On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 8, 2019

Toy Story 4 is necessary. Know that first and foremost, that not only is Toy Story 4 a necessary addition to the franchise that launched Pixar, but a meaningful one as well. One wouldn't be at fault for thinking the animation studio has been somewhat off its game over the past few years as it turned into a sequel factory of sorts and churned out entertaining enough diversions to more creatively satisfying original films as that's kind of the fact of the matter save for the occasional Inside Out or Coco. Since Toy Story 3 in 2010 Disney and Pixar have released ten films counting this latest Toy sequel and of those ten films six have been prequels or sequels. These have all been of a certain quality, mind you-as even the third Cars film allowed Pixar's most underwhelming franchise to go out on more of a high note than not-and yet, Toy Story 4 feels like the true return to form the studio needed and that audiences were waiting on. With original creative mastermind John Lasseter only credited as a story contributor among a barrage of other contributors it was up to screenwriters Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) and Stephany Folsom to crack the story as Inside Out screenwriter and frequent Pixar voice actor Josh Cooley was tasked with his feature directorial debut being the fourth installment in this consistently excellent series. No easy task, but to circle back to the beginning of this review is to reiterate that the most difficult obstacle to overcome with a fourth Toy Story film would be that of justifying its existence. Toy Story 3 ended in such a way that it not only wrapped up the story of these toys and the child they'd belonged to for as long as either of them could remember, but it gave closure to those who'd grown up with the first two films and were now transitioning into adulthood themselves. Almost another decade later and the characters of this world are as endearing as ever with Stanton and Folsom's narrative zeroing in on Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) as he learns that being in charge doesn't always mean being in control. While there were seeds of doubt as to whether or not Cooley and the gang (ah thank you) could find what more there was to be said with these characters and this world, what transpires in Toy Story 4 ultimately provides the necessary comfort to the truth spoken by Toy Story 3; if that previous film eased the transition from adolescence to adulthood then this latest (and presumably final?) film discusses how one adapts to their new role in a mature and positive way. Full review here. Video review here. A-

Annabelle Comes Home, the third film in this particular series and seventh in the ongoing “Conjuring universe” is either as good or mediocre as one might expect it to be depending on their level of expectation walking in. For someone such as myself, someone who hasn’t seen either of the previous Annabelle features due to the poor reputation of the first, but also enjoys an entertaining horror flick with a sly sense of humor Annabelle Comes Home turned out to be something of a bonkers, go-for-broke genre flick that ends up being a lot of fun due to the fact expectations dictated this would be no fun at all. Those going in expecting anything more might be slightly underwhelmed given the typical beats the slim outline of a story adheres to as well as a certain lack of grimness that typically permeates from this series. With such tempered expectations though, it’s not difficult to see why the trio of McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, and Katie Sarife become so endearing to the point all the mini-teasers for every other upcoming “Conjuring universe” movie hardly countered the sympathy the audience builds for each of the three girls simple yet effective character arcs. As executed by Conjuring-verse writer and first-time feature director Gary Dauberman, Annabelle Comes Home might make you wonder what the budget on fog machines alone was, but it also genuinely escalates in a way that by the time the film reaches the aforementioned gonzo third act it feels earned and not simply like an obligation. Additionally, Dauberman does a fine job of imitating James Wan's (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring) sweeping sense of menace as the first-time filmmaker opts for more practical scares than CGI spirits. There is a glaring exception to this no CGI rule in the "Black Shuck" folktale from the British Isles, but otherwise Dauberman and his team use a combination of elaborate make-up, simple camera tricks, and some of the most intense sound design ever configured in order to not just create these creatures, but truly craft their presence. Furthermore, it is in both the attention to and appreciation of detail at the level executed here that Annabelle Comes Home turns out to be less a rote reel of horror cliches and more a fun twist on the "house of horrors" concept; the scares getting increasingly more elaborate the deeper one goes while feeling more a rush of excitement and adrenaline as opposed to actual terror by the time it comes to an end. Video review here. C+

Now is the time to speak clearly. This seems to be writer/director Ari Aster's thoughts on the horror genre when approaching his follow-up to last year's breakout genre flick, Hereditary. Speaking clearly in that almost every scene in Midsommar post-title card takes place in the blazing daylight of rural Sweden where the sun seemingly only sets for less than a handful of hours during the summer. In a film that features some of the gnarliest death scenes I've seen, violence so blunt it will make you think Aster is collaborating with S. Craig Zahler, and a third act so twisted and bizarre it will make you question just how twisted and bizarre you are for sitting through it, Midsommar somehow manages to also be a story about Florence Pugh's Dani and her learning how to be both an independent and strong woman who takes control of her own destiny for what is maybe the first time in her life. It just so happens that it takes ancient rituals and bizarre competitions at the hands of a pagan cult to bring these qualities forward. Pugh is great by the way, as is Jack Reynor, but Pugh's portrayal of Dani as this person who relies on people and then relies on more people to work through how much she relies on others is truly psychologically draining and emotionally concerning. Upon arriving in Sweden the clock begins to count down almost immediately as we know something terrifying is coming even if we have no idea where the movie is going. It's almost like a J.J. Abrams "mystery box" scenario of sorts, but one that is sure of itself in that it packs actual resolutions and meaning into its narrative. Needless to say, the experience of Midsommar building toward its third act and unraveling accordingly is, much like the cinematography, one of the purest and most precise exercises in tension I've witnessed in some time. Did it need to be nearly two and half hours? Probably not as it really begins to feel its length near the end, but it also tends to build at such a natural pace that it's hard to say what the film could have gone without. All things considered I was fascinated by everything within the frame here as well as everything between the lines, but while I could see watching this a second time solely for perspectives sake and knowing what to look for past the surface I doubt there would ever be a desire to see or experience it again. Video review here. B

Having never seen a single episode of HBO's Deadwood I obviously haven't seen the long-awaited feature film follow-up that finally debuted this year either, but for those that enjoyed the series I hear the David Milch penned film gives nice closure to everyone's favorite character as it seemed to receive generally positive reactions. Deadwood: The Movie takes place around the residents of Deadwood gathering to commemorate Dakota's statehood in 1889. Saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) and Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) clash with Senator George Hearst (Gerald McRaney).