Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Movies Revisited

Is is a sickness? Most certainly. Or a madness, perhaps. But those of us who review movies in any capacity have no choice in the matter. As the end of the year inches closer, we hear the call.

Retrospectives, best of lists: call them what you will. It is not the form that matters, but the exercise, and the knowledge it is all so futile cannot quell the urge to participate. We write these not to inform or reflect, but out of some strange compulsion.

I see many movies every year, the majority of which are Christmas related. But that's not what this list is about. This is about new movies, released at some point in 2015, that I've watched. It's a far more limited set, so I do not separate the good from the bad. Instead, I present all films fitting those criteria, ranked from my least to most favorite:

13. The Last Five Years
I didn't review this formally: hell, I didn't even catch it in theaters. Then again, seeing it on the big screen was hard to do outside of New York and Los Angeles.

If you haven't heard of it, The Last Five Years is an adaptation of a musical starring Anna Kendrick released last winter that wasn't Into the Woods. In it, she plays... er... actually, a character in a situation surprisingly similar to Cinderella's in the second act of Into the Woods. Not the giant part: just the whole thing about being married to a successful man who cheats on her.

Sorry. Retroactive spoiler alert?

The plot of The Last Five Years doesn't matter, anyway: both the musical and movie's selling point is how the story unfolds, with the man's version told start to end and the woman's end to start. It's just one of the many subtle ways the writer implies women are irrational.

In case you couldn't tell, I wasn't a huge fan of this one. There were some great songs and cool ideas, but this musical is better chopped up into MP3-sized segments than played start to end (and simultaneously vice-versa). It delivers some good moments, but the whole is tedious and a little sexist.

12. Jurassic World
Fun but ultimately underwhelming, this was part homage, part sequel, and part remake. There were some great moments, but the film as a whole felt redundant. There's very little in this movie we haven't seen before: even the movie's new monster was basically a rehash of the spinosaurus in part 3. I guess the mosasaurus was a new addition, but it felt like a tacked-on joke, more than anything else. Honestly, the most memorable, original aspect of the movie was probably the petting zoo (the petting zoo was really damn cool).

There's really no excuse for retreading the same ground a fourth time. We're three sequels overdue for a dino-pocalypse: it's long past time for the franchise to start living up to its potential.

All that said, I had a good time in the theater, and the movie was well-paced and enjoyable to watch. It was solid summer entertainment, but it wasn't anything more than that.

11. Ex Machina
Full disclosure - I didn't catch this in the theaters, so it's of course possible I'm judging it a little harsher than I'd be if I experienced it on a big screen.

But... I don't know. This movie was largely cerebral, so I doubt it would make all that much of a difference. Also, I absolutely enjoyed it. It's a clever SF film that approaches the Turing test from an interesting angle. The actors are great - especially Alicia Vikander, who does a phenomenal job playing an android whose consciousness is in question. The effects and design work help with that illusion, too, but I really think Vikander's performance is what makes it work.

Like I said before, the movie's extremely clever. But I didn't really find it surprising. As soon as you've been introduced to the concept, you know it's going in one of a few directions. The movie resolves without any real surprises, and feels more like a refresher in AI than anything original. It left me feeling like I'd just seen a great episode of the Outer Limits. Maybe that's all intelligent SF can hope for in this day and age.

This was a really smart, fun movie. If I were rating this on quality, it would be significantly higher on this list. But, as an experience, I just didn't feel like it had much impact.

10. Jupiter Ascending
Yes, there was bloat. Yes, the movie was about as far from elegant as you can get. But, frankly, I'm getting a little tired of elegant, streamlined movies, anyway. The Wachowskis made this by combining more genres and concepts than I can wrap my head around, and the result is nothing less than fantastic. Sure, the story meanders, but who the hell cares? The visuals are gorgeous, the setting is intriguing, and the action is awesome. Are we really that attached to simplistic narrative we can't appreciate something this cool because it goes off-book?

Add this to the growing list of Wachowski films that are underrated, right beside Cloud Atlas and Speed Racer. I hope they know there are a few of us out there who appreciate their work.

9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
There's a lot to love in Age of Ultron, between the awesome fight scenes, fantastic villain, and cool new heroes. How amazing is it that we're getting a cinematic version of Vision? How cool was Scarlet Witch? The Hulk-Buster, in all its glory?!!!

