Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Finding Dory: A Review
Dan Davis
June, 2016
          When creating a sequel to a classic, it's hard to make a follow-up that satisfies everyone. Finding Nemo was never one of my absolute favorite Pixar films (which is saying a lot considering how much I love Pixar films, but I digress), but it was still a charming and very good story about a father trying to find his son. So, when it was announced a sequel was going to be made, I remained hopeful, although a bit skeptical. Then, when I learned it would star Dory, Marlin's forgetful companion from the first film, I was especially worried since sequels and spinoffs starring comic relief characters don't tend to go over well, for example, Pixar's own Cars 2, a film I don't actually hate, but did not do well at the box office. Finding Dory proves to  be a satisfying follow-up.   
           What makes Finding Dory work as a follow-up to Finding Nemo is that it adds an extra layer of dimension to the title character of Dory. Although Dory's short term memory loss was a funny quirk in Finding Nemo, in Finding Dory it becomes a real story element, and adds a depth to the character. In Finding Dory, Dory suddenly starts having memories of her parents and what she was like as a child, and decides, along with Marlin and Nemo to embark on a journey to a SeaWorld like location, in order to find her parents. Along the way, much like in the Finding Nemo, they encounter a bunch of quirky characters, including an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O'Neill, who does an exceptional job), and a pair of amusing and crazy sea otters (voiced by Idris Elba, who seems to be on a Disney voice roll of late, and Dominic Cooper), among others. These quirky characters, along with other aspects, add to the film's overall charm, and enjoyment.    
        Much of the film's heart and interesting character development comes not only from the relationship between Dory and her parents, but also Dory and the somewhat crusty octopus, Hank. Hank is basically Dory's buddy in the film, much like how Dory was for Marlin in Finding Nemo, except Hank is an octopus with a lot of attitude. Hank originally only aids Dory because she will be able to let him get to his planned destination, but once the two start to get to know each other a bit, they become real friends. There are also a lot quieter moments in the film, particularly scenes where Dory is by herself, trying to recall her own memories of her past, that I really appreciated and liked. Caitlyn Olson who plays Dory's younger self does a very good job in this role.
          Despite some complaints about the film being too much like the first one, I found most of it was actually original. Aside from Crush, whose appearance is brief, and logical to the story itself, and the moonfish teacher (because every Pixar film needs to have John Ratzenberger somewhere in there), most of the supporting characters from Finding Nemo do not appear again. Much like the Toy Story sequels, most of the not so major characters do not up show again, in any particular major roles, instead opting to add in some new characters to the action. While some people may find it disappointing that characters like Bruce, are not in this sequel, I think this, along with the primarily out of sea location, makes the film stand-out on it's own, and makes it different enough to not feel like a complete retread.
        The last scene is very chaotic and terrific with a slow-mo scene near the end played to Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. Marlon and Nemo, while still central to the plot, do feel a bit like an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. They certainly could have had more scenes together, but I can't say I'm overall disappointed. After all, this is Dory's film and story, through and through.
        Thomas Newman's musical score is just as wonderful and great as the Finding Nemo's score, particularly during the more quiet moments, and unlike a lot of sequel scores, it doesn't recycle too many cues from the original, instead opting to do a lot more original music. Also, just a funny thing to recall, but weirdly enough, some of the music during the credits reminded me a bit of spy music.    
        In the end, Finding Dory is both a terrific follow-up to Finding Nemo, but also a very entertaining and enjoyable movie on it's own, with plenty of heart, and several themes and ideas you can get out of it. As far as Pixar's sequels centering around a comic-relief go, this is certainly better executed than Cars 2, and the animation in this film is lovely and as gorgeous as ever.
9/10 (same rating as the original)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Race: A Review
Dan Davis
June, 2016

          Stephen Hopkins’ Race, a French-German-Canadian co-production, is a somewhat standard biopic that tells the story of Jesse Owens (played by Stephan James), and his quest to become the world’s greatest track and field athlete. After being trained by Coach Larry Snyder (played by Jason Sudeikis), he finds himself on the world stage of the 1936 Olympics. In this context, Jesse is up against Adolph Hitler and his racist ideologies, which threaten to tear him apart. Due to this conflict, he has to decide whether or not he should actually go to the Olympics. While this is happening, we intersect with scenes of Avery Brundage, (played by Jeremy Irons) a well off American envoy, who is trying to negotiate a compromise with Hitler’s political party, the Third Reich, so as to avoid a boycott over Jesse Owen’s participation in the Olympics. Race may be a very simply told story, but its good performances and compelling story, make it even more enjoyable than expected.
Race’s title actually has two meanings. The first, obviously, refers to the Olympics and the running race Owens is involved in, and the second meaning, of course, has to do with Jesse Owens and the prejudice he receives on the field because of his race,and being an African American athlete. Stephan James’ plays Owens as a fiercely stubborn and persistent runner who wants to be the best. James’ performance is somewhat cautious, and while he seems to lack a huge amount of dramatic depth in the role, he is, nonetheless, very good. Comedian Jason Sudeikis, as Coach Larry Snyder, is a bit of the odd duck in the film. While he is basically very good in the role, it does feel like he’s trying too hard with a little too much brooding and seriousness, as if to remind the audience that he’s not playing his usual funny role with comic relief. When he delivers lines, like “no room on the team for us”, all I can think of to myself is here is a serious Sudeikis who wants to seen as a serious actor, playing a serious role, very seriously. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, with Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage, who spends most of his scenes talking a lot to Germans, and William Hurt, as a racist coach, being the standouts.
         The direction by Stephen Hopkins is fine. There are some slow-motion scenes, such as when Coach Snyder is telling Jessie if he hears voices from outside the stadium, and Coach Snyder’s voice slows down, then the scenes switch almost automatically back and forth. Another example of this, whenever Jessie is running, the scenes will literally go silent just before the races are about to begin. The running scenes, in general, are quite exhilarating, and are the highlights of the film, even if they don’t take up much of the film’s screen time, and don’t appear until about half-way through the film.
I especially liked the musical score by Rachel Portman. While a lot of the music is very inspirational-sounding, I quite liked the dark and sinister music for the Nazis, however the music that plays when Jessie Owens walks onto the Olympic running field is oddly somewhat dark sounding as well, and then it builds to an epic rushing piece, eventually.
        What’s unusually odd about Race, which I didn’t particularly care for, is just how weirdly edited it is, at least in the first half. Scenes sometimes cut from one to the other, and some of them feel oddly out of place. An example of this is when Jessie Owens and Coach Snyder are talking, and the film cuts to a shot of Avery Brundage standing before some Germans. While this sort of thing wouldn’t normally bother me, the editing is done so abruptly that I can’t help but notice it.
         Surprisingly, the film doesn’t explore the race angle as much as you would expect. Instead, it goes for more of a quasi-inspirational film, with some thriller elements thrown in. There are some race issues addressed in the film, but if this issue had been developed more, it might have made the movie a bit more interesting in the story department. That said, overall, Race is a solid biopic. It does tackles some major themes, and the direction, acting, musical score, and settings all make it worthwhile for at least one viewing experience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Blog!

Having recently graduated from college and no longer writing reviews for my Internship at Catamount Arts, I invite you to follow me here in our very own MovieHole.