Sigourney Weaver Approved (Finding Dory review)

Voice acting might not be getting the respect it deserves from the general public. Voice actors are the backbone of animated films and television, as well as great resources to be used in marketing and documentaries. And yet, you have to be a talented actor in order to achieve any measure of success at it.

If you think about it, voice actors don’t have other actors to use in framing their delivery, nor do they have sets and props to build a setting. And they don’t necessarily need to have a unique voice, but it does help to have a broad vocal range in really selling a feeling.

Take the voice actors in this weeks featured film review. Most of these men and women know how to hold a room.

 

 

 

Finding Dory (2016)

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks,  Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell
Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
released on blu-ray November 15, 2016
****** 6/10

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IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Audience Score 86%
The Guardian: ****/*****

 

Andrew Stanton has had his share of director opportunities within his career at Disney Pixar – A Bug’s Life in 1998 as co-director, Finding Nemo in 2003 with Lee Unkrich as his co-director, WALL-E in 2008, his first live action film with John Carter in 2012, and now Finding Doy with Angus MacLane as his co-director. He also co-wrote all three Toy Story films and Monsters, Inc. Angus MacLane on the other hand, is primarily an animator who has just started to tread water (excuse my pun) in the shoes of director.

The question of course, is “do we really need a Finding Nemo sequel?” Without giving too much away too quickly, I will say this; Finding Dory is a beautiful if not unnecessary attempt at continuing down the line of thought that Finding Nemo already presented us with.

The film introduces us to a young Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who is already suffering from short-term memory loss, worried that she’ll forget her parents, and that they’ll forget her at some point. Eventually she does get lost, but cannot get the help she needs to get back to her family, because of her memory failings, and so years later Dory is still lost and unable to recall her family. We are given a short sequence that showcases her first interaction with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and how they work together to find his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence). The movie takes us on a journey for Dory to find her family, which begins when Dory begins to pick up fragments of memories she didn’t know she had.

With the statement “Jewel of Morro Bay, California” on her lips and Sigourney Weaver’s voice in her head, Dory swims away after from home after an altercation with a squid puts Nemo at risk and Marlin at odds with her. Marlin and Nemo eventually realize that Dory is lost and go looking for her.

And so we witness two separate paths unfold one for the father and son, and a separate one for Dory, each meeting a host of new characters, like Hank the septopod (Ed O’ Neill), along the way in what one can easily describe as a typical quest story. And while there are many funny moments that lead up to the inevitable, if not somewhat obvious, conclusion, there is also a fair amount of CGI magic and good old fashioned heart.

Pros: This is a character story, focusing specifically on the personal challenges of Dory, identity, family, an array of characters with disabilities and how they deal with them. Its in those moments of mental exploration that Finding Dory is the most interesting.

Cons: The story does run very similar parallels to the original, which makes it difficult to see it as a pure sequel rather than a clone of what preceded it. On another level, ironically, it often feels like you are supposed to feel a certain feeling rather than organically fall into it.

Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes

Points of Interest: This is the second time that Pixar has made a movie with no major antagonist, with the first film like that being Inside Out. The real reason Hank has only seven tentacles is because the animators realized a little too late that they could only fit seven on his body. His backstory was rewritten to account for the missing limb.

As I’ve already mentioned, Finding Dory is a fun sequel, albeit one that is often feels like an extended cut of Finding Nemo, and full of the same thematic ideals. It is very smart and has a great concept, but we’ve already been there, done that. It felt great over a decade ago, and is still entertaining today, but it’s not quite the same experience. And the animation is incredible, moreso than Finding Nemo even. But I wouldn’t put it up for animation of the year or as an animated classic.

 

 

 

If you want to become a voice actor, it helps to have some standard acting credits under your belt already, but the most important thing to consider is practice, practice, practice. Developing your talent over time is essential to a good delivery. If you pay very close attention to Ellen DeGeneres in this film, she manages to give a nuanced performance, and yet we never see her face, we only see Dory the royal blue tang fish. Its a testament to her ability to emote and why the film is entertaining, even if a bit derivative.

But what do you think, dear readers? Am I off the mark on this theory? Was Finding Dory an amazing film, continuing the great legacy of Disney Pixar rather famously?

Tim!

