Movie review: Incredibles 2 (2018)

Often sequels are a bad idea. Incredibles 2 is not one of those bad ideas. The movie is quite engaging and entertaining. I loved the expressions on Baby Jack-Jack’s face, the ways he kept his dad up all hours of the night, and his stay with Aunt Edna—the family’s designer of their superhero suits. I liked Aunt Edna (aka Edna E Mode) too.

At the opening of the movie, our superhero family is in the midst of saving the world: father Mr. Incredible, mother Elastigirl, daughter Violet, son Dash, and baby Jack-Jack. (In all fairness, Jack-Jack wasn’t involved in any world saving. Yet.) They, of course, save the day. But the villain gets away. And the world doesn’t rejoice.

In fact, supers—as superheroes are called—are illegal. Throughout the world. They are banned due to the damage they inflict on the world.

But a billionaire businessman of a telecommunications company approaches them, offering to be their sponsor of sorts. His late father loved superheroes and had phones with direct lines to them. This is before the supers were banned. According to this businessman (Winston Deavor), all supers need is good PR. Then the public would come to their senses and make supers legal again.

How to run this PR campaign? Well, Mr. Incredible is all gung-ho to get started. But no, no. As a man, Mr. Incredible would not do as the face of the campaign. But his wife, Elastigirl, would. An interesting twist of events that parallels the rise of female superheroes in other recent movies, female politicians in the US, and women actors. Yes, 2018 was the year of the woman, even cartoon women.

The PR campaign is rather a commentary on the role of women in movies. Once upon a time, a lead role by a woman, especially in action movies or ones involving heroes that save the day, was unheard of. Strong women were not seen as good box office draws—until actually it turned out that they were. Incredibles 2 clearly pokes fun at this with the PR campaign that focuses on putting Elastigirl front and center.

It really isn’t all that radical for a wife and mother to be working or the sole breadwinner. This is the late 2010s. But I felt that I had fallen down a wormhole back to the 1980s. (In fact, I had. The Incredibles movies are set in the 1960s/1970s.) Mr. Incredible was crushed that he wouldn’t be out there battling villains. He had to take second seat to his wife and relinquish the limelight to her.

He belatedly offered to stay home and take care of the kids: helping them with their new math homework, fixing relationship problems, and watching the baby constantly. He seemed to be a bit insecure and nurse a fragile ego. And, of course, there were jokes about the work to care for kids as not being hard work (until he actually had to do it).

The daughter Violet deals with her own relegation to the stereotypical lesser female role. She and her brother Dash are left to care for the baby. And then Dash leaves her to babysit. (Later she arranges things so he has to look after the baby while she goes off to fight the bad guys.)

All in all, Incredibles 2 was an enjoyable watch. I already miss Elastigirl answering a call from Dash about where his shoes were while she was on her motorcycle chasing bad guys, or Mr. Incredible staying up all night to learn new math so he could help Dash do his homework.

And I miss the artistic Edna Mode with her large glasses, pageboy haircut, and kimono. She is the quintessential creative designer type.

She causally notes that Mr. Incredible’s way of placating Jack-Jack and preventing him from transfiguration by giving him a cookie is not a good solution. “Any solution involving cookies will inevitably result in the demon baby.”

Her solution is a creative one. Whenever Jack-Jack bursts into flames from anger, his superhero suit encases him in a fire retardant. “The fire retardant is blackberry-lavender, darling. Effective, edible, and delicious.”

I am already looking forward to another sequel. I hope it doesn’t take as long as the last one (fourteen years). I need more Edna in my life.

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Movie review: The Incredibles (2004)

Action movies. Animation. The two come together in The Incredibles. Either genre has die-hard followers—think of the influx of action movies in the past decade or the movies of Hayao Miyazaki such as Spirited Away. I occasionally enjoy a well-made action or animated movie, but I am not a rabid fan of either. (Well, Spirited Away might be the exception.)

But I LOVE The Incredibles.

I am not sure why it took me so look to watch this 2004 film. Perhaps because of the oversaturation of action, super-hero movies and the fan-base that goes with them. (I do tend to shy away from the latest fads gripping popular culture until years after the hubbub has died away.)

The Incredibles is set in the 1960s—home décor screams the colors and designs of that era and the division of labor by sexes suggests it too. Superheroes abound in the world but after the destruction that accompanies them saving the world, they are banned. Outlawed. The supers are relocated in witness protection programs. They start their lives over as ordinary people, blending in as much as possible.

Sandwiched between saving the world and this ban, Mr. Incredible marries Elastagirl. They fully embrace their non-superhero identities as The Parrs.

The movie fast forwards fifteen years. The ban has long been in effect. Bob (Mr. Incredible) is slowly being crushed under the weight of being a normal Joe, a cog in the corporate wheel. Helen is a stay at-home home with three kids in a house with avocado-colored décor. (Yes, the 1960s.)

