Jun 19

“Inside Out”: Animated Kids (and Adults) Identify Emotions

The new and apparently not-to-be-missed Disney Pixar movie Inside Out  is about emotions: most specifically, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, Sadness—the inhabitants of child Riley’s “Headquarters,” her mind’s control center.

Gregory Ellwood, Hitfix: “[Riley’s] birth spurs the creation of the first emotion, Joy (Amy Poehler), but as she grows, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) arrive to balance out her emotional makeup. Each has a key role to play in Riley’s life, but it’s Joy who diligently makes it her responsibility to command the team and keep her as happy as possible.”

Yes, Joy is usually Riley’s dominant emotion, but when her parents (Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane) take their family from the Midwest to San Francisco, she experiences an adjustment crisis of sorts. That’s when other emotions take more control. A.O. Scott, New York Times: “Each one has a necessary role to play, and they all carry out their duties in Riley’s neurological command center with the bickering bonhomie of workplace sitcom colleagues.”

For info about the brain and emotions, the film’s creators consulted various experts. Co-director Peter Docter told NPR they used the emotions model of psychologist Paul Ekman, who long ago had identified a total of six. Docter, however, cut that down to five when he decided that surprise is similar enough to fear.

More about the film’s plot and structure from Jessica Kiang, The Playlist:

…(T)he inner landscape is where the film’s real dizzying imagination and loopy humor comes into play, as Joy voyages through the Long Term Memory (complete with an irritating gum commercial jingle that becomes a recurring joke), crosses terrain like Abstract Thought (where she briefly becomes a Cubist representation of herself, then a 2D collection of shapes, then a line), rides a Train of Thought, and passes divertingly through Dreamland, which is rendered as a movie studio, of course, complete with lovely in-jokey references to Hitchcock. And most touchingly of all, with a sweet nod back to the arc of the ‘Toy Story’ films, she teams up with Riley’s childhood imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who drives a makeshift rocket powered by song; it’s quite something to sense an entire theater full of hardened film hacks reduced to lachrymose sniffling messes by the fate of a cat/dolphin/elephant hybrid in a silly hat.

Sadness is particularly crucial in Inside Out. “Unless Sadness is acknowledged and is permitted to take the wheel,” states reviewer Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, “there can be no happiness and no growing up.”

Watch a brief clip about Sadness:

Several other clips have also been made available. Here’s one that focuses on Disgust and Anger:

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

‘Inside Out’ is an absolute delight — funny and charming, fast-moving and full of surprises. It is also a defense of sorrow, an argument for the necessity of melancholy dressed in the bright colors of entertainment. The youngest viewers will have a blast, while those older than Riley are likely to find themselves in tears. Not of grief, but of gratitude and recognition. Sadness, it turns out, is not Joy’s rival but her partner. Our ability to feel sad is what stirs compassion in others and empathy in ourselves. There is no growth without loss, and no art without longing.

Oct 01

“The Skeleton Twins”: Each Sibling Has Become Suicidal

According to the website for Craig Johnson‘s new film The Skeleton Twins, “Family is a cruel joke.”

Johnson places his emphasis here on the relationship between a brother and sister (Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader). Critic Andrew O’Hehir calls this new film “a potent sibling dramedy,” and Jonathan Kim (The Huffington Post) says it’s “movie siblings (finally) done right.”

Wiig and Hader, both well known for their stints on Saturday Night Live, are not, however, playing characters who have fun-filled lives. We know right from the start, in fact, that each is having serious suicidal thoughts. More like “Saturday Night Dead,” quips Richard Corliss, Time.

Geoff Berkshire, Variety, explains the plot further:

Aspiring actor Milo lives in Los Angeles and is fresh out of a failed relationship, while Maggie is a New York dental hygenist in a seemingly happy marriage to gregarious guy’s-guy Lance (Luke Wilson). Of the two, Milo is the one who goes through with it, slitting his wrists in a bathtub. It’s a phone call informing her that her brother is in the hospital that pulls Maggie back from the brink. She rushes to his side and, after some initial awkwardness, the ice is broken by a memorable gag involving ‘Marley and Me,’ effectively demonstrating their shared sense of humor.

Turns out they’ve been estranged for 10 years. Nevertheless, Milo lets his sister bring him back to Nyack, New York, the area where they grew up.

