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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Mind Matters

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Friday June 19, 08:07 pm
Inside Out is Pixar doing what they do best

 Inside Out

Cineplex

4.5/5

Okay, here’s a shocker: Narrative has become stale in Hollywood. I know! Crazy, right?

No, of course it’s not crazy, because it’s true. There’s a flawed hero who’s reluctant until the cause becomes personal, followed by peaks and valleys, and finally triumph against all odds. It’s the same movie, all the time. Sure, there are outliers — mostly indies and foreign films — but they seldom reach massive audiences.

The genius of Inside Out is that it allows the audience to take a peek behind the curtain: The mechanics of decision-making, the construction of a personality and the stratifications of memories. It sounds horrifyingly abstract, but leave it to Pixar to make it work.

The subject of this extreme character-study is Riley, a happy and well-adjusted 11-year-old girl. Of all the five emotions living in her head (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust), Joy is firmly in control. As a result, Riley’s memories are mostly happy ones and this reflects on her “personality islands,” the characteristics that define her as an individual.

Among Riley’s memories, there are precious core ones that are bound to remain with her forever. And they’re all happy — until the girl and her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco. This causes a seismic change within Riley, as the first sad core memory materializes.

It turns out that Joy is a control-freak who’s desperate to stop Sadness from becoming part of Riley’s core personality. A tussle ensues, landing both emotions deep inside the girl’s brain. As they struggle to get back to the control room, Fear, Anger and Disgust take charge and manage to thrash Riley’s personality islands. Without Joy and Sadness involved in her decision-making process, she grows despondent and some of her choices threaten to have a long-lasting effect.

Okay, that probably sounds far too highbrow and / or confusing for a kids’ movie, but that’s the point — because the concept of Inside Out is nothing less than brilliant. After a number of fun but hardly memorable sequels (Cars 2, Monsters University), Pixar is back at doing what it does best: Introducing novel ideas not naturally associated with kids’ movies.

There’s a narrative elegance and remarkable consistency in the world-building here. Every new element Joy and Sadness discover on their trip through Riley’s mind not only makes perfect sense, it also provides insights.

Writer/director Pete Docter’s innovative approach isn’t just limited to the narrative. The animation is up to Pixar’s usual standards (if not as luscious as Brave), but it also dares to introduce abstract art to the palette. And the casting is equally brilliant: Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Bill Hader (Fear) and Mindy Kaling (Disgust) nail their characters, but Lewis Black as Anger is perhaps typecasting’s finest hour.

Despite the number of elements at play, Inside Out mostly sticks the landing. The notion that after childhood memories become more textured than a single overlaying emotion is not your average moral, and neither is the idea that you need to embrace sadness to get joy.

This is a movie that appeals directly to the intelligence of the audience. It’s true that Inside Out may be too deep a concept for younger kids, but it features enough madcap action and zingers to work at every level. And stay for the credits: The coda is beyond hysterical.

 

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Roxy

3/5

It’s been a while since Scientology entered our collective consciousness, mostly thanks to de facto celebrity spokesmen Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Because of the church’s ridiculous sci-fi underpinnings and alarmingly controlling ways, public opinion has seldom been on Scientology’s side, with distaste only growing stronger with every bizarre new revelation.

The documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is vintage Alex Gibney: Thorough, incisive and clear. The problem is that there’s little new information in it for anyone who’s reasonably well-informed on the issue. (Paul Haggis’ interview in The New Yorker covered that ground quite comprehensively.)

Created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the early ‘50s, Scientology’s growth hasn’t been entirely faith-related. It’s managed as a commercial enterprise and the cult has acquired property around the world over the years, its assets now amounting to billions (and tax-free, given its status as a “religion”).

Gibney — whose previous efforts include Enron, Mea Maxima Culpa and We Steal Secrets — has a couple of aces up his sleeve, the most important being a former high-ranking Scientologist who’s willing to share the religion’s most questionable practices (like severing ties with “suppressive people” and harassing former members). Wisely, Gibney avoids criticizing the church’s rudiments to focus on its toxic practices, which have over the years gone from eccentric to downright vindictive, and even illegal.

Going Clear pays special attention to David Miscavige. The Scientology chairman (and Hubbard’s former assistant) is portrayed as a venal, secretive individual, prone to buying his way out of trouble. From manipulating the judicial system to finding potential partners for high-profile members, Miscavige is more “involved” than most church heads. His immediate subordinates enjoy the perks of their position, but also mental and physical abuse.

With the number of loyalists dwindling and the IRS sniffing around, it seems Scientology is a dwindling threat — but that doesn’t make its doings any more palatable.

 

Spy

Cineplex

3/5

As soon as Melissa McCarthy got nominated for an Academy Award for Bridesmaids, watching her became a chore — and I’m not even talking about her innocuous sitcom Mike and Molly, which for some reason is still going. Her star vehicles have gone from mildly annoying (The Heat) to downright unbearable (Tammy), and for a while there it felt like she might wash out in Taylor Kitsch-like fashion.

Thankfully, Spy doesn’t force her into the loud, abrasive persona that was fast becoming her unfortunate stereotype. Instead, it offers us McCarthy as a no-nonsense, warm gal who desperately needs to assert herself.

McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA desk jockey who operates as ground support for superspy Bradley Fine (a smirking Jude Law). Their target (Rose Byrne) outsmarts them and forces the intelligence agency to put Cooper in the field. As it turns out, she’s perfectly capable, but her own side undermines her time and again.

Director Paul Feig does two very smart things that elevate the film above your average comedy caper. First, instead of relying entirely on McCarthy’s improvisational skills, there’s a good script to support her. Second, Feig surrounds the Oscar nominee with people who can go toe-to-toe with her. It’s not news Rose Byrne has comedic chops, but Jason Statham’s riff on his ultraviolent persona is a welcome surprise. Also, British comedian Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife) has considerably more chemistry with McCarthy than Sandra Bullock ever did as her partner in crime.

While there’s a noticeable effort to make Spy look like a real secret-agent movie, the action scenes are rather humdrum, except for a knife fight that seems from a different film. No matter: The real battle here is Susan versus the rampant sexism that exists in her field (just look at your average James Bond movie). Spy’s efforts to subvert conventions are pretty broad, but the spirit is there and it’s funny enough to give it some leeway.

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