Directed by TOY STORY 3’s Lee Unkrich, COCO is a stunning vision of beauty and life. This 2017 Pixar picture is the stuff of cinematic wonder, with a screenplay by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich. It weaves a timely and timeless story that explores the Mexican Día de Muertos and notions of memory, family and life. It is an expressive and sometimes dark movie, with confident humour and warm voice performances.
The story focuses on 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), an aspiring musician living with his shoemaking family in Santa Cecilia. His grandmother (Renée Victor) is upholding a familial ban on music and prohibits Miguel from playing his guitar. The boy is undaunted and wants to be like the famed Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a captivating idol revered the world over notwithstanding his untimely death. Miguel’s journey to understand his family and his love of music reveals the truth about his hero and takes him all the way to the Land of the Dead itself.
COCO thrives with gorgeous music and colour, celebrating the worlds of the living and dead. The early images of Miguel’s home are profuse with flavour, with Pixar’s animation team paying careful attention to the slightest of details. There is always food and movement. With the Day of the Dead approaching, there is also festivity and tradition. Miguel’s family is, like so many fabled clans, reverent of traditions and yet in need of revelation.
At the heart of COCO is what could be termed a misinterpretation of events. The grudge against song is unspoken in a broken heart, in a mislaid life. Gael García Bernal gracefully draws Héctor as the hinge of this fallacy and his affection for Miguel leaps for joy. The title character, a woman (Ana Ofelia Murguía) slipping away, is characteristic of how the living maintain a grasp on the lost and how the lost are left with a place in the here and now so long as they are remembered. And in the face of doubt, sorrow and despair, COCO’s message is beautifully important.
Let’s get this out of the way: FIST FIGHT is way better than it has any business being. In an age where many major studio comedies push past the two-hour mark and are embellished with torrents of riffing and redundant side characters, this Richie Keen movie gets to the point. It has structure. It tells a story. It knows what it’s doing and it knows why it’s doing it. There are moments of high-flight silliness and much of the humour is wildly “inappropriate,” but it’s also very funny. Often stunningly so.
It’s the last day of the school year at a chaotic and brutally underfunded public school and that means the students are out of control. Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a dupe of an English teacher and he’s trying to endure it, but he’s worried about his job. Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) is the history teacher and he’s also on the chopping block, but his approach differs. He doesn’t mind cracking heads if it gets the students to learn. The educators clash after a series of events and Strickland challenges Campbell to a good old-fashioned rumble. Campbell spends the day trying to get out of it, while Strickland’s motives are deeper than you might think.
A certain degree of FIST FIGHT deals in catharsis. Watching Campbell’s journey from softy to soldier is interesting because it doesn’t take the anticipated route. He discerns that his approach to learning – and indeed to life – isn’t working. Staying out of the fray isn’t always the best solution to life’s snags and a little confrontation can have value. Strickland, on the other hand, learns that he requires moderation. But his motives are pure and that’s what’s unique about FIST FIGHT. His actions demarcate a bigger problem in the education system, with topics as comprehensive as funding and behaviour providing context.
You could enumerate all the “problematic” humour in FIST FIGHT, but what’s the use? There are coarse jokes and some might find it obnoxious to see teachers smacking students around. But in the grand scheme of things, the bedlam works. And it’s damn funny when Jillian Bell’s character lets her id do the talking. Tracy Morgan, Dean Norris and Christina Hendricks do well in support roles, while Alexa Nisenson plays Campbell’s daughter and tackles a Big Sean song with amusing results. Sure, the comedy is broad. Sure, the jokes can be cheap and even “mean.” But there’s more to this pithy comedy than the sum of its parts. And today, that’s kind of a treat.