Film Review: Finding Dory (dir by Andrew Stanton)


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Finding Dory, the latest film from Pixar, tells the story of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a regal blue tang (for our readers in Vermont, that’s a fish) who suffers from short-term memory loss.  You may remember her from Pixar’s previous movie about fish, Finding Nemo.  In that movie, she helped a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son, Nemo (voiced, in Finding Dory, by Hayden Rolence).  In the sequel, it’s Marlin and Nemo who are now helping Dory to find her parents.

Dory has spent years searching for her parents.  Of course, it would be easier if she didn’t suffer from short-term memory loss.  It seems that every time she sets out to track her parents down, she ends up getting distracted and forgets what she was doing.  However, while helping to teach a class about migration, Dory has a sudden flashback to her parents (voiced, quite charmingly, by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).  She sets out once again, determined to find her parents.  This time, Marlin and Nemo are accompanying her.  As Dory continually frets, she’s can’t do it alone because she can’t remember directions.

Though her memories are fuzzy and her flighty nature leads to some conflict with Marlin (who is just as cautious and overprotective of Nemo as he was in the first film), Dory eventually finds her way to where her parents were last seen.  And, in doing so, Dory discovers that she and her parents originally lived at a water park, the California Marine Life Institute.

(One of my favorite parts of the film is that apparently, Sigourney Weaver recorded several greetings and other messages that are played continuously over the Institute’s PA system.  “Hello, I’m Sigourney Weaver and welcome to the Marine Life Institute.”  Dory becomes convinced that Sigourney Weaver is some sort of God-like being who is leaving personal messages for her.  At one point, Dory exclaims, “A friend of mine, her name’s Sigourney, once told me that all it takes is three simple steps: rescue, rehabilitation, and um… one other thing?”)

Since this is a Pixar movie, Dory meets the usual collection of oddball and outcast sealife at the Institute, all of whom help her out while overcoming their own insecurities, providing properly snarky commentary, and hopefully bringing a tear or two to the eyes of even the most jaded of viewers.  Finding Dory is full of familiar voices, everyone from Idris Elba to Bill Hader to Kate McKinnon.  But, for me, the most memorable of all the voices (with the exception of Ellen DeGeneres herself) was Ed O’Neill’s.  O’Neill brought Hank, the bitter but ultimately good-hearted seven-legged octopus, to poignant life.  I imagine that, should there be another sequel, it will be called Finding Hank.

Finding Dory continues the annual tradition of Pixar films making me cry.  Finding Dory is an incredibly sweet and truly heartfelt movie but, at the same time, it’s also an extremely witty comedy.  This is one of those Pixar films where the joy comes not only from looking at the amazing animation but also from listening to truly clever dialogue being delivered by some of the best voice actors around.  DeGeneres does such a great job bringing Dory to life that, as the movie ended, my first instinct was to run out and buy a regal blue tang of my very own.  But then I read an article on Wikipedia, which explained why I shouldn’t do that.

(Basically, blue tangs may look cute but they have big, scary spikes that can cut up your hand.  As well, they don’t do well in captivity.  So, if you’re planning on getting a Dory of your very own, you might be better off just rewatching this movie…)

It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you cry.  Finding Dory is another great film from Pixar.

Film Review: The Secret Life of Pets (dir by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney)


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If you own a pet, then you know the experience of wondering what they do all day while your away from the house.  My sister Erin and I own a black cat named Doc.  When I leave the house in the morning, he’s usually sleeping on the couch.  When I come back home 8 hours later, he’s usually still there.

“Doc,” I’ll say, “didn’t you do anything while I was gone!?”

“Meh,” Doc will reply, before getting up, stretching, and then hopping off the couch.  He’ll then lead me into the kitchen and demand that I feed him.  Once he’s been fed, he’ll hop back up on the couch, curl up, and wait for Erin to come home.

Now, personally, I think that’s all an act.  There’s no way that any living creature could spend 8 hours doing nothing.  My theory is that Doc spends the day patrolling the house, taunting the dogs next door, and watching old movies on TCM.  But, until I learn to speak his language (because he has shown next to no interest in learning how to speak English), I will never be able to talk about classic Hollywood filmmaking with him.  And that’s a tragedy.

