Tag Archives: Lewis Black



Inside Out

Rated PG {4.5 stars out of 5}

The elevator-pitch meeting for Pixar’s new flagship must have been delightfully bizarre. One can almost hear the question being posed: “What if we could make Finding Nemo more like Inception?” To say that phrase is accurate to some extent about the resulting film is not a mark against the company’s latest triumph in hi-tech imagineering. Rather, it’s evidence that they’re still provoking themselves to create stories that entertain, enrich, and expand their audience.

With Inside Out comes a clever new inversion of the Pixar model. Where before they have transformed ideas into expansive, animated worlds, here they succeed in animating the expansive world of ideas themselves. Nobody asked for a blockbuster that holds the same potential appeal for toddlers and psychology professors, but with a current box office total inching toward $300 million, it sure turned out to be what we wanted.

The surface plot of Inside Out concerns itself, in a Pixar first, with a world not built on any fantastic assumptions about corporeal reality. There is only Riley, a normal 11-year-old girl from Minnesota with a healthy relationship to her parents. Up to this point there have been no major conflicts in Riley’s life, save for the occasional rough hockey match. Things get a bit more complicated when Riley’s dad gets a new job on the West Coast, and life as she knows it is uprooted. Both parents share concern over Riley’s struggle to adjust to new surroundings, and with the subtle changes in her personality that signify the passing of childhood.

This remarkably normal human drama serves as a launching pad to explore the complex network of emotions underlying every life decision, however small. We spend the majority of the film at the controls of Riley’s mind, where a team of colorful sprites representing five major emotions (Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, Sadness) take unequal turns at the helm. While it plays like fantasy, older viewers will revel in the pure metaphor of the central adventure: Joy (Amy Poehler) clashes with Sadness (Phyllis Smith) for preeminence and end up temporarily lost; the remaining emotions, Fear (Bill Hader) Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (the perfectly cast Lewis Black) try their best to fill in the gaps and mimic normality, but end up producing sarcasm.

In setting its main stage as the human brain, Inside Out unlocks the vast narrative potential of a world that can be equal parts comic, wistful and outlandish. Children will delight in the diverse scenery and dream-logic of locales that alternately resemble a museum, an amusement park, a zoo and a haunted house. There are many elements indebted to Dr. Seuss in the feverish whimsy used to portray Riley’s memory fields, from the literal train of thought operated by memory cleaners (who often hold onto useless memories like TV commercials for fun) to an imaginary friend that’s been hiding in the subconscious (a character straight out of Horton Hears a Who!). In that respect, the film feels like a classic throwback to the Jungian landscapes of Seuss’ best work (Oh, the Places You’ll Go! rings a few bells, as does the lesser known 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T).

Inside Out

For all the energy with which Inside Out brings the imagination to life, the real triumph comes when directly tackling the emotions themselves, specifically the central duo of Joy and Sadness. After initially planning to pair Fear with Joy as a more comical choice, the filmmakers finally settled on bringing Sadness to the forefront, a risky move for a children’s film in this day and age. More than getting a crucial role, the complex, frumpy and perpetually blue character gradually comes to share the title of protagonist with Joy, who struggles to see the useful purpose of crying, negative emotion and especially memories that are anything but joyful. It seems like a corrective to much of the relentlessly upbeat films in the canon (Disney, Children’s, Hollywood, you-name-it) to show the two emotions for better or worse as a solid partnership, with equal responsibilities and an equal tendency to wreak havoc if left to their own devices.

When leaving the film, I felt that Inside Out might be worthy of a sequel or two, not for the sake of revisiting beloved characters as Toy Story 3 or Monsters University have done, but just to look further into the tantalizingly infinite worlds it has opened up. There are a few hints to this effect—a scene highlighting the different emotional approaches between Riley’s mom and dad (the mom’s mind resembles an open-discussion format show a la The View, the dad’s a security control room). The fact that Riley is on the verge of young adulthood opens up countless avenues to explore the personality.

Then again, this leap into the most personal of adventures—the development of our inner character—might suggest too many possibilities to contend with, especially outside the less hazardous boundaries of childhood. It is enough that Pixar has succeeded this time around, and has produced the most oddly affecting outlier in its filmography to date.

Lewis Black

Lewis Black Comments on American Myths and Legends

Straight Talk

You know what they say: Laughter is the best medicine. A divisive government, treacherous economy and two wars weigh heavily on the minds of most Americans as we approach another presidential election, hoping that no matter who’s elected, he’ll be able to turn things around. With the world seeming so dire, perhaps the only way to deal with it is to try to find the humor in it. But for some, the comedy of Lewis Black is probably a bitter pill. Author, playwright, actor and stand-up comedian–Black’s resume extends far past his appearances on The Daily Show and as host of Comedy Central’s The Root of All Evil. But more important than his accomplishments, Black is a keen observer of politics, and his sharp commentary takes shots at members of our government on both sides of the aisle. On his way to Purdue University, Black took time from his perpetual touring to answer a few of our questions.

