Fresh out of prison after serving only 12 years of his sentence, Palmer (Justin Timberlake) rolls up at his grandma’s house with nowhere else to go. Grandma Vivian (June Squibb) is the one who raised him after his mom split and his dad died and she’s there for him again when he needs her.
He’s not the only one she pinch-hits for. Shelly (Juno Temple) next door is often… indisposed. By drugs and an abusive boyfriend. Which is already a pity, but Shelly’s also got a young son named Sam, who comes to stay with Vivian whenever his mother disappears, which is often. Life at Vivian’s is the only real stability Sam (Ryder Allen) has ever known. He eats regularly and sleeps in a real bed and gets to class on time. And now Palmer is a bonus father figure, something Sam has been craving.
Palmer is a convicted felon who’s lucky to find work as a janitor and Sam is a little boy who likes to play princesses. You wouldn’t have guessed that they were each exactly what the other needed but they do form a friendship, one that empowers Sam and gives Palmer’s life meaning.
Is Palmer cute and kind of sentimental? Yes it is. You’ll feel you’ve seen this kind of thing before because you have. Such is the redemption drama. And yet admittedly the performances are compelling, and the kid is charming as hell. Justin Timberlake shows some surprising range leading a strong ensemble cast. Palmer sees himself in this young abandoned boy, and his charity toward him is an opportunity to absolve some of his past sins. Together they are building a life, and yes it’s trite but it’s also very watchable.
Joe (Jamie Foxx) has jazz music in his soul and zero dollars in his bank account. His mother likes to brutally remind him of this little fact, and push him toward accepting a permanent position as a middle school music teacher. Just as he’s about to capitulate, an old student calls to offer him a wildly exciting opportunity to play with the wonderful Dorothea Williams. Ms. Williams (Angela Bassett) is impressed with his jazzing, and he’s engaged to play with her later that evening. But he doesn’t make it to later that evening; he dies on his way home.
Understandably, his soul panics on the way to heaven, and he decides to buck the system, running away from heaven or the great beyond or whatever you want to call it, but unable to get back to Earth/life. He hides out in a mentorship program instead, posing as a mentor soul assigned to help new souls find their spark. Soul #22 (Tina Fey) has been mentored by the very best for eons but has yet to find her spark. In fact, she expects that life is kind of a buzzkill, and she’s actively resisting it. Joe runs through all the obvious things like music and food, but it’s not until they sneak back down to Earth that things really start to gel for her. Of course, it probably helps that she can finally experience things in a human body, one that moves to music and tastes food and is delighted by the strange wonders of the human world. One small hiccup: in the melee, 22 took over Joe’s body, and Joe’s soul…ended up in a cat. Joe is desperate to make the Dorothea gig, but what use is it if he’s a cat? And 22 is deeply distracted by pretty much every single thing she encounters. She’s finally found her spark, but the problem is, she kind of promised it to Joe. You need a spark to get to Earth permanently, and taking 22’s is Joe’s only option. And until very recently, 22 had no use for a spark and no interest in life. She promised it freely. But now…well, what if 22 wants it too?
This movie is beautiful and tragic because life is beautiful and tragic. It is everything you want from a movie and nothing you expect from a cartoon – except it’s Pixar, so you dare to hope. They’ve done it before. They’ve done it again.
In talking about death, Soul is actually discussing how to live. Joe believes that his life will be fulfilled by achieving his dream of performing jazz, but 22 teaches him there’s plenty of pleasure and wonder to be found in simply living, in taking the time to look, listen, and learn. 22’s naivety and newness to the world inspires Joe to slow down and take a look around as well.
Directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers are not afraid to embrace the surreal and the intangible when examining the life well-lived, or to ask children to engage in a little introspection. A simple premise allows for a wonderful complexity of ideas embodying Joe’s existential crisis – which may be putting it mildly considering he’s dead and doesn’t want to be. But this spiritual scrutiny is able to include both the joy and the sadness, the fear, regret, obsession, insecurity, and the inspiration, ambition, passion, and life-affirming facets of personal philosophy because Pixar’s trademark playfulness makes it all feel non-threatening and really rather fun.
The voices are well-cast, the entities are well-designed, the movie looks amazing, but most important, it just feels good. It feels right, it feels warm, it feels like a hug from your past self to your future self, and I can’t think of a more perfect (cinematic) way to end the year.
