REVIEW: Finding Dory

21 06 2016

I was pretty much the target audience for “Finding Nemo” as an impressionable 10-year-old cinephile when Pixar debuted the film in 2003. It was back in the time when movies could stay in theaters for months, not just weeks, and I think I saw it five times that summer before fifth grade. I was rapt by the wit, creativity and storytelling sophistication.

But, as my mom was quick to point out, the film might frustrate or confuse viewers slightly younger. With its frequent cross-cutting between the split storylines of Marlin/Dory and Nemo, the delicate back and forth is a far cry from most children’s entertainment with a singularly focus and strict linear plot.

I can only imagine how some of them reacted to the sequel, “Finding Dory,” which is so frenzied and frenetic in its storytelling that I often wondered if the Pixar brain trust was attempting to replicate the scattered mind of its memory-troubled protagonist. The film moves quite jarringly about, cramming every scene full of joke lines, plot points and sentimental reflections. It is frequently fun and enjoyable, but the tagline of the movie should have been Dory’s oft-repeated mantra, “Just keep swimming.” The film requires constant motion to keep up and stay afloat.

Still, this is a Pixar product, so it still manages to provide all the typical stirring and sweet moments that define the studio. (Even “Cars 2” had these.) As Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory fights her way through a labyrinthine aquarium unit – as well as her own mind – to find her parents, she has many an opportunity to reflect on the importance of family. This means not only where they are, but who they are; always a step or two behind are Marlin and Nemo swimming to keep up with her.

“Finding Dory” celebrates these improvised families and impromptu units, proclaiming what makes them different is what makes them beautiful. This message might ring a little more profoundly were it not cheapened by silly shenanigans like an octopus driving a truck, but I’m willing to let that one slide given that there are more clever running jokes. For example, frequently throughout “Finding Dory,” a male and female pairing will appear on screen to provide directions or information. Each offers slightly different information; they bicker; the woman wins out. In many ways, these duos provide a mirror of Marlin and Dory’s character dynamics offered up in hilarious microcosm. B2halfstars

REVIEW 1,000: Annie Hall

8 06 2015

For my thousandth published review on Marshall and the Movies, I thought it would be appropriate to review an all-time favorite rather than just another disposable, forgettable current release. I ultimately settled on what could very well be my #1, Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” I wrote this piece as an application for the Telluride Film Festival’s student symposium last year; the prompt was, “If you were being sent into the distant future, and you could take just one film with you, what would you take, and why?”

If I were sent into the distant future with only one film, there is no question in my mind that I would bring a copy of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” I cannot think of another film that better encapsulates all the potential of cinema. If film had ceased to exist in this hypothetical future society, “Annie Hall” could single-handedly regenerate the art form and produce a remarkable diversity of movies in the process.

As the late Roger Ebert stated, “Every great film should seem new every time you see it,” and “Annie Hall” can be watched through any number of lenses producing wildly different viewing experiences. Allen brilliantly builds in many layers to his film, allowing it to speak to anyone who approaches it.

“Annie Hall” is not so esoteric as to preclude it from functioning as entertainment; someone would have to be quite a stoic not to enjoy the misadventures in love of Allen’s Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall. Watching Annie swerve dangerously through traffic or Alvy sneeze away cocaine is undeniably enjoyable when seeing it for the first or fiftieth time.

Yet “Annie Hall” is most certainly not limited to this dimension of pure diversion. Allen, like many before him, recognizes that the possibilities for film to exist as art are manifold. Rather than confine his film to one narrow definition of what he believes cinema to be, Allen experiments with how they can interact in a brilliant pastiche that serves as a valentine to all the pioneers before him and a template for all those after him. “Annie Hall” explores many different styles of filmmaking, employing each when appropriate to convey his message and somehow maintaining cohesiveness.

Annie Hall (2)

What Allen pieces together in “Annie Hall” is not merely the story of Alvy and Annie but also the story of how cinema can satisfy the creative impulse. To him, film can function as a second draft of history, a way of commenting on the clarity that can be achieved through art but proves unattainable in life itself. Throughout “Annie Hall,” characters literally revisit their past in their present states, both as passive observers and active participants. By employing this technique, Allen explicitly demonstrates the retrospective qualities of film, exposing it as a tool for grappling with our own histories.

He further reveals the abstract qualities of film by visualizing that which is often relegated to the realm of the conceptual. “Annie Hall” subversively undermines the notion that film can only present the visible surface of photographic reality. Rather than telling us that Annie is having an out-of-body experience during sex, Allen shows us by literally having Annie’s “spirit” leave her physical body and observe from outside the act.

Moreover, he transforms the cinematic image of Alvy to represent the Hasidic Jew that he believes Annie’s family sees when they look at him and turns Annie herself into the animated Wicked Queen for whom Alvy subconsciously perceives himself to be falling.

