The summer of remakes and sequels continues.
Oddly enough though, the only non-sequel or remake this week actually ended up feeling like the least original movie of the lot. Go figure.
This time around we’ve got a remake featuring everyone’s favorite murderous doll, the fourth chapter of Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story,” and the latest femme fatale from French filmmaker Luc Besson.
Let’s get to the reviews.
First up is “Child’s Play.”
A contemporary re-imagining of the 1988 horror classic, this film follows Karen (Aubrey Plaza), a single mother who gifts her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a Buddi doll, unaware of its more sinister nature.
These days it’s far from uncommon to see a remake or re-imagining of a well known 1980s property opening in theaters. In fact lately, it almost seems like we get a new one every single week.
The Chucky franchise is a bit different though. “Child’s Play” wasn’t a dormant property waiting to be revitalized. In fact, the writer behind the original 1988 never stopped making new Chucky movies.
Granted, the most recent films, “Curse of Chucky” from 2013 and “Cult of Chucky“ from 2017, were released directly to video and never had a theatrical run, but they both feature the same writer who’s been with the series from the very beginning, Don Mancini, the same voice actor for Chucky, Brad Dourif, and even recurring characters from previous films.
And despite never being released to theaters, these movies were fairly well received by fans and critics alike, with the most recent, “Cult of Chucky,“ being the best reviewed movie in the series.
That hasn’t stopped MGM, the rights holder for the 1988 “Child’s Play,” from rebooting the franchise a scant two years after the last Chucky movie was released.
No surprise that the creative team who had been working on Chucky the past three decades were more than a bit miffed.
Don Mancini, the writer of all the previous films, pointedly refused to have anything to do with this movie and has repeatedly spoken out against it.
And you can’t hardly blame him, considering he’s still continuing the Chucky franchise in the form of a TV series, which is set to release next year.
However, even though this movie was created in the shadow of controversy, I’m of the mind that this re-imagining does enough different with the killer doll concept that both Chuckys can co-exist.
For starters, the origin of Chucky is completely different here.
No longer is he a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer desperate for a human host.
Instead Chucky in this movie is more like an android, with the ability to walk, talk, and interact, complete with a learning artificial intelligence, and the built-in ability to connect with every device in your house.
Basically he’s a glorified Alexa device.
Apparently, the only thing that separates Chucky from the other so called “Buddi” dolls, is that Chucky had all his safeguards disabled, including one that prevented violence I might add.
Chucky here is voiced by Mark Hamill, best known for portraying Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”
This might seem like an odd fit for those who only know the actor as the naive young Jedi, but over the years since the original 70s/80s trilogy was produced, Mark has made quite a name for himself in the voiceover world. Including portraying infamous villains like the Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series.”
For his role, I thought Mark did just fine as the crazed killer doll. It was one of those performances where I almost forgot it was his voice behind Chucky. He kind of just disappeared into the role.
The other actors here are okay too. I wouldn’t say Aubrey Plaza is nearly at her best here, but she did a perfectly fine job. Same with Gabriel Bateman, who played Chucky’s owner Andy. Not exactly gripping performances, they did well enough.
The story goes about exactly how you’d expect in a horror movie about a learning artificial intelligence.
It’s all fun and games until Chucky decides to pick up a knife.
The violence here is about what you’ve come to anticipate from this series. There’s still plenty of blood and gore, and a few creative death scenarios that should please many horror fans.
The filmmakers here even managed to sprinkle in a bit of dark humor, which I’ll admit, caught me a little off guard. I found those moments of comedy pretty funny though, so I definitely didn’t mind.
All in all, I enjoyed this re-imagining of “Child’s Play” pretty well.
It’s far from just a lazy rehashing of an old property. The filmmakers here took the concept of Chucky, updated it for modern audiences, and kind of made it their own thing. For that alone I appreciate it.
It’s far from my favorite horror movie of the year, but I’d say I enjoyed it, at least for the most part.
Those looking for a few scares and a lot of gore should leave satisfied.
“Child’s Play” is rated R.
Next up is “Toy Story 4.”
Woody (Tom Hanks) has always been confident about his place in the world, and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. So when Bonnie’s beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (Tony Hale), declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy.
