Soul


There’s no doubt that Jamie Foxx has soul.

(2020) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett, Cora Champommier, Margo Hall, Daveed Diggs, Rhodessa Jones, Wes Studi, Sakina Jaffrey, Fortune Feimster, June Squibb, John Ratzenberger, Peggy Flood. Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

 

Since its inception, Pixar has consistently turned out some of the most thought-provoking and imaginative animated features in history, winning multiple Oscars and changing the game forever. Once known for being one of the original computer-generated animation studios, they have completely redefined storytelling in the animated medium.

Not all of their films have been home runs, of course – no studio that has been around for nearly 30 years can be expected to be perfect every time out, but they have very few movies in their library that aren’t at least entertaining at worst and thought-provoking. Whether it is on the nature of toys and their relationship with our memories, to the emotions and how all of them are important to who we are, and including stories about a rat who longs to be a famous French chef and anthropomorphic cars, Pixar has something for everybody. Therefore, it is really saying something when I lead off a review of one of their pictures by saying it might be the best they’ve ever made.

 

Joe Gardner (Foxx) wants to be a jazz pianist with all his heart and soul. He has never gotten the big break he needs, though, and so has had to make ends meet by teaching music at a New York City high school. His mother (Rashad) wants him to give up on his dreams and deal with the reality that he needs to earn a living, and it looks like he might be doing that as his part-time gig at the school is aout to be turned full-time and permanent, complete with benefits and a pension, which is exactly what his mom wants for him.

But fate isn’t done with Joe. He gets and nails an audition with legendary saxophone player Dorothea Williams (Bassett). Finally, the big break he’s been praying for. As he makes an excited call home, he doesn’t notice the manhole cover that is ide open and falls in.

He hovers between life and death and his soul heads for the great beyond, but before he can head to his final destination, incensed at the thought of dying before he can make it, which he considers to be his destiny, he escapes the conveyer belt taking him to the great light and ends up in the great before – where souls go before they are born to adqure the personality traits that will stick with them after birth. Joe is given the stubborn soul-let 22 (Fey) to mentor. She is missing the spark that will fill out her check boxes and send her to Earth to become a person. The trouble is, 22 doesn’t want to leave. And Joe doesn’t want to stay – he needs to get back into his body before he misses the gig that he has been waiting his whole life to play.

As you can see, there are some pretty heavy concepts going on here. How do we become who we are? What happens to us when we die? Not exactly typical subjects for a kid flick, but Pixar regular Pete Docter (along with Kemp Powers, who wrote the acclaimed One Night in Miami which is just about to be released on Amazon Prime as I write this) makes it not only thought-provoking, but fun as well. In the Great Before, there are beings all named Jerry (voiced, by among others, by Rachel House, Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade) that resemble concept drawings in Picasso’s sketchbook; one of the mentors there calls human beings “meat suits.”

This is a gorgeously rendered film, as nearly all Pixar films are. The New York City here is so real you can almost smell the garbage; a rat hauls away a slice of pizza with the grease glistening on the pepperoni. It’s the details that make the film; the jazz tunes are written by John Batiste whose performance on the keyboard was filmed so that the animators could match Joe’s fingering to that of Batiste exactly.

Speaking of music, the score – by Oscar-winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – is lustrous and mind-bending, in my opinion one of the best scores ever to grace an animated feature. The movie also celebrates African-American culture without pandering, which Hollywood productions sometimes do.

Foxx, an Oscar winner himself, is simply outstanding as Joe. His performance is full of pathos and humor as he gives Joe a unique personality; stubborn and at the same time, giving. You root for Joe without thinking he’s too good to be true; there are definitely warts there, but Foxx makes him all too relatable. Perhaps his experience bringing Ray Charles to the screen stood him in good stead here. In any case, it should rank among Foxx’s best performances ever, which is something to crow about.

In a year that has tested all of us, this is a lovely reward for making it this far. It is the kind of movie that we can watch together as a family, whether we are actual relations or not. It is a movie that explores what it is to be human, and what it is to be more than human – to explore the nature of what a soul is. It’s a brilliant work and one of the year’s best fims, if not THE best.

REASONS TO SEE: Wildly inventive and one of Pixar’s all-time best. The score is the best ever for an animated feature. Foxx is absolutely awesome. Doesn’t overdo the sentimentality. Takes on some very difficult subjects without talking down.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is a bit of a stretch.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Pixar film to feature an African-American as the lead character.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Disney Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews; Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISONSHOPPING: Inside Out
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Queer Japan

Velvet Buzzsaw


Things that make you go “hmmm”.

