Children's playthings come to life once again, an ex-inmate finds her voice, and a Nobel Prize winner speaks about her legacy, all at this weekend's box office.
With both Child's Play and Toy Story 4 hitting theaters Friday, it's playtime at this weekend's box office.
Chucky returns to terrorize all those who cross his path with new and improved artificial intelligence technology, while Buzz Lightyear and Woody set out to save the newest member of the gang, Forky.
But animated dolls aside, this weekend offers a variety of titles, including Luc Besson's latest lady assassin flick, Anna, and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.
Also hitting big screens this weekend are comedies Swinging Safari and Burn Your Maps and comedy-drama Wild Rose.
From witty and magical to crass and plotless, here's what critics with The Hollywood Reporter thought of this weekend's titles.
Luc Besson adds to his list of kick-ass female assassins with Anna.
Starring Sasha Luss and Helen Mirren, Anna follows a model-turned-gunslinger (Luss) as she kills her way to becoming the world's most feared government assassin.
According to THR film critic John DeFore, Besson's latest action thriller may not be worth buying a ticket for.
"Improbably talented assassins; super-spies in tight skirts — yes, Luc Besson has been here before, and, after his showy failure to launch a sci-fi franchise around Valerian's thousand planets, you can hardly blame him for going back to the well in search of an easy hit. But the thrill is long gone in Anna, a lifeless and instantly forgettable spy flick whose lead, Sasha Luss (a model whose only previous acting credit was in the aforementioned bomb), shows zero promise as a movie star," DeFore wrote. "Unpicky genre fans may turn out on opening weekend, but older moviegoers in search of thrills they found in La Femme Nikita or The Professional should probably turn to another flavor of '90s nostalgia instead, and buy a ticket to Toy Story 4."
An 8-year-old's existential crisis leads a family to Mongolia.
Room's Jacob Tremblay stars as Wes, a boy who truly believes he is a goat herder from Mongolia. He creates goats out of toilet paper, dons Mongolian herding gear and examines pictures of ancient herders. Desperate to help her son become one of the native Mongolians, Alise (Vera Farminga) books a trip to the East Asian country.
Burn Your Maps "is the sort of determinedly offbeat effort that requires expert execution to pull off. Unfortunately, despite some fine performances and enjoyable moments, the film never manages to make its quirkiness engaging," THR's Frank Scheck wrote, adding that the performers "shine, even if the material doesn't." He singled out Tremblay, who "demonstrates yet again that he is one of the most emotive child actors in the business," and Farmiga, who "conveys so many conflicting emotions in such quicksilver and effortless fashion that she actually manages to elevate the gimmicky material into something seemingly profound."
Still, Scheck noted that the movie has been "sitting on the shelf for three years" and that the "barely there storyline never develops any emotional traction."
Chucky returns for playtime, this time with artificial intelligence.
Hoping to bring some comfort and happiness to her son's life, Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) purchases him an animatronic companion, Chucky (now voiced by Mark Hamill). But when bodies start dropping like flies, it's up to young Andy Barclay (Ariel Bateman) and his friends to put an end to the toy's reign of terror.
Child's Play, THR film critic Keith Uhlich wrote, fails to live up to the earlier entries in the franchise. He also noted that creator Don Mancini was not involved in this remake/reboot, and his absence is felt.
"Mancini has made his displeasure with this redo known," Uhlich wrote. "And the biggest knock against it is that the idiosyncratic qualities (up, down and in-between) of the other films in the series have been sanded and smoothed. Stem to stern, this 88-minute slasher runs like the clockwork bit of machinery it is, and that baseline competence effectively leeches it of personality."
He added that while "there is some pleasure in watching a machine do its job," this film is not as enjoyable as the original or its earlier sequels.
"Nothing on display here beats Bride of Chucky's doll-on-doll sex scene, of course, nor that marvelous moment in the first Child's Play when Chucky's goody-goody expression drops, he hurls some choice invective at poor Catherine Hicks, and then exits the scene Trilogy of Terror-style. The makeshift nature of Mancini's originals handily outshines this slick, corporate cash-grab. I'll still give Child's Play redux this: Best end credits song since Gran Torino."
