Category Archives: Analysis

Why Inside Out is a masterpiece but won’t be remembered as one

Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Joy from Pixar's Inside Out

Pixar is yet to make a really bad film. Sure, it might have made a few missteps here and there (hello Cars 2) but even its below par offerings are far above the standard churned out by many other studios.

However, in this year’s Inside Out, the Disney-owned company created a film that is a bona fide masterpiece on practically every level. It’s just a shame that there’s a very good chance it won’t get remembered that way.

Why is Inside Out a masterpiece?

It’s almost impossible to define the term ‘masterpiece’ when it comes to films anyway, and there are very few that are unanimously accepted as such. Of Pixar’s back catalogue, only really Toy Story fits comfortably into the masterpiece category, although one could make the case for Monster’s Inc and Finding Nemo if you’re feeling generous.

And it’s the very thing that, for me, defines Toy Story as a masterpiece that runs through the heart of Inside Out – its ability to work as a film for adults as much as one for children. Now, we’re not just talking about jokes that go over the heads of innocent children, but entire themes that take on new meaning when viewed through the eyes of the older, more worldly wise generations.

Related – Quickie: Frozen

Toy Story enthralls children through the obvious – the thought of their toys coming to life and the madcap antics of Woody, Buzz, et al. However, viewed through the eyes of parents, you get a film that is about so much more; a film about nostalgia, your children growing up and their diminishing reliance on you as they get older. There’s a reason why the Toy Story films (and Toy Story 3 in particular) are known to reduce many an adult to tears.

Inside Out scratches this same itch as Toy Story (in fact, the similarities between the two films go deeper than that) and gives us two very different interpretations of the film depending on whether you’re an adult or a child. Children will giggle and gasp at Joy and Sadness’ adventures whilst Fear, Anger and Disgust provide further comic relief, but the real meat and potatoes for the adults comes from Riley.

Riley and her parents in Inside Out

Like Toy Story’s Andy, Riley might seem nothing but periphery but is actually key to the film’s success. For parents, Riley might as well be their own child and seeing her edge away from childhood as her emotions become more developed and complicated as they conflict and vie for prominence will no doubt ring true and, once again, cause a seeping of saline from many an eye.

The complexity with which Pixar has delivered Inside Out’s messages is quite something. It just gets how difficult it can be for many growing up from childhood to adolescence and sympathises with it. It’s saying that sadness is an essential part of being a balanced human being and that you can’t have joy without sadness, and for that reason it’s not just a brilliant film, but also an incredibly important one.

With child and teen suicide an ever-growing issue, something that explains, albeit in the form of a ‘children’s’ film, that these emotions are OK, nay perfectly normal, could literally be a lifesaver.

Why won’t Inside Out be remembered as a masterpiece

So, Inside Out ticks pretty much all the same boxes as Toy Story, and in many ways is a much deeper, more complex film, but something just tells me that it won’t be remembered with quite the same fondness. Granted, Toy Story has the advantage of being the first of Pixar’s films and therefore had that freshness and level of detail we weren’t really used to seeing at the time. It’s also had the luxury of time for its original audience to grow older and appreciate it through different stages of their lives.

Related – Film Review: Monsters University

Inside Out, however, just doesn’t feel like it has the same buzz. I mean, it’s done pretty well at the box office, pushing somewhere in the region of nearly $400,000,000, and it’s had near unanimous critical acclaim, but is it hitting the notes with the most important demographic? – children.

You still see children pretending to be Buzz Lightyear, and even characters such as Lightning McQueen or Mike Wazowski are well loved. Then we have Frozen (yes, that’s not Pixar, I know) which is a whole behemoth of its own. But are children really going to be running around pretending to be Joy, Sadness or the rest of the gang ? Are they going to be pestering their parents for Inside Out merchandise? Some might, most won’t.

Emotions in Inside Out

Of course, how much merchandise a film sells and the enthusiasm of children to act out film with their friends is no indication of a film’s quality whatsoever, but it is a sign of its popularity and of how likely it is to become a part of popular film culture in years to come.

