Skip to main content

Boo! Pick a plotline!

Inside Out

(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.


Popular posts from this blog

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

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…

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

We are disintegrating. Our bodies as fast as our minds. Can’t you feel it?

Annihilation (2018)
(SPOILERS) It seems I’m forever destined to miss what others find so remarkable about Alex Garland’s work (I was also the one who didn’t love Ex Machina). Annihilation left me mostly cold while most appear to have done little else but rave about it. Tarkovsky’s Stalker has been invoked, but they’re chalk and cheese, one meditative and elusive, the other transparent and over-didactic. I will say this for the writer-director-auteur, though: he’s finally made a movie where the third act is superior to the preceding portion, even if this time it’s qualitatively inverted. And, he still can’t escape his Apocalypse Now obsession.

In my country, if you don't matter to the men in power, you do not matter.

Red Sparrow (2018)
(SPOILERS) The biggest talking point in the wake of Red Sparrow’s release isn’t the movie itself, it’s whether or not J-Law is a bona fide box office draw. The answer is fairly mundane: about as much as any other big name star outside of a franchise vehicle is. Which isn’t very much. Peg her alongside Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Tom Cruise and on the lower end of the scale, the eternally-struggling-for-an-audience-when-not-Thor Chris Hemsworth. The movie itself, then? While it replicates the stride and demeanour of a traditional Cold War spy yarn with assuredness (as in, it’s a conscious throwback), Red Sparrow falls short in the conviction stakes.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You yell "Shark", we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.

Jaws (1975)
(SPOILERS) I decided to revisit Jaws principally because I was intent on tackling the mostly maligned sequels, and it didn’t seem right to omit the genuine article. And also, because it’s never a chore to watch one of Spielberg’s very best movies, made before he began second-guessing himself and imposing peer review conditions on form and content. The way I see it, there’s the ‘berg before E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the ‘berg after E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and I’d opt for the former over the latter any day.

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

Vodka martini, plenty of ice... if you can spare it.

Die Another Day (2002)
(SPOILERS) Is Die Another Day the worst Bond movie? It certainly puts in a sterling bid for that unenvied garland. It is a peculiar fish, though, spectacularly failing in its attempts to celebrate 40 years of the franchise and its status as the 20th official Bond outing. Wisely, these elements, while liberally included, aren’t damagingly foregrounded; they’re just there. If only the same were true of the picture’s more woefully ill-advised innovations; I’m all for the series experimenting stylistically, but Lee Tamahori’s decision to mess about with the frame rate and indulging in speed ramps are ugly and ill-fitting. Add to that some of the worst CGI ever witnessed in a $100m-plus budgeted motion picture, in a series that hitherto prided itself on keeping things as real as possible (at least the models were real models), and it’s no wonder there was a four-year lay-off and rethink in its wake.

The strangest thing about this outing, though, is that whenever I revi…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …