Throwback Thursday: Toy Story 2 (1999)

In a film series, the second is the most important. It is a litmus test of two important questions: 1. Is there an audience appetite for the sequel? and 2. Is there enough of a narrative to warrant a second movie?

Toy Story 2 (1999) is the second tale within the Toy Story franchise. After Woody (Tom Hanks) is stolen by a toy collector, it is up to his friends to save him. While Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) works on the outside to free Woody, Woody makes friends on the inside. Jessie (Joan Cusack) is a cowgirl and a part of the wild west line of playthings.

I enjoyed Toy Story 2. It has everything that made its predecessor great and then some. It is funny, entertaining, and suspenseful, and the addition of the new characters provides enough stretch to make the story plausible.

Do I recommend it? Yes.


Pinocchio Movie Review

Within every fairy tale is a morality tale. The purpose is to teach our children (and our adults) how to behave.

The new film, Pinocchio is a live-action reboot of the 1940 film of the same name. Based on the story by Carlo Collodi, Geppetto (Tom Hanks) has one wish: for a child of his own. He gets his wish when the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) brings Geppetto’s newest creation, a puppet to life. Named Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), he wants nothing more than to be a real boy and make his father proud.

But like any child, temptation pulls him in other directions. Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to guide his charge to do the right thing, but he can only do so much. Will this puppet become a real child or is his fate to be just pieces of wood that only slightly resembles a human?

There is a nice balance of updating the narrative for our time while remaining true to the original cartoon. As usual, Hanks is the MVP, playing a complete 180 from his last film.

I noticed a couple of things that I obviously would not have seen as a child. The first is praying to a higher power or the universe (whichever one believes in), may actually bring in the desired results. The second is that you have to work for what you want. Pinocchio was not automatically turned into a human being, he had to earn it.

I haven’t seen the 1940 film in decades, but the message came through loud and clear. Though the story could be seen as slightly moralistic, the idea of listening to your gut applies to anyone of any age.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Pinocchio is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.

P.S.: Keep an eye out for easter eggs.

Flashback Friday: Toy Story 3 (2010)

When we are very young, we play with a certain group of toys. When we grow up, our toys change dramatically.

Toy Story 3 is the third film within the Toy Story franchise. Andy (voiced by John Norris) is just about to leave for college. The toys he once considered to be beloved friends are supposed to be taken to the attic. But instead, they are donated to a daycare center.

The treatment they receive from the children at the daycare is a complete 180 from how Andy loved and treasured them. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), and co are now being handled by sticky-fingered toddlers who lack the respect of Woody and Buzz’s former owner.

If they are to get home, they must convince the disillusioned Lotso (voiced by Ned Beatty) that they were all once loved. Helping the boys in their quest is Barbie (Jodi Benson), who is working with her counterpart Ken (Michael Keaton) to free them all.

This movie is adorable, funny, and fits well into the overall story within the franchise. It also speaks of the fact that we all grow up eventually. What we once loved will eventually be consigned to the past and will be replaced by something entirely different.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Elvis Movie Review

There are only a handful of artists who are known by a singular name. Their image and influence have permeated the culture in a way that everyone knows who they are and what they represent. Elvis Presley is one of these artists.

The new biopic, Elvis, hit theaters last week. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the film stars newcomer Austin Butler as the title character and Tom Hanks as his manager with sometimes questionable intentions, Colonel Tom Parker. The narrative follows both of them from the early days of Presley’s career until his death in 1977 at the age of 42. The Colonel tells the story, casting himself as the manager who saw the potential of an unknown artist. As Elvis becomes a megastar, he faces criticism for his supposedly “wild race music” and its effect on the nation’s young people.

As the years pass and he becomes a has-been, Presley, and the Colonel pivot. After a very successful television special, he becomes a Las Vegas regular. But while his client is on stage, the Colonel is enriching himself. When everything comes to a head, Elvis has to choose between staying with his manager or trying to go his own way.

Though Butler does not look exactly like the King, he completely inhabits the man and the legend. Playing him from his teenage years until his early 40s, Butler is enigmatic and completely convinces the audience that he is Presley. Hanks, as usual, is up to the task. His character is a man who sees an opportunity and takes it, even if means crossing some boundaries.

