The Purge Election Year (**) Trying to wedge social commentary into a horror film

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The Purge Election Year – 2016

Written and Directed by James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Raymond Jay Barry

So these films aren’t getting any better. They aren’t getting any worse, either. For every unique shock death we see in the distance, we get a steady dose of cliche up front. This time, we have a character from the previous film, Barnes (Grillo). He is the chief of security for (seeming Dem) Senator Roan (Mitchell). Roan experienced tragedy thanks to the purge 18 years prior, which gave her the drive to try and stop it through Congress. Grillo also had a background story in the last film, but that has apparently become irrelevant.

Opposing them, of course, are the white guy Republican-types from the first two films who sit in their ivory towers (or Catholic Churches) and pray / prey their way through the purge on the power of the almighty dollar and some type of understanding of human nature that eludes the heroes.

To make the evil more diverse, we get South African “Murder Tourists” who are there only to collect scalps. I am pretty sure all of these guys are relatives of the South African guy from Lethal Weapon 2 who had “diplomatic immunity.”

We also have some samaritans, grudging (Williamson) or otherwise (Gabriel) who help the good guys after their impenetrable fortress is penetrated. This leads us to the base of the resistance and Dante Bishop (Hodge), who was the kid that ran into the house in the first purge, endangering the family. He’s been fighting the power since then, and its about time they kill some old white males, don’t you think?

If you think I am ruining this for you, then I am sorry. This movie wrote itself easier than Griffin Mill with a room full of yes men.

The film is not lacking for acting talent. Mitchell, Williamson and Grillo are all capable and Gabriel has a kinetic energy that could be magnificent if used correctly. That they are slightly better than caricatures is by no means a result of direction or plot.

The films all have a real distinct look. The masks add a bland malevolence that promises chaos. Instead we get moments of carnage in between statements about unwritten rules that essentially, counter the whole idea behind the event.

If they really wanted to improve these films, they’d drop the politics and ramp up the creativity. Give it less a feel of government crackdown and more a sense of random chaos that can’t clean up after 12 hours.

The story is seemingly complete with this one. But who’s counting? When you make as much cash on the barrell as these films do while under the pretense of having a political point, why not keep pumping these films out. There will always be more old white people waiting in Catholic Churches.

(** out of *****)

Central Intelligence (**1/2): A measure of the Rock’s comedic flexing ability

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Central Intelligence – 2016

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Danielle Nicolet, Timothy John Smith, Megan Park, Ryan Hansen, Thomas Kretschmann, Phil Reeves, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Kumail Nanjiani

If there are two actors in the universe making more movies than Samuel L. Jackson, they are Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. The range for Hart and Johnson may not be extreme, but they sure have the recipe for someone who is looking to forget about life for a while on a Friday night.

Johnson, aka WWE’s The Rock, has grown into an action movie icon. He’s got a large presence, but an astute self-awareness. There have been some bumps in the road and he’s taken some risks, but he’s been bankable if not award worthy.

Central Intelligence is a step in the right direction. We get a healthy dose of his action skills, but his comic timing is sharpened to the point where he’s actually funny. We’re not talking Arnold funny, either.

The story is about Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) and Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart). In High School, Wheirdicht is (Johnson given a bad digital makeover) a fat dweeb. Inexplicably, he is caught singing in the shower while the rest of the school is at an assembly celebrating Calvin being the best High School student ever. Yeah, it’s not subtle, but it gets worse. While he’s accepting his award, he gets surprised by seeing Wheirdict’s naked body sliding across the floor. So Calvin covers Robbie with his massively decorated letterman’s jacket.

Cut to 20 years later. Calvin has a good job, but is dissatisfied with his life as he sees younger employees promoted over him. He is in the midst of one of his bouts of self-pity, about to decline an invitation to his High School reunion when he gets a friend request from a “Bob Stone,” on Facebook. Cutting to the chase, Bob is Robbie and he’s now a very studly CIA agent.

The story is no great shakes. Someone is on the lamb after losing his partner. For some reason, this plot needs Joyner as an accountant. Let me tell you a secret…there was no need for Joyner as an accountant.

Central Intelligence is at its best when it’s awkward. Hart is good as it gets these days when it comes to that. Johnson is even better. Playing against his manly stereotype places him atop the list of one note action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel. It’s the first step towards better performances that no one else his size can approach.

Let’s be serious though. This isn’t mensa material. It’s a big dumb action comedy. There is nothing here as funny as Thurber’s Terry Tate, Office Linebacker and thank goodness there is nothing nearly as bad as We’re The Millers. It might get a few sequels, and that’s fine. I’m pretty sure I won’t remember one joke in 5 years, but I will smile when I think about it, just the same.

(**1/2 out of *****)

The Nice Guys (****) Don’t say and stuff

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The Nice Guys – 2016

Director Shane Black
Screenplay by Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring  Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger, Beau Knapp

Thus goes the career of Shane Black. He directs one of the top grossing films of the past decade (Iron Man 3) and immediately sets to making the movie he’s been wanting to make for years before that. Of course it’s funny as hell, while filled with strangely realistic action scenes. Not one scene will leave action-comedy fans without a genuine smile. The story, the acting, the direction are all spot on. And it fails at the box office. Why?

For one thing, it lacks glamour. Oh, there are pretty women all over the place, but they don’t look as great when they’re knocked over during a chase scene or hit with an errant bullet. We even have the familiar Black intro with a pretty girl dying spectacularly.

Speaking of dowdy, I am not sure I have seen Crowe look as disheveled as Jackson Healy, a tough guy who’s not going to bother getting a license as a Private Investigator. He’s kind of looking like post-Godfather Brando by now, but I get the feeling he’s doing it on purpose. His skill is easy to miss at this point as I am sure most people would if he hadn’t already won an Oscar. He is so relaxed within the frame of his character, he’s almost a part of the background. Albeit, he’s a part of the background that can tell you to have your doctor check for the spiral fracture he’s about to apply to your left arm. It’s fun watching him play a man who is a bruiser, but not a mindless one. If the odds are against his taking action, he will duck out until the odds change. It takes courage to look smart enough to modify your brutal nature. Most actors can’t do this.

