Review – Inside Out

Inside Out: Four emotions - Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Joy

Pixar’s 15th feature film is a captivating study of a child’s emotional development that educates as much as enthrals, while still retaining the ability to transform stable parents into gibbering, heaving wrecks.

The setting is 11-year-old Riley’s head, where – in similar fashion to the Beano’s Numskulls – the little girl’s four core emotions fuss and fight over the best way to navigate a life-changing family move from the Midwest to San Francisco.

Beautifully animated in typical Pixar nonpareil, they are: sassy Disgust (Mindy Kaling), skittish Fear (Bill Hader), combustible Anger (Lewis Black) and the ultra-lethargic Sadness. Amy Poehler shines (quite literally) in what must be one of the castings of the century – she plays Joy.

Firmly supported by a fine acting line-up and a tightrope-taut script, Inside Out reaches down into the memory dump and yanks Pixar right back to the top of its game following the forgettable Brave (2012) and Monsters University (2013).

The extraordinary inventiveness of co-writers Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen is a delight, while different domains of Riley’s mind like ‘Abstract Thought’ and ‘Imagination Land’ are intensely absorbing and snort-in-your-slushy funny.

Yes there are moments of heart-breaking sorrow – mums, please try not to suffocate your children during these. Watching a snotty toddler gripped in a parent’s ‘loving embrace’ slowly turn blue will put anyone off their popcorn – but emotional hysteria is not the pre-eminent interest of this film.

As with all Pixar movies, the message is central. This is one of family (albeit in a very heteronormative, white context), trust and an understanding that negative feelings are just as important as positive ones in shaping our psyches. Everyone has to grow up someday, after all.

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Review – Greenberg

Greta Gerwig in Greenberg, Noah Baumbach

Greta Gerwig is adorable, witty, expressive and downright perfect in this quite peculiar dramedy.

It’s US director Noah Baumbach’s seventh movie about a bunch of narcissistic white people at a philosophical crossroads. But even Gerwig – as the muddled young nanny Florence – can’t pump fresh life into a film weighed down by Ben Stiller’s insistence on being wantonly dull.

He plays Roger Greenberg, a 40-year old carpenter (of sorts) committed to “doing nothing” while house-sitting in LA for his out-of-town, estranged brother. We’re supposed to feel sorry for the character – recently discharged from a psychiatric unit – but there’s little explanation of what he’s coping with and any empathy instead turns to irritation. My heart sank whenever Gerwig’s powerhouse performance was substituted for yet another blunt shot of Stiller writing at a table. And let’s not even bother with Rhys Ifans’ bit-part role as a rummy Welshman who stands in hallways with his mouth open. Frankly, his blotchy y-fronts – which we see a lot of – are his most expressive faculty.

What saves Greenberg (apart from Greta) are several scenes which encapsulate what was so gripping about The Squid and the Whale, Kicking and Screaming and Frances Ha. Florence has numerous, but Roger few.

During an unplanned house-party, Stiller scrambles from each potential coke-addled pitfall to another. The stomach-clenchingly brusque way Baumbach has of saying, “look here viewer, this is life, it’s fucked,” is plain to see. As in Frances Ha it’s horribly awkward, but beautifully communicates a character’s absolute disorientation, and actually makes them – take notes Stiller – LIKEABLE.

Greenberg’s foot-stomping soundtrack and excellent leading lady kick-started the Noah-Greta indie parade (Frances Ha, While We’re Young, Mistress America) and for that we’re thankful. Greenberg does have some stellar moments I’ll admit, they just all contain one, glorious actor. And that’s a screen-test, not a movie.

Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

Romping on to the big screen in a blaze of petrol-soaked ferocity is this riotous reboot of a cult eighties classic.

A feminist triumph it is not – scantily clad supermodels hosing each other down in the desert is hardly progressive – but Charlize Theron’s fierce, one-armed Furiosa is more than a match for Tom Hardy’s Max as she races to reach her ‘green place’ with escaped sex slaves in tow. Both are terrific in what is essentially a two hour long car chase interspersed by earth-shattering explosions, apocalyptic sandstorms and even a botched child-birth.

It’s high-octane screen-action at its finest, and will leave viewers feeling like they’ve paid to see a monster truck rally in Texas rather than a critically-acclaimed awards flick. What’s doubtful though, is if it’s anything more.

Review – Minions

One quiet evening last week, I emerged, bleary-eyed, from a dingy Holloway Odeon – I’d been to see the neo-western Slow West – to a sight I’d thought confined to the silver screen. Toddling along through the cinema foyer was a little ball of blue and yellow fuzz, squeaking as it went. Resplendent in a hooded minion onesie, strapped to a minion backpack and engulfed by a fluffy minion teddy, this beaming child was on cloud nine. It made my 90 minutes of pistol-whipping skulduggery look paltry in comparison.

Fast forward seven days and it’s my turn to board the Banana Express – albeit less ‘minionised’ in the wardrobe department.

Creator Pierre Coffin wastes no time with this Despicable Me spin-off, and the opening 30 minutes are stuffed full with as much slapstick tomfoolery and linguistic gibberish as there is flatulence in a fart gun.

We follow the original tribe of yellow blobs on their disastrous quest to find the most dastardly villain to serve. From pagan Egyptians to the unlucky Napoleon, many of history’s celebrities met their ends with a sudden “Bello!” and a quick “Poopaye!”

Eventually our three heroes – the imaginatively named Kevin, Stuart and Bob – find their femme fatale, the malevolent Scarlett Overkill, and monarchy-themed mania ensues in a quirkily realised London town.

