Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hidden Figures (2016) Short Review

(Only a short review today due to the fact that I'm currently working on a different review at the moment)

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Hidden Figures tells the true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three African-American women who worked for NASA in the 60’s. In a time of heavy segregation, each of these three women made major advancements in their careers as they helped America during the intense ‘Space Race’ between the U.S. and Russia. Specifically, they helped John Glenn become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. Admittedly, there’s not much that I can say about this film, hence why this review is so short. It’s just an enjoyable and solidly-made film that highlights some unsung heroes from a time in U.S. history that was dominated by racism and prejudice. It features some solid music from Hans Zimmer as well as some nice tunes from Pharrell Williams, who also serves as one of the film’s producers. But, through it all, the key to this film’s success is the lead trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle MonĂ¡e. These three very much succeed in making Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson an endearing trio of women, so much so that the moments where they achieve some form of success are incredibly satisfying; Johnson became a key contributor to calculating the numbers behind Glenn’s launch, Vaughan became the primary supervisor in charge of the programming and maintenance of NASA’s new IBM computers, and Jackson successfully petitioned for the right to attend classes at the University of Virginia to further her career as an engineer. Backed by an equally solid supporting cast that includes Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Mahershala Ali, Hidden Figures is not only a highly appealing crowd-pleaser but also one of significant cultural relevance. Because, again, this is a story about three African-American women overcoming all sorts of odds in a time when most underestimated them.


Rating: 4/5

Friday, January 13, 2017

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) review

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I regret to inform you that the review that you’re about to read is for a dreadfully grim film in which terrible things happen to young children. If you wish to instead read a review for a family film with a much more light-hearted plot, feel free to browse one of the many other reviews on this site for films like Moana or The BFG… okay, I’m not going to do that narration for the entire review. But, today, we are talking about A Series of Unfortunate Events. Written by author Daniel Handler under the pen name Lemony Snicket, who serves as the series’ in-universe narrator, this 13-book series has been a major commercial success ever since it first debuted in 1999, selling over 65 million copies worldwide. I used to read these books quite often when I was younger. That’s because even though these books do live up to their namesake by being a series of stories in which bad things constantly happen to the main protagonists, they were engaging reads thanks in large part to Handler/Snicket’s descriptive writing and their entertainingly dark sense of humor (e.g. the routine running gag in which Snicket constantly warns the reader not to read the books). A new adaptation of the series makes its debut on Netflix this weekend by way of a TV series. But, before that, let’s look back at the franchise’s arguably now forgotten film adaptation from 2004, which was produced by Nickelodeon Movies, directed by Brad Silberling (Casper), and starred Jim Carrey in the role of the villainous Count Olaf. As someone who grew up with the books, I watched this film numerous times when I was younger. And although it had been years since I’d last seen it, the debut of the new Netflix series made me want to watch it again. And, upon re-watch, I found that I still enjoyed it a lot. Because for a film that ended up being a failed attempt at spawning a franchise in the era of Harry Potter, I’d argue that it’s quite underrated.

The film is based off the first three installments of the series; The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window. It centers on the three Baudelaire children; 14-year old inventor extraordinaire Violet (Emily Browning), 12-year-old bookworm Klaus (Liam Aiken), and their infant sister Sunny (played by twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman), who loves to bite things with her sharp teeth. One day, while at the beach, the children learn from their family’s banker, Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), that their parents have died in a severe fire that had destroyed their house. As the Baudelaires now find themselves orphaned, Mr. Poe immediately puts them into the care of their distant relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), the leader of a theatre troupe who’s supposedly their ‘third cousin four times removed’ (or ‘fourth cousin three times removed’). However, the children quickly learn that Olaf is secretly plotting to inherit the Baudelaires’ vast fortune, which they themselves will inherit when Violet turns 18. Thus, he begins to treat them horribly and even tries to kill them from time to time so that he can inherit the fortune. With no one to help them, the Baudelaire orphans are forced to rely on their own strengths to thwart Olaf’s dastardly schemes. But, even after they manage to have Olaf removed from the position of being their guardian, he continues to pursue them wherever they go, coming up with new ways to get rid of them and donning disguises that manage to fool their subsequent guardians, including herpetologist ‘Monty’ Montgomery (Billy Connolly) and timid widow Josephine Anwhistle (Meryl Streep), but not the children. Along the way, the children also begin to learn some secrets regarding their parents, including a secret organization that they were once a part of.

The best thing about this film is that it does an excellent job of recreating the vivid and stylish world of the books on the big-screen. For a film that was shot entirely on sound stages, the production/set design is fantastic. It’s also backed by some solid cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki, who of course would go on to win three straight Oscars about a decade later for his work on films like Gravity and The Revenant. The overall success that the film has in terms of visually staying faithful to the books also translates quite well when it comes to the overall story. Save for a few cosmetic changes here and there, the film is a generally faithful adaptation of the first three books. The only major narrative change is that the ending of The Bad Beginning, in which Olaf attempts to legally marry Violet to get the fortune under the guise of it being part of his new play, is repurposed to the end of the film, after the events of The Wide Window. Thus, the ‘ending’ of the first act instead sees the Baudelaires trying to escape from a trap set by Count Olaf in which they’re about to be hit by a train. I’ll admit that when I was younger, initially I used to hate this change solely for the fact that it was made. But, looking back at it now, I get the reason why this change was necessary. The ending of The Bad Beginning is a ‘finale’ that’s more suited for the end of the film instead of being the first act finale about half an hour in. Really, the biggest downfall of the film is the fact that, nowadays, it’s considerably hindered by it not getting a sequel. It’s clear that, while watching this film, there were plans to do a follow-up as the plot has quite a few mysteries that either end up unsolved or are vaguely explained. And not only did these mysteries ‘not’ end up being answered in regards to this specific iteration of the series, it also ends up being a problem for those who haven’t read the books because, again, they’re given little explanation, meaning that some moments may come off as being rather confusing to newcomers.  

