Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Finding Dory Among Pixar's Magic

The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way. 

Finding Dory is written and co-directed by Andrew Stanton, returning to Pixar after the live-action fiasco of John Carter. Pixar movies have been so consistently good for so long now that they carry the burden of infinite expectations. Anything less than a masterpiece is eventually a disappointment. That’s why Finding Dory   is… fine. It’s not Toy Story, The Incredible, Finding Nemo or even Inside Out. But it’s a perfectly enjoyable family film, a little bit like what we got when I was younger – back in the 90s, Disney used to ship straight to DVD/VHS those Lion King spin-offs. Unfortunately, you also feel a sense of déjà vu. Dory’s quest to be reunited with her parents is more or less the same exact fate that a little clown fish named Nemo.

Dory, that adorable, excited blue tang fish, suffers from short-term memory loss. The slightest distraction or break in concentration wipes her mind clean. The creators have done something better: they figured out how to take an already perfect character and deepen her in an exquisitely satisfying way. In a flash, a character with a singular funny trait comes at us in a whole new way. She’s no longer a goofy amnesiac. She’s a child fish with a serious disability.

There’s real emotion. You feel every bit of Dory’s panic and her parents’ desperation – something that any father or mother who’s ever taken their eyes off of their children in a supermarket can identify with (I assume). On her own Dory grows up and matures into the impressible, caffeinated stammering of Ellen DeGeneres – who is the heart and soul of the movie. Like Robin Williams before her in Aladdin, Ellen DeGeneres has this gift as a comedian to keep the film moving and speeding along. Dory’s glory is that her amnesia makes her completely responsive to life. This film eventually is about how the past, for her, isn’t really so past. It’s just the ability to remember life as we’re living it, one moment at a time.      

As surely as the death of Bambi’s mother, the premises of this movie rips a small emotional hole in the audience’s heart. One of this film most important messages is how resonant Dory will be for parents of children with disabilities. To them, life can feel like a lonely struggle where anxiety constantly affects their state of mind. If you are invested hard enough, the film’s message to these parents is: you are not alone! Dory’s failing memory may be a handicap, but it’s also the key to her resilience. Finally, this movie like many before it invites you to dive in with your eyes, which is why these movies are submersive daydreams for children. Who needs 3D glasses? Even if you – like me – happen to see this film in 2D, just about every shot in it pops out at you with beauty.

Overall through her journey, Dory learns to remember what life is all about. This film doesn’t quite fit in the top drawer as it lacks that full-on audacity of imagination. Yet, it has so much soul and heart-of-the-ocean visual poetry that some of us will cherish it as a classic. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Too Many Wonders in Wonderland

Alice returns to the whimsical world of Wonderland and travels back in time to help the Mad Hatter. 

I'm surprised this sequel took six years in the making, regarding  the tonne of money it made. By now we should have had a movie every year for Alice in Wonderland: spin-off, sequel, and prequel involving the Cheshire Cat. As its predecessor, this film is visually awesome, time travel and changing the past in Alice in Wonderland : this could be epic - this sounds definitely epic to me. As a whole, the movie has a great message: the importance of family, of being yourself, not what the world tell you-you should be and making your own path.

I get that Wonderland might be an odd place but when all actors are acting insane - even the one supposed to be sane - it starts to get a little weirder than usual. Films are hard to make so I'm not going yo trash the director and being able to direct actors is tough as well, but I really noticed the lack of emotional consistency most likely due to bad acting. On a plus note, Sacha Baron Cohen character is efficient, he's actually not a proper villain, he's just Time and I won't spoil anything but you can clearly see Alice as the villain here. However, Helena Bonham Carter screaming and shouting all the time really gets to me after two movies of the same thing. Finally, the film itself looks like animation. Which is pretty weird when you realise actors are eventually alone on a green screen. They're many plots in this film and sometimes it gets overwhelming and you lose that wonder, you're no longer swept away in this world where wonder exist, where awe is so important and one man happiness creates an entire death trap that could literally collide the entire universe. Alice Through the Looking Glass had a hard time balancing all the stories.

