CineScene

‘Spider-Man’ Does Not Disappoint; ‘Toy Story 4’ Is Surprisingly Good; ‘Yesterday’ Has Whimsy, Deceit, Great Soundtrack

By BILL GEIGER | Jul 24, 2019

Two sequels, of sorts, and one whimsical fantasy make up our trio of films this week. The sequels feature some old friends, namely Spider-Man and the group of toys from “Toy Story,” with the cowboy Woody dominating the storyline. The fantasy will make you smile, especially if you like Beatles’ music and love stories. Let’s get to the particulars.

In “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” we pick up Peter Parker’s story a little bit after the end of “Avengers, Endgame,” where we learn of Ironman’s fate, along with the rest of humanity. Since that was the first time Parker (Tom Holland) was able to don his Spider-Man suit and help everyone by fighting the evil of Thanos, Parker felt confident that he had achieved the end that Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.) wanted, namely that he had become an Avenger and had acquitted himself well in that final battle.

Now he could do some things he always wanted to do. He wants to travel, and it just so happened that his high school was planning a trip to Europe and Parker wants in. He doesn’t want his senior year in high school to pass without doing some “normal” things. The trouble is that Parker is not a “normal” boy. The Spider-man stuff is both a blessing and a curse, as Peter sees it, but now it is more a curse since it is interfering with his attempts at a budding romance.

He likes a girl called MJ (Zendaya), and since she is going on the trip, too, he feels this is his chance to be alone with her and let nature happen. Or, well, at least be alone with her. While in Italy, some strange things begin to happen near Venice as his school group begins to explore the canals.

Angry gusts of wind, with human faces, begin to destroy things, and one man is able to stop them, a hero called Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is also investigating these wind gusts, looking for ways to stop them. He decides he needs Spider-Man on the case as well, but Peter is not taking his calls, wanting instead to be with his school chums. Mysterio is able to handle the Elementals, as the monsters are called, but warns that should they converge in a place where the Fire Elemental would be able to tap into the heat at the earth’s core, he would not have the power to stop it.

Peter, mesmerized by Mysterio, realizes that maybe with this hero on board, his Spidey powers would not be needed as much, and he could go on being a more normal young man. Besides, with Nick Fury on the case, he needn’t worry about having to “fit in” anymore and could go on being “normal” and romancing MJ.

We all know how this will turn out. “Spider-Man: Far from Home” does not disappoint. Holland is a fine Spidey, but it would be good if his voice could change and he could mature, which would happen if he were to enjoy a nice romance. Parker’s relationship with Tony Stark is explored in full, including having Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Stark’s personal driver, carry on the same job with Parker. This of course comes in handy throughout the film in a variety of ways. Happy also finds the time to romance Parker’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

A lot of tricky story strands weave together to make “Spider-Man: Far from Home” work, and director Jon Watts does yeoman labor keeping everything moving, and tight, and creating a memorable film. This “Spider-Man” works, whether far from home or not.

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Like me, maybe you wondered why Disney needed to make a “Toy Story 4” after “Toy Story 3” had such nice closure to it. Stupid question! I’m convinced, after just a fleeting thought, the Disney folks would exhume a corpse, dress it up, and set a movie around it, damn the smell, if they were sure it would make money.

And so, nine years after “Toy Story 3,” we have “Toy Story 4,” with a combination of old and new characters including Bonnie, the new 5-year-old proprietor of the toys, and a gigantic road trip of a story during which all manner of problems get solved or resolved. Is it good? Yes, surprisingly so. Director Josh Cooley, who cut his teeth as voice talent in two other animated hits, 2009’s “Up” and 2015’s “Inside/Out,” brings that dedication and experience to the helm of “T.S. 4,” and he has crafted a winner.

We learn some things about the toys in this film. Yes, they have consciousness, and yes, they have an idea about their limitations; just think of Mr. Potato Head and the confines of the pieces that make up his face, for instance, and how they need to go in a particular order when placed there. In addition to these two ideas, we learn a third in “T.S. 4:” All toys have a purpose.

Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) at first brings this up with a “toy” that was made on Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten, with pieces of felt, a spork, and pipe-cleaners, which she named “Forky” (voice of Tony Hale). Because Forky was made basically of trash, it spends all its time, while not playing with Bonnie, looking to go into the trash can, where it feels it belongs.

