Tag Archives: Ocean

“FINDING DORY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Just keep swimming.

There is absolutely no reason why a movie called Finding Dory should be this good. Absolutely no reason. The last time Pixar attempted a sequel/spinoff, we got Cars 2, a cheeky and unnecessary addition to the Pixar universe. Finding Dory is equally unnecessary, but the good news is that it knows that. So instead of trying to follow up from its first film, it chooses to focuses on telling its own story rather than trying to expand upon another one. What we get is something truly rare: an animated sequel that is every bit as good as its predecessor. Considering that’s Finding Nemo, I think this is the best possible movie you could have gotten from Finding Dory.

Years before Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) met Marlin (Albert Brooks), Dory was just a baby fish happily playing with her parents. Just as forgetful and funny as her older self is, Dory was trained by her parents to say 10 words to any new fish she meets: “Hi, I’m Dory, and I have short-term memory loss.” (Or “reromry”, as she likes to pronounce it). Happy and comforted around her parents, baby Dory is afraid what might happen if she was ever separated from them, or worse, if she even forgot them.

Fast forward many years later, after the events of Finding Nemo. Dory suddenly remembers her parents and her life before meeting Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Now determined to find her parents and be reunited again after all these years, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo embark on yet another journey across the ocean to find Dory’s family.

The first time I watched Finding Nemo, I was completely entranced by everything about it. The characters, story, animation, colors, and environments immediately swept me from my theater seat and plunged me 100 feet in the ocean to witness this story about a father and his son. At originally hearing about Finding Dory, all I felt was concern. Minus the Toy Story franchise, Pixar hadn’t handled its sequels as well as its first entries. I was really worried they were about to turn Finding Nemo into a cash-grabber, something that Finding Nemo is worth much more than.

Turns out I had no reason to be worried. Finding Dory is not only a smart homage to its origins, but also a funny, unique, and emotional roller coaster of a film that stands very well on its own two feet (well, fins). The screenplay, co-written by director Andrew Stanton, displays a fine understanding of everyone’s favorite forgetful fish. So fine, in fact, that this movie truly stands on its own, needing almost no support from its previous entry.

Watch the first scenes of Finding Dory closely. Like Finding Nemo, they pull you into the character’s reality and establish an almost immediate connection with your subject. In Finding Nemo, we watched as Marlin lost his wife and most of his children in one of the most tragic openings ever. In Finding Dory, we witness the opposite as a child loses her parents, although not in the same way. The same feeling is established in both cases: a deepened sense of loss, confusion, and grief. You look at baby Dory swimming around aimlessly in the ocean, and you can’t help but feel a deep sense of sympathy for this poor baby fish, alone and with no sense of direction or security.

This sympathy lasts throughout the entire movie, and that’s because Stanton has a clear understanding of Dory and how to get us to care about her. We don’t see Dory as a supporting character in Finding Dory, and we shouldn’t either. This is truly her story, and she appropriately takes center stage as we’re wrapped into her journey and emotions.

I have absolutely no gripes with this film. No criticisms. No recommendations to improve it any further from where it already is now. If we had to compare, then Finding Nemo is clearly superior, but that’s only because we’ve had more time to appreciate it. If Finding Nemo never happened, Finding Dory not only makes sense without it: it stands on its own and functions as its own entry. That’s because Stanton knows how to masterfully guide his audience without manipulating them, and we get caught up into Dory’s story not because we have to, but because we want to.

What we have left is an unchallenged successor to Finding Nemo: a movie that replicates the same appeal of characters, animation, wonder, and amazement as we’re completely engrossed into this story, not once feeling like it’s artificial or incomplete. When Pixar prepares to make the third entry, I officially now want it to be titled Finding Marlin. I trust Pixar enough that they’ll take it in the right direction.

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“FINDING NEMO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Fish are friends, not food.

