Finding Dory – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Well before a small clownfish with a stub-fin was lost and found again, Dory was a tiny baby Blue Tang fish suffering from the mental disability of short-term memory loss. Despite her condition, she was well loved by her parents, and had a fairly happy life. However, a terrible accident separated Dory from her parents. Though she tried to find them, she slowly lost her memories of them until they were only vague impressions in the back of her mind.

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The primary events of “Finding Dory” take place one full year after the events of “Finding Nemo,” the previous film in this series by Pixar studios. Dory is living as best she can with Marlin and Nemo, and while the clownfish have affection for her, it’s also clear that everyone also has to tolerate her and her condition. One day, however, an incident sparks memories of her parents and the name of the place they used to live. With this revelation, Dory sets out with a determined Nemo and a reluctant Marlin to find her parents on the far side of the ocean.

On the way, they will run into challenges to overcome. They will see many new faces, as well as a couple cameos from familiar ones. Dory’s memory and determination will be put to the test, as will Marlin and Nemo’s trust in Dory. Will Dory be able to find her parents after all this time?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“Finding Dory” comes from the same patented Pixar mix of humor and touching sadness that permeates all of their work. If you are a fan of the first film, “Finding Nemo,” then this film was definitely made for you. The relationships between Dory, Nemo, and Marlin all make more sense when you have the first film in mind, and Dory’s behavior and character is odd even with that background. I’m not certain how a given person’s perspectives on the film would change if that person was a newcomer to the series and they only had this film to get to know Dory. That said, the humor and silliness is actually aimed at a slightly lower aged audience than the first film, so if you’re sensitive to ridiculousness, then this film might be a little less appealing to you than the first.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Finding Dory” is funny, adventurous, and heartfelt. It is visually stunning. Pixar’s artists are masters of their craft. The music flows smoothly with the events of the film, and the voice actors all do a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life.

The plot, though borrowing heavily from the first film, is still enjoyable and easy to follow. The characters are mostly well defined and all have their charms. The dialogue is fairly natural, though it doesn’t have quite the level of wit I hope for from the studio that also made the Toy Story franchise. Most importantly for me, Pixar tends to tackle themes and ideas that are flat-out avoided by most other studios, and Finding Dory is no exception.

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All that said, “Finding Dory” is not a perfect film. It really does borrow too heavily from “Finding Nemo,” and while familiarity doesn’t mean lesser quality, it can mean that there isn’t the same sense of wonder and newness that comes from seeing a brand new world for the first time. The side characters are either interesting, or funny, and sometimes both, but they aren’t given enough time to really shine, and it feels like we only get to know them in passing. For all it is a cartoon, it increased the level of ridiculous action to a point that stretched my suspension of disbelief based off of the previous film. These are nitpicks, but it does mean that this film isn’t quite joining the ranks of the Pixar classics.

Though I think it’s worth noting that it does not reach the same heights as the first film, “Finding Nemo,” much less “Toy Story” or “Inside Out”, “Finding Dory” still has much of Pixar’s typical polish and care. It manages to raise itself head and shoulders above Pixar’s lesser offerings, like “Cars 2.” While it may be a “B” tier film for Pixar, than makes it an “A+” tier from most other animation studios, and because of that, when “Finding Dory” comes out…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

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The Jungle Book (2016) – Movie Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Mowgli is a young child, or “man-cub,” orphaned in the jungle as a toddler with the death of his father. He is soon found by the compassionate black panther, Bagheera, who takes him to be raised by the wolf pack under the eye of their leader, Akela. There he grows up alongside the wolf pups with the loving guidance of his surrogate mother Raksha and learns the laws of the jungle, what it means to be a wolf, and how to suppress his human cleverness and his inventions and tools, his “tricks,” as the animals call them.

Drought comes to the jungle, bringing with it the “water truce” wherein no animal must eat another. At the watering hole, Mowgli first meets the intimidating tiger, Shere Khan, who hates humans and threatens to kill the boy the moment the truce ends. When the rains come, Mowgli finds he must flee to the man-village to avoid death by his menacing claws.

