By Lynn Venhaus

“Beau Is Afraid” is an unwatchable exercise in excess.

This absurdist black comedy-drama-horror about an anxiety-riddled man-child going through personal crises makes a mockery of the real psychological issues on display, Why is any of this funny when it should be a tragedy?

Writer-director Ari Aster has created a self-indulgent, meandering narrative that straddles reality and fantasy in a very bizarre way, designed to shock like his other works – “Midsommar” and “Hereditary.” These two polarizing films were disturbing with extreme horrific violence.

The rambling story follows the sudden death of Beau’s mother, which sets off a chain of events, as he embarks on a Kafkaesque odyssey back home that manifests his darkest fears. It appears to be a sequence of nightmares strung together in such an incoherent fever-dream way that the film becomes unbearable during its ridiculous 2 hours, 59 minutes runtime. It is no clearer at the end than it was in the beginning.

Joaquin Phoenix is hardly at his best in this ill-suited role as the arrested development afraid-of -his-own-shadow recluse, Beau, who is in serious mental distress and is either in a catatonic stupor or having major panic attacks and meltdowns in public places.

And neither are the actors playing the peculiar-agenda grown-ups – the normally dandy Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan as affluent strangers who rescue him during an assault, and their chic home is where he recuperates in a captive-like situation. Their Good Samaritan effort seems tinged with menace, but they are no Annie Wilken in “Misery.” However, their Fun House is anything but, particularly with their deranged daughter Toni (Kylie Rogers) and a soldier suffering from PTSD, Jeeves (Denis Pinochet).

Not unlike Lewis Carroll’s whacked-out writing in “Alice in Wonderland,” Aster strings us along with poorly drawn characters attempting to make sense of a script that has no point except to be weird for weirds sake.

However, Armen Nahapetian is fine as the sad and confused teenage Beau, who is schooled about life by a forward girl, Elaine, during a summer vacation – and so is Julia Antonelli as Beau’s first crush. As his young over-sharing histrionic control freak mother, Zoe Lister-Jones is Mona then. Patty LuPone is his monstrous, neurotic mother later in life.

In minor roles are Bill Hader as a UPS guy, Parker Posey as Elaine Bray, who works for his mom, Stephen McKinley Henderson as a therapist, and Richard Kind as a doctor.

The random bursts of violence are upsetting and the shouting, screaming and the maniacal behavior unsettling. Imagined demons roam, Beau is either terrified or trembling, and the paranoia is rampant.

We’ve seen a wide array of movies where people spiral out of control because of their less-then-normal upbringing or society’s pressures, but this scenario is not cohesive in the least and mostly incoherent.

In Aster’s world, rules of form, function and ordinary behavior are thrown out the window in favor of a provocateur making a meal out of what’s in the fridge. This is jump-out-of-the-closet scares and off-the-charts anxiety that can actually trigger viewers.

This is someone’s therapy session that we should not be eavesdropping on, and all the mommy and daddy issues raised won’t be solved any time soon. Why should anyone care about these people?

“Beau Is Afraid” is a 2023 comedy-drama-horror film written and directed by Ari Aster and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Kylie Rogers, and Patti LuPone. It is rated R for strong violent content, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language. Its runtime is 2 hours, 59 minutes. It opened in theatres on April 21, is available video on demand and DVD, and began streaming Dec 1 on Showtime/Paramount+. Lynn’s grade: F.

By Lynn Venhaus

Heading ‘to infinity and beyond” with a heroic Space Ranger, “Lightyear,” sounds like an exciting flight of fancy. However, the first spin-off from the beloved “Toy Story” franchise sputters with a not very kid-friendly storyline.

And not really any connection to the four “Toy Story” movies except in name only. Confused? Join the club. We’re in an intergalactic mission that involves time travel and space aeronautic snafus.

This is the movie that made Buzz Lightyear a coveted toy. While spending years trying to return home, marooned Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) encounters an army of ruthless robots commanded by Zurg (Josh Brolin), who are attempting to steal his fuel source.

They make it clear right away that “Lightyear” is the movie that introduced Buzz to the mass audience, and then made him an action figure. That likely was a factor in replacing sitcom actor Tim Allen, who voiced Buzz in four movies, with the known-as-hero Chris Evans, best known as Avengers’ Captain America.

But the marketing of this film hasn’t been so obvious.

For the Pixar Animation Studios, it’s a surprising stumble, for the animation is customary next level, with dazzling outer space panoramas and state-of-the-art tech know-how conveyed in intense detail.

The vision is ambitious, showcasing a far-away planet that the space cowboys colonize as their new home while still working on multiple projects.

But it’s not enough, even with a topnotch vocal cast — Chris Evans is the stand-up Space Ranger, Uzo Aduba is his respected supervisor Alicia Hawthorne, Keke Palmer is her granddaughter Izzy, Taika Waititi is comical crew member Mo Morrison and Efren Ramirez is Airman Diaz.

The diverse cast is a plus, and Alicia Hawthorne is in a same-sex marriage for a Pixar first.

Best is Peter Sohn as the robotic pet cat “Socks” – a delightful source of goofy humor, not unlike the welcome comic relief of break-out character Forky in “Toy Story 4” in 2019.

But most of the time, this origin story is very serious. And that’s disappointing, as this animated sci-fi fantasy never quit takes off because the story itself is underwhelming and bewildering.

The screenplay is by Jason Headley, who wrote one of the lesser Pixar films “Onward,” with story by director Angus MacLane (“The Incredibles”), Matthew Aldrich (“Coco”) and Headley.

It has more in common with Christopher Nolan’s dense and unwieldy “Interstellar” and even the Dreamworks’ animated film, “Over the Moon” in 2020, than it does with the toys that came to life in one of the most successful animated series ever. The original was the first Pixar/Disney film to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Pixar genius Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft had created those beloved characters. In the 27 years since the original “Toy Story” – first completely computer-generated graphic images — opened a marvelous make-believe world of toys having their own lives outside their role-play duties with kid owners, there have been three sequels that expanded the toy-chest universe and broader heart-tugging themes that challenge and change them.

The third one in 2010 and the fourth one in 2019 both won the Oscar for feature animated film (the award wasn’t given out until 2001, therefore the first two, in 1995 and 1999, weren’t eligible).

With its track record of excellence, Pixar has collected 18 Academy Awards for its films. Sadly, “Lightyear” isn’t on the same level.

The youngsters at my screening seemed very restless, and its appeal to younger tykes is uncertain. However, those who are captivated by the film will want to stay through the entire credits, as there are three more scenes.

TEAMING UP – Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear” is a sci-fi action adventure and the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans), the hero who inspired the toy. The all-new story follows the legendary Space Ranger on an intergalactic adventure alongside a group of ambitious recruits (voices of Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi and Dale Soules), and their robot companion Sox (voice of Peter Sohn). Also joining the cast are Uzo Aduba, James Brolin, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Directed by Angus MacLane (co-director “Finding Dory”) and produced by Galyn Susman (“Toy Story That Time Forgot”), “Lightyear” releases June 17, 2022. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“Lightyear” is a 2022 animated sci-fi fantasy feature film directed by Angus MacLane and featuring voices of Chris Evans, Uzo Aduba, Josh Brolin, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taiki Waititi and Efren Ramirez. It is fated PG for action/peril and is 2 hour, 40 minutes long. It opened in theaters on June 17. Lynn’s Take: C+