Finding Dory (2016)

FInding Dory

Pixar filmmakers aren’t immune to the idea that all children’s films need morals, they’re just very creative about how they teach it. In 2003 Finding Nemo became a $900 million box-office smash by scolding overprotective parents, encouraging kids to pursue their dreams and gently suggesting that disabilities aren’t the same as limitations. The sequel Finding Dory narrows in on this idea with a story of coping with disability and despair, and then succeeding on your own terms. Writer-director Andrew Stanton and co-director Angus MacLane have delivered a heart-warming masterpiece thirteen years later, encouraging kids to believe in themselves.

We’re all familiar with Finding Nemo’s transoceanic voyage and the Pacific regal blue tang with severe memory disillusions, but Finding Dory digs deeper into her vulnerabilities when random associations trigger memories of her lost parents. Dory frantically attempts to reunite with her missing kin, fuelling her determination with forgotten memories of her childhood. She doesn’t remember her parents, or how she lost them, but piece by piece, her past slowly starts to come together. Dory, Marlin and Nemo encounter many comical characters during their pursuit of Dory’s parents, including break out star Hank, a cranky seven-limbed octopus who is naturally a master of camouflage. Dory’s journey is so action-packed, we hardly pause to breathe throughout it.

Given the looseness of the plot- a one-thing-leads-to-another quest periodically backtracking in circles, the weight of the story lies heavily on the characters rather than plot development. As most sequels go, this film is filled with hilarious one-liners and lots of hidden empathy, but is perhaps too action-packed for a sequel to its emotionally teeming counterpart.  The colourful characters don’t hide the fact that when compared to Finding Nemo, this film is portraying a story less ambitious and less emotionally intense. Ellen DeGeneres is so brilliant as the comic relief, but she often struggles to hit the dramatic notes Dory requires. And Stanton’s script is cleverly built around flashbacks, but the frantic back and forth action rarely integrates organically with the rest of the story. Nonetheless, Finding Dory is visually stunning and you’ll most likely be laughing way too much to think about the plot – this film is seriously funny!

So although Finding Dory doesn’t quite manage to reach the heights of Finding Nemo, it is a lovely experience for those riding the Pacific Ocean currents for the first time, and a nice nostalgic for those of us returning. The post-end credits epilogue is amusing enough to stick around for, and the six-minute Pixar short Piper is entirely charming – animated with an exceptional degree of photo-realism. Finding Dory is definitely worth the nine dollar ticket and an entertaining flick I would gladly watch again in the near future.

★★★☆☆

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Me Before You (2016)

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Pairing a working-class British lass with an icy quadriplegic aristocrat whose heart she’s been hired to melt, Me Before You seems to boast a can’t-miss premise – class division and medical misfortune forming the peanut butter and jelly of this tear jerking romance. Considering the immense popularity of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel, from which she adapts the screenplay, and the amiable power of British realism, Me Before You is virtually a recipe for success.

Me Before You follows the story of Lou Clark, played by Emilia Clarke; guileless, naïve and accident prone – Lou radiates a delightful cheeriness through her quirky manner and wild fashion sense. Desperate to support her family, Lou presents herself at the door of a local castle hoping to become a potential carer for reclusive heir Will Trainor, played by Sam Clafin. Expected to discover an elderly invalid, Lou is astonished when she finds a handsome, debonair young man of previously high-flying banker rendered quadriplegic by a motorbike crash. A friendship begins to unravel, enhanced by Lou’s sunny nature and a collection of enthralling adventures in hopes of persuading Will to keep on living.

Emilia Clarke’s performance as Lou is winningly immersed in charming gawkiness and heartfelt sincerity, all while parading a deliriously cheesy grandma wardrobe heavy on eye-popping colours and prints. So much so, it might prompt reminiscence of when you first encountered the blinding incandescence of Julia Roberts’ wide-screen ready smile or the delicate allure of Kiera Knightley’s cameo-locket features. Emilia Clarke is undeniably loveable, especially when she is matched with toxic, resentful and bitter Sam Clafin. His performance fails to shy away from the hopeless agenda of his case, but keeps us mercilessly invested in the effortless appeal of the pairs’ punching emotions, set against a backdrop of tear jerking Ed Sheeran tunes.