In the role of Count Olaf, Jim Carrey is, to put it simply, absolutely hamming it up as the main villain. It’s been noted that the film avoids going down some of the darker routes of the books, namely in regards to Olaf himself. The more disturbing tendencies of Olaf were basically replaced by Carrey’s comedic banter. However, I’d say that Carrey still did a good job in the role. Yes, he’s over-acting like crazy but I’d argue that this is part of the character; Olaf is an actor, after all. Sure, as I just noted, it’s not really his defining trait in the books, but when you have someone like Jim Carrey in the role, you know that he’s going to bring a humorous slant to it, which he does, namely through moments that surely must’ve been unscripted and the ways in which Olaf disguises himself; first as an ‘Italian’ herpetologist named Stephano and then as a peg-legged sailor named Captain Sham, though, sadly, he doesn’t get much screen-time while disguised as the latter. In short, while film Olaf may come off as being more humorous than sinister, I think that Carrey’s take on the character is rather iconic. For the record, that’s nothing against his successor in the role, Neil Patrick Harris, but with that said, Harris does have quite a bit to live up to. As for the Baudelaire children, specifically, Violet and Klaus seeing how Sunny is only a baby, both Emily Browning and Liam Aiken do solid jobs in their respective roles. One of the key aspects of the series, in general, is the fact that, through it all, the Baudelaires are always portrayed as an endearing trio. No matter what happens to them, they’re always likable and you root for them to triumph against Olaf. This is handled perfectly in the film, making the scenes where they succeed in foiling Olaf’s plans satisfying and the more heartwarming scenes involving them effectively emotional (e.g. the scene at the end where they finally receive a letter that their parents had written them while they were in Europe). Aside from Olaf and the kids, this film has quite an impressive supporting ensemble full of recognizable faces, from Billy Connolly to Meryl Streep to Catherine O’Hara, and they all do solid jobs in providing the film with an eccentric cast of characters.

While I haven’t read the books in quite some time, I am looking forward to this new adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. For one thing, it could finally result in a complete adaptation of the series, something that the 2004 film was sadly never able to achieve. While the film did do well with critics and audiences, and even though there were plans for a sequel, it ultimately didn’t get one, mainly due in part to the fact that it was taking too long to make and the young leads were getting too old for their roles. Heck, they even considered making an animated film at one point before deciding on doing a series on Netflix. Still, it’s a shame that the original film didn’t go anywhere because I’d argue that it’s rather underrated. Sure, it’s not necessarily a ‘perfect adaptation’ of the source material but it still does just enough to capture the spirit of the books, particularly in terms of the set and production design. And while it can be argued that Jim Carrey is perhaps over-doing it in the role of Olaf, he still manages to provide us with plenty of humorous moments out of his maniacal performance. There’s also some funny moments that stem from the film’s numerous fake-outs, including the opening, which makes you think that you’re watching a different film, and a scene where it seems like the Baudelaires are about to be attacked by a snake but then we cut back to Lemony Snicket (played in the film by Jude Law) having to fix his typewriter because the ribbon jammed, then culminating in the reveal that the snake wasn’t harmful. Sure, this is another thing that contributes to the film’s more humorous tone compared to the more serious nature of the books but, at the same time, it also correlates perfectly to the series’ trademark dark humor. With all this in mind, the original adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events is an entertaining little adventure that is sure to bring back nostalgic memories for those who grew up with it. I know I did; heck, I even went to go see it on New Years’ Eve back in 2004. So, yeah, you could say that I have a strong personal connection to this film.


Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

TOP 12 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2016: TOP 3!

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s big end-of-the-year list, in which I’m counting down my Top 12 Favorite Films from 2016. We’ve now come to the final part of this four-part series. Today, I’ll be listing my Top 3 Favorite Films from this past year and I’m really excited in this instance because all 3 of these films came from 3 of my favorite film franchises. If you want to check out my previous picks, including the 7 Honorable Mentions that I listed this year, click the following links to be directed over to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series. But, for now, it’s time to get back to the list…

This year saw us return to one of the best ‘cinematic universes’ that there is with an exciting new adventure that already has us eager for more…



Like many people, I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. I’ll admit that, for me, my love of the franchise mainly started with the films more so than the books but, still, there’s no denying how big of a success this franchise has been. All of the books were huge best-sellers, rightfully so because they were all excellent stories courtesy of the one and only J.K. Rowling, and the film series is one of the rare instances where each film is excellent in its own right. Thus, I was undoubtedly excited when I heard that we’d be returning to the Wizarding World courtesy of a new series of films based around the adventures of Newt Scamander, author of the in-universe textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. These new films would be set in the 1920’s, many decades before the events of the Potter books/films. And in the case of the first film, we’d be going across the sea from the UK to New York City, meaning that this would be the first time that we would be seeing the American side of the Wizarding World. Now, sure, at first glance it seems like a weird idea to do a new series of films that are primarily based on an in-universe textbook, even more so considering that it was announced that this would be a five-film series. However, J.K. Rowling, making her screenwriting debut, does manage to make it work as the first installment of this new series starts it off on an excellent note. Under the direction of director David Yates, who helmed the last four Harry Potter films, this new film features a lot of the same great stuff that made the Potter films so wonderful. Overall, I’d describe this film sort of like how I view Goblet of Fire, my personal favorite of the first eight films. While I wouldn’t say that this film has the best ‘story’ of the series, nor would I say that it’s Yates’ best directorial effort from the series, it still does everything great that these films have done over the years. Namely, to tell an engaging story that impressively manages to effectively mix the charming wonder of the world-building with a well-balanced plot of solid emotional depth and strong, relevant themes.

Another key part of this franchise’s success has always come from having an endearing main cast of characters to follow, and this film very much succeeds in that regard thanks to the quartet of Newt, sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein, and Muggle (AKA ‘No-Maj’, the American term for non-wizarding folk) Jacob Kowalski. All four are played excellently by Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, and Dan Fogler, respectively, and just like the trio of Harry, Ron, Hermione, it’s a well-balanced group of leads. Newt is the socially awkward main protagonist who finds himself becoming a ‘fish out of water’ as an English wizard in the American Wizarding World. Tina is a career-driven young woman who, as it turns out, was demoted from the position of Auror following an incident in which she protected someone from a No-Maj and was found out in the process. Queenie is a delightfully flirty but also sweet and nurturing young woman who falls in love with Jacob who, of course, is the ‘audience avatar’. He’s the No-Maj who gets sucked into the world of wizards after a mix-up with Newt results in him taking Newt’s suitcase and unknowingly unleashing some of his magical creatures from it. This quartet proves to be such an endearing group that the moment in the climax where they’re forced to have Jacob’s memories of the Wizarding World removed (‘No exceptions’) is a genuinely emotional one. From Newt telling Jacob that the reason why he kept him around in his adventure was because he was his friend to Queenie going out to kiss him goodbye as he stands in the ‘memory-erasing rain’, it’s easily one of the best emotional scenes of 2016. And it all concludes with a sweet final scene in which Jacob, having now opened his bakery thanks to Newt getting him the ‘collateral’ that he needed to apply for a loan, crosses paths with Queenie again and seemingly begins to remember that which he had forgotten. The final shot alone, where Jacob’s confused expression slowly turns into a smile, was described by my Sabers, Phasers, and Lasers, Oh My! co-host Alex Corey as the ‘best final shot of 2016’.

