Category Archives: movies

Inside Out


Pixar movies take us places we only imagined, lands where superheroes, toys and monsters are real. But unlike many other animated movies, Pixar movies connect with audiences on a deeper level, telling beautiful stories with honesty and grace. They are the animated movies that make moviegoers cry. Instead of merely evoking emotions, the latest Pixar film, Inside Out, takes audiences inside the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley and gives voice and form to her emotions.

Riley has recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she is also straddling the chasm between childhood and adolescence. Her emotional life had been driven by Joy, with all of her emotions working together in a familiar rhythm, but in the furnace of transition, things start to fall apart.

Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, and there is a Leslie Knope quality to the way she runs the emotional life in Riley’s brain. Not only is Joy the boss, she works the hardest and she is confident that her way is right. Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader) fall in line, but Sadness (Phyllis Smith, from The Office) is Joy’s greatest challenge.

As the movie’s plot unfolded, I loved the attention to detail in how the brain works, and it reflected reality enough to spark interesting conversations with our girls about how their own brains, memories and emotions work.

However, the greatest gift of this story is Joy’s journey. She goes from marginalizing Sadness at the beginning of the film to embracing the role of Sadness in Riley’s emotional landscape by the end.

As someone who has girls about Riley’s age and is still raw from a recent relocation, I wept openly through the last 20 minutes or so. Putting all that aside, I still think it’s one of Pixar’s better films and an important one for kids to see. Riley’s emotional life has twists and turns that mirror the ones our children face, and it will be a balm to many to know that they are not alone.

RATING: Top 1/3 of the Pixar canon (don’t make me choose.) Worth seeing in the theater if you can, if only to remind Pixar to make more of these and less like Cars 2.

The Way Way Back


The Way Way Back is the back row in an old station wagon, the one that sometimes faced the rear. It is not a place of honor. The way, way back is where Duncan (Liam James) is relegated when he heads off to the beach for the summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin).

The first scene of the movie is poignant and powerful, the trailer captures just a hint of it’s awkwardness and cruelty. Duncan arrives at the beach house knowing he does not fit into this world and with little hope that he will enjoy his summer. But he finds a place where he fits in, an aging local water park.

This story isn’t new, but some of the best stories are the ones that are familiar to us, and this one was ably and beautifully told by the film. It started with a great script but was executed well both in direction and acting. It was fantastic to see Steve Carrell playing such a different character. I’m beginning to be convinced he’s a much better actor than comedian. Toni Collette is always marvelous, and as much as I wanted to hate her character at times, she made a difficult role sympathetic. Sam Rockwell, Nat Faxon and Maya Rudolph were all terrific as staff at the water park and their scenes gave the film the levity it needed. There was a small shout-out to Memphis in one of those scenes that made the theater roar with delight during the screening I attended.

When you are in the way, way back, there’s no place to go but up. The ending to this film doesn’t tie up every loose end, but it left me thoughtful, happy, and looking forward to seeing what Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who co-wrote and co-directed The Way Way Back) will come up with next.

4/5 stars | Rated PG-13 | Now playing in select cities, opening everywhere July 26 | view the trailer on YouTube

Rock of Ages

I went to a screening of Rock of Ages Tuesday night, and though my week has been busy, I wanted to share my thoughts on the film for you, kind readers.

Calling Rock of Ages a film is probably a stretch. It’s straight up guilty pleasure. It is cheesy and laugh out loud funny. The music is fun and infectious. Supporting actors like Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Mary J. Blige add a great deal to the fun and enjoyment, overall.

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jax was a little much. He would have been better used more sparingly. And at one point, I just really wanted him to put on a shirt.

The choreography and singing performances were hit and miss. I found a few of the dance scenes painful to watch. In the age of autotune, it’s less fun to watch a musical movie. Everyone seems a little too polished.

My guess is that the Broadway show is incredibly fun. I bet I’d be disappointed if I’d seen it first. But as it stands, I thought Rock of Ages was good fun.

One of the more disturbing things about the screening was the children in attendance. I kept staring at one family hoping they’d take out their sons (Kate and Lexi’s age.) There are scenes in a gentleman’s club and of women throwing themselves at Tom Cruise, as well as other inappropriate situations. They fit the sex, drugs and rock and roll 80s vibe, but are not anything I’d let my kids see for many years.

I’d probably wait for the DVD, but if you love 80s music, it would make a fun girls night out (it was for my friend Kathy and I).

Red Tails

It may seem a little strange for George Lucas to self-finance an action movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. But it’s a true story with all the hallmarks of an epic tale: downtrodden heroes, lots of adversity, an enemy we love to hate. Red Tails makes for compelling film material.

