Monthly Archives: June 2016

Just Keep Swimming

The forgetful little blue fish from ‘Nemo’ makes a splash of her own

(Pictured) DORY. ©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Finding Dory

Starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell & Idris Elba

Directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

PG

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,” said Dory, the little blue tang in Finding Nemo, the 2003 Disney/Pixar hit about a father clownfish’s across-the-ocean search for his abducted son.

And keep swimming she has—Dory now splashes right into her own movie, a sea-worthy spin-off about her own search for the loving parents she barely even remembers.

In Finding Dory, which takes place one year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory—still coping with her lifelong inability to remember anything—suddenly recalls a memory fragment of her mother and father (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). Overjoyed that she has a family, she sets out on a quest to locate them, bringing along young Nemo and Marlin, his reluctant dad.

Ellen DeGeneres once again provides the voice of Dory, with a perfect grasp of the delicate emotional shadings of comedy, drama and trauma in her struggle to piece together the shards of her past as she leaves her colorful coral reef and heads to the dark, debris-clogged shores of California. Albert Brooks reprises his role as Marlin, and newcomer Hayden Rolence is Nemo.

FINDING DORYThe new movie does a great job, just like Nemo, of creating a world teeming with aquatic creatures—although we meet most of them not under the sea, but inside a marine institute, which is where Dory, Nemo and Marlin eventually come to the surface. Two sea lions (The Wire’s Idris Elba and Dominic West) fiercely guard their rock from interlopers. Ed O’Neill is a hoot as Hank, the misanthropic camouflaging “septopus” (an octopus with only seven tentacles) who longs to remain in captivity rather than return to the wilds of the ocean. Modern Family’s Ty Burrell cracked me up as Bailey the beluga whale, so proud of his abilities of echolocation, the sonar-like location of objects by reflected sound. Paired with Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a nearsighted whale shark, they’re quite a team.

FINDING DORYThere’s a road full of adorable otters, a loveably dorky ocean loon, Becky, who doesn’t say a word, and a great running joke about real-life actress Sigourney Weaver, who’s heard but never seen.

From the opening Pixar short (Piper, about a little sandpiper) to the credits (when Hank the octopus gets one last time in the spotlight), it’s all great fun, rollicking adventure and quite heartwarming. Director Andrew Stanton, who also steered WALL-E and Finding Nemo, and co-director Angus MacLane keep the pace lively, the jokes funny and the message clear: Friends are family, too.

There may be tears, and little ones, especially, may be more affected than grownups about Dory’s wrenching separation from her parents and her unflappable hopes that she will find them. This is, after all, the House of Mouse, the company that gave us Bambi, Pinocchio and Dumbo—not to mention Old Yeller, The Lion King and that flashback scene in Up.

But remember what Dory says: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. You’ll make it.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Odd Size Spies

Kevin Hart & Dwayne Johnson are mismatched pair in comedy-action caper

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Central Intelligence

Starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

PG-13

If comedy is art, Central Intelligence wants to make sure the canvas is well covered—it’s got a big, tall brush, a short, little brush and some very funny painters.

Dwayne Johnson is Bob Stone, a formerly chubby, friendless high-school loser mercilessly bullied by his classmates and shown kindness by no one—except the school’s star football player, student council president and all-around over-achiever, Calvin “the Golden Jet” Joyner (Kevin Hart).

A cruel practical joke during a pep rally becomes a distant memory as the year pass. Joyner marries his high-school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet) and settles into a dull job at an accounting firm, fretting that he peaked in 1996 and that his life is going nowhere. Stone, on the other hand, sheds his adolescent flubber, packs on the muscle and becomes a CIA agent—on a dangerous, rogue, off-the-grid mission.

CI-0117rWhen the two reconnect on Facebook, out of the blue, their reunion creates a spontaneous combustion of hilarity as Stone pulls Joyner onto a wild ride of slam-bang shoot-outs, dizzying double crosses and daring escapes in a race to track down a notorious international trader and stolen encrypted computer codes.

Very quickly, Joyner doesn’t feel like his life is a dead end anymore—even though he may not like where it’s taking him!

Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber knows a thing or two about comedy, as he demonstrated in Dodgeball and We’re The Millers. His fellow writers, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, honed their funny bones on television’s The Mindy Project and Madtv, and the script zips, zaps and zings with smart, sharp quips, clever set-ups and solidly crafted gags that often get extra bonus mileage when they pop up for a second—or third—laugh line.

Johnson and Hart make quite a pair, starting with the yin and yang of their odd-couple appearance. The former pro wrestler known as The Rock towers over his co-star by more than a foot, and they both find the hysterics as well as the humanity and the heart in their roles, and in the film’s anti-bullying subplot. The movie has some riotously funny scenes, like the one in which Joyner and his wife go to marital counseling, and another involving a stolen airplane, a picnic cooler and a hilarious spiel about an organ transplant.

