Sunday, June 21, 2015

Girl, Interrupted: Pixar Returns to Form with the Emotionally Charged “Inside Out”

Pixar has done it again. It’s a clichéd statement but one that fits like a comfortable pair of shoes. After a few hiccups (like the misguided “Cars 2” and the Oscar-winning but ineffectual “Brave”) Pixar has made a triumphant return to what Pixar does best: creating astonishingly entertaining and clever stories set in the unlikeliest of places. “Inside Out” might be quite literally their most cerebral animated flick yet but it also is just as funny, ingenious, and emotional since their hot-streak trifecta of “Wall-E,” “Up,” and “Toy Story 3.” “Finding Nemo” remains my personal favorite (and "Cars" is disturbingly underrated) but “Inside Out” comes darn close to capturing the sheer joy of seeing that film for the first time. “Inside Out” tells two stories: it’s about a young girl named Riley who has a perfect life until her family moves, and the other is taking place entirely inside Riley’s mind where her emotions are personified and anthropomorphized into some of the funniest and most clever characters Pixar has ever imagined.

“Inside Out” is the creation of co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen who have crafted a delightfully witty and emotional story about growing up. Inside young Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) are five main emotions: the control freak leader Joy (Amy Poehler), the gloomy gal Sadness (The Office’s Phyllis Smith), the worrisome Fear (Bill Hader), the temper tantrum throwing Anger (Lewis Black), and the Mean Girl-as-emotion Disgust (Mindy Kaling). To say these five characters are perfected cast and performed is an understatement. Joy, as the unofficial ring leader of the group, operate in Riley’s brain in a control room type command center where memories are created in form of small spheres. Many of them are yellow-colored because they’re happy memories. When Riley is angry Anger takes over the controls, shen she’s frightened it’s Fear at the reins, in a very literal representation of basic human experience. By the end of the film you’ll be wondering what the personified characters inside your own brain may be like. The film’s inner mind plot becomes complicated when Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked out of the control center and must find their way back leaving Anger, Disgust, and Fear to take control. Without Joy and Sadness will the now apathetic Riley ever snap back into the joyful girl she once was?

Holy smokes, “Inside Out” is a delightful yet deep instant animated classic. Every single person responsible for this amazing film is in simply top form. This is arguably the studio’s most original and fun and emotional film since “Finding Nemo.” Pixar is so good at literalizing things in ingenious ways. For instance, at some point Joy and Sadness attempt to ride Riley’s “train of thought” back to headquarters which is an actual train. They have delightful, almost Alice in Wonderland encounters including the movie’s unsung hero Bing Bong (Richard Kind) as Riley’s imaginary friend and a fascinating yet dangerous excursion into “abstract thought” where the animation becomes just as abstract. And what about Riley’s dreams that are setup like a Hollywood movie studio complete with writers, directors, and corny movie sets and props? Every single bit works extremely well and it’s all wrapped up in an exciting story that hits emotional levels not unheard of in a Pixar film.

“Inside Out” is simply a cinematic treat. It’s easily one of the cleverest and most unique animated movies ever conceived; it’s a delightful visualization of the emotional roller coaster that is growing up that’s relatable to every human being. Even as a film with a bizarre concept, it’s so well thought out and executed you can’t even believe that it all actually works.  Pixar has also created a delightful group of new characters included standouts Sadness and Bing Bong. It is funny in all the right places and will make you an emotional wreck in all the right places as well. This exceptional film is smart and mature enough to be a sheer joy for adults and yet fun and colorful enough for the kids. It’s easily one of Pixar’s best and won’t soon be forgotten.  GRADE: A

Feature Trailer for Inside Out on TrailerAddict.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dino-Mite: “Jurassic World” Brings a Beloved Franchise Roaring Back to Life

The appeal of “Jurassic World” always was and will always be finally getting to see a working dinosaur theme park. A vision the eccentric billionaire John Hammond always wanted. And it is a rather awesome place; not unlike a dinosaur-themed Disney World. I'm not sure why it could be so successful since the terrible incidents depicted in the first film (and it's debatable whether this fourth entry most likely ignores parts 2 and 3) and the fact that you have to fly half way around the world to visit. But it's a pretty amazing place. You can kayak down a river with the friendly dinosaurs. Watch a Shamu-like aquatic presentation complete with feeding time with a great white shark. Oh and the shark is the food. It's a park filled to the brim with tourists and everything seems to be running smoothly. And then, as is this franchise's mantra, all hell breaks loose.

