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There is joy. There is sadness. There are many other kinds of emotions that were running through this reviewer’s head as he sat down to watch the latest animated extravaganza from Pixar Animation Studios, Inside Out. But mostly, as the film drew to a close, there was profound indifference.

I used to love going to see a Pixar film in theaters, especially on opening weekend if the parents would allow it. Starting in 1995 with Toy Story and up until about 2009’s Up, the Emeryville, CA-based company would thrill me and my fellow friends & filmgoers alike with their technical mastery of animation, endearing characters and unconventional storytelling that usually provided a breath of fresh air against whatever else was playing in the multiplex that day. My personal favorite Pixar films, including the first two Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and especially WALL-E, all possess a distinct tone and filmmaking voice that is rare to find in mainstream entertainment geared toward children (I also have a certain predilection for the first Cars, an opinion not that popular with Pixar aficionados but one I am certainly willing to stand my ground on; the film’s dichotomous themes of the natural landscape vs. industrialized convenience still stick with me years after release).

“No, seriously, why do people hate us?”

Nowadays, however, I’m just as likely to spend my time catching up on great films that were made before I was even born, like Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, two vastly different films in different genres which provide the same kind of confident tone and technical excellence that previously endeared me to Pixar films. I will say, however, that I don’t think either Touch or Blade warrant full-on classic status; while there is much about those films that has been influential in Hollywood filmmaking ever since they were released, I find narrative and structural problems present in both at times that are hard to overlook. But I digress.

If there is said to be a “turning point” in the quality of Pixar’s films when the ship started to turn south, it may be (controversial opinion incoming) Toy Story 3. While the idea of a trilogy-capping entry in the franchise that deals with series character Andy heading off to college and leaving the toys behind for good sounds like a surefire winner that will bring all the feels (is that #feels?), in practice, it became a film that, in the words of Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips, “looks and plays like an exceptionally slick and confident product, as opposed to a magical blend of commerce and popular art.” For me personally as a lover of all things Woody & Buzz since I first saw the original Toy Story in theatres when I was only 2 years old, the film’s famous (infamous?) final act where the toys are nearly burned alive in a garbage incinerator only to be rescued at the last minute by the Little Green Men (THE CLAWWWWWWW) struck me as emotional pandering and a classic example of what is now termed the “Disney Death”, wherein a main character looks to be in life-threatening peril, only for a deus ex machina or other plot machination keeps them alive, because, y’know, this is a kid’s film (sigh). I am constantly reminded of the viral video prank a young teen pulled on his mother a couple years after the film’s release on DVD wherein he edited the copy his mother was watching so that the film bleakly seems to end just as Woody and pals are consumed by the fire. Say what you will about taking responsibility for practical jokes; in my view, Toy Story 3 couldn’t (and shouldn’t) have ended any other way. Whether that makes me a cruel-hearted sadist out to toy with people’s emotions or just a believer in consistent storytelling is up to you.

You’re right, Buzz. You were always right :_;

Regardless of whether or not you agree that the third Toy Story was disappointing or not, perhaps we can all agree that what came next represented an even larger crisis of confidence in Pixar: Cars 2. Even as a fan of the original Cars, I will attest to the fact that a sequel was not something anyone but studio heads and toy-loving little kids really wanted. The first Pixar film to ever acquire a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it reportedly doubled down on everything the majority of Pixar fans hated about the first one: more weird world-building (how did the cars come to be sentient creatures?),  a slight emphasis on conservative values (yeah, NASCAR!) and more Tow Mater (“ew, Larry the Cable Guy”). I myself never saw the full film; I watched the first 10 minutes of it with a group of kids at a daycare I was supervising, and that was enough to make me realize that this would be just another generic sequel.

Besides Up, Cars 2 was the first Pixar film I wasn’t entirely interested seeing in theatres. I completely skipped Brave even after it was released on home video, and due to reports of behind-the-scenes hand-wringing about replacing the director’s original vision with a more generic story, I remain just fine without another Disney Princess in my life. I did catch Monsters University with my folks on DVD, and despite its positive message with regards to being OK with being ordinary, I considered the film in the line of Cars 2 as a sequel that did not need to be made, and a slight stain on the legacy of the first Monsters, Inc. film.

I am Mike in this picture

So when Pixar first announced the trailer and concept of Inside Out, I was more cautiously optimistic than usual when it came to the studio’s output. I found myself with critics who had written about “Pixar’s sad decline” and even the state of computer animation as a whole.  I wondered whether Pixar still had it in them to produce an animated masterpiece on the level of WALL-E or even a less serious movie like A Bug’s Life. After Inside Out debuted at various film festivals earlier this year and received the highest critical praise the studio had received since Toy Story 3 five years prior, I became genuinely excited at the prospect of adding another great piece of cinema to my Blu-ray collection.