The new animated film, The Secret Life of Pets, shows us what pets do when their owners aren’t around.  (Or, at the very least, it shows what a small group of animals in Manhattan do.)  Some pets party.  Some hunt. A lost guinea pig named Norman (voiced by the film’s director,Chris Renaud) wanders through the heating ducts and tries to find his way home.  Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), a Tabby cat, lays about her apartment and talks about how apathetic she is.

Meanwhile, a terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) spends all of his time eagerly waiting for his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), to come home.  Max is very proud of the fact that he and Katie are best friends.  His life revolves around her, so you can imagine his surprise when Katie comes home with a new dog.  Duke (Eric Stonestreet) is a gigantic and shaggy mongrel.  Even though Katie says that Duke is now a part of the family, Max takes an immediate dislike to him.  When Duke’s attempts to be friendly are ignored, he responds by turning into a bully.

(In Duke’s defense, he has just gotten out of the pound.  Before he was captured, he was owned by a kindly old man but, one day, Duke got out of the house and got lost.  When you consider what Duke has suffered, you can’t help but feel that he has the right to be a little bit grouchy.)

After Max and Duke both get lost while being taken for a walk, Max decides to help Duke get back to his old home.  Meanwhile, under the leadership of Gidget (Jenny Slate), a Pomeranian who has a crush on Max, all of the other pets try to track down their friend and help him return home before he’s captured by animal control.

And, then there’s the revolutionaries.  Living in the sewers, a group of former pets are plotting to overthrow their former owners.  They are being led by a bunny named Snowball, who is not only a sociopath but also sounds exactly like Kevin Hart.

Anyway, The Secret Life of Pets is a cute film.  It never quite escapes the shadow of Toy Story 3 (which it frequently resembles) but it’s genuinely sweet and Louis C.K. does such a good job voicing Max that even a cat person like me couldn’t help but fall in love with that neurotic little dog.  There are a few jokes that don’t quite work (To cite just one example, the film introduces a hawk voiced by Albert Brooks and then fails to really do anything with the character) but you really can’t go wrong with talking animals.  The Secret Life of Pets is a cute little crowd pleaser.  It might not make you think in the way that a great Pixar film can make you think but it will definitely make you laugh and leave you feeling good.

It might make you cry, too!  There’s a montage of various owners coming home and being greeted by their pets and it caused my mismatched eyes to tear up because it was just so sweet!

I think I’m going to go give Doc a hug now…

Cleaning Out The DVR #29: Broadcast News (dir by James L. Brooks)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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I’ll give you three chances to guess what the 1987 film Broadcast News is about.

Broadcast News takes place at the Washington bureau of a major network news operation.  (You can tell this film was made in the 80s in that nobody’s working for a blog and there’s no mention of Fox, MSNBC, or CNN.)  This is where a group of hard-working men and women do their best to make the national news anchor, Bill Rorish, look good.

Bill Rorish is played by Jack Nicholson and, even though he only has about five minutes of screen time (out of a 133 minute movie), he pretty much dominates the entire film.  Some of that is because he’s Jack Nicholson and he kicks ass.  All Jack has to do to dominate a scene is show up and arch an eyebrow.  But, beyond that, everyone in the movie is obsessed with impressing Bill Rorish.  Whenever a reporter and his producer get a story on the air, they obsessively watch to see if Bill smiles afterward.  Bill Rorish is the God they all hope to please and the film (as well as Nicholson’s performance) suggests that he barely even knows that they’re alive.  It’s telling that the only time Bill shows up in person (as opposed to appearing on a TV screen), it’s because a huge number of people at the Washington bureau are being laid off.

When Bill says that it’s a shame that budget cuts are leading to so many good newspeople being laid off, someone suggests that maybe Bill could help by taking a cut in his million-dollar salary.  Needless to say, Bill Rorish is not amused.