Ryan Gosling is as much a chameleon, but at an earlier age. His Holland March is a licensed PI, but you wouldn’t know it based on his ethics. He is an alcoholic widower raising a 13 year old girl after his wife died a few years earlier in an explosion. My guess is we find out it was not an accident if they ever do make another film. His condition is pliable enough that he is able to piece together who can help him and who cannot. Since this is a buddy film, one can guess who that will be.

His daughter, Holly (Rice) is somewhere between Holland’s conscience and his enabler. Seeing her driving him up to meet Healy after March had a few drinks is a gem of a scene. He is jamming away, singing The Band’s cover of Ain’t Got No Home as if he’d been born to sing along. It’s not a tremendously well known song, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at father and daughter. They look so familiar with it. She has a habit of asking men who are important to her if they are “a nice guy.” This could be answered quickly and honestly with “I do what it takes to stay living.” Both March and Healy answer her differently.

The interplay between Crowe and Gosling is deftly handled. There is no one writing about interpersonal dealings between partners as well as Black, even after all these years. The connections are rarely obvious or telegraphed. One has to know for what they are looking. It’s a credit to both actors that they pull off Black and partner Bagarozzi’s subtlety so effectively. I don’t think I have seen Gosling this charismatic. Both are full-fledged persons capable of good and bad moments without unnecessary flare. For this reason alone The Nice Guys is worth watching.

Almost as good is Holly. She’s in a lot of places that kids ought not be, and the excuse for that is thinly played. We get that Holland is not a good father, but does he have no one that could have helped to watch her? It plays well for a few scenes, but by the time we get to the last act, it’s become anathema to the desired effect on the viewer.

The challenge with The Nice Guys is definitely the ending. The MacGuffin everyone is chasing ends up a disappointment. It’s a shame, too, because they waste not only a great pair of well played minor henchmen (Knapp and a very welcome Keith David) but also a supremely scary Matt Bomer. The bad haircut, the delayed reveal and the name (John Boy) make for a performance I had no idea Bomer was capable of based on earlier work.

There are also several production gaffes with the film. They go out of their way to point out the film takes place in 1977, but I would guess over half of the musical references take place after that year.

These points alone should not dissuade you from seeing this good film. It doesn’t keep me from wanting to see a sequel.

(**** out of *****)

Cool Papa E Reviews Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episode I-VI)

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Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) 1977-2011

Nobody really needs to review this series. It is, for better or worse, part of the world lexicon of enduring stories. How this evolved from the story of Luke and his friends to eventually just the downfall and reacquired mojo of Anakin has filled many books, often more effectively than the movies themselves did. In truth, there are really only two superior films in the George Lucas era of Star Wars. The rest, while great to look at, is a measure of the tragedy of story-boarding over storytelling.

Thing about it is, those first two films are so good, a thousand ships of dreams have been launched by those in pursuit of the magic that they promise. Unfortunately, in the cinematic world we are boxed in a harbor. The Force Awakens is a prime example of another ship that ends up in familiar waters. It feels great, but there is nothing new aside from 3 humans and a delightful robot. Who’s counting more than me, though, that the next ship, Rogue One, will be far enough into this wonderful world for us to anchor for a while and dream about our next move into dreamland.

What I will do here will amount to more a list than anything. There will be a basic review and a best of and worst of for several facets of each film. I am kind of making it up as I go along, but I am sure this will be no worse than the script for Attack of the Clones.

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best

Best Line

Daultay Dofine: This scheme of yours has failed, Lord Sidious. The blockades is finished. We dare not go against the Jedi.
Darth Sidious: Viceroy, I don’t want this stunted slime in my sight again!

Worst Line

Jar-Jar Binks: Count me outa this one. Better dead here than dead at the core. Ye Gods! What is mesa sayin’?

Best Scene

Any of the fight scenes between Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon.  Too bad they are split up with crap like “My give up.”

Worst Scene

I feel so bad for Ahmed Best. He is given a thankless, poorly conceived and even worse written role. His character gets in the way of so many scenes, he seems even to be a source of irritation for the ever calm Jedi. I would say his queries to Amidala when they are at Coruscant are a perfect example of this.She’s busy pondering their planet’s very existence while being manipulated by Palpatine and all he’s allowed to say is “Yousa thinking yousa people ganna die?” No wonder she never looks at him.

Best Effects

The film is pristine. Everything except for eye contact with the digital characters is worthy of praise. Naboo and Coruscant have joined Tatooine as places we all feel we have been. Nothing matches the sheen on the Naboo cruisers sleeking through space or the vibrant sheen of a lightsaber in the the rest of the cinematic universe.

Worst Effects

The afore-mentioned eye placement for digital characters is severely off-putting. Seeing the Jedi stare absently at Jar Jar is a touchtone to every bad effects decision that follows in the prequels.

Biggest Win

The one on two matchup of Sith vs. Jedi was a daunting decision that made everyone realize these Sith are for real and they are dangerous as hell.

Biggest Mistake

Too bad they ended that duel making Maul look stupidly on as a defenseless Obi-Wan jumps over him and then slices him open. Killing off good bad guys early and making them look like doofs is a Star Wars tradition, though.

Review in 50 words or less

This film is the beginning of a lengthy series of misadventures that have Lucas continually following his whims (Jar Jar, Pod Racing, green screen) without giving a strong story to back it up. The fault lies with hiring a bunch of talented digital artists, but no real story tellers.

Rating / Rank (*** out of *****) / 4 of 6

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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Directed by George Lucas
Written by Lucas and Jonathan Hales
Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Temeura Morrison, Jimmy Smits

Best Line 

Obi-Wan: I was beginning to wonder if you’d got my message.
Anakin: I retransmitted it to Coruscant, just as you’d requested, Master. Then we decided to come and rescue you.
Obi-Wan: [looks at his handcuffed hands] Good job.

Worst Line

Padme: Please don’t look at me like that.
Anakin: Why not?
Padme: Because it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Anakin: Sorry milady.

