by Tyler Glover
Director: Angus MacLane
Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer & Taika Waititi
Runtime: 1 hour & 40 minutes
In December 2020 when Pixar first announced the development of a Buzz Lightyear origin story, I was immediately skeptical. Audiences have always known Buzz as one of Andy or Bonnie’s toys in all four ‘Toy Story’ films. So, it was difficult to imagine a Buzz with no Woody, Jessie, Rex or Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. My skepticism grew even more when it was announced that Tim Allen would not be voicing Buzz Lightyear anymore, but it would be Chris Evans instead. So, now that “Lightyear” has been released, does it have a friend in us?
“Lightyear” follows Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger in Star Command, and his best friend, Alisha Hawthorne as they are investigating a habitable planet. After having to retreat to their spaceship after finding the planet has some hostile creatures, Buzz accidentally damages the vessel leaving them stranded on the planet. A year later, the crew has made a colony to live in while also developing a way to return to Earth. Buzz, very driven to fix his mistake and complete the mission, volunteers to test hyperspace fuel that will help them escape from the planet. However, after he returns, four years have passed for everyone else while just minutes have passed for him. His continued pursuits leave him un-aging but sees his friend, Alisha get engaged to her girlfriend, have a baby, have that baby graduate college, and have a child of their own. Finally, Buzz receives the help from Sox, a robotic cat, Alisha’s adult granddaughter, Izzy, and two others named Mo Morrison and Darby Steel. Eventually, they are even forced to come face to face with the infamous Zurg.
One thing to note about Pixar films is that they have set the bar for animation so incredibly high that even films that are really good may not measure up to previous films. Pixar has produced so many movies that have multiple repeat viewings in my household, like: “Finding Nemo,” “Up,” all ‘Toy Story’ movies, “Coco” and “Inside Out” for example. When Pixar is brilliant, they are brilliant! So, while “Lightyear” may not be one of the best additions to Pixar’s filmography, it is still a very entertaining, action-packed and at times, funny film. This film is also the same film that Andy watched in the first “Toy Story” that made him want to get a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Andy proves to not only have great taste in toys but also in movies.
Sox, the robotic cat, will be the standout in this movie for many. Sox is such a fun and clever companion to Buzz that it will no doubt sell lots of merchandise for Disney. However, one thing that really resonated with me is having lovable characters that still have flaws. Disney has had a history of showing us seemingly “perfect” heroes and heroines. Snow White and Cinderella, for example, are model examples for all of us in showing kindness to people that are against us. While I love those films, “Lightyear” shows us a protagonist whose pride and ego are very visible throughout and shows us the consequences of those flaws. We also have a supporting character in Darby Steel, who is a paroled convict. As a consequence, there are times she is not able to help as a condition of her parole.
The film also shows us the world for the way it is. In the film, Buzz’s friend, Alisha, is a lesbian. This is the first time Disney and Pixar have had such a central character be a part of the LGBTQIA community. The thing getting some press is that the film shows a same-sex kiss on screen. The truth of the matter is even if you are against the gay community, it is not stopping them from being a part of our world. Films should represent the world as it is and tell those stories. Gay people are a part of the world’s story.
Where the film truly lacks in comparison to other Pixar films is in its emotional aspect. There are moments that resonate with you but not in the way “Up” or “Finding Nemo” do. It is not saying that all Pixar films have to be that way but when you have played up an emotional aspect very heavily in most of your films and then one doesn’t have it, it can feel a little jarring. The truth is there were moments where the film started to truly highlight an emotional aspect, but it was too quick and rushed to leave the lasting impact it probably planned to give. At times, I felt like the heart of the film was sacrificed for more of the normal summer blockbuster action leaving the film to be exciting to watch in the moment but leave very little impact days later.
So, does “Lightyear” have a friend in me? It’s the kind of friend I will occasionally meet for lunch, but we don’t vacation at Christmas together.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks & Helen Thomson
Runtime: 2 hours & 39 minutes
Elvis Presley just wanted to sing and be loved. Colonel Tom Parker just wanted his carnival sideshow chicken to dance for money. This is essentially the premise of director Baz Luhrmann’s epic Elvis Presley biopic “Elvis,” in theaters now.