Reviewing a film like Finding Nemo is an impossible task, because it isn’t meant to be reviewed. It’s meant to be experienced. Like Pixar’s other masterpieces, Finding Nemo finds joy and adventure in seemingly ordinary environments. Toy Story found theirs in a toy box, and A Bug’s Life found theirs in an anthill. Now Finding Nemo plunges into the ocean to tell us a story about family, fatherhood, and friendship. The resulting film is nothing short of Pixar’s best: iconic, entertaining, and meaningful.

After viewing what is perhaps the most heartbreaking opening I’ve ever seen in an animated movie, we are introduced to the film’s key characters. Marlin (Albert Brooks), a deep-sea clownfish, is the single father of Nemo (Alexander Gould), his son who suffers from a short, defective fin. He’s very protective of his son: so much so, that he will hide him away in his anemone, away from the rest of the ocean.

One day, Marlon goes through any parent’s worst nightmare: he sees his son kidnapped by human divers swimming out in the ocean. Now accompanied only by a short-minded regal tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), they set off across the ocean to save Marlin’s son.

The first thing you notice in any Pixar movie is its animation. Vibrant, elegant, and beaming with life, the one thing you can always appreciate about their films is the vivid details of their animation. With Finding Nemo, however, I’d argue that it is the most refined out of Pixar’s other films. This is the fifth film Pixar has produced now, and the fifth time that they’ve captured me with their ambient motions, intricate details, and complex characters. The colors are bright and saturated, reaching out to you in all of its eye-catching graphics and details. The fish feel fresh and alive, briskly swimming through the ocean as if they were real animals. The ocean itself breathes with just as much life as the fish do. Its plants flow in synchronization with the ocean streams, its currents moving like breaths in the ocean. This is easily Pixar’s most visually pleasing film yet, not just because of the colors and motions, but because of how real entire environments feel. This isn’t just an animated ocean: it is the ocean. That’s how authentic it feels and moves.

But the animation isn’t the only beautiful thing about Finding Nemo. Its story is equally breathtaking; simple and straightforward, yet creative and complex. On the surface, we have this father-son dynamic going on in between Marlin and Nemo, which serves as the emotional focal point of the film. In deeper insight, this is a movie about environment conservation and the effect our race is having on fish life.

Take Nemo’s plight as the most pure example of this. After being kidnapped, Nemo is dropped into a dentist’s fish tank with a collection of other fish, all of whom are terrified of the dentist’s reckless niece. It is in this tank where you see very simply that fish are not viewed as living creatures to these humans, but rather as objects, property, gifts. Seeing how poorly the fish are treated in this movie reflects a very sad truth under its layers of fun and humor, and it makes me ponder on how much of a threat we truly pose on the environments of the real clownfish, regal tangs, sharks, sea turtles, and the rest of the fish in the ocean.

None of this takes away from the fact that this is at heart a kids movie: a fun, colorful, and unique one at that. Yet this is a rare picture even among children’s films, an animated movie parents can enjoy just as much as their kids do. Perhaps that is because the main character is a parent himself, and it is easy to relate to his joy, his fears, and his solace as a father, and as someone who cares for something much bigger than himself. Animated films nowadays are like the ocean: vast, wide, never-ending, and impossible to predict. Finding Nemo is the pearl you find in it: small, hard to find, yet immensely valuable, just like its small-finned star.

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“ALL IS LOST” Review (✫)

All Is Lost? You have no idea. 

I’m about to save you twelve dollars and about two hours of your life. Robert Redford lives.

Frustrated? Good. You’re supposed to feel frustrated, because that’s all the movie makes you feel. Out of all of the survival movies you will ever see, expect All Is Lost to be a bare, boring, and mindlessly pointless experience.

Here is the premise of the movie: Robert Redford is on a boat, trying to survive against storms at sea.

That’s it. That’s as much depth and interest as you’re going to get with this film’s premise. Make no mistake fellow reader: All Is Lost is aggressively bad. It is the most boring film of the year. It is the most forgettable film of the year. If the Academy Awards had an award for Most Mundane Picture of The Year, All Is Lost wouldn’t only be the winner of the category, it would be the only film nominated.

