who he kills in the end. He goes to death after giving some of his power to Mr. Jingles and Paul by accident since he was doing so in both cases to help Paul understand why he was innocent and why Bill needed to die and because of the terror Mr. Jingles felt as Del was being killed. His character was complex and the closest to good in the film, which is why Paul feels guilt at not saving his life.

Paul Edgecomb – In the flashbacks Tom Hanks was perfect in this role. He plays a mentor figure to both the inmates and the guards and shows himself to be a good leader with a cool head time and time again, even when Percy and Bill pull crap that causes pain to others. He is the one who has a urinary infection for the first part but is healed by John which leads to him investigating and finding racism was a big part of why John was found guilty, even though his character showed he would not commit the crime. This haunts him later when John gives him immortality and we see the pain and loss of waiting to die and his immortality scene as punishment through the eyes of Dabbs Greer.

The Message – For me the message was at the core, that one person can change things. In that it was John Coffey through his miracles, which were really a reflection of his kindness. He made everyone around him better or safe. Which Paul did after when he left the prison to help at risk youth, so they wouldn’t end up in prison.  John’s actions shaped everyone around him and left a lasting impression on the immortal Paul who than carried it to the end of his days.

Okay: Wild Bill and Percy – These two characters were mostly selfish dicks and uninteresting ones because they had no motivation beyond wanting to cause pain. It was never about power, they were just bullies and that didn’t lend to the story beyond them being obstacles for Paul and later John to finally overcome. Each of them are monsters in their own ways as Percy picks on the week and tortures them and Wild Bill rapes and murders people. These characters got justice in the end though with Wild Bill killed by Percy and Percy in a mental institute.

Soundtrack – Didn’t really leave an impression the way the cinematography did. Wasn’t bad, just wasn’t memorable.

The Cons: The Length – In the end this was a con because it could have made events more concise. We get all the important information like we do in “Return of the King” but it can’t help but feel like it’s dragging as we get quite a few endings back to back. This is one of the few things that hurts the film.

This is a film I’d highly recommend. It’s a favorite film though my favorite film adapted from a Stephen King novel would still be “The Shawshank Redemption.” This one goes into a lot of different themes and most the characters are quite rich in how they are acted and what the script gives them. If you have patience, it is worth sitting through, because the end payoff is worth it.

Final Score: 9 / 10. A solidly great film.