Finding Dory Review

Pixar has, for years, defined quality family entertainment.  Their art direction has been emulated in several other films, and there’s a natural maturity to the films that is relatable to the countless adults in attendance.  The films are “safe” for children, even if the source material therein isn’t exactly targeted at them, though the marketing is.  Pixar is capable of creating worlds that are enticing for everyone with a beating heart and a sense of joy, with rarely a misstep between releases.  It’s no surprise, then, that Finding Dory is absolutely fantastic.

When the film was first announced, I was apprehensive.  Pixar’s last sequel, Cars 2, was one of those rare missteps.  It was a film that existed solely to sell merchandise and offered very little substance beyond that.  Not that Pixar is incapable of crafting worthy sequels, as the Toy Story franchise has proven, but the story of Finding Nemo felt complete.  I wasn’t begging for a sequel; I took the journey and was satisfied with the conclusion.  I was afraid that a sequel would be an unnecessary rehash and a cash grab.  How wrong I was.

Finding Dory opens, like every Pixar movie, with an animated short.  This one, titled Piper, tells the story of a little bird that needs to get its first meal on its own.  It’s a simple premise that is artfully crafted into one of the most charming shorts I’ve ever seen.  The animation is downright beautiful with a beach that feels real enough to walk on.  From the frothy waves lapping up on shore to the individual grains of sand that stick believably to the feathers of little Piper, the world feels so incredibly real and believable that Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating this bird’s journey to independence wouldn’t feel out of place.  It’s a charming short that tells viewers, without speaking a single word, “You can do great things.”  The cynicism that’s blossomed within me over the years got some much needed weeding from the pure joy I felt during Piper’s short runtime.  Its theme is one that fits well with the film that follows.  It’s such a beautifully charming short capable of making even the hardest of hearts laugh, if only for a moment.

Piper was such a strong opening, I had high expectations from that point forward.  Finding Dory is more as much a prequel as it is a sequel.  The story opening with a very young Dory and her patient parents as they work with her and her memory issues.  See, Dory has problems with short-term memory loss and is easily distracted.  As a result, her parents have to use shells and rhymes to embed important things into her memory, with varying results.

Throughout the film, we’re taken back to these moments as Dory encounters something that triggers her memory.  It creates a non-linear narrative that encompasses the story that was told in Finding Nemo without relying too heavily on its predecessor.  Sure, there are various callbacks to Finding Nemo, and being familiar with the characters might help the world to feel a little more familiar, but there’s absolutely nothing in Finding Dory that would alienate new viewers.  It’s a film that stands on its own, despite living in an existing universe.  There’s only a handful of characters from the first film that make an appearance, and even less that are actually featured as main characters.

The majority of the film – aside from focusing on Dory, Marlin, and Nemo – is composed of a variety of new characters.  Joining the cast of characters is Kaitlyn Olson as a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale suffering from issues with echolocation after a recent concussion, and Ed O’Neill as an ornery “septopus” who is looking for a ticket to a Cleveland aquarium where he’ll be able to live a secluded life in a box free from getting touched.

Hank is easily my new favorite character to make its way into an animated movie.  He plays the unlikely hero as he agrees to help Dory only in exchange for her tag – a ticket to Cleveland.  As he spends more time with Dory, he slowly begins to sympathize with the character, and even care about her.  It’s a fluid evolution as Hank never transitions from being a self-serving anti-social jerk to a compassionate hero.  Hank, by the film’s end, is the same as he was, at his core, when he first met Dory.  We’re shown right off the bat that he isn’t entirely heartless – in fact, he has three.  He also has a set of principles:  a deal is a deal and I’ll make sure I hold up my end of said deal.  If that deal sees him taking some unexpected detours, he’ll take them.

It’s not just his personality, though, that makes Hank stand out.  That helps, for sure, but the creative animation transforms him from being just an abrasive cynic to a truly memorable and even iconic animated character.  Hank is a ruby octopus – well, he’s missing a tentacle, so Dory refers to him as a septopus.  In addition to using his array of tentacles to walk, crawl, and sling his way around, Hank also has the ability to perfectly mimicking his surroundings with his camouflage.  This sets up some brilliant visual gags and makes the character that much more endearing.