The main plot of the film saw Newt and co. traveling around New York trying to capture all the magical creatures that were released from his suitcase before they can be harmed by either the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States), who view them as threats, or the city’s No-Maj population. They do succeed in capturing them, meaning that this series isn’t just going to be about Newt trying to recollect creatures that had been in his magical suitcase. Instead, the film concludes with a big climax in which it’s revealed that the mysterious dark force that was running rampant across the city is the mysterious son of New Salem Philanthropic Society (a No-Maj organization who worked to expose witches and wizards) leader Mary Lou Barebone, Credence (Ezra Miller). Earlier in the film, Newt explained that there is a magical creature known as an Obscurus; basically, it’s a parasite that develops within children who suppress their magical abilities. And although Credence was dismissed as being a ‘Squib’ (a non-magical person with magical heritage) by Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), it’s shown that this isn’t exactly the case. And although Newt, Tina, and Percival try to calm him down, especially Tina since it’s revealed that he’s the one she was protecting during the incident that got her demoted, MACUSA officials end up destroying him… or did they? Series producer David Heyman has stated that there was a deleted scene where Credence was shown to have survived and had gotten onto a boat to flee the city. But, it was taken out to leave his fate more ambiguous. So, with that in mind, does this mean that there’s a possibility that Credence may appear in a future film? Because if not, while I’ll admit that I wouldn’t call his ‘demise’ one of the most emotionally impactful deaths of the series, he certainly comes off as one of the most tragic characters in the entire franchise. 

This then leads to Graves, who had been serving as a friendly figure to Credence throughout the film, turning on his peers. But, he is quickly subdued by Newt and a Revelio charm reveals that he is, in fact, the notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) AKA basically the precursor to Voldemort. Now, the Grindelwald reveal has been one of the most controversial aspects of the film, namely due to Depp’s casting. It could be because of his tumultuous 2016 (namely that messy divorce of his; yes, some people weren’t too happy that someone like J.K. Rowling was fine with having someone who is an alleged wife-beater star in her film franchise) or the fact that it looks like this role will see him in another one of his trademark ‘elaborate makeup’ jobs. It may also be because this reveal basically means that he’s replaced Colin Farrell in the film franchise (a twist that some may have seen coming given that Grindelwald and Graves have similar hairstyles). However, we don’t really have any idea of how this will all turn out just yet because he’s only in the film for like a minute. If you ask me, I say that we should at least give him a chance. And in a way, that ties into one of my favorite things about this film; the fact that we’re not exactly sure yet where this series will go. The film’s ending may not give many ideas as to where this series is going to go but I personally think that’s a good thing. Because one of the best things about J.K. Rowling as a writer is that she always does a fantastic job of world-building and that translated well into what was her first major screenplay. Watching this film, you truly are immersed in this wizarding world just as you were with the Potter films, so much so that you’re left wanting to see more. Sure, the whole ‘five films’ thing still seems a bit daunting but if they keep the same cast and crew working on all four of the sequels, I think we’re in good hands.

Speaking of ‘Cinematic Universes’, here’s a film that hit all the right notes…



Captain America: Civil War started off Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the best way possible. Seriously, this film hit the frigging mark so damn well! And that’s impressive considering that it’s inspired by a generally polarizing storyline. The main source material in question is Civil War, a seven-part miniseries produced from 2006 to 2007 and written by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) in which the heroes of the Marvel Universe find themselves on opposite sides of a new Registration Act that is meant to inflict greater governmental control over them. While it was a commercial success, many felt that it was a mediocre story. So, what did the film do to counter-act this? Simple! It wasn’t a direct adaptation. Instead, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely base the entire conflict around the established lore of the MCU. The controversial government act, referred to here as the ‘Sokovia Accords’, is effectively built up by everything that’s happened so far in the franchise, namely all the incidents that the Avengers were involved in that caused massive collateral damage (e.g. the Battle of New York in Avengers, the Washington D.C. ‘SHIELD incident’ in Winter Soldier, etc.). Even better, the conflict that emerges between ‘Pro-Accords’ Iron Man and ‘Non-Accords’ Captain America is far better balanced compared to the comics, where it was much more one-sided and Iron Man came off more as a villain. Thankfully, that’s not the case here as the conflict gives both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers’ sides legit arguments to stand on. And that’s kind of the cool thing about this film; it doesn’t need a main villain. The main conflict stems between the Avengers who either agree with the Accords or don’t. What follows is a highly engaging moral conflict in which neither side is trying to eliminate the other the same way that their villains try to eliminate them on a regular basis.

Now, there is a villain, for the record, in the form of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). Instead of being the scientist/swordsman that he is in the comics, the film re-envisions him as a colonel from Sokovia who lost his family during the events of Age of Ultron (“And the Avengers? They went home…”). Zemo has been regarded as one of the best villains of the MCU, a series that, as we all know, has gotten tons of flak for its villains over the years. Though I’ll admit that, at first, I felt that he was the weakest link of the film. The main reason why was because he is barely in the film, only appearing here and there to mess things up for the Avengers. However, as I said before, the great thing about Civil War, like its primary predecessor Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is that it didn’t really need a ‘villain’ character. In the case of Winter Soldier, HYDRA, in general, were the main antagonists of the story. And with Civil War, the excellently written conflict between the Avengers made up for any shortcomings with Zemo. But, upon re-watch, I’ll admit that I did warm up to the character. I mean, if you really think about it, he’s the most successful MCU villain to date. Sure, he is imprisoned at the end of the film but he did sort of succeed in regards to his plot to turn the Avengers against each other. Again, like how the entire film is the culmination of everything that’s happened so far in the MCU, Zemo is a prime example of the Avengers’ actions coming back to haunt them. Now, granted, I’m not saying that I prefer MCU villains to be like Zemo in terms of them not being in the film that much but I will admit that he is one of the better MCU villains.

