June 24, 2015


"Inside Out," the new Pixar movie about Riley, an eleven-year-old girl whose world is turned upside down when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, is good, but not great. It's very much a kid's movie (with knowing asides to parents, as these films always have). When I first saw the trailer for the film, I guess I had very high expectations. I was elated that children were going to be taught about their interior life--that they even have one! Dramatizing the interior life, externalizing it, is always one of the biggest challenges in film, unlike literature which can write reams about characters' inner movements. Film can mostly only show. Film will use narration, flashbacks or other tools to let us know what a character might be thinking or feeling at a deeper level--beyond facial expressions and body language--but "Inside Out"  is taking us right inside--as a cartoon can certainly do! Factor in that Riley plays hockey? This film, thought I, must have fallen right out of heaven.

"Inside Out" is highly imaginative with eye-popping color. We spend a good deal of the movie inside Riley's brain with her five key emotions: Joy (green-female), Sadness (blue, of course-female), Anger (red-male), Disgust (Green-female), and Fear (purple-male). Not having read much about the making of this film, I'm intrigued at the thought process/research that chose/named these as the primary emotions. Joy is all by herself as Riley's sole emotion when Riley is a baby, but Sadness follows immediately when Baby Riley begins wailing. (I would actually have put Sadness or Fear first, since birth can be traumatic and babies often cry right at birth.)


Riley's brain is "Headquarters," and Joy is in charge at the control panel as she and the gang look through Riley's eyes at the action in Riley's life. "Looking through Riley's eyes" is essentially monitoring a huge screen. Memories Riley makes are turned into colored bowling-ball-sized "memory balls" that roll around in chutes and pipes in Headquarters and then get stored elsewhere. Each memory ball acts like a crystal ball with an animated GIF playing over and over in a loop. "Core memories" are the most important--happy, formative touchstones from Riley's childhood (many of them involving hockey). They are gold and must be protected at all costs.

Outside of Headquarters (that looks essentially like the Seattle Space Needle) are islands of Riley's personality: family, goofball, hockey, friendship, honesty, etc. We are treated to all kinds of hilarious manifestations and personifications of: abstract thought, long term memory, jingles that get stuck in our heads forever, imagination, dreams, nightmares, forgetfulness, the subconscious, you name it.


As far as the message kids might get about emotions? I'm sorry to report that the emotions are completely in charge. It's unclear where cognition and willpower come in. Riley never takes the reigns of her emotions (OK, she's only 11)--instead, they control her. (One movie reviewer made the comment that Riley was "choosing" Joy most of the time, but I didn't find it evident that Riley was doing the choosing.) We are made to see the worth of each emotion and the purpose they serve and how well things work when they all work together, but Riley seems like an automaton, simply and only driven by events, memories and feelings. Any kind of thought process (notwithstanding the "train of thought"--the main means of transportation in Riley's noggin) is really beside the point. There's a certain anthropology here, methinks. I know certain schools of thought (ha ha), stress that we are driven by our emotions more than anything else, or emotion associated with positive and negative experiences in our lives. And I suppose when we're young, or if we live an "unexamined," non-reflective life, we might continue to be all through our lives. I just would like to have seen more, well, thinking and reasoning. The emotions seem to be scrambling to save the day (literally) all the time.

The plan for Riley's life seems to be: let's just keep her happy, day after day, year after year, so she can have a happy life! Without giving too much away, if at a certain point in the film Joy gets annoying (even though she's fairly moderate and not terribly naive), don't worry--she'll be tempered. Sadness serves a very big purpose in our lives.


The best takeaway, perhaps, is simply what can happen when our emotions do get out of control, and how we need a full range of emotions in our lives to balance each other out. The worst thing that could happen to us is to not feel our emotions or let just one of them take over. At Riley's nadir, it really answers the question we sometimes ask ourselves: "What happens to people? What happens to people to make them so turned off on life?"

Riley's parents are wonderful: realistic and loving--a great thing to see in a film. And not only that, we get to see inside their brains once in a while, too.

Maybe I'm asking too much of this kid's film. Maybe the film had to focus on one aspect of the human person (emotions). Maybe the interplay of mind, will and heart (affectivity) is too complex for an child's animated film. I'm sure parents and kids are having great conversations about emotions, and I will bet my bottom dollar that at Junior's next meltdown, Mom and Dad are appealing to "Inside Out": "Junior, remember in the movie when...."


--The director, Peter Docter, is from Minnesota.

--It does seem the overriding theme is joy, joy, joy. (Gag me with a spoonful of sugar.)

--However, one Mom made a very good point about the film: We naturally find Joy with Sadness (and Sadness with Joy) rather than with Anger, Disgust or Fear!

--Debbie Downer has nothing on Sadness.

