Inside Out 2


As you may recall from 2015's Inside Out, which I consider the last truly great Pixar adventure, the emotion console in 11-year-old Riley's brain featured a red alarm button labeled “Puberty.” That visual gag instantly read as the promise, or threat, of impending sequels, and it's kind of surprising that it took the sequel-devoted animation studio nearly a decade to deliver one. But while director Kelsey Mann's followup can't hope to compete with its predecessor in terms of impact and invention, I'm happy to report that the wait was worth it, because Inside Out 2 is a blast. Easily Pixar's most satisfying entertainment of the decade, it's imaginative, thoughtful, and touching, and if nothing here rips your heart out in the manner of Bing Bong (thank God), you might find yourself laughing even harder than you did during the 2015 classic. The original had almost everything, but it didn't have a French-accented emotion named Ennui, nor a riotous 2D dog and his ambulatory fanny pack.

While it may be nine years later in the real world, only two years have passed as Inside Out 2 begins, and 13-year-old Riley Andersen (beautifully voiced by Kensington Tallman) is a happy, confident kid with loving parents (the returning Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan), a pair of devoted besties (Grace Lu's Grace and Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green's Bree), and fierce ice-hockey skills. The girl's emotional life is still under the supervision, or maybe the control – the movies are a little sketchy in this regard – of the personified emotions that reside in Riley's brain: unelected team leader Joy (Amy Poehler) and her designated underlings Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, subbing for Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira, taking over from Mindy Kaling). Initially, things are looking peachy for Riley, as she and her pals have been invited to attend a weekend hockey camp whose leader is the coach for the high-school team. It's on the night before camp, however, that the dreaded Puberty Alarm goes off, sending Riley's emotions into a panic, and panicking them further when their usual influence wilts against the power of raging hormones.

Enter a whole new set of emotions: Envy (Ayo Edeberi), a squat, fawning motormouth; Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), a silent lunk forever hiding in his hoodie; Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), an iPhone-obsessed layabout too bored for vertical posture; and, most pointedly, Anxiety (Maya Hawke), a hyperactive loon who quickly appropriates Joy's console – or rather, its higher-tech replacement – and sees no reason for Riley's original five emotions to stick around, because she's got this puberty thing, darn it. Before long, Riley is anxious about everything: losing her friends to a different high school; impressing the coach; hitting it off with the team's cool kids. In short, like any new teenager, she's a mess, and things worsen when Anxiety and her cohorts literally jettison Joy and her four partners to the back of Riley's mind where they'll have little chance of returning.

Does this sound a bit familiar? It should, because in essence, it's exactly what happened in the original Inside Out when Joy and Sadness found themselves sucked out of Riley's brain headquarters. What follows in the sequel, then, is another long (but agreeably zippy) trek home while things in Riley's brain go increasingly to Hell, culminating in another extended finale in which Joy discovers that she has to share her emotional responsibilities with others. Given that this was the primary moral of the 2015 movie, it feels a little strange, and disappointing, that Joy would have to learn the same lesson all over again. Yet if Inside Out 2 comes off as somewhat redundant, at least it recaptures a healthy amount of the first film's magic, and even ups the ante in terms of abject hilarity.

Inside Out 2

Although its reveal was spoiled in the trailers, Ennui's initiation of a Sar-chasm in Riley's emotional arsenal yields more mirth than the conceit probably should. Thanks primarily to the frisky nattering between Hawke and Edebiri, the headquarters sequences following Joy and company's expulsion are funny enough to not make us miss our interior heroes when they're not around. The momentary dips into the psyches of Riley's mom and dad, as in the original film, are exemplars of shorthand satire. And as I mentioned to my moviegoing companion, I would have delightedly watched an entire feature devoted to the nutball antics of minor figures in Riley's Memory Vault. One of them is Riley's Dark Secret, whose identity will have to wait at least until Inside Out 3. (Given the girl's apparent crush on the high-school hockey team's star player Val, voiced by Nickelodeon performer Lilimar, I have a suspicion about what that Dark Secret might be.) [June 18 author's note: A friend notified me that Dark Secret's idenity is actually revealed after the film's end credits, so no need to wait for Inside Out 3. Also: My suspicion was incorrect ... for now.] Another is video-game avatar Lance Slashblade (Yong Yea), a self-serious warrior whose sole superpower – the ability to contort into a ball and gently roll into his adversaries – is both pathetic and hysterical.

