Friday, July 19, 2024

‘Robot Dreams’ (2023)

Pablo Berger’s witty, wry Oscar-nominated flick was the best animated feature last year, and that’s not to take away from Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron.” It was actually an exceptionally strong year for animation that drew from entries that were not Pixar/Disney. Based in the graphic novel by Sara Varon, “Robot Dreams” is a heartfelt portrait of loneliness, connection and loyalty. Our chief protagonist, Dog, exists in an anthropomorphic New York City. People are nowhere to be seen. Dog’s life is pretty insular: He eats mac and cheese in his high-rise, plays video games and one night responds to a TV ad for a robot companion. Ironically – or I should say wittily – the ’bot known as Robot is human in form. On their first bonding experience, Robot shoos away pigeons pestering Dog and the two take the town by storm, like Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in matching gaberdine suits in “Rain Man” (1988). Then there’s a fateful visit to Coney Island that begins with joy and ends with birds using Robot as a roost. The best way to describe the animation and adult tenor of the film would be something akin to “Archer” or “King of the Hill,” but it’s far beyond either, meticulously crafted and each scene imbued with a deeply emotional dialogue even though words are never spoken. It’s a unique sojourn that you might not take seriously from the start, but by the end it will worm its way into your heart. (Tom Meek) Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge.

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‘Inside Out 2’ (2024)

When Pixar released “Inside Out” in 2015, personifying the emotions in the lovably relatable 11-year-old Riley’s head, it was well-received largely because it was unlike anything made before. Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear came to life in characteristic Pixaresque style, with plenty of whimsy to go around. The sequel certainly isn’t better than the original (is it ever?), but it’s still an enjoyable sojourn. Like most franchise films, the success of “Inside Out 2” hinges on its ability to pull on viewers’ nostalgia, which is cheekily acknowledged through the addition of a character: Nostalgia (June Squibb) herself. She’s depicted as a grandmotherly type who comes through the door of the brain control center only to be shooed away by the other characters – Riley isn’t ready for her yet. But we are, which is why “Inside Out 2” works as well as it does nine years after the original. The plot’s simpler and takes place over a shorter period as it follows Riley and her friends Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) during a three-day hockey camp. She’s 13 now, with new puberty-fueled emotions: the whirlwind combo of Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Eeyore-like Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), perpetually bored Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and big-eyed Envy (Ayo Edebiri) join Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Liza Lapira), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale) and Anger (Lewis Black). These new emotions take over the motherboard as Riley ditches her friends at camp in favor of the cool older girls, including team captain Val Ortiz (Lilimar Hernandez). The plot remains extremely PG, but the intensity with which Riley fixates on Val makes you wonder: If the theme of the second film is puberty, might the theme of the third film be sexuality? Over the three days, Riley’s emotions rise and fall, culminating in a panic attack in the penalty box (hello, anxiety!) that ultimately leads to a telling, yet sweet, reconciliation. If anything, the film could’ve spent more time in Riley’s life than in her brain, but all in all it’s a heartwarming take on the big emotions of early adolescence that sets itself up well for a threequel. (Madeleine Aitken). At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge; Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.

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‘Remy & Arletta’ (2023)

On “Remy & Arletta,” Micaela Wittman is a triple threat: She wrote a book about her own adolescent experience, turned it into a screenplay, then starred in it as her teenage self, renamed Remy. Clearly, she’s no stranger to introspection, and that pays off here. The film effectively has three characters – Remy, her alcoholic mother (Amy Benedict) and her best friend Arletta (Riley Quinn Scott) – and the relationships feel authentic. The plot is easily digestible with solid pacing, good humor and an excellent soundtrack; where the film slips is its attempt to accomplish too much in an ultra-brief 71-minute run time. The premise is simple: Remy and Arletta have been best friends for years, sharing everything except class, as Remy lives in a motel room with her controlling, abusive mother and Arletta lives in a big house with a backyard pool. The story gets complicated when, after Remy and Arletta kiss for some boys they’re video chatting with online, Arletta reveals that her feelings for Remy go deeper than friendship. This is hinted at earlier, but waiting until the 56-minute mark to reveal it fully does the film a disservice. With only 15 minutes left to wrap things up, the ending feels rushed, even though the depiction of the blurred line between intimate female friendships and something more is just about perfect until that point. It’s still a solid coming-of-age film with the usual insurmountable angst and big feelings plus an especially good performance by Scott, who mastered her lovable girl-next-door character. But I was left thinking, “That’s it?” (Madeleine Aitken) On Amazon Prime.