Best Scene

Gotta go with two here, because the pickings are so slim. #1 is Windu’s dispatching of Jango Fett. Even if it is yet another early exit for a bad guy, it makes Sam Jackson look as cool as we all know he is. #2 is the space fight between the Fetts and Obi-Wan in the planet ring. It’s the best space battle in the prequels.

Worst Scene

Everything else. Everything.

Best Effects

There are so few decent aspects to this film, it’s not hard to define. The spaceship that Dooku / Tyranus flies from Geonosis to Coruscant is not only wonderfully conceived, but it is very cool to look at.

Worst Effects

Could be just the clones.  They all look painted onto the screen. It never looks like they are actual humans, or breathing beings at all. The gladiator stadium is ill conceived and even more poorly executed. Dexter is horrible too. Sure, they make the table move when he sits, but his there is no sound when he makes contact with the table afterword. Kamino looks like a latter day Elizabeth Taylor perfume commercial; beautiful and unreal.

Biggest Win

We all win when Mace is allowed to kick ass.

Biggest Mistake

Digital filming was the concentration for this movie, and there was increasingly little thought given to the story. Lucas pieced it together in a few weeks and then gave Hale about a half-week to clean it up.

Review in 50 words or less

Not only the worst Star Wars film, but one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The script is deplorable and the poor acting encouraged by Lucas’ inability to communicate makes it worse. Saddest of all is the movie looks more like a cartoon than anything.

Rating / Rank (1/2* out of *****) / 6 of 6

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Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Temeura Morrison, Jimmy Smits

Best Line

Supreme Chancellor: I know what’s been troubling you. Listen to me. Don’t continue to a be a pawn of the Jedi Council! Ever since I’ve known you, you have been seeking a life of great significance, far more than any Jedi.
[turns his back on Anakin]
Supreme Chancellor: Are you going to kill me?
Anakin Skywalker: I would certainly like to!
Supreme Chancellor: I know you would. I can feel your anger. It give you focus… makes you stronger.

Worst Line

Padmé: Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo; so long ago when there was nothing but our love. No politics, no plotting, no war.

Best Scene

I’m going to go with Obi-Wan dropping in on Grievous and his army. The winsome smile is a reminder of why this guy was picked to play a young Alec Guinness.

Worst Scene

Jedi Youngling: [a group of younglings are discovered by Anakin] Master Skywalker. There are too many of them. What are we going to do?
[with a cold, emotionless face, Anakin draws his lightsaber]

Best Effects

Everything looks pretty good this time around. A much better color palette and much clearer look to everything. The most cohesive mix of effects and scene go to the seduction of Skywalker by Palpatine at the Opera. That is the lasting image in my mind for this film. 2nd would be Windu vs. Sidious.

Worst Effects

The clones still look pretty damn bad, but the continual scenes of characters walking together in front of a blue screen will be remembered as a goofy descendant of the Scooby Doo scrolling background. The fight on Mustafar fails whenever the two Jedi start hovering on a variety of objects.

Biggest Win

The best thing about this film is easy: McDiarmid’s Palpatine. His performance is a standout in the series. Really, if one can remove him from the rest of the prequel trilogy, his performance is nearly award worthy. His look of actual lust for power is made all the more rewarding when one considers the fact that it takes him so long in movie years to get that for which his is plotting. His lines all roll off the tongue and none of them have the stench of Lucas’ middle school playtime prose.

Biggest Mistake

Having Padme die of heartbreak is lame as hell. George had years to think of something with which to kill her, and we get that?

Review in 50 words or less

It’s the film that is the most concise, if for no other reason than Lucas is backed into a corner and can only move forward. It is still a tremendously flawed film, but at least with the over-reliance on Palpatine we get to see some real Machiavellian shit go down.

Rating / Rank (*** out of *****) / 3 0f 6

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Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977 originally – 2011 version)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

Best Line

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

STAR
WARS

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

These words changed a lot of lives for the better.

Worst Line

Han Solo: Jabba, you’re a wonderful human being.

Only if you leave all of the dialogue in from that redundant conversation and wholly unnecessary added scene. Jabba was a fat guy in the original deleted scene.

Best Scene

Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader. My friends and I have replayed this scene a hundred times or more in our back yards growing up. That it was decided during a later draft shows the power that collective writing had back in the early days for Lucas.

Worst Scene

In any post 1997 version, its the addition of Jabba. It slows the film down with repeated and confusing dialogue, and makes Han look like he repeats himself like a daft man.”Han shot first” and the flying robot teasing thebigger one and getting hit also rate quite high.

Best Effects

Worst Effects

Why George ever thought to mess with the classic “Han shot first” scene will be subject to debate until shortly after Lucas is dead, and then will be restored by Disney.  Any version but the 1977 cut makes no sense, no matter how the director tries to explain it away. Do you want Greedo to be an inept bounty hunter?  Do you want Han to lose his ambiguity? Do you want to suck the charm out of the movie? If so, then any version post 1997 is for you.

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Han stepping over Jabba is a very close second, even if they worked on that 1000 hours and made it better than 1997, it still sucks.
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Biggest Win

Everyone who ever liked movies wins with this film. The crappy alterations cannot change the history that was made when Star Wars was first released. Everything good and some bad about movies stems from May 25, 1977 in Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

Biggest Mistake

The post 1997 edits take this film down a notch. It’s still a classic, but it’s got a few dings since then.

Review in 50 words or less

It’s hard to quantify how important this movie is to people. The original release is the most important movie I have ever witnessed. Without this film, I would not be obsessed with movies now. They could replace the edits with stills of Dom Deluise and I would still happily watch.

Rating / Rank (***** for original and ****1/2 out of ***** for post 1997) / Both are 2/6 

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Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Directed by Irvin Kirshner
Written by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz

Best Line

I sincerely think this whole script qualifies for best line. There are too many great lines and as far as I can see, only one bad one. The two best though, have to be as follows:

Princess Leia: I love you.
Han Solo: I know.

