"Soul" and "Moonstruck" are this week's picks
Welcome to 2021! Things seem … mostly the same so far, for better or worse.
It sucks that the pandemic has basically wiped out film festivals for a year and change, but one silver lining of that is 2021 festivals moving totally online (and becoming more accessible). The first big one to do so, Sundance, had its tickets go on sale last week, and they are available for purchase by anyone, even you! I'd hurry, though; some of the more anticipated films like Nella Larson's "Passing" have already sold out. If you're not sure what you want to see, there's a whole program guide to help you make your decisions, as well as a bunch of different ticketing options.
Me? I'm not going for the more prestige movies; I'll see those next December or whenever they get released, hopefully in a theater by then. No, I'm going for the movies that might not ever come to a theater here, like Sion Sono's insane-sounding "Prisoners of the Ghostland," starring Nicolas Cage and Sofia Boutella.
I'm a man of taste, after all.
Disney+, rated PG, 102 minutes
I've seen a lot of people throwing around "Inside Out" comparisons when talking about "Soul," but I don't think that's quite right.
Yes, "Soul" explains how souls find their human bodies before reaching Earth, like how "Inside Out" explains how emotions work. But that's where the comparisons come to an end. "Soul" isn't so much interested in the process as it is the why and the what: Why are we here? Why are so many of us either stuck in jobs we dislike or chasing dreams that never seem to come to fruition? (Not me, if my bosses are reading this.) And what can we do about it?
If those sound like adult ideas, well, they are. Despite being made by Pixar and landing on Disney+, "Soul" isn't really a kids movie — and it doesn't much try to be. Even outside of the more heady questions it asks, a lot of the film's humor would fly right over my head as a kid. There's a running bit that a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) has interacted with thousands of historical figures in her long journey to human-hood, and we see cameos of some of these interactions, including psychiatrist Carl Jung (who makes an "unconscious mind" joke), scientist Nicolaus Copernicus (who tells 22 the world doesn't revolve around her) and Marie Antoinette (who takes 22 to a bakery — for some cake).
Now, kids might laugh at those things because kids laugh at everything, but they won't get it. Those are jokes for adults. I love that. For decades, Pixar has been making kids movies that adults could enjoy, too; this reverses the formula.
Don't worry, though: Pixar didn't forget to pack an emotional punch.
The story revolves around Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a failed jazz musician now working as a music teacher. He's feeling lost, a feeling not helped by the pressure put on him by his mother (Phylicia Rashad) to get a real career. On the day he gets the opportunity of a lifetime — to play a set with the legendary Dorothea (Angela Bassett) — he falls into a hole and dies.
That's not a metaphor; Joe fully dies. But before his soul reaches "The Great Beyond," he tries to escape back to his body, in the process landing at "The Great Beginning," which is where he meets 22 and becomes her mentor. Together, the pair attempts to awaken 22's soul while Joe does some metaphorical soul-searching of his own.
The last act of the film is pretty perfect, with everything happening at a rapid pace without feeling rushed, and there's a beautiful montage of Joe's life thrown in to slow things down when the film knows you need to breathe. It's one of the most moving things the studio has done in a while.
I love "Soul" a lot. It goes with a mini-theme of 2020 films, "Sound of Metal" and "The Old Guard" being two of them, which was finding reasons to keep on keeping on. They would make for an interesting (and quite diverse) triple-header, if anyone was so inclined.
Showtime/Roku Channel, rated PG, 102 minutes
"Ma, I love him awful,"
"Ah, that's too bad."
It's been a long few weeks, and the next few weeks probably won't be any less long, so watch something that will give you a warm hug. Something like "Moonstruck," the Best Picture-nominated rom-com starring Cher and Nicolas Cage.
Moonstruck is wonderful in its dedication to being Italian. Cher lives with her massive family, complete with tens of dogs. Cage (who turned 57 last week, by the way; happy belated birthday, Nic!) makes bread for a living and is so dramatic that he threatens to kill himself almost as soon as he lays eyes on Cher. He doesn't, of course. He's not suicidal; he's dramatic, and he wants what his brother has.
For a PG movie, everyone is sure intent on jumping some bones. It's a much weirder movie than you likely remember, what with Cage's introduction being as manic as it is, and the implied powers the moon has over our libidos, and about a million other things. But it's so heartfelt that it can't help but all feel appropriate. Cher and Cage have undeniable chemistry, the score (done by Venice resident Dick Hyman) is delicious, and Norman Jewison's direction makes the whole thing fit together.
Make yourself some bucatini (if you can find it), and pour yourself a glass of wine. You deserve it, and you deserve "Moonstruck."