Connect with us

Film

Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

When Ralph Breaks the Internet ignores the glittering marvels of the internet and focuses on the rapport between its two leads, it’s deeply moving.

3.0

Published

on

Ralph Breaks the Internet
Photo: Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures

Pixar’s Toy Story franchise has a charmingly simple and timeless conceit: that our old-fashioned dolls and action figures come to life when we’re not playing with them. Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films extend that conceit to the characters in our video games. Works of children’s fiction often aggressively strive for up-to-the-moment topicality, but the original Wreck-It Ralph smartly balanced screen time between properties with proven staying power, from Q*Bert to Street Fighter, and more modern-seeming, kid-friendly ones, such as a racing game through a kind of candy land.

While vintage characters such as Zangief appear in Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel deals mostly with the here and now. At the start, characters from various games in an arcade gather inside a power strip—their public square, like a train station—and see that a new game will be plugged in. It turns out, though, not to be a new console but a WiFi port, which allows Ralph (John C. Reilly), a well-meaning, loveable, Donkey Kong-sized dimwit, and his best friend, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a fierce and sassy racecar driver, access to the internet through a series of tubes. (Ted Stevens was right!)

The internet itself is imagined in the film as an infinite physical landscape, a 21st-century update of Orbit City from The Jetsons. At the bottom is the dark web, where characters in trenchcoats sell social security numbers, and up in the sky are futuristic skyscrapers housing all the familiar corporate brands, such as Amazon (naturally), Google (of course), and Fandango (groan). eBay functions as a central plot device, as Ralph and Vanellope try to procure a replacement steering wheel for her game’s arcade console before it’s stripped for parts and she’s rendered homeless. And the action climaxes at Pinterest, mostly to supply Ralph with a giant, weaponizable pushpin.

But before that, Ralph and Vanellope take an episodic journey through this spatialized web, first by driving fast cars in a more darkly adult racing game, where Vanellope befriends a tough but kind racing role model, Shank (Gal Gadot), then by becoming BuzzzTube superstars with short videos that parody real viral ones on YouTube. Some of the details of this world are inspired: Popup ads are depicted as pushy people who suddenly appear and badger random denizens to click on the sign they’re holding, and Ralph spends one softly scored, surprisingly touching moment reading mean comments on his BuzzzTube channel. But mostly the film’s internet feels cynically synergistic. For one, Vanellope makes a long visit to the physicalized Disney website, where a “Let It Go” dance remix shamelessly pumps as characters from corporate properties make cameos, from Star Wars to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (There’s even a poignant silent cameo by a Stan Lee avatar.)

Then, every Disney princess shows up on the scene. Ralph Breaks the Internet‘s gender politics are in the right place, as Vanellope inspires the princesses to remove their gowns and put on comfortable sweats, and the film mocks its parent company’s princess-movie conventions—the way these young women are always motherless and in need of a strong man to save them. But the sequence still feels like product placement, as though it were a snarky response to a corporate note about working in less off-brand Nintendo characters and more on-brand Disney ones. It’s not as if it’s so subversive that it’s going to hurt the company’s toy sales.

What remains appealing about the film, however, is the core relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. The first film got its pathos by plugging them into a father–daughter dynamic; in this sequel, she’s more grown up, like a graduating senior, and you could read him as her provincial dad, or even her unambitious high school boyfriend. Ralph is comfortable with their domesticated lives, thriving on the simple pleasures of their routine: work the games till the arcade closes, pound root beers at Tapper’s, then talk all night before doing it all again. But Vanellope yearns for new experiences; the Internet for her is like college and moving to New York all wrapped up in one.

The film explores the difficulties experienced by two people who love each other but have conflicting life goals. Vanellope is a female character with refreshingly complicated desires. Ralph is a flawed person who recognizes his failings—neediness, clinginess—and experiences personal growth by trial and effort. They’re both unusually deep characters for a children’s movie, and thus the emotional payoff of their resolved conflict is especially high. When Ralph Breaks the Internet ignores the glittering marvels of the internet and focuses on the rapport between its two leads, it’s deeply moving.

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Ed O'Neill, Alfred Molina, Alan Tudyk Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore Screenwriter: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon Distributor: Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures Running Time: 112 min Rating: PG Year: 2018 Buy: Soundtrack

Advertisement
Comments

Film

Review: A Land Imagined Is a Noir-Tinged Rumination on Identity

Writer-director Yeo Siew Hua suggests that becoming another person is as easy as dreaming it.

3

Published

on

A Land Imagined
Photo: MM2 Entertainment

Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined begins with an extended montage of looming buildings and structures, as well as work sites of Singapore’s vast land-reclamation projects. This simple visual motif effectively captures not only the sense of insignificance that comes with living in an urban center teeming with people (workers appear like dots within the wide shots), but also lays the groundwork for the film’s sudden shift in perspective.

