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: Vacation (dir by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley)


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Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

I have definitely seen worse movies than Vacation but it’s hard to think of one that left me as annoyed.  As I watched this movie, I found myself wondering how anyone could have made as many wrong decisions while directing one comedy.  Then I remembered that this film had two directors and I was left even more annoyed.  Seriously, couldn’t one of these two credited directors look at the footage and say, “Wow, we’re making a really crappy, unfunny, and mean-spirited comedy.  Maybe we should reconsider the tone of some of these scenes.  Maybe we should just abandon this all together…”

This film is a reboot of the old Vacation movies that Chevy Chase used to make in the 80s and 90s.  (Christmas Vacation is the one that everyone loves but there were others as well.)  In the original Vacation movies, Chase played Clark Griswold.  Clark would always try to take his family on the perfect vacation and would slowly lose his mind as his best laid plans always crashed into a wall of chaotic reality.  The original Vacation films were all uneven but likable, largely because Clark seemed to be so sincere in his madness.

In Vacation, Ed Helms plays Clark’s son, Rusty Griswold.  Rusty is all grown up and living in the suburbs.  He has a job as a pilot for a cheap airline.  He’s married to Debbie (Christina Applegate), who was known as Debbie Do Anything in college.  He has two sons and they’re both annoying.  James (Skyler Gisondo) is overly sensitive and plays guitar.  Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a psychopath who is constantly bullying his older brother and dropping F-bombs every chance he gets.  (A little kid saying “Fuck,” is only funny the first few times you hear it.  After the 20th time, it just gets boring.)  James sings self-pitying songs.  Kevin continually tries to murder his brother by putting a plastic bag over his head.

Rusty wants to take his family to Walley World, the same destination that Clark wanted to visit in the original Vacation.  This involves driving across the country in an Albanian car that’s always on the verge of exploding.  Along the way, they stop off at various locations and have adventures.

And not all of the adventures are bad.  Occasionally, the film is saved by a funny cameo.  Charlie Day shows up as a suicidal river guide and he’s genuinely funny.  You find yourself wishing that he had a bigger role.  And then there’s a scene where Rusty and Debbie attempt to have sex at the Four Corners and are caught by cops from four different states, all of whom promptly start to argue about who has jurisdiction.

But those scenes are the exception.  For the most part, Vacation is just a parade of uninspired scatological humor and missed opportunities.  When Rusty and the family drop in on his sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her well-endowed husband, Stone (Chris Hemsworth), Rusty spends a lot of time talking about how Audrey and Stone are politically conservative.  Once they arrive at Audrey’s home, we are shown a picture of Stone hanging out with Charlton Heston but, otherwise, Stone and Rusty’s political differences are never mentioned again.  And don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to sit through a political argument between Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth.  But still, why set up a joke if you’re too lazy to include the punch line?

Of course, the main problem is that you just don’t care about these Griswolds.  As characters, they’re all pretty unlikable and therefore, you really don’t care if their vacation is a success or not.  Poor Christina Applegate!  After holding her own against Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner in both Anchorman films, she’s given nothing to do here, beyond being the punchline in a few misogynistic jokes about being wild before marrying Rusty.

As weak as all the characters are, Rusty is the main problem.  He can’t handle the fact that his wife has had more sexual partners than he has.  He can’t discipline his youngest demon child.  He has absolutely no good advice to give to his oldest son.  When Rusty drags them across the country to Walley World, it’s not because he wants them to have a good vacation but because he wants to recreate a memory from his childhood.  If Chevy Chase’s Clark was always unhinged but sincere, Rusty Griswold is just an asshole and it’s impossible to care about him.  It doesn’t help that Ed Helms, as talented as he may be, has a neediness to him that can be amazingly off-putting whenever he’s cast in a lead role.  He always seems to be trying way too hard to convince the audience to love him.

Incidentally, Rusty and the family do make time to visit Grandpa Clark.  Chevy Chase looks even worse than he did on Community and it’s all pretty boring.

My advice would be to take a vacation from seeing Vacation.

Vacation Shows That Chris Hemsworth Is Quite Mighty (Red Band)


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Any kid growing up during the 1980’s remembers having seen the original Chevy Chase comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. While subsequent sequels weren’t as memorable as the first film it didn’t diminish just how fun that original one was.

It’s been many, many years since the last Vacation film but now it looks like we have a new one set to release this year. Chevy Chase returns, though it would seem it might be more of a cameo. This latest film in the series looks to focus on Clark Griswold’s oldest son, Rusty, who now yearns to relive the happiest time of his life as a child: the road trip to Wally World,

The trailer looks to up return the raunch in the series with some help from Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. From looking at the trailer’s payoff it looks like Hemsworth is quite mighty indeed.