Broadcast News centers on three of the characters who work at the Washington Bureau.  First off, there’s Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), a producer.  Jane is a true believer in the mission and the importance of journalism.  Her ethics and her belief in what constitutes proper journalism are everything to her and, at times, she can get more than a little self-righteous about it.  (If Broadcast News were made today, Jane would spend the entire movie whining about how new media is destroying the country.)  At the same time, Jane is completely neurotic, a self-described “basket case” who, at one point, ends up sobbing in a hotel room as she prepares to go to sleep by herself.

Jane’s best friend is Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a reporter who wants to someday be an anchor.  Aaron is smart and funny (and he better be, seeing as how he’s being played by Albert Brooks) but he’s not telegenic and he’s almost as neurotic as Jane.  Like Jane, Aaron is all about journalistic ethics but there’s a defensiveness to Aaron.  Whenever Aaron complains about vapid news anchors, it’s obvious that he’s more jealous than outraged.

And then there’s Tom Grunick (William Hurt), who represents everything that Jane and Aaron claim to be against.  He’s handsome, he’s smooth, he’s charismatic, and he’s definitely not an intellectual.  He knows little about the specifics of current events.  However, he has great instincts.  He knows how to sell a story and he knows how to present himself on camera.  He’s also a surprisingly nice and sincere guy, which makes it all the more difficult for Aaron to justify his belief that “Tom is the devil.”

From the minute that Tom arrives at the Washington bureau, there’s a strong attraction between Tom and Jane.  (Jane even sends another reporter to Alaska after she finds out that Tom slept with her.)  Tom wants to be a better reporter.  Jane wants to be happy but fears compromising her ethics.  And Aaron … well, Aaron wants Jane.

Not surprisingly, considering that the film was made 29 years ago, there were some parts of Broadcast News that felt extremely dated.  A scene where Aaron complains about a story that Tom did on date rape feels especially uncomfortable when viewed today and both Jane and Aaron occasionally came across as being a bit too self-righteous.  In today’s media world, Tom’s sins really didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

But, for the most part, I enjoyed Broadcast News.  It was an intelligent film, one the featured people having actual conversations about actual ideas and, listening to them, I realized how rare, in both movies and real life, that actually is.  It’s a witty film, full of good performances.  While I hope I never become as self-righteous as Jane, I could still relate to her in her more neurotic moments.  And who wouldn’t want a best friend like Aaron?

And, for that matter, who wouldn’t want a lover like Tom?

(That’s something I never expected to write about a character played by William Hurt.)

And, of course, there’s this scene.  Poor Aaron!

Broadcast News was nominated for best picture of 1987.  However, it lost to The Last Emperor.

 

Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions for July!


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It’s shaping up to be a strange Oscar race.  Here we are halfway through the year and, yet, there are no front-runners.  Some very acclaimed films have been released this year and yet, few of them seem to be getting the type of buzz that usually accompanies a surprise Oscar nomination.  Last year at this time, there was cautious buzz for Grand Budapest Hotel while almost everyone felt pretty safe assuming that Sundance favorites like Boyhood and Whiplash would be players in the Oscar race and many of us were highly anticipating the release of films like Birdman and The Imitation Game.  (For that matter, a lot of people were also still convinced that Unbroken would win best picture.  The buzz is not always correct but still, the buzz was still there.)

This year, some people are hoping that Mad Max: Fury Road will somehow break through the Academy’s aversion to “genre” filmmaking.  (And seriously, the Doof Warrior deserves some sort of award, don’t you think?)  Quite a few are hoping that Ex Machina will not be forgotten.  Personally, I have high hopes for Inside Out.  The buzz around Bridge of Spies is respectful, largely because it seems like the type of film that usually would be be nominated.  (That said, this film also seems like it could bring out the worst impulses of both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, leading to a movie that will have more in common with The Terminal than with War Horse.)  Carol was beloved at Cannes.

So there are definitely possibilities out there.  When I made my Oscar predictions for this month, I didn’t quite have to blindly guess as much as I did way back in January.  But still, it cannot be denied that — as of right now — this race is wide open and there’s a lot of room for surprise.

Below, you’ll find my Oscar predictions for July.  You can also check out my previous Oscar predictions for January, February, March, April, May, and June!