However, despite its appeal as a quirky loveable romance, Me Before You caresses deep complicated issues with little regard for the politics of euthanasia. The films admirable presentation of a disabled man as a swoon-worthy romantic lead collides with the implicit suggestion that perhaps such a hopeless life isn’t worth living, so the undercurrents of wish-fulfilment leave a sour taste. The skittish delicacy with which Me Before You explores quadriplegia draws few parallels with counterpart love story The Fault in Our Stars 2014, a far bolder and more honest portrayal of life with serious medical difficulties.

First-time filmmaker Thea Sharrock certainly maintains an air of sweetness throughout the film, immersing us in her loveable main characters, but Me Before You lacks a real romantic charge. Given the catchphrase “Live Boldly!”, it’s a shame that the film didn’t take a bolder and more honest route in this adaptation, considering the extent of the underlying ideas of disability. The seriousness of euthanasia was sadly underplayed, but this flick is still entertaining, engaging and heart-warming, overall a small win for romance.

★★★☆☆

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Picture the striking landscape of New Zealand, a chubby juvenile delinquent and a scruffy old man. This is Hunt for the Wilderpeople. New Zealand writer and director Taiki Waititi memorably depicts quirky black humour with pathos around almost every corner. On the surface it’s an odd comedy about a fat little kid and the middle-aged grump, but deep down it’s a heart-warming film about two world-weary people in need of a little saving.

The rising auteur’s third film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, wittily examines 12-year-old ‘delinquent’ Ricky Baker. (Delinquent can be in inverted commas, because his horrible crimes include spitting off a bridge.) Dressed in his finest hip-hop street gear, Ricky is escorted by a wrathful social worker to a remote homestead on a North Island farm, who jokes to Ricky’s new parents, Bella and Hec, that there are “No returns”. The daffy comforting warmth of his new home is (spoiler alert) shattered by Bella’s sudden death, prompting a hilarious cameo that sets the groove for the adventures of Ricky and Hec, strangely compelling them further and further into a bizarre rampage manhunt.

There are prevalent echoes of Wes Anderson’s 2012 comedy Moonrise Kingdom, with distinct witty instincts blended into its alluring coming-of-age tale. Waititi alternates moments of action, including ferocious wild pig action, with countless segments of humour and touching moments of drama. The stunning backdrop of New Zealand’s pristine countryside derives a loveable wackiness to the film – complete with amateurish songs and picturesque production design. The characters are also exceptionally well paired, Ricky’s pottymouth and childish unpredictability offsetting the grizzled, mostly sensible Hec, played by Sam Neill. In adapting Barry Crump’s book, Waititi succeeds with a variety of offbeat elements, pairing outstanding set design with a soundtrack your ears cannot miss.

But the most wonderful part of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is it’s emphasise on the life of misfits and whacko’s disposed from society. It drives home this enormous idea that humans are altogether good … if you can give them a chance. And trust me, you can’t help but fall in love with Ricky … and Hec for that matter too.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an enjoyable, heart-warming, modest little story thoughtfully illustrated by an artist drawn to male dynamics. The laughter in the theatre drowned out the many many funny parts, but the most prevailing entity of the film was its power to draw the audience to the story and attach them to the characters. This wonderful film sets to prove that although some people are a little whacky, they can surprisingly turn out to be oh-so-loveable human beings.

★★★★☆

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

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Into the dark you tumble into Alice Through the Looking Glass; James Bobin’s wild, witty and extravagant take on Lewis Carroll’s illusory hallucinations. Visually, the certainty that the two imaginative artists were made for each other is realized exquisitely, matched with a haunting design for Wonderland, a seamless meeting of live action with animation and picturesque charm. But the story is now far less Carroll and Burton than Bobin taking flight with a script crafted by Linda Woolverton, who references and incorporates characters in a way that answers our curious and curiouser childish wonders.