Overall I was entertained but also annoyed. I can probably say that I enjoyed that one more than the first because of the time travel story line maybe...

Friday, 3 June 2016

The "Not So" Nice Guys

A mismatched pair of private eyes investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys reunites director and co-writer Shane Black and producer Joel Silver, who have previously given us the Lethal Weapon movies, The Last Boy Scout, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - among others. Where Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans or Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer have gone before,  now we have the sublime pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. 

Before our emotionally liberate 21st-century world invented the idea of the "bromance", we had the buddy comedy and the first reference that come to my mind is Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in The Persuaders on television. This film is an arch return to this tradition. Not unlike Deadpool, this is a rare American Studio movie willing to acknowledge the stupidity of mindless action with cathartic elements. The complex plotting bears a close resemblance to Inherent Vice in its dirty arrangement of events in which the main characters generally seem lost in the fog of their own pursuits. 

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are funnier than ever in this buddy movie about crime investigation. Though at the end of the third act, it sometimes shifts into more straightforward procedural details that lack the same spark as its stars. Still there's no doubting the appeal of these two bumbling entities. The Nice Guys delivers brilliant physical comedy, null the actor's ability to turn their screen presence into a punchline. In this movie, everyone is trolling everyone else. Ryan Gosling, among his many talents, has blossomed into an inspired physical comedian. While what's fun about watching Russel Crowe is that he treats the savagery of his job as casually as if he were filling out a tax form. Indeed, they are a brilliant pairing and fit like a glove. So well in fact that you will wonder why it didn't happen sooner. It's a Hollywood buddy pairing that leaves you wanting more - a sequel, if it happens, would be justified and welcome.

This movie is likely to score big with audiences, and for the same reason that it's proven to be a perfect fit. It's a treat to see popcorn movies this decadent made by people who know exactly what they're doing. Philippe Rousselot's cinematography gives L.A. a night bloom glow but not so much of a period authenticity, unfortunately. Finally, the hotel elevator scene, when the heroes duck back into the elevator with a "we don't need this" shrug. The timing of the gag is exquisite because it's Black's way of expressing what it feels like when whenever you're expecting is almost certain to turn out worse.

Overall, The Nice Guys is a cynical movie but yet more or less sympathetic. An innocent pleasure that you can just let slide.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Does Warcraft Follow in John Carter's Footsteps?

The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilisation faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonise another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home. 

Duncan Jones embraces Warcraft's world with commitment but when it comes to charging it with life, it is quite difficult. His adaptation of the online game has a sense of grandeur but also a strong fixation with CGI spectacle which makes the emotional core lifeless. Though it is clear that as a professed Warcraft fan, he clearly has put a lot of love and care into fleshing out a story. Warcraft is an expensive, high-fantasy epic reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings or Narnia. Newcomers - like myself - have a lot to get up to speed with here. As far as I understand all this, our home world is Azeroth, a Middle-Earth-like realm along the lines of Medieval Europe. The population is mostly human, mostly white, but there are also dwarfs, elves and various other mythical creatures in the fringes. 

There's a lot going on and yet we're never quite engaged with the storyline. In Lord of the Rings, we had the Shire, the Hobbit's idyllic pastoral realm, as an image of what everyone was fighting for. Here we barely see Azeroth, outside the Royal Castles, Wizard's towers or epic battlefields. There are much to admire in its ambitions and its design. Still, I don't know why I have this John Carter feeling about it. Like the 2012 Martian Disney flop, Warcraft is a complex, jargon-heavy, battle epic. This film occasionally manages to feel both rushed and dull, impressively staged and disengaging as well. Indeed, the heavy use of CGI and its awkward interactions with the live-action elements, distance the audience even more. 

Overall, this film feels incomplete and if Warcraft's fans want a sequel, every single one of the 12 million players - even their extended family and friends - is going to need to turn up to see this one, if they want this film to get past its first instalment.