What follows is an adventure through the jungle as Mowgli makes friends, faces dangers, and learns who he really is.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“The Jungle Book” is full of adventure, wonder and thrills, but it also does an excellent job of building characters and drama. There are valuable themes of identity, responsibility, family, and bravery throughout the film that kids and adults alike can benefit from. This is a film that almost anybody can enjoy unless they have something against talking animals or adventure stories. Beyond that, people who love to see the advancements of CGI technology and artistry would no doubt find the movie fascinating.

However, the movie would probably be scary for very small children. Forget how cheery and lighthearted the animated film from 1967 was. This movie, while still having moments of light-hearted fun, does not pull back from showing just how dangerous and scary the jungle can be. There is at least one jump scare, and the “villain,” Shere Khan, is a real monster. He is not afraid to kill or threaten violence, and proves to be a terrifying threat to all of the characters throughout the film.

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The movie is still made primarily for kids, certainly, but I would put the viewing age-range a couple of years later on than the animated film it shares DNA with. That said, I believe that kids should watch movies that can scare them, and all of the scares in this film are of a good, thrilling sort. It is simply something to keep in mind for those of you with younguns.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“The Jungle Book” is a beautiful movie. The CGI work is top notch, and after about five minutes into the movie I never questioned the reality of the creatures talking on the screen, and the jungle itself is vibrant and lush.

The film has much more than simple appearance to speak for it, however, as the voice acting is fantastic with terrific performances in every role across the board. From Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, to Bill Murray as Baloo, to Idris Elba’s Shere Khan, they all inhabit their roles. The young child actor playing Mowgli, Neel Sethi, is not perfect. However, I give him a lot of credit for acting when he is literally the only non-CGI character in the whole cast.

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The plot has many of the same beats as the 1967 animated Disney film of the same name, but tight writing links the events together in a strong narrative that makes every scene carry a weight and importance that simply wasn’t there in the original animation. This film also plays on the nostalgia of the audience for the animated film through the reappearance of a couple of its classic musical numbers, but only one of them really worked with the tone and purpose of the scene it appeared in.

The strong writing of the plot and dialogue comes together with the beautiful CGI and fleshed out characters to create a stellar product with only a few minor flaws. “The Jungle Book” is not only the best live-action remake of a Disney Animated movie so far, it is very possibly the definitive version of this classic tale. “The Jungle Book” is worth buying brand new.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

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Zootopia – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Trailer Here

Millions of years ago, in a world without humans, predators and prey evolved out of their hunting and gathering ways, abandoned their adversarial relationship, and built a modern civilization of peace and cooperation together. Zootopia is a major city in this anthropomorphic world, and serving on its police force is the dream of one small country rabbit, Judy Hopps. Against all odds, and through hard work and determination, she manages to accomplish her dream and joins the force.

Despite her accomplishments, she finds that her struggles aren’t over. The captain of the police doesn’t have any faith in her abilities and assigns her to meter-maid duty. She reluctantly carries out her assignment until she witnesses a robbery in action. Abandoning her post, she chases and arrests him, but when she returns to the station the chief berates her and goes to fire her when an otter arrives asking desperately for help finding her missing husband. Judy volunteers to take the case and the assistant mayor, who shows up at the station fortuitously, is pleased.

The chief is frustrated, but to allows Judy to take the case under the condition that if she doesn’t solve it in forty-eight hours she will turn in her badge and leave the force. From here, Judy, with the aid of a fox con artist named Nick Wilde, goes on an investigation that takes many twist and turns, and they find themselves at the center of a problem much bigger than they had ever suspected.

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Review Format 2 - Target Audience

From watching the trailers, the film would immediately appear to be for children, what with all the anthropomorphic creatures and jokes. It’s not that this is entirely wrong. There are plenty of jokes, and the world is indeed full of animated anthropomorphic creatures, which does lend itself to the enjoyment of a kid audience. However, the film has much more to offer than that.

In many ways, the film is just as much aimed at adults as it is children. A lot of the humor is directed at elements of the adult world, and they will get the most out of the jokes and the clever sight gags. The plot is much more mature than your typical children’s film, and the characterization is far more nuanced. More than that, the film deals with complex social issues like sexism and racism in clever ways while managing to avoid feeling preachy, which could have sunk the whole movie.

