Monday, November 14, 2016

This week's DVD releases

Finding Dory ***

Thirteen years after Pixar sent Dory on a hunt for Nemo, now it’s time for a little role-reversal. Finding Dory brings back many of the favorites from the 2003 animated hit, Finding Nemo, for another go-around. And, since it has been a long time since the first film lit up a summer screen, co-writer/co-director Andrew Stanton isn’t shy about cannibalizing his earlier work. Finding Dory swims through familiar waters. The themes — about the importance of friends and family and the value of tolerance — are the same. The basic narrative thrust (fish making a long journey to find family members) replicates that of Finding Nemo. Despite all the similarities (or perhaps because of them), Finding Dory is enjoyable in its own right, even if its powerful sense of déjà vu keeps it from approaching the pinnacle of the Disney/Pixar collaborations.

We all remember Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), the good-natured blue tang withshort-term memory problems. In Finding Nemo, she was a supporting character to Albert Brooks’ clownfish Marlin. This time, she’s in the lead with Marlin and Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence) paddling in her wake. Despite her memory issues, Dory realizes she once had a mother (voice of Diane Keaton) and father (voice of Eugene Levy) and a few random remembrances prod her to go in search of them. Concerned that Dory will become lost (or worse), Marlin and Nemo set off in pursuit. Dory’s search takes her to a marine institute (whose purpose, as Sigourney Weaver’s voice intones, is to "rescue, rehabilitate, and release"). There, in her quest to find her mother and father, Dory reconnects with old friend Destiny the nearsighted whale shark (voice of Kaitlin Olsen) and makes a bargain with Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neill).

Finding Dory has a solid emotional core — a common strength of the Pixar canon. We become invested in Dory’s journey. The concept of re-connecting with lost loved ones and becoming a family again is fertile thematic territory that most viewers will find relatable. The flashback scenes with Mom and Dad caring for their adorable but impaired daughter are genuinely moving (due in no small part to the vocal work of Sloane Murray, who plays the young Dory). Even when the story gets silly, this aspect keeps us engaged.

The best Pixar films work on two levels — one for adults, one for children. Look no further than last year’s Inside Out for an example. Finding Dory skews toward kids. That’s not to say adults won’t enjoy the movie but it doesn’t offer as rich an experience as, say, the Toy Story trilogy. Part of the reason is that Finding Dory leans too strongly on its predecessor’s narrative and ideas. Another issue is that the story is less sophisticated than the typical Pixar fare, relying on improbable chases and video game-inspired action scenes to bring about the climax. This is more the sort of thing I expect from a lesser animated movie (of which there are no shortages) than from the product of the great Andrew Stanton (who, in addition to helming Finding Dory, directed Wall*E and was one of the writers for all three Toy Storys).

Visually, this may be Pixar’s strongest offering yet, and that’s saying a lot. The movie sparkles. It’s colorful, bright, and clear. This may have something to do with all the underwater sequences but, regardless, it’s a treat to behold. What’s more, the 3-D works. It’s not indispensable but it doesn’t detract from the viewing experience. The voice acting, headlined by DeGeneres and Brooks (with supporting performances by the likes of Keaton, Levy, Ed O’Neill, Idris Elba, and Dominic West), is top-notch.

All Pixar feature films are paired with shorts. Finding Dory’s accompaniment, Piper, is a winner. From the photorealistic visuals to the delightful story, this movie accomplishes more in its seven minutes than Finding Dory does in more than 95. That’s not an attempt to denigrate the main attraction but to highlight how good the appetizer is. Finding Dory is solid family-friendly entertainment that will undoubtedly delight fans of Finding Nemo. It may work better, however, for those who haven’t seen the 2003 release because, for them, this movie will be a fresher, less derivative experience.

This week’s other new releases:
Cosmos *** It’s often hilarious, confounding and downright strange; if not the director’s most polished work, it nevertheless delivers a demented philosophical puzzle that’s fun to scrutinize in all of its baffling uncertainties.
Summertime *** The performances in this picture are all solid, but what makes it really refreshing is that it doesn’t treat its central romance as anything but wholly normal, despite the attitude of other characters, or indeed, the tenor of the time in which it is set.
When Two Worlds Collide *** Listless at times and lacking the killer instinct required to follow through on the emotional toll that the fighting took on its survivors, the documentary is far more insightful about the buildup to bloodshed than it is about the mess that was left behind in its wake.
Fort Tilden *** The movie is broad and mean and for a while very funny, but even when it goes sour — when the world slaps them in the face for their sins — it doesn’t lose its momentum.
Mia Madre *** Director Nanni Moretti knows how to orchestrate a good laugh when it's needed, but he can plumb more soulful, sorrowful depths, too. In Mia Madre, with its self-doubting director and wild-card American interloper, Moretti works a palette of shifting moods. Triumphantly.
Cardboard Boxer By emphasizing the uglier aspects of his most complex character, writer/director Knate Lee turns an otherwise down-to-earth slice-of-life drama into an unconvincing morality play.

**** Excellent.
*** Good.
** Fair
* Poor
No stars Abysmal

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