I mean, this film basically has it all in terms of the things that we love about the MCU. It has arguably some of the best action sequences in the entire franchise. We already got plenty of that from the Russo brothers’ last MCU film, Winter Soldier, but this shows that they’re continuing to hone their skills when it comes to directing action. Case in point, the big airport battle between Team Cap and Team Iron Man is epic in every sense of the word. And, of course, this film is full of great MCU humor. In fact, I was kind of surprised to find that the film was funnier than anticipated given the serious nature of the plot. But, even though I’m sure that this will bring out that argument that ‘Marvel films are too goofy’, this film proves that argument wrong. That’s because these films legitimately do a good job of balancing comedy with drama. Still, from the scene where Bucky and Sam wait in the car while Cap gets their equipment from Sharon Carter (Bucky: “Can you move your seat up?” Falcon: “No!” (their nods of approval when Steve kisses Sharon are priceless)) to all the funny reactions to when Ant-Man grows to enormous size during the airport battle (Tony: “Okay, anybody on our side hiding any shocking and fantastic abilities they'd like to disclose? I'm open to suggestions.”), it just goes to show that the MCU knows how to do good humor. The returning cast is great as always while the newcomers prove to be some of the film’s biggest standouts. Chadwick Boseman brings a great amount of class to the role of Wakandan prince T’Challa AKA the badass warrior Black Panther. And even as someone who still loves what Andrew Garfield brought to the role of Spider-Man and was rather disappointed that Marvel and Sony didn’t just let the Amazing films continue under the supervision of Kevin Feige and his team, thereby allowing for Garfield’s Spidey to join the MCU, I won’t lie… Tom Holland is frigging amazing as our new Spidey. Case in point, “you ever see that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?”

And now, let’s conclude with the ending because, let me tell you, the ending to this film is epic. As Cap and Bucky make it to Siberia to confront Zemo at an old HYDRA facility, Tony joins up with them as well, having now learned the truth about Zemo’s plans. Going in, they all assume that Zemo was going there to revive the other super-soldiers who were programmed like Bucky. But, when they confront him, they find that he’s killed the other ‘Winter Soldiers’ and instead shows them what I like to call his ‘ace in the hole’. All throughout the film, we’ve seen him ask specifically for ‘Mission Report: December 16, 1991’ and it is here where we finally see this fabled mission report. It is a video of a mission that Bucky went on, while under HYDRA’s control, to intercept a car that was carrying super-soldier serum. And ‘who’ was in that car? Howard and Maria Stark; yes, Tony’s parents, who are swiftly killed by Bucky. And after realizing that even Cap knew about this, the two friends get into a major confrontation, which results in Cap disabling Tony’s suit, leaving with Bucky (whose robotic arm had been severed by Tony), and leaving his shield behind when Tony shouts that he doesn’t deserve it. I won’t lie… this may just be the best finale to any MCU film ever. It’s not a big ‘city battle’ like in previous MCU films; heck, that battle already happened in the form of the airport fight. Instead, it’s an intense and emotional smaller battle between two friends over a friendship-shattering reveal. And while I’ll admit that I did figure out this reveal going in, namely given that it was sort of set-up already in Winter Soldier during the big monologue from Zola, the big reveal still packs an emotional wallop, especially due to the moment where, after the video is done playing, Tony looks sullenly at Steve and asks ‘Did you know?’… Damn…

And so, at the end of the day, the one-two punch of Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange proves that no matter what happens to the superhero genre in the next few years, Marvel Studios is still going strong. Of course, when I say ‘no matter what happens’, I’m referring to that damn ‘superhero fatigue’ argument that refuses to go away no matter how good a superhero film turns out. I can tell that this argument impacted this year’s slate of superhero films quite a bit seeing how only 3 of them were well-received whereas the others received a far more polarizing reception, which makes me worried that this backlash will get even more prominent with the genre’s 2017 slate. But, through it all, Marvel Studios continues to assert themselves as the kings of the genre, showing once again why their method of developing a ‘cinematic universe’ has truly succeeded. Instead of rushing into things, they’ve taken their time to develop their characters and truly ‘expand’ their universe with each new film. Thus, Civil War, as I’ve made clear numerous times already, is the culmination of everything’s that happened in this series so far. And because we’ve become so attached to these characters thanks to their numerous appearances in these films, it makes this one of the most emotionally-charged superhero films to date. If I had to rank this amongst the franchise’s steadily-growing filmography, it’d land at the Number 2 spot, with Guardians of the Galaxy just barely edging it out at Number 1. It’s that frigging good. It also proves that directors Joe and Anthony Russo are very much capable of handling big superhero ensembles, hence why they’re the perfect choices to take over for Joss Whedon on the Avengers films with the upcoming Infinity War two-parter. Heck, the fact that they managed to keep this film as a Captain America story despite the large ensemble, which could’ve easily just made this Avengers 2.5, is even more impressive.

And finally, we’ve come to my Number 1 pick; my favorite film from 2016. There were plenty of great films this year, many of which we’ve addressed already on this list, but what took my Number 1 spot? Well, that honor goes to a film that comes from the franchise that spawned my Number 1 favorite film from 2009. That’s right, we’re talking about the Kelvin era…



I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a huge fan of director J.J. Abrams’ two Star Trek films; the 2009 Star Trek reboot and its 2013 sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. However, when it comes to Trek fans, I’m clearly in the minority on that one, especially in regards to the latter following the whole Khan controversy. Thus, there was a lot of pressure on the third installment in this newly designated ‘Kelvin’-era series to be more Trek-y in nature. And because J.J. was busy working on another sci-fi film that starts with the word Star, AKA Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they had to find a new director. And find one they did in director Justin Lin. Sure, this may have been seen by the purists as them bringing ‘yet another action director’ into the franchise but Lin’s work on the Fast and Furious franchise did give him solid credentials in terms of directing. Plus, he did note that he is a fan of the franchise, so that’s always a plus. I mean, I guess it’s a better situation than it was with J.J., who admitted he’s more of a Star Wars fan, but let’s not get into that any further, now, shall we? They also brought in series star Simon Pegg, AKA ‘Scotty’, to co-write the screenplay, another great move given Pegg’s work on Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. But, once again, things didn’t go too smoothly at first for the film prior to its release. The first trailer was absolutely lambasted by Trek fans for once again looking more like an action film than a Star Trek film. It also probably didn’t help that marketing on the film was almost non-existent for a few months afterward. Thankfully, the second trailer was better-received and upon release, the film received the typically positive reviews that the Kelvin era films have been getting. And, for the most part, it looks like it did succeed with long-time Trek fans, at least more so than the previous films. After all, the plot, in which Kirk and the Enterprise crew are stranded on a remote alien planet named Altamid after their ship is destroyed, is very much reminiscent of something you’d see on an episode of The Original Series.

However, with that said, part of me wonders if this film really will manage to win over every single hardcore fan of the franchise. That’s because, if you really look at it, despite having a much more Trek-y plot, this is still a J.J.-era Trek film. It’s still very much an action-oriented story through and through which, from what I can tell, is one of the major problems that longtime fans have had with these films; the fact that their plots are more action-based than they are cerebral-based. But, as someone who absolutely loves the Kelvin era films… this film just hit all the right notes for me. The action sequences in this film are incredible. Sure, Lin does bring a more ‘rapid edit’ shooting style to these action sequences compared to what J.J. did with his two films but it still works incredibly well. The returning cast is once again fantastic. They were perfectly cast in their respective roles, to begin with, and one of the best parts about these newer Trek films, in general, has been the great camaraderie between them, and this film continued that tradition perfectly. There are the many hilarious scenes involving Spock and McCoy, who find themselves paired together while on Altamid. There’s my personal favorite moment in the entire film when Spock reveals that the necklace he gave Uhura contains a radioactive mineral that can be used to locate her and everyone just looks at him wondering why he gave his girlfriend radioactive jewelry that can be used as a tracking device (“That was not my intention!”). And you know that big scene at the end where the crew takes on the enemy swarm and destroys them by using the song ‘Sabotage’ by Beastie Boys? I know some people felt that this sequence was stupid but, personally, I loved it, if mainly because it ties back perfectly to the first film, where the song was used during the scene where young Kirk steals his stepfather’s car. Let’s just say that when Kirk, after hearing the first few beats of the song, grins, and remarks “That’s a good choice”, I had a big smile on my face. Now you know why I felt that the use of the song in the first trailer wasn’t ‘out-of-place’; it’s a key part of the Kelvin era.

Another great thing about these films has been their solid emotional depth. From Kirk’s father’s sacrifice at the beginning of the first film to the scene where Kirk dies in Into Darkness (again, I don’t care if it’s a rehash of the same scene from Wrath of Khan: still gets me every time), these films have delivered some of the most emotional moments in recent film history. Admittedly, I can’t really say that Beyond had as much emotional depth to it compared to the previous two films but, still, there are some effective emotional moments in this film. A lot of them come courtesy of Spock, which in turn stems from the recent passing of the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy. Thus, in this film, Spock learns that Spock Prime has passed, which makes him uneasy about the reality that is mortality. If I had to pick the best emotional scene in the entire film, it’s when Spock, while hiding in a safe area on Altamid with Bones, reveals the emotional turmoil that he’s been feeling after learning of Spock Prime’s death and admits that he’s considering the possibility of leaving Starfleet after all this to take over Spock Prime’s job of ensuring the survival of the Vulcan race. This, as well as the scene near the end where Spock looks through Spock Prime’s possessions and finds a photo of the original Enterprise crew (which, let me tell you… goosebumps…), serves as a fitting tribute to arguably the most famous Trek cast member of all time. On that note, sadly, this also serves as the final film for Anton Yelchin (Chekov), who tragically passed away a few months before the film’s release. And while Chekov doesn’t get a Nimoy-style send-off given the nature of the plot, J.J. Abrams has confirmed that the role will not be recast.

Beyond also introduces two new additions to the cast. The first is Sofia Boutella as Jaylah, an alien scavenger/warrior who Kirk and co. meet on the alien planet. Simply put, Jaylah’s a badass; Boutella’s dance experience, as well as her breakout turn in 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, contribute excellently to the character’s skills in combat. At the same time, she’s also a well-layered character, as it’s shown that her family was killed by the forces of the film’s main villain, Krall. On that note, Krall (Idris Elba) is another solid villain in this reboot series. Again, like what I said before about the emotional depth, admittedly I can’t say that Krall is as great of a villain compared to Nero and Khan from the previous two films. Still, that doesn’t mean that Krall isn’t a good villain. Elba does do an excellent job in the role, especially in terms of making him an intimidating threat to Kirk and his crew. Plus, he does get some interesting backstory. As Kirk and his crew discover, his real name is Balthazar Edison, the human captain of an old pre-Federation starship, the USS Franklin, that was subsequently used by the Enterprise crew in the present day to get off Altamid. When Edison and his crew were stranded on Altamid, he used the technology of the planet’s natives to keep them alive, which then turned them into monstrous, mutated aliens. It’s a solid characterization overall, as Krall/Edison seeks to destroy the Federation for, as he puts it, abandoning him in favor of uniting with those who once opposed them. Despite what I’ve said about the film still being an action-oriented Trek film, I think that this plot thread does bring some of the cerebral-ness that the hardcore fans were craving to the plot.

In conclusion, Star Trek Beyond is yet another fantastic entry in the franchise’s equally fantastic reboot series. I know that not a lot of Trek fans are big fans of the Kelvin era films but as for me, I absolutely adore them. The 2009 film is legitimately one of my Top 10 favorite films of all-time due to the experience of seeing it for the first time, how it was the film that got me into Star Trek in the first place and the fact that it was the first film that I truly purchased on home media, which was then followed up by me watching it numerous times on my old iPod touch. And like I’ve said before, I’ll defend Into Darkness come hell or high water (note: I’m not making a pun referring to this year’s Hell or High Water, which happened to star ‘Captain Kirk’ himself, Chris Pine). As for Beyond, it’s not my favorite of the series but I still love it for all the same reasons that I loved the first two films. And even with a change in director, Justin Lin did a fantastic job taking over for J.J. Thus, you can bet that I’m ‘beyond’ (hehe, sorry, I had to…) excited to see the next installment of the series, which will bring back a major character from the first film; Kirk’s father George (Chris Hemsworth). I think it’s safe to say that, given this reveal, the fourth film will be a time-travel story in some way, shape, or form. And while I understand why some may question the need to keep focusing on the plot thread of how Kirk is burdened by the legacy of his father’s sacrifice, especially after one of the key plot threads of this film was how Kirk has now outlived his father in years, I think that having Kirk Sr. be in the next film will bring a great closure to the phenomenal arc that Chris Pine’s Kirk has gone through throughout this entire series. And finally, for a Star Trek film that was released in the year of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, I think that this was an excellent representation of this iconic series.