All of the new characters, though, add something special to the mix.  From the territorial sea lions to Bailey and his use of the world’s most powerful glasses, each inhabitant of this wonderfully zany universe is memorable in his or her own right.  The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the talented cast breathes life into the characters with heart and impeccable timing.

Finding Dory is, in some regards, a similar movie to its predecessor.  You have a fish embarking on a journey to find a family that was lost.  At its core, however, it’s a much smaller, more personal tale that trades the ocean-spanning adventure of the first film for a more focused character piece.  The majority of the film takes place in a single location with only one brief scene spent getting there.  It’s less a journey of finding someone else, and more of a journey of self-discovery.  Not only for Dory, but for the characters around her.  The film poses the question of “who is Dory?”  By the time the film concludes, she’ll feel as much a part of your family as she is a part of the family she’s looking for.

While I felt that Finding Dory took a full act of its own before it really found its groove (possibly because of the impossibly high expectations I had following Piper), the story, characters, and everything in between was a joy to watch.  Finding Dory is another standout Pixar film with tons of heart.  For each moment you laugh, there will be another, perfectly fitting moment of heartfelt sincerity that yanks at your emotions.  It’s hard to find a film that’s contains such a perfect blend of contrasting emotional themes, but it’s handled with such grace that viewers will be finding Dory, her cohorts, and the heartwarming journey they take entertaining for years to come.

 

Good – 3 / 3

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Podcast 2 – June 1 2016

The latest PowerUP Online Podcast is now up!  We apologize for the audio issues this week – we had an issue during the recording process we didn’t realize until after the recording was completed.  We have taken measures to ensure better audio quality in the future.

Dante’s Inferno film adaptation in the works

A film adaptation based on the Visceral Games title loosely inspired by the epic poem is currently in the works. The game’s story sends a battle hardened Dante on a murderous rampage through hell in search for his love, Beatrice. While there’s little resemblance to the tale that inspired it, the game (an unashamed God of War clone) was a lot of fun.

The film is being backed by Universal Pictures and will be directed by Fede Alvarez who recently helmed the Evil Dead reboot. A script is being written by Jay Basu.

Insidious: Chapter 2 review

Insidious_Chapter_2_PosterIn film, few genres give me as much joy as horror.  Even the bad movies have this odd charm to them that makes them just a joy to watch.  They fail so hard at being scary that the resulting entertainment is just unintended glee.  When they succeed at tension building and suspense, though, there’s a whole new experience to be had.  “Entertainment” isn’t really the best word to describe a good horror movie because it’s more a roller coaster than a joy ride.  It’s a combination of physical responses and unrelenting dread.  A successful horror movie is an entirely different experience than any other film.  Sadly, successful horror movies are few and far between.  Thankfully James Wan and Leigh Whannell are around to breathe new life into the horror genre.

The two got their start with what birthed the most successful horror franchise of all time, Saw.  While not all the films in the series are winners, it’s undeniable that the first film helped to reshape an entire genre of film while providing one of the most ingenious plot twists of all time.  Since their little torture porn, the horror duo have worked on Dead Silence (while not the best horror film, a fun throwback to campy 80’s killer doll flicks that I still enjoy) and the more recent Insidious.

The first Insidious raised the bar for me in what to expect from a horror film.  The film relied on tension building in tandem with jump scares and completely forwent any gore – being released with only a PG-13 rating.  Something not terribly common in horror films.  Most horror films up to that point had been R-rated murder romps that featured an overabundance of jump scares and creative kills to draw in audiences.  Insidious delivered something different:  a truly terrifying experience.  It was smart, fast, fun, and intense.  This isn’t to say that it didn’t rely on jump scares, but it was able to have lasting moments of constant tension buildup beyond those loud music cues and closets flying open.  Insidious set a new standard for me and its sequel had a lot to live up to.

