I’ve seen a raft of films of late—some float, some I’d push overboard. Here’s a list, sink or swim:
INSIDE OUT: Disney/Pixar’s latest is among its greatest animated offerings, a 3D computer-generated, comedy/drama. We get to see, literally, inside 11 year-old Riley’s head as her various thoughts and emotions battle for control, with an all-star cast as the voices: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black). The movie finds ingenious ways of making concrete, abstract emotions and subconscious forces that are difficult to navigate for adolescents, and the adolescent in all of us. The film gets a bit bogged down in detail; as various characters control centers interact and overlap, some of the momentum is lost. But what INSIDE OUT says is absolutely enlightened: that there is a place for all of our emotions; that we are not any single one of our emotions so don’t over attach; that sometimes sadness must take the reins as a pathway to empathy, and that sadness and joy are thus inextricably linked. Seeing the “inside out” puts it all in perspective and is downright empowering and affirming. How’s that for a cartoon?!
MAGIC MIKE XXL: Simulated acrobatic soft core porn sprawls naked before us sans script, sans dialogue, sans character development, or anything else resembling a movie. But there are hunky guys, hungry women, and abs aplenty in a series of “dance” numbers designed to float your boat. I saw this last Friday in my local upgraded AMC “Fork and Screen” and witnessed an actual martini being delivered at the noon show to a woman a few lounge chairs over. Meanwhile, the scene involving a bottle of water and a bag of Cheetos did it for me.
A LITTLE CHAOS: No amount of drinking could save me from the boredom inspired by this film’s superficially attractive, but shallow excavation of what went on between Louis XIV and his landscape gardners at Versailles. Kate Winslet is miscast and wooden as a little known horticulturalist who attracts the attention of the king’s gardener played by charismatic Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts (FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD). There’s more plumbing than gardening, more fancy clothes than simple insight or intrigue. The plot needs pruning in order to take clearer dramatic shape. Perhaps Alan Rickman at the tiller as director, co-writer, and, well the king—was perhaps a bit lost in the weeds.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR: I see an Oscar nomination ahead for Mark Ruffalo who stars in this funny, touching, but unblinking real life story about a father struggling with bi-polar disorder while trying to raise two daughters and save his marriage. Ruffalo is Cameron Forbes, exiled from a wealthy waspy Boston family, married to Maggie(an excellent Zoe Saldana) and living in Cambridge in the 70’s. He’s just out of rehab after a breakdown when Maggie leaves him to raise daughters Amelia and Faith while she pursues an advanced degree in NYC hoping it will lead to a better life for them all.
Ruffalo’s drinking and manic/depressive episodes as he fights the demons of mental illness keep the girls teetering on the edge of fear and fun—he’s kooky good company when he’s not accosting the neighbors, oversharing, and hoarding dirty sponges. Ruffalo’s performance is a masterwork of detailed understatement, from the slightly effete gait and mannerisms, to his way with a bow tie and an upper crust accent when in the company of his dotty parents and his great and supremely parsimonious aunt; she casually tosses him a Bentley one night after dinner, when the family can barely afford food or tuition for the precocious girls.
The daughters played by Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide are remarkably affecting as they manage to blossom in the wreckage. Wolodarsky, by the way, is the real life daughter of writer/director Maya Forbes—whose childhood story this is! She has convincingly made a case, based on her own history, for creativity and resilience as a function of hardship; a loving, hot mess of a parent who’s not quite “all there,” was there in the ways that apparently mattered most. Look for local actors Georgia Lyman and Patrick Shea in hilarious “Boston” cameos.