Thursday, June 13, 2024

Anxiety Steals The Show From The Emotional Ensemble In INSIDE OUT 2

Now playing at a multiplex near us all:

INSIDE OUT 2 (Dir. Kelsey Mann, 2024)

 

While it’s easy to be cynical about Pixar churning out yet another sequel of one of their biggest hits, it’s actually been five years since they’ve put out one, which was TOY STORY 4, (that franchise’s LIGHTYEAR was an odd spin-off not a sequel). 

 

With the last several offerings by the Disney-owned animation studio being far from the insta-classics of old, I’m glad to report that this second INSIDE OUT is a worthy, and very funny follow-up that is a very welcome offering for this cinematic summer season.

 

The 2015 original INSIDE OUT, which matched its huge critical acclaim with big box office (and deservedly won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature), is one of Pixar’s finest, so it’s great to see Amy Poehler back heading the emotional ensemble as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Lewis Black as Anger while Tony Hale, and Liza Lapira fill in for Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling as Fear and Disgust respectively.

 

Then there’s the addition of four new characters that invade their turf in the headquarters of the conscious mind of the 13-year old Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman, replacing Kaitlyn Dias from the first film), after the puberty alarm sounds. This new crew is led by Maya Hawke as Anxiety, Ayo Edebiri as Envy, Adèle Exarchopoulos as Ennui (“boredom” in French), and Paul Walter Hauser as Embarrassment, who wears a big hoodie in order to hide his big pink noggin in.

 

Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan also reprise their parts as Riley’s parents, but they have very little screentime as the story revolves around the budding young girl going to hockey camp, and her relationships with her team mates. Hawke’s Anxiety pushes the old emotions aside (literally bottling them into a big glass jar), and casts them into a dark vault in the outer realm of Riley’s psyche so that she can take over the console and influence the girl’s thoughts with negativity. 

 

This is so that Riley will leave her friends behind so that she can join the popular girls (led by former Nickelodeon star Lilimar as Riley’s idol, Valentina “Val” Ortiz) in her desired hockey team, the Fire Hawks (a name that Black’s Anger says he can really get behind). So like the first film, the premise concerns a journey through the terrain of Riley’s mind to try and put things back in order, and, sure, it treads some of the same narrative ground, but the laughs, and heartfelt moments along the way help make it far better than a stale retread.

 

Among the amusing highlights is the appearances of a 2D retro cartoon character from Riley’s childhood named Bloofy (Ron Funches), a pixelated video game avatar called Lance Slashblade (Yong Yea) whose ineffectual method of rolling himself as a ball towards the advancing police-like mind workers sure made for a few crowd-pleasing visual gags, and Riley’s first experience with sarcasm, hilariously aided, of course, by Ennui. 

 

Of course, there’s no way a sequel to INSIDE OUT could have the same fresh feel of the first one, but screenwriters Meg LeFauve (co-writer of the original), and Dave Holstein bring enough punch to this project to make it a winning combination of humor and pathos bathed in bright primary colors, and it also helps that the animation is even sharper and more eye engaging in this entry, while still retaining the look and feel of the innerspace of the first installment. 

 

While Poehler still enthusiastically rules as Joy, and Black’s Anger and Smith’s Sadness prove there’s a lot more mileage to get out of their clever comic personas (Hale and Lipira put in good turns as well, but they’re more sideline to the three leads), it’s Hawke’s frantic, dizzying performance as Anxiety that really steals the show. Hawke’s high energy take on the fuzzy fretful foe for Joy makes for a sympathetic antagonist, and adds another layer to the zippy proceedings.

 

Maybe like Richard Linklater’s BEFORE trilogy, they should do an INSIDE OUT sequel in another nine years (and unlike that series, the characters don’t have to age), as the near decade gap here appears to work in this films favor. INSIDE OUT 2, the solid directorial debut of long-time Pixar creative, Kelsey Mann, made me laugh, and tear up a bit, as while it played a lot of the same beats as its predecessor, it successfully pulled the same right heartstrings too. So those dismissive of sequels should take note that Pixar’s track record for well worthwhile franchise efforts has again proven to be pretty damn strong.