The best, though, is the 2D cartoon dog Bloofy (Ron Funches), who starred in Riley's favorite animated series from childhood, and made me weep with laughter every time he posed gimme questions to a pre-K audience that, as demonstrated, is no longer around. Okay, I take it back: Bloofy is second-best, the absolute finest gonzo throwaway being the pup's chatty backpack Pouchy (James Austin Johnson), who shows up precisely when required and has a never-ending supply of firecrackers conveniently stuffed down his throat. Forget Inside Out 3. Just give these weirdos their own movie.

As much as I adored the comic escapades, however, they're not designed to grab audiences by the heartstrings, and I was hugely taken aback to find my own heartsrings tugged, and massively, in the most unlikely place. A lovely coming-of-age story with a significant visual kick, Inside Out 2 finds many of the (once-)traditional Pixar feels roaring back to life in the travails of new teen Riley, and it's easy to imagine viewers, principally adult ones, welling up as the girl contends with peer pressure, self-imposed expectations, and presumed abandonment. (There's no room for a veiled exploration of menstruation in this puberty tale – we have Pixar's Turning Red for that.) With their heartbreakingly cadenced vocals, Poehler and Smith also dial the poignancy up to 11. Yet what most destroyed me was something I never imagined seeing: a completely authentic panic attack rendered solely through animation. And it's not even Riley's panic attack. It belongs to Anxiety herself, and watching this comic foil unravel, somehow simultaneously immobile and moving at the speed of light, was an image that fully reinvigorated my faith in Pixar miracles. For a few glorious seconds, I felt as though I was finally understanding an emotional state I'd personally never experienced before, and better still, was understanding it from the inside out.

Stephen Fry and Lena Dunham in Treasure


Aside from both being small-scale independent films brave enough to debut locally against Inside Out 2, not much would seem to connect writer/director Julia von Heinz's Treasure with writer/director Daina O. Pusić's Tuesday. The former is a melancholic road trip in which an adult daughter escorts her Holocaust-survivor father to Poland to revisit locales and memories from his youth. The latter is a fantasy tragedy in which the mother of a cancer-stricken teen wages war against Death itself, personified in the form of a talking macaw that can change sizes at will. Yet the two releases do share an unusually specific characteristic, in that both works star, in dramatic roles, American female actors best known for TV comedy, both of whom play parent/child dynamics against Europeans. Plus, of course, both movies have one-word titles starting with “T.” But let's go with that first happenstance as the rarer one.

The lesser of the pair is Treasure, and most of its problems are the result of miscasting. Lena Dunham's Ruth is a Jewish, New York-based journalist who, as von Heinz's movie opens, is in a Warsaw airport in 1991, and pissed at her dad Edek (Stephen Fry) for missing his previous flight. Ruth stays pissed at Edek for refusing to travel through Poland by train – not realizing the transportation is triggering Holocaust memories – and hiring a private driver (Zbigniew Zamachowski's Stefan) whom Edek calls a “good friend” minutes after their parking-lot introduction. And for almost the entirety of the next two-ish hours, Ruth will remain pissed about damned near everything and everyone, acting as the wettest of blankets as her dad tries to be jovial about visiting the home of his youth and the Auschwitz camp where he and his wife were imprisoned.

There's nothing inherently deal-breaking about an entertainment whose main character is in a perpetually foul mood; the Coen brothers did quite nicely with the scenario in Inside Llewyn Davis, and last I checked, Hamlet wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs. But Ruth appears so clinically clueless about why her father would want to either brush off his daughter's appeals for closure or ignore them entirely that I never believed her as the trenchant investigator she's said to be, her lack of empathy making her equally unconvincing as a 36-year-old sad sack seeking a meaningful bond. And although Dunham makes a serviceable attempt at dramatic acting by steadfastly refusing to smile, she doesn't appear to possess the performance resources necessary to make Ruth's inner pain vivid. Instead, she just comes off as a pill, and von Heinz's ambling, aimless film grinds to a halt every time – and it's most of the time – Dunham sulks and makes bitchy retorts.

