Inside Out (2015)

★★★★★

Inside Out PosterDirector: Pete Docter

Release Date: June 19th, 2015 (US); July 24th, 2016 (UK)

Genre: Animation; Adventure; Comedy

Starring: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black

If you’ve spent years agonising over the possibility of a live action Numskulls film — and let’s face it, who hasn’t? — you’re finally in luck. Inside Out takes the premise of said comic strip and imbues it with a visual vitality not always achievable on paper. But more than that, the film smartly and effectively explores the social complexities of growing up, and does so amidst a level of confidence not relayed from Pixar since Toy Story 3. One thing is absolutely certain: the creative minds behind the studio’s latest imagination emporium are no numbskulls.

The film follows youngster Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose bright and bubbly exterior matches her consistently joyful interior. See, Joy (Amy Poehler) is Riley’s overriding emotion, she having commandeered a monopoly on her host’s mind since birth. A sudden shift in locale from her beloved, chilly Minnesota to an unhomely San Francisco disturbs the eleven-year-old’s mental hierarchy, leaving Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader) in charge.

As you can probably imagine, this loss of cheerful guidance sends Riley down a path of greater isolation in already isolating surroundings. Happy core memories — which power five primary islands, including Family Island and Goofball Island — are tinged with solemnity via Sadness (Phyllis Smith), whose clumsiness catapults her and Joy away from the central hub. You buy into the film’s simple story, desperately urging the odd couple back to Headquarters, even if the various structural nodes take a while to fully grasp.

The inside of Riley’s head assumes a life of its own, where reality has been remodelled with a rainbow-like gloss. Fittingly, we find out it’s a movie studio (aptly called Dream Productions) that is responsible for the creation of dreams. With her rectangular hair and sharp glare, Riley’s dream auteur resembles Scarefloor clerk Roz from Monsters, Inc. Pete Docter, who helmed Mike and Sulley’s fun frightfest, also directs here and does so with incessant invention, answering questions about how the mind is constructed before we even get the chance to think them up. At one point the action calls for a dream to become a nightmare, and as such Dream Productions’ feature film evolves into a horror movie starring a huge scary clown.

Inside Out often takes its visual cues from Toy Story, both materially and comically. Just as that franchise portrays Slinky, a stretch toy, in Sausage Dog form, here Anger wears a shirt and tie combo normally associated with workers who are fed up with their job and full of scorn. Anger is also the lead emotion inside Riley’s father’s head, a playful jab at male stereotypes; men are either grumpy, preoccupied by sports or hilariously militaristic when it comes to getting things done at the last minute. We stalk the camera during a superbly written family dinner scene as it invades the inner workings of mother and father (voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan), showing their respective reactions towards Riley’s morose attitude.

Fear is unabashedly spontaneous, in a state of terminal alarm and never boring to watch — Bill Hader just about steals the show with his squawking audio performance. Joy glows, whereas Sadness is a murky blue colour, small and forever huddled up. Phyllis Smith’s voice work as the latter channels Saturday Night Live’s Debbie Downer to perfection. Disgust, obviously, carries the poise and style of a fashion expert.

Throughout we constantly weigh up whether the emotions are controlling Riley, or if it’s Riley who is controlling her emotions. On occasion you can’t help but give into the sprightly visual splendour and the barrage of smart gags, but even in these moments the film steers well clear of all that is routine. For adults Inside Out could be a hypothetical examination of mental illness, or simply a voyage into the psychologically transformative nature of ageing. For children it’s also about growing up, only the immediacy of events on screen are sure to hit home with greater verve. The film affords young viewers an optical veracity that likely mirrors their ongoing experiences.

Pixar hasn’t shied away from misfortune in the past — see the first ten minutes of Up, or the abandonment arc in Toy Story 3 — and the studio continues to respect its audience by maintaining that mature philosophy here. Joy is undoubtedly a positive influence on Riley’s life, but her mistrust of Sadness is telling. The establishment of a ‘Circle of Sadness’ is a somewhat autocratic control mechanism thought up by Joy to restrict Riley’s emotional output. Joy doesn’t want her young anchor to ail, not realising the process of ailing plays a crucial role in a person’s development.

Docter and co-writers Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley champion lightheartedness in equal measure, matching seriousness with amusement: less imperative memories are tossed away at the onset of teenagehood, at which point bouts of important knowledge (US Presidents, piano skills) succumb to materiality (the perfect boyfriend). The funniest running gag, which centres on an annoying advert with a catchy theme song, is irksomely on point. This mixture of slapstick, witty and child friendly — though not childish — comedy gives the movie a peppy air. “That’s it, I fold,” bemoans a Jelly Bean-esque builder whose house made of cards keeps collapsing.

Long-term memory is visualised as a gigantic maze library. The filmmakers even explore abstract thought; the realisation of our overly analytical side (something writers can relate to), where notions and ideas and truths are deconstructed and subsequently flattened to the point of nothingness. It’s a brilliantly incisive scene that implores us not to be too self-critical or too self-diagnostic.

The primary message throughout Inside Out is a reassuring one. Sometimes it’s okay to be sad. Or angry, or fearful, or disgusted. These are feelings that will eventually subside and offer in their place a stepping stone to happiness, and to other, more complex and interesting emotions. Docter’s film is rich in subtext, one of those that you should watch again and again and could pick apart all day thereafter. This warrants examination both inside and out.

