James Brolin

Lightyear

21/06/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

After the recent disappointment of watching Pixar’s latest releases on the small screen, it’s great to see one back in its natural home – but my delight is somewhat dulled by the fact that this is a prequel to their super-successful Toy Story franchise. What’s more, what’s happened to the practice of showing a new short film before every feature? I hope that returns.

The film begins with a title card reminding us that, in the original story, Buzz Lightyear was an action-figure inspired by a movie, and we are about to watch that movie.

Here, Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans, replacing Tim Allen for no explicable reason) is a Space Ranger in Star Command, who, when we first encounter him, is exploring habitable planet T’kani Prime with his commander, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) – but his miscalculation while trying to escape the hostile life-forms that live there leaves him marooned, along with the huge crew aboard his ship. The only possible method of escape requires Buzz to fly at hyperspeed, something he repeatedly tries to do, but each trip he makes means that, though he remains the same age, everybody else ages by years.

The film’s early stages are expertly piloted, alternating suspenseful skirmishes and cliffhangers with moments of real poignancy and, needless to say, the animation throughout is sumptuous. As ever there are some wonderful characterisations here. ‘Empathy feline robot’ Sox (Peter Sohn) is a particular delight, and the fact that Alisha is gay and that she and her partner have a child is so perfectly handled, I start to think that we’re on a perfect trajectory for another Pixar triumph.

But around the halfway stage, a mysterious villain called The Emporer Zurg (James Brolin) arrives on T’kani with battalions of Zyclops robots under his command, while Buzz finds himself reluctantly teaming up with Alisha’s daughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer). Suddenly everything starts to feel much more generic and, it must be said, far too complicated for its own good. If I struggle with the labyrinthine twists of the timey-wimey adventures that ensue, God only knows what the battalions of school kids occupying the front row seats make of them.

There’s an interesting reveal towards the film’s conclusion but, by this time, too much impetus has been lost to save the project. This is a shame, because that first half demonstrates that the team at Pixar can make the most inauspicious vehicle fly, even if – as in this case – they can’t make it stay the distance.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Only the Brave

13/11/17

The poster for Only the Brave suggests we are in for a good old-fashioned disaster movie, but director Joseph Kosinski is clearly more interested in the characters who made up the real life Granite Mountain Hot Shots – a bunch of hard-as-nails firefighters based in Prescott, Arizona. While this is no doubt an admirable attempt to flesh out some genuine heroes, it fatally flaws the story arc of the film, which keeps breaking off from the action to regale us with some macho prank the boys have indulged in. The result is that the story only occasionally generates enough heat to keep an audience fully hooked.

Things begin well enough with Supervisor Eric Marsh (James Brolin) champing at the bit as he tries to obtain ‘hot shot’ status for his crew of municipal firefighters. (Without that tag they will always be relegated to a support role whenever there’s a major fire). Meanwhile, young hothead and general drug abuser, Brendan McCulloch (Miles Teller) gets his girlfriend pregnant and, in a desperate attempt to clean up his act, decides to put himself forward as a candidate for the fire team. Marsh, recognising something of himself in Brendan, decides to give him a chance and before very much longer, the Granite Mountain boys have their hot shot status and are working around the clock in a series of extremely dangerous situations. Meanwhile, their long suffering wives and girlfriends must endure the knowledge that their partners might never survive the latest disaster…

There’s clearly a fascinating (and it must be said, tragic) real life story at the heart of this, but with over twenty firefighters on the team, it’s hard for us to differentiate between more than just a few of them. And,¬†if you’re blessed with Jeff Bridges in your cast, it might be a good idea to give him something to do. The female characters, mind you, ¬†barely get a look in. Jennifer Connelly as Marsh’s wife, Amanda, has something approaching a decent role but poor Andie McDowell is left to sit around, looking glum.

The ending when we get to it, is admittedly devastating – but by then, most of our goodwill for the film has gone up in smoke as the script cuts back and forth, recounting details that we really didn’t need to know about. Also, there’s a tendency here to assume we understand the principals of firefighting. Scenes where the team are actually setting fire to areas of forest in order to prevent the spread of an approaching conflagration might have needed a little more explanation. As it is, we’re just left to assume.

Ultimately, Only the Brave is a powerful story, awkwardly told. While it generates the occasional spark, it never really fully ignites.

3 stars

Philip Caveney