And

Darth Vader: There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you.
[pauses]
Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.
Luke: I’ll never join you!
Darth Vader: If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke: No. No. That’s not true. That’s impossible!
Darth Vader: Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
Luke: [anguished] No! No!

Worst Line

General Reiken [to Han Solo]: A death mark’s not an easy thing to live with.

Best Scene

Again, there are so many iconic moments in this film. I have to narrow it down to Luke learning the truth and Han, Leia and Chewie’s surprise betrayal.

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Worst Scene

I have to nitpick here, because I really think there no obviously bad scenes. Seeing Luke blindly swatting at large things obviously lumbering towards him in his Cloud City battle with Vader makes him look like he would need training to beat a fat guy blue belt Jiu Jitsu who got his stripes fighting small kids.

Best Effects

Everything bursts off of the screen beautifully. The space flight of the Millennium Falcon takes the prize though. Inventive, crisp and smooth at once.

Worst Effects

Again, this is quibbling, but it has always felt like the Wampa was just one big giant arm on a stick swung by a stage hand.

Biggest Win

George Lucas owes his entire empire to the images and character possessed within this film. Everything started with A New Hope, but this is the film that cements Star Wars into the world’s psyche.

Biggest Mistake

Letting go of Kirshner and Kurtz. There has not been as good a Star Wars film by a long shot since these two were shown the door.

Review in less than 50 words

This is one of the greatest films of all time. It is the fount of imagination that springs forth for so many. Lucas deciding to make Vader Luke’s father and Leia falling for Han is storytelling at it’s peak. This is the lynch pin for all that follows.

Rating / Rank (***** out of *****) / 1 of 6

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Directed by Richard Marquand
Written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones

Best Line 

Admiral Ackbar: It’s a trap!

Worst Line

Good God they turn Solo into an absolute moron in Return of the Jedi. Everything he does is beyond annoying. If it weren’t for the Ewoks, he’d take the prize for worst thing about the film. I don’t know if it was a misread of the character they’d created or if George was mad that Ford wanted to be killed off. Or if it is an indication that Lucas’ creative vision was clouded by personal problems. Whatever happened, they get a head start at ruining the franchise before they even land on Endor.

Han Solo: Chewie and I’ll take care of this, you stay here.
Luke: Quietly. There may be more of them out there.
Han Solo: Hey, it’s me.

Best Scene

This film has not aged well. Scenes that are good are often tied to scenes that are just absurd. The fight on Jabba’s sail barge is the best example of this. While Leia is kicking some ass and killing the big slug, Han is blindly knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlacc pit, in what is the first of a long line of stupid bad guy demises. Still, this is the best moment for women in the entire series prior to Rey’s arrival in Episode VII.

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Worst Scene

Many to choose from here. The afore mentioned end of Boba Fett ranks high, but it’s nowhere near the assault to the senses that are the Ewoks. They have many a horrible scene, but nothing quite so bad as their attack on the heavily armored Storm Troopers with sticks and trees.

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Best Effects

The speeder bike race was cool at the time, and it still has some resonance. Not as much as the space battle over Endor though. Many good moments and exceptional editing win the day here.

Worst Effects

There are a few grainy scenes, like the Rebel planning room for the attack on the second Death Star, that have not improved even in the reissues. There are some updates that work, like the new song at Jabba’s palace, even if you can tell the cartoon figures from the real. I hate seeing Hayden Christensen standing next to Yoda and Ben in the end.

However, everything the Ewoks do look like little people in a loose fitting suit. They should have stuck to the original plan and just made a few more Wookie outfits.

Biggest Win

Initial Marketing and box office win the day. This movie was a tremendous hit at the time. It made a ton of money in its initial release.

Biggest Mistake

Long term. Return of the Jedi has no shelf life. The toys from the film stopped selling, especially when Lucas said he wasn’t going to be making any more. No one I have ever met owned an Ewok play figure of any kind.

Review in 50 words or less

Sorry folks, this one is a turd. The good is even with the bad here. The good on one side being most of the first act, the showdown with the Emporer and the space battle. The bad is most everything else. It completes the trilogy with a thud.

Rating / Rank 

(**1/2 out of *****) / 5 of 6

The Green Room (****) Gives us a glimpse of Yelchin’s future gifts

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Green Room – 2016

Written and Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner

Green Room is an escalating nightmare movie. We’ve seen plenty of these in the past, but none of them done  in this way. It’s a good film. It covers ground with people that we don’t want to associate with. The band is so raw, you can almost smell them. Their music isn’t particularly good, and they are definitely on the road to nowhere.

Starting out, they steal some gas just to get to an out of the way town to be interviewed and then do a show for a radio guy they did not know was fired at the time. To compensate, the interviewer gives them an address and the name Daniel. Well, since they are in the area.

They show up and find that they are doing a show for Neo Nazis. After the show, one of the band members forgets her cell phone in the green room and Pat (Yelchin) volunteers to go pick it up. What he finds immediately places both him and the rest of the band in danger. They end up locked up in the green room with a gun after making an emergency call.

It’s at this point the joint’s owner named Darcy (Stewart) shows up. He concocts a plan to turn the cops away. The he begins some aggressive negotiations with the band.

What happens from here alternates from desperate plans to absolute carnage and back to planning. Then more carnage. How and why Darcy needs this to end is for the viewer to decide, but one can guess it’s not so they can clear up the place for the next Log Cabin Republicans meeting.

Stewart masters the scene in a cool, business like manner. He knows it’s going to be bad, but it really is logic more than anything that guides his hand. As much as Patrick Stewart is in on a yearly basis, he really doesn’t do enough. The man is a supreme skill and talent.

Poots piles on the weird chick vibe, but her character overcomes a dumb haircut, driven by the events from a sort of hysteria to survival mode through the chaos. Taking what she knows and putting it together with willing survivors when they need to know it. She gives the film some grist it really needs.

Saulnier is a smart and sober storyteller. He doesn’t pull any punches and definitely does not pretty anything up for the camera. His sensibility is not going to warm anyone’s hearts, but he definitely knows how entertaining playing it straight can be.