It must be said that one must reign in their expectations when it comes to this fourth entry. No new Jurassic Park sequel will ever beat the original especially if you consider it a life-changing experience as most people between the ages of 20 and 40 will tell you. “Jurassic World” feels like it was designed with most of those people in mind who always wondered what a real working dinosaur park would be like.

The film sets up it's premise rather unspectacularly but efficiently. Two brothers are shipped off to visit their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is the operations manager at Jurassic World. It's a fully functional, and successful, dino theme park on Isla Nublar (the same location from the first film). Claire is a busy woman though, as she's preparing a new attraction featuring a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur that is bigger and meaner than anything they've created before, so she doesn't have much time to spend with her nephews: the teenage Zach (Nick Robinson) and younger Gray (Ty Simpkins). Park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) comes to check out the new dinosaur but insists Velociraptor expert Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) check out the vicious dinosaur's enclosure for safety measures.

If you're guessing that this new dinosaur, named Indominus Rex, somehow breaks loose and wrecks havoc upon the entire park you'd be correct. To say much more would ruin all the fun. There is a side story about InGen security guy Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants the raptors, who Owen has been working with to train (don't worry, they're still pretty lethal, intelligent, and scary) for other reasons. And then there's the engineer played by BD Wong, the only character from the first film, who has a more “important” role. Meanwhile, Claire’s nephews sneak off from the care of Claire's assistant who was tasked with watching the boys. And let's just say they get onto the gyrosphere ride at the worst possible time.

“Jurassic World” somehow works really well. Howard and Pratt are perfectly cast and give convincing performances. There's a slight love story involved but it's nowhere near the corny and forced storyline shoehorned into many movies like this. Sure the film isn't directed by Steven Spielberg, but Colin Trevorrow makes an adequate replacement. He hits all the right buttons with a script filled with delightful Jurassic Park callbacks. This film truly feels like the direct Jurassic Park sequel we've all been waiting for. The action scenes, while not as iconic as the first film, are well staged and memorable. The effects are also well-done but never as awe-inspiring as the first time we saw those Brachiosauruses in 1993. Michael Giacchino's score is efficient with just enough John Williams beats to be familiar and comforting.

As a big “Jurassic Park” fan I truly loved everything about “Jurassic World.” It made me feel like a kid again. Is it every bit as good as the first film? Of course not. Nothing will ever be as good. It works much better than the second and third films. It's fun, intense, surprisingly graphic, and filled with just enough wonder to make you wish “Jurassic World” was a real place. Not that anyone would be able to afford it the trip, unless maybe they had a coupon day or something.  GRADE: A-

Theatrical Trailer for Jurassic World on TrailerAddict.

Without Further Ado: Creepy Prequel “Insidious Chapter 3” Improves Upon Its Predecessor

“Insidious” was one of the more memorable horror entries in the genre to come out in quite some time. It was a low-budget ghost story with relatable characters, an interesting story, and most importantly well-earned frights. A sequel was inevitable but while the “Back to the Future Part II” type hijinks were fun the second film failed to even come close to the original. How could this third entry with an almost entirely new casts (because it's a prequel) be any good whatsoever? It surprisingly is. It deepens the story of the likable medium Elise (Lin Shaye) and how she comes to work with those two silly ghosthunters while delivering enough decent scares to keep you on edge.

It's wonderful how far Shaye, sister of former New Line Cinema president Bob Shaye, has come in her career. She was basically planting in various New Line movies in tiny roles because nepotism. She's the teacher in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” she's Mrs. “Noogieburger” in “Dumb & Dumber” and she was a flight attendant in “Snakes on a Plane.” Of course, let's not forget her memorable turn as the dog-kissing human leather bag Magda in “There's Something About Mary.” Here, as one of the industry's hardest working character actors she's finally given the standout role practically headlining her own movie at the ripe old age of 71.

The story of “Insidious Chapter 3” involves a teenage girl named Quinn (Stefanie Scott) who lives in an apartment with her widowed father and younger brother. She contacts Elise to help her “communicate” with her mother. A short time later, a tragic accident occurs which leads Quinn to be haunted by an evil entity. Elise is called upon, though she previously insisted on being retired, to help the girl after strange and disturbing phenomenon occur. Quinn's dad initially contacts two ghostbusting dudes from the internet, who are Elise's co-workers from the first and second film. One of them is played by Leigh Whannell, who co-wrote all the films and makes his directorial debut here. Taking the reigns from James Wan (too busy directing Furious Seven, who appears onscreen in a brief cameo) Leigh's debut is completely efficient. His film isn't far from the look and feel of the first two films, as many of the same crew members return.