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Friday, June 07, 2024

The BAD BOYS Are Back After The Slap

Opening today at multiplexes near us all:

BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE
(Dir. Adil & Bilall, 2024)


With only four years between entries, this movie marks the shortest gap between sequels for the BAD BOYS action comedy franchise that began in 1995 (the longest was the 17 years between BAD BOYS II in 2003, and BAD BOYS FOR LIFE in 2020). But what’s obviously more significant is that this fourth film in the series is the first big Will Smith movie, a contender to be a summer blockbuster no less, since the slap that was heard around the world.

And, yes, that slap is referenced in this glossy, glorified, over-stylized production that re-unites the 55-year old Smith, and the 59-year old Martin Lawrence to play the bickering buddy cops, Detectives Mike Lowrey, and Marcus Burnett. We catch up with them in the high octane (it’s all high octane) opening sequence of the tuxedoed duo racing through the sunny streets of Miami to get to the church for Mike’s wedding (to his physical therapist, Christine played by series newcomer Melanie Liburd), and thwarting a convenience store robbery on the way (Marcus had to stop for a ginger ale, Skittles, and a hot dog).

From there it’s on to Marcus paying for his comic gluttony by having a heart attack on the dance floor at the reception, and, after a near death dream sequence, comes to at the hospital that he’s invincible because his slain superior, Captain Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano) appeared to him beyond the grave to tell him it’s not his time yet.

Pantoliano’s Captain Howard, who was killed in the previous entry, has been framed as being involved with the drug cartels, so it’s up to Vice City’s finest to clear his name, but they end up on the run themselves as fugitives with $5 million bounties on their heads.

Mike’s son, Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio), comes into play as he can identify the movie’s villain, James McGrath (Eric Dane), a former U.S. soldier turned cartel boss that the screenwriters, Chris Bremner and Will Beall, don’t flesh out to be that memorable of a character.

Every beat of every shoot-out, chase (both foot or automobile), and hand-to-hand combat scene has been done to death before, but the fast pace, and disregard for any realism makes it flow entertainingly if not thoughtfully. I hope that much of Lawrence and Smith’s banter was improvised because riffs about Marcus having encountered Mike in a former life as a donkey really don’t feel work-shopped and honed.

One scene features our hip, black, wise-cracking heroes having a run-in with rednecks on their trailer trash property (a Confederate flag can be prominently seen hanging in the doorway of their mobile home), and it’s a lazy piece of comedy with Marcus and Mike trying to fake knowing a Reba McEntire song at gunpoint. Still, the audience at the screening I saw laughed plenty – especially when the cops stole and roared off in the rednecks’ pick-up truck with a country version of “Bad Boys,” by McEntire blares on the soundtrack. I’m not making this up.

The climax at an abandoned alligator-themed amusement park is also standard stuff, with the threat of a 16-foot, 900-pound albino alligator named Duke, and Marcus making Jurassic Park jokes. Along for the ride on Mike and Marcus’s team is Vanessa Hudgens, and Alexander Ludwig as weapons and tech experts of the Advanced Miami Metro Operations (AMMO) headed by Paola Núñez (also Mike’s ex-girlfriend, returning from BAD BOYS FOR LIFE), and Ioan Gruffudd as a Miami mayoral candidate, who everybody can tell is corrupt from his first moment onscreen.

But what about the famous sucker punch that Smith landed on Chris Rock at the Oscars two years ago? Well, Smith, whose premise this time is he’s dealing with trauma that freezes him in action, gets slapped himself during a spell by Lawrence who scolds him as a “bad boy.” Again, I’m not making this up.

Belgian directing duo Adill and Bilall continue the competent job of aping Michael Bays glitzy music video/TV commercial aesthetics - the packaging of every Jerry Bruckheimer production - that they did on the third installment, with shots made by always swooping cameras to insure that the audience never gets bored. And that did indeed work as boredom was not a beef of mine here.

Lawrence and Smith can still bring the crude charm, and chemistry, but with only a handful of funny, laugh out loud gags, BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE is a predictably empty, and noisy experience at its worst, and simple dumb fun at its best. I can’t deny that it was a crowd-pleaser at the showing I attended (I even heard someone say, “That’s the best one yet!” at the end), but whether paying moviegoers will give it the same love will be to be seen, as we’re living in times of a lot of high-profile theatrical flops these days.

Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly dig it as it contains around the same quality of the others (maybe not BAD BOYS II though as that’s arguably the worst of the series), and folks just looking for a good diversion on the big screen will find enough amusement enough, but I can’t hail it as a must see. So watcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Wait for streaming.

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Thursday, May 23, 2024

THE BEACH BOYS Doc Makes Its Disney+ Debut, But Does It Offer Anything New?

THE BEACH BOYS (Dir. Frank Marshall, Thom Zimny, 2024)

There have been plenty of Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson documentaries before so fans that know their story backwards and forwards may wonder whether what this film, which debuts today on Disney+, brings new to the table. 

 

Well, famed producer/filmmaker Frank Marshall, and Thom Zimmy (best known for a handful of acclaimed Bruce Springsteen doc projects) give us loads of never-seen before photos, lots of previously unshown footage, and a bunch of brand-new interviews with the principles (Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, and Bruce Johnston) so that’s what.

 

But with this wealth of material, it’s surprising that the program’s length is less than two hours (1h 53m, to be exact), as one might reasonably expect an epic three-hour (or even two part) event. This means that THE BEACH BOYS is heavy on the early years (1961-1969), going into detail about their beginnings in as a Four Freshman-inspired garage singing act from Hawthorne, California, giving focus to the creation of their sound, and their run of chart-topping singles, and speeds through their later career in the last thirty minutes.

 

However, despite this doc’s uneven presentation, it contains a very entertaining exploration of how a band that was defined by the surf ‘n sun Californian dream (so much so that their first three records had the word “surf” in their titles), came of age in the mid ‘60s rock era with the Beatles as their rivals/later friends, and went through various re-births via the two then concurrent incarnations of the band.

 

As Brian Wilson refrained from the road to conjure up studio genius with the aid of The Wrecking Crew, “The Beach Boys effectively became two groups, the touring group and the recording group,” Love reflects as the doc gets into edgier territory with the ground-breaking Pet Sounds sessions, and the shelving of the ambitious Smile album. 

 

The main arc (or arcs) concerns how the band goes from being cool to embarrassingly unhip to cool over and over again, but, as it skips over huge chunks of their output in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and even the ‘90s, it doesn’t feature how the touring and recording versions of the group later became two camps.

 

Firstly, the long-running Mike Love-led hits-centric outfit that largely performs at state fairs and casinos under the banner of the Beach Boys (Love has the exclusive license of the name), and the Brian Wilson-fronted pop orchestra that has played loftier venues, recreating Pet Sounds, and Smile in full, as well as a ton of fan favorites with Jardine, and later BB member, Blondie Chaplain (who is also featured in a new interview in the doc).

 

There are many, many elements from the band’s canon that are either glossed over, or skipped completely while the most attention is paid to Wilson toiling over the mixing console conjuring up his eccentric brand of melodic magic with almost a half an hour spent on Pet Sounds and SMiLE, and the ending’s declaration of its sacred place in musical history.

 

Not that I’m complaining as those are amazing works, and BB enthusiasts will dig the insights and delight in all the footage finally seeing the light of day here, but there really is too much that’s left out of this treatment. The stories around their later day attempts to recapture the band’s glory days would be nice, and I believe necessary to have been included, for example their 50th Anniversary album, That’s Why God Made the Radio, which re-united all the principles in 2011 for a surprisingly solid effort, but isn’t even mentioned here.

 

Keep in mind, these are the quibbles of a fan who has grown up with not just the BB catalogue, but with the narrative behind the music, and would probably still have issues with a three-four hour version. Overall, whatever it lacks, THE BEACH BOYS is a highly recommended watch for what it has, and I was impressed that when it was wrapping up, it had gone its entire running length with no instance of “Kokomo,” the unbearably cheesy 1988 single that was the band’s last top 20 hit. 

 

But I had thought too soon, as when the black screen credits starting rolling, “Kokomo” kicked in. Sigh. I’m not usually a fan of medleys, but there’s an early ‘80s single, officially sanctioned by Capitol Records, “Beach Boys Medley,” made up of bits from eight smashes from their ‘60s heyday, that would’ve worked so much better, especially as this doc is more about those times than any others.


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