INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

June 12, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. In 2004 THE INCREDIBLES became the 6th Pixar film in a row to dominate the box office, and also the 6th straight to “WOW” us with a combination of animation, story, action and characters. All these years later, Brad Bird, the creative force behind the original, is back with the much anticipated sequel. Mr. Bird’s career over those years has featured a blend of other animation (RATATOUILLE, 2007) and live-action (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL).

Bird is not the only returnee for the sequel. Also back is the entire Parr Family: Holly Hunter as Elastigirl/Helen/Mom, Craig T Nelson as Mr. Incredible/Bob/Dad, Sarah Vowell as Violet, Huck Milner as Dash, and Eli Fucile as baby Jack Jack. The story picks up not long after the original ended. “Supers” have been outlawed, and the Parrs are in some type of Super Protection Program – similar to Witness Protection. Of course when one is a superhero, doing the right thing just comes naturally, and the opening scene finds them battling their old nemesis Underminer (voiced by Pixar good luck charm John Ratzenberger, who voices a character in each of the studio’s films). Our heroes stop the crime, but cause significant damage to the city. This leads to our first social commentary when the powers that be scold the Parrs and inform them that the banks have insurance, and it’s cheaper to let the criminals get away so that the damage is minimized.

As superheroes non-grata, the Parrs try to go “straight” and live a normal life. That is until a powerful brother and sister corporate duo offer a proposal. Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (twist that pronunciation just a bit, voiced by Catherine Keener) want to generate a PR plan to help rebuild the reputation of supers. The idea is to make Elastigirl the public face of the program by having her wear a body cam to show off her heroic deeds (in this age of ‘pics or it didn’t happen’). She’s chosen over Mr. Incredible for economic reasons, and he’s relegated to stay-at-home parent (or as we called Michael Keaton in 1983, MR. MOM – an unacceptable sexist term these days).

Elastigirl enjoys her time in the limelight, while Bob doesn’t much like being just Bob. Plus he can’t understand why they changed math, as he gets frustrated trying to help Dash with his homework. He’s also challenged with Violet’s teen angst over a boy, and even moreso over the discovery that Jack Jack has POWERS! In fact, Jack Jack has multiple powers, but as a baby, he has little control – though his battle with a raccoon is not a segment you’ll soon forget.

Also returning is Frozone – voiced by Samuel L. Jackson (minus his trademark “MF’er), and costume designer Edna Mode – voiced by director Bird. Other new voices include (Odenkirk’s fellow “Better Call Saul” castmate) Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker, Isabella Rossellini as the Ambassador, and Sophia Bush as Voyd, one of the new generation supers (which includes Reflux – one you’ll just have to experience).

The big new villain causing problems for Elastigirl is ScreenSlaver, who hypnotizes large groups of people through their screens – more social commentary on our dependence on technology and the addiction/affliction we have toward device screens. The flood of superhero movies over the years since THE INCREDIBLES exposes the not-so-complex story in this one, but it’s terrific that the film keeps much of the original look and feel, and yet brings something new … baby Jack Jack is a star!

Filled with the beautiful colors and art design we’ve come to take for granted from Pixar, the film also features some of the best action sequences you’ll see in any movie. The train sequence with Elastigirl is simply spectacular – as is the final action sequence. It’s also nice to see the flip in gender roles as Mom (Holly Hunter) takes the lead. Michael Giacchino returns as the composer and he blends in a touch of James Bond theme with his wonderful work. If the film needed extra credit (which it doesn’t), certainly the inclusion of a “Jonny Quest” clip would qualify. Family films don’t get much better than this, and even though it runs 2 hours, the closing credits feature the theme song for each of the superheroes, and could easily have been a short film unto itself.

Speaking of short films, a Pixar tradition is to include one before new releases. This time it’s BAO, a Chinese mother/son and food-oriented story from director Domee Shi (animator on INSIDE OUT)

watch the trailer:

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JOY (2015)

December 26, 2015

joy Greetings again from the darkness. The movie is inspired by the true story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano (listed here as an Executive Producer) and her 1990 invention of the Miracle Mop. You should know that neither “Mangano” nor “Miracle Mop” is mentioned, and much of the story sprung from the mind of writer/director David O Russell. Also, if you have been a fan of Mr. Russell’s past few Oscar nominated films (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter), you should be warned that even though there is a large cast of familiar supporting players, it doesn’t play like his usual ensemble piece, but rather as a true star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence (who plays Joy).

This is a working class Italian-American family, and the multi-generational aspect is in full play as Joy (a single, working mom) and her two kids share the house with Mimi (Joy’s grandmother played by Diane Ladd), Joy’s mom (Virginia Madsen) who is a recluse dressed in 60’s party attire and addicted to daytime soap operas, and Joy’s dad (Robert DeNiro) and her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who share the basement. Tony is the rare combination of slacker-Tom Jones impersonator. Also involved are Joy’s agitating and envious step-sister Peggy (Elizabeth Rohm) and Dad’s new wealthy girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). This family makes The Royal Tenenbaums look suburban stale.