--Joy is sometimes more like plain old Hope.

--Paula Poundstone has such a recognizable and appealing voice. She should do a lot more voice work. The voices are cast to perfection in this film.

--All the wobbling over the abyss made me truly dizzy.

--Why does Sadness have to be chubby (that's fatism, like sexism and ageism). Why couldn't Joy be fat and happy? Pleasingly plump?

--The biggest laugh in my theater (from guys)? A look inside the teenage guy brain.

June 14, 2015


Sr. Helena approves THIS trailer.

The fourth of the "Jurassic" movies, "Jurassic World" is brilliant, in keeping with the tone of the franchise, and great entertainment. The over-the-top trailer should never have shown us the escaped pterodactyls swooping down on everyone. That was a total spoiler and made the film look overblown, which it is not. "Jurassic World" retains all the fine human drama and tight, meted-out tension of the first groundbreaking (or should I say ground-pounding) film over twenty years ago.

Family is key to the characters. Two brothers (with a typical rocky sibling relationship), one a teen and one a pre-adolescent obsessed with dinosaurs, leave their parents at home and set off for a "family vacation" with their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, always a delicious ice queen) who works in a top administrative position at "Jurassic World." But she's all business (even with her one-time boyfriend played by Chris Pratt) and doesn't have much time for them. So the boys take off on their own, not always obeying park policies which you know is just such a bad idea at Dino Den.


Chris Pratt plays Owen, a former Navy guy who trains raptors to follow commands. Vincent D'Onofrio thickens the plot as an unscrupulous war monger who sees the potential for breeding dinos as war machines. The scientist in charge of the breeding lab also throws ethics to the wind as he creates hybrids and completely new dinosaurs. So, similar to the other films in the series, we have the voices of commerce, utilitarianism, science run amok, and a voice of respect for animals and nature itself (Owen).

It's hard to say much about the plot without giving too much of this funzo suspense-thriller away. Suffice it to say that it's all action after we witness: the present-day development of the mega-theme park (it really is pretty awesome); the dilemma of needing bigger thrills and more "wow factor" from "bigger, louder" dinos with "more teeth" (the Park has become old hat!); and the inciting incident of an escaped, ferocious, highly-intelligent, lab-creation  "Indominus Rex," with unknown behaviors.

 Before the mayhem begins, there's just one well-placed conversation about the morality of it all between Pratt's and D'Onfrio's characters. It made me think of how much more urgently we need to have these conversations about the manipulation of the human genome!


The battle for the upper hand winds up being between commerce (the Park must go on!) and utilitarianism (war for the sake of war). And both have one thing in common: human life is cheap. The body count isn't extremely high or graphic, but those bodies are some people we've gotten to know. The goreless gore and constant frights might be a bit intense for little ones.

The chemistry between Claire and Owen really clicks, and much of the comedy emanates from the outdoorsy tough guy wooing the indoorsy, prim, control freak gal. In fact, there's quite a bit of laugh-out-loud comedy--mostly dialogue. There's also lots of gasp-out-loud moments which somehow this film frees you up to do. Even if you are a staunchly silent moviegoer.

"Jurassic World" serves up an unexpected thrill a minute without bludgeoning the audience. It's masterfully well-paced in the style of 20th century films. There's an all-over 20th century feel to this larger-than-life, truly epic and almost "Western" film, except for the dull and dreary lack of light and color that continue to plague our digital world.  You will be ruined for life after witnessing the next-stage visual effects. I sincerely forgot that the dinos, especially the velociraptors weren't actual beasts.

The biggest laugh and most unbelievable, tongue-in-cheek element in this whole film? Bryce Dallas Howard in stilettos for the duration.


--Like "Mad Max: Fury Road," I was loathe to watch this film, but was most pleasantly surprised right out of the paddock (pun intended).

--Cool "making-of" and VFX article: http://arstechnica.com/the-multiverse/2015/06/even-for-a-sequel-20-years-removed-jurassic-parks-vfx-casts-a-legendary-shadow/ (Those tons of people in the crowd scenes? All real extras!)

--Strong beginning with warm and realistic portrayal of family and young people and their relationships.

--Trope: You KNOW the schleppy security guard will always get offed, especially if he is EATING FAST FOOD.

--Watch/Listen for it: The voice of cartoon "Mr. DNA" is the voice of the film's director, Colin Trevorrow.

--Female screenwriter in the mix always makes for a better screenplay, story and film (and dialogue and romance)!

--Chris Pratt has already signed on for Jurassic #5.

--I love the closing shot of man and woman, side by side, facing the future. Like the end of "Fight Club" and the TV version of "Brave New World," and many other films.

--AFTERWORD: I am hearing that some are calling this the worst movie they ever saw, citing no character development and "not caring what happens to people." Kind of.