And there you have it; my Top 12 Favorite Films of 2016. Once again, thanks for following alone with me on this epic four-part lookback on the films of 2016. Be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own favorite films from 2016, especially if they include a film that I didn’t mention on this list.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

TOP 12 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2016: #6-4

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s big end-of-the-year list, in which I’m counting down my Top 12 Favorite Films from 2016. This is Part 3 of 4 and today, we begin to get into the second half of the list. Today, I’ll be covering the films that landed in the #6-4 spots. For my previous 6 picks, as well as my multiple Honorable Mentions, be sure to click the following links to be directed over to Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. But, for now, it’s time to get back to the list…

There were plenty of great films that I saw at SXSW this past March. Only one, though, made it onto this list…


Image result for demolition poster

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is kind of a hard sell because it is a rather unique take on a ‘dramedy’. It tells the story of an investment banker named Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose life is turned upside down when he tragically loses his wife in a car accident. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking; how can there possibly be any sort of humor that comes out of a story about a guy who loses his wife? Well, thankfully, the part about him losing his wife is not where this film’s humor comes in. If it did, then I assure you that this film wouldn’t have been on this list at all. Instead, it stems from the strange methods in which Davis copes with his loss. Literally, a lot of what happens in this film occurs as the result of an incident in which Davis gets angry at a vending machine for not working properly. He then writes multiple letters to the manufacturers of the vending machines in which he ends up venting over various things in life, which do end up getting read by the company’s customer service representative, Karen, whom Davis befriends. He also befriends her delinquent son Chris and the two get into a whole bunch of crazy shenanigans, from going out into the woods to fire a gun (even having Davis be a ‘target board’ at one point) to what is easily one of the biggest scenes in the film in which Chris helps Davis demolish his house. For the record, it’s not like the film is implying that Davis’ methods are a good way of coping with the loss of a loved one. It does very well establish that everyone else in this film generally views his actions as being totally weird. However, that’s kind of what makes the humor in this film work so well; the humor comes from the absurdity of Davis’ shenanigans. There’s a bit of a ‘black comedy’ edge to it all and Jake Gyllenhaal does a fantastic job in the role of Davis thanks to his strong charisma and excellent comic-timing.

Thankfully, though, this film is not just all comedy. Once the third act rolls around, the film wisely goes back into dramatic territory as the main plot reaches its pinnacle and Davis’ recent actions truly start to affect his life and those around him. And it is in this moment where Davis finally finds closure in regards to how his wife’s death affected him. At first, when the accident happened, he admitted that he wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about it because he felt that he didn’t really know his wife. But, after making amends with the driver who caused the accident, Davis finally realizes that he did love his wife. And while most of the film prior to this point was more humorous in tone by showing us all the strange ways in which he coped with it all, by this point Davis has earned our full sympathy, making his epiphany particularly cathartic. Once again, a lot of it comes from Gyllenhaal’s excellent performance and he’s backed by an excellent supporting cast that includes Naomi Watts as Davis’ new friend Karen and Chris Cooper, who gives one of the most emotionally-charged performances in the film as Davis’ boss/father-in-law Phil. I’ll admit that when it comes to ‘dramedies’, I find that it’s hard for a film to achieve a true balance between drama and comedy. Sometimes, a film like this can be more of a drama than a comedy (e.g. American Hustle) and vice-versa. But this film does manage to find that balance and that’s why it ended up being my favorite film out of SXSW. Though, to be honest, I almost didn’t end up seeing this film while I was down there. But, after going to a panel where Gyllenhaal talked about the film, I decided to go see it and I’m glad that I did because I ended up loving it. And, clearly, the same can be said for a lot of other people at the event because it ended up winning the Audience Award for Best Headliner. However, outside of SXSW, critical reception was a bit more mixed. It currently stands at a 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, which I’m surprised at but, like I said before, admittedly this film isn’t for everyone. But as for me, Demolition was one of my favorite films from 2016, hence why it takes the Number 6 spot on this list. (*proceeds to put on ‘Crazy on You’ by Heart*)

While Moana is a terrific entry in the Disney animated canon, the studio’s first release of the year ended up landing just a bit higher on this list. Specifically, it kicks off the Top 5 at the Number 5 spot…


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Zootopia truly is one of the best films that Disney Animation has ever produced. Seriously, it’s up there with the classics. I mean, it’s great enough that, on its own merits, the film has almost everything that you want from a great Disney animated film. The story is a fun buddy cop adventure set within a world fully inhabited by animals. This world is a greatly detailed environment highlighted by the titular city of Zootopia, which itself is separated into different zones for each major species of animal. This includes a town full of mice, Little Rodentia (where the mice are appropriately scaled compared to every other animal in the city), the frozen ‘Tundratown’, and so on. The buddy cop story is based around a lovable lead duo in the form of Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde. Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the optimistic rabbit police officer while Nick (Jason Bateman) is the charismatic con-man fox. And while Nick does start out as an antagonistic character to Judy, he gradually becomes a more sympathetic character as time goes on. This is especially thanks to the big scene in which he reveals why he turned to the con-man lifestyle. When he was younger, he was subjected to ridicule by the members of the Junior Ranger Scout troop that he was trying to join for being a fox, who are generally seen as untrustworthy. They even put a muzzle on him. Because of this, he decided that if the world wouldn’t see him as anything more than a deceitful fox, why bother to try and be anything else? I won’t lie, this is the most emotional moment in the entire film. And, of course, the animation is terrific; it’s bright, colorful, and, as noted earlier, creates a vast world full of unique environments and characters. With all this in mind, Zootopia would already be considered a great entry in the Disney animated canon on those merits alone.

But then this film takes one further step that truly establishes it as one of Disney Animation’s all-time greatest efforts. Amidst all the fun animal antics, including the slow-moving DMV’s run by sloths (I think many of us can agree that this will go down as one of the most iconic moments in the film) and the parody of The Godfather in the form of arctic shrew crime boss Mr. Big, this ‘buddy cop’ story also takes on big themes like racism and prejudice. All throughout the film, we see signs of the symbolic conflict between predators and prey, despite the implication that Zootopia is a city where both sides live together in harmony. This conflict is heightened once the main plot begins to unfold, as we learn that some animals have gone missing and, on an even more concerning note, are found to have become savage creatures. At first, it’s assumed that because predators are generally seen as being ‘savage’ by nature, they’re beginning to revert to their primitive ways. However, this idea was only established because Judy was overwhelmed by paparazzi while at her first press conference and all it does is make the growing tensions between prey and predators in the city even worse. It even affects Judy’s relationship with Nick, due in large part to the general mistrust that rabbits like Judy have towards foxes. This is something that’s been effectively built up the entire film, ever since Judy was bullied as a kid by another fox named Gideon Grey. It shows that even someone like Judy can have their own bigoted beliefs. Thus, it’s quite impressive how her parents, who sort of played a major part in developing her distrust of foxes, end up being the first rabbits shown to truly befriend a supposedly ‘untrustworthy’ fox.

But, as it turns out, this whole ‘disappearing animals gone savage’ scandal was all a plot orchestrated by Assistant Mayor Dawn Bellwether, the often-undervalued assistant to Zootopia mayor Leodore Lionheart. Instead of it being a case of predatorial animals reverting to their primitive nature, she’s been using a serum made from toxic flowers known as ‘night howlers’ to turn the animals savage. Just like the ‘rabbit-fox’ conflict between Judy and Nick, Bellwether was excellently built up as the antagonist, being the undervalued assistant who is constantly being bossed around by Lionheart, who was initially assumed to be the main villain when it was found that he had the animals who were turning savage locked up in a facility outside the city limits so that doctors could figure out a cure. All throughout the film, she is constantly being shown to be someone who sticks up ‘for the little guys’. But, as it turns out, while she really was looking out ‘for the little guys’, it’s just that, to accomplish that, she was trying to make the entire community of Zootopia shun all predatorial creatures. Simply put, it’s just another one of the many excellent facets of this well-written plot. And thus, this charming buddy cop adventure ends up becoming a powerful form of social commentary; one that, simply put, society can really take note from given the rough 2016 that many of us had and, let’s be honest, potentially rough 2017 that we might have. That is why Zootopia ends up being one of Walt Disney Animation’s greatest efforts. It’s so effective in appealing to both kids and adults that it almost feels like a story that Walt Disney himself would do back in his day.    

You take the director of Whiplash, add in a dynamic and charismatic lead duo, and what do you get? My Number 4 pick…


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La La Land is something that you don’t see very often in the world of film; an original musical. But, that’s exactly what director Damien Chazelle, fresh off his 2014 critically-acclaimed effort Whiplash, did with this film and the results are quite astounding. At its core, La La Land is a love letter to old Hollywood. There are plenty of references and Easter eggs to old films peppered throughout the entire film. Now, I’ll admit that being someone who admittedly isn’t an expert when it comes to classic films, I’m sure that I missed quite a few of these references the first time around but I bet that I’ll notice them upon re-watch. But, what I can say about this film is that it is an incredibly charming story about an aspiring actress named Mia (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who fall in love against the backdrop of the Hollywood scene. Stone and Gosling are both fantastic in their respective roles and, as evident from the fact that this is their third film together in which they play a couple, have fantastic chemistry. The film itself is also a technical masterpiece. It’s well-shot, well-edited, and the musical numbers are excellently choreographed. One of the major things that makes this film stand out is its frequent use of long takes. Case in point, the whole opening number, ‘Another Day of Sun’, is a six-minute long take set on a crowded LA highway. There are plenty other long takes throughout the film as well, showcasing the finely tuned editing job by Tom Cross, who previously worked with Chazelle on Whiplash. But of course, it wouldn’t be a musical without the music and, simply put, the music in this film is excellent with its collection of jazz-based songs. Yep, this is a jazz musical and even if you’re not a fan of jazz, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll love this soundtrack. Right now, the track that’s getting the most attention during this year’s award circuit is ‘City of Stars’, first sung by Sebastian and then later done as a duet between him and Mia. It is a good song but I’ll admit that it isn’t my favorite. If I had to pick a favorite, it’d probably Mia’s big solo ‘(Audition) The Fools Who Dream’, which played over the film’s second trailer.

But what really makes this film is the ending. All throughout this film, we’ve seen Mia and Sebastian fall in love while both try to achieve their dreams. In Mia’s case, it’s to become an actress while Sebastian looks to open his own jazz club so that he can play ‘real jazz’. However, as they find out, it proves to be a challenge for both to achieve their dreams while they’re together. Sebastian joins a band led by an old classmate, Keith (John Legend), but is forced to play jazz music that’s more pop-oriented. Meanwhile, Mia writes a one-woman play but it ends up being a major flop. Eventually, Mia does end up having her most successful audition yet and afterwards, Sebastian encourages her to commit fully to the role if she’s cast, even though it means that he won’t be coming with her to Paris where it’s being filmed. We then cut to five years later and see that Mia is now a successful actress… but married to someone else. She and her husband end up going to a jazz club which is revealed to be Sebastian’s, and after he recognizes her, we cut to a montage recapping the entire film but changed around so that the two of them truly end up together. But, it’s only a dream and as Mia leaves with her husband, she looks back and shares one final heartfelt scene with Sebastian from afar. With this ending, Chazelle achieved his goal of doing a musical that feels ‘real’; one where the fabled ‘happy ending’ doesn’t necessarily happen. And yet, at the same time, Chazelle did give us a happy ending for Mia and Sebastian. It’s just that this was in regards to them achieving their dreams and not in terms of their relationship. And while the montage in which they do end up together was only a fantasy and not reality, it results in an ending that satisfies both those who wanted to see these two together and those who wished to see something different. Thus, it could be argued that La La Land is one of the most universally-appealing films to come out in recent years. Even if you don’t like musicals, you’re sure to be charmed by this original story and the excellent lead performances.  

And that’s the end of Part 3. Thanks for following along and be sure to check back tomorrow for the final part of this list, in which I’ll be naming my Top 3 favorite films from this past year.

Monday, January 9, 2017

TOP 12 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2016: #9-7

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s big end-of-the-year list, in which I’m counting down my Top 12 Favorite Films from 2016. This is Part 2 of 4 and today I’ll be covering the films that landed in the #9-7 spots. For my #12-10 picks, as well as my 7 Honorable Mentions, be sure to click the following link to be directed over to Part 1 of this series. But, for now, it’s time to get back to the list…

An animated classic saw new life this year with an excellent new adaptation that’s easily one of the most visually beautiful films of the year…


Image result for The Jungle Book 2016 poster

Disney’s new trend of live-action remakes, as I’ve noted numerous times in the past few months, has been a controversial one, to say the least. Those against it question the necessity for Disney to do live-action remakes of their animated classics. However, the most recent efforts in this ‘line’ have done well with both critics AND audiences instead of just with the latter as was initially the case. In 2015, we got the excellent re-imagining of Cinderella. And this year, we got not one but two great live-action remakes in the form of the previously mentioned Pete’s Dragon and this, director Jon Favreau’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel The Jungle Book. This story was previously adapted by Walt Disney Animation in 1967 and was the last major Disney animated film that Walt Disney himself ever produced. The original Jungle Book is an undeniable classic. Despite what channels like Screen Junkies and Cinemasins may claim (seriously, their videos on it were so negative that I had to fast-track my ‘60’s/70’s Disney Retrospective’ just to give it a positive review. They were that harsh!), it’s a terrific entry in the Disney animated canon thanks to its classic characters and memorable songs. With his version, Jon Favreau both respects the original film while also doing his own unique spin on the story. Part of this stems from the fact that he utilized elements from both the original animated film as well as Kipling’s original story. Some of the classic songs from the original film appear, namely ‘The Bare Necessities’ (obviously) and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’, but only in snippets. In other words, this is not an outright musical. It’s just a well-handled take on the classic story of the man-cub Mowgli and his adventures in the jungle, from his encounter with the infamous King Louie to the fun, care-free times that he had with Baloo and, of course, his run-in with the intimidating Shere Kahn.