Yet the unfortunate surprise of Treasure is that the reliably wonderful Stephen Fry doesn't help matters, or if he does, it's just barely. Fry's natural British dialect frequently bleeding through his imposed Polish one is a hindrance, but not a disability. The bigger issue is that while Edek's abundant forced cheer is occasionally amusing, there's little going on beneath the surface, and Fry can't seem to locate the reserves of buried misery and trauma that would make the character's journey engaging. Like Ruth, Edek isn't written with a great deal of depth; he's simply gregarious and charming until he suddenly isn't. But there's a fundamental lack of weight in Edek's scenes of reminiscence, and his theoretically heartrending catharsis demonstrates a truism: It's fundamentally less moving to watch characters cry than to watch them attempt to not cry. When Stephen Fry began blubbering here, my tear ducts instantly dried up, and I found myself more affected by the quiet goodbye to the chauffeur Stefan than any effects the mismatched Fry and Dunham delivered. Those Auschwitz vistas are arresting in their evocative horror – how could they not be? – and there's certainly noble intention behind Treasure. What's on-screen, however, is bland and unsatisfying, and that's when it's not actively annoying.

Lola Petticrew and "Death" in Tuesday

Meanwhile, those with a low tolerance for thematically on-point tragi-whimsy might be actively annoyed all throughout Tuesday, and in the past, that demographic has certainly included me. (The 2015 Sundance hit Me & Earl & the Dying Girl remains a low point of my 21st-century moviegoing.) Yet Pusić's achievement is just bizarre and upsetting and funny enough to make me reconsider the genre. As mentioned, this film's Death (voiced by Arinzé Kene) is a size-shifting macaw who sends the dying off with one gentle wave of his wing, and in an introductory prelude, we see that his human charges greet his arrival with fear, anger, outrage, or, in one instance, a wad of carefully directed spit. When he comes upon 15-year-old leukemia sufferer Tuesday (Lola Petticrew), however, the tired-of-being-sick Brit has a different response: She tells Death a penguin joke, and a surprisingly decent one. After a beat, the winged creature roars with laughter, and delays Tuesday's passing by sharing anecdotes and listening to Ice Cube, agreeing not to end the girl's life until she's had time to adequately prepare her single mom Zora. Because she's played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Zora possesses many admirable qualities. Accepting her daughter's imminent demise isn't one of them, and before long, it's a one-on-one battle between human woman and (presumably) male Death, and as Tuesday reaches its mid-point, it appears that the human might've won. For many, many reasons, it's not a pretty sight.

Pusić, a Croatian writer/director making her feature debut, appears to boast a frightening amount of imagination, and much of her first film is just plain frightening. Zora's apparent removal of Death assuredly is, particularly in the jaw-dropping violence inflicted, but so is Pusić's examination of what a world without death would actually mean, the skies blackened by insects and no relief found in formerly fatal injuries. (I can't remove the image of a shrieking, legless man crawling across the street from memory, nor the blessedly un-visualized recollection of Tuesday's nurse being barked at by a severed dog's head.) And her notion of Death as a filthy, belching bird is the gift that keeps on giving. Kene performs wonders with his vocal duties, allowing us to hear the exhaustion in the macaw's experience along with his sometimes fiery temper and unanticipated bent towards sardonicism. (“I love sarcasm,” he tells Tuesday. “Is that sarcasm?” she asks. “Yes.”) It's the visual effects, though, that make this otherworldly being consistently riveting. The bird-ification of Death involves some of the most stunningly well-crafted animation I've seen in years, and it makes sense when characters can't quite meet his eye line, because you don't quite know where to focus, either.

Despite the action growing a tad repetitive toward the finale, Pusić's film is ingenious and playful, and for a full-length cinematic metaphor – this is what happens when you wish Death would simply go away forever – it rarely feels heavy-handed. The only area in which the movie really falters is in the casting, although the deficiencies are less pronounced here than they are in Treasure. Petticrew is touching and direct, yet the 28-year-old is in no way believable as someone too young for a driver's license. And although 63-year-old Louis-Dreyfus isn't inherently unconvincing as the mother of a 15-year-old, her American-ness in this resolutely English tale is oddly never addressed, and she and Petticrew feel less like mother and daughter than admirably committed co-stars. Still, they're a more solid team of faux relations than Dunham and Fry, and Tuesday will no doubt be remembered long after the latter's pair's dreary travelogue has been forgotten. Good luck getting Zora's final solution to the Death problem out of your head. I didn't want to eat for the rest of the day.

