Tag Archives: Jordan Peele

Toy Story 4

Toy Story movies have always been darker than people give them credit for. In the first film, Buzz believes himself to be a hero stranded in a hostile environment. Turns out, he’s just a toy – everything he thought was real is a lie. He exists to be someone’s plaything, and Woody and the gang convince him that there’s dignity and even nobility in this fate, even if it strikes you and I as a kind of slavery, to exist merely at someone else’s whim, until you’re all used up, and then you’re disposed of. What a dizzying and disorienting concept; it’s no wonder Buzz literally gets depressed when he learns his true nature. In the second film, Woody literally contemplates his own mortality. His benevolent master Andy will one day tire of him, and worthless, he’ll be discarded. His friend Jessie really hammers this home with a heart-wrenching flashback of being abandoned at the side of a road by someone who once claimed to love her. Ultimately, Woody chooses to live as a toy rather than achieving a sort of immortality as a collector’s item; he’ll have a short but meaningful life rather than a long but insignificant one. What a choice. In the third film, Woody and the gang face the consequence of this choice: Andy goes off to college, and eventual abandonment becomes actual abandonment. Not only that, but the best friends are being separated, with Woody being doomed to spend his twilight years alone on Andy’s shelf, no longer a useful, loved plaything, but a mere relic of his past. Meanwhile, his friends are going to molder up in the dark oblivion of an attic. What cold comfort. Luckily, the toys are instead given to a little girl named Bonnie to live out a happy afterlife. Cue the fourth film.

Woody (Tom Hanks) and pals are having a grand old time being played with by Bonnie. Sure, the little girl prefers cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) over cowboy Woody just a tad, but still, it’s a good life, no complaints. Bonnie is starting kindergarten soon, and at an orientation session, she shows some initiative (fancy term for not following instructions) and makes herself a toy out of trash rather than a pencil cup out of art supplies. She brings her cherished new friend home and gives him a place of honour among toys. “Forky” is no more than a spork, some googly eyes, a pipe cleaner, and a broken popsicle stick, but he’s Bonnie’s new best friend, so Woody vows to keep them together at all costs. That’s going to be a problematic promise because a) Bonnie’s family is embarking on an RV roadtrip and b) Forky has some suicidal tendencies. Forky was never supposed to be a toy, you see. He’s trash. He knows he’s trash. Rather simple-minded and fairly spooked, all he wants more than anything in the world is to be trash once again, which is where he keeps launching himself. Woody keeps dutifully fishing him out, but one of these times he’s bound to get thrown out for good. It’s on one such rescue mission that Woody encounters an antique store where he thinks he may find an old friend/lost toy/love interest, Bo Peep (Annie Potts). We haven’t seen Bo Peep since the second movie, which was 20 years ago. Where has she been this whole time?

Bo’s been living free and wild as a toy with no owner. That’s essentially Woody’s worst nightmare but she makes it sound rather grand. Besides, Woody has a new worst nightmare: another antique store occupant, vintage doll Gabby Gabby wants his voicebox and she’s prepared to rip the stuffing out of his chest to get it. Yikes!

Structurallly, this fourth installment plays out a lot like those that came before it. There’s always some kind of separation, and then some kind of secondary rescue mission when the first one fails. These toys sure do get themselves into some high-stakes situations on an alarming basis!

It’s wonderful to see the cast of old friends: Bo looks shinier than ever, and Jessie’s hair has never looked yarnier. The animation on these films started out innovative and has only improved. And new friends are a hoot and a half: Forky (Tony Hale) is a walking, talking existential crisis, but the rendering of his pipe cleaner is photo realistic. Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) was a dollie defective right out of the box, and her resulting failure to bond has really warped her. Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) is a Canadian daredevil who never lived up to his promise; he is haunted by his past, and by the kid who resoundingly rejected him. Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) are two brightly-coloured stuffed animals attached at the hands. They’ve been unredeemed carnival prizes for far too long, and are a little unhinged. Officer Giggle McDimples, Giggs for short (Ally Maki), may look precious and pocket-sized, but she’s a force to be reckoned with, and fiercely protective of her road warrior partner, Bo Peep. All these new toys will come together in surprising ways to give our pal Woody one last big adventure.

Coming full circle with the original film in the franchise which was released 24 years ago, Toy Story 4 has Woody once again paired with a toy who does not believe himself to be a toy. Woody’s experiences with Andy, and now with Bonnie, position him to a real advocate for finding and fulfilling one’s purpose and embracing one’s destiny. Heartwarming and heartbreaking in almost equal measure (I cried twice before the opening credits were over, and then alllllll the way home), Toy Story 4 more than justifies its existence. But after the perfect send-off in #3, is #4 a necessary or worthy addition? As much as I looked forward to connecting with these characters again, I surprise myself by saying no. Toy Story 4 is a good movie, an entertaining one, a very sweet one, but I can’t help but wish they’d left it at a trilogy so that we could have one perfect, shiny thing in our lives.