I’m sure you’ve probably answered a lot of questions about this, but I saw that you went to perform for the troops in the Middle East at the end of last year. What was that like?
It seems silly to say, but it was sort of life changing.

How so?
I had not been exposed to the military. You realize that we’re insulated–we’re not only insulated from the war, but we’ve been insulated from our military. For all the lip service that’s paid by politicians, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what these people do. And if they really paid the lip service, they’d be more careful in where and how they used people like this. They’re extraordinary individuals on many levels, and they [politicians]–from the bottom up–they don’t pay enough attention to them. They don’t provide them [the troops] with what they need. It’s just amazing.

Was it all what you’d expected it to be?
It wasn’t. It was stunning how much more in touch the military seemed to be with their men than the politicians in this country seem to be with the people they’re supposed to be governing.

In that light, does it upset you when you hear politicians telling Americans that they’re supposed to support the troops?
I don’t mind politicians saying, “Support the troops.” What I mind is when they act as if we don’t. It’s disgusting. You can’t use that anymore. You can’t say, because someone doesn’t want to have a war, that they don’t support the troops. You can’t say it. You may have been able to say it during the Vietnam era, but you can’t say it anymore. It doesn’t hold. It holds no water. It’s a myth. It’s a lie. You can’t say what McCain said about Obama. You can’t say it. That shit’s got to stop–some time in my lifetime–because it’s counterproductive, it’s stupid and it’s divisive.

I wanted to talk with you about the conventions. Did they sway you one way or the other, which way you are going to vote in November?
Yeah, it made me think about moving. It’s unbelievable. I really do feel that with the addition of Sarah Palin, it’s fiction. It’s like watching a movie.

What was your initial reaction to McCain picking Palin to be his running mate?
My initial reaction was what I’d always thought, which is anybody could be vice president. You can’t tell me that she’s the most popular governor. Really? Of Alaska, you fucking idiot–an alcoholic’s paradise. Please. To watch people who don’t know her talk about her–like Giuliani. They don’t know anything about her. Both sides spin their crap; it’s like, just be honest about stuff. You’ve got one group of people talking about the future, and the other group living in the past. What about now?

Something Giuliani said in an interview after his speech was that McCain’s choice of a running mate was looking toward the future, while Obama’s was looking to the past. I thought that was interesting comment in light of what you’re saying.
The whole thing is phenomenal. I have somewhat of an understanding of why he [McCain] made the choice he made. Him picking her is like watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, only she [Palin] is not quite as qualified as Jimmy Stewart.

To be fair, what did you think of Obama choosing Sen. Joe Biden?
It’s an interesting choice if you can get him to shut up. He talks too much. Obama had to pick somebody with experience. If someone’s going to die in office [laughs]–I mean, literally, you have to. I truly felt like if Obama wanted to just win, he had to pick Hillary [Clinton], no matter what the consequences. But the Democrats don’t want to win. They never want to win. They just don’t seem to want to. The logical choice is Hillary, whether you liked it or not, but if you wanted to win, as a ticket as a party. They don’t seem to want to govern.
What I find most appalling is their lack of response. What [Sen. Joe] Lieberman did was reprehensible on any level. So for the party that this schmuck represented, for this idiot to go speak for the other party, what are you saying to all of the people who voted for you? And what is the party saying by saying, “Oh well, what are you going to do? That’s Joe.” It’s not funny. It’s disgusting. I just find it odd that they don’t respond. Democrats don’t ever seem to know how to respond.
It’s nonsense what the Republicans are saying at this point, but the fact is, since the Democrats don’t have a proper response, it makes you go, “How intelligent are you?” Come up with something. Be direct.

What do you think the Democrats should do next if they somehow manage to lose this election?
I think they should rename the party. Come up with a new name, a new logo and go through a re-branding process. That’s all they can do. I mean, really, after eight years of this, if you can’t win the election, just disband.

Are you going to miss President Bush when he’s gone?
No. You can tell already. Look, it was nuts before, and now it’s even more crazy. As a comic, you can’t write the stuff that they’re doing. They’re writing it for you.

Has your job almost been too easy over the past eight years? Are you kind of looking forward to a challenge?
In a way, but it’s been hard to find the funny in it in a lot of ways. As funny as it is, it’s hard to treat it as if it is funny, because it’s really unbelievable.

How do you think history will judge this president [George W. Bush] now that his reign is almost over?
After they get over the laughter and the tears in just trying to record it, I think history will stand agape at what he did. He made a concerted effort to go back to 1956. If television was in black and white, I might have bought this, but it’s in color and it’s digital. It’s a mindset that should have never been in power.

Do you think that if he managed to succeed, that if he’d actually rolled the clock back to 1956 that we would have been better off?
Well, no. I would’ve been suicidal, having lived through it once, but it certainly would have made more sense. It would have made it seem more rational.