Bob occasionally gets together with his former superhero colleague Frozone. The two friends go bowling, which is actually code for listening to police scanners. They try to respond to dire situations without getting caught. Sometimes they are not so lucky.

Bob ends up fired from his job where he approves or rejects insurance claims—he is suppose to reject all but finds ways to help customers get approval. (Probably a background in helping others is NOT good for excelling at rejecting insurance claims.) His firing isn’t the only secret he keeps from his wife Helen.

He is contacted by Mirage, a former superhero, about a new gig—capturing a robot gone rogue. He jumps at the chance to be Mr. Incredible again. All is well until it turns out that the guy behind the request is a former fan that he spurned—a geeky kid now all grown up with technological toys.

Meanwhile, Helen has discovered that Mr. Incredible’s old suit had been repaired. Curious she calls up Edna Mode, the ultra-hip designer of their suits, to have a chat. Helen learns that Edna designed new suits for the entire family. With a tracking device linked to the suits, Helen finds Mr. Incredible, now a captive on a volcanic island owned by the formerly spurned fan. (Could this be a more 1960s action movie plot? James Bond anyone?)

The family unites to battle the foe, which spills over from the island to the mainland. Clearly, they are violating the ban on superheroes. In the end, they vanquish the foe, only to have another one appear. But that foe, it appears, is for another movie.

My favorite part of the movie? Edna Mode. Her character is such a delight. (She does kind of have a cult following it seems.) She has some of the best lines. “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.” She is adamant on her designs. Capes are out. She calmly lists all the superheroes who died thanks to capes that got caught in something or other. And you do not argue with Edna. When she asks you to stop by in an hour, you stop by in an hour. To do otherwise is unthinkable.

The benefit to watching a popular movie years after it released? The sequel is already out. No fourteen years of waiting for it. More Incredibles and Edna Mode awaits.

Movie review: Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent is a visual treat. The film covers the year after Vincent van Gogh’s death with flashbacks to van Gogh’s final days in Auvers.

Loving Vincent is not a normal documentary. It is an animation painted by 100 artists. The story takes place in van Gogh type paintings. In fact, you will recognize scene after scene as the story unfolds: Starry Night, The Bedroom of Arles, Café Terrance at Night, The Yellow House, The Night Café, Wheatfield with Crows, and many more. To watch Loving Vincent is to watch van Gogh’s paintings scroll by. (He produced 800 paintings during his lifetime.) In contrast, flashbacks appear as black and white pen sketches rather than as brushstrokes in the van Gogh style.

In the main story, postman Joseph Rouline sends his son Armand to deliver a letter to Theo, van Gogh’s brother with whom Vincent was close. The letter was returned to sender. Armand leaves for Paris but quickly discovers the reason for the letter’s return: Theo died not long after Vincent passed away.

Armand is eager to find someone to give the letter to. He tracks down the man who supplied Vincent with his paints, but Pere Tanguy is not willing to take the letter. Instead, he directs Armand to the doctor in Auvers that treated Vincent.

Off to Auvers he goes wanting to be done with this whole adventure. Only what he finds in Auvers sucks him in. Suddenly he wants to understand Van Gogh’s last year of life and why he killed himself. Stories he hears from various people do not add up and in some cases contradict one other. Who is telling the truth? Who is covering up facts? What exactly happened? Did Vincent kill himself or was he shot by someone else?

The image developed of Vincent is of a genius. Unfortunately, he was raised by harsh, unloving parents who did not see, understand, or nurture his talents. Vincent didn’t take up the brush or an interest in painting until he was 28. By 37, he was dead of a gunshot wound. In between those times, he suffered from breakdowns and mental illness. His death is seen as an unfortunate conclusion to a life of depression, but Armand wonders if this is too convenient an explanation. Unintentional murder seems more likely to him.

Of course, we will never know. But Loving Vincent, through the eyes of Armand, introduces us to the circumstances of his final year of life. We meet the main characters in his life, hear their stories, and listen to Armand question what he has discovered.

The title is a nod to the close relationship between the two brothers, Vincent and Theo. They wrote to each other often. In the end, Armand sends the letter to Theo’s widow, who collected all letters between Vincent and Theo for publication. Vincent would sign his letters to Theo with “Your Loving Vincent”.

Whether one believes in the theory that Vincent was killed rather than committed suicide, Loving Vincent is well worth a watch. It a visual masterpiece, based on the artist’s own works. I came away with a better appreciation of his travails and the rich depth of his works. And I weep for what more he could have produced had he lived.

Movie review: Finding Dory (2016)

The gang of Nemo, Marlin, and Dory is back. Only this time the focus is on Dory.

Dory, a blue tang, is plagued by a poor memory. She literally introduces herself to someone and then turns around and introduces herself again. But she has a glimmer of a memory, which leads to the latest adventure of our merry little band of fish.