Well Done, High Five (Dragonette, Royal Blues review)

It’s pretty damn glorious when a band can remain consistent without ever getting stale, but the real challenge comes in when you know they just might be phoning it in. When do you host and intervention? The kind that generates hugs and high fives afterwards?

Dragonette – Royal Blues
released November 11, 2016
****** 6/10

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Dragonette is a Canadian electronic music band that got their start way way back in 2005. The band is a three piece, which consists of singer-songwriter Martina Sorbara, bassist and producer Dan Kurtz, and drummer Joel Stouffer.

Reminiscent of acts like Tegan and Sara, Scissor Sisters, Paramore, Metric and Peaches, I personally first learned of the group way back in 2007. Which was also the time that I Get Around was getting around the internet and what I think eventually landed them a Juno nomination for New Group of the Year a year later.

But you didn’t come here for me to go over my experiences with Dragonette when I was but a young hipster. No you want the goods, the stuff, the real deal.

Well I will say this.

Dragonette is still making enjoyable synthpop. And apparently I’ma sucker for good pop music, or even mediocre synthpop for that matter. Doesn’t seem to make much sense if you really think about it. I’ve listened to some great albums this year, and hell, I’m still thinking about Grimes Angel Art almost a year later, but Sorbara just has an amazing voice that is well automated for our Canadian sensibilities. Now, it’s not groundbreaking by any means, but I can definitely hear Sweet Poison and Darth Vader being run in some indie clubs around town.

You remember how Disney sing-alongs were a big thing in the 1990s for kids? Well if you’re younger than 25 I’m betting no, but my point is this. Dragonette is part of a strong lineage of EDM infused music that makes you want to scream and shout or even rock your body casually with the occasional hair flip and exasperated sigh. Whatever your jam, these guys and gal get it.

And that’s the point I’m really wanting to make about this record. It is overwhelming pop, but its quite broad in it’s tactics. For instance, the single Body 2 Body has dreampop elements which remind me of Purity Ring, sort of all encompassing synesthesia that vibrates right through you, while the preceding Let The Night Fall is comforting much like a cool summer ride with friends after a day at the beach, the mall, or headed to the middle of a crowded downtown on a Friday night. It builds upon itself slowly, asking you to slowly raise your arms in anthemic fanfare.

It’s a challenge for sure, but I’m willing to bet this trio is making their way out of the weird and niche culture of trying to be interesting, moving into the realm of eclectic and fun, and to be clear, it suits them well. I think they need to let their hair down just a bit more and Dragonette will get to where they should be headed.

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong. I still think Dragonette are relevant and much needed in our ever-changing Canadian landscape of music and culture. They bring a good vibe in what sometimes feels like dark times. Put this record on and feel good about stuff friends, after all there is nothing wrong with a good set of lyrics and a clean melody. It’ll sooth a soul. But that’s just a theory.

Tim!

 

I Wanna Be Like You (The Jungle Book review)

In computing language, source code is meant to be instructions for computers, often in an executable format. But sometimes a programmer will include the source code so that other users and programmers might benefit from the information – to study it and hopefully modify the results.

Where technology intersects with human biology, that’s when it gets interesting. And conveniently, that’s what today’s film review is all about.

 

 

 

The Jungle Book (2016)

Cast: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito
Director: Jon Favreau
released on blu-ray August 30, 2016
********* 9/10

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IMDB: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, Audience Score 88%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Jonathan (Jon) Kolia Favreau is an American actor, director and comedian. He’s acted in many of the films he has directed, with the exceptions of Zathura and Cowboys & Aliens. Favreau has also directed Chef, Elf, Iron Man 1 & 2, and most recently The Jungle Book remake – If you haven’t seen him acting in any of those movies you might also recognize him as Monica Geller’s boyfriend Pete from TV’s Friends. Favreau also produces movies under the banner Fairview Entertainment.

He’s been in the film industry since the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until his first financial success directing Elf that Favreau really became a big name. Which is why it’s not that surprising that he was able to land the directing role for Disney’s live-action/CGI reboot of The Jungle Book. Especially after having a hand in launching the MCU.

Filmed mostly with digital animation, and featuring a real-life Neel Sethi roaming around the jungle as Mowgli, this movie takes some cues from the book, but quite a number from the original animated adaptation from the 1960s.