Yeo’s Golden Leopard-winning film opens in dreamy noir-like fashion before blooming into a sobering social drama concerning the lives of Singapore’s ignored and exploited immigrant and working-class communities. After a police detective, Lok (Peter Yu), spends the first third of A Land Imagined searching for a missing construction worker, Wang (Liu Xiaoyi), Lok’s partner rhetorically asks why looking for a lowly laborer is worth the time and taxpayer money. Yeo makes an empathetic rebuttal to that thought by subsequently launching into a depiction of Wang and his downtrodden existence immediately before his disappearance.

Wang, though injured, can’t afford to miss work, so he continues to drive a shuttle for other workers. Through the depiction of Wang’s grinding daily routine and search for a side hustle, Yeo shows how the man is at the mercy of his employers. In keeping with the strain of noir from Lok’s storyline, the company Wang works for and whom the dredged land is ultimately for is an eerily nebulous entity, like something out of a Fritz Lang production. Wang appears as an unwitting pawn in a larger scheme, though, paradoxically, the moments of relative escape spent with a fellow worker, Ajit (Ishtiaque Zico), and the mysterious Mindy (Luna Kwok), the manager of a cybercafé Wang frequents, prove that he leads a life of his own.

The presence of the Bangladeshi Ajit in A Land Imagined and the fact that the undocumented Wang hails from mainland China are just two factors that point to Yeo’s grasp of Singapore as a globalized state with shifting notions of identity—an understanding that’s complemented by the film’s narrative structure, which shifts perspective between Lok and Wang throughout. Each character operates on the fringes of Singaporean society and deals with similar feelings of estrangement. At one point, Wang tells Mindy after a late-night swim at a local beach that the sand comes from various different countries around Singapore. And this idea of the island nation as not having a set identity is one that’s cannily rhymed to the film’s structure.

The shift back and forth between the narrative’s central characters, and how one of those characters is affected by the life of an itinerant worker, brings to mind João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa’s Araby, but A Land Imagined doesn’t contain itself completely to the realist tradition of that film. Yeo adopts a more ethereal approach, even implying early on that Lok’s storyline is a projection of dreams that Wang once had. The elliptical narrative, coupled with the explicitly noir passages—marked by stylized and shadowy cinematography—that follow Lok and Wang around a hazy and languid cityscape, give the impression that A Land Imagined exists in a kind of dream state. The film may be coy about definitively stating if Lok is Wang’s dream-self, but this question is ultimately irrelevant. In a diverse land where identity is inherently foggy, Yeo suggests that becoming another person is as easy as dreaming it.

Cast: Peter Yu, Liu Xiaoyi, Luna Kwok, Ishtiaque Zico, Jack Tan, Kelvin Ho Director: Yeo Siew Hua Screenwriter: Yeo Siew Hua Running Time: 95 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

Continue Reading

Film

Review: Out of Blue Plays Out Like a New-Age Law & Order

Carol Morley’s film wants to blow our minds, but it succeeds only at rousing our boredom.

1.5

Published

on

Out of Blue
Photo: IFC Films

Carol Morley’s Out of Blue begins with images of a supernova as an ostensibly brilliant astrophysicist, Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), wonderingly intones that we’re all made of stardust. This meaningless observation, cribbed from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” is an appropriate opening to a film that proves to be every bit as trite, over-reaching, and goofy as its opening lines. With its endless references to black holes, the multiverse, and Schrödinger’s cat—the last of which is outlined in detail not once but twice—Morley’s film wants to blow our minds, but it succeeds only at rousing boredom.

Loosely based on the novel Night Train by Martin Amis, Out of Blue attempts to combine the heady philosophizing of True Detective with the metaphorical surrealism of Twin Peaks, but Morley’s writing is so ham-handed and her directing so nondescript that the film ends up feeling more like a protracted new-age spin on Law & Order. It doesn’t speak well of Out of Blue that the film is at its most compelling when it’s just straight-up ripping off David Lynch’s stylistic idiosyncrasies, such as in a dream sequence where Jennifer lip-synchs to an old-timey country song on a bandstand that looks nearly identical to the Roadhouse stage.

The film’s plot is also suspiciously reminiscent of that of Twin Peaks: An enigmatic detective, Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson), investigates the brutal murder of a pretty young blonde (Gummer), which brings her into contact with an assortment of local oddballs. Out of Blue, though, lacks the regional specificity of Lynch’s series—Morley’s film is set in New Orleans but you wouldn’t know that from what’s on screen—and its eccentrics, some of them played by fascinating character actors like Toby Jones, Jacki Weaver, and James Caan, are vaguely drawn. But the biggest misstep is Mike herself, a cipher who spends much of Out of Blue muttering clues under her breath and staring into the middle distance.

Of course, Mike has a dark past herself, one which is intertwined with the mystery she’s trying to solve. Clarkson does her best to imbue the role with a certain offbeat gravitas, but Mike is too confusedly conceived to generate any real interest in her backstory, much less to carry the narrative. Morley hangs a lot of eccentricities on the character—she drives a vintage car, listens to the Eels, and, in one particularly baffling scene, climbs on stage at a strip club and starts writhing on the dancers—but none of these cohere into a comprehensible whole. All the way to the end of Out of Blue, Mike’s quirks exude a grab-bag-like feeling, ensuring that she remains an enigma amid the comings and goings of so many wacky side characters and all the pseudo-metaphysical blather of Morley’s muddled script.

