Tuesday, 28 July 2015

On my screen this summer

Inside Out

We all know Pixar films are just as much for the adults as they are for the kids, and its latest offering didn't let either party down. Inside Out is the story of an 11 year old girl called Riley, who with her parents makes the move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The brilliant twist is that it also happens to follow the workings of her brain. Each of Riley's emotions are embodied by a motley crew of colourful characters  - there's Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust - voiced by Mindy Kaling - and Joy, brought to life by the wonderful Amy Poehler. Joy has a distinctly Leslie Knope-ish quality about her: a relentless optimism and zest for life that borders on the passive aggressive, yet somehow still manages to be endearing. But it's Sadness, a dumpy, glum-looking blue character, who steals the show, and can't help but make you laugh with her endless ability to find the misery in a situation.

I won't give too much away, except to say that as with most Pixar films of late, this is just as much about losing your chilhood as anything else. I definitely shed a tear, although my sniffling was handily drowned out by the children who'd had the audacity to go to see a kid's film at the same time as me. It manages to be funny, charming, nostalgic and terribly sad all at the same time: a must-see.

What happened, Miss Simone? 

Back when libraries still bothered with loaning out music I borrowed a Nina Simone CD, and can remember being completely blown away by her voice as it boomed through the foam of my Walkman headphones (remember those?) for the first time. It's a voice that stays with you. And, as it was pointed out in this documentary exploring her life, it's unlike anything else you'll ever hear.

As most people probably are, I was aware that Simone had lent the power of her baritone to America's Civil Rights Movement - but I hadn't realised how militant she (quite understandably) eventually became. Championing Civil Rights was, as she saw it, her life's true purpose, but marrying her desire to support the cause with remaining commercially successful proved difficult. The tension between the two is one of the most interesting elements of the documentary, but undoubtedly one of the saddest, too. An abusive relationship with her husband turned manager, an estrangement with her daughter and a struggle with her mental health all contribute to the accute sadness of Simone's life story. But throughout, there's still the joyful sight of those fingers dancing across the piano keys, and the sound of that absolutely incredible voice.


The popularity of Amy this summer is a testament not just to her enduring musical legacy, but to our endlessly morbid fascination with the more unsavoury elements of her not-so private life. In the style that director Asis Kapadia used to similar effect in previous documentary Senna, the entire film is told entirely through archive footage and photographs. And thanks to a close friend with an early passion for film, there's an astonising amount to watch, even from the time of her early teens - an innocent precursor to a life that would go on to be lived through the glare of a paparazzi's lens.

The film gives a fascinating snapshot of the Amy we all thought we knew: she's brash, she's cheeky, she's caring, and she is of course incredibly talented. Her lyrics are weaved skillfully on screen throughout, their autobiographical nature never as clear.

There are echos of Nina Simone's life story revealed in Amy; while Simone's husband/manager wished for her to sweep the Civil Rights movement aside in favour of a successful tour run, it's apparent that one of the toxic males in Amy's life, in her case her father, was distracted from what - from an outsider's perspective - appears the obvious choice of seeking professional help in favour of keeping up with her lucractive gigs.

You're so immersed from the very beginning, when an opening shot shows an 11 year-old Amy belting out Happy Birthday to a school friend, that the ending you knew was coming still packs the most gut-wrenching of punches.

But you come out of it feeling more than just a desperate sadness for the life cut so short, the spectre of future albums, the lifetime achievement awards and all the amazing things she could have had - you come out of the cinema feeling culpable. We all stood back and watched as it happened, as her life got crushed in the machinery of fame, and as Valerie played at the end and I sobbed over the credits, I found myself thinking I'd happily never have heard this song, or any of Back to Black, if it meant bringing her back.


My screen time doesn't end there, of course. I have plenty of seasons on the go - the new Orange is the New Black, which is slower so far than previous seasons, but I'll stick it out for old time's sake. True Detective has returned with an all new location and fresh cast list to match - one of my favourite actresses Rachel McAdams included. A few episodes in and I don't think it has quite the slow burning magic of Matthew McConaughey's debut, but I'll keep watching to see how long I can actually keep up with the plot line. I've also finally started Netflix favourite House of Cards. I'm finding every character pretty insufferable so far, but after discussion with a more seasoned viewer am assured that this is pretty much the point...