Flashbacks and dreams, along with the supportive words of Mimi, convince us that Joy is a creative genius, whose once promising abilities have been stifled by the harsh realities of raising kids, and overseeing a bunch of free-loaders who mostly never miss a chance to steal a bit of Joy’s light. All of that changes one day thanks to glass shards in her palm and the close proximity of crayons and drawing paper. Poof! Just like that, Joy has invented a revolutionary new kind of mop.

Given her family history and current situation, even when things go right for Joy, they never go all the way right. Having to borrow money from Trudy and depend on those who may or may not have her best interest at heart, makes for an endless chain of obstacles and challenges. But Joy is all about perseverance and self-actualization. The story emphasizes Joy’s stick-to-it-ness, and the process of learning about the legalities and pitfalls of starting and running one’s own business. Even those who should be supportive often ridicule and voice their doubts.

The film shifts when Joy meets Neal Walker (Bradley Cooper) who runs QVC. This was the time period when TV home shopping was in its infancy. Joan Rivers (played here by her daughter Melissa) was one of the early stars, and Joy’s Miracle Mop was one of the early successes. It’s a new world to Joy, but she’s a quick study and her tough-mindedness and sense of fairness and right come in to play on multiple occasions.

The above is much more story than I would typically describe, but it helps make the point that although Jennifer Lawrence continues to prove she is something quite special as an actress, the story is a bit of a mess and the pacing of the film is clumsy – slapstick blended with ultra-serious. It’s impossible to connect with this oddball group of folks, who mostly seem to be pulled right off of various TV sitcoms. Even using the soap opera (complete with Susan Lucci, Donna Mills, and Laura Wright) as a parallel to Joy’s life never quite works.

Jennifer Lawrence’s performance deserves to be ranked right with Joan Crawford’s in Mildred Pierce, but the different styles of the two movies results in only one being unforgettable. Director Russell mines the fractured family/group in many of his projects, and given his immense talent, we can be sure future projects will be more in line with the level of his recent past.

watch the trailer:

 

 


INGRID BERGMAN IN HER OWN WORDS (2015, doc)

November 12, 2015

ingrid Greetings again from the darkness. A seven time Oscar nominee and three time winner. One of the best known and most beloved actresses of all-time. Fifty year acting career. Died at age 67, mere weeks after her final performance. These are all bullet points to highlight Ingrid Bergman, the cinematic icon. However, documentarian (and fellow Swede) Stig Bjorkman pays little attention to the icon, and instead focuses on the woman.

What sets this apart from many biographical portraits is Bjorkman’s access to Bergman’s diaries, journals, personal letters, photos, home videos, and most importantly, interviews with her four children: Pia Lindstrom, Roberto Rossellini, and twins Isabella and Ingrid Rossellini. It’s a treasure trove of memories, documentation and insight into a woman who lived life on her own terms … often in direct opposition to what societal norms dictate. The film neither defends nor celebrates her free spirit; it simply reports it and allows us to sit in judgment, should we be so inclined.

One of the best clips is young Ingrid’s screen test where her natural beauty radiates on screen, and her expressive eyes make it obvious why David O Selznick recognized her star quality. But there are numerous other clips and photographs which show her mostly involved with her family … one of her husbands and some combination of her kids. Not fitting into the typical “motherly” box, Ingrid spent an enormous amount of time away from her kids as they were growing up. She clearly loved them very much, as evidenced by the words in her diaries and letters, and the visuals from their time together. And the interviews with her children today make it obvious they viewed her as a fun friend, rather than the nurturing mom.

Another aspect that is crystal clear is the ambition and drive possessed by Ingrid. She even states “no one can have everything”, and her actions and words make it obvious that acting was what brought her to life – whether on screen or on stage. It never took long on the home front for her to feel the pull of her true adventurous nature, and soon enough she was back on a movie set … leaving the kids behind.

Specifics of her movie career are mostly glossed over. Casablanca has a quick segment, as does her time with Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, we get a broad perspective of the scandal that rocked the movie world … a pregnant Ingrid left her first husband (Petter Lindstrom) for her director-lover Roberto Rossellini. For the times, this was extreme impropriety and there were even boycotts of her films. No place was harder on her than the United States. Absolutely unapologetic and without remorse, Ingrid took her career to Europe. Ingrid and Roberto had three kids together, and since history has a way of repeating itself, it was only a matter of time before Roberto was with his pregnant girlfriend in India, and Ingrid moved on to producer Lars Schmidt (and his private island).

The most impact from the timeline comes courtesy of the four adult children as they recall the extended times away from their mother, followed by memorable and fun stints together. Of course, they have each had many years to come to terms with a mother who frequently chose pursuing her career dreams to spending time with them. Imagine having a mother who said “I belong more to the make-believe world of theatre and film”. It can make you tough and independent, or it can have the opposite effect. We hear each of them discuss.

This is the wrong place to look for a career retrospective of Ingrid Bergman the actress, but it’s an intimate and fascinating look at a woman who understood what was important to her, and refused to be ruled by societal expectations. Young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander provides voice-over for much of Ingrid’s written word, but it’s Ms. Bergman’s actions and the insight from Pia, Roberto, Isabella and Ingrid that complete the full portrait of a most unusual woman. Ms. Bergman died in 1982 (age 67), just weeks after her final role in the TV movie A Woman Called Golda… a fitting portrait of another woman who lived life by her own rules.

watch the trailer: