The aspect of superheroes, even those within the animated world, have to change…in spite of themselves. The interesting permeation of Pixar in many ways is that it was around before. The texture of its life always resides in heart. Which is why in certain parts of “Incredibles 2”, there is the perception of paying homage to the superheroes and real life heroes it emulates. The aspect of loss at one point in the film is straight out of Batman mythology. Another line a direct homage to the original “Ghostbusters”. But while the film moves with inherent pace and rhythm, there isn’t that sense of wonder in even one sequence that rivals the loss or elation in “Inside Out” or “Up”. Granted there are some great comedic moments and even utterly subtle moments…most involving Jack Jack, the baby. The kid steals the show including a specific face off with an unnamed rodent. The aim too is different.
This installment plays a little more to adults although kids will get a kick out of it. Even the color pallette is slightly different. There is even a Tomorrowland kitsche to the design which no doubt is director Brad Bird’s influence considering that he made both “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and “Tomorrowland” in terms of live action since his last “Incredibles” film. That influence is understood since it shows his growth as a filmmaker but also maybe a loss of wonder in certain ways. The seeming ode to 60s James Bond films has its angle but nevertheless almost feels banal in certain ways. The inspiration comes into play at certain point especially when Aunt Edna (played by Bird himself) comes into play. Ultimately “Incredibles 2” is a more than steadily and effectively made sequel that hits all the right notes. There simply wasn’t that epiphany or longing moment.
However interestingly enough, that does find its way into “Bao”, the Pixar short film that precedes it which plays on a metaphor for an Asian mother who fashions the perception of her raising her son through the vision of a dumpling. Like previous Pixar shorts, it crosses borders because it is basic sans dialogue. However, unlike some others, there is an almost weirdly contextual end to the short which is unclear. So even though it hits the notes correctly, its ultimate resolution is slightly skewed which leaves it slightly confused in an overarching way. So the two films themselves are indeed an interesting mirror paradox of each other with “Incredibles 2” being an indeniably effective sequel missing a little something and “Bao” having its something but losing it in the final moment because of a lack of story clarity. Pixar has always valued story above everything so the takeaway is intriguing.
By Tim Wassberg
The movement of wit and style in “Oceans 8” is palpable. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett dance like maneuvering cats across the screen in one of those pairings that decidedly needed to happen and one wonders why it took so long. Granted this is based off the basis of the Oceans films. Despite this, director Gary Ross is no Steven Soderbergh. There was something classically beautiful about “Oceans 11”. This movie has glimpses of that but much of it is done in a matter of fact style and decidedly unlike an old school heist film which the first Oceans felt like. Blanchett has the aspects of old school Bogie and Bullock Dean Martin but the overall heist almost seems too much in the real world without the true stylistic touches needed (beyond the music). We feel aspects of Bullock & Banchett as a team with the other 6 (most specifically Sarah Poulson’s character –- whose fence should have movie of hers all her own). All of these characters are fully formed. But everything serves the heist plot which itself in ultimate structures has holes despite the reassurance from Bullock’s character that she has thought everything through.
In the beginning of the film, like “Oceans 11”, you see these light ticks in the characters which is what makes Bullock so engaging on screen…that humor. Speaking with her mouth full which Blanchett coes back with a quick quip about her being Ukrainian. Lightning fast. Then it simmers down when those little bits should have been amped up. Easy to do in a scene and improv would have worked. There doesn’t seem to have much of it allowed here. They probably were not let go within the characters enough to really let loose. Again the texture is that this is a heist pure and simple with details that need refining.
Hathaway as a specific form of the mark seems to have more fun than anyone though she is utterly overplaying the character, albeit on purpose, but it almost seems out of sync. Bonham Carter as a designer has the reverse issue. Even in a more subdued character one was hoping for more acidic wit that she is known for no matter what she does. Even one look in “Sweeney Todd” from her conveyed a lifetime. Again it might have just had to do with control of the director. The characters that truly play it up and get that balance right is Awkwafina and Rhianna. They come off as effortless in many ways. But like Casey Affleck and Scott Caan in “Oceans 11”, they were just mechanizations to the plot, not the focal point. Bullock and Blanchett have to do the heavy lifting but that incessant banter that marked the Clooney/Pitt interaction could again have been played much more up between Bullock/Blanchett since they are every bit on that level.
In terms of story structure there is a lot of similarities to 11…and this is on purpose. They also don’t overuse that connection which could have been easily done but also key it in enough to make it work. Certain misdirects and coincidental connections are simply at times too convenient in terms of the plot and not in an undeniable way. Now against all this, the film is fun to watch as the play is going. But when reflected more on how it works, it crumbles a bit. Again that is not the fault of the actors but of the script and, to a more specific point, the direction. However, it is tall order considering the film it is being compared to. The most apt reference at times to make with this is perhaps to “Red”. Everyone in that film knew they were playing a slick farce and racheted it up. John Malkovich especially). The people here are aware for sure but the plot takes over too much to really let that shine and take it to another level. The set up at the Met Gala is inspired. The actors perfect to a T. But plot and direction simply not quite up to par.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of the beauty shown in “Cold War” [Poland/Competition] about the texture of lost love finding its way is less “Doctor Zhivago” in many ways but with certain psychological stylings that would have benefited “Red Sparrow” which seemed too caught up in the plot to formulate why the characters do what they do: survival. Zula (played with delicious cadence and intelligence by Joanna Kulig), is always looking out for number one, even though her heart leads her off in certain directions against her will. She doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do but the balance of that and becoming just enough of a talent to survive is essential from her first audition in the Soviet Union for a peasant opera. The teacher/judges including her doomed lover Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) see something but are not sure what. Her past and its consequences becomes revealed in certain structures but the fact that much of it is left to speculation fuels her mystery. It also explains many of her later actions in terms of logic but also meaning
While the beauty of the folk beginning with the operatic music is inherently interesting, it is when they cross over into Berlin and then to the West as an act, that the film truly understands its plight. The infusion of the smoky rooms of the jazz and standards against the classical basis in the theater show the inherent discrepancies that for many people is hard to truly understand. Zula is a revelation in these circumstances because you feel the uncertain passage of time. It is only in the final moments that the film necessarily loses its grip on reality…not because of the decisions made but because of the lack of control at times on the character’s part which is a simply written choice perhaps for the sake of metaphor. The stilted contradiction of love and the reasoning behind it are sound because of the nature of the world, specifically at that time in concern to gender roles and even more specifically, political roles.
Director Pawel Pawlikowski’s visual approach starts with the use of the 1:33 aspect ratio (like his previous film “Ida”) as well as the black & white texture. While the lack of color it creates an almost dreamlike dreariness in the country sequences, its stark capture of the inherent black tones in the frame and in the city, especially during the performances, allow the audience to see Zula at her most vulnerable giving the film a sense of purpose. This idea is buoyed by the irony of the beauty of the peasant music Zula helps sing versus the standards that show her growth and embrace of Western culture yet the irony of the claustrophobia and shadows in the frame display a deeper chasm in what the world actually was in that time. The aforementioned ending moves the music to a stark change meant to display a certain degradation of sorts which again makes sense for the story but slows the actual cadence. All in all, though Kulig is a presence on screen with both a biting wit but also a classic beauty that belies the turmoil underneath.
By Tim Wassberg