Alas, when I finally sat down to watch what was supposedlyreturn to form for the studio, my excitement gradually turned to boredness, which slowly turned to slight annoyance. The concept of five different emotions who control a young girl’s brain contains so much potential, but my mind started to wander as more and more questions about the plot’s mechanics started to weigh on me. The five emotions are Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear, so the viewer would expect that these anthropomorphized emotions would solely act like… well, themselves. Instead, at multiple points throughout the runtime, Anger acts calm, Fear acts relieved and Joy acts annoyed, all at the convenience of the plot. Think of it this way: if you were the personification of Joy, wouldn’t you be all sunshine and rainbows 24/7, nonstop? If you were the personification of Fear, wouldn’t you be constantly afraid of everything all the time? The animators make the emotions act more like humans with human life’s constant ups and downs, but this essentially kills the very concept the movie is founded on. Other viewers may say that this is a weak criticism because how else is the audience supposed to relate to the girl’s emotions, but who says the audience must relate to the emotions? A more daring Pixar film would have taken things to greater extremes, challenging viewers to identify with characters who may not be all that pleasant to be around. I’m definitively NOT saying that a Pixar family film needs to go all postmodern anti-hero Taxi Driver on viewers, but there is some middle ground to be played with here, and the studio could have delivered a more creative film in the process. As it is, things are pretty much played straight, to Inside Out’s detriment.

The main criticism I have for the characters here are the tag team of Joy and Sadness. During the first 30-45 minutes, Sadness performs an action (I won’t spoil what) that Joy must constantly fix in order to keep Riley’s emotions in check. The first time Sadness does this, it’s understandable that Joy would reprimand her for doing so. The second time, OK, people make mistakes more than once. By the fifth or sixth time, I wondered why Joy (or, more appropriately, Anger) didn’t blow a fuse and lock Sadness in a cage for constantly disrupting events. It was like watching a toddler break a nice vase, a parent giving him or her a slap on the wrist saying “Don’t do that!”, and then the toddler continues to break five or six more vases, each time only receiving a slap on the wrist. It gets boring and then grating, and you wish you could enter the world of the film to cap a couple of bullets in Sadness’ face (OK, I kid, I kid). Again, this is poor characterization on the part of director Pete Docter, who I honestly expected better from after directing Monsters Inc. and Up, not to mention co-writing the story for WALL-E (did I mention how much I love WALL-E?).

Finally, Inside Out never quite tickles the viewer’s own funny bone or onionize their tear ducts (is that a word?) in the way the advertising and critics may suggest. There actually are some genuinely hilarious moments scattered throughout the film’s 102-minute runtime, including a dinner scene where viewers get a peek inside more than one human character’s mind and an end-credits “blooper” reel that possibly drew the biggest guffaws at the screening I attended. But for every joke that lands, there are 2 or 3 that completely miss or just provoke a brief “heh”. A character that shows up at the movie’s midpoint is humorous the first time viewers meet him, but subsequently infects the film with more kid-friendly slapstick humor than I would’ve expected from a studio that frequently targets their output for kids and adults. Likewise, the third act where events come to an emotional head and a main character sits down and cries in close-up in front of the camera didn’t turn on my waterworks at all. I found myself straining to feel as sad as the filmmakers wanted me to feel, and the emotions (both on the screen and in the audience) felt forced. This happens again during the last 10 minutes of the film, and I still didn’t really feel like crying. Yes, it’s sad when a child cries and lets out pent-up emotions, but simply sticking a crying child or other cute character in front of the camera and expecting the audience to feel something strikes me as more emotional pandering, of the aforementioned Toy Story 3 type.

It’s OK, Joy, don’t cry. You’ll live another day when Pixar inevitably makes a sequel.

Make no mistake, I did not hate Inside Out. On the contrary, there was much to like about a film that ultimately sends a message of the fact that Sadness must be just as much a part of our lives as Joy is. In this way, it is much like Monsters University, providing both child and grown-up viewers with an empowering mindset after they leave their theater seats. But also like Monsters University, Inside Out struggles to cross that finish line during the first three-quarters of its runtime. For a film that is all about what goes on inside people’s heads, the story of Inside Out is ironically not all that well thought out. As Pixar moves forward with the upcoming The Good Dinosaur and next year’s Finding Dory, I find myself still wishing for the studio that once was. Until then, I can only deal with watching animated films that have me leaving the theater with a mixed bag of emotions.