Eleanor (Jillian Bell) is the youngest trainee and the only person who’s bothered to apply in decades; fairy godmothering just isn’t what it used to be. But head mistress Moira (Jane Curtin) keeps on teaching the same tried and true formula: 1. glittery gown 2. true love 3. happily ever after. Except humans stopped believing in ‘happily ever after’ a long time ago. No fairy godmother has been on assignment in years – the school’s about to close, the godmothers to be retrained as tooth fairies. Eleanor is devastated. Godmothering is all she’s ever wanted to do and now she’ll never even get the chance to start, so she takes matters into her own hands and finds a neglected assignment, a request for a fairy godmother that was never granted. She heads down to earth to fulfill the godmothering duties, and hopefully prove that godmothers are still in demand.
Of course, when she eventually finds herself in Boston, she finds not a 10 year old girl, but a full grown woman named Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) (apparently the letter was a little dated). What a disaster: in what way could a single mother in a dead end job possibly need godmothering? Well, both Mackenzie and Eleanor are about to find out because Eleanor refuses to go back to the motherland a failure.
Godmothered doesn’t exactly skewer the popular Disney fairy godmother formula, but it expands on what was traditionally a pretty narrow definition of happily ever after. Welcome to the modernization of Disney. They’ve been rehabbing their image and redefining the princess genre in movies like Frozen and even Ralph Breaks The Internet. Godmothered asks whether magic, wishes, and belief still have a place in modern society, and if not, what should take their place. It doesn’t quite go all the way as a ‘message’ movie but it does get some pretty great mileage out of good old-fashioned kindness and cooperation, which never go out of style.
Eleanor is charming as a fish out of water, a magical being in the land of humans for the first time, not unlike Enchanted Giselle or even Elf’s Buddy the Elf. Jillian Bell is simply enchanting, more grounded than flighty, but with enough fairy dust on her performance to give her wings. Director Sharon Maguire delivers a warm and feel-good story that is perfect for cozy family viewing.
Hubert Dubois is Salem’s official volunteer Halloween helper. Easily startled and frequently frightened, Hubie devotes himself to keeping the holiday safe for everyone, young and old, for which he is openly and mercilessly mocked by all.
This Halloween, armed only with good intentions and his trusty swiss army thermos, Hubie (Adam Sandler) has an extra hefty burden. He’s being bullied by some local high school kids, he suspects his neighbour Walter (Steve Buscemi) is a werewolf, and a psychotic prisoner in a pig costume is on the loose, escaped from a nearby institution. Exasperated with Hubie’s numerous reports, Sgt. Steve (Kevin James) shuts down his concerns, leaving him with only his elderly mother (June Squibb) in a series of suggestive tshirts and his childhood crush, soup-serving Violet (Julie Bowen) as allies.
As with every Adam Sandler movie, many of his friends and a great many of his family join him on set as they film on location in a very quaint-looking Salem, Massachusetts, even if the town’s lengthy history of “bullies” persists. Hubie Halloween reunites Sandler with his Happy Gilmore costar Julie Bowen 24 years after she first played his love interest, Virginia Venit (this time playing Violet Valentine, we see that Sandler’s love of alliteration and the letter V have also withstood the test of time). Also joining them from the cast of Happy Gilmore, Ben Stiller in a cameo playing the exact same character, orderly Hal.
Although Sandler’s movies for Netflix have been more miss than hit, this one is a pleasant exception. It’s just scary enough to qualify as Halloween viewing, but Sandler’s brand of low-brow humour ensures that all but the little ones will be able to watch. Does it reinvent the wheel? Not remotely; it’s merely better inflated than the flat tires his production company has been turning out for some time.
The thrills are mild, the jokes are corny, but it’s a harmless movie that might add some Halloween spirit to your household, and considering many will be refraining from trick-or-treating this year, a movie night is a nice way to celebrate in a safe and socially-distanced way. I think Hubie would approve.
It’s the day every woman dreams of since she’s a little girl: what dress you’ll wear, what flowers you’ll choose, the food you’ll serve, the heirloom hanky you’ll use to dab prettily at your eyes. Your mother’s funeral only comes once in a lifetime and you’ve got to get it right.
Sad but true: I’ll say any mean thing to get the laugh.
