Go to: Vox, by Terry Blas
Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
My initial reaction to first hearing about the premise for Pixar Studio's latest animated feature Inside Out was one of disappointment. Anthropomorphising the different facets of the human psyche is a hoary trope, one of the oldest cliches found in fantasy and myth. Shouldn't advances in modern psychology have gotten us past the form of lazy essentialism which inspired ideas as stupid as the "emotional color spectrum" from Green Lantern? Pixar is the master of anthropomorphising just about any object, of course. But even they've produced something as banal as Cars. The studio’s last few efforts were pretty underwhelming, which had me concerned about how they would go about tackling something as abstract as the mindscape? So my expectations were set relatively low. But the first teaser trailer got me intrigued about the film. I loved the voice talent involved. 2 months after its woldwide release, the film finally came out in local theaters this week, and I quite enjoyed it.
Inside Out is a quintessential Pixar fairy tale. While all of the studio's feature films are ostensibly aimed at kids, their themes are calculated to appeal to adults, or more specifically the adults who've felt the pain of loss. Kids experience those emotions too, obviously, but there's a peculiar sense of thwarted ambition that cuts deeply with adults. Think of Woody's sudden drop in social status in Toy Story, Bob Parr being shackled to a desk when he just wants to be a superhero in The Incredibles, or Carl and Ellie's inability to take that trip of a lifetime in Up. Inside Out focuses on the most devastating loss of all, at least from the POV of a young adult - the end of childhood. The child in question is an 11 year old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose idyllic existence in nowhere Minnesota is brought to a close when her family uproots and moves to the big city of San Francisco.
The Toy Story series dealt with the topic of growth, sort of. The films mostly kept their distance from the kids and concentrated on the inner lives of their toys, whose very subsistence was dependent on a child's playful imagination. Their owner's inevitable aging was a force of nature they had to weather, as best as they could. Inside Out marks a milestone for Pixar by putting a child front and center, and a female one to boot. But it plays a trick by actually focusing on the anthropomorphised emotions within the child, all voiced by adults. The ringleader of the 5 emotions, Joy, is perfectly cast as Amy Poehler. She channels the same manic personality that made plucky Midwesterner Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation infamous. Phyllis Smith informs her counterpart Sadness with the same low key presence she used with her character Phyllis Lapin in The Office. Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger), and Mindy Kaling (Disgust) riff off their already established comic personas. This sleight of hand imbues Riley with an acerbic quality that wouldn't be possible had the emotions been voiced by kids or adult actors pretending to be kids. When she throws a tantrum at her parents, there's Black righteously fuming inside her head to lend those frustrations extra force.
So much time is spent with Riley's emotions that little attention is given to external events. Had this been a more conventional coming of age tale, the plot would have followed her struggle to fit into her new school, experiencing persecution at the hands of the popular kids, finding lasting friendships among the freaks and geeks, discover an activity she can excel at, then finally triumphing at some big school event. If any of that happens to Riley in the film, it's only faintly implied. There are no mean girls to confront. The story's primary conflict is between Joy, the dominant emotion, and Sadness. Their struggle for control of Riley's fragile psyche has them both literally ejected from consciousness and into the vast labyrinth of her long term memories. Without these two emotions driving her actions, Riley gradually looses the ability to feel anything.This twist might be the most brilliant illustration of childhood depression ever found in an animated feature to come out of Disney.
But it's Pixar's blend of sleek design, wry humor, and beautifully rendered animation that sells this fantastic world. The studio's retro-futuristic aesthetic portrays Riley's mind as an endless wonderland that looks like a cross between a Star Trek utopia, a major film studio lot, and a Disney theme park, with some of Apple's chic interface thrown in. Steve Jobs fanboys will get a chuckle out of the "reality distortion field" being an important mental process. It's a place where old structures are torn down in response to Riley's changing emotional state, unused memories fade and are ultimately discarded, and forgotten imaginary friends wander about without purpose. And yet, memories of commercial jingles have an annoying habit of unwantedly popping up for no reason. Daily memories are the building blocks used to create dreams - massive productions filmed on Hollywood-style sound stages, while experiences deemed too traumatic are banished to the cave of the subconscious. This complex setting makes Joy and Sadness' quest to return to "headquarters" suitably epic and even fraught with danger.
The emotions themselves are visualized as simple candy-colored caricatures streamlined to represent their respective psychological state. But they all have this granular surface quality to them that gives the appearance of restless clumps of vibrating particles rather than solid physical entities. What's most fascinating about them however is what's left unsaid. The audience gets a glimpse of the minds of Riley's mom and dad, and the contrast is enlightening. While they're also compromised of the same 5 basic emotions, they've evolved very differently. The adult emotions are more disciplined and in-synch. But they're also more regimented. Unlike Riley's emotions, they're uniformly gendered, and it's apparent that their equivalent of Joy isn't the dominant character. The film spends little time with the parents, but what's seen reveals that the move to the West Coast has put the two under considerable financial strain, a fact they try to shield from Riley. It slowly dawns on them that their need to project onto their own daughter a happy can-do attitude might not be the best thing for her.