Related – Film Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Children take films with them as they grow up and show them to their children and so on. Hopefully Inside Out is something today’s kids will revisit a little later in life and appreciate on a new level, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s resonated first time around.

There has been early talk of Inside Out scooping the Best Film Oscar next year, which would make it the first animated film to do so. Were it to do so then, in my eyes, it would be very well deserved, but I still don’t think that would seal it as masterpiece status outside of the cine-literate.

Ultimately, beauty is on the eye of the beholder and all that. It’s up to each individual to decide whether Inside Out is a masterpiece, and personally I think it is one. Without a doubt. But in ten or fifteen years time I can’t see it being remembered as fondly as some of Disney or Pixar’s other works.

I really hope I’m wrong.

Melancholia – an (attempted) analysis

Melancholia is one of those films that severely divides opinion. It is inspired by writer/director Lars Von Trier’s bouts of depression and follows Justine (Kirsten Dunst) as she struggles to deal with her own depression during and following her wedding party. Oh, and there’s also a giant planet on a collision course with Earth, threatening to blow it into very small pieces. However, there are many more ideas running through the film, and here are just a couple of them.

Melancholia

The power of two

The number two, or at least things relating to the number two, feature heavily within the film.  Probably the most obvious reference is that the film is split into two parts.

The first, entitled ‘Justine’, focuses on the wedding party of Justine and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). During this section of the film, Justine puts on a front, a façade to hide her unhappiness from her family and friends who are all there to witness her big day. The second half of the film, ‘Claire’, centres on the threat of Armageddon at the hands of Melancholia, a bewitching, ethereal planet heading straight towards Earth.

The two halves of the film represent the dual personality that someone who suffers from depression can often possess. The first is the smokescreen put up to reassure others and to hide what’s really within. The second shows the reality of the situation – Justine’s depression and that a planet is on course to collide with Earth, both of which almost everyone is blissfully unaware of in part one.

Justine and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are very different people, but are essentially two parts of the same person, displaying differing ways of dealing with a stressful situation – in this case, the end of the world. Due to her depression, Justine embraces the end and is relatively calm in its impending arrival. However, Claire is the other side of the coin; she finds it incredibly difficult to cope and acts in a way many would expect a person to – with frenzied panic and hysteria. This could be the director’s way of showing that everyone has the capacity for depression and can react either as Justine or Claire in the face of adversity.

The two planets are also significant in that, aside from their impending date with disaster, they also represent Justine’s state of mind. Earth is a hateful place for Justine, full of poisonous people and pointless rituals. Her mental state deteriorates until she becomes aware of Melancholia and it draws closer and closer to Earth. Melancholia represents the escape that Justine has been longing and she hopes that it will continue its path toward Armageddon. We even witness Justine lying naked under the planet’s glow, offering herself to it, enticing it towards her – is she actually responsible for pulling it back towards Earth?

Melancolia - Justine and Claire

Relationships

As predominantly shown in the film’s first half, Justine is surrounded by incredibly flawed people. Many of these people’s lives have been scarred by relationships past and present, which could account, in part, for Justine’s bizarre unease at having just gotten married. Indeed, she is happiest at the outset of the film during her mischievous and impromptu turn as a limo driver when it is just her and Michael, before they get to the party and are surrounded by so many damaged souls.

Justine’s parents clearly had a tumultuous marriage, and her mother has become a very bitter person who is not afraid to let her feelings be known in front of people. Justine’s father seems like a much happier and more grounded individual. He laughs and jokes with the other guests and dances with his daughter, telling her he has never been so proud. However, he clearly doesn’t know his daughter as well as he thinks, as otherwise he would notice that she is not as happy as a new bride should be, and when Justine needs him the most and asks him to stay so she can talk to him, he disappears, leaving nothing but a note.

Claire’s husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), has a relationship with his work that could be deemed ultimately destructive. His unwavering belief that Melancholia won’t crash into Earth gives his wife false hope, which makes the realisation that he’s wrong all the more distressing. When John himself realises his mistake, the effects are similarly disastrous for him and his family.