I’m not going to spend a bunch of time hashing out the story as you’ve likely already seen the original movie. I mean who hasn’t? One of the major differences is that the animations are stronger and more tied into real depictions of animals – with the exception of King Louie who is much larger than life and definitely took me out of the story, even if Christopher Walken did an excellent job voicing him. On the positive side of things, the danger is made more real and the movements of Mowgli inside this world are so fluid, that you sometimes forget it’s all made up.

Pros: It manages to retain it’s humanity, while having almost no elements that exist in the real world. Exploring nature and the laws of the jungle haven’t seemed this fun in a long time.

Cons: There are some moments where the story feels mechanical, and I suspect that has something to do with the absence of ties to real environments, and when you see a 30ft ape, it’s a little disappointing.

Runtime1 hour 46 minutes

Points of Interest: Kaa the snake is portrayed as a female, rather than a male, which is a first and intentional as Jon Favreau felt there were too many male characters in The Jungle Book. Reference shots of remote jungle locations in India were used to help construct the settings for the movie.

I went into this movie somewhat sceptical that it could recapture the entertainment value of the original film, and when I heard “The Bare Necessities”, “Trust In Me” and “I Wanna Be Like You” I was quickly comforted, though it could have easily been the opposite. These riffs off of the original Disney movie were important to take, because the nostalgia factor remained high throughout, evening knowing how the story was going to end. This is an example of a movie where the remake is both excellent and respectful, allowing us to revisit the original or perhaps even expose new viewers to the source.

 

 

 

This technology driven re-imagining of The Jungle Book is amazingly faithful and yet it is a distinct property which can be consumed and shared with all of it’s strengths intact. As a case study of where animation is come from and where it’s headed. Much like how life cycles through and changes with each new generation, never changing so much that it is unrecognisable, but that it is distinct and authentic. You should definitely watch this movie, it gives I Wanna Be Like You a new meaning.

Tim!

Bunnies Are Not Cute (Zootopia review)

In talking about movies with a good friend of mine, I get to exercise my movie trivia pretty regularly. This means that I can tell him why I prefer Mulan over Frozen AKA why it’s an under-appreciated film, and we can both walk away with our opinions intact, because of mutual respect and celebrations of diversity. But sometimes there are perfectly loved movies out there that can do just as good of a job showcasing tolerance, empowerment, and everyday humour.

Conveniently enough, today’s movie review does exactly that.

 

 

 

Zootopia (2016)

Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, J.K. Simmons
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
released on blu-ray June 7, 2016
********* 10/10

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IMDB: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, Audience Score 94%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Zootopia was directed by Americans Byron P. Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush. Howard is known co-directing Bolt and Tangled, whil Moore is known for his work on TV shows like The Simpsons, The Critic, and Futurama, as well as directing Wreck-It Ralph. Bush is less known but he did co-create the Disney animated series Penn Zero and write the script for Zootopia.

I’m not entirely sure why Disney needed 2 directors and a co-director to round out the leadership on this project, but I suspect it had a lot to do with all of the animation updates they made for the animals, Frankensteined from the movies Bolt, Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen. Regardless, this is now easily in my top 10 Disney movies of all-time, maybe even top 5.

But you’re probably wondering what Zootopia is about aren’t you? Well, if you haven’t seen it yet, then it’s definitely time to buckle up.

 

Zootopia is a buddy-cop movie, that often feels like a romantic comedy similar to North by Northwest or Roman Holiday – A classic story with anthropomorphic animals and current technology.

Early on we are introduced to the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young bunny who wants to become the first ever bunny police officer, though she is from rural Bunnyburrow and met with conflicting advice from her parents. They tell her to have dreams, but not to believe in them too much. And to settle because settling isn’t so bad. We also learn that the world has evolved so that predators and prey all get along and don’t eat each other.

But that doesn’t stop Judy’s parents from warning her about foxes before she heads off to the big city of Zootopia. And thus we get into the meat of the story. We quickly learn that Zootopia isn’t a utopia at all, there is a missing predators case which the police force are struggling to solve and then the police chief (Idris Elba) reminds Hopps that she isn’t in an animated fantasy with musicals. So he makes her a meter maid.

Of course Hopps sets out to prove him wrong, and in the process uncovers fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and his schemes to earn quick money. The stakes continue to escalate and eventually Hopps puts her new career on the line, just to solve the missing predators case and prove herself, tricking Wilde into helping her out.

