Skip to main content

Boo! Pick a plotline!

Inside Out
(2015)

(SPOILERS) The near-universal acclaim greeting the all-but latest Pixar offering is mostly warranted. It’s certainly their best feature in years, years that have been replete with a cash-in sequels and not-quite-there, increasingly rare, original outings. I have to admit I was sceptical, with Inside Out’s familiar high concept premise having been explored before, in movies, TV and animation, and what appeared to be a dubiously patronising approach to the workings of the mind (you know, for kids!) Yet, while Inside Out is sometimes a little rocky in terms of structure and plotting, it is mostly persuasively irresistible in character, and often hearteningly inventive. It might not be quite up to the standards of Pixar’s peak period, but Peter Doctor’s animation suggests such days aren't yet behind them.


Initially, the distillation of emotions into the handful that comprises Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust seems reductive and arch. Added to which, there’s a sense, not uncommon with Pixar fare, that this is a movie made by parents trying to relate to and understand their kids, rather than being a movie actually, you know, for kids. That feeling still lingers at times, and the lesser aspect is undoubtedly the uncanny valley of aesthetically-challenged parents and child. Like Toy Story (fortunately, the humans aren't quite so unnerving as the specimens there), the animators limit themselves to a milieu of domestic mundanity and attempt to eke out something creative therein. In both cases, the kids themselves aren't really a part of the vibrant aspect of the scenario, don't get to embrace it; Pixar’s children reflect the restricted reality of their mobility-challenged parents, wedged behind computer screens banging out code all day.


But Pete Doctor, whose Monsters, Inc. I didn’t find overly impressive, unchanged by repeat visits, has nevertheless tapped into an infectious cause-and-effect here. While the emotions’ designs are nothing particularly special, they’re undeniably effective. Joy’s struggle for control of her host’s diminishing sense of positivity, as she is uprooted and moved to San Francisco, may be a little hard to swallow as a new thing for an eleven-year-old (everything has been Rainbow Unicorns, the odd interlude excepted, it seems we are supposed to think), but the give-and-take as other emotions, particularly Sadness, wrest control, and Joy learns empathy through Sadness (sadness can be a positive emotion!), is a tidy and measured metaphor (leading to an obligatory family hug which is, at least, as Doctor points out, something different from the usual fireworks finale).


The internal logic of Riley’s state of mind, with Joy and Sadness excised from the control room, did give me pause, since it’s difficult to swallow that, in her uprooted and distressed state, Sadness wouldn’t also be getting a look in amid the Anger, Fear and Disgust, and I found the islands of personality rather a banal visual device (smacking too much of a “how your brain works” documentary), ditto Joy’s attempts to retain perceived vital core memories. But Joy and Sadness’ attempts to navigate their way back to Headquarters is confidently paced, and occasionally even dazzles.


Imaginary childhood friend Bing Bong, marvellously voiced by Richard Kind, is a splendid creation, mostly candy and part-cat, part-elephant, part-dolphin, who even cries candy (and whose departure from the picture is truly touching). 


And the further the picture strays from its central purpose, the more creatively engaged it becomes, the highlight being a flight through abstract thought, in which the characters break down into cubist and two-dimensional forms. The dream production factory is also quite smart (the I’m Falling for a Very Long Time into a Pit poster, styled on Vertigo), although this also highlights a tendency to take easy, rather than less travelled options; a scary clown? Again? Really? Hatred of broccoli? Likewise, the imaginary boyfriend, which seems more about writers lost for ideas than congruent with their character.


One might argue the representation of the internal workings of the adult minds also indulges lazy stereotypes (dad is always thinking about football, mum is constantly on-message, except when she is daydreaming of the guy she could have been with instead of her husband, which is slightly off; perhaps they should have showed dad surfing porn sites too, while they were at it?), something underlined by the inferior Riley’s First Date? short (it’s what you’d imagine the picture would be like if everyone was taking a lot less care than Doctor). Essentially, though, this gag-based shorthand is effective and funny, designed to evidence our comparable inner processes, rather than something to get too worked up over.


The voice cast, led by Amy Phoeler, acquit themselves with honours, although it’s a case where you wonder – as ever with modern animations – what names like Kyle McLachlan and Diane Lane brought to the table when unknown vocal artists could surely have got the job done just as well. I’d read mixed things about the Lava short that preceded screenings of Inside Out, but I found it charming; probably its standing rests on whether you go for the simple, catchy tune, which I did. Inside Out already seems to have been lent perspective by the subsequent nose-dive that is The Good Dinosaur; hopefully Pixar press forward with its successes in mind, rather than taking the back foot due to its failures. They desperately need more Inside Outs, and less Cars 3s and even (much as I’m intrigued to see them, I also think they’d have been better left as stand-alones) Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

Now you're here, you must certainly stay.

The Avengers 4.1:The Town of No Return
The Avengers as most of us know it (but not in colour) arrives fully-fledged in The Town of No Return: glossier, more eccentric, more heightened, camper, more knowing and more playful. It marks the beginning of slumming it film directors coming on board (Roy Ward Baker) and sees Brian Clemens marking out the future template. And the Steed and Mrs Peel relationship is fully established from the off (albeit, this both was and wasn’t the first episode filmed). If the Steed and Cathy Gale chemistry relied on him being impertinently suggestive, Steed and Emma is very much a mutual thing.

He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.

Baby Driver (2017)
(SPOILERS) Pure cinema. There are plenty of directors who engage in superficial flash and fizz (Danny Boyle or JJ Abrams, for example) but relatively few who actually come to the medium from a root, core level, visually. I’m slightly loathe to compare Edgar Wright with the illustrious likes of Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, partly because they’re playing in largely different genre sandpits, partly because I don’t think Wright has yet made something that compares to their best work, but he operates from a similar sensibility: fashioning a movie foremost through image, supported by the soundtrack, and then, trailing a distant third, comes dialogue. Baby Driver is his most complete approximation of that impulse to date.

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
(SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell, as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick.

Evil Bill: First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted: Then we take over their lives.
My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reeves in the summer of ’91 (inflatio…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…