I felt all of these emotions while watching this movie. ALL OF THE EMOTIONS

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The University Pulse has teamed up with Adam Wright Media. Adam Wright is a local musician, photographer and videographer. He has started the In The Valley Sessions which highlights local and touring bands with a special acoustic performance set in miscellaneous Boise locations.

In this In The Valley Session, Caleb of Sinai Vessel performed “Died On My Birthday” in downtown Boise after their show at the High Note Cafe.

The University Pulse has teamed up with Adam Wright Media. Adam Wright is a local musician, photographer and videographer. He has started the In The Valley Sessions which highlights local and touring bands with a special acoustic performance set in miscellaneous Boise locations.

In this In The Valley Session, Topshelf Record’s Prawn performed two songs in Boise’s Hyde Park district.

Straight out of sunny Los Angeles, California, alternative band The Absolute have been making waves in their local scene and are ready to bring their music and progressive image to the nationwide stage. Here, in an extended interview with University Pulse Music Director Ryan Hoffman, lead singer Phil Ross discusses personal growth, impromptu album cover shoots, rock band web promotion, and getting a bunch of junk thrown on you in the name of art.

Q: The new record is titled Grow. “Grow” in what way?

A: The band has lots of personal mantras, whether it be “smile”, “grow”… we have always globbed on to this whole idea of “positive apocalypse”, just because today’s music and social outlook on life has become very lethargic and gotten stuck in this rut of copy[ing] what came before you.

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How often is it that a sequel is better than its original, even when the original was fairly mediocre? Just this year, we’ve had cinematic failures like Taken 3, The Divergent Series: Insurgent and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, all of which doubled down on their respective original entries’ lackluster filmmaking, yet all still managed to be box-office successes. These films also share a trait of excessively catering to their built-in audiences’ expectations, mostly to the films’ detriment.

Add Pitch Perfect 2 to that list. The original film wasn’t any great shakes; it’s plot followed your standard musical comedy formula (college a-cappella group attempts to win national competition, and of course does) and the humor could be hit-or-miss, as well as ironically mean-spirited, racist, sexist and fat-shaming (the entire character of Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” was designed for nothing less of a joke than “ha-ha, look at the fatty”). Still, the performances by the cast were great for a genre film, including Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Brittany Snow, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who could forget?) and Elizabeth Banks. More importantly, the a-cappella musical sequences remain the highlight of the film, including the famous “Riff-Off” sequence, and the soundtrack sold like gangbusters.

The sequel, on the other hand, is basically a diluted form of the original, now with even more dramatic musical sequences, more cringe-worthy humor, and a more disjointed plot. This time around, the Barden University Bellas are under national and public scrutiny after an embarrassing mishap performing in front of President Obama (here appearing in completely obvious stock footage). The Bellas must rebuild their image and win the A Cappella World Championships if they want to remain a group in the first place, since the University nearly dissolves the group entirely. The viewer, of course, knows that they’re going to win by the end of the movie; this isn’t going to be some deep exploration of what it means to work hard at a chance to be the best and still lose, with dignity.

Beyond the obviousness of the plot, though, Pitch Perfect 2 strains for inciting laughs in the audience in the worst, most offensive way possible. The Bellas’ main competitor in the Championships, the German group Das Sound Machine (hardy har, really funny guys), play up “perfect German” stereotypes by being tall, beautiful and excessively synchronized in their performance routines. Near the end of the film, the a- cappella commentators at the Championships, played by returning actors Banks and John Michael Higgins, crack jokes about the German team that would get a seventh-grader sent to the principal’s office. “This could very well be the greatest conflict between America and Germany in our nation’s history!” Groan. Screenwriter Kay Cannon, who wrote both films in the series, also writes for shows like 30 Rock and New Girl, two other media products whose sarcastic sense of tone alienates viewers who are simply looking for a good, funny story with characters the audience can actually relate to.

Banks actually makes her first-time directing debut here as well, which created pre-release buzz around the film since women directors in Hollywood are so rare, much less ones that handle sequels to major-grossing films. Unfortunately, her directing acumen here is similarly not up to par with the first film. Scenes move from one to another without any real flow between images and this just adds to the haphazard feel of the plot. Jason Moore, who directed the first film, at least made that entry feel more tightly constructed; here, the execution is just slapdash. It will be interesting to what Banks creates next time she steps in the director’s chair. Hopefully, it turns out better than this.