Anyway. For Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) Connolly it is indeed the day of their mother’s funeral. It feels like half the small village of Easter Cove in Maine shows up for it, paying tribute to a woman everyone seems to have loved. But it doesn’t exactly go seamlessly – clearly they don’t subscribe to Martha Stewart Funerals. The non-cheap flowers arrive late, there’s too much disgusting coleslaw, and oh yeah, they kill someone. Someone else. I mean, they never murdered their mother, she died of natural causes, more or less. I’m talking someone ELSE. A bad dude who we wouldn’t really feel too bad about killing except his death, and well, the concealment thereof, leads to the sisters uncovering some pretty shady stuff in their home town.
Directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy delight in pulling up the respectable if threadbare rug to reveal not gleaming hard wood but black mould asbestos. Oh yes, there’s major rot to this picturesque little town, and behind every white picket fence is another secret being kept. Mary Beth and Priscilla have pulled a thread which threatens to unravel even the heaviest fisherman’s sweater.
This movie is oddly funny, in the blackest sense, establishing a real sense of atmosphere. Details are meted out like a sparse trail of breadcrumbs, each one a small but perfect moment, supported by a smart script and plenty of terrific performances.
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.
In the summer of 2003, Jamie is 16, and her grandmother is dying. Don’t feel too bad about it, Grandma (June Squibb) is a bit of a bitch. On her deathbed, she confesses to Jamie that she had her secretly baptized as a child (Jamie’s mother is Jewish). She also imparts a very important last piece of advice: learn how to give a good blow job.
How surprised would you be to learn that Jamie learned a way to combine those two tidbits? More on that in a minute. First: Grandma had some bombs to drop for other family members as well, so everyone’s reeling. Big time. Total shit show. And yet Jamie’s evil-Jew mom is still in charge of planning the funeral. So much fun for her! First you live under your mother in law’s tyranny and disapproval for years, then she confirms her hatred for you and disrespect for your culture and religion…and then she dies and you get to clean up the mess. Families are the best. And sixteen year olds are so well-equipped to deal with the drama!
Yeah so anyway, Jamie (Joey King) decides to check out this whole being a secret half-Christian thing, and she goes to church where she actually ends up checking out the hot, young, priest-in training, Luke (Jack Kilmer). He’s about as many days away from being ordained and super duper officially off the market as Grandma is from being buried, and yet Jamie thinks it’s a good idea to use Grandma’s second piece of advice on him. And he’s so committed to God he goes along with it. Haha, “goes along with it” like he’s not a guy with a condom in his pocket like any other – eager to stick it in, not so eager to reciprocate. Romantic.
Writer-director Becca Gleason is offering up her story, alarmingly “based on true events.” Jamie is believably self-centered and short-sighted, but Becca should have the powers of hindsight, and in fact, 15 years worth of precious insight, so it’s a little disappointing that her main character still feels a little flimsy. Anger, grief, and a teenaged identity crisis. So it never quite jumps the tracks from your typical teenage film. It’s an odd enough story you might want to tune in anyway.
I sort of wonder if this is an oddball comedy or just a comedy filled with oddballs. It IS filled with oddballs, that’s the premise. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is the ex-maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding. Having recently been broken up with the bride’s brother\best man, she knows she shouldn’t be there but to prove a point she RSVPs yes, and as a reward for her bravery, she gets seated at dreaded table 19 with all the other losers and rejects who should have known better.
The table 19 crew: Bina & Jerry Kemp (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) who are diner owners who don’t know the bride or groom personally, and barely know each other anymore; Renzo (Tony Revolori), a young kid who’s mother told him he stood a better chance of picking up at this wedding than at his junior prom; cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), newly out of prison for having embezzled from the bride’s father; and Nanny Jo (June Squibb) who was basically a retaliation invite.
They’re a gang of misfits and the wedding is doomed for them. The critics have doomed Table 19 entirely, but I thought it had its charms. There’s certainly a lot of sympathy for the odd ducks of the world, and the performances are pretty winning (Squibb and Merchant being favourites). Some of the gags are tired but it’s kind of nice to see the weirdos normally relegated to the background have a moment in the spotlight. A Mumblecore film more concerned with characters and dialogue than plot, this movie isn’t going to light the world on fire. But like any wedding, it can be made tolerable with an open bar.