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Schultz reviews: 'Soul' and 'The Lie'

Schultz reviews: 'Soul' and 'The Lie'

Carl Schultz

 

 

“Soul”   Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 101 Minutes, Rated PG, Released December 25, 2020:

Scenes and subjects which are usually the focus of arthouse favorites are front and center in “Soul,”  the new animated movie from Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios now streaming on the Disney+ online entertainment network.  The 23rd feature in the collaboration between Disney and Pixar, “Soul” examines the mysteries of continued existence beyond life, and reaches some fairly encouraging conclusions.

In “Soul,” middle school music teacher Joe Gardner on the eve of middle age still yearns to follow in the footsteps of his late jazz musician father.  But after he distractedly walks into an open manhole shortly after being hired by a renowned jazz artist for his dream gig at a downtown nightclub, the hapless teacher--or rather his soul--finds himself exploring the Great Beyond (and the Great Before) while frantically trying to reunite his immortal soul and hospitalized earthbound body in time for his performance.

Directed by Pete Docter, the filmmaker behind “Monsters, Inc.” in 2001, 2009’s “Up,” and “Inside Out” in 2015 as well as a writer or co-writer of virtually every Disney/Pixar feature from 1995’s “Toy Story” to next year’s “Luca” (and “Lightyear” after that), “Soul” quietly becomes one of the most creative of Disney’s collaborations with Pixar and without a doubt the most metaphysical and abstract, literally going where few animated pictures have gone before.

Fast-moving and consistently entertaining, never maudlin or overly sentimental despite the sobering subject matter, “Soul” is a movie which takes on the enormous challenge of tastefully explaining some fairly complex and provocative issues--life and death, success and failure, confidence and insecurity, ambition and complacency--and accomplishes it in ways that remain unfailingly upbeat and optimistic.   

With a genial attitude and playful sense of humor courtesy of stars Jamie Foxx as the voice of Joe Gardner and Tiny Fey as his spirit guide 22, there’s not a dull, unfocused, or boring moment in the film’s 101-minute running time.  Plus, this is a movie that loves music and knows the subject intimately, right down to Joe’s fingering on the piano keys. 

“Soul” also manages to gracefully avoid any secular affiliation while exploring some original ideas, without offending any particular theological classification--or at least offending all of them equally.  If that sounds easy, it isn’t.  Along the way, the picture runs a ticklish gamut from silly to serious to satirical (turns out Lincoln’s honored to be depicted on the penny...but blows his stack when he learns who’s on the $20 bill), scoring bullseyes every single step of the way.

At around the halfway point, Gardner and his hapless spirit guide 22 return to earth, and at that point the picture transforms into a more conventional identity-switch narrative (the spirit guide lands in Joe’s body, while Joe assumes the countenance of a therapy cat).  But the picture never loses its creative edge, and regains its momentum and main plotline in plenty of time for a richly satisfying and...well, soulful wrap up.  As always, the Disney/Pixar collaborations remain the undisputed and unchallenged gold standard of animated motion pictures.

During a turbulent and troubled time in history when every one of us has been compelled to live daily with dread and despair, “Soul” through design or circumstance is also uniquely positioned to relieve some of a young person’s tensions about what might occur beyond life...or at least be a means of opening a discussion.  In the end, “Soul” is about life:  Cherish it while you’ve got it...but don’t dread the end; it just might be just the beginning of a different adventure.  For that suggestion alone, “Soul” is highly and enthusiastically recommended, especially for families with younger children.

Originally intended for a wide June 2020 theatrical release, “Soul” was at first delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic to a November release, and then rescheduled altogether to a Christmas premiere on the Disney+ streaming service.  Unlike “Mulan” in September, “Soul” is available free to all Disney+ subscribers, instead of a “premiere access” event containing additional charges.

“Soul” is rated PG for thematic elements and some language concerns.

“The Lie”   Distributed by Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Productions, 97 Minutes, Rated R, Released October 06, 2020:

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, what a tangled web we weave…

You might find yourself squirming in discomfort most of the way through “The Lie,” a new movie from the Blumhouse Crypt of Terror now streaming on Amazon Prime...but that’s not the same thing as being entertained.  Despite the studio’s reputation as our most reliable source of contemporary horror, “The Lie” doesn’t exactly qualify as horror.  In fact, the movie’s major source of entertainment might be in figuring out precisely just what it is.

In “The Lie,” when their teenage daughter casually confesses to spontaneously murdering her best friend (“She was being a bitch,” the daughter helpfully explains), an estranged couple works together to concoct a lie to cover the child’s tracks.  But as incriminating clues in the killing continue to point in the direction of their daughter, the lie becomes more and more complicated until it begins to contradict itself.

A remake of the acclaimed 2015 German film “Wir Monster” (“We Monsters”) “The Lie” turns out to be sort of an overblown morality fable wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a suspense picture, all calculated to illustrate something you already knew.  The film features top-drawer A-List talent, who certainly give the material their best effort.  Unfortunately, even a cast this talented can only do so much with the contrived and disjointed script they’re given to work with.

Written and directed by Canadian-born filmmaker Veena Sud, best known for writing and producing the 2011 AMC television series “The Killing,” “The Lie” contains many of the traditional devices of a murder mystery, some of them quite effective.  Unfortunately, the individual parts don’t add up to a coherent whole...and as a result the movie ends up not making a whole lot of sense.  And a number of scenes seem unfinished, as if the movie had been assembled from available footage for a rough cut.

Worse, the dialogue seems almost improvised, like a misguided exercise in an entry-level acting class.  While successful acting is said to simulate spontaneity, the rule of thumb usually pertains to the participants having coherent lines to work with.  Especially during the early scenes, the actors in “The Lie” seem to be working from different scripts, while choosing inappropriate gestures and emotional expressions to accompany the lines they’re speaking.  And the movie’s final revelation will make you want to jump out a window.

Among the cast, poor Mirelle Enos as the mother contributes the most selfless display of acting since Tyrone Power in the 1947 picture “Nightmare Alley.”  Her character’s deepening anxiety over the compounding lies cause her to visibly age almost before the viewer’s eyes, like a real time reenactment of “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”  By the picture’s closing scenes, Enos’ character almost seems to be inhabited by another performer altogether than the one who played the role during the opening.   

Set in Canada and filmed in the Toronto area during the early months of 2018, “The Lie” originally premiered in September 2018 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and then languished on the shelf for nearly two years before Amazon Studios acquired the US distribution rights.  The picture premiered on October 06 on the Amazon Prime streaming service as the first offerings in the twelve-part “Welcome to the Blumhouse” anthology of B-films with appeal too limited to merit theatrical release.

Also featuring performances from Peter Sarsgaard as the dad and the always-reliable Joey King as the errant daughter, “The Lie” is rated R for language, adult themes, and violence.

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