The Blue Angels


Between Richard Linklater's sensational Hit Man streaming on Netflix alongside the delightfully randy rom-com Anyone but You, the omnipresent trailers for next month's Twisters, a major New York Times profile, and the guy posing with his puppy on a recent page of People magazine, you couldn't get away from Glen Powell even if you wanted to. At this present stage in his global takeover, I still don't want to. But when watching director Paul Crowder's feature-length infomercial The Blue Angels, I was less surprised than astounded to see Powell listed among the movie's five producers, because … really? A cast member from Top Gun: Maverick helped produce a 90-minute advertisement for Navy aviators and it wasn't Tom Cruise? Damn. Glen Powell really is the go-to guy these days.

I missed The Blue Angels during its brief IMAX engagement last month, but caught up with it on Prime Video a few weeks later, and am only covering it now because the documentary is currently playing at Davenport's The Last Picture House, and nearly any excuse to visit that venue is a good one. But let's be clear that “documentary” isn't precisely what Crowder's outing is: It's more accurately a commercial, and as these things go, a fairly inoffensive one. In this deep(-ish) dive into the U.S. Navy's flight-demonstration squadron founded in 1946, we're presented with loads of factoids on the aerial team's history, popularity, and public service, with more than a dozen blandly friendly talking heads offering personal reflections on their training and performance regimen. No one's personality pops, but that makes sense given the project's mission, and also makes you understand why movies of the Top Gun variety give their characters one (and generally only one) characteristic through which you can identify them: the hothead; the comedian; the woman. Unless you're looking for genuine insight or complexity, there's nothing in this G-rated release that could conceivably ruffle any feathers, and the CGI-free IMAX photography is legitimately impressive, with cinematographer Jessica Young's camera providing a crystalline beauty to the aerial images. Crowder's aural design is also topnotch, and I imagine the film looks and sounds fantastic on a Last Picture House screen. I wish I cared enough to find out for myself.

Despite the technical brio, though, The Blue Angels is so strategically designed, so wall-to-wall “Isn't this cool?!”, that it ultimately only sends the same message as those current U.S. military ads that precede every feature at the Davenport Cinemark cineplex: Enlist, and enlist now. I was grateful when Crowder's movie spent a scant few minutes reminding us that tragedy has occasionally befallen the Blue Angels, and quite enjoyed the scenes of potential recruits forced into punishing G-force conditions in preparation for their flights; for a spell, the film lands in The Right Stuff territory, and it's a kick. Even then, however, the candidates pass through their physical-training trauma with flying colors, and whatever hardships are endured by the pilots' spouses and kids is left theoretical, give or take a manipulatively positioned teary-eyed child or two. I don't glean any nefarious intent on the filmmakers' part, but this thing is still 90 solid minutes of selling. As Matt Zoller Seitz reminds us in his Blue Angels review at, legendary critic Pauline Kael famously called the original Top Gun “a recruiting poster that isn't concerned with recruiting but with being a poster.” The Blue Angels, in contrast, is wholly concerned with recruiting. I'm not sure that's an upgrade.

Andrew McCarthy in Brats


As a 56-year-old who has The Breakfast Club practically committed to memory and who modeled his entire collegiate wardrobe on Judd Nelson's John Bender ensemble (I wore frayed short-sleeve, red-and-black flannel over a long-sleeve, white cotton shirt at least once a week), I cannot begin to express how psyched I was by the prospect of Brats. A Brat Pack doc! Conceived and directed by Andrew McCarthy! About the guy reconnecting with his 1980s cohorts – some of them for the first time in more than three decades! Unreasonably high expectations, unfortunately, have a habit of biting us in the ass. So it's with a heavy heart that I say that Brats (currently streaming on Hulu) is a thoroughly dispiriting experience, and at times a really unpleasant one, because McCarthy seems almost maniacally unaware of what kind of movie he's actually making. His subjects aren't, though, and appear to see the film for precisely what it is: a masturbatory exercise in Andrew exorcising demons that they, themselves, aren't personally haunted by. Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and others of that era have done wonderful work over the years, but here, they're utterly cringey when forced to approximate varying degrees of pity.

