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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Like the much maligned Superman Returns, Jurassic World is, first and foremost, an homage to the original. Unlike Superman Returns, Jurassic World just made more than 500 million dollars in one weekend.

The movie is fun, but ultimately redundant. I'm not just talking about the premise being a repeat of part one's, either: a number of elements are borrowed from other installments, and there are quite a few nods to other classic genre films, as well.

But the T-Rex's share of references and retreads were definitely from Jurassic Park. I almost wished they just done this as a reboot: just re-imagine the premise of part one where the catastrophe happens after the park opens instead of before. That's basically the movie they made, anyway.

Ultimately, I left having enjoyed the movie, but I didn't feel like I'd been shown anything new. If this had been a story-driven film, that wouldn't be a big deal, but in a summer blockbuster, I feel like we should be able to expect more surprises.

For what it's worth, Jurassic World does a decent job giving its characters individual arcs. Pratt definitely comes away feeling like the movie's action hero, though it's worth noting that Howard's character actually got a more fulfilling story arc.

The action sequences themselves were well constructed, though artificial. This comes off feeling one step away from animated, and I almost wish they'd just taken that last step. There were quite a few scenes where the disconnect between live-action sets and actors and obviously computer-generated creatures was jarring: why not replace the sets and people and remove the issue?

The movie's exciting, though not really scary. I'd have preferred if they'd pushed the boundaries of PG-13 a little more aggressively: the film has a tendency to shy away from darker elements. The most egregious example is the magically disappearing children: early on, we're shown that about 50% of the park's guests are minors, but everyone under the age of 30 is conspicuously absent when the dinosaurs attack.

I kind of wish I'd seen this before learning that this beat out The Avengers for the highest grossing opening of the past 13.82 billion years. It's not really fair to expect it to live up to those kinds of numbers. The movie accomplishes what it sets out to do: deliver a fun, family-friendly adventure homage to Jurassic Park. That should probably be enough, but I certainly wanted more.

Maybe we'll see them step up their game in the sequel. I'm still holding out hope for Jurassic World War: let's stop playing around on these islands and take this concept global already.