Toy Story 4 (2019)

toy story 4 poster

When Bonnie – new owner of Woody, Buzz et al – makes herself a new toy to help with the first day of kindergarten, the gang end up spork-sitting the new guy, Forky. Traumatised with finding himself ‘alive’, he’s not so keen on sticking around which is a problem given how attached Bonnie has become. Keeping the two together becomes Woody’s new purpose, just as he’s struggling to adjust to no longer being the favourite, the toy in charge.

I neither dislike nor adore the Toy Story series. They’re sweet, they’re fun, but somehow they just don’t grab me the way they seem to affect others, or the way I loved the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy. As a result, I only saw TS3 last week, knowing I was going to this. And I was pleasantly surprised: it was lovely. It also felt like a fitting end to a series – so quite why we needed a fourth, I wasn’t sure.

Biggest praise, then, that this doesn’t ruin the whole series. It’s tough not to get drawn into the ‘lives’ of these toys, they are just so well realised. I mean, you know things are going to work out – it’s a ‘U’ rating! – but the tension gets you, and the emotion feels oddly genuine. And no spoiler, but I think this is definitely an ending, which stops it feeling pointless, even if it wasn’t strictly necessary.

I have just one complaint, and that’s around the baddie’s story. I can’t help but think that the kind of nasty, entitled behaviour displayed, the emotional manipulation, should never, ever be shown as being rewarded. It’s a poor message to send to kids, and the whole “Oh, but I never had the advantages you did so I deserve it” isn’t improving the matter. I was thoroughly disturbed to have all of this in a kids’ flick, to be honest. I mean, it was funny in Guardians of the Galaxy when Rocket asked, “But what if I want it more than the person who has it?” but here it’s just not amusing.

Sadly that really did spoil the whole thing for me a bit, and points off for that – although I suppose you could argue that it’s just the pure niceness of our regular cast that helps everyone, but still – big ick for me, personally.

Aside from that, though, it’s sweet and lovely, and a decent epilogue to the original trilogy rather than an essential piece of the story. It’s nice to see the old characters again, even if most only really get cameo-level roles in a busy cast roster. Newcomers like Duke Caboom (I failed to spot the voicing was Keanu Reeves!) add humour to avoid total saccharine levels, too.

If it doesn’t quite live up to the highs of the previous movies, well – that was always going to be a tough job. Kids will undoubtedly love it, and fans of the series will find a lot to enjoy.

Released: 21st June 2019
Viewed: 21st June 2019
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7/10

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Men in Black: International (2019)

MiB international poster

On the night that she meets a cute little alien, Molly (Tessa Thompson) also witnesses her parents being ‘neuralised’ – a fate she avoids, leading to a life obsessed with little green men and Men in Black. Determined to join their ranks, it’s no spoiler to say that she eventually manages to infiltrate and is given a chance to prove herself.

Not a reboot at all, this is rather a sequel of sorts to the Will Smith trilogy without said Fresh Prince. Instead, we travel to the London office and another star MiB: Agent H, played in full Thor-like mode by Chris Hemsworth (who is sadly not quite as funny as he thinks, at least not here). His laid-back charmer of a character, more interested in partying it up with the aliens, is juxtaposed well against the studious new Agent M.

And it seems that not all is well in the MiB ranks. Missions go wrong, colleagues are suspicious and hostile, and strange new aliens stalk the planet.

I was very surprised to see the shade thrown on this movie on IMDb. It’s not high art, but it’s a lot of daft fun. I didn’t miss Smith and Jones, rather liking Hemsworth and Thompson – the latter sitting far better here than in Ragnarok, where I didn’t warm to her interpretation at all. Nor am I impressed with any of the ‘Mary Sue’ comments thrown at her Agent M: this is a smart, driven woman, who shows intelligence AND flaws, and is often out of her depth.

The story isn’t all that strong, but the effects are top notch, and over all it was a nicely mindless bit of enjoyable entertainment. I’d watch it again, or a sequel…?!