“Elvis” is Luhrmann’s first film in almost a decade since 2013’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby and only his sixth film in his 30-year directorial career. He doesn’t rush to pop out film after film, meaning if he’s doing one it’s most likely a passion project. Luhrmann’s hand is all over “Elvis,” from the creative flourishes behind the camera and penning the script with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner. The film is expansive – covering Presley’s career from its beginnings to his young death. An interesting aspect of “Elvis” is choosing the film’s villain Colonel Tom Parker to be its storyteller.
The film opens with Parker (played by Tom Hanks in an unusual heel turn) being rushed to a Las Vegas hospital in 1997, 20 years after the death of Elvis. Parker is old and his health failing, and he takes us viewers on his career’s magnum opus, which was the guiding and controlling of Elvis from Memphis kid just wanting to sing R&B to the biggest pop culture superstar the country and even world had ever seen.
Parker was a carnival worker by trade who became musical promoter and manager for country music acts like Hank Snow and stumbled upon Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride radio show early in his Sun Records days when he sees the way young women in particular are taken by his music, but mostly his physical persona and gyrations on stage. He doesn’t see Elvis the man or Elvis the artist. He sees dollar signs from the beginning and no matter how much he fools Elvis, those surrounding Elvis or even himself he'll never see him as anything more than his dancing chicken.
By the time Elvis realizes Parker’s ill intentions it’s much too late.
“Elvis” is the story of an all-time legend – one who would’ve been such no matter who managed him – and the conman who ultimately brought him down.
Austin Butler was essentially an unknown. He had roles in two short-lived, unacclaimed television shows before beating out major names like Harry Styles and Miles Teller for his breakthrough role as Elvis. It’s clearly a star-making turn for Butler who absolutely holds his own playing off of Hanks, one of cinema’s all-time greatest actors, for more than two-and-a-half hours. Never does it feel like Butler is outmatched and that’s utterly amazing. A bad or even slightly underwhelming performance from Butler would’ve greatly harmed the overall impact of “Elvis” and he pulled it off filling the world’s most famous jumpsuit.
I’ve seen a great number of Hanks performances and can’t remember him ever playing a villain. His turn as Parker is brilliant, I hope Academy Awards voters remember a June release when it comes time to vote for Best Supporting Actor at next year’s Oscars. Parker’s selfishness and “me first” personality just ooze out of Hanks the entire film.
The supporting cast of Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley (Elvis’ wife), Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley (Elvis’ mom) and Richard Roxburgh as Vernon Presley (Elvis’ father) are adequate and don’t need to be anything more as the movie isn’t really focused on those close to Elvis other than Parker.
As for Luhrmann’s impact on the film there’s absolutely no doubt you’re watching a Luhrmann film from the very beginning with its resplendent colors, fast-paced movements and editing and the use of modern music, especially hip-hop throughout a film about the so-called King of Rock & Roll. Some of these, especially the use of hip-hop, are flourishes that might affect the opinion of the film from some of the older theater patrons, no doubt longtime fans of Elvis hoping to see his life on the big screen, but honestly they work – maybe not as well as in older Luhrmann films like 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet” and 2001’s “Moulin Rouge,” where they’re large, important factors in those films – but it’s certainly not a detriment to “Elvis.”
The only thing about “Elvis” I could really say is a bother is its two hour and 39 minute runtime – which has been a common criticism for me lately of film. There’s not really anything specifically I’d care to see cut out to shorten the runtime, but the length of the film did allow me at least once during the showtime to lose focus temporarily and think about how actor Richard Roxburgh reminded me of old Hollywood actor Robert Ryan in terms of looks. If you can avoid losing focus simply due to the long length and today’s short attention spans you’ll find yourself enjoying “Elvis.”
by Julian Spivey
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening & Rainn Wilson
Runtime: 1 hour & 36 minutes
“Jerry & Marge Go Large,” which can be seen streaming on Paramount+, is a nice way to spend an evening at home with a good-natured, fun based on a true story of a man who found a mathematical loophole in the Massachusetts lottery and made enough to help out his struggling hometown.