Brats' entire conceit rests on the premise that McCarthy – and, purportedly, all of his peers – were incensed when New York Magazine author David Blum published his 1985 inside scoop on that generation of up-and-coming stars semi-mockingly christened the “Brat Pack”: Andrew, Rob, Demi, Judd, Molly, Emilio, Ally, and others whom we all quickly knew by first name alone. As McCarthy explains in the first of many whiny reveals to the camera, he's been forever tormented by the “Brat Pack” sobriquet, believing that it caused him and his generation to be devalued by the press and the industry, and consequently unable to be taken seriously afterward. So he decides to reach out to his old pals and “pals” to gauge their interest in participating in on-camera discussions of how the “Brat Pack” moniker lingered and harmed them. In the movie's most amusing montage, for the actors whose phone numbers he has access to, McCarthy gets everyone's voicemail. But responses eventually trickle in, at which point McCarthy sets up meetings that he'll film, presumably in getting to the bottom of the “Brat Pack” nonsense. It doesn't go as planned. But only McCarthy seems blind to that.

Emilio Estevez, who doesn't even grant McCarthy the courtesy of sitting down for the interview, stands in his kitchen and tells the filmmaker that he has long moved past the mid-'80s insult, if it even was one. Ally Sheedy, looking incandescently lovely, smiles her widest and says “Aw-w-w-w!” when McCarthy details his unrequited crush on her. Lea Thompson tells the guy she would have loved to have been a member of the Brat Pack. Demi Moore attempts to sensibly talk him down from his anger. Class-mate Rob Lowe smiles sadly and attests that friends of his have admitted to always being “Andrew McCarthy guys” in terms of preference. (There is no way, at any point ever, that a friend of Rob Lowe's would claim to prefer Andrew McCarthy.) Timothy Hutton nods and sympathizes and listens as McCarthy tells him, “All I ever wanted in life was to be seen. See me.”

Demi Moore and Andrew McCarthy in Brats

What is going on here? Did McCarthy actually make a 90-minute documentary just so he could get long-delayed affirmation? (Among the potential participants who weren't interviewed, or perhaps declined to be, are Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Mare Winningham, John Cusack, James Spader, and Academy Award winner Robert Downey Jr.) Fellow Gen X-ers, let's be blunt: Andrew McCarthy was always the least charismatic, most one-note Brat Pack-er, so his career's diminishing returns, frankly, weren't all that unexpected. Don't try telling that to McCarthy, though, because he feels royally shafted, and it's grim viewing watching him try to make his failure a collective failure, never once referencing, say, Lowe in The West Wing and Parks & Recreation, or Moore in Ghost and A Few Good Men, or Sheedy's Indie Spirit Award-winning turn in High Art. Doing so would ruin his thesis that David Blum's article destroyed them all, and I was never happier during Brats than when McCarthy finally met up with his nemesis and the man refused to apologize for something he wrote when he was a 29-year-old journalist-on-the-rise. Why should he? It's not like the New York Magazine subjects were duped – they knew they were talking to an interviewer. What seems to primarily irk McCarthy is simply the group nickname, and that obviously didn't derail the careers of his more gifted contemporaries.

Besides which, people – especially those of us in the age range of 61-year-old McCarthy – love the Brat Pack! They're at least partially responsible for some of our most cherished entertainments as young adults, a point that Brats at least has sense enough to make. So really, it all comes back to Andrew McCarthy feeling unappreciated, and his film invites the question: What does he want? A career rejuvenation? An honorary Oscar? A hug? (Emilio begrudgingly gives him one.) Despite the tenor of this review, I do think Brats is worth seeing. Beyond the inherent nostalgic appeal, there's a terrific segment with interviewee Malcolm Gladwell, Jon Cryer offers some sound quasi-advice on McCarthy's plight, and there are '80s film clips for days. Just be prepared for an uninvited, perhaps unwanted exploration into, in McCarthy's words, the “post-traumatic stress” of young-adult fame in which one visibly contented peer after another is all but strong-armed into telling the desperately needy filmmaker exactly what he wants, and clearly needs, to hear. Given how much McCarthy loathes the term “Brat Pack,” I'm rather astonished that he chose Brats as his doc's title. Far more appropriate would've been the title of The Breakfast Club's signature song: “Don't You (Forget About Me).”

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