Released: 14th June 2019
Viewed: 16th June 2019
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic. But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great

Aladdin (2019)

aladdin poster

I’m far from convinced about this plan to turn all the Disney cartoons into live-action movies. Beauty and the Beast (2017) sort of summed things up for me: not as good as the original, why did you bother? I ran screaming at the thought of sitting through Dumbo (2019), and the trailer for Lion King (2019) looks like a car crash, quite frankly. And yet, Aladdin (1992) is one of my favs from the House of Mouse, and so triumph or disaster, I was curious to see what they had done to it.

So, you know the story. Street rat and petty thief falls for the princess and winds up being used as a pawn by the evil vizier. But, instead of handing over the magic lamp he’s been tasked to steal, Aladdin ends up with a genie granting him three wishes. Can he improve his life, win the princess, yadda yadda yadda?

There are a few minor deviations in this new version. Princess Jasmine gets a new song and a 21st Century update, now trying to convince her father that a girl can be a ruler, not just a wife. I approve! It also felt very well done, imo, quite organically woven into the script and not just a tacked-on moment of ‘girl power’ (I’m looking at you, Endgame!).

The other big change that hits you the most is the loss of the wonderful Robin Williams as the genie. I can’t imagine anyone being brave enough to step into those shoes – but then, if it was going to be anyone, Will Smith makes a lot of sense. He’s been derided quite harshly for the role, but – perhaps going in with such low expectations – I actually think he manages pretty well. Still, it’s a little jarring mixing the genie we know with the Fresh Prince persona slipping through, and then a sweet if odd choice of adding in a crush on the princess’s handmaiden. Hmm.

Otherwise, it feels like the aim was to match the cartoon as closely as possible, and this might have been a flaw. The rooftop chase parkour looks like CGI not gone entirely right, and a few other scenes too end up looking cartoonish – and not in a good way, often running at a slightly odd speed or just looking juddery.

So… I dunno. It wasn’t awful, even while it wasn’t great. I was entertained enough but would rather watch the original. On the other hand, it was far more successful than e.g. B&tB, and more than I expected. I’m glad I quenched my curiosity, I’m mildly impressed that they translated as much of the animation as they did, and if nothing else, Friend Like Me and Prince Ali are fab songs – and Will Smith does them well.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 8th June 2019
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6.5/10

The 5-Minute Recharge – Lynne Everatt, Addie Greco-Sanchez

five minute recharge cover

“It all begins with you.”

Subtitled, “31 Proven Strategies to Refresh, Reset and Become the Boss of Your Day,” The 5-Minute Recharge is a series of hints and tips for improving your mental health and overall well-being. As with any such self-help book, what you get out of it will be highly personal to you, but there is a wide range of topics presented in a straightforward, friendly manner, and I would think something to click with everyone.

The topics are arranged around the headings “Get charged up:”

  • about having enough time
  • by connecting
  • body and mind
  • by feeding the good wolf
  • by pausing to reflect

Each ‘recharge’ has a bit of info, a ‘homework’ assignment, and a list of further reading – I did skip over some of those a bit, but much better presented as they are, with a bit of blurb, than a list of references at the end which I would completely have ignored.

The first section on time probably felt most relevant to me, and while the first tip on making your bed did nothing for me at all, the rest were all thought-provoking and sensible, such as taking breaks to recharge and setting up supporting habits that improve life but don’t take up time/will-power/mental energy. Other sections covered the disconnect between mind and body, positive thinking, and the wonderfully titled “What Would George Clooney Do?” (spoiler: it’s about pretending to ask a ‘wise’ figure for advice).

Overall, it’s a decent dip into the genre, with nothing completely groundbreaking. The exercises are perhaps a bit mixed. If they were easy to do, I don’t know that they’d be of as much value, and yet they’re presented as if they’re simple 2-minute things. If I could magic up my ‘purpose’ that quickly…!! Still, I appreciated the lack of preaching in the tone, and the advice all seems very sensible and well thought-out.