Insidious

I had high expectations for the film but, with James Wan having directed another 2013 horror film (the well-received The Conjuring which also starred Insidious’ Patrick Wilson), there was a bit of concern in whether or not this film would feel like the lovingly crafted sequel I wanted or a quick cash in to a super successful modern horror classic.  I’m pleased to say that Insidious met my expectations – even exceeded them at times.

insidious-philip-friedman1Insidious: Chapter 2 begins with a bit of back story highlighting story elements that are hinted at in the first film but never delved into.  Josh Lambert had some experiences with astral projection as a child and this back story is more fleshed out in this sequel and plays heavily into the history of both films.  It’s an excellent preface to the subsequent events and really helps to broaden the scope of the film.  After the title card, which is pulled from the first film and “Chapter 2” fades in behind it, we’re taken to an interrogation room.  Picking up almost immediately after the events of Insidious, Chapter 2 reminds us that there’s a dead medium in the Lambert house and Josh is more than likely the murderer – though with the complicated alibi of being stuck in The Further.

The next 100 minutes are filled with answers, more questions, and plenty of scares.  Insidious: Chapter 2 avoids playing it safe by messing with the foundation laid in the first film.  Everything that happened in the first film has some new meaning in the sequel and it’s crazy how well it works.  Repurposed footage is given new life in mindblowing sequences where you’re left thinking, “If this wasn’t planned in the first film, this is damn brilliant.”

Jump scares and exposition play a much bigger role in Chapter 2 than they did in the first.  We’ve already been introduced to the idea of astral projection and The Further, so this time around we’re looking to get some resolution following the cliffhanger finish of the first film.  There’s still that building tension and I had chills running down my arm more than a few times during the course of Chapter 2, but lore building and fast moving thrills are a big part of the experience, too.  It works, too.

The way Insidious ended could have been the end of it all and I would have been okay with it.  It felt like a wonderfully fitting close to a horror film.  With that, it’s nice to know that the events that followed Elise’s death don’t feel shoehorned in.  There’s actually a lot of interesting happenings and the foundation they’ve built for the lore is left vacant at the end of the experience for even more adventures – though maybe absent the Lambert family.

EliseThe film also brings back Specs and Tucker, favorites of mine in the first film, and it brings them to the forefront.  They’re great characters and breaths of fresh air amidst all the tension and jumps.  It’s not always easy to have a balance between horror and comedy in a film, and these characters show that a balance isn’t entirely necessary.  When you’re dealing with absurd and bizarre matters, absurd and bizarre characters can fit right in.  Let’s face it, even when you’re facing a haunted family surrounded by horrors of unspeakable nature, you’d be glad to have a couple of oafish nerds hanging around to make light of the situation.  It was nice to see them back for round two and they were as enjoyable as ever.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is more than a sequel.  It’s a film so tightly knit with its predecessor that it’s almost impossible to think of the two films standing on their own anymore.  With one, you cannot have the other.  This sequel serves as a prequel, and interquel, and a sequel with content so heavily embedded in the first movie that it’s more like the sequel influenced its predecessor than vice versa.  As a continuation of a saga, this film is damn near perfect.  If the ideas presented in Insidious and Chapter 2 do spawn another chapter, I sincerely hope it stays in the hands of the masters of modern horror James Wan and Leigh Whannell.

 

Insidious: Chapter 2:  4 out of 5

Prometheus 2 in the works

Prometheus

It’s not really a surprise that a sequel to Prometheus is in pre-production given that Prometheus was intended as the first installment of a trilogy.  Still, it’s nice to see that the story will continue.  Ridley Scott will be returning as director with the script being penned by Jack Paglen.  Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are expected to reprise their roles.

While I’ve seen and heard a lot of negative comments about the film, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to what’s coming next.  Most complaints I’ve heard were centered on all the loose ends and unanswered questions that Prometheus left viewers with; I didn’t really understand the validity of these complaints since Prometheus wasn’t intended as a one-off.  Hopefully unsatisfied viewers will find what they’re looking for with the upcoming sequel.

 

Source:  IGN

Video Games: The Movie offers insider views on videogame violence

For several years, videogames have been the subject of heated debates on whether they cause or influence people to perform criminal or violent acts.  Every time, it seems, that there is a tragedy, the finger pointing begins with the gaming industry often on the other end of those blame-casting fingers.  Now, it seems, veterans of the gaming industry are ready to take on these misconceptions in a film of their own:  Video Games: The Movie.

Featuring several high-profile developers, Video Games: The Movie will give viewers some solid information about violence and videogames and the effect it can have on people without rampant speculation and finger pointing.  It’ll be nice to see the people who put together the games we all enjoy defend the medium.

Video Games: The Movie is scheduled for release this September.

 

Source:  IGN

Hansel and Gretel Slay the Competition

Hunting witches like never before. Literally, this has never been in the typical story...

Hunting witches like never before. Literally, this has never been in the typical story…

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters may have opened to an average $19 million over the weekend, but that was still enough for the flick to claim the top spot in the box office. The movie, which opened in 3,372 theatres this past Friday, stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as the witch-hunting duo, Hansel and Gretel. Sure, that’s not what any of us remember about the classic Grimm tale, but hey, it’s Hollywood. It would seem by the estimated numbers that not many people want to remember them this way, either.

The other openers over the weekend were Parker and Movie 43Parker is Jason Statham’s latest outing, and although he’s been known for his modest, albeit consistent box office-opening track record, Parker’s estimated $7 million and fifth place debut is quite the disappointment. The movie opened in 2,224 theatres over the weekend, and its measly cume does not bode well so far.

Movie 43 is also quite bellow the spoof genre norm, landing in 7th place with an embarrassing $5 million at 2,023 locations. In comparison, the last spoof movie to hit the screens was this year’s A Haunted House, which earned nearly four times as much in its opening weekend. In fact, Movie 43 may become the lowest grossing spoof movie in quite a while, fairing even worse than 2008’s Disaster Movie, which opened with about the same numbers. That movie’s title is a pun in itself, being voted one of the worse movies of all time by any reputable source.

The holdovers this weekend all seemed to have hefty drops, bringing more bad news for this weekend’s box office, although that is partly due to inflated weekend numbers from last week since it was considered a holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Jr. day).  Mama was the biggest holdover. Last week’s number one movie fell nearly 54% and scared up another $12.9 million, bringing its total to a still impressive $48.6 million. As it stands, Mama is the number one movie of the year so far, surpassing Gangster Squad this past Friday.

Silver Linings Playbook stayed at the third spot this weekend, falling an impressive 7% (although it did gain over 100 theatres) to an estimated $10 million. The Oscar-nominated movie, starring Oscar-nominated actors in all four acting categories, has a new notable total of $69.5 million.

Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty also continues its impressive run, ringing in nearly $10 million itself, which was good enough for fourth place. Its total gross to date now stands at $69.9 million. The 6th place slot this weekend goes to Django Unchained, another Oscar-nominated movie, which is down 35% from last weekend with $5 million. The zany Tarantino movie has so far racked up $146 million; not bad for a movie of its kind. Gangster Squad continues its sharp decline, falling 51% and garnering $4.2 million over the weekend, bringing its grand total to an unimpressive $39.6 million after three weeks. Broken City and Oscar-bait Les Miserables rounded out the top ten at this weekend’s box office. Both fell in the 50% vicinity with around $4 million for each. Broken City now stands at a $15.3 million total, and Les Mis has so far accumulated an estimated $137.2 million.

Here is your top ten (Estimates)

1/N Par. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters $19,000,000 *NEW*

2/1 Uni. Mama $12,860,000 ($48,648,000)

3/3 Wein. Silver Linings Playbook $10,000,000 ($69, 465,000)

4/2 Sony Zero Dark Thirty $9,800,000 ($69,904,000)

5/N FD Parker $7,000,000 *NEW*

6/7 Wein. Django Unchained $5,005,000 ($146,295,000)

7/N Rela. Movie 43 $5,000,000 *NEW*

8/4 WB Gangster Squad $4,200,000 ($39,647,000)

9/5 Fox Broken City $4,000,000 ($15,270,000)

10/8 Uni. Les Miserables $3,912,000 ($137,237,000)