Summer is for Sequels

MIB 4 to Toy Story 4…summer sequels abound at the movie theaters right now. If it’s not a sequel; it’s a remake. Was anyone dying to see a new Aladdin? Or breathlessly awaiting the live action remake of The Lion King? Yes, perhaps there are families that are glad to have new versions of these films so they can stop watching the originals play non-stop at home…or any age-appropriate film to take the little ones to on a hot summer day.

Reviews of such films are not really necessary. If your family loved the first one, they’ll likely all go see the next three or four with diminishing interest and often, with lackluster stories. The joy of the Toy Story films was that Pixar Studios seemed to invest more time and care with each sequel to make it fresh and awarded the audience films that contained some of the wonder of the first film and new characters that everyone loved. So it is with sad heart that I report that this final of the series, Toy Story 4, bucks that narrative.

In trying to reinvent the story to provide us with new dimensions to a few of the characters, the animators send the toys on a road trip. If you’re going to create a film that features a spork, we needed an empowering story or ground-breaking animation…something riveting to justify this journey of an eating utensil and the girl who loves him. Most of the film centers on the interactions between Forky and Woody…and later, Woody and Bo Peep. While I applaud the feminist take on Bo Peep’s character, it also crossed my mind that she’s not really a “toy”. She’s part of a lamp. How did she become the love interest? But my mind wandered. I blame the lackluster writing in the film.

The animation to show Bo Peep’s shiny porcelain surface and the well-drawn interior of the Thrift Shop with it’s antique toys show the Pixar attention to detail. There’s a wonderful villain in the lovely damaged Gabby Gabby doll with her army of mechanical Dummies that move in a herky-jerky motion to make them more scary. It was fun to have Keanu Reeves show up as the Canadian Daredevil, Duke Caboom, but why have an actor who grew up in Canada not give the toy a Canadian accent? Odd choice.

As the action sequences roll along creating little tension, there’s less time for character development and the toys become less interesting. The story grows more preposterous as the Dad is forced to drive the RV back to the rescue at the small town carnival. In this Pixar film, the “real characters” are the ones with the blandest personalities. The only human with any dimension is the carny that has a few funny scenes with the toys.

When Woody makes a choice for love over becoming a forgotten toy, the other toys seem to easily accept the change. There’s little fanfare and off the other toys ride into the night. No tears, no tug at the heartstrings…just a sigh that that the studio let these beloved characters have a swan song that wasn’t deserving of them.

Stay for the credit sequence if you want more of the same poor writing and character development…or flee the theater and find some ice cream to comfort your inner child.

Drinks with Films Rating: 1 old fashioned phosphate drink (out of 5) and I’m sorely disappointed in the lack of an animated Short to go with the film. Often one of the best animated Shorts of the year, this lackluster production didn’t include one.

Summer Films with a Great British Actor

Summer time. BBQs, watermelon, family reunions and hot summer nights. The perfect time to escape to the movies! This is not a time for a Czech drama or a brooding intellectual film about politics. This is a time for fun, for explosions, for comedy.

For Emma Thompson?!

British actress, Dame Emma Thompson is a two-time Oscar Winner. Thompson Is the only person to have won Academy awards for both acting and writing. She won Best Actress for Howards End (1992), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995).

In the past, Thompson was known for her work with Kenneth Branagh. In the 90’s, they were the “It Couple” for brilliant Shakespeare films and intellectual relationship dramas. As Sir Kenneth’s star rose, he stepped out on Thompson and their marriage, and their films together ended. Emma Thompson went on to write the adaption of Sense and Sensibilities and starred in it with Kate Winslet. She also stars in two of my favorite films, Stranger Than Fiction and Howard’s End.

Recently she’s starred in two Nanny McPhee films and has written the TV adaptation of Margaret Edson‘s acclaimed play Wit (2001). She also starred in the movie and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Her awards page on IMDB takes an entire page!

So how did this acclaimed actress noted in Wikipedia as “often portrays enigmatic and matronly characters with a sense of wit, frequently in period dramas and literary adaptations” wind up featured in both the films opening this weekend at the Nugget Theater in Telluride, Colorado…kicking off the summer movie season?

Her role in MIB International is a bit part but a crucial role. She’s the much-admired Agent O, leader of the Men in Black London Division. She’s portrayed as a smart leader in a smart suit and Tessa Thompson (no relation), is the new agent that tells her, she wants IN. They both allude to how The Men in Black needs an update–Men and Women in Black? Sadly this franchise seems to have run out of steam. There are some fun moments but the banter between our two leads, Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth was better in Thor Ragnarok.

Mindy Kaling wrote the starring role in Late Night specifically for Emma Thompson. We get to see two comedic actors/writers at the top of their game have fun in a summer dramedy. Mindy Kaling gets top billing but without the gravitas that Emma Thompson brings to the role, the comedy wouldn’t elicit the chuckles that it does. They make a great duo and film comes alive when they share the screen. Late Night could lose one of the subplots and been improved by a shorter run time. It’s witty and political and takes on sexism, ageism, nepotism and wraps it in a summer comedy package. That it stars two women, one of color and one of a “certain age” proves yet again…people will pay to see quality entertainment. We need more women starring (and writing and producing and directing) films!

Drinks with Films Rating:

2 Super Size Soft Drinks (out of 5), MIB International is bright and fast-paced and lacking any depth…but there are a few roles for women! Tessa Thompson and Rebecca Ferguson are nice additions. Emma Thompson’s wardrobe is brilliant.

3 glasses of fine wine (out of 5), Late Night runs a little long and tries to tackle one too many “isms”. The writing crackles and Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson give performances that seem like heightened versions of themselves. Real and nuanced.