But all that needs to be weighed against the hard reality that, no matter how many elements they got right, the movie was ultimately a disappointment. Sure, the first one had a few minor plot holes, but the emotional arcs worked, and the film came together as a whole beautifully. In contrast, part two was messy. There was neither a consistent tone nor any kind of narrative arc. The characters' individual stories were a jumbled mess of incoherent nonsense. Why is the team falling apart? Because the plot calls for it, and the Scarlet Witch gave them a nudge: maybe not the best direction to take.

But enough worked to hold my attention and keep me fascinated for the film's duration. If this is ultimately set-up for Civil War, it didn't fail: I'm excited to see how that plays out next year.

Still, the first Avengers movie was my favorite film the year it came out, while this one was just summer entertainment.

8. The Good Dinosaur
This is a tough movie to rank. Visually, it was stunning: the landscape was breathtaking and complex to a degree that was almost unfathomable. But story-wise, there just wasn't much meat to this film. The conceit was cute and all - a boy and his dog story where the boy's a dinosaur and the dog is a human child - but, once you move past that, the movie feels incredibly flat.

The same goes for the minor characters. All are cute mashups, but there's no real depth. Once you're done chuckling at the fact the T-rex cowboys run like they're riding on horses, there's not much else to dig into. Meanwhile, the main character's emotional arc is simplistic and kind of dull.

But, all that said, Spot is adorable, and the world is rich. It's not an especially strong Pixar offering, but it's still a solid movie.

7. Krampus
I'm not 100% set on this movie's placement - I think I'd have to see several of these movies again to be sure - but it feels right in the moment. Krampus's problem was structure: the movie relied so heavily on its monsters and premise, it muscled out any real story line. There was lip service connecting how Krampus was summoned with the resolution, but it never really clicked.

That said, the monsters were amazing, the characters unusually strong, and the overall tone just spectacular. This was a movie that took a piece of folklore, tied it to modern holiday tropes, then took the whole thing all the way back to the primal origins, when the winters grew cold and the only hope we had was together. The movie doesn't really state any of that, but it asks the question, what's the point of family and Christmas? Then, by stripping away the artificial trappings, it provides a very real, very ancient answer.

If I wasn't a Christmas nerd, I wouldn't have ranked this nearly so high. But this is more than a holiday adventure/horror about a monster who's become extremely popular in the last few years: this was a movie about the heart and soul of Christmas itself.

6. Ant-Man
Who the hell would have expected Ant-Man to be a more fulfilling Marvel experience than Age of Ultron? If you move past the fact that we're still waiting for our first female-led Marvel film when this would have worked better as a Wasp film than a Scott Lang movie, it was a solid light superhero piece. It was funny, entertaining, and - frankly - better integrated into the larger MCU than Age of Ultron.

The Ant-Man/Falcon fight was worth the price of admission alone, and the far-too-brief sequence with Janet stood out as the high-point of the film.

It wasn't great, but it was good. Really good, even. I can't wait to see these characters show up again.

5. A Christmas Horror Story
With the occasional exception, I haven't included direct-to-video and direct-to-streaming movies on these lists. I think the rule I'm drifting towards is to include them if and only if I think they can compete. And this one can.

This anthology cuts back and forth between several holiday horror stories, all of which unfold in fascinating ways. This movie's philosophy towards combining Christmas and genre is one I share - make Christmas relevant, but don't treat it like a gimmick. Not all of the stories use Christmas tropes as their subjects: half involve classic horror or fantasy elements, then tie them to the holidays through thematic or story elements.

The movie starts a little slow, and there are a few bad jokes, but overall it was a lot of fun to watch. Parts were funny, parts were scary, and others were just impressive. One of the segments wraps with a twist I didn't see coming and loved. This jumped onto the short list of my favorite Christmas horror movies.

4. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Rogue Nation is a surprisingly playful film. It continues the Mission: Impossible movie tradition of disavowing the team and/or disintegrating the entire organization (only the second movie breaks that pattern, and that one sucks for unrelated reasons).

While I'd love to see them actually do a Mission: Impossible movie where they're given a mission that they solve as IMF agents, I can't deny this one really delivers. Sure, it's yet another rehash of the premise of the first movie, but I'll be damned if it isn't a fun rehash.

It doesn't hurt that the movie gives us a new ally played by Rebecca Ferguson. Frankly, I'd love to see Hunt promoted to director in a movie or two and have her take over the team. Cruise can't keep playing the action hero forever, and she'd clearly be a better choice than Renner, who never really felt like leader material.