What made the movie work for me was the man behind the icon. Presley was a devoted son to his parents, Gladys and Vernon (Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh). He was also madly in love with his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) and a devoted father to their daughter. He respected the black artists whose music he “borrowed” (depending on your perspective) from. What Luhrmann does brilliantly as a filmmaker is to point out that while African-American musicians of the era were largely ignored outside of their community, Presley made a fortune singing the same songs.

My only complaint is that the middle of the narrative could have been trimmed down a bit. Other than that, the film is incredibly good and definitely worth the price of a movie ticket.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Elvis is presently in theaters.

Elvis Presley GIF by Maudit - Find & Share on GIPHY

A League of Their Own Character Review: Evelyn Gardner

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the movie A League of Their Own. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations..

Being a working mother is never easy. The scales between parenting and raising the next generation can seem like they will never be balanced. In A League of Their Own, Evelyn Gardner (Bitty Schram) has been forced by her husband to take their son, Stillwell (played by Justin Scheller as a child and Mark Holton as an adult) on the road with her. Evelyn is a bit of an indulgent mother, attempting to keep Stillwell from getting into trouble with multiple chocolate bars while on the bus in between games. To say that this does not go over well with her teammates is an understatement. She also allows Stillwell to taunt the team, which also gets under the skin of the rest of the women.

Evelyn is also an emotional softie who does not respond well to criticism from her coach, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) when she makes a poor decision on the ballfield. But that does not mean that she is weak. Evelyn has a backbone that allows her to be a trailblazer, as both a working mother and a female athlete.

To sum it up: I think we, as an audience, underestimate Evelyn. She may appear to be a softie, but underneath that softness is a will of iron that is not often associated with women from the period. The truth is that we, as women have had it all along, we just needed the opportunity to show it.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

A League of Their Own Character Review: Dottie Hinson

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the movie A League of Their Own. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

When we have a certain skill, many would assume that we would build our lives and career around the skill. But not everyone is interested in that life. In A League of Their Own, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) is discovered playing on a local baseball team during World War II. While waiting for her husband, Bob (Bill Pullman) to come home, she works in the family dairy with her parents and younger sister Kit Keller (Lori Petty). Convinced to try out for the AAGPBL, Dottie not only makes the team and joins the Rockford Peaches, she becomes its initial de facto leader and star. Coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) is at first more into drinking his days away than supporting his players. But as good as she is, this is not something she has dreamed of. It is just a way to pass the time until Bob comes home.

As the seasons wear on and Dottie becomes one of the faces of the league, the tension between her and Kit grows. Believing that she is forever in her elder sister’s shadow, Kit starts to resent Dottie. This soon spreads to the rest of the team, nearly sending Dottie home with her newly returned husband and Kit changing teams. It finally comes to a head during the World Series, when their respective teams play opposite one another.

By the time the last pitch is thrown and the game ends, the Peaches have lost. Dottie and Kit have both moved on emotionally and resumed the relationship they had before all of this started.

To sum it up: We all have talents and we all have choices. Depending on our perspective, we can either draw on those talents or choose to go down another path. Dottie obviously has the skill, but this is not her life’s goal. I admire that. She knows what she wants and goes for it, even if someone else disagrees with that decision.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

A League of Their Own Character Review: Jimmy Dugan

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*I apologize for the delay in posting. There is only so much writing I can do in a day.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the movie A League of Their Own. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

It is easy to judge someone based on a popular image or perception. That image can only change when we are with that person or persons, hopefully forcing us to reconsider what we think we know. In A League of Their Own, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) is hired to coach the Rockford Peaches, one of the all-female teams within the AAGPBL. While the men are fighting for the United States in World War II, they are temporarily being replaced by their wives, sisters, and neighbors.

A former baseball player whose career has been taken over by constant drinking, Jimmy is given the opportunity to revive his reputation by taking the coaching position. His reaction is well, can only be described as chauvinistic. But then again, we have to remember what time period the film is set in (though to be completely honest, this idea is still sadly too prevalent, even in 2022). Over the course of the film, the booze is replaced by his renewed love of the game and his growing respect for his players.

