Tag Archives: Christina Hendricks

Hanks for the Memories

Toy Story 4

by Hope Madden

Almost 25 years ago, Pixar staked its claim as animation god with the buddy picture masterpiece Toy Story, where Tom Hanks and writer/director John Lasseter taught the world how to create a fully developed, nuanced and heartbreaking animated hero.

Woody and Buzz returned twice more over the next fifteen years, developing relationships, adding friends, enjoying adventures and life lessons all the while creating the single best trilogy in cinematic history.

And a lot of us wanted them to stop at 3. Is that partly because Toy Story 3 destroyed us? Yes! But also, it felt like a full story beautifully told and we didn’t want to see that completed arc tarnished for profit.

Toy Story 3 made an actual billion dollars.

Profit calls.

Right, so let’s drop in and see how the gang is doing. Woody (Tom Hanks in the role he was born to play) loves Bonnie, the youngster who inherited the ragtag group of toys when Andy left for college and we left the theater racked with sobs. But the cowboy just doesn’t feel the same sense of purpose.

Enter Forky (Tony Hale, who could not be better), a spork with googly eyes, hand-made and much-beloved friend to Bonnie. Forky longs for the trash, and Woody takes it upon himself to make sure Forky is always there for Bonnie. But when Bonnie’s family rents an RV for an end-of-summer road trip, Woody finds it tough to keep his eyes on the restless refuse—especially when a roadside carnival offers the chance to reconnect with old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

Will Woody cast aside Forky, bestie Buzz (Tim Allen) and gang to rekindle something lost and taste some freedom?

Josh Cooley (who co-wrote Inside Out) makes his feature directorial debut with this installment. He also contributes, along with a pool of eight, to a story finalized by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (his credits include the three previous Toy Story films) and relative newcomer Stephany Folsom.

The talents all gel, combining the history and character so beautifully articulated over a quarter century with some really fresh and very funny ideas. Toy Story 4 offers more bust-a-gut laughs than the last three combined, and while it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of TS3 (what does?!), it hits more of those notes than you might expect.

Between Forky’s confounded sense of self and Woody’s own existential crisis, TS4 swims some heady waters. These themes are brilliantly, quietly addressed in a number of conversations about loyalty, devotion and love.

This somewhat lonesome contemplation is more than balanced by the delightful hilarity of new characters Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively).

And the creepy yet tender way villains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her posse of ventriloquist dolls are handled is as moving as it is funny.

Characteristic of this franchise, the peril is thrilling, the visuals glorious, the sight gags hilarious (keep an eye on those Combat Carls), and the life lessons far more emotionally compelling than what you’ll find in most films this summer. To its endless credit, TS4 finds new ideas to explore and fresh but organic ways to break our hearts.

Tamara’s Not Home. Leave a Message.

The Strangers: Prey at Night

by Hope Madden

Sequels are hard. Especially when you don’t understand what made the original so unnerving and memorable.

A decade ago, Bryan Bertino released the almost unbearably slow burn of a home invasion film, The Strangers. The underappreciated gem quietly terrified attentive audiences, beginning with the line, “Is Tamara home?”

Director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) and screenwriter Ben Ketai (The Forest) pick up the story of three masked, bloodthirsty youngsters still looking for Tamara.

A loving but bickering family spends the night at a lakeside campground and trailer park. A great deal of exposition ensures that you catch on, but the main gist is this: problem child Kinsey (Bailee Madison) is at odds with her beleaguered parents (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) and her golden-child brother (Lewis Pullman).

Yes, our three masked malcontents have also settled into that same lakeside trailer park, now mainly vacant in the post-season.

Where Bertino’s horror had the languid melancholy of the old country blues tunes scratching away on a turntable, Roberts prefers the power ballads of the early Eighties. In fact, instead of the cinema of the Seventies that inspired Bertino, Roberts prefers 80s fare, from the early MTV soundtrack to the Argento-esque title sequence to the campground setting.

This is a self-conscious slasher with jump scares, frequent bloodletting and a marauder who is profoundly difficult to kill.

Roberts borrows a lot. Not just from Bertino’s original, but also scads of other horror gems from across the eras (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Friday the 13th, Bava’s Carnage and so many more).

And while cinematographer Ryan Samul cannot grip you with dread the way Peter Sova’s creeping camera and quiet wide shots did ten years back, he can frame a shot.

That shot 1) has usually been lifted from another source, and 2) often contains a nearly-ludicrous image. Still, there are more than a few beautifully macabre sequences in this movie. One poolside episode is particularly impressive.

Still, the main problem with The Strangers: Prey at Night is that it gets comfortable in clichés, where the stinging original subverted them. That doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s not. It’s a nasty little piece of entertainment, unoriginal but competent.

And you cannot expect originality from a sequel, of course. You just hope it can be memorable. The Strangers: Prey at Night is not.

A Few Missing Pages


God’s Pocket

by George Wolf

Seedy neighborhoods, sad sacks and shady characters populate God’s Pocket, an uneven drama that gets a big boost from its strong ensemble cast.

An adaptation of Peter Dexter’s first novel, the film is the big screen directorial debut for veteran actor John Slattery (Mad Men). He does show a confident, generous hand with his performers, but Slattery’s instincts for tone and storytelling aren’t quite as polished.

Dexter (The Paperboy, Deadwood) based the story partly on his own experience as a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, when he suffered a severe beating at the hands of a local gang angry over one of his pieces.

Set in a hard knock Philly neighborhood dubbed “God’s Pocket,” the film follows events set in motion by the death of Leon Hubbard (Caleb Landry Jones), a young slacker who is killed while working as a day laborer on a construction site.

Leon’s distraught mother Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) isn’t satisfied with the official version of the accident, and she pressures her husband Mickey Scarpato (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to call upon his semi-connected associates and dig for more details. 

Right off, Jeanie’s suspicions seem desperate. Is there a reason she instantly thinks the death wasn’t accidental, or is it a convenient way to push her unsatisfying husband deeper into dangerous waters?

We never know, and ambiguous motivation is a problem throughout the film. These are interesting characters that beg for insightful backstory, but all we’re given is the neighborhood. Yes, we get that these are tough people who close ranks against outsiders, but this story needs more than vague cliches to truly resonate.

Slattery, who helped adapt the screenplay, also has trouble finding the appropriate tone to incorporate the black humor. It’s no easy feat, even for masters such as the Coens or Jim Jarmusch, and here we’re left unsure about feeling for these people, or laughing at them.

There’s nothing unsure about the cast. Hoffman, who reportedly wanted to move away from these “loser” roles before his tragic death, wears Mickey’s burdens like an old shirt you can’t bear to part with, only reinforcing how badly his talent will be missed.

Hendricks gives Jeanie a smoldering vulnerability, and enough mystery to justify the obsessive attention of Shellburn (Richard Jenkins), the boozing newspaper columnist whose life is awakened by her charms.  Jenkins, customarily excellent, cements Shellburn as the differing reference point the film needs.

God’s Pocket ends up resembling a book with too many missing pages. There are some fine moments here, all searching for a foundation strong enough to keep them from drifting away.




A Crisis at Home and Abroad

 By George Wolf

These days, there is an incredibly gifted group of young actors working in film – particularly  young female actors. Ginger & Rosa provides further proof that Elle Fanning belongs near the very top of this talented club.

At just fourteen years old (fifteen on April 9th), Fanning displays an astonishing level of emotional maturity, able to craft a window to her character’s soul, often without a single word. At this point, it is hard to imagine a limit to her potential.

In Ginger & Rosa, Fanning’s is just one of several strong performances in writer/director Sally Potter’s semi-autobiographical tale of a young girl battling fears of nuclear annihilation, and a growing crisis in her own family.

Set in 1960s London, the film shows Ginger (Fanning) and her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert) as nearly inseparable, testing parental boundaries and pondering their futures. Ginger, though, can’t shake her fears of nuclear war, and she grows increasingly anxious as the Cuban  missile crisis permeates the headlines.

When Ginger’s parents (Christina Hendricks and Alessandro Nivola, both stellar) separate, Ginger bounces between them as a situation arises that threatens both her family and her friendship with Rosa.

Potter displays a nuanced touch as she gently juxtaposes a coming of age story with the social, political and sexual upheaval of the time. Her film has an artful quality, as it makes quiet but powerful points on the effects of feeling helpless – in the world and right at home.

4 stars (out of 5)