Lightyear Three stars In cinemas; Cert PG
Is this the beginning of a new enterprise? Should we perhaps brace ourselves for a new line of slickly designed, gargantuanly budgeted Toy Story origins flicks?
If so, I’m especially looking forward to ‘The Good, The Bad and The Woody’, a glum and gritty cartoon western, featuring the smoky tones of, say, Kurt Russell, as everyone’s favourite cowboy sheriff. It will be huge. Merch sales will soar. It is not, you’ll be delighted to hear, a real thing.
Not like Lightyear – which, as you can probably guess by now, is very much a real thing. I’ll admit, I wasn’t aware that Buzz Lightyear, the sarky and occasionally troubled plaything at the centre of Disney Pixar’s most viable and valuable property, needed an origins story.
I thought he was just, you know, a toy. But, hey, reverse engineering is all the rage now at the movies (see the dismal Jurassic World Dominion, reviewed here last week). Major studios continue to realign, reproduce and resell us our favourite things in different boxes, and they’re doing it again with Lightyear.
The opening bars, at least, suggest director and co-writer Angus MacLane knows what he’s, ahem, toying with. The message is loud and clear. In 1995, a boy named Andy received a Buzz Lightyear action figure from his favourite film: this is that film.
A punchy kick-start, and hey, Lightyear’s fictional release date prohibits it from bashing us over the head with contemporary pop culture references. This is a good thing. In fact, Lightyear is a film out of time with everything, including itself.
We begin in a version of the future where humanity has successfully sent a spaceship across the stars without exploding. Earth’s cockiest interstellar traveller, Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans, replacing Tim Allen from the Toy Story series), has awoken from deep space slumber.
He and his crew mates have just landed on a wondrous alien planet populated by pesky space bugs and slippery, man-eating jungle vines. One thing leads to another and, after a routine expedition goes awry, Buzz crashes the ship, and the lads end up marooned on a hostile space rock, some 4.2 million light-years from earth. Hardly ideal.
Buzz – a brawny, brainy cross between Captain Kirk and Jack Reacher – is determined to right his wrongs and to get everyone home. To do so, he’ll need the right sort of fuel to initiate hyper speed. Numerous highfalutin’ test flights around the nearest star result in a series of hazardous time jumps. Basically, a simple test run takes four years to complete. For Buzz, however, it’s just a matter of minutes. You probably know where this is going.
Buzz devotes decades of everyone else’s life trying and failing to achieve his mission, but it’s no use. That is, until his trusted robot companion cat Sox (Peter Sohn) cracks the formula. By that stage, however, Buzz’s new commander is no longer interested in sending his crew home and – it gets worse – the mighty Zurg (James Brolin), a wicked alien robot with a tricky agenda, has arrived on the scene.
He’s brought an army with him, so Buzz will need a gang of his own if he’s to travel to infinity and beyond. A playful, old-fashioned sci-fi adventure set-up there. The follow-through is a bit creaky, though. Lightyear is by no means top-tier Disney Pixar. It boasts none of the originality, and a fraction of the wit of, Up or Inside Out.
Evans has his fun in the voice booth, but Lightyear rarely snaps, crackles and pops the way it should, and you’d miss the aforementioned Allen’s salty, goofy energy as the original star explorer with zero self-awareness. It’s a good thing, then, that its heart is in the right place.
Keke Palmer (Izzy), Taika Waititi (Mo) and Dale Soules (Darby) deliver the goods as Buzz’s comically inept, ragtag crew of misfit space rangers. Sox – a sort of feline HAL, with all the best lines and cutest gags – is a delightful addition to proceedings. Tenner bets that thing is on every kid’s wishlist next Christmas.
How lovely it is, too, to see a same-sex couple in a mainstream Disney cartoon (Buzz’s best friend and commanding officer, Alisha – voiced by Uzo Aduba – marries and starts a family on their new planet).
Listen, I don’t recall anyone asking for this film to be made. But you know something? It works about as well as you could hope for and better than you’d expect. It’s also incredibly lucky to have that awesome, scene-stealing cat in its line-up. Give it a go.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
In cinemas; Cert 16
A handsome Irish sex worker and a retired British school teacher swap stories – and much more besides – in director Sophie Hyde’s charming if somewhat overwritten sex dramedy. Tipperary’s Daryl McCormack is the eponymous Leo Grande, a beautiful, 20-something professional whose services don’t come cheap.
Just ask Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), the aforementioned teacher, a lonely widow for whom sex has never been as pleasurable as she’d like. Thus she’s hired the reliable Leo to help reawaken slumbering desires.
Our leads have issues – that’s what makes them interesting, and it’s what keeps Hyde’s affable presentation ticking over.
Thompson makes it crackle, and McCormack gives as good as he gets with a graceful turn as a young man harbouring some serious baggage (that is not a double entendre). Katy Brand’s busy screenplay has a lot to say about Leo’s profession and, indeed, Nancy’s understanding of the modern world. But this talky, intimate two-hander – largely set in a hotel room – looks and sounds like a filmed play, and might have worked better on a stage. Not a bad watch all the same. Chris Wasser
Everything Went Fine
IFI and selected cinemas; Cert 12A
Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) has to walk a thin line with her father André (André Dussollier). Abusive and self-centred, he was never the picture-perfect dad, but she is compelled to help when he asks to end things following a debilitating stroke.
With her equally dutiful sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) helping bear some of the burden, Emmanuèle contacts an assisted dying clinic in Switzerland and puts in place arrangements for André to travel there in due course. But besides the impending loss she will have to face, there is another pain Emmanuèle struggles with – that neither she nor the rest of his family are enough to make him want to live.
Never one to shy away from uncomfortable truths about human nature, director François Ozon takes a sober but somehow buoyant reading on assisted dying that is not trying to lecture anyone about anything. Former Bond Girl Marceau is impeccable amid difficult subject matter.
Credit must go to Ozon’s screenplay, which he adapted from a book by the late Emmanuèle Bernheim, herself a revered screenwriter responsible for Ozon’s 2003 hit Swimming Pool. A fitting tribute, indeed. Hilary White
Netflix; Cert 15
Miles Teller is Jeff, an inmate at a mysterious penitentiary who, like his fellow convicts, has volunteered for a series of drug trials. These mind-altering chemicals are administered via surgical implants controlled by Steve (Chris Hemsworth), the facility’s suave and chirpy head scientist. The aim is to see if these new chemicals could be the answer to shortcomings in things such as desire, anxiety or aggression.
The generally civil atmosphere hinges on the test subjects not thinking too much about what they are involved in. But Steve’s tests become increasingly “ethically questionable”, shall we say, and Jeff develops feelings for another inmate (Jurnee Smollett). Boundaries are fractured and the animals in the zoo come to realise what is really in play.
Fans of dystopian dread in the Black Mirror vein could do worse than this tidy amalgam of sci-fi, mystery, and dark humour, all served to a yacht-rock soundtrack. Adapting a George Saunders short story, Top Gun: Maverick’s man-of-the-moment Joseph Kosinski ensures a slick visual finish. Teller and Hemsworth bounce well off one another. Hilary White