Vacation is set to release this July, 31, 2015.

Embracing the Melodrama #48: Coyote Ugly (dir by David McNally)


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“Never give up on your dreams!” is such a familiar movie cliché that I have to admit that there’s a part of me that really wants to see a mainstream, big budget studio film that proudly declares, “Give up!”  We’ve seen so many films about photogenic people who leave pretty but predictable small towns and end up in big, scary New York City that we pretty much know exactly what’s going to happen as soon as they step off that bus.  They’re going to get robbed.  They’re going to end up at an all-night dinner.  They’re going to meet the lover of their dreams.  They’re going to get quirky friends.  They’re going to become a success.  And, most importantly, they’ll be advised to “never give up on your dreams!”  It’s not that I’m cynical or that I don’t enjoy watching people succeed.  It’s just all so predictable that I found myself yearning for a film that will not slavishly follow the formula.

Unfortunately, 2000’s Coyote Ugly is not that film.  In fact, Coyote Ugly is such a thoroughly predictable film that it’s perhaps not surprising to discover that it’s also a film that’s been embraced by a lot of people.  It never ceases to amaze me how, whenever Coyote Ugly shows up on cable, twitter is full of viewers declaring their love.

Coyote Ugly tells the story of  Violet (Piper Perabo), who may look like an ordinary waitress from New Jersey but who aspires to be a songwriter in New York City.  As the film begins, she is in the process of leaving her loving but overprotective father (John Goodman) and her best friend (Melanie Lynesky) so that she can move to the big city and never give up on her dream.  Before she leaves, she’s asked to sign a piece of paper so that it can be tacked to the wall of the local pizza place.  It’s a tradition, apparently.  Before anyone leaves town for New York, they’re asked to leave behind an autograph.  The wall is covered with signatures, indicating that apparently every waitress in New Jersey thinks that she’s a songwriter.

Violet moves to New York and, at first, it seems like she might not make it.  Her apartment is a dump and her neighbors get mad whenever she sings.  (Violet responds by setting up a small recording studio on the roof of her building.)  Nobody is willing to listen to her demo.  About the only good thing that happens to Violet is that she meets Kevin (Adam Garcia), an Australian who encourages her to never give up on her dreams.

Eventually, Violet finds herself in one of those all-night diners that always seem to pop up in movies like this.  She notices that the girls seated at a table near her seem both to be happy and to have a lot of money.  It turns out that they work at the Coyote Ugly Saloon and since one of them (played by Tyra Banks, in a cameo) is quitting so she can go to law school, that means that there’s soon going to be an opening at the bar.

After talking to the Coyote’s owner, Lil (Maria Bello), Violet manages to get a job as a bartender.  Along with serving drinks to a combination of hipsters, frat boys, and stock brokers, another part of Violet’s job is to jump up on the bar and dance.  Eventually, she even gets a chance to sing when it’s discovered that the sound of her voice (or, to be technical about it, LeAnn Rimes’s voice since Rimes provided Violet’s singing voice) can somehow inspire drunks to stop fighting and act civilized.  Violet bonds with her fellow bartender Cammie (Izbella Miko) while the other bartender, Rachel (Bridget Moynahan) takes an instant and almost pathological dislike to her.  Lili is tough, Cammie is a flirt, and Rachel likes to set things on fire.  That’s about all we find out about them.

Even when her father disowns her for working at the Coyote and even when she and Kevin have a fight over her extreme stage fight and Kevin’s refusal to talk about his troubled past, Violet never gives up on her dreams!

And, if you can’t guess every single thing that happens in Coyote Ugly before it happens, then you really need to start watching more movies.

Despite the fact that the movie is named after the Coyote Ugly Saloon and it’s full of scenes of Violet and her co-workers dancing on top of that bar, the Coyote Ugly itself is actually pretty superfluous to the overall film.  The film itself is all about Violet pursuing her dream to become a songwriter and the bar itself really doesn’t play that major of a role into her eventual success.  Instead, it’s just a place where she works.  Violet could just as easily have worked at a particularly rowdy Dave and Buster’s and the overall film would have turned out the same.

And that’s a shame because, while watching the film, it’s hard not to feel that a movie about either Lil, Cammie, or Rachel (or, for that matter, a film about Tyra Banks going to law school) would be a thousand times more interesting that any film about boring old Violet.  I mean, here we have a film named after a business that is owned by a woman and that specifically employs and potentially empowers other women and what does the movie do with all of this material?

It tells a story so predictable and so simplistic that it could just as easily been generated by a computer program.

Coyote Ugly is a massive mixed opportunity but, for whatever reason, some people seem to love it.

https://twitter.com/jhali_/status/487998680163561472

And good for them.

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