A lot of people thought Ryan Reynolds’s signature brand of crazy, edgy, meta humor would be suffocated under the Disney label, but the first trailer for his comedy action movie Free Guy proves that Reynolds isn’t going to be easily dissuaded from doing whatever he wants – including poking fun at the Mouse House in the first few moments of the trailer: the opening title cards read “From the studio that brought you Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King“, followed after a beat by “Twice”). And from there on out, Free Guy looks like a wildly fun, unabashedly ridiculous movie that fans of Reynolds will love.
Reynolds plays an NPC (non-playable character) named Guy, trying to live his life in the background of a gigantic, action-packed video game filled with explosions, car/motorcycle/helicopter/fighter plane crashes, and daily heists and hostage crises at the bank where he works. But one day, he can’t take it anymore, and sets out to change his tiresome routine by becoming the hero of his virtual reality. So basically this movie is what would happen if Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool had a baby – or rather, it is what happens when Disney and 20th Century Fox merge and start making movies together.
The trailer looks comedic and entertaining in a 90’s sort of way, with catchy music, bright colors, and a familiar cast of characters. It looks fun: nothing more, nothing less. I had been expecting something a little more unpredictable, but what we’ve got looks good enough for right now.
Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie are on fire in the new trailer for Bombshell, which recounts the explosive birth of the MeToo movement out of the wreckage of FOX News founder Roger Ailes’s downfall. And for Kidman and Theron at least, Bombshell could land them some well-deserved Oscar nominations.
The film tackles a difficult subject, with Kidman taking on the role of Gretchen Carlson, the controversial FOX News host who first spoke out about Ailes’ history of sexual harassment – Carlson herself recently revealed that, due to the terms of her settlement with Ailes, she is unable to say much about the upcoming film; but that she thinks it’s “amazing” that projects such as this and the Showtime series The Loudest Voice are continuing the conversation that started in July of 2016 (it’s worth noting that women have been speaking up about these issues long before Carlson, but for whatever reason it was her revelation that sparked a sudden furor in society): but let’s not forget that Carlson has herself made sexist, transphobic, and blatantly racist remarks in the past – and even though she says she doesn’t watch FOX anymore, it’s hard to say whether those were her own opinions or Ailes’. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron is Megyn Kelly, an even more controversial character; Kelly, who came forward with allegations against Ailes not long after Carlson and got into a very public fight with then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump, is not a swell person either – during her time on FOX, she was a divisive and negative influence, and was forced to step down from her brief stint at NBC News after multiple incidents, such as defending racist Halloween costumes and encouraging body-shaming. So any attempt to portray either woman as heroines is inevitably going to court controversy – which may be why Bombshell has invented a third character, a third victim of Ailes’ unwanted advances, this one an entirely fictional young producer named Kayla Pospisil, played by Margot Robbie. While she’s not as prominent in the trailer, I feel certain the movie will make her out to be the emotional core of the complex story.
Regardless, the trailer is stirring and powerful, accompanied by a great song choice (Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”) and intentionally walking the line between biting satire and intense drama: there are unsubtle parodies of all of FOX’s most notorious hosts and contributors walking the hallways of this newsroom, including Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and, for whatever reason, Rudy Giuliani. And, of course, there’s Kate McKinnon to provide some of her classic wise-cracks – plus, there’s a brief appearance from D’arcy Carden of The Good Place, who is also a fantastic comedian.
So what do you think of the trailer? Is Bombshell going to be a hard sell with audiences and critics alike, or is it going to earn one of its three leads a Best Actress nomination – or a win? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Another trailer has dropped for Last Christmas, so it’s time to revisit the glittery, glitzy Christmas wonderland that director Paul Feig has created, where everybody is singing George Michael and dancing around beautifully-lit London in unnaturally well-tailored outfits: and this time, we’ve got a clearer idea of what our two love-struck protagonists are up to, and what sort of – oh, who am I kidding, let’s get to the good stuff.
Our holiday heroine’s love interest, Tom (Henry Golding), has been rumored to be a ghost/hallucination/guardian angel since the first trailer dropped, with more keen-eyed viewers than me picking up on numerous details that suggested he was, at the very least, an unusual kind of fellow. I was skeptical at the time, but since then (especially since this trailer) a lot has changed…let’s take a look at the evidence.
Throughout this latest trailer, there is a heavy emphasis on the song that inspired both the film’s title, and, supposedly, its plot: but whereas George Michael’s original song refers to Christmas heartbreak, there’s no hint of anything but true love in the film – so what if the inspiration is rather more indirect? Maybe “I gave you my heart” isn’t meant metaphorically, but…physically. In this trailer, our heroine, Kate (Emilia Clarke) narrates about how, last Christmas, she was very sick, and was rushed to a hospital for treatment: what happened there is still conveniently mysterious, but it clearly affected Kate’s life in a bad way – since then, she’s taken to drinking, and has become a moody, selfish person. But now, with another Christmas just around the corner, Kate’s life is suddenly changed by a man named Tom who just randomly shows up one day at her workplace and then runs into her everywhere else she goes – now, one reading of this would be “stalker alert”, but Tom appears to be a decent guy: as in, so decent he literally doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. Does that mean he’s an angel sent to guide Kate into the next chapter of her life? Does it mean he’s the ghost of the heart donor who saved Kate’s life last Christmas by giving her his heart?
Well, not necessarily, no; it could just mean he’s a rom-com protagonist without a whole lot of depth to his character. But the situation has become a lot more intense with these new reveals.
Also, take a look at the title: the heart over the letter “i” is literally beating. At this point, I’ll be hugely disappointed if Tom doesn’t turn out to be a visitor from heaven. Another theory suggests that Tom is actually back for revenge on the woman who’s squandering the heart he gave her, which is…interesting.
And as for the rest of the trailer, it’s pretty good: there’s perhaps a bit too much stuff rehashed from the first teaser, such as the meeting with the doctor, the incident with the hawk, and the “Lazy the Elf” exchange with Michelle Yeoh’s character. Emma Thompson gets a chance to shine, as the nurturing Russian woman who cares for Kate and sings her to sleep at night – something which Kate likens to waterboarding.
So what do you think? Will Tom turn out to be a ghost, an angel, or something else entirely? How does George Michael’s music tie into the film’s plot? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Cute and classy, Netflix’s new late-summer love story, Falling Inn Love, is decent enough fare for an end-of-August afternoon, but might not do much to satisfy audiences craving bold new content with unexpected plot twists or subverted expectations. This really is the sort of movie that should be watched on a couch, preferably while wearing pajamas, when there’s nothing else to do. That’s not an insult, just a reference for when and how you should go into this film in order to get the desired effect. It’s sleepy comfort-food for the soul.
The romance at the heart of the film is charming enough, and relies on the Opposites-Attract formula. Gabriela (Christina Milian) is a stressed out architect from San Francisco who’s bored with the corporate hamster-wheel of her busy life: finding no comfort in either yoga sessions or her over-eager boyfriend, she flies out to New Zealand after she wins a charming little bed-and-breakfast inn in a contest. Once there (literally, as soon as she arrives), she runs into Jake (Adam Demos), the town’s most eligible bachelor/contractor, who decides to help her renovate and remodel the place. That’s basically it. Both stars are likable, but Milian more so: perhaps because Demos’ charming Kiwi handyman takes on the Moody Brooding Leading Man™ persona about halfway through, which then leads to some severe misuse of the Misunderstanding™ trope, followed by some of that good old “I Can’t Fall In Love Because [Insert Past Tragedy]”™ cliche. I won’t spoil too much, but the story basically devolves into a series of well-worn story beats a little more than halfway through.
As for the scenic backdrop of New Zealand and its culture, which wows Gabriela, well…it’s barely ever seen. In a small-budget film like this, that’s not really surprising, but it does make one wonder why the script focuses so heavily on Gabriela’s constant surprise at the Kiwi way of life, when almost everything we see in the rural locale of Beechwood can be found in any American town. I say almost because there are a few Maori phrases in the cast’s vocabulary, as well as a few Maori extras and supporting characters. But really, this film could be set anywhere and it wouldn’t make much difference.
