Tag Archives: Jordan Peele

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.

And Them

Us

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Jordan Peele loves horror movies. How cool is that?

It’s evident from the strangely terrifying opening moments of Us, when a little girl watches what is probably MTV from her suburban couch, the screen flanked by stacks of VHS tapes including C.H.U.D., and you’re pulled in to an eventful birthday celebration for this quiet, wide-eyed and watchful little girl (Madison Curry).

From a Santa Cruz carnival to a hall of mirrors to a wall of rabbits in cages—setting each to its own insidious sound, whether the whistle of Itsy Bitsy Spider or Gregorian chanting— Peele draws on moods and images from horror’s collective unconscious and blends them into something hypnotic and almost primal.

Then he drops you 30 years later into the Wilson family truckster as they head off for summer vacation. The little girl from the amusement park, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o – beyond spectacular) is now a protective mom.

And that protective nature will be put to a very bloody test.

A family that looks just like hers – doppelgängers for husband Gabe (Wnston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), son Jason (Evan Alex) and Adelaide herself – invade the Wilson’s vacation home, forcing them to fight for their lives while they wonder what the F is going on.

Even as Peele lulls us with familiar surroundings and visual quotes from The Lost Boys,  Jaws, then Funny Games, then The Strangers and Night of the Living Dead and beyond, Us is far more than a riff on some old favorites. A masterful storyteller, Peele weaves together these moments of inspiration not simply to homage greatness but to illustrate a larger, deeper nightmare. It’s as if Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland turned into a plague on humanity.

Loosely based on an old episode of Twilight Zone (which, not surprisingly, Peele is rebooting), Us is a tale full of tension and fright, told with precision and a moral center not as easily identifiable as Get Out‘s brilliant takedown of “post racial America.”

Do these evil twins represent the darkest parts of ourselves that we fight to keep hidden? The fragile nature of identity? “One nation” bitterly divided?

You could make a case for these and more, but when Peele unveils his coup de grace moment (which would make Rod Serling proud), it ultimately feels like an open-ended invitation to revisit and discuss, much like he undoubtedly did for so many genre classics.

While it’s fun to be scared stiff, scared smart is even better, a fact Jordan Peele has clearly known for years.

Guess who he’s reminding now?





Don’t Meet the Parents

Get Out

by George Wolf

You want to know the fears and anxieties at work in any modern population? Just look at their horror films.

You probably knew that. The stumper then, is what took so long for a film to manifest the fears of racial inequality as smartly as does Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Last year’s Keanu proved Key & Peele could smoothly transition from sketch comedy to an extended (and often hilarious) narrative. Now Peele has his solo album, writing and directing a mash of Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerRosemary’s Baby and a few other staples that should go unnamed to preserve the fun. Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

When white Rose (Alison Williams) takes her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet the fam, she assures him race will not be a problem. How can she be sure? Because her Dad (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama’s third term “if he could.” It’s the first of many B.S. alerts for Peele, and they only get more satisfying.

Rose’s family is overly polite at first, but then mom Missy (Catherine Keener) starts acting evasive and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) gets a bit threatening, while the gardener and the maid (both black – whaaat?) appear straight outta Stepford.

Peele is clearly a horror fan, and he gives knowing winks to many genre cliches (the jump scare, the dream) while anchoring his entire film in the upending of the “final girl.” This isn’t a young white coed trying to solve a mystery and save herself, it’s a young man of color, challenging the audience to enjoy the ride but understand why switching these roles in a horror film is a social critique in itself.

Get Out is an audacious first feature for Jordan Peele, a film that never stops entertaining as it consistently pays off the bets it is unafraid to make.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2JbO9lnVLE





Oh Baby

Storks

by Cat McAlpine

“Where do babies come from?” Multiple sources, apparently.

Storks have been out of the baby business for a few decades, and Junior is up for a big promotion at CornerStore.com. To prove he’s ready to be the head honcho, he simply has to fire Tulip the Orphan (and human). When Tulip accidentally makes a baby (at the baby factory, of course!) Junior suddenly finds a few more obstacles between himself and his promotion.

