The trepidation in doing a “Toy Story” sequel is why mess up or challenge a good thing. Money is usually the answer in these scenarios. “Toy Story 3” was such a fitting end with its undeniable odes to “Star Wars” lore and just essential drama that magnified and personified the essence of the journey of Woody & Buzz. “Toy Story 4” is a good movie through and through but one that didn’t necessarily need to be. Nonetheless, it works well all the same. This installment works more in all seriousness as an epilogue on existence of Woody. It is not about the kid’s room or the nursery anymore. It is set again the bigger world asking the question”Do I want more?” and “Who am I?” Wonderfully enough this theme tends to innately move the motivations of every single one of the characters here. By not having to give all the focus to each of the nursery toys, there almost seems to be broadening of character.
Annie Potts as Bo Peep definitely ups here game and the essence of a lost toy in the world does take on new meaning while essentially reflecting the mentality of a new age. The way she hangs and runs with Giggle McDimples just feels organic. Woody is struggling to catch up…which is part of the point of the exercise. The addition of Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby, a doll with a flaw in an antique store feels misdirected at first but then, especially with the help of her Henchmen (sort of like Howdy Doody on steroids) there is definitely a sense of darkness but in a way misplaced enlightenment. The fact that some of the ending music from “The Shining” plays at one point just was undeniably elating. The different elements of existentialism moving through the story including the Id, hubris and the inner voice are all incredibly deep despite it being able to play very simple on the surface.
Even the introduction of Forky, a toy made out of trash by their kid Bonnie, evolves from that aspect. He just wants to be trash until he realizes his need to be but his first question is “Why am I alive?” On retrospect thinking, it can be quite filtered and intense in what the movie is talking about. That is a question that Gabby comes to terms with. Even Duke Kaboom, a racing toy played by Keanu Reeves, has a similar existential crisis. Rumor was that Keanu pushed the writers to build his character out more. And while that might be true, Duke’s journey has the same path and texture of needing to be as the other main characters. He was thrown out by his kid because he didn’t do what the commercial said he would. The irony and paradox of that statement both as an actor and as a character is, in ways, profound. Not wanting to give away any of the spoilers, this progression serves all the characters even Buzz with his basic thinking.
Towards the end of the film however which was interesting, there was a buzzy moment that very few films get when it hits the right notes finding heart and connection without being schmaltzy…and it wasn’t even with the main character. That said, though there is an almost subtle texture of “Forrest Gump” in the final moments. Not the same perception but it just about got there. “Toy Story 4” didn’t need to be but in that that it is, it is welcome as it is both a crowd pleaser but also an existential epilogue on the nature of a toy that is Woody. And Key & Peele are pretty good in it too.
By Tim Wassberg
The balance of tone is always a necessity in franchises but the passing of the baton is always a tricky proposition or it simply can be the reflection of an idea not being new, but of a different perspective. “Men In Black International” is a perfect acceptable addition to the pantheon of MIB but does not necessarily have a big stakes perspective to overcome. The aspect of a gung-ho new recruit and a seasoned agent fits the bill and in many ways it takes the angle that the end of the first MIB set up well with Linda Fiorentino and Will Smith at the end (though it was never built on). This uses it as the next logical step though Tessa Thompson’s character M is a bit more safe instead of Linda’s wonky morgue attendant. Thompson gives the sense of wonder that propels the idea of her love for the aliens she is seeing.
The tone of the relationship between her and Chris Hemsworth is of course not played up though the basic chemistry is there but not as vicious as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok” but that was a much different world. They play more like brother and sister here which definitely works. But, it comes off less than it should because there is not more electricity between Hemsworth and a select other character who, despite being an actress of note, has an almost two dimensional play on her character. where her previous role in a Paramount franchise was so electric. It is not her fault but something is missing. Again it comes down to stakes. F. Gray Gray as a director is perfectly adept with the material and smart to stay away from big set pieces so the budget seems within check (though that might not turn out to be true).