The relationships involving Justine’s employer, Jack (Stellan Skarsgard), are also bizarre ones. As his ‘plus one’ he decides to bring Tim, a new employee at his advertising firm, whose sole purpose is to wheedle a killer slogan from Justine for their new campaign. Tim does exactly what his ‘other half’ says at all times, afraid of losing his job, scared of the consequences. Ultimately, Jack loses patience with his latest squeeze and fires him, finishing the relationship that wasn’t working, likely devastating poor Tim who was so keen to impress.

Justine clearly has an unhappy relationship with her work and her boss, although she has never let it show before. However, Jack, like everyone else, seems completely unaware of Justine’s real feelings and is aghast when Justine throws his generous job offer back at him and tells him what she really thinks, finally plucking up the courage to break away from a relationship she was desperately miserable in.

Melancholia - Justine, Leo and Claire

Perhaps the happiest and most innocent person in the entire film is Claire’s son, Leo. He is young and has thus far in life been unharmed by relationships, which is shown in the final scene of the film with Leo, his mother and Justine. Claire, who cannot bear to die, is distraught, whereas Justine, who cannot bear to be alive, is calm. Leo is also very placid, as his short life has been a happy one, and he has few, if any, really negative experiences to make him embittered towards the world.

The film’s negative attitude towards relationships could also account for the reason why none of the characters have surnames, one of the things that can define a person’s relationships with another.

Take as much or as little as you like

These are just some of the important themes running throughout Melancholia, but there are many that have not been discussed and many that have likely not even been thought of. Director Lars Von Trier took much inspiration from art and literature, and there are certain parts of the film – the first five or ten minutes or so in particular – that can come across as pretentious and leave you feeling cold towards it. If you want to read into the film’s various subtexts, then there is a wealth to examine. However, if not, you can still view the film purely as a journey of someone suffering depression, a sci-fi experience, or a combination of the two; it’s entirely up to you.

Words: Chris Thomson

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How Oz Defined HBO Productions

There be spoilers ahead

Oz was one of those shows that I knew existed but had heard very little about. When I found out it was created by HBO I automatically knew I’d like it – because if there’s one thing HBO doesn’t do then that is bad TV programmes. I soon found out that OZ was the first hour long HBO production and was so popular that it ran for six seasons.

So, how does Oz stack up against some of the most notable HBO productions? Did it influence the shows we know and love today? And why the hell haven’t I heard of it sooner?!

Oz (Oswald State Correctional Facility) is a fictional maximum security prison with most of the central characters based in the experimental Emerald City prison unit. Its purpose is to provide a controlled environment for the violent prisoners, but if there is one thing you’re quick to learn is that there’s no stopping this gang of dangerous criminals. While the show has many references to the Wizard of Oz – it will take more than a pair of glittery red shoes to escape this place.

Oz is basically an amalgamation of some of the best characters in television history, as it’s filled with a range of recognisable faces from HBO shows such as The Wire, Band of Brothers and The Sopranos, as well as several characters from Dexter, Lost, 30 Rock and umpteen films.

One of the most notable characters of the series – and it would be a crime to leave him out – is Augustus Hill (some of you may know him as Michael from Lost) who is a central character throughout the epic series and the narrator of the show. The wheelchair bound murderer had a tough time in Oz and was known as the guy whose heart was always in the right place. While many people who haven’t seen the show would find it difficult to have sympathy for a drug addict and a cop killer, you couldn’t help but admire Augustus and hope that there really were criminals out there like him.

His monologues and character introductions created a whole new dimension to the show, and whilst they often had no direct relation to the stories they often reflected the theme of each episode. I occasionally ask myself whether HBO would use this storytelling method nowadays, and I honestly don’t think they would. It was created in the late 90s – a decade which loved the voice-over; if you don’t believe me then just take a look at Ally McBeal, The Wonder Years or Sex and the City. Would Oz be the same show without it? Probably. But that’s not the point. No other HBO show, in my opinion, has conquered the voice over narrative quite like Oz has.