At five movies in, this series really seems to have found its stride. This wasn't the best movie of the summer, but it came a lot closer than I'd have expected.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road
I feel like this took a lot of us by surprise, despite the fact there were plenty of positive rumors floating around in advance. Still, after the Star Wars prequels, the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Tron: Legacy, the last Hobbit movie, and all the other failed attempts to revive a long gone film franchise, it's easy to be cynical. I suppose the law of averages meant one of them had to work. Either that, or it's an Australian thing.

Regardless, this movie was impossible not to love. Charlize Theron got to be an action hero in a sci-fi movie deserving of her time for once, and the supporting cast was just amazing. This was an inventive, fun, and thought-provoking movie, not to mention a welcome break from typical summer movies.

If this is the kind of movie Miller's making at 70, just imagine the Mad Max films he'll be directing when he turns 90.

2. Inside Out
Even before Pixar started to falter with movies like Cars 2 and Monsters University, the studio has had issues with redundancy. Plot lines have a tendency of repeating, villains are a little too similar, and emotional beats have been reused since the start. While there's nothing wrong with reusing some storytelling elements, Pixar has been stagnating.

That's half the reason why Inside Out is so exciting: it feels fresh. Of course, the other half is that Inside Out is an incredibly good movie. It's a touching, complex film that also manages to deliver topnotch comedy.

The list of Pixar's best movies is a long one, but Inside Out deserves a spot.

1. Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
This seems like a great time to remind you that this list is based on preference, not an appraisal of how good a movie is. I don't think anyone could seriously argue The Force Awakens was the best movie of the year, even within the geek-friendly subset of films. Inside Out was nearly flawless, and Fury Road was technically superior to The Force Awakens, no matter how you cut it.

But I love this movie. Even with its plot holes, ridiculous contrivances, and ill-advised preoccupation with nostalgically retreading the story we've already nostalgically retread in 1983's Return of the Jedi: I love it.

I love it for reuniting us with the characters we loved - with Han, Leia, Chewie, C-3PO, R2-D2, and - for the briefest possible moment - even Luke. I love it for rebuilding that galaxy; its vehicles, inhabitants, and buildings.

I REALLY love it for the new heroes - for Finn, Poe, and Rey. Especially Rey: forget this trilogy nonsense - I want a dozen more movies with her as the lead.

And, on the villain side, I love it for Kylo Ren, quite possibly the most intriguing antagonist the franchise has ever offered. We've had Jedi fighting to stay on the righteous path for decades, but we've never really seen the other side of that coin - a disciple of the Dark Side actively working against his better instincts, trying to keep the light from dominating his destiny.

It may not be the best movie of the year, but I can't help it: it's absolutely my favorite.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

We arrived at the movie theater to see this about an hour and forty minutes early. Much to our surprise, there was no line outside the theater. But it wasn't because we were the first ones there: it was because the movie was already seating. We were there for the first show, the 7 PM, and apparently AMC made the call there was really no point scheduling anything on that screen beforehand. Can't say I blame them: for all intents and purposes, there's only one movie in theaters this weekend.

In case you're wondering, I'm not relaying the exciting adventures of me and Lindsay sitting in a theater for an hour and a half because it builds to some sort of fascinating story; I'm doing it because Facebook and Google+ automatically drop the first paragraph in along with the link. All of this is mainly to fill space to make sure no spoilers accidentally wind up in anyone's feed.

Which is, among other things, a roundabout way of stating that there will be spoilers in this review. Because what could I possibly have to say about this movie that doesn't contain spoilers? I mean, sure, I could tell you that you should rush out to the theater and see it as soon as you possibly can, but I'd be wasting your time. Even if this wasn't trending towards 95% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, you'd probably be planning to see it. Hell, you've probably already got tickets.

I will say that I don't think spoilers will actually hurt this movie. I went in with a pretty good idea what was going to happen in this thing, and that's from early plot leaks a year or more old. Honestly, I'm glad I knew what to expect, because... because....

The because is a spoiler, actually. So - last chance if you're reading this without having seen the movie.

...because the plot sucks.

No, really. The plot of The Force Awakens is horrible. All they did was reuse the one from Star Wars. It's essentially a remake where they're using the Force to imply a mystical reason for the past repeating itself, when it's obvious the real reason's that the folks behind this are just huge Star Wars nerds.

