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Non-Review Review: Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 is a lovely grace note.

Understandably, the largest tension that exists within Toy Story 4 is the question of whether the movie is “necessary”, as much as crowd-pleasing feel-good film must be “necessary.” Rather, it’s the question of whether its presence enhances or diminishes the immediately previous film in the franchise. Toy Story 3 was in many ways a pitch-perfect franchise closer, the perfect place in which to leave these characters and this world. It was bittersweet and deeply moving, striking a perfect balance between providing closure and suggesting that the adventure continues.

The real Toy Story is the toys we made along the way.

This creates an interesting challenge for Toy Story 4. Because Toy Story 3 provided such a fitting ending, it is not enough for Toy Story 4 to simple be amusing or engaging. To quote another popular Tom Hanks vehicle from the nineties, it has to “earn this.” To a certain extent, Toy Story 4 exists in conversation with Toy Story 3, and with the notable handicap of being unable to play many of the same emotional beats as strongly. “This is the epic last go-round” is a card that is difficult to play in two consecutive movies. So, quite apart from how funny and how thrilling and how clever Toy Story 4 is, it faces an uphill struggle.

It is to the credit of Toy Story 4 that it justifies itself so effectively. A lot of this is down to canny structuring; Toy Story 4 is much less of an ensemble piece than any of the two previous films in the series, focused very tightly on Woody as its focal character. This provides a nice change of pace, even compared to the fun “toys mount a rescue” template of Toy Story 2. To a certain extent, Toy Story 4 feels – in terms of tone, plot and character – much closer to the original Toy Story than any of the intermediate films in the franchise. This allows it a certain freshness and lightness on its feet.

A forkin’ delight.

However, the smartest thing about Toy Story 4 is that it understands its position. Toy Story 4 is shrewd enough to understand that it can neither ignore nor repeat Toy Story 3. Indeed, Toy Story 4 is cognisant of the fact that it must be an ending of a sort, but also a different kind of ending than Toy Story 3. The film has to both justify and distinguish itself, fitting with what came before while finding something unique to say. This is a delicate balance to strike, and it is to the credit of Toy Story 4 that it succeeds as thoroughly as it does.

Toy Story 4 exists in the shadow of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, but most animated films do; they are both among the very best films that Pixar has produced, making them among the very best animated films ever produced. Toy Story 4 works well as an epilogue or a coda. It’s charming, smart, funny and very moving in the places where it needs to be. Toy Story 3 existed at the full stop at the end of the story, but Toy Story 4 draws a line under it.

Home on the range.

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Non-Review Review: Out of Blue

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Out of Blue is just awful.

Carol Morley is an intensely talented director. Dreams of a Life is a fascinating documentary, exploring a harrowing true story with empathy and compassion. However, Out of Blue seems to get away from her. Morley is directing a screenplay that she adapted from Night Train, Martin Amis’ darkly comic parody of detective fiction. Indeed, Out of Blue seems to carry over some of the parodic intention of the source material in its better moments, playing as deranged and heightened homage to detective movie clichés. However, there is also a sense that Out of Blue is taking all of this very seriously underneath it all, that it is unwilling to commit to “the bit” and that it confuses its own pseudo-profundity for actual insight.

Even if Out of Blue never actually functions as a cinematic narrative, there is some fun to be hand with certain stretches of it. There’s enough in Out of Blue that it almost plays as investigative thriller pastiche; a knowing and heightened riff on the familiar formulas of sordid investigative thrillers. There are stretches when Out of Blue plays like the kind of weird and esoteric object that a view might find playing on Adult Swim in the early hours of the morning, couched between episodes of NTSF:SD:SUV and playing opposite Angie Tribeca. The dialogue is so hardboiled that it could be used as murder weapon, the insights into the human condition so laboured that they’ve been granted health insurance.

The biggest issue with Out of Blue is that it never seems to be “in” on the joke.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Warhead (Review)

If Relativity featured a time bomb, then Warhead focuses on a smart bomb.

Star Trek: Voyager is a fascinating television show. It is a television show very firmly rooted in the listlessness of the nineties, reflecting cultural anxieties and uncertainties; these millennial anxieties reflected in stories like 11:59. At the same time, it is also structured as something more overtly nostalgic than the other Star Trek spin-offs, a conscious throwback to the retro science-fiction of the forties and the fifties; this sensibility reflected in the nuclear parables of Jetrel or The Omega Directive, the infiltrator narratives of Cathexis or In the Flesh.

“Yes, that is a rocket in that pocket of rock, and yes it is happy to see us.”

In many ways, Warhead represents a perfect fusion of these two approaches. Warhead is a story that is strongly anchored in uncertainties about the legacy of the Second World War, the tale of a sentient weapon of mass destruction with the capacity to cause untold destruction that exists beyond the capacity of human reason. Warhead is also a philosophical parable about identity and determinism, a discussion about what it means to have a sense of self and whether an individual’s reality is shaped by their design and their programming.

The result is a strange hybrid story that captures two of the competing facets of Voyager in a single forty-five minute episode.

Explosive drama.

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The X-Files – The Sixth Extinction (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The fate of individual human beings may not now be connected in a deep way with the rest of the universe, but the matter out of which each of us is made is intimately tied to processes that occurred immense intervals of time and enormous distances in space away from us. Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.

– Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Connection

Sea of blood...

Sea of blood…

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Space: Above and Beyond – The Angriest Angel (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Existentialism is something of a recurring theme in the work of Glen Morgan and James Wong.

It echoes through their work. Mulder’s choice of action ultimately serves to define him in One Breath, in contrast to the other more senior male characters in the narrative. The duo’s second script for Millennium, 5-2-6-6-6, opens with a quote from existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Even the pair’s feature film work – The One and the Final Destination films – touch broadly on existentialist themes.

Pressed (up) on the issue...

Pressed (up) on the issue…

However, The Angriest Angel is perhaps the most candid of their scripts, with McQueen explicitly explaining how his actions are serving to define his identity. In his power-house opening monologue, McQueen describes these defining moments as make-or-break points. “Everyone, everyone in this life knows when the moment is before them. To turn away is simple. To ignore it assures survival. But it is an insult to life. Because there can be no redemption.”

This is perhaps the most elegant and effective summary of Morgan and Wong’s approach to character development. McQueen articulates it clearer than any of their characters, but the philosophy applies just as much to Scully in Beyond the Sea or Never Again as it does to Tyrius Cassius McQueen. Indeed, it would come to define their work on Millennium, with the second season repeatedly suggesting that the end of the world was as much a personal event as a massive social occurrence.

Slice of life...

Slice of life…

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