Sprinkled around, like movie candy, are wily Hollywood meta-references and nods to other films. Stone thinks Joyner looks like “a snack-size Denzel.” Joyner tells Stone, whose attire of baby-blue unicorn tees and a fanny pack belies his lethal skills, that he’s a “Jason Borne in jorts.” There’s a great running Breakfast Club gag, riffs on Roadhouse and Jake Gyllenhaal, and a sly Goodfellas line.

And I won’t spoil things by revealing the pair of big-name stars in super-secret cameos. You’ll be pleasantly surprised—in vastly different ways—by both.

But the real reason to see Central Intelligence: Two very funny actors who might not be anywhere near the same size, but who are perfect alignment for this hilarious spy-spoof assignment.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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The Real Ghostbusters

Husband and wife partners fight 1970s demons ‘across the pond’

CON2-FP-122 (2)

The Conjuring 2

Starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga

Directed by James Wan

R

Beating the much-ballyhooed new Ghostbusters to the screen by several weeks, director James Wan shakes things up with a spook-fest of another kind—the second serving of his Conjuring series, based on the case files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who claimed to have investigated more than 10,000 incidents since the 1950s.

This time, fresh off the 1970s investigation that became New York’s “Amityville Horror,” the Warrens are summoned across the pond to a working-class London borough, where a single mother and her four young children are being tormented by what seem to be malicious spirits.

CON2-FP-037Oh, yeah!

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga once again portray the Warrens, a couple whose individual childhood brushes with the supernatural eventually led them to each other, into a paranormal partnership and marriage. The movie’s soft little subplot about their strong bond, scored to the recurring Elvis hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (which Wilson even gets to sing as a serenade, with a guitar!), is a dollop of pure sweetness in the carnival of creepiness.

CON2-FP-146Young Madison Wolfe, 11, who plays the Janet, the “possessed” youngest daughter of the British family, may look like a greenhorn, but you’ve likely already seen her if you watch TV, on Zoo, Scream, The Astronaut Wives Club or True Detective, or in the movies The Campaign, Trumbo or Joy. She’s terrific as the bedevilments in her home send her flying into the air, crashing into walls, teleporting from room to room and taking control of her voice, personality and body.

Wan, who also directed the original Saw and Insidious, certainly knows his way around a haunted house. He never overdoes the cheap thrills or gotchas, and he gets genuine jolts out of some truly nightmarish images—particularly a demonic nun and the “crooked man” from the old nursery rhyme. But he also has fun with bone-chilling scares he builds around mundane, everyday objects, like a blinking, bleeping toy fire truck, a bedroom poster of smiling actor-singer David Soul and a TV remote that won’t stay where it’s put.

The movie will probably feel a bit familiar, at times, to anyone who’s seen The Exorcist, it could stand to be trimmed by at least 20-25 minutes, and someone should have told the music department that just because a movie is set in England, you don’t have to use songs by the Bee Gees, the Hollies and the Clash if they don’t really fit.

CON2-FP-045As the Warrens wrestle with demons, they also wrangle with questions of belief and doubt, skepticism and proof. “Your visions are a gift from God,” Ed reassures Lorriane, who worries that her trance-like visits to the “dark side” have shown her too much, especially about what might become her own future. The movie frames the Enfield hauntings, which actually took place over a two-year period, in a Christmas setting, with prominent decorations on display and weirdly dissonant versions of familiar carols signaling that something unholy is afoot. In one scene, a freaked-out Lorraine stabs and shreds pages of her Bible with an ink pen.

If you’re easily spooked, The Conjuring 2 may not be the most relaxing way to spend your popcorn dollar. On the other hand, if you like getting the good, old-fashioned hell scared out of you, then step right up for a retro terror trip to re-live another harrowing, real-life event from the annals of America’s original ghost busters.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Reappearing Act

Do-gooder magicians return for more hocus-pocus hijinks

Online Poster - Caplan, Franco, Eisenberg, Harrelson_small

Now You See Me 2

Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman & Daniel Radcliffe

Directed by Jon M. Chu

PG-13

The magic of the movies sometimes makes for some nifty tricks, and this “reappearing” act is a good one—a sequel to the 2013 hit about a foursome of infamous crusading magician tricksters whose large-scale, steal-from-the-rich stunts have made them worldwide rock-star Robin Hoods.

Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Dave Franco return as three of the so-called Four Horsemen, with Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Johnson on TV’s Masters of Sex) coming aboard to replace Isla Fisher from the original. Mark Ruffalo is back as FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, whose “reveal” as the Horsemen’s hidden-in-plain-sight mastermind was the first movie’s final bit of hocus-pocus.

JM4_9003.NEF

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman again rounds out the ensemble as Thaddeus Bradley, a former master magician-turned-trick-debunker who was framed and sent to prison for the group’s last big caper.