“Wellbeing is, above all, a game of connections.”

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 5 sections
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 22nd April – 20th May 2019

My rating: 7/10

One Word Kill – Mark Lawrence

one word kill cover

“When Dr Parsons finally ran out of alternatives and reached the word ‘cancer’, he moved past it so quickly I almost thought I’d imagined it.”

Having recently fallen in love with Mark Lawrence’s fantasy series, Book of the Ancestor, I jumped at the chance to get this sci-fi offering, billed as Stranger Things meets Ready Player One. It ended up living up to neither for me, but still a decent read.

Nick Hayes may be a mathematical genius at 15, but he’s as unprepared as anyone to be told he has leukaemia. As he starts chemotherapy, he distracts himself with his D&D sessions with his friends, including a newcomer to the group: their first girl, Mia. But he still has to put up with the psychotic school bully, and a strangely familiar man who might be stalking him…

Teenagers with cancer, in the 80s no less, turns out to be a bit of a trigger for me. I was kinda happy that the author got a few bits wrong (contrary to popular imagery, chemo often leaves its victims bloated from steroids, not concentration-camp skinny). As the book goes on and Nick’s story involves more than just hospitals and life expectancy odds it was easier to cope with this bit of the story, but possibly for the first time I feel like offering a warning to other readers.

That aside, I wouldn’t suggest this story hits the heights of either of the ‘meets’ titles. The 1980s nostalgia is fairly light – mentions of using phone boxes and a few tech oldies aside, I’m not sure I would have noticed the ‘period’ setting much, which was ever so slightly disappointing. The characters are fine, but the teenage-ness of it all did little for me. I was put in mind a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Interworld; it all felt a bit for-younger-readers.

Plot-wise it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, but the group of teens end up on a quest that doesn’t feel a million miles from their board games.

Overall, I enjoyed this but it’s not grabbing me anywhere near as much as Red Sister. Still, sequel already started, and I’m curious to see where the story could go.

NetGalley eARC: 201 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 1 (of 3)
Read from 5th-8th May 2019

My rating: 7.5/10

Tolkien (2019)

tolkien poster

It seems crazy that there hasn’t been a biopic of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, almost certainly the most famous fantasy author of the 20th Century (if not all time, but only because these young folk have no sense of history ;)). Then again, his life wasn’t the most gripping of sagas – his ‘jam’ (as those young people say) largely involving making up languages. Kudos to the writers here for coming up with a way to blend history, poetic license, and a bit of raw imagination to come up with a movie I rather enjoyed.

What I really loved was the attempt to portray inspiration, the way ideas meld from a half-dozen different sources. Cleverly, the film jumps back and forth through time, showing us Tolkien’s early life, orphaned young, falling in love with a fellow orphan; school days; and experiences n the trenches. Fans of Lord of the Rings have long known that those experiences of war fed directly into the book. But here we also get suggestions of where the magical concepts may have come from, and impressively those moments aren’t just jammed down the viewer’s throat: no, there’s a subtlety, that again mirrors how I think of ideas formulating.

The other aspect that comes across well is how the long process of getting all those elements to gel can be. That’s still probably downplayed a bit, but glad it isn’t all “boom” and the story lands fully fledged. Much 😉

Away from writerly themes, the film mixes romance and its period setting. I’m a big fan of the latter, and all of those dusty schooldays at Oxford bits appealed to me somehow. The romance is handled well enough, as is the sense of comradeship that is at the core of it all.

I can understand that non-Tolkien fans might be less gripped by this, but it’s lovely to see biopics of writers – and who, really, can claim quite the impact of JRR? I’m sure he didn’t actually see dragons rising through the smoke on a battlefield, but as poetic images go, it fits perfectly.

Released: 3rd May 2019
Viewed: 3rd May 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10