For an epic tale, it is in many ways narrow in scope. There is little backstory. We begin in Italy, where black airmen are already flying missions. There is little to no information about their backgrounds and training, though it is obvious they are well-educated. There is some story on the ground, enough to keep the film moving and interesting. But it’s also cliched and a little cheesy in moments, in the ways you’d probably expect. And that’s okay.

Take one part Star Wars and one part Top Gun and you’ve got the feel for the battles in-flight. I am not a big action fan, but I enjoyed them.

Red Tails is not going to win many awards. But it’s the kind of movie that needs to keep being made. In a nation full of reality television vapidity, Red Tails is a movie that exposes people to true American heroes who embodied excellence and were willing to sacrifice everything for a country all too ready to count them out. The Tuskegee Airmen were men of courage and of faith. This film honors their memory and is the sort of story that inspires and will continue to do so for many years as children watch it for the first time and are inspired to learn more about their history.

Lucas has mentioned that as he contemplated the project for over two decades, he eventually envisioned the story as a trilogy (surprise, surprise!) However strange it sounds, I would love to see a prequel made that explains the background and training of the men before they reach Europe. A sequel that shows what happens when they return home would also make a worthwhile film. Though Red Tails does stand alone, it feels incomplete, there is just so much story left to be told.

I’d commend Red Tails to you and I think it is more family friendly than the rating (PG-13) implies. The language is pretty clean and the romance is not nearly as racy as 90% of PG-13 movies. (I am happy to describe it for you if you are curious / worried.) The rating is for the violence of war, which is less gruesome in the air than other combat movies. Red Tails opens tomorrow in theaters nationwide.

Midnight in Paris

I saw this a few weeks ago and can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a great film, beautifully shot and well written, a reminder that there’s a reason people think Woody Allen is the bees knees.

But it’s also a good reminder of the ways that art shows us great truths about the world. I love what the movie says about nostalgia, love, and writing.

Here’s a good representative line from the main character: “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.” We all long for more. Whether it manifests itself in hope for the future or a longing for the past, the fact that things are just not the way they ought to be is inescapable.

This is not a real review, but it is an invitation to borrow this from your nearest redbox or rent it from amazon instant video soon.


When I heard they were remaking Footloose, my immediate reaction was to groan. It’s a pretty cheesy movie in the first place, and in the High School Musical-influenced 21st century, I was sure it would be even worse.

I was completely surprised by this film when I had a chance to screen it last month. Director Craig Brewer (who also worked on the rewrite) has made an enjoyable movie in the spirit of the original Footloose, with its energy and fun, and possibly even surpassed it in heart.

In the remake, the characters seem more developed and real. I did not know how anyone could live up to the iconic Kevin Bacon Ren, but the writing (particularly the changes to the backstory) combined with his talent and likability make Kenny Wormald great in this role.

Setting it in the South added another dimension to the film. I found it familiar and the jokes hysterical, but if you loathe anything country and Southern, be warned that this has its fair share of that vibe.

The original film has quite a bit of sex, drugs, drinking and violence, and I was curious as to how they would be handled in a remake, especially one that seemed a little more intense from the trailer. Overall, I thought the portrayals of “risky behavior” sent a better message than the original without coming off as hokey in the least. I think the PG-13 rating is fair, but I would show it to Kate and Lexi long before I’d show them the original.

It will be obvious to filmgoers that Brewer loves Footloose and wanted to do it justice in this remake. He pays tribute and yet develops the film. You can watch a short interview with him about the process here. If you give Footloose a chance, I think you will be pleasantly surprised as well. It opens everywhere this Friday. (8.5/10)

The Ides of March

The Ides of March invites you to speculate about betrayal and compromise right from the very title. The candidate whose campaign we are entering is progressive and hopeful, a democrat who makes Obama look centrist. But from the beginning it seems clear that something more sinister is lurking somewhere beneath. The cinematography is dark, brooding, setting the tone.

Ryan Gosling is extremely strong in the role of young press secretary Stephen Meyers. Idealistic and driven, he carries the movie and makes it look effortless. Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman are fantastic as seasoned political operatives and rivals. The dialogue is expertly crafted, believable, and with how well the film was shot, I felt transported and engaged in this high-stakes political world.

As well as this film was acted (and it was), the plot is probably its weakest point. I’d encourage you to learn as little about it as you can about what happens before you see it to prevent it from seeming too cliched. I really enjoyed The Ides of March, in spite of its weaknesses, and I think it has something worthwhile to say both about the political process and about human nature. See it before it gets spoiled for you. (8/10)

Crazy, Stupid, Love

I got a chance to see an early screening of Crazy, Stupid, Love. I’d been looking forward to it, as the primary actors are all ones I enjoy a great deal. If you haven’t seen Emma Stone in Easy A, you must. Easily the best teen movie in over a decade.