There are some scenes in the desert though that are balanced oddly between the gamut of “Star Wars” and “Spaceballs”. However in the film there is no real connective moment that transmutes the idea of what MIB is. Even “MIB III” despite how fantastical the set pieces were (especially at the end) they (like Barry Sonnenfeld) knew how to make it connect. The resolution here doesn’t have that since there is never a sense of any real danger. That does not make it any less fun. It just makes it less pertenant at times. Like the previous “Men In Black” trilogy, it is also about the weird aliens, not so much about the design but the comic timing. Whereas the old school chum of gangly aliens that chilled with Smith are still there (albeit very briefly), there is no throwback to the old film. Even an old school wink, like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in “Maverick”, just would have helped. A photo of Tommy. A dorky snapshot of Will Smith just out of eye sight. Emma Thompson is fine but she is limited in her role.
Liam Neeson’s character will not be discussed too much here but he plays it more straight-laced though some darker comedy would have definitely progressed the story. Again, there is nothing primarily wrong with “MIB International”. Chris Hemsworth is aloof and debonair (though too clean cut). Thompson is wonderfully optimistic yet grounded. But it doesn’t seem enough. What saves the film most times is Kumail Nanjiani as Pawny, a small alien who ends up serving M (Tessa Thompson) because he thinks she is a queen. He has the best lines and elevates the proceedings. “MIB International” is perfectly fun but safe, adventurous but doesn’t paint outside the lines, paced right but without stakes to really up the game.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of the X-Men mythology has placed it with some ideals of archetypes but, with some of the actors involved, the texture of nuance is always an interesting progression in what is embraced and what is shown below the surface. This reviewer did interviews for “X-Men: The Last Stand” back in the last iteration of the cast before “First Class” but also visited the set of “X-Men: Apocalypse”. With “The Last Stand”, the approach involved the aspect of Jean Grey as well. However unlike Famke Jannsen’s iteration, there seems a times a lack of stakes or perhaps disconnection from Sophie Turner’s inhabiting of the character, much in the way of Captain Marvel in “Endgame”: she is so indestructible that the balance of her take down is somewhat like ants trying to destroy gods . That said, this installment is the most engrossing since “First Class”. The inclusion of Jennifer Lawrence works simply because of the structure of what it is setting up and that allows in true form the most connective tissue that motivates all the characters. Whether it be Tye Sheridan’s Psyclops or in a more pronounced fashion Beast played by Nicolas Hoult, “Dark Phoenix” has some more true acting from these performers because the entire proceeding is not overtaken by visual effects unlike some of the iterations before. It comes off more practical.
Also the characters, even more so, seem to engage in their baser desires at times which makes them more fully realized. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto seems both more conflicted but also at times more brutal than before. When he emerges in terms of his focus, it is interesting because it you can see him fighting against his own instincts (even though his character comes off more as supporting). James McAvoy as Professor X also has a more dynamic approach because his character is not the all wise. He makes mistakes and ego plays a part in this outing. These are superheroes but they are flawed and that is what this picture is allowing (perhaps in a darker way than perhaps Disney would approach it at a different time). Even Nightcrawler becomes brutal in a way not seen since “X2” when he was on the opposite viewpoint. That said, the story timing conversely is, at times, erratic. However this does not take away from the emotional notes. What scattershots the beats is Jessica Chastain and her minions. Chastain is on point in terms of her performance but there is not a reflective basis of her motivation. Her character’s origins are left to the ether which works to a point but not in the final revelation. “Dark Phoenix” in a great way handles many emotional beats in a way far superior to some of its predecessors thanks in part to director Simon Kinsberg who understands this mythology and the characters through and through. But endings, especially of an era, never are clean. They are messy. “Endgame” tried to do everything and reflected emotional but many plot holes still remained. “Dark Phoenix” writes a different story than the one previous to “The Last Stand” but in doing some creates something more contextual even if the final shot reflects a vague contentment.
By Tim Wassberg
It was very hard not to pay attention to the many talented Actresses gracing the red carpet and the screenings of the 11th Okinawa Film Festival. This year, among others, the festival had invited from Japan: Honoka Matsumoto and Ayame Misaki as well as from Myanmar: Wutt Hmone Shwe Yi.
Beyond their enchanting beauty, one can only be impressed by their charismatic screen presence that not only already put a spell on the Asian market but with talent that should spread to The West and Hollywood very soon. Between a busy schedule on the red carpet and series of interviews with the Asian and international press, these fine young ladies granted an interview to speak about their current endeavors. Grab some sushi and a glass of sake, the séance is about to begin.
Tell us a little more about your roles that are playing here at Okinawa Film Festival…
Ayame Misaki: I play Yuko, a pregnant woman in the new family comedy from Gori: “Bone Born Bone”. The movie takes place in Okinawa. [The story follows] the anniversary of the death of the wife and mother of one of the families on the Island. It is time to honour the dead by practicing the ritual of bone washing, which involves the exhumation of the corpse and the washing of the bones. In fact, the movie is about the symbols of Life and Death. As a pregnant woman I represent Life.
Honoka Matsumoto: I have two films here: “My Life Upside Down” and “My Father, The Bride”: two films with a great sense of humor and a great sensibility. They are all about family dynamics and how it is important to find ways of communication inside of the family unit. It shows also how the notion of family is different today and goes beyond the standard definition, and how it goes beyond genders as well. Ultimately we need to focus on love, the love that binds us together. I think it also shows how the notion of family has changed in Japan lately. It used to be a very patriarchal society and it still is; but, in many instances, we see how women today are much more independent and truly play a pivotal role at home and sometimes even in the corporate world.
Wutt Hmone Shwe Yi: My film is “My Country My Home”. It’s the emotional story of a young girl who finds out she comes from Myanmar but even so she grew up in Japan. Her dad decides to go back to Myanmar and she has a tough time dealing with this decision because she loves Japan.
In what way do you think these movies fit with the themes of the festival: Peace and Laugh?
Ayame: The whole movie is about love and peace with some settled humor at times. So it does fit perfectly the themes of this festival. Also, we filmed this movie in Okinawa for a month so it’s like a home coming situation showing our film at the festival. It’s interesting because our film is about the clashing of a family who is going to learn how to live again together beyond their grief. At the end, they are at peace with themselves and each other.
Honoka: Laugh and Peace are at the heart of my two films playing here for sure. It’s all about loving with a smile, a sense of humor. It’s always easier to make people happy by smiling and making them laugh, right?! Yes, having fun is important and laughing and being in a happy state of mind can only lead to Peace.
Wutt: My movie is totally about the love and peace that my dad has for his country Myanmar. And so am I. I do have a love for my dad and for Japan. The mood of the movie is light and therefore there are also smiling moments…which fits perfectly the spirit of the festival of Okinawa.
What does the word “Peace” mean to you?
Ayame: There are many meanings to the notion of Peace. Peace is something that can be a very personal approach. The many versions of Peace can lead to the big Peace we need in the World. Maybe this movie in some way shows that if there is Peace in the family there could be Peace in the World..?
Honoka: Peace is One People, One Planet! Peace is also about the love of your family, and anywhere you are you have to feel this love, this peace. I don’t think we should focus on differences between us but on what can unite us. Peace is universal.
Wutt: Love and Peace are the most important things in Life. Without them you can’t survive. If you’re peaceful within you can spread that peace around you.
What challenges did you face making these films?
Ayame: Without a doubt “being” pregnant was a huge challenge as I carried a fake silicon belly under my clothes at all times, before and during the shooting. For me it was important to “feel” pregnant on top of “looking” pregnant. What is funny was to see the reaction on the faces of other people in the street, and in restaurants, who thought I was truly pregnant! Even at night or under the shower I wasn’t removing my fake belly. That’s commitment!
What are your hopes with a movie like this? What impact do you think this film can have on people? And did it change you?
Ayame: I hope people get a better understanding of their own family. I think this movie shows how important family is. It is the most cherished thing we have. So we need to get along with each other and find ways of communicating our various feelings in spite of the possible differences we might experience at the time. It also shows that Love prevails and is the most important thing on earth. We need to cherish Love. It is the true force that unites us.
Honoka: I hope people realize by watching my film that nobody can live on your own and by yourself your entire existence…we need each other. If you keep everything within, if you don’t open to others, you will eventually blow up and break down. It’s important to always express your feelings whether they are happy or sad feelings. You need to learn to trust others and count on others.
Wutt: I hope people realize that we are, in part, one people and one planet. We need to unite people of all race, genders and cultures. And it’s very important to respect and tolerate each other. We need to better understand each other and this leads to World Peace.
By Emmanuel Itier