This ability to channel adult anxieties into the bodies of preteen children vaguely reminds me of the precocious youngsters of the classic comic strip Peanuts. At its most poignant, Charles Shulz's creation could be brooding and angry, assisted by a rich helping of guilt and shame. Inside Out falls short of the strip's emotional intensity. It doesn't explore the cruelty children often inflict on one another. But its melancholic resolution will reassure kids that it's okay to be occasionally unhappy, and remind the adults in the audience of the naive pleasures they’ve lost and may never experience again, except through the eyes of their kids.
Design: Philippe Ravon
Translated by Joe Johnson.
As with many notorious figures, Christian Dior has become such an institution today that it's often very difficult to relive the freshness of his initial impact on the wider world. Paris during 1947 was still reeling from the climate of wartime austerity when the soon to be notorious designer held his first fashion show. The assembled crowd of media, wealthy socialites, and celebrity guests were so taken with Dior's daring use of fabric that he was quickly hailed as a significant new creative voice, even as the proletariat were less than impressed by what looked to them as nothing more than wasteful opulence. The event would anticipate the pageantry of modern fashion shows, not to mention the high-low divide in people's reaction to haute couture. But the avant garde nature of Dior's show and his decade-long body of work is what veteran French cartoonist Annie Goetzinger impresses on the reader. It's a world she so meticulously illustrates that her graphic novel Girl in Dior could just as well be characterized as a beautiful art book about women's clothes.
The designer himself remains inscrutable, though he cuts a dashing figure as portrayed by Goetzinger. His refined aquiline profile and serene manner forms the nexus point of a highly-involved process which begins with the sketches he creates at his country house just outside the city, translated into a series of linen prototypes until the designs are finalized, and the models are bought in to become accustomed to wearing them for the eventual fashion show. For Goetzinger, the creative process of making a dress involving the efforts of many passionate individuals, is just as fascinating as the dress itself. More importantly, they work happily under Dior's steadfast leadership. No one feels they're being exploited.
The POV character that allows the reader to peer into the House of Dior is the fictional Clara Nohant, who starts out as a cub reporter hired to write about the 1947 show. She quickly becomes an enthusiastic Dior proponent and organizes a photo op. But after it's ruined by an impromptu protest, Clara is fired from her job. Fortunately, this misadventure gains the attention of Dior, who meets with her, then hires her. The dowdy Clara is transformed into a glamorous Audrey Hepburn lookalike, becomes one of Dior's top models and also a close confidant.
On paper the plot reads as a most generic kind of wish fulfillment. Clara herself remains fairly two dimensional throughout. But the hero of the story isn't really her or the great man himself. Visually, the stars of the show are Dior's magnificent dresses. Goetzinger's figures have a sensual Art Nouveau quality to them, which is perfect for capturing the ambiance of high fashion. Her models all assume that expression of studied insouciance in order to not distract from the clothes. They take the stage in a series of lushly painted page spreads. Goetzinger's delicate linework and brush strokes absolutely shines in capturing the flow, weight, texture and form of every item of clothing. Whatever one thinks of the fashion industry as a whole, these painstakingly designed, crafted, and beautifully worn dresses are the embodiment of Dior's sentiment "dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable."
Well, that was godawful. The reviews have been uniformly negative, and director Josh Trank has gone on Twitter to wash his hands of the final product. I'm not privy to any of the behind the scenes shenanigans, obviously. But it did feel as if the film was fighting the source material the whole time - struggling mightily to be anything but a superhero movie, only to fall flat on its face. With superhero origin tales, even the angst-ridden ones, there comes a point when the protagonists realize that it's actually kinda cool to use their superpowers to kick some ass. That moment never arrives here. The titular characters spend the first half of the film exhibiting varying degrees of misery or barely repressed rage, and that's before they acquire their abilities. When they do finally get their powers, there's more moping to be had about being horribly disfigured by science gone wrong before they finally team up to fight the film's big bad Doctor Doom within the last ten minutes. And even there the cast looks more embarrassed than thrilled to be cutting loose.
So yeah, it's got an excruciatingly slow buildup without a satisfying payoff. Without any cool set pieces to break up the monotony before the final throwdown takes place (They're found in the trailer, oddly enough). And some rather murky special effects used during said throwdown. I have no idea how the battle ended at all. Most of the film's dreary visual aesthetic looks like it was shot on a dimly lit soundstage. And the otherwise talented young cast is no more convincing. The teenage drama is passable when viewed on its own. It's just unsuccessfully grafted into the wider story. There's a lot of deep-seated interpersonal conflict dredged up in the first half which is simply tossed aside during the film's rushed finale. But there's no sense of the four coming together to fight under a common cause. Miles Teller is perfectly fine when he's playing Reed Richards as the self-doubting prodigy, but he's lost at sea as the brave leader trying to rally his troops to take down Doom. The team has no chemistry at all, which makes watching them interact as one a chore rather than a thrill.
