Toy Story 4
Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of Pixar’s animated toys are back in Toy Story 4, and though their return engagement may not be wholly necessary – considering 2011’s ideal franchise-capping Toy Story 3—it proves a charming, funny and deceptively weighty saga about independence, purpose and loyalty to both loved ones and, just as importantly, to one’s self. Now the property of kindergarten-bound Bonnie, who’s disinterested in playing with him, Woody finds meaning in life by protecting her newest plaything: Forky (Tony Hale), a makeshift weirdo crafted from trash. Their ensuing road-trip odyssey leads Woody to Bo Peep (Annie Potts), now enjoying her freedom as a “lost toy.” Director Josh Cooley and writers Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom pepper their material with the usual barrage of sharp jokes, and the voice cast – including Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a conjoined bunny and duck – is, as always, top-notch. Plus, it has Keanu Reeves stealing every scene he’s in as Duke Caboom, the greatest Canadian motorcycle daredevil to ever grace the silver screen.
Marvel saves the best for last—at least in terms of this phase of its sprawling cinematic universe—with Avengers: Endgame. This entry is the culmination of its decade-plus run of interconnected films, which offered not only surprising twists and electric superhero spectacle, but also routine chances for its illustrious cast to actually act. Helmed by Joe and Anthony Russo with the same juggling-multiple-strands craftsmanship they brought to their prior franchise installments, this latest saga finds Earth’s Mightiest Heroes trying to undo big bad Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) population-halving “Snapture.” To discuss plot particulars would be to spoil some of the fun, although the real enjoyment derived from this extravaganza comes from its self-referential fan-service nods, its ability to embellish every portentous moment with character-specific humor, and its satisfyingly seamless and cohesive conclusion. It’s a superior piece of tentpole cinema, thanks in large part to A-game performances from stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Ruffalo.
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino goes back to the 1969 Tinseltown of his dreams with Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, a reverie for that bygone moment when the culture and counterculture collided. On the downside of this equation is faded TV Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his loyal stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), whose navigation of this rapidly changing environment crisscrosses with the ascendency of Rick’s neighbor Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) – all as the Manson Family assumes its soon-to-be destructive position on their horizon. Tarantino lavishes his period milieu, and the mainstream movies and television of the era, with sun-dappled neon-colored love. His is a conservative celebration of the old at the very moment that the new took over (not to mention a wish for a fusion of the two), and an air of wistfulness—and desire to fight obsolescence—permeates the action. Led by DiCaprio and Pitt’s superb turns as artists trying to stay afloat in a radically transforming industry (and America), it’s a revisionist-history fantasy drenched in nostalgia, ecstasy, yearning and blood.