Finding Dory

Movies
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Thirteen years later, all the nagging of Ellen DeGeneres seems to have paid off with the long awaited sequel to Finding Nemo, and this time our forgetful friend Dory takes center stage.  Finding Dory opens with one of the saddest sequences in Pixar history.  I imagine that’s why there’s such an uplifting short to start this latest Pixar installment; you need to come from an emotional high point to make it through the first scenes of Finding Dory.  Cue Nemo!  Coming to the rescue is our feel-good friendship of Nemo and Marlin to help Dory finmaxresdefaultd her long lost family.  If this feels a bit familiar; it is.  Much of Finding Dory uses similar story arcs as the original—but like Star Wars The Force Awakens, a familiar story can still be a hit if it has a good cast of characters.  That’s where Finding Dory really delivers; from the comedic trio of the seals, to the octopus who befriends Dory, the characters make this sequel far better than the admittedly unoriginal story.

In addition to great characters, we have the always impressive Pixar animation which continues to show how Pixar can take us to new worlds make them come alive and seem so real (watching Hank the octopus turn on and off camouflage as he works with Dory to find her parents is nothing short of amazing).  So the movie looks amazing and adds great new characters to the world of Nemo, but the story leapixar-introduces-two-new-finding-dory-characters-swim-the-friendly-seas-with-bailey-and-d-771999ves us with a strong feeling of déjà vu.  We do get a good backstory for Dory and of course lots of wonderful life lessons on friendship, dedication, and what it means to be a family.  Watching it with my youngest daughter, I really appreciated many of the values esteemed by Dory and her all-star cast.

Perhaps one scene that fell short in this regard is when Nemo and Marlin face a scary monster and immediately fall prey to emotions that lead them to worship and serve the scary beast.  It struck me as very odd to see Marlin worshipping the beast in order to appease its anger.  The thought of worshipping such a hideous creature rang foul to me as worship is such a central part of our relationship to God.  Foul beasts aside, this movie left both my daughter and I smiling and slapping high fives by the end of the movie.  Sometimes it really is just the characters that can make a film such a joy to experience!

5 out of 7 Dory is a family friendly movie with plenty of good life lessons and perhaps a few discussion points worth bringing up with the kids.  If your kids liked the first one, Dory will leave them thrilled to see their favorite characters return and a host of new characters light up the screen.


Warcraft

Movies
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Warcraft, like so many videogames, seems like a property tailor made for the big screen. It has a rich mythology, an abundance of characters, and a lush fantasy setting. However, time and time again we’ve seen that it’s no easy feat to translate a videogame world onto the big screen. Warcraft doesn’t exactly break the trend of awful videogame adaptations, but it doesn’t exactly continue it either. This videogame film does an admirable job of world building and character development, but ultimately, while it may thrill and satisfy longtime fans of the game, those less familiar with the world of Warcraft (see what I did there?) may be less intrigued, and ultimately, leave the film feeling relatively indifferent.

Inevitably Warcraft will be compared with the defining series for the fantasy genre; The Lord of the Rings. After all, like Tolkien’s epic fantasy, Warcraft has orcs and elves and dwarves and humans and magic and creatures and epic battles; pretty much all the basic ingredients needed for an epic fantasy adventure. However, the simple fact is Warcraft just can’t stand toe-to-toe with the one that rules them all. It tries a bit too hard to be a serious epic, and thus at times feels melodramatic. At other times, it tries too hard to be silly and witty and charming, but instead feels rather goofy and awkward. Plus, the moments don’t always flow well with each other, but feel like they’re being plugged into a pre-determined “how to make a fantasy epic for dummies” template where it says “insert comedic moment here” and then “insert romantic tension here” followed by “epic battle scene goes here.” Which isn’t to say there aren’t some genuinely funny moments or exciting action scenes, but because they felt like prerequisites for filling out the “fantasy movie template,” they’re never as engaging or funny or dramatic or epic as they want to be, nor do they always blend well with each other.

Now, just because Warcraft falls short of the best doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It’s fairly enjoyable, especially if one doesn’t worry about completely following everything shown or said on screen, much of which may thrill fans of the game, but often left me feeling a bit lost. My biggest disappointment was the fact that many of the most intriguing developments were basically set-ups for a sequel, assuming one gets greenlight. There are some fun twists to what were fairly routine and bland relationships that take place near the end, which frankly would have made for a far more interesting story this time around, had this first film not been burdened with introducing everything. The film also ends with an orc-Moses type set up that would make for a really fun story, but again, we had to get all the introductory backstory out of the way. So it’s a testament to this film’s world-building efforts that by the end I was ready to see where these stories would go, even if I didn’t feel particularly engaged with all the introductions.Z4PESHkVKAhqq2YFVEng59

Of course, one can’t discuss this movie without talking about its digital characters. We’ve come a long way from the Lord of the Rings and its one all-CG character in Gollum. With Warcraft, about half the cast is now all CG. Fortunately, these characters are fully realized and nuanced, so it’s easy to forget that they’re CG creations. Their expressions are genuinely emotive, and in a bit of irony, much of the storyline that centers on the orcs has far more heart than any of the ones focusing on the real human beings. That being said, however, there are plenty of times where I had to remind myself I wasn’t just watching one of Blizzard’s supped-up cut scenes from the games; a feeling that’s reinforced by the CG settings for the CG characters.