Joining the cast is former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe as a megalomaniacal tech billionaire who hijacks the Horsemen to coerce them into heisting a new super-high-tech computer chip that, if delivered into the wrong hands, would compromise the privacy of every computer—and every computer user—in the world.

The only problem is, which hands are the wrong hands, and which are the right ones? In a movie about magic and misdirection, it’s awfully hard to tell.

Director Jon M. Chu, whose resume includes two of the Step Up dance flicks, keeps things moving along briskly with a sense of fun, fizz and sizzle as the do-gooder scamps zip from New York to China to London, trying to stay one step ahead of the law. The plot gets bogged down a bit as it tries to layer on detail and backstory, but when the Horsemen get down to business, things really come alive—like in an absolutely stunning sequence in which the purloined computer chip, attached to the front of a playing card, is masterfully flipped, flung and flicked from Horseman to Horseman to avoid detection while they’re each being searched. It’s the movie’s centerpiece trick, a sexy, super-slick bit of slight of hand, and a showpiece of computer-assisted “card-istry.”

Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson

In one of the movie’s best running gags, Harrelson has a ball in a new, “surprise” role—in addition to the smooth-talking hypnotist Merritt McKinney, he also plays his sibling-rival twin brother, Chase, who sports a head of curly hair and a mouth full gleaming white chompers.

One of the coolest things about Now You See Me 2, like its predecessor, is how it shows the audience how its trickery is done—after the razzle-dazzle, it pulls back the curtain to reveal the nuts-and-bolts explanation behind each jaw-dropping effect, the trap doors, the trickery, the switcheroo, the behind-the-scene hustle-bustle that made the illusion possible.

Magic, it lets us know, requires practice, hard work, concentration, planning, patience and super skills. That doesn’t make it any less amazing, or any less wondrous. “The best tricks,” says Morgan Freeman’s character, “work on many levels.” Now You See Me 2 is a multi-leveled magic show, heist caper, comedy, drama and globetrotting action-adventure romp with characters whose company you’ll find most enjoyable.

Now you see them, now you don’t. And you’ll all but certainly see them again—in Now You See Me 3.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Go Ask Alice

Magic mirror returns plucky lass to Wonderland—or Underland

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Sacha Baron Cohen & Johnny Depp

Directed by James Bobbin

PG

British author Lewis Carroll’s tales of a Victorian lass and her escapades in an enchanted place of talking animals, odd humans and other curious creatures have been made into numerous movies, TV shows and stage adaptations—dozens since Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was originally published in 1865. In the early 1970s, the rock band Jefferson Starship made Alice the hook of its hippy-dippy song “White Rabbit,” which used her journey down a rabbit hole as a metaphor for another kind of “trip.” The ABC-TV modern-day fairytale anthology Once Upon a Time spun off a standalone series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, based on Carroll’s novels, in 2013.

Clearly, something about the plucky, curious young Alice never falls out of fashion.

“Go ask Alice,” sang Jefferson Starship’s Grace Slick.

Go ask Alice, indeed, for she is a most resourceful gal in this Disney follow-up to the House of Mouse’s Alice in Wonderland, which reunites most of the cast of the 2010 film. When we meet her in the opening scene, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is the cool-headed captain of her late father’s sailing ship, The Wonder, excitedly exploring the globe, narrowly escaping from pirates and clearly making her own way in a “man’s world” that wants to put her—and keep her—in her place.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter

When the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) gets in a bit of a bind, his friends in Wonderland—now called “Underland”—know just what to do: Go ask Alice!

That sets the stage for Alice’s return—this time through a magic mirror—to the enchanted realm, where she again meets up with the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Tweedles Dee and Dum (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, the Dormouse and the Bloodhound.

In order to help the Hatter, Alice must make a dangerous, daring trip back in time. That’s always tricky in any movie, and here it involves stealing a device called the Chronosphere from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). The film’s weirdly wacky new character is a clockwork despot who speaks like German actor Christoph Waltz and is served by a staff of comical, robotic minions he refers to as his “seconds”—a time pun, get it?

Once again, Johnny Depp is all tics, weird hair and crazy quirks—three shades of eye shadow, eyebrows that look like florescent orange caterpillars attacking his forehead, ghoulish white makeup and yellow teeth. When the Hatter speaks, he sounds like he’s got marbles in his mouth and a lisp. It’s just too much.

Sacha Baron Cohen

Sacha Baron Cohen

So it’s practically an invitation for Sacha Baron Cohen to glide right in and steal the show with a perfectly calibrated performance of comedic timing, camp and cleverness, which he does.

British director James Bobbin (who also steered two Disney Muppets movies plus the brilliant Flight of the Conchords and Cohen’s satirical Da Ali G Show) replaces Tim Burton, who directed the 2010 Alice in Wonderland. Burton’s influence remains as one of the producers, however, and the whimsy and imagination of his original are still very much evident.

So: How long before we get our next trip to Wonderland/Underland? Go ask Alice!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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