Inside Out - Emotions

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

★★★★

Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me PosterDirector: David Lynch

Release Date: August 28th, 1992 (US); November 20th, 1992 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Mystery; Thriller

Starring: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan

Before getting into the nitty-gritty — and this really is nitty and gritty — Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me opens with a 25 minute minisode. We watch as FBI Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) investigate a murder in Deer Meadow that reeks with familiarity. While discussing cryptic messages Sam asks, “What exactly did that mean?” to which his partner replies, “I’ll explain it to you”. Fans of the television show have asking the same question and hoping for the same answer since the second season of Twin Peaks concluded, but answers are in short supply here.

David Lynch’s movie acts as a prequel to his cult TV hit, and is film that pitches its tent firmly in the past. Lynch only lightly touches upon the show’s cliffhanger ending — if you haven’t seen Twin Peaks and have plans to see it, stop reading now — instead opting to focus on the events leading up to the murder of Laura Palmer. Risky? Certainly. Frustrating? Probably, though the news that another season is on the way has likely rendered much frustration obsolete. Fire Walk with Me brings the almost mythical figure of Laura Palmer to life, and does so brilliantly.

Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is a high school student plagued by an evil spirit known as BOB (Frank Silva), who appears in her uncanny visions and demented dreams. In Twin Peaks, she has already been killed by BOB and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to find the then unknown culprit. Here, the events leading up to Palmer’s death are explored in detail, including her drug addled experiences and her father Leland’s (Ray Wise) own demonic possession.

The Chester-Sam preamble exudes a classic Lynchian essence, lulling us into a false sense of security from the get-go. Life in Deer Meadow looks, sounds and feels worse than life in Twin Peaks: the coffee at the local sheriff’s station is outdated; the owner of the diner is old, abrasive and foul-toothed, far removed from Norma Jennings; and there are no food specials either. Not even a sliver of cherry pie. You begin to miss spending time in Twin Peaks, its oddness and peculiarity and vitality in short supply. And we never truly revisit that kooky town.

Coop appears under false pretences — despite captaining the television show, he’s only a bit part player here (primarily due to MacLachlan’s return worries). Angelo Badalamenti’s twangy score reverberates as Ron Garcia’s cinematography hones in on that recognisable welcome sign, but it soon becomes obvious that Fire Walk with Me is a different animal to Lynch’s small screen work. It is Laura’s story, which is by and large miserable and horrifying. “Do you think that if you were falling in space you would slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?” best friend Donna muses. Laura assuredly hits back, “Faster and faster”. That’s her predicament. Spiralling without a harness.

Sheryl Lee’s range is impressive. Her demeanour effortlessly switches from dreamy, to seductive, to ponderous, to deranged, to hysterical, depending on BOB’s stranglehold at any given moment. Despite knowing the finality of her arc, a dramatic heft still remains and that is largely due to Lee’s sympathetic portrayal. We want her to survive for moral reasons, but also because we know her interactions with Coop et al would be compelling and fun (granted, her survival would render Twin Peaks pointless in the first place). Enya-esque music adds to Laura’s angelic qualities, the dulcet and delicate inflections indicating an impending loss of innocence.

Performances are over the top at times, a by-product of Lynch’s soap opera brand. The director tones down any potential melodrama though, instead seeking out scares. And there are some properly terrifying moments; at one point BOB hides awkwardly in Laura’s room, poised in a corner behind a chest of drawers. The scene is actually a jump scare, but one done well — it chills for longer because BOB’s uncouth posture and uncontrollable lunacy can do little else but leave a lasting impression. Frank Silva has always infused the Twin Peaks landscape with an edge-of-your-seat mania, and he steps it up another notch here.

The persiflage-like comedic oddities that richly emboldened the television show aren’t around. They certainly wouldn’t fit with Fire Walk with Me’s dark themes, but you do miss them. In their place is a mountain of debauchery, nudity and swearing. A seemingly everlasting Pink Room (a strip club of sorts) scene reflects this grimness. The floor resembles a destitute beach, with fag ash for sand and beer bottles for seaweed. Loud music means we need subtitles to understand what various characters are saying — sound is used efficiently throughout the film to amp up tension. It drags on a bit too long, but the room’s red, flashing textures do imitate hell and effectively mirror Laura’s harrowing plunge.

To the filmmaker’s credit, an air of horror lingers over every second of the movie. It helps that a pre-existing television show has already laid the groundwork as far as worldbuilding goes, and therefore all that remains is to plug holes with the correct tonal density. Lynch opts for a dark, thick substance that stinks of constant dread. He is essentially unpacking the mindset of a psychopath. As Leland Palmer succumbs to the nefarious tendencies of BOB, his fatherliness drains. He increasingly exudes a crazed Jack Torrance vibe; one dinner scene in particular communicates unbridled domestic terror.

This is also Leland’s story, but viewed from Laura’s external perspective. Lynch takes us through his psychopathic functionality, the primal loss of control, where what was once unlawful becomes lawful. In a way, this type of destabilised humanity can only be explained by inexplicable mysticism, an aspect explored with greater verve in Twin Peaks. Laura, able to fend off BOB’s corruptness but not his presence, faces a different type of corruption: she becomes a drug and sex addict, someone haunted by immorality.

If you are well-versed in the television show you’ll know where the film is headed, yet Lynch manages to frame the ending in a somewhat positive manner without jeopardising the preceding terror. Relief is the overarching emotion, perhaps a fitting tonal precursor to Twin Peaks. These moments of respite are uncommon in Fire Walk with Me, a genuinely underrated horror gem. That’s a lot of garmonbozia.

Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me - Laura & Leland

Images credit: IMP Awards, Welcome to Twin Peaks

Images copyright (©): New Line Cinema