The plot becomes increasingly convoluted. The baby is destined for the Gardener family, comprised of two busy parents and one lonely child. There’s a bizarre pigeon character. The talents of Keegan-Michael Key (Alpha Wolf) and Jordan Peele (Beta Wolf) are utterly wasted in a wolf pack that has one joke and runs with it. And runs with it.

To be fair, this is a children’s movie. The children in the audience thought the wolves were hilarious.

Written by Nicholas Stoller and co-Directed with Doug Sweetland, Storks’ greatest strength is its self-referential humor. When Sarah Gardner (Jennifer Aniston) takes out a chimney with one swing of a hammer, she comments to the effect of “Wow. That is… that is not a well-made chimney. I mean, I’m a pretty small woman and that just came right down.”

It’s the talent of Andy Samberg (Junior) that elevates Storks from a middling animated film to something enjoyable. His impeccable comedic timing and improv skills shine through, making Junior complex and a little dark.

It’s hard to tell, with an animated feature, how much comedic timing is in the hands of the voice actors, and how much can be attributed to the animators and sound mixers. But, the general speed of dialogue overall is another defining quirk of Storks. Much of the repartee happens at breakneck speed, which gives the effect of wit, even if wit isn’t present.

Stoller and Sweetland take a stab at diversity that earns a light golf clap at best. In montage scenes babies appear in all colors, but also with an array of unrealistic hair colors (pink, blue, green). All the speaking characters (human), minor or major, are white.

If I had screened this film at home, I probably wouldn’t even raise the issue. Instead I sat in a theatre filled with families and their children infinitely more diverse than those on screen. A little black girl, no more than four, shuffled past me with her father to go to the bathroom, and I wondered “Does she see herself as a background character?”

You can point to Disney’s Home (2015) or The Princess and the Frog (2009) for black lead characters, but two versus a genre isn’t much. You can point to even less for Asian Americans, Indian, Native American etc. The white kids own the industry.

It’s not that an all-white cast is necessarily unrealistic; it’s unnecessary. Only a quarter of the children in the theater were truly represented on screen. In 2016, this makes me very tired.

Parents won’t find Storks hard to watch alongside their children. But, Storks lacks the mastery to rocket into the all-star league with contemporaries like Finding Nemo (2003), Zootopia (2016), or even the same studio’s Lego Movie (2014).

Verdict-3-0-Stars





New Jack Kitty

Keanu

by George Wolf

If you’re a bit skeptical at the news of two more sketch comedy stars taking their act to the big screen, who can blame you? The track record is hardly stellar, but one bad ass kitten is here to put a paw print in the win column.

Okay, the impossibly cute feline isn’t the only thing driving Keanu. There’s also sharp writing, fluid action sequences, strong characters, winning performances, and… what else you want? Look at that kitty!

After five solid years on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Keanu is the feature team up for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who display a keen self-awareness about how to pivot from short sketches to ninety minutes of solid laughs.

Peele, who also co-wrote the script, plays Rell, who’s sulking alone in his apartment after a sudden breakup. By the time his best friend Clarence (Key) arrives to console him, Rell’s frown has been turned upside down by the arrival of a stray cat. Rell names him Keanu, becoming an obsessively doting pet owner until…..Keanu is gone.

Turns out this kitten has more than claws, it has a history with drug dealing gangs, and Keanu has fallen into the clutches of the 17th Street Blips.

“Where are they?”

“17th Street!”

With that, Clarence and Rell go from arguing about who took more beatings in high school to infiltrating the Blips as bonafide gang bangers Shark Tank and Techtonic, aka the “Allentown Boys” who carry a rep as mysterious and legendary as Kaiser Soze’s.

Ridiculous situations ensue, driven by the leads’ multiple shifts from minivan-drivin’ suburbanites to pipe-hittin’ gangstas and back again. Key, in particular, delivers some riotous moments, including a classic sequence where Shark Tank must defend all that George Michael on his iPod.

One or two dry spells aside, director Peter Atencio keeps the inspired bits strung together with a surprisingly engaging narrative, tossing in some clever odes to The Matrix, Kill Bill, The Shining and more, plus a nod to K&P’s TV past with a well-placed”Liam Neesons!”

The best of Key and Peele’s work on Comedy Central was as smart as it was funny. Keanu is proof they haven’t gone soft by going Hollywood.

Verdict-3-5-Stars