And yet, strangely enough, the movie has been mostly well-received by critics. The movie has a 94 percent rating on Rottentomatoes and an 88 percent on Metacritic, so there will be no shortage of people trying to defend it. Here are the most popular arguments defending the movie:

“The film is great at latching your attention despite limited dialogue.”

It’s true that the first 20 minutes are exciting enough to do a good job at latching you’re attention. The other hour and a half, however, could not be more repetitive or frustrating. Only two lines of dialogue are spoken throughout the film: “This is Virginia Gene with an S.O.S. call, over?” and profanity. That’s it. The rest of the movie is Redford staring out into an empty ocean with a deep, dreary melody playing in the background. Oh boy! Music! That sure will keep us interested!

“J.C. Chandor was masterful as a writer/director.”

It’s hard to make an argument that he even wrote this. The screenplay was a little more than 31 pages, barely any material to substantiate a feature-length motion picture. Chandor, who is most known for the intelligent and conversational Margin Call in 2011, was great as a writer, making an intelligent, well-crafted picture filled with character depth, dialogue and dimension. Now, he has reverted to making All Is Lost. Why? What convinced him to step out of his comfort zone as a writer? With the clever, intelligent and enticing dialogue now missing from Margin Call, his sense of style is just as absent, and it gives the film an empty feeling that feels like it’s just half complete. It’s better, in fact, to describe the movie as a feature-length short film, meaning it’s a 30-minute television special stretched out to feature length simply to enhance profit.

“Robert Redford was incredible in the movie.”

Yes, I see Redford is in the movie. Thank you for pointing out the obvious. He is completely and utterly useless. Notice with the plot synopsis, I never called him by his character name. That is because his character doesn’t have a name, credited as “Our Man” on the international movie database. Redford is not acting here. He is modeling, staging and positioning himself in meager, idle positions and actions as Chandor commands him to flip from one side of the boat to another. The character is so impersonal, so thinly written and so emotionally bleak that there is little reason to care about him or be motivated by his journey. So thanks, Chandor, for casting Redford in a character nobody gives two rips about.

Compare this to any survival movie written and produced in the past 30 years. JawsCast Away127 HoursThe GreyGravity. Look at all of those movies and try to remember the emotions you felt while watching them. What is it about those movies that latched everyone’s attention? What captivated audiences and compelled them to care for these characters to survive?

That’s exactly it: Characters. We cared about Chief Brody when his son barely missed the shark’s jaws. We care about Chuck and Wilson because Chuck needs to get home to his girlfriend Kelly. We care about Aaron Ralston because of how estranged he was with his family, with John Ottoway when we realize his wife is dying, or with Doctor Stone when we realize what became of her daughter.

We care about these characters not because of their situations, but because of their inner turmoils that compelled them to keep living: They all had something to live for.

What reason does Robert Redford have to live for? We are told nothing except for that he’s “Our Man.” Riiiiiiight.

It’s movies like Jaws and Cast Away that keeps us away from the ocean, but it’s movies like All Is Lost that keeps us away from the movie theater. All Is Lost? You have no idea.

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“LIFE OF PI” Review (✫✫✫)

A boy, a boat, and his bengal tiger.  

If there is any film that will stick out in your mind more than any other film in 2012, its going to be Life Of Pi.  How could it not be?  With spectacular visuals, daring execution, and a solid story, Life Of Pi may very well be one of the most memorable experiences of the year, even though that doesn’t strictly mean it is of the highest standard in movies.

Based on the novel of the same name by Yann Martel, Life Of Pi follows the story of Pi “Piscine” Patel (Suraj Sharma), a young indian boy who is a believer in many religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.  To Pi, all of these religions lead to the same path: a greater understanding and relationship with God.  In one wonderful moment of the film, he described faith like a mansion, with room for both belief and doubt on every floor.