I only have passing familiarity with the Warcraft and World of Warcraft games, but there were some very die-hard fans in my screening, and they seemed to really love this film version. However, those lose familiar, as I said at the start, may leave the movie feeling fairly indifferent about it all. It’s never really as epic or emotional or swashbuckling or charming as it wants to be, but you can’t fault it for a lack of earnestness. There’s a strong focus on character, even if that focus is mostly spent on the CG characters and not the actual human ones. There’s decent action that really wants to be seen as very cool, and funny moments that too often feel goofy. Yet, despite all of its earnest efforts, I left Warcraft with a feeling that in just a few days’ time, I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone much about (hence I sat down and wrote this review as quick as I could). It’s a decent, but ultimately forgettable attempt to take one of the most popular MMORPGs of all-time and turn it into a blockbuster franchise. But, maybe it will get some new players to try the game (although, as one veteran player pointed out, newbies may end up being very disappointed that the game doesn’t look anywhere near as cool as the movie).

Score: 4 of 7 – Warcraft definitely lives up to the war part of its name, if not the craft. There are some pretty violent and fairly bloody action sequences. Also, there are some disturbing uses of magic. Probably not the best film for younger ones, but even The Lord of the Rings often was darker and more violent than Warcraft.


Alice Through the Looking Glass

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The Mad Hatter isn’t so much mad as he is sad in the long-delayed Wonderland sequel, Through the Looking Glass. Alice returns to Wonderland to find a Hatter who is slowly dying because he misses his family, or something. Truth be told, I wasn’t quite clear what the deal was with Mad Hatter, but it was clear it had something to do with his family and it would require time travel to fix it. This is one of those movies where the why of things happening isn’t quite as important as the what (which probably suits the topsy turvy world of Wonderland quite splendidly). What happens in Through the Looking Glass is a colorful adventure full of wacky characters and all sorts of lesson learning, time travelling shenanigans. As sequels go, it’s certainly not one that ever makes a strong case for the necessity of its existence, but also isn’t one that fails to live up to the film that preceded. If anything, I found this more enjoyable as it embraced more wonder and adventure and less twisted darkness of the original.

However, I must confess that I have grown tired of the current trend of rewriting the 628-alicethroughthelookingglass-disneybad guy as merely a misunderstood, sympathetic figure. This time it’s the Queen of Hearts who’s given a backstory to help us understand that she really isn’t evil; she just had a hard childhood. We shouldn’t think of her as a villain, but rather a victim. The problem is that Helen Bonham Carter plays the part so wonderfully that it’s a shame she’s gone from full on, carefree villain to guilt-wracked, just wants to loved and understood anti-hero. Of course, at the same time Anne Hathaway’s Mirana, despite wearing all white, can’t be a hero who is just good. No, she has to have flaws, and she has to brought down into more of a complicated gray area of morality where good and bad are all very relative depending on the circumstance. So once again, Disney tells us that villains really aren’t all bad, and heroes really aren’t all good. Good and evil isn’t nearly so black and white, and if anything, such concepts probably don’t even really exist to begin with, once you have all the backstory facts.

Meanwhile, Alice has stolen an important gizmo from Time, and is using it to travel back to various periods in Wonderland’s past in order to discover what happened to Mad Hatter’s family so he can get better. Truth be told, I found her kind of hard to root for seeing as she was basically killing one character to save another. Still, her adventure is a fun one, made all the more so by Sacha Carter’s delightful portrayal of Time. Indeed, one of the bet scenes is when Time, travelling back to try and stop Alice from wrecking…everything, really….travels back to have tea with a not-so-depressed Mad Hatter. Unfortunately, the fun of that scene keeps getting interrupted with cuts to Alice’s ongoing misadventures, which feels like a misstep as it would have been better to let the Time/Mad Hatter scene continue uninterrupted. It interjected the film with some much needed wacky zest, but never got a chance to build momentum with all the quick cuts to other characters.

Compared to the previous Alice movie, this time out improves upon its predecessor by including less of the twisted, dark tinge of the previous movie. While it’s still strange, and often a bit weird, this film overall felt brighter and more fun (despite the depressed Mad Hatter). Part of that may be due to the fact that Tim Burton merely produced and didn’t direct the sequel.

Aside from the fact that the first film was able to cross the billion dollar mark when it was released back in 2010, there’s very little reason that a sequel needed to be made so many years later. Still, despite the long delay, lack of necessity, and losing its director, Through the Looking Glass manages to match, if not exceed, the bar set by the previous film (which, depending on who you ask, may or may not be a very high mark). It’s an energetic, vibrant, and colorful adventure that has some very fun moments. Does it improve in any way on the previous film? Not really. Does it really add anything to story or the characters? Not much. But, for anyone who’s looking for a colorful, adventurous distraction, you could do much worse than going Through the Looking Glass.

