The Morning After: Jan. 2, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Coco


With a few exceptions, Pixar is one of the most creative and inventive studios ever, and the only produce animated features. Coco explores the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday wherein families revere their ancestors so that they may cross back into the realm of the living one night a year.

The story centers on Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), the youngest generation in a noted family of shoemakers. His passion is music, but his family has forbidden it because of a event that happened four generations prior. Hoping to win an annual contest to prove he has what it takes to become a successful musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), Miguel attempts to steal Ernesto’s guitar from his mausoleum, which curses him to land of the dead where he must find his family and earn their blessing to return to the realm of the living.

Vibrant and gorgeous, Coco is a mesmerizing and inventive drama about finding your path when everyone in your life is forcing you down a different one. The story is richly complex with twists and turns at regular intervals. That all of them are largely predictable speaks to the success and familiarity of the Pixar formula. If the film suffers at all, it is the telegraphing of those events. That doesn’t make them any less powerful as the film is certainly filled with emotional depth.

Some minor design elements are reminiscent of Pixar’s prior success, Inside Out, but that doesn’t mean that such things aren’t stunning in their detail and complexity. There has never been a Pixar film with this level of artistic complexity and that merely confirms the greatest strengths of this particular animation house.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials


When looking at young adult adaptations, the Maze Runner series is one of the more consistently engaging. Set in a dystopian future where a virus has wiped out large swaths of the population, a group of teenagers who are immune to it are tossed into a vast maze as part of an experiment to find a cure.

The second film in the series follows where the previous left off with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow maze survivors fleeing into the waiting arms of a group that provides maze escapees a safe haven. Alongside survivors of other mazes, Thomas unravels a new mystery that indicates their safety is ephemeral. As the break out of the facility and enter the vast desolate landscape of the Scorch, they begin to discover that things on the outside are desperate, but being free of the operatives of the medical experimenters at WCKD is significantly more important.

The film stands as a solid second chapter of the story. There isn’t much meat to the narrative, but the survival of these characters wins out over the frustration of the simplicity of the story. Several dramatic elements are telegraphed early and make for a modestly predictable run; however, the end result is still an engaging and diverting adventure.

Downsizing


Alexander Payne has made some fascinating comedies across his career, but Downsizing might be his most even, even if it is his most creative one. The story takes place in the near-future where society’s resources are dwindling and scientists are attempting to find a way to save the planet. When they stumble upon a miniaturization process that reduces biological lifeforms to a fraction of the size, new communities spring up to house them.

Downsizing stars Matt Damon as the down-on-his-luck occupational therapist whose financial system is dire leading he and his wife (Kristen Wiig) to agree to convert their worldly possessions into currency in order to downsize and move into a world where their paltry existence translates into abundant riches. That security is short lived and soon Damon is on his own forced to work at a call center and contend with a raucous upstairs neighbor before meeting a dissident (Hong Chau) forced to downsize by a tyrannical foreign regime.

There are a lot of broad and complex ideas floating around Downsizing and Payne struggles to settle on which narrative is most compelling. The first half of he film is a slog, dragging its beats out to unnecessary lengths, frustrating the curious audience in the process. We want to know what this process of downsizing is all about, but we get almost professorial detail on the subject making this feel like a college instruction course rather than a feature film.

Damon is an adequate vessel for the loser at the center of the story, but Chau is the film’s true winner. Arriving around the half-way point, Chau’s character is a breath of fresh air in a stilted narrative. Everything comes alive with her arrival and the film finally starts moving at a steady and energized pace. This is a film that feels like it’s split between two concepts. The strange idea of shrinking people paired with headier ideals like overpopulation, totalitarianism, and other political concepts. It almost superficially explores the grey areas of scientific advancement while presenting an inventive, if often frustrating narrative.

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