So, in short, this film is for everyone except people who either hate animation or anthropomorphic animals. That is to say this film is for almost everyone except stick-in-the-muds.

 

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Zootopia” is easily the best animated film this year, and probably for the last several years. I feel that it matches a lot of Pixar’s most recent work, even if it doesn’t quite match the pure magic of Pixar’s best. The plot is very well done with genuine mysteries and surprises, all of which make sense and fit together in a cohesive whole. The characters are loveable and complex, and they can make mistakes and hurt and forgive each other. The humor is witty. The world is thoroughly realized and gorgeous. The music is good and fits well. On top of all these things, which would have already made for a fine film, “Zootopia” manages to fit in sharp social commentary that not only doesn’t distract or detract from the characters and plot, but rather is an integral part of both.

In other words, “Zootopia” is…

4.5-55 Rating - Brilliant!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

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Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Review (Spoilers!)

 

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This review was written after one viewing. I will add notes to wherever my thoughts change after a second viewing with the tag – “Second Viewing:” [Note: I was only able to post this review after my second viewing, but I kept this anyway to show how my thoughts evolved on the topics.]

 

The Short of It

This is a great movie. I liked it a lot, and I think that most people will generally like it too. It is not an excellent, or fantastic movie as it has plenty of flaws. It has too many parallels with previous Star Wars films, and it could use some more connective tissue between plot points, but I still recommend you go see it!

 

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“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” Review

This Apprentice Has Promise But He Isn’t A Sorcerer Yet.

July 17, 2010 – This year’s films have been an interesting blend, from the brilliant Toy Story 3 to the Abysmal Last Airbender, but a large number of flicks are falling somewhere in the middle as well, like The Prince of Persia. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice falls into this squishy middle where great pieces simply can’t pull together to make a better whole. Don’t get me wrong, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a good film. A very good film, in fact. But it never rises to the point where it can be called “great.”
The rest of the story starts out ten years in the past, the year 2000 to be exact (has it really been ten years? My word how time flies!) when a nerdy school kid named Dave Stutler (kid played by Jake Cherry, adult played by Jay Baruchel) finds himself gone astray on a school field trip. Chasing a note from a girl he likes into a run down and cluttered shop, he runs into an older man who was introduced to the audience in the beginning narration as Balthazar (Nicholas Cage) one of the three apprentices of Merlin (yes, THE Merlin.) Balthazar has been searching for the one person whom Merlin’s dragon ring will accept as its owner, the Prime Merlinian. This turns out to be the reluctant Dave.
Things are made complicated by the reappearance of Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) the traitorous third apprentice of Merlin, who fought Merlin alongside Morgana, both of whom were trapped inside the Grimhold (which Balthazar possesses.) After a well done fight sequence in the shop, both Balthazar and Horvath are sucked into a cursed Chinese jar for ten years, while Dave returns to his class and the subsequent ridicule of his story.
Flash forward ten years to the present day and Dave is in college as a Physics Major, doing crazy experiments and being pretty darn nerdy in general. Meanwhile Balthazar and Horvath break free of the jar. What follows is a race between two sides to get the Grimhold and either free Morgana or keep her imprisoned. The only person who can defeat Morgana one day is the Prime Merlinian, and so begins Dave’s reluctant Apprenticeship to Balthazar.
Really, the film does a pretty good job of introducing all of these elements, though the opening narration is extremely exposition heavy, even if I understand the need to tell the tale in a movie with a time limit. Still, it is the story, or rather the plot progression that is the weakest part of the film.
The pacing of the story is full of fits and starts. While some parts move along a a decent clip that keeps the audience interested, there are a number of other times where it drags. In many ways the plot resembles the main character; trying to serve two masters, the love storyline and the Grimhold storyline. So while things may be heating up in one area there will be obligatory cutaways to the other story line which will be languishing. Slow short relationship driven moments may be sandwiched between swift chase scenes, or a heightening relationship moment is broken up by a glimpse at what the bad guys are plotting. While I was always able to keep track of the action (something many modern action flicks fail to do anymore) I often felt like I was either being hurried unnecessarily from scene to scene, or being forced to stop when I should be running.
Plot progression follows a similar path of sputters and spurts. The biggest example of this was the massive jump in Dave’s abilities near the end of the film. The training montages are well done but they led me to believe that very little progress had been made by the time the final showdown comes (He could barely use his ring to move objects, for crying out loud,) and all of a sudden Dave is pulling off moves out of a Dragon Ball anime. The Character could have used a better build up in this department, and tied it nicely into the love story as well. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen.
But despite these major gripes there is still plenty nice to say about the film as well. The aforementioned closing action scene is well done and visually cool while tying together images and threads planted throughout the film. Most other fight sequences are also done nicely with neat special effects even when they weren’t as convincing as they should be (The Dragon fight was cool but the effects were too obviously CG.) The car chase was well done and exciting, and even the non-magical moments looked good (Tesla Coils are awesome, by the way.) All in all there was some pretty nice choreography and special effects.
This leads me into my next gripe, however. There are some really neat uses of magic in this film, from flying statues to dragons, flying needles and cursed jars, but when a fight breaks out it usually comes down to some variation of plasma bolts and fire. People are constantly shooting energy blasts at one another, and while it has its place I was hoping that the fights would show a little more creativity. Occasionally parts would shine like distance sword fights, the above mentioned dragon, etc. But these parts were far fewer than I would have liked.
That doesn’t mean that they completely blew their chances at building a mythology. The back story of Morgana Merlin and his Apprentices is solid, if as old as the characters are supposed to be. The environments are nicely used and the cluttered feel of Balthazar’s shop feels full of history and stories. It felt a little like Harry Potter, which is a good thing. Hopefully the film does well so they could do a sequel and get a second chance to really blow the doors off in terms of involving the characters in this world of magic. Right now it feels like the tip of an iceberg and somewhere down below is an immersive world like Potter’s or even Hellboy’s.