THE SKELETON TWINS

Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle: “The twins share a dark sense of humor, and both grapple with why and how their lives became detached not just from each other, but from the paths of promise they thought were in store for them.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “Milo uses humor as a natural defense mechanism, even if it doesn’t always mask the grimace of discomfort, while the more outwardly thorny Maggie subjects herself and everyone around her to wild mood swings. ‘Landmines, dude,’ explains Lance, about the challenges of navigating his wife’s volatility.”

Things are gradually revealed in this film that would have had more impact on me, I think, if I hadn’t read the reviews beforehand. For the sake of those who need to have certain info, though, in order to assess whether to see a dysfunctional-family movie, I will give some basic specifics—starting now—including that their mom (Joanna Gleason) is New-Agey, self-involved, and unavailable and that their dad killed himself when they were teens.

For therapy buffs (is there such a thing?), we learn in a brief scene that Milo and Maggie were sent to a shrink way back when. And that they didn’t respond so well to continually being asked to journal, journal, journal.

MORE ABOUT MILO 

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “When he was 15, Milo was seduced by his high school English teacher (Ty Burrell), who is now back in the closet, with a 16-year-old son and trying to make his latest heterosexual relationship work. Milo’s return to Nyack unsettles this secret-laden educator, who now works in a bookstore.”

MORE ABOUT MAGGIE

Richard Corliss, Time: “She hides her grief behind a suburban housewife’s little festival of passive-aggressive behavior. In a particularly desperate moment, she screams into a pillow. And when she tells Lance ‘I love you,’ she means ‘I want to love you but can’t.” Lance, who everyone agrees is the most decent guy in the world, has a knitted-brow heartiness that grates on Maggie. Not his fault: his jock adolescence matured into love for this sweet, strange woman he can’t quite understand.”

MORE ABOUT LANCE

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “One of the most rewarding aspects of ‘Skeleton Twins’ is the unlikely alliance that sprouts between Lance and Milo, two guys who could hardly be more different. It would have been awfully easy to make Lance a homophobic jerk, but he doesn’t seem bothered by Milo’s sexuality at all. Instead he’s a decent, loving man with relatively modest aspirations, who has to come to grips with the fact that he barely knows the woman who claims to love him but has repeatedly lied to him.”

SELECTED REVIEWS

Jonathan Kim, Huffington Post: “The Skeleton Twins is very funny, but with touching and heartfelt scenes to go along with the film’s themes of suicide, depression, disappointment, and infidelity. And there are other themes that most adults, particularly siblings, will relate to — the fear that you peaked in high school, the disappointments of adulthood, wondering if you’re the most screwed up of your siblings, the difficulties of being true to yourself, and the questions and chasms left behind by an absent parent.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “…The Skeleton Twins gets it right. Warm, funny, heartfelt and even uplifting, the film is led by revelatory performances from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, both of them exploring rewarding new dramatic range without neglecting their mad comedic skills.”

Geoff Berkshire, Variety: “…’The Skeleton Twins’ captures the way siblings develop their own unique comedic shorthands in a way few films ever have. Johnson also nails the flip side of that tight link: They’re capable of hurting each other like no one else can.”

Jan 19

Stop Smoking: “SNL” Spoofs the Prescription of Chantix

You can stop smoking with nicotine replacement strategies such as the “patch”—or not. Recent research into the attempts of real smokers to quit seems to show that these may not be very effective in the long-term.

This is just one of the latest reports, so common in health-related news, that could leave consumers bewildered. After all, there are many who prefer this method. But let’s face it: smoking, just like any other type of addiction, doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all remedy. Each individual must look at the various options and then decide what might work best for him or her.

Besides nicotine replacement, the options include acupuncture, hypnosis, aversion therapy, and cold turkey, to name just a few.

You can also stop smoking with the prescription of medications—or not. From WebMD: The drug Chantix has been shown to be “an effective way for smokers to kick the habit without resorting to taking nicotine in other forms, according to two new studies.”

How does it work? “It acts at sites in the brain affected by nicotine to do two things: It mimics the effects of nicotine to help stave off cravings and, when used with nicotine, it blocks some of the reinforcing, pleasurable effects of smoking.”

A common course of treatment is 12 weeks, or longer if needed.

Below is a recent Saturday Night Live parody (with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader) of an ad for Chantix. Note: I present this as a general spoof of drug companies’ warnings about side effects and not as a potential disincentive to stop smoking using whatever methods feel appropriate for you.