18 posts categorized "Children"

June 13, 2015


Inside OutChildren’s book authors will be eating their hearts out over co-writer/co-director Peter Docter’s brilliantly devised story about the emotions that people (kids in specific) feel, and how they can control the voices in their heads. Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust are the five Emotions that vie for a prime-time spot inside the mind of 11-year-old tomboy Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) like balls in a ginned-up Las Vegas roulette wheel. But in this case, the Emotions are color-coded characters who work together as congenial pals in a spaceship-styled control center lined with floor-to-ceiling rows of colorful bowling-ball-sized orbs that each hold one of Riley’s precious memories.

The imaginative dual-layered narrative exists inside Riley’s head and in the real world, where memory flashbacks provide comic asides. A funny episode depicting baby Riley’s attempt to avoid eating the broccoli her dad feeds her on her highchair escalates from a moment overseen by Disgust before turning over the helm to Lewis Black’s lid-blowing Anger. Another memory is made and collected.

The premise is complicated, yet Docter and his team strike just the right tone of streamlined psychology lesson, wide-eyed wonder, and homesick heartache for an exquisitely paced film that ticks every box of audience expectation, and more.

Inside Out2Riley’s mom (voiced by Diane Lane) and dad (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan) uproot the family from affable Minnesota to snotty San Francisco for dad’s new job. It looks like there will be no more hockey team action for the athletic Riley, whose budding sense of self-determination is about to go full-bloom when Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) starts touching Riley’s memories, thereby turning them blue. A crisis looms as Riley’s brain gets stuck in a mode of remorse. Puberty plays a silent role that gets gentle attention in the film’s final scenes.

As it turns out melancholia has an important function in the hierarchy of survival instincts. The mystery of Sadness’s role provides the film’s thematic hook.

Insideout4The pixie blue-haired Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is an eternal optimist with a habit of big-dogging the other emotions, so it’s only natural that she leads the mission, with Sadness in tow, through the depths of Riley’s long-term memory reservoir to set things right. The pair goes on kooky excursions though the corners of Riley’s mind in places like Imagination Land and the more surreal Subconscious. The lively animation of display is more than worthy of big-screen viewing. This is not a movie to watch on your iPad. 

Peter Docter was sorely missed on “Toy Story 3,” after his palpable story-writing contributions to the first two films in the franchise. Mercifully, the gifted Docter is currently co-writing the upcoming “Toy Story 4,” which is due out in 2017. “Inside Out” is a contender for best children’s movie of the decade, or longer. 

Rated PG. 95 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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October 25, 2014


Fast Movie
The Wachowskis Make Summer Family Fun 

Speed-racerThe Wachowskis achieve a divine vision of psychedelic visual ecstasy — you won’t believe the sheer amount of color on the screen at any given time — while digging deep into a campy comic/dramatic tone that speaks to audiences of all ages. Emile Hirsch leads a flawless cast as the title character that carries the death of his car-racing brother Rex Racer (Scott Porter) as a constant inspiration to win races for his family’s racing business. Anti-corporate themes abound as the sport’s predatory company Royalton Industries tries to bring Speed and his family to the dark side of greed. Far-out racing sequences, ninja attacks, and a budding romance between Speed and his girlfriend Trixie (perfectly played by Christina Ricci) attend the trippy visual fun. Like a revved-up turbo mix of Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy” with 1982’s “Tron,” “Speed Racer” is a blast from start to finish.

Since ending their Matrix trilogy with a whimper rather than its anticipated bang, the Wachowski Brothers have successfully turned their attention to uniting cartoon logic with live-action appeal. The pay-off is fast and non-stop. Fans of Tatsuo Yoshida’s ‘60s era Japanese anime cartoon series (originally entitled “Mach GoGoGo”) get plenty of positive reinforcement with key story elements, like the functional “A” through “G” buttons on the steering wheel of Speed’s car (the “Mach 5”) and his little brother Spritle’s pet monkey Chim-Chim. The filmmakers are careful to emphasize Spritle (well played by cherubic Paulie Litt) for his amusing little kid qualities of loving candy and constantly trying to prove himself as worthy of adult respect. Spritle and Chim-Chim get plenty of welcomed screen-time, and their constant slapstick shenanigans anchor the movie’s wild racing sequences from a child’s knee-high perspective of seeking fun at every opportunity.

Speedracer14The diabolical Royalton (played by Roger Allam) introduces himself to the Racer family as an effeminate pancake-loving family man who wants nothing more than to provide them with the riches they deserve. But when Royalton gets Speed alone in his office to sign a contract piled high across his desk, we learn the depth of his corporate villainy. Every raced is fixed in Royalton’s worldview. If there is a running theme smuggled into this summer’s family movies (“Iron Man” included), it’s that profit for profit’s sake is to be avoided like the plague.

“Speed Racer” balances between dangerous car race rallies and the nefarious intrigue that surrounds them. A low-fi animated introduction sequence gets us inside the mind of young Speed daydreaming in class about racing with his brother. He doodles car crashes in the pages of his notebook. We are transported to the joys of childhood when all that mattered was how far your imagination could take you away from the mundane realities of homework, chores, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches — Speed’s mom (Susan Sarandon) makes them by the tray-full. If Speed is a rebel with a one-track mind, it’s an ethic of independence that he consciously inhabits with his family’s united approval.


The movie’s greatest achievement lies in its embrace of a modern family entertainment in a broad yet boiled-down spectrum of soup to nuts humor, action, and unbridled festivity. You can find touches of inspiration drawn from everything from the Three Stooges to Jerry Lewis comedies to the camp humor of Pee-wee Herman. The audience is encouraged to laugh at characters, with characters, and at themselves for being so easily led.

As Susan Sontag wrote, “You can’t do camp on purpose.” Here, the Wachowskis achieve a universal postmodern style and sensibility that comes from a connection between individual ambition and familial trust combined with lots of color and speed. It’s the fastest movie ever made.


Rated PG. 126 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)



July 01, 2013


Less Despicable But Still No Winner
Animation Franchise Not Headed For Glory

Despicable Me 2Co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud return for a shot at turning the unlikely “Despicable Me” premise into an animation franchise. As sequels go, “Despicable Me 2” improves by a few degrees on Coffin’s and Renaud’s disastrous original 2010 installment with its creepy mixed messages involving a Russian adult supervillain named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) with three adopted daughters, and a factory full of little yellow steampunk “minions.” You might imagine that Vladimir Putin commissioned the franchise himself.

The filmmakers have gone to great pains to temper Gru’s proclivity for staging bizarre epic acts of sabotage — such as stealing Egypt’s great pyramids. Gone is the first film’s corporate explanation of Gru’s character, "Just because he's [Gru] a bad guy doesn't mean he's a bad guy."

These days, the reformed Gru seems focused on making a happy childhood for his adopted girls Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), and Edith (Dana Galer). The bald mastermind has turned his once wicked underground factory — as overseen by the Russell Brand-voiced Dr. Nefario — into a jelly-and-jam production facility. Sadly, the variously colored goopy preserves are so awful that not even Gru’s minions can stand the taste.

A visit from one pointy-nosed Anti-Villain-League agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) finds Gru momentarily kidnapped in the passenger seat of a tiny car that transforms into a submarine. Agent Lucy delivers Gru to the agency’s leader Silas Ramsbottom (voiced by Steve Coogan), who requests Gru’s assistance in discovering the identity of a villain who has stolen a top-secret transmutation serum from a military facility in the Artic Circle with the use of a gigantic electromagnet. Sparks of the romantic variety spit and sputter between Gru and Lucy — much to the delight of Agnes, but to the anxiety of the painfully shy Gru.

Evidence regarding the stolen serum points to a bygone supervillain known as El Macho (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), who famously rode a shark into the mouth of an active volcano with 250-pounds of dynamite strapped around his chest. How saving people from an erupting volcano — à la Mr. Spock in the recent “Star Trek” installment — counts as a “villainous” act, sits as a burning question for audiences to mull over. Coincidentally, a man who looks exactly like El Macho, but calls himself Eduardo, runs a Mexican restaurant in a Los Angeles mall where Gru is convinced the serum is hidden.

Computer-animated slapstick comic sequences involving the minions sit opposite sequences matching the kind of explosive spectacle you’d find in a Michael Bay movie — think “Transformers.” Returning screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul guild the lily with rambling comic asides involving the gibberish-speaking minions that, it is foreshadowed, are due for their own spinoff franchise of movies — stay after the credits to see the 3D-heavy preview.

“Despicable Me 2” has a knock-off quality that brings up allusions to espionage related television shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s like “The Avengers” or “Get Smart.” The comparison does not favor the "Despicable" franchise. While the arcane steampunk minions deliver a few chuckles here and there, the dumbed-down subplot comes across as a cheap device intended to pander to the film’s youngest audience members who appreciate things like fart jokes and mumbling conversation.

Rated PG. 98 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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