While there was something lacking in terms of plot progression and magical creativity, the characters were mostly great and interesting. Dave is a convincing twenty year old who’s just been sucked up into a cool but intimidating world, and Baruchel does a great job in the role. Nicholas Cage gives another fine genre performance coming off of a great turn as Big Daddy in Kick Ass to pull off a world weary but caring and skilled Sorcerer. Alfred Molina is terrific as Horvath, and in truth he is criminally underused in the final confrontation. Teresa Palmer does a decent job wit Becky the love interest, though she isn’t exactly given a lot to do in the script besides be a plot device. Even Drake Stone, a materialistic modern day evil sorcerer who uses magic to make money as an entertainer, is well acted by Toby Kebbell, though the character is strictly two dimensional.
The only character who was poorly done overall was Alice Kirge’s Morgana le Fay who was so lightly used there is little to be said about Kirge’s acting in the role. This is especially unfortunate given the fact that the character is so important to the plot. The final showdown has almost no emotional heft due to this.
Cinematography was great, sound was well done and the score was perfectly serviceable if not exactly memorable. Jon Turteltaub has done a fine job directing the film, though it would seem he is better with actors than he is with the direction of the film’s plot. Meanwhile Jerry Bruckheimer’s stamp is all over this without (thankfully) becoming too intrusive.
On a final note, there is a particular scene that anyone who has seen Fantasia will recognize. Mickey Mouse still has the charm above and beyond this rendition, but as far as send-ups go, it’s a pretty sweet scene. There’s something about it that stands the test of time since it was first put to paper in 1797 by Goethe in the poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
Stick around after the credits for a brief nod to the Disney cartoon which inspired the movie and the promise that a certain foe is still at large. Here’s hoping for a second, even better film.

Closing Comments:
The film could have been terrible, but instead it hit somewhere in the “Mostly-Good” range. There is a lot of promise in this franchise; promise which the first film didn’t quite reach. The acting was great, the characters largely well done and the action was exciting and full of mediocre to great visual effects. Despite the exposition, the questionable pacing of the plot and the lack of creativity in some aspects, this is a summer blockbuster worthy of your dollars and certainly of a matinee. If you’re even a little bit interested, go see it.

STAR RATING: (3 1/2)