I'm glad I knew this going in, because it made it all the easier to get past it. Because, at the end of the day, I don't give a womp rat's ass that they rehashed A New Hope. A decent story barely made the top ten list of things I wanted from this movie, and they nailed more than enough of the items above it.

Including #1. The deviation I most wanted from this was something we've never gotten from this franchise, at least in the movies: a great female protagonist. If we're doing the "hero's journey" thing again, I want a heroine. And the reason I want this is selfish and simplistic: it's because I am bored as hell of watching almost indistinguishable young white men go through the same adventures with minor alterations.

When it comes to Star Wars, story is a minor trifle, but characters are immensely important. And, in Rey, we get the single best POV character the franchise has ever offered. I'm not going to go into too much detail on this, because this is something I don't want ruined for anyone.

Likewise, I'm not going to tell you too much about Finn, Poe, Maz Kanata, or Kylo Ren.... Especially not Ren. What's going on with his character is pitch-perfect: I'm thrilled with the choices they made. These characters - and the actors bringing them to life - are what Star Wars needs to carry the legacy forward for another generation.

Supporting them are the core characters from the original. Well, mostly just Han and Chewie, though Leia gets some good scenes, and Luke... Luke grew a beard.

It's great to see these characters, really - the audience I saw the movie with applauded when each appeared. The only thing that might have been better would have been maybe not having them in the movie. Honestly, it wasn't their movie, and I'd have preferred more time with the new characters. But that's a plot issue, and we already established how big of a deal that is.

Throughout the movie, there was a voice in my head that kept noting whenever something stupid happened, when characters were randomly thrown together to move the story along or when they devoted massive amounts of time and money to set up an unnecessary homage. I never stopped spotting them, but I never really cared.

Because of the music. And the action. And the adventure. And the amazing character moments that spun into even more amazing character arcs.

I can see the flaws here, but I still love every minute of this movie.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Movie Review: The Good Dinosaur

At the end of The Good Dinosaur, I turned to Lindsay and asked if there was a version without the dinosaurs or humans, and she knew precisely what I was talking about. While these characters weren't awful, they mostly just got in the way of the absolutely gorgeous backgrounds and landscapes. At times, I honestly wondered if the movie wasn't produced solely to test out some new Pixar processor or algorithm.

Again, this is as much a compliment to how good they've gotten at creating digital worlds as it is a swipe at the rather simplistic story and characters portrayed in The Good Dinosaur. Well, almost.

The setting is essentially a dinosaur occupied version of Wyoming or Montana in the late 1800's. The characters almost all seem to fall into roles you'd see in live-action movies in the same setting, with the odd exception of what seemed to be a biker gang. Lindsay theorized this might have been an attempt to distance them from Native Americans - there were some unfortunate parallels with how Hollywood used to portray indigenous people.

If you've seen the trailers, you already know most of the plot: boy dinosaur gets separated from family, adopts a pet human, and must find his courage in order to find his way home. At it's core, it's a simplistic coming-of-age story. But, at another level, it's still a simplistic coming-of-age story.

Fair or not, it doesn't help the movie's case that it's coming on the heels of Inside Out, the most emotionally complex picture the studio's ever made. In contrast, The Good Dinosaur has an emotional complexity somewhere between that of A Bug's Life and Cars. The story line and characters are written for boys ages four to ten and no one else.

That doesn't mean it's bad, just simple. And there's an elegance to the movie's simplicity. Some of the minor characters are a lot of fun, and there are a number of humorous jokes throughout. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, they managed to elicit a reaction from me near the end. I felt like a sucker - the moment in question was cliche as hell - but it worked on me regardless.

It's difficult to know whether to recommend this or advise you wait for DVD. On one hand, the visuals are stunning on the big screen. But the characters, ironically, wind up feeling much smaller. It's not the style but the writing: their concerns wind up feeling childish and underdeveloped.

My guess is that, if you're the sort of person who'd feel like you got your money's worth, you're almost certainly already planning to go, regardless of what I type here. Rest assured you'll be impressed with how good Pixar's gotten, and there'll be enough funny and cute moments to carry you through.

For those of you who aren't on board the Pixar wagon, you'll be happy to hear this one isn't groundbreaking or incredible (aside from the aforementioned background animation). It's a fine animated movie for kids, but there's not a great deal for the rest of us.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Give Us Your Worst, Part 27: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually might be the dumbest movie I've seen in my entire life.