One of the most talked-about aspects of the film has been its visual effects. And for those not yet in the know, at least 95% of this film is CG. They shot all of this on a sound-stage with Neel Sethi (Mowgli) being the only major human character in the entire film and most of the backgrounds created digitally. So, technically, it could be argued that this is more of a CG remake. But I’m not going to get into that argument right now. Instead, let’s continue to marvel at this film’s fantastic visuals. The animals look incredibly photo-realistic and it’s also impressive how real the environments look for being almost completely CG. As for the cast of animal characters, Favreau did a nice job in terms of selecting a voice cast to portray these classic characters. Each voice actor is perfectly cast in their respective roles. This includes Ben Kingsley as the dignified panther Bagheera, Idris Elba as the imposing Shere Kahn, Bill Murray as the laid-back Baloo, and Scarlett Johansson as the seductive Kaa. And for being the only major human actor in the entire film, Neel Sethi does an excellent job when it comes to working off these CG characters. Thus, The Jungle Book proved to be another excellent remake of a Disney classic. And, like Cinderella the year before, it’s not meant to ‘replace’ the original in any way. That’s basically the main fear of those who oppose these remakes. They believe that, with these remakes, Disney is implying that animation is inferior by comparison. Trust me when I say that this is not true. These remakes are just meant to be a neat complement to the original film which, quite frankly, is something that I feel the best remakes are supposed to do. Instead of replacing the original, they instead should just be an interesting new take on a classic story. And considering that this film is basically only one-half of Kipling’s original story, I’m excited to see how the upcoming sequel is going to turn out.

Boy, are things going to get weird with my Number 8 pick…


Image result for Swiss Army Man poster

Like I said in my original review, Swiss Army Man is one of the weirdest films that I have ever seen in the 7-plus years that I have been doing film reviews. It tells the tale of a man named Hank who ends up stranded on a deserted island. Driven despondent to the point of suicide, he notices a dead body wash up on shore that is farting uncontrollably (just go with it…). Hank manages to get back to the mainland with the help of the corpse, whom he names Manny (who is somehow still able to speak), and the two embark on a journey to get back home. Along the way, Hank learns that Manny is capable of being used like a ‘swiss army knife’, hence the title Swiss Army Man, for various purposes, whether it’s for chopping wood or hunting for food. Yes, that plot may sound weird to some of you, and I wouldn’t blame you for that because I agree, but amidst all the farting, talk of masturbation, and magical wangs that act as a compass (don’t ask…), this film is… strangely beautiful. Obviously, a lot of weird stuff happens in this film but, at the same time, it’s a simple and charming story of friendship, lost love, and regaining one’s humanity. Hank and Manny prove to be a likable duo together and Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, respectively, do excellent jobs in the roles. The soundtrack is fantastic, featuring a lot of great acapella tunes, including a hilarious rendition of the theme from Jurassic Park (“If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know s***!”) and an epic montage song that’s literally called ‘Montage’. And, ultimately, this was one of the funniest films of the year. I mean, sure, given this film’s wacky premise, that was probably to be expected going in. But, to put it simply, this was just a strange yet highly entertaining little adventure.

Everyone’s favorite absent-minded fish returned in what was either a highly-anticipated sequel… or one that some people were hesitant about given the studio’s track record with sequels…


Image result for Finding Dory poster

The character of Dory, as voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, is widely regarded as one of the best parts of Pixar’s beloved 2003 effort, Finding Nemo. And after many years in which fans were kept eagerly waiting for a follow-up (including Ellen herself as evident from all the times that she mentioned it on her show), Pixar finally gave us a sequel to Finding Nemo in the form of Finding Dory. Andrew Stanton once again returns to direct and, as the title suggests, the film sees the optimistic and lovable Pacific regal blue tang take on the lead role. However, at the same time, this film also had to prove itself to those who were hesitant about it given Pixar’s general track record with sequels. While the Toy Story sequels were undeniable critical and commercial hits, Cars 2 was the studio’s first poorly-received effort. And while the prequel Monsters University did perform better with critics, by comparison, it still wasn’t one of the studio’s best-received efforts… even though I’d argue that film is totally underrated but I’m starting to get off track here. Yes, the internet has been putting a lot of pressure on Pixar these past few years to do more original stories. After all, this is the same internet that now regularly expects ‘15/10 masterpieces’ from the company and views any film that doesn’t reach that status as the equivalent of a criminal offense (seriously, I wish I was joking about that but, per my good friend Kyle Ostrum (kylesanimatedworld.blogspot.com), this connection was, in fact, made once on an online forum). Thankfully, Finding Dory manages to prove a lot of its critics wrong by being just as charming, beautifully animated, and most importantly heartfelt as its predecessor.

First off, the film smartly avoids the common mistake that a sequel can potentially make; rehashing the same plot of the previous film. Instead of just having the plot consist of Dory being captured and taken away by divers to P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, it instead sees her traveling to ‘the Jewel of Morro Bay’, AKA Morro Bay, California’s Marine Life Institute, to find her long-lost parents, whom she had been separated from ever since she was little. This is what gives the film its heart and, thus, the scene where she finally reunites with them at the end is a guaranteed tearjerker. At the same time, the film maintains a lot of the same great qualities of Finding Nemo. The main characters are all very likable. This includes both the returning cast (Dory, Marlin, Nemo, etc.) and the new cast of characters, including a grouchy but lovable octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), Dory’s childhood friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted whale shark, and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who mistakenly believes he is unable to use echolocation after suffering a concussion. The animation is outstanding as usual; seriously, I’d argue these Finding Nemo films feature some of Pixar’s absolute greatest animation. Finally, another great thing about this film is how it embraces those with disabilities. Of course, the film is primarily about Dory who, as we all know, suffers from short-term memory loss. And while that does make her journey to find her parents difficult at times, she manages to overcome it by the end. In other words, instead of shunning those who suffer from any sort of disability, this film assures them that their disabilities don’t define who they are which, if you ask me, makes the whole experience even more special. So, in conclusion, to quote the title of the end credits song performed by Sia, which is a cover of a classic song, Finding Dory truly is ‘unforgettable’.

That’s the end of Part 2. Thanks for following along and be sure to check back in tomorrow for Part 3, in which I’ll be listing Films #6-4.