Score: 4 of 7 – Through the Looking Glass isn’t quite as dark as its predecessor, which should make it more enjoyable for the entire family. However, it does bring up some concerning views about moral absolutes and the nature of good and evil that should spark some worthwhile discussion.


Captain America: Civil War

Movies
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If you’re looking for a really good Avengers sequel, Captain America: Civil War fits the bill nicely. It’s a dramatic payoff for the past eight years of character development in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and feels like a natural progression for their stories. However, if you were hoping for another really strong, unique Captain America film, well, Civil War falls a bit short in that category. While Cap is definitely at the story’s core, he almost gets lost in his own movie. Almost. Overall, Civil War does a good job of not letting its title character get overshadowed, but there are times where it’s easy to forget this was supposed to be a Captain America movie, and not another Avengers movie; especially when a certain webhead shows up.


The Jungle Book

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The jungle is a dark and scary place. Oh, it didn’t really seem that way back in 1967. Then it was more of a swinging place full of quirky characters and memorable music. Almost fifty years later, however, things in the jungle have gotten a bit edgier and more dangerous; and yet, despite that, it’s still a place of fun adventures and warm friendships. Disney’s update of their own classic take on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories re-captures much of the magic of the animated original while adding the darker tone of the stories it was based on, and that mixture works really well; for the most part.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Movies
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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the most theological superhero movie I think I’ve seen. It explores topics such as whether the world truly needs a savior, can anyone truly be good in a world so filled with evil, and whether or not an all-powerful God can also be all-good. They are fascinating themes explored through the lens of Superman’s struggle to do what’s right in a world that’s struggling to trust him, and through Batman’s struggle with cynicism and distrust in a world where he’s seen so much pain and destruction that’s he’s been powerless to prevent. Eventually these two heroes find themselves confronting each other (and not necessarily for the reasons you might think), and then the movie quickly dives into an almost entirely different plot, (too) quickly resolving character arcs and plot developments in order to move on with the world-building that both Warner Bros. and DC hope will lead to a rival cinematic universe with Marvel’s. It’s hard to say that any movie approaching three hours moves too quickly, but Batman v Superman (BvS) teeters on the side of being overstuffed, which leaves much of its more interesting philosophical musings and character development feeling frustratingly rushed while it pushed forward with its Justice League-building mandate.


Zootopia

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Disney has always done an excellent job of marketing; they are truly one of the best at it. Still, I’m still in awe at the marketing coup they’ve pulled with their most recent movie, Zootopia. Coming right on the tail (pun intended) of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Disney is releasing a film that, not so subtlety, addresses issues of prejudice; albeit with talking animals. The timing for the release really couldn’t be more apropos (how they pulled that off, considering that animated movies take a couple years or more to complete, still baffles me), but politics aside, Zootopia is also a fun and entertaining movie for all ages.


London Has Fallen

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Perhaps the biggest testament to the quality of Olympus Has Fallen is the fact that it got a sequel, while the bigger, more star powered White House Down did not. Personally, I think what set the two apart was Olympus hailed back to an era where over-the-top action movies were taken seriously, where as White House Down tried to be a mis-matched buddy version of a Die Hard movie. Olympus was tightly paced, had stellar action sequences that were gritty and brutal but also gleefully over-the-top, and while for the most part a serious film, it knew exactly when to stop for a well-timed, tough-guy action movie one-liner. London Has Fallen follow that formula for success, but as is often the problem with action sequels, it’s also compelled to go bigger, which causes the delicate balance that the first movie achieved to teeter precariously.


Risen

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Where’s the body? Everyone saw him die. The body was put in a tomb; a tomb that was sealed, no less. The problem is now that tomb is empty, and there are some who say he’s risen from the dead. The facts are clear; the man was dead, he was buried in the tomb, and now the tomb is empty. So what is the real answer? Why is the tomb empty? Was it some elaborate plot to help perpetuate a movement? Was it some sort of grand hoax? Or could have the man in that tomb really walked out; alive? That’s the challenge facing one Roman Tribune Clavius as he’s tasked by Pilate to get to the bottom of one of the most spectacular, and most debated, events in history.


Deadpool

Movies
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The best way to sum up the experience of watching Deadpool is to quote a line from The Dark Knight. (Which I know is mixing Marvel and DC, but isn’t that exactly the kind of anarchistic movie that Deadpool would like?) This is the Deadpool movie fans deserve, but not necessarily the Deadpool movie the rest of us need. It’s as wacky, violent, and over-the-top as any fan could want from a Deadpool movie. It’s also gratuitous, and unfortunately, quite salacious as well. Now, I’ve heard the argument that’s also what one would expect from a “properly” made Deadpool film, and while the point is taken, that doesn’t make it necessary, or even proper, for that matter. Truthfully, I did enjoy Deadpool for the most part (it’s funny and has some epic action sequences), even though ultimately I felt wrong for doing so.