That does not mean, however, that Jimmy is easy to get along with. He can sometimes be described as crass and a little short with some members of the team. He does however become close with Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis). Dottie has the talent and the drive to succeed. But she also has a husband in the army and is eager to return to normal life. Jimmy wants her to stay to the end of the season, but he knows that he cannot force her to do so. Though the Peaches don’t come out on top, Jimmy has regained his sense of self and a healthy appreciation for the women on his team.

To sum it up: the character arc from unlikeable to likable is a common one. What makes Jimmy stand out from other characters is how he changes over the course of the narrative. He goes from someone who the audience does not trust to someone we trust implicitly. He may not be as mannered or cultured as other people. But we know that he admires the players and in doing so, has transformed his life for the better.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

My Favorite Movies of 2019

Going to the movies is sometimes akin to stepping onto a roller coaster. Sometimes you love the film your seeking. Sometimes you hate it.

My favorite movies of 2019 are as follows:

  1. The Farewell: The Farewell is my favorite movie of the year because it is heartfelt, genuine and thoroughly human. In the lead role, Awkwafina proves that she can play much more than the comic relief.
  2. Avengers: Endgame: If there was a perfect way to end a film series, this film is it. Balancing both action and narrative, this thrill ride is pure perfection.
  3. Judy: Renee Zellweger is an absolute shoe-in for the Oscars as the late film icon Judy Garland. Disappearing in the role, she tells the true story of the final years of Garland’s life.
  4. Downton Abbey: Transferring a popular television show to the big screen is often easier said than done. The Downton Abbey movie is the perfect film bookend to this beloved television program.
  5. Harriet: This biopic of Harriet Tubman is nothing short of tremendous. In the lead role, Cynthia Erivo is Harriet Tubman.
  6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: This final entry in the Skywalker saga is not perfect, but it ends with both a nod to the past and an open door to the future.
  7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The late Fred Rogers was more than a milquetoast children’s TV host. He taught generations of children in ways that go beyond the classroom. Inhabiting the role of Mister Rogers is Tom Hanks, who reminds viewers why we loved him.
  8. Joker: In this re imagined world from that Batman universe, Joaquin Phoenix adds new layers to this iconic character while talking frankly about mental illness.
  9. The Song of Names: Based on the book of the same name, the film follows a man who is trying to discover the secrets of a missing childhood friend.
  10. Frozen II: This sequel to the mega-hit Frozen was well worth the six year wait. Instead of doing a slap-dash direct to video type sequel, the filmmakers expanded this world in new ways, making the story even more relevant.

This will be my last post for 2019. Wherever you are, thank you for reading this year. May 2020 be bright and hopeful.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Review

When Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood went off the air in 2001, it was the end of an era in television.

The new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, opened this weekend. Based on the 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod, Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a fictional version of the real-life writer. Sent by his editor to write a profile of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), Lloyd is cynical and jaded. On top of his latest article, Lloyd dealing with marriage, new fatherhood and his formerly absentee father, Jerry (Chris Cooper).

I really loved this movie. I loved it because it reminded me why generations of TV viewers loved Mister Rogers. It also introduced the audience to the human side of this icon. As Mister Rogers, Hanks was perfectly cast. And I loved that this film was directed by Marielle Heller, who directed one of my favorite films from last year, Can You Ever Forgive Me? The myth that women are unable to direct successful films went out the window with this movie.

I absolutely recommend it.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is presently in theaters.

Thoughts On A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Trailer

For many of us, our childhood memories are cocooned in three words: Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was more than a TV host, he was a friend, a confidant and a teacher, all in one.

The new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys is the story of the friendship that blossomed between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.

I have to admit that I got a little teary eyed while watching the trailer. Adulthood can bring on cynicism, disbelief in magic and the idea that childhood is just that. My hope is that this film reminds audiences of the wonderment that is childhood and the feelings that only Fred Rogers could bring out in his young viewers.

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