Crazy, Stupid, Love starts with happily married Cal being dropped a bomb by his wife, Emily: she’s had an affair and wants a divorce. The film traces his response to her mid-life crisis – a crisis of his own, aided and abetted by Jacob, the quintessential lady-killer who helps Cal find his groove (and some style.)

Like many modern films and television shows, CSL is a “dramedy.” When the genre is at its best, like in CSL, it really works, reaching the audience on many levels. The whole theatre laughed uproariously at the goofy parts and seemed moved by the story, which was insightful and sweet. Using Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone made a big difference to the dramatic parts of the story. Because they aren’t known for being in tons of puffy rom-coms, they came off as sincere and likable (except for maybe Moore, but I think that was a conscious choice on her part.) The plot devices seemed less formulaic in their capable hands.

Yes, I said formulaic, but I still found it well-written, sometimes the clique is the right choice. I appreciated the cultural references which were mainstream and fun. More daring was the soundtrack, but it fit the film well. The cinematography also aided the storytelling of the film, there was a good amount of grain and handheld shooting that gave it a more organic quality.

I wouldn’t say this is a “must see in the theatre opening weekend!” kind of film, but I don’t see many movies in the theatre these days (tickets + babysitter = not worth it.) I think most people will enjoy it, though, whenever you have the chance to see it. (Rated PG-13)

Goodreads Quandry or On Criticism

The way goodreads labels their five star system is

* i didn’t like it
** it was okay
*** liked it
**** really liked it
***** it was amazing

It’s simple and intuitive, but it leaves much to be desired. There are great books that I don’t necessarily like, but I still find worth reading for some reason or another. For example, I don’t know that I “really liked” Lolita. But it is marked four stars on my goodreads account. I think Nabov set out to show us a warped mind, a thoroughly unlikeable narrator, a child we want to care for and can’t always bring ourselves to. He portrayed coercion and tyranny in dark, messy, and very human ways. It was a novel the world didn’t know we needed, and for that, I think the book has a rightful place among the classics.

Sometimes books are written or movies are made with a purpose in mind other than leaving the audience with a warm and fuzzy feeling. And then they need to be evaluated by whether that purpose is worth pursuing, and how well they fulfilled their purpose. Criticism larger than just plain gut reaction. In that way, a movie with an ending you aren’t happy with can still be something that you believe is an amazing film.

I am not sure how we fix the stars of goodreads, just know that likability is not my only concern as I rate.

(500) Days of Summer

Just watched this with a free rental credit from Amazon (AVODGIFT – good until 1/3!) – what a great film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel were perfect choices for the main characters. The non-linear storytelling works really well, as our memories aren’t fixed chronologically and remembering a relationship is like the movie, in fits and spurts, with one memory spurring another. It’s a film where beauty is up front, with an excellent soundtrack, beautiful cinematography, even hip and interesting wardrobe choices. I loved listening to Tom talk about buildings. Architecture is such a key element of the movie, and it’s integrated excellently.

There are some romantic comedy cliches (I am not entirely sure why the long-haired friend is even in the film) but the little sister character was pretty awesome, as cliches go. I loved her saying over wii tennis early in the movie “just because some girl likes the same bizarro crap you do, doesn’t make her your soul mate.” Even though, as the narrator says, it is not a love story, it’s true and real, and not without hope. See it!

We Went to the Movies

This is pretty momentous. Going to the movies as a couple is typically more or less a non-option between the cost of tickets and the cost of babysitting. Dates are scarce enough, movies are just over the top. (Especially with our HBO included rental, the library, and redbox.)

Not only did we see a movie in the actual theatre… we saw TWO in two days. I am not a movie critic, and don’t feel as comfortable reviewing a film as I do a book, but I’ll do it anyway.

Michael’s choice was Sherlock Holmes. We both loved it. He’d see it again tonight if I would let him. It’s really well done, the acting is great, the colors and conception are both excellent, it’s one I envision we will end up owning.

My choice was Up in the Air. I loved Thank You for Smoking and Juno and think Jason Reitman may just be the go-to guy making real movies about life in our generation and I wanted to support it. It was a fantastic film. You ought to see it. It’s a thoughtful film that explores community, why we need it, how we figure out that we do… in a smart and beautiful way with characters that are real and deeply flawed. Even the editing stood out to me for how well it captured different aspects of the film. I am looking forward to digesting it more over days and viewings to come.

We Happy Few

Happy St Crispin’s Day!