Perhaps most strikingly, Allen presents subtitles that contradict the words uttered by Alvy and Annie, instead expressing their hidden innermost emotions. Film, in the hands of an astute observer like Woody Allen, becomes an incredibly powerful tool to comprehend the complexities of human communication and interaction.

However, for all the technical and intellectual proficiency present in “Annie Hall,” its greatest strength might very well be the simplicity of its story. It wields some of cinema’s greatest artistic weapons dexterously, but the film is also a beautiful tale about two fully realized characters navigating the treacherous straits of life and love. Humans have always told narratives to make sense of the world, and film is just the latest means to express that need. “Annie Hall” is a brilliant manual for grappling with reality, making its case so effectively through creative exploration of film’s capabilities as a medium.

F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 17, 2010)

17 12 2010

There’s no place like home for the holidays … unless its the home of your boyfriend’s overbearing family.

Such is Christmas for Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” Thomas Bezucha’s “The Family Stone,” a winter dramedy with a perfect balance between the two genres.  It’s enjoyable to watch at any time of the year, but it has a particularly warm and loving embrace around the holiday season.  With a fantastic ensemble and pitch-perfect writing, this movie has been a favorite of mine ever since it hit theaters five years ago today.  (And yes, I was there to see it on its first showtime that day.)

It’s always tough meeting the potential in-laws, and the uptight Meredith doesn’t leave the best first impression as she tries to simultaneously be herself and be charming.  The odds are against stacked against the potential new addition to the Stone family as Amy (Rachel McAdams) has it in for her after a dinner in New York didn’t exactly endear her to the incessantly blabbering throat-clearer Meredith.  The tension is only heightened by matriarch Sybill (Diane Keaton), determined not to give her mother’s wedding ring to Everett (Dermot Mulroney) for him to put on Meredith’s finger.

Yet not everyone is determined to see her demise: the fun-loving prodigal son Ben (Luke Wilson) does his best to bring out the welcome wagon, and the ever-reasonable father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) is determined to give her a chance.  But after a day, Meredith mixes with the Stone family like oil mixes with water, and things go haywire as the holiday spirit combines with mean spirits.  The result is a hilariously potent comedy about the importance of family, both the ones we are born into and the ones we create.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention the heavier side of the movie.  Much of what happens in “The Family Stone” is due to an unpleasant truth about the future of a member of the Stone family, and it had been quietly kept secret until Meredith arrives.  The movie is not only a comedy but also a deeply touching and heartfelt look at our families and how much we value each member of them.  Around the holidays, there’s simply nothing better than a movie that can make you laugh and cry with the people you love the most.

REVIEW: Morning Glory

11 11 2010

Morning Glory” centers around the fictional morning talk show Daybreak, which is in fourth place in the ratings behind The Today Show, Good Morning America, and “whatever CBS has in the morning.”  In the realm of movies centered around talk shows, this Rachel McAdams vehicle falls among the ranks of Good Morning America in that spectrum.  It has heart and makes for some undeniable fun, but the familiarity of the story and premise make it difficult for the movie to have the resounding emotional impact it so greatly desires.

It’s less a story about the newsroom as it is about the woman running it, Becky Fuller (McAdams), a career girl who is so focused on her job that she bumbles through every other aspect of her life.  It’s just as easy to be inspired by her drive to return Daybreak to glory as it is to be off-put by McAdams’ phoned-in performance.  She is so overly kinetic and frantic that it feels awkward.  I’m a huge fan of her work, so I was surprised to find myself reacting so aversely to her charms.

Without McAdams in full force, the rest of the movie has to pick up the slack, and, for the most part, it does.  What the script lacks in originality it makes up for in humor, through both great lines and on-air moments that recall some of the most YouTube-worthy news anchors of our time (I’m talking to you, Grape Lady).  The diva aspect is totally nailed as well, particularly shining through Diane Keaton’s prima donna anchor Colleen Peck.  We rarely get to see the aging actress anymore, and she spins every line into gold.

It’s particularly great to see her quarreling with Harrison Ford’s Mike Pomeroy, an aging Dan Rather-type anchor with no time for anything but what he deems “serious” news.  Ford plays him as a sort of gruff Walt Kowalski from “Gran Torino” with the intimidating deep voice and booming temper, which sometimes borders on excessive.  Yet Ford is far from bad, still managing to find ways to make his interpretation work.  He delivers the emotional climax of the movie, which the script bungles, and saves it from being a total disaster, quite a feat in itself.

There’s a lot to enjoy about “Morning Glory,” and while that doesn’t include great thematic depth, this isn’t the kind of movie that requires it to be successful.  It’s a great ball of fun, warm and fluffy, that will hold up very well on repeat Sunday afternoon viewings on TBS.  And as far as unoriginal movies go, this is about as good as they get.  B