June 25, 2015
Inside Out (***) PG
For years the Disney/Pixar brand was nearly untouchable, both in terms of quality and commercial success. And then the seams began to show. I suppose it was inevitable as the odds will tell you that there was, in all probability, no way that the company and its well chosen team of behind the scenes talent could continue hitting it out of the park with each successive release. Things first took a downward turn with the 2011 entry Cars 2, and truth be told, they haven’t gotten much better since then. Perhaps that’s why the company chose to sit last summer out without a major release on their calendar, a nearly unthinkable feat in a past not so long ago. The good news is that they’ve definitely rebounded somewhat with their latest release, Inside Out.
I won’t go so far as to say that Inside Out is the cinematic salvation for Pixar that I was hoping for but it’s still more than a notch above the product they’ve been churning out here of late. In actuality, I enjoyed the Pixar short film Lava, which appears before the feature, more than I did Inside Out.
Scene from Inside Out
It offers promise that Inside Out actually fails to deliver on while, interestingly, the stories for both films have a similar thread running through them.
The premise of Inside Out is that Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), having been forced by her parents to leave her beloved Minnesota behind and relocate to San Francisco, is having a tough time emotionally dealing with the loss of the familiar environment in which she came of age. The story deals with the characters of Riley’s varied emotions of Joy (Amy Pohler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), as they attempt to steer Riley through her readjustment period. Once Joy and Sadness wind up getting separated from the rest of Riley’s emotions, the remaining emotions have to take over as Joy and Sadness attempt to find their way back where they belong. Along the way the two befriend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a multi colored, imaginary elephant pal from Riley’s childhood who helps them get back. The character of Bing Bong actually gives the film some of its emotional heft as he laments the fact that he’s been forgotten through the passage of time as Riley has matured.
The film contains lots of Pixar’s trademark slapstick that audiences have come to expect and for that reason small children seeing the film are sure to shriek with delight. Unfortunately, there’s a bit too much of that whimsical feel going on from time to time, leaving the proceedings with a bit of a formulaic vibe from time to time.
For die-hard fans of the Pixar brand this won’t be a problem. For those longing for the early days of their more inspired works, it’s bound to leave one somewhat satisfied but with a feeling that something’s missing.
Dope (***) R
The main characters in director Rick Famuyiwa’s film Dope are certain to pass the litmus test in terms of uniqueness and audience interest. The three main characters in the film are steeped in the hip-hop culture of the late 80’s/early 90’s, even though the film’s setting is the present, giving the it a certain vibe that instantly engenders the audience to its protagonists. It’s always nice to see a film set in the present with such a fondness for nostalgia and for those Generation Xers like myself, who came of age during the golden age of hip-hop, Dope holds a special attraction.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that the film has a good story to tell to go along with its well-defined characters. Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior doing his best to get by and survive life in one of the tougher neighborhoods in LA, specifically Inglewood. He’s seen his father once and lives with his mother who drives a bus in order to put food on the table. Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), Malcolm’s high school pals, are often the butt of their classmate’s jokes, since their efforts are concentrated on doing whatever it takes to get out of their surroundings. This, of course, entails lots of accusations leveled at the trio for doing ‘white things.’
Things take a turn for the worst when Malcolm follows a girl to a party and winds up with a gun and several bricks of drugs in his backpack. In a less capable writer/director’s hands this plot development could have easily turned into a lousy cliche but Fumiyawa is smarter than that and so are his characters.
Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons and Shameik Moore play misfits with dreams in Dope
How the teens make their circumstances work in their favor to achieve their lofty goals makes up the bulk of the remainder of the film.
What makes Dope such an interesting diversion is how it continually manages to defy our storytelling expectations. The film constantly coughs up twists and turns at every corner and just when you think you have things figured out the film seems to throw out another curve. Helping matters considerably is that the characters are so endearing to begin with, which is always a good thing.
If there’s one complaint to hedge against the film it would be a preachy section during the film’s denouement where Malcolm writes a college essay basically urging people not to judge books by covers. This seems a bit heavy handed but still, for a film filled with so many interesting characters and situations, it’s a minor transgression. Dope may not be perfect but it’s a great antidote for the current overdose of summertime blockbusters littering theater screens.
Both of these movies are playing all over the FOCUS distribution area.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.