The most egregious aspect of Pitch Perfect 2, though, is it’s pandering to the people who made the first film a success. In story, humor and musical sequences, the sequel follows the original nearly beat-for-beat. In both iterations, an outrageous gag opens the film, Kendrick’s character Becca shows off her musical talent, the Bellas have a crisis of confidence, and by the end of the film, everyone learns how to get along and win the competition. This doesn’t even mention the shameless copying of the first film’s most successful sequence, the aforementioned “Riff-Off”, except this time it takes place in an underground dance club hosted by one of the most annoying characters David Cross has ever played (and that includes Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked).

The film isn’t a complete disaster, and that’s mostly because of the music here, again following the first film. Becca’s mashup sensibility saves what is otherwise a by-the-numbers sequel, and the performances are the only time Perfect 2 provides the audience with a sense of joy.

Of course the film has already debuted at #1 at the box office and of course there’s already another sequel being considered (ugh). Catch this one on streaming services if you must, but be warned: Pitch Perfect 2 is much less perfect than its title suggests.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Showbiz Rating: 5 out of 10 Pulses

Catch The Showbiz on Fridays from 2-3pm on bsupulse.com.

The University Pulse has teamed up with Adam Wright Media. Adam Wright is a local musician, photographer and videographer. He has started the In The Valley Sessions which highlights local and touring bands with a special acoustic performance set in miscellaneous Boise locations.

In this In The Valley Session, local Boise folk punker, John Primrose, performs a Thermals cover and an original song, “Lost Boy” at Castle Rock in Boise.

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I have been anticipating the release of It Follows for quite some time now. I was impressed by Maika Monroe’s performance in The Guest and when I saw the intriguing trailer, as well as the early positive reviews, I was hooked. Needless to say, for the most part, this movie delivers.

It Follows succeeds on so many levels because for the most part, it completely abandons typical horror movie cliches. Jump scares are minimized, gore is mostly non-existent, the traditional long exposition of ‘The Creature’ is streamlined and there are surprisingly few deaths, with the main characters avoiding the predetermined killing order that haunts most modern horror films.

The atmosphere is downright fascinating, with director David Robert Mitchell creating a hybrid 1980’s/modern vibe that is intricately planned and executed down to the smallest room detail, a concept that sets the mood perfectly and is bound to please hipsters everywhere. The symbolism of this atmosphere seems perfect, a sort of tribute to a lost past and an indication of what our characters will lose in their journey to escape what follows.

From a cinematography standpoint, It Follows is a truly intimate experience, although it doesn’t devolve into the found footage gimmick that follows the Paranormal series like a younger sibling. The camera angles are very close and personal, taking in facial expressions, minute movements and utilizing slow spins to place you right in the center of the action, which makes Jay’s anxiety and fear even more chilling.

Mitchell’s mastery of tension and mood is also impressive. Time and time again, the sinking feeling of an upcoming jump scare hits you, but the movie refuses to offer that cliche, so successfully managing emotions that the feeling remains even as the jump scares stay in the vault.

In a world where horror movies seem to run on predetermined allotments of jump scares, gore and reach arounds, It Follows refuses to offer these, even as it makes you feel constantly on edge, watching the screen for any hint of what is to come. You get all of the fear and all of the tension, without the stereotypes, which is part of what makes this film one of the freshest takes on the genre I have seen in quite some time.

Already, this creative take has led to comparisons to The Babadook of last year and although I think that film was a better constructed, more intelligent watch, I also think that It Follows is inherently more watchable. It Follows feels more relatable and a bit more familiar, making it my favorite of the two.

That being said, It Follows isn’t just a precise, goal oriented exercise in tension, atmosphere and cinematography. The film also offers an extremely intelligent and biting critique of the Western sexual experience. The critique is multi-pronged, touching on the stigma that surrounds our sexual histories as well as the fear and ignorance associated with the sexual act.

In many ways, It Follows is a pointed mockery of the misconceptions and fear that is taken into so many sexual encounters, as it uses the ‘Follower’ to effectively expand on Jay’s sexual experience, allowing for a greater philosophical deconstruction that is surprisingly intelligent.

The film also critiques the traditional stereotypes of sexual encounters as portrayed by the modern media. Time and time again, Jay’s sexual encounters fail to live up to her standards or the standards we expect in today’s media driven world. Violence, emotional stress, selfishness and poor motivations mark the sexual encounters of It Follows, which refuses to glamorize these moments, choosing instead to minimize nudity and portray a realistic female form.

Even the bliss of Jay’s first sexual encounter in her budding relationship is ruined by the ulterior motives of her significant other. It isn’t necessarily an argument for abstinence so much as it’s a down to earth gut punch, both for the characters and for the audience.