The main plot devices come in fits and starts, as do the laughs. Occupying a bit part role in the original, the minions were used as a comic foil whenever the human-driven narrative slowed. Now in their own feature, their one-dimensional nature is exposed. That’s not to say they are any less funny, the gags just work better when the fuzzy, yellow tennis balls have a person-shaped wall to bounce off.

Coffin excels once more as the voice – can we call it a voice? – of the minions, and with the addition of a bit of French and Spanish lingo,  even a sliver of sense can be snatched from the frenzied babble.

It’s a shame the same cannot be said for the directors’ decision to cast Sandra Bullock as Overkill, whose blandly-delivered character is lazily drawn and not a patch on Kristen Wiig’s Lucy from Despicable 2. Jennifer Saunders goes some way to making up for this misstep however, with a gloriously nutty cameo as the Queen (more Eddie Monsoon than Lizzie Windsor).

All bouncing bundles of bisque considered, there are more than enough titter points in this 90-minute blunder fest to make it enjoyable. And although the hideous backpack is quite out of the question, I may just nab myself a onesie…

Review – Thelma & Louise

Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise by Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott’s last great film comes in the form of this sassy laugh-a-minute road movie with a deadly twist.

Starting out a humdrum chick-flick, Thelma (Davis) and Louise (Sarandon) stick it to the man – quite literally for Thelma, who gives her nauseatingly piggish hubby (McDonald) the slip – for a weekend of rural respite at a friend’s cabin, before a truly head-snapping surprise turns the tables on the pair.

An odd couple, it’s true, but Thelma’s ditzy yet reckless spirit is brilliantly set against Louise’s cautious cynicism in 130 minutes of whippet-smart gags and jaw-dropping desert panoramas.

Don’t be so quick to pigeon-hole the two hell-raisers though. The beauty of Scott’s 1991 tour de force is in the complex character development its leading ladies undergo when things slow down and the engines die. Their personalities intertwine, unrecognisable by the nerve-shredding finale.  Even the (at times) dodgy southern accents can’t slam the brakes on this feminist force that puts most modern ‘girl-power’ pictures to shame.

Review – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Schwarzennger Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines

Arnie’s back (again) as the T-850 murder-bot in this tedious third instalment of lorry-flipping, cop-wasting, post-apocalyptic Armageddon – and that’s just the first 40 minutes.

Starring as a reprogrammed Terminator sent back in time by the resistance to protect a now-adult John Connor (Nick Stahl), Schwarzennegger is up against the superior-in-every-way T-X (Kristianna Loken), also zapped into the present with the opposite intention of smearing Connor’s face across the pavement; all because he’s destined to do something important in a future that hasn’t happened yet. Or has it? Anyhow, it all makes for a very confused plot, and lots of in-film explaining. Lots.

T3’s saving grace is, like most of Arnie’s pictures, its leading light. Belying his 54-years, the tank-like Austrian majorly upgrades any scene he lays his piercing red-eyes on, no matter how lifeless the script. So despite the lack of classic one-liners that litter the rest of the franchise, we’re glad to have the Governator back, but isn’t it time he too, was terminated?

Live Review: Queen – Wembley Arena – 24/02/15

“Wembley. What do you think of the new guy?”

A packed arena explodes into applause at Brian May’s words, their appreciation obvious.

The new guy grins, sways on the spot and puts a hand to his heart. Acceptance as a new Queen front man can be tricky to attain, as he knows well.

Over the years many have tried (and failed) to step into Freddie Mercury’s shoes. Ex-Free rocker Paul Rodgers achieved mixed success in the mid-2000s, while Dappy, Robbie Williams and Jessie J have all been scoffed at for trying. Replacing the moustached magician has proved nigh on impossible thus far.

This is where new recruit, Adam Lambert, differs to other would-be Freds. In stressing that “there’s never going to be another [Freddie Mercury] and I’m not replacing him. That’s not what I’m doing”, Lambert has managed to achieve a level of authenticity that has been sorely lacking in the band’s recent performances.

queen1-560428

Resplendent in head to toe studded leather, high heels and more eye shadow than Dame Edna, Lambert definitely draws on his predecessor’s penchant for the outlandish.

Left dripping in sweat next to his grey-haired bandmates, he has strutted, pouted and thrusted his way through a 23-song set of over two hours. His outstanding vocal ability has been put to the test time and time again in a back catalogue stuffed with hits – ‘Killer Queen’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to name a few – but the 33-year old American has stood tall (and not just because of the platform shoes). Even several costume changes have left the star unfazed.

It is during these wardrobe sessions when the youngster takes a break and the old guard take over. Brian May wheels out an acoustic rendition of Night at the Opera track ‘’39’, before giving us a good half hour of his most cosmically brain-warping guitar squealing. Then Roger Taylor engages in a fiery father and son drum battle with 23-year old Rufus. These add little to proceedings and serve as nothing more than an ego boost for a couple of old timers desperate to prove their chops to a new generation.

More welcome is the tasteful big screen Freddie footage that crops up occasionally. May is accompanied on ‘Love of My Life’, and it is touching to say the least. A cameo on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is equally popular. These short acknowledgements of the glaring elephant in the room are ecstatically received and add a touch of class to proceedings. Better to add more of these than the self-indulgence of May’s mid-concert science experiment.
Lambert’s performance does have its faults though. ‘Save Me’ is a complete disaster – he never quite captures the soul-baring intensity of the song – and he hasn’t quite mastered the stagecraft that left fans eating out of the band’s hands in their pomp. Yet.

There is no doubt, however, that the truly regal Queen are at their rip roaring best only when Lambert is on stage. A worthy successor to the throne indeed.