A young girl navigates a cross-country move with the help of five personifications of emotion who run her mind (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear), though when an accident isolates Joy and Sadness deep in her mind, they have to come to terms with each other in order to find their way out.
Pixar, Pixar, Pixar. The studio isn’t flawless, and lately it seems on a gentle downward decline in quality, in that it’s now sometimes producing serviceable and interesting films instead of great ones. But there’s always the hope that any new given Pixar movie will be another classic. Director Pete Docter helmed Up and Monsters, Inc. for the studio, so he’s no slouch at action, comedy, drama, or heartstring-tugging. And the voice cast is a pretty choice selection of comedy talent, with Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith as the interior emotions crew.
The film’s première isn’t set until Cannes in May.
This is weird to say about a Pixar project, but… that latest trailer looks weirdly sexist. (Ha ha, Dad is a clueless mope who doesn’t listen when women talk! He’s busy thinking about sports, and then he has to pretend he’s listening! Wow, Mom is kind of a whiny nag!) And the jokes are corny, and Joy looks like a kid’s scrawly drawing of Tinker Bell, and the whole concept is familiar from Herman’s Head. Let’s be frank: Pixar has earned immense goodwill over the years, and Pete Docter’s name carries plenty of weight. But if this exact same trailer came from any other studio, we’d all be dismissing this film as regressive, cheesy, and potentially desperate.
ANTICIPATION RATING: 8.5
Still, the Pixar is strong with this one. Anticipating the studio’s films is a long and well-rewarded habit at this point.
A leathery ex-con wallows in lost chances, subsisting on regret and an IV drip of liquor. The film tracks his attempts to get his life back together, which ally him with a precocious child and bring him back into contact with his estranged son. With the aid of a friendly bank teller, A.J. Manglehorn might be able to leave his lost love behind and salvage what’s left of his soul.
The two big names in the game belong to director David Gordon Green and Al Pacino. Though their filmographies both have smatterings of wrong moves and misfires, they’re clearly capable of great work. Pacino showed flashes of his 1970s-era greatness in this year’s The Humbling and Green’s last two films, Joe and Prince Avalanche, were a return to form after his run of god-awful stoner comedies.
Our own Mike D’Angelo was none too fond of the film when he caught it at TIFF last September. Short version: “…really not very good.” Long version: “What starts out as an offbeat character study devolves into a facile redemption narrative—a more ruinous variation on Joe’s trajectory, and further proof that Green and cinematographer Tim Orr do their best work when untethered to anything but small-town lethargy and dreaminess.”
Momma always said that an Al Pacino performance is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get. Will Overacting Pacino rant and rave his way through another turkey, or will Actually Trying Pacino imbue this hardened shell of a man with humanity and compassion? Though the film’s premise seems a little cut-and-dried, D’Angelo noted the attention to detail in Pacino’s performance.
ANTICIPATION RATING: 5.3
We’re clearly putting even odds on the “which Pacino” question, which averages out to average anticipation.
Max is a German Shepherd mix trained as a working dog to accompany Marines in Afghanistan. Needless to say, he has a ruff time of it, returning to American with PTSD after his handler dies in combat. The soldier’s family takes possession of Max, but it takes the care of a once-apathetic, videogame-playing layabout kid (Josh Wiggins) to bring the temperamental pup back to its old self. Is the family healing the dog, or vice versa? Viewers don’t need Max’s superior olfactory abilities to sniff this plot out.
Max’s poster and trailer trumpet its soul-stirring bona fides: “From the director of Remember The Titans” (read: you will be inspired) and “the producer of Marley & Me” (read: the dog almost certainly dies at the end, so bring Kleenex). Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church are among the supporting cast, though, so lighter moments are a possibility.
Nothing yet. This is classic summer counter-programming on the part of MGM and Warner Bros., burying the movie in late June like the proverbial dog bone, with the expectation that families—especially military families—might do some digging.
Once upon a time, Boaz Yakin was the thoughtful, up-and-coming director of the inner-city drama Fresh and the early Renée Zellweger showcase A Price Above Rubies. Perhaps Max will have him working again on a more intimate scale, but his résumé since (screenplays for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, directing credits for Uptown Girls and the not-Todd Haynes Safe) suggests otherwise.
ANTICIPATION RATING: 3.3
Dogs? Yay. Hero dogs? Double-yay. Heartwarming stories about heroic dogs helping our troops and boosting military spirits? We’re on board. Tearjerking movies that use all this dog-related enthusiasm to manipulate audiences? ’Scuse us, we’re going to go take our dogs to the park.