(2019) Horror Satire (Netflix) Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, John Malkovich, Billy Magnussen, Toni Collette, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Alan Mandell, Mig Macario, Nitya Vidyasagar, Sedale Threatt Jr., Keith Bogart, Sofia Toufa, Kassandra Voyagis, Mark Leslie Ford, Amy Tsang, Mark Steger, Andrea Marcovicci, Pisay Pao, Ian Alda, Valentina Gordon. Directed by Dan Gilroy

 

I have said many a time that there is a difference between art and Art and it largely depends on how seriously the artist takes him/herself. Art is pretentious and arrogant whereas art is inspiring and insightful. Director Dan Gilroy, acclaimed for his work on Nightcrawlers, knows the difference.

In this horror-laced satire about the contemporary commercial art world, he reunites with two of the stars of Nightcrawlers. Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) is the self-important art critic whose words can triple the price that a painting will get, or destroy a budding artist’s career entirely. Art dealer Rhodora Haze (Russo) shares a symbiotic relationship with him. Morf, who is bisexual, has a thing for Rhodora’s assistant Josephina (Ashton).

Josephina wants more than to be someone’s coffee-fetcher and when an elderly man in her apartment building dies literally in front of her door, she discovers her chance – his apartment is filled with haunting, vaguely unsettling art work. She knows instantly that it’s the Real Deal and enters into a partnership with Rhodora to sell it, even though the man expressly wanted his art destroyed and not sold. Nevertheless, sold it is and as a number of characters in the art world – up and coming agent Jon Dondon (Sturridge), gallery curator Gretchen (Collette) who looks to make her own mark (and fortune), to name a couple – jockey for position to get a piece of the pie. Then, they start to turn up dead in horrible, gruesome ways.

The film relies heavily on smart, snappy dialogue and Gyllenhaal gives one of his best performances to date as Morf, whose evolution during the film is presaged by the homonym of his first name. In fact, the entire cast, which incidentally is a pretty nifty one, does a bang-up job with particular kudos to Dyer as one of the few sympathetic characters in the film.

The movie doesn’t go easy on the gore which is likely to delight horror fans, although they might not know what to make of the satire that makes up the first third of the movie. Regardless, this is wildly entertaining and one of the better movies under the Netflix banner.

REASONS TO SEE: Gyllenhaal is delightful. Entertaining in a smarmy way. Lampoons the artificiality and pretentiousness of the commercial art world.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit too ponderous.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and gore, as well as a surfeit of profanity, some sexuality, brief nudity and a scene of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gilroy, who also wrote the film, stated in an interview that the unusual character names were inspired by Charles Dickens
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews, Metacritic: 61/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Bucket Full of Blood
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Sometimes Always Never

New Releases for the Week of July 27, 2018


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT      

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Monaghan. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

After a mission gone bad Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must race against time to stop a fanatic from plunging the world into chaos. Just another day at the office for ol’ Ethan.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D RPX, RPX 3D

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language)

Blindspotting

(CODEBLACK) Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Ethan Embry. Out of prison on probation, a young African-American man has to re-evaluate his friendship with his volatile best friend whose antics might just land him back behind bars. To make matters worse, he has also witnessed the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cinemark Artegon, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references, and drug use)

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

(Amazon) Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black. The story of newspaper cartoonist John Callahan who after a near fatal car accident, is forced into treatment for alcohol abuse. He discovers a talent for drawing edgy and controversial cartoons that show the healing abilities of art and the triumph of the human will over adversity. This was one of this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s most acclaimed entries.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, some nudity and alcohol abuse)

Hot Summer Nights

(A24) Timothée Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Thomas Jane. Visiting his aunt on Cape Cod one sweltering summer before he is due to head off to college, a socially awkward young man gets involved with a townie in a business of selling weed to wealthy tourists. DirecTV subscribers have already had an opportunity to view this for about a month as it gets a brief limited theatrical release.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for drug content and language throughout, sexual references, and some strong violence)

Teen Titans GO! To the Movies

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Jimmy Kimmel. Five teenage superheroes dream of Hollywood stardom, a dream that is interrupted by a pesky supervillain who plans world domination. It’s tough to be a teenage superhero when NOBODY UNDERSTANDS YOU!!!!!!!!!

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action and rude humor)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The Catcher Was a Spy

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Damascus Cover
Eighth Grade
Happy Wedding
Junga
Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story
Sergio and Sergei

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Happy Wedding
Mohini

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Happy Wedding
The King

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Blindspotting
The Catcher Was a Spy
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story
Mission: Impossible – Fallout