These philosophical critiques are only strengthened by the imagery throughout the film, both in regards to the carefully constructed atmosphere and also of the ‘Follower’ itself, which reflects the sexual and relational histories of its victims in a chilling fashion, adding additional discussion to the points above and also hinting at the obvious commentary on sexually transmitted disease.

Ultimately, this intellectual breakdown is probably the strongest portion of the film, distinguishing It Follows as more then just a fresh reimagining of the horror genre. The only sacrifice here (if you can call it that), is that the film isn’t immediately scary. By minimizing the stereotypical scares, there isn’t much that is truly frightening, at least in the way we generally think about fear at the movies.

That being said, tension is the new fear. It sticks with you as a long term scare. You don’t get the jump out of your seat moments of the first great horror films, but you contract a sort of budding anxiety. We find this in classic, tension filled films like Alien and it is also showcased in It Follows.

It Follows does have a few flaws, the first of which can be found in the length. There is a feeling that it runs too long and repeats itself in the final acts. Some of this could be attributed to mood creation in a non-linear manner and it isn’t a damning critique, but some scenes feel unnecessary.

Additionally, there is a slightly problematic death scene with the ‘Follower’ about two thirds of the way through the film. The scene appears slightly rushed, with elements that don’t jive with the tone of the film or with the knowledge we are given regarding the ‘Follower’.

However, all told, It Follows makes it past these issues fairly easily, with the overall quality of the film making this a must watch, the first of the 2015 cinematic year. This film is an extremely fresh and intelligent take on what was, until the release of The Babadook, a dead genre. I highly recommend, both for the entertainment in the theater and the great discussion afterwards.

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For some time now, I have been debating my next film review and up until a few moments ago, I was pretty conflicted. However, after seeing a locally written positive review for the recent awards push film, Clouds of Sils Maria, with Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz, my choice became an easy one.

As with all French films, I offer a degree of leniency when it comes to the overall pulse of the film. French movies are notoriously boring and despite the fact that I personally dislike this tendency, I am happy to offer passes to films like Rust and Bone and Two Days, One Night, which are both high quality films in their own right.

Clouds of Sils Maria however, takes advantage of my good graces, offering a boxed in two hours of what is honestly one of the most lifeless and pretentious films I have ever had the displeasure of watching.

Despite the fact that I like a good comeback, there is no way to get away from the fact that a great deal of this centers around the Stewart casting. Although many a director has attempted to take the credit for rescuing young adult actor’s careers, there is rarely credit to take. As was the case with Daniel Radcliffe, Stewart is an inherently bad actress. She has no range, no emotion and poor vocalization.

Despite the fact that director Olivier Assayas does his best to fit Stewart into a role that matches her drab exterior, her inability to emotionally connect with each scene still shines through bright and clear. This is a film that is critically tied to a number of deep, riveting scenes with Stewart and Binoche. To undercut the emotion of these scenes is, simply put, a death sentence for this film.

Binoche is strong individually, although her abilities are somewhat lost in the doldrum created by the film. The overall attitude is painfully pretentious, with unwarranted cuts to black and pristine Alps shots to remind us to tune in on Oscar night. I can’t spend enough time raging against films like this, which shamelessly draw from the awards file just to pull in hapless cinephiles and art lovers.

Chloe Grace Moretz, hyped by the trailer as a major player in the film, turns out to only have a few minutes of screen time, offering one semi-decent line. Her role is minimal, really just serving as an extra cash and viewer grab, when it could have added a capable third player to the mix.

Ultimately, the dynamic that is attempted between Stewart and Binoche goes on for far too long without really assuming the emotional gravity intended for it. As a final damnation, the film, coming in on the coat tails of the completely fantastic Birdman, really feels like a freeloader, offering a similar look at an aging thespian with many of the same conflicts. The hinted at (and undelivered) sexual tension is, for the most part, a decoy to distract from what is really just shameless awards bait.

Clouds of Sils Maria is altogether overhyped, overrated and underwhelming in all aspects. Don’t see this, don’t buy it and don’t support this industry of money grubbers who assault us with blockbusters and now, increasingly, have infiltrated the movies designated for high quality artistic expression.

If you are looking for more entertainment news and reviews, check out The Showbiz radio show, on the University Pulse every Wednesday (3-4pm) and Friday (2-3pm). The show features Brandon Walton, John Armstrong, Patty Bowen and Phillip Daily.

Looking for more film reviews? Check out the in depth analysis for the following films:

Unfriended-Ryan Hoffman

Kingsman: The Secret Service-Brandon Walton

Gone Girl-Brandon Walton