I'm going to pause for a moment, because I don't want to understate the significance of what I just said. Think about my credentials for a moment: this is the 27th installment in a series focusing on failed superhero movies. And let's not forget my annual tradition of sitting down with my wife and watching crappy Christmas movies for a month every December. I'm no novice when it comes to bad writing and idiotic plots: I'm a goddamn connoisseur.

But this one's hard to fathom. The film's story fails to coalesce even at the most basic of levels, and there's no logic or rationale to character motivation, background information, story beats, or physics. It's never remotely clear what's going on or why anything is happening.

For example.

Why does April keep trying to get her boss to let her do a story about the Turtles when she knows she doesn't have evidence? Why are the bad guys fixated on getting the Turtles to filter the mutagen from their blood, but they don't really care about Splinter? Why will said mutagen heal Splinter, but not the mutagen that's also flowing through his veins? Why are the villains centering a biological attack around their headquarters, when the plan's success hinges on them not being identified as the ones responsible? Why are the other three Turtles able to casually break through their holding cells a scene after Raphael is physically incapable of freeing them? Why is Raphael able to weaponize his shell without consequences minutes after it was established as a plot point that his shell was cracked? When 5 year-old April rescued the Turtles, why did she toss them into a sewer instead of taking them home?

These are just the items that sprung to mind. These kinds of inconsistencies don't just permeate the movie: in a very real sense, they are the movie. What few shreds of plot form between the non sequiturs are epiphenomena, at best. Compared to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Prometheus starts to make sense.

All that said, this movie did a better job catering to longtime fans than most adaptations. A surprising number of elements were incorporated from the source material, including several of the Turtle's classic vehicles and personality traits. Sure, every version makes Raphael a hothead, but how often have we gotten Donatello's tech skills?

That certainly doesn't mean there weren't changes. The movie redid the origin to include a young April and mangled everyone's backstory. And, of course, they re-imagined Shredder as a cross between Silver Samurai and Bay's Transformers. Oh, and for some reason Michelangelo is constantly sexually harassing April.

Again, this was an astonishingly stupid movie.

But, if you're a big enough Turtles fan and you're willing to watch them screw up the story (again), there's just enough zany 80's nostalgia (plus a few decent fights in between the badly cut CG) to offer a little payoff.

This is typically compared to the Transformers movies, but - despite it's budget - I found it closer in spirit to the unreleased 90's Fantastic Four. The people who made this movie clearly loved the source material and tried to create a loving tribute. It's a pity they were incompetent filmmakers.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

By now, you should have seen the trailers for the upcoming Bond film, Spectre, which is essentially a re-imagining of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, arguably the best movie in the franchise. In short, Bond is pitted against the leader of a world-wide criminal organization. It's super-spy versus a contemporary Moriarty, fighting for the future of the world.

Spectre, whether it turns out good or bad, looks gritty and tense. It almost looks like it's in continuity with Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.

Rogue Nation feels like the exact same premise got handed to Marvel. And I do mean the exact same premise: the producers dug up "The Syndicate," a criminal organization from the last season of the Mission Impossible TV series, and upgraded them to a world-wide organization more or less indistinguishable from Spectre. Then they created a leader who serves as a stand-in for Blofeld. Oh, and they beat their competitors to the theaters by three months.

But while Spectre looks like The Dark Knight, this has more of an Avengers vibe. It's action-packed, humorous, and exciting. There's very little character development, and the scenes without knife fights, high speed chases, and dramatic stunts are clearly present for pacing.

And that pacing is goddamn meticulous. This movie is astonishingly well constructed. When something exciting isn't happening, the space serves only to offer the briefest of pauses. They're like short breathers between songs on a CD: if you try running to the bathroom when one action scene ends, you're liable to miss two more.

Do not attempt to use the bathroom or buy popcorn during this movie. You are guaranteed to miss something awesome.

The plot makes just enough sense to prevent the audience from feeling like they're throwing a series of random action scenes at them, even when they are clearly just throwing random action scenes at us. There are plot holes, sure, but you will absolutely not care about them.

This is one of those movies that's aimed at the nine year-old in us all that loved spy movies but wished they'd skip past the boring stuff and get to the exploding motorcycles. There is no boring stuff in this movie. None.

Hell, even the theme feels like it's geared towards kids. "Friends are important" is more or less what the movie tells us, the same message you'd get watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Again, will you mind? Not for a minute: anything more complex might have required more than ninety seconds of exposition between gun fights.