This sparks a conversation between Woody and Forky on the nature and purpose of toys. Woody says the purpose of toys is to give their humans love, and to be there whenever humans need them. It turns out to be such an important idea, this “purpose” of toys, that Woody makes an important decision about his own purpose late in the film, and that carries special significance for a few of the toys that take part in an important rescue mission.

Woody is also reunited with his special friend from his past. In a flashback, we see Woody and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) get separated, and it was painful for Woody to remember her. (So, toys have memory – interesting.) As the family travels out to a local carnival in a town along the road trip route, Woody meets up with Bo Peep again, who has become something of a covert toy operative, a G.I. Jane, who, living on her own, seemingly has no “purpose.”

But she does, helping Woody get back the things that are important to Bonnie, and she employs many of the toys she has “helped,” including Duke Caboom (a hilarious Keanu Reeves), Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), Bunny (Jordan Peele), Gabby Gabby (Kristina Hendricks) and Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki). It should be mentioned that this is a very diverse group. Duke Caboom is even Canadian! Not only does “T.S. 4” delve deeply into the psychology of toy-dom, it is also quite diverse. Diversity pundits should be proud.

It turns out that my question at the beginning of this discussion is moot. “Toy Story 4” is a good film in its own right and has enough philosophical and psychological musings to satisfy Martin Heidegger and Sigmund Freud. Go see it anyway. Besides all that, it’s very entertaining.

*   *   *

For our fantasy, we’ll look at “Yesterday,” a parable by director Danny Boyle, the savvy auteur who gave us “Slumdog Millionaire.” If he’s at the helm, bet the house, the boat and the car that the film will be good.

And it is, telling the story of down-on-his-luck singer Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) and his faithful manager Ellie (Lily James). Jack plays the garage-band circuit, gets minimal applause, and often leaves the gig unfulfilled, even though Ellie is solidly in his corner.

One night, after another unmemorable performance, Jack decides to give it all up, but the universe has different plans for him. There is an electric blackout that affects the whole world, causing all the traffic lights to blink off, too. Riding home from the gig, Jack switches from a car to a 10 speed, and is cruising along when he gets hit by a bus, which didn’t see him due to the blackout.

Jack awakens in a hospital bed, missing a tooth, but otherwise OK. He does not think anything will be different after the blackout but is surprised to learn that some things are. While playing around with his guitar, he begins to sing Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday,” to the astonishment of Ellie and two other friends who are with him.

They had never heard of the song, and pronounced it excellent, and Jack is astounded. No one, it seems, in Jack’s circle has ever heard of The Beatles, and when he Googled it, the spell check changed it to Beetles. Jack is the only one to know who they were.

Actually, that’s not quite correct. There are two others whose memories were not affected by the blackout, but there were several other memories besides the Beatles that were erased by the blackout, including the existence of one very important person whom Jack seeks out after having been given the address by the two people not affected. Jack, you see, sees his career soar like a meteor after he sings some Beatles songs. His only problem is remembering them all.

His first break comes when the real singer, Ed Sheeran, hears him sing and offers to help his career. Sheeran is certainly game in this film and is a good counterpoint to Jack’s Beatles songs when he offers Jack a contest: See which of the two of them can compose the music and lyrics to a song in something like 10 minutes. The winner is the best vocalist between them.

Sheeran’s song is one typical of the songs he writes; it’s a solid little song. Jack sings “The Long and Winding Road,” and then Sheeran tosses it off with a smile and the knowing look that he lost the contest. So, Jack’s career shoots off into the stratosphere, and he sings all Beatles songs, managed now by powerhouse Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), Ellie having seen that Jack’s career is much more complex than she can manage.

Ellie also saw Jack growing apart from her, not knowing that Jack was dealing with the guilt of using Beatles songs and capitalizing on their music by calling it his own. This will be the defining moment for Jack, how he’s able to deal with his guilt and the problem of losing Ellie. Ellie at one point tells him that she loved him when he was a nobody, but Jack was too busy working on his music to notice. He notices now.

“Yesterday” is a film steeped in whimsy and anchored by a lie. Jack has to deal with both the lie and the loss of Ellie. He does, and the film’s whimsical side gives it some excellent music. “Yesterday” is able to keep our attention to the story by using some of the best songs written in the last 100 years. There’s also a love story of great consequence. Enjoy the music and enjoy the story.

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