Yelchin gives a vulnerably heroic performance as a guy who has no idea what he’s in for, but he has to learn fast. It’s an unusual type of lead performance. Why that is, you have to discover for yourself. The movie is put over the top by his nervous energy. The world will miss his presence, ability and beauty.

(**** out of *****)

The Fundamentals of Caring (***) picks up a lot of baggage along the way

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The Fundamentals of Caring – 2016

Written and Directed by Robert Burnett
Starring Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, Frederick Weller, Bobby Cannavale, Julia Denton

The concept of caring for the disabled is a tricky one to capture in story form. I experienced it first hand in my teenage years, and one of my best friends, The Grouchnapper worked in the field for years. It is routinely monotonous at best.  It is a nightmare for the afflicted and their assistant at worst.

Trying to express the field of caretaking as any sort of comedy should be difficult if you are angling for any sort of authenticity. If you get the details right, you lose the comedic effect. Forsaking the authenticity for a few yuks can border on offensive. In short, it’s a daunting task. I had my doubts on the way in.

The Fundamentals of Caring manages to straddle the line, however.  It’s a buddy movie. It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a road movie. It’s a plea for understanding. It’s bursting at the seams with characters. It’s alright.

It always helps to have Paul Rudd in your film. He demonstrates his ability to mix emotions and common sense like no other. Here he is Ben,  a writer of two books you probably haven’t heard of. As a soon to be divorced father of a dead son, he took a turn, took some courses and now is a licensed caregiver for the disabled.

His first client is Trevor (Roberts) who is a kid just out of his teen suffering from Muscular Dystrophy. Trevor comes in with a confrontational style of humor that is sometimes funny and often slightly offensive, if you’re into taking offense for others. That he is the literary sledgehammer is obvious. We take less offense at his remarks because it is he in the wheelchair. The logistics of it would become boring fast were it not for Rudd’s atypical response to the situation.

In the periphery we have Trevor’s mother Elsa (the usually excellent Ehle). She is somewhere between overprotective and preoccupied, but when it comes down to it, she is able to recognize something good when she sees it. Even if it goes against every instinct both she and her son have developed in their years of a protective routine.

I will leave it to you to decide whether one can accept a first time caregiver taking his first client on a cross country trip to see the world’s largest man made pit. I think I might insist on coming along, at the very least, but who’s counting?

If Mom had come along, we may well have picked up the chain smoking Dot (Gomez), or possibly even the very pregnant Peaches (Ferguson), but the dynamics would have been a whole lot different.

But Mom doesn’t come along, and we end up with the two girls (dare we say, “women?”). Peaches comes across as more of a prop than anything. What kind of scene will you get when you add a very pregnant woman to a story at the end of the second act?

Gomez gets a bit more screen time with her Disney version of world weary. It’s a part that is designed to have a safe dream girl step into and I guess Vanessa Hudgens and the girl who plays Jessie were not available.

Lest one accuse me of taking cheap shots, it’s quite clear that she’s giving her best estimate of the kind of character that would be suitable for the role of wild child, but many of her reactions give the feeling that we are still in Waverly Place no matter how far across the states we travel. Still, I don’t fault her for trying. She will get there. After all Jodie Foster was once a Disney kid.

For Roberts, this is a plumb role, and he hits the mark for the most part. His ornery predisposition is not an earthquake of cruelty for those who care about him. That would be too easy to play. Instead, he gives us a more realistic series of aftershocks designed to test if one is really paying attention to him. The character is definitely an uptick from playing a guy named “Assjuice” in Neighbors.

The film works best when it concentrates on the relationship between the two protagonists. Rudd and Roberts play well off of each other, and when it goes deeper than words, it’s believable and entertaining. If they’d given the bit players smaller portions, the story might flow better.

Overall, though, it’s a good film and Burnett’s heart is in the right place. I don’t think that there are any standout laughs in the film.  It’s doubtful that anyone will ever find a great reason to add the word “retard” to a script, but I don’t think one could ever make too many Make a Wish jokes. Not that I am against, Make a Wish, mind you. I would just enjoy seeing Katy Perry more involved, as it were.

Netflix is a good spot for a film like The Fundamentals of Caring. Hospice care has really only played a part in one big hit in my lifetime, and even then, Swank was a boxer for most of Million Dollar Baby. This is a good Sunday night after the kids are in bed movie. There is not much romance in my house heading into Monday, so why not fill it with a well-intentioned movie with minimal hugging and learning?

(*** out of *****)

Wild (*****) is a beautiful loser

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Wild – 2014

Director Jean-Marc Vallée
Screenplay Nick Hornby based on the book by Cheryl Strayed
Starring  Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, Cliff DeYoung

Among the things I love: Laura Dern, Nick Hornby and road movies. I also love Diane Ladd, but she’s not in this film.

Among the things I like: Reese Witherspoon, stories of humble self-discovery and humans connecting with nature.

Among the things I loathe: Eat Pray Love, Oprah and her book of the month club.

When I hear think of the movie Searching for Debra Winger, I can’t help but conjure up the image of Reese Witherspoon. Both were beauties in their younger days. Both had work opportunities become less frequent with the passing of their youth. I am not sure that things for Winger ever became as desperate as Rosanna Arquette’s 2004 documentary suggests, but there is a resounding truth that Hollywood is more welcoming of old dudes like Harrison Ford making Indiana Jones 5 than they are of people like Julia Roberts making Pretty Woman 2. Some of the smarter people take control of their lives through a variety of means. For actresses like Salma Hayek, Drew Barrymore, Jodie Foster and Witherspoon, producing and acting has become an avenue for new material in a manner that allows them to age gracefully and with all the beauty they have inside and out.

Witherspoon started out with Legally Blonde 2, sequel to her biggest hit and the perfect launching pad. She’s produced around a half dozen projects since then, with some fantastic success. Wild sees her taking control of material suited best for someone willing to take a chance on her career and it’s success will hopefully lead to similar material in the coming years.

