Thursday, June 23, 2016

Finding Dory: Pixar Rips Out Our Heartstrings Once Again

Contrary to what you might think after looking at my last few reviews, I am not generally a fan of sequels. Broadly speaking, since characters have already been introduced and established in the first film, unplanned sequels can take on a watered-down sort of flavor and plots can seem a little...thrown-together. And while Finding Dory ends up being a pretty good movie, the film doesn't shake this thrown-together feel until you're about halfway through.

The plot follows Dory a year after she and Marlin have (spoiler alert) found Nemo. After her memory gets jogged by something random, she remembers her parents and goes on a quest to Morro Bay, California to find them. On the way, she gets separated from Marlin and Nemo, and has to make her own way while Marlin and Nemo try to (wait for it) find Dory. On the way, she meets a bunch of new characters, remembering things that she hasn't been able to recall in years.

Oh boy!

First of all, I'd like to commend Pixar on once again ripping my goddamn heart out. Between Baby Dory's sweet little baby angel voice (WHICH KILLED ME), the fact that she's lost her parents at the age of like 3 years old, and the fact that they keep having to run around in circles all around this damn place trying to find everyone -- I may be overly sensitive but this movie killed me. It's not like Pixar is ever coy with breaking your heart, but good lord. They just spent an entire movie trying to find Marlin's son, and now they've gotta break our hearts all over again as they try and figure out how Marlin and Nemo can find Dory. It's too much, Pixar. Can we have some sunshine and rainbows next time please? Kthanks.

Alright, back into adult critic mode.

Good things: this is not Pixar's first rodeo. While I may just be overly emotional, the fact that I cried at a forgetful baby fish with giant eyes only proves that Pixar is a veritable wizard at playing people's emotions. This is a very heartfelt tale of someone trying to reconnect to their roots and to find a portion of their past. It's extremely poignant, especially the ending, without being sappy, and funny without being cheap. And of course it's a masterpiece of computer animation as all Pixar films are (how they get the ocean to look 100% real is beyond me). All told, it's a well-made film, if not the masterpiece that is Finding Nemo.

It's not you, it's your predecessor.

Now the things that bugged me: in terms of flow, the movie reads a little wonky. The first half is so jumpstarted that it's a little bewildering. Not even ten minutes after getting a first glimpse of her original life with her parents, we're thrust back into the "present" for about five minutes only to then be thrust right back into the past as Dory begins to remember things.A few jump-cuts later and we're already in Morro Bay. After about 45 minutes in, the movie finally finds its pace and the audience can settle in, but the first third of the movie is so bewilderingly jumpy in contrast to the meandering adventure of the's just a little jarring.

Also, this movie has a totally different vibe than Nemo. Since this movie is told largely through Dory's eyes, there's also an underlying anxiety in this sequel that isn't present in the first. In the first one at least she has a chaperone to help her out. And while a lot of this movie is about her being able to navigate her own way as an adult with a disability, it creates so much tension that the movie ends up being a lot more on-edge than its predecessor. Far from being a determined rescue adventure with a set destination, most of the movie is spent with each character running around in circles as they keep on missing each other by inches. And with Dory's shaky memory plopped on top of that exasperating run-around, it's a wonder that anyone finds anyone.

7 outa 10.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Conjuring 2: Not for the Faint of Heart

Went ghost for a little while but now I'm back. What am I reviewing, you may be asking yourself (if you're bad at noticing titles)? Will it be the latest Avengers movie? Will it be a low-key indie film? Will it be Warcraft?!


We're going to be discussing The Conjuring's amazing second installment, otherwise known as (wait for it)....The Conjuring 2.

Honestly, how they come up with these names for sequels
 I will never have any idea.

Let's get down to the plot: Ed and Lorraine Warren (graciously played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back slaying evil in this amazing sequel to The Conjuring. After gaining some insight into Lorraine's personal demons (like, literally) at the beginning of the movie, we're whisked away to London, where a family is experiencing some disturbances in their home. Young Janet, eleven years old, thinks she's being tormented by an evil spirit with a sinister agenda. It throws her from her bed, trashes her family's house, and frequently uses her as a host through which to speak. After the church gets wind of the disturbances, they send Ed and Lorraine out to London to assess the situation and see if the claims have any depth. It's then up to them to tell whether the whole thing is a hoax or whether they're putting themselves in extreme danger.

The fantastic thing about this sequel is (despite it's horrendous title) its originality and how it plays with your head -- and this is why James Wan is a goddamn horror master. You enter the theater expecting a straightforward scary story: there's a definite evil presence, you have a sympathetic view of the main character, and then the presence either wins or is vanquished. But the movie takes it a little further than that. This movie is a bit long, setting itself up (most horror movies run about an hour and a half -- this one is two and a quarter), but it weaves an intricate question throughout itself: "Is this girl actually possessed?" The audience's trust of the Warrens and their doubt in the girl's situation make you legitimately wonder despite the overwhelming evidence. But it's the ending that really pays off here, explaining everything. This movie's also a great example of how directors can get creative with the paranormal and make up their own rules.

Moving onto the most important part of any horror movie: was it actually scary?

Honestly, this movie was way scarier than I had anticipated. And thank god I saw this in a theater of like-minded scaredy cats and we all screamed in unison.

How do you outdo an evil, 16th-century witch? 
Oh, just make a demonic nun, totally cool.

So often horror sequels (and even originals) rely on a series of repetitive pop-ups to frighten you, and the effect turns cheesy -- especially with a subpar cast. But in The Conjuring 2, the characters aren't stupid, and the forms that the spirit takes are really frighteningly and surprisingly diverse. This is another way that Wan really stirs up some amazing horror: The "monster" is never redundant. Fear is based on the unknown, and he does a brilliant job of letting evil be unpredictable. Is it in the house? Is it outside? Is it possessing the girl again? Is it walking around on its own? Is it an old man? A nun? The crooked man?

(Spoiler alert: I screamed embarrassingly loud whenever the crooked man showed up. 
Prepare yourself.)

Really, I can't divulge too much without giving everything away, but suffice it to say that this is one sequel that is done incredibly well. The suspense sustains itself, the questions keep on popping up, and the acting is great. Wan knows what scares people, and he creates movies that get under your skin, creating an atmosphere where everything is unpredictably terrifying.

9 outa 10. Excellent classic horror movie.

Omg, even this trailer tho...