So, if you don’t plan on going anywhere for an hour and a half, why not relax on the sofa, grab some snacks, and give Falling Inn Love a chance? It’s cute, it’ll pass the time, and it doesn’t require too much thought. But in a world where rom-coms are becoming increasingly more thought-provoking (looking at you, Last Christmas), it just might not be enough.
I waited a very long time for this trailer to drop last night, but eventually sleep beckoned, so I apologize for not rushing out a review at 1 A.M. This morning, when I woke up to find Last Christmas and Emilia Clarke trending, I thought I would have very little to talk about in a review: I watched it. It looked cute, charming, but inconsequential. I was already planning an excuse not to write about it – when I saw the main topic of discussion about this trailer, and realized that this has sparked a debate so weird and laughable, I simply had to get involved.
For those unaware, Last Christmas is a cheerful holiday rom-com inspired by the music of George Michael (though, there’s really no sign of that inspiration in the trailer, other than the accompanying music). It stars Emilia Clarke as a cynical, embittered Londoner suffering from what appears to be alcoholism, working as a Christmas elf in a department store. Somewhere in between electrocuting fish and getting yelled at by her store manager, Clarke’s character, Kate, runs into a man named Tom who seems almost too good to be true, always smiling and laughing, who donates to charity, volunteers at a homeless shelter, and is basically an all-around Awesome Person. Tom and Kate fall in love, and…well, it’s a romantic comedy. They fall in love. Is there supposed to be any more to it than that?
According to the internet, yes. The general consensus is that there’s no way this movie could ever be entirely happy. I’ve seen two theories gaining traction that both are theoretically plausible, but highly unlikely: the first is that Tom is so pure of heart that he must be an angel, come to change Kate’s life and teach her the values of love and Christmas spirit, etc, etc. The other, sadly, is that Kate, whom we see being wheeled into a hospital, communicating with a therapist, and getting wildly drunk, is actually dying, and that Tom is a hallucination, some last-ditch attempt by her brain to get her to change her ways – or that Kate’s condition is actually heart problems, and that Tom is the ghost of the heart donor who saved her life. We’ve seen funny plays on “I gave you my heart” before, but this one really takes the cake.
Is it that hard to believe that Henry Golding’s character Tom is just a decent guy?
If any of these theories turn out to be true, it would certainly be a shocking and bittersweet conclusion to what, on the surface, looks like a really sweet Christmas comedy. It would also be a startling choice from Emilia Clarke, who recently revealed that she barely survived two life-threatening brain aneurysms. I kind of want this to just be a cheerful, low-stakes romantic comedy that doesn’t have to be a tearjerker – we’re already going to be crying our eyes out over Little Women, another holiday movie: can’t anything just be nice? Do we absolutely have to make it weird?
What are your thoughts? Do you think the theories carry any weight, or is this movie just what it appears to be – Emilia Clarke dancing around in a bright green elf-costume while Henry Golding stands by, looking handsome and too-pure-for-this-world? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Happy Bastille Day to all my French readers and viewers! I myself am not French nor of French descent (as far as I know, anyway), nor have I ever been to France, and I can’t even speak French.
Why, then, am I dedicating an entire blog post to the French holiday?
Simply because I have recently discovered a gem of a movie, a precious treasure that I have savored, and that must be shared with all of you. This film is The Hundred-Foot Journey, a beautiful film set in the wonderland of picturesque villages, open-air markets and sprawling vineyards and orchards that is rural France. And, parts of it also take place on Bastille Day, so that was all the connection I needed: I had to talk about this film eventually, so this seemed like the most natural place to do so. Allow me to explain why this film is necessary viewing – or, at least, why I feel that it is.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is not a new film: it was released in 2014, had a small but comfortable box-office run, and received mixed reviews. We’ll discuss its problems, but first let’s talk about what makes the film so good, so juicy, so delectable. Let’s discuss why I’m using all these references to taste: the film is a love-letter to the culinary cultures of France and India; two very different cuisines wrapped up together in this bite-sized treat. It follows an Indian family emigrating to France, led by their stubborn patriarch, Papa Kadam (Om Puri), who is trying to set up a restaurant where his extraordinarily talented son Hassan (Manish Dayal) can start a career for himself. But when the family ends up, accidentally, in the small village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, they discover that their presence is unwelcome in the closely-knit community: a rival restaurateur by the name of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) quickly makes it her business to make the village as hostile to the family as possible, in an attempt to save her own high-end dining establishment from competition. From there, the plot unfolds. There’s romance, drama, and a dash of light-hearted comedy, but it’s all just seasoning on the beautiful three-course meal that is this movie, or should I say – cinematic cookbook.