Augustus Hill

However, there are times when the monologues can become a little self indulgent and while they are an effective literary device, sometimes I feel that they are just added in to fill up a few empty minutes which could be better spent investing in the storylines. The funny monologues undoubtedly offer some light relief to the sometimes dark scenes, but the surreal segments can be too bizarre and occasionally isolate the audience.

The unique thing about Oz is that it’s different to most TV series which are formed on A, B and C characters. The programme does have central characters which you invest in, but there isn’t really one clear protagonist or antagonist – which is probably part of its beauty as they’re all each other’s antagonists. I can practically hear my Creative Writing lecturers screaming at me never to do this – but sometimes doing something different can create something wonderful.

No-one would kill off Tony Soprano in the third season out of six because there would be no show.  Dexter wasn’t going to get caught killing criminals in the first season or there would be no reason to watch it. Liz Lemon is not going to get sacked as Head Writer of the Girly Show because then the format would be screwed. But when it comes to Oz, you should always expect the unexpected. One minute you’re in love with a character, the next minute they’re lying on the floor in a pool of blood – heck, they even killed off the narrator!

The show can sometimes be like a conveyor belt though and they continually feel the need to add in new characters to keep the show fresh – and it works to an extent. However, there can be times where you invest yourself in a character’s story only for them to be killed off after their second or third episode and you won’t hear of them ever again. For example, a priest who was convicted of being a paedophile stayed at Oz to keep safe from society and was killed by an inmate the very same night. Nothing happened to the murderers and his death was never mentioned again. Was this a social comment? Maybe. But it can, at times, be slightly frustrating and is something which the HBO shows following the Oz series have seemingly avoided.

You also won’t watch character transformations quite like it – how often can you watch a straight, quiet lawyer get raped by a Nazi an then fall in love with an Italian man who breaks his legs? Not often. In any other programme you just wouldn’t buy into its absurdity, but I honestly think aliens could move into Emerald City and I’d still believe it. Two of the prisoners were taken over by the Devil and I never even batted an eyelid.

So, has Oz influenced the way HBO create the programmes we know and love today. Who knows? While the show was successful, it was ultimately overshadowed by other fantastic HBO productions. It’s a great shame that it hasn’t received the commercial respect of shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire – because it is up there with the best.

Why was it overshadowed? Probably because the characters you do care about only have a few scenes an episode, so audiences probably invested their time in shows which maintained their interest the whole way through. That’s not to say this show isn’t interesting because it’s anything but boring – but without a protagonist to latch onto then there’s no urgency to switch on the programme. I often found myself searching for a protagonist which I occasionally found in the form of Tobias Beecher – but there would be some episodes when he wasn’t in the show at all. While The Wire didn’t have one protagonist, it did have four central characters (McNulty, Bubbles, Kima and Omar Little). So, Oz’s uniqueness was ultimately its curse.

I think there are some things that worked in Oz and some things that didn’t – and I think HBO learnt lessons from some of the programme’s mistakes – such as cutting out any sign of a penis (I doubt an episode of Oz went by when I didn’t see one). It was the first show of its kind and quite possibly gave HBO the confidence to put their faith into other hard-hitting dramas. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that HBO produced The Sopranos off the back of Oz and then The Wire after that. They identified the need to provide their audience with something they’ve never seen and would probably never see again.

So, is HBO as good as it was back in the late 90s to early 00s? Yes and no. The programmes are still of a consistently high standard, but there hasn’t been a HBO drama that has come close to The Wire and The Sopranos – so you can understand how excited I was to discover Oz. I just wish they’d bring it back.

Words: Lis King

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How does The Woman in Black stack up against the source material?

Spoilers ahead!

First of all, by source material, I am referring to the 1983 book by Susan Hill. I appreciate that there is a very successful stage play that is probably more famous than the original text, but I am going to stick with the book as that is the origin of the story. And I haven’t seen the play.

Screenwriter Jane Goldman has made some quite substantial changes from the book, and I was very sceptical having been a big fan of the structure and pacing of the text. The two biggest changes come at the outset and conclusion of the film and, unfortunately, these are the changes that don’t really work when compared to the book.