Wild is, in essence, the diametric opposite of Eat Pray Love. While the latter concentrates on the me part of life, it is essentially a movie about a selfish person using a book bonus to leave one relationship and take a big vacation. It’s cloying selfishness mocks the real journeys that people need to take sometimes in their own lives to readjust and realize their own (lack of) importance to the whole scheme of things. Eat Pray Love‘s Gilbert shows us that a jack ass can speak metaphysically, searching for meaning through 10 cent words and an unlimited supply of financing out of a New York publishing house.

Cheryl Strayed does some real soul searching on a shoe string budget, writes truthfully on her own role in her life’s travails and endures the journey on her feet with no fanfare. In fact, Strayed wrote about this journey over 15 years later and approaches it with even more realism, less romanticism and her heart in a completely honest place.

That Oprah picked both books for her Book of the Month club shows either that she is utterly clueless as to the identity of truly great prose or the producers threw a check her way ahead of time. Either way, I am glad that both books were published. At least this way I got to see one great film.

Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed. She is on a walk up the Pacific Crest Trail, starting in the Mojave Desert and finishing at the Bridge of Gods at the Washington/Oregon border. Strayed is not her original name. It is one she picked out when she got divorced, representing her role in the parting. Through flash backs the picture is doled out in bits and pieces. In other films this might be a gimmick. In the hands of Hornby, Vallée and Witherspoon, this is a deliberate pattern of thought processes designed at getting to the root of what’s really wrong with her.

Paul: [on phone] I’m sorry that you have to walk 1000 miles just to…
Cheryl: Finish that sentence. Why do I have to walk 1000 miles?
[pause]

But her ex-husband Paul can’t finish that sentence for her. Cheryl has to figure that one out for herself. The next hour and 45 minutes we get to figure that one out right along side of her. The journey is beyond hard, as we get to see Strayed (Witherspoon truly at her best) ambling along in a tired trance with a backpack (nicknamed Monster by fellow travelers) that is literally bigger than she. Watching her maneuver from the ground to her feet with the pack on her back is sheer agony. She gets there, eventually. Just like the rest of the story.

The flashbacks include many moments shared with her mother, Bobbi (Dern, acting her ass off) who is a seeming lightweight compared to how young Cheryl sees herself. That I see a lot of my relationship with my own mother strikes an important chord. We all think we have this living thing down pat when we consider our parents reading choices compared to our loftier selections. That we don’t consider other factors in their lives is a telling sign that our own viewpoint might be severely limited by our relative lack of experience compared to theirs. This is a point excellently and unflinchingly handled.

In the present we see a variety of people along the path. Some she is afraid of, some she is intrigued by. She doesn’t stretch real hard to find any cosmic connections. There is no time for that. She is centered on her own path to the point where she is stripped down to what it takes to survive.

One of the best scenes in the film is something we must take a face value. She is at Kennedy Meadows, California, when she meets Ed (DeYoung). Ed, is not taking the hike himself. He is just camping there because all of the people on their individual journeys is an inspiration to him. Not that he could ever undertake the journey himself. He does give Cheryl some fine advice though, in asking her to go through her very large bag and ask herself what she really has use for. Whatever she doesn’t need, she should place in the donation bin. The books, though, she should use for burning. The books won’t be harmed, he said. Cheryl isn’t a Nazi, she’s just being practical. If Gibson had tread the same ground, it would have been accompanied by some absolute metaphysical b.s. that no one needs to hear. We know the general message of take what you need: leave the rest. Not everything has to be “Sanskrit read to a pony.”

Cheryl’s story is great because it is hers. There are messages in there for us, but this is the path she takes to identify the reason she had to walk 1000 miles. There are several songs shared along the way, but the best part about them is that they are not played once and moved on, several come back in the monotony of her daily grind. Mostly we hear Cheryl sing them, sometimes they vibe off into the original being played over the soundtrack, but there is not one single training montage moment. She still has a ridiculous amount of stepping to do.

The one we hear most, though, is El Condor Pasa (If I Could). There is a resonance to this song in how it connects Cheryl to her mother. It is so deftly handled, like a mantra almost, that keeps the bond strong as she works out the things that she needs to in order to move forward with life.

Wild is what people should ascribe to in a story. Cheryl is identifiable specifically because she has the tragic flaws that we all have. She does nothing amazing on this trip. There are no moments that silver tape can’t overcome. That she takes every damn step and goes through a mind numbing re-evaluation of her life. The trip brings inspiration for those of us that can’t afford the luxury to jet set from Italy to India to where the hell ever else. Cheryl wasted a couple of lives before she took the challenge. She did it before she accepted the responsibility for other lives.

Vallée has made a vast improvement over his good but not great film Dallas Buyer’s Club. Where the first film made took the warts out of the protagonist’s past and present to make him into a saint-like figure of AIDS research, this film leaves all of Strayed’s bad traits right there, and we benefit from them by seeing someone we can identify with who will not be curing cancer or any other disease. She’s just learning to live with what she’s done and who she is now. This is something we all could learn.

(*****)

Zootopia (****1/2) preaches effectively (mostly)

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Zootopia – 2016

Directors Bryon Howard and Rich Moore
Screenplay by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Idiris Elba, Jason Bateman, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Maurice LaMarche

It’s amazing how careful one has to be when letting their kids watch films that are designated for their entertainment. I used to think parents that got all worked up about that stuff were a little nutty. I mean, what is the worst that could happen? Then I watched irresponsible pabulum like The Lorax  and spent the whole film unwinding my kids’ minds from the politically based, backwards thinking and just plain unfunny dreck. Most conspiracy theorists will tell you its the goal of the powers that be to get them young with appealing shiny messages that are subtle and long lasting. The Veggie Tales does a nicer version of this, but really, you know what you are getting with them. They aren’t fooling anyone.

Watching Zootopia, I had expected little. I knew that it was a huge hit about a Bunny that breaks the glass ceiling on Bunnys being on the police force. Okay, a story about overcoming. As long as we don’t get any hidden messages about Hillary, we can proceed.