Technically, the third course is a little more sour than the first two, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s expand on the metaphor for a moment, and revel in the delights of French and Indian cuisine. I recommend that, if you take my suggestion and watch this film ASAP, you should have a delicious meal of your own prepared. It will make you very hungry, I can assure you of that: a film that can make a sea-urchin look like a mouthwatering morsel has done its job well. So well, in fact, that Hassan Kadam is apparently the third-greatest chef in movie history. From his family’s box of heirloom spices to the beautiful cookbooks lent to Hassan by his on-and-off love interest Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), the film is filled with constant reminders of more great meals to come, even when we’re not actually watching those meals being made – which is often. And each meal is different, depending on who’s making it and who’s eating it: we watch Papa and Hassan’s eyes fill with wonder as they are greeted by their first French dinner at Marguerite’s apartment, where the table is laden with some of the most beautiful cheeses you’ve ever seen; we witness the tension in Madame Mallory’s kitchen as she prepares a special meal for the President of France himself; we rejoice in Hassan’s naive first attempt to master the five basic sauces (which, if my sources are correct, are Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise and Sauce Tomat). The entire movie is centered around these quiet, intimate moments when the characters eat, with gusto and an almost holy reverence for what they are tasting. It’s the food that makes this movie so enjoyable – the idea that food is so important, so necessary, to people of all walks of life; to culture and community as well. It can bring people to tears as they recall the ghosts of flavors long forgotten, or it can spark passionate romance and thoughtful meditation. Wine, another staple of French cuisine, has a small part in igniting that romance, though it is largely absent from the hundred-foot journey that the Kadams travel.
The journey is both physical and spiritual: a journey from one country to another, from one restaurant to another, from one lifestyle to another. Papa Kadam and Madame Mallory’s rival restaurants stand across the road from each other – a road exactly one-hundred feet in width (a fact that is sometimes hard to believe, considering how small the road looks at times). But the two bitter opponents have journeys of self-discovery to travel as well: obviously, I won’t spoil anything that happens in the movie, but there’s a good deal of change and inner turmoil. The rural village is not very accepting of the Indian newcomers, for one thing, and neither party savors the idea of uniting their distinctly separate culinary styles of art.
From a technical standpoint, the film has its fair share of good and bad, like any film. I mentioned that the first two acts of the film (or courses of the meal, if we’d like to extend the metaphor) are the best: the third act isn’t necessarily bad, but it feels very different from the first two – more mainstream, more distanced, more remote. Things are happening on the screen, but we, the audience, no longer feel quite as intimate with the cast (who are all outstanding). I personally think the last thirty minutes shouldn’t have tried to take the film on a completely different course than the one it had been following, up to that point, almost perfectly. Thankfully, the final scene rescues the ending and gives us one scrumptious aftertaste to hold onto, but there is definitely some difficulty getting to that point.
But the first two acts – lovely, sentimental, and enchanting, the very best appetizer and main course that you could ask for. The film also has an ever-so-slightly old-fashioned quality to it: until the final half-hour, it is softly lit and the dialogue is soft-spoken. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that this little indie dramedy was produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, two giants of the mainstream entertainment industry. Unfortunately, big-name producers don’t always inspire interest from general audiences – James Cameron learned that with Alita: Battle Angel, and Spielberg/Winfrey presumably learned that with The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is sadly neglected, almost completely forgotten, in fact. I don’t even know what inspired me to choose it, almost at random, from a wide selection of films on Netflix – but I am so glad that I did.
Hopefully, this post will inspire you to check it out for yourself, whether today, on this French national holiday, or any day of the year. I urge you to at least try it. I truly believe your life will be a little better for it.