The humour and topical ideas are what make the movie stand out, and while the animation is top notch, I found myself consistently watching to see what would happen with our two leads. That Disney was able to construct such an excellent story about conflict and the subtleties of prejudice that exist currently, is nothing short of amazing. I can’t say enough good about this story and it’s characterizations.

ProsBetween the message of tolerance and acceptance, to the hero’s journey which seats a minority at the front, to the excellent animation, to the topical humour, Zootopia is brilliant and empowering to all.

ConsIf you think about it too much, the use of animal behaviour to describe classes, ethnicities and culture is a difficult pill to swallow – And ironically creates generalizations itself. Also the Shakira song is kinda weak. You’ll hear what I hear after repeated listens.

Runtime1 hour 48 minutes.

Points of InterestOriginally the story was set up for Nick Wilde as the protagonist, but test audience didn’t connect with him easily and were more interested in Judy Hopps, so the script was changed. Also, the film consists of only mammals. There are no reptiles, amphibians, birds or fish to be found.

I might be biased, much like Bryon Howard, because my all-time favourite Disney movie is the 1970’s Robin Hood. Which if you haven’t seen it, is a travesty.  That movie is also centred around animals as well, but then again with a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and glowing reviews everywhere, it’s difficult not to believe that a tale of animals isn’t just good fun.

I’ll make this final point, if you’re worried about this movie being too preachy, it never feels like that message is being driven incredibly hard, the humour is often on point and capable of referencing AMC’s Breaking Bad is not something to shake an elephant pop stick at, otherwise you might end up with red wood. But that’s just a theory.

Tim!

Movies Worth Fighting For (Cross Talk Ep.5)

Sexism still exists.

No shit timotheories.

To all of my female readers and my genderless readers, yes you are correct, but bare with me a moment. I’m attempting to make a validating point about the problem of sexism, which is hard enough as it is, because A) I am not a woman and B) I am not a oppressed, like at all. So I realize I have to work hard to stay on top of this issue.

Sexism still exists, and tackling it requires full participation by everyone. Even if someone thinks they are separating themselves from the issue by making little jokes and poking fun at women, it’s 100% wrong and we should all have a zero tolerance policy about it.

When someone make disparaging comments about women, and what they can and cannot do based on their gender, they are being sexist. People should not do this in general, about anyone, but as mentioned, women as approximately 50% of people, encounter this way more often than any one demographic.

Now, I love movies, and as mentioned before on other posts, I’ve always found movies to be one of my best kept secrets to starting a conversation about pretty much anything. Which is why I want to use a movie to help to address sexism. Because I think you’ve probably forgotten about this one.

 

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Great Mulan joke right? Well thats good because I have a confession to make.

I’m not a big fan of Frozen. I think it’s enjoyable, but it’s not one of my favourite Disney movies. I understand the premise and why people like it. It tilts the typical true love story on it’s head, empowers the female lead to save another female, and apparently the songs are catchy. However, I am a HUGE fan of another film that tilts the Disney princess formula and does a better job of it.

An incredibly under-appreciated little film that could called Mulan.

Mulan is a great film because it is based on a real Chinese legend about a lady who takes over for her father when army enlistment comes up. It received positive reviews at the time, but somehow it has been forgotten by Disney in their marketing because she cannot be identified as a princess.

WTF.

On top of that, Mulan is way more real than all of the princesses – she doesn’t have makeup on when she wakes up, she eats well and enjoys food, she is clever, brave, a warrior, and creative. She is also fully capable of saving her loved one’s life too, and does it twice. Read this article for more proof of the under-appreciated genius that is Mulan.

Seriously, after you are done with this post you should go watch that film.

And speaking of film, we arrive at the meat of today’s Stimulating Sunday. It’s time for our monthly Cross Talk post! Figured out the theme yet?

You guessed it dear readers, under-appreciated films are the special of the day. I saved Mulan for the blog post, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as Chris and I go into a myriad of genres and other great films.

I’ve included a direct link to the full video for you here, but as always, the real action is just below for your convenience. Otherwise, please sit back and enjoy Episode 5 of Cross Talk!

I’m out of theories for now, but please check back tomorrow for a goo goo album review. It should be a good one! Please comment, subscribe and share this with you friends. We want to hear your feedback!

Tim!