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Us

“Why is nice Jordan Peele making such scary movies?”

As is often the case, Jay’s question is one that I can’t answer. But f you thought Get Out was too much, like Jay did, you will want to skip Us altogether. Maybe see Captain Marvel again while you wait for Dumbo, because Peele has clearly decided he’s made us giggle enough and now his goal is to induce heart attacks instead of belly laughs.

And yet, I still have to tell you to see it, even though you will kind of hate every minute. Us is just too good to miss. Like Get Out, there is a lot going on under the surface of Us, and like Get Out, it works as a thriller so if you want, you can ignore all the subtext and just enjoy the ride, or cringe in terror until the ride ends. In Us’ case, the ride is both metaphorically and literally a hall of mirrors, as a vacationing family is forced to face off against their evil twins. It’s like goateed Spock four times over, only in Us it is clear that the family from the mirror universe is out for blood and won’t stop til they get it.

Peele writes, directs and produces here, and in his sophomore outing as director he has already proven to be a monumental talent. He doesn’t appear as an actor but he’s imparted many of his mannerisms to Winston Duke, the family’s easygoing dad who seems more than anything is excited to get out on a rented motorboat that hangs slightly left. Duke provides a welcome dose of comic relief even as he does whatever is necessary to protect his family. He is equal to Lupita Nyong’o, and that’s the best anyone can ever do, because she brings it every time. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, as their kids, are both great as well. It’s awesome seeing them work together to survive as the stakes get raised higher and higher by the minute. Even more impressively, those four, and almost everyone in the movie, play dual roles, and there’s not a weak link to be found.

Us is one of those rare movies that stands above by being better executed, more thoughtful, and shamelessly cleverer than the rest of its genre. And like Get Out before it, Us is not a typical Oscar contender but it better get some attention next February. Because Peele and company deserve to be praised for what they’ve given us with Us: a brilliant film that manages to be brutal and restrained, and one that 24 hours later I still haven’t fully digested or shaken.

Get Out

You all know I’m a chicken shit, so even though I was curious about Jordan Peele’s foray into the horror genre, I still stayed the hell away. So far 2017 has been a banner year for me in terms of a) Not peeing my pants in movie theatre seats and b) Not bursting the blood vessels in my eyes out of sheer panic. But…you all spoke so highly of it. You tricked me into thinking I could take it. I’m looking at you, Jane.  She made me believe in myself, goddammit. Totally unwarranted!

The movie itself lulled me into complacency. Chris is a city boy and a photographer, and like many men, he refuses to own nice luggage (the duffel bag thing is creepy and played out guys). Nothing scary there. Daniel Kaluuya is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, affable if somewhat guarded. He strikes me as reasonable right from the beginning, which is nice in a horror film, which are usually filled with air heads who don’t know enough TO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT\WOODS\DARK ALLEY. When some vaguely racist shit happens to him (he’s black), he’s just shrugging it off, not because it doesn’t bother him, but because he knows the deal. This is typical bullshit. His (white) girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), meanwhile, gets all up in arms. Because: racism! It’s news to her! But don’t worry, she says, my parents aren’t racist at all. They’re going to love you.

They don’t love him. Dad (Bradley Whitford) goes out of his way to connect racially. It’s as awkward as you’re thinking. Mom (Catherine Keener) is uneasy, and maybe a little disapproving. Brother is overzealous. The help (the only other black people for miles) ARE FUCKING CREEPY. So yeah, big surprise, Mom and Dad are a little bit racist after all, and Rose is a little bit embarrassed, and Chris is a little bit wary. Read that as: NOT WARY ENOUGH. Even though his excellent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) straight up warned him not to go out into suburbia. Always listen to Rod.

Chris inevitably overstays his welcome and I’ll stop there because half the fun of watching this movie is finding out how it’s going to go down. I mean, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, but you get the pleasure of seeing the twisted stuff that comes out of writer-director Jordan Peele’s mind. This whole ugly caper is a great showcase for some social commentary, and if you know Peele’s work, you know he excels at racially-based comedy. He just makes wry observations and presents them in a way we can all laugh at. Turns out he can do the same thing with horror (minus the laughing…actually, plus some laughing. Guilty laughing. Nervous laughing).