Cast: Mamie Gummer, Patricia Clarkson, James Caan, Jacki Weaver, Toby Jones, Aaron Tveit, Jonathan Majors, Alyshia Ochse, Gary Grubbs, Yolonda Ross, Lucy Faust, Brad Mann, Thomas Francis Murphy, Carol Sutton, Lawrence Turner Director: Carol Morley Screenwriter: Carol Morley Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 109 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

Continue Reading

Film

Review: Genesis Lyrically Captures the Heartache of Sentimental Education

Philippe Lesage’s film understands that we submit ourselves to the perils of affection because of its outweighing graces.

3

Published

on

Genesis
Photo: Productions l'Unite Centrale

Writer-director Philippe Lesage follows up The Demons with another coming-of-age saga that fixates on the relatable, if grim, blues of self-awakening. Primarily following the teenaged Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin) and his college-aged sister, Charlotte (Noée Abita), Genesis charts how both are shaped by their experiences with sexual desire, subtly observing their behavior and, occasionally, the darker side of affection.

Guillaume commands much of the film’s attention. From the first shot, in which he stands on a desk in his all-boys boarding school and leads his mates in a barroom shanty, it’s obvious that Guillaume is a charismatic class clown who knows how to force all eyes onto himself. Yet the teen can also be withdrawn and introverted, and his relationships with his friends and teachers are constantly in flux. His puckish behavior is often celebrated by classmates and even some teachers, like the sardonic Perrier (Paul Ahmarani), who in one class invites Guillaume to do his impersonation of him, which the teen performs with hilarious specificity and to the initial delight and then discomfort of the professor.

Wounded by the boy’s exposure of his flaws, Perrier subsequently singles out Guillaume for harassment, berating him without cause and even screaming at the kid over the slightest perceived transgression. Guillaume’s peers are less extreme, but the same kids who applaud his classroom antics are also quick to ignore him inside their shared dorms or in social situations, content to simply use him for amusement during class time.

Guillaume’s awkward relationship to others at the boarding school is exacerbated by his closeted sexuality, which isolates him from the heteronormative activities of his friends. In one scene, Lesage films the boy in slow motion as he wanders through a house party surrounded by boys and girls kissing, trying to fit in by cautiously snaking his arm around a girl, who casually shrugs him off as he keeps walking. Like much of Genesis, the moment is at once thematically obvious and beautifully moving, with the sudden swell of morose pop transforming the scene into a lyrically intense expression of the boy’s sentimental education. The impeccable blocking places the other kids in every square inch of the room save for a pocket of dead space around Guillaume, poignantly emphasizing his loneliness.

Charlotte, by contrast, seems to have an easier time of things. More carefree and confident than her brother, she’s at first hampered only by her inane boyfriend, Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk), who broaches the subject of an open relationship with a forced sense of casual suggestion, only to later sobbingly backtrack after she kicks him to the curb. Charlotte ends up with the older Theo (Maxime Dumontier), whose charming demeanor and respectfulness suggests actual maturity. When Lesage films Charlotte in a club using the same slow-mo style that he did for Guillaume’s glum traipse through the house party, the tone is considerably brighter, with the young woman free and ebullient about her contentment.

Soon, however, Charlotte must also contend with the fallout of various sexual stresses. Lesage grapples with matters that are all too common to darker coming-of-age stories, and he captures the film’s most harrowing scenes in single takes. Yet if the filmmaker doesn’t shy away from plainly depicting such horrors as sexual violation, he avoids wallowing in the misery he piles onto his characters. Guillaume and especially Charlotte suffer, but Lesage pulls focus onto the aftershocks of trauma rather than the traumatic events themselves. Sometimes Genesis even ducks reinforcing the bleakest of expectations, as in a scene of Guillaume baring his soul to his classmates that ends in a surprisingly warm fashion.

Indeed, the bright colors and sedate direction of Genesis isn’t an ironic contrast for the difficult content within but a cue for the perseverance of hope in trying times. That optimism is borne out in the final act, which shifts focus to Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), the protagonist of The Demons, now a cheery teen attending what appears to be a bible camp. As he plays guitar with counselors and plays around in camp, he gravitates toward Beatrice (Émilie Bierre), a young girl who’s clearly as interested in him as he is in her. Compared to the more vicious heartbreak facing Charlotte and Guillaume, Felix and Beatrice’s budding feelings are presented innocently and sweetly. Their first flirtations end the film on a hopeful note that suggests that not all stories of young self-discovery need be solemn, and that we submit ourselves to the perils of affection because of its outweighing graces.

Cast: Théodore Pellerin, Noée Abita, Édouard Tremblay-Grenier, Maxime Dumontier, Jules Roy Scicotte, Pier-Luc Funk, Paul Ahmarani, Antoine Marchand-Gagnon, Émilie Bierre Director: Philippe Lesage Screenwriter: Philippe Lesage Running Time: 130 min Rating: NR Year: 2019

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending