SOUL (2020)

December 30, 2020

Greetings again from the darkness. With their first 22 feature films, Pixar excelled at balancing the eye candy and action kids favor with the second level intellect needed to simultaneously keep adults entertained. As proof, one need only think of such classics as TOY STORY, CARS, and THE INCREDIBLES. Surprisingly, film number 23 is the first Pixar film aimed directly at adults. It’s a marvelous companion piece to the brilliant INSIDE OUT (2015), but be forewarned, there is simply nothing, or at least very little, for kids to latch onto.

The film is co-directed by 2 time Oscar winner Pete Docter (INSIDE OUT 2015, UP 2009) and Kemp Powers (the screenplay and stage production of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI, 2020), and they were joined on the screenplay by Mike Jones. And yes, it’s a brilliant script to go along with the always stunning Pixar visuals and effects. Brace yourself for a metaphysical exploration of the meaning of life and finding one’s purpose. As we’ve come to expect on Pixar projects, the voice cast is deep and filled with well-known folks such as Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Questlove, Daveed Diggs, Wes Studi, and June Squibb. Leading the way is the dynamic duo of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey.

Mr. Foxx plays Joe, a junior high band teacher still chasing his dream of performing jazz and experiencing the feeling that only music can provide … “the zone”. Instead, the school offers him a full-time teaching job, and his mother demands he seize the stability (and insurance) and give up his silly dream of jazz. As seen in the preview, shortly after an audition lands him his dream jazz gig, a freak accident occurs and Joe finds himself in “The Great Beyond”, where a conveyor belt takes those souls whose time has come to that giant bug zapper in the sky. Joe’s not willing to accept his plight and finagles his way into being a mentor for Soul 22 (Tina Fey) in “The Great Before” where unborn souls search for their “spark”. It’s all very existential.

After a look back at his life, Joe takes 22 to “The Hall of Everything”, which is the one segment in the film which felt underplayed … much could have been done with 22 looking for a reason to live. Instead, it’s a few great punchlines, including a Knicks gag that will surely play well among basketball fans. We learn of the fine line separating “lost souls” from those “in the zone”, and mostly we take in the banter between Joe and 22, as purpose and passion become the subjects of chatter.

As with most Pixar movies, multiple viewings are required to catch all the sight-gags, one-liners, and Easter eggs, however, the first viewing is like unwrapping a giant Christmas present. The opening Disney theme is hilariously played by a junior high school band, and the score is courtesy of Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010). Director Docter claims Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger makes a vocal appearance, but I didn’t catch it. The film leaves us with the message that the meaning of life is simply living life … and keep on jazzing.

Available on Disney+

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


ELYSIUM (2013)

August 11, 2013

elysium1 Greetings again from the darkness. Social commentary does not automatically make a movie “smart”. In fact, commentary done poorly could be labeled the exact opposite. Writer/Director Neil Blomkamp‘s critically acclaimed sci-fi feature District 9 was creative in its approach to social issues. Unfortunately, his follow-up is a sloppy, big budget mess with too many writing shortcuts and what may be the worst performances of Jodie Foster‘s career.

Earth in the year 2154 is an over-populated, polluted, ecological disaster that looks like what we saw in Wall-E, only with people. Earth is so bad, it has been evacuated by the ultra-rich … an obvious statement on the “one percenters”. The poor and downtrodden earthlings spend their lives dreaming of getting to Elysium, the space station paradise that houses the elite and is only a 19 minute shuttle ride away. On Elysium, the houses are stunning and the elysium2lawns perfectly manicured. Oh, and technology has re-imagined tanning booths into a medical marvel that can cure anything from zits to cancer. This advancement is the main reason earthlings risk everything to reach Elysium. See those poor folks have only shoddy hospitals … an obvious statement on universal healthcare.

After an industrial accident, Max (Matt Damon) is desperate to reach Elysium so he can save his own life. As expected, his selfishness evolves into focused heroism after he runs into his childhood crush Frey (Alice Braga) and her leukemia-stricken daughter. Getting yourself to Elysium is not so easy thanks to the protective nature of Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster). She is working with greedy businessman William Fichtner and earth-based mercenary Sharlto Copley to plot her political coup on Elysium … just in case you forgot that the rich are really bad people.  Copley is by far the most entertaining aspect of this movie.  Even though we can’t understand half his dialogue, it’s much easier to take elysium3than whatever the heck that accent is that Ms. Foster is throwing at us.

There is a data theft plot that, in the right hands, could open up the Elysium advantages to the entire population … an obvious statement on open immigration. In between all of the political statements Blomkamp does throw in plenty of explosions, gun fights, aggressive robots and enough CGI effects to keep any sci-fi fan entertained. There is even a battle of exoskeleton suits between Copley and Damon. Where Arnold once said “Get your a** to Mars“, I can’t in good faith say the same thing about Elysium.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are addicted to Sci-Fi and don’t even mind if it’s poorly imagined … fisticuffs in an era of immediate medical healings??

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your Sci-Fi on the cerebral side rather than political

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha6zWw5saGY


PREDATORS (2010)

July 10, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. If you are a fan of the 1987 original film directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, you couldn’t help but be a bit excited about this new one since Robert Rodriguez is involved. What a letdown.  It plays more like an episode of Lost, or even The Twilight Zone.

With films from Mr. Rodriguez, we have always been able to count on creativity, ingenuity, humor and excitement. This one lacks all. Now to be fair, the director is actually Nimrod Antal, whose resume includes Armored and Vacancy, both of which are as empty as this one.  But Mr. Rodriguez was very involved in the details.

Of course when your cast is minus Arnold, you start with a major handicap. When you replace him with Adrien Brody, you appear to be aiming for disappointment. Sure Mr. Brody did a few sit-ups to prep for this role, but he is no action hero, regardless of how he mimics the Christian Bale Batman voice in order to seem tough.

The rest of the bad luck cast of characters is rounded out by Laurence Fishbourne, Alice Braga, the great Danny Trejo (a Rodriguez staple), Topher Grace and Walton Goggins (so great as Boyd Crowder in Justified, TV’s best new series this past season). Just to add to the misery, the film score is simplistic and a bit of a joke itself. It certainly misses the excellent work of Alan Silvestri from the first film.

Not much need to discuss the lack of any real new material here. The bad guys are pretty much the same. The weapons are pretty much the same.  The cast and script are weaker. The real money with this one lies in a “making of” documentary in which the first “pitch” meeting takes place and the producers are presented with the idea to make a thrilling new action movie … a new Predator movie … starring … Adrien Brody and Topher Grace!


REPO MEN (2010)

March 22, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. A sci-fi action thriller set in the near future, the film is based on the novel by Eric Garcia. It stars Jude Law and Forest Whitaker as organ repo men. No, not Wurlitzer pipe organs … artificial body organs. The idea is that any vital body organ can be replaced for a price. Just make sure to read the fine print in the repo clause before signing anything!

Liev Schreiber is the supervisor of Repo Men at The Union. Judging from the size of the building and the mass of the lab, business is booming in the artificial organ transplant business. And who could be surprised? The Union sales team has a perfect sales pitch – sign here or die. And actually, they don’t expect you to stay current on your payments, hence the Repo crew.

I never did figure out if this was supposed to be a comedy/satire or dramatic thriller. The actors seem to play it straight, but that actually adds to the humorous moments. Despite some fine and interesting songs on the soundtrack, the film is a bit of a mess at times … though there are also some fun action scenes. The warning must go out that gore abounds and the actual repo scenes are a bit squirm-inducing.