“Insidious Chapter 3” feels like it's missing the legitimacy of stars Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, but there's actually a welcomed breath of fresh air in this storyline. As Quinn's dad, Dermot Mulroney does a great job of being a likable dad. He's definitely not the typical horror movie dad who doesn't believe the strange and bizarre things going around in his home. The real star here of course is Shaye who makes the film her own. She's 71 she's definitely earned it and actually has the talent to pull it off.

And thankfully the film is decently scary. Yes the film shows us the controversial other world known as “The Further” and it's something as a viewer you must accept or reject. It's as well done as it ever could be. In fact it's way better than how it was portrayed in the recent “Poltergeist” redo. I really enjoy the continuing story of this series. I can't vouch for how necessary a fourth entry would be but Wan and Whannell have started and continued to make a great mark in the horror genre. Fans of the original film shouldn’t have too much to complain about here. And for the record, the final shot of the film scared the ever loving piss out of me. GRADE: B

Trailer for Insidious: Chapter 3 on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Woman with the Golden Gun: “Spy” is a Surprisingly Funny Action Comedy

“Spy” could have easily gone either way. To be honest, I was originally predicting an atrocious “Paul Blart” level piece of crap especially after Paul Feig’s last film “The Heat” failed to capture the same comedic highs as his modern classic “Bridesmaids.” Not that there was much necessarily bad about “The Heat,” though I had generally mixed feelings about the mix of comedy and action. That kind of thing isn’t always successful. Luckily, his latest endeavor is a real highlight being a sort female James Bond-like comedic adventure. It’s a formula that should feel worn out, stale, and just plain overdone but somehow it all works thanks mostly to the continued comedic brilliance of Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne in yet another showcase supporting role.

No one would ever believe Melissa McCarthy as a lethal CIA field agent so when “Spy” opens she’s just Susan Cooper, an office worker who literally works in the rodent-infested basement of the CIA. She’s in the earpiece of field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law in a rare comedic role) giving him directions as he shoots, runs, and does other spy movie things. However, after a tragedy occurs Susan convinces her boss, played by Allison Janney, that she should go into the field to find a deadly arms dealer, as she’s one of the few agents the bad guys have never laid eyes on. She’s given the corny “secret identity” of a permed loser (and then one of a crazy cat lady) as she’s assigned to observe. Of course, one thing leads to another and she’s eventually interacting with the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Byrne) who is Susan’s number one enemy.

For an action comedy, there’s actually a lot of plot in “Spy” and many twists and turns that was difficult to see coming. Feig, who is the sole credited writer here, actually has crafted a decent screenplay even if his direction could have been slightly tighter (the film perhaps goes on a few minutes too long). Although for a guy known for directing comedies has some surprisingly decent action and fight scenes. The real highlight there though is the chemistry between McCarthy and Byrne which has been apparent since their appearance in “Bridesmaids.” 

McCarthy is a truly gifted comedian. She gives Susan just the right amount of emotional depth and you can actually believe her transition from desk job to field agent even if the movie is genuinely silly and filthy at times. Byrne, complete with supervillain accent (probably not far from her real life inflection) simply shines and plays off wonderfully with her co-stars. Another highlight is action man Jason Statham, spoofing his macho man image to great effect here as a rogue, rival colleague of Susan’s.  If anything, the only part of the film that didn’t quite work was Susan’s co-worker Nancy (British comedian Miranda Hart) whose jokes mostly fell sort of flat. It was obvious they were trying to copy Rebel Wilson’s weird British roommate from “Bridesmaids” but are not nearly as successful.

Overall, “Spy” is an outstanding action comedy. Anyone who’s even the slightest fan of any of these actors would be doing themselves a favor and checking out this funny romp. Feig actually proves he can direct both action and comedy (and write for that matter) even if his editing skills aren’t always up to task. McCarthy is a comic genius and in the right hands and script, as she’s proved time and time again, is simply a comedic force to be reckoned with. Enough so, that the announced female-driven “Ghostbusters” seems to be a better idea as time goes by.  GRADE: B+

Theatrical Trailer for Spy on TrailerAddict.