Bryan Cranston stars as Jerry Selbee, a Michigander who has just been forced to retire from his factory job working for Kellogg’s cereal in Evart, Mich. and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his newfound free time.
He realizes there’s a loophole in the state’s Winfall lottery game, which pays out for three and four correct numbers once it hits a certain jackpot if there’s no jackpot winner, in which you could win a substantial amount of money as long as you bet a certain amount.
Just after he wins and admits to his wife Marge, played by Annette Bening, that he’s been playing the lottery and winning Michigan eliminates the Winfall game. The only other state with a similar game is Massachusetts, so every couple of weeks when the jackpot is about to rollover Jerry and Marge make the 10-hour trip from Michigan to Massachusetts and spend an entire day in a gas station printing out lottery slips. The station is owned and operated by Bill, played by Rainn Wilson for comedic affect in the film.
The couple not only wins enough to pad their bank account but develops their own community fund pooling money together with their friends and family back home to help rebuild the town of Evart, which seems to be dying – probably due to a recession, though the film doesn’t explicitly say that.
A bit of conflict comes about when a brash Harvard student Tyler, played by Uly Schlesinger, also figures out the Winfall game loophole and threatens the Selbees with doxing if they don’t back out.
“Jerry & Marge Go Large,” directed by David Frankel (most known for directing “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley & Me), is quaint but it’s well-aware of this fact. It knows it’s a film for people just wanting to spend a little more than 90 minutes with a lovely couple doing some good in the world and it works due to the performances by Cranston and Bening, very believable as an aging couple that has been married for decades.
“Jerry & Marge Go Large” isn’t a Powerball sweepstakes, but it’s a winning ticket nonetheless that will put a smile on your face while watching and you’re not going to regret spending your time with at the end.
by Alea Jeremiah
Director: Loren Bouchard & Bernard Derriman
Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, John Roberts & Dan Mintz
Runtime: 1 hour & 42 minutes
The Belcher family is who you want to spend your summer with!
“Bob’s Burgers,” an animated comedy on Fox, has been going on for 12 seasons and counting. It’s now finally getting its turn on the big screen. It’s always nerve wracking when a tv show attempts a film, but the “Bob’s Burgers” writers Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith did not fail.
“The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” directed by Bouchard and Bernard Derriman, is a hilarious mystery that’ll keep you entertained from beginning to end. The main plot that sees the Belcher family’s restaurant in peril is wonderful, but the side stories are just as great. You can tell no detail was neglected.
Everything was created with care for the show and that’s so refreshing to see. The family dynamic, as well as the separate relationships within the family are just written so wonderfully. There is something in each character that everyone can relate to. While there is a lot of inside jokes for longtime fans of the TV show, even if you’ve never seen the show you’ll feel right at home with the Belchers.
“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” is simply a feel good movie and that’s what we’ve been needing right now. It’s a complete success and I can’t wait to see more of the show.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Andrew Ahn
Starring: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang and Conrad Ricamora
Runtime: 1 hour & 45 minutes
If you’re looking for a fun gay rom-com to celebrate Pride Month with “Fire Island,” directed by Andrew Ahn, which premiered on Hulu on Friday, June 3 might be up your alley.
“Fire Island” is the brain child of comedian/actor Joel Kim Booster, who not only wrote the screenplay for the film but also stars in the lead role as Noah. Now “Fire Island” is basically a modern, gay telling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice from what I understand but being the uncultured swine I am I can’t really tell you the ins and outs of how – but I didn’t need to know anything about Pride and Prejudice to still enjoy the movie. It seems that Booster’s Noah is a stand-in for Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, his best friend in the film Howie (played by Bowen Yang) is Jane Bennet and Will (played by Conrad Ricamora) is Mr. Darcy.
A group of friends led by Noah and Howie embark on a weeklong vacation to Fire Island, a famous gay escape destination of the southern shore of Long Island. Most of the group goes to party and get laid, but on this trip which seemingly will be the group’s last because their crash pad owned by their lesbian friend (and mother-like figure) Erin (played by Margaret Cho) will need to be sold as she’s out of money, Noah decides that he’s not getting laid until he ensures his BFF Howie does first. Howie isn’t as outgoing as Noah and much of the rest of their friend group and is looking more for the kind of long term relationship like you’d find in a rom-com than the kind of lusty adventurous found on Fire Island.
Howie quickly falls for Charlie (played by James Scully), a rich white doctor seemingly out of his league (apparently a stand-in for Charles Bingley in Austen’s novel). Charlie’s best friend is Will, an uptight lawyer who seems to be the only one not having fun on Fire Island. Will is looking out for his friend’s best interests and immediately rubs Noah the wrong way.
“Fire Island” is filled with many laughs and raunchy antics from the guys throughout, but what stood out to be almost from the very beginning was the sweetness involved – a necessity for a rom-com – both in the friendship of Noah and Howie, and especially later on when it becomes obvious there are feelings between Noah and Will.
I think the thing that stands out the most about “Fire Island,” and maybe this is something that would need to be confirmed by a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, is that it’s a mainstream (produced by Searchlight Pictures and distributed by - wait this can’t be right, can it? – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures) rom-com featuring a cast of entirely gay actors and actresses and is super gay in every way. It wasn’t all that long ago that a movie like this would’ve certainly had to have gone the independent route to be made and released. Now all you have to have is a Hulu subscription.
by Julian Spivey
Cheers rang out from the parking lot outside of the Walter E. Disney Courthouse in Orlando, Fla. on Friday afternoon (June 3) when the verdict was read in the defamation lawsuit between Mickey Mouse and his ex-wife Minnie and Minnie was found to have defamed Mickey in an op-ed titled The Mouse is a Louse published in October of 2019 in the Disney Weekly publication.
The verdict brought to end a contentious court battle between what was once one of America’s most famous married couples – a battle that was fought just as much in the public eye on social media as it was in the courthouse.
In The Mouse is a Louse, Minnie had contended that her marriage with Mickey was filled with infidelity and abuse (both physical and mental). Charges that the once squeaky clean imaged Mickey denied vehemently. Despite Minnie’s startling omissions of Mickey’s constant threat of violence and name-calling and her many affairs with fellow Disney celebrities ranging from all of the Princesses and even a menage a trois with Chip and Dale fans of Mickey maintained their faith in his innocence and wore shirts and held signs outside of the courthouse that read, “We grew up on Mickey! Minnie is the real monster.”
Shortly after the trial began videos began appearing on the social media site MouseTrap where social influencers began criticizing the on the stand performance of Minnie as fake, claiming she was a bad actress and according to one popular video, “the worst fake crier I’ve ever seen.” Another popular influencer going by the pseudonym “Free Mickey Mouse” contended that Minnie was the actual abusive one in the relationship and said to have graphic images of the starlet in bed with Remy from the 2007 Walt Disney Pictures release “Ratatouille.”
For many the court case was a sign that actual truth and facts don’t matter as much in the public eye as one’s onscreen persona. For the millions of fans online and those who showed up in person outside of the courthouse throughout the trial Mickey Mouse will always be that lovable rascal from “Steamboat Willie." Anyone claiming otherwise is merely a liar out to get his billions and ruin his image.
Shortly after the verdict was read and the trial concluded Mickey Mouse hopped on a private jet waiting for him at the Orlando International Airport and flew to Detroit where he was to meet up with oft-controversial rocker Ted Nugent for a recording jam session. Minnie was said to have left the courthouse in an old bootlegger tunnel and her whereabouts is currently unknown. “Free Mickey Mouse” put up a MouseTrap video shortly after claiming we probably wouldn’t hear from Minnie again and posited she’ll “no doubt be found dead in a gutter with a needle in her arm.”