THR critic Harry Windsor writes that Swinging Safari is crass, colorful and hangs together by the barest of threads.
The film, written and directed by Stephan Elliott, follows 14-year-old Jeff March (Atticus Robb) who, equipped with a Super-8 camera, tries to navigate the sex-drenched and chaotic environment of Nobby's Beach, Australia, during the '70s.
Conflicts arise when a swinging party for neighborhood parents doesn't go as planned, leaving March and his newfound friend Melly (Darcey Wilson) to find ways to enjoy themselves besides their parents' antics.
Windsor wrote that Elliott's feature possesses "lots of enthusiasm but no plot."
A whale's washing-up on the beach seems to catch the protagonist's and others' attention, "just how the whale powers the plot never becomes clear," Windsor noted.
Swinging Safari may follow the children of feuding families, but Windsor wrote that the adults are more entertaining.
The bottom line for Windsor: "It never quite coheres into either a romance or a coming-of-age story."
Toni Morrison, the 87-year-old writer behind Beloved, Sula and Song of Solomon, narrates her life and her claims to fame in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.
THR critic Caryn James calls the near two-hour doc a "solid, visually beautiful documentary" about the literary figure that informs both those familiar and unfamiliar with her work.
The film about the 1993 Nobel Prize winner has occasional bursts of flair, but ultimately likens itself to "an unadventurous installment of American Masters," James writes.
Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey and Sonia Sanchez join the documentary's cast to speak on Morrison's legacy as well as how her writing depicts the African American experience.
"The clarity of her vision as she talks about race may be the most trenchant and potent aspect of the film," James writes.
Nearly a decade after Toy Story 3, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang are back for even more adventures outside of the toy box.
Andy's beloved toys, now under the care of Bonnie, embark on a journey to find the kindergartner's newest friend Forky after he separates from the family. The plastic spork, with pipe cleaners for limbs and a pair of googly eyes and an etched-on smile for a face, escapes the family's car mid-road trip and leads the fluffed and stuffed crew on an adventure of new memories and second chances.
In his film review, THR critic Todd McCarthy asks the question: "How many other film series can legitimately claim to have hit four home runs in a row?"
McCarthy praises the Toy Story 4 crew for striking magic a fourth time to create "another fully worthy sibling."
Though the first three films set a foundation for the iconic characters like Buzz and Woody, Toy Story 4 allows the secondary toys to shine through, McCarthy writes. Co-scripters Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom breathe ambition and gusto into an oft-forgotten toy: Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts).
"In the context of the Toy Story world, 'secondhand' also implies the possibility of a second chance (as well as the name of the antique store), which is exactly where the new film really takes off," he writes. "Bo Peep has been fleshed out and made so ingratiating and self-confident that she now emerges as something close to the heart of the film."
McCarthy says that the film does well with its original "first-rate voice cast," but is even more magical with new additions to the Toy Story voice lineup, like the Keanu Reeves-voiced Duke Caboom.
"Like its predecessors, the film is rambunctious, noisy, genial, unpretentious, action-packed and old-fashioned in a very good way," he concludes.
Wild Rose follows the high and low notes of a single mother's journey to country music fame, from her time in the slammer to her performances onstage.
THR film critic Leslie Felperin writes that Tom Harper's drama resembles great country songs: it builds on a classic and familiar structure into a memorable piece of work.
"Out of these familiar, predictable elements director Tom Harper and screenwriter Nicole Taylor have fashioned something entirely delightful, fresh as a Scottish summer evening," Felperin writes. "Certain to win hearts in its home market and acquired by Neon at Toronto, this could represent a breakout, toe-tapping hit."
Jessie Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn Harlan, a young mother who just wrapped up her time in the prison for heroin possession. She must put aside her antics to be the mother she wants to be and make it big in the country music world.
Felperin notes that the film's non-sexual relationships between women are both refreshing and practical to the comedy-drama narrative, making it a film "that passes [the Bechdel test] with flying colors."
What helps this movie stand out from others with a similar narrative is Buckley's performance, Felperin notes.
"As a musician, she's terrific, but as an actress she's even better, with ceaselessly mobile features like a changeable Northern sky," she writes.