Doom is emblematic of the film's dissonant quality. Toby Kebbell plays him as a maladjusted introvert who may or may not have a legitimate grievance against the film's various authority figures when he's just plain Victor von Doom. The topic is never explored in depth. Then he's granted ultimate power and goes completely psycho. Doom's appetite for universal destruction is no more complicated than that of Malekith from Thor: The Dark World or Ultron from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Most of the Marvel movie villains have had poorly defined personalities and motivations. But the lack of any kind of machiavellian scheming from Doom further detracts from the character's sinister appeal. And when the villain is opposed by an even less colorful group of heroes who are going through the motions because that's what heroes are supposed to do, there's really no one for the audience to latch onto or to root for.
Fantastic Four isn't just a clunky film on its own merits, it's the most downbeat adaptation of a Marvel superhero comic book. Or at least since The Amazing Spider-Man from 2012. It arrived soon after the comically inspired Ant-Man (which also experienced its own public fallout between the studio and director), making its dour tone only more tedious in comparison. When Ben Grimm's (Jamie Bell) famous battle cry "It's Clobbering Time!" is a reference to an older brother beating him up when he was a kid, it's hard for any fan to feel fondness for this film. The wayward Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) seems mainly interested in pissing-off his saintly dad, and sister Sue Storm (Kate Mara) isn't given much to do outside of voicing disapproval towards the ill-considered actions of the boys. To add further insult, the almost incidental way she receives her powers is going to annoy a lot of the fanbase. And yes, this is the type of superhero movie that's too embarrassed to employ superhero code names in-story.
In Trank's directorial debut Chronicle, the film's dark tone is offset by an actual sense of wonder arising from its teenage protagonists exploring their superhuman abilities which were mysteriously conferred on them by an alien object. But in Fantastic Four, there's no effective counter argument to the film's encroaching nihilism. Ultimately, the alienation manages to overpower the weird science adventure. The Fantastic Four comic book of the sixties may have been responsible for showcasing some of the most bizarre and enduring ideas found in the Marvel Universe, but the lackluster results of all of Fox's film adaptations do not bode well for future efforts to translate them to the screen.
Penciller: Fernando Ruiz
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Colorist: Jason Millet
Letters: John Workman
Archie et al. created by Bob Montana
Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston
The Predator kicked off his killing spree of Riverdale's populace by disposing off its most peripheral members, then made short work of the entire cast until only a quintet composed of Archie Comics' core characters remained. In the final two issues, the pace slows down as the remaining survivors hide, take stock, make plans, or start freaking out. It's as introspective as a traditional Archie Comics publication gets. Plot logic goes out the window as the zaniness ramps up. Take Riverdale's resident science nerd/inventor Dilton Doiley. How does he deal with the prospect of being murdered by an unstoppable alien big game hunter? Turns out he's been building a high-tech Archie-themed suit of armor on school grounds all this time. So now is probably as perfect an occasion to reveal his newest creation, save what's left of the town and hopefully impress the girls.
This is all sorts of crazy, yet it's probably what would happen to anyone else if they were the only nebbish trapped in a world which revolved around a freckle-faced teenage boy and offered no other role models as viable alternatives. Just like those dystopian stories Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, etc. which are all the rage at present, all drama is reduced to the petty rivalries of adolescence, only carried out to its bloody extreme.
The difference here is that the students of Riverdale High are decidedly more wholesome even when they have no reason to be. No one becomes too mean-spirited. No one turns on each other. Not even the vain and self-centered Veronica Lodge, who would be the first to sell out her companions to the Predator if this story took place in any other universe. She gets to have her own heroic turn when the chips are down, and eventually gives mad props to her perpetual rival Betty Cooper. As for Jughead Jones, he's a true best friend who's just way too distracted by the constant need to fill his own stomach. And main man Archie Andrews is a genuinely nice, but largely ineffectual, protagonist. Heck, even the Predator of the series is basically another insecure teenager who wants to be like Archie, through his own sociopathic means off course.
Which is pretty much what happens in its most messed up version. The Predator is the wholly exotic bad boy who rides into an insular community and proceeds to upset the status quo in the worst way possible. He tries so hard to catch the attention of the prettiest girl in school while facing down the cliquish student body. He succeeds, after a fashion, but at a personal cost so high it wrecks himself and the object of his affections. That’s just the mundane horror of life in high school school.