My first thought while watching this trailer was that Sir Patrick Stewart clearly didn’t want to be left out of all the wickedly charming fun that his good friend, Sir Ian McKellen, is having in The Good Liar. Yes, the first trailer for the upcoming spy-thriller Charlie’s Angels has dropped, giving us our first look at a fun, diverse cast of all-female heroines – and a cameo from Stewart, who strolls into the scene grinning from ear to ear. Interestingly, the two films will probably have to go up against each other in the busy November scene. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d predict that Charlie’s Angels will have the slight advantage at the box-office, due to its more light-hearted, comedic tone. But both films will likely be swallowed up in Frozen 2 fever, which leaves The Good Liar with the last laugh, as it can at least stick around long enough for an awards-season bonus round, whereas Charlie’s Angels…probably can’t.
But this film has something that too few films can boast: the aforementioned all-female lead cast. Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska – and Naomi Scott, still fresh off her own magic carpet-ride: here, though, Disney’s newest princess is a government whistle-blower, trying to prevent the creation of a dangerous new weapon that could lead to global catastrophe. These three talented women come together under the direction of Elizabeth Banks from The Hunger Games, who also stars in the movie as the leader of the team.
The action and adventure elements showcased in the trailer do tend to verge on the over-the-top and ridiculous – not so much because the stunts and situations themselves are humorous, but because the actresses are: even Scott, who was actually rather dramatic in Aladdin, but plays wide-eyed naivete very well here. If you’re looking for a Mission: Impossible movie, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for Project Runway meets Mission: Impossible, well…that’s a little more like it. The actresses are perfect paragons of modern fashion.
And, the other notable thing to mention: the song. I feel like I’d be guilty of a crime if I didn’t mention it, considering the way this film is pushing it as if it’s one of the main marketing attractions. A collaboration of three talented musicians like Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey is never a bad idea, and it sounds pretty good from what we hear of it in the trailer, but seriously, the film shouldn’t have to rely on its soundtrack to sell tickets. The cast pretty much sells itself.
One last thing: the trailer ends with the women answering, almost as if brainwashed, to the commands of some robotic voice called “Charlie”, which presumably explains the film’s title, but I (casual viewer that I am) have no idea what I’m supposed to make of that: a hint of suspense in an otherwise upbeat trailer? Just a fun nod to the 1970s TV series this film is based on?
Okay. Let me just preface this by reminding you that yesterday, when I discussed my overall feelings toward Toy Story 4, I had basically no clue what to say – my mind was still reeling from what I had just seen, and the emotions were still too near, too raw.
Now, I’ve had a chance to think over everything that happened in the movie, and I think I can put into words what I was attempting to explain yesterday – at the very least, I’ll try, and we’ll see how it goes. This is a SPOILER REVIEW, which will make it much easier for me to discuss certain things (obviously), but if you don’t want to know anything about Toy Story 4 I urge you to leave now.
And for those of you who have seen the film already (or simply don’t care about spoilers), then let’s hop on this merry-go-round – sorry, carousel – of emotions.
First, let’s just discuss one of the overwhelmingly positive things about the movie: the story itself. Never has a Toy Story movie felt so deep and complex, with so much richness of detail – except maybe Toy Story 2, still my favorite of the franchise and the only one that, in my opinion, perfectly balanced the arcs of our main characters, who were Woody, Buzz and Jessie at the time. Introducing Bo Peep to the story in Toy Story 4 adds a large complexity to this film, as the story has to work overtime to establish her as a character, since – well, she really wasn’t one in Toy Story or Toy Story 2, and she wasn’t even present in Toy Story 3. So this film does have an issue sometimes while juggling the stories of four main leads – but we’ll get to that. Leaving them aside, the plot itself is an intricate web, with a good balance of comedic and dramatic moments: it even turns into an elegant film-noir suspense thriller when our antagonist, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), enters the picture. One thing I didn’t understand while watching the movie and still don’t understand now is Pixar president Jim Morris’ claim that Toy Story 4 is a “romantic comedy” – I mean, sure, the love story of Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) plays a large part, and tries hard to look like the defining factor in Woody’s eventual decision to leave behind his life as a toy – but it really isn’t. It was inevitable from the movie’s first few scenes that Woody had no reason to stay with his new child owner, Bonnie – he was constantly reminiscing about his better days with Andy, and some of the other toys, specifically Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), were treating him like worthless garbage. The romance only gives Woody additional motivation to leave. So, if anything, the movie feels most like a feel-good motivational film about learning self-value.
A really hilarious one, though: I have no qualms about admitting that Toy Story 4 is easily the funniest entry in the franchise, with a large assortment of brilliant one-liners and running gags – many of them packed into the last twenty minutes of the movie, as Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and Forky (Tony Hale) team up to try and stop Bonnie’s family from leaving in their RV: what starts out with Jessie merely puncturing the vehicle’s tires and Buzz causing a humorous distraction turns into hysterical comedy when Trixie sabotages the GPS and starts trying to lead the family back to the fairground where they left Woody – “Right! Another right! RIGHT!”, while Buttercup (Jeff Garlin) frantically tries to help by grabbing hold of the accelerator. Eventually cops start trailing the erratic RV, and Forky even locks Bonnie’s dad out of the car – and somehow Bonnie sleeps through all of this. I gotta say, I really felt for Bonnie’s parents in this movie: not only did they have to handle one very hyper and very forgetful child (literally, I lost count of how many times she misplaces her backpack in this movie), but their weekend vacation turned really stressful, really fast. No fault of their own, of course.
But I have to admit, I cracked up when the RV finally ground to a halt at its (a.k.a the toys’) destination, and Buttercup exclaimed “Dad’s totally going to jail now!”.
Just as funny, if not funnier, is the addition of Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) to the Toy Story universe: two lovable plush toys with big egos and laser eyes (no, really!), their back-and-forth repertoire is one of the movie’s highlights – their best running joke is one that we glimpsed a part of in the final trailer, where they attack an elderly lady: as I suspected, this scenario is merely a hypothetical, but it’s actually just one in a long list of different ideas that the duo come up with in order to take an important key from the woman. The other battle-plans that they propose get funnier and funnier, until we culminate in the ultimate horror parody – where we watch the woman lock up shop for the night, drive home down lonely country lanes, eat dinner, take a bath, and settle into bed, all set to some quaint, foreboding music, only to have Ducky and Bunny rise above her pillow as she sleeps – which cuts away as we hear the woman scream in terror. “Yeah, we’re not doing that,” Buzz declares. In the end, they manage to get the key by pure luck, as the woman happens to set it down on the shelf right next to them, but the “ol’ plush rush”, as the fluffy toys call one of their more tame strategic maneuvers, is used twice more in the film: once to help a young child find her parents, and once during a mid-credits cut-scene where Ducky and Bunny imagine themselves terrorizing their human overlords and becoming gargantuan, unstoppable forces of apocalyptic power, equipped with laser eyes. All this is even funnier when you remember that Jordan Peele is a horror-film director himself, and these scenes act as gentle satire of his own preferred genre.
However, I did not expect the rest of the film to also adopt certain horror tropes – most notably with its host of absolutely terrifying ventriloquist dolls, and the scene where Woody wakes up after having his voice-box removed only to find one of these dolls staring down at him with a frightening smile. In fact, those dolls were everywhere – they were used for multiple jump-scare moments, including one in which an unsuspecting woman runs to grab an out-of-control baby-carriage, screaming when she discovers one of the puppets inside it. In fact, the humans of Toy Story were subjected to more unimaginable humiliations and nightmarish events than ever before in the franchise – even leaving aside the many times Ducky and Bunny wanted to burn them all, humans were manipulated, scared out of their minds and left heartbroken by toys in this movie. I felt devastated for one child, Harmony, when she took Woody with her to the park only to have him run away as soon as her back was turned – and then, of course, I hated Harmony when she threw away Gabby Gabby later in the film.
