Trust Pixar to bravely and almost effortlessly tackle a subject as delicate and demanding as the human soul. They already kinda did in 2015’s Inside Out (the movie where feelings have feelings), which acts as a nice companion piece to Soul, a brilliant metaphysical stunner in every sense of the word and one of the most ambitious, rewarding films of the year. Jamie Foxx stars against type as Joe, a middle aged high school band teacher who always hoped to make it big as a jazz musician. When he finally nails a gig with a hotshot artist (Angela Bassett), he has an accident and goes into a coma before he can make the venue, hurling his soul into the great beyond where he furiously fights to make it back earth-side, but it’s more complicated than all that. He finds himself chained in mentorship to a dysfunctional soul (Tina Fey) who could never get the entry process right and hasn’t lived a single incarnation on earth. Together they traverse the gorgeously surreal lands beyond our earthly realm and eventually earth itself in a search for Joe’s body, a reason for Fey’s wayward soul to transition into earthly life and the very meaning of existence itself. Much like Inside Out, this takes on deep themes in a disarmingly lighthearted manner while still managing to be emotionally affecting enough that it doesn’t feel sappy or inconsequential. Joe literally learns that life isn’t about finding meaning or purpose, but that the meaning and purpose are there in the simple fact that there *is* life. The visuals are incredibly trippy and abstract in the realms beyond earth and beautifully photorealistic in a stunningly rendered New York City brought to life in painstaking autumnal detail. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross compose a reliably ambient and almost dark hued score that is something we haven’t ever heard in a Disney film and aside from Foxx and Fey’s solid lead voice work, listen for others including Richard Ayoade, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Questlove, Wes Studi, June Squibb and more. Pixar has gotten staggeringly mature and creative in ways I never thought possible since Inside Out and now Soul, this is a complex, wonderful, visually stimulating, wittily written, philosophically engaging piece of art and one of the best films you’ll see this year.
Date Night… could have been a hell of a lot worse, I guess. I’m trying to be nice here as there were parts I enjoyed but overall it’s fluff in the wind, thanks to an unwillingness to go the extra mile and give it the R rating it deserves. It’s got one killer cast, I’ll give it that, and a few scattershot scenes that work. Let’s be real though, any film that so obviously wants to pay tribute to Scorsese’s After Hours should be ready to suit up and get as weirdly dirty as that one did, instead of playing it safe in the brightly lit, cookie cutter candy aisle of comedy. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are certainly matched with chemistry here and are a spunky, underdog couple to spend the night from hell with. They’re both kinda like that one kid in the friend group that ends up being the butt of all the jokes, and then found each other, got married and doubled down on that awkward energy. A lot of these madcap stories start with a case of mistaken identity, which is what happens when Carell brazenly snags another couple’s reservation at the hottest dinner joint in town. Just their luck, the other couple happens to be Taste and Whippet (yes those are their names) a deadbeat, dysfunctional pair of ratchet gutter rats played hilariously by James Franco and Mila Kunis. Before they know it, they’re chased by a couple of dangerous hit men (Common and the underrated Jimmi Simpson) who think they owe money all over town. Also pursued by a relentless detective (Taraji P. Henson), the real conflict comes from seeing the couple unravel and their issues come pouring out until the collective hangups they have with each other are funnier and seem more pertinent than the fact that they’re running for their lives. The cameos in this thing are endless and include Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, JB Smoove, Leighton Meester, Mark Wahlberg, Gal Gadot, Bill Burr, Olivia Munn, Jon Bernthal and more. My favourites were Ray Liotta and William Fichtner as a mob boss and a corrupt DA, sneakily echoing their respective roles in the Grand Theft Auto games. This could have been a really balls out, irreverent flick if they had pushed the envelope and not slapped it with such a pansy ass rating. As it stands it has some really funny moments and a good energy overall, but every time I think about it I just imagine what could have been, had a little more freedom in creativity and content been given.