This movie features Tom Cruise playing a far better action hero than he's ever managed in his life, all while being constantly outdone by Rebecca Ferguson, who makes a far more compelling argument that she should take over than Jeremy Renner ever has (though he's good in this, too). Ferguson's character is fantastic, though that might have bought them more goodwill if she hadn't been the only female character in the movie (I'm not counting the record store clerk: she never even got a name).

I think there's also an argument to be made this glorifies violence. It features quite a bit, some with rather brutal implications, but absolutely no unpleasant visuals. Depending on where you sit on that issue, you may or may not be bothered. Probably not, though, since it's hard to harbor ill-will towards this one: it's just too much fun to watch.

In short, it's an unapologetic spy adventure that prioritizes excitement over all else. It's mindless summer fun elevated to an art of choreography, editing, and stunt work. Check it out if you haven't already.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Movie Review: Ant-Man

Miraculously, it looks we're wrapping up Phase 2 on a positive note. After the departure of Edgar Wright, a lot of us were ready to write this one off. But, despite studio interference and script rewrites, the movie delivered a solid, entertaining experience. It was a fun, humorous superhero heist movie.

The movie wasn't perfect by a long stretch. First, it was the wrong movie. Even the filmmakers seemed to acknowledge that a Wasp movie would have made more sense, particularly given the back-story they went with. They redeem this as well as could be expected, short of changing the premise: Evangeline Lilly's Hope Van Dyne is a fantastic character, and the brief allusions and connections to her legacy are among the film's best moments. Rudd does a fine job as Lang, but his character is clearly the least interesting of the three leads.

In addition, the film could have used a bit more style. It plays like a comedy/adventure, and if there was ever an opportunity to deliver an Ocean's Eleven style heist movie, this was it. But it's hard to be too bothered by the missed opportunity when they delivered a solidly entertaining product.

I'm unsure whether to applaud or criticize the film's formula. It plays out almost beat-for-beat like the first Iron Man. Laziness or loving homage: it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Less ambiguous was the choice of Michael Douglass as an aged Hank Pym (and while we're on the subject, kudos to the effects team for delivering a near-perfect not-so-aged Pym in the opening scene). This certainly wasn't any version of Pym I know from the comics, but I thought the revision worked beautifully.

In the scheme of Phase 2, this was nowhere near as good as Guardians of the Galaxy or Winter Soldier, but I found it a more satisfying experience than The Dark World, Iron Man 3, or Age of Ultron. That's not to say there weren't elements of those movies that were superior to this, but - taken as a whole - I think this one works better.

This isn't the best of the summer, and it's not going to top fan's favorite Marvel movies lists, but as an installment in the series, it left me entertained and eager for more stories with these characters.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Movie Review: Inside Out

Before Inside Out starts, Pixar screens a short movie, like they always do. This one's called "Lava," and while it's sort of cute at times, over all it's derivative and a little cloying.

This will end the critical portion of this review.

After watching Inside Out, I have no idea whether we're seeing a long-term return to form for Pixar or just a one-off throwback, but I feel secure saying it's up there with the studio's best works. It is hilariously funny and impossibly sad, a complex and thoughtful exploration of depression and emotional turmoil. It is, in short, an absolutely phenomenal movie.

It kind of had to be, because unlike Cars 2 and Monsters University, this one's not likely to make a killing at box office. Sure, it'll turn a profit, but not on the magnitude of their franchise films. And they must have known that when they green-lit it, which means Inside Out is either a labor of love or an attempt to polish the studio's reputation. I don't know or care which: I'm just grateful to have the movie.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Inside Out is that, despite being as good as Pixar's established classics, it represents a completely different direction. The story told is much smaller in scope than their usual epics, and it pays homage to entirely different eras and styles than they're typically known for. In addition, it's the second Pixar movie to focus predominantly on female leads, which helps differentiate it further.

That's not to say this doesn't feel like Pixar: the animation retains the studio's style, the music choices, and even the recurring voice talent serves as a fingerprint. But there's something fresh about this one that's been missing from the studio for a few years.

There's a lot more I could go into: the brilliant use of color, the wise choice to forego an unnecessary antagonist, the great voice work, or just the fact they managed to make a movie where the physical incarnation of disgust played a key role without relying on a single cheap gross-out sequence.... You get the idea.

Ultimately, though, I don't have much to say. This one's absolutely worth your time: check it out as soon as possible.

Welcome back, Pixar: we missed you.