But when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family’s road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (Annie Potts). After years of being on her own, Bo’s adventurous spirit and life on the road contrast her delicate porcelain exterior. As Woody and Bo realize they’re worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy, they soon come to find that’s the least of their worries.
I must confess, before I saw this movie, I was one of the people who didn’t care for the idea of another “Toy Story” movie.
Not because I didn’t like the series, quite the opposite in fact.
Like most kids who grew up during the 90s “Toy Story” and especially “Toy Story 2” were two very beloved movies to me. I dearly loved both of them.
Then, over a decade later when “Toy Story 3” was announced, I was thrilled again, because the second film left plenty of room for new toy filled adventures.
The story of Andy growing up in the third one and becoming an adult really resonated with me on a strong level. Afterall, who hasn’t gotten older and eventually stopped playing with the toys they used to love.
The ending with Andy giving his old, yet precious, toys away to a new kid who would play with them felt like the perfect end cap to a wonderful series.
So when I heard they were making a fourth “Toy Story,” I wasn’t terribly thrilled about it.
Sure, the people at Pixar rarely disappoint, so it was unlikely the movie would just be a soulless cash grab, but still the idea of continuing the story after the sublime ending of the third film didn’t sit right with me.
Well, after seeing “Toy Story 4” I’m here to tell you I could not have been more wrong.
Not only is this latest film in the franchise a beautiful addition to the wonderful world of “Toy Story,” it could possibly be the best one yet.
Many of the characters you’ve come to know and love over the years are back, including Woody and Buzz, plus we get the return of Bo Peep who was noticeably missing from the third film.
And let me tell ya, Bo’s character has undergone a major overhaul since the last time we’ve seen her.
No longer is she relegated to just being Woody’s hapless love interest with zero personality.
Here Bo is a fully fleshed out person, or toy rather, with a strong identity, ambitions, and a purpose all her own.
She’s a lost toy and proud of it. Bo’s gone out and made a life of her own away from the restraints of being owned by a kid and she’s never had it better.
I absolutely loved what they did with her character here. If you would have told me 20 years ago that Bo Peep would become one of my favorite “Toy Story” characters, I would have never believed you, yet here we are.
In addition to a new Bo, we also have some brand new characters, including Bunny and Ducky, voiced by the comedy duo of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, who to the surprise of no one have their fair share of hilarious moments.
But no toy makes a bigger impact to this film, nay, the entire Toy Story universe, than a little toy named Forky, voiced by Tony Hale.
Forky is barely even a toy at all. He’s just a spork with a popsicle stick snapped in two for feet, a pipe cleaner for hands, and googly eyes glued on.
Essentially, he’s trash. And the great thing is that he knows he’s trash too. In fact he’s obsessed with being thrown away. He shouldn’t be alive, he doesn’t want to be alive, yet he is.
What a fascinating and philosophy interesting character to throw in the Toy Story universe. Not to mention his compulsion to dive in a garbage can every chance he gets makes for some of the funniest moments in the entire film.
Another big standout here was the film’s villain, Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks.
The Toy Story series isn’t a stranger to baddies with sympathetic backstories, but Gabby might be the most tragic one yet.
Like most toys, she just wants her chance to be played with, and towards the end you can’t help but feel sorry for her.
I really liked the direction they took her character. I don’t want to get into specifics, but unlike Stinky Pete and Lotso from the previous two films, Gabby isn’t just beaten and served her just desserts. There’s much more empathy and understanding involved with her character, something the world can never have enough of in my opinion.
Gabby also has these really unsettling looking ventriloquist dummy minions. They have this creepy inhuman way of walking like something out of a horror movie. Of course, this is a ‘G’ rated movie, so it was never too scary. I suppose the scenes may frighten the youngest of children though.
Personally, I loved the nods to the horror genre, and considering all the disturbing creations of Sid’s room back in the first “Toy Story,” a couple mildly scary scenes here didn’t feel the least bit out of place to me.
Also, I just have to mention Keanu Reeves’s character here, Duke Caboom. I didn’t even realize it was his voice behind the toy until after the film, but his character absolutely stole the show during the few scenes he was featured in.
I suppose if I had a complaint with this film, it’d be with the treatment of Buzz Lightyear. He seems to have gotten quite a bit stupider since the last movie.