In the film, protagonist Arthur has recently lost his wife during childbirth and is a broken man, completely detached from life, and on the verge of being sacked from his job as a solicitor. He is already a shell of a man, and so it wouldn’t take much to believe he could be easily affected by Jennet’s demonic spirit.

In the book, however, Arthur is not married and has no children when he makes the trip to Crythin Gifford to sort out the papers of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. He comes across as a rationally thinking and strong minded young man who has no particular sense of weakness about him. This is what makes The Woman in Black, the text, that bit more chilling. The fact that, in the book, Arthur becomes so overwhelmingly distressed and traumatised by the events at Eel Marsh House, despite being of strong character to start with, shows just how shocking his experiences were. It’s almost as if Arthur’s journey in the film completely reverses that of the book and, to me, the book’s way of doing things works much better.

The Woman in Black

It’s important for a protagonist to go on an emotional journey, but in the film, it’s difficult to see Arthur growing as a person and breaking free from his previous traumas. Granted, he does start to take control when he goes about reuniting Jennet with her son, but even after that he doesn’t come across as any stronger in character. Whether this is down to the screenplay or Daniel Radcliffe’s acting, is unclear. Arthur does find his happiness at the end, to a point, but that brings me to the other major change – the ending.

I hate the term ‘Hollywood ending’, and I feel many films get labelled with it unjustly, but it fits the ending of The Woman in Black perfectly. The book’s dénouement is one that really sticks in the mind because it doesn’t adhere to the usual happy ending formula, whereas the film foregoes this to a certain extent in favour of giving Arthur the happiness he craves.

The film sticks to the text in some respect, in that the WIB continues to take the life of children, this time Joseph, Arthur’s little boy. However, Arthur is also killed in trying to save his son, and we see that he is reunited with his dead wife (his Woman in White). Despite Arthur and his son dying, the film finishes on a high note, but I feel it would have so much more resonance with audiences if it had stuck closer to the book’s finale and either have Arthur witness his son’s death, or them both die and the film finish on Sam’s ashen face at the train station. It’s a strange ending that could leave the viewer wondering how to feel when the lights come up.

There’s also debate as to why the WIB decided to kill Joseph (or rather have Joseph kill himself). The view that I prefer to take is the rather morbid one that Jennet’s vengeful spirit will never stop haunting the village and killing children in her quest for revenge, and that she is angry that Arthur is now at peace with his wife and child. However, it could be argued that she is rewarding Arthur for bringing her and her child back together by doing the same for Arthur and his wife, although this, again, would stray away from the book’s assertion that she is so overcome with grief and anger that she’ll never cease her evil doings.

Arthur at Eel Marsh House

The WIB herself is a topic I took slight issue with in the film. In the book, Arthur sees her no more than half a dozen times, if that, whereas in the film, she seems to be in every other scene at times. This diluted her shock value somewhat towards the end of the film as she too often had a physical presence rather than a spiritual one. What was so effective about the book was that you always felt as if she was there in some form if not a physical one, just watching Arthur and turning him slowly insane.

So far, I’ve spent the vast majority of this blog explaining why the film is inferior to the book, but there are things that the film does very well, and even does better than the book. Having the WIB make the children kill themselves is a very creepy inclusion compared to the book’s simpler ‘a child dies whenever she’s seen’, and actually seeing the children die is another disturbing addition.

Although the pacing of the book was excellent, having watched the film, it seems evident there’s a good chance it would not have transferred quite so well onto the screen and could have seemed a little slow. The film introduces some new scenes, such as Jennet’s son crawling out of the marsh that he drowned in, that contribute well to the story and keep the scare factor high throughout.

Overall, the film works well and is a decent adaptation of the source material. However, at times it seems unable to decide if it wants to embrace the original text or move away from it. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it very much depends on your expectations of the film. Don’t go expecting a totally faithful adaptation or you will likely be disappointed. Instead, just watch it as its own entity and you’ll find a compelling, tense and sometimes terrifying horror film.

Words: Chris Thomson

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