And a note about the horror: it’s not so bad. The stuff I was grumbling about up there? That happened in the first 10 minutes, and it’s probably technically not part of the horror at all. It was a dead (well, dying) deer, who was quite vocal about her displeasure. It nearly killed me. The rest was tolerable. Yes, there’s tension: loads and loads of tension (imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time AND getting repeatedly attempted-murdered in one single weekend!). But Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.

A big part of why this works is the excellent casting. The performances are solidly on-point at all times, sometimes downright impressive, but no one’s trying to overshadow anyone else. It’s oddly well-balanced for a horror film, and whatever little look-the-other-way moments a horror necessitates, Kaluuya is smooth enough to steer right through. The worst part of this movie is knowing that if Chris survives, he will be defying that age-old stereotype: the black guy dies first. But even if he manages to walk away from knife-wielding assassins, there’s no walking away from racism. That shit will follow you home.

Storks

As everyone knows, storks used to delivery babies. It was hard work, gross work, and no one is more relieved than storks that they’ve since gotten out of the baby trade and gone into delivering packages instead.

The boss stork, Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), the kind of dick who made his office out of glass thumbnail_24123even though birds can’t see it, is stepping aside, leaving room at the top for Junior (Andy Samberg) to fill his shoes (well, birds don’t wear shoes, though they seem to occasionally wear ties) on the condition that Junior get rid of “the orphan Tulip,” a baby who was undelivered 18 years ago and has been a thorn in their sides ever since. She’s about to turn 18, and Junior’s first job, if he wants the new title, is to return her to the human world.

I’m watching this movie because of a junkie. My sister’s SUV was broken into last month, and aside from the 85 cents in change in a cup holder, the thief got away with their DVD player, used to entertain my 3 year old nephew on car rides. When I was a kid we had to listen to tapes, and play I Spy, or Mad Libs on car rides but apparently these days commuting is unbearable unless everyone has a screen to stare at. My sister, suspecting the thief might be the drug addict across the street (she lives in a very comfortable suburban neighbourhood), magnanimously said “You don’t know his circumstances” and left it at that. Possibly she was just tired of hearing the same 10 minutes of Peppa Pig every day. Anyway, that’s how I came to be watching Storks, even though I firmly turned down the press screening a year ago when offered because it was at 10am on a Saturday morning when in fact I prefer to pretend that there isn’t an “am” on weekends.

Back to the movie: There’s a little boy named Nate who dreams of having a little brother or rawsister. His parents (Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell) are busy realtors who are basically “one and done.” Nate decides to circumvent their fertility plans and appeal to the storks directly himself. Junior is already fucking up after just one day as the boss so of course there’s a spare baby, but he fucks that up too and accidentally delivers her to wolves (Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key) instead.

This movie is perfectly serviceable. It’s not memorable or good in the way we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but it’s colourful and frenetic and will have some appeal for children if not their parents (although I admit I was pretty charmed by the wolf versatility and voice cast). I do wonder if this movie will inspire some follow-up questions about where babies DO come from, so you parents out there will have to let me know. All I have is a Sean, and he prefers not to know. 😉

Keanu

keanuoscarsthemartianmasterjpg-0d82f7_765wKeanu is not just a dark haired, sunglasses wearing Canadian. He’s also a kitten with a rare disease: cuteness. Or so we are led to believe by Comedy Central duo Key and Peele, playing cousins who would do anything to get Keanu back after he’s kitten-napped by a gang of street toughs led by the one and only Method Man. And so goes Keanu, a film that takes the two cousins from one life-threatening situation to the next, in pursuit of a cat.

Being a dog owner, I am duty bound to object to the whole premise. This movie would have been a million times more believable if Keanu was a dog. Cats are too cold and cranky for you to want to chase one all over Los Angeles. Deep down you know that cat doesn’t care about you at all. So if you lose a cat1399355_532978063457666_1736393886_o in real life, you just put up a poster and call it a day. But for a dog, that’s different. If your dog gets lost you don’t look for an hour and then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog!792421_532978346790971_1133090003_o

Poor pet choice aside, Key and Peele’s adventure is an entertaining one. While there are not a ton of belly laughs, there are a lot of memorable scenes, including a fantastic George Michael singalong and some hilarious movie-themed cat pictures.

There is also something refreshing about seeing these normal guys (who happen to be black) play with stereotypes, not only with their choice of music but also with their attempts to fit in with a plethora of cat-loving gang members.  That element of satire is a welcome improvement on Hollywood’s usual reliance on racial tropes.

Writers Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens deserve a ton of credit for departing from that formula. Keanu successfully subverts the usual tropes and shows that the stereotypes we cling to are an unconscious attempt to fit into a role rather than being innate characteristics. And that’s why this dog-lover enjoyed a movie about a kitten, because it’s not really about a kitten at all.