There’s this whole subplot about him learning to listen to his conscience or inner voice. But Buzz, being a moron here, thinks that his inner voice is the voice box inside him. You know, the one that responds to button pushes on his chest.
So most of the movie Buzz is just going around, vaguely following the instructions of prerecorded voice lines.
Sure, Buzz has had multiple periods of strong denial, but he’s never been dumb. It feels like a huge stretch in his 20 or so years of living that he’s never heard of a conscience before.
Oh well. Buzz being a dummy here isn’t the end of the world, and it certainly doesn’t take away from the many other wonderful things in this film.
Despite my nitpick with Buzz’s character, I absolutely adored this movie.
There’s so many wonderful characters here, packed in a fascinating world of toys that’s never felt bigger.
Before this movie, I never wanted another “Toy Story” film to be produced. After it though, I’d be thrilled to see more.
If you’re looking for the family film of the summer to watch, this is it. You simply won’t find anything better. Forget “The Secret Life of Pets 2” or “Aladdin,” this is the movie to see.
I promise you won’t be disappointed.
“Toy Story 4” is rated G.
Last this week is “Anna.”
Anna (Sasha Luss), a beautiful woman who has been the victim of domestic abuse, accepts an offer from a KGB officer (Luke Evans) and is made to work as an assassin for five years, after which she’s promised her freedom.
However, Anna soon discovers there’s no escaping the life of being a spy.
Oh Luc Besson, what are we going to do with you?
For those who have never heard of this film’s esteemed writer/director, Besson is probably best known for films like “The Fifth Element” or more recently “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” at least in sci-fi circles.
Movie nerds know him for “Léon: The Professional,” which gave eventual Oscar winning actress Natalie Portman her first role in a feature film.
But what Besson really loves is a good old fashioned femme fatale.
Movies like “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson, and one of his first films, “La Femme Nikita,” are Besson’s real bread and butter, and you can even see elements of femme fatale characters in his other movies.
Besson clearly has a type, and it’s dangerous women.
Everyone needs a passion I suppose. Besson’s is just writing female characters who can murder just giving a dirty look.
“Anna” is another film featuring such a character.
And though he’s had 30 years to perfect this one single archetype, Anna is perhaps Besson’s worse femme fatale yet.
It’s really hard not to directly compare “Anna” to one of Besson’s previous films “La Femme Nikita.” They’re just way too similar not to.
Both feature hopeless women at the end of their rope. Drug addicts who’ve fallen into a dangerous lifestyle, who, through the help of a male government agent, learn to become completely different people. Trained assassins working for the state.
The first 30 minutes of “Anna” felt like Besson was completely ripping himself off.
But unfortunately, while he took a big chunk of the story from “La Femme Nikita,” he completely failed to incorprate any of what made his past femme fatale compelling.
For starters, instead of casting an actual actress in the lead role, Besson brought on Sasha Luss, a Russin supermodel who’s only other movie experience was in Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” as an alien princess who never spoke a line of english in the film.
And it really shows.
I’m sure Sasha’s a fine person, and probably a great model. But she can’t act very well. It’s just as simple as that. Your film’s only as strong as your lead character, and this movie has an incredibly weak one.
There’s no passion in her performance. Not an ounce of charisma. Everything about her is so impassive and cold. She can’t even pretend to be interested in anything. And since she clearly didn’t care about the things happening to her, neither did I.
Sadly though, the leading performance is the least of this movie’s problems.
The storytelling in this movie is downright annoying.
This movie loves showing a scene, cutting back 3 months, 6 months, or even multiple years to give more context to the scene, and then showing it again.
This didn’t just happen at the end as a big twist ending like in many thrillers. It happened repeatedly throughout the film.
It’s like I got to watch the same movie twice in a row, but in little 10 minute chunks. It was so obnoxious.
Then of course there’s the typical spy movie absurdity you see in every movie featuring a secret agent.
At this point I’m just sick of all this double and triple agent nonsense. To me it all just feels so clichéd. Though it doesn’t help that the execution wasn’t all that great here.
I don’t know. Maybe if you’re a big fan of Soviet era spy thrillers, you might get something out of this movie? Regardless, as a fan of Besson, this movie is clearly far from his best work.
“Anna” is rated R.