Best Picture

Black Mass

Brooklyn

Carol

I Saw The Light

In The Heart of the Sea

Inside Out

Sicario

Suffragette

The Walk

Youth

Best Actor

Michael Caine in Youth

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Tom Hiddleston in I Saw The Light

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Marion Cotillard in MacBeth

Sally Field in Hello, My Name Is Doris

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks in Concussion

John Cusack in Love & Mercy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Harvey Keitel in Youth

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Helena Bonham Carter in Suffragette

Jane Fonda in Youth

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol

Best Director

John Crowley for Brooklyn

Todd Haynes for Carol

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Denis Villenueve for Sicario

Robert Zemeckis for The Walk

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A Teasing Glimpse Into The Secret Life of Pets


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Pixar and Dreamworks had been the only two big boys in the CG-animated block, but in the last couple years we’ve had another studio make some inroads into that very block. It’s the studio that brought to the world Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. It is also set to release Minions (itself a spin-off from the Despicable Me franchise).

Illumination Entertainment has released the first teaser trailer for their 2016 offering: The Secret Life of Pets.

From the look of the trailer we may be looking forward to a sort of Toy Story-type narrative but instead of toys coming to life and behaving like their owners it’s pets standing in.

The Secret Life of Pets is set for a July 8, 2016 release date.

Lisa Marie’s Too Early Oscar Predictions For June


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It’s time for our monthly edition of Lisa’s Too Early Oscar predictions!

This is our first entry since the Cannes Film Festival.  As a result of Cannes, former contenders like The Sea of Trees have been dropped from the predictions.  Meanwhile, new contenders like Michael Caine and Sicario have emerged.  I have also added Pixar’s Inside Out to my list of predictions because a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes demands the consideration.

(Unfortunately, adding Inside Out meant dropping The Good Dinosaur.  Though it could happen, I find it hard to imagine two animated films receiving best picture nominations.)

If you want to see how my feelings on the race have developed, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, and May!

And without further ado, here are Lisa’s Too Early Oscar Predictions for June!

Best Picture

Black Mass

Brooklyn

Carol

The Danish Girl

In the Heart of the Sea

Inside Out

MacBeth

Sicario

Suffragette

The Walk

Best Actor

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Caine in Youth

Michael Fassebender in Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmanye in The Danish Girl

Jason Segel in The End of the Tour

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Marion Cotillard in MacBeth

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks in Concussion

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Joel Edgerton in Black Mass

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol

Meryl Streep in Suffragette

Julie Walters in Brooklyn

Best Director

John Crowley for Brooklyn

Todd Haynes for Carol

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Denis Villeneuve for Sicario

Robert Zemeckis for The Walk

Lisa’s Too Early Oscar Predictions for May!


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Well, here we are!  The year is nearly halfway over and the Oscar picture … well, it’s really not that clear yet.  The Cannes Film Festival just opened and maybe that will help clear up the picture a bit.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, here are my early Oscar for predictions for May.  (In previous months, my Oscar predictions were “way too early.”  But now that we’re 5 months into 2015, the “way” can be dropped.  They’re just “too early” now.)  As is usual for any predictions made at this time of the year, these are mostly guesses, some random and some educated.  Be sure to check my predictions for January, February, March, and April as well!

(I know that rumor has it that the Academy is going to go back to only nominating five films this year.  However, I’m going to continue to make ten predictions because that’s more fun for an obsessive list maker like me.)

Last Dinosaur

Best Picture

Black Mass

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Carol

Crimson Peak

The Danish Girl

The Good Dinosaur

Icon

In the Heart of the Sea

The Sea of Trees

Ben Foster in Icon

Best Actor

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassebender in Steve Jobs

Ben Foster in Icon

Eddie Redmanye in The Danish Girl

Jason Segel in The End of the Tour

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash

Lilly Tomlin in Grandma

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Best Supporting Actor

Jim Broadbent in Brooklyn

Albert Brooks in Concussion

Joel Edgerton in Black Mass

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

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Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Seinna Miller in Black Mass

Parker Posey in Irrational Man

Meryl Streep in Suffragette

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Best Director

Guillermo Del Toro for Crimson Peak

Stephen Fears for Icon

Todd Haynes for Carol

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Gus Van Sant for The Sea of Trees

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