Besides being a follower of many faiths, Pi’s family also runs a local zoo in India, an exotic place filled with vibrant species and animals of all kinds.  Most significant to Pi is a 450-pound bengal tiger named Richard Parker, who got his name after the hunter tha caught him switched the names around by accident, with the hunter’s name appearing on the sheet as “Thirsty”.  The name stuck on Richard Parker ever since.

Eventually, the day has come where Pi’s family can no longer support themselves in India and have to move themselves and the animals to Canada, where they can hopefully find a living and start anew.  But when the ship his family and livestock are on crashes and sinks into the Pacific Ocean, Pi ends up stranded on a lifeboat all alone with Richard Parker. Now, armed with little more than a life-vest and the clothes on his back, Pi must find a way to not only co-exist with Richard Parker, but to also find a way to tame him and stay alive in the lonely abyss of the ocean.

The best thing about this movie is its faithfulness to the original novel, in how it portrays Pi as a strange, introverted, religiously diverse human being but also a spiritually focused young adult.  Pi’s story is a unique one, with the film dwelving into his story with such emotional maturity and observation, that we cannot help but understand Pi and his spiritual connection to God.

I especially loved one line Pi said to a friend at one point at the film, but when looking at it through a closer lens, maybe he was saying it more to himself:

“Even when God seemed to have abandoned me, he was watching.  Even when he seemed indifferent to my suffering, he was watching. And when I was beyond all hope of saving, he gave me rest. Then he gave me a sign to continue my journey.”

I also like the connection Pi shares with this 450-pound man-eating animal named Richard Parker: dare I say they have chemistry with one another? Yes I can, because the tiger is rendered here with such precision and detail that he actually looks like a living, breathing man-eating animal, not just another CGI creation. The rest of the movie is no exception, as it takes us  through many wonderfully dazzling visual moments that are just as impressive as when we watched James Cameron’s Titanic for the first time.

Here is, truthfully, a genuinely good movie.  The score is settling, ambient, and beautiful.  The visuals are transcendent, amazing, and stunning.  And the underlying context Ang Lee adapts from Yann Martel’s novel retains its strength, as Lee knows how to balance emotional relevance with visual splendor.

Unfortunately, the greatest strength of this film is also its greatest weakness: it follows too closely to the original novel.  Thinking back to when I read the book back in high school, I remember a story that was ambitious, daring, creative, deep, emotional, spiritual, and unique all at once.  It wasn’t just another survival-fantasy-advenure: it was a spiritual journey that has as much to do with faith and God as it does with friendship and sacrifice.

The movie doesn’t reach into this idea as deeply as the book does.  That’s to be expected, considering books are typically more in-depth than their movie counterparts.  Still though.  Haven’t other book-to-movie adaptations benefitted moreover their novel counterparts when they branched out and embraced other possibilities the original writers didn’t?

I bring two other novel adaptations from earlier this year as an example: The Hobbit and The Hunger Games.  Those movies, unlike Life Of Pi don’t just retell their stories: they rework them.  They change it to better fit their narrative, and they expand upon the stories they are helping to re-create within their own cinematic universes.

Life Of Pi doesn’t do that.  It relies too heavily on its novel-based counterpart, it refuses to branch out any more than the pages of Yann Martel’s novel will allow it to, and it has one of the slowest beginnings ever known to mankind.  The scenes where an older Pi converses with a young novelist searching for a story were especially unnecessary: why not just replace thirty-minutes of exposition with a simple narrative voice-over?

Again, I will stress this: Life Of Pi is the most memorable film of the year.  That does not mean that it is the best film of the year, and that does not mean that everybody will enjoy it.  It just simply means that when somebody watches the movie, it will mean something to them.  Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

Still though, to have a movie that actually says something for a change is significant enough.  Take the ocean Pi is trying to survive itself as an example.  One could say it is symbolic to everyone’s spiritual journeys in life: there are quiet moments, and then there are chaotic ones.  But your journey is never truly complete, even if you do end up washing onto the shore.

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