Honestly, Gabby Gabby is probably the franchise’s best villain ever – except for maybe, just maybe, Emperor Zurg from Toy Story 2, because he terrified me as a kid. In general, the new characters are all fantastic: Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom does a lot even with limited screentime; Forky is wonderful and must be protected at all costs – and his new girlfriend Knifey, who gets revealed during a mid-credits scene, looks fun too; there are even cameos from Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett and Carl Reiner, though far too brief to make much of an impression; and even Bo Peep’s sheep get personalities.
Unfortunately, the cast of characters has become so large that it would be impossible to give everyone the appreciation they deserve: Hamm, Rex, the Potato Heads, Slinky Dog and the iconic three-eyed aliens are all completely sidelined throughout the movie, given little or no dialogue (were the aliens even in the movie at all?), and any semblance of character arcs for them are nonexistent. I mean, I don’t know about you, but it makes me really angry that the aliens weren’t part of the film’s finale, as they were in Toy Story 3 – they’re iconic characters, unofficial mascots of the franchise.
I could even have forgiven that, though, if this hadn’t also happened to literally everyone not named Woody or Bo Peep. Buzz Lightyear and Jessie should have been crucial characters in this story’s plot – but the film only tries half-heartedly with Buzz, and it doesn’t even try at all with Jessie. Was I inordinately happy when Woody gave his Sheriff’s badge to Jessie at the end of the movie? Yes! But it felt like a poor attempt to make her seem important: in Toy Story 2, she was the heart and soul of the movie – but here, she was merely one face in an over-crowded ensemble that couldn’t even be bothered to give Buzz Lightyear a decent conclusion. Saying the oft-repeated catchphrase “To infinity and beyond” does not count, in my opinion. But Woody and Bo Peep, well, they got plenty of time to frolic around the fairground, chatting, laughing, and going to nightclubs – where Bo proceeded to treat Woody as her “accessory”.
If I may make a Marvel comparison here, I feel like Woody was both the Iron Man and the Captain America of Toy Story 4: Iron Man because he was constantly being treated poorly by everyone around him – and Captain America because, in the end, he chooses to go off and live the life he always wanted with Bo Peep, abandoning his own “no toy left behind” mantra, after passing on his responsibilities to Jessie. In which case Buzz is his Bucky, and in both cases neither friendship got to end with any sort of satisfying conclusion to years of emotional, important storytelling.
As you can probably guess, I’m a little conflicted about the ending: on the one hand, I knew it was coming and I appreciated its bravery. On the other hand, I expected Pixar to handle it a little less roughly and awkwardly than they did – maybe it’s because we did just see this sort of thing in Avengers: Endgame (stop cannibalizing your own movies, Disney!), or maybe it’s because I was dumbfounded while watching it, but it didn’t have the impact I expected it to; not because it didn’t make me cry (it did), but because it didn’t feel final to me. I don’t want this to be the ending – Jessie and Buzz didn’t even get proper character arcs! There were no aliens! There’s still so much story left to tell!
Even if it doesn’t involve Woody or Bo Peep, can’t we get a Toy Story 5 focused on the toys still living in Bonnie’s room? – but no, instead there’s a Bo Peep short film called “Lamp Life” on its way to Disney Plus, where we’ll probably learn more about her escape from the antique store and her acclimation to life as a lost toy. There is also apparently a series of short features about Forky (and presumably Knifey) arriving on the streaming platform as well, which, according to Tony Hale, should have room for tons of cameos from the original cast.
Where to start with this review? Well, how about this: the movie does not begin on a dark and stormy night – but that’s one of the very few mystery-story cliches it does not tackle in its surprisingly short, swiftly-paced runtime. And I mean, one of the very few: this is a movie that comes packed with all the requisite elements of a classic mystery; from the suave British host to the alluring city-streets of Monaco, illegitimate children of English nobility, enigmatic French detectives and lethal Indian daggers. Every overdone trope gets its moment of melodrama in the spotlight – before it is inevitably wrestled to the ground by hilarious, heartfelt satire.