The movie contains extensive flashbacks of Dory as a small fish with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). Her struggles with short-term memory loss were well-known, even when she was a guppy. Her parents gathered shells to use as a pathway to their house so Dory could find her way home.

But one time Dory can’t find her way back. Instead, she wanders the ocean, introducing herself to everyone she meets and explaining that she is looking for her family. During this search, she encounters Nemo and Marlin and they have their own adventures that resulted in finding a lost Nemo.

But now Dory is having these pesky glimpses of a past again. And she is off, dragging Nemo and Marlin with her in search of her parents. The search takes them across the ocean to California and an oceanic institute.

We learn where Dory’s ability to speak whale came from—well, technically she speaks whale shark. (She grew up in the oceanic institute and spoke through the pipes to a blind whale shark named Destiny.) We learn where Dory’s song Just keep swimming came from. (Her parents used to sing it to her.)

We also learn important life lessons. Marlin, in his impatience, is quite short with Dory, telling her that forgetting is all that she is good for. He doesn’t even realize the hurtful words he said to her out of his own fear. Nemo, his son, has to gently remind him several times. Of course, Marlin is embarrassed by his own words and seeks forgiveness from Dory. In the end, he praises one of her strengths.

When Nemo and Marlin find themselves in a bind, Nemo mentions that Dory always finds a way out. “What would Dory do?” becomes the question they ask themselves when they get in a pickle. (Dory ends up asking herself that same question now when she is in a tough spot.)

Finding Dory has several new characters: Bailey the echolocation-challenged Beluga, Destiny the blind whale shark, and Hank the octopus (er, septopus….he only has seven tentacles) who is intent on not being released into the ocean. My favorite is Hank, the ever changing, ever cranky but ever helpful septopus that encounters Dory again and again. I love how Hank blends in to his surroundings and changes color.

The movie contains one final lesson. Dory discovered that family isn’t just her parents, but Nemo, Marlin, and now Hank. Family is all of those she cares about and who care about her.

Just keep swimming…and remember, what would Dory do?

Movie review: Persepolis (2007)

Persepolis relates the experiences of a young girl who lives through the Iranian revolution of 1979, the Iran-Iraq war, and the aftermath of the war. To the average American, Iran is only a repressive Islamic state. Persepolis brings a human face to modern Iran, showing the cost to actual people who lived through the revolution and the war.

Persepolis tells its story through black and white animation. The film is an Iranian-French-American collaboration in French, based on the story by Marjane Satrapi, who is also the heroine of the story.

At the start of the revolution, Marjane is a young girl, brash and courageous as some young girls are. She loves Bruce Lee and wants to be a prophet.

She supports the Shah until her father recounts how the Shah came to power, the repression he conducts, and an uncle imprisoned by the regime. Marjane learns about struggle, political prisoners, and communists—among her own family and in the community at large.

Along the way, we learn about some of modern Iran’s history. In one scene, the political collusion between the Shah-to-be and the British is made explicit—one wants unlimited power, the other oil. (The version of Persepolis I saw was in French with English subtitles. Listening to the British figure speak French was quite comical…and painful.)

The movie also provides brief lessons on the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Initially so hopefully, the revolution quickly turns from freedom to repression under a strict interpretation of Islam. Police to enforce conduct and clothing abound. Women are forced to cover their hair.

Marjane’s parents fear for her safety—she is a headstrong and outspoken girl and people are disappearing left and right. They send her to Vienna, where she bounces from group to group to group trying to fit in…and from residence to residence to residence. She ends up living on the street…and then lands in a hospital. She phones home, asking to return. The war is over so it is semi-safe for her to return to the repressive state that is Iran.

She returns to Iran as a young woman, no longer the little girl her parents knew. The state is as repressive as ever, much worse than anything under the Shah. The silliness of the rules appear in her university art classes. Botticell’s Venus is censored to the point that it really isn’t an artwork to appreciate. Drawing class is a farce with female models fully clothed in headscarves and long shapeless black robes.

Persepolis is ultimately a human story. Like people the world over, Marjane, her family, and others she interacts with just want happiness, enjoyment, and to live a good life. They struggle to attend parties and live life in the midst of the repression and the threat of imprisonment, torture, and death.

My favorite character next to Marjane, who shows such spunk as a girl but loses it to depression and despair in her young adult life, is her ever-present grandmother. So full of wisdom, she seemed to be a steadfast rock in the life of Marjane.

At one point, Marjane was in despair about her marriage ending. Her grandmother put it all in perspective. She herself divorced 55 years ago. Better to be alone than with a jerk. Besides, the tears weren’t for the marriage, her grandmother wisely said, they were for being wrong; admitting mistakes is hard.

I can easily see why Persepolis received the accolades it did. Delve into the chaotic world of Iran during the last couple decades of the 20th century through the eyes of an Iranian girl coming of age. Persepolis shows the experiences of an Iranian girl/woman struggling with the new Iran and with European culture.