Things were going fine for the first  13 minutes. We see a young, creative and brave girl fly though child hood, then the police academy and then take a train to the big city on the wings of Shakira’s golden dulcet tones telling our hero, Judy Hopps (Goodwin) to Try Anything. Then she lands in the police house, in front of a happy, jovial, dare I say it, flamboyant officer Clawhauser (Torrence) at the front desk. The conversation takes place and I cringe.

Judy Hopps: [Approaches reception desk where Clawhauser is munching on cereal] Excuse me… Down here… Hi.
Clawhauser: O. M. Goodness, they really did hire a bunny. Ho-whop! I gotta tell you, you’re even cuter than I thought you’d be.
Judy Hopps: Ooh, ah, you probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny ‘cute’, but when other animals do it, that’s a little…
Clawhauser: [Mortified] Hoo, I’m so sorry! Me, Benjamin Clawhauser, the guy everyone thinks is just a flabby donut-loving cop stereotyping you.

What is the message that we are supposed to glean from this exchange? We can be offensive just by finding something adorable? Somewhere I feel there is a writer congratulating themselves for what they feel is a “very special Blossom” kind of message. Instead what they did is exemplify why relations between groups with perceived differences have worsened over the last decade. The perception has become the reality, and be careful if you say all lives matter. Because you “…probably didn’t know…”

Do not fret, though. The movie does get better, and the subliminal message they attempt to send either is sneakily realistic or Disney finally stumbled into a logical message to send to impressionable youth. I will leave that for you to decide.

Zootopia continues the improving trend of Disney’s animation (non-princess) division. What is okay with Meet The Robinsons is better with Bolt, is great with  Wreck It Ralph and superb in Big Hero 6. This one falls into the great category. Everything in the story is fresh and alive whenever they take a break from making a point. That is surprisingly often after the low point with Clawhauser.

The artists are careful to render Judy as resourceful and deductive without turning her into a whiz kid with answers for everything. She has to earn her way up. Not because she is targeted for derision, but, her Chief doesn’t care about her inspirational story. She starts at the bottom with everyone and will have to do extra work to get extra credit. That initiative does get her in some trouble for insubordination, but she works it into a deal by raising the stakes.

Along the way she meets a hustler fox named Nick Wilde (Bateman). She gets taken by him, but soon enough she turns the tables and they are working in a partnership that is really blackmail. Their relationship is funny and nuanced, especially with Bateman’s near Downey, Jr.-like ability to speak under his breath.

Their investigation leads them into some funny situations including a trip to the DMV with some stereo-typically slow employees. But instead of stopping for a lesson about not judging, it’s played for some incredible yuks.

Easily the best segment of the story involves Mr. Big, what should by now be a cliched fearsome crime boss. The difference between cliche and inspired though is…well you’ll know it when you see it.

The film goes through the now we solved it / now we didn’t  scenarios. It’s not as annoying as that would normally be, even if it is predictable. There are several characters and nearly every one has an opportunity or two to shine, even Clawhauser.

The best thing is that the bad actors in the end are bad because they use differences to scare the larger voting base into being afraid of the smaller one. Fear, as we know, is the way to get votes these days. Saying someone who scares you is worthy of being scared of is a cheap pandering method that is used now more than ever, unless you’re Libertarian.

Zootopia is a beautiful, funny and wondrous new world, one of many that Disney has ownership of in their world dominance. No one needs to be afraid of this film becoming a franchise. There is more than enough grist to justify the prospect. Judy and Nick make a good team. And it’d be interesting to see what they produce in the future.

(****1/2 out of *****)

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Bay finally stands on the rock

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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – 2016

Director Michael Bay
Screenplay Chuck Hogan based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff
Starring James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Pablo Schreibler, Toby Stephens, Dominic Fumusa, David Denman, Matt Letscher, Alexia Barlier, David Costabile

There is a scene towards the end of 13 Hours…when we get to see the vantage of not one, but two flying mortars on their way to a payload of doom. These shots are deliberately reminiscent of another film by director Michael Bay covering an historic attack. The earlier film, Pearl Harbor, was an atrocious love story strewn within a spectacularly drawn destruction. This time around, there is an equally surprising attack, but it plays a little bit closer to the line than Bay has ever been before. It’s the kind of film one had wondered if he was ever capable of before now.

The “Secret Soldiers” of the title are six Private Military Contractors which form a Global Response Staff. Their job in Libya is to protect a secret CIA base that is a little more than a mile away from a makeshift Embassy. The team of contractors give a warning about the safety in staying there, but the options are limited due to warring tribes that have been rampant since several Western European governments and the Obama Administration helped to undermine the tyrannical Qaddafi regime. That every other country left the region’s Embassies except for the U.S. is portentous of events to come.

The night of September 11, 2012, a concerted effort by Muslims (local or not) begins outside of the Embassy and soon the place is overrun. This leads to the Global Response Staff to a state of readiness that is reputedly held back by a CIA Chief who is more concerned that they might bring the fight back to the secret base.

They decide to go without approval, but it is too late for the ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith. They are able to find the latter and bring his body back with the rest of the survivors. All of this is only in the first few of the 13 hours they are going to have to endure.

How much likes this movie seems to be tied to one’s political leanings, but it really shouldn’t be. There is a concerted effort to play it down the line, even going so far as to give the film an incompetent leader, CIA Chief (Costabile) upon which is attributed a large portion of the incompetence. If anything, the whole operation between CIA, Contractors and The State Department appears disorganized and entirely reasonably terrified of their surroundings.

I will not be participating in the back and forth, because I would rather be amazed that we have Americans working in the security of Americans everywhere that face that terror on a daily basis and with all of the bravery and expertise in the world. When I see these warriors in action, there should be no dispute that they are heroes of the highest order. This aspect Bay gets right in the best ways possible.

One instance in particular is when we see one of the men take a bullet off of the helmet. He yelps, realizes that he is not hurt, then goes right back to working. While it is often hard to tell the actors and their characters apart from one another, the differences become clear after Bay carefully spends precious time and dialogue with each of them so we can see more clearly. Sure there are some cliches, but I get the feeling these are the kind of men who are more concerned with keeping people alive than they are establishing a unique identity for coddling. Krasinski, Denman, Dale, Fumusa, Martini and Schrieber all make the best of their opportunities. It would be a shame if we don’t see much more of all of them in the future.