But no, our story begins in New York City, with our protagonists: lazy NYPD detective Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) and inquisitive, bookish hairdresser Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston). The couple are bored and tired in their middle-class American lives, until their wedding anniversary, when Nick agrees to take his wife on a long-awaited European vacation – a honeymoon fifteen years in the making. On the plane, they run into the aforementioned suave British gentleman, Charles Cavendish; elegantly portrayed by Luke Evans, Cavendish is immediately suspect even before Audrey openly states that, with a name like his, he would be the bad guy in a mystery story. Nevertheless, he politely invites Mr. and Mrs. Spitz to be his guests on a private yacht rather than have to spend their honeymoon traveling on a crowded tour bus learning about aged Italian ham.
Naturally, the mystery begins there.
The usual suspects are all present. Aside from Charles, we are presented with prospective-heir-to-a-magnificent-fortune Tobias Quince (David Walliams), Charles’ ex-girlfriend Suzi Nakamura (Shioli Kutsuna), the Maharajah Vikram Govindan (Adeel Akhtar), grizzled war hero Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), the celebrity race-car driver Juan Carlos Rivera (Luis Gerardo Méndez), and the silent Russian bodyguard known as Sergei (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), plus the film’s most lavish star aside from the three leads, Gemma Arterton, playing…well, the film’s most lavish star, actress Grace Ballard. The actors all get a chance to take themselves far too seriously, as their caricature characters clash (try saying that one three times fast) in a desperate attempt to win the love – and magnificent fortune – of the elderly, steely-eyed tycoon Malcolm Quince. Terence Stamp gives a brief, but almost Christopher Lee-like performance as Mr. Quince, before he is dramatically slain with, you guessed it, the Indian dagger. The scene immediately preceding his death, in which Mr. Quince realizes that he has two unexpected (and decidedly civilian) guests in Mr. and Mrs. Spitz, is absolutely hilarious – Aniston and Sandler are brilliant in their roles, and somehow sell the premise that they are, in fact, the odd ones out on this high-end French yacht full of celebrities and moviestar personalities.
After Quince’s sudden demise, just when the film should really take off, the movie suddenly jolts in the opposite direction – or maybe “jolt” is too strong a word. Our protagonists sort of just…idle, while the plot stands still around them, allowing for a handful of genuinely funny moments, most of them provided by our French detective, Inspector de la Croix (Dany Boon). But while he can blow an impressive smoke-ring, Hercule Poirot he is not. To make matters worse, Sandler’s characters suffers with sleepiness throughout the movie, but seems to get especially lackadaisical just when things get interesting. With a little less than an hour left, the movie suddenly remembers that it is, in fact, supposed to be entertaining: like a crimson Ferrari gunned into action (that metaphor will make sense later), the story gets fun, fast. We’re treated to another death, an obligatory escape-out-the-window scene in a luxury hotel, and hysterical humor. From that point on, except for some unnecessary marital drama, Murder Mystery gleams. Most of the film’s best material is packed into the last thirty minutes.
The high-points of the movie are the performances, and the finale: Aniston, Sandler and Evans are all exceptional – Evans does grow less so as the movie progresses, and his dashing elegance is, unfortunately, never shattered with comedic precision, but his charm is enough to make up for that. Many of the smaller roles are enjoyable to watch: Akhtar’s Maharajah is delightfully cool; Arterton is blessed with a large enough role in which to show off her range; and, as previously noted, Stamp gets one delectably funny scene, which he dominates. Only Ólafsson and Méndez are forgettable in their roles.
As for the finale – well, I did not actually guess the murderer’s identity correctly. But I loved the way that, even in its closing minutes, the movie had time to turn the tables on one more mystery cliche: and it’s a good one, too. There’s an excruciatingly funny car chase as well, involving one beautiful red Ferrari – I was not expecting goats, but I got goats, and I loved them. The film’s final scene can be read as either a tease of sequels down the line, or just a loving nod to the genre; an apology, of sorts, for all the mischief and madness committed in the name of mystery.
So, is Murder Mystery worth seeing? Well, if nothing else, it will definitely have you smiling and probably laughing out loud in its best moments – it’s not brilliant, and it’s not even the most brilliant use of satire, but it is heartfelt and heartwarming. Sandler and Aniston make a great duo, and have a fun supporting cast. So if you’re an insomniac on a dark and stormy night, why not check it out?