There is a scene in the Coen Brothers’ latest film “Hail, Caesar!” where a movie exec has a meeting with four clergymen of different denominations to see if any of them takes issue with how Christ is portrayed in one of their upcoming films. It’s one of the funnier scenes in the movie; it’s also why most Biblical retellings reek of focus groups and compromise, because the last thing a studio wants is to be perceived as insensitive when it comes to religion. “Risen” manages to avoid those trappings by doing the simplest thing: it focuses on one specific event – the Resurrection, along with the subsequent two weeks or so – and in the process sets a ceiling on the audience’s expectations. This sounds like damning with faint praise, but it turns out to be a very shrewd move.
Don’t let the dirty talk and rampant sex fool you: “How to Be Single” is as safe as kittens. It might be the most harmless raunch-com ever made, a mash-up of several other mediocre relationship films (and one baby film) rolled into one profane package. The four leads sell it as well as they can, but this film was going to be a nonstarter regardless of whom they cast.
First off, before a word is spoken about the episodes, a thousand lashes to those responsible for the packaging of this box set. The box is shaped like Homer’s melon, with the binder on the bottom of the box so it opens downward, which is the opposite direction of the plastic shell that wraps around it. It’s ugly, it’s awkward, and it sticks out like a sore thumb on our shelf next to the other five “Simpsons” box sets. A pox upon your houses, Fox design crew.
Simple Minds is one of the most confounding bands in music. They’ve always dreamed big, yet they were also just a little bit outside of the mainstream. Even the handful of hits they managed to score in the mid-‘80s – with their own material, anyway – didn’t jive with the songs they were rubbing elbows with on the charts. Where other bands were singing about going all the way, Jim Kerr was singing to God. Simple Minds are a pop band, and they are a cult band, and one could argue that it is their cult status that has lifted them during the lean years. They, like Tears for Fears, are one of the few bands of that era to enjoy commercial success without losing their cool factor.
Think about getting on the phone with the woman you lusted after like no 14-year-old boy ever lusted in his life. This was the “challenge” presented to us when we got the green light to interview Berlin singer and part time DJ Terri Nunn, who for this writer’s money is the alpha and omega of ‘80s rock star hotties (and still looks fabulous today). Nunn is doing press to promote Animal, Berlin’s first album of new material in 11 years, and it’s a full-on dance record, packed with wall-to-wall beats – and yes, a dubstep moment – as well as a scorching cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Nunn was clearly thrilled about finding her muse again. We, on the other hand, were happy just to be on the phone with her. What happened along the way, like the time she called two music giants ‘socially retarded’ – and outed another for not having the decency to turn her down politely – and when she equated making music with a married couple’s sex life, was gravy. And then there was the opening exchange, which will haunt our dreams until the end of days.
I love Pixar. Despite the fact that a few of their recent non-sequels were not the moon shots that their first seven or so films were (ahem, “The Good Dinosaur”), they’re still, pound for pound, the best movie studio on the planet. And I was really excited for “Inside Out,” despite its similarity to the early ‘90s Fox sitcom “Herman’s Head,” something my brother and I watched every week because a) we didn’t have cable, b) it was too late in the evening to plug in the guitars, and c) it followed “The Simpsons,” and “Simpsons” voice actors Hank Azaria and Yeardley Smith were in the cast. It was the path of least resistance.
An unsettling trend is starting to appear in Pixar’s work. When the visuals are more eye-popping than usual, it’s a sign that something more important is lacking (see: “Brave”). “The Good Dinosaur” is visually breathtaking, featuring the most lifelike water that has ever graced an animated film. The story structure, however, is one of Pixar’s weakest, feeling more like old-guard Disney than the kind of thing Pixar normally produces. There are valuable lessons for children to learn here, but there is also a fair amount of trauma. Little Arlo gets his ass handed to him early, then spends the rest of the movie trying to survive.
“Inside Out” has a sweet, entertaining story at its core, but it requires one of the characters to act like a complete idiot in order to set it into motion, and no matter how enjoyable the rest of the movie may be – and thankfully, it is – those acts will linger in the back of your mind, which, come to think of it, the filmmakers might find ironically funny. It’s not, though; it’s a shortcut, the kind of thing Pixar steadfastly avoided in their storytelling for well over a decade, and now that they have been getting their asses kicked by their peers at Disney Animation (“Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”) for the last three years, you’d think that they would come up with a better story than this. And to be fair, they came up with a good concept; it just has a bad setup.