What is remarkable about Bay’s performance as director is that we get all of the things he does well, sharp effects, crisp cuts and clear images of destruction without most of the things that he does to ruin his films. The only consistent fault I can find with the film is the portrayal of The Chief. He’s a character that fits in more with Bad Boys II than he does in the real images of life we get here. Just imagine how much more heroic the film would feel if all of the forces against the heroes were competent and not in the compound with them. The reality of it is that, no matter how we got there, we are stuck in many places in this world that have us heavily outnumbered by people who can slip in and out of crowds at will.

Still, as good as 13 Hours… is, it would be hard to watch more than once. These were real people doing excellent work, but the whole thing represents a battle our Redcoats are not winning.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Finding Dory (***1/2) is about new beginnings and never ending

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Finding Dory – 2016

Director Andrew Stanton
Screenplay Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson
Starring Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy

If there is a movie in the Pixar lineup that was ready for a sequel, it’s The Incredibles. If there is a second movie, it’s Finding Nemo. The good thing in both of these cases is that they did not rush to capitalize on the success of the first film. Dory is 13 years in the making and The Incredibles 2 will be along in 2019, 15 years after it’s first film. The decision to make sequels in the world of Pixar is not based entirely on capital gain. There has to be genuine inspiration somewhere in there too.

Finding Dory does have that inspiration, and it has a collection of new side characters that are just as memorable as Gill, Nigel or Bruce. The 3 best new characters are Kaitlin Olson’s Destiny, Ty Burrell’s Bailey and Ed O’Neill’s Hank. Destiny and Bailey are tank mates at the Marine Life Institute. The former is a near-sighted whale shark while Bailey is a beluga whale who has lost his echolocation due to a concussion. The irony here is that Destiny spends most of the movie running into things but she never gets a concussion herself.

O’Neill gets the best moments and some incredible animation as a grouchy red octopus who had lost a tentacle but now just yearns to get on the transport to Cleveland, so he can get away from the ocean and just be left alone.

The very existence of these marina bound characters is a slight of hand played by the film makers. The goal of giving the second film it’s aquarium setting is to belie the fact that they are all tank bound by giving them a malady of some sort that needs to be rehabilitated within a nebulously indeterminate time in the future. This way we get to keep them all in tanks and still be responsible humans.

How do we get to the Marine Life Institute at Morrow Bay , California? Only in a movie, to be sure. It doesn’t exist in the real world. There is a Marine Reserve there, but nothing like the aquatic zoo they represent in this film. That’s okay, though. We are not here to save the ocean, only to pretend we are doing so in the framework of a movie.

The movie starts out with a young, doe-eyed Dory trying to learn with her overly “concerned” parents. She is taught that she has “short term remembery loss,” though it will take the course of the film to realize the gifts that come with that situation. Somehow Dory is lost from her parents and we see her wandering through life right up to the day she meets Marlin. It’s not exactly as inspired an opening as Up, but there is nothing that can equal that.

One year later, something triggers a memory in Dory’s mind and she quickly convinces Marlin to leave his Hobbit hole and venture forth. That their journey is accomplished with the current riding turtle Crush and company. That this is virtually the same manner and speed that Han and Chewie travel from planet to planet in the Millennium Falcon would be more disconcerting if it didn’t save the viewer so much time.

Once we are in California, we see an endless procession of trash off the coast. I mean endless. I get the feeling the gang at Pixar is trying to send a virtual message to us viewers.  Don’t vote for conservatives for Governor, perhaps?

Once there, somebody hits their head (it happens a lot in this movie) after being chased by a giant squid. Marlin gets mad that somehow Dory has endangered Nemo. Then Marlin grouches at Dory basically to move the plot along and have her wander towards the surface where she is captured by some do-gooders who are there to rescue her from the six pack ring loosely wrapped around her. It’s a stretch, and not the last one involving Marlin’s culpability. After all of the hugging and learning in the first movie, to have poor Marlin caught up doing the same thing he supposedly overcame is a disappointment.

The point of a Finding Dory title is to have Dory in need of finding. So this does make that a possibility. And besides, how else do we meet all the delightful new characters?

From here, Marlin and Nemo plot to get in and Dory plots to finally find her parents. I won’t go into the details, other than to say I never complain about movies going on too long. I hate it when someone says a movie has too many endings. I mean, what if there is never another film?  Then you’d sure be happy that they tagged that non-essential 2 or 3 endings on.

That said, this film has at least 1 to many climaxes and most likely two. I would personally have forgone the car chase and it’s wasteful ending that just adds more litter to the bottom of Morrow Bay.

The performances are great in all cases except for Marlin and Nemo, who are there basically to be separated from Dory and spend 1/3 of the movie upset with events and each other. The movie could have been just as good without them, or perhaps better if they’d found a more plausible way for them to be separated or even kept them on separate tasks together. Anything but what they did. It is a waste of Brooks talent to make him the fall guy in a film that doesn’t need one.

Dory is delightful, and her journey with Hank contains most of the best moments of the film. I am not sure there was ever a better match of actress and character than DeGeneres and her alter ego.

Unfortunately they don’t stick with her version enough. It’s a rule of diminishing returns the number of times we are forced to see young, wide-eyed and hapless Dory. What is effective at first becomes cloying after a half-dozen flashbacks.

If anything, this film shows us who the real star of the series is. There would have to be some major work done to incorporate Marlin as essential at this point. I am not sure Nemo ever mattered less.

There are some spectacular one (or even two) off’s with Fluke, Rudder and Gerald the sea lions, Becky the anything but common loon and a great if improbable post-credits scene with very familiar faces.

This film will not disappoint for most people. It’s got the same amount of pluses and minuses the first movie had. Even so, Finding Dory is already doing better than any other Pixar film, and that’s alright with me. I know that Ratatouille isn’t for everybody.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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