Movie Review: “Inside Out”

Movie Review: “Inside Out”

The latest confoundingly creative masterpiece from veteran Pixar director Pete Docter (“Up”) is a magnificent achievement. It’s by far the best film Pixar has made since “Toy Story 3”: for the sheer scope of its vision and the genius of its execution, “Inside Out” is unmatched in Pixar’s pantheon.

Ostensibly centered on 11-year-old girl Riley Anderson’s psychological turmoil after moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, “Inside Out” emphasizes the reciprocal relationships between her anthropomorphized emotions. While remaining rooted throughout in an incredibly straightforward narrative, “Inside Out” focuses on the interactions between Joy (a superbly cast Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). The interplay between these characters is much more sophisticated than a simple “good feeling/bad feeling” split: Docter stresses the importance of each emotion to a well-ordered personality (Joy motivates; Anger energizes; Disgust and Fear protect against potential harm; and Sadness infuses joy with nuance).

“Inside Out” is a extremely intelligent, clever film that will likely please adult audiences even more than children: it’s shot through with witty depictions of the subconscious, abstract thought, core memory processing, and the process of psycho-emotional maturation. This last is a melancholy yet beautiful element of the film that propels its most emotional moments – what older viewer, after all, hasn’t experienced the pain of leaving behind the un-self-conscious imaginary adventures of early childhood? Where tearjerking is concerned, “Inside Out” doesn’t go for the jugular nearly as overtly as past Pixar flicks; the resonance here is far subtler but just as affecting.

Naturally, I found myself seeking to parse the film’s stance on certain seminal philosophy-of-mind questions. I submit that “Inside Out” suggests neither a materialistic nor a Cartesian view of consciousness, but rather leans toward a Thomistic understanding of personhood. To wit, the movie makes clear that a holistic “Riley”-self exists as an integrated mind-body entity, capable of exercising independent volition that impacts how her emotions respond. This “Riley” is neither a construct blindly controlled by her emotions (which are here easily analogized to brain chemicals); nor does “Inside Out” depict an extrinsic “ghost in the machine” that drives Riley’s actions. In short, “Inside Out” suggests a nonmaterialistic (perhaps an emergentist) account of human consciousness, but does so without slipping toward a neo-gnostic mind/body dichotomy. This is also consistent with the film’s Aristotelian approach to emotional balance: all emotions are necessary and must harmonize in order to constitute a complete person.

Visually, “Inside Out” is breathtaking. Dreams, “memory dumps,” encoding of new memories, evocation of fantasies, and countless other aspects of the human mental experience are depicted onscreen with Pixar’s trademark razor-sharp animation; beyond its mere technical proficiency, though, the movie’s art design is a marvel…at once both familiar and phantasmagorical.

“Inside Out” is definitively worth seeing, and the best Pixar movie in a very long time. Highly recommended.

VERDICT: 10/10
A cerebral (no pun intended) and yet utterly heartfelt parable, encompassing the vastness of human experience. Pixar at its absolute best.

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Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Fantasy


Movie Review: “Jurassic World”

Movie Review: “Jurassic World”

You can keep your “Avengers” sequels: aside from the forthcoming “Star Wars” reboot, this was far-and-away my most anticipated film of the year. (For reference, I watch the original “Jurassic Park” at least twice a year and saw it in 3D during the 20th anniversary rerelease). That said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that “The Lost World” was a bit of a letdown and that “Jurassic Park III” was an outright debacle.

So does “Jurassic World” – installment #4, directed by Colin Trevorrow and centered on a recreated and thriving Jurassic Park facility – deliver?

Jurassic World, built on Isla Nublar atop the ruins of John Hammond’s failed project, is a major resort and tourist attraction. Featured activities include kayaking trips amid herds of herbivores, mosasaur shows in a gargantuan aquatic arena, and T-rex feedings, to say nothing of a midway packed with upscale shops and restaurants. But twenty years have passed since Jurassic World opened its doors, and audiences crave novelty.

Faced with flatlining ROI and declining global media attention, lead scientist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) pursues a risky option: growing a gigantic hybrid dinosaur combining tyrannosaur DNA with genes from a mix of other species. The result? Indominus Rex (presented by Verizon Wireless), an apex predator engineered for the sole purpose of…attracting corporate sponsorship. Indeed, like its predecessor, “Jurassic World” plays with themes uniquely germane to its cultural context. Whereas the 1993 film skewered the scientific hubris of then-unexplored genetic engineering technology, the 2015 update takes aim at the fetishization of corporate bottom-lines and a widespread blasé attitude towards ethics. The pending launch of Indominus Rex, for one thing, is discussed with a reverence commonly reserved for Apple product unveilings.

Of course the I-rex breaks out of containment, and of course the park’s security personnel fail to stop it.

Make no mistake – the heart of “Jurassic World” is its dinosaur carnage. If your goal is to watch the I-rex shred everything in its path, you will not leave disappointed. The I-rex fights with an insane animal ferocity unlike anything seen previously in this franchise: while the 1993 movie’s T-rex was magnificent in its own natural way, the I-rex is first and foremost a monstrous aberration. Trevorrow, commendably, resists the temptation to anthropomorphize his monster (a la the Velociraptors of the series) – the I-rex behaves like a maniacal animal, not a Lake Placid-type serial man-eater.

Enter Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an animal handler who trains the park’s Velociraptors. (He’s basically playing Star-Lord in safari wear, but remains one of the most charismatic presences working onscreen). When Claire’s two nephews go missing after the I-rex’s breakout, it’s up to Owen and Claire to rescue them.

A brief note on this, because it’s sparked some controversy: the gender politics of “Jurassic World” really are glaringly retrograde (of the “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” sort, although there’s an effort to course-correct near the end). Claire comes off as an ignorant, skirt-suited bureaucrat desperately needing Owen to tell her what to do (though they do have some very funny exchanges). If the diminution of female characters isn’t immediately apparent, compare Claire to Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler or Julianne Moore’s Sarah Harding…the difference is stark. I’m usually not one to get hung up on tropes and stereotypes, but “Jurassic World” seems to suffer from an oddly aggressive “run along, this is men’s work here” attitude.

“Jurassic World” leans very, very hard on the nostalgia factor (to the point where it hits almost the same plot beats as the original “Park”). The film is jam-packed with callbacks to iconic scenes and environs, only bigger and rowdier (instead of a T-rex attacking an overturned jeep, for instance, here the I-rex goes after an overturned Plexiglas gyrosphere). In light of this, the storyline is pretty predictable, though there are a few great twists toward the end that had my whole theater cheering.

Where “Jurassic World” falls short is in the ambiance department. The original movie was slow-burning, taking time to develop an aura of menace alongside a coherent vision of the park (the T-rex only goes on its rampage halfway into the movie). In “Jurassic World,” things start going haywire within the first 20-30 minutes, yanking audience attention away from the theme park’s marvels and into the blood-soaked jungle. This is a real shame: there are plenty of movies about giant toothy behemoths tearing people apart, but far fewer films that depict the beauty and grandeur of prehistoric life. (It’s also a shame that John Williams’ iconic theme is only used once or twice throughout).

Criticisms aside, “Jurassic World” is a viscerally satisfying experience, and one that avoids the lumbering stodginess of past “Jurassic Park” sequels. This series is at its very best when it’s stressing its high-concept premise (man and dinosaur pushed together by man’s pride and avarice), a premise abandoned by #2 and #3 in favor of garden-variety adventuring. The effects, as one might expect, are stellar, and Pratt continues to be a fantastic lead actor. In short, “Jurassic World” is not Oscar bait, nor is it a brutal adrenaline rush like “Mad Max.” It’s a big-budget summer tentpole – no more, no less – crammed with chaotic action and propelled by a forever-intriguing concept.

Ever since I was a child, many of my finals-induced fever dreams have involved rampaging tyrannosaurs: after “Jurassic World,” that doesn’t seem likely to change. And I wouldn’t have it any other way – except maybe the next batch will involve Indominus Rexes.

A bigger, louder, dumber, and more energetic remake of the 1993 classic. Recommended.

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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Sci-Fi


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