Replacement director James Bobin takes the reigns for this sequel, following Alice’s travels into the past to prevent the Jabberwocky from roasting Mad Hatter’s parents. Frolicking with other whimsical wonderland creatures, Hatter is suddenly triggered by discarded trash that reminds him of his estranged, long-gone family. Hatter pleads and finally convinces Alice that she must find them and bring them back … even if they are now long passed. Hatter’s whacky crazy madness is in the fabric of this film, and Alice’s journey of restoring harmony to wonderland again will leave you asking for more. Trust me, by the conclusion of the film you will know all of the little secrets you didn’t even know you wanted to know. Looking Glass is a dream come true.

Bobin takes Burton’s film and escalates it in an effort to not only continue the Disney run of adaptations, but to potentially recapture the immense success of the first film. But above the film’s strenuous attempts to resonate with larger personal themes of loss, strife and time, Looking Glass is a selling spectacle … and a good one at that. Bobin has a fantastic eye for visual effects, but this often pushes him from diverting tedious to deafening, as the bright colours and movement strain to draw the illusion of a film with a story to tell. But Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t fail to bring an outstanding performance as Time. He’s derisive, obnoxious and crazy about the Red Queen. Time is truly spectacular. It serves as yet another reminder that the Borat actor is proficient in depths rarely explored by other filmmakers. Otherwise, character development is mind-numbing, conflict is dull and the backstories are painfully predictable.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is pervasive of the blockbuster model in painful ways. But stemming from my never failing love of Alice in Wonderland, I still enjoyed it immensely. Bobin applies more absurdity and more surrealism into Alice’s sense of fantasy, while weakly contributing to the overarching central story. He creates magical spectacles and forefronts in a world-class tech reel, capturing the dreamlike wonderland we know and love in an earnest and spectacular way. But if I can sum up Alice Through the Looking Glass in one sentence: it’s like holding a vivid, colourful balloon that deflates a little more every second you hold onto it.

★★★☆☆

Money Monster (2016)

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An explosive financial thriller, a hostage crisis, a globe-spinning mystery and a potent satire of Wall Street’s television coverage like a professional sport. This is Money Monster. But despite its present-day setting, it feels a little retro – as if it just missed the window for maximum relevance following The Big Short. Except Money Monster marks Jodie Foster’s emergence as the director of a greater and more technically challenging project than anything she’s done before. I came in with low expectations and walked out having experienced a pleasantly dynamic drama and the never failing charisma of George Clooney too.

Money Monster follows a popular stock advice show hosted by George Clooney, as Lee Gates, who relies on flashy sound effects and show business glam to make the daily market as fun as a game show. The story takes a nail-biting turn when young Jack O-Connell, as Kyle, sneaks onto the live television set carrying a gun and a bomb strapped to his chest. After losing his life savings tied in promising stocks, Kyle is left to ask all of the big questions. Strap yourself in for slow and steady tension rising between Lee and his manager Patty, who tirelessly work to keep Kyle calm and compliant.

Foster envisioned fascinating contrasts between the intimate scope of the standoff and the global reach of Money Monster as a television event drawing viewers into the unspoken corruption of Wall Street. In some ways, Money Monster is a strongest critism of the tendency to treat financial journalism as entertainment, and in other ways it is simply a hype-driven coverage of the stock market. Either way, Foster mentions that we are in fact living in an age where the financial industry and entertainment industry are intertwined in ways she has purposefully attempted to satirise throughout the film.

Foster approached Money Monster as a character piece – but one with unique directing impediments … and some funny bits too …

In some ways, it’s an experiment – and I love genre movies – to figure out a way to use the genre as a backdrop and still really have character and a sophisticated dialogue about meaningful topics and have them be in the foreground.”

Money Monster’s greatest strength lies in its portrayal of greed as the ultimate crime, juxtaposed with a disadvantaged minority who lays down his life to bring justice. But Money Monster registers less of an indictment of financial corruption than as an exploration of one man’s greed. It may be a Hollywood melodrama, but it is in the top of the range. It gives Clooney and Roberts every opportunity to demonstrate star power, and the refreshing opportunity to create a picture about anti-heroes rather than super-heroes.

Side Note: